May 7, 2011
Club 41 on King Street West
Beside me, Monica sighed with sufficient emphasis to get my attention and, then, when I turned toward her, she spoke.
“I can't believe this is happening.” She was clearly distressed and looked around bewildered.
“I know,” I acknowledged and finished my drink. I studied the empty glass with disdain before replacing it on the bar.
“It just seems sufficiently plausible not to be crazy, if that makes any sense,” I added in afterthought and Monica nodded.
We were talking about our habitual haunt on King Street where we had been regular and well-known customers for quite some time. Club 41 was, to us, a special kind of place where we were not only free to enjoy ourselves drinking and dancing – the usual sorts of entertainment for an establishment of its kind – but it was also the particular atmosphere of the place that fostered conversation, friendship and contact with others. Once we had found it, it became, by unspoken accord, the only club where we wanted to go.
I am certain that Monica had her own reasons for wanting to return. On my part, I was appreciative of what the club had done for me. Most specifically, I had met Monica there and, despite whatever vicissitudes we could encounter in the future, I was grateful for the easy, comfortable and satisfying relationship that had, through time, grown and matured between us. In reality, it is not often that a man will admit such things but, in my own opinion, he is a fool if he does not admit, both to himself and to the woman who adores him, just how important she is. There were, of course, also other relationships of various degrees of intimacy that, as different as each one was in their own qualities, they were united by the fact that their initial steps had been taken at Club 41. No less important was the continual warmth and comradeship that came from the staff and owner.
Now, it seemed, all of that was changing.
It began as a text I received on Monday evening from Naomi while Monica and I were sitting quietly and watching TV. Upon reading the words on the screen, I couldn't help the escaped epithet.
“What the... ?”
“What's going on?” Monica studied my expression.
“Uh, I'm not really sure. Let me call Naomi a second.”
Monica shrugged but continued to watch me, her own expression somewhere between frank curiosity and mild concern. I pressed a few buttons on the device and soon the digital line, with a series of clicks, made its connexion. It was immediately picked up.
“Hey, Naomi. It's me. I just got your text. What the heck is all this?”
“Hi stranger,” came Naomi's habitual sunny response but there was an underlying tension in her voice.
“I wanted to see if you knew anything about it.”
“Well, no!” I might have sounded too emphatic.
“Where did you get this from?”
“Everywhere and nowhere,” explained Naomi. “It's a rumour that's been floating around for about two weeks but now there seem to be specifics.”
“Who started it?”
“Uh...” Naomi pondered for a second. “It's this guy – I know you'd recognise him if pointed him out to you.”
“You gonna be there on Saturday night?”
“I will if you and Monica come.”
“Great. We'll talk more about it then. Thanks Naomi and have a good week.”
“You too. Bye.”
I closed the device and shook my head, still not comprehending but, at the same time, determined to get to the bottom of it.
“Well?” Monica was staring at me impatiently. Resigned, I simply spat it out.
“Apparently, Club 41 is being sold.”
Monica's jaw dropped.
The situation, aside from another few text exchanges with Naomi, remained largely unchanged until Saturday evening when, after a satisfying dinner date at Antonio's where, thanks to the moderating temperatures, the rear patio had been opened, Monica and I strolled hand in hand the few blocks along King Street and found ourselves sitting at the bar waiting for Naomi's grand entrance.
There was, we had both commented at different times, nothing to indicate any changes happening in the place. The owner, as per his habit, was at the front desk and, upon our entry, he made his usual fuss over us, shaking our hands, smiling and helping us with our coats. Monica noted that the staff seemed happy and, Jack, our bartender, was his effusive self, complimenting Monica and shaking my hand energetically.
Still, we were both feeling on edge due to the 'suspended' sensation brought on by lack of direct knowledge. There was no doubt that it put something of a damper on the normally boisterous joviality of our evenings there. Disturbed by this fact and seeing the owner making his rounds greeting new and old clients, I waited until I caught his eye and waved him over. He nodded and soon proceeded in our direction. I was sorry that Naomi had still not arrived but I felt that, under the circumstances, she would understand.
After we had concluded with our pleasantries, I took a deep breath and launched in, recounting the story as it had been presented to us. His attention never wavered from me as I told him, in the most uncertain of terms, what we had heard, how concerned we were and why. His smile, however, a normal fixture of his expression, gradually faded and, as I concluded, he shook his head and looked at the floor. Finally, he spoke, his voice low and patient.
“How long have we known each other?”
“It's about... a few years now,” I offered, not knowing the exact number.
“Have you ever had any indication that I want to do other than own and run this club?”
“No,” I said with conviction. Beside me, Monica echoed the same sentiment.
“Exactly. That rumour was started by an extremely unscrupulous and unprofessional individual who runs an upstart club elsewhere in the city.”
Monica and I looked at each other, our eyes wide and the essential frivolousness of the entire situation dawning. The owner of Club 41 continued.
“He figures that by seeding uncertainty and rumour-mongering among my clients, some of them will go over to populate his club. I say it's not going to happen.”
“I can't believe this,” whispered Monica.
“And we fell for it,” I added, shamefaced.
“No, you didn't, you asked me and I told you,” he responded. “I'm actually happy that you did ask me directly rather than propagating these lies for his dubious ends.”
At that point, there was little more to add. We thanked him and, as was his custom, he signaled to Jack and, only moments later, our drinks were refreshed. His smile returned and he, again, thanked both of us for coming before wandering away, shaking hands and sharing conversation with other clients along the bar. There was no doubt he was good at it. Inwardly, I wondered if he had ever considered politics.
Monica and I were sitting, both a little dumbfounded, when finally Naomi made her appearance, drawing the attention of every male in the club.
“Hi, guys,” she said, slipping up to the bar and fairly bowling us over with her exuberance. “What did I miss?”