East on St James

by Rick Beck

Chapter 18

Rooms for Rent

Dury and Gary sat in the kitchen drinking Keith's coffee as fixed breakfast for three.

"Are you settled into your office yet?" Gary asked.

"Furniture was delivered yesterday. I brought the necessary files from the house. I'm taking those to the law firm to get Jane to copy them. I would like a safe in there," Dury said. "I'll have copies of everything at the law firm, but I don't necessarily want someone we don't know having access to them."

The back door opened and closed.

"Ah, Carl, you caught all three of the partners together. Any rumors suggesting we don't exist have been proved erroneous. The third member of our group, Dury Lane."

"Glad to meet you Mr. Lane," Carl said, extending his hand as Dury stood to be introduced.

"Breakfast, Carl?" Gary asked. I recommend it as an excellent way to start your day," Gary said.

"I was just going to Leo's for something to tide me over," Carl said. "Morning, Keith."

Carl sat in the seat that Gary offered him and put his hat in his lap.

"Morning, Mr. Kane," Keith said. "What would you like?"

"A new pickup truck. A flat screen TV. I'd like to get more sleep," he said in all seriousness.

"I'm the cook, not Santa Claus. Do you want breakfast or are you going to be drinking coffee while we eat in front of you?"

"Two over easy, sausage if you have it, and fried potatoes or hash browns. I like a whole grain toast if that's not too much trouble."

"Not a problem at Pleasant Valley," Keith said.

"What do you think, Carl?" Gary asked.

"I was on the roof from the time the sun started to rise until now. The area needs a slight southeasterly position to get the maximum amount of sunlight. Now the position of the sun in relationship to the relay will change during the year, I've marked out the most advantageous spot for the array."

"You designing me a shelter for the array?"

"Next on my list. I'll do some design work in the trailer once I'm full."

"While you're at it, Dury wants a safe in his office. Pull out the plans and see where you can put one where everyone isn't going to know where it is," Gary said.

"Floor safe. I'll need to work on the floor behind your desk, but you won't even know it's there once it's there."

Keith dropped a cup of coffee in front of Carl.

"Cream and sugar is on the table," Keith said, filling the other cups full.

"Why did you drag that trailer down here, Gary. Why didn't you just say I want an office beside yours?"

"I didn't want an office beside yours. I'm clean now. By the time I finish crawling all over Pleasant Valley, I'm going to be covered in dirt. I neither want to let the residents see me like that, nor do I want to track that kind of mess into the building. The trailer puts me in the middle of the action. I can watch the entire community from where I put it."

"As is often true, you're way ahead of me," Dury said.

Keith was back and dropped a plate in front of Gary and one in front of Carl. He returned again with Dury's plate and his. He sat down in the empty chair.

"You not only are a genius with food, you read minds?" Carl said. "I've been here three minutes and my breakfast is ready?"

"Your order is the same as Dury's and mine. I don't cook individual meals. In five minutes someone will come in and want a plate. All I have to do is drop the eggs on the grill and toast the toast," Keith said.

"Sounds nice," Carl said. "Thank you."

"I'm the odd duck, but I'm the only native of this place. I want grits with my breakfast," Gary said. "Creates extra work for Keith, but I don't mind."

"No work. I make the grits while I cook breakfast. Breakfast is the easiest meal to do. Isn't much to it."

"This is nice," Carl said. "I'm used to breakfast on the run, this is a treat."

"Glad it suits you," Keith said, digging into his meal. "I do breakfast until eleven each morning. Stop when you like."

"I will. Thank you," Carl said.

"He's a nice young man," Dury said, sitting behind his desk as Gary sat in his office.

"Smart! He was working in Greenville until last Friday. When it comes to filling the lake and getting the most electricity from our solar array, he's the man. If I'm not mistaken, he has Keith's seal of approval."

"You serious?"

"I think I am. He seemed to be. I'm no expert mind you."

"We're going to cook outside Sunday. Maybe make sure Carl knows he's welcome to stop by," Dury said.

"Will do."

"We'll invite the people from the PV apartments. We'll begin moving residents into PV1 next Monday. How does PV2 look?"

"I can have the first floor ready to occupy in another two weeks. Carl will design the five additional apartments we'll put into the empty space on PV1's first floor. PV2 will be complete this time next month. We're taking our time. Learn as we go. We can finish PV2 with the materials on hand. I ordered the materials for PV3. We'll start the first floor there while we finish in PV2."

