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They all shuffled, single file, into Mr. Wilton’s massive study. It smelled of leather, fireplace ash, and linseed oil. Massive built-in bookcases towered from floor to ceiling in the front of the room, filled with multiple copies of every Tom Clancy book ever written. Suffice to say, Mr. Wilton was a fan. Amongst the Clancy one could find volumes by anyone from the likes of Milton to McInerney to Meltzer. Mr. Wilton was no snob. He just preferred Clancy’s work above anyone else’s. The walls were mostly bare and what little art there was was mostly made up of random pieces by local artists that Wilton had come across at art fairs and street carnivals and the like. He knew nothing of art and cared even less. But he liked how excited people got when he bought a piece from them.
Mere hours before, this loose assembly of people had been at the man’s wake and now they were here for the reading of his will. And what an odd assortment they were. A wife, two ex-wives, three sons, 4 daughters, a niece, two nephews, and three sisters represented his family. Then there was the current business partner, the former business partner that broken ties with Wilton to go his own, the former business partner who Wilton had broken ties with out of jealous, and Wilton’s administrative assistant Alexander.
There was his childhood best friend Stanley who Wilton had once hit so hard he broke Stanley’s nose, effectively ending their friendship. Behind him came Helen. She was orphaned at the age of six due to a car accident. Mr. Wilton read an article about her in the local newspaper three years later and had effectively became her patron, moving him into her home, paying for school, and clothes, and vacations, and whatever else one could imagine. Then, when she turned 20, he set up a bank account with six million dollars and ordered her to go find her way in the world. They still talked on the phone weekly until the day he died, but she never saw him face-to-face again.
And there were still more, friends, competitors, local vendors he had taken a shining to. In a life as big as Wilton’s you made many connections, positive and negative. He had only lived 53 years, but it was more than enough time to earn a fortune several times over, to fall in love, to break hearts, to make lifelong friends, and his damnedest to destroy them. Everyone who meant anything to him, be it fair or foul, was in that room.
They took their seats and shifted quietly, but uncomfortably in them. Despite the austerity of the room, the chairs were simple, metal, and folding. No one complained, of course. That would have been rude. But many burned with annoyance at him for what they perceived as yet another slight.
Moments later, Wilton’s diminutive lawyer Raskin sauntered into the room carrying a single sheet of paper under his arm. Following behind him was a young lawyer from the same firm, someone none of them recognized. She had a large box rest awkwardly in her outstretched arms. Raskin noisily folded open the sheet of paper as his young co-worker began to move about the room, passing out eight and a half by 11 manila envelopes and making it clear they were not to be opened yet.
As soon as everyone received their envelopes, Raskin cleared his throat with a long, raspy gargle and began to read:
“To all of you gathered today, I thank you for being here. None of you here have always seen eye to eye with me and some, in fact, never did. But, illness teaches one a thing or two, or at least it did for me. I know that without each and every one of you in my life, I could not have accomplished, saw, or experienced all that I did. And thus, I thank you. Not just in word, but also in gifts from my life.
“However, certain revelations that came to me as I neared death caused me to reconsider my generosity. Many, if not all of you are people with secrets. Ugly secrets. Hateful secrets. Things that, if exposed, would forever derail your lives. So I have brought you here to expose those secrets. To make you clean before I give you my gifts. I know that I cannot expect anyone of you to simply come clean so I have placed in your envelopes certain hints and clues that will guide you to the secrets of others. For those who are most effective in exposing the hidden lives of those around you, there will be additional monetary rewards to receive.”
Raskin paused here. A drama kid growing up, he never really gave up on his love of being the center of attention. He never tried to be an actor because he knew he was, ultimately, no good, but he also knew he could dramatic pause with the best of them. And at the moment he sensed some people starting to slip away, he began again.
“So now, from beyond the grave, I command you to open your envelopes and begin the search for truth. Remember that you will lose much, but gain arguably more.”
The guests sat, stunned. Minds whirred to what secrets the letter could be referring to. Some reached conclusions quicker than others. Some merely had a hard time figuring out how many of their secrets Wilton might have learned. Wilton’s younger brother tore up his envelope first and everyone followed suit, filling the chamber with a cacophony of ripping paper.
Each individual unfolded their papers, hands shaking, to find a single message:
“Nah. I’m just messing you. Can you imagine? Anyway, I brought you all here for a final party. Think of it as the first in a series of thank yous. Raskin will do the real will thing tomorrow, but it is all pretty standard. Some money here, a possession or two there, etc, etc. No one will get slighted, I promise. Now throw this paper in the fireplace and get on the boogie shoes. And be sure to try a margarita. The bartender makes them just perfect.”So, what do you think? Enjoy it? If so, feel free to follow me on Twitter (@UnGajje) for various bon mots and links directing you to the newest updates on this site as well as my other various writing gigs (Marvel, Complaint of the Week at the Living Room Times, and New Paris Press, set to debut shortly although information may be available before then here). If it was not so enjoyable for you, feel free to tell me that too. And still check me out at all those things above. One of them you are bound to like more.