Dazzlers nightclub was notorious in the city, its name synonymous with middle-aged desperation and marital infidelity. Rarely did anyone under thirty go there, and if they did it was for a stag or hen party, where the usual stigma of being seen in the club could be shared among friends, or the entire party receive a general absolution for the occasion. “Meat market”, “pickup joint” and “fleshpot” were phrases often used in reference to Dazzlers, and locals’ idea of a typical patron was a boozy, red-faced, overweight, separated man in his late forties or early fifties, or a lonely, mutton-dressed-as-lamb single woman of similar age, suffering from low self-esteem and general disappointment with life, and whose search for a partner using all the normal channels had been so fruitless that only Dazzlers remained — as the option of last resort.
Máire Ní Mhainnín stood out from the crowd in Dazzlers, not only because of her beauty, but because of her age — she was one of few women under forty there that Saturday night — and her aura of confidence. Luke could see the ripples of excitement among the knots of men huddled along the counter as she walked with her glass of wine to a free high table overlooking the dance floor. He also noted the jealous glances from other women. A black velvet minidress clung to her body, showing off her flat stomach, perky breasts and rounded bottom. She was setting down a marker by which the other women would be judged that night. Her competitors knew she could have any man she wanted, and Luke could see they hated her for it.
He had raced from closing up Francie’s to An Chéim Bhriste just in time to enjoy the spectacle of Máire getting ready to go out. She had padded around the house barefoot, fresh out of the shower, with a bath towel wrapped around her trunk and her hair tied turban-like into a smaller one. Her skin was smooth, pink from the heat of the water, and for the first time he saw the firm line of her jaw and cheekbones unobscured by hair. With the garden perfumed by steam rising from the drain outside her bathroom into the damp December air, he watched her dry herself, apply body cream to every inch of her skin below the neck, and spray deodorant under her arms.
Her body was beautiful beyond Luke’s expectations. She hadn’t a pick of fat anywhere — no little belly, no spare tyre, no rolls of fat under her buttocks — but she wasn’t skinny: her arms, legs and torso were toned, leading him to believe that she must work out regularly. He wondered if the reason she went into work so early was to hit the gym before her classes began. Or maybe she exercised here after work, while I’m still on the clock in Francie’s?
She had small, tidy breasts, more like Farrah’s than he imagined Connie’s to be. With the right wig and make-up he could picture Farrah being a convincing Máire, although there was one alteration that Farrah would have to make: Máire’s crotch was almost entirely free from hair, with only a thin line of fur running from the top of her vagina. Luke believed this was what was called a Brazilian.
How much would Farrah charge me to get one of those done on herself?
As he watched her get dressed, he knew for sure she was going out. Slavering in the darkness outside her bedroom, he saw her slip first into lacy black briefs, whose high waist made her legs look even longer. She then clipped herself into a matching bra and stood adjusting it and assessing herself in the mirror. When she was happy with this, she pulled on heavy and glossy black pantyhose. He had never watched a mature woman dress before, and found the experience delicately titillating, certainly better than the couple of times his brother had brought him to strip clubs in Dublin. In the midst of the drunken, rowdy throng of those places he had felt anything but arousal. He had felt shame, as if he were the one under observation rather than the oiled women writhing on the little stage. In the garden of An Chéim Bhriste, Luke was the only one doing the watching, and the woman inside was not some tattooed slapper from a poor neighbourhood trying to make an easy buck before falling into full-blown prostitution.
Máire took a little black dress from her wardrobe. After tugging its stretchy fabric around her bottom and midriff, she sat in front of the large mirror of her dressing table to do her hair and make-up. It fascinated Luke to study her putting her face on, to watch her slow, deliberate transformation from a fresh-faced, natural beauty to a dark-eyed, crimson-lipped bird of prey. She seemed to grow in mystery and ineffability the more colour she applied to her face, became something other from the simple woman who had stood naked and unadorned minutes before, running the towel over her damp skin.
