Read Death of a Sunday Writer Online
Authors: Eric Wright
Death of a Sunday Writer
A Castle Street
Copyright Â© Eric Wright 1999 and 2000
Originally published in hardcover by St. Martin's Press.
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Canadian Cataloguing in Publication Data
Death of a Sunday writer
PS8595.R58D42 2000Â Â Â Â C813'54Â Â Â C00-931845-3Â Â Â Â PR9199.3.W66D42 2000
1Â Â Â 2Â Â Â 3Â Â Â 4Â Â Â 5Â Â Â Â Â Â 04Â Â Â 03Â Â 02Â Â Â 01Â Â Â 00
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The note Lucy Brenner found on her desk when she arrived at the library that morning said that Walter Buncombe had called and left a Toronto number for her to call him back. Lucy recognised the handwriting of her boss and looked up to find the chief librarian watching her from across the room. “He didn't say what it was about,” Janice Waller said. “Don't you know him?” she added to an obviously puzzled Lucy.
Lucy shook her head, and now the other two librarians looked up. “A Gentleman Caller,” pronounced Jocelyn Thomas, the children's librarian. She had been a librarian for thirty years. Facetious by nature, very early in her career she had developed the habit of speaking in titles.
Lucy dialled the number, and the voice of a secretary responded, gabbling the name of a company. Lucy asked for Walter Buncombe.
“He's in a meeting. Would you like to leave a message?”
Lucy identified herself. “I'm returning his call,” she said. “Who is he?”
“Yes. Who is he? What does he do? Who are you?” Lucy's favourite television programs had been interrupted several times recently by people who wanted to sell her something on the telephone, and she was now practising being aggressive to all telephone callers who were insufficiently identified. The other librarians were now sitting back in their chairs, frankly listening.
The secretary's voice said, “Mr. Buncombe is a partner here.”
Lucy asked, looking round at her colleagues to include them in the conversation, “Partner in what? And where is here?”
“This is the office of Buncombe and Hart.”
“Who are Buncombe and Hart?”
“This is a legal firm.”
“So he's a lawyer.”
“He's a Partner.”
“What does he want me for?”
“I really couldn't say. I'll leave your message, shall I?”
“Yes. I'm here until five. Tell him to keep trying.” She hung up. “Some lawyer in Toronto wants me,” she told the others.
“Ah,” they said, more or less collectively, and went back to work in case the word
meant that Lucy after all had a problem that she would not want to share further.
Lucy wondered first if her estranged husband had finally decided to institute divorce proceedings. But he had asked her again to return to him only the week before, so what could have happened to change him? Her thoughts ranged back over the last few days, looking for any other bad news that a lawyer might have for
her. Was her neighbour suing her to get the fence fixed? Could she have been in an accident she wasn't aware of, a parking lot encounter, or brushed aside one of those moth-like old ladies who teeter fragilely on the kerb in your blind spot when you are making a turn on a red light? But that would be the police, surely?
While she was wasting her time wondering, the lawyer called again. She confirmed that she was Lucy Brenner, and then, mysteriously, who her grandparents had been. The lawyer said, “I am calling in connection with your cousin, David Trimble.”
“I can't help you, I'm sorry,” Lucy said quickly. “I haven't seen him for years, not since my grandmother died, and I never knew anything about him. Nothing at all.” Buncombe said, “I'm not looking for him. I am, or was, his solicitor. I'm sorry to tell you he died yesterday.”
“I see. Thank you for calling.”
“Hold on, Mrs. Brenner. You are named in his will. You're his sole surviving relative. His heir.”
This was more interesting. “Did he leave an...estate?”
“Legally, that's what it's called. But it didn't amount to much, I'm afraid. The furniture from his office and his apartment, his clothes, a few hundred dollars. A few other personal effects.”
“Nothing valuable, then? I'm not rich?” She looked around at her colleagues to signal them that they could once again listen in.
The lawyer laughed. “David never had any money.”
