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Home > The Appeal(7)

The Appeal(7)
Author: John Grisham

Brianna had wormed her way onto the board of the Museum of Abstract Art, and tonight was their biggest blowout. There would be designer gowns, tummy tucks and stout new br**sts, new chins and perfect tans, diamonds, champagne, foie gras, caviar, dinner by a celebrity chef, a silent auction for the pinch hitters and a live auction for the sluggers. And, most important, there would be cameras on top of cameras, enough to convince the elite guests that they and only they were the center of the world.

Oscar night, eat your heart out.

The highlight of the evening, at least for some, would be the auctioning of a work of art. Each year the committee commissioned an "emerging" painter or sculptor to create something just for the event, and usually forked over a million bucks or so for the result. Last year's painting had been a bewildering rendering of a human brain after a gunshot, and it went for six mill. This year's item was a depressing pile of black clay with bronze rods rising into the vague outline of a young girl.

It bore the mystifying title Abused Itnelda and would have sat neglected in a gallery in Duluth if not for the sculptor, a tortured Argentine genius rumored to be on the verge of suicide, a sad fate that would instantly double the value of his creations, something that was not lost on savvy New York art investors. Brianna had left brochures around the penthouse and had dropped several hints to the effect that Abused Imelda would be stunning in their foyer, just off the elevator entrance.

Carl knew he was expected to buy the damned thing and was hoping there would not be a frenzy. And if he became its owner, he was already hoping for a quick suicide.

She and Valentino appeared from the dressing room. The hair boys were gone, and she had managed to get into the gown and the jewelry all by herself. "Fabulous," Carl said, and it was indeed true. In spite of the bones and ribs, she was still a beautiful woman. The hair very much resembled what he had seen at six that morning when he kissed her goodbye as she sipped her coffee. Now, a thousand dollars later, he could tell little difference.

Oh, well. He knew very well the price of trophies. The prenuptial gave her $ 100,000 a month to play with while married and twenty million when they split. She also got Sadler with liberal visitation for the father, if he so chose.

In the Bentley, they hurried from beneath the apartment building and were onto Fifth Avenue when Brianna said, "Oh, my, I forgot to kiss Sadler. What kind of mother am I?"

"She's fine," Carl said, who likewise had failed to say good night to the child.

"I feel awful," Brianna said, feigning disgust. Her full-length black Prada coat was split so that the backseat was dominated by her amazing legs. Legs from the floor up to her armpits. Legs unadorned by hosiery or clothing or anything whatsoever.

Legs for Carl to see and admire and touch and fondle and she really didn't care if Toliver had a good look, either. She was on display, as always.

Carl rubbed them because they felt nice, but he wanted to say something like "These things are beginning to resemble broomsticks."

He let it pass.

"Any word from the trial?" she finally asked.

"The jury nailed us," he said.

"I'm so sorry."

"We're fine."

"How much?"

"Forty-one million."

"Those ignorant people."

Carl told her little about the complicated and mysterious world of the Trudeau Group.

She had her charities and causes and lunches and trainers, and that kept her busy.

He didn't want and didn't tolerate too many questions.

Brianna had checked online and knew exactly what the jury decided. She knew what the lawyers were saying about the appeal, and she knew Krane's stock would take a major hit early the next morning. She did her research and kept her secret notes.

She was gorgeous and thin, but she was not stupid. Carl was on the phone.

The MuAb building was a few blocks south, between Fifth and Madison. As the traffic inched closer, they could see the popping flashes of a hundred cameras. Brianna perked up, crunched her perfect abs, brought her new additions to attention, and said, "God, I hate those people."

"Who?"

"All those photographers."

He snickered at the obvious lie. The car stopped and an attendant in a tuxedo opened the door as the cameras swung to the black Bentley. The great Carl Trudeau popped out without a smile, then the legs followed. Brianna knew precisely how to give the photographers, and thus the gossip pages and maybe, just maybe, a fashion magazine or two, what they wanted-miles of sensuous flesh without revealing everything. The right foot landed first, shoed with Jimmy Choo at a hundred bucks per toe, and as she expertly swung around, the coat opened and Valentino cooperated upward and the whole world saw the real benefit of being a billionaire and owning a trophy.

Arm in arm they glided across the red carpet, waving at the photographers and ignoring the handful of reporters, one of whom had the audacity to yell, "Hey, Carl, any comment on the verdict in Mississippi?" Carl of course did not hear, or pretended not to.

But his pace quickened slightly and they were soon inside, on somewhat safer turf.

He hoped. They were greeted by paid greeters; coats were taken; smiles were offered; friendly cameras appeared; old pals materialized; and they were soon lost in the warm cluster of seriously rich people pretending to enjoy one another's company.

Brianna found her soul mate, another anorexic trophy with the same unusual body-everything superbly starved but the ridiculous br**sts. Carl went straight for the bar, and almost made it before he was practically tackled by the one jerk he hoped to avoid.

"Carl, ole boy, bad news down south I hear," the man boomed as loudly as possible.

"Yes, very bad," Carl said in a much lower voice as he grabbed a champagne flute and began to drain it.

Pete Flint was number 228 on the Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans. Carl was number 310, and each man knew exactly where the other fit on the roster. Numbers 87 and 141 were also in the crowd, along with a host of unranked contenders.

"Thought your boys had things under control," Flint pressed on, slurping a tall glass full of either scotch or bourbon. He somehow managed a frown while working hard to conceal his delight.

"Yes, we thought so, too," Carl said, wishing he could slap the fat jowls twelve inches away.

"What about the appeal?" Flint asked gravely.

"We're in great shape."

At last year's auction, Flint had valiantly hung on to the frenzied end and walked away with the Brain After Gunshot, a $6 million artistic waste but one that launched the MuAb's current capital campaign. No doubt he would be in the hunt for tonight's grand prize.

"Good thing we shorted Krane last week," he said.

Carl started to curse him but kept his cool. Flint ran a hedge fund famous for its daring. Had he really shorted Krane Chemical in anticipation of a bad verdict? Carl's puzzled glare concealed nothing.

"Oh yes," Flint went on, pulling on his glass and smacking his lips. "Our man down there said you were screwed."

"We'll never pay a dime," Carl said gamely.

"You'll pay in the morning, ole boy. We're betting Krane's stock drops 20 percent."

And with that he turned and walked away, leaving Carl to finish off his drink and lunge for another. Twenty percent? Carl's laser-quick mind did the math. He owned 45 percent of the outstanding common shares of Krane Chemical, a company with a market value of $3.2 billion, based on the day's closing price. A 20 percent decline would cost him 1280 million, on paper. No real cash losses, of course, but still a rough day around the office.

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