Dedicated to R.B. and E.C.M.
One for showing me a way;
the other for telling me the way.
I guess the only difference between a new job and a new school is in one’s age. I mean, you don’t know anyone there, an outsider to the environment. That’s what I felt like, being transferred to a town in a state that I never had any desire to be in, though the idea of being employed appealed to me over starvation and deprivation. Working in a large office that shuffles buy orders like a deck of cards does not leave one with much time to converse with one’s fellow workers, and can also further the feeling that one has a third eye or is of the wrong skin color. That was how I was feeling: a fish stuck in a gravel pit that had no water.
After a couple of weeks of being in the town, I realized that maybe I should go out and be sociable, try to meet some people who were not of the same mold as those where I worked. So I did the obvious: I went out to bars to meet people.
After a couple of weeks of returning to my apartment with an alcoholic buzz and promises of strangers to give me a call, I came to the conclusion that my pit still had no water in it and that there weren’t any storm clouds on the horizon. It was late, on a Saturday night, and I had given up all hope of making any social contacts with where I had been trying. Driving around, I saw a grungy neon light on a small building, proudly proclaiming that it was Barbar’s Bar.
Now, to most people, the outside of this bar would have been enough to have made one drive on without a second thought. To me, the name brought back the story of Barbar the elephant, a children’s story that I had grown up with and had enjoyed. The parking lot was asphalt that looked like the knees on someone’s jeans, only potholes of dirt showed through instead of knees. The cars parked outside of Barbar’s had all seen better days: maimed Mercuries, pick ups that shouldn’t have been, Dodges that hadn’t and showed their physical scars. It seemed not to be the kind of place where one would hope to try and meet someone of the opposite sex.
I pulled into the parking lot and stared at the front door, wondering what I was doing there and what was going on inside. Was this a local hangout for Republicans? Did old drunkards bring their pink elephants to here to die? While I was sitting there in my car, the front door opened, letting out loud raucous rock and roll music and a man who looked to be in his later thirties. He moved his way around the side of the building where he stopped and proceeded to urinate on the side wall. Completing his business, he turned and walked back into Barbar’s without caring if anyone had seen what he had done.
This was obviously a sanctuary of male stagdom, a refuge for men to forget what was outside. Thinking I needed a little male bonding, I got out of my car and went in.
The inside the bar looked like what I had expected: a veil of cigarette smoke in the air being slashed by rock and roll music that the inhabitants had probably grown up with, though no one appeared to be listening to it. Through the darkness, I saw that there were seven or eight drinkers in the bar and that no one paid any attention to a stranger entering their sanctum. I sidled up to a bar stool and sat down. “What do you want, buddy?” the bartender asked me.
“A beer,” I replied, noticing the bartender. He seemed almost too jovial, as if I was the butt of some joke that I had not heard. He left and returned with a foamy draft in a glass,set it down in front of me without a napkin. The circles on top of the bar made me wonder if he was trying to make sets of the Olympic rings. I thought to myself that he must have gotten some type of pleasure from making Olympic rings.
I was about half way through nursing my beer and ready to leave when the front door opened and stayed open, letting the smoke out to make room for who or what was waiting outside. I stared at the open door, wondering why no one was complaining about the cold entering the bar. Then I saw no one cared that the door was open. Looking back at the open door, someone stood there in the doorway. “If I had crossed the Sahara, I couldn’t be drier than I am now,” the stranger at the doorway bellowed out. “Alcohol can always assist anyone who’s asking, so I’m tellin’ you that I’m overdue for a beer.” The patrons looked at the stranger as he entered and spoke, smiling at him.
“Hey, Captain.” “How’s the fishing, Cap’n?” “How you doin’, Cap’n?” “I just told you, you damned deef dummies; I’m as dry as dry, drier than the driest martini ever drank. Axel,” he said to the barkeep, “start pourin’ me a beer and I’ll tell you when to stop.” The drinkers there moved around the stranger, the one they called Captain. While he may of had a hat on like the skipper wore on Gilligan’s Island, that was the only thing about him that looked nautical. An old, green army fatigue jacket, sneakers that weren’t tied and should have been buried either at sea or in the ground, pants that might have gone with someone’s old zoot suit and a flannel lumberjack shirt. “So how’s the fishing been, Captain?” one of the drinkers asked him. The captain completed swallowing his glass of beer, turned to the questioner, and belched loudly. “I’ve had better, I’ve had worse. Just landed me a Barracuda; still got it hooked outside. Caught a Cougar and bagged two Bugs last night.” Now, hearing that someone claims to catch a barracuda when one is a thousand miles from any salt water leaves one with the idea that their leg is being pulled. A cougar I could maybe believe, though what the captain would have want with land animals or bugs made no sense to me. “I’ve got a line on a Javelin and a Mustang that’s been provin’ a real bitch to land. Been tryin’ to hook it for two months, an’ I think I may have finally figured out what it’s goin’ to take to pull her in.”
Now, I normally do not get involved in matters that do not affect me, but hearing such lies drew me like a moth to a light. “Uh, excuse me, but, being a stranger to your little bar, how is it you people can listen to this line of bull? There aren’t any wild mustangs within miles of here and there certainly aren’t any barracuda indigenous to this area.” My comments drew a reaction of hostile looks from the drinkers around the captain. “Are you calling the Captain a liar, stranger?” The man who spoke at me showed me that my decision to speak like I did may have been an unwise choice. If he hadn’t of been a pro football player, it wasn’t any fault of his own. Another reminded me of one of those wrestlers that you see on the TV. I had a feeling that I was destined to visit a hospital very soon. “Now avast and belay your thoughts there, maties,” the captain said to his cohorts. He turned at looked long and hard at me, giving me the feeling that he was the key to my survival. “Now, there, mister, are you callin’ me a liar? I may have been called many things before, though I don’t ever recall of hearing myself being addressed as a liar.” His voice was soft, like steel wool, which seemed to be the color of his eyes, though it was hard to see much between the darkness of the bar and the thick smoke in the air.
“Where you from, matey?” he questioned me. “Idaho,” I replied, “or that’s where I used to live before I moved to your folks’ wonderful metropolis.” “So you’re a potato head, eh?” His chuckle didn’t im¿cont prove my attitude towards him, though I made sure that it didn’t show to the others. “The only problem with tryin’ to hook up in those areas is that yer so danged far apart between catches. You got to always go where you can find your prey to hook. That’s why I like being close to a larger city, where the fishin’ tends to be easier.” “Why should fishing be easier in a large city?” I was beginning to believe that I was lost in a sea of confusion and that this person called ‘Captain’ was a mirage of land that might save me from drowning in a sea of physical abuse. “Nothin’ worse than trollin’ without hookin’ nothin’,” he said at me with a smile. “That would make sense, though I am still confused as to why they,” I said denoting those around him, “call you captain.” “That’s because we know him as Captain Hook,” the one who looked like a wrestler said. “Like the one in Peter Pan? That Captain Hook had a hook for a hand, and your captain has both hands, so why call him that?” I queried. “It’s what he does, mister.” The bartender’s comments were supposed to allay any misunderstandings that I had. The problem was that the fog of understanding was as thick as the smoke. “What is it that he does?” I posed to the barkeep. “Why is he known as ‘Captain Hook’?” “Blow the wind and knock down a domino,” the captain erupted. “I hook the wild runners, the skips who don’t skipper, return the runaways.” “Huh?”
“The Captain is a repo man, mister,” the barkeep clarified for me. “A repo man?” I asked no one but myself. “What do you repo? I thought you said he was a captain, like with a boat and fishing lines.” The patronage burst out laughing like they had just heard the funniest joke that they had ever heard in their lives. The feeling that I had of being the butt of a joke returned. “Well, matey, what I do is steal from shysters, rob the renegin’ renegades, find fleein’ fliers who think that they are smarter than the financial institutions that employ my services.” The captain paused, giving the barkeep a moment to replace his empty glass with a refill. “I’m a delinquent’s worst nightmare come to reality.” He accepted the refilled glass and began to down it. “I’m the unseen force that makes the world go ‘round, the no-see-um that you see only after I’m gone.” “What is it that you repo?” I asked. As a response, I got a showering of sprayed beer from him. “I swear, I’ve seen the cute and the dumb before, matey, but never at the same time as I now have with you. I repossess cars.” Like the sun starting to illuminate a day, I began to understand that the barracuda hooked outside was a car and not a fish, and that the mustang and the javelin he had spoken of were also cars, not a horse or a throwing spear. “I’m sorry to have seemed so ignorant or have thought that you were spinning tales, sir,” I said, “and apologize for any misunderstanding that I may have had.”
“Now, matey, if you really mean that you’re sorry for what you said, I’ll accept your apology, but only if you buy me a beer and lend me your ear.” Even before he had completed his sentence, there appeared a beer in front of the captain and myself with the bartender standing in front of me for pay. “Let me tell you about that ’cuda outside and what fun a job being a paid thief can be.” Without waiting for a response from me, he started talking.
“I got the work order on this fish a week ago last Thursday. The deadbeats were four months behind and thought that they could pull a fast one.” The captain smiled a toothy grin at me. “They all think that they’re smarter than the Cap’n. “Anyway, I did all of the usual follow ups and search for this ’cuda…” “Uh, excuse me,” I interrupted him, “but what are the ‘usual follow ups and search?’” I noticed that he was not one who enjoyed being interrupted by the look he flashed at me. “Goin’ to the last address on the work order, checking out his employer, asking anyone who I might know who might know someone who might know where the fish is at. There are other ways, but some of them are so secret, that the only way that they’re ever passed from one repo man to another is by word of mouth. A lot of angles never were told, as a matter of fact.” “Why weren’t they ever told?” My ignorance was wearing thin on the captain.
“Because they ran up against a great white, a Moby Dick, a ghost fish.” While I didn’t say anything, my face must have showed my stupidity. Slowly, like I was a child, he explained. “The great white shark is one of the meanest, non-thinking killers in the ocean; Moby Dick took Cap’n Ahab to Davy Jones’ locker, and a ghost fish is a fish that makes you into a ghost.” Apparently my ignorance still shone from my look. “They got killed, you potato head! Blindsided from a boom, went out on a voyage and never noticed the squall in their future. I learned a lot of my tricks from ol’ Red Sell and Crankshaft Chuck. They were two legends of repoland. But enough of this side leanin’ and luffin’, matey, I was telling you about that ’cuda. “I went to the address and found that they had moved and his boss said that the requested party was no longer employed at the address I had been given. Well, on the work order it said that this ’cuda had a custom paint job from the factory, special ordered. That by itself can often times be a visual dead give away, so I was always eyeballin’ any ’cuda that I saw for that fancy paint job. “Realizin’ that this was goin’ to be an interestin’ game of hook and land, I knew that a lure of a different nature would be required. I started lookin’ through the want ads at the job listings, tryin’ to see if there were any mechanic’s job openings, since that is what the skip had done for a livin’. If he was out of work and tryin’ to get work, where better to start? “I had gone to five or six of listings, using my badge of authority to gather any information and assistance.”
“You are also a policeman?” I foolishly interjected the question and regretted it with the look he gave me back. “Who said I was a policeman? The police ain’t no friends of repo people; that much you’ll usually find out at the wrong time.” He finished his beer as the bartender set another down in front of him. “All that I said was that I used my badge. Best two dollar investment that a repo man could ever make.” “A two-dollar badge?” “Yep, from good ol’ Woolworth’s toy department. You flash a badge on people, don’t let them really see it, and you’d be surprised at what kind of results you can get. I tells them that the person is wanted for questionin’, and to get me an address or phone number of where I can get in contact with them. Later, I phoned in to the office to see if there had been any messages and, wouldn’t you know it.” “What?” “I hadn’t no sooner left the last place where I had flashed my badge when someone drove up to apply for the job. Guess who?” I could see that the answer should be simple enough. “The Barracuda person.” “Milk a monsoon, there is a brain behind those potato eyes.” His smile showed me that he was glad to see that I was beginning to figure some things out. “Yep, and I also got a phone number on him.” “So you called the phone company and asked them the address of the phone number listing, right?” I thought that I was on the beam with the captain, but found otherwise.
