“Here you go, Uncle Will. One more and you’re done for the day.” Charley Benton dropped a pill into the outstretched hand. After his uncle swallowed it, Charley took the glass of water, then fluffed the pillow behind the old man’s head.
Will Benton sank back in the recliner.“Thank you, Charley. You’re a good nephew. And I really do appreciate you giving me blood like you did.”
“Uncle Will, that was three months ago. I’m your only living relative, I couldn’t stand by and not help. Dr. Hays says you’re lucky to be alive as it is, big as that ulcer was.”
“Hays don’t know squat. I asked him the other day why I wasn’t gettin’ no better. He just said it took longer for a man my age to heal. That old quack already has me dead and buried.”
Charley tucked a worn afghan under the old man’s neck. “So why did you keep going to him all these years?”
“Ain’t no other doctors around here except them fuzzy-cheeked boys what ain’t dry behind the ears yet. Bad enough I had to let one of them look inside my stomach. If old Hays hadn’t seen the ulcer hisself, I still wouldn’t believe it. Doc might be a quack, but he’s forgot more’n they’ll ever know.” Uncle Will pushed the afghan away. “Seriously, Son, I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Uncle Will, with your money, you could hire ‘round-the-clock nurses to come in here.” He knew his uncle would never pay good money for something he could get for free.
“You know I don’t want no strangers around. You’re here and that’s enough. And don’t you worry, when I pass on I won’t forget everything you’ve done.”
Charley wagged his finger at him. “I don’t need your money.” Wouldn’t be any left at the rate the old man was giving it away. He placed the evening paper beside his uncle’s chair. “So, how much did you give away this week?”
The faded blue eyes brightened and the old man visibly strengthened. “Ten million. And when we get back from our little trip to the mountains, the papers for the hospital trust will be ready. When I’m gone, they’ll get the last three million.”
The old man grinned up at Charley. “Who’d a thought that little ole piece of land I bought for next to nothing would’ve brought in all that oil.”
“Or that you’d have the good judgment to sell when you did and invest it so well.”
Will patted Charley’s hand. “When I’m gone, you’ll be the last Benton in Bentonville. Only right that you be in charge of every one of them trusts. ‘Course, there’ll be a nice little salary in it for you.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Uncle Will. I’ll do my best.” Charley all but choked on the words. Just six months ago he’d found a copy of his uncle’s latest will listing him as the only beneficiary. He’d almost been able to smell the money.
Then, his uncle began setting up trusts. A million here, a million there. Next thing Charley knew, there was only the three million left, and he wasn’t letting it get away from him—if he did, the only thing he’d get was that nice little salary. Knowing his uncle, a hundred dollars a month would be about it.
So he’d watched and waited until three months ago when Will Benton’s ulcers sent him to the hospital. Will fumbled with the newspaper, and Charley helped him find the sports section. “I’ll make you some cocoa.”
In the kitchen Charley spooned instant chocolate in a cup of milk. “The autumn leaves ought to be pretty on the mountain tomorrow,” he called. Then he took a bottle from his pocket and emptied the contents in the cup before warming the milk. Arsenic. He’d started putting it in his uncle’s food the day he came home from the hospital, gradually increasing it each day as the old man’s body built up a tolerance for it. Will, and even Dr. Hayes, blamed the resulting stomach cramps and nausea on the ulcers.
“We’ll leave in time to have lunch at that nice inn you like,” Charley said as he handed the cocoa to his uncle. “And then go on to your cabin.”
“Hope I feel like going.” Will cradled the warm cup in his hand and slowly sipped the drink. “I just ain’t gettin’ no better.”
“Fresh air and a change in scenery will be good for you.” Charley hesitated. This had to be handled just right. “Uncle Will, I talked to Dr. Hays and told him you weren’t improving. I know how you feel about Dr. Hays, but he’s not the doctor he used to be. And like I told him, maybe you need some new tests or one of those specialists—”
“Don’t be bad-mouthing Doc Hays, and I don’t need no tests. Doc says I’m doing okay. That’s good enough for me.”
Charley turned to hide his smile. The old man was like putty in his hands. Once he had him at the cabin, he’d give him a final dose of arsenic. It’d have to be big—with his uncle’s blood laced with poison like it was, it’d take a dose big enough to kill a horse to do the trick. Then it would be over. The three million would be his and everyone would think his uncle died from bleeding ulcers.
Uncle Will drained the last drop of cocoa from the cup and smacked. “That was fine. You’re too good to me, Charley.”
The funeral a week later was the largest Bentonville had seen in years. “Didn’t think old Will had it in him to put out for something as grand as this,” an elderly woman sniffed to no one in particular. Then as the coffin was lowered in the ground, mourners gathered around the last living Benton. The mayor put his arm around the old man.
“Will, such a pity about the accident that took Charley,” he said. “Too bad that transfusion you gave him didn’t help. How’d you give him blood, you being so sick and all?”
“It was the least I could do, after all he did for me,” Will replied. “Why, he went out in the pouring rain for milk to make cocoa and that confounded car slid off the road and rolled three times. Happened right before my eyes.”
Out of earshot of Will Benton, Dr. Hays turned to the sheriff. “It’s agreed? We don’t tell the old man Charley was poisoning him?”
“Nah,’ the sheriff replied. “What would it accomplish? Charley’s dead and Will’s getting better every day.”
“Charley almost got away with it,” Dr. Hays marveled. “Never occurred to me Will’s problems were anything but ulcers. Same symptoms.”
“Why didn’t it show up in some of his blood tests?”
“Arsenic doesn’t show up unless you check for it and you don’t check unless you suspect it. Pure luck the medics found that little package of white powder in his bags. They thought it was cocaine. When it turned out to be arsenic, everything fell into place.”
The sheriff chuckled. “Can you imagine what went through Charley’s mind when he woke up and found out he had his uncle’s blood in him?”
The two men joined the mourners standing around Will Benton as he lamented over his nephew.
“There we were fifty miles from nowhere and him bleedin’ to death,” Will was saying, “and when that park ranger said Charley would die without an immediate blood transfusion, I rolled up my sleeve and said, set it up. Wasn’t no other choice, him being blood kin and all.”
Will shook his head. “Poor Charley. When he came to and found out what I did, his last words were, ‘Uncle Will, you really shouldn’t have.’ That boy was thoughtful to the end.”