The Withdrawn Hirst
They scurried through the back streets of Old Bond Street, now illuminated by the glow of the designer boutique windows which lined the narrow cobbled pavements. Upon reaching Piccadilly they waited for the thunder of red double-decker buses to roll past before they crossed the road, hopping onto the pavement just outside the Ritz and making their way down St James’s Street.
On the far left nearest the road was Peter Corbett, a short weedy man in his mid-fifties, with a head of wispy white hair that shimmered in the glare of the street light. He walked with a great sense of urgency, his neck was arched downwards below his pointed shoulders, whilst his beady eyes glinted ahead into the night. To his right strode the tall lanky frame of Mac Johnson the Australian, his suit trousers flapped above his ankles and his gold tie streamed out behind him. Next to Mac, the rotund figure of Debbie could be made out in the more shadowy side of the pavement, the street lights catching the edges of her red fluffy hair as she scuttled along. The three contrasting silhouettes were united by one common purpose.
“Now, just breeze through looking straight ahead,” said Peter, unzipping his anorak and stuffing it into his rucksack, revealing his trusty nylon George suit jacket. “They shouldn’t ask. I just got a text from Alexia and she got straight in.”
“Wow, good on her” said Mac, eyebrows raised on a handsome, yet well weathered face, a face that had taken a battering from the storms of the London nightlife.
“Brrrrr,” cried Debbie, pinched suddenly by a frosty breeze. Then she remembered. “I left my coat in Timothy Tailor’s. Shit”
“We’ll get it later,” said Peter, smoothing out his jacket as he walked.
“It shuts at eight, that‘s in an hour,” she protested.
“Well, we can’t wait for you, it’s all about timing,” said Peter looking to Mac for support.
“This is Charlie’s,” asserted Mac in his strong Melbourne accent. “This is London’s biggest auction house we‘re talking about here – I mean, it‘s gonna be the best party in town Deborah.”
“Oh forget it,” said Debbie decisively, her concerns, it seemed were now displaced by new exciting prospects. “What shall we say if they ask us for names?”
“Ali Vivieri” said Mac, “he’s got to be on the guest list.”
“Yes he gets all the invites.” Debbie concurred “So what about a woman for me?”
“Agh God,” moaned Mac. “What about that woman from Bill Brown Gallery. Ah damn, what’s her name?”
“Elizabeth… Enfield?” Peter offered, combing his white hair to the side.
“Earnshaw,” Mac corrected him. “Elizabeth Earnshaw, yeah good call. When we walked past Bill Brown Gallery earlier it didn’t look like they’d be wrapping up for another good few hours, if that. I’ll be someone’s plus one… I bet they‘re both allowed plus ones.”
“Oh they will be, absolutely,” said Peter knowledgably.
They turned the corner at the foot of St James’ where they could see a queue stemming from beneath a white illuminated marquee entrance. They were certainly not strangers to crashing high profile events, and approached the queue with an air of casual expertise, continuing past the line of suited men in bow ties and ladies in satin dresses and fur coats. Black cabs and Mercedes pulled up to the venue depositing more groomed individuals at the foot of the queue, whilst some sailed straight to the front and inside.
As they joined the back, Debbie smoothed over her black woollen skirt, picking at the protruding bobbles. “I’m relying on this for dinner.“ she warned the two men. “They didn’t have any canapés at Timothy Tailors.“
Peter nudged her and nodded in the direction of the tall man in front. Standing on her tiptoes she peaked over the collar of his overcoat, and could see with some disconcertion he held, in his leather gloved hand, a large oblong golden invitation. The three exchanged looks.
“It’ll be okay,” said Mac reassuringly as they inched towards the glow of the open doors. “You’ve just gotta be assertive.”
Peter, on the other hand, was not so relaxed about this development. He pulled out his wallet and began to rifle through his collection of tattered business cards. “I wonder if there’s a card I can use,” he muttered. “I don’t think Ali Viriani ever gave me one.”
Debbie reached for her own wallet. “Not a bad idea,” she considered, eyebrows raised as she shuffled through her own deck, compiled over many years of drinking in West End galleries.
