The pole dancer assumed a Betty Boop gait, leaning over and placing both hands demurely on either side of Nancy’s table. She neared her head toward Nancy’s, arching her back. Vanilla essence, tequila and musk wafted over her. She raised her chin, bought one hand to her mouth and inched a little closer. Eternity insignias painted on her eyelids mesmerized Nancy in tandem with a sudden hush. Even Bex had been lulled to silence, permitting the soft intones of a James Brown cover. And then with protracted emphasis, the pole dancer drew her hand away in an air-kiss.
Nancy wasn’t fooled; she hadn’t been let off lightly. The disappointment in the room hit her in a palpable wall. The hairs on the back of Nancy’s neck bristled in a cold draft.
The clapping came back and quickly died in a discordant round. The pole dancer strutted away. Clinking of glasses gave a mundane feel to the excitement’s epic death.
And then Bex’s voice rang loud and clear. ‘You boring tit.’
Nancy’s tonic water weighted a ton as she lifted the glass to her lips.
‘Yeah.’ Cora glared at the maneouvre. ‘Go easy on the mineral water, won’t you?’
Shame prickled Nancy to the core and then she quickly realised that Cora had made a gibe, not an account of what Nancy was drinking.
‘I want my fuckin’ money back,’ Bex hollered at the stage which now contained two different pole dancers – catwomen in striped leotards. She took to her feet. ‘Oi, did anyone just hear what I said! I want me fuckin’ money back!’
The bearded man next to Nancy piped up again. ‘Put a bloody sock in it will yer?’
Bex glared at him. ‘Who asked you, you grizzled old troll?’
The bearded punter didn’t bite. Nancy tagged him as a History lecturer for his plaid shirt and cords. He took on a haughty tone designed to rankle. ‘Look, you’ve had your fun, now why don’t you move along?’
Bex’s eyes grew pinched and daggered. ‘We’re just trying to liven things up, you miserable old pervert!’
Cora cackled in response. ‘Watch out, Bex, you might get your G-string in a twist with his face in it!’
The bearded man’s leather-clad friend slammed his drink on the table and shot up. Bex’s daggers followed his movements out. ‘Loooser!’
Nancy snuck another glance at the bar. The black man who liked bling had not moved. He was still watching, but his companions had now disappeared from view. Mr. Bling’s inertia disturbed her. His eyes glinted with humour, bordering contempt. Nancy sensed neighbouring tables emptying and chairs scraping. Bex’s incense was spreading its usual miasmic black cloud. ‘Stuff you with knobs on,’ she hollered as someone shoved another table aside. Cora emitted her loudest cackle yet.
‘…and tell your bearded friend and to go shove it up his a-hole!’
Nancy closed her eyes once again. She could picture Mr. Bling’s two assistants approaching the table from an unseen quarter. Bex would be surprised from behind by a quiet command. Cora’s cackle would die in mid-throws as she too is escorted to the exits. Would the hot thermals from Mr. Bling’s breath caress Nancy’s ear and shortly after find herself once again in the cold drizzle outside? When it came to inebriated company, Nancy learned that sadly, mud sticks.
The death of Cora’s cackle seemed to fulfil Nancy’s prophesy. ‘Oh, shit, don’t look now.’
Nancy opened her eyes and followed Cora’s gaze. No Mr. Bling or his company could be seen. Instead, tucked into an alcove, Nancy spotted a clutch of tuxedoed men supping wine on loungers. Nancy took a moment to take in this shift of events.
One face stood out from the others. She had seen him before but from where, she couldn’t be sure. The answer should have been obvious. The perfect face for Vogue, he possessed nourished skin tone that suggested facials. His black, brylcreemed hair glinted blue and his harsh eyebrows slashed their way from the bridge of his nose, amplifying an intense gaze. A classically handsome face, Nancy thought, but over-manicured. His hairline had been strimmed to a neat edge; an eyebrow possessed a shaved line and when he flashed his teeth, Nancy thought of the porcelain tiles in her bathroom. She disliked him on sight. And yet she could not take her eyes from him, the way his intense eyes watched the catwomen on the stage. Intense yet bored. How can such a gaze appear bored? Nancy found this concoction unsettling.
Cora breathed near her ear. ‘Christ, it’s Vincent Jonas!’
Nancy almost snapped her fingers at this. Of course. Vincent Jonas, playboy millionaire and proprietor of the Nexus nightclub chain. Countless times she had seen his face fronting tabloids and magazines. He might be snapped on his exit from a London club incognito with a model or sunbathing on a yatch. He had never been snapped on an off-day or in a fracas despite his many wild parties and fluctuating love life. Vincent Jonas appeared to thrive on appearing unphased to the camera as ex-lovers ranted on about his misdemeanours.
Bex, it seemed could not believe her luck. ‘It can’t be him. Jonas never comes ‘ere. Brum ain’t as glamorous as London or Milan.’
But Cora was adamant. ‘It’s him all right. Saw a picture of him checking out the London Nexus last week. I read about it in Heat.’ Cora’s epiglottis gave an abrupt rebound. ‘Jeeesus, he could have seen us snogging that stripper. Imagine, Vincent Jonas gets a boner for Yours Truly.’
Bex’s tone grew earnest. ‘He’s gorgeous. I could just…I could just…’
‘Do you think he’d let you?’
Coras’ reality check didn’t go down well. ‘Why the hell not? Bloody Stringfellow would!’
Nancy couldn‘t understand what all the fuss was about. From what she could see, Jonas was a self-absorbed, narcissistic, over-groomed and overblown alpha male who ticked the boxes for the tabloids. His features had been molded by a life that’s been good. Bland. And why should he care?