Home > The Testament(9)

The Testament(9)
Author: John Grisham

"About ninety thousand each."

"No problem. When can we take delivery?"

"I'll have to find them first. That should take a day or two. Cash?"

"Of course."

"When will you get the cash?"

"A month or so. But I want the cars now."

Dickie caught his breath and did a squirm. "Look, TJ, I can't turn loose two new cars without some type of payment."

"Fine. Then we'll look at Jaguars. Biff's always wanted a Jaguar."

"Come on, TJ."

"I could buy this entire dealership, you know. I could walk into any bank right now and ask for ten million or twenty million or whatever it would take to buy this place, and they would happily give it to me for sixty days. Do you understand that?"

Dickie's head rocked up and down, his eyes narrow. Yes, he understood. "How much did he leave you?"

"Enough to buy the bank too. Are you giving me the cars, or shall I go down the street?"

"Let me find them."

"Smart man," TJ said. "Hurry. I'll check back this afternoon. Get on the phone." He tossed the brochures on Dickie's desk, and strutted from the office.

RAMBLE'S IDEA of mourning was to spend the day locked in the basement den smoking pot, listening to rap, ignoring those who knocked or called. His mother granted him an absence from school because of the tragedy; in fact, she excused him for the rest of the week. If she'd had a clue, she would've known he hadn't been to school in a month.

Driving away from Phelan Tower yesterday, his lawyer had told him the money would go into a trust until he was either eighteen or twenty-one, depending on the terms of the will. And though he couldn't touch the money now, he was certainly entitled to a generous allowance.

He would form a band, and with his money they would make albums. He had friends in bands going nowhere because they couldn't afford to rent studio time, but his would be different. His band would be called Ramble, he decided, and he would play bass and sing lead and be chased by the girls. Alternative rock with strong rap influences, something new. Something he was already inventing.

Two floors up, in the study of their spacious home, Tira, his mother, spent the day on the phone chatting with friends who called with their halfhearted condolences. Most of the friends gossiped long enough to ask how much she might be getting from the estate, but she was afraid to guess. She had married Troy in 1982, at the age of twenty-three, and before doing so she signed a thick prenuptial which gave her only ten million and a house in the event of a divorce.

They had split six years earlier. She was down to her last two million.

Her needs were so great. Her friends had beach houses nestled in quiet coves in the Bahamas; she was relegated to luxury hotels. They bought their designer clothes in New York; she picked them up locally. Their children were away in boarding schools, out of the way; Ramble was in the basement and wouldn't come out.

Surely Troy had left her fifty million or so. One percent of his estate would be around a hundred million. One lousy percent. She did the math on a paper napkin as she talked on the phone to her lawyer.

GEENA PHELAN STRONG was thirty and surviving what had evolved into a tumultuous marriage with Cody, husband number two. His family was old money from up East, but so far the money had only been a rumor. She certainly hadn't seen any of it. Cody was beautifully educated-Taft and Dartmouth and an MBA from Columbia-and he considered himself a visionary in the world of commerce. No job could hold him. His talents could not be constricted by the walls of an office. His dreams would not be cramped by the orders and whims of bosses. Cody would be a billionaire, self-made of course, and probably the youngest in history.

But after six years together, Cody had yet to find his niche. In fact, his losses were staggering. There had been a bad gamble on copper futures in 1992 that had taken over a million of Geena's money. And two years later, he was scalded by naked options when the stock market dipped dramatically. Geena left him for four months, but returned after counseling. An idea for "Snow-Packed Chickens" turned sour, and Cody escaped with a loss of only a half a million.

They spent a lot. Their counselor recommended traveling as a means of therapy, so they'd seen the world. Being young and rich soothed many of their problems, but the money was drying up. The five million Troy gave her on her twenty-first birthday had shrunk to less than a million, and their debts were mounting. The pressure on their marriage had reached the breaking point when Troy leaped from his terrace.

And so they spent a busy morning looking for homes in Swinks Mill, the place of their grandest dreams. Their dreams grew as the day progressed, and by lunch they were making inquiries into homes worth over two million. At two they met an anxious real estate agent, a woman named Lee, with teased hair, gold rings, two cell phones, and a shiny Cadillac. Geena introduced herself as "Geena Phelan," with the last name pronounced heavy and uncheated. Evidently, Lee did not read financial publications because the name missed its mark, and well into the third showing Cody was forced to pull her aside and whisper the truth about his father-in-law.

"That rich guy who jumped?" Lee said, hand over mouth. Geena was inspecting a hallway closet with a small sauna tucked into it.

Cody nodded sadly.

By dusk they were looking at an empty home priced at four million five, and the prospective buyers were seriously considering making an offer. Lee rarely saw such wealthy clients, and they'd worked her into a frenzy.

REX, AGE FORTY-FOUR, brother to TJ, was, at the time of Troy's death, the only one of his children under criminal investigation. His troubles stemmed from a bank that failed, with various lawsuits and investigations spinning wildly from it. Bank examiners and the FBI had been making rather fierce inquiries for three years.

To fund his defense, and his expensive lifestyle, Rex had purchased from the estate of a man killed in a gunfight a string of topless bars and strip clubs in the Fort Lauderdale area. The skin business was lucrative; traffic was always good and cash was easy to skim. Without being overly greedy, he pocketed around twenty-four thousand a month in tax-free dollars, roughly four thousand from each of his six clubs.

The clubs were held in the name of Amber Rockwell, his wife and a former stripper he'd first noticed lurching on a bar one night. In fact, all of his assets were in her name, and this caused him no small amount of anxiety. With the addition of clothing and minus the makeup and kinky shoes, Amber passed herself off as respectable in their Washington circles. Few people knew her past. But she was a whore at heart, and the fact that she owned everything caused poor Rex many sleepless nights.

At the time of his father's death, Rex had lodged against him in excess of seven million dollars' worth of liens and judgments from creditors, business partners, and investors in the bank. And the total was growing. The judgments, though, remained unsatisfied because there was nothing for the creditors to attach. Rex was asset-free; he owned nothing, not even his car. He and Amber leased a condo and matching Corvettes, with all the paperwork in her name. The clubs and bars were owned by an offshore corporation organized by her without a trace of him. Rex so far had proved too slippery to catch.

The marriage was as stable as could be expected from two people with histories of instability; they partied a lot and had wild friends, clingers drawn to the Phelan name. Life was fun, in spite of the financial pressures. But Rex worried fanatically about Amber and her assets. A nasty argument, and she could vanish.

 

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