Home > The Testament(12)

The Testament(12)
Author: John Grisham

Hark was a litigator in a forty-lawyer firm, a second-tier outfit with a history of infighting and bickering which had hampered its growth, and he longed to open his own shop. Almost half of his annual billings went for the overhead; the way he figured it, the money belonged in his pocket.

At some point during the sleepless night, he'd made the decision to raise his rate to five hundred an hour, and to make it retroactive a week He'd worked on nothing but the Phelan matter for the past six days, and now that the old man was dead his crazy family was a lawyer's dream.

What Hark desperately wanted was a will contest-a long vicious fight with packs of lawyers filing tons of legal crap. A trial would be wonderful, a high-profile battle over one of the largest estates in America, with Hark in the center. Winning it would be nice, but winning wasn't crucial. He'd make a fortune, and he'd become famous, and that's what modern lawyering was all about.

At five hundred dollars an hour, sixty hours a week, fifty weeks a year, Hark's gross annual billings would be one and a half million. The overhead for a new office -  rent, secretaries, paralegals-would be half a million at most, and so Hark could clear a million bucks if he left his miserable firm and opened a new one down the street.

Done. He gulped coffee and mentally said good-bye to his cluttered office. He'd bolt with the Phelan file and maybe one or two others. He'd take his secretary and his paralegal, and he'd do it quickly, before the firm laid claim to any of the Phelan fees.

He sat at his desk, his pulse racing with the anticipation of his spanking new venture, and he thought of all the ways he could start a war with Josh Stafford. There was reason to worry. Stafford had been unwilling to reveal the contents of the new will. He had questioned its validity, in light of the suicide. Hark had been rattled by the change in Stafford's tone immediately after the suicide. Now, Stafford had left town and refused to return calls.

Oh, how he longed for a fight.

At nine, he met with Libbigail Phelan Jeter and Mary Ross Phelan Jackman, the two daughters from Troy's first marriage. Rex had arranged the meeting, at Hark's insistence. Though both women had lawyers at the moment, Hark wanted them as clients. More clients meant more clout at the bargaining table and in the courtroom, and it also meant he could bill each one of them five hundred an hour for the same work.

The meeting was awkward; neither woman trusted Hark because they didn't trust their brother Rex. TJ had three lawyers of his own, and their mother had another. Why should they join forces when no one else was doing so? With so much money at stake, shouldn't they keep their own lawyers?

Hark pressed but gained little ground. He was disappointed, but later charged ahead with plans to leave his firm immediately. He could smell the money.

LIBBIGAIL PHELAN JETER had been a rebellious child who disliked Lillian, her mother, and craved the attention of her father, who was seldom at home. She was nine when her parents divorced.

When she was fourteen, Lillian shipped her away to boarding school. Troy disapproved of boarding schools, as if he knew something about child-rearing, and throughout high school he made an uncharacteristic effort to keep in touch with her. He often told her she was his favorite. She was certainly the brightest.

But he missed her graduation and forgot to send a gift. In the summer before college, she dreamed of ways to hurt him. She fled to Berkeley, ostensibly to study medieval Irish poetry, but in fact she planned to study very little, if at all. Troy hated the idea of her attending college anywhere in California, especially on such a radical campus. Vietnam was ending. The students had won and it was time to celebrate.

She slipped easily into the culture of drugs and casual sex. She lived in a three-story house with a group of students of all races, sexes, and sexual preferences. The combinations changed weekly, as did the numbers. They called themselves a commune, but there was no structure or rules. Money was no problem because most came from wealthy families. Libbigail was known simply as a rich kid from Connecticut. At the time, Troy was worth only a hundred million or so.

With a sense of adventure, she moved along the drug chain until heroin seized her. Her supplier was a jazz drummer named Tino, who had somehow taken up residence in the commune. Tino was in his late thirties, a high school dropout from Memphis, and no one knew exactly how or when he became a member of their group. No one cared.

Libbigail cleaned herself up enough to travel East for her twenty-first birthday, a glorious day for all Phelan children because that was when the old man bestowed The Gift. Troy didn't behave in trusts for his children. If they weren't stable by the age of twenty-one, then why string them along? Trusts required trustees and lawyers and constant fights with the beneficiaries, who resented having their money doled out by accountants. Give them the money, Troy reasoned, let 'em sink or swim.

Most Phelans drowned quickly.

Troy skipped her birthday. He was somewhere in Asia on business. By then he was well into his second marriage, with Janie. Rocky and Geena were little kids, and he'd lost whatever interest he had in his first family.

Libbigail didn't miss him. The lawyers completed the arrangements for The Gift, and she laid up with Tino in a swanky Manhattan hotel for a week, stoned.

Her money lasted for almost five years, a stretch of time that included two husbands, numerous live-ins, two arrests, three lengthy lockdowns in detox units, and a car wreck that almost took her left leg.

Her current husband was an ex-biker she'd met in rehab. He weighed 320 pounds and had a gray frizzy beard that fell to his chest. He went by the name of Spike, and he had actually evolved into a decent sort. He built cabinets in a shop behind their modest home in the Baltimore suburb of Lutherville.

LIBBIGAIL'S LAWYER was a rumpled fellow named Wally Bright, and she went straight to his office after leaving Hark's. She made a full report of everything Hark had said. Wally was a small-timer who advertised quickie divorces on bus benches in the Bethesda area. He'd handled one of Libbigail's divorces and waited a year before he was paid for it. But he'd been patient with her. She was, after all, a Phelan. She would be his ticket to the fat fees he'd never quite been able to command.

In her presence, Wally called Hark Gettys and started a vicious phone fight that raged for fifteen minutes. He stomped around behind his desk, arms flailing, screaming obscenities into the phone. "I will kill for my client!" he raged at one point, and Libbigail was most impressed.

When he finished, he walked her gently to the door and kissed her on the cheek. He stroked her and patted her and fussed over her. He gave her the attention she had craved all her life. She was not a bad-looking woman; a bit heavy and showing the effects of a hard life, but Wally had seen much worse. Wally had slept with much worse. Given the right moment, Wally might make a move.

Chapter Eight

NATE'S LITTLE MOUNTAIN was covered with six inches of new snow when he was awakened by the stirring sounds of Chopin piped through his walls. Last week it had been Mozart. The week before, he couldn't remember. Vivaldi had been in his recent past, but so much of it was a haze.

As he had done every morning for almost four months, Nate walked to his window and gazed at the Shenandoah Valley spread before him, three thousand feet below. It too was covered with white, and he remembered that it was almost Christmas.

He would be out in time for Christmas. They-his doctors and Josh Stafford-had promised him that much. He thought about Christmas and became saddened by it. There had been some pleasant ones in the not too distant past, when the kids were small and life was stable. But the kids were gone now, either grown or taken away by their mothers, and the last thing Nate wanted was another Christmas in a bar with other miserable drunks singing carols and pretending all was merry.

 

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