Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Nanopost 026

Lily screamed and Jezebel clapped her hands to her mouth. Barclay, meanwhile, was white with fury.

“This is outrageous!” he shouted. “A pack of lies. I refuse to listen to another word.”

“Just a second, Mr Barclay.” said Hayden, and then he turned to me. “Mr Able, these are some fairly serious allegations that you’re making. Have you got any evidence to back it up?”

“Not to hand,” I admitted, “but of late, Mr Barclay has been involved with some fairly unsavoury types, who make a point of getting, shall we say, leverage, with their clients. They dig, and they dig very deep indeed. I have an associate who has some... access to this information. I’m confident of my source, and I’m sure that if I do a similar amount of digging I’ll be able to prove what I say.”

“But,” said Chastity, who’d been quiet for a while, ‘what does that have to do with all this.”

“Let me try to explain.” I said. “As far as I can tell, on her return, Grace Lillywhite made it very clear to Mr Barclay here that their relationship was over. It was in both their best interests to keep quiet about the affair. Mrs Lillywhite for the sake of her marriage, Mr Barclay for his business interests with Norm Lillywhite, a business which was growing, and was presumably more and more profitable to Mr Barclay as time went by.”

“So, like, Barclay here wanted revenge on the woman who scorned him, right?” said Kennedy. I could see him writing the screenplay in his head.

“I believe that was a part of it,” I said “but on it’s own, it wasn’t enough to force Mr Barclay here to act."

“So what was, dude? What was the gnarly stuff that tipped him over the edge and made him go all Moriarty?”

“Well,” I said. “Clearly Mr Barclay is a man blessed with patience if nothing else. We now have to move forward about twenty five years.”

Barclay was sitting up straight now, and looking as worried as a dog on a trip to the vet.

“Seems our Mr Barclay got himself a taste for gambling a few years back. Like most people, he started of small, but gambling has a habit of snowballing.”

I looked at Barclay.

“Your debts get bigger and it gets more and more difficult to pay up on time, doesn’t it, Mr Barclay? And the sort of people you were dealing with by that point, not the kind of people who take no for answer are they?”

Barclay said nothing.

“You were getting to the point where you were just about making minimum payment, right? But you were never going to get them off your back like that were you? You needed something to pay them off. A serious chunk of cash. Trouble is, a ‘comfortable’ income wasn’t going to cut it. So you started thinking...”

I looked around the room. The two sisters were looking somwhere between amazed and horrified. From the look on his face, Hayden was starting to think that he didn’t want to be tied up with a potential scandal like this, and Kennedy seemed to be imagining he was already on set, as the young, hunky Private Eye, all set to save the day.

The three members of staff looked stunned at what they were hearing, and Chastity...

Wait a minute! Where was Chastity? And where was Smith?

I wheeled round on Barclay, who was looking more composed than he had for some time.

He applauded slowly.

“Very good, Mr Able. This has all been very entertaining, but I think it’s probably time for you to stop now, and admit that it was just a figment of your imagination. It is just a figment, correct? Because I’d hate for you to say anything that you might come to regret.”

He raised an eyebrow.

Damn! Clearly while I was holding court, Smith had crept up behind Chastity, stuck a gun in her back and retreated into the dark. They could be anywhere. Chances are Smith could see Barclay though, and with a word or a signal, Chastity would be dead. When you’ve arranged for the deaths of two people, I guess one more doesn’t make a lot of difference. They can only execute you once, right?

I had to play for time.

“Ok.” I said, putting my hands up. “I’ll admit it. I got no proof. I was just bluffing to see if you’d show your hand.”

“What?” shrieked Jezebel, leaping to her feet. “You mean that was all lies? All that about the affair, and mother having a son? You bastard! Putting us through that!”

Lily, meanwhile, was in tears, and Hayden had his arm around her. Kennedy was looking even more baffled.

“Dude,” he said. “You ever thought about being a scriptwriter?”

