General Fiction posted July 9, 2024 Chapters: 1 2 -3- 4... 

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The Will Is Read

A chapter in the book Unfinished Brushstrokes

Unfinished Brushstrokes - Chap 3

by Begin Again

Jonathan's temper, past the stage of mild irritation, was a pressure cooker about to explode. In three swift steps, he left the window and seized the lawyer's shirt in his fist. His voice, a low growl, filled the room. "I don't know what this personal growth crap is all about. Get to the point or —"

Michael Donatelli had stepped away, but within seconds, he'd crossed the room and lifted Jonathan off his feet, tossing him into a nearby chair. One minute, his face was crimson red like a demon's mask at Halloween, and the next, he was the calm, collected detective again, but his voice told a different story. "Sit there. Shut up and listen, or I will personally show you the door."
Taken aback by the sudden change in the situation, Jonathan stuttered, "You can't —"
While the flustered attorney tried to compose himself, Donatelli pointed his finger at Jonathan. "I can, and trust me, I will do it with pleasure."
Margaret and Megan sat open-mouthed, gaping in disbelief. On the other hand, Trevor chuckled and immediately hid his face behind a magazine. Everyone else in the room fell silent except Eleanor, of course. She became a one-person cheering section for Detective Michael Donatelli at that precise moment. She floated about the room, dancing a waltz she suddenly remembered, dipping and swaying with enjoyment.

From Jenna's advantage point in the back of the room, her eyes bulged, but her excessive grin spoke volumes as she watched. It was then that she realized only she could see Eleanor

The detective nodded at Craig. "Sorry for his rude interruption. Please continue."

Still rattled, Craig cleared his throat while he shuffled the papers in his hands, trying to gain his composure. Finally, he spoke, "As I was saying, Eleanor hopes that each of you will grow —" His eyes darted toward Jonathan and decided on a different tactic. "Eleanor Bennett was a woman who wanted to help others and see her community prosper. Though she was very private and kept her art abilities a secret, she accumulated an overwhelming amount of money with her success. You learned of the donation to the art gallery under her assumed name of CJ Grey this morning, but she has been responsible for laying the foundation for many other struggling businesses in our town. For everyone gathered here, she has made a very special allotment. Each of you will inherit one million dollars."
Eleanor and Donatelli watched their faces as the room erupted into shock, followed instantly by exuberant cheers
As the room buzzed with excitement, Megan had tears of joy streaming down her cheeks. She shouted, "We're rich! We're rich, Mommy!" She sprung from her chair and grabbed her mother into her arms. "Our troubles are over. Even though you were so mean to Aunt Eleanor, she still gave us a million dollars."

Visions of regaining her status in the community as the Queen of Society filled Margaret's thoughts, but knowing her sister as well as she did, she sat patiently, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

With a mischievous glint in his eye, Trevor leaned back in his chair and mused aloud, "Ferrari? Jaguar? Or perhaps a bright yellow Porsche?" His mind was already racing with thoughts of luxury cars and extravagant purchases, his fingers flying across his phone screen in search of his dream vehicle.

And amidst the chaos and jubilation, Jonathan remained silent, a sly smile tugging at the corners of his lips as his mind raced with thoughts of a poker table and high stakes. With a subtle nod to Donatelli, he quirked an eyebrow and asked the lawyer, "What's the kicker?"

A bit confused, Craig Winslow scowled. "The kicker?"

"Yeah, what happens before we get this money?"

"Oh, that! As I was telling you and everyone else, Eleanor has designated another $250,000 for each of you to help the community. Giving back was the term she used."

"What? We take the $250,000, hand it over to some charity, and then you give us the million?"

"Well, it's not quite that simple. Everyone will work as a team, but each of you will be in charge of their task. For example, Margaret, your task is the soup kitchen on Hayward Street."
Hearing her name, Margaret straightened her back and leaned forward, eager to know more about the inheritance. Yet, when Craig mentioned a soup kitchen, a look of confusion replaced her grin. "Soup kitchen? My sister knows I don't know the first thing about cooking. Why would she want me to go into this business and take over? Am I supposed to find recipes or something? Or do I hire someone to redecorate?"
 Megan snickered. "Mother, Hayward Street is on the far side of the train tracks."

