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a sip of wine, a cigarette

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It’s late, and I should be going home. Peter’s been drinking for hours - you can hardly see it to look at him, but I’ve known him a long time, and I also know the streak of cruelty he hides behind his elegant manners. No one with any sense stays around when he’s drunk. No one with any sense stays around when he’s sober, either, nice manners or not.

Things aren't going well for him. I don’t know the details, I try never to know the details, but I hear voices raised in back rooms (other people’s voices, never his); I see men sidle up to him, their faces drawn and worried, looking for reassurance, and he sends them away uncomforted; I see the policemen asking questions - not of him, never of him, and not of those close to him either, but unimportant people, people on the edges, people who still might know something.

It doesn’t mean disaster, not necessarily. Like I said, I’ve known him a long time, and he’s a gambler at heart. He’ll try to convince you that he isn’t: he’s got most everyone persuaded he’s a chess player, always five moves ahead, but I know better. So there’s probably some way out he has in mind, some coup that will bring him clear, and better off besides, it’s just long odds. And what are long odds to a man who’s always had the devil’s luck?

All the same, the strain is beginning to show, to me if no one else, and I’ve started to worry. Oh, not about whatever he’s got himself involved in this time - he’s a grown man, he can look after himself, rather better than most in fact. But it’s that gambler’s streak. I’m seeing it more and more, as though he’s courting failure just to have a chance to indulge it, and I don’t mind him being reckless, but I’m not at all sure that’s what it is. Where does the love of risk shade into wilful self destruction? It's one thing being cruel to me, but I don’t like the thought he might turn it on himself.

Natalie's here too. Yesterday we caught a train down to the seaside, walked along the shore together eating ice creams and watching the seagulls, then we went home and I cooked her dinner while she sat on the floor and played with the cat, the radio on in the background. Now she's wearing a perfect black dress and you can't read a thing in her eyes. Peter has that effect on people.

She was in the study with him earlier. I heard her: demanding, cajoling, trying to make begging sound like teasing. Presumably it worked - she was less on edge, afterwards. I should be angry with him. Or maybe with her. But I try not to be a hypocrite: one shouldn't cultivate too many vices at once.

If I were going to go, I should have gone by now. Almost everyone else has already left, and Peter's looking at me with that expression half way between mockery and affection. I know myself too well to think I'm going to do the sensible thing.

I could do the kind thing, though, and try to send Natalie home. I don't know that she'd go, although whether she'd object to leaving Peter to me or me to Peter I'm not sure. And she's a grown woman who can look after herself too, even if she chooses not to. And maybe I just want company, not to have all his attention on me for once.

He's lit himself another cigarette, and he's sitting there quite calmly, as though he expects us to put on a show for him, as though he doesn't even need to ask. Well, he's a clever guy, he must have noticed by now that he doesn't. Maybe it would be better for him if he didn't always get whatever he wants, no please or thank you required; maybe it would make him a better person. But if so, someone else is going to have to do it: I don't see I'm doing much of a job saving my own immortal soul, without worrying about his, and I never got the knack of saying no to him. Never even got the knack of making him ask nicely, or at all.

"In your own time," he says. Not says, drawls, as though he were a proper gentleman, not what he is, and for a moment I honestly think I really am going to leave.

I don't want to be here, in this well-appointed, tasteful study, in this elegant, expensive house, a house frequented by the best people, and all of it an illusion, all of it built on - but what's the point? I'm not leaving. I don't wish I could drag Peter back to where we came from, where we escaped from, just because I'm not comfortable with the new life he's created for us. I'm not trying to save him, or me, or even Natalie. And I'm certainly not exercising any independence or will-power of my own: I've already brushed back Natalie's hair where it always falls across her face, kissed the nape of her neck, where I know she likes to be kissed, turned her to face him, with the light falling on her, where he'll have the best view. It would be nice if there were anything of mine I could keep from him, if there were anything too private or too precious to give up effortlessly, but there really isn't. In a moment I'll help her slip off that perfect black dress, the one she chose because it would please him, let it slide down her body, offer her up to him as readily as I offer myself.

Every man has his poison, they say, and this is mine: the moment I give in, give up, let someone else make the decisions. It's as easy as a needle sliding into a vein, a double martini at breakfast, a car driven too fast. I have a reputation, you know, for being too good for the company I keep: a man without vice or sin. I hate to say it, but you should never believe in reputations.