Barclay grabbed control of the situation.

“I’m very sorry for all this disruption, ladies and gentlemen. I can only apologise. I know this isn’t what Norm would have wanted. Now I think the best thing is for us head back to the hotel and get what sleep we can, and I’ll finish up the paperwork in the morning.”

“No, wait just a second.” I said.

“Mr Able, I think we’ve heard enough from you for this evening.” said Hayden. “Come on Lily.”

Lily turned to me with a look of pure hatred on her face, then turned back to Hayden who was putting a coat around her shoulders. If only someone else would notice that Chastity and Smith were gone, but they were all intent on leaving.

I was running out of time. Then suddenly, from the darkness, came a weird keening noise that I recognised from earlier.

‘Crazy Colwell?’ I thought. ‘Is she gonna save me again?’

“What’s that?” said Lily, still sobbing.

“Able? Is this your idea of a joke?” said Barclay. “I think we’ve had quite enough of that tonight.”

“Nothing to do with me.” I said.

Mrs Sanderson piped up in a very trembly voice. “They say this place is haunted.” She turned and clutched hold of her husband. He patted her hand, but didn’t look too sure himself.

“There’s no such thing as ghosts.” said Barclay, impatient to get everybody moving out. “Really, it’s probably just the wind.”

Right on cue, Ma Colwell let out a blood curdling cackle.

‘Thank you, Ma.’ I thought to myself.

That’s not the wind!” said Jezebel. “There’s somebody out there.”

“Really, I’m sure it’s nothing.” said Barclay. An air of slight desperation as creeping into his voice. “We should just head back.”

“If you think I’m heading into the dark with some... thing out there, you can think again.” snapped Jezebel. “Anyway, where are the flashlights?”

“Er, I believe Mr Smithers took them with him. He said he’d bring them back when we were finished. I really don’t know where he’s got to. I would have thought he would have come back by now.” said Barclay.

Jezebel sat down. “Well I don’t move from this spot until I’ve got a light in my hand.” she said.

The others all sat down too.

“I think we just wait for Mr Smithers to come back.” said Hayden.

Just then, a cackle that turned into a high pitched scream sounded out of the dark. All three women grabbed their men. Barclay started feeling his collar and looked distinctly pale. Even though I knew what the noise was, I was feeling a bit creeped. I peered out into the darkness in the direction of the noise, but I couldn’t see a thing.

Suddenly, without warning, something leapt at me out of the dark. I stumbled back and landed on the floor, heart hammering. With relief I realised that it was Chastity. She looked terrified.

“Oh God, Mr Able, what’s going on?” she cried. “Mr Smith just put a gun in my back and dragged me out there. He said if I made a sound he’d kill me.”

There were looks of horror from the rest of the group, and Barclay was starting to look a little sick.

“Then suddenly there was this awful noise. It got closer and closer, then suddenly Mr Smith collapsed and I just ran. What was it? What was it?”

She had hold of my jacket lapels and was shaking me.

“It’s ok.” I said, doing my best to pacify her. “I’ll explain tomorrow, but it’s nothing for you to worry about.”

I turned to Hayden.

“Senator, I think Smith’s gun is still out there. Stay here. Watch him,” I pointed to Barclay, “and I’ll be back shortly.”

I headed out into the dark, very slowly, still feeling my way with my feet. I didn’t want to give away the fact that I had a flashlight just yet.

I stumbled round in the dark for several minutes until I finally found Smith, lying on the ground, out for the count. Seems like Ma Colwell had hit him with a brick. I made a note to never get on the wrong side of her. Searching on the ground around him, I found the revolver and shoved it in my pocket. Then, getting hold of Smith under his arms, I started dragging him back towards the light.

After a few minutes, I finally heaved him onto the ground in front of Barclay’s desk and checked him over. He was out for the count, and didn’t look like he’d be coming round any time soon.

