‘I'm not an insensitive guy,’ said Dave.
It was the next day and we were about to start the afternoon cocktail session. Saturday was our longest day. We did a three hour session from two to five and then had a few hours off before doing our usual four sets in the evening.
‘Are you saying that you were after the blond all the time?’ I asked, trying to keep my voice as casual-sounding as possible.
‘Yeah, for sure. I could see that you had the hots for the dark-haired one. Can’t say I blame you, china. So, here are.’ He placed an imaginary ball in my hand. ‘There’s the pass.... now let’s see you go for the line.’
Knowing Dave as I did, I wasn’t too convinced by these unselfish words of encouragement and soon found myself looking for alternate interpretations. Maybe he had moved on both girls, but had fallen short by fifty percent. Or maybe he’d gone for Emily and she’d blown him off, causing him to redirect his attentions. (However unlikely that seemed – our singer didn’t fail often.) I supposed that it was possible that he was telling the truth – that he simply preferred the blond. Maybe she had made it easy for him, laid it on a plate, no work needing to be done. (Dave wasn’t one of those who lived for the hunt. The chase was irrelevant if the end result was right.) But, there was no doubt that it was all good news for me and it seemed as though Durban’s very own Casanova had given me a little time to ‘run with the ball’ as he might have put it. And if he kept his word, it might just allow me the chance to get much closer to Emily – a woman I couldn’t stop thinking about.
During the cocktail session I found myself constantly watching the revolving doors. But although a steady stream of people poured into the club, there was no sign of her or the blond friend. Instead, I was rewarded with the sight of Mad Maria and the chaperone entering and barging their way towards their usual table. Was it my imagination or did they look even more deranged than ever? Both of them candidates for lead roles in either ‘Play Misty for Me’, ‘The Omen’ or ‘The Texas Chain Saw Massacre’. I touched my right eye, winced – even though the swelling had gone down – and allowed the anger to build inside me. What was Johan, our bouncer, playing at? What more did these ‘numpties’ have to do to get banned?
With mixed feelings I noticed that there was no sign of the naughty nurses. They could have been working a day shift, however, which meant that they’re probably reappear for the evening session. Knowing Cindy as I did, I didn’t think there would be any come-backs off the previous night’s debacle. At least she was a nice person with a good heart and I didn’t see her doing anything to endanger her relationship with me. At the end of the day, we were friends – weren’t we?
We took our first break and Dave sauntered over, cool as you like, cigarette in hand.
‘I don’t know what you keep staring at the doors for, Mikey,’ he said, a perceptive look in his eyes. ‘She’s not coming today – she’s working or something. Both of them are coming later.’ He chuckled at his own double entendre. ‘So save your energy, man... save your energy.’ Flicking some ash into the nearest ashtray, he wandered off, no doubt fully aware that he’d just kicked my spirits into overdrive. You had to give it to the dude – he had style.
I grabbed a beer at the staff bar and wandered through Mother’s Kitchen to the Laguna veranda. As always on a Saturday afternoon, it was packed with the serious drinking crowd. Straight away, I noticed that Johan had stationed himself between The Ship Inn’s revolving doors and the temporary hot-dog stand – a position that gave him a panoramic view of all the tables and chairs. The previous week had seen a few scuffles breaking out once the beers had kicked in, so I knew that security was on high alert. I also noticed that Dieter was sitting at one of the tables, enjoying a snack with a couple of the other Laguna managers. I’d been nursing a little idea in the back of my mind, and having Dieter and Johan within sight of each other was just what I needed to make it work.
‘Afternoon Dieter,’ I said, approaching his table.
‘Hello Mikey, how are we doing inside?’ he asked.
‘Packed... can’t move in there and I think the aircon’s gone again.’
‘Makes ‘em drink more,’ he said with a touch of mischief in his eyes. He shoved a few inches of hot-dog into his mouth and then his face became more serious. ‘Listen Mikey, I need to have a chat with you guys. Could you pop into the office on Monday? Um... just the four of you, okay... not the new guitarist.’
‘Not a problem.’ I kept my expression neutral. I looked around, noticing that Johan was staring in our general direction – so far, so good. Then, with a little exaggeration, I pointed back over my shoulder towards the bouncer and continued: ‘Do you think that he might be a bit busy today, Dieter? If it’s anything like last Saturday, some of this lot could lose complete control by sundown.’
‘I’ve got the two guys from Mother’s on standby, Mikey, and my security man from reception is also keeping an eye. Hopefully, last week was just a once-off. But there’s nothing for you guys to worry about. We don’t generally get much trouble inside the clubs.’
You needed to be in there last night, I thought to myself. So, after a little more small-talk, I wished him and the other managers well and strolled up to Johan.
‘Busy one, hey? But all quiet on the western front for now.’
‘Ja, anything for a quiet life,’ laughed Johan. ‘As long as we can keep the women off you hey, Mikey.’ He paused for a few seconds and I knew that he was waiting for me to say more. Then after a while he asked, ‘What was Dieter saying then? I saw you pointing.’
He’d taken the bait.
‘Oh... um... He was on about the punch-up last night. You know with the crazy chick and that little ‘lightie’ she comes with.’
