This is Part Two of a series. To read Part One, click here.
Adelaide stirred the cup of hot chocolate with a spoon as she stood in the kitchen of her friend Clay’s house in Fells Point. It was a cool afternoon and the skies were grey. She had been working day and night at the establishment and had a few moments to spare, so she stopped by Clay’s place on her walk home from work. Her mother would be in their own kitchen waiting for her to come home, a pot of hodgepodge vegetable stew on the table for sure. Times were different now. The economy was such that folks had to work in whatever capacity they could just to put food on the table. Some fathers were being shipped off to other states to work. As for Adelaide, she hadn’t seen her own father in months, although he sent money home whenever he could to her mother and her siblings.
Adelaide knew the affairs of the country, as she would sit beside her mother nightly listening to the reports of the news, as she watched her rock relentlessly in her rocking chair. Adelaide’s mother had aged over the last several months, and she looked tired and haggard by the state of the economy and the results of the war. Her grey hair had become wirey, and her cherub face had lost its plumpness.
“Good hot chocolate?” Clay had asked.
“Haven’t tasted it yet,” Adelaide said. “It’s too hot still.”
“Well, have a seat and relax,” Clay said. “You ain’t going anywhere.”
“Aren’t,” Adelaide said.
“Oh, right. I forgot you was teaching me how to talk right.”
“Were,” she said with a smile.
Adelaide brought the cup of hot chocolate to her lips and took a little sip. It was still hot, but not hot enough to burn her tongue. The wind howled outside, and although it wasn’t bitter cold, it was cold enough to send a chill right up your spine. There was a knock at the door.
“Are you expecting someone?” Adelaide asked Clay.
“Might be,” Clay said, as he walked to the door and opened it.
The shadowy figure in a brown, tweed suit walked through the door, removing his hat.
The man was medium height with a medium build, with brown hair parted to one side, though it blew a bit when he walked through the door. He used his fingers to move the hair from his face, and he greeted Clay with a pat on the arm.
“How are you holding up?” he asked him, not noticing Adelaide sitting at the table.
“Good. You?” Clay asked.
“Damn tired,” the man said, as he moved himself into the room. It was then that he caught a glimpse of Adelaide. She nodded at him. The man looked back at Clay for clarification.
“This is Adelaide. She lives up the street and works at the saloon up the street. Stopped by on her way home from work. I’m friends with her brother, George. Adelaide, this is Rudolph.”
The man looked at Adelaide and she back at him. “Good to meet you, Adelaide. I didn’t know I’d be in the presence of a lady.”
“Nice to meet you, Rudolph. May I offer you a cup of hot chocolate?” Adelaide asked.
Rudolph laughed. “Such politeness. I’m afraid that’s not typically the kind of drink I take,” he said. “Whiskey on the rocks is more up my alley.”
Clay opened the pine cupboard where he hoarded the liquor he’d accumulated for years. Adelaide knew he was a drinker, but she was surprised to see the number of bottles he kept behind those pine doors. Clay reached for a glass and poured his friend a bit of Whiskey. Rudolph placed his hat on the table and sat next to Adelaide.
“It’s kind of a miracle that you have a job in these times,” Rudolph said to Adelaide.
“I serve people food and drink and the money goes directly to my mother, who is managing the affairs of our house while my father works in a factory up north. We need the money.”
“We all need money, Baby Doll. It’s important. There just isn’t a lot of it,” Rudolph said.
Adelaide was struck by the familiarity with how Rudolph used the words “Baby Doll.” It rolled off his tongue with ease. She could tell immediately that he was comfortable in his own skin but could sense there was an edge to him.
“Rudolph’s been figuring out a way to make money, though, haven’t you, Rudolph, since you been out?” Clay said.
Adelaide turned to look at Rudolph and was puzzled. She was unsure what “out” meant, but she had a good mind and thought she knew, which made her wonder if he was okay with Clay speaking about him in this manner.
“Money matters,” Rudolph said, “and you gotta find a way to get some if you’re going to survive in this environment. It ain’t easy.”
Clay took a swig of his drink. “Well, I’m tired of livin’ this way, so count me in,” he said.
Rudolph looked at him and nodded. “Good.” Then he looked at Adelaide. “You want in, too?” he asked her as he looked her up and down and studied her eyes carefully, almost looking through them.
“Want in on what?” she asked, but she thought she already knew. Clay and she had never talked about Clay’s dealings, although people in this part of Baltimore had alluded to what he was involved in. Adelaide had decided it wasn’t her place to judge Clay. He had been her friend for years, and she wasn’t about to question his ethics. But seeing the stash of liquor in the cabinet certainly was evidence that what he was dealing in was not lawful.
“You seem like a smart girl,” Rudolph said. “You may want to think about how best you can help your family, and what we’re offering might be your best bet.”
Adelaide looked from Rudolph to Clay, and Clay nodded.
“What exactly do you want me to do? Smuggle liquor?”
The men looked at each other and smirked. Rudolph spoke: “Smuggle is such a harsh word, and one we don’t like to say aloud. We prefer to say transfer liquor. You know, just move it from one place to another.”
“You make it sound innocent,” Adelaide said.
“Well, our state makes it such. We’re rulebreakers here, so why not make a little dough where you can?”
Adelaide looked from one man to the other, and a spike of curiosity made her feel a bit daring. Every day she worked the same and job and brought home to her mother the same amount of lousy pay. Every day she watched her mother become more and more distant, sad, and concerned. Every day she wondered if this was as good as it is ever going to get. And every day she wondered how much money it would take to bring her father home.
She plopped down in the chair, a smirk running across her face, and smiles.
“Fill me in,” she said.