The Gala Event of the Season
A short story by Johi Jenkins
Words: Cater waiter, Suspicious, Architecture, Money, Switch, Imagine, Yawn, Blot, Lilac, Program
The grand hotel ballroom is prepared. Dinner is ready. The servers have their instructions. The guests have arrived.
Someone will die.
I know this, and now you know it, too.
One person in the party knows it.
The gala has begun.
The cater waiter nearly trips over his own feet. The flutes filled with champagne atop the silver tray he carries sway dangerously for one second, but miraculously remain upright and not a drop spills. He stops for a minute to compose himself, with the pretense of offering his tray to a cluster of nearby guests. He’s not usually clumsy but he’s nervous today. He’s helped cater important fundraising events before, but never one like this. This is the gala event of the season. So many important people and celebrities are here tonight, and so many of them are gorgeous women. The waiter must be flawless, obliging, and ingenuous. He straightens his vest with his free hand and carries on with his job, equally nervous but confident no one saw his near stumble.
Except his boss did. The gala director shakes her head at the awkward blond waiter. Where did her hiring staff find such incompetence? If anything went wrong today her ass would be fired quicker than you could say Well fuck you I hated this fucking job anyway.
She didn’t always hate her job. Her bachelor’s degree is in Architecture, but she found her calling in event planning. She loves envisioning perfection and making it happen—part of the reason why she wanted to become an architect—but, she regrets that her talents were “discovered” somewhere along the way and she was offered a huge salary (which is still nothing compared to what these rich people make) to put together these extravagant parties. She was so delighted and proud at first, of course, but then eventually realized that she sold out. Her supposed glamorous job is just well-paid servitude, really, ultimately for the benefit of entitled assholes. Today the biggest of them all is coming. The CEO of Sarang Industries, Daniel Hoffmann. She hates that guy and his giant tech company, his gigantic money, disgusting influence, and how he pretty much gets away with whatever the hell he wants to do.
Grumbling internally, she continues her rounds, smiling and pretending. She wears the mask to the world. The mask of complaisance.
The top aide is expertly multi-tasking on her phone getting updates on the CEO’s whereabouts, reviewing his schedule for the next twenty-four hours, and confirming his daughter’s lodging situation when the event planning director approaches her. Yes, everything is going great, she affirms to the overly helpful woman. Thank you very much for your attentions. She dismisses the other woman with a polite nod and goes back to her phone to fix the CEO’s daughter’s small mishap. The daughter arrived this morning from her year-long overseas trip and her penthouse hadn’t been cleaned. But this aide was currently fixing that; she was always on top of things when it came to the CEO’s business, and often took care of his personal matters as well. She took pride in being such an important part of such an important corporation. Sarang Industries provides energy to millions, even to those who can’t afford it. For over two decades the company has been the lead in energy technology, always in the quest for fossil-fuel independence by the use of truly clean green energy. The multi-billion-dollar company often sends relief to poor economies after natural disasters. One such disaster struck her hometown when she was in high school, and she and her family saw firsthand the benevolence of Sarang. Right then she decided she wanted to work for them, and indeed she was able to join the company right after college. After a few short years her dedication shot her right into an executive assistant position to the new CEO. The aide may be biased, but she truly believes she works for the best company in the world. She smiles as she fixes the daughter’s issue in mere minutes and moves on to the next item in her endless list of tasks. The CEO is arriving soon, and she needs to be in position, ready for him.
The limo pulls up to the front of the majestic Victorian hotel and Sarang Industries CEO Dan Hoffmann frowns at the small gathering waiting outside. He was expecting a bigger reception; but then again, he was an hour late and probably all the flaky leeches had already gone inside. He puts on his billion-dollar smile and steps out of the limo. Time to give them what they craved—his presence, his attentions for a few hours. And a small speech, probably. His top aide was good at handling those. She would have the teleprompter set up and all he would have to do was read. She was quite resourceful, the young assistant. Very pretty, too, in a nerdy type of way. Too bad the world had suddenly turned to shit and a boss couldn’t just fuck his staff like he used to—someone finds out and waahh, they go all out crying harassment. A resourceful man worked his way around that, of course, but it was still an inconvenience to have to go through all that trouble—he pretty much needed a sort of dealer and all the secrecy that came with that, just to get some ass these days. Gone were the days when he could just smile at whomever he wanted and get his way with her in his office within the hour.
