From Aural Innovations #29 (October 2004)
They say that when it rains - it pours. At least that's what the local authorities would like you to believe. Especially when they haven't got a clue.
They say that thoughts fall randomly like so many raindrops from the heavens on a slumbering city. Splattering and splashing. Spinning in a frenzied dance of dampness and depression. Covering the darkened streets and alleys in a slick, shiny sheen. A sheen of warped neon images drowning in a twinkling sea of stars.
A ghostly grey mist hovers near its surface. Rising and swirling in baffled confusion as reason and logic dissipates. Transformed by the intense heat of emotion, wild jealousy, and raging passion.
A passion that masquerades as a fickle double-headed coin.
A coin minted as much in love as it is in hate.
A coin clutched in a fist, bent on revenge.
There were five of them. Cupid clones complete with short curly hair, pudgy limbs and angelic feathered wings. All of them with powerful drawn bows, taking aim, covering every possible means of escape. Instead of arrows they were armed with gigantic metal keys.
These normally amorous cherubs had adopted a defiant martial stance. Youthful hoods, once merry little men, now lurking and loitering in the cold, grim, grey forests of the Ashcroft Jungle.
I shook my head as I studied the mural painted on the side of the five-story brick building. It was sitting in the northwest corner of the outdoor parking lot along a curved alley beside the Jim Morrison Bridge off-ramp where it spills down onto Southwest Washington Street.
The mural made no sense to me at all, unless, it was placed there to strike fear into the heart of Tom Jones. But what would he be doing in Portland? At this hour? In the pouring rain?
I got out of my jalopy, slammed the door, turned up my collar, and cinched my trench coat tight. The rain was a grey stream of whistling liquid crickets. Ricocheting off the slick surface of the street with flickering eyes of neon. Bleeding into the fabric of life with stinging wet kisses. Kisses that numb and blind common sense.
I became colour blind to traffic signals. I sprinted across Southwest Second Avenue toward the Elephant Castle. I found myself playing dodgems with the late night kerb crawlers that swerved as they beat a hasty retreat, slinging sheets of spray at fleeing pedestrians from the puddles pooled under their spinning tread.
My temporary sanctuary was an inviting awning over the sidewalk. Located at the historic Waldo building. Built in 1886. Back when this was the heart of Chinatown. The building once housed the Merchant's National Bank on the ground floor. The upper floors served as the headquarters of various Chinese societies. But it was what lied beneath the facade of these humble establishments that brought a shudder - The Shanghai Tunnels.
Inside the Elephant Castle, past the bar, over by the dart boards, and right in front of the juke box - there was a trapdoor. A brick-lined cavern was located beneath it. Four tunnels joined up to it. The tunnels branched out all over Chinatown. Some running to other saloons. To underground restaurants. To opium dens. To gambling establishments. To brothels. To holding rooms. And some running down to the waterfront where the ships were anchored. Most of these tunnels are now sealed off. But it's rumoured that they once ran as far west as Twenty-third Avenue. And as far south as the Diana Ross Island Bridge.
Many places like these enlisted those unfortunate enough to be standing in the wrong place at the right time. The crimps; Bunco Kelly, Jim Turk, Larry Sullivan, the Grant brothers and others of their ilk; sold their conscripts to unscrupulous sea captains whose ships were anchored in the harbour. The Shanghaied men were kept drunk, unconscious, or near death - until the ships were well out to sea. By then it'd be too late. They'd be forced into maritime service - slaving away as able bodies seamen - on a long uncertain journey to destinations unknown.
I dashed across Southwest Washington Street past Kinko's neon sign. Open 24 hours for the wage slaves who just have to fax their asses off at all hours. It was quiet at the moment. Nobody was sitting on the copy machines like battery hens warming their brooding eggs.
The traffic signal changed. Dreary damp shops sped past on my right in a flood of afterimages. A dark preschool window. The ODS Tower. The Rock bottom Brewery. Spans of weeping red-brick and mortar. And the Yamhill Plaza.
I hung a Louie at the intersection and splashed down Southwest Tailor heading toward the waterfront. The World trade Centre blocks blew past me as I closed in on the Naito Parkway on Southwest Front Avenue.
