Harry and Amy - Cover

Harry and Amy

Copyright© 2022 by Lazlo Zalezac

Chapter 4

A very dirty young man stepped up to the window of the shack at the Homeless Hotel. He watched as Amy ladled stew into plastic bowls. She was humming while she worked.

With a wry smile, he said, “Miss Amy. You sure look happy today.”

Looking up from the pot of stew, Amy examined the young man. She paused in the middle of ladling out another bowl of the hot stew as she took in the dirt that covered him.

She laughed at the sight and asked, “Cal, what happened to you?”

“I got a job cleaning out an old building, and discovered that the old coal chute still had coal in it,” he grinned. His yellow teeth looked white in contrast to the fine black powder covering his face.

“You’re going to have to get cleaned up before I give you anything to eat,” she chastised.

“Just save me a bowl of that stew. I really worked up an appetite,” Cal replied with a smile.

One of the old men in line behind him said, “Looks like The Kid got a tan.”

Black George, the man who actually ran the daily operations of the Homeless Hotel, said, “Hell. Looks to me like the kid smartened up and got tired of being a white boy.”

Amy laughed at the good natured joking and said, “Black George, you know he’s not that smart.”

Everyone laughed as Cal grinned and headed off to the showers. It was going to take him at least an hour to get all of the coal out of his clothes and hair. At least it was summer and he wouldn’t freeze under the cold water. It didn’t make sense to him that they didn’t include a Fusion Water Heater in the camp.

Amy returned to her work, laughing about Cal and his appearance. There was a story behind the coal chute and she was sure that she’d hear all about it later when folks settled down around the fire. The fire wasn’t necessary, but as Red-nose George said, “It provided the proper ambiance for a Homeless Hotel.”

“Who put the sway in your caboose?”

Amy looked up and, waving the ladle around like a weapon, shouted, “Harry! I’m going to kill you!”

Bits of stew flew all over as she shook the ladle. A good percentage of it landed on Harry, who stepped back with a smile. He wiped a bit of stew off his face with a finger and then tasted it.

He said, “This is good, but I usually get my stew served to me in a bowl.”

Cackling at the exchange, Hotel Harvey asked, “Hey, Harry. What did you do to Miss Amy?”

“I’ll stew you!” threatened Amy as she fought to keep the grin off her face.

It was hard pretending to be mad at him. She hadn’t seen him since that night four months earlier when he had brought a passed out Bill over to her house. She hadn’t seen Bill since the morning after, but they talked on the telephone almost every night and exchanged e-mails with regularity. He was coming to town the next day for their first official date and she was looking forward to it.

Grinning, Black George said, “Yeah, Harry. What did you do? I haven’t ever seen her this excited.”

“Me? I did nothing!” Harry stood in place trying to look innocent and angelic. His pose fooled no one and prompted another round of laughter. When it came to help or creative mischief, Harry could fool no one.

“Nothing? You kidnap a man, and drive him a hundred miles to drop him off at my place. You call that nothing?” asked Amy. She put her hands on her hips and stared down at him. She started to sway and leaned forward to support herself on the edge of the counter.

“Damn, Harry. You gave her a man? Why didn’t you bring me one, too?” chided Trashy Tracy as she put a hand to her hair and posed like she was a fashion model. She was about as far from looking like a fashion model as was possible on the street.

“Tracy Darling, you already have me,” answered Harry as he hugged the bag lady and kissed her soundly.

Amid shouts suggesting that they get a room, Tracy said, “Okay, Harry. I’ll hold you to that.”

Smiling at her, Harry said, “I’m looking forward to it.”

Dancing in place, Tracy shouted, “Boys, I’m getting laid tonight!”

The grimaces on the faces of the men around the shack suggested that they felt sorry for Harry. Laughing, Harry said, “Now that we know why Tracy is happy, tell us why you are so happy, Amy.”

Red-nose George (he was one of the three men named George in camp and he had a red nose) said, “It’s obvious. She has a boyfriend.”

“About time,” commented Black George.

“You can say that again,” said Hotel Harvey.

Tracy commented, “Yep. Even my sex life has been better than hers and I haven’t been laid in five years.”

Shocked at the comments about her personal life, Amy asked, “Don’t you guys have anything to do, other than discuss my life?”

