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Product Details

  • Paperback: 432 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (October 6, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0849945186
  • ISBN-13: 978-0849945182
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (92 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #396,083 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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About the Author

Robert Whitlow is the best-selling author of legal novels set in the South and winner of the Christy Award for Contemporary Fiction. He received his J.D. with honors from the University of Georgia School of Law where he served on the staff of the Georgia Law Review. Twitter: @whitlowwriter Facebook: robertwhitlowbooks

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter One

Inherit the wind.
--Proverbs 11:29, kjv

The secretary whom Renny shared with two other associates in the banking law section of the firm buzzed the speakerphone on Renny's desk. "Attorney Jefferson McClintock from Charleston calling on line one. Says it's personal."

"I'll take it."

Renny shut the door of the windowless office he had occupied since graduating from law school three months earlier. If he continued working sixty hours a week, he had a fifty-fifty chance of a comfortable six-figure salary and an office with a view of the city in approximately twelve years. But for now he was at the bottom of the legal food chain. Of the 104 lawyers employed by Jackson, Robinson, and Temples in Charlotte, Raleigh, Winston-Salem, and Washington, D.C., his name, Josiah Fletchall Jacobson, was next to last on the firm's letterhead.

Renny picked up the phone. "Hello, Mr. McClintock."

"How are you, Renny?"

"I'm OK. Busy learning the ins and outs of Truth in Lending and Regulation Z."

"Bank work, eh?"

"Yes sir. I have to review all the forms used by the lending institutions we represent to make sure they contain the exact wording required by the regulations and print everything in the appropriate size type."

"Sounds picky."

"It is, but if I make a mistake, the banks can get hit with class-action lawsuits involving thousands of consumers who have a cause of action, even if they didn't suffer any financial harm."

"Our government regulators at work." The Charleston lawyer coughed and cleared his throat. "Well, move the law books to the side for a minute, and let's talk about your father's estate. With the help of two associates, I've almost completed the documents needed to probate your father's will, but there are several matters that need your attention."

Two associates. Renny knew how the system worked. Multi-lawyer involvement was McClintock's way to triple his money: charge for each junior lawyer's time and throw in another fee at time and a half for the senior partner to proofread a stack of papers.

"Any problems?" Renny asked.

"We need to meet and discuss some things," McClintock answered vaguely. "When can you come to Charleston? Tomorrow is Friday. Why not leave early and see me around two?"

Renny had worked until ten o'clock two nights earlier in the week and had billed enough hours for the week to sneak away by late morning on Friday. Besides, he wasn't going to let anything delay moving forward on the estate. "Could we make it three?"

"Let me see." McClintock paused. "Yes. I can move my three o'clock appointment up an hour."

"Do I need to bring anything?"

"No," replied McClintock, "we'll have the paperwork ready. See you then."

"With your bill on top," Renny remarked as he heard the click of the other lawyer hanging up the phone.

Renny let his mind wander as he looked around his office. Even though it wasn't much larger than a walk-in closet, Renny didn't complain. Landing a job at a big law firm in a major city was the ultimate prize for the masses of eager students passing through the law school meat grinder. Each one entered the legal education process hoping they would come out with Law Review on their résumés and filet mignon status in the difficult job market. Most ended up as hamburger, relieved to find any job at all.

Renny had an advantage. Although not on Law Review or in the top 10 percent of his class, he had something even better: connections. For once, really the first time he could remember, his father had come to his aid. Dwight Temples, one of the senior partners in the firm, had attended college with Renny's father at The Citadel in Charleston. Over the years they maintained a casual friendship centered around an annual deep-sea fishing expedition off the coast of North Carolina. When Renny mentioned an interest in working for the firm's Charlotte office, H. L. Jacobson called Dwight Temples, and the interview with the hiring partner at Jackson, Robinson, and Temples became a formality. Renny was offered a position on the spot.

Today was not the first call Renny had received from Jefferson McClintock, his family's lawyer in Charleston. Six weeks before, McClintock telephoned Renny with the news of H. L.'s sudden death on a golf course in Charleston. No warning. No cholesterol problem. No hypertension. No previous chest pains. The elder Jacobson was playing a round of golf with two longtime friends, Chaz Bentley, his stockbroker, and Alex Souther, a College of Charleston alumnus and restaurant owner.

