Much to his pleasant surprise, Laurence enjoyed their gig in Istanbul. The open night air was refreshing, and the city lights added a pretty glow to their performance—not to mention the crowds were considerably milder and less inclined to mob them. By day, Laurence, Xiang, and Granby would tour the city, visiting museums, shopping at Akmerkez, listening to the operas, and eating at the local restaurants. On their first night off, Granby, who had been patient about the museums and operas, suggested that they go see to the night clubs. Xiang readily agreed, but Laurence was not at all willing to let the boy loose in a foreign club.
“There are clubs for kids his age,” Tharkay said, back at the hotel room. He had been tuning his bass and had not gone with them on their sight-seeing trip. “I think there’s a live performance going on at one of them, some local girl.” He glanced at Laurence with a faint smirk, knowing full well that he didn’t like the idea, before turning to Xiang, “You should go, Temeraire.”
Xiang, eyes wide as saucers, tugged fretfully at Laurence’s shirt. “Can I go? Please?”
Laurence glared uselessly at Tharkay. “We don’t know if it’s safe for you,” he said firmly, remembering their last stint in China.
Xiang’s face fell, but after a moment’s consideration, he nodded. “Oh, alright then. I have some songs to work on anyway.”
“It’s perfectly safe,” Tharkay interjected.
“And how would you know?” Laurence asked, unable to keep the irritation from his voice.
Tharkay gave him an ironic smile. “I’ve lived here once, you know, for quite a long time. So I guess you could say that I know my way around.”
An hour later, they had left Xiang in the company of a much younger crowd. Seeing him intermingle easily within the club made Laurence feel acutely guilty about keeping Xiang away from other teenagers. He started to mull over the idea of having, perhaps, a guest singer that was Xiang’s age. Lily and Max were still in England, and it was obvious that the boy missed his friends.
“Come on,” Granby said, breaking his train of thought and pulling Laurence along into another night club. Tharkay was ahead of them, leading the way with familiar ease despite the dense crowds. They managed to squeeze through the doors, but couldn’t grab a table or even chairs. The club was packed, and if Laurence hadn’t spent the past year playing in cramped spaces filled with strangers, he would have left immediately. Now he was more or less resigned to standing with Granby pressed against his side and Tharkay almost stepping on his feet.
Laurence looked around the dimly lit room; they were standing on what was supposed to be the dance floor, and at the corners— Laurence stared for a moment, blushing furiously—were scantily clad women on raised platforms, merely posing. He guessed that they were dancers, but there wasn’t any music.
“Wait a moment,” Tharkay said, gesturing to the front stage.
Just as Laurence turned to look, an impossibly young girl clambered onto the stage, an electric guitar slung carelessly over her back. The crowd started to shout excitedly, and the girl gave a smirk that perfectly suited her bright scarlet hair and made the piercing on her lip gleam. Laurence watched skeptically, honestly unimpressed with the gaudy musician who, along with her pierced lip and dyed hair, had about seven more piercings on her face and ears, and wore what appeared to be a nightmare of spiked belts and bracelets.
She strummed the guitar gentle, just once, and the entire club fell into a quiet hush. Her playing was shockingly admirable, smooth and full of flourishes and seemed to please everyone listening. Any dubious thought Laurence had against her instantly died away.
That is, until she slammed her guitar on the ground and—what sounded like at the top of her lungs—started to scream. And the crowd went insane as music suddenly blared onstage from her backup band.
Laurence probably cursed right after that, but the music made it impossible to hear anything he said. He probably continued cursing too as he lost sight of Granby and Tharkay in the growing mosh pit—how people could even jump around with so little room was beyond him.
Thankfully, the girl had a single song lineup, so half the crowd seemed to disappear out of the club in no time at all. Laurence was dazedly sitting at the bar, ears still ringing from her shrieking. He ought to have been used to it by now, he berated himself, and helped himself to another glass of admittedly excellent beer.
Granby sat down next to him, looking very pleased and sweaty.
“I liked her,” he said happily.
“Oh, did you,” Laurence muttered, not even bothering to ask if Granby had been moshing.
“Her name’s Iskierka,” Granby continued, waving on the bartender and ordering himself a cheaper brand of beer, “She’s actually a year younger than Xiang if you can believe it.”
Laurence paused in mid-sip. “You must be kidding. How is it legal for her to even be in here?”
Granby shrugged, as if unbothered by it. “She was amazing,” he said simply.
“Well, of course I am,” an accented voice said from behind. Laurence recognized it immediately. He had been listening to its screaming only moment ago after all.
Iskierka was walking up to them and everything about her manner was self-assured and confident. Tharkay trailed behind her with something of a quirk at the corner at his mouth while Granby looked up, interested.
“That was one hell of a performance,” he said, grinning.
Iskierka seemed to brighten at the compliment, her punkish demeanor suddenly less apparent and more girlish with delight. “I know you,” she said excitedly, “from Temeraire’s band, yes? I want to join! You need one more guitarist, and I can play very well, you just said so yourself.”
Granby blinked, surprised.
“Well, okay,” he said.
Laurence nearly choked on his beer. “Granby—“
“She’s right, you know,” Granby said, lowering his voice for only Laurence to hear, “And you said so yourself, Xiang should have a person his age hanging around, not to mention that she’s got raw talent. Let me take her in and see what I can do with her.”
Laurence almost smiled at Granby’s serious tone. “I have no doubt that you could teach her, John, and certainly no objections with her joining us, but I’m more concerned about trying to get her out of the country without all the media fuss— and to say nothing of airport security,” he added wryly, remembering her overabundance of piercings.
“Oh!” Iskierka cried, and now Laurence could fully see the little eager girl that she was, “I will take them off, I promise! And do not worry about my parents, they’ll let me do anything, as long as I make the money. Ah, you won’t regret it! Thank you, thank you!”
And Laurence imagined that she must have leaped into his and Granby’s arms for a crushing, but entirely sincere hug.