The pianist came out first, a dapper man in a tuxedo and tails, wearing a top hat that was a little bit battered. When he turned and bowed before sitting down at the piano we saw that something had taken a large bite out of the crown of his hat at some point, and you could see his bald spot. The hair that hung down from below the hat was long, lank, and the colour of the liquid you find in an old oil sump. He sat with his back to us, raised his hands theatrically and cracked his knuckles. A couple of people in the front row ducked, reflexively, and not all of them sat back up again.
Then Gaby sauntered out in her burlesque costume: a whalebone corset in burgundy lace, some fishnet tights, fishnet sleeves that ran from her elbows to her shoulders, sage-green high-heels, and a little too much puppy fat for the look of emo seduction she was going for. She caught the eyes of the crowd, and pouted, crossing one leg in front of the other in the most strained pose I’ve seen in a while, and I can still remember an evening in an S&M club where if you couldn’t pay your bar bill you were hauled on stage to become part of the entertainment. The pianist struck a chord on the piano, and I braced myself.
Gaby opened her mouth, and then closed it again. She winked, and turned around, bending over to pick something up off the floor. Someone in the audience wolf-whistled, but the rest of us were still reeling from being confronted with so much flesh – it was like a new island rising from the ocean and assaulting you with geography. She stood back up again slowly and I realised that now I knew what watching Atlantis sink below the waves must have been like. She turned around again, winked once more, and spread her hands apart. She was holding juggling torches.
The pianist stood up and produced a gold-plated cigarette lighter from inside his jacket and struck the flint a couple of time until a tall yellow flame was produced. Gaby held up her clubs, and he approached them at lit each one. I turned to look at Tom, and to my surprise he moved over to my elbow, carrying a fresh Pink Lady with him.
“Fire?” I asked, sotto voce.
“Can’t stop her, Mac,” said Tom putting the drink down in front of me. “We’ve pointed out the hazards, but she’s dating the Fire Chief’s daughter so he’s refusing to shut her, or us, down.”
“Wow,” I said. I tasted the drink. I was pretty certain there was a hint of bleach in there, but Tom’s being trying to poison me for a long time and bleach is nothing I can’t handle. I coughed politely though, to let him feel that he was getting somewhere.
Gaby started juggling the torches as the pianist played something jaunty, and she actually wasn’t bad. The lighting tech turned the spotlight down again so we could see the tracks of the flames through the air better and every now and then, as the clubs threatened to get out of control and escape from her, someone would gasp and there would be the scrape of thirty chairs being moved ready for people to run out of the bar if it caught fire. Then she caught all of the torches and held them in one hand. One by one she carefully put the flaming torch in her mouth and then pulled it out again, revealing afterwards a tongue of flame that she’d somehow managed to steal from each torch. She blew the flames at the audience, who were on the verge of stampeding out of the bar by now.
Finally the pianist stopped playing and Gaby dropped her arms and extinguished her clubs. The lights came back up, and the bar calmed down again and started drinking once more.
“Another drink, Mac?” asked Tom, innocently.