Authors: John Grisham
Tags: #Fiction, #Thrillers
“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.
The worrying stopped with Troy’s death. The seesaw tilted, and suddenly Rex was on top, his last name finally worth a fortune. He’d sell the bars and clubs, pay off his debts with a wicked swipe, then play with his money. One false move, and she’d be dancing on tables again with wet dollar bills stuck in her G-string.
Rex spent the day with Hark Gettys, his lawyer. He wanted the money quickly, desperately, and he pressured Gettys to call Josh Stafford and ask for a look at the will. Rex made plans, large and ambitious plans for how to handle the money, and Hark would be with him every step of the way. He wanted control of The Phelan Group. His portion of the stock, whatever it might be, added to TJ’s and both sisters’, would surely give them a majority of voting shares. But was the stock placed in trust, or given outright, or tied up in any one of a hundred devious ways that Troy would certainly enjoy from the grave?
“We have to see that damned will!” he yelled at Hark throughout the day. Hark calmed him with a long lunch and good wine, then they switched to Scotch in the early afternoon. Amber dropped by and found them both drunk, but she wasn’t angry. There was no way Rex could anger her now. She loved him more than ever.
he trip west would be a pleasant respite from the chaos Mr. Phelan created with his leap. His ranch was near Jackson Hole, in the Tetons, where a foot of snow was already on the ground and more was expected. What would Miss Manners say about the scattering of ashes over land covered with snow? Should one wait until the thaw? Or sprinkle them anyway? Josh didn’t give a damn. He’d toss them in the face of any natural disaster.
He was being hounded by the lawyers for the Phelan heirs. His cautious comments to Hark Gettys about the old man’s testamentary capacity had sent shockwaves through the families, and they were reacting with predictable hysteria. And threats. The trip would be a short vacation. He and Durban could sort through the preliminary research and make their plans.
They left National Airport on Mr. Phelan’s Gulfstream IV, a plane Josh had been privileged to fly on only once before. It was the newest of the fleet, and at a price of thirty-five million had
been Mr. Phelan’s fanciest toy. The summer before, they had flown it to Nice, where the old man walked naked on the beach and gawked at young French girls. Josh and his wife had kept their clothes on with the rest of the Americans and sunned by the pool.
A stewardess served them breakfast, then disappeared into the rear galley as they spread their papers on a round table. The flight would take four hours.
The affidavits signed by Drs. Flowe, Zadel, and Theishen were long and verbose, laden with opinions and redundancies that ran on for paragraphs and left not a scintilla of doubt that Troy was of sound and disposing mind and memory. He was downright brilliant, and knew exactly what he was doing in the moments before his death.
Stafford and Durban read the affidavits and enjoyed the humor. When the new will was read, those three experts would be fired, of course, and a half dozen more would be brought in to deliver all sorts of dark and dire suppositions about poor Troy’s mental illnesses.
On the subject of Rachel Lane—little had been learned about the world’s richest missionary. The investigators hired by the firm were digging furiously.
According to the early research pulled from the Internet, World Tribes Missions was headquartered in Houston, Texas. Founded in 1920, the organization had four thousand missionaries spread around the world working exclusively with native peoples. Its sole purpose and goal was to spread the Christian Gospel to every remote tribe in the world. Obviously, Rachel did not inherit her religious beliefs from her father.
No less than twenty-eight Indian tribes in Brazil were currently being ministered to by World Tribes missionaries, and at least ten in Bolivia. Another three hundred in the rest of the world. Because their target tribes were secluded and detached from modern civilization, the missionaries received exhaustive
training in survival, wilderness living, languages, and medical skills.
Josh read with great interest a story written by a missionary who had spent seven years living in a lean-to, in a jungle, trying to learn enough of the primitive tribe’s language to communicate. The Indians had had little to do with him. He was, after all, a white man from Missouri who’d backpacked into their village with a vocabulary limited to “Hello” and “Thank you.” If he needed a table, he built one. If he needed food, he killed it. Five years passed before the Indians began to trust him. He was well into his sixth year before he told his first Bible story. He was trained to be patient, to build relationships, learn language and culture, and slowly, very slowly, begin to teach the Bible.
The tribe had little contact with the outside world. Life had hardly changed in a thousand years.
What kind of person could possess enough faith and commitment to forsake modern society and enter such a prehistoric world? The missionary wrote that the Indians did not accept him until they realized he wasn’t leaving. He had chosen to live with them, forever. He loved them and wanted to be one of them.
So Rachel lived in a hut or a lean-to, and slept on a bed she’d built herself, and cooked over a fire, and ate food she’d grown or trapped and killed, and taught Bible stories to the children and the Gospel to the adults, and knew nothing and certainly cared nothing for the events and worries and pressures of the world. She was very content. Her faith sustained her.
It seemed almost cruel to bother her.
Durban read the same materials and said, “We may never find her. No phones, no electricity; hell, you have to hike through the mountains to get to these people.”
“We have no choice,” Josh said.
