East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 15

Moving Day

"Hello, Dury. I stopped by to see if anything had changed on the apartments. I was invited to leave. Same guy. Same attitude. No information. 'We are not interested in discussing the future of that property,' Gary said, using a gruff voice to imitate the man he spoke to.

"They've got your name and phone number. I suspect you'll be hearing from them soon," Dury said.

"They bought that property with something in mind. Now that you've tied up the Kurtz property, they can't expand."

"It's curious. They bought it and began evictions. They had something in mind," Dury said.

"Their watchdog isn't saying much. I think he memorized his lines. They sounded rehearsed. He still had the paperwork for my original proposal on his desk. Seems to indicate he isn't doing big business."

"My secretary is researching the apartments. She says St. James wasn't in the city of Charleston when those buildings went up. It was incorporated into Charleston in the 60s. The state didn't notice Kurtz until they stopped paying property taxes."

"Funny how that works. They stop getting their cut and they are standing at your door," Gary said. "You hired a secretary?" Gary asked.

"From my law firm. Jean's still at the firm. She likes doing favors for me. We were together for a long time. I hated leaving her behind but I made up my mind there had to be more to the rest of my life than law."

"I stopped by the apartments and had coffee with Lisa. She's getting together the names and phone numbers you wanted. Keith talked to her about it. She is making sure the men are OK with it."

"I'd like them to be the first residents of Pleasant Valley," Dury said.

"I'll need to rip up one apartment to see what's there. I'll do that to the one that's in the worst condition."

"I wouldn't do that until we own them," Dury said.

"I'm not that dumb. I'm just telling you FYI. It'll help me in making decisions about the remodeling."

"We'll give Lisa her pick of apartments once you're done remodeling. We want to keep her happy. She'd be good at interviewing perspective tenants. She's friendly and she has a great smile."

"She's a nice lady," Gary said.

"We invite people who were evicted to return. We'll make them a good deal while the work is going on. Make up for how they've been treated."

"Nice touch, Lane. I like it."

"I'm thinking the main kitchen will go in Kurtz building one. We'll call them PV1, PV2, and PV3," Dury said. "We can look at putting an auxiliary kitchen in the PV Apartments for the time being. Once PV1 is complete, we put in the best kitchen possible and a first class area for dining. Each building will have some kitchen capability. It's what I've been discussing with Keith. He'll know what he wants. We'll want the ability to deliver meals to the rest of the facility. This covers the disabled and those unable to come to PV1 for some reason. We don't want to run this like they're in prison. Someone doesn't feel like coming down, we take them a meal if they want it."

"I got a call from First Mortgage Land Corporation. That was the number on the hand bill. They can speak for shop owners in an offer to buy," Gary said.

"I want to deal with the owners if First Mortgage isn't holding the titles. Why pay a mortgage company if we can put it in the pockets of the actual shop owners? No telling how much they'll charge shop owners in the sale. We might want to put your name on the shops too, if we haven't secured the apartments by the time we buy the shops. I've committed to take the Kurtz property, better known as the property of the state of South Carolina, we want to wrap this all up pretty fast now."

"I'll use my company name on the shops. If they see I'm moving on the property around them, they might hold us up," Gary said.

"Good idea. I've drafted Keith's lawsuit on his illegal eviction and I'll use that as the foundation for a class action suit with the rest of the evicted men."

"I'm ready to move in any direction you say, Dury. I'll use my company name to purchase the shops. Won't your name be on the check?"

"No, you'll have cashier's checks. Jean only needs to know the amount of each check."

"She can get into your account?" Gary asked with concern in his voice.

"The one at the law firm. I'll put in the necessary funds. I'm retired but I'm still a partner at the firm. I still collect my share of the money the firm makes. Jean's been doing my banking for twenty-five years. When I left, I arranged for her to get a top flight retirement package from my firm. She can't be released but her duties have been reduced substantially since I retired. She's tickled to have something important to do," Dury said.

"I wish I could say that about my comptroller," Gary said. "As I recall, he owned my company for a couple of years."