I stopped at the crimson Cwest pay phone kiosk next to the curb by the entrance to the Upfront Bar and Grill. Cars were streaming down the parkway like frenzied metal sharks. The thought of jaywalking was nothing more than a serious death wish. So I pressed the cross walk button and waited for the signal to change.
I was relieved to see that the Portland Spirit cruise ship was still moored at the Salmon Street Dock. It was a sleek 150-foot green-and-white candy striped yacht. Dark-green bands of paint ran along the waterline, first deck, and second deck. The bridge capping the second deck was painted a solid white. An open deck ran aft of it to the fantail with chairs lining the guard rails port and starboard. A string of electric lights was strung amidships from stem to stern. Hanging like Japanese glass lanterns filled with densely packed squadrons of industrial fireflies. Fuzzy little halos dripping in the evening rain.
I glanced at my watch. Then pressed the cross walk button several more times.
The Portland Spirit was set to sail at 2300 hours. But time was running out. It was like a hot tempered dame that'd been stood up for the last time. She wasn't about to wait any longer. As time waits for no man.
I scrambled to the traffic island as soon as a break presented itself on my side of the parkway.
Mill Ends Park was resting right beside me in the middle of the cross walk. Inset in a raised section of concrete, It was almost totally obscured by vegetation. Red petunias, violets, white trumpeting flowers, and two lush palms with big yellow-and-green striped leaves. The park was nestled between two waist-high, jet-black, metal traffic stanchions that served as protection from reckless careening cars. The park was well protected by the city.
You see, this was the world's smallest city park. Twenty-four inches in diameter. About four-hundred-fifty-two square inches of land. It was also the home of Patrick O'Tool, An eccentric leprechaun that had the Mayor by the short-and-curlies. Patrick and his boys had muscled their way in right under the noses of Portland's city officials. Claiming Mills End Park as their turf, back in 1948. And nobody in their right mind would ever try to cross 'em after word spread about the St. Paddy's Day Massacre.
Tonight, I'd need all the luck I could get. I tipped the brim of my fedora, fished in my pocket for a punt, and left it sitting at the edge of the park. Then I dove for cover on the other side of the Naito Parkway.
I was now safely standing in the Governor Tom McCall Waterfront Park. It spanned more than the entire length of the Eastbank Esplanade. From the Stainless Steel Bridge all the way up to the Boardwalk at the River Place Hotel, three blocks south of the Nathaniel Hawthorne Bridge, along the Willamette River.
The Willamette River divides the east side of Portland from the west side. At one time it separated two distinctly different cities. Portland and East Portland. Back then, the Willamette River was a thriving harbour bustling with activity and excitement. With windjammers anchored in the harbour. Their crews anchored ashore in the local saloons, boarding houses, and brothels. And lumberjacks streaming down from the forests to spend their hard earned green. It was by far the liveliest port on the West Coast of North America.
You see, the river was a no-man's-land where the jurisdictions of both cities ended. Where there were no taxes. No city laws. But plenty of opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs to exploit what the area had to offer - sin and vice.
Sweet Mary operated a floating brothel from a barge that cruised up and down the Willamette River. She was one that full heartily believed in giving the customer exactly what they wanted - lively entertainment.
Others who shared Sweet Mary's work ethic and dedications to customer service relations were Liverpool Liz, Bridget Gallagher, and Nancy Boggs. All very successful business women in their own right.
Miss Boggs operated a lively whisky scow. It was a bright green, two-story house built on top of an old sawdust scow that was anchored in the middle of the Willamette River, near the Burnside Bridge. The first floor was blessed by Bacchus and consisted of a saloon and a dance hall. The second floor was blessed by Aphrodite and was filled with two dozen temptresses. Miss Boggs ensured her establishments success by hiring several boatmen-pimps to work both sides of the Willamette River. These rowing barkers plied potential customers with tales of glory and supplied access to this amazing floating amusement park. There was absolutely nothing Mickey Mouse about this operation. Miss Boggs had stocked her establishment with only the very best in booze and babes. It was a smashing success built upon the old tried and true formula - booze on the bottom and trollops on top.
The rain was starting to let up. I splashed across the soggy green grass. It sounded like yesterday's corn flakes bathed in Perrier while being eaten by SpongeBob SquarePants. Now it felt like it was raining from the ground up as my feet pounded puddles.
