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


I was Shaw’s custom to hold his squad together the entire day of a game. The team reported to the Central gym building at eight in the morning for fruit juice, vitamins and a final chalk talk on the opposition. At nine-thirty the squad sat down to breakfast, generally steak or chops, a light salad of fruit, and tea and toast. From ten-thirty to noon it rested either on the cots lined through the gym floor and the basketball locker room, or in the big chairs of the gym house lobby, where reading was permitted. At twelve-thirty two chartered buses carried the team to the stadium, despite the fact that the distance involved was an easy walk. Shaw had once had a regular back turn an ankle on that saunter. Since then he had taken no last minute chances.

Outside the building a light drizzle was falling. The rain had begun about dawn, and from the gray despondency of the skies, threatened to continue throughout the afternoon. Although Shaw had already given orders to leave the field tarpaulins on until the last minute, the club would go into mud cleats by halftime if the rain persisted or grew heavier. The effect of bad weather and bad footing on any team geared to a T-formation attack was apparent on Shaw’s face and in the gravity with which he issued instructions.

The sullenness of the day matched the somber viciousness of Dane’s mood, a mood which had persisted since his fight with Sally, and one which he had unleashed several times in unwarranted energy during the previous day’s light signal workout. His attitude had not gone unnoticed by the eagle-eyed coaching staff.

“Dane’s looking a bit mean,” Ames reported to Shaw, and at Shaw’s questioning glance, amplified his statement. “NO squad friction, just a nastiness that gives the impression that he’d like to tee off on somebody. He may be up a bit high for the game, but it isn’t that kind of edginess.”

“We’ll see,” said the big man. “I’m going to start him.

The game itself was not on Dane’s mind.

There had been no word from Connor in Washington. Dane’s routine reports to the regional office in Iron City had been perfunctory, and as usual, unsatisfactory to him. The case was not static, however. He had, from time to time, observed some vaguely familiar faces driving milk and bread trucks in the vicinity of Slanp’s neighborhood, and knew that the routine observation, probably the movie photography of visitors to the Professor’s apartment house, was going its inexorable way. As far as the Iron City police were concerned, the Rogalski incident was closed as a hit-and-run case, with no evidence apparent on the death car or driver.

He had thought of calling Sally, but a strange stubbornness alien to his own appraisal of his character, precluded it. He was out, he told himself, where he should have been in the first place: and until the job was done, he would stay out. The thought gave him no comfort at all.

Something of his reflections was mirrored in the thin set of his lips and a narrowness at the corners of his eyes as he lay flat on the cot in the gym; and so concentrated was his thinking that Shaw’s voice reached him twice before the words made sense. He looked up at the big man standing beside his cot.

“I told you that the lineups will be posted as usual,” said Shaw. “But you might like to know that you’re starting the ball game. How do you feel?”

“Great,” said Dane. There was a friendly directness as his eyes met Shaw’s, but nothing more. “Thanks.”

“There’s a spot near the forty-yard line on the east side of the field--”

“Wetter than any other because of bad drainage. Don’t try to cut too sharply in that area on day like this,” finished Dane for him. He looked past the big man’s shoulder toward the gym window, where, it seemed, the rain was driving harder. “Do we go into mud gear before the kickoff?”

“We’ll see down there,” answered the coach, and swung away. “Stay loose if you can.”

A student manager, with a handful of mimeographed sheets, claimed Shaw’s attention. “Starting lineups and last-minute notes for the press box to check against programs,” Dane heard the young man say. “Want to check ‘em?” He closed his eyes and willed his muscles slack. He dozed, stayed in semi-haze until it was time to leave.

Warwick was big, solid through the line, with a set of rangy backs. Scouting reports on the team’s two previous victories denied the club reserve strength, a condition which sometimes made little difference if a team was up. And all of Central’s opposition was forever up, thanks to Shaw’s consistent record. Dane recalled that fact standing on his own five-yard line awaiting the whistle. There was the pre-game tremor at the back of his thighs, and unconsciously, he pranced a bit to relieve it. The rain had turned into a gentler drizzle, with a faint spraying, atomizer feeling against his face.

