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Three Pigs and a Gypsy
By Stephanie Angelea
Sometimes, the richest people in the country are the poorest. They are the ones who leave their families for the fellow man devoting their lives to people they’ve never met or shaken hands with at the corner cafe. They are the ones who are courageous and brave protecting a great nation in its many battles overseas and at home. For many, it’s a career choice. For others, there was the draft. Fighting in the deepest jungles of Vietnam, for example, four men climbed the ranks from the lowly grunt man to hold important positions, and the government listened to what they had to say without question. Three squares a day with medical and an education for a trade job was a dazzling opportunity no one could pass on, drafted or not. Uncle Sam wanted them and welcomed them with open arms, promising a bright future. A reward for their strength and loyalty. A loyalty that would soon come at a price of blood and death and neglect as the enemy advanced closer, testing the wits of entire units full of soldiers armed with machine guns and knives. The men kissed their loved ones on tattered photos and wore scarves around their necks to remember their wives or girlfriends. Death was everywhere and betrayal didn’t stray far from the barracks. No one bothered to unpack because the enemy was always near to run them out.
“Dig deep down into that black heart of yours and find that kindness button, Hanky! You need to turn it on and show some serious love for these men so we can get the Hell outta here! By god, when we reach another safe zone, I’ll beat the shit outta you myself, you cranky bastard!” yelled John Pearltree. “Barrett and Vano both are on the verge of killin’ you and I’ve thought about it. I know you to act better!”
“I can’t help it, I got so caught up in my investigation to find the TRUTH that I forgot to be nice and coddle everyone! The VC was on our ASS, damnit! Lt. Dandry gave them our positions with his back-alley drug deals that got him killed anyhow. It took me a while to find out who was doing what to whom!” scowled Hanky Thompson. “AND, I was trying not to DIE!”
Captain Pearltree rolled his beady eyes and punched Inspector Thompson. He fell hard to the ground, banging his head on the concrete slab in front of his office. Blood gushed from his temple. The soldiers stopped what they were doing to rush over and watch the commotion, immediately applauding their captain. “Get up you old fool! You know we admire your ass but you get that CORNCOB OUT OR ELSE!” he laughed, angrily shaking the hand of his old friend.
“Oorah!” the soldiers hooted, stomping their feet.
“You made me bleed!” Hanky sneered, holding a handkerchief over the wound.
“You’ll be all right. Ain’t nothin’ harder than your head!” John replied, patting his back.
Their voices faded and you could hear a pin drop for the briefest moment as tears rolled down their wrinkled faces. John Pearltree, Hanky Thompson, Barrett Lee, and Vano Young warmed their cold hands over the fire barrel. Barrett’s laughter broke the silence of the alleyway between Marlee’s Juicer House and the old abandoned theatre on the corner that stood every bit of ten stories tall.
“Shhhh, you’ll wake the others, Barrett,” John fussed.
“Sorry. That story is still funny after all these years,” Barrett softly spoke. “Those were the good ol’ days.”
“Yeah, at my expense,” cranked Hanky, turning to Vano. “Vano, Esther didn’t come home last night. She’s not in her box and all her stuff is still there. If she were going to move on down the block, looks like she would have taken her stuff, especially with it being so cold,” he continued.
Vano Young was not only a brave soldier but was at one time an accomplished guitarist playing in numerous bands before he was drafted for the war. As a lone Gypsy, he took a likeness to the others right off and they to him. “I’ll ask Mark to go look for her. We’ll find her, Hanky,” he assured him.
There they stood in all their glory wearing old jackets full of medals pinned sideways and huddling around the burn barrels watching tourists drift by the narrow eye of their dark home. It was lined with large packing boxes big enough for a body to seek shelter in and tents draped over shopping carts tied to the rusted railings of the fire escapes between the buildings.
