My thanks go to PapaGus and Deryk for their assistance in preparing this story for posting.
Clarification: Mufti = out of uniform or dressed in civilian clothes. Sort = a female of the species, usually (but not always) a rather good looking one.
There's an old adage in the British armed forces; "Never volunteer for anything!" Maybe it's a good rule to follow, maybe it isn't? You have to concede that the Para's, Commandos and SAS, have all found themselves where the shit was flying particularly thickly over the years. Oh yeah there's some kudos to be gained by being able to wear a particular tie in later life, but that assumes that you're still going to be left with a life to lead.
No, I wasn't in the forces. Not that I'm adverse to the principle of fighting for my country. I just don't trust the buggers who run the bloody place. Honestly there's not a one of them I'd give the time of day to, once they get themselves elected to that private "you scratch my back" club, known to the world as The British Houses of Parliament. Honestly I don't trust a one of them, no matter what party they belong to, once they've joined that exclusive club.
Anyway I'm wandering off the subject before I get started, let's get back to the question; should one volunteer? Or maybe I should be asking, should one allow oneself to get roped in, so to speak?
That's a question I really should have asked myself, when I heard the words
"Look fella's I need a volunteer to escort my cousin Jenny to the wedding!"
Billie had announced as, as a collective group, we staggered from the last nightclub in town to the taxi rank.
It wasn't particularly late, but we'd done the rounds and been ejected from every available drinking establishment in town. It was then time to get back to ... Bugger I can't recall who's flat we stashed the reserves at that night. But I had known that a stripper had been booked for later.
"What about you Simon? Are you gonna do the honours for your ol' mate?" Billie Biddle my soon to be fettered, extremely intoxicated, comrade asked. "She's one good looking bit of stuff mate, I promisssh ya!"
Now, had I been sober, I probably would have used an iota of common sense and refused Bill's request outright. Or at least, been able to come up with some unlikely excuse for turning him down.
You see, Billie had already spoken one untruth; I really wasn't his old mate. Actually we'd got to that stage in our lives hardly ever speaking to each other. And then only when we'd been forced to. Billie Biddle was one of the guys, the same as I was, but no one could mistake us for close friends. We were just two guys from opposite ends of the spectrum who happened to hang around with the same group of ... All right, if you want the definitive description, Piss Artists!
Every Friday night we'd be found at one or other of the town's drinking holes, doing our best to empty the cellars. Actually at one time or another we'd visit them all, twice every weekend; but let's not make things complicated before I need to explain why. Often, when we'd worn our welcome out in one, we'd be requested to move on to a second, and so on. None of the pubs and clubs ever banned us because we never did any damage. We just ... well we pissed a lot of people off! Anyway I'm kinda wandering off the subject here.
Now, if Bill lied about him and me being good buddies, then it stands to reason that he was also going to lie about this Jenny bird being a tasty piece of stuff. That is a logical conclusion, but logicality finds no place in inebriated calculations. Therefore, instead of asking Billie why this Jenny bird had not been able to find a date for herself, seven days before a wedding that had been planned for well over half a year, I found myself replying.
"Sure thing, Billie boy; you just tell me where an' when to pick the sort up!"
That's all I can recall really. Well, I was pretty well stewed by that time of the evening -- more than pretty well stewed actually, Billie had been paying all night -- and other things kinda took precedence with the few brain cells I still had working. Like, "Who the hell was that stripper?" But I'll get to her in a minute.
When we got back to whoever's flat it was that we spent at least some of the rest of the night in. -- I don't know; I have no recollection of getting home at all that night. -- Not one, but two rather tasty looking strippers turned up, along with a Giant Haystacks look-alike type minder. Quite put a damper on some of the guys' nefarious plans for the evening, that did; or so I'm told.
I was way past though thoughts of that kind, figuring that I was only just going to manage to stay awake long enough for the main event.
Actually it turned out that one of the strippers, not only made sure I was awake for the main event, she made damn sure I'd never forget it (or her) either. But as I just said, "I'll get to her shortly."