Central was in black again, but at the crotch of Dane’s pants and at the armpits there was a powdery smudge of white-rosin dusting, to make ball handling more certain. He fidgeted, his mood, his irritation building; and then the referee’s blast was shrilling over the field, and he watched the men before him check, turn and come back to form the blocking pattern. Perkin’s voice, cutting sharp above the roar of the crowd, came clear. “Take it, Dipper!” Then the ball, well booted, was tumbling just short of him. He picked up drive and the ball simultaneously, caught blockers from the corners of his eyes, slanted up the middle, running easily, cagily until the charging defenders formed their design.

The blocking was audible, and he was among it now, veering for an opening to his right. He was running hard, legs driving with a short, sprinting viciousness, his full stride denied in the close quarters. Then two tacklers boomed into the space before him. He was trapped, lowered his shoulder, and with a ramming, butting drive he punished those tacklers, riding into and over them for extra yards until he fell, exulting in the impact. He brought the ball out to the Central forty, a thirty-yard runback, and the crowd filled the stadium with sound.

Warwick spread an offset, six-man line against them, a bit over shifted to the right against their balanced line. In the huddle Perkins was curt. “Take it again, Dipper,” he snapped at Dane. He called the play. The team settled easily. The ball spatted into Perkin’s hands from Peterson. There was a fake, a second fake with Perkins playing Nijinsky and Houdini, and then Dane was driving up the middle through a brief slot in the line, humped over the ball with his legs driving, churning into a small spot of daylight. The Warwick safety-man coming up fast made the tackle, and again Dane lowered that shoulder and rode into the tackler, bruising and busting for extra yardage. The fever was on him now, and with it a release of his black mood.

He made twelve yards pushing the ball past midfield into Warwick territory. Perkins, quickly aware of his weapon, used it, and once again Dane blasted up the middle, running with an icy, deliberate, almost trouble-seeking fury that carried another eight yards with half the big Warwick line smothering him into the wet turf. Warwick called time out.

Central grouped in a ragged huddle wiping faces glistening with sweat and rain on towels brought by the trainers and student managers. Dane moved restlessly, eager to resume play, and there was an answering fire in the set faces of the deep breathing men about him. The whistle called them back to work. First down on Warwick’s forty, the game three plays old and that rugged Warwick line tough and determined before them. The play was a sweep, with Dane the man in motion to the left, and Tripelda taking a Perkins handoff. It went for six more. There was chatter in the huddle. Daniels, playing offensive end, grunted: “My guy’s drifting a foot or so wide, and he might sucker for a thing inside.” Peterson said: “Their guard spacing has changed again too. Want to try down the slot again?” Perkins shushed them, flipped a glance at Dane, and called the play. It was a short, quick pass into the flat, and Daniels buttonhooked for it, fought his way to a first down.

Warwick was big and dead game, but Central’s deceptive attack was persistent. The ball moved down to the twenty, to the fifteen; and then Perkins fired a pitch-out to Dane, who raced into the end zone for the score. Perkins kicked the point with an easy precision, and the club trotted back up the field with the defensive unit coming in. Shaw let Dane stay with the defense. He was playing concentrated ball now, and playing it with a lifting fire that took him automatically to the heart of action.

Back on the sideline Perkins recapped the scoring play and the events leading to it for Shaw. He gave it to the big man succinctly: The Dipper’s coked. He’s hotter than a nickel cigar.”

The fact was evident. Warwick, running from a variation of the single wing with a hocus-pocus spinner, moved two plays against the strong side of the line, watched its blocking dissipate against Central’s line play, saw its runners smashed flat by Dane coming up sprinting to make tackles. The rain was coming faster now, and a gaining wind began to blow it in gusts. Warwick, its attack halted, kicked. Schwartz, playing safety in the defensive unit, let it land soggily, watch it die with scarcely a bounce.

