CAPITOL HILL ROMANCE A story by Mark Yoffe Copyright 2008, Mark Yoffe
CAPITOL HILL ROMANCE
By Mark Yoffe
Nikolai Pavliuk, an assistant chief of Subject Cataloging Directorate of the Library of Congress, stood on the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Second Street next to the Jefferson building of the Library, looking at the girl on the opposite side of the street. The girl, probably in her mid-twenties, was well-built, with sizable breasts, a round bottom, and strong shapely legs, wearing beige romanesque sandals with thin straps encircling her muscular calves almost to the knees. She wore a very tight green tank top, a very tight red miniskirt and had curly highlighted blondish hair.
Nikolai recognized her. He recognized the sultry trailer park trash look, an image that had haunted him ever since he first met her several weeks ago. Ever since then he had been longing to see her; to look again into her tired, narrow, weather-beaten face with huge black shadows under her eyes; to hear her husky voice - the voice of a girl from another world.
Now that his dreams were answered, now that he saw her, Nikolai Pavliuk was very scared to let her out of his field of vision, to let her disappear into the crowded lunch-time street, among colleagues from the Library, Capitol Hill staffers, and tourists, all going about their lunch-time business, enjoying an unusually cool August day in Washington DC.
“What was her name?” -- Nikolai was thinking, crossing the street in the direction of the girl, who had stopped by the ATM machine on the corner and was looking for something in her little black backpack.
“Oh yes, Monique, of course, Monique! Hard to forget such name. Hard to forget a girl with such legs - with such an un-Capitol Hill slutty look.”
“Who is she, this girl? Why is she the way she is?” – he was thinking walking towards her – “I will find out. I have to find out…”
The girl was standing with her round rear towards him. She put her little backpack on the ground, squeezed it with her large plump, brightly manicured feet, crisscrossed by sandal straps and was looking for something deep inside.
“Lost something?” – asked Nikolai as he approached. She straightened up and looked directly into his face.
“Hey, honey!” -- she said to him smiling in recognition – “It is you. I remember you from that night a few weeks ago. Ukrainian, right?” – she asked him.
“ No, Polish actually. But it is all close.” – answered Nikolai, “I am amazed you remember that!”
“Oh, I remember you, honey.” – she said – “you’re easy to remember. You helped me very nicely that night.”
She smiled at him – a narrow face with A large mouth and lips caked with cracked dried lipstick but no other makeup. Tired bluish skin, deep-set wide open dark eyes - eyes that he remembered from that night a few weeks ago - looking at him now with curiosity and expectation; and something else - something he could not even begin to define…
That Friday a few weeks ago was going badly for him - very badly. There was hell at home when he came back from work. He lived on 9th street SE, not far from Eastern Market, in a stately old townhouse, which he and his wife had lovingly restored from a wreck they bought ten years ago. It had four bedrooms and three baths, a rental apartment in the English basement, a garage, patio, and five fireplaces throughout the house. There were marble countertops and stainless steel appliances in the bright state-of-the-art kitchen, with sliding doors opening onto a garden-like patio. Best of all was the fact that the townhouse was located within walking distance to his office at the Library of Congress. Not a very short distance, but a good walk of some 25 minutes door to door. A walk that he made almost every day, weather permitting, and was really in love with.
But as it happens, even behind the walls of the most stylish red brick townhouses, even people with Lexus and Infinities in their garages, sometimes live lives with painful irresolvable tragedies. Such was his life. He could make important cataloging decisions at work; establish subject classification policies for libraries across the entire country, if not the entire world. He could change subject designations of any subject, or create a subject designation for any subject that was in need of it. For instance, he could change “Marsh fauna” into “Marsh animals” or say “Galatha (Greek deity)” into “Galatha, sea nymph (Greek deity)” or “Priests, Voodoo” to “Voodoo priests.” He could create subject headings for “Dog attacks” or “Chuck wagon racing” or “Chain gangs” and an army of catalogers around the world would be using his subject designations and note the changes he introduced.
He could drive his Lexus and his wife; a curator at the Smithsonian museum of American History could drive her Infinity SUV. Their children could graduate from Georgetown Preparatory School, and their house could triple, if not quadruple, in price since they bought it. And still, at home, it could be hell… And hell he had.
He faced it just as he walked through the entrance door: his son Josh was running down the staircase from the second floor, with both hands above his head, holding a huge brown pottery vase, obviously pursuing his mother Marsha. At the bottom of the stairs Marsha turned towards Josh and screamed – “Go ahead! Go ahead and hit your own mother. You better kill me if you’ll do that! ”
Josh froze with the vase still squeezed between his hands above his head, his face pale and contorted, strings of saliva dripping down his unshaven chin. He looked around wildly as if calculating where to throw the vase, when his younger sister Michelle, a senior at George Washington University where she studied communications, came from behind, holding a small black cylinder in her outstretched hand.
“Josh! Here!” – she screamed, and, as he turned his face towards her, she shot some grayish gas out of the canister into her brother’s face.
“Fuck!” – screamed Josh, dropping the vase, and crumbling onto the steps, his legs convulsing, rubbing his eyes with ferocity – “ The bitch maced me… eeeeeeeee…..” – he squealed.
Nikolai walked pass them into the kitchen and opened the fridge. There it was – a frozen bottle of Russian vodka, Altay Surprise. He took a frozen shot glass from the freezer, poured the oily translucent vodka, and downed the shot. As the supportive calming warmth was spreading through his body he could hear Marsha in the living room giving orders to Michelle – “Give me another tie. Yes like this, tie up his legs, yes harder, that was too loose. And then bring me a wet towel from the kitchen. I need to wash his face.”
Michelle arrived in the kitchen looking for the towel. “Hey, pops, “ – she said to Nikolai – “You missed all the fun. Asshole was drinking Windex in his room. We took away all his booze, so the fuck stole Windex.”
“Why would he do that?” – asked Nikolai.
“Because he is a drunk. All he does is drink - if he’s not taking drugs.” Suddenly Michelle hissed into Nikolai’s face – “I wish you would just die. I wish you were dead.” – her pretty face distorted with anger.
Then she wetted the towel under the faucet and walked away. Nikolai poured himself another shot and sat on the stool by the marble top breakfast bar waiting for more to come.
He did not have long to wait, as Marsha arrived in the kitchen, washed her hands under the faucet in the sink and looked contemptuously at Nikolai quietly sitting on his stool.
“Sitting, huh?” – she said.
“Hmm. Seems like you two are in control of the situation,” – he mumbled, hoping that she would explode sooner rather than later and he would have a legitimate reason to slam the door behind himself and be gone from home for the night.
“This is all your fault,” – said Marsha, looking at him in the most unfriendly manner.
“IT is you being such a preposterous fuck up that led to all this. It’s because of your inability to control them that you have an alcoholic junky son and depressive daughter.”
“And what about your ability to control them?” – asked Nikolai.
“Oh, MY ability?!”
Things continued on like this for another twenty minutes or so. At the end of which Nikolai walked out of the kitchen, where Marsha was throwing saucers on the green Spanish tile floor. He walked past the leather sofa where Josh was lying and snoring with his mouth wide open, his hands and legs tied up with Nikolai’s neckties, opened the door and walked into the night heading for the Tune Inn.