I was closing in on the Salmon Street Springs fountain - a computer controlled fountain with one hundred jets. Sixteen of them were located in cement blocks that ringed the circular depression in the pavement that formed the fountain's pool. These jets were aimed toward the fountain's centre to create a wall of water where the jet streams converged. Of course, the fountain wasn't turned on at the moment.
The Portland Spirit was moored on its starboard side along the sea wall just slightly east of the fountain at the adjoining public boat dock. A set of fifteen concave cement steps on the Esplanade, like tiered seats from the Roman Colosseum, flowed down to a gangplank. This sloped steeply down to a floating platform between the sea wall and the cruise ship. A hatch was located amidships on the first deck for boarding.
Two uniformed crew members were stationed on the floating platform. One Male. One female. Good cop. Bad cop. They were checking boarding tickets and passenger identification. My identification indicated that I was George Sanders.
The greeting committee gave me a curt nod and the officer in charge smiled his widest smile, "Have a pleasant voyage, George."
I smirked as I pocketed Mr. Sanders' identification.
"I'm sure I'll find it... a most... interesting experience. Any port in a storm, as they say!"
They nodded like trained egrets and eagerly ushered me on board.
The Portland Spirit boasted a seating capacity of 350 guest for its two enclosed climate-controlled decks - or 540 guests max - if you liked playing musical chairs. It also boasted a fully stocked bar. A grand piano. And a buffet.
I was in the galley, facing the buffet. It was laid out in chromium splendour housing a tempting hors d'oeuvre buffet. At the end of the buffet was a bulkhead with a metal stairwell leading up to the second deck. I chose to press on to the next level and quickly found the grand piano. A Kurzweil. And the much grander Storm Large.
I strolled over to Storm. Gave her the once over - very slowly - my eyes hugging every dangerous curve of her well sculpted six-foot frame.
She was dressed in a long, loose black dress with thin black spaghetti straps running up over her shoulders, and around her neck. They joined together in back like a two-headed snake sliding down her bare flesh in a narrow, spinal slither. Down toward the small of her back where the dress flared dramatically - a black curtain - eclipsing a provocative full Huntress Moon.
Her long blonde hair was tied back. Sparkling silver earrings dangled from her ears - framing her face. A face that conjured up images of screen sirens - Ursula Andress, Bo Derek, and Drew Barrymore - all blended together with the uninhibited bawdy mouth of Mae West. She had a body that conjured images of sultry super models. Or the morale boosting fantasy pin-up girls crewmen painted on the noses of their WWII aircraft. Yeah, she was a femme fatale that sent the heart racing and the blood boiling whenever she flashed that telepathic carnal smile.
Thick silver bracelets encircle her wrists like an amazon queen. Or H. Rider Haggard's "She-Who-Must-Be-Obeyed". With jet-black, calf-high bitch boots with thick six-inch heels that sheathed her graceful legs.
Yeah, Storm Large looked like a goddess. A goddess gone bad - A REAL FEMME FATALE. Dominate and dangerous. A siren of sin.
I just smiled as I read the bold black gothic letters tattooed across her shoulder blades - "LOVER".
Storm turned and stared back at me.
"Well, look what the cat drug in."
I drew my lips back from my teeth and snarled.
"Of all the gin joints, in all the towns, in all of Cascadia - I had to waltz in on yours!"
Her figure shifted provocatively beneath her dress as she drifted across the deck. She moved in close. Very close.
"So what brings you here? Business? Pleasure? Or are you just slumming?"
"What do you think?"
"You were frisking me pretty good with your eyes. So it couldn't be business."
I shook my head.
"You're definitely not slumming. So it must be pleasure."
"It's always a pleasure."
She held out her right hand. It hovered between us - rock steady.
I shook it.
Her fingers coiled around mine. Her grip was firm. Engulfing. Warm and electric. And it lingered with no intention of release. None at all. She was as secure and as subtle as an python swallowing a wharf rat. Apparently, Storm was taking prisoners.
"Yeah, always a pleasure."
"Then why don't you take off that stuffy raincoat..." Her fingers were untying the London Fog belt I had cinched like a rope around my waist. "...and make yourself more comfortable,"
I grimaced. "Maybe later, after I've had a few drinks, and learn how to properly dress myself."
Her left hand slid inside my trench coat and up under my right arm. Her eyes registered surprise. Her search had been in vain.
