The instructions had been clear. Do not say anything stupid, do not drink too much, and for Heaven’s sake do not tell any jokes. I hadn’t specifically been told not to flash anyone, but I got the feeling it was implied.
The roles were as rigidly defined as the rules. My partner would do what they could to talk themselves onto whatever committee they were obsessed with this week, and I was to be present, but not noticed.
I’d been scanning the room for allies since the first grating encounter with Baroness Crusty Dragon the Third from Upper Noseville in Toffminster. I’d locked eyes with one of the waitresses pretty quickly, her outsider status apparent from the ‘fuck-you’ eye-rolls whenever someone dumped an empty glass on her, and the neck tattoo she wasn’t quite managing to hide behind a clip-on ponytail, slightly detached. She’d spotted the anguish in my eyes and had been serving me whisky in a china tea-cup from the go. There were a couple of other spare-parts trailing their superior-halves about the room but, frankly, they looked duller than a Saturday afternoon in John Lewis.
My comrade in contempt refreshed my Scottish tea and I considered trying to push my luck for a fire-escape fumble, before quickly remembering my age and that my hat-over-bald-spot-trick was unlikely to be fooling anyone. She pitied me, nothing more.
I raised a hand to my face for a good yawn, having to swerve and swallow as it was intimated I should shake hands with Lord & Lady Skeletal Skin-Rack. The roll in my movement made me aware I had very likely now broken rule two of schmooze club; the gateway transgression. It became clear I wasn’t the only one who’d noticed when my partner ushered me away from the skeletors and started hissing in my ear like a scornful snake. The feeling of contemptuous spittle landing on my cheek was one thing, but the finger-wagging was a rebuke too far. I fixed my scolder with my most petulant of grins and tipped a nod to my dealer of drams.
Viscount Beach Ball and his Greater Breasted Midlife Crisis were next in line for toadying. I had to shake with my left hand because my right was being held in a vice of constraint, but that couldn’t stop my eyes rolling deep into the Crisis’ cleavage and looking for a place I might nest. The Crisis made a futile effort to draw the curtains of its dress, and I felt the full weight of my misdeed applied directly via a heel on my toes.
‘Lovely to meet you,’ I lied to the inflated old pervert. ‘And especially nice to meet your delightful escort for the evening!’
The shift in temperature to my right told me I was going to be divorced, or at very least sleeping in the car for a few nights. In for a penny, I thought.
‘That reminds me,’ I slurred. ‘Have you heard the one about the prince and the prostitute?’