The Tune Inn was a dive bar on Capitol Hill, on Pennsylvania Avenue, two blocks from the Library of Congress, where shipwrecked characters like Nikolai, drank hard into the night. The Tune Inn was not a place to ask for a Belvedere martini with an olive and a twist. But if you wanted to get plastered you crawled there. And if you wanted vodka, you would get four fingers worth in a Tom Collins glass (ice optional).
The people in the Tune Inn were mostly professionals – decrepit journalists, disbarred lawyers, and hungry single female bankers in their 50s, looking to get drunk and forget their timidness and lack of social skills - looking to pick up a guy for the night, a has-been journalist or a life-time Hill staffer, but no one too young, too fresh, or too handsome. Grizzled geezers lined the bar, with an occasional handsome young black drug dealer and his girlfriend d’jour, drinking Hennessey… Nikolai felt at home there, or rather, better than at home.
As Nikolai was walking from home towards the Tune Inn, emboldened by the 3 or 4 shots of Altay Surprise he had consumed in his kitchen, he felt very determined to get very drunk tonight. To get drunk and meet one of the overly ripped lonely professional females, horny on a Friday night, and ready to be consoled by a lonely over-educated drunk. This was his perpetual dream that never materialized. In years of drinking at bars on Capitol Hill, and all over the world, he had never ever picked anybody up. But still there was hope. There is always hope, especially if you are drunk and are looking forward to getting even drunker. Night has promise if you are marching to the bar.
Besides, he had just recently turned 55 and changed his looks. Acknowledging A certain pudginess in his middle-aged figure, he had switched to generous baggy trousers and suits, cut his disheveled graying a la “European intellectual” mane of hair, substituting it with an “aging hipster” buzz cut, changed his round, circa 1983, glasses to smallish stylishly rectangular ones by Armani. Ever since premiering this new improved and updated look he noticed women in the street throwing glances at him longer than he was used to. So the night had promise… At least until he reached the Tune Inn.
Once he entered his expectations and hopes seeped away as air seeps out of a hot air balloon, and his hope balloon shrank and shriveled. There were mostly old wrinkled guys at the bar, with their bulging guts, checkered flannel shirts, and chewed up drip-dry suits, sharing stories of combat photography in Cambodia and Laos, police stories from Ed Koch’s New York, and their encounters with G. Gordon Liddy back in Watergate days.
He turned towards the door to retreat in shame - to crawl elsewhere… who knew where… when in the corner of the bar he spotted Janice, a woman he knew from the Tune Inn, who he thought liked him. Janice was a law student in her late forties. She was humorless, Jewish, and quite smart and he thought she looked as if she could fuck your brains out in bed, then turn over and ask for more… She was sitting next to a plum chick he has seen here before – Suzette or Susie or Susan or something Sue, who was an unemployed marketing consultant.
“Hey!” – said Janice and nodded at the chair next to her by the wall in the very corner of the bar – “Wanna join us?”
Nikolai gladly joined them, squeezing past “Sue’s” bulging rump and Janice’s nicely shaped, but for some reason, lycra-clad rear.
The shriveling balloon of Nikolai’s evening started to pick up some hot air again. “Hey!” – a stealthy thought crawled into his mind like a Special Forces operator brandishing a pack of explosives – “It might just work out. This Janice, she is quite fuckable. Probably gives a mean head…”
He decided to take it easy and ordered vodka-cranberry as his first drink. The Tune Inn’s vodka-cranberry, in itself, could kill an unsuspecting user. But Nikolai knew how treacherous it could be and took slow, small sips of the brownish concoction that tasted neither like vodka nor like cranberry, all the while talking to Janice about her social worker job, and stealing glances at her lycra-shrouded thighs and unexpectedly nicely shaped feet in their black sandals.
The “Sue” girl turned out to be a bore. She made him tell her three times what he did at the Library of Congress, screamed that it was very exciting, and then switched her attention to a fat black disbarred lawyer, who was giving her a lesson in how to deal with drunk driving arrests. This was quite a useful subject and Nikolai was trying hard to concentrate and follow the dude’s pontifications, but the rain began outside, and suddenly all sorts of fauna uncharacteristic of the Tune Inn started to pour into the bar, escaping the deluge. A couple of absolutely normal, absolutely white tourists came in; a few noisy Hill staffer type kids with chicks; and a huge, fat, slovenly black dude in an unbuttoned striped shirt and shorts, accompanied by a very tall, very big-breasted escort girl with huge blond hair. Two real hillbillies, speaking real twang, wearing cowboy boots and proclaiming that there is no place like West Virginia, came in from out of the rain and settled at the little table in the bay window of the bar, right behind Nikolai and the girls. One of them was blond and noisy and called Bubba, and the other, who was dark and surly, was called something else, equally exotic.
Nikolai was very drunk and he was cracking up.
“Who the fuck are these people?” – he was asking Janice loudly, despite of her obvious discomfort.
“No, really, what the hell is Bubba? Is this a real name?”
“I don’t know,” – said Janice, cautiously – “But you might want to keep your voice down.”
“No, really, what the fuck?! I never seen people like this in the Tune Inn. I don’t think they fit in.”
“Not exactly,” – agreed Janice quietly.
Then the door of the bar opened and she came in from the rain. She was as wet as a chicken. Her stringy blondish curls were clinging to her face and her tight minimal clothes sticking to the hills and crevasses of her impressive body landscape. She held her Roman sandals in her hand and was slapping on the wet floor with her wide bare feet with very red nails. Every old guy in the bar was suddenly all over her, offering chairs, buying drinks.
“Wow!” – said Nikolai to Janice – “More weird new fauna.”
“Too weird.” – said Janice.
Bubba and his friend relocated and now were sitting across from Nikolai, drinking beer and annoying their neighbors by moving their glasses around the bar, whenever the neighbor would look away. And there was definitely something to look at, as the newly arrived, very wet, young lady was dancing, wiggling her rear and waving her bare arms over her head, in the isle between the wall and the bar, to Lou Reed singing Walk on the Wild Side. Several old timers surrounded her trying to rhythmically wiggle to the music.
Suddenly Bubba turned to Nikolai and gave him a broad and sincere smile.
“Nice redneck,” – decided Nikolai.
Bubba smiled at him again and then, in an unexpectedly menacing manner, said – “We ought to take you outside and whip your ass.”
Nikolai’s eyes bulged out and he looked at Bubba in total disbelief. No one in Tune Inn ever spoke like this.
“Oh, what?..” – mumbled Nikolai, seeing how Janice and the “Sue”-girl next to him tensed up and started looking away as if disavowing their prior association with him.
“Hey!” – Bubba gave him another very broad and sincere smile – “I’m joking.”
Then added again without a smile - his face cold and impenetrable – “I mean, we still have to take you outside and whip your ass. But that’s a joke. Though your ass needs whipping.”
At this point Nikolai saw his comrades-in-arms, his drinking buddies, his potential lay Janice and the “Sue”-girl throw some cash on the bar and rush towards the exit, without waiting for their bill, barely managing to say “Good bye”.
Now that he was abandoned Nikolai sat alone on his side of the bar, exposed to whatever fate Bubba was reserving for him, wondering whether Bubba was really just joking or if the hillbillies were indeed going to “take him outside and whip his ass.” The three vodka-cranberries he’d consumed started to evaporate from these sad thoughts. He was sobering up by the second. He called the bartender and paid him, leaving huge tip.
Suddenly someone touched his shoulder. He looked up and saw the wet girl, who had just been dancing a few minutes ago with geezers, now standing by his chair. She grabbed his arm and pulled him towards the exit, saying – “They’re in the bathroom. Good time to get out.”
