Alan cant help but glance back at the man, and the man smiles menacingly at him.
Jay, Stephen, Alan and Derek are sat around their table in the VIP room. Derek and Alan, both clearly inebriated, prepare drinks for themselves from the emptying bottles as they banter with Stephen, who’s evidently having a good time, although he isn’t trying to keep up with the professional drunkards. Jay, on the other hand, is distant, staring intently at the glass in front of him, which is full of vodka.
Alan sneakily gestures to Stephen to hold Jay down so he can pour the contents of Jay’s glass down Jay’s throat, but Stephen vigorously refuses. Alan huffs and gives Stephen the finger; Stephen returns the gesture.
Alan gestures for Derek to hold Jay down, and Derek excitedly nods. They simultaneously stand.
‘Don’t try it,’ Jay says, without looking away from the glass.
‘Ah!’ Alan exclaims. ‘You guys are no fun. I’m off to the bathroom.’
‘Me too,’ Derek says, and he and Alan stagger out of the VIP room.
Alan leads Derek into the dance floor and immediately locks eyes with the tall muscular man standing alone in a corner of the room. Alan nods towards the toilet and the man nods back.
Alan and Derek walk into the toilet and Derek immediately approaches the jolly toilet attendant. He blocks the attendant’s view of the door and starts up a conversation about the array of perfumes on the counter.
Alan walks into a cubicle, and, a moment later, the tall man steps into the bathroom, walks straight into the same cubicle, and closes the cubicle door.
Alan watches with excitement as the man briskly pulls out a cigarette case.
The man opens the case, full of longer than usual cigarettes, carefully picks out a cigarette, and shuts the case. He bites off the filter and pours out cocaine from the open cigarette onto the flat metal case. He hands Alan the now empty cigarette cylinder and pulls out a bankcard to make four lines of the cocaine.
Alan adeptly snorts a line of cocaine off the case and closes his eyes to savour the high.
‘It’s 60 quid a gram now,’ the man whispers.
Alan’s eyes jet open to stare questioningly at the man.
‘Hard times,’ the man says, and smiles. ‘From what I hear, you know all about that.’
Alan gives the man the finger and snorts another line of cocaine, and, again, he closes his eyes and tightly clenches his fists as he basks in the intense feeling.
‘You know Slim is looking for you, right?’ the man asks.
‘Fuck that fat fuck!’ Alan snaps, and the man chuckles.
Alan shoves the man aside and attempts to exit the cubicle, but the man grabs his arm and demands, ‘My money.’
Alan pulls out his wallet and hands the man several ten-pound notes.
‘That’s a hundred,’ Alan says as the man counts the money, and he exits the cubicle before the man can object.
Alan walks to the sink closest to the toilet attendant, and Derek immediately cuts short his conversation with the enthusiastic toilet attendant and walks into the same cubicle.
Alan takes his time to wash his hands, and the toilet attendant knowingly watches him. Alan smiles widely as he takes a paper towel from the attendant and slowly wipes his hands as he and the attendant stare at each other. He then looks indecisively through the perfumes on the counter, continuously reaching for a perfume but stopping midway; intentionally frustrating the attendant.
Derek steps out of the cubicle, and Alan shrugs at the evidently frustrated attendant and follows Derek towards the exit of the toilet, but he stops, pulls out two ten-pound notes from his wallet and tucks them into the breast pocket of the grateful attendant.
Jay and Stephen sit quietly at their table; Jay is still distant, in deep contemplation.
‘You should have a word with Alan,’ Stephen says. ‘Think he’s having some problems.’
‘You don’t think so?’ Stephen asks.
‘I do,’ Jay says.
Stephen attempts to speak, but sees the waitress leading Natalia towards their table.
Jay follows Stephen’s eyes and sees Natalia. She looks absolutely stunning in an elegant black dress that showcases her curves.
Jay and Stephen instinctively stand as she approaches, and she and Jay cant keep their eyes off each other.
