Alison and Bronwyn were having coffee at Stringer’s, looking down at the row of Norfolk Island pines and the blue water of the bay. It was late November and as hot as midsummer.
'Looks like a long hot summer coming up Bron. The place will be hopping before you know it.'
'Yeah and I’m not looking forward to it - as usual. You can never get a parking spot, everything seems more expensive.'
'I guess we’re spoiled most of the year. Actually I find the summer a bit boring because I stay home most of the time. Which reminds me, Debby Sparks is giving up her little house cleaning business and asked me if I’d like to take it over.'
'When’s she getting married? December is it? Don't blame her giving up anyway. Who wants to clean other people’s houses?'
'Don’t knock it. She makes a packet over summer. Dead easy she says. Most of the houses are huge, modern, easy to clean. Hey, why don’t we do it together?'
'Come off it Ally. Can you see me doing that sort of thing? Might run into old school friends. That would be embarrassing.'
'Most of it’s done while they’re out. And we could check names and make sure you didn’t do any you know.'
Ally’s family had been at Sorrento for generations and she knew all the locals and most of the big names on the Portsea run.
'Come on Bron. We could do it. It might be fun.'
They agreed, called their company Sedde & Dunne, got hold of Debby’s list of regulars, agreed on charges, printed out a notice and sent it to the established clients and dropped some off at the big houses along the cliff and in the streets and courts.
The first job on the books was a big party on the second Saturday of December. The Munnee-Bagge threw one every year just before the season started. They asked all the local personalities and the full social set, who drove down from Toorak and South Yarra for the event and checked out their houses over that weekend ready for summer. Quite a few were on Sedde & Dunne books already, so there’d be some teeing up for the girls to do over that weekend.
Ally and Bron were engaged to be behind the bar on the big night, filling up glasses ready for waiters. The catering company provided waitresses, so this left Sedde & Dunne to observe and chat as they did their work.
Scarlett Munnee-Bagge drove down on the Friday night in her white four-wheel drive Merc, with bull bar, and was thrilled to see the blue agapanthas in bloom all the way up the drive.
'Just gorgeous,' she said to herself. 'So impressive. How lucky to have them out early this year.'
Husband Norm was not far behind in his black Merc, with his son Jeremy - from his second marriage. It was third marriage for both of them and Scarlett couldn’t stand Jeremy, who was at the annoying age of thirteen. Spoiled brat, she called him and he called her a tart behind her back.
After all, she was a bit of a tart. Bleached hair, long painted fingernails, studio tan top to toe, which she revealed as much as possible at all times. As for Norm, well, he was short, wore a funny tufty little wig, drank too much. But he had money, lots of it. Their house was within shouting distance of the Portsea pub, a Toorak mansion on the Portsea cliff which they called 'the beach shack'. Inverted snobbery was all the go amongst the purely money people.
They drank themselves silly that night, sent the gardener off to Sorrento for a parcel of fish and chips, ate them like savages and fell into bed without even saying good night.
While they were sleeping it off next morning, Jeremy was up and busy. He took a sword from the study wall and swiped the tops clean off all the agapanthas on both sides of the drive. His yell of pleasure woke Scarlett. She looked out the window, screamed and tore downstairs in g-string and bra and chased the kid up the drive, broom stick in hand.
'You rotten little bastard. I’ll kill you.'
Norm emerged, hushing her. 'Keep your voice down willya. They’ll hear you at the pub for god’s sake.'
'I don’t bloody well care who hears me. Those agapanthas gave the place a bit of style. I wanted them there for tonight. Now look at it. A couple of bloody rows of sticks. Little monster.' She started crying hysterically and swearing recklessly.
As suddenly, she stopped. 'I know what I’ll do. I saw fake agapanthas at that place near the back carpark in Sorrento ... what’s it called? Links, I think. I’ll buy the lot and stick them in the leaves. Should look all right.'
Since she married money she didn’t do anything herself, apart from issuing orders and spending money so she sent the gardener to buy the fakes at five dollars each. They had a hundred in stock, so as far as Scarlett was concerned five hundred dollars were well spent. If she needed more she could send the gardener to pick some blooms from nature strips or pinch them from other people's gardens.