"He never owned your company. Theft is not a path to ownership. You might want to stay near your phone. The legal papers will be served this afternoon. I anticipate inquires," Dury said.

"No, I don't think so, Dury. They put me off like I was some annoyance. I will not go back wagging my tale," Gary said. "Let them sweat."

"You're handling it. I trust your judgment, but we need those apartments. If they're rethink their plans for the apartments. They'll call soon."

"I believe you're right. Whatever they have on their mind, a lawsuit wasn't it. I bet you have a judge waiting in the wings," Gary said.

"No, I can't pull a rabbit out of my hat twice, and since I'm involved with you, and you are purchasing the property, we let the lawsuit do the talking. Those boys overstepped their bounds. They know it. I know it and the men they evicted will know it soon if they don't already know."

"We're getting close. I can feel it, Lane. Only one nut left to crack. I will begin calling my best crew to make sure they're available. Once we own it all, we'll want to move fast. Costs are going up as we speak."

"Sounds like a plan," Dury said, as the call ended.

Two nights later at Dury's, the issues had become more material.

"Before we get started on the construction, I want to buy American. I'm taking a serious look at solar. My men will install the units but we'll need a rep from the solar company to advise us. I've found a company in Minnesota. The owner visits each job site.

"This means I'll deal directly with the boss about what our needs are. This is all contingent on your approval."

"Don't let me slow you down, Gary. I know nothing about solar energy," Dury said. "You're ahead of me there. We need to generate our electricity."

"We'll generate enough energy to have plenty to spare. There's no point in scrimping. We can sell excess energy back to the power grid. We will want the best batteries on the market to store energy.

"A hurricane will come and go within thirty-six hours in most cases. During hurricanes we'll need to close the array. I'll build a structure to fold the array into in emergencies."

"I agree with everything you just said," Dury said. "You've obviously thought this out. The court papers on the illegal evictions have been served. I got a signed receipt for them this morning. You should be getting a call soon unless I'm way off base. Nine of the men evicted have joined the suit."

"That explains the call before I left home. I listened but didn't pick up. It was the same guy I talked to. I'll call tomorrow after my afternoon nap. I don't want to appear anxious. I'll act like I don't remember him."

"And if they get an offer they take in the meantime?" Dury asked.

"Not likely. I dug a whole beside the foundations to check for moisture. I put some Acme barricades around it and left it open. Anyone goes there will wonder about the hole."

"Speaking of hardball," Dury said. "You don't take prisoners, do you."

"I have too much time in this project to loose it now," Gary said. "I want to do neon lights on the outside of PV1. Around the top of the building and especially a large window near the front door: 'Welcome to Pleasant Valley.'"

"I like that," Keith said. "Makes people feel warm. I like neon lighting if it's tastefully done. In South Beach I felt like I was in a 50s movie."

"I'm the guy who shuffles the paper. I'd never have thought of neon. I'll want to check and what the upkeep is on neon. As for solar, I was expecting we'd go in that direction. That's as far as I got," Dury said. "It's why you two are my partners. I know my way around business. I only know people from a limited perspective. They're usually in a jam when I meet them.

"Barbara was always telling me to lighten up when we went to functions. It was always with other attorneys. I'm good with attorneys and judges."

"You have a lot to offer, Dury. Fran is always after me to spend more time with you. I tell her, 'Dury doesn't bowl or watch football'. I can't imagine you in a duck blind with a pump action across your lap. Do you have a television, Dury?"

"Yes, there's a television room next to Barbara's sewing room. You put sliding glass doors so she could sit outside without coming through the house."

"In the west wing," Gary said, with a pretension in his voice.

"Yes, the west wing. It's quietest at that end of the house. Barbara liked to read there. The library was built into my office so she had that space for herself."

"I'm not that good with people. As long as I'm working, people can be all around me and I don't notice them. Socially, this is nice, two or three friends is what I like. I've never done that much socializing. I liked being in the kitchen cooking," Keith explained. "I'm not comfortable being too close to people."

"They can be a terrible disappointing sometimes, people," Gary said.

