Chapter Six Hundred and Seventeen: Bigwig friends
Chapter Six Hundred and Nineeen: Changing times

Chapter Six Hundred and Eighteen: Funnies

CHAPTER SIX HUNDRED and EIGHTEEN

Wednesday morning — 10:00 am

Denver, Colorado

“And Cathy said. . . Um. . .” Celia said. “Uh. . . she said. . .”

Celia laughed.

“What are you doing?” Sam asked. “You always ruin reading the comics by laughing at the joke instead of reading it!”

Celia grinned at her husband. For the first time in a very long time, they hugged. He kissed her lips and they clasped again.

“I have missed you,” Sam said. “Am I dead?”

“No,” Celia said. “You are in between. They put you in a coma. You’re on a ventilator.”

“Why?” Sam asked.

“You have that new virus,” Celia said. “The coronavirus, I think that they are calling it.”

“Oh,” Sam said. “I do?”

“You don’t remember?” Celia asked.

“I remember going fishing with Jake. Aden. Tres,” Sam said. “Even Blane went. We had a great time and then. . .”

“Jake saved your life,” Celia said.

“I’ll have to thank him,” Sam said with a nod. He paused for a minute. “How do I thank him?”

“You survive,” Celia said with a nod.

“Oh,” Sam said. “You think I can do that?”

“Sam Lipson,” Celia said with a chuckle. “You are the most stubborn of men. I’ve never met a man more stubborn than you. You are a breed of your own. If anyone is going to survive this, it’s going to be you, my love.”

“Hmmm. . ..” Sam said, clearly thinking it through.

After a moment, he turned to her.

“I could always stay here with you,” Sam said.

“No, you could not,” Celia said, angrily. “You promised me, Sam! You promised me that you’d take care of our children. If you just give up to hang out here with me, you’re breaking that promise.”

Sam made a sour face but nodded in agreement. He sighed.

“It is very nice to see you,” Sam said. “I’ve missed you so much.”

Tears streamed from his eyes. They hugged again.

“Do you hear that?” Celia asked.

“What is it?” Sam asked.

“it’s Val,” Celia said softly.

“Sound like her,” Sam said.

They separated from their hug to listen.

“And Delphie,” Sam said.

“I love Delphie,” Celia said.

“I do too,” Sam said. “What are they doing?”

“They are reading the funnies,” Celia said.

Sam chuckled. He held out his hand.

“Shall we?” Sam asked. “I don’t know the way.”

“I do,” Celia said. “Come with me, my love.”

They floated for a brief moment following the sound of Val and Delphie. They were hovering over Celia’s burial site. Their daughter, Valerie, and Delphie, their beloved friend, were sitting on the bench next to Celia’s grave. Valerie read a comic and gave a tablet computer to Delphie. Delphie read the next comic and passed the tablet back.

“God, Val’s as bad as you are!” Sam said.

“Shh,” Celia said. “I’m listening.”

Grinning at Celia, Sam stopped talking to listen.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday afternoon — 1:15 p.m.

New York City, New York

“Seth?” the second engineer asked.

Irritated, Seth groaned and looked up at the ceiling. He banged his hands down on the piano and whipped around. He raised an eyebrow at her.

“There’s a guy here to see you,” the second engineer said.

“You’d better check with the music editor because he’s pretty pissed,” Seth said.

“I sent him in here,” the music editor said. “He speaks English. He’s some kind of chef.”

The music editor turned to a man with brownish-skin. The man was wearing jeans and a T-shirt with a heavy sheepskin jacket over it.

“I speak fluent Spanish,” Seth said. “Among other things.”

“Sir,” the man said, in Spanish. “I was told that you own the historic corner building in Hell’s Kitchen.”

“Okay,” Seth said.

It sounded to Seth as if the man was from Spain.

“How can I help you?” Seth asked, in Spanish.

“You are Seth O’Malley,” the man said.

“The last time I checked,” Seth said. “Why?”

“I didn’t expect you to be so. . .” the man stopped talking.

“Sweaty?” Seth asked. “Annoyed?”

“Accessible,” the man said with a smile.

“Reminds me that my asshole is slipping,” Seth said. “I don’t mean to rush but those young people will kill me if I don’t get playing again.”

“Si,” the man said. “You have a restaurant space in your building?”

“I do,” Seth said. “Before you ask, it’s up to code, ready to go. The last restaurant needed a bigger space and we just never got around to replacing them. Why do you ask?”

“I am wondering if you would do me the honor of letting me use the space?” the man asked.

“For what?” Seth asked.

“I run food kitchens for hungry people,” the man said. “People here are out of work. They are being evicted by. . .”

Sneering, the chef said the person’s name.

