THE HIDDEN BOX
~ By Salvatore Buttaci
Lucky for them no one at Angelo Vera’s funeral could read minds. For sure he’d say what danced in their heads were not sugar-plum memories of the deceased, but a replay of Vera’s deathbed confession. The mind reader would entertain the funeral attendees who filed past the old man’s coffin with perhaps a good or not so good impersonation of Vera’s heavily accented parting words. “I make-a sure nobody’s a find it,” Then for dramatic effect, he would pause long enough to detect that the funereal air was ponderously suspenseful, then continue. “Nobody!
It’s a someplace-a safe. Where, justa me know.” And then the mind reader would raise his hand and wait for silence. Before him a rapt audience would wait for more of what came out of the mouth of Angelo Vera before his heart stopped and all that was heard was that single last exhalation, so loud in that quiet room of death. The mind reader would do his best to keep an impending smile from pulling his lips into a reclining half moon. He would strike a pose befitting the death of a wealthy man and then leave the funeral home. To find the hidden whatever.
But there was no mind reader. Angelo Vera was driven, as he usually was in life, by a chauffeur in a black limousine, but this time six pallbearers lifted his coffin, placed it securely on their shoulders, and marched it to his gravesite. After Father LoPresti said the prayer he had memorized when he was a seminarian decades before, after each survivor dropped a red rose down into the grave onto the dark wood, after all was said and sobbed, the living in their black suits and dresses all made their getaway in their waiting cars.
A week later the closely knit family of Angelo Vera proved themselves not to be so close after all. The scene: the reading of the will. Present: Angelo’s three sons and their wives, Angelo’s chauffeur and confidant Marco, the housekeeper Mary Flannigan, and the last surviving brother of the deceased, a cantankerous old fool named Sebastiano, and Donner the probate attorney.
Angelo Jr., Roberto, and Filippo Vera were the three sons of the old man whose will the attorney would now read. The three sons were still wearing their long, sad, mourning faces. All three held white handkerchiefs in their hands with which they patted their eyes or their noses and sometimes their foreheads.
Donner slit the seal on the manila envelope of the last will and testament he’d been paid good money to draw up and finally now read. Which he did. Quietly to himself. Then his eyebrows shot up as if to meet the shaggy bangs of hair at the bridge of his nose. His thick lips seemed in the process to deflate of its redness. They beat wordlessly the way moths do their wings when the hot light draws them to their demise.
“What’s wrong?” asked Angelo Jr’s third wife Tess. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
Roberto stepped forward. “Spit it out. This what?”
Donner stepped back and without looking managed to plop down in old Vera’s favorite chair. “This is quite…quite crazy!” he finally said. “Your father changed his will. This is not the one we drew up more than fifteen years ago. He nullified that one and drew up a new one without my knowledge. I can’t believe this.”
Number One Son Angelo Jr. stepped forward. “Read it, Donner.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Filippo, “we’re big boys. We can take it.”
Then Filippo’s wife said a bit too loudly to her husband, “Maybe you’ll get more now.” Filippo touched his closed lips with his finger and she quit talking.
The revised will in hand, Donner began reading. “To my friend Marco who came to America with me from our Italian village of Casteltermini, I leave you this house you helped me build with our four hands. And too the limousine you took good care of.
To Mary Flannigan, who resisted all of my younger days’ advances, and thus proved worthy to live in this Vera home, I leave you all the jewelry my late wife Marietta could not take with her to the grave.
To my brother Sebastiano, who in our years of childhood delighted in torturing me, insulting me, envying my good fortune, I bequeath to you my set of bocce balls. Handle them well.
And finally to my sons Angelo, Roberto and Filippo. My fortune beyond this property an old friend once told me could not be counted unless a man could live three hundred years! Over a billion dollars! Not bad for an Italian immigrant who came here from poverty and said no it won’t keep holding me down. There were no gold in the streets like they told us, so I went into construction work and made my own gold in the streets.”
“My God!” said Angelo. “More than a billion dollars!”
“And if he was fair about it,” said another of the old man’s daughters-in-law, “he divided it three ways.”
“To my three sons,” continued Donner’s reading, “I leave tit for tat. All your lives you played the prodigal son with one exception: you never left home and then returned sorry for how you mistreated your own father. Instead, you stayed home, refused to work, took advantage of my charity. You gave me nothing and nothing I return to the three of you.”
The three sons and their wives stood from their chairs, white as the hair on Donner’s head.
“He can’t do that!” Roberto said. “We’re his sons.”
Donner put his hand up. There was more in the will. “Now you will work, something you have deliberately refused to do because your rich father paid your way. You will work now. If you want your inheritance. I placed in a wooden box--a small wooden box--which I buried very deep the key to a safety deposit box somewhere in the world. If you find the box--which is also somewhere in the world--you will know which bank to find my fortune. Whom to see. Who will turn over my fortune.
When I buried that wooden box, I told myself no one would find it. Now, as you so often did when I was alive, prove me wrong again. Go out and dig up that box. Work hard for your future! I made sure no one would find it. It’s in a safe place. No one knows where but me.”
The three brothers moved away from one another. Angelo Vera had pulled a nasty fast one on them. One need not be a mind reader to know that each brother would spend the rest of his life, if need be, to find that wooden box.
(C) 2008 Salvatore Buttaci
Sal is GodFather to me, aboard the smooth,strong sailing of HARBINGER*33. He's a gentle presence and a roaring JOY. He's a poem in the veritable making; he's heritage well defined and not an ounce of his ancestor's pirate's blood mixes with the warmth of his own. He gives ~ he teaches ~ he reaches ~ he's Open ~ and sometimes, sometimes if you listen very closely . . . he's a prayer.
~ AMEN. Fair Winds, Following Seas . . .~ Absolutely*Kate, with a captain's grace and gratitude for all this majestic gent brings in his well-traveled wordsmithery of a worn leather valise along the starboard side of where writers' destinies harbinger so well . . . so well . . .