(Missed the last chapter? Go to 7: The Worker Bee. Just starting? Go to Prologue: This Is My Knife.)
February 8, 2014
THE LINE STRETCHED for two blocks down the uneven brick sidewalk and around the corner of the massive 1960s institutional brick building. It looked exactly like what it used to be—an old YMCA gym.
I gave my name to a burly bouncer, Italian-looking in a very 80’s, black velour sweat suit. He handed me small, plush, gray towel with the UrgePool logo—a fish shedding drops of water, emerging from a silver pool—embroidered on it.
“What’s this for?” I asked.
“Case you get wet.” He grinned at me, flashing crooked teeth.
“Okay.” I shrugged and smiled back. I’d heard there was a working pool in a VIP room, but doubted that a hand-towel would do the trick. Not that I had any intention of swimming in anything but alcohol.
The interior of the club was done in watery shades of blue and silver, with patterns of iridescent tile on the walls. In some parts the tile was pale blue and silver, like the surface of a pond on a sunny day. Elsewhere it went almost black, like deep water.
The patrons were a wild mix: I saw college kids, upscale hipsters, tourists and business people in expensive suits. The latter I couldn’t quite picture being into Vicktergarten, but I supposed they were there simply because UrgePool was the place to be.
And was it ever. It was only 9:30, but it felt like after midnight in the club. I glimpsed people in various stages of undress at the far end of the room, dancing to techno and hip hop beats, down in an empty pool that had been converted into a dance floor. The walls of the pool undulated in psychedelic blue and violet wave patterns created by what looked to be tiny LED lights and a sophisticated projection system.
Beyond the pool was a stage inhabited by a DJ. Behind him, Adam, Vicktergarten’s drummer, and Taz, the guitar player, were setting up. I didn’t see Branson. Chrome tables and couches covered in silver velvet lined either side of the pool. Enormous tropical plants and flowers broke the seating areas into secluded nooks where I noticed a few couples making out. Other people sipped drinks and watched the action on the dance floor below.
Closer to the main door, a long L-shape bar stretched down the street side and back walls. The bar was packed with groups of people having the kind of animated, yelling-over-the music conversations that leave you hoarse the next day.
I finally spotted Branson at the far end of the bar. He was wearing his usual uniform, untucked black button-down shirt with black jeans and red high-tops. He didn’t see me approaching, as he was intently focused on his conversation with a short, pudgy man in a threadbare plaid leisure suit. Mustard and lime green.
I hung back, not sure if I should interrupt what appeared to be business. The man saw me looking at them and turned to stare, his eyes bulging like a cartoon character through his wire-rimmed glasses. I almost laughed, but restrained myself out of respect for Branson.
Realizing he no longer had the man’s undivided attention, Branson turned. His eyes lit up and he stepped forward to kiss me. “Lacy, you look smashing. Come meet Matt Frasier. He’s one of the owners of UrgePool.”
As I shook Matt’s hand, he blushed. “Nice to meet you,” I said.
Matt mumbled and looked away, maybe due to the fact that his eyes were just about level with my cleavage. I found his lack of social graces endearing, but I had to wonder how he functioned here. The room was full of beautiful women.
“Lacy, I know this is terribly rude, but could you give us one more moment? We’re just about done,” Branson said.
I smiled and moved away, turning my back to allow them to finish their conversation in privacy. I entertained myself by watching the crowd. The low couches scattered at intervals between the bar and the pool/dance floor area were afforded semi-privacy by translucent dividers that resembled giant screen savers with moving patterns of oceanic color.
On one couch I glimpsed a group of Europeans looking fashionably disheveled in worn woolen scarves, leather coats and uncombed hair. Across from them, a group of bearded men in embroidered caftans sat drinking tea and smoking out of a hooka pipe. A black gentleman in a silk suit and fedora straight out of a 1920s jazz club strolled past a group of elegant transvestites sipping cosmopolitans and margaritas. In the generous expanse of floor between seating areas, a circle of B-boys took turns showing off their moves.