“I’ve heard,” Seth said with a scowl.

“People need food,” the man said.

“What are you asking?” Seth asked. “Specifically? I’m sorry. I’m tired and in pain.”

The man gave a curt nod.

“I’d like to use your kitchen to make meals that we will pass out all over the city,” the man said.

“But not at the building?” Seth asked.

“Not if you don’t want them to be passed out there,” the man said.

“It’s fine with me,” Seth said. “Don’t you have those trucks?”

“I do,” he said.

“We have parking,” Seth said. “Most of our residents don’t have vehicles. We have plenty of space for your trucks. Did you talk with Claire?”

“I spoke with Bernice,” the man said. Switching to English, he added, “She said that you were sick of ‘jive talking turkeys.’”

“Ah,” Seth said, with a grin. “I take it you knew Big Daddy?”

Seth asked of Bernice’s legendary deceased mobster husband. The man gave a quick nod with his chin.

“You?” the man asked.

“I met him around the time I bought that building,” Seth said. “His father-in-law, Bernice’s father, taught me jazz piano. Whatever Big Daddy was, he was very good to me. Bernice is a dear friend.”

The man nodded in agreement.

“What do you say about the space?” the man asked.

“Take a look at the space,” Seth said. “The kitchen is good sized but the restaurant is small. Just a few tables and five booths. We have a permit for outside space, but have never built it out. You’re welcome to see what you can do with it.”

“It’s okay with you,” the man said, looking relieved.

“Of course,” Seth said. “You should ask these kids to donate.”

Seth raised his eyebrows at the music editor. Looking embarrassed, the engineers and the music editor nodded.

“We’ll donate,” the lead engineer said.

“I will, as well,” Seth said. “Claire has the checkbook. Just tell her what you need.”

The man nodded and turned to go.

“How much?” the man asked.

“Why don’t you see what you need?” Seth asked. “The restaurant moved out a couple of years ago. The space will likely need some work. At the very least, we can take on whatever you need to get up and going. Let us know what you need. I know a lot of people from all walks of life. My housekeeper in Denver and her family even own farms. Let me know what you need and I can find it.”

Nodding, the man left.

“You’re okay to do that?” the second engineer asked. “That’s a lot of money!”

“The building was paid off about nearly thirty years ago,” Seth said. “Outside of updates to the building, the roof, and rehabbing the apartments, the rents go into a fund. We’ve used it before for emergencies and national disasters in the city.”

Seth shrugged.

“I’ve been very fortunate in my life,” Seth said. “I try to share that with people in need. That’s all. Now, either we get back to work or I’m going home to sleep.”

He yawned.

“My hip’s killing me,” Seth said.

“I say we call it,” the lead engineer said.

The second engineer and the music editor turned to look at him.

“What?” the lead engineer asked. “I want to see the building!”

The young people nodded. Seth stood up, pulled on his sweatshirt hoodie, and hobbled to the door of the recording area. They took a cab to the building and got there in time to see Claire unlocking the restaurant space for the man who’d just visited Seth. Claire came to help Seth up the stairs leaving the young people with the man. When Claire returned, the man nodded to her.

“This will work,” the man said.

“When will you start?” Claire asked.

“Right now, if that’s okay with you,” the man said.

“Absolutely,” Claire said with a smile. “O’Malley will be thrilled.”

The man nodded and took out his cellphone to make calls.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday mid-day — 12:05 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

“Julie!” Jill said into her cellphone.

She was bent over pulling toddler clothing out of the small dryer in the loft. While there were large washers in the basement, Jill found that her boys were whirlwinds of filth. She and Jacob needed to do smaller, more frequent loads of laundry. Paddie’s mother had called her nearly every day since they were sent home for “Safe at Home.”

“What’s up?” Jill asked.

She heard coughing.

“Julie?” Jill asked.

“Jill,” Julie croaked. “Listen, I’ll be fast, if that’s okay.”

“Sure,” Jill responded.

Jill set the dry clothing down on top of the washer so that she could to focus her attention on her friend.

“I have it,” Julie said, speaking fast. “Covid, I mean. I took the boys up skiing for Presidents’ day because Colin was deployed. He’s been gone a long time this time, so we were all mopey. My sister called and said that she and her kids were there. We joined them in one of those ski condos on the ski runs. We had a great time, but I think wel got it either from the resort or from my sister or I don’t know. They are saying that the virus was all over those resorts by then. But I don’t know. I didn’t know that when we went up there.”

“Oh Julie,” Jill said.

