The Up and Comer


By Howard Roughan

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In this wildly entertaining thriller, an attorney finds himself at the center of a murder investigation that could ruin the scintillatingbut precariouslife he as built. 

Poised to become his Manhattan law firm's youngest partner, up-and-coming attorney Philip Randall takes risks and a mistress—his best friend's wife.

Then the game changes. The stakes get higher.

Someone begins following Philip's every move, waiting for the chance to strike–with a vengeance. Soon, Philip is at the center of a murder investigation that can end his career, his marriage, and his fabulous life.



"THE UP AND COMER is a millennial, Wall Street version of The Player—a tale of a Yuppie prick who gets his comeuppance. Beyond the sheer speed and undiluted excitement with which THE UP AND COMER is told lies a cruel comedy of manners about overprivileged, spoiled New Yorkers.… Sleek entertainment and a malicious thriller: fast, nasty, jolting."

—Bret Easton Ellis, author of American Psycho

"First-timer Roughan knocks one out of the park with this satisfyingly lean and propulsive thriller.… An impressive debut."

—Kirkus Reviews

"If F. Scott Fitzgerald had written 'The Perils of Pauline' and set it in contemporary Manhattan, the result might well be the brilliant THE UP AND COMER. With pitch-perfect ear and dialogue for days, Roughan has written a funny, smart, and start-to-finish riveting chronicle of life as it is lived among upwardly mobile young Americans. A killer first novel, as entertaining as it is authentic."

—Jerry Stahl, author of Permanent Midnight

"A supremely hip, brazen debut.… As Roughan wraps his crafty plot around some impressively tense moments, the novel morphs into an engaging, cinematic page-turner."

—Publishers Weekly

"A screamer. Fast, fun, and dead-on compelling. A great ride of a book."

—Robert Ferrigno, author of Heartbreaker

"Wry, self-deprecating wit… has a hypnotic charm."

—Orlando Sentinel

"Great characters… an entertaining and very contemporary examination of how far a man will go to protect the life he's so happily settled into."

—Ridgefield Press

"What makes this thriller so good is the narrative voice… elegant writing, fine dialogue, and deft jokes at the expense of lawyers and Manhattan society."

—Tatler magazine

"An irresistible page turner.… The plot is fiendishly brilliant and tautly woven.… Roughan's book crackles with wit and sharp dialogue, yet there is a dark, serious undercurrent that keeps you riveted on several levels."

—Greenwich Time

"Roughan has an ability, like Donald Westlake, to combine comedic elements with serious matters.… I was howling with laughter while almost falling off the edge of my seat. At the same time, Roughan plots so well, and so simply, that in the end everyone gets what they deserve. Well, almost everyone."


"A wonderful decline-and-fall story for our well-heeled times… written with great rude brio.… Roughan is a natural. He tells a story with deceptive ease, making you compulsively turn pages… and he captures, with spot-on accuracy, the dubious underside of anyone who believes 'careerism' is a noble calling. This is a terrific debut."

—Douglas Kennedy, author of The Big Picture


This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.


Copyright © 2001 by Howard Roughan

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

Grateful acknowledgment is made to reprint portions of "My Way." English lyrics by Paul Anka. Music by Jacques Revaux & Claude Francois. Original French lyrics by Giles Thibault. © 1967 Societé de Nouvelles, Editions Eddie Barclay, © 1995 renewed. © 1969 Chrysalis Standards, Inc. (BMI), © 1997 renewed. International Copyright Secured. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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First eBook Edition: July 2001

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2526-9

For Christine,

who reads me like no other


Laura Tucker for her intelligence, wit, and that most endangered species of personal traits: the willingness to take a chance.

Richard Curtis for simply being the consummate professional.

Rick Horgan for his ever keen insight and always cool demeanor. A brilliant combination for which I'm eternally grateful.

Jamie Raab for walking into the room and effortlessly reciting lines back to me. No quicker way to my heart.

