62. The Job

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A short time later, Henry left the ballpark and headed down Grandview Boulevard. The promenade was littered with betting slips, beer bottles, and other trash. A homeless white man in tattered clothes was making his rounds to the few remaining pedestrians, thrusting out a hat for spare pennies.

"Mr. Louis!" The voice came from a child.

Henry whirled around.

A young colored kid, pushing ten years old, ran up to him. "Mr. Louis! This is for you." He held out a piece of paper.

Henry took it. A letter? "Who's this from?"

The boy shrugged. "I don't read 'em. I just deliver."

Henry read the letter:

Dear Mr. Louis,

Per the terms of your contract with Union Steel, in addition to your athletic responsibilities as an employee of the Union Steel Pioneers, you are required to perform a civic duty to maintain your eligibility of employment.

Pursuant to this requirement of employment, I hereby appoint you as a special courier to deliver the mail to the residents of the black bunkhouses on the south end of the Union Steel property. This service will be performed every Monday through Friday until further notice.

Failure to perform this civic duty will result in your termination.

Sincerely,

Mr. Robert Haskins

Personnel Management Supervisor

Henry vaguely remembered Mr. Bell talking about additional duties the day he signed his contract with the Pioneers. Everyone in Hester knew Union Steel owned the bunkhouses, allowing the mill workers to rent them at a discounted rate. He gave the boy a curious look. "So how do I find out what I need to do?"

The boy leaned to his left and pointed to a spot behind Henry.

Henry pivoted and followed the kid's gaze. Dale was marching over, a crescent-moon of a grin on his face, waving a letter in his hand.

Henry gave Dale a look. "You're a mailman too?"

"Special courier," Dale said in a privileged voice.

Henry was about to thank the boy, but he had already left. He was running up to one of the substitute players with another letter in his hand.

"That definitely wasn't the game I was expecting," Dale said.

"Yeah, thanks for the help!" Henry snapped.

Dale's eyes widened. "Whoa! What'd I do to get your dander up?"

"It would have been nice if you'd backed me up. But you didn't. And neither did Coach."

Dale ran a hand through his damp hair and shook his head. "It's not like that. I think we're all trying to figure out this situation. It's not like there's a rule book for having a colored player on an all-white ball club." Dale firmed up his gaze. "I'm telling you, I'm on your side. And I believe Coach is too.'

Henry shook his head. "I guess I'm starting to think I made a big mistake joining the Pioneers."

"Give it some more time," Dale said. "Besides, I need your help to deliver the mail to the black bunkhouses."

Henry felt his ears perk up. "Wait, you've done this before?"

"Yeah," Dale said. "I've been delivering the mail to the bunkhouses since practices started. I used to take care of the white side, and a colored guy took care of the black side. His name's Ray, but I call him Teddy Bear because he looks like a big bear, always with a smile and a big story to tell."

Henry found himself thinking of Big Willy. A teddy bear in his own right.

Dale continued. "Ray worked inside the mill on the blast furnace. One night, he got jumped after work by those Vigilantes."

The Vigilantes of the White.

Henry remembered the night they terrorized the black homeless folk in the black business district. Since that night, the Vigilantes' crimes against colored citizens, especially business owners, had been on the rise. Thefts. Vandalism. In some cases, even physical assaults. Their crime scenes always marked by a white "V" painted on the side of a building, window, or other surface. And somehow, the Vigilantes had managed to stay one step ahead of Hester's law enforcement. Both the black and white police forces.

Dale sighed. "They must have done a number on his back, because he walks with a hunch now. He's in a lot of pain. And his boss, some mean son-of-a-bitch named Clayton, said he'd fire him if the mail doesn't get delivered. So I told Ray I'd take care of it for him."

Henry felt surprise shudder across his shoulders. "So that's why you've been doing this on your own? You're covering for Ray so he doesn't lose his job." Henry had never met a white with this much kindness towards coloreds. But he was still confused. "So why me then?"

Dale nodded. "Let's just say the black workers don't like a white man on their turf. So I talked to Mr. Bell about having you take care of the mail for the black bunkhouses. And I made sure Ray won't get fired."

Henry let Dale's words sink in. He understood why black workers might be upset about a white man delivering their mail. Black workers would never be allowed to enter the white bunkhouse property, but of course the opposite was fine. There wouldn't be anything the blacks could really do to keep a white man off their property. They were given a space to keep them separate from the whites, but they couldn't even claim that space as their own. Even if Dale had been perfectly friendly and respectful, his very presence would have put the colored workers on edge. The world had placed Dale above them. Even if Dale hadn't asked to be given a higher standing than a black man, there wasn't any way to get around the fact this status had been given to him by default.

"Let's do it," Henry said, smiling. It felt good, being asked for his help. Despite a horrible day, Henry found comfort in being needed.

"Great!" Dale said. "You know where the big bunkhouse sign is on the main road by the mill?"

Henry nodded.

"Meet me there at five. I'll pick up the mailbags at the mill post office."

Dale clapped Henry on the shoulder, and Henry glanced at that spot with an ember of pride. After all, a white person has just patted him on the shoulder.

And with that, Dale sauntered away, sending Henry a little flicker of a wave as he walked off.


Author's Note

I really enjoyed writing this chapter.

The theme: It's nice to feel wanted. Isn't that the truth? At some level, each of us regardless of gender or identification wants and deserves a sense of dignity. To be respected. To feel like like he or she is part of a greater community.

For anyone to deny those basic human needs to anyone else is a travesty. That's a big reason why I'm writing "Color." And no, not to send a heavy-handed message. But rather, to share a story of why ALL LIVES, ALL COLORS, MATTER.

From a writing perspective, this scene is a welcome break from the action, so we can all take a breath. But not a very long breath, mind you. Things will ramp back up pretty soon leading to a pretty cool outcome for Henry. 

And of course, the countdown to Chapter 75 continues!

Only twelve more chapters, and then Chapter 75 will feature Sarah facing off with Edward Benedict in her greatest challenge to date.

Talk to you soon.

Best Regards,

Tom

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