East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 17

Welcome to Pleasant Valley

Dury left the house at nine thirty to meet Gary in Pleasant Valley. Keith was busy checking on the latest in restaurant kitchen equipment. They were ready to order what would go into his kitchen.

For the past few weeks Dury had been moving paper and money around to make the purchases needed to create Pleasant Valley. He hadn't been to St. James since the construction started. He didn't want to go where the work was going on and just be in the way.

Dury was comfortable in an office setting and he felt out of place on a job site. That didn't mean his curiosity hadn't been on the rise. He just felt a bit awkward taking Gary away from the work. He kept busy and wasn't going to St. James until Gary asked him to come down.

The night before, the first night Gary had come over for dinner since the construction started, the talk was all about Pleasant Valley.

"Hey, Dury, you need to come see what we're doing. It's beginning to take shape. We're starting work on the remodel of the apartments, and PV1 has been stripped out. Tomorrow we'll start work on the first floor of PV1."

Gary started work at seven each morning and he asked Dury to come down around ten, when he was expecting a special delivery he'd be on St. James to direct t to the proper location.

Dury began to whistle as he drove down Jackson Highway, making a left on St. James. This was his first visit to the property since the paperwork was done and he arranged for the property to go into the Pleasant Valley Foundation.

Dury noticed a lot more dirt on the street. It was dustier than before and a man with a broad broom was sweeping crossways on the street a little above the shops. Dury remembered they were gutting the Kurtz property, trucking the debris to a dump. It had rained recently, making the sweeping necessary.

Dury pulled off St. James and parked between the two blocks of shops. Trucks were lined up as far as he could see in front of him. He walked by a dozen trucks loaded with building supplies. He could see forklifts unloading two flatbed trucks near the loading dock of PV1.

Gary waved when he saw Dury walking toward him.

"Hey, Manny, take over for me. The wire is scheduled for ten o'clock," Gary said, looking at his watch. "It's seven minutes of ten. Go to each truck. Tell the drive's that the wire goes first. It's going straight inside of one. I don't want a half million pounds of building materials blocking the wire when my electricians get here in the morning. The rest of the trucks go in order, after the wire."

"You got it, boss."

"Nice seeing you, Dury," Gary said, meeting him at the door. "This is where the action is. Nice touch opening a coffee shop for us."

"Welcome to Leo's #2, Mr. Lane. Coffee?" Leo's son Sammy asked.

"By all means. I'm due for a couple of cups. I got a late start. You have those sticky buns I used to get in the morning at Leo's #1?"

"Two?" Sammy asked.

"Yeah, if Gary doesn't want one, I'll eat his," Dury said. "My cook hasn't been home for two days."

"Don't worry. I'm ready for a shot of sugar," Gary said. "Keith's in the kitchen every time I look. He really likes it."

"I came expecting to look for you, and you're right in the middle of the action," Dury said smiling.

"I can't sit down somewhere and watch my guys work. I do what they do and I'm still able to pull my weight," Gary said.

"You look the best I've seen you look in a while. Dusty, too."

"I'd rather be busy than sitting on my butt, taking up space. I love watching it from the street up. We start with nothing and when we're done, we've got a community."

The happy looking young man hurried his coffee delivery to the two men.

"Buns are heating. Takes a minute for those."

"How's your dad, Sammy," Dury asked as Sammy went back to check on the buns.

"Good. He's good. Loves being here to open up while you guys build. He's been talking about opening a second shop for some time. When the other guy came in to ask him to consider putting a shop here, he was delighted."

"Other guy? Who set this up, Gary?" Dury asked.

"Keith and Lisa. It's symbolic Keith said. Sort of a testimony to where this entire project started. Over one of Leo's sandwiches, wasn't it?"

"I'll be. I told Keith he'd be in charge of food. I never thought of having a sandwich shop for the workers," Dury said.

"I suppose I should have let Keith explain it to you."

"Just like Keith. He thinks of the details that can make a big different. He knows the restaurant business."

