44. Us Versus Them

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The baseball sailed through the air, closing in on the mark.

The target hung on the work yard fence, a few inches off the grass in the Pioneers outfield. A four-foot square panel of painted wood, the kind you might see at a carnival game. Nailing the red bullseye was worth a whopping fifty points. The white ring scored thirty. Blue got you twenty. And the black ring was only worth ten lousy points.

The ball thudded off the white ring, falling a few feet from the target amid several other baseballs on the freshly cut turf.

"You see that?" Jake said to Dale, who was coming over. "Thirty big ones."

"Not bad."

Dale had gotten to practice early and saw the note taped to his locker.

          Meet me at the target practice. We need to talk!

Jake

As soon as he read it, Dale knew something was up. Since he'd joined the Pioneers at the tail end of last year, Jake hadn't exactly chatted up a storm with him, but he was good for a few Jewish slurs or humorless jokes from time to time. Dale did his best to ignore those insults, letting them pass from one ear to the next.

Not that those comments didn't bother him. They did. And despite those insults, Jake wanted something from him now. But what?

Dale reached down and retrieved a ball from the large tin bucket that sat on the ground between them. He went into his windup and released the pitch. The ball sliced through the air and clanged off the red metal bullseye fastened to the board.

"Well, look at that," Dale said with an innocent grin. "A fifty bagger."

Jake scowled. "Beginner's luck!"

"I suppose so," Dale said before giving the cowboy a quizzical look. "So why'd you want to see me?"

Jake grabbed a ball from the bucket, and turned to Dale. It wasn't even seven-thirty and the field was mostly empty save for a few other players stretching and chatting as they waited for practice to officially get under way.

"So Dale," Jake said, "why're you commiserating with that new colored player?"

"What? Henry?"

Jake released his pitch, hitting the white ring again.

"No, Theodore Roosevelt," Jake said like a smart-ass. "Of course, Henry. You've been acting like he's your new best friend. You ain't worried about them taking over?"

"Them?"

"Yes, them," Jake said, impatiently. "Them dirty black bastards are gonna take away your job ... your livelihood. They're trying to take over what belongs to us, you know. Pretty soon there won't be anything left for us decent white men to hang our hats on."

Dale nodded, a look of understanding entering his expression. "So that's why you've been giving Henry such a hard time. You think if he does too good a job here, more blacks might join our ballclub."

Jake pursed his lips, holding them tight in the center.

"You give one of them an inch, and pretty soon they'll all want a mile. Before you know it, they'll overrun the game. You don't believe me, but you wait and see. Those black assholes could take all of our jobs."

Dale studied Jake for a moment. "You're worried about being put out of a job?"

"All I know," Jake said, "is Coach is planning to have me pitch this season which means I ain't playing shortstop. Who do you think's gonna get that spot?"

Dale shrugged. "Well, if it's really us versus them, why don't we just work harder than them to keep them from getting our jobs?"

Jake screwed his face, looking confused. "What?"

"I mean, you're worried about your job getting taken. Just do your job better than anyone else. No one is going to give your job to anyone else, black or white, if you can do it better. Why would they? That wouldn't make any sense whatsoever."

Jake looked tense throwing the next pitch. It thunked off the board just beyond the black ring.

"Listen Dale," Jake said. "Are you being willfully dense? Letting that nigra stay on this team is only going to mean trouble for all of us. We have to get him off this team, and that's exactly what I'm planning to do. All the other guys are on board already. We're going to be holding a vote."

Dale raised a brow. "A vote?"

"That's right," Jake said. "According to the Pioneers' bylaws, the ones we all signed, the team can vote off any player with at least eighty percent of the votes. That bylaw has been in place since the Pioneers joined the steel mill league. Now we finally get to put it to good use."

"But you aren't thinking ..."

"Yes, I am! We can vote Henry off the team that way!" Jake drew another baseball from the bucket.

Dale shook his head. "That doesn't seem right," he said, his blood coming to a boil. "Come to think of it, it all seems really underhanded. I don't see why Henry shouldn't be allowed to stay on the team. He deserves a spot just as much as any one of us!"

Jake narrowed his eyes and stepped closer to Dale, filling in the space between them.

"Listen Dale," he said, hissing like a rattler. "Like I told you, all the other guys have already agreed to this. I got my eighty percent. That means Henry will be kicked off the team no matter what you do. But if he leaves, you're still here with us, and what do you think the rest of the team will think of you if you choose a Negro over us?"

"I-I don't know ..."

"Well you better figure it out!" Jake said. "Figure out which side you're really on. Because whether you like it or not, this is the side that you're stuck with!"

Dale felt the blood drain from his face. He didn't want to side with Jake and the rest of the boys. They were dead wrong. But what choice did he have?

A cruel smirk crept into Jake's expression. "The white side is the right side."

Jake wound up and rifled the ball to the target as if to add an exclamation point to his statement.

Bullseye!


Author's Note

In the next few chapters, Henry will officially ask Sarah out.

Will Albert get in their way? Will Sarah say yes?

Little does Henry know, Jake is planning to have him voted off the Pioneers. And there doesn't seem to be any way to stop Jake.

Stay tuned! The best is yet to come!!

Thanks for your continued and much appreciated support!

Best Regards,

Tom

P.S. Chapter Image - The first major African American protest in American history, held in New York City on July 28, 1917. A silent protest against the many violent injustices dealt to innocent lives across the country.

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