"Not bad. We've come a long way. We have one nearly filled and Lisa will start interviewing for two starting next week. We're ahead of schedule and under budget. I'd say we've already succeeded."

"Starting with solid buildings meant we could go right inside. I thought it might take a little longer than it has. We haven't hit a serious snag. We'll have over 150 units with room to expand to 160 or 165," Gary said.

"You dream dreams, and you never know how to realize the dream and not become distracted. I was never a dreamer, Gary. I'm too pragmatic to dream. When I met Keith, heard his story, and then we went to the place where he lived, a dream began to develop, and I called you. You said a while back, 'This is real.' It is. It's better than the dream. You and Keith made it perfect," Dury said.

"Fran, you want to go to the first fridge door in the kitchen and bring the two bowls that will be in front of you at eye level?" Keith asked.

"Sure," Fran said.

"Need my help, love?" Gary asked.

"I'll help," Carl said, walking with Fran to the kitchen.

"The plates are here by the grill. Grab one and tell me what meat you want and how much."

"That's an offer I can't refuse," Bobby Lee said to the group from the apartments.

"You never turn down an offer for meat," Matt said, getting behind Bobby Lee in line.

"There's plenty and be nice, Bobby Lee. These are nice people. They came for lunch, not a show."

"Amen," Jamee said.

"I'll put what you want on your plate and the rolls are in the first cooler and the mustard, ketchup, mayo, relish, onions, and such are in the second color. Someone can put them out so you can add the condiments you want. There will be potato salad and cold baked beans," Keith said, as the line began moving.

Fran and Carl returned with the bowls and set them at the end of the table beside the plates.

"Carl, come over here and sit," Bobby Lee said, patting the seat next to him at the picnic table.

"I'm on duty. Promised Keith I'd help," Carl said, standing next to the table where Bobby Lee sat.

"Keith knows the way to a man's heart, don't you Keith?" Bobby Lee said.

"Down, girl. This is a picnic and I asked Carl to eat with me. That''s if you don't mind," Keith said, serving hot dogs, hamburgers, and chicken quarters to the people in line.

"No, I don't mind," Bobby Lee said. "I just wanted to know where he was from."

"We know what you wanted to know, Bobby Lee," Matt said.

"I was born in California," Carl said.

"Told you," Matt said. "Anyone who looks like that is from California. Never fails. Must be something in the water out there."

"I was born in California. My father was a navy pilot. We were all over the country. I didn't have a real home until I was grown man."

Carl moved back to where Keith was still turning the variety of meats.

"Thank you. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable," Carl said.

"No problem. Burger, dog, or chicken quarter?"

"Whatever is ready to eat. I'm easy. Why not fix a plate for Gary, Fran, and Dury. I'll take them over," Carl offered.

"Great! Use one of the big spoons and add beans and potato salad."

"Your wish is my command," Carl said, doing a half bow.

"This isn't the group you want to be too easy around, Carl. You're a big boy, but all these guys are too and they can be aggressive if the incentive is right."

"Figure of speech. Gary told me that quite a few gay men lived in the apartments," Carl said. "I told you I've been around gay men. I know when to excuse myself from the table."

"Gary is telling tales. That's not like him," Keith said.

"He told me that you lived in the apartments and were evicted. When Dury took you over there, that's when Pleasant Valley began to take shape. Dury's motivation involved seeing that the men with AIDS who were evicted got a square deal and a place they could call home. AIDS usually means gay men, especially when a number have it. That's supposition on my part, but probably accurate from what I've seen. I can't be pleasant to pushy people, I'm just not pleasantly available to them."

"Yes, you have the facts right. Don't drop that chicken. That's for Fran."

Keith didn't mind Gary giving the facts behind Pleasant Valley to Carl, but he wondered if his name came up when the word AIDS was mentioned. Not that it mattered. He had it but he wanted to tell people in his own way."

"So, will you eat with me?" Carl asked, as he took the next two plates Keith had waiting for him.

In a minute Carl was back and standing at Keith's elbow. Did Gary tell you why I was evicted," Keith asked, wanting to know what Carl knew.

"Yeah, it's what Gary was maddest about. He said they gave the guy that evicted you a taste of his own medicine. That made him smile. He said you went to the hospital and that bastard threw your stuff out on the street."

"That's pretty much how it happened," Keith said, knowing there was no doubt Carl could connect the dots and he knew he had been sick with AIDS.

