The late Mr X
Minty sat down at a small table in an open-air café in the sunny, picturesque town of Andorra la Vella, the capital of the principality. On the way from France the coach, brimful of passengers, had made a pit stop and everyone had piled out to stretch their legs and buy up large quantities of duty-free booty. Minty sipped iced chocolate topped with ginger ice cream and nibbled a biscuit. There were a couple of hours to kill before they continued the journey. She rummaged in her bag and withdrew the thriller she’d been glued to.
‘Hello there! Are you English?’
Minty swivelled round, her gaze turning to a high, wrought iron balcony where a man stood peering down at the bustle below.
‘Y –e- s,” she said cautiously.
‘Fancy a cuppa? I’ve a freshly brewed pot of Assam.’ Immaculately dressed, he was a tall, spare man with a thick head of iron -grey hair and spoke with a strong, east London accent.
Minty was adventurous. He doesn’t look like Bluebeard. ‘That sounds tempting.’
‘Ring the bell, then.’
She did just that and he ushered her into a large apartment beautifully, if somewhat conventionally, furnished, with many interesting objets d’art, money clearly no issue.
As she poured the tea, Mr X told her that after making millions in England in some obscure aspect of manufacturing, he’d come as a tax exile to Andorra where he’d lived for the past 10 years. He had no head for languages; hadn’t mastered Catalan or Spanish and could just about count up to ten in French. This made it difficult to communicate with and form friendships with the locals. The few British expats he knew were elderly couples whose interests centred firmly round their children and grandchildren back home. His three marriages had ended in divorce and he was estranged from his ex wives and several children. It was clear to Minty he was very unhappy living in Andorra, exiled from London where he was born and brought up. Once a year he returned to meet up with buddies but could never stay long as this would render him liable for payment of UK income tax.
‘Well, go home, pay tax and be happy ever after,’ Minty said.
Mr X shook his head. ‘ I worked like a dog. I don’t want the government squandering what it extracts from me.’
Minty sighed. ‘Then all you have to do is vote for a government whose policies you approve of.’
Mr X was not persuaded. ‘It doesn’t matter who runs the country. All election promises are broken. The rich are always clobbered. We’re punished for working hard and being successful.’
He was interested to hear that Minty was a lawyer and plied her with so many questions that she felt she was sitting an examination. As the coach drew up in the square, they exchanged business cards. He gave her a bottle of red wine and a big, smelly, creamy Camembert and gallantly escorted her to the vehicle, seeming genuinely sorry to see her go.
Minty thought no more of him as she caught up with a backlog of work. She’d been back about a fortnight when the office phone rang one afternoon. It was Mr X . He told her he’d paid off his lawyers and wanted Minty to act for him. She was flabbergasted. His legal advisors were one of the largest, cutting edge law firms in the City and losing Mr X as a client would be considered a catastrophe that would almost certainly cost someone his/her job.
‘I’ve told them to courier over all the papers to you today.’
As the years went by, Minty saw Mr X about once a year during his fleeting visits to London. He’d bring her a big bunch of fresh flowers and take her out to dinner, always to one of those over priced Michelin starred restaurants. He behaved with total propriety and liked to hear what she was doing. He never questioned why she was unmarried or childless. On his instructions she updated his will; he signed it in front of two witnesses and she logged it into the firm’s database.
One summer, she opened an email from Mr X’s housekeeper to say that he’d cancelled his annual trip to London as he’d gone to America to seek treatment for colon cancer. A few weeks later, the housekeeper called in tears to say that Mr X had died during surgery, having suffered a cardiac arrest.
Minty was his executor. He’d made it clear he desired a rather grand church service in London and wanted to be buried in freemasonry regalia in a grave adjoining that of his parents. Minty made arrangements for the funeral and for his remains to be flown to London, and notified his friends and family.
At dawn on the morning of the funeral the undertaker collected Minty from her flat and drove her to the airport to take delivery of the body. To her horror, no coffin or even paperwork for a coffin materialised. No one knew anything about the repatriation of Mr X.
Minty went to the swanky church where his alienated family (in sure and certain hope of a slice of the estate) and friends were gathered. She announced that the arrival of Mr X’s body had been unavoidably delayed, but as she imagined he would have wanted the service to go ahead it would, but that it would be treated as a memorial.
After the reception at a luxury hotel when the last mourners had staggered off rather the worse for drink, Minty turned to the business of reading the will. The air turned blue with imprecations that arose from the throats of aggrieved family members who were cut out. A timid cousin was left £10 and the rest of Mr X’s huge estate went to various charities. He bequeathed the contents of his wine cellar to Minty, thanked her for her friendship, and for the sound advice she’d given that guaranteed HM Revenue and Customs couldn’t lay claim to a single penny.
Diligently over the next six months, Minty made enquiries about Mr X’s remains but drew a blank. One morning she had no sooner powered on her pc than a call came through from a warehouse in Singapore. During a routine audit, the existence of a large crate had come to light that didn’t tally with records. Since there was nothing on the outside identifying it, a decision was made to prise it open. This revealed a hand carved coffin of the finest polished mahogany containing the remains of a man wearing high quality masonic regalia to which was fastened, like a medal, a consignment docket.
The late Mr X