Ready For That Close-Up

In the latest installment of The Society Chronicles, author Lance Avery Morgan shows that the book’s hero has made new friends while attending the ball of the century in Paris. For anyone who has depended on the kindness of strangers knows the challenges moving amongst some of the most powerful society circles on the planet, fictionally chronicled here.

Who is rich? He that is content. Who is that? Nobody.- Benjamin Franklin

“Oh, Jake, how lovely to have a few minutes alone with you,” said the raven-haired stunner sitting next to Lee Woo, as I climbed into their chauffeured Bentley Flying Spur limousine. I had accepted the gracious offer of a ride with the enigmatic Shanghai-based billionaire (rumored to take the top spot as the Richest Man of the World in 2013), and his astonishing Italian-American bride, Gia Woo. Thank the stars. If I’ve ever felt like a brown suit in a world of tuxedos, this is it.

For some reason the Woos have taken a shine to me. I’m not sure why. I met Lee years ago when he was an exchange student visiting from China, and his American host family treated the teen to a week at a boys’ camp in Hunt, Texas. I was a junior counselor, who “saved” him from drowning. The water wasn’t very deep and all Lee had to do was stand up (and avoid the water moccasins) but he didn’t know that. I quietly helped him up during a panic attack, and then showed the kid how to jump off a rope swing in a deeper swimming hole, like a Texas guy need to know how to do. Afterwards over a Fanta orange soda, I learned Lee’s incredible back-story and felt that he would be a person of character and stature when he grew up.

Of course who knew that he would also make billions, and truthfully, he was just one boy among so many that summer—and I didn’t even remember his last name until he recounted it all to me in precise detail.

I didn’t recall any of this until I ran into Gia at the patisserie by our hotel that very morning.  What is it that they say? Serendipity is no accident.

Gia is one of those people one likes immediately upon impact. I knew, by now, how to “thin slice” and assess people. In this world, with things happening so fast, who has time to waste? She is completely and utterly unique, without a speck of arrogance or fakery, and it does not take long to see that she has a transparent heart and is whip smart to boot. The woman is a full head taller than her bespectacled husband and her aquamarine eyes rarely leave his face, because she is truly captivated by his genius and they are, against all cultural odds, mad for each other.

Gia’s the kind of woman, who, even if she didn’t know you well, would grab you by the arm at a party, look you right in the eye, and make you tell her your own life story — and be honestly interested in every little detail.

“Oh, tell me more!” was her common refrain.

That makes anyone, gay or straight, feel ten feet tall in her presence. She was raised on the Texas/Louisiana border with the best East Texas manners and a Cajun sense of the joy of life and family. She learned about good food and to be a thoughtful listener and engaging conversational partner. When she made an etiquette flub at the dinner table growing up, her mother would say, “Gia, when you are having dinner at the White House and you talk with your mouth full, what will the First Lady think? Nobody will notice your pretty dress or what an intelligent girl you are.”

Any other woman in her position might treat a mink like a cheap poncho because frankly, Lee could buy every critter with fur on the planet a thousand times over. Of course as a major contributor to the Nature Conservancy in Texas, Gia would never want the mink in the first place, but she would be the last to criticize other ladies who preferred to be chic and cozy the old fashioned way.

Woo wooed Gia when she was a diplomatic affairs attaché with the State Department, assigned to Beijing. Some would assume that this was her CIA cover, and the details about their romance are a bit sketchy. Lee Woo, half American and half Mandarin Chinese, was raised by his single mother (an anthropology professor on the Mainland), and later became very Americanized in his looks and demeanor after he went to MIT, then the Wharton School of Business. He has that rare combination of science whiz and business acumen, and his big ambition started out with a simple goal:  he wanted to make enough money to be able to buy a nice house for his mama. Go figure. He first created a chip that transformed solar energy, and then focused on future-oriented companies in oil, media, entertainment and transportation, rolling them up into his enormous WooCom conglomerate.

“You had a huge impact on my husband’s life, Jake,” Gia purred over an espresso, when we got together after bumping into each other in the hotel lobby. I was checking in; they were walking to the private penthouse elevator.

“Me? Oh that’s funny! How do you figure?,” I asked, genuinely in the dark.

“One day Lee told me about learning to overcome his fear of water from a camp counselor. I remembered you and I talking about you doing that job, and a Chinese boy. I put two and two together and realized the connection. Jake, what was the chance of that? I wanted to share it in person,” she told me, glowing.

“Holy smokes, woman, what a coincidence! And now here we are. Where’d you fly in from… Hong Kong, Majorca, where?”

“Saint Barts. Lee had a business meeting there, believe it or not. We aren’t travelling too much these days for personal reasons… but that’s another story. Things are very tricky with monetary and military policy right now, everywhere, but the business between the Euro, dollar and yen is worrisome and he’s trying to get the right people to listen. Woo figured they’d be more receptive on an island,” she said with an appreciative laugh.

“Gia, there aren’t words for how much I dig y’all,” and we both connected in the true Texas way.

“Jake, let’s ride together to the party so you and Woo can catch up.”

It should be illegal for a woman to be that pretty, that perceptive, and that kind.

My mind was doing cartwheels right about now. Do I dare? Do I dare broach the subject of funding a tiny little operation like Dazzle? How does that work, I wondered.

“Gia, are you and Woo interested in media?” I asked earnestly.

“In what way?” she asked, suddenly serious and guarded. “Woo is very private. He really shies away from the spotlight. Why do you ask?”

“Oh never mind. It’s not about a story, and you know me. What we say is in confidence, always. It’s something to talk about another time,” I said, trusting my intuition not to push. I wanted Zeke Medford there when I mentioned financing to Woo.

I so appreciated a freebie in the penultimate ride, and Woo and I had a wonderful conversation about the old days in Hunt as the vehicle silently traversed the Parisian Beaux Arts street corners.

The evening has just begun when the whispers started about the after-party, rumored to feature a surprise appearance by lead singer Zinot of The Rattles. If that was true, this will make this one helluva memorable evening. Lee Woo might change the course of Dazzle, and who knows how the event would bend the arc of international social history in Paris.

“You’re not in Hollywood anymore, kid,” I thought as I approached receiving line with both of my white dinner jacketed arms outstretched, ready to embrace the sensational Sabrina Goodfriend, decked out in all of her glory.

“Oh my darling Jake, you’re here!  In spite of everything, I could just die…”

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