Sycamore row, p.16
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       Sycamore Row, p.16

         Part #2 of Jake Brigance series by John Grisham
Page 16


  Ian, the number cruncher, did not need a calculator. Twenty million and change in the net estate, minus 30 percent would knock it down to about $14 mill. Forty percent of that for his dear wife and their share would be around $5. 6 million, give or take. And clean, no taxes since all of those nasties, state and federal, would be slapped onto the estate. At that moment, Ian and his various partners and companies owed a plethora of banks in excess of $4 million, about half of which was past due.

  As Herschel’s internal calculator stuttered along, he caught himself humming under his breath. Seconds later, he too arrived at something around $5. 5 million. He was so sick of living with his mother. And his kids—no more worries about tuition.

  Ramona turned evil and cast a vicious smile at her husband. She said, “Twenty million, Ian, not too bad for, what did you like to call him, an uneducated logger. ”

  Herschel closed his eyes and exhaled while Ian said, “Come on, Ramona. ” The lawyers were suddenly interested in their shoes.

  She pressed on, “You won’t make twenty million in your entire life, and Daddy did it in ten years. And your family, with all the banks they once owned, never had that kind of money. Don’t you find that unbelievable, Ian?”

  Ian’s mouth fell open and he could only stare at her. Alone, he would have certainly gone for her throat, but he was helpless. Be cool, he told himself as he fought his anger. Damn right you’d better be cool because that smirking bitch sitting five feet away is about to inherit several million, and though the money will probably blow up the marriage, there will be something for me.

  Stillman Rush closed his briefcase and said, “Well, we need to be moving along. We’ll run by the courthouse and kick things off, and we’ll need to meet again very shortly, if that’s okay. ” He was standing as he spoke, suddenly eager to leave the family behind. McGwyre and Larkin bounced up too, slapping closed their briefcases and making the same phony farewells. They insisted on showing themselves to the front, and were practically scrambling when they disappeared around the house.

  After they left, there was a long, lethal vacuum of silence on the patio as all three avoided eye contact and wondered who would speak next. The wrong word could start another fight, or something worse. Finally, Ian, the angriest, asked his wife, “Why’d you say that in front of the lawyers?”

  Herschel jumped in: “No, why did you say it, period?”

  She ignored her brother and snarled at her husband, “Because I’ve been wanting to say it for a long time, Ian. You’ve always looked down on us, especially my father, and now, suddenly, you’re counting his money. ”

  “Aren’t we all?” Herschel asked.

  “Shut up, Herschel,” she snapped.

  She ignored him and didn’t take her eyes off Ian. “I’ll divorce you now, you know that. ”

  “Didn’t take long. ”

  “No, it didn’t. ”

  “Come on, guys,” Herschel pleaded. This was not the first divorce threat he’d witnessed. “Let’s go inside, finish packing, and get out of here. ”

  The men stood slowly and walked away. Ramona stared at the trees in the distance, beyond the backyard and into a forest where she played as a child. She had not felt such freedom in years.

  Another cake arrived before noon and Lettie tried to decline it. She eventually sat it on the kitchen counter where she was wiping pots for the last time. The Dafoes said a quick good-bye, but only because they really couldn’t leave without doing so. Ramona promised to keep in touch and so on. Lettie watched them get in the car without saying a word. It would be a long drive back to Jackson.

  At noon, Calvin arrived as planned, and at the kitchen table Herschel handed over a key to the new door locks. Calvin was to check on the house every other day, keep the grass cut, leaves blown, the usual.

  When Calvin was gone, Herschel said, “So, Lettie, I figure we owe you for eighteen hours, at five bucks each, right?”

  “Whatever you say. ”

  He was writing a check as he stood by the counter. “Ninety dollars,” he mumbled with a frown, still wanting to gripe over her excessive pay. He signed it, tore it out, handed it over, and said, “There you are,” as if it were a gift.

  “Thank you. ”

  “Thanks, Lettie, for taking care of Dad and the house and everything. I know this is not easy. ”

  Firmly, she said, “I understand. ”

  “The way things go, I’m sure we’ll never see you again, but I just want you to know how much we appreciate what you did for our dad. ”

  Such a load of crap, Lettie thought, but she said, “Thank you. ” Her eyes were watering as she folded the check.

  After an awkward pause, he said, “Well, Lettie, I’d like for you to leave now so I can lock up. ”

  “Yes sir. ”


  Three well-dressed lawyers from out of town strutting through the courthouse on a dull Wednesday morning were bound to attract attention, which didn’t seem to bother them at all. One lawyer could have easily performed the menial task, but three could charge triple for it. They ignored the local lawyers and the clerks and the courthouse regulars in the hallways and purposefully entered the office of the Chancery Clerk. There they were met by Sara, who’d been alerted by Jake Brigance, who’d been alerted by a surprise call from Lettie Lang, then still at Seth’s house, with the news that an entire pack of lawyers had just left and was headed for Clanton.

