Bonfire of the Vanities: Chapters30-31 and Epilogue

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Chapter 30

The grand jury hearings on the McCoy case are set to begin. Sherman and his lawyer are not present; this will be a show involving only the prosecutor and his witnesses, and Larry Kramer has coached his witnesses well.

 

Roland Auburn is transformed in a conservative Brooks Brothers shirt and leather loafers. Kramer has him hold his hands behind his back so he won’t do the Pimp Roll when he enters the courtroom. Before the jury, Kramer paints a story of Auburn’s childhood that makes him sound like a pitiable Oliver Twist. Then, Auburn gives his (false) version of that night in the Bronx, making Sherman out to be the heartless white hit-and-run driver. Kramer has Auburn repeat the phrase he heard that night—“Shuhmun, watch out.” Later, the jury will hear Maria, with her Southern accent, say Sherman’s name in exactly the same way.

         

The cab operators, Detectives Martin and Goldberg, and the parking attendant all testify, and then Maria Ruskin appears, dressed as the perfect widow in mourning. Kramer has coached her to give her name as Maria Teresa (to appeal to older Italian and Puerto Rican women on the jury) and to state her occupation as housewife (to bring her closer to the common folk). He is sure to mention that she has been recently widowed, earning more sympathy from the jury. All true and honest details, he thinks, but how expertly he has used them! He feels sure he can get Maria in bed eventually.

 

Kramer questions Maria, and her answers fit the phony version Auburn gave—the accident did not occur on a ramp but on an avenue, there was no obstruction in the road, and Sherman was driving. No mention of the thrown tire; the boys did nothing to threaten them. Kramer leaves the courtroom in triumph. Bernie meets him with a newspaper article in hand.

 

The article, published in The City Light, is another of Peter Fallow’s sensational tales. This one tells how Maria entertained Sherman in her “rent-controlled love nest” and shows a picture of her bed. Killian says it can’t hurt their case—it merely makes Maria sound like a hooker. Sherman is devastated by it; this will be the last nail in the coffin for his dead marriage. Besides, he says, Maria’s not a hooker. He still believes that she was prepared to do the right thing, right up until she found the wire on his back. 

 

The article says that Maria paid $750 a month for the apartment to Germaine, who then paid the $331 controlled rent. That’s true, but Sherman wonders how the reporter got that information. Maria told Sherman once—the day the agent for the landlord burst in on them—but he never told anyone. Quigley thinks the landlord’s agent must have somehow bugged the place, and rushes to go find the tape.

 

Bernie Fitzgibbon calls to warn Killian that the grand jury has indicted him. The bail may now be set much higher—perhaps half a million dollars this time. If so, he’ll have to post that bail immediately to avoid returning to jail.

 

Kramer’s not worried by the “rent-controlled love nest” article. He may even interview the landlord to see if he can get more information to smear Sherman.

 

Sherman calls Judy, who is staying at the home in Southampton with Campbell. She’s seen the story, but doesn’t want to talk about it or hear him try to explain. Sherman reminds her of the days long ago, when they were in love and he first started working on Wall Street. While leaving for work in the morning, he used to raise his fist in a Black Power salute, indicating that he would never sell out. Now, he says, he has totally broken with Wall Street, and he feels somehow free. Couldn’t she forgive him and make a new start? Judy says forgiving him won’t change anything. She’s been so hurt and betrayed that things can never go back to the way they once were.

 

They hang up, and then Quigley calls. He’s got the tape. They listen to it, and hear Maria repeating the facts of the incident: “Two boys stopped us and tried to rob us, but you threw a tire at one of them, and I drove outta there like a … a … hot-rodder, but I didn’t know I hit anybody.” Since the tape was made illegally and is not admissible evidence in a court of law, Sherman decides to lie and say he made the tape. It’s not illegal to tape one of your own conversations. Killian and Quigley are stunned. Sherman is about to commit perjury. He tells them that he’s finally ready to “turn into an animal and fight.”

 

Chapter 31: Into the Solar Plexus

Sherman’s bail hearing takes place on a beautiful sunny day in June; Sherman dreads the possibility of going back to jail. A large demonstration is taking place on the courthouse steps, but they avoid it by going in a side door. The protesters start shouting as soon as Sherman enters the courtroom: “Jail! No bail!” Judge Kovitsky, the Jewish warrior, quiets them down.

 

Using ridiculously overblown rhetoric designed to rile up the crowd of observers, Kramer asks for the bail to be increased to a million dollars. As the lawyers approach the bench, Kovitsky calls Kramer out, accusing him of trying to “run Abe Weiss’s re-election campaign for him” in the courtroom. Killian informs the judge of important evidence—the two tapes—to share. Over Kramer’s protests, the judge agrees to hear them in his chambers. Killian, Kramer, and the judge go to listen to them. The first tape, made when Sherman was wearing a wire, is mortifying to him. He is ashamed to have the other men hear Maria’s shouted accusations and be witness to his folly. The tape is also mortifying to Kramer, who hears Maria say that he is a “pompous little bastard” and “creep”—sentiments clearly shared by all the others in the room. His ego is crushed. Worse still, she claims on tape that Kramer fed her the story to tell, that he essentially pushed her to commit perjury.

 

Killian points out to the judge that the tape reveals two things: first, that the lawyer had pushed her testify falsely and second, that she had ample motivation to do so, angry as she was about finding Sherman’s wire. The second tape, the one that was actually recorded by the landlord, includes Maria’s admission that she was driving and a truthful account of the accident.

