Wright threw the letter in the recycle bin, shaking his head. “Stupid fraud mail. It’s amazing anyone falls for that kind of stuff.” He picked up his newspaper and arranged himself on the couch, balancing his cup of coffee on the wear-worn arm. He set aside the A and B sections and selected the classifieds to scour the job postings. He circled a janitorial position and a warehouse position. The rest of the ads were for people with business degrees. He set the paper down, wondering how everyone straight out of college got jobs these days, and sipped his coffee. His empty stomach turned, so he set the coffee back down. He needed to eat soon, but he hated the idea of going to the food bank. He disliked the idea of accepting charity when he lacked a way to give back. He folded the paper and tucked it and two copies of his resume under his arm. With one last glance at the mirror to check his appearance, he headed out the door and started down the street. The nearest job was two miles away.

He walked at a mild pace to avoid breaking a sweat. No one wanted to hire a guy who dripped on their carpet and smelled like a locker room.  It took him about one hour to get there. Outside the plush office building he took a moment to put on his confident face before walking briskly up to the desk. The fashionably dressed and adorned receptionist prattled cheerily into a headset. When she finally noticed Wright, she held up a finger to signal him to wait a minute. “I’m sorry Mitzy, I’m gonna have to put you on hold… Oh my gosh! I know! They need more than one person for this job… Okay, hold on.” She turned to Wright and, with the air of one whose work was never done, stated, “May I help you, Sir.”

Wright smiled, “Yes. I’d like a job application, please.” Jobless_men_keep_going

“What position?”

“Maintenance Engineer, please.”

The girl smirked obnoxiously. “Isn’t it silly the way they come up with such big names for such little jobs like being a janitor?”

“I think it’s an attempt to give a vital occupation a more dignified air.”

The receptionist smiled at him and lazily shuffled through a stack of papers until she found the right application. “I don’t know why we still use paper applications for janitors. Everyone else applies online.” She passed the application over the counter and switched her phone back on, “Mitzy?”

Wright took a seat, extracted a pen from his pocket, and filled out the application. It took some concentration to ignore the receptionist’s babbling, of which it seemed he became the subject. When he returned to the desk, the receptionist seemed surprised to see him. She held up her finger again and continued talking to her friend for a full minute before punching the hold button and holding out her hand for the application. Wright withheld it. “May I please borrow your stapler?”

The receptionist gave him an irritated look before diving into her desk drawers, questing for the stapler. Wright glanced over the counter and spotted it between a stuffed file sorter and a toppled stack of Glamour magazines. Without asking permission, he picked it up, stapled his resume to the application, and set it back down before the receptionist popped her head back up, obviously unaware of his actions. He smiled, “nevermind,” and handed her his application. As he walked out, he heard her complaining to her friend, “Oh my gosh! You’ll never believe what this stupid janitor just did…”

Outside, Wright unfolded his paper again and looked at the address of the next job offer. It was another three miles away. He refolded the paper and started walking. This time he passed several restaurants and fast food places. His stomach growled audibly and he constantly swallowed down his saliva. He went as quickly as he dared past the various eateries and made his second destination in an hour and fifteen minutes.

The warehouse lacked a formal reception area. Wright stood awkwardly just inside the door, looking around and wondering where to go. An employee noticed him after a couple of minutes and directed him to a cluster of offices nestled in a corner of the building. The outermost office seemed to be one large desk with a narrow walkway to allow people to access the offices further back. A trio of casually dressed women bustled about behind the counter in wheeled desk chairs. One who was shuffling through papers looked up briefly at Wright then dropped her eyes back to her paperwork, “here for an application?”

“Yes, Ma’am. For the warehouse position.”

She kept her eyes on her pile of paper but pointed to a large file holder attached to the back wall. Wright looked through the various applications. He decided to take one of each. The only visitor chair was shoved in the corner behind the door. Several times while he filled out his applications, someone entering or exiting the office cluster banged Wright on the knees.  Somehow he managed to keep his pen from smudging.

It took him forty-five minutes to fill out the various applications. When he finished, he approached the desk, applications and resume in hand. “May I please borrow your stapler?” he asked, directing his question more towards the desk than to anyone in particular. A woman negotiating something over the phone rolled her chair over, grabbed a stapler from some unseen place, and plunked it on the counter. Wright attached his resume to the application for the warehouse position since it was the only one he knew might still be open, then waited. A couple minutes passed before a woman typing rapidly on the computer keyboard noticed him. She rolled over, took the applications from him, and handed them to the woman sorting papers. The paperwork woman accepted the applications, glanced through them, then spoke mechanically,  “Thanks for applying, someone will get back to you within a week if they’re interested in interviewing you.”

Wright thanked the women, who waved him some sort of acknowledgement. He didn’t look forward to passing all those dining establishments again, so he took a different route home. It added another mile to his trip home, but he didn’t mind too much as long as he did not have to smell food.

He got home about one in the afternoon to find an eviction warning stuck between the door and the jamb. He rubbed his temples and tossed it causally onto his unplugged television. Wearied from his long walk after five days without food, he laid down on the couch with his ear close to the phone and dreamed about burgers and milkshakes.

He woke to the sound of knocking on his door. He stayed where he was a moment, silent, to determine the quality of the knock and the insistence of the knocker. When the second round of knocking came he decided it sounded like someone on important business, but not someone angry. He stood slowly, feeling a bit dizzy, and opened the door.