But it was too late for deliberation, they had reached the front. The doormen, dressed in matching tails and red satin bowties, unclipped the rope and the trio stepped through unsurely. They ascended the stairs into the famous auction house, squinting from the powerful reflections of the chandeliers. “Wow,” breathed Mac. “I should have brought my shades, eh?”
As the three colluders stood dazzled in the doorway, they slowly became aware of five tall stands in front of them, each manned by a member of staff fluttering through enormous manuals. Debbie backed away but Mac gripped her arm. “Come on!” He whispered.
An immaculate oriental lady stepped forward. She wore an elegant midnight blue satin evening gown which looked as though it had melted over her slender frame. Her dark silky hair was twisted into a delicate swirl with a chopstick, not a strand out of place. “Which guest list are you on gentlemen… and Madame?” Her accent was French, her tone reserved.
Peter gaped at the petite host, until Mac poked him in the ribs. “This one” Peter spluttered, withdrawing a card from his pack and thrusting it in her face. She cleared her throat and took the card with her satin gloved hand. After what seemed like a lifetime, she handed back the card and beamed.
“Mr Schwartz!” she exclaimed. The staff all looked up from their manuals. They raised their eyebrows and grinned in unison.
“Yes,” croaked Peter dubiously.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Violette Wu. We have not had the pleasure here at Charlie’s yet. But let me tell you, we have been patiently awaiting your good company for quite some time”
“I’m-very-busy,” stammered Peter.
Violette Wu clasped his arm and shook her head in a feverish demonstration of understanding.
“Of course! Now, please just step right through. I take it these are your guests?”
A silence ensued. Peter began to nod frantically, a fixed grin across his pasty freckled face. Debbie stuck her hand up in a wave, giggling awkwardly.
“Hello,” boomed Mac lunging forward to extend his wave into an overly firm handshake. Violette winced in pain and retrieved her hand before smoothing over the embarrassing moment with a warm and welcoming laugh. The three intruders joined in with a chorus of cackles.
“Thank you,” Peter blurted eventually as they were led to the grand mahogany staircase, carpeted in an elegant lilac shade. “Busy night, eh?” He managed with a strained chortle.
“I shall leave you here Mr Schwartz” she smiled touching his arm gently and leaning in closer. “And yes, but remember we are never too busy to better acquaint you with the artworks.” She nodded at Mac and Debbie before sailing back to the entrance.
“I think you’re in there Peter!” exclaimed Mac as they ascended the staircase.
“What the hell did you give her?” hissed Debbie.
“I don’t know, Marcus gave it to me the other night because I helped him get into a business convention in the Gherkin. He said it was my ‘Get out of jail free card’.” replied Peter, giggling with elation.
“Or get into Charlie’s free card” laughed Mac.
As they sailed through the bustling auction rooms, the mystery of the business card became a distant memory as the finest canapés swirled around them and champagne glasses glided under their noses and into their hands.
They discovered fellow liggers in other rooms where they congratulated each other on getting into the event. They exchanged tales of the many who had perished at the guest lists and those who had even tried the back doors.
“Apparently Robert actually pretended to be from the catering company,” said their friend Alexia, a short frizzy-haired painter. “But then they asked him the name of the catering company and he didn’t know!” She continued. They all erupted into laughter and chinked their champagne glasses together, in an amalgamation of mirth, triumph and gratitude that they had not too been unmasked at such a premature stage.
“To Charlies!” they toasted.
“And to Schwartz” added Peter.
“What, Damien Schwartz?” said Alexia dryly.
“That is correct,” said Peter producing the card from his pocket.
“He actually gave you his card?”
“No, Marcus gave it to me the other night. Christ knows where he got the thing, it‘s probably been passed around everyone we know. Who the hell is he anyway?”
“I think he’s some big wig art dealer,” replied Alexia. “I saw him on the ‘Art Review Power 100’ list.”
They all shuffled closer to get a glimpse of the card.