Outside he started walking in the direction of the Library of Congress, where he knew there were always lots of police. She walked silently next to him, carrying her Roman sandals in her hands. He looked at her and saw that she looked very sultry and very slutty. He convulsively swallowed a blob of saliva.
“Uh, where are you going now?” – he asked the girl.
“Oh,” – she said – “I need to get home. It’s really late. But I spent all my money at that bar, buying drinks and all…”
“Yes,” – he said – “Right. Where do you live? How much do you need?”
She stopped in her tracks and looked straight into his face with an uncertain little smile on her plump lips – “I can give you a blow-job for fifty dollars.”
Now it dawned on him: of course, she was a hooker! What else could a girl like this be?
He said: “But I don’t have fifty dollars.”
“How about twenty? A blow-job for twenty. “ – said the girl readily.
He looked in his pocket: twenty dollars and some change was all he had.
“Um, sure,” – he said, swallowing hard – “But where? Where can we do it?”
“Right here,” – she said – “In the alley behind Seven Eleven.”
He looked at her: at the soft round mounds of her breasts - nipples clearly distinct under the tight sleeveless t shirt; large bare feet firmly planted on the ground, and the world started to spin around him. He would give a lot for such a girl, much more than twenty dollars. But not like this, not in a filthy alley with rats and used condoms littering the ground. Not tonight: too much had happened tonight. What if the Bubbas saw them in the alley?
“Here is what I am going to do,” – he said – “I am going to give you this twenty dollars and you get home, OK? And I will walk home too. But I hope to see you again.”
“Sure,” – she said, smiling at him as he handed her his twenty dollars and change – “I would like that. I work here quite often. Here and on Eastern Market.”
“I live by Eastern Market,” – he said – “But I never saw you before.”
“I am new in the area, “ – she said and gave him her large soft hand – “My name is Monique.”
“I am Nikolai,”
“Nice to meet you Nikolai. What kind of name is that? Ukrainian?”
“No, Polish actually. But you were close.”
“I knew some Ukrainians back in North Carolina,” – she said.
“You work here often?” – he asked hopefully.
“No. Not often. I have other jobs, at Home Depot and at Starbucks.”
“Please be careful when you work here,” – he said, suddenly feeling all warm and protective towards this wet girl.
“It’s OK here,” – she said, smiling again - “ The police don’t bother me here. People are good here, mostly professional people, real gentlemen, like you,” –
“Still there is lots of trash here,” –
“I have a good feel for people. I can sense who is dangerous. Sometimes I work by Navy Yard - that’s where it’s scary.” –
He almost wanted to scream - “Girl! Don’t work by Navy Yard! It is terrible there! Work with guys like me only.”
But instead he said: “Do you work alone? Do you have protection?”
“I have a pimp. But he really isn’t good for much. He is a funny pimp,” –
Then she kissed him on the cheek and thanked him again, and he asked her again to be careful and said that he hoped to see her again. He saw her flag the cab, get in and give him a smile and a wave through the open car window as it rushed her away down Pennsylvania Avenue.
Nikolai walked home singing to himself – “Tombe la neige” – an old French song he suddenly remembered. He had learned it years ago when studying in Paris, and in love, and it always made him sad and happy:
Tombe la neige
Tu ne viendras pas ce soir
Tombe la neige
Et mon coeur s’habille de noir…
“She is a good girl,” – Nikolai was thinking, sitting in his windowless office cubicle on the 5th floor of the James Madison building of the Library of Congress –
“Simply just a good girl…There is some kind of humanity about her…Uneducated and all, but good… You can sense that she is not a bad human being… Uneducated and all, of course, living tough life… but a good person… Like that “Whore with a golden heart” that you keep hearing about in the movies… or find in books… And pretty too... Very attractive… Sultry… What a great legs… and feet! My God! Just these legs alone are a treasure. And breasts! My goodness! Plump, round, soft, not too big, just a right handful…And her rear… oh so bouncy…So cheerful…
Her face, of course, is a bit rough. Bad skin. What were these dark spots on it? Bruises? God forbid… But great lips… Even hair, slutty looking, but so attractive…
A girl like this does not need to be a whore. She can be anything. Not a streetwalker at least. She can be a great escort, a masseuse, a call girl… Uglier girls go into escort…This really makes no sense. Why is she a whore? I need to find out. Oh, I really would like to know! How interesting it would be to learn her story, to find out why she does what she does… Probably something very banal. Perhaps drugs… A horrible manipulative and abusive boyfriend…
I need to meet her and to talk to her. It would be so good. I could meet up with her, and take her for a drink, or probably buy her a meal. She could be hungry, poor as she is… And then I’ll pay her for her time, on top of food. That would be nice. I should do that…
But what about sex? I mean my goodness! What a girl! It was hard to resist such a girl. But why did not I do it? Well the whole situation was weird with these Bubbas promising to “whip” my ass… And then in an alley, behind trash containers and boxes… I mean it does sound alluring… kind of sleazy… sweet sleazy… but, again a bit too much. Not my cup of tea.
But I do want to get my hands on her. Would be nice. A little blow-job… Though I don’t like that with a condom. Probably a hand job would be better. Right… Or a combination. First a little blow-job with a condom, and then a hand-job to finish things off…And she is all naked. On her knees… and I am sitting on the sofa… right… Where? In a hotel room! There is some kind of hotel right here on the corner by the Library. Need to find out if they have rooms there all the time. I hope they do, so I could go there on the spur of the moment… That is a nice scenario. Hey! That is a good project. There is something to live for now!’’
“But even better” – he said to calm himself down – “would be to just meet up with her for a drink and conversation. Probably that’s how I should begin. I have to establish human contact. Of course we had human contact from the start: she saved my dumb ass after all… Oh, what a good girl!”
He went to the meeting of the Task Force on reclassification of outdated geographical names, which he chaired, with his little secret on his mind. A little secret he referred to again and again, gingerly, not to make it too habitual, softly toying with it, and then putting it aside, while they talked about new subject designations for former Soviet Republics and Eastern European countries, and African countries with constantly changing names and borders.
At home, meanwhile, things were… well…not exceptionally good.
His wife, Marcia, was looking more and more like a butch. She spend most of her free time at some dyke pet shop on the renovated and newly gentrified 8th street, helping her friends, Brenda and Lillian, set it up. Suddenly she loved pets so much!
She also became a great community activist going to all the neighborhood crime watch meetings, probably to whine to the police about “quality of life” crimes in the area, such as, for instance, prostitution.
“Yes, right, prostitution! Once in ten years he met a girl!” – he thought – “Prostitution problem my nose!”
His daughter Michelle spent most of her time with her DJ boyfriend somewhere around Logan circle where he lived. He was teaching DJ “art” in some DJ school somewhere in that area. What a job! How did she end up with this loser?
Josh was blissfully taken away by Marcia’s parents to their country estate near Ashville, North Carolina. Martha’s father was an old retired shrink. They thought that simple country life, fresh air, care, and no alcohol would help him. That would be good. Josh often listened to the old shrink for some reason.
Someone like his namesake, Nikolai Gogol, a Russian writer whom he quite liked, would call his family “senseless people…” They were senseless.