At the funeral home, Bentley, a jovial fellow and everyday golfer who probably received more stock market advice from Renny's father than he gave to him, had pumped Renny's hand and shook his head in disbelief. "I don't understand it. He was fine. No complaints of pain or dizziness. We were having a great round at the old Isle of Palms course. You should have seen the shot he hit from the championship tee on the seventh hole. You remember, it's the hole with the double water hazards. His tee shot must have gone 225 yards, straight down the fairway. He birdied the hole. Can you believe it? Birdied the last hole he ever played!" The stockbroker made it sound like nirvana to make a birdie then die on the golf course. "We were teeing off on number eight. Alex had taken a mulligan on his first shot and hooked his second try into a fairway bunker. I hit a solid drive just a little left of center." Renny could tell Bentley was enjoying Souther's duff and his own good shot all over again. "Then your father leaned over to tee up his ball and, he, uh…never got his ball on the tee," he finished lamely.

Because of the circumstances of his death, the coroner had required an autopsy. The pathologist's report concluded death by coronary failure. H. L.'s family doctor, James Watson, had explained to Renny, "Your father's heart exploded. He never knew what happened. Death was instantaneous. The pathologist called me from the hospital after he examined the body and reviewed his findings with me. Given your father's good health, we were both puzzled at the severe damage to the heart muscle. We know how he died, but not why it happened as it did."

Renny grieved, but he and his father had not had a close relationship. H. L. was a harsh, critical parent whose favor eluded his son like the proverbial carrot on a stick. Renny tried to please, but the elder Jacobson often changed the rules, and Renny discovered a new way to fail instead. After his mother's death, Renny only visited his father a couple of times a year.

Since there was no one else with whom to share the considerable assets his father had inherited and then increased through savvy investments, Renny looked forward to the trip to Charleston. Once the estate was settled, he would become what some people called "independently wealthy." It had a nice ring to it, and Renny indulged in fantasies of future expenditures.