 "Oh dear, me, that won't do. None of my friends would dine anywhere near that place."

Trevor couldn't resist adding his two cents. "Do you know what a soup kitchen is?"

"Of course I do. It's a restaurant that serves different types of soup. The first thing I'd do is broaden their menu. Eating just soup would be boring."

"You've led much too sheltered of a life, Mother. The homeless and other unfortunate people eat in a soup kitchen daily."

"Oh, dear me, we won't make any money that way? One of you boys must chase them away so my friends won't feel disgusted."

Trevor shook his head. "The soup kitchen is meant for them. I believe Aunt Eleanor wants you to use a little elbow grease and make it a better place."

Margaret's face turned sour at the thought. "She expects me to do dishes, scrub things, and serve food to — these people? That's preposterous," she huffed, crossing her arms and sinking back into her chair. Her eyes darted to her children and then to the lawyer. "You can't be serious?"

Still twirling and gliding across the room with infectious joy, Eleanor paused mid-spin and fixed Margaret with a meaningful gaze. "This is your chance to make a real difference, Margaret. Embrace it," she urged, her voice wistful, carrying a note of encouragement that no one except Jenna heard.

Craig nodded his head. "I'm afraid she intends for all of you to pitch in and resurrect the crumbling facility."
Megan's laugh disappeared. "Crumbling, like falling down? Are there mice or rats?"

Enjoying his sister's distress, he added, "There's disgusting urinals and layers of vomit on the bathroom floors. You probably can smell the place blocks away."

"I won't," Megan wailed. She glanced at her perfect manicure. "Do you know what it costs to get these hands looking this way? Manual labor won't do. Maybe I could welcome people at the door. Yeah, that would work."
"I'm afraid not. This is a hands-on job with Margaret leading the charge."

Megan wailed, "Mother, tell me I do not have to do this."

"While Mother and Megan fret and stew over the thought of working, I'd like to know what other tasks my sister expected us to do."

Craig shuffled through the papers and found Jonathan's task. "Eleanor thought you had a mind for financial things."

"Me? I currently don't have two nickels to rub together, sir. What financial things did my rich sister think I could do?"
"I believe she mentioned setting up a crisis center of some sort, where people can come for help, work through their problems, and learn how to build a strong financial foundation."

"If I knew how to do that, don't you think I would be in a better position than I am?"

"I'm sorry, Jonathan. These were your sister's stipulations. Maybe you could come to my office, and we could discuss your options."

"My options? I don't understand. Are you saying I could skip the task?"

"No, that's not possible. I'm saying together we might find a solution or the right approach to solving the task."

Eleanor moved closer to her brother. She had known this would be a struggle, especially with his gambling. She hadn't thought about how he'd get started, now she knew that would be a priority. She'd have to do some thinking herself.

The drugs were wearing off, and Trevor was becoming antsy to get this meeting over with. "Can you tell me what Aunt Eleanor wants from me so I can get out of this place?"

"Eager to get started, Trevor?" Craig asked.

"Not really. I need some air to clear my head." His hand went to his coat pocket but came out empty. He immediately checked under the chair, around the cushions, and his other pockets.

"Lose something, Trevor?" Donatelli asked.

Trevor's head snapped around to see the detective standing in front of him. "My — my keys. I was looking for my keys."

Donatelli picked up a set of keys from the light stand. "Are these your keys?"

Trevor grabbed them out of the detective's hand. "Yeah! Can't believe I didn't see them there."

"You're not a very good liar, Trevor." Eleanor tucked the pill bottle into her pocket. "You're so intelligent, and you are wasting it by popping pills. What comes next? If you get the money, you'll overdose. If you don't get the money, they'll probably find you dead in some alley trying to get the drugs." Eleanor sighed. "You are going to need watching."

"I've got to get out of here. What's she say I have to do?" Trevor snapped.

"I believe you must establish a rehabilitation center."

