M. A. Smith, Author

A podcast and review of CHOICES
by Nick Shenkel, Director of the West Lafayette Indiana Public Library

Please click the WBAA logo to jump to the book review and audio recording of his reading from CHOICES

Description of CHOICES:

After a horrific accident, a famed L.A. lawyer's career derails causing him to take a pro bono case that becomes more complicated than he expected.

Ethan Bernstein collected things: a house in Costa Rica, racehorses, paintings by Picasso and Monet, a house in the Bordeaux region in France. For ten years, he liked to "reward" himself after every case he'd won. He had built his wealth with a stunning Los Angeles law career. A celebrity in his own right who carefully maintained his mythology, he defended the ones who could pay for the best the legal profession had to offer...and pay they did for the Svengali who expertly swirled the truth into lies and the lies into truth. The media loved him while everyone else hated him... Ethan took pride in it.

On a perfect moonlit May evening in the City of Angels, Ethan and his newest reward -a five hundred and forty thousand dollar sports car - go airborne off Mulholland Drive, an event that a year later sets him on a path to defend James Nazareth, an out of work, and until recently, a homeless man arrested for vandalism and assault resulting from his protest inside Estate Trust and Savings Bank. Ethan reluctantly allows himself to become responsible for his new client in a bid to resume his lost stature as a celebrity lawyer.

But the case that Ethan assumes is a slam dunk to reignite his career, isn't what it seems. Now, he must defend someone who can't pay with only the law and his true skill. Ethan is forced to examine his choices and his relationship to a woman he divorced nineteen years ago, a woman he can't ever forget. The defense of James Nazareth will lead Ethan to a place that not even he could have ever imagined.

Please enjoy the first chapter from this book.

M. A. Smith

Text and logo copyright © M. A. Smith.  All Rights Reserved


Ethan Peter Bernstein, Esquire and his newly acquired five hundred and forty thousand dollar sports car went airborne leaving Mulholland Drive at precisely one minute after midnight on a cloudless, moonlit perfect late May evening.  According to the car’s digital readout, the outside temperature was a glorious sixty-eight degrees.  Ethan was so enthralled with everything the vehicle possessed that even reading the temperature on the dash brought an orgasmic feeling.

He was drunk, of course, in any rational person’s definition of drunk, but he  would’ve argued his case anyway to nth degree saying that there was no way his blood alcohol was above the legal limit thundering on about his height at six feet three inches and his weight at two hundred ten pounds made the alcohol absorption rate different, not to mention the other variables of regular exercise (once a week at the firm’s gym), food consumed during the alleged excessive drinking, hydration factors and last, but not least, the fact that he could handle alcohol.  Ethan made a fortune out of making lies into the truth and vice versa when it suited the case.  A celebrated and feared lawyer whose carefully controlled mythology was the subject of endless media across the country.  He believed his own bullshit.

None of that mattered at the moment, as he gripped the steering wheel lackadaisically aware that nearly four thousand pounds of metal, engine, wheels with very cool rims and one sixty year old non-practicing Jewish boy were about to get blended together in a really bad way.  Prayer?  That wasn’t an option or even necessary.  He was a good man, wasn’t he?  After all, he regularly donated to every charity his law partners wanted him to – okay, God, okay, so the charitable gift was really the firm’s gift, but he gave money out of profits, didn’t he?  What about the one thousand dollar bonus he divided up among the five members of his household staff each year at Christmas?...uh, maybe that one didn’t qualify as charity.

Even if he ended up south of Heaven, he knew he could argue with Lucifer to the point that the Red One would give him a one way elevator ride back up to the Promised Land.  As he and the car seemed momentarily suspended in air, he looked at the distant lights of downtown Los Angeles.  Down there ten days ago was the scene of his greatest triumph and he and the firm’s biggest pay day.  Resplendent in his best custom made charcoal gray Italian wool suit, he stood on the steps of the Federal courthouse holding court at a press conference.  Contrary to public opinion, the jury had brought in the right verdict for his client in the precedent setting case.

