CHAPTER FOUR HUNDRED and NINETEEN
Sunday early morning —1:54 A.M. ET
New York City, New York
Seth walked fast through the streets of Greenwich Village. He stepped to the side to let a young couple, whose focus on each other precluded seeing him, pass. He moved close to the buildings to avoid groups of drunken people spilling out of the bars. He passed restaurants and jazz clubs filled with laughing patrons.
When he first moved to New York City, he had walked these same streets for hours almost every night. Andy Mendy, the love of his life, had walked with him so many times that he could almost feel her small hand tucked around his right wrist. His left hand instinctively checked to see if she was there. He snorted a laugh at himself and kept moving.
“Help me, Andy,” Seth whispered.
He’d fallen in love with her the very moment he met her when he first arrived at Eastman College. He was ten and she, twenty. It took her at least a year to look at him with interest. She changed her mind in no small part due to his capacity to sit down at a piano in in the Village, jazz clubs, and gin joints included to the 1960s counterculture.
He would have married her. He’d planned to spend his life with her.
All these years, and three wives later, his eyes still welled with tears at the loss of her. While he waited for her the altar for her, her tour bus was in a head on collision. Andy went into early labor and delivered their child — Sandy — alone in the dark. Andy had a stroke on the ambulance to the hospital. Despite spending years looking for her, Seth never saw Andy Mendy again. Trapped by her disability and her love for her child, she lived like a prisoner in the cage of someone’s jealousy and rage.
His left hand clutched the part of his wrist where she used to set her hand. His entire chest ached with sorrow for those he’d loved and lost.
“I won’t lose him, too,” Seth whispered to himself. “Not tonight.”
“Sure man, whatever,” a man said to Seth when they brushed past each other. The man got a few feet before he turned. He called back to Seth. “Hey, you looking for someone?”
Seth spun in place. The young man was tall, muscular, and dark. He had a foot high afro and a scraggly beard. The young man rounded out the look with a pair of Malcolm X glasses. He looked like the kind of man that nice white kids from the suburbs were often taught to fear. Reading Seth’s gaze as fear, the man raised his hands in a gesture of peace.
“Sorry, man,” the man said. “I don’t mean any harm.”
Seth grinned. One thing Seth had learned from living in Greenwich Village was to judge people by the color of their hearts, not the color of their skin. Plus, Seth knew a fair number of bigger, stronger, scarier looking men than this young man. Compared to Bumpy Wilson or Rodney Smith, this young man was positively scrawny.
“Hey, I know you,” the man said. He pointed at Seth.
“I’ve lived here off and on for a long, long time,” Seth said. Noticing the man’s hands were calloused in the unique way of playing the drums, Seth shrugged, “I like to tinker on the piano.”
“Good Lord, you’re O’Malley,” the man said with a laugh. “I saw you play at that wild concert for the Grammy’s. The one on the rooftop. You know, with Jeraine, his dad — Bumpy — and every f’ng musician in the entire state. You shut this city down.”
“Why didn’t you join us?” Seth asked.
“I …” the man laughed. “Oh, hell, I don’t know. Intimidated, I guess.”
“What’s your name?” Seth asked.
“Seth O’Malley,” Seth said.
He held out his hand and the young man shook it.
“Brown,” the man blushed. “Malik Brown.”
“Slave name?” Seth asked.
“Brown? Yeah,” the man said. “I hate to admit it out loud, but Jeraine’s kind of an inspiration to me. I always liked that his name is a free name. I was going to change my name, but it would kill my father, just kill him. So, I go by the one name, Malik.”
“Well, Malik, I hope you know now that you’re welcome to join me anytime. We don’t play for money or fame, just the …”
“ … joy of music,” Malik said. Seth smiled. “Yeah, I heard you say that when you were interviewed.”
Seth nodded. The weight of his mission settled on Seth again.
“Listen, I’m looking for a friend of mine,” Seth said.
“White kid?” Malik asked. “Tall, really thin, looks all crazy.”
“Blue and white striped dress shirt, jeans?” Seth asked.
“Maybe,” Malik said. “Who’s he to you?”
“If you’ve seen him, I’d appreciate it if you’d tell me where,” Seth said. “I’m very concerned about him and his state of mind.”
Malik thought for a moment before nodding.
“Fair enough,” the man said. “I play the …”
“Drums,” Seth said.
Malik grinned in response.
