“ENOUGH!” Time may have stripped the power from his body, but not his words. He would be heard. “If you ask me if I’m sure one more time, I’ll use another solicitor’s office and you’ll lose your fee as my executor!”
Arthur knew how to motivate men; he’d made his living out of knowing, and for this man it was money. It always was with lawyers.
“My apologies sir, I have a legal obligation to –” then the lawyer stopped himself in time, before saying ‘ensure’.
Arthur held the eyes of the lawyer in silence; a silence he intended to make as uncomfortable as possible. He held out his hand. Without hesitating the lawyer handed over the Will and Testament of Arthur Postlethwaite. Arthur snatched at the document without ceremony, and slammed it down onto the desk in front of him. The loud bang woke his beloved cat who was asleep on her duck down cushion, which had ‘Poppy’ stitched across it in gold thread. She yawned, stretched, and then sat up to watch Arthur.
He reached for his desk pen, and for a moment observed the shakes in his hand. Over the last six months the tremors had become worse, and more frequent. He focused on his hand to steady it, but his concentration was broken.
“If you do change your mind we can always write up a codicil for you.” At the sight of the fury in Arthur’s eyes the lawyer shrank lower in his seat, and the shoulders of his suit rose up his neck. But turtling wouldn’t save him, and even from within his shell the lawyer showed signs of his own tremors under Arthur’s gaze, as he replied through gritted teeth.
“I…will…NOT…be changing my mind. I fully understand this document…I WROTE IT! I understand who I am. I understand that my manor house is this thing we’re sitting in with the roof on it. And I understand who the benefactor of my Will is.” Through sheer force of will Arthur’s hand was as precise as a surgeon’s as he signed his name with a flourish. The document was legal.
“Again my apologies sir, I only have your best interests at heart, and a special case like this will come under greater scrutiny.”
Poppy jumped onto Arthur’s desk, like a referee separating two boxers in a clinch. She investigated the paper and stared at the markings her human had scratched onto the page, which Arthur thought, was scrutiny equal to that of any lawyer he had met. Then she sat down directly on the document. Poppy stared into the eyes of Arthur, and his fury was visibly washed away.
“No, I should apologise Mr. Williams, I know you are only doing your due diligence as befitting of your profession.” Arthur stroked under Poppy’s chin, and they were equally content. “I expect the reaction of my children to this special case will be much worse.” Arthur’s eyes didn’t look beyond his cat, but the lawyer was pretty certain he was still addressing him, so listened in silence. “Both my children have healthy trust funds, so they need for nothing, yet a housecat needs a house doesn’t she?” Then in way of answer, Poppy lovingly nuzzled her head against the underside of Arthur’s chin.
Arthur made him wait – the hour he had paid him for wasn’t up yet anyway. He looked over the head of Poppy to the lawyer waiting patiently for the signed document.
“If I die you will need to watch over Poppy, as she’s always watched over me.”
“I don’t know how they said it with a straight face!? ‘The Will stipulates haddock three times a week’…bloody HADDOCK!”
“Slow down Peter!”
“Calm down, I’m doing the speed limit.” Yet as he said the words with conviction, the sentiment was undermined by the heavy lean of the car as it drove through a sweeping corner in the road. “Those charlatans should be struck off!”
“I know.” My brother was always too quick to anger, “But still you shouldn't have said that in front of everyone there, they’re lawyers, they could’ve sued you for slander! Or is it libel?"
“Slander. Defamation is slander when spoken, libel when written.”
“Exactly, you should know better!” As we spoke his anger lessened, and the speed of the car matched his mood. “It was stupid to say that in front of their witnesses.”
“Don’t worry, they’ll be too busy to worry about that, the wheels are in motion.”
“I called my solicitor as soon as that charlatan stopped talking. They considered our position and said our best claim is on the grounds of lack of testamentary capacity.”
This couldn’t be a healthy way to deal with grief, but who was I to judge. He had his own family to think of. It was my time to be strong for him like he’d been for me so many times before.
