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The International Writers Magazine: Private Dancers

Carpe Diem
Will Collins

‘Well,’ said McLeod in his deep, bass voice, ‘you know you have to. You owe me.’ This was the call from The Scotsman journalist Jed Marshall that McLeod had been waiting for – waiting for what seemed weeks, months. It was the call that would set him on the right track to finding out for himself what had happened to Billie. The single-minded, arrogant, pompous solicitor had to know; and he had to know who had done it.

‘Yes, yes.’ Marshall was verbally impertinent in his response, but acutely aware of his debt to McLeod.
‘So what do you know?’
‘I’ve heard the same two names over and over: Patrick Kavanagh and Edward Vasive.’
‘Vasive? He’s not the type to go to Liquorice.’
‘I also know she’s working tonight – she’s there now. It’s her first night back.’

Rainwater poured through Marshall’s thick black hair, pulling it past his icy blue eyes, down his pale face. McLeod took a step forward from the succession of shutters covered by graffiti on High Street into the dark night’s rain to hail a cab.
‘I had every confidence in you.’
‘Wait for me inside the club. I’ll be there as quickly as I can. That way we can get this over and done with and get on with my life.’ Marshall was decidedly less excited than McLeod at the prospect of seeing and talking with Billie. Aware of Liquorice’s recently increased security, his primary interest was consuming the small remaining quantity of cocaine concealed in his jacket’s right breast pocket as quickly and efficiently as possible.

As his long, thick thumb disconnected the call, McLeod’s eyes began to dart round his wet, gloomy surroundings: it was time. Carpe Diem, as his old school motto went. ‘We’re changing direction: to Liquorice on Home Street,’ McLeod’s bass voice commanded his driver, not recognising the challenges or perils of a three point turn on Princess Street in the tenor of his request, safe in the knowledge that as a man of substance his request, even if lodged in a sharp or patronising manner, would be granted.

David McLeod’s face was, most often, a sombre one; seldom illuminated by even the first twitch of a smile or sparkle of a grin: similar to that of many of his colleagues. This was evident to the taxi’s driver, as was his reluctance to engage in even a whisper of transactional discourse. Considered backward in sentiment by his contemporaries, McLeod cared little for formalities to the point of rudeness. When alone he drank blended scotch to drown his thirst for vintage wines; his childhood love of literature died soon after his mother’s soul left her body, shortly before his thirteenth birthday; from the age of fifteen onwards his feet had never crossed the threshold of any of Edinburgh’s museums or art galleries until these strange events unfolded.

The staff and clientele of Liquorice had little inclination or evidence of his otherwise dull manner. When there, found accompanied (more often than not) by a bottle of wine, (most often one of four Familia Martinez Bujanda Reserva ideally of the 2001 variety) which he consumed throughout the course of the nights he spent there, something eminently human beaconed from his face; something indeed which never found his way into his conversational efforts outside of business; but when sat on one of the club’s leather sofas, drink in hand, it wasn’t long before a glimmer of light would shine from his face: a glimmer that would quickly ignite into grins, smiles and appreciative schoolboy bursts of laughter that Billie extracted from him effortlessly each and every time she danced for him.

From an embryonic stage in his career it was frequently McLeod’s fortune to be the final reputable acquaintance and positive influence to downward-headed men: to such clients he was never tempted to mark a shade of change in his demeanour or alter his premium rates according to his clients’ positions, financial or otherwise. When enquirers investigated into his professional affairs, as they often did, McLeod’s response had the flatness of a standard protocol: ‘I never say much about whether they’re innocent or guilty: that’s not my role in the proceedings. My conscious is clear. I permit my brothers, the paying clients, to go to the devil in their own special ways.’

McLeod and Billie were very much alike in their discretion in professional and legal affairs. His staunch determination to better his position in life from an honest and humble beginning in Bonyrigg dovetailed with a career-oriented mindset left McLeod little opportunity or inclination to socialise: the friendships he held, like the thick trunks of old oak trees, were strengthened by maturity. Jed Marshall, as a man indebted to McLeod for his discreet and professional legal services rendered on the two occasions he found himself in what could lightly be described as a ‘predicament’ over Class A drug possession in CC Blooms, a regular haunt of Vasive, was not yet what he would or could refer to as a ‘friend’; but he knew that he was someone, for the purposes of this exercise, that he could count on to supply the majority of the information he needed.

McLeod was searched thoroughly, to his mind intimately, on Home Street’s pavement by two men with rugby builds in black bomber jackets. His membership was then checked for the first time in three years before he was permitted entry to the club via a steep, narrow, and dimly lit downward staircase. Marshall emerged from the gents’ toilet as he made his way to the bar; McLeod’s eyes searched as carefully around the venue for Billie as the security guards’ hands had his body. To McLeod’s mind she was the jewel in the crown of Liquorice’s dancers: as delicious, elegant and alluring as any vintage wine; the most requested dancer; the most fascinating treasure. McLeod attributed much of her success to her beauty and pleasing Asian temperament. Billie and the wine had much in common: the words on the bottle described the wine as ‘stunningly elegant’, ‘juicy smooth’ with ‘thrilling depth’ and a seductive ‘purity’ to the taste; they could have been written to describe Billie with the same degree of accuracy and efficiency. McLeod, having tasted Billie for himself beyond the perimeter of the club’s walls once previously, already considered her more precious than his childhood. How anyone could find it in themselves, even in the direst of straits to threaten her, shout and swear at her, grab her and pull her by the hair then press the sharpest of knives deep against her flawless throat, as someone had, was beyond comprehension to McLeod.

