Friday, April 20, 2018

A loud, persistent pounding on the exterior wood door startled Calvin from a hazy sleep. He bolted upright on the storeroom cot, froze still, holding his breath, not making a sound. Another loud pounding on the door with what he thought must be a closed fist. “Come on Calvin, open the damn door, man. I know you in there!” said a man with a deep, rough tone. “Open up! Don’t make me break down this sorry ass door. If I have to, I’m gonna kick your butt all the way to Thursday. Open up!”

Calvin grimaced, then replied, “All right. I’m comin’.” He threw back the blankets in frustration and sat up, clapping his arms to get blood moving through stiffened muscles. He had no choice but to open the door. Failure to do so would only have made things worse. He rose and slipped on his scuffed shoes, and looked around for his jacket, and found it hanging on a bar stool. As he slipped one arm into the jacket, he caught his reflection in the cracked mirror behind the bar, frowned and slowly shook his head side to side. Dumb ass! He slowly walked over to the door, unlatched the deadbolt then stepped back not really knowing what to expect. One way or another, it was not going to be good. Humph, the day before Mardi Gras … you’d think I woulda had betta luck. He shook his head. 1949 was not starting out on a good note.

A heavy set African-American man in his thirties, standing a full six foot six inches, wearing a threadbare, long black wool coat and a scruffy dark purple bowler pushed the door open. “What’s that matter with you, boy? You not happy to see ol’ Pappy Jack?” said the man with a forced smile. “Damn, its cold in here. You ain’t got no heat in this place, do you?”

Calvin shook his head no. “Want me to put on some coffee?”

“Yeah, you run along and do that while I look over my new place. Look at this dump! Ha, Ha.” The place was a mismatch of wood chairs and tables in various states of repair. Old liquor advertising posters, beer signs and a few random stained fight cards from bouts in the 1930s provided the sum of the art decorating the bottom floor of the aged two story brick building. Upstairs was vacant, and needed too much work to make anything of it. The windows were shuttered and barred from within giving the place a cavernous decor. The smell of stale beer and cheap cigar smoke clung to the walls, the floor, everything.

Pappy Jack looked back at Calvin who had not moved and said, “Go on, boy. Fetch me some coffee,” he said with eyes slightly closed and a devious smirk.

Calvin summoned courage somewhere from the depths of his core, and as he walked behind the bar and blurted out, “Now, Pappy Jack, you know ….” The large man slowly turned to face Calvin and drew back his coat off his hip exposing a gleaming .45 Colt semi-automatic pistol tucked in his pants. Calvin pulled his eyes from the weapon and started to raise his gaze but only got as far as the rough’s chin. He could not make himself look the man in the eye, but pressed on. “I still got two days to come up with the $1,000 I owe ya.”

“Don’t even try to pretend your sorry ass can raise that kind of money in forty-eight hours. Besides, it’s Mardi Gras and no one is coming in this dump today. They’ll all be down back-a-town having a good time, trying to catch up with Ol’ Louis Armstrong, King of Zulu, wherever that parade goes.” Nobody knew in advance where Zulu would roll, as it historically cut down streets and avenues at the whim of the king.

Calvin’s shoulders slumped just enough to evidence defeat. “Ha! I thought so. Where you keep your liquor man?” Without waiting for a response, Pappy Jack walked over and opened the unlocked store room, flicked on the lights and went in. “I’m just gonna take a little inventory of my new stuff,” he said triumphantly.

Calvin filled the pot with water, then poured the coffee and chicory grounds into the large percolator and turned on the switch. Where the hell am I gonna find the money? Why did I have to go an’ risk everything for that damn woman? At fifty-two, you’d a thunk I woulda known betta. Dumb ass! What am I gonna tell my wife and kids? He leaned up against the counter behind the bar, pulled out a Pall Mall cigarette, lit a match and inhaled deeply. At least something was going right. He exhaled blowing out the match in the process and tossed the spent match towards an ashtray he kept under the bar … next to the sawed off shotgun. His gaze froze on the gun, his mind swirling. Is it loaded? Damn, I think so. His stomach churned. Even in the cold room, his hands began to sweat. He had trouble swallowing, and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He had never killed anyone, and questioned if he could do it. I could say he broke in while I was asleep and I thought he was robbin’ the place. He’s got a damn pistol on him, so I could say he had it in his hand, and I feared for my life. Calvin stood up squared his shoulders, and took a step towards the shotgun.

