Fiction: Hotel Baltimore #1

By Chris Brownsword

Known to everyone who stayed there during its glory days as ‘Heroin Hotel,’ and before the police shut it down as part of a citywide drugs bust, the Hotel Baltimore was notable for two reasons. Firstly, it was a boardinghouse, not a hotel. Secondly, its location was four-thousand miles from Baltimore, in Berlin. 
Still, no complaints were raised over false advertising, with free board available to those who didn’t mind mucking in a couple of hours each day, sweeping up outside or scrubbing toilets or doing laundry, or a variety of other menial tasks. This also got you breakfast and an evening meal. The meals varied in small ways - fish soup, vegetable pasta, etc. - but breakfast was always toast with either muesli or cornflakes. 
Alternatively, you could pay cash and avoid the work stuff altogether. 
The premises stood on three levels, plus an attic converted into half a dozen rooms, none of which came equipped with shower or toilet. When I moved into the attic, only one other room up there was occupied. Door propped open and mattress concealed under assorted bric-a-brac, amidst which sat a man some years my elder who rose from the bowels of his clutter to greet me when I said hello. In contrast to most men I’d met, he didn’t crush my hand when he shook it, and I liked him for that. 
‘‘Word of advice,’’ Roar said, after we’d breezed through the standard introductions and he’d stressed upon me that he was from Norway; not Sweden or Denmark, but Norway. ‘‘Be watchful of who you trust in this city. I like to think I’m a dependable guy. Don’t get me wrong, neighbour, I’m not saying a halo awaits me, but I trust people, which isn’t a great quality to possess.’’
‘‘Isn’t it?’’ I asked, in two minds myself. 
‘‘Certainly not. How would the sparrow fare if he trusted every cat that whistled a friendly tune?’’ Pumping his fists, Roar paced the room. ‘‘And yet time and again, I make the same error of judgement.’’ 
The latest of which, he told me, still pacing, had occurred last week with a bike: 
‘‘I’d been planning a trip to Dresden. All of it flushed down the shitter now! Damn thing fell apart within two days of my purchasing it. I found the rascal who sold it to me, and he looked me right in the eye, right in the eye, neighbour, and said I must be mistaken. Swore blind he’d never sold a bike to anyone. Pah! Blindness is too good for him. May he eat his own tongue and taste his wicked lies.’’
I assured Roar I had no plans to buy a bike and ride to Dresden. 
He slapped his forehead with the palm of his hand, as if to ask himself what kind of moron he’d been lumbered with this time. ‘‘Did I suggest that purchasing a bike was conditional on it later being ridden to Dresden? No, that was my plan. You can limit your explorations to Berlin itself. It’s permitted.’’ 
He stopped pacing:
‘‘But you’re missing the point. The bike isn’t the major component. It’s incidental to what I’m saying.’’
‘‘All right, yeah,’’ I said. ‘‘I understand.’’
‘‘I don’t believe you do,’’ Roar sniffed. ‘‘What I’m trying my hardest to convey to you, my new neighbour, is that even here, in this very city, this sanctuary if you wish to think of it that way, one must remain vigilant against corrosive elements. Meaning precautions taken and defences put up.’’
‘‘Ooooh noooo,’’ Roar shook his head. ‘‘It’s not all right, and it’s not okay.’’ 
Unsure what to say, wishing I’d kept my mouth shut, I looked around the room. Same as mine. Threadbare carpet. Sloping roof with wooden beams arranged so you could bang your head into them. 
A few books lay among the landslide on Roar’s bed. I dashed off and came back with my copy of The Lost World. Told him to keep it, as I’d read it three or four times. ‘‘It’s the sequel to Jurassic Park,’’ I said. 
Roar took the book from my hand, tossed it on his bed. 
‘‘I also had Carrie,’’ I said, ‘‘but I lost that somewhere along the way.’’
‘‘The Carrie movie is very good, but I haven’t read the book.’’
‘‘I’ve read it three or four times, but I didn’t know someone turned it into a movie.’’
