"McMurtree's Wallet"

By Ellen Hecht © 2012

There is the belief among the citizenry of Great Britain that if you are born into the aristocracy, there is virtually no possibility of a freefall to failure. By and large this is true. Like the American “good old boy” version, the British caste system is held together as a social network based on bloodlines, finances and personal favors.

Rather than see any of their own ilk fall from the rarified atmosphere of the moneyed and well-bred (God forbid!) a net is in place to catch the misfortunate of the brethren. This means that if your ancestors mismanaged their money and lost the castle, you might still be able to locate a choice position and marry well, based on the connections your father made at the tony schools he attended, all due to a mutual understanding of the power and meaning of old money.

The underlying motivation to participate in protecting those belonging to the inner circle, is the fear that investments can be lost overnight and it could easily happen to you. That said, in most cases, inheritances are self-sustaining. It’s rare when someone of this caste falls and finds there is no net.

Beatty was one of those unfortunate souls. His mother, the daughter of
good breeding, good schools and social status, was disinherited when she ran away with the family stable boy. When she became pregnant, the pathetic cad left her in seedy circumstances. She had been disgraced and could not return home. The family turned their backs on her. She gave birth in squalor, somewhere in the outskirts of London. Even with refined tastes and the education afforded the privileged, she eventually died in poverty.

In a fictionalized version, Beatty would have returned to his mother’s ancestral home, been warmly received and safely tucked under the wing of the family and their fortune. In reality, Beatty had no idea who his mother’s family was. With only a public school education, he floated from odd job to odd job, not even part of the skilled working class. At the very least, if his father had been a plumber or an electrician, Beatty would have had the training of a tradesman and his future would have been secure. As it was, Beatty had no skills, no inheritance and no family. He belonged to no one.

At fourteen he ran away from an orphanage and lived, hand to mouth and pillar to post. Along the way, he worked as a shipping clerk, a grocery stocker and various other unskilled jobs which paid for a subsistence lifestyle. There were some ups but mostly there were downs.
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Beyond the circumstances of his birth, Beatty continued to have rotten luck in life. His unreliable car had finally broken down for good and gotten towed away to the wrecker. He’d lost his job, such as it was. He was living on his friend’s couch. His worldly assets had dwindled down to a bicycle, which was actually borrowed. And now someone had stolen it. Probably his friend would soon kick him out into the street. But if he were to look at the bright side, at least no one could evict him from under a bush somewhere.

There were advantages to hitting rock bottom. How does the saying go? There’s no place to go but up? Right. And so this downward spiral had led Beatty to find himself where the reader finds him, a nice enough bloke, but with no history and apparently no future, at the end of his rope.

As though things couldn’t look more grim, a couple of young bashers accosted him at the park. They said they wanted his wallet. Of course there was nothing in it but a rather optimistic prophylactic and, ironically, Beatty’s driver’s license. They were so annoyed that they beat him up and as he lay on the ground, they kicked him for good measure. The toughs turned their backs and sauntered off. Beatty croaked, “Can I have my wallet back?”

They jeered at him but then they caught sight of a bobby and began to run. The one who had nicked his wallet reached into his inner coat pocket and tossed it to the ground.

“Good enough,” Beatty thought. Even though there was no money in it, still, his mother had given it to him. Sentimental value and all. He dragged himself to his feet and hobbled over to where the wallet had been dropped. Of course, it had landed in a muddy puddle. Just for a moment Beatty thought that if it had been a slice of bread with jam, it would have landed face down. Once Beatty had fished the wallet out of the mud and wiped it off, he realized it wasn’t even his own wallet. He flipped it open. The identification said it belonged to someone named Jonas McMurtree. And there was a photo of a pretty girl, several 5 pound notes and a lottery ticket.

McMurtree’s address was just a couple of blocks away and Beatty thought he’d just take it ‘round, show some gumption you know. It was the honorable thing to do. And you never knew, the blighter might give him a reward. Then he thought better of it, pulled out the cash and the Lotto ticket, folded them in half and stuffed the wad into his pants pocket.

By the park entrance there was a trash bin with the name of the park stenciled on it. Beatty smiled and thought “ Guess it’s a good thing they’ve got the name of the park on it. That way, if the garbage can were ever to be stolen, some honest soul would know where to return it.” The idea made him laugh out loud.

Just as he was about to dump the wallet, he hesitated. Instead, he put the money and the lottery ticket back in the wallet and walked resolutely the two and a half blocks to 286 Dorset Place and knocked. A young woman answered the door. She was the girl in the photo. When Beatty asked for Mr. McMurtree, the girl (whose name it turned out was Micki) told him that yes, Mr. McMurtree was her father and that she was just going to see him in the hospital.

