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Clement's Corner: The Windfall

“You don’t remember me, do you?” The alcoholic soaked voice, the heavy beard and unkempt appearance resembled no one I knew, or wished to know.
“No. I’m sorry, I don’t.” I answered brusquely, keen to continue walking.
“Henry Carson.”

Retired reporter Chuck has an unexpected encounter with his former editor-in-chief in this story by Owen Clement.

The day was a real bonanza. It would have been like my winning a lottery if I was a gambling man, which I am not. My father once explained to me the impossible odds of winning a lottery and, being mathematically inclined, I abandoned the idea of ever spending my hard-earned money on such a useless venture. I also privately scorn those who do.

By bonanza I meant my early morning stroll along a country lane. The sun shone through the spring blossoms outlined against the cloudless cerulean sky. Clumps of daffodils and bluebells scattered beneath the trees looking like pastel illustrations from a child’s book of fairytales.

My reverie was broken however when I saw the dark spectre of a derelict ambling towards me, a sight more familiar on an inner city street than out here on a lonely lane in the country.

The old man stopped a few yards ahead of me and to my astonishment addressed me by name.

“Good day Chuck.”

No one had called me Chuck since I was a young reporter. I am now retired and have been for a couple of years.

“Good day.”

“You don’t remember me, do you?” The alcoholic soaked voice, the heavy beard and unkempt appearance resembled no one I knew, or wished to know.

“No. I’m sorry, I don’t.” I answered brusquely, keen to continue walking.

“Henry Carson.”

Henry Carson! Good Lord, I thought to myself. The only Henry Carson I remembered was my ex editor-in-chief. He had been a brilliant man at his job. I knew him to be quite stout and both a heavy tippler and a smoker. I remember hating the extended meetings in his office after which I could not wait to get home to strip, bathe and wash my hair to rid myself of the permeating tobacco odour.

“Well, Henry, How are things these days?” Oh Lord, what an idiotic thing to say

“Not bad.”

“Wait a minute – now let me think – I do remember you being in the news some time ago – now what was it? – I’m damned if I can remember.”

“Funny, you not remembering the best and as it turned out, the worst day of my life.”

“Oh! That’s right, now I remember, you won Lotto, a couple of million, wasn’t it one of the largest ones at the time?”

“Yes it was come to think of it. I never dreamt that I would ever be that lucky.” He gave a short throaty laugh.

In one way I was curious, in another I did not want to spoil my day hearing about Henry’s downfall to such depths of poverty and ruin.

“I have thought of you many times, Chuck. In fact, you are the reason I am here today.”

Thinking that he was after a handout I said: “I am retired now Henry.”

“I know.”

“I can let you have some mon –“

He raised his hands, breaking in. “Please! I don’t need money. All I want for you is to formally identify me.”

“Sorry!”

“You know by a Stat: Dec: You see I don’t have any identification these days and I need to prove who I say I am. Let me explain, many years ago I invested in an overseas bond and now it has matured. It is quite a large sum and – as you can see – I could do with it right now. To be honest I had quite forgotten about it, when, in one of my sober moments recently, I discovered the certificate with my papers among my late sister’s effects that I had given to her to keep for me after my divorce”

“Oh, I see. Yes, of course I’ll be happy to do that for you. Why don’t we go to my place, it’s just around the corner?” I was feeling exposed and wondered what the neighbours would say about me chatting intimately to such a disreputable looking fellow.

“It’s okay; I won’t embarrass you any more. I’ll be in touch.”

Annoyed with my prejudicial attitude I said: “Don’t be silly, come on, it’s just around here.”

I had to slow my pace to allow Henry to keep up with me as we made our way below the floral canopy. I am certain that he was totally unaware of the beauty around him as he kept his head down the whole way. He accepted my offer to use my facilities, lord knows he needed to, while I put on the kettle and set about preparing something to eat.

Without my prompting he told me about how he had squandered virtually all his winnings on First Class world travel, gambling in Monte Carlo, women and booze. His marriage, which he said was shaky anyway, ended bitterly with his wife making him swear that he would never get in touch with her or their two sons ever again.

Before leaving, he phoned his solicitor to make arrangements for me to sign the Statutory Declaration and have it witnessed in his office in a couple of day’s time. Politely refusing my offer of a bed for the night, I drove him to the railway station from where he had arrived. I watched him move away with considerable difficulty and realized that he was seriously ill.

A very different Henry met me outside the solicitor’s office in the city; he had shaved, had a haircut and had bought himself a new outfit. Despite his more presentable appearance he still did not look well.

The formalities over, we shook hands and said goodbye to each other. That’s that, I thought, another interesting episode in my life was over.

Within a few weeks of our last meeting I heard from his solicitor that Henry‘s luck had finally run out, as he had died quite suddenly. Poor Henry, he would never enjoy the rest of his winnings of his long forgotten windfall, but I wondered if his ex-wife and their two sons would have the good fortune to do so?

© Clement 2006

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