Smoke, Part 1 – Daily Story Project #26

This story idea started small but as I wrote it got bigger. I’ve actually been working on it all week. It will be at least two parts, maybe three. So I’m stretching it out, rather than hurrying to finish it. Gotta listen to my muse.

His voice had never sounded so cold before. That was my first clue. Not that we had a close relationship. He ordered the drinks, I served them. But he’d been coming in on a regular basis for a couple of weeks now, every couple of nights.

Alone, which wasn’t unusual for a customer in a titty bar. Particularly a male one.

“May I get a Seven and Seven?” he asked. He did not lean on the bar, his hands were at his side, and he did not lean down to look under the hanging glasses and mugs that obscured vision of me behind the bar, in spite of his height.

“Sure,” I said, and I started putting his drink together. While I poured, I nodded towards him. “Welcome back.”

“Oh. Thank you.” His hand went up abruptly, then stopped, then went towards his back pocket to pull out his wallet, which looked shiny and brand new. For that matter, he was dressed in what appeared to be a completely new outfit, head to toe: a simple gray trilby with a red silk hat band, dark colored button shirt still starched and creased from the package, a dark gray wool vest, loose fit black jeans held with an uncreased leather belt, and long-pointed toe shoes.

“You’ve made a good impression, man.” I said. With a flourish I spun a cocktail napkin onto the bar, then set the drink on top and slid it across to him. A little hippy-hippy shake is good for tips. “I’m Leo.” I held out my hand. He ignored it, dropping three twenties on the bar and sliding his drink closer.

“Some ones, please.”

“Right.” OK, then. I made change for him, accepted his tip (he gave me $1.50 on a $6.50 drink) and promptly forgot about him.

Business was steady but not spectacular, but enough to keep me moving for a while. It was still early, just around 9 PM when the dancers had a shift change; the four swing shift girls leaving as they danced their last sets, the six closing shift dancers straggling in, dragging their bags of makeup, dancing wear, shoes and who knows what else in, or having the bouncers drag them in for them, disappearing up the stairs behind the bar in street clothes, descending in lingerie or bikinis, made up to the nines.

By the time the final pair of night shift girls took their respective stages, the stream of customers to the bar, and the constant pop of waitresses trading orders for drinks, had slowed a bit, and I was able to look around the room and catch my breath. I really wanted a smoke, too. “Hey, watch the bar for a minute,” I asked Cecelia, the main stage waitress.

“Ugh,” she said, because she’s an ex-smoker, but she flipped up the gate and came back behind the bar. I grabbed a jacket, made sure my cigs were in there, and went out through the kitchen.

It was a bit chilly for early summer. I lit one up and then walked around the building to the front door. I wanted company. There was an awning that was technically 25 feet from the entrance, although the way the building was situated, with the freeway so close, smoke often got blown inside just from the traffic. It was annoying, even to me: I thought of myself as a considerate smoker. I didn’t want to make trouble for people who lacked my addiction.

Under the awning was a picnic table, and in the dim light I could see a tiny person in a long black trenchcoat sitting on top of the table, her face orange from the glow of the cherry on her cigarette. “Hey, Jamie,” I said.

She scowled but softly. “Good thing there’s no custies out here.”

“Oh, right,” I said. “I mean Hey, Saffron.”

“Sapphire,” she corrected me. She had the coat bundled around her pretty tight. She was probably wearing next to nothing under it.

“Did you change it?”

“No, it’s always been Sapphire. Because of my blue eyes.” She fluttered her lashes at me, laughing and taking a drag.

“Gotcha. So what’s happening tonight? Anything good? Too early to tell?”

“It’s dead, but I’ve only been on stage once. There’s a strange one, though. Tall thin guy, dark hair. Giving me the eye.”

“Oh, him. He’s been coming in, couple of times a week, for a couple of weeks. He’s not being too weird, is he?”

“He’s the only one tipping me, and he was tipping a couple of bucks a song. Not weird. But quiet. Respectful.” She got up, stepping down to the ground and dropping her cigarette into the gravel and crushing it with her clear plastic 9″ heels in a smooth motion. “He’s been paying me a lot of attention. Was here last time I worked, too.” She patted my cheek. “You’re cute when you get all big brother-y. He’s cute, too, but in an intense kind of way.”

“Let the guys know if he shows any sign of trouble, Saff,” I said.

