“So, you’re a musician?” Dylan asked in a more cheerful tone as he sat down on the other side of the couch.
“Yep.” Ian answered, plastering a smile on his face. “I write my own songs, but I play covers too. No real hits yet, but the tune from the tea commercial is mine, the one with the unicorn.”
“Oh wow, I see I live next door to up-and-coming talent.”
Ian laughed and relaxed against the backrest of the sofa. “I’d wish. And what do you do for a living Dylan?”
“I’m a bartender, or well, I manage a bar. Started only yesterday though.”
“Seems cool. What’s it’s called? And more importantly, are you booking performances?” Ian grinned.
“Mercury, and as of yet, we don’t, but hey, we might in the future.”
They chatted quite a bit as the atmosphere relaxed. Ian found out that Dylan was originally a psychologist, which explained a lot. But for some reason he’d changed career and turned HR manager at an IT-company. Until he recently got a job as a bartender. He was originally not from Amsterdam, which his slight accent had already betrayed, and his family was scattered across the country.
The conversation didn’t get more personal than that, and they tried out subjects like music (which Dylan knew nothing about), craft beer (which Ian knew nothing about) and finally food. A subject they both appreciated equally. Dylan had a funny thing about not eating anything that smelled bad. He said we had evolved our noses to make sure we didn’t eat anything we shouldn’t. Which was ridiculous obviously, because cheeses. And also, you don’t eat most types of flowers, no matter how good they smell.
They chatted about edible flowers and blue cheese for a bit, but neither one of them was able to get the other one to turn away from their point. They parted with a “maybe I’ll cook you something sometime” from both sides when Dylan had stated it was about time to head to work.
Ian had gone back to his apartment, feeling cheerful. It turned out fine in the end. He had the feeling he made a better impression than he had lying wasted in the hallway, and that was about as good as it would get. He also found himself not dying of shame with Dylan knowing about is scars, which was new. He wondered why, but for some reason it didn’t matter. He felt at ease about it. He jammed a bit on his guitar, wrote half a verse about Murphy’s law and put some titbits on his Instagram before he had to head off to work himself.
He hadn’t told his neighbour, and he wasn’t planning on telling anyone else either, that he had a job besides music. He needed one, no ordinary singer-songwriter could afford an apartment in the centre of Amsterdam, however tiny. But people who knew musicians only from the media never seemed to realise there wasn’t any money to be made in the trade for the majority of them.
No, Ian’s profession was an old one, as well as the only one he knew. But since his new gig he minded it less. He had made some major changes, which had resulted in a steady stream of income, way better than before. Also, it was less risky, didn’t involve him taking it up the ass as much, and the best part: he was in complete control at all times. Comparing his career before, he could say with confidence he liked this job.
Well, he would say it with confidence, but like is a strong word. It wasn’t so much what his current freelance position did for him, but more about what it didn’t. It didn’t make him feel like something stuck under someone’s shoe, something unworthy of being. It didn’t make him shower for hours and still feel dirty. It didn’t allow anyone to hurt him. It didn’t make him cry himself to sleep at night. And having a job that made a lot of money and didn’t have any of those things, well, that was just great.
Ian grabbed his jacket, checked if he had his phone and keys on him, then went out the door. He looked for his bike outside and found it tied to a lamppost with the handlebars all twisted. Damn he must have crashed his bike last night. He vaguely remembered falling off as he did a hard stop against the building.
Ian sighed at his own stupidity, put the front wheel between his legs and twisted the handlebars back into a position that passed for straight. Then he got on and, with a slight creak at every turn of the wheel, rode to his workplace.
Cherry greeted him with gusto in the dimly lit hall. “Ian! We’ve got a full schedule for you today! Lots of your regulars, a foreign guy into some extreme stuff and one curious newbie. You’re gonna be busy until closing time! First one is Inspector Gadget, he’ll be here at 3.30. Room 4 is ready for you.
Ian smiled at the name. Almost everyone used an alias in here, but he knew the Inspector was an actual cop. Head of a bureau, nonetheless. He had recognised his face from a press conference months ago. Came in about two times a month looking for some heavy bondage and toys stuffed up his ass. Ian remembered the first time he came in. He was a nervous wreck, incredibly scared someone would tape his perversities and blackmail him with it. He was right on the first account, though all footage was taped over the next day. It was just there for security reasons. Besides, the madam wouldn’t risk her career to blackmail anyone. Probably…
It was a good night. Besides the obvious amount of money he was making with such a busy schedule, his clients were quite obedient (as they should be) and easy to please. Gadget’s mind was clearly wrapped up in some challenging case when he came in. But he left visibly more relaxed after a little asphyxiation and having his hole utterly destroyed with a strap on of a size Ian couldn’t help but envy.
