Margaret Crandall fluttered open her eyes at five-thirty and felt the warm sheets and covers around her. She hadn't needed an alarm clock in years; every day she awoke at the same time, her life a predictable routine of meals and laundry and sleep. She licked her lips, sighed into her pillow, and turned to wake her husband. He lay with his back to her, and she pushed him, her fingers spread against his cotton pajama top. Her hand pressed into his fleshy back, and he rotated forward slightly with the pressure. She pushed harder, and his arm fell suddenly, woodenly down over the edge of the bed. She lowered her hand and felt his skin; he was as cold and still as winter fields.
She did not move. For several minutes she lay silently, her breathing unanswered, hands balled up at her chin. Then she rose, put on a pale pink robe, and walked out of the room. She closed the door behind her quietly, carefully, as though not to disturb her husband. She walked down the hallway to the stairs, descending into the living room. Her balance began to disintegrate as she walked, her equilibrium slipping further away with each step. She began listing, leaning. She entered the kitchen but came to a halt just inside the door; focusing her eyes unsteadily on the sink across the tile floor, she righted herself and began inching forward. After a few last steps she collided with the kitchen table, knocking two plates and a cup to the floor. The dishes spun lazily downward and broke into pieces as they struck the tile, scattering sharp, colored chips to every corner of the room.
Upstairs, the dead man's son awoke with the sound of smashing china. Roger, tense and listening, pulled on his pants and entered the hallway. He passed his sister Sarah's room, descended the stairs, and saw his mother collapsed into an awkward sitting position on the kitchen floor, slumped over with her back to the sink.
Roger took his mother's shoulder in his hand; she moved easily in his grip, her limbs loose. At that moment the house was filled with a high-pitched scream of agony.
Roger took the stairs three at a time. He entered the bedroom, saw Sarah, and understood instantly that his father was dead. Sarah was clinging to the body, her head buried in the chest. Roger disengaged her, her nails leaving marks in the pajama top as he peeled them back. He pulled her out into the hallway; she resisted, reaching back uselessly toward her father. But he was too strong, and forcing her away from the door, he managed to reenter the bedroom, close the door behind him, and lock it.
Now the dead man and his son were alone. For a moment, he stood close by the door, staring. He could hear his sister whimpering and sobbing through the door, and eventually he moved away from the noise, walking slowly toward his father. A leg had fallen gracelessly off the bed during the struggle, and the body lay like an enormous stuffed doll, mouth open, limbs akimbo. Roger reached a hand out tentatively, but pulled slowly back; the eyes were still open, staring up at the ceiling. The son reached the bed and stood over the body, his eyes locked on his father's. Then, with an abrupt motion, he reached out and slapped the dead man's face, a brutal strike directly across the cheek. The crack of his hand echoed in the bedroom like a gunshot.
Tractors were running by sunup all over Cheney County the morning Tyler Crandall died; there was rain in the forecast. Kit Munroe, the chief of the Council Grove volunteer fire department, was already out working his fields when his wife received the call. She had to drive a pickup truck twenty minutes across five gated fields to find her husband. Munroe listened quietly, shut the tractor down, and rode back with his wife. He called for some help; Crandall was a big man, and it would take two people to hoist him onto a stretcher. He didn't want the Crandall boy to have to do it.
It was some work getting Ty up off the bed and onto the stretcher with any dignity. Munroe and Carter Dixon wrestled him to the stretcher, lowering it briefly to the floor to rearrange the limbs. Then Munroe pulled a white sheet up over the face and tucked it in over the head. He signaled with a grunt and they heaved the body up, steadying themselves.
It was warming up outside, and Munroe and Carter sweated in the June sun as they hoisted Crandall down the front steps, down the long walkway to the driveway and the car. They loaded him in and Munroe slammed shut the big, swinging back door of the ambulance. The car pulled out into the driveway in a cloud of grit and gravel dust, and was gone.
Roger entered his father's office an hour later. He pulled the big chair back from the ornate desk and sat, feeling his weight in the chair, adjusting its height to fit his own lighter frame. After a moment he took a key from his pocket and unlocked the right bottom drawer of the desk. Inside were a black long-barreled revolver, a half-empty metal flask, and a large manila envelope. He grasped the flask and screwed open the top; sniffing the contents, he took a quick swallow. He was an experienced drinker, and his face was unchanged by the jolt of straight whiskey. He screwed the top back on the flask lightly and returned to the drawer. He removed the envelope, opened it, and pulled out several typewritten pages. He scanned the top page silently, his expression blank. Setting it aside, he picked up the phone and dialed.
Copyright © 2001 by Reed Arvin
What lengths would someone go to uncover one?
Henry Mathews, a young, ambitious associate at one of the top law firms in Chicago, is a man on the move. As lethal in a courtroom as a shark in an aquarium, he is rising fast. But his hard-driving mentor, the senior partner, is obsessed with a telling inconsistency on Henry's otherwise brilliant résumé: the year after he graduated from college, Henry enrolled at a seminary in Kentucky. Even more perplexing, Henry left suddenly three weeks before the end of the first year, and won't speak of the episode.
But Henry's past refuses to go away. Called back to his tiny hometown in Council Grove, Kansas, to execute the will of Tyler Crandall, the town's richest man, Henry gets enmeshed in a web of long-hidden secrets. Tyler has chosen not to leave his wealth to his grasping son, but instead has made a homeless derelict called the Birdman a sudden millionaire and Council Grove's most powerful resident.
The Birdman, scripture-spouting and delusional, prophesies a dark vision of retribution and hellfire. But soon it becomes clear that locked behind his madness is the key to the real history of Council Grove. When a grotesque and cruel act convinces Henry that powerful forces will do anything to keep those secrets hidden, he determines to protect the Birdman and uncover the truth. But the cost is high: Henry is in danger of losing both his job in Chicago and his beautiful, ambitious girlfriend.
Henry, given the opportunity to use his phenomenal legal skills for good, discovers that right and wrong are more complex than he imagined. Sucked into secrets of money, politics, and a tragic love affair -- secrets with the power to ruin lives -- Henry finds his own sense of morality under assault. As black and white turn to gray, what began as a legal battle becomes a spiritual journey stretching back to Henry's mysterious experience at the seminary.
More than just a legal thriller, The Will is an absorbing, deeply satisfying read.