The gathering of the estranged family members was not for the joyful reason Martha Cole had planned, or instead hoped for. No, this gathering was a post-funeral meeting for the passing of Ms. Cole. Sitting in Ms. Cole’s private office was a group of nine people, most of whom haven’t spoken to one another for over fifteen years. The office was adorned with figures of the late Martha’s dog Vito, even the wallpaper was covered with enlarged pictures of Vito standing in his famous showing pose with his oversized collar on display too. On the side wall was the lit fireplace that one could drive a small car into.
Behind the oak inlaid desk sat Jean Helsinki, Martha’s only “friend” and head lawyer. His perfect suit, only outdone by his perfect silver hair, seemed to be extended to the ornate notebook upon the desk in front of him. Everyone sat quietly staring at the journal and its two criss-cross bands of red, embossed with the word secret in several languages across it.
Sam Cole, once Martha’s sister Sansa and now brother, was the first to break the marathon silence. “Mr. Helsinki, though we all enjoy sitting here among one another,” said Sam rolling his eye for all to see. “Our curiosity is starting to wane. Thus, on behalf of my, um, “family,” I demand we get on with it.”
“Right you are Mr. Cole,” said the lawyer. Jean looked around the room making eye contact with each of the other nine occupants. “I’ll begin by stating that I confess, I do not know all the contents of Ms. Cole’s Last Will and Testament as she had at least a dozen different lawyers working on the document with none of us knowing what the others had written. All to keep her last wishes a secret.” Jean reached into his jacket pulling out an envelope which he fanned into two. “I’ve been instructed to read the contents of this first envelope before we begin.”
The lawyer opened the first envelope scanning the letter inside before reading it allowed, “I, Martha Cole, give my brother Sam Cole, a choice for the rest of those in attendance to the reading of my Will. You shall choose to swap the contents of the second envelope that my lawyer has accompanied with this one, with the original Will. Or you may keep the original. You will make this choice before my lawyer reveals the contents of one or the other. Make your choice now. Signed M. Cole.”
“Mr. Cole,” started the lawyer. “How would you like to proceed, given your choices?”
Without hesitation, Sam stated, “Well, as today is Sunday, I’ll go with the contents of the envelope.”
“Very well Mr. Cole,” said the lawyer raising from his seat. He picked up the sealed notebook moving over to the fireplace in his very best business stroll. Mr. Helsinki squatted in front of the warmth and placed the journal dutifully upon the flames.
“What are you doing!” said one of the family members louder than intended.
“I was instructed to burn the document which was not chosen,” said the lawyer standing to watch the notebook burn.
I low murmur took hold among the group. The lawyer, back at the desk, sat down and brought the attention back upon himself. “Now, if you’re all ready, we’ll continue.”
Sam sat in front of the desk stone-faced awaiting the reading of the contents of the envelope, full knowing that he would get the bulk of his sister’s estate.
Mr. Helsinki took the letter opener from the side drawer and slid it through the top of the envelope. Removing the single letter from within he again scanned the document before proceeding. “So, I’ll first read the contents then answer your questions. ‘Dear family, if you’ve chosen this route then you chose the better of the two. I at this moment bequeath my entire fortune to my brother Sam Cole. However, to receive my estate in any part, you must find Vito. The web address and password for the paperwork to finish are on his collar for safe keeping. Though I have no doubt that you will not, I ask that you share what is now yours with the rest of the family. Yours truly, Martha.'”
Sam relaxed into the chair with a semi-smile on his face. I won. She’s given it all to ME! he thought.
“Mr. Helsinki,” said Sam at last, as the lawyer was putting his papers into his bag. “Where is her mu… the dog, I mean?”
“And the mystery begins Mr. Cole. Ms. Cole’s dog, Vito, has been living a life of luxury on an island. From what I understand, he’s been quite happy.”
The brother thought this over for a moment before saying, “We’re in South Dakota, there’s no island near us. Where is the dog?”
The lawyer finished packing his case then took a pause. “If any of you had been part of Ms. Cole’s life over the last few years you’d know exactly where her beloved Vito was living. And you are correct Mr. Cole, there are no islands around here. I will not answer any more questions, I lied about that. Enjoy the hunt, Mr. Cole.”
Mr. Helsinki walked out of the room without another word. However, rumor has it that he had retired from his law practice and was last seen en route to an island in the South Pacific.