New York: +1 (0)777 68 43 56 7 Beijing: +36 (0)234 3458
Paris: +33 (0)123 56789
“Can’t you keep pretending to be him and buy all my art?” said Alexia dolefully. The group laughed and a waiter stopped to offer them a platter of seared tuna kebabs, only to find himself with an empty tray in a matter of seconds.
“Like a pack of seagulls,” sneered a lady in a long pale pink sequinned dress to her friend as they perused past, but every group member was in a state of such intense pleasure that they could not connect with the emotions required to care. Nothing felt better to them than crashing Charlies and basking in the free champagne, canapés and highly sought after art. This was, quite simply, an art ligger’s Everest.
Grettil lay back in the bath of her Clapton flat and looked up at the ceiling. Large lines penetrated the plaster and she hoped it wasn’t the mother of all degenerative diseases – subsidence. She reached into the bubbles, and retrieved Bertha. She began to wash her with the sponge, reflecting on the textural difference between Bertha’s skin and her own. The smooth tan-coloured shiny plastic against her own soft pale dimples was fascinating, she mused. This contemplation charged Grettil with a bolt of inspiration. She would move forward with new art projects, she vowed, although her mood hadn’t permitted her to do so for a while. It was Up. Down. Up Down. London. Berlin, London Berlin. Bed. Private View. Bed. Private View. Bed.
She washed her own skin. Like the ceiling, it was too not what it used to be, travelling further with each stroke than even the last time she bathed. But she was not one for caring about such things. Aging was fascinating to Grettil. She would make a whole video of her skin and of the bathroom ceiling, she decided. She’d show it in Hackney and in Kreuzberg.
Her mood blackened. Last time she had exhibited in Kreuzberg she had shown a collection of her dirty laundry on a clothes horse. It had certainly attracted a lot of attention in the local press, until suddenly a near identical art work was erected in London just months later, and Grettil’s clothes horse was completely forgotten. Grettil felt the tickles of rage and bitterness emerge and took deep meditative breaths. She would not let herself think about Stacey Lenin. It was dangerous territory.
She racked her brain for a distraction. What was on tonight? Grettil remembered there was a group performance at Cunt Gallery, a small artist-run space in Hackney. It was curated by Mark Camp, the radical video artist. She rinsed Bertha under the tap and then reached over the bath, placing her on the pale green bathmat. Next, Dominik. Her little boy was too getting old, you could barely see the paint on his face anymore. She was careful not to scrub him too thoroughly. Once she had bathed all her dolls she lovingly wrapped them in flannels and stood up herself.
Her phone was ringing in the other room, that vile X-Files ring tone she had bought it with. She remembered the man in the dodgy basement shop on Mare Street had pulled it out of a bag full of old phones – it was no doubt stolen but what did she care? She stepped out of the bath and in to the commodious living room but did not venture towards the dreary trill. It was probably Mac, the drunk yet rather attractive Australian she had met at the Maureen Pailey Gallery, wondering if she was coming to trail hopelessly around Mayfair. She had received a voicemail from him earlier that day stating he ‘strongly suspected’ there was an exciting private view on Park Lane. The artist’s website had stated the show was open to the public tomorrow, Mac had explained. He was certainly open about his intentions, no pretending he was something he wasn’t. “Nine out of ten times the Private View is the night before it goes public” he went on to insist to her mail box. However, she was completely disinterested in conversing with liggers. At least be an East End ligger, if you are going to be a ligger at all. East End liggers were artists, too devoted to their creative pursuits to put hand to mouth. These West-end liggers were… God only knew what.
She lit a Vogue menthol cigarette and looked in the mirror of her dresser. Her enormous hazel eyes stared back behind a thick mask of concealer, a canvas on which she decided to smudge black eye shadow both across her eyelids and a good centre metre under. She loved the panda eye, especially with her big glassy stare – haunting. Her Nanna had always said her eyes were ‘thyroidy,’ which she took to mean that they bulged. And they did bulge, they were amphibious – protruding out of her skull with that watery glaze. They were like… turtle eggs, she thought remembering the documentary she had watched late last night about the giant turtles of the Great Barrier Reef. She laughed out loud at the thought of her eyes resembling such things, a seductive throaty laugh, exhaling upwards a spiral of smoke. She was not one for vanity, she wanted her very being to be living and breathing art and thus, any quirks in her anatomy were very much welcome. She applied more concealer, the desired effect being that of an alabaster mannequin. “Brings out your eyes more,” she giggled manically to her reflection.