Bron and Ally had all the glasses filled and ready and turned their attention to the guests.
'Heck what a funny mob,' Bron said. 'Who’s that little guy talking to the girl wearing half a dress? What’s on earth has he got on his head?'
It was Arty Shaw and he had a wreath of rosemary on his head. He was one of the early bohemians and remained so because it made him stand out when it went out of fashion. He had a very long oversized shirt of thin cotton, dashingly ripped at an angle half way down, over grotty looking shorts and, with his rosemary headband and old leather sandals, managed to suggest a Roman emperor. His critics called him Arty-farty, which he did a bit too often for comfort.
'The rosemary probably covers the smell,' Ally said. 'He never washes himself or his clothes.'
'Why does he get invited to this sort of poshery. I mean, our hostess is all into uppercrust isn’t she?'
'Ah, but they like to see themselves as into the arts too. They go to opera to be seen and bored. Arty Shaw is ... an artist I suppose. Of all things, he makes heads out of mops.'
'Heads out of mops! How?'
'I think he dips them in plaster and moulds them - mostly to look like famous people. Crazy isn’t it, but the Portsea set thinks they’re sooo clever ... well, they have ever since the Mountbanks started collecting them. In fact he lives in a gardener’s cottage at the bottom of their property. He did one like Bob Hawke - you can imagine, all those long locks of mop sweeping back. I think they’re ghastly. The sexy bird he’s talking to, by the way, is everyone’s bit on the side. Look at those boobs, more out than in.'
It was one of those old truths - men marry skinny trendy women but can’t keep their hands off a bird with boobs.
'Look at our hostess will you? She’s practically raping that good-looking young bloke. Half her age. Rather fancy him myself,' Bron said.
'Keep your hands off him. He’s engaged to the Mountbanks’ youngest daughter and if you muck them up you’re in for it. They are the richest of the rich, strings attached everywhere. They’d blacklist you. The old man’s forever fighting a corporate scandal, he’s done some dirty dealing and most people hate him for the way he flaunts his power. Even on the strip of beach in front of his house. There he is over there in the white pants and yellow jacket. See the way he lords it over the waiter. Makes you sick to watch him.'
Scarlett Munnee-Bagge was gushing around, dahling here and sweetie there, kissies with puckered lips that went alongside the ear. And drinking a fair share too.
By eight o’clock the place was buzzing. Everyone came because the Munnee-Bagges spent up big to impress. The best brand names in champagne and wine were to be had, and the eats were lavish, oysters, prawns, caviar, smoked salmon; mini pizzas with sundried tomatoes, bocconcini, everything that was the go in the best circles. Not too snobby to be there for good food and wine, not even those who saw themselves as old money. In fact, they were first to arrive and last to leave because most of them lived pretty mean and lean lives, hanging on to their money.
The main hall was as big as a three-bedroom house and stretched from the columned front door to the leadlighted window at the other end of the house. A stairway, grand of course, led to the bedrooms upstairs. On one side of the hall was what they called the living room and on the other was the family room, both large rooms decorated by a decorator and neither of which had any sign of being used for living or family. They were just to look at, impress visitors and to be used for occasions like this night, which saw them full of chattering, drinking, eating, bullshitting guests.
A tall elderly man came over to the drinks counter, smiled affectionately at Ally. He took her hand and bent over and kissed it, looking into her eyes in a special way as he raised his head. Ally blushed and murmured a few words and he walked back to his group of friends.
'Who was that?' Bron asked. 'I saw you blush. Come on, tell us.'
'If you must know he was a Prime Minister of this country some time back. And yes, we did have a ... a liaison.'
'I was working in town in those days. We met at a political party and liked each other right away. We used to lunch upstairs at Florentino when he was in town, some times we dined there at night. Now and then we’d go to his room where he was staying.'
'And make love, I’ll bet. I could tell by the way you looked at each other.'
'Well, in a way. He would undress me and sit me on a low chair and fondle my breasts. He’d kneel down, knightly fashion, and kiss my nipples and tell me I was lovely. But he said he couldn’t do it these days. So that’s all there was to love making with us. Well, he was well over sixty then, so I guess he’d run out gas. He was old enough to be my father but it didn’t feel like that. He once said to me, as I was getting dressed, ‘You know you should lose a little bit of weight’. I thought it was sweet. And he was right. I think he was one our most honest prime ministers, outspoken, a bit reckless, ladies’ man, a charmer - all things a prime minister shouldn’t be so naturally he didn’t last long.'
