To be frank Mike had lost all track of time, and the recognition of this fact caused him to break out in a cold sweat. The more he thought about it the more he became convinced that two or even three hours had passed without his having a grip on the slipping minutes, and he wondered whether it was past midnight. "What time is it?" he cried, sitting bolt upright.
"Ease up yourself, yo," chuckled Lefranc, a portly Jamaican in a woolen cap who was occupying two thirds of the sofa Mike shared. "It's still early yet, mon."
Mike and Lefranc were sitting in the VIP lounge at the back of the second storey of Coriander's, the artillery march of the music downstairs thrumming through the soles of their shoes. For the fourth or fifth time Mike refused the ill-formed hand-rolled cigarettes Lefranc was passing back and forth with his friends, waving away the dense smoke which was a funny mixture of sweet and acrid. "I don't smoke," Mike reminded Lefranc.
"Everybody smokes, mon," said Lefranc. "It's just that some people don't know it yet."
The lounge was small and intimate, peppered with sofas and easy-chairs and lava lamps. Mike found the globs of oil inside the lamps to be hypnotic in a way he had never experienced, despite seeing lava lamps in the past. As he watched the globs separate and combine in a slow samba he wondered when Courtney would come back to retrieve him, and then worried that something had gone wrong downstairs with Nick. Again Mike eyed the Filipino bouncer who had been eying him suspiciously since he arrived. "He's with us, he's cool," Courtney had told the bouncer.
Suddenly Mike remembered about the time again, and wondered how he'd forgotten to keep remembering it. "I've got to go!" he cried.
"Cherry doesn't go on for another hour, brother," said Lefranc as he drew on one of the aromatic cigarettes. "Quit your fretting about, mon."
"No, no," persisted Mike, squirming out from beside Lefranc. "You don't understand. I'm going to get in trouble. I have to go." He hit the floor with both feet and swayed a bit, his balance unpredictable. "Thanks for being so nice to me," he added.
"Peace," said Lefranc.
The lounge seemed bigger on the way out than it had on the way in, and it took Mike an enormous amount of time to cross the threadbare carpet to the heavy wooden door. He flicked his eyes up at the Filipino nervously. "I'm just going out," he murmured. The Filipino said nothing. Mike went through the door.
He was assaulted by a wall of noise. The second storey bar had no dance floor but rather a maze of dim tables separated by screens, the ways between them jammed with knots of standing adults smoking and drinking and shouting into one another's ears. Their talk and laughter melded into a uniform alien babble that was indistinguishable from the treble buzzing of the amplified rock music coming through the speakers. The air above their heads was a yellow blanket that swam and drifted seductively and strangely.
Without guides or friends Mike felt suddenly at a loss. He didn't even know which way to go to find the stairwell back to street level.
Also, for some reason he felt profoundly hungry.
As he was worming his way through the forest of people he was shoved sideways and he hit the ground hard. He felt his glasses leave his face. Raised voices sounded above him, all around him. The crowd was seizing and warping. Feet scuffled. A fist-fight had broken out, a bubble of vacuum opening up around the combatants.
He turned to see the bouncer coming out of the lounge, zeroing in on the fight, raising his hands and his voice for order.
Mike sought refuge under a table.
He sat paralyzed with indecision between two sets of large legs, pawing carefully around in the shadows for his glasses. He found them and sighed with relief as his fingers explored the intact surfaces of the lenses. He put them on and wondered what to do next. How does one choose the most auspicious moment to crawl out from under somebody's legs?
A new pair of legs walked up to the table. "I lost the kid," said a voice which Mike tentatively identified as the bouncer.
"You pucking idiot!" said one of the people at the table. "I gibe you one thing to do..."
"What's this about a kid, na?" asked the other person at the table. All three of the men wore heavy, dark boots. One of them had a long knife strapped to his leg. Mike caught a glimpse of a densely tattooed hand pawing for a cigarette and ducked his head to avoid its reach.
"I don't even know if he's a pucking kid or not," said the bouncer. "He's some kind of martial arts exfert or something, man. He pucking took out Nick."
"That just makes things easier for us, na?"
"Yeah man, but who is he? I don't want some pucking karate kid trying to be a hero when we do this job, right man?"
"I get you."
"I'll take care of it," promised the bouncer.
They were talking about him! Mike gulped and then, as smoothly as he could, crawled along the floor to the space beneath the next table, carefully picking his way over the feet radiating in from its edges. As a man switched his crossed leg from left to right Mike was forced to dodge backward, his cheek coming to rest against the smooth skin of a woman's inner thigh. "Oh Lee, you're such a flirt," she said from above.
"Huh?" said Lee, again recrossing his legs the other way. "I think I broke the seal," he added; "gotta take a leak."
Lee pushed back from the table and Mike took the opportunity to worm through the hole he had left, scooting behind Lee's chair and diving behind a screen. He straightened up only to find himself standing at the edge of another table full of babbling adults. Mike froze, uncertain what to do. One of the adults pushed a glass at him without looking. "Gimmie another rye and ginger," he commanded.
Mike accepted the glass and squirmed away through the crowd.