Having applied her makeup, she looked up at her wig collection, stacked on top of a mannequin like a big rainbow tower of Pisa – there were pinks, silvers, coppers. What mood was she in? A dark one, as usual. She snatched a navy blue wig out from beneath the stack, placed it to her forehead and threw back her head waiting for the nylon strands to settle around her shoulders. She stood in front of the mirror, drawing heavily from her cigarette weighing up the full effect.
“For fuck’s sake” she muttered grabbing some scissors and hacking into the wig. She looked like some bore going to buy Doc Martins in Camden. She left one side long and one side short and attacked the fringe too, chopping it into a straight block. Tolerable. The phone rang again and she slid it open impatiently. “Jah?”
“Hello! Gretta, it’s Mac here, the guy who you were talking to at Maureen Paileys.”
“Jah?” Snapped Grettil again brushing away the snippets of hair that clung to her nightdress.
“Well, hey did you get my message earlier?”
“Jah…” sighed Grettil.
“Oh okay. So you’re busy tonight?” Mac persisted.
“Right, well what are you doing? Because we went to see if the show was on that I mentioned earlier and it turns out it wasn’t.”
Grettil raised a painted eyebrow and lit another Vogue. He was not easily deterred. “I am going to Cunt Gallery.”
“Oh, wow. Where’s that?” Mac enthused.
“Hackney,” exhaled Grettil.
“Right, fantastic. And what’s showing there?” pressed Mac.
“A group show curated by Mark Camp, the video artist. You may have heard of him, he explores incest a lot in his work?” Grettil was sure this would get rid of him.
There was a silence. “Hmmm, and will there be wine and food?”
“Wine sure, but I doubt food” Grettil replied, exhaling wearily.
“Okay,” said Mac his voice picking up a little “Well, I’m just with my friends Peter and Deborah now so I’ll see if they want to come. What’s the address?”
“56 Graham Road” Grettil replied and she snapped shut the phone. She did not want to be seen with these west-London piranhas devouring everything in sight. She glugged from a bottle of vodka and angrily applied another layer of concealer. She would completely ignore them when they arrived. She sat at her dresser lacing up her PVC ankle boots, and then she made her way to the front door, throwing on a coat over her silk nightdress and popping on her large hexagonal Russian pilot cap.
Grettil marched down Clapton High Street, not stopping for any hipsters that crossed her path. She loathed that Clapton had become ‘cool,‘ that these sheep in tight trousers had to flock where artists had happily dwelled for years. It made her want to pack up and go back to Germany. Just before she reached Hackney Central, she cut down a dark side street where a group of smokers outside an industrial building indicated an event was underway.
Upon entering the Cunt Gallery she immediately saw a video of a girl in red stilettos giving an old man a lap dance.
“That’s supposed to be her uncle in real life,” came a voice in the darkness next to her.
“Oh, how avante guard” she hissed back venomously, and the shadow slipped away.
She squinted across the darkly lit room. Her ex-lover, the poet Peter G. Hunt was standing by the wine table with the frumpy American light artist. They were still together, she inwardly seethed, she had assumed it would be a quick fling, after all everybody knew the yank was only using him for a visa. She watched them for a moment, the American was taller than the greying 5’6 Peter G. Hunt and appeared to be saying something in his ear, hunching over to do so. His gaze caught her own and he quickly looked away. Guilt, fumed Grettil. Peter knew she still bore strong feeling for him, she had told him last month on a canal boat party when the American was in New York. And here he was parading his fraudulent relationship in front of her.
She stormed across the room, her tall thin silhouette cutting a menacing shape in the pilot hat and bondage boots. The hour of confrontation was upon them, her mind raged. She would cut off his – To her fury, the pair disappeared into another dark room and just like that, Grettil was suddenly unable to cope with the whole scene. She retreated turning on her heel and marching back across the room and out onto the street where she searched frantically for her Vogues.