H. L. was not a generous parent; he paid for Renny's education but never provided the extras he could have easily afforded. After landing the job at Jackson, Robinson, and Temples, Renny sold his old car for three thousand dollars and bought a new charcoal gray Porsche Boxster convertible. The payment and insurance on the new car devoured almost half of Renny's monthly paycheck, but the sporty vehicle was a sign to himself and, subconsciously, to his father, that he had started up the ladder of success. Now he would be able to pay off the car, buy a house, perhaps even quit work and duplicate his father's exploits in the commercial real estate market. His stay at the bottom of the law firm letterhead might be very short indeed.

~~~

At 2:55 the next afternoon Renny was standing on the hot, humid Charleston sidewalk in front of the semicircular double stairway beckoning him with open arms to the law firm of McClintock and Carney, Esquires. Some antebellum grande dame must be spinning in her grave, he thought. Her house, her home, the common thread of the domestic and social fabric of her life, taken over by legal scriveners and secretaries with word processors and fax machines. It was not an uncommon fate for a growing number of the homes and mansions lining Fourth Street. An antique dealer rented Renny's ancestral home, near the Battery.

At least Jefferson McClintock had Charleston roots. He wasn't a New York lawyer who came south for the Spoleto festival, unpacked his carpetbag, and hung out a legal shingle. In fact, few current Charlestonians went further back to the city's origins. McClintock's great-great-grandfather, a Scottish blacksmith's servant, could have been the farrier who made sure the grande dame's horses had proper footwear. Now the servant's descendant had his desk in the parlor and law books in the living room.

When McClintock and his law partner, John Carney, purchased the house, they spent the money necessary to maintain the historic and architectural integrity of the 150-year-old structure. They had cleaned the white marble double stairway leading up from the street to the main entrance and made sure the hand railings were kept in good condition by a yearly staining to erase the corrosive effect of Charleston's proximity to the ocean. The exterior stucco had been painted a fresh light peach-only in Charleston could pastel houses reflect good taste. From a low-flying plane, the old residential district looked like a summer fruit compote.

Opening the large front door, he stepped into the law firm's waiting area. As with many large nineteenth-century homes, the foyer was as wide and spacious as the dining room in a modern house plan. McClintock and Carney had turned the greeting area into a gracious reception room, furnishing it with antiques and quality reproductions.

"Good afternoon, Mr. Jacobson," a cheerful receptionist spoke before Renny could give his name. "Mr. McClintock will be with you in a minute."

Noticing a graduation photo of The Citadel's class of 1958 on the opposite wall, Renny walked over for a better look at the black-and-white picture.

"That's our class, a good one," McClintock remarked as he walked out of his office and shook Renny's hand. "There's your father, third from the left in the back, and me, second from the right in the first row."

It was easy to see why McClintock was in the first row. At five feet six, he was barely tall enough to gain admittance to a military academy. But to his credit, McClintock didn't weigh ten pounds more now than he had almost fifty years before. He still sported a Citadel haircut and held himself erect, ready to snap to full attention. Renny knew his father's classmate ran five miles every morning and jumped into the Atlantic Ocean every New Year's Day in a Southern version of the famous Polar Bear Club's annual dip in Lake Michigan.

Renny leaned closer to see his father. Henry Lawrence Jacobson, H. L. to everyone who knew him, was tall and slim. The influence of early military discipline kept his back straight and shoulders square to the end of his days. Even in the grainy picture, H. L. exuded a sense of confidence and control. Not particularly handsome, but without any distracting negative features, it was not his physical appearance but an intangible presence that set him apart from his peers. Whether on the schoolyard or in the boardroom, it did not take long for the elder Jacobson's internally generated power to pervade the atmosphere around him. If austere Southern aristocracy existed in the twentieth century, H. L. Jacobson qualified as Exhibit A. From the graduation photo, H. L.'s dark eyes seemed to probe the depths of Renny's soul just as they did when he interrogated Renny after he was caught wandering away from school during recess in the second grade.

Renny, with his dark hair, brown eyes, and wry, almost shy, smile, looked more like his soft-spoken mother than his father. Short and solid, Renny had played outside linebacker for three years at Hammond Academy, a private high school in Charleston. In his senior season, he received the Best Hit of the Year award for a play in which he tackled the opposing team's punter. It was fourth down late in a game and the other team was behind ten points. Renny suspected a fake punt was in the works and ran as hard as he could toward the punter. Slipping between two players who were supposed to block him, he hit the punter so hard the punter was knocked several feet through the air. It looked great on the highlight film of the game, and Renny won the award. Neither of his parents attended the game. His mother was in the early stages of the Lou Gehrig's disease that killed her three years later, and his father was out of town at a business meeting.

McClintock ushered Renny into his office. "Come into the parlor. Some of the antiques here, including my desk, were purchased from the Stillwell Gallery," he said, referring to the antique dealer located in the former Jacobson family home.

McClintock sat down behind an eighteenth-century partners desk, a beautiful mahogany piece designed for two clerks to work opposite each other. Of course, McClintock had the desk to himself.

The older lawyer picked up a heavy folder, set it down, and tapped a fountain pen against his desk blotter. "Well, let's get down to business." He hesitated, opening the folder on his desk then closing it again without taking anything out. "I'm not sure where to begin."

"I've reviewed my copy of the will," Renny said. "Everything appears straightforward. Could we look over the documents you intend to file with the probate court?"

"The documents I've prepared for the court?" McClintock said.

"Sure, you said they would be ready."

"Oh, they are. I have them in here." The lawyer patted the still-closed folder.

