Prudence: Chapter 2b

You can break down the people who come here into two groups: Transients and Staples.

The Transients are the tourists, or the locals who come once or twice, and – either through design or circumstance or fulfilment – that will be it for them. When they chat to friends or colleagues, they will casually slip in, ‘Oh, I went to Prudence’, as if it’s a somehow-offhand revelation. When they are pressed, they will talk about the exclusivity, and the magic of their night, even if they did little more than drink, dance, and chat – things they could do at any club. But something would’ve touched them – something they are incapable of understanding, and engaging, and which they only glimpsed.

The Staples are often here, acclimating  to the energy and feeling something beneath it – a seductiveness to open up and explore and give more of themselves, until they leave behind their inhibitions and see where their desires will take them. Some become addicted to that journey of self-discovery, until they begin to lose themselves.

Then there are Boyd and Ox, who are always here – or so it seems. If I searched my memory, I’m sure I could find the first time they arrived, callow and cocky, wide-eyed, and sometimes over-awed. But time has little meaning to me, and while I could say they have been here at least two decades, they have grown to have a timelessness about them – if quizzed, people might assume they are as young as twenty-five, or as old as fifty.

Perhaps that’s why they have become a pastiche of the decades in how they present themselves, with the only constant being that they prefer black, and wear ankle-length overcoats. Ox also wears Ray Ban sunglasses, although it’s questionable how he sees anything. It might be an issue if he ever moved. Boyd’s lone idiosyncrasy is his boots, which are leather with silver buckles.For as formidable as they might appear, they are good natured and handsome – Boyd with his spiky hair that makes him look cheeky, Ox with his overgrown mullet and thick beard.

In another life, they might’ve worked odd jobs to get by while they sat on a beach, sunning and surfing and always looking for the next wave to conquer. Or they might’ve been poets in some beatnik bar, offering whimsical insights on how they see the world. Or … well, anything where they could roll with the Earth’s orbits, and find those minor truths so many are oblivious to, but which they delight in.

They sit on stools at the end of the South Bar, each drinking a Gallia Lager. Just nudging past Ox is Edan LeBeau, moving like a man who expects others to step aside for him.

The bartender who greets him is one of the experienced bartenders. He wears the black slacks, white shirt, and black vest that is uniform here, although his vest has gold buckles. His nametag identifies him as ‘Prince’. His smile is disarming. Immediately, he is whatever the customer needs – mentor, confidante, or servant.

‘There you go, Mr LeBeau,’ Prince says, sliding a Tom Collins across the bar.

LeBeau thrusts forward a fifty. ‘Thank you, Prince,’ he says.

Prince takes the fifty but doesn’t bother making change – this is a transaction that has become rote.

LeBeau picks up his Tom Collins, sips at it, and surveys the crowd. ‘Full night,’ he says.

‘Scouting talent, Mr LeBeau?’ Prince asks.

LeBeau snorts. ‘I’ll catch you later.’

As LeBeau moves to leave, he bumps into a lithe redhead approaching the bar. He jerks back his drink. Drops of it splash on Ox’s sleeve.

‘Watch it, man!’ Ox says.

LeBeau says nothing, steps around the redhead, and moves on.

‘What a dick!’ Boyd says.

Ox takes a crimson handkerchief from his pocket. ‘Maximum dickage.’ He wipes his sleeve dry.

Boyd and Ox finish their beers and plant the empties on the bar. Ox slaps the bar.

‘Two more!’

Prince – serving a couple of blondes – holds up his hand to acknowledge that he’s heard their order. Boyd and Ox swivel back on their stools to survey the crowd – or at least Ox does; Boyd gauges the aesthetic of each individual patron – both the men and women.

‘A lotta action here tonight,’ Boyd says.

Prince appears behind them with two more Gallia Lagers. He holds them out. Boyd and Ox reach over their respective shoulders to take them. No money is involved here. Boyd and Ox’s goodwill is endless – something that Prince has never understood, but is a directive from above.

‘Some times,’ Prince says, ‘you can have too much action.’

‘You’re only saying that because you work here every night,’ Boyd says.

‘And I serve you two every night!’

‘Now that’s a good point,’ Ox says.

‘It is, isn’t it?’ Boyd says.

‘The man’s a point-maker,’ Ox says.

‘Why don’t you get moving?‘ Prince asks. ‘Circulate. There are lots of beautiful women. How about those two?’ He points at a pair of blondes on the second floor who stand up from their table – none other than Holly and Amber, just after Flavia has left them. ‘They’re alone.’

‘Blonde does nothing for me,’ Boyd says.

‘Which one?’

Boyd points out Holly, just as she leads Amber away. ‘The one on the right.’

‘She’s gorgeous,’ Ox says.

‘But not in a lustful way. She looks the sort you’d romance. Who you’d take to romantic dinners and cuddle on the couch with. The type you’d propose to on one knee, and who’d have your children.’

‘I concede your argument,’ Ox says.

‘That’s not what you want?’ Prince says.

‘I like her friend,’ Ox says, as Amber disappears from the balcony. ‘She looks meek, but I can imagine her cutting loose. There’s something sly about her. I can imagine her letting me do indecent things to her. I can imagine crossing boundaries with her. Oh yeah. She’s somebody I could objectify. More than that, she’s somebody who’d want me to objectify her. And she’d like to objectify me.’

‘Do you really believe all that?’ Prince asks.

‘God no.’

‘Is that what you’re looking for in a relationship?’ Prince asks.

‘Who’s looking?’

‘You have a tendency to over-analyse.’

‘The man’s got another point,’ Ox says.

‘To points,’ Body says.

He holds up his beer. Ox toasts it. Both drink.

Joy emerges from the crowd, angelic but sultry, her long, dark, wavy hair bouncing on naked shoulders. A leather satchel hangs on her right hip. The strap goes over her right shoulder, cuts across her cleavage, pronouncing her breasts in her leather vest. Her black leather pants are so tight they exhibit not a single crease. The heels of her stiletto boots seem ludicrously high – a fine gold chain around her right ankle – but she moves as easily as if she is wearing slippers.

Because Boyd and Ox are fixtures here, they have seen countless beautiful women. They abound here. But Joy is something more than that – somebody ethereal who moves through the world as if she expects the world to reshape around her.

They each see her as she would appeal most to them individually, and for a moment are breathless. This is not just beauty, but something more, something transcendental, and it robs them of their banter.

She smiles at them as she passes.

‘Amazing,’ Boyd says.

Joy pushes through the crowd and heads into the juncture.