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One

All Hallows’ Eve


He OD’d on the first day of the tour! Can you imagine?”

Coco couldn’t imagine. She couldn’t really even focus on what was being said, because she was trying to figure out if the guy speaking was an actual fifty-seven-year-old hippie or if he was dressed as one for this godforsaken Halloween party Rory had lured her to. The overly tie-dyed shirt said “costume” but the David Crosby—style goatee and smell of patchouli said “lifestyle.”

“The tour manager sets him up with Nestlé Crunch by the truckload—y’know when these guys are in Nar-Anon they need chocolate. Tons of it.”

The whine in his voice was a song of discontent and passive aggression, like that of an authentic boomer. “So anyway there’s a crowd of about forty thousand people screaming his name and the dirtbag is backstage mainlining with some dickhead roadie instead of eating his chocolate, and he friggin’ OD’s! Completely wiped out my investment.”

Coco gazed on, wondering if this guy could have been likable once, back when he had hair and a social conscience. No question, she thought—at some point in his life, this guy had vowed to never let the Man keep him down. No, instead he became the Man, in spite of that nasty little soul patch on his chin. Yep, she thought, classic new-money Greenwich.

Nothing grated on Coco’s nerves more than hypocrisy—and this town ran on it like it was diesel fuel—so the moment she saw her business partner, Rory, enter the room, she moved to join him. After all, he was the host of this dreadful Halloween party and the sole reason she’d shown up. The sooner she could make nice with him, the sooner she could return home for some quality time with the dogs and Sam. Coco really wasn’t cut out for these events. No matter how perfectly coiffed her hair, how expensive her shoes or house, she always felt less than. The Greenwich upper class had a remarkable knack for sniffing out those who didn’t truly belong, then making sure they were aware that they didn’t. Coco probably didn’t want to anyway.

Rory was one of the few in this set she could respect. He worked incredibly hard despite having made his money the old-fashioned way: by inheriting it. Even though he was a Thomson, of the Canadian Thomsons who owned Reuters, he still got up early every day and worked for what he got paid. And, unlike typical Greenwich blowhards, he was discreet. “Work is like masturbation,” he would say. “Everyone does it, but nobody should be talking about it.”

Coco was grateful it was a costume party. She didn’t feel as raw and exposed as usual, being in costume. She had decided to go as Sarah Palin, since any crack about looking nouveau riche or white trash would only be a referendum on how well she’d prepared for the role.

Rory was dressed as Superman, which fit Coco’s view of him. To her, he fell somewhere between mentor and savior. Though she’d been no Eliza Doolittle when she first crossed his path, without him she never would have properly capitalized on her success, or learned to live with her sudden wealth. Butt-B-Gone, her derriere-shrinking cream—available not just on late-night infomercials anymore but also on QVC—was responsible for turning her rags into rubies. It was Rory who’d found her at an As Seen On TV trade show at the Javits Center in New York. The two hit it off instantly at a demonstration for vibrating underpants because…. well…. who can stand quietly while watching a male model squirm in his underwear? Rory was willing to invest in Coco because he had a gut feeling about her. He insisted that she wasn’t a fly-by-night huckster on a lucky streak but someone who could “live the life”—and make him money. There’s no free lunch in this town.

Rory’s outfit wasn’t your schlubby, packaged Superman gear from Ricky’s. He was wearing one of the original costumes George Reeves wore in the TV series: boots, cape, red underwear, and all. It even came with that special musty wardrobe smell. Naturally, his wife was dressed as Lois Lane. Though, to be honest, were she not standing next to Rory, she’d have looked like a mousy temp from the secretarial pool.

“Well, well, Coco! You look pretty sharp for a woman who died in Paris last week. What was it I read? ‘Scarf caught in wheel of car’? You pulled an Isadora Duncan?” Rory chuckled.

“Washing machine,” Coco said, straightening her pencil skirt. “Spin and die cycle.”

