by Sybil Johnson
This week Sybil Johnson shares with us her original mystery short story Lost Will and Testament.
“Keep on looking. It has to be here somewhere.” Dorothea Crumm rummaged through the cubbyholes of her late mother’s rolltop desk while her husband, Greg, picked over the objects on the coffee table.
“Didn’t your mother ever hear of a library?” Greg grumbled as he moved a stack of books to look underneath.
Dorothea eyed the bookshelves filled with biographies, classics, and mysteries that covered an entire wall of the living room. “She did love her books, though I don’t know how much she was able to read in her later years. She could hardly see toward the end.”
By the time Yolanda Montez, owner of Sparkle Time Maid Service, walked into the room half an hour later, it was a disaster area. Papers were strewn over the rose-colored carpet, the collection of Hummel figurines had been removed from the curio cabinet, and the pictures on the wall were askew.
Yolanda frowned as she viewed the mess. When she’d gone upstairs, the living room had been as neat as a pin. Now she’d have to clean it all over again.
Dorothea’s mother, Mrs. Dixon, had been one of Yolanda’s first clients and had encouraged the maid to expand the business. Even though Yolanda now employed a dozen women, she had still found the time to look after Mrs. Dixon personally. Some days she even read to her elderly client who had introduced her to Shakespeare’s plays and Agatha Christie’s whodunits.
Both of the women had been good to Yolanda, unlike Dorothea’s brother, Chuck, who had gone out of his way to be rude on several occasions. He’d even tried to blame the maid for a check he’d forged on his mother’s account.
“Where can it be?” Dorothea wailed. “If we don’t find it, my good-for-nothing brother will inherit it all.”
The day before, Chuck had produced the only will that could be found, one that disinherited his sister and gave him everything.
Greg ran his hand between the cushions before collapsing onto the sofa. “Face it, the will’s not here. Chuck must have found it and destroyed it before he ‘discovered’ that bogus document.”
Yolanda cleared her throat to indicate her presence. “I’ve packed up your mother’s clothes, Señora Crumm. What would you like me to do next?”
“Oh, Yolanda, thank goodness you’re here. Did you see any papers in my mother’s bedroom?”
“Oh well. Would you mind tidying up a bit? I’m afraid we made a bit of a mess.”
Yolanda straightened while Dorothea and Greg continued to search. The maid replaced the figurines in the cabinet exactly as Mrs. Dixon had arranged them. She returned the family Bible to its place on the end table, tucking the Christmas card that had fallen out of it back between the pages.
“Maybe there’s a hidden room or safe behind the bookcase,” Dorothea said.
Dorothea and Greg started pulling books at random off the shelves in search of a hidden latch. One of the books crashed to the floor and spewed papers all over the rug. Dorothea pounced on them.
“Phone bills. A year’s worth of phone bills,” she said with disgust, letting the statements drop to the floor.
Yolanda picked up the book and examined the cover: a biography of Alexander Graham Bell. She thought about what she’d seen for a moment, then said, “I know where it is.”
“What?” Dorothea whirled around and eyed the maid hopefully. “What did you say?”
“I know where your mother hid the will.” Yolanda examined the spines of the volumes in the bookcase. Not finding what she was looking for, she went through the stack of books on the coffee table. At the bottom was a large leatherbound volume, a collection of Shakespeare’s plays, Mrs Dixon’s favorite book and the most expensive one in her collection.
“Shakespeare?” Dorothea and Greg said simultaneously as Yolanda picked up the book.
“What does Shakespeare have to do with my mother’s will?” Dorothea added, obviously puzzled.
“The Christmas card and phone bills–they gave me the idea.” Yolanda sat down on the couch and carefully turned the pages of the oversized volume. “Your mother, she stored documents she wanted to keep in books that reminded her of that item. The Christmas card was in the Bible…”
“…and her phone bills were in a biography of the inventor of the telephone,” Greg said, catching on to the idea.
“So I thought her will might be in a book by William, or Will, Shakespeare.” Yolanda found several sheets of paper in Mrs. Dixon’s handwriting tucked between the pages. “Aquí. Is this what you are looking for?” The maid handed the pages to Dorothea who eagerly examined them.
“Yes. This is it. However can we thank you?” Dorothea gave Yolanda a quick hug, then went back to reading the documents. “Did you see this?” She handed the maid a paper with a list of Mrs. Dixon’s favorite books written on it.
“What is it?” Yolanda asked.
“It’s a list of books Mother wanted you to have. That volume…” Dorothea pointed at the book of Shakespeare’s plays that Yolanda still held. “…is one of them.” She looked over at Greg, a question in her eyes and he nodded his agreement. “Given everything you’ve done for us, I think we can let you take that one home now.”
Yolanda hugged the volume to her chest and smiled.