Music vibrated through every cell in Phoenix’s body as he made his way through the throngs of people moving as one living organism as they danced to the thudding bass beat. Strobe lighting illuminated the way and multi-coloured lasers erupted from the floor.
Phoenix passed through a clear bubble-like shield in front of the bar, and once he was on the other side, the noise level dropped.
“Huh,” Phoenix said, straightening his tightly-fitting three piece suit and looking back at the shield.
“It’s a noise damper,” L said, pointing to the shield behind her. “They sometimes use them in noisy places like this to make areas where people can still talk. “It’s handy for being able to speak to a bartender or if you want somewhere quiet to lounge.”
She tugged at her flowing red dress, split up the sides to her thighs. Her red lips thinned as her forehead pulled into a frown.
Phoenix moved closer to her. “What’s wrong?”
“It’s just…. I feel stupid,” she said in a small voice.
Phoenix tried to hide the smile that graced his lips but failed.
“It’s not funny.”
“You wanted to help out more on missions. This is your chance,” Phoenix said, moving away. He stopped and turned around when he noticed L still hadn’t moved. Making his way back to her, he took her by the arm and drew her in close. “Look, most people haven’t been able to keep their eyes off you since we got here. You look breathtaking. Now, we both have a role to play, so let’s play it well.”
She gave him a smile and kissed his cheek before taking his arm. “Well, let’s give them something to really look at.”
Heads turned and conversations stopped as they strode towards the bar. Bottles of different shapes and sizes lined the back wall, as a bartender in a white shirt polished glasses and slotted them into their rightful places.
Phoenix and L leaned against the bar and turned their attention outwards to the room. The heads that were still turned their way lowered their gaze or resumed their conversations.
“Can I help you?” the bartender asked, breaking away from his task.
L wrapped an arm around Phoenix and buried her face in his neck, whispering in his ear. He gave her a slight shake of the head, and she let out a loud sigh and bit his earlobe before moving away.
“Hey! Either order something or piss off. The lounge area is to your far right. This bar is for paying customers only.”
Phoenix looked over his shoulder at the bartender before turning back around.
“You never take me anywhere nice. It’s always to some dirty old club on some backwater planet. Look at this place,” L said, running a finger along the bar and inspecting it. “How tacky can you get?”
“Ha! Shows what you know, sweetheart. This is the place to be if you’re anyone–and I mean anyone. Media stars, council members, royalty, gang-lords. You name it, they’re here. The waiting list to get in is as long as my old chap, if you know what I mean,” the bartender said, waggling his eyebrows up and down.
“If it’s that short, it’s not something you should really boast about.”
The bartender’s eyes narrowed and he chewed his bottom lip. “What I can’t understand is how a couple of nobodies like you got in here.”
Phoenix turned around and threw a handful of credits in front of the bartender. “If it’s true what you say, you must know a lot of important names.”
“Maybe,” the bartender said. He put most street magicians to shame with the speed with which the credits before him vanished.
“This person I’m looking for is important to me.”
Phoenix sighed inwardly and threw down a few more credit chips.
The bartender scooped up the chips before nodding towards the far corner of the bar. Phoenix made his way towards it, and the bartender followed, looking left to right.
The bartender scratched the back of his head before looking up at the ceiling. “That name doesn’t ring a bell. Does he go by anything else?”
“Not that I’m aware of,” Phoenix said.
“You need to give me some more information then, if you want me to help you.”
“He’s a tall, skinny, pale male. Looks a bit like me but has ridges along his nose. Wild hair–looks like he’s been electrocuted. He likes to drink and party, loves drugs, and–”
“Likes both sexes,” the bartender finished for him. “You a friend or foe?”
Phoenix smiled as he passed his hand over his head. “That depends on him, really.”
“Yeah, I know the fucker you want. I’ll tell you exactly where he is, as long as you do me a favour.”
“I want you to punch that fucker square in the jaw,” the bartender said, his eyes turning to steel.
“May I ask why?”
“It’s… It’s–” The bartender pulled at the collar of his shirt before leaning in closer. “There was this girl that worked here. Prettiest thing you ever seen. Me and her… We weren’t dating, but we had started something that would have been beautiful, until that fucker came in and snatched her away from me,” the bartender said, “just like that.” He snapped his fingers.
“Got her addicted to God knows what… They found her body a couple of days ago.”
“Don’t! Just give me your word.”
Phoenix looked him in the eye and gave him a slow nod.
“Go through the club, take the glass stairs up. There will be some guards–how you deal with them is up to you. You’ll find him in the penthouse suite. Just follow the shouting and bodies lying on the floor.”
* * *
Phoenix and L made their way through the crowds gathered on the dance floor, bodies pressed against bodies and faces glistening in the afterglow of the flickering lights.
The tiles on the floor lit up in different hues as people stepped on them, making Phoenix think of a game he played when he was younger.
More than one hand grabbed at him on his way through the crowd, but L batted them away as they continued their journey. Two familiar faces in the crowd nodded slightly in their direction.
Saoirse and Plowstow leaned against the far wall, drinks in hand. They had positioned themselves so their lips were visible.
“The guards at the base of the stairs have been taken out,” Saoirse mouthed slowly.
Phoenix gave her a nod as he walked by.
The security had been tight. There had been searches and checks, and then more searches, before they even made it through the front door. If it hadn’t been for Kai’s hacking skills, they would have never got on the guest list in the first place. Phoenix had never known a club like it. He had paid off one of the staff so they could stash their weapons in the club the day prior, and the reassuring weight of his pistols at his hips brought a smirk to his face.
L nudged him in the ribs with her elbow and nodded towards the stairs. Two guards sat propped against the wall. Sunglasses covered their eyes, but Phoenix could tell they were in the land of dreams. As he walked past them, he saw an adhesive goo sticking their backs to the wall.
They ascended a crystal staircase that brought them out onto a landing with red velvet carpeting. L glanced in his direction as the sounds of shouts and laughter came from the end of the hallway.
They made their way closer to a door that stood ajar, and Phoenix grabbed L’s hand and gave it a slight squeeze. They entered a room littered with naked bodies. Males and females ran amok, chasing one another around as they shrieked and laughed.
Some bodies were painted in a luminescent spray which pulsed in the dimly lit room. Flags twirled back and forth as the music from the club below made its way through speakers along the ceiling.
Phoenix and L began to walk forward but were stopped by a guard grabbing L by the hand. “Wanna have some fun, baby–”
A gun appearing under his chin cut off his words. L smiled at him sweetly. “The kind of fun I like to have is painful at best, life ending at worst.”
“Come, come, now!” said a voice from the gloom. “No need for that. I have been expecting you, Phoenix Jones.”