Back at the bar Ally and Bron have turned their backs as they drain a glass of champers and turn round guiltily when Quentin Forsythe fronts the bar and asks for a refill.
'Have you got something better than the crap they’re handing round?' he says arrogantly.
'What are you carrying on about. It’s Brown Brothers best Chardonnay. At least twenty-five quid a bottle.'
Ally pours him the customary half-glass and he grabs the bottle and fills his glass to the top and saunters away.
'What an arrogant bastard,' Ally said.
'He doesn’t look too bright to me,' Bron observed. 'Funny looking bloke. That long neck and narrow head and the hair - schoolboy cut on the sides and a curly lock falling over his face. And his body is too long for his legs. Or his legs are too short for his body.'
'They’re a funny family altogether. Have that big old house on the cliff almost at the end of the line, opposite Portsea Golf Club. Been there for years. There are rumours that the woman who says she’s his mother is really his aunt. That her sister had the boy out of wedlock to some famous surgeon and it was hushed up for his career and marriage. Out of wedlock was serious in those days. Wait ‘til you see their place. It’s like stepping back in time.'
'You don’t mean they’re on our books surely.'
'Believe me, it’s only because Deb took pity on them and agreed to give them a clean up once a year. The old girl offered jars of bottled fruit as part-payment and I think we’re stuck with it. Never mind it’s only once a year.'
At the far end of the room a group of three seemed to be having a serious conversation, with Marjory Brooks in charge. She has every second tooth missing, which means she couldn’t chew her food properly - that and diseased gums gave her bad breath which is why her listeners are standing back from her.
As far as most people knew, Marjory lived in poverty, bought her clothes at the OP shop, lived in a neglected old cottage on Portsea Back Beach Road, drove an old red jeep with black canvas cover. Her hair, self-dyed a harsh black, is long and curly and held back with a length of stocking tied with a knot under the back; she's pudgy and just a touch grubby. She’s wearing a shapeless floral dress with a hem that touches the floor in places and is up to her knees in others. She has a friendly smile, always ready for a chat.
'So how is it that she’s been invited?' Bron wanted to know.
'Well ... not too many know this, but she’s loaded. I know, it’s hard to believe, looking at her and the way she lives. But she owns lots of property and is worth a mint. I’ll bet she’s talking things like stock market and negative gearing.'
'Who are those guys with her?'
'The one on the left is Ben Wiesel and the other one’s his brother-in-law Sam Stein. Ben has his own stockbroking business and I think they’ve made Sam a partner. We do the Wiesel’s place by the way. Haven’t seen it yet, but Deb said it’s ultra mod and they’re fussy. Huge house, tennis court, pool.'
Dasher Speal is chatting up a gorgeous looking bird a third his age and she seems to be taking the bait. Well after all, Dasher is still quite a handsome man, even if he is almost seventy. Has a good head of hair, straight and grey and plastered back, and a thickish moustache that suits him. A sort of pukka look. Carries himself well; mind you, pretty arrogant. Thinks he’s Christmas.
'Will you look at those girls with their hipster pants and short tops. I’ve never seen one yet who hasn’t had lumps hanging over the top of the pants. If only they could see themselves from the back.'
'The blonde one is Scarlett Munnee-Bagge’s from her first marriage. Kid’s fifteen going on thirty. Her mother lets her spend up on the credit card but never gives her any attention. You see that with a lot with rich kids. Parents so busy having a good time they leave their kids to drag themselves up more or less. Oh, the most expensive private schools, the latest gear, but no genuine caring. That’s why so many of them get into drugs and sex, go off the rails.'
'Wod-a-y-doin’ after this winds up?' Diana asks her pal Sarah as they toss down their third glass of wine..
'I dunno. Go on to Big Joe’s pizza probbly. Mat and Rob said they were going there after the pub. So we might as well meet them there.'
The girls are into their third glass of champagne and puffing on cigarettes and no one seems to care.
