Stanley Klepp deceased (5b)
By Simon Barget
It’s a two-partner firm – little brass nameplate showcases the name Pearson Brain -- turns out to be in a side turning just off the Edgware Road, above a dry-cleaner-and-clothes-repair shop with an unceremonious entrance opening into a narrow steep flight of stairs up to the first floor then into a tiny set of interlinked rooms which Kaminski can hardly believe holds all the people it does; and the floor has that quaint unevenness where you really sense you’re in an old house and the regal-blue lozenge-patterned carpet gives in places and not in others: two secretaries sharing a tiny room on the immediate right-hand side at the top of the stairs, one desk facing the door the other desk perpendicular thereto and somewhat behind this door, then there’s another two-desk set-up in the office right ahead if you continue forward from the stairs -- the desk is a lavish ancien régime affair which he takes to be Pearson’s although he’s not sure -- then a further room on the right which would then be Brain’s. He’s sort of nosing around in this hallway/corridor area after just announcing his presence to the more prominent secretary when Pearson appears from another tiny room on the left-side opposite Brain’s room which Kaminski can see houses one of those behemoth photocopiers, and not much else other than sundry stationery items, piles of clear document sleeves, and white A4 envelopes and Pearson takes him upstairs again to the top of the house to the firm’s meeting room, holding a document whose edges flutter up as he strides up the stairs at the rate of three steps per foot; no suit but just a plain navy shirt with a button-down collar and an animal logo Kaminski doesn’t recognize tucked into golden cords hoiked up beyond his hips to make him look even rangier than he, giving the impression that his upper body is a separate entity to his legs.
They go into the tiny attic room, two skylights and little dormer windows and there’s just a square glass-topped table with polished chrome legs three chairs and Pearson sits down erectly in one of the chairs with only a broad black leather strap wound round the metal frame to support his back, and Kaminski follows, a small water jug and four upturned glasses on a place mat from which Pearson takes a glass and pours himself a full serving, then looking up to see if Kaminski wants any which he refuses with a neat shake-of-the-head, then he begins: he’s not sure how much he knows about his father’s financial circumstances but he’d ended up quite well-off despite his modest living standards and this is the will -- taps his right hand on it -- which Kaminski probably would have anticipated; it’s not typical although in his experience there’s no such thing as typical, and it leaves the greater part of the estate to various foundations and charities; he stares vacantly, inscrutably through the piece of paper as if he needs reminding of its contents, and as if to show Kaminski by telepathy the relevant part, his glasses pushed right up to the bridge of his nose so that the lenses are almost touching the flesh around his eyes magnifying his beady pupils, his eyes, blank and his eyelids puffy.
Sliding the paper along the table, he turns to the second page and taps on each bequest with the closed-cap side of his Mont Blanc: Kaminski squints and reads internally: £1.3 million tax free to the Walgrave Animal Sanctuary, Brooke Hill Farm Bovingdon HP1 2RY, repeating the word ‘animal’ over and over in his head to try and make sense of what he’s just taken in, and then looks up to Pearson, and just asks him “what is this, what’s it talking about?”, and Pearson confirms that it’s a an animal sanctuary in Hertfordshire, and he doesn’t know what his father’s exact connection is thereto but there must be some good reason, nevertheless those were his clear instructions, and then £110,000 tax free to the Free Palestine Movement 405 Vista Heights Rd. El Cerrito, CA 94530, Kaminski says ‘riiiight’ and finally £20,000 in cash to Irene Knowlesworthy of Flat 4, Falcon Court, Grove Road, London NW9 3AN – Kaminski bursts out with ‘who??’ and starts to snigger, an unnatural, forced snigger, which is his attempt to show he can see the funny side of all this.
But behind this pretence, he’s thinking, and thoughts seem to pour in on each other in that nebulous way: how could his father have had this money, he doesn’t feel like he had it, although he must have had, since he sold his jewellery shop in 1978 plus all the stock -- Klepp’s had mainly marketed diamonds to a niche Jewish clientele for quite a hefty mark-up – he’d never come face to face with the figures as they’d been hidden from him not so much as a conscious effort by his father to keep them from him but more out of the combination of his father’s secrecy and his own reluctance to ask. Perhaps this was because he felt unworthy, but he’d also been strongly convinced that there was no way he could ever get the benefit of if he had done, so what was the point: it would always have come with caveats and conditions whose fulfillment would have made him feel compromised and infantile so he never made motions to comply. Yet still these figures on this paper seem to be a reminder to him of what he could have had if things had been different in his character, if he’d asserted himself, although he’s not sure what this difference is, and he feels to some degree that his scepticism that the money really existed has somehow contributed to the situation in hand now, which is that he won’t get any of if, it’s almost as if he has created the whole thing himself with his pessimistic attitude.
Pearson resumes: going by his current estimation, minus inheritance tax, his bill, the sundry expenses such as the fee for lodging the IHT form and probate and the burial fees, the accountants’ fees, his father had just over £1.6 million in cash in a Halifax account up in Leeds -- this was where he’d grown up -- a very small amount in another Barclays savings account, of about £26,000 and then some smaller amounts in another Barclays account, but he had no pension, no life insurance policy, no shares, no bonds, unit trusts, no car, so that once all the costs were paid the cash would be almost completely expended. And the last thing is the flat…aha, so he has left me something Kaminski thinks but of course under some proviso or whimsical stipulation, and he feels a gurgling of triumph and discomfort, the discomfort of receiving something which he doesn’t really want to receive, which he doesn’t want to take, and as he grapples with this conflict, Pearson says it’s dealt with in an addendum to the will, because the beneficiary is to remain secret, only the executors know, and they are who, Kaminski asks; he and his partner Simon Brain, and Kaminski is really wondering why his identity had to be kept secret until it dawns on him, that he’s not the beneficiary and blurts out, ‘whose stupid idea is that, obviously my father’s, maybe he did have a bit on the side after all’. This utterance is ignored and Pearson confirms that he is the beneficiary of the residuary estate, all that’s left after the various disposals, and this means all personal property such as clothes, books, anything in his father’s flat, and lastly if Kaminski wants to take a copy of the will he is welcome to have one. Wait, so you know who this person is then, Kaminski interrupts, yes I know, but the will says that the beneficiary must not be named in the will, meaning, well meaning, that I cannot tell you. Can it do this; is it legal, and doesn’t everyone have to know who gets what? Well actually, no, Pearson brings himself up in his seat and taps it with his pen, a will is not a public document; it doesn’t need to be public, so as long as the executors know who to give the money to, then that is sufficient; I know who the person is but as you can see, and he shows him the relevant clause: “to the person directed in the addendum dated [ ] which shall be closed to all but my executors in this will.”
Kaminski holds his head in his hands and lets it sink so that his forearms rest on the glass table and Pearson watches, and feels he needs to say something: “Are you ok?”; he’s fine, it’s more a conspicuous demonstration of ultimate weariness; sullenness, insolence, and then he picks himself up and flings himself forward, decanting a loud ‘aaaaaaaarrgh’ in a bravura display of anger, but ultimately trying to express something else which he’s not quite aware of, then he picks himself up in a sharp motion and speaks as if responding to something that Pearson has put to him aeons ago, which he has constantly declined to respond to, but which he no longer has the power to hold inside.