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Authors: Dean Hughes

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BOOK: Missing in Action
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“That's good, Jay. See, you've got something to look forward to, the same as me.”

“But right now isn't very good.”

“Why's that?”

He'd said too much already, but he said it anyway. “My mom's upset about everything.”

“She's worried about your dad. That's all.”

“Yeah, I know.” But that wasn't it. She had her mind made up he was dead already. So did Grandma. They pretty much said that sometimes. Mom was mostly worried about what was going to happen to her without a husband and everything. She wanted to go to church and be like everyone in Delta, not the way she'd been in Salt Lake, but she was pretty sure she knew what people thought of her. He'd heard her tell Grandma that she'd made a mess of her life.

He didn't like to think of the worst: what he'd heard her say. “They look at Jay,” she'd said, “and he looks just like his dad. That's all they think about down here. That I went off and married an Indian.”

Grandma had told him not to worry about that. “He's a good boy, and that's the only thing they think when they see him. Give people a little more credit than that.”

“All I know is, Jay better not do one thing wrong, or you can just about guess what they'll say about him.”

He had heard all that one night when he was reading comic books out on the porch—heard it through the kitchen window when they hadn't known he was there. But he had prayed more that night—prayed that his dad was okay and would come home, and that he'd get a good job this time. And Mom would be happy. He'd asked Grandpa about prayer again, and Grandpa had said that God did answer prayers.

Ken finally started to walk. The two walked together toward the barn. “No one's too happy right now, Jay,” Ken said. “The war gets to people. How do you think we all feel out at that camp, living the way we do?”

“Is your dad mad about that?”

“Mostly he's ashamed. That's how all the older people are. They didn't do anything wrong, but they're ashamed anyway—just to be locked up, you know, and to know what people think about us. But I'm not like that. I look people in the eye. I've got nothing to be ashamed of.”

“If you go into the army, what if you have to shoot Japs?”

“They won't send us there. They'll send us to Europe. Everyone says that.”

“But what if they did?”

“Then I'd shoot 'em. They bombed us, didn't they? They've got it coming.”

“Maybe that's what your dad's thinking, though—that he doesn't want you shooting Japs.”

“We don't say ‘Japs.' We're Japanese. Japanese Americans. Reid is probably an English name, or Scottish, or something like that. No one tells your grandpa he's English and ought to go back to England, do they? Everyone in America came from somewhere.”

“I know.”

“Except your Navajo grandma. She could tell us all to get out of her country.”

“But your dad came from Japan. Maybe he doesn't want you shooting Japanese people.”

“I know. He doesn't. And I don't want trouble with my dad, but I need to make up my own mind. Once I'm eighteen, I don't need his signature. I can join if I want to. I've already told my mother that.”

They entered the musty old barn, filled with the smell of the new hay, but filled up with the yellow heat, too, so bad it made Jay's eyes hurt. “Does she say it's okay?”

“No. She says to get permission from him. Then she cries. But I'll do whatever I want. That's how I am.”

Ken didn't sound so sure of himself now—not the way he usually did. He pulled his hat off, wiped his face, then looked at the sagging loft. The two of them were supposed to fix it somehow.

CHAPTER
9

JAY AND KEN WORKED IN
the barn after lunch. Both their shirts were soaked with sweat. The smell was bad too, especially when they shoveled manure out of the stalls. Jay hoped that Ken would forget about walking into town to see Gordy, but earlier than usual, Ken said, “I'm calling this quitting time. Let's get out of here.”

Jay didn't know if that meant they were finished for the day, but Ken walked toward the house and said, “Let me wash up a little, and then we'll head into town.”

Jay sat on the back steps, and after ten minutes or so, Ken came out with a clean shirt on and his hair slicked down. “I'm so good-looking it scares me sometimes,” he said. He was grinning. “No wonder all the girls are in love with me.”

“They love the way you smell, too. Like cow manure.”

Ken laughed like a whip snapping, and then he slapped Jay on the back. “Hey, Jay, you're learning. That's what I told you—crack some jokes sometimes. That was good.”

