International Writers Magazine: Private Dancers
said McLeod in his deep, bass voice, you know you have to.
You owe me. This was the call from The Scotsman journalist
Jed Marshall that McLeod had been waiting for waiting for
what seemed weeks, months. It was the call that would set him on
the right track to finding out for himself what had happened to
Billie. The single-minded, arrogant, pompous solicitor had to know;
and he had to know who had done it.
Marshall was verbally impertinent in his response, but acutely aware
of his debt to McLeod.
So what do you know?
Ive heard the same two names over and over: Patrick
Kavanagh and Edward Vasive.
Vasive? Hes not the type to go to Liquorice.
I also know shes working tonight shes there
now. Its her first night back.
through Marshalls thick black hair, pulling it past his icy blue
eyes, down his pale face. McLeod took a step forward from the succession
of shutters covered by graffiti on High Street into the dark nights
rain to hail a cab.
I had every confidence in you.
Wait for me inside the club. Ill be there as quickly as
I can. That way we can get this over and done with and get on with my
life. Marshall was decidedly less excited than McLeod at the prospect
of seeing and talking with Billie. Aware of Liquorices recently
increased security, his primary interest was consuming the small remaining
quantity of cocaine concealed in his jackets right breast pocket
as quickly and efficiently as possible.
As his long, thick thumb disconnected the call, McLeods eyes began
to dart round his wet, gloomy surroundings: it was time. Carpe Diem,
as his old school motto went. Were changing direction: to
Liquorice on Home Street, McLeods bass voice commanded his
driver, not recognising the challenges or perils of a three point turn
on Princess Street in the tenor of his request, safe in the knowledge
that as a man of substance his request, even if lodged in a sharp or
patronising manner, would be granted.
David McLeods face was, most often, a sombre one; seldom illuminated
by even the first twitch of a smile or sparkle of a grin: similar to
that of many of his colleagues. This was evident to the taxis
driver, as was his reluctance to engage in even a whisper of transactional
discourse. Considered backward in sentiment by his contemporaries, McLeod
cared little for formalities to the point of rudeness. When alone he
drank blended scotch to drown his thirst for vintage wines; his childhood
love of literature died soon after his mothers soul left her body,
shortly before his thirteenth birthday; from the age of fifteen onwards
his feet had never crossed the threshold of any of Edinburghs
museums or art galleries until these strange events unfolded.
The staff and clientele of Liquorice had little inclination or evidence
of his otherwise dull manner. When there, found accompanied (more often
than not) by a bottle of wine, (most often one of four Familia Martinez
Bujanda Reserva ideally of the 2001 variety) which he consumed throughout
the course of the nights he spent there, something eminently human beaconed
from his face; something indeed which never found his way into his conversational
efforts outside of business; but when sat on one of the clubs
leather sofas, drink in hand, it wasnt long before a glimmer of
light would shine from his face: a glimmer that would quickly ignite
into grins, smiles and appreciative schoolboy bursts of laughter that
Billie extracted from him effortlessly each and every time she danced
From an embryonic stage in his career it was frequently McLeods
fortune to be the final reputable acquaintance and positive influence
to downward-headed men: to such clients he was never tempted to mark
a shade of change in his demeanour or alter his premium rates according
to his clients positions, financial or otherwise. When enquirers
investigated into his professional affairs, as they often did, McLeods
response had the flatness of a standard protocol: I never say
much about whether theyre innocent or guilty: thats not
my role in the proceedings. My conscious is clear. I permit my brothers,
the paying clients, to go to the devil in their own special ways.
McLeod and Billie were very much alike in their discretion in professional
and legal affairs. His staunch determination to better his position
in life from an honest and humble beginning in Bonyrigg dovetailed with
a career-oriented mindset left McLeod little opportunity or inclination
to socialise: the friendships he held, like the thick trunks of old
oak trees, were strengthened by maturity. Jed Marshall, as a man indebted
to McLeod for his discreet and professional legal services rendered
on the two occasions he found himself in what could lightly be described
as a predicament over Class A drug possession in CC Blooms,
a regular haunt of Vasive, was not yet what he would or could refer
to as a friend; but he knew that he was someone, for the
purposes of this exercise, that he could count on to supply the majority
of the information he needed.
McLeod was searched thoroughly, to his mind intimately, on Home Streets
pavement by two men with rugby builds in black bomber jackets. His membership
was then checked for the first time in three years before he was permitted
entry to the club via a steep, narrow, and dimly lit downward staircase.
Marshall emerged from the gents toilet as he made his way to the
bar; McLeods eyes searched as carefully around the venue for Billie
as the security guards hands had his body. To McLeods mind
she was the jewel in the crown of Liquorices dancers: as delicious,
elegant and alluring as any vintage wine; the most requested dancer;
the most fascinating treasure. McLeod attributed much of her success
to her beauty and pleasing Asian temperament. Billie and the wine had
much in common: the words on the bottle described the wine as stunningly
elegant, juicy smooth with thrilling depth
and a seductive purity to the taste; they could have been
written to describe Billie with the same degree of accuracy and efficiency.
