The Close Down

  • 30 Jul - 05 Aug, 2022
  • Mag The Weekly
  • Fiction

"What happened to the old guy with one hand?”

Harvey stopped wiping the glasses and looked up at the elderly gaunt stranger who was his only customer, flinching slightly at the coldness of the man’s stare. “You must have been here a long time back, mister.”

The man answered in a tone of affected concern. “Why? Isn’t he here no more?” He swirled the last liquid left of his drink around in the bottom of the glass, clearly contemplating the purchase of another.

“That was my dad. He passed away a few years back. Not a lot of people remember him now.”

“Well, I remember him. Great guy. Great storyteller. You were lucky to have a dad like that.” He gulped down the last of his drink. “Guess I’ll have another one, son.”

Harvey took his glass and fetched another bottle of the drink from the battered refrigerator behind the sitting lounge. The man with the cold eyes acknowledged with a nod. “You here to see the turtles?” Harvey asked to make conversation. The stranger didn’t reply right away.

“Well...” he said at last, “the truth is, I came here to see your dad. Don’t look like that’s going to happen, does it?”

Harvey looked up, surprised. “Nope. But maybe I can help?”

“Doubt it. It was personal stuff. Don’t know why I bothered to make the journey, really.”

Harvey waited, but the stranger seemed loath to continue. “Good to meet a friend of my dad’s,” said Harvey, hoping to open up the conversation again. “Please have the drink on me. How far have you come?”

“Chicago. American Airlines. Got in to San Jose last night.”

“You must have come straight down then.”

“Fastest way that I could. Bus as far as Cochuita. Then I had to get a ride with one of the turtle research boats. Hell of a place to get to, this.”

Harvey nodded. “We lost the railroad in the 1991 earthquake. Never got it fixed. Before that it was opening up pretty good for tourism. Then they made the National Park down at Cochuita. Started the diving centre there too. We had coral as well before the earthquake, but it got lifted two metres and broken up by the tide. Nothing here now. Just the turtles.”

“And your restaurant. How do you survive?”

“Turtle research people got to drink. And eat. I do food as well, you know.”

“Yeah. I guess.”

Harvey knew what he really meant. Why is a sane man trying to live on peanuts in a back-end-of-nowhere place like this? It was a question that Harvey had often asked himself – since he had been about eighteen years old in fact. There had never been a good answer.

“How did your father die, son, if it’s okay to ask?”

“I don’t mind. It was a long time ago. He was found, washed up on the beach. Drowned. Folks thought he might have got caught up in some weeds, something like that. He was a strong swimmer. Especially for a guy with one hand.” Harvey paused and waited for a reaction but the stranger just took another sip from his glass.

“How did you know him then?”

“I knew him up in Chicago, before he came down here.”

Harvey looked him straight in the eye. “Really? No kidding? He would never talk about Chicago. You must know... how he lost his hand.”

“Didn’t he tell you?”

“Told a different story about it every time he got asked. He had a hundred stories about it. I doubt if he even knew himself which one of them was true. I guess it was a joke of his... you know, a way to tease people.”

The man took a sip of his drink and considered what he should say. “I guess if Walter had wanted his boy to know about those things he’d have told you himself. Isn’t any of my business.”

“But he’s dead now,” Harvey pleaded, “If you won’t tell me I’m never going to know,

am I?”

The stranger considered the question. “We all go to our graves not knowing a lot of things. Things we’re probably happier not knowing.”

Harvey took another bottle of the drink from the refrigerator and filled a glass for himself. He pulled up the high-back stool he kept behind the bar and sat opposite his only customer. “Look, mister, if I tell you the truth about how my dad died, will you tell me the truth about his hand?”


Harvey lay out flat on a tattered brown beach-rug with an olive-skinned teenage girl beside him, her head resting lightly in the crook of his shoulder. From underneath the overhanging shade of the palms they could see a flight of pelicans returning from their day’s fishing.

“I think we miss the sea, Harvey, when we go to los Estados Unidos. No?”

“We’re going to miss a lot of things, Magdalena.”

“But it will be worth it, right? And we come back, very often. We come back with our children, right Harvey?”

“Costs money to go to the United States, Magdalena. Costs money to come back too.”

“But we have lots of money. We learn in college in San Jose and then we get good job in los Estados Unidos. We come back rich Gringos! Buy big hotel, live good life. No?”

Harvey smiled. It was all so easy to Magdalena. All so straight forward. “Look, I’m coming, right? I said I was coming and I am. Okay?”

“Tomorrow. Twelve thirty at railroad station. You come with all things packed up, we go San Jose. Right? For sure, we go!”

“For sure. We go for sure.” He patted her gently on the top of the forehead.


Walter was lying down when he got back to the restaurant. Sam hadn’t come in, and the flimsy wooden shutters were still up on the front entrance. Harvey went straight upstairs to see how he was. The old man looked pale.

“I’m fine, Son,” he assured him, “Just a bit tired. Did a little bit of fishing today and I felt like a lie down when I got back, that’s all. You and Magdalena all set to go?”

“Yeah, sure Dad. All set. Twelve thirty, tomorrow.”