“Have we contacted World Tribes?”
“What do you tell them?”
“I don’t know. But you don’t tell them you’re looking for one of their missionaries because she’s just inherited eleven billion dollars.”
“Eleven billion before taxes.”
“There will be a nice sum left over.”
“So what do you tell them?”
“We tell them there’s a pressing legal matter. It’s quite urgent, and we must speak to Rachel face to face.”
One of the fax machines on board began humming, and the memos started. The first was from Josh’s secretary with a list of the morning’s calls—almost all from attorneys for the Phelan heirs. Two were from reporters.
The associates were reporting in, with preliminary research on various aspects of applicable Virginia law. With each page that Josh and Durban read, old Troy’s hastily scrawled testament got stronger and stronger.
Lunch was light sandwiches and fruit, again served by the stewardess, who kept to the rear of the cabin and managed to appear only when their coffee cups were empty.
They landed in Jackson Hole in clear weather, with heavy snow plowed to the sides of the runway. They stepped off the plane, walked eighty feet, and climbed onto a Sikorsky S-76C, Troy’s favorite helicopter. Ten minutes later they were hovering over his beloved ranch. A stiff wind bounced the chopper, and Durban turned pale. Josh slid open a door, slowly and quite nervously, and a sharp wind blasted him in the face.
The pilot circled at two thousand feet while Josh emptied the ashes from a small black urn. The wind instantly blew them in all directions so that Troy’s remains vanished long before they hit the snow. When the urn was empty, Josh retracted his frozen arm and hand and shut the door.
The house was technically a log cabin, with enough massive timbers to give the appearance of something rustic. But at eleven
thousand square feet, it was anything but a cabin. Troy had bought it from an actor whose career went south.
A butler in corduroy took their bags and a maid fixed their coffee. Durban admired the stuffed game hanging from the walls while Josh called the office. A fire roared in the fireplace, and the cook asked what they wanted for dinner.
THE ASSOCIATE’S name was Montgomery, a four-year man who’d been handpicked by Mr. Stafford. He got lost three times in the sprawl of Houston before he found the offices of World Tribes Missions tucked away on the ground floor of a five-story building. He parked his rented car and straightened his tie.
He had talked to Mr. Trill twice on the phone, and though he was an hour late for the appointment it didn’t seem to matter. Mr. Trill was polite and soft-spoken but not eager to help. They exchanged the required preliminaries. “Now, what can I do for you?” Trill asked.
“I need some information about one of your missionaries,” Montgomery said.
Trill nodded but said nothing.
“A Rachel Lane.”
The eyes drifted as if he was trying to place her. “Name doesn’t ring a bell. But then, we have four thousand people in the field.”
“She’s working near the border of Brazil and Bolivia.”
“How much do you know about her?”
“Not much. But we need to find her.”
“For what purpose?”
“It’s a legal matter,” Montgomery said, with just enough hesitation to sound suspicious.
Trill frowned and pulled his elbows close to his chest. His small smile disappeared. “Is there trouble?” he asked.
“No. But the matter is quite urgent. We need to see her.”
“Can’t you send a letter or a package?”
“Afraid not. Her cooperation is needed, along with her signature.”
“I assume it’s confidential.”
Something clicked and Trill’s frown softened. “Excuse me for a minute.” He disappeared from the office, and left Montgomery to inspect the spartan furnishings. The only decoration was a collection of enlarged photos of Indian children on the walls.
Trill was a different person when he returned, stiff and unsmiling and uncooperative. “I’m sorry, Mr. Montgomery,” he said without sitting. “We will not be able to help you.”
“Is she in Brazil?”
“Does she even exist?”
“I can’t answer your questions.”
“Could I speak to your boss or supervisor?”
“Where is he?”
AFTER A dinner of thick steaks in mushroom sauce, Josh Stafford and Tip Durban retired to the den, where a fire roared. A different butler, a Mexican in a white jacket and starched jeans, served them very old single-malt Scotch from Mr. Phelan’s cabinet. Cuban cigars were ordered. Pavarotti sang Christmas songs on a distant stereo.
“I have an idea,” Josh said as he watched the fire. “We have to send someone to find Rachel Lane, right?”
Tip was in the midst of a lengthy draw from his cigar, so he only nodded.
“And we can’t just send anyone. It has to be a lawyer; someone who can explain the legal issues. And it has to be someone from our firm because of confidentiality.”
His jaws filled with smoke, Tip kept nodding.
“So who do we send?”
Tip exhaled slowly, through both his mouth and his nose, and smoke boiled across his face and drifted upward. “How long will it take?” he finally asked.
“I don’t know, but it’s not a quick trip. Brazil’s a big country, almost as big as the lower forty-eight. And we’re talking jungles and mountains. These people are so remote they’ve never seen a car.”
“I’m not going.”
“We can hire local guides and such, but it still might take a week or so.”
“Don’t they have cannibals down there?”
“Relax, Tip. You’re not going.”