East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 16

Final Piece

At the house Dury sat in the kitchen wile Lucille while she did her final check to be sure she'd completed her tasks for the day. As she was leaving, Dury got up, warmed his coffee one last time, turning off the coffee maker. Walking through the dining room, and going into his office to wait for Gary's call.

Gary's meeting to make an offer on the apartments was set for ten. Dury halfway expected to hear from him by now, but if there was an issue they couldn't resolve, it might be days before the apartments changed hands. This was the ballgame. They either bought the apartments and Pleasant Valley was on its way, or he didn't and the other negotiations would be abandoned.

Dury was well aware that watching the phone was a fools errand, but he looked at it anyway. After five minutes he reached for his coffee to finish it before it got cold.

The phone rang.

"Hello," Dury said, filtering all apprehension out of his voice.

"Dury, Gary here. How does $575,000 sound to you?" Gary asked.

"Sounds like a lot of money to me."

"For the apartments?"

"How'd you arrive at $575,000?"

"He said seven. I said five. Somehow we ended up at $575,000."

"He mention his ass was being sued for illegally evicting tenants who are disabled?"

"Why no, he didn't. You don't think he was unloading those apartments before he was hauled into court? He knew I was good for the money," Gary said. "He'll take my company check."

"You left that paperwork. He ran a credit check on your company. The words, as is, take it or leave it, didn't enter the conversation?" Dury asked.

"Yes, that came in at $600,000, which was his last offer, until I didn't respond right away. That's when his final final offer was $575,000. I did mutter something about what the cost of bring the apartments up to code."

"How much was that?" Dury asked.

"Probably not as much as I led him to believe."

"So you weren't being completely honest either?" Dury asked.

"No," Gary said.

"Jean found the Dry Cleaners Association and is in touch with the owner of the cleaners and the laundry. We want the equipment and someone to instruct us on how to use it. That'll cost us a bit more. The owner has agreed to the per shop amount the other owners accepted. We haven't come to a final amount on the equipment but we aren't that far apart."

"Good deal!" Gary said. "That wraps it. The cleaner was the final shop."

"Do you have enough in your account for the apartments or should Jean get a cashiers check for the agreed on amount."

"I'm fine, Dury. Why don't you hire Jean for Pleasant Valley?" Gary asked. "She didn't waste any time delivering the goods."

"Can't afford her. She makes good money. My firm can afford her, but I can't."

"What time for dinner?" Gary asked.

"Dinner?" Dury asked, caught off balance.

"I'll be coming over for drinks to celebrate. We own Pleasant Valley, Dury. Why waste a trip for drinks when I can get a free meal?"

"I'll get with Keith, but it's hardly free. $575,000 buys quite a meal."

"I'll settle for what's in the fridge," Gary said.

"I'll tell Keith three for dinner. He said he'd call before Lisa brings him home. They're talking to as many of the evicted men as they can today. I'll get him to pick up something at Pop's on his way home."

"I've got one and a quarter in my construction company's account. I'll be fine until we start work. Then I'll need funds for materials and to pay laborers. Initially it will be mostly labor clearing out the Kurtz buildings. I have my best men lined up to start work on the apartments Monday. I'll get in there tomorrow, after the deal is made, and take one of the apartments apart. That's when I begin ordering materials for my crew to start work. I have some idea tomorrow what it will cost to remodel the apartments completely. We might want to get together tomorrow night and discuss it."

"I'll set up an account to transfer funds to you. Call Jean with your account number. She'll be able to make a money transfer with a phone call." Dury said.

"Sounds like a plan," Gary said. "Seven o'clock for dinner?"

"Seven for drinks ," Dury said. "See you then."

"Here's to Pleasant Valley," Gary said, hoisting his glass for a toast. "To the partnership."

"The partnership," Dury and Keith agreed.

"Is that grape juice or is Keith drinking wine?"

"It's Chianti. I like the flavor. I don't drink alcohol as a rule because of the medication I'm taking."

"Speaking of which," Dury said, "You talked to the men who were evicted from the apartments? How did that go?"

"I didn't need to say much. I know them but we weren't close. Lisa told them about our plans. She told them we wanted them to move back. We talked to eleven that live fairly close together. Four are spread out around Charleston. Two died. Of the eleven we talked to, nine are ready to move back today."

"We'll do the first floor and they can move back if that suits them," Gary said. "Once we've done the first floor, the other two floors will go faster, but there will be noise eight to five every day, until the job is complete. There will be trucks coming and going, heavy traffic for the next month to six weeks. If that's OK with them, we can fit most of them on the first floor. First come first serve. There will be ten to twelve units on the first floor. We're looking at four months to complete all remodeling in the apartments. That's give or take a week or two either way."

