Work in Progress

Alike in Dignity – Yes or No?

Help me out here people. Is this premise at all workable? Please comment below.

 

Chapter One

Del glanced at the text from her mother. It read: In town for a few days. Dinner at our place 7:00 tonight? How fortuitous! She hadn’t been looking forward to another meal alone. Del responded: Red or White? The prompt answer was: Sea bass. Score! Del knew just the right wine to go with her all-time favorite fish.

The rest of the day flew by. There was always so much that needed to be done before an opening. Drinks and catering to sort out, art critics to entice, hysterical divas attempting to rearrange the carefully planned layout – a gallery owner’s work is never done. Del loved art, but she could really do without the artistic temperament. Still, one was clearly the price of the other and she’d made her peace with that long ago.

Del only barely got out in time to pick up a bottle of Domaine Merlin Sancerre on the way to her parents’ roomy 5th Avenue penthouse. Technically it was two penthouses but since her family owned both the building had permitted them to take down a wall to combine them.

Del thought it was silly to pay for so much space given how little time her folks spent in the city, but her father insisted that having the double penthouse was very effective advertising. “Delphinium my dear,” he’d always said, “half of succeeding at business is looking like you’ve already succeeded.” And who knows, maybe he was right. His Cambrick Enterprises was huge and profitable, while her Emergent Gallery was limping along just above operating expenses.

She shook her head to break that train of thought. Emergent would get there, but galleries didn’t make it big overnight. Besides, her father had several decades of a head start on her. Del breezed though the lobby with a quick wave to the security guards and concierge. She could get away with it because she was a regular visitor to the building. A stranger would have beed tackled and tased for trying it.

Her mother answered the door on the first knock as if she’d been hovering just inside. Elaine Cambrick was wearing an elegant violet gown, pearl earrings, and a brilliant yet brittle smile that spelled trouble. Del’s stomach curdled.

“Good God mother, what’s wrong?”

Her mother’s head jerked back gracelessly. “Who said anything was wrong?” she deflected.

“Your face did mother! You look like you’re one frayed nerve away from crying. Is someone dead?”

Elaine relaxed a fraction of one hair. “No dear, no. And thank you for that perspective. Please come back to your father’s office and we’ll explain.”

Jon Cambrick hated having people inside his home office. It may not have been a death, but whatever was wrong had to be big. Del’s grip on the wine bottle tightened along with all the muscles in her back. Briefly she considered making a detour to the kitchen to get it uncorked and poured out but her mother was already making haste down the hall. Del followed the clicking of her mother’s heels while her brain spun out several disaster scenarios for her.

Del paused at the forbidden threshold to gaze at her father. He looked tired, maybe even defeated. Her brain flashed CANCER in giant red letters that almost blinded her to the room. She grabbed the door jamb for support.

“Come in sweetheart, and close the door,” Jon sighed.

Del blinked a few times and shook her head to dislodge the letters before reluctantly releasing the jamb and stepping inside. It was her mother that closed the door.

“Stand behind me so you can see these spreadsheets,” her father directed.

“Spreadsheets?” Del asked in confusion. “Not x-rays? Test results?”

Her mother hugged her from the side. “I told you no one was dead, honey.”

“But is someone dying?” Del asked her, but she was looking solidly at her father when she said it. Her father actually cracked a smile at that.

 “Delphinium my dear, it is so nice to see you worrying about me, but I promise this isn’t about my physical health. It’s about my financial health. Come look at these numbers.”

Del stood behind her father but the spreadsheets were indecipherable to her. There were multiple sheets spanning his three screens and they were packed full of numbers that were too small to see from where she was standing. The file names were easier to see: Stock Fluctuations, Black Expenditures, and inexplicably – Mercurial.

“This is too complicated for me to suss out, Dad. Why don’t you just give me the headline?”

Jon barked out a bitter laugh. “Funny, I’ve been having nightmares about the headlines this will generate if we don’t pull the plug on the problem fast. ‘Empire of Ashes’ or ‘Pride Goeth Before a Stock Free Fall’ or -”

Del broke in, “Wait, are you trying to tell me you’re about to go bankrupt? Because I call sell the gallery, and every painting in it if you need a quick influx of cash.”

Her father grabbed her hand and kissed it. “Oh my dear, dear child. So faithful and selfless! Don’t worry, I’m not about to be personally bankrupt, but I’ve made some very bad business decisions that have put my company in jeopardy. I’ve only just fought off a hostile takeover by the skin of my teeth.”

