Denver Cereal Denver Cereal

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-one : New and old friends (part two)


(part two)

“For his wife and kids,” Bernie said with a nod. “I had no idea that he was referring to my beloved and my children.”

Maresol shook her head.

“Please,” Bernie said, “not a word to Seth.”

“I can just hear the rant,” Maresol grinned.

“Exactly,” Bernie said. “Anyway, it was kind of dumb not to know because I had money through Jimmy from Seth’s sales. I just never put it all together. Or didn’t until Bud called. Back then, phone calls were very expensive. Bud and Di felt strongly that I should know … Well, Di was furious that the boy was on his own. I couldn’t blame her. I was pretty shocked myself.”

Maresol nodded.

“I scrambled to New York,” Bernie said with a shrug. “Got a job cleaning floors at Eastman.”

“Couldn’t you have taught classes?” Maresol asked.

“Sure,” Bernie said. “But I’d have had to admit to who I actually was. By that time, there was a grave stone with my name on it at Arlington National Cemetery. The entire family, my entire family, was living off my death benefits.”

“Did you ever try to contact your family?” Maresol asked. “Your parents?”

“Of courses,” Bernie said. “But as far as my parents were concerned, their son was dead.”

Bernie shrugged.

“Cleaning floors was a lot simpler than dealing with all of that,” Bernie said. “Plus, it gave me access to Seth. I was able to interact with him in ways I never would have if I was a teacher there. Between me and Bud, we helped him get through being abandoned and that horrible aloneness. I thought we’d been successful until …”

“The drugs,” Maresol said with a nod. “Some of that was my daughter and, of course, Mitch. Seth could never say no to Mitch.”

Bernie watched Maresol’s face as she spoke.

“He says it’s the only way to keep the pressure of music at bay,” Maresol said. She glanced at him. “He’s either drinking and drugging or playing. It’s a curse.”

Maresol looked at Bernie for a moment.

“I believe him,” Maresol said.

“Yes,” Bernie said with a nod. He sighed. “I see Bud in him sometimes. Those pushups he does and …”

“I see you in Seth,” Maresol said softly. “Creeps me out.”

Bernie gave her a sad smile.

“Did you know Big Daddy?” Maresol asked.

“I did,” Bernie said. “Did you?”

“Only on the periphery,” Marisol said. “He or Bernice called regularly. I saw them when Seth and I came to New York.”

Marisol shrugged.

“They were people Seth knew,” Maresol said.

“Seth knows a lot of people,” Bernie said, mildly.

Maresol nodded.

“What did Big Daddy do?” Maresol asked.

“What do you mean?” Bernie asked.

“I know that he was a gangster or a kind of a gangster,” Maresol said. “What I don’t know is what kind of a gangster was he and … I guess … If Di and Bud were so wonderful, how did he get into it?”

“That’s complicated,” Bernie said. “How he got into it? Big Daddy inherited a stable of women from his mother.”

“Di was a madam?” Maresol asked with a laugh.

Bernie nodded.

“Does Seth know?” Maresol asked.

“If he doesn’t, it’s only because he doesn’t want to,” Bernie said. “That’s what Di did at the Savoy Ballroom. She helped lonely men meet beautiful women. Or that’s what she said. Her women knew how to dance and behave. They were expensive. Very high end. But if you were visiting for a night or a weekend, they were the women you wanted on your arm.”

“Did you …?” Maresol asked.

Bernie shook his head.

“If I was there, I was playing, working … or …,” Bernie said.

He scowled.

“Or?” Maresol asked.

“Jimmy and I, we were in Guadal with one of their older boys,” Bernie said. “I knew Bud before we were drafted and then spent time with their older son. Di and Bud asked for us when they were told he’d died. Jimmy, I, and O’Malley went to see them when we got back. It’s part of what broke me. They were heartbroken that their son had died and my parents …”

Bernie shrugged. He took a breath and continued on with his explanation of Big Daddy.

“Big Daddy kept the same business as Di — mothers who need to make a few extra bucks; young women who were looking for adventure; even boys for the men who liked that kind of thing.”

Maresol fell silent for a moment.

“What happens to them now?” Maresol asked.

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty-one : New and old friends (part one)


(part one)

Friday evening — 4:10 p.m.
New York City, New York

“Bud called me,” Bernie said. He bent over to pick up his dress shoes from his suitcase “Ugh, I am feeling that yoga class.”

Maresol smiled at his back. They were getting dressed early to help Claire with the dinner party.

