Henry Owens, a young associate at the brokerage firm of Montgomery Trust, exits the elevator on the top floor of the company’s offices and heads toward the executive suite. He is moderately tall and he’s dressed in a grey suit with a blue shirt and yellow necktie. He has a ten-o-clock appointment with Randolph Ferguson, senior partner with the firm and does not want to be late. Henry has been with the firm since receiving his Masters in accounting from Columbia University several years earlier. Before that, he graduated Magna Cum Laude from Morehouse College in his hometown of Atlanta where he played on the baseball and tennis teams, though not distinguishing himself in either sport.
He presents himself to the receptionist who responds, “They’re waiting for you.”
Worried that he might have gotten the timing of the meeting wrong, Henry heads into Ferguson’s office, wondering who else might be in the meeting. The door is ajar and as Henry approaches he hears a woman’s voice and this increases his curiosity. He knocks then looks inside saying, “Mr. Ferguson?”
“Henry, please come in,” Ferguson says, rising and coming around his desk to meet Henry.
“I hope I’m not late,” Henry says as he meets Ferguson and shakes his hand.
“Not at all,” Ferguson says. “I told the receptionist to send you right in if you were early.”
“That’s good,” Henry says.
Seated in front of Ferguson’s desk is a petite woman with long strawberry blond hair that’s French-braided. She’s dressed in jeans and a mint-green button down oxford. Henry guesses that she is in her early-twenties. A woman’s suede jacket hangs on the rack behind her and on the floor beside her chair is an expanding file folder.
Ferguson closes and locks his office door. Henry finds this curious but chooses not to question it.
“Henry, this is Victoria Wells,” Ferguson says as he guides Henry to where the woman is sitting. She rises to shake his hand. Henry has the vague sense that he’s met her before, but can’t recall where.
“Ms. Wells,” Henry says, “I’ve heard a lot about you, especially your philanthropic efforts, but I have to admit I pictured you as much older.”
Victoria smiles and replies, “Looks can be deceiving Mr. Owens.”
Henry detects the slight hint of an English accent. Again, he has the strong sense he’s met her before but can’t recall where.
Ferguson sits behind his desk as Henry sits across from Victoria.
“Now as you know, Henry, I’ll be retiring in a few months. For the past few years I’ve handled only a few long-standing clients and most of those I’ve turned over to other associates. Henry, I’m assigning Ms. Wells’ account to you. You’re an excellent accountant and have proven yourself to be a prudent financial advisor. Ms. Wells and I both believe you’d do a fine job handling her affairs.”
Henry doesn’t quite know how to respond. The Wells account has been the subject of much speculation among the associates.
“I’m — I’m honored,” he says looking from Ferguson to Victoria and back.
“Now, Henry, I have to caution you that Ms. Wells requires a higher level of attention than any of our accounts and that’s why I wanted to meet with you,” Ferguson tells him.
“I’m willing to provide whatever services are needed,” Henry says. “Honestly, I’m still in shock. I thought an account of this magnitude would go to a much more experienced associate.”
“Ms. Wells prefers that the account be handled by a younger associate and once we explain her special circumstances, I think you’ll understand why this is important,” Ferguson says.
“Did the fact that I’m African-American factor into this at all?”
Ferguson starts to respond but Victoria stops him. She leans forward and says to Henry, “We compared you to ten other associates with your same level of experience, educational background and other qualifications, including three other African Americans. You stood out among all of them, black, white, Asian and Hispanic.”
“Thanks for your honesty” Henry says. “I’ll do the best job I can.”
Victoria extends her hand, saying, “I’m sure you will.”
As he leans in to shake her hand, Henry can’t help but catch a glimpse of a scar on her neck. He notes it then looks back to Ferguson who has removed what appears to be a photo album from his desk.
“Glad we got that out of the way,” he says, “now for the more difficult topic.”
“I don’t understand,” Henry says.
“Henry, forty years ago, when I was a young go-getter like you, Mr. Chalmers, the senior partner at the time, called me into his office and introduced me to a client. He then told me a story that I found very hard to swallow, but as time went on, I realized that everything he told me was true. I don’t expect you to buy everything you’re about to hear right away, but I do expect you to keep an open mind, deal?”
“Sure thing, Mr. Ferguson,” Henry says.
“Excellent,” Ferguson says. “Now Henry, the client Mr. Chalmers introduced to me was Victoria Wells.”
Henry looks from Ferguson to Victoria in disbelief.
“This Victoria Wells?” he says.
“The same,” Ferguson tells him.
Henry laughs, shaking his head as he says, “Forgive me for saying this, but I find that very hard to believe.” To Victoria, “I mean, if you’re even a day over twenty-five then you look very good for your age.”
“You’re very kind,” Victoria says, “and I assure you I am a least a few days over twenty-five.”
“Henry, I didn’t expect you to believe all of this off the bat. So I made sure I had this on hand to help prove our case,” Ferguson says.
He hands Henry the photo album he removed from his desk.
Henry opens it and thumbs through the pages. The first pictures are black and white photos which appear to be from the early- to mid-sixties. The first picture shows Victoria, flanked by a young man and a much older man. Her hands are touching both their shoulders and they’re smiling.
“This is you?” Henry says, recognizing a younger version of Ferguson. Ferguson nods. Henry looks at Victoria and says, “And you?”
“Yes,” Victoria says.
“That’s the day I took over the account from Mr. Chalmers,” Ferguson says. “We’ll take similar photos for you to show someone else down the line.”
Henry flips the page and there are photos which appear to be from the twenties and thirties and in each Victoria is flanked by a similar combination of older and younger men.
“That’s when Chalmers took over the account,” Ferguson says. “That’s Stanley Reed the senior partner then. And the last photo is Mr. Reed with Victoria when she opened her first account with Montgomery Trust.” He leans onto his desk and says “If the photos aren’t proof enough, Henry, then let me personally verify that Ms. Wells looks just as young now as she was on the day I took over her account when I was twenty-four.”
“This is crazy,” Henry says. “Wait.”
He flips back to the first photo and this time takes note of the scar on her neck. Flipping back to the older photos, he sees the same scar.
“The scar,” he says. Looking at Victoria, “It is you. I saw the scar on your neck when you shook my hand. How is this possible?”
“I’m not sure of the mechanics myself,” Victoria says.
“Do you mind if I ask—” Henry begins but Victoria stops him.
“If my mother was telling the truth, I was born in Bishopsgate, London, on the day of Queen Victoria’s coronation in 1838.” Touching her neck, she says, “I got this little beauty in the 1880s and by then I already looked pretty much like I do now and had for several years.”
“Wow,” Henry says. “So, how long—”
“I have no idea,” Victoria says. “Just like you. But I expect to be around a very long time. One day, perhaps as a senior partner, you’ll hand my account off to another young up-and-comer who won’t believe what you’re telling him or her.”
“So you can see why a certain level of discretion is necessary when handling Victoria’s affairs,” Ferguson says. “And as you might imagine a client like Ms. Wells presents quite a few challenges.”
“I imagine so,” Henry says.
“So from now until the time I retire, I want to devote a portion of my time each day to bringing you up to speed.”
“No problem,” Henry says. To Victoria, he says, “Ms. Wells, I have a feeling it’s going to be a very interesting experience.”
Victoria smiles and replies, “I’m sure we’ll find a way to muddle through.”