I was beginning to wish I'd never started with the Jack as in Jack line.

“Well, how about we start with what you're called and why you're in the gents?” I said trying to come across all assertive but feeling more than intimidated.

“Oh Jack, now don't be cross. Just getting to know you that's all.”

“Now why would you want …” I was gonna say “get to know me?” when the light went out again.

I waved my arms around and when it came back on her nose was practically touching mine which startled me so I took a step back.

“Don't be afraid Jack” she said as she stepped forward to close the gap between us and as she did I could smell her perfume and feel her breath on my cheek.

Her eyes were an intense blue and her stare so strong that it was almost as if I could feel here gaze on the back of my skull. Yeah, stare's the right word as she never seemed to blink.

“Are you a good friend of Frank's Jack?”

“Don't you know who Frank's friends are? Sorry what did you say you're name was?” I said.

“So you're not a friend of Frank's?”

“Yeah, I like Frank but I haven't known him that long” I said immediately regretting I'd opened my mouth.

“How disappointing Jack. Don't you think disloyalty's such an unattractive trait in a person?”

“Listen I don't know you and you don't seem to be exactly chomping at the bit to introduce yourself so I think it's time we called it a night. You wanna know something about Frank, ask Frank! “

“Temper, temper Jack” she said and turned away from me walking at that almost slow motion speed she always walked at to the door. As she pulled it open to leave she stopped, turned towards me and said “see you around Jack.”

“Not if I see you first!” I said which seemed to amuse her as she smiled back at me.

I watched as she positively poured through the door and then she was gone. I didn't know what to make of our little exchange and even less why she would be asking me about Frank. I mean, I'd seen him with her on more than one occasion so why didn't she just ask him if she had a question or two?

“Where you was Jack? You have number two?” said Aria smiling as I walked up to the bar.

“Number two?”

“Yes, you gone very long.”

“Ah yeah” I said as I got what she meant. “No, I was in the middle of doing number one when Babushka walked in.”

“Babushka? The friend of Frank's?”

“Yeah, the very same. Didn't you see her walk past?”

“I see nothing. Why she with the men?”

“Well, she wasn't in there for a number two I can tell you! Started asking me about Frank and how good a friend of his I was.”

“What you say?”

“She got nothing outta me” I said doing my best Jimmy Cagney impression but Aria just looked at me. Don´t suppose Jimmy Cagney was that big in Italy.

We bought a round of Becks and went back inside Cuff Links. I wanted to tell Frank about Babushka but he wasn't on the door.

“Where you been, we're spitting feathers here?” said Finbar when we eventually got to where everyone was standing.

“You wait till it's your round. It's a nightmare trying to get through the crowd with your arms full of beer” I said.

Me and Aria handed round the bottles and as we did so I was aware of people looking at us with a “where did they get the beer from?“ look on their faces.

One beer was followed by another, the drinking only being interrupted by the time it took to go next door to buy it and the level of the laughter got loader by the drink. Aria was great talking to everyone and even taking the piss although sometimes things seemed to get lost in the translation.

When Finbar and Vinny went to get the beers they came back with a group of girls.

“We'd like to introduce some friends from Sheffield” said Finbar.

“Hey ya daft thing. We met barely five minutes ago” said a rather striking red head who had an Amazonian physique which was barely covered by a short backless black dress.

“Yeah but seems like I've known you all my life” said Vinny as he took her by the hand and moved her away from her group of friends.

“Not wrong when you called him a babe magnet” I said to George.

“Well, in for a penny” he said smiling and moved into the group of girls and zeroed in on a black girl who looked like her jeans had been sprayed on.

Within minutes it seemed as if everyone had paired off leaving me Aria, Parvis and Trella on our own.

All of a sudden Parvis grabbed me and pushed me in front of him.

“You alright Parvis” I said but he seemed to be on edge.

“I need for to go the toilet” said Aria.

“Number two?” I asked.

“You silly” she said as she gave me a playful slap.

