Cloud Gate — part 7

Read from part 1

The Lounge

The car pulls up to the curb in a non-descript location. Mark stops the engine but does not turn to face Eilene. We suspect that he’s waiting for her to say something. She remains quiet.

“This is the last place that I know of, I’m not sure that he’ll be here though.”

“Let’s go.” she says

He hesitates; then looks in the rear view mirror to meet her eyes.

“Let me go in, I’ll find him. You wait here.”

“Let’s go.” she repeats.

“It’s not really the kind of place that you’d enjoy.”

“How sure are you of that?”

“Mrs Bryson, let me go and find him. You wait here.”

“Driver, I’m coming with you.”

He turns his head to look out of the driver’s side window. There are fresh raindrops against the glass.

“Men congregate here; without their wives. You’d be out of place.”

She holds the tumbler up to her window, taps the glass against the window and then against her teeth.

“I am out of place. When am I ever not out of place?”

“Show me.” she is adamant.

He turns to her, his elbow on the back of his seat.

“I’m not sure that I’ll be able to get you in. I’m not sure that I’ll event be able to get in myself.”

“Try.”

He opens the door and gets out. We see him walking up to an unmarked door up a short flight of stairs. The door is made of frosted glass fronted by a security gate. After a moment he knocks on the frosted glass. The door remains closed.

He takes a step back and looks up; perhaps there is a security camera.

He steps forward and knocks again. Then steps back and waits.

To the left of him, below the stairs a basement door opens. He takes another step back to face it. A non-descript man wearing glasses comes out.

Now we see the two men from within the car through the wet glass of the car’s window.

Mark walks down the flight of stairs to speak to the man. They seem to converse for a minute then he turns and heads back to the car. He opens the door and sits down.

“Your husband isn’t here.”

We see her look up at him and put the tumbler down on the seat beside her.

“I want to see.” She is insistent.

“They won’t let you in.”

“They will. Do you need cash?” she starts to reach for her wallet.

He turns to look at her.

“Put that away.”

“Fine, if you really want I will get you in.”

We see him he get out of the car again, and watch him from within the car as he walks directly to the basement door and knocks. This time the door opens more quickly. We see another short conversation after which he returns to the car and bends down next to her window.

She looks at him through the window, makes him wait next to the car. Then she pushes a button to let the window down.

He puts both hands on the door where the window has disappeared.

“Let’s go.” he says, “Don’t fuck this up.”

She laughs.

“Finally! So you are alive after all.”

He opens the door but does not turn to hold it open for her, she has to push it open herself to get out. He takes a step away and turns away as she pushes the door closed.

“What’s the place called?” she asks.

“I’m not sure, I’ve never asked.”

His tone has changed; here he is no longer the driver. Here it is for her to defer to him.

They walk to the basement door where the man in glasses is waiting, he opens the door as they walk down the stairs and we see them disappear through it. The door closes.

Now we see them from the front walking down a dim passage. It is clean and freshly painted but kept in low light. The man in glasses walks behind them.

Mark takes Eilene’s elbow and leans in to speak softly to her.

“Do what I say. Stay half a step behind me and be calm. You won’t need money here.”

We see them from behind as they walk up to a small foyer where a young woman in an evening dress is waiting.

“Good evening, nice to see you again,” she says.

It is clear that she has never seen either of them before.

“Hello.” Mark says with a tilt of his head and a smile.

“What’s your name?” he asks.

“Miranda” she says without missing a beat.

“You look lovely tonight.”

“Thank you, can I show you to a table?”

“Thank you, we’ll find our way. Perhaps we prefer the bar.”

“Of course,” she says and turns to let them through.

The man in the glasses is no longer present as they walk past her and around a corner to the right.

We enter a well-appointed lounge; there is a bar to the left, booths along the side and small tables that fill the center of the room. Small groups of men and women fill the room, dressed to varying levels of elegance. Bare-breasted women all dressed in the same straight black skirts with slits to the knee circle the room. No music plays.

Mark guides Eilene towards the bar where a male bartender is waiting.

“What’ll it be?”

Mark speaks

“Walker Red for me; she’s having a sidecar.”

The bartender turns and pours the drinks.

When he returns Mark continues: “And three Casa Herradua.”

The bartender returns with three sipping glasses of tequila. Mark takes one and leaves the other two on the bar counter. He turns to face the room while Eilene faces the bar.

