Love at first sight certainly has its problems. In fact, on the night I met Emily, I had four, all in human form: Nurse Cindy, Mad Maria, the chaperone and Dave.
Nurse Cindy had been keeping a close eye on the dance floor; had spotted the threat early and was quick to begin her plan of action.
‘Mikey, it’s so hot in here tonight. I’m sure the air conditioning is broken again. Let’s go and sit outside on the veranda. I’m paying.’
I had to smile. In fairness it was a good diversionary tactic to get me out of the club and away from the lure of the white mini dress.
‘Um... well...’ And I’m thinking on my feet, ‘I’m just going to buy Chester a drink and go through a few chords with him for the next set.’
Before she could reply, I darted off to the staff bar hoping I’d find Chester in there to give my story a whiff of truth.
Emerging from the bar five minutes later, I walked straight into problem number two. It was, of course, one that I should have foreseen. Dave had moved in. There he was chatting to Emily like he had known her for years. I moved as close as I dared and tried to listen:
‘Well I’m very, very interested,’ he was saying, flicking back his long blond hair in that self-assured way, and giving her the intense eyes.
Her voice was softer and I only managed to catch part of her reply:
‘The Crazy Horse? Don’t you think that might be a bit late for an innocent girl like me?’
They broke into peals of laughter and suddenly, my heavenly night seemed to be heading for the fires of hell. I slouched back to the stage, my mood quickly sliding into the abyss.
And if things weren’t bad enough, problem number three now decided to rear his miserable pimply head. The chaperone was heading towards me. I let him get within two feet, watched him point the finger and headed him off at the pass:
‘Don’t even fuckin’ say it,’ I warned, before bumping him out of the way and strutting for the change room.
‘Maria only wanted to buy you a drink,’ he pleaded to my retreating back.
So the whole half an hour break went by and I couldn’t get anywhere near Emily. The last few minutes of it was spent in the change room staring at the walls and trying to convince myself that there was nothing to worry about. Especially in the case of Dave, however, I knew there was.
Mad Maria, in true drama-queen style, waited until the end of the night before she ensured that problem number four was the killer blow. Up until her intervention, things had gradually improved. During our last set, Emily and her blond friend took up a prime position on the dance floor and stayed there the whole time. Once again she moved in an individual yet natural way, often with her eyes closed in that strange trance-like state. But occasionally, she would glance up and when she did, she seemed to be focused in my direction, a slight smile playing on her lips. The important thing, of course, was that she was looking at me, and not at Dave. I was, however, also watching Dave. And his eyes were definitely locked on her section of the dance floor.
I suppose in normal circumstances, you had to admire Dave; the guy was a phenomenon – a kind of Jekyll and Hyde character with women as his downfall rather than the urges of evil. Catch him on his own or in the company of other guys and he was quiet, well-mannered and the most laid-back of guys. But as soon as a member of the female species came within sniffing distance, he changed personalities. From then on, everything he said and did was geared towards one thing: to charm the pants off women and offer them guided tours of the den of iniquity that was room 1204 of Sealands Holiday Apartments. And many pairs of pants, skirts, dresses, knickers, bras and shoes had found their way into this room of ill repute. Several pairs of knickers, in fact, were still there, gathered together in a cardboard box stored under his bed, which he loving called his ‘Trophy Box’.
So my biggest worry while tinkling away at my keyboards and watching the night wind down was that although Emily seemed to be focusing on me, fast-working Dave might have already outmanoeuvred me. He’d already made his move, so to speak.
And as we finished our last number, it looked as though my fears were about to be realised. I had no sooner switched off and covered my keyboards when Dave marched off the stage in the direction of Emily and her friend. Within seconds, all three of them were heading for the revolving door. I watched with mounting despair, and immediately wondered if I should run after them. But just as Emily reached the door, she turned and shouted something to me. With the background music playing it was impossible to hear what she was saying, but with my limited lip-reading ability, I thought it might be:
‘I have to go... sorry... I’ll see you soon.’
This gave me an opportunity to run to the back of the room and ask her to repeat what she’d said. But before I do anything, problem one resurfaced. Nurse Cindy climbed on stage to grab me by the hand, her grip firm and unyielding. Now normally she was quite reserved and shy in the club, which was one of the reasons I liked her – the kind of girl you could have a fling with without too much drama. But, I suppose, territorial threats can bring out another side.
‘I’ve borrowed Katy’s uniform,’ she whispered in my ear. ‘She came straight off her shift. She’s a bit smaller than me so I bet it fits really tight!’ And now her hand slipped right around my waist.
‘You know I’m only winding you up about this uniform thing, Cindy,’ I answered, still staring at the swing doors.
‘I don’t think you are. But let’s go and find out.’
Her hands were everywhere and the whole thing was becoming embarrassing, especially as we were right under the stage lights and our actions could be seen by everyone.
