The Gentleman’s Club
Balloons covered the walls such that someone could be thrown aside and softly bounce back onto the floor. The room was spacious, mostly very high. Chandeliers hung down on long cords as thick as my fists. Soon the chair person would arrive. The cream on top of the cake was already melted. I figured the soup was almost cold. A group of tuxedo-ed men chatted in low, mumbling voices. They took sips from tiny glasses, most likely filled with the vodka that Carl had forbid to serve.
I tapped the should of the bald man in front of me, in a weak attempt to socialize. He started at my touch.
‘O yes. Well, hello there, young fella’, he said after turning around. He touched gloved finger to his monocle. Who wears a monocle nowadays anyway?! Except for peanut mascots and one-eyed pirates, there is simply no sensible reason to own – let alone wear – a monocle.
‘Hi sir, I’m Joey.’ He looked weary at my naked, outstretched hand, as if it contained all of mankind’s filth.
‘Well met, I’m sure’, he nodded politely with both hands to his side. ‘You’re new to the gentleman’s club I presume.’
‘Yes. Carl here is my brother.’
‘Ah, Charles. Good fellow, that one. He’s still a bit rough around the edges, but that’s nothing a couple of cheese-tasting Thursdays won’t fix. Ha!’
I laughed as best as I could, but I was painfully aware that my laughs was a poor guy’s crackle, unlike Mr. Monocle’s “Hur, hur”.
‘So…’ I tried to come up with something to talk about that would not make me look even more out of place than I was already feeling. I was saved by the arrival of my brother who had stepped up silently.
‘Ah Count William, you’ve met my dear brother I assume? Joseph, this is Count William of Hinteshof, he owns a lovely collection of antique couches that could interest you’, he added in my direction after shaking the Count’s hand. ‘But I fear that you will have to miss out on that for now, I would like to introduce you to a few more of these assorted gentleman before the chair arrives. If you would excuse us, Count?‘
And with that he put a hand on my shoulder and lead me away from Count Monocle with the awful name.
‘You looked like you could use a rescue’, he murmured, leaning in a bit. ‘You got such bad luck, Joey. Can’t you pick one of the friendly chaps present? We actually have some of them here. And at this time of the evening they could even be sober enough to talk to.’
He steered me through groups of comfy-looking chairs, commenting on the people collected in them, as we passed them. Comments like “These are stiffly ones, but if you don’t mind listening to them discussing the advantages of different sorts of piping tobacco, they are actually bearable”, “These are bankers of some sort, incredibly boring”, and “These you should avoid like the plague”. That last one stuck to my mind.
The low rumble of man’s voices grew by the minute. It was as if the rooms were heated up in a mysterious way, while alcoholic liquids dripped from pale lips onto freshly-steamed white shirts, the clouds of tobacco smoke found their way into my clothes and eyes, plates full of small meat snacks – apparently it was meat-tasting Sunday – were carried around the rooms by skinny woman that balanced dangerously on their high plateau heel shoes. Some of the men were married. Some of the older men had married and re-married four times. Count Monocle was going home tonight to his fourth wife, a magnificent brunette, highly educated in finance and management, great in lingerie, no wish to ever give birth to a crying infant. Still I saw how his gloved fingers tapped the thighs of one of the skinny woman, whose black skirt was so short that the man sitting across the circle of men must have a clear vision of her underwear – or the lack of it. I had expected that big talk about big money would soon arise now the veins of all these rich men were drowned in alcohol and the ladies were closing in, stroking their shoulders in an attempt to offer them meat snacks, winking at me in a way that spread an unwelcome however pleasant warmth in my loins.
Carl was fading in the groups. He was a natural at this. I had to watch first, observe, find out who was willing to talk, make sure they had enough to eat and drink, judge their laughing sound, and if all was well, I would blend in the conversation, playing my role as the fresh man, the young lad soon to be noticed, with the slightly overdone confidence of a man who still had to learn life. I would get to know their life, their houses, their businesses, their flaws, their weaknesses, their loved ones… Carl did not waste time on observing, on guessing when the time was right. Who would simply offer a drink, take a swing with the skinny women, and play the role of a young man who had already gained his first fortune, but was eager to earn more, to learn more about the money-and-deceit game. To find a loving wife. I knew he has played that trick many times, and never showed any sign of anxiety. He was married, to Linda, and they had a baby daughter. I knew he loved her. And I knew he could put her in danger by pretending to play this game, but actually he was playing two games. We were both playing two games: the game of the gentlemen, and our own, dark game of deception.
By the end of the night I approached the group that Carl had denoted as “They you should avoid as the plague.” I felt hungry. These men must have lots to offer, lots of information to share with me. I had set my eyes on the bearded man, only in his thirties I estimated, but dressed in a fine silk suit and shiny shoes of a brand that I knew meant trouble. Still I sat down at the square table and started my chat with all the standard lines Carl and I had discussed in the weeks before. My head was a bit dazzled from the few cocktails I had shared with a few of the skinny ladies, as commanded by Mousy-Moustache, a long retired coffee merchant whose face was shaped as the muzzle of a mouse, including some extremely long whisker-like white hairs that grew on both sides of his moustache. He smelt of coffee, maybe he did take a bath in coffee every day because he believed it would make him immortal. Now I inched closer to the bearded man, smelling oil and roses, and growing an instant fear of the gigantic mould that peeked at the hairline in his neck. I continued my series of lines, gaining on his life and successes, learning about his second wife who was both a model and a lecturer in fashion trends at the public university, though I soon learned from the comments the other men at the table that the wife of Beardy was not the brightest because she was always late for her classes and got fired twice already, and she actually sucked at modelling because she refused to do nude pictures.
The conversation was turning awkward, and I wished it to be over, I knew enough, but then a cracking sound and an unusual rise in voices caught my attention. I hurried to the commotion, pushed aside a few bags of mostly fat and expensive clothes, and fixed my gaze on Carl, who was panting as a manic while a trails of blood escaped from his nostrils and mouth.