When John Eastwick Jr.’s father dies, he finds out about one family secret that will change his life forever. But a murder the night of the memorial service raises the question—what else was his beloved father hiding?
21-year-old John Eastwick Jr. has lived a charmed and cozy life. The sole heir of the Eastwick family fortune, John is on the cusp of graduating from the renowned Montvale University out east before returning home to run his family business. But in late fall of his final year, John’s father dies of heart failure. Days later, his father is named as one of the disgraced moguls who bribed John’s way into his prestigious college.
Kicked out of school, John returns home to his distraught mother at their lakeside mansion to bury his father. There, John’s world continues to crumble beneath his feet: the will that the family lawyer reads bears no resemblance to the last version that the late John Eastwick Sr. created. In fact, John Eastwick Sr. has divided his estate not only between his son and wife, but the family chef, their loyal lawyer, his young secretary, and his estranged brother.
John wonders, is his father trying to atone for past mistakes–and what other secrets might he be keeping?
But that night, after the reading of the will, one among the group is murdered. And John Eastwick Jr. must not only piece together who the threat is, but also face what else his beloved father might have been hiding.
A Death at Eastwick is the first novel in the mystery trilogy “The Eastwick Mansion Mysteries.” Each novel in the trilogy is a complete standalone, featuring a different story taking place in the Eastwick mansion in St. Clair.
This title will run until July 31.
John Eastwick Sr. died before the scandal hit.
His son, John Eastwick Jr., first heard the news of his father’s death on a Tuesday morning. He was sitting in the light-filled undergraduate library at Montvale, watching a group of bright-eyed tourists snapping photos of one of the prestigious college’s ivy-strewn yards, when his mother called.
“You have to come home,” were her first words.
His father, she explained, had died in his bathtub. An aneurysm, or heart attack, or something catastrophic and quick. By the time Mrs. Eastwick had checked on him, it was too late.
It was a few hours’ plane ride from Montvale’s east-coast, seaside campus to the wooded, lakeside town of St. Clair. John Jr. spent most of it in a stupor, holding his history course book in front of him with a green highlighter in one hand, highlighting everything because his mind could focus on nothing. Death. It felt like a bad joke.
John spent the next week in a zombie-like trance, next to his weeping mother, sorting through condolence cards, calling back lawyers and business associates, and making what seemed like insane decisions about caskets and flowers and suits until his father had been buried in the family plot in the St. Clair cemetery, and the only remaining John Eastwick returned with his mother to their family estate.
The speed of it all had shocked John, who had never buried a close family member in his twenty-one years of life. His grandparents had passed away before he was born or when he was too young to remember, and the small size of the rest of his family meant that he had been one semester away from becoming a college graduate with no real experience of death or grief.
Indeed, John had had a blessed life before his father’s sudden death: he was, beyond all measure, rich, and besides that good-looking, athletic enough to play two varsity sports in high school (one of them well), and above six feet. He had taken prestigious internship after prestigious internship at various financial firms during the summers in between college, and had spent his winters with his family skiing in the Swiss Alps or, when his mother wanted something “easier and less of a fuss,” in Aspen.
Perhaps due to the influence of his parents, who stressed hard work, honesty, and integrity, John did not grow up into the monster one might expect with so many advantages. He was made to feel keenly how lucky he was and to work to deserve (impossible as it was) such an unequal portion in life. He was, naturally, a little spoiled, but he was unfailingly polite, acceptably modest, and rigidly scrupulous.
But tragedy rarely strikes in isolation. And two days before John’s uncle, aunt, and cousin arrived for the reading of his father’s will, the scandal broke.
And John Eastwick Sr. was plastered across every newspaper and social media feed in the nation.
“It’s a mistake, of course,” John said to his mother.
They were seated at the table in the house’s master bedroom, inside a little breakfast nook that gathered streaming sunshine from the east-facing windows. His mother was dressed in her morning robe, her face scrubbed clean and her hair tied back, looking youthful and small and slim as her hands fluttered over the paper.
“Mom?” John said, when Mrs. Eastwick did not respond.
