The Billionaire Soirée — a short story

Posted on 2018 September 30

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A man of financial wealth who values himself by his financial net worth is poorer than a poor man who values himself by his intrinsic self worth. — Sydney Madwed

Shortly after I made my first billion, I got invited to a very swank, exclusive party. All the invitees were billionaires.

This would be a night to remember. I’d arrived! Woo-hoo! (fist pump)

The party took place at the country estate of a man many times more wealthy than most billionaires. I drove up into the hills in my Bentley coupe, wearing my best bespoke suit under a knee-length great coat that must have set me back several thou. (I’m not sure; my secretary handled the transaction.) The driveway wound through a thick forest of maple, elm, oak, and fir, then opened onto a lawn the size of a city park, dominated by a huge modernist pile that glittered with brightly lit floor-to-ceiling windows. 

A valet took my car. I walked up the palatial staircase, passed through gigantic twin entry doors, and entered the mansion.

I stood for a moment within the wide atrium. The main action seemed to be upstairs: on the balcony above, partygoers milled about or chatted in small groups. Baroque chamber music played in the background. An assistant took my invitation, examined it minutely, then nodded, bid me welcome, and took my overcoat. 

I approached the balcony stairs. A stunningly gorgeous young woman in an evening gown stood at the base, holding a tray of champagne-filled glasses — Lalique? — and offered one to me. Without slowing, I reached out, accepted the glass with a nod, and strode up the stairs. I felt like James Bond.

On the balcony I saw my host. He turned, recognized me, and walked over. “Good to see you. Welcome.”

“Impressive place you’ve got here,” I said.

He dipped his head. “We call it home.” He introduced me to several of the other guests, a few of them known to me through business, many of them world famous. I was shaking hands, nodding, smiling, and exchanging pleasantries with some of the most powerful people on the planet. This was nice.

A number of young women, most of them beautiful, moved among the throng. A few were fellow billionaires, but most were new to me. A collection of equally good-looking young men (movie stars? models?) also wandered about or got caught up in conversation. I wondered if these were invitees or perhaps some sort of entertainment — party favors for the super-rich?

I struck up a conversation with one of the young ladies, who seemed to find me fascinating. So far, so good. Then a middle-aged, paunchy fellow whose face I’d seen on TV, and whose wealth amply surpassed mine, walked over and butted in. “So,” he said, “One-point-three billion? You just barely made the cut.”

“Excuse me?”

It got worse. In front of the woman, he reached over and took hold of one of my suit lapels. His fingers rubbed the fabric. He let go. “Versace?”

“Uh, yes.”

He snorted, rolled his eyes, and walked off.

I turned toward the woman, shrugging, but she had drifted away. 

I wondered idly if now I would have to replace all my suits.

Before long I realized there was a distinct hierarchy at this party, with the wealthiest receiving the most attention, while lesser lights either formed fan clubs around the gods or occupied themselves at the bar. Worse, it seemed everyone knew everyone else’s net worth. That was the measure of you.

After an hour, it occurred to me that I’d had better conversations at a dive bar.

I was on my third drink, standing in a corner, staring through the plate glass at the moonlit back lawn (and pondering on the pathetic juvenility of so splendid an assemblage of financial might), when someone spoke behind me.

“They can be that way.”

I turned. A middle-aged woman — good looking, magnificently tailored, her jewelry worth more than a San Francisco townhouse — gazed past me at the lawn beyond the window.

I cleared my throat. “What do you mean?”

She looked at me. “Oh, they’re all tremendously successful, but they can behave like spoiled high school brats.”

I laughed and nodded. “I was a C-student at Harvard, so I’ve been through this pecking-order thing before.”

“Harvard? I went to Dartmouth.” She told me her name; we shook hands. I recognized the family resemblance: hers was a fortune inherited from a brilliant father and nurtured by her into much greater size. “I wanted to congratulate you,” she said, “not so much on reaching the billion-dollar mark — who cares, really? — but on the way you did it.”

“How so?”

“You outplayed a snot-nosed twenty-something entrepreneur who thought he was God’s gift to technology, carved off a huge chunk of his market share with your much superior product, and then at all times behaved immaculately with the press.”

“That’s very kind of you. I must say that, for your part, you’ve done a supreme job of upgrading your family fortune.” She smiled and looked down. I liked how her shyness alternated with her confidence.

Then she laughed. “Now that we’ve kissed each others’ butts, what else shall we talk about?”

…And that was how she and I began our relationship. In subsequent years we’d make the annual pilgrimage to the billionaires’ party, and always we would amuse ourselves watching phenomenally rich men behave like slightly drunken frat boys as they tried to one-up each other. 

Still, every year, I get the urge to find that first rude guest — whose wealth by now I have vastly exceeded — step over to him and say, “Seven billion? You’re coming along nicely.” Then walk away. I wouldn’t do it in front of her. But we billionaire men are very competitive or we wouldn’t be billionaires. We hate to lose a contest of any kind. I’d just want to see the look on his face. That would be satisfaction enough.

Yes, I know, it’s wrong. But … Woo-hoo! (fist pump)

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