Rachel DeSouza had already explained previously in this presentation to the interested but easily baffled senior citizens the intestacy rules. The divisions of the estate. Contested and uncontested and how to ensure someone’s personal post life wishes were met. She had earlier asked for the sound to be turned up and had noticed a few looking happier. She had suspected they could not hear her properly and were embarrassed to ask.
She now picked up a form from the lectern and held it in the front of the camera lens so it appeared on the large conference screen behind her head.
A grey Last Will and Testament form filled the picture. The word SAMPLE was written across it in a red ink.
She took a pair of white framed, narrow, rectangular reading glasses from the desktop and put them on. She didn’t need reading glasses. These were 0.5 strength.Did almost nothing. She put them on solely to complete her preferred image. Smart and sexy. Secretary/Scientist. Legal-Foxy. She spoke to her audience.
“If you would like to take out one of these forms,” she pointed to the one on the screen, “from the pack on the table in front of you. I’m going to ask you all to complete a sample one. This will help me to correct with you, some of the most common mistakes that people regularly make, when completing a Will.”
She waited patiently while they located the required form from the documents pack that had been placed at each desk before the seminar. She noticed that the two twin sisters at the back had taken out the wrong form. She made a scissors gesture with her left hand and stared intently in the ladies direction. Sergei saw, then moved from his position at the rear of the room going to them. With his medical latex gloved hands, he gave out fresh ones to the pair of them.
“First thing. Is here. At the start.” Rachel spoke in her courtroom voice. Firm and commanding.
“See here…‘ I,’ ….. ‘of sound mind and body.’ All of you please write your full name on this line. Full name. In capitals. So there is no misunderstanding….” She waited patiently as they scribbled. Answering the odd question.
“ No, Irene. No need for Mrs or Miss. Just your full name. Excellent.. Then here,” She pointed the laser to illustrate the section on the screen, ‘Currently residing at……’ This is your current address. Where you live now,” she explained to the room.
She checked to see that the audience was filling the Sample Will forms in. They were, at their different speeds. But they were.
“Under the part here, where it says, ‘ I hereby revoke all previous wills and codicil, made by me,’ you will see this part about naming your spouse. Ignore that for the moment and move down here.”
She used the laser point again.
“This is where you write just what it is that you want to leave in assets to the various loved ones and special friends or organisations in your life. I suspect that this is what you really wanted to know.” She smiled pleasantly at them. “Fortunately, I happen to know all about it.”
A deep breath. She liked her lips quickly. Mentally thought of the tone that she wanted to project. The one she practised just as often as the smile in the mirror. This was the most crucial part of the day. Everything that had gone on before was largely irrelevant.it was just stage dressing. Mood Setting. This next line would determine just how much money they were going to make from this event today. Profit or loss. Right now was the decider.
She touched thumb and forefinger either side of her reading glasses lens and pushed them slightly, and unnecessarily, up her small nose. She had done it solely to emphasise the glasses. Conferring wisdom and trust. So the advertising people insisted.
“ I would like all of you now to complete a sample form.” Tone was bang on. She was pleased with it.
“Remembering what you have heard today about thresholds and gifts. Pensions. Shares. Investments. Overseas assets and so forth. Ordinarily it would be best to have already created a list of all your relatives and friends. Cousins. Aunts. Grandchildren. Great grandchildren. Care providers. Pets. Charities and good causes. Do that before you complete one of these for real.” She turned side on so she could illustrate with the pointer more easily, without blocking anyone’s view of the screen.
“ You will also need, as Melissa discussed with you previously, to have that list of total assets. Don’t forget anything you really wish to pass on. Not just property and money.Think about Jewellery. Heirlooms. Favourite porcelain or paintings. Vehicles. Furniture. Appliances. Time- shares. Overseas property. As we saw in Melissa’s segment, the list can be very long. But as you should recall, we also had the ability to list only the most specific of valuables. Leaving everything else to one other person, to divide between whomever you bequeath. Sell for cash for disbursement. Can be easier sometimes just to do that.”
Rachel put down the laser pointer and said, “ In the remaining few remaining minutes of our time,before our buffet lunch, I wish for us just to complete this part. So we can ascertain if it has been completed correctly. We will use a sample Will. Complete the section where you leave all personal property and assets too…”
Se flipped the Power Point. The name, “Lawrence Peter James Jackson” appeared. Rachel read the names aloud. Spacing the words out.