  Stillman Rush flashed a killer smile at Sara, who was slowly chewing gum and glaring at the men as if they were trespassers. “We’re from the Rush law firm in Tupelo,” he announced, and not one of the other three clerks looked up. The soft music from a radio failed to stop.

  “Congratulations,” Sara said. “Welcome to Clanton. ”

  Lewis McGwyre had opened his fine briefcase and was removing papers. Stillman said, “Yes, well, we need to file a petition to probate an estate. ” With a flurry, the paperwork landed on the counter in front of Sara, who, chewing, looked at it without touching it. “Who died?” she asked.

  “A man named Seth Hubbard,” Stillman said, an octave higher but still not loud enough to draw the attention of anyone in the office of the Ford County Chancery Clerk.

  “Never heard of him,” Sara deadpanned. “He lived in this county?”

  “He did, up near Palmyra. ”

  She finally touched the papers, picked them up, and immediately began frowning. “When’d he die?” she asked.

  “Last Sunday. ”

  “They buried him yet?”

  Stillman almost blurted, “Is that really any of your business?” but he caught himself. He was on foreign soil and alienating the underlings could only cause trouble. He swallowed, managed a smile, and said, “Yesterday. ”

  Sara’s eyes rolled up the wall as if she were bothered by something. “Seth Hubbard? Seth Hubbard?” Over her shoulder she said, “Hey Eva, didn’t we get something already on Seth Hubbard?” From thirty feet away Eva replied, “Late yesterday. A new file in the rack over there. ”

  Sara took a few steps, yanked out a file, and scanned it as the three lawyers froze and watched every move. Finally, she said, “Yep, got a petition to probate the last will and testament of Mr. Henry Seth Hubbard, filed at 4:55 yesterday afternoon. ”

  Each of the three lawyers attempted to say something at once, but none could do so. Finally, Stillman managed a weak “What the hell?”

  “I didn’t file it,” Sara said. “I’m just a lowly clerk. ”

  “Is that a public record?” Mr. McGwyre asked.

  “It is. ” She slid the file onto the counter and all three heads grouped over it, ear to ear to ear. Sara turned around, winked at the other girls, and returned to her desk.

  Five minutes later, Roxy buzzed Jake on his phone intercom. “Mr. Brigance, there are some gentlemen here to see you. ” From the terrace, Jake had watched them storm out of the courthouse and march in his direction.

sp; “Do they have an appointment?”

  “No sir, and they say it’s urgent. ”

  “I’m in a meeting which will take another thirty minutes,” Jake said in his empty office. “They’re welcome to wait. ”

  Roxy, who’d been quickly briefed, put the phone down and delivered the message. The lawyers frowned and exhaled and fidgeted and finally decided to step out for some coffee. At the door, Stillman said, “Please explain to Mr. Brigance that this is an urgent matter. ”

  “That’s already been done. ”

  “Yes, well, thanks. ”

  Jake heard the door close solidly and smiled to himself. They would be back and he looked forward to the meeting. He returned his attention to the latest weekly edition of The Ford County Times, published early each Wednesday morning and a rich source of local news. On the front page, below the fold, there was a brief story about the death of Mr. Seth Hubbard, an “apparent suicide. ” The reporter had followed leads and done some digging. Unnamed sources whispered that Mr. Hubbard had once had extensive holdings in lumber, furniture, and timber rights throughout the Southeast. He had unloaded most of his assets less than a year ago. No one from his family had returned calls. There was a portrait photo of Seth as a much younger man. He looked nothing like the poor guy hanging from a rope in Ozzie’s grisly death scene photos. But, then, who would?

  Twenty minutes later the lawyers were back. Roxy parked them in the conference room on the first floor. They stood by the window and watched the languid prelunch traffic around the square and waited. Occasionally, they would whisper to one another, as if the room had bugs and someone else might be listening. Finally, Mr. Brigance entered and welcomed them. There were forced smiles and stiff but courteous handshakes, and when they were finally seated Roxy asked about coffee or water. Everyone declined, and she closed the door and disappeared.

  Jake and Stillman had finished law school at Ole Miss ten years earlier, and though they had known each other during that ordeal, and often had classes together, they ran in different circles. As the favored son in a family who owned a law firm claiming to be a hundred years old, Stillman’s future was secure before he briefed his first case in Contracts. Jake and virtually all of the others were forced to scramble for employment. To his credit, Stillman worked hard to prove himself and graduated in the top 10 percent. Jake was not far behind. As lawyers, their paths had crossed once since law school when Lucien ordered Jake to file an unpromising sex discrimination case against an employer, one represented by the Rush law firm. The outcome was a draw, but during the process Jake came to despise Stillman. He’d been tolerable in law school, but a few years in the trenches had made him a big shot in a big firm with the requisite ego. He wore his blond hair a bit longer now and it flipped up around his ears, contrasting nicely with the fine black wool suit he was wearing.

  Jake had never met Mr. McGwyre or Mr. Larkin, but he knew them by reputation. It was a small state.

  “To what do I owe this honor, gentlemen?” Jake began.

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