The foreign businessman couldn’t stop praising the inventive spirit of Amsterdam after having his balls electrocuted and left a more than generous tip. That wasn’t usual practice, but Ian didn’t feel the need to actually tell him that. And the newbie was tense and jittery at first, but after the first couple of smacks with the Scottish tawse, the middle-aged man was begging for more and calling him daddy. He’d be coming back.
After that it was only late-night regulars, whom Ian knew exactly how to punish. Only one of them had been a particularly good boy who deserved to receive a blowjob. And Ian hadn’t even needed to take his leathers off for anyone. All in all, easy money.
After his last client had left, Ian took a shower and put his black skinny jeans and long-sleeved band shirt back on. He spent some time carefully re-inserting his many piercings, which, for hygiene reasons, he always took out when working. Then he emptied the last bit of white powder from the envelope in his pants-pocket into his nose and called his dealer.
Ian knew he had an expensive drug habit, but was okay with it. He made enough money to accommodate for the slightly more than recreational use of cocaine, knew exactly how much he could handle and never used any at home. He figured some people need some artificial boost to get by in this world and he was just one of those people. The coke was doing its job. It made him sharp, uncaring, confident and a little horny, which was exactly what he needed in this job, as well as during his live gigs.
Ian was doing significantly better than he had before. The past had entered his mind more than once today, and he blamed Dylan and his stupid perceptiveness. But he was past all that. One reason he didn’t feel like a junkie now, was that he knew how it felt to be one. Using heroin, methadone, oxy, anything to dull out the pain of being a complete failure, only worthy to be used by others for their personal pleasure and then being tossed away like a chewed-out bubble gum, THAT was being a drug addict. He had overcome that. All on his own. He had a home now, money, gigs, a song in a TV commercial and a well-paying job that involved people begging him instead of the other way around. This little coke habit he had now, was nothing. Compared to where he had been, he was clean.
“How you’re doing Ian?” a familiar voice came from the door opening.
“It has been a good day.” Ian said, turning to face the madam. Her black latex outfit and tight updo betrayed the fact she had just been with a client too. The flaming red stiletto’s didn’t mean anything, she always wore those types of shoes.
“I know.” Madam Trixy held out her hand and looked Ian expectantly in the eye.
“Ah, that’s mine, he gave that to me…” Ian said pouting, knowing full well he wasn’t going to be keeping the tip he got from the businessman.
“Don’t you start with me, young man. 80% on the first two, 35% on the rest. You’ve made a lot of money today; you should be grateful you get to work here. Now go do your math.”
“I am, thank you madam.” Ian said forking over a third of the money he’d already put in his pocket.
“Never make me come to you and ask for it again. You know I see everything. Next time you’re keeping something from me you’re out, alright?”
Ian knew it was a useless threat. He made the madam a lot of money and she wouldn’t kick him out over something as silly as not sharing a tip, but he made a mental note to not anger her any time soon, just in case.
He waved at Cherry as she was packing up the registry and sauntered out into the streets, riding his bike to the usual meet-up with Aaron before paying a visit to the rock café near central to check out the last band of the evening.
Unfortunately, they were just finishing their final song for the night when he got in.
“You missed it, tea boy.” The bartender said matter of factly. “Too bad, too, they were good. So, what’s your poison today? We’re out of your favourite pink, so red, white or whiskey?”
“Jack’s good, thanks.” Ian answered. He scanned the crowd. It was a little empty, which was a bummer. He was going to play here again next week and had been hoping for a larger crowd.
“It was busier early on.” The bartender said as he slid over the drink, clearly he had noticed Ian’s disappointment at the half-empty venue. “Don’t worry about it, with a headliner like Humanity’s Fall, we’ll sell out for sure. You’re just gonna have to hope they’ll be in time for your warm-up show.”
Ian thought about that. Rock fans tended to skip the warm-up if it was just one singer-songwriter performing. Maybe he should get a band, but that meant making time for rehearsal, getting along with others and sharing the wages. For the umptieth time Ian decided against it.
“Oh yeah, some big studio man is coming to check out the Loveletters too, so he’ll probably be in time, you should bring your A-game, play a lot of your own work, he might scout you as a writer. I already tipped him.”
“Thanks Frankie.” Ian said, for a moment sincerely touched the fat man was looking out for him. Then he took a sip of his drink and remembered all the times bar owners had gotten him to play for free, throwing empty promises of bigshots in the audience, and curbed his enthusiasm. If some big studio man really showed up next Thursday, he could always be grateful then.
"Oh, and by the way: you left your guitar yesterday. It's sitting backstage, you better get it before they close up."
Ah.. so that's where I left it...