“Hey, Calvin, where you keep the good stuff?” asked Pappy Jack stepping out of the storeroom. “All I see here is this cheap rot gut,” said the man holding up a bottle of Jack Daniels green label whiskey. Calvin just stared at the man, penetrating right through him. “What you up to, boy? Where’s my damn coffee?”

Calvin hung his head. “Umm, it’ll take a few more minutes. It’s still brewin’”

“A huh,” said Pappy Jack. “Then why don’t you run down to that little corner store and fetch me a pack of Kools.”

“I ain’t got no money,” said Calvin shifting his weight from side to side with his hands in his pockets.

“You flat broke? You a sorry son of a bitch.” Pappy Jack dug into his pants and peeled off a few small bills from a large roll. “Here you go,” he said tossing the money towards Calvin but they fell short, landing at Calvin’s feet. “Get me somethin’ to eat, too. A biscuit or somethin’. Go on now, shake a leg. If you do real good I might let you work for me,” he said laughing with increasing volume and slapping a leg.

“You’d let me stay and work the place?” asked Calvin with a strained voice and narrowed eyes.

“Maybe,” laughed Pappy Jack. “If you’re a good boy.”

Calvin picked up the money and walked to the door. As he opened the door, he turned around to look at the bar’s heir apparent who had sat down at a table and was looking at a small notebook. Calvin stepped into the cold morning air. It took him a few seconds for his eyes to adjust to the bright morning sun, but the walk down the two blocks actually helped him clear his mind. He was almost to the intersection, when his wife came whipping around the corner, leaning forward, walking with purpose. She stopped when she saw him, pursed her lips and with a piercing look walked straight towards him.

“Now Mira, before you go off like a roman candle, let me explain. I was ….”

“You was what? Gonna tell me some lie, or were you gonna be man enough to tell me about how you lost $1,000 to that hoodlum Pappy what’s-his-face in some rigged poker game?” Calvin’s jaw dropped and his eyes were saucers. “Uh ha, yeah I heard about that, and I also heard about you runnin’ the streets with that red dress wearin’ hussy. Yeah, that’s right, I heard about that too! Now, what you got to say for yourself?”

Calvin paused slack jawed for what seemed an eternity. “No matter what I say, you ain’t gonna believe me. Yeah, that little thing played me for a fool and set me up in that card game with Pappy Jack. She got me lickered up good. When I was dealt a winning hand, the pot got bumped to the point I had to stake the bar to call the last raise. I had a full house, Mira. Aces over Jacks!” he looked over to see if this was sinking in. “It was a dead winner!”

Mira looked at him with a tilted head, focused stare and crossed arms. “And?”

“Well, … Pappy Jack turned over four Kings,” replied Calvin sheepishly. “It was rigged. I swear I was cheated!”

“Of course you were cheated, stupid.” Mira shook her head looking down her nose at him. She looked him square in the eye and shook her index finger in his face. “Don’t you come home until you get it sorted out. I don’t want to see you and I don’t want you around the children.” She turned and walked away.

Calvin stood there, tears welling up from inside and he started to tremor. He could do without seeing his wife of seven years as it seemed all she did was nag. She’d tell him what a nobody he was and that was all he was ever gonna be. But, not seeing the kids? The thought of that bit into the depths of his core making him nauseous. “God damn it!” he bellowed as he kicked a bottle lying on the ground, sending it spinning and bursting into a thousand pieces when it hit the nearby building. It took him several minutes to compose himself, then walked the remaining half block to the corner store, purchased the cigarettes and two biscuits with smoked sausage, and a newspaper. Then something happened. It was if someone turned on the lights. He clearly had nothing to lose. He set his jaw, then walked back towards the bar, his pace quickening, the length of his stride increased slightly with each step. He squared his shoulders, raised his chin and glared at the front door to his bar. Yeah, that’s my bar. I’m not gonna let that low life son of a bitch destroy my life without a fight. He burst into the bar finding Pappy Jack still sitting at the table blowing over a cup of hot coffee. Calvin unceremoniously dropped the cigarettes and biscuits on the table then walked quickly behind the bar. The shotgun was gone.

