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 Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six 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


John Shaw was blunt: “I am going to make noises exactly like a coach, a father and a family man; then you can reconcile what I have to say with patriotism or any other ideas you have in mind.”

Connor and Dane exchanged glances. They were seated in Shaw’s office. It was lunchtime, and the adjoining locker room was silent. Only the thin lines at the corners of Dane’s mouth and the receding egg at the back of his head marked his previous night’s adventure. There were faint violet smudges beneath Connor’s eyes to mark his sleeplessness. The smudges warred with the set of his jaw. They listened to Shaw.

“You, Dipper, are a shining mark, from what happened last night, a target I don’t want around the squad. Don’t misunderstand me. This has nothing to do with your football ability. You can make my team. All things being equal, you would, and I’d be damn’ glad to have you. But you’ve got a job to do; and it’s a big one, I know. I think you guys have proved by now that my squad is clean. That was Dipper’s first chore. The Rogalski kid was it, and I think he was just a nice youngster on the fringe because of the brother. Okay…. Your psycho boys went through their motions, and it looked like a good idea at the time, but they didn’t turn up anything I couldn’t have told you about my kids, and neither did all your preliminary research.

“But when Sally Whittaker broke the fact that Dane wanted the picture of Rogalski’s brother, whoever thought they had cut off that source of information when they removed young Rogalski, decided that it might be smart to get rid of anyone else snuffing down that alley. Dane shows. They must know he doesn’t work alone, but he still shows, and he’s on my team. What do you think it would do to my guys, to the university, if the Dipper were knocked off in a game, for instance? Connor, you know that’s not fantastic. Hell, there was a plot set up to bang off a President at an Army-Navy game once!

“Furthermore, it’s enough trouble to keep crooks and gamblers away from this game without adding political thugs. Besides, it’s pretty clear that anybody associating with Dane is going to be looked over.” Shaw paused and gazed directly at Dane. “That’s the real reason I told you it would be smart to stay away from Sally. I had others, too.”

Connor lighted a cigarette and blew smoke at the window in a straight, forceful line.

“For all I know, they might be conning my family, my own children, and certainly some of the veterans on the squad,” continued the big man softly. “Damn it, this is a Rose Bowl team, a great bunch of kids--” He stopped again, waved a hand in a futile gesture. “I had to say it,” he muttered.

There was a long silence. Connor stabbed his cigarette into an ashtray, his lips a tight, bloodless line. When he spoke, his breath rushed forth with a pent-up gust. He controlled it, softened his voice.

“What do you think this is, Shaw, pat-a-cake? It’s war, and it’s going on all over the world. You think we don’t know everything you’ve told us? Now I’m going to tell you something, and you might as well brace, because you’re not going to like it: First, we appreciate your really fine cooperation so far. It’s no more than we expected, from your record. Eddie Dane can understand your feeling as far as your football team goes better than I can. But if I had to stop football here at Central completely, disband the whole damn’ bunch and walk over you too for one tiny, measly scrap of help in getting my job done—well, I’d do it. Rose Bowl! Great God!”

There was a sincere if somewhat forced smile on Shaw’s face; there was a grave, earnest timbre in his voice. “I told you I had to say it.” There was reasoned truth in his words. “I knew what the answer would be, too.” The swivel in his chair creaked as he turned to gaze out the window, past the practice field, across the sloping common to the tree-clad spires of the campus, and beyond into the drowsing town. There, in his view, was permanence, quiet grace. It wasn’t something to be mixed up in a lot of evil, for all he knew, some tenth-rate melodrama.

“I’ve got a headache,” said Dane quietly.

Connor snorted. “You’ve got a concussion, and according to the doc, if you didn’t have the physical apparatus of a mule, you’d have a damn’ sight more. The guy who swung the billy knew his stuff. An inch lower, and you’d be gambling for it in an oxygen tent. You’re to take things easy the rest of the week until the doc gives us another check.”

He swung again to face Shaw: “John, let me finish this. Your reasoning is wrong, you know. I don’t think Dane was slated for that bash on the head deliberately. I think he walked into somebody who was examining his room. I don’t think they’re dumb enough to assume that he might have the Rogalski picture. I merely think that this outfit is so well entrenched and organized that they take a quiet peek at anybody these days—in fact, from the time we nabbed the guy on the first business end. That goes especially for new football players this season, and it must go for any new faces around the campus, probably including my own.

I do think that they know we’ve traced their operations to this area, and it isn’t new news exactly. This is an industrial center. The university just happens to be an appendage. Call it just a part of the cover, with the real work being done down there in the city, in the mills. I don’t think, for instance, that we are going to turn up actual villains with blunt instruments or secret diagrams in their hands. Not unless all previous patterns reverse themselves. We are just going to dig, pry and dig some more. The regional office is checking normal ‘front’ groups in the area. What we can’t see, we’ll keep worried. I think there’s a fair amount of worry going on, and that may give us a break.”

Dane concentrated on Connor’s words. He knew valid experience when it spoke, had worked with it before. He noted the rapt interest in Shaw’s face.

“That’s why,” continued Connor, “Dane is staying with your squad, why he is going to bust a gut making your team, and why he is going to stay right out in the open.”

There was a soft, ruthless, disciplined, intonation in the man’s words. “He makes pretty bait just in case somebody does get foolish. Meanwhile, we go on working with what we have.”

“Nothing personal in this, of course,” grunted the Dipper, wishing peevishly that Connor had his head for the rest of the day.

