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Peter Corris

Make Me Rich

1

It was just another party job in Vaucluse. Mrs Roberta Landy-Drake was paying me five hundred dollars for keeping an eye on the valuables and the cars and throwing out the drunks gently. It was no fun working at a party, and these big money bashes were all the same. They had the same rhythm of arrival, mouths opening and closing to permit talking, eating and drinking, farewell and departure. Rich drunks are all the same too, and not different enough from poor drunks to be interesting.

But the money was okay and the work was steady and getting steadier. It seemed more rich people were having parties that year; maybe they felt better about being rich while everyone else was getting poorer. But they weren’t all bastards-the generous ones might give you a half scotch and soda at the end of the night and let you stick your finger in the cheese dip.

It was the second job I’d done for Mrs Landy-Drake; I never did find out who Landy and Drake were-ex- husbands would be a fair guess, judging from the abundant evidence of unearned income. The house had more rooms than there are names for, and if you’d backed a truck up to the door and taken away the paintings you’d have been set for life. Roberta, who got on first name terms within sixty seconds, employed people like me to keep a sharp eye out for trucks. Nothing went missing from the function I’d officiated at in the spring, so here I was, back for the summer one. It was clearly going to be easier-no furs to worry about.

Roberta, hostess of the year twice running, set the fashion style: her black dress was designed to show the maximum amount of suntan on her long, slim body. It had holes in it and scallops that made it seem more off than on. I was allowed to relate to the other help for a while-the drinks’ servers and food preparers-only letting me glimpse her from afar, before her sense of drama told her it was time for us to talk. She approached me as I was accepting a set of car keys from an early arrival who asked me not to let him drive home, no matter what he said. She gave me her carefully painted smile and took a sip from her glass.

‘You were wonderful last time, Cliff. I’m glad you could help again.’

She liked the illusion that everyone was her friend and that there were no employees. Why dispel that?

‘Happy to be here. Enjoy your party, Roberta.’

The first flotilla of guests sailed in and the mouth-opening started. I cruised around the grounds-tennis court, pool, barbecue pit-and checked the cars-Volvos, BMWs and their cousins. Inside, I renewed my acquaintance with the Drysdales and the Nolans.

The house filled up fast, and the guests spilled out under the marquee at the back where the caterers kept the food and the booze well up to them. At 9.50 I swept up a broken glass; at 10.25 I parked a car the owner was too drunk to do anything with but leave in the middle of the road; at 12.30 I earned the five hundred bucks.

The first time I laid eyes on him I could see he was drunk, but he wasn’t in charge of a car and he had all his clothes on so it wasn’t any of my business. That was around 11.30; an hour later he was raping one of the guests under a Drysdale in one of those unassignable rooms. She was screaming and he was grunting. He was a big guy, six two or so, and therefore had an inch or more on me and the weight to match. His grunts were deep and rhythmic. His shirt was hanging out at the back and I bundled up a fistfull of it, pulled hard and swung him up and off the blonde teenager on the pile of cushions. The pull brought him around to face me; he stood unsteadily and yanked the long shirt-tail free.

‘Put it away’, I said, ‘and go home’.

The blonde screamed and he grunted again as if he liked screaming. I looked away to the girl and that’s when he threw a punch. It wasn’t the first punch he’d thrown, he knew how to do it, but it wasn’t one of his best. The booze in him made him slow and indirect; I stepped inside the swing and dug my fist hard into his belly. The wind goes out of them when you do that, and if you can hit hard enough and quick enough in the same spot they go down. I did and he did. I helped the girl up and she pulled down her dress and adjusted things.

‘Did he hurt you?’

She shook her head and a panicked look came into her eyes. ‘Don’t tell…’

‘No telling’, I said. ‘Go that way and wash your face.’

She grabbed up a detached shoe, stepped around the cave man, whose grunts were of a different quality now, shot past me and went out. I knocked the cushions back into shape, checked that no harm had come to the painting, and turned my attention to the man on the floor.

He was vaguely familiar; I’d thought so at his unsteady arrival and the feeling was stronger now, although it’s hard to place someone when he’s three shades redder than usual and is lying on the carpet fumbling with his dick. I was curious to know.

‘Who’re you? Lover of the month?’

‘Get fucked!’

‘I doubt it, not tonight. And you neither. You’ve had enough party. Time to go.’

‘I’m Colly Matthews.’

He was. It wasn’t a name you’d lay false claim to. Colly Matthews was a Rugby League front row forward, a regular member of a senior side when he wasn’t serving out suspensions. I’m a Union man myself, and I hadn’t even seen him play, but I knew from the back pages that his nickname was ‘Sin bin’, that he was under suspension at the moment and that there was a movement afoot to ban him for life. Or at least to ban his elbow, which would have banned the rest of him as well.

‘I don’t care who you are, you should ask a lady’s permission first. You’ve got time on your hands, you should go to a charm school.’

‘I’ll kill you’, he bellowed.

‘They’d work on that, first lesson.’

He’d got himself back in order by this time, but every instinct told him to hit until something broke. Maybe they train them that way, I don’t know. He told me to get fucked again, and I found this very boring,

‘Piss off, Matthews. I’ll tell the hostess you came over faint.’

He might have had another go; he pulled himself up off the floor as if that was in his mind, but just then another man appeared in the doorway and some party chatter flowed down the passage outside. Matthews finished adjusting his clothing. The new arrival laughed at the footballer’s buttoning and zipping: he was short and slight and not young, but laughing at ‘Sin bin’ didn’t seem to worry him.

Matthews made as if to bullock past us but I eased him into the door jamb. I could hold him there a second because I was sober and had my balance.

‘Are you driving?’

‘What business is it of yours?’

‘No drunk leaves this party driving-that’s the rule.’

‘I lost my fuckin’ licence!’

I stepped back and let him lurch through and away. I followed him down the passage; he looked back a couple of times and I made ‘go’ motions with my hands and steered him towards the front door like a cattle dog. A few party persons stopped talking long enough to watch us, but they mostly regarded the incident as entertainment and their response was well-oiled laughter. Some of them would have laughed at a kneecapping.

The short man past his prime had followed me all the way.

‘A mess’, he said, as the door closed behind Matthews.

‘Yeah.’ I wasn’t feeling chatty; drunk athletes don’t cheer me up, and I turned away from him to try for a handful of peanuts or something. But he stuck close.

‘Are you a fan of the game?’

It was difficult to talk to him, because to do so I had to look down and when you’re looking down you’re not looking around, which was what I was being paid to do. Still, what’s worse than being at a party and having no one to talk to? I looked down.

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