“Did he die. . .” she wanted to say
Trimble's death meant nothing to her, but he was a human being and she hoped that his end wasn't painful or tragic.
“A heart attack. Quite quick.”
“I see. Well, now you've found me, I presume you
can send me anything that's left over. Or do I have to arrange the funeral?”
“No problem. He left himself to a hospital.”
“I see. Thank you very much, then.”
“Mrs. Brenner, I'm also calling to ask if you would take care of his personal effects. It would be easier than bringing in a dealer. And you would get what value there is.”
A phrase came into Lucy's head from a Barbara Pym novel, a sign on the side of a truck:
Deceased's effects removed.
Would she be able to find someone in the
want ads to remove her cousin's effects? “You mean, come to Toronto?” And as she said it, the problem became an opportunity, the possibility of a diversion.
“When should I come?”
“Could we do it tomorrow?”
“I'll probably have to stay over.” She glanced across the room and got a nod from the chief librarian to make whatever arrangements she had to.
“There's a cheap hotel on Church Street. I could get a room for you, if you want,” Buncombe was saying.
“Good. Yes. Where is your office?”
He told her.
“Can I park nearby?”
“There's a lot opposite the office.”
He had missed the point. Park free, she meant, in one of his company's spaces, not for three dollars a half-hour. “All right. Eleven o'clock, then.” She put down the phone and looked at the calendar on her desk.
Lucy worked part-time at the main branch of the Longborough library on an hourly basis, and it was no
great inconvenience to anyone for her to take a day or two of unpaid leave. She had no other arrangements to make, no young children, no animals, or birds, or tropical fish â nothing, except a phone call to postpone an appointment with a man who was coming to look at her furnace.
Mrs. Tusker, next door, would keep her porch free of junk mail in exchange for the gossip about her cousin's death.
The other librarians were waiting now to find out who had died.
“My cousin,” Lucy said. “I'm his heir.”
They watched for their cue to see how they should react.
“We had the same last name before I married, but I hardly knew him.”
“Ah,” the women said in unison again, lightly.
“Still...” Jocelyn Thomas said, her voice full of speculation. “âA Woman of Property.'”
“He died broke. The lawyer wants me to sort out the bits and pieces. He wants me to go in tomorrow.”
“Do you mind?” Bunny, the reference librarian asked, now they had all adjusted to the size of the news. “Sort of ghoulish.”
“No. No. It won't be â sad, will it? Might be interesting.”
Now the other women put aside the last traces of any attitude of condolence they had assumed. “There's a sale on at Ikea,” Mrs. Waller said. “Take your time. We can manage.”
They could manage for a week if necessary, Lucy thought. She worked, more or less at her own speed and in her own hours, on non-urgent but necessary tasks, mainly in the basement work-room.
“Let's say three days, for now.” She remembered something. “I'll have to come back tomorrow, though. I'll let you know what's happening then.”
That night, as she tried to sort out the clothes she would need for three days in Toronto, Lucy recognised that after two years of freedom, she still hadn't solved the problem of a wardrobe she could forget about.
She had left her husband after a twenty-three year marriage.
The preparations for leaving had been long and difficult. For the first eighteen years there had been a child to worry about, a daughter. But when Jill moved out to British Columbia to take a course in dental hygiene, and stayed after graduation, Lucy was left alone to realise that now she might do something about the fact that she had been miserable for a very long time. At first, of course, she had to work through all the guilt and the sense of failure that came with admitting the truth. She was descended from generations of farmers, people who regarded unhappiness as a moral defect, as long as you had enough to eat and no one was hitting you. She had succeeded in concealing the reasons for her unhappiness from herself for twenty years, assuming that it was her fault, and that
it was in her power to find satisfaction within her circumstances, or change those circumstances by taking evening courses, enrolling for volunteer work, and practicing yoga as soon as she had time. But when she began to investigate the opportunities after Jill left, she found that every initiative was blocked, and she could no longer avoid seeing that her problem was her husband.