In the sense that they made no sense. It was as if they lived in some sort of box or alternate universe, and appeared from time to time in his world, like a horde of Huns, wrecking havoc and bringing distraction. And then they retreated again, somewhere, who knows where… to a pet shop, a DJ booth, the mountains of North Carolina, leaving him alone with his hard-on under his suit, marching to work, to be an important librarian, sitting in his cubicle lined with volumes of Cataloging Classification Rules and Classification Tables.
“Who is this girl? Why is she? Why did she help me that night in Tune Inn? Why? Where did she come from? Where did she disappear to?”
He was sweetly teasing himself with these questions, sitting at the bar in Mr. Henry’s on Pennsylvania Ave., where he stopped on his way home from work to look at the gorgeous dykes populating the bar. Dykes were big and earthy, feminine and coarse all at the same time. They had sultry hoarse voices, callous feet, and mountainous breasts. Looking at them made him horny.
“I will pay for my drink now,” – he said to himself -- “Walk outside and keep walking and on the corner next to the Metro station I will see her whoring around, waiting for a client. She will be lovely and tired. And I will take a cab and take her to a hotel. And we’ll fuck and talk and drink and eat room service food, naked, having a picnic on the bed…”
When he reached the corner by the Metro station there was no girl. There was another decrepit creature, black, stoned, and wrinkled, offering something for ten bucks. He stood around for a few minutes, waiting for her to come, pretending that he was a “legitimate” man waiting for a “legitimate” party… And then he turned for home to be there… for some reason.
“But she must have some normal life too, this girl. She must, for instance, like some things, some food and drink. She probably goes shopping. Furnishes her dwelling, gives herself a pedicure, gets her hair done. She works in normal places too, she said, at Home Depot and at Starbucks. I mean at Starbucks! What can be more normal? Put some black clothes on her, Doc Martens, and she will be just another hipster chick from Starbucks. So she is a part-time hooker. Perhaps not even part-time, more like an occasional one, for some extra cash. Well, this is wrong and dangerous. But she probably can stop it at any point if she develops another source of money. She probably is on drugs or something… But that can be cured. Then she can be put through school, perhaps a community college…”
He would help her with that. He certainly was in the position to do so. He had money and he knew a lot about colleges.
What if they became friends? Or lovers? Perhaps more friends than lovers.... Occasional lovers… She could become his kept woman. That is a common scenario, but a trite one. No! She will be living her own life and he will be just helping her. And she will be helping him; after all she has a “heart of gold…” A whore with a “heart of gold…” – how sweet it sounds…”
She is just a lost girl. A sweet lost soul… Someone probably has done her wrong. Some man. Certainly someone fucked her up. But he can help her. There should be someone he could help too. Absolutely sincerely… He does not need her sex. This would be lame anyway, for fear of disease. He just wants to help her as one human being helps another who is in need and in pain.
“Oh, but those legs… those breasts… “
He does want to experience them too. Yes! After all she is a whore… She does it with all kinds of men, in reeking alley, with rats and dumpsters among stench and filth, standing there with her plump, wide bare feet in slime, kneeling among garbage… He felt tears come to his eyes as a hard-on was taking place in his trousers.
“Oh, I need to chase away this vision, or I’ll explode,” – he clumsily got up from the stool in his kitchen, pushed it away with his foot, and the stool toppled over onto the tile floor. He looked at the almost empty bottle of Altay Surprise on the breakfast counter and said to himself - “Oops… I guess I got a bit carried away. Great party for one… But I might puke now… should not have eaten this Bulgarian pepper spread with vodka… What a nasty combination. Fucking Trader Joe poisoned me with Bulgarian spread…”
In the morning he called in sick, and when the headache and nausea subsided, he prowled the neighborhood and sat in the cafes along Pennsylvania Avenue pretending to read his Atlantic Monthly and hoping to see her. He even drove A couple of times around the Navy Yard, driving slowly, looking intently…
Next morning he tried to convince himself that she was nothing but a figment of his imagination, and went to work. He spent the morning rushing around the library like a madman. He spent a lot of time joking with the women at work, trying to find solace looking at their well-constructed costumes, inhaling their perfumes, and being as worldly and charming as he could be. But inside he was nervous and sad, like someone who had a most sensual, enchanting, and real erotic dream that was about to erupt into a paralyzingly sweet nocturnal emission, and then woke up to face nothing. Nothing at all…
So when he went outside for lunch he was quite anxious, as if something very dear to him was about to be stolen. In fact, he was saying to himself - “Life reverts to the usual dusty nothingness…” - when he reached the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Second Street and suddenly saw her on the opposite corner.
“I am in love with a whore.” – he said to himself, sitting across the table from her in the Café Montmartre by Eastern Market, watching her eat the lamb shank, she chose from the menu. There was a bottle of Chateau something-or-other on the table separating them. The speakers overhead proudly delivered Piaf’s anthem - “Non, je ne regrette rien” - making him even more convinced that what he felt was real.
He barely touched his dish of sautéed veal kidneys. She ate, drank wine, and smiled at him.
“Yummy. Really yummy food” – she said and licked her lips to show him that it was indeed yummy.
“I am glad you like it. I like their food too, though I am not hungry now,”
“I meet lots of strange men here, good men, kind to me. But you are something else,” – she was saying, while chewing and washing the meat down with wine – “Good wine. Tasty. I am not much of the wine drinker. I drink bourbon mostly. I am a Southerner…” – she smiled at him shyly, as if apologizing.
“I like bourbon too. I like everything. I am a drunk,”
“I know you are,” – she said.
“How? Why?” – he became uptight for a second, after all this was his secret.
“You have that soft face” – she said – “Some good people who drink get this look. Besides I saw you drunk, remember, that night you were picked on by those guys in the bar?”
“Oh, yes. That was quite scary. They were about to “whip” my ass.”
“Thought so too. I was looking at what was happening and I thought, this guy is gonna get it, so I decided to help you.”
“I am very glad you did. You saved my ass,”
“Well, it looked like you were too drunk to understand what was happening, “
“I kind of could not believe these guys threats. Things like that don’t happen in the Tune Inn,”
“I know guys like that,” – she said – “They are crazy. They’ll kill you even if it will hurt them. They don’t care. They’re just out of control. You were lucky they needed to pee and I had a chance to sneak you out…”
He was not sure what the rules here would be, or even if there were any rules like that, but he wanted to make her a proposition, and was not sure how to avoid making it sound needlessly offensive.
“Listen, “ – he said – “You know I like you. You are a very attractive woman.”
“I like you too, honey, “- she smiled at him.
“How about if we spent more time together today?”
“Sure. What do you have in mind,” – she looked back with interest.
“I mean what if I pay you for the day, for the day of work I mean, and we spent all the time together? Can we do that?”
“Like an escort girl, you mean?”
“Yes, something like that. What would it cost?”
“IT can be sort of expensive, “ – she answered. - “How about 150 dollars?” – she looked into his face attentively.
“Oh, I can do that,” – he said – “In fact, let me just give you 300 dollars to make it even, and we’ll take it from there. There is an ATM machine outside of the restaurant, I’ll get the cash there.”
“But what do you have in mind? Do you have a place you want to go to?” – she looked interested, almost eager.
“Well… I have not thought about it. No… I have people at home. That would not work. But perhaps we could go for a ride or something. And there are hotels around here, we can check them.”
“Are you with the police, by the way,” – she laughed – “I always forget but I have to ask this question.”
He knew girls were supposed to ask this question, and flashed back his most disarming smile to indicate that he could not possibly be a policeman – “No.” And asked her in his own turn – “Are you police?”
