A shorter version of this story was originally published on my site, www.storiesworthsharing.net
Yarnell Saloon by Dennis Larson courtesy of Flickr
Doli Levi got off the stagecoach and looked around, curious. The dusty, treeless street bore no resemblance to what he’d seen of the East Coast, and even less to his home in Europe. The bustling, ramshackle town—possessing fewer decades than his right hand had digits—was raw, so unlike his centuries-old European village. But as he mopped his sweating brow, he grinned despite the sweltering heat. It might be far from everything he knew, but here, the air smelled rich, ripe with opportunity.
Doli turned around and looked at the short, paunchy man calling his name. That must be Lev, his future partner.
” Yuh. That’s me.”
The man’s calculating eyes ran up and down Doli, making him shift uneasily. Doli suddenly felt himself on guard. “Lev?” he asked.
“It’s Leo here. We’re in America now. Well, come along, come along. Don’ have all day.”
Doli picked up his bag and hurried after Leo.
“Ya’ll be stayin’ with us in our apartment above the saloon. There’s an extra bedroom for ya.”
“Thank you, Mr. Leo.”
“Leo, just Leo. We’re in America now.” He shot Doli a sideways glance. “Have the recipes on ya?”
Doli nodded. “In my head.”
Did Leo’s step falter for a second? Nah, he must be mistaken.
“Excellent, excellent,” Leo boomed. “Y’father taught ya, huh?”
“Yes, I helped him brew the drinks for his kretchma.”
“Here it’s a saloon. Ya’ll see. The language may be different, but even in America the goyim like their drinks.”
They paused at a building on Larimer Street, with a big sign with red letters stating: Holy Moses. Doli looked at the sign quizzically. “What is this, a synagogue?”
Leo laughed. “Y’really are a greener, ain’t ya? It’s my saloon.”
They walked in through the swinging doors. “Max,” Leo called to the man behind the long counter, “this here’s the new man, Adolph.”
“Doli,” he corrected.
“Here in America you can’t be no Dolly. And in this man’s town y’need a man’s name. Better stick with Adolph.”
But it wasn’t just a man’s town, for upstairs in Leo’s apartments were two girls, more like young women. “My daughters: Ruth, Sarah.” Leo bobbed his head from one girl to the other.
Doli nodded shyly, then placed his bag in the room—which seemed more like a large closet—that Leo pointed to.
“In his head,” he thought he heard Leo mutter.
When he rejoined them, Leo was drumming his fingers on his leg. “Ruth,” Leo yelled, “show Adolph the town, what there is of it. Tomorrow he can start work.”
Ruth made a face, but seemed to relinquish the vegetables she’d been peeling eagerly enough.
“C’mon,” she called over her shoulder as she headed down the stairs without checking to see whether or not he was indeed behind her. Doli hesitated for a moment, then grabbed his hat which he’d barely had a chance to remove, and followed her.
“The saloon’s on Larimar. It’s the main street. Named for General William Larimar, that’s the man who started Denver, y’know.” Ruth walked on looking about her but seeming to ignore the man beside her.
“No, I don’ know.”
Ruth stopped to stare at him. “So what do ya know?”
“I know to make drink.”
Ruth snorted and continued to walk.
“I know to make rabbit appear.”
As Ruth turned and raised an eyebrow, he pulled out his handkerchief and quickly crafted a long eared rabbit from it.
She sniffed. “That’s silly. I’m not a baby.” Still, she slowed her pace and began to talk with more animation. “South to North, from the creek, the streets are numbered. East to west, a lot of the streets are named for early folks in the county. They alternate with streets named for Injuns. Ever meet one?”
Startled, he shook his head, but she didn’t even notice as she walked along, the bounce back in her step, as she prattled on. He found it hard to follow it all, but shook his head or nodded when it seemed appropriate.
They returned to rooms filled with the scent of supper. Doli sniffed appreciatively. Sarah had set the table in their absence and everything looked warm and welcoming. Then Leo entered the room.
“What took ya so long?” he grumbled.
“Ya told me to show him the town.”