After getting a quick glimpse of the two shapely women as they entered the flat, I saw no more of them until they came out of the bedroom they'd used as a changing room to get ready do that thing they do.
In the meantime, I'd ensconced myself in a large armchair, handily positioned in the perfect position to get a good view of the main attraction, and complete with one tinny on the go, and a couple of others -- still sealed -- pushed down the side of the cushion as reloads.
The first girl to come out, was of mixed race. I figured three parts Anglo Saxon, to one (probably) Afro-Caribbean; but that's just an inebriated guess. And unusually she fixed me, not Billie, with those hypnotic almost black eyes of hers as she ... well, danced I suppose you'd call it. For some inexplicable reason, I also appeared to be her chosen target for all of her discarded garments, that -- for an equally inexplicable reason – she threw at me. I absentmindedly folded them on my lap as I watched her gyrate around the room.
Much to everyone's dismay -- including Billie's -- she gave him but a cursory lap-dance at the end of her act.
There were a few vocal objections from the boys, but the site of Giant Haystacks rising himself to his full height, and the immanent arrival of the second stripper, soon put an end to them.
There was no mistaking the fact that the second bird came from Eastern Europe and she was built like the proverbial brick ... Yeah well, all the right bits stuck out in all the right places. Boy, the first girl had one killer of a figure on her, but that Russian tart made Jordan look like a prepubescent schoolgirl.
We were all so engrossed in the Russian birds routine, that even I (for a long time) failed to realise that the first dancer -- still dressed in only her birthday suit -- had perched herself on the arm of the chair I was sitting in. As the Russian girl got near the end of her act, she began to give Billie a lap dance he'll never forget in a hurry. Well, I gathered she did from what I got to see. The last I got to see, she was sat astride Billie's legs grinding her breasts into his face.
I couldn't see anymore because, quite suddenly the first dancer had slipped from the arm of my chair and was suddenly perched on my lap. Not only that, but her arms were around my neck and her tongue was doing its best to locate my tonsils.
Alright yeah, I'm not backward in coming forward, so I'll admit I took the opportunity and enjoyed a quick snog and a gentle grope. Who can blame me? What man in his right sense wouldn't, and if you remember, I wasn't in full control of my faculties anyway. Hey, that's my story and I'm bloody-well sticking to it!
God alone knows how long the clinch lasted. Until the music stopped at least, and probably a damned sight longer. Then, as suddenly as she had pounced upon me, the young lady disentangled herself and stood up.
"My my, Simon you're just as good as you ever were. What a shame we've got another booking for later. See ya!" she said, and then she was gone.
Now it ain't everyday of the week that an extraordinary good looking -- and naked -- female, with an unbelievable beautiful figure, snogs me like that girl did that night. And just to make life confusing, one whom I did not recognise. But who, not only appeared to know exactly who I was, but lead me to believe that I had the pleasure of at least snogging her, sometime in the past.
The logical next step was to find out who she was, and possibly take her home and ... yeah well, had she not hinted that a liaison was in the offing? Well, she had to my ears!
But there I had big a problem; I was no longer capable of free movement. I was so pissed by that time, that I was incapable of standing up, even though I wanted to. I
f I had managed to get to my feet, then I was well aware that there was little (if any) chance of me making it to that bedroom door, before I attained a permanent horizontal position on the floor somewhere; for rest of the night anyway.
Yes, my mind did want to know who that stripper was, and in all honesty, I'd still like to know. But I'd moved on into the realms of alcoholic stupor very quickly after the second stripper left the room.
I have no recollection of getting home that Saturday morning, or may be it was the afternoon. Although, I do recall being sober enough to make it down to the local for a spot of "hair of the dog" sometime during the Saturday evening. Yeah well, I don't remember getting there or back home again, but I do remember the bar tab stuffed under my nose by the govner when I popped in there later in the week.
But that's really unimportant - what is, is that I was roused from my bed at the unbelievable hour (for me) of eleven o'clock on the Sunday morning. Billie Biddle arrived at my flat with a couple of the gang and announced that his mother and sister wanted to meet the poor slob he'd roped in to escort his cousin Jennifer to his wedding the following weekend. Only he never put it in the same words I did, after I'd remembered I'd broken the golden rule.
