Three o’clock in the morning. Outside one of the nightclubs down on the promenade, a crowd of clubbers is reaching critical mass; shifting, breaking at the margins, reforming, drawn by the thumping beats to one small gap in a safety barrier. A luminous cloud hangs above the crowd, the smoke and heat and animal press of it all rising up into the night beneath a bank of halogen spots.
We make our way through as best we can, resting hands on shoulders, ambulance, excuse me, mind your backs, until we’re far enough forward to catch the bouncer’s eye. Without any change of expression he sweeps a few people aside, unhooks the rope behind him, nods us through. Another bouncer is waiting at an open fire exit off to the right; he waves us to go that way, and we enter a corridor at the side of the club.
Vittorio is sitting on a chair with his head tipped back, whilst a bouncer dabs at his eye with a wet gauze.
‘Oh, hi chaps,’ says the bouncer, stepping back, hands crooked up in front, the artist interrupted. He looks like a rockabilly on steroids, his quiff shiny and black in the harsh emergency lighting, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up over great ropes of muscle intricately covered in tattoos. ‘What you see in front of you is a twenty-year-old fella, took a punch to the right eye, no loss of consciousness, neck pain or so on, no vomiting, neurological deficit or other concerns. GCS fifteen throughout. Small but deep laceration lower orbital region, no damage to the eye as far as I can see. Needs a trip up the hospital for further assessment and some max-fax, but I’ll leave that up to you. Shall I continue?’
‘Fine. Good job.’
‘Okay then, fella. Tip your head back.’
Throughout all this Vittorio chats excitedly to a guy called Sam, standing off to his left. At first I think Sam’s simply a friend giving him support, but it gradually becomes apparent that Sam is the one who punched Vittorio in the first place.
‘Here’s twenty quid’ says Sam, trying to press the notes into Vittorio’s hand. ‘I’m so, so sorry.’
‘I wasn’t looking at her like that. You know I wouldn’t,’ says Vittorio. He turns to look at me, and when the bouncer corrects him with a knuckle to the chin, he slides his eyes sideways instead.
‘I ducked when I should’ve dodged’ he says. ‘I’ve done martial arts. But let me tell you – it’s always the ones you don’t see that do you the most damage. I’m fine, really. It’s nothing. A few stitches and I’ll be good as new.’
‘Mate! Let me know when you get out and I’ll come pick you up,’ says Sam, texting something at the same time.
‘No worries,’ says Vittorio, standing up when the bouncer lets him, and grasping the bloody shirt that Sam passes to him. ‘Okay. Ready? Let’s go!’