“I know, I hate that we have to do this too.” Peter had always been able to sense when I was upset, no matter how hard I tried to hide it. I had to try harder! “But we have to act quickly before they begin distributing the estate. I just need to send over all the documentation tonight, then after that the solicitors will sort everything else…it’s what I’m paying them for!” Then Peter wore a gentle smile to soothe me. It’s what he always did.
The further we got away from the Manor house and that cat, the more of my brother returned to me. As we turned onto the side road that led up to my hotel our speed had been reduced to that of a gentle Sunday drive.
“I love you too.” I didn’t know what else to say. What more was there?
“Not enough to stay with us though!” Peter’s words poked at me to try and make me smile back at him.
“Shut up!” I punched him on the arm like we were kids again, and he laughed. “Last thing you and Monica need right now is a house guest.” We pulled up to the front of the hotel and Peter stopped by the main entrance. “And they do a great breakfast here.”
“I’ll pick you up at ten then. That will give you enough time to wipe the egg off your chin.” This time I didn’t give him the satisfaction of a punch, and gave him a hug instead. “I am sorry,” he whispered into my ear, “I’m just angry.” Then I opened my door and got out.
“See you tomorrow big brother.”
“Ten sharp! Don’t be late.” I peered back in through the window to cut him a look. “We’ll have a nice lunch together to make up for today,” he continued.
Peter gave two toots on the horn as he drove back to the main road.
I went straight to my room without looking up at anyone at reception. It had been a long day and I just wanted to sleep.
After a dreamless night of sleep I woke up fully clothed, and lying on top of the bed sheets. I looked at my phone and saw it was nearly ten, so quickly jumped into the shower to make myself presentable.
By the time I was I was done condensation was running down the bathroom mirror, but when I checked my phone Peter still hadn’t called. With the gift of extra time, I got dressed and relaxed in my room. I’d missed breakfast, but wasn’t hungry anyway; but there was only so much entertainment to find in a hotel room, and I soon grew impatient.
Peter was obviously busy so I decided I’d order a cab to his house instead. When I called to let him know he didn’t have to pick me up, his phone just rung, and then went to voicemail. Peter’s phone was always within arm’s reach, and either answered or engaged.
When my cab arrived, I went over to the reception desk on my way out of the double doors.
“Thank you for calling my cab.”
“You’re welcome Miss. Postlethwaite.” The young man’s smile looked sincere.
“If my brother calls for me, tell him I couldn’t wait any longer.” His well practised look showed cracks at my words, but the cab was waiting and I didn’t have time to find out why.
The village I had grown up in was small even for a village, and it was a short drive to Peter’s house. Everywhere was within walking distance with the right pair of shoes, but I neither had the shoes nor the inclination to walk today.
When I arrived at the door I tipped the driver well. I thought someone should be genuinely happy today. I pressed the doorbell, and it took a long time before it was answered.
“Hello Monica-” but then I stopped myself saying more, as I recognised the look on my sister-in-law’s face, it matched the receptionist.
“Please, come in.” Monica spoke in a sombre tone, and had a glass in her hand. I followed her through the house in silence for fear of what she was going to say next. When she poured a glass of JD and coke without asking and led me out into the garden, I knew what she was going to tell me.
When Monica told me my brother had died I didn’t hear her words, only her emotion. My soul was numb, but Monica’s soul felt every prick of emotion. Loss, love, fear, anger; they all pricked at Monica, yet her only concern at that moment was to lessen my pain.
By our third drink Monica had explained what had happened, and still numb to how I felt I was left only with the details. Monica had gone to bed and Peter was in his office organising the papers his solicitor needed. She couldn’t sleep and went to check on him, and as soon as she walked in the room she could smell gas and rushed to open all the windows. But when she went to Peter slumped on his desk, he was already cold. The police suspected a faulty valve on the fire in the room.
“I’m sorry I didn’t call you sooner, but I didn’t want the children to see Peter.” There was more red in Monica’s eyes than white, but they were dry and I wondered if you could run out of tears. “So Mother picked them up this morning, and then I called the police as soon as they were gone.”
“I understand.” I wanted to say more to soothe her, but had forgotten how.
“The police had left not long before you arrived,” then as anger rose to the surface of her cocktail of emotions she added, “no doubt the whole village knows now.”
