“I’m sorry,” I said, smoothly moving into apologetic mode. In these sorts of situations, it’s important to take full personal responsibility. “It was just that the driver said Archie got me an escort, so…”
“Do I look like a prostitute?”
On reflection, I probably shouldn’t have paused to think about it.
“No,” I said, eventually. You’d think I’d at least get bonus points for getting the correct answer.
“I don’t fucking believe this.” The suave young lady had turned into a bit of a foul-mouthed tramp. Not that I was judging.
“To be fair, there are some very attractive high-class hookers, you know? I don’t feel you’re being very fair on your sisters.”
“They aren’t my FUCKING SISTERS.”
Technically speaking, there were very much her fucking sisters, but I didn’t bring it up. Women rarely appreciate an argument on semantics when you’ve just called them a whore.
She picked up the remote control for the large TV screen and pressed it. The screen sank down to reveal the driver.
“What the hell did you tell him about me?”
“Nothing,” said the driver, very calmly. “Just as you instructed, Miss Larwood.” He sounded very deferential, but at the same time, he didn’t seem respectful at all.
She continued giving him what for, and he answered with polite denials of all her insinuations.
I was feeling very uncomfortable sitting there. If this was Flatland, I could have just killed both of them and walked away. Even if people saw my sword dripping with blood, they would ignore it.
And, if they found the bodies and remembered by blood-soaked clothes, all I’d have to say was that we were attacked by werewolves and someone would say, “Oh, I thought I heard some howling,” and someone else would go, “Well, it’s werewolf season, isn’t it?” and everyone goes away satisfied.
But here in London, you start blaming werewolves and they point fingers at you for cultural insensitivity.
The screen went back up and Elizabeth Larwood turned her attention back to me.
“Who are you? Really. I’m usually very good at being able to work out someone’s line of business, but you don’t make any sense. I haven’t seen my father this excited about anyone for a long time. There must be something special about you.”
She stared at me like she thought I was a new species of insect. And not in a good way. Not like an excited entomologist, more like an exterminator trying to figure out which poison would be most effective.
“So, you’re Flossie’s big sister,” I said, in an attempt to change the subject.
“Half-sister. We have…” Her face changed. “You know Victoria.” It was more of an accusation than a question. “How do you know my sister?”
“Um? Oh, I don’t. Archie mentioned her.”
“You called her Flossie. Nobody used to call her that apart from… wait, are you saying she’s still alive?” Her eyes grew bigger and she looked shocked. Oddly, she didn’t seem all that happy to hear about her sister’s survival.
“I have no idea,” I said. “You don’t really look like her. Do you dye your hair?”
“No. Why… because of the red hair? You DO know her. Where is she?”
This was getting to be more intense than I had hoped for. What I needed was a clever and smart way to dismount from this rather awkward conversation.
“Hey, how do I talk to the driver?”
Elizabeth pressed the remote and the partition came down.
“Can I help?” said the driver without looking back.
“Yeah. The point of giving me an escort was to make this evening go easier for me, right?”
“Uh huh,” said the driver, eyeing me in the rearview mirror.
“Well, it’s not working. In fact, it’s making it worse, so let’s change things.”
“What do you mean?” asked the driver.
“Let’s get rid of the escort and I’ll go it alone.” When the ship is sinking, time to throw the ballast overboard.
“What are you saying?” said Elizabeth. “You want me to leave?”
“Yes,” I said. “Or I can. Just drop me off at the next bus stop and you can take her home.”
“I have to take you to the Albert Hall,” said the driver.
“Okay, then drop her off at the next bus stop.”
“I can’t do that,” said the driver.
“Then let me out.”
“Fine, I get it, I won’t ask you any more questions,” said Elizabeth.
“No, I don’t think you do get it. You’re making me very uncomfortable just by being near me. And that’s going to fuck up my whole evening. Which, admittedly, was probably going to be pretty fucked up anyway, but now it’s going to be so much worse having to watch out for your tom-dickery.”
She glared at me, still not in a good way.
“What is your problem?”
If there was one question you shouldn’t ask me, that was it. Not that I mind being probed by a complete stranger (not a euphemism), but who has the time to list their issues? It wasn’t like she was going to solve any of them. It’s just nosiness.