“You scurvy scum” he blasted at me, “a repo man is a leper among people who live normal lives. The phone company don’t care a fig or a fart about helpin’ no one but themselves.” He stared long and hard at me. “What you gotta do is have someone who is carin’, sympathetic, and who likes a little extra money every now and then.” “You mean you greased someone?” His reaction showed me my stupidity had returned. “Call it whatever you want, so long as it gets results, right Billy Boy?” I noticed that the last of the comment was made to the one who looked like he should have been a pro football player, who smiled back at the captain. “Anyway, let me just say that I got an address for this shy shrimp skip.” “So you went over and got the car, right?” I thought I knew what was going to be said, but the glare that the captain gave me back reinforced the idea in me to stop asking questions and interrupting. “If I had, I probably wouldn’t be here now, drinkin’ this beer.” To prove his point, he gulped half of his beer down. “No, that would be what a fool wantin’ to be keel hauled might do. What I did do was first go by and see if the car was at the address, which is kind of hard to know when there is a garage and the door is closed. Only Superman has x-ray vision, you know. I parked about a block away and waited to confirm if that was where the scurvy bilge rat resided. “It was after dark, and, sure as smelt, a Barracuda pulls up to the driveway and parks. A man gets out, op¿cont ens the garage door and then drives the car into the garage and closes the door, makin’ sure he locks it. I thinks to myself, ‘Cap’n, you got yerself a real smartie here.’ Well, I now know where he lives but not where he goes during the day. “I knew that there was nothing else that I could do until the sun came up, so I went out and trolled for some other fishes that I had a line on. Landed two of them that night, which always makes a repo man feel like life is good. So I goes back to the ’cuda’s house before sunrise and waits to see what happens with the ’cuda. “It was around eight that the front door opens and out comes the skipper.” “Skipper? I thought that a captain was the skipper?” Damn my ignorance, I thought to myself, right after I had said it. “A skipper is the bloke who thinks that he’s smarter than the financial institution that loaned him the money or the monkey who’s goin’ to try and get the car back.” As an apology, I motioned that another beer should be brought to the captain. Axel was one second ahead of me, leaving a fresh filled glass of brew in front of the captain. He finished his prior beer and belched. “All day I follow this mate around town, waiting for him to make a mistake, only he don’t leave his car for longer than a few minutes or he keeps it in his sight. Realizin’ that he wasn’t goin’ to give me any part of chance, I called it a day around two in the afternoon. “I goes home and ponders this fish, of how I’m a goin’ to land this one in. Last night, while trollin’ for tunas, it came to me. It was so simple that I wondered if’n I wasn’t getting too slow and old in my years. So I makes a call to a helper of mine that I use every now and then, tells him what it is I want done, and he agrees that it should work. “Now, I’m sure that you know that sulfur smokes like a house on fire when it burns, and what better way to get a reaction from someone than yelling Fire! It’s not somethin’ to do in a crowded theater, subway, or family gatherin’, cause you will get results. Anyways, my helper had saved a bunch of smoke bombs from the Fourth of July, and we placed some around the sides of the skipper’s garage. “Now, you gotta understand that around midnight, the minds of most people react instead of thinkin’; that’s was what I was dependin’ on. The smoke bombs are smoking and, because there is no moon, so you don’t notice that the smoke is colored. My helper runs up to the front door, bangin’ on it and yellin’ that the garage is on fire. Well, I’m sure that most everybody on the block was awoken from all the noise that my helper was makin’, and, sure enough, a porch light comes on and a face peers out a window at my helper. “’Your garage is on fire,’ he yells at the man in the house. The face inside sees the smoke, and assumes that an innocent driver has stopped to warn him of his impendin’ danger. The front door bursts open and out he comes a runnin’, keys in his hand. The first thing that he does is open the garage door and drives the ’cuda out onto the street. ‘Do you have a hose?’ my helper yells at the skipper. “Well, the bloke stops his runnin’ around and looks at my helper. My first thought was that there was a goin’ to be an underwater snag to my smooth sailin’, but the next thing you know, the skipper goes runnin’ around the side of the house. That was where a plan can be changed.” The captain took a long drink off of his new glass of beer, as if he was waiting for something. “No questions, no assumptions, matey? Since you seem to be so damned smart, then what did I do?” “Drove over and hooked up the ’cuda?” I didn’t want him to think that I was being a smartass or a dummy. “That may have been the plan, but it seemed that Saint Elmo decided to walk on land and bless the repossessin’. My helper looked in the driver’s side and saw the ultimate mistake: the panicked puka had left the keys in the ignition. So, I’m getting ready to move in and hook up when I see my helper hop into the ’cuda, start her up, and take off. I rendezvous-ed a couple blocks away with him, hooked it up, took him home, and here I am.” To confirm his point, he gulped the last of his beer down and stood up. “That’s an interesting tale, Captain. It sounds like you enjoy your work,” I said. “Work, matey, is a four-letter word, and in my rulebook, there are other four letter words that are more enjoyable.” With a wave of his hand, he disappeared out the front door and into the night.
It was a few days later that my next visit to Barbar’s Bar arose. The morning had started dark and dismal, and my office manager was no ray of sunshine in my day, telling me that I was expected to finish off an open account before being allowed to call it a day. What I thought of the office manager was best left unsaid, so I swallowed a bite of my tongue. By the time I was done, everybody was gone from work and the sun had left with them. The darkness of night and the dismality of the day had become a blanket over my attitude. Feeling that I could use a drink, my car took over and conveyed me to Barbar’s. From the outside, everything looked exactly as it had when I had first pulled into the parking lot, except for the outside watering specialist. Hoping that there was light and a lightness of life inside, my entry was greeted by Axel the bartender. “Hey, Mr. Potato, how’re you doin?” he called to me with a smile. “I be doin’ a beer if you’d give me one,” I answered back at him with a smile. Looking around the bar, I saw a face or two that I had seen in the bar my last time in. ¿contThinking that talking to someone about something other than accounts would lighten my feelings, I took my glass and strolled over to the table with the familiar faces. “Hey, Idahoan, how’s life?” The speaker was the one the captain called Billy. “Pull up a chair and be sociable.” The offer was a gleam of hope that would hopefully improve my downer day. I accepted the proffered chair and sat. Billy and his two friends chatted as if I didn’t exist, which was better than existing without people talking. Wanting to be accepted beyond the point of sitting, I asked Billy if he had seen the Captain recently. “Yeah, as a matter of fact, I went out with him last night to go steal a car.” He looked hard at me. “Why, you lose your car?” “No, no, just asking. I thought he was an interesting character, that’s all.” Billy busted out laughing. “An interesting character? I don’t think the captain has ever been called that before. Maybe you should tell him that.” “I will, the next time I see him,” I said. “Well, there’s no better time than like the present,” Billy replied, with a gleam in his eye. I turned to where Billy was looking and saw the captain had just entered the bar. He flagged the Captain to our table. “Hey, there, matey, how’s your sail sailin’?” asked the Captain. “Life is a proverbial bowl of cherry pits,” I said to him as he hoisted a chair from a nearby table for his seating. “How’s the fishing?” “Like love, matey: there’s always another fish to catch in the big sea. Now, what’s this that you’re wantin’ to tell me?”
“He says you’re an interesting character,” Billy piped in. The captain looked at me, then Billy, then back at me. For a moment, I had no idea of what he was thinking. When he shook his head, I hoped that it was for the best. “Now that’s one for the records.” To prove his point, he emptied about half of his glass and belched. “Now, if you want to talk characters that have been interestin’, let me tell you about one pull that I had a long while back.” Peering at me like I was a prize specimen, he reminded me that I had called him a liar and that I owed him a beer as an apology. Seeing that any argument otherwise would not get me anywhere, I waved Axel over for two beers and sat back to listen. After all, it had proven before not be a too expensive a form of entertainment.
“The order came in to find a skipper who thought that they had paid enough for their Corvette. Of course, the financial institute thought differently and had the title to prove otherwise. Now, as you know, the Corvette is one of the fastest production cars made in these great United States. I knew that on the open seaways of the road I would never be able to keep up with them if they should see that they were being followed, so I decided to try a different approach. “Normally, when one is tryin’ to skip, they move from address to address like a sailor. The main difference is that the sailor depends on others, while a skipper has their own means of transport. Well, this skipper must have felt differently, ’cause I went to the add¿cont ress and, lo and behold, there was the Corvette, parked next to a Lincoln in the driveway.” “So you drove in and hooked it?” I said, foolishly forgetting about interrupting a tale by the captain with assumptive questions. “If I had, I wouldn’t be tellin’ you about it now, mashed matey. The problem that I was facing was an eight foot high wall of steel. Between the road and the prey was an iron gate that an ice breaker would’ve had a rough time getting through. While the skipper’s name was Sally, it seemed that her boyfriend was one of the community’s upstandin’ members, which was where the car and she were stayin’. “Knowin’ that eventually it would leave on a forage from this fortress, I parked around the corner block and waited for har to sail from port. Well, after a couple of hours, the gates parted and the Lincoln cruised down the driveway and into the street. Right after the Lincoln pulled out, the gates swung closed, leavin’ the Corvette there all alone. “I got out of my trawler and walked back to the gates, tryin’ to figure a way in and out. My plannin’ changed course when two four legged terrors ran up to the gate and informed me that I did not want to try to gain entry to the property. You see, matey, I know dog language, and I didn’t like what they were sayin’ what they wanted to do to me. “If I was playing baseball, well, I was lookin’ at three strikes already. The first strike was the gates that didn’t open to me, the second was the dogs, and the third was where and whom she was stayin’ with. One thing that I learned long ago is that upper society don’t mix with others, and there was no way that I could pass myself off as an upper-crust. Never wanted it and never will. You see, potato head, to people of upper society, the image is everything and all else can sink to the bottom of the Sargasso Sea. The last thing that they would want was for their image to be tarnished, and they usually had the power to make sure that it didn’t slip. “For a couple of days, I would always be sure and cruise by the fortress, hopin’ that I might get lucky. When you’ve been around the block as many times as I have, you learn that luck is a lady who walks the streets. Then again, sometimes the lady might be the owner of a Corvette. “My first sight of her made me hit the brakes. A nice warm, sunny day that makes most people think about a clean car, and it seemed that this Miss Sally was of the same mind. She was bending over the hood of the car, giving all who looked a sight that would have made any man’s head bend. She was wearing what others might call a bikini, though to me it looked like two small rags covering small amounts of her ample body. Kind of reminded me of those pictures of what those heathen women of the wilds used to wear before they became civilized. “Now, bein’ a gentleman that I am, I parked a little bit away and walked back to the gates, where I was greeted by the resident’s four-legged welcomin’ and feedin’ committee. The disturbance was great enough to get the sweetheart’s look and attention. She ambled seductively to the gate and asked me what it was that I wanted.” “And you said?” I asked. The pause was long enough for me to have finished my beer.
“I sure as a squid didn’t say that I wanted her car, nor what she was puttin’ into my mind. I claimed I was from out of the area and lookin’ for an address that I knew was across town. She was polite enough to inform me of my whereabouts and to where I should go, albeit in a civil tone of voice. Thankin’ her for her cooperation and kindness for being where and how she was, I walked back to my trawler. The business of why I was there was becomin’ a bit confused by the vision of her to my eyes. “Now, while there may or not be love at first sight, I can honestly say that there is lust at first sight, and I was left with that thought in my mind. Thinkin’ that she might be washin’ the car for a drive, I pulled out of sight and waited to see if my hopes and assumptions would pan out. After about three hours, the gates swung open and the Corvette made its appearance. “I fired up my trawler and kept a distance behind her, wonderin’ where she was goin’ and what she had on her mind. She cruised to a stop at a pharmacy and went in, with me pullin’ up a short distance from where she had parked. Now, normally one takes their best shot and hopes that it works, and that’s what I was wonderin’ when I saw her at the front of the store, payin’ for her purchase. She came out with a small bag and went over to a car parked next to hers. From what I could see, she was talkin’ to whoever it was in the car next to hers. After a few moments, she got into her Corvette and drove off with the other car followin’ hers. I brought up a distant rear action, tryin’ to remain unnoticed by the two drivers ahead of me.
