Last Will and Testament, by Murray Dunlap

You don’t know this, but I did every­thing in my pow­er to con­vince my father to change his cocka­mamie will.  I’m a lawyer for christ’s sake.

It’s hard­ly a rea­son­able doc­u­ment.  Most of us will end up with noth­ing.  Noth­ing!  After all those week­ends in a drafty cab­in in god­for­sak­en Bar­lo, sup­pos­ed­ly hunt­ing.  Of all the cov­er sto­ries, hunt­ing!  Eleanor made it all sound fair­ly legit­i­mate, but Ben­nett only hunt­ed when he worked him­self into an angry drunk.  And at that point it wasn’t hunt­ing.  It was killing.  Dad­dy would drink all day and then some­thing insignif­i­cant, a dropped glass or bro­ken ash­tray, would send him into a rage.  He’d grab his rifle and ride the four-wheel­er down the swamp road with a high beam spot­light.  He’d see a pair of eyes and fire that damn can­non of a rifle.  What was it? A sev­en mil­lime­ter Mauser.  A can­non is what it was.  I have tin­ni­tus just from stand­ing next to him.  Some­times he actu­al­ly killed a buck, but most times not.  Fawns, doe, wild boar, coy­ote; Ben­nett didn’t care.  The game war­den was on the dole so he didn’t care either.  They’d call up some poor black guy from the squatter’s camp and have him drag the kill ‑what­ev­er it hap­pened to be- back to the cab­in, skin it out, and butch­er the meat.  They’d pay him off, send him on his way, and then cel­e­brate the suc­cess­ful hunt with a bot­tle of whiskey.

Hunt­ing, my ass,” I said.

I did the best I could with what I had,” Eleanor said. “There wasn’t much.”

I was try­ing to tell the oth­ers about the will, but the mind wan­ders.

Get on with it, Wal­lace.” Ren pumped his fist. “For God’s sake!”

Shane took off his shirt and wrapped it around his head like a sheik’s head­dress.  He sat with crossed legs on the pines­traw and placed his hands, palm up, on his knees.  He closed his eyes and took deep, even breaths.  He’s always been some kind of an alter­na­tive freak.

This is church prop­er­ty Shane,” Celia said to her son. “Put your shirt back on.”

You were a strip­per,” Shane said. “Beside, a lit­tle medi­a­tion might be just the thing for this place.  Wal­rus here could use it.  Ren too.  Look at his face.”

This heat is oppres­sive,” Eleanor said. “I’m going back to New Orleans.  Even Kat­ri­na didn’t stir up this much shit.”

But I put up with it,” I con­tin­ued.  “I greased the wheels.  I played the role of son.  I bought an olive green goose feath­er jack­et and act­ed like I gave a damn.  I thought it would all pay off.  I thought Ben­nett would rec­og­nize my loy­al­ty and leave me a fair share of his wealth.  His wealth.  What a joke!  He inher­it­ed every pen­ny and spent more than he made.  Which is pret­ty damn greedy when you think about how much mon­ey he had to begin with.  How can you start with twelve and a half mil­lion dol­lars and end up with sev­en?  How can any­one spend so much, make so lit­tle, and then leave every­thing to chance?”

Ren’s face was as red as a par­ty bal­loon.  He pumped his fist, lev­eled his eyes, and growled, “Spit it out, Wal­rus.”

I gave Ren my look that says don’t you dare call me that but I knew I’d bet­ter move on.  Even I was antsy to get this out.

A game of craps!”  I said.  “That’s his idea of a will.  All sev­en mil­lion dol­lars will go to the wife or son who throws the best dice.  I think Geor­gia gets a boat, but oth­er than that, it’s all or noth­ing.  Win­ner take all.”

What about me,” Celia said, her eyes sud­den­ly clear and focused.

What are craps?” Joy asked.

You roll like the rest of us,” Wal­lace said to Celia.

