Five years in a row Rudy had been voted the best Red Cap on the line from Grand Central Station in New York City right through to the LaSalle Street Station in Chicago. His behavior like his uniform was always spotless. His smile was always quick and pleasant. And his ability to solve baggage problems became mythical tales told in station break rooms from coast to coast. He remembered all the regulars by name and treated the many travelers just passing through like old friends.
Many times early in his career, the company had offered Rudy the opportunity to leave the baggage to others and step into a management role. Rudy refused. More than one train executive had tried to steal him for their own station. Rudy would not budge. This station was his home and for the brief moments travelers came thorough his house, they were his family.
Rudy plied his trade for 52 years. He never called in sick nor was he ever late. He worked whatever shift needed working without complaint or excuse. He was the perfect employee. That is as much as anyone ever knew about him. His time away from his job was a mystery. He never talked about family, home, or what trouble his kids might have gotten into. Everyone assumed he was married with children. Rudy refused to confirm or deny any conjecture he was faced with.
It was four or five years after Rudy had retired and the old LaSalle Street Station was empty and waiting to be torn down that a son of one of the railroad executives decided that he would become a writer. His first work would be a history of the railroad he remembered as a youngster. He would look up old employees, try to find famous travelers, and seek information from company archives so that he could write the grandest train tale of all time.
The young man’s father, now retired and living far away in warmer climates, told him he should stop this writing nonsense and pursue a life with more predictable rewards. But if he was going to insist on this writing stupidity, he needed to find Rudy. Rudy would have more stories than one book could hold, and suddenly the old man became silent.
“Dad, what’s up? You okay? Dad?”
“Uh, nothing son. I was just remembering Rudy. He saved my job you know. If not for him and finding that briefcase when I was a wet behind the ears young executive, I wouldn’t be here in Florida relaxing comfortably now and you would have had to attend a state college. Yep, Rudy was special. Find Rudy.
He’s the only person you need to talk to if you want a great story.”
It took some time and some digging through old employee records, but the young man finally had a last known address for Rudy. When he visited the address on the south side, it was nothing but an abandoned shell waiting for demolition. Just another tenement among many blocks of tenements slated for urban renewal. The only sign of life was a trashed bodega a block down.
The old black woman behind the counter remembered Rudy. She filled in a few blanks, but as to where Rudy was now, she had no clue. She did mention that just before he had simply disappeared, he had begun to act oddly. The young man asked her how.
“He stopped smiling”, was all she said.
The young man would not give up. He checked the obituaries. No luck. He looked up ex-coworkers. They had nothing for him. It was not until he found a sympathetic bureaucrat with the Social Security Administration who, against the rules, gave him two important pieces of information. One that Rudy was still alive because he as still receiving a monthly check. Second, was the address that check was going to. The young man headed there the next day.
Pulling up to the St. Francis Home off Wabash, the young man was struck by how similar in appearance it was to the tenement that had been Rudy’s last known address. It was not unexpected, but he had hoped Rudy had found better. He walked in and the stench of old age almost knocked him down. He collected himself and addressed the elderly woman behind the front desk.
“Excuse me. Is there a Rudy Renfro living here?”
The elderly woman was busy with her pencil on a form of some kind. Without looking up she pointed to his right, “In the Day Room most likely.”
“How will I know him? I have never met the man.”
The elderly woman looked up from her paperwork. Her hair, which must have started the day a neat orderly arrangement ending in a tidy tightly wound bun had come apart and she had to shift some escaped strands from in front of her eyes. She looked perturbed. “You a relative?”
“Uh, no ma’am I’m not.”
“Well young man, we have rules here.” She looked as if her hard professional armor was being raised and then, “Oh go ahead, it’s not like anyone visits him anyway.” She continued to point to his right. “Just look for the old black man wearing a red cap.”
“Thank You.” The young man walked down the hall towards the Day Room.
Entering the Day Room, the young man was immediately faced with a tall elderly black man wearing a well worn red cap like he remembered as a child traveling the lines with his father. The black man smiled.
“Sir may I take that bag for you.”
The young man looked down at his brief case. “Uh, no that’s alright, I’ve got it.”
The old black man’s eyes lost their sparkle and his shoulders slumped. The young man changed his mind, “ Oh sure, please take the bag. I am here to see you I think. Are you Rudy?”
The old man smiled. It was a broad smile revealing the yellowed and cracked teeth that come with age. He straightened as best he could and grabbed his hat brim between his fore finger and thumb. He lifted the brim a tad. “Yes sir I am Rudy. The best Red Cap on the line. Where are you headed, West or back East?”
For the Indie Ink Writing Challenge this week, Chaos Mandy challenged me with "Rediscovering old loves " and I challenged Kelly Garriott Waite with "setting- outdoors, a conversation ending acrimoniously" .__________________________________________
For week 12/26/11 to 12/30/11