“Living with Seth requires a certain lifestyle,” Maresol said.

“You’re telling me,” Bernie said with a laugh.

He grinned at her.

“I am not a lifestyle option,” Maresol said with a smile.

He laughed.

“You were telling me about Seth and Big Daddy,” Maresol said.

“That’s right,” Bernie said.

He started to put on his dress shoe.

“Pants first,” Maresol said, evenly, knowing that he’d been a little off since they found out about Big Daddy.

“I am distracted,” Bernie said. He untied the shoe and took it off. “Talking about good people who are long gone, I guess.”

Maresol touched his shoulder. She pointed to his suit, which was lying on their hotel bed. He started by pulling on the suit pants.

“I met Bud when I was … Oh, I don’t know …” Bernie said. “Before the war but after meeting Seth’s mom. Bud was …”

Bernie stopped talking and sat down on the bed. Maresol sat down next to him.

“Bud was a force of nature,” Bernie said. “You should have seen him. He’d play until his breath was ragged, his fingers burning, and he was wet through and through with sweat. And then he’d play some more. He’d have the entire floor of the Savoy Ballroom rocking from people dancing. He was fearless — musically and in life. He’d been in World War I; he was the son of a slave; he …”

Bernie fell silent thinking about the man.

“Anyway, I was trying to track down my wife and children when I got a call from Bud,” Bernie said. “‘Bernie,’ he says, ‘do you have a son?’ I say, ‘Sure’ — thinking of Saul, you know. ‘Why?’ ‘There’s a boy here who wants me to teach him how to play jazz piano,’ he says. ‘Looks just like you.’ Well, I was floored. I knew that it couldn’t be Saul.”

“Why not Saul?” Maresol asked.

“Oh, Saul,” Bernie said. “He was always rushing out to live life. We could never get him to sit down anywhere, let alone at a piano. Saul was brave and wild — all at the same time.”

Bernie turned to look at Maresol.

“Did you know him?” Bernie asked.

“When he was a teenager,” Maresol said. “He was angry and … As you said, there was a fire that burned in him. I … I know that Seth still misses Saul. Silas, too.”

“Silas…” Bernie said with a sigh.

Maresol turned to look at him.

“Saul… He was the first of a long string of losses for me,” Maresol said. “I’d never known anyone who died like that. Then, it seemed like one loss after another — my husband, Seth’s mother, O’Malley, Seth into drugs, Silas, … my daughter and her babies. It’s like losing Saul was the start of … growing old, I guess.”

Maresol gave a quick nod.

“Then you know why I knew it wasn’t Saul,” Bernie said.

Maresol nodded.

“I couldn’t figure out why a son of mine would be in New York City,” Bernie said. “When I left them, my beloved and Saul were living in this cute little house in North Carolina. I hadn’t seen Jimmy — you know, Seth and Jammy call him …”

“Ivy,” Maresol said, about Schmidty I-V.

Bernie nodded and laughed.

“I always knew him as ‘Jimmy,’” Bernie said. “I hadn’t talked to him in … years. I got his number from Bud and called him. You couldn’t believe my shock. I knew that O’Malley had married. I even knew that he had children — boys. I had no idea he had married my wife! That his boys were actually my children! I learned all of that from Jimmy.”

“You mean, you gave that horrible man the down payment to the house …”

“For his wife and kids,” Bernie said with a nod. “I had no idea that he was referring to my beloved and my children.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty: Jazz people (part six)


(part six)

“I suppose I’ll fade away someday, sooner than later,” Seth said. “Like Bud and Di and Susan. Bud’s teacher and inspiration was a guy called Art Tatum. Died young, like Mitch. No one even remembers Art or Bud or Di or Susan. Now, Big Daddy gone. No one will remember any of us.”

“I will,” Ava said.

Seth shook his head without looking at her. Ava’s heart broke for him, but she knew he’d stop talking if she said so.

“Bernice is distraught,” Seth said, finally. “Her children are out of state. They don’t want anything to do with their gangster father. He raised them to be doctors, lawyers — law abiding citizens who hate gangsters like him. Oh, they’ll come to his celebration, take his money, but help their mother with the details of everything?”

Ava saw tears form in Seth’s eyes. He shook his head at his own emotions.

“She would never ask, either,” Seth said. “She …”

“What will she do?” Ava couldn’t keep herself from asking.

“I don’t know,” Seth said. “Move in with her eldest daughter, probably. She doesn’t want to. She’s lived her whole life in this city. She doesn’t want to move now. I think it would kill her.”