“I come with you” said Trella and off they went to the toilets.

“Why do girls always go in pairs” I said to Parvis but he ignored me.

“Have you got the hump or something?” I said.

“Sorry no. I know one of the girls the lads are talking to and I don't want her to see me.”

“How busy were you in Sheffield anyway? Which one is she?”

“The one who's talking to Sean.”

I turned around to get a sly view and saw Sean talking to a brunette with piercings in her eyebrows and her nose.

So what's the problem?”

“She stayed in my place a few times but when I finished with her she went mad and started phoning me ten times a day shouting down the phone.”

“Why did you finish with her?”

“She was crazy. She had pierced everything. Nipples, tongue, naval and a few downstairs and she kept asking if she could shave my balls and then the last time I saw her she came round with a strap on and said she wanted to give it to me up the arse. Said I'd love it”

“And did you?”

“Fuck off! That´s when I said no more. Well, after she'd given me a blow job.”

“No wonder she got the hump then. You owe her one!

Anyway, don’t worry she seems to be getting on nicely with Sean. Mind you, d'ya think we should say something to him just in case she's got a dildo in her handbag?”

“Who's got a dildo?” said Aria as she took her drink out of my hand.

“Uhh, no one. Found the toilet OK then” I said trying to change the subject double quick.

Aria gave me a knowing smile and whispered in my ear “OK, you tell me later.”

As she dipped her head to whisper I could see Frank behind the bar and when he caught my eye he waved his hand as in to go over to him. I pointed to Aria and mouthed “with Aria” but he shook his head and mouthed back “on your own.”

“I've got to see Frank a minute. You be OK for a while with Parvis and Trella” I said to Aria.

“You no worry. I OK.”

“Parvis, I've got to see Frank a minute. Will you look after Aria?”

“Of course” he said doing his best to duck down behind Trella to avoid his crazy ex catching a glimpse of him so off I went to the bar where Frank was waiting for me.

He pulled up the hatch letting me in behind the bar and said “follow me.”

“I've got something to tell you Frank” I said.

“Tell me later will ya” he said in a manner which wasn't exactly curt but I could sense he was nervous or preoccupied with something.

We walked along a narrow corridor and when we came to a locked door Frank pressed an intercom button and said “it´s Frank.”

The door buzzed open and we went through a dark corridor with sensors which illuminated sections of the corridor as you walked down it like one of those CIA bunkers you see in films.

Funny but it seemed massive compared to the bar upstairs. At the end of the corridor was a set of stairs which we went down again and then more corridor until we came to a door which was upholstered like a leather chair. You know, with stitching and buttons.

Frank pressed another intercom button and repeated “it's Frank.”

The door opened slowly and who did we see but Ossie the guy from the gym. I thought he might let out one of his belly laughs when he saw Frank but he looked serious and after eyeing us up and down like he'd never set eyes on us opened the door to let us in without even saying hello.

Inside was another closed door which Ossie opened and gestured for us to go inside whilst he stayed behind us.

Frank went first and I followed closely behind wondering what I'd find inside.

As Frank stepped out of the jar of the door I could see what looked like what I'd imagine a CEO´s office to look like. Polished parquet floors, leather sofas, walls adorned with modern paintings and a big desk at the end of the room with leather chairs in front of it and an even bigger leather chair behind it.

“Just wait” said Ossie and then he turned and left the office.

I looked at Frank and said out of the corner of my mouth in a whispered voice “what's this all about?” but he just looked straight ahead and said “sshhh!”

I still had my bottle of Becks in hand so decided to take a swig.

Just as I did a door to the side of the desk opened and in walked a guy who was as wide as he was tall and looked like he could give Ossie a run for his money in the clean and jerk. He was about fifty, had a shaved head, pierced ears and wore an expensive looking suite.

He said nothing nor looked at us as he made his way to behind the desk and I have to say the silence started to make me feel uncomfortable. Well, scared actually!