‘‘Yes, a very good one. A classic. Perhaps one day they’ll show it at Necropolis. They show many movies there. Many classics.’’
‘‘Well, let me know if you hear anything. I’d like to see it.’’
‘‘Apocalypse Now is showing next week. Do you know this one?’’ 
I didn’t. 
‘‘Then we’ll go next week. Yes, indeed, that’s something we must do.’’ 
While Roar plugged a stereo into a wall socket, I rested against the window. Through the glass I could see the attic of the adjacent premises, and below that, in the alley, a young woman leaning against a broom while finishing a cigarette. Roar hit play on the stereo, asked if I liked the music. 
‘‘Yeah,’’ I said. ‘‘I mean, sure. It’s okay.’’
‘‘Leonard Cohen.’’ 
‘‘Leonard Cohen,’’ I echoed. ‘‘Is that right?’’ 
‘‘Yes, indeed. ‘Chelsea Hotel #2.’’’ 
‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ was a great song, Roar continued (‘Aclassic’), but he never knew how to approach it. 
Sometimes it seemed tender to him, other times cold, and other times indifferent. 
It was like a tiger, he said, beautiful and terrifying: ‘‘You wish to stand next to it and tickle its chin, but at the same time you know to keep your distance. This is an untamed creature, after all.’’ 
He picked up a notebook from his bed, opened it, and then closed it again. 
‘‘So, neighbour,’’ he resumed, ‘‘do you understand me now?’’
‘‘Sure. Be wary of tigers.’’
‘‘That’s part of it, I suppose. Yes, indeed. But not exclusively.’’ He turned the music down to a background hum: ‘‘Answer me this. Have you ever been in love?’’ 
‘‘I, uh…’’ 
Roar grinned as one who has slipped into the conversation a real brain-teaser and knows the other can advance only through guesswork, and even then arrive further away the more guesses he makes. 
‘‘I mean, uh...’’
‘‘Then no, you haven’t,’’ resolving the issue. ‘‘So the question, in fact the only question of intrinsic worth, neighbour, iswhether to harden your heart against the world or let the world break it.’’ 
‘‘It’s a conundrum, for sure.’’
‘‘Harden your heart,’’ Roar repeated, prodding me in the chest, ‘‘or let the world break it. Don’t cogitate. Which shall it be?’’ 
I didn’t know, so just went with the last one - let the world break it. 
‘‘Congratulations,’’ Roar applauded me. 
I was pleased to have passed his test. The feeling lasted all of two seconds. 
‘‘You’re wrong, of course,’’ Roar told me. ‘‘It was a trick question. Either way, you lose.’’
Outside, I struck up a conversation with the young woman I’d seen through Roar’s window. Her name was Haze, and she’d been living in the Hotel Baltimore for six months. When I told her my room was opposite Roar’s, she said: ‘‘Bet the first thing he did was hark on about that fucking bike.’’
‘‘Pretty much,’’ snitching on him.
‘‘Like he’d ever ride to Dresden anyway,’’ Haze said. I asked whether you needed to apply for a license before riding a motorbike in Germany. ‘‘He bought a bicycle,’’ she clarified, ‘‘not a motorbike.’’
‘‘You seriously thought he meant motorbike?’’
‘‘No,’’ I lied. ‘‘Of course not.’’ 
‘‘You did. You really did. Wait until I tell him.’’
‘‘Don’t tell him.’’
‘‘We’ll see,’’ Haze chuckled. Then, ‘‘I’ll wager he was listening to Leonard Cohen, too. Cobain was a Cohen fan, and I’m a Cobain fan, probably the biggest in the world, but I can’t stand Cohen. Bores the shit right out of me. Every time I visit Roar in his room, he’s playing Leonard fucking Cohen. Bet it was ‘Chelsea Hotel #2.’’’
‘‘Correct again,’’ I said.