“Hmmph. Must have grown some since last I checked.” He looked up sharply at Sarah. “Supper ready?”
She nodded. “Then how come it’s not on the table.”
“Right away, Papa.”
“Ruth, wash your hands and sit down.” He turned. “Better yet, help your sister. Adolph, have a seat. My Sarah, she knows what to do with a piece of meat.”
The men sat and the girls joined them after serving the meal. Ruth shifted in her chair. “Papa…”
“Sit still, girl. You’re past the age of fidgeting. Lord, your mother must be turnin’ over in her grave, you near a kalle moid (of marriageable age) and still no lady.”
Ruth flushed and looked down at her plate. Sarah bit her lip as Leo grumbled on. “That Dougie, still hasn’t come in with the money he owes. And Max, I think he drinks some of my profits. You, Adolph, you a drinker?”
“No, sir. Just a little schnapps every now and then.”
“Hmmph. We’ll see.”
Doli thought the meal would never end. He tried to stifle a yawn. Sarah smiled softly and glanced his way. “You must be tired.”
“Yes, miss. It’s been a long day.”
Leo looked at him sharply. “Hope you’re strong. You need stamina here. You’ll be working evenings as well.”
“But surely not tonight, Papa.”
Leo hesitated, then spoke curtly. “No, not tonight.”
Doli made his excuses and retired early. As he unpacked his bag he got a strange feeling that someone had gone through it. He sat back puzzled, but couldn’t think of why anyone would do so; he chalked it up to an overly active imagination and blamed it on his fatigue.
The next morning, he went down to the backroom of the saloon where Leo had shown him the items he’d ordered per Adolph’s instructions.
“So how long’ll it take?” Leo asked as he wandered in to the room after him.
“We sign contract, yes? You make me partner, yes?”
“Well, Adolph, we start serving those drinks y’make us, we’ll talk contract. So, how long does it take?”
“Vodka, a few days. Beer a month. Whiskey, good whiskey, take time.”
“Y’bring me here for bad?” He looked at Leo’s assessing look and shrugged. “Bad much quicker.”
Adolph set to preparing the alcohol, all kinds. In between work in the backroom, he’d switch Max at the bar.
“The old man, he’s working you hard,” Max often told him.
He shrugged. “It will all be good. I make money. I learn more English in the bar.”
“Yeah,” Max grinned, “but what kind of English?”
At the first tasting, Doli turned to watch Leo as the man sampled the batch. He saw him freeze his features, trying to contain his smile. Doli had no such qualms, his smile lit up his face.
“So, Mr. Leo. The contract?”
Leo nursed his drink and shrugged. “Let’s first see what the customers have to say. And Adolph, no Mr.”
The customers seemed to like Doli’s Colorado water. They were looking forward to his next concoction, Miner’s Moon. At the tasting, he watched Leo’s satisfied grin and pressed. “The contract?”
Leo shrugged again. “First I havta recoup my expenses, so we start off on even ground.”
Adolph was beginning to lose patience. “My contract!” he demanded at the third tasting.
Leo smiled “This is going well. We’ll talk contract by the end of the year.”
By the fourth tasting, it was a livid Leo who approached Adolph. “How dare ya, after all I’ve done for ya!”
Adolph raised his eyebrows at Leo, confused. “Me? What did I do.”
“Ruth’s just been in to have a word with me. And her still half a child! I’m sending for a rabbi. By this time next week, ya’ll be standing under the chuppah (marriage canopy) with my Ruth, and her with her marriage contract in hand!”
Adolph studied the toes of his new cowboy boots, deliberating his options. He looked up at Leo and shrugged. “We’re in America now.”
Leo’s face turned as dark as the cask in the back room and his chest expanded in ire. “You, you…” for once, he seemed at a loss for words. His hand smashed down on the small table. “America or no America, in this house we don’t sample the wares before…”Leo broke off scarlet-faced.
“No sir, we don’t,” Adolph whispered softly.
Within a week, the rabbi arrived to conduct the wedding ceremony; Ruth got her contract, and Adolph his. He was now full partner in the Holy Moses.
And ten and a half months later, a new little Moses joined the family.