Home > The Testament(4)

The Testament(4)
Author: John Grisham

Zadel carefully places his pen on the table, folds his hands thoughtfully, and looks at Stafford. "In my opinion, Mr. Phelan has sufficient testamentary capacity at this time to dispose of his assets." He pronounces this with great weight, as if my performance had them hanging in limbo.

The other two are quick to rush in. "I have no doubt as to the soundness of his mind," Flowe says to Stafford. "He seems incredibly sharp to me."

"No doubt?" Stafford asks.

"None whatsoever."

"Dr. Theishen?"

"Let's not kid ourselves. Mr. Phelan knows exactly what he's doing. His mind is much quicker than ours."

Oh, thank you. That means so much to me. You're a bunch of shrinks struggling to make a hundred thousand a year. I've made billions, yet you pat me on the head and tell me how smart I am.

"So it's unanimous?" Stafford says.

"Yes. Absolutely." They can't nod their heads fast enough.

Stafford slides the will to me and hands me a pen. I say, "This is the last will and testament of Troy L. Phelan, revoking all former wills and codicils." It's ninety pages long, prepared by Stafford and someone in his firm. I understand the concept, but the actual print eludes me. I haven't read it, nor shall I flip to the back, scrawl a name no one can read, then place my hands on top of it for the time being.

It'll never be seen by the vultures.

"Meeting's adjourned," Stafford says, and everyone quickly packs. Per my instructions, the three families are hurried from their respective rooms and asked to leave the building.

One camera remains focused on me, its images going nowhere but the archives. The lawyers and psychiatrists leave in a rush. I tell Snead to take a seat at the table. Stafford and one of his partners, Durban, remain in the room, also seated. When we are alone, I reach under the edge of my robe and produce an envelope, which I open. I remove from it three pages of yellow legal paper and place them before me on the table.

Only seconds away now, and a faint ripple of fear goes through me. This will take more strength than I've mustered in weeks.

Stafford, Durban, and Snead stare at the sheets of yellow paper, thoroughly bewildered.

"This is my testament," I announce, taking a pen. "A holographic will, every word written by me, just a few hours ago. Dated today, and now signed today." I scrawl my name again. Stafford is too stunned to react.

"It revokes all former wills, including the one I signed less than five minutes ago." I refold the papers and place them in the envelope.

I grit my teeth and remind myself of how badly I want to die.

I slide the envelope across the table to Stafford, and at the same instant I rise from my wheelchair. My legs are shaking. My heart is pounding. Just seconds now. Surely I'll be dead before I land.

"Hey!" someone shouts, Snead I think. But I'm moving away from them.

The lame man walks, almost runs, past the row of leather chairs, past one of my portraits, a bad one commissioned by a wife, past everything, to the sliding doors, which are unlocked. I know because I rehearsed this just hours ago.

"Stop!" someone yells, and they're moving behind me. No one has seen me walk in a year. I grab the handle and open the door. The air is bitterly cold. I step barefoot onto the narrow terrace which borders my top floor. Without looking below, I lunge over the railing.

Chapter Three

SNEAD WAS TWO STEPS behind Mr. Phelan, and thought for a second that he might catch him. The shock of seeing the old man not only rise and walk but also practically sprint to the door froze Snead. Mr. Phelan hadn't moved that fast in years.

Snead reached the railing just in time to scream in horror, then watched helplessly as Mr. Phelan fell silently, twisting and nailing and growing smaller and smaller until he struck the ground. Snead clenched the railing and stared in disbelief, then he began to cry.

Josh Stafford arrived on the terrace a step behind Snead, and witnessed most of the fall. It happened so quickly, at least the jump; the fall itself seemed to last for an hour. A man weighing a hundred and fifty pounds will drop three hundred feet in less than five seconds, but Stafford later told people the old man floated for an eternity, like a feather whirling in the wind.

Tip Durban got to the railing just behind Stafford, and saw only the body's impact on the brick patio between the front entrance and a circular drive. For some reason Durban held the envelope, which he had absently picked up during the rush to catch old Troy. It felt a lot heavier as he stood in the frigid air, looking down at a scene from a horror film, watching the first onlookers move up to the casualty.

TROY PHELAN'S DESCENT did not reach the level of high drama he had dreamed of. Instead of drifting to the earth like an angel, a perfect swan dive with the silk robe trailing behind, and landing in death before his terror-stricken families, who he'd imagined would be leaving the building at just the right moment, his fall was witnessed only by a lowly payroll clerk, hustling through the parking lot after a very long lunch in a bar. The clerk heard a voice, looked up at the top floor, and watched in horror as a pale naked body tumbled and flapped with what appeared to be a bedsheet gathered at the neck. It landed on its back, on brick, with the dull thud one would expect from such an impact.

The clerk ran to the spot just as a security guard noticed something wrong and bolted from his perch near the front entrance of Phelan Tower. Neither the clerk nor the guard had ever met Mr. Troy Phelan, so neither knew at first upon whose remains they were gazing. The body was bleeding, barefoot, twisted, and naked, and exposed with a sheet bunched at the arms. And it was quite dead.

Another thirty seconds, and Troy would have had his wish. Because they were stationed in a room on the fifth floor, Tira and Ramble and Dr. Theishen and their entourage of lawyers were the first to leave the building. And, therefore, the first to happen upon the suicide. Tira screamed, not from pain nor love nor loss, but from the sheer shock of seeing old Troy splattered on the brick. It was a wretched piercing scream that was heard clearly by Snead, Stafford, and Durban, fourteen floors up.

Ramble thought the scene was rather cool. A child of TV and an addict of video games, he found the gore a magnet. He moved away from his shrieking mother and knelt beside his dead father. The security guard placed a firm hand on his shoulder.

"That's Troy Phelan," one of the lawyers said as he hovered above the corpse.

"You don't say," said the guard.

"Wow," said the clerk.

More people ran from the building.

Janie, Geena, and Cody, with their shrink Dr. Flowe and their lawyers, were next. But there were no screams, no breakdowns. They stuck together in a tight bunch, well away from Tira and her group, and gawked like everyone else at poor Troy.

Radios crackled as another guard arrived and took control of the scene. He called for an ambulance.

"What good will that do?" asked the payroll clerk, who, by virtue of being the first on the scene, assumed a more important role in the aftermath.

"You want to take him away in your car?" asked the guard.

Ramble watched the blood fill in the mortar cracks and run in perfect angles down a gentle slope, toward a frozen fountain and a flagpole nearby.

In the atrium, a packed elevator stopped and opened and Lillian and the first family and their entourage emerged. Because TJ and Rex had once been allowed offices in the building, they had parked in the rear. The entire group turned left for an exit, then someone near the front of the building yelled, "Mr. Phelan's jumped!" They switched directions and raced through the front door, onto the brick patio near the fountain, where they found him.

 

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