"Yes, and hard to know too," Dury agreed. "I've never found any friends like the ones I had when I was a kid. Hell, my two best friends are a former client and a homeless guy I met in a park. I feel closer to you to than anyone I know," Dury confessed.

"The nice thing about friends is, they don't take any work. They accept you as is and you accept them. Like the three of us and I think that is unusual for men our age."

"Sincerity, sharing, and caring comes natural to friends. You can give and take without worrying how much to give and take," Dury said.

"I suspect that's a lesson from your philosophy class," Gary said.

"Life is a philosophy class, Gary. Watching you two do what you do, your passion it. You prove how much you have to give. How we came together to be friends is part of the philosophy of life. To plan something as big as this that doesn't benefit us, that's a new philosophy in this world."

"I don't know. I feel pretty good about it," Keith said. "That's beneficial."

"We're doing it but it isn't about us," Gary said. "Using our talents to create a better way to live and none of us considers it crazy or even odd. Believe me, I know, most people don't see past their own interests. As individuals we didn't, until we came together and had an opportunity to do something good for people who don't have that much good happening to them."

"We aren't most people and we don't come from ordinary lives, Dury. Each of us was blessed in a certain way. You with your interest in the law. Me falling in the hands of men who shared their knowledge with me, Keith finding Henrietta as he threw his fate to the wind. Each of us got out there and found ourselves. Why wouldn't we want to help others who haven't been as lucky as we are."

"You can only have so much and then you need to give a little away," Keith said. "I think it's giving ourselves away really."

"It was what was done to those men with AIDS that got to me. It took me back to those poor dying men Barbara and I volunteered to help. They were abused, evicted, left without hope, and we tried to show them some human kindness. I couldn't imagine dying, while being ostracized, and people not raising a hand to help. It really made me sick."

"Luckily it changed. Today we have drugs and can live fairly long lives," Keith said. "If we take care of ourselves."

"Seeing how those jerks made the lives of the men living at the apartments even worse, and all for the sake of money, made me want to do something," Dury said. "I didn't know what to do but I intend to do something to help the men with AIDS and hurt the men who hurt them. Where you hurt men like that is in the wallet," Dury said.

"Amen," Gary said. "A Men."

"It is your plan, Dury. We picked up on your passion. Gary can build it. I can feed the workers and the tenants, and not hamburgers and hot dogs."

"I kind of like my burgers," Gary said.

"OK, I give you hamburger and fix real food for everyone else," Keith said.

"I don't like hamburger that much," Gary said.

"OK, children, lets not play with our food," Dury said.

"You'll make sure it's all legal. You're the father of Pleasant valley. Gary and I are your handmaidens," Keith said.

"Wait a minute here," Gary said. "That doesn't make me a member of some super secret homosexual organization, does it?"

Keith and Dury laughed.

"I don't think so. Perhaps subordinates would describe us better."

"Subordinates!" Dury said. "You two will do all the work. My biggest contribution was getting mad about how sick men were being treated."

"You'll keep us out of jail," Keith said.

"Yeah, I can do that, but try not to do anything illegal."

"You're the guy forcing the owner to sell the apartments," Gary said.

"Nothing illegal about using your knowledge to gain an advantage over a dirt bag," Dury said.

"I'll be sure to stay off your enemies list," Gary said.

"You two have ideas and talent," Dury said. "I can make sure what we do is legal, but I can't build it or make it run. You two can."

"We're the brawn, you're the brain, Dury. We like the sound of what you want to do," Gary said. "And we'll do what we can to get it done."

"I couldn't say it better," Keith said. "You're the kind of man people are comfortable following, Dury, and I can't count the real friends I've had on one hand."

"And one left you a gift that keeps on giving," Gary said sadly.

"One left me a gift that keeps on giving, but he was way more than a friend," Keith said. "Friendship will rarely get you in trouble, love will."

"New Orleans?" Gary asked.

