He seems to perpetually exist in a world filled with mobile Latino brothels, four handed eighty dollar Asian massages, and a road side hotdog stand in desperate need of a good “relish” girl – bikini top optional, the “Crab Man” makes his way down Fowler Ave, his van a rolling billboard hawking fresh gulf shrimp and scallops but strangely enough no crabs. The day is still young just tipping past nine o’clock but he has been up since four thirty packing his boxes of fresh seafood deep in ice for the journey round town to the few restaurants he still services. It’s not like the old days when he had three trucks and his boys now long gone, provisioned the top restaurants from Venice to Naples, Florida that is. His rheumy eyes seem lost in thought as he cleans the last of the biscuits and gravy from his scraggly beard. God that Romanian chick could cook he muses as the light changes and the van lumbers into the growing heat of the day.
The young waitress had been on him for a “discounted” box of shrimp again, but he was pretty sure she didn’t want to earn it the old fashion way and he was tired of cleaning the damn van out only to be disappointed, besides it just didn’t seem that important anymore; and he was sure you couldn’t trust anyone that called them “shrimps” who does that after all? He pulls up behind the “Creole Cantina” its bright yellow brick exterior already radiating the heat of the mid-morning sun, two twenty-pound boxes of shrimp seemed so much heavier these days. Paulie, the surly cook, meets him at the screen door two crisp hundreds waiting. The two don’t talk much, a nod and a grunt make up the bulk of the conversation. Paulie did cook the best damn gumbo in town though, fresh shrimp was one of the reasons and he had been buying from the “Crab Man” for forty odd years, his shrimp Po Boy wasn’t bad either. Paulie passes him a bag… “Left over jambalaya from last night,” he growls at him. The “Crab Man” just nods, not unappreciative just never real good at thank you.
He limps back to the van the arthritis in his hip a permanent companion these days, he wraps the bag in plastic nestling it into the ice where Paulie’s two boxes had been, Tuesday was always jambalaya day it had been the Monday lunch special since Paulie had opened back in ’73. Those were heady days, processing the catch right off the docks, the boys: Jack, Cole, and Tommy driving for him, Rachel right by his side keeping the books. This had been a mostly sleepy fishing town back then hidden between the Gulf coast getaways of Venice and Naples, the only real draw the big houses over on Sanibel & Captiva. They had just started delivering to those private residences, the spring garden parties calling for hundreds of pounds of shrimp at a time. It had ended as quickly as it started though, Rachel had rolled over one morning and promptly announced she was leaving him. Something about finding her dreams in California, hell forty years later and he still didn’t know what that meant. The boys had left soon after, he knew they would, Rachel had always been the glue holding everything together.
He hates days like this, the memories crawling by like some damn infomercial from hell a veritable hi-lite reel of failure. With the deliveries completed he heads back to the old warehouse by the docks, no longer the busy hub of activity it once was the back half falling into disrepair and threatened by the encroaching growth that seems to take over when not actively beaten back by its only natural predator, man. The front still houses his walk-in coolers, mostly empty, the small office and what is now a mini apartment, well a bed, hot plate, and microwave; he still uses the walk ins and industrial sinks for the rest. A small flat screen TV precariously perched on the file cabinet in the corner the only concession to the 21st century. The jambalaya is as good as its always been, almost too hot to eat he sucks his breath in trying to cool it down but not wanting to wait he follows it with a long swig from the can of Yuengling sweating on the floor next to him. Sitting on the bed he looks up as the as the outer door creaks open, he catches his breath, tears rising unbidden fall to his cheeks. “Danny, Danny, are you here? It’s Rachel…”