The Wayward Will

Sherman Holmes signed his name to the will and then watched as Harmon Grove signed as the other witness. “Thanks for dropping over — again,” the congenial lawyer said as he slipped the will into his briefcase. “The Fielding kids can’t be witnesses because they inherit.”

“Not a problem,” Sherman replied. This was the fourth time he had been asked over to witness a new version of Jacob Fielding’s will. “You get better now, Jake,” Sherman said to the frail man propped up in bed. Jacob nodded weakly and closed his eyes.

Sherman and the lawyer walked out into the hall. “This may be the old man’s last will,” Harmon whispered. “I don’t expect he’ll last the night.” Solemn-faced, Anna passed them and entered the sick room.

There were three Fielding children. As their next-door neighbor, Sherman knew them well — Anna, the nurse; Brock, now a surgeon at a local hospital; and Keith, fresh out of college. All three had moved back into the family home during their father’s long, difficult illness.

Harmon deposited his briefcase on the dining room table, and walked Sherman to the door. As they entered the foyer, Anna appeared at the top of the stairs. “Mr. Grove, I think…I think he’s dead.”

The two men joined the Fielding children who had already gathered in the dead man’s bedroom. Brock checked for vital signs, then gently pulled the sheet over his father’s face.

Half an hour later, as the people from the funeral home were removing the body, Sherman and Harmon once more crossed through the dining room. Harmon saw his briefcase and eyed it curiously. “It’s been moved,” he said, then opened the leather lid. “The new will. It’s gone!”

Sherman and the lawyer backtracked their movements through the bedroom, dining room, and hall, hoping to find the will somehow mislaid. Finally they had no choice but to assemble the bereaved children and treat them as suspects. “I went downstairs once after he died,” Anna claimed. “To get the number for the funeral home. I called them from the kitchen. I didn’t go into the dining room, and I certainly didn’t touch your briefcase.”

“I went downstairs to let the funeral people in,” Dr. Brock Fielding said. “I saw the briefcase but didn’t touch it. I didn’t even know the will was in there.”

Keith sighed. “Well, I didn’t go downstairs at all. After Brock declared father dead, I returned to my room to call some relatives. What do we do if we can’t find the will?”

“We’ll have to use his last will,” Harmon explained. “It’s almost exactly the same. You know how eccentric he was. All three of you still get substantial bequests. He left me the same token gift. Plus small amounts go to servants and employees.”

“I can find the new will,” Sherman said softly. The others all turned, a little surprised to find him still in the room. “I think I know where to look.”

WHERE IS THE NEW WILL?

HOW DID SHERMAN KNOW?

SOLUTION

Sherman edged his considerable bulk between Harmon Grove and the briefcase. Then, like a quarterback, he tucked the leather briefcase under his arm and lurched around to the far side of the table. “The will is in here.”

“You’re crazy,” Harmon shouted. “Don’t open that. It’s private.”

Sherman was already rummaging through the miscellaneous files and papers. “Ah, what do you know! Here it is!” And with a flourish, Sherman pulled out the signed document.

“I don’t know why Jacob cut you out of his will, Harmon, old man. Had he lived another week, he might have put you back in. It must have seemed very arbitrary and unjust. So, you just pretended the will was missing.”

Anna’s mouth was agape. “How do you know that?”

“Harmon said he was in the new will, but that couldn’t be true. Harmon, you see, signed as a witness. And, as he himself told me, you can’t witness a will in which you inherit.”