“Ok Mr Able.” said Hayden. “Now once and for all, can you explain exactly what’s going on?”

I wiped my forehead and sat down on one of the chairs.

“Right.” I said. “Now where were we?”

“You’d just told us that everything you’d said was a pack of lies.” said Lily who was dabbing at her face with a handerchief.

“Ok, well that wasn’t true. I had to say that as I realised that Smith had grabbed Chastity. While she was in danger, I couldn’t carry on.”

“So, so... so all that stuff about Mother, and Mr Barclay, and their son...?” she said.

“All true.” I said.

She burst into tears again.

Kennedy suddenly perked up. “So it’s game on again? Cool!”

From the look that Jezebel gave him, the time until their relationship ended could be measured in minutes.

Hayden spoke. “I think you were just outlining Mr Barclay’s alleged gambling problems.”

“Yes,” I said. “And like I think I was saying, a few years ago, he was getting to the point where he was starting to find it difficult to keep up with his obligations. And at that point - and there is a certain amount of speculation here - I believe Mr Barclay started formulating a plan. I believe this is how it went.”

I turned to Barclay again. “Feel free to correct me if I’ve missed any of the details.”

I got things straight in my own mind, and started again.

“A little over five years ago, Mr Barclay here informed Mr Lillywhite that Grace had been having an affair at the point that they were married. Obviously he neglected to mention who she was having an affair with. And at the same time, he mentioned that Norm Jnr hadn’t been Norm’s son. Where he said he’d got this information from, I have no idea, but it must have been convincing, but it had exactly the effect that Mr Barclay wanted. Norm flew into a rage, and presumably in the heat of the moment, threatened to kill Grace.”

Lily screamed and Jezebel’s face turned white.

“I’m willing to bet that that was just a rash statement, and he had no intention of carrying it through. Now I’ve been able to look back at what happened on the weekend that Mrs Lillywhite died. She was on holiday with friends, and Mr Lillywhite was in Europe on business. While he was away, Mrs Lillywhite perished in a speedboat accident. However, I have it on good authority that the ‘accident’ was arranged by a professional hitman who passed away last year.

There was a grim silence in the room.

“Now I’m a bit sketchy on this point, Mr Barclay. Maybe you could clarify it for me? I’m guessing that you arranged the murder - by this point you were mixing with the sort of shady types that would know how to arrange a professional hit - and then informed Mr Lillywhite, once it was too late, that you’d carried out ‘his request’.”

I looked at Barclay, but he just shrugged.

“At that point, Norm couldn’t say anything without incriminating himself, and so he had to keep quiet. Mr Barclay had had his revenge on Grace Barclay for snubbing him, and at the same time, had removed one person who was likely to inherit the Lillywhite fortune in the event of Norm’s demise.”

Lily and Jezebel were weeping by this point. Mrs Sanderson had her face buried in her husband’s shoulder, and Hayden looked like he was having scandal worries all over again.

Kennedy, however, was lapping it up.

“Fast forward a few years, and suddenly Chastity Lewis, as she was then, arrives on the scene. A whirlwind romance, and suddenly there’s a new Mrs Lillywhite on the scene. This isn’t any good is it, Mr Barclay? Not only do you have to get rid of Norm, you have to stop the inheritance going to Chastity. And on top of that, even if he does pass away, it doesn’t mean your going to see a cent. What you need,” I said, “is an accomplice.”

Everybody started looking around the room at each other.

“But where are you going to find one of them? Who’d help you kill Norm Lillywhite?”

I looked around the people in front of me.

“We won’t have to look too far. Because they’re also sitting in this room."

Nanopost 025

Hayden spoke up first.

“Now just a minute here. Are you suggesting that there was a bunch of people in on this?”

“Not exactly, Senator,” I said. “Sure, some people were in on this. Someone was coerced, and Mrs Lillywhite obviously had nothing to do with the scam at all.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Barclay glaring at Smith. While the whole group were focused on me and the Senator, Smith very quietly got up and disappeared into the dark.