“That’s good. She’s a good kid. You’re a lucky guy. I wish I was your age again. She’s good for you, Harvey. You and Magdalena are going to have all the things that I never had.”

“Yeah, I know Dad. And I’m going to look after her,

like you told me to.”

“That’s right. I’m proud of

you, Son.”

“Thanks Dad. I know you are. And I’m going to give you reasons to be proud of me.” He paused for a moment. “Dad, why was it that you never went to all those places?”

Walter never gave him a straight answer. “I liked it here...”

Harvey shrugged. He looked down at the prone figure, swallowed hard. “I think I’ll open up by myself, Dad. You come down later if you feel well enough.”

“Nothing wrong with me. I’ll be there in half an hour.”

“Sure Dad. See you downstairs.”


Harvey opened the bedroom door as quietly as he could and looked in. By the thin pencil of light that fell across the bed from the gap in the heavy drapes he saw his father’s figure stir. “Harvey? What time is it?”

“Hello Dad. It’s about noon. You were sleepier. But it’s okay. I opened the restaurant and cooked a couple of meals too.”

“Noon! But you’ve got to go in half an hour! Have you done your packing?”

“It’s okay Dad. Magdalena can go on her own and we can meet up in San Jose tomorrow.”

“Are you crazy? Is that the way you’re going to treat your girl on the very first day of your new life? I thought you were smart!”

He came in and stood over his father’s bed. “Dad, I lied. It’s past noon. Magdalena’s already gone. But I’ll be on the train tomorrow. Don’t worry about it.”

“You’ll find her? What’s going on, Harvey?”

He sat down by the bed. “Well, the truth is, I don’t know what’s going on either. I sat on the veranda with my suitcase and... Well, I wanted to go, but I just couldn’t seem to take the first step. I couldn’t get myself to walk to that station. Isn’t that strange?”


“So you just couldn’t go,” the stranger probed, “some kind of phobia?”

“Guess so. I did go eventually though. Not the next day, but the day after that. My Dad was a lot better that day. I took the train to San Jose and I went to the college Magdalena and me were supposed to be joining. I thought I could ask at the college office, what courses she had signed up for. But they wouldn’t tell me anything. Said it was all confidential. I said I was her boyfriend, but they just laughed at me. So I left. I hung around the college for a couple of days, thought maybe I would see her, but it was a big place...”

“So you never found her again?”

He shook his head. “I don’t think she wanted to be found. I suppose I could have tried harder, but on the third day I phoned home. Got through to Sam instead of my Dad. I knew there was something wrong, but Sam wouldn’t tell me and then I heard about the drowning.”

For a couple of minutes neither of them spoke.

“Hell of a thing, to lose your dad like that.”

“Worst part was; he’d been so mad at me. He called me a fool for the way I’d treated Magdalena. I guess he was right. But I wanted to be with her here, where we both belonged.”

“Your father was a frightened man, Harvey. Seems to me you might have picked up some of that fear, some way.”

Harvey’s eyes bored into the stranger’s face. “Why? Why was he so scared?”

The stranger met his eyes and thought for a long time. “You can’t blame other people for your own mistakes. You could have gone with Magdalena. Those things were your decisions. Don’t try to blame your dad for things you did.”

Harvey’s eyes narrowed. I think you’re saying don’t blame you. Is that right? Was it you that made my Dad the way he was?”

The shot in the dark hit home. The old man’s coldness seemed to melt a little and he finally began to talk. “Your father was mixed up with some pretty unsavoury guys in Chicago. He picked the wrong girlfriend – daughter of one of the big crime families. They ran off together and by the time the family caught up with them... they'd had you.”

Harvey stared at him...

“The hand... was the punishment for running away with her. They took her home, told your dad he had twenty-four hours to disappear. You were left with him. If you hadn’t had been around they’d just have shot him.”

“It was you, wasn’t it?” Harvey whispered, “It was you who cut off my father’s hand.”

The long pause told Harvey he was right.

“It was a long time ago. We were all crazy back then. Walter didn’t deserve what happened to him. He wasn’t a bad guy. He thought we didn’t know where he’d run to. Old Corvano liked to think of Walter down here, scared as hell. But it’s over now. Corvano’s dead. I wanted to come down and tell Walter.”

Harvey remained rigid and expressionless in his chair.

“I came here to tell Walter that the Corvano family seeks no more retribution. And maybe... to ask him to forgive me?”

Still Harvey said nothing.

“Maybe not so stupid, ‘because it seems to me you’ve let it seep into you as well. You could go up to Chicago now, go and see your mother if you wanted to. I’m sure she’d be happy to see you. She’s still alive, and you’ve got brothers. You don’t need to rot in this place, Harvey.”

Harvey got up and very quietly started to stow the high-back stool.

“Come back with me, Harvey. Let me make some of it up to the old man.”

“I think it’s time you left,” said Harvey. The stranger hesitated for a few moments and was gone. Harvey remained with his back to the door until he heard the entry of another customer and turned around to greet him.

“Hi, Harvey. Am I too late for your chicken fried rice?”

“Too late?” Harvey repeated the words. After a few seconds his expression changed to one of polite civility.

“Of course not. Happy to serve you like always.”