VEGAS ENVY ((A Sinfully Glam Novelette)), page 1
A Sinfully Glam Novelette
By J.J. Salem
Praise for J.J. Salem
“The literary love-child of Sidney Sheldon and Jackie Collins.”
–The Daily Record, UK/Scotland
“Escapism with a feminist edge.”
–The Sunday Telegraph
“A Jacqueline Susann-style thriller by way of Candace Bushnell.”
–The Daily Mirror
“J.J. Salem is Jackie Collins’ protégé, and OMG, he’s on fire!”
Also by J.J. Salem
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CHAPTER ONE Red Envy
Nobody knows the truth about stars. The truth is what they want the public to believe, and for years – for decades, in fact – the truth about Envy was that she lived in the rarified world of breathtaking beauty, incredible luck, unsurpassed luxury, and never-ending riches.
‘I’m sorry, Envy, but the facts speak for themselves.’ January Knight, the head of the Los Angeles region for Platinum Nation’s Private Wealth Management Division, delivered the words with an expression as severe asher look – flame-red hair slicked back into a neat ponytail, minimal makeup on a pale, could-be-beautiful-if-she-tried face, and a conservatively cut navy business suit with a no-nonsense white silk blouse and sensible low-heeled pumps.
Envy began pacing the expansive living area of the London Hotel’s Princess Diana suite. ‘It can’t all be gone. I have investments . . . I have real estate holdings.’ She stopped moving and gave this female financial robot an imperious glare. ‘You don’t have a full account.’
‘I wish that were the case. But the numbers don’t lie.’
Envy stared at the Perrier-Jouët sweating in the champagne bucket, its ice long melted down. It was only 9:00 A.M. and she wanted the whole bottle. She cut an annoyed glance at January. ‘Where’s Tyson Morgan? He’s the man I hired. I’ve never even met you.’
January appeared impervious to the shoot-the-messenger routine. ‘Tyson only handles clients at certain asset levels.’
‘So I’m famous enough to solicit but not rich enough to look after?’ Envy’s laugh was bitter. She coldly zeroed in on January. ‘Well, if I’m as broke as you say, then you must be the lowest grunt at the firm.’
‘Actually, I’m among the best. Situations like yours represent some of our more difficult cases.’
‘I just don’t believe that everything’s gone,’ Envy said tightly. ‘It can’t be.’
‘You need to see it on paper,’ January said, gesturing for Envy to join her at the small table where the offending proof was spread out. ‘Except for your homes, your entire fortune was invested with Marc Cohen.’
Envy recoiled. Just hearing the name spoken out loud physically sickened her.
Marc Cohen, financial advisor. Marc Cohen, fraudulent son-of-a-bitch. After being charged with stealing $79 million from his clients, the media had christened the slick young Ponzi scheme mastermind a ‘baby Bernie Madoff.’ The cute nickname belied the brutal damage done to his victims.
‘When they find the money—’
‘That could take years,’ January cut in. ‘And recovery – if any at all – will be fractional.’
Finally, Envy called up the courage to sit down at the table, but she could not bring herself to so much as glance at the documents. The reality frightened her too much. ‘At least I still have real estate.’
‘Your homes are heavily mortgaged – up to one hundred percent or more in all cases. Property values took a big hit during the economic crisis. You’re upside down everywhere – the main house in Beverly Hills, the beach house in Miami, and the ski chalet in Aspen.’
‘So they’re worthless?’
‘The holdings have no equity value. Selling – if you’re lucky enough to find a buyer – won’t generate income. And that’s the immediate concern – income for living expenses. You have no revenue coming in.’
Envy attempted to study the records for several long, confused seconds. She could not read the language of finance. She could only speak it. $7 million to star in a romantic comedy. $3 million to record a pop/dance album. Those were numbers that she understood. But it had been a long time since she had heard figures like that concerning her career.
In a fit of frustration, Envy pushed the papers away and just looked at January. ‘Give it to me straight. How bad is it?’
‘Your bank accounts are overdrawn, and your credit cards are maxed out.’ She paused a beat before adding, ‘It’s so bad that you can’t even pay for this hotel room.’
If Envy had been standing, her knees would have gone weak and triggered a collapse. Already her mind was in desperation mode. She had to make money, dignity be damned. One of the disposable celebrity magazines – US Weekly, Star, OK! – would pay for the privilege of an exclusive interview. She could visualize the headline splashed across the cover: ENVIED NO MORE – RICH STAR, POOR STAR. Humiliating, yes, but still an instant way to make some fast income. Suddenly, the realization sunk in that it was all up to her now. She would have to make the call, negotiate the terms, haggle over the price, and schedule the time and place.
January had just said out loud what Envy had known deep down for several days. Her situation was beyond bleak. It was terrifying. That’s why she had gone about the tough business of firing her agent, manager, publicist, and lawyer. Professionally, she had plummeted. Financially, she had met her Waterloo. And putting aside the fact that all of this had happened on the watch of her so-called power team, the simple fact was that she could no longer afford to pay out their percentages from any future earnings. Right now Envy needed every dollar she could get her hands on.