“Lawrence… Peter… James… Jackson.
Please use this name in that space.” She put the pointer into her hand once more. Highlighting the area of the document where the beneficiary of the estate would be named.
DeSouza noted the hesitancy in the room. As she knew there would be. There always was at this point.
She saw Maria from the council, also looking slightly concerned in the front row. So she gave her warmest, most sincere smile and explained all the safety precautions.
“There is a specific reason for completing the make believe Last Will this way. Which I shall explain in just a moment. However I can already feel some worries coming from the room. See some frowns.
Well that is good. After all that Sergei told us earlier about safeguarding and information data protection. Shows you have been paying attention. So, allow me to reassure you. These are sample sheets. As you can see.”
She held up her own Will form. The large red SAMPLE letters clearly visible running the length of the paper.
“These are just practice sheets we use at our workplace. They would never be accepted in any court or by any solicitor. They are used at our own law practice for training purposes. And these forms will remain with you, today. In your possession. No one will remove them. So, please complete as asked. Keep hold of them.”
She noticed a few begin. Tired of this morning and wanting it finished. Or hungry and thirsty. That was why the sessions were structured this way. She noted the majority were now completing as instructed. The more people that did, the more that saw and copied them. Completing their own.
Safety in numbers. The herd mentality. The school of fish preservation. Rachel sighed to herself.
It was sometimes simply too easy.
DeSouza allowed them a minute. Coming down from the stage area, putting on her own medical face mask, and walking, at a safe distance of course, among the pensioners who were compiling lists of their assets.
She noted more than a few of them thinking hard about their wealth. Straining to recall who had been promised what. Who was deserving. And who was not. Who was going to be rewarded. And whom was going to get a long overdue slap down. From beyond the grave.
Rachel waited another couple of minutes then returned to the podium, removing her mask, and replaced her own form on the Power-Point for a different, previously completed one.
“This,” she explained, pointing to the part where it was headed ‘Benefactor,’ “ is where those problems we discussed earlier might arise. See here what I have written? Anyone spot the mistake? Yes, That’s quite right. Well done, Madam. I have written ‘Laurence Peter’. But the name should have been ‘Lawrence Peter.’ The spelling is incorrect.
And here, ‘James Jackson,’ has been written below the space provided. As the full name,
‘Lawrence Peter James Jackson’ is too long. And it did not fit on the first line.
But look. Now the Estate has been inadvertently split between Lawrence Peter. And James
Was that the intention? It was not, was it ?”
She observed the Will writers nodding in understanding and continued advising them.
‘Absolute clarity is required at this point,” she told them all. “It’s not as if the executor could pop round and ask you what it was that you meant,now, is it?”
Few laughs. Death was closer for some than others in this room. The woman at the very back in the green fleece and thick lenses, looked to be near her late eighties. Well, mused Rachel to herself, death was closer to all of them in the audience than to her. She was , after all, only twenty seven.
Though age was not the reason death was much closer to some than others here today. Death was closer for some for a whole different reason.
She made a crossed fingers signal with her left hand held by the side of her skirt. Sergei noted it and motioned the others. The three of them reached under their seats and withdrew portable, battery operated, cross cut shredders. Sergei walked over and came up the stairs to stand on the other side of Rachel.
Observing that most had completed the assignment, DeSouza spoke to everyone.
“Finally, before we all finally leave for lunch, one last, but important… in fact.. crucial, last requirement to having a fully completed, legally binding Last Will. It must be signed and dated by you and contain the signatures of two, unrelated, independent witnesses, in your presence.”
She used the laser pointer and flipped to the close up slide of the signature and witness part of a Last Will and Testament.
“My team in the green jackets, like Sergei here, will be coming around to each of you. Please pass your completed Will form to them. They will sanitise it with those sprayers. Then give it to the next person in your row. Who will read what you have written. And if they agree all is correctly completed, shall sign and date the witness section in their own name. Then the form will be passed along to the second witness in the row.”
She heard the murmurs, that she knew she would. She sought out her Louie again. “Some problem, Louie?” She asked. With her most sweetest honey on her lips tone.
He scratched his belly with a large hand. The other ran along his balding head. She could see sweat stains under his armpits. It was hot without the air-con. And he was a big man.
