Butt-dialing the Billionaire: Chapter 6


Four Weeks Later: London

Workers scurry around, packing up my parents’ London residence. Charley’s sprawled out on a priceless couch he’s thinking of taking for one of his residences. Arnold comes in with a large, framed photo.

“Christie’s,” I say.

“Jaxon, no!” Charley says. “It’s the first signed print. Iconic Danbery. And look how happy you are!”

I glower at the photo that fooled the world, taken by a celebrity photog my parents hired at great expense. Mom and Dad and me on a picnic blanket, the three of us smiling out at the world. The richest little richie-rich boy with his doting parents, the splendidly groomed grounds of our Türenbourg castle unfolding in the background.

Totally fake.

Arnold comes in with an original oil painting of my parents in their prime.

“Christie’s,” I say.

“If nothing else, keep it for your kids,” Charley tries.

“As if I would inflict the Von Henningsly bullshit on another generation.”

“Mark my words, you’ll want a family someday.”

I point. “Christie’s.”

Charley still believes in the fairy tale. His entire family does, a fact that I witnessed over the many Christmases I spent there. Always laughing and clinging to each other and creating their own traditions. They’d put an old Dolly Parton doll on the top of the tree and then do this whole dance to the song “We are the Champions.” They always watch scary movies on Christmas Day, huddled together. The ridiculous lore and traditions they developed over the years seemed to create this illusion of togetherness that they cling to.

Who can blame them? You’re born alone and you die alone. It’s not an easy truth to face.

Charley sighs and leans on a nearby wall, watching Arnold place the portrait to be crated for auction. “Congrats on getting the share prices back up, by the way,” he says. “That pompous speechwriter, though.”

“Never again,” I say. “Shoot me if I sound like my father ever again.”

“Will you be selling Wycliff now?”

“Eventually. I still have to destroy the butt-dialer.”

“What?” Charley pushes off the wall, straightening up. “I thought you dropped that whole sordid thing.”

“Of course not. Management hasn’t been able to identify the offender, so I’ll be taking the investigation into my own hands. I’ll take a position there under an assumed identity and find the perpetrator myself.”

Charley blinks at me, confused. “A position?”

“A position at the company,” I explain. “As in job. If you want a thing done right, you have to do it yourself, it seems. I’m having Soto arrange it.” Mr. Soto is my business guy. My parents’ guy, Barclay, quit soon after the conference call.

“That’s madness,” Charley says. “You can’t take a job.”

“Why not?” I say.

He stares at me as though he can’t get his mind around the question. “Forget the company. Come out to my villa, Jaxon. You can clear your head there. The sudden loss of both one’s parents is huge, whether you’ll admit it or not.”

“Soto lined me up with a position already. Office-gopher-slash-delivery assistant. I’ll be undercover.” I grin. “What do you think?”

“You’re not thinking straight,” Charley says. “You don’t know how an office works. You have no actual skills. You’ve never held a job in your life.”

“That’s not true,” I protest. “I’ve had a job.”

“Motorsport is different from a job,” he says.

“What do you mean? I built a team and showed up at a specific time to do a specific task.”

People thought I didn’t have the discipline to become a driver for a Formula One team. I was too unruly, too hotheaded, not disciplined enough for the long hours on the track and in the gym, but I proved them wrong.

“You got booted out for fighting,” Charley reminds me.

“Gundrun deserved it,” I say.

“A lot of people deserve it. You go to some office and you’re gonna find a lot of people who deserve to be hit. You might even end up with a boss who deserves to be taken down a peg or two, but guess what? You’ll have to sit there and smile. No brawling allowed. You won’t last a day.”

“So little faith. When I set my mind on something, I typically do it,” I say.

“An office worker? People aren’t stupid, Jaxon…”

“I’m not going there to work. I’ll socialize with people until I get my answer.”

“And what if somebody recognizes you? Your picture is everywhere. Americans have tabloids too, you know.”

“I’m not the sort of person that American tabloids track. American tabloids are all movie stars and British royals, not minor continental celebs. They probably think the Grand Prix is a bike race.”

“Formula One racing is growing in popularity over there.”

“Well, they weren’t paying attention ten years ago,” I say. “I’m a historical figure. I’m Herbert Plumer.”

“People still share the clip of the fight.”

“They’re not looking at my face, they’re looking at a brilliant and well-deserved left hook.”