‘What about it? I chucked them out, not much damage done. They were just a bit pissed. I gave her a speech and a bit of a warning. But you know how it is. She may be a bit nuts but she is our number one customer.’
‘No you’re probably right there, Johan. But Dieter was just saying that he’s a bit worried about the guy she comes with. Dieter reckons that he looks about sixteen years old if that. Apparently the cops are getting a lot hotter on underage drinking.’
‘Shit!’ Johan’s face shot up sharply. ‘That changes things. Unless they’re obvious I haven’t bothered too much. But if Dieter’s starting to chirp, then maybe I should.’
‘Yeah, suppose so,’ I added as nonchalantly as possible. ‘But better get off Johan, time to make some more noise.’
And I pushed my way through the revolving doors, smiled at the girl behind the till and headed for my keyboards.
* * * * * * * * * *
I was expecting a grand entrance. I visualised her emerging through the revolving doors like a movie star; heads turning to stare and mouths falling open. She’d be one of the last to arrive, her seat already reserved for her by someone in the crowd. But when I got to the club at eight o’ clock, she was already there. It made sense of course. To me she was the most exquisite woman ever to walk the earth. But in reality, she was just another punter arriving early to get a good seat at the front.
Once again, she was wearing a short white dress, a slightly different cut and style but similar to the one she’d worn the previous evening. I wondered if that was her thing – her fashion statement. Maybe she had a cupboard full of them back home. But I wasn’t complaining. Once again the dress looked stunning on her, standing out in the club’s subdued lighting and emphasis on blue neon; its brightness contrasting dramatically with her dark hair, long tanned legs and hypnotic beauty.
I looked around. There was no sign of Mad Maria, the chaperone or the nurses. I hoped that Dave would make good on his usual ‘lead singer’s privilege’ – the tendency singers have to turn up just a few seconds before performance time. Emily and her blond friend were sitting at a table with two empty buffets, one of them right next to her. If ever there was a perfect opportunity, this was it. I took a step forward, forcing my weakening legs to move and trying to ignore the panic rising from the pit of my stomach. Why is it that the more beautiful a woman is, the harder it is to speak to her?
‘Hi,’ I said, leaning over their table and hearing my pulse beating in my ears. ‘Can I get you ladies a drink?’ And straight away I was regretting the formal-sounding tone. But Emily merely looked up casually and smiled.
‘Thanks, Mikey, that would be nice. Beer’s fine for both of us.’
‘Um... you sure you wouldn’t prefer something a bit more... well... larny. Wine, champagne or whatever, it’s no problem, really.’
She laughed, looked quickly at the blond friend and then turned back at me.
‘Nah... We’re not posh or anything like that. Just a couple of beers please, Mikey. And we’ve got glasses already.’
I turned for the staff bar hoping that it wouldn’t take too long to get served. But only Manny was ahead of me waiting for his order and all-in-all I was heading back to the table within five minutes. Pulling up a buffet next to Emily I did my gentlemanly thing and topped both their glasses up, pleased that in spite of a shaky hand, I hadn’t spilled a drop. I turned to Emily:
‘You know my name already. And yet I didn’t get a chance to tell you it last night.’
She laughed and stared straight into my eyes. Then in one fluid movement, she crossed her legs towards me and moved her face a bit closer:
‘You’re Mikey, you’re twenty years old, your birthday’s in February, you started piano when you were seven, trumpet when you were twelve and played in musicals, operas and marching bands since you were thirteen and The South African Youth Orchestra when you were seventeen. You started earning money in restaurants from the age of fifteen, hated school except for English, history, typing and music, have a grade eight in music and have been a fully professional musician since the age of eighteen. Your keyboard heroes are Keith Emerson, Rick Wakeman and Rick Wright although the guy whose music you love most is Van Morrison ‘cause you always say that Van puts the "soul" in music. How’s that then!’
For a few seconds I just stared into her eyes, trying to keep the grin off my face. What else could I do – I felt almost powerless, as though I was under a spell.
‘Who have you been talking to?’ I eventually asked.
'Dave, of course, when I could pull him away from Angela. Oh, I’m sorry.’ Her hand went up to her mouth. ‘I haven’t even introduced you.’
And so I did the cheek-kiss thing with Angela and did my best to make a little three-way conversation for a while. But Angela knew the score, and within minutes had returned to her drink while watching the doors for Dave’s entrance. Emily was soon facing me again, pulling a few strands of her hair behind her ears.
‘Listen Mikey, we’re going to the horse tonight. I’d really love it if you’d come with us. That hypnotist there is fantastic.’
‘Well I’d love to,’ I began. ‘But—’
Of course, just at that moment, Dave appeared and I never got to finish the sentence. He immediately launched into one of his party tricks, putting a freshly poured beer up against his mouth so that it left a frothy white moustache on his upper lip. Then leaning forward, he lowered his voice and octave and invited Angela and Emily to:
‘Give us a kiss then, girls!’
They fell about laughing, and I made sure that I joined in as well even though I’d seen this move a dozen times before. But instinct told me that this was a moment to fit in. Let someone else lead and allow myself to be guided. And with Emily by my side, I was prepared to be guided anywhere.
* * * * * * * * * *
[An aerial shot of South Beach in the 70s]
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