Renny reached out his hand. "Yes. I'm sure everything is fine. I'd just like to skim through them."

The older lawyer didn't budge. "Renny, did you study holographic wills in law school?" he asked, staring past Renny at a spot on the wall behind him.

Renny stopped. "Of course. It's a will in the testator's own handwriting, usually without all the legal boilerplate language and the formality of witnesses."

"That's correct." McClintock paused. "I don't know how to say this except to ask you point-blank. Did your father ever tell you he had prepared a holographic will?"

A cold chill ran down Renny's spine. "No. He gave me a copy of the will you prepared for him a few months after my mother died."

"I see," McClintock said. "He never gave you an updated will prepared by another lawyer?"

"No. You were the only lawyer he used. Tell me, Mr. McClintock, what's going on."

McClintock sighed. "After your father's death I had my secretary pull his file to prepare the documents for the probate court." He opened the folder on his desk. "Inside was this." He held up a plain white envelope. "As you know, in the will I prepared you were the residual beneficiary of almost all your father's estate. Apparently, a month later he brought this envelope by the office and asked my secretary to put it in his file. I don't know what he told her-she doesn't remember and probably thought it was a list of assets or the location of important records." He handed the envelope to Renny. "Read it."

Renny took out three sheets of paper. No question, it was his father's handwriting, a familiar pattern of printing and cursive. It was dated one month after the lengthy will prepared by McClintock. There were only four paragraphs:

I, Henry Lawrence Jacobson, being of sound and disposing mind, do hereby revoke all prior Wills made by me and make this my Last Will and Testament.

Item One
I hereby will, devise and bequeath to my son, Josiah Fletchall Jacobson, all my personal belongings and the gold coin collection contained in my safe deposit box at Planters & Merchants Bank. I further will, give and devise to my son all my right, title and interest to any and all assets, tangible and intangible, in the Covenant List of South Carolina, Ltd. This bequest is subject to the usual and customary conditions precedent.

Item Two
I hereby, will, devise and bequeath all the rest, remainder, and residue of my estate, including all real estate, stocks, bonds, certificates of deposit, cash, or other property of any type, tangible and intangible, in equal shares to the Medical College of South Carolina, The Citadel, the Charleston Historical Society, and the Episcopal Parish of St. Alban's.

Item Three
I hereby appoint Jefferson McClintock as executor of my estate.

Henry Lawrence Jacobson

The other sheet was a report from a local psychiatrist, Dr. Lewis Abbott, dated the same day as the will.

To Whom It May Concern:
I have this day examined Henry Lawrence Jacobson and can state that he is mentally competent to handle his legal affairs. He understands the natural objects of his affection and has informed me of his intention to prepare a Last Will and Testament in which the majority of his assets are bequeathed to charitable institutions. He has indicated that he will make a bequest to his son, Josiah Fletchall Jacobson, consistent with his desire and intentions for him.
Lewis Abbott, M.D.
Diplomate, American Board of Psychiatry

Renny let the papers fall into his lap and stared for several seconds at the floor in front of McClintock's desk. Every ounce of hope for the future drained out of him in the two minutes it took to read the papers. In shock, he didn't even have the strength to ask why.

The lawyer cleared his throat and broke the awkward silence. "We know the law doesn't favor a holographic will or one that disinherits family members. There was little doubt that your father wrote the will, but to be sure, I obtained a handwriting analysis. The results came back just before I called you yesterday."

"And?" Renny managed weakly.

"It's as close to a 100 percent match as possible. I also had an extensive interview with Dr. Abbott. Do you know him?"

"No."

"He is a former president of the South Carolina Psychiatric Association with impeccable credentials. He had detailed records of an interview with your father and stands completely by the report issued at the time of the will."

"Does he have connections with the Medical College?" Renny ventured.

"I thought of that, too. No, he doesn't, and there is no way to claim any self-interest on his part that would raise a question about his medical opinion of your father's capacity."

"I don't care what the psychiatrist says. This is crazy. Why would my father do this to me?" Renny asked, desperation and hurt creeping into his voice.

"I don't know. I'm a father, Renny, and I don't understand."

"But item one is nonsense. I didn't know he had a gold coin collection, and I've never heard of the Covenant List of South Carolina, Limited. What is it? What are the conditions precedent?"

"I was hoping you might shed some light on it. We've gone over every inventory of assets three times and found no record of this company. Since your father was involved in so much commercial development, it could be a real estate limited partnership."

"But you don't know."

"That's right. I'm guessing."

Renny put the papers on the edge of McClintock's desk. "We can't tear this up and probate the other will can we?"

"I'm sorry, but you know the answer to that. Since I'm the executor, I can exercise as much leeway as possible in interpreting 'personal belongings.' There are several valuable antiques at the Isle of Palms house. I'm going to consider those items personal belongings so that you can have them. Also, I would advise you to consider getting another legal opinion about the legitimacy of the will."

"I understand, but the handwriting is on the wall, or actually on these sheets of paper," Renny said bitterly. "Being on the receiving end of a lawyer telling his client what the client doesn't want to hear is painful."

"I can't blame you for anything you feel," McClintock responded. "I didn't want to have to give you this news." He handed Renny a key. "This is the key to safe deposit box 413 at the Planters and Merchants Bank downtown. You are a signatory, aren't you?"

"Yes."

"There's one other puzzling thing."

"What else?" Renny asked, bracing for more bad news.

"Nothing substantive. Included with some routine postmortem instructions was a letter." McClintock read aloud:

Dear Jeff,
The enclosed information will assist you in probating my estate. As soon as possible, please send a copy of my obituary notice to the people on the attached list.
H. L.