“My sister and her husband are both in the hospital,” Julie said. “We’ve all tested positive for this evil plague. Paddie says that he has to come here for ‘cuddles.’ That’s what he says, ‘cuddles.’ He’s very angry that he and Katy can’t be together. I think it's just a ploy but he’s very insistent. If you can imagine a really sick little boy who is furious at me for not doing what he says.”

“Sounds familiar,” Jill said.

“I know that things are kind of different in your house,” Julie said. “I. . . I . . . really need help. I really do. I don’t know where to turn. The entire team is gone. Samantha took her daughter and went to her parents’ cabin. Erin and her daughters are somewhere else. Wyoming, I think. I’m not sure. Somewhere Matthew’s family has historic land there or someone does. I can’t remember anything anymore. The Irish next door won’t open the door because everyone’s over 70. Wyatt and Max are working. Wyatt’s at the hospital and Max is taking care of the kids. I don’t. . .”

Jill listened as Julie coughed and cried.

“Come here,” Jill said. “We have space for you to quarantine. I can give Paddie some cuddles and take care of Connor.”

“I’m so glad you said that,” Julie said. “Paddie’s been screaming at me. I drove here just to see if I could shut him up and I. . .”

“You should know that Jacob’s father, Sam, has it,” Jill said. ”We’re all on quarantine too.”

“Misery loves company?” Julie asked, hacking.

“Have you seen a doctor?” Jill asked.

“I caught John last night,” Julie said. “He told me that the hospitals are booked up. I would just be sent home again. He said if I can’t smell or catch my breath then to come in. He told me to take some aspirin to think my blood and get some rest. But I have two little boys and no help and. . .”

“I’m going to open the gate,” Jill said. “Drive in all the way to the back near the garage. I’ll meet you out there. I’ll take you to one of the free apartments where you’ll be away from everyone to quarantine but still can get help.”

Jill jogged down the stairs to the loft to the closet where the security equipment was located.

“Oh, Jill, that’s just what I need,” Julie said, sobbing.

“Just get inside,” Jill said. “I’ll get my brother to help.”

Jill pointed to Mike, who was sitting in the kitchen. He pointed to himself, and Jill nodded.

“I’ll get him sick,” Julie said.

Mike stood up and went out the door to the backyard.

“My brother’s kind of immune to everything,” Jill said. She pressed a button. “I’m opening the gate now.”

Julie drove her car through the gate and all the way back to where Jill and Mike were standing.

“Should I take her to the apartment next to the medical offices?” Mike asked.

“Jake finished the one on the end,” Jill said, nodding.

“Furniture?” Mike asked.

“We furnished both apartments,” Jill said. “Jake thought that our friends or people from Lipson would need our help. I finished painting them last weekend.”

Julie came to a stop in front of them. Mike opened her door while Jill opened the door to the back. The toddler, Connor, was screaming at the top of his lungs. Paddie was unconscious — asleep or passed out. Jill wasn’t sure. Both boys looked desperately sick.

“She’s out cold,” Mike said.

“Can you. . .?” Jill asked.

Mike was undoing Julie’s seatbelt. He lifted her out of the vehicle and carried her through the backyard.

“Paddie,” Jill said, shaking the boy. “I need to wake up now.”

Paddie didn’t move. Jill unhooked him from the booster seat.

“Connor,” Jill said. “Can you wait here?”

The child nodded. Jill pulled Paddie out of the car seat. She jogged across the yard and set Paddie on the deck. She turned back to Julie’s car and grabbed Connor.

“What’s going on?” Honey asked. “Is that Paddie? He looks really sick.”

“Julie’s here,” Jill said. “She says that they all have Covid, so don’t touch him.”

“Got it,” Honey said. “Where are you taking the kids?”

“The apartments by the medical offices,” Jill said.

“Okay,” Honey said. “I’ll open the doors.”

“Thanks,” Jill said.

Jill watched Honey struggle her way up the stairs to the medical offices. She was just opening the door when Mike came out. He jogged down the steps and took Paddie. Jill grabbed Connor from his baby seat and carried him up the stairs and into the medical offices.

“Where are the boys?” Honey asked.

“It’s nap time,” Jill said.

“Maggie’s asleep too,” Honey said. “Why don’t I get her and we can head to your loft?”

“Can you get up there on your own?” Jill asked.

“I need to try,” Honey said with a grin.

Honey was learning to walk again after Abi intervened to end her paralysis.

“Do you know if Ivy’s here?” Jill asked.

“I think she’s with her Aunt, but don’t quote me,” Honey said.

Jill nodded.

“I’ve got this,” Honey said. “Just take care of them and we’ll figure out what’s next.”

“Thanks,” Jill said.

“Masks!” Honey said.

She held out small masks for the children and one for Julie.

“Connor?” Jill asked.

She looked down to see that the child was sound asleep. She put the mask on.