“Ha! You think I’m stupid?” asked the hoodlum with piercing eyes. “You think I would leave that around for you to use once you summon up the gumption to do me in?” Pappy Jack pulled the shotgun out from under the table where he had hidden it on a chair and slammed it on the table with the breech open, unloaded. “My change. I want my damn change.” Calvin walked over and handed the man thirty-seven cents and took a couple of steps back when the thug raised the back of his hand. Pappy Jack laughed and scoffed at Calvin. “Let’s get this settled right here, right now. I call the shots, not you. When I tell you to jump, you to ask ‘how high’. When I tell you to step, you fetch it. Got it, boy?”

Calvin took a step towards the table. Pappy Jack rose, towering over the smaller man. “You mighta stole my bar, but you ain’t getting me. I got forty-eight hours, so until then, get outta my bar and don’t come back until tomorrow,” exclaimed Calvin with clinched fists.

Pappy Jack reared back and punched Calvin in the face under his left eye sending him flying back against a table, scattering chairs across the room. The aggressor walked up to Calvin sitting on the ground. He thrust an index finger in Calvin’s face and said, “Don’t you ever talk to me that way again, or so help me ….,” he pulled the pistol from his waist band and pointed it at Calvin, “I’ll kill you dead on the spot.” He picked up the biscuits wrapped in paper and threw them at Calvin. “There. Never say I didn’t give ya nothin’.” He laughed heartedly, took a drink of the coffee, then sneered and threw the half-filled cup at Calvin who covered his face to deflect the projectile. The thug strutted out, bursting through the door.

Calvin could feel his heart pounding against his chest, his senses heighted by the adrenaline pulsing through his veins. He sat up, then stood, brushing dirt off his trousers. Touched his cheek and winced at the pain that jolted through his face. As he straightened the tables and chairs, the door opened again, causing him to spin around, crouching slightly in a defensive position. It was his friend, Antoine.

“Oh, it’s you,” said Calvin. “I thought that crazy bastard was coming back to shoot me.”

“Yeah, I saw Pappy Jack leavin’. What the hell was he doing here at this hour? Man, your face looks like hell,” said Antoine as he stepped closer to get a better look. “I’ll get you some ice for that.”

“Comin’ to check out his new place,” replied Calvin. Antoine looked at him with raised eyebrows, then walked towards the ice bin. “If I don’t come up with $1,000 by the day after tomorrow, I’m gonna lose the place.”

Antoine whistled and pulled off his bebop hat, and scratched his head. “Man, you in a tough spot. $1,000 dollars? Really? What were you thinkin’ son?”

Calvin shook his head. “I don’t know. I guess I was thinkin’ about that hot number in a red dress.”

“You sure as hell weren’t thinking with the head on yo shoulders. $1,000 dollars? Where you gonna come up with that kind of money?”

“Like I said, I don’t know. Want some coffee, Antoine? Its fresh.” They each poured a cup and sat down at a table. Calvin went behind the counter and pulled out a good bottle of whiskey and poured each a generous measure. “I suppose I should get rid of this while I can. I always did enjoy Irish coffee.”

“Hey, if you’re gonna lose the place, couldn’t you just sell off as much of your stock as you can ahead a time? You could leave some. How’s he gonna know?”

“He already inventoried the store room,” replied Calvin in a monotone. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do. Mira done run me off. Told me not to come home.” His eyes started to water again. “I can’t even see my little ones.”

“Damn, that’s cold man,” retorted Antoine as he sipped from his cup. “Well, I suppose you can crash with me until you get sorted.” Calvin offered a weak smile and a nod of appreciation.

Voices from out on the street began to filter into the bar. First just a few, then more and more growing almost exponentially. “What the heck?” posed Calvin. The two friends walked to the front of the club and opened the door. The vanguard of the Zulu parade was passing in front of the club. “First time this has ever happened,” said Calvin with a smile.

