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TITLE: Father Knew Best
By Arlene Showalter
06/08/10
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James cowered in the corner of the parlor, while his grown brothers yipped like a pack of dogs fighting over the Thanksgiving carcass. The diversity of face and form shrieked a mute testimony of their father's quenchless lust for women.

"When's the old buzzard gonna croak?" Ben, the second-born growled. "It's been weeks now."

"I'm tired of waiting for my cut," John put in. "Where's the will?"

"Perkins has it. I phoned him to come immediately. I want this settled the moment the old man meets Saint Peter...or the devil."

Harsh laughter bounced off the rich, mahogany paneling. "The devil, for sure," Charles snorted.

James turned his weak eyes to the over sized bay window. If he squinted just so, he could make out the forms of the blooded horses beyond. How he loved Father's horses.

Moments later, twin Dobermans announced the lawyer's arrival. Mr. Perkins entered the room with flushed face and heaving chest.

"Gentlemen," he began. "This is most irregular."

"Shut up," Ben snapped. "Don't try to impress us with fake decency. You don't care about Father any more than we do. You've made your money off him...now it's our turn. Sit down and read the will...right now."

Mr. Perkins peered into Ben's reddened face, looking like a thundercloud waiting to explode. His shaking fingers lifted the ornate seal. The parchment whispered death's song in its unfolding.

"'I, William Beaufort, being of sound mind, and knowing full well how my sons feel about me, set forth the following challenge...'"

"What?" Gasps and scowls rippled about the room.

"'The will is located in the lock box in my desk,'" Mr. Perkins continued. "'You each have exactly one hour to find the key. I promise it is not in my bedroom, but it is on the estate. Whoever finds the key will inherit the estate, in its entirety. However, if after one hour, the key has not been found, the entire estate is bequeathed as a permanent home for the mentally handicapped and for breeding horses. All the particulars are written in a separate document, already in the possession of Mr. Samuel Perkins, Esq. I leave you with one clue for your search: Follow the gold. May the most worthy son win.'"

The brothers burst from the room, fanning out in search of the prize. James pushed his heavily-braced legs to a standing position and headed for the outside. He passed Ben in the dining room, pawing through priceless Belleek china and Wedgwood glassware.

"Well, well. Here's the idiot," Ben sneered. James swerved to avoid his aimed kick. "Guess we don't have to worry about him winning, do we?"

James shambled down the back steps and into the pasture, making slow progress over velvety grass. Golden Boy ambled over to nuzzle his cheek. He threw his arms around the horse, giving and receiving primal love. Only Father's horses understood his grunts.

He swiped the back of his hand against omnipresent drool. His father's words came to him. "Follow the gold." James ran gentle fingers from Boy's forelock to his soft muzzle, pondering...puzzling. _Gold. Golden Boy_.

His hands moved to the halter, running up, down, across the leather strips. He found a raised area on the underside. Boy nodded, warm, brown eyes fixed on the drooling, grown man. James located the pocketknife Father had given him and carefully slid it into the fine leather. Soon a key lay in his hand.

Golden Boy nickered, nuzzling his ear, pushing him toward the house. James returned with the same unhurried pace of 40 years, passing Charles in their father's office. An avalanche of papers drifted against his booted feet as he rooted and tossed, desperate to win it all.

"Get lost, simpleton."

James shuffled on to his father's bedside. His feet sank into the plush carpet, leaving irregular imprints of his journey. Father's frail body lay swallowed in billowy softness. One hand lay flung over the edge of the bed, as though he had already begun throwing off mortality.

He watched the blood throbbing through that frail hand, veins crisscrossing, under the paper-thin skin, like blue serpents. He reached forward to touch the life pulsating in the unconscious man.

At that moment, his father's eyes flew open.

Their gazes locked. One question blazed between them.

James nodded.

Father opened his mouth.

James hesitated.

"Do it, son," Father said. "It is my will."

Slowly James dropped the key onto his tongue. The dying man worked his jaws, maneuvering the metal to the back of his throat. With one final effort, he swallowed.

Moments later, the frustrated sons burst into the room.

The hour had expired.

They gazed down at the dead man, whose chilled lips curved...up.
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