May 24, 2013
Posted on Nov 11, 2009
The meeting continued and assignments were divvied up. It was agreed that providing their respective organizations signed on, the ad-hoc committee putting together the Harlem Patriot’s Rally would meet again in two weeks. The event was planned for the second Saturday in August. The heat and humidity would be a factor, but that also assured more people would be out on their stoops than cooped inside hot apartments. Sure there’d be some at the air-conditioned picture shows, but the build-up to the rally was bound to capture the imagination of thousands.
Yates caught up with Crimpshaw as he finished chatting with Lindsay. “What do you think Mr. Randolph and his board will say about this proposal?”
The union organizer flashed big teeth. “The Chief has a lot of sway, Miss Yates, but he’s a big believer in equality in his office as much as he thinks it ought to be practiced inside a Pullman car. Anyway, I can’t see a problem in us endorsing and helping build the rally.” He strode toward the door. “Can I buy you a cup of coffee? At least we don’t need to use our ration stamps for that.”
“Why not?” She smoothed her skirt and was glad she’d worn the only good pair of nylons. There was an inch run in the back of the left leg but the nail polish she’d applied blended in okay. She wasn’t on the make, but knew these type of men expected a professional colored woman to present herself correctly. Whites and blacks were so judgmental.
The two left the building housing the Double V Committee offices. They then crossed 135th as a streetcar glided past on greased rails. Sitting inside, Yates could see two men in sailor’s caps. She wondered which ship they were serving food on as stewards, having to do smiling and thanks yous all around—denied the chance to be real service men. A hot spike of depression.
Reaching the other side, Crimpshaw hailed a slightly built man walking by in a boxy checked coat and tan slacks.
“Hey, Chet,” Crimpshaw waved.
“Hey yourself you dusky Joe Hill.” The other man laughed and the two shook hands.
“Say, man, this good lookin’ gal is a writer too.” Crimpshaw briefly touched Yates on the upper arm. “Alma, you don’t mind if I call you that do you?”
“That’s fine, Mr. Crimpshaw.”
“Hell, I ain’t that used up, am I?”
Yates smiled. “I guess not, Virgil.”
The one he’d called Chet scratched a fingernail behind an ear.
“Anyway, This here is Chester Himes, a sho nuff book writer, Alma,” Crimpshaw said.
“Great pleasure to meet you,” Yates replied. “I can’t say I agree with everything you wrote in the Lonely Crusade, but that was a fine book.”
Himes let his eyes get wide. “Uh-oh, an educated woman, Virgil, you better be careful.”
Crimpshaw’s mustache twitched mischievously, and he said, “She’s a reporter for the Pittsburgh Courier. Alma’s being sent around the country to do articles about the colored war effort.”
“The only effort I’m expending is in lifting whisky sours,” Himes quipped.
Crimpshaw said, “Sure sorry to hear about what happened at Warner Brothers out there in California.”
“What happened?” Yates asked.
“Jack Warner don’t won’t no niggers writing his movies.” Himes said it off-handedly, but Yates could see the disappointment briefly cloud his face. “Well, I ain’t no fan of George Raft anyway.”
“Where you staying?” Crimpshaw asked.
“At the McFadden on St. Nick.” Himes patted a coat pocket as two big men in long topcoats and sweat mottled hats stalked along the street. One of them was on a par with Crimpshaw’s size, and his wide feet clad in brogans slapped the pavement with ferocity. His companion was even taller, and on top of his head rode a black slouch brim of undetermined age. He kept his head down and Yates caught a glimpse of scarring on one side of his brooding Masai features.
The stouter one touched the crown of his fedora as he neared the woman. The two traipsed on with purpose. Himes had dug out a Lucky Strike pack and shook a cigarette loose for his friend. The union man declined and Himes lit one without duplicating the gesture to Yates.
“Look like a couple of hog farmers in their Sunday-go-to-meetins,’” the book writer muttered. Himes watched the two ramblers stride down the street, Harlemites stepping around them as they passed.
“I’ll get you on the blower in a day or two and we’ll go over to Sylvia’s and swap lies about the old days, man.”
“Lies are all we have, Vigil.” Himes said, the cigarette tucked in the corner of his sardonic mouth. He also ambled away and the man and woman entered Byrd’s Grill and Domino Emporium.
The melodic shuffling of the domino tiles on wood rubbed shiny greeted their ears as they crossed the threshold. Set parallel to the twin picture windows on either side of the door overlooking the avenue were domino players engrossed in their games. Mostly they were older men, their backs stooped from decades of chopping cotton and hauling slabs of ice way before they journeyed north.
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