Brave Captain Harvey-It’s All About the Money Part 1
Friday. The day I have off of work and to myself, the day countless New Orleanians leave for lunch and don’t come back. It’s oyster day, fish day, shrimp day. It’s the day Happy Hour starts at 10 a.m. and the streets are clogged with impatient citizens hell-bent on appreciation of life’s routine escapes. I had various destinations in mind while walking down Magazine Street, a small cluster of errands to do in no particular order. I was about to spend my last twenty dollars on small necessities a week before payday, so my pace was slow. It was round about four, and across the street at the check cashing joint the tanned, sweaty line was just beginning to form. A block down I passed the doorway of Brothers Three Lounge, a dark rectangle carved into bright gold brick. Country music echoed from deep inside overtop the small chinks of change being counted. Before I’d gotten out of earshot I heard a familiar yell, a yell still strong for all its exercise either giving orders or shouting out stories. Brave Captain Harvey’s yell.
I hesitated, as I always do when someone calls my name, never having developed that cool cat method of ignoring everyone at your back and forcing them to catch up. I knew it was already too late, but I tried to take another step forward and tip my head down. I heard my name again, this time closer to the threshold, his voice chasing me. I turned my head and looked over my shoulder. Harvey’s hands gripped the jambs and he pushed his head out into daylight reluctantly. His red bandana was drawn tight across his scalp and held tight with a soggy knot. A cigarette squatted in the corner of his mouth.
“Didn’t you hear me?”
“I heard something.”
“Are you saying I don’t enunciate?”
“I’m saying they got Patsy Cline turned up so high in there cats three blocks away are in heat.”
Harvey looked me up and down. “You ain’t started drinking yet?”
“I’m fucking broke.”
“Come in here. I’ll vouch for you. Joe will run you up a tab.”
“What do I need for collateral?” I asked.
“You’re a clean cut kid with his whole life ahead of him. It’ll be an extreme change of pace for Joe.”
I took a step towards Harvey, reached out and shook his hand belatedly. I looked over his shoulder into the lounge. The bar reached back long and supported the elbows of about a half-dozen old-timers. An old tube television held their attention and cast the only light source aside from Christmas lights strung along the bar’s back mirror that glowed murky pink and green through bottles of Tullamore Dew and Wilkes Booth Whiskey. They weren’t regulars. They were residents. Upstairs Joe had six or seven rooms that he rented out by the week. Hardwood floors and no windows. No furniture, no cabinets, not even a kitchenette. Just a john and a sink hidden in the wall, separated from the room by doors as light as cardboard. Old-timers rotated in and out constantly, depending on their income. They spent all day and most of the night downstairs drinking then crawled upwards into their boxy nests to sleep it off. Joe and his brothers held both ends of the leash. The register drawer was stuffed with signed over government checks. A rigid man with a limited vocabulary of motion got up not just to piss but to beat back a creeping early rigor mortis. His blood, aged with liquors, fearing an increased solubility, sought to settle between his bones and the barstool and let his skin turn a shade of blue the neon beer icons can’t replicate. He coughed and wiped his fingers on the side of his Levi’s.
Brave Captain Harvey smelled like he had moved in as well.
“Are you doin’ okay, Cap?”
“Roger that. I got a job painting houses. Come on, let’s have a drink.”
“All right, but I’m not sitting in there.” I handed him a fiver. “Go get us something.”
I sat down at one of the webbed iron tables right outside the lounge and tried to decide whether I would do without shampoo or bus fare for the week. Harvey returned with two PBR’s and two styrofoam bowls of bright orange jambalaya he’d scooped from the crock pot inside. Patsy gave way to Waylon. Harvey started to tell me about escape from certain death in Libya. He didn’t get too far in his description of the camels and French-speaking whores before a huge white pickup passed us by, hard-braked to a stop, then backed up into the empty spot a yard from our feet, tires angled up on the curb. A tan bald man, in his fifties but fit with a goatee woven with black and silver threads slammed the door and came around the backside. He threw his wraparound sunglasses over his shoulder into the bed and came at Harvey like an unleashed pit bull. The man slapped Harvey’s bowl off of the table, spraying rice everywhere then jutted his wide hand up underneath the Captain’s adam’s apple.
“You don’t look too sick anymore, motherfucker.”
I grabbed both Blue Ribbons and curled into the fetal position. I’d learned the hard way that Harvey’s battles often had a high occurrence of civilian casualties.
“Fuck, Casey, fuck!” Harvey dribbled grains of rice, tobacco flakes, and spittle.
“Didn’t I tell you? Didn’t I tell you: you walk away early from one of my jobs again that you’d be sorry?”
“Couldn’t—couldn’t help it.” Harvey protested. “Abdominal pains!”
“Yet you seem to be digesting this shit pretty handily, Harvey. I gave you a second chance, man. I told you and warned you, but I gave you a second chance because you gave me all that Semper Fi shit, and then you don’t even wait a day—one day!—before stowing it in again.”
“I’ll finish tomorrow. I promise.”
“Tomorrow, Harvey, is one day too fucking late! I’ve gotten my reputation by giving guarantees, not estimates. My jobs don’t go fucking over! They get done on time! I’m lucky I got Jason and Raoul over there now picking up where you left off, which, also, Harvey, let me tell ya: I’ve seen better sanding jobs from motherfucking Cub Scouts.”
Harvey had his arms tucked up like chicken wings, hands drooping. He squinted up at the man. “I’m sorry. I was cramping up so bad—”
“You weren’t cramping up. You weren’t cramping up. You got hot and tired and you figured you got off once you could get away with it again. I tried, Harvey. I tried to trust you, but you sure don’t have half of what you say you have. How you survived ‘Nam, I can’t even tell. I gave you a chance as a fellow ex-grunt, and you shit all over that. Now I got this guy who expected his house to be finished yesterday trying to run me in the red. I gotta work tomorrow for him pro bono just to keep my reputation.”
“That guy’s a prick, Casey.”
“You’re missing the point, Harvey.” Casey kicked Harvey’s chair back against the brick wall but held the old man up by the lapels of his bomber jacket. The Captain hung there in loose air. “I don’t motherfucking work pro bono. So you’re gonna pay me my rate for tomorrow’s work by tomorrow at midnight. I think that’s a fair deal.”
“Aw, come on, Casey. Where am I going to get the money?”
“Take that rucksack full of Dinty Moore’s you got in there and take it back to Winn-Dixie for a refund. Shine shoes. Turn tricks. It’s not my problem. From now on, you don’t get any more respect than what you showed me. Tomorrow. Midnight. The Black Wave. Seven hundred American dollars.” He placed Harvey against the wall and glared at me.
“I know you, huh?”
“I’m always around.”
“That’s Cass, you know him. Leave him alone,” Harvey said.
“What are you, some kind of Casanova? So bored with chasing easy pussy you gotta break up the day with this guy? Don’t listen to a word this guy says. A goddamn disgrace. Soldier my ass.” Casey stomped back up into his truck and throttled off down the street, turned up the avenue and was gone. Harvey stared at the vacant spot he’d left, the mottled asphalt broken up by heat and time. He looked like he wanted to lie down in it and wait for death. His jaw worked silently.
“Cap, what are you going to do?”
“I need a shower,” he said. “Can you let me take a shower?”
“At my place?”
“I got my own towel. Five minutes in and out. Come on.”
“I guess. But then you gotta go.”
“Yeah, I know. But, do me a favor.”
“I’m already doing you a favor.”
“I mean just do something for me. Call Cristo. Tell him to close up early. We’re going to shoot some pool.”