Jody Handley for her amazing comprehension and gifted perspective. So good while so young is so unfair.

Harvey-Jane Kowal and Betsy Uhrig for their perserverance in the epic battle to protect the English language from my seemingly endless attempts to butcher it.

Nancy Wiese and Erika Johnsen for going to the ends of the earth for me.

Scott E. Garrett for his most informed counsel and trip to the dentist.

Elaine Glass for her unyielding spirit and contagious optimism.

Also, Stephen Schaffer for his incredibly vast expertise. Mike Lewis for being so generous with his time and wisdom. Paul Weinstein for always being able to help, book included. And Ralph Pettie for being the first teacher who encouraged me to write.

Finally, John and Harriet Roughman. My right from wrong, true measure of trust, and forever my foundation.

Part I


The four of us were having dinner together, as we so often did. It was at the Grange Hall down in the West Village. There were Connor and Jessica, Tracy and me. Connor, never one to instigate a conversation let alone dominate it, was nonetheless center stage.

"I realized the other day," he began, his narrow eyes darting back and forth among us, "that we're all at the age now where we can really only rely on our instincts and intellect in order to succeed." Connor stopped for a moment, presumably to let the supposed magnitude of this statement sink in. He continued: "When you think about it, from the ages of, like, twenty-eight to… oh, let's say thirty-four, we're all kind of just out there without a net. I mean, when we're older than that, odds are we'll have collected enough experience—personal, professional, what have you—to get our asses out of almost any jam. And when we were younger, let's face it, nothing really too significant was expected of us, precisely because we didn't have any experience. But those in-between years—right now—that's when we're really on our own."

I remember watching Connor finish that last sentence, the way he deliberately reached for a packet of sugar as if he were testing out an artificial limb. I remember because it was at that precise moment that I wish it had occurred to me: I should probably stop fucking his wife.


Absolutely incredible!"

Tracy stood before me, loaded shopping bags in hand, a smile ear to ear. She'd been gone a good six hours.

"Back so soon?" I said, barely looking up from my Sunday Times. But it was clear there wasn't enough sarcasm in the world to burst my wife's bubble. She just ignored me.

"Everything fit; everything I tried on fit me like a glove. It was like karma… clothes karma!" Tracy said with a giggle. "That's what it was!"

Now hold it right there. Were this most anyone else's apartment and the same scene was being played out, odds are the guy in my shoes would start huffing and puffing about how much this little shopping spree was going to set him back. Some heated words would be exchanged, followed by a full-blown argument that in turn would give way to any number of tantrum-related activities such as kicking, screaming, or heaving a vase across the room.

But this wasn't anyone else's apartment, this was our 3,500-square-foot penthouse loft in Chelsea, paid for in cash by my father-in-law, Lawrence Metcalf, as a wedding gift two years ago. Which is not to say I married for money. No, I married for a lot of money.

So when Tracy would go four figures deep into Bergdorf's or Bendel's, or, on this particular Sunday afternoon, Saks Fifth Avenue, I, Philip Randall, couldn't really give a shit. It wasn't our money she was spending, it was Daddy's, and you didn't have to be the sharpest knife in the drawer to figure out that whatever moral or self-esteem issues one might have with that, it simply wasn't worth acting on them. Period.

"Philip, if you want me, I'll be in the bedroom."

That was code, of course. It meant Tracy wanted to have sex. As if wealth wasn't a blessing enough unto itself, it so happened that spending money made my wife horny. Really horny. And the more she spent, the more horny she got. It actually made for an interesting post-coital ritual. We would finish up, and depending on whatever it was she had let me do to her and how much she had been into it, I would try to guess how much money she'd just spent. Once, on a whim, she bought herself a Cartier Pasha watch at Tourneau. It was the only time we ever had anal sex.

"That was at least three G's," I gasped, rolling off her.

"Two thousand," she gasped back. "Though not including tax."

(Truth be told, I wouldn't have rated it much more than a couple hundred, however, I had learned early on to always come in at a higher number.)