Hotel Harvey answered, “Hey, we don’t got jobs. Got nothing better to do than to talk about you.”

“It ain’t right for a pretty woman like you to be hanging out with the likes of us,” said Red-nosed George with an authoritative nod of his head.

“So where is lover boy?” asked Tracy.

Blushing at the characterization of Bill as lover boy, Amy said, “He’s coming down here, tomorrow afternoon.”

Realizing that some of the men hadn’t been fed yet, Black George nudged Amy and said, “Amy, why don’t you go over to the fire pit? I’ll finish up ladling out the stew.”

Wanting a chance to talk with Harry, Amy handed him the ladle and said, “Save some for the California Kid.”

“Will do, Miss Amy,” replied Black George with a chuckle. He was looking forward to the story about how the young man had become covered with coal dust.

As Amy settled by the fire pit on the tall crate one of the men had found for her, the men who had already eaten or gotten their stew joined her. The regulars had cinder blocks, creates, or broken chairs to sit on. The transients sat on one of the railroad ties scattered around the area. This was the social area of the Homeless Hotel, where people would tell stories, sing songs, or wax philosophical. It was always crowded when Amy or Harry was around.

Tired of being the subject of conversation, Amy knew one sure-fire method to change the subject. All she had to do was ask one of the wilder characters of the camp a question. Having heard the story five times already and knowing that it was different each time, Amy asked, “Hotel Harvey, how come folks call you that?”

The old man rubbed his potbelly with both hands as he leaned back to get into story telling mode. He said, “Well, back in the old days the only way to get across the country with any kind of speed was to ride the railroads. This fellow by the name of Frank Harvey...”

Harry interrupted, “Fred Harvey. His name was Fred Harvey.”

“Right, Fred Harvey opened up a chain of restaurants and hotels at all of the major stops of the Santa Fe railroad,” he paused to see Harry’s reaction. At his nod, Harvey continued, “These places were called Harvey Houses. Now a girl who wanted to get married but didn’t have many prospects often went to work to at a Harvey House in some of the more remote locations in the belief that it improved their marriage prospects. They were called Harvey Girls and, for the most part, they were pretty ugly.”

Shaking his head, Harry interrupted, “Most of the Harvey Girls were attractive.”

“Hey, it’s my great-grandmother we’re talking about and she was one ugly bruiser. I know. I’ve seen her picture. Ugh, she was an ugly woman. In fact, I’d say she was buffalo ugly,” countered Harvey. He gave a theatrical shudder as though to prove his point.

Amy laughed at the exchange. Sometimes when he told the story, his great-grandmother was the princess of the prairies and sometimes she was buffalo ugly.

She said, “I thought you said that she was the princess of the prairies.”

Harvey pulled his ear for a moment as he considered his reply. Finally, he said, “Well, you ever seen the prairies? They’re pretty ugly. It ain’t a complement to be called a princess of the prairies.”

Everyone gathered around the fire pit laughed at the comment. Amy smiled and said, “Sorry, I didn’t know that.”

“That’s okay. You’re a pretty young woman and I wouldn’t expect you to know that much about ugly.”

“Amen to that,” said Trashy Tracy.

“Now as I was saying, my great-grandmother was a Harvey Girl. Now the story is that she had the morals of an alley cat, but I find it rather hard to believe considering how ugly she was. Anyway, some smooth-talking salesman comes along and, for some reason, he knocks her up. I don’t know how he could have done it. I mean, I’ve seen her picture. All I can say is that this salesman was a real piece of work. You know the kind that I mean. He probably came from Cleveland or some place like that.”

“Cleveland?” asked Harry.

“Yeah, Cleveland,” mused Harvey. He ran a hand over his unshaven face producing a noise like sandpaper on wood.

Harry shook his head while laughing at the storyteller. He knew for a fact that Harvey was from Cleveland. Unable to take it any more, he slipped away from the fire pit. Amy watched him go and turned her attention back to Harvey.

The old man continued, “So anyway, she’s pregnant. Terrified at the prospect of living with such an ugly woman for the rest of his life, that fellow goes off and commits suicide. The result of that unholy union was my Grandfather.”

“Suicide? You said that he was killed in a gunfight defending the honor of your great-grandmother,” challenged Amy recalling a previous version of the story.

