by Trevor Hopkins

Clathy finished her spit and polish job, then picked up the tray and held it with one hand at shoulder level in the style of professional cocktail waitresses everywhere. She started towards the door and I shrank back instinctively, pressed my invisible back against the wall as tightly as I could before Clathy bumped into me. She emerged projecting a splendid impression of nonchalance and professional competence, marred only by her pausing to wipe the already-spotless door handle with more than essential thoroughness.

Using her teeth and a certain amount of deft juggling, she peeled off the gloves, one after another, put them on her tray and covered then with a heavily wine-stained napkin. She set off jauntily in the direction of the dance music. I followed, curious to see where she went. I passed half-glass doors which looked like more offices - proper ones where actual clerical work was performed. The corridor opened up into what was really the vestibule for a a small kitchen. A couple of cooks were hanging around in the open area bantering with several bored-looking waiting staff. The kitchen itself didn't seem very busy. After all, the Starfield Club was not a place to go if you were feeling hungry or if you cared about fine dining. A rat-burger with ketchup and a side of fries was about the most sophisticated dish likely to be found on the menu in this joint.

In the end, Clathy's destination was unsurprising. At the end of this corridor spur was a pair of double-hinged doors with porthole-style round windows in each one and battered metal kick-plates. No doubt the doors had a sign on the other side stating "Staff Only." On the other side was the open public area of the club proper. Through a porthole, I watched Clathy navigate deftly across the packed room in the direction of the main bar, avoiding the wandering hands of patrons with practiced ease.

At the bar, Clathy handed the tray to a very junior-looking member of the bar staff with instructions, judging by the body language, to wash the glasses and dump the stained napkin - and the gloves, no doubt - straight into the trash. She then spoke to what was evidently the head barkeeper, who waved in the direction of a group of tables on the left of the stage, crowded with punters who seemed to be in urgent need of drinks. She simply resumed her waitressing duties as if nothing had happened.

Being invisible in a crowded room is an especially useless way of remaining undetected. The press of bodies, made worse by the unpredictable effects of the consumption of alcohol, makes it nearly impossible to avoid bumping into someone. I pressed my back against the wall again and waited with as much patience as I could muster until one of the kitchen staff plonked a plate of greasy food on the counter and rang the service bell. A waiter detached himself from the gossiping group and collected the order, finally deigned to deliver the over-salted and highly spiced plate to the unsuspecting - and probably already drunk - patron who had ordered it.

I followed the waiter closely through the swing doors barely delaying their closure at all. The dance music burst upon me, augmented by a thousand conversations going on all at once. Once clear of the door, I slid to one side and made my way to the darker shadows of a clump of potted decorative fungi supposedly to add to the ambience of the place.

I spoke the few words that terminated the invisibility glamour, writing off another fifty bucks I wouldn't see again in a hurry. I adjusted my hat to a more rakish angle and stepped out as if I owned the joint.

Part 51 Part 53