“After a few miles, the cruise began to leave the commercial areas and headed towards the freeway. The last thing that I was wantin’ was to be on a freeway, chasin’ a Corvette. But, Lady Luck was in my cab, just before the freeway, the Corvette and the other car pulled into a motel parkin’ lot and stopped. I cruised by innocently and saw a man in a suit get out of the other car and go to the lobby. By the time I had turned around and parked, he was exitin’ the lobby with a key in his hand and headed for a door at the complex. Once he entered, I saw Miss Sally get out of her Corvette and walk to the door where the one had gone and enter. “Now, I wondered what Mr. Respectable would think if he knew that his squeeze was bein’ squozen by someone else. Daytime steals are usually the riskiest, in that people are awake and aware. This fish was leavin’ me with some questions. Should I hope that the occupants in the motel room were too busy to pay any attention to the world outside and go for it? Should I wait for another time? Should I go over and try and ask to join them inside?” The pause showed me that the answer would be forthcoming if there was a beer in front of him, so I waved to Axel to refloat the captain with another glass. “There’s times for doin’ and there’s times for not doin’, and then again, there’s just time. Seeing that what I had was time, I pondered what my next move should be when a tsunami of an idea swept my mind. It left me with the best of both worlds, so with that in mind, I left to go and get myself a little tool. “I got back to the motel before the business meetin’ inside was finished, and parked closer than I would’ve normally. Makin’ sure that my vision was unobstructed, I rolled down the window of my trawler and waited, hopin’ that I would get a lucky shot. Like I said, luck was a walkin’ lady, and she was walkin’ in my neighborhood that day. The door to the room opened, and the gentleman in the suit was at the door, giving Miss Sally a last hug, kiss, and feel before his departure. I fired away as fast as my fingers would operate, smilin’ all the while at my idea. “When he got to his car, she stood at the open window of the room in the suit she had been given on her birth, though I’m pretty sure the sizin’ had changed over the years. When the car pulled out of the parkin’ lot, she closed the drapes, and I knew that I had the Corvette.” “I didn’t know that you carried a gun, captain,” I said. “Don’t. Guns kill, and in my line of business, a gun will get you into trouble faster than a fallin’ barometer on an open sea. That little tool was a fancy camera that would let one see the little green men on the moon it was so good. I took my roll of film to a friend to develop, since I didn’t want nobody leakin’ what I had to the wrong sources. The pictures were all that I could ask for and more; they turned out clear and beautiful. “So here I have pictures of this Miss Sally in the arms of not her keeper and the lever to get me next to her. Armed with the pictures, I drive back to the fortress and wait until her sugar daddy leaves in his Lincoln. Then I proceeds to the gate, where I am again greeted by the barkin’ incisors. I push the intercom and ask for Miss Sally, who then speaks to me, asking what it is that I want. Tellin’ her that I have somethin’ to show her that might interest her, she says that she will be right out to the front gate. “If I live to the age of Methuselah, I don’t think I could ever re-experience what she did to my mind by her presence. I smiled at her and handed her a picture of a doorway with two people standin’ in it. She looked at the picture and then glared at me with a look that almost broke my mizzenmast. “‘Who are you and what do you want?’ Her words were cold as the North Pole. “‘Why, certainly not trouble, missy.’ I tried not to shiver from her words. ‘Let me just say that I’m a concerned individual.’ “‘Yeah, you’re John Q. Concerned Citizen’ she said. ‘What do you want for the negatives? Money?’ “While honesty may be the best policy, I replied that maybe we could meet somewhere and discuss the situation in not so public a place. Her eyes probed me, tryin’ to figure what it was I wanted. My suggestion of a meeting at the locale of the pictures led her to believe that she understood what it was that I wanted, and her smile back confirmed to me what kind of sweetheart she was. “The two of us agreed to meet the followin’ day at the locale at a specified time. I went home and slept like a log of driftwood with dreams of contentment, Corvettes, and curves. That night, my mind was havin’ a hard time focusin’ on the work that I was doin’, but the lack of catches didn’t depress my expectations of what would be happenin’ later that day.
“At the denoted time, I noticed that she had brought a brown bag containing a bottle of alcoholic beverage. Following her in, she said, ‘You have the negatives?’ “I nodded and moved to her, puttin’ my arms around her body. Her face tilted up to mine and gave me a hard kiss. ‘Shall we get this over with?’ was her only question. My nod started her undressin’. Slowly, she unwrapped her package for me. I sat on the bed, feelin’ the excitement of a kid on Christmas Day. Once she was naked, she poured two drinks into glasses and sat next to me on the bed. That was about the last thing I can recall.” “What happened, Captain?” This I had to find out. “I’ve sailed from here to there, matey, but I’ve never sailed on air. She put me in dry dock, scraped my barnacles, painted my hull, and blasted my ballast. What I do remember was her disturbin’ my sleep afterwards by screamin’ that her car had been stolen. Yep, it seemed that someone had come along and stolen her car! Demandin’ her negatives and her clothin’, she dressed an’ fled outside.” “But her car? Who stole it?” I asked. “It could have been car thieves, but it wasn’t. While I was riding that wild surf, a friend of mine was outside makin’ a key for it, who also helpfully drove it away for me. All that I can say is that I learned one very important lesson.” I motioned for another beer, seeing that moisture was going to be required for an ending. “It don’t matter who you are or what you do: we’re all human with human problems. It’s just that sometimes, you should get involved with another human’s problems.”
“What do you mean, Captain?” I queried. “Sea divers always wear rubber suits for a reason when they go divin’, and I know I won’t do the same without my own rubber protection. That skip gave me the crabs, thinkin’ that she came out ahead on the payback.” A crooked smile came across the Captain’s face as he asked me, “By the way, would you like to see some pictures of the mayor’s wife naked?”
I had found that working in a large, impersonal corporation can remind one of the need for companionship, of a sense of identity with a group, a feeling of camaraderie. Of course, no one would talk to any one else at work unless they needed a question answered that dealt with work. On the work level, no one cared and it showed, while on the social level, it all depended on the sexes that were involved. An acquaintance from work asked me if I would care to go for a ‘workout’ at a ‘health center’ that he frequented. When the wink of his eye didn’t sink in, he told me it might be a good chance for me to get lucky. “After all,” he said, “you get to see the whole enchilada, you know, without the cover up that they have on when they’re at work.” “What do you mean?” I questioned, trying to understand what he was getting at. “You’ve seen the divine Miss Diane in records, haven’t you?” I nodded. In the short period of time that I had been at the business, I had heard and had seen who the divine Miss Diane was. Until I saw her, I had never before fantasized about being a piece of woman’s underwear.
“You wouldn’t believe what she really looks like, when she’s working out at the ‘center’.” I thought that he was going to start salivating at the thought of her. “Since you say so, I guess I’ll come along with you and do a ‘workout.’” It was agreed that the following day after work that I would meet him at the ‘center’ for a ‘workout’. I wondered if I had kept any gym clothes from my college days.
After work, I drove to the address I had been given, wondering why I was going and what I thought I was going to do. As I pulled into the parking lot, I saw my host waving me to a vacant parking spot. Pulling in, I noticed the car that he was leaning on. “Ain’t she a sweetheart,” he said, noting I had noted his car. “It’s a Trans-Am Firebird, ordered and set up to be as mean as she sounds. Hey, man, a machine like this makes it easy to pick up on the chicks. Had the engine and tranny special ordered. You wanna go for a cruise?” he asked. While the idea of raw horsepower being controlled on top of four wheels was my teenage fantasy, I had experienced the reality of life in college, and I knew that fast cars were definitely out of my budget. “Naw, maybe later.” I attempted my best smile. “Shall we do the ‘workout’ thing?” Meeting him in a general workout area, he then proceeded to tell me which ‘chicks’ he had dated there, how far he gotten with them, what physical attributes and deficiencies there were for some of the women, and what he would like to do with them. I realized his eyes, mouth, and mind were getting more exercise than I was listening to him. Even though I wasn’t Jewish, I was beginning to dislike pork.
We were walking out of the gym when my host reminded me ‘now’ was ‘later’, and how about that cruise in his car. After having driven my poor Duster past its point of normal life expectancy, I thought that the feel of horsepower would be nice. I wasn’t paying any attention to his banter about his car until he stopped short. “Son of a bitch!” he yelled. “Some bastard stole my car!” I stared at the vacancy where his car had been. “God damn bastard banks,” he continued. “Get behind a month on payments and they screw you over.” “What do you mean?” I asked innocently. I had a sneaking suspicion but did not let on about it. “The bastards repoed my car six months ago because I was behind a little bit with their blood money.” He frothed at the mouth for a few minutes about his feelings towards banks and fell silent. Turning to me, he said, “Hey, man, could you give me a ride home?” Being more of a two-legged man than a four-legged pig, I consented and took him home. As I drove back, I decided to follow up my sneaking suspicion and headed for Barbar’s. I pulled into the parking lot and noticed there was a vehicle that had been towed. Smiling to myself, I got out of my car and walked over to the hooked vehicle, confirmed what I had thought, I went into Barbar’s. The Captain’s cap was like a beacon through the smoke, directing me to his table.
“Hey, Captain, I see that you’ve been hanging around the gyms,” I said. He turned around, saw me, and gestured to a seat at the table. “What ever makes you say that, matey?” “That fish outside you hooked belongs to a coworker of mine,” I informed him. “Used to belong,” he replied. “I’ve pulled that fish in more than once, and the bank said this time he ain’t gettin’ it back. It never ceases to amaze me how dumb smart people can be. They all think that their education makes them smarter than others, when they’re usually the ones holdin’ the empty bag.” He gulped down his beer and gave me a look that informed me that another might help his ability to continue speaking. I turned towards the bar and signaled for two beers, which Axel gladly obliged. “You don’t think that a formal education can help one with life?” I asked. “Blow my bilge! If you college graduates knew anythin’ about what goes on outside of your ivied halls, you’d probably never want to come out and face the real world. Why, I could give you examples that would show you how dumb one is for all of their supposed education. “That fish outside is an example. It was ordered special, to move like a barracuda, and I ain’t talkin’ about the car. Nope, I means the fish. Sleek, fast, and hard hittin’. I figures that who ever is holdin’ this fish must be some kind of muscle-minded macho man. I didn’t know that he was a fellow worker of yours, but that just shows you how dumb he was for all of that education.” I didn’t disagree with him.
“Let’s say you’re at home and the phone rings,” the Captain continued. “You answer it and hear a voice you’ve never heard before, telling you that you have won a free trip or a lunch or something. Nothin’ is required for you to receive your free gift other than your address, so that it can be sent to you. What are you goin’ t’do?” “Why, I’d give them the address,” I said. “All of that education and no common sense,” he snorted back at me. “If you had thought about it for a second, you would know that most contest entries ask for a phone number and address. Most people don’t think and they give out their address and wait for their gift in the mail. I’m sure that they’re mighty surprised when all that they get is the need for another car.” The Captain saw I wasn’t making the connection. “You just proved my point, Mr. Potato Head. If one is told that somethin’ is free, any thought of possible catches is swept away in the wake of their great expectations. I don’t know how many smarties fall for that line and give me their address.” He gulped the rest of his beer down and eyed me closely.
“By the way, matey,” he said with an intensity I’d never seen in him before. “I believe that you insulted me a while back and owe me a beer as an apology.”
