3 Hobo Dancing

The taxi arrived late. We had to phone twice to ask where the heck it was. Given other circumstances, Shane would have cancelled and sought the services of another company, but beggars can’t be choosers on NYE. Taxis were in tight demand and probably double booked to maximise profits during their boom season. It was wait or walk. Ours finally turned up and we bundled in. Dick and I opted to cringe in the back while Shane let the driver know he was not best pleased at being kept waiting. The driver, a wise man, chose to keep any comeback he might have been considering locked behind his teeth. He jerked the car into motion and we were off.

I was resolved to making the best of Rob’s jamboree, though I’d be lying if I said I was looking forward to it. I just wanted to get through it unscathed.

The party was underway by the time we arrived. People were gathered in communal knots, juggling loaded plates and glasses while they talked. Rob came to welcome us, his face aglow with pleasure, as well as the affects of alcohol. He’d be bladdered before midnight if he didn’t pace himself. Lucky sod.

We stood chatting for a little while and then Dick and Shane gravitated towards a group composed of Mike, Jak and the terrifying Trina and Ian, whom I’d met at Leo’s over Christmas. Jak looked to be hanging onto every word Ian said, like a dog that knows its owner has a sausage in his pocket. A mutual interest in playing had been established between them, but Ian was now keeping Jak waiting. Treat them mean to keep them keen is the S&M club motto.
Trina and Ian, or Trian, as Pat and I had privately nicknamed them at Christmas, looked like they were on their way to a BDSM porn shoot with her in a red leather corset dress, metal neck collar, wrist cuffs and sky high heels and him in leather vest and pants strewn with straps and buckles. I don’t know where they do their clothes shopping, but it isn’t Marks and Spencer. Taking a day off and going vanilla clearly never occurred to them. They were scene people through and through and would likely die with their kinky boots on.

I was in no hurry to reacquaint with Jak and the dungeon duo, preferring to stay and parley with Rob. Talking of clothes, I studied Rob with interest. He tended to be conservative, when it came to dress anyway, but not on this occasion. He was wearing what appeared to be an ensemble modelled on the kind American sailors used to wear, well, the sailors you see in old Hollywood movies. It was flamboyant to say the least. I couldn’t resist.

“Bloody hell, Rob, you never said it was fancy dress. I’d have come as Long John Silver’s parrot if you’d let us know it was a nautical theme.”

“Oh you.” He laughed and flicked a hand at me. “I picked this up in a retro boutique ages ago, when we were in Luxemburg. It looked cute on the model in the window. I thought it might give me a more youthful air. The trousers are more flared than I remember though. It isn’t too much is it, Gilli?” He posed with a hand on his hip. “Be honest, do I look like a reject from The Village People?”

I detected anxiety beneath the jokiness and felt mean for teasing him, hastening to rectify. “Nah, you look great.
I’m just jealous, and Rob, you don’t need to try and look younger, you still are young, and proper fit.”

“Proper fit?” His smile returned. “Thank you. You’re a kind friend. I’m glad you’re here.” He draped an arm around my shoulder, lowering his voice a little. “I was beginning to worry you might not come. Leo said you had a few problems over Christmas. Is everything all right?”

Howard, Rob’s partner, answered for me, making us both jump with fright, as neither of us had noticed him approach. He’d glided up as if on castors.

“The boy is fine, Robert. Let him be.”

There was a clear note of admonishment in Howard’s voice. In his prim and proper book, one did not snoop into the private affairs of one’s friends. It was not part of the lifestyle code. Rob apologised at once.

“I’m sorry, Gilli, my dear. I didn’t mean to pry. It was most indiscreet. Forgive me.”

I wanted to say something smart to Howard, to vex him for making Rob look tearful, but one glance from his keen eyes made my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth. In all honesty, to this day, I can’t get the measure of the man. His intensity scares me more than a little. He’s like Shane, but with knobs on. He and Rob share a harder relationship than I could cope with, and by mutual choice. I relaxed a little. It wasn’t my place to rescue Rob, because Rob didn’t need rescuing. I settled for a brief, “no worries, Rob.”

Howard gave me what passed as a smile in his universe followed by a cool peck on the cheek. “It’s nice to see you here, Gillibran. There’s food laid out in the dining room and plenty of soft drinks in the fridge in the kitchen. Help yourself.”

I took the hint and buggered off. Glancing back I was relieved to see Howard place a kiss on Rob’s bowed head. They were good. Harmony restored. It brought back to mind what an odd world I had wandered into, beyond most people’s comprehension, and sometimes beyond mine.

