[This article first appeared on Melissa Snark's The Snarkology last month. Thank you, Melissa, for all your hard work. It's always a pleasure working with you.]
The Dead Man's Deal is an urban fantasy set in New Orleans. The following molecule contains elements that outline the character, the plot, and the enemy the heroine faces, as well as the sit-back-and-relax attitude readers should enjoy.
The molecule begins with the audience.
Mystery Science Theater 3000, MST - "Repeat to yourself it's just a show, I should really just relax."
The reader will not find any hidden life changing advice or guidance, nor will they be required to understand how the universe works, nor will they be asked to ponder life, the universe, and everything. Just suspend disbelief, sit back, and go for a fun and exciting ride.
NEO, The Chosen One who is also the ST, Storyteller. Neo is the ultimate victim, because Destiny Says So. The Storyteller is the character that is noted for her ability to tell tales.
Winki Witherspoon doesn't want this job! In fact, she didn't even know this world existed until her husband passed away and imbued her with magical abilities. This is her story, told in first person, in her voice.
C, Conflict. Conflict is the basic problem to overcome.
Winki discovers that the death of her husband might not have been the accident she thought it was. After an attempt on her own life, she realized she needs to unveil the traitor before she becomes a victim. Her life devolves into nothing but conflict, from the Tournaments she's forced to participate in (bloody, physical, brutal battles for the best) to fighting the liar in her midst.
EWI, the enemy within and the final RE, Reveal. When we discover how the villain has been manipulating everyone.
"Someone isn't who they claim to be." Those are the words Winki reads in a letter written to her from her husband when he realized he'd been betrayed. Winki, thrust into this odd and perplexing world, must discover the truth and reveal the traitor before she herself is killed. Or turns evil.
The Dead Man's Deal by Jax Daniels
First of the Witherspoon Mansion Adventures
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Published: August 11, 2014
When Winki Witherspoon lost her husband she inherited his New Orleans mansion and his magical talent. Can she master it and discover his traitor before she too is destroyed?
We ate in silence. For the first time that prattling man shut up and kept quiet. Thank God. Only the settling sounds of the grandfather clock in the corner ticking away the seconds reached my ears.
I helped myself to seconds, pouring another ladle of gumbo into my bowl, and added a float of rice on top. Mr. Marble smiled. “Glad to see you eating, Mrs. Witherspoon,” he whispered.
At a whisper his voice soothed rather than grated. “First time I've felt like eating in a while. Mrs. White is a good cook.”
“No,” he said, taking another mouthful. “You'll come to find she's a fantastic cook. She knows exactly what to feed you and when.” After another bite or two he continued. “She's also an herbalist. An herbal healer, for lack of a better term. You tell her what's ailing you, and she'll make you a tea guaranteed to cure it. Headaches, allergies, stomach ailments, cuts and scrapes. Hell, she took a wart off me once with a leaf and some ointment.” He looked at his thumb. “Completely painless. Never came back.”
Once I finished I sat back, my lips tingling, numb from the gumbo's heat. I considered having thirds. Reluctantly I decided against it.
To my right, stretching along the length of the room, towered windowed doors that opened onto the patio in back. Through their laced curtains I could see the backyard, and just beyond a small glass house. I assumed the herbs came from there. Despite the worn interior of the room, the yard looked immaculate. I envisioned this grand old home in its heyday, hosting spectacular parties with wealthy people dressed in costumes, ambling from the dining area out to the lamp-lit yard to dance, the happy music darkened by my despair.
“Quite a place, don't you think?” Mr. Marble broke my reverie.
I wiped my mouth with my napkin and scooted my chair back to face him better. “Yes. And thank you for showing it to me, Mr. Marble. But I'd like to go home now.”
“But we haven't covered the trust arrangement yet.”
I looked out the window, flooded with both questions and anger. This house? This was the big secret? This run down, dilapidated building and its quacky occupants? Why didn't Will mention this to me? Why wouldn't he have? I felt betrayed he'd kept this a secret. “Mr. Marble–,” I started.
“Nathan, please. Call me Nathan–.”
“–I don't care about the trust. I don't care about this house. I don't care what my husband wanted.” He twisted his head, perplexed. “I was married to him for seventeen years. I thought I knew everything about him. I thought we shared everything. Now I find out that he had a separate trust, with separate money, and a possible separate life? I don't get it. I don't see why this had to be kept from me and now, frankly, I don't care.”
“Please, let me–”
“You've had your shot. You sold it well. I did everything you asked. But now I want to go home.”
“You stand to inherit–”
“I. Don't. Care.”
He hung his head for a moment and we sat there in silence. Mr. Marble cleared his throat.
Jeeves entered the room. “Yes, sir?”
“Jeeves,” Mr. Marble said, “can you please bring me my briefcase. I left it in the foyer.”
“Indeed, sir,” Jeeves bowed and left. Left me, there, with my mouth open. Jeeves? He called him Jeeves?
My utter shock read loudly. “Well, that's what you were gonna call him, isn't it? He'd best get used to it.”
“But I never told you that.”
“Nope. Didn't have to.” He smiled. Not the salesman smile I'd had more than my fill of already. Rather a kind and gentle smile, the smile of a man who actually cared. “It's what Will used to call him.”
I slumped in my seat and folded my arms. Another wave of anger washed over me. Dammit. Why couldn't I have been a part of this, whatever this was? It's just a house, for Minerva's sake.