"New Orleans. He was the Brazilian waiter who came to work after I was the head chef. Jorge was hot and handsome. Smooth as silk and twice as nice. The first time he walked into my kitchen, he saw my jaw drop. I'd been with a couple of guys I met on the road. That was hardly love. I was experimenting," Keith said.

"Jorge was your first love?" Dury asked.

"First and last. Once I had it, I wasn't sleeping with anyone. I didn't want to do to anyone what Jorge did to me. As much as I hate him, I still love him," Keith admitted. "I don't sleep with guys because there aren't that many I like. It's easy not sleeping with them. Love complicates things too much for me."

"That's love," Gary said. "I still might love him right after I shot him."

"I knew better. I knew to have safe sex. I knew the risk and I took it anyway. The rules didn't apply to Jorge. It took a year for me to find out I was positive," Keith said. "Jorge was long gone. I didn't get sick for years. When I did I was sure I was going to die. I didn't mind, but I wanted to die outside."

"That's when I met a lawyer on a park bench and he shared his tuna sandwich with me. I'm not sure what took place, but here I am, cooking again, and I'm happy and participating in the best adventure of my life."

"He did that, 'Everything will be fine,' thing with me. I'd lost everything and someone said, 'You need to talk to Mr. Lane. He's an attorney. He'll know how to get your life back for you," Gary said. "He did. I'd reached the end of my rope, until Dury said those magic words, 'It'll be fine.'"

"I was just there. You two came to me. I just did what I thought was needed. You've given me as much as I gave to you. I didn't break a sweat with your case, Gary. It just required time and patience. Keith, you've given me as much pleasure with the meals you cook as I've had in some time. Gary furnished the kitchen where you cook and this nice house. I'm the grateful one. I'd lost interest in life once I retired. I didn't know what to do. Then I met a guy in the park and he cooked for me and showed me where he once lived."

"Saying we're all in this together sounds trite," Gary said. "But, I'm just saying, I feel like we are."

"You do shuffle papers well, Mr. Lane."

"My secretary has found the owners of thirteen of the seventeen shops. She talked to the advertising department at the Daily News. She's sent each an invitation to call me to make arrangements for a sale of said property. We should be able to find out something on the other four owners from the shop owners who contact us. They probably had agreements about what one shop was selling another shop couldn't sell."

"Three of the shops on the second block, starting on the eastern most corner, are a dry cleaners. Next door, the fourth shop from the corner, is a laundry, complete with washers and dryers. I imagine the dry cleaners is registered somewhere. They're usually nationally certified by someone."

"No one has broken in to get the coins out of the machines?" Dury asked.

"I just cleaned enough of the window to look inside. The shops appear to be in relatively good condition. It looks like they went out the door, locked it, and never went back," Gary said.

"It is out of the way," Dury said.

"Someone took the time to break the windows out of the factory buildings," Gary said.

"They've been vacant a lot longer than the shops have," Dury said.

"The dry cleaners closed last year. Some shops operated after that. Lisa would know," Keith said.

"I never thought of Lisa," Dury said. "Give her a call and see, Keith."

"Don't forget I want gardens between the buildings," Keith said. "Mainly I want to grow vegetables. Nothing better than fresh vegetables. Our climate means a year around growing season for some things. I want to have flower gardens, but we can put them on the other side of that ditch behind buildings two and three. Maybe walking paths will work over there by the forest."

"The main kitchen will be in PV1. Look it over and make a sketch of where you want the gardens. Near the kitchen sounds good. There is plenty of room," Dury said. "I'm going to look over the Kurtz buildings tomorrow. You can see where you want the garden and then talk to Lisa about the shops," Dury said.

"As for the solar, you know what's best, Gary" Dury said. "For maintenance I was thinking a retired man who is handy and wants to stay busy," Dury said. "He gets a cut-rate unit and an hourly wage for his work."

"We can try that to start, but once all those units are filled, it'll require more than one man. We'll see how it goes on maintenance."

"I do not want made in China on anything at Pleasant Valley. While they are perfectly lovely people, we aren't paying for products shipped from halfway around the world. That's as crazy as it sounds. Made in American means it comes from closer than Asia," Dury said.

