I am nearly finished with the book and ready to release. Just a bit longer, but here's a juicy excerpt from Chapter 13 to whet your appetite. You can catch up on the long and tortured journey of the life of this long-awaited novel HERE. Enjoy! Cordially, Cooper
LAST NIGHT AT MOOMBA BY K. COOPER RAY
Judge leaned against the sink in his kitchen, waiting for the car to fetch him. He finished his shot of confidence and set the glass down next to the near empty tequila bottle. He wondered if he should eat something. When was the last time I ate? Lunch with Scarlet?
Scarlet had been a quiet revelation for him. He walked away from the interview unsure of his impression. She was beautiful, absolutely. Was she smart? He couldn’t decide. He was impressed with her Goulue research, but after that presentation she retreated back into southern belle platitudes, which was as carefully a crafted act as any he’d encountered. Judge never revealed his Alabama roots to her, effortless because he had learned long ago to suppress his accent. He allowed himself to be lulled into chivalrous romanticism on the trill of her song. She regaled him with visions of New Orleans society and Mardi Gras balls and he felt like he could fall in love with her. Judge held New Orleans in a special place, as did most southerners. There was a land of voodoo magic and Mardi Gras Indians, sultry jazz and foot-stomping zydeco, mystical dreams and literary muse. Tennessee walked those streets. Capote was born there. Judge dreamed of moving there one day, maybe soon. He’d been there for many a New Year’s Eve and Sugar Bowl football games, but his New Orleans experiences were limited to collegial drunken jags on Bourbon Street. New Orleans society and Mardi Gras seemed as exotic to him as a Sultan’s court, or a page out of Gone with the Wind.
Scarlet did make a few missteps. Her questions were unguarded, her ambition a little transparent. But, he thought, fuck it. She’s pretty, she’s charming and she obviously has money. I’m going to let her in. And with that, he’d begun the article, written in a haze of southern romanticism, moonlight and magnolias. He created an idealized dream of little miss Scarlet Goodman and posited her on the antebellum pedestal of divine womanhood, a hackneyed and historically misogynistic angle he was aware, but good enough to please Jet Set’s readers and his editor. It was a done deal.
He pressed, once again, into his dinner jacket. He swallowed his tequila snort, only now it was taken for tolerance, not courage. He pulled a black cashmere scarf around his neck to push away the cold. This was all the protection he would need as his hired driver would deliver him door to door tonight and a winter coat would only weigh him down. Judge was aware of a new belief that waiting in a coat check line was beneath him.
His first stop would be the Metropolitan Club for the Save Venice Gala. Judge entered the cavernous room of orchestra sounds and cocktail chatter and was dwarfed and deflated. His first impression was depressing. He unwittingly approached a group of women he didn’t know or care to, the result of entering a party solo, he was unprotected before the lionesses. This pride were blown out blondes with Palm Beach hides wearing dresses so revealing, he had one word at the front of his brain. Hooker. What is it with these middle-aged women and their cleavage he wondered? After his afternoon with Scarlet, he had journeyed to a place of Old South splendor only to be assaulted with big hair and wrinkled, pushed-up tits.
“Hello, Judge. I’m Buffy Harrell and this is Serenity Johnson. We’re friends of Carina’s from Palm Beach. We just loved your story on the Coconut party.”
Judge couldn’t take his eyes off the bugle bead-accented pumped-up breasts, until, like a bass catching a glint on the lure, he was drawn to the flash on their fingers. Each woman wore a diamond so large, it nearly covered two knuckles. Hands posed on protruding wrists, splayed fingers rocked slowly like tiny boats. The stones sought the light and flashed each woman’s worth. They pointed the rocks at each other, weapons of the duel. These displays were not for him or for any man for that matter. He was an innocent bystander caught in the cross fire. Women whose husbands paid them little attention retaliated with Uzi diamonds, shooting each other to reclaim small dignities. He now knew why they were standing there on the outside of the throng. They had moved into position under a direct beam of light falling from the fifty foot ceiling onto their crude theater of diamonds and breasts. This was pure display of their most treasured assets. He was amused now as the tequila warmed him inside and his eyes followed the dance of assets.