CHAPTER TWO White Envy
She was born in the nowhere town of Faxinalzinho in Brazil’s South, the daydreaming daughter of a husky mechanic and a quiet shopkeeper. From an early age her mind was focused on the big city of São Paulo. She would climb trees to escape her bullying cousins and stare up at the sky, imagining the possibilities that existed there for modeling, acting, glamorous surroundings . . . In short, the beautiful life.
If only for Envy’s relentless badgering, her parents cobbled together the money to pay for a modeling class two hours away in Erechim. She was 16. But even then she had the curves, the attitude, and the green-eyed blonde-bombshell looks – all the makings of an 80s supermodel. Photographers lost their minds over her exotic miscegenation. With Arab, Portuguese, and Indian blood on her mother’s side and Italian and German ancestry on her father’s, Marcelia Envy Kuerten generated instant buzz and excitement. From first day to last, she was the star student of the course.
When a scout for Ming Management spotted her at a bus station, life changed forever. She was dispatched to São Paulo and within days began posing for international editions of Vogue and Elle. One afternoon her overwhelmed handler at Ming slashed a violent black Sharpie line through MARCELIA and KUERTEN and proclaimed her simply . . . ENVY, a marketing move that created a little earthquake in the demimonde of modeling. The phones never stopped ringing – more fashion magazines, catwalk shows for Prada, Chanel, and Calvin Klein, plus advertising work for cosmetic and retail giants. By the time she turned 19, Envy was living in New York, hovering near the
During the 90s, her career flourished alongside the top girls of the decade – Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss, Claudia Schiffer. Envy found ways to possess a mass audience with iconic moments that revealed her special brand of Brazilian charm and personality. There was the hilarious Pepsi Super Bowl commercial with skateboarding teens, the jet-setting romance with filmdom’s reigning superstar, the bestselling book that was part memoir, part beauty and exercise plan, and the inspiring charity work on behalf of AIDS sufferers.
The public’s interest and affection allowed her to branch out into exciting new arenas. In 2001, she was offered her first leading role in a movie – a harmless bit of romantic fluff called 1,000 Kisses. It opened on Valentine’s Day the following year, topped the weekend box office, and went on to gross over $100 million. There were other successful films – the woman-in-jeopardy scuba-themed thriller Night Dive, the 60s-era romantic comedy Ring-A-Ding-Ding, and the remake of the Doris Day spy spoof The Glass Bottom Boat.
In the midst of the Hollywood triumphs and a $1 million Cody contract to license her name for a perfume line, the offer from Universal Music Group to record an album seemed like an embarrassment of riches. Could Envy even sing? She did not know. And the label executives never asked. But top-shelf producers lined up to work with her to craft an ear candy collection of frothy pop/dance nuggets. Her voice was thin and breathy, her range limited, but she sang with a genuine smile, the comfort of her heartbeat came through in the music, and with properly finessed studio processing and overdubbing, a definitive Envy sound emerged. It was revealed in her first single, ‘DJ, I Need You (Help Me Dance, Dance, Dance),’ a hook-laden club stomper that shot straight to number one.
She stormed the Billboard charts with the three albums that followed, selling a combined 11.4 million copies, wowing the fans with sexy, innovative music videos, and dazzling awards show audiences with wild costumes and hot choreography. Her string of hits were often mega-mixed to keep sweaty club denizens steaming up the dance floors all night long.
From her bus station discovery in Brazil to her Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Comedy or Musical, it had been a stumble-free climb to the top of fashion and entertainment. But like every star eventually learns, the law of gravity is the same for all: what goes up . . . must come down.
Envy’s slide was progressive and seemed to encompass all facets of her career. 1,001 Kisses, an ill-conceived sequel to 1,000 Kisses, underperformed. And then a big-budget sci-fi adventure, Jupiter 7, aggressively hyped as the next tent-pole summer film franchise, bombed at the box office.
She jumped right into a contemporary romantic drama called Sunsets and Merlot, starring alongside her boyfriend at the time, the hot and rugged Australian actor Kyden Spragg who bitterly resented the fact that she was not only being paid more but also receiving above-the-title billing.
Envy cringed whenever she thought of all the fights, break-ups, and make-ups that had disrupted production. Kyden’s script-rewrite demands ruined what could have been a wonderful picture about a divorced couple – torn apart after the loss of a child – finding each other again. The director publicly blasted them as ‘on-set professional nightmares,’ igniting a media war of gossip, speculation, and outright lies. Critics were ruthless in their hatred of the film, and it died a quick death at the box office.
Envy’s music endeavors were suffering as well. Online piracy and single-track digital buying had contributed to an overall decline in CD sales, but her retail performance had experienced a stunning collapse. It started as she approached 40; it got worse once she hit 40. That’s when radio and youth marketing turned its back on her completely. Her style of pop was a young girl’s party. They wanted Ke$ha, Lady Gaga, Pink, Rihanna, Britney, and Katy Perry . . . not Envy.