I looked over at Frank again hoping he might break the ice but nothing either and then after what seemed like long enough to grow a pony tail the silence was broken.

“So you´re Jackie” he said looking at me directly in the eyes.

I hated being called Jackie and even though I was more than a little nervous I said “people call me Jack.”

“OK Jackie” he said deliberately emphasising the last syllable to make me aware he'd ignored what I'd said and then added “I see you like beer.”

“I looked down at the bottle in my hand and then to Frank not knowing what to say as this bar, his bar didn't sell beer.”

After another long pause he said “It's OK Jackie, Frank asked me first and anyway I own the bar next door.

Sit down and make yourselves at home why don't ya. My name's Mitch but you can call me Mr. Maton.”

I didn't know if he was joking so didn't respond.

I looked at Frank and we both sat down in sumptuous leather chairs in front of Mr. Maton's desk and I have to say I felt like a prsioner who'd been summoned to the bench before sentencing.

I had a bad feeling but then again I didn't even know the guy so what could possibly go wrong I thought? I mean, what could he want with me?

“Why don't you join me in a proper drink” said Mr. Maton as he picked up some glasses and a bottle of something from a cabinet next to his desk.

He put the glasses down and before pouring a drink took out a tube from his inside jacket pocket and opened it to reveal the biggest cigar I'd ever seen.

He clipped the end off and started rolling it near his ear and then looking satisfied lit it with a long flame from a chunky old fashioned table lighter almost sighing as he inhaled his first puffs. Yeah, he inhaled!

“Nothing like a good lah-di” he said practically filling the room with smoke.

Turning back to the drinks he opened the bottle and poured three generous drinks into square shaped tumblers.

He passed me and Frank the drinks and said “try this and tell me what you think.”

As I raised the glass to my lips the scent of whisky filled my nostrils and I had an impending feeling of doom. I mean, I hated whisky and the last thing I wanted to do was to tell him what I thought.

Frank downed his in one and slapped his chest making that aaarrgghhh noise he always made after downing a drink which seemed to leave Mr. Maton singularly unimpressed.

I sipped mine screwing my face up as it hit the back of my throat as all spirits but particularly whisky tasted like bad cough medicine to me.

“See, that's the way you're supposed to drink good whisky” said Mr. Maton holding his whisky up so the light shone through it. ” Sip and savour” he said staring at Frank who didn´t look best pleased at getting lectured.

“Sip…..and savour! “

He lifted the glass to his lips as if to take another sip but paused and looking straight at me said “well what d´ya think Jackie boy?”

I knew I couldn't take another sip of whisky but wasn't sure how to handle it as Mr. Maton didn't look like a guy you'd disagree with but in the end thought honesty a better policy than throwing up all over his expensive parquet floor.

“Sorry Mr. Maton but fine whisky's wasted on me. I've never been able to handle spirits. In fact, I'm over after a few beers.”

He let out a big laugh and said “I like you Jackie. You've gorra be the first honest sheep shagger I've ever met. I like someone who's not afraid to give a straight answer to a simple question and you'd be surprised how many people have sat in that chair and disappointed me.”

Did that sound ominous or what!

“Was it my accent that gave me away? I mean is it that obvious I'm Welsh?”

“Your accent? No, no, no, no” he said.“I always do a background check on those working for me.”

What did he just say I thought and made sure his words did a few laps around the inside of my brain to make sure I heard them right. After all, I wasn't aware I was working for anyone let alone for him. I looked across at Frank for a sign of, well anything but he looked back as if he was none the wiser.

“Sorry Mr. Maton but I'm not sure I heard you right. Did you say those working for you?”

“I did indeed Jackie” he said walking over to the drinks cabinet and as he opened the door to retrieve a bottle of Rolling Rock looked over at me and repeated “ I did indeed” with the indeed lasting so long he almost ran out of breath.

He opened the beer bottle and handed it to me and then filled a tumbler with brandy and handed it to Frank.