But on the bright side, staying out of his aide’s panties meant that he could keep her as a real aide, and she was very good at her job. She’s already waiting for him as he enters the building; she quickly approaches him to go over the details of the program. He fights the old instinct to smack her ass when she finishes; instead he smiles at her warmly as a compliment. The security men follow him into the ballroom and he’s announced with a grand flourish. The guests clap and cheer for him while he gives them his best smile and a classic presidential wave of his hand. The show has begun.
The blond waiter fixes his eyes on the super classy girl in the lilac dress clapping softly along with everyone else. He’s carrying a tray of hors d’oeuvres now, the all-time greatest appetizer dish out of the hotel’s five-star kitchen: spinach and feta mini pies. He can already imagine her smile as she would gasp in happy surprise. Oh, these are my favorite! What’s your name, so I may thank you for this wonderful treat? He would tell her, and offer to keep them coming, so that he could be by her side all night delighting her with his finger foods. His fantasy playing in front of his open eyes, he jumps in shock as his boss appears right in front of him, blocking his path.
“Where do you think you’re going with that?” she whispers furiously. “You’re going to offer those to Minerva? Did you forget she’s vegan?? Where the hell were you yesterday when we went over this? The one dish you’re not supposed to offer her? Fucking feta cheese!” She tilts her head slightly to the left and points with her eyes. “That group of suits over there will eat your fucking spanakopitas. Go!” And she all but pushes him in their direction.
Ugh, that woman was so mean. But the waiter complies, hurrying to empty his tray so he may switch to something vegan. Yes, it was his fault; he’d forgotten the instructions they’d all received last night. But he’d been high as usual during these power trips of his boss, the events director, who was always up somebody’s ass about something, always dropping F-bombs for no reason. She was a micromanager and perfectionist and nobody liked to work with those people. He thought she could use a joint to chill down. She had anger issues, dude. She needed to control those emotions or someone was going to wind up dead.
The waiter shakes his head as he enters the kitchen and is given a tray of little rose-shaped savory pastries. This time he makes sure to ask if they’re vegan, only to get a glare from one of the handlers and a condescending reminder that everything is vegan except for the spinach and feta pies. Oh, right. His boss had said that yesterday, too. Ugh. He grabs the tray and goes back out in the ballroom in search of a lilac dress.
But the girl in the lilac dress won’t be eating the rose-shaped tartlets. She has seen them being passed around and the pain has already settled again in her heart, like an old friend. Those were her mother’s favorite, and she has avoided them since her passing last year. The loss of her mother wholly changed her; not just her party food preferences but also the way she saw the world. Her mother’s husband was to blame for her death, the girl knew; now she’s distrustful and suspicious of everyone. Because if her stepfather, whom she had thought of as an honorable man, had deceived her for so many years, how could you trust anyone ever again? The memory of her mother brings wetness to her eyes. She excuses herself from the people surrounding her and retreats to find a washroom.
The gala director averts ten other possible mini crises before it’s the megalomaniac’s time to open his disgusting mouth and spew out his lies as usual. Her mortgage looms over her head each time she feels a little stabby, and she reminds herself that even though money is the root of all evil, it’s also pretty useful and she benefits from having it, so she should not lose her cool and say what’s really on her mind. Her eyes roll out of their own accord, though, as the CEO delivers a beautiful speech that makes him sound like the country’s personal savior. She has to admit that Sarang’s energy initiatives help the world in several ways, but all their charities are probably just a facade to give them the appearance of a good, generous company. She knows what’s up. She can see through the CEO’s bullshit every time he speaks without a teleprompter. Maybe Sarang had good beginnings, but what was the benefit of a good company in the hands of someone evil? The CEO finishes his speech and her trained staff work flawlessly under the cover of a standing ovation (really?? A fucking standing ovation? So many ass kissers!) to pick up the empty toasting flutes and relocate the prompter that the guy was reading off of.
Smiling to herself for yet another well-received speech entirely written by her, the top aide waits for her CEO to sit down at the head of the large table on the raised dais, before crouching quietly next to him and reminding him of the names and positions of the most important people at his table. He’s gracious as ever, and thanks her for doing her job. He always flatters her this way.
“And my daughter?”
“She’s busy with the mayor, but she should be free soon and come take her place at the table. And her home is ready.”
“Good. Tell her to come say hi to her old man. I’m more important than that fairy in that ridiculous toupee.”