"Are you going to eat or stand here until you wither away? Everyone has their food. Eat with me on the porch.

"It's the only offer I've gotten. Sure, but I'll be jumping up if someone wants something. I am the cook."

"They're too busy chowing down to want anything right now. Come on," he said, taking Keith's hand and putting a plate in it.

The following day Keith was busy prepared lunch for the workers to pick up when they dropped by. Carl sat a few feet away eating his lunch and watching Keith move around the kitchen.

"I have a few slices of key lime pie if you want one?" Keith said.

"That would be terrific. I really enjoyed it yesterday. You do have a way with food, Keith. I'm no connoisseur but everything you cook has amazing flavor. "

"It's a labor of love, Carl. I've been at it for a while. You learn as you go."

"Well, how are you today, Carl?" Dury asked, coming into the kitchen from the from the dining room.

"Fine. Just bothering Keith while he works," Carl said.

"He's a natural wonder, isn't he?" Dury said. "I had him all to myself for most of the last year, but now I've got to come to the kitchen to see him."

"What will it be, Dury. I made chicken salad with what we didn't eat yesterday and I have hot dogs cut up in the baked beans if you want to go hot."

"Chicken salad on pumpernickel. Some of that potato salad would be nice. A piece of key lime pie would be better. That'll hold me until lunch," Dury said.

"That is lunch," Keith said.

"That works too, Keith."

"Thank you, Keith. Time to get back to work. See you, Mr. Lane," Carl said as he got up and took his plate over to the sink.

"What about pizza and a movie tonight, Keith?" Carl asked.

"Pizza!" Keith said alarmed.

"Not a good deal for a chef, huh?"

"Eat here while I take care of dinner. If all goes well and I wrap it up early, we'll see what's playing at the movie."

"I'll wash dishes for you," Carl offered.

"An offer I can't refuse."

"Great! See you at dinner," Carl said, leaving through the back door.

Keith carried Dury's lunch over to him.

"Sit for a minute. We haven't talked in a week. I came through the dining room. No one is there. We need to get you some help. I don't want you putting in twelve to fourteen hour days. You'll be getting sick."

"Not yet. I can take care of it at this point. Lisa's going to ask people to volunteer to help in the kitchen. She said older women like to feel useful."

"Yes, I can see where that would appeal to a woman who has raised her family and is looking for things to do. Carl...." Dury said, hesitating. "Did I hear him making a date with you?"

"He said something about a movie after I'm done with dinner."

"I like him, Keith. He's a very clean cut young man. Gary says he's smart."

"He's fine, Dury. He is very young. I like him, but at this point in my life, I'm not sure I want to start complicating things. I have work to do and I don't feel like love is in the air."

"Just remember, you only get so many chances to grab the gold ring. Don't pass one up so you can get a few more hours in at work."

"We'll see how it goes," Keith said.

"I wouldn't mind seeing more of Carl. Invite him to the house Thursday night when you and Gary are coming out. Having an engineer listening in might be beneficial."

"OK. I don't mind having him around. He is nice," Keith said, as he stood to start preparations for that evening's dinner.

"I want an electronics shop with all the electronics gear people use and then set aside and forget about. We'll find someone who is capable of doing minor repairs on gadgets, and to upgrade them. They're always adding stuff to the stuff you already have. The goal being to sell you a new gadget so you can keep up with everyone else. No one ever throws any of those things out.

"I have nine phones in my sock drawer and I've got no room for socks. They're all perfectly good. I buy each new one when it comes out. I think I need the new one, but I don't, and each costs hundreds. I've got money. I can afford them, but that's a lame reason to keep buying phones. From the time I was on my own, until i was forty-five, I bought exactly two phones."

"Gary, there are a dozen available shops. Make one to recycle electronics and small appliances," Dury advised. "Everyone has electronic gear they don't use."

"We get a guy who knows his way around gadgets. Each time someone brings in an item, they get to pick something out to replace it. Then we have the people who haven't converted to the new technology, but would if a handyman would spend ten minutes explaining it to them. They won't want to leap right into an I-Phone but a phone with some expanded options might work if it isn't too intimidating. Then you'll have mom receiving a new coffee maker from her kids. She has a perfectly good coffee maker and she doesn't need two. She brings it to the shop and gets to pick an item she wants to try."

"Makes me smile," Carl said. "I bought my mom a coffee maker for Christmas. She had one she's used for years."

