The bestseller

The private underground garage gates open and the Maserati GranCabrio glides in, finds one of the three most convenient spaces, then purrs to a stop. The door opens and a black Edward Green oxford emerges, polished by elbow grease other than its owner’s own, followed by the trouser leg of a conservative yet perfectly tailored suit. Wesson has arrived at McCarthy Singh & Wesson, unfolding from the comfort of the sedan to his full, imposing height. Uncharacteristically, tiny beads of sweat glisten at his temples. While too small for others to notice, he feels their slight chill. As the wood-paneled elevator speeds smoothly up the shaft toward the office, he prepares for the day—and night—ahead. He’d started out three years ago as a greenhorn attorney representing the people of the Baltimore slums, and had swiftly risen to apprenticeship at a superstar firm, which had been brought down by a massive scheme involving pharmaceuticals and South African diamond mines. He had brought the swindle to light despite no small risk to his life. After that, he had had enough of toeing the line at giant firms—he wanted to call the shots. So he, Blake McCarthy from Balti Legal Aid, and Anjali Singh, the brilliant young lawyer who had been the only one to believe him and get out while she could at Solomon & Holmes, had opened MS&W. They were now enjoying incredible wealth and challenge, in exchange for a mere hundred or so hours of their time and energy each week.

Wesson reviews the case mentally. Although he carries a slender attache, it is nearly always empty, except for a photograph of his fiancée, Lisse, smiling disarmingly in her bathing suit on a beach on the Marau Peninsula of Brazil. Part of his power in the courtroom consists in his freedom from thick sheaves of paper: his photographic memory allows him to appear spur-of-the-moment, reasonable, and refreshingly lacking in smoke and mirrors. The case is a corporate fraud lawsuit. Textbook, but he has a feeling: this is going to be another big one, another wild ride. He wonders why his life is like this. He imagines the novel that spells out the following six months of his life, runs his fingers over its embossed cover and feels its heft. He knows how things will go: long hours, twists and surprises, death threats, perhaps a beating or a kidnapping. A new woman on the scene, dubiously trustworthy, yet spellbinding. He’ll lose a great deal of money, his reputation will be in question, but he’ll pull through in the end. His hard-headed secretary, sprung from the hood but in strict retention of her survival instinct, will point him toward a vital clue. And he’ll topple giants, win back his acclaim and then some, and as a result will own sheets with an even higher thread count, between which he will recline alongside the warm body of Lisse, who always returns to primary status by the last page. The end. Until the next time, the next blockbuster.

Truth be told, sometimes he wishes it were otherwise. The dweller of a non-bestseller life is allowed to wear red college sweatpants on Saturdays; to frequent Hardee’s, and sigh while eating. To put his foot in his mouth, or to stomp that foot in impatience, or to stub its toe in situations other than muggings performed by the thugs of drug cartel kingpins. And beyond this, such a person might have an opportunity to change, to really change. Such a person might become more or less ornery with time. He might develop dementia, or an embarrassing racist streak, or a love of nurturing plants and children. All horrible to consider, and thoroughly impossible for him, but on mornings such as this—mornings of the damp brow, the foreknowledge, the feeling of teetering over the edge of the same cliff yet again—Adam Wesson is wistful.

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