Beatty explained why he had come and the circumstances surrounding his having found her father’s wallet. Micki asked Beatty if he wanted to go with her to the hospital and return the wallet to her father in person. She really did have lovely eyes. He would have gone anywhere with her.

On the way, she told him that her father had been badly beaten, obviously by the same young thugs who had robbed him too. She marveled, it really was extraordinary – that Beatty had ended up with her father’s wallet.

When they arrived at the hospital room, McMurtree was just waking up from a nap. He had an ugly purple bruise on his cheek and a black eye. There was also a cut on his jaw. He brightened when he saw Micki. (Who wouldn’t, Beatty thought.) The bruises and cuts on McMurtree made Beatty aware of the pain in his own ribcage where the boys had kicked him. All things considered, he’d gotten off lucky.

McMurtree thanked him for returning his wallet. He actually made quite a to-do about how rare it was to find an honest man in this day and age; he went on and on about it. That only made Beatty feel even more guilty since he’d come close to keeping it.

“You really have restored my faith in human nature, my good man. I want to give you a reward. Please take the money. Yes, all of it. My credit cards are all here. That’s the important thing. Yes, please take it. I insist!”

All right then, Beatty thought to himself, stuffing the money back into his jeans pocket (again feeling morbidly guilty). But things are looking up! He had no transportation and no place to live, but at least he would eat a good meal today! After profuse thank you’s again from McMurtree, Beatty left. He wondered if he’d ever see Micki again. With no job, no assets, no car or even a place of his own, he didn’t have the nerve to ask for her number.

Three weeks after the incident, Beatty was still looking for work. He sat on the curb outside the hostel where he’d been working in exchange for bed and board, reading the classified adverts in the newspaper. Turning the page, he was startled to see the following notice:

“URGENT: If your name is Beatty and you returned a stolen wallet to its owner, please come round to the house.”

It took him a minute or two to absorb what he’d read. That had to be him. His name was Beatty and he’d found McMurtree’s wallet. Was he in trouble? He went over everything in his mind and couldn’t think why he would be in trouble. He ran inside the hostel, made arrangements to work a different shift that day, brushed his hair and teeth and took a tram to Dorset Place. He ran the half block to the house.

Micki opened the door and beamed at him. She grabbed his arm and pulled him into the front hall, calling over her shoulder, “Dad! It’s Beatty! He’s here!”

McMurtree had been sitting in his library.

“I hope you don’t mind if I don’t get up, young man. I’m still a bit sore, you see.” Beatty came forward and shook McMurtree’s outstretched hand.
“No problem at all, Sir. Please stay as you were.”

Micki sat down and patted the seat next to her. Beatty decided not to ask why they had been looking for him. He simply sat and waited, figuring they would tell him, and they did. It was Micki who spoke first.

“May I tell him, Dad?”

“Yes, yes, go on, girl!” McMurtree agreed.

“Beatty? Do you have another name?”

“Sure; I mean, yes I do. My name is Andrew Beatty.”

“Well, then Andrew. It’s a good thing you are sitting down! The Lotto ticket that was in Dad’s wallet was a gift given to him by his company as a joke on his birthday. And guess what? We just found out it was the winning Lotto number! But Andrew, it’s worth 19 million pounds! Dad wants you to have a share in it. He wouldn’t have any of it if it wasn’t for your having returned his wallet. And what do you think is fair? Dad says he wants you to have half! That’s almost 10 million pounds! Beatty?

“Dad, I think he’s gone and fainted!”
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Here, the reader may wonder if Beatty was the name of the McMurtree family’s stable boy. But, seriously, wouldn’t that be too trite? At the very least, let’s just say that Andrew Beatty’s new-found wealth allowed him to marry the lovely Micki, saving her from continuing her life stuck with the name Micki McMurtree. Being in love, taking the name Micki Beatty didn’t faze her. Their children, heirs to the McMurtree-Beatty fortune, were able to attend tony schools and marry well. One of them has an affinity for horses and plays on the royal polo team.

What more could you want for a happy ending?

The End.

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Beatty was a young man down on his luck. A downward spiral led him to find himself where the reader finds him, a nice enough bloke, but with no history and apparently no future, at the end of his rope.

I am a photographer and a writer. If you enjoy odd, short stories, I have a folder in my RB portfolio titled “Short Stories / Writing.”

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