Monday, April 27, 2009

The Spanish Moon

By Jim Parks

... From down the street, I heard such a sorrowful tune coming form the place they call the Spanish Moon. - Little Feat

The constant drone of the conveyor belt taking away shells through a hole in the cinder block wall, the clicking of the shells as the shuckers tossed them on the pile, it was all very lulling in the shed, its dank atmosphere and wet floor exuding that scent of iodine and brackish water where the mollusks grow on top of each other. Gino was busy culling the best for the half shell trade, arranging them on a wooden slab the way they would be served on a tin tray in the bars and restaurants - with red sauce and horse radish, lemon wedges, the works.

He worked with deadly accuracy with the short, brutal oyster knife, its edges honed to razor sharpness by years of use, as he "lipped" the oysters, forcing them open, then cutting the muscle that held the creature to the shell, finally twisting the top half of the shell away and throwing it over his shoulder. Carmine just liked to see if he had a quality selection before he got on the phone.

The oyster house competed with a half dozen other organizations around the bay, their cultivation beds famous for quality. He came to look at them, grunting his approval. These were nice and salty, clean and with a crisp texture, even though they hadn't been iced down. They were fresh from the bay. He pointed to the culled piles Gino had arranged around his stool, motioning for the two helpers to sack them, tie them, load them on the truck.

He handed Gino a diminutive oyster fork and they began to eat the ones he had shucked for display. He had an ice cold beer in each pocket of his foul weather jacket, and they cracked them for a quick lunch. After that, they worked together quickly to see how many oysters it would take to fill a pint jar, a quart can, a half gallon, a gallon, for the stores and places that served them in stew and fried.

It had been a pleasant morning's work. Everyone was making money. They had caught the weather just right - cold enough for the mollusks to close their shells and purge themselves of the impurities washed down from the creeks and bayous, the cities and towns upstream. The state biologist had declared them clean enough for human consumption. They were getting well, a yearly drama after white shrimp season was all over.

At that moment, a state biologist wearing the crisply starched khaki shirt and funny-looking stretch fabric uniform pants walked into the shed. He beckoned to Carmine. They argued, Carmine gesticulated, the biologist shrugged his shoulders; he made reasonable faces at the enraged Carmine; he threw up his hands and let it be known that Carmine was somehow unreasonable.

"All right," Carmine shouted as he man left the shed. "Get this stuff back down on the barges. It's got to go back to the beds. Pezzonovante turned them down."

One of the barge hands who had been lounging outside the door came on the run. "But, hey, boss, the man passed them out on the water this morning." Carmine silenced him with a fierce look that beetled his brows and made his nose look like a hawk's beak

"Hey, what are you gonna do? This is his boss. He said some over at Lone Star Fish Company didn't pass. Better be safe, he said. I give up."

In his mind, Carmine knew exactly what had happened. His rivals knew he was doing very well, especially because his beds were located where his family and friends who lived on the point could see exactly who may be on the bar at any given time. He had over the years furnished everyone in his compound with high power binoculars and telescopes for the purpose. Then there was the new liquor and alcohol permit for "The Spanish Moon," a bistro and trattoria all brass and mahogany and green gloosy enamel paint and soft lighting he had located on the point.

Full moon nights the path of the reflections on the water were very pleasant to diners and people boozing on the patio. It would start to make money if he could just keep on supplying what they wanted - fresh shrimp and oysters, stuffed flouder, broiled red snapper, all that jazz.

He went back to his office and figured his daily payroll, the taxes, wrote the checks, looked at his fuel bills, his utilities. He ran his fingers through his curly hair and struggled to keep calm. He kicked back in the hard wooden swivel chair, rocked back on its groaning springs amid the paperwork mess and dusty atmosphere that made his grandchildren sneeze. He looked at the needlework sampler framed on the wall - "Old bosses never die. They just sit on their assets."

Still, he was angry, deeply angry. He couldn't deny it. The last thing he should do would be to lose his temper.

That really cost money.

He shrugged and twirled his moutstache ends. For every action, there is a reaction. What's a lousy day? He would be back tomorrow, an earner, a man of respect.

"Pezzonovante!" He mouthed the word with contempt. He spun his rolodex, found the card he was looking for, and dialed the number.

"Hey, it's me. You know the guy in the shirt? Okay. Time we drank a beer. Yeah, the Moon. Why not?" He listened carefully for a minute. "Okay, then, The Castaway."

He swung out of the office, traipsed across the shed floor, stomped his boots clean and changed to a pair of loafers, then climbed into his pickup truck. The motor caught on the first spin.

"Pezzonovante!" He spat out the open window and adjusted the radio, looking for his favorite news show.

It would be simple enough. The asshole who dropped the dime on him had opened up his own place across the bay from the point. It was a combination disco, restaurant and a general mess. All it would take would be to import some very good-looking young women from a nearby city to start coming there nightly with fake identification that gave their age as twenty-one, then drop a dime through the alcoholic beverage control board. Suddenly, the young girls would have proper identification that showed them to be underage. His spies already knew the doormen came to work drunk, sold drugs and they were banging the young girls in the men's room.

He should be so lucky, Carmine thought. To go to the men's room to screw a young woman! He laughed, snorted, twirled his moutstache ends.

"Pezzonovante!" He said it with conviction, clinging to the multisyllable word with all his might.

1 comment: