Forgive me for peddling this column under a misnomer—Upstate Journal has temporarily morphed into Postcard from Palm Beach! But GOODNESS, I never anticipated, when I pitched you on a journal of my “new start,” that it would pull me down into one of my old haunts. Dare I say that this development has imbued my writing with more PEP! Or maybe it’s just the packet of chocolate-covered coconut patties that I just gnawed through.
In my last journal, I told you how, after Simon Doonan mistook me for a tourist illegally Airbnb-ing in his building, he set upon me violently with a duster. Well, after we jovially cleared up that misunderstanding, we repaired to the apartment he shares with his little potter boy, Jonathan Adler. Simon and Jonny had dinner plans that very evening with Steven Stolman and his gorgeous husband, Rich, at Chez Jean-Pierre. They invited me to join them. You do remember Steven, don’t you? Used to have a shop on Worth Avenue, designed beautiful toile print dresses, ran Scalamandré for a while? Wears double-breasted suits, looks like he should be running a studio in the 1930s?
Shudder, and Yield
Their dinner plan suited me, but I had to tell the boys that I was traveling with Simon’s 1990s nemesis, Patrick Lyonnais, who was at that very moment interrogating his old contacts on Antique Row in West Palm for the “case” we were working on.
“I shudder,” said Simon, “but I yield.”
I called Patrick, instructed him to meet us, and ordered him to be on his best behavior.
They say you can’t go home again, Graydon, and it’s certainly true if you have spent the better part of your adult life in a perfectly grand rental unit in the Apthorp and then some invasive species of Homo magazinus named Troy Young tells you that your Bazaar contract is not being renewed because you are not “digital-native” and suddenly you’re out on the street with your belongings awaiting a Shleppers moving truck while an upwardly mobile Chinese couple hurries past you with their contractor who is combining your old apartment with the one above it so that their 18-year-old son can live in a duplex while he goes to Columbia.
They say you can’t go home again, and it’s certainly true if you have spent the better part of your adult life in a perfectly grand rental unit in the Apthorp.
But Palm Beach is different. In Palm Beach, NOTHING EVER CHANGES! I hadn’t set foot in Chez Jean-Pierre in at least 15 years, but it looks the same, smells the same, and has the same ladies in lacquered Dina Merrill ’dos as always. Even my little man, Fulgencio, is still there. In the Southern latitudes, my tipple of choice is a gin-and-tonic with a wedge of Meyer lemon, NEVER lime. But NO bartender ever gets the order right, and Fulgencio, the keenest-eared of busboys, always made it his business to bring me, with a knowing wink, a saucer full of Meyer lemon wedges.
Well, not a moment after I ordered my G&T at Chez Jean-Pierre, me being there for the first time in donkey’s years, Fulgencio glided past me wordlessly, depositing my usual allotment of Meyer-lemon wedges upon the table without breaking stride. Seconds later, the waiter delivered my drink from the bar. It had a lime wedge in it.
Patrick had come prepared with a mea culpa for Simon’s benefit. “I was a terrible person then, Simon,” he said almost as soon as we were seated. “It’s no excuse, but my love life and work life have had a series of setbacks.”
“So has your hairline,” said Simon.
“Simone, can we not?” said Jonathan, placing his hand over his husband’s.
The Mystery of the Missing Tea Service
Yet soon enough, the group, Simon included, was absorbed by the details of the “case” that Patrick and I were on: our endeavor to unravel the mystery of Walt and Louise Deeds, the missing Gabriella Crespi tea service, and the Cushman’s Honeybells connection. Patrick had gleaned some intel from his friends on Antique Row: the foremost Crespi collectors in the area, by leaps and bounds, were Ty Conroy, the founder of the hedge fund Fluvia Asset Management, and his wife, Vegan.
“The Conroys!” said Steven with a start. “I did their house on Inlet Drive a few years back. I don’t decorate houses, but they were adamant, they wore me down, and they offered me more money than God. It still wasn’t worth it.”
Ty and Vegan, Steven told us, were demanding, rude, secretive, and beyond creepy. They seldom circulated amongst the “Shiny Sheet” set, had closets full of fetish gear, and, though childless, had seven bedrooms—some of them outfitted with tile floors and shower drains.