'In one way you think of them as spoiled brats - free to do what they like when they like, spend any amount of money, but I’ll bet they’re screaming in side for a bit of love from their parents.'
Tim Goodall was surrounded by twenty-something dollies, all looking up into his eyes, fondling his arm, competing for his attention.
Bron wanted to know what this guy had. He wasn’t especially good looking and his thick rim glasses were a bit of a put off.
'Ah that one,' said Ally. 'He’s a has-been film director but the young ones don’t know that. He keeps printing his cards with Movie Director - Hollywood Casting Agent, and hands them out to the girls. They see themselves as the next generation of Kylie Minogues or Nicole Kidmans or Madonnas or something and he kids them he can get them there.
'Amanda,' he’s saying to the cute blonde with smooth olive skin and stars in her eyes. 'I already have a part in mind for you ... talking only yesterday to a producer over there and you fit the description perfectly. He loves Aussie girls ... Kid you’ll be signing for millions before you know it. Come and see me at my casting office next week.'
Not far from Goodall is another fellow who seems to have caught the interest of a forty-something femme. All over him like a banana skin she is. He’s no oil painting either. Mid-size, slightly thinning on top, skinny frame, not a dresser, and a nose big enough to catch your attention. He appears laid-back and even shy. What is it about him?
Ally knows: 'There’s an extraordinary one for you. He’s a Qantas pilot, around mid-fifties and he has at least a hundred women on the go all around the world. Meets them on the Internet, starts off writing e-mails, friendly, likeable stuff and knows how to get them in. Doesn’t rush, because he knows they won’t go for him on sight, so he waits until he hooks them on his messages, takes them to lunch, listens to them, says what he knows they want to hear ... next time it’s dinner, on to a club and in to bed. That’s when he triumphs because he has, they tell me, the largest cock they’ve seen and he knows how to use it.'
'How could he keep a hundred women going though?'
'Exceptional libido apparently. He can have a session with one, get her to drive him to the airport on the pretence he’s flying out and as soon as she’s gone, he meets another one he’s organised to drive him back to town for another session. Some of the pilots tell me that when they’re in town between flights they never see him - only girls coming and going from his hotel room. That bird he’s with almost certainly thinks she’s the only one in his life.'
Not quite, because a huddle of three slim and sexy, expensively groomed and dressed, bored little wives are all watching Qantas pilot.
'See that fellow talking to Caz,' says Kathy. 'Well, I promised him I wouldn’t tell anyone and that I’d not show that I know him well at all ... but ...
'What?' Debbie and Michelle said in unison, rather too quickly and suspiciously.
She’s dying to tell them, but let’s them hang on her words. 'Well, we’ve been having an affair for four months now. He’s fantastic in bed. I’m sure that’s why I’m looking fitter and younger. We all know how regular sex keeps you young.'
Yes, they do, because they’ve been having regular sex with said Qantas pilot and they also promised to keep clear of him at the party. All too embarrassing to admit and neither Debbie nor Michelle knew of each other’s connection with the bloke. Another thing they didn’t know was that Scarlett Munnee-Bagge was having regular sessions with him too. The pilot was on holidays and Portsea pieces had his attention. Debbie and Michelle, separately were planning revenge, which would have double ferocity when each found out about the other, and treble when they told Kathy. Add to that the capacity of Scarlett Munnee-Bagge to take the knife to his vitals and the pilot could be grounded for life. You could almost pity the guy. After all, he was servicing them in the interests of their quest for youth.
'Hey, isn’t that Lizzie Morony over there? All in white, superbly made up, looks elegant. Remember her at school? Gawky and plain.'
'That’s her all right Bron. Still not married but looks good doesn’t she. Spends a fortune on clothes. Will you look at those shoes? The heels must be eight inches and she’s already tall.
'I saw her the other night at the top bar at the Portsea. I happened to be standing right next to her and Matthew Waite and his dad. The old man was talking politics and Lizzie was trying to look interested, but she doesn’t listen to anything. Anyway, Matt was complaining about President Bush’s policies or something and his dad said: "Well, he’s a republican after all Matthew." and before Matt could say anything Lizzie pipes up in her loud voice "Oh, I didn’t know President Bush owned a hotel, isn’t that surprising?" An awkward silence, even people nearby stopped talking; then to cover it his dad went on "One of the things about Bush, of course, is that he has intestinal fortitude." Lizzie’s eyes popped at this. "Oh god," she said, "can they operate for it? He won’t die from it will he?"
