People Will Talk

In the latest chapter of The Society Diplomat by Lance Avery Morgan, there’s been a murder of everyone’s favorite socialite. Every woman has a past, and the more checkered, the better, as we say here in Texas. But how will her closest friends react?  Exactly as one might suspect…

When life is too easy for us, we must beware – or we may not be ready to meet the blows which sooner or later come to everyone, rich or poor. Eleanor Roosevelt

The sun shone and the bluebirds were singing as the Courier News landed on driveways, in dull thumps across the city, the morning after Sabrina’s end. There it was: front page, above the fold. Sabrina Goodfriend: Socialite Shocker Rocks City in 40-point type across the page, much like a juicy headline from the scandal-laden New York Post.

She had routinely appeared in the social sections of the Post, the Los Angeles Times and the Courier as a deb, at her wedding, and all the parties in between… and following her marriages, affairs and divorces along the way. Chu Chu Sloan, Houston’s very own Hedda Hopper at the Courier had even christened her Glamour Girl #1 in the beginning. Sabrina’s grand dame grandmother’s belief that one appeared in print only three times on this earth; birth, marriage and death, went directly out the window by the time Sabrina’s sixteenth birthday celebration made the local news.

In her adult years, Sabrina became pragmatic and methodical about her press. In fact, she lived for it. Beyond the yellowing scrapbooks, she kept scrupulous track of clothes that filled four closets and dozens of rolling racks in storage. There were index cards filed in her dressing table drawer, eventually, and in recent years converted to an Excel spreadsheet. It was accessible on her iPhone, detailing what she wore every single day for decades, with whom she was seated, and notes on which magazine or newspaper shot the outfit and when it appeared. Her wardrobe, the one that gave her a life to which she was known as an international fashion leader, with numerous trips to Paris, Rome and London to acquire couture, contained the irony that was not lost on reporters: that she was killed by a piece of extremely expensive fabric, that favorite Hermes scarf.

It’s now High Noon on Friday. A guy’s gotta eat. Lunch, center table, stage left at the tony Le Antoine restaurant in Houston, and the joint is jumping with the talk of La Goodfriend’s death when I arrive. The caricature sketches of society notables over the years are framed and hanging, always within eyesight, over the claret-covered leather booths. There is Alexandra Medford’s artful portrait is the most artful since it was shot in her earlier, better modeling years, when the restaurant first opened. Then oil man Knowles Applebaum’s image is hung above heiress Cecilia Fortnight’s, right by model mogul Deal Gamble, and close by, socialite Catherina del Lago, who all dine at the fabled eatery. It’s like a poor man’s Sardi’s (which isn’t even a rich man’s Sardi’s anymore). I catch a whiff of freshly arranged magnolia table centerpieces smelling like the sweet opportunities that waft in every day at lunch.

It’s not hush-hush that recreational drugs have made a big comeback in Texas. In the morning, it’s Hello, Mr. Blue Pill, to make you feel right throughout the day. By cocktails, voila΄, it’s bonsoir, Miss Pink Pill for those who want to feel large. Larger than life.

Much like Norma Desmond might descend her Sunset Boulevard staircase, my longtime friend Alexandra Medford, a colossally popular social fixture, makes a sweeping entrance saying hellos to the mayor, two congressmen and her astrologer, all at separate tables, before being seated and placing her crisp white napkin in her lap. A fresh blue pill is in her system while the pink one is still hanging on from last night.

“I am so terribly sorry for running late,” gushes Alexandra. “I know, I know, I should have texted you from Quitan’s. He took so long to do my hair for our little shindig tonight.”

“Oh not to worry, gorgeous. You look very Catherine Deneuve today,” I say, reflecting my many years in and around the Hollywood scene. “Not now in her decrepitude, of course, but in The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. “Thank you again for hosting this wonderful event tonight. I’m deeply honored.”

The terminally hip server arrives, a little sweaty and forever perky. It must be all that Space City humidity that makes everyone feel flushed, but it is widely acknowledged that the ladies wrinkle much later than those a similar age and social standing in the drier climate in Dallas. Pity the poor plastic surgeons of both regions.

“Seriously, I’m glad you are back in town, Alexandra. Texas always feels livelier when you’re in it,” I said, and meant it. “When we last spoke you had just left the Galliano couture show in Paris, and were completely overwhelmed. Did you find anything for them to run up for you?”

“Darling, everything was pure Heaven. I bought too many things even though I have no idea where to wear them. Maybe nowhere. My art collection hangs mostly in my closet, or at least the art that I care about, clothes. You know how theatrical and grand Galliano was.”

“Yes, there will never be another like him. And, you know my theory about that. Buy the dress and the event will present itself,” I said, uttering one of my favorite platitudes. “And, what about all those shindigs on the continent this spring and summer, and Sabrina Goodfriend’s planned ball… can you believe, at the Eiffel Tower?

“Jake, stop!”

“Oh I’m sorry, that was tacky. I forgot for a second. You know what I mean.”

“I loved Sabrina and I am sorry she’s gone,” Alexandra said, sotto voce, although nobody was around to hear but the servants. “I am absolutely shocked, really. Oh Jake, I know it’s awful to speak ill of the dead, but I do feel that she had ‘borrowed’ too many of my party ideas. It’s my own form of creativity and I’ll admit to being a little resentful. That party? She took that from my gala in Dubai, as if nobody would notice! Don’t get me started on our sorority rush days.”

Bitter, Party of One, your table is always ready.

Alexandra was hardly alone. Yes, Sabrina stepped on many a head on her way up, and I can count on both hands the people I know who could be brought in for a police line-up. They could have killed her and they all would have had just cause. The paradox is, no jury would convict them.

Oh Alexandra, I thought. I don’t think you had your lacquered hand in this, but I wouldn’t blame you if you did wish her harm. You do have a talent for showmanship, and I suppose it takes a controlling and intense person to pull off your magnificent parties. Birds of a feather, weren’t you?

“Oh, I loved your Friends of the St. Francis Cathedral gala. It was astonishing, woman. That Christian Lacroix fashion show with the Plexiglas catwalk over the interior Olympic-sized pool? Fantastic. And, my party? I can’t think of anyone who could do it better.”

Who really knows, though, what lurks in the hearts of social competitors? This is a state where a mother went postal over cheerleading. Some of these wealthy women weren’t so different, really. They just planned their perfectly deadly deeds quietly, and in five-inch designer heels.