“Then we are in business! Would you like anything else? Perhaps a dessert?”
She had a Crème brûlée and he ordered himself a Campari. Then he paid and they walked outside. He sensed how people at the restaurant were looking at them - “Non, je ne regrette rien” was playing in his mind like a march - and he was hoping that they were thinking: “This guy got himself a whore.” And he was glad if it looked like that and was proud of it. They were clearly an unlikely couple - he, middle-aged, in his baggy beige linen suit and blue shirt unbuttoned at the collar, and a trashy girl in a very short pleated skirt, and clingy tank top, with too much lipstick and too much swing in her hips, but he did not give a damn. She obviously did not either.
Under the stealthy glances of the diners sitting at the tables of the restaurant’s patio, they walked over to the ATM machine and he got 300 dollars. While he was doing that she stood next to him.
“Funny,” – she said – “they are looking at us, trying to figure out what is happening.”
“Well, this is probably a bit unusual for this neighborhood,” – he said, as they walked away from the ATM.
“I work on Eastern Market. Not often, but I do,”
“Interesting. What kind of guys do you work here with?” – and he thought immediately that this was an incorrect question, stepping too far into her professional territory, after all, he assumed, there must be etiquette to whoring.
“Sorry,” – he said – “That is none of my business, I guess.”
But she was cool about it - “Different guys. Mostly professionals. There is one guy, for instance, who has an office in the Market. I see him quite regularly, but I can’t tell you what office it is of course.”
Now they were some distance from the restaurant. He stopped and got the money out of his pocket.
“Here,” – he said – “Three hundred dollars, as we agreed.”
She took money gratefully, almost with disbelief, like a little girl taking a present and leaned over to kiss him on a cheek – “Thank you, honey.”
He knew that girls like this called their clients “honey” - it was corny and it prickled his stylistic sensibilities, but he liked it. He liked how matter-of-fact she was and how matter-of-factly he took it. He was pleasantly surprised with himself and it was a while since he felt like this.
They walked towards where he lived and about a block away from his house he asked her to wait for him by the convenience store on the corner. He then went alone to his garage, got into his Lexus and pulled out. It crossed his mind that it was not impossible that when he will come back to pick her up she might not be there. It was very interesting for him, in fact, to see if she would be there.
“A gamble certainly worthy of 300 dollars,” – he said to himself.
When he drove up to the convenience store she was there, standing in the shade under the tree. She was smoking and checking out the guys passing by, with the unique solicitous manner that only whores have, as if they are about to talk to you, but don’t, leaving it up to the guy to make a gesture of acknowledgement of what she is. Or when they walk down the street, unlike good girls with their purposeful walk, because they are always going somewhere – their office, the metro, the store, the gym, whores don’t seem to walk anywhere. They meander, moving from side to side on the sidewalk, stopping as if observing something, changing direction, engaging men.
“She looks so much as a whore,” – he thought and felt warm inside – “What a sweet girl…”
“Nice car,” – she said as she got in – “What is it that you do?”
“Oh,” – he knew how boring it would sound – “I am a librarian.”
“Wow!” – she said – “I love books. I don’t read them much though. But I respect people who work with books or write books.”
“I don’t really work with actual books,” he said, for some reason – “I am in policies, library policies.” And then he shut up, knowing that this could not possibly make any sense to her.
However he wanted to ask her his own question - “So you… I think you mentioned that you are not from around here. Are you new to the area?”
“Yes,” -- she answered readily – “I came here about a year ago from Charlotte North Carolina.”
“You don’t sound like you are from North Carolina,” – he said.
“That’s true. My father is a true North Carolinian - a “hillbilly” as they call them - bad teeth and all. His family lived in the hills for generations. So all stereotypes apply, like inbred and everything. But my mother is from Delaware. When daddy left I lived with her and she taught me to speak like she does. She lives in Florida now. We have lots of family in Florida, I went to high school there for a while.”
“But you’re not a Southerner, right?” – she said – “I mean, you don’t sound like one either. Though you do act like one.”
“Hmmm,” – he thought – “That’s an unusual compliment for me…”
“I am originally from Poland. My parents and I came here when I was in my early teens,” – he said – “I came to Washington after graduate school to work at the Library of Congress.”
“But what do you mean, I act like a Southerner?” –he was curious.
“Oh, you know. Like a Southern gentleman… Classy I guess,” – she laughed.
He smiled thinking – “What a sweet whore I got me!”
He drove to the Capitol Hill Suits hotel on the corner of 2nd and H streets, right next to the Library of Congress. There was a slight risk of running into a colleague there.
“That would be funny,” – he thought, but he did not really care. In fact he did not return to the office after lunch, but there was a small chance that anybody would be looking for him this afternoon. One blissful thing about his position was that, unless there was a meeting, he could come and go as he pleased. He left her in the car idling in front of the hotel and went in.
In response to his question about whether they had any vacancies for tonight, the hotel clerk informed him that they were booked months in advance.
“Really?” – said Nikolai – “Hmmm. I guess this did not occur to me.”
“Try the Best Western, a few blocks away, off South Capital Street,” – suggested the clerk – “Though I doubt they will have anything.”
The clerk was right. The best Western was also all booked, as was the Channel Inn A few blocks west, on the Waterfront.
“We are not having much luck,” – he said to the girl, returning from the Channel Inn – “Bummer!”
“You wanna check some more hotels, maybe in Virginia?” – she said.
“No, no. Not Virginia. I always get lost in Virginia. It is funny: the moment I enter it – I get lost,”
“I live in Alexandria,” -- she said – “It’s convenient. I’m not too far from the Metro. It’s within walking distance. I don’t have a car right now.”
“Well,” – he said – “Let’s use plan B.”
“And what is plan B?” – she asked.
“Let’s go for a ride. Let’s go to the park, enjoy some nature, play in the mud!”
“I like mud,” – she said excitedly – “I’m a country girl after all. I love playing in the mud!”
He took River Road and drove them following the Potomac and C&O canal, under the canopy of trees, among manicured estates and huge mansions.
“Look at that house!” – he laughed, pointing at some newly built monstrosity on the side of River Road – “You never know if this is a private house or an office!”
“Looks exactly like a dental office to me, “—she said, laughing along with him.
“Funny. I can not even imagine what these people are thinking showing off their money so shamelessly,”
“If I had this money I wouldn’t be living here,” – she said.
“No? Where would you live?” – he was really curious to know.
“I’d go back South, back home,” – she said.
“Really?” – he was intrigued – “But this is Maryland. Virginia is right there, just behind these trees, and across the river.” He pointed in the direction of the Potomac.
“Is there any difference?”
“I don’t know. But I couldn’t live in Maryland. It’s so Northern, so cold. I think I would die here,”
“Really? I don’t see much difference myself,”
“That’s because you live in DC,” – she said – “DC’s neither North nor South. But if I had money I would go back home. I like it back there. Even Virginia seems strange and Northern to me. I would love to live by the ocean, probably on the Outer Banks. Once I worked as a waitress in Nags Head. I loved it there. The people, the boats… I love beaches: the sand, the sun, The surfer boys, and the fishermen…”
He drove his Lexus, listened to her and thought: “We really come from two different planets. I hate beaches. I feel awkward in the South. An ideal place for me is New Hampshire.”
