Henry jolted awake as acrid fumes filled his nostrils. He looked down. Saw a little green bottle of tiny crystals held in a dark hand the size of a baseball mitt. Veins trailing up a forearm like thick vines climbing a tree trunk. Henry lifted his head, swatted the bottle out of Big Willy's paw, and slowly sat up.
"I hate smelling salts," Henry said.
"They do the trick," Willy said. His voice sounded faint and muffled.
Henry's ears felt like they'd been stuffed with cotton balls. Like they felt sometimes jogging up Mount Washington to the overlook above Pittsburgh.
Even through eyes blurred by tears, Henry recognized Willy's six-foot-seven frame. He was an ox of a young man, a bull neck set between colossal shoulders. They were best friends from childhood. Baseball teammates since fifth grade. And good Lord, how Willy had changed from the plumpster every neighbor kid liked to pick on. Even the colored ones.
Henry stood up and stumbled forward. Willy caught him and wrapped a steel-pipe arm around his back.
"I gotcha," Willy said. "You be okay."
Henry groaned. Wiping a sleeve across watering eyes, an intense pain throbbed between his left eye and ear. A warm liquid streamed down the side of his head, over his cheek, and dripped onto his soiled jersey. Blood.
Someone unleashed a flood of cuss words. Henry saw players from both benches at the mound now. They were yelling. Pushing. Shoving. Punching. It looked more like a ring of professional wrestlers than baseball players. Then Roy Carter, the Rooks third baseman, threw a right hook into Jake Westin's eye. The cowboy snarled and then tackled the thick black man to the ground and proceeded to pummel him with alternating lefts and rights. The white second baseman with lanky arms rushed over to pull Westin off. A huge bloom of dust mushroomed around the players and started to float across the field along a stirring wind.
Coach Brown and the silver-haired Pioneers coach tried to pull players away from the melee while screaming sharp accusations at one another. Their words were buried by the commotion rising from the stands, where every few feet or so, men of opposite color clashed or quarreled. Everyone else had either already fled the ballpark or was pushing past the white and colored exits.
Henry took a step toward the slugfest at the mound before Willy seized his arm in grip that felt like a vice.
Willy shook his head. "Ain't no way I'm letting you get near that mess."
Henry pulled away from Willy's grasp. "Listen –" He aimed an index finger up at Willy, his chin the size of an anvil.
"There he is!" The self-righteous voice was hoarse and familiar.
Henry turned to his left. The head umpire, pointing at Henry, was flanked by two security guards – one a scrawny kid with chalk-white skin and the other a hippo-sized guy whose belly spilled five inches over his belt. They wore matching gray uniforms with black billy clubs dangling from belt holsters.
"Arrest Henry Louis," the umpire said. "He started this – this anarchy – when he began antagonizing the Pioneers players."
"You know that's not what happened," Henry said. "The white players started this. Westin. Ryan. Hayes. This is their doing."
The kid withdrew his billy club and pointed it at Henry. "Shut your fat lips, negro."
Henry still had trouble hearing. Words sounded distant ... fleeting.
The chubby guard looked at the kid, sighed, and then looked at Henry. "Mr. Louis, I'd like to have a word with you."
Henry and Willy exchanged nervous glances. Growing up black in Hester teaches you a lot of hard lessons. What to do when threatened by bullies. Or big white grownups. Or cops who want to do you wrong. The pride inside you tells you to fight for what you believe is right. A fist for a fist. But as you grow older, you get a little bit wiser. Or so you hope.
The two guards advanced towards them. The umpire folded his arms across a wide chest, a smug smile over a smug expression.
Henry started to count in his head.
Henry arched an eyebrow at his big friend. Willy gave a quick nod. In that moment, Henry knew they were far wiser than their twenty years a piece let on.
Outside the ballpark, the sound of a mob rumbled and hissed like a gathering storm. Henry balled his hand into a fist.
The guards were almost upon them. The kid raised his billy club, ready to strike.
Henry and Willy did what all wise men would do in this situation.
They ran for the dugout.
Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this chapter of "Color", please consider leaving a vote or a comment. I add a new chapter, sometimes two, every Sunday. I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania so that's EST.
Btw, in the next several chapters, Henry will come to face an uncertain future, and his life will never ever be the same.
And now without further ado, let's meet Big Willy. In the scene below, Willy has been arrested after being wrongly accused of stealing an apple from a white peddler's cart. Notice the shoulder of the policeman by his side. Willy is a giant with a giant heart!
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Color (Completed)Historical Fiction
WATTYS SHORTLISTED! During World War I, a black baseball player gets a second chance to play ball on an all-white steel mill baseball team, an action that shocks and divides an entire town. Targeted by opponents, his own team, and mysterious vigilan...