“Oh, right, washing machine. Pretty ironic for a woman who hasn’t done her own laundry in ten years. Okay, let’s go find the reporters.” Rory wasted no time getting down to business.

It seemed that in Paris a week earlier a woman named Katherine Guthrie had indeed choked to death while leaning over a washing machine; her scarf caught in the works, becoming an unintended noose, and in moments she was dead. News spread that Katherine “Coco” Guthrie, world-renowned inventor of Butt-B-Gone, was the one who died, and for a moment Coco had considered not telling anyone that it wasn’t her. There were times when she’d wanted to go back to her former quiet, normal life. She dreamed of refound anonymity, where she and Sam could get things right—start anew, take different names, new identities; like a witness protection program for people who had achieved sudden fame and frequently regretted it. No such luck. The news had sent her company’s stock plummeting, and though Rory was a decent guy, he wasn’t going to lose millions on a rumor so easy to dispel. Besides, only he had the juice to arrange an impromptu press conference at his own Halloween party.

So there they were: Sarah Palin, Superman, and Lois Lane in a makeshift pressroom, setting the record straight about Katherine Guthrie. Back to the limelight.

When the Q & A ended, Coco looked across the room and thought for a second there was a mirror. She’d spotted another sophisticated power updo hovering above those signature Tootsie glasses: a second Sarah Palin. Good god, really? Now it was definitely time to go. Business was finished and there was no reason to linger.

But then, not two feet from the first updo, she saw the sharp tailored edges, wide shoulders, and stiffness of yet another northern blight. At this point Coco was both mildly embarrassed and intrigued. Two was embarrassing; three was amusing.

Nonetheless, home beckoned, so she sought out Rory for a quick good-bye, sending her best to Lois—which, ironically, was actually his wife’s name—who had vanished into the amalgam of overpriced, underwhelming rented costumes.

Good-byes accomplished, moments from freedom, steps away from the valet, she felt a dainty hand grab her arm. Lois Lane. Damn. Lois wanted one last photo op. Coco figured more photographic proof that she was not, in fact, dead or in Paris was probably good business, so she followed along. Passing by a particularly boisterous and chatty group, Lois reached in and grabbed yet another Sarah Palin.

“Coco, this is my darling nephew CJ,” Lois said and beamed.

And, voil´, there she was face-to-face with her fourth Sarah of the evening, though earlier in the day this one had been a man. But, wow! He was stunningly beautiful. How do they do it? Lois herded them out to the backyard, grabbing the other Palins as she went.

“Gather ye Sarahs while ye may!” she sang. “Coco, CJ, meet Olivia and Bailey. Or should I say Sarah and Sarah? I think it would be just dahling to have a picture of you four by the banyan tree. Isn’t that tree just precious? And what a lovely evening. It’s not cold at all!”

Coco remembered what it was about Lois Thomson that drove her nuts. Overuse of words like precious, darling, and lovely brought a bitter bile to her throat. In Coney Island, where she grew up, that sort of talk would have gotten her a well-deserved beating. While Rory was down-to-earth despite his wealth, Lois embraced every affectation, making her not only impossible to have a real, candid discussion with, but completely unbearable.

On their way out to the backyard, Lois also lassoed the photographer from the Greenwich Ledger, who remembered seeing someone inside dressed as a moose and promptly headed back into the party to find the beast for his photo. Lois scurried behind, leaving Coco with the other three Sarahs under the banyan tree.

CJ spoke first. “Can you keep a secret?”

“If you tell me, will it still be a secret? And speaking of secrets, isn’t your dad….” Coco asked. She knew that Lois’s sister was married to a bigwig politician.

“Cute. Yes, he’s William Skoda, GOP governor candidate.” CJ sighed. “But let’s not worry about him tonight, ’kay? I’m the only governor who counts right now.” There didn’t seem to be a big love there, so Coco left it. “Anyway, that Zorro in there, did you see him?”

“What about him?”