Handing the second sheet to Renny, McClintock asked, "Do you know any of these individuals?"

Renny quickly scanned the names. No one was immediately familiar. As he read over it more slowly, he counted nine names with post office box addresses-no street names, no phone numbers. All men, no women.

"I don't know any of these men," Renny responded slowly. "I recognize several family names, families with a long history in the Low Country."

"It was the same with me."

"As far as I know, none of them are relatives. I don't see the names of any of my father's business associates either."

"Exactly my conclusion as well," the lawyer responded.

"But, this is just like the unknown company mentioned in the will. All we know is that we don't know anything."

Renny and McClintock stared at each other across the desk, each letting his mental wheels grind, both coming up empty.

McClintock spoke first. "Pursuant to your father's instructions, I sent a copy of his obituary to each person. I enclosed a short cover letter notifying them that I was following your father's last wishes."

"Did anybody respond?" Renny asked.

"Not yet," said McClintock, shaking his head. "I'll let you know if they do."

"Should I ask if there's anything else?"

"Fortunately not, I guess. My secretary has duplicates of everything for you."

Still numb, Renny nodded.

"Of course, I will delay sale of your parents' house as long as you need me to."

"It's hard to believe the house will be sold. That everything will be sold and given away," Renny said dully.

McClintock came around the desk and put his hand on Renny's shoulder. "Call me if you need me. I'll contact you as soon as I know anything else."

"Thanks." Renny got up to leave. When he reached the door, he stopped. "I forgot to ask. What is the value of the estate?"

McClintock paused. "Depending on the value of securities at time of probate, approximately $8 million."

Chapter Two

He being dead yet speaketh.
--Hebrews 11:4, kjv

Going down the steps in front of McClintock and Carney, Renny walked a block to his car, which was parked next to a palmetto tree. His shirt was damp by the time he opened the door. Throwing the folder of information about the estate on the passenger seat, he turned the air conditioner on full blast and drove toward the Battery. Turning down King Street, he slowed in front of St. Alban's Episcopal Church and found a shady parking space under an oak tree beside the entrance to the church cemetery.

The church was one of the oldest in Charleston, and its mottled gray stone walls and muted stained-glass windows often graced the pages of guidebooks and pictorial tours of the city. For families like the Jacobsons, who had lived in Charleston for over two hundred years, St. Alban's was a family gathering place on Christmas Eve, Easter morning, and the site for marrying and burying. The rest of the time it was primarily a brief stop for busloads of hot tourists seeking a cool place on a steamy summer day.

There had not been any new plots available in the original cemetery since World War I. To handle the ongoing tide of death, the church purchased land outside the downtown Charleston area and sold burial plots in what Renny called the "cemetery annex." With the burial of Renny's father, the Jacobson plot at the main cemetery was at maximum occupancy, and Renny guessed he would have to reserve a space for himself at the annex.

The parish had no debt or financial needs-what the vestry would do with a $2 million gift from his father's estate was beyond Renny's comprehension. Buy more cemetery space? Hire an additional worker to keep the hedges trimmed and the few tufts of grass cut? Renny shook his head in shock and disbelief as he gingerly made his way around the ancient markers and tombstones, some so faded it was hard to decipher the names and ages of those who rested under the sandy soil. Maybe he could get a free burial plot. It would be the least the parish could do.

Surrounded by an ornate wrought-iron railing, the Jacobson plot was easily identified by a ten-foot-tall monument with the family name chiseled into all four sides at its base. His father and mother were side by side, his father's grave still a mound of light brown dirt. A few dead flowers from the funeral were strewn on the ground.

Renny stared at his father's name on the headstone and asked the question that had reverberated in his mind since he read the handwritten will at McClintock's office. "Why?" he whispered. "Why?" he said a little louder. "Why?" He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs.

Nothing. A breeze stirred the leaves in the old trees, but it didn't cool Renny's rising anger or assuage his inner pain. Eight million dollars. He had known it would be a lot of money, but the actual amount surprised him. His father had done better financially than he had realized. But for his only child-nothing. It was one thing for H. L. to deny Renny the things he needed while alive; it was almost more painful to experience rejection from beyond the grave. Rage and resentment boiled inside his soul. "Why?" he cried. "Why did you do this to me?" Nothing. Picking up a dead flower stem, he threw it at the headstone. There were no answers here.

Next to his father's fresh mound of dirt, the level grave of Katharine Candler Jacobson was covered with green grass. Turning toward her gravestone, Renny continued his questioning. Wherever she was, did she know what her husband had done to their only child? "Why?" he asked her resting place. Nothing. Shouldn't she share some of the blame? "Why didn't you outlive him?" Nothing. She died first, and the scant protection she offered Renny died with her. She would have done differently, or at least tried to, but she was gone.

He resented her abandonment. But his mother couldn't answer his questions and didn't deserve his blame. She had endured much herself. Although skewed by a child's naturally positive perceptions of his parents and their flaws, Renny knew his mother's relationship with his father was trying. But in the midst of a difficult marriage, Katharine gave her only surviving child memories worth preserving. She sat with him and listened when he told her about his day at school. She was there when he needed wise counsel as a teenager. She kept the lines of communication open until the ravages of disease robbed her of her voice. Even then her eyes had continued to speak of a mother's love . . . until their light went out, too. Now nothing responded to Renny's gaze but marble and memories.

Because of her and her alone he would come back to this place. Retracing his steps to the car, Renny's anger gave way to dejection. How many steps were there down to the depths of hell in Dante's Inferno? How much more would he have to endure?