But he didn’t say that, not wanting to sound contrary or dismissive. Instead he said: “I love the Virginia mountains. I am more of a mountain man. I love hiking and mountain climbing. I used to do it a lot. I like North Carolina too. I have some family in Ashville. I like Ashville.”
“Ashville is funny,” – said Monique – “It’s so namby-pamby, so chichi. People there are very snooty.”
“Yes, it is a bit too New Agey and self-righteous,” – he said – “but I like mountains. The ones here in Virginia remind me of Italy, you know…”
“I’m Italian,” – she said.
“Really? I would not guess.”
“I mean I am a typical American. My mother is Italian and my father is something Irish, I think. I didn’t know him or his side of the family that well. Mother, though, is very Italian - Catholic, very religious.”
“Well,” he said, “This probably explains your sultry looks. You mix an Italian and an Irish and you’ll get one very sexy woman.”
Somehow he did not dare call her “girl.” It seemed to him that it would sound like he was taking too much liberty with her, though she probably would not mind “girl.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she said and gave him one of those coy semi-professional smiles, meant to entice men.
They arrived at Seneca Creek, one of the locks on the C&O canal, which he liked to visit, because of the aqueduct ruins and an old lock keeper’s house. To him this was one of the places along Potomac where you could really see history. They went down to the river.
“Look!” he said, pointing at the patch of blackish mud stretching down to the water, “Mud just as I promised. We can play in it.”
“Oh I love it!” she said, “How are we gonna play in it?”
“I guess one can take ones shoes off and go into it.”
“Will you?” she asked, looking into his face like a small child looking to see if adult will really allow something inappropriate.
“I guess I’ll pass,” he said, “but you go ahead if you wish.”
“You don’t mind if I get my feet all dirty? It won’t look too lady-like, will it?”
“That is good. That is preferable.”
“Oh!” - she readily sat down on the bench by the river, and started to untie the straps of her silly Roman sandals.
“She looked happy to receive permission to play in the mud!” he was thinking, looking at her in amazement.
Then she threw her sandals on the ground and walked into the mud, squashing it with her strong chubby toes. He looked at it and felt his heart racing in his chest; his breath stopping in his lungs; and the involuntary movement in his trousers… “Oh. That is almost too much. This is just too good. I might just pop into my pants if this continues like this.”
He squatted on the ground next to the muddy patch. She was happily stomping around in the mud, mixing it with her large strong feet.
“Oh, this is heavenly!” she said, “C’mon! Join me.”
“No thanks.” he said, “But I have to say you look lovely. Just looking at your feet getting dirty makes my head spin.”
“You are a foot-man, huh?” she smirked.
“Well,” he said, “I am very much a foot man. I am also a tit man, and an ass man and a leg man, and a lips man.”
“You just like girls, huh?’ she smiled, enthusiastically smashing mud with her feet.
“Yes, I am crazy about girls. And I like you too,” he said.
“Tonight you can have anything you want: feet, tits, lips, anything or everything. How about that?”
“Well,” he answered, feeling lustful waves of warmth roll over his body, “that would be very good. - very good indeed. We only have to figure out this hotel situation.”
She crouched in the mud next to him, and moved her face very close to his. Her breath smelled of cigarettes, but it was pleasant. “I’m simple, you know, honey. You have a car, that’s good enough for me.”
“Right,” he said, “but I’d love to find a real place. To be, you know… fully relaxed.”
“I know, honey. I’m just saying that if we don’t find anything don’t let it stop you.”
“Oh, look!” she said, “my feet are all covered with mud now. I can’t even put my sandals on. I guess that’s not very attractive…”
“You don’t even know what you are talking about.” he said. “This is very attractive.”
“Whatever,” she said. “I have met guys with weird tastes. Whatever.”
They were walking back to the car.
“You know what?” he said, “I have an idea, I am going to use a porta potty.” He pointed to one in the corner of the parking lot. “How about you?”
“I’M fine, “ she said, “but I can help you.”
“Help me what?”
“To use a porta potty.”
She started walking with him towards the toilet. “Have you ever done it in a porta potty?” she asked.
“Not as far as I remember,” he answered, feeling his legs weaken and start to tremble. “But really, you better stay here and let me do it alone before I mess up my pants.”
“It can be fun together in the porta potty,” she laughed.
“No. No. This might just kill me. Too much excitement!” and he rushed towards the toilet.
They were driving in the dark through the National Mall.
“Here,” he said, “I know a spot, a very beautiful quiet spot - there is parking there too and benches by the water of the Tidal Basin. We can be undisturbed there, sit quietly and drink our Bourbon.”
On the way there he’d stopped by at the liquor store in Bethesda and bought a bottle of Jack Daniels.
He parked the car in the parking lot by the Tidal Basin, opposite the Jefferson Memorial, next to that place where tourists rented paddleboats during the day. It was late and there were only two other cars in the parking lot. They got out of his car and walked over to the embankment of the Tidal Basin; where there were benches hidden from the parking lot by low hanging willow branches. It was quiet, and the water in the Tidal Basin was very still. The sugar-white temple of the Jefferson Memorial was almost perfectly reflected in the water. They stood by the railing next to each other looking at the water.
“Well,” he said, “let’s make a patriotic toast. Lets drink to Jefferson, father of our Democracy and Liberty, someone who also taught us to appreciate beautiful women and good wine!”
“No shit!” she laughed, “Let’s!”
He twisted the top off the bottle and gave it to her. “Ladies first!”
She took the bottle, swallowed a big gulp, stopped, looked at him, and tentatively moved her hand with the bottle towards him.
“No, no,” he said, “drink as much as you need.”
“I can drink a lot,” she said.
“Go ahead, please.”
She brought the bottle to her lips: gulp, gulp, gulp.
“Now its your turn.”
He took the bottle from her, took a swig, then another. Hot liquid spread through his body, relaxing him, soothing whatever anxieties he had. Now he didn’t care if the police jumped out from the bushes. They were just a couple of lovers, enjoying the view of the national monument - no crime in that.
They sat on a bench in the shade of a huge overhanging willow tree and kept drinking, passing the bottle.
“You drink well,” he said.
“I had lots of practice… I had a few very rough years.”
“I’ve had some troubles too,” she said quietly.
“Care to tell me about it?” he asked.
“I guess it has to do with boyfriends. I just have a talent for finding wrong ones.”
“Is it drugs?” he asked.
“Drugs too, though I don’t do them as much as I used to. I used to be on drugs all the time. I did everything, except for heroin.”
“Heroin is shit.”
“Many drugs are shit. But the worst thing is what they do to some people. Some people just can’t handle drugs. They turn to shit themselves.”
“Oh I know believe me… I have two children with bad drug problems.”
“I’m sorry,” she said.
Her face was very close now, her brown eyes glimmering in the lights reflecting from the water.
He took her curly disheveled head into his hands and found her lips. Her breath was sweet, a little bitter from cigarettes, and fragrant. Delirious, he kissed her long, hungrily and deep. She moved closer and then got up and sat down in his lap, facing him. Suddenly she freed herself from his arms, to catch her breath, and reaching down towards the bottom of her tight tank top lifted it up, letting her heavy round breasts free. He grabbed one nipple with his lips while cupping another breast in his hand. She took the breast with her hands and pushed it into his mouth as if suckling him. Then she grabbed his head and pushed it tight towards the breast. Dizzy with lust, blinded by her flesh in front of him, he kissed and sucked and bit her nipples. She squirmed in his arms.
