The 60ish man standing opposite me smoothed dyed yellow-blond hair back from his forehead, flicked the cuff of his shirt back so we could all see his enormous Tag watch as he checked the time again, and murmured to no one in particular, “I can’t stay much longer.”
As the crowd swirled around us in the atrium, I watched him, a glass of chardonnay in my hand and a calculating smile on my lips. Charles Baron was short, wiry, and had a leathery skin that screamed tanning parlor but was really villa-in-Puerto-Vallarta-plus-ski-lodge-in-Tahoe. He also had at least forty million dollars earned as a real estate developer here in Silicon Valley during the boom years, and we – that is, the Devor Museum of Arts and Antiquities – were courting him. My name is Dani O’Rourke and my job tonight was to test out our hope that he’d like to have a handsome new gallery in our San Francisco complex named after him and his wife. When I finished my research, it would be up to my boss, the smooth-talking Peter Lindsey, to do the ask.
“I’m sure the vice president is just running a little late,” I said. “Peter said he’d call us up to the suite as soon as the Secret Service gives the okay.” One of our board members had cashed in a favor with the current vice president of the U.S. who had agreed to spend a full ninety minutes in Peter’s lavish office suite upstairs pressing the flesh with our big donors. He fully intended to hit up for himself tomorrow, you could bet. There is so much back-scratching that goes on in this business that it can make your head spin.
Fundraising is a mostly honorable profession, and I’m good enough at what I do to be the Devor’s vice president. I started as a lowly member of the development staff and I like to think I worked my way up on merit and not because I married Richard Argetter III, whom I met while pouring wine at a Devor party. Dickie has two Porsches, a pied a terre in Paris, and $450 million. We’re divorced and I no longer run in his crowd, which saw me as an interloper during our four years of marriage. Why would anyone divorce someone with assets like that, you ask? Well, how about for having a fling with a celebrity underwear model? His infatuation was covered so extensively in the gossip media that I spent a month under a comforter at my sister’s house, living on M&Ms and self-pity before deciding I wouldn’t let Dickie’s betrayal ruin my life or my figure.
My cell phone vibrated and the text message said, “Time to rock and roll.” I reached for Charles’ arm and nodded. We wove through the crowd, meeting a handful of other VIPs and their Devor minders at the private elevator, which was manned by a stranger with an earpiece and a stone face.
Upstairs, I peeled off as the guests homed in on a tall guy with spectacularly white teeth twinkling in what was probably a permanent grin. A glass of a very good California pinot noir and more medium rare lamb kabobs than I wanted to count later, I watched the veep sweep out of the room with his entourage, shaking every proferred hand with that grin still in place. As the favored few finished their single malt scotch and shared manly chuckles over the insider jokes the veep had confided, Peter eased over to me.
“So, Dani, what was that worth?” He gave me a pixie smile and poked me in the arm. Peter and I get along great, but I was wondering how much single malt he had consumed to look like one of the guys. (He’s not, bless his pointy little head).
Just then Charles looked over at me, winked and raised a hand in salute. I smiled back, waggling my fingers. “That was the first smile all night, I said. “Given that he badly wants an in with the administration, that he’s now chatting with our board chair, who is CEO of a commercial real estate investment company…and look, they’re checking their smart phone calendars, which means he’s gotten a meeting …let’s make it a million. He’ll spend that on the Devor to seal the deal for that megamall he wants in Santa Clara.”
“Dinner at Boulevard, my friend.”
I love everything at the Michelin-starred restaurant a few blocks from the Devor, but I dined superbly the night Peter paid off the debt, after we dedicated the Charles and Marie Baron Gallery of Contemporary Photography. I even had the Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese ice cream and chocolate fudge sauce, diet be damned. Try it sometime even if you haven’t scored a million dollar deal. (www.boulevardrestaurant.com/#menu-dessert)
Susan is giving away one (1) copy of THE KING’S JAR. Leave a comment to be included in the giveaway. The book will be shipped directly from the author. Contest ends May 15 and US entries only. Posted on May 12th.
You can read more about Dani in The King’s Jar, the second book in the “Dani O’Rourke” mystery series. The first book in the series is Murder in the Abstract .
Meet the author
Susan is a member of the board of the northern California Sisters in Crime, and a past board member of Norcal’s Mystery Writers of America. Susan’s a transplanted New Yorker, and a lover of exotic places, fine art, great food, and sparkling events – just like Dani O’Rourke, her series protagonist.
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