A couple days later, my trusty old steed of a Duster was on its last cylinders. A taxi to and from work was more than I could afford, and I knew I had to find a replacement for my car. I first checked the want ads in the paper. After a dozen phone calls, I realized every car I had called about was probably no better than what I had sitting in my parking stall. The only way to get one that would run and not drain me would have to come through a used car lot.
I wasn’t more than two paces onto the first car lot when a smiling salesman came at me like an attorney who had seen an auto accident. For some strange reason, I recalled that the fabric of his suit was called ‘sharkskin.’ “Good morning, good morning; beautiful day, isn’t it, sir?” The salesman and his flashing teeth were on me before I could formulate any idea, answer, or thought. “Let me personally welcome you to Always Al’s Auto Sales, home of the best deals in town for used cars. My name is Al, always has been, always will be, and I’m the man who is going to sell you your next car.” He shook my hand; his grip was as firm as a frozen milkshake.
“What can I do for you today? Something racy for yourself? Car for your wife? Here, let me show you something.” He grabbed me by my arm and took me to a different area of the lot. Each minute that I was silent only added to his barrage. “Yessirree, you came to the right place and I know what it is you are looking for.” I thought it strange that he was all-knowing yet he was leading me away from the car I was wanted to look at.
He stopped me in front of a pickup truck. “I could tell that you are a man who needs something to get around, something that will carry anything you want to carry. It’s got a four-speed, big-block V8, long bed, good tires, and was only driven by an old cowboy to get feed for his cattle. Here,” he ran his line on while opening the door, “get in and notice all of the extras it’s got.”
“Well,” I finally spoke to him, “I wasn’t looking to buy a pickup. I was—” “Say no more, I know just what you are going to say. You need something of a different work order, something that would make everybody happy.” Without another word, he had me standing in front of a station wagon. “I should have known; you’re someone who needs functionality for more than just yourself. Now this beauty here is a real cream puff, exactly what you’re in need of for you and your wife. Being young, you two should to plan ahead for when there might be a small one to drive around. You two are planning on having children, aren’t you?” I was a little dazed by his dazzling smile.
“Uh, I’m not married” I said. “I’m really looking—” “Not married?! Time’s a-wasting, sir, and we’re not getting any younger. Of course, I’m not saying that one must be married. Hell, I’ve been married four times myself, and I refuse to give up.” I silently agreed this man was no quitter. Al eyed me closely. “Marriage is a lot like cars: everybody wants a virgin bride. It always seems like after their first wife, you come to the conclusion that a used one is sometimes better than new. You know, all the bugs have been worked out of them. How many cars have you owned, sir?”
“Huh?” “How many cars have you owned?” “Uh, one,” I replied. “Yet you’re tired of it, want to do better. There’s small problems that refuse to go away. You don’t want to be seen with something so old? Maybe a change of image? Am I right?” I knew that if I told him my car was the tired party that any possibly of hope for a trade-in would be dead. “Well, let me just say that I’m more interested in improving my mobility” I said. “Upwards.” “Then have I got what you need” said Al. Once again he latched onto me and steered me over to a Mercedes Benz. “One owner, low mileage, and a really loaded load. Now, this is what you really need. Don’t worry about price; I’m sure that we can come to a deal that will make both of us happy.” I shook my head. “No, I think this is out of my price range.”
“So, what is it you are interested in?” asked Al. “What is your price range?” His eyes never left mine. He was moving in for the kill. “Uh, lets say a thousand to fifteen hundred dollars.” Even though the sun was out, the temperature around the two of us seemed to drop a few degrees. “I was noticing that Toyota in the front of your lot, to tell you the truth. Would you mind if we looked at it?” “Sure enough, sir, whatever rings your bell.” His tone of voice changed. “It’s a nice little car; needs very little maintenance, though it does have a high mileage.” He stood back as I investigated the possible sale item. The odometer read sixty-four thousand miles, but the engine and interior made me wonder how many times those figures had been repeated. The closer I looked at it, the more I wanted to get away. “Well,” I said, trying to sound sincere, “I’ll get back to you and let you know about it.” Without a word, Always Al turned and returned to his little house in the middle of the lot.
My Duster continued to surprised me by running and taking me to a few more used car lots, I decided that I needed a brew. Blindly, or steered by my Duster, I found myself parked in front of Barbar’s.
I went in and saw Billy at the bar. I sat down next to him and ordered us a round. “Say, Billy,” I started, “maybe you could give me a little help. My old car is tired of being resurrected every day, and I thought that maybe you or someone else might know of a good used car for sale.”
The grin Billy gave me lead me to believe that there was hope. “Sure enough, Eye-dee-ho.” Billy wrote a name and address on a napkin, the first I had seen in Barbar’s. “Head over to here and tell them that the Captain sent you, and that you know Bos’n Billy from Barbar’s. They’ll do you right.” Thanking him, I went back out to my dusted chariot with the hopes that there would be one more miracle left in its engine. I was lucky: it started. The address was a few blocks from Barbar’s, which was a saving grace for me and my car, since it seemed to have known that it was going to its final destination. When I pulled up, I saw the name of the ownership: Honest Abe Don’s Used Cars. Definitely a strange name for a business. As I pulled up in front of the lot, my Duster wheezed its last and died. So much for my trade in. I hoped that no one had seen my Duster’s demise, though hope had never been my strong suit. A salesman was walking my direction before I could open my car door. “What a time for such an untimely death,” he said. “I can see that you are in desperate need of a replacement, and I’m just the one to help you. My name is Don, and I know I have just what you need.” I was again left speechless by another used-car sales monologue that I had heard all day. After he had led me around the majority of the lot, I was finally able to get a word in edgewise. “I was told that you could help” I said. “And who might have told you that?”
I hoped that the name would make a difference. “Bos’n Billy at Barbar’s Bar. He’s a friend of someone called Captain Hook.” The transition that came across his face showed me I had struck a nerve. “Just a minute,” said Don, and he headed back to his little office. A few minutes later, he came out and motioned for me to join him.
The first thing that I noticed was an old captain’s cap sitting on the desk. A flush of a toilet in an adjacent room informed me that we were not alone. When the bathroom door opened, a bald headed Captain walked out. “Hey, there, Potato Head, I see the winds have blown you to Honest Abe Don. Donnie here says that your scow is reefed and that you’re adrift. Well, you’ve come to the right place.” My jaw had hit the floor. “What are you doing here?”
“A repo man always has a friend who sells used cars. One hand washes the other. Now, you’re needin’ a car, eh?” It didn’t take more than thirty minutes of dickering and the Captain’s good word for me to to drive off the lot in a six-year-old Ford. Feeling good and lucky, I offered to buy the Captain a beer at Barbar’s for his assistance, which he graciously accepted.
Sitting at Barbar’s, I asked him, “Captain, I really appreciate your help in getting the car. After the day that I have gone through with other used car dealers—” “You mean scurvy sand sharks, matey.” Always Al appeared in my mind, circling me in his sharkskin suit.
“Used car salesmen are a breed that feeds off of the misery and needs of others. They’ll tell you anythin’ just to get to you an’ your wallet. It don’t matter what they say; usually you find that out a couple of months afterwards, when the engine starts knockin’, an’ the gears stop shiftin’, the rear end howls like a gale, or your drive line does a deep six. They’re all out for their own survival, no matter what happens to their prey. Exactly the way that a shark feels towards its dinner.” I continued to nod, thinking of all the used car lots that I had been to that day. The one thing I did not understand was how could Don the used car dealer could call himself Honest Abe. “Simple enough, matey. Abraham Lincoln was always said to be a honest person, and most people don’t trust used car sales people. If they think that he’s honest, they’ll believe what he tells them. It’s a simple enough advertisin’ ploy that works.” “So you work with this Honest Abe Don’s used cars?” It all seemed to simple. The captain nearly choking on his beer informed me I was wrong again. “Hell, matey, I don’t work for him, I helped get him started! He’s my cousin.”
The following Sunday, I decided to go to Barbar’s and watch the football game that was on television. I knew Barbar’s was not a sports bar, nor had those whom I had met there seemed to be sports fanatics. What I did know was that they had a television there, and I thought that the frequenters might be watching the game. Besides, I wanted to show off my new car.
I pulled into the parking lot and saw there were more cars there than I had ever seen before. Thinking to myself that Barbar’s might be some kind of hangout for the Sunday football viewers, I got out of my car with hopes of enjoying a game with friends.
Then I walked in. I stood in the doorway and stared at what I was seeing. Yes, the television was turned on, but it was not the football game that they were watching: everyone there was watching Face the Nation. I stood there stunned, my mouth hanging open. Axel, standing behind the bar, yelled at me, “Close the damn door! You’re lettin’ all of the heat out.” I stepped in and pulled the door shut. I walked towards the main cluster of viewers like a man in a dream.
“Well, look what the dirt blew in,” Bos’n Billy called at me, motioning me to a group that was seated around a table. “I heard you met Honest Abe and got yourself a new set of wheels.”
“Yep,” I replied, “and I came by to say thanks for your folks’ help.” “Shit, Potato Man, I didn’t do anything. Of course, you could always show appreciation by refilling my glass.” He held up an empty mug to get his point across. I made a move to Axel, but should have known better. Nothing ever escaped Axel’s vision, and his putting a full mug of beer in front of Billy before I could request it reminded me of that. “So how’s the captain been doing?” Common ground was always a good point to start a conversation from. I was also curious why they did not have the football game on the TV, but had learned that direct questions did not apply in this bar. “Finer than a fat, fin-tailed Cadillac, why? Your car not what you thought it was?” “No, not at all.” I nursed my beer for a minute and then said, “You know, there’s a football game on TV. Aren’t you folks interested in the football game?” What I got in return was a stare by all those sitting at the table. I had an idea of what Custer felt like, with all of those Indian eyes on him at Little Big Horn. “Football watchin’ and talkin’ aren’t allowed in this bar.” Axel’s tone of voice did not answer my question. I was going to probe the why further when I heard the Captain’s voice from the doorway.
“Football is for boys who think that they are man enough to be a man. They’re the fat boys who are paid better than Sumo wrestlers, pigs who try to slaughter each other, overpaid weekend warriors.” He strode over to our table and gave me a look that let me know that a beer was immediately required. Axel must have known it, for he was at the table with a brew before the Captain had sat down. “They’re thought of as gods,” he said, “as superhuman entities who graciously walk this Earth with us. Well let me tell you, they’re no better than any other fish I’ve had to chase.” “You’ve had a prior experience with a football player?” I asked. He snorted at the question. “Yep, sure as salt I have. Let me tell you about this one pull.”