Kings got to see their folks, and take the parade through his neighborhood. So if kings wanted to turn left on Galvez, Zulu rolled left. King’s neighbors appreciated the pageantry and plain simple fun that rolled onto their street. The revered gold coconuts, prepared in assembly line efficiency by children for months ahead of carnival would be a lasting treasure remembering the day Zulu rolled in front of their house.

Black-faced men dressed in bizarre head-dresses of feathers, horns and beads, most with identical yellow cellophane grass skirts filled the street. Some were on foot, others riding on one of the five small mule-pulled floats. A mass of bundled up onlookers following the parade lined the sidewalks. A rhythmic beat of a snare drum and a bass drum seemed to keep the entire procession in step and popping. People followed along with the Krewe, cajoling Zulu members for beads and coconuts. The King’s float approached and was greeted by loyal subjects paying homage to the hometown jazz icon.

“Damn, Calvin. That’s Louis Armstrong up there. I wouldn’t have recognized him with all that black on his face, and look at them white patches around his eyes. He’s hysterical,” laughed Antoine.

“You gotta admit, that red velvet coat and black tights look somethin’ special,” said Calvin, smiling for the first time today. He gently punched Antoine in the shoulder and said, “Damn, if he don’t look like he’s havin’ fun up there.”

A leather harness snapped on the mule pulling the king’s float, and the royal barge came to a grinding halt. Everything seemed to get twisted up. Other mules pulled off to one side or the other. People began shouting orders, but no one seemed to listen. Finally, the entire parade came to a halt and riders began alighting from floats.

One of the Zulu Krewe members walked up to Calvin. “Hey mister, is the bar open? I could use something to warm my bones.”

“Sure, come on in,” said Calvin opening the door. “Bar’s open boys! Y’all come get warmed up,” he called out in a loud clear voice drawing everyone’s attention.

Before he knew it, a score of members had descended their floats and entered the bar. One slapped a $100 bill on the bar and cried out, “Drinks on me, boys. Bartender, set ‘em up.”

Antoine started pouring shots of whiskey as fast as he could, while Calvin rang up the sales. A Krewe member came in and announced, “Looks like we’ll be here for about twenty minutes. They had to send a fella to get a spare harness.” Calvin wondered how much whiskey he could pour in that time and started to crunch numbers in his head. Pedestrians filed into the bar as well. Beer and liquor flowed like never before.

In a loud clear voice, someone cried out, “All hail King Louis the First.”

Another seconded the motion, “Long live the King.”

The entire room hailed in unison, “Long live the King.”

Calvin paused to see Louis Armstrong step up to the bar with his trademark grin while waiving his scepter with grace. “Your humble King thanks his loyal subjects. Ha, Ha!” Everyone laughed. He looked at Calvin and asked, “Is this your establishment, Sir? Man, are we glad we broke down here. Got one of those for me?” asked the King pointing the scepter at a filled shot glass.

A broad smile passed over Calvin’s face. “Oh yes, your majesty,” he replied laughing. Calvin reached into the darkened recesses under the bar and pulled out a fine 20-year-old scotch and showed Louis I the label.

“Oh, …. that will do fine, I’m sure,” said the monarch with the trademarked laugh. Calvin filled the shot glass until it almost spilled over. Louis lifted the glass in salute, then downed it in two gulps. He shuddered a bit, then said, “Man, now that’ll take the chill off an eskimo woman! Ha Ha!” Out of nowhere, a tuba started to lay out a funky bass riff to the beat of a snare drum. A trombone and a clarinet picked up on the beat, the bass drum dropped in and the house was rocking. The King looked at Calvin and said in his raspy voice, “Man, I think we got a party goin’ on here.” The entire room was filled with joy and laughter as folks danced with warmth in their hearts. Their bodies moved in harmony. Louis listened for a few bars then said as he visually surveyed the room, “You got great acoustics in here. Man, this old room’s got some good bones. You should bring in some cats to play music in here, I know you’d make out alright.”

Calvin considered the statement and realized he was right. It did sound good. Then in an instant, his smile melted into a frown, and his shoulders drooped. “Well, if I hadn’t lost this place last night in a bogus card game to a no good, low down swindler, I might have done something with music.”

