Campfire in a Claw Foot Tub

the town of Bisbee, at night, lit up like a Christmas Tree, almost literally

Photograph by Kevin Dooley

By

It had been made very clear that smoking was not permitted at the historic Copper Queen Hotel.

I had also, however, both heard of and smelled for myself the distinct aroma of a fine cigar being enjoyed outside of my room’s door upon arrival, which allegedly was part of a continuing haunting to which the hotel laid claim. Apparently an old man liked to enjoy cigars as a permanent and undead resident of this fine establishment, which dates back to the year 1902. It was due to this prevalent tale and the fact that the smell of smoke was already present in the hotel, accentuated by the portions of whiskey I was displacing from the bottle on the floor into my very own stomach, that lead me to add smoking in a non-smoking room to the list of charges which would no doubt be one day presented against me in some future court of law.

I had come to town on foot only days earlier. While I typically enjoyed traveling via my woody—a 1983 Jeep Grand Wagoneer—where I could easily sleep nights for free in the back and drive in simulated woodgrain style during my days. Alas, Woodrow had fallen ill multiple times in the previous month and my cash supply could easily be called a shortage, so I made the three day hitchhiker’s trek from Tucson without her in hopes to find some peace, quiet and reassess how I was going to earn enough of a living to get her and I back on and continuing down the road we so loved to call home.

Sore feet and just over two hundred dollars in my pocket, I fell down the side of Tombstone Canyon Road like a lemming off a cliff, no idea what lie in store but certain of my route. I keep a clean shave and relatively unsoiled clothing, which gives me an advantage in the civilized world but at times can also make it difficult to fit in with my fellow homeless ramblers. These days, families and businessmen and young entrepreneurs everywhere are traveling full-time, the stigma that being a hobo is for dirty old men with matted beards and mental health issues has begun to fade, but I am of an older school mindset. I do this by necessity, not by choice. That’s not to say that I couldn’t own a home if I wanted to, I make decent money when I bother to work. The necessity is the blood that my father put into my bones. I’m stricken with wanderlust and in my twenty two years of roaming this Earth I haven’t been able to shake it.

I ducked immediately into the bar below the Bisbee Grand Hotel. Yes, a beer would be nice, but it was the pool table I was interested in. I was no hustler, but I could hold my own in an eight ball shootout and have learned to look for the cocky young guys who aren’t any better than me but willing to up the ante.

“Let me have a hef, whatever you got,” my words accompanied by a five dollar bill, the bartender looks up from her phone and nods. She slow motions her five foot, 150 pound frame to the other end of the bar.

“Shock Top or we’ve got our local Belgian Whitbier,” glass in hand and ready to pour.

“Yeah I’ll try the local one.” She aims the glass, opens the tap. I turn around to catch the couple playing pool already. An old Mexican man looks asleep sitting up at the bar two seats down. A large congregation of forty-somethings gathers around a large round table in the front window, laughing and discussing local politics and the state of the school system and how they should really all get together for a trip to some Mexican town I didn’t catch the name of, something about cheap dentistry and tequila all in one go.

“Five dollars,” the bartender slides my drink over and I hand her the likeness of Abraham Lincoln I’d been folding over and in on itself while I waited. I tried to push the annoyance vibrating through my brain at the cost of beers these days. As life goes on, I think to myself, digging for another dollar from my pocket for her tip, life requires giving away more and more dollars, but doesn’t seem to be willing to give back as many in return. I produce two more one dollar bills.

“Can I get quarters for one of these?”

“You sure can,” and with the press of a button and two flicks of her wrist she’s placed my dollar into the drawer and four quarters back onto the bar.

The couple playing pool is young, and she is quite cute. Can’t speak for the gentleman, but he’s wearing all black, too big clothes, with some type of lightning bolt eagle shiny silver decal on it. He’s white, and yes, I stereotype, but I call it using common sense until you can determine otherwise. So at first glance I sum him up to be a young white guy who wishes he was something else, though were he, he might regret having been given the free wish. She seems to be having a blast with him, though, smiling and asking him questions about the game.

“Can I play off your ball here?” she asks, he looks at the table.

“No, well, sure go ahead. But you’re not supposed to hit any of my balls until you’ve first hit your own with the cueball.”

“I want to go by the rules!” She leans down, looks up. “Don’t go easy on me!”

“Hold on,” he leans over from behind her, adjusting her fingers on the cue, pulling her waist back a little to give her a better angle on the ball. She pushes back even further, her dark blue jeans into his stomach.

“Okay,” he continues to hold her by the waist as she takes her shot. The ball goes nowhere, bounces off of two rails and manages to come in contact with absolutely nothing else before falling into the pocket. I put my quarters on the table.

“Next game?” I ask him.

