“Can you ever have too much of a good thing?” Marina laughed, pouring more champagne into my glass, winking slyly.
The word ‘yes’ came to my tongue, but I swallowed it down with a frothing mouthful, beaming deliriously at her as she sidled over to the next group.
‘Be magnificent’ had been her command. In this instance, that seemed to mostly involve consuming vast quantities of alcohol and laughing at people’s jokes, listening intently to them and nodding in agreement at their startling intelligence, offering humorous rebuttals or flirting explicitly. Or all of those things, sequentially or simultaneously, as appropriate.
Food had been lacking at this particular soiree. A few meagre, unfortunately fishy, vol-au-vents had come round, but they had been unsatisfying – unpleasantly rich and pungent – and now gurgled alarmingly in my stomach combined with the booze.
“She is wonderful,” silver-smooth man (I’d missed his name) said, following Marina’s slinkily seductive progress through the crowd enthusiastically. He was dressed elegantly in grey; everything about him was clean, precise, sharp.
“Indeed she is,” I concurred, mentally noting that my initial assessment that flirting was not required was almost certainly correct.
“I hear that she’s your sponsor,” said silver-smooth.
How did he know that? Marina and I had arrived separately and not made our association obvious all evening.
He was watching me closely.
I smiled, making my face as open and innocent was possible.
He raised an eyebrow. Oh, really?
“That’s one way of putting it,” I said lightly, aborting the pretence. He laughed appreciatively, assessing my worth with his incisive blue eyes.
“You’re in good hands,” he said.
I did not like the way he was smiling one bit.
“Please excuse me,” I said politely, inclining my head in a borderline bow. He nodded his agreement, releasing me – though why I should feel the need to obtain his permission, I wondered as I wove between groups of laughing people towards the exit, was beyond me.
I was tired, drunk and hungry, and the suit Marina had put me in was altogether too tight and showy (“It accentuates all of your best attributes,” she had insisted.). I needed some proper food, or at least some fresh air…
It was blissfully cold outside. I strolled along Greek Street, circumnavigating clusters of merry revellers on missions to further intoxication, heading towards Soho Square.
Marina would not appreciate me going AWOL, but I needed a few moments to gather myself… no, what I really needed was food; I turned on my heel to head back to the many eateries of Soho, and in so doing collided spectacularly with a wall of flesh.
In my near-inebriated state the impact knocked me off balance, and I fell sprawling backwards on the pavement.
“Fucking cunt,” roared the flesh, unnecessarily, as it had come off much the better for the incident; still upright, towering above me.
My vision was slightly swimmy, making its features startlingly contorted and inhuman.
“You’re a fucking cunt,” I retorted automatically, scrabbling, disorientated, to my feet.
And then it kicked me in the head.