04 December 2006

Pride and Partiality - Chapter Five: The afternoon after

Within a short walk of Longhorn lived a couple of drag queens with whom Bennet, and particularly Queenie, were intimate. Ivana Hardman had formerly worked at John Lewis, where she had stolen a tolerable fortune from the till over the years, while at night she performed at a club called ‘Le Coq.’ She was known to deliver such a convincing impersonation of Liza Minelli that she often replaced Liza at public appearances: there were even rumours Liza had tried to annul her marriage on the basis that she had flown Ivana over to stand in at the marriage ceremony, however Ivana was not prepared to accept anything less than a six figure sum to admit exchanging bodily fluids with David Gest, so negotiations had reached deadlock. Her successful career as a drag artist prompted her to leave John Lewis (it had no relation whatsoever to the criminal proceedings, she claimed) and she had settled with her stage partner in the city centre where, unshackled by business, she could occupy herself solely and exclusively in the pursuit of worldly pleasure, which inevitably meant being a slut to all the world. By nature well-endowed, and well-preserved beyond her years with the help of Botox and cosmetic surgery, her obliging manner made her popular in any darkroom, for though elated by a successful career it did not render her supercilious; on the contrary, she was all attention to everybody.

Her stage partner Sue Narmi was, to put it bluntly, an evil, twisted and conniving bitch, who was loved, feared and hated in equal measures by those she cruelly referred to as the ‘prominent and not-at-all prominent members’ of the gay community. Rohypnol and blackmail provided men to service her needs, and she sacrificed virgins whenever they came her way, offering them up to her idol, Madonna. Any malicious rumours that circulated were invariably traced back to her; character assassination, backstreet abortions, and the abduction and torture of cute little puppies occupied her spare time. Caked in makeup on a dimly lit stage, to a drunk audience she delivered a convincing trailer-park Celine Dion. To those who heckled, she showed no mercy.

Occasionally, Ivana Hardman and Sue Narmi rented out a spare room in their apartment, located over an off-licence down at the docks. This was in order to supplement their meagre income, a circumstance rendered necessary to finance extravagant binge drinking and even more extravagant stage costumes. Their apartment smelled of semen and smoke and sweat and vodka, and was lit by a red light-bulb that dangled treacherously from the front window. A sensible, intelligent young man in his late twenties named Charlie, who had been evicted from his former gay flat because of his preference for indie music and his habit of practicing on the guitar, was unfortunate enough to have been taken in by the malignant witches, on condition that he paid three months rent in advance, non-repayable, non-refundable.

That the drag queens should call at Longhorn to talk over Saturday night with Queenie was absolutely necessary. Determined to thwart Queenie in her designs to have Mr Binglay for one of ‘her girls’, and having realised that neither of them stood a chance of getting their hands on Mr Binglay unless someone slipped him GBH, they were prepared to do whatever it took to ensure one of their minions manhandled the man before anyone else in the city. Having recovered from their hangovers by opening another bottle of Smirnoff, they smeared on a little cheap lipstick and slapped on a little sticky something to keep their hair in place, and arrived at Longhorn late in the afternoon hoping to cause trouble.

Needless to say, Bennett made sure that he was elsewhere; everyone else happened to be in the living room, enjoying a quiet afternoon.

“You began the evening well, Charlie,” said Queenie with civil self-command, once they were all settled with cocktails and with a little Madonna number tinkling in the background. “If I’m not mistaken, when the dancing started you were Mr Binglay’s first choice.”

“I don’t believe choice is the appropriate term when someone is cornered into asking someone to dance,” said Charlie, looking archly at Sue Narmi. “He seemed to like his second partner better.”

“Oh! You mean Dylan? I suppose, because he danced with Dylan twice… It was twice, wasn’t it? Yes, to be sure, it did seem as if he admired Dylan- indeed I rather believe he did. I heard something about it, but I hardly know what- something about Mr Robinson.”

“Perhaps you mean what I overheard between him and Mr Robinson? Did I not mention it to you at the time?” said Charlie.