I felt Branson slip his arm around me and give me a kiss on the cheek. “Do you love this place or what?”
“It’s something else,” I agreed.
Branson grinned like a schoolboy, a look I wasn’t used to seeing on him, uber-cool hipster that he was.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Life, angel!” He grabbed me in his arms, laughing. “Life is happening!” Branson gave me a deep kiss, right there in the middle of the floor. I felt the heat spreading down my neck to my breasts, into the pit of my belly and down my legs. By the time he let me go I felt high, and I hadn’t even had my first drink yet. “Care to elaborate?” I murmured.
Branson looked at his watch, Cassio F91, beloved by geeks and terrorists alike. “Oops.” He looked toward the stage where Taz and Adam were taking their places. “Tell you after.” He kissed my cheek and sprinted toward the stage.
I found a seat at the end of the bar closest to the stage and ordered a vodka and cranberry. I’d seen Vicktergarten play at least a dozen times since Branson and I started dating, mostly little pubs catering to the edgier fringes of the college crowd. This venue was a whole other animal. The sunken dance floor in the pool quickly turned into a mosh pit, and the couches above filled with patrons watching intently, heads moving in time to the music.
The band, feeding off the energy of the crowd, swung into their second song without pausing: a catchy polka-ska-metal number called Succubus Dance. Next came one of my favorites, the aptly named Flying High, featuring Taz’s relentless guitar riffs and Branson’s moody vocals that started at a low growl and rose to soaring transcendence. I closed my eyes and let the sounds vibrate through my body, willing them to wash away everything that had happened in the past forty-eight hours.
AFTER THE SET, I watched Branson walking toward me. I was so happy for him that I abandoned any semblance of cool and threw myself into his arms. I was hoping for a repeat of our earlier kiss and he didn’t let me down.
“I’m getting sweat all over your beautiful dress,” Branson murmured when we came up for air.
“No worries,” I said, and held out my UrgePool hand towel. “We are equipped.”
Branson grinned and mopped his face and neck with the towel, then turned to signal the bartender, a twiggy redhead in a silver sequined tube top riding so low I could see her aureoles when she bent over the bar.
She gestured for Branson to come closer. “Ya’ll were hot out there! You must be thirsty enough to drain a cow.”
“Becca, this is my girlfriend, Lacy,” Branson said.
I stuck out my hand. Becca gave it the barest touch before turning back to Branson. “What can I get you? On the house.”
I have nothing against a little harmless flirtation, but Becca leaned over the bar with her arms crossed under her substantial breasts, pushing them up and toward Branson, as if the proffered drink might come from there.
I was about to open my mouth and suggest that she get her tits out of my man’s face, but Branson said, “An IPA,” without seeming to notice Becca’s hopeful offering, and turned toward me again. “And for the lady?”
“Vodka cran, please,” I said, smiling at him, but loud enough for Becca to hear. I didn’t know if Branson had really failed to notice the bartender’s display or if he was just that much of a gentleman. God love him, not many men would have been able to resist at least one glance. I’d found it hard not to stare, myself.
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Becca move away to get our drinks. “You’re something, you know that?” I said.
“I’ve got something, that’s what I know,” he said, and lightly brushed my lips with his.
“Well done, Branson!” A sonorous male voice cut through the sound of the retro funk and animated conversations as if it was amplified. Over Branson’s shoulder I saw a tall, middle-aged man in an expensive suit. He held a large bag of potato chips in one hand.
“Thanks!” Branson said, turning to face the man. He put his arm around me. “Lacy, this is Walt Conner, the other owner here.”
Walt, though an imposing looking character, gave me a sheepish smile and looked down at the sack of greasy potato chips. “Sorry, dinner on the run!” He set the chips on the bar and grabbed a napkin to wipe his hands before shaking mine. “Becca’s always telling me I need to eat healthier!”
As I shook his hand, I wondered if Becca was his daughter. Somehow I suspected not, though it was hard to imagine those two as a couple. He was probably her father’s age and outclassed Becca’s trailer-park tube top a thousand times with that bespoke gray worsted suit.