"That's fast," Keith said. "I said six months."

"My men know their business. My crew bosses work beside the laborers. I pay bonuses for coming in under time and budget. They don't waste time. The crew splits ten percent of what we save between them."

"Nice touch," Dury said. "I saw your men building this house. They did a fine job."

"FYI, the first floor of PV1 will be done at the same time we're doing the apartments. We should have that floor completed and operational about the time the apartments are done. I'm allowing four months because it's going to take a while to strip them down to where we can start working on the interior. We'll be stripping out PV2 while we finish PV1. Then they'll begin on the interior of PV2. That'll take half the time as PV1. I'll have all my men on it and we won't be doing a full kitchen, which has to go last so the appliances aren't subjected to the dirt and dust kicked up by the construction."

"So in four months I can cook in the kitchen at PV1?" Keith asked.

"In about four months we'll be putting in the kitchen and you can begin cooking for my crew and the people in the PV apartments."

Keith smiled, liking the sounds of it.

"Cool," was all he said.

"The kitchen will be built to Keith's specs at the back of PV1. It already has a small loading dock for deliveries and such. I need to spend a couple of days drawing up the plans for PV1. PV2 and 3 will be a different configuration. I do the plans for them after we're working on Pv1. We'll learn a lot on PV!. There will be more units in those buildings and less space for alternative activities. We'll have small kitchens in PV2 and 3. In bad weather we'll fix plates up the way we do to deliver them to each unit, and in bad weather we can deliver to all the units outside of PV1. That way everyone is always assured of hot food."

"You're thinking ahead," Dury said. "Once you come up with a floor plan for PV1, we can sit down and discuss it. See what other ideas we come up with. Keith will get the final say on food preparation and delivery. We'll have a place in each building where food can be kept warm as volunteers deliver them.."

"As it should be," Gary said, sipping from his glass. "How are the men doing you saw today, Keith."

"Surprisingly, with the added stress they've been subjected to, they seem well. Lisa described what we're doing and most want to move to a place where everyone is treated like they're wanted there. It's not what gay men are accustomed to. I've got to admit, I like the sounds of it more and more."

"That's good. We'll make this move as easy on them as we can," Dury said.

"No perspective husbands in the group, Keith?" Gary asked.

"That sounds so strange. My entire life I've been unable to talk about such things to the people I work around. No, I haven't given marriage a thought. A few years back, when Prop 8 was on the ballot, I thought maybe I would be married one day. When they voted against marriage in California, I figured I'd never see gay marriage except in the most liberal states. I haven't given marriage a thought since Prop 8. It's too big a change in too little time to process it. I'll always be the boy no one wanted anything to do with. I was the queer boy, the fag. I won't know how to handle not being insulted everywhere I go."

"It is sad," Dury said. "It takes very few people to decide an issue for all the people. I think it was Mormons in California. They invested a lot of money in defeating gay marriage in California. Most of us thought California was a sure thing. It wasn't. The issue is simple. It's covered by the equal protection amendment of of the constitution. We either have equal rights under the law, or we don't."

"Dollars decide what wins," Gary said. "What I'm asking is, are there any boy friends or prospects, Keith. Your still young."

"No prospects? When I left the hospital, the day I met Dury, my life was over. I had nothing to live for. I was forty-four and going downhill fast. For the first time in my life, I'm planning a future. One step at a time, Gary. I haven't given up finding someone I like and who likes me."

"I remember," Dury said. "I noticed your hopelessness, but I'm not that sharp most days. I was worrying about wasting another half tuna sandwich."

"Lots of prospects now. I'm going to be cooking again. I'm part of a great new idea to create a place where people want to live together. What a great prospect that is."

"Speaking of which, Keith isn't the only guy I met and took in."

"Do tell," Gary said. "I'm sensing a secret homosexual side to you, Dury."

"It was the first guy I ever listen to who wasn't in my tight circle in D.C. He altered my consciousness, you might say. He's was a hippie. At school we were told that hippies were dirty traitors, who renounced America and were too lazy to work. When I met Dusty, he wasn't any of the things hippies were said to be. I'd started to recognize that there were many things I wasn't told the truth about."

"I detect some drugs in this conversation. Out with it, Lane. Let's here about your dalliance in the counter-culture. D.C. had to attract a lot of hippies."

"Yes, it did. Get a drink. I'll tell you about Dusty. You can draw your own conclusions. It's odd how similar the situations were as when I met Keith," Dury said.

