Excerpt from The Testament by John Grisham, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Testament

by John Grisham

The Testament
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  • First Published:
    Feb 1999, 435 pages
    Jan 2000, 544 pages

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"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.

They wouldn't have to wait for the tumor after all.

IT TOOK Joshua Stafford a minute or so to recover from the shock and start thinking like a lawyer again. He waited until the third and last family was visible below, then asked Snead and Durban to step inside.

The camera was still on. Snead faced it, raised his right hand, and swore to tell the truth, then, fighting tears, explained what he had just witnessed. Stafford opened the envelope and held the yellow sheets of paper close enough for the camera to see.

"Yes, I saw him sign that," Snead said. "Just seconds ago."

"And is that his signature?" Stafford asked.

"Yes, yes it is."

"Did he declare this to be his last will and testament?"

"He called it his testament."

Stafford withdrew the papers before Snead could read them. He repeated the same testimony with Durban, then placed himself before the camera and gave his version of events. The camera was turned off, and the three of them rode to the ground to pay their respects to Mr. Phelan. The elevator was packed with Phelan employees, stunned but anxious to have a rare and last glimpse of the old man. The building was emptying. Snead's quiet sobs were muffled in a corner.

Guards had backed the crowd away, leaving Troy alone in his puddle. A siren was approaching. Someone took photographs to memorialize the image of his death, then a black blanket was placed over his body.

For the families, slight twinges of grief soon overcame the shock of death. They stood with their heads low, their eyes staring sadly at the blanket, organizing their thoughts for the issues to come. It was impossible to look at Troy and not think about the money. Grief for an estranged relative, even a father, cannot stand in the way of a half a billion dollars.

For the employees, shock gave way to confusion. Troy was rumored to live up there above them, but very few had ever seen him. He was eccentric, crazy, sick--the rumors covered everything. He didn't like people. There were important vice presidents in the building who saw him once a year. If the company ran so well without him, surely their jobs were secure.

For the psychiatrists--Zadel, Flowe, and Theishen--the moment was filled with tension. You declare a man to be of sound mind, and minutes later he jumps to his death. Yet even a crazy man can have a lucid interval--that's the legal term they repeated to themselves as they shivered in the crowd. Crazy as a bat, but one clear, lucid interval in the midst of the madness, and a person can execute a valid will. They would stand firm with their opinions. Thank God everything was on tape. Old Troy was sharp. And lucid.

And for the lawyers, the shock passed quickly and there was no grief. They stood grim-faced next to their clients and watched the pitiful sight. The fees would be enormous.

An ambulance drove onto the bricks and stopped near Troy. Stafford walked under the barricade and whispered something to the guards.

Troy was quickly loaded onto a stretcher and taken away.

TROY PHELAN had moved his corporate headquarters to northern Virginia twenty-two years earlier to escape taxation in New York. He spent forty million on his Tower and grounds, money he saved many times over by being domiciled in Virginia.

From The Testament by John Grisham. © 1997 by John Grisham, used by permission of the publisher, Doubleday.

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