“Well! He may be one hundred percent accountant under that swashbuckling costume, but he is a huge Mary. Don’t let the M-R-S fool you, that boy works it on the down low…. and from the bottom at that.”

“Come again?” asked a shocked-sounding Sarah, the one Coco thought was Olivia.

CJ, happy to accommodate, chirped, “A Mary. A mo. You know—a nancy boy. Gawd, this town, no one here is who they seem at all. Nuh-uh.”

Coco leaned in to Olivia and said in a loudish stage whisper, “I think what he’s saying is the masked man’s secretly a gay. And apparently he likes to be on the receiving end in his interludes.”

“Yikes! But Mary? Why do you call him that? Is that what he goes by when he’s, you know…. being gay?” Olivia asked.

“No, no. It’s a thing from the eighties, when we used to cruise city parks, gay bars, and rest stops. Everyone was just Mary because you weren’t with them long enough to learn their names.”

“Oh, my god!” Olivia blurted, then clapped a hand over her mouth as her overrouged cheeks reddened even more. “Gosh, you’re really beautiful, by the way,” she said after a pause, smiling with embarrassment.

“Well, thanks, honey. But beauty is pain, you know. Between the girdle and the pantyhose, this outfit is like a cheap hotel. There’s no ball room!” CJ replied. The girls guffawed.

This caught Sarah Palin the Fourth’s attention, causing her to look up from her BlackBerry midsentence.

“Wait, I know you!” she said, looking toward them. “Aren’t you in my eight thirty yoga class?”

“Yes,” said Coco and CJ simultaneously.

“Wait, I take that class too!” Olivia chirped.

Coco really didn’t want to know anyone in her yoga class—she always felt her worst there and enjoyed the anonymity. On the other hand, she thought her form was particularly impressive. The instructor, who spent the class pushing the students into various impossible shapes, generally against their wishes, more often than not walked right by Coco and whispered, “Great, you’ve got it!” just loudly enough for everyone to hear. Coco was particularly proud of her Ardha Chandrasana. Every time she did the half-moon pose—right arm and right leg holding her body rigid and parallel to the ground, left arm thrust straight up in the air, left leg also parallel to the ground and shooting straight back in a beautiful, even line with the rest of her body—she felt like a star athlete and could just imagine, probably falsely, her classmates admiring her perfect poses.

Coco was about to tell her classmates about an amazing yoga retreat she’d gone to in Costa Rica last Christmas when a tall, handsome, well-built man walked out to greet the group. But what was he dressed as? A detective from Barney Miller or NYPD Blue?

Without introducing himself, he sauntered up suavely and said, “I saw a group of lovely ladies out here alone and wanted to make sure everything was okay.”

Coco knew it was common in Greenwich to hire local law enforcement to be a little extra muscle at parties since, lord knows, nobody wanted someone from, say, the upper middle class to get in. How gauche! The undercovers were supposed to be inconspicuous, but Coco had this guy made in a minute. Definitely a cop. The Thomsons must have asked him to be at the party since Lois didn’t trust anyone—yet another thing about her that Coco couldn’t stand. Lois was distrustful of anyone poorer than she, particularly the help. She was still convinced that five years earlier the housekeeper had stolen her four-thousand-dollar Lanvin ruffled coat. And so, of course, with all of those caterers parading around, nothing of hers would be safe tonight.

When he heard the greeting, CJ, who’d had his back to the cop, turned around, looked him up and down, and in as manly a voice as he could muster said, “Oh, honey, now that you’re here we are more than okay. And by the way, that little outfit of yours is just precious!” It seemed that even CJ couldn’t resist taking a shot at his aunt Lois, especially since he surely knew she’d been the one to hire this hunk.

Olivia looked right into the cop’s big green eyes and immediately perked up. She thrust out her hand and said, “Hi, I’m Olivia!”

“Rob,” the handsome newcomer said.

“Hi, Rob,” Olivia repeated. “I’m Olivia.”

