“But I’m the executor,” shouts Paul. “We told you to put it right there in the . . .” Grace stamps on his foot. “. . . I mean, Mother promised.”
Rhinehart eases into a chair and crosses his knees. “Let’s have a look, then,” he suggests. “Maybe Paul’s right.”
“Well, of course, Claire and I discussed it the other day,” says Jackie. “But since you’re not sure, Paul, I’ll read you this cover page. It may be one of the changes she decided to make from the earlier version that you saw.” Jackie opens a manila folder across her knees. She digs in her sleeve for a cloth to wipe her glasses. When Rhinehart reaches for his red bandana, Jackie waves him off. The aunts and uncles stand like yard ornaments in the living room. Uncle Hal nervously slurps his drink, but otherwise the only sound is the throbbing of a vein in Aunt Sonia’s forehead.
Jackie reads: “I, Claire Marie Marlene Bendictson, being of sound mind, [etc. etc., here we go:] . . . do appoint Miss Jackie Taylor of Henderson Falls, Minnesota, to be the executor of this last will and testament.” Jackie adjusts her glasses. “So there you are. If you didn’t know this, it’s no wonder you were surprised to see me.”
“And she discussed this with you just the other day, did she?” asks Sonia through gritted teeth.
“She really wasn’t herself, I’m afraid,” says Georgia nervously. “You know how close to the end she was.”
Uncle Paul sits down heavily. “I was supposed to be executor,” he whispers, quietly stroking his head.
“She certainly knew her mind,” says Jackie. “Sharp as a tack—just like you said, Georgia. And she led me to believe that she’d discussed all arrangements with you folks. Not that it would change anything if she hadn’t. Under the law, she can do what she likes.” Jackie turns over the next page.
“No, Jackie, no. She never said a word to us,” murmurs Aunt Georgia, with a sidelong glance at Molly. “We may have to contest this and go back to the earlier will.” Georgia twists her white gloves in her fingers.
“Not sure you’d get anywhere,” puts in Rhinehart. “Her will is her will. I witnessed and Jackie notarized.”
“I’m sure she’s taken good care of you all,” says Jackie. “Lets just see what she says.”
“Yes,” says Molly, bouncing a little. “Let’s see what she says.”
“We’ll go over it line by line, Troll, when I get you home,” Sonia growls.
“I’m really supposed to be executor,” says Paul. “We all agreed.”
“Ahem,” says Jackie. “About those properties. I think you’ll be happy to find that she left the cabin on Viola Lake to Hal and Georgia.”
“Oh, please, no!” cries Georgia. “That place is completely run down. Plus no electric, no plumbing, no Internet. This is not what we talked about. Molly, I’ll need a word with you.”
“Good fishing, though,” says Hal, nudging Georgia.
“So you know the place, then,” says Jackie, flipping pages. “There’s also a studio apartment in St. Cloud, which she’s left to Sonia.”
“Fabulous,” says Sonia drily. “That’s right by the tracks, wall-to-wall linoleum, and infested with roaches from the last tenant. Terrific resale value.” She fires up another smoke and regards Molly and Rhinehart each in turn. They will pay for this, she vows to herself.
“Claire felt you might need the apartment for a temporary residence,” says Jackie. “You know, in case you decide to sell your house for any reason.” Jackie turns another page. “There was something else,” she says. “Something for Paul and Grace. Oh, yes, the cars.”
“The cars?” Grace says. She casts a desperate look at Paul. “What cars?”
“Well, let’s see,” says Jackie, flipping pages. “She calls them antiques, and Paul has mentioned them many times to her, I think she said.”
“Oh no,” says Paul, finding his dander at last, and getting it up. “No you don’t, Molly. I’m getting much more out of this than two dead Subarus that the raccoons have been living in for a decade.”
“Why is everyone mad at me?” asks Molly. “I had nothing to do with this, as you very well know.” She crosses her arms, and goes to stand behind Rhinehart.
Aunt Georgia and Aunt Grace are chattering in raised and indignant voices, each getting redder in the face than the other.
“Who gets the Orphan?” Sonia asks.
“I’m sorry? Ah, you mean Molly,” says Jackie, looking over the tops of her glasses. “One thing she changed is that she’s putting Molly with Rhinehart now.” Jackie looks at Rhinehart. “I assume you’ll have her, since you signed as witness.”
Rhinehart is bouncing his knee gently. “I do what I’m told,” he says.
Aunt Sonia is a statue of dark malice, smoke drifting in a blue shroud around her. “Well, I’m just not sure about that,” she says coldly. “I think a child ought to be with her family, don’t you, Paul?”
Paul begins stroking his hair again, and Uncle Hal turns aside to refill his glass in the kitchen.
“Before we move on to a formal reading of the will,” continues Jackie. “There’s one direction that Claire gives me as executor. I feel I should mention it up front, because it doesn’t make any sense to me. But maybe one of you will know what it means.” Jackie lifts a page and adjusts her glasses. The aunts and uncles are quiet for this new surprise.
“Ah, here we go: Should any of my heirs choose to contest this will or to subvert the arrangements herein, then—and only then—I direct my executor to open the sealed envelope attached. My executor will deliver the letter enclosed to these parties: one copy to each of my heirs; one copy to the owners of Sunshine Travel Agency; and one copy to the office of the Minnesota attorney general.”
Jackie holds up a fat brown envelope. “Anyone recognize this?” There is only the sound of shoulders shrugging.
“What’s it say on the label?” Hal asks.
Jackie looks. “Three words: Ricardo. Costa. Rica.”
“Give me that,” says Paul firmly. “Let’s open it right now.” He’s rising to his feet and lunging across toward Jackie. “I’m really the executor!”
Paul moves with some speed, but Sonia is a lightning bolt. She leaps, she grabs his wrist, she yanks Paul halfway across the table. It’s the first time she’s used this move since the self-defense class she took at Henderson Prairie Community College. Eyeball to eyeball, Sonia holds her brother motionless with a perfect wrist-lock.
“Ow?” he pleads. “Ow ow ow.”
“Paul,” says Sonia, her voice as grim as death, and her face radish red in the sunny room. “Jackie. Is. The executor!”
“But I . . .” Paul begins. The wrist lock tightens. “Okay,” he whispers. “Okay. No. Yes. Jackie.”
Grace and Georgia are both shouting, but Sonia withers them with a demonic glare. Still pinning Paul to the table, Aunt Sonia speaks to the executor of her dear departed mother’s will.
“Jackie,” she says, “we have no desire to contest our mother’s last wishes. Please go ahead with the reading of her will.”
Jackie blinks. “She’s left you some money, too.”