Tracy got up from the bed and headed for the bathroom. I watched her. She was still very thin, as thin as when we first met four years ago. Her breasts were not large, but they were round, a nice shape. Occasionally, after too much to drink, she'd talk about getting implants, though I knew it was something that she'd never do.

"Oh, guess who I bumped into?" came her voice from the bathroom.


Tracy reappeared in her robe. "Tyler Mills," she said.

"No shit."

"Yeah, he remembered me and everything. Of course, I didn't have a clue who he was at first. He looked horrible, though."

"Funny how a suicide attempt will do that to you," I said. "Where'd you see him?"

"Outside of Saks. He was standing by the doors."

"By himself?"

Tracy nodded.

"What'd you talk about?"

"Nothing, really; I asked how he was doing and all that. It was— Oh, on second thought, he did say something strange; well, not really strange, just kind of weird."

"What was it?"

"He said he hoped to be talking to you soon."

"You thought that was weird?" I asked.

"It was the way he said it, like it was something that you might not want to do."

"What, did he say that?"

"No, I got the sense that there was more to it, though," she said. "Do you know what it's about?"

"Not a clue."

"Anyway, I gave him our number as well as your one at work. That was okay, right?"


There are probably more lawyers in Manhattan than in any other city in the world. I say probably because I've never really taken the time, or more accurately, had the inclination, to find out for sure. Statistics like that are just assumed by New Yorkers out of sheer egocentricity.

Many of the lawyers I know say they wanted to be one at an early age. Often it was because they had a parent who was one, or in some instances they'd been influenced by a character who was one on television or in a book they had read. I'd bet To Kill a Mockingbird alone is responsible for over a hundred lawyers in this country easy. No matter what the influence, though, the mere thought of there being a bunch of pubescent types walking around knowing they want to be lawyers has always seemed to me to be ludicrous. Always will.

As for me, I didn't know I wanted to be one until my last year at Dartmouth. It was no great epiphany or anything like that, and there was hardly any deep soul-searching involved. In reality, it was on account of a lame classroom exercise in a poli-sci course.

We were doing a simulated United Nations conference in which every student represented a member country. Given the current political context of the time (a diminishing Cold War, budding capitalism, blah, blah, blah…), the objective was to advance your country's interests as best you could. I represented Hungary. I kicked ass.

I managed to persuade the voting majority in the class on every initiative I introduced. No matter what dissenting argument was presented by another student, I ripped it to shreds. It was pretty wild, and the most amazing thing about it was that it was also pretty easy.

When the class was over, there must have been six or seven other students who came up to me to tell me how well I had done, and practically every time they made some comment on how I'd make a really good lawyer. One guy, who I'd never even said as much as hello to, asked me if I planned to take the LSAT. The LSAT?

Just like that, people saw something in me that I'd never seen for myself. I was skeptical at first—there were, after all, a fair number of dimwits in the class—but the more I thought about it, the more I thought they could be onto something. Maybe I could make a good lawyer. Besides, it wasn't like there was anything else shaping up for me to do. French lit may have been a fun major and a good way to get laid, but even I knew there was no way to make a living from it.

I took that LSAT, scored a Reggie Jackson (44), and got accepted at the University of Virginia School of Law. I concentrated on criminal law and memorized a whole bunch of crap over the course of three years. When the recruiting season started, the only thing I knew for sure was that I wanted to work in Manhattan. I got three offers.

Then one day a professor pulled me aside after class and told me that Campbell & Devine was looking to hire an associate. It was like being tapped for a secret society. They were a small Manhattan firm with a huge reputation. The Green Berets of law. Having roomed with Jack Devine in college, the professor said he could arrange an interview for me. Not to piss on myself, I told him, but why me? Because you're exactly the kind of son of a bitch he's looking for, he said. It was one of the best compliments I'd ever gotten.