She walked away back into the club. The bouncer opened and held the door for her, introducing a blast of music that soared above the passing cars.

I finished my smoke, tossing the butt in the coffee can on the table, and spent a minute picking up other butts and trash, then walked back around the building to the kitchen door.

Like the Cake Song – Daily Story Project #25

A return to the fictional Portland that lives in my head, and is exactly like the real one I’ve lived in almost my entire life.

A taxi pulls up to a ramshackle house in southeast Portland, somewhere between SE Powell and Division, and 39th and 82nd. House, painted gray, maybe decades ago, needing more paint. Boxy shape, flat roof. Garage on the street level and in the front. Stairs leading up to the door on the second story, with a front porch formed by the roof of the garage. Garage door open, and filled with tools and left over construction supplies and sawhorses and gardening supplies and everything else but a car or two. A single light bulb in a fixture meant for two bulbs shone down on the sidewalk, but very little light came from inside the house. Late at night, after the Oregon Liquor Control Commission’s mandated 2:30 AM cutoff time for selling liquor, after hours.

The taxi disgorges a slim black-clad figure and a person-sized black canvas box. The figure hands cash to the driver inside, and the taxi pulls away, taking its yellowness away from the black and gray of the neighborhood, taking the engine rumbling and soft hiss of tires against asphalt with it, too, leaving only a distant sound of the highway. And a dog, barking. There’s always a dog barking somewhere.

Jennifer trudged across the sidewalk, under the light, up the stairs, pulling a wheeled suitcase behind her. She smelled of cigarette smoke and creme rinse, just like the heroine of the CAKE song called “Jolene”, even though she didn’t smoke, herself. She wore a black hoodie over blue jeans, but in the suitcase were vinyl pants and leather boots and silken corsets and lingerie, along with hair-care products and makeup, and a textbook or two, and notepads, and CDs, and a wad of money, mostly twenties, that had mostly been given to her a dollar or two at a time and slowly exchanged for larger bills as her evening had progressed.

She was coming home from work at Miss America’s, where she danced and got naked for tips. She was tired, worn out, and pissed off at the nameless faceless men (and women) who had treated her like a prostitute. But she put up with it because she’d made over fifteen hundred dollars, which was a good take for a weeknight.

She unlocked the door (“the thick, breezeway door” she thought, singing the lyrics to the song in her head, though the real door was just a standard front door) and pulled her suitcase in to the front room. She closed the door, quietly, thinking her house mates were all asleep. She left her bag where it was and crossed to the couch. A pile of blankets and pillows obscured the seat, and she started to push it all aside so she could look for the TV remote.

Her hand met something of weight underneath the blankets. Something warm, and solid. “Hey!” shouted the something under the blankets. It rolled over, and sat up.

“Fuck!” Jennifer shouted, then she turned and hit the light switch. “What the fuck?”

The figure on the couch was a skinny brunette girl, like a small scale version of Jennifer. The smaller girl blinked in the sudden light, and held up one arm to block out the light. The arm had a tattoo of a knife down the outside of the forearm, done in blue-black with a bright drop of red blood at the tip. Fake blood, in ink, not real. Cartoonish, even.

“Sheila?” Jennifer asked the smaller girl. “What are you doing here?”

“Shit. I got thrown out.” Sheila fell sideways onto the couch. “I don’t have anywhere else to go. I’m such a fuck up.” She had on a bra and sweats, and her torso had several other tattoos – an Egyptian ankh on her right tit, an orange and red sunburst pattern around her navel, more. She still wore makeup, bright red lipstick, dark eye shadow and eye liner, all of it smeared from her sleep. She hadn’t bothered to remove it before crashing. “I’ve been here since my shift ended. I can’t go back home.”

“Who let you in?” Jennifer scowled, mostly at herself. “I don’t mean it to sound like that. I’m OK with you being here. If you really got thrown out.”

“Meghan said I could crash here. I’m so sorry. It’s been a shitty week.” She rolled over, facing into the couch, as tears started to fill her eyes.

Jennifer pulled the covers over her friend, sat down on top of them. “You need some sleep. We can talk in the morning.”

Sheila sniffled and wiped her eyes. “How are you doing? How’s school and stuff?”

Laughing, Jennifer said, “It’s all good. Professor Yun asked about you a couple of days ago. Wondered why you dropped out. I told her it was… complicated.”

