I also abandoned the Mae/Deedee conversation just to get to the description of the night, but I want to go back to it. I want to get Mae's story of what happened when they met first, but I only got up to "I'm Michael"
It wasn’t like that I thought, watching the blank wall of the subway.
We’d been briefed about the Arch party beforehand. At nine pm that night’s shift dutifully gathered in the bar area and slumped on the sofas. Most of us had just woken up. We had these meetings before all shifts when an important visitor was expected. But this was really important; Desdemona herself had come to address us. She stood in the middle of the floor, short, braided, addressing us in her best Received Pronunciation. She moved her long fingered hands deliberately as she talked, bent them backwards slowly like a Japanese dancer.
We were never told who our special guests were to be in advance, just in case we gossiped and breached security. There were several excited gasps when she took the floor to calmly announce that Arch were to use Xyro as the venue for their post-tour victory celebration. She narrowed her eyes and twisted her left arm out towards us sensuously and the gaspers realised they had done the wrong thing.
“Why does celebrity amaze you?” She asked bearing her palm. “You should not see them as anyone superior to yourselves.”
That was Desdemona all over. She hated weakness, the idea of masochistic supplication to anyone. She checked for signs of frailty in her workers as a householder would check for the first signs of woodworm and dry rot. She knew all the symptoms, the wild eyes, the hair left uncombed and the unaccountable bursts of crying in the toilets. Anyone displaying such signs would find themselves met by a manager at the end of the shift, handed their final envelope and relieved of their zero.
She was wearing a purple dress with a faint metallic sheen. The thin straps showed off her toned shoulders. She’d started out as a lap dancer and had taken lessons in classical dance during the day to improve her art. She had that pride and that discipline. That was the sort of spirit she wished to instil in us.
The club had faded around us in the utility lighting. You could see the dirty finger marks on the chromium bar fittings; the cigarette burns in the sofa and the scuffmarks on the dancefloor. Even Xyro had them in the light. It looked strangely empty without its dark corners, with everything accounted for and no mysterious spaces to distract the mind. The workers faded too. The girls looked over painted, the boys showed faint wrinkles around their eyes and lips. Only Desdemona threw the same face back in the brightness as in the shadows, well, only Desdemona and myself.
Arch were to come here tonight and it was essential for the club’s reputation they were to have the night of their lives. There was a bounty on each of their heads, provided by some unknown benefactor, possibly club management themselves, for those who took them backstage. Hooking someone called Daniel was worth $10,000.
I think it was Desdemona who stumped up the cash. Like most whores, she had dreams about one day becoming respectable. Unlike most whores she was arrogant enough to want to achieve this transition without leaving her profession. She wanted it to cross the border to social acceptability with her. Xyro was her fortress in this campaign. The more luminous the names that could be drawn through her doors and availed of her worker’s services the higher she saw the skin trade rise in prestige.
She hated me. I’d been taken on while she was on holiday in Haiti. On her return she took one look at me and issued her edict about the cap. I’d been waiting to feel the brush on my sleeve at the doorway for several weeks now, but it hadn’t happened yet. I think she may have been afraid of me.
She positioned us where we were to be when the lights went down and the doors opened. The prettiest boys were placed enchantingly near the alcoves. Daniel Thousand-Dollars was a sensitive soul according to her brief, something of a poet, someone who would be drawn to lingering in the shadows. The girls with the biggest breasts were stationed in a clutch around the bar for the benefit of someone called Brian. Then she tensed as if stealing herself and ordered me to a barstool directly behind them.
As I had no idea who Arch were, or what any of them might look like I took up my position with good grace. It was a slight but I didn’t much care.
“How much will I get for Brian?” I asked as I walked to my station.
“You will not rock the boat,” said Desdemona, the Kenyan sharpness bursting through her English Ladies’ College accent. I preferred her African voice, almost impolitely direct in tone, harsh on the consonants, cooing on the vowels. She only ever used it when displeased and I liked to have proof that even Desdemona had secrets beneath the veneer.
We all thought she had secrets. She claimed to be from a wealthy Kenyan family that had settled in London. She’d attended a top girl’s boarding school and could ski and horse ride. Then during the long holiday before university, she and a few girlfriends went for a two-month vacation to America. It was the first time they’d travelled without adult supervision. One night in Baltimore, she had auditioned for a strip club as a dare and gone home the club’s record shattering top earner. She never returned to England.
No one quite believes that. We whisper about a teenage pregnancy, about a voice coach, about the guy who swears he grew up next door to her in the Bronx. But she has stuck to her story, and it sticks to her better than most other whores’ stories stick to them. What everyone was sure of though was in the twenty years between her stint as a jailbait tail shaker and her arrival at club Xyro she has grown fantastically rich. And it’s not as if she married her money either, there’s no husband in sight.
She turned her attention to the arrangement of the others. I sat on my stool and waited.