Connor rose, stretched his arms over his head, then dropped a hand on Dane’s shoulder lightly, squeezed affectionately. “I hear that part of the journalism course in this school includes getting hit on the head from time to time. Don’t be surprised if you get a definite exercise in that direction now and then.” He walked to the door.

“So long, Shaw,” he said, and paused. He looked coolly at Dane, a dancing light leavening the weariness of his eyes. “Watch your step, rockhead. If it’s any help to you, we’re helping you watch it a bit more closely from now on.”

Shaw gazed speculatively at the doorway after Connor left. “I’m getting old, I guess,” he said softly. He turned to Dane, his face softening. “Listen, Dipper, how would you like me to call old Dan? You can go over to the gym, and he’ll give you a nice, soothing rubdown. Might help that headache. Then you can roll over and take a nap there. I’ll pick you up after practice, and take you out to the house for dinner. I don’t want you to work out the rest of the week, anyhow…. What do you say?” He reached for the phone as Dane nodded. “Take your play book in case you get restless. Who knows? If Clinton isn’t too tough Saturday, maybe you’ll get a chance to stretch a little, at least enough to keep you interested.”

Dane grinned. “I’m sorry about that crack in the lockers the other day,” he said. “Just a little edgy.”

“Sure,” agreed the big man softly. “Get going.”

After Dane had closed the door behind him, Shaw reached into his top desk drawer and took out a wide loose-leaf book. It looked like an accountant’s ledger and indeed it was a summation of assets and liabilities in terms of football manpower. Each player was represented in the book by a dossier several pages in length, a report completely current, and kept so by daily coaching analysis made by Shaw’s staff. Each individual section held a capsule summary on offensive and defensive gradings. Long hours of night work went into these summaries during the season as the factors which went into them became more complicated by scouting reports and movie grades and game data. Shaw’s secretaries and coaching staff would fill a filing cabinet with such material, and from it the big man would plan his strategy, shifting players and plays to meet ever-shifting situations.

Right now Shaw was building offensive and defensive units; the “two platoon” system which capitalized each squad member’s individual abilities to the utmost, and which, when the stadium filled, would drive radio announcers and fans daffy trying to determine who was who on the field of action. Under that system of specialization more kids would play, kids whose general all-around ability might not have assayed up to the specifications which made a “regular.” And under it, the fans would see a faster, more daring game. There would also be less injuries in such a game, less of the grinding fatigue in the waning moments of tight battles, which made players more prone to injury.

“Shuttlecock” substitutions had their moments, however. Twice in the State game last year the spotters on the phones had reported fourteen men on the field, and once only ten lined up. Fortunately, the officials had only caught one instance of superfluous manpower. Shaw chuckled to himself as he recalled one moment in that game: A State drive through tackle had gone eight yards for a first down. “I told that Walsh he was over-shifting,” Shaw had bellowed. “That guy has been told a million times--” As he finished his tirade, a voice at his side on the bench said: “Gee, that Walsh is dumb, ain’t he? He might just as well be setting here.” Shaw turned and looked into the grinning face of Walsh!

The big man went on patiently sifting, assembling tentative listings, mentally checking the personalities involved as he did so. It was well past three o’clock when he finished. He heard the first of the squad begin to racket around the locker-room.

Buckets Dugan walked into his office. Behind him came Tod Morgan and Ames. They were already dressed for practice in gray baseball pants, dark blue Central pullover sweat-jackets, heavy white wool socks and football shoes. Each had a mimeographed sheet of paper in his hand; the day’s work schedule prepared the following night. They grinned at Shaw. “Makin’ any sense?” grunted Dugan, looking over Shaw’s shoulder at the scrawlings on his desk.

“Some,” said the big man. “Say, I notice you’ve been down-grading Jeffers. What’s the matter with the guy? He’s got three minus marks on defense in the past week. Is the kid stale, tired, or what?”

Dugan thought a moment. “He’s stubborn. In the first place he’s been letting that first blocker get outside him on flank plays instead of moving out with him and letting the line backer plug the hole. Then he’s been using the wrong shoulder when he crashes, and instead of forcing the play inside, he’s helping turn it where the offense wants to go. He’s been told plenty. But he’s bull-headed. I’ll give it to him again today.”

Shaw grunted. It was part of his success as a coach that he took the word of his staff implicitly. Morgan, his first assistant, had coached the club during Shaw’s Navy term, and had done an excellent job. He looked at Ames, the back coach. “Can’t make up your mind on Dane, can you?”

“The guy’s got plenty,” said Ames thoughtfully. “I’d like to see him run for us. Perkins has been working with him, you know. But then again he covers a lot of ground on defense too, and he doesn’t sucker out of position. I like the way he comes up to tackle, too. He hits, and we might need that more than we need fancy running. I got ball carriers. No, I don’t know yet. Where did you put him?”

Shaw glanced down at his notes. “Offense,” he said. “Speed…. You watched the sprints? He’s out there anywhere from three to five yards ahead of the bunch. But we’ll leave it open.” He picked up his notes and handed them to Morgan. “Want to check before we have them listed? And anything you see that doesn’t look right, yell. Incidentally, Ted, how’s Piskoti’s leg coming?”

“Pulled muscle,” answered Morgan, “but nothing serious. Heat treatments and tape. He runs all right.”

“Well take ‘em,” said Shaw winding up the session. “I’ll be out but I’m leaving early. Dane is excused from practice. Had a silly fall on his rooming-house steps that opened his head a bit. Doc says minor concussion. He’ll work out at the end of the week, though.”

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Chapter One Chapter Two Chapter Three Chapter Four Chapter Five
Chapter Six 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