I was heading into the dining room just as Leo was heading out. He opened his mouth to offer a greeting. I cut him short, taking the opportunity to pull him up regarding what he had said to Rob.

“I’ll thank you not to tittle-tattle about my personal life.”

He rolled his eyes. “Well you didn’t lose time picking a fight. What imaginary slight do you have issue with now?”

“You had no business telling Rob I had problems over Christmas.”

“He asked how Christmas had gone and I told him the truth, it went fine, apart from the usual spate of Gillibrat tantrums. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have socialising to do.”

He made to brush past me, but I blocked him, standing with arms akimbo, a weapons expert from Africa who just happened to be passing. (Lie Detector sighs, but refuses to comment on silly jokes.) Okay, so it’s a crap joke, but I like it, so it’s staying in.

Getting back on track, I prevented Leo from stepping around me by placing my hands on my hips and jutting out my elbows. “You shouldn’t have said anything to Rob. You gossip like a pensioner with time on his hands.”

“Oh stop griping. Everyone knows you throw more strops than a toddler. It’s no secret that where you go strife is sure to follow. It’s expected. People run a book on it.”

“They do not! I don’t believe you.”

“Stop scowling and get something to eat. It might raise your blood sugar and sweeten your temper. Sample the crab tarts. They’re outstanding.” He dropped his voice conspiratorially. “Try and get the recipe from the caterer, she’s still here.”

“Why don’t you ask for it? It’s not like you’re shy.”

“I have,” he said gloomily. “She refused. Trade secret.”

“I grinned. “Ha-ha, glad to see being a big shot doesn’t get you everything you want in life. I bet I can get it if only because I’m much younger and more handsome than you.”

“Pah! You’re not man enough to be handsome. You, boy, are merely pretty.”

He stalked off and I went into the dining room, wandering over to the long refectory table where a veritable feast was laid out on a dazzling white cloth trimmed with boughs of glittered silk ivy and tiny twinkling white lights. It looked beautiful. Rob’s touch, I guessed, a concession to not having a Christmas tree and other trimmings on account of being abroad for the big day.

The caterer, a trim woman in a smart black dress, was replenishing salvers and bowls with delicacies from a huge catering tray. She was aided by a skinny teen with a sulky expression. Bless! He looked as if he’d been forced into his white shirt and black tie at gunpoint. I guessed the caterer was his mum and he’d had no choice but to help out. His pocket money probably depended on it. Left to his own devices he’d have been hanging out with his mates at the local skate park swigging from a magnum bottle of Lambrini pinched from Tesco.

I got stuck into the food, before earlier guests came back for seconds leaving only crumbs on offer. It was good stuff, delicious in fact, and Leo was right about the tarts. They were divine. I had to subdue a moan of ecstasy as I bit into the creamy crab and asparagus concoction topped with a crunchy crumb and finished with juicy fronds of claw meat. I felt obliged to pile several more onto my loaded plate along with a selection of tiny succulent canapés. The lady could cook.

Spotting a pile of her business cards tucked at the end of the table, I picked one up. It might come in handy. I usually did all my own catering for gatherings and it could be a marathon slog involving days of prep. Maybe Rob had the right idea by getting someone in to do the hard work for him. He’s a good cook, but he prefers to serve up intimate dinners rather than provide numerous dishes for a multitude to pick over.

I started a conversation with the caterer, Laura, complimenting her on the banquet and trying to inveigle the recipe for the crab tarts from her, on my own account, not Leo’s. She laughed and said I was the second person to ask for it and the answer was no. If she gave away all her signature recipes no one would bother to hire her.

Laura was pleasant and I would have spent longer talking foodie talk had I not sensed she was keen to finish up and get away. After all, it was NYE and she may have had a party of her own to organise or get to.

She unpacked the last of her containers, tweaked and checked the table over one last time and then, satisfied she had done her job well, went in search of her employers to let them know she was leaving, wishing me the requisite Happy New Year on her way out. Her reluctant helper virtually left scorch marks on the flooring as he exited the building. The kid had a bottle of piss warm Lambrini to get to. Come midnight he’d be hawking his guts into a bush while trying to persuade a cop he was old enough to be bombed on cheap plonk. It happens to the best of us. I know, I was that kid.

Standing by the table, I slowly chomped my way through my plate of goodies, exchanging brief snippets of conversation with various people as they came to the dining table for a nibble and then went away again. Leo put in an appearance just as I was helping myself to a slab of chocolate cheesecake. It was two portions really, but what the hell. I had to have some compensation for not being able to imbibe alcohol.

“Did you get it?”

“Get what?” I shovelled a forkful of chocolate heaven into my mouth.