She looked up at him. Mrs. Eastwick was fifty-four, a good five years younger than her recently passed husband. She was normally cheerful, scatterbrained, and sometimes frivolous, though she could occasionally draw her attention to some important task and apply herself with admirable dedication. For instance, the raising of her son: Mrs. Eastwick was a most attentive mother, the kind who made spreadsheets of her son’s activities and read parenting books in her spare time—of which she had much, given that her husband’s income had enabled the Eastwicks to maintain a robust household staff. Her son was her greatest pride, and her biggest accomplishment had been to let him go: to not be the kind of mother who fretted and fussed and called him every day, whining for him to return home or begging him to join some family business so she could keep a closer watch on him. Mrs. Eastwick had been proud of herself for that. Now, she felt ill.
“It must be a mistake,” Mrs. Eastwick repeated faintly.
“Dad would never do something like that,” John said. But Mrs. Eastwick felt John watching her expression closely. “Neither of you would.”
Mrs. Eastwick swallowed and looked down at the papers. College Bribery Scandal. Now, that just sounded so very crude. Of course Mr. Eastwick would never bribe anyone. He was the most honest man who had ever lived. He had run a very powerful business for thirty years, and men like that lived lives that were open to great scrutiny—and Mr. Eastwick had passed all of it. Never once had an employee, a business associate, a former colleague said a bad word about him.
“A mistake,” Mrs. Eastwick repeated. “He made a donation. But not a bribe.”
Yes, she remembered how he had brought it up to her a few years ago. It hadn’t raised any red flags, though of course it must have been unusual if she still remembered it. A donation—a donation to Montvale, Mr. Eastwick’s alma mater, specifically to a coach on the crew team.
“The crew team?” Mrs. Eastwick had asked. (She must have asked! Of course she would have asked.)
“Well,” Mr. Eastwick would have said—for Mrs. Eastwick couldn’t remember, though she could picture him pinching one corner of his mustache in the way that he always did, a twinkle in his eye—“Well, yes. Why not? They could use it.”
Why not indeed? And their son was applying to school soon—surely a donation like that couldn’t hurt his chances. John had good grades, but so did every high school student these days. Surely if Montvale could see that John’s father was a very engaged alum, well, they might think twice before chucking his application into the reject pile. Besides, that was nothing unusual, wasn’t it? Surely the rich had certain backdoors like this, and always had. Mrs. Eastwick hadn’t grown up rich, so who was she to understand the unfathomable, the myriad ways in which privilege plucked and slithered and winked its way through life?
“What donation?” John said, coloring. “You mean the ones he made every year?”
“It was for the crew team.”
“But did he make it out to Montvale? Or to”—and here John referenced the paper—“the Blunderbloot Association?”
“What’s the Blunderbloot Association?”
“The charity. The fake one, that was bribing college officials in return for their help admitting students.”
Mrs. Eastwick ran a hand over her face. She was very tired, and it seemed awfully rude of the paper to publish something like this, make her deal with something like this, so soon after her husband’s death. There were forty-nine other names on the list—couldn’t they have left off Mr. Eastwick’s?
“I’m confused,” Mrs. Eastwick said.
John, with much too much patience, slid the article over to her. “Parents gave money to this charity. The charity bribed school officials—coaches, admissions counselors, professors—to get the kids in. But Dad never donated to the charity, right? He donated to the school, every year. So why would he even need to do something like that?” John gave a short, nervous laugh.
“We donated to a lot of charities, darling. I can’t be sure—”
“It’s important, Mom. Can you look it up? Maybe we can call the journalist right away—our lawyer, too. Correct this as soon as possible.” Luckily, a few actresses from old sitcoms and a pop singer from a boy band with hits from the 80s were also in the group of fifty names, and thus far they, as the most recognizable faces, had received the majority of the press coverage. But that wouldn’t last forever, and besides, even now John’s father’s name was being maligned across the nation. All of his former associates, all of his friends, all of their family, would see it and assume that John Eastwick Sr. was guilty.
Mrs. Eastwick sighed and rose. She went to the family laptop, kept in the breakfast nook. She bit her lip and clicked away on the keyboard. “Tax returns, tax returns,” she murmured.
“Command ‘F’ to search,” John said, walking over to peer over her shoulder. Mrs. Eastwick did not like that. She felt a pit in her stomach, though of course her husband couldn’t have been caught up in some silly plot such as this. Of course he wouldn’t…not John…
“B-l-u-n-d,” John spelled.
Mrs. Eastwick typed. Then paused. Both mother and son leaned closer to the screen.
The donation was for $100,000. It was in the tax return from three years before, when John had been applying to colleges.