“So who exactly are you accusing?” said Hayden.

“He’s not accusing anybody.” interrupted Barclay. “He’s got nothing to back any of these ridiculous statements up, so if he doesn’t want to find himself charged with slander and possibly worse...”

He turned to me.

“...then you’d be advised - and I am a lawyer - to draw a halt to this nonsense.”

“Hey!” I said. “Just trying to understand the situation. Now. Mrs Lillywhite.” I continued, turning to Chastity. “What makes you think that you should have had anything from Mr Lillywhite’s will? Apart, obviously, from the fact that you were his wife.”

She spoke in a small, quiet voice. It didn’t surprise me - the dame had really been through the wringer.

“I know that Norm made another will about a month after the wedding. He sat down and went through it with me. With us all.”

“Us all, Mrs Lillywhite?” I said. “Exactly who do you mean by ‘us all’?”

She sniffed.

“Me.” she said. “Lily. Jezebel. And Mr Barclay. He drew up the will.”

Everybody started talking at once. I waited til it had died down a little.

“Care to comment, Mr Barclay?” I asked.

Gotta hand it to the guy - he was calm.

“Clearly Mrs Lillywhite is upset at the outcome of the situation, that’s completely understandable. And while I can’t speak for the two ladies here, it may be possible for a small sum to be made avalaible from the estate. I’m sure nobody wants to see Mrs Lillywhite on the street. But as for there being another will I’m afraid she’s sadly mistaken. I’ve not drawn up another document for Norm since this one was created, and I’m sure Miss Lily and Miss Jezebel will agree that there was no meeting to discuss a new will, or the creation of one. Is that right?”

He looked at the sisters on the front row.

“Of course that’s right,” snapped Jezebel. “Daddy never said anything about changing it. Did he, Lily”

Lily shook her head but said nothing.

I noticed Smith sliding back into his seat on the back row. He gave a slight nod to Barclay.

“So I think I can confidently state that there is no later will, and that this matter is closed.” said Barclay, and sat down.

‘Seems strange though, don’t you think,” I said, “that Mrs Lillywhite would go to the trouble of hiring me to look for a will if she knew that there wasn’t a will to be found.”

“I think she was clutching at imaginary straws,” said Barclay. “some people find it very difficult to accept the truth.”

“Hmm.” I said, and paused for a moment.

Suddenly Kennedy spoke up. “That’s it?” he said. “That’s all you got? Man, I thought there was a movie in this. Crazy old place, hidden wills, double crosses, foxy heiress swindled...”

Jezebel scowled at him.

“But all you got is ‘We thought there was another will, but apparently there ain’t?’ That’s lame!

“I did think that it was a bit of a long shot,” I admitted. “But like I said. I did a little digging.”

I started doing the walking up and down talking to myself thing. I thought it looked pretty good, but I made a note to practice when I got back to the office.

“Let’s assume for the moment that Mrs Lillywhte here is telling the truth.”

“But you’ve just been told by three people that she’s not.” said Hayden.

“Humour me, Senator.” I said.

He shrugged and indicated that I should carry on. Barclay was sitting tight lipped, arms folded and looking distinctly uncomfortable.

“Thank you. As I say, let’s assume for the moment that Mrs Lillywhite was telling the truth. Now that would involve Mr Barclay here engaging in some fairly un-lawyerly practices. The sort of thing that would wind him up in jail.”

I turned and looked him in the eye.

“Or worse.”

“Mr Barclay. I don’t know how much lawyers take home these days, but I’m guessing it’s a fairly sizeable amount for a successful guy like you?”

“I live... comfortably.” he said.

“Comfortably. Right.” I turned back to the others. “Me? I ain’t so comfortable. Mr Kennedy, if you ever decide to give up acting, don’t become a Private Eye. Frankly, the pay’s lousy. But on the upside you do occasionally get to meet Hollywood stars and Senators.”