“So we have a couple of swingers,” said Jonathan, rubbing his hands together—
—“who fancy a bit of rough,” said Simon.
“And get this,” said Patrick. “I looked them up. Small digital footprint, but they used to own a huge dairy farm in Hillsdale, New York. Lansy, that’s not far from your place.”
So there it was: a pair of central-casting villains with ties to both Palm Beach and my pokey little (adopted) neck of the woods. But as Azzedine used to say, “How do we put all these naughty little things together?”
As Fulgencio cleared away the remains of our feuilletés aux escargots and brought me a new G&T without my needing to ask, Steven realized that he had omitted one salient fact about the Conroys: they had a mute, perpetually nervous housekeeper who never left the grounds and studiously avoided eye contact.
“How do we put all these naughty little things together?”
“What did she look like, Steven?” I asked.
“Spooked, delicate—like a weathered Sissy Spacek.”
“That’s a tautology,” said Simon.
Patrick and I shushed him simultaneously, our hearts racing.
“Haven Deeds showed us an old picture of his parents,” said Patrick. “His mother looked a lot like Sissy Spacek! Could that be her? Could Louise Deeds be … alive?”
Graydon, RIGHT then and there the six of us plotted to rescue Louise-if-she-was-Louise and find out what happened to her and Walt so long ago, leaving their boy Haven a de facto orphan. Time was of the essence. Steven said that the following night, the Conroys would be out at the one gala they always DO attend: the Peggy Adams Animal Rescue League Christmas Ball.
“Sick puppies doing their bit for sick puppies,” said Simon. We shushed him again.
The check arrived, and I weakly waved my maxed-out Capitol One Mastercard in its general direction. To my eternal RELIEF, dear Rich said, “Lansy, this one’s on us.”
Knife-Lean, Sexy, and Expertly Surgified
The following evening, Patrick and I sat in a borrowed Audi A6—“Luxe enough to fit in with the neighborhood, inconspicuous enough not to attract notice,” he said—and staked out the house on Inlet Drive. At 6:45, the Conroys emerged: in their late 50s but knife-lean, sexy, and expertly surgified, like a preview of 2040 Tom and Gisele. Their driver ferried them away, and that was my cue.
I took off my heels and tiptoed around to the back entrance, hoping that the security code that Steven gave me still worked. “I remember it,” he said, “because Ty said it was the public-law number for the act that repealed Glass-Steagall.”
I bleep-blooped the six digits on the keypad: 1-0-6-1-0-2. The door unlatched with a soft tick. I was in!
I crept into their great room daintily, thankful that I’ve maintained my Mount Holyoke weight. Even in dim light, I was impressed by their rattan Crespi sofas, and by Steven’s fabulous choices for the window treatments.
Blending in with the Scenery
But my entrance had attracted the notice of a yappy little Havanese, who, damnit, duly commenced YAPPING. This prompted a stirring from the maid’s quarters, and a tentative query from behind a door: “Something the matter, Kudlow? Something there?”
And then: FOOTSTEPS! She was coming, and my pulse was racing. I didn’t know WHAT to do, so I stiffened myself against the wall, hoping I would just blend in with the scenery.
The lights came up, and suddenly, a not un-Spacek-like woman in a creamsicle-colored maid’s uniform was looking right at me, blinking. A very long second passed. And then, Graydon, she let out the most glass-shattering SCREAAAAAAMMMM!
All at once, I understood her fright. The sleeveless Steven Stolman sheath that I was wearing was, by coincidence, in the very same chinoiserie pattern as the wallpaper that he’d chosen for the room. So I literally DID blend in with the scenery. To her, I was just a head and two pale arms mounted on the wall!
I slowly stepped forward, doing my best to show her that I was not taxidermy, and took her trembling hands in mine.
“There, there, Louise,” I said. “You’re with a friend now.”
She was calmer, but her mouth was agape. “How,” she said, “do you know my name?”
And now, I am TUCKERED OUT—coming down from the sugar rush of those coconut patties. I’ll give you the rest next time.
Read Lansy’s previous episodes here