Harold T. Goodman gave a maniacal laugh as he finished the revision of his will. He had made changes to it over the years, but this would be the last. He scrawled his name across the envelope and tucked it into his mahogany desk.
Turning to the family portrait that hung above the fireplace, he raised his glass of Macallan in a toast. “Let the greedy blood-suckers try to contest that,” he said.
There was Uncle Harry, larger than life, waving from the deck of his yacht. He’d been dead for over six months, and it was time to read his will. No one was allowed to view it before the reading. Harry went to extremes to legally structure it that way. The beneficiaries had no clue what he had planned. Like everything Harry did in life, his death was a production.
A video of Uncle Harry played on the large screen in the estate’s theater room. He was sporting a spray-on tan, a Hawaiian shirt, and holding an umbrella drink. He typically stole the show, and this was no exception. I wish I could say I would miss him, but that was a lie.
Harry Goodman was a rude, pompous ass. He was a real-estate mogul and self-proclaimed genius. The truth was, he stole the company from his ex-partner. The genius came from hiring the right minions to carry out his plans. He was an extraordinary conman. My dad used to say, ‘Harry could swindle the cane from a blind man.’
I was Harry’s niece, but I had no love lost for the man. We often clashed. I was never afraid to express my objection to his unethical business practices or the way he treated the family.
The room reeked of decadence and deceit. My cousins, Charles and Darla, sat in the front row. Fifty plus year old posers, who lived off their father’s wealth. When we were younger, my friends and I called them Chip and Dip. They took after their father, loud and pretentious.
Kandi, the thirty-five-year-old trophy wife, was front and center. A stream of crocodile tears ran down her face. Harry paid dearly for her private golf lessons. The joke around the country club was that they had a prearranged marriage—Kandi arranged it, and Harry paid for it.
Juan Carlos, the pool boy for the estate, sat beside Kandi. He appeared to be consoling her. It was an odd scenario. It was like a scene out of a bad TV reality show.
I slipped into an over-stuffed leather seat next to William and Margie. They were the live-in butler and housekeeper, and the only civilized people in the room. The married couple had worked for Uncle Harry since I was a kid. He treated them more like indentured servants than employees. I couldn’t imagine he would leave them much.
“Good afternoon. I’m Roger Barrister, attorney for the deceased.” He took a stack of papers from his briefcase. “Shall we get started?”
“Where is Mr. Larson, my father’s real attorney?” Charles interrupted.
“I assure you, I am your father’s real attorney. He appointed me his attorney and executor after he revised his will,” said Barrister. He organized the paperwork on the podium. “Now, if we can continue?” he said, never looking up from his task.
“Revised his will?” Charles huffed and whispered something to his sister.
“Per Mr. Goodman’s instruction,” said Barrister, “I will play a video of him addressing each beneficiary’s inheritance. Now—”
“A video,” said Darla, “that can’t be legal.” She crossed her arms and glared at Mr. Barrister.
As always, the two siblings had to be the center of attention. When they tried to upstage Kandi, she gave a loud whimper. She was adept at drawing attention to herself. Juan Carlos gave her the attention she desired with a reassuring pat on the knee. The dramatics were laughable.
“No, not by itself,” said Barrister, “but it accompanies a written document that is legally binding.” Barrister didn’t acknowledge Darla’s disapproving stare.
“Now, I will play the video.” Mr. Barrister wasn’t letting the Chip and Dip get to him. He was all business.
Mr. Barrister dimmed the overhead lights and started the video. It was hard to tell if it was a will reading or a movie premiere. Uncle Harry began his monologue.
“I’ll start by telling you all that I am of sound mind and body. That’s for legal crap. I’m certain a few of you will challenge that fact. You will all have questions, and most of you won’t like the answers. My attorney, Mr. Barrister, is well prepared.
"Okay, let’s get this show started. Kandi, my beautiful wife, we have had an exciting four years. From the first time I saw you, I was in lust. I enjoyed parading you around the country club, making my old friends drool. You deserve everything I have planned for you.” Harry smiled and gave a wink.
Kandi sat up and took notice.
“My love, I leave you the pool boy, Juan Carlos. Since you have been screwing around with him for the past two years, I thought it was the right thing to do. Being the generous man that I am, you can keep your car and personal possessions. I’m sure you’ll try to fight, but the prenuptial agreement may make that difficult. You shouldn’t make hasty decisions, but you’re young enough to learn.” Harry raised a middle finger to the camera and gave a boisterous laugh.
Kandi yelled an obscenity and threw a Louboutin stiletto at the screen. She was crying genuine tears as she hobbled out of the room. Juan Carlos chased after her like a whipped pup.
“Serves her right,” said Darla, turning her nose up in the air, “for the way she treated our poor father.”
It was spooky how Uncle Harry resumed his performance once the outburst had ended. But he always knew how to play a room.
“Charles and Darla, my loving children, I can’t leave you out. The pair of you were always there for me. There, eager for a handout, taking every penny I would give you. I’m just glad neither of you had children. You were both to self-centered to share with anyone. I leave you each one dollar. That should be enough with all the money you took from me over the years. I hope you invested well.” Harry lit a cigar and leaned back in his lounge chair.
Charles and Darla gasped in unison.
“This is an outrage,” yelled Charles, “he can’t do this to us.”
“This isn’t legal,” said Darla, “it’s just not fair, we’ll contest this.”
Harry started talking. Again, it was uncanny how well he knew his audience.
“I know you will contest the will. It won’t do you any good, but you can try. I have it wrapped up tight. If it weren’t for your mother, I would have left you nothing. That leaves William and Margie, loyal to the end. I’m leaving you a house in the country. I’ve also set up a trust to take care of all your needs. It’s time the two of you retire and enjoy your remaining years.”
Holy crap was that Uncle Harry or an imposter. Worried about what he had in store for me, I shifted in my seat.
“Evie, my only niece, you’re the only family left. I realize we never saw eye to eye, but I respected your conviction. I leave you my entire estate, the real-estate company, and my other assets. I regret that we didn’t have more time together.” Uncle Harry blew a kiss, and the screen faded to black.
“What the hell was that,” said Charles. His face was glowing red.
“That was a senile old man,” said Darla, “and I intend to prove it.” She huffed and stormed out of the room.
“You are welcome to contact our office,” said Mr. Barrister. “Good day.”
I knew Chip and Dip—maybe even Kandi—would contest the will. I also knew Uncle Harry; he would have gone above and beyond to tie up any loose ends.
When the dust settled, I planned on breaking Uncle Harry’s family tradition of greed and egotism. There were plenty of charities that could use a healthy contribution. It was time people regarded Harold T. Goodman as a philanthropist, even if it was a posthumous recognition. Uncle Harry would roll over in his grave, which made me smile.