Milton Haight looked out over the fog-covered Pacific from Robert Brownell’s expansive estate. Across the peninsula, up the rolling hills of the elite Southern California town of Palos Verdes, and along the private lane, the midmorning fog swirled, beckoned, and moaned, as if Robert Brownell’s ghost was trapped within.
Perhaps he was there, begging Milton not to reveal his last will and testament. But it was too late. The recently deceased could not change their wishes.
Yet if he could . . . If so, Milton would not be there to ring the Brownells’ doorbell. Rather, his boss, Issac Warner, would be there.
But Warner was not.
Instead the housekeeper escorted Milton inside, where he became lost among the high ceilings, the ornate marble, the Persian rugs, and the array of museum-quality sculptures and paintings. In silence, he followed the housekeeper toward the study while he contemplated his situation. Then the French doors glided open. Milton stepped inside, and a sudden heaviness seeped into his mind.
Across the expansive room, two pairs of eyes stared at him. One set was dim and gray, and belonged to the stern, protective face of Robert’s close friend, Rick Downley. The other eyes sparkled green, brimmed with tears, and belonged to Robert’s fifteen-year-old daughter, Becca. Both sat in chairs that faced a distinguished desk.
Milton drew in a breath, then cleared his throat. “Hello.” His small voice faded as it crossed the room.
Milton inhaled again and stepped forward, passing the extensive masterpieces of elegant antiques, artifacts, and furniture, while the coldness settled around him.
“Where’s Warner?” Rick demanded.
Milton paused and looked at Rick. “He . . . he couldn’t make it.”
Rick remained seated. “Why?”
Milton sighed and wished he could speak the truth, yet he could not be that bold. Instead, Milton reflected back to precisely 9:32 that morning, when Warner had thrust the documents into Milton’s briefcase and pushed Milton out the door, alone, to face the grieving group.
Since this was a prized account, Milton had questioned such odd behavior.
For many years, Warner had managed all the legal documents centered on Brownell’s wealth. The seasoned attorney took pride in this association, and although the Brownell family was private and disconnected from the community, Warner could claim to be one of the few people who actually knew Robert Brownell.
Of course, no one really knew the recluse well, except perhaps Rick Downley.
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