I knew, of course, that it would come down to this session. We were gathered in the offices of Streeter, Boyer, & Kalme Attorneys at Law to hear the Last Will and Testament of Bernard Solomon Kresky, or Bernie to all his friends. I counted myself among those friends, though Bernie and I had had a very different relationship these past 61 years. We had, in fact, spent the entire period alternating practical jokes on one another. Not a respectable pastime for aging adults you might say. But then, Bernie and I have never been adult.
Seated around me were Bernie's last living relatives—nieces and nephews. There were four: Janet Kresky Lawlor, daughter of Bernie’s brother Eddie, and a well respected young doctor; Hector Stumpf, son of Bernie's sister Martha and Harold Stumpf, farmer and reported bootlegger; Edith Kresky, Janet's spinster sister, thought by most everyone in town to be a lesbian. She taught physical education at the regional high school. And, of course, Eddie Kresky, the family black sheep and ne'er-do-well brother of Edith and Janet. Reported to have dealings in controlled substances and a formidable gambling problem.
I am Jason Rumford Jr. I am also named executor in the will. And that, I more than suspected, would be part of Bernie's plan.
When I saw him last, just hours before he died, he had smiled his little secret smile at me and chuckled, even as the death rattle sounded in the back of his throat. "Jase," he croaked, "I'll have the last laugh. Be ready for it." Then he mumbled off into sleep or coma.
I wasn't surprised. I certainly would have planned something for Bernie if I were the first to go. And of course, I deserved it. I really started this whole bazaar contest back when we were in seventh grade.
It had been too much to resist. Bernie was standing next to my desk, facing the back of the room. A pencil fell to the floor and he bent to pick it up. Just at the moment his nether end was squarely pointed at Sister Mary Robert, I cut an enormous fart and then in an absolutely perfectly timed pantomime held my nose and screwed up my face while tossing Bernie a look of total disgust.
Bernie stood erect with a startled look on his face and Sister Mary Robert's three-edged ruler caught him on the side of head, leaving a mark he carried to his grave.
It was a moment of perfect hilarity, with not a soul daring to laugh. It launched a war that had lasted to this very moment.
Bernie got me back that summer at the swimming pool. I came out of the shower and my underwear and swimsuit were nowhere to be found. But my shorts and T-shirt were there, so I dress and hurried out to the crowd of boys and girls that were gathering to plan what we would do that precious summer night. As I strode toward the crowd, the fly of the shorts peeled open and there, for all the world to see, was the member of the family I was least proud of. I still remember how my ears burned as I ran for home, towel wrapped around me, tears streaming from my eyes. It was weeks before I could cautiously face my friends again.
Over a lifetime we exchanged jests many times. At Bernie's wedding it was a beautiful, obviously pregnant woman who sat weeping in the back of the church on the Groom's side. At mine it was a group of painters who arrived with scaffolding in the middle of the ceremony. Their work order clearly stated they were to start at 10:00 a.m. no matter what else was going on.
During the Korean War I had the good fortune to have Bernie's orders land on my desk at headquarters. He spent the next two years, safe, but in the Aleutian Islands, as part of a four-man DEW system survey team. Bernie, in turn, did me a favor. I had been seriously thinking of the Army as a career until the pretty young WAAC named me as her assailant in a sexual attack. Fortunately my alibi held up—I was half a world away. But any thought of a career in the armed forces was history. I went back home and opened a dry cleaning establishment.
As we settled down to life in Walker's Falls, no one else in town was aware of our feud. Bernie served a term as selectman and I had a town road rerouted through my backyard. He was defeated for reelection when voters caught wind of a whiff of scandal, something about relationship by marriage to the contractor who had won the bidding for the town hall then vanished with a lion's share of the payment and no work accomplished.
I received public acclaim for my unplanned gift of a nature park . It was prime real estate that I had every intention of building on. Bernie's new house began mysteriously sinking. Alas somehow the compaction tests had missed the ancient bog that sat beneath the thin layer of sandstone on the property he bought for a song from some poor old woman he figured he had snookered.
Strange odors, lights and screeches in the night, mysterious law suits, embarrassing acts by relatives you didn't know you had… all these and more occurred with regularity.
I struck last and Bernie had spent much of the last year of his life sparring with the IRS over some very questionable deductions he had gotten in the habit of taking. You might think I regretted adding that misery to his last year on the planet, but I didn't. It amused me greatly. Now, however, the shoe was on the other foot and Bernie had gone where no retaliation could reach.
Kelly Kalme droned on in his soporific voice about the assignment of executor and Bernie's sound mind at the time of writing his will. I seriously questioned the latter. Nothing about Bernie's mind was sound.
The nieces and nephews looked bored as they half listened, each thinking private thoughts about what they would rather be doing. Their expectations were very, very low. Bernie had not only paid enormous sums to the IRS but had lost a large lawsuit as well. It was common knowledge that he died penniless.
"Over the past several years," Kelly read, "I have saved small sums from many transactions, and invested the money in high yield ventures. In the year of this will I cashed in these investments and converted my gains into a cashier's check in the amount of $1,011,423.25. This check is to be cashed by my executor and split evenly between my four nieces and nephews."
I watched the faces of the four. Dr. Janet seemed no less bored. But a wave of greed washed over the other three faces. "Oh God," I thought, "here comes the punch line."
"I have placed the check in the watch pocket of my favorite checked suit. My executor is to retrieve the check at once."
Three of the four faces turned to me as one. I could see their eyes clouding with suspicion. They wanted their money.
Of course it was a ruse. Bernie had set me up and expected that I would spend the rest of my days fending off lawsuits, investigations, and threats of physical violence from his misbegotten kin.
"Ahhh…" I stuttered a bit. "Oh my." My mind worked furiously. "I know the suit he means. Uh… uh… unfortunately, it was the suit I gave funeral parlor for his final attire."
Eyes shifted from me to the urn on the table. A low collective moan escaped from the three miscreants.
"Mmm, I'm sorry," I stammered lamely. " I didn't know."
I was off the hook temporarily. I had no doubt that soon suspicion would set in. One or two of the spawn would begin checking into my affairs to see if perhaps I had already searched the duds and pocketed the check.
Of course I also still had the suit. My last gesture to Bernie had been to have him dressed out in his blue checked suit, rather than his favorite green checked suit. He had always hated the blue suit and would regularly complain about the fit and discomfort. It was the least I could do.
The green check was in a heap in my basement. I picked up the pants and fished through the pants watch pocket. I found a small note. It said, "Check the inside coat pockets, Jase."
Reluctantly I reached first into one inside pocket and then the other. There was an envelope in each. The envelope in the right pocket said: 'Open me if my nephews and nieces are still on your tail." The other envelope said, "Open me if you gave them the slip."
I opened the "still on your tail" envelope and found a slip of paper that said, "Open the other envelope."
"Bah," I said out loud. I opened the other envelope.
"It's in the blue checked suit."
I chuckled. "Bernie, when you run a dry cleaning establishment, you make it a habit to go through the pockets—all the pockets."
I wondered how long it would be before Eddie had the same thought.
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