Excerpt of The Testament by John Grisham
(Page 3 of 5)
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He met Joshua Stafford, a rising D.C. lawyer, in the midst of a nasty lawsuit that Troy lost and Stafford won. Troy admired his style and tenacity, and so he hired him. In the past decade, Stafford had doubled the size of his firm and become rich with the money he earned fighting Troy's battles.
In the last years of his life, no one had been closer to Mr. Phelan than Josh Stafford. He and Durban returned to the conference room on the fourteenth floor and locked the door. Snead was sent away with instructions to lie down.
With the camera running, Stafford opened the envelope and removed the three sheets of yellow paper. The first sheet was a letter to him from Troy. He spoke to the camera: "This letter is dated today, Monday, December 9, 1996. It is handwritten, addressed to me, from Troy Phelan. It has five paragraphs. I will read it in full:
"'Dear Josh: I am dead now. These are my instructions, and I want you to follow them closely. Use litigation if you have to, but I want my wishes carried out.
"'First, I want a quick autopsy, for reasons that will become important later.
"'Second, there will be no funeral, no service of any type. I want to be cremated, with my ashes scattered from the air over my ranch in Wyoming.
"'Third, I want my will kept confidential until January 15, 1997. The law does not require you to immediately produce it. Sit on it for a month.
"'So long. Troy.'"
Stafford slowly placed the first sheet on the table, and carefully picked up the second. He studied it for a moment, then said for the camera, "This is a one-page document purporting to be the last testament of Troy L. Phelan. I will read it in its entirety:
"'The last testament of Troy L. Phelan. I, Troy L. Phelan, being of sound and disposing mind and memory, do hereby expressly revoke all former wills and codicils executed by me, and dispose of my estate as follows:
"'To my children, Troy Phelan, Jr., Rex Phelan, Libbigail Jeter, Mary Ross Jackman, Geena Strong, and Ramble Phelan, I give each a sum of money necessary to pay off all of the debts of each as of today. Any debts incurred after today will not be covered by this gift. If any of these children attempt to contest this will, then this gift shall be nullified as to that child.
"'To my ex-wives, Lillian, Janie, and Tira, I give nothing. They were adequately provided for in the divorces.
"'The remainder of my estate I give to my daughter Rachel Lane, born on November 2, 1954, at Catholic Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana, to a woman named Evelyn Cunningham, now deceased.'"
Stafford had never heard of these people. He had to catch his breath before plowing ahead.
"'I appoint my trusted lawyer, Joshua Stafford, as executor of this will, and grant unto him broad discretionary powers in its administration.
"'This document is intended to be a holographic will. Every word has been written by my hand, and I hereby sign it.
"'Signed, December 9, 1996, three P.M., by Troy L. Phelan.'"
Stafford placed it on the table and blinked his eyes at the camera. He needed a walk around the building, perhaps a blast of frigid air, but he pressed on. He picked up the third sheet, and said, "This is a one-paragraph note addressed to me again. I will read it: "Josh: Rachel Lane is a World Tribes missionary on the Brazil-Bolivia border. She works with a remote Indian tribe in a region known as the Pantanal. The nearest town is Corumba. I couldn't find her. I've had no contact with her in the last twenty years. Signed, Troy Phelan.'"
Durban turned the camera off, and paced around the table twice as Stafford read the document again and again.
"Did you know he had an illegitimate daughter?"
Stafford was staring absently at a wall. "No. I drafted eleven wills for Troy, and he never mentioned her."
From The Testament by John Grisham. © 1997 by John Grisham, used by permission of the publisher, Doubleday.