“Gretta, I can’t hear you very well, we’re in a pub it’s very noisy,” came Mac’s response.
“Anyway, we’re actually going to stay in Cork Street. We’re at a pub, we’ve just found out there’s a party at Charlie’s tonight, and we’re definitely going to get in. We’d love you to come, I think you’ll have a great time.”
Grettil was silent. She found these people’s desperation to scrounge from the elite art world really quite detestable but at the same time, her nerves were now on a razor sharp edge. She needed a distraction, one away from the East End at that. “I’m coming” she snapped sauntering down the backstreet towards the bright lights of Mare Street.
“Hay, I must introduce you to Peter,” said Mac, nodding his head at the pasty wiry man by the bar dressed in a poorly fitted suit, like that of a school boy’s.
“No, it’s okay,” sighed Grettil. They stood in a pub in the backstreets of Green Park, adjacent to Cork Street, where many mainstream galleries could be located.
“Well, I’m glad you decided to come along,” said Mac cheerfully looking Grettil up and down. “You look good and you’ve got a new hair style I see?”
“Uh-huh,” Grettil inhaled tensely, but as she looked up at Mac she felt herself defrost a little. She had been in an erratic mood ever since the Cunt Gallery but Mac was so kind and relentlessly easy-going Grettil couldn’t help but like him. “So where are we going?”
“Oh just a pre-auction party at Charlie’s. Peter’s got good contacts there” said Mac. Grettil looked back over to the bar just as Peter blew his nose on his sleeve.
“Jah?” she winced.
After sharing a poisonous glass of plonk, Grettil followed them outside passing another of Mac’s unfortunate acquaintances named Martin who was lurching about on crutches outside the pub. Mac was quick to invite him along. During the walk Martin explained his injury to Grettil, an incident involving a failed attempt to gatecrash the Mayor of London’s charity do. After eternity, they reached the famous auction house, where to her astonishment, the doormen unclipped the rope for Peter ahead of a queue that stretched down the street and around the corner. The five companions shuffled into the hallway where an immaculate Asian lady glided towards them, arms spread out, with an air of obvious excitement.
“Mr Schwartz!” she cried, kissing a flushed Peter on both cheeks.
“Hello,” said Peter. “You remember Mac and Debbie? Well, I’ve also brought along Martin, my assistant and the emerging Berlin Artist Grettil… er?
“Manchot” said Grettil through clenched teeth. What on earth was this cretin doing?
“Anyway, everyone this is Violette, Head of Contemporary Sales” finished Peter proudly.
Violette’s eyes travelled from Grettil’s pilot hat down to her silk nightdress, in clear distaste before breaking into a smile. “How wonderful, what a pleasure Grettil.”
“I am so delighted to see you all.” She placed her finely manicured hand on Peter’s arm. “Your people said you were coming!”
“My people?” croaked Peter.
“Yes,” said Violette, and then she lowered her voice and whispered into his ear. “By the way, consider the Hirst yours.”
Peter was euphorically sinking his teeth into a mini grilled chicken burger when he felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned to find Violette Wu smiling broadly, her pearl white teeth almost as dazzling as the chandeliers that shimmered above them. He moved his mouth to greet her but remembered his mouth was full and so he made some ‘hello’ sounding noises whilst pointing to his bulging cheeks.
“Mr Schwartz, I am so sorry to disturb you whilst you’re enjoying our hospitality but may I please introduce you to Mr Pedro Barbieri?” She said stepping away to reveal a stout Mediterranean looking man, dressed in tails with a paisley handkerchief in his pocket. His black hair was scraped over his balding head like tar streaked across a big terracotta ball.
Peter gulped down his burger but before he could open his mouth Pedro Barbieri was pumping his hand excitedly. “Mr Schwartz, what a joy to meet you. Your fine eye is notorious across the continent,” he boomed his voice surprisingly deep and husky for a man of his height.