“I couldn’t go back.” She laughed through her tears. “I can’t ever seem to go back anywhere. I was too embarrassed, couldn’t face her after…”

After coming to class one too many times fucked up, Jennifer thought. “She wanted you to know… your paper on reputation-based markets was amazing. She said you may have the nugget of a whole new way of thought. You just need some… discipline.”

“What the fuck ever. I can’t even keep an address for more than a month or two.”

“And I could use some help with my Econ homework, too. I’m just a simple country lawyer. Or, y’know, I will be.”

Sheila rolled over onto her back, looked up at her friend. “Thanks. I can take a look at it in the morning. I kinda enjoyed it. I wish I could stick with it. I’d be the sexiest accountant ever.” She drew the blankets up to her chin and seemed to collapse into herself. “Mostly all I want to do is sleep lately. I barely move when I’m up on the stage.”

“You’re the second person I’ve talked to lately who has no energy. I met this guy last weekend, and he’s so angry all the time… It just drains him, he says.”

“Oh? A cute boy? Does Odd know?”

“Odd knows. Odd knows everything. And this guy just wants to talk politics. I think.”

Sheila sighed, loudly. “That’s another thing I miss about going to school. I miss guys who just want to talk. Nobody seems to want to talk to me anymore.” Her eyes, already red from crying, began filling with tears again, and her lips trembled.

She knew, Jennifer thought, Sheila knew that she was the cause of her own problems.

Neither girl had the courage to say it out loud, though. It was like the elephant in the room about which no one could talk.

An elephant named heroin.

Hundred Dollar Dave – Daily Story Project #11

Daniella shut off the engine and turned off the lights, putting the transmission into neutral and coasting down the hill. From the grade, the pale yellow Toyota had enough momentum to continue coasting down and around the corner. In the warm summer air, with the windows down, she could hear the squeak of her tires on the asphalt and then the crunch when the asphalt gave out and became gravel. She hoped it wasn’t as loud outside as it seemed to her. In particular she hoped it wasn’t audible inside the house where her landlord and roommate lived. Or, better yet, that Laurelee was asleep or even not home. The chances of that on a Tuesday night, however, were slim.

Navigating silently (she hoped) past the other parked cars on the dark West Hills street, she craned her neck as she pulled up to the house. The light in front of the garage was on but that was on a motion-detector and something else might have tripped it. The garage door was closed, which was a bitch, because that could mean Laurelee was home or wasn’t home. As the windows of the house came into view, slowly, so very slowly, she saw that there was a dim light in the kitchen and from the back of the house, where her landlord’s bedroom and computer room were.

Shit. Shit shit shit.

The street was at the bottom of the hill, and Daniella would have had to start the engine again to drive up and out of this cul-de-sac. Her stomach full of acid, she coasted as far as she could, two houses down, and swung up next to the curb. She pulled the emergency brake in the center console up with more force than necessary and nearly screamed when the handle gave a snap and went limp on it’s hinge; a cable snapped or something.

One more fucking repair bill. She hoped it was a cheap one.

She leaned forward, her arms on the steering wheel and her forehead on her arms. A shitty night on a shitty day in a shitty week of the shittiest month of her 27 years. She considered just starting the engine again, driving far away from here, changing her name and coming up with a clever story and never looking back.

She took the keys out, and opened the door as quietly as she could, closing it with the quietest push she could muster. It barely latched, and she sighed. Fuck it, she thought, if someone steals it they’ll be stuck with the repair bill. She used the spare key to open the hatch, because her main key didn’t work for some unknown reason, and got out the packing tape and the flattened boxes she’d cadged from the corner store up the hill. She needed at least two, maybe three.

From this angle she could approach the house and keep the separate garage between her and the main living room windows. The basement door was on the rear corner of the house. If she circled around the garage she could stay out of sight, climbing down the embankment through the ivy into the backyard, hopping the fence if necessary, and probably get to the door without being seen.

That happened.

But when she got to the basement door, she saw, in the dark, a piece of paper tacked up. She used the flashlight app on her phone to read it, hiding the light as best as she could.

Daniella,

You are now two full months behind in rent. I’ve been lenient but I must demand payment. I know you’ve been working. If you pay me $400 in 24 hours, I will let you have until the end of the month to pay the rest.

Irregardless you must find other accommodations by the end of the month. I cannot put up with this.