Shaw sent the offensive unit back into the game. The officials were drying the ball, swapping it frequently with others tossed in from the sidelines. The turf was sleek, the footing treacherous; and Perkins, playing cautiously, whanged away at the middle and at the tackles. Dane, his ball-carrying violence undimmed, raged at the gummy betrayal of the ground, found profane sympathy from Tripelda and Floyd. Still Central made yardage, held the ball with a tenacity that finally led the stubborn forwards of Warwick into penalties for off-sides, for unnecessary roughness. Central scored again just before the gun ended the half, when Perkins, offering the ball to everybody but the box-holders, finally tucked in against his hip and fled around end on a bootleg play for the touchdown. He missed the point.

The second half was played in gumbo, neither team showing anything but a fortitude for rain and spongy turf. Warwick, its courage high, drove down to Central’s twenty and fumbled away its opportunity as Berg, flopping on the vagrant ball, almost buried it under the impact of his body. And then it was over.

It ended for Dane eight minutes before the final gun when Shaw, sending in a substitution, waved him to the lockers, where he stood beneath the showers soaking heat and steam into a grateful body that was curiously relaxed, not yet answering its inevitable bruising with stiffening aches. He felt purged, light and free, and he nursed the feeling. Old Dan was waiting for him as he left the water and began to towel. “Over on the table for,” he said. “It was a grand game, boy, and I’ll rub it out of you right now.”

He was still on the table when the gang clumped in, banging each other on the back, filling the room with noise and dirt. Perkins, looking like a sandhog’s apprentice reporting from a mucky river bottom, strode over to the rubbing-table, put a filthy hand on Dane’s chest, bent and rubbed a equally dirty face against his brow. “That’s for love,” he clowned. Ziborsky and Berg, grinning behind Perkins, threw mud pellets over old Dan’s shoulder at him.

Shaw, making his round of the room, looked down at him, an appreciative twinkle in his deep-set eyes. “You okay?”

Dane grunted. “Feel fine.”

Then Shaw moved away; and Dane, slapped off the table by one of old Dan’s mammoth hands, padded over to his locker to dress….

The Rose Room of the Steel Hotel was crowded as usual with its Saturday-night guests; Dane, sitting with Perkins, Peterson, Piskoti and Thomas, watched the ebb and flow of the diners. They had driven to the city in Peterson’s old Pierce-Arrow limousine, an antiquated relic once the property of an undertaker, which Peterson had acquired for a hundred dollars while in the throes an idea built about a campus jitney service. Still quiet and subdued, Dane loafed through oysters, lamb chops and head lettuce, listening to his companions’ banter about the game.

“Hell,” remarked Thomas, “on a dry field, we’d have scored at least twice more.” Perkins nodded thoughtfully. “I only tossed five passes all afternoon,” he added. “But don’t kid yourself. Warwick would have rammed a couple over too. The weather played as much hell with their spinners as it did with any of our stuff. It was a ball game all the way. Makes me wonder about Catholic. That club is supposed to be hotter than Warwick.”

Dane, grunting agreement, felt eyes upon him, looked up to see Sally, Timmy Watts and a woman, apparently Tim’s wife, approaching a nearby table. There was an appeal in Sally’s eyes, a barely noticeable tremble at the corner of her lips. He nodded to her gravely, and she turned suddenly and sat down.

She was still sitting, her back turned away from his table, when they finished wrangling over the check and rose to leave. He was last in the line past her table. As he went by, he reached out impulsively, rested his hand lightly on her shoulder, and without pausing, moved on, his eyes steadily ahead.

Following Peterson’s broad back, he neared the doorway. A slim, almost dapper man in a dark blue suit stood within and to one side of the entrance. He was chatting softly and in a careless fashion with Connor. Dane let his glance rest briefly on Connor’s bird-of-prey features and brushed by without speaking. Things, he thought, as they left the hotel and moved up the street to find a movie, were about to pop.

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Chapter One 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 Sixteen
Chapter Seventeen Chapter Eighteen Chapter Nineteen Chapter Twenty Chapter Twenty One
Chapter Twenty Two Harvest of Memories Biemiller Home