Peter let out a squeak as his hand moved limply within Pedro’s chubby fingers. “If my sources aren’t mistaken, I hear you have acquired the crown jewels of contemporary art.” Mr Barbieri and Violette threw back their heads, clapped their hands together and laughed in manic artificial wonder.
“Oh. I try,” muttered Peter, scowering the room frantically.
“So modest, Mr Schwartz,” said Pedro.
Violette touched both their arms gracefully, grinning from ear to ear, “Gentlemen, if you’ll excuse me,” she said before slipping into the crowd.
“Now, Mr Schwartz, I shall bore you no longer with this tedious flattery. I’m sure you would also prefer if I were to cut straight to the point.” Mr Barbieri said suddenly leaning towards him in a slightly menacing stance.
“Hmm?” exhaled Peter, eyes as wide as saucers.
Pedro lowered his voice into a macabre hush. “I have a meticulously placed source, that informs me the Hirst shall not be featuring in the auction tomorrow.”
“Hmm?” Peter squeaked.
“In fact my source tells me that at the auction tomorrow, there will be an announcement stating that the collector has withdrawn the piece, and wish to maintain it. But that won‘t really be the case will it, Mr Schwartz?”
Peter could no longer muster any squeaks and he began to take a step backwards.
“You see, the problem is, my erm, shall we say team, have flown in from Sicily to bid for that painting.”
Peter looked behind him to see, to his discomfort, a ninety-degree union of two walls. “Oh right” he said looking over Pedro’s shoulder to try and catch Debbie and Martin’s eye. They were however, completely intoxicated by the champagne stand and almost definitely beyond long-sightedness.
“Now, I am prepared to invest quite weightily on that piece, sir,” Pedro continued looking into Peter’s eyes with an intense hunger. “I’m talking, Mohammed Ali – heavy weight champion style.”
Peter let out a terrified giggle. “Oh” he squeaked.
Pedro’s face relaxed and he broke into a hearty laughter and slapped Peter on the back. “So we have an understanding?“
“Hmmm,” tremmered Peter.
“Now, as this is all a bit, er what do you British say, behind the books? No, below – below the books,” Pedro laughed before continuing. “I don’t think this is in either of our interests to have this conversation played out across our bank statements, would‘t you say?
Peter stood in a stunned silence as Mr Barbieri reached into his pocket and then slipped something into his own nylon blazer pocket. “Have a feel, Mr Assange” he said winking and checking around him.
Peter slipped his hand into his pocket and felt a small ridged metal object. “How would you feel about a 465 yacht to seal the deal? Prowls and purrs across the ocean like a black jaguar. Sleeps ten, mini ballroom, double decks,” Mr Barbieri raided a thick black eyebrow, like a question mark. “He‘s sitting waiting for you in Monaco, dock number 573,” he leaned closer and hissed. “Worth £3 million.”
Peter let out another nervous giggle and in turn, Mr Barbieri threw back his head and let out another howl of laughter. “Pleasure doing business with you,” he smiled before adding “My people will talk to Charlie’s for you, don’t trouble your good self.”
As soon as Mr Barbieri’s back was turned, Peter leapt into action, grabbing the nearest champagne and drinking it in two or three gulps. He plunged into the sea of fur coats and made his way to the champagne bar where Alexia, Debbie and Martin were now gently swaying in contrasting directions. “We’ve got to go!” he spluttered grabbing another champagne.
“What do you mean this is Charlie‘s” slurred Debbie, now virtually cross-eyed.
“We’re going to get found out. I should never have shown that card. Let’s go,” Peter hissed before throwing himself back into the tide of fur. The liggers sighed and began wrapping up canapés in napkins, stuffing them into their bags before following reluctantly. They followed Peter to the door, Martin limping behind on his crutches, and onto the stairs just as the Violette Wu was ascending.
She placed her white glove on Peter’s arm and smiled “Oh Mr Schwartz, just who I was looking for. Mr Barbieri informs me that you had a very interesting conversation.” She said with a hint of meaning “I’m so delighted.” She smiled before gathering her gown and continued up the staircase.