Louis just looked at him with his broad smile. Calvin reckoned he hadn’t heard. Then Louis winked at him. Calvin turned around to see a seductively attractive reveler lifting a silent rye and soda toast while giving Louis the come-slither look. Calvin smiled, shook his head and quickly turned to help another customer clamoring for service.

People were consuming so much beer and alcohol that Calvin was about to send Antoine around the corner for another case of whiskey, when the front door swung open and a Krewe member announced, “All aboard! The train is leaving.” A happy cry arose from the crowd, who grabbed their coats and jackets if they had them, and filed out of the club.

Louis turned to Calvin and said with a laugh, “You realize you saved the day here. I hope we didn’t bust up the joint too much.”

“Oh no, sir. It was an honor and a privilege to be in the right spot at the right time.” Louis extended his hand and Calvin pressed it heartedly. Just as quickly as they arrived, they left. A few minutes later the last sounds of the roving Krewe’s rear guard and its retinue dissipated back to near silence.

Calvin and Antoine took a belt of the 20-year-old scotch. “Man, who’d a thunk?” asked Antoine shaking his head.

“You got dat right,” replied Calvin.

After the last of the parade lingerers drifted off, he rang up the till. He had made $247 dollars. The most he ever made in any one day, and by a sizeable margin. Still, he was woefully short of what he needed to repay Pappy Jack.

The rest of the day was quiet. Only the three or four regulars came in for a shot or a beer. That pittance would not make any difference in the day. About 7 pm, Antoine put on his coat, and handed Calvin a set of his house keys. “Well Calvin, if you’re gonna go out, at least you went out in style today, boy. In style!” He shook his head, “Louis Armstrong …., man, who’d a thunk?”

“Thanks Antoine. Thanks for everything, man. I guess I’ll see you at your place in a bit. I want to pack up a few personal things.” He shook his head. “Damn it.”

“I know, man.” Antoine clapped his friend on the shoulder, “I know.” Then he walked out the door.

Calvin walked slowly towards the door and threw the deadbolt closed. He reckoned he would close up early tonight, but sat in the dark for hours. He wasn’t quite sure how long, he’d lost track of time. Finally, he threw on his coat, walked out and locked the bar, and went to Antoine’s. He laid out on the couch, and as soon as he spread the blanket Antoine gave him, he was out, totally exhausted.

The next day at the bar, not a sole walked through the door. Calvin sipped on Irish coffee while lamenting his bad fortune. Late in the afternoon, just before the sun went down as he was giving the bar a final wipe down, two plainclothes New Orleans Police detectives walked in. There was no question in Calvin’s mind that they were part of the all-white NOPD. There was no other reason whitemen wearing cheap suits from Maison Blanche would come in his bar. One appeared to be in his forties, the other maybe thirty. They were both no-necked stocky and about the same height and weight. The older one pulled his badge out, flashed it at Calvin then said, “Are you Calvin Dickerson, the owner of this place?” With peripheral vision Calvin watched the younger detective walked to the back of the bar, looked around, then nodded to his superior.

Oh, hell. I didn’t think this could get any worse. He nodded slowly with raised eyebrows. “Yes, sir. That’s me. How can I be of service?” he asked while biting his lip and wiping the same spot on the bar he had just finished.

With a stern countenance the detective asked, “We’re investigating a local character for racketeering in the neighborhood. Do you know a man that goes by Pappy Jack? Big fellow, stands about 6’4 or 6’6” and weighs well over two hundred pounds. His real name is Clarence Jackson. We’ve been looking at him for a while now.”

Calvin was not sure what he should say. He had enough trouble with Pappy Jack, and did not want to make things worse. But, then again, how much worse could it get. Heck, he had contemplated shooting the bastard. “Yes, Sir … I know the fella” said Calvin slipping both hands into his pockets, trying to maintain eye-contact with the detective speaking.

“We got a tip about a rigged card game and that this Pappy Jack was muscling in on your place. Is that true?” asked the senior detective with poised pen and notepad.

“Yeah, but I’ve got no way to prove it,” replied the exasperated Calvin. “I’m gonna lose everything to that bastard.”

“When is the takeover supposed to take place?” asked the second detective, receiving a reprimanding glance from his superior.

“Like, tomorrow morning at 10 am, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes sooner. That’s one of the reasons I was going to lock up early tonight.”