At ten, the lights went down. We were usually allowed a few of our slutty bump and grind numbers then to get us going. A few of the girls wondered out on the dancefloor and gave their booty an experimental shake. Hips and pelvises were given their warm up grind, sultry sneers were plastered on faces, we all got into character and Shirley Bassey sang about history repeating itself. There were fewer dancers tonight than usual. Everyone felt a little stiff; there was a definite tension in the air. Most of us seemed to sit poised at our stations, holding our energy in reserve, not risking any movement that could give something away.
By eleven the proper DJ’s took to the decks. Some regular clubbers had made there way in by now, the riff raff that was always piteously grateful to be here. Daniel told me later a selected few members of the fan club had been given complimentary tickets. They wandered through the door and stared at us with wide eyes before heading to the bar for the one drink they’d be able to afford.
We got drinks at the discount rate of two dollars that we could sub from our wages to save the unsightly bulges in tight clothes caused by carrying cash. I never usually drink at all when I’m working, but I’d got it into my head that tonight would be dull. There’s nothing worse than being surrounded by people deliriously excited about something you feel completely indifferent to. It’s very alienating.
I ordered a brandy, felt it’s sweetness on my lips and it’s warmth travel down my chest and think well, I am an alien.
The party organisers and the PA’s were filtering in now. All sharp suited women, they looked around for crannies where film stars could be introduced to models. They must be all bored mathematicians. Within five minutes, they had the social flow of the as yet invisible guests mapped out to the inch.
At eleven thirty they cranked up the music to an ear splitting pitch. The club was air conditioned to death and cold when half empty. I shivered.
There were people on the dancefloor now. The girls at the bar were whispering lists of the latest arrivals. I nursed the amber liquid in my glass. I hadn’t managed to loose the feeling I wasn’t invited to the party. Celebrity nights always make me feel that way, it’s something I don’t understand at all. Give me a work-a-day night with some fat walleted businessmen any time. At least they don’t expect me to be impressed.
I finished my drink and started amusing myself by watching the shapes thrown on the dancefloor. Funky chickens, tired joggers, shadowboxers, one is never too rich to dance badly. I let myself be mildly hypnotised.
Then there was a moment when all the dancing stopped. It was only a split second, but it happened. Afterwards, everyone seemed to tense up. It felt like the lights had been turned on. All those previously lost in the music instantly regained their self-consciousness. Arms stiffened, shoulders were forced strait. Everything seemed to be pointing southward now towards the door.
There was a swelling knot of people by the door, snowballing bar-ward. I surmised from this Arch had arrived. I stared into the dancers, contemplating a workless night and another drink.
Most whores have a sixth sense for a trick looking at them, even for a moment. We’re always out for that second of desire that we need to set our stall out and get to business. So when I felt the business look graze the side of my cheek, I inclined my head slightly to the left and prepared for action.
He looked too young to afford me. That’s one unfortunate thing about working in a mixed club; the pretty ones will never be able to pay for you. I prepared to look away and curl my lip at irony. Most of them seemed to sheepishly know it. This one didn’t. He was staring strait at me and I was mildly amused by his confidence. I’d left my hat in the dressing room tonight.
He was shamelessly staring at me in abject wonder, and I think my mouth softened a little at that, because it’s very hard not to like being adored. It was such a vulnerable look too, putting your whole soul into your gaze like that is a risky business, it’s too easy for others to snatch it away. I almost admired the bravery for a moment, then I realised he was just too young to know he could get hurt.
I looked him up and down a little. Scruffy fashionable, long hair, jacket and pants expensively tailored to be ill fitting, rock star chic. He was pale with little smudges under his eyes; decadent living I supposed, perhaps he’s a bit of a name on the club scene. His face wasn’t fully formed; it was thin but still had the rounded softness of one who hasn’t yet been hurt by the world. The face of a daydreamer. Dream on, I thought.
He kept looking at me like he knew no reason in the world why he shouldn’t. Then I realised, of course he expects to get you. He’s ten thousand dollar Danny and I had nearly been so out of sorts I’d brushed off the trick of the night. I kept my face still and smiled a wide and satisfying grin deep within me. Take that, Desdemona.
He sat on the bar stool next to me. He said nothing and I was a little touched by the shyness. I’m used to the men who can afford me letting me know it strait away. They start braying their self-confidence and you’re expected to act interested from the word go.
He ordered a drink, but kept looking at me under his lashes. His voice was a little shaky, I can’t imagine he’d have been much of a singer.
Well now, I thought. This silence is very refreshing, but if you keep it up much longer he’s going to get pulled by the barman. So I leant over and gave him my Xyro name.
It was another of Desdemona’s edicts that none of us was to be called anything unpronounceable or cheap. Maedhros fit the former category, Red the latter. So I leant over hand gave him the name she had picked.
“I’m Michael,” I said.