"He didn't need to do much thinking. Dad knew being here for the construction workers would be good for them and us," Sammy said. "We moved the equipment in last weekend and we opened Monday."

"This is Gary. He's one of my partner. He's in charge of the building. Keith, is my other partner. He's a chef, Sammy."

"He never told me that," Sammy said. "I'll have to ask him for some tips."

"Don't be surprised if he asks you some questions. He likes picking up tips on preparing any kind of food."

"You get what you want on the house. Dad said your money is no good here. Getting the space for free while the construction goes on is enough for us to gain a foothold for when the residents begin moving in. You made it easy for him to do what he wanted to do," Sammy said.

A minute later Sammy was back with the buns.

"Thank Leo for me," Dury said. "Your father's a fine man. Tell him I appreciate his thoughtfulness." Gary watched the windows, still worried about the wire. It was ten o'clock.

"I'm not keeping you from anything, Gary?"

"No. I get like this. I have a couple of things to attend to and I'll be on edge until they're done."

"How's Fran?"

"Fran is happy I found something to do. She thanks you for getting me out of the house, Dury. We're all happy about doing something. After forty years of doing something, it's hard to do nothing for as long as I've been doing it. Every man in my crew was anxious to go back to work for me. A couple have jobs they're promised to do, but they'll join us when they finish."

"It's funny how good a routine is. I was barely alive when I met Keith. I'd lost my way. I had no interest in anything. Can you imagine it? A relatively uneducated sick gay man put the fire back into my life. You can never know what life will bring you next," Dury said. "I'd begun to think retirement was a mistake."

"To be honest with you, I've never had a gay friend before. I've known guys I figured were gay. Keith is a dynamic fellow. He isn't pushy but you can't help but notice him. He may be relatively uneducated, but he's given me things to think about."

"The same can be said of you, Gary. You came into my life like any of a thousand clients over the years. I can't tell you where any of them are. You did build my house around the corner from your house," Dury said.

"After Bev.... I didn't do much but work. When I retired last year, I didn't realize the only thing I had was work. I had no social life, but slowly retirement has proved to be the pathway to a new life. It's what I was hoping for. It took a little while to surface."

"To tell the truth," Gary said. "I built the house so I didn't have far to drive when I went to your house for drink."

Dury laughed.

"This is new to me, Gary. There's an energy here that wasn't here before. I woke up not knowing what my life would look like tonight. For forty years I knew what my life would be like every day, day in and day out. The law moves slowly and precisely. There were rare exceptions when a day had some excitement. Mostly it was routine. Now I have no idea what will happen by tonight."

"I've got the building end of the project covered. I want you to know what is going on while it's going on, Dury. I don't want you wasting a lot of time standing around while nothing is going on. We'll continue meet as often as you like at your house, but Fran is beginning to wonder what's going on. Maybe I'll bring her one evening. She'll see how boring we are. She'll love anything Keith cooks for sure."

"Whatever night you say. Keith will want to do something nice."

"Fran asked me to reach out to you when Bev passed. I didn't want to intrude. I didn't know what to say, Dury," Gary said.

"I understand, Gary. You wake up one morning and the woman you love is gone forever. People try to say something to help. Nothing does. Time is all that helps. You never forget the hole inside you, and you aren't really alive. Then, one day you begin to come back to life, and here we are," Dury said. "We are doing something that matters. It's good to be able to do something for others."

"That's pretty much the way I saw it," Gary said. "We did worry about you."

"This matters, Gary. It's startling how fast we got the project off the ground. You knew what to do to get the most out of what was already here. I can't wait to see Pleasant Valley when it's done and full of people. We're going to make this one of the most special place to live anywhere. You know more about what I'm doing than I do, but I'm alive again. I'm doing something that would make Bev proud of me, and that's a good thing."

Dury didn't know when Gary put his hand on his forearm, but once he finished talking it was there. He wanted to squirm out from under the touch of his friend, but he resisted the urge. He overcame being uneasy about Gary's touch. In the end Dury put his hand on top of Gary's hand. He patted it lightly and reassuringly. It's the kind of thing good friends did.

