Home > The Testament(14)

The Testament(14)
Author: John Grisham

Josh nodded along because he was certainly expected to. But he'd been there before. "I believe you," he said, wanting to very badly.

The porter knocked and brought their coffee on a silver tray.

After a while, Nate asked, "What about the indictment? I'm not supposed to leave the country until it's wrapped up."

"I've talked to the Judge, told him it was pressing business. He wants to see you in ninety days."

"Is he nice?"

"He's Santa Claus."

"So if I'm convicted, do you think he'll give me a break?"

"That's a year away. Let's worry about it later."

Nate was sitting at a small table, hunched over his coffee, staring into the cup as he thought of questions. Josh was on the other side, still gazing into the distance.

"What if I say no?" Nate asked.

Josh shrugged as if it didn't matter. "No big deal. We'll find someone else. Think of it as a vacation. You're not afraid of the jungle, are you?"

"Of course not."

"Then go have some fan."

"When would I leave?"

"In a week. Brazil requires a visa, and we'll have to pull some strings. Plus there are some loose ends around here."

Walnut Hill required at least a week of PreRelease, a period of conditioning before it fed its clients back to the wolves. They had been pampered, sobered, brainwashed, and nudged into emotional, mental, and physical shape. PreRelease braced them for the reentry.

"A week," Nate repeated to himself.

"About a week, yes."

"And it'll take ten days."

"I'm just guessing."

"So I'll be down there during the holidays."

"I guess it looks that way."

"That's a great idea."

"You want to skip Christmas?"

"Yes."

"What about your kids?"

There were four of them, two by each wife. One in grad school and one in college, two in middle school.

He stirred his coffee with a small spoon, and said, "Not a word, Josh. Almost four months here, and not a word from any of them." His voice ached and his shoulders sagged. He looked quite frail, for a second.

"I'm sorry," Josh said.

Josh had certainly heard from the families. Both wives had lawyers who'd called to sniff around for money. Nate's oldest child was a grad student at Northwestern who needed tuition money, and he personally had called Josh to inquire not about his father's well-being or whereabouts but, more important, his father's share of the firm's profits last year. He was cocky and rude, and Josh had finally cursed him.

"I'd like to avoid all the parties and holiday cheer," Nate said, rallying as he got to his bare feet and walked around the room.

"So you'll go?"

"Is it the Amazon?"

"No. It's the Pantanal, the largest wetlands in the world."

"Piranhas, anacondas, alligators?"

"Sure."

"Cannibals?"

"No more than D.C."

"Seriously."

"I don't think so. They haven't lost a missionary in eleven years."

"What about a lawyer?"

"I'm sure they would enjoy filleting one. Come on, Nate. This is not heavy lifting. If I weren't so busy, I'd love to go. The Pantanal is a great ecological reserve."

"I've never heard of it."

"That's because you stopped traveling years ago. You went into your office and didn't come out."

"Except for rehab."

"Take a vacation. See another part of the world."

Nate sipped coffee long enough to redirect the conversation. "And what happens when I get back? Do I have my office? Am I still a partner?"

"Is that what you want?"

"Of course," Nate said, but with a slight hesitation.

"Are you sure?"

"What else would I do?"

"I don't know, Nate, but this is your fourth rehab in ten years. The crashes are getting worse. If you walked out now, you'd go straight to the office and be the world's greatest malpractice litigator for six months. You'd ignore the old friends, the old bars, the old neighborhoods. Nothing but work, work, work. Before long you'd have a couple of big verdicts, big trials, big pressure. You'd step it up a notch. After a year, there would be a crack somewhere. An old friend might find you. A girl from another life. Maybe a bad jury gives you a bad verdict. I'd be watching every move, but I can never tell when the slide begins."

"No more slides, Josh. I swear."

"I've heard it before, and I want to believe you. But what if your demons come out again, Nate? You came within minutes of killing yourself last time."

"No more crashes."

"The next one will be the last, Nate. We'll have a funeral and say good-bye and watch them lower you into the ground. I don't want that to happen."

"It won't, I swear."

"Then forget about the office. There's too much pressure there."

The thing Nate hated about rehab was the long periods of silence, or meditation, as Sergio called them. The patients were expected to squat like monks in the semi-darkness, close their eyes, and find inner peace. Nate could do the squatting and all that, but behind the closed eyes he was retrying lawsuits, and fighting the IRS, and plotting against his ex-wives, and, most important, worrying about the future. This conversation with Josh was one he'd played out many times.

But his smart retorts and quick comebacks failed him under pressure. Almost four months of virtual solitude had dulled his reflexes. He could manage to look pitiful, and that was all. "Come on, Josh. You can't just kick me out."

"You've litigated for over twenty years, Nate. That's about average. It's time to move on to something else."

"So I'll become a lobbyist, and do lunch with the press secretaries for a thousand little congressmen."

"We'll find a place for you. But it won't be in the courtroom."

"I'm not good at doing lunch. I want to litigate."

"The answer is no. You can stay with the firm, make a lot of money, stay healthy, take up golf, and life will be good, assuming the IRS doesn't send you away."

For a few pleasant moments the IRS had been forgotten. Now it was back, and Nate sat down again. He squeezed a small pack of honey into his lukewarm coffee; sugar and artificial sweeteners couldn't be allowed in a place as healthy as Walnut Hill.

"A couple of weeks in the Brazilian wetlands is beginning to sound good," he said.

"So you'll go?"

"Yes."

SINCE NATE HAD plenty of time to read, Josh left him a thick file on the Phelan estate and its mysterious new heir. And there were two books on remote Indians of South America.

Nate read nonstop for eight hours, even neglecting dinner. He was suddenly anxious to leave, to begin his adventure. When Sergio checked on him at ten, he was sitting like a monk in the middle of his bed, papers sprawled around him, lost in another world.

"It's time for me to leave," Nate said.

"Yes, it is," Sergio replied. "I'll start the paperwork tomorrow."

Chapter Nine

THE INFIGHTING grew worse as the Phelan heirs I spent less time talking to each other and more time in their lawyers' offices. A week passed with no will, and no plans to probate. With their fortunes within sight but just out of reach, the heirs became even more agitated. Several lawyers were fired, with more brought in to replace them.

Mary Ross Phelan Jackman fired hers because he wasn't charging enough per hour. Her husband was a successful orthopedic surgeon with lots of business interests. He dealt with lawyers every day. Their new one was a fireball named Grit, who made a noisy entrance into the fray at six hundred dollars per hour.

 

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