47. Problem

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Frank lifted his eyes from the angry letter and tossed it on his desk in disgust. He leaned back in his brown leather chair, the wooden floorboards creaking beneath him. Compared to his father's suite, Frank's office was a smaller, simpler version without all the extravagance.

Frank swiveled his seat a quarter turn. Through the window beside his desk, he observed laborers scurrying about the floor like mice in a gigantic mechanical maze. He glanced down at his watch. Almost six o'clock. That meant that the mill was in full swing, machines running uninterrupted at peak capacity, or so he hoped. The workers were breaking from their shifts to grab a bite to eat or to have a smoke outside on the docks.

Frank exhaled a breath, trying to quell his frustrations. But it was so damn difficult when all he'd heard lately from the players was complaints. One by one, they'd made their way up to his office, each of them claiming to have "something important" to discuss. To his dismay, all they did was echo their grievances about Henry being on the team. About why he didn't belong. Some only whined and vented. Others tried to make compelling arguments, citing the hate mail they'd received from anonymous Pioneers fans.

Earlier this week, Frank had asked Jake how many letters he'd received. "A couple," Jake had replied in a brooding tone like the world was about to come to an end.

Frank scoffed at that response now, glancing over at the stack of vulgar letters on the small round table by the fireplace. He'd placed them there so he could burn them eventually.

Frank shifted his weight to his arms and started to push up from the chair, but there came a knock on the door, and it sounded urgent. His lips curled up in a knowing smile as he settled back in his chair. "Come on in, Coach."

The door opened and Coach Taylor entered. "Frank," he said, nodding. "Is my knock really that obvious?"

Frank smiled. "So what do I owe this visit to?

Coach strode over to the desk, a sheet of paper in his hand, and dropped his heavy frame into the guest chair.

Frank continued. "Wait, let me guess. It's about Henry."

"We've got a problem," Coach Taylor said, handing over the paper.

Frank took the sheet and looked it over before he shot a quizzical look back at Coach Taylor.

Coach pointed a thick finger at the page. "Those are the bylaws from our baseball contract with the Steel Mill League."

Frank arched both brows. "I know that. I worked on that contract with the board. What's the problem?"

"Read the last line then," Coach Taylor said.

As Frank studied the last bylaw on the page, he felt the blood draining from his face.

"Jake's calling an official vote tomorrow night," Coach said. "He's gone around to the white players. Got them all worked up about how blacks are going to take away their jobs if they don't get rid of Henry."

"Does he have enough votes?" Frank asked.

Coach Taylor grimaced. "Eighty percent? Yeah."

Frank scowled as he held up the bylaw page. "How'd you find out about this?"

"Dale Ritter," Coach replied. "He's kind of taken Henry under his wing. Jake wanted Dale's vote too, but he didn't really need it. Icing on the cake, I suppose."

Setting the paper on his desk, Frank's expression turned serious. "We've got to do something about this, you know."

"You want me to send a message?" Coach asked, pounding a huge mallet of a fist into an oversized palm. Intensity flared in his eyes, brimming with a fury like he'd saved up all that rage for a rainy day that had just arrived.

Frank considered that option and shook his head. "No, we don't need any more violence. Hester's seen more than enough lately. Besides, if you pull the rough stuff, Jake and the rest of the team might blame Dale for ratting them out. I don't want them to take it out on him for doing the right thing."

Coach Taylor looked upset. Like he was really looking forward to banging a few heads together.

Frank just sat there, taking it all in. He couldn't let all of this discord continue within the team. He leaned forward in his chair, gave a heavy sigh, and lowered his gaze to the letter he'd been reading before Coach came by. The words stared back at him:

Negro Lover, You will burn in HELL!

Beneath those words, a stick figure inside a brilliant glow of orange and yellow flames had been crayoned on the page.

Frank stared at those flames. He looked over to the side table at the pile of hate-filled letters. His gaze drifted to the fireplace, and it stayed there for a heartbeat. Then his eyes trailed back to his desk to the page with that damned bylaw, and a devious smile eased into his expression.

"Oh no," Coach said. "What's churning in that head of yours?"

Frank rose to his feet, excitement hammering away in his chest. "Coach? Please round up the players tomorrow morning before practice starts. Everyone except for Henry."

Concern lit Coach Taylor's expression. "Why not Henry?"

Frank raised his hand as if warding off any further questions. "I've got my reasons, you'll see in due time. Oh! And have those boys bring all their hate mail to my office."

"Huh? What've you got in mind?" Coach Taylor asked.

Frank gave a sly smile. "Let's just say, we're going to burn through all our problems."


Author's Note

We're about 5 chapters away from Henry's first game of the season. Then his life really gets turned upside down. From there, there's no turning back!

I'm keeping it short and sweet this week ... to work on the next chapter: "Chapter 48. Disaster."

Thanks,
Tom


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