The Marked Field

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

Please respect the copyright.

Chapter One 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


Bakerston was named for a man who cut down all the prime timber from its surrounding terrain, gouged out as much iron ore from the nearby hills as was profitable, and later sold the denuded ground to the State for educational purposes. The community enjoyed a permanent population of some four thousand persons. When the academic facilities of Central University began to function each autumn, this vital statistic swelled to something more than ten thousand, and the local merchants spoke cordially to the local banker. While awaiting this annual miracle, the citizens of Bakerston spent their time removing the scars of the last student occupation and watching portents which might possibly affect the fortunes of Central’s football team. Like Massillon, Ohio, and Green Bay, Wisconsin, Bakerston was pigskin daffy and unashamed of it.

It was the last town in the land in which to search for enemy spies, thought John Shaw. He winced at the purple description. Enemy spies were something in Oppenheim novels; and Communist football players sending atom data from the campus--the thing was incredible. Bakerston was a place where the young seasoned its youth with learning, where kids made love, friends, fond memories, and where they played rough games with a fine animal enthusiasm. It wasn’t a place of plot, counterplot, treason and danger. The big man was realist enough to know, however, that the best disguise was the appearance of the blandest innocence. Because no one could think of the sinister aspects of international cold war in Bakerston, somebody had..

There were few signs of it on Colwide Field, however. University classes began in the middle of September but football squad workouts on the practice field which abutted Central Lake across a green common from the stadium itself began September first, and the conflict on the cleat-chewed turf was already hot.

As Shaw ended his cross-town walk, he paused at the door of the stone field house at the north end of the field and gazed at his kids. At one corner of the limed expanse Buckets Dugan, his line coach, had a bunch of guards practicing cross-blocks and pullouts on each other. He could hear Buckets’ high-pitched voice yelling: “Drive, dammit. Drive!

On the other side of the field Ainsley Ames, the backfield coach and Tod Morgan, Shaw’s first assistant, were working with kickers, sending tackles and ends down under the booming punts to smack down the backs returning kicks. It was rough contact work, with full pads and headgear.

As Shaw watched, a high, lazy spiral drifted downfield with four men, two tackles and two ends, coming down under it.

The ball began its rapid descent, apparently falling short of the receiver, who stood relaxed and loafing as ends and tackles slowed. The kid was playing it off the hop, thought Shaw. He changed his mind. As the men sprinting downfield slowed and stopped, the receiver took one tentative step forward, burst into full speed grabbed the ball, spun from one hasty clutch and streaked for the sideline in the clear. Outfoxed the dummies, grinned Shaw. He’d fix that later. He squinted. The receiver pulled from his run and casually heaved the ball back to the kicker without a loss of motion. The ball rifled thirty-five yards on a clean arc, and the kid turned to trot back into his position for the next kick. He was grinning, moving as smoothly as a cat. Shaw called to him, raising his voice in a shout that echoed above the chatter of the field. “Hey, Dipper,” he cried. “Come here a minute.” He leaned against the wall of the field house and waited. He knew a lot more about Dipper Dane than he had two weeks ago; and despite half a lifetime assaying men, the knowledge impressed him.

A precocious Ohio kid, Dane had entered Purdue at an age when most youngsters were busy being high school seniors—probably because of study habits formed under the influence of his late father, an engineering prof at MIT, mused Shaw. Young Eddie had made the freshman squad and jumped to the varsity as a sophomore, the year Tojo dumped the works at Pearl. His mother was dead; and when Dane, Sr., moved to Chicago for reasons later explicit in the war, and where he ultimately died from the effects of hard radiation, the Dipper had enlisted. He had showed so much natural aptitude as an infantryman that he graduated into the Rangers, where his talents later took him into a special branch of the O.S.S. His present Federal employment agency got him on loan at war’s end for one or two specific assignments. This one, if completed, might be the last of the string, according to Dipper himself and Hamilton Connor, a grave-faced man, recently introduced to Shaw as a new history instructor at Central, the departmental supervisor on the case.

“What’s on your mind, Coach?” grinned Dane.

“Your conference eligibility,” snapped Shaw. “For some reason I like my guys to be clean as a whistle, with all the fuddy-duddy regulations of this league; and you seem entitled to two more years of college play.”

Dane chuckled. “If I make the grade,” he added. “I’m old for this stuff you’re dishing out; and from one or two observations I’ve made, there seem to be a lot of guys besides me who plan to handle that halfback’s job I want.”

