Weekend Wind Down – The Cocktail Party

The following Friday saw Sam and Anna ensconced in their room in a very posh London hotel. He was dressed, and Anna had tied his tie. She was almost ready and just wriggling into her little dress, a process Sam found truly fascinating.
“It’s a shame we have to meet a lot of very boring people for cocktails. Watching you wriggle has given me all sorts of interesting ideas.”
“Tough tit, Sam. It’s taken hours to buff and polish me. You are welcome to mess me up all you like after this shindig. Until then. Hands off.”
He grinned wickedly, but complied. Anna gave herself a quick spritz of perfume and picked up a tiny weeny evening bag. She gazed critically at herself in the mirror, then Sam came to stand behind her.
“You look stunning,” he whispered before offering her his arm.

They sailed out of the room, looking like the successful professional people they were, but with an overlay of happiness that made people stop for a second look at them as they passed along the carpeted corridor of the hotel talking quietly.

The cocktail hour was as boring as Sam suggested it might be. The committee members and their partners were overly polite and politically correct, but the hospital dinosaurs and their mostly brittle wives spent the time checking Anna out, either covertly, or with shockingly rude thoroughness. She let neither approach ruffle her calm demeanour, and Sam remained rooted to her side despite a myriad of subtle and not-so-subtle attempts to detach him.
“Cripes Sam,” Anna hissed as they headed for the ballroom where dinner would be served, “this lot are even worse than a room full of accountants.”
He sniggered, then Anna felt him stiffen at the sound of a female voice.
“A little bird tells me my ex has had the poor taste to turn up with some bint in tow. I must just have a look at what has picked up my leavings.”
Anna turned a bland face in the direction of the voice, and what she saw had her stifling a giggle.
“What?” Sam hissed in her ear.
“Tell you later. It really is too good not to share.”
Sam’s ex-wife was a very curvy blonde, who obviously thought she bore more than a passing resemblance to Norma Jean, which would have amused Anna anyway, but it was the woman’s escort who had her biting the inside of her cheeks to control the giggles. He was a darkly handsome man, beautifully tailored, and possessed of a carefully tended athletic build. His eyes met Anna’s and he dropped her the ghost of a wink.
“Christina, my love,” he said reprovingly, “that came out very rudely. I’m sure you would like to apologise”.
For an instant she looked mulish before dropping her eyes. “Oh. I’m sure I’m very sorry,” she muttered.
Anna inclined her head, then held out a hand to the dark man.
“Tariq. What a pleasant surprise.”
He bowed over her hand.
“Anna. Likewise.”
Then he scooped up his sullen-looking lady friend and more or less towed her into the ballroom.

Sam held Anna’s arm gently and they stood allowing their party to precede them. Anna put her mouth to his ear.
“No time for the whole story now, just one thing for you to think about. Unless that particular leopard has changed its spots radically, your ex will be sitting on a very sore bottom tonight.”
Sam gave her a quizzical look, then the penny dropped and he grinned.
“How delightful,” he murmured. “Shall we?”

The evening dragged, mediocre food was followed by a mediocre after-dinner speaker, then a mediocre band played mediocre middle-of-the-road music. The entertainment culminated with a cringe-inducing charity auction. As Anna whispered to Sam it was no more than an excuse for wealthy upper middle-class people to pay way over the odds for stuff they didn’t want just to show off to their peers.

By the time they could decently leave, Sam’s jaw was aching with the effort of not yawning.
“I have to slip to the men’s room. I won’t be long. Then we can escape and I’ll watch you wriggle out of that dress.”

When he returned, he found Christina, Tariq and their party at the table making their farewells to Anna. Christina’s father moved away from the table and grasped his hand firmly. “That’s a lovely girl you have there,” he said in his rich, Lancashire brogue. “I’m glad my little madam didn’t put you off women for good. Mind you. She’s met her match with this one. Perhaps he belts her like neither one of us did. Whatever. It seems he has known your Anna for some years. Says you’re a lucky man.”
Sam just smiled and watched. Christina, jumpy and edgy and seemingly unable to keep her eyes or her hands off her escort. Tariq, urbane and polished, but with an underlay of something much less civilised. His ex-mother-in-law, made faintly uneasy by something she couldn’t understand, talking randomly to the wife of one of the older doctors. And Anna. Anna, who seemed unaffected by the undercurrents around her. Serene and lovely, she smiled charmingly at everyone but was careful not to catch Sam’s eye. The giggles, he surmised, were quite near the surface.
As Tariq and his party moved away one of the senior doctor’s wives turned to Anna.
“He’s an attractive beast. How do you come to know him?”
“Purely professionally. He’s a financial adviser and I audited the books of some of his clients.”
“Oh. Boring. So there’s nothing you can tell us about the man then?”
“Other than the fact he’s rich, successful, unmarried and a quarter Iranian? No.”
The woman who had asked the question had the grace to blush, and her husband rescued her from further embarrassment by announcing himself ready for bed.
This effectively broke up the party allowing Sam and Anna to escape. They got into their room and Anna dropped face down on the bed in a serious fit of the giggles.
“Sorry Sam,” she mopped her streaming eyes. “I’ll explain as soon as I can stop laughing.”
He looked down at her.
“I’d sooner watch you wriggle out of that dress,” he said darkly.
She got to her feet and obliged with an exaggerated shimmy of her narrow hips. Sam growled deep in his chest and began to throw off his own clothes while she stood and watched him, clad only in a tiny thong and skyscraper heels. As soon as he had fought his way out of his dinner suit he grabbed her.

From The Cracksman Code by Jane Jago

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