From Chapter 1: Honorable Mention
Whisking into his apartment house on West Eighty-Ninth Street, Edgar Kellogg skulked, eager to avoid eye contact with a doorman who at least got a regular paycheck. His steps were quick and tight, his shoulders rounded. Unable to cover next month's rent, he peered anxiously at the elevator indication light stuck on twelve, as if any moment he might be arrested. Maxing out the credit cards came next. This place used to give him such a kick. Now that he couldn't afford it, the kick was in the teeth, and tapping cordovans literally down at the heel, he calculated morosely that for every day in this fatuous dive he was out ninety bucks. Waiting on a $175 check from the Amoco Traveler was like trying to bail out a rowboat with an eyedropper while the cold, briny deep gushed through a hole the size of a rubber boot.
Up on the nineteenth floor, Edgar shot a look around at what, underneath it all, was a plushly appointed one-bedroom, but the management's cleaning service had been one of the first luxuries to go. At only ten a.m., Edgar found himself already eyeing the Doritos on the counter. One thing he hadn't anticipated about the "home office" was Snack Syndrome; lately his mental energies divided evenly between his new calling (worrying about money, which substituted neatly for earning it) and not stuffing his face. God, he was turning into a girl, and in no time would find himself helplessly contriving sassy Ryvita open-faces with cherry tomatoes (only twenty-five calories!). The thought came at him with a thud: This isn't working out. Quick on its heels, I've made a terrible mistake. And, since Edgar was never one to put too fine a point on it, I'm an ass.
This was not the positive thinking that the how-tos commended in the run-up to a job interview, in preparation for which Edgar cleared off the beer cans and spread out the National Record. Hours in advance, his concentration was already shaky. Picking out single words in strobe, his eyes skittered across an article about terrorism: these days it was news that there wasn't any. Further down: some correspondent had gone missing three months ago. The gist: he was still missing. If it weren't a reporter who'd vanished, this "story" would never have run, much less on the front page. After all, if Edgar Kellogg disappeared tomorrow, the Record was unlikely to run frantic updates on the ongoing search for a prematurely retired attorney turned nobody freelancer. In the argot of his new trade, "freelance" was apparently insider jargon for "unemployed," and when he mumbled the word to acquaintances they smirked.
Yet instead of getting up to speed on current events, Edgar found himself once again compulsively scanning for a Tobias Falconer byline. Funny thing was, when he found one, he wouldn't read the article. And this was typical. For years he'd snagged this oppressively earnest, tiny-print newspaper — one of the last austere holdouts that refused to go color — solely to locate Falconer's pieces, but he could seldom submit to reading them. Edgar had never tried to identify what he feared.
Collapsing into the deep corduroy sofa, Edgar surrendered to the free-floating reflection that ten frenzied years on Wall Street had so mercifully forestalled. For all that time, Toby Falconer's supercharged byline had given Edgar a jolt, its alternating current of envy and wistfulness confusing but addictive. These little zaps made his scalp tingle, but reading whole features would be like sticking his fingers into a light socket. In that event, why buy the paper at all? Why monitor the career of a man whom Edgar hadn't seen in twenty years, and of a traitor to boot, whose very surname made him wince?
But then, Falconer's fortunes had been easy to follow. A foreign correspondent first for U.S. News and World Report, then, seminally, for the National Record, he filed peripatetically from Beirut to Belfast to Sarajevo. More than once he'd won a prize for covering a story that was especially risky or previously neglected, and these awards filled Edgar with a baffling mixture of irritation and pride. Of course, Edgar had chosen the far more lucrative occupation. Yet he'd learned to his despair how little money was worth if it couldn't buy you out of slogging at seven a.m. into a law firm you reviled. "Well compensated" was an apt turn of phrase, though in the end he couldn't imagine any sum so vast that it could truly offset flushing twelve, thirteen hours of every waking day down the toilet.
When Edgar ditched his "promising" career in corporate law (though what it promised, of course, was more corporate law) in order to try his hand at journalism six months ago, he'd been reluctant to examine in what measure this impetuous and financially suicidal reinvention might have been influenced by his old high school running buddy — who, having always obtained the funnier friends, the prettier girls, and the sexier summer jobs, had naturally secured the jazzier vocation. If Toby Falconer and Edgar Kellogg were both drawn to journalism in the fullness of time, maybe the convergence merely indicated that the two boys had had more in common at Yardley Prep than Edgar had ever dared believe as a kid.
Dream on. To imagine that he bore any resemblance to Falconer in adolescence was so vain as to be fanciful. Toby Falconer was a specimen. No doubt every high school had one, though the singular was incongruous as a type; presumably there was no one else like him.
A Falconer was the kind of guy about whom other people couldn't stop talking. He managed to be the center of attention when he wasn't even there. He always got girls, but more to the point he got the girl. Whichever dish you yourself envisioned with the bathroom door closed, she'd be smitten with our hero instead. Some cachet would rub off, of course, but if you hung with a Falconer you'd spend most of your dates fielding questions about his troubled childhood. A Falconer's liberty was almost perfectly unfettered, because he was never punished for his sins. Anyway, a Falconer's sins wouldn't seem depraved but merely naughty, waggish, or rather enchanting really, part of the package without which a Falconer wouldn't be the endearing rogue whom we know and love and infinitely forgive. Besides, who would risk his displeasure by bringing him to book? He did everything with flair, not only because he was socially adroit, but because the defi¬nition of flair in his circle was however the Falconer did whatever the Falconer did. To what extent a Falconer's magnetism could be ascribed to physical beauty was impossible to determine. Good looks couldn't have hurt; still, if a Falconer had any deviant feature — a lumpy nose, or a single continuous eyebrow — that feature would simply serve to reconfigure the beautiful as archetype. A Falconer set the standard, so by his very nature could not appear unattractive, make a plainly stupid remark, or do anything awkward at which others would laugh, save in an ardent, collusive, or sycophantic spirit.
From The New Republic by Lionel Shriver. Copyright 2012 by Lionel Shriver. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.