Page 50 of Ford County

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At precisely 6:30, I swing into action. I leave the cafeteria and walk to room 18, where I find Mr. Spurlock sitting on his bed, reading a copy of his last will and testament. Mr. Hitchcock is down the hall having dinner, so we can talk.

"Any questions?" I ask. It's only three pages long, at times written clearly and at times loaded with enough legalese to stump a law professor. Dex is a genius at drafting these things. He adds just enough clear language to convince the person signing that though he or she may not know exactly what he or she is signing, the overall gist of the document is just fine.

"I suppose so," Lyle says, uncertain.

"Lots of legal stuff," I explain helpfully. "But that's required. The bottom line is that you're leaving everything to the Confederate Defense Fund, in trust, and I'll oversee it all. Is that what you want?"

"Yes, and thank you, Gill."

"I'm honored. Let's go."

We take our time - Lyle is moving much slower since the stroke - and eventually get to the reception area just inside the front door. Queen Wilma, Nurse Nancy, and Trudy the receptionist all left almost two hours ago. There is a lull as dinner is being served. Dex and his secretary are waiting. The two paralegals and the company man are gone. Introductions are made. Lyle takes a seat and I stand next to him, then Dex methodically goes through a rough summary of the document. Lyle loses interest almost immediately, and Dex notices this.

"Is this what you want, Mr. Spurlock?" he asks, the compassionate counselor.

"Yes," Lyle responds, nodding. He's already tired of this legal stuff.

Dex produces a pen, shows Lyle where to sign, then adds his signature as a witness and instructs his secretary to do the same. They are vouching for Lyle's "sound and disposing mind and memory." Dex then signs a required affidavit, and the secretary whips out her notary seal and stamp and gives it her official blessing. I've been in this situation several times, and believe me, this woman will notarize anything. Stick a Xerox copy of the Magna Carta under her nose, swear it's the original, and she'll notarize it.

Ten minutes after signing his last will and testament, Lyle Spurlock is in the cafeteria eating his dinner.

*

A week later, Dex calls with the news that he's about to meet with the big lawyers from the corporate office and engage in a serious settlement conference. He's decided he will show them the greatly enlarged photos I took of Ms. Harriet Markle lying in a pool of her own body fluids, naked. And he will describe the bogus record entries, but not hand over copies. All of this will lead to a settlement, but it will also reveal to the company my complicity in the matter. I'm the mole, the leaker, the traitor, and though the company won't fire me outright - Dex will threaten them - I've learned from experience that it's best to move on.

In all likelihood, the company will fire Queen Wilma, and probably Nurse Angel too. So be it. I've seldom left a project without getting someone fired.

The following day, Dex calls with the news that the case settled, confidentially of course, for $400,000. This may sound low, given the company's malfeasance and exposure, but it's not a bad settlement. Damages can be difficult to prove in these cases. It's not as if Ms. Harriet was earning money and therefore facing a huge financial loss. She won't see a dime of the money, but you can bet her dear ones are already bickering. My reward is a 10 percent finder's fee, paid off the top.

The following day, two men in dark suits arrive, and fear grips Quiet Haven. Long meetings are held in Queen Wilma's office. The place is tense. I love these situations, and I spend most of the afternoon hiding in the kitchen with Rozelle as the rumors fly. I'm full of wild theories, and most of the rumors seem to originate from the kitchen. Ms. Drell is eventually fired and escorted out of the building. Nurse Angel is fired, and escorted out of the building. Late in the day we hear the rumor that they're looking for me, so I ease out a side door and disappear.

I'll go back in a week or so, to say good-bye to Lyle Spurlock and a few other friends. I'll finish up the gossip with Rozelle, give her a hug, promise to drop in from time to time. I'll stop by Miss Ruby's, settle up on the rent, gather my belongings, and indulge in a final toddy on the porch. It will be difficult to say good-bye, but then I do it so often.

So I leave Clanton after four months, and as I head toward Memphis, I can't help but succumb to smugness. This is one of my more successful projects. The finder's fee alone makes for a good year. Mr. Spurlock's will effectively gives everything to me, though he doesn't realize it. (The Confederate Defense Fund folded years ago.) He probably won't touch the document again before he dies, and I'll pop in often enough to make sure the damned thing stays buried in the drawer. (I'm still checking on several of my more generous friends.) After he dies, and we'll know this immediately because Dex's secretary checks the obituaries daily, his daughter will rush in, find the will, and freak out, and soon enough she'll hire lawyers who'll file a nasty lawsuit to contest the will. They'll allege all manner of vile claims against me, and you can't blame them.

Will contests are tried before juries in Mississippi, and I'm not about to subject myself to the scrutiny of twelve average citizens and try to deny that I sucked up to an old man during his last days in a nursing home. No, sir. We never go to trial. We, Dex and I, settle these cases long before trial. The family usually buys us off for about 25 percent of the estate. It's cheaper than paying their lawyers for a trial, plus the family does not really want the embarrassment of a full-blown bare-knuckle trial in which they're grilled about how much time they didn't spend with their dearly departed.

After four months of hard work, I'm exhausted. I'll spend a day or two in Memphis, my home base, then catch a flight to Miami, where I have a condo on South Beach. I'll work on my tan for a few days, rest up, then start thinking about my next project.

Funny Boy

Like most of the rumors that swept through Clanton, this one originated at either the barbershop, a coffee shop, or the clerk's office in the courthouse, and once it hit the street, it was off and running. A hot rumor would roar around the square with a speed that defied technology and often return to its source in a form so modified and distorted as to baffle its originator. Such is the nature of rumors, but occasionally, at least in Clanton, one turned out to be true.

At the barbershop, on the north side of the square, where Mr. Felix Upchurch had been cutting hair and giving advice for almost fifty years, the rumor was brought up early one morning by a man who usually had his facts straight. "I hear Isaac Keane's least boy is comin' back home," he said.

There was a pause in the haircutting, the newspaper reading, the cigarette smoking, the squabbling over the Cardinals game the night before. Then someone said, "Ain't he that funny boy?"

Silence. Then the clicking of scissors, the turning of pages, a cough over there, and the clearing of a throat over here. When delicate issues were first brought to the surface at the barbershop, they were met with a momentary caution. No one wanted to charge in, lest he be accused of trading in gossip. No one wanted to confirm or deny, because an incorrect fact or an erroneous assumption could quickly spread and do harm, especially in matters dealing with sex. In other places around town, folks were far less hesitant. There was little doubt, however, that the return of the least Keane boy was about to be dissected from a dozen directions, but, as always, the gentlemen proceeded cautiously.

"Well, I've always heard he didn't go for the girls."

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