“Hey, you! Check your privilege!”
I was over the limit that allowed me to hold onto it, so I pulled my privilege from my shoulder holster and plopped it down on the sill of the check booth with a wet thwap. It eyed me reproachfully, a mottled blob of stumpy vestigial appendages shaking anxiously at the unexpected separation. Sure, it was punier than the other privilege already checked, but I still felt a pang of emptiness and sorrow at the parting.
The check person pulled down a meat hook on a tether, twisted it into the quivering mass, and let go with more flourish and relish than was strictly necessary, in my opinion. My privilege whip-snapped at the end of the tether and flew into the darkness of the check booth.
Even with my eyes down at the appropriate angle of obsequience, I could see the check person staring dourly at me presented as a strikingly attractive woman: youthful, flashing eyes, a nose you could only get from a skilled surgeon, and perfectly haphazard hair that telegraphed the impression it always looked this good, even when she had just gotten out of bed.
If I hadn’t been to the club on business, and if I was suicidally clueless, I would have tried to pick her up. Instead, I apologized. “Sorry, forgot I had that.”
“Of course you did,” she snorted, her thin, flawless nostrils flaring as she handed over my ticket. I took it from her and carefully secured it in a hip pocket. Privilege had a shockingly high tendency to wind up with a new and often less deserving owner at places like this. Mine was hardly a tempting target, but it paid to be cautious. When confronted, the clubs always claimed this was the legitimate transfer of debt, that gambling was the great equalizer. I had my doubts.
The good news, given I carried a couple kilos less privilege than the average patron at this particular club, was that checking it actually boosted my standing. Relatively speaking. While still technically part of the hard-working, unwashed masses, I was now entitled to the same treatment as everyone else here.
Which meant the staff still treated me like crap, but they did that to all the patrons.
It was currently quite the thing among the well-off and well-educated to be treated with disdain, but I gave the trend another six months before these clubs found their clientele had migrated elsewhere and demanded a government bail out. Even from the entrance, I could spot the occasional bored yawn from the murmuring crowd.
Of course, the guilty rich, looking to assuage their slightly less guilty consciences, weren’t the only high class people availing themselves of facilities like these. You also had individuals like the one I’d been hired to find, trying to lose themselves in the anonymity of the pseudo-privilegeless.
My mark was Lawrence Peabody, a New Roman Presbyterian on the lam with the not inconsiderable wealth that his church hierarchy had deemed to belong to his now ex-spouse. According to the Senior Bishop overseeing his divorce case, Peabody had seen the writing on the wall and liquidated his assets. Literally. By purchasing an extremely rare bottle of vintage schnapps that was worth just over one hundred percent of the (former) Peabody couple’s net worth and then pulling a runner, he got off smelling like peppermint while the ex-missus got left holding the residual debt.
Your standard booze bail scenario, and my bread and butter. You see, I’m not just a private eye. I’m also a board certified sommelier. Lapsed, but you know what they say: once a sommelier, always a sommelier. If there’s any alcohol within fifty meters, I can smell it. And identify the vintage. I have my parents to thank for that. Family money got me the education and certification, but after a couple of years sniffing and spitting fine wines and the like, I felt I wasn’t contributing to society enough. I switched to the far less lucrative but more guilt-assuaging sniffing out of mysteries.
I haven’t been invited to a Thanksgiving dinner since. Which is fine. The family has fallen on hard times, and the wine they serve is no longer up to snuff.
Now a 1897 (Big Fed calendar) Pimpernel Kuiper Peppermint Schnapps has a distinctive, minty odor that I could normally suss out faster than you can say, “Wager saugt Fledermausbälle!” But Peabody was no pea brain – he’d selected The Virtuous Signal, a club renowned for its cheap yet extremely, overpoweringly fragrant hangover-inducers. My nose didn’t so much recoil at the olfactory assault as go gibberingly insane.
Sammy’s sense of smell wasn’t going to help me today. Instead, I turned the peepers loose on the room, trying to spy anyone who wouldn’t be happy to see me and had a half liter bottle of vintage booze in their pocket.
With all of their privilege checked at the door, the crowd looked decidedly unimpressive. Their designer clothes had a manufactured shabbiness about them, their teeth looked just ever so slightly not quite straight, and their aristocratic accents lacked a sense of…authenticity. All arranged beforehand, no doubt, with the best tailors, dentists, and voice coaches money could buy. Not permanent, of course, just to blend in at the club. They wouldn’t have any work done that couldn’t be reversed with the flash of a Beryllium Card. But not until after they left, because these sorts of clubs only took cash, and only in small denominations and with lacerating looks of disapproval upon receipt.
The job should have been made easier by the fact that there weren’t a lot of people who qualified for this type of club’s services, so the crowd was fairly thin. But they all looked the same to me: mostly old and male, with the occasional glass-ceiling-busting female with, it seemed to me, surprisingly large hands.
The women were easy to dismiss, and not just because the big hands made me oddly uncomfortable. Per the ex, Peabody was and always had been male, so I could safely ignore the women. It was a habit I found came easy. But that still left a crowd of paunchy phallus-bearers to sift through, and I couldn’t be one hundred percent certain Peabody was even at this particular club.
My guess was Lawrence (no doubt ‘Larry’ inside these walls) would try and walk out with someone else’s privilege, hopefully a gob with enough to get him a berth out of town. Maybe to Happyville, Beet City, or if he was truly desperate, Trenton. Talk about checking your privilege: word on the street was that the denizens of Trenton couldn’t afford the vaccine for the latest pandemic! All this meant I needed to add to my search criteria: a down-on-his-luck on-the-lam bounder with half a liter of schnapps on him and trying to pickpocket people’s priv check tickets.
That made the task considerably simpler. With the new parameters, I spotted my mark in a jiffy.
Larry was making nice with a group of geriatrics at the craps table. Smart move, targeting the octagenarians. They, having lived longer, were more likely to have accumulated large amounts of privilege, assuming they hadn’t squandered it all on their offspring. Larry was playing the odds like a professional, and clearly was no dummy. They were having a spirited conversation about equality. It largely involved who could most magnanimously apologize for his success, but in such roundabout terms that it didn’t flag a reprimand from the staff.
I didn’t know which type was worse in these clubs, the sincere grovelers, the insincere grovelers, or the smug staff witnessing the display of self-flagellation. I found all three irritating and for the fleetest of moments, felt sympathy for Peabody, trapped in this no-win social circle. But then I remembered the cover charge to get in.
I put on my most determined (yet privilege-neutral) face and made my way to the craps table. I needed a drink, and it was going to be peppermint schnapps.