"One Saturday afternoon, while I was sitting around my Georgetown dorm, waiting to hear when to report to Columbia Law for the beginning of my training to be a lawyer, I decided I'd walk over to Georgetown's business district for some Little Tavern burgers. I was addicted to Little Tavern hamburgers. I rarely went home while taking summer courses at Georgetown.

"It was only a few minutes' walk, and as I came out of a store with a cup of coffee, right across the street was this shirtless and shoeless kid strumming a guitar. I recognize the tune from Dupont Circle, where my friends and I went to watch the dirty trouble making hippies. They'd started filtering into town the summer before and their numbers had increased.

"I'd heard the song before, when I went with my friends to Dupont Circle. Hippies had their own music, which they sang when they gathered in groups. The clothes they wore were bright and the colors rarely matched. Often the attire for boys consisted of jeans and little else. What clothes they had were rarely clean. This guy wore the customary jeans and had a guitar.

"It was July in Washington D. C. and I guess you could survive in just jeans, but I wouldn't want to do it. It was rare to catch one of the hippies alone, but it was rare to catch me without my three friends. Summer classes separated us that year, but when my transcript reached Columbia, I needed another history credit to take my place in the class of 1967, and so when I saw the lone hippie, I decided to approach him and see what I could learn about his condition.

"I stood sipping my coffee, listening to his voice as it filtered across the lightly traveled avenue. He didn't seem to mind not having an audience. He watched his fingers as he strummed and sang softly.

"I walked over to where he sat on a small patch of lawn. Opportunity was knocking for me to learn more about who hippies were. He still watched his fingers and sang. His hair was long and very blond. It flowed over his shoulders and down onto the guitar.

He may have been my age or maybe he was a bit younger than me.

"Looking up from his fingers, flashing me a friendly smile, he sang, '…And the times they are a changing,' and he whistled the part I'd heard played on a harmonica in Dupont Circle. 'Dylan,' he said for my benefit. 'Thomas?' I kidded. 'Bobby' he corrected me without disapproving. 'for a drink of java, I'll play you some Guthrie,' he offered.

"I held out the cup and the smile greeted the offering. He shook his long hair back out of his eyes to see what he was drinking. 'Who is Guthrie?' I asked. The smile suddenly disappeared. A concerned look overtook his face. 'Oh, man, you are far out. You don't know Woodie Guthrie? This land is your land, this land is my land,…,' he sang and I listened."

"I did recognize Guthrie after a few seconds."

"'That's Woodie. He wrote and sang the people's music. Arlo, his son, sings like this, 'You can get anything you want at Alice's restaurant, 'ceptin' Alice," he sang happily. Arlo's no Woodie, but he is Arlo," the boy explained to me in words that made for a strange logic."

"He strummed on changing cords and making his fingers dance on the strings in a flourish of motion that sent his hair over his arms and over the top part of the guitar.

"'Woodie is where it's at, dude. The original hippie, you know.' 'I recognize it. We used to sing it in 7th grade,' I shared. 'All right,' he said. 'You're cool, man. You look a bit square, but anyone who knows Woodie is cool with me.' I drank from my coffee cup and handed it back to the guitarist.

"'Where you from?' I asked. 'Out there, man. I'm strolling down the road of life, don't you know. Staying out of the draft. Don't want to catch no cold, don't you know. Don't want to mess with the man,' he said, handing the coffee back to me before strumming some careful notes as he watched his fingers working the strings. 'Hendrix,' he said. 'He's from Seattle, you know. I was from Seattle before I was from here. Man can have his way with a guitar, you know? Hendrix. He's electric. He makes it sing. Plays with his teeth, man. He is the most. He's where it's happening. Makes you a believer. It's not easy doing him on an acoustic.'"

"He watched his fingers and I watched them too. His fingers were long and delicate. His blond hair hung over tanned shoulders. His intense blue eyes studied the guitar, me, the coffee cup, and then came his smile each time I offered the coffee to him. I told him to finish it. He needed it more than I did."

"'Where are you heading?' I asked. 'Nowhere, man,' he smiled, singing, "Nowhere man, he's going. No where, man. I'm not going anywhere. It's cool here.'

"'How do you know so much music?' I asked him."

"'I listen. I pick it up by ear. I'm a pianist by trade. Can't take a piano on the road, you know, man. People would look at you funny you did,' he said, not looking at me."