“These clubs down here have a bunch of entrances from when white folks and black folks had to use separate entrances, and prohibition. Well, you know,” Malik said. “I like to go out the old negro exits. Reminds me of where I came from. I mean if Sammy Davis Junior can go in and out of the rat infested, stinking alley, I sure as hell can do the same.”
Seth nodded in understanding.
“I was coming off a gig when I saw a guy wearing what you say,” Malik said. “Kinda blondish hair. Young. He seemed crazy, upset.”
“Where?” Seth asked. “Please, it’s important.”
“I’ll show you,” Malik said.
Malik turned in place, stuck his hands in his pockets, and took off in the direction he’d come from. Used to walking fast, Seth was able to keep up.
“So how you know this kid?” Malik asked as they walked. “He your boyfriend?”
“No,” Seth said with a laugh. “Not my thing.”
“You never know,” Malik said.
“Would it matter?” Seth asked.
“Not at to me,” Malik said. He glanced at Seth. “It’s just that if this boy is running from you …”
“I see what you mean,” Seth said.
“No offense?” Malik asked.
“None taken,” Seth said. “It’s a good question. He’s a good looking kid.”
“How …?” Malik asked.
“He’s my friend,” Seth said cutting Malik off. “My wife’s best friend, Beth, was his beloved. Beth was murdered by a serial killer I was chasing. Dale found her. I found him about an hour after that. His mind was … well, you can imagine.”
“He lives with us,” Seth said. “He takes care of things that are broken or whatever.”
Malik made a quick left turn, which Seth missed. He had to jog to catch up with Malik again.
“Handyman?” Malik asked. “Can’t you afford to pay someone for that?”
“He wanted to keep things fair,” Seth said. “Anyway, he’s in New York with my best friend’s son. He’s recovering from being beaten nearly to death. Charlie, that is. They met while Charlie was recovering at my house.”
Seth glanced at the young man.
“You have a best friend?” Seth asked.
“Then you know what it’s like,” Seth said. “These kids met and were best friends. Just like that. Dale came with Charlie to the city so that Charlie could do some rehab and take a break. There’s a big trial and a bunch of crap.”
“What happened to him?” Malik asked. “Dale?”
Malik stopped walking and looked at him. Seth nodded.
“Dale looked messed up,” Malik said.
“He went on a date,” Seth said.
Malik shook his head.
“Besides my wife and my housekeeper, Dale hasn’t seen a woman, touched a woman, talked to a woman, since he found Beth’s body. Not even his mother,” Seth said. “A ballerina has been coming by to help Charlie and his sister with rehabilitation. They started talking and had a lot in common. I guess some flirting came after that and …”
“And?” Malik asked.
“I wasn’t there,” Seth said. “The ballerina called my cell and said that Dale became upset and ran out of her house. Disappeared. I called the apartment where he’s staying and they haven’t seen him. They’re looking for him in their neighborhood. The ballerina lives in the village so I thought I’d look around. I’ve become quite fond of the boy. I’d really hate it if something happened to him.”
Malik nodded. He seemed to be thinking it through. After a moment, Malik pointed down a dark alley.
“He’s down there,” Malik said. “Or was.”
Seth nodded. He turned toward where Malik had pointed.
“Listen man, why don’t I go with you?” Malik asked.
“I’d appreciate the company,” Seth said. “I don’t know what I’ll find. I may need you to get help.”
Malik gave a curt nod in agreement. Seth started walking and immediately stopped. Alley was a polite word for this space. With just enough space for the “negro” door to swing, this “alley” was a filthy, unlit crack between two towering buildings. Hearing a sound, Seth glanced in Malik’s direction. A rat the size of a Denver street cat moved along the wall behind Malik’s head. Seth took the small flashlight hooked onto his keychain from his pocket.
He flashed the light along the wall to his left. Brick wall and a locked fire door.
He flashed the light along the back wall. The usual alley juice — a mix of human feces and urine —, broken bottles, and used disposable needles found in every alley around the United States.
“He was over there,” Malik said and pointed to Seth’s right.
Seth flashed the light there. Not sure what they were seeing, Seth and Malik’s head stretched forward. Malik shook his head.
“I don’t know, man,” Malik said under his breath.
When Seth rushed forward, Malik followed right behind him. Dale was sitting with one shoulder against the building across from the door and his face turned. His hands were over his head. As if he’d fallen to the ground, Dale’s legs splayed. Seth bent down to him. The boy reeked of urine.