“About how Mr Binglay contracted syphilis?” said Sue Narmi, trying to sound innocent.

Charlie tried to give her a silencing look, which was like trying to outstare Medusa. Everyone waited for him to continue.

“No, you must be referring to his having contracted some fellows to disconnect the telephone. Later in the conversation, Mr Robinson asked how he liked the gay venues in the city, and whether he did not think there were a great many handsome men out, and which he thought the most handsome? And Mr Binglay answered immediately to the last question ‘Oh! That young man Dylan, beyond a doubt; there cannot be two opinions on that point!’”

“Upon my word!” said Queenie, lingering in her imagined moment of triumph. “Well, that was very decided indeed- that does seem as if- but however, it may all come to nothing, you know!”

“Charlie’s overhearings were more pleasing than yours,” said Sue Narmi, turning to address Joe. “Mr D’Arcy is not so well worth listening to as his friend, is he? Tell us, Joe, how does it feel to be not even worth a quick fuck from someone that the whole room despises? Still, it can’t have hurt your feelings much; you must be used to rejection by now?”

It was a truth universally acknowledged that Sue Narmi harboured a particular and vehement hatred towards those who saw right through her, or had never been taken in by her scheming, and Joe was among those. This accounted for the delight she took in continuing to make crude remarks about the likelihood of Joe getting a quick fuck, determined to provoke him into a response, until she was interrupted at last.

“I beg you would not put it into Joe’s head to be vexed by Mr D’Arcy’s ill-treatment,” said Queenie. “He is such a disagreeable man, that it would be quite a misfortune to be fucked by him, whether quickly or slowly-”

“You’re missing the point, Queenie,” said Mitchell.

“I don’t see how anyone could miss the point,” Queenie retorted. “Sue Narmi would have everyone think that simply because Joe hasn’t had a fuck in the last deca-”

“Can we change the subject, please?” said Joe testily.

“There’s no need to be embarrassed in front of us,” said Queenie. “We all know that you haven’t had a fuck since-”

“I assure you that there is nothing about my past that I am embarrassed about, Queenie, which is more than can be said for some people in the room,” said Joe, looking up from his book.

“In the past I’ve given you, there’s plenty to be embarrassed about,” said Sue Narmi under her breath. “You won’t find a leper in this city who’ll touch your infested member. Why don’t you consider leaving this city altogether, settling some place out of the way… somewhere I’m unlikely to ever visit, like Calcutta?”

“If I did, I’m sure you’d turn up eventually,” said Joe. “They have sewers in Calcutta, don’t they?”

“Let’s return to your public embarrassment last night, shall we?” Sue Narmi hissed. “Apparently, rumours spread like wildfire across the bar, suggesting that an acquaintance of Mr D’Arcy had already met you in a darkroom, so he knew that you had genital warts the size of-“

Joe had listened to enough.

“Queenie, did you mention to your friends that their private video recordings down at sex shop are no longer categorised as porn? They’re kept in a separate section, along with the horror and science fiction, and the staff wear protective gloves whenever they have to dust them. Last night, someone mentioned that a complete set auctioned on E-bay didn’t get a single bid. Perhaps those who are into feltching like to be able to distinguish arse from face.”

Sue Narmi hissed and spat at him across the room.

“That was quite uncalled for, Joe,” said Queenie. “You’ve been so crude lately; this is what happens when you don’t have sex for a long time.”

“Crude, me?”

“That feltching remark was quite uncalled for!”

“I’m simply changing the subject, and from experience I know that requires finding an appropriate topic for our guests to discuss.”

“But we’re already talking about sex, so why change the subject?” said Queenie.

“Because you’re talking about my sex life, and I prefer to have Sue Narmi base her malicious rumours on her own deranged imaginings, without any help from you.”

Queenie was not best pleased.

