By the time I make it back to Tamar’s, evening has pulled a dark veil across the cloudy sky. Winds have begun to gust down the streets, bearing away the human stench of the city and replacing it with the heady mouldering scent of swamps from the mire that extends a hundred miles southward.

I’m sitting at the bar downstairs, working on my third bourbon on ice, watching the crowd as they watch the dancers, ostensibly keeping an eye out for trouble. Fortunately for my peace of mind, there’s not a lot of trouble at Tamar’s. You work hard and build the right kind of reputation over a course of years and, most of the time, only the right kind of clientele show up. 

It’s busy for a Wednesday night. We’ve got a corporate event in the private hall at the back, right off the rear entrance so the more private executives can pull their chauffeured cars up the alley, and then there’s the usual assortment of single men, lesbians, and couples out to spice things up. Everyone trying to get in a last bout of live entertainment before the storm hits and they’re trapped at home with their families and virtual rigs until the danger passes.

Dancers and manikins have been legal in the city for a couple decades at least, but there are still some who view our business as exotic. If a couple makes it more than an hour in here there’s a good chance they actually like watching each other lusting after the dancers, but most of the time one or the other will start to get jealous and haul their partner out after a couple of stage dances. There’s one over there now, casting daggers at her husband’s back while he stands awkwardly at the stage, dropping colorful house bills on Jasmine from a full a meter above her bare skin. I wonder which of them had the idea to come here. Judging from how awkward the  husband looks right now, I’m thinking it was the wife’s idea. Some sort of test of fidelity that he’s failing right now in the most pathetic way possible.

What a waste. 

I take another sip of my bourbon. Watch the hapless sap walk awkwardly back to his seat. Watch the wife plaster a fake smile on a second too late. Watch her sidle up to his drunken ass, wrap her arm around him, and try to sit on his lap like one of the dancers, but there’s an automaticity to her movements that belies her desire. Five minutes later they’re gone, out the door on the way to the coat room, destined to ride an autocab back to their sad apartment, where they’ll have sex, fall asleep, and wake up to another day of trying to think of others ways to mend their sad relationship.

If she doesn’t ruin their marriage with constant tests of his loyalty, he’ll inevitably break and do something stupid. Start beating her. Have an affair. Pick up a drug habit. I’m no expert at how to maintain a healthy relationship, but I know the signs of one which is on the rocks. 

Speaking of which, my glass is empty.

I stand and ease away from the bar, testing how unstable my legs have become. It’s not bad. I wave for the bartender and hold up my glass, signaling that I need another round. Renny shoots me a tired smile and a wave that says, “Get your own ice, you damn drunk,” then goes back to chatting up a white haired businessman who’s probably been sleeping with Renny longer than her last three husbands, and paid her as much for the privilege as all of their alimony payments combined.

I oblige her. 

Renny’s been working his place longer than I have. Used to dance under some spicy name or another, but a few years back she switched over to the bar because her knees couldn’t take performing anymore. That’s when she dropped her stage name and started going by the one that’s printed on her ident card. She’ll still do the occasional private show or house call for old clients, but for the most part she stays behind the bar. She’s still as beautiful as ever to the sort of man who goes for mid-range body modifications and spiked pink hair. 

I slouch around behind the bar. Tong a couple perfectly spherical ice cubes into my glass. Splash in another generous portion of bourbon. Watch as the animated phages dance around the foot of my glass on the countertop, reminding customers to keep their viral loads up to standard and earning Tamar a fraction of a credit from the public health board’s advertising budget. Then it’s upstairs to collapse onto my desk chair and watch the ice melt in my glass until I am exhausted enough to fall asleep.

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