“Well, Miss,” he began hesitantly. Not even really sure himself of why he had a concern. “You said, like, not to .. you know..data protection. And you said that .. Just now like. You said. Err..We wouldn’t be handing these to anyone. I just wondered, like. That. Well you see, I’ve listed all my possessions and all. And made them over to Jesse James, or whatever his name was. I mean.. what if he finds it?”
Some laughter at that. But Rachel saw that several of the people in the room who hadn’t even thought of something like that happening, now suddenly look at her.
She deliberately put out a hand to take a squirt of the Covid killing, talisman, sanitizer. Then taking the blue disposable mask and putting it on, she walked to stand with feet placed carefully together, close to the edge of the stage. She addressed them all in her light, clear voice.
“A very clever observation, Louie. I’m very pleased you brought this up,” She said. As if she had not in fact asked him!
“Two things you should be aware of. Firstly, my assistants will be taking a note of the sample serial numbers in the corner of each form. Those that are correctly completed, as we have all learned how to do, here today. Those numbers shall be recorded on a log sheet. The name of the occupant of the desk, assigned to the form at the start, will be entered into our prize draw. That takes place after lunch, before we all go home. The winning ticket will receive a complete, professional, inheritance tax planning session, tailored entirely to the self. For a three hour duration with our senior partner at Leonhardt-Ashgate-Begum LLP. The finest legal mind in this country. At least, that is what he claims.
Then, secondly, my associates will immediately put the completed, witnessed Will Form samples, through these portable shredders.”
She half turned to motion Sergei forward. He removed her Will Form that she had been using for the presentation from the lectern. Then he went to his socially distanced area at the front corner of the stage.
She nodded to him and he held the shredder, somewhat awkwardly balanced on the palm of his large hand. With the other he fed the form into the slot of the compact shredder. It made a noise like a woodchipper. The form disappeared into the shredder.
Sergei flipped a catch with a thumb and with only a little effort managed to detach the box part of the shredder to reveal the thin, grey, cut strips of a thoroughly sliced and diced Will form.
He reattached the device as DeSouza asked, “All right with that Louie? Secure data?” “ Yes. I believe so.”
“Excellent.” She looked at her people in the light green jackets. “Start from the back please, team. Once the second witness has signed and you have recorded the serial number, take the original form back to the person who compiled it. Make sure to shred it in front of them. Or better still. Ask the owner to put it through the shredding machine themselves.”
They began moving among the seated people. Taking signed, completed Will forms and having them in turn signed by two independent witnesses in the row. Soon the room began to buzz with the sound of the shredder blades.
“ Always use cross-cut. Straight cut is not sufficient for legal work. If you buy a shredding machine, get a cross-cut. It is the most efficient. And no bonfires. A bank statement carried off on a hot air thermal from a blaze is not secure.”
DeSouza had to raise her voice to be heard above the noise of the talking people, churning machines, scraping chair legs and moving feet. There was some excitement. A sizeable proportion of the old folk had never used a shredding machine before.
“ Those of you at the back who have finished. Would you like to go through to the Middleton Coffee bar? It’s out the double doors, and up the corridor. On the left. The caterers have set up in there. A magnificent feast, I assure you. Plus tea and coffee of course. Restaurant rules apply, so please take a seat. A server will bring whatever you ask.”
She saw Melissa from her own team by the exit doors raising her phone above her head. Melissa thumbed a button and a few seconds later Rachel’s own mobile rang. She walked across to the podium and picked up a small clutch bag. Retrieving her phone from inside she answered it. She nodded a few times then spoke just a few words. Then she put the phone away.
Rachel looked up and saw Maria, the organiser from the regional council. She waved to her and walked over. Maintaining social distance, Rachel explained that she had just received a phone call from the office. The Caporetto papers had just come in. This was a very big case. The whole firm was involved in it. She would have to leave right now. Take her people with her. Would it be all right if Maria herself announced the winner of the draw?
Sergei would leave a blank golden ticket at reception. Rachel said she would text through the winner’s name in a half hour or so to Maria, once they got back to their office and did the pull. Sorry they couldn’t stay. But it was a very important and extremely time sensitive case. Rachel said she thought it had gone very well and Maria wholeheartedly agreed.
She hoped they had all enjoyed it and learned something from it. Maria agreed again.