(signed)

Laurelee Chilvers

The acid in her stomach grew, and Daniella’s face burned. Steeling herself she put her key in the lock. “C’mon, c’mon, don’t have changed the locks,” she whispered. The key turned, and she opened it and stepped inside, willing the door to make no noise at all.

The basement was dark and smelled of mildew and bleach. She crept past the washer and dryer, and angled around the brass pole mounted vertically in the middle of the room. Putting her Chucks down on the concrete floor carefully. Made it to the door to her room, which was closed. Another copy of the note was pinned to this door, too, goddammit. Again, with as much stealth as she could muster, she opened the door and went inside.

This would have been easier if I could have done it in the daytime, she thought. But the daytime had been spent driving out to the boonies to visit her aunt, using most of her tank of gas and coming back with a plate of chocolate chip cookies and a lecture on budgeting. Daniella hadn’t even had the courage to ask for a loan but somehow Aunt Sam had just known.

I haven’t really changed much in the last couple of years, have I?

The packing tape, she decided, would be too loud, so she assembled one of the boxes without it. She’d just grab some clothes, including some bikinis and lingerie she could work in, her favorite pair of heels, her spare phone charger, her journal… they all went into the box. She looked around. She didn’t have a lot, at the moment. A bookshelf full of old textbooks and used books that even Powell’s wouldn’t buy back, with empty spaces for the books she had been able to sell. Some posters. Her futon. Should she bring a blanket? To keep her warm when her car breaks down and she has to sleep on the street?

Getting on her hands and knees she reached under the dresser she’d paid $20 for at Goodwill. Tucked up underneath and behind the drawer was a flask of cheap vodka, half gone. She took a quick swig for courage, sat back.

Tears, hot tears blurred her vision, ran down her cheek. She swiped at them angrily and spilled some vodka on herself. Great. I guess I can change my shirt now that I’m here.

She stood, in the dark, and stripped off her shirt, then pulled open a dresser drawer.

There was a polite knock at the door. “Daniella? Can we talk?”

Daniella froze.

“I know you’re in there. I can hear you.”

Daniella carefully screwed the lid on the bottle and set it on top of the dresser. It seemed worse to be caught with that than without a shirt. “Fine. Come in.”

Laurelee stepped in, turning on the light, making the room seem suddenly smaller; no dark corners anymore. She was dressed for bed, in a cheap t-shirt and basketball shorts and ridiculous Pokemon slippers. “The note is gone so I know you’ve got it. Were you really just going to slip out in the middle of the night? Oh my god can you put a shirt on? It smells like booze in here.”

“I don’t know how to respond to any of that. I don’t know what to tell you. I don’t have the money.”

“You’ve had the money but you spent it on… what? Gas, I suppose, and eating out, since you never eat here anymore. Where does the rest of it go?”

“Kyle is pissed at me and hasn’t given me an evening shift for two fucking weeks, Laur’. I’ve been having to make do with breakfast shifts. Nobody makes any money on breakfast shifts at a strip club.”

“That’s probably not true, or why have them?” Laurelee countered. “But that’s just the last two weeks; you’ve been behind since May.” She kicked the box Daniella had been filling up. “At least I see you’re planning on continuing to work.”

There was a sharp loud bell ring, a chime like a giant clock. Daniella jumped, and Laurelee jumped in response.

“I see you’ve been paying your phone bill,” Laurelee said as her tenant pulled her phone out.

“Holy shit! My bacon is saved! I can have your money by tomorrow evening!” Daniella waved her phone in front of her landlord’s face.

The phone showed a text:

From: Kyle

$100 Dave wants 2 C U. Tmrw nite. Git UR azz in by 9

 

Daniella was whooping it up and jumping around like a crazy person. “Please, this is going to work, he hasn’t been in for months and months. He loves me, and he never leaves without dropping at least a thousand! If I get some rest and maybe get my hair done, and a full set, hmmm, maybe I can talk Gordon into fronting that for me…” She looked at her landlord and old friend. “I can pull this off. I can get you the money, I know I can. If nothing else, I can get you the $400 you’re asking for, and probably the whole thing!”

Laurelee was silent a moment. Shaking her head, she turned and walked out, pausing at the door.

“Do you want this light on, or off?”

“On, please,” Daniella responded. She’d expected a much bigger reaction. Maybe not happy, but at least relieved.

First, though, she needed some beauty sleep.