80. Can I Count On You?

77 19 19

Henry attempted to steady his nerves as he gave the mahogany door in front of him a sharp knock.

"Come in!" Mr. Bell called.

Henry opened the door and stepped inside.

Frank Bell was sitting at his desk, sorting through a small stack of mail. Henry looked around at the many framed pictures on the walls. There were several of Mr. Bell with his wife, a charming blond with down-to-earth features and a confident smile. Then there was a young man in a soldier's uniform. Peter Bell. Henry could see the family resemblance. The lad had a nose and jawline that resembled those of the older man sitting before him.

Henry approached the long desk, the top a dark cherry wood baring more pictures and neat piles of papers.

"You wanted to see me, Mr. Bell?" he asked.

Mr. Bell set down the envelope, adding it back to the stack. "Yes," he said with a quiet sigh. He gestured to the pile of mail. "I'm just going through some of the letters that Peter's sent us. He hasn't been gone long, but he's kept his promise to write every chance that he can."

Henry gave a hesitant nod, unsure of what to say. Finally, he said, "It must be hard, your son fighting in the war overseas."

Mr. Bell gave a shaky nod and cleared his throat. "Go ahead. Take a chair." He waved his hand at the office chair in front of his desk.

As Henry sat down, his eyes flitted over to a picture, standing upright in a silver frame, at the edge of Mr. Bell's desk. It was another photo of Peter Bell, this time wearing a graduation cap and gown and beaming a brilliant smile.

Mr. Bell followed Henry's gaze. "That's Peter just after his graduation from high school."

Henry regarded Mr. Bell and smiled. "He looks like you."

"He does a bit," Mr. Bell agreed. "He looks more like his mother though."

Henry nodded, remembering Linda Bell and their conversation outside the Diamond Club. Frank was right. Peter did look a lot like her.

"I've been wondering if we made the right choice in letting him enlist," Frank continued. "I worry that I could end up losing my only son to this terrible war."

"Let's hope it doesn't come to that."

"You know, I was so proud of him when he enlisted. It seems like something that every eligible man should do. Go off to war, I mean. It's painted as this prestigious mark of honor. But when you really think about it, all war is just about men killing other men. I'm not sure I care enough about the issues to lose my boy to it. I wonder if I should have tried to talk him out of it. He's so far away, and it's really been hitting me. He might not ever come back."

"You can't think like that, sir," Henry said.

"It all seems very pointless to me now," Mr. Bell said. "All of those boys who have never met each other. Killing each other in mud and filth. If I lose my son, what was the reason? How is there any purpose in all that chaos? It seems so meaningless."

Henry said, "Just as meaningless as all of this fighting between white and black folks."

Frank gave an appraising look. "Which brings me to why I called you here. How's everything going with the team?" he asked.

Henry shrugged. "Okay, I suppose, if you don't mind being treated like a canine." He gave that a second thought. "Then again, I'm willing to bet the players would treat a dog better than they treat me."

Mr. Bell frowned. "I thought after my talk with them, they would come around."

"They did, sort of, " Henry said. "They've been staying out of my way. But they're not treating me like I'm part of the team either."

"Why do you think that is?" Mr. Bell asked.

"It's pretty obvious. We come from totally different worlds. So different they don't even know how to treat me. Heck, they're still blaming me for the home opener. I can't say I totally blame them. The umpires will keep on cheating us. They won't give the Pioneers a fair shake as long as I'm on the team."

Frank Bell shut his eyes. He shook his head, lips tight and pursed. "Stop that!"

"Stop ... what?" Henry asked.

"Making excuses. Let me worry about the umpires. One day, they'll answer for their cheating ways, but you can't make them answer for it. You just have to go out there and play ball."

Henry sighed. "What? And just keep hoping that everything gets better?"

Mr. Bell continued. "You've got to look at it practically. I'll admit, most white folks want to see you fail. And that's because they don't know anything about you. All they see is the color of your skin. They see different, and that makes them afraid. Don't you get it? It's not about you."

Henry's gaze trailed down to his black hand for a moment before he looked up again. "The way I see it, it's all about me."

"Henry, I see the fire in your eyes," Mr. Bell said. "You want to fight back. That's good! I can't say that I blame you. If I were in your shoes, I'd probably feel the same way. But your enemies are going to keep coming at you like an army of rabid fighters. And if you fight back on their terms, especially on the field, every call will go against you. You must win the battle in the trenches by responding to their crude acts with your best baseball. If you hear an insult, turn a double play. Get knocked down? Knock out a double. Or even better, a home run. Let all those doubters see Henry Louis at his finest, and they'll become believers too."

Henry swallowed the thick knot in his throat.

"The Pioneers need you. They just don't know it yet. So what do you say? Can I count on you?"

Henry remained silent. He couldn't see how this man could think he was so important. He felt just as awkward as the day he delivered the mail to the black bunkhouses ... when all those colored men had insisted he was some kind of a hero.

Henry nodded, taking in everything that Mr. Bell had said. The man had a point.

"You can count on me."


Author's Note

I have to admit: This chapter and the last needed a lot of work.

Hopefully, you agree they turned out okay.

Something to keep in mind. When "Color" gets published, this chapter will actually appear before "Chapter 78 - Injustice." Logically, this revised order makes more sense. This chapter supports the reason Mr. Bell shows up in the locker room after the loss in previous chapter to read Peter's letter.

Well, I now have an entire weekend to write. The next chapter is in a pretty rough state, but it marks the start of another key turning point in the story.

The next chapter is titled "The Return."

'Nuff said!

Color (Completed)Read this story for FREE!