by Trevor Hopkins

Clunie scurried away to take her next round of drinks orders. I watched her shapely form navigating the tables of sharks and bottom-feeders with aplomb. I still wanted to find out whether Hosh was in fact still in the Club. I eased thorough the crowds, trying not to draw attention to myself and avoiding the more brightly lit areas. There were still a few new arrivals at the entrance, and plenty of punters already clogging the aisles and walkways.

"Hey, you!" came a loud and slightly slurred voice from behind me. I turned around.

I had just been accosted by the overweight drunk to whom I had palmed off the spiked drink I had been presented with, by Clathy, on my first visit to the Club. He had, somehow, recognised me although I had unaccountably failed to spot him in the crowded room. The drunk staggered to his feet, a feat he only managed by putting both hands flat on the table and pressing hard. He turned to face me.

"You're the bum who got me thrown out of here," he bellowed accusingly, with worrying exactitude.

I could sense heads and eyes turning in his direction across half the Club. Voices fell - a bit, anyway - then resumed in a hubbub which threatened to entirely drown out the music from the dance band. So much for the discreet approach, I thought.

The drunk's companion was a frail-looking female with the coldest eyes I had seen in a long time, a female with Professional Services written all over her. She glared at me, clearly worried that my presence was risking her meal ticket for the day.

The Starfield Club is renown for employing the biggest bouncers that can be found in the Lower Realms: not necessarily the tallest but certainly the heaviest. Invariably encased in tuxedos and white dress shirts, the colour scheme and general shape makes them resemble giant black-and-white footballs, with the additional similarity of famously thick and leathery skin.

Three of the aforementioned spherical bouncers converged on me from various directions. At least one of them had recognised me. There was no point in making a fuss, or even a run for it; there were too many of them to be evaded forever, and the crowds would make fast movement effectively impossible. Besides, I still wanted to talk face-to-face with Hosh, and this might just be the quickest way to do so.

I decided to go quietly and not give the enforcers any excuse to put the boot in - at least in front of all the clientele. One planted himself in front of me and gave a terse nod in the direction to the exit. The main exit, I noted, not the staff door in the direction of Hosh's office that I had expected. Two others appeared at my shoulders, not touching but nevertheless standing very close.

I turned in the direction the lead bouncer had indicated, shrugging off with a glare the hand that one of the enforcers had laid on my shoulder. The crowds parted instinctively as our little quartet moved across the Club floor and up the broad steps that led to the main entrance. Our synchronised movements swept us forward and the chatter behind me got louder as we passed. Two more bouncers opened the main doors wide enough so that the party could step straight through without stopping, and suddenly I was outside.

The two bouncers behind me shoved me on the shoulders simultaneously, hard enough to make me stagger but not enough to actually force me into the gutter.

"And stay out!" the lead enforcer snarled, "Consider yourself warned. You're not welcome here. Next time I see your ugly face it'll end up even more ugly."

And that was it. By the standards of being thrown out of nightclubs, a complete doddle. So why the kid gloves treatment?

Part 53 Part 55