We find a table and I buy the first round. When it is Billie’s turn, she goes up to the bar, and a guy sidles up to the half-circle seat that I am sitting on. He is wearing a suit and must be in his mid or late twenties. He smiles at me. Friendly face. I will also remember later that he looked clean and trustworthy. There is nothing about him to suggest otherwise
‘Hello, doll,’ he says. ‘Can I buy you a drink?’
‘Thanks, but my friend’s gone to get me one.’
‘Mind if I join you girls?’
‘As a matter of fact, yes,’ interrupts Billie rudely. She is standing behind me and actually glowering at the man. She looks quite tough and fierce.
‘No problem,’ he says immediately, and with a wink to me, gets up and goes back to join his friends, who are gathered at the bar. He says something to them and they slap him on the back and laugh uproariously. For some reason, their laughter disturbs me and makes me think it is somehow connected to me. But Billie is saying something and I turn my head to listen.
Blake Law Barrington
I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket and instantly perceive that it is from Lana. Why, I cannot say, for she has never called me before. I take my phone out of my pocket and look at the screen. Her number flashes. I excuse myself, walk away from the table, and lay my phone to my ear.
‘Hi,’ says a voice I do not recognize.
‘Yes,’ I reply, my voice is strangely abrupt. Some part of my brain registers surprise at the state of my voice.
‘This is Billie, Lana’s friend. Don’t panic, but some wanker has slipped a roach into her drink, and she’s gone down.’
Her accent is hard for me to understand, and I have never heard the term roach, but I guess instantly that Billie must be referring to a date rape drug. ‘Gone down?’ I repeat.
‘Look, I’ve had to leave her at the table with one of the bar staff to come outside and call you, so could you hurry here, please?’
‘Where are you?’
She gives me the address.
Without going back to the table to make my apologies, I rush out of the restaurant and drive like a mad man through speed cameras. I double park outside the entrance of Loren, and bound into the crowded bar. I stand at the entrance and let my eyes scan the room. A young girl with extremely white hair is waving at me. Lana is slumped against her and her head is lolling on the girl’s left shoulder.
As soon as I reach them she stands up and tries to keep Lana up with her hand, but Lana flops over it.
‘It’s not as bad as it looks,’ Billie says. ‘Almost all my friends have had it slipped into their drink before, and we’ve all survived.’ She jerks her eyes towards a group of men. ‘I think it’s them over there, but over my dead body will they be taking this girl home with them.’
I glance over at the men. Six lads. Youngish. Their idea of fun. As soon as they sense my eyes on them, they quickly turn away and I experience a fury that I have never known. The urge to go over and punch their smirking faces burns my guts. I turn towards them, raging uncontrollably. A hand on my arm stops me. I look at it. The nails are painted to look like slices of watermelon. The sight has a strange effect on me. I lose the edge of my anger.
I drag my eye upwards.
‘If you prop her up on one side, we can walk her out,’ she urges. Her voice is surprisingly strong and purposeful. I had dismissed her, the spiders and the boiled-egg white hair, but she is more. No wonder Lana held her in such high regard.
‘No need,’ I say, and scoop Lana up easily.
‘Oh!’ Billie exclaims. Turning around she aggressively flicks her middle finger at the group of guys who have turned to watch, and follows me out of the restaurant. Outside, Billie opens the passenger door and I deposit Lana into the seat. I close the door and turn to face her.
‘Thank you for calling me.’
She shrugs. ‘No problem. Thanks for coming. Couldn’t take her home. Her mum…you know how it is?’
I nod. ‘How will you get home?’
‘Oh, don’t worry about me. I’ll just hop on a bus.’
That makes me frown. ‘Is that safe at this time of the night?’
Her eyes widen. Suddenly she seems so much younger. ‘It’s only ten o’clock, Mr. Barrington.’
I take my wallet out of my pocket, pull two fifties out, and hold them out to her. ‘Here, take a cab.’
‘Uh…taxis don’t cost that much, Mr. Barrington.’
‘Call me Blake, and please, don’t argue with me,’ I say impatiently.
She reaches out and takes the money, then shifts from one foot to another. ‘It’s not as bad as it looks. Tomorrow will be the killer. She’ll think she’s dying, but she’ll be OK. Give her lots of water to drink.’
‘Oh, and if you want to do anything kinky to her now’s the time. She won’t remember a thing in the morning.’
For a moment I stare at her shocked, and then I realize that it is her attempt at a joke. I shake my head. Strange girl. She pulls Lana’s phone out of her pocket. ‘Here’s her phone. She’ll need to call her mum before twelve or there’ll be trouble.’
I take it distractedly. ‘OK, I’ll make sure she does.’ I walk over to the driver’s side of the car and get in.
I watch his car roar powerfully into life, pick up great speed almost immediately, and take the corner at an alarming speed. Then I stuff the money into the back pocket of my black jeans and casually amble over to the bus stop. At the bus stop I sit on a cold plastic chair and replay the moment when Blake picked Lana up.
I will never have that, but instead of that usual tinge of envy because someone else has more than me, my little heart is soaring for Lana.
Yay! Banker boy cared.
Blake Law Barrington
Lana moans and I take my eyes off the road to briefly look at her.
‘Ooh uuugggg why uuuuuuggggg,’ she says, and covering her face with her hand, mumbles unintelligently. I don’t try to talk to her. When I reach the apartment block, I take my keycard from the dashboard and go out to Lana’s side. The night porter’s eyes are round with curiosity when I carry Lana through reception towards the lift. He stands up, but I shake my head, and he sits down again. I elbow the lift button and it opens almost immediately. I slot in my card and we are transported upwards. The movement of the elevator makes Lana stir in my arms.
‘Sorry, Mummy,’ she says. ‘Oh it’s you’… more gibberish…then clearly, ‘where’s Mum?’