“Hi,” I said to Charlotte as she danced. When she didn’t hear, I loudly called out her name and tapped her shoulder.
Charlotte swung around, stared dumbly, blinked a few times, recognized me, and cried gleefully, “McKennnnnnzzzzziiiiieeeee.” She hugged my neck and kissed my cheek like I was a long-lost friend at a high school reunion. “It’s so gooood to see youuuuuu.”
I returned the hug and stepped back. Charlotte was wearing a short black velvet dress with an off-the-shoulder neckline bordered by ostrich feathers. The skirt ended at midthigh and had an off-center slit that revealed six more inches. Frankly, she didn’t have the legs for it, but just the same I said, “Looking good, Charlotte.”
“Oh, this ratty old thing …”
“I see you’re having fun.”
“No, I’m not. I’m not having fun at all. No one will dance with me. Dance with me, McKenzie.”
“Maybe later. Is your husband here?”
“Ohhh pooh,” she said. “Whaddaya gotta bring him up for? He ain’t never comin’ home.”
“Oh, he’s still up in Canada. He said he’s flying in with the commies later tonight. He said not to wait up, so you know what that means?”
“What does that mean?”
“Goose for the gander,” she said.
I was momentarily confused. “Excuse me?”
“What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” She enunciated her words carefully even as she grabbed the lapels of my tuxedo jacket and pulled me down to her face. “Dance with me, McKenzie,” she whispered into my ear.
“I’m looking for Casselman.”
She bit my ear.
“Let’s go outside and make love in a limo. Wouldn’t that be fun? I’ll let you call me Charlie.”
Doesn’t anyone in this crowd sleep with their own spouse in their own bed?
I bussed her cheek. “Come to me when you’re cold sober and we’ll discuss it.”
“Ahhh, cripes, an honorable man. I don’t need an honorable man. I need a dishonorable man. That’s what Geno is. Dishonorable. He’s cheating on me, you know.”
“No, I didn’t,” I lied.
“Go away, McKenzie. Go, go talk to Warren, he’s …” Charlotte waved toward the back of the room, dismissing me and returning to her solo dance.
After renegotiating the human traffic, I found Merci smiling brightly, her arms folded across her chest, her back against the wall. A man was leaning toward her, holding himself up with one hand, the hand planted firmly above Merci’s shoulder. He was talking earnestly and gesturing with the mixed drink he held in his other hand.
“Honey, this nice man has just invited me to a private hot tub party at his townhouse,” Merci said when I reached her side.
“Really? Can I watch?”
“What? No! I mean—never mind,” the man stammered before turning tail and escaping into the crowd.
“What was it you wanted to show me?” Merci called after him.
“Who was he?” I asked.
“Just another man with money in his hand.”
Warren Casselman was not on the other side of the room as Charlotte Belloti had indicated. He was on a different floor altogether, the third floor, which was mostly taken up by offices and sleeping rooms and not generally open to the public. Still, there was a large knot of people gathered on the landing, presumably trying to escape the high volume of noise generated by the various bands for a few moments of quiet social intercourse. Casselman was at the far end, engaged in a feverish conversation with the other three surviving founders of the Northern Lights Entrepreneur’s Club.
“That’s him,” I whispered to Merci. “The man with his back to us.”
“You’re on,” I said.
“Wait, I need a prop.” Merci glanced quickly side to side, saw still another young woman toting still another tray of half-filled champagne glasses up the staircase. She took one. I moved away, stationing myself at the top of the stairs, hiding among the other tuxedos gathered there.
Merci positioned herself five feet behind Casselman and stared at the back of his head. She stood like that for several moments. Eventually, the man I recognized as Brian Mellgren said something to Casselman and motioned toward Merci with his chin. Casselman spun slowly.
“Good evening, Mr. Casselman,” Merci said.
Casselman’s eyes swept over Merci’s body like a searchlight sweeping the coast. He smiled broadly and so did the other Entrepreneurs—all except Mellgren, who squinted suspiciously.
Merci sipped the champagne.
“Have we met?” Casselman asked in a quiet voice.
“I don’t know, have we?”
Casselman licked his lips. “You remind me of a friend.”
“Jamie Carlson? No? That’s right, you would have known her as Jamie Bruder.”
“My best friend,” Merci said. “This is her dress. We used to swap clothes. Best friends do that. Something else best friends do, they talk. We always told each other everything.”