"Sorry Storm, there's no shoulder holster. No silver bullets. No easy way out, angel."
"What're you driving at."
"The limit. Or somewheres close to it."
"Fuck that. Push the limit - LIVE!
"Your credo, eh. Words to live by?"
"What about the words to die by?"
She bit her lower lip and stared that half-full-half-empty stare you see in the lonely, haunted eyes of institutionalized hard-cases.
"I heard you crashed a wedding."
"You know the one. You didn't exactly jump outta the cake wearing nothing but icing and a couple of cold, crisp, maraschino cherries for pasties, did you? You had an equalizer."
Storm remained silent. After all, it was her right.
"Yeah, that wedding where the reception was held at the city morgue. Where they sleep the Big Sleep."
Storm took a deep breath. "What would make you think-"
"A telltale clue. A very interesting calling card left at the scene."
"What kind of card?"
"About the size of a business card. Blank on one side. With a message printed on the other side. Printed at Kinko's. And it clearly fingers you."
She tensed, and her nostrils flared - it dawned on her that her past tense had caught up with her. She was the type of dame that didn't like to be fingered - unless it was on her own terms. I removed my notepad and recited the message from the card.
SWIMMING BENEATH SATIN SHEETS
MORE THAN JUST DESERTS!"
Storm squirmed, flushed, and giggled. "Jeeze, Poetry. How sweet. But, aren't you forgetting something, Georgie?"
"No. I think that about covers it."
"Where's the nylons, chocolates, and handcuffs, sailor?
"Left 'em in my black-silk top hat... with Harvey."
"No, the rabbit Jimmy Stewart used to drink with."
She narrowed her eyes. "You did come alone, didn't you?"
"You meeting anyone?"
"Not that I'm aware of."
"GOOD! So, you're just here-"
"Out of curiosity. I've always wondered what they served on these fancy canoes." I hitched my thumb over my shoulder, pointing toward the bar, like I was hoping to catch a lift.
Storm relaxed. "Don't make yourself a stranger, baby. Sit close to the stage - not back in the shadows. Sit right down front."
She grinned from golden ear to golden ear as she shifted her curves. "Where you can get an eyeful - up close. I've got nothing to hide."
"Yeah, I can see that."
I tipped the brim of my fedora, excused myself, and strolled over to the bar. I exchanged a fresh, crisp, green Lemmy for a pint of Black Butte and a few silver sex pistols. The shiny coins jingled viciously in my hand as I weighed my options before heading back to the tables.
I selected an empty table. It had four chairs around it. And a tablecloth pinned down by a flickering votive candle that was sprinkling shards of mottled offertory ambience all over it. The table was located diagonally from the one closest to Storm's microphone stand on the stage. It was on the port side and slightly aft - close to the bar. It wasn't a ringside seat, but it was still somewhat close. It provided a clear view of Storm, the bar, the exits, and also provided some cover. It was a compromise.
It was now 2315. The rain had stopped. The scenery was slowly crawling past the windows like a gigantic, washed-out, luminous Cascadian slug. Portland's city lights twinkled in the murky urban landscape like stars in stir - doing time for the Big Bang. The lampposts along the bridges and esplanades reflected in the Willamette River. Rippling in and out of existence. As calm and as soothing as a tired, old, lazy wino drifting off to sleep.
The passengers were liberally lubricated with spirits and getting righteously wrecked. They were an eclectic cross section of humanity comprised of singles; couples; threesomes a crowd; hipsters; harlots; lookeloos and various meandering persuasions that could only be determined by the roll of a die or the garnish wedged on the rim of their cocktail glasses. Many of the passengers had frugally primed themselves well before arriving for the cruise. They were more than just ready to have a good time. They were willing!
The Portland Spirit made a smooth wide arc as it veered into the middle of the channel. Setting a course - North by Northwest.
We passed under the Jim Morrison Bridge and made the approach to the Burnside Bridge. The neon scaffolding of the flying White Stag and the shimmering Oregon territory map was extinguished on top of the old Multnomah Hirsch Building, which was highly unusual and somewhat ominous. The big, black, wooden water tower standing next to it was also a no glow. The "OLD TOWN" sign was totally dark. They were just stark silhouettes on the western skyline perched in front of four bright shafts of light. Four roving searchlight beams that silently scoured the evening sky in erratic figure eight patterns. There were no sirens wailing. No barrage balloons tethered to the rooftops. And no Blitz - Motorhead hadn't arrived.
