The Marked Field

Carl L. Biemiller's The Marked Field appeared in
Blue Book Magazine
October 1949, Vol. 89, No. 6

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Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home


He was a big man. His shadow in the late August sun stretched from the running track surrounding the football field and ran halfway up the banked concrete steps of the stadium, as if trying to peer into the glassed-in press box perched on the rim. He strolled out onto the barbered grass of the playing field, reached a point where a thirty-yard line would run later in the year, and viewed the empty terrain like a reminiscing general surveying a former battlefield. The late autumn wind would quarter from the north at this spot, forcing chilled spectators deeper into overcoats as it poured over the seats; and a man kicking a football from here would have to angle his kick down the sideline for maximum distance, keeping it low for the roll and hoping his ends got down in time.

The coach would tell an handful of kids that fact a thousand times before Thanksgiving. He walked down the field, stooped near the far sideline. No matter how many times they fixed the terra-cotta drains which ran beneath the running-track, and no matter how much they landscaped and tended the playing-field, there would always be a nearly unnoticeable declivity at this spot which might shake the footing from a broken-field runner on a day after rain or a stormy afternoon. A good quarterback would keep his plays away from here.

He walked into the end zone behind the south goalposts and gazed at a corner out near the twenty-yard line. That corner lined up exactly over the middle of the crossbar for a place-kicker sighting over the posts at the SG gate in the stadium.

He was a general, and the stadium at Central University was a battlefield, his home battlefield for ten tough games in a tough league. This year he was as nearly ready for them as a football coach ever gets. Characteristically, he winced away from the thought.

He let his eyes travel the length of the field again, lifted them far above the distant end zone at the other end of the field. That’s where he’d put his spotters and phones down to the bench. A good man there, watching the holes open in the lines and conning the shifting defenses of the opposition, was worth four more on the field. He chuckled. This year he wouldn’t need four more men. He was loaded, barring injuries, of course, and scholastic difficulties, fraternity strife, girl trouble, accidents stemming from sheer animal spirits, possible cliques on the club, big heads from too-ardent press notices, alumni fervor and other allied hazards. He killed the chuckle. No successful coach has a right to count All-Americans before they are hatched.

His singular content was apparent to the woman who waited in the roadster at the end of the stadium tunnel, which ran from the locker rooms. “Place look good to you, dear?” she queried, and smiled.

He grinned. “Let’s go home, baby. I haven’t seen the kids since I left for camp a month ago, and I don’t consider our meeting at the station a half-hour ago really seeing you.”

She eased the car into gear.

“You’re sure you don’t want to visit the office first?”

He laughed softly. “I’ve got the office in my pocket in one little telegram,” he said. “That E. R. Dane listed for Journalism II is Dipper Dane, the kid that burned the Big Nine to a crisp as a pre-war sophomore, and he’s coming back to school. This school—not Purdue, North Carolina, Stanford or Penn—this school! And a sweeter present couldn’t be had. With what I’ve got, we’re going to be very rough, and maybe you might even wear roses in Pasadena next New Year’s Day.”

There were people in the Northeast Conference who claimed that John Evans Shaw, head coach of Central, was always rough even when fielding teams that averaged 145 pounds soaking wet. It was said that he could get more from his kids than they knew they had, that on year two graduate coal-miners from Wilkes-Barre went back to the mines and set new production records simply by imagining they heard his voice. An ex-All-American and graduate of the pro ranks in the last days of the Canton Bulldogs, he was a quiet, serious, competent person with an innate understanding of his fellow-man, a fact which he proved to the complete satisfaction of the U. S. Navy during the first and only leave he ever took from the Central campus.

His wife let the car loaf slowly past the campus. She was a slim woman, trim and neat in a soft tweed suit, and a quiet, mature beauty glowed in her face, a comely blend of high cheekbones, wide eyes with the tiny crow’s feet of sun and laughter at their corners, and full lips, relaxed now as she thought how much the big man enjoyed watching the campus. He liked the vaulting gray stone buildings and the things they represented. She knew the depths of this man, the gentleness and the deep appreciation of things permanent so well symbolized by the campus itself.

“How was the camp?” she asked idly.

“Very good,” he smiled. Shaw’s summer camp for boys, which drowsed in the Berkshires by a secluded lake, was a lucrative by-product of his talent for handling young males. If, by a strange coincidence, his camp counselors represented the major portion of Central’s football squad each year, and if, by the same coincidence, that squad worked daily on a practice field each camping day—well, who said good teams came easy? The setup saved the university the cost of a regular training site elsewhere.

“I wish,” he added slowly, “that I could have had young Dane up there. In fact, I wish I knew a lot more about that kid than I do.”

She was silent, awaiting, from long habit, the formation of his thoughts. “The war’s been over three years now,” he mused. “Where’s Dane been? Of course, he was only an eighteen-year-old whiz when he left school, which makes him about twenty-seven now, a pretty old junior and maybe not quite the ball-player I think. We’ll know more soon, though. I asked him to stop by the house this evening. He’s supposed to be in town making some arrangements with the dean’s office. Connator, our publicity man, got in touch with him.”