I got a chuckle from at least some of my audience. Not many though.

“So, what with Mr Barclay being so... comfortable and all, I was asking myself, what would make him risk...”

I looked back at him.

“...hypothetically, of course...”

And turned back to my audience, who, I noted, were all hanging on my words.

“...what would make him risk that nice lifestyle? You’d need some fairly compelling reasons. And you know what, Mr Barclay? I gotta feeling you had a couple of compelling reasons.”

“Really?” said Barclay. “I think you’re just clutching at straws like Mrs Lillywhite was.”

“So come on, dude!” urged Kennedy. “Dish the dirt! What’s the skeletons old Barclay’s got stashed in the closet?”

“Mr Barclay seems to be something of a traditionalist.” I said. “When it comes to committing crimes, there’s usually only a handful of motives, and our friend here appears to have gone for a couple of the classics. Money...”

I went for the dramatic pause, and I like to think I pulled it off.

“...and revenge.”

“Mr Barclay, how long would you say you knew Mr Lillywhite?”

“Why?” he said. “I don’t have to answer any of your damn fool questions.”

“It’s just a simple question.” said Hayden. “If you’ve got nothing to hide...”

“Oh, alright.” grumbled Barclay. “We go way back. Must be nearly forty years. Met when I was starting out as a lawyer and he was building up his first business. I’ve been his lawyer for about thirty five years. Satisfied?”

Forty years, huh? The first time I’d seen him, I’d put his age at mid-fiftes. Clearly, being a rich lawyer is good for you.

“Just trying to get the facts, Mr Barclay, thank you. And when did you first meet Grace Lillywhite?”

“What? What’s Grace got to do with any of this? Listen, I’m not on trial here!”

“Nope, you’re not,” I said. “We’re just having a nice friendly chat. So... Grace?”

He scowled.

“Norm introduced me to Grace not long after he met her. About two years before they got married I guess.”

“Sadly I never got to meet the first Mrs Lillywhite.” I said. “What was she like?”

“She was a charming woman.” he said defiantly. “Don’t go trying to drag her into any of this.”

“I’ve warned you already, Mr Able.” said Jezebel. “My mother is dead. Leave her memory alone.”

“Sorry, Miss Lillywhite.” I said. “The truth is like a flashlight, and you can’t always say which corner it’s going shine into.”

I quite liked that. I made a note to write it down later.

“You’re rambling, man,” said Kennedy. “Get on with it.”

“Mrs Lillywhite came to see me earlier in the week, and after she’d gone, I couldn’t help thinking that there was something she’d said that didn’t make sense. It’s been bugging me all week. Then I realised what it was. A couple of times, she referred to her late husband as Norm Lillywhite Snr. Now Senior implies a junior. And as far as we know, Mr Lillywhite only ever had two daughters.”

The murmuring in the room went up a notch.

“Which is absolutely right. He did only have two daughters, didn’t he, Mr Barclay?”

“Well of course he did.” said Barclay, getting exasperated. “They’re sitting right here. Look I really don’t see where...”

“But Mrs Lillywhite.” I interrupted. “Grace, I mean. That was different, wasn’t it?”

The room went quiet.

She had two daughters who, as you say, are sitting here tonight. But she also had a son, didn’t she.”

“I have no idea what you’re talking about.” said Barclay. “I’ve heard about as much nonsense as I’m going to put up with for one evening. It’s late and I’m going back to the hotel.”

He stood and started to pack his briefcase, but Hayden stood up.

“I don’t think any of us are going anywhere until we’ve got to the bottom of this.” he said. “Sit down please.”

I guess when you become a Senator, they teach you how to talk in a way that people listen to, because Barclay sat down again.

“What are you implying, Mr Able?” said Lily. I think it was the first time I’d heard her speak all night.

