25. Cruelty

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"You saying blacks are better than whites, boy?" Clayton Fisk cried. "Is that what you're saying?"

Maurice straightened up and gave Clayton an unwavering stare. You couldn't let a man like that know you were scared, even if you were. Maurice knew little about the man personally, but word around the mill described Clayton as ex-Army. Fought in the Border War between the United States and Mexico from 1910 to 1915. Honorably discharged and awarded a medal of honor.

The Mexican workers said Clayton was loco. But Maurice wasn't sure if he was really crazy or simply dangerous. Maybe he was a little of both.

"I ain't saying nobody's better than nobody," Maurice said. "Just telling Hans and Karl here what happened to Henry."

Clayton fixed Maurice with an arrogant glare. "It was high time your stinking team came to an end. Around here, we don't appreciate Negroes stirring up trouble for our good white players. Your pal Henry got a little tap to the head and took a dive, making out like it was all Jake's fault. None of that fighting would have even happened if it wasn't for crybaby Henry playing dead like a possum."

Maurice shook his head. "Henry's better than any player you got on the Pioneers."

Clayton marched up to Maurice. Even at five-foot-eleven, he towered over the compact ex-Rook. He pointed an accusing finger at Maurice's forehead as if it displayed a bullseye.

"Your chum, Henry, made a mockery of the game," Clayton shouted. "That was supposed to be a special tribute game, honoring all our boys going off to war. They're going off to fight and die for your right to live here, in the greatest country in the world, instead of painting your faces and throwing spears at zebras. What have your kind done for this country?"

Maurice felt the blood pulsing in his neck, but he remained composed. "My people suffered to make this country great. We picked cotton, sowed wheat, and kept the farms running. We fought in the Civil War and we're fighting right now in trenches over in Europe. Not to mention, we helped you folks build the White House. My people have made plenty of important contributions to America."

Clayton broke out in a hardy laugh. He looked over at Hans and Karl and they started to chuckle. Maurice stared at all three men, holding back a grin. He placed a hand on his stomach and it heaved up a giggle, and then another. Finally, Maurice burst out laughing. Everyone in the pit gang was howling now.

It worked!

Maurice had stood his ground and he had gained Clayton's respect. Finally!

Smiling now, Clayton held out his hand and Maurice reached for it. But before he could latch on, Clayton clocked a granite-hard fist into the side of Maurice's head and he toppled back butt-first onto the hard ground.

Maurice groaned, everything spinning. He reached for the throbbing at the side of his head before he sat up, pressing his spine against the wooden shaft of a shovel planted firmly into the ground.

"Your people?" Clayton said. "I wouldn't even say that you are people. Just a bunch of talking monkeys!"

Maurice knew better than to say anything. Maybe if he kept his mouth shut, this would all blow over. Or so he hoped.

Clayton looked around, spotted something on the ground. "Get him up," he said, his voice dark with purpose.

Hans snared Maurice's arm, Karl grabbed the other, and they hoisted him up like a feather. Maurice struggled against their grasps, unable to break free.

Clayton stooped over and plucked a gray clump of dripping-wet coal from a muddy puddle.

"Hey boys, look what I got here," he said, all proud. "I found me some Negro soap!"

Hans and Karl snickered in unison.

"Let's get you cleaned up," Clayton said, grabbing onto the top of Maurice's hair.

Maurice tried to pull his head away. Clayton yanked at his hair, snapping his head back, pain shooting into his scalp.

Clayton smeared the clay-like piece of coal all over Maurice's face. Then he let go of Maurice's hair and stepped back, wiping his hands on his pants.

"Now we can end this right quick," Clayton said. "I just want to hear you say one thing – that whites are better than blacks."

Maurice shook his head, trembling, lips pressed tight.

"Suit yourself, little man," Clayton said. He looked around again. Grinning, he wrenched the shovel from the ground, and held it up like a bat, ready to swing the metal head.

Maurice's eyes grew large as dark saucers filled with fear.

Clayton's lips curled slowly into a cruel smile.

"I'm afraid this is going to hurt something awful."

Author's Note

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Author's Note

Well, Clayton is the crazy man that that Henry ran into in 'Chapter 7 - Chaos.' You can tell Clayton has a mean streak in him, and it's only going to get worse. Let's just say, Clayton is a natural born bully.

In the next chapter, we'll find out what happens to Maurice!



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