Russell Hatler

Rob and Lucille were children of their time. Aging children perhaps but children, nonetheless. They’d met at the Saddle Rack Nightclub, a singles bar on Auzerais Avenue near downtown San Jose, California. That was almost twenty years ago, when Rob was twenty-seven and Lucille was a mere slip of a girl at the age of twenty-three. There’d been a lot of water under the bridge since then. The Saddle Rack had closed and reopened in Fremont. Now it was closed again for good.

Rob had been married and divorced. Twice. Lucille was well on her way to becoming a card-carrying old maid. She’d had her horoscope cast by a friend from work. Lucille was a Pisces. Lots of lady Pisces end up old maids. Pisces love to help folks and are frequently disappointed when they discover who it is they’ve actually spent their time and energy helping. We are a fickle species.

The topic of marriage had arisen three times during their relationship. On each occasion Lucille was lukewarm whereas Rob was emphatically opposed to legitimizing their relationship through the services of the state or the church. He’d been burned twice, thank you very much and he wasn’t interested in being a three-time loser. Besides if they needed justification for their being together it was because they enjoyed the sex. After the novelty wore off MDMA helped to put them in the mood. The fourth time they used Molly, though, Lucille’s pulse rate went through the roof, and she broke out in a cold sweat. The next morning, she visited her GP who recommended against the continued use of unregulated pharmaceutical stimulants. And no, he wouldn’t give her a prescription. Don’t even ask. So they went back to weekend, recreational, unadorned sex and it suited them both just fine.

Rob was a real estate agent. He had his broker’s license. He’d worked in the real estate business on and off for thirteen years. Rob really, really wanted to become a member of the Millionaires Club. With home prices in California these days that came out to half a house sale. Rob had yet to qualify.

Lucille was on her fourth cat. The first three had died at eight, six and five years of age respectively. That stuff about a cat having nine lives was nonsense. Rob and Lucille had moved in together when her first cat, Clementine, was three. Rob didn’t care much for cats. Cats didn’t care much for Rob either. Rob, however, was blessed with a considerably longer life expectancy.

Lucille’s current cat was named Purr-fiddy. It was a cute name. It was a cute cat. Rob didn’t care much for Purr-fiddy. Purr-fiddy didn’t much give a shit what Rob cared about as long as her cat food was in the cat bowl on the kitchen floor at six. Come to that, Purr-fiddy didn’t much give a shit about anything. She was a happy kitty.

Lucille’s Aunt Mabel lived in an apartment complex seven blocks away in Willow Glen. Aunt Mabel was a widow. Her husband of forty-five years, Uncle Tony, died of lung cancer fifteen years ago. Consequently, Lucille was Aunt Mabel’s only living relative.

Uncle Tony and Aunt Mabel had bought a house in Alviso the year after the town was annexed by San Jose. The good citizens of Alviso voted repeatedly to resist annexation but finally succumbed to the siren song of stability. Better schools, reduced property taxes, improved community services. Growth is good. Resistance is futile. They paid $29,900 for a three-bedroom, two-bath home on a tenth of an acre in a blue-collar neighborhood. Over the years the property value increased. So did the amount they owed on second and third mortgages. After all, if you can’t borrow against the equity in your house, what’s it good for?

Uncle Tony worked on the assembly line at Ford Motors in San Jose, first as a fabricator and later as a supervisor. When the Ford plant closed Uncle Tony spent the next year and a half looking for work and fixing his beloved red 1957 Ford Thunderbird convertible (312 CID 245 HP). He’d bought the car new for $7,350 after his employee discount. The T-Bird was Uncle Tony’s pride and joy. Aunt Mabel rode him mercilessly over the extravagant purchase. Uncle Tony ignored her nagging. Back in those days the man wore the pants in the family.

When the NUMMI plant opened in Fremont on the site of the old GM plant they took him on. He worked there for the next thirteen years until 1997 when Uncle Tony took early retirement. He was only sixty-three, but he wanted to enjoy the sunset years of his life. His joints were stiffened from arthritis, so he sold his beloved T-Bird. It only had 137,512 miles on the odometer, but it needed engine work. The buyer paid Uncle Tony $5,000 cash. Uncle Tony briefly considered applying the money to one of the second mortgages but then he had an inspiration. The NUMMI plant had one of those newfangled computing machines from a local company named Apple.

Apple was celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Macintosh. Uncle Tony went down to the San Jose office of Merrill, Lynch, Pierce, Fenner and Smith and bought a thousand shares of Apple at $3.50 a share. He insisted that his broker give him the physical share certificate. He didn’t plan on doing much trading and you can’t trust anybody these days.

