EXCERPT: LAST NIGHT AT MOOMBA - A NOVEL IN THREE ACTS - BY K. COOPER RAY
Upstairs at Moomba was starting to vibrate and the walls hummed and the low lights flickered. The magic hour approached, which is never a point on a clock, but rather a convergence of elements. The hour, the drinks, the people, the music, and the spirits were confluent and those in the room who appreciated such moments welcomed its arrival and smiled at each other knowingly. Anything that happened now would be icing, superfluous.
Leo Di Caprio arrived amid a posse while the proprietor ejected the group seated next to Judge and Lucy. Lucy glanced over and smiled at the actor, but made no other notice. Sam Ronson spun between karaoke sets and it seemed the room had been aching to dance. Lucy danced her original jig on the table top, but was now taking a smoke break, talking to Sam and Rhea Brown, who just arrived with Mia Wilson. Several people left and more joined the table and now, to Judge’s surprise, Chase Peters sat across from him.
“Lucy, darling! Judge! Hello! What a night, eh?” Chase yelled above the opening guitar riff of ‘Sweet Child of Mine’.
Chase wore an impossibly tailored dark suit that fit like rich skin. A scarlet bow tie danced under his chin and a pochette flopped insouciantly out of his jacket pocket. His auburn hair was slicked back in a style that evoked Evelyn Waugh -- with a smirk on his lips to match. Judge felt his cheeks heat but looked Chase square in the eye and nodded. “Hello,” he mouthed.
“Hey, Chase,” Lucy yelled. “Dance with me.” She jumped over the table again, this time toppling someone’s empty glass and landing on the other side with Chase. He grabbed her hand, preventing an embarrassing Lucy spill and the two started dancing in place. There is no dance floor at Moomba, just a small walkway between two rows of tables in the narrow room. When someone started dancing, those nearest either had to join in or move because at that moment the space was a dance floor. On this night, the patrons started dancing early and in earnest. Lucy, hands in the air and head thrown back, sang loud and unabashed.
She's got a smile that it seems to me
Reminds me of childhood memories
Was as fresh as the bright blue sky
Chase’s presence momentarily disrupted Judge’s joyride, and he clicked into reporter mode. He surveyed the room, taking notes of who was there. He started to write tomorrow’s column in his head. Would he be able to remember all these names? There was Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden huddled with countryman Marcus Shenckenberg and her little brother, Prince Phillipe. Sean Lennon was dancing with Liv Tyler and Bijou Phillips. Several of the social girls cavorted at Sam Ronson’s table, gossiping and drinking and smoking. Sophia Copola and Marc Jacobs were slunk in a deep sofa across from them, barely discernible to Judge through the fence of legs and asses in front of him.
Judge’s eye landed on the face of a girl he’d never seen before. She was extraordinarily beautiful and fresh. Beauty is not rare in this world but this girl was curious and alive. Judge saw electricity in her eyes. In contrast to the cool blasé of most of the girls of this class whose eyes were snake slits of ennui, this girl seemed almost telekinetic. He watched the girl’s face as she watched the dancing, throbbing crowd. She watched Lucy dance. Judge watched her expression. There was a pure, innocent pleasure he rarely saw in Manhattan, and never at Moomba. She was not like the other girls in the room. She shone like a little lost star. In a room full of gorgeous women, one of them the future queen of Sweden, this girl’s presence stood up and shouted, quietly. He laughed out loud at the little girl with the big searchlight eyes and awed expression. He followed her eyes as she surveyed the room again. Her eyes brightened wider, if that were possible. He looked for what she saw.
He scanned the room to the right, toward the bar and landed on Victoria Newton. She had entered the door wearing a big pink costume of a dress, hair high and jewels glistening in the low amber lighting. She stood under one of the halogen down lights and her enormous diamond necklace and earrings sent out distress signals. Judge stood up and waved to catch her eye across the loud and darkened room. She looked perplexed. Victoria was only a few years older than Lucy and the other girls of her set, but her carriage and demeanor placed her in another time and place. Victoria looked as if she had stepped out of a Sargent portrait into the raucous room. Discomfort flickered across her tight-lipped smile and stiffened in her statue-still stance.
Moomba was not Victoria’s kind of place. She didn’t particularly like the uptown downtown fusion. She read the same Page Six article Scarlet had and instructed her driver to head down to the trendy club after the Met opening. Sweetie James was standing behind her with Andrew Christopher.
Victoria smiled at Judge and stretched her neck to inventory his table. Lucy Shining, good. Sam Denson, good. Chase Peters, yuck. Judge read the look on her face and knew she would not cross the room. He made his way around the table, through the fallen branches of legs and shoes out to the aisle of dancing fools toward Victoria.
Lauryn Hill blared through the speakers and all the white people in the room – there were only white people it seemed -- started bobbing gangster-style, and rapping along, then dancing. Judge could barely make it through the elbows and asses pumping and bumping around him.
It's funny how money change a situation
Miscommunication leads to complication…
Judge bounced with the beat as he tried to reach Victoria. The room was so tightly packed one wondered where he would go if there were a fire. There was certainly no easy exit. Judge bounced up next to Rhea Brown and Mia Wilson. The two grabbed him and rubbed him into a sandwich between them. He laughed and rubbed them back, his hands on Mia’s ass in front of him and Rhea’s behind him. He looked for Victoria and saw her bobbing her head, trying to find a beat. Judge heard himself laugh harder than he thought possible in the thumping madness of the room. He untangled his body from Mia and Rhea and continued his swim against the current.