I was familiar with the player he named, a name that shall hereby remain anonymous. “Now, when one gains fame or notoriety,” said the Captain, “they seem to think that makes them better than all the others, that they have privileges that no one else has. With this case, he seemed to think his vehicle was his and that he was goin’ to pay for it when he felt like payin’. Since he was a defensive tackle, he was big enough and mean enough that no-one wanted to make him mad.” I glanced at Billy and saw his smile, which made me wonder even more if he had ever been a football player. “Well, this slobby skipper thought no-one would ever try to lay a hand on him or his car, and he did everythin’ to make sure that it stayed that way. He was so brave, or fat-headed, that the address I had been given for him was still where he was livin’. It all seemed too easy, for there weren’t any security gates or even a garage to hide the fish in. I thought that this pull was gonna be a piece of cake. “I sat down the road from his house, waitin’ for him to come home, go into his house, and leave me the fish. My work order said that it was a pickup truck, and, sure enough, a pickup truck comes trollin’ down the road, pulls up, and parks in the driveway. Now, I’ve seen some big people before, but I could not understand how he was able to fit in that truck. He went around to the side of his house and rolls this big piece of concrete behind his truck, blockin’ it from going anywhere. He rolled two more pieces of concrete behind the truck, apparently making it impossible for anyone to do anythin’ to it. Decidin’ to come back after dark, I fired up my trawler and left. “It was around three in the mornin’ that I thought I’d try and make my move. I cruised back to the house and parked close. I got out of my trawler with the idea of movin’ the blocks, hookin’ up, and runnin’. It was right after my first attempt to move one of those blocks that I started wearin’ a truss: I knew I’d never be able to pull it from the house.” “So you came and got Billy, right?” I asked. “Billy wasn’t sailin’ with me then, matey.” The Captain downed the remnants of his beer and gave me the eye to order him another. “No, I came back in the mornin’ and started tailin’ him, hopin’ for a chance to hook the fish. What I learned was that everywhere he went, he made sure to park his truck in such a way that I couldn’t hook it. He’d parallel park it between cars, parallel park between trees, parallel park between anybody nearby. No front or back hook up was possible. “Well, I knew that this fish was goin’ to be mine by crook or not by crook, and that was all that there was to it. After a couple of days of tailin’ him, I got an idea. You see, most everybody is a creature of some habit, and he was showin’ me his habits.” I nodded in agreement: the group at Barbar’s had shown me that much. “He would go to the place where he worked and parked a certain way: between two cars that obviously were either friends or fellow workers of his. One mornin’, he pulls into his usual parking spot, makin’ sure that there was a car in front of him and behind him, and goes in to work. I sure wished that I could have been there when he came out and saw his truck gone.” “How did you do it, Captain?” “I had a friend get there before anybody else did and park his car in front of the place where he would usually park. Once he parked the fish and left, I had the friend move his car and off I went with the fish. It was simple enough.” It did make sense to me. “Was there ever any fallout from this football player, Captain? Did he try to find you and make you physically pay for it?” “All that I can say is that someone did come to Barbar’s, foamin’ at the mouth about some thief stealin’ their brother’s truck. Strangely enough, this same person no longer talks to his brother about any matters anymore.”
“Why not, Captain?” “Because he’s a fathead who always thought that he was better than anyone else,” Billy piped in. “Brotherly love only goes so far, and I always did want to pay him back for how he always treated his younger brother: me.”
A few days later I was approached by a coworker about going out for a day of fishing. Realizing that I would need a few items, such as a fishing license and a pole, I hurried around to complete my missing requirements. The day had been clear, crisp, and beautiful; the drive a pleasant-enough experience. It would have been even nicer if there had been any fish who wanted to sacrifice themselves to us, but when we came home, all we had was a goose egg to show for our efforts. As he was letting me out of the car at my apartment, the acquaintance said, “Next time, we’ll knock ’em dead. We’ll bring home so many fish, we’ll need two or more stringers. You’ll see.” I nodded in agreement and wondered if next time maybe I should take along some dynamite to ensure catching some fish. Then, again, the thought of fish gave me the desire for a beer and some real fish stories. I unpacked what I had taken along, went out to my car, and headed for Barbar’s. It was past midday when I wheeled into the parking lot, wondering who might be there. The lot looked deserted, with only three cars parked there. I knew that one of the vehicles was the Captain’s trawler, but I had no idea who owned the other two cars. They looked too good to be sitting in Barbar’s parking lot. When I entered, the first thing I noticed was that there was nobody there. I mean, there was no-one there! No-one at the bar, no-one at any barstools, no-one sitting anywhere. Where was Axel? Had I walked in on a robbery in progress? What was going on here? I heard a noise from the back room, behind the end of the bar. My heartbeat began to start a hundred-yard dash inside me. Then, the drape to the back room flourished open, and Axel’s bulk and face appeared, followed by the Captain’s grungy cap. Relieved at who I saw, I tried to sit and not collapse on the near by barstool. “Ya see, I told ya there was someone here,” Axel said to the Captain. He had proven to me again that he somehow knew when a beer was needed. He walked around behind the bar and poured two beers; one for the Captain and one for me, who sat down on the barstool next to me. “Hey, there, matey, how’s your day doin’?” Without waiting for my answer, he started to down his beer. “It’s another day, Cap’n,” I replied. “Went out fishing today with someone who said that we would catch fish. Personally, I think that I was made into a sucker.” I took a sip of my beer, waiting to see what would transpire. The Captain slowly nodded his head in somewhat agreement. His response seemed to demand more from me, so I continued. “My friend claims that next time, we’ll get so many fish that we’ll need two stringers to bring them all back.”
“Two stringers!” The ferocity of the Captain’s reaction surprised me. “With your blamed luck, you’d probably forget where you put one of the stringers.” “Why do you say that, Cap’n?” “Because human nature is greed, it’s experience that should show us how stupid we can be. Of course, most never realize it until it’s too late.” He gulped down the last of his beer and peered hard at me. I turned to Axel to order the Captain another, but, again, was slower than Axel, who put a fresh glass in front of the Captain. “When I was a small mate, startin’ out on my own pulls, I ran across that greedy feelin’ and paid a price for it. I was gettin’ alert around one, mappin’ out my plan of attack for the night in advance.” “Well, if you’re up at one in the afternoon,” I asked, “that would be a good idea to draw up a plan before resting.” “Hell, you Eye-de-eye-de-hoan, one in the mornin’, right after my twenty minute siesta of organizin’ my thoughts about the fish that I was goin’ in search of or landin’. Anyhow, I’m young in mind and body at the time, so I thinks that I’m Super Repoman, the best car finder in the land! “Yessirre, I knew what I was doin’. The first fish that I was goin’ to look for was in a town that was an hour’s drive away. Now as the fates would have it, the car was sittin’ in the driveway, waitin’ for the easy pickin’. I snook up, hooked her, and was makin’ my move off when the front door on the house flies open. This guy comes runnin’ out, dressed bottom-half of his pyjammers, screamin’ auto theft, bloody murder, and I thought I heard the word genocide somewhere in his tirade. “What he don’t know is that I ain’t stoppin’ for nothin’, and that included him. He made a beautiful dive towards the cab of my truck, so I sort of slammed on my brakes. Watching his flailin’ form sail by reminded of a flyin’ fish, though I still can’t say much for his landin’.” “Was he hurt? Did you stop and see if he needed any medical attention?” “Do you wash yer ears out when you bathe, matey?” “Huh?” I had no idea of what he was wanting. “I was wonderin’ if you had potatoes growin’ in yer head. Shit, you slimey swab, hell no I didn’t go back! As I roared by with his fish, he seemed to have no problem in gettin’ up and trying to chase me for about a hundred yards or so down the road.
“So I’m feelin’ good, got me my first fish for the night, and am headin’ for the yard to drop it. This is gonna be easy, I thinks to myself. “The second fish that was on my list was somewhat out of my direct route to the yard, but I didn’t think that I would have any luck. If the creditors wanted to know why I hadn’t hauled their fish, I could honestly say that I had looked but was unable to catch the prey. It always appeases the creditors from wonderin’ why you haven’t pulled their car. “I’m movin’ along, tryin’ to find the address for this fish but havin’ a real hard time.” He coughed to show me how hard and dry he was. Axel replaced the empty glass in front of the Captain with a fresh one. The Captain tilted it to me in toast and took a large gulp.
“Seein’ that I’m in need of some decent light, I pulls up in front of this street light on a corner. Bingo! I’m a little short of three blocks short of the house. I goes down the street, real slow, checkin’ out the house numbers, when, pow!” “Pow? Like in a pow wow? Pow now brown cow? A pow pow tree?” I had run out of suggestive fill-ins. “No,” he growled at my interruption, washing the last of his grrr down with some of his beer. “The fish was parked on the street, unencumbered by any obstacles or foreign autos. Wishin’ that I could haul more than one wouldn’t solve my problem, so I went around the corner and dropped the prior fish, went back, latched onto the new one, and started once again to head for the yard. “Now, havin’ two in two tries makes one feel real good. Of course, I technically only had the one that I was holdin’, and a fish in the hand is worth two in the bush. It was that old adage that started it, I guess, I went to number three fish on my list. There she sat, open and for the takin’, and me already pullin’ one and one sittin’ waitin’ for my return. “Let me just say that I never since have ever had the kind of night that I did that night. I went to seven different fish locales and found all seven of them, each time leavin’ the last fish in the immediate locale of the one that I picked up. When I finally made it to the yard with the last fish pulled, it was nearin’ five in the mornin’. All I had to do now was go back and, one by one, bring ’em in. “Everythin’ was doin’ fine with the last two that I had pulled, but when I went back for the fourth one, it wasn’t where I recalled it bein’. People were beginnin’ to wake up, and the last thing that I wanted was to become suspicious-lookin’ to the neighborhood, so I went on to get the fifth fish. It too wasn’t where I remembered leavin’ it. “Now, I was not about to let the other two sittin’ fish get away, so I went and found the other two, one at a time, and hauled them to the yard. I told my boss about the fish that I had found and pulled but lost afterwards. He wasn’t very happy at what I told him, though, in a way, he had to admit that he was impressed by my luck in findin’ them.” He stopped and took a drink of his beer. “So what happened to the fish that moved on you, Cap’n?” I didn’t think he would have given up. “Turns out that a nosy, insomniac neighbor had seen me drop ’em and called the police about someone abandonin’ cars in their neighborhood. Whatever I made off the five fish that I pulled in paid for what it cost me to get the other two fish out of the police impound yard. I learned that I needed someplace where I could drop an extra fish for the short term, and Axel’s is that place.”
As time went by, I noticed that I was becoming a regular at Barbar’s. It wasn’t unusual to stop by two or three times a week, sharing lives and beers with the other frequenters: Bos’n Billy turned out to be a gentle giant with a heart of gold, though most people mistook it for iron pyrite; Axel was a man of few words and more beers; Ensign Pulver (his last name really was Pulver) and his partner, Rusty Geer, who together owned an auto repair shop. Barbar’s clientele had become like a second family to me. Then, there was the Captain. If he was not at Barbar’s when I got there, it would often be that he had just left or he would appear shortly after I got there. I always looked forward to his entertaining stories and his continuing education about human nature. He was also teaching me about friends and friendship. The Captain was there at Barbar’s when I came in late one Saturday night. The last of winter was refusing to give way to any promise of Spring or better weather, and I made comment to the Captain that the weather was for the birds. That was all that it took him to start off. “In case you’ve never noticed, matey, fish don’t care what the weather is like. Rain or shine, they’re still fish. They can think that they’re a dead president, a cat, or a bird, but to me they’re all fish to catch.” He nursed his beer slowly, which surprised me. “The one thing that a repoman doesn’t ever want to do is have a skipper armed, that makes ’em dangerous as well as dumb. There ain’t no fish worth dyin’ over, and I’m still alive that’s the way that I think. Of course, there always seems to be an exception to the rule.” He upended his glass, taking the last of his beer down with a gulp. Without even turning my head to motion to Axel, I waited for another glass of brew to appear at the table, which it did. “You ever been duck huntin’, Potato?” I shook my head. Hunting and killing had never appealed to me growing up, and I did not understand what he had in mind. As a rule, I was learning to not second-guess whatever the Captain might be trying to get at. “Duck hunters are the strangest breed of people one could ever run across. Other than a repo person, nobody in their right mind would want to be awake at the crack of dawn, freezing off your anatomy while sittin’ out in the great outdoors. While I may wait for a fish to catch, a duck hunter waits for some poor, dumb duck to fly by on a suicide mission within their kill range. Any sport that requires one to freeze while waitin’ for action is pretty dumb in my rule book.” I didn’t bring up the subject of football or football fans. What I did say was, “You sound like you’ve been duck hunting before, Captain.” His eyes locked onto me like the sights of a gun, slowly, a smile inched its way across his face.
