FROM THE CHEYENNE SERIES
New York City’s fast, exhilarating pace puzzled Cheyenne.
“What are all these people doing?” she asked God.
“Many are on their way to work, school, or just going about daily life,” God replied, smiling.
“It takes a while to get accustomed to all the people, noise, and activity of a large city, but it is truly a wonderful place.”
God and Cheyenne sat on a bench at the entrance to Central Park on 59th Street. They watched children playing, business people, men, and women walking their dogs; skateboarders, joggers, bicyclists, and people of all ages and sizes enjoying the lovely day in Central Park.
Suddenly, Cheyenne noticed an unusual-looking man briskly walking down the street wearing worn-out old clothes, but looking clean and groomed.
“Here comes Joe!” God told Cheyenne.
“How are you doing, Joe?” asked Gene, the hotdog vendor.
“Other than arthritis, pretty darn good,” Joe responded with a smile.
“Hungry?” Gene asked.
“No, but thanks for the offer,” said Joe as he continued walking.
“Joe is a very interesting man,” God told Cheyenne.
“Let me tell you a little bit about him. He is 85 years old but doesn’t look it. He grew up in New York City’s Lower East Side, the only child of Irish immigrant parents.
“In 1942, he joined the Army and went to Europe. While stationed in France, Joe met a beautiful woman, fell deeply in love, and got married.
“Due to the German occupation of Paris, Joe moved his wife to a small apartment in London where he thought she would be safe. Joe joined her when he was on leave.
“They were married just five months when one-morning air raid sirens blasted all over London.
“Within seconds, a bomb hit, devastating their apartment. Joe sustained a puncture wound to his side, but his wife’s injuries were fatal. She was still alive when Joe crawled over to her. She died in his arms. Joe never forgot her and blamed himself for taking her to London.
“Since that time Joe has never been able to sleep in a confined space, which is why he became a hobo after the war.
“Everyone in New York knows and loves Joe because of his affable personality and kind nature. But no one knows his secret. He is a very good man, Cheyenne. Your job is to stay with him tonight and tomorrow. Do what he asks,” said God who disappeared into Central Park.
Cheyenne took off after Joe and caught up with him on Fifth Avenue and 54th Street.
“Hi there, Pooch,” Joe said when he realized Cheyenne was walking with him.
Cheyenne happily accompanied Joe on all his rounds. Joe talked and joked with fellow New Yorkers as they walked all the way downtown.
When they arrived at a loft building in Lower Manhattan, Joe turned to Cheyenne and said, “Okay, Pooch! Now that you followed me all the way down here, you might as well come in.”
Inside, paintings lined both sides of the rooms on the first floor. The second and third floor had just as many paintings. The building was neat and tidy, kept in excellent condition. No furniture could be seen, except stools placed in front of large easels. At the back of the second floor was a cot situated in the corner next to a small bathroom.
Joe told Cheyenne that he bought the building many years ago but rarely stays there. He preferred to sleep in the park or railroad stations.
“Nobody knows about this, and I know you are not going to tell anyone, but I can paint a little,” said Joe modestly.
“It is funny. I never met the people at the Webb Gallery on Fifth Avenue, but I sell them my paintings. I deal with them over the phone and through the mail. They probably would never even let me in the door if they saw me.”
Joe laughed heartily, telling Cheyenne that he didn’t care about money.
“I use the money from the paintings to pay for something extraordinary.
I only keep a small allowance for myself to buy food and supplies,” he said as they prepared to leave.
“See that portrait on the wall there?” Joe said, pointing to a painting of a lovely brown-haired woman.
“That is my wife. Isn’t she the most beautiful creature you ever saw?” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.
Cheyenne barked and followed Joe out of the building.
The two new friends walked happily down the street. Cheyenne playfully jumped up on Joe and tugged his sleeve. It made Joe howl with laughter.
“I see you are a lot of fun,” Joe told Cheyenne as she barked and ran circles around him.
After about 15 minutes of playing and joking, Joe stopped in front of a large, impressive brownstone. He walked up, dropped an envelope in the mail slot, then hurried down the steps.
Cheyenne saw the sign on the building which read, “Adele’s Place, A Safe Haven for Women.”
Cheyenne wondered what they were doing there, but figured Joe would say something if he wanted her to know.
Instead, he said, “Tonight is a special night. Do you know that tomorrow they are going to start major work on the railroad tunnels under the Hudson River? I want to spend one more night there before everything changes. Want to come with me, Pooch?”
Cheyenne barked in agreement, and the duo headed north toward Penn Station.
“Dogs are not allowed in the station, but I bet you could find your way in without anyone seeing you,” Joe told Cheyenne.
Cheyenne already had a plan. She would go in walking right next to Joe. She would stay very close to him and hide under his big coat if someone saw her.
They made it all the way down to the lowest level where Joe had a hard time getting down on the worker’s platform adjacent to the track
“My arthritis is terrible today. I can hardly bend my knees,” Joe said, the pain evident on his face.
Cheyenne jumped down and waited for Joe, who slowly got down on the flat surface.
“Whew, that was tough,” he said sadly. “I used to do that in seconds. Now, I can barely do it at all. Thank God we don’t have to worry about trains, Pooch because the railroad took the track out of service two weeks ago.”
Joe and Cheyenne made their way down the long, dark corridor until a hint of light peeked through from high above.
