“Well, that was about the most dreadful service I’ve ever had the sorry fate to witness,” declares Aunt Georgia on her way in the door. She stands by the counter, yanking her white gloves from her hands, one finger at a time.
“Will you shut up about the service?” snaps Aunt Sonia.
“Amateur. Simply amateur.”
“You just wanted to sing and be the star, as usual,” laughs Uncle Paul. “But really, Georgia, no one wants to hear ‘Baubles, Bangles, and Beads’ at a funeral.” Uncle Paul cracks up at this. It’s his second joke in four days.
Aunt Grace cackles. “Yeah, or ‘Home with Bonnie Jean.’” She’s never liked Georgia.
Uncle Hal says nothing. It’s been four days since Grandma Claire died, and there isn’t enough scotch in all of western Minnesota to make him like his in-laws. The sooner they get the estate settled, the better. He’s ransacking the liquor cabinet, but he’s finding only emptiy bottles lined up like standing corpses.
“What’s the matter Hal, boy?” asks Sonia. “Don’t see any flavors you like?”
“I need to make a run to the liquor store,” he says. “Anyone else need something?”
“Stick around,” says Uncle Paul. “Soon as Molly and Rhinehart get here, I want to read the will and start counting money.”
Aunt Grace is rummaging, too. “You’d think that Claire would have a few cardboard boxes around here,” she says with her head in the pantry.
“Ask the Little Brown Troll when she gets here,” says Sonia. “Oh, look—Hal’s found a bottle.”
Molly and Rhinehart are coming through the door with two grocery bags as Hal reads the label on a dusty bottle of wine. “Looks French. ‘Chateau Latour 2005 Pauillac.’ I hate French wine,” he complains. “Can’t even say the name. Polly yack. Polecat.” He heads to the kitchen for a corkscrew.
“Oh, you hate anything that isn’t scotch,” says Aunt Georgia.
Rhinehart clears his throat. “Actually, that bottle’s a bit pricey to open right now. Best let it go a few more years.”
Hal pauses. “What are you saying?” He regards the label with suspicion.
“He’s saying put down the corkscrew and back away,” says Molly. She drops her bag on the counter.
“Just saying that’s a pricey bottle of wine,” answers Rhinehart. “Picked it up for a hundred bucks in Twin Lakes.”
“Hundred bucks, eh?” says Hal. He’s impressed.
Sonia snorts. “There’s no way that wine’s worth a hundred dollars.” She taps a smoke from the pack and lights up.
“True,” says Rhinehart “I got a bargain. It’s actually worth about two grand right now. Probly a lot more in five years.” Molly gently takes the bottle from Uncle Hal and puts it away, while Rhinehart goes on.
“But seeing as you’re a scotch drinker,” he says, “Molly and me stopped by the store and picked up a little something for you.” He begins to lift bottles out of the bag he’s carrying. “Single malt okay with you, dude?” Hal is suddenly all smiles.
“Perfect,” he says.
“And I know Sonia likes them tropical drinks,” says Rhinehart. He produces a bottle of rum. “Little something for everyone,” he says. “Champagne for Georgia, the star of the Laketown stage. . . . anti-freeze for Paulie Boy. . . .” Uncle Hal laughs out loud at this. Rhinehart has a good chuckle, himself. Uncle Paul casts about for a comeback.
“Just kiddin, Paulie,” Rhinehart says. “I know you’re a bourbon drinker.” An expensive bottle of hooch appears.
“So what’s this all about, Rhinehart?” asks Georgia. “How come the nicey-niceness all of a sudden.”
“Aunt Georgia,” puts in Molly, “I’m surprised at you. Aren’t funerals supposed to draw the family together?” She blinks her wide black eyes, and Aunt Georgia turns away with a groan.
“Well, what are we waiting for?” says Paul. “Rhinehart, get the will and let’s start sorting things out.”
Aunt Sonia stands up to peer out the window at a car pulling into the driveway. “Who can this be?” she asks. “Probably more damn flowers.” She pushes through a dense bank of cigarette smoke and opens the door.
“Oh, um . . .” says Molly, putting a finger to her chin. “Rhinehart and I thought it would be good to have Jackie here when we read the will.”
“Jackie?” say Paul and Grace together.
“Call her a neutral party,” says Rhinehart.
“And hey,” offers Molly brightly. “She may have some good ideas on what you can do with all the money. She works in a bank, you know.”
“Why in the world,” Georgia wonders, “would we need a . . . oh, hello Jackie. How wonderful of you to stop by. We were just talking about you.”
“Hello, all. Lovely service. Claire would have been so pleased.” Jackie Taylor moves carefully through the door and picks out the rocking chair by the window. “Okay if I take your seat here, Rhinehart?”
“Excuse me,” says Uncle Paul just a little crossly, “and no offense. But why are you here?”
Jackie looks at Paul, and then Rhinehart, and she says, into the awkward silence. “Well, perhaps you didn’t know that I helped your mother with the paperwork on a number of her properties. Besides my role at the bank, I do a little moonlighting for Hanson and Hanson. And of course I helped out with the adoption business on Molly. You probably knew that.”
“Hanson and Hanson? Aren’t they lawyers?” asks Hal.
“That’s right. I’m not a lawyer, myself. I just free lance for them on little stuff.”
Molly is moving about the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee for Rhinehart, and humming quietly to herself.
“Her properties?” says Sonia.
“Well, she’s sold most of them now, but there are a couple left up north, and I’ve been holding the deeds for her in my safe deposit box. Got em right here, in fact.” She pats her handbag.
“Anyway,” says Molly, “Jackie’s here because we can’t read the will without the executor, can we?”