It's the Ambassadors' Ball, and things are beginning to move ...
Savage Beauty – Part 4
“Madame Prime Minister, may I present a fellow Olympic Gold Medallist?” Ambassador Harris gestured with his champagne glass towards a tall, handsome, dark-haired man. “Won that funny sort of wrestling where they roll round on the floor. Liam Angle.”
“I’ve met Miss Somersdottir before, Ambassador,” Angle said. He smiled broadly and held out his hand. “Hello, Buffi.”
Buffi ignored his proffered hand and stared coldly at the man who had taken her virginity in the Athletes’ Village at the Sydney Olympics. The next day, tired and sore and worried because it hadn’t occurred to her to take precautions, she had lost a fight to the USA’s Darla Rothrock. Buffi had won her way through the Repechage to take Bronze, but her dream of Gold had had to wait another four years. She couldn’t help blaming Angle for that; especially once she found out that he had been seeing Darla before and had gone back to her after the Games.
“I’m not with Darla any more, Buffi,” Angle said softly. “I hoped maybe I could spend some time with you while I’m in Iceland?” His smile died as Buffi turned away from him without speaking. “Or perhaps not.” Angle gave up and walked off to join Colonel Riley Finn.
“Okay, that didn’t go so well,” Ambassador Harris mumbled, and then his insincere professional smile returned to his face. “Have you met my Secretary for Gay Issues, Kennedy Kennedy?”
Buffi forced herself to adopt a similarly insincere smile. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Kennedy.” She was becoming tired of the company of the American Ambassador, and after the shock of meeting Angle again she felt in need of a moment to herself, and so she sought for a way of quickly freeing herself from this new contact without offending the girl. She saw one of her friends nearby and seized an opportunity. “May I introduce you to one of our Icelandic personalities? Osvald Osvaldsson, also known as Oz, a descendant of our legendary berserker Egill Skallagrimsson. He has achieved renown in his own right as bass guitarist of our most famous group since the Sugarcubes; Polar Bears Ate My Walrus.”
Ethan tried to guide Giles and his two Jivaro charges through the fringes of the crowd without attracting attention, but was not entirely successful. Of course, the rather striking appearance of the Brazilians might have had something to do with that.
Drusilla was wearing what could only be described as a gownless evening strap. The dress was long, reaching almost to the floor, but above the waist the designer had obviously ran short of material and been forced to improvise. At the back there was nothing at all above the base of her spine but a mere thread that ran across at the level of her shoulder-blades. The front stopped quarter of an inch above her nipples. Her long slender neck was set off exquisitely by a string of pearls that had looked merely trashy on their original owner, a Manaus prostitute who had made the terminal mistake of taking Drusilla on in a knife-fight, but which became the epitome of sensual elegance on the golden-skinned Jivaro girl. She moved with a careless grace and a certain sway of the hips that did terrible things to the male libido. Her full lips, and her huge dark eyes with their wicked gleam, put the final touch to a vision of carnal loveliness that had even Giles, who was somewhat immunised against her after months of seeing her wandering around in nothing but a scrap of bark-cloth, feeling like beating his chest and baying at the moon. God only knew what it was doing to those unaccustomed to the elemental presence that was Drusilla.
Spike outshone her. Giles had managed, after a long talk and many references to James Bond, to get him into a dinner jacket and bow tie. However he had added a touch of Amazonian ceremonial finery to his appearance by inserting the tail feathers of a macaw into his nasal ornament. It should in theory have looked ridiculous; but the magnificently lithe savage, with his panther walk and his fiery eyes, managed somehow to carry it off. The finishing touch was the scar on his eyebrow; a parting gift from a jaguar that had caught him unarmed and that he had strangled with his bare hands. The overall impression was one of untamed masculinity and danger personified.
Heads turned to follow their progress across the room, and in their wake there was but one topic of conversation. Giles and Ethan managed to fend off most of those who tried to accost them, but eventually they ran into someone it was impossible to brush off; the British Ambassador, Quentin Travers, and the Embassy’s Cultural Attaché,
“Ah, Rayne, there you are,” Travers said genially. “Rather, ah, unusual company you’re keeping tonight, I see. Introduce us, old chap.”