It was early morning and the busy streets of New York were already bustling with taxis and commuters speeding to work. Snooty couples took selfies to commemorate Memorial Day, posting videos “In honor of our soldiers who have fought and are fighting for our freedom! Thank you so much from the bottom of our hearts! Let’s honor them! Share this video. Hi!” They’d wave, yelling into their rectangular device.
“If you want to honor some veterans, there’s at least sixteen of them down this alleyway here! I’ll take you to meet them and you can honor them like in your video,” snapped a tired-looking woman holding folders and a briefcase.
“Ughhh, bitch!” the tourists scoffed, walking away.
“You better lose that attitude! I know people!” she screamed at them.
“Doris, why are you causing trouble so early in the morning?” a police officer asked her, leaning against his patrol car.
“They called me a bitch, Stan! Really! Me!” she howled.
“Well, I have known you to be a bit grouchy without your coffee,” he replied.
“What brings you out this way. My vets in trouble?” asked Doris, breathing into her hands.
“We received some more complaints about them from tourists and passersby.” He hesitated to proceed. “Mr. Jacobs, the owner of these buildings, is supposed to meet me here.”
“Sorry to interrupt but I heard my name. I’m Mr. Jacobs. I own these two buildings,” he introduced himself, handing papers to Officer Stan. “I find it odd that so many people have an interest in defending my buildings against homeless people who risked their lives so their mommies and daddies could stay home with them. I mean, it wouldn’t matter if they were veterans or not. I own the buildings and I’m not complaining about them. I haven’t heard any complaints from Marlee either.”
“I knew my ears were burning, Ted. I saw your lanky self stroll by my window pane,” Marlee sassed.
“Morning, Marlee. How are you?” asked Ted, kissing her hand.
“Oh fabulous!” she replied. “Doris, I made everyone their morning fruit and veggie soup plus coffee. The soup is loaded with nutrients and should keep them hydrated and full of energy. It’s so cold out but they can warm themselves by the fires and drink coffee. I packed plenty of styrofoam cups. I also brought more burn barrels for them too and had Freddie put them out. Most of them are so old.”
“Who are you calling old, missy!” yelled Hanky.
Horns honked around them, and pedestrians crossing the street yelled at the drivers for not yielding to them and flicked them a bird finger. The daylight was full and the sun shined bright with warmth. Barrett, Vano, and John followed Hanky to the sidewalk, curious to know why a cop and a suit were talking to Marlee and Doris.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean ‘old,’” Marlee laughed.
“She made y’all some soup and coffee. It’s different fruit and veggie soup,” Doris said, organizing her papers.
“Here you go, Hanky. It should be enough for everyone. I hate it’s cold soup again but it’s all I had. Fruits and veggies are becoming so scarce and expensive,” sighed Marlee. “I also made you all some morning coffee. It’s organic coffee but should help warm your core.”
“Don’t worry your pretty little head about that. We are all grateful to eat and drink something hot. Only a few of us are awake but I want to thank you from the bottom of the heart for all of us,” said John.
He graciously hugged Marlee and handed the soup baskets and thermos canisters of coffee to Barrett, who distributed them out to each living station, waking the occupants.
“Miss Marlee, we will surely return all these empties tomorrow,” Vano assured her.
“I know, sweetie. I know.” She petted him, Vano being her favorite, both being Gypsies and all. Vano would catch her watching him in the alleyway when he played his guitar, and he didn’t mind because he fancied her too.
Doris pulled Vano aside showing him some of her papers. “I need to get more data on some in your group to put into my system so I can find shelters and apartments for everyone to go to. This data is so vital in keeping up with everyone. Is Esther and Amanda still asleep or have they already made out?” Doris asked.
“Amanda is up but Esther didn’t come home last night. I sent Mark to look for her,” replied Vano.
“Did I hear you mention Esther?” asked Officer Stan. “She’s actually why I’m here. I came to let you know she was killed by a car late last night. I don’t know if she was headed here or what, but she missed the curb and fell into the street. A speeding car wasn’t able to stop in time. I came to see if one of you would accompany me to the morgue for identification and so that I can give you her belongings.”