“I know,” he started slowly and softly, “that you're angry. I know that you're hurt and overwhelmed. I get it. But Will is dead, Mrs. Witherspoon. It's time for you to live.” I sniffed back the tears and rubbed my watery eyes. “He didn't share this with you in life, but it was his dying wish to share it with you in death.” Jeeves quietly placed the briefcase on the table. “Thank you.” He returned his gaze to me. “Please, just hear me out for a few more minutes. Then, if you want me to, I'll take you back. I promise.”
I didn't argue, which he took as a sign of agreement. He opened his briefcase, pulled out a thick three-ringed binder, and continued. “Will and I set up this trust when the two of you married and kept it current. It was last updated–”
“How long?” I interrupted.
“How long did you know him? Will. How long did you know my husband?”
He sighed. “Just a couple of years before he met you.”
“Why did he never mention you?”
“Never mentioned me? I, well...” It was back. That annoying, grating texture of his voice. I hadn't realized it had fully disappeared until now.
“Don't use that tone of voice with me!”
He sat back, stunned. He slowly closed his mouth and nodded. “Alright.” He flipped through a page or two. “How we knew each other and why isn't important right now, Mrs. Witherspoon. Please, let me get through this. Just hear me out. Hear Will out.”
“Fine,” I said curtly. My nervous thumb played with the table's fluted edge.
He paraphrased as he read. “The terms of the trust are simple. I, as your executor and accountant, am to provide you a monthly stipend of two thousand dollars. I'm also to maintain and pay your staff here at Gateway Manor,” he waved his hand about to indicate the mansion, “as well as any supplies needed or used by the staff, including but not limited to food, tools, medicines, appliances–”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it. Move along.”
“You, as the sole benefactor of the trust, must live here in Gateway Manor for a period no less than two years.”
“What?” I cried out.
“After that you are free to live anywhere you like and you inherit completely and without restriction the rest of the trust reserves, which is a–”
“But I haven't told you what you'll inherit.”
“Seventy-four million dollars.”
“Not inter... Great Gatsby, how much?” It wasn't the money. Really. Never has been. In fact, one of the things that attracted me to Will right from the beginning was his total lack of enthusiasm to chase the almighty dollar. What shocked me was the sheer enormity of his deceit. “Where did Will get seventy-four million dollars? He was a CPA! He was good but... holy crap!”
“Family money. Passed down through generations. Like this house.” I must have looked like the words made no sense to me. Probably because they didn't. “Mostly the money stays in bank accounts and conservative investments. Because, like you, Will, nor his ancestors for that matter, cared about the money. So they tucked it away. Just in case.”
“Just in case?”
“Yeah. Just in case. They lived mostly off interest and accumulated a little here and there. Over the years, violà.” He handed me a pile of papers. Savings accounts statements and government bond receipts mostly. A cover letter outlined the grand total. Seventy-four million. Give or take a few hundred thousand.
As I studied it Mr. Marble continued.
“Will never cared about money. And I know he'd never marry a woman who felt differently. But I'd like to tell you what will happen, what Will had outlined in his trust to happen, if you walk away right now.”
I looked up at him, and set the paper aside.
“If you leave the manor before the two year mark then the mansion is sold. The proceeds go to you. And only that. The remaining investments are to be shared amongst these charities,” he said, rustling out another piece of paper, “in the distribution outlined.”
I looked over the paper. I recognized most of the names. Habitat for Humanity, Red Cross, Doctors Without Borders, all charities Will and I supported in the past. The list also included an art school, a halfway house, and an orphanage in the city.
“You'd probably net ten or fifteen million from the mansion, so you'd still be set for life. That's what Will wanted.” He mumbled, “We argued over that point a great deal, I assure you.”
“So why don't I do that?” It seemed I was missing a part of the picture here. “What's the downside of selling this dump and giving the rest to charity?”
His eyebrows shot upwards at the word “dump” and, simultaneously, the house issued a loud settling creak. The timing unnerved me a bit. He looked skyward, eyes darting about the ceiling, and yelled, “She didn't mean it!” He looked at me, and cleared his throat. “Because if you sell this,” then whispered very quietly, “dump”, then continued, “everyone here not only loses a job, but they lose their home. They don't just work here, madam. They live here. Some for all of their lives.”
I chewed on my bottom lip. I didn't want to kick anyone out of their home. But I didn't want to live in it, either.
Mr. Marble saw the spinning wheels in my head and rifled through the binder again, retrieving several old documents. As I looked through them he spoke.
“The manor was built in 1823 by Thomas Tyler Witherspoon, who settled here after fighting in the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. Served with Andrew Jackson. Here,” he pointed to one document. “He started with these three parcels, then purchased the next fourteen over five years. Initially it was–”
“Witherspoon Plantation,” I finished, reading the description.
“Slaves, cotton, the whole works.” He sat back. “Then the Civil War came.”
“I take it the Witherspoons' backed the Confederates.”
He tilted his head. “Um, yes and no. The sons went to war to defend their rights to the land. But the daughters and the servants, well... There were several safe houses that started and organized passage through the Underground Railroad. This was one of them.”
He nodded. “That's originally where the name came from. Gateway Manor.” He shrugged. “It swings both ways.”
I have to admit he had piqued my interest. “If I stay here, what happens to our place in Irish Channel?”
He whipped out another document. “This gives me power of attorney to manage the sale of your current house. The proceeds will add to the reserves you'll inherit in two years.”
I scowled. “Will and I bought that place together.”
“And all the memories of your marriage and your life together are there. But, Mrs. Witherspoon,” he leaned close to me and tapped the table with his index finger. “Will is here.”
I stared at the scattered documents again, the small flat representations of decades of lives and stories. Who was I to end all of that?
Mr. Marble handed me a pen. I straightened the power of attorney document. And I signed it. Winki Witherspoon.