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’?”
“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.
“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.
“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?”
“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?”