Patrick Kavanagh, sure to be the culprit, was a powerful man. A connected man. An angry man. A member of St. Michael’s travellers: a downright dangerous man. With no visual trace of her, McLeod joined Marshall, confident Billie would confirm her attacker as Kavanagh. He promptly ordered his first bottle of wine, which he consumed quickly and with ease as Marshall relayed to him what little information he had managed to acquire and procure on the subject before leaving.

‘Things to see,’ he said, ‘and people to do.’ With that, like a clumsy, awkward marionette, Marshall made his exit,
Every man on this earth enjoys the sensation of blood rushing into his penis, flooding it with depth and substance in every vein and chamber, preparing it for adventure; but none quite as McLeod. For him, it less frequent an occasion than would be expected, but one that occurred simultaneously, ceremoniously and synonymously with Billie’s entrance. She emerged wearing little more than perfume and a teasing smile: her straightened black hair shone and shimmered in the soft light: pure whiteness of eyes and teeth against dark skin. To McLeod she was an Asian swan, a beautiful Asian swan that he craved to touch, caress and enjoy; hearing what happened to her had brought it home to him; he must speak to her: he must get her to confirm, from her own delicate lips, that it was Kavanagh who had done this.
He wanted her close, wanted her beside him - wanted to sit there as she danced slowly and provocatively before him, smiling, purring in his ear - in front of envious onlookers. He was quick to lift the index finger of his right hand to beckon her.

Every pore in McLeod’s body began to tingle as Billie swayed and found shape to haunting music: she flicker her hair, flicked her eyes and flashed a smile to open her routine. Movements became deeper, more committed, authentic. The tips of her long, thin fingers stroked up and down the back of her neck gently and slowly as she leaned forward, so close to him that he could feel the warmth of her breath and intoxicate his nostrils with the scent of her musky perfume - then she released her pert, firm breasts. McLeod’s eyes were pulled to them like magnets: their symmetry; the gulf dividing them; the roundness of her areolae; the keenness of her nipples. Then, as his eyes explored, he was reminded of his purpose: events had led him to see her, to speak to her that night. Billie had been attacked and he was there to confirm who had done it. The top of her right thigh was the darkest, deepest of bruises. There were further, less severe bruises on her arms, her body and her face – and a scar on her neck.
‘I want you to know something.’
Billie, ignoring him, continued to sway and flout. To encourage her closer, McLeod pulled a note from his pocket, tucked it neatly into the top of her suspender: their legs were gently touching.
‘I want you to know I can put things right.’ McLeod’s reassuring voice was as discrete, as intimate, in this private club, as Billie’s dances. ‘Being honest,’ Billie’s first words to him were, ‘I’d rather just forget all about it.’ She continued her slow, deliberate, rhythmic movements: arching her back, rolling her shoulders, breasts gently swaying. ‘I’d like you to forget about it. Have fun.’ Billie had perfected the art of convincing men that the only thing between her and them during one of her dances was the waves of the music.
‘Fun? Seeing you covered in bruises isn’t fun.’ McLeod was sharper in his response than he intended, and reminded of the club’s no touching policy, but was compelled to continue. ‘I can get him. I know I can. I just need to hear from your lips first who done this to you.’

Struggling to contain his frustration, he looked her directly in the eyes for the first time as he continued. ‘You don’t have to say anything. Just give me the nod. Was it Kavanagh?’

Visibly distressed, Billie continued to dance. She flicked her hair from back to front to conceal her face from onlookers and preyed for the song to come to an end, but McLeod had arrived with a goal. ‘I defended him. Cocaine. He was guilty as hell.’ His eyes glanced round the room, then continued, ‘New evidence can be very easy to come across. Give me the green light: Kavanagh will go down for decades.’
‘Why are you doing this?’
‘I know it was him.’
‘The police didn’t: they took statements; watched CCTV; asked me questions: I never told them a thing.’
‘They tell me. I’ve got two names.’ McLeod pronounced them slowly, deliberately. ‘Patrick Kavanagh and Edward Vasive.’ As the name Edward Vasive left McLeod’s lips, Billie’s jaw collapsed towards the floor: her swaying ceased.
‘Who did you hear that name from?’ With that, Billie turned began to pull her breasts into her minimalist red top and walk away. ‘I mean it. Just keep out. This has nothing to do with you.’ She made her way to the dressing room. McLeod, shocked, embarrassed and flaccid, left the club via the same narrow, steep staircase with a dilemma that he had never expected, concerning one of Edinburgh’s greatest enigmas: Edward Vasive.

© Will Collins February 2008
wgncollins@yahoo.co.uk

Will is studying Creative Writing at Winchester University

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