‘‘Don’t get me wrong, I like Roar, but sometimes he can be a bit much. I’m not talking shit behind his back, well, I am, but a few weeks ago I lent him some of my CDs. Instead of listening to them for enjoyment and pleasure, he spent several days shut away in his room with an ear pressed to the speaker of his stereo, copying the lyrics into a notebook and then filling a second notebook with reflections on the lyrics alongside all kinds of esoteric meanings he found in them. I didn’t have the heart to tell him half of what he’d scribbled down was wrong. Not even close to the proper lyrics.’’ 
Haze cleared her throat then spat on the ground and rubbed her Converse over the gooey mass, before asking what type of music I liked. I explained I didn’t get the opportunity to listen to music these days. 
‘‘But I see you’re into Black Sabbath,’’ Haze pointing to my Vol.4 T-shirt, the only possession of mine I actually valued. ‘‘Rapid fire round: Ozzy or Dio? And don’t get clever and say Gillan.’’
‘‘Ronnie James Dio was a phenomenal vocalist,’’ I gushed, ‘‘but you can’t beat the early Ozzy-era. From Black Sabbaththrough to Sabotage.’’
‘‘Good answer. Cobain was a Sabbath fan, too. Although, now I think about it, I read somewhere that his favourite album was Born Again, with Gillan on vocals.’’ 
Haze went on to say she’d played bass in a Grunge band back home in Australia called Shrine Of The Dispossessed but they’d split up after releasing a demo tape no one bought, not even their skater friends. 
She lifted her jeans to show me a tattoo on her calf which read Kurt Cobain RIP, and which underneath gave his date of birth and the date he died. ‘‘I assume you’re familiar with Nirvana,’’ she said.
‘‘Sure. ‘Negative Creep,’ and, uh, all the rest.’’ At some point in the past I must have heard that track by itself, because I’d never owned any Nirvana albums.
Haze punched me on the arm in what I thought was a genial manner. ‘‘Jackpot! ‘Negative Creep’ is their best song. I’m almost a tiny bit impressed. Most would have gone with ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’’’ 
You’re doing well, I congratulated myself. Better than you did with Roar. But then I almost ruined it by asking Haze whether Kurt Cobain had been German.
‘‘Was Kurt Cobain German? Is that seriously what you’re asking me?’’
‘‘I thought Kurt was a German name.’’
‘‘He was American,’’ Haze beamed. ‘‘You total fucking dork.’’
‘‘All right, then,’’ I said. ‘‘Now I know.’’
Haze suggested we go to a club one night and watch a few bands. ‘‘Just don’t get the wrong idea,’’ she warned. ‘‘You’re not even close to being my type.’’
‘‘Fair enough.’’
‘‘I’m into handsome guys.’’ 
‘‘Handsome,’’ I nodded. ‘‘Makes sense.’’
Haze ran her hands through her hair - long on top and shaved at the sides. ‘‘That came out ass-backwards.’’ 
She produced a packet of cigarettes, asked if I’d like one. I thanked her, no. 
Between drags, Haze told me about her daughter Rowan, how they spoke on the phone every day. ‘‘I got myself into some heavy-duty shit. Reckoned it best if I moved away for a while, you know?’’
She handed me a photo of her daughter. Told me Rowan was the only thing in the world she cared about. Their separation being felt as a physical pain in parts of her she hadn’t realised existed until now. 
Removing a pair of baby shoes off the keyring on her belt, Haze cupped them in her hands like she was holding a fairy. ‘‘These were Rowan’s first pair. I always sleep with them under my pillow in the hope she’ll visit me in my dreams.’’
‘‘That’s...’’ I began. 
Then, from above: 
‘‘Incoming, neighbour!’’ 
Roar leaned out of the window. Haze gave him the middle finger. A moment later my copy of The Lost World landed in front of us. 
Ignoring this mischief, Haze asked whether I’d seen the graffiti around the city. 
‘‘Of course,’’ I said (though when I thought about it again, I wasn’t sure). 
She asked how I liked it. 
‘‘Oh, it’s great,’’ I said (though to be honest, I didn’t have an opinion one way or another). 