“Her Brittanic Majesty’s Ambassador to Iceland, Quentin Travers CBE,” Ethan said formally, “and our Cultural Attaché, Wesley Wyndam-Pryce. This is Rupert Giles, the distinguished anthropologist, and his, umm, research subjects Spike and Drusilla.”
“Spike? Drusilla?” Wesley echoed, a hint of disbelief in his voice.
“Their Jivaro names are rather difficult for a Western tongue to pronounce,” Giles explained.
“You can call me Guilherme o Sagrento if you’d rather, tosser,” Spike growled, taking an instant dislike to the Cultural Attaché’s tone.
Wesley raised an eyebrow. “And what do the Brazilians call this enchanting lady?”
“Oh, they don’t call me anything,” Drusilla smiled. “Usually they just scream.”
Buffi managed at last to disengage herself from the American Ambassador. She headed for her faithful secretary, but found that Anya was deep in conversation with the Ambassador’s son. They were smiling and laughing together, and Buffi was loath to interrupt them. She avoided approaches from the Belgian Ambassador and the Russian Military Attaché, and managed to slip away to a quiet corner to gather her thoughts for a moment.
Her respite was brief. Two young women approached her. “Madam Prime Minister,” one of them said diffidently, her mouth set in a shy and quirky smile, “Can we, like, talk to you for a minute? It’s pretty important.” She was a redhead, not beautiful but pretty in a rather boyish way, and she was fidgeting with the shoulder straps of her ball gown as if unaccustomed to such a garment.
“I suppose so,” Buffi said reluctantly.
“It’s about the whales,” said the other girl, a mousy blonde with heavy eyelids that made her look half asleep. “If your country starts killing them again it would be a really big mistake. It would cost your economy money, and we can prove it.”
“We’ve got all the figures here, we can show you,” the redhead went on, reaching for her handbag. She met Buffi’s eyes and seemed to recognise the Prime Minister’s deep desire for a moment alone. “Or not,” the girl said. “You look a bit, well, upset. Guess I shouldn’t bother you. Maybe catch you later.”
The other girl frowned, and then nodded in understanding and gave a gentle smile. “You’re right, sweetie,” she told her friend. “Sorry to have bothered you, Prime Minister. You look like you want to be alone, so we’ll leave you to it.”
“Wait,” Buffi told them, and smiled, suddenly taking a liking to the shy and polite pair. “I would be happy to hear what you have to say. There are people here I would like to avoid, but if you are with me that will keep them away. I can be alone with you here.”
“I’ve read a couple of your books,” Wesley told Giles. “Welcome to the Jungle and Blowpiper at the Gates of Dawn. Quite well written, I must say, but I have spotted a couple of errors.”
“Errors?” Giles bridled. “I wrote them on the spot. Right in among the tribespeople. What errors?”
Wesley smiled patronisingly and shook his head. “My dear fellow, surely everyone knows that Capoeira was brought to Brazil by slaves and is unknown to the natives of the interior. It’s an art of the cities and rural areas; as is Brazilian Jiu-jitsu, which you also describe being utilised by the Jivaro. Obviously an error. The tribes of the rain-forest don’t go in for unarmed combat.”
Drusilla gave him a hard stare. “That’s not a nice way to talk to my Rupert,” she scolded, and hit Wesley in the solar plexus with the tips of her stiffened fingers. She brought an elbow up under his jaw as he doubled up.
Giles caught the unconscious Cultural Attaché as he toppled. Hastily he dragged the limp form to a nearby chair and propped him up against the wall.
Quentin Travers had been talking to Ethan Rayne. He caught the movement with the corner of his eye and looked round, just too late to see the action. He glanced incuriously at his associate, saw nothing wrong, and turned back to Ethan.
Giles sighed and wiped his brow. It looked as if they’d got away with it.