“I have to apologise for what I’m about to say, Miss Lillywhite. I suspect it may come as a shock. But before you were born, your mother had a son.”

“What!” she and Jezebel exclaimed at the same time?

“That’s not right.” said Lily. “Our parents would have told us. So where is he?”

“He died when he was few days old.” I said. “From what I’ve been able to piece together, Grace Lillwhite fell pregnant on or around her wedding. A few months later she became seriously ill, and Norm arranged for her to be flown to a specialist medical centre in Switzerland. She stayed there, but unfortuately the baby, a boy, was born prematurely. He only lived for a short time, but it was long enough for him to be named. They called him Norman Jnr.”

Lily and Jezebel were looking stunned.

“When they returned to the States, for whatever reason, they decided not to make the pregnancy public. There aren’t many people who know.”

I continued. “But the thing is, and the thing that Norm Snr didn’t know at the time... he wasn’t the father.”

There were gasps from around the room.

“It appears that Grace had been seeing someone else before her marriage, and that man was the father of her son.”

I turned round.

“That man was you wasn’t it, Mr Barclay?”

Nanopost 024

I stood in the darkness, far enough away not to be seen but close enough that I could hear what was going on. The two sisters and their other halves sat down on the front row. Smithers had done his best to get a dozen chairs, but clearly he hadn’t been able to find a matching set. While Lily and Hayden were sitting on regular kitchen chairs, Kennedy was lounging on a leather swivel chair and Jezebel looked slightly odd as she was sitting in what looked like a faded and chipped throne.

The three that I didn’t recognise were sitting in the row behind them. They looked like pretty ordinary folks - I guessed they weren’t family. I supposed I’d find out soon enough.

On the last row, slumped down on the end chair was Smith. From where I was standing, I could see that he and Barclay kept glancing at each other.

Once everybody was settled, Barclay took out a pair of reading glasses, perched them on the end of his nose and started to speak.

“I was expecting Chastity Lillywhite to also be here, but it appears that for whatever reason, she is unable to attend, so we will have to proceed without her. I’ll make sure she has a copy of the will tomorrow.”

He looked up.

“Normally,” he said, “I would just distribute a copy of the will to each of you to read but...”

He was interrupted.

“Sorry I’m late!” said Chastity, right on cue. “Please,” she said to Barclay. “Do continue.”

She sat down next to three old ‘uns on the second row. The others in the group turned round, and some whispering went on. I saw Barclay glance up at Smith with a questioning look, and Smith frowned and shrugged.

‘Yeah.’ I thought. ‘I bet you’re confused.’

Barclay looked a bit flustered, but pulled himself together.

“Right.” he said. “Well I’m delighted that Mrs Lillywhite was able to get here, and so if there’s nothing else, then I’ll proceed.”

He fiddled with his glasses and started to speak again.

“As I was saying. Normally I would simply distribute a copy of the will to each of the interested parties, but as you can see...” He smiled and waved an arm at the surroundings. “Norm clearly wanted something a little out of the ordinary, so if you’ll indulge me, I’ll read it aloud.”

He patted his briefcase.

“I have copies for everyone which I’ll give to you all once we’re done.”

Despite being thrown by Chastity’s late arrival on the scene, Barclay now had a slightly smug air about him. He knew what was coming. And from what I knew, I reckoned he was going to enjoy himself. For a while, anyway.

He took a breath.

“I, Norman Richard Lillywhite, being of sound mind and body, do hereby declare that this is my last will and testament. First. To Mitch Benson, my chauffer and good friend for more than twenty five years, I leave the Jaguar, plus, for the lifetime of the vehicle, an annual stipend of $30,000 for it’s upkeep. In addition, I leave the sum of $500,000 in cash.”

The short, balding guy looked absolutely gobsmacked. I took a wild guess that he was probably Mitch.