He liked that he'd made Ken laugh.

“I did wash, though. Now I smell like lye soap. That's not much better than manure.”

Jay tried to think of something funny to say about lye soap, maybe that it burned the dirt off, or something like that, but he didn't say it. Something else was on his mind. He was wondering what people would say if they saw him and Ken together in town, laughing and making jokes.

Gordy lived in the west part of town, over by the railroad tracks. Jay took a side street and stayed on the edge of Delta. He was glad they didn't have to cross Main Street, where so many people would see them. There were some kids out playing, and he saw a woman taking clothes off a line, but she didn't pay any attention to Ken. One old man, sitting on his front porch, did seem to stare at them, or maybe he was just stiff in the neck.

When they got to Gordy's house, he didn't go up on the porch. He just stopped out front and yelled, “Gorrrrrd-eeeeeee.” That was what the boys in Delta all did. It wasn't like Salt Lake.

It was Gordy's mother who came to the open door. She was a little woman, round as a pumpkin. She was
wearing a faded housedress that was frayed all around the hem. “He's out in back,” she said. She sounded like Gordy. “Don't mind the way I look. I've been washing this whole day. Wash day came a day late, with the Fourth and all, but it seems like I had double to do. Gordy gets his clothes dirtier than any kid I've ever seen.”

“He slides a lot when we play ball,” said Jay.

But she had finally taken a look at Ken. “Hello there,” she said. Her smile was gone.

“Hello, ma'am. My name's Ken. I work for Jay's grandpa.”

She nodded. Jay could see that she didn't know what to say.

“It's a bad day for washing,” Ken said, “but a good day for drying.”

She only nodded again.

“My mom saves the ironing for Tuesday, early, so the heat's not so bad.”

It was what most women did, Jay thought, but Mrs. Linebaugh didn't say so. She was still watching Ken, like he might do something.

“I moved here from California, and down there, it was cool most of the time. At least where we lived, down by the San Francisco Bay. Have you ever been in that area, ma'am?”

She was still watching him, maybe not hearing anything. “What is it you want?” she asked.

“Gordy and the other boys are thinking about playing ball against our boys out at Topaz,” Ken said. “We've got some pretty good baseball teams out there. Yesterday the team I play for beat the high school boys from here in town. Maybe you heard about that.”

She gave a little shake of her head, but she looked confused.

Gordy came walking around the side of the house about then. “Hey,” he called. Then he saw Ken. He looked surprised too.

“Hey, Gordy,” Ken said. “I hear you're the guy I need to talk to. I'm trying to get up a game with your boys, like we talked about yesterday.”

“Gordy,” said Mrs. Linebaugh. When he looked at her, she gave her head a little shake.

“It's not a problem, ma'am,” Ken said. “Other teams have come out to the camp. I can get it all arranged. We have a good diamond out there, with a backstop and everything. We cleared the field ourselves. It's all greasewood out there, I'm sure you know, but we dug all that out. It's a good place to play.”

“Gordy has chores,” she said.

“When did you want to play?” Gordy asked, and that surprised Jay.

“I was thinking Saturday. I can go out tomorrow night, maybe, and get everything set up.”

Gordy walked closer. “And you think your boys can beat us, don't you?”

Ken was grinning now. “It's hard to say. I haven't seen you boys play—except for Jay here. He's doing pretty good now.”

“Gordy,” Mrs. Linebaugh said again.

Gordy gave her a wave of his hand. “It's all right, Ma. Don't worry about it.”

“I want to talk to you.”

“It's all right. Really.”

She hesitated, took one more long look at Ken, and then walked back into the house.

Jay wanted to leave. He didn't like her being upset like that.

“Don't worry about her,” said Gordy. “She's never talked to a Jap before—never had one walk right onto our property.”

Jay ducked his head, but he heard Ken laugh a little. “I know. I've gotten used to that.”

“You talk like an American. I noticed that yesterday.”

“What do you expect me to say?” Ken made a little bow, with his palms clasped together under his chin. “Aaaah soooooo.”