She told me she’d tagged a few places nearby. I tried to look impressed while pretending to know what tagged even meant. ‘‘I’ll show you,’’ Haze said, shouldering a rucksack covered in band patches. 
Painted on one strap was the word Revelation, and on the other Revolution. I asked what this signified. 
‘‘Fuck all, Dork. Just sounds cool.’’
Around the corner, Haze pointed out a hotel where she said she’d stayed upon first arriving in Berlin. 
An episode in her life which now resembled something coughed up by a wolverine. 
With hostility, she told me she’d moved out after personal items went missing from her room. ‘‘Fucking maid. I don’t have a shred of doubt. Not one. When I confronted the deviant prick of a manager, he claimed I was making shit up. Creep was probably in on it with that conniving bitch.’’
‘‘I suppose the police wouldn’t have been interested, either,’’ I said.
‘‘My word against the manager’s. Besides, I wasn’t in great shape, and I had my reasons for not wanting to get the cops involved, and a hotel like that,’’ Haze screwed up her face, ‘‘people who stay there, the manager figured as much.’’
‘‘Hard break.’’ 
‘‘Nah, didn’t break me, Dork. Barely left a scratch.’’
Our destination was lost to the world behind gas holders. A kingdom of bones presided over by the sightless dead. Dogs wandering off leashes. Toilets and sinks thrown out of windows and the buildings themselves looking to have been set on fire once, twice, thrice for luck. Behind us, a woman shot up in a doorway. The syringe driven into her arm like a hawk descending upon its prey then taken out and finger licked and arm rubbed and what remained at the bottom of the syringe squirted across the brickwork, as if to mark her territory in blood. Meanwhile, a guy wielding a baseball bat kept watch of us, and on the other side of the road, using the parked cars to shield their activities, teens dealt drugs. 
Haze showed off her favourite pieces of graffiti art, claiming several as her own and detailing the type of spray can she preferred, when her phone started to ring. 
As I waited for Haze’s call to finish, I made an effort not to attract attention to myself. Nonetheless, Baseball Guy approached to ask whether I was ‘hungry for gash.’ 
‘‘Gash?’’ I didn’t understand. 
‘‘Fifty euros for half an hour,’’ he said. ‘‘Any hole you desire.’’ 
I glanced at Haze - still on the phone. When I turned back, Baseball Guy was staring at me, and what I saw crouched behind that stare, or what he invited me to see, was in no way comforting or affable. 
‘‘Thirty euros,’’ he lowered the price. ‘‘With or without a condom.’’
‘‘He’s got ten euros,’’ Haze told him, hanging up her call. ‘‘What can he get for that?’’ 
‘‘For ten euros,’’ said Baseball Guy, ‘‘he can go fuck himself.’’ He made a gesture with his hand as if flicking a cigarette he didn’t possess at my chest or casting down from the sky a bolt of lightning, then shambled away.
‘‘Sorry to run out on you like this,’’ Haze said to me, ‘‘but something’s just come up, so I’m going to have to bring our tour to an early close.’’ 
She asked if I could lend her any cash. 
I found twenty euros. Figured she’d take five or ten and leave me the rest. But no, she took it all. 
I watched Haze walk off with my money. Then I watched her stop.
‘‘Do you want to join me?’’
The sun vanished behind clouds, only to return a second later, look around - peekaboo - and then vanish again, like a lizard emerging from its burrow in the desert, its throat the prize-thing of predators. 
Did I want to join Haze? 
‘‘Sure,’’ I said. ‘‘Sounds nice.’’
‘‘Nice,’’ Haze smirked. ‘‘All right, Dork. Follow me.’’
I followed Haze into a four-storey tenement, where we climbed a disintegrating staircase with no railing. The entire premises had been stripped bare and all the copper wiring ripped out of the walls for no-questions-asked resale. 
At the top of the stairs, Haze knocked on a reinforced door while pointing out various markings from where she said marauders had tried to break in using crowbars. A guy who for years afterwards I knew only as ‘Witching Hour’ opened up for us. I trailed Haze beyond him into a small room comprised of a sink and a single bed. 