~~~

Shortly after Renny drove away, another car parked in the space Renny vacated. An older man with a younger man's vigor and energy opened the door and walked briskly to the spot where Renny had stood beside his father's grave. Looking at the tombstone, he smiled. To him, H. L. Jacobson's grave was not a place of rejection, anger, and frustration; it was a place of triumph. Sure of the irrefutable evidence of his victory, he lingered for a moment, savoring his conquest, then left.

It was not yet five o'clock, so Renny decided he might as well stop at the bank and examine the gold coin collection before driving out to the Isle of Palms. In earlier times, Planters and Merchants Bank, an ancient, square, dark stone, three-story building, contained a waterfront counting house. It was the financial center where traders, planters, and factors-the men who lent money secured by future rice, indigo, and cotton harvests-transacted their business affairs and "counted" their money. Most people viewed banks with a mixture of fear, awe, and distrust, but to Renny, the old bank was familiar territory, and Planters and Merchants Bank, locally known as P&M, was like an honored old grandfather, black and hoary on the outside, but noble and sedate on the inside.

Slipping the safe deposit box key into his pocket, Renny entered P&M through the solid wooden front doors and passed through the marble-floored lobby to the desk of the custodian of the vault, a stoop-shouldered old gentleman resting with his head in his hands.

"I'm J. F. Jacobson. I need access to my box, please, number 413."

Looking up sleepily, the clerk opened a drawer in his desk and pulled out a signature comparison card and a record of access card. "May I see some picture identification? And please sign here, sir."

Renny handed him his driver's license. The clerk pushed the record of access card across the desk, grunting. "Just got back from there."

Renny picked up the card. "Who is this?" Renny asked, trying to decipher the signature. "It looks like Gusto something."

