79. Perspective

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After the game, the locker room felt like a crypt.

The players weren't jawing at each other. Or at Henry for that matter. They weren't snapping towels at butts. They weren't telling jokes or playing gags. All the usual shenanigans had been replaced by players getting changed with barely a word.

Henry couldn't help but feel a twinge of sadness. He threw on a pair of tan khakis and a navy blue shirt. As he shoved his uniform into his duffle bag, Henry looked over to the other side of the locker room. He couldn't believe what he was seeing.

Jake was holding a conference with the players by his locker. All the players except for Henry and Dale.

Henry plopped down on the bench next to his friend who gave him a wary look.

"What's Jake up to over there?" Henry whispered.

Dale looked over his shoulder, then he met Henry's eyes. "Two bits says he's stirring up trouble."

Henry stood up. "Well, I think I'm going to find out what kind of no good he's up to."

Dale's mouth opened wide as an O. He shook his head, waiving his hand in a don't-do-it gesture.

Ignoring Dale's warning, Henry crept over to the circle of men.

The players were huddled around Jake, who perched in a large oak chair, resembled a king on a throne. Henry settled into a space behind Cletus, his size making him a perfect human wall.

"We can't go on like this," Jake said, his voice low. "If we're going to salvage this season, we got to do something about it now."

Henry's ears burned. The thought of Jake talking about him behind his back infuriated him.

"I don't know, Jake," Marshall said in a quiet voice. "Henry played a decent game. And he scored both runs. That umpire cost us the game."

Rusty Ryan looked surprised. "Marshall, are you taking that Negro's side?"

"He's right!" Carlos Santiago interjected, a gleam in his brown eyes.

Henry found himself surprised, as a couple of the other Pioneers sounded in agreement.

Ryan glared at Carlos. "Nobody asked you, Taco Man."

Henry's hand balled into a fist. Ryan had no right to talk to Carlos that way. It was bad enough that Jake and his posse had targeted Henry. But he didn't want anyone else to suffer what he'd been going through.

"You all cut it out!" Jake said. "That Negro's got us divided. If he stays on the team much longer, we can kiss the season goodbye."

Ryan and several of the other players clamored in agreement.

Henry's eyes narrowed. Jake was really getting on his nerves, and after tamping down his emotions for the entire game, Henry just didn't have the will to ignore all the insinuations being thrown his way.

"I didn't lose this game!" Henry shouted.

All the players straightened up. They turned and stared at Henry.

Henry wasn't done. "I tried my damn hardest to help the team win. I didn't tell that umpire to make a lousy call. What do you have against me, Jake?"

Jake stood up. He closed the distance to Henry, smirking. "I don't have anything against you."

A soft laugh escaped Henry's lips. When it finally subsided, he said, "For a minute, I thought you were Scout, because that's a load of horseshit."

"Hey, leave Scout out of this!"

Henry lifted his hands in an apologetic gesture. It was the first time he'd seen Jake care for a living creature other than himself. Could it be possible there was a human side to Jake?

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