The first step
Claire Scott looked around the office earnestly. Her colleagues had asked her to join their evenings out so many times since she had started work there, but she had always declined. Now, the night that she really needed to let loose, get into a nightclub, they were all silent.
The finance department of the local council offices where she worked was small, there were two groups of five people, and one supervisor, squirreled away in the basement, the bowels of the large government building in the East End of London, and it was grim. Hence the teams being entirely made up of post university hipsters, kids in their early twenties, just starting out on the work ladder, without ambition or worries. They’d move on, they all did, but not her. Claire was at least ten years older than them all and was there for the long haul. Until she got what she needed anyway.
Maisy, a pretty, long haired free spirit drifted past her desk, “hey Claire.”
They were a nice bunch of kids, but that was what they were. She envied them their innocence. She’d spent the last six months avoiding getting familiar with all of them. She’d learned a long time ago that getting close to anyone jeopardised what she was doing, so, she held everyone at arms’ length.
“I’m good, thanks. You look good.” It was no lie, Maisy did look amazing, she was wearing skinny jeans and black heeled boots with a glittery tight vest. The rest of the office were glammed up a little more than usual.
“We’re all heading to Black Books.”
She knew, she’d heard them talking about it all week, hence her interest. If she could get into the club, with a group she’d be hidden, she could look around. That was what she wanted. Clues that she could use to finally bury her past, and they were in that club, she knew it. All her planning and investigation had led to that place, this was her in.
Schooling her face into a shocked expression, she widened her eyes, “really? That place off the TV? The DJ place?”
She nodded, “the very same, you want to come?” It was offered genuinely, but she also knew that the other woman didn’t expect her to accept.
“Oh, I couldn’t. I’m not dressed…and I’m not like you guys.” She knew she looked dreadful, in her sweater dress over loose leggings and flat ankle boots. But it wasn’t just her clothes, she deliberately wore glasses too big for her face, and her hair was pulled into tight curls, a definite throwback to perms of the eighties. Being average, looking average – all meant she slid under the radar of life. No one noticed her, on the tube to work, in the gym or supermarket, and she would gain zero attention in a busy hip and happening club. It was what she knew, and what she wanted.
“That’s bullshit, Claire.” She was genuine, Maisy was one of life’s nice girls. Not a bitchy bone in her body, some of the others who’d worked there had been nasty, sniggering at her, not even trying to hide it, but the current work team, they were different. “You want to come? Jake was getting tickets; I think he has a spare.”
“I don’t want to be a damp squib on your night.”
She shook her head, “it’ll be fun, I always feel there’s more to you than meets the eyes. Be nice to see you let your hair down! Come along, it will be fun.”
Claire’s outward smile was meek, grateful, but inside she was squealing. This. Was. It.
Nine of them left the office together, and if the other seven had an issue with her being there, they said nothing. Instead, they all piled into cabs and moved to a busy pub in the suburb that housed Black Books.
A huge outside table in the early evening sunshine was soon filled with empty glasses and plates, they’d eaten, drunk and made merry. No one noticed that Claire’s drinks were tonic with out the gin, she wasn’t going to get drunk tonight, but was happy for everyone to think she was part of it all. Everyone was excited, there was something about this place that made people go out of their way. If she were to believe the conversation around the table, then there were people travelling from all over the country for the Friday night trip to Black Books. If Jake hadn’t had a spare ticket, she’d not have been able to join them, that would have ruined her.
A few times they talked about leaving the pub, making the short walk to the club, but then someone bought a drink, and they stayed a little longer. More friends joined them, and when they did finally leave, just after ten, there were maybe thirty of them, walking on mass.
There was a queue outside the club, full of beautiful people, she should have thought it through, she stood out like a sore thumb. Reluctantly, she pulled a tie from her bag and wound her shapeless hair up in a top knot, then tightened the belt of her sweater dress, in an attempt to give her body a little more shape. It was hardly a transformation, but she felt a little easier as they entered the building. Jake had the digital tickets on his phone, which, after his crazy texting to meet all his friends, almost died, so the nine of them held up the entry for the rest of the masses amidst a chorus of boos.
When they finally entered the club, she froze, because it was amazing. A huge barn of a building, with swirling lights, pulsating music and beautiful people. It was breath taking. The old versions of her would have loved the club, not that she got many chances to let go when she was younger. And that person was gone, and she would never be the same. She shook herself reminding her inner voice that she was here with a purpose, not or fun.
