The problem in dealing with scum, Cable thought unhappily, is that they force you down to their nasty level. He looked at the former grocery store where he was to meet the informer. A neon sign announced that he had arrived at the Show-Off Gentleman’s Club.
Now there’s an oxymoron, he groused to himself. No gentleman would get within fifty feet of this place. But I have to go in; it’s my job.
The surly, underdressed young woman in the ticket booth gave Cable’s membership card – which the Organization had procured for this evening’s use – a cursory glance and nodded absently. Cable walked past the bored bouncer, noting that he came up only as high the man’s collarbone at about two-thirds the breadth.
He bit back a sigh as he entered the main lounge. Disco balls spun pink and purple lighting around the cavernous room, and strobes occasionally stuttered. An overpowered sound system blared a suggestive popular song. Two girls spun on poles at the opposite ends of the island stage in the middle of the club. Cable wasn’t sure what the three girls in the middle were doing and purposefully looked away before his brain parsed it out. He scanned the lechers sitting all but on the stage but didn’t see his contact among them.
Cable let his eyes float around the lounge as he worked his way through the crowd to the bar, where he ordered a beer from a harried young woman wearing the same little outfit as the ticket booth girl. He walked around and realized most of the men in attendance seemed happy. To keep up appearances, he forced a little smile onto his own face and found that it was uncomfortable to do so. It faded quickly, and after re-forming it twice he gave up.
After his second circuit of the arena, Cable spotted his contact. Grunford was sitting in one of the many little alcoves built along the outer walls where semi-private dances could be had for extra cash. Grunford seemed to be waiting eagerly for his dancer to step onto the little stage. Cable oozed through the throng and sat in the only other chair in the alcove.
“Ah, Mr. Cable! Good evening, good evening! You’re just in time. I’ve arranged for Lexxee to entertain me.”
“And I’ll let you enjoy her charms in peace as soon as you give me the information I’ve come for.”
Grunford laughed. “Why, Mr. Cable. Don’t you enjoy our venue?”
“I enjoyed places like this plenty when I was younger. But I grew up. All I’m thinking about now is doing my job and taking a very long, very hot shower when I get home.”
That made Grunford laugh again. “No matter how much I age, this never gets old for me, Mr. Cable. And may I say what a perfect name for a courier.”
Grunford leaned across the little table they sat at. “Enjoy one dance before we conduct our transaction.” His smile slipped a little. “I insist.”
Cable was stuck. The Organization had to have Grunford’s continued cooperation, so Cable couldn’t afford to antagonize him. He leaned out from the alcove a little and caught a serving girl’s attention. He held up his nearly empty bottle of beer and she nodded at him.
Soon, the girl brought the beer, and Cable handed over some of the money the Organization had given him to use on the job. It included a ridiculous number of one-dollar bills; Cable didn’t know whether that was to help him blend in or whether someone in Outfitting was trying to make sure he had a good time tucking the money in the dancers’ G-strings. The server shot a questioning look at Grunford, who shook his head, and she left.
The curtain in front of the men opened and a young woman stepped out from the darkness. Grunford sat bolt upright and grinned. Music from hidden speakers began to play, drowning out the music being heard at the big island. Lexxee began to sway to the rhythm.
About halfway through the song, Cable was stunned to realize that he was watching the girl as raptly as Grunford was. Her long, straight blonde hair gleamed in the artificial light. Her young body was trim and firm and, as he discovered when she removed her bikini top, all natural.
Cable missed Grunford’s quick glance at him as Lexxee began her second dance; the informer smiled more broadly, pleased to have caught the courier acting like a man.
But it didn’t last. The analytical part of Cable’s mind – the part that made him far more than merely a courier, despite what Grunford had been told – kicked in. He noticed that the girl’s smile was no more genuine than his own had been earlier. And her beautiful ice-blue eyes were unfocused and almost unseeing.
The dancer was higher than a kite, Cable realized. It was, perhaps, the only way she could do her job. She wants to be here less than I did. Than I do, he amended firmly.
She stepped off the little stage and onto the little table and out of her G-string. Grunford was nearly drooling. Cable kept his eyes on the girl’s face, which changed not in the slightest as she doffed her final leaf of modesty.
She’s high enough she can almost think it’s someone else dancing and stripping. That it’s not her.
The revulsion Cable felt on entering the club washed over him again, redoubled.
Lexxee stepped back into the little stage as the music ended. She disappeared as the curtain closed.
Grunford grinned broadly until he looked at Cable. The man was gone, and the courier was back. Grunford shook his head sadly and produced a flash drive from his shirt pocket, handing it to Cable.
“And here I thought perhaps you were a man after my own heart.”
“I’m just a man after this information.”
Grunford sighed sadly. “Too bad. I think I’m going to go get a private dance with her. Or two. I won’t ask you to join me this time.”
“Thanks. My Organization wants more information and more regularly.”
Grunford scowled. “That could be very dangerous.”
Cable took an envelope from his jacket and tossed it onto the table. “That will make it worth the risk. Think how many private dances it’ll buy.”
Grunford hefted the envelope and nodded appreciatively. “I’ll be in contact again in three days.”
The informer stood up to go see about his private dance. Cable stopped him.
“Here,” he said, handing over a hundred-dollar bill. “Give that to her from me.”
Grunford grinned and laughed. “I’ll be delighted to.” He went away, chuckling.
Cable bolted the rest of his beer and left the empty bottle on the table. He ignored the bouncer as he left the building.
A hundred dollars. Maybe that’ll help her buy whatever it is she uses to escape while she’s on stage.
Cable’s brain turned a corner: Maybe this place is how Grunford escapes from the stress of what he does. If he’s caught, he’ll be exposed, and maybe he already feels eyes watching him as he does his dangerous dance. Maybe it’s his drug of choice so he can pretend to be loyal even as he sells out his people.
As he got into his car, Cable decided he didn’t give a damn about Grunford’s stress. He started the car but sat quietly for several long moments until he could clearly see his speedometer in front of him rather than a pair of beautiful, empty blue eyes.