Until Death Do Us Part
by Patric Quinn
Part 1 appears in this issue.
Mr. Penney looked at Will and got no response, then at Trish. She nodded. Ed returned to his chair. “Very well. I’ll start with your father up to his death. You boys followed him to the city and depended on him to tide you over your hard times. Will wasn’t doing that well becoming a pro golfer and you, Ed, often needed financial help. But you did finally make something of your work. What Mrs. Woodlocke wanted to know was: Where were you, how were you? Over those years? You associated with your father’s life.”
“There are times you need a father.” Will was talking. “Mother was too strict, so demanding. Of everything I did. She didn’t believe in me.”
Ed was nodding in agreement. “Demanding isn’t the word. I don’t know what is. All my life with her I remember as hell on wheels. No wonder we left.”
Mr. Penney leaned back. “And associated with your father’s life and fortunes. Depended on him.”
“What would you expect?”
“It’s not an expectation, Ed, it was your choice.” The lawyer wagged the envelope. “This says you returned to Connecticut only when your father came here and dominated the situation. Even after this house was built, though he had little to do with it. Your mother built it. Your mother also paid for it from the earnings from her books. This was actually her domain. Your father had chosen to make his life in the city. His life and his home and his affairs. Their marriage became one in name only at that point.”
Will huffed. “Those silly books couldn’t pay for anything. Romance? Spare me.”
“Mrs. Woodlocke became quite successful in the genre. And her royalties became significant enough to produce the house and property you’re sitting in right now. There are myriad ways to become successful. No, Will, no more silly than spending years trying to be an important golfer.”
“That’s insulting, Mr. Penney.”
“That’s fact, Will. Patricia was the one who stayed and cared for your mother’s needs and career as Mrs. Woodlocke grew older. And in doing so, she learned the writing craft. You each cast your lot with the parent you thought would serve your needs best. When your father passed, you each received a bequest. Now, with your mother’s death, we have the final precise division of financial assets.”
“I don’t need a lot, but that’s not fair to Will and me. Trish gets all of this place and she hasn’t done anything.”
Mr. Penney placed the brown envelope on the desk. “All the documentation is complete. Mr. Brand has prepared three sets of that documentation, one for each of you. You may sign and accept Mrs. Woodlocke’s will and her testament or you my not. Your choice. But this transaction is final and, I assure you, not subject to further discussion.
“True enough that most of the estate is represented by Mrs. Woodlocke’s assets. That’s because your father died with failing business and nonproductive interests. He died in the city in his penthouse, as you know. You didn’t know the penthouse was being foreclosed and his business was in receivership. He had only the relatively insignificant monetary assets you received tonight.”
Will was up and running his hand frantically through his long hair. “This isn’t right at all. Mother practically drove us away.”
“I’ll say no more about your family dynamics, Will. This transaction is final and finished. I’ve been with your family through the years. It is also my last transaction in my firm: final and finished.”
I knew something like this was going to happen, but not tonight. Mr. Penney turned to me. “Mr. Brand — Steve — you’ve grown into this firm, and I can’t think of anyone better to lead a new generation. We’ll write it up in the next few days. You’ll have the fun of having no one to ask advice of but yourself.” He allowed himself a thin smile.
I didn’t know what to say. “Yes, sir. I mean thank you, sir.” He nodded and placed the brown envelope back in his breast pocket. I moved to his side to complete the three sets of documents. And listened to the “children” as I completed them.
Will and Ed talked intently to Patricia, and she seemed to be defending herself just as intently. Her green eyes were wide and her eyebrows raised in irritation. “You two don’t know what it was like here with her. Do you want the short version or the whole widescreen saga? Well, what will it be?”
The men stared back at her anger silently. I finished the last packet and listened.
“Those years were pure, burning, living hell. You out on your sunny golf course and you, Ed, prancing around New York like some happy prince. She made life hell. And it was worse toward the end, but I had gotten to her by then.”
“What does that mean? ‘Gotten to’?”