Mrs. Newton appeared abruptly between two pairs and kissed him on the cheek, bumping the burlesque aside.
“Judge, you’re late! Victoria warned me that you arrive late and depart early, so I forgive you. Come let me introduce you to a dignitary or two and then you’ll be free. Are you heading directly to Victoria’s dinner at Doubles?”
“Well, good evening Mrs. Newton,” he said as he snapped into character. “You look absolutely ravishing this evening.”
“Oh you flatter,” and she pulled him away toward some Venetian royalty. He hadn’t even found the bar.
“Welcome to Save Venice, Mr. Mender,” the organizer said and launched into the group’s latest philanthropic pose.
Fuck Venice, he thought. I’m out of here.
Judge excused himself from further introductions and elucidation and headed for the door. He looked up and saw Scarlet and her escort walking in. Judge felt a shade overwhelmed as he took in the grandeur of her entrance. She wore a long black Valentino gown in a clingy fabric draped across the front. It had a gracefully draped neckline that asymmetrically showcased her milk-white shoulders. Judge made quick inventory and noted that none of the junior set were at this party. Even Victoria was hosting a rival dinner next door and her mother was the host of this thing. It struck him as very odd that unconnected Scarlet would be at this party.
“Hello Judge! What a gorgeous room!” Her blues blinked up the walls soaking in the splendor. “This is Harrison Jackson.”
“Nice to meet you.”
“A pleasure,” Judge said distracted.
“Are you leaving?” Scarlet said as confusion wrinkled her forehead.
“Yes, I’m running over to Victoria’s dinner. Aren’t you coming to that?”
“Uh, why no, I thought everyone would be here? Victoria is having a dinner? Now?”
“Yeah, she’s over at Doubles. I’m headed over there. In fact, I’m very late. I’ll see you later. Nice to meet you Harrison.”
Scarlet stared after Judge, shook it off and walked confidently into Save Venice where she soon realized that she did not know a soul.
Judge strolled out of the Metropolitan Club on Sixtieth Street confused as well. Why would Scarlet go to Save Venice instead of Victoria’s dinner? It was a very strange party choice. None of the juniors went to that event. Judge only went as a favor to Victoria’s mom and to mention it for the column as a thank you for his stay at her house. He’d only stayed long enough to say hello to Mrs. Newton and some board members. The juniors had their own version later in the spring, Young Friends of Save Venice. Very strange that Scarlet would go to that party. Maybe she really loves Venice, he mused.
He walked the half block down Fifth to the Sherry Netherland Hotel. Victoria Newton had put together a casual dinner dance at Doubles, the private club in the hotel’s basement. He descended the red stairs – those stairs! It looks as if you’re about to be transported through time to a speakeasy bordello, he mused. The reality couldn’t be further from the impression. These red stairs went straight to the heart of WASP Manhattan. He was greeted at the desk by an attendant seated before a table of tiny envelopes with names he did not recognize. He was almost surprised to find his own and quickly put the little cream card in his pocket. He walked directly to the bar to order a double scotch. Doubles is a private club of the oh so WASP variety, and alcohol lubed the room. Judge had been to enough parties at Doubles to know not to enter the dependably all WASP stiffness until he was at least two insurance drinks into a good time.
This was Victoria’s real stamping ground, he thought. These were her school chums and neighborhood buds from Newport and Palm Beach. And it was high contrast to the beaded breast and diamond show at the Metropolitan Club. These girls were blond and prim and pearled. They wore little ribbons in their hair and held their mouths in little purses. They talked confidently in pinched accents and danced stiffly with bland boys with slicked back hair in navy business suits and moneyed futures. These were the children of the first party and they were in reverse roles of their less inhibited parentage.
Victoria spotted him as he entered the dining room and waited for him to cross to her. She had been chilly since he’d called about Scarlet, but he would not discuss it with her tonight. He figured since he showed at this dinner dance, this was allowance enough. He approached her on the outside of the band of Buffies and bowed slightly when she noticed him.