Harvey frowned for a second before he answered, “Well, that was just nice way of saying he killed himself. You see, in the old west you didn’t commit suicide by shooting yourself. You went out and found someone to do it for you. Yes sir, you found someone to do it for you. Of course, a guy wouldn’t shoot you for no reason. You had to find some reason to make him want to shoot you. So that fellow went out and claimed this gunfighter had besmirched the honor of my great-grandmother. Of course, the gunfighter shot him.”

Amy couldn’t help herself, she asked, “That was common?”

“Very common. Hell, more than half the people that died in gunfights in the old west were really committing suicide. It’s a fact,” answered Harvey as if he were an expert in the old west.

“Okay,” replied Amy as Black George sat down in the chair next to her. She gave Harvey a look that said she didn’t believe a word he was saying.

“Yeah, it was a sin to kill yourself. But if you did it that way, you could march right up to those Pearly Gates and honestly say that someone else killed you. No sin,” he explained at the look that Amy gave him.

Red-nose George suggested, “Too bad you didn’t live back then. I’m sure we could have found a half dozen gunfighters who would have been happy to put you out of your misery. That would save us from listening to your stories.”

A number of people laughed, but Harvey just shrugged off the comment. He continued, “So anyway, the fellow who put the bun in the oven died. So that left great-grandmother all alone. Times were rough, but she was just too ugly to give up. After the normal nine months, she gave birth to my granddad. Named him Harvey after the hotel.”

Trashy Tracy asked, “Now why in the world would a woman name her kid after a hotel?”

“Hey, if you were so ugly that no man wanted you, wouldn’t you name your first born after the place where you were lucky enough to get laid for the first and only time in your life?” asked Hotel Harvey with a surprised expression on his face.

“Shit, you won’t find me naming my kid ‘Back Alley, ‘“ Tracy snickered. Her comment caused a round of laughter.

“That’s cuz you’re still a virgin,” countered Hotel Harvey with a wink in her direction.

Amy noticed that Harry was walking toward the shack with someone. Black George noticed her sudden attention and whispered, “I’ll take care of it.”

As Black George walked off, Amy asked, “So what has your grandfather being named Harvey have to do with you becoming Hotel Harvey?”

“Well, every male child after that has been named Harvey to remind us all of the shame that my great-grandmother brought upon the family. I’m the third Harvey of that line,” answered Hotel Harvey.

Knowing the answer to her question, Amy asked, “I guess we know how you got to be named Harvey. So where does hotel come from in your name?”

“I don’t know,” answered Harvey straight-faced. As groans rose around the fire, he added, “Might be because of the story about my name. Of course, it might be the fact that every Harvey in our family was conceived in a hotel.”

Red-nosed George laughed and said, “Every time you tell that story it changes. Maybe we ought to start calling you, Harvey Bad Story Teller.”

Amy laughed at the exchange. When she noticed that the California Kid had joined them around the fire, she asked, “So Cal, how did you end up being covered with coal?”

“It’s a simple story. If you want it told with a little color, I expect it would be best if Tubby told it,” answered Cal as he winked at the large man taking a seat beside him.

Tubby stretched and moved as though he was warming up to do some serious work. Taking a deep breath, he said, “Well, this morning Cal and I went down to that artsy part of town to do a little begging. We aren’t down there for more than ten minutes when this fellow sashays up to us. You know the kind of fellow I’m talking about.”

The group of people around the fire nodded. Harvey commented, “Sorry, Tracy. That’s another man that won’t touch you.”

“Harvey, you’re another man who won’t touch me and it ain’t on account of a lack of desire on your part,” she retorted as she plumped up her breasts.

“Oh, that had to hurt,” exclaimed Red-nosed George nudging Harvey.

Black George returned and sat down next to Amy. The new person took a seat on one of the railroad ties in the back. Amy saw him sit down, but wasn’t paying attention because Harry had returned to his spot as well. She couldn’t see enough of the new person to determine if he was an infrequent visitor or a newcomer. Black George whispered, “He’s taken care of, Miss Amy.”

“Good,” she whispered back.

Tubby let the comments settle down and continued his story. “Well, I figured that the fellow had designs on poor California Kid, so I was about to rent him out for ten dollars.”

“Hey!” exclaimed Cal with mock indignation.

The source of this story is SciFi-Stories

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