‘Listen, Cindy, not tonight okay,” I said, leading her onto the dance floor. “I’m completely knackered. Can we keep the idea for another time?’
I looked into her eyes expecting to see disappointment and maybe even the odd tear. But what I saw was something completely different: alarm, in fact, complete panic. And in the nick of time I swung around to see Mad Maria flying across the dance floor, a beer glass in one hand aimed squarely at Cindy’s face. Bringing up the rear was the chaperone – no doubt taking the opportunity for a few pot shots at me.
Absolute bedlam ensued. I managed to deflect the glass from Cindy’s dial but the tumbler then crashed onto the front panel of my ARP Odyssey Synthesizer. Shards of glass flew everywhere; a big dent appeared next to the on/off switch and most worrying of all: drops of beer spilled all over an instrument that was temperamental enough already. Cindy proved that she had a good right hook and could give as good as she got. Within seconds they were both rolling around on the dance floor, hands on each other’s throats with Maria yelling:
‘He’s mine! He may not know it yet... but he’s mine!’ while surprised punters were either laughing or darting out of the way. The chaperone got in a few lucky shots although his weeny physique and pissed-up brain made sure he did little damage. Nevertheless, I still felt the punches raining down and was relieved to see Johan, our bouncer, approaching. The chaperone, however, also saw him and made a run for the revolving doors.
Cindy and Mad Maria fought on and Johan had his hands full prizing them apart. I realised that pure hatred has been building here for some time. Eventually Johan established some control and grabbed each of the girls by the scruff of the neck. He led them out, pausing for a second to turn and glance at me; his look somewhere between a frown and a smile.
The next few minutes was taken up doing a damage-check on my face in the toilet mirror while some guy at the urinal mutters:
‘I get bugger all and you okes have got them fighting over you,’ before shaking my hand and then washing his own hands.
I’ve survived the attack although I’m probably going to sport a bit of an eye later on. That, at the time, felt like the least of my problems.
I then checked the synthesizer. But I was lucky with that. The beer hadn’t penetrated to the circuit board and once the liquid was wiped away it appeared to be working fine.
Ten minutes later, I hit the road, keeping a wary eye out for Nurse Cindy, Mad Maria or the chaperone while making a bit of a mess trying to fasten a tie around my neck. I passed the veranda of The Beach Hotel and took the little alley at the side entrance of The Crazy Horse. And (can you believe it) watching me as I approached was our old friend: the big ugly bouncer who Moose attacked.
‘Oi!’ he grunted, ‘Where the bloody hell do you think you’re going?’
‘I’m just popping in to have a word with Pierre,’ I offered weakly.
‘No you’re fuckin’ not. You’re banned from here, so take a walk, china!’
I tried to reason with him. But I knew that it was a hopeless task and that my slightly battered face and lopsided tie weren’t doing me any favours. I gave him a few charm-lines and even dropped him a five rand note. (The miserable bastard pocketed it without a word.) He wouldn’t even tell me if Dave and a girl in a white dress and her blond mate were in the club. He didn’t believe that the Beach Hotel Food and Beverage manager was an old friend of mine – which he wasn’t. It was just one of those nights and I quickly realised that pushing too hard could only end up one way: with further decoration to my face by Durban’s most-loved gorilla.
So I gave up and turned for home.
* * * * * * * * * *
I sat for two hours in the kitchen of my apartment, my chair next to the outside door which was opened an inch, my senses alert to the sights and sounds of the corridor. I half expected Nurse Cindy to make an appearance and was debating if I’d let her in. For the time being, however, I wasn’t moving from that door. I simply had to know if Emily was going to disappear into the dark pits of the room two doors along: room1204.
After about half an hour, Chester let himself in next door and soon after that, Brian returned with two of the guys from Ferdi and the Freeloaders. A couple of guys came a while later, all heading for the flats at the far end which were reserved for some of the Laguna’s staff. Then everything went quiet.
I found a can of beer in the fridge and polished that off before moving on to some strong coffee. By three in the morning I was starting to nod off, my mind hazily considering the possibility of Dave not returning at all. Then suddenly, I was jolted awake by the sound of the lift doors opening and laughter.
I turned off the kitchen light and peered through the opening between the door and its frame. It was Dave. He was nearest to me, his body blocking my view of the girl with him. I watched him stumble at his door, laugh, drop the key, retrieve it, stand up slowly and move behind the girl. She giggled as he held her close, his hands pulling her tightly towards him. They stayed like that for a few seconds, swaying to the rhythm of an unheard song. Then the door opened and they disappeared inside.
I smiled. It had been difficult to see the girl’s face but I’d seen enough. I’d seen the black skirt, red top and shoulder-length blond hair.
* * * * * * * * * *
[A more recent picture of The Beach Hotel. The Crazy Horse had its entrance just off the alleyway on the right side.]
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