The silence said more than any words could say.

"Hey! Hey!" Gary yelled through the glass. "I got to get out there or they'll bury my wire. I'll be right back, Dury. Sammy, two more of those honey buns. I'll be right back," Gary said, charging into the street.

All activity stopped in its tracks when Gary yelled, "Stop!"

"Manny, what are you doing to me?" Gary asked. "The wire goes first."

"Tell this truck driver that. He blocked the lane. He won't move. He says he is next," Manny yelled as Gary kept coming.

"Tell you what, Mack. You get back in the lane where I put you. My wire is going to be unloaded next," Gary said before pausing to see the driver turning colors.

"I can tell you don't like my plan. Well, I tell you what, Mack!" Gary said, getting louder and using his index finger on the man's chest. They now stood chin to chin. "You got two minutes to straighten my road out so my wire can get where it needs to go. If you still think you're running my job site after two minutes, you can take your load back where you got it. Then you tell your dispatcher, I never want you on one of my job sites again. What's it going to be, Mack?"

The driver got back into his truck and maneuvered it back in line. The rest of the truckers stood watching the confrontation.

Gary moved into the open lane and yelled, "Bring the wire down and tell them it goes inside of PV1, Manny. I'll be down there in five minutes."

"You got it, boss," Manny said. "OK, go straight down to where the forklifts are operating at the back of that first building."

As the first truck with the wire passed, Gary walked back into Leo's #2 without looking back. The truck drivers made sure they knew where Gary was.

"I'll need to go down there after this next round of coffee."

"Making friends and influencing people I see," Dury said, unable to hide his amusement at Gary taking charge with a guy half again his size. There was no question about who was in charge.

"Truck drivers! God love them," Gary said softly.

Sammy brought two more honey buns he'd been warming. He brought back the coffee pot to refill their mugs.

"Thank you, Sammy," Gary said. "This will get me to lunch. It's enough sugar to last the rest of the week," Gary said. "I don't need it but I love it."

"You seem to be on top of things. You even know what truck you want where?"

"Only those two trucks I waved through are important today. The rest of the building material will be kept on hand so we don't have any delays waiting on material. The electric lines need to be strung before the walls go up. Truck drivers are good hard working folks, but you give one an inch and you'll regret it. I know what I'm doing. I know what goes where. There's no wiggle room. You do what I tell you or you're history."

"I had no question about it," Dury said with a smile. "I was hoping I didn't need to go out there and rescue you."

Gary laughed, since Dury was far less substantial than he was.

"There's a lot of testosterone a construction site. The trick is to keep it working for you. It's how things run smoothest."

"You've gotten out in front of everything. I haven't seen you work since you built my house. I remember how involved you were. I don't know enough to ask any intelligent questions, but it's obvious you have things under control. Pleasant Valley is in good hands."

"Exciting, isn't it, Lane. This is what I like most about being a builder. I love seeing it fall into place. Then when it's done, I stand on the highest ground to see the finished project."

"A little like God on the seventh day, I'd say," Dury said.

"More like a developer on the last day. We're way ahead of where most jobs start. Having good buildings already standing makes it easy. Gutting them doesn't take any skill."

"I can see that, Gary. Most men in your position would have three foreman between him and the work," Dury said.

"I need to get my hands dirty. I need to know what's going into the work. I work with the electricians, the plumbers, and I'll be up on the roof to watch the roofers," Gary said. I know right away when I see something I don't like."

"I remember how many times you brought me the plans when I came out to watch the builders."

"I wanted you to have the house you wanted, not the one I wanted to build. I was careful to spend more time with you than usual, but I owed you, regardless of what you say. You got my life back for me. It's not something I'll forget."

"I can see you still have your touch."

"Like Keith, I'm not well educated. I know what I know. One thing you learn on a job site, who is giving you your money's worth."

"Like Keith, you're smarter than the average bear. You both made the most of what you had to work with. School makes people like me believe we are the movers and shakers. I can't build anything. I can't cook. My entire life is about moving words about so they say what I need them to say to prove my case. Once the case is done, nothing is built, but I've made six hundred dollars per hour."