Returning to his drawer, the clerk pulled out three signature cards and put on his reading glasses. "There are two persons besides yourself with access to this box," he replied, somewhat more awake. "Henry Lawrence Jacobson and Augustus Eicholtz."

"Henry Lawrence Jacobson was my father. Who is Augustus Eicholtz?" Renny asked sharply.

"Sir, how should I know? It's your box."

"How long has this Augustus Eicholtz had access to the box?"

"Since June 4, 1981," the clerk replied. Handing Renny the original signature card for Mr. Eicholtz, he added, "See, the signatures match exactly."

Renny examined the signature card. This was déjà vu from McClintock's office-more questions without answers.

"Do you still want to open the box?" the clerk asked as he compared Renny's signature to the signature card in his file.

"I guess," Renny replied. As the clerk led him through the twisting labyrinth of the security area, Renny asked, "Did Mr. Einstein take something from the box?"

"Mr. Eicholtz, sir. I'm sorry, I didn't notice."

Renny had little doubt there was nothing in the box. Mr. Eicholtz or whatever his name was would have taken care of that.

Safe deposit box 413 was a large drawer inset into the metal casing of the vault. The clerk pulled out a master key, turned his side of the lock, and waited as Renny inserted the key's mate next to it. With a click, the lock released, and the clerk pulled the drawer open an inch.

"Let me know when you're finished," he mumbled as he shuffled out of the vault.

Renny slid the drawer out all the way. It was empty except for two white envelopes lying faceup in the bottom. Handwritten on the front of both envelopes was his full name, Josiah Fletchall Jacobson, one in his father's handwriting, the other in an unfamiliar scrawl. No return address.

The envelope from his father contained a heavy coin. Glancing over his shoulder, Renny gently pried open the seal. Inside was an 1864 half eagle five-dollar gold coin in excellent condition. Although possibly worth several thousand dollars, one coin hardly qualified as a collection. Renny let the heavy coin rest in his hand for a moment before slipping it into his pocket and opening the other envelope. Inside he found a plain white cassette tape labeled "Covenant List." The mystery company. Nothing else was in the envelope. No letter, no note.

Renny closed the safe deposit box and navigated out of the vault past the custodian's desk. "Thanks for your help," he said as he passed the sleepy-eyed clerk.

Seated in his car, Renny took a deep breath. Glancing in the rearview mirror, he wondered if he was being followed. He didn't know Augustus Eicholtz, but this man probably knew him. Was he watching him now, planning to attack at a vulnerable, unsuspecting moment?

Picking up the car phone, he called McClintock's office.

"Mr. McClintock, please."

"I'm sorry, Mr. McClintock has left for the day," the receptionist chirped.

"This is Renny Jacobson. I was just in to see him. Do you know if he went home?"

"I'm sorry Mr. Jacobson, he was leaving to pick up his wife and fly to Key Biscayne. He will not be back in the office until Wednesday. Should I leave him a message?"

"No. That's OK. I'll call back another time."

Renny couldn't listen to the tape in the car; he only had a CD player. But his father had a stereo system at the Isle of Palms house. So Renny pulled into the afternoon traffic, heading across the city.