The label came at her with harsh new contract clauses limiting recording session costs and promotional expenses, even demanding that she personally absorb the glam-squad bills for television and other live appearances. When she refused, Universal quietly dropped her in what was explained as a ‘strategic reorganization of the artist roster in a challenging industry environment.’
The bleeding did not stop there. Citing years of low sales, Cody fazed out the Envy fragrance line. Perfume was a highly competitive arena with new products from bigger and hotter names always jockeying for counter space. Envy was merely a star. But women like Jennifer Aniston, Sarah Jessica Parker, Beyonce, and Mariah Carey were icons. Game over.
CHAPTER THREE Green Envy
‘The problem is your expensive lifestyle,’ January was saying. The tone of her voice – an irritating mixture of accusation and condescension – broke Envy out of her rags-to-riches-back-to-rags reverie. ‘Even if you’d been my client ten years ago when you were at your income-producing peak, I still would’ve told you that. Careers like yours are always shorter than anticipated. Cash management is key.’
Envy gave January a polar glare. ‘So this has nothing to do with the fact that a sociopathic criminal stole all my money? Or that greedy Wall Street traders gambled on the foundation of individual investment and fucked up the housing industry? The blame is on me?’
January blanched, her pale cheeks turning a pale pink. There was a certain recognition in her eyes, as if realizing for the first time that Envy was not some stupid model. She had a brain for business. And right now it was being used to make January look like the idiot in the room. ‘Of course not. But you have to make drastic lifestyle changes. Immediately.’
Envy quietly fretted about how drastic those changes would have to be.
‘For example, you can no longer afford hotel rooms like this,’ January went on, sweeping a dramatic hand as if to take in all of the grand, useless space.
Envy sneered. ‘Where do you expect me to stay? At a Days Inn?’
‘Maybe,’ January shot back. ‘And until you start working again even that might be beyond your budget.’
‘I’m trying,’ Envy groaned. ‘I was attached to a new film, but the lead actor and director dropped out, and now the project’s in turnaround.’
‘You’re a singer, too. Go on a concert tour.’ January suggested this as if such a thing could be put together as easily as a small dinner party.
‘Who’s going to back me for a tour?’ Envy asked matter-of-factly. ‘I don’t sing live. I don’t have a touring base. I don’t do well in merchandise sales. The best I could hope for is a string of bookings at gay clubs in the major markets. But I don’t have any new music to promote.’
‘Then I suggest a fire sale – jewelry, furniture, art, clothing. Anything that can be turned into cash.’ January stared at the near-blinding solitaires adorning Envy’s earlobes. ‘The truth about diamonds is that they’re nice to wear.’ She paused a beat. ‘But food and shelter is nicer.’
‘You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?’
January looked at her strangely. ‘Why would I?’
‘I’ve been on magazine covers, I’ve dated movie stars, and now you get to come here and put the beautiful bitch in her place.’
‘I didn’t drive all the way from Los Angeles to gloat. I did it because this is my job. And as for dating movie stars, a long time ago I dreamed about marrying Mel Gibson. Well, thankfully, that prayer was never answered. I’m happy with my life. Maybe my husband’s a boring research scientist, but he’s stable and doesn’t threaten to burn the house down if I fall asleep before giving him a blow job.’
Envy laughed. Really laughed. For the first time in days.
January managed a smile as she buried her face in her hands. ‘I can’t believe I just said that. It was so unprofessional. Please accept my apology.’
‘No apology necessary,’ Envy assured her.
January began gathe
‘Maybe I’ll just have a garage sale in Beverly Hills,’ Envy said wryly.
January stood up and smoothed down her skirt. ‘There’s one certainty when it comes to an entertainer’s career, and that’s dry spells. Call me when you start working. We can rebuild your financial life. I advocate two years of expenses in cash and a portfolio of income-producing assets like dividend-paying stocks and bonds.’ She dropped an embossed business card on the table and shook Envy’s hand. ‘I have another client to see. He’s the most successful poker player on the Strip. It should be interesting.’ She started for the door. ‘I’m available if you have questions about anything.’ And then January Knight walked out.
CHAPTER FOUR Blue Envy
It was noon in Las Vegas. The heavy curtains were closed, eclipsing the bright sun. Envy drank some of the warm champagne, a gift from the London Hotel’s management. It had been waiting in the suite when she checked in last night.
Maybe they had read the columns and felt sorry for her. Maybe the next delivery would be a bouquet of flowers and a note announcing that the room was being comped. Envy could hope. But the better guess was that the celebrity-friendly fools still thought she was a star with money, a big spender who could make good on a bill sky high with in-room and on-property charges.
The bubbly made her drowsy. It dawned on her that she had only sipped half a cup of green tea for breakfast. The alcohol was going straight to her brain. She crawled into bed wearing her diamonds and the Celine dress of the season. It was nice here, cocooned in the darkness, vaguely buzzing, lost in her private little world.