That made Gordy laugh. “Hey, yeah. That's what they do in the movies.”

“Listen, man, I'm from California. I'm probably the coolest guy you've ever met.”

Gordy was grinning like he was watching a circus act, but he said, “You can play some ball, I'll say that for you.”

“He's been teaching me,” Jay said. “That's why I've been getting better.”

Gordy was standing on the lawn with his arms folded, facing Ken. He was covered with dirt—maybe from working in his garden. He had a ragged hat on too. A felt one. It was too big for him and sank down all the way to his ears. “You never told me that before,” Gordy said. “It was this guy who's been teaching you?”

“Ken. My name's Ken.”

“You always said your dad showed you stuff.”

“I know. But Ken's been teaching me this summer.”

Jay watched Gordy get used to the idea, looking at Ken almost the way Mrs. Linebaugh had, and then he said something Jay didn't expect. “How about teaching me, too?”

“Sure. I could come over when you guys play at night. I could teach all of you some stuff.”

“Most of 'em aren't any good, but me and Chief, we want to play in the major leagues. Do you think you could help us?”

“Sure. But making the majors, that's pretty tough.”

“I know. But we're naturals. We can play. And we're going to work as hard as we have to. We'll make it.” Gordy took the old hat off. His hair was sticking up every which way. He wiped his hand over his forehead. “Do you think they'd ever let a Jap play on a pro team?”

“He's Japanese American,” Jay said.

But Ken said, “After the war, they will. I'm signing up for the army pretty soon. After I kill about a thousand Krauts, they'll let me do anything I want.”

That made Gordy laugh. “Chief told me about some Jap outfit in the American army. Do they really have something like that?”

“You bet your boots they do. All Japanese Americans. We can fight with the best of 'em.”

“You talk awful big.”

“So do you.”

Gordy liked that. He grinned bigger than ever. When his lips pulled back from his big teeth, he looked a little like a horse.

“So do you want to play on Saturday?”

“I sure do. I've been wanting to see that Jap camp. And I want you to see how me and Chief can play ball. But set it up for next Saturday, not this one. Our boys need more practice time. Will you still help us, even if we're playing against your team?”

“Sure. It's just for fun. I'll line the game up for nine in the morning, before it gets too hot. There's an early bus that brings people into town from camp. You could catch it when it heads back.”

“Sounds good to me. My mom's going to scream like a shot rabbit when I tell her, but my dad'll say it don't matter. He don't like Japs either, but he knows we play ball with you guys, and nothing bad comes
of that. The only thing I'm not sure of is all the other guys—and
their
mothers.”

“And I know why. We just want to get all you boys out there at the camp and then we'll cut your throats. That's what we do, you know?”

Gordy laughed for a long time about that. “I never met a Jap like you,” he said.

“How many have you met?”

“Not any. But I still haven't met one like you.” Ken was the one laughing now, but Gordy said, “Can you start tonight, and work with our team?”

“I guess so. I could stay around town for a while.”

“Maybe I'll tell Ma you're going to come in and eat supper with us.” That got him grinning again. “She'd just die right on the spot, that's all. I'd have to call ol' Mr. Booker, the undertaker, to come over and haul her off.”

“I'll go over to Mr. Reid's house. He might have a crust of bread he could share with me. What time do you fellows play?”

“About seven or so.”

“All right. I'll be there.”

Jay and Ken left Gordy's and walked to Grandma and Grandpa's house. Jay thought Grandma wouldn't mind if Ken came over. He just worried about getting there.

People did look at them, but Ken said hello to everyone—went out of his way to do it—and some
acted like it didn't matter. Mr. Batcheldor, a man who came into Grandpa's drugstore a lot, looked at him and then Ken, and his eyes narrowed down. He didn't say hello when Ken said it. He didn't even say hello to Jay. Ken didn't care.

When they walked into the house, Jay said, “I'm home.”

Grandma yelled from the kitchen, “I saw you coming up the walk. Is that Ken you've got with you?”

BOOK: Missing in Action
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