Sunday, June 6, 2010

Postcard Perps 2010: Fatal Family Reunion

Postcard Perps 2010: Fatal Family Reunion

The Challenge:

Old Ebenezer is making his will at last, and he wants one more look at all his descendents before picking his main beneficiary. Eccentric uncles, outrageous aunts, cussing cousins and a few obnoxious in-laws are gathered at a guest ranch for the first family reunion in forty years. Mix a bit of brotherly loathing and some seething sisters-in-law with plenty of plain old greed, and one or more of them will not survive the weekend. Your narrator might be a family member or an outsider, a do-gooding sleuth or a villain in mild-mannered disguise. Surprise us. Who dies, how, and why?

The Solution:

Head for Business
by Sherry Wilson McEwen
All Rights Reserved

A spasm of pain shot through me. I gritted my teeth and looked out the big picture windows at the Cypress Hills. The great room of the Bar None Guest Ranch easily held all my estranged relatives-my older brother Silas, younger brother Harold, their wives and miscellaneous grown children-as well as my lawyer and my personal nurse. Only when I had the stabbing pain under control did I turn back to the assembled group.

Harold waved a dirty and crumpled piece of paper. "What'd you say, Ebeneezer? Winner takes all." Following my careful co-ordinates and map, Harold had managed to pull a metal container out of the roots of a twisted pine. Inside was the first page of my will, which Harold now held up in triumph.

Silas's beefy face turned red. "What kind of contest d'you call that?" He groaned and nursed his arm. "Sending us racing over the prairie horseback ... white-water rafting down a river for gawd's sake ... then wandering around in the back woods with the bears, grubbing for a blasted piece of paper. You trying to kill us?"

The thought had crossed my mind. If my useless brothers and their scruffy offspring hadn't survived the test I'd set them, it was no loss to the world. "You haven't changed a bit, Silas. Still a poor sport."

My sister-in-law Dora's shrill shot through the room like a dentist's drill. "Well somebody cheated." She shot a venomous look at Harold. "Besides, Silas didn't have enough time to learn that fancy GPS gizmo of yours."

I shifted in my wheelchair. "Seems fitting that my beneficiary learn how to use the device that made the family business a success."

Harold's wife Gwen snorted. "You were handed the business on a platter. Why your father chose to leave it all to you with nothing for Harold or Silas . . ."

I swivelled my head in her direction. Hard to believe she'd once been the belle of the Mount Royal debutantes. The only remnant of her beauty was the same musky perfume she'd used back then. "It was an obvious choice, my dear. Father recognized me as the son with enough brains and guts to build a small electronics company into the leading corporation it is today-which I accomplished with my GPS invention."

I motioned to my lawyer, who stepped forward and cleared his throat. "It's highly unusual, but my client has asked me to read out the contents of his will before his, uh, passing. In essence, he has allotted enough funds for his funeral, death duties, and creditors. The remainder is to be disbursed to the residuary beneficiary-the winner of the race. As it stands, I estimate this amount will amount to roughly, ah, one hundred dollars."

Later that night, after my nurse had settled me in bed, I savoured the eruption that had followed the lawyer's reading. Disbelief, outrage, shock and anger. I smiled in the dark. All the elements needed to stir up old resentments that had been simmering for forty years. The group reaction only confirmed my opinion-none of them had a head for business. Otherwise they'd have understood about the economy, high research and development costs, overextended credit, and eventual bankruptcy. Weaklings, all of them. Yet even I had a weakness-my penchant for TV reality shows. The Amazing Race had given me the idea for pitting my brothers and their families against each other in a survival of the fittest, winner take all. The joke was there wasn't much to take.

The house was quiet and dark. When the door to my room opened I could see a shadowy figure in the doorway. I lay still. The shadow slipped across the room, drawing nearer. There was a clunk followed by a muffled oath. The person, en route to the bed, had met up with the wheelchair. I smothered a laugh. Even as murderers my relatives were inept. As the figure bent over me, I caught the faint musky scent-the same perfume she'd used four decades ago during our secret affair. Gwen hadn't been too happy when I ended it. Her hurried marriage to Harold was just in time for the child that came along nine months later. I never believed her claim it was mine.

I wondered if they'd drawn straws and she'd won. Through my lowered lids I could see the pillow in her hands. Even a woman should be able to smother a feeble old man. As death neared I congratulated myself on my scheme. No lingering final months of pain and medication for me. I had brokered the last and best deal of my life.