Home > The Testament(6)

The Testament(6)
Author: John Grisham

They walked next door to Mr. Phelan's office, and found everything unlocked. The current secretary and everybody else who worked on the fourteenth floor were still on the ground.

They locked the door behind themselves, and hurriedly went through the desk drawers and file cabinets. Troy had expected them to. He would never have left his private spaces unlocked. He knew Josh would step in immediately. In the center drawer of his desk, they found a contract with a crematorium in Alexandria, dated five weeks earlier. Under it was a file on World Tribes Missions.

They gathered what they could carry, then found Snead and made him lock the office. "What's in the testament, that last one?" he asked. He was pale and his eyes were swollen. Mr. Phelan couldn't just die like that without leaving him something, some means to survive on. He'd been a loyal servant for thirty years.

"Can't say," Stafford said. "I'll be back tomorrow to inventory everything. Do not allow anyone in."

"Of course not," Snead whispered, then began weeping again.

Stafford and Durban spent half an hour with a cop on a routine call. They showed him where Troy went over the railing, gave him the names of witnesses, described with no detail the last letter and last will. It was a suicide, plain and simple. They promised a copy of the autopsy report, and the cop closed the case before he left the building.

They caught up with the corpse at the medical examiner's office, and made arrangements for the autopsy.

"Why an autopsy?" Durban asked in a whisper as they waited for paperwork.

"To prove there were no drugs, no alcohol. Nothing to impair his judgment. He thought of everything."

It was almost six before they made it to a bar in the Willard Hotel, near the White House, two blocks from their office. And it was only after a stiff drink that Stafford managed his first smile. "He thought of everything, didn't he?"

"He's a very cruel man," Durban said, deep in thought. The shock was wearing off, but the reality was settling in.

"He was, you mean."

"No. He's still here. Troy's still calling the shots."

"Can you imagine the money those fools will spend in the next month?"

"It seems a crime not to tell them."

"We can't. We have our orders."

FOR LAWYERS whose clients seldom spoke to each other, the meeting was a rare moment of cooperation. The largest ego in the room belonged to Hark Gettys, a brawling litigator who'd represented Rex Phelan for a number of years. Hark had insisted on the meeting not long after he returned to his office on Massachusetts Avenue. He had actually whispered an idea to the attorneys for TJ and Libbigail as they watched the old man being loaded into the ambulance.

It was such a good idea that the other lawyers couldn't argue. They arrived, along with Flowe, Zadel, and Theishen, at Gettys' office after five. A court reporter and two video cameras were waiting.

For obvious reasons, the suicide made them nervous. Each psychiatrist was taken separately, and quizzed at length about his observations of Mr. Phelan just before he jumped.

There was not a scintilla of doubt among the three that Mr. Phelan knew precisely what he was doing, that he was of sound mind, and had more than sufficient testamentary capacity. You don't have to be insane to commit suicide, they emphasized carefully.

When the lawyers, all thirteen of them, had extracted every opinion possible, Gettys broke up the meeting. It was almost 8 P.M.

Chapter Four

ACCORDING TO Forbes, Troy Phelan was the tenth richest man in America. His death was a newsworthy event; the manner he chose made it downright sensational.

Outside Lillian's mansion in Falls Church, a cluster of reporters waited on the street for a family spokesman to come forth. They filmed friends and neighbors as they came and went, tossing out banal questions about how the family was doing.

Inside, Phelan's four eldest children gathered with their spouses and their children to receive condolences. The mood was somber when the guests were present. When the guests were gone, the tone changed dramatically. The presence of Troy's grandchildren-eleven of them-forced TJ, Rex, Libbigail, and Mary Ross to at least try and suppress their festive feelings. It was difficult. Fine wine and champagne were served, lots of it. Old Troy wouldn't want them grieving, now would he? The older grandchildren drank more than their parents.

A TV set in the den was kept on CNN, and every half hour they would gather for the latest announcement of Troy's dramatic death. A financial correspondent pieced together a ten-minute segment on the vastness of the Phelan fortune, and everyone smiled.

Lillian kept a stiff upper lip and did a credible job of being the grieving widow. Tomorrow she would work on the arrangements.

Hark Gettys arrived around ten, and explained to the family that he had spoken to Josh Stafford. There would be no funeral, no service of any type; just an autopsy, a cremation, and a scattering of ashes. It was in writing, and Stafford was prepared to do battle in court to protect his client's wishes.

Lillian didn't give a damn what they did with Troy, nor did her children. But they had to protest and argue with Gettys. It just wasn't right to send him off with no service. Libbigail even managed a small tear and a breaking voice.

"I wouldn't fight this," Gettys advised gravely. "Mr. Phelan put it in writing just before his death, and the courts will honor his wishes."

They came around quickly. No sense wasting a lot of time and money on legal fees. No sense prolonging the grieving. Why make matters worse? Troy always got what he wanted anyway. And they had learned the hard way not to tangle with Josh Stafford.

"We will abide by his wishes," Lillian said, and the other four nodded sadly behind their mother.

There was no mention of the will and when they might actually see it, though the question was just below the surface. Best to be properly grim for a few more hours, then they could get down to business. Since there would be no wake, no funeral or service, perhaps they might meet as early as tomorrow and discuss the estate.

"Why the autopsy?" asked Rex.

"I have no idea," Gettys answered. "Stafford said it was in writing, but even he is not sure."

Gettys left and they drank some more. The guests stopped coming, so Lillian went to bed. Libbigail and Mary Ross left with their families. TJ and Rex went to the billiards room in the basement, where they locked the door and switched to whiskey. At midnight, they were slapping balls around the table, drunk as sailors, celebrating their fabulous new wealth.

AT 8 A.M., the day after the death of Mr. Phelan, Josh Stafford addressed the anxious directors of The Phelan Group. Two years earlier, Josh himself had been placed on the board by Mr. Phelan, but it was not a role he enjoyed.

For the past six years, The Phelan Group had operated quite profitably without much assistance from its founder. For some reason, probably depression, Troy had lost interest in the day-to-day managing of his empire. He became content to simply monitor the markets and the earnings reports.

The current CEO was Pat Solomon, a company man Troy had hired almost twenty years earlier. He was as nervous as the other seven when Stafford entered the room.

There was ample cause for anxiety. Within the company's culture there was a rich body of lore surrounding Troy's wives and his offspring. The vaguest hint that the ownership of The Phelan Group might somehow fall into the hands of those people would terrorize any board.

Josh began by stating Mr. Phelan's desires regarding burial. "There will be no funeral," he said somberly. "Frankly, there is no way to pay your last respects."

 

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