Rob blushed. “Yes, you just said that. Well, seeing that you ladies—and, uh, gentleman—are okay, I’m going to head back inside. What are you doing out here anyway?”

“We’re waiting for Lois, she wants a photo of….” Coco waved her hand dramatically across the four Palins, like a Price Is Right girl introducing the full Showcase Showdown package. “Well, you know. Ridiculous, right?”

“No, no. Not at all. Quite clever,” Rob replied. “See you around, then. Oh, and it was nice meeting you—both times—Olivia.”

“Yes, Olivia,” she said and sort of bounced and raised her hand slightly, as if Rob were doing roll call. As he walked away, the four Sarahs watched him carefully, his strong frame disappearing into the crowd.

“I wouldn’t mind blowing that man down,” CJ said.

“Mmm, I could spend hours licking those shoulders,” Bailey added.

“He seems nice,” said Olivia.

CJ smirked.

“And your name is…. Olivia? Do I have that right?” Coco grinned. She couldn’t resist teasing Olivia. Some people are just automatic targets.

“Oh, and you’re purple off-the-shoulder sweatshirt, right?” shot CJ to Coco, as if standing up for Olivia.

“Huh?”

“At yoga. You do retro eighties. You’ve got a Jennifer Beals thing going.”

“Ummmm…. yeah, I guess that’s me. But I don’t wear leg warmers or headbands anymore,” Coco said, sneering at CJ and putting out her hand to Olivia. “Hi, Olivia, I’m Coco.” Apparently Lois’s earlier introductions had fallen on deaf—and bewildered—ears.

“Riiight! I’ve seen you.” The fourth Sarah was back and in their faces, crowding between CJ and Coco. “I’m Bailey.”

“I’m CJ and she’s—drumroll please!—Olivia!” CJ sang, looking at Olivia to confirm. She nodded her head and blushed.

Bailey, done with her important BlackBerrying, wanted to get back to the dishing. “Okay, tell us about Zorro. How do you know him?”

CJ, thrilled to indulge, said, “Okay, well! In high school, he was my first upperclassman and my second lover. We used to meet in the second-floor bathroom every Thursday after AP English.”

Olivia and Bailey gasped as Coco rolled her eyes. This sort of thing wasn’t new to her. She wasn’t a fag-hag by design, but for some reason the gays absolutely loved her. They would seek her out in clothing stores, in restaurants, or at the theater. She never knew if it was because they liked her from television or if their gaydar labeled her “one of us.”

CJ continued, “He was a bit older, sexy…. taught me everything. It was my favorite extracurricular activity. Too bad you can’t put that on a college application.”

Bailey shrieked, “Ha! I knew he was gay! I tried to blow him after gym class once, and all he kept talking about was how bad my roots were and that he knew a great colorist for me. Totally dried my mouth. But he wasn’t bullshitting about the colorist. He introduced me to Juan Carlos, who’s simply the best.”

CJ started to respond, “Well, if you really want to hear—” but was cut off by the ebullient Bailey.

“I mean, his brother was the most obnoxious kid in our class! He hit a teacher across the head with a hockey stick when she gave him a C, and his parents had the teacher fired. Every member of that family is an entitled snob. When the dad was under investigation—I’m sure you heard about that—the mom hid out at our house for two weeks until we got a call from the FBI.”

Since Coco hadn’t been raised in Greenwich, she wasn’t up on the local lore. Mostly, she didn’t care or want to know, but the businesswoman side of her realized there are just some things you have to be up on. “What did they want?” she asked.

“They had a search warrant. Said she needed to get back home or they were going to break down the door. All she could say was ‘How dare they talk to me like that! Don’t they know who I am?’ Like who the hell is she?” Bailey made a face in disgust at the memory.

The others were suddenly intrigued.

“Go on,” CJ insisted.

“Yes, please,” Olivia agreed.