 

After hearing the tapes, the Judge is concerned about the possibility of false testimony before the grand jury and decides to throw out the indictment, with possibility of its being re-presented by the D.A. Hearing that the indictment is dismissed, the people are enraged—especially since Judge Kovitsky doesn’t bother to tell them the reason for the dismissal. Kramer takes advantage of the situation to do more grandstanding, playing to the spectators. Kovitsky thunders that he’s playing to the mob, and that he won’t stand for it anymore. Reverend Bacon’s heavy, Buck, the man with the gold earring, starts yelling “Whitewash!” and is thrown out of the court. Moments later, when the court is adjourned, Buck comes crashing back in, screaming an insult he used with the Mayor in the Prologue of the book and shouting “Park Avenue justice!” The demonstrators are agitating, and Quigley steps in to help the court officers handle them. When Buck jumps into the judge’s face again, Quigley stomps on his foot, and Sherman punches him in the stomach. The big man hits the floor, and Sherman is exultant.

 

At last Killian, Sherman, Kovitsky, Quigley, and one of the court officers, Brucie, get into the elevator and escape the mob scene, but it’s not over yet. The demonstrators are gathered all around the courthouse. Rather than sneak out, Judge Kovitsky decides to confront them and explain the reason for his decision, hoping this will calm everything down. Emboldened by his victory over the dreaded Buck, Sherman is right by his side. But just as he reaches the door and looks out over the mob, the Judge realizes it’s pointless. One man can’t do anything.

 

Sherman, though, is ready. A band of stragglers comes toward them and Sherman faces off with them, ready to fight. The Judge thinks he’s crazy, but it works; the stragglers make a retreat. 

 

Epilogue: Financier is Arraigned

The Epilogue is written in the form of a newspaper article in the New York Times, dated a year after the bail hearing. The article reports that Sherman has spent the last year fighting legal battles. No longer working on Wall Street, he considers himself a “professional defendant.” Now Henry Lamb has died after being in a coma for a year, and Sherman has been arraigned on a charge of manslaughter, facing 8 1/3–25 years if convicted. At the arraignment he appeared beat-up, as he had been in a fight with other prisoners in the detention cell. He pleaded innocent and represented himself at the trial rather than hire a lawyer.

 

Sherman has lost everything and now lives in a modest two-room apartment. He was sued for $12 million by Vogel (Lamb’s lawyer), and while he appeals it, the court has frozen all his assets. He and Judy are separated and Judy has taken Campbell to the Midwest, but she attended the trial. He gave her the Black Power salute as she sat in the spectator section.

         

The Bronx Democratic organization refused to re-nominate Kovitsky and he was defeated. Weiss got Sherman indicted by grand jury again in February, but the trial resulted in a hung jury.

 

Maria has married the Italian painter Filippo Chirazzi. She will be called as a witness in Sherman’s trial.

 

Kramer has been removed from the case after being caught trying to get Maria’s rent-controlled hideaway for his affair with Shelly Thomas. Herbert 92X has gotten his first-degree manslaughter conviction overturned on the grounds of “prosecutorial misconduct.”

 

Sally Rawthrote, the realtor who sold Sherman’s apartment, is now suing him because the money she got as a commission is going to be taken by Vogel.

 

Killian is not working for Sherman anymore because Sherman can’t afford him, but he has a lot of other clients. He says that if the case of Sherman McCoy were being tried in the court of the conscience, “the defendants would be Abe Weiss, Reginald Bacon, and Peter Fallow of The City Light.”

 

Weiss’s spokesman says that “It is tragic that it has required the death of Henry Lamb, who represented the highest ideals of or city, to see to it that justice will at last be served in this case.”

 

Peter Fallow has won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the McCoy case, got married to Sir Gerald Steiner’s daughter Lady Evelyn, and is on his honeymoon in the Aegean Sea.

 

Analysis of Chapters 30–31 and Epilogue

The grand jury indictment is a farce directed by Kramer; he’s coached his perjuring witnesses very well. The only weapon to use against this machine of injustice is more injustice. Sherman really is well justified in presenting the second tape as his. In fact, his scruples on the subject are a bit overdone, and his nobility toward Maria is a bit hard to believe at this point in the novel. Wolfe wants readers to feel that Sherman is a really good guy at heart. Despite his other foibles, he is definitely no criminal.

 

Looking back through the novel, one sees that Sherman consistently wanted to go to the police to report the incident. He expressed concern about the boy who was hit by the car. He was so worried about the whole case, in fact, that he started flubbing up at work to the point where he was nearly fired. The accident happened in the midst of a robbery. And actually, he wasn’t even the one driving. All these facts add up to the conclusion that Sherman really should be found innocent in the case. In other words, he is the innocent victim of greed, ambition, and racism, not Henry Lamb.

 

Sherman’s use of the Black Power salute at the end of the novel is rather comical. He is being brought down by Reverend Bacon as a representative of the White Establishment. And yet Reverend Bacon is now investing in the bond market, while Sherman is oppressed, broke, and giving the Black Power salute.

 

Judge Myron Kovitsky emerges as a hero of the book, the only character who has both moral fiber and backbone. He’s a true warrior for justice, willing to go down for what he believes in.

 

Of course, the least deserving characters are the ones who come out of this whole deal smelling like roses. Sherman, it seems, will never get out of this endless string of legal battles, and may serve time for manslaughter; meanwhile, the lowest bottom-feeder of them all, Peter Fallow, is on the Aegean Sea married to a rich aristocrat. It’s a crazy world indeed.

 

 

 

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