“This is right before the river where the tunnels narrow,” Joe said.
“Up ahead along the side there is a space where we will camp for the night.”
Reaching their destination took a little longer than anticipated. Cheyenne saw Joe grimace in pain. She knew his body hurt and muscles were cramping with pain that infected every joint.
“What the heck is happening?” he blurted out to Cheyenne as he sat down in an area of the tunnel with ample room for them to build a small fire with a can of Sterno for warmth and cooking.
From his bag, Joe took a small pot, two bottles of water, and a tea bag.
“You know, Pooch! My wonderful Irish mother always said that when your bones ache, have a spot of tea.”
Joe poured Cheyenne some water in a little dish while boiling the water for tea over the Sterno.
Joe unraveled his bedroll and sat back down on the ground, drinking the hot tea.
When he finished, Joe cooked some beans in the small pot. He served them to Cheyenne but left his portion untouched.
Suddenly Joe’s body jerked forward. “Oh, my! What is wrong?” Joe cried, lurching in pain.
When the pain lessened, Joe lay back on his bedroll. Cheyenne knew something was terribly wrong. She remembered what God said about staying with him tonight and then doing what he asked.
Cheyenne curled up by Joe’s side. “You are such a good girl. Thanks for staying here with me,” he said, patting her head.
Joe drifted in and out of consciousness all night; Cheyenne lay right next to him, providing much-needed warmth in the drafty tunnel.
During a lucid moment, Joe told Cheyenne his secret. After the war, he came home filled with guilt and sorrow over the loss of his wife. He did not provide her haven from the German bombs that caused her to die at a very young age.
Joe told Cheyenne that he had no other family. The only thing he had was a vivid imagination that gave him the ability to paint beautiful scenes and portraits.
Right after he came home, he began painting at a feverish rate by day. At night, he slept in open spaces when the weather was good and large railroad stations in the cold and rain.
In those early days, Joe found out about the Webb Gallery by walking past their window on Fifth Avenue. He decided to send them one of his paintings, which they bought without question. After that, Webb sold Joe’s artwork exclusively for over 50 years. They ranged in price from $30,000 to over a million.
With the money, he bought the loft building and the large brownstone in his wife’s memory. He set up an anonymous foundation that for over 50 years gave women of all ages a safe place to go.
“I could not give Adele safety, but in her name, she has given many women a safe place to go, filled with compassion, warmth, and love when it is needed,” he told Cheyenne.
“Well, Pooch, I think it is my time to leave this world. I am going to see my beautiful Adele. I hope she doesn’t think I look too horrible,” said Joe.
Cheyenne stayed very close to Joe, whose voice lowered to a whisper.
“Pooch, inside my jacket is a letter and key which explains everything. Please make sure that the person who finds me is honest. I need the work to continue. There is enough money for Adele’s Place to operate forever, so it is critical that the person who finds me does the right thing.”
Cheyenne now understood what God meant. As Joe drew his last breath, a radiant smile crossed his face. The entire tunnel illuminated as the beautiful Adele appeared. She walked toward her dying husband with outstretched arms calling, “Mon Amour.”
Joe rose from his body and ran to her embrace. He was no longer the ragged hobo, but the handsome, young soldier finally reunited with the woman he loved.
Joe turned around to Cheyenne with a huge smile. “Bye, Pooch,” he said. “I am going home,” and he and Adele walked with their arms around each other.
God stood smiling, watching the joyful reunion. He looked over, caught Cheyenne’s eye, and gave her a thumbs-up.
Cheyenne knew Joe was happy, but her job was still unfinished. She started to bark. She continued barking for hours until an Amtrak track foreman named Mike O’Mahoney arrived to inspect the tunnel before work started.
“Oh no! Poor old Joe, dying down here all alone,” Mike said when he saw Joe‘s body. “He was a great guy.”
Mike knew Joe well; he told Cheyenne. For years, he enjoyed conversations with Joe about everything from city politics to the New York Yankees.
Cheyenne barked again. She tugged at Joe’s shirt, which Mike noticed. He reached down and found the envelope and key.
As he read Joe’s words, tears flowed down his face. It was no coincidence that he found Joe. He knew all about Adele’s Place, he explained to Cheyenne. When Mike was 10, he and his mother lived there for three years after his dad was killed. He never forgot the kind people who gave them food, shelter and helped them get on their feet in the worst of times.
For over 30 years, Mike continued going back to Adele’s place at least once a month to volunteer his services. He fixed things, built cabinets, trimmed the shrubs and small lawn, painted, and did anything that was needed. There was a special place in his heart for Adele’s Place, where people had put back together his shattered life.
Mike took Joe’s hand, shook it, and said with ultimate sincerity, “Thank you.”
He felt extremely proud and honored to carry out the wishes of this wonderful man who unselfishly did so much good. With steely determination, he vowed to tell the world of Joe’s remarkable achievement which would make his paintings even more valuable and ensure the continuation of Adele’s Place for centuries.
Cheyenne stayed until Mike, and the police removed Joe’s body.
With the tunnel now dark, Cheyenne looked over to see God smiling once again.
“You did an outstanding job, Cheyenne. The right person found Joe and will tell the world,” said God.
“Joe used his brilliant gift to help fellow human beings. He created one masterpiece after another and will in time join the ranks of the world’s masters. He never wanted recognition, but I knew.”