“Yes and no,” was what he said. “I’ve sort of done both at the same time. You see, a long time ago, I had a skipper who thought of himself as bein’ a great sportsman. He drove an Oldsmobile Delta 88, a real man’s car. Now, if you knew this from that, you’d know that a hunter has to be smarter than the prey they are hunting.” “Being a sportsman, he had a wish to fish, the thrill to kill. Why, you might even say that he had the desire to fire. Now, everybody claims that man is the ultimate animal to hunt, and he was provin’ to be a very elusive prey to me. He would go to another county for a fishin’ tournament or cross a state line to bag a bear. Hell, he’d go wherever to add another trophy to his collection. He was definitely makin’ it hard on me and my trawler to land him. All that he was doin’ was makin’ me think of how sweet my pullin’ him was gonna be. “It was December, when ol’ man winter squats on everyone, remindin’ them that not all shit is warm, that I begin to see a possible flaw with this skipper’s habits.”
“What was that, Captain?”
“I just told you, you Mr. Manacle Mind. He had his habits, and one of them was to go out and dink some ducks. As I said, duck hunters are a different breed that enjoy crisp, cold dawns, killin’ innocent flybys, and water. I finally located where it was that this skipper would hunt, and all that I had to do was get there first, hide out, and wait for the shootin’ skipper to land. A simpleenough plan, eh?” I was surprised that he asked my opinion and nodded my agreement. He nodded back at me and said, “That’s where one goes wrong.”
“How could it go wrong, Captain?” “Remember that I said that there was water? Well, he parks, gets out of his car, and wanders down to his huntin’ blind without a care in the world. I wait a few minutes and then backs up to his fish. Now, if’n you’re not familiar with the Oldsmobile Delta 88, then you wouldn’t know that years ago they were real lead sleds, metal ships of the line that rivaled Cadillacs and Continentals in their weight. Of course, I had already pulled large loads, so I had no qualms about this one. “So I backs up and hooks her up, all the time listenin’ for gunshots or any other noises that might let me know where the skipper is at. Everythin’ is goin’ just like I planned. Then reality stepped in and educated me of somethin’ very important that I had overlooked.” I sat patiently, waiting to hear what had happened. It was then I saw that his glass was again devoid of any liquids. I merely thought that Axel should bring a beer when he appeared with it in his hand, setting it down in front of the Captain. He took a sip and continued. “I was all hooked up and ready to roll out of there. I put my trawler in gear, let the clutch out and felt the rear tires spinnin’ in the soft ground. The weight of that fish was shovin’ by rear tires slowly into that soft ground. Now, I knew that if I continued to try this method of attack that I was goin’ to plant myself there until the skipper returned, and he had a gun with him. “I got out of my trawler and unhooked the fish and proceeded to get myself out of there before I got in any deeper. I saw that any attempt to pull this fish would probably leave me stuck in the mud like a pig in a wallow, and yet I refused to give up. That’s when I saw what I was goin’ to have to do.” “The ground could either be my friend or my enemy, and I had always thought of skippers as my only enemies. I had a gas container in the bed of my trawler, so I went off in search of some water to fill the container with. Makin’ sure of where the skipper was, I made about six trips back and forth with the container, always makin’ sure to pour the water out by his rear tires. After a while, the ground by those tires didn’t seem so thirsty. I went back to my trawler and headed off for what I was gonna need. “I came back a couple of hours later, ready to do, and happened to drive to where the skipper had parked. Like I had hoped, he had returned to his car and tried to leave. All that he had done was spin his tires until he was stuck, as I would have been if I had continued tryin’ to pull him. “He sees me drivin’ by and flags me down, hopin’ that I could get him unstuck from his situation.” “Why was it that he thought that you would help him, Captain?” “It’s always advisable to have a metal sign to hang on the outside of one’s trawler, statin’ that you are a tow company. Of course, it’s a fictitious name and address, but no one has to know that. I got out and looked at his car like a surgeon eyein’ a patient. ‘She’s stuck’ I says to him. Naturally, bein’ a gentleman to his eyes, I offered him my assistance for a price, cash up front first. I then handed him a shovel to start diggin’ the mud away from the tires, tellin’ him that the more that he did to help get it out would reduce the cost of getting his car unstuck. That part he seemed to like. After a minute of hagglin’, we reached a price and he paid me. “I got the extra chain lengths that I had gotten and hooked his car up, makin’ sure that I wasn’t goin’ to stick myself in the process. I played him along nice and slow, tellin’ him to dig out more here or there, listenin’ to him curse me, huntin’, his car, and the ground. When I was set to try and pull him, I told him to help by gettin’ behind his car and pushin’. The last I saw of him was the surprised look on his face, even through the mud on it, of watching his car leavin’ and him stayin’ there.” I knew that my mouth was gaping open at what he had done. “You took his car and his money?” “Yep,” he said chuckling, “it was a beautiful dawn for me, though I don’t know if he ever did decide to go duck huntin’ again.”
The moment that I walked in, I knew that I had entered Barbar’s at a very sacred time. Everybody had their backs to the front door, all of them staring at what was on the television. I looked at the set to see what was on that had them all so sober. The screeching of tires and the roar of engines informed me that it had to do with cars: it was quarter-mile drag racing. I aimed myself towards a vacant chair that was near a familiar group of faces that had broken out arguing why one had won and one had lost. I sat in a chair next to the Captain. Axel appeared, placed two beers in front of us, and then reappeared behind the bar, all without a word being spoken. I took a sip and sat there like the rest of the barstool racers. The semi-stock finals were down to two more heats. A Ford Mustang rolled up against a Camaro. Engines revved, roaring out their horsepower. The tree flashed the colors to green and they were off in a cloud of burning rubber. Then, in a split second, it was over; the Mustang started to smoke like a juvenile with a cheap cigar. The Camaro cruised at a relaxed speed across the finish line, saving the engine for the last heat.
I realized that the group that I had been circulating with must have been Ford people, for they all moaned and groaned at the loss of the Mustang. “Son of a bitch,” Rusty Geer bellowed, “Fords are First On Race Day! Who the shit-sided shingle is in that pit who thinks that they are a mechanic? That stupid squiddle-squat probably didn’t take into account to readjust the valves because of the torque that the turbo puts on those 429s. He blew up that purty little Ford.” I swear I saw a tear trickle from his eye. “There ain’t nothin’ worse than someone not takin’ care of what you love and what you love doin’, right Captain?” I guess Rusty was looking for some sort of justification for his outburst from someone who might help allay his hurt from the dead Mustang. “There, there, Rusty me mate, there’s always tomorrow. As you saw by that race, it’s not always the fast one that wins, it’s by how smart one is.” He picked up his glass of beer and took a small drink from it, which surprised me. Then he swilled it around in his mouth, tilted his head back, and, with his mouth wide open, began to gargle. He then swallowed, smacked his lips and exhaled. Grinning at me, he proceeded to down the entire glass. Axel was there before his grin was a memory. On the screen, they were getting set for the last quarter final. It pitted an Olds 442 against a Plymouth Roadrunner. The two cars edged their way to the starting line, each daring the other to leave the mark a fraction of a second before the green light flashed. Neither gave in until the green, and they were both off. It was like a poetic chorus of shrieks, roars, and screeches.
Off the line, they were evenly matched, nose to nose. It was in their shifting of gears that the Roadrunner gained inches on the Oldsmobile. Each gear shift only added to the lead that the Roadrunner was acquiring, until it flew past the quarter mile mark as the winner, the Olds right behind it. “Those Roadrunners are sure fast machines.” I didn’t think that anyone cared with the Mustang out of the finals. The stares that I got back informed me that I had again made another of my fallible passing comments. “Ford rules,” Rusty quipped back at me. “There ain’t no Roadrunner made that could take on a set up Mustang in a quarter mile race.” “That, Rusty, is somethin’ that we can’t say for sure.” The Captain’s voice had a strange effect on Rusty, for he looked at the Captain and then started chuckling. I knew something had happened between the Captain and Rusty, but had no idea of what was so funny. I also knew that there was only one way to find out. “So, tell me, Captain, why is it you are aren’t sure that a Mustang couldn’t beat a Roadrunner?” “’Cause I ain’t ever seen a person with a Roadrunner who was all too smart. Let me tell you about a Mustang and a Roadrunner that one time was gonna race.” To make sure I paid attention, he downed his beer and let it magically, at my expense, be replaced by the ever-present Axel. “A few years ago, they made some of them Roadrunners that must have been designed to fly, they put a big fin on the back trunk of ’em. Three deuce carbs sit¿cont tin’ on a hemi 440-cubic-inch monster that could a gas tank dry within thirty miles at top speed. Add induction, a four speed tranny with a limited slip rear end, oversized driveline, and top it all off with a fin on the trunk. “There weren’t too many of ’em around, and they stood out and away from others. Of course, it had to fall in my lap that a bank wanted theirs back from some college boy whose parents decided that he wasn’t worth the payments, the gas, or the insurance. That boy had wanted that car for two reasons: to go fast and to get fast girls. He had a reputation for racin’, and the cops loved him for it. All that I had to do was go faster than him and get the fish.” I knew that he was pulling my leg about going fast, for I had seen his trawler and I didn’t think that it could have done sixty going down a hill. “I’d known the Ensign and Rusty here for a few years, and knew that the best, and probably only way, that I would be able to get this fish was in his own pond. At the time, Rusty had a Mustang that he had built from its rubber hooves up to the fox tail on the antennae. Now, Rusty used to take his horse to the official track on weekends and race for the prize money. So I approached Rusty about a race, though it ain’t gonna be on the quarter mile track that he would normally race on. I laid out to him what it is that I had planned and he agreed. The rest is best told by the one who did.” The Captain looked over at Rusty to pick up his thread, which he did.
“I went by where he was stayin’ at and told him that I had a machine that could take his any day, anytime, anywhere. I’d heard that this kid thought that he and his car were the best, and that I, bein’ a lowly grease monkey, would be some fast cash in his pocket. He agreed, named a time and a place, and then slammed the door in my face. I was ready to go in and do a fast five hundred on him, but knew that the Captain wouldn’t have appreciated it. “It was around three in the mornin’ on the followin’ Saturday that Pulver and I arrived at the prearranged spot. There must have been thirty other cars that were racin’ or watchin’ what was goin’ on. Personally, I think they were all there to see me and the Roadrunner lock some gears. “The area around the startin’ line that was marked on the road was cleared of cars and people, makin’ room for the two vehicles. Pulver got out and went over to the Roadrunner’s shotgun to discuss the financial matters. After a second, he gives me the thumbs up and all but the starter head away from the startin’ line. “’This is only for a quarter mile, right?’ he yells at me in the car. I nodded. The starter stood to the side, off of the road, holding up a piece of white cloth. The two cars sat there, grumblin’ and growlin’ to take off. His arm went down and the Roadrunner took out of there like a belly-snagged carp. “I guess he never looked in his rear view mirror, he would have noticed that my headlights weren’t near him and that I wasn’t even leavin’ the line. He just grabbed gears and flew by the quarter mile mark doin’ well above 110. What I didn’t know was that one could stop in such a short distance.” “What do you mean by that, Rusty? Was there an obstacle in the road? Why did he have to stop?” I waited for the gears to shift and another beer to appear. “Five cop cars appeared from a side road in front of him and blocked the road off entirely. From behind us, where Pulver and I had been, comes five more of ’em with their lights and sirens blarin’. It seemed that word had gotten out that there was goin’ to be a big race at the marked quarter, and the cops were waitin’ for their golden moment.” He took a big drink of his beer and smiled. “But what about the Roadrunner? Did you get that fish?” I asked. I didn’t want to believe that there had been a fish that the Captain couldn’t catch. “Shiver yer shingles, matey, of course I got that fish. Who do you think told the cops, anonymously, that there was goin’ to be a race?” His smile didn’t placate me as to the why he had left Rusty high and dry. “What happened to Rusty? What happened to the Roadrunner?” “I happened to be in the area, so it was a free fish. The cops do sometimes appreciate people with tow vehicles. But Rusty, what about him? Hell, matey, he didn’t do nothin’; he had stayed motionless at the startin’ line. The cops couldn’t touch him for racin’, since he hadn’t been. It’s like I said, Mr. Potato Panache, I ain’t never seen a Roadrunner beat a Mustang, though I have seen the driver of a Roadrunner beaten by the driver of a Mustang.”