'Matt’s dad put his glass down, still had some in it too, and in a stage whisper to Matt said "Whatever y’do, don’t marry her" and walked out.'
Outside half a dozen of the male guests had wandered to the lemon tree set in a square bed in the centre of the lawn. They stood around the bed facing the tree and unzipped their pants.
First to produce is Dasher Spiel, who suggests they orchestrate a fart at the end.
'You’re well hung,' he says to Ben Wiesel. 'Not much there Goodall, for all your talk.'
'I haven’t got it all out yet,' says Tim.
They all gasp when they see the Qantas pilot’s enormous gong. 'Cripes,' says Dasher, 'Does it grow bigger the more you use it?'
All six of them were comfortably relieving themselves when suddenly the floodlights came on, thanks to young Jeremy! And he timed it beautifully. They couldn’t stop halfway and it was a long pee as they’d all been hanging on. They made such a row, yelling out 'Who the hell?' and 'What bastard?' and so on that it brought guests to the windows, where they showed no mercy, egging on the winner and laughing their heads off at the show.
'Let’s give ‘em one then,' said Dasher as they finished and they all farted together.
The Fortesques, of course, ignored. Onny swar key mally pong sort of thing. Fortesques are like that. From British origins, the first of them came out mid-nineteenth century, good British name, poor, but canny. Two brothers, they soon saw the way to go - bring out antiques from the old country and sell them at big profit in the new land. It worked. Some shiploads were suspected stolen but no one cared. They set up warehouses and opened shops and had the trade practically to themselves. The brothers married well, daughters of Brits who thought it lucky to marry their girls into money rather than have them old maids in a land short of eligible men.
Both wives produced handsomely, six kids each, all boys, and they went on to marry and reproduce until the Fortesques were one of the wealthiest and respected families in the country. The original wives had strong genes which their descendents inherited, giving the family an aristocratic look with their strong high-boned noses and tall frames. They effected the air of horsy folk, something they did rather easily.
They were regarded as ‘old money’ and they probably did still have most of it. They were stingy and arrogant. If you saw them in the Village in Toorak or Sorrento, they’d look straight through you as if they’d never seen you before in their lives. They never just said hello, they bestowed a greeting. If you did pull them up and make them speak to you in the Village, they’d pretend absent-mindedness and acknowledge you after all.
'Mean,' Ally said. 'I’ve seen old Mrs Fortesque sort over the onions at the supermarket and peel off the skins so they’ll weigh less. Once I saw her pull a reduced label off a chutney bottle and put it on one that wasn’t reduced. And of course they help themselves generously to the nuts and eat them as they do their shopping. But don’t we all?'
There were six Fortesques at the party, all of the Kingsley Fortesque family: Kingsley and his wife Marion, their daughters Fiona and Claire and their son Pressly and his wife Angela. Although they wandered off now and then to talk to the odd one or two they felt were socially acceptable, they re-gathered and moved about like a family of ducks, heads high above most others at the gathering.
'Yes, I do believe I’ll have another of those French reds,' Kingsley said as the waiter came near. He spoke into the air, not to the waiter, and took the wine without looking in the direction of his arm. 'They’re not half bad y’know. Did you try it Pressly?' Pressly is heavily into the French champagne and says he might, perhaps later. All the Fortesques speak in a drawn-out manner, terribly laid back, almost bored and very British, despite the fact that the old country accent went out decades ago when the commercial class dominated society and flaunted the exaggerated Australian accents.
'Isn’t that the PM over there?' Kingsley drawled. 'Must have a word with him. Not at all happy with the way he’s running the country ... not at all. Word in the ear won’t go amiss.'
'Acksherly, father, I think it’s that chappy who impersonates our PM. Don’t know why in the devil the fella has to come to a private party looking so dashed like him. D’y think he might be going to put on an act?'
'Who? The Prime Minister or that fellow?' And Fortesque senior turned his attention elsewhere.