“OK, listen … we’ll be back at 9:30 tomorrow morning. We’ll come in the back door. We’ll stand in the store room, and if you can get him to say the game was rigged, we’ll arrest him for gambling and racketeering. He’s already done time for two other felonies, so this would put him away for a long time.”

Calvin studied the men’s steadfast faces, then nodded his head up and down. “Hell yeah. I ain’t got nothin’ to lose.” The detectives nodded with a semblance of a smile. One of them gave Calvin a business card with his name and phone number, and instructed him to notify them early in the morning if anything went down later tonight. Without another word, they left.

Calvin locked up, walked over to Antoine’s place and after a plate of meatless red beans and rice crashed on the couch. He did not tell Antoine anything about the detectives or what was supposed to happen in the morning. He was afraid that his friend would try to talk him out of it, and he was not sure he could withstand Antoine pleading a sound case for keeping his mouth shut. He stared at the ceiling for hours, thinking of his children, and yes, even his wife, until somewhere in the early hours of the morning he drifted off to sleep.

He awakened to sunlight streaming in through the curtain-less window, and the smell of coffee brewing. He rolled over and saw his friend tiptoeing around the kitchen. “Mornin’, Antoine,” said Calvin. “Good or bad, it’s gonna be a big day.”

“Hey Calvin. Good mornin’ to you. Thought I would put a pot on.”

They reminisced about the Zulu’s breaking down in front of the bar, and meeting Louis Armstrong. But eventually, the discussion turned to the serious matter of Calvin turning the place over to Pappy Jack. Calvin went into the bathroom and splashed cold water on his face. As he looked in the mirror, he summoned courage from somewhere. He was going to go through with it. He drank a cup of coffee, then dressed in the same clothes from yesterday, put on his coat and hat and headed over the seven blocks to the club. He opened up from the back door at 9 am. His mind began to spin, and for several minutes he conjured up all the negative permutations. What if this doesn’t work, and it just pisses him off even more? Not only will I lose the bar, but he might try to hurt me … or my family? What if they arrest him, and he gets out on bail and comes looking for me? Or, what if he gets convicted and only spends a short time in prison and comes looking for me. Or what if … The knock on the back door brought him back to the brutal reality that one way or another, his life was going to make a dramatic change today.

He walked over to the door and let in the two detectives. They reviewed again what they needed Calvin to get from the hoodlum, and after everyone was ready they sat down and waited. Ten minutes before the appointed hour, there was a loud knock on the front door. “Open up, you sorry son of a bitch,” growled Pappy Jack in a forceful voice. “I’ll kick in the door if I have to. After all its mine now,” he bellowed in rising volume.

Calvin waited for the detectives to place themselves in the storeroom then went and unlocked the door. Pappy Jack pushed open the door and brushed Calvin away with a forearm, then surveyed the room. “This place looks much better now that it’s mine.” His eyes focused hard onto Calvin. “Hand over the keys and get the hell out.”

Calvin walked over to the bar to grab the keys, and as he handed them to Pappy Jack, he said, “I thought you said I might be able to work the place.”

“Go to hell, and get out,” growled Pappy Jack.

“I can’t believe I let myself get bamboozled twice by you. I shoulda know’d better than to think you’d let me work for you. Man, I got nothin’ left.” Calvin’s gaze dropped to his feet. “That damn game was rigged,” said Calvin with a heavy sigh.

The gangster shook the keys and with a smug tone said, “Well don’t feel bad, boy. You ain’t the first, or the last, to get suckered in by that little gal o mine with dat hot body and scarlet dress. Now get out of my club. I won’t tell you again.”

“But, how can you sleep at night knowin’ you stole someone’s livelihood in a crooked card game, that you ruined someone’s life?” pleaded Calvin earnestly.

“Yeah it was rigged, but if you too stupid not to recognize a rigged game, then you deserve whatcha get,” replied Pappy Jack with a sneer. “Now I told you I wasn’t gonna tell you again ….” Pappy Jack reached for his .45 Colt and pulled back the slide, sending a round into the chamber and started to raise the weapon. “No one’s gonna miss your sorry ass,” he added as he began to raise the weapon. “I’ll just say it was your gun and I took it away from you and that it accidentally went off,” he said with an evil grin. “Good riddance, you son of a bitch!”

