‘Have you seen her?’
‘White dress?’ That’s all I needed to say.
A vigorous nod accompanied by a sleazy grin. Hell. Had we seen her?! We’d all stared at her over the rims of empty whisky glasses until the ice cold burnt our top lips, thinking nobody would notice our inauspicious glances that were more akin to laser targeting systems. Every other woman’s self esteem plummeted like the shares on stock after insider trading. The lesser-looked-at danced and dallied to the bathroom three times more than usual. Preening, primping, puckering, pissing and bitching. All trying to see who would emerge as number two.
The dating game was vicious. Instead of roses these were venus fly traps. Conveniently this planetary word rhymed with something else. They were all out for the kill. Lionesses in dresses while the lions lazed around drinking and socialising, eyeing them from afar, with suspicion and intent on dimpled leather chairs.
Soon they would have to emerge from the sidelines, ego’s swishing, suits pinching. After all, this was date night.
‘Which one are you going for?’ Ted turned to me showing tigerish teeth.
I stared into the void, a half empty (or full) dance floor. The extroverts had staked their claim along with the drunks ahead of time.
Secretly I was furious with myself for even being talked into this. Somehow Ted had wangled a couple entry tickets off a political friend – I didn’t ask any more questions. Yes, I’d been out the loop. Yes, my wife had died a decade ago. Did I need to man up? According to Ted, that’s exactly it. ‘You need to get out there’ he said like some clichéd douchetwat from a yank film. Truth is I did. Forty odd and living alone, it gets to you eventually.
‘The dating game, it’s all changed pally…’. Ted wasn’t wrong.
After the lengthy pause he chimed in again. ‘You’re eyeing her aren’t you? The queen bee?’
I couldn’t deny it. She was like some ridiculous hallucinogenic vision. I was a decent looking guy, a gentleman mostly. Why the fuck not?? screamed the barely legal whisky. A sideways grin showed itself as I rattled the ice around nervously.
‘Let’s do it! Dance time pally.’ And with that Ted opened his shiny black leather wallet and produced a slip of paper and a clip.
‘What’s that for?’ I said while generic bass tried to drown my words out.
‘This? So they know how much money you have!’
‘I don’t get it..’ I squinted in the dimmed lighting confused at both the empty glass in my hand and Ted’s latest edition to his suit jacket, pinned on below the cravat.
‘You better tell me you got a statement to put on?’ I shook my head. ‘Gimme’ a pen you’re not getting out of this shit..’
He grabbed a parker out his breast pocket and snatched a napkin from beneath someone’s orphaned tipple, then scribbled quickly, leaning on a railing before handing it to me triumphantly.
‘What?’ I held the limp half soaked napkin up like you would with a bag of dog-shit, searching for bin.
‘I know you’re worth at least that much pally,’ he said winking in OTT comedic fashion. He patted me and took the napkin folding it so it stay put in my breast pocket. I still didn’t get it.
‘What the fuck is this?’ My voice had shards of anger.
Ted leaned in. ‘Old man, this *pause* is where you’ll find a woman, gua-ran-teed. They can’t help themselves. Maybe it won’t be love, but hey, money can’t buy you love.’ He finished this sentence as if he’d rehearsed it, as if he’d been here and done this before, and I was the next in line for his slick patter.
I noticed his statement pinned like a badge of honour to his chest. Lloyds. £5,784,244.11.
‘They can’t help themselves..’
‘I still don’t get it Ted. What the hell is this?’ As I stared down at him I couldn’t help but look around. White paper stuck to every males suit or tux, might as well be stipulated in the dress code.
‘This is my bank statement,’ his voice soared with pride. ‘And you get them off before they’ve even spoken a word to you. It’s the modern thing now. No woman wants to waste time being chased by some cheapskate that can’t even afford to yacht. It gets it all out in the open. You know she’s a gold digger before she even starts panning. Who fucking cares? Look at them!’ His eyes and arms swept in panoramic before him.
You’re a sad bastard. A sick twisted little man. These words wanted to Houdini from my lips but I held them in.
‘So what does four mill get me? Two years and then a divorce? You’re out of your mind.’
‘It’s not just here, it’s everywhere. Doesn’t matter what social class – scum or princes, we’re all doing it. Are you going to be my wingman or what?’ A light sweat covered his ruddy face. His dark eyes glinted.
‘I’ll leave that to your statement. I’m getting the hell out of here.’ A condescending pat of the shoulder and I was gone, past the swirling mass of money laden fuckwits and their future possessions, into the lobby where cool air and two black clothed bouncers stood silently.
As I walked by I could swear they sniggered and muttered something about me being worth “only four mill”.
And then as I exited the building fully through a swing door I saw her alone; shivering, disappointed looking upwards at impending charcoal skies. I was furious and full of it now. That’s why without hesitation I slipped my suit jacket over her shoulders.
Once the surprise had dissipated she said, ‘A gentleman. A dying breed aren’t you?’ Every word was feathery and soft.
‘Well, you’re looking at one..’ Introductions were put on hold as she inhaled the remaining fumes of Paco Rabbane from my jacket.
‘Your jacket smells nice.’ Not ‘you smell nice’. She looked downward into a puddle, our forms poorly outlined as the occasional taxi drove by.
‘How come you left early?..If you don’t mind me asking?’
‘I don’t. Too many eyes. And a wealth of bullshit.’ She spat the ‘t’ out so hard I expectantly looked down at the puddle expecting a splash. ‘So why are you here?’ Her eyes glowed at me, testing me and before I could stumble over a reply she said, ‘It’s the money thing isn’t it? I can’t believe I ever got talked into this.’
I nodded solemnly, rubbing the back of my neck. ‘Me neither.’
‘So how much?…are you worth?’ A smile crinkled her nose into a cute position.
‘It doesn’t matter..’
‘Aren’t you afraid of being mined by a gold digger? Who doesn’t want you but simply the money and luxuries? I would be. If I were you I’d turn up to one of these parties and put ten pence on my napkin.’
‘That’s one way.’ I chuckled as a filmy drizzle descended, gently floating down in a refreshing mist.
‘If I go home with you for a coffee and say you call me after, how will you ever know if it wasn’t the four million?’ In a well manicured hand she waved the now soggy napkin, which limply clung to her palm.
‘I won’t I guess.’
‘Want to take a chance?’ she said stealing a look sideways at me as shivers made the suit jacket shimmer.
I smiled at her charm and my position. It took a millisecond to reply. ‘Of course.’
Her hand was already in the air to hail a black cab spitting up water as it sped along the desolate road. It wheeled around and slowly pulled up, avoiding a large pedestrian soaking puddle. Naturally I pulled the door open and let her in first before following myself.
It turns out she was richer than I was, an heiress but not an airhead. And neither of us had the change for the cab.
‘Do you take credit cards?’