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Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins

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BOOK: Hometown Legend
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“Any real brothers or sisters?” Coach asked.

Jackson shook his head.

“Nobody ever helped you through the loss of your parents?”

“Everybody thought I was all right. Of course I wasn’t all right. My mom’d named me for good luck and my dad had told me I
could be the next Gayle Sayers.”

Coach glanced at me, then back at Jackson. “Sayers was even before your dad’s time, wasn’t he?”

“He only went to one NFL game when he was like five or so. December 12, 1965.”

“I was eighteen,” Coach said, looking at the ceiling. “Wrigley Field. Sayers was a rookie when running backs also returned
kicks. Six TDs.”

“Were you there?” Jackson said.

“No, but every real football fan knows that game, son. Let me ask you something. You telling me the honest-toGod truth?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Bout everything, I mean.”

“Yes, sir.”

Schuler shook his head and sighed again. “You want to stay on this team?”

“Absolutely.”

“You know I gotta punish you for insubordination.”

“I’ll do anything.”

“You’ll do more than anything. You’ll do everything. You’ll run a mile tonight. You’ll run two hours a day during the first
three practices next week. Then you’ll really face the music Thursday.”

“The music?”

“You’ll see.”

“Thanks, Coach.”

“Don’t thank me, Jackson. Show me. And you’re on a short leash. No more screwups.”

“Yes, sir.”

“And I want the name of that last family you lived with.”

“Oh, I couldn’t—”

“I’ll leave you out of it, son, but you got to think about the girl in that home.”

“That’s what I’m worried about. What if he—”

“Just write the name and address for me, and then don’t you give it another thought.”

Jackson left to run his laps and Coach and I just looked at each other. “Story like that could make a nun swear,” he said
finally, studying the name and address.

• • •

Coach was gone by the time I walked out to see Jackson finish his fourth quarter-mile loop of the track. He didn’t even look
winded. He looked eager. “Almost lost your spot on this team,” I said.

“Tell me about it,” he said.

I followed him inside. “Can I do something for you before you leave?” I said.

“Sure. What?”

“Could I pray with ya?”

He shook his head. “You’re a born-againer like your daughter?”

I nodded.

“You can pray
for
me all you want, but I won’t be praying with you.”

“Want to say why?”

“Not particularly.”

“I
will
be praying for you.”

“Suit yourself.”

18

R
achel was waiting at home. “I was worried,” she said. I wanted to say that was fair; I’d been worrying about her lately.

“Losing always takes longer than winning,” I said.

“Want me to fix you something?”

I shook my head. “Thanks. What would Josie say about that?”

“You know I don’t care. For all her women’s rights flag waving, she’s now going with Abel Gordon just to make Brian jealous.”

“What’s she want to do that for?”

“Says she’s taken a backseat to football long enough.”

“But Abel’s a footb—”

“I know, Daddy. I didn’t say she made sense.”

I asked her how her school crusade was going.

“I’ll know when I see what kinda crowd shows up Wednesday night. You’ll be there, right?”

“I was just waiting for an invite.”

“You were not.”

“Maybe I wasn’t, but lots of people would come if you asked em personally.”

“You think?”

“I know.”

And so Rachel did. Over the next two days she asked everybody she saw, including everybody at church. Lots of em told her
they’d be there. I didn’t want to pop her balloon, but I didn’t expect much to come of it. “I invited the county school board,”
she said, “and it looks like they’re coming.”

That was a surprise.

• • •

Monday morning Bev had that meeting for me with Lee Forest and a few others off the line. They’d volunteered to come in for
it on their own time but there was no way I was gonna let em do that. I told Bev, “Keep track of the time, add a half hour
to it for each of em, and see it’s reflected in their pay.”

She looked funny, like she wasn’t following. “Got it?” I said.

“Yes, sir,” she said, but she didn’t write it down till she got back to her desk. A few minutes later she took a call and
asked me if I wanted to talk to a Mr. Seals from Malaysia.

“Who is he?” I said.

“Wouldn’t say, but he’s calling from there.”

