Copyright 2013 © by Leslie Hummel
All Rights Reserved
San Francisco, 1980
Victoire Vestey embodied the three Bs: brains, breeding and beauty. Life as an ambassador’s daughter, coupled with her mother’s multiple marriages, armed Victoire with four languages, adaptability and a narcissistic take on life.
A degree in economics from Berkeley with honours hung on her large bedroom wall alongside a high school diploma from a prestigious European boarding school. A fencing certificate, skier’s gold medal and ballet grade 8 also prominently punctuated the Fleur de Lys print wallpaper.
Not one stuffed animal sat on a shelf nor was a cushion out of place upon her canopied bed. Sentimentality didn’t feature in Victoire’s repertoire.
Hers had been a life of an affluent nomad: private schooling, jet setting and zero work experience, which she left to her father to sort out when the time came.
“Ambassador Vestey,” piped the spindly secretary from the U.S. embassy in Budapest. “Your daughter is on line two.”
Wilhem Vestey dismissed the commercial attaché and settled comfortably behind an imperially large desk. “Victoire, it appears you struck the right rapport with my contact, Peter Prentice, last week. Well done. He wants you to start your job at Bassadai on the first of next month.”
“I knew we hit if off. I spoke with the Vice President of International and the head of marketing a few days ago and got a good sense of what they are looking for. The job sounds perfect. Thanks for helping me on the job front. I’ll keep you posted on how things work out. See you next Easter!”
A moment later, her Parisian born mother entered her room with a vase of calla lilies. “Maman!” she cried, “daddy’s friend who runs Bassadai wants me to join the international division!’ Her glacial blue eyes danced with pleasure.
“Peter Prentice? Bravo, Victoire!” Vivienne cupped her daughter’s chin in her cold, jewel-encrusted hands. “Too bad Bassadai isn’t located in San Francisco. Then again, getting a place in Atherton is a possibility—no sea views, but lovely nonetheless.”
“Trust me: I’ll be commuting, like he does,” she clarified. Victoire had no immediate plans of wasting money on rent when she had room, board and laundry service in her stepfather’s splendid Pacific Heights house. “I wouldn’t be caught dead re-locating no matter how convenient Atherton may be.” She scrunched her nose. “It’s full of old farts.’
Vivienne Vestey shook her head disapprovingly. “Perhaps, Victoire,” she said pointedly, “but very rich old farts…”
# # # #
Peter Prentice marvelled at the Dutch blue sky with not a wisp of fog in sight and then gave the seating assignment one last look. “Perfect,” he said, returning the typed sheet to his personal assistant scuttling about in a purple paisley bow tie and pink shirt.
The table had been set with exquisite care, everything decorated in navy and white. The theme was to mirror Fleet weekend. Twenty guests due to arrive within the hour were to take in the spectacular views of the bay from Peter’s Presidio Heights mansion and be awed by the Blue Angels performing their daredevil precision manoeuvres. You can practically see the pilots faces, he remembered, delighted the weather was on his side knowing his Midwestern associates would talk of the party for years to come.
Peter Prentice had done very well for himself considering his circuitous avoidance of his meagre background. His father walked out of the family apartment one stormy night and was never heard from again. His mother worked seven days a week as a seamstress with little more than broken English and a knack for sewing. Peter helped after work, often as her mannequin. He was different from other boys his age who worked off steam on the neighbourhood basketball court, got drunk and canoodled with the local girls.
The weight of responsibility hemmed him in early: he took odd jobs in the nearby New York garment district and learned about the trade from the ground floor up. Privately, he felt misunderstood by his peers and suffered from suicidal thoughts. Mrs. Prentice worried about Peter’s loss of childhood. She took on extra work that kept her up all hours of the night, but her son was determined to break their chain of scarcity and vowed he’d one day to ensure she would never have to work again in her life.
The arthritic ridden seamstress retired her sewing machine when Peter turned twenty-five. His first major investment, a small furnished apartment in Brooklyn, went straight to his mother the day he got transferred to Georgia to run sales and marketing for a top consumer goods company.
Prentice’s career leapfrogged from height to height. Articles about Peter described him as driven and single-minded, a man with a knack for spotting trends. The graying strawberry blonde also possessed an unerring dress sense, watched his waistline and absorbed all things cultural with a passion.
He saw his driver Bradley pull up kerbside with a blonde in the backseat. Peter adjusted his silk tie. He had been quick to hire Wilhem Vestey’s daughter fresh out of college three years ago for more than her cosmopolitan education.
Victoria was a cross between Grace Kelly and Tippy Hedren, Bassadai’s very own Hitchcock blonde—and just as glacial.
“Victoire,” he said, proffering her the European two-kiss version he had incorporated into his repertoire. “I am very glad you could join us.”
“So happy to be here,” she replied, flashing a perfect smile. She softly touched his arm. “I hope I’m not the first one.”
Peter’s personal assistant bristled. She always is, the little bitch. He loathed—and admired—everything about the icy blonde. He knew Peter’s inclination for men but couldn’t help feel threatened whenever the young swan floated into his boss’s opulent turf.
The young man’s open expression did not go un-noticed. Peter bit back a smug grin and offered Victoire a flute of chilled champagne.
Gay or not, the fifty-five-year-old was smart enough to abide by the unspoken decorum that still prevailed in the progressive West Coast city. He kept his involvements behind closed doors and handled his affairs with utmost discretion. The glass ceiling that applied to female executives also applied to his category, an obstacle Peter Prentice was not about to let get in his way.
Victoire graced her end of the table and listened attentively to the conversations on either side. She delighted in being chosen as hostess well aware of the whispering circulating through the corridors of power. The age difference was lost on her: Victoire was more sophisticated and self-assured than the average twenty-five-year-old and stood out that much more in what she termed as Cowboy Country.
Her stepfather’s place was smaller by comparison, though beautifully decorated, its look said traditional, and the bay window views did not include the Golden Gate.
This is where I should live, she thought wondering who could possibly provide it for her in the Silicon Valley nerd gene pool. Victoire tapped her foot under the table and frowned. Maybe one of classless but cash-rich international distributors could be an option. The sparkle in her eyes sharpened at the idea.