A Quotation Inspiration: Official Contest Entry
"The dying process begins the minute we are born,
but it accelerates during dinner parties."
-- Carol Matthau
I’ve never been to a more proper house than my great aunt Helen’s place. It was old money, but it was simply old as well. It was like a gem that had lost luster or a fine piece of antique furniture that has just a touch of mold. It was miles from anywhere, and more than often not, it was my summer home. Instead of living in luxury, I was put to work. Not hard labor, but enough to wear me out. Or so they thought...
I played games in slave quarters with the neighbor kids who weren’t supposed to be there. The shacks were torn down years ago, and we didn’t know why at the time. The live oaks out front are dying, too. Maybe it was time to chuck it all, but someone would never have that. She would pretend to be an aristocrat with dinners and parties, but she wasn’t. It was interesting and amusing. To think, though, in my time it was all part of the tour.
It was the full complement that night for dinner. It promised to be a news night, where Old Helen would intone some new program or relief she was funding, or more to the interest of most, the will. I was there because it amused me, especially their antics. I’m 32, with blonde hair, green eyes, and a nice build. I could be anyplace back in the city, but this was the most fun. Watching my wrinkled old great aunt with her white mane toy with people was outstanding. The food was even better.
“This appetizer is outstanding, Helen!” Toady One, Oscar said.
“It’s amazing!” Blood Tiffany and wife of Toady One chimed in.
“I’ll be sure to pass it to the chefs. Outstanding and amazing.” Helen replied in a monotone.
That… is why I went. I made a decent living and didn’t give one whit how much I had in the will, so it was fun to watch. Helen had wit sharper than a razor and loved to use it. There were three women related by blood and a couple of married toadies who took the brunt. Others were usually singles and family friends who fared better. The only other actual family was my younger brother, Cameron. He’d come and go, but he made it to dinner tonight, taking the last of ten chairs. This would be a circus.
“The soup is to die for!” Caroline exclaimed. I pondered a moment at what was off.
“Oh, it is!” Tiffany agreed. It struck me. Etiquette required waiting for everyone to be served before eating.
The soup bowl was placed in front of Blanche, and she said, “Thank you.”
Blanche was the youngest of us, and more than a little frail. She had dishwater blonde hair, wore little makeup, but had piercing light green eyes. So when they opened wide while I looked at her, I knew something was amiss. It was Tiffany and Caroline, seizing in their chairs and drooling, as if both were epileptic. At first I was very concerned, but they really lacked any acting skills and I saw through it. It wasn’t until Blanche fell backward in her chair and hit her head with a dull thud that I became worried.
“What the hell?!” Caroline said, suddenly feeling fine.
Tiffany, too, popped back up with her bleached hair all mussed. “Damn. She wasn’t part of it.”
“Part of what?!” I yelled as I raced to where Blanche lay.
All of the three looked equally guilty, including my Aunt Helen who had engineered the whole episode. It wasn’t so much a practical joke, but it was staged to be one of those murder mystery events. Clearly someone had been reading about them. This was something no one expected, someone dying at the event. And make no mistake, Blanche was dead in a pool of blood around her head. I had tried some life-saving measures, but it was of no use from the very start.
The thing about old plantation homes like the one Helen owned was that many were off the beaten path. I hurried upstairs to a balcony to get a cellphone signal, but didn’t even get that until I lit up every tower with a 911 call. They finally had all the information I could give them through all of the static and drops, and I disconnected. It took a minute to gather my thoughts before heading down the stairs back to the family.
“We were going to find out much about you men!” Tiffany hissed.
“Now you’ll find out for sure.” Oscar spat back.
The snippet of their conversation was lost to me as I came back in the room. The police said that since there was no imminent danger, they would get there as quickly as possible. It could even be the coroner on site first, and would we please stay away from the body. When I told everyone, they complied, but tried to solve the “murder” amongst themselves. I found it morbid and retired to a sitting room with a glass half full of sixteen-year-old whiskey.
“I messed up, didn’t I?” Aunt Helen said as she entered and sat on the ornate red couch a few feet from me.
“With this family?” I paused. “Yeah, I’d say you did.”
We passed the rest of the time in almost silence, then came the knock at the door. The police arrived first and started to take statements. It seemed the coroner was out of pocket, but showed up a short time later. Once they had what they thought they needed, the local constabulary had a short meeting. They decided to take both the women actors, Tiffany and Caroline, into custody for questioning. Cameron was also taken with them, and I had no idea why. Everyone was expected to show up for a statement, but those three didn’t have a choice.
I’m a lawyer. I'd graduated from Tulane Law School, but I had never practiced criminal law. I was doing deeds and trusts for a local firm. That night everyone wanted me to take care of them, though. It might have been the most whining and begging of their lives, but perhaps not. A gut feeling told me they did it regularly in one fashion or another. We rode to the station in two cars and it was a bumpy forever getting there. The smell of burned coffee and vomit wafter over me as we entered the police station, to the point I could almost taste it.
“Well, damn! I so wanted to toss all of you in jail!” A familiar voice called.
I turned and couldn’t believe it. “Doc Carver! What the hell are you doing here?!”
“It’s been a long time since anyone called me ‘Doc’,” He replied. “Not since the minors, anyway.”
He gave me a big hug. “So when baseball was over you decided to be a cop?”
“It runs in the family,” My old high school teammate said, “But you knew that.”
“Well, you’re going to have to explain how you ended up here, but I have to bail out some family…”
“I would probably wait on that.”
“Why wait? They all asked for me as attorney of record, so no more questions. They’ll just sit in jail.”
“I doubt the prosecuting attorney will charge anyone.” Detective Carver said.
“Okay, go on…”
“Preliminary from the scene, she died from a skull fracture due to the fall from the chair.”
Doc gave me a pat on the shoulder and walked away. It would take a couple of hours, but we finally got word from the prosecutor. The three were being kept in separate rooms, so I had to go inform them individually. No charges were being filed, but they were asked to stay in the parish if possible, or at least the state. The two women thanked me repeatedly, then ran to wherever they went. Cameron listened, then asked me if we were alone as a client would be afforded.
His idea of whipping out the chair, he told me, was pure genius. But the murder mystery prank had given him the perfect cover. She often leaned too far back, and he had waited for a while to finally be seated across from her. Just a little tug and she would hit the marble floor hard.
I felt like a poleaxed cow. It was incomprehensible that my own brother killed a relative. It was almost worse that it was over money.
“I saw the will, man,” Cameron said. “ She was getting over half the money!”
“You idiot! Why didn’t you talk to me first!?”
“So you could just tell me not to do it?”
“No, so you would have known Aunt Helen isn’t rich. Then you wouldn't do it!”
“But… all that land!”
“It sold years ago. Once all the notes are paid, we’ll probably get a bill!”
“Could be worse.” He smiled, “If you hadn’t told me, some others might have had accidents.”
He thanked me, and after reminding me I was his attorney, left in a hurry. I hoped right then I would never see him again. Especially if I were a big benefactor in the will.