“We weren’t talking about you; it was Mr D’Arcy that we were discussing. Honestly, Joe, you’re becoming paranoid. It’s all those hormones building up, I tell you… it’s not healthy! But that Mr D’Arcy, as I was saying, what an unpleasant man he is! Dick Long told me last night that he sat close for half an hour, without once opening his lips!”

“Are you quite sure, Queenie? Is there not a little mistake?” said Dylan. “I certainly saw Mr D’Arcy speaking to Richard.”

“Speaking, yes. But those probably weren’t the lips that Richard not-so-Long-as-he’d-like-to-be had in mind,” said Sue Narmi with a sneer. “No doubt Longie asked the question that he puts to every new acquaintance.”

“He does not ask everyone,” said Queenie defensively. “Richard is quite selective about who he chooses. I know for a fact that he never asked Joe, even that time when he was so desperate he picked up one of the homeless that hangs around outside Tesco for a quick-”

“Thank you,” said Joe. “Can we please change the subject?”

“We are still talking about Mr D’Arcy, not you,” said Sue Narmi with a smirk. “Everyone knows Dick Long doesn’t understand the concept ‘not interested’, nor does he understand the meaning of the word ‘no’, so I expect that he persisted harassing Mr D’Arcy until threatened with security.”

“Mr D’Arcy did seem angry at being spoken to,” Charlie remarked.

“Arrogant man!” said Queenie.

“Anthony Binglay told me that Mr D’Arcy never talks much, unless among his intimate acquaintance,” said Dylan. “With them he is remarkably agreeable.”

“I do not believe a word of it! If he had been agreeable, he would have talked to Richard Long!” said Queenie. “But I can guess how it was; everybody says that Mr D’Arcy is quite consumed with pride, and I dare say he heard somehow that Richard does not wear designer labels or keep a fancy car.”

“No doubt he noticed that Longie had his cock ring on, so that all he had to offer was visible on the opposite side of the room,” said Ivana Hardman with a slight yawn. “Not that we haven’t all seen it before.”

“I do not mind his not talking to Richard Long,” said Dylan, “but I do wish he had danced with Joe.”

“I agree,” said Charlie.

“Another time, I’ll have revenge on him. Why, I would not dance with him, even if I was as desperate as you, Joe,” said Queenie, pouring another stiff gin. “And however desperate you become, and let’s face it you must be getting pretty desperate for a little man-on-man action at this stage, you must never dance with him. Remember that, won’t you?”

“I believe that I may safely promise you all never to dance with Mr D’Arcy,” said Joe, getting up to leave.

“His pride does not offend me so much as pride often does,” said Charlie. “After all, there is an excuse in Mr D’Arcy’s case. One cannot wonder that so very handsome a man, with connections, fortune and everything in his favour, should think highly of himself. If I may say so, he has a right to be proud.”

“That is true,” replied Joe, looking back from the doorway. “No doubt I could easily forgive his pride if he had not mortified mine, but I will save what little remains of it to be destroyed another day. Sue, Ivana… as much of a pleasure as ever to see you both.”

He left the room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

“Pride,” observed Mitchell, who prided himself upon the solidity of his reflections, “is a very common failing, I believe. By all that I have ever read, I believe that it is very common indeed; that gay men are particularly prone to it, and that there are very few of us who do not cherish a feeling of self-complacency on the score of some quality or other, real or imaginary. Vanity and pride are different things, though the words are often used synonymously. A gay man may be proud without being vain. Pride relates more to our opinion of ourselves, vanity to what we would have others think of us.”

“If I was as rich as Mr D’Arcy, I should not care how proud I was,” said Ivana Hardman. “I would have different trade every day of the week, and drink like an alcoholic… just like old Queenie here!”

“Drinking, me?” said Queenie, who had taken care to ensure that all of her empty bottles were disposed of. “It’s you that drinks a great deal more than you ought! Everyone knows you’re a lush! Who are you calling old, in any case? I remember you trolling on the scene when I first came out!”

Ivana protested that she was not older; Queenie continued to declare that she was too, and the argument ended only with their visit.

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