Bouncer

“How would you like to earn a few quid for a couple of hours work?”

I’ve always liked those words. And having gone back to study after a year in the foundry they were especially welcome.

“Sure. What do I have to do?”

“One of my offsiders is sick. I need someone to help me with security at a dance tomorrow night.”

“You want me to be a bouncer?”

“Yeah. It’s just a dance. You’ll be fine.”

“OK, count me in.” Anything for a laugh, I thought.

“Great”, Terry said. “Oh, and wear a suit.”

Next evening I put on my one and only wedding, funeral and interview suit and turned up half an early for my instant training session on how to be a bouncer.

“Mick, this is Ian; Ian, Mick”, Terry said as he introduced me to the third member of the team. Mick had no neck and his shoulders brushed both sides of the door frame. He grunted and held out his hand. It was like grasping a log.

“Take off that tie and put this one on”, said Terry, handing me a slightly greasy, ready-made, clip-on bow tie.

“Why?” I asked.

“If someone grabs your neck-tie, you’re trapped. Or they could choke you with it. With the clip-on, all you have to do is pull back and it comes away in their hand.”

Had the temperature just dropped?

“Look, just watch me and Mick. Do what we do. Try to stop anything going off before it starts. Talk them down or laugh them out of it if you can. If you see me make a move towards someone, you come round behind the guy I’m talking to. I’ll do the same for Mick, Mick’ll do the same for you. He’s got your back, you’ve got mine, I’ve got Mick’s. OK? Then let’s get out there.”

“Oh, one more thing. Chew this.” Terry handed me a packet of gum.

“I don’t like gum.”

“Just chew it,” Terry said. “It stops your lip trembling when you’re scared and it keeps your tongue away from your teeth so that when someone hits you, you don’t bite off a piece of your tongue.”

Ever noticed that the crowd on a packed dance floor usually seems to rotate, very slowly, anti-clockwise? Terry, Mick and I took up well-spaced positions near the edges of the crowd, in a triangle formation covering the whole floor, moving slowly clockwise against the gradual rotation of the dance crowd. Each of us had a view of half the dance floor and the bouncer in front without turning our heads.

Thank goodness for the gum. I have never been as terrified in my life as I was in that first half hour.

Over the next three hours, the fear gradually settled into a sort of anxious wariness while the skin on my back prickled and crawled.

At six foot, I was taller than most of the teenagers in the hall. I was a couple of inches taller than both Terry and Mick. Both wore dinner jackets. Terry looked a lot like a young Sean Connery in the early James Bond Films. He’d laughed when he told me that he’d been mistaken for Connery a couple of times. “You’re not as tall as you look in the movies”, someone once said to him.

Terry was solid muscle. Mick could have got a job as a boulder. Between them, I looked like a greyhound between two mastiffs.

Terry looked relaxed and friendly. I saw him acknowledge some people and exchange cheerful words with others as he moved around the room. Twice I saw him move quickly towards someone and, as instructed, I moved just as quickly behind the guy he was talking to. I don’t know what I would have done if things had got ugly. I didn’t need to find out. Standing behind the punter I could see the look that Terry was giving him. It was not a friendly look. It was a look that said, ‘Go on Sunshine, give me an excuse to tear your limbs off.’

The guy backed off. Five seconds later the cheerful Terry was back, smiling and nodding at various folk.

The second time, just before we moved back to our stations, I noticed a black cylindrical object tucked into Terry’s waistband. It had a knob and wrist-strap – a cosh or maybe a truncheon?

“You didn’t tell me you were expecting trouble”, I said accusingly, nodding towards the handle. He pulled it out. It was a folding umbrella he’d picked up during the last circuit and he was going to drop it off in lost property when he went past.

It’s strange walking through a crowd as a bouncer. Tiny gaps between bodies widen as you approach and close behind you. I glided through them with the merest hint of a body turn. It was almost like dancing. After all, I was a dancer not a fighter. I wondered what the people would think if they knew that the skinny bouncer with the long hair had won a Twist competition on this very dance floor only a few years earlier.

Most people ignore you, easing out of your way as you pass by. Some eye you off warily, maybe weighing up their chances against you if they decide to have a go, but they avoid catching your eye. A few are obsequious and a bit fawning – members of a temporary fan club who want to make friends with the bouncer, buy you drink, have a chat, like sycophants round a school bully. It’s a bit creepy.

I found out later that Terry had dropped a word here and a hint there and a rumour had got round that I was black-belt karate expert who had just got back from studying in Japan. Back then karate was still a mysterious, little-known area so maybe it was just plausible enough. Luckily, no one decided to put it to the test.

The one time I moved towards potential trouble and faced off with the offender, Mick appeared behind him as if by magic, moving surprisingly nimbly for a big man. He did more than appear; he loomed menacingly – end of problem.

The dance ended with no major dramas. When the punters had gone and the band was packing up, the three of us took off our ties, loosened our top shirt buttons and collapsed into chairs in the manager’s office. The manager handed Terry a grubby envelope. Terry slid out some creased notes and passed them to Mick and me.

As I slipped mine into my pocket he said, “Thanks, Ian. You did all right tonight.”

“Thanks, Terry. It was an interesting experience.”

“Ken will be back on deck next week. But I’ll give you a call if ever I need an extra body sometime. See you around.”

The following Friday, Ken was stabbed as he crossed the car park after the dance.
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