However a man's word is his bond, as my old man, used to say. Never could it be said that Simon Truman, went back on his word. You could say a lot of other things about me, and people often did, but that was one quality of mine that no one could ever challenge.
I have to admit that it took well over an hour to turn the dishevelled drunk into a presentable gentleman. Usually it takes all of Sunday afternoon and a good portion of the evening for me to revert from my weekend drunk mode, into my smart efficient office worker persona. But that morning I had no time to take a long hot snooze in the bath.
They dressed me in my second best whistle. My best one I was reserving for the following weekend. Billie's people came from a more affluent area of the town and I wanted to make it clear that I owned more than one designer suit.
There was another reason I wanted to look good, -- and possibly a second reason for me keeping my drunkenly made promise to Billie anyway -- his sister Marsha. Marsha was the MD's secretary at my place of employment. And yeah well, I had it figured that she was going to throw one hum-dinger of a wobbly, when she discovered just who Billie had roped in to as an escort for this Jennifer bird.
Probably now's a good time to explain precisely why Billie and I had never really hit it off, the Biddle's came from an affluent background as I just said, and we Truman's ... Okay there was only the one of us left, but I bore my proud father's name. Well, we were from good working class stock and there were no airs and graces about us.
My late father had told me, that I was as good as anyone, and if I worked hard at school to get the right qualifications, and then studied my job when I got one -- Then the world was going to be my oyster!
Yeah, some bloody hopes! I did well at school, passed every exam I ever took with distinction. I did the same at university and held down a part-time job to pay my own way at the same time. Then I entered the workforce full time.
What's more, I found a job I enjoyed and proved myself to be bloody good at it. Too bloody good, as it turned out!
It was later -- through office gossip -- that I discovered that I'd become far too valuable an asset to the company where I was. For years I flogged my guts out and watched in bewilderment while complete idiots were promoted over me. It took me a very long time to come to terms with the fact that I was so good at the job I was doing, I was going to be stuck with the bloody thing for the rest of my working life; as far as the company management were concerned.
The thought had crossed my mind, to tell the buggers exactly what they could do with their job. But it's a hard world out there, and there aren't many vacancies where my particular experience would prove an asset. I'd been with the company for some years and I was at the top of my salary grade. If I threw the job in, I'd have to take one hell of a cut in pay wherever I found work.
That might explain one chip on my shoulder. And possibly why I'd eventually thought, "fuck-it!" and taken to over-consumption most every weekend.
My second hang-up was people like Marsha Biddle. Billie weren't really like that, when he was with the boys, anyway. Shit, he wouldn't have lasted long if he was.
But his sister Marsha! God alone knows what she had jammed up her arse, but it kept her nose pointing to the sky, I can assure you. I got on pretty well with a lot of the girls around the office, but Marsha would never give the likes of me, the time of day. In the seven years we'd worked for the same employer, not once had she even nodded in my direction, let alone said "Good morning."
Okay, I hope I've set the scene for what was to happen when I climbed out of Billie's car and followed him into the family mansion. Well not quite a mansion, but bloody not far off. Well out of my price range, anyway.
Billie led the way into a lounge the size of the complete house my parents had spent their whole married life in and bade me to sit down. Actually he told me to take a seat, and I was tempted to do just that; but it was only a thought. Anyway then he went off to find his family.
Mr Graham Biddle came in first and introduced himself; I of course, stood to shake his proffered hand.
We didn't have a lot when I was a kid, but my parents had good manners and they passed them on to me.
Billie's dad was still giving me some bullshit, about how kind I was being offering to escort Jennifer to the wedding, when Billie and his mother entered the room ... followed by Marsha. Who took one look at me, then spun on her heel and dragged her mother out of the room again.
Billie and his father -- after giving each other a quick double take -- rapidly followed them. One assumed –correctly -- to enquire about the two women's sudden withdrawal.
I sort of wondered over to the -- by then closed -- door, to see if I could earwig. Sorry, sick sense of humour, I thought it might be a fun conversation.