“I should get him inside,” Jill said. “Thanks Honey.”

“Any time,” Honey said. “She’s a Fey wife. I would be in her situation if it weren’t for you and our Castle family. I am very lucky.”

Smiling, Jill nodded. Honey raised her hand to wave good-bye. Jill carried Connor inside. She went inside the medical offices and to the apartment. When she got to the apartment, she saw that her mother, Anjelika, and sister, Candy, were standing around the bed where Julie and Paddie were lying.

Anjelika waved Jill toward the bed. Jill set Connor onto the bed.

“We need. . .” Jill started.

Steve jogged into the room with a liter of water in his hands. The family took each other’s hands and focused on sending healing energy to Julie and her precious children.

~~~~~~~~

Wednesday mid-day — 12:35 p.m.

Denver, Colorado

Nelson whispered something.

His nurse wasn’t even certain that Nelson was awake. She bent near him.

“Sun,” Nelson said. “Need sun.”

The nurse left the room and called Blane.

“He’s asking for sunlight,” the nurse said.

“Gretchen?” Blane asked. “Nelson wants the sun?”

“He’s saying that he needs sunlight,” Gretchen said. “The building is not built out.”

“Give me ten minutes and I’ll be over,” Blane said.

Shaking his head, Blane looked over Julie Hargreaves.

“I need to run across the street,” Blane said. “Can you stay right here?”

Julie nodded.

“Try to rest,” Blane said.

He pulled off the paper gown. He took off his face shield, goggles, and mask. He gestured to the hallway. Jill got up from where she was cuddling with Connor and Paddie.

“Nelson says that he needs sunlight,” Blane said. He shrugged.

“The windows are done,” Jill said. “The wood floor’s not in but he can sit in the windows.”

“That’s right,” Blane said. “Sorry. I’m just. . .”

“It’s so stressful to have all of this virus and all the crap with Lipson,” Jill said with a nod. “Not to mention, doing acupuncture with a novel virus and everything else.”

“Nelson,” Blane said, with a nod.

“Why don’t I go? The boys are really out,” Jill said. “The nurse can help me get him seated. We can wheel him out to the windows. Maybe I can give him a boost to help him heal.”

“Won’t you wear yourself out?” Blane asked.

“I don’t think so,” Jill said. “I mean, it’s happened before but I’ve been really careful since then. I’ll be careful.”

“That would be great,” Blane said. “I need to get pulses on the boys and see if they need a treatment.”

“I’ll shower and change really fast in the medical offices,” Jill said.

“Good thinking,” Blane said.

Jill waved at Nelson and moved to the medical offices. She showered quickly and pulled on the medical scrubs. She walked across the street to Nelson’s old home. Coming in the front door, she heard someone running a saw on the third floor. She grinned at the progress that had been made and then jogged down the stairs to the basement.

Nelson and all of his medical equipment were housed in a room that one day would be Jabari’s. Jill wondered how Jabari was doing. She sighed, pulled on a paper cover, a hat, and another mask before going inside the room. The nurse Gretchen was holding Nelson down.

“Nelson,” Jill commanded. “Stop. Lie down.”

“Need sun,” Nelson said.

“I hear that,” Jill said. “We have to figure out how to do that and keep you safe.”

Nelson collapsed back to the bed.

“Thank you,” Gretchen, the nurse, mouthed.

“I have toddlers,” Jill said. “Boys.”

“So you’re practiced,” Gretchen smiled.

“Okay, what do we need to do?” Jill asked.

“We need to get him into the wheelchair,” Gretchen said.

“Easy,” Jill said.

With much grunting and groaning, the women managed to get Nelson into a sitting position. From there, they carried and helped him into a wheelchair. With Jill behind the wheelchair, Gretchen cleared the way. They moved Nelson into the sunny patch near the Eastern windows.

The sunlight was waning for the day, but there was a sliver of bright sun on the cement floor. Jill moved him into the sunlight. Nelson groaned with pleasure. Gretchen fussed over his IV and other medical gear.

“I’ll stay with him,” Jill said. “You can take a break.”

“Thanks so much,” Gretchen said. “Do you mind if I go get something to eat from Pete’s?”

“Not at all,” Jill said with a smile. “Enjoy your break.”

Gretchen grabbed her purse and left. Nelson had moved his face into the sunbeam. He was now fast asleep.

For the first time in a very long time, Jill was alone in the silence. She fell into such deep thoughts that she was startled when Gretchen returned. They got Nelson back into his room and Jill returned to the Castle. She sighed slightly at the door of the Castle.

“Let the chaos begin,” Jill said to herself and walked back into the Castle.

Denver Cereal continues next week...

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