Jeff walked south to Battery Park and allowed his thoughts to wander as he looked out over the water of the river. It was only after his eyes were pulled down toward the pylons that held the pier of the Harbor House over the river that he thought about the charge he had seen on his credit card for the last few months before Juan became bedridden. Restoration at Pier 12. When Jeff had seen it the first time he thought it must be a clothing store or a bar that Juan may have gone to with his friends. But then he saw it was the same charge each month, $315.00.
After the third month Jeff decided this was one of the things he would rather not know about. Maybe a club where Juan needed to go every now and then to let off steam and they made the members pay a monthly due? It sounded weak to Jeff even as he had thought it, but he didn’t want to confront Juan about it. What if the answer he got wasn’t an answer he wanted to hear. He could forgive Juan his peccadillo’s couldn’t he?
The fourth month he was curious but let it go again. The fifth and six month the charges came in and he realized that with Juan in bed he should probably cancel the membership. Now that Juan was gone, he would really have to cancel the membership. He had been meaning to call and find out what the place was and cancel the membership for the past three weeks.
Jeff gave a heavy sigh and decided that there was no time like the present. And instead of a call he would go find this place and cancel it in person. Hell, if it was a club for gay men, maybe he could find someone to help him forget Juan, if only for a few hours.
He used his smart phone to find the address for Restoration at Pier 12 and was surprised to find it was an address north of Yonkers, just on the other side of the Tappen Zee Bridge. That made him falter for just a second. This wouldn’t be just a thirty minute jaunt. This would take the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon.
“What the fuck else do you have to do?” he spoke aloud and let his voice carry.
Using his phone again and hailed a car and it showed up at the corner of Washington and Battery in less than five minutes. It took over an hour and a half to get there, the whole time Jeff stared out of the backseat windows of the little black sedan and wondered about all the people he saw walking, riding, driving and going by. What people did they have in their lives? Had anyone of them recently lost a close loved one? Certainly there had to be someone in the same predicament that he was in?
Jeff let that idea float around in his mind for a moment and eventually he evolved into the idea of a support group. Did he need a support group? He had heard of those out there? Grief counseling groups or something? Shouldn’t be hard to find one of those. But would it really be worth the time and effort? Eventually the wounds would heal and losing Juan wouldn’t hurt so much, right? Wasn’t that the natural way things worked?
“Are you alright, sir?” The voice was heavily accented. The driver. Probably from Nigeria.
Jeff looked up.
“Are you in trouble? Do you need to get out?”
Jeff smiled as he wiped the tears off of his cheek. The driver was probably worried he was driving a crazy person to Yonkers.
“No, I’m fine,” Jeff reassured him. “I’m just thinking about someone. I’ll be fine.”
He felt like a fool though and for the rest of the ride Jeff left thoughts of Juan out of his head and tried to just relax into the ride. He focused on his breathing the way that nurse in the hospital had taught him, square breathing. He breathed in, held it, breathed out, held it. Soon he felt back to normal and by the time they pulled to the curb at Green Street and West Main in Tarrytown, Jeff felt as though he was back to normal.
The possibly Nigerian driver smiled and was thankful for Jeff’s business as he waved goodbye, but Jeff could tell he was also happy to have the crazy, crying, gentleman out of his car. Jeff shook his head in embarrassment as he walked down Green toward the pier.
He found Restoration at Pier 12 with hardly and effort. The sign was right there on the side of the road. He had been expecting a club or a bar or something of that nature so when he saw that it was a boat restoration business he was genuinely surprised.
“What the hell were you doing here, Juan?” Jeff wondered aloud as he walked toward the little building.
The business was located halfway down the pier. It was a part of the structure of the pier businesses that took up most of the surface of the pier. On the right of the restoration business was a small motor repair business and further down from that was a boat leasing and sales agent. The restoration business took up fully half of the room on the dock and there were all types of small boats in various states of repair both floating in the river tied up to the pier and on the pier itself, dry docked.
Was Juan an owner of this business? He couldn’t be a customer? He hated boats. What the hell was he doing?
