"What do you think Mr. Bell wants?" Willy asked.
Henry shook his head. "I wish I knew. Maybe he just wants to congratulate us for a great season. We only have a few games left."
"Maybe," Willy said, looking bewildered. "But then wouldn't he want to talk to the whole team?"
"Yeah, that would make sense," Henry mumbled. "I guess we'll just have to talk to him and find out."
Inside the mill, they had reached the second floor and were now standing outside of Frank Bell's office. Henry lifted his hand and gave a resounding knock against the door.
The two men entered and greeted Mr. Bell.
Frank stood behind his desk and gestured for them to take a seat.
Henry and Willy lowered themselves into the two guest chairs, but Mr. Bell remained standing.
"What did you need to see us about, Mr. Bell?" Henry asked.
Frank sighed. There were two thick envelopes on his desk. He pressed his fingers on top of the first envelope and slid it to Henry. Then in the same manner, he slid the other envelope to Big Willy.
Henry picked up the envelope and lifted the flap. Peeking inside, he felt his eyes bulge in surprise.
Money? Lots of bills. Tens and twenties.
Henry and Willy exchanged confused looks.
"Mr. Bell, what's this about?" Henry asked.
"It's an advance on your salaries," Frank said, his voice monotone. "I'm benching the two of you for the rest of the season." He waved an index finger at the envelopes. "That's all of your pay for the remainder of the games. It's all there. Plus a bonus ... as a thank you for your cooperation."
Henry couldn't believe it. None of this was making sense. "Why are you benching us?" Henry asked.
"Yeah! And cooperation for what?" Willy said.
Mr. Bell waved his hand dismissively. "There's no reason to get into all that. You've got your pay. You're both still technically on the roster. You just won't be playing in any more games."
"It doesn't make any sense," Henry said, his nostrils flaring with anger. "We've worked our tails off to help the Pioneers win. The least you can do is give us an explanation for why you're benching us!"
Mr. Bell began to pace back and forth behind his desk. He raked a hand through his short gray hair. "It's not personal, boys. I have to think about Union Steel's reputation. Allowing Negro players to participate in the playoffs could jeopardize the company's good name."
Henry felt the vein in his neck starting to pulse. "If that's how you feel, then why did you even come into that diner in the first place? Why did you even ask me to join the Pioneers?"
Frank hesitated and then sighed before answering. "All right," Frank muttered. "I'll tell you the truth. Henry, I wanted you to join the team to placate the Negroes working at the mill. There was just too much tension between the black and white employees. I wanted you on the team to stop all the fighting between the two sides."
Henry's jaw dropped. He couldn't even think of how to respond to this. He felt numb.
Frank continued. "You've done your job. The tensions have lessened. The white and black workers are getting along much better. And the Pioneers are doing well financially. We appreciate what the two of you have done, but we won't need your services anymore. You'll both sit out the rest of the season."
"But Mr. Bell –" Willy started to say.
"But nothing," Mr. Bell snapped. "I've already given you two far more of an explanation than I needed to. We're done here now. You can both go."
Henry bolted to his feet. For a heartbeat, he felt a fury flooding into his chest ... his biceps ... into his fists. He wanted to punch something ... or someone.
Then Willy stood up, his expression solemn.
Henry took a deep breath and the anger eased back, replaced by a calm. Glaring at Mr. Bell, he said, "I really thought you were different. But I guess I was wrong." Mimicking the earlier gesture, Henry set the envelope on the desk. He pressed his fingers on top of the envelope and slid it back to Mr. Bell.
Frank stared down at the envelope. Then he looked up at Henry with a sad sort of frown.
"You don't need to bench me," Henry said, "because I quit!"
With that, Henry stormed out of Frank Bell's office, and Willy's heavy footsteps were right behind him.
Frank was a bit harsh on Henry and Willy. Honestly, it wasn't easy for him to do what he did. He tried to hold back his emotions, but couldn't suppress his frustrations about the entire situation.
Well, this brings us to a logical break point in the story.
The next few chapters will take us to "98. True Enemy" which will be a super pivotal chapter.
Will Henry ever play baseball again? Only time will tell.
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All the best!
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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...