Neither speaks for a while, preferring to sip their tequila.

After a few minutes Mark says, “Let’s find a booth. Leave your drinks here, they’ll bring them.”

They walk between the tables where men and women are seated in conversation, some with themselves, some chatting to the women there to serve them.

Eilene maintains her half step distance behind him as she looks around the room.

They find a small booth and sit down; he sits down first and then Eilene seats herself at the edge of the booth.

An Asian woman approaches with their drinks in her hands, sets them down on the table and then kneels beside the table facing to the side towards the back of the room.

Mark speaks first and addresses the woman.

“What’s your name?”

“What do you want it to be?”

“Alexandra.”

The woman turns her head towards them and smiles.

“Hello, my name is Alexandra.”

“Hello.” says Eilene sweetly.

Eilene reaches out and lightly puts her hand on the woman’s shoulder, feeling the skin. The woman turns her head back to face straight ahead of her and straightens her spine. After a minute Eilene brushes a lock of the woman’s jet-black hair behind her ear.

“Are you having a good time tonight?” Eilene asks.

“Of course.” the woman replies.

Eilene laughs gently.

“Good, you seem to know every answer.” she says with a smile.

After a few seconds Mark says, “Thank you, you can come back in two minutes.”

The woman wordlessly gets up and heads back to the bar. They are left in silence.

“Are they prostitutes?” asks Eilene.

“No,” says Mark. He picks up his glass and gestures to a set of heavy curtains on the other side of the room.

“You seem to know your way around.”

“Only the lounge.”

“And Tom, does he know his way around?”

He looks at her.

“Of course.”

“Of course,” she echo’s.

A second passes.

“She’s very beautiful.” Eilene says.

“They all are.”

“Does it make you feel less beautiful?” he asks.

Eilene thinks about this for a bit.

“No, I’m past comparing myself to other women.”

“Wise move.” He says.

“Does she make you horny?” she asks.

He laughs out loud and puts his glass down, then puts his arm on the booth seatback behind her without touching her.

“What is the right answer to that question?” he asks back.

She inhales and then exhales again. She turns her head to face him.

“The right answer is ‘yes’.”

“The answer is ‘no’.” he says, “But, as I’ve said, I haven’t been behind those curtains.”

Now it’s her turn to laugh.

“Your husband is going to see our time here tonight on his credit card.

Nothing is free; everything is recorded down to the minute.

Her time kneeling here next to the table, every word she spoke.”

“Fuck his credit card,” says Eilene.

Eilene takes the last sip from her first tequila and then swallows the second in one gulp.

The Asian woman returns and kneels down next to their table in exactly the same position as she did before.

Mark leaves her to sit in silence for a minute and then speaks.

“Thank you,” he says.

She silently gets up, clears the empty glasses from the table and leaves.

They watch the women circle the room for a while when Eilene speaks again.

“It’s like a dance,” she says “the way they move.”

“It is,” he replies, “not a care in the world. Here we all leave our cares behind; the wife, the husband, the kids, the noise and traffic.”

“But not the money.” she interjects.

“Never the money.” he confirms.

A striking woman with olive skin approaches; she is wearing a traditional Muslim headscarf covering her hair but her breasts and midriff remain exposed.

Mark turns his hand slightly to signal that she should come over which she does. She kneels down in exactly the same position as what the Asian woman occupied a few minutes ago.

“Why do you wear the scarf?” he asks.

The woman turns her head to face them and smiles.

“Out of respect for my family.” she replies.

Eilene laughs again.

“Very good!” she smiles “Perfect.”

The woman holds Eilene’s gaze.

“Thank you.” she says, “I’m glad that you’re enjoying our time together.”

“I am.”

The woman faces away from them again.

After a minute Mark speaks.

“Bring us something more.”

“Or someone more.” Eilene adds.

Silently the woman rises and walks off to the back of the room while they watch her.

Within a minute she returns holding a small silver tray in one hand. On it is laid out four perfect lines of cocaine and a glass straw.

She elegantly drops down to her haunches in front of Eilene, holding her gaze.

“Blow.” she says.

Eilene looks deeply into the woman’s eyes, smiles and reaches for the straw. She slowly bends her head to the tray, lightly holds a nostril closed; then inhales.

Mark does the same.

Read part 8

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