“Good evening, Mr. Mender,” she said with plastic formality. “So glad you could join us this evening. Did you pick up your seat card?”
“Yes, thank you. What a nice gathering you’ve assembled on this chilly night.” He responded with equal aloof.
“Well who wants to sit home on a Tuesday night? Please, enjoy yourself.” She turned her back to him and walked away.
Hmm, Judge thought. She’s a cold fish tonight. What the hell is going on? He walked toward the center table, assuming he would be seated next to Victoria but did not see his name. He walked around the room confused, a little lost. He pulled the envelope from his pocket and pulled out the card from the envelope. Number 32.
“Judge! Hello!” Sally Banning was at his side. “You’re at my table! Victoria was so kind to give you up. We’re in the back corner. I’ve been so busy with the Frick I haven’t seen anyone lately. You will be in town, I hope.”
Judge looked in the direction of her finger toward the furthest table from the dance floor – Siberia – and inventoried the drips already seated staring blankly into space. Well, that confirms it. His first thought was to walk out. Show her. But he chickened out and followed Sally to Table 32. If he’d gotten there earlier, he could have done the unthinkable and switch his seat. He shook hands all around with puffy young men who looked prematurely jowly in their banker suits and chubby women in pastel sweater sets and pearls and headbands. These were the types of people so far removed from the Jet Set crowd that he didn’t recognize a single face or name. And they had no idea who Judge Mender was.
“Everyone, this is Judge Mender,” Sally Banning boomed. “Judge, this is my book club from Rumson.”
Judge nodded as she introduced each of them, but did not recall one of their names. He took his seat next to Sally and nodded hello to the Buffy at his right. He looked at her place card. Constance something.
“Hello, Judge. That’s an interesting nickname. Where are you from?” Constance asked.
“Originally from Montgomery,” he said. He had no desire to explain where Ophelia was. He sunk lower in his chair and realized he was about to have to practice the fine art of small talk with someone he had zero interest in. He glanced toward the dance floor and Victoria’s table. She nodded at him and smiled stiffly.
“I was named after my grandfather who was chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. I’ve been called Judge since I was born.”
“Isn’t that fascinating,” Constance said. “And you’re a lawyer?”
“A lawyer?” Judge laughed abruptly.
“Yes. Aren’t you following your grandfather’s path?”
“Uh, no. I’m a journalist.”
“Oh. For whom do you write? The Journal? The Times?”
“Uh, no. I write for Jet Set Magazine.”
“Oh,” she said deflated and embarrassed for him. “I’m afraid I don’t read that.”
Judge looked at her and felt a shade of her embarrassment at how suddenly lacking his place of employment had paled in comparison to her expectations of serious journalism. Fuck it, he thought. What do I care what this chick thinks.
“I write a column called Seen.”
“How nice,” she said in the Yankee equivalent of the southern “Bless your heart”. A condescending dismissal if he ever heard one. She shifted in her chair and withdrew from the conversation. Judge didn’t mind. He let her go. He turned back to his left for redemption but Sally was engaged with the fellow on her left. He looked up to find everyone at the table engaged in conversation, other conversations. He was socially stranded. He looked around the room. These were Victoria’s people, he thought. She had only recently begun to circulate in the Jet Set crowd, but she was the grand dame of this group. Old wasp money, old rules, old clubs. He had a crystal realization. She’s as new to the Jet Set world as I am, or Scarlet. She is making her stride just like the rest of them. He looked back at his table mates. They were still engaged. Outrageous! He laughed to himself. At no other table in this city would he be so completely ignored. Hell, even at Save Venice he would’ve been fawned over. Maybe I should head back there for dinner. He thought Constance had turned to him, but she merely reached for her water glass. He looked at her place card again. Constance Peters. Peters! Is she related to Chase? He looked up and over at Victoria again. She raised her glass and winked. What a bitch! He resolved to make the most of it. I can talk to these people. He dusted off his small talk arsenal and gently tapped Constance’s arm. She turned stiffly in his direction.
“So what is your club reading, Constance? I find book club dissection to be the best way to really get at the meat of the matter. Don’t you agree?”
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