There was a large manila envelope on the floor of his office when Gray got back there. Joan had shoved it under the door. He was glad, in a way, to have missed her. Soon he would have to ask her some very pointed questions, and he needed to read the two wills first. An hour later, Gray had concluded that the first will, thoughtfully and fairly distributing his wealth, sounded a lot more like the Dr. Beecher he had learned about, than that of the second, essentially leaving it all to his wife.
The sun was setting, the heat of the day fading, the light breeze coming off the bay, soft clouds turning rose-colored above a line of brown pelicans skimming effortlessly the gentle waves. What could be better than strolling barefoot along the beach with your girl. Gray breathed deep, taking it all in. His mind was turned off. He was all sensation. Soon enough thoughts would come flooding back, but not yet. They stopped, turned toward the water, aware of only the sky, the sea and each other, happy, sharing that moment.
Back at Kate’s apartment Gray watched her as she read through the wills. She knew virtually nothing about the Beecher’s and he wanted her objective opinion. After she was finished, she sat and thought for a while. He waited.
“It is possible that he opted for a more conservative approach at the end. Making sure that the kids would have security later on. Afraid they might blow their inheritance if they got it right away,” she said without much conviction.
“But where and with whom did he make that decision? That’s the question and to find that out, I think Joan is going to have to contest it. I’m not sure she is in a frame of mind to be willing to go through that just now.”
“Sounds like we may have to spend the weekend over on the island. Gosh darn it, just when I was planning to do laundry. The things I do for you!” Kate said with a pout but couldn’t keep from smiling. Gray laughed and tugged her so that they fell onto the bed.
The next day as they drove along the causeway across the Laguna Madre, Kate said, ” You know the other difference I noticed in the two wills, (that I was going to mention
before I was rudely distracted), was that Sissy went from receiving some little thing, can’t remember what it was, to being included as one of the family.”
“Hmm, you’re right. I saw that, but didn’t think about it. You’re right though. It could be significant.”
Gray introduced Kate to Joan as his “associate”.
Kate said, “Hello, Joan, you notice how he said that with a straight face?”
Joan laughed and the two women hugged. With that ice broken, they were able to get down to business. Gray came straight to the point.
“Joan, we think that the new will is a forgery. The only way I know of to find out is for you to contest it.” Joan blanched and looked panicked.
“I don’t know................ I don’t know if I can,” she stammered. Seeing her distress and not wanting to push her over into a crying jag, he already knew how hair-trigger her moods were, he said, “You don’t have to decide now, of course. In fact, we’d like to get down to the beach before it gets too hot and fills up with day trippers.” Kate then jumped in,
“Why don’t you come with us? We’ve got an extra Boogie board.” “Oh, I couldn’t,” said Joan doubtfully. “I haven’t had breakfast yet.”
“Neither have we,” Lied Gray. “We can stop by Juan’s and get some breakfast tacos.” Obviously pleased to be included, Joan ran to change. The two conspirators hugged, and Joan soon emerged wearing a one piece bathing suit, an enormous sun hat and her own Boogie board.
By the end of the day, Joan had agreed to contest the will. One of the two lawyers on the island was a friend who would “work with her” on the fee.
Like 90% of the male population of Port Aransas, Jim Houston invariably wore shorts, sandals and T shirts. Many of them further dispensed with the sandals and wore T shirts carrying messages like: “Out of Order”, “Help Wanted”, or “I’m Not in Today”. Gray knew he would like this man.
Right off he put Joan at ease by telling her that she was a lucky girl because the Texas legislature had just changed the law regarding contest tees. Until now whoever contested the will was disbarred from receiving any of that which they would have received had they not contested the will. This news gave Joan the confidence to go ahead. Her hesitancy had sprung form the fear that somehow Tommy would prevail, just as he had all her life and she would be left with nothing.
Sunday saw another morning on the beach, a visit to the ARK, the animal rehabilitation keep, on the grounds of U.T.’s Marine Science Center to visit Kate’s friend Tony, whose tiny staff and numerous volunteers tended broken wings, removed fish hooks from pelicans’ bills and nurtured turtles missing limbs from encounters with motor boat propellers, or for various reasons, got washed up on the shore. Another popular T shirt in town featured a turtle and read: “I’m stranded, and I can’t get up!” The purchase of fresh shrimp straight off the boat and the car ferry across the Ship Channel in order to take the scenic route back to the city. All in all, a very productive and fun weekend.