“Dale?” Seth asked. Seth put his hand on the young man’s shoulder. “It’s Seth.”
Dale’s head turned toward Seth but his eyes didn’t open.
“Can you help me?” Seth asked Malik.
Without saying a word, Malik lifted Dale to his feet. Dale’s knees couldn’t hold him. Seth grabbed the boy and Malik took the other shoulder. They dragged and carried Dale out of the space. On the street, Seth attempted to signal a taxi.
“Shit,” Seth said after the second taxi raced away. “Can you hold him for a moment?”
Malik grabbed Dale. Seth’s hand went into his right front pocket and came out with a wad of hundred dollar bills. He gave Malik an ironic grin.
“I didn’t know what we’d have to pay for,” Seth said.
“Good thinking,” Malik said.
Seth peeled off three one hundred dollar bills. He nodded to Malik and walked into the street. He flashed the money to every driver. A thirty year old woman driving a battered sedan stopped so fast that smoke from her tires billowed into the street. She rolled down the side window. Sets of dark eyes from scared children gawked at him.
“What?” the woman asked as she leaned over a child in the passenger seat.
Seth knelt down to the window.
“My friend is in trouble and I need help getting him home,” Seth said.
The woman pulled her emergency brake and got out of the car.
“I’m a nurse,” the woman said as she came around the front of the car.
Seth followed her to the sidewalk where Malik was holding up Dale. She raised a defensive eyebrow and looked Malik up and down.
“What’d you do to this boy?” she asked.
“Nothing,” Malik said. “I just helped O’Malley find him.”
She sniffed at Malik and checked Dale’s eyes. She felt his pulse and smelled his breath.
“Shake him,” she said to Malik.
Malik gave Dale a little shake. Dale roused. His eyes opened half way. As if he was trying to figure out what was going on, he squinted at the woman. Seeing Seth behind him, Dale blinked.
“Seth,” Dale croaked. He looked at Malik. “Do I know you?”
“Good Samaritan,” Malik said with a nod.
“He’s in shock,” the nurse said. She looked over her shoulder at Seth. “Is he a Vet?”
“He found his girlfriend after she’d been killed,” Malik said.
Tears fell from Dale’s eyes. The nurse scowled at Malik.
“He needs rest and quiet,” the nurse said to Malik.
“Can you help us get him to my place?” Seth asked. “It’s not far, about five blocks. I’ll give you …”
The woman looked at Seth and the money he was holding.
“I’ve got my grandkids in the car,” the woman said.
“I can watch them,” Malik said.
“You can walk,” the woman said.
“So can I,” Seth said. “Please. We need help.”
Seth held the money out to the woman. She scowled to him.
“I’d never take it but …” the woman said. “I …”
“How about this?” Seth asked. “You take this.”
He put the money in the woman’s hand.
“Think of it as … food for the kids,” Seth said. “If they’re your grandkids …”
“My daughter’s lawyer husband caught heroin, ruined them, and then had the balls to up and die.” The woman spoke as if just saying the words hurt her. “My daughter’s in nursing school at night so I have her babies.”
“Then you deserve it,” Seth said. “Not charity. Just an old guy remembering his grandmother fondly.”
“You have a grandmother?” the woman asked.
“No,” Seth said with a grin. “But I’m a grandfather. You want to see a few hundred pictures.”
The woman smiled at Seth. A car horn blared and they remembered where they standing in the street. The woman waved to the taxi that was behind her. She went around to the driver’s side. They watched her tell the child in the front seat climb into the back. She pushed the passenger door open. Malik dragged Dale to the car and set him in the passenger seat. Seth gave her the address and told her where to park. She started down the street.
“Well, I guess …” Malik started to say.
“Do you have something you want to do?” Seth asked.
Malik shook his head and shrugged.
“Claire is a fantastic cook,” Seth said. “Why don’t you come home with me and grab a bite to eat?”
“I don’t need to interrupt you and your girlfriend,” Malik said.
“Girlfriend?” Seth asked. “What girlfriend?”
“You’re married to Ava,” Malik said.
“Oh, yes, I am,” Seth said with a smile.
He gestured toward his apartment. When Seth started walking, Malik walked beside him.
“It’s none of my business …” Malik said.
“Have you ever noticed how creative people like us suck at taking care of ourselves?” Seth asked.
“That’s the truth,” Malik said.
