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I inspected the law firm’s letterhead—it might have been real gold. But the letter, it had to be a fake. It had to be some kind of prank, a scam, a trick. But those three words were glued in my mind: only surviving heir.
Too good to be true. I glanced around my shoebox Jersey apartment, my mess of second hand junk. You can’t scam someone who’s got nothing to steal, and who never probably would—just another girl with half a theater degree who wanted to work on Broadway but ended up at a coffee shop. Another broke nobody.
I dialed the law firm.
The receptionist patched me through to the attorney, a nasaly old woman. “The Fernsby matter. Too curious. And I’m tired of him lurking about. Five o’clock tonight.”
“And bring five pieces of identification.”
After tearing my apartment into an even bigger mess, I found my old student ID, a maxed-out credit card, my expired passport, and an unsettling number of roaches. I barely made it to the train in time to get to my shift, where I spent the next six hours pretending to enjoy being ordered around by uptight businessmen. It was freezing so I took the subway, but so did everyone else and when I finally got to the stop, I had five minutes to get to the law office.
At five o’clock in wintertime, the skyscrapers and the narrow streets had turned Wall Street into a land of shadows, lanced from the west at each block by the golden light of the setting sun. I jogged until I found the building, one of those century-old offices sandwiched in between two others a hundred stories taller.
On the fifth floor, I found the offices of Birdwinge & Berrycloth. The names were painted on the door, but I touched the letters to be sure.
Inside, the law office was a building fire waiting to happen. Wood paneling, wood floors, wood ceiling, all the same sewage brown. There were also two chairs and a table, but I didn’t find that out until I slammed my shins into them.
A very short man peered up over the edge of a camouflaged desk. “You there. Stop rustling the furniture. Do you have an appointment?”
“And did you bring the five pieces of identification?”
“This way.” He led me to a nearby office, where an elderly woman leaned back in a leather chair in front of a wall of dusty books. “Madame Birdwinge, your five o’clock is here.”
The elderly woman stayed still, moving only her eyes behind gold-rimmed reading glasses. “Ah, the Fernsby matter. Too curious.”
“That’s what you said on the phone.”
I held it out to her, but she only looked down at the desk. I laid it out and she slowly read it. Minutes passed. I began to sweat.
“This seems to be barely in order.” She glanced up at me. “Very well. You are the only surviving heir to the Fernsby fortune.” She licked her lips, slowly wetting their many crevices.
“But how did you find—”
“There are five stipulations. Sound mind and body. No divorces. Not a Mason are you? No missing teeth? Let me see them.”
I opened my mouth.
“Yes, well, close enough. And the last one. You have to take old Fernsby with you.”
Her eyes swiveled, staring into a dark corner of the room. There was a long golden object, a sarcophagus with a glass window. I stepped forward, then gasped—inside was a mummy, a desiccated corpse, wearing rotting safari gear.
“Fernsby was a plunderer of ancient Egypt. Fled to America after the British Museum turned on him. But his trust documents are absolute and binding.”
“If you want the fortune, you must keep him at your primary residence. We’ll be checking too, so don’t think you can toss him in a dumpster and be on your way. What do you say?”
“How much is the fortune?”
“Impossible to say. It’s mostly held in cursed artifacts, blood diamonds, and gold coins minted under evil regimes.”
I glanced back at the sarcophagus. “But it’s like, real gold and real diamonds?”
“Yes. Probably cursed. And I’m fairly certain Fernsby is cursed. And his sarcophagus. And the trust documents. Sign there. Careful, cursed pen.”
I picked up the thin gold pen. It was surprisingly hot, and as I signed, blood flowed from the tip. “Can I keep the pen?”