The big hand landed on Terry’s shoulder and a gravelly voice spoke in his ear.
“Carrie wants to talk to you.”
The quiet man turned and looked up into the face of the bouncer. The man’s eyes were sharp and brown, set deep in a wide face. Terry, by comparison, was whip-thin and his green eyes seemed possessed of a faraway quality.
“Easy, pal,” urged Vincent. The bouncer could not help but notice that the statement was directed to Terry, and not to him, as would be usual. He expected people to tell him to back off, but the tone this man had used to the thin man he was with made the giant bouncer slip his own hand from the shoulder of the customer.
“What about?” Terry asked.
“Dunno,” the mountain said. “She just pointed you out and said if you was leaving, to stop you for a second.”
The blaring speakers concealed around inside the club were pounding out a bass beat that overpowered most of the song. Terry nodded and jerked his head in the general direction of the interior.
“I’ll be out front having a smoke when the song ends.”
The big man scanned him, practiced eyes looking for any sign of deception or ill intent. “I’ll be bringing her out. She don’t get out of my reach. You get it?”
A handful of minutes later, the dark head of the bouncer peered around the door frame. In one direction, a group of what looked like fraternity members were passing around the remains of a bottle of Jagermeister before they entered the strip club. Looking the other way, he saw Terry and Vincent. The former stood in a relaxed pose that had a touch of wariness about it, while his friend was leaned against the wall. Both had cigarettes in their hands as they quietly conversed.
He stepped through the door, dwarfing the woman he escorted. Corded ebony muscle gleamed under the exterior lighting in a manner it had not inside. He was a truly massive specimen of humanity, and the frat boys quailed when they saw him step out. The Jagermeister bottle clinked against the pavement where it was hastily dropped.
At his side, the woman in the tan halter top and denim cutoffs grinned. She patted the bouncer on the arm and started off at a casual walk. He was right behind her, and she knew it. Marcus had seen her through many a bad scene, and she felt confident that this would be no different.
“Hey,” she said by way of greeting, tossing back her ponytail to let it fall on her back.
Terry nodded. “Miss,” he said in a pleasant tone.
“Got a sec?”
“Hey, Vince, gimme a minute, yeah?” Terry said by way of reply. His friend stepped away several paces and sat on the hood of a grey BMW.
“Marcus?” she prompted, raising an eyebrow at her escort. He didn’t budge, his eyes fixed on Terry.
“S’all good,” the thin man said. “He’s got a job to do.”
She smiled at that and reached out with one slim hand to pluck the cigarette from Terry’s grasp. Nails painted the same scarlet color as her hair contrasted with the white filter as she took a drag. When she returned it, traces of a pink lip gloss decorated the filter.
“How did you do it?” she asked.
“Pulled it out of a box and lit it.”
“That’s not what I mean and you know it. No one has ever managed to make it through that performance before, with their pants staying dry. Not with me and Treasure both working on you.”
He grinned. “That’s why I told you to make it a timed performance, miss.”
“It’s Carrie,” she corrected, although she had to admit that she enjoyed the feeling of having someone use some kind of formality with her.
He tucked the smoke into the corner of his mouth, tasting the sweetness of her lip gloss. His hand extended before him in a slow maneuver designed not to antagonize the enormous bouncer.
She thought for a brief moment that he had mispronounced her name, but then her eyes lit up and she reached out to take his hand in her own and gently shake it. His grip was strong but subdued, the feeling of one who knew they could crush her hand but consciously made an effort to control themselves.
“I could tell you liked it,” she said.
“That I did,” he admitted. “You’ve got a gift.”
“But you didn’t come,” she said.
“Nope.” He was non-plussed at her casual crudity.
“But that’s what the dance is about!”
She was confused and seemed to be a bit miffed by his lack of response. Terry took another short drag and handed her the Camel before tucking his fingertips into the pockets of his jeans.
“I don’t mean to insult you, Carrie, or your friend in there. You’re both amazing at what you do. I just prefer to save my…” He paused, thinking of the right word to use. “…my response, for a more private setting.”
“That’s a lot of self-control.”
“It’s all I have left,” he said. He half-bowed from the waist. “You have a lovely night, Carrie. It was wonderful to meet you.”
“Happy birthday, Terry,” she replied, her voice a little slow in coming, but friendly when it did.
“Thanks for watching over her,” Terry said to Marcus. “I know folks don’t tell you that, but you do a good thing.”
The big man grinned. “Thanks,” he said.
As he turned to leave, Carrie took a step forward. “Hey!” she called. He turned to see a strange look in her eyes.
“You aren’t gonna ask for my number or anything?”
“Most guys do that?”
“Yes,” she said. Behind her, Marcus silently nodded.
“I ain’t them,” he said. He opened the passenger door of the BMW as Vincent got in. With a final smile, he dropped into place in the leather seat and closed the door. He watched the dancer as Vincent pulled them out of the parking lot. In turn, she kept her eyes on the BMW through the whole exit.