Written the year after 'A December to Remember' also for the Storiesonline Christmas Stories group, this holiday tale almost but doesn't quite catch all of the magic of that previous story. But still it has some attractions. This could also be a 'True' story with just a few details changed. I've endued countless terrible work related holiday parties and they just seem to get worse still, rather than better!
This is another older story that was removed a few years ago ... but now returned (hopefully to stay)
Don't get me wrong, I love parties; especially holiday parties. This particular party, on the other hand, I was not looking forward to at all, but I needed to be present, or at least seen to be there.
Desmond Mallard runs the largest commercial real estate company in our large city and every year he invites his major leaseholders, suppliers, construction cronies and other assorted friends of dubious acquaintance to his home. The food is usually quite good, it's true, but his personality and manners leave much to be desired.
Mallard's late father built many of this city's top skyscrapers, was beloved by all of his employees, and was a benefactor to literally hundreds of local charities. His son doesn't build much of anything except strip malls, was beloved by nobody and probably never once even stuck a dollar into a Salvation Army kettle, let alone contributed anything meaningful to society. About five years ago Desmond inherited an empire than even a wastrel son couldn't quite destroy, but he is giving it a darned good try. His pride and joy was his brand new custom designed and built 32,000 square foot mansion he called 'Mallard Manor'. No expense was spared and with the help of innumerable interior designers the place was decorated and furnished to the fullest extent possible for a man who was completely lacking in any real sense of taste. To give you just one example, he recently bought out a huge antiquarian book estate for well over six million dollars and then had the books just randomly shelved in his library and study. Nice rare leather bound books from the seventeenth to nineteen century all just randomly thrown onto whatever shelf was nearest, often upside down. All that he cared about was the pretty leather bindings, not the actual book contents.
Nor did he treat his fleet of black Mercedes cars any better. Since he was too busy or important to ever get his oil changed (or any other sort of maintenance) he'd just drive the car until the engine froze up or otherwise incurred a 'failure to proceed', and then he'd return it to the dealership and go buy a newer one. Just because he could. He was a self-entitled asshole and a poster child for giving 'conspicuous consumption' a bad name.
Since I was born and raised in a less than privileged household, the idea of colossal waste really irks me and digs deep under my skin. I worked real hard to plant my footsteps on even the first couple of rungs of the ladder of success, and to see wealth just pissed away turns my stomach into a knot!
If anything, I'd be the closest thing to a mundane peasant permitted attendance at his holiday party. My small company provided the IT computer support for Mallard's corporate offices. Two floors of employees and about a hundred computer users. I'd like to think we received the contract because my company provided the best user support, but in actuality it was because most of my bigger competitors had refused to work for him any further. I didn't have much competition for winning the contract, and the contract terms were very specific that Mallard was looking for the very cheapest provider ... quality and service be damned.
After I was finally awarded that contract the terms don't provide me with much if any actual profit. Knowing that cost was his only criteria, I'd carefully lowballed my bid, hoping that by getting a foot in the door, so to speak, I could attract some of the other corporate clients in his other buildings but that plan hasn't worked out so far. If it wasn't for our three other smaller clients, that are much more profitable, I'd probably already be out of business. I try to pay my own employees a decent wage but that doesn't leave much left to pay my own salary and frankly I'd almost be better off working as an employee for someone else.
In any case, this evening in mid-December was the night of Desmond's long awaited holiday party and now at nearly the very last moment I was at our local gourmet wine and fine foods store trying to make some appropriate, but budget-acceptable selections. The party invitation had been very specific; we were all to bring a French cheese and a French Wine for sharing. Our host was very definitely a Franco-phile. Sure there would be other food catering provided, but I found it irritating that for a man is almost a billionaire he still wants his guests to bring the refreshments! Classy. It was almost like having to pay to attend a party I'd much rather avoid entirely.
So, annoyed and irritated, I wandered the cheese section total confused ... but help was on the way!
"You look either lost or confused." A gentle but inquisitive female voice inquired right behind my head.
I turned to look at her and she quite grabbed my entire attention. Like me, she was dressed for a party, and in fact looked much nicer than me when dolled up. Her dress was a bright cranberry red cut in floating layers well above her nice knees. The cleavage looked plenty good as well, as did her face, which was minimally but cheerfully made-up with her long dark hair flowing over her open shoulders and back, held in place with a tasteful silver clasp.
She was also about my age, probably also in her early thirties, and while she wore plenty of expensive and tasteful jewelry, the all-important wedding ring finger was quite auspiciously barren.
It was quite a work of effort to get my eyes upwards to meet hers before it became brutally obvious to her that I was enjoying what I was looking at. I think she caught on fast anyway, but she gave me a light laugh and a tolerant smile.
"You're dressed for a holiday party too, and since you're also trawling the French cheese section too, might I speculate that you're also heading for a night of inane banality at Mallard Manor?"
"I'm afraid so. Nice of our generous host to request that we assist him with a spot of last minute shopping for him. He'll certainly be up to his big ears in leftover cheese and wine tomorrow. Which of these unpronounceable bluish things do you think would most likely give him the worst indigestion tomorrow?"
"A tricky choice ... something half-rotten and smelly would seem like a good start though."
Probably so. I selected the oldest dated and smelliest package of Bleu d'Auvergne cheese I could find. My lovely assistant made a strange and entirely different sort of choice: A nice aged smoked Gouda.
"I don't think that's 'frog' cheese." I reminded her.
"Well the frogs can keep the rest of their stuff. I don't even care for Brie very much, let alone Camembert. This is 'our' party, and if I have to sit around eating cheese, I'd rather buy and enjoy one I like!"
I couldn't fault her reasoning in the slightest. I preferred Gouda myself, or even Edam. Unless someone was offering a nice unpasteurized farmhouse Stilton to be enjoyed with a glass of fine vintage Port!
The trip together through the French wine section was equally fruitless.
"I don't know, nor can I recommend any of these wines." She muttered to me.
"Makes two of us. My tastes personally run to dry Northern Italian Cabernets myself. The Chileans aren't too bad either, but if I'm slumming I'd do just fine with an Aussie Cab/Shiraz blend."
An excellent choice! Let's get a bottle of each then!" And we did. I picked out my regular brand of Italian Cabernet that I normally served at home if I was having company, and my lovely counterpart selected a quality Australian Shiraz that was well above my usual purchasing habits.
With a wink and a grin, we were each off to the party, unfortunately in our own cars. She waved at me as she got into her late model Lexus convertible and didn't noticeably sneer at my older model pickup truck. Hey ... I often have to haul around desktop computers, big rack-mountable servers and network printers for my company and my budget doesn't run to a second car. Soon we were both off to the party.
We got a bit separated on the thirty minute drive to his exclusive gated community and by the time I got there I didn't even see her car. Valet parking (mercifully complimentary) was sending off vehicles right, left and sideways and her Lexus was already well out of sight. Still, I hoped that I'd meet with her again inside, to further renew our acquaintance.
Inside Mallard Manor, the estate was a huge sprawling monstrosity with rooms upstairs and down enough to hide a small army. I didn't see her at either the wine or cheese tables or anywhere else that I looked, but it was a colossal house and the backyard grounds were even larger. Already over five hundred guests were present and more folks arriving by the minute.
As I've mentioned, Desmond was a world-class asshole, but he was well-established old money in our city, and this was one of the places to be 'seen' for the crème of the holiday society party circuit. I doubted the newspaper society page photographer was going to use any photos of me in tomorrow's edition.
.... There is more of this story ...