77. Our House

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Henry marched across Union Steel field, before slowing down right before the first base line.

Something was wrong!

First, none of the players were warming up for practice. Second, Coach Taylor was standing in front of the home dugout, several steel buckets next to his feet. And third, Mr. Bell was pacing back and forth in the stands, his eyes trained on the box seats where he sat during games.

"Coach, what's going on?" Henry asked. His gaze drifted down to the pails, each one containing a scrub brush of wiry bristles.

"Vandals," Coach said, his voice seething. "They painted a bunch of bullshit all over Frank's box and in our dugout."

Henry couldn't believe someone had done this. He turned his attention to the dugout. By the steps, Dale held a gray rubber hose over a steel pail, filling it with water. The two substitute players, Carlos and Ramon Santiago, stared at the dugout wall, shaking their heads. They were brothers, twins actually, though you couldn't tell by looking at them. Carlos was a five foot nine dynamo with dark skin and Mexican features. Ramon was a head taller, a quiet man, and as white as they come.

Henry panned his vision back until he could make out the huge words painted in red:

PIONEERS + NEGRO = LOSERS

The graffiti spanned the wall above the three benches from the players' door to the right end of the dugout.

Carlos climbed onto the first bench on the left. He removed a dripping-wet brush from the pail, rubbed a bar of soap over the bristles, and started scrubbing the wall. Ramon followed suit.

"Who did it?" Henry asked, anger boiling in his words.

"The Vigilantes," Coach Taylor said grimly. "They left their mark up there." He pointed to the stands.

The front of Mr. Bell's private box displayed a large "V" – two angry white slashes over the faded blue paint covering the exterior of the box.

The Vigilantes of the White!

Henry felt a shiver scuttle up his back, sparked by the memory of his encounter with the Vigilantes. Growing up black in Hester, you faced a constant threat of daunting moments. But the thought of facing a horde of the Vigilantes, well, that was nothing short of a living nightmare. And the fact that they had been so brazen as to invade their ballpark was a little too close for Henry's comfort.

Coach said, "Grab a pail. Those box seats could use a little elbow grease."

Henry picked up a pail. He was about to head over to the stands when he felt a pang of guilt. "If you don't mind, I'd like to work on the dugout first."

Coach tilted his ball cap back, exposing a curious look. "And why's that?"

"The white players think of that dugout as their house," Henry said. "The way I see it, it's my house too. It's like my daddy used to say: If a man's home ain't in order, his life ain't in order either."

"Aye," Coach said softly, understanding washing over his expression.

Henry headed to the dugout. A somber aura filled the air. Heads hung and shoulders sagged. Henry gave Dale a slight nod, a rough knot of painful memories stuck in his throat.

Dale returned a faint smile before he stepped up onto the bench on the right end of the dugout.

Carlos and Ramon didn't say a word as they continued scrubbing the wall, the red smeared all over their brushes and the fronts of their practice uniforms.

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