There was an intriguing trio at the little corner table near the window. One was Isobelle Reid, thin as a twig, dark hair cut roaring twenties fashion with headband and feather at the side. In fact she was altogether nineteen twenties, sleeveless straight sheer dress, loose embroidered belt around the hips, arm bangles, long ear rings, high heeled shoes with narrow strap. And yes, long cigarette holder. She was in a chummy conversation with her husband David and a vivacious blonde, who appeared, like them, to be forty-something.
'After the party why don’t we go back to our place,' Isobelle suggests.
'Good idea. We’ve got some nice wine and we can knock up something good to eat,' says her husband, running his hand up and down blondie’s thigh.
'Perhaps, perhaps,' said Barbie Neave. 'Are you far away? I’ve got to get back to the place I’m staying in Sorrento and I haven’t got a car.'
'You must stay the night,' Isobelle suggests. 'We’ve plenty of room. Haven’t we David?' The smile she gave David was mischievous. He put his arm around Barbie and Isobelle took her hand. 'Let’s have another drink, shall we?'
Barbie Neave wondered whether she ought - she’d had five wines already and ... still what harm could another do?
'Uh-oh. Looks at though the Reid’s have snared another one,' Ally said.
'What do you mean? That couple with Barbie Neave over there?'
'Yep. Funny pair. I got caught with them once. Had a few too many, went back to their place, and they did cook up an omelette and we had more wine.'
'Oh, we ended up in bed, the three of us. Honestly I can’t believe I got caught up like that. Weird. I didn’t know what I was supposed to do. Do you know, I really believe they like another woman along to stimulate sex with each other. Here I was being fondled by him, kissed by her, rubbing her breasts - well, she put them in my hands and I didn’t know what to do.'
'Well in the end they had sex with each other and I fell out the other side of the bed. I was too drunk to remember anything more. Just woke up about six in the morning lying on the mat and they were both snoring comfortably in bed.'
'Poor Barbie. Do you think we should warn her?'
'No. Let her find out for herself. It certainly cured me.'
'So that really doesn’t make Isobelle a lesbian does it? Or do you think she could go either way?'
'Not in the way that one over there is,' Ally said, turning her eyes in the direction of a woman talking to a couple of foppish young men. 'That’s Virginia da Loos, Spanish way back somewhere. A top model when she was in her twenties, stunning they say. That was over thirty years ago. Agreed, she’s still a handsome woman.'
'I’ve seen her around the Village, can’t help noticing her. Strides with such confidence, strong voice too. Always has a couple of those feminine men with her.'
'Look at that diamond on her right hand. Huge. She’s had affairs with some pretty well known women. Thoroughly married women, kids and all. I think they just like the thrill of the variation, shall we say, and the secrecy. They don’t exactly make the liaisons public.'
'Now will you look at Scarlett. She’s heading for Virginia, waving her glass of champers, tottering on those spiky heels. Bet she’s had a toss with da Loos.'
The trays of food keep coming and the wine flows freely. The more the guests eat and drink the louder they talk and laugh. The rooms are getting uncomfortably hot, and people are moving outdoors, which won’t please the neighbours, but won’t worry the rowdy lot at the pub nearby. The locals don’t go to the pub on weekends or during the season because that’s when the ‘peasants’ (as Dasher Spiel calls them) come down from town in their hundreds, crushing elbow to elbow around the bars and the outdoor tables overlooking the bay.
Hullo, the Fortesques are making a move. They cut through the crowd like a double decker bus. Scarlett is not to be seen and no one’s spotted Norm for some time, so they nod graciously to all their subjects and leave.
It’s not a party for sitting down, but five women who are doing their best not to look like ‘the older ones’ are perched on chairs around the only table in the room, over in the corner near the garden windows. For all five there is only one person in the room ... their bridge tutor, Maxwell Clarke, who has the sixth chair.
He is around mid-fifties, moderately good looking, smooth and charming. He is also calculating, ambitious and vain and he knows where his power lies, not with young women, but with these wealthy elderlies who are dying and vying for the attention of a mature male young enough to have sexual attraction for them.
'Look at them, Bron. They actually believe he fancies them. He plays them off, one against the other, so that they battle to give him what he wants.'