"You did right by me, words or no words."

"What do you pay the young man with the broom by Jackson Highway?"

"I started him at eight. He wandered down to PV1 early this morning looking for work. Was he sweeping?"

"Yes, he was. There's a lot of dirt for one broom," Dury said. "It'll take a month for him to sweep up that dirt."

"I have a street sweeper parked at my headquarters. Once the trucks are finished running, I'll bring it down and it'll sweep up the entire street in a few hours."

"So why a kid with a broom? Sounds like a duplication of effort."

"You give him a boring task and leave him alone the first day. If he sticks with it and comes back the second day, you may have found someone an apprentice. If he comes back for a month, you put him to work with a crew he likes. Let him do what he likes. He learns a trade and I have another phone number in my Rolodex to call for the next job."

"How many last the first day?" Dury asked.

"Half," Gary said. "I was the kid forty years ago. I got to carry bricks my first day. I don't know what a kid is going to give me, but if I don't give him a chance, I lose out. If he's still sweeping after three hours, odds are he'll be there at quitting time."

"That's quite smart. Something else I'd never consider. It would be a shock if I hired a boy to sweep the floors at the firm and he turned out to be a lawyer." "I would too," Gary said. "That's the good thing about the kids who ask me for work. They ain't going to be no lawyers but they might become a cracker jack carpenter."

"I'll leave St. James alone. I have a crew coming to put in an entry and exit road from the top of St. James to the Kurtz property. They'll also take away the broken pavement back there. This will be the last of the trucks to use St. James," Gary said.

"We'll store building materials between PV 1 and 2. We'll clean up St. James and it will only be for cars down to the first block of shops. I'll put a parking lot behind the shops and next to the apartments. We can build a parking structure under ground in the future. Keeping the traffic down as you said you wanted."

"I like it. Where are the apartments?"

"They're ready to start the building inside. Some of the material out there now will go into the apartments. We'll have the first floor done in six weeks and the other two floors done two months after that. Everyone living there now has made arrangements to live elsewhere until the work is done," Gary said.

"Tomorrow the electricians start work on Pv1. By the time we're on the second floor of PV1 we'll be moving people into the apartments," Gary said, revising things Dury already knew. "I expect to do each floor in a month, once the first floor of PV1 is done. That floor has all the extras in it and will take three months to complete and have operational."

Four months after Gary and Dury met at Leo's #2 that Keith cooked his first meal in the PV1 kitchen. He served twenty people who came for Pleasant Valley's first dinner. The idea that arose out of Dury and Keith going to Keith's old apartments, was taking shape.

Roast beef, mashed potatoes, and fresh peas was the simple meal Keith decided on. It officially opened Pleasant Valley.

Keith mostly moved around the dining room to be sure the meal went well."

The men evicted from the apartments by the former owner, had mostly moved back by then. All but two intended to return. They were the guests of honor at dinner and everyone had a gay old time.

"Please! I'd like to offer a toast," Dury said, standing at the head of several tables Keith had pushed together for the affair. "Gentleman, and lady," he said, smiling at Lisa. "Welcome to Pleasant Valley. We hope this will be your home for a long time."

The day after the first meal, Keith was in the kitchen early to have breakfast ready for anyone who wandered in. He wanted to be familiar with the peculiarity of the appliances he. By shortly afternoon, Keith had made potato salad and two dozen roast beef sandwiches on rye or white. Half had his favorite German mustard and half had a mixture of raw horseradish and Miracle Whip that was Keith's invention..

Keith was ready to serve anyone who got word that the dining room was open. He put lunch in Styrofoam containers so workers could take them. Residence would be served on PV China if they came in a sat in the dining room.

Just before one, Keith stepped outside onto a porch where employees could eat at one of the picnic tables there. As he surveyed PV2, where the activities were moving to start work there.

As Keith looked toward the lake, which was slowly being filled each time it rained, he saw Gary at the edge of the lake. Keith went inside to collect a lunch ready to eat. He carried it over to where Gary was working.

