"Pass me my jeans," I murmur, buttoning up my shirt with nimble hands whilst Claire watches me, her legs crossed at the ankles and swinging against the desk. She looks a little disarrayed, her lipstick smudged, her skirt askew, but not enough to be strange. She just looks as if she's having a fun night. I don't want her to know I'm embarrassed, as usual I play it cool, dressing at a disguised, leisurely pace. Even if Dad doesn't have cameras in his office, I don't like standing in the middle of the room in my boxers.
"That was different," she grins, patting down her hair into its sleek, black bob. "I didn't know you could get this off your face. I didn't know you were a stripper drunk either."
I shrug, turning away from her as I stick my legs into my jeans. "I like to mix it up."
"Any reason you're up here all alone too?"
I shrug again, notching my belt and turning back to her. She has that look in her eyes, the look she doesn't think I can see. "I had some thinking to do. Plus, I'm fed up of Sean's tracks. Dad needs to get a new DJ asap."
"That's good. Better than me thinking you were up here with a girl again. A really bad sight to walk in on, you know?"
I glance at her, amused at the way she pretends like she doesn't care. Sometimes, I swear she doesn't know the signals she gives off.
If I'm honest, I don't know what Claire and I are.
The logistics are, she does what she wants, I do what I want, and that works. Amazingly, it's been easy to stay friends in our situation, and rather than what Liam thinks, that I think about shagging her whenever she walks into the room, sometimes...I forget. I thought that was what I wanted, but like everything else, it's all so...tedious now.
Suddenly, my phone buzzes in my pocket. I dispatch it and see 'DAVE' printed on my Blackberry screen. Once it's at my ear, I hear the muffled beat of the music below me, and the gruff, no-nonsense voice of our bouncer.
"Mr Althwaite, there's somebody outside requesting to see you. He says it's important."
My brow crinkles. "Why doesn't he come up then?"
"Well, sir, he doesn't want to. Says you should come to him." I narrow my eyes though nobody can see. This guy wants the club owner (well, at least for tonight) to meet him? I'm about to ask Dave to tell him where the guy can go, when something niggles in me. It tells me that whoever's outside isn't some drunkard, and I feel an itch between my shoulder blades as I move, almost automatically, towards the door.
"What is it?" Claire asks, sliding off the desk with every intention to follow me.
"There's a matter downstairs. Stay up here, I'll be back in a minute."
She scoffs, continuing to tail me as I open the glass door. The music blares so suddenly that I stagger back a pace. "Yeah right, that's what you said last time." I know there's nothing I can do, so let her duck under my arm as I hold open the door, and we head together down the stairs to the entrance.
* * *
I'm happy to get fresh air, free from the stench of sweat, perfume and smoke. The club's name "HALO" shines brightly in blue and white neon (the irony isn't lost on me) illuminating the faces of those lined against the wall, waiting to get in. Claire and I stand just in the entrance under the awning, and it's easy to spot Dave, a buff, dark-skinned man just taller than me at 6'4. He has the strangest eyes, light blue reflecting pensively in the neon, observing everybody waiting and making up his mind if they're the right "calibre" as Dad calls it to get in.
Standing in the wings next to him, I see a man who I assume is the pretentious dick calling me outside at one in the evening in November. I know he's serious though, for one he's wearing a sharp black suit - definitely not a clubber. He's straightly styled with closely cut dark hair and a sculpted beard. I'd say in his forties.
I turn to him, Claire knitted closely at my side. "I'm Alex Althwaite," I say, turning on my business-tone. "My father runs this establishment. If you're looking for him, he isn't here -,"
"Your father is not the one I seek, Alex Althwaite," he says in a low, level tone. "I have a message for you."
"Oh yeah? What's that?"
He looks around like somebody under watch, cautious. He reaches into his pocket and hands me something that I can't see at first in the darkness, but under the neon, I recognise it as an old Nokia phone - otherwise known as a brick.
"What's this hockey puck for?" I say, turning the lump in my hand.
"This is your message," the Man-In-Black says, "consider it closely."
Claire reaches out to see it, but I hold on as the phone lights up in my hand. I press down on the jelly buttons and read:
You have been summoned -- Romulus
I immediately remember the name, I'd heard it in whispers before around the bar, as if that's all the name could, and would ever be, a whisper; a secret.
"Who are you -?" I look up to say, but he's gone as if he'd never been there at all. I turn quickly to Dave, "did you see where he went?"
"No, sir, 'fraid I wasn't looking," Dave replies, snapping fluorescent plastic wrist tags on incoming clubbers.
"What was that all about?" Claire asks as she looks at the phone and its message, an adorable line forming between her eyebrows.
I look around me from all directions, seeing the Monday night scene, staggering youths...but no answers.