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Su-Mei called the city. That's what the fish guy said. "I'm Victor fucking Joseph, and if I wanna sell black pepper chicken, ain't nobody gonna stop me."

A squat keg of a man with a wet stogie in his face, Victor opened Captain's Galley only weeks before in what was briefly Wimpy's but remained best recognized by those in the know as what used to be Doodle Burgers. And on this block chock-full of restaurants, patrons and parking come at a premium.

See, old man Marquis built the block for his wife, or so the story goes. She was a stage actress of some renown; he erected for her in the middle of the block a theater; put her, its star, on the residential side in a house all her own; then populated the surrounding cottages with supporting actors and artisans. To support this fledgling troupe, restaurants were opened on the street down below.

The old man died, the stage lights went dark, and the star, she moved away. The restaurants stayed put. A noncompetition clause each signed in their lease made some stick more than others.

Middletown

Middletown

Here's the deal: Gelato Vero sells coffee and Italian ice cream; the Greek Tycoon deals in the obvious cuisine, served too often with raucous karaoke and late-night visions of Jimmy Durante in spandex; Shakespeare's keeps the lager on tap, along with all that fine British chuck -- unique in that it actually has flavor; Su-Mei owns Saffron, where she's all about Thai chicken; and directly next door, what the Captain's Galley's got is fish. And ain't nobody buying fish.

The lunchtime crowd is all about chicken.

Victor don't understand. "My fish is fucking good. They don't wanna buy fish, fuck 'em." So he put a big sign on the sidewalk and started grilling chicken.

There's an ordinance preventing big signs from being put on the sidewalk, so Su-Mei called the city.

That's when the real row began.

Now, 23 parking spaces is all there is on the one little stretch spanning Washington Street to Winder Street. All city metered, all monitored fiercely by the city's parking police. All but one, on the corner across from Gelato Vero.

People circle the block two, three, four times and more in an effort to land a slip to moor their mobiles, rarely holding out for that most coveted of slots.

Meanwhile, Victor's got a plan. "I'm gonna rent a bus, pick up 50 homeless people, and give 'em a dollar bill each," he says. "Lunchtime, I'm gonna line 'em up at Saffron's and have 'em go in and ask for change for a dollar."

Thinking is, that way he'll sell him some chicken.

But Victor's a good guy and he doesn't rent the bus. I hold out for the free space on the corner, but by the time I find it open, now some five years later, a meter marks its spot and the Captain's Galley is gone.

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