Two figures lay sprawled on the mattress, several others on the wooden floor. Some dressed in just their underpants, though all with the same see-you-on-the-other-side expressions. 
One man wearing a collar of gold chains stood pissing in the sink. Having voided his bladder, he zipped up his flies, then, bypassing all forms of introduction, asked whether I wanted to arm-wrestle him. Before I had chance to answer, he began shooing away the men on the floor to make space for us. 
He said, ‘‘Are you prepared for me?’’  
I looked to Haze for guidance. She shook her head. I thanked the man, no. 
Unswayed, he told me it was customary for newcomers to accept his challenge. Customary or obligatory, I can’t remember which. 
So, as was customary/obligatory, I joined the man on the floor, where we locked fists. He exerted only a minimum of effort, I’m sure, because I beat him with ease. 
‘‘Well done, Haze’s new friend.’’ He spat out a piece of chewing gum into his hand then pressed it against the edge of the sink. Stuck there, the gum looked like a mouse’s brain. ‘‘Wouldyou permit me a second chance?’’ 
‘‘Leave him alone, Duke,’’ Haze told the man. 
Duke advised Haze to get out if she didn’t like how he conducted himself in his own home. 
‘‘Some fucking home,’’ Haze snorted.
Our host bristled. ‘‘Not all of us were raised with a silver spoon up the ass.’’ 
‘‘Suck my clit.’’
‘‘You’re not special around here,’’ Duke told Haze, before asking me again to give him a second chance. 
I backed down and accepted the rematch, adding some absurd declaration as regards my imminent victory. I must have sounded cocky, but really I was just nervous and hoping to impress his goons. 
Close up to him again, I observed Duke’s left eye to be bloodshot. A red mesh extended outwards from the cornea as if, legs-first, an insect was emerging from his pupil. 
He put two ashtrays on the floor, then lit two cigarettes. 
I petitioned the goons for support, and that was when I realised everyone knew what was coming but me. 
Duke spaced the ashtrays apart, shared one cigarette per ashtray. The first for me, where my hand would fall if I lost, and the second vice versa for himself. 
‘‘Don’t be a cunt,’’ Haze told him.
‘‘I’ll ask you kindly not to interrupt my concentration with obscenities.’’ 
I assured Haze everything was okay. 
‘‘Hear that, Haze? Your new friend, he’s eager sport.’’
I put my back into it, as the saying goes, though not just my back but my entire body. Regardless, a graph of my performance would have shown an uninterrupted descent towards the ashtray. 
Duke’s muscles remained taut as a bow, while mine began to slacken into rotten wood and broken filaments. Sensing my defeat, he prolonged the final moment, drawing sustenance from it, I suspect, then concentrated his grip as the cigarette burnt into my hand and killed off a layer or three of skin. 
Laughing (if boa constrictors laugh, that must be how they sound), he stood up and grabbed a kitchen knife from off the bed, then held it out to me. ‘‘If you bleed me, you can have a taste for free of what Haze has come here to buy. But if you fail, Haze’s new friend, you must undertake a forfeit of my choosing.’’ 
‘‘Duke,’’ Haze said.
‘‘Hush up,’’ came a voice from behind the two men on the bed and which I presumed also belonged to a man. But all I could see was a silhouette, and even this a remote presence, as if he’d set out on a long voyage and someone else’s shadow returned in his place.
‘‘Ah, the Leech stirs,’’ Duke said, then to me, ‘‘Take the knife.’’ 
‘‘Let it go, Duke,’’ said the guy I’d later come to know as Witching Hour. ‘‘He’s just a kid.’’
‘‘I’m nineteen,’’ I declared, which, as it turned out, was one year older than Witching Hour. 
‘‘There you are, he’s nineteen,’’ Duke holding the knife out to me.
‘‘He doesn’t want it,’’ Haze said on my behalf.
‘‘Look at the world,’’ interjected the Leech. ‘‘Think anyone cares what he does or doesn’t want?’’