'What does he want?'
'I think he wants their devotion and their money. Most of them pay big fees to him for private tuition ... at home of course, where they can be the only one to flirt and fuss over him.'
'Surely he doesn’t go to bed with them?
'I hear he does. After all, he’s young enough to perform ... and women of any age can receive, with a bit of gel or something.'
'And I suppose their husbands are past it. Hmmm. Mr Clarke is on a winner. But isn’t it all about bridge, playing cards? I thought that was a serious game. No time for mucking about on the sidelines.'
'Oh it is serious. But it’s probably the bitchiest game around, the way these people play it anyway. They’re fiercely competitive, conniving, cruel if you fail a partner. See that woman with her hair piled up, in the red dress. Well, she’s his latest favoured one. She does all his bookkeeping, organises his games and private appointments. I heard she tried to get him to move in with her. Heaps of dough, big home in Toorak and another one here. But he’s too canny for that, tells them he has a fiancée overseas. He wants them all on strings.'
'How’s the North Sea cruise coming along, Jill,' Maxwell asks, giving all his ladies a smile of enticement.
'All sold Max. In fact we had to knock back two who were desperate to come. After all, your bridge cruises have such a high reputation they’re never hard to fill.'
Maxwell is pleased. He likes luxury cruises and he doesn’t have to pay. Gets fat tuition fees as well and doesn’t have to put his hand in his pocket from sign on to docking off.
'Now don’t forget I’m throwing a cocktail party for you second night out. My special treat ... you’ve taught me so much,' Vi coos, leaning against him and rubbing his arm possessively. The others look daggers at her.
'What an odd lot all of these people are, Ally. D’you think money makes them strange?'
'No. You’ll find people like that in any section. The very rich see themselves as above the law and the very poor as below the law, so they’re probably freer in their behaviour than the middle class, who are more likely to toe the line, or appear to. You just have to dig deeper with them.'
'Who’s that angry looking bloke over near the door? - look, he’s just taking a drink from the waiter now.'
'That’s Ronnie Stanhope. He always looks angry. Stuck in a hopeless marriage but neither will make official separation. They’ve fought for years, viciously, screaming at each other. The poor kids have all sorts of problems as a result. He hates her so much that he built a brick wall down the middle of the house - he lives in one side and she in the other and if they have to say anything they shout over the top.'
'Go on. Surely not. A wall down the middle of the house!'
'True though. Their house is just on the Portsea side of Sorrento golf course. There used to be a bit of open land around it so not too many heard them , but now people have built all over that area. Like a lot of these wealthy people, they stay together because there’s too much at stake in splitting up. To avoid tax and so on, they’ve put titles in wives’ names, split incomes, all that sort of thing.'
Neither host nor hostess has been sighted for the last hour, so guests are beginning to drift off. The waiters were hired until 12.30 am so they’ve stopped offering drinks, a sure way of getting the hangers-on out.
'We can get going too Bron. We don’t have to clean up tonight. She said to come around ten in the morning and do it all then. Cripes what a mess.'
THE NEXT MORNING, coming up the Munnee-Bagge’s drive at five-to-ten, the girls laughed at the agapanthas heads that had flopped. The fake ones were standing to attention.
The blinds were down in the bedrooms upstairs.
'Good. That means we don’t have to deal with our charming hostess. Let’s gets stuck into this and get out as soon as poss.'
In the laundry they found buckets, brooms, mops and dusters. They looked brand new and one supposed that new money people like Scarlett ordered used ones to be dumped and new ones bought, never handling them herself of course.
'You start on the kitchen Bron, and I’ll get into the big rooms.'
Ashtrays had been provided but these posh guests had ground butts into the polished floor, dropped them in wine glasses, left them to burn out on table edges and window ledges, stuck them in vases and flicked them on to garden beds and lawns. It took half and hour for Ally to tip, sweep, dig out and toss butts from the two main rooms into a bin.
'How crass,' she said. 'The higher they think they are the less civilised they really are.'
In the kitchen Bron didn’t know where to start. Although no food had been prepared in the kitchen, it was as messy as though someone had cooked for an army. Guests had, as they often do for some reason, gathered in the kitchen, trying to get first go at the trays of food that were laid out there ready for the waiters.