“He was nasty to you, my Rupert,” Drusilla said, and looked at Wesley appraisingly. “But he is quite pretty. He would make a nice companion for Miss Edith. Can I take his head?”
“God, no,” Giles gasped. “Certainly not.” Drusilla pouted, but made no move towards any sharp objects, and Giles sighed with relief once more. He took off his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose. He didn’t have a headache yet but he was sure that one was only a matter of time. He hadn’t missed Drusilla’s ‘my Rupert’, and shuddered at the thought of what that might mean.
Travers turned back to Giles. “What do you think about the slaughter of whales, Mr Giles?” the ambassador asked.
Giles frowned again. “I’m afraid I haven’t really been able to follow the Six Nations from the Upper Amazon,” he replied. “I must say I’m surprised, I had heard that Wales had a pretty good team this year.”
“Not Wales, whales,” Travers said. “I’m not talking about the rugby. Huge marine mammals. The prospect of Iceland going back to being a commercial whaling nation. It’s one of the major topics of conversation around here at the moment.”
“Again, not something I’d heard much about in the rain forest. Generally I support indigenous peoples maintaining cultural traditions such as hunting,” Giles said, and pursed his lips. “I’m not sure that mechanised hunting for export with gadgets such as explosive harpoons really falls into that category, however. It’s not quite the same as my companion Spike skinning a jaguar after he has strangled it with its own tail.” He looked around and saw no sign of the Jivaro warrior. “Oh dear. I wonder where he’s got to now?”
Buffi was chatting happily to the two American girls, Willow Rosenberg and Tara Maclay. They were, as she had suspected from their first approach, Greenpeace activists campaigning against Iceland’s planned reintroduction of commercial whaling. However they were also lively and intelligent girls, much like the students Buffi had known during her own time at University, and brought back memories of a more carefree time when politics had been merely a hobby. Their argument against whaling was not based purely on sentiment, but on hard facts and figures showing the value of whale-watching to the Icelandic economy compared to the potential income from whaling. It was just like being back in the student union, and Buffi relaxed and laughed with them. They shared chocolates from a tower of gold-wrapped Ferrero Rocher that stood nearby, and went from discussing whaling to sharing gossip.
Then an unwelcome figure joined the group. Her secretary’s father, Olaf Grímsson, the leading figure of the whalers. He talked loudly of harpooning and of boiling whale blubber, and made offensive and lewd comments towards the girls. Had he not been Anya’s father Buffi would have had him thrown out, or even thrown him out herself, but she was very attached to Anya and for her sake she restrained herself.
Eventually Willow and Tara could bear it no more, stammered out goodbyes, and departed.
Olaf chortled, and called out after them mockingly. “You do well to flee, tree-huggers. I will harpoon your Minke and Humpbacks. I will flense your Greys, and make meaty soup of the more attractive dolphins.”
“That was very rude, Olaf Grímsson,” Buffi scolded. “You have made us appear as barbarians in the eyes of the Americans. Were it not for my friendship for your daughter I would make sure that things went ill for you.”
“Have a care, Buffi Somersdottir,” Olaf growled. “My union is powerful. I could make sure that things go ill for you too. And if you threaten me I will turn you over my knee, Prime Minister or no.”
Buffi snapped. All the bad feelings that had been simmering within her since her encounter with Angle suddenly boiled up. She spun on her heel, her hands raising the hem of her ball gown to free her legs, and lashed out a spinning kick to the massive whaler’s jaw. Olaf’s head jerked back with the impact and he crashed to the ground.
Buffi let her dress fall once more and stood still. She was suddenly filled with shame at her violent reaction, and dread lest a reporter or foreign diplomat had seen her impulsive move. To her horror she heard the sound of a pair of hands clapping slowly behind her.
She turned and saw a figure standing beside the golden pyramid of Ferrero Rocher chocolates. It was a handsome young man in a perfectly normal tuxedo, but with a decidedly abnormal facial decoration; a skewer through his nose with two giant feathers adorning it. He tilted his head to one side, looked at her quizzically, ran his tongue over the tips of his teeth, and spoke.