He looks over at me in disappointment. “We’re just having some fun, man, you can have the table when we’re done here.” She looks up at him, if a look could be called “shooting a glance” then she’s packing a six shooter.

“Go ahead and play him, baby,” she pulls out from his grip and looks my way. “Otherwise we’ll be here all day.”

She puts my quarters into the table to retrieve the few balls that had been sunk. We play a game and he’s good enough, after the break he gets six of his seven in plus two of mine in the aftermath of his five shots. He misses his sixth and it’s my turn. I sink one, then scratch. He puts his last ball in and misses the eight. I drop two more and it’s his go again. She finishes the game and shakes my hand.

“Nice game, old man,” he smiles as he grips as tightly as he can. Why these youngsters feel like they need to squeeze the fingers off your hand I’ll never know, but I return the gesture and after what I would consider too long a hold, he finally lets off the posturing.

“I’m going out for a smoke,” she says, “but you guys play another round baby, and we’ll catch up in a minute.” He looks like he wants to protest but she casts an obvious wink his way.

“Alright then, buddy,” he turns back my way, “how about this one for a twenty?” I reach into my pocket and pull out a twenty and a one, look at the two bills as though they’re my last in the world.

“Hey,” she shouts from the front door, “he just got lucky!”

“Alright, I’ll play you,” but I propose, “but how about for just ten?”

“Okay—” he begins.

“Nah, I guess twenty works, might as well go big if you’re gonna go, right?” I rack the table while he orders a Miller Light. She’s laughing through some older bikers’ tales through the front window, occasionally looking in, but at me, not him.

He comes back with his glass full of yellow and takes a sip, without saying a word or acknowledging me at all, and thunders through the break. Nothing drops, though. I sink the twelve, the nine, the ten. I put the fourteen down but can’t keep his two from following. Then I drop the thirteen but scratch.

He nods his head a little and puts down what’s left of his beer. Chewing on his lip he looks out the window at the girl, still chatting and laughing with those two biker guys. He sinks his three and scratches on the next. She comes back through the front door and makes her way to lean up against him. “See,” she looks to me, “you might have a chance this time.” She whispers something in his ear and then slaps his ass. He looks at her sternly, a little embarrassed.

I finish the game in my next few shots. He reluctantly pulls out his wallet and hands me three fives and the rest in dollars. No hand shaking this time around.

“So let’s get out of here,” he says to her.

“Aw, don’t get mad just ’cause he won, baby.” She takes his stick. “I want to play again.”

“Tables his, Faye,” he leans his cue against the table.

“I know,” she grabs the stick from its resting place, “wanna play me hustler?”

“Sure, but I’m no hustler.” I then proceed to put my winnings into my back pocket with the rest of my life savings.

“Not so fast, if we’re gonna play, I want to try to win our money back,” her man shakes his head and makes his way to the bar.

“Okay, what are you thinking? Twenty again?” I have absolutely no qualms about adding to my pocket from the innocence of women. Equal rights and all.

“Let’s just call it forty, I want to have fun tonight!” I smile and nod. The break shatters perfectly, I sink the thirteen and the seven.

“High ball,” I call and finish off two more before I miss my shot and hand the table over to her.

She lines up, drops the six off the five, which then taps one bank and finds itself in a side pocket. Her second shot relieves the the three from its duties. Next she puts away her one and my eleven. Shot after shot she sinks something, until the cue ball comes to rest an inch away from the eight, perfectly lined up with the corner pocket closest to the door. I get my money back out, it’s not mine anymore. She finishes the came with perfect grace, leaning far over the table, her stomach peeking out slightly beneath her long sleeve white top, an inch of flesh showing between that garment and dark brown corduroy pants.

“I see sharks can live in the desert these days,” I tell her as I put the three fives and five ones her man had just handed me, plus a twenty of my own.

“Hey, no wining allowed here in Bisbee,” she says, “Let me buy you a beer and no hard feelings.”

It’s hard not to smile when a pretty girl ten years younger than you offers to buy you a beverage. “Alright then, sure.” I lean my stick against the wall column that separates the bar from this upper lounge area. The bikers she’d been talking to earlier had come in to watch the game and asked if she wanted to play one of them next game.

“Nah, you two have at it,” she rolled her cue across the table’s velvet. “We were just leaving.”

I look at her, it’s one thing to lose twenty bucks in exchange for a free drink, but I’m not interested in fisticuffs with her boyfriend. “Don’t worry,” she says, walking up to the guy she’d been playing with when I arrived. She taps him on the shoulder, “Hey, it was real nice meeting you, baby. I’ve got to go though.”

He looks over at me, back to her. “Alright, yeah.”

“He’s not my boyfriend, you can relax,” she opens the door for me. I walk through and we’re on our way down the street.

“So where you from?” producing a cigarette from a metal case that had been hanging from her back pocket.

