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The Dream Quest One Writing Contest First Prize Winner

Winter 2010 - 2011



Leo H. Madigan

of Fatima, Portugal





The phone rang in the office of Saples & Saples, Solicitors, Queen Street, Auckland. Julia answered it. Her face clouded. “I’ll be right over,” she said.

“Who’s died?” asked a colleague.

“Quintus Kirkwood. The maid found him in his kitchen. Peaceful and painless apparently.”

“Wow! All that money. Is there a will?”

“It’s sealed in a bank. Cancel my engagements indefinitely.” She took up her briefcase and made for the door. “I’m the executor,” she said.

Julia crossed town. Quintus Kirkwood’s apartment was unostentatious; it had none of the extras associated with wealth. But that was in character. Quintus, for all his genius on the world’s stock markets was a quiet, modest man, avuncular, even with peers. He had never married yet was always at ease with women and children. It was said that in his youth he had applied to join the Franciscan brotherhood, but there was no one to confirm that.

The body was laid out in the bedroom, a placid smile still evident around the corners of the lifeless mouth. The undertakers had left saying they would be back in an hour with transport.

Julia went directly to the cabinet in Quintus’ office. There was a file marked Final Briefing, which Quintus had pointed out to her on several occasions. In it was an envelope with the words, to be opened, gently, on my demise. Julia chuckled at the word, ‘gently’. Typical Quintus.

As his solicitor, Julia was familiar with the Kirkwood business transactions but she had never been made privy to the beneficiaries or terms of his will. Quintus hadn’t actually been secretive, though when she had made a diplomatic enquiry he had winked and said, “Good heavens, woman! I must be discreet. You might be a beneficiary yourself.”

Quintus couldn’t be blamed if he saw no satisfactory future for the money he had accumulated falling into the hands of his sister and her feral brood down Wellington way. Julia had met them once – her married name was Blake – and had been appalled at their vulgarity, their avarice. She suspected that Quintus kept them in the colonial mansion he owned on Mount Victoria to prevent them from squatting on his doorstep.

The envelope contained a note addressed to Julia, along with an authority and password for the bank vault. The note was explicit. She was to personally inform his old friend Father Keenan of his death, and Father Keenan was to tell his sister. She was one of his parishioners in St Margaret’s, Wellington, though she had probably never set foot across the church threshold. Quintus made it clear that he wanted to be buried from St. Margaret’s, but there must be no fuss. Both Julia and Father Keenan were asked to release details of the requiem and burial only to those who specifically asked. However, Quintus had added, she could make the reading of the will as public as she wished. She could hire the Auckland Town Hall if she wanted or get a slot on the television news because, he hinted mischievously, there might be surprises.


Fr. Pat Keenan had just finished conducting a wedding when Julia phoned. A heart attack, she had said, to be confirmed by autopsy. The priest was stunned momentarily. Quintus and he were the same age, 67; they were from the same streets, had attended the same schools, and played in the same teams. Quintus, who had been struggling with his thesis at the time of Pat’s ordination, had hitchhiked the 400 miles from Auckland to Wellington to attend the ceremony.

Years later, when he had been appointed parish priest of St. Margaret’s and Quintus was listed not too far below oil princes and media magnates on the ‘world’s most wealthy’ lists, funds for parish projects would materialize from a seemingly invisible source.

Quintus, too, had bought Howick House, a colonial mansion overlooking the harbour, not 5 minutes stroll from the Church. He had intended to live there himself but had offered it to his sister as a temporary home when she married. Mavis Blake and her issue had ignored the temporariness of the arrangement for 30 years.

Quintus had visited Fr. Keenan in May and presented him with a large, elegantly bound book chained to a waist-high lectern carved from kohekohe, a native mahogany. The pages were blank. “A sort of social registry,” Quintus had explained. “Those who attend weddings, baptisms, funerals sign their names. Historians ten generations hence will thank you. It also makes signees feel they have a personal stake in the institution. Churches in Corsica swear by it.”


Fr. Keenan shook himself out of his reverie. He said a De Profundus for the soul of his friend and resolved to offer a novena of Masses. He then prepared to call on Mavis Blake to break the news of her brother’s death.

From the road there was little indication that behind the unruly hedge lay grounds and gardens and a splendid Palladian bungalow. There was a cattle-grid at the entrance to the driveway. After some yards the driveway was lost behind huge macrocarpas, standing like golden guards before the lair of some giant ogre.

A young Maori wearing only khaki shorts was steering a mower over the acre of lawn in front of the house. Fr. Keenan waved in greeting and called, “Hi!” The young man was surprised to be acknowledged. He smiled but made no answer. Perhaps he was shy. Or perhaps he was afraid of the woman striding up the gravel path from the tennis courts.

When he was nearer, Fr. Keenan greeted the woman. She paused and raised a hand to shield her eyes. “Oh, you!” she muttered and dropped her hand. “If you’re collecting you’ve come to the wrong window.”