“You lived in Manhattan on and off. You still know people.”

“I haven’t been back since I was twelve. You’re not talking me out of this.”

“New York is an international city. You can’t tell me it’s not international. Get one person who’s spent any time in Monte Carlo nightclubs, and you’ll have a pack of paparazzi on your ass.”

This gets me thinking. The next time Arnold comes by, I instruct him to send for somebody who can change my looks.

“Not what I was imagining,” Charley drawls unhappily.

A theatrical costumer named Bev shows up a few hours later. She suggests a new haircut with a center part.

“I want a disguise, not a new style, I’m an American who works at a wage job.” I search American hair fashions, and soon find myself on a website called Sav-R-Mart fashion fails. “Here we go. This.” I point at a picture. “Give me this.”

“No, Jaxon!” Charley says.

“This is not a current hairstyle,” she says nervously. “Gelled spikes with frosted tips hasn’t been popular since the nineties.”

“Perfect. You’ll give me the hair. I want those tinted rectangular glasses and the short-sleeved shirt, too. What is this shirt? Men actually wear this?”

Arnold’s back with another heirloom I don’t want. He peers at the screen. “Is it a Hawaiian shirt?”

Bev looks, too. “No. Hawaiian shirts have flowers. I would call this a 1990s party boy shirt.”

I take a closer look. It’s a neon-blue button up shirt with lots of pink and yellow triangles and squiggly lines on it.

“Get me some shirts like that.”

Staff is dispatched to shops. I take a seat and instruct Bev to begin.

With trembling hands, she drapes a cape over my shoulders and then pauses, looking upset.

“What is it?” I demand.

“Bleaching the ends of your hair, Mr. Henningsly…I don’t recommend it.”

“All the better. Do it,” I say.

“I just want you to know, I am advising against it.”

“Are we going to start anytime this century?”

An hour later, the hairstyle is complete. Bev steps back, looking uncertain. “I’m sorry, this is what you asked for,” she says.

Charley is just laughing. “Help! I’m having NSYNC flashbacks!”

Bev hands me a mirror. I look like a different person—almost. “I love it.”

Bev grins, surprised.

“It’s not enough, though. You make up people for the theater. Do you have fake scars or something to try on?”

“Can I suggest you try on a different bizarre and disturbing obsession?” Charley says.

“We can give you something more.” Bev roots around in her cases, sounding braver now. “A disguise has two parts—what you cover and what you offer up as a distraction. This might be a little extreme, but if you truly don’t want to be recognized, you have to give them something else to look at.” She extracts a black thing the diameter of a pencil eraser and affixes it to my cheek. “There we go. It’s a stage mole, designed to be seen from the audience.” She steps back. “It’s a lot.”

Charley is just shaking his head. “It’s too much!”

“But it does draw the eye and give his face a different character.”

“It’s not realistic at all!” Charley says. “Nobody has a mole like that!”

“You’re right—nobody has a mole like that. It’s a stage mole. It’s not designed to be realistic, but people will accept it,” Bev says. “People are a lot more focused on themselves and schooling their own reactions than you might realize. And if they focus on the mole, it’ll be to make stories to explain it.”

“Like why he didn’t remove it,” Charley says. “Most people would remove it.”

I hold up the mirror. It’s huge and extreme, but I find I like it. “I wouldn’t remove it,” I growl.

“Of course you wouldn’t,” Charley says. “You’d give it a name and put it up for knighthood.”

The rest of the accessories have been delivered by now, and I try on the whole ensemble—the glasses from two decades ago, the obnoxiously bright shirt. I fluff up the hairstyle that everybody seems to hate.

“Yet somehow these things aren’t ruining your looks,” Charley complains. “They should ruin your looks more.”

“I don’t give a shit about my look. I don’t want to be bothered, that’s all. Let’s give it a spin.” I grab my phone and head downstairs, girding myself as I usually do when I go outside, ready for people to get in my face or try to get a quote or a picture. Or if I’m in a hat and sunglasses, for people to recognize it as a disguise and try to penetrate it with varying degrees of success.

I walk the block without being noticed. Some people stare at my mole and then look away. Some glance over me briefly and carry on. I don’t know if it’s the hair or the glasses or the shirt or the mole, or maybe it’s the whole thing, but people are avoiding my eyes. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

It’s as if…I’m invisible.

I stroll around the block, reveling in it.

“I love it,” I say when I get back.


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