"I know. We'll toss a coin. I've got one right here." She pulled the Bermuda nickel from her pocket. "The queen, we open the one from Bartlett's; the fish, the letter from the lawyer. Here goes."
The coin landed with a clink on the table. "Heads. Okay. Money first." She pulled open the unsealed flap of the white envelope. The amount of the check enclosed was a surprise. Her low whistle made Finn's ears perk up. "Five thousand dollars. This'll help a lot with our future plans." Finn tilted his head to one side. "Yeah, I know." She ruffled his fur. "We 'have' no future plans." She added two pink packets of artificial sweetener to the coffee, took a sip, then slit the second envelope open carefully—respectful of the 40 percent rag content with its graceful script designation, 'Lawrence Jackson, Attorney at Law'—and withdrew a single sheet of paper.
On the first day Finn had come to live with her, Maureen had read aloud the list of instructions that had come along with him. He'd immediately sat at her feet, eyes focused on her face, ears alert, apparently enjoying every word. She'd soon developed the habit of reading to him often—from newspapers, magazines, advertising flyers, novels. He seemed to like them all. She didn't receive many personal letters, though—her parents usually phoned or e-mailed—so this would be his first.
"'Dear Ms. Doherty: In the matter of the estate of Penelope Josephine Gray, this is formal notice that Penelope Josephine Gray died on the last day of July past and that you are the apparent only heir to Penelope Josephine Gray's estate, consisting of certain property in Haven, Florida. Please contact this office at your earliest convenience for further information regarding the administration of the decedent's estate."
The letter was signed by Lawrence R. Jackson, Administrator of the Estate.
"What does it mean?" she asked.
Finn blinked. "Woof," he said.
"'Certain property,'" she quoted the letter. "That could mean anything. A farm. A swamp. A mansion. And who is Penelope Josephine Gray?" Finn lay down and closed his eyes. Maureen read the letter again, this time to herself. The fancy letterhead included telephone, fax, and e-mail address.
What if it was a scam? What if Lawrence R. Jackson was an identity thief? Maureen nearly laughed out loud at that one. Who would want her identity? A single woman with no job and pretty darned close to no home.
She opened her laptop and typed in "Jackson, Nathan and Peters, Attorneys at Law, Haven, Florida."
"The website looks legit," she told Finn. "They've been in business at the same address since the eighties. Not a very big building. Looks more like a house than an office. It says here they specialize in wills, trusts, estate planning, and family law. What do you think?"
"Woof," Finn said.
"You're right. I'll call my folks. They probably know exactly who Penelope Josephine Gray is."
Frank Doherty answered on the first ring. "Hello, sweetheart," he said. "What's going on?" She knew her parents were concerned about the loss of her job, and she'd tried hard to convince them that 'she' wasn't worried, that something would come up.
Maybe something had.
"Darndest thing." She read the lawyer's letter to him—by this time her mother was on the line too. "Do you two know who Penelope is?" Maureen asked. "Do we have some kind of family connection to her? Or to Haven, Florida?"
"Never heard of the lady," he said. "You, Nancy?"
"Uh-uh. I don't recognize her name. But I think we've all been to Haven. You'd just finished the eighth grade and we drove down to Florida. Remember, Maureen? It was right after we went to Walt Disney World. Nice little place. We went out on a fishing boat. You caught a fish."
She remembered the fish. "I wanted you to cook it for dinner. We took it to a restaurant and they cooked it for us. So that was Haven?"
"I'm quite sure it was," her mother said. "Cute town. Quiet. Near the beach. A little house there would be nice. I say you take them up on the offer. Whoever she was, Penelope what's-her-name has done you a favor. Maybe she was a customer at Bartlett's and you sold her the prettiest dress she ever owned. Maybe she saw your name somewhere and liked the sound of it. People do strange things. You'll figure it out. Meanwhile, why turn down a trip to Florida, with winter coming on?"
"I'll give the lawyer a call," Maureen promised. "If it sounds okay, I think I'll do it."
Frank Doherty gave instructions for her to keep them informed and asked if she needed anything, as he always did.
She answered that she was fine, thank you, and assured him that she didn't need anything, as she always did.
"Oh, Maureen?" Her mother's voice was hopeful. "Yes, Mom?"
"Maybe you'll meet someone in Haven."
Maureen smiled at the familiar admonition, said goodbye and immediately googled Penelope Josephine Gray.