The ship's captain stepped up to the mic to make an announcement. He was tall, dark, and handsome. Very dashing in his captain's uniform. Around thirty. Clean-shaven. And had a charming, if somewhat rakish smile. He gave us a brief itinerary of the voyage and a few general words of safety. We were told how many safety jackets were on board - 600. We were told our destination - Sawnsong Island. We were told that we would then make our journey back to the Salmon street Fountain and disembark.
I reached into my trench coat and removed my silver cigarette case.
We were then informed that there was no smoking within the confines of the inner levels. Someone had obviously failed to relay this fact to the votive candles camped out on the posh tablecloths. Their flames of eternal life were busily burning the midnight oil. Flickering passively behind their glass containers sporting raised diamond patterns and deep grooves. Creating an atmosphere of intimacy, romance, and passion.
Apparently, this was perfectly acceptable. While consummating the act with a smoke was not.
I reassessed Storm's lethal legs. They were long and shapely. Running all the way up to your eyes if you were seated. They could easily dwarf them entirely - if you happened to be a cunning runt. An extra on the set of the Wizard of Oz. Or an amorous Time Bandit.
Perhaps the captain's policy about smoking was a sound one. My insurance policy didn't cover acts of God. Let alone goddesses with dominate streaks. I didn't want to find myself after the fadeout in a hospital bed, in traction, sharing a smoke with Storm. Listening to her purr in a breathy Marlene Dietrich accent, "So, how vas it for you, Leibchen?"
I pocketed my cigarette case. Out of sight. out of mind. Besides, I didn't want the Hays Office breathing down my neck.
The captain introduced Storm and the Balls. He gave them a big build up. He made them out to be the next best thing since the second coming of Elvis. Then he left the stage.
Storm and her entourage were seated at the four tables just aft of the stage over on the starboard side of the lounge. There were a few friends and hangers on sitting with the band. The table was littered with cocktail glasses. A couple of dames straight outta Hotties-R-Us were hoisting cocktails up to their thirsting lips. They were dressed cooly in the barest of fashion - short skirts and blouses with low, plunging necklines - flashing plenty of flesh. Just enough to cover what the market would bare. I had a hunch they might be friends of Mr. Nipples. Or Neophytes of Storm large.
The band got up from their seats and took up positions on the stage. Jimmy Jamms Beaton sat at the grand piano standing at the forward-starboard corner of the stage. Davey Nipples sat on a stool at the forward-port corner of the stage hunched over his bass and leaning into the centre isle. Storm was standing at the microphone stand located at the aft-port corner of the stage that was open to the centre isle and front tables. Brian Parnell was sitting at his drum kit directly behind Storm and just in front of the starboard observation windows.
The waterfront and city lights scrolled slowly from left to right, like a lumbering back projected Cinemascope landscape flickering on a gigantic Omnimax screen, behind Storm and the Balls.
Storm's sensuous moist rose-red lips parted as "Cocaine" laced lyrics embraced the Ball's super-freak-beat score and flooded the enclosed space with ravenous relentless rhythm.
The seduction of the audience was in full flower.
The Balls were not in the spotlight. They were positioned around Storm. Lurking out in the darker regions of the stage. Discharging their high voltage energy. Exquisite music blending with a spectacular voice. Jointly breathing life into the empty void of space.
The observation windows darkened slightly as the Portland Spirit cruised under the Stainless Steel Bridge and its metal gratings glided silently overhead. Its concrete supports sailed alongside the ship like blinders shielding the eyes of an old nag from city traffic.
Grain elevators and gigantic white cylinders - storage bins - came into view on the eastbank of the Willamette River. There were cranes and long arteries of piping weaving their way from storage bins to docks. Cascadian Pacific Railroad tracks separated the storage bins from the docks where trains, grain barges and cargo ships came to load or unload their wheat.
We were cruising downriver into the industrial area of Noir City. Where the scenery changed from tall buildings, office lights, and posh marina housing to railways, piers, terminals, and shipyards.
Storm and the Balls were playing a song that reminded me of Van Morrison blended with something by Ministry. I couldn't place the verse, but the chorus was definitely "Moondance".