“A few hundred bucks a month might be enough to buy or lease a boat,” Jeff realized. A crumby boat, but he wondered if he was going to have to find a legal avenue to extricate himself from buying an albatross of a boat at three hundred a month for the next sixty years.
Dan had been a designer, and a good one. He loved working on houses that were under construction and helping the architect come up with plans that were both functional and intriguing to look at. He always felt that architects glommed onto the functional side of things too often and didn’t consider the aesthetic appeal enough. He always said that if not for designers, if architects were allowed to design the world, everyone would live in grey squares and rectangles.
But this, whatever was inside that warehouse, was a part of Dan that Jeff had never known, unless he was designing boats. Jeff felt his hands fidgeting so he put them into his pant’s pockets and walked up to the door and tried it. It swung open easily and Jeff stepped inside.
The warehouse interior was old and worn. The walls looked as though they were one hundred years old, brown hued bricks with crusty, ageing, yellowing mortar all of which look as though it could tumble down in a strong wind but had withstood a century or more of hardship. Jeff felt like stepping into the warehouse was like stepping back in time. The dominant feature inside was a weathered, old tugboat. The front and cabin were still in good shape, but the back was disintegrating quickly and looked as though it was the focus of a restoration attempt. Around that central artifact were other boats in various states of repair and restoration, none as large as the old tug. There was an old wooden cabin cruiser that if Jeff had to guess was less than ten percent complete. A hull of a sail boat, some of the ribs still uncovered stood near the back, dinghy’s and small sloops were everywhere. The smell of creosote and wood and sawdust was everywhere and started right at the doorway. The lights were all a missmatch of yellow and neon, some fixtures hanging low, some high, some single bulbs, others huge banks. Jeff had to watch his step as there was debris in the form of wood planks, beams and other construction goods everywhere.
From the back of the warehouse, from an office that Jeff had failed to notice till that moment, a man emerged. He was large, immensely fat, with over sized glasses on his face. He waddled toward Jeff quickly. He had a full beard and wore a sailors cap that would look more appropriate in Eastern Europe. He was a walking stereotype of an old sea man.
“Can I help you?” he said as he neared Jeff who was still standing in the doorway.
“Is this a club or something?”
“You could say that,” the man said. “But really we’re just a bunch of guys looking for some room to work on our boats.”
“Are you in owner?”
“Manfred Williamson,” he said as he held out his hand to shake Jeff’s. It was a strong grip but enthusiastic, playful even.
“Jeff Stocks,” Jeff said in reply.
This question rocked Jeff back on his heels and Manfred still shaking his hand pulled him closer.
“You’re Dan’s fella aren’t you. Where the hell is he? We’ve been wondering when he’s coming back. We’ve kept his sloop ready for him. Paul’s been making some progress, but really he didn’t want to get too far along without Dan’s help.”
Jeff looked around as Manfred motioned around the warehouse, but he was completely lost. He had no idea about nautical terms and he felt like this step into Dan’s private life had started with a trip that left him sprawled on the sidewalk rather than enjoying a stroll down memory lane.
“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about,” Jeff said.
“You are Dan’s Jeff right?”
Jeff nodded. He liked hearing that. He liked knowing that he was called “Dan’s Jeff” to Dan’s friends. He liked knowing that Dan had talked about him here. That he had been discussed and perhaps gossiped about. For a split second Jeff had visions of Dan sitting around in here with his friends trading stories about their personal lives and Dan talking about his relationship with Jeff.
“I am Dan’s Jeff.” Manfred began walking back further into the warehouse, ushering Jeff along with him.
“Is Dan with you?”
Jeff shook his head and he could tell that Manfred read the fall of his face that he hadn’t been able to prevent . Manfred stopped guiding Jeff through the boats and looked at Jeff stoically.
“Is he okay?” Jeff could hear from the timbre of his voice that Manfred knew the answer.
“He passed away two weeks ago,” Jeff answered. “He was sick for the past few years.”
“It was the fucking cough wasn’t it?” Manfred had tears in his eyes. “What was it? cancer?”
Jeff nodded. “He didn’t tell you?”