"Hi, Gary," Keith said. "Brought you lunch."

"Is it lunch time already?" Gary asked, looking at his watch.

"It's close to one. Thank you, Keith. I am hungry."

"How's business?" Gary asked. "The residents discover your talent yet?"

"It's Slow. They know I'm open. Lisa hasn't eaten. I might get her to spread the word when she comes over. I made a broccoli soup, but it's not to go."

"Pull it back up, Gary," a voice yelled from below the rim of the lake.

Gary pulled up a measuring device.

The next time Keith looked a dark haired man with no shirt was pulling himself up over the side.

Keith was staring.

"Oh, bring a lunch for Carl, Keith," Gary said.

Keith wasn't listening.

"Keith!" Gary said, before seeing where he was looking.

"Hungry Kane?" Gary tried.

"Yeah, I could eat a monkey's a....," the handsome man said, seeing Keith for the first time. "Sorry. Yes, I'm starved."

"Will a roast beef sandwich and potato salad work for you?" Keith asked, holding his gaze.

"Oh, Keith," Gary recovered. "This is Carl Kane. He's my building engineer. Keith's our partner and the best cook I've ever known. He's responsible for Pleasant Valley's kitchen. If you're hungry he's the man to see."

"Hello," Keith said.

"Hi. Roast beef would be fine. I'm sorry I was so crude," Carl said.

"That's no problem. I'll bring you back a meal. You can eat inside or the workers just sit where they feel comfortable," Keith said.

"Thanks," Carl said as Keith turned to go back to the kitchen.

Once inside, Keith found he needed to catch his breath.

Later that afternoon, Keith was preparing the chickens to be roasted for dinner. There was a knock at the door. When he opened it, Carl was there.

"Doors not locked. Just walk in," Keith said. "I will have things ready to eat for workers. They don't need to wait. "Do you need something, Carl?"

Carl had moved over behind him, but Keith didn't look.

"I was afraid I left you with a bad impression of me. I'm not usually that crude. It's almost second nature on a job site," Carl said.

"I'm not offended by that kind of thing."

"I couldn't help but notice that you noticed me."

"Oh, that. It's nothing to worry about. I stare at all gorgeous men with great bodies. It was nothing personal. I know, it's a bad habit," Keith said, not daring to look at Carl while he spoke.

"I'll be on the job site every day. I wanted to clear the air."

"I just cook the food. You're fine. It's a construction site. You don't need to mind your manners around me."

"I noticed the way you looked. I've been around, Keith," Carl said.

"You've got nothing to worry about. I know my place. You do what you're going to do and it'll be fine."

Keith tried not to look but he ended up looking at Carl anyway. He had his shirt on. His hair was combed. His face was clean. He was still gorgeous.

"What I meant to say, it's not easy for a guy who looks like me. I can't go anywhere without being hit on."

"Carl, don't make a glance into something it isn't," Keith said. "I'm sorry if it made you uncomfortable. This is where I work. I'm here most of the time. We won't see each other if you don't come to get food."

"You're not making this easy," Carl said.

"Look, I'm in the middle of getting dinner ready. I need to pay attention to what I'm doing. I can't with you here," Keith said, regaining some control.

"I came to say thanks for lunch. It was perfect. Now, I'll just say, goodbye, and get out of your way."

Keith smiled and Carl headed toward the door.

"Dinner will be ready after four. You're welcome to eat with us. We're just getting underway and I'm a bit nervous. I don't want to make you feel unwelcome."

"Should I dress?" Carl asked, finally flashing a radiant smile.

Keith pictured him coming to eat in the nude.

"That does present interesting possibilities. Nothing fancy. What you have on is fine," Keith said. "We are relaxed here."

"See you in a couple of hours," Carl said, leaving.

Something had happened.

Keith couldn't be sure what.

Whatever was going on, Keith was more nervous than he'd been all week.

"You are one good looking dude, Mr. Kane," Keith said softly. "One gorgeous hunk of man. I don't need this right now."

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