‘‘Everyone just chill the fuck out,’’ said Witching Hour. ‘‘You’re trampling over my high, all of you.’’
‘‘Take the knife,’’ Duke instructed me again. ‘‘Please.’’
Without thinking, I raised my left hand. The one in which Duke had put out the cigarette, and which I observed trembling before me now as Haze grabbed the knife from Duke and threw it in the sink. 
‘‘Party pooper,’’ Duke criticised Haze while flopping onto the bed.
Haze pulled me aside. ‘‘Might be better if you leave.’’ 
I said I was fine with that but couldn’t remember the way back. Haze gave me directions to a bar, where she suggested we meet in a couple of hours. 
‘‘Don’t be mean,’’ I heard her tell the others as I left. ‘‘He’s just a bit dorky, is all.’’
The barmaid wore her hair tied back in a ponytail, exposing a pair of mangled-looking ears, as if all night she’d let a kitten nibble on them. I got a beer then waited near the jukebox for Haze to show up. 
Myself aside, the only patron was a woman dancing to synth pop. She wore a dress with a sunflower print that shone brilliant in the fluorescent light. As I passed her on my way to the toilets, she grabbed my arm and yanked me towards her and pressed her mouth to mine, her tongue parting my lips. 
I don’t know how long we stayed like that. When she pulled away, a string of saliva connected us for just a brief moment, before it broke on my chin. 
Face dishevelled behind cosmetics, the woman gave off a faint smell of sweat, as if all summer she’d fermented an intoxicating wine and was now venting its spices. I closed my eyes and swayed with the music as her hands roamed through my hair then meandered under my T-shirt, where the pulse behind my stomach wall thrummed against the callouses on her palms. ‘‘I’m a considerate lover,’’ she cooed into my ear. ‘‘Buy me a double rum, and I’ll consider fucking you in the toilets.’’ 
I figured she was joking. Besides, I didn’t have enough to buy more drinks. 
The song on the jukebox ended. Another began. Synth pop again. ‘‘This is our song,’’ the woman addressed someone in the corner of the bar. 
Only now did I register the man’s presence folded into the darkness. He answered, ‘‘It’s no song I ever heard.’’
Both of them spoke English with foreign accents but neither had the same accent. The woman sounded French, while the man...I’m not sure. 
In her French (?) accent, the woman shouted across to the man, ‘‘You used to tell me it was our song.’’ 
‘‘You’re thinking of someone else,’’ the man said. ‘‘I’ve never heard this song before. Shit, I barely even recognise you tonight. You’re not even someone I used to know.’’ 
The woman responded by jamming her hand down the front of my jeans and squeezing my balls. 
Then the man was beside me.
Two seconds later, I was on the floor. My vision all watery and blood gushing from nose into mouth. 
When I regained my senses, the pair were gone and the barmaid was helping me into the toilets to clean my face. The water burnt, and every touch forced a spasm of agony to drill into my heart. Although my vision was still out of whack, I could hear the barmaid sniggering. ‘‘Glad you find it so amusing,’’ I said. 
The barmaid shifted her hands around my nose. Informed me it was broken. Told me she could fix it. 
I asked whether she’d ever fixed a broken nose before. 
‘‘No,’’ she said, ‘‘but I’ve seen it done on TV.’’
‘‘Maybe I should, uh, you know, go to hospital or something.’’
‘‘I’m joking,’’ the barmaid said. ‘‘I box. Boxers break noses all the time. I’ve fixed three myself. All mine.’’ 
I asked if she really was a boxer, which immediately sounded like a daft question. 
‘‘This is my job, in the bar,’’ she explained. ‘‘This is how I pay rent. I box for fun.’’
‘‘Is it fun?’’
The barmaid paused (maybe she shrugged - I couldn’t see). ‘‘I like it.’’
‘‘So, is this going to hurt?’’
‘‘I imagine, yes. But doesn’t it hurt already, tough guy?’’
‘‘Fair point,’’ I conceded. ‘‘Okay...let’s just get it over with, then.’’ 
