Chapter One: Englishmen in New York
In a tall building called "the Dakota," a few people were rainbound. A tall, thin man with long (for the time), chestnut hair peeked out of one of the top floor windows and reflected. He was bored at being "holed up" in his apartment. His wife and baby son were out shopping, leaving him with nothing to do. I should be with them, he was thinking. I shouldn't have let them go out on their own. But his wife knew how to take care of herself and their son, so he dismissed the worry from his mind. He started thinking of a line: "an Englishman in New York" and for some reason, found it amusing, although he was an Englishman in New York.
A buzzing sound on the intercom system interrupted his tranquil silence.
"Mr. Lennon?" said the lobby clerk. "Are you still there?"
He got up from his chair by the window and answered.
"Yeah, I'm here. What is it?"
"There's someone here for you."
"C'mon, man, I haven't got all day. Who is it?"
"It looks like Paul McCartney, but he won't talk to me."
"Looks like? God, can't you tell?"
"I'm sorry." The clerk's voice was repentant. "But he's so pale--and--"
"All right. Send him up." He heard the clerk say something, and then he said, "Wait!"
"Is there anyone with him?"
"Is he carrying anything?" He figured, if Paul McCartney was really downstairs, he'd possibly be carrying a guitar.
"No, Mr. Lennon. He is not with anyone and he isn't carrying anything. All he's doing is wringing his hands."
Wringing his hands? He felt sick. Was something wrong with Paul?
"Send him up--just send him up!" He clicked off quickly in worry and picked up a few things lying around. Not that Paul would care--his friend wasn't like that. But he just felt that he had to.
There was a soft rap at the door. John Lennon crossed the room to it and opened it. One of the "helpers" was with--Paul McCartney? This wasn't Paul--it couldn't be. John had his glasses on, but pulled them down and squinted into his friend's face.
"What're you doing here, kid?" John addressed the helper.
"Mr. McCartney didn't seem too well when the clerk told him to go up," the helper answered. "So I helped him up."
John nodded and the kid hurried away. Paul just stood there, saying nothing. This wasn't like him at all.
John's voice sounded small, concerned, and worried as it bounced through the apartment.
Paul did not answer.
John studied him. Was he okay? He didn't look right. Paul's face was very, very white and he looked like he was barely breathing. He looked limp. And his eyes--John could hardly bear to look at them--his eyes were glazed, as if he were on a really weird drug and they slowly rolled around in his head.
He looked like he was dying.
No he can't! John thought. He's not dying! He can't!
"Paul?" John asked again.
This time there was a response. Paul lurched forward. If John hadn't been standing there, he would have fallen on his face. But John put out his arms and caught him, touching Paul's hand as he did so. He almost dropped Paul in shock. Paul's hand was very cold and it scared him. The coldness brought back every mystery book he'd ever read: 'and the corpse's hand was waxy and cold...'
He shook his head quickly to banish the thought and dragged the limp body over to a couch and laid him down. Paul's eyes were closed, which relieved John. He was probably sleeping or fainting or something. As long as it was something alive!
John paced the floor. Where had Paul come from? He was alone, too--and he'd been wringing his hands in the lobby. Something was very wrong. But what? He didn't know. So to calm himself down and to help Paul, he brought food and drink to the white figure and plenty of blankets to keep him warm. For some reason, it soothed him. He sat with Paul and studied his partner's face again. (And, like it or not, Paul and John will always be partners, not ex-partners, because such a thing doesn't exist for two best friends.) Paul's colour seemed to be coming back. John took Paul's hand. It wasn't cold anymore, he reflected. And as John observed him, it seemed that they had both grown young again--like in their days as Beatles instead of them solo in the seventies.
Paul started mumbling something, which startled John out of his reverie.
"Where am I? Where am I?"
"Paul? It's me. You're in New York. You okay?"
Paul's eyes opened, not glazed or sickly rolling around, as John was relieved to find. They looked at him, searching.
"John?" came the weak voice.
"How'd I get here?"
"I dunno. You tell me."
Paul sat up and leaned his head on his hands, which John let go of.