The floor was like a stew pot. Mayonnaise, hard-boiled egg, prawns, caviar, biscuits, cheese, salmon ... squished and squashed underfoot. A lacy sandal with five inch heel was hanging over the fridge handle, there were at least six broken wine glasses in the sink and yes, looked as though a few drunken sods had downed their umpteenth glass of champagne and tossed the glasses against the wall, because there on the floor, in a row, were the broken tubes and stems of champer glasses.
It needed thick gloves and tongs and half an hour to collect the broken glass and another half hour to scrape up the mess on the floor before starting to clean the place. Not a good start for Bron, who felt like getting out of the whole deal.
Kitchen finished, she moved to the study, as it was called, imagining there would be little to do there.
The study looked like a decorator’s idea of a study. Serious carved desk, leather chairs, books. Ah, books. They were rows of ‘ordered in’ books, handsomely bound, gold printed titles, matching sizes. Impressive series of books on history, politics, art, none of which appeared to be been even lifted from the shelf.
Didn’t appear there was much to do, but when Bron raised the blind and pulled back the drapes she could see the study had been the place guests used for a quick one between drinks.
A g-string was hanging on the door handle, an unpleasantly soiled g-string at that, and there’d obviously been a bit of nogging on the desk, which had white-ish patches on the leather top. Who do these guys think they are? Movie stars in The Godfather or whatever movie it was where he took the girl behind the door while his bride talked to guests downstairs, or where the passion was spent on the desk top?
With gloves, tongs, bucket and detergent the evidence was removed and dumped in the garbage bin and the room set in order and as Bron closed the door behind her with a sigh of relief and never again, she heard last night’s hostess screaming for coffee as she stumbled downstairs.
In morning light she looked old, lined and most unappetising. Old lamb in a g-string, Bron thought as she stepped aside to let the spoiled brat pass on the way to the kitchen.
'Where’s the bloody coffee? Isn’t there some coffee?'
Ally rushed through from the living room to the kitchen, found a super looking coffee pot but no ground coffee. Can’t make it without the coffee, she told Scarlett.
'Wha’dya mean coffee. There’s a bottle somewhere there. And I can’t work out how you use that thing.'
Oh, instant coffee. At sidewalk cafes amongst the social set Scarlett made great pretence at judging the quality of coffee served but at home she drank instant.
'And when you’ve finished down here,' she commanded 'you can do the bedrooms. We’re going to brunch at that place on the beach, The Jetty or something ... no The Baths. I heard the Mountbanks say they were going there. ' She bellows up the stairs, ' Norm ... Norm ... get up you lazy bugger. Oh god, I feel dreadful. I’ll have to get myself together.'
Half an hour later down comes Scarlett tarted to the hilt. Too much makeup, hair teased and lacquered, red nail polish on hands and feet, sheer aqua dress with plunging neckline that almost met the slit to the waist from the very short hemline and five inch heeled sandals. Perfect for a twenty-five- year-old on the way to a nightclub. Like all the wealthy social set, she was tanned from head to toe by sunlamps at the beauty centre.
Norm, pate slightly off centre and very hungover, had on cream pants, open neck shirt and a reefer jacket with New York Yacht Club emblem on the pocket.
Off they went.
'Let’s get those bedrooms done pronto.' Ally head upstairs.
'I can’t believe people live like this. Look at this room. Last night’s clothes just stepped out of and left on the floor. Sleep gear dropped off on the way to the bathroom, which in itself is disgusting. He’s pee’d over the floor, they haven’t flushed the toilet, towels thrown on the floor, toothpaste all over the taps and basin.'
'And look at the carpet ... drenched with champagne, look: glasses tipped over. They must have been drunk out of their minds.' Bron was ready to walk out.
But Sedde & Dunne got stuck into the place. They just thrust everything that was lying about into big plastic bags, made the bed, cleaned the bathroom and dragged the bags downstairs. Little monster Jeremy was still in bed and he could stay there in his mess. They decided to assume that Scarlett’s daughter Diana had shacked up with one of the boys after pizza at Big Joe’s, so they shut the door on Munnee-Bagge’s mansion by the sea and sighed in relief. It was good money, but hard earned.