Monday, March 25, 1918
It was the fifth day of Henry's new job. As he ambled down the street, he was thankful to be heading away from Union Steel. In the pre-dawn light, the Black District was just starting to wake up to a crisp chill in the air. Henry passed busy vendors, their breaths made visible by the cold, as they set up their tables and carts along the sidewalk, stocking them with goods for the morning rush of shoppers.
A week ago, Henry had been turned down by every other business owner in the Black District except one. He was ready to give up and head to the mill when he decided to try his luck at one last place.
Henry had walked into the black diner and asked to speak to the owner.
Rudy was a heavy-set man in his mid-fifties, skin the color of a chestnut. He had barked a series of questions at Henry.
Had Henry ever worked in a restaurant?
Did he know how to cook?
Had he ever used a cash register?
Was he willing to learn?
Henry had been honest about his lack of experience but emphasized he was a quick study.
"Really, I need the work now that the Rooks have folded."
Rudy crossed his plump arms, eyebrows raised. "Wait! You the one who got knocked out cold by that Pioneers' pitcher, aren't you?"
Henry nodded. "Yes, sir," he said, dropping his gaze to the marble white pattern of the floor.
Rudy leaned back against the counter and studied Henry for a moment, his lips pursed as he tapped his index finger against his opposite bicep.
"Alright," Rudy said finally. "I'll take you on, but only on a trial basis."
A smile split Henry's face. "Thank you!" Henry said. "I'm telling you, I'll be the hardest worker you've ever seen!"
Rudy grunted and began to walk away.
Now, as Henry strolled along Jackson Avenue, making his way towards the diner for the early shift, Henry wasn't feeling that same sense of happiness the day he was hired. Maybe he had gotten work, but it still wasn't baseball. A part of him had already concluded that he would never play the game again. Then again, another part deep inside was beginning to wonder if there was still a chance.
As these thoughts tumbled about in his head, Henry felt himself drifting between relief and regret, unsure of which of the two emotions was truly justified.
Henry entered the diner through the back door, as he had been instructed by Rudy, and stepped into the humid chaos of the kitchen. Rudy and two of the line cooks stood at the sizzling grill, flipping large quantities of bacon, eggs, and home-fries. Henry immediately felt about fifteen degrees warmer, as the smoke and humidity of the busy kitchen assaulted him. Rudy and the line cooks were shouting out order numbers and smacking a tiny bell, as they placed plates heaped with eggs and potatoes up on the small window for the waitresses to grab. A busboy hurried past with a bucket of dirty dishes and began to dump them into the industrial-sized sink. The pots and pans that were already soaking let loose a series of clangs and bangs as the soiled plates and silver were dumped on top of them.
"Morning, Rudy," Henry said, making his way across the small kitchen. "What should I work on first?"
"Hey, Henry," Rudy said, grunting as he turned away from the grill. "Good, you're here early. There's someone waiting to see you out at table six."
"What?" Henry said. "Who is it?"
Rudy set down his spatula and nodded at one of the line cooks, who took over stirring the scrambled eggs on the hot grill. Rudy wiped his greasy hands on his apron, and then studied Henry through narrowed eyes.
"Don't know," Rudy said, arching his eyebrows. "Some white guy. You in some kind of trouble?"
"No!" Henry said quickly.
Rudy crossed his arms. "I sure hope I didn't hire a troublemaker."
"You didn't!" Henry insisted. "I promise. Let me just go see what he wants. I'll be right back."
Henry hurried out of the kitchen and into the dining area. He heard Rudy grumbling to the line cooks, as the door swung shut behind him.
In the corner booth of the diner sat a white man in a sharp navy suit with slicked-back salt-and-brown hair, his back to the rest of the patrons. He was the only white man in the restaurant and Henry could see the other customers watching him warily. The presence of a white face seemed to add a degree of tension even though the man wasn't bothering anyone. He wasn't even paying attention to the other patrons. He was only sipping a cup of coffee and flipping through a newspaper laid out on the table in front of him.
Whatever the man wanted, Henry didn't care. He just wanted to get rid of him. A white man looking for a colored man in a black establishment couldn't be good.
Henry marched up to the table, cold determination flooding his veins. The man lowered his paper and looked up. Henry's heart skipped a beat as he stopped in his tracks.
It couldn't be him. But it was.
What did he want with Henry?
The General Manager of Union Steel.
This chapter and the next are the biggest ones to date. At the end of the next chapter, the stage will be set for Henry to move forward or flounder.
Which path will he take?
Which path would you take? It's a tough decision.
See ya in the next chapter! :)
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Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
WATTYS SHORTLISTED! During World War I, a black baseball player gets a second chance to play ball on an all-white steel mill baseball team, an action that shocks and divides an entire town. Targeted by opponents, his own team, and mysterious vigilan...