“Second, to Mary and John Sanderson. As housekeeper, cook, butler, handyman and countless other job titles, you looked after my family and I for many, many years, for which I am eternaly grateful. To you, I leave the sum of $500,000 cash, each, with many thanks.”

I saw the little old guy squeeze the little old lady’s hand, and she dabbed at her eyes with a handerchief.

“The remainder of my estate is to be divided equally between my two daughters, Lily and Jezebel. Should either daughter wish to sell their share of the business to the other, they may. However. Should either daughter wish to sell their share to anyone else, then they must first get agreement from their sister, and they must also first offer a share to that sister, in order that the family retain at least a 51% controlling interest.”

Barclay took off his glasses and looked up. Lily and Hayden had their heads together, Jezebel was looking pretty pleased with herself, and Kennedy didn’t appear to be paying much attention at all.

In the second row, Benson and the Sanderson’s had turned to Chastity with baffled looks on their faces. For the first time since I’d got here, Smith had started to look relaxed.

Barclay spoke up again.

“Mrs Lillywhite. It appears that Norm made this will after Grace died, and never actually got around to making a new one after you and he were married. I’m very sorry.”

Chastity looked as baffled as the others.

“Now if that’s all,” said Barclay, standing up. “I’ll give you each a copy of the will and we can head back to the hotel.”

That sounded like my cue.

“Just one moment, please.” I said, stepping forward into the light. There were a few gasps from the assembled party - I do like to make an entrance.

“Actually I don’t think that’s quite all...”

I watched Barclay’s face drop and he shot a questioning look at Smith. Smith looked baffled but Barclay shook his head as Smith started to get up. I then noticed Smith pat his inside pocket and give a tight nod.

Barclay pulled himself together.

“It’s Mr Able, yes?”

“That’s me.”

“Do you mind explaining what you’re doing here? This is a private reading of a will, and I don’t believe you were invited.”

“Well I certainly wasn’t invited by you.” I said. “However, I have reason to believe that things may have got a little.. mixed up. Just wanted to see if I could help straighten things out.”

The retirement gang started looking worried. I winked at them.

“Don’t worry folks - ain’t nobody taking nothing away from you.”

At this point, Hayden stood up.

“Look, excuse me, Mr Able, but who are you and what’s this all about?”

“Ok, folks, ok. Let me start at the beginning. My name is Chuck Able, I’m a Private Eye from back in New York. My client, Mrs Lillywhite here, called on me a few days ago. Seems she was a little concerned that... certain parties were going to sabotage the reading of this here will, and that she was going to be defrauded of what her late husband wanted her to have.”

I looked around the room.

“When she first gave me the details; rich old guy, will being read at midnight... gotta admit, I wondered whether she might have been a bit kooky, but from what I just heard...”

I shrugged.

“You heard what the man said,” I said to Mrs Sanderson. “Don’t sound like Mrs Lillywhite did so good, right?”

She looked at her husband, then looked back at me.

“Well,” she said. “I must admit I was a little surprised that Mr Lillywhite didn’t leave anything to Mrs Lillywhite here. It does seem a bit strange.”

“Now see here,” piped up Barclay. “Like I said, Norm made the will after Grace died, and he just never got around to making a new one to include the new Mrs Lillywhite. These things happen. He was as fit as an ox. I guess he just thought he had plenty of time. But then he got ill, and, well...”

“Yeah.” I said. “Then he got ill. Mrs Lillywhite... Mr Lillywhite... Seems there’s a history of dying early in this family.”

“You leave my mother out of this!” barked Jezebel, rising to her feet. “In fact I think you’ve said quite enough. This is a most upsetting time for all of us. I think it would be best if you left. Right now.”

“You heard the little lady.” said Hayden. “Let’s not let things get unpleasant.”

‘Things not getting unpleasant.’ I thought. ‘How many times over the past few days have people said to me that things shouldn’t get unpleasant?’

I raised my hands.