"I don't know--I--wait! I was at home, talking to Linda. And then I felt sick and I held my stomach. And she kept saying, "Paul? Paul?"
John looked puzzled.
John was gone. Paul was left sitting dizzily on a couch in a home that wasn't his. His vision blurred even more until he could only see things that looked like a four-year-old's finger painting with water spilled on it. A dull roar rang in his ears as someone pushed him down-down--down into something soft and warm. His eyes closed and he fought for consciousness as he wondered, Why am I in New York? Who's Linda?
"What kind of doctor are you?" John's voice rang out angrily. "Just standin' and preachin' to us that he doesn't look good! I can fucking see that!" He was sitting by Paul's bedside, upset and worried.
"John." A soft voice with an even softer accent than John's Liverpudlian accent chided him.
"Brian, get another doctor," was all John said in reply. He did not take his eyes off of Paul's colourless face.
"If that is how you feel, Mr. Lennon," the doctor said shortly.
"Oh, don't mind John, Mr. Doctor," said another person in the room.
"Shur'rup, George," John snapped.
George Harrison only smiled. There was only one other person in the room to complete the group: Richard Starkey, better known as Ringo Starr, but he was silently reading a newspaper.
"Find anything int'resting?" John said dryly.
Ringo met John's glare meekly and answered softly,
"Just the usual--you know, fainting girls and the like. He's in the paper," he added, indicating the unconscious Paul.
"So?" George's voice floated in Paul's mind as he started to wake up, like being in a deep sleep and then becoming slowly aware of your surroundings while still sleeping.
"I didn't think anyone knew." Ringo said this a little pointedly as he returned to the paper.
The others turned to face Brian Epstein, their manager. They hadn't told--but what about Brian?
Brian looked back at them with a feeble smile.
"The press demanded a reason as to why the Irish tour was canceled," he explained. "So I simply told them--"
"That Paul's deathly ill?" John sounded like he was ready to lambast the daylights out of Brian. The press--was it any of their business if any of them were sick?
"No," Brian answered curtly. "I told them that Paul had stomach flu and as soon as he gets better, we'd be back on tour."
"'We,'" sneered John. "We're on tour, not you. We're the ones bustin' our arses and--"
"John!" George said warningly. John subsided into silence.
"At least you didn't tell the press that Paul's--" Ringo bit off the rest of the sentence. He was speaking for John's ears, but he couldn't say "dying" even though it was an exaggeration. John was already in pieces over Paul's illness and it would be better not to say anything.
But he had said enough. John glared at him--Ringo would have been dead if glares could kill--but refrained from speaking.
The voices swam in Paul's hearing. He could only slightly perceive what was going on, but instead of being worried, he only felt puzzled and tired--oh, so tired!
The doctor seemed to have gotten over his huff and was now administering medicine to Paul. John said nothing because he had already pissed the doctor off and one more sentence could make him leave.
He was also the best doctor they could get.
Paul felt liquid going down his throat and a conscious part of him thought, It's probably medicine. Better help and swallow it.
So he did.
"He'll be okay, John," Ringo was trying to comfort John.
"He hasn't moved at all in three days," John muttered.
"That doesn't mean anything," the doctor was about to say, but John wasn't paying attention.
He was staring at Paul.
"What is it?" George whispered.
"I think--I think--" John stuttered.
Paul started coughing and made a weak attempt at covering his mouth.
"Oh, thank God," John murmured, leaning his head against the bed. He felt a soft weight drop on it.
He looked up through tired hazel eyes and found Paul's hand on his head. It was comforting and a little rewarding after his three days' vigil at Paul's bed.
"You okay, Paul?" John's voice was very soft and tender.
Paul awakened fully and was greeted with an awful pain in his head and stomach that unconsciousness had barely spared him. He opened his eyes slowly and focused on John. "Yeah, I think so."
John's face relaxed just barely.
"Well, don't ya worry, Paulie. We'll take good care of you."
Paul smiled and closed his eyes.
Copyright 2000 and beyond: Lissa Michelle Supler/Strawberry Sunshine
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