More About the Author

Robert Whitlow grew up in north Georgia. He graduated magna cum laude from Furman University with a BA in history in 1976 and received his JD with honors from the University of Georgia School of Law in 1979. A practicing attorney, he is a partner in a Charlotte, NC law firm. He and his wife Kathy have four children and three grandchildren.
Robert began writing in 1996. His novels are set in the South and include both legal suspense and interesting characterization. It is his desire to write stories that reveal some of the ways God interacts with people in realistic scenerios.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Nance A. Wabshaw on April 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is both an engaging story of the development of a relationship, the spiritual journey of a modern soul, and a textbook on spiritual warfare. As a jaded, 20th century Christian who had almost despaired of seeing finely crafted fiction portraying authentic Christian themes, I was absolutely impressed by this book. The intrigue and sheer creativity of the plot, the well-developed characters, and the wisdom and depth of the spiritual aspects affecting the plot and characters are all outstanding. I can only hope for more books from Whitlow and a new breed of Christian writer to come from this good seed! A great read with lots to ponder.
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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Knutson on April 12, 2001
Format: Paperback
Renny Jacobson is a young lawyer, expecting to receive a sizable estate after his father's death. Instead, he finds his father has given the estate to several charities and leaves Renny possession of "The List". After investigating, Renny finds out The List is a group of old Southern families who united during the Civil War to provide for their families. But this is only what shows on the surface... Renny meets Jo, a dashing woman who wants no part in the list. Through her, Renny begins to view his relationship with God as something special and personal. They discover The List has a powerful evil dark side, will they be able to overcome its grip? Will Renny succomb to the longing for big money? Renny risks everything to resolve the impact of The List. God guides him through every step. This is a powerful book, a good read, and a reminder of the impact of our daily lives on us and others. I'll read more books by Robert Whitlow.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on August 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is my favorite book of all time, and I have been an "English major" since I learned how to read! Without preaching, this novel takes the reader to places many have never gone - to the realm of the supernatural. Whitlow combines humor, romance, mystery, and spiritual depth in a very enjoyable way. I recommend this book highly, and look forward to many more books by this author.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Sharon Durling on October 8, 2002
Format: Paperback
I had not imagined a fiction book so powerful that it could have the impact to change my life. I'm a huge non-fiction reader (and writer), but Robert Whitlow has abruptly converted me to fiction-ianity. Truth is, I only read "The List" because someone gave it to me. I've really appreciated this amazing style in the Christian fiction genre. I've since rushed to devour The Sacrifice.
For me, "The List" was a page-turner. I finished it in a few days' reading, and was so overwhelmed with some of the words, behavior, thoughts, and beliefs of the characters, I found myself mulling them over days and weeks later. I have made specific and hugely positive changes in my (already pretty darn good) life, influenced by fictional people-if you can imagine that!
Added to the captivating story line and life-changing energy of his writing, Whitlow's style was sweet and often titillating to the ear...he has a nice way about it. That often brought a smile to my face as I read this drama /thriller. As well, I appreciated the details that made his stories (there were several colorful veins wrapped tightly with and around the big theme) ring real. Read it, and you'll live a little (or perhaps a lot) differently.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 1, 2000
Format: Paperback
This was an unusual plot set in today's complex world where spiritual life is not the norm among the young adults in corporate America. The two main story lines developed very quickly (more quickly than in real life perhaps) and yet it was realistic enough to make you feel good about the outcome. I found this book classified as Religious Fiction in the book store, but the suspense in it was more than mere "fiction." I hope the author writes more books and I look forward to his deveopment of ideas. For the first published work of this author, I think it is excellent. If was refreshing to read a whole book without any curse words!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Michael Hickerson on January 20, 2004
Format: Paperback
It's ironic that in reading Robert Whitlow's novels to date, the last one I'd get to read would be his first novel. I have to say I've enjoyed all of his novels, each for both the same and different reasons. And while reading his books, you'd think I'd be able to say--oh yes, this was written first and this one written more recently, I honestly couldn't tell which was first, middle or last written except by the date on the copyright page. Whitlow is just that good--and the List is just a great novel.
The novel is like a combination of the legal chase thriller that was the Firm or the Pelican Brief with the spiritual warfare made real as done by Frank Peretti. And the good news is--Whitlow puts distills both into a form that is imminently readable and thoroughly enjoyable. The List is a book that once I started reading, I found it virtually impossible to put down. I cared about what happened to the characters of Renny and Jo, seeeing where the journey took them. I enjoyed their budding romance--seeing it in the wonders and pitfalls of an emerging relationship. I also liked hearing about the list and the lengths taken to keep it secret and how Renny learns to signing his name to something can have serious consequences. Hearing the spirtitual struggle of Renny and the battle waged for his soul is compelling and outstanding reading. The novel never lags and always keeps you intereted. Whitlow has done a superlative job with all of his books and the only thing that disappoints me is now I've read all of his books that are currently published and must wait for the wonder of discovering his worlds in a new novel.
If you're looking for strong, intelligent contemporary Christian fiction, look no farther. Even if you're just looking for a page-turning, moving and enjoyable novel, you can't go wrong here. The List is another great entry from great author. I can't recommend this book or any of Whitlow's other novels enough.
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