His secretary announced simply, “It’s her.”
There was no ambiguity as to who “her” might be, not after the force twelve media storm of the previous weeks. The country was convulsed. Seven-eighths of the nation’s front pages and the evening news was devoted to it. If war had broken out with Russia and China, it might have made page two.
“Shameless” Baylor had spent much of the previous seventeen days wondering if Beth MacMann would have the balls to call him.
He was, at age not quite fifty, the top trial attorney in the country. He had been the first lawyer to charge $1,000 per hour, which—for too long—had been considered the unbreakable sound barrier of legal billing.
There were half a dozen second-best trial attorneys each of whom, naturally, considered him- or herself the top trial attorney in the country. But none of them had been simultaneously on the covers of all three weekly newsmagazines, none had been portrayed in movies by a famous British actor pretending to be American. None owned a professional baseball team. And, to be sure, none had been married and divorced four times. The previous record had stood at three. That he had any assets left after such serial marital wreckage was perhaps the greatest testament to his courtroom skills.
He hadn’t been baptized “Shameless.” In fact, up to the moment he set out to become the best trial attorney in the country he had been the soul of decency, what used to go by the name of “Christian gentleman,” a veritable poster boy for all that is good and sunny in human nature. His real name was Boyce, and at his baptism, his godparents firmly rejected Satan on his behalf. The rejection lasted until an event that occurred to him just before he graduated from law school.
The nickname had been given to him by a federal judge early in Boyce’s controversial career, after he had persuaded a jury that his client, the Cap’n Bob Fast Fish Restaurant chain, was unaware that its popular Neptune Burgers were made from black market Japanese whale meat. Since that stunning victory, Boyce had successfully defended traitors, terrorists, inside traders, politicians, mobsters, blackmailers, polluters, toxic-waste dumpers, cheats, insurance frauds, drug dealers, horse dopers, televangelists, hucksters, society wife batterers, cybermonopolists, and even fellow lawyers. An eminent legal scholar who wore bow ties commented on public television that if Shameless Baylor had defended Adolf Eichmann after he had been kidnapped and brought to Israel and tried for crimes against humanity, Eichmann would have been not only acquitted, but awarded damages. It was not said admiringly. But if Boyce’s fame had long since reached the point where shoeshine men in airports asked for his autograph, the public was largely unaware of the actual motivation for his remarkable career.
And now—a quarter century after his career began—his phone rang.
He reached for the button, then paused. He thought of telling the secretary to tell her to call back. Sometimes he put new clients through a ten- or fifteen-minute wait before picking up. Softened them up. Made them all the more eager.
Should he, to her? No. He had waited twenty-five years. He was too impatient to begin this beguine.
He felt the kettledrum in his chest. Good Lord. Was his pulse actually quickening? He, who never broke a sweat, even while arguing before the Supreme Court?
He picked up.
“Hello, Beth. What’ve you been up to?” This was nonchalance carried to operatic heights.
“I need to see you, Boyce.”
Her voice was all business. Cool as a martini, no more emotion than a flight attendant telling the passengers to put their seats in the upright position. He’d have preferred a little more raw emotion, frankly, even a stifled gasp or sob. Some clients, even burly men who could break your jaw with one lazy swipe of their paws, broke down the first time they spoke to him. Boyce kept a box of tissues in his office, like a shrink. One new client, the head of a plumbers union who had been taped by the FBI on the phone ordering the car bombing of a rival, had blubbered like an eight-year-old. He later blamed it on medication.
But even now, placing a call that must have humiliated her, Beth was in her own upright position, not a trace of begging or desperation in her voice. Boyce stiffened. His pulse returned to normal. Okay, babe, you want to play it cool? I’ll see your thirty-two degrees Fahrenheit and lower you five.
“I could see you tomorrow at ten-thirty,” he said. “For half an hour.”
It had been a long time since anyone had said something like that to Beth MacMann.
The two of them began the mental countdown to see who would blink first.
. . . seven . . . eight . . . nine . . .
“Fine,” she said.
“Will you be taking the shuttle?” He’d be damned if he’d send his own jet to pick her up.
“No, Boyce. I’ll be driving. I don’t relish the thought of being stared at for an hour on the shuttle.”
As a former First Lady, she retained Secret Service protection, another of the ironies in which she and the nation found themselves: prosecuted by the government, protected by the government. A Times columnist had mischievously posed the question: If in the end Beth MacMann was executed, would there be a shoot-out between the Secret Service and the lethal injectionist? So many delicious questions were being posed these days.
Boyce leaned back in his leather throne and imagined the spectacle in all its many-pixeled splendor: hundreds of TV cameras and reporters outside his Manhattan office, clamoring, aiming their microphones like fetish sticks as the Secret Service phalanxed her through to the door. And there he would be standing, gorgeously, Englishly tailored, to greet her. His face would be on every television set in the world tomorrow. Peasants in Uzbekistan, ozone researchers in Antarctica, Amish farmers in Pennsylvania would recognize him.
He would issue a brief, dignified, noncommittal statement to the effect that this was only a preliminary meeting. He would smile, thank the media for its interest—Boyce was the Siegfried and Roy of media handlers—and usher her in. How satisfying it would be, after all these years. They were already calling it “the Trial of the Millennium,” and there he would be, at the red hot center of it. And maybe—just maybe—to make his revenge perfect, he would deliberately lose this one. But so subtly that even the Harvard Law bow tie brigade would hem and haw and say that no one, really, could have won this one, not even Shameless Baylor.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from No Way to Treat a First Lady by Christopher Buckley. Copyright © 2002 by Christopher Buckley. Excerpted by permission of Random House Trade Paperbacks, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.