“That fucker. That brave little fuck.” Manfred put his hand out to steady himself. “And you’re here to collect his shit? Is that it? You think you’re entitled to his boat and his tools and everything? Well, you might have some legal right, but when Harris finds out about this, he’s gonna fight you for that shit. That boat is as much his as it was Dan’s. Probably more so.”
Jeff’s hands came up to try and placate Manfred. “I’m not here to take anything. I didn’t know that any of this was here or that any of it was Dan’s. I knew he came here sometimes but until I walked into that door I thought he was working on furniture designs or something. I never would have guessed he was building a boat. I didn’t even know he liked boats.”
“Come here,” Manfred said, genial again now. “Let me show you what that little twerp was doing.”
He herded Jeff along the way they had originally been going, past the tug, around a couple of smaller motor boats, one of which looked complete except for a motor. They stopped when they got to the far corner. As they walked Jeff started to see order in the chaos. Each boat had a table next to it, a workbench, piled with tools and plans and books. He assumed that each person in the little club had their own set of tools. But he also imagined that more specific tools could be borrowed from others or taken from the warehouse’s own store which looked like it was around Manfred’s office. Three huge workbenches filled to overflowing with tools and clamps and wood and pots of paints and stuff sat next to the door Manfred had originally emerged from.
“This is Dan’s rig,” Manfred stopped in front of a boat that to Jeff’s eye looked similar to everything else he had just walked by. Manfred must have seen his lack of impression so he started talking and pointing.
“This is a Devlin design. A twenty-six foot sloop designed with an enclosed head, an internal galley and an engine box for a ten horse power diesel engine. It had a three foot, ten inch draft and will displace fifty, two hundred pounds when sailing. It’s an extremely special vessel. Not like some of the crap you see around here.” He waved his hand at some of the boats they had passed.
Jeff turned and looked around him. He started to see that Dan’s boat was a bit more stylish than the others.
Manfred continued without waiting for Jeff to turn around. “Take a look at the one in the corner. See how it’s being made? That’s called plywood construction. Basically you take sheets of Marine grade, three-quarter inch plywood and you stich it into place to create the hull. Once you’ve polyestered the whole thing then you take out the wire and you’re done.”
Jeff was lost again but didn’t want to take what Manfred was saying too lightly so he nodded at what he felt were the appropriate times.
“Dan’s building his the old fashioned way, plank-by-plank. He’s basically building it as our forefather’s might have built sailboats. It was Paul’s idea. Paul’s built two this way and Dan wanted his to be like Paul’s. They’ve been working on it for months.”
Jeff broke in. “Who is Paul. Is he here?”
“No,” Manfred said. “Like I said he’s helping Dan, but he has his own project over there.” Manfred finger lumbered up toward the far end of the warehouse where Jeff could just make out another sailboat that he thought Manfred was pointing to.
“When could I find him here?”
“He comes in most evenings, but . . .”
Jeff, using his CFO voice cut in. “Do you have his number?”
Manfred’s several chins shook as his head moved back and forth answering no. “We don’t keep records as such of our members. We’re pretty lose like that.”
“Not even phone numbers,” Jeff heard his tone sharpen and immediately regretted it. He could feel the jealousy coming into his thoughts. Who was this Paul? Was Dan having an affair? But if he was, why was Manfred talking so openly to Jeff about Paul?
Before Manfred could answer, Jeff shook his hands back and forth telling Manfred to forget the question. Manfred wasn’t the person he was mad at. All of the warm feelings that he had built up on this little tour through Dan’s private life with Manfred was starting to tumble down. Jeff looked back at the way he had come, then back at Dan’s boat. There was nothing more here for him without knowing more about this Paul. He gave one last look at the boat that might have been Paul’s.
“Tell Paul that I’d like to talk to him,” Jeff said finally. He handed Manfred a card from his pocket. “I’ll try and come by later, but if I miss him, please give him this. Tell him that Dan’s Jeff wants to talk to him about the sloop.”
He turned and walked away. He felt like he needed out of the warehouse. Jeff reached the door just as he felt tears springing into his eyes again.