*This is a side-story to my novel. It helped me explore the motivations of a character whom I was having trouble understanding at the time. Enjoy!*
“Thank you everyone for coming! I am truly blessed to have so many friends see me off.”
It was her going-away gala. She was basking in the adoration of her subjects, the sparkle of the champagne, and the high of being the centre of attention. Gifts towered over her head, three butlers were tasked with handing out her new mailing address, women were crying and sniffling over her departure, and her husband was always beside her watching what she was consuming.
Minette Hendrickson was the ruler of her social class. She dominated every party, dictated every trend, and controlled businesses without their owners knowing. She ruled over her subjects with a kind iron fist and they loved her. They took every one of her words with absolute faith and she had never misled them – as far as they were concerned. She would feed her people until they had nothing left to give, then she would leave Port Holt and live the rest of her days in absolute luxury.
Every month a ship-developing heiress held a gala for friends and business associates. Of course, the city’s elite held parties and gatherings several times a week, but this event was considered a pinnacle. Her father had ties across the world, thus foreign business partners and diplomats always made their way to this event and rubbed elbows.
Minette, very good friends with the heiress, always used the gala to her advantage. Being close with the host meant greeting all the big players first. It meant getting into their minds first. It meant colouring their impressions of others first. It meant absolute power.
She rarely went to these events with her husband; he was a dowdy kind of boy, so much so that his looks couldn’t make up for it. He was a good man, high up in the political scene, but that wasn’t enough. He lowed her credibility. To reassure him, she would wear her engagement ring. Of course, this didn’t stop men from flirting with her or her teasing them back. She had almost no morals if it meant inflating her social status or finances.
Nine months ago, at a spring gala, a new foreigner took the scene. Daria Kim was an opera singer from a southern country so small it was barely seen on a map. They touted themselves as cultural elites and never failed to mention their history. Kim had a red wine coloured birthmark that covered half her face and continued down her neck. Coupled with her figure – tall with wide, wide hips – and silver dyed hair, she stood out immediately. She was exactly what high society adored: a trophy friend.
Minette’s subjects were leeches on Kim. She had the attitude and personality to charm anyone and anything. She shined naturally and could make a crowd laugh with one quick anecdote. She was world travelled and had insightful opinions on near everything; wine to economics to gardening. She was almost identical to Minette, but worst of all, she was better. Kim loved to talk about her life and her history. How she came into opera, how she toured around her country on horseback, how she sent donations to the needy during the war. It was disgusting. Disgusting and infuriating. Minette couldn’t compete.
Minette had succeeded as she did via four pillars of strategy. One of them was privacy. She didn’t enjoy talking about her past, mostly because it was rather boring. She had come from a village with less than 400 people. She had attended boarding school for eight years. She worked as a telephone operator for two years before she became an angel investor. If her subjects knew she had lived so humbly before moving to Port Holt, it would be social suicide. Initially, those nine months ago, she had planned to befriend Kim and make her a close ally.
“Daria!” Minette had said near the end of that fateful gala, shooing the crowd around Kim, “Daria, Daria, you are quiet the splash! People absolutely love you, they’ve been treating you well I hope?”
Kim had styled her hair up so her birthmark was prominent. Her mouth was wide, so when she had smiled it was huge. “Minnie!” She had greeted back and touched cheeks, a custom of her home country, “Yes, everyone is so kind! I cannot thank you enough, I cannot! I think I will stay in the city for some time longer, yes.”
“Oh? Is that right?”
“Yes! These people are so interesting, I might just have to steal them from you! Ohohoho!”
It had sounded like a lark, teasing between newfound friends; it was anything but. Women like them didn’t tease, they made their intentions clear through nice sounding threats. Minette had underestimated Kim. She had thought the woman simple by how friendly she was; she had thought the woman would be nothing more than a phase.
Two months after that gala, Kim had remained in the city. Her impact was becoming more of an issue; the cultural groups were flocking around her, thinning out Minette’s subjects to businessmen and politician’s wives. She was becoming the focal trend setter; her style of high-set hair was in vogue and women were excessive with rouge to feign birthmarks. There was a resurgence in theatre; by pulling strings she shouldn’t have had access to, Kim was guest staring in shows.