The share certificate arrived ten days later in the mail. Uncle Tony went down to the San Jose branch of the Bank of America on The Alameda and signed up for a safe deposit box. He put the share certificate inside and forgot all about it.

When Uncle Tony died Aunt Mabel took a look at the books. She’d worked as an admin to the CEO of Ex Post Facto Semiconductors (EPF Semi) for the past fifteen years so she warn’t no dummy, but Uncle Tony had been in charge of the family finances for forty-five years and the hodge podge of unrelated notes and ledgers comprised a bookkeeper’s worst nightmare. In the first place the amount of debt that had accrued on the house was breathtaking. Fortunately, her niece, Lucille, had recently become involved with a nice real estate salesman, so she called up Rob and asked him to come over for an appraisal. He listed the house and sold it in six weeks. After sales commission, seller’s expenses, miscellaneous fees and loan payoffs Aunt Mabel ended up with a cashier’s check in the amount of $15, 375.

The bulk of the proceeds went to pay for Uncle Tony’s funeral. She held a yard sale to get rid of the furniture, his old clothes and a few pots and pans. She moved into the apartment in Willow Glen. All she had left was a cardboard box full of assorted keys and cryptic notebooks, a head filled with memories and a heart full of love for the old guy.

Aunt Mabel herself had passed three weeks ago. Since Aunt Mabel had died intestate, Lucille inherited everything, including the legal duties as executrix for the estate. While she was going through Aunt Mabel’s closet, she found the cardboard box on the shelf along with two hatboxes and five pair of shoes. Lucille shook her head sadly. So little to show for seventy-seven years of life. That’s when she spied the safe deposit key.

She called Rob’s cellphone.

“Sweetheart?” she whispered. “Can you take a break and come see me? I’m at Aunt Mabel’s place. I think I may have found something valuable.”

At the word ‘valuable’ Rob dropped what he was doing and scurried over to Willow Glen. Mounted the steps to Aunt Mabel’s apartment and rang the bell. Lucille answered the door. She had the safe deposit key in her hand. And she was smiling.

“I looked it up online,” she said breathlessly. “The key opens a safe deposit box in a Bank of America branch. I haven’t figured out which one yet, but it must be close by. Aunt Mabel and Uncle Tony lived in Alviso for years and almost never traveled outside the Bay Area. Except when he took his red convertible to the classic car shows down in Monterey and that was on weekends when the banks would’ve been closed.”

Rob whipped out his cellphone and called all the B of A branches in the immediate vicinity. The third call was to the branch on The Alameda. After a long discussion with a Mr. Gerald Whittaker, the vice president in charge of safe deposit boxes, Rob put Lucille on the phone.

“You do?” she said. “We’ll be right down.”

“This is probably going to be a wild goose chase,” said Rob but you could see he’d gotten a little excited himself. “Another goddamned Pirates of the Caribbean scavenger hunt. Let’s go see what you’ve got.”

They drove down to The Alameda. Went inside the bank and met Mr. Gerald Whittaker. He was short and slender, wore a three-piece, grey, wool worsted suit and a puzzled frown. Lucille handed over the documents proving who she was: her authorization as executrix of Aunt Mabel’s estate, marriage and death certificates for Mabel and Tony and the safe deposit box key. When he saw the key, his eyes lit up.

“We’ve been trying to phase out our safe deposit boxes,” he said. “This just might be the last rented box in the bank. I’ll be pleased to assist you. Come down to our vault.”

Rob and Lucille felt like royalty as they were ushered into the bowels of the bank. When they reached the vault level, Gerald took the key from Lucille, opened a door on the left-hand side of the vault and entered a large, well-lighted room, leaving the door ajar. Inside the room Lucille could see bank after bank of gleaming safe deposit boxes, all but theirs apparently empty. Gerald came back bearing their safe deposit box. He put the safe deposit box on a metal table and motioned for them to be seated.

“I’ll leave you alone with the contents,” he said with a broad smile. “It’s definitely the last one. I’ll be outside if you need me.”

Rob tipped back the lid of the box and peered inside.

“Damn,” he muttered. “Nothing in here but a folded sheet of paper.”

“Let me see,” said Lucille, opening the box all the way. “It has an Apple logo on the top. I think it’s a stock certificate. Uncle Tony’s name at the top and says 1,000 shares in the middle. It’s dated June 6th, 1997 and signed by Steve Wozniak at the bottom. How much do you think a thousand shares of Apple would be worth today?”