As the line of confused and grumpy liggers filed down the stairs they could see a scene erupting in the foyer between a slender bespectacled gentleman and a lady with the guest list. “Oh hey, that’s that Schwartz guy we were talking about the other night” slurred Alexia. Peter stopped in his tracks and they all crashed into each other.
“Up the stairs! Up the stairs!” He hissed and they turned and scampered back in to the auction rooms.
As they roamed through the giant navy blue rooms Grettil whistled in awe. The art was impressive: decapitated mannequins hung from the ceiling; Richard Princes and Warhols tiled the walls, there were also Richters, Hirsts, Kosamas, Lichensteins. How these four liggers had blagged their way in here she did not know. “You have actually impressed me,” she said to Mac truthfully.
“Fantastic collection, eh?” said Mac, guzzling down some champagne to make way for the top up that was on offer. Grettil held out her own glass to the waiter and the pair quickly found themselves debating a Hirst sculpture in front of them.
“I want to just chop off his hands” snapped Grettil, as Mac enthused over the piece.
Mac cut short his praise. “I guess he’s the Marmite of art,” he said cheerily.
Grettil had to admire Mac. She could be a little aggressive, yes, but he always carried on happy as Larry. She felt her heart flutter for a moment, and realised she had not experienced such a sensation since Peter G. Hunt. Mac leaned in to whisper in Grettil’s ear and she leaned closer suddenly breathless with anticipation.
“Wow!” Said Mac. “You’re not going to believe this but Stacey Lenin has just walked in.”
The fluttering in Grettil’s heart quickly transformed into heavy pounding, like that of a cold steel drum. She turned slowly to see her nemesis had indeed entered the room and was heading in their direction.
“The fire exits!” Shouted Peter.
They pushed through the crowds, grabbing cocktails as they went. “Mr Schwartz!” bellowed a familiar voice, as they skidded past. Peter could see Pedro Barbieri standing with a crowd of grinning Sicilians out of the corner of his eye. They looked like something straight out of The Godfather. Peter kept his head down and continued.
“We’ll never be allowed into Charlie’s again,” he whimpered as they searched frantically for the fire exits in the ocean of guests and art.
“There he is!” screamed a familiar French accent. Peter looked up to see Violette Wu, pointing a finger at him from the main entrance, her ordinarily glorious smile now transformed into a thunderous black scowl. Peter yelped as he saw three burley security guards ascend into the room and head in their direction.
“Oh my giddy aunt!” Peter cried. “Oh, my giddy aunt!” He cried again louder.
“Oh, don’t tell me I’m supposed to run away from them now?” shouted Martin wheezing over his crutches. The crowds began to nervously part to allow the guards to advance.
Suddenly a crash came from the corner of the room. Peter looked over and to his amazement, he could see that strange German woman Mac had brought along had pinned somebody up against the wall.
“Is that Stacey Lenin?” gaped Debbie.
As they craned their necks and stood on their tip-toes they could make out a pilot’s hat looming over the unmistakable face of British contemporary art.
“You are so full of shit!” they heard Grettil scream.
“You are so FULL of shit,” they heard again.
And then – “thief!”
To Peter’s great relief, the security guards turned in their tracks and rushed over to their prestigious guest’s side. Violette Wu trailed behind them, pale and aghast, as though she may collapse with horror. The group crept through the crowd, now migrating to the scene of the disturbance, and burst through the fire doors, down the stairs and out into the refreshing chill of the winter’s night.
Half an hour later, they had safely returned to the sanctity of The Kings Head in the backstreets of Mayfair. After counting their pennies together they bought a bottle of the cheapest white wine and Peter sat in a stunned silence as he drank the misty putrid substance, letting the evening’s events sink in.
Half an hour later, they were joined by Mac and an elated, hatless Grettil, who had inevitably been slung out of Charlie‘s by security. “I’ve been waiting twenty years to do that” she smiled.
“You were like Species!” said Mac.
Grettil threw back her head and laughed, a scary throaty cackle, before perching on a stall and tugging her wig back into place.
Peter looked pensively around the table at his fellow liggers and dreamers and frowned. “Do you think we can bring a yacht down the Thames?”
Text: Josie Demuth
Art: Jason Gibilaro