“It’s not a problem,” I said. “Sometimes, people don’t work well together. They have their separate needs and they just happen to clash. Your need to get daddy’s attention is counterproductive when it comes to my need to not give a fuck about your needs.”
“You don’t know me.”
“I know you want to impress your dad, who isn’t easy to impress. I know you feel threatened by Flossie, I have no idea why, and I know you think I must be some kind of mistake your dad made, which may well turn out to be true, but it’s got nothing to do with you and it’s not something you can benefit from just by hanging around and seeing what you can pick up.”
“That’s not true. None of that’s true. I’m here to help you.”
“Okay. Sure. But I suspect you aren’t going to be useful to me so why should I put up with you when I don’t need to?”
She stared at me for a long time.
“You’re wrong,” she finally said.
“Yes. But let’s say I’m not a cannibal. I don’t think cannibalism is good and I certainly am not one myself. In fact, I’m a strict vegan. No meat of any kind passes my lips, so I certainly am not a cannibal. Only, the tofu I eat is flavoured to taste like human flesh. It’s not human flesh, and people who have eaten human flesh claim it barely resembles the real thing, but that’s how it’s sold. The taste of dead people in your mouth, mmmm. But I’m not a cannibal because I don’t eat humans, right?”
This line of argument took her a little by surprise. She probably hadn’t been challenged quite in this way before.
“You’re saying I am a cannibal even though I don’t eat people?” But she was willing to get on board my analogy, at least.
“No, you definitely aren’t a cannibal. That’s the point. You don’t have to be for me to not want you at my dinner parties. Vegans and cannibals, both are a nightmare to cook for.”
“You seem to know a lot about cannibalism,” she said.
“I’ve met a few. A whole island of them, actually. You know how some people say there are good people on both sides of any argument? Not with cannibals.”
“You’re insane.” She took out her phone and began texting.
The driver was watching us as he drove.
“Pull over,” she said all of a sudden.
The car stopped. I had no idea where we were but she got out of the car. Didn’t say another thing, didn’t look at me. The last I saw of her was her very attractive rear end disappearing through the door.
Then the door closed. I heard another car outside drive away. Since it had come so quickly, I could only suppose it had been following us.
We continued our journey. The partition remained down.
“I’m sorry about that,” said the driver. “I had no choice.”
“No choice? What do you mean?”
“It wasn’t Mr Larwood who sent her. She told me not to say anything to you. I have to admit I was worried. She’s very good at getting people to do whatever she wants.”
“Yes. Even you, apparently.”
“Ha, yeah. Sorry, again. She’s one of the few people who can fire me, so it’s best not to upset her. But I have to say, it looks like I was worried over nothing. The way you worked out she was gunning for you and how you tricked her into thinking you thought she was a hooker, that was truly impressive.”
I hadn’t spotted anything and my brilliant ruse had been completely genuine, but here in the world of the rich and privileged, everyone failed upwards, so why not me?
“You don’t seem to like her,” I said.
“Not my place to express an opinion one way or the other,” said the driver. “But she’s been after the old man’s job for quite a while now. Thinks of it as hers, even though there’s quite a lot of competition. She’s definitely the frontrunner. And she knows the old man’s got his eye on you, so you need to be careful. She won’t give up so easily. If she wants you as one of her assets, she’ll keep trying.”
As interesting as it was to learn about the internal wranglings of Archie’s organisation, I had no time to waste on Flossie’s family. I was here for one reason only, and that was getting a ticket home. I could only imagine how much more of a pain Elisabeth would be if she knew why her father was interested in me.
We arrived at the Royal Albert Hall as part of a stream of limousines. The driver took me all the way to the entrance and let me out. No one noticed me, everyone in their posh frocks and designer suits had other things on their minds.
This was fine. I liked being anonymous in the crowd. Having a beautiful woman on my arm would only have made things more complicated. Alone was good.
I walked in, showed the ticket the driver had given me, and found myself facing a giant Chinese dragon built like a waterslide in the middle of the vast auditorium.
“Impressive, isn’t it,” said a voice next to me. “Nothing like the real thing though, right?”
I turned to find Elizabeth in a completely different outfit. “Shall we mingle?” She took me by the arm and led me in.