We drank together in silence, until a detail came to my mind.
“Were the windows locked?”
“What?” My sudden question had made Monica jump, and her jolt caused her to dribble some of her JD and coke down her chin. Although, with each new drink poured, our glasses had become more JD, and less coke.
“When you opened the windows to let the gas out, did you have to unlock them?”
“I don’t know.” Monica thought back to last night as she wiped her chin, “Wait! No they can’t have been locked as I was only in my dressing gown, so wouldn’t have had the key.”
I thought for a moment. My mind had to make sense of the situation. If it didn’t, my emotions would take over.
“Why?” asked Monica.
“I don’t know.” Monica didn’t deserve to hear the thoughts my paranoia made me think; I guess it moved freely across both parts of my mind. Then I was saved from having to give a better reply by a flash of movement at the bottom of the garden.
“What was that!?” Monica spun around and looked to where I was pointing. “I saw something move over there.”
Monica’s lack of concern when she realised where I was pointing had a calming effect on me. “It was probably a rat. There’s a river at the back of the garden.”
“Oh, must have been a bloody big one!” Monica laughed and it made me laugh too.
“I’d leave them, but Peter worries about the-” and then that fleeting moment of joy was gone. “Worried about the kids because they spread disease, so he laid out poisoned traps.”
I saw her eyes well, but she willed her flood of tears to hold fast, and not a single tear fell. I placed my hand on top of hers and squeezed gently. In that moment I admired her strength; it was for the benefit of her children even though they weren't here, and I was determined to do anything to relieve the pressure forcing down on her.
We continued drinking and focused on the good, until Monica was fully restored and able to face being the mother her children needed her to be. Monica went back into the house to call a cab to drop me off at the hotel, and then take her to her parents’ house. When she came back out she had a key in her hand.
“In case you need a break from the hotel, we’ll probably stay with my mother for a few days.” I took the key, and placed it onto my keychain with a sense of permanency. Monica knew I’d be here as long as she needed and she squeezed me tight. I didn’t want to let go until the cab arrived.
Once back at the hotel I went straight to my room, but did glance over to the reception desk. Thankfully the receptionist from the morning must have finished his shift. I didn’t want to see that look again.
I got undressed and embraced the comfort of the bed. I’d never felt so exhausted.
When I woke my appetite had returned to me, and I got dressed and went down to dinner. The dining room of the hotel was beautiful; it had the perfect balance between stately home and cosy B&B. I sat down at a table by the window, and started to look through the menu. Everything looked great to hungry eyes.
Sat alone, I thought about what happened. My analytical mind suppressed my emotions again. I didn’t believe in coincidences, but their deaths were within a week of each other, and this was too odd to be ignored. Why didn’t Peter smell the gas? Had someone been watching, then turned on the gas when he fell asleep at the desk? The window wasn’t locked, so they could, if they were a good climber. But why? Who benefits from Peter’s death? And also benefits from my father’s death? They were both honest business men and were loved in the village, it doesn’t make sense. Financially, I gain the most, once that bloody cat dies!
“Good evening Miss. Postlethwaite. Are you ready to order?”
The cat? Surely not, how could it? It was a weird cat, and Father did distance himself from us once he got her. But how could I prove it, the courts were more likely to lock me up in a straitjacket if I said out loud what I was thinking. Maybe cats don’t have a sense of time, so the timing wouldn’t seem suspicious to it. I took a deep breath and let my senses catch up with my thoughts. I was being ridiculous, a murderous cat killing Peter to prevent a will being contested. It was just as likely that the rats killed Peter in revenge for all the traps!
“Miss. Postlethwaite? Are you ready to order?”
Suddenly I realised the waiter was standing at my table waiting politely. “Oh I’m so sorry.” I picked up my menu again and scanned through my options.
“I can come back if you still need to decide?”
“No, no, it’s fine,” then as I re-read the menu I had decided, and not just what I would eat. Who said I had to prove anything? “Yes…I’ve decided… but can I ask, how large is the haddock?”
“Quite large,” then the waiter mimicked a fisherman as he showed me the size by the gap between his hands. “I can box up anything you can’t finish if you’re worried about it going to waste?”