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BURNED IN AMSTERDAM

by

David Veronese



I went into a little hash club off the Rokin called The Elevator, and bought a finger of black Kashmiri. There were six stools at the bar and six more in front of the window. The place was lit with dull offset lamps. A billiards table was wedged into the middle of the room.

I sat at the window and mashed a slice of the hashish into a saucer with the back of a spoon. It smelled lovely, like burnt roses. I dumped it into a double shot of Calvados, mixed it with sugar and drank it down neat.

Two girls in gold lamé jackets and blue jeans walked into the bar. They ordered short glasses of beer and racked up some balls on the billiards table. They spoke in Swedish, but they didn't talk much.

I watched them for a while. They were constantly chalking their cue sticks and sighting angles off the cushions. One of them, tall and blonde with her hair in pigtails, made a run of fourteen balls. The other girl punctuated a long silence with sharp Anglo-Saxon phrases.

I drank some more brandy. I looked out the window and watched a trolley car shooting past me. The sun was setting and the sky turned rose-gray and purple. More people came into the room. The bartender put on some Mozart. The sound washed at my ears. I thought I could make out a clavichord and a viola da gamba. The tall girl came over to me. She hooked her thumbs in her belt-loops and looked me straight in the eye.

"Give me some of your shit. We don't have more money."

I broke off a third of the ingot and put it in her hand. She had short fingers, nails painted with black and white stars. Her palms were etched with deep erratic lines.

"Thank you, boy. Do you shoot pool?"

"Not if I can help it."

She crumbled up the hashish on the counter and broke a Marlboro over it. She mixed in the tobacco and rolled up the mixture into a Spanish cigarette paper.

"Come play with me. My friend must leave, and I don't wish to lose the table." She lit the cigarette and took a deep blast into her lungs. She offered it to me, but I shook my head.

She exhaled. The smoke was blue in the dull light. "Why do you mix it with brandy instead of smoking it?"

"My throat is gone."

We played eight-ball. I wasn't much match for her. She made a beautiful shot off the left bank, sinking two striped balls in opposite pockets.

She took off her jacket and threw it on the bar. Tattoos of little moons and anchors dotted her arms. She wore a tight white T-shirt with two Swedish flags emblazoned over her bust. Her nipples swelled the fabric like maraschino cherries. She was the goods.

She dropped the eight ball in a side pocket, and started loading the rack. She rearranged the balls several times and shook the triangle along the baize, left and right, up and down--until she was satisfied with the placement

"Let's play for money," I said.

She chalked up her stick and looked at me, screwing her nose. "You are kidding, boy," she said. "You will be broke."

"Spot me three balls."

"But I also have no money--"

I took a couple of bills out of my pocket and laid them on the table.The smoke was so thick in the room that the baize looked gray

"You owe me fifty. The stake is twenty guilders per rack."

She put the triangle back over the balls, pulled three solid ones and dropped them in a corner pocket. "Go ahead," she said. "You may shoot first."

She wasn't used to playing for money; I won the first two games. She smiled grimly as she watched the cue ball sink on a muffed shot.

"You are a hustler?" she asked.

"No," I said, "but my luck has been so bad, I have a little of the good stuff owed to me." The bartender put on a Brahms concerto. The room filled with dark sounds.

Three men at the bar were shaking dice cups. A Dalmatian with a red collar was sleeping next to the door. I drank another brandy. I felt like a rocket aimed at an unmapped constellation.

"What's your bad luck?" asked the woman.

"The police are throwing me out of the country tomorrow."

"For you...that might be good luck." She touched her hand to my brandy glass.

"Would you mind?"

I shook my head; she gulped back the booze in a single slug. "What do you mean?" I said.

"You've got the Amsterdam fever. It's time to go home... We come down here from Lund only three days at a time - never more..."

She stroked her cue-stick, then ground the chalk cube into the tip. "We play the last game for fifty guilders."

"You've only ten left. I won't front you any more."

She looked down at me haughtily. Her nose was small and rounded; a cluster of freckles formed in a raspberry at the corner of her lips. "If I lose... you can make love to me--forty guilders worth." She dipped her tongue beneath her teeth, then stuck it out artlessly.

I nodded and felt my brow, as if to think about it. "That sounds like very good sportsmanship," I said. "You must be on your third day."

"But I do not advance you anything this game," she went on, picking up the triangle.

"Sure. Fuck the handicap."

I ordered two more double Calvados and prayed to all deities, lesser and greater, that I could think of.

When the drinks came I excused myself to go to the gents. I was hoping she'd be well into the brandy by the time I returned. There wasn't any sense in not stacking the deck a little. She stared at the window as if it were a wall.

There was only one unit in the can, and I had to wait in a short queue.The hashish was very strong and I was hearing echoes and thinking about things that might not have been there. The door opened once and I thought it was morning.

When I got back the blonde was gone. Both brandy glasses were drained,and the finger of dope was history as well. Adding that to the ten guilders, it seemed to be an across the board loss.

There was a seat empty at the bar. I sat down and ordered a coffee. The barman drew a cupful from the chrome machine and set it on a saucer. He had longhair down to his waist, andwore a gold and green soccer shirt beneath a formal black jacket.

"Listen," I said to him, "do you know where that tall Swedish girl went?" "No, man," he said. "I surely don't." He bit his lip and leaned on the bar. "Slipped away on you, did she?"

"I guess so."

"Well--have the coffee on me."

"Thanks." I dipped a tiny spoon into the cup and stirred it aimlessly. "Say, listen, one more thing..."

"Yes."

"Do you have anything besides Mozart and Brahms?"

He picked up a bright white dishrag and wiped the veneer over the bar. He watched his hand as it moved in short circles.

"Sure, I do," he said. "But no one else dead, man. No one dead like them..."







ABOUT THE AUTHOR

David Veronese was born in Chicago and raised in Denver, Colorado. After attending Stanford University he dropped out of society for seven years. He has lived in Bolivia, Spain, Denmark and Key West, Florida, among other locales. He has run dope, taught Sunday school, worked as a bodyguard at a discoteque near Alicante and was night clerk at the Southernmost Motel, etc. He currently lives in Washington, DC where he owns an art gallery. He apologizes to the people of the world for the US government. He is the author of a novel, JANA: A Tale of Decadence (Serpent's Tail). His stories have appeared in Prism International, Blue Zebra and Inkpot (Winner, Christmas special).




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