Storm straddled the microphone stand. Clutching the microphone with both hands. Sliding the stand between her legs as her hands stroked the shaft in a smooth rhythmic caress. Her voice moaned passionately, "Fuck... fuck... fuck." Then she suddenly arched, threw back her head, and let out a loud screech. She had the audience in the palm of her hands. They were all eyes. All ears. And all riveted to her ribald act.
Storm stepped off the stage.
"I don't want to be President. Not that burning bush stuff." She stretched her arms out wide. "Or thunder with a blinding flash of lightning. Demanding obedience and threatening everyone with death and destruction." She shook her head. "No. I just want to be - EMPEROR - OF THE WORLD!"
Storm swayed back and forth, snapping her fingers, and got into a focused groove. Moving gracefully between the stage and tables down front. Storm was singing an appropriate P.J. Harvey song - "50 Foot Queenie".
When the song ended, Storm gazed out over the audience.
"You guys seem kinda... mellow. We'll turn up the heat... a little."
The Balls launched into a sizzling lounge version of Van Halen's "Running With The Devil". The temperature increased significantly as this classic rocker got a strong dose of Storm's steamy vocals.
Enthusiastic cheers and applause followed as the song wound down to its last few notes.
Storm smiled, "It's nice to know you're loved."
"I got a love letter the other day... from an admirer.
Storm nodded her head as the audience voiced their keen interest in her personal affairs..
"Oh, and he's suck a catch. A really keeper."
She rolled her eyes.
"He's serving time in the BIG HOUSE.
The audience chuckled.
"He can't wait to get out... and get me in bed-"
A loud voice interrupted her.
"I'll shag you."
Storm spins her head, her eyes wide, and her mouth gaping.
The room erupted in laughter.
Storm flashes a naughty smile and struts across the stage. She throws her arm up across her forehead in a dramatic diva pose.
"I vant to be alone."
The audience cheered.
Her eyes glance back and forth like ricocheting bullets.
"Do you vant me to sing?"
"Do you, REALLY, vant me to sing?"
"Then tell me to... Sing, Bitch."
The crowd roared as one big, booming voice.
"Okay, I'll sing."
The Balls play "Tainted Love". Storm slinks around the stage. Wiggling her hips and waving her arms gracefully around her dangerous curves. Occasionally jerking and thrusting her body to emphasize the various nuances of the words she is singing.
I drained my drink, sat the glass down on the left side of the table, and gave the joint a good quint. There were plenty of dames in the room. In fact, they out numbered the gents. I reckoned it was a 60-30 mix. The other 10 percent were wild cards. loose cannons. I wasn't sure, so I didn't ask. And they didn't tell. For all I knew, they could be fifth columnists out on the town for a reconnaissance killjoy ride.
Storm started to sing the "Star-Spangled Banner". But the balls were playing Curtis Mayfield's "SUPERFLY". Their performance of this song sometimes meandered into the realm of the KINK's "Paranoia".
The audience went wild. There were whoops, cheers, and political exclamations. But above all, there was riotous laughter. As Cascadians loved to thumb their noses at their former country, whenever possible.
A coloured cocktail waitress removed the empty pint glass from my table, placed it on her tray, and gave me a quizzical look.
"Yeah, just dandy."
She started to make a move around to the table to my right.
"On second thought," I rasped, "I'll have another of the same, Black Butte."
She tilted her head my direction and flashed a friendly smile.
"What was that?"
"Oh. Okay." She vanished for a few minutes.
When she returned with the dark pint glass, she sat in down in front of me, and started fishing in her change apron. I pealed a fin from my money clip and handed it over.
She did a double take. Then quickly potted the Lemmy in her side pocket.
"Sure." I raised my glass in salute and she was off to another table faster than you could say lickety-split.
I was beginning to wonder if the ship's passengers were posing as cheapskates. Scrooge. Or just saving their legal tender for more drinks, mental lubrication, or after cruise g-string laundry receipts for the sunset strippers.
I was pretty sure that Aziza, belly dancer of the Universe, wouldn't be making an appearance between sets to shimmy like Jell-o, and carom her hips off unsuspecting tables and innocent bystanders. She was like a wanton pinball in full play, after Storm utters those magic words - "Dance, BITCH!".