"'You didn't say where you were going,' I said, figuring everyone was going somewhere. 'I'm busy being here right now, man. I'm feeling good vibes right here, since you came. It's cool here,' he said, letting his eyes catch mine again. 'not so cool you need a shirt or shoes,' I said. He laughed and ended the laughter with a smile. 'Cool is fine, OK, all right, man, as in, I like it. You are cool too. I thought you might be a narc with that do you got, but you're too easy to be the man. I think you have real potential, you know. I'm Dusty, man,' he said, giving up the guitar strings to extend his hand for me to shake. 'I'm Dury Lane," I said, and he took his hand back, after the shake. He strummed and sang, 'Penny Lane is in my ears and in my eyes,' he sang in a mellow tone, watching his fingers as they delivered a tune I felt good about.

"'Who is Penny Lane?' I asked. 'No one, man. It's a place. You don't get out much, do you? That's the Beatles, man. They're the most. Your name is Lane. 'Penny Lane is in my eyes and in my ears.' They're happening right now, man,' he told me. 'I've heard of them at school. Sounded like bugs to me,' I observed. 'Oh, man, are you ever out of it. Watch my lips, dude. Beat, beat, Beat-les. It's a play on words, dude. They're so far out there no one will ever catch them. You heard Pepper? Everyone's heard Pepper,' he said. 'I won't ask what happened to the salt,' I said. 'Oh, man, you know how to hurt a guy. You got to know the Beatles, man. They are where it's at.'"

"'Couldn't you get a job doing what you do? You're quite good, Dusty. Someone would hire you to entertain,' I said. 'Oh, man, you do know how to hurt a guy. I have dignity, don't you know. I'm doing it here for you, dude. Work? Work? I make music to give the world a tune to fill its heart. It's what I do. Do you work, dude?' 'No,' I said. 'I'm in school. Georgetown. It's not far."

"He smiled again, 'There you have it. An educated draft dodger. I have to admire that. I, on the other hand, am an uneducated dodger of the draft. If I had a brain I'd be in school, dude. School wasn't my gig. I didn't get teachers or textbooks. All I have is a song in my soul and love in my heart, man. Don't need to kill no one to prove I'm a man, man. That's bogus, dude. The world needs someone to make them smile. Hard to want to kill someone while you're feeling the love. You can sing along if you like,' he said. 'I don't know the words,' I said. 'That's the trouble with this world. No one knows the words and they can't sing together, so they kill each other over there, man. Bummer, man. A real bummer, don't you know?'"

"'Hungry?' I asked, looking for a way to extend our conversation, even if I wasn't sure what he was talking about. I liked Dusty. 'Does a bear shit in the woods, dude? I'm always hungry, man. I'll play you Biaz for a burger. She's a righteous chick, you know,' he told me. 'I don't know her either,' I confessed, hoping it didn't eliminate me from further communication. 'I saw Joe Hill last night. He was alive as you and me,' he sang in a higher sweeter voice. 'Union organizer, Joe Hill. The man killed him a long long time ago,' he explained. 'The man don't dig the union but Joe Hill wouldn't back down. So they hanged his ass for recommending worker's rights for the workers.'"

"I felt strange, but good, being around Dusty, While I'm not a guy who likes or dislikes people at first sight, I liked him. I knew I shouldn't. He spoke English, but he had a strange way of arranging his words. When he made an effort to explain what he meant, I usually got it, I wondered if this is how it would go when the first Martians lands on the Mall?"

"No, after capping them with AR-15s, communication is most likely going to stop," Gary said.

"Hardly, Gary. This was the sixties. It wasn't necessary to carry a gun. Hippies believed in love and peace, not necessarily in that order."

"I took Dusty to the Little Tavern. We ate a dozen hamburgers a piece," Dury said. "I loved those things."

"Damn, you really pigged out," Keith said.

"The hamburgers were ten cents a piece. Two bites to a burger and you had to watch your fingers. I liked them with the grilled onions and mustard. The Coke cost fifteen cents. Once we were stuffed, I took him back to my dorm. We'd been warned to steer clear of the dirty hippies. They were troublemakers and the administration would kick you out of school if you associated with such rabble," Dury said.

"On Saturday afternoon no one was at school. I had the place to myself. Some of the brothers walked from their quarters to church, but one glance told you if anyone was on the quad. I wanted to give Dusty an opportunity to shower. I had a pair of sandals I never wore and I wanted to find him a shirt. He was tickled pink about it all. He was a nice guy."

"I offered him one of my Georgetown shirts and he just looked shocked. 'I don't do establishment apparel, man. You got something with a peace sign? My shoulders are getting a little burnt,' he said. 'Summer you know.'"

"He looked like a different guy. His hair was two shades lighter. I was never attracted to a man, but Dusty had something that drew me in. I wanted to know him. I felt comfortable being around him."