“Easy folks,” I said. “Nothing’s going to get unpleasant. But I’ve looked into this case for Mrs Lillywhite, and there’s just a few things that I don’t understand, and I figured that you good folks could help me, y’know, see what’s what.”

I smiled and did my best to look disarming.

Kennedy, who had practically slept through the reading, had perked up a bit now it seemed that things were getting interesting.

“Let’s hear what the man’s gotta say.” he said. “Sounds kinda intriguing, doncha think, Jez?”

Jezebel sat there, tight lipped and wasn’t saying anything.

‘Thank you, Mr Kennedy.” I said. “Must say, it ain’t every day you get to meet a real live film star. Might ask you for an autograph later.”

He grinned.

Barclay stood up.

“Mr Able. This will is a legal document. It has been executed according to law, and that is that. If you’re... confused about matters, then may I suggest that you come and see me at my office next week and I’m sure I’ll be able to put your mind at rest. Now, shall we?”

He attempted to get everybody standing and moving, but there was a lot of whispering going on, and apart from Smith, who hadnt taken his eyes of Barclay, nobody was paying a lot of attention to him.

Hayden had clearly made a decsion to take charge.

“Very well, Mr Able, we’ll give you a couple of minutes to say yer piece.” he said in a mid-west drawl. “Can’t guarantee we’ll believe y’all, but no harm in hearing you out.”

Barclay started to protest but Hayden waved him silent.

“Sit down, Mr Barclay.” said Hayden. “I’m sure this won’t take long.”

I walked to the front, to stand alongside Barclay’s desk, and addressed the group.

“Like I said, I’m a Private Eye, and Mrs Lillywhite came to me, concerned that the was going to be cut out of Mr Lillywhite’s will. In fact she was warned at the funeral last week, I won’t say by who just yet, that she should make the most of this last week, as after tonight she would be...”

I looked at Chastity.

“What was the phrase, Mrs Lillywhite? ‘In the gutter?’ ”

The others twisted round to look at her as she nodded.

I waited until I had everybody’s attention again.

“I’ve dealt with more criminals than I care to remember, and there’s one think I don’t get.” I chuckled. “Why they always seem so darn keen to warn the people that they’re out to cause trouble for. If they could keep their mouths shut, then I reckon the unsolved crime rate in this country would double overnight. Anyway, I’m getting off the point.”

I walked across the front of the desk to stand in front of Hayden. This was my big scene, and damn if I wasn’t going to milk it for all I was worth.

“So I started doing a little digging. Looked into a few backgrounds. There’s a whole bunch of information out there on public record if you know where to look. And there’s a whole lot more that ain’t quite so public too. That - the good stuff, you really gotta know where to look to find that. And I’m afraid I don’t.”

I looked around.

“But I know a man who does.”

I put my hands in my pockets and started walking in slow circles. I musta looked like I was talking to myself.

“Now the late Mr Lillywhite here, he seemed like a pretty decent fella from what I can make out. Good father, good husband, good employer...?”

I raised an eyebrow at the folks in the second row, and they all nodded enthusiastically.

“...good businessman. Now somehow, I find it pretty surprising that Norm, being the sharp guy that he was, would run a multi-million dollar business, making crucial decisions every single day, and yet somehow...”

I looked at Barclay.

“...he forgets to make a will for five years? Is that what you’re saying, Mr Barclay? He just forgot to make another will?”

“Well. I know it sounds unlike him, but... well, yes. Unless he went to another lawyer - and I’d like to think that after we’d been good friends and had worked together as long as we had, I’m pretty sure he would have told me if that was the case - then this,”

He tapped the will on the desk in front of him.

‘...this was indeed his last will and testament.”

I scratched my head.

“Y’see, Mr Barclay, that would be ok, except that I know he wrote another will.”

There were gasps from the crowd, if you could call it that.

“And furthermore... I’m fairly sure that four people - here tonight - knew exactly what was in it.”