Ethan didn’t give any thought to public opinion.  Skill won cases, not the stupid public’s moral indignation.  Moral indignation was overrated anyway.  His client was a good and virtuous chemical manufacturer.  In Ethan’s version of the truth, the Feds simply didn’t have proof that his client actually was responsible for the poisoning of ground water in whatever idiot place it was in Southern California.  Although he grudgingly agreed with his partners to give a generous bonus to the junior lawyer whose research into an obscure case actually turned the tide in the favor of his client, Ethan never publicly acknowledged the work.  His client should have been guilty of gross negligence, non-compliance with Federal and state law and a whole litany of other offences, but Ethan and his partners were paid handsomely to win the case on the basis of a well played technicality, not on the truth.

Ethan’s thoughts shifted back to the incredible car he was about to die in.  The windows were down on both the driver and passenger sides and he could hear the engine’s whine, the dirt, gravel and rock spinning away from the tires and in the distance, a barking dog.  Air rushed by the side of his face, ruffling through his salt and pepper colored hair creating behind him somewhat of a vortex as it combined with the air from the passenger’s side.  He wondered, in a detached way as if he weren’t really in the car,  whether the airbag would deploy when he hit the ground or if it didn’t, perhaps the steering wheel was destined to become a permanent part of his chest.

He calmly noted that the speedometer still showed sixty miles per hour.  On some coherent level, he understood that his current state of mind was a seduction by the alcohol, but the car started to nose over, picking up speed.  He felt himself pushed harder back against the seat as the car’s angle changed and the seatbelt tightened.  But I can’t be going faster, he thought, the damn thing still says sixty miles an hour!  The speedometer doesn’t register flight speed, stupid.

Reality started to rush into his brain.  He was drunk and was going to croak alone in a gift to himself for winning the biggest case of his career.  For the last ten years, Ethan had been regularly buying gifts for himself after every case he won – a home in Costa Rica (he hadn’t been back since he last partied there seven years ago), a couple of race horses nine years ago (he wasn’t sure where they were now), a Picasso and a Monet, a house in the Bordeaux region of France, to name a few – now this stupendous hunk of metal coffin.  He always pictured himself dying in bed with some hot woman except that the only truly hot woman he had ever known divorced him years ago.  He thought it utterly amazing that she even continued to speak to him considering why they divorced.

With sudden clarity, Ethan became attuned to his rapid heart beat, his shallow, hurried breathing and the blood pounding in his temples.  The headlights of the car illuminated trees, brush and the swiftly approaching ground.  Thoughts akin to that of a dying man should have collided in his head, but the only one that rang true was “I don’t want to die – I can’t die right now, it’s too soon, I have a lot more to do.”

The next thought he had was maybe he should jump out of the car.  Bad idea.  The car’s butterfly doors weren’t conducive to such a stunt.  Maybe turning the ignition off...Ethan reached over and turned the engine off, not really too sure exactly what that was going to do in the situation he was in.   That killed the engine all right, but also rendered the steering wheel totally useless.  For such a smart lawyer, you are a dumber than toast whizzed around in his brain.

The car had almost reached the ground.  It looked to Ethan as if he and his coffin were going to land on some sort of vegetation flat on the underbelly of the luxe conveyance although he didn’t remember exactly when the vehicle assumed a horizontal position.  A lot had been happening, how was he supposed to keep up with such aerodynamics?  Maybe he might survive the pancake effect.

Ethan looked out the windshield at the trees showing in the headlights and was strangely grateful he hadn’t hit any of them yet on his way down to the ground.  He likened this moment to what it must be like to just have the calm acceptance of losing a case, something that hadn’t happened to him since the one mock trial in law school.  This moment was a no-win, no matter what he did.  In an instant, he realized that fate not skill would determine his case.  He removed his hands from the steering wheel, folded his arms over his head and waited for the impact.

Available for the Kindle and in soft cover.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (June 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1490368132
  • ISBN-13: 978-1490368139
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 6 x 0.6 inches
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