13. Unexpected Meeting

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Tuesday, March 5, 1918

Something was wrong!

On Monday, Coach Brown cancelled Tuesday's practice. He sent the Rooks' bat boy, Malcolm Young, to summon the players. In the morning, the thirteen-year old hustled to each player's home. By mouth or by note, his message was the same:

Report to Richie's Diner tomorrow. One o'clock sharp!

Coach Brown

Anxiety simmered among the players like a kettle of water steaming over a blazing fire pit. Including Henry, the entire team was present. Fifteen members. They occupied the back dining room which as the stained paper taped above the men's urinal stated: Great for birthday, poker, and bachelor parties.

Henry surveyed the scene. It was odd seeing his teammates out of uniform, dressed in casual button-up shirts, plaids, and darker shades marking the popular trend. In this public venue, Henry felt a twinge of self-awareness followed by a light throb in the fading lump on his forehead, the only remaining sign from being whacked by a baseball. Other than that, he felt fine.

In the room, there were nine tables with round wood tops, scratched and worn by generations of calloused elbows, mugs of beer, and plates of greasy heaven. About half the men were sitting down, a few of them feasting on large juicy pieces of barbecued chicken, a drumstick or leg in one hand and a glass of beer in the other. Damn, that looked good.

Henry spotted Big Willy at a table and took a seat between him and Maurice Jones.

Across the table, Charles Parks was working on the lunch special – fried liver and onions with a side of home fries. At forty-nine, he was the oldest Rook on the team and still a damn good battler in the box. Hence his nickname, Old Man Charles.

Henry inhaled the heavenly aroma and his stomach growled its approval.

"Any idea what's going on?" Henry asked.

Big Willy shrugged. "No one's sure."

Maurice leaned forward and spoke quietly. "Some of us think it's about the riot." The speedy second baseman emphasized the word riot. He had the biggest teeth Henry had ever seen in a human being.

Henry lifted his eyebrows. "The riot? I thought that was old news."

Charles swallowed a bite and set his fork down. "I heard the whites held a secret meeting yesterday." He paused. "To vote if they should retaliate."

"Retaliate for the riot they caused?" Big Willy asked in disbelief.

Charles nodded. "They're blaming us. Henry in particular."

"That ain't right," Maurice said. He shook his head, lips pressed as thin as a pencil.

Henry nodded at Maurice, then turned to Charles. "How'd you hear about this secret meeting?"

"Not all whites are bad," Charles said. "There're a few good apples in the bushel, if you know what I mean."

Henry nodded. "So did this apple tell you the result of the vote?"

"Not yet," Charles said.

Henry blew out a long breath that was interrupted by a sudden commotion.

"Gentlemen!" That came from Coach Brown, entering the room. He strode to the front of the dining area and held up a hand.

The room fell silent, except for the sounds of chewing, gulping beer, and glasses tapping the tables.

Coach inhaled, nostrils expanding. "You wondering why I wanted to talk with you? I'm going to cut to the chase." He shook his head once before leveling his gaze. "The team is being disbanded ... for good."

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