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."
"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 graduati...