“I don’t believe in ghosts,” I used to tell anyone who’d ask. I’m a ‘techie,’ a computer programmer. I deal with data and facts, not fiction and fantasy.
So how did I get mixed up with a temperamental, egotistical, rude, smart, funny, aggravating, self-centered, loveable... uh... spirit? Okay, if you insist, ghost.
It all started the day I moved into my house.
Well, it’s not really a house, more of a cottage on the sand south of Laguna Beach, California.
This place was the one blessing I received in a whole series of otherwise disastrous events, starting with losing my job.
I worked in the mortgage industry for five years following my college graduation. It was all I knew until I became another victim of the banking industry collapse. I went to work one day, and the company was gone. Pffft. Taken over by the government. The assets were sold and I got two weeks’ severance.
Of course, at the end of the first week, not only was my job gone, but so was Jeff, my live-in boyfriend, taking all the cash in my wallet with him. Since he hadn’t worked in over a year, I figured he’d found another gainfully employed female to support him. I was really ticked off that he split the minute he lost me as his meal ticket. I needed his help.
It had been kinda nice coming home to a human being after work. Well, not always, but he was there most of the time waiting for me to nuke his dinner. And he was sort of cute, with long dark hair and big brown eyes. I thought we looked pretty good together. Besides, he was the first guy who really paid any attention to me. I’d hoped it was because of my personality and not my paycheck, but after he took off, I wasn’t so sure.
I got the eviction notice the day after Jeff moved out. The building was in foreclosure. It was probably just as well because I couldn’t afford the apartment on unemployment insurance anyway.
So learning I’d inherited a house couldn’t have come at a better time.
My great-great-aunt, Nanette Burton, for whom I was named, died at one hundred and four years old in the mansion where she’d lived for years and loved so much. She’d never married and never had children. I heard rumors of several passionate affairs in her younger days, although I wasn’t supposed to know about them.
A week later, her attorney invited us to the reading of her will.
“Mr. and Mrs. Burton, and Miss Burton, please take a seat,” he said as we entered his Santa Monica office.
Since the rest of Aunt Netta’s family had died, Dad and I were her only surviving relatives, but, to our surprise, there were a few others already there.
Albert William Spencer, Esq. (according to the sign on his door) was a throwback to another era, courtly and tall, with a full head of wavy white hair. His charcoal pinstriped suit, vest, and white shirt were impeccably pressed. I wouldn’t have been surprised if he wore a pocket watch, but his jacket was buttoned, so I couldn’t tell.
His inner sanctum looked like it had come from the 1950s. I’ve watched lots of movies from that era, and all the attorneys’ offices were the same. Before the window, stood an impressive highly-polished wooden desk, a monument to old money. The walls were lined with matching bookcases holding leather-bound volumes from floor to ceiling.
We took our seats.
“Since everyone has now arrived, I shall begin.”
I spaced out during some of the preliminaries. It wasn’t until we reached the bequests that I gave the attorney my full attention. I was hoping for a little help out of the pit my life had become.
“My real estate holdings and personal property, with the exceptions listed herein, are to be sold immediately. I have asked my attorney to manage the sale and have given him all the particulars.”
Mr. Spencer turned to us. “As Ms. Burton requested, the estate is already on the market and I anticipate several offers shortly. It is a rare and exceptionally large property. Buyers remain plentiful. I shall arrange for an auction of her personal belongings not specifically listed in her will to be held soon.”
He returned to the papers in his hand and described a few rings and other items that had belonged to family members, which she left to Dad. Then he looked up again to make sure we all understood.
We nodded in unison like bobble heads.
“Half the proceeds of the sale, after expenses, are to go to several animal shelters and rescue organizations listed herein in the proportions designated.” He read the names of six or seven groups and their respective percentages. That explained the other people in the room. Their representatives smiled and nodded.
I wasn’t really too surprised. For a very wealthy woman, Aunt Netta seemed to collect more than her share of strays. She converted an old chicken coop on her property and its surrounding yard into a pretty nice temporary residence for the dogs. Then she hired someone to come every day to feed, exercise, groom, and clean up after them. But she worked hard to find each one a new home. She was so persuasive that she only had five mutts left when she died. Plus Mitzi, her own favorite and much-pampered Shih Tzu.
“The animals currently in my care, with the exception of my pet, Mitzi, are to be entrusted to ‘Homes for All,’ until suitable arrangements can be made for their permanent placement.”
I was sure the organization would be more than happy to take the dogs since a sizeable bequest came along with them.
“My beloved Mitzi, I leave to my great-grandniece, Nanette.”
Oh joy, I get the dog. Just what I always wanted—but not much.
Not only was I named for Aunt Netta, I was born on her birthday. I think that may be why she tolerated me, even though she was quite outspoken about not liking children in general. It probably also helped that I was an only child, as was my dad. She seemed better able to be around kids one at a time.
Mr. Spencer looked over the top of his wire-rimmed reading glasses to be sure I understood. “My secretary, Mrs. Owens, has been caring for Mitzi. The dog and all her belongings are in the outer office.”
I wanted to say, “But I have nowhere to live myself, and I don’t have a job. How can I take on a dog? Besides, even as a kid, I never wanted a dog.” But instead I smiled, said nothing, and resumed my head-bobbing.
Mr. Spencer cleared his throat and went back to his paper. “Let me see. Where was I? Oh, yes,” he continued. “The remainder of my estate is to be disposed of in the following manner. One half, I leave to my great nephew Craig William Burton. One quarter will remain in trust for my great-grandniece Nanette Louise Burton to be held until her thirtieth birthday, at which time, she will have access to the annual income. On her fortieth birthday, she will be given complete control. My attorney has specific instructions on how the trust is to be invested and managed.”
Okay, so I’ll have some income at thirty, and if there’s anything left, I’ll actually get to spend it at forty. Three years before I get anything. Great.
Mr. Spencer continued reading. “The final quarter is to be managed by my attorney for the care of my precious Mitzi. I trust that my great-grandniece will provide food and shelter as well as loving care to my darling companion. When my pet meets her final end, I have arranged for a thorough examination to be certain no foul play was involved. At that time, the balance of Mitzi’s bequest will become the property of my great-grandniece, Nanette Louise Burton. However, if there is any question about the cause of the dog’s demise, all remaining funds, other than those left to Craig William Burton, including Nanette Louise Burton’s trust fund, are to be liquidated immediately and given to the organizations named herein.”
Mr. Spencer removed his glasses and stared at me. “You do understand Ms. Burton’s wishes.” It was a statement, not a question.
“Yes, sir. If the dog dies of anything other than old age, I lose everything. I think that about sums it up.”
This is going to be the most pampered pooch in history.