“How do you want to do it?” she whispered, her hot breath almost burning his ear.
He looked at her as if surprised by the question.
“Do you want a blow job,” she asked, “or sex? I have condoms.”
“Oh, no, no,” he said, “I don’t really like them. Perhaps we can just do it like this… It is good the way we are doing.”
“Do you want me?” she asked. “I want you. I want to make you feel good.”
“But I just don’t like these things, condoms I mean,” he said. “I am just quite happy like this, really.”
“Listen,” she moved her lips very close to his ear, “Listen, I’m clean. Are you clean?”
“Yes I am clean,” he answered.
“Then lets do it without a condom. Are you afraid?”
He was not afraid.
She slid down, and crouching, helped him to pull down his pants. She pulled up her skirt and climbed back into his lap. He held her sweaty body very close with his left arm and squeezed her right breast with his right hand. Their lips were pressed together closely but they did not kiss. They just felt each other with their lips as she guided him in. Then he was biting her shoulder, seeing reflections of the Jefferson Memorial with his left eye, as she convulsed in his lap, and he convulsed on the bench, feeling its hard boards under his naked rear. Then she collapsed on top of him cradling her chin on his shoulder. He embraced her with his arms, and sat quietly like this, listening to her breath steadying up, drifting into a doze…
It was morning and they sat in the Starbucks by Eastern Market, and drinking coffee and eating muffins. She was drinking a huge cappuccino and he was having a triple espresso. He needed caffeine; after all they did not get to sleep much last night. After they made love with the view of Jefferson Memorial (Good old Thomas would approve of it, he was smiling to himself thinking about it…), they crawled into the backseat of his car and cuddled up in there, dozing off, then waking up and talking a little, joking about camping on federal property, and finally, dozing off again until daybreak. Then he drove them back to Capital Hill, ran into a CVS drugstore, and bought a tube of toothpaste and two toothbrushes. They cleaned themselves up as much as they could in the Starbuck’s bathrooms, which were virginally clean in the morning. Now they sat in the corner of the empty second floor room and talked quietly.
“Your boyfriend would not worry, that it is morning and you are not back yet?” he asked.
“I assume he wonders where I am,” she said, “but he won’t be angry when he sees all the money I’m bringing.”
“I would not want him to be angry at all,” he said.
“Well…” she said, “he gets like that even without much reason. He has tantrums. Gets easily pissed. But he is good to my son…” She gave him a fast glance to see what reaction this revelation would produce in him.
“You have a son?” he honestly did not expect that, though immediately concluded that there was nothing very surprising here, and there was no reason why she could not have A son.
“Yes,” she said, “a four year old. James isn’t his father, but he helps me to take care of him.”
“That’s good, “ he said, “you need all help you can get with children.”
“We also have a babysitter, a neighbor, who helps us when we’re both out.”
“Do you mind,” he said, “if I ask you what kind of person is your boyfriend?”
She thought for a few moments before answering. “I don’t know,” she said, “He’s different.”
“Yes. From London.”
Once again he was taken by surprise, and to a much greater extant then when he heard about the child. In his mind he had created a picture of some skinny, wiry, tough as nails, mad as a rat, West Virginian inbred hillbilly. He had even given him very scarce facial hair and little beady eyes… And now – English! That he did not expect. “So much for stereo-typing whore’s boyfriends…” he said to himself and asked: “What does he do here?”
“He came to study,” she said.
“Yes. He came for graduate school.”
“Graduate school…” he knew that he sounded like a moron repeating things after her, but he needed that to help her words to sink in his mind.
“What does he study?”
“Oh, I don’t remember. He told me many times, but it doesn’t stick with me. I think something about Russia. Soviet Russia, I think… maybe history, like Soviet history,” she looked at him as if seeking acknowledgement that such a field existed.
“An English Soviet history graduate student,” he mumbled, “That is very interesting…”
His librarian’s brain went into the action. Now he was re-classifying, re-cataloging her… From a member of the bottom layer (albeit a sweet and very attractive one) of trailer park trash, she moved up, through layers and layers of bottom-feeders, in his mental diagram of social stratification, to be positioned… somewhere… perhaps closer to the bohemian fringe… He did not know, but he knew that she was no longer a full-fledged redneck. A girl who could hook up with an English doctoral student in Soviet history just could not be… Surprisingly she was something else now - something closer to his own world. She was not so different anymore. Not an alien who descended from the hills of Appalachia… He felt almost a sense of loss, a longing for that true redneck girl who now was rapidly evaporating, contaminated by proximity to people of his own class, people he knew and understood.
“I met him in Chapel Hill, where he was a student at the University of North Carolina. I used to go to this bar where he was a bartender. Bartenders often have lots of drugs, and if you are a girl, a pretty girl, they’ll give you drugs, for free, if they like you.
Then we started living together, and he had difficulties paying for his education. He was dealing and taking lots of drugs. He started getting very angry at times and having these kind of psychotic episodes, when he would just crush things.
They started kicking us out of student apartment and the school got pissed at him too. So he decided to come to DC and work for a while, make some money and save, then re-enroll to finish his studies.”
“But,” she looked at him with significance “I don’t think he can. I think he’s too fucked up. He just sits around, and jerks off, takes drugs, and whines or hangs out somewhere…”
“Ok,” Nikolai thought, “That’s better.” It was easier to relate to a fucked up English graduate student than to a successful English graduate student, who sends his girlfriend to walk the streets to help him pay for his tuition. Now the girl can be moved on his scale into a category (he hadn’t known it even existed) reserved for the girls from the wrong side of the tracks attached to weird guys of a higher educational level. Such things can happen. He has seen it before, perhaps… But what was more important to him was that he still liked her. For a second, in panic related to re-positioning the girl, he was afraid that his feelings would be lost. But they were not. Fuck the graduate student! He wanted to change her life!
“This is a tough situation,” he said.
“Yes,” she agreed.
“What,” he said, “if it changes?”
“I know,” she said, “I need to change it. I was saving some money for myself to move out, to get a place of my own.”
“You know what?” he said, “I think I want to help you.”
“Really?” she looked at him expectantly.
“I like you. And I am concerned for you. You are in tough shit, and I think I can help you… to get on the right track. Yes, that’s what I want to say.”
She was watching him, inquisitively, listening.
“Perhaps what we could do, and I am improvising right now, we could find you an apartment somewhere. And I’ll help you pay for it, that will not be a problem. And then we’ll try to get you into some kind of educational program.”
“I was studying to become a dental assistant when I met James,” she said.
“Excellent! That is very good. That is a good field. But it should not be that necessarily. It can be anything else you like. Money will not be a problem. But first of all we need to rent you a place and get your son out of that house and you off the streets.”
“That sounds good,” she said.
“You have high school, right?” he asked.
“But no college?”
“That is also a possibility. We’ll figure this out.”
“And,” she said, smiling at him, “what will my end of the deal be?’
“Yours?” he hadn’t thought about it. Now he realized that he sounded like one of those Washington men he heard about, but never met in person, the ones who set up mistresses in specially rented apartments, made arrangements for kept women.
“Oh, I don’t know… I guess just go to school and be a mother to your son,” he smiled at her, “Of course I would love to see you, you understand, but I don’t want you to feel pressured into anything you feel uncomfortable about.”
“You don’t make me uncomfortable,” she put her large, surprisingly soft and warm hand on top of his. “You’re very sweet. I hope I’ll keep seeing you.” She leaned over and kissed him on the cheek: “This is the best offer I’ve had in years.”