"Two room apartments with full bathrooms and some kitchen capability; small fridge, microwave, toaster oven, a single burner built in next to the sink. Plenty of outlets for a toaster and coffee maker. We might think of making the interior fixtures low enough so someone in a wheelchair can reach them easily. I'll have to do exact measurements to see how many units we can put on each floor. We'll make the bedroom big enough that it can be divided into two rooms. That makes every unit a one or two bedroom. I'll do a working model to show you," Gary said. "I use a company in Grand Rapids. They make room dividers. We'll build each unit for comfort, but the interior can be rearranged by using the room dividers."

"I like that," Dury said. "We'll have versatility to make living easier for those with special needs."

"If you have elderly, they aren't going to like searching for the light switch," Keith said.

"Make a floor on PV1 for people in chairs," Dury said. "We shouldn't need more space than that. We'll add space in PV3 if needed. It'll be difficult to put people in a unit set up for chairs if they aren't in a chair."

Gary took a drink and sat back with a thought that would cover chairs.

"I'll put plates in where we can change the fixtures in some units. It'll give us the versatility you want. A man in chair moves in, we lower the switches to the bottom plate, outlets to. I can put cabinets on a tracks. It will allow me to raise or lower them as needed. We'll be able to change a unit in a matter of hours. You're going to get folks that want to live near someone they know who already lives at Pleasant Valley. If we do what we say here, referrals will be numerous. We need to consider that. Not fill PV1 before we start putting people in PV2 and so on."

"We'll keep some units open in each building. Sooner or later we'll be at capacity. People will be waiting for a unit to be available."

"At maximum I figure one hundred and forty units. That means we could have as many as 250 people, although i suspect the number will cone in somewhere between 200 and 225. That's a guess."

"I fed that many at one meal in New Orleans," Keith said. "I can do 250 three times a day and furnish snacks and coffee cakes without breaking a sweat."

"That's answers a question I had," Dury said.

"We own the entire block, or we soon will, I'm a builder. If we see we don't have enough capacity, we'll put in PV4," Gary said. "There is a lot of room and we can always build higher than three floors."

"I don't want to be so big that we're crowding people out of the dining room or off the walking paths. We need to set a reasonable limit."

"People like eating at different times. I don't imagine you'll ever fill up a good size dining room," Keith said.

"We'll want to make it big enough we have some flexibility to change its configuration," Dury said.

"I've been in cities that have little to offer the elderly and disabled. We don't just provide a nice place to live. We provide a place where they can feel alive," Keith said. "If you set the dining room up with the room dividers. We can change it around if need be."

"Once Pleasant Valley is up and running, it might encourage like minded people to duplicate what we're doing," Gary said. "It's a great idea, Dury."

"Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but we might want to start the project before we pat ourselves on the back. The easy part has been done. Now that we own it, the work begins," Dury said.

"I would be comfortable there," Keith said.

"Aren't you comfortable here?" Dury asked.

"I am, but I'll have to get up at four in the morning to get to Pleasant Valley to have breakfast ready for the early risers," Keith said.

"Or the people who don't sleep," Gary said.

"We'll need to build Keith a small unit next to the main kitchen where he can relax. I expect you'll be able to recruit assistance in the kitchen. Breakfast isn't that complicated. You can't work from four in the morning through evening snacks," Dury said. "I've seen you preparing a meal for the three of us. It takes you half a day. I won't have you getting sick, Keith. You need to pace yourself."

"As with everything, we'll see how it goes. We haven't started work yet, Dury. I'll see how best to get things done. I'm a chef. I can supervise a kitchen. I also like to do the cooking in my kitchen. We'll work something out."

"I like having you around, Keith. You're unobtrusive and yet you're good company," Dury said.

"Is anyone getting goosebumps here?" Gary asked. "This is real. It is happening. We're embarking on something special. I can feel it. A place where people care."

"Damn, you never cease to amaze me, Gary. 'Pleasant Valley, where people care about you.' You just wrote the Pleasant Valley motto."

"Ain't I something. No end to my talent. I can see it in neon."

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