The crowd began to clap in a broken, tribal beat, mounting to a crescendo. Nancy took a jolt as Bex seized her by the elbow. ‘Yeah, what about me two sisters here!’
Nancy could see Bex had also detained Cora in her overzealous embrace. Cora wore a lopsided grin one might wear moments after being anesthetized and going under.
But Nancy’s ire sat rock-like in her gut, and this one felt grimly sober. Nancy gritted her teeth and uttered, ‘stop showing off.’
Cora overheard, her eyes rolling beneath hooded lids. ‘Come on, Nance, you’ve gotta get some lesbo action before your die!’
Bex echoed this sentiment. ‘Yeah, get yourself a fuckin’ life, Mother Theresa!’
But Bex’s retort died beneath the cacophony of clapping and cheering.
Nancy appraised a sea of brandished notes with sudden apprehension. This crowd was not going to take no for an answer.
‘Me next! Do me!’ Cora was staggering to her feet and was approaching the stage as though hobbling on stilts. The noise had become deafening, manifesting itself into two syllables. ‘Come on! Come on! Come on!’
Unphased, the pole dancer plucked several notes from punters’ clasps with graceful ease. Cora puckered her lips, bringing tight creases to the surrounding skin. Too much sun-bed, Nancy thought, to herself, too much Ibiza, too much fag smoke and too much hard living. Beneath the lurid green spotlight, her makeup looked more like greasepaint. The pole dancer closed in, but this time, Nancy couldn’t help but watch. Their lips closed in to a succulent and tonguey salsa. Nancy could imagine an exchange of vodka spirits spiced with No.6s. Cora closed her eyes, more in a submission to the stupor than sensual surrender. The pole dancer showed no signs of whether she liked it or not. Nancy decided the bountiful tips occupied her thoughts as their mouths slowly disengaged.
At that instant, a sharp realisation pierced Nancy’s brain as the pole dancer’s eyes shifted across and the tenners kept coming. Bex emitted another baying cackle. Bex was about to relish the following moments most of all. Her lower lip jutted out in a grating gibe. ‘Come on, Nance, you frigid cow, do it for us.’
Nancy backed herself against the slats of her chair until her spine pinched.
‘Get your tongue in there!’ Cora catcalled.
Nancy could easily withstand her companions’ demands. Many a time she had told them to get stuffed or get a life, but the hefty expectation of the crowd behind her was a different matter. Dear God, how was she going to get out of this?
The clapping and stamping of feet underwent another round of gathering speed. ‘Come on! Come on! Come on!’ The ground shuddered beneath her. Nancy thought her eardrums would burst.
The exits’ coordinates were located not far behind her. But she might as well have been walled up within the crowd. A sea of faces skimmed her sights as she appraised the room: a waist-jacketed tattoo exhibit, students in mop-tops and beer-nursing labourers. Her eyes stopped dead at one pair of eyes looking directly at her from the bar. His eyes glinted like basalt in the gloom and his black skin shone almost like the bling jewellery festooning his tuxedo. He was a big man, his neck filling his generous collar yet he seemed totally in possession of his body. He could leap like a cat across the bar at the click of a finger. Instead, the corner of his lip lifted in a little smile.
Flanking both sides of the bar, Nancy detected two other black men in similar attire partially obscured by the crowd. All three wore Bluetooths and moved with measured control. Although the other two appeared separate, Nancy could tell the three were in communication, monitoring her – monitoring her table.
So, it seemed, she and her rowdy company were about to be slung out from this establishment. Nancy was no stranger to being ejected from the backdoors of disapproving public houses. This had happened twice last month on account of Cora and her striptease on the dance floor. Bex thought it funny. Nancy hated the cold manhandle of the bouncer as he frogmarched her to the door to be shoved into the cold drizzle.
The thumping clamour demanded her attention. Nancy turned to face the pole dancer, still troubled by the strange man with the basalt eyes. The pole dancer grazed her fingers down the pole and, once on all fours she planted her palms on the floor and swivelled round with legs suspended over the edge of the stage. The crowd roared.
As her heavily-lashed leer lowered to half-masts, Nancy gave a small, but unequivocal shake of the head. The pole dancer returned with a soft blink. She had got the message but had she chosen to ignore it? To Nancy’s despair, the performer snatched a few more tenners and lowered herself from the stage. Bex and Cora had both sold out their souls to the crowd’s whim clapping, stamping their stilettos and chanting ‘Come on! Come on! Come on!’
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