He gave an impatient snort. “The recipe for the tarts.”

I took my time swallowing the cheesecake before answering. “Might have.”

He rubbed his hands with glee. “I knew if anyone could charm it out of her you could. Share.”

“Can’t.” I shrugged. “I swore an oath not to share it with anyone, least of all shifty banker types.”

His eyes narrowed and he spoke in a low voice. “Share, or I’ll describe to everyone at this party, in detail, how Shane smacked your naughty little bottom on Christmas Eve.”

“You wouldn’t bloody dare, Leo.”

“Try me.”

“Blackmailer! I didn’t get it, okay. She refused.”

“Damn.” His face fell.

“You’ll just have to experiment at home. I reckon she’s used brown crabmeat as a base for the filling, maybe blended with some kind of mushroom. It’s too rich just to be the white meat.”

“Yes, and there’s a hint of cardamom in there somewhere, maybe in the pastry. What do you think?”

“Yeah, and fresh Parmesan or Pecorino in the topping.”

“Parmesan, I’d say, a mature one.”

We discussed possible ingredients for a while longer; each of us knowing the race was on with regard to being the first to replicate the lush crab pastries. Before leaving to socialise elsewhere he did what he does best. He annoyed me.

“Don’t hole up in here, Gilli. Shane will expect to see you around making an effort to interact.”

“Who do you think you are?” I jutted out my chin. “You don’t have to tell me what Shane expects. I know.”

“Then don’t let him down like you did at Christmas. There are plenty of people about. I’m sure some will meet your exacting standards. Just try not to pick a quarrel.”

“I’ll be fine as long as none of your creepy mates are here.”

“Charming.” His nostrils flared with haughty indignation. “People in my position do not have creepy mates. We have friends or acquaintances. Only common people have mates, creepy or otherwise.”

“Snob.” I stabbed a finger at him. “All right then, let me rephrase. I’ll be fine as long as none of your creepy friends are here, like the bloke from your bondage bash who was flashing photos of me.”

“What?” Leo’s frown created an impressive mono brow.

“Yeah, that took the wind out of your sails. One of your sleazy pals was taking pictures on his phone. He tried to pick me up.”

“Someone was taking pictures and you didn’t report to me, or Pat, Mike and what about Shane and Dick? Did you mention it to them? They haven’t said a word.”

“You were all too busy torturing or being tortured. I dealt with him, no bother.”

“You shouldn’t have had to deal with him not least because it wasn’t your place to do so. He was no friend of mine if he thought it acceptable to break rules in my home. All else aside, you were collared. He had no right trying to hit on you. What was his name?”

 “How the hell should I know? He didn’t give me his business card.” I shuddered. “He wanted to whip me.”

“He’s not alone there. Most everyone who meets you wants to whip you and not just scene people. You provoke an urge for violence in the meekest of people.”

“Yes, well, getting back to your creepy chum.”

“He must have come with someone, friend of a friend or some gatecrasher who’d got wind of the party. It happens. No one I know would behave in such a manner.”

“He said he went way back with you, said he knew Dick and Shane too.”

“Describe him.”

 My ‘Tom of Finland’ description brought a flash of recognition to Leo’s face, but not in a good way. Whoever the bloke was, he was no long lost bosom pal.

“Oi!” I squeaked a protest when Leo gripped my shoulders painfully hard.

“Are you telling the truth, young man?”

“You’re hurting me. Let go.”

He released me, his voice hard. “I’ll more than hurt you if this tale turns out to be some elaborate wind up on your part. You go too far with your jokes.”

“Joke! Why would it be? How many Black Velvets have you had, Leo? You’re being a bit of a drama queen just because some old dude tried to hit on me. It’s not like it was Ronnie fucking Kray, not unless he’s returned from the dead after bumming the devil.”

“This is serious. You have no idea what a can of worms you’ve just opened. I’ll have to put Shane in the picture.”

I felt a surge of apprehension. “What picture? Why involve Shane? Christ, I wish I hadn’t mentioned the bloke now.”

Leo put a hand on my shoulder, gentle this time. “If that man is who I think it is then Shane has a right to know.”

He gave my shoulder a pat and walked out of the room. I put down the plate containing the remainder of the cheesecake. Its sweetness had soured. What the heck was wrong with Leo, why the overreaction? I hadn’t thought of the bloke since the day of the party, too much else on my mind. I wish I hadn’t thought of him at all. What had been banter with Leo had turned into something dangerous.

And that's it, tease over. Revs will reveal all. Ciao! 

COPYRIGHT Gillibran Brown 2019


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