“Yes, Chef!” Ivory shouted out her confirmation with the rest of her fellow kitchen crew. She had been daydreaming about the menu she would create for her own future restaurant when Chef Stan’s instructions caught her attention. The kitchen had to execute each dish flawlessly, as they were expecting the Michelin evaluators for their lunch service any day. Ivory glanced at Olivia Remington, who was expertly working on the garnishes next to her, and gave her a sly smile – with one eyebrow raised in a mischievous expression. Olivia shook her head in return, both believing there was no way anyone from Michelin would discover this out-of-the-way place in Chicago. Although they served good food, Ivory knew this restaurant was a stepping-stone for her. A place where she could earn some money while making essential connections in the industry and paying off her student loans. While they continued their assigned tasks, Ivory’s cell phone vibrated in her pocket for the third time that day.
“Geez, leave me alone.”
“What have I done now?” Olivia asked.
Ivory replied, “No, not you. My phone just buzzed. I’ve had like three calls today from some random place in Missouri. It’s probably spam, but it’s odd because it’s always the same number. I thought scammers use different numbers.”
“I thought maybe it was Stefan you’re ignoring,” Olivia said, giving her a knowing look. “Did they leave a voicemail? You know, one of those saying you’ve won the Nigerian lottery if you will only wire them a few thousand dollars?”
Ivory laughed. “In fact, there have been voicemails but not from Stefan. They say they’re from an attorney’s office and need to speak with me.
Olivia frowned and pointed her knife at Ivory. “When we take a break, I want to hear one of these voicemails. What if the FBI is looking for you? I better watch my back.”
Ivory sighed as she rolled her eyes at Olivia. After three years of dating Stefan, she had broken it off. She wanted a deep emotional connection and a family. His idea of a good time was to read the financial column. With her long hours at the restaurant, it left little energy to look for anyone new, and she was enjoying her newfound freedom. Waving her knife back at Olivia, she said, “I’m relieved to be single again.”
Suddenly, Chef Stan’s voice pierced her musings, making her jump. She hadn’t heard him approach from behind.
“Ivory!” Stan barked. “I need more basil. Where is it? They should have delivered it this morning.”
“Yes, Chef!” she said before scurrying to the pantry. Ivory scrambled to find the basil, cursing the delivery company under her breath. The chef hadn’t earned her respect because of his relentless bad behavior, but she still acknowledged his authority in the kitchen as she worked quickly. His tyranny made her wish all the more she owned her own restaurant.
As Ivory searched for the basil, she muttered to herself. I hope that attorney is calling from Publisher’s Clearing House and I can ditch this place. Grabbing the basil, she returned to her station.
“Is there some reason I do not have the vegetables for this order yet?” The chef barked.
“No, Chef. Coming right up, Chef,” Ivory tripped as she hustled to respond.
“I’m not paying you to stand around and stare into space. Or to gossip,” he said, his glare also falling on Olivia.
“You’re barely paying us at all,” Olivia retorted as Stan turned his back.
Ivory smiled at Olivia and nodded in agreement. She said nothing and focused on preparing Tuscan-style roasted asparagus to accompany the Chef’s Choice Swordfish entrée. She put the thought of the attorney’s voicemail out of her mind and did what she could to deliver an exceptional side dish. Stan’s menu might not be enough to draw the attention of Michelin evaluators, but she had a sense of pride in knowing her cooking was excellent.
As they neared the end of the lunch service, Ivory’s phone buzzed again. Pulling it from her pocket, she saw it was the same number from Missouri. Mouthing to Olivia, “It’s them again.”
“Hello?” she said hesitantly.
“Is this Ivory Bainbridge?” a male voice asked.
“Yes, this is she.”
“Miss Bainbridge, this is Tad Simons, attorney with Simons, Frank, and Simons in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. I’m sorry to keep calling, but I really need to speak with you today.”
Ivory shifted into protective mode. She was about to find out why an attorney had been so eager to talk to her, and she would not let him talk her into anything suspicious. Especially one from a place in Missouri she had barely heard of and needed a map to find. It sounded like one of those little places where people rode around in pickup trucks all day.
“Excuse me, where?” she said.
“Poplar Bluff, Missouri, ma’am,” Mr. Simons responded.
“I’ve never heard of it.”
Mr. Simons chuckled. “I get that a lot. We’re in South Eastern Missouri about a hundred and fifty miles south of St. Louis.”
“Um, ok.” Ivory couldn’t think of anything else to say. Poplar Bluff must be at least seven or eight hours from her Chicago apartment. What business would an attorney from there have with her? There was no way she had done anything wrong in that area of the world to warrant a call from an attorney. Ivory shook her head to clear the thoughts and focused on Mr. Simons.
“I’m sorry; what did you say?” Had he said something about someone dying?
“I’m notifying you of the death of Ruby Tompkins. She was an interesting lady, and I enjoyed our time together. I know this is a surprise.”
That was an understatement.
“Ruby Tompkins? I’m sorry, but I think you have me confused with someone else; I don’t know a Ruby Tompkins in Missouri.”
“You are Ivory Bainbridge, correct?”
“Then I have the correct person. Ruby Tompkins, from Landow Creek, Missouri, has passed and left you as an heir in her will. I have scheduled the formal reading of the will in our offices for Tuesday, March 12th. Can you make it?”
“Wait a minute. Who is, or was Ruby Tompkins? Why would she even know who I am let alone leave me anything?”
“That will become clear in time.”
“What if I don’t have the time to take off work?”
There was a long pause on the other end of the line.
“I understand how difficult it may be to digest this news. But I assure you, Mrs. Tompkins was very clear and left me your name and phone number.”
“How did she get that?” This is getting more weird by the second.
“Now that I can’t tell you. All I know is she listed you as an heir and gave me this number to contact. Please try to make arrangements with your work. I assure you, Mrs. Tompkins has left you a potentially sizable inheritance.”
Now he had her attention. A sizable inheritance. Maybe I could switch days off with Olivia and see if this is legit. What’s the worst that could happen? I walk in, they take one look at me and realize they made a big mistake. But what if?
“What do you mean sizable inheritance?”
“I cannot disclose the details until the formal reading of the will.”
Ivory blinked and looked at the brick wall in the alley they used as a break room trying to make a decision. Why not? A trip to nowhere in Missouri next week for the reading of the will of a stranger.
“I still think you have the wrong person, but if it will help clear things up, I’ll see if I can take a day off and come down there.”
“I appreciate that, Miss Bainbridge, and I believe you will find it worth your time. My secretary will overnight more information to you, confirming the date, time, and address.”
After disconnecting, she stared at the grimy wall. Despite her efforts, she could recall no one from Missouri or the name Ruby Tompkins. Having been abandoned at St. Emiliani soon after her birth, Ivory had been cared for and watched over by Sister Jean Robert until she graduated from high school. When she was in grade school, she had asked the nun more than once about her parents and how she came to be at the orphanage. With a gentle hand on her shoulder, Sister Jean Robert had said, “Ivory, God will be your father and Mary will be your mother.” It was not a satisfying answer then or now, but the only one she would receive. After years of no concrete answers, she gave up on knowing anything about the circumstances of her birth and instead, she kept busy with work. There was no point endlessly pondering the past. Her goals were in the future, owning a tapas bar where no one would dictate her menu. She imagined a place where people would crowd in, restaurant critics would recommend it in their swanky columns, and she would rake in the money.
Not a bad dream for an orphan.
Now, she had to contend with the possibility of a past.
The Inheritance: A Novel is now available through major book retailers or through the links below.