Home > The Testament(7)

The Testament(7)
Author: John Grisham

They absorbed this without comment. With the passing of a normal person, such non-arrangements would seem bizarre. But with Troy, it was difficult to be surprised.

"Who will own the company?" Solomon asked.

"I can't say now," Stafford said, well aware of how evasive and unsatisfactory his answer was. "Troy signed a will moments before he jumped, and he instructed me to keep it private for a period of time. I cannot, under any circumstances, divulge its contents. At least, not for now."

"When?"

"Soon. But not now."

"So it's business as usual?"

"Exactly. This board remains intact; everybody keeps his job. The company does tomorrow what it did last week."

This sounded fine, but no one believed it. Ownership of the company was about to change hands. Troy had never believed in sharing stock in The Phelan Group. He paid his people well, but he did not buy into the trend of allowing them to own a piece of the company. About 3 percent of the stock was held by a few of his favored employees.

They spent an hour haggling over the wording of a press release, then adjourned for a month.

Stafford met Tip Durban in the lobby, and together they drove to the medical examiner's office in McLean. The autopsy was finished.

The cause of death was obvious. There was no trace of alcohol or drugs of any kind.

And there was no tumor. No sign of cancer. Troy was in good physical health at the time of his death, though slightly malnourished.

TIP BROKE THE SILENCE as they were crossing the Potomac, on the Roosevelt Bridge. "Did he tell you he had a brain tumor?"

"Yes. Several times." Stafford drove, though he was oblivious to roads, bridges, streets, cars. How many more surprises did Troy have?

"Why did he lie?"

"Who knows? You're trying to analyze a man who just jumped from a building. The brain tumor made everything urgent. Everybody, including me, thought he was dying. The wackiness made the panel of shrinks seem like a great idea. He set the trap, they rushed in, and now their own psychiatrists are swearing that Troy was perfectly sound. Plus, he wanted sympathy."

"But he was crazy, wasn't he? He did, after all, take a leap."

"Troy was weird in a lot of ways, but he knew exactly what he was doing."

"Why did he jump?"

"Depression. He was a very lonely old man."

They were on Constitution Avenue, sitting in heavy traffic, both staring at the taillights in front of them and trying to think it through.

"It seems fraudulent," Durban said. "He lures them in with the promise of money; he satisfies their psychiatrists, then at the last second he signs a will that completely guts them."

"It was fraudulent, but this is a will, not a contract. A will is a gift. Under Virginia law, a person is not required to leave a dime to his children."

"But they'll attack, won't they?"

"Probably. They have lots of lawyers. There's too much money at stake."

"Why did he hate them so much?"

"He thought they were leeches. They embarrassed him. They fought with him. They never earned an honest dime and went through many of his millions. Troy never planned to leave them anything. He figured that if they could squander millions, then they could waste billions as well. And he was right."

"How much of the family fighting was his fault?"

"A lot. Troy was a hard man to love. He told me once that he'd been a bad father and a terrible husband. He couldn't keep his hands off women, especially ones who worked for him. He thought he owned them."

"I remember some claims for sexual harassment."

"We settled them quietly. And for big bucks. Troy didn't want the embarrassment."

"Any chance of more unknown heirs out there?"

"I doubt it. But what do I know? I never dreamed he had another heir, and the idea of leaving her everything is something I cannot comprehend. Troy and I spent hours talking about his estate and how to divide it."

"How do we find her?"

"I don't know. I haven't thought about her yet."

THE STAFFORD LAW FIRM was in a frenzy when Josh returned. By Washington standards, it was considered small-sixty lawyers. Josh was the founder and principal partner. Tip Durban and four others were called partners, which meant Josh listened to them occasionally and shared some of the profits. For thirty years it had been a rough-and-tumble litigation firm, but as Josh approached sixty he spent less time in the courtroom and more time behind his cluttered desk. He could've had a hundred lawyers if he wanted ex-Senators, lobbyists, and regulatory analysts, the usual D.C. lineup. But Josh loved trials and courtrooms, and he hired only young associates who had tried at least ten jury cases.

The average career of a litigator is twenty-five years. The first heart attack usually slows them down enough to delay a second. Josh had avoided burnout by tending to Mr. Phelan's maze of legal needs-securities, antitrust, employment, mergers, and dozens of personal matters.

Three sets of associates waited in the reception room of his large office. Two secretaries shoved memos and phone messages in his direction as he removed his overcoat and settled behind his desk. "Which is most urgent?" he asked.

"This, I think," answered a secretary.

It was from Hark Gettys, a man Josh had talked to at least three times a week for the past month. He dialed the number and Hark was immediately on the line. They quickly went through the pleasantries, and Hark got right to the point.

"Listen, Josh, you can imagine how the family is breathing down my neck."

"I'm sure."

"They want to see the damned will, Josh. Or at least they want to know what's in it."

The next few sentences would be crucial, and Josh had plotted them carefully. "Not so fast, Hark."

A very slight pause, then, "Why? Is something the matter?"

"The suicide bothers me."

"What! What do you mean?"

"Look, Hark, how can a man be of sound mind seconds before he jumps to his death?"

Hark's edgy voice rose an octave, and the words carried even more anxiety. "But you heard our psychiatrists. Hell, they're on tape."

"Are they sticking by their opinions, in light of the suicide?"

"Damned right they are!"

"Can you prove this? I'm looking for help here, Hark."

"Josh, last night we examined our three shrinks again. We drilled them, and they're sticking like glue. Each signed an affidavit eight pages long swearing to the sound mental capacity of Mr. Phelan."

"Can I see the affidavits?"

"I'll courier them over right now."

"Please do." Josh hung up and smiled to no one in particular. The associates were marched in, three sets of bright and fearless young lawyers. They sat around a mahogany table in one corner of the office.

Josh began by summarizing the contents of Troy's handwritten will, and the legal problems it was likely to create. To the first team he assigned the weighty issue of testamentary capacity. Josh was concerned about time, the gap between lucidity and insanity. He wanted an analysis of every case even remotely involving the signing of a will by a person considered crazy.

The second team was dispatched to research holographic wills; specifically, the best ways to attack and defend them.

When he was alone with the third team, he relaxed and sat down. They were the lucky ones, because they would not spend the next three days in the library. "You have to find a person who, I suspect, does not want to be found."

 

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