There is a small bar with a restaurant attached to the back just outside the port of Baltimore. The deck is open to the public during the week and closed on weekends. If I can find the time, there is nothing more serene than grabbing a booth in mid morning, ordering a beer, and watching the clouds move slowly over the harbor. The place is a tourist hotspot, but it’s usually empty at that time, and the host remembers me. That brief hour is my own personal paradise in a world of changing diapers, running to sales calls, and the usual grind of life.
Yesterday, my home of serenity was shattered forever by a strangely behaving couple in their mid to late twenties.
Jose brought them onto the deck with a distracted look of apology painted on his plain features. He seated them in a booth two tables away from mine, smiled, and disappeared to get some waters.
“What’s good here?” the woman asked. “Los tacos al pastor… what’s that?”
“Lamb,” the man replied. “Cooked on a rotisserie.”
The woman turned up her nose and looked out across the clear skyline as they got settled. She was rather good looking in the right lighting. Blonde hair, freckles across her nose, a cute little dimple in her right cheek, but not the left. The rings under her eyes appeared painted into her soft skin.
“Oh, wow,” she murmured. “Look at the clouds, hon. Like white elephants. Like the story. Do you know the one?”
The man nodded and said that he did. He wore a light jacket to protect himself from the wind rolling in off the water. An old tattered Orioles hat shielded his eyes from the sun. Blue jeans that looked like they hadn’t been washed in weeks covered a pair of skinny little chicken legs stuffed under the slim table.
“Do you think it will hurt?” the woman asked quietly. “I don’t want to do it if it’s going to hurt.*”
“You always ask that,” the man replied. “Just a pinch.”
Jose appeared with a fresh beer and set it down on my table. He paced back over to the couple to take their order. The man spoke for both of them.
“Dos cervezas… Sol, if you have it,” Jose nodded that he did. “Chiles en nogada for me. Chorizo for her.”
The woman lowered her pretty blue eyes to the white tablecloth. The man pulled out a pack of Reds and asked if it would be okay to smoke, on a count of the fact we were outdoors.
“No, apologies, sir; state law.”
He grunted and found a pair of sunglasses in his pocket and slid them on instead
“You used to be able to smoke here,” he muttered. “Everything has changed.”
“Do you think it will for us?”
“Do I think it will what?”
The man thumbed the edge of his cigarette pack nervously.
“She’s just a kid, Jack.”
The man crumpled it angrily in his hands.
“I know what she is.”
The woman said nothing.
“What are you asking?”
The woman pushed back her long blonde hair and stretched her arms across the booth.
“I’m asking that if we do this thing. If we really do it for the last time. You and me. What happens after? Will you be able to forget about it? Will we be able to sit outside on a sunny day and talk about how the clouds look like white elephants? Will you love me when I say that? Will you know what it means to me? Will you think I’m clever, the way you used to? Will you love me the way you did on our first date, when we used to talk about Hemingway, and all of those other nice things, before Eva got sick and before all of this ever happened? Will you? I need to know that you will. Or will we just fade to black?”
The man pulled out a crumpled cigarette and stuffed it behind his ear. He said nothing. A moment later, Jose arrived with two hot plates, and a fresh round of drinks. He set them down carefully on the couple’s table and bade them to enjoy. The woman pulled out a handkerchief and dabbed at her eyes. Jose stepped away.
“You were so much kinder then,” she sniffled angrily. “You fooled me. You fooled everybody.”
The man continued his vow of silence. His eyes stayed hidden beneath the the dark glasses as he chowed down on his meal. Bits and pieces of the cream sauce caught in his tangled and matted beard. He paused only to slurp down gulps of the beer. It was empty in a few moments.
“You were more clever.”
The woman sobbed in disbelief.
“Can we take a picture, at least? I want the girl to see something nice before it happens.”
The man nodded and pulled an old flip phone out from his pocket. He held the device awkwardly and snapped a photo of the bright horizon. Then he carefully slid out his wallet and produced a stack of fresh bills from the fold.
The couple finished their meal and left the restaurant before Jose had the chance to bring a check. They were ten dollars short. The bar placed a call to the police. The police arrived moments later. I hung around to offer what I heard. Jose was smart enough to check IDs and remember names. The cops decided to use this information to perform a wellness check on the house.
But they were too late.
When the police arrived to the home, nothing seemed amiss. The front door was locked and the neighbors heard nothing out of the ordinary. But when one of the officers saw something suspicious through the window, it gave them probable cause to enter, and they broke down the front door.
Sitting perched up on the bed were the man and woman. The woman had a bullet in her head. The man still had the gun in his mouth. In the basement, they found a number of different locks keeping the door in place, and it took them quite a while to get inside. By the time they did… they were too late again.
Lying down in the dark were three missing teenage girls in different stages of decomposition. The dosage clouding their vials was enough to kill someone three times their size.
One of them held a cell phone in her hand.
The screen displayed a serene view of the clouds.
She never let go.