“Good ones, too,” said Shaw quietly. “But I have a couple of affidavits you have to sign—just routine paper records for the conference secretary to make your return to this game all nice and formal. And following suggestions from a certain Rover Boy of this club, I am about to have this entire squad psychoanalyzed, just like the coaches of real big teams elsewhere in the country. We are going to look at cycloid dispositions, rathymia, nervous characteristics, introversion patterns; and when we are all through, I am going to give the data to Buckets Dugan, just because it is a nasty thing to do to poor Buckets, and because I won’t know what it means, either.”

“The tests will be conducted by two graduate students from the University of Chicago, I presume?”

“Two properly accredited psychiatrists,” agreed Shaw gravely. “Come in and sign your papers, and blow back to work.”

“You will agree, however, that this new and scholarly approach will make nice copy for the press, confirm your standing as the great student of the game—Fox of the North, they call you, don’t they?—and also set the stage to ask a lot of otherwise batty questions,” said Dane.

“Only suckers on a squad kid the coach,” said Shaw evenly; but his eyes glinted as he spoke. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this afternoon yet.” He waved Dane away with a casual arm motion, watched momentarily the easy, springy stride which carried him along. Then he turned and entered the field house. There was a difference in the Shaw-Dane coach-player relationship, he thought, his mind reaching back to the first evening he met the Dipper. For all the apparently disciplined ability and canny judgment Dane owned for the job he was pledged to do, and despite the seasoned reasoning he showed in the several quiet business sessions he had managed to hold with Shaw, there was still a coltishness in the kid, a wild exuberance and a grinning abandon which burst through at times, especially on the practice field. The Dane-Shaw player-coach relationship, was different, al right. The Central alumni, always in full cry, would be glad to know it sometime, preferably at the end of an undefeated season; but meanwhile the first game had yet to be played.

He walked into the tiny office, a combination locker and desk space he kept on the practice field—more, he thought, as a repository of old pictures of past heroes than anything else. He was going to grind offense today with three varying combinations of lines and backs, going right through the five basic sequences of plays that he used; variations sprang from them later as dictated by scouting reports and picture analysis of game movies. He could see plays and counter-plays in his head. That was why he did not notice the girl in the swivel chair behind his scarred desk.

“Boo!” she said.

“For goodness sake,” he muttered, “don’t they ever get male reporters on that sheet of yours? You should be married and raising a family by now. Let’s see—this is the seventh season. Surely that editor of yours has found a suitable replacement by now. How are you, Sally?”

“Mad,” she snapped, “and sick unto death of that mimeo chatter your boy Connator has been pumping around about standard workouts. How was camp? What’s with this Dane? Did Armbruster bust out last term, or is he back in grace? How bad do you figure to take Clinton Tech two weeks from now? And how’s the family?”

“We pay a flock of guys to answer all that sort of thing for you,” he said; “and the family’s fine. Besides, the faculty manager generally invites the wire services and your own metropolitan press up for a pre-season bull session, which will be three days from now. Only you came early, as usual.” His smile was open and warm.

“Fiddle-faddle,” she said.

When Sarah Whittaker was an angular child, neighboring playmates, mostly boys, called her “Bricktop.” She had that kind of hair then, as well as an unmistakable talent for spitting with uncanny accuracy through an aperture left by two departed frontal maiden teeth. No discerning male would take such liberties today. Miss Whittaker was a big girl, for the past few years one of Iron City’s better sports writers—one of the few in the business, male or female, who really knew football. Miss Whittaker was also, in the parlance of a campus, which knew her as an undergraduate, “stacked.”

Iron City, the nearest metropolis to Bakerston, lay twenty miles away; and like Sheridan galloping to Winchester, Sally Whittaker made the ride several times a week during the autumn at the behest of the Evening Independent’s sport editor, for information which she later poured through a typewriter. Shaw knew her well, knew her mother and father, both genial people perpetually amazed that a nice girl would choose a newspaper career, and continually hopeful that she might, at least, transfer her talents to the society section. Sally and his wife Molly were friends.

Shaw looked at her gravely. “Well,” he said, “just so I can go on with my work and you can go on with yours, I think we’ll be ready for Clinton. Most of my guys are shaping nicely, with Randy Perkins looking particularly well at quarterback. He’s had that trick knee all straightened out, and he’s doing more tricks than ever with the ball. He may be hard to hold this year. Ike Berg, the fellow who is still looking for your scalp for calling him the one-man Haganah last season, is going to be a father; and oddly enough, he is showing his delight by carving out the sole ownership of my right-guard job.”

