The Personal History, Adventures, Experiences & Observations of Peter Leroy
Leaving Small’s Hotel
by Eric Kraft, as Peter Leroy


Chapter 8
September 17
Kap’n Klam, the Home of Happy Diners, the House of Hopes and Dreams
Have it your way. 

The world is ugly, 
And the people are sad. 

    Wallace Stevens, “Gubbinal” 


I TOOK MY COFFEE to my workroom and shut the door.  Standing at the window, I reread the letter from Preston and Douglas announcing the cancellation of the Larry Peters series.  As I read, I had the oddest sensation that all the characters in the series, with whom I had become so familiar, were in their rooms in the big old Peters family house on Kittiwake Island, packing their bags, getting ready to leave, to go their separate ways, to part from one another forever.  I would miss them.  At the same time, though, I was disappointed in them.  They had let me down.  I had imagined that the Larry Peters books would go on forever, and I had expected Larry to provide a comfortable old age for Albertine and me.  He was supposed to be our retirement fund. 
   I let myself wallow in my misery for a while, and then I went for a long walk, round and round the rim of the island, walking in the shallow water, in my bare feet.  The bay was still warm, as warm as summer, though there was a chill in the morning air.  By the end of my walk, I had begun to hope again. Maybe the decision to cancel the series wasn’t irreversible.  Maybe Preston and Douglas were just testing me.  At our last meeting, when they had told me that they wanted to see the series “move in a new direction,” that they wanted “a touch of evil,” I had risen to my feet and said, dramatically, perhaps a touch too dramatically, my voice quaking, my hands shaking, “I remember a day long ago, when I was a child in a high chair gumming a piece of zwieback—” 
   “Peter,” said Preston, “this is neither the time nor the place for an extended reminiscence—” 
   “Damn it, Preston,” I said, striking my fist on the table, “hear me out!” 
   He shrugged and folded his arms across his chest and, to his credit, heard me out. 
   “A neighbor, a fussy, educated man named Dudley Beaker, was visiting, and he was talking to my mother, talking about me, without making any attempt to disguise what he was saying because he thought that I was too young to understand, and he told her—I’ll never forget it —that childhood is like a moment on a mountaintop in the sun, or maybe he said a moment in the sunshine on a mountaintop, before we descend into the vale of tears, or maybe it was the valley of death.  Well, I will not shove the kids who read my books off that mountaintop.  The world will do that to them soon enough.  It doesn’t need my help.  I won’t do it.” 
   I said that, and I meant it.  I seem to recall that I pounded my fist on the table a second time. 
   Douglas got up and came around the table and put a fatherly hand on my shoulder.  “You’ve got your principles, Peter, and we all admire that.  What you don’t have is much of an audience.  The kids are drifting away.  If you want them back, you’ve got to get some action in—” 
   “You don’t mean action, you mean violence.  You mean that I’ve got to start having people beaten up.  Battered.  Slashed.  Hacked.  Murdered.  You want to see blood.  You want to see rape, pillage, horror, and bleeding body parts—” 
   “Peter, we don’t want any of that,” said Preston.  “It’s the audience—” 
   “All we want is a series of books that will deliver a sizable audience,” said Douglas, “and if it takes a little action—” 
   “Violence,” I said. 
   “All right, violence, damn it!  If the kids want violence—” 
   “—then they’ll have to get it from another writer,” I said, and I got up and left. 
   I admit that it must have sounded like a firm, unalterable position at the time, but maybe it wasn’t too late to recant.  Maybe it wasn’t too late for me to capitulate.  Maybe it wasn’t too late for me to start giving them what they wanted. 
   I called.  I asked for Preston, but I got Douglas.  “Sandy,” I said, “listen—I was just wondering—is it too late for me to agree to a little murder and mayhem?  I’ve been thinking it over, and I think I’ve come up with some great ideas for death by amputation, evisceration, immolation, starvation, decapitation, defenestration—in other words, I think I’ve got some great ideas for capitulation.  What I was wondering is, would you be willing to revive the series if I killed somebody in each book?” 
   “Listen, Peter,” he said.  “I’m sorry, but it’s just not possible to resurrect the series. It’s laid to rest, behind us.  We’re really putting all our efforts into something new here now, night sweats.” 
   “The Night Sweats series.  Each book puts the readers in a situation of confronting their worst nightmares, but in everyday life.” 
   “Kids, sure.  We’ve got—let’s see—a kid who gets raped by his father, a kid who’s enslaved by a retired geezer who lives next door, a kid who ingests the seed pods of alien beings that sprout inside her and grow out of her orifices, stuff like that.  Scary stuff.  It’s showing a lot of promise. The focus group response has been just terrific.  Scares the shit out of the little bastards, but they eat it up, you know what I mean?  We’ve sold the screen rights to two of the books on plot outlines alone.  It’s something that I—that frankly I wish I could have gotten you in on, Peter—but—ah—you made yourself pretty clear about being, let’s say, against all that.” 
   “Yeah,” I muttered.  “I did.  I am.” 
   “But the kids love it.  I mean you could say this is kid-driven. We try the plots out on them and basically they keep saying, ëGimme more!  Scare me more!  Make me puke!’  It’s great!” 
   “Terrific,” I said. 
   “Hey, got to go,” he said.  “Good to hear from you.  Stay in touch.” 
   “You bet,” I said. 