Understanding dawned. “From Mercurial Methods? Is Don Dolinger still pursuing his pissing match against you?”

Her father shook his head sadly, “It’s not a one sided war, and Don’s in just as much trouble as I am. We’ve wasted resources against each other and now he’s fighting off takeovers too.”

Del threw her hands up in exasperation. “Then just stop! Why can’t the two of you declare a draw and knock it off.?”

 “Delphinium my dear, you know what I’ve always said about success in business.”

“But this isn’t success!” cried Del. “This is the brink of failure! You need to stop. You both need to stop this right now!”

“We know, honey. We know!,” placated her father. “But we need an excuse to break it off that prevents either one of us looking like the loser. We have an idea, but we’re going to need your help.”

“Me, what can I do?” asked Del.

“I think it’s time we opened that bottle of wine,” said Elaine.

Before anyone could do anything about wine there was a discrete knock on the door. “Your guests have arrived,” Mrs. Jenkins called through the closed door.

“Guests?” asked Del weakly. “We’re having guests tonight?”

“The Dolingers,” said Elaine. “I’ll go.” And just like that she plucked the bottle of wine out of Del’s hand and slipped out the door.

Shaken, Del looked her father in the eye and said, “For future reference blindsiding me with bad news right before you expect me to be polite company is not cool.”

###

Not only were Don and Connie Dolinger there, but they’d also brought along their infantile playboy son Garret. He was infamous for partying, collecting fast cars, and dating more supermodels than Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Brady put together. Aside from being nice on the eyes the man had absolutely no redeeming value. Sure Del herself was often painted as a spoiled rich kid, but at least she had a job. Garret was as idle as a Victorian lady.

Her mother introduced her to the Dolingers. At least Garret was polite enough not to give her one of those pervy exploratory handshakes. Del had so hoped that the pandemic would have killed off the handshaking tradition. She believed handshakes were the gateway activity to sexual harassment and had therefore prohibited them at Emergent. Fortunately the art world loved little idiosyncrasies like that.

Over Garret’s shoulder Del spotted Mrs. Jenkins helping her parents’ new cook Claudia put a series of serving dishes out on a side board. A buffet? Awfully casual for an evening with your nemesis. Or was the slight intentional?

“You don’t look like you’re onboard with the program yet,” said Garret.

Would this evening ever stop throwing her curveballs? “Program? What program?”

Elaine shoved a glass into her hand. “Here you go sweetie. Drink up it’s good for you,” she said before handing Garret a glass as well. “We tried to tell her earlier but things went off topic.”

Both Claudia and Mrs. Jenkins grabbed their jackets off the coat tree by the front door and left. Del felt the blood draining out of her face. Whatever this “program” was, it was also a secret that had to be kept from the staff.

Del could hear the brittleness in her voice as she ventured, “Am I to take it that this program you want me to help you with is illegal?”

Four adults and one man-child laughed at her. Only Garret’s laugh held any trace of humor.

“I would never ask you to do anything illegal,” her father reassured her. “But we are asking you to act out a part in a bit of a charade. Our PR heads say it’s the only way we can back off from our vendetta without looking like either of us blinked. In fact, it will be great publicity.”

“Garret’s already agreed to it,” said Connie, “and we’re hoping you’ll be willing to pitch in to save both families.”

Suddenly every bad RomCom she’d ever seen flashed before Del’s eyes. “I am not going to pretend to date Garret,” she said firmly. “No one believe it anyway. I’m not in the least his type.”

“Why don’t we sit down and have our wine,” suggested Elaine.

“I’m not hearing ‘Of course we’d never ask you to do anything so ridiculous’ mother, and that’s what I need to hear right now.”

“Hey, dating me isn’t ridiculous!” protested Garret.  Lots of women would love to have a shot at me!”

“Women that want to be famous for being famous. Not women that want to be respected by both the business world and the art world. Serious women don’t want to be an also-ran on a player’s hit list.”

“You’re not going to be an also-ran. You’re going to be the envy society! You’re going to be my Annette Bening!”

Annette Bening…Annete Bening…the name sounded familiar.

“In fact you’re going to do her one better because I’m still in my prime. Warren Beatty was an old man when she landed him.”

Oh hell no!

Del put as much steel into her voice as she could muster. “Garret Dolinger there is no way I’m going to marry you.”

And then, finally. She drank her wine.

* * * To be continued if anyone is at all interested in reading this story.

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