‘Do you guys need anything?’ the waitress asks.
‘No, we’re alright,’ Stephen answers.
‘Not right now, if you don’t mind,’ Natalia says to the waitress, while she and Jay maintain their gaze.
The waitress nods and walks away.
‘We weren’t expecting you,’ Stephen says. ‘I’m Stephen.’
She looks away from Jay for the first time and smiles at Stephen.
‘Natalia,’ she says to him.
She turns back to Jay and there is a moment of silence as they all wait for Jay to introduce himself.
Stephen nudges Jay, and Jay immediately grasps the cue. ‘Jay,’ he says, and they smile in amusement before they sit around the table; she takes the seat closest to Jay.
Again, there is a moment of silence.
Stephen attempts to break the silence, but Natalia beats him to it.
‘I saw you guys salute earlier,’ she says. ‘Soldiers?’
‘Well, yeah …’ Stephen begins to answer.
‘No,’ Jay interjects. ‘Not anymore.’
‘Yes, not anymore,’ Stephen concurs.
‘Oh, okay, why not?’ she asks.
‘Medical discharge, me,’ Stephen says. ‘I could show you my scar, but you probably don’t want to see it.’ He laughs and places an arm around Jay. ‘He just got tired of saving all our behinds.’
Jay modestly turns to Stephen and they share a heartfelt moment, stemmed from the endless hours spent together in battle and the even more relatively quiet hours spent together between those battles – band of brothers, forever.
Natalia smiles as she watches them, and a moment later, Stephen turns to her.
‘I can tell you the story,’ he says.
‘No,’ Jay says, and laughs softly. ‘She’s not interested.’
‘Don’t speak for me,’ she says. ‘I’m very interested.’
‘Right now, you are,’ he says. ‘Ten minutes in, you won’t.’
‘To put it concisely,’ Stephen says. ‘I and the other brothers in our platoon were caught in an ambush. Bloody Taliban everywhere.’ He gestures at Jay. ‘Our captain here, he saved our behinds.’ He pauses a moment. ‘No man left behind. Not one. Even if he had to carry your unconscious body two hundreds metres through a hail of bullets and explosions.’
There is a quiet moment as Stephen repeatedly nods, reminiscing, and Jay stares down to his feet.
‘Why wouldn’t I be interested in that?’ she sincerely asks.
‘It was concise,’ Jay says.
‘Alan should be back any moment,’ Jay says.
‘I’m not here because of Alan,’ she says. ‘I decided to come out for a drink … or two. This is the only place to be after midnight in Epsom.’ She smiles. ‘But I did know you guys were in here. So I thought to come say hello. Make sure …’
Alan and Derek stagger into the room; Stephen, Jay, and Natalia turn to watch them approach.
‘Fucking hell, you came,’ Alan says to Natalia. ‘Nice!’
Alan kisses her firmly on both cheeks, and she smiles politely.
Derek, who is most intoxicated, just smiles widely at her, and she smiles back.
Alan drags a seat very close to her and dumps himself on it. Derek, on the other hand, takes his time as he attempts to sit beside Stephen and still he almost falls to the ground; Stephen has to catch him and guide him to the seat.
Derek ploddingly attempts to prepare himself a drink as Jay and Stephen stare intently at Alan, not bothering to hide their disappointment.
‘You want a drink?’ Alan screams at Natalia.
‘Don’t worry, I’ll order something soon,’ she says.
‘Cool. Cool,’ he says, and turns to Jay and Stephen. ‘Why the fuck are you guys staring at me like that?
Jay gestures for Alan to wipe his nose, which has remnants of cocaine on the tip and around the nostrils.
‘What?’ Alan asks, confused.
‘Your nose,’ Stephen says, frustrated. ‘Wipe your nose!’
‘Oh!’ Alan says, and wipes the cocaine off his nose.
He looks at Jay, then Stephen, then Natalia, and then back to Jay. He considers lying, or apologising, but instead he defiantly declares, ‘Fuck that!’