"You have to be joking Billie! Have you any idea who you've got in there?" I could just make out Marsha demanding.
"Yeah. Simon. He's a nice guy, and he didn't flinch when I asked him!" Billie replied.
"What about John or Philip, or anyone except the town drunk?"
"Simon is not a drunk Marsha, he holds down a bloody good job. And what's more, Steve reckons your company would grind to a halt if Simon took one day off sick. Damn, Steve told me there was hell to pay when Simon went off with us on that Amsterdam trip. Simon was away four days and it took them a mouth to clear the backlog. Someone who's that important to a company, can't be drunk all the time."
By the way Steve is another of the guys who sometimes joined our drinking binges and happens to work for the same company Marsha and I do, but in a different department. Well, I naturally assumed that was to whom, Billie was referring.
"But surely you could find somebody else, Billie?"
"I tried Marsha, I can assure you. I don't like doing this to Simon anyway. But Christ, most of the guys remember Jenny from when we were at school. Simon went to the comprehensive, so he never got that honour."
Too say that I had suddenly got a little more apprehensive about what I'd let myself in for the following Saturday, would be putting it mildly.
To make things worse, I heard Mr Biddle suggest that the three of them go into the library to talk; well out of my earshot.
As I could no longer hear them, I made my way over to the large window at the front of their lounge and stared out at the perfectly manicured cricket pitch, the Biddle's called a front lawn.
"Holy cow Simon, what have you done?" I asked myself. Billie appeared to have implied that just having met this Jennifer bird, would be enough to make any of the guys run a bloody mile if he'd asked them to be her escort. What possibly could be so wrong with the girl?
Yeah well, she could well be a dog; I realised that. But hey, who hasn't been caught out on that one at least once in their lives on a blind date. Another reason never to volunteer to help out a friend.
And besides, there's always that old expression "You don't look at the mantelpiece, when you're stoking the fire!"
I'd been lumbered more than once in my life. But I'd never come across a female who, by just the mention of her name, could have the power to send all of Billie and my randy friends, running for the hills. I was honestly beginning to wish I'd given Billie's 'stag do' a miss.
Suddenly the three of them trooped back into the room again. Billie actually looked like he was surprised that I was still there.
Mrs Biddle did all the talking, Marsha blatantly showing that she wasn't happy with the outcome of their discussion, by her facial expression.
"We're sorry about that Simon, a little family dispute." After introducing herself.
"Do not concern yourself, Mrs Biddle; I understand perfectly." I found myself replying, and wondering as I said it; where the hell I'd dragged it up from? Some old film I surmised.
"Marsha, run along and find out where Mary is with that tea. You will take tea won't you Simon?"
It wasn't so much a question, as an instruction; I knew that no other answer except "Thank you!" would be acceptable.
It did have a bonus to though. Marsha left the room!
"Simon, it's so kind of you to offer to be Jennifer's escort next weekend." Mrs Biddle went on to say.
But her statement unsettled me a little more than I already was. I'm not sure why, but I immediately got the impression that I'd been written in for a little more than this Jennifer's escort to the wedding itself, and the reception.
"Now she's flying in on Thursday evening. Will you be available to collect her from the airport?"
"Sod it!" I thought, in for a penny, in for a bloody pound. The Biddle's are pretty influential people in our town. Who says a Truman can't kiss-arse now and again. Old man Biddle's say-so might even get me into the town's only good golf club, one day!
"Sure, why not? If you give me the flight details, I'll be only too happy to collect the young lady. Is she going to be staying here?"
I got a surprise; just for an instant an expression of horror came over Mrs Biddle's face. But the condescending smile very soon replaced it again.
"Oh dear no. We have so many relatives coming this week, and there just aren't enough rooms here. Jennifer will be staying at The Moat House Hotel. Its more her style anyway."
Mr's Biddle had just said the magic words. The Moat House Hotel is the most exclusive and prestigious hotel in the district. Invisible from the nearest road, I, and most people locally, had only ever seen pictures of the place. And the odd bit of film on the TV news programs, when presidents and foreign royalty stayed there. Actually, I'd never met anyone who could afford to enter its hallowed gates, and I hazarded a guess that that included my then present company.
