Bonfire of the Vanities: Chapters 18-19

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Chapter 18: Shuhmun

Kramer meets with Danny Torres, a fat district attorney from the Supreme Court Bureau, to find out what he knows about Roland Auburn. Auburn is in custody awaiting sentencing on drug charges, and may get two to four years if he’s convicted. Now he’s hoping to be let free in exchange for his testimony in the Lamb case.

 

Detectives Martin and Goldberg bring Auburn in, handcuffed, to talk to Kramer. He tells a story that fits the one reported in the papers: he was walking along Bruckner Boulevard when he came across Henry. Both were headed to get takeout fried chicken, so they walked together. As they prepared to cross the street, a car struck Henry. It stopped a little way up the road, and a man and woman got out and looked back at him. Auburn shouted at the man for help, but a woman in the car shouted, “Shuhmun, look out!” The woman got back in and took the driver’s seat, while the man got in the passenger side, and they took off. Auburn adds that the car was a sporty black Mercedes two-seater—an accurate description of Sherman’s car, his listeners note.

 

Kramer shows him some photographs, among them a picture of Sherman and Judy McCoy. Auburn positively identifies Sherman, but not Judy. The woman in the car, he says, was younger and foxier. 

 

Auburn says he rode in the cab with Henry to the hospital, but then left and never said anything to the police because he knew there was a warrant out for his arrest.

 

Kramer is elated—it all fits—he’s got his witness! All he has to do is quiet down this business about Auburn’s record and clean him up a bit, and he’s got himself a case. He can see it now; he’ll be the star prosecutor, and all of New York will know it . . . including Shelly Thomas.

 

Chapter 19: Donkey Loyalty

On Monday morning, Weiss calls Kramer and Bernie into his office to find out if they have enough evidence to arrest Sherman McCoy. Bernie is still doubtful. He doesn’t trust this lowlife Auburn and wants further investigation. Kramer breaks in, defending his star witness—he’s no slimeball crack dealer, he’s just misunderstood. The other two men smile, knowing that Kramer is fooling himself. He needs to believe Auburn is a good kid so that he can feel good about his case. Weiss knows better, and he’s really not happy to see a scumbag like Auburn, who was indicted by a grand jury, let off the hook for his testimony. Nonetheless, Weiss decides to have Sherman McCoy arrested the next day.

 

Then, Weiss has another great idea. Why not arrest McCoy right there in his Park Avenue apartment, the one that was featured in Architectural Digest? That would really show that justice is evenhanded: “you arrest a guy from Park Avenue the same way you arrest a José García or Tyrone Smith.” Kramer thinks this is brilliant idea, but Bernie says no; he promised his friend Tommy Killian it wouldn’t go down like that. Bernie and Killian are both Irish, or Donkeys—and Donkey Loyalty takes precedence. Much to Kramer’s dismay, Weiss backs down.

         

Analysis of Chapters 18–19

Roland Auburn’s story differs from the one readers know to be true in several significant respects. First, he repeats the widely reported tale that the accident was on Bruckner Boulevard. If he’d said it was on the expressway ramp, people would be suspicious; what would two boys be doing on a expressway besides looking to hijack cars? For the same reason, Auburn omits the detail about the tire in the road, which Auburn himself evidently put there as a ruse to get Sherman to stop. He says that Sherman’s car screeched by and hit Henry, and that only after Henry was hit did Sherman and Maria switch places in the car. In Auburn’s story, then, Sherman was driving when Henry was hit. It’s apparent now that Maria’s testimony is going to be crucial for the defense.

 

Everything is falling into place as the prosecution has now found their witness. Of course Auburn is lying, but Kramer and Weiss are eager to brush off any concerns about their star witness’s credibility. Their main concern is not the truth, but the end goal of getting Sherman McCoy, the Great White Defendant, behind bars. They’re in such a rush that they don’t even want to bother with putting the case before a grand jury; they even want to arrest him in his Park Avenue apartment. The sooner they do this, the better Weiss will look. In helping him win the case, Kramer hopes to be singled out by Weiss as a rising star in the D.A.’s office. Sherman and Kramer are foils for one another, and it’s significant that as Sherman goes down, Kramer’s fortunes are on the rise.

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