For several weeks prior, I had been talking with Linda about interviewing Wesley for this story, and she had agreed that I could shadow Wesley in Washington and interview him there. On Saturday morning, I called her to finalize the arrangements, but she asked me to speak with Wesley’s new lawyer, Diane Kleiman—“just as respect.”
When I called Diane, she spoke of Wesley as if he were a stray puppy who needed saving. The people around him at the Waldorf “were like leeches,” she told me. “He was inundated. He looked like a fish out of water. I went up and said, ‘If anyone asks you for money, they should be paying you money.’”
Diane told me she was fine with my interviewing Wesley in Washington, but a half-hour later, she called back. She said Wesley would now cooperate only if the magazine guaranteed him the cover, a minimum word count, a particular release date, final approval of the text, and the payment of expenses. These conditions, she said, were articulated by her partner, “executive Mark Anthony Esposito,” whom Wesley would require to be with him at all times during the interview.
I called Mark. “Wesley is like a Hollywood star or athlete,” he said. “Wesley has signed over intellectual-property rights for film and video.” To do this story, Mark insisted, Wesley would need some sort of compensation and control over the final product.
I told Mark his demands weren’t realistic—that it’s against the magazine’s policy to guarantee its subjects covers, show them the story first, or pay them. He laughed and said he’d already lined up major magazines that were willing to pay; at one point, he threw around the figure $100,000. “Everybody pays something,” he said.
Before long, though, Mark radically lowered his price: He’d grant me access to Wesley, he decided, if I would pay for plane tickets to Washington for him and Diane. When I said the magazine couldn’t do that either, he said, “How about train tickets?” When I refused that, Mark vowed never to allow me access to Wesley. And if he didn’t like what I wrote, he said, he’d sue me. Then he hung up.
I called Diane. She tried a softer tack. “We didn’t think we were asking that much from you,” she said. “Even if you took $1,000 out of your pocket and paid us, and New York Magazine wouldn’t pay you back, this would be a big story for you. It would sell thousands of copies.” But then her tone turned: “We’re gonna be down there, and Mark is gonna be all over you if you try to get close to Wesley.”
Linda got a call from Mark on Sunday. He was furious, she says, that she’d considered letting Wesley talk to me without compensation. “It was like he was the husband and I had just burnt the pork chops,” Linda says. She started having doubts about Mark. “We’d have doors shutting in my brother’s face, opportunities shedding, because you’re showing him this snub-nosed, I’m-better-than-you, reach-me-through-my-lawyer attitude. My brother’s not like that.”
That Monday morning, Wesley woke up at his brother Robert’s house in Washington and realized he’d forgotten to bring Shuqui and Syshe’s dresses. The closest mall didn’t open until 10 a.m., and the family needed to be at the White House shortly after 12:30 p.m. He dashed to JCPenney and bought two matching canary-yellow dresses with stockings and shoes, then hightailed it back to Robert’s. “I think better when I’m on my feet,” he says, “just like I was thinking when I saved Cameron.”
When he returned, Mark and Diane were at the house. They presented Wesley with the four-page contract. He had to get to the White House right away. Wesley signed the contract without reading it, and they left. “They were rushing me,” Wesley says. “The word was, ‘If we don’t hurry up and sign this, Wesley is going to be yesterday’s news, because when this Sean Bell case hit, that’s gonna knock you out of the box, so we need to do this—we need to sign these papers.’” (Mark and Diane insist Wesley had all weekend to review the contract and that he was eager to sign it.)
In the gilded East Room of the White House, Wesley stood beside Condoleezza Rice, Charlie Rangel, two space-shuttle astronauts, and a football coach. “I told him, ‘You’re a hero!’” the president said to the assembled guests and media. “He told me, ‘No.’ I said, ‘Wesley, I disagree, as do millions of our fellow citizens.’” Wesley, dressed in a Navy uniform, kissed the president on the cheek; the picture was picked up everywhere. Then, on Mark’s instructions, Wesley grasped the president’s arm and turned him so his back was to the audience—out of view of the camera crews—and asked Bush to pose for some snapshots with Wesley’s mother and the girls.