“I think we can work this out,” he said, “I think we can.”
“There’s a bit of a problem,” she said – A cloud passing suddenly over her face: “I owe him money. James paid to move me and Bobby here. And he was paying for Bobby’s child care, and his clothes and stuff.”
“He moved you here to walk the streets, huh?”
“He keeps mentioning that I owe him money.”
“How much are we talking about? It does not sound that we are talking very much.”
“I don’t know. He keeps changing numbers. Several thousand, I can find out I guess.”
“Yes,” he said, “talk to him. Let’s arrange it to everyone’s satisfaction. I don’t want any problems with him. And I want him to take the money, and leave you alone, and I want you out of there. I will send the truck and have you moved out of there and into a new place.”
“This could be great” she said, “If it works out this could be so good...”
“I think we can pull it out,” he said feeling inspired, and strong and alive.
In the end they agreed that she would go home and talk to James and find out how much she owed him. She would tell him what was going on, then they’d meet the next day, and she would try to bring James along to finalize the transaction or at least so that Nikolai could talk to him.
They walked out of Starbucks and he flagged a cab to take her home. She kissed Nikolai on the cheek again, and then smiled playfully and kissed him on the lips long and hard. He felt that all the people walking to work on 8TH street were looking at him, and he wanted them to look. He asked the driver how much it would cost to take her to the place in Alexandria she was going and gave her money for the ride. The cab drove off and he walked back to his car and went home. He was not going to work again today. He called his assistant and told him he wouldn’t be in.
He drove home thinking: “I have become such a perfect cliché. I am repeating every whore-related stereotype possible. Hetaera odorata! Holly whore! Fuckin’ Maddona! Leaving Las Vegas meets LA Confidential meets Taxi Driver meets me! Who can imagine that me, not some overpaid bureaucrat from the Hill, not some fat-ass lobbyist, but me, one of the precious few members of American intelligentsia, just made an arrangement for a kept woman?! I have become kitsch. And you know what? I don’t care! Because I am fucking in love with a whore! She makes me feel great, and alive and crazy!”
In his kitchen he found his wife at the breakfast bar in her business attire, drinking coffee and smoking.
“Ah!” she said, “a much belated arrival!”
He looked at her and felt that he did not hate her. He walked into the kitchen and leaned against the wall looking at her.
“Wow,” she said, “look at the idiot’s smile on his face! You look like you either got your novel published or fell in love. But judging from the fact that you spent the night elsewhere, I conclude that you fell in love.”
He just stood there, smiling, and did not say anything.
“I bet she’s in her mid-thirties, an editor for something non-profit, and you met her at the Phillips Collection’s Artful Evenings, and you found so much in common.”
“No,” he said, sitting down next to her on a stool, “she is in her 20s and I met her on the street and she is a whore.”
“A whore, huh?” she chuckled and killed her cigarette in an ashtray, got up and moved towards the exit: “Whatever. You’re still an asshole, but there’s this silly grin on your face and you’re flying in the clouds like a hot air balloon. I’ll leave you alone.” And she went to work.
The next morning when Monique came to meet him at Starbuck’s there was nothing whore-like in her appearance. She wore a light flowery short dress, flip-flops, and her little black backpack, like any other girl on the street.
“He got very pissed at me,” she said about James, “and he will not consider anything less than five thousand.”
She looked at Nikolai apologetically: “It looks bad, doesn’t it?”
“Five grand…” he said considering, “I think we can do that.”
“Really? It’s a shit-load of money.”
“Let me go to the bank,” he said. “Where is he?”
“He’s waiting in the car in the parking lot behind the Navy Yard. But he wants to talk to you first.”
“Let me get the money. Then we will talk. I am not against talking. I’ll be happy to talk to him.”
He ran into the Bank of America branch across the street and got six thousand dollars, just in case. He didn’t want to show up with no extra cash for some eventuality that he sensed might arise, and he wanted to have it over with James today. In the worst-case scenario he was ready to give James a few more thousand. But first they needed to talk.
As he drove through the desolate empty lots behind the Navy Yard, Monique got more and more tense in the seat next to him.
“Perhaps,” she said, “It’s not a very good idea. Maybe we should give James some time to cool off. He is really pissed.”
“He probably will be pissed the other time too. But he agreed to meet, that’s important. Let’s just do it. I promise I’ll be very calm, and if he gets too nervous or anything, I will just walk away,” said Nikolai.
Then they saw James, he was standing in front of a big old car in an empty parking lot in front of an abandoned office building, overlooking the Anacostia river, and smoking a cigarette. He was tall and skinny and wore narrow slacks; a blue cowboy shirt on top of a black t-shirt; and big square-toe shoes. He had a shaved head and looked tense and wiry, just like Nikolai had imagined Monique’s hypothetical West Virginia boyfriend would look.
Nikolai parked his car a few spaces away from James and his bronze Caprice Classic and he and Monique walked over to him.
“Hi, mate,” said James in a strong English accent and flicked his cigarette on the ground, “you wanted to talk to me, right?”
“My name is Nik, by the way,” said Nikolai.
“Great to meet you Nik,” said James and smiled ironically, “I hear you want to buy my girl, eh?”
“Well,” started Nikolai. He was absolutely unsure how one proceeded in these circumstances, but he wanted to get through it as fast as possible.
“It is not that I want to buy her, but I thought that I, perhaps, could help both of you if I pay what Monique owes you.”
“Fuck you mate,” said James leaning on his car. “No one takes my girl from me.”
“What planet did this graduate student came from?” thought Nikolai.
“What do you bloody think this is?” said James, and his voice reaching a noticeably higher pitch with every word:
“Didn’t you hear that slavery was over some hundred fifty years ago? What makes you think that you can just fuckin’ show up with your bloody fuckin’money and buy someone?”
Behind James’ back Nikolai could see Monique making frantic gestures to him, trying to convince him to stop the negotiations and walk away.
“I don’t think I am buying her,” said Nikolai, “I am just going to pay her debt.”
“Why is it you fuckin’ shithead American morons think you can bloody buy anything you want?" yelled James - his voice breaking into a falsetto.
“I don’t think I can buy anything I want,”- said Nikolai, trying not to pay attention to Monique’s increasingly desperate gesticulating, - “But I understand Monique owes you some money and I’ll be happy to pay it for her. She told me about five thousand that she owes you. And I’ll be happy to give you more if we could finish this transaction today.”
“A transaction? The mother-fucker is buying my girl like a fuckin’ cow or a sheep and he calls it a trans-fucking-action!” - James was now screaming - his face red and contorted. He turned to Monique, who was very pale and standing nervously by his car.
“Get in the fuckin’ car! What are you standing there for?”
She opened the passenger-side door of the Caprice Classic and got in, without looking at the men.
Nikolai, seeing James’ agitation, attempted to make one last pitch to him before breaking off negotiations –
“Then why don’t you just tell me what are your conditions?”
“My conditions?” yelled James, walking convulsively over to the driver’s side door. “My condition is that you go fuck yourself, you fuckin’ prick! Slave-trading asshole!”
James got into his car and started the engine. Nikolai stepped to the side of the car with his arms outstretched, making what he thought was a pacifying and convincing gesture. He heard the squeal of brakes and saw the car’s huge bronze hood swinging his way and moving fast towards him. He felt, or rather heard, a thud and then felt nothing at all.