Where There’s a Will

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Ice cubes rattled as Mateo drained his Scotch. He looked at the cold contents of the glass wistfully as if contemplating a passing wonderment. Then he waved at the bartender — ever attentive to the motion — who immediately came over to pour.

“I never have time for anything these days,” Mateo’s drinking buddy said from the barstool next to him. The pour over Mateo’s glass ended and the bartender held the bottle aloft, half tilted above the other. “Sure,” Gilroy said barely missing a beat in his soliloquy. “I mean, I never see my wife or kids, let alone my attorney,” he lifted his refreshed glass and polished off the whisky in one pull. “So here’s to ya, ol’ buddy.” He brought the empty container down and banged it on the counter with a satisfied smile. “That’s mainly because things have been going so well at work. I mean, the paper is really paying off after all those years of struggle.”

“So how does a weekly do in a sea of them?”

“If I tell you my accountant says I have to buy an SUV, does that answer your question?”

“Certainly. A gift to the upper class: accelerated tax relief. But, it’s great to see success. Always makes me wish I’d gone into a different profession. Y’know, I almost became a newsman. I was on the journalism staff at both city college and state. My undergrad major was literature, minor in journalism. In fact, that’s what kept me out of the army when I got drafted.”

Gilroy looked at Mateo with a squint. “How d’ya mean?”

“Flunked the physical because I went to college.”

“How d’ya mean?”

“Was playing baseball on the state college journalism team against the city college journalism team. I knew all the professors and most of the players. I went for a fly ball, landed on my shoulder, tore the ligaments. High riding clavicle. Wanna feel my hump?”

Instead of accepting the offer, Gil waved at a patron at the far end who nodded awareness, but was otherwise occupied.

“If that hadn’t happened I’d a probably bought it in Vietnam,” Mateo concluded.

“Yah, well,” Gilbert said turning back to his friend. “I found a lawyer who specializes in trusts. I’m going in Monday to sign the final draft, but it was a really long, grueling process. Hopefully the family won’t have to go through probate when I’m gone. Glad that part’s over. I could never write out my will all by myself. I needed someone to aim me.”

Mateo sniffed his Scotch before he sipped at the rim. He loved the odor of the rich liquid as much as he enjoyed the taste.

“Wait a second,” he said as he set the tumbler down on the wood surface and reached for a cocktail napkin. “You telling me you don’t have a will, but you’re going to sign the trust documents Monday?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

Mateo pulled a pen from his pocket, twisted it to extrude the ball point and handed it to Gilroy. He opened the napkin which formed a square “It’s not difficult. Here, look, make a list, write down what you own.”

Gilroy was momentarily taken aback. “What I own? You mean like I did for the trust documents: house, car and wedding ring?”

“That’s right. Leave some room at the top. And don’t forget you have an interest in a thriving newspaper. Just itemize them. Right.” Mateo watched his friend push the pen down the six inch piece of thin white paper as he made an inventory. “And keep it simple. Remember, brevity is the soul of wit.” One item caught his eye. “I’m reading upside down, but what’s a Burgher painting?”

Gil looked up from his concentrated efforts, pen in left hand halted over this last entry. His handwriting was not yet affected by the alcohol. The fifth item after “The Weekly newspaper” and “house and contents” was the reference to a painting.

“Been in the family for years. Haven’t I ever shown it to you? Hangs on the wall in the living room. We call it the Burgher but it’s an oil of a burgomeister and, we think, his wife.”

“Know who painted it?”

“Not really. It’s signed but you can’t read it. I suppose an art historian might be able to identify it. Did I tell you I’m descended from aristocratic European stock? Yah. My mother got the painting from her mother, who inherited it from her mother and so on ’til way back before the war. The big war, the real war, World War One. Anyway, my great grandmother brought it over when she married a wealthy American industrialist, my great grandpa Mose, who left everything to his mistress, not great gramma when he died the bastard. About the only thing Mom’s mom got was the painting and the only reason she did was because since she inherited it from her mother, great gramma could prove it came to the marriage as prior owned. Anyway, that’s how Mom explained it to me.”

“Right,” Mateo agreed. “Not community property. It’s yours, you can devise it any way you want.” Gil held the napkin up toward Mateo who said, “That it?”

“You told me to be concise.”

Mateo sipped his drink with one hand, reached for the piece of paper with the other. “Hmm. Uh, hunh. That’s good.”

“What is? The drink or what I wrote?”

“What you wrote, of course.” Mateo placed the paper down in front of Gilroy. “Now at the top I want you to print, I — and give your full name including middle name — being of sound mind and body, do hereby bequeath my worldly possessions to and put a colon. Good. Now, at the bottom today’s date. Technically, it’s still the twenty-first, not yet midnight even going by bar time.” He pointed to the clock on the wall which said it was 11:33. “That’s Twenty minutes fast.”

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