“Let me Google it,” said Rob. “Yikes! The stock split on a 4-for-1 basis on August 28, 2020, a 7-for-1 basis on June 9, 2014, and split on a 2-for-1 basis on February 28, 2005 and June 21, 2000.”

“What does all that mean?” asked Lucille.

“Two times two is four,” said Rob. “Times seven is twenty-eight. Times four is roughly a hundred. That’s a hundred thousand shares of Apple. At a hundred-fifty bucks a share the stock is worth roughly fifteen million dollars.”

“And it’s all mine?” asked Lucille.

“Well, you do have to pay estate taxes,” said Rob. “I came across this while I was studying for my broker’s license. That’s forty percent.”

“Yikes” exclaimed Lucille. “I have to pay the government six million dollars? That’s okay. I still end up with nine million bucks.”

“Not really,” smiled Rob. “The first eleven million is exempt from Federal estate tax.”

“So, I only have to pay tax on the four million?” said Lucille with a big grin. “Why, that’s a mere one point six million. Now I’ve got thirteen and a half million left over. Tax free.”

“What about me?” frowned Rob. “I thought we were a team.”

“May I be perfectly frank?” asked Lucille. “You’re beginning to get on my nerves. I’d like a little time alone with my money. Why don’t you step outside with Gerald? Now.”

When she emerged from the anteroom Lucille was a changed woman. She walked taller and her stride was more purposeful. It’s amazing what a few million dollars will do to perk up your self-esteem. Her purse was strapped tightly to her shoulder. The safe deposit box was empty.

“You can take the box back, Gerald,” she said. “We won’t be needing it any longer.”

The next few months were tense. Lucille quit her job at Google, opened an investment account at Merrill (whatever happened to Lynch Pierce Fenner and Smith?) and deposited the stock certificate in her portfolio. Then she engaged the services of an advisor recommended by Merrill who said she should diversify. They sold off half the Apple stock and bought some tax-free municipal bonds. When the dust settled, she had four million dollars in cash left over.

“I’ve got a crazy idea,” said Rob one night over dinner. Rob was becoming a very good cook. “Why don’t we take a million bucks out of your brokerage account and convert it to BitCoins?”

“Isn’t that risky?” asked Lucille. “We could lose the whole thing.”

“You’d still have better than ten million, worst case scenario. Best case scenario we double the million.”

Rob explained about BitCoins and wallets and passcodes.

“I’ll think about it,” said Lucille.

“Pretty please?”

“Okay,” smiled Lucille. “But only because you’re such a good cook.”

The next day they transferred a million dollars into a cash account and used it to buy BitCoins. The BitCoins were deposited into Lucille’s wallet on her iPhone. She saved her twenty-four-word recovery phrase in a separate password-protected folder. Then she used the same strong password to protect her wallet.

“What’s your password?” Rob teased.

“Pussy with a dash,” she murmured softly.

“I love it when you talk dirty,” whispered Rob. “Let’s celebrate with Molly. I got some fresh off the Skittles truck.”

“Don’t you remember what the doctor said?” she asked.

“Fuck the doc.”

“I’d rather you fucked me.”

They banged down some Ecstasy pills and waited for the float. Jesus. What a buzz. The world was awesome. Love everywhere. And then Lucille’s heart seized up.

“I can’t breathe,” she wheezed.

“Hold on, Baby,” Rob urged but he couldn’t find his phone and when he did, she was already gone.

Rob held Lucille’s lifeless body in his arms for a very long time. Then he thought about the fifteen million. He didn’t think Lucille had made a will. They weren’t married. Heck they weren’t even related in any way. Common law was out. He’d always insisted they keep everything separate.

And then he remembered the BitCoins. A million of something is way better than a million of nothing. He opened Lucille’s purse and took out her iPhone. She’d setup facial recognition for Rob’s distinctive visage. The iPhone recognized Rob. Thank God! The Homepage appeared. Rob toggled over to the BitCoin wallet. The million bucks leered back at him. Just out of reach.

What was the password? Something pussy with a dash. They both loved James Bond. Pussy-Galore. He tried it. No soap. Five tries to go. He looked at the cat lounging on the windowsill. Something tickled the back of his brain. That’s it! What was the cat’s name? What was the fucking cat’s name? Purr something or other. Damn your eyes, Lucille. You picked a fine time to leave me.

On the windowsill the eponymous Purr-fiddy blinked her emerald, green eyes and began to lovingly imitate her namesake. She couldn’t imagine what the fuss was all about. It was way past dinner time, and her tummy was full. Honestly, what more could a creature ask for?