The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and the first thing his wife noticed as that he was still in bed. He always woke up before the alarm and turned it off. She shook him. He didn’t move. She shook harder. He was cold to her touch. She screamed and then grabbed the phone and called 911.

By the time the paramedics arrived, she knew he was dead and there was nothing they could do.

The medical examiner said it was the kind of heart attack that comes quietly in the sleep. There was no pain, he said. His heart just quit and he died.

The next day, she went to the bank and opened their safe deposit box. The will inside said he wanted to be buried in Arlington National Cemetery with a full military funeral. She called the VA. Yes, they said, as a retired Marine master sergeant with the proper medals and wartime service, he was entitled to an Arlington burial. They would contact the Marine Corps. and make the arrangements.

Five days later, a small group gathered at Arlington and buried him. She knew most of the people there: Some from their church, neighbors from their McLean neighborhood. But there was one group of men that she didn’t know, all about the same age as her husband, who stood off to one side. They paid their respects and came by, one by one, to offer condolences.

After the service, she caught up with one and asked: “Did you know my husband?”

“Yes.”

“Did you work together?”

“In a manner of speaking.”

Then he walked off.

The next day, she went to his office, a suite of rooms in an office building off Chain Bridge Road near Tyson’s Corner in Northern Virginia. The door was locked. She looked in. The rooms were bare. Everything was gone.

She went to the building manager’s office.

“What happened to my husband’s office.”

“His company came in here two days ago and moved everything out.”

She called the office phone number. A recording said the number had been disconnected. No further information was available, the recording said.

She called the building management company. Did they have a number should could call? They gave her a number. She called. Another recording. Disconnected. No further information.

Three days later, a registered letter arrived. Inside was a bank book from the Cayman Islands with an account number, telephone number and access code. The envelope did not have a return address.

She called the phone number. The voice on the other end asked for the account number and then the access number and then her Social Security Number. Then another voice came on the line and identified himself as the manager and asked if he could help her.

“Yes, I received this account book in the mail along with instructions on how to contact you.”

“That is standard procedure when the account holder is deceased. As the beneficiary, you need to instruct us as to what we should do with the proceeds of the account.”

“What proceeds?”

“At the current time, the balance in this account of 27 million, four-hundred twelve thousand, six-hundred eleven dollars and 73 cents U.S.”

She struggled to find the words.

“Could you repeat that please?”

“The account balance is $27,412,611.73 in U.S. dollars.”

Her mouth went dry. She told the bank manager she would call him back. She sat for a long time, stunned by what she had found. Her husband had been an international financial consultant who earned a comfortable six-figure income. He had put three kids through college and provided a comfortable living for his family. But they weren’t millionaires.

At least she hadn’t through so. Where had the money come from?

She called their attorney, an old family friend. He didn’t know about the account and promised to look into it. Two weeks went by before he called and asked her to come to his office.

How much, he asked, did she know about her husband’s business?

“He joined the company after he retired from the Marine Corps. Gave them 16 years.”

“Did you ever meet anyone from the company?”

“No. His secretary’s name was Angela. I talked with her on the phone. He traveled a lot.”

“Have you talked to her since his death?”

“No. I went to his office and it was closed. Everything was moved out.”

“Look, I can’t find one piece of evidence that this company ever existed. There is no listing. Did you ever look the number up in the phone book?”

“I never had to. I knew the number. I knew it for 16 years! He was a financial consultant for God’s sake.”

“No he wasn’t. There’s not record of him ever working in the financial consulting community.”

“Are you telling me my husband lied to me? I was married to the man for 31 years.”

“And I’ve known the two of you for more than 10 years, but I realize now that I never, ever, really knew that much about what he did for a living. I helped you set up trust funds for your children and your grandchildren and drew up both of your wills. But I don’t know anything about this non-existent company or this bank account in the Caymans. I don’t know if the money was legally obtained, if taxes were paid on it or anything else about it. The bank won’t discuss the account with because they don’t have authorization to discuss it with me.”

She gave the lawyer a power of attorney and signed forms giving the bank authorization to share account information with him. That night at home, she went through the files in her husband’s study. Tax returns for the last 10 years showed annual incomes that ranged from $130,000 to $275,000 a year with taxes deducted and paid. Nothing provided a clue on the money in the Caymans. He had four life insurance policies that would pay her more than $5 million. Money would never be a problem, with or without the bank account in the Caymans.

A week later, the lawyer called back. When they met, he had a large file, but few answers.

“The account was opened two months after he retired from the Marines. Deposits to the account range from $250,000 to $1.5 million, always a wire transfer,always from Swiss banks and always from sources I can’t trace.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Offhand, my best guess is that these were payments for some sort of services. I’m not sure I want to know what the services were. How much do you know about his military service?”

“He was a Marine. Recon or something like that.”

The lawyer opened the file.

“He was a sniper. Apparently a good one.”

“Sniper. You mean he killed people.”

“That’s what snipers do. A lot of his file is classified. Did you travel with him.”

“No. His assignments were always short tours. We spent most of our time at Quantico.”

“Well, if I pursue this any further there may be legal and tax implications. I’m sure this is income that was never reported.”

“I don’t care. I want to know the truth.”

Three days later, he met with the lawyer again. He handed her the bank book.

“It’s all yours.”

“What?”

“Every dime. You don’t owe any taxes, penalties or even inheritance taxes on it.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Neither do I. I called a friend at Treasury to make what I hoped would be discreet inquiries. Later that same day, two crew cut young men showed up to say the money was yours free and clear, no questions, no complications. When I asked about tax implications, they gave me this letter for you.

The letter was on IRS stationary and listed her husband’s name and Social Security number along with her name and Social Security number. It stated that an inquiry into the account in the Cayman Islands had been conducted and concluded with a determination of “no additional tax liability.”

“What does this mean?”

“It means the money is yours, free and clear.”

“So where did this money come from?”

“I don’t think we will ever know. I don’t think we should ever know.”

Later that afternoon, she went to Arlington National Cemetery and stood over the simple marker for her husband’s grave.

“Who,” she asked, “were you?”

When she walked back to the parking lot, she didn’t notice the two middle-aged men in a dark blue Jaguar watching her get into the car. When she left, they walked over to the grave and stood silently for a while.

Finally, one spoke.

“Think she’ll leave it alone?”

“Yes, I think she realizes that sometimes things are better left alone.”

“For her sake, I hope so.”

Then they nodded and walked back to the car.

–Doug Thompson
Washington, DC

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