Home > The Testament(13)

The Testament(13)
Author: John Grisham

The valley was white and still, a few cars moving like ants far away.

He was supposed to meditate for ten minutes, either in prayer or with the yoga they'd tried to teach him at Walnut Hill. Instead he did sit-ups, then went for a swim.

Breakfast was black coffee and a muffin, which he took with Sergio, his counselor/therapist/guru. And for the past four months, Sergio had also been his best friend. He knew everything about the miserable life of Nate O'Riley.

"You have a guest today," Sergio said.

"Who?"

"Mr. Stafford."

"Wonderful."

Any contact with the outside was welcome, primarily because it was so restricted. Josh had visited once a month. Two other friends from the firm had made the three-hour drive from D.C., but they were busy and Nate understood.

Television was prohibited at Walnut Hill because of the beer ads and because so many of the shows and movies glorified drinking, even drugs. Most popular magazines were kept away for the same reasons. It didn't matter to Nate. After four months, he didn't care what was happening at the Capitol or on Wall Street or in the Middle East.

"When?" he asked.

"Late morning."

"After my workout?"

"Of course."

Nothing interfered with the workout, a two-hour orgy of sweat and grunting and yelling with a sadistic personal trainer, a sharply toned female Nate secretly adored.

He was resting in his suite, eating a blood orange and watching the valley again, when Josh arrived.

"You look great," Josh said. "How much weight have you lost?"

"Fourteen pounds," Nate said, patting his flat stomach.

"Very lean. Maybe I should spend some time here."

"I highly recommend it. The food is completely fat-free, taste-free, prepared by a chef with an accent. The portions cover half a saucer, couple of bites and you're done. Lunch and dinner take about seven minutes if you chew slowly."

"For a thousand bucks a day you expect great food."

"Did you bring me some cookies or something, Josh? Some Chips Ahoy or Oreos? Surely you hid something in your briefcase."

"Sorry, Nate. I'm clean."

"Some Doritos or MM's?"

"Sorry."

Nate took a bite of his orange. They were sitting next to each other, enjoying the view. Minutes passed.

"How you doing?" Josh asked.

"I need to get out of here, Josh. I'm becoming a robot."

"Your doc says another week or so."

"Great. Then what?"

"We'll see."

"What does that mean?"

"It means we'll see."

"Come on, Josh."

"We'll take our time, and see what happens."

"Can I come back to the firm, Josh? Talk to me."

"Not so fast, Nate. You have enemies."

"Who doesn't? But hell, it's your firm. Those guys will go along with whatever you say."

"You have a couple of problems."

"I have a thousand problems. But you can't kick me out."

"The bankruptcy we can work through. The indictment is not so easy."

No, it was not so easy, and Nate couldn't simply dismiss it. From 1992 to 1995, he had failed to report about sixty thousand dollars in other income.

He tossed the orange peel in a wastebasket, and said, "So what am I supposed to do? Sit around the house all day?"

"If you're lucky."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Josh had to be delicate. His friend was emerging from a black hole. Shocks and surprises had to be avoided.

"Do you think I'm going to prison?" Nate asked.

"Troy Phelan died," Josh said, and it took Nate a second to change course.

"Oh, Mr. Phelan," he said.

Nate had had his own little wing in the firm. It was at the end of a long hallway, on the sixth floor, and he and another lawyer and three paralegals and a half-dozen secretaries worked on suing doctors and cared little about the rest of the firm. He certainly knew who Troy Phelan was, but he'd never touched his legal work. "I'm sorry," he said.

"So you haven't heard?"

"I hear nothing here. When did he die?"

"Four days ago. Jumped from a window."

"Without a parachute?"

"Bingo."

"Couldn't fly."

"No. He didn't try. I saw it happen. He had just signed two wills-the first prepared by me; the second, and last, handwritten by himself. Then he bolted and jumped."

"You saw it?"

"Yes."

"Wow. Musta been a crazy bastard."

There was a trace of humor in Mate's voice. Nearly four months earlier, he'd been found by a maid in a motel room, his stomach full of pills and rum.

"He left everything to an illegitimate daughter I'd never heard of."

"Is she married? What does she look like?"

"I want you to go find her."

"Me?"

"Yes."

"She's lost?"

"We don't know where she is."

"How much did he-"

"Somewhere around eleven billion, before taxes."

"Does she know it?"

"No. She doesn't even know he's dead."

"Does she know Troy's her father?"

"I don't know what she knows."

"Where is she?"

"Brazil, we think. She's a missionary working with a remote tribe of Indians."

Nate stood and walked around the room. "I spent a week there once," he said. "I was in college, or maybe law school. It was Carnaval, naked girls dancing in the streets of Rio, the samba bands, a million people partying all night." His voice trailed away as the nice little memory surfaced and quickly faded.

"This is not Carnaval."

"No. I'm sure it's not. Would you like some coffee?"

"Yes. Black."

Nate pressed a button on the wall and announced his order into the intercom. A thousand bucks a day also covered room service.

"How long will I be gone?" he asked, sitting again by the window.

"It's a wild guess, but I'd say ten days. There's no hurry, and she might be hard to find."

"What part of the country?"

"Western, near Bolivia. This outfit she works for specializes in sending its people into the jungles, where they minister to Indians from the Stone Age. We've done some research, and they seem to take pride in finding the most remote people on the face of the earth."

"You want me to first find the right jungle, then hike into it in search of the right tribe of Indians, then somehow convince them that I'm a friendly lawyer from the States and they should help me find a woman who probably doesn't want to be found to begin with."

"Something like that."

"Might be fun."

"Think of it as an adventure."

"Plus, it'll keep me out of the office, right, Josh? Is that it? A diversion while you sort things out."

"Someone has to go, Nate. A lawyer from our firm has to meet this woman face to face, show her a copy of the will, explain it to her, and find out what she wants to do next. It cannot be done by a paralegal or a Brazilian lawyer."

"Why me?"

"Because everybody else is busy. You know the routine. You've lived it for more than twenty years. Life at the office, lunch at the courthouse, sleep on the train. Plus, it might be good for you."

"Are you trying to keep me away from the streets, Josh? Because if you are, then you're wasting your time. I'm clean. Clean and sober. No more bars, no more parties, no more dealers. I'm clean, Josh. Forever."

 

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