McLeod, having tasted Billie for himself beyond the perimeter of the
clubs walls once previously, already considered her more precious
than his childhood. How anyone could find it in themselves, even in
the direst of straits to threaten her, shout and swear at her, grab
her and pull her by the hair then press the sharpest of knives deep
against her flawless throat, as someone had, was beyond comprehension
Patrick Kavanagh, sure to be the culprit, was a powerful man. A connected
man. An angry man. A member of St. Michaels travellers: a downright
dangerous man. With no visual trace of her, McLeod joined Marshall,
confident Billie would confirm her attacker as Kavanagh. He promptly
ordered his first bottle of wine, which he consumed quickly and with
ease as Marshall relayed to him what little information he had managed
to acquire and procure on the subject before leaving.
Things to see, he said, and people to do. With
that, like a clumsy, awkward marionette, Marshall made his exit,
Every man on this earth enjoys the sensation of blood rushing into his
penis, flooding it with depth and substance in every vein and chamber,
preparing it for adventure; but none quite as McLeod. For him, it less
frequent an occasion than would be expected, but one that occurred simultaneously,
ceremoniously and synonymously with Billies entrance. She emerged
wearing little more than perfume and a teasing smile: her straightened
black hair shone and shimmered in the soft light: pure whiteness of
eyes and teeth against dark skin. To McLeod she was an Asian swan, a
beautiful Asian swan that he craved to touch, caress and enjoy; hearing
what happened to her had brought it home to him; he must speak to her:
he must get her to confirm, from her own delicate lips, that it was
Kavanagh who had done this.
He wanted her close, wanted her beside him - wanted to sit there as
she danced slowly and provocatively before him, smiling, purring in
his ear - in front of envious onlookers. He was quick to lift the index
finger of his right hand to beckon her.
Every pore in McLeods body began to tingle as Billie swayed and
found shape to haunting music: she flicker her hair, flicked her eyes
and flashed a smile to open her routine. Movements became deeper, more
committed, authentic. The tips of her long, thin fingers stroked up
and down the back of her neck gently and slowly as she leaned forward,
so close to him that he could feel the warmth of her breath and intoxicate
his nostrils with the scent of her musky perfume - then she released
her pert, firm breasts. McLeods eyes were pulled to them like
magnets: their symmetry; the gulf dividing them; the roundness of her
areolae; the keenness of her nipples. Then, as his eyes explored, he
was reminded of his purpose: events had led him to see her, to speak
to her that night. Billie had been attacked and he was there to confirm
who had done it. The top of her right thigh was the darkest, deepest
of bruises. There were further, less severe bruises on her arms, her
body and her face and a scar on her neck.
I want you to know something.
Billie, ignoring him, continued to sway and flout. To encourage her
closer, McLeod pulled a note from his pocket, tucked it neatly into
the top of her suspender: their legs were gently touching.
I want you to know I can put things right. McLeods
reassuring voice was as discrete, as intimate, in this private club,
as Billies dances. Being honest, Billies first
words to him were, Id rather just forget all about it.
She continued her slow, deliberate, rhythmic movements: arching her
back, rolling her shoulders, breasts gently swaying. Id
like you to forget about it. Have fun. Billie had perfected the
art of convincing men that the only thing between her and them during
one of her dances was the waves of the music.
Fun? Seeing you covered in bruises isnt fun. McLeod
was sharper in his response than he intended, and reminded of the clubs
no touching policy, but was compelled to continue. I can get him.
I know I can. I just need to hear from your lips first who done this
Struggling to contain his frustration, he looked her directly in the
eyes for the first time as he continued. You dont have to
say anything. Just give me the nod. Was it Kavanagh?
Visibly distressed, Billie continued to dance. She flicked her hair
from back to front to conceal her face from onlookers and preyed for
the song to come to an end, but McLeod had arrived with a goal. I
defended him. Cocaine. He was guilty as hell. His eyes glanced
round the room, then continued, New evidence can be very easy
to come across. Give me the green light: Kavanagh will go down for decades.
Why are you doing this?
I know it was him.
The police didnt: they took statements; watched CCTV; asked
me questions: I never told them a thing.
They tell me. Ive got two names. McLeod pronounced
them slowly, deliberately. Patrick Kavanagh and Edward Vasive.
As the name Edward Vasive left McLeods lips, Billies jaw
collapsed towards the floor: her swaying ceased.
Who did you hear that name from? With that, Billie turned
began to pull her breasts into her minimalist red top and walk away.
I mean it. Just keep out. This has nothing to do with you.
She made her way to the dressing room. McLeod, shocked, embarrassed
and flaccid, left the club via the same narrow, steep staircase with
a dilemma that he had never expected, concerning one of Edinburghs
greatest enigmas: Edward Vasive.
Will Collins February 2008
Will is studying Creative Writing at Winchester University
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