Maria was very pleased. She had promoted this free assistance to the vulnerable groups, ever since Rachel DeSouza had first emailed her with an outline proposal for such an event. The councillors had been pleased too. Covid deaths were getting out of hand. This virus was spreading rapidly in a very unusual pattern. No one was quite sure just how or why it did spread so regionally but disjointedly based. Moving from city to city.
No one was quite sure if it was transmitted without symptoms. In incubation. By touch. Airborne particles. Sweat. Surface contact. Even if it travelled by animal infection, parasite or blood. It was a complete and deadly mystery. That seemed to mostly affect the elderly. Who had the worst reaction and the highest incidence of death after contracting this Covid thing. Strangely young people seemed to be mostly unharmed.
The confusion over every aspect of the pathogen is what had led to talk of quarantine. Border closure. Mink culling. Shopping restrictions. Mask wearing and social distancing and it was rumoured there could even be non essential lock downs. No one knew what was likely to
happen. Only that here in the UK, cases were on the increase. Rising and rising in many of the big cities. Just as they had in Italy a few months before. The rest of Europe seemed unaffected.
This “ Free estate planning provision” helped people prepare. In case the worst struck. Which it increasingly looked like it might. Maria bade farewell to Rachel and Rachel left the conference room. She walked through the doors, along the corridor and into the ladies toilets.
Melissa and Bryan, her assistants were there waiting for her. They held the shredders. Sergei was not there but his machine was at Bryan’s feet.
“Open.” Commanded Rachel. She tore of her medical gloves and pushed them into her handbag. Bryan removed the bottom waste container of his shredder. She glanced inside. It was full of slim, grey, letter like forms. Legal forms. They were entirely complete. None had been shredded. She picked out one at random and opened it up to study.
The Red SAMPLE letters on the Last Will and Testament document were already fading. Within an hour they would be completely invisible.
The acetate that had been inside the ‘sanitizer spray bottles’ was removing the red ink. It was the ink itself, on the specially coated paper of the legal document, that dissolved. The black printed ink and the paper were unaffected.
Rachel checked the witness signatures. All good on this one. Dates correct. She looked at the possessions. House. Three cars. Jewels. Rare books. Sculpture and musical instruments. Decent she thought. As she folded the paper she noticed a black smudge on the back of it. She dropped it back in and Bryan shut the box.
“What’s that black mark?” She asked Bryan.
“It’s from the rollers. Without the blades it’s all rubber. A bit of grease maybe. They are damn hard to clean.”
“ Find a way for next time. I don’t want to see that stain again. It could ruin it. Replace the rubber rather than clean. And the shredding pieces in Sergei’s box for the demonstration. Where did they come from?”
She referred to the strips of her own form that Sergei had earlier on fed through the shredder for the benefit of the audience. Sergei had opened the box to show everyone how the form had
been cut into unreadable strips that would only be of interest for a goose for bedding. Bryan shrugged. Rachel turned to Melissa and inclined her head questioningly. “ Well?” “I…I ..I think they were the ones from last week. They are all chopped up. Does it matter?”
“Of course it matters,” snapped Rachel angrily. “ The colour is a several shades lighter grey. Only use the same forms from the same batch. Don’t cut corners. How many times do I need to tell you? We aren’t bowling here. This is for real. High risk. High stakes. Do it properly or disappear. Understood?”
Melissa nodded. She personally couldn’t see any difference in colouring. But she knew better than to argue with the Boss. “Yes. In future I will make sure.”
Melissa hid her annoyance. This was Sergei’s shredder. It was his responsibility, not hers. But she also knew that Rachel and Sergei were very physically, even if not very romantically, involved.
“Where is Sergei?” DeSouza asked, as she removed her auburn wig to reveal her own short blonde hair. She looked in the mirror, fluffing the fringe into shape with her fingers.
“Doing the air fresheners. He said two minutes.”
“You both go to the car. Melissa collect up all the phones.” Rachel took two from her bag and gave them to Melissa. “Put them into the acid drum once you have texted Maria the winning ticket name. Give her any one. Sergei and I will be along in three. Bryan, you drive. Reverse coats.”
They both reversed their green jackets. Bryan’s became a silver bomber jacket. Melissa’s a candy pink box jacket. They took the three shredders and left the room. Rachel took the opportunity of having the sinks and mirrors to redo her lipstick and eye-liner in a lighter shade while she waited these last few minutes for Sergei to complete his virulent, deadly task.
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file