“Thanks Mr. Maton” I said “but I'm a bit confused coz I wasn't aware that I was working for you.”

“That's understandable coz I've only just told you haven't I” he said drawing deep on his cigar and looking rather pleased with his answer.

“You are working for me it's just that you didn't know you were but now you do.”

“So this is an interview then?” I said.

“Interviews are part of a selection process Jackie but in this case the selection's been made.”

Things were sounding more than ominous now and I had to concentrate to maintain an air of calm. Don't know how convincing it was but I did my best.

“May I ask what the job is Mr. Maton?” I said and had no sooner the words left my lips when he let out an enormous laugh.

“Well, of course you can Jackie boy. I mean how are you gonna do the job if you don't know what it is?”

My mind went into overdrive trying to think what on earth I could do for a man like Mr. Maton.

“I've bought a club in St. Martin´s Lane” he said “ and I need someone to run it.” Your friend Frank here told me you did a good job of running clubs while you were up north.”

I glanced over a Frank as if to say “thanks for all your help Frank.”

You see whilst we were in university me, Finbar, George, and Zach organized nights in various clubs in the city centre. When Sheffield was doing well with steel and the like they built these massive discos come clubs but when the local economy went pear shaped the clubs were almost empty apart from Friday and Saturday nights.

We'd meet with the owners and convince them we could fill their clubs from Monday to Thursday and in return we'd keep the entrance money or a percentage of the drinks or some of both depending on the club.

We'd do indie, punk, Goth, soul, dance music, gay nights, all dayers, hippy chakra deep breathing stuff, you name it. In fact, anything that catered for the often sizeable minority which most clubs seemed to ignore and we made a fair whack for ourselves and the owners.

I still felt deeply uncomfortable just being in the room but in a way I felt relieved that he hadn't asked to me to assassinate someone.

“So to clarify Mr.Maton, you'd like me and Frank to run a club for you?”

“Who said anything about Frank Jackie boy?”

At that Frank moved in his seat towards the desk as if he was going to say something but Mr. Maton stared at him with a look that could shatter Lonsdaleite.

Frank got the message immediately and sat back in his chair without speaking with a look on his face like a kid who'd just been told he hadn't been selected for the school football team whilst Mr.Maton fixed his gaze on me. Never felt the need to say something intelligent in all my life.

“How much control would I have over running the place Mr. Maton?” I said hoping that came across as intelligent.

“As far as running the day to day business and getting the punters in one hundred percent” he said “but obviously Jackie it's my club” emphasising the my and then looking rather serious added

“ I'm a successful businessman and I don't do failure.”

Just what I wanted to hear……... not! I took a deep breath and almost spewed out “and do I have a choice?”

“Life's full of choices Jackie. The trick is to make sure we make the right ones.”

I took a swig of my beer, looked at Frank and deciding I didn't fancy the consequences of making the wrong choice said “OK Mr. Maton. If you could arrange for someone to meet me at the club Monday morning I'll have a look at the place and start things moving.”

“That's the spirit Jackie boy. Arrange it with Ossie when you leave.”

He went to take a puff on his cigar but it had gone out so he reached for the table lighter, flicked the spark wheel and whilst caressing the tip of the cigar with the flame inhaled whilst staring over at me.

“Not gonna ask me what's in it for you then Jackie?”

“If it's all the same to you Mr. Maton I'd prefer to negotiate when I've thought a bit about how to fill your club” I said with a heavy dollop of bravado which made him belly laugh again.

“You know you're starting to grow on me Jackie boy” he said and then pushed an intercom button on his desk.

“Yes Mr. Maton” said a voice which sounded like Ossie.

“Bring us down a bottle of champagne will ya. A good one, not the stuff we sell the punters” and looking at me said “I take it you can drink champagne?”

“Oh yeah, I like a glass of champagne Mr. Maton” I said feigning enthusiasm.

