Again, he has to hand it to Stewart, the lap dancing club is better than many he has fallen into at the fag end of a big night out. It actually looks a bit like the ones you see in movies, half naked girls circlulating with trays of drinks, 3, no, he counts more carefully through a light haze of coke and champagne, 4 girls gyrating round the shiny metal poles and pumping old school disco making his teeth ache very slightly.
There are 8 of them now, Reservoir Dogs and a few spares, settling in for the serious drinking, the gazing, grabbing and the talk, of sex and cars and money.
But the money talk is different now, more guarded, tighter lipped, no more jokes about huge losses recouped or not. Everyone is watching their back, keeping their head down, hanging onto their job. So, the money talk tonight will be different, they may even, god give him strength, fall into a drunken conversation on the ethics of greed, the morality of what they do with other peoples’ money.
The guys are ordering shots, an impossible quantity stacked up on a huge silver tray, Marc grabs two and downs them, bang and slams the glasses back on the table and it makes no difference at all.
He remembers his first ever roller coasater ride, age 11, maybe 12 and that terrible realisation that he was trapped, would have to deal with every stomach churning twist, dive, climb and would have to look as if he was enjoying it, would have to wave his hands in the air, when all he wanted to do was put his head between his knees and cling tightly to the grip bar.
He grabs another shot, downs it and to the bellowing encouragement of the guys, waves a folded 20 quid note at a girl on the stage and minutes later as she stradles him, all straightened hair and fake tan and too tidy breasts, he manages a grin of something that from far enough away looks like pleasure.
Imogen is quite right, the club is discreet, no name plate, no waiting line, just a neat black door and a neat black man. They are expected, ushered in, Clara smiles with pleasure, the level of fuss is just enough.
She looks around at the group of women – her hens, 3 bridesmaids, her sister, 2 work colleagues and the wives/partners, women she really doesn’t know at all, here because Marc is taking their other halves on his stag do.
It doesn’t matter, tonight is just part of the bigger event and these women are from this life,the city life and know how to behave, how to dress, how to party, carefully, still calorie mindfull, can be relied upon to drink enough, but not too much and to notice and accurately price her shoes, bag, jacket combo.
Her sister has been briefed
“Don’t call me Claire”
“Don’t mention mum”
“Don’t get drunk”
The club is busy, there is talk of champagne, but they settle for vodka and tonic, drunkeness while still hydrating.
her sister suggests a dance and there is a pause while the group look down, consider their shoes, Laboutin, Jimmy Choo and politely decline.
Instead they lounge on huge leather sofas, people wtaching, outfit watching really and Clara [ Claire] leans back, sips vodka and thinks about the journey and how much further she will travel with Marc.
She cannot wait to be married to him, cannot wait to be a wife, his wife.
She can see it now,their future, the apartment is too small, they need to trade up, give some parties, make some noise, get Marc back on track. She needs a newer car, the mini feels dated, less ironic, just , well, less cool.
The honeymoon will be the start, a boutique hotel in Miami, they will look at architecture, shops. She will re-wake the greed in him.
Marc is beyond drunk now, not helped by a cheeky line of coke snorted off the breasts of a dark haired girl who may or may not be called Angel. He is on some auto -pilot which only allows him to say yes, so when Stewart, ever compatent Stewart swoops them up and announces that the House of Pain awaits, Marc finds himself stumbling obediently out of the club and towards another night bus.
The night air is cold, not cold enough to sober him up, but enough to give him a jolt and he remembers that in 3 days time he is going to marry a woman whose face he cannot remember, but suddenly, very clearly, he can remember her facial expression when she leafs through interiors magazines, a look of such longing and wanting that to call it greed, avarice, seems simply unfair.
He knows what she wants and what he is expected to do and for a moment he thinks about sitting down with her, reaching out his hand and telling her about his dream, the life he wants to lead, his big plan and then remembers, he doesn’t have a big plan, doesn’t have a dream, just an over-powering desire to walk away from all this, the stupid hours, the stupid, stupid colleagues, the fear, the loathing, the waiting for the summons, the handshake and the walk to the lift.
And now he’s on another night-bus, the group is smaller now, another couple of casualties fallen by the wayside, just him and Stewart, of course, and a couple of guys, whose names he can’t quite, at this moment, remember and then the bus stops, some hold up and he looks out of the window and there she is Clara, standing, arms folded, shoulders hunched, while a driver is fiddling unconvincingly under the raised bonnet of a huge armour plated Humer.
And of course, they make eye contact and Marc wants, more than anything else, to form his face into some suitable expresssion and knows it isnt happening and then the bus lurches into movement and his last sight of her is her face, mouth open in an O of surprise or something else, staring up at him as the bus lumbers off into the last of the night.
It had all gone so well, the club had been perfect, they had spotted 2 Hollyoakes actors, a lesbian comedian and the that bloke who does the dangerous magic stuff.
Her sister had been over the moon, lots to tell in the scruffy little primary school staffroom on Monday morning and then, disaster.
They pile out of the club, little tipsy, little giggly, make up still bearing up, ready to head back to the hotel, jacuzzi, chill time and the Humer won’t start, won’t move, nothing.
The driver, choosen more perhaps for his South LA gangsta looks, than any actual mechanical ability is useless and Clara can feel it slipping away, any second now the other women are going to start suggesting cabs, making their way home, leaving her here on her own.
Her bloody sister has just suggested catching the night bus.
The fucking night bus.
And as she says it, one appears out of the dark, as if it has been summoned and Clara looks up and sees Marc, face pressed against the window, staring into the night. Clara tries to re-arrange her face, to look less angry and then realises that Marc has no expression on his face at all, she not even sure if he has seen her, recognised her and then the bus pulls away and her last sight of him is his face slipping slowly down the glass towards the floor.