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A Quiet Night – Mark Kelly


At the Pussycat Lounge

Photo by Alexander Krivitskiy on Unsplash

It’s looking to be a quiet night at the Pussycat Lounge.

I’m half-inclined to turn round and walk out again when I see that none of my favorite girls is dancing tonight. No Amber, No Ani, not even German Christina, who thinks I like her more than I really do.

What stops me is the thought, what else do I do? It’s bitterly cold outside, far too inclement for me to make the long trek uptown in search of entertainment. The big advantage of the Lounge is that it’s only a few hundred yards away from my hotel.

I grab a seat, order a Rolling Rock from Maria, and slap a wedge of single dollar bills on the counter in front of me. At a rate of one dollar every two minutes, I’ve got enough for a thirty minute visit.

I’m weighing up the economics of buying someone a drink. Five dollars for a Bud gives something like ten minutes of conversation. While a customer is deep in conversation with another girl at the bar, most of the girls on the stage aren’t going to waste their time hanging around. They’ll gravitate towards where the single guys are sitting, hungrily staring their way or, better still, towards the groups of loud brokers, trying to outdo each other as big shots by throwing dollar bills at the stage.

There’s some sort of protocol at work, which I haven’t cracked or asked about, governing how long a girl can stand in front of the big tippers before she has to move on and let someone else have a chance. Anyway, I work out that, as long as the girl doesn’t go for some outlandish cocktail, the economics are on the side of the one-to-one conversation by the bar. For this reason I’ve only peeled off a couple of singles for the bored-looking girl in front of me before I invite the equally bored girl beside me to a drink.

Her name is Nikki. We’ve had the introductory conversation a few times already, but she doesn’t remember, so we go through it again.

She’s a fashion student taking a year out while she gets some more money together. She has the dearest little fluffy white dog. She’s two months behind on her electricity bill and urgently needs one hundred and fifty dollars to get that straightened out.

As before, I negotiate the first two pieces of information with enthusiastic interest and the third with studied neutrality. I’m sure as can be that she’s angling for me to clear her bill. On the other hand, she only hit me for a cranberry juice, so she’s not one to exploit every situation. Maybe too much time spent in here has warped my view of people’s motivations. Maybe, just maybe, it has even warped my own motivations.

At the other end of the bar, there’s a sudden hubbub, which erupts in shouts and curses and flying fists. The bouncers are there in no time and the presumed offender gets hauled off and thrown out of the door. Nikki goes to investigate.

-That guy in the black was just having a drink when the psycho guy hit him from behind. When everyone jumps on him, he says he’s sorry, he thought the guy was someone else. What a jerk.
– First time I’ve seen anything like that happen.
– Happens all the time, but this is a little earlier than usual.
– Really. Is it normally this serious?
– This wasn’t serious. No-one was really hurt.

A pause while I let this sink in. The music has continued playing throughout the altercation and the girls start dancing again after only the briefest of pauses.

-Have another drink?
– Sure you don’t mind?
– I’ve got this little stash to work through. When the money runs out, so do I. That’s the rule.
– It’s a good rule. There’s plenty of guys will carry on standing at the bar, nursing an empty bottle and an empty wallet. You can waste ten minutes dancing right in front of them and have nothing to show for it.
– Same again?
– I’ll have a Seabreeze, if you don’t mind. Tell Maria it’s for me — she knows how I like them. Do you mind if I just go and say hello to one of my regulars?:
– Go for it.

– Too late, looks like he’s leaving.
– Maybe he was bothered by the fighting.
– Listen, tonight was nothing. I saw a guy get killed once. Not here. It was a rough place I used to dance, over in Queens. The guy was just having a quiet drink, like this guy here tonight, when a bunch of boys with baseball bats walked in.

They can’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, any of them. Everyone was like “Whoa, watch out for the kiddies”, no-one took them seriously. But they didn’t say a single word, just started laying into the guy they were after.

They kept at it, too. I’m sure they were making sure he was dead, then they all walked out. They didn’t seem in any hurry. They closed the bar for the night after that, because no-one wanted to be around when the police arrived.
– Not even the girls?
– Especially not the girls. Not many of them were registered with immigration in that club.
– That’s horrific. How did you cope?
– I was pissed. I had only just come on shift and I’d made barely ten dollars. It didn’t even cover my cab fare home. Oh, and I was sorry for the guy too. Thing is, it’s like down on the floor is a different world when you’re on stage. Things that happen down there don’t affect you so much. You can’t let them get to you. It’s just like tip-smile, no tip-move on.
– I see.

-There was another death that did get to me, though. Almost made me quit. That’s because it was one of the girls I was dancing with.
– What happened?
– Well, we all knew she was getting totally screwed up. She would get drugged up to the eyeballs before she went on stage. She always danced like she was doing it in slow motion, really lazy and laid back. Some of the guys got off on that, but to me she always looked a mess. Anyway, one night she was even slower than usual, just kind of lying there twitching and rolling around on her blanket. It was one of the customers who eventually said to the barman “Is that girl all right?”

-By this time she was gasping for breath and everyone could see there was something wrong. They just tried to clear a space and give her some air while we called an ambulance, but by the time it got there, she was already dead.

-Are you going to stick around? I’ve got to go get changed now. I’m going up in five minutes.
– I’ll probably be heading out.
– OK. See you next time. Thanks for the drink.

Extracted from Obsession by Mark Kelly, available on Kindle

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