‘‘Relax, this isn’t a problem for me,’’ the barmaid said. ‘‘I tend bar. I box. And I also volunteer as a medical assistant.’’ 
Hand around the bridge of my nose, she snapped the cartilage into place. The memory of how that felt still inhabits a zone in my body, but I’ve never searched for it. 
After I’d recovered, the barmaid went into a storage room and returned holding a bucket and mop. ‘‘I’ve mended your nose,’’ she said, ‘‘so the least you can do to repay me is sort out this mess you’ve made.’’
I took the equipment and set about my task. Blood sloshed around my feet. Shocking to realise your body was filled with the stuff, how your veins circulated it to and from your heart, and your skin kept the veins in place. I imagined my veins working their way free and dangling all around the bar to form their own ecosystem. 
Task complete, I told the barmaid I’d come back tomorrow with a present to thank her. 
‘‘You mustn’t do that,’’ she said. ‘‘And I think after today, you should find someplace else to drink.’’
When Haze showed up, her eyes were different and she stared at me for a long time before asking what was wrong with my face. I told her and she chuckled, then took from her pocket a plastic bag containing pills. 
She handed me one of the pills: ‘‘Swallow this.’’
I didn’t ask what she’d wanted from those guys in the tenement. Didn’t ask about the bloodstain mushroomed across her sleeve. 
I did, however, ask about the pill. 
‘‘Codeine,’’ Haze said. ‘‘I stole them from Duke while he pissed around with the knife.’’ 
‘‘Nice one. Look what he did to my hand.’’
‘‘Don’t whine.’’
‘‘Are you saying I asked for this?’’
‘‘I wouldn’t go so far as to say you asked for it,’’ Haze told me, as we stepped outside and flagged down a bus, ‘‘but you definitely extended an invitation.’’
A few stops down the line, the driver became chatty and wanted to know what had brought Haze and me to Berlin. He seemed to assume we were a couple, and I liked that, how it made me feel part of something. 
We explained that neither of us knew for sure. Just because, Haze said. Which, actually, was the answer I’d have given, too.
The driver laughed while banging his fist against the steering wheel. ‘‘Yes, yes, yes, I love it. Tell me more.’’ 
As Haze proceeded to tell the driver more, he cut her off: 
‘‘When I was a young man, millennia ago, I motored all over the Mediterranean. This was a fabulous time for me. Whenever I got low on fuel, I pulled into a petrol station, then filled up and hauled ass without paying. Some nights I went dancing, in Athens, in Monaco, but mostly I just drove around.’’ 
After his car packed in, the driver said, he’d continued on foot. 
‘‘My age of wanderings,’’ was how he put it, before changing his mind: ‘‘No, wanderings is the wrong word. Or the right word used in the wrong context. Pilgrimages, then? Peregrinations? Convulsions?’’ 
He looked to Haze and me for suggestions. 
‘Seizures’ was the best I could offer based on my own experience. 
‘‘Seizures, yes!’’ The driver pounded the wheel again, accidentally sounding the horn. ‘‘Now I get paid to drive all night. Yes, yes, yes, I love it.’’ Once more he sounded the horn, this time on purpose. 
His laughter was so loud it drowned out all the other noise on the bus. He told us he’d need to pull over in a minute to compose himself, he was laughing so much. 
I can’t even begin to calculate how many buses I rode around Berlin during the next few years, but this wonderful lunatic was never again behind the wheel. I could have stayed on there all night, listening to him laugh and punch the horn. 
All night, or until the codeine wore off. 
Back at the Hotel Baltimore, Roar was playing ‘Chelsea Hotel #2’ again. 
You could hear it from right outside the entrance, where I was asking Haze how much she wanted for the remainder of the pills. 
I like to remember her dropping the bag into my wrecked hand and telling me: ‘‘These are on the house, Dork.’’ But if you want the truth, she charged me twice their street value.

Chris Brownsword was born in Sheffield, England. He recently completed a novel entitled Paradise Limited. He avoids social media.