He paused. “You had the release on Dipper Dane, including his war record, and what they thought of him at Purdue a few years ago. He’s in awfully good shape. He has a natural knack for our system, and he may help us plenty. He is a bit older than most of the other kids, and I don’t know how that will work out. Incidentally, he’s clean with the conference on playing status.

“I’ll give this out at the press party later in the week, probably to my sorrow; but we’re going scientific here this year too, and you might as well have it locally before the wire-service lads get playing with it. The whole squad is about to be psychoanalyzed. Not that I don’t know my own kids, but it’s part of an experimental project conducted by some graduate students at the University of Chicago, and it may help us learn more about handling boys. Tests will begin next week. That ought to hold you, Sally. You can stick around awhile and watch the gang if you want to, but I’ve got things to do. I even want to change my clothes, so scram.”

The Whittaker smile was a thing to see. “You’re a nice man, Mr. Shaw, and I’ll find a spot out of your way on the field. You wouldn’t have any idea what sort of tests will be used on your squad, would you? There’s a story in the thing. And you wouldn’t have any objections to introducing me to Dipper Dane either, would you? There might be another one in what brings a fellow like that back to school.”

“Out, Miss Whittaker!” There might, at that, he thought as she left….

They were working backfields as units, and lines as units, the linemen working blocking assignments in Shaw’s basic trap plays over and over again, and the backs stepping through the same plays with no lines in front of them, faking and cutting endlessly.

Dane could feel the strain in the back of his legs and the sweat in his eyes. He could feel a sense of irritation, too at the persistent coaching voices. “Dane,” barked one, “Don’t deviate. Stay on your running course. Don’t shift and don’t vary. One step different, and you’ll throw somebody’s blocking assignment out. Dane—fake that ball. Hide it. Dane—take three steps, not two and jiggle, three—give the man coming back on the reverse time to confirm the deception before he takes the ball.”

This was the stuff that made smooth ball clubs; and on each repetitive effort the coaches gave mental grades to each player. Later in the season when the game movies were available, each player would be graded as to technique and execution on each play, and the averages would determine who stayed on top of the jobs.

Dane was glad when Shaw raised his voice and summoned him out of the immediate area. The coach was standing with a girl. “Meet Miss Whittaker,” he said quietly as Dane stopped before them. “One of the better sports-writers in these parts. Independent, in Iron City.”

There was a brief moment when their eyes locked. Eddie Dane had the absurd impression that he’d never seen bluer ones, and then he was warmed in her full-lipped smile. “I’m happy to meet you, Miss Whittaker,” he said gravely. “What do you think of the squad?”

“It’s pretty early to tell,” she said; “but having watched essentially the same bunch last year, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did all right.” There was a tiny straight line of smudge across the middle of his forehead where a helmet had rested earlier in the afternoon. She felt a curious urge to take her handkerchief and wipe it away.

“Miss Whittaker would like to talk to you later about your reasons for entering school again,” said Shaw evenly. “She also wants to do something about our psycho quiz, so she’ll be around. Okay for now.” The words were a dismissal.

“It’s been nice,” said Dane. He turned and loped back to his unit. Sally watched him go, an intent expression in her eyes, and the merest suggestion of a pout at her lips. Shaw caught the look, and grinned. “Okay, Sally?” he asked gently.

She turned. “Fine, thank you , John. Maybe I can steal some of his time in a day or two, if it’s all right with you. But I might as well take what I have back to the paper now. See you later.”

There was an eight-column line across the sport section of the Iron City Independent the following day. Central Squad To Hold Skull Sessions For Science….

In a small and tastefully furnished bachelor apartment on one of Bakerston’s green side streets, an instructor in medieval history tapped a hesitant finger on a chair-arm as he read the story. Presently he moved to a telephone, and in a neat, clipped voice called a number and delivered a message.

The following morning the body of Ernest Rogalski, Central liberal arts student, senior and second-string tackle on the football team was found on Lincoln Lane at the east end of town.

Rogalski had apparently been struck by a hit-and–run driver. The lane was dark at the sector in which the body was found. Towering elms made a tunnel there. Some protuberance, perhaps, on the death car had laid a deep indentation along the side of Rogalski’s head.

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Chapter One 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