By then the cogs were really churning inside my head. To stay in the Moat House Hotel, inferred that this Jennifer bird had to be bloody loaded. Better than loaded, actually! Money-wise we're talking here, by the way.
But that kind of confused me, because even if she was a complete dog ... Well, you have to admit that there are plenty of dodgy gigolo type characters out there; who are more than willing to avert their eyes from the mantelpiece while they are spending the cash.
Mind you, the same can be said of some women. How often, do you see some rich old-fart who looks like he's about to pop his clogs, and who has a sexy young starlet type on his arm, and, sharing his bed most likely. Yeah very likely!
Whatever, to my mind, things were beginning 'not to add up!'
But while my mind was wandering, Mrs Biddle was still talking, and asking questions.
"You do have a dinner jacket, Simon?"
"Yes; not that I wear it very often these days."
"Oh good. Well, Jennifer's flight gets in a little before six. She should be out pretty quickly, they fast track first-class. Wear your dinner jacket and she'll easily recognise you, and then you can have dinner together at the Moat House when you get there. No one gets into the Moat House restaurant without a dinner jacket."
"Friday, if you can pick her up from the hotel about half-six. She's taking not part of the ceremony, but you and Jennifer are invited to the rehearsal dinner at the Metropolitan. It'll give Jennifer a chance to get to know everyone again. She hasn't been back to the UK since ... Oh my how long has it been, Graham?"
"It must be nearly eight years, possibly longer. My sister's second husband is an American, Simon, but Jennifer was mostly educated in the UK. She lived here with us here for many years."
After that, what there was in the way of conversation, turned to the standard safe subjects. Mostly the weather, how bad the traffic was getting in town, and the shortage of car parking space. While we drank the tea -- that had eventually arrived -- I kinda wondered which cup Marsha had put the arsenic into.
Then Billie drove me back home in total silence.
I did want to ask Billie what the catch was, but I chickened out. No matter how bad this Jennifer bird looked ... Okay I'm a softy; I figured that if she was a dog, then it ain't my place to rub it in. If I asked Billie, then he might let it slip to Jennifer, and then I would never be able to face her. Sorry, that's just how my mind's wired up.
I did enquire of some of the guys who would have remembered Jennifer from their school days though, and got everything from "No comment!" to "Oh Christ! Billie didn't manage to rope you in on that one did he?"
But there were no descriptions that I could trust, as to exactly what was going to come walking through that arrivals gate at the airport on that Thursday evening.
I say "that I could trust" because one guys described a sixteen-year-old barrel of lard to me. He told me that he'd only spoken to her once, and that she had been a complete spoilt brat. But yet another guy, told me that Jennifer wasn't really all that heavy, and that she had quite a pretty face, when she took off her bottle bottom spectacles. And yet another said, that she was fat and had a voice on her like a cat being drowned.
The three descriptions had little in common, but to suggest that Jennifer was on the overweight side. I tried to wipe them from my mind, and decided to see for myself what walked off the plane on Thursday evening.
Feeling done up like a turkey at Christmas, -- okay Thanksgiving to some of you -- I got a few very strange looks from some of the other 'friends and families', waiting to meet their arrivals.
I noted a couple of people holding up cards with names on, and cursed myself for not getting Jennifer's surname. God only knew how many people were getting off her flight, but there were -- what appeared to me to be -- hundreds of people waiting to greet them. Dinner jacket or not, I couldn't see that Jennifer was going to have an easy job spotting me.
Then the door slid open, and a great mass of humanity spilled forth through the arrivals gate. There were so many on them that I couldn't look at them individually. I just stood there like a tailors dummy and hoped that Jennifer would be able to spot the 'idiot in the dinner jacket.'
"Mr Truman?" A voice suddenly asked off to my left.
When I looked an -- unbelievably charming looking -- air-stewardess -- albeit in mufti -- was standing there. Come on fella's we all know that one of the first things those stewardesses are taught is how to present themselves. They stand out from the crowd like catwalk models.