I TRIED NOT TO BE GLOOMY during dinner, and I think I succeeded, but by reading time I was exhausted.  I felt old, finished.  Everything had come to nothing, that was the feeling.  There was just nothing.  I had nothing, and there was nothing to look forward to.  Whatever I had had, or done, or been had slipped away.  I had nothing.  I was nothing. I began the eighth episode of Dead Air, “Kap’n Klam, the Home of Happy Diners, the House of Hopes and Dreams,” without much enthusiasm.

THE FIRST INVESTMENT I ever made was in Captain White’s Clam Bar, the original of the Kap’n Klam chain of bivalve-based fast-food restaurants that now blanket the globe.  (It was, alas, too small an investment to allow me to give my wife, Albertine, the gift she desires more than any luxury: freedom from the hand-wringing anxiety she feels when the bills come in.)  That first clam bar had four booths, four tables, and a counter with six stools.  There was little to distinguish it from any other clam bar except its proprietor, Porky White. At that time, I was pushing thirteen and Porky was pushing thirty, and the clam bar was not exactly a success, but Porky was tireless in his efforts to make it so. 
   “Maybe it’s the name,” he said to me one day, out of the blue, when he was bent over a cup of coffee and we were the only people in the place. 
   “The name?” I said. 
   “Yeah,” he said morosely.  “Maybe we’d get more people if we changed the name.” 
   “You could call it a café,” I said.  “Captain White’s Clam Café.” 
   “It’s the ëCaptain White’s’ part I was thinking about,” he said.  “It’s not right.” 
   “Why not?” 
   “Well, you know, in the morning, I get a coffee-and-buttered-roll crowd here—”
   “A crowd?” 
   “A small crowd.  A few guys.  And being located where I am here, near the docks, a lot of those guys are baymen, clammies.” 
   “Uh-huh,” I said. 
   “Well, to them, a captain is the skipper of a clam boat, not the skipper of a clam bar.” 
   “But you’re the captain of this enterprise, so you’re entitled to the title.” 
   “You and I may know that,” he said, “but they do not agree.  It’s not that they say anything to me about it, but there’s something in their looks, and something about the way they stop talking when I come by to pour the coffee, and besides, it’s too dull.  Captain White’s.  Blah.  You know, it’s just So-and-So’s Clam Bar.  We’ve got to have a name that stands out, a name like nobody else’s.  Something distinctive.” 
   “There’s probably no other clam bar called So-and-So’s.” 
   “Be serious.  This is important.” 
   “The Home of Happy Diners.” 
   “Wishful thinking,” I said.  “You might as well call it The House of Hopes and Dreams.” 
   The clam bar was called The Home of Happy Diners for a week.  It did not fill with happy diners.  Porky tried The House of Hopes and Dreams.  Our hopes and dreams were not fulfilled.  He tried Porky’s Clam Café, The Golden Clam, The Happy Clam, The Clam Shack, The Half Shell, Distinctive Clams, Porky’s Folly, and So-and-So’s.  None of the name changes attracted a crowd, but they kept Porky busy repainting the sign above the door. 
   Finally, one afternoon, he said to me, “I have got it.  I have really got it.  I know the name, the right name.” 
   “You do?” 
   “Yep.  It’s been in my mind for weeks, but I wasn’t sure about it.  I had to try those other names first, see how they would work.” 
   “So this was all part of a plan?” 
   “Sure.  Like a field test.” 
   “You didn’t let me in on it.” 
   “Yeah, well, I am the captain of this enterprise, you know.” 
   “Sure, okay.  What’s the name?” 
   “Kap’n Klam’s Klam Kar.” 
   “Hm,” I said.  “Who’s Captain Clam?” 
   “Kap’n Klam.  You’ve got to slur it like that.  That’s the way the clammies say it.  And look.  Look at this.”  He wrote the name on a napkin.  “See?  Those K’s?  Distinctive.” 
   “Okay, but—” 
   “Who’s Kap’n Klam?” 
   “Nobody.  That’s the beauty of it.  He’s not a fake because he’s not real.” 
   “Makes sense, but—why ëKar’?” 
   “We’re going to rework the outside of the place to make it look like a railroad dining car—and then inside we’ll—” 
   “That would be kind of expensive,” I said, speaking as an investor in the enterprise. 
   “I knew you’d say that,” he said.  “Okay, how about Kap’n Klam’s Klams?  No kar.” 
   “Why don’t you just call it Kap’n Klam?” I said.  “You don’t need to say ëklam’twice, because what else would Kap’n Klam sell?”  There it was.  We looked at each other and burst out laughing, because we knew that Kap’n Klam would sell clams, really sell clams. 
   Today, thanks to massive advertising, Kap’n Klam is a household word, but it’s not the name that Porky and I use.  He calls the outfit The Home of Happy Diners, and I call it The House of Hopes and Dreams.
MAYBE you should change the name of the hotel,” Lou suggested.  “Might attract a buyer.” 
   “How about ëHeartbreak Hotel’?” I suggested. 
   “Ooops,” said Lou.  He busied himself with polishing a glass. 
   “Time for bed,” said Albertine, and she led me upstairs. 

