Gabriella Quinn gazed out the picture window at the pond below. Most of its snow cover had melted days ago, but a heavy rain followed by a sudden dip in the temperature had left its surface smooth as glass, reflecting the bare trees that lined the shore. She could glimpse Woodson Lake in the distance and imagined the falls beyond, the tumbling waters suddenly frozen into a sculpture worthy of display in a museum.
Pennsylvania’s groundhog had predicted six more weeks of winter. If you believed such things. Only two weeks to go until Beaver Pond should begin to melt into itself once again, turning a subtle taupe that surely would signal the start of spring. She had chosen this room for her law office because of the view. The ever-changing pond and active wildlife, even in winter, were a source of delight whenever she glanced up from her desk.
She returned to drafting a particularly tricky clause in the contract she was preparing for the Hansen’s, who were selling their house. If acceptable to the buyer, this clause would permit Ann and Paul to stay in the house until June, allowing their young daughter Cyndi to finish out the school year before the family moved to Texas. Real estate law wasn’t her favorite, but most small law practices like her own survived on the fees real estate transactions generated for the attorney handling the transfer for either buyer or seller. In a larger practice, a paralegal would handle most of the details surrounding such sales, but Gaby wasn’t yet in a position to hire a paralegal, even part-time. The telephone rang, interrupting Gabriella’s train of thought.
“Law offices. Gabriella Quinn speaking,” she said, smiling to herself at the formality of her announcement given the location of her “offices” in this room in the cottage she’d inherited from her grandfather.
“Gaby, good to hear your voice. Bud Taylor calling. I’ve got an estate I’m hoping you’ll take on.”
Hiram Samuel “Bud” Taylor had retired from a large estate planning practice some fifteen years ago, winning the seat as Judge for the Foothills Probate District every four years since with little opposition. A tall, stocky man with steely gray hair, he preferred to be called “Bud” rather than “Judge Taylor,” but she still had difficulty with that informality.
“Good afternoon, Your Honor. I think I may be able to squeeze it in,” she said with a chuckle. She had opened her law practice in Woodson Falls just over two years ago. Fresh out of law school, she had resigned her tenured position as a professor of philosophy at Columbia University after she passed the bar in both New York and Connecticut. “What have you got?”
“Interesting case. Started with a land dispute up in Woodson Lake Estates. Lakeview Terrace, number sixteen. The defendant, by the name of Pieter Jorgenson, failed to appear when the case came up for hearing. The plaintiff, Ralph Loomis, was awarded a judgment by default against Jorgenson on an adverse possession claim when the defendant didn’t show up at the trial. Turned out Jorgenson had died suddenly in New York, an apparent stroke or brain aneurysm according to the death certificate. Just in his fifties too. Loomis can’t collect on the judgment or remove the wall blocking his access to his property until there’s an estate to file a claim against. Bill Harrison, Loomis’ attorney, asked me to appoint someone as administrator. There are no next of kin according to Bill, at least not in Connecticut, and it’s likely Jorgenson didn’t leave a will. You’re the only attorney in Woodson Falls, and I figured you might be interested.”
Gaby appreciated the Judge’s occasional referrals. She had introduced herself to the Court once she had set up her office, and Judge Taylor and his clerks had welcomed her warmly. Building a law practice from scratch would have been difficult without such referrals.
“Certainly am interested, Judge, and thank you for thinking of me. Let me see… Today’s Wednesday. I can stop by to pick up the death certificate tomorrow. I should be able to file the necessary applications early next week.”
“Good, good. Knew I could count on you, Gaby. Well, see you tomorrow—or one of my clerks will. Have a good afternoon.”
“Thanks, Judge. You too. Bye now.”
Hanging up the phone, Gaby scribbled a few notes on the new case, then leaned back in her chair, gazing once again at the pond. She hated the thought of going up to the Estates. The narrow, winding roads in the massive subdivision were tricky to navigate, and it was easy to get caught in a dead-end, where turning around could quickly turn dangerous on the steep hills. The accumulated snow and likely icing of the roads would just make a difficult situation even more hazardous.
“Come on, Katrina,” she called to her German Sheprador, a beautiful Shepherd-Labrador mix she had gotten shortly after she moved to Woodson Falls. “Time for a run.”
Gaby did her best thinking while she was outside running or, in the summer months, swimming with Kat out to one of the islands in the middle of Woodson Lake. She and the black and tan dog both loved the outdoors, and the trails around Gaby’s cottage in the woods of southern Woodson Falls allowed Katrina to run free of a leash. They headed toward a tree-lined trail that ran just across the road and up a steep hill.
I’ll finish up that contract when I get back. Then she would map out a plan for gathering the information she’d need to file the necessary paperwork with the probate court, formally opening the Jorgenson estate.
An hour later Gaby was back in her office, warming her hands around a mug of cocoa. She laid aside the completed draft of the Hansen contract to be reviewed tomorrow, then reached into a drawer, pulling out her map of Woodson Falls. She located Woodson Lake Estates, which ran along the lake’s northwestern shoreline. It was impossible to determine topography on this map, but when she found the squiggly line representing Lakeview Terrace, she suspected it would run along a high ridge. The line drifted off into empty space, one of the many dead-end roads located in most Woodson Falls subdivisions. Hopefully, the house would be one of the first on the road and not the last.