It was an insult. Minette had made lists of people she would squeeze dry and then toss away once they came crawling back to her. She had stolen from some house parties as punishment and to relieve stress, but it wasn’t enough. At the time, she had cursed how the war was over; air raids were wonderful excuses for burnt down homes. They also made someone’s disappearance easy, but so long as the country was at peace she could not physically harm her nemesis.
Kim had loved to torture her by being friends. Every party, gala, or social gathering that they both attended, Kim was quick to the trigger.
“Minnie!” She would shout, calling her over from across the room, “Come join us, yes?”
That alone would be the end of the fight; Kim proved her dominance in one sentence. She was the focal point of parties; people would flock around her, not Minette.
To save face, Minette would concede, say a quick hello and leave to gather her loyal subjects. She would drink glasses upon glasses, bottles upon bottles of wine and scotch, and scheme. Spike a drink with chemicals to burn her throat? Stage a mugging to puncture her lungs? Push her off a ledge to break her legs. There must have been some way, she had thought, Kim must have a weakness.
Was it irony that her nemesis was thinking the same thing all those months back? Behind all those smiles and niceties, Kim was plotting her own coup d’état.
There had been rumours, way back with Kim’s first appearance, of a new drug circling high society. The plight of the rich is too much time, thus narcotics were popular at social gatherings. Alcohol and tobacco were a staple, but hallucinogens and depressants were always welcomed. From her country, Kim introduced “Vigor” to Port Holt.
It was a stimulant that induced hallucinations. One woman claimed the high was like her manic episodes. Others said two doses was enough to leave them in bed for days afterwards. Testimonies were speculation at best; no one had really taken it.
Two months after her first appearance, weeks into her sweep of high society, Kim approached Minette with a suspicious smile.
“Minnie,” the snake had said in a singsong voice, “good, good, good news! A friend of mine has secured a package of Vigorante” said in her language, “across the border! It was delivered to me not two hours ago! Let’s have some, yes?”
It had been a bold faced challenge, “Yes! Let’s see what all the fuss is about,” and she had accepted without hesitation.
Minette prided herself on a steady state of mind while intoxicated, but she wasn’t foolhardy enough to dive head first into a new narcotic. It wasn’t bravado that fueled her, it was the keen determination to destroy Kim. When presented Vigor, a beige sugarcube lookalike, they had dissolved it in their champagne and finished the drink in one sip.
That night began an eight month saga of addiction, one-upmanship, backstabbing, proactive sabotage and a few third-party deaths. Factions were formed, city bylaws were passed, business empires crumbled, theatres were bought and sold three times over, entrepreneurs were chess pieces, actors became messenger boys. Their feud rippled across all of Port Holt, yet the common man was none the wiser. It culminated two weeks ago.
Two weeks prior to her going-away gala, Minette had been in a terrible, terrible state of disarray. She had hired a beauty specialist to make herself presentable every morning and beauty teams to dress her up for parties. She was suffering from Vigor addiction; ratty, thinning hair; cracked, dry skin; sunken, red eyes; a shaking that started and stopped throughout the day; a nice thin body but at the expense of no energy.
She had done a wonderful job hiding her sickly state from her husband. It helped that they didn’t live together, at her request from before they wed. He was busy with his work at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and traveling about with his father. But he was suspicious, he had always been a worrier.
“How is it today?” He had asked two weeks ago, believing her lie of anorexia and pneumonia, “Better? Worse? I can come home now if you need me…”
“No, no,” She had said in a lax voice. She had a worker holding the phone next to her ear as the beautician made up her face, “I’m absolutely fine. It’s getting better! I saw the doctor yesterday, he gave me some medicine, it’s fine.”
“You’ve been saying that for weeks.”
“And it’s the truth darling! I’m telling you, I’m getting better!” A truth wrapped in a lie. In reality, she had been weaning herself off Vigor. A month ago had been her peak consumption, at the time of that phone call she was down to two doses every 36 hours.
Her final plan to end Kim was coming into fruition. She had managed to find some underworld drug runners not friends with the snake and had ordered some extra potent Vigor. There had been a party the next night – her plan was to either switch Kim’s stash with hers or offer hers in a friendly manner, banking on Kim’s ignorance of her drug deal.
Much of the Port Holt elites partook in Vigor at excessive levels, thus an overdose wouldn’t be a shock. The few deaths over the nine months was proof of that. It had been a perfect plan.
