Jake glanced at the stack of hate mail in his hand, following Dale and the rest of the Pioneers through the mill to Mr. Bell's office. He couldn't imagine what Mr. Bell had in mind. Why did he summon the entire team? And with all their hate mail? Jake felt a fresh wave of anger pour over him. Every last one of these letters was because of Henry. To make matters worse, the ignorant people of Hester thought the white players wanted Henry on the team. Well, he would show them! The whole team would show them when they voted Henry off and sent him back to the black side of town where he belonged!
The players reached Mr. Bell's office, and one by one, they filed inside. The first thing Jake noticed as he came into the room was the crackling fire in the brick fireplace. And the heat felt thick, almost oppressive, against his cheeks. It was a very warm spring day. There was no reason for Mr. Bell to have a fire blazing away in the hearth. Jake strode to the opposite side of the room and watched as the rest of the team trailed in behind him. Once they were all inside the office, Mr. Bell closed the door and came to stand by the fireplace next to a round table.
Mr. Bell cleared his throat. "Gentlemen! I've asked you here for a reason. And I've asked you to bring all those terrible letters you've been receiving." He waved his hand at the stack of letters on the table, melodramatic in his demeanor. "You see, I've been receiving these letters too. The people of Hester are angry that I signed a colored player to the team. They don't care that we have a chance to win. Well, I've been reading these letters, and I finally realized what's holding us back. Let me give you a hint. Did anyone happen to notice that Henry Louis isn't here with us?"
The players looked around. No more Henry?
Jake felt a flickering excitement pulsing in his veins. Finally! Mr. Bell had come to his senses. He'd gotten rid of that damned black boy. This was wonderful! That nigra had no right to be on an all-white team.
Mr. Bell smiled and looked around. At Jake. Rusty. All of them. Then he stepped in front of the hearth and moved the smoke screen aside so there was no barrier between him and the crackling flames. He picked up the stack of letters from the round table. All at once, he tossed the entire pile into the flames and the fire flared up.
There was a collective gasp from the Pioneers and several of the men began to murmur and mutter to one another. The flames crackled as they devoured the papers, turning them into blackened, writhing masses. Smoke plumed up along with small bits of ash. Frank turned back to the men with a satisfied grin on his face.
"Okay, there went all of my hate mail. I'm not holding onto that poison any longer. You fellas shouldn't either. Who else is ready to burn up their hate?"
Several of the men chuckled while others just hesitated in confusion. But moments later, a line had formed, and each player made their way to the fireplace and tossed all their hate mail into the hungry flames. Mr. Bell stood next to the hearth with a poker. After every two or three players, he stopped the line to stab at the flames and break up the ashen clumps of letters.
Jake followed suit and threw his hate mail into the fire. He watched the hearth take them in its fiery jaws, and that sparked his hope for a better team ... one without Henry Louis!
After all the men had rid themselves of their hate mail, Frank turned back to the group. He grinned once more and picked up a few sheets of paper from the round table and lifted it high in the air like he was preparing for a toast.
"There's one last thing that we need to get rid of if we want to be a competitive team."
Jake felt the excitement in his chest, his heart drubbing like a fast-paced hoedown.
"I just threw the Pioneers' bylaws into the fire. Article seven of the contract gives the General Manager of each team the full authority to rewrite the bylaws as he sees fit."
Jake's throat constricted, and he nearly gasped.
Mr. Bell locked his gaze directly on Jake, maintaining that eye contact as he made his next announcement. "I'll be handing out copies of the new bylaws at the next practice. It will be exactly the same as our old bylaws except for one small revision. I've taken the liberty of removing the last bylaw that allows any player to be voted off the team by a majority vote."
Jake felt himself growing angry under Mr. Bell's unrelenting stare. How had Mr. Bell found out about his plan? Who had ratted him out?
Mr. Bell continued. "You all need to know this. Henry Louis is here to stay. That's the situation. Get used to it. Otherwise, you can get used to another team."
Jake cut his eyes at Dale who simply shrugged his lanky shoulders. On the other side of Dale, Rusty looked like he wanted to kick him to the ground.
This was definitely a setback.
But the cowboy wasn't done yet. He imagined his trusty six-shooter. Maybe he had missed his mark this time.
But he had more ammunition.
No, this cowboy wasn't done by a long shot.
Okay, so we know Henry is here to stay with the Pioneers. That's good! Or is it?
So who do you think is the real villain of this story? I'd love to hear your thoughts on this question.
And in the next chapter, Edward reveals his plot for an encounter with Sarah. Will it be a romantic one? Or will something terrible happen?
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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...