“Long distance?”

She turned in her chair and stared at me through the window. “That would be a fair assumption,” she said.

I smiled an apology, but I guess she hadn’t seen any humor in my stupidity, which she usually does. “You reckon it’s about
manufacturing?”

“You reckon I’m clairvoyant?”

She wasn’t mean. I was just dense. I pointed to my phone and picked up. “I’ll get right to the point, Mr. Sawyer,” the man
said. “You can imagine what time it is over here and I can imagine how busy you are there, trying to keep your business alive.”
He sounded so friendly and sincere.

I said, “Fire away, Mr. Seals.”

“I’m an American, sir, a southerner like yourself. I even played at Bama, like you did.”

“You don’t say.”

“You’re a straight shooter, I can tell. I’m probably not the first business owner in this part of the world to approach you,
but I’d like to be the last. I don’t want to waste your time, but just let me say I’d like the opportunity to show you how
you could do your manufacturing here at such a fraction of your current cost that even with shipping your raw goods to me—I
assume you get them from Chicago like the rest of us—and my shipping finished product to you, you would increase your profit
per unit by more than 25 percent.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“Are you still listening, Mr. Sawyer?”

“Uh-huh.”

“Good man. Now I know you’re finding that hard to believe because that shipping cost would be yours, and you’re wondering
what you do with your equipment investment if you let us take over your manufacturing, though I’m guessing some of your machinery
is more than a hundred years old.”

Bev may not have been a mind reader, but this guy was.

“I’m also wondering what I’m sposed to do with loyal workers that have been with me for decades,” I said.

“Everybody faces that, sir. But with the profits you’ll be making, you could make them mighty happy with appropriate severance
packages, couldn’t you?”

Maybe I could, but I wasn’t about to start saying yes when he was talking about something I’d been fighting for years. “Some
of my best accounts—”

“Let me guess,” he said. “Those include certain leagues and bowl games that count on you for instant turnaround and for specially
packaged kicker balls.”

“Exactly.”

“We can match and maybe exceed the quality of your top-of-the-line product and set you up with sufficient inventory to where
you could always be prepared to ship overnight to those clients. And if you want to keep your equipment and your top half
dozen tradesmen, you can keep a boutique operation there for specialty products. Am I making any sense here, Mr. Sawyer?”

“Some, sure.” I didn’t want to say too much. I don’t like being bowled over. “I’ve been giving some thought to expanding our
product line.”

“Like any good entrepreneur. Other kinds of balls? Or gloves?”

He had me. “Gloves.”

“You have clients. You know your market. But don’t invest in new manufacturing hardware until you hear our prices on those
as well. We both know the moneymaking part of your business is selling to retailers. Your good name stays on your good product,
but we do the dirty work. I can tell you’re a thinking man, Mr. Sawyer, and that you don’t make snap judgments. I am prepared
with two alternatives. Three of my partners and I will be happy to visit you and discuss this personally, and I will guarantee
none of them will be Asian.”

What was that sposed to mean? “I got no problem with Asians,” I said.

“But you must admit that if an entourage comes to visit and any one of them is Asian, it could tip off your troops.”

“I see,” I said, and he was probably right, but it still sounded rotten to me.

“Or,” he said, “and frankly we prefer this, I am prepared to bring you and a loved one or one of your associates here, first
class, all expenses paid, to put your mind at ease about our workplace, quality control, and ability to handle your work.”

“That’s certainly generous of you, Mr. Seals. But I—”

“Does either of those options sound better than the other at first blush?”

I cleared my throat. “I spose if I was ever gonna consider something like this, I would need a certain comfort level with
your operation.”

“We’d love to have you and … Is there a wife, Mr. Sawyer?”

“No, sir.”

“You and anyone you choose—and if you wanted to bring others, we would work with you to find the most thoroughly economical
way to bring them. Do you have your calendar handy there, sir?”

