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I decided it would be a big mistake to respond, though if I understood what my wife had just said, evidently her life with me didn’t turn out very well. We’d have to talk about this later when we were alone.

Others were also apparently left speechless, and so, after a mildly embarrassing interval, Ellie Kaplan turned to her husband.

“So, beloved husband,” she said, “what’s your great self-deception?”

“I hope nobody thinks it is going to be that I am a champion lover, a sack-artist extraordinaire. No, my self-deception is a bit more complicated. As a lawyer and as a tax accountant I probably see more greed and envy and idiotic competitiveness than anyone else in this room. Men come to me at tax time with wild ideas for saving on their income tax. A guy last year wanted to claim as a business expense a new bedroom set he and his wife purchased because, he claimed, to be sharp for his exacting business — he owned a women’s shoe store — every night he needed a good night’s sleep. Men and women, it won’t surprise you to know, turn litigious if they think there is a serious buck to be made, with my help of course. I had a woman client three years ago wore a whiplash collar for fully sixteen months in the hope of collecting a million six because of a car accident. She might have won it, too, if her picture didn’t show up in the Sun-Times playing in the finals of the park-district tennis doubles tournament. I could keep everyone in this room till morning before I ran out of such stories.

“So, my self-deception is that, despite all the rotten behaviour I have personally been witness to, and some I admit I collaborated in, I prefer to think that, on balance, there is still more good than bad in the world.”

There was a moment’s silence, then Sheila Axelrod said, “Forgive me, Irwin, but what you just said, about believing there is more good than bad in the world, sounds to me, if I may say so, like utter bullshit.”

That got everyone’s attention. All the more so since Sheila, so far as I could recall, never used profanity.

“Why do you say that?” Irwin asked, with what I took to be lawyerly calm.

“I’ve known you too long to believe a word of what you just said. I’ve never met anyone more cynical than you, Irwin Kaplan — no one who even came close. Besides, you’ve made a good living all these years on the greed of all your clients. Despite this you’re telling us you still believe there is more good than bad in the world. Who’re you kidding.”

“If you don’t believe me, then who do think I’m conning?”

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