Henry staggered through the player exit onto the west side of Union Steel Ballpark and pressed his back against the wall, trying to gather his breath. People poured out of segregated white and colored exits like twin rivers, crashing together in violent waves along the boulevard ahead.
Moments later, Willy ducked under the door frame and looked around before seeing Henry. "I blocked the door with a desk. By the time them guards get out here, we be long gone."
Henry's eyebrows arched. "You could have locked it."
"Hmm," Big Willy said, a quizzical look playing on his expression. "Maybe next time."
Henry resisted a wisecrack. His ears finally popped and the sounds of chaos exploded in his ears. He winced, bringing a shaky hand to his ear.
"You okay?" Willy asked.
Henry nodded. "Yeah ... I'm fine." Only he wasn't fine. A dull pain thumped inside his head. His left hand and shirt were soaked in blood. And the bleeding hadn't stopped yet.
A woman screamed from across the street. Somewhere a horse whinnied a high-pitched squeal; it was scared. And dogs wailed above the swell of cries and angry chatter.
On a normal game day, Grandview Boulevard bustled with lively fans and vendors hocking hotdogs, fresh roasted peanuts, popcorn, and even pierogies. Today, the thoroughfare was anything but grand. Score cards, abandoned hats and betting slips littered the street. Blacks were fighting whites. Policemen were fighting blacks. German Shepherds pulled at leather leashes held by white coppers with angry faces.
Henry pushed off the wall and stumbled toward the boulevard like a drunk on Wood Street. "Come on," he said. "We got to get out of here."
Big Willy caught up to him. "Wait, where we going?" Willy brought a stabilizing arm behind Henry's back and grabbed onto a fistful of shirt.
Thanks, Henry thought. He didn't like to admit it but he needed help. He gestured his chin to the south end of the boulevard. "We can go to our old hiding spot down by the tracks."
"The old ballfield?" Willy said, a pitch of surprise in his tone. "We better get you to a hospital."
"No," Henry said. "No hospital. Don't have the money." Another lie. Truth was, Henry didn't like hospitals. Didn't trust them either.
For a moment, Willy looked like he was going to argue. Instead, he nodded and they started walking again.
The man who stepped in front of them had icy blue eyes that held Henry's attention. He wore a white collared dress shirt over broad shoulders and fitted charcoal-gray trousers with white pinstripes. Henry couldn't help thinking how this man looked ex-military or maybe just crazy.
"You ruined this game, Louis!" The man stabbed an index finger at Henry.
Henry pulled away from Willy's grasp before putting his palms out as if to ward off the man. "Listen, we don't want any trouble."
"You disrespected the game and those troops." The crazy man glared at Henry. "You're going to pay for what you did today."
What I did today? Henry wanted to say.
Before Henry could speak, loud bells clanged their arrival. Henry turned to see three paddy wagons screeching to a halt on the other side of the growing mob. Inside the ballpark, there were two whites for every black person. Out here, it was even strength. The black folk must have come when they heard things were getting out of hand. A fist for a fist.
Henry turned back to the crazy man ... but he was gone. And nowhere in sight.
Dozens of policemen poured onto the street, nightsticks drawn, and shouting, "Stop fighting, everyone!" and "Go back to your homes before more of you get hurt!" and "Get back, you black sons 'o bitches!"
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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...