Some days are meant to happen a certain way, while others are meant to happen because… well, you know what I mean. The Mamas and the Papas may have once complained about Mondays, but, to me, that they had never experienced a Thursday like I had that day. The day before had been a beautiful spring day, with birds singing and the sun out, warming everyone it touched. The next day, Nature decided that everyone stank and needed a shower. On my way to work, I was rear ended by a tailgater who thought that they needed a new hood ornament for his car, which made me late for work, which did not make my supervisor happy. Everyone at work seemed to be more interested in doing nothing, leaving me to do their work for them. The power went out for half an hour, I didn’t get any lunch, and a possible date that I had hoped for told me that she was going in for a breast transplant. After a day like this, I only one choice for after work: I headed for Barbar’s. The lot was filled with cars, one of which I noted was the Captain’s trawler. Seeing that he was there, I had a feeling that things would get better. The crowd inside had become used to me, and I to them, for they all called out “Hey, Potato Man” in unison. It felt nice to be acknowledged. I steered myself towards the familiar cap and sat down. “Evenin’, matey, how’s your day?” His smiling face some how made me think that there was hope in my future. “Not as good as a beer,” I replied, hoisting the glass of brew that always magically appeared when a regular would sit down. “Say, Captain, have you ever noticed that work is a four letter word?” He snorted at my comment. “Anytime that one does somethin’ that they enjoy, it’s not work; but if they don’t like what they’re doin’, it’s work.” His eyes seemed to twinkle at me. I wasn’t sure if there really was a twinkle, or if he was trying to hit on me. I took another sip of my beer. “Then I must work, because my job is no longer fun. Of course, I don’t think that it was originally supposed to be fun. So tell me, Captain,” I inquired, “you don’t think of your profession as work?” “Hell, matey, it’s all a game, just like fishin’ with bait in water. I could tell you about one hook that might prove to you how much fun this repo game can be.” He paused, giving me enough time to make a mental note of a beer being required. As usual, Axel was there within a trice, removing the empty glass. “It was a few years ago back when I got an order from a party that I would never have thought to have heard from,” he started. I now knew enough to shut up and listen. “Have you ever heard of Big Ben’s Car Sales?” I nodded. “Well, it was the old man himself, Big Ben, who called me up with a request for a repo that he wanted done without anyone knowin’ what was goin’ on, which suited me fine. “It seemed that he had given his son a limousine with the idea that he would make somethin’ out of his worthless being. All the boy wanted to do was spend money and have his dear, old, rich dad pay off all the bills, which his dad had gotten tired of doin’. Somewhere along the line, the boy got into some real deep financial troubles with some gamblin’ debts, and his dad, the big man himself, told the boy that he was on his own in the matter. The party that was owed the money made a deal with the boy that he couldn’t refuse: his life or the limo for the debt. “Now, when Big Ben noticed that he hadn’t seen the limo for a while, he asked the boy where it was, and, not likin’ the answer he got, called me. While Big Ben may have had ownership of the vehicle, the boy had no idea where it was, and Big Ben wanted it back, though I was beginnin’ to think that he had more of a value for the limo than for his boy. I told Big B that I would take the job, and what I wanted for my services. He moaned, groaned, but realized that he would be forever reminded of the loss by seein’ his worthless boy, so, he reluctantly agreed. “I took the lad aside and grilled him like a filet of sole, tryin’ to get as much info about who had the fish and where they might be layin’. What he told me let me know that this was goin’ to be one of the toughest pulls I had ever faced. Why, it was beginnin’ to sound like work itself. The holder of the missin’ fish was a Mister Gorilla Goomba, a small-time money shark who would’ve used his mother as collateral for a loan, if he’d a thought that he had a chance of makin’ any money out of the deal. At that point, I knew that this pull was goin’ to be a real risky haul.” He took a drink of his beer, eyeing me for any questions or clarifications. I merely smiled at him like a mute. He smiled back and continued. “Now, one thing one shouldn’t do is get involved in family matters, and the Family had a way of makin’ sure that they always got their money. While the Gorilla may not have been an Eye-talian, he did have their support in his matters of dealin’, and that meant that I would have to be one step up and ahead of them. The first thing I had to do was sink down to the level where the Gorilla hung out and talk to him. “I understands that you have somethin’ that belongs to Big Ben,’ I said to him. “What I got back from him was his teeth flashin’ at me. ‘Who says so?’ It was obvious that he was playin’ me for a sap or thinkin’ that I was the boy’s messenger boy. “‘Mr. Big Ben himself, Mr. Goomba. Now, this matter is between you and the brat boy and not Big Ben, so why don’t you give the car back and take this up close and personal with the boy?’ I was hopin’ for an easy solution to the problem. “‘You tell the old man to pay off the bill, and he can have his car back. That is the end of any discussion that you may want to have, buddy.’ “Now, my name isn’t buddy and I sure don’t like bein’ called it, so I left there with a resolve that Gorilla was not goin’ to make a monkey out of me. The only prob¿cont lem that I had was findin’ where he had the fish stored. Everyone I talked to didn’t know anythin’ or else owed Gorilla and wouldn’t give me any directions to work with. What was my savin’ grace was that Gorilla thought of himself as ‘socially conscious’, which, of course, many apes seem to think the same way. It was a few days later that I saw that there was goin’ to be the social function of the year, with all kinds of local celebrities attendin’. Knowin’ what I knew about Gorilla, I knew that he would want to be seen there. “So’s I go and stake out where the function is goin’ to be happenin’ and wait for the cars to start arrivin’. Sure enough, a white limousine pulls up at the function and Gorilla, his date, and a couple of swarthy skinned people get out of the car. I know that there’s no way that I could try to pull it with so many people around, so I sat off to the side of the road and waited for the fish to be reloaded and cruise it back to its hidden port. After about five hours, I see the limo drive up to the front, Gorilla, his date, the two swarthy men, and Big Ben’s boy get into it. This is strange, I thinks to myself.” The pause was long enough for Axel to set down two more beers and pick up the empty glasses. “Why would Ben’s boy be ridin’ with Gorilla? Who were the two other occupants? Where were they headin’ for and what did they have in mind? I fired up my trawler and followed their lead, hopin’ to get lucky. After a short drive, I found myself in an industrial area with a lot of warehouses. I saw that the fish went into one of the warehouses and I thought that I had gotten lucky and found the storage spot. But when I saw the limo reappear comin’ out of the warehouse, I knew that I wasn’t that lucky. I fired up and followed them at a distance, heading towards the freeway. My only hope was that they hadn’t seen me and that they might still give me a chance to grab and run. “They headed out of town on the freeway and drove North for about thirty miles, takin’ an off-ramp that old bring them close to a lake. I saw that they finally stopped at a cluster of cabins near the lake, and that only four people got out of the fish; the missin’ one bein’ Ben’s boy. Once they headed into the cabin, I waited until the lights inside went out. I sprung at that limo like a pike at a fish, grabbed it, and hoped that the front end of my trawler would stay on the ground good enough for me to steer her straight.” The Captain took a long drink from his glass and smacked his lips. “So you got the fish,” I said. “Yep, landed that great white and had me a surprise to boot.” Somehow, I already knew that. “What was the surprise, Captain?” “Remember I made a comment about Ben’s boy not bein’ in the car when they got out at the cabin? Well, I was wrong: he was in the car. It seems that he couldn’t get out because he was gagged, trussed up, and stuck in the trunk. Those two unknown gentlemen were Family people, and they were more interested in their money than the limo, and they were goin’ to put that great white and the Jonah in the trunk back into their natural environment, which was why they were at the lake. If I hadn’t’ve tailed that fish that night, Big Ben’s boy would have been sunnin’ himself with the sunfish. I returned the limo to Big Ben, and the boy has been in eternal gratitude to me ever since for savin’ his life.” “So you saved his life. Wow, that’s a hell of a tale, Captain. Whatever happened to Gorilla? How did Big Ben’s boy ever repay you?” I was curious. “Gorilla’s people weren’t happy with him over the loss of their two items, and they decided that maybe he needed a vacation. As far as Big Ben’s boy, he makes sure that there is somethin’ that I don’t have to ask for,” he replied, draining his glass, only to have Axel appear unrequested with another beer for the Captain.
I went to work the following day with a feeling that things would get better, only to have it dashed by the reality that I was still the low man on the totem pole at work. It was at some time during my lunch hour that it dawned on me that maybe my aspirations of being successful were built out of straw, and the bosses at work knew that all they instilled in us was the desire to own houses made out of the same straw. If they thought of me as a camel at work, then they didn’t know me. It was one too many straws, and I wasn’t about to burn, no matter what the surgeon general may have claimed. A feeling of it all being worthless replaced the food in my stomach, giving me the feeling that I knew there had to be something better. The Captain had always pointed out that people were creatures of habit, never seeing that they were in a rut of repetition. Was I becoming such a creature? I called in to the office and explained that I was not feeling well and needed the afternoon off. What I got back was innuendoes that it was not advisable to my job security, and that time off with short notice was not appreciated. I informed them I would remember that in the future and hung up the phone.
I went home and lied down, closing the shades to block out the world. What was I going to do? Why should I continue doing what I was doing? Where was it I wanted to be? With those thoughts in mind, I slipped into the quicksand of sleep. It was close to six that night when I awoke, no closer to having any answers to my earlier questions. The Captain might have been right about the difference between work and what he did. What I did know was that work was what made the world go around, and that the world had to work mighty hard to get up off of its axis. Pretending I was the world, I got up off of my axis and went to seek some wisdom and consolation at Barbar’s. I pulled into the parking lot with a feeling in my stomach, which I hoped was not my earlier lunch refusing to settle down. Once inside, I saw the Captain sitting at his usual table and steered for him. “Evening, Captain,” I started, “how’s the fishin’ been?” “Pickin’ up,” he replied with a smile. He looked at me and must have noticed that I was distressed, for he said, “What’s the matter, matey? Your fish belly up on you? If so, I’ll talk to that cousin of mine about—” “No, Captain, the car is fine and life sucks.” He picked up his glass of beer and drained it. The table suddenly sprouted two beers and the empty glass disappeared from his hand. He was silent to my words, leaving me to wonder if he didn’t understand, didn’t care, or didn’t hear me.
“Work-related, eh?” His perceptiveness shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. “Yeah.”
“What do you have planned for your night, matey?” His question surprised me. He had never seemed to show any consideration to me other than that of being a donor of his beer money. “Nothing,” I replied flatly. “Care to come trollin’ with me tonight?” To have shown that I was not stunned by this question would have made me a contender for an Oscar. His grin showed me that I was out of the running for any chance of winning the award. “Tell you what, matey, I’ll come by your place and pick you up after midnight. Maybe you’ll have an experience that you’ll be able to tell your grandkids.” He downed about half of his glass of beer and eyed me hard. “You best get home and grab some rest, we’ll be out till the sun comes up.” My blood flow increased at the thought of going out with him, of sharing the thrills and dangers of his career. Even though I was well rested, I knew I did not want the Captain thinking that I would disobey his direct order. I downed my beer and said that I would be awake, alert, and with bells on. “Leave the bells, matey. We don’t want to announce ourselves.”
The thought of that night filled me with the anticipation like that of a teenager going out on their first date. The one thing that had me wondering was why he was taking me out with him? As an insurance to make sure that I would stay awake, I made up a large thermos of strong coffee to take along. It was almost the last stroke of midnight when there was a knock on my door. Opening it, there stood the Captain, dressed in dark clothes, his cap perched on his head. “Avast, matey, pull up your anchor and let’s troll.”