“Claire takes care of my life needs when I’m in New York,” Seth said.
“She’s like a housekeeper, but it’s not a house,” Seth said. “She’s lived in the building since before I bought my apartment. I’ve had it since I was ten.”
Seth shrugged. They walked quickly and arrived at Seth’s building. Malik looked up at the four-story brick building.
“She still lives here?” Malik asked.
“She does,” Seth said. “Her youngest, Melissa, is doing her residency in the city.”
Malik looked baffled and Seth laughed. He pointed to where the woman they met was helping Dale toward the building. Malik ran forward and grabbed Dale.
“Why don’t you get the kids?” Seth asked.
He looked up at the building to see Claire looking out of a fourth floor window in his apartment. She nodded and disappeared.
“I wouldn’t want to impose,” the woman said.
“Claire just agreed. Come on up,” Seth said.
“His apartment keeper,” Malik said with a nod. “He owns the building.”
“Not the whole thing, I don’t think,” Seth said.
“You don’t think?” Malik said.
Grinning, Seth turned to Malik.
“There’s stairs. Can you help me get him up?” Seth asked.
Without saying a word, Malik picked up Dale and carried him toward the building. Seth jogged to open the door. Jerking open the door, Seth turned back to the woman.
“Please,” Seth said. “If you’re not doing anything, I’d love to have you.”
Malik nodded to the woman before going inside. Seth walked the woman back to her car.
“You were driving around to entertain the kids,” Seth said. “The car’s air conditioned and the house isn’t.”
“How’d you know?” the woman asked.
“Been there,” Seth said. “Done that. Are they sick?”
“Colds,” the woman said.
“Bring them up,” Seth said. “We have air conditioning and Claire makes a wonderful soup. If that doesn’t work, we have lots of other food. Movies. Video games.”
The window opened above.
“Seth? Are they coming up?” Claire leaned out the window to yell. She looked at the woman and put her hand on her chest. “Claire.”
“Janet,” the woman said.
“I cook when I’m nervous. I made lots of food,” Claire said. “If you don’t help eat it, I’ll have to throw it out.”
Janet, the nurse, turned to Seth.
“That true?” Janet asked.
“Might be. Probably not,” Seth said. He looked at the woman. “Come on up. It will be nice.”
The woman nodded. She went back to where she’d parked the car.
“Should I move the car?” Janet asked.
“It’s my spot,” Seth said. “I don’t keep a car here. I don’t really need it.”
Janet nodded. She opened the back seat. Seth leaned down. Four sets of dark eyes looked at him. He noticed that they weren’t in car seats.
“I’m Seth,” he said. “You helped us so much that we’re going to have a kind of party.”
The kids looked at Janet and back at Seth. He leaned in to pick up the baby, but the eldest girl wouldn’t let her go. Nodding, Seth helped the girl out of the car and held a hand out to the little boy. The child latched onto Seth’s hand. Janet got her purse from the trunk and the last girl.
Together, they made their way up to Seth’s apartment.
“Now, my wife’s going to be here in a few hours,” Seth said. “So no hanky panky.”
“Good to know,” Janet said with a grin.
“Is she going to kick us out?” the eldest girl asked in a soft voice.
“You helped her friend,” Seth said. “She’ll treat you like heroes.”
Janet gave Seth a long look and took the last stairs up to his house. He ushered the children inside and stopped at the door.
The silent hall spoke to him. He took the first real breath he’d taken since Melinda had called to tell him that Dale had disappearred. Relief washed over him. Seth had assumed the boy had killed himself. If he hadn’t arrived when he did, he was sure that Dale would have. He closed his eyes again and said a silent prayer of thanks. Feeling a hand on his arm, he opened his eyes to see Claire.
“Maresol’s on the phone,” Claire said. “I’m going to get Melissa. These kids are sick and Dale’s a mess. I stuck him in the tub, but … And anyway, she’s home tonight. She’d be mad if we didn’t ask her to take a look at them. You know how she thinks we treat her like a baby.”
Seth nodded but didn’t move.
“Are you all right?” Claire asked.
“Maresol’s still on the phone,” Claire said.
She gave him the cordless phone. Nodding, Seth went inside and Claire left.
“O’Malley,” Seth said.
“Seth!” Maresol said.
The quiet moment had passed and he was back in the noisy, busy stream of his life.
Denver Cereal continues next week…
This work, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.