Everyone gasped and tears began to run down Doris and Marlee’s cheeks.
“Oh no! Poor woman,” Mr. Jacobs exclaimed.
“The ME said it was quick so hopefully she didn’t feel anything too much,” stated Officer Stan.
“I’ll go with you,” exclaimed Vano.
“I’ve got to get back. Denise will have my hide if I leave her alone with the customers too long. She tends to fuss at them,” Marlee snickered.
Marlee Campbell was a spirit-filled Gypsy woman who owned her Juicer business for eleven years now, renting from Mr. Ted Jacobs. Her health declined back in 2016, so she decided to get healthy and go raw vegan with a few secret cooked meals of healthy choices. Every day, with the help of Denise, Marlee made fruit and veggie soup for the homeless veterans and coffee. Many begged to live between the two buildings but there was no more room, but Marlee and Denise would still help those who could make it to them for food and coffee. One time a day was all they could do and everyone was always grateful. At nights, the soup kitchen down the block served hot soup and cornbread, staying open for a couple of hours after Marlee’s Juicer House closed, but they were not as nice as Marlee and Denise who were always kind.
“Marlee, may I join you?” Doris asked. “Do you have the Zinger made yet? I love that breakfast Juicer. It’s my favorite.”
“Yes ma’am, I sure do! Come on in,” Marlee excitedly invited her.
“Suck up!” Officer Stan hollered at Doris as he escorted Vano to the front seat of his patrol car.
Doris laughed at him and stuck her tongue out.
“Officer Stan, if it’s ok, I’d like to stay and talk with the veterans for a while,” Ted pleaded.
“Sure, come by the station when you’re done,” Officer Stan replied.
Officer Stan hustled his car into the busy streets and a couple of truck drivers urged him on ahead. No one wanted to upset a policeman.
“Hi, my name is Mr. Jacobs. What’re your names?” he asked.
Hanky was the first to respond. “I’m Hanky Thompson. This is Barrett Lee. This is John Pearltree. Vano Young is the veteran who went with Officer Stan. I don’t know his last name. I’ve just always heard him called Officer Stan,” Hanky continued, while everyone shook hands with Mr. Jacobs.
“How did y’all end up here?” asked Mr. Jacobs.
“It’s a long story, but my wife took everything I had worked for and left me for my brother. John’s family moved away and left him stranded—he’s not heard from them since. Barrett’s bunch was killed by a car bomb in front of the patio where they dined—he never recovered from it when we returned home from the war, and Vano is a lone Gypsy who kind-of took a shine to us in the war, and we’ve not been able to shake that guitar playing fool yet,” Hanky laughed. “We were all MPs but when we retired and returned home, there wasn’t much left for us here. We weren’t exactly welcomed back with open arms with a job lined up or families to come home to. Since we were police veterans, a lot of the pedestrian hoodlums called us pigs and yelled hateful stuff. They still do sometimes but we’ve been homeless for so many years now, it doesn’t bother us,” he continued.
“My father was Derrick Jacobs. He was homeless before he married my mother and she helped him learn a trade. It was the best time in his life when he saw her beautiful smile for the first time,” Ted reminisced.
“He was lucky to have come across her. Is he still alive?” asked John.
“No sir. He died many years ago but he bought these buildings when he retired from stock trading. I inherited them from him,” Ted went on. “I do know that I want to help all of you, if you will allow me to.”
“What are you going to do with this building, Mr. Ted?” asked Hanky.
“Well, seeing that many of you on these blocks need a place to stay and Marlee’s building floors sit vacant—I know she needs help—why don’t we turn it into a shelter for all of you to manage under the supervision of one of y’all, and everyone can work together and help Marlee and Denise,” Ted excitedly offered.
“Are you sure? It’ll be a great upfront expense,” stated Barrett.
“I know exactly how we can generate an income so everyone can pay for themselves and maintain the upkeep of the two buildings,” John responded.