She’s dressing to kill, thought Luke, as she stretched her neck in putting on earrings. Then a shaft of panic broke his composure: She’s going to be leaving soon. Do I want to follow her? He decided that he did. He turned off his video camera and made stealthily for the road. He hurried to Walsh’s car park and soon was reversing into the gateway of an abandoned bungalow from where he could observe anyone entering or leaving the cottage.
A taxi pulled up outside her house. Luke heard its horn beep and Máire clambered in. The taxi did a U-turn, its lights flashing briefly into the cab of Luke’s car, and made for the Tipperary Road. After it had passed out of sight, Luke started his engine and did his usual trick of staying at least two cars back. Traffic was light and fluid, and keeping up was not difficult. By the time they reached the Ballysimon Road, past various routes to circumvent the city, he was certain she was going to a city centre restaurant or pub. He was surprised when the taxi drew to a stop outside Dazzlers. He didn’t associate the place with a classy lady like Máire Ní Mhainnín, but then he remembered his first impression of her — as a sexual predator — and thought there would be ripe pickings in the nightclub for a woman like her.
For a couple of hours Luke hid in the shadows of Dazzlers watching Máire from a distance. He was easily the youngest person there, apart from one of the barmen and the floor boy, but he didn’t stand out. He was used to occupying spaces in busy rooms unseen, had practised the art over many years. After Máire had got her wine and seemed settled at her table, he went to the bar and ordered a bottle of non-alcoholic beer. This he nursed for the rest of the night, taking tiny swigs to appear that, like everyone else, he was there to get drunk and pick someone up.
In these situations his phone was an invaluable prop. A person could spend the entire evening in a bar or club hunched over their phone without looking out of place or drawing attention to themselves. He noticed tables of glum-looking patrons doing nothing but drinking and fingering their phones.
If Máire had a mobile phone on her person, Luke saw no evidence of it in Dazzlers. She sat statue-still at her table with a beguiling smile lightly written on her sleek, moist lips. She appeared to be in rapt observation of the goings-on on the dance floor. Occasionally her smile would broaden, as if something below was amusing her, and sometimes she would switch her gaze to the flirting couples peppered along the bar. Luke began to wonder if she had come to Dazzlers just to people-watch. She had hardly touched her wine, showed no interest in dancing and hadn’t set her eyes on any of the men milling around her part of the club. He wasn’t quite sure what sociologists did, but had an idea that they studied human behaviour. Was Máire’s outing for work purposes? Perhaps she was writing a book about the kinds of mating rituals on display at the club.
But Luke knew that no matter what Máire’s motivation was, a woman of her beauty would not be left alone for long. Male patrons were now on to their second or third drink, the alcohol in their systems battling their shyness and insecurities. Dutch courage would propel their lust in her direction. The first man to chat Máire up was a short, balding man with the type of moustache favoured by the rugby playing types from the city’s “good” clubs. This man hadn’t lined out in over twenty years but probably spent most of his evenings hobnobbing in the Young Munster or Shannon club house. The gaps in height, age and physical attractiveness rendered his attempts to woo Máire ridiculous, but Luke had to admire his courage. For ten minutes he looked up at her with a bold twinkle in his eye and talked non-stop, only pausing to deliver the odd hearty laugh that shook his flabby chest and midriff. The man made Máire herself laugh a few times, which Luke knew was half the battle with women, but there was something in the way she looked at the man, like an aunt’s regard for a wayward toddler, which suggested he was on a fool’s errand.
Following this man’s departure, a line of others beat a path to Máire’s table. They were of all ages, shapes and sizes, some taller than Máire, some short, some buffed and polished and highly spruced up, some down-at-heel and bedraggled, some salesman-confident, flashing white teeth and oversized watches, others sneaking glimpses at her from the corners of their eyes and mumbling bashfully. Luke could see in their gestures some men asking her for a dance, which she never agreed to. Whatever she was doing, she wasn’t there to dance. A couple of men invaded her personal space, standing elbow to elbow with her at her table. One even tried to throw an arm around her. Something Máire said made him pull the arm away in an instant. While in conversation with these men, her lack of interest was clear from one hundred yards away. If she had come to Dazzlers to take someone home, it wasn’t going to be any old piece of warm meat. She was looking for something specific or uncommon.