I closed the door and followed him to his trawler. I walked around to the passenger side door and opened it, only to get flooded by a wash of papers pouring out the open door. “Grab ’em,” he cried at me, “those are my work orders.” Getting them gathered and in the truck, he asked, “Did you get some sleep? I don’t like havin’ a mate along who can’t be clear minded when needed.” I showed him my thermos. “There ain’t no need to haul along a thermos of beer along, matey, but the thought is kind of nice,” he said. “Besides, I don’t drink while drivin’.” “It’s not beer, Captain,” I corrected him, “it’s good, strong coffee.” From his look he gave I thought that he was going to get sick. “Don’t you know that stuff ain’t nothin’ more than dirtied hot water that tastes bad and does bad things to your body? No, matey, if you need something to stay awake, try one of these. They do me fine.” He popped open the glove box, displaying to me an array of bottles. I knew the names of Vivarin and No-Doz, but what the pharmaceutical bottles were I had no idea of what they were or what was in them. He pulled a couple of the brown prescription bottles out, shook some of the pills from both into his hand and offered them to me. I shook my head. “Whatever you say, matey,” he replied to me, popping the entire handful into his mouth. “Then let’s troll.”
The first hour or so of cruising was spent with him giving me basic instructions as to what would be expected of me. “Remember rule number one, matey, and you can go a long way as a repo man: you are the enemy.” He said it as coolly as the weather outside of the cab. “Too many times, someone who thinks that they could do repo finds out that what they were tryin’ to repo was somethin’ that another didn’t want to give up. Never forget who you are, and you just might survive.” “It seems obvious to me that you believe in that, Captain, because you’re still out here at nights, doing your job.” From what I could see of a smile on his face, he appreciated my comment. “That’s what most people think, matey, though the truth is somewhere between here and there. Why, let me tell you about the kind of people you might run across.” I noticed that he had said run across and not over. “You’ve already told me about quite a few, Captain,” I spoke up. “You mean to tell me that there have been cases that were more extreme?”
“Hell’s bells and high water! Why, if I ever retired from this fun, I could probably write a book, though I don’t know if anybody would want to read it. It might also be injurious to repo people. Let me tell you, I’ve seen people so attached to their cars that they place nothin’ above them. One time, there was this couple gettin’ divorced, and they was havin’ a hard time splittin’ their property, of which one item was the car. It seemed that the wife had always wanted a Lincoln, and the hubby had gotten it for her about nine months before they decided to split the sheets. “They lived in one of those fancy, big houses in a neighborhood that specialized in fancy, big houses. I had cruised the area and saw that I was goin’ to have a hard pull, seein’ as all of the neighborhood knew who was supposed to be there and who wasn’t. I had cruised by durin’ the daylight hours to get a lay of the situation, but could not have expected what I found when I tried to make my move. “It was around three in the mornin’ on a Saturday when I pulled into the area and parked across the street to see what I might be able to do about haulin’ the fish. I hadn’t no more turned off the engine when I heard a conflict that was bein’ waged inside the house. The amount of clamor that was goin’ on surprised me I didn’t see no one outside, though I could sure enough hear them debatin’ about certain articles from the inside of the house. I heard them screamin’ real loud and the sound of glass items bein’ broken from inside, which led me to believe that I would not be noticed. Before I could get out and try to do a hook up, the front door opens and a man walked out of the house. “I lied down low, hopin’ to not be seen but wantin’ to see what was goin’ to happen. The man went to a small shed next to the garage and came back out with a chainsaw that looked like it had been Paul Bunyan. I only had a few seconds to wonder if he was goin’ to do a remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre when he walked over to the Lincoln and fired the chainsaw up.
“‘I’ll give you half, you bitch,’ he screamed at the woman who was standin’ in the front doorway. With the saw roarin’ like a sea devil, he started to saw that Lincoln in half. He was doin’ a better job with the saw than I would have thought when two squad cars roared up to the house. Within a few minutes, the officers had the two involved parties in the house, tryin’ to sort things out and reestablish peace in the neighborhood.” “So you got the fish?” “Naturally. I also got myself a free chainsaw, though it did need a new chain before it would cut anything else besides paper. You see, matey, bein’ a repo person has certain benefits.” “Like getting a free chainsaw?” I knew that there was going to be more involved. “You wouldn’t believe what one might find in a repo. If one has their car pulled, any and every thing inside is not theirs until they pay up what they owe. If they don’t pay, it becomes not theirs. Hell, I haven’t had to lay out any money for clothes to wear for the last five years from all of the clothin’ that I gotten out of repos. Besides, one can’t get a prescription for those kind of things,” he said, denoting what was in the glove box, “and they cost too much on the black market.” “You mean that you find prescription drugs in repos? You kept them for yourself and took them?” I was a little stunned. “I’ve found more than prescription drugs, matey. I can tell you about one fish that I pulled from the seedy side of town that had me thinkin’ that I might not ever see the sun again. Now, there are certain areas of towns that never seem to sleep and there’s always someone awake. It was the side of town that someone would break in or steal from you if you weren’t awake. I hit that fish like a Mako and got the hell out of there like the whole area was after me, and I was lucky they weren’t. When I pulled into the yard, I started to do a fast cleanout of the inner contents. On openin’ the trunk, I saw some cardboard boxes taped closed. I opened all of them, and found a dream come true.” “What was that, Captain?” “Unopened jars of bennies.” “Benny’s?” I asked, aghast. “Someone cut up a guy named named Benny and put him into jars?”
“You Po-mate-o brain! Cross tops, Benzedrines, white runners, speed! I immediately knew that this fish belonged to someone who was goin’ to be really pissed off, so I did the safe thing.” I remained silent, waiting for the clarification. “I called the police, told them what I had, how I came across them, and who to go see about the matter. They came to the yard, and I gave them the evidence that they wanted and left. The last thing that I wanted was to have some big boss comin’ after me for rippin’ him off.” “That’s a good idea, Captain. Did the police give you some kind of reward for turning the drugs over to them?”
“Indirectly, they did, but they never knew it. I really didn’t think that the pusher was about to inform the police that there was a couple of jars of his wares missin’ from what I had turned over to them. Yep, doin’ repo does have its advantages.”
For the next four or so hours, we trolled high and low for renegade fish without any luck. The Captain continued to regale me with stories of people and cars that he had faced, of legendary repo personae, about little ins and outs of how to repo that he had learned, and how to think like a repo man. While I may have been disappointed in not actually hooking a car, just listening to the Captain talk about the many things a repo man had to know about their work was reward enough. “So, if you get paid by the amount of fish that you bring in and you’re not on a salary, doesn’t a night like this piss you off? You haven’t made any money, right?” “Aye, there’s times when the wind is luffin’ and you don’t make any hooks that you might wonder about the job. Then again, there’s times when it’s all worthwhile.” His tale about a Corvette came to my mind. “The money is there when the fish are there, and I ain’t got no complaints when they aren’t. I make about **** a month as an average.” “You make that much a month?!” I was floored. “Why the surprise, matey? How much do you make for all of your education?” The figure I gave him that I made had him slam on his brakes in the middle of the road. “What a waste of a possible talent,” was his reply. “Have they promised you more money and benefits as you advance further in the business? Stuck that carrot in front of you, where you can smell it but can’t taste it?” I nodded. “Ah the great American Dream that you hard workin’ folks believe in, that makes you face what it is that you have to face. I was once the same way myself, and lost all that I was tryin’ to get because of it. That’s why I became a repo man.” “How long you been doing this, Captain?” “Over fifteen years, matey.” The thump of my jaw hitting the floor got his attention. “Yep, most repo people only last a couple of years, if they’re lucky. Some get reefed on a shoal, others have mates at home who don’t like their hours, but the usual cause is that they just can’t take it because they take it too personal. They hit the wall and either quit or turn into vegetables, though I don’t mean anything personal in regards to you yourself.” I understood that him calling me a potato brain did not mean that I was personally being called a vegetable. “Being a repo person is a lot like bein’ in a war: some don’t survive because what happens affects them. Me, I never take it personally, so I never noticed the wall that others had run into. That’s why I still repo. As an example, I was one time supposed to teach this new man how to do repo, though I had a feelin’ about him. “I had told him all that was goin’ to be required of him, and the first thing that he did was do what I told him not to do. The followin’ mornin’, I told my boss that I would not take him out again for all the tea in China and England. The last thing that I heard about him was that he went some where else to work and lasted only one night.” “What happened to him?” I asked. “He learned the hard way about never arguin’ with a skipper who has a gun. While the skipper himself got a life sentence, that trainee was sentenced to a lifetime of bein’ made into fertilizer. Anytime that a pull can be made without a confrontation is what one wants.” It was around sunup that the Captain cruised me back to my abode. “Well, matey, I’m sorry that you couldn’t have been any help on a pull. Course, if you’re interested in tryin’ again,” he invited, “meet me tonight at Barbar’s around midnight. Maybe we’ll have better luck.”
It was a little before midnight when I turned the corner to come the next block to Barbar’s. What I saw was the parking lot filled with cars. Cars parked on both sides of the curb for a block in both directions. Everywhere cars. I thought that I had entered the usedcar zone. I parked almost two blocks away when I finally found a vacant curb spot, hoping that no one would decide that there was something of value inside of it. As I neared Barbar’s parking lot, I noticed that I did not see the Captain’s trawler parked there. I had no fear of some type of retaliation against Axel by the Family because no Family member would have wanted to have been seen in any one of them. They were all cars of people who worked and lived hard, and their chariots showed it. The front door opened and Bos’n Billy staggered out and turned to go around the backside of the building. I followed him, though not too closely for him to get the wrong idea, with the idea of finding out what was going on inside and where the Captain might be. He turned and faced me when I called his name. What I saw shocked me. Here was this gentle giant who could do demolition with his bare hands blubbering like a baby! “P… P… Po… Pota…” He was so bad off he couldn’t even talk. “What’s the matter, Billy? Where’s the Captain?” I was hoping that he would be able to communicate that much. All that he said was one word: “Dead.”
More than eight years have passed since that night the Captain passed away, and so many things have happened. For two days, Barbar’s was standing room only for those who came to pay their respects to the Captain, Axel always making sure that all the tears they shed fell into glasses of beer.
There were many faces I did not know, but they knew of me by what the Captain had told them about this “green potato” who was really a good kid. Some of the people who introduced themselves to me were names that the Captain had said no longer pulled wild fish, others were people who had been there to help him over his long career. Remaining true to form, a group of us bribed the mortician into giving us the body, once the casket had been sealed to the public. We drove for two days, just to place him in his last, true resting place: the ocean. I was afraid Bos’n Billy and Honest Abe Don were going to jump overboard and try and follow the Captain down to Davy Jones’ locker. Anyway, many tears and many beers have gone by in the Captain’s wake, and I’ve come to realize how much I learned about the man by listening to him talk about retired repo men. I now also know that the Captain had seen something in me that I had never noticed. It was because of the Captain, Bos’n Billy, Axel, and others that I went to work on the following Tuesday and told them to shove their job somewhere so that I would never, ever, again see it. You see, experience is a great teacher that many people refuse to acknowledge, and I was lucky in that I had a good teacher. So what I can tell you is this one thing for sure: if’n yer thinkin’ about buyin’ a car, remember that yer no smarter than the fish that I hooked last night. You can run and you can try to hide, but what you can’t do is escape yer responsibilities, the Potato Man has many eyes and, sure as an oil slick, I’ll find both you and yer fish.
Buffalo was born in Modesto, California, famous for its winery, and the hometown of George Lucas. His father was a veterinarian who later owned the family farm. Growing up in Modesto, Buffalo had, in the words of Gaylord Buzzard from the Broom-Hilda comics, “a ream of paper, a typewriter, and the delusion [he] knew how to write.”
Years passed, the family farm was paved and housed over, he got divorced, his parents died. Tired of the California rat race, Buffalo moved to Cope, Colorado, a pretty close approximation of “nowhere.”
Buffalo is the owner of Buffalo’s Last Stand in Cope, a souvenir shop for all things bison, and eastern Colorado’s premier book store, where he meets travelers from all over America.
TEXT © Buffalo Beck
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