The car slid between the two elms standing sentinel on the driveway and stopped. The red brick dignity of the small Georgian house was marred only by two small boys dancing on the stone steps. “Pop, Pop, Pop, Pop,” they yelled, making a war-dance chant of the words.

“H’ya, men!” he boomed. “It looks like a big year.”

The doorbell rang at nine, and Shaw answered it himself. Light streamed on the figure on the steps, a figure erect in a white linen suit which added bulk to shoulders and the illusion of size to the caller. “Mr. Shaw?” asked the visitor in a quiet voice. “I’m Eddie Dane.”

“Come on in, Dipper,” said the coach. “It’s fine—fine of you to stop by.”

“I hope you think so later, Mr. Shaw,” said the caller. It was an odd remark, and Shaw savored it as he followed his guest into the living room, a cool room with pale green walls and the August buzzing of late cicadas dull on the faint breeze which came through open windows.

Dane moved easily, with that almost liquid coordination which marks an athlete in the eyes of a trained observer as clearly as a brand. He bowed to Mrs. Shaw, gazing quizzically from a chair in a corner, and the big man’s voice followed the movement. “This is Dipper Dane, dear,” said Shaw. “Sit down, guy, and make it all comfortable.”

There was ease and self-possession in the kid, thought Shaw as he watched his caller settle indolently into a chair, and a certain barely discernible air of command about him. He looked fit, to an experienced eye, almost too fine-drawn. There was maturity in his face, and a crisp tightness at the corners of his lips, which implied that responsibility was no stranger. Shaw caught a faint smile in the young man’s eyes. He grinned in answer. “I always look ‘em over as if they were horses or something,” he said; “it’s a bad habit, I guess.”

Dane’s smile was warm and friendly, lighting his face and relaxing the corners of his mouth. “Weight, one eighty; height five, eleven,” he said,’ “and when does your squad work out here?”

“You’ve been away from the game a long time,” he said. “Think you’ll like it again?”

“The nod was firm. “Never stopped liking it.” His voice was low and steady. “But that wouldn’t make much difference this time. I’m going to romp with your squad just the same, and maybe if some of the stuff is still there, it’ll be your varsity.”

Shaw grunted. “It figures to be a nice bunch of boys this season,” he said. “A lot of rugged lads who haven’t laid off the game for as long as you have, and who aren’t exactly out of the knack either.”

“I know your squad pretty well,” said Dane evenly, “Maybe some better than you do. You run from the T, and run tough, so I spent the last eight days working with the Eagles in the National Pro League, getting set for you. I even have a nice letter from Greasy Neale.”

The big man’s face clouded in the lamplight. There was something behind his caller’s words. Characteristically, he waited for it to emerge. This was no cocky kid sounding off to impress him.

“In fact,” continued Dane, “I know even more about you than an ordinary squad member might be expected to know, so I don’t anticipate anything but cooperation when I tell you that our particular player-coach relationship is going to be slightly different than others you have known.”

Shaw frowned his brows pulling tight in puzzlement. “You talk a bit big, youngster,”

“Not me,” said Dane. “This--” The badge was small in the palm of his outstretched hand, and the eagle was gold in the light. Shaw had seen similar ones in the past. He had once carried out a Navy assignment with the holder of such a badge.

He turned his head and cast a fond glance at his wife. “Honey,” he said softly, “could you take about ten minutes to fix us a snack?”

“Don’t get up,” she said, interrupting their movement, and smiling. “I’ll take fifteen minutes.”

Dane grinned as she passed them.

“Well?” asked Shaw.

“We think one of Joe’s boys has taken up football,” sand Dane. “And we think he may have been involved in sending signals of some of the Big Plays to the other team.”

“I’ll be damned!” said Shaw slowly. “This with maybe a Rose Bowl club, too. Those guys don’t care what they do, do they?”

There was a long silence in the room as the two men looked at each other; then Dane’s low-pitched voice continued: “Now and then one of our periodic departmental checks turns up and unsuspected result,” he said. “The last man picked up was busy chasing atom dope as usual, and we found a letter. They’re usually more careful than that, but everybody slips, I guess.

“The letter was from the guy’s brother, a Central student, apparently a football player, and for all we know the intermediate post office for data en route abroad. All of that is a lot to infer from one letter, but it was that kind of letter—so Dipper Dane is back in school.”

“I take it, then,” said Shaw, “that the guy you picked up was pretty good at his business, and that maybe there was more than a letter in his effects.”

“He was no bum,” agreed Dane wryly, “and neither is the cutie on this end, if he’s still in business. You couldn’t ask for nicer cover than a college football squad.”

“Well, I don’t say it isn’t so,” said the big man; “but it’s a big school and a helluva big world. What do you want me to do?”

“Bring me up to date on college life,” grinned Dane. “It’s been a long time, and I’m an eager young man.”

It was two hours before he left the house, however. And as he strode down the walk, a figure detached itself from the heavy tree shadows on the opposite side of the street and moved after him.

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Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five Chapter Six
Chapter Seven Chapter Eight Chapter Nine Chapter Ten Chapter Eleven
Chapter Twelve Chapter Thirteen Chapter Fourteen Chapter Fifteen Chapter Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home