"For addicts? That's crazy. I don't want to hang out with people who live their lives popping pills or slamming down cheap booze. I'm out of here."

"You've plenty of time, Trevor. Think about it, and then come see me at the office."

Trevor stood and glared at the lawyer and then at Donatelli. "There's nothing to think about." He started toward the door and called back to his uncle, "Jonathan, are you coming or staying?"

Jonathan shrugged, "Yeah, I've heard enough for today. Let's go get a drink."

Donatelli watched from the window as the two men stormed out of the house. He'd seen the dark SUV circling the block and wondered which of the two men had rubbed Danny Veraci wrong.

Audrey and Jackson approached the front. "Audrey and I are wondering why we were asked to come today. Certainly, we don't fit into the same qualifications."

"Eleanor loved art and wanted to see the gallery thrive."

Audrey raised her eyebrow. "While I appreciate her concern, the gallery is doing fine. And now that we have the $100,000 donation, things will be even better."

"That's nice to hear. For some reason, I thought the gallery might be having some financial difficulties."

Jackson looked around the room and snapped, "I don't know where you got your information, Mr. Winslow, but you are mistaken. As my wife said, the gallery is doing fine."

"Well, Eleanor has made a provision in her will for $250,000 to you as well."

At the sound of more money, Jackson perked up. "She did. I'm surprised after receiving the other donation."
"The plan to give the gallery the first donation was already set in motion before her untimely death." Craig smiled. "I guess you can consider it a bonus."

"What do we have to do?" Audrey wondered what Eleanor might have wanted for the gallery.
"She wants a studio for underprivileged children to master the craft of painting. She wants the gallery to establish a school where the gallery will pay all expenses."

Jackson choked, "All expenses."

"You are receiving quite a large sum of money to get your project off the ground. Maybe you could use some of it for a benefit to raise additional funds."

Jenna approached the group, saying, "You can have an auction using one of Eleanor's paintings. I'm sure it would be a big draw."

Jackson's temperature shot up. "Eleanor's paintings?"

"Yes, I believe she has several of them on display at the gallery."

 "Yes, yes, of course. There's been a lot to take in today. Audrey and I will consider it and let Mr. Winslow know our decision." Jackson grabbed his wife's hand. "We've got to get back to the gallery."

Bewildered at Jackson's abrupt exit, Audrey struggled to stay upright as he hurried out the door.

Jenna stared at the couple as they left, wondering what had set Jackson on edge. She searched the room for Eleanor, but she was nowhere to be seen.

"Is that all, Mr. Winslow?"

"Well, Megan has a task, too, but she seems too distraught at the moment, so I think I'll save it for another day. And then, of course, Eleanor has also made provisions for you."

"Me? You must be mistaken. I'm not family."

"According to Eleanor, you, my dear, were much more than just family."

Jenna blushed. "I loved her very much. Hearing her family talk about her in such a way broke my heart." A tear trickled down her cheek.

"Let's call it a day, Jenna. I've another appointment to go to, and I am sure Detective Donatelli wants to get his investigation underway. Maybe we can talk some more tomorrow."

Donatelli extended his hand to Jenna. "Yes, your friend deserves to have her murder solved, and by the looks of things, I've got quite a few suspects."

"You don't think one of the family —" Jenna's eyes widened as she looked at Margaret and Megan huddling on the settee.

"I'm not paid to think. My job is to find the suspect and solve the crime." Donatelli squeezed Jenna's hand. "And trust me, that's exactly what I am going to do."

Eleanor Bennett alias (CJ Grey) - a woman of mystery

Margaret Ashley - Eleanor's sister

Megan Ashley - Margaret's daughter

Trevor Ashley - Margaret's son

Jonathon Williams - Eleanor's brother

Audrey and Jackson Mayfield - Art Gallery Owners

Craig Winslow - Attorney

Matthew Donatelli - Detective

Jenna Bradford - neighbor and close friend and confidanct of Eleanor Bennett

Danny Veraci - casino owner and crime boss

Charles Weldon - a memory from the past
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