Previously: Man in the Red Underwear is a pastiche of prose and poetry with hints of parody and a dash of social satire on gender roles and class mores. Cecelia throws a society ball, where former lovers Andy and Bedelia meet. Andy and friends try to stop villain Malcolm Tent. Tent woos Bedelia. Andy woos Bedelia.
A part of Bedelia was pleased to have aroused such a high level of jealousy in Andy, although she was dismayed with the way he articulated it. She was sure she had never heard the word “oodles” escape his lips before today. Brushing her concerns aside, Bedelia decided to press on with the jealousy ploy. “There’s more to marriage than mere physical attraction.”
“Of course. Like friendship. Friendships formed when nothing else mattered except being friends.” He paused to stare into her lovely eyes, but quickly giggled and looked away. “But I really don’t remember things like that.” Unable to resist temptation he turned back to her and whispered, “But if I were in love, I would want to be in love with you.” Andy was going in for a kiss when he heard the unmistakable clip-clop of Inspector Tent’s boots. “Wouldn’t it be peachy if we could go shopping together? I’d just love to pick out some material to make you a dress. He scrutinized her. “I don’t think pastels.”
“Would you care for another dance, Miss Smart-Astin?” Tent asked in a tone quite unsuited for the content of his proposition.
“Yes, inspector, that would be— “Her voice trailed off in unrequited longing.
Tent opened the door just as a male voice rang out, “Not another bloody tango!”
Both Bedelia and Tent beamed as they go into verse.
Let’s do the Russian tango! Let’s go as far as we can go!
Oh go girl go! Oh go man go! Let’s do the Russian tango!
They slinked out of the library in a sultry embrace. Andy glanced at the others and shrugged before engaging Cecelia in a dance clutch and followed them. Eddie and Millicent grabbed each other to join the crowd. The community spirit of ballroom dance did not last long, however, as Cecelia noticed Billy entering the front door. She quickly greeted him and led him into the library, shutting the door behind her, breathing deeply from the exertion of the sensual frolic.
“Where’s me boss, ducks?” Billy asked.
“You didn’t see him in the ballroom?” Cecelia approached him, like a cougar entrapping its prey. “He was dancing with Miss Smart-Astin.”
“Naw. I didn’t see nobody.”
“May I offer you a—“she hesitated provocatively “–glass of wine, Mr. Canine-erel?
“Naw,I don’t want no sissy wine.” He stood his ground, even stepping closer. “And stop callin’ me that stupid name. Me name’s Billy Doggerel, and I’m proud of it. If you can’t call me Billy then go—“he offered his own pregnant pause “–fly a kite.”
“All right, Billy.” She smiled seductively. “I just love it when a man is forceful. My late husband Sampson Elias Johnson could be quite forceful.” Cecelia nearly swooned from the aroma of his breath. “Would you care for some beer? I’m sure the servants have some in the kitchen, somewhere.”
“Not now, ducks. I’m on business.” He stepped toward the door. “Maybe later, if yer lucky. Now where’s me boss?”
“Yes, your business.” Cecelia sat on the lounge and patted the cushion next to her. “Please, Billy, come sit with me. I’d like to talk to you about your business.”
Billy rolled his massive shoulders forward with indifference and smiled. “Well, if me boss ain’t around, I wouldn’t mind takin’ a load off me feet.” He sat next to her on the lounge.
“You know, Billy, it’s never too late to turn from a life of crime.” Cecelia leaned in to inhale the full luxuriance of street rabble stench, which almost made her swoon.
“Who says I lead a life of crime?” He winked and smiled, revealing a mouth filled with yellowed teeth.
“Of course, you don’t.” Cecelia hit at his bulk playfully. “But if you did, you might prefer working for me instead.”
“That sounds like fun.” He paused to give her the once over. “Maybe I could call you Lady Chatalot, ‘cause you do like to chat a lot, doncha ducks?”
“You know me all too well, Billy.”
“So what would you have me doin’, Lady Chatalot?”
“Oh, I don’t know, maybe taking care of my chess board, my checkers and mah jong tiles.” Her hands made a pass across her ample bosom. “You know, all the things people like to play with.”
“You mean I’d be Lady Chatalot’s gameskeeper?”
“Yes, lover, what a novel idea.” Curiously enough, Cecelia caught the reference to this novel which hadn’t been written yet. Perhaps she connected telepathically better with Billy than Inspector Tent. “Of course, I’d have to bathe you first.”
“This is a big body, Lady Chatalot.” He puffed out his chest. “There’s a lot of dirt on it.”
“Oh, Billy!” The sexual badinage overwhelmed her, and she grabbed Billy and thrust her tongue into his mouth.
He aggressively leaned into her as though they were going for two-out-of-three falls when his foot wandered under the lounge and bumped into the previously hidden tray of liver-tinged delights.
“Me foot’s stuck on somethin’.” He leaned down to pull out the damaged goods.
“The canapés!” Cecelia gasped. Of all times to be reminded of her horrible culinary skills.
Billy shoved one into his mouth and started chewing. “Not bad. Did you make these, Lady Chatalot?”
“Yes I did.” She looked at tray.” But it looks like someone stepped on them.”
“Didn’t hurt ‘em none.” He stuffed in another one.
“You really like my canapés?” Cecelia’s face lit.
“Do I detect a ‘int of marjoram?”
“Why, yes.” Her hand impulsively went to his face to stroke his stubbly chin. “My, my, you do have a sophisticated palate, Billy!”
“Me ol’ mum used marjoram in everythin’ she cooked.” He swallowed hard as his eyes filled with tears. “I miss ‘er.”
“Oh, did your mother pass away recently?” She then stroked his cheek.
“Yeah, me ol’ man shot ‘er.”
Cecelia sat up in surprise. “How dreadful!”
“She tried slippin’ arsenic into ‘is meat pie. ‘E tasted it and blew ‘er brains out. I got me delicate palate from me ol’ man. Now ‘e’s in prison and I’m all alone.” Billy dissolved into sobs, hiding his head into her bosom.
Cecelia rocked back and forth as though she were comforting a baby. She whispered a spontaneously composed lullaby.
Billy dirty Billy, now don’t you dare cry.
Your own lady will make your eyes dry.
Even though she was romantically aroused, she had not forgotten her purpose and her allegiance to Lillie Langtry. “Um, Billy dear—you don’t mind if I call you dear, do you?”
He pulled a stained handkerchief from his back pocket to blow his nose. When he finished he looked soulfully into her eyes. “Me Lady Chatalot can call me anythin’ she wants.”
“Billy, dear, I have a business proposition for you.”
He looked around conspiratorially. “I’m all ears.”
“Frankly, I know that you have a packet to give to Chief Inspector Tent tonight. Now, if you give it to me instead—“