An invitation to lunch with Dr. Dan Perez meant not having to visit the clinic. They met at a Japanese sushi house downtown. Dan Perez was an affable, sprightly man used to evincing responses from people rather than discoursing. On the subject of his friend and colleague Tom Beecher, however, he was forthcoming.
“You told me that Dr. Beecher was happy, not someone who would commit suicide,” Gray said. Putting down his chopsticks, Perez replied.
”I guess I should have said, happy in his work. Even though he was semi-retired, he loved to come into the clinic, and carried quite a heavy workload. He wasn’t a depressive, and I’d have to say, not particularly introspective. Now, don’t get me wrong, he was thoughtful and cared a great deal about the inequities and inequalities of the world. It’s just that he was a realist and didn’t let things like that disturb his sleep at night.”
“What about his family life?” Gray probed. Perez looked at Gray for a few seconds before saying,
”I don’t know what you might have heard or surmised about the family,” he paused, obviously debating how much he felt it was his place to divulge. “Look, Tom and Edith had their
differences. They had definitely grown apart. He’d pretty much given up on Tommy and was fiercely defensive of Joan. He blamed Edith for her breakdown” Gray looked at him sharply.
“You didn’t know? Edith couldn’t accept that Joan was never going to be the Society Lady she was trying to groom her into. As Joan became more resistant, Edith became more persistent. She mercilessly berated the poor girl until she just broke down. It was quite ugly. There was an uneasy truce with Tom being the mediator, while at the same time being Joan’s ally and protector.”
“What about his health?” Gray continued. He knew that lunch wasn’t going to be a two-martini affair and he needed to gather as much as he could while he could. Perez would probably have two or three surgeries before the day was over.
“Well, you know how doctors are.” Gray shook his head. “It’s like the cobbler’s kids having no shoes. We don’t go to doctors,” Perez said with a smile.
” So he could have been sick and not done anything about it?”
“Sure, it’s possible. Again, we have a tendency not to take care of our own health. If we did, I’d be going for a siesta right now, but I have to get back to the office.” He picked up the check over Gray’s protests and they parted outside the restaurant.
Kate’s day had been routine, which was normal, so she was ready to hear about Gray’s meeting with Dan Perez. Gray had fixated on the thought that Beecher might have been sick but couldn’t pin down why.
“If he had been terminally ill,” Kate mused, “and knew it, he might have gone to someone outside of his circle.” She paused.
“He might have decided to end it rather than drag it out.” Gray continued her thought. ”But, first do no harm. Isn’t that the motto?” Said Kate.
“True, but what might be the greater harm and to whom, if the choice is to live?” Gray was still puzzling his way through. “So, someone else is involved either way. Therefore, we are still at, who and why.”
Once more they worked their way through the simplest explanations: One: it was a random murder and the killer switched the weapons because he/she wanted to keep the gun, liked creating mysteries or had a macabre sense of humor. Two: The doctor wanted to die but couldn’t do it himself and got someone else to do it. The accomplice switched the guns for the same reason or something else. Three: The murder/suicide was discovered by someone who, for the same reasons, or for something quite different, switched the guns.
“Let’s discount the first option for the moment,” said Gray.
“The accomplice would have to be someone the doctor trusted,” Kate said.
“Only if there were some purpose other than simply being dead, he could have hired someone.”
Kate raised an eyebrow. “Trying for a little levity, are we?”
“Sorry,” said Gray. “Ok, so someone he trusted. Who, perhaps along with the doctor, wanted or was complicit to the suicide?” He let that sink in. Kate, thinking her way through it, said, ” Someone who, with the doctor, didn’t want the beneficiary of the life insurance to collect.”
“So,” said Gray..
“So,” Kate repeated. “So, let’s say that the Good Doctor and his accomplice wanted it to look like a suicide, so that Mrs. Beecher couldn’t collect,”
Gray completed the thought. “Then someone, wanting it to look like murder, was improvising desperately.”
“Or was unfamiliar with the concept,” Kate again.
“Placed a gun that hadn’t been fired where the actual weapon was missing.”
“Carried off by the accomplice,” Kate threw in.
“But that points at Mrs. Beecher, which is too unlikely to be credible,” Gray went on. “Unless she had an accomplice,” said Kate. Gray stared at Kate. He cocked his head.
“That’s a thought.,” he finally said.