“Well, we’re getting a little ahead of ourselves here, Mr.—”

“I would want this to totally be at your convenience. Of course there’s no better time than the present. I mean, if this is
right for your business, that means that every day you delay—”

“I’m certainly not going to rush into anything, Mr. Seals. This company has a long history—”

“Absolutely, and that’s the reason I’m calling only you, sir. We’re not interested in manufacturing for just any—”

“You wholesale yourselves, then?”

“Well, no, sir, but we work with only the finest—”

“What other stateside companies would you be manufacturing for, if you don’t mind my—”

“Now, Mr. Sawyer, you understand that that would be highly confidential, proprietary information. You would enjoy the same
level of confidentiality as any of our clients.”

“But I wouldn’t be able to sell a product without ‘Made in Malaysia’ on it, would I?”

“Unfortunately not, but as you know, that is a requirement of the United States government, not of Malaysia’s.”

“Our government wants people to know when they’re buying other than American-made goods.”

“Right, Mr. Sawyer. And while that used to connote lesser quality or cheap labor, the sheer number of widely known brand names
who manufacture here has taken away much of that stigma. Now, with your raw goods coming from Chicago and being assembled
here under your specifications, you might want to consider another option. You might want to have the final process handled
right there in Athens.”

“Athens City.”

“Right. You might want to lace there or to inflate and mold.”

“And what would be the advantage?”

“To be able to stamp ‘Partially Manufactured in Malaysia with American Goods’ on each and every product.”

“Uh-huh.”

“Now, when can we schedule you and someone of your choosing? I suggest now only because I assume your specialty manufacturing
for the season is likely finished and it’s just a matter of stamping the correct team names and logos on the balls for bowl
games. Surely the head of the company doesn’t need to be there for that.”

“Some days I feel like I
ought
to lend a hand on the line, Mr. Seals.”

“That bad, huh? I knew your work force had been decimated the last few years, but I can only imagine how tough things are
getting.”

I had the phone pressed against my ear and both elbows on the desk. I rubbed my eyes. “All due respect, sir, but most of the
people in this town, when they’re not blaming me for our predicament, are blaming companies like yours.”

“Oh, believe me, I understand. That’s our biggest public relations challenge, Mr. Sawyer. But I hope you can see that we’re
here to help. It just doesn’t make sense to pay more than you have to for production when margin is the name of the game.
We cut your cost and improve your margin.”

“And shut down my operation.”

“That’s one way to look at it. But if I had a facility costing me more than it needed to, I’d seriously consider shutting
it down.”

I leaned back in my chair and stared at the ceiling. “Mr. Seals, to tell you the truth, I’m a patriot. Sometimes I wonder
why, but if it comes to selling American-made and me worrying about who gets enough work to keep their families fed, you gotta
know I’m gonna look out for my friends and neighbors first.”

“That’s admirable, Mr. Sawyer. But you’re bearing the entire cost. You do everything you can to keep your business alive,
and as it dwindles, you get blamed anyway.”

“True enough.”

“So what better time than now to come and see the possibilities?”

I told him I was coaching and that the rest of the season would give me time to think about it. “But I don’t want to waste
your time,” I said. “I gotta tell ya, this is a long shot. I don’t know if I could keep living in this town if I sold out
to—”

“Oh, Mr. Sawyer, don’t refer to it as selling out. We don’t want to buy your business. We want to help you to stay in business.”

• • •

That conversation was ringing in my ears as the clock moved toward the meeting with my old-timers. I sorta wished I’d told
Bev to listen in to the call, cause she’s a good sounding board and I wanted to know if she thought I’d been wimpy. She was
sitting there sorta spacey again. I mashed the intercom.

“You okay in there, lady?”

She turned slow and looked at me. Bev had been so low maintenance for so long that I knew something was up.

“How much longer till Lee and the others come in?” I said.

She sat there for a second, then checked her schedule. “They’re all on eleven to seven today.”

“I know,” I said. “But they’re coming in early to see me still, right?”

Bev stood quickly and bent over her desk, like she was trying to cover that she was sick or hurting. “Yeah,” she said. “Course
they are. In half an hour or so. Oh!”

BOOK: Hometown Legend
6.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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