“LET’S OFFER A BONUS,” she said when we were in bed, “payable to the individual realtor who sells the place.  Maybe it will get them to start bringing more people out here.” 
   “It’s only been five days,” I said, “and they’ve already brought one nutcase out to look at it.” 
   She gave me a look.  “The realtors like to say that it only takes one person, the right one, but if they’re not bringing lots of people out here we’re never going to see the right one, the one who is fool enough to actually buy the place.” 
   “Sure,” I said.  “Why not?  Offer a bonus.” 
   I didn’t mention the fact that in five days I had learned to look at the hotel with the eyes of a potential buyer.  When it first went on the market it looked quite good to me; I thought that I could see the work we had put into it, the money we had poured into it, the years of effort.  Now it looked like an old wreck in need of paint—shabby, tired, and weatherbeaten—and I was beginning to feel that no one would be fool enough to buy it. 

BALDY SAID, “Time for another entry in the Catalog of Human Misery, don’t you think, Bob?” 
   “Here’s one.  You’re sitting at the kitchen table waiting for your son to come home for dinner.  Got the picture, Bob?” 
   “Instead, there is a knock at the door.  It’s the cops.  You know what’s coming, don’t you, Bob?” 
   “You’re right.  Your son and four of his friends walked into a store—a convenience store, a bodega, a deli, any kind of store will do, right, Bob? 
   “Doesn’t matter what kind of store—and after they walked in they couldn’t think of anything better to do, so they decided to throw a scare into the owner, a person of a different race.  Any race will do, as long as it’s a different race, right, Bob?” 
   “They knew how to scare a shopkeeper, because they’d seen how it’s done.  They’d seen it on TV, and they’d seen it in the movies.  Be a gangster, be a tough, be a killer.  Talk the talk.  Walk the walk.  Exhibit the attitude.  They were only acting, just playing a part, but damn, they were good at it.  They were so good at it that the shopkeeper pulled his gun from under the counter and shot your son dead.  That’s entertainment!” 
   There was a long pause, and then he said, “Good night, boys and girls.  Stay in the cave.  It sucks outside, and the rain it raineth every day.” 


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Leaving Small’s Hotel is published in paperback by Picador, a division of St. Martin's Press, at $14.00. 

You should be able to find Leaving Small’s Hotel at your local bookstore, but you can also order it by phone from: 

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Copyright © 1998 by Eric Kraft

Leaving Small’s Hotel is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author. 

Leaving Small’s Hotel was first published on May 11, 1998, by Picador USA, a division of St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York 10010. 

For information about publication rights outside the U. S. A., audio rights, serial rights, screen rights, and so on, contact Alec “Nick” Rafter at Manning & Rafter Advertising, Promotion, Public Relations & Used Cars. 





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