Dina Livingston, Esq. charged into the cramped office like a runaway truck.
“I know. I’m late,” she said, collapsing into Detective Maurice Tubert’s worn leather chair. Her long red hair settled across the right shoulder of her tailored suit. Armani, thought Tubert, the suit obviously being expensive and Armani being the only high-end designer name he knew.
“I had to wait for one last heir to sign the settlement agreement on the Dutton estate,” she said, “and she was an hour and twelve minutes late. The price of being seamstress to the stars. Angelina Jolie had an evening gown crisis, so Elaine Dutton had to detour for an emergency house call.”
“Dr. Livingston, I presume?”
Dina Livingston gave him a derisive smile. “Gosh, I never heard that one before.”
Tubert felt foolish and could tell from her wide-set blue eyes that she sensed it and found it amusing. She pulled an envelope from her purse and dropped it on the desk in front of him. “Here’s the letter I told you about on the phone.”
“It’s been a year since Fannell Dutton’s death,” said Tubert. “Why did this letter take so long to surface?”
“When Fannell died, it got ugly fast. His three kids never got along. And I don’t blame them. As executor of the estate I can attest that every last one of them is a pain in the assets. It takes a lot of ego to make a twelve-bedroom, sixteen-bath mansion feel claustrophobic.”
“The Dutton heirs all live in the same house?”
“Not a one of them can afford to move out,” she said, crossing her legs to reveal a few inches of well-toned thigh. “For all his wealth, Fannell never taught those kids to manage money. And now that they finally smell some, they’re tearing at each other like rabid boars. They’ve been fighting over Daddy’s autograph collection from the moment they found his body, which happened to be on Father’s Day. Ironic, isn’t it?”
Livingston smiled. “It’s been assessed at between thirty-five and forty-five million.”
Tubert whistled. “That’s a lot of motive. What’d he have? A posthumous Elvis?”
“A love letter from Thomas Jefferson to Sally Hemings, a handwritten Beethoven score, a sonnet jotted on a linen napkin by Shakespeare, a smattering of Kings and Czars... those sorts of things.”
Tubert whistled again. Livingston fished around in her purse and pulled out a compact.
“Elaine wants to sell the collection immediately,” she continued. “Nathan, the oldest sibling, wants to wait five years to let it appreciate before selling it. And Jack, the youngest, wants to piece it out over time. Plus, they’ve each got their favorites they want to keep for themselves.”
“What about other assets? The mansion, for example.”
She checked her lipstick in the mirror without skipping a beat in her story.
“The mansion’s mortgaged to the hilt and he had liquidated pretty much everything else to finance the collection. As Fannell’s lawyer, I’ve been trying to hash out an agreement between the heirs, but it’s been a losing battle until yesterday. In the meantime, I had the master bedroom padlocked. That’s where Fannell stored the best of his collection in a temperature and humidity controlled vault. I kept the only key to make sure no one could make off with anything until matters were settled. Last night we finally opened the room to check the collection against the inventory and I found this letter in the vault.”
Tubert pulled the folded page from its envelope. Dear Executor, it began in a jagged scrawl. In the event of my death, I, Fannell Dutton, do hereby request a police investigation. The reason for this is simple: I know that one of my children murdered me.
Tubert looked up. “You think this is true?”
The lawyer shrugged. “Knowing the heirs, I wouldn’t discount it. But that’s neither here nor there. As executor I have a duty to carry out the wishes of my deceased client.”
After a year, Tubert knew the trail would be colder than an Eskimo’s nose, but the dead man’s plea intrigued him. “I guess we’ll have to get the body exhumed,” he said.
Tubert approached the massive oak door, lifted the heavy bronze lion’s-head and let the knocker drop. The sound echoed loudly within, followed by the click-clack of high heels on a stone floor.
Dina Livingston swung open the door. “Welcome to Dutton Manor.”