Chapter II

There’s a crackle of life in the air of The Old Cheroot when Mewsy pulls open her velveteen drape and sets down her foot in its hall. The murmur of men means that Finch-Marie Fung will have turned on the globe lamps and thrown wide her doors. It is dusk.

From behind her, Sally slips out and gives Mewsy a comradely peck before disappearing back to his basement affairs. She stands for a mo’ on the threshold and fingers the oiled brass letters that spell out her name on the door: “Ms Stone,” and below, on formica, “The Toast of The Upper Set.”


What was it, she wonders, that I was just thinking right then?


But it’s gone.

Mewsy cocks her hip and saunters the corridor, drawn to the womanly laughter and tinkling crystal beyond.

“Spread,” she says, coming in hot, “And open a gash up for mother.”

Ginger-Ann Gently and the Eastern gal, Gams, are in six o’clock spirits, pressed cheek to cheek on the sagging settee.

“Just the dame, just the dame,” murmurs Gams in her salty low smoulder, “We’ll never get through these without you.”

“Gamsy is being a hair conscientious, is all,” says dear sweet Ginger-Ann, smiling diplomatically.

“Spread,” Mewsy utters again, and flicks two long fingers out into a V. Squeezing just comfortably into the lacy morass on the sofa, Mewsy then narrows her eyes.

“Unthinkable: no,” she ejaculates crisply, knocking the portrait from Ginger-Ann’s hand. “He’s far too well-built and in charge. Let’s think gentler — cordial, contained.”

“And him —” she looks down to the man in Gams’ lap — “I won’t have a mouth in this building that’s plumper than mine.”

“Grand,” says Gams gamely, “Denied!” And she rips him in two and discards him.

“Perhaps,” Mewsy says, leaning forward, “We’ll start up a pile of maybes.” She takes up a picture between jewelled nails and dangles it out at arm’s length. “I’d called him Sir Nancy, and always be strict with him: give him a firm but fair hand.”

One of the gals gives a perfunctory snort of a laugh.

“And no,” she goes on, without sparing a glance to her left or her right, “Throw out those two as well. If I don’t hear you gasp when you first take them in, it’s too late.”

Mewsy steals a cheeky sip of the recently flaming Bourbon Supreme in the crook of Gams’ elbow and wriggles back up to standing.

“Always listen,” she tells them, “To lady parts and ladies’ hearts — and don’t hire anyone sad.”

“Tell Finch we need more provisions,” says Ginger, tapping a pencil against her decanter.

Mewsy winks at them twice and is gone.