Red Cell 1st Chapter
The red stamp stained itself diagonally across the manila folder. The warning was clear, though rarely do such furtive things so boldly announce their presence. Yet confidential files as this were not uncommon in this government office. In fact, the man behind the desk where the folder lay might well be asked to review dozens of these in a given day. But what made this particular folder so interesting was that he wasn’t examining this one. He was the mastermind behind the project. And by mere notion, it had become classified. It wouldn’t just be his reputation on the line if it became public.
Even though he firmly stood by his theory, its contents made him more excited and more apprehensive than any covert operation he had ever been part of. Never had such extreme feelings played tug-of-war with his guts; one moment his stomach would swell with nausea and the next flutter with butterflies and his enthusiasm could instantly condense into cold sweats.
Yet, to the untrained eye, he was a pillar of composure. His finger smoothly traced the rounded edge of the folder’s tab as his left hand held steady the morning’s newspaper. Crumpled and smudgy under his grip, the paper had aged under his intense stare and scrutiny—he had been clutching the page for most of the morning. If not for the conscious movements of his right index finger, one would think he had been petrified by what he had read, yet his finger easily enough gave away his thoughts. Holding the folded paper open to the third page of the sports section, his thumb underscored the headline, “Injun-uity!”
The article told the story of the thrilling finish for a local Pony League baseball team as they triumphed over a bitter rival the night before. The Chiefs might not have come away with a “W” at their summer season’s opening game had it not been for the remarkable quick thinking of their fourteen-year-old star shortstop. Though the Chiefs had been ahead by a run since the fifth inning, the sportswriter noted the deciding play came just moments before the final at-bat.
The night before, during the bottom of the ninth inning, Will Conlan, from his shortstop position, glanced over at the runner on third and calculated how many paces off the bag the guy had stepped for a lead. Digging his fist into the pit of his glove and sweeping the loose gravel with the inside of his cleat, Will readied himself to snag any hit in his vicinity. The opposing Knights had their backs to the wall, and Will figured the batter would be desperate to put the ball into play to try to score their runner. Will hoped Cody, the pitcher, would throw something that could only be chopped for a grounder.
Stepping off the back of the mound, Cody flipped the rosin bag over with a puff of powered dust in his right hand and took a deep breath before dropping it to the ground. Shuffling back up to the rectangular plate, Cody dug his eyes into the catcher’s mitt. Kicking his leg high, he let loose with the ball. The second it left his hand, the batter slid his hand down the bat for a bunt. The ball shanked straight and hot instead of down the line.
Will noted that Cody’s follow-through had twisted him away from the rolling ball. Knowing Cody might not get to the ball in time, Will charged inward, pumping his legs with exertion. He couldn’t simply be a spectator and watch the game slip out of their hands. To Will’s right, the base runner was paralleling his dash homeward.
Just as Will was lowering his glove, Cody’s hand came out of nowhere, snatched that ball from the grass, and turned toward first base. Bug-eyed, Will wanted to scream. Couldn’t Cody see what was happening? Had he forgotten about the man on third? The play was at the plate!
In a moment of panic, he desperately called out to Cody, but the play was happening too quickly. Closing in on the pitcher’s mound, Will was badly out of position, but what did it matter now? His head turned to watch the ball leave Cody’s hand and, in that split second, Will’s vision caught a second spot of white—a pouch that resembled a ball. Obeying his intuitive nature rather than logic, he countered to give his team their only chance. Reaching downward to the incline of dirt, he stretched his fingertips toward the pitcher’s rosin bag. In one fluid motion, he seized the pouch and snapped it sidearm toward home plate.
Will saw the watermelon-sized eyes of the catcher swell between the bars of his facemask as he raised his arms to make a target of his catcher’s mitt. He snatched the flying object out of the air and slapped his throwing hand inward to secure the cupped object, holding it there behind home plate without another movement of his body.
The runner snapped his head back-and-forth between Will and the catcher and locked his legs, digging his heels into the dirt. Spinning backward, he charged back to third. The catcher didn’t give chase.
After a long umpires’ conference, the home plate umpire ruled the runner had not been “obstructed” from crossing home plate. Immediately, two screaming coaches stomped toward the home plate umpire. One shouted that the run should count. The other countered that a run couldn’t count if the base runner never crossed home plate. Shaking his head, he further contested that there was no specific rule against what had happened. Will watched the umpire shift uneasily from foot to foot as if he were wondering how kids could possibly think of these things.
The man leaned slightly forward in his office chair and rested his forearm on the desk. He had replayed that scene over and over in his mind until it almost seemed as if he had been there to witness it. Clasping a thick sharpie, he drew a red circle around the article. Tapping the newspaper with the cap of his marker, he seemed to make up his mind once and for all. Then, very deliberately, he traced a second circle around the name of the athlete, Will Conlan. Lifting the front flap of the ink-stamped manila folder with the tip of his finger, he slid the article now framed like a bull’s-eye directly inside.