Aziza was a dark-haired beauty whose act consisted of sensual, erotic dance. Balancing candles and glasses of water on her head. And smiling engagingly, with amusement, at all the mortal eyes transfixed and hypnotised by her amazing - perpetual motion - body control. Captivated by her chest thrusts, belly rolls, and provocative hip shakes. Yeah, she was Jell-o moulded into voluptuous human form, decked out in Russian Gypsy camp splendour and Arabian Nights finery. Brass finger symbols jangled and silk veils swirled as she was and release from the magic lamp to cast her spells of enchantment.
The sounds of a Pixies song filtered into my thoughts. The Balls were playing "Where Is My Mind." And Storm was singing in a voice that was so beautiful, and yet, somehow haunting and depressing at the same time. But these thoughts soon dissipated.
I was distracted by something moving in the shadows. Something moving in the background. A dark vessel crept slowly past the starboard observation windows behind Storm's impressive figure. It looked ominous. Desolate. And somehow, out of place, as far as lounge decor goes. It was a haze-grey behemoth slumbering in the murky shadows of its berth in the Swansong Island Shipyard. There were three replenishment stations to port and four to starboard - rising from its deck like industrial octopus limbs.
Two dockside cranes loitered over the ship trailing strings of feeble electric lights. They attempted to impersonate old wharf lampposts, but instead, painted a much more sinister scene - in an unearthly aura of lost souls. Wasting away.
A single superstructure block stood at the aft end of the ship. It was maybe five or six-stories tall and incorporated the bridge. A large helicopter landing pad was located behind it.
The ship's hull number was 187. It was an oiler. The USNS Henry J. Kaiser. About 675-feet long. Had a maximum cruising speed of 20 knots. And carried mainly a cargo of aviation fuel. 180,000 barrels of it, to be exact. These Kaiser-class ships were commissioned to replace the 1940's war-built Ashtabula-class oilers.
I had no idea what it was doing here in Cascadia. As far as I knew, it was homeported in Diego Garcia. Out in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Yeah, there's something heavy going down. There's more to this than meets the FBI. Maybe there was something to those rumours about Alaska. About America's growing concern that it might be the next one of their states to defect to Cascadia. And oil was something that the Americans loved to fight over. Whether it was theirs or not.
Storm's hands glided over her chest. She gazed down, with an expression of total awe. Cupping her breasts. And shamelessly adjusts them. Shifting them here. Shifting them there. And watching the faces of the people sitting near her in the audience, out of the corner of her eye. With a mischievous smile. She was singing a slow torch song. I didn't recognize it. Then again it's sometimes hard to pin these things down exactly when they mix and match the words and music the way they do.
A rumbustious rumbafied version of Black Sabbath's "NIB" transformed into a moving love ballad as the Portland Spirit made a slow, wide turn in the channel. The ship was altering its course. Heading south for the return voyage back to the dock at Tom McCall Waterfront Park.
Storm announced that the Balls would play one more song before taking a brief break. She encouraged everyone to visit the bar and the buffet. And reassured everyone that the Balls would return to the stage in a few minutes to perform a second set.
Then the room filled with the music of the set's final song. "Hopelessly Devoted To You." But instead of the warm, heartfelt delivery Olivia Newton-John gave as she poured her heart out over a broken love affair, we experienced an intense, raging Storm. Storm was sprawled on the stage floor, spread-eagle, cradling a hatchet. She had a wild, demented, far away look in her eyes. Intense. Penetrating. And unpredictable.
I didn't like the way she was looking at me. She was tapping the sharp edge of the blade into the stage. Harder and harder. Singing each line with increasing passion. driving herself higher and higher to the peak of an emotional crescendo.
There was a clear path from the business end of her hatchet all the way to the far end of my table. The end I was sitting at. I slowly pushed my chair away from the table and firmly gripped its round edges. Ready to pitch it over and duck for cover. The song and set were coming to an end. Soon it would be time for action.
They say that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. All summed up in a condensed, action packed, kiss-and-tell trailer - privately screened in that little cineplex known as your mind's eye.
The coming attractions featured a blonde. A blonde amazon torch singer. A vengeful untamed goddess. A goddess that firmly believed that it's not over - until the femme fatale sings.
Surely, there must be more to life than this. But at the moment, I was hard pressed to think of anything else. Storm had my full, and hopefully, undivided attention. The whole shebang.