Friday, January 11, 2008

Feel the Burn, Week VIII

NYSD readers may recall an early contributing weekly series "The Adventures of Dickey Scott." Dickey Scott, the creation of a New Yorker named Scott Briggs, was a kind of roman AA clef about a personal trainer working in the gilded halls of Manhattan's higher social circles. Once upon a time, in real life, Mr. Briggs was one of those personal trainers. He discontinued the series a couple of years ago when he sat down to "write the book" about Dickey Scott. Today, Feel the Burn is completed and now available.

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There Goes the Neighborhood (continued)

The door to Consuelo’s mansion was unlocked so Dickey let himself in. The foyer was grand yet understated and the climate was temperate, belying the Indian summer-like afternoon outside. It had the sensation of walking into a cathedral in Venice where the coolness of the vast marble floors and breezy channels of the high arching ceilings create a microclimate all their own. Dickey heard voices echoing from the parlor room so he headed that way.

The room was immense and breathtaking. The cantilevered ceilings adorned wood craftsmanship that has been extinct in this country for many decades. The décor was not new but tasteful and according to Architectural Digest, the Piermont’s had first hired the legendary interior designer, Van Day Treux before handing it over to Mark Hampton many years later – not bad pedigree to say the least.

Dickey didn’t see Max in the room but he did spot a wet bar near the back so he made himself a Stoly gimlet and plopped down on an antelope skinned bar stool that was flanking the bar, stage right.

There were approximately twenty people milling about – most of them on the autumnal side of middle age and incredibly WASP-y, which for some would prove puzzling because Consuelo was Hispanic. But as most Upper East Siders know, Consuelo was an only child with deceased parents. These were all her late husband’s – Conrad Piermont’s – relatives.

Dickey was deep in thought, absorbing this whitewash of Plymouth Rock pedigree when Max approached. He glanced at his watch. “This is late for you. I thought you might not make it.”

“You must be kidding,” Dickey retorted. “This is why one lives in New York. What could be better than to see a bunch of greedy relatives go pale when they hear the family mansion is going to a hired gun?"

Max chuckled under his breath and started to reply but stopped short when a fifty-something couple breezed by the bar, each grabbing a cocktail napkin.

“So how did Consuelo meet Conrad?” the woman said to the man before walking off.

Max looked at Dickey with arched brows. “She must be new to the family.”

Dickey laughed. “Or from another planet. Everybody knows that story…”

Consuelo, like Max, had grown up on the streets of Spanish Harlem and survived with little more than street smarts, great looks and charm. Her escape to a better life was an art scholarship to NYU and a fateful evening in the second semester of her junior year.

It was a Friday night and the billionaire bachelor, Conrad Piermont, was escaping from a stuffy reception in the Egyptian room at the Metropolitan Museum. His travels through the corridors took him to the Old Masters room. Sitting there with her sketchbook propped on her lap was Consuelo. She turned as he approached.

It was love at first sight.

Two weeks later the lovebirds took off in Conrad's Gulf Stream for the South of France. And after a torrid, two-month fling on the Riviera, the gorgeous couple was married.

New York society, in the beginning, approached the marriage with a sense of amusement and novelty. They speculated that the chestnut-haired beauty from the shady side of the street was surely just a phase, a beautiful toy of which Conrad would eventually tire and discard. They were wrong. Conrad adored her. She was always at his side and she always held her own.

By the time Conrad's plane went down in the Long Island sound nearly thirty years after they were married, Consuelo and Conrad had long been the ultimate power couple. They were the A-list.

As Max and Dickey revisited Consuelo’s amazing trek into love and money, a woman approached with an empty martini glass.

"Here comes a mess in a dress," Max sniped.

Dickey vaguely recognized the woman from the neighborhood but couldn’t place her. She would have been attractive if you could have removed the spider veins from too many Tanqueray's (straight up) and air -brushed her wrinkled upper lip from too much sun.

“Are you the help?" she slurred, looking at Max.

"Not your help, Candy," Max bit back.

"It's Miss Piermont to you, Boy," she said with watery fire in her eyes.

"The Tanqueray is in the back, Candy," Max replied.

She started to give him lip but she was too interested in her next drink and staggered to the bar. Max and Dickey walked towards the front of the parlor.

"Who was that?"  Dickey asked.

"Candace Piermont, Conrad's only sister," Max said. "I call her Candy just to piss her off. Consuelo can't - couldn't - stand her. When Conrad left his entire fortune to Consuelo instead of to her and the other relatives, Candace was seeing red, and it wasn't from the martinis."

"What's her story?" Dickey asked, all ears.

"Divorced three times and a bitter alcoholic who saw her share of the family fortune wave bye-bye when husband number three, a compulsive gambler, lost the first ten million in Vegas and then blew the rest on three dry oil wells in Oklahoma and a dude ranch-type spa in Arizona that went belly-up before it even opened.”

“So she’s here hoping to collect any scraps she can,” Dickey surmised.

“Yeah, which of course is a pipe dream.”

The stentorian voice of Jarret Paine interrupted their conversation. It was time for the reading of the will.

It took a minute for everyone to be seated. Dickey wisely made his way to the background, near the fireplace. He wanted a mezzanine seat for this live theatre. Max, savoring the moment, took a seat near the front on a Giacometti coffee table.

"This will only take a moment," Mr. Paine began. "The relevant portion of the will is only two sentences."

The pasty relatives looked at each other, getting concerned. Mr. Paine cleared his throat and read:

"All of my liquid assets, upon my death, are to be donated to predetermined charities. My real estate holdings are also to be allocated to predetermined charities, with the exception of my townhouse, located at 907 Fifth Avenue, which I leave in its entirety to Max Sanchez."

The small gathering was stunned. Blood quickly drained from their faces and they were frozen in their seats. Mr. Paine quickly moved out of the immediate vicinity as if expecting a riot. Max, feeling a bit smug, stood to walk to the bar for a celebratory cocktail - it was a bad idea.

It came without warning and with surprising accuracy. The Spode martini glass left Candace Piermont’s hand in quick, sweeping toss and caught Max just above the left eye leaving a two-inch gash that was definitely a bleeder. There was no time for triage however, because Candace was shrieking wildly and headed Max’s way with the spike of her Manolo Blahnik pump aimed just below his belt. Jarret Paine miraculously resurfaced and reeled in Candace with his right forearm firmly around her waist. Dickey took the momentary lapse in this one-woman war to grab Max and pull him towards the door.

Author, Scott Briggs
On the way out, a simple yet elegantly dressed white-haired woman (that Dickey would later find out was a cousin of Conrad Piermont and lived down the block) was standing in the foyer calmly watching Dickey escort Max to safety. In all of the excitement, Dickey probably would not have noticed her if it weren’t for her resignedly delivered words just as we passed by: “There goes the neighborhood,” she said.

It was all Dickey could do not to laugh aloud, knowing deep down that his mother would have been thinking the same thing.