“I think this calls for a celebration don't you?” he said and offered me and Frank a cigar. Frank took one but I declined.

“Don't smoke then Jackie?”

“Used to but jacked it in. Thought it might kill me.”

“Plenty of things can kill you Jackie. Smoking might be one of the better ways to go.”

And you´re speaking from experience no doubt I thought to myself.

Ossie came in with a bottle of champagne in an ice bucket.

Mr. Maton got some champagne glasses from the drinks cabinet and then offered the champagne bottle to me.

“Would you like to do the honours Jackie boy?”

Was Jackie boy grating on me or what?

“Certainly” I said looking for a chance to impress and took the bottle from his hand which seemed to surprise him.

“Do you have a sharp knife Mr. Maton please?”

“A sharp knife?” he said looking puzzled but reached into his desk drawer and pulled out a knife big enough to give Jim Bowie a hard on and passed it to me.

I took the knife and started scoring around the neck of the bottle whilst he watched looking genuinely fascinated. When I scored all way round the neck of the bottle I held it out with my left hand and raised the knife with my right and then paused for effect.

After a few seconds Mr. Maton said “well?”

I'd have preferred a drum roll but said

“Look and learn” mimicking his “sip and savour” voice and whacked the point of the bottle that I'd scored with the knife and the head of the bottle came off cleanly without a glass splinter in sight. I then coolly filled the empty glasses while Mr. Maton looked on opened mouthed. Boy was I made up or what!

“Where the fuck did you learn to do that?” he said.

“A mate of mine lived in a small town in France for a year where he learnt it from the locals and he showed me how to do it one summer night in his back garden in Cardiff. Went through a few bottles before perfecting it and ended up throwing up but had a good night. His dad wasn't too pleased when he saw the state of the garden the next morning mind.”

“Well, I'll be dammed!” he said sipping his champagne and shaking his head.

“And now for dessert” he said opening one of the desk drawers and pulled out a clear plastic bag half full of white powder and then used what looked like a silver tea spoon to reach inside the bag, filled the bowl of the spoon with the powder and emptied it onto the desk surface. He then reached into his inside pocket and pulled out a credit card and used it to divide the white powder into six rather long lines.

“Pass me a fiver Frank will ya? I'm a bit short” he said chuckling to himself.

Frank passed him a fiver which Mr. Maton rolled up into a sort of tube, then put it in one of his nostrils, bent down and dipped the fiver into a line of powder, pinched the nostril without the fiver stuck in it and snorted so hard the line disappeared in one go. Then he changed nostrils, bent down again and snorted another line making an aaahhhh noise as he lifted his head. He then passed the fiver to Frank who he did the same. A line up each nostril.

“Would you like to partake Jackie” said Mr. Maton as he offered me the fiver.

“I'll stick with the beer Mr. Maton but thanks anyway.”

He passed the fiver to Frank whilst maintaining his gaze on me and said “looks like we'll have to finish off the oats then Frank.”

They polished off what was left and then Mr. Maton licked the end of his index finger to wet it then used it to mop up any remnant of the powder. He then stuck the finger in his mouth and rubbed it across his gums and said “don't you just love that feeling Frank?”

Frank nodded.

“OK gentlemen. I think that concludes our business. Goodnight” said Mr. Maton.

Frank made a movement to pick up his glass to finish his drink but Mr. Maton interjected.


We said “goodnight Mr. Maton” simultaneously knowing he meant get out, turned and went towards the door where Ossie was waiting with the door open for us to leave.

We walked along the corridor together in silence. I was trying hard to take in what had just happened and to say I wasn't happy with Frank was the mother of all understatements.

Ossie buzzed us through the last door and we were back behind the bar again. Frank lifted the hatch and I ducked under. I took a step and turned around to face him. He stood there sort of grinding his teeth whilst licking his lip and fidgeting with one of the rings on his finger.

“Frank!” I said

He looked at me but said nothing.

“We are…….or rather I am…..well and truly…………FUCKED!”