"The handyman will need to be a people person," Gary said.

"I'd say," Dury said. "So one shop will be an electronics and appliance exchange."

"How do you make money off a plan like that?" Carl asked.

"There's a capitalist in the crowd," Dury said. "The idea of Pleasant Valley is to have a full service community that isn't about money. People are given opportunities to do a few hours of service each week. In the gardens, the kitchen, or in one of the shops. They earn points by volunteering and they use the points to get what they want from the shops. They get to meet residents with similar interests, which creates an opportunity to socialize. Lisa is going to do a needle work shop. Pins & Needles, for the woman who enjoy that activity. They'll work in the shop together and they'll make pieces for people in the units that want them."

"That's a novel concept," Carl said. "What about Leo's?"

"Leo's is Leo's. He came to supply the workers with food and coffee and such. We don't charge him rent for the shop. We simply decide what goes in a shop and that's that. Leo's will charge for his food, but at a considerable discount, because he pays no rent or electricity. His costs will be greatly reduced and his prices reflect that. He has the only private business in Pleasant Valley. It offers residents a convenient way to get something quick on their way home."

"Dury is the money man, Carl. He's also a high powered attorney. He lived in D.C. for many years. How he avoided politics, I'll never know," Gary said.

"We need to work up a guide to the Pleasant Valley shops. Make a leaflet with a description of what's available," Keith said. "We can add a paragraph to let them know about earning points and what that gets them.," Keith said. "That way they know they can volunteer for activities they like with others who enjoy the same thing."

"Sounds like a project Lisa can get her teeth into," Gary said. "She has more ideas each time I see her. She's an energetic woman."

"Yes, I think she'll be able to create something to grab new resident's attention. It can go with the information packet Lisa gives them," Keith said.

"I've got a coffee cake in the oven. It's time to get it out. Anyone want coffee cake and coffee?"

"You didn't need to tell us. I've been smelling it for the last hour," Gary said.

"Anyone not want coffee cake?" Keith asked. "That was easy. "I'll be right back. It'll need to cool a few minutes, while I make the coffee."

"He's always cooking," Carl said.

"He's a modern marvel. I've gained nearly ten pounds since Keith came into my life," Dury said.

"He told me about how you met. It's something like how Pleasant Valley became reality. It's a terrific story and I'm glad Gary called me to go to work. I don't suppose a thirty something engineer qualified for one of the units?"

"We do not discriminate. We discourage people who don't want to be part of Pleasant Valley, not just live there. The point is to have a place where people can depend on each other. A new resident gives the Pleasant Valley Foundation ten percent of their net wealth. They are guaranteed a set rent, which includes three meals a day, snacks, we have two doctors who will be in residents and nurses. One is a general practitioner who has retired and the other is an AIDS specialist who has work with AIDS since it first appeared. We do have a number of AIDS patients in the apartments, and the doctor will make house calls."

"Sounds interesting. My net worth is about five thousand dollars. I am a jack of all trades. I could work in the electronics shop, but I wouldn't want to run it. I can do most things on a construction job. I worked construction to put myself through college."

"The net worth stipulation is for residents to be invested in Pleasant Valley. Older folks have more to offer but they'll depend more on services like doctors and nurses who will look in on them when it's necessary. The investment in the foundation keeps us ahead on upkeep and any new ideas we have as time goes on. Every time we meet, there are a dozen new ideas. You've seen how it goes tonight."

"I need to talk to Lisa? She was at the picnic Sunday," Carl said.

"Here office is right next to mine in PV1. She will be there Monday doing interviews. See if she has time and she can fill you in on the details."

"I'll make a point to do that," Carl said.

"See, Dury, I'm doing my part. Filling the units one at a time," Gary said. "You sure you're ready to give up your life in Greenville?"

"I don't have anything in Greenville. It's where I landed when I came to South Carolina."

"What brought you here? You never told me that," Gary said.

"You never asked. I went to school at Texas A&M. My roommate was John Robert Nelson. He was from Greenville. I had no where else to go, so I came to Greenville with him," Carl said. "He got married last year and we decided me living with him and his new bride wasn't a good arrangement."

"No, I don't see that working," Gary said.

Keith brought the tray carrying the evening snack.

The four men became lost in the flavor of coffee cake and coffee.

The business discussion was over and Pleasant Valley continued to develop into a place they enjoyed creating

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