She played with her fingers outside the court room. The lines on her palms were deeper these days. Blue veins thudded their contents across the back of her hand. A white smudge under the nail of her left index finger captured her scrutiny. A gift, a friend, a foe… Frank had taught her that old childhood rhyme, back in third grade. He’d always been the superstitious one. What would he say now, now that her index nail was telling her that another enemy was on its way?
The bench was hard…cold. Lawyers stood around in their pressed suits, fingers curled around briefcase handles. A man around the corner spoke of his wife’s adultery to all and sundry who looked his way. It was a nasty business—divorce. That was not why Ella sat there though. Frank was dead. The kids wanted his money.
Frank had been good to her. He had been good to his children too; his kids, not hers. Golf club memberships, homes in the hills, nice cars, speeding tickets, bail bonds—nothing was too much for Frank’s wallet. He loved them. They wanted the love to continue, and they knew that Ella was a fan of tough love. They had fired up their pumiced hides in opposition.
Ella rubbed a black mark on the floor with her shoe tip. She liked things to be clean. This was a messy business.
It had been a sad few months. Frank was lowered into the ground on a sunny day in March. The clocks sprang forward and so did the children—on their cell phones--to their lawyers. What they had feared most had come true: Frank had left Ella his entire fortune.
False love turned into guilt manipulation turned into threats. They videotaped her. They followed her. They bugged her home. And now it was June; now it was time.
The attorney pushed his head out the door and jerked it. She stood up. She picked some lint off her skirt. She walked into the courtroom. Smug faces abounded from every pew. Ella held onto the desk as she eased herself into the defendant’s chair.
Their lawyer was good. She moved from accusations of mental trauma to disabilities to emotional stress; all Ella’s fault. She was shrewd and sharp. Ella really didn’t look like a stable person by the time she was through. And then came Ella’s turn.
Ella patted her coiffed head. Frank had always said that she should be on stage. Today was her day. She laughed, she cried, she cajoled, she reminisced. Her slideshow captured the laziness and lies of every family member over the previous decade. By the end of her expository, Ella had brought the crowd (all but the sullen children) to their feet. The months of drama and speech classes had paid off. The last thing anyone in the room could have pinned on her was the craziness Frank's descendants were accusing her of. She sat down, panting somewhat with the exertion of it all, but with the right corner of her mouth tucked up into a smile of victory.
The judge shook his head in awe as he removed his little round glasses to run a finger and thumb down his eyebrows. Once Ella was comfortably seated again, he leaned into the microphone and glared at the prosecutors.
“I suggest you learn what the word JOB means, as you will have to have one for the rest of your lives.” He brought down the gavel with a thud. “Case dismissed. “
The last few stragglers left the room, leaving only Ella and a security guard. She chose to go out the back door. There was no point in leaving any loose ends.
She lifted her legs into the leather seats of Frank’s awaiting limousine. Frank’s hand reached out for her’s and lifted her fingers to his lips. He noticed the white spot on her index nail and laughed.
“I guess you made some enemies today.”
Ella chuckled. “All in a day’s work…something those leeches will learn soon enough.”
“So it worked? We’re really free from giving them handouts for the rest of our lives?”
Ella grinned and nodded. “It’s all ours now, Frank. I couldn’t have done it without you.” She rested her head on his shoulder. He sighed in satisfaction.
She stroked the revolver in her purse. He was the enemy now. As soon as the bank accounts were unfrozen, Frank would truly be…a dead man.
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