With a grin, she followed the group into the bar, wondering how long it would be until she could disappear without anyone noticing.
It was standing room only, and Jake and another of the guys from the office elbowed their way to the bar, she stood with Maisy and a couple of the other girls, waiting until the boys returned with a couple bottles of wine, and plastic cups to tip it into.
As they handed around the drinks, she scanned the room, it was huge, the ceiling being several stories height above her head. Rigs of lights at different levels, all flashing in different rhythms, creating a depth of patterns and colours that she’d never seen before. In each corner of the room was a podium, and two or three scantily clad dancers gyrating wildly. The lights washing like a meteor shower across their bodies.
There was a balcony, around the edges of the room, maybe a VIP area? As she was trying to work out how she could get invited there, Maisy leaned close and shouted into her ear over the loud music.
“Apparently there are two bands visiting, all up there in the VIP area.” She pointed past the bar to the opposite end of the room, and a rope cordon that was manned by burly bouncers. Behind them she could vaguely make out groups of people sat drinking and laughing.
“Come on, let’s dance over there, see if we can get an invite.”
Despite her protests, Maisy dragged Claire along with the other girls to that end of the room, and they started to dance. Claire could dance, she’d had lessons as a child, and had ben to dances more formal than this, but she hadn’t for a long time, and wasn’t about to start now. Instead, she leaned against a pillar nearby and pretended to watch the girls dance, all the while her eyes were scanning the room.
It was then she noticed the smaller balcony, or a platform, she couldn’t tell from this distance, but it was next to the VIP area, and she noticed that everyone present, or the females anyway, were glancing there, a lot.
She should have read more about this, should have looked into the mechanics of the place, but she hadn’t found out much when she’d searched. There were very few pictures on social media that would have shown her the layout. Which surprised her, as they lived in a world where every meal was shared in Instagram.
Maisy came bouncing across to her and elbowed her exaggeratedly. “Are you having fun?”
It was a shout over the music once again, and Claire nodded, “it’s a long time since I came to a place like this, thanks for bringing me.”
She grinned, “no problem. I’m glad you came. Now all we need to see is if he turns up.”
Instantly her attention heightened, “who’s he?”
Maisy turned to her and grinned, “Big G! He owns the place, and he is hot as fuck.” She gestured at the balcony, “he and his assistant, they sit there, like gods, or Kings – they’ve got thrones, it’s all so amazing, wouldn’t it be amazing, if he called me up to his private dancefloor.”
Private dancefloor? She had to learn more about that.
She nodded, “I can only imagine what he’d be like. All power and…” She ended with a shudder of anticipation.
“You’d sleep with him?”
Maisy laughed, “fuck, Claire. I’d fuck him, because he’s apparently spectacular, and it would be worth it, just to see the other side of this place.” She beamed, “he takes a woman most nights, if you believe the rumour mill. Do you think he’d like me?”
Did she? He was a gangster, Claire knew that this club was part of the criminal underworld, and that they were violent crooked people who left no prisoners in their need to win. She had no name as to who owned this place, but she’d heard of the infamous Big G. Thought there were no pictures, no snippets, nothing to identify the mysterious owner.
“He’d be crazy not to.”
Several songs blended from one to another, her wine glass was refilled several times by the guys when they found them, and now that she was here, actually in the place she was glad of the alcohol to calm her nerves. She knew it could well be the worst thing she did in a long time, but she had to get upstairs, somehow.
Suddenly the buzz grew, and she knew that the man known as Big G was there. Glancing to the small balcony, she spotted two men, she couldn’t make out their features, it was dark, but she could almost feel the eyes as they scouted the area, not missing anything.
“There he is, isn’t he hot!” Maisy shouted to her.
Claire shrugged, she could now make out the face on the left, he was average looking, dark haired, pale skin, a long scar dissecting his cheek. The man to his right was still shrouded in darkness.
“The one with the scar?”
Maisy gave a shrug, “he’s hot.”
He wasn’t. But that didn’t matter, taking the excitement as a reason to disappear, she excused herself. “I need the bathroom; I’ll see you in a minute.”
With that she headed to the corridor on the left that led to the bathrooms, and hopefully more.