“You made a big splash out there, Branson,” Walt said with a crinkly smile. “That’s a little UrgePool joke.”
But Branson hadn’t needed to be cued, he was already laughing like it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard.
“Have your manager talk to Becca about getting you guys a regular night in here. How’s that sound?” Walt fiddled with his tie clip, a tiny fish carved out of ivory or bone.
“Great! Walt, that’s just great. I love this place!” Branson seemed to be about to throw his arms around the man, but settled for grabbing his hand and shaking it vigorously in both of his.
I was beginning to wonder if Branson had had something stronger than beer that night. I’d never seen him this warm and fuzzy. Walt patted Branson’s shoulder in a fatherly fashion, then reached into his suit jacket and pulled out two iridescent blue cards. “Since you’re one of us now, here’s a pass to the InnerPool.”
Branson smiled widely. “Man. This is fabulous. I’ve been dying to take a dip, but the only suits we have are of the birthday variety.” Branson put his hand on my ass, but I wriggled away. It felt weird and wrong with Walt standing there.
Walt smiled. “No matter. There are complementary suits available … if you want them.” He handed me the cards, gave Branson a wink and wandered off to work the crowd.
I turned the VIP cards over in my hand. On the front was a holographic image of the same fish that appeared on the towel. It was shedding drops of water and emerging from a silver pool. Inside each drop was a tiny silhouette of a shapely woman. On the back, the letters VIP and the word InnerPool undulated over a holographic sea like a setting sun.
The only thing that felt corporate about the card was a bar code and a magnetic strip. I held out one of the cards for Branson to examine, but he grabbed my hand and started pulling me towards the back of the club. We passed the cards over a scanner and entered a door that lead down a short hall to what looked like a gleaming silver and glass elevator.
Inside, a toned blond wearing an opalescent white swimsuit pushed a series of buttons and the car whooshed backwards. She must have noticed my expression of concern. “It’s a people mover, like at the airport, not an elevator.”
I nodded and held Branson’s hands, which had started wandering around my body again. “You seem awfully amorous tonight, Mr. Smith.”
Branson grinned, “That’s because I’ve seen the light, baby.”
I raised my eyebrows and Branson pulled a small metal case from his jeans, waving it triumphantly.
The car whooshed to a stop, and Branson and I stepped out into dry ice smoke uplit with pale blue lights. Trance music resounded off of silver walls. Branson opened the metal case to reveal tiny mist-colored pills, embossed with a lightening bolt. “All you do is melt this on your tongue and you’ll see the light, too.”
“I’m really not in the mood to see things that aren’t there. Believe me. I’ve seen enough bizarre shit this week at Warrick.”
“Lacy, we keep playing this right and you can kiss Warrick good bye. This is Light, with a capital “L.” I’m friends with the inventor: a genius chemist. It’s perfectly legal and made with all natural ingredients. None of the side effects like Ecstasy or LSD. No hangover. This is pure. Safe enough for a baby.”
“I don’t know, Branson.” Back in the day, I’d done my share of experimentation with mind and mood altering substances, but when I started working with kids I’d put all that behind me.
“Everything I see is right here. In fact, I see you better than I ever have before.” We were still near the people-mover but nobody was around. Branson put his arms around me and kissed me so long and hard that I thought I might burst through my skin. He pulled away and murmured in my ear, his voice a seductive whisper. “Please, Lacy. I’m going somewhere beautiful, and I want you here with me.”
I leaned back so I could look him full in the face. “You swear it’s not illegal?”
He nodded, boyish and sincere. “This stuff is so new it’s off the grid. Not for sale on the street. Just a private party for you and me.”
He had such a loving, blissful look in his eyes that I felt my resistance melting. I was tired of being the responsible one, the one saying no and worrying all the time. So I took the small pill, put it on my tongue and walked down the hall to the InnerPool, toward the beautiful people that all the magazines had been writing about—and setting off a chain of events that would jeopardize everything I had and everything I was in the coming weeks.