“Could she move in here?” Ava asked. She gestured to the apartment. “I know you’re here now, but you don’t live here. We can always stay in hotels when we come.”

Seth watched Ava’s face for a few moments.

“Do you need the money from these apartments?” Ava asked.

“The building’s paid off,” Seth said. “We just pay taxes and upkeep. The rent more than covers that, plus Claire’s fee for taking care of the place.”

“Let’s talk to Claire,” Ava said. “I’m sure she’d love the chance to take care of Bernice. Return the favor.”

“Seems like a lot to ask,” Seth said.

“She can say no,” Ava said.

Seth’s eyes never left her face. When she looked at him, he shrugged.

“Would you like me to ask her?” Ava asked.

“Claire already asked me if it would be all right if Bernice moved in,” Seth said. “There’s an apartment upstairs that’ll be vacant at the end of the month. Bernice would have a view of the river and an extra bedroom for her children and grandchildren to visit. I just … It just seems like a lot to ask. Of Claire, I mean.”

Ava smiled at his concern. He shook his head.

“Big Daddy’s estate is a mess,” Seth said. In a very low voice, he added, “It wouldn’t surprise me if the Feds come and take every penny. There are gangsters from all over the world are converging here to split up Harlem. I’ve been dealing with the NYPD since Big Daddy died. Nature abhors a vacuum.”

Ava raised her eyebrows. Seth nodded.

“Big Daddy must have some Fed on the inside, but now …” Seth said.

“Then, Bernice needs to be here,” Ava said.

“You mean, we should take in another stray?” Seth asked.

“Didn’t her mother and mother-in-law take you in when you needed it?” Ava asked.

“They did,” Seth said. “I just wondered if you would be okay with, you know, paying for everything for her.”

“Can we afford it?” Ava asked.

“We’d have to talk to Sandy, but I’d guess so,” Seth nodded.

“Oh, I see. You mean, should we take care of her because she’s a mobster’s wife?” Ava asked. Seth nodded. “My mother was a mobster’s wife. And, we still help her.”

Seth chuckled. The moment shifted, and Seth’s sadness returned.

“I’ll talk to Claire,” Seth said.

Ava nodded. She kissed his cheek, and he smiled.

“I have to go,” Seth said. “I hate to just dump all of this and run.”

“That’s okay,” Ava said. “Claire asked me to help move Bernice’s personal belongings into storage here. Sandy’s kids will be here in a bit to help with the big stuff. Claire’s moving Bernice into a hotel until things settle.”

Seth smiled.

“You knew all about this,” Seth said.

“I knew that Claire loved Bernice and wanted to help her,” Ava said. “I didn’t know about you and Bud and Di and … everything. Thank you for telling me.”

Seth got up from the bed. Standing in front of her, Seth smiled.

“Thanks for letting me talk,” Seth said.

Seth nodded and left the room. After a minute or so, Ava heard him leave the apartment. She nodded to herself. This was going to be a long weekend. She needed to be ready for anything.

Denver Cereal continues on Monday…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty: Jazz people (part five)


(part five)

“Did Claire stop going when you left New York?” Ava asked.

“Bud and Di were dead by then. Di didn’t last much longer than Bud,” Seth said. “Susan was on her own so she moved into a retirement facility. Big Daddy got into more sinister things once his parents died. That beautiful moment in time just … dissolved away, like it never happened.”

Seth plopped down on the bed to think. After a minute, he looked at Ava.

“Come to think of it,” Seth said. “Claire went to college before I left.”

“Where’d she go?” Ava asked.

“Well …” Seth blushed.


“Claire came to Colorado the Christmas before I finished college, right after Bud and Di died,” Seth said. “I don’t think of it as her coming with me because she went up to Boulder. Schmidty I-V found a place for her to live by the school.”

Seth grinned to himself.

“When I returned, I was in high school and she was in college,” Seth said and laughed. “My driver was the same guy. The one who hit me. He still lives here in Denver.”

Ava smiled.

“When we moved back to Colorado, she was sure that she’d never return to New York City,” Seth said. He shrugged. “Her mom had married the diner owner, who was Claire’s father’s brother, Claire’s uncle. They were very happy in a childfree bliss. But near the end of Claire’s college, the diner owner died, Claire’s brother disappeared, and her mom got sick.”

Ava made a soft empathetic sound.

“Too much grief for too long of a time, I guess,” Seth said. “Claire graduated a term early and came back here. Susan was gone by then. Died of TB. So it was just Claire and her mother.”