"As comfortable as you were with your buds?" Gary asked.

"Yes, that's the strangest part. I felt like I'd known him all my life. Except for the language problem, we weren't all that different. He sat on the chair at my desk and took off the towel he'd worn back from the shower to dry his hair.

"He leaned his head to one side, running the towel carefully over one section of hair at a time. Naked as a jaybird and never said a word as he delicately dried his hair. No one was ever naked at the dorm. I could count on one hand the guys I'd seen naked. It didn't bother him and it didn't bother me. That surprised me.

"'You're not bashful," I said, finding it hard not to see him. 'Hard to take a shower without stripping down. No, I ain't got nothing everyone else hasn't got.' Feels good to get out of those tight jeans for a while. My balls were sweating,' he said. 'You don't wear underwear?' I asked. 'Underwear don't travel well. It's the first thing you ditch.'"

"I couldn't argue with his logic. I figured out the same thing a few months later. When you're on the move, underwear is a luxury," Dury said.

"That's not exactly sexual. I've seen my share of guys naked. Nothing sexual in it," Gary said.

"Speak for yourself," Keith said. "Naked guys still make me nervous. They don't know I don't find them attractive. Because I'm gay doesn't mean I find every man irresistible. They're quite resistible to me. Damn few I'd make time with. Naked men still make me nervous."

"What happened?" Gary asked.

"Dusty was a natural man and without hangups, according to him. I liked that about him too. I'd had the same three friends all my life. I knew a lot of guys I went to school with over the years, but Dusty was in a league all his own. At a different time, in a different place, we'd have been friends. I'm sure he liked me too."

"What's not to like. You gave him the shirt off your back and your coffee too," Gary said.

"We sat and talked. He leaned his guitar against my desk. With a haircut he'd have fit right in at Georgetown, but he couldn't stay indoors at night. He said he had to sleep outside. He feared the cops trapping him inside somewhere.

"I walked him back off campus and when we were on the sidewalk just above Key Bridge, I said, 'I can't be out past eight. They lock the dorms. No one is around and I don't want to be locked out,' I explained. 'Cool, man. Thanks. You're a righteous dude. If you get out to Seattle, ask for Dusty. Everyone knows me around the U,' he told me. 'The U?' I asked. 'Everyone know the U. It's where it's at in Seattle. Just ask where the U is. If the draft don't get me, I'll be there once I split from being here.'

"He turned and started to walk away. Hesitating, he turned back, and the next thing I knew, his arms were around me. I felt the guitar against my butt. His lips brushed my neck ever so slightly. Before I knew it, I was hugging him back. I didn't even think about it. My arms just ended up around him and his warm cheek was pressed against mine. I wasn't a hugger, but we hugged for a minute or more. Just stood there holding each other on the street. I'd never had feelings like that before. I mean he was such a nice easy going guy."

"Ought Oh," Gary said. "I'd say you did have a thing with a dude, dude."

"You were simpatico. You identified with each other. A hug is a hug it isn't love," Keith said.

"I never hugged anyone in my life like that, until I met Beverly. I didn't want to let him go. I thought about him a lot. I thought about what I was told and how my government had lied yet again, labeling hippies as something other than guys trying not to die in Vietnam. "That's what made hippies so dangerous. They wouldn't just jump into a uniform and go die because a bunch of old men decided that's what they should be doing," Dury said.

"He turned You hippie?" Gary asked.

"Almost," Dury said. "It was only a few weeks before I found out I wasn't going to Columbia Law School that year. It was a couple of weeks before I knew Arnold Prentice died over there."

"I pulled out the letter from Dr. Lester and memorized his address. I was going to Seattle to see what I could find out in the U."

"You were going to find Dusty?" Keith said. "You don't fool me."

"Yes, I was. I wouldn't find him but I looked for him everywhere I went. I asked everyone I met if he knew Dusty. I still don't know why I was obsessed with talking to him again.

"He told it like it was. He didn't have an agenda, except to stay out of Vietnam," Gary said. "Smart and honest."

"It was the only time in my memory up until then that I wasn't in school or planning to go to school. When I didn't get into Columbia, I took my show on the road. I went to Seattle."

"Well, gentlemen, this contractor has a lot of work to do. I've got to start ordering materials and get ready to go to work on the apartments. In a few weeks we should be working in the apartments and in PV1," Gary said.

"Can't wait to start cooking," Keith said.

"I've invited Leo to open a shop closest to the apartments. He's going to set it up and pay all the costs and his son will service the construction workers," Dury said.

"Leo's. We met over his tuna fish sandwich," Keith said.

"We did," Dury agreed.

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