And what boat? What does Geor­gia have to do with this?” Celia asked.

Craps!” Shane shout­ed. “Excel­lent.”

I could kill him,” Ren said, his jaw grind­ing.

Too late,” Shane said.

Bax­ter jogged in place, eyes dart­ing from broth­er to broth­er.

One game?” Ren asked. “One roll of the dice for sev­en mil­lion?  There are two wives, five chil­dren, and sev­en mil­lion dol­lars.  Why not an even split?”

Is this bath­room humor?”  Joy asked. “I’ve nev­er gone in for bath­room humor.”

Didn’t even con­sult me on the legal ease of the doc­u­ment,” I explained. “Went to some oth­er lawyer up in Birm­ing­ham.  Some Mr. Bridges so and so.  And it’s bul­let proof.  I can’t find any way out of it.  We meet tomor­row at the cour­t­house at noon.”

We’ll sue the will,” Celia said. “Can you sue a will?  Did you say five chil­dren?”

It’s per­fect,” Shane said. “It’s the trea­sury of desire.”

I think you’re behind this, Wal­rus,” Ren said. “I bet this is your doing.  I’m bring­ing my own dice.”

I gave him my look again, but what more can you do at your father’s funer­al?

Good idea,” Shane said.  “If we all bring loaded dice, we’ll all win.”

Shut it, Bud­dha boy,” Ren shout­ed.  “This is seri­ous.”

Geor­gia is his daugh­ter?” Celia asked.  She opened her purse and took out a med­i­cine bot­tle, tap­ping out two tablets and swal­low­ing them with­out water.

This is all too much,” Eleanor said.  “Call me when you come to town, Wal­lace.”

Mr. Bridges will have the table and dice at the cour­t­house.  Ben­nett made the arrange­ments.  We could con­test it, but we’d all have to agree.  And if we did, it could take for­ev­er.  Plus, the judges in this town might not budge.  They think shenani­gans like this are hys­ter­i­cal.  Alaba­ma.  What in God’s name am I doing here?  I should be over in New Orleans play­ing the real game.  I should use my con­sid­er­able intel­lect for some­thing oth­er than these small town, south­ern shenani­gan.”

My broth­ers shout­ed and paced.  Celia whined.  Joy mum­bled.

Then Bax­ter sud­den­ly stopped run­ning in place.  He care­ful­ly slipped off his shoes and unbuck­led his belt.  Then he unzipped.

We all stopped what we were doing.

Bax­ter removed his pants.  Under­neath, he wore nylon run­ning shorts.  He put his run­ning shoes back on, took off his but­ton down shirt, and removed his under­shirt.  He stood before us bare-chest­ed, zero-per­cent body fat, shaved head, and eyes full of tears.

Hon­ey,” Celia said. “Are you okay?”

Bax­ter wiped his eyes and very calm­ly began to run.

The Porter fam­i­ly, if you can call it that, stood in silence as Bax­ter ran down the Church dri­ve­way, past the fence, and onto the main road.  I decid­ed at that moment that if I won the dice game I’d leave Alaba­ma for­ev­er.  Even if I didn’t win, I had big plans brew­ing in New Orleans.

Let him go.” Shane said. “Run­ning is his med­i­ta­tion.”

We watched in silence until he was entire­ly out of sight.

Then we start­ed fight­ing again.

murraydunlap1Mur­ray Dunlap's work has appeared in about forty mag­a­zines and jour­nals. His sto­ries have been nom­i­nat­ed for the Push­cart Prize three times, as well as to Best New Amer­i­can Voic­es once, and his first book, "Alaba­ma," was a final­ist for the Mau­rice Prize in Fic­tion. He has a new book, a col­lec­tion of short sto­ries called "Bas­tard Blue," that was pub­lished by Press 53 on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniver­sary of a car wreck that very near­ly killed him…). The extra­or­di­nary indi­vid­u­als Pam Hous­ton, Lau­ra Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writ­ing.

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