"Yes. Can I help you?" I asked.
"Yes, I'm waiting for a young lady named Jennifer. Do you know what's keeping her?"
"Nothing, I'm here!" she giggled.
"You're Jennifer?" I gasped.
"I was when I got out of bed this morning. Why, what were you expecting?" she giggled again.
"Well, er, I don't know."
"Oh my, you've gone all red ... Simon, isn't it?
"Y-yes, Simon Truman at your service, milady."
"Oh my, aren't we a slimy one. Come on Simon you can't be one of them. I'd put on a lot of puppy fat when I was a teenager. A horrendous amount actually! It definitely didn't make me popular with the boys and I got a reputation for retaliating if any of them upset me. I should imagine you've heard some pretty horrific stories about me."
"Simon, I'm not daft. I watched you from over there; there was an expression of apprehension on your face as you waited for me. I know what you were expecting, but this is what you've got."
She stepped back and curtsied toward me.
"Now, you're either a very nice young man, or you're a charlatan who's after some of my stepfather's cash. Somehow I don't think you're going to be the latter. Only time will tell."
"I had no idea that you're parents were rich Jennifer. Well, when Billie asked me to be your escort anyway."
"Yes I know, Billie told me, all the boys ran a mile when he asked them. Boy, are we going to surprise some of them."
"Yes, I'm afraid that Billie was scraping the bottom of the barrel when he got down as low as me."
"I don't know, you scrub quite well by the look of it. Shall we get going?"
I took Jennifer's luggage from her and we walked the half a mile or so to where I'd parked my car. I had suggested we took the courtesy bus, but Jennifer said she wanted to enjoy the smell of England.
"More like burnt jet fuel!"
"Well, it is English Jet fuel, Simon. Now don't spoil the atmosphere."
"Bugger the atmosphere your cases are bloody heavy. Haven't you ever heard of weight limits?"
"Give here, I'll take one."
"No, I'll carry them; it would injure my manly pride."
"Simon, I think we're going to get on just fine!" Jennifer giggled again.
"I'm glad you think so. Personally I think that Billie's dropped an unexploded bomb in my lap."
"Why do you say that?"
"It doesn't make any sense to me Jennifer. You're what, twenty-five?
"Okay Twenty-four. You are exceedingly beautiful."
"You're welcome. And you say that your stepfather is exceeding rich. Actually, even I could work that one out; you're booked into the Moat House."
"Yeah, good idea wasn't it. Kinda rubs it in to everyone, that I'm a spoilt rich kid, doesn't it?"
I stopped walking. "Why would you want to do that?"
"If you promise not to tell, I'll explain when we get in the car. I can't hear a thing with all these planes taking off."
"That one just landed, Jennifer."
"Is this it?" She asked, as I dropped her suitcases by my car's boot.
"I'm afraid so sweetie. Some of us haven't got rich daddies you know?"
"Well it looks alright. But is it safe?"
"It got me here and you can always walk behind if you wish."
"I'm only joking Simon. It looks very nice actually."
"Thanks, its ten years old and only has eighty thousand on the clock. It'll do me for many years yet. Now what say, we get the hell out of here. Are you going to sit in the front or back, milady?"
"The front, but why are you... ?"
"Getting short with you? Well, you're up to something I don't understand, Jennifer, and I get the feeling that I'm a pawn in your game."
"Oh no Simon, I can promise you that you aren't. I'll admit that when I asked Billie to find me an escort for the weekend, you weren't what I expected."
"No, I was expecting one of Marsha's goons."
"Never mind, I've got you as my escort instead!"
"And that's something I can't understand. With your looks and your stepfather's money, you must have a whole raft of eligible young American guys' chasing around after you. Rich ones, as well, most likely. What I can't get my head around, is why haven't you brought one of them over with you?"
"Ah now, two reasons really. One, it wouldn't serve my purpose. The second ... well, if I were to have invited someone to fly halfway around the world with me, they might have got the wrong idea. I'm very particular about who I choose to go to bed with, Simon. So don't you go getting any smart ideas!"