Home > The Testament(2)

The Testament(2)
Author: John Grisham

Lillian's first daughter, my oldest, is Libbigail, a child I loved desperately until she left for college and forgot about me. Then she married an African and I erased her name from my wills.

Mary Ross was the last child born to Lillian. She's married to a doctor who aspires to be super-rich, but they are heavily in debt.

Janie and the second family wait in a room on the tenth floor. Janie has had two husbands since our divorce many years ago. I'm almost certain she is living alone at the moment. I hire investigators to keep me posted, but not even the FBI could keep track of her bed-hopping. As I mentioned, Rocky, her son, was killed. Her daughter Geena is here with her second husband, a moron with an MBA who is just dangerous enough to take a half a billion or so and masterfully lose it in three years.

And then there's Ramble, slouching in a chair on the fifth floor, licking the gold ring in the corner of his lip, fingering his sticky green hair, scowling at his mother, who had the gall to appear here today with a hairy little gigolo. Ramble expects to get rich today, to be handed a fortune simply because he was sired by me. And Ramble has a lawyer too, a hippie radical sort Tira saw on television and hired right after she laid him. They're waiting, along with the rest.

I know these people. I watch them.

SNEAD APPEARS from the rear of my apartment. He's been my gofer for almost thirty years now, a round homely little man in a white waistcoat, meek and humble, perpetually bent at the waist as if bowing to the king. Snead stops before me, hands clasped at the belly, as always, head cocked to one side, drippy smile, and says, "How are you, sir?" in an affected lilt he acquired years back when we were staying in Ireland.

I say nothing, because I'm neither required nor expected to respond to Snead.

"Some coffee, sir?"

"Lunch."

Snead winks with both eyes and bows even deeper, then waddles from the room, his trouser cuffs dragging the floor. He too expects to be made rich when I die, and I suppose he's counting the days like the rest of them.

The trouble with having money is that everybody wants a little of it. Just a slice, a small sliver. What's a million dollars to a man with billions? Give me a million, old boy, and you'll never know the difference. Float me a loan, and we'll both forget about it. Wedge my name in the will somewhere; there's room for it.

Snead's nosy as hell and years ago I caught him picking through my desk, looking, I think, for the current will. He wants me to die because he expects a few million.

What right does he have to expect anything? I should've fired him years ago.

His name is not mentioned in my new will.

He sets a tray before me: an unopened tube of Ritz crackers, a small jar of honey with the plastic seal around the lid, and a twelve-ounce can of Fresca, room temperature. Any variation and Snead would be fired on the spot.

I dismiss him, and dip the crackers in the honey. The final meal.

Chapter Two

I SIT AND STARE through the tinted glass walls. On a clear day, I can see the top of the Washington Monument six miles away, but not today. Today is raw and cold, windy and overcast, not a bad day to die. The wind blows the last of the leaves from their branches and scatters them through the parking lot below.

Why I am worried about the pain? What's wrong with a little suffering? I've caused more misery than any ten people.

I push a button and Snead appears. He bows and pushes my wheelchair through the door of my apartment, into the marble foyer, down the marble hall, through another door. We're getting closer, but I feel no anxiety.

I've kept the shrinks waiting for over two hours.

We pass my office and I nod at Nicolette, my latest secretary, a darling young thing I'm quite fond of. Given some time, she might become number four.

But there is no time. Only minutes.

A mob is waiting-packs of lawyers and some psychiatrists who'll determine if I'm in my right mind. They are crowded around a long table in my conference room, and when I enter, their conversation stops immediately and everybody stares. Snead situates me on one side of the table, next to my lawyer, Stafford.

There are cameras pointing in all directions, and the technicians scramble to get them focused. Every whisper, every move, every breath will be recorded because a fortune is at stake.

The last will I signed gave little to my children. Josh Stafford prepared it, as always. I shredded it this morning.

I'm sitting here to prove to the world that I am of sufficient mental capacity to make a new will. Once it is proved, the disposition of my assets cannot be questioned.

Directly across from me are three shrinks-one hired by each family. On folded index cards before them someone has printed their names-Dr. Zadel, Dr. Flowe, Dr. Theishen. I study their eyes and faces. Since I am supposed to appear sane, I must make eye contact.

They expect me to be somewhat loony, but I'm about to eat them for lunch.

Stafford will run the show. When everyone is settled and the cameras are ready, he says, "My name is Josh Stafford, and I'm the attorney for Mr. Troy Phelan, seated here to my right."

I take on the shrinks, one at a time, eye to eye, glare to glare, until each blinks or looks away. All three wear dark suits. Zadel and Flowe have scraggly beards. Theishen has a bow tie and looks no more than thirty.

The families were given the right to hire anyone they wanted.

Stafford is talking. "The purpose of this meeting is to have Mr. Phelan examined by a panel of psychiatrists to determine his testamentary capacity. Assuming the panel finds him to be of sound mind, then he intends to sign a will which will dispose of his assets upon his death."

Stafford taps his pencil on a one-inch-thick will lying before us. I'm sure the cameras zoom in for a close-up, and I'm sure the very sight of the document sends shivers up and down the spines of my children and their mothers scattered throughout my building.

They haven't seen the will, nor do they have the right to. A will is a private document revealed only after death. The heirs can only speculate as to what it might contain. My heirs have received hints, little lies I've carefully planted.

They've been led to believe that the bulk of my estate will somehow be divided fairly among the children, with generous gifts to the ex-wives. They know this; they can feel it. They've been praying fervently for this for weeks, even months. This is life and death for them because they're all in debt. The will lying before me is supposed to make them rich and stop the bickering. Stafford prepared it, and in conversations with their lawyers he has, with my permission, painted in broad strokes the supposed contents of the will. Each child will receive something in the range of three hundred to five hundred million, with another fifty million going to each of the three ex-wives. These women were well provided for in the divorces, but that, of course, has been forgotten.

Total gifts to the families of approximately three billion dollars. After the government rakes off several billion the rest will go to charity.

So you can see why they're here, shined, groomed, sober (for the most part), and eagerly watching the monitors and waiting and hoping that I, the old man, can pull this off. I'm sure they've told their shrinks, "Don't be too hard on the old boy. We want him sane."

If everyone is so happy, then why bother with this psychiatric examination? Because I'm gonna screw 'em one last time, and I want to do it right.

The shrinks are my idea, but my children and their lawyers are too slow to realize it.

Zadel goes first. "Air. Phelan, can you tell us the date, time, and place?"

I feel like a first-grader. I drop my chin to my chest like an imbecile and ponder the question long enough to make them ease to the edge of their seats and whisper, "Come on, you crazy old bastard. Surely you know what day it is."

 

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