Henry and Dale turned to see the three white men charging their way.
The man leading the pack snarled like a wolf closing in on its prey.
Henry couldn't believe it.
It was the crazy man. Glaring through cold blue eyes, his expression held a quiet ferocity. He swung the bat up from his side and tilted it on his shoulder.
His chum looked ex-military, a stone-faced thug with a renegade-brown crewcut.
And the third fella towered, possessing the physique of a circus strongman with a clean-shaven head. Something about his face said he was a foreigner. German maybe.
The group of men marched straight up to Henry and Dale.
Henry felt a dull pain in his gut. All he'd done was walk down the street. But his very presence had been seen as threatening. Now, he'd be accused of terrorizing those children. Only for being here. Only for being colored. As this situation was playing out, he realized he was right to feel nervous when those kids started screaming.
"Come on, Clayton," Dale said. "What's the problem?"
Henry met Clayton's icy gaze. A chill crept across his shoulders, but he refused to step back. Even as Clayton's rancid beer breath filled his nostrils, Henry remained rooted to the ground. He kept his expression even, unwilling to show even the slightest hint of weakness.
"He's not supposed to be over here!" Clayton's words were addressed at Dale, but his eyes remained locked on Henry. And for good measure, he stabbed an index finger into Henry's shoulder.
Henry understood what Clayton was trying to say with his finger-poking and chest-jutting posture. He was letting Henry know he could touch him. He could hurt him. He could do anything he wanted. Because he was white. And because Henry was black.
"Get him back over to the Nigger section!" Clayton shouted. "He's already scared the kids here."
A dot of saliva pelted Henry's cheek. Henry felt his breathing hitch, and his heart began to race. He wiped the spittle away with the back of his hand.
"Ease up, Clayton," Dale said. "We're just delivering the mail for the mill post office. It's Henry's first day on the job."
Clayton's expression exploded in recognition. "Wait a minute! Boys, do you know who we have here? This is Henry Louis, the new black baseball player on the Pioneers. Ain't that right?"
Henry didn't say a word.
Clayton's lips curled into a mocking grin. "Oh, it don't matter if you're too dumb to talk. We know who you are." He turned to his men. "My buddy Eddie, he ain't too happy you're a Pioneer now."
Eddie said, "Better go back to the plantation if you know what's good for you."
Then Clayton looked up at the big man. "And Karl here, well he's learning baseball, but he don't appreciate how you stole a roster spot from a white man."
Karl growled as he folded his steel beam arms over a massive chest.
Henry mused. Karl versus Big Willy. Now that would be a battle for the ages.
Clayton leaned in closer, placing his mean, red face less than an inch away from Henry's. "So you're delivering mail. You even know how to read, boy? I know you can't read a pitch, because you're stinking it up for the Pioneers." He busted out laughing, and his buddies joined in. Then his expression turned serious. "And you're stinking up this fine neighborhood. So like I said, get out!"
Henry's fingertips began to tremble. Black spots popped into the edges of his sight. He had to get away from this man before he did something that would land him in deep trouble. His anger was becoming more difficult to control with each passing moment and with each act of aggression on Clayton's part.
"Why you low –" Dale started to say.
"It's okay, Dale." Henry said, cutting him off. "You go ahead and deliver the mail. I'll wait for you by the trees where we came in."
"No, Henry. You don't have to."
"I'll be fine," Henry said in an unconvincing tone.
Henry kept his eyes straight ahead and shifted his body past Clayton's. He walked briskly away from the group. He heard the men shouting at him as he retreated.
"You take that stank with you," Clayton shouted.
"Look Karl, I think he's going to pee his pants," Eddie hollered, chuckling.
Karl let out a laugh, deep and loud.
Henry did his best to tune them out as he hurried away. They were only words. He knew he shouldn't let their words get to him. That was what they wanted to do. Get to him. But try as he might, he couldn't shake off those words of hate and intolerance. Not completely. But he had to do his best, and try not to let them cut him too deep.
I could have spent a lot more time tinkering with this chapter, but sometimes you just have to let it go. And that's what I've done. It doesn't mean I won't revise it. I will.
But for the purposes of a second draft, which for me is all about story structure, it's good enough.
Plus, as you know, I'm pushing to get to Chapter 75. We'll get there before you know it.
Take care for now!
P.S. Hehe, I couldn't resist linking the chapter title to a certain movie with the same name. Disclaimer Alert: For entertainment purposes only. No affiliation exists between the movie and this story. :)
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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...