Fr. Keenan said gently, “I’m afraid, Mrs Blake, that I’m the bearer of sad news.”

She was a big woman, short on finesse. “Mrs Blake, now, huh? It’s that bloody Mavis behind my back.”

“You brother died this morning of a heart attack. It was quick and peaceful by all accounts.”

Mavis went rigid. The whine of the motor-mower cut out and the young man called, “I’ve finished here Mrs Blake. I can’t do the courts because they’re being used.”

She turned towards the courts and shouted, “Get up here right away. Your uncle’s snuffed it.” A brusque jolt of her head told the gardener that the courts would now be clear to mow. “I hope he had sense to leave the house to me,” she muttered. “What about the money? Who’s going to get the money?”

She ignored Fr. Keenan and turned towards the house. Then, as an afterthought she asked the priest, “What are the arrangements?”

“The funeral date will be set after the autopsy.”

“And the will? Where’s the will?”

“Apparently there will be a public reading in Auckland around the same time.”


The newspapers were full of the Kirkwood death. Tributes came from all over. Wall Street and the Bourse observed 5 seconds silence in respect for the passing. The autopsy confirmed the heart attack and the funeral were arranged with Fr. Keenan according to the wishes of the deceased. It coincided with the Memorial service to be held in Auckland Cathedral, prior to a much-trumpeted reading of the will.

Speculation ran high. Waiters and hotel doormen told of Quintus’s gratuities, charities told of flash finances from the same source. The local papers gnawed all revelations to the bone. The name of Quintus Kirkwood became synonymous with lavish and eccentric generosity.


Hemi Harris saw Fr. Keenan in Courtney Place. He was with fellow university students when the priest, walking passed, recognised him as the lawn-keeper at Howick House and said “Hi!” Hemi turned back and joined him. They walked some yards together.

“What was that about?” his companions asked when he returned. Hemi wasn’t too communicative, but he did say that he was enquiring about a funeral of someone he worked for. That was all. To mention Quintus might have suggested claims of associating with the rich and famous.

Hemi had tended the lawns at Howick House since he was 10. He had little regard for the Blakes who spoke to their dogs with more respect than they spoke to him. However, on the rare occasions that Mr. Kirkwood visited, the great man had sought out Hemi and lifted the boy’s self esteem with his gracious manner. And when Mr. Kirkwood learned that Hemi’s payment was erratic, and often inaccurate, he set up an account for him with regular payment and regular increments. These had been forthcoming ever since. No way was that the work of the Blakes.

Hemi suddenly turned again and ran after Fr. Keenan. “Padre!” he called. “Vicar!” He wasn’t sure how a Catholic priest should be addressed. “Can anyone go to the funeral? I mean, like, does a fella have to be a Catholic?”

Fr. Keenan couldn’t restrain a chuckle. “Doors wide open,” he said and added, “What’s your name?” Hemi told him. Fr. Keenan introduced himself and explained where St. Margaret’s church stood.


Speculation about Quintus’ will had become an overnight industry. An astrologer in Wanganui had worked out that the fortune was to provide free beer for all Kiwi nationals until either the supply or the money ran out. A Baltimore businessman who knew Quintus well swore that Quintus had told him his billions would be used to establish a foundation for the education of orphans. A soothsayer claimed divine enlightenment when disclosing that the money would fund an award comparable to the Nobel Prize, for plumbers, butchers and rugby players. Oh yes, the days preceding the reading were carnival time for the media.

No political rally or movie premiere had drawn such crowds to TV screens on the morning set aside for the reading. Monitors were erected in the inner city and a parade organized down Queen Street to lay flowers on a waterfront monument hastily erected to honour the great financier.

Excitement verged on delirium as the highpoint approached. Julia, on the studio rostrum with lenses and lights focused on her, gave a key to the mayor. The mayor opened a small strongbox on the table in front of him. He lifted the lid, took out a document and handed it to Julia.

Julia Saples adjusted her glasses and began to read.

Respectable bequests were made to individuals and organizations. Some stock here, some bonds there, all worthy and admirable. Then came the simple, unqualified statement, The rest of my estate, all stocks and shares, investments, bullion, bank assets, properties etc, is to be divided equally among those attending my funeral at St Margaret’s parish church in Wellington.

At that very moment, Fr. Pat Keenan was closing the record book that Quintus had donated and returning it, and its lectern, to their corner in St. Margaret’s sacristy. The only person who had signed it that morning was the solitary mourner at the Kirkwood funeral, the young Maori student who tended the lawns at Howick House.

Hemi had gone straight to Howick House from the Karori cemetery. He was late for work but it didn’t matter because the Blakes, like everyone else in the world, were in Auckland for the reading of the Kirkwood will.

# # #

By Leo H. Madigan