I don't remember the flight up to New York. I couldn't tell you if it was good weather or bad. I'm pretty sure I ate, though your guess is as good as mine when it comes to what. The only thing I remember was sitting down across from Jack Devine, a huge leather-inlaid desk between us, and him holding my résumé in the air… and then ripping it up. Slowly.

"We won't be needing this now, will we?" he said with a hint of melodrama. He let the pieces of paper fall to the desk. I could've sworn they fell in slow motion.

The interview lasted five minutes. It consisted of one question and one request, neither of which had anything to do with law. Or so I thought. The question, which came first, caught me completely off guard.

"Philip, why are manhole covers round?"

Damned if I knew. Though I had a sneaking suspicion that wasn't the answer Jack Devine was looking for. So I sat there and stared at him. At least that's what it surely looked like to him. What he couldn't see was a guy's brain scrambling for its life to deliver something, anything, that would seem plausible. Finally, without even knowing it, I blurted out an answer.

"Because the holes are round."

Jack Devine sat there and stared back at me for a moment. Then, he let out with a huge bellowing laugh. It was like a thunderclap.

"Because the holes are round!" he yelled. "Fuckin' A! Donna, you gotta hear this one."

A big-haired brunette in a tight skirt appeared all curvylike in his doorway. Staten Island, without a doubt.

"Because the holes are round," Devine said to her with a "get a load of this" staccato.

"Good one," Donna said, looking at me with a trained smile before walking away.

Hell, I'm on a roll, I thought. What's next? Why's the sky blue? What's the difference between AM and FM? The mating habits of horseshoe crabs? Bring it on, Jack!

He brought it. "You see that pen?" he asked, pointing at a Bic sitting atop a nearby credenza. "I want you to sell me that pen."

There was no hesitation on my part this time. Though a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing, a little confidence can do wonders.

"Sell you the pen?" I began, getting up and walking over to the credenza. "Shit, Jack, you can have the pen!" I picked it up and tossed it on his desk. "And there's plenty more where that came from."

Three days later I got a phone call back at school from Donna. She told me to hold for Jack. Deleting the constant flow of "ums" I uttered, the conversation went something like this:

JACK: You big on summer vacations?
ME: Not necessarily.
JACK: Good answer. The job starts June first, it pays a hundred fifty thousand, and if you don't pass the bar on your first try you're fired. You can give me an answer now or let me know by tomorrow morning. Any later and the guy who actually knew why manhole covers are round gets the offer.
ME: I'll talk to you in the morning.

At 9:01 the next morning I called Devine and accepted the job. He welcomed me aboard and told me to prepare to be great. That was five years ago.

"Morning, Philip, how was your weekend?"

"Great," I said. "And yours?"

"It sucked."

My secretary, Gwen. Candid to a fault.

I had once been at this law school wine-and-cheese party where this guy with a tan, some senior partner at a firm in Miami, was bending my ear about the dos and don'ts of the legal world. Most of it was forgettable, except for one thing. He said no matter what I did, no matter how many rules I bent or truths I stretched, never, ever hire an attractive secretary. The temptation, he said with a mouth full of Gouda, would prove too great a distraction. It seemed to be an insightful observation. Even more so when I learned that his second and third wives could each type better than eighty words a minute.

So I made sure Gwen was unattractive. Actually, her parents made sure of that. I simply made sure that she worked for me. Gwen was fat, had acne scars, and her hair was even thinning. (Okay, so I went a little overboard.) But damn if she didn't know how to cover my ass.

"The Devine One was looking for you," she said, following me into my office. "He came by twenty minutes ago. I told him you were at a deposition."

"Good save," I told her, looking down at my watch. Nine-thirty-five. Where did I think I worked, an ad agency? I started to head back out the door.

"Don't bother; he only wanted to make sure you could sit with him this afternoon at two," Gwen said.

"Any details?"

She shook her head. "No, just two o'clock in his office."

"Tell Donna to let him know I'll be there," I said.

