Teo leaves the gaming room and performs a patrol, which he does every forty-five minutes, unless he’s otherwise occupied with Constance. It’s rare that there’s trouble, but he feels the potential simmers here greater than anywhere else he’s worked. It’s in the gaming rooms, the way people compete, and the way talent like Noah and Patricia are put up as meat; it’s on the dance floor, where the energy is combative; it’s on the patio, where people retreat to gawk and gossip and – sometimes, when the risk takes them – to fornicate.
For now, though, everybody is in sync. The collective is a single pulsating lifeform. Teo nods to himself as he circles the dance floor. People give him a wide berth. Despite how long he’s worked here, despite being Constance’s confidante, he is the interloper on patrol – the shadow that cuts through the emotion. He has never had trouble getting through a crowd. But here, nobody obstructs him.
At the South Bar, he sees Boyd and Ox. Teo throws out a hand. Boyd and Ox shake it in turn, chorusing, ‘Teo!’
‘You two jokers!’ Teo grins at them. The grimness and threat do not fall away. The smile awkwardly masks them, an ill-fitting garment that everybody is too afraid to comment upon. ‘You’re in here every night, you sit at this very spot and you do … nothing. Why don’t you get out there? What do you think Prudence is about?’
‘Prudence is about sitting here, drinking our beer, and looking damn cool doing it,’ Ox says, holding up his Gallia beer.
‘Oh yeah!’ Boyd says. He toasts Ox. ‘And Constance loves us right here. We’re her ornaments. Speaking of Constance …’
Constance sweeps by, performing her own patrol. She’s also given a wide berth, but for different reasons – awe, respect, admiration, lust, and even fear. Often when people see her, they will not know how to respond, or what to feel, until she is gone. Then most will react as if they have seen a celebrity, although here Constance’s marquee borders on divinity. Her security trail her like a presidential guard. She leads them towards the juncture.
‘Busy night for her,’ Teo says. ‘Now, getting back to you two, why don’tcha get on out there and meet somebody?’
‘We admire from afar, Teo.’
‘You two wouldn’t know what to do if a pretty girl fell in your laps.’
Amber flits past, trying to penetrate a gap in the crowd. A behemoth turns and bumps her. Amber’s knocked into Boyd’s and Ox. Their reflexes are immediate – you would not think they could move so quickly given how much they drink, and how indolent they appear. They catch her, and steady her, careful not to touch her inappropriately.
‘You okay?’ Boyd asks.
‘Sorry,’ Amber says. ‘Thanks!’
‘You’re welcome,’ Ox says.
Amber moves on, disappearing through the crowd.
Teo waves in her direction. ‘Point made!’ he says.
‘Come on, Teo,’ Boyd says. ‘We don’t see women the way everybody else sees them.’
‘Nobody sees anything the way you two see it.’
Prince approaches them from behind the bar. He hands Gallia Lagers to Boyd and Ox, and a Tequila Slammer to Teo.
‘Thanks, Prince,’ Teo says.
‘These two bending your ear?’ Prince asks.
‘Hey, no bending about it,’ Boyd says, taking a sip from his Gallia. ‘There are women you lust after, there are women you chase after, there are women you dream about and there are women you fall in love with.’
‘And in all this,’ Teo sweeps his arm expansively, ‘what sort of woman are you looking for?
Boyd and Ox stare at each other wordlessly. Teo bellows uproariously with laughter.
‘You two are hopeless,’ he says. ‘But never change. The world needs people like you. Later.’
He downs his Slammer in one gulp, hands the empty glass to Prince, then resumes his patrol.