Calvin dove for cover behind the bar just as Pappy Jack fired a shot, the bullet hitting the bar inches from his head, shattering wood, sending splinters in countless directions.

“Hands up, Jackson! Police!” barked the detectives as they spilled into the room, guns drawn and pointed at the assailant. Pappy Jack jumped in startled surprise, then quickly regaining his senses, dropped the gun and raised his hands.

The detectives quickly put the man in handcuffs. “I’ll get you for this,” snarled Pappy Jack and received a well-aimed whack across the back of his head with a weighted leather blackjack. The thug’s knees buckled. The senior detective used Calvin’s bar phone to call for a squad car to come collect the glowering criminal who made repeated retaliatory threats. Finally, they hauled him off to jail, and the detectives took down Calvin’s statement which he read and signed. It took quite some time for Calvin’s pulse to slow down to normal. It helped that the detectives told him that they would throw in charges for attempted murder, possession of a handgun by a felon, resisting arrest and anything else they could think of before they got him down to Parish Prison booking.

Word on the street moved quickly, particularly after the shot was fired raising the alarm. Antoine came rushing in. “What the hell happened, Calvin? You alright?” asked his friend.

Calvin ran down the story with renewed adrenaline laced emotion. As he recounted the events, he began to realize that it might actually work out after all. When his wife came into the bar with her sister in tow, eyes wide open and tears in her eyes, Calvin knew it was going to be alright. She cried in his arms and told him to hurry home after work, as the children really missed their father. Other members of the neighborhood filtered in over the course of the day, congratulating him for getting Pappy Jack off the streets. People brought in loafs of fresh bread, plates of fried chicken, oyster dressing, biscuits smothered in roast beef debris and gravy. Someone even brought in an inexpensive bottle of champagne.

Calvin stopped at his parish church, knelt down and prayed. “Dear Lord, …” his eyes misted over. “I’m not sure what really happened today, but I know it was a blessing. If you had a hand in it, then I am most grateful.” His reunion at home was joyous. His two small children played gleefully in his arms, gibbering on about this, that and nothing. His wife fried catfish while humming a gospel hymn over the stove. Corn meal hushpuppies and seasoned potatoes roasted slowly in the oven. His favorites. Life was good.

Two weeks later …

Calvin was tending a rather busy bar he had renamed Louis the 1st, but people started calling it Louis’. After the Pappy Jack affair, more people started to frequent the place to the point he was making a good, steady living. Neighbors who had not stepped foot in the place for years, now started coming by regularly on the way home for a beer, or a maybe a shot of whiskey. The door opened and three young fellas came in carrying instrument cases. One stepped up to Calvin. “Mister, me and my boys here are musicians. We’re just startin’ out really, and would ask if we might be able to play here tonight ... for free. You don’t have to pay us nothin’ if you don’t want to but …”

A heavyset boy chimed in, “but, we’d be mighty happy if you paid us enough to get something to eat.”

The third added, “and were getting pretty good. Whatta ya say? Please, mister.”

Three faces silently pleading their case washed over Calvin. He smiled and pointed over to the far side of the club, and said, “Sure thing. You boys go set up over there and let’s see what you got.” Beaming smiles spread across their faces. “Hey, what made y’all chose my place?” asked Calvin.

“Oh, my Auntie heard from a friend saying we should come down and talk with you.” Calvin smiled.

They quickly set down their cases, pulled out their instruments and began playing Basin Street Blues. The trumpet player closed his eyes and filled the room with a powerful, yet sweet melody line that brought a tear to Calvin’s eye and a soft smile on his face. The sound was perfect. It filled his being to the core. The music had soul, a pulse that made him feel that much more alive. As they played on through the evening, more people filtered into the bar, drawn by power of music. The music engulfed the room, spreading good vibes throughout, and for at least that moment, making everyone’s life a little easier.

One of the new regulars asked, “Hey Calvin, you gonna have music in here again.”

Calvin smiled and said, “Every night brother, every night if I can. I’ll give time to any musician wanting to make a start.” He nodded his head and said quietly to himself, “Long live the King!”