Gwen went back to her desk and I settled into mine. The offices of Campbell & Devine were on the thirty-first floor of the Graybar building, right smack in the middle of midtown. It was an okay area to work in, I guess, though I'd never had anywhere else to compare it to.

After sorting through a couple of files in between long stares out my window, I got up and closed my door to make the call. After two rings, Jessica picked up. We exchanged hellos. Then we got down to business.

"I can't today," she said in a super-hushed tone. As an ad sales rep for Glamour magazine, Jessica was subject to the virtual-office concept and the lack of privacy that went with it.

"Aw, c'mon," I said.

"No, really," she continued, her voice trying to sound more earnest, "I've got a presentation this afternoon and we've changed around some of the charts. Everything's a mess. I've got to get it in order."

"Bring the stuff," I said. "I'll help you."

She laughed. "Yeah, right."

"Seriously, I will."

"Philip, I—"

I interrupted her. We had a rule about not using our names, especially on her end. She broke it regularly.

"Sorry," Jessica whispered. It was all the leverage I needed.

"Listen, I'm busy too," I said. "I just really want to be with you today, that's all. We'll keep it to an hour, max." I could sense the tide was turning. "I'll bring lunch, chicken Caesar wraps from Piatti Pronti."

"And a diet peach Snapple?"

"And a diet peach Snapple," I repeated back. Victory. "See you around twelve-thirty. I'll be the early one."


Jessica Levine was born, raised, and will probably die in New York City. Depending on your opinion of Woody Allen movies, that's either a blessing or a curse. Her father lost a battle with cancer when she was six, a precarious age as far as someone's memory goes. One time when we were lying in bed together she began to cry over no longer being able to recall how he smelled. She knew it was a sweet smell, not flowery or anything like that, just somehow sweet. Only suddenly she could no longer smell it. Mere weeks ago, she said, she needed only to think of him and breathe in to remember. Now nothing. Another casualty of the distance the advancing years were putting between her and her memories of the man.

Her father had been a successful financier and, as one might have expected, very well insured. So Jessica, her mother, and her younger brother, Zachary, had carried on very nicely in their duplex on Park Avenue. As Jessica would tell it, her mother suppressed her grief by joining practically every committee for the arts there was in the city. Consequently, Jessica grew up going to anything and everything that featured a curtain, velvet ropes, or raging homosexuals.

She was pretty, not turning-heads pretty, rather the kind of pretty that seemed to develop slowly before your eyes. I tried to explain that to her once by comparing her to a Polaroid snapshot. I don't know what I was thinking. Let me get this straight, Jessica said, what you're saying is that at first I'm an out-of-focus blur? Okay, not the best analogy, I assured her, switching immediately into my backpedal mode. She understood, though. She always understood.

Affairs may be first and foremost based on sex, and yes, there was barely a time that Jessica and I were alone together that we weren't proving that point. Nonetheless, there was something else going on. It was as if the two of us both lived our lives dreading the thought that one day, with death imminent, we would look back and ask ourselves with a defeated sigh, "Was that all?" Ours was a greedy generation to begin with, and she and I still seemed to want more than most others. We were two driven individuals for whom the idea of being selfish wasn't such a bad thing. In short, we were to each other what our spouses had turned out not to be. Kissable ambition.

Logistics. When the affair first started we had to pick a place to rendezvous at. We discussed renting a small studio, but the more we talked about it the less it seemed like a good idea. Having to sign a lease, nosy neighbors, and the prospect of one day having to hear, "Honey, what are these keys for?" were way too much to handle. No, a hotel would be the better choice, we decided. But which one? Jessica suggested the Paramount. I suggested that we'd have less chance of being discovered if we confessed on Nightline


On Sale
Jul 5, 2001
Page Count
336 pages

Howard Roughan

About the Author

Howard Roughan has cowritten several books with James Patterson and is the author of The Promise of a Lie and The Up and Comer. He lives in Florida with his wife and son.

Learn more about this author