“How in the Sam Hill are we gonna manage that!” Hanky barked.
“He has no faith in anything. He’s a grumpy old fool! Ignore his ass!” joked John.
“Here is my card. You get with Officer Stan and y’all let me know what all you need and we will go from there. Here is the extra set of keys I’m entrusting y’all with, and also let Marlee know what’s going on and help tend to what she needs, if that’s all right with y’all,” Ted said, giving John the keys.
“You trust us with the keys to your building? asked Barrett.
“It’s not like you’re going to steal it and there are at least three people who have basically vouched for you—a cop, a Juicer owner, and a government caseworker. I don’t think I need any better references than that,” Ted Jacobs laughed. “I’ve gotta run. I’m late for a meeting. I also have three more empty buildings over the next few blocks, if you would like to set those up for people and get them off the streets.”
“Bless you Mr. Ted. How will we ever repay you?” Hanky asked, tearing up.
“Make sure everyone is taken care of, follow your friend’s plan and trust in him, and everything will repay itself,” Ted replied, shaking their hands and disappearing into the street filled with cars, utility vehicles, and angry New Yorkers.
Six months later:
Spring arrived and the warmth of the evening breeze carried the scents of Jasmine and Lilies throughout the city streets. Everywhere you looked, the mood of the temperamental travelers changed as they stopped to smell the flowers blooming in the window planters outside Marlee’s Juicer House, which had closed early for the evening to celebrate the after-wedding reception next door. The patio furniture was painted white, with turquoise centerpieces on the table and an archway of red roses decorated the doorway. Barrett strung some patio lights of twinkle stars earlier in the day.
The beauty inside the old dilapidated building from its transformation was remarkable with the first floor sporting a vegan store of microgreens, fruits and veggies, plus herbs to homemade soaps and body bars like you would buy in the country at their Spring Festivals. The rest of the floors were renovated and painted a more homey color with everyone pitching in with specific duties, making it a wonderful sleeping/communal living area. The rooftop connected to Marlee’s Juice House and both were turned into luscious gardens for the stores below. Never again would there be a shortage of fruits and veggies for their soups, nor would the coffee pot have time to empty before a fresh pot was made.
Out of the ruins, came the gardens. Out of animosity, came love and friendship. A piece of the country that four friends brought together from stubbornness and an agricultural knowledge that only three pigs and a Gypsy could have.
“Stan, you got yourself a handful with Miss Doris but she’s a keeper!” Ted remarked jumping up on the corner curb.
“Yes siree, I know that for sure,” Officer Stan replied, as he danced and kissed his beautiful new bride under the starry lights.
“By golly, I am truly amazed at what you’ve done with the place. Both of them. They definitely needed a facelift. I’m just envious too at the profit you’re turning out of it with the nature store! Kudos!” said Ted, shaking the hands of John, Barrett, and Hanky. “In a million years, I never would have guessed something like this would do so well. Awesome job guys,” he continued.
“Thank you, Mr. Ted. Everyone pitched in and we are all employed here making the products from scratch, and we’ve shown everyone how we learned to grow food in Vietnam. The other buildings you have up the block are of the same setup. They are doing well too. Those who live in Marlee’s building help her and Denise, so that’s a huge load off Miss Marlee and she is in better health,” said John proudly. “She and Vano will wed next month.”
“Awww, yes. The sly bugger is serenading her on the far patio with my mom’s favorite song from Gypsy Kings—Djobi Djoba. A beautiful love song,” Ted said, humming its words and grabbing the arms of a pretty blonde and spinning her around the crosswalk.
Laughter filled the corner blocks of New York’s busy streets where the restaurant chefs raced each morning to buy the fresh produce and herbs for their daily menus. The city life finally took a shine to them, including the tourists who came from all over to see the old veterans and the others who were homeless, featuring them in their videos like part of the family and gave them hugs every day. They were homeless veterans who were stripped of their families long ago, but the faith of a few brought them new ones.
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