I'm late. The living room and dining room are already crowded with people I don't really want to talk to. Tall, full blue spruces covered with white twinkling lights stand on either side of the fireplace. Old Christmas songs from the sixties sung by the Ronettes are on the CD player. A bartender in a tuxedo pours champagne and eggnog, mixes Manhattans and martinis, opens bottles of Calera Jensen pinot noir and a Chappellet chardonnay. Twenty-year-old ports line a makeshift bar between vases of poinsettias. A long folding table has been covered with a red tablecloth and is jammed with pans and plates and bowls of roasted hazelnuts and lobster and oyster bisques and celery root soup with apples and Beluga caviar on toast points and creamed onions and roast goose with chestnut stung and caviar in puff pastry and vegetable tarts with tapenade, roast duck and roast rack of veal with shallots and gnocchi gratin and vegetable strudel and Waldorf salad and scallops and bruschetta with mascarpone and white truffles and green chili souffle and roast partridge with sage, potatoes and onion and cranberry sauce, mincemeat pies and chocolate truffles and lemon souffle tarts and pecan tarte Tatin. Candles have been lit everywhere, all of them in sterling silver Tiffany candleholders. And though I cannot be positive that I'm not hallucinating, there seem to be midgets dressed in green and red elf suits and felt hats walking around with trays of appetizers. I pretend not to have noticed and head straight for the bar where I gulp down a glass of not-bad champagne then move over to Donald Petersen, and as with most of the men here, someone has tied paper antlers to his head. On the other side of the room Maria and Darwin Hutton's five-year-old daughter, Cassandra, is wearing a seven-hundred-dollar velvet dress and petticoat by Nancy Halser. After finishing a second glass of champagne I move to martinis - Absolut doubles - and after I've calmed down sufficiently I take a closer look around the room, but the midgets are still there.
"Too much red," I mutter to myself, trancing out. "It's makin' me nervous."
"Hey McCloy," Petersen says. "What do you say?"
I snap out of it and automatically ask, "Is this the British cast recording of Les Miserables or not?"
"Hey, have a holly jolly Christmas." He points a finger at me, drunk.
"So what is this music?" I ask, thoroughly annoyed. "And by the way, sir, deck the halls with boughs of holly."
"Bill Septor," he says, shrugging. "I think Septor or Skeptor."
"Why doesn't she put on some Talking Heads for Christ sakes," I complain bitterly.
Courtney is standing on the other side of the room, holding a champagne glass and ignoring me completely.
"Or Les Miz," he suggests.
"American or British cast recording?" My eyes narrowing, I'm testing him.
"Er, British," he says as a dwarf hands us each a plate of Waldorf salad.
"Definitely," I murmur, staring at the dwarf as he waddles away.
Suddenly Evelyn rushes up to us wearing a sable jacket and velvet pants by Ralph Lauren and in one hand she's holding a piece of mistletoe, which she places above my head, and in the other a candy cane.
"Mistletoe alert!" she shrieks, kissing me dryly on the cheek. "Merry Xmas, Patrick. Merry Xmas, Jimmy."
"Merry... Xmas," I say, unable to push her away since I've got a martini in one hand and a Waldorf salad in the other.
"You're late, honey," she says.
"I'm not late," I say, barely protesting.
"Oh yes you are," she says in singsong.
"I've been here the entire time," I say, dismissing her. "You just didn't see me."
"Oh, stop scowling. You're such a Grinch." She turns to Petersen. "Did you know Patrick's the Grinch?"
"Bah humbug," I sigh, staring over at Courtney.
"Hell, we all know McCloy's the Grinch," Petersen bellows drunkenly. "How ya doin', Mr. Grinch?"
"And what does Mr. Grinch want for Christmas?" Evelyn asks in a baby's voice. "Has Mr. Grinchie been a good boy this year?"
I sigh. "The Grinch wants a Burberry raincoat, a Ralph Lauren cashmere sweater, a new Rolex, a car stereo - "
Evelyn stops sucking on the candy cane to interrupt. "But you don't have a car, honey."
"I want one anyway." I sigh again. "The Grinch wants a car stereo anyway."
"How's the Waldorf salad?" Evelyn asks worriedly. "Do you think it tastes all right?"
"Delicious," I murmur, craning my neck, spotting someone, suddenly impressed. "Hey, you didn't tell me Laurence Tisch was invited to this party."