The night of the phone call was the party – an heiress gala, appropriate for the final battleground. Minette had dressed immaculately for the event, she wanted to look good when a photo was taken of the dead body. Kim had managed to remain unchanged despite her excessive Vigor use, save her voice. In a juicy moment two months ago, she had accidently swallowed something that scratched her throat. Though it had healed, supposedly, she could no longer hit her highest notes. It was the sweetest revenge imaginable.
Minette had approached Kim, a smile on her face. They were faux friends, interacting strictly to appease their subjects. She had been smiling because she couldn’t hold back the glee of seeing her nemesis suffering. Thankfully it could be interpreted as excitement to get high.
“Daria,” She had said genuinely cheery, “I tested it last night and you must try a new combination I’ve come up with; Vigor and Rosé. To die for.” She couldn’t help herself on that last part.
“Oh, Minnie,” the snake had said, the pity in her voice alerting Minette, “I would love to indulge, I would, but I cannot. Just yesterday I promised my fiancé to no longer partake in narcotics. Such a plug, that man, but if we wish to have a child I suppose it is best to be stop, yes.”
“Oh. Oh is that right? Is that right?”
Minette, for the first time since their wedding, was grateful to her husband for that night. She had been seconds from social suicide. If not for her husband, she would have forced Kim to the ground and shoved the drugs into her big ugly mouth. She would have forced the snake to swallow and laughed as she choked. She would have used the last of her energy to strangle the bitch and relish in the life draining from the corpse’s eyes.
Rather than that, however, one of her staff, whom she had planted for surveillance, had slid up behind her and whispered, “Your husband is here miss.”
And not two moments later, her husband had appeared behind her, his hand firmly squeezing her shoulder. “Min…” He murmured, his voice dripping in pity, “I’m taking you home.” He then turned to Kim, “Apologies, I hate to disrupt you two but there’s been a family emergency, I have to take Minette.”
Kim had feigned concern and smirked as she walked off. Humiliated Minette had left, her staff in tow, as her husband gripped her arm so she couldn’t escape. She had tried to crumble the Vigor in her hand and scatter it as they walked, but it was in vain.
“Don’t bother,” Her husband had said, “One of your girls told me everything. I can’t believe you. Is this why you want to live separately?”
“I won’t live somewhere where I’m not head of the household.”
“This is ridiculous. I can’t believe you. Have you been spending all your money on narcotics? You’re supposed to be perfect Min, you’re supposed to not have faults.”
“I am perfect,” she had hissed, “I don’t have faults, these worms infect me and cause blemishes.”
“…I’m disappointed in you Minette.”
It was the first major fight of their relationship. Her husband was typically a pushover, but, in his own words, he wouldn’t “turn a blind eye with my wife’s health at risk.” It was considerate if not for the rules he imposed. She would empty out her liquor cabinet, seal the wine cellar, cut ties with her underworld friends, and go into exile until further notice. She conceded to most of the demands – she refused to end any business connections – and made some of her own. She refused to scurry out of the city in the dead of night. If she was leaving, it’d be on her terms. Specifically, a giant show-stopping going-away gala that celebrated her greatness and to remind her subjects how miserable their lives would be without her.
She was at her party. Her people were standing before her, basking in her glory and she was feeding off their attention. She was relishing in Kim’s lack of presence – a deliberate move, as the whole social class had been invited save the snake. Nothing was dampening her mode, not even her depressing husband. She was allowed two glasses of champagne, nothing more. Anything she ate, he had to taste on the pretense of laced food (a rude assumption as consumables fell out of vogue sixteen months ago).
“Of course,” she announced to her subjects during her closing toast, “I will miss Port Holt, and all of you, dearly, but I must return home. A close family relative of mine is ill, and I must look after them. I’m sure you can all understand.”
They cheered, they wept, they sang her praises. She was an angel, a saint. A martyr, sacrificing her life of luxury to care for her family. Her nine month saga had culminated at this party and it was deliciously sweet.
And perhaps the greatest gift of all was how easy her life would be upon her return. The second she returned, the second she attended a party with Kim, she would find redemption. If the snake was telling the truth in going clean, by the time of Minette’s return, Kim would be ultra-sensitive to Vigor. Her revenge plan would still work, but even better than before. It made her exile worth her weight in gold.
“I know you’ll all struggle while I’m gone,” some lighthearted laughs, a few shouts in agreements, “but know when I come back, all my focus will be on you! My people!”