So Bailey continued. “She kept telling us that no matter what happened to her, their ten-million-dollar manse in Key Largo would be fine. ‘Florida has those laws, you know,’ she kept saying. ‘That’s why OJ went there.’ No regard for her kids or the fact that her husband was about to go to prison. All she cared about was that house and what would happen to her.”

“So what happened to the husband?”

“He got twenty years in a minimum-security prison for embezzlement and money laundering,” Bailey said proudly, as if she had something to do with the arrest.

“So, who else do you know?” CJ asked.

“Everyone. I grew up here. Name someone,” said Bailey.

“Did you know Daisy Neirob?”

“That slut monkey?”

“Yes! She was my neighbor. We called her Daisy Chain because of all the—”

“Okay, yes we got it,” Coco interrupted. “She liked lots of men.”

CJ and Bailey simultaneously shot Coco impatient looks while Olivia furrowed her brow, confused. CJ had to finish. “.…lots of men at the same time.” He grinned. “Who doesn’t?”

“Yes. We understood.” Coco sighed.

Olivia stood rooted to the spot, astonished.

CJ turned to Bailey. “Oh, what about that weird guy with the pretentious, Waspy name—Tag Wittimore. Oooh! I hated him!”

Bailey agreed. “Me too! He was such a tool. He used to drive his father’s Maserati to school and park it on the lawn.”

Just then there was a loud car alarm, which in a city might go unnoticed but in a posh small town is a conversation starter. The group paused to listen; the very idea that anyone would still have a car alarm was distracting. Then, just as CJ and Bailey were about to go back to their game of haters geography, Olivia, who until now had been silently sipping something pink from a martini glass, blurted out “Wooo wooo wooo wooo,” in startling mimicry of the alarm.

They all turned to look at her.

“What. Was. That?” CJ finally asked.

“Oh, sorry,” said Olivia sheepishly.

“But what was that?” CJ asked again.

“It’s this thing I have where I have to imitate noises and sounds. I usually don’t do it that much. I have medicine for it, but it doesn’t really work when I’m drinking and well”—she explained, pointing to her martini glass—“I’ve had a few. Sorry.” She giggled.

“Do all noises make you do it?” Bailey asked.

“No, no. Just the ones that stand out, like something out of the ordinary. I can’t help it, I just have to mimic them.”

CJ was still trying to figure out what the heck Olivia was talking about. “Wait, so you’ll just be standing somewhere and there will be a loud noise and you’ll have to do the noise?”

“Pretty much,” Olivia replied.

“Echolalia?” Coco asked. “It’s echolalia, am I right?”

“Pretty much,” Olivia repeated. God, she was like a skipping record.

“Are you in our eight thirty yoga too?” Bailey asked Olivia.

CJ interrupted. “No, I haven’t seen her there.”

Olivia defended herself. “Um, hello? Actually, I just said I was, but nobody was listening to me. I’m usually in the back of the room. That’s probably why you haven’t seen me.”

Just then Lois appeared with her photographer and a moose in tow. “Don’t you four just look precious!” she exclaimed.

Flash. Flash. Done. And just like paparazzi chasing a gaggle of celebrities into Kitson, Lois, photographer, and moose vanished back into the house.

Coco found her new associates rather charming. Enjoying a fresh glass of Prosecco, she was no longer in such a hurry to leave and decided to stay and get to know them a little better.

“Well, that was…. unique.” CJ looked at the other three and gave a Palinesque twist to his perfectly lipsticked mouth. “So what brings you all to this freak festival?”

“Oh, I’m just a neighbor. I grew up here, further down the lane, and moved back not too long ago. I was little Livy from the block.” Olivia smiled. “I saw Lois the other day in town, and she said I just had to come. I entered a beauty contest once and still had the dress, sooo…. this,” which explained why she’d come as Sarah in her early years.

Coco laughed. “Well, I guess that’s sort of my explanation, too. I have to wear this stuff for business all the time. Rory’s a colleague of mine—you may have caught the press briefing—so I was sort of obliged, y’know. Not a big fan of the dress-up thing.”

