Prudence: Chapter 3d

Constance strides through the Gallery, incandescent amongst a crowd that is largely dark and conformist. That’s exactly what they must become to be in here – they must become what we want. They might think themselves individuals, might think themselves original, but few people are. Somewhere, somebody is doing the same thing you are and commending themselves for their originality.

A young man pats Constance on the butt as she passes the DJ station. One of her gargantuan security grabs the young man by the scruff of the neck. Another twists his arm behind his back. The young man dangles between them. Security might literally tear him apart – or at least that’s what the surrounding crowd fear.

Wait! Constance says.

They’re so close to the speakers now that her voice is indistinguishable from the music. It vibrates in your body and in the walls. Glasses left unattended on tables shake.

Constance steps up to the young man. He can’t be more than twenty-one, with a crew cut and heavy-lidded eyes that make him appear inattentive. He doesn’t care about what he’s done. This is a story he’ll be able to tell forever, how he patted Constance on the butt.

You want to have some fun? Constance asks.

Why don’t you blow me? the young man asks.

Constance caresses the young man’s cheek, then traces her fingers down his neck. He shudders within the vice of security. Constance steps closer to him until her breasts press against his chest. His gaze descends. Constance’s hand continues to move, although now it’s obscured by her proximity to the young man. It is clear, however, it moves in the direction of the young man’s crotch.

His breath stutters.

His head tilts back.

His face reddens.

Constance steps away as a damp stain spreads across the young man’s crotch. A woman in a blue dress is the first to spot it and points it out to her friend. Her friend laughs. Others catch on. Now everybody points and laughs at the young man. He flails. Security release him. The young man flops onto the dance floor.

He scrambles to his feet and tries to bust through the crowd. They circle around him and push him this way and that. He ricochets between laughter and scorn and condemnation. It’s a combination that crushes him. The laughter grows louder. He grows tearful. Now some pity him – although not too much. Mob mentalities are common, and often cruel. A gap opens in the perimeter. He crashes through and disappears.

Constance continues onwards. These interactions are not new to her, although they have grown infrequent as she has aged. One day, this attention will stop. It is an inevitability. Once, it existed so far as to be unrecognisable. But now it is nearing, and when the mood strikes her, she wallows in a mixture of self-pity and sadness until she can recompose herself.

Crossing the lounge, she bypasses the bar, and enters the juncture. At no point does she pause or slow. The various funnels that lead to the gaming rooms and piano lounge are of no interest for her. Now this is who Constance is – focused and purposeful. She is magnificent and regal. There is but one thing on her mind.

She heads into the restaurant, plotting a course for Mr Hermes. She slides into the booth alongside Quinn. He’s conscious of getting too close to Mr Hermes, so holds his position as best as he can, but now he has Constance’s body pressed against him. She’s hot. Burning. He’s not sure where to look, so stares down at the table. The security hold back respectfully.

‘Can I help you, Constance?’ Mr Hermes asks.

‘What’re we going to do with you?’ Constance says.

‘Careful, Constance, you mustn’t overstep.’

‘Your ownership doesn’t entitle impropriety.’

Mr Hermes grins. ‘Doesn’t it?’

‘A gentle reminder.’

‘A gentle reminder given too often becomes a bore.’

‘It’s important you remember the boundaries.’

‘A reproach that applies to you also.’

Constance places a hand on Quinn’s. He blushes.

‘Is the money he’s offering worth whatever temptation he’s set you?’ she asks.

Quinn has no answer. She is overwhelming. He can neither consider her question nor conjure the rationale to work through it. Neither does he see Amber duck her head into the entrance to look for him, nor does she see him as Constance obstructs her view. Such is the way here, where whim can change the entire outcome of a night. And a life. Amber moves on.

‘He’ll reach into your soul, read your heart, hold aloft what you love most and strip it bare to see if you can handle it,’ Constance says. ‘Is money that important?’

‘Come, come, Constance,’ Mr Hermes says. ‘I don’t recall you ever being so prudish. You’ve become too soft. When you first came here, you were hard and desperate.’

‘Desperate perhaps, and not for those reasons.’

‘Do you remember Sarah?’

‘My predecessor.’

‘She was once hard. Sharp. Unforgiving. But time softened her. She became everybody’s friend – a cautionary tale. Your position isn’t about being everybody’s friend.’

‘Recently, I’ve begun to wonder what it is about.’

‘Certainly not about needlessly scaring a poor, young man either.’

‘I don’t think what I’m doing is much different to what you do.’

‘I don’t frighten, Constance. I liberate.’

‘You are a treacherous old fool with a black heart.’

Mr Hermes throws his head back and laughs.

‘Some people sit opposite him for greed,’ Constance tells Quinn. ‘Some people sit opposite him because they have debts they need to pay. And some people sit opposite him just for the challenge, as if they think they can outsmart the devil himself. Regardless of the motive, when the night’s come and gone, will you be able to live with yourself?’

‘You are getting too soft, Constance.’

Whereas before, Mr Hermes chided her, now an edge enters his tone. His eyes blaze fleetingly. But Constantly is unaffected. She smirks – somebody who has grown largely indifferent to the dangers of life, and now navigates the day with a wry amusement.

She slides from the booth. ‘Choose well,’ she tells Quinn.

‘Excuse me, ma’am!’ Quinn calls after her.

Constance pivots on her heel.

‘Why do you let him do this? I know he owns the club—’

‘It’s not about ownership,’ Constance says. ‘At least not in that sense.’

‘Then what?’

‘Consider him yang to my ying. All life is about balance.’

‘Indeed it is,’ Mr Hermes says.

He pats Quinn’s hand. Whereas Constance’s touch was warm, Mr Hermes’s is cold.

‘Well, Quinn?’ Mr Hermes asks.

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ Constance says.

She sweeps from the Lounge, security trailing behind her.