A drunken model in a band-aid size mini skirt grabbed his neck, pulled into him and shouted in his ear:
You might win some but you just lost one
You might win some but you just lost one
Judge laughed again, less patiently, but still in good humor. He danced his way up to Victoria.
“Hello, Empress,” Judge shouted as he kissed her cheek. “I see you all stayed for the end of the opera.”
“I saw you sneak out with Samantha Denson after the first act. I am afraid that girl will turn you into a delinquent,” she scolded. “So this is the famous Moomba. What a dump! It’s almost as depressing as Doubles.” She said referring to the private club in the basement of the Sherry Netherland hotel. She kissed him on both cheeks and bopped her head again, this time she added a little shoulder bounce which reverberated in her strapless bound bosom. “I see you’re doing time with Chase Peters. Doesn’t his true story come out soon?”
“Very soon, the next issue.” Judge shouted with a smile.
“Hello, Sweetie! Hello, Andrew!” Judge said loudly over Victoria’s bouncing shoulder. The two smiled nervously and wide eyed. The preppy sidekicks lapped up the circus around them. They stood safely behind Victoria’s voluminous gown like little children peeking from behind nanny’s apron, safe in the folds of that enormous pink fortress.
“Is that Princess Victoria over there?” Victoria asked. “What’s she doing talking to that dumb model boy?”
“They’ve been sharing state secrets,” Judge said. “He’s a Swede, you know.” Judge said.
“Really?” Victoria said. “How dull. I forget now that she’s at Yale that she will actually rule Sweden one day. How nice for her.”
“Would you like me to clear a path?” Judge offered. “We can say hello.”
“Oh no. If I could even make it through that god-awful tribal dance, I would have to pass that wretched mink, Chase Peters,” Victoria said. “I can see it all from here. Thank you.”
She took the room’s temperature for a few more minutes. She stood forthright and accepted air kisses from a few of the girls on their way to the ladies room. Suddenly she snapped to attention.
“Well, I’ve seen it, now goodbye,” Victoria said as she kissed Judge on the cheek, gathered up the folds of fabric of her dress and turned toward the stairs. Judge wondered if Andrew was expected to pick up the ends and carry it like a train.
“That’s it? Karaoke will start back up any minute now. You aren’t going to sing us a song?” Judge asked.
“Oh hell no,” she laughed. “I’ve got to get home and get out of this dress before I explode. Tell Lucy I said hello, though she’ll hardly register. She’s in rare form, I see.”
“Everyone is,” Judge said hazily looking over his shoulder at Lucy. “It’s a good night.
On the visitor’s side, on the other side of the dance aisle from Judge’s table, Scarlet sat on point as if she were watching a championship tennis match. Her eyes were glued to every movement. She had studied the players from the program and now loved matching names to faces. She was delighted that they had gotten there early. She watched attentively as the princess procession paraded by. She recognized many of the girls immediately, and deducted who the others were by their associations. She kept a tally in her head of who had come and gone, who sat with whom, who snubbed whom and who crossed the room for whom. Judge’s cross to Victoria did not escape her notice. The little girl from nowhere was brilliantly accurate in her observation and deduction, making more prescient prognostications than a native. And this was her first night. It was a wonderful game to her, and she would have surely scored in the ninety percentile had such a score been kept.
Scarlet wondered where they had been that they were all dressed so beautifully. She would know soon when the columns came out, but oh how she longed to be inside the circle now, full of knowledge and exclusivity. Had they been at a dress-up party at one of their houses on Park Avenue, or at some fancy ball at a museum? She’d seen the star player Lucy Shining come in the door and Scarlet had not missed a move. Harrison thought Scarlet had gone into a trance. When Jeffrey the owner took Lucy her drink, Scarlet grabbed his sleeve and said, “I’ll have what Lucy Shining is having. And do you know who the boy is she’s sitting with.”
“Judge Mender,” he said. “That prick from Jet Set magazine.”
“Ooh,’ she said in tiny shock, both at the crude remark and the positive i.d. of her favorite columnist.
When Lucy bounced up to dance for the twelfth time that night, Scarlet holstered her nerve, stood up and jostled her way through the asses so that she was dancing right beside her. Chase Peters turned around in an ecstatic display of sweaty athleticism and liberal libations and wrapped his arms around Scarlet and pulled her close in an adapted tango move. Scarlet squealed.
“Hi! I’m Scarlet Goodman,” she shouted in his ear.
“Hey, Sexy. I’m Chase Peters.”
“Oh, I know who you are. I just read about you in New York Magazine.”
“What’s that?” he yelled in her ear, slurred, smoky breath and a smile.
“I just read about you in New York!” she yelled louder.
“Oh yeah, wasn’t that nice?” He shouted back, “Do you know Lucy Shining?” He turned and pulled Lucy closer.
“Lucy, this sweet thing is Scarlet Goodman,” Chase shouted about the music. “Isn’t she gorgeous?”
“Hey, Gorgeous,” Lucy shouted and kissed Scarlet on the lips, turned around, threw her hands in the air and danced away. Scarlet smiled and threw her arms around Chase in the same way she’d seen Lucy. She wanted to freeze the moment, make it last, keep dancing and laughing and meeting fabulous people and being a real New Yorker. She had no idea where Harrison was, but she knew he was watching.