An elderly man dressed in a very fine suit smiled broadly at him. “Good evening, Mr. Howell. My name is Tomi Aldan, attorney at law. I trust you received my letter by now?”

The name sounded familiar to Wright, but he couldn’t quite place it. “No, but come on in.” Mr. Aldan accepted the invitation and took a seat on the couch.

Wright fetched a couple glasses of water. “Sorry, but it’s all I’m offering these days.”

“Quite alright.” Mr. Aldan drank deeply. “Best beverage in the world, if you ask me.”

Wright nodded and smiled. “That’s what I keep telling myself.”

The attorney chuckled a little. “Well now, down to business. Your great-uncle, Hiram Sibley, retained me as his executor. He willed his entire estate to you as the only child of his favorite niece, Marcella Sibley-Howell.”

Then it dawned on Wright why this man’s name seemed familiar. He went to his recycle bin and pulled out the letter he mistook for junk mail. “You mean, this is you?” He pointed to the letterhead.

“Yes.” Mr. Aldan squinted at the recycle bin for a moment before returning his gaze to Wright. He looked confused. “But I don’t understand. Do you wish to refuse your great-uncle’s gift? If so, the next of kin is his cousin, whom I gathered your uncle disliked greatly.”

Wright shook his head, half wishing his convictions would let up a bit. “Sorry, Sir, but you got the wrong guy. I’m not this man’s great-nephew, and this woman here,” he pointed to Marcella’s name, “that’s not my mother’s name.”

The attorney stood up in great consternation. “Oh, dear. I’m terribly sorry, Mr. – Uh…”

“You got the correct name. I’m Wright Howell. Just not the Wright Howell you were looking for.”

The attorney shook his head and muttered to himself as he left, “Dear, dear, how could this have happened? I must have a talk with our new private detective.”

That statement caught Wright’s ear. He tapped Mr. Aldan on the shoulder just before the door closed. “Excuse me, but will you be looking for a new private detective, then?”

The attorney turned, bewildered, “Well, yes, I suppose so. At least, there’s a good chance of it. I don’t understand what that has to do with you, though.”

“Wait here.” Wright rushed to his room and pulled out his PI license and a copy of his resume. “Here, see. I’m a private detective.”

Mr. Aldan took the resume. “I see,” he answered shortly. He left without saying anything more.

Wright watched Mr. Aldan disappear down the stairs, disappointed that he seemed unimpressed by the coincidence of finding a private detective just as he planned to fire one. Wright hated to be the reason the other guy got put out of work, but if that PI didn’t check backgrounds well enough to know who a couple million dollars should go to, he didn’t deserve to be a PI.

Wright sunk back down on the couch and went back to sleep. In the morning he went through the same routine as the day before, and every day before that for months, sans coffee though.  Around 9:30 the phone rang.

“Good morning, my name is Bonnie Nyako of Langer Private Detection Company.  Is Mr. Wright Howell available?”

“Yes, that’s me.”

“Mr. Howell, we are currently looking to hire a new private detective. We’re very impressed with your resume. Could you come in for an interview today?”

“Pardon?”

“We’d like to interview you, Sir. Is one o’clock a good time for you?”

“Sure! What’s the address?”

Wright carefully took down the address. It was clear across town.  As soon as he hung up he fished under every couch cushion, sifted through every pocket, and checked every possible depository of loose change until he had enough for a bus ride. Then he put on his only suit and walked briskly down to the bus stop.

At the office a cleanly dressed woman smiled becomingly at him from behind her desk. “Hello. You must be Mr. Howell?”

He nodded. “Yes, Ma’am.”

She stood and shook his hand. “I’m Bonnie Nyako. We spoke on the phone. I’ll just ring for Mr. Langer if you’ll have a seat right over there.”

A few minutes later a tall man dressed in street clothes emerged from the back office. “So, I’m told you have integrity?”

Wright smiled. He felt terribly overdressed. “I like to think so, Sir.”

Mr. Langer smiled back. “Well, Mr. Aldan certainly thinks you do. Turned down a couple mil with your name on it, I hear.”

“Well, it wasn’t actually my name. It was just the same name. Big difference, you know.”

“I do know, and apparently so do you. Why don’t you come on into my office and let’s talk a while.”

At 4:30 that afternoon, Wright knocked on the apartment manager’s door. She scowled at him when she opened it. “What do you want?”

Wright held out a note from his new employer. “I have a job, Ma’am. I won’t get my first paycheck for another two weeks, but it ought to be enough to pay for this month and the next check will cover next month.”

The manager deepened her scowl and snatched the note from his hand. She mumbled something as she looked it over before disappearing behind the door. Wright waited nervously, occasionally glancing at his watch. After five minutes, he concluded the manager decided not to accept his new job as credit for rent. He cleared his throat, fighting down the queasy feeling in his stomach, and knocked again.  “Excuse me, Ma’am,” he spoke loudly enough to be heard through the door, “but I need that note back.” The door swung open. Wright spoke quickly, trying to get the words out before they failed him. “It might help me get a place until my first check comes.”

The manager exchanged her scowl for blankness. “Whad’ya need a new place for? I said you could stay, didn’t I?” Then she shut the door again.

Wright stood still for a minute, his knees and eyes watery with relief and gratitude. When he felt able to walk again, he gave a short laugh, turned, and strolled down the street toward the food bank. He needed something to keep his strength up for his job, after all, and next month he planned to donate a whole case of food.

 

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