Home > The Testament(15)

The Testament(15)
Author: John Grisham

While the heirs waited, they also incurred massive debt. Contracts were signed for mansions. New cars were delivered. Consultants were hired to do such varied things as design pool houses, locate just the right private jet, and give advice on which thoroughbred to purchase. If the heirs weren't fighting, then they were shopping. Ramble was the exception, but only because he was a minor. He hung out with his lawyer, who was certainly incurring debt on behalf of his client.

Snowball litigation is often commenced with a race to the courthouse. With Josh Stafford refusing to reveal the will, and at the same time dropping mysterious hints about Troy's lack of testamentary capacity, the lawyers for the Phelan heirs finally panicked.

Ten days after the suicide, Hark Gettys went to the Circuit Court of Fairfax County, Virginia, and filed a Petition to Compel the Last Will and Testament of Troy L. Phelan. With all the finesse of an ambitious lawyer to be reckoned with, he tipped a reporter from the Post. They chatted for an hour after the filing, some comments off the record, others offered for the glory of the lawyer. A photographer took some pictures.

Oddly, Hark filed his petition on behalf of all Phelan heirs. And he listed their names and addresses as if they were his clients. He faxed them copies when he returned to his office. Within minutes his phone lines were burning.

The Post's story the next morning was complemented by a large photo of Hark frowning and rubbing his beard. The story covered even more space than he'd dreamed of. He read it at sunrise in a coffee shop in Chevy Chase, then hurriedly drove to his new office.

A couple of hours later, just after nine, the circuit court clerk's office in Fairfax County was crawling with lawyers, more so than normal. They arrived in tight little packs, spoke in terse sentences to the clerks, and worked hard at ignoring each other. Their petitions were varied but they all wanted the same things-recognition in the Phelan matter, and a look at the will.

Probate matters in Fairfax County were randomly assigned to one of a dozen judges. The Phelan matter landed on the desk of the Honorable F. Parr Wycliff, age thirty-six, a jurist with little experience but lots of ambition. He was thrilled to get such a high-profile case.

Wycliff s office was in the Fairfax County Courthouse, and throughout the morning he monitored the filings in the clerk's office. His secretary hauled in the petitions, and he read them immediately.

When the dust settled below him, he called Josh Stafford to introduce himself. They chatted politely for a few minutes, the usual lawyerly preliminaries, stiff and cautious because weightier matters were coming. Josh had never heard of Judge Wycliff.

"Is there a will?" Wycliff finally asked.

"Yes, Your Honor. There is a will." Josh chose his words carefully. It was a felony in Virginia to hide a will. If the Judge wanted to know, then Josh would certainly cooperate.

"Where is it?"

"Here in my office."

"Who is the executor?"


"When do you plan to probate it?"

"My client asked me to wait until January fifteenth."

"Hmmmm. Any particular reason?"

There was a simple reason. Troy wanted his greedy children to enjoy one last spending spree before he jerked the rug from under them. It was mean and cruel, vintage Troy.

"I have no idea," Josh said. "The will is holographic. Mr. Phelan signed it just seconds before he jumped."

"A holographic will?"


"Weren't you with him?"

"Yes. It's a long story."

"Perhaps I should hear it."

"Perhaps you should."

Josh had a busy day. Wycliff did not, but he made it sound as though every minute were planned. They agreed to meet for lunch, a quick sandwich in Wycliff's office.

SERGIO DID NOT LIKE the idea of Nate's trip to South America. After almost four months in a highly structured place like Walnut Hill, where the doors and gates were locked and an unseen guard with a gun watched the road a mile down the mountain, and where TV, movies, games, magazines, and phones were heavily monitored, the reentry into a familiar society was often traumatizing. The notion of a reentry by way of Brazil was more than troubling.

Nate didn't care. He was not at Walnut Hill by court order. Josh had put him there, and if Josh asked him to play hide-and-seek in the jungles, so be it. Sergio could bitch and moan all he wanted.

PreRelease turned into a week from hell. The diet changed from no-fat to low-fat, with such inevitable ingredients as salt, pepper, cheese, and a little butter added to prepare his system for the evils out there. Nate's stomach rebelled, and he lost three more pounds.

"Just an inkling of what's waiting for you down there," Sergio said smugly.

They fought during therapy, which was common at Walnut Hill. Skin had to be thickened, edges sharpened. Sergio began to distance himself from his patient. It was usually difficult to say good-bye, and Sergio shortened the sessions and became aloof.

With the end in sight, Nate began counting the hours.

JUDGE WYCLIFF inquired as to the contents of the will, and Josh politely declined to tell him. They were eating deli sandwiches at a small table in His Honor's small office. The law did not require Josh to reveal what was in the will, at least not now. And Wycliff was slightly out of bounds to ask, but his curiosity was understandable.

"I'm somewhat sympathetic to the petitioners," he said. "They have a right to know what's in the will. Why delay it?"

"I'm just following my client's wishes," Josh replied.

"You have to probate the will sooner or later."

"Of course."

Wycliff slid his appointment book up to his plastic plate, and gazed down with a squint over his reading glasses. "Today is December twentieth. There's no way to assemble everyone before Christmas. How does the twenty-seventh look to you?"

"What do you have in mind?"

"A reading of the will."

The idea struck Josh, and he almost choked on a dill spear. Gather them all together, the Phelans and their entourages and new friends and hangers-on, and all their merry lawyers, and pack them into Wycliff's courtroom. Make sure the press knows about it. As he crunched on another bite of pickle, and looked at his little black book, he worked hard to suppress a grin. He could hear the gasps and groans, the shockwaves, the utter, bitter disbelief, then the muted cursing. Then, perhaps a sniffle and maybe a sob or two as the Phelans tried to absorb what their beloved father had done to them.

It would be a vicious, glorious, thoroughly unique moment in the history of American law, and Josh suddenly couldn't wait. "The twenty-seventh is fine with me," he said.

"Good. I'll notify the parties as soon as I can identify all of them. There are lots of lawyers."

"It helps if you remember that there are six kids and three ex-wives, so there are nine principal sets of lawyers."

"I hope my courtroom is big enough."

Standing room only, Josh almost said. People packed together, with not a sound as the envelope is opened, the will unfolded, the unbelievable words read. "I suggest you read the will," Josh said.

Wycliff certainly intended to. He was seeing the same scene as Josh. It would be one of his finest moments, reading a will that disposed of eleven billion dollars.

"I assume the will is somewhat controversial," the Judge said.

"It's wicked."

His Honor actually smiled.

Chapter Ten

BEFORE HIS most recent crash, Nate had lived in an aging condo in Georgetown, one he'd leased after his last divorce. But it was gone now, a victim of the bankruptcy. So, literally, there was no place for Nate to spend his first night of freedom.

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