14 Smile 1 of 2

‘Smile!’ said George, ‘yes, that’s it. Show me those strong white teeth.’

The Black Panther barred all her teeth in a snarl. George smiled back.

‘Err..’ I said, ‘I don’t think that’s a smile.’

‘Oh, what do you know,’ said George with a chuckle. He bent down with his walking stick tucked under his arm and stared into the panther’s eyes. I was about to say something about aggressive behaviour when I noticed the panther had stopped snarling. It was staring back into George’s eyes and licking its lips. Deep in the panther’s eyes, I thought I saw a red glow. George’s smile was as wide as ever. After a while he straightened up.

‘Oh I am looking forwards to tonight,’ he said, ‘it’s going to be splendid.’ He tipped his white hat to the panther and walked back towards the dining room. I followed him to the door then glanced back at the panther. It was snarling again.
Back in the dining room George stopped a waiter to hear how things were going.

‘What are you going to do with them?’ I asked.

‘Why, I’m going to treat them to the finest meal for miles around,’ said George.

‘Not your guests,’ I said, ‘the animals. You know it’s illegal to have them here.’

‘Oh, don’t worry yourself,’ smiled George.

‘But most of them are endangered species.’

‘Trust me,’ said George, ‘the animals themselves won’t get me into trouble.’

‘Are you going to found a nature reserve?’ I asked, ‘is that it?’

‘Something like that,’ said George with a shrug and his everlasting smile. I had always found George a bit eccentric, with his white suit which looked like something from the 1950’s and his polished walking stick, but after he returned from his trip to South America, he seemed to never stop smiling. Sometimes I even found his constant smile unsettling, although, I could never quite put my finger on the reason why.

A bell rang.

‘Oh, it’s the first guest!’ said George, ‘let’s go out and say hello.’

George danced to the door and I followed in his wake.
At the front door, we found George’s butler welcoming a rather robust couple.

‘Ah, Mr Blaustein,’ George sprang forwards and shook the man’s hand, ‘I am so glad you could make it. And Mrs Blaustein,’ George kissed her plump bejewelled fingers, ‘you are looking extremely healthy, I must say.’

Mrs Blaustein’s nose twitched, but she said nothing.

‘This is Thomas Gyrwin, by the way,’ he indicated me with a hand and I stepped forwards against my will. ‘Thomas, this is Anton Blaustein, he’s a big name in the mining industry.’

‘A pleasure to meet you sir,’ I shook his hand, ‘I should have guessed about the mining from the name,’ I smiled. Mr Blaustein did not. Instead he turned to George.

‘Are we the first Mr Monet?’ he said.

‘That you are,’ George’s smile never left his face, ‘let me show you the living room.’

George and the Blausteins went inside and received their welcome drink from the waiters.

‘No thanks,’ I said when the waiter offered me a drink.

George looked at me with a raised eyebrow.

‘Oh, well I suppose one wouldn’t hurt,’ I took the drink.
I nursed my drink for about an hour while more guests trickled into the hall. When everyone seemed to have arrived, and George had a free moment, I asked him what I had been thinking all day.

‘Why did you invite me to this? You know I’m not good with this kind of people, and they all hate me.’

‘You’ve always been interested in predators,’ said George, ‘so I thought you might like to see some at close quarters.’

‘Don’t get me wrong,’ I said, ‘I thought it was very interesting to see all the animals earlier today, and I’m happy you let me, but why should I stay to the dinner party afterwards.’

‘Oh, the very best part will be after dinner,’ said George, ‘as one of my best friends, I’d like you to be there.’

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