“Nowhere all that particular, was last just up in Tucson but I can only take so much of that city.” I pull my own cigarettes from my vest pocket. A rollie, she looks at it.

“So are you poor or just have a death wish?”

“Little forward, huh?” I light my cigarette, the smoke pulls through the paper and over the tobacco, never cleansed or tainted, however you look at it, by a filter.

“Life’s too short and all, right?”

I just smile and we duck into an alley and begin heading up one of Bisbee’s many hilly roads. “Wait a minute,” opening a gate and stepping into the small front yard of a little blue house looking barely large enough to hold a bed and a refrigerator. She walks onto the porch, looks through a window and begins to open the door.

“What about that drink?”

She puts her finger to her mouth and slides inside. Looking up and down the road, I stub my cigarette out and step to the other side of the street, pretending to be reading some historic plaque that’s lying on the ground alongside an old television and a tractor tire. What was going through my head? I guess I should have been wondering what she was doing, why the hush hush, where I was going to make a few bucks now that I was down twenty and didn’t want to try my luck at losing more in future pool games with local hustlers. But instead I was just peeking over my shoulder, hoping she’d come back out.

And then she did. Long brown hair that was only a shade darker than her desert skin just barely missing the screen door as it slammed shut behind her. She swung through the gate and headed further up the hill.

“Coming?”

I rushed up from behind to meet her. “Let’s grab those beers,” she rubbed my back a little. I was obviously a fool, this girl was up to something and given that she’d already taken my money as easily as a preschool kid catches a cold, I was likely the end game’s victim. She was clearly made for this life, a stomach small enough to fit in a pint glass, with champagne breasts, baby making hips and a smile that showed more bright white teeth than a celebrity gossip magazine. If I woke up penniless in a gutter somewhere, at least it would likely mean I had the chance to spend the evening with her, so I guess that was worth my remaining $178.

We ducked into the Copper Queen Hotel, “Wait at the bar, I’ll be a second.” She walked in through the front doors, I saw her hand something to the guy working the desk, though I couldn’t see his face, and I crossed the brick terrace that lead to the dark black, heavy wooden doors serving as gateway to refreshments in a historic setting.

I sat at the corner end of the chunky oak bar, a hundred years, I assumed, worth of names, slurs and hearts carved into it.

“What can I get ya?” a busty, curly blonde woman behind the bar asked.

“I’ll have—” My new friend came through back door that lead from the hotel into the bar.

“Two red heads, Tammy, and I’ll take a Yuengling, plus whatever he’s having.” Tammy, the bartender, looked at me, back at her and went to work making the shots.

“So, we haven’t done the name exchange game yet have we?” she asks as she pulls a barstool closer to mine that it had naturally sat and pulled her cigarette tin from her back pocket, placing it on the bar as she sat down.

“Anderson,” I tell her. Our shots arrive. “Faye, right?”

She nods. “Cheers then Anderson,” we clink shot glasses and remove the red liquid from glass to gut. It goes down like Robitussin.

Our beers arrive and we make our way to the porch. She rocks on her chair where the four legs can’t seem to find even footing on the brick porch, her feet playing a game of no-inhibitions, all exhibition footsies with me. We discuss the term “footsy” and whether it’s appropriate for a grown man to use such a cute sounding word. She tells me about a My Little Pony collection she had when she was young. I keep the conversation focused on her, happy to hear her back story, happy to watch her lips move, hesitant to give her any information about myself that might expedite her getting another one over on me. A few hours go by. Nearly everyone who walks into the bar that isn’t wearing the Hawaiian shirt and wide brimmed straw hat of a tourist says, “Hey Faye,” but no one tries to join us. The guy she’d been shooting pool with previously shows up, doesn’t say a word and heads into the bar. I catch him looking out between the flyers on the window at us now and then. She sees me seeing him.

“Let’s head up to our room,” she swallows what’s left of her beer and takes me by the hand.

Ah, so this is it, I think. She’s expecting a room out of me now. I had bought our last three rounds without a protest from her. “I doubt I have enough cash for a room at this place,” I assure her in a way that I hope will state clearly, “No can do,” while simultaneously not sending her back inside to meet up with her former fellow.

“I’ve got it covered,” she pulls me in through the establishment’s doors and leans up against the bar next to the guy in the oversized black outfit. “What’s the total, Tammy?”

“He already paid for ya, Faye. You’re all set.” She looks at me, then drops a twenty in the tip jar. The bartender looks at her. Faye points to a bottle of Wild Turkey that’s just over half full. Tammy slips it into a black canvas bag. “Make sure I get that back.”

“Of course,” my new lady friend takes the bag over her shoulder and pulls at my hand again. We walk through the lobby, no one is at the front desk. She leads me up the stairs, through another lounge area, and back a hallway. “Welcome home.”

