HUMOR: Winner Take All

It’s true the Hathaways were rich. But you can’t take it with you, although this didn’t stop them from occasionally exploring the issue through very expensive attorneys. The professionals were sympathetic, but firm. The cash stays behind.

The flip side of this predicament is a plus for those still alive: An estate can be inherited.

A dozen Hathaways sat in Judge Floyd Alexander’s chambers. The women, looking very fetching in black lace, dabbed their eyes. Abraham Hathaway had gone to heaven, and although all loved the old man they knew it was time to be strong, to trust in one’s faith, to support each other in grief, lend dignity to his memory, and to see how the old boy might have found fit to divide up about fifty million dollars.

NOTE TO READER: It may seem peculiar that those who own so much might want more, but the unofficial motto of the wealthy everywhere has always been, “Make Mine a Double” or, “You Can Never Be Too Rich” or, “If It’s Not Nailed Down, Take it” or… you get the picture.

The portly, slow-moving judge pulled out a sheaf of papers from the manila envelope. His eyes went up. And down. “Indeed,” he exclaimed. There seemed to be more and more pages, which he examined closely.

“What is it, Judge?” asked Sasha Hathaway, whose youth perhaps accounted for her impatience.

“One moment,” Judge Alexander said, glancing up. Sasha displayed an unusual amount of cleavage for one so recently bereaved, and it was not lost on the judge, whose eyes fluttered. “Yes, ahem, one moment, please.”

Charles Hathaway took his second cousin Sasha’s hand and patted it. She pulled it away.

“Yes,” the judge finally spoke. “It seems we have a most unusual bequeathal.” He read from the will. “To my heirs, family, and loved ones I, Abraham Adolphus Hathaway hereby and in sound mind instruct that the following…”

“He did what?” Brenda asked her friend. They sat in the Lucky Nickel, a local cafe.

“It’s actually quite simple,” Charles said. “He intends to leave his entire estate to just one Hathaway. Not fifty.”

“But why?”

“It’s the idea of dilution. Many heirs would soon forget him. But one giant check handed over to one lucky Hathaway will insure at least one enduring memory.”

Brenda stirred her coffee. “Interesting. But why didn’t he just pick someone?”

“And have four dozen haters? Come on, you’re smarter than that.”

Whew, Brenda thought. When it came to money the rich were sure judgmental. Maybe that was why they were rich.

Charles explained how it would work. All the Hathaways would convene once more in the Wilbert Thorndike Auditorium, where several marshals of the law, experts and dignitaries, politicians and law clerks would be in attendance. Rip Golden, the talk show host, would preside. And then…

Two weeks before the big night Sasha Hathaway called. “Listen, I was going to have my lawyer call you. But this was too personal for that.”

Charles was intrigued.

“I want to make a deal,” Sasha said. “If either of us gets the money, we split among ourselves. We get half, but double our odds. What do you say?”

Charles agreed, but later thought he might have been unduly influenced by his attractive cousin. He called his own attorney. “Did you sign anything?” No, Charles told him. “Good. Then the contract is unenforceable. What I want you to do is get a witness to verify her intentions. But don’t you say anything about your intentions. Do you follow me?” Not really, Charles thought. But he learned long ago that doing his own thinking could be very dangerous.

In fact, a whole army of attorneys at this moment quietly made similar entreaties, offers, injunctions, partnerships, deals, alternative payouts, three-for-one splits, contingencies, claims, causes of action, capital appeals, a whole array of subterranean legal maneuvering designed to afford each Hathaway the best chance of getting the bulk of the old man’s money. If you want fair play go to a Little League game. If you want to win, get a lawyer.

Searchlights probed the heavens. Fifty Hathaways, along with two thousand of the upper crust of Midgeville filed into the capacious Thorndike Auditorium. Barrels of Kentucky bourbon lined the foyer. Abraham Hathaway enjoyed his whiskey old-fashioneds, and so would the public.

Inside a most curious contraption sat on the stage, a huge scarlet upright roulette wheel painted with butterflies, skunks, trout, and unusually endowed chorus girls, representing Abraham’s earthly delights. Instructions for the construction of the wheel had consumed the greater portion of his will. Fifty numbered spaces on the wheel represented fifty Hathaways, who sat nervously among the audience.

Rip Golden flashed his gleaming smile, and asked Amanda and Kate to “Light the Wheel!” Young Elliot Hathaway, middle linebacker for the Midgeville Lions, stood at the ready. Chosen for his size and power, the family had wanted someone who could really put some oomph into it. The sparklers were ignited, and Elliot gave the Giant Hathaway Wheel of Chance a mighty spin.

Flaming and sparking the wheel turned round and round. Oh, please let it be me! The tab clicked and clicked. Then the wheel, for reasons which would be discussed for years afterward, wobbled, groaned and detached from its heavy wooden frame and rolled, among shrieks, DOWN THE CENTER AISLE of the auditorium.

People jumped and ran. Bourbon spilled. Mink coats were trampled. The wheel lost momentum, wobbled and fell, exploding in a shower of sparks. The show was over.

And so were the hopes of the assembled Hathaways. Each had to settle for a vastly diminished portion of old Abraham’s estate. You must share equally, declared Judge Alexander. Little else could be done.

Which was probably for the best. With all the side deals the lawyers had concocted, the splits and shares and winks and nods, it would have been about the same. And Abraham Hathaway? He got his wish. It would be a long time before anyone forgot him in Midgeville.

Richard Donnelly

Richard Donnelly lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Classic flyover land. Which makes us feel just a little… superior. Mr. Donnelly’s first book is ‘The Melancholy MBA,’ published by Brick Road Poetry Press in Columbus, Georgia.