A Death in the Family
Chapter 1: Sunset Towers On the Fourth of July, a sixty-two-year-old delivery boy delivers letters to the future tenants of Sunset Towers. The apartment building is being rented by salesman Barney Northrup. Soon, Sunset Towers is occupied by the families Theodorakis, Wexler, Hoo, Ford, Baumbach and Pulaski. But one of them is a mistake: Barney Northrup rented an apartment to the wrong person.
Chapter 2: Ghosts or Worse It’s approaching Halloween. Delivery boy Otis Amber and doorman Sandy McSouthers scare the kids with a story about the Westing mansion across the road. Theo Theodorakis, Doug Hoo and Turtle Wexler listen as the two men tell them how a pair of kids went into the Westing house on Halloween for a bet. They came out screaming. One ran right off the cliff into the lake; the other ended up in the state asylum. Turtle immediately makes another Halloween bet — two dollars for every minute she stays in the Westing house. Meanwhile, Chris Theodorakis, Theo’s younger brother, spies on the group from the apartment. He sees smoke coming from the mansion’s chimney, and wonders if it has to do with the person he saw limping into the house while he was birdwatching. Chris later tries to tell his brother about it, but he is afflicted with a disorder that keeps him confined to a wheelchair, prone to seizures and a stammer that is difficult to understand.
Chapter 3: Tenants In and Out Angela Wexler is being fitted for her wedding dress by Flora Baumbach when she sees smoke rising from the Westing house chimney. When Turtle bursts in with the late news, her mother Grace tells her off for carrying stories and interrupting the wedding preparations. Angela is engaged to Denton Deere, a plastic surgery intern. Turtle stalks off while her mother dotes on Angela, her favorite. Their father Doctor Jake Wexler is cutting a corn from the toe of Ms. Crow, the cleaning woman. She sees the smoke from the Westing house and tells the podiatrist that Westing is roasting in Hell.
Mr. Hoo tells his son off for carrying ghost stories about Sam Westing when he should be studying. He thinks Doug the track star is a dumb jock. Mr. Hoo is angry about the lack of business for his Chinese restaurant, and even angrier that Westing seems to be back.
Judge J.J. Ford, the first black woman to be judge in the state of Wisconsin, arrives at her apartment. Sandy wants to gossip about the Westing house, but this puts the judge in a bad mood — she owes Westing money, and fears that one day he will demand her to repay the debt.
One person at Sunset Towers has not noticed the smoke rising from Westing’s chimney — Sydelle Pulaski, the secretary. In order to get attention, she limps with a pretend wasting disease and paints her crutches in outrageous patterns.
Chapter 4: The Corpse Found It’s Halloween night, and Turtle is determined to win the bet so that she can take out a subscription to the Wall Street Journal. However, Turtle runs out screaming after only twelve minutes --- she has found Sam Westing dead in his bedroom.
The next day, the article “Sam Westing Found Dead” appears in the newspaper. It contains the biography of an eccentric man: an immigrant who made a fortune with paper products; a patriot who dressed as Uncle Sam every Independence Day and set off fireworks; a father whose daughter drowned the eve of her wedding; a husband whose wife divorced him; a businessman who was crippled in a car accident on the way to a lawsuit; and a millionaire who disappeared for years until being found dead in his mansion.
That very day, Otis the delivery boy delivers sixteen letters to sixteen Westing heirs.
Chapter 5: Sixteen Heirs The heirs gather. Grace Wexler, who believes her obscure great-uncle Sam was Sam Westing, is surprised to see other people there who could not possibly be related to him. All the heirs, as well as the characters we haven’t yet met, assemble: the Wexler family, the Hoo family, Theo and Chris Theodorakis, Flora Baumbach, Angela’s fiancé Denton Deere, Otis Amber, Sandy McSouthers, Judge J.J. Ford, Crow and Sydelle Pulaski.