Digging a key out of her back pocket, the door opens as though we’re meant to be here. The room is certainly grand, an oversized bed, a mirror leaning against the wall from its home atop an old, ornate dresser. The bottle is open before the lights come on. She leads me into the bathroom where a clawfoot tub is fast asleep on the far end.

“Open that window, I hate steam.” She turns only the hot water nozzle and, handing me the bottle, removes her shirt and slips out of the rest of her clothes like a handkerchief thrown from the top of a ferris wheel. “What?” she looks at my surprise. I shake my head a little, taking my first share of the Wild Turkey. It burns on the way down but I wouldn’t have even noticed. She is gorgeous all the way into the hot water.

“You looked like you could use a bath is all? And we’ve got to conserve water here in Cochise County.”

“Well, if it’s for the environment and all.” I light a candle sitting on a small shelf above the sink and close the door. The sound of some country twanger busking in the street below muffled seeps in through the open window.

We spend the rest of the night letting the water cool down, smoking cigarettes, increasing the amount of clear that can be seen through our bottle. It’s a tight fit in the tub. It’s a good time, I think to myself. I don’t say a whole lot though, even as I get drunker and want to, I remember my plan. Keep it simple, let her talk, make it last. Something’s going to happen.

“I’ve already taken everything I’m going to from you,” she said. “Anyway, I was planning on spending that forty on our bar tab, you’re the one who went ahead and paid it up.”

“No, no,” I push myself up in the bath to a more properly postured position. “It’s not that, I don’t know. It’s good, that’s all.”

“Well don’t go falling in love or anything,” she lights another cigarette, the water on her hands making it hard to smoke, and sets it in a dish on the sink. “To make it up to me though, how about a foot rub?”

She falls asleep while I’m rubbing her feet. Of course I want to have sex with her, but I’m genuinely enjoying the entire experience. I’ve never been one to rush anything, and watching her sleep is the best thing I’ve seen on TV all year.

I take another pull from the bottle and try and lean up without waking her to hit her cigarette. It takes a few puffs to get it going again. I put it back where I found it, unaware that the dish she’d originally set the thing in was filled with potpourri. I fall asleep, very drunk.

When I wake up she’s on top of me. We’re making love. I’m completely wasted. “Dammit,” I think to myself, foiled by alcohol again. I probably won’t even remember this, I think to myself. Or so I thought I was thinking to myself.

“You’d better remember it.” She’s like a dolphin rising up and out of the water, back into it, over and over again. It takes me a moment to see the fire. The smell of burning cedar and cinnamon permeates the air, I swear I can see miniature cowboys roasting beans around it. My attention turns back to her. She reminds me of those Dove commercials where they show liquid milk chocolate pouring slow motion into a larger vat of the same. We both finish, it’s over, we fall asleep again.

I wake to someone pounding on the door, coughing, there’s smoke all through the room. She’s gone. My clothes are still in a pile on the floor. The fire hasn’t spread from it’s ornamental dish, but smoke is certainly everywhere. I swing the bathroom door open, but she’s not in the bedroom either. The pounding on the door begins to be replaced by the jangle of keys. I duck back into the bathroom and pull up my pants, grab my shirt, look out the window. We’re a couple of stories up, it’s hard to tell how many given the hills and smoke and I’m still pretty intoxicated. I see a ledge below the window to the bedroom. Quickly patting my pockets to make sure I have my wallet and the keys to Woodrow I run for the bedroom window, it’s heavy and doesn’t stay open on it’s own. I look back as the door opens and I see a man wide eyed and waving the smoke out of his face. I jump, completely overshooting the ledge and falling hard on my right leg before sort of “smooshing” into the pavement below. Maybe it’s the whiskey, but it doesn’t hurt much. I can’t be sure if he saw my face, but I don’t look back up at the window again and bolt into the street, down through the park. The sun is rising.

Two blocks and around the corner of the only coffee shop in town I finally stop running. Checking my pockets, there’s still money in there. I don’t think much of why she would have left with the room still slightly on fire, I count the crumpled bills, it’s all there. My cigarettes, my lighter. She didn’t take anything. I just shake my head and look up. A guy is loading the bed of an old white pickup truck with shovels and cement from a larger truck parked next to it.

“Headed to work?” I ask him. He doesn’t look all that friendly, but I’m still running on last night’s buzz, I guess.

“Yep,” he throws a final shovel into the bed of the truck.

“Need some help?” I ask. I could use a few bucks, and my hangover shouldn’t settle in for another few hours.

“Get in,” he motions to the passenger side door and loads himself into the other side. Taking a step I can feel the pain in my leg. It’s going to be a rough one, but I manage through laying a morning’s worth of concrete back some desert road a few miles south of town. Hard labor comes significantly easier to me when I’ve got a head full of wondering what happened last night.

Photograph by Kevin Dooley