It was a beautiful night, even to these weathered eyes: The past couple of weeks had seen storms that tossed old oaks about like dice in an alley. Now I stood outside in an evening that wouldn’t have been out of place in the early days of Autumn. The rains and the wind were one thing, but when it wasn’t raining the DC area was being roasted steam-oven style all Summer. Stewing in our own juices, we all took to the roads like sweaty little dumplings ready to pop or simply wither and fall apart at any moment.
Yeah, it’d been a hot summer and tensions were high. So standing there in this blue/black night with its light breeze and sweet, dry air, all I could think was that it was wonderful. It made me full of wonder at what horror could possibly be coming next.
I didn’t have to wait long. I wasn’t planning on being ‘in the office’ that Sunday but I heard a ‘pop’ and suddenly I could see her through the glass: Dark, slightly sweet with a bubbly little head and smelling of cocoa and just a hint of smoke. The kind that always get me in trouble. I like trouble.
She said her name was Smoke on the Water and while I’m more a Highway Star man, I was charmed and intrigued as I am with any dame who rocks the Purple. She said she had a tale to tell. I told her ‘Don’t we all?’.
Her hat flew off almost the moment she entered the room, but her short brown hair seemed effervescent, almost alive. No surprise she was a brunette but it was still a relief; she may be trouble but at least it would be brunette trouble. Brunette trouble I could handle. Blonde trouble? Well, let’s save that story for another day. I’ll just say there are some lessons you can’t say I haven’t learned and leave it at that.
I hesitated to listen. It all seemed like a setup. I could tell what she had to say was heavy, and after roasting in my non-air conditioned sweatbox all over the Beltway this summer I wasn’t in much of a mood for heavy. Especially not on this one temperate night that for whatever reason made me think of childhood or what I could conjure of my childhood at least. I told her as much; that while I was sure I needed to hear what she had to say I wasn’t sure I could listen at that moment. Surely it could wait. I told her to give me time, let me work through some of these other casefiles building up into my own kitchen now.
What can I tell you? Brunette trouble waits for the schedule of no man; it makes the schedule of man. This man, to be specific. Like a child whose eye has locked on an amusement at a fair she led me to my seat to hear her talk.
Perched on my table she told me she sold cigars and cigarettes in one of the big beer halls in Baltimore. I finally took a second to soak in the rich, dark brown of her dress, just a shade or two from black. The color was classic for a smoked porter and made me drift off thinking of the old days. I caught some details here and there: Something about the girls who worked at the Heavy Seas, how a few worked all the time while a handful only popped up once per year, or only worked particular seasons. I’d heard rumors of stuff like this but for the moment I was trying to place her perfume. The smoke came from her job, of course, but it meshed so well into whatever it was she was wearing. It occurred to me that she wasn’t wearing any perfume at all; the slight sweetness, the hints of chocolate and malt were all her. I’m no kid, mind you, but I gotta tell you I was a bit smitten already. Trouble.
Smoke leaned in close and kissed me softly. She tasted like she smelled and if I was smitten before, I was in deep now. The lingering smoke and astringent tang of club sweat only served to frame a soft wave of cocoa and malt that didn’t feel heavy or thick; only rich and fully present. She whispered that she was only brought in to work a couple weeks and that she didn’t know what would happen to her after. She liked where she was and didn’t want to go away. I knew, better than her, how many girls like her come and go through places like the Heavy Seas burning bright like the Zippo of a small-time hood catching the edge of a streetlamps’ gaze and are lucky to last as long. They all seem interesting, but so few really are. Smoke was unique, for sure; A girl with her qualities usually only turns up out West and even they don’t always fit in out there. But here was a real gem of a porter, who wasn’t overwhelmed by the smokyness around her but enhanced by it. I knew what she was going to ask before she asked it and before I knew it, our moment had come and gone.
She wanted me to make them keep her around. She didn’t want to be another flash-in-the-pan to be forgotten. I finally realized how smart this girl was: She managed to find, in the small window where she could, the perfect moment to walk through my door. The perfect night to grab me and make me fall a little bit in love with her. So she was working me? You’re damn right she was. Did it work? You’re damn right it did.
I started babbling like a child trying to talk his parents’ disappointment away. I told her I’m only one man, that I couldn’t just make anyone keep her around. I told her to try and get work in the Autumn, early Winter or even in the Spring. I had to tell her that as smart as it was to catch me during the one perfect night we had this August it only served to show how out of place she actually was.
She seemed so empty then. My heart sank along with what was left of her. I leaned in close enough to catch her scent one more time and told her I’d see what I could do. I told her I thought she had a place around here and that no matter what happened next, she was beautiful and she was appreciated. Her expression didn’t change. I stood up and went back inside looking for a solution, something to make her happy again. I searched the way an infant searching for Easter eggs would; without any concept of what ‘Easter’ or ‘egg’ or ‘search’ are. I walked into a solution hiding in plain sight, like a door my subconscious knew was open but wasn’t.
She was only going to be around for a few weeks right? Well, I said, I’ve got a wide open calendar and you can always find a place to stay in the closet I call home. We’ve got some plans in the works now and I hope to revisit Smoke on the Water over the next couple months. If you see her, give the girl a chance. She’s just the kind of broad we could stand to see around here more.
Of course, she wasn’t happy. She had found her way into my home and my heart but hadn’t gotten what she wanted. It wasn’t difficult to see that she was a little steamed; what was difficult was trying not to find it too endearing. Somehow I managed.
It was time for me to move on until next time. She didn’t feel comfortable not knowing what would happen. She didn’t like the uncertainty of the future. ‘Don’t we all?’ I said and walked away. I’ll tell ya, trouble…