“Well, I can’t stand the woman and take any opportunity I can to ridicule her.” Bailey Warfield (Sarah Palin Number Four) explained she was an entertainment reporter and began to tell the group all about the mayor’s house next door. Mayor Quilty had hired the visionary architect David Fisher to design a miniature sculpture of Dynamic Tower—the quarter-mile-high rotating tower to be built in Dubai—on his property. The tower was slated to be the world’s first prefabricated skyscraper, with individually rotating floors, a veritable architectural wonder of the world. The mayor, one of Planet Earth’s wealthiest public officials, was so taken with the project’s ingenuity that he wanted one of his very own. Bailey’s father had spent a summer in Florence hanging out with Dr. Fisher, so when Fisher was in town working for the mayor, he naturally stayed with the Warfields.

It wasn’t unusual for luminaries of all sorts to visit the Warfield home, she said. After all, the family patriarch, Bailey’s grandpa, was none other than the legendary journalist Mark Warfield.

Bailey told the by now enraptured gang of Palins a little about her life as the granddaughter of one of the greatest legends of journalism. She explained that way before the Take Our Daughters to Work program, her grandfather thought that, while it was important for all children to understand the working world in general, it was even more important for the Warfield girls to learn early on that they shouldn’t be excluded from any business because of their sex. So he brought them to work whenever he could.

“Once, when I was seven years old and my grandfather was on his way to an interview, I cried and cried until my mother allowed me to go with him. See, there was Mark Warfield the journalist and then there was my grandfather. Mark Warfield the journalist had the firmest handshake you’ll ever feel, and you didn’t want to be on the receiving end when he was about to catch you up. But Grandpa Mark is the sweetest, most nurturing man. He knew that when I was going with him to CBS, I would require a chocolate croissant and one stuffed animal from F. A. O. Schwarz. So, this particular morning he was on his way to do one of the most controversial interviews of his career—you know, the one with General Silvius Venerable, who later sued for libel over it—yet he still stopped at the F. A. O. Schwarz and a deli for me first.”

Coco waited out a series of increasingly tangential stories until Bailey finally got back to Dr. David Fisher and the tower.

“Okay, so one of the really cool things about this building is that they just build the core on-site. Everything else is put together in a factory somewhere else and then shipped in,” she explained. “Which is exactly how Dr. Fisher did the mayor’s version.”

“So it’s like a big Erector set?” Coco asked, remembering the toy her usually MIA father had given her for her twelfth birthday in the hope it would inspire her to a career in architecture. It was a hodgepodge of beams, screws, pulleys, and other mechanical geegaws, which had completely mystified her. She’d succeeded in making exactly one rectangular “house,” also known as a metal box screwed into a platform. Before said house could be seen by anyone, it was put back in its box and stored under her bed. It was probably still there.

“Mmm, Erector sets,” cooed CJ.

Olivia stifled a giggle.

“You’re such a slut,” teased Bailey.

“Takes one to know one,” shot back CJ. “From what I hear.” He grinned approvingly. Bailey turned away, pretending she hadn’t heard.

“Okay, ladies. Enough.” Coco didn’t want to get involved in the catfight. She was too fascinated by the prospect of seeing the monolith in the next yard. “Why don’t we just go check it out for ourselves?”

“Can we get close enough to see it?” asked CJ.

“Absolutely!” Olivia seemed confident. “We should be able to get near the main house down there by that grove of trees. That’s pretty much the property line.”

Coco didn’t know what made her propose such a thing, since she was neither the snooping kind nor all that interested in the lives of others—most of the time anyway. Maybe it was the crisp fall air, maybe it was that last glass of Prosecco, or maybe it was because they were all dressed as Sarah Palin that she felt protected, invulnerable. Anonymous. And for the first time since she’d moved to Greenwich, she actually liked some people she’d met. She felt an odd sort of mischievous camaraderie with this inadvertent sorority.

Well, a sorority plus a drag queen.

© 2011 Cooper Lawrence

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