“Bloody poor show, that’s what it is! Damn typical of Parkin, the little shite!” Barnard blustered, as was his wont.
“I doubt he did it deliberately to annoy you, Barnard, old chap.” I soothed.
“Of course he bloody-well did!” Barnard snorted. “That’s what happens when you let that sort in. They let the team down. Goddamn ruffians, the lot of ‘em!”
I smiled at Barnard’s indignation. He was such a snob.
Barnard was Old Money. Well into his eigth decade, the irascible old bugger had little else in his life to entertain him since his long-suffering wife of more than sixty years was relieved of her earthly suffering a little over four years previously. He spent pretty much all of his days at the Club, a snifter of brandy in one liver-spotted hand and a Cuban cigar in the other when it wasn't lodged in his mouth and dribbling grey ash down his waistcoat.
“I’m sure his tardiness this time was unplanned.” I said.
"Of course it bloody was!" Barnard huffed, billowing cigar smoke around his white-haired head. "The little snot-rag does it deliberately to annoy one, I swear he does!"
Sir Chester Barnard, MBE, had been a 'Captain of Industry' in his heyday. He had headed-up some of the biggest corporations in the business world and had been on first name terms with several Prime Ministers and a couple of lesser royals. It was rumoured that, as an up-and-coming young buck, plain old Chester Barnard had caught the adolescent eye of at least one admiring princess. If it was even remotely true, Barnard never divulged a single word of it to anybody, not even Scranton, the one member who seemed to be able to wheedle out the most intimate details of anybody's life.
If there was one thing in life absolutely guaranteed to set Barnard off it was folks arriving late for a pre-arranged date. It did not matter a jot what the occasion might be, be it an all-day excursion to somewhere of interest or, like today, a game of Contract Bridge, Barnard expected people to be arrived, settled and ready at the appointed time.
"Lazy buggers, you know." he had snorted to me one long wet afternoon a few years before. "If you're not up their behinds all the time the idle blighters will take the piss and run with, that's what they'll do!"
His face reddened alarmingly as he began to wind himself into one of his infamous rails at the moral slackness of the younger generation, the apparent usurping of Britishness by "all those bloody Johnny Foreigner chappies that are taking over the goddamn country" and at women who wanted to work and take their men's jobs instead of staying at home where they bloody-well belonged.
"If it was good enough for my sainted mother," he prognosticated phlegmatically, "and her mother before her then it damn bloody-well ought to be good enough for these flighty young girls today!"
But it was towards the younger generation -- particularly the idle rich offspring of many of the Club members -- to whom he directed his most acidic, billious comments.
"Idle little bastards, the lot of them. Never done a hard days work in their lives. Living like goddamn Indian princes off the sweat and toil of their fathers. Indolent little shites every bloody one of them!"
I had made the mistake of questioning whether his own inherited wealth made him something of a hypocrite in that respect. In an instant the atmosphere changed. Old Jemson let out a small cry of horror while several other Members sucked in sharp breaths.
"You bloody imbecile!" Barnard roared in indignation, his face an unhealthy shade of beet red. "You goddamn impudent young pup. If I were thirty years younger I'd whip your goddamn hide!" he had blustered and fumed.
A gentle hand laid itself upon my left shoulder.
"I think, sir, it would be most prudent if you brought to visit to the Establishment to a close sooner that you perhaps anticipated?" the soft South African-accented voice of Janick, the Club butler and host suggested. I nodded in agreement. One always did: when Janick said perhaps sir would like a cab to be called for sir you understood that you'd had enough to drink and that it was time for you to go home -- without question or argument.
I rose to my feet.
"No offence meant, Barnard, old chap" I said with all the sincerity I could muster.
Barnard huffed and muttered and blew cigar smoke through his nostrils like a come-to-life version of an angry cartoon bull.
It took over three months before he would acknowledge my presence at the Club again. It was almost another two months before he would even speak to me. Needless to say my apologies were brushed off and went unacknowledged.
Travis Parkin was a relative newcomer to the Club. Like every Member he had been introduced at one of the twice-yearly New Blood evenings the Club held in order to bring new members into the fold. Parkin was one of the first to benefit from the hotly contested rule change that permitted 'New Money' to be considered for membership.
Lottery millionaires, dot-com boomers and other e-entrepeneurs fell into the category of New Money and Travis Parkin, a multi-million-pounds lottery winner fell onto the lowest-of-the-low rung as far as Barnard was concerned.
"Bloody benefits-addicted, drug-addled, intellectually stagnant social detritus" was his succinct and disgustingly hostile summation of anybody outside of his social and economic circle. In spite of the fact that Parkin came from a solidly middle-class background, was university educated and earned a first-class degree with honours, Barnard could not get past his in-bred snobbery and prejudice.
My own situation was little of an improvement: I had scored big financially in the dot.com boom and sold my first internet-based business for a not-insubstantial seventeen million pounds. I was just twenty-three at the time. Fourteen years later my personal worth was estimated in the hundreds of millions. It mattered not a jot to Barnard. Nor, for that matter, did it to several of his cronies who shared his views, albeit less aggressively and less vehemently.
"Goddamn interlopers and shysters, that's what that lot are like" Barnard pronounced. One or two supposedly wise and experienced heads nodded in sleepy agreement.
"No class. No breeding. No history. No name. How can that sort be taken seriously. eh?" Barnard preached to his acolytes. "What have that lot done for the country, heh? We bloody-well fought for our country, that's what we did. This lily-livered lot would shit themselves if they had to go and fight the bloody Krauts and those Commie bastards like we did!"
Only another of his increasingly frequent bouts of chest-rattling phlegmy coughing brought his tiresome tirade to a premature end. All of us regulars had heard it all before, many times before.
"So what's that all got to do with poor old Parkin?" I asked Barnard when he had recovered his breath by way of a spittoon, a rather grubby-looking monogrammed handkerchief and a large swig of Napoleon brandy.
"It's got everything to do with bloody Parkin and his ilk!" Barnard railed. "Poor old Parkin, my arse!" he spat dismissively.
"He's just late for a game of cards, old chap" I offered in a conciliatory tone. I should have saved myself the effort.
"That's the whole point, you buffoon!" Barnard railed at me. "Today he's late for a game of cards. Tomorrow it's a dinner-date. The time after that it's something else and on it goes until it becomes the bloody norm. His sort have no goddamn respect, that's their damn problem!"
"He has a very good excuse this time, though." I said quietly.
“You think so? What’s his bloody excuse then, eh?” Barnard asked, scepticism dripping from every syllable
“He’s dead, Barnard. Parkin is dead. Is that excuse enough for you?” I replied blandly.
"Well, bugger!" Barnard exclaimed. "That's bloody-well damn inconsiderate of the fella. How bloody awfully inconvenient!"