It was a strange-looking man with whom she eventually left — a man as distinctive and quirky as her old Subaru or An Chéim Bhriste. He could have been described as a middle-aged hipster, with his highly groomed grey beard, pointed ankle boots and skinny jeans. He was rake-thin, shoulder blades protruding from a black velvet sports coat, and tanned, as if he had just come from a holiday on the Costa del Sol. Unlike his beard, his mop of curly hair had not gone fully grey, adding to his striking appearance. Luke could see from the shift in Máire’s body language that she was attracted to the hipster. When he stood at her table, presumably introducing himself or delivering some ironic pick-up line, she angled her body towards him, something she had not done for any of the other men. He also coaxed more conversation from her than the others, and while they chatted she made deep and unbreaking eye contact with him. Luke was surprised when the man left, but then he returned with drinks and nestled in close to her. They remained in a tight huddle until they left the club after finishing their drinks.
Without stopping to consider a strategy or plan, Luke left Dazzlers in the wake of the newly formed couple. He found them outside kissing. As he passed them by he could hear the slurping sounds their mouths made. After he had crossed the road fifty yards ahead and began to double back, he saw them walking arm in arm. They were laughing loudly and Máire looked light-hearted and full of joy. Luke figured they were heading to a taxi rank. At the top of the street, across the road from Dazzlers, he dawdled after turning around.
What good would following them on foot do? he asked himself. They would hop in a taxi on O’Connell Street and would be lost to the night — unless he did a Spencer Tracy, jumping in a taxi himself and ordering the driver to “follow that car”. He thought of taking a gamble. What if they’re going back to her place? I’ll get there before them and be all set up in the bushes and I’ll record everything that happens.
A voice cried up the stairs: “Luke, love. We’re off to mass now. And then we have that trip to Killaloe. See you for tea. Bye, love.”
It was his grandmother. He would have the house all to himself. The front door closed. Luke rolled out of bed and went to the bathroom. As he stood over the bowl urinating, he smiled.
What a night! My best night on the job, ever!
After flushing, he went straight for his backpack at the foot of his bed and took out his infrared camera. He turned on his laptop and connected the camera. While waiting for it to boot up he went downstairs and put on the kettle and some toast. He hummed over the rumbling and gurgling of the kettle.
Beyond the porn he watched on his laptop, Luke had never seen a couple having sex before. The hipster and Máire had begun on her couch, getting into a tangle of arms and legs while slow music throbbed through the French doors. The man had stripped her off gradually and worked his tongue all around her body while she writhed on the sofa. Then he took his own clothes off and she led him to the bedroom, where for a change the curtains were not drawn and a small lamp was left on. Luke went closer to the window than he had ever dared before and was rewarded for his boldness by scenes of adventurous lovemaking that lasted well over an hour. Realising that he might never have an opportunity like this again, he had concentrated on recording the event at as high a quality as possible. Instead of allowing his arousal to overcome him, he ignored it and devoted his attention to getting properly focussed close-ups: the man’s penis thrusting in and out of Máire’s vagina; her lips around his testicles; his tongue teasing the tight skin of her anus; her expression when she was tied to the bedposts and blindfolded as he ran his penis over her breasts.
Luke was anxious to get the data on to his laptop and then back it up onto a hard drive. He couldn’t contemplate losing those videos. Tea and toast in hand, he bounded up the stairs and set about transferring the files.
Will I or won’t I? he asked himself.
Should he watch “Máire Post-Shower” or “Máire and Hipster”, or leave them as a treat for later? Farrah was coming over in a couple of hours. He didn’t want to be all spent up for her, his penis sore and raw from pulling, and his libido struggling to maintain interest. More than anything it would be a waste of the eighty euro he was paying her.
Leave it till later, Luke boy. A Sunday evening treat.