“Claire left Colorado before you and Mitch went to Vietnam?” Ava asked.

Seth gave a quick nod.

“I didn’t see her again until I brought her brother home,” Seth said. “I mean, we wrote some. Kept in touch. Her mother died. I was at the funeral. I was in her wedding. She was in mine. Came to O’Malley’s funeral, my mother’s … Bonita and the boys. She stayed with me when she got divorced. I came here when I got divorced. Of course, I heard from Bernice or Big Daddy. At least once month. Usually Bernice.”

Seth nodded. He fell so silent that Ava worried that he was retreating into himself. She touched his arm to remind him that she was there.

“I …” Seth said. He sighed. “How can you be so close, so very close, to people and have such intense experiences and then … it all just fades away?”

Seth’s sigh was so soulful that Ava felt protective of him. She put her hand on his leg.

“I suppose I’ll fade away someday, sooner than later,” Seth said. “Like Bud and Di and Susan. Bud’s teacher and inspiration was a guy called Art Tatum. Died young, like Mitch. No one even remembers Art or Bud or Di or Susan. Now, Big Daddy gone. No one will remember any of us.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

Chapter Four Hundred and Fifty: Jazz people (part four)


(part four)

“So that’s it?” Ava asked Seth.

She was sitting on the side of their bed in Seth’s apartment. Seth looked at her and sighed.

“There’s a lot more than that,” Seth said.

“I bet!” Ava said.

Ava waited for a moment to see if Seth would say more. He didn’t.

“How long did Bud teach you?” Ava asked.

“Until he died,” Seth said. “Christmas time. The last year I was at Eastman.”

Seth nodded. He went to use the toilet mostly to give himself some time to control his emotions. Ava waited for him to return.

“Big Daddy didn’t like the idea of me taking the train,” Seth said. “He said it was too dangerous as I could lead people to him. He hired the guy who hit me pick me up outside the dorm on Fridays and drive me into the city. Claire and I still took the subways up there every weekend.”

“Claire went with you?” Ava asked. “Every time?”

“Claire … Well, she should probably tell you herself,” Seth said.

“She won’t,” Ava said.

“You’re right,” Seth said. “She won’t.”

Thinking, he stood in one place in the room and stared at the wall.

“I used to rent this room from the diner owner,” Seth said. He smiled. “I didn’t know about money then. Still don’t really. I paid him next to nothing for the room. I like that I can still come here. Still sleep here.”

“I like that too,” Ava said.

Knowing that she could never make him to talk, she let the silence fill up the room. After a few minutes, Seth sighed.

“Claire’s mother was an amazing woman,” Seth said. “But she was busy. Once I bought the building, Claire’s mother became the building manager. She was paid pretty well, enough to save for Claire’s college …”

“Nice of you,” Ava said.

“She wouldn’t let me help financially in any other way,” Seth said with a shrug.

“Claire’s mother?” Ava asked, hoping she hadn’t stopped the flow of words coming from Seth.

“As you can imagine, Claire’s mother took the responsibility of being the building manager very seriously,” Seth said. “The building was kind of a tenement so everything was a mess. Claire’s mother was either cleaning or arranging repair or painting or waiting tables at the diner. Then, Claire’s brother went down in a helicopter crash …”

“She didn’t have a lot of time for Claire,” Ava said.

Seth nodded.

“Di and Susan, Bernice’s mother, were very industrious and had lots of time,” Seth said. “They doted on Claire. They taught her how to cook. The women made quilts. Bread. Big pots of amazing food. Pies from ancient recipes. They taught Claire about men; taught her to be a woman. Claire blossomed at that time. They adored Claire and she worshiped them.”

“I bet,” Ava said.

Seth smiled at the memory.

“While Bud and I worked — and believe me, the man worked me for hours, until sweat poured down my back. Sometimes we’d spend the time just doing finger pushups, hand stretches, stuff like that.”

“Those ones you do every morning?” Ava asked.

“Got to have strong fingers if you’re going to last all night,” Seth said.

He dropped down. With his hands in the shape of a claw, fingers pressed into the carpet, he did an easy set of pushups. Standing up, Seth looked even more sad.

“Claire, Di, and Susan laughed and talked,” Seth said. “They made dresses and read books to each other. Claire loved going up there. When Andy and I started dating, she and Claire would hang out with Di and Susan. Di loved Andy. Talked to her about the nights at the Savoy Ballroom.”

Denver Cereal continues tomorrow…

For full chapters, visit Stories by Claudia