“At once, sir.” The aide moves away to the last place she saw the CEO’s daughter, grateful for something to do. She didn’t like the slur the CEO called the mayor regarding his sexual preference. He often said offensive little remarks like that but she always reminded herself that he was from a different generation and he likely didn’t mean any of it in an unkind way. However, it didn’t mean that she had to like it. She looks around and spots his daughter just coming back into the ballroom, holding her hands together. She quickly approaches her.
“Ms. Hoffmann? Your father would like to speak with you. You’re sitting at his table three places down, but you may sit at his right for the moment, if you don’t wish to stand while you talk to him.”
“Lovely. Thank you, Jane.”
The CEO scowls at the dish someone placed in front of him, not even caring to try it. He’ll have to go out for steak as soon as this fundraiser is over. He has to laugh at all the idiots in here today that paid thousands of dollars for a dinner of rabbit food. But that’s what some wise aide said was needed in order to please the environmentalists. He was so tired of those tree-huggers. Again, different times. He sighs, longing for the good old days when you could run down a hippie with your excavator. His daughter slips into the seat next to his, interrupting his reverie.
“Minnie!” he exclaims. “I couldn’t believe when the aide told me you were coming. How are you, dear? You’re looking so pale. Is something wrong? Are those liberal Brits mistreating you?”
Minerva smiles lovingly and reaches out with her left hand to grab his right, turning it palm up on his lap. He feels a small sting on his wrist where her finger touches him. “I’m quite well, Father. I’m just tired from the trip. I missed you so much while I was gone. You’re the only family I have now, so I’ve decided to stay. This time for real.”
“But you won’t take your place at the Board of Directors, right? You don’t need to worry your pretty little head with family business matters.”
“Oh, that is so sweet of you. But I want to. This company means as much to me as it did to my mom and my father. Well, I mean Charles. You’re my dad.” She smiles at him to assuage his jealousy. She knows he’s in a constant battle with her real father, even though her dad has been dead for six years. “Changes are coming. I’m here to stay.”
Her stepfather smiles awkwardly, probably not sure what to make of her words. He hates change, she knows, unless it’s change for his own benefit. Well, this one is definitely not for his benefit. She watches with satisfaction as he absent-mindedly scratches at the small blot that has appeared where she touched him. It will take his life in about twenty minutes. He will go into cardiac arrest and die, and go back to the hell from whence he came. Her mother will be avenged, and she will help return her father’s company to the righteous place it used to be, not the festering cesspool of greed and malevolence that it has turned into since Dan Hoffman swept right in after deceiving and marrying her mother. Her stepfather stifles a yawn as his body begins the process of shutting down, unbeknownst to him, compliments of a deadly substance called batrachotoxin cleverly delivered by means of amazing new technology she researched this past year while abroad. She smiles and excuses herself, and takes her designated place at the table three seats down from him.
The aide approaches the CEO to check on him, because from where she stands it looks like he’s having trouble focusing on the conversation he was just having with the president of an agricultural mega corporation. Perhaps something is troubling him? He barely touched his food. Maybe he didn’t like it? Everyone else seems to be enjoying it. She’s about to ask him if he would like something else, but before she reaches him, his eyes close.
They don’t open again.
Shouts and chaos ensue in the ballroom, but the aide just stands there in shock. Her boss, dead? Wow. Her position as top aide suddenly vanished. Whoosh, just like that. But maybe she could also serve the next CEO. Maybe the next person would be someone better. Like maybe his daughter.
The gala director curses in several languages. There is just not getting over this. It would always be known that it was at her party that the Sarang CEO died. Even if it was just a heart attack and had nothing to do with the gala itself. She couldn’t live this down. Her career was ruined.
Or was it? Maybe she could sell all her shit and move back to her hometown, and exercise her creativity there. That was a cool thought. She could make her local people happy throwing the best parties for them. Go back to what really made her happy. Yes. That sounded like the best thing ever.
She looks at the body one last time and gives a tiny shrug, then retreats into the kitchens to find a bottle of champagne to celebrate her freedom.
The waiter so wanted to comfort the girl in the lilac dress as she fell to her knees next to her father, crying loudly, the pain and disbelief evident in her face. But they were worlds apart, and all he could do was watch her as his heart broke for her. She looked so lost and stricken. But as the paramedics carried the CEO’s body away, he saw her lip twitch in a weird way for a split second, and he had to do a double take. He could have sworn he had seen her smiling.
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