“I was writing her damn books for her. She had lost her touch and imagination and, yes, the very talent that made her a success. She demanded I help her, and I did. Because she was my mother. For better or worse. And then it was more and more until she became a slave driver. She wouldn’t even give me credit. Her name went on the covers, alone. Just her name: alone.
“I wrote her last four books completely and got no credit. Until I talked to her editor. The editor knew something had changed in the way the stories were told. At least, she helped and talked mother into giving me a credit. On the last one. “Moon Behind the Clouds” by Margo Woodlocke and then me, ‘with Patricia Beverly’.”
“Why ‘Beverly’ and not Patricia Woodlocke?” Ed waited for an answer.
“From now on the books will be like that, ‘with Patricia Beverly’. But they like my writing and want me to continue, until my name becomes strong enough to stand alone. Then, just Patricia Beverly. And this place gets new life, and Margo Manor gets a new name.”
“But what about the ‘Beverly’?” Ed pressed for an explanation. The three fell silent, staring at each other.
Mr. Penney walked over to them. “There is an explanation. The name is legitimate, not a pen name. The name is part of your family affairs and not really something you want delve into.”
“But we want to know.”
Mr. Penney looked at Trish. “The name ‘Beverly’ is yours, Patricia. Your mother already told us why and how. I don’t want to say, but the decision is yours.” Trish’s face was a mask of confusion, then, I saw it become firm and resolute.
“Tell it, Mr. Penney.”
“Very well.” He tapped his breast pocket. “There is no mistake here. Your father stayed mostly in New York and had many female adventures. In fact, he died with a female associate in his penthouse, in his bed. Mrs. Woodlocke had a woman’s way of knowing what her husband was up to. And where she stood in their marriage. It was during one of her long spells alone that she met a man named Richard Beverly.”
A stillness captured the room while the news was digested. Even I tensed, wondering what else there was.
Mr. Penney looked at Trish. “Patricia, you are the result of that meeting. You came about halfway through the affair but were conceived close enough to one of your father’s visits here. Not that Mr. Woodlocke paid much attention. Mr. Beverly, like your mother, has passed also. The one thing you should know is that you were born in love and that’s why your mother, for all her failings, used every device she knew to keep you here. To keep you close.” The tears in Trish’s eyes glinted in the soft light. “And I know she didn’t do it very well. But there was love for you. And for Margo Manor.”
Without a word I beckoned the kids to the desk, had them sign, and gave each their packet of documents. I packed our pens and notes in my briefcase and followed them out into the foyer. Mr. Penney was talking to Alton as the valet helped him on with his coat. Alton was nodding in response. Will and Ed were getting their own coats. Trish stood still, staring up the broad staircase, tears still on her cheeks. I went to her and Mr. Penney joined us. She didn’t look at me when I spoke to her, kept staring up the staircase.
“What is it, Patricia?”
“I was thinking of my story and mother.”
“What about it? There are some good elements in it.”
“Up there, Mr. Brand, that’s where she fell.”
“Down the stairs?”
“Over that top rail. Down to the foyer. It was awful.”
“You were there?”
“Yes, I was with her. I — we — had just completed a manuscript. The same day the editor had called and told me I’d get credit for writing her books from then on. We were coming down for lunch.” The tears started again. “She was angry about me getting credit. Her credit. Stealing her fame.”
“What a tragic turn. And she tripped on the stairs?”
Patricia looked down and away which perked my attention. “No, I don’t know, no, not down the stairs, she... fell over the rail... and down to the foyer. It was awful.”
She kept her eyes down, didn’t look at me. I felt a little vibe run up my spine. “Are you going to be all right tonight, Patricia?”
“Call me Trish, please? Yes, I’ll be all right, I think.”
“We have to go now... Trish.”
“Yes, of course.”
I slipped on my coat, took my umbrella from Alton and headed through the door that Alton was holding open. Before I was out, Trish spoke. Mr. Penney and I stopped.
“Mr. Brand? Will you be my lawyer?”
I looked at Mr. Penney. He had the most inscrutable face. He grimaced slightly. “You’re a lawyer, Steve, not a judge.”
I turned back to Patricia and nodded. “Yes, Trish, that will be fine. Good night.”
Copyright © 2019 by Patric Quinn