Perth barrister Tom Percy’s debut novel The Curate’s Egg was published in December and if you haven’t yet had a chance to read it, here’s a tantalising taste. We bring you the first two chapters.
They looked at each other shortly after the dessert plates were cleared from the table. It was a knowing look.
‘I think I’ll just go and make a quick call,’ she said.
‘Yes, I might do the same,’ he replied.
He followed her out, weaving deftly through the maze of tables in the Grand Ballroom, all still buzzing and the champagne flowing freely among the boozy dinner-suited men and the slinkily attired women.
It was approaching 11pm but the night was far from over at the Sydney Hilton. In more ways than one, he dared to suspect.
The night had been surprisingly less tedious than he had expected. Mercifully none of the punters had wanted to chew his ear about the prospects of the float, and the racing banter and speeches had been pleasantly brief.
Emerging from the massive smoky room Declan McKenna ventured left into the foyer, and she to the right, both fumbling for their mobile phones.
They hadn’t so much as touched hands or exchanged a furtive social kiss, but he sensed that the writing was on the wall.
He quickly speed-dialled his girlfriend’s number in Perth. He wasn’t practised at deception, and wasn’t someone to whom dishonesty came naturally.
As he made his excuses for the fact that he would thereafter be incommunicado for the night (‘I’m really bushed, Honey, been a long day. Need to get some sleep, it’s a big day tomorrow…’) he felt a genuine pang of guilt, despite a good few hours of excellent booze.
As he ended his call, he detected the slightest tremor in his hand. This was all pretty new to him. At 35 years of age McKenna had been around and was hardly a novice at romance. He was hardly perfect, but adultery was not his long suit.
His wild, almost unkempt curly hair sat somewhat incongruously with his dinner suit. The angular, softly spoken mining analyst looked a little obtuse in the present company, like a farming lad at a Bachelors and Spinsters Ball.
He spotted Catherine on the other side of the almost empty marble and chandeliered foyer. The tall, elegant journalist was speaking animatedly on her phone, laughing, and tossing her hair from her face whilst simultaneously sipping nonchalantly from her champagne glass.
He had no doubt that the purpose of her call had been identical to his. But if there was any trace of guilt or even reticence in her demeanour, it was completely imperceptible.
At that moment she spotted him as well and winked. He saw her hang up, put her phone carefully into her handbag and motion him back toward the entrance of the ballroom.
They met at the door and without a word she seamlessly took his hand and led him purposefully back to their table.
Their group of friends were consumed in raucous after-dinner conversation and oblivious to the emerging situation as they took their seats again, this time beside each other.
Declan motioned to the waiter for another bottle of Moët.
A fortnight before Sydney he’d met Catherine deVaux with a group of colleagues at his local. She was the friend of a few Mining and Resources writers he saw occasionally in the course of his work.
She wrote finance, and they seemed to have a fair bit to talk about. He’d read her column occasionally. She didn’t mind a drink and seemed remarkably knowledgeable about the football, which was always a bonus.
She made no secret that she lived with her boyfriend, but seemed entirely comfortable without him in a group of men at a pub. She paid her own way and bought her rounds like one of the blokes. It was the sort of independence he liked: never trading on her obvious capital as a beautiful woman.
And whilst he scarcely thought of her as a possible person of interest in a romantic or sexual way (being well spoken for himself), she had an undeniable but indefinable allure.
Something about her poise and attitude enlivened him.
She dressed well, but wore little or no make-up. And insisted on serious champagne (well, as good as was available) even at a suburban pub. She seemed to him a modern day Audrey Hepburn channelling Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. Jet black bobbed hair appeared dyed from a distance, but at closer quarters was obviously the real thing.
Incongruously, she smoked cigarettes like a wharfie. And despite what McKenna perceived to be a private school voice she had a formidable command of the Australian vernacular.
She knew the vagaries and intricacies of the stock market 11 and talked politics like a veteran reporter.
Catherine deVaux was an enigmatic woman the likes of which he’d rarely encountered.
In the course of conversation she mentioned that she would be missing the next West Coast game because she had to do a weekend trip to Sydney. She’d be chasing up a story over there.
McKenna was somewhat cautiously intrigued. At around 10pm he’d bidden them all goodnight whilst he was still (almost) within the legal driving limit.
As he made his way home in the clear Perth autumn night, he mused as to whether he might cross paths again with this fascinating woman.
(From The Curate’s Egg By Tom Percy.)