91. The Problem

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Hester Heights Country Club was the epitome of lavish, boasting a whites-only membership of the town's richest, not to mention an Olympic-sized swimming pool, six tennis courts, and a sprawling eighteen-hole golf course.

Frank Bell held a golf club against his shoulder as he watched his father set a dimpled ball on the tee.

It was only the first hole, but Frank couldn't figure out why his father had invited him to play golf. Of all things! How could anyone possibly enjoy hitting a tiny white ball a couple hundred yards, only to be taunted by the ball's infinite refusal to drop into a softball-sized cup in the ground?

Richard steadied his grasp on the driver. Confidence spread across his expression the way it did in matters of money. He took a couple of practice swings and then ...

Whack!

The ball soared skyward like a stone released from a slingshot.

"Nice one, Father."

Richard grunted.

With their golf bags on wheels, they ambled along the immaculate green course, heading in the direction that the ball had sailed. The day was already hot, and the sun blazed just above the treetops. They padded along, the lush grass flattening beneath their feet.

Frank walked up to his golf ball. It rested a few inches inside the green and about fifty feet away from the hole. He removed a putter from his bag before lining up the shot with his eyes, visualizing an imaginary straight line extending from the ball to the cup. He took a couple short practice swings. Then he hit the ball, and it cruised toward the hole and then shot past it before stopping a few feet past Richard's ball. Love this game!

"So how are those Pioneers doing?" Richard asked.

Frank felt a swell of pride. "Amazing," he said. "They're doing really amazing. For the first time, the Pioneers have a chance to make a run in the playoffs. Wouldn't that be something?"

Richard frowned. "I don't understand what you're trying to do, son. Not only do you still have that Henry on the team, but you went and added another Negro to the roster."

"His name is Big Willy," Frank said. He didn't like where this was heading, but he wasn't about to back down.

Richard let out an exasperated breath. "Don't you remember what Mr. Heiler said? He doesn't want one Negro to set foot on the field during the playoffs, let alone two of them!"

Frank shook his head. "If it weren't for Henry and Willy, we might not even have a chance in the playoffs. Even Mr. Heiler would have to admit that the Pioneers have never had a season like this before. And we've sold out every home game! We couldn't cram more bodies into those seats if we wanted to. Not to mention, the black and white mill workers are getting along better too. All because the Pioneers are showing everyone that blacks and whites can work together."

"Frank, you've got to stop this nonsense," Richard said, followed by a heavy sigh. "I received a telegram from Mr. Heiler yesterday. Would you like to know what he said?"

Frank sighed. "Do I have a choice?"

"No, not really. Mr. Heiler wants those black cusses off the team! If they're still active when the playoffs start, he's going to levy some hefty fines against Union Steel." Frank waved his hand dismissively. "Just get rid of them. You don't need to give them an explanation. The Pioneers will do fine in the playoffs without them."

"That's not true!" Frank said. "Henry's one of the strongest players on the team. The other players look up to him. If you pull him off the team, the Pioneers are going to have a tough time scraping up any runs. Henry and Willy deserve to stay. Maybe I can convince Mr. Heiler to change his mind."

"Stop this foolishness!" Richard snapped. "I'll give you two more options. You can bench them, and they'll continue to receive their pay. Otherwise, if you continue to let them play, you'll leave me no choice but to terminate your position."

"What?!" Frank cried. "I've given blood and sweat to make this company and the Pioneers profitable. How could you even think of firing me? Your own son?"

"I would do it for the good of Union Steel," Richard said. "I'll always do what's best for my company. I didn't get to where I am by letting my emotions influence my decisions. It's just business."

"Oh yeah?" Frank said with a snort. "And what will you do after you fire me?"

Richard scowled. "I'll fire those two monkeys that you put on the team!" He paused, and then continued. "Or you could save us both a lot of embarrassment from Mr. Heiler and the league board."

Frank pressed a palm against his sweating forehead, and he looked up at a lone cloud, floating aimless against the blue of the sky. He couldn't believe his father was putting Union Steel before his own son. His thoughts drifted, and he wondered if Richard would ever put the company before Peter, his only grandson. No, he would never do that. He loved Peter too much.

"Well?" Richard barked.

Frank shook his head, returning to his senses.

What choice did he have?

In a dead flat voice, he conceded.

"Fine, Father. I'll bench them."


Author's Note

This singular event is about to kick off a series of seemingly unrelated events.

But if you believe in fate, maybe the upcoming events really are all connected. I'll let you be the judge as the rest of the story unfolds.

I do have a couple questions for you though: Do you blame Frank for conceding to bench Henry and Willy? And why or why not?

I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Well, talk to you soon!

Best Regards,

Tom

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