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Authors: Matt Christopher

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“Way to go, Mel!” Penny yelled, leaping out of the dugout and clapping so hard her palms stung. It was Melanie’s first hit
of the game.

Then Shari came up, and Penny sat down and watched her, wondering what Shari would do now. The plump, dark-haired Chinese
girl leaned into the first pitch and drilled it into deep left center field. Two runs scored, and Shari stood on second base
for a double. Penny stared at her, wondering if there was
some kind of hex mixed up in this. She didn’t believe in that sort of thing, but there
was
something fishy going on with Shari and Karen. Of that she was sure.

Gloria smashed a hard grounder down to first base, which Josie Slade, the Owls first baseman, scooped up and dashed to first
for the putout.

“Third! Third!” a cry rang out from the Owls dugout. But by the time Josie turned and brought her arm back to throw to third
base, Shari was already there. Penny, standing in the dugout next to Harold, could hardly believe it.

“Did you see her run?” Penny exclaimed, her voice high-pitched with surprise. “Did you?”

“Like the wind. Right?”

Harold was smiling mysteriously at her.

“That’s right. Like the wind,” Penny echoed, and sat down, feeling as if she had made the run from second base to third herself.

“Two hits and a steal,” Harold said, reading the statistics from the scorebook he was holding. “Not bad, right?”

“No, not bad at all,” Penny agreed. “And
please stop saying ‘right’ all the time. Okay?” she added curtly.

Harold grinned, showing teeth with wide gaps between them. “Okay,” he promised.

How and why he had become the team’s scorekeeper Penny couldn’t even guess, nor did she care. Having the same person keep
score at every game was great, though, especially since he enjoyed it. Harold had been the team’s official scorekeeper since
their third game. He was short for his eleven years, stocky, and had thick, curly black hair that covered the tops of his
ears. His nose, stuck in the middle of his round face, looked as if he had bumped it into something solid and it had never
returned to its original shape. His eyes were dark and curious, as if everything he looked at interested him. And a lot of
it did. His hobby was fooling around with the computer that was given to him by his father, a computer-and-science teacher
at the Tall Oaks Junior High School. Why Harold preferred to spend his time keeping score at softball games instead of playing
with that computer was a mystery to Penny.

She saw Karen walking to the plate and dismissed the thought of Harold from her
mind. Karen stood there, waving the bat in a small circle over her right shoulder as she watched the Owls pitcher with a cool,
intense gaze.

“Pick up a bat and get up there, Penny,” Harold advised. “You’re up next.”

As if in a fog, Penny jumped out of the dugout, grabbed her favorite bat, and stepped into the on-deck circle. The first pitch
to Karen was a high fast ball, and she let it go. The next was down by her knees and she swung at it.

The sound of bat connecting with ball was solid, and Penny held her breath as she saw the ball streaking out to deep center
field as if it were shot out of a cannon. It’s going to be another homer, she thought.

But the hit was too shallow, and the Owls right center fielder caught it over her head for the third out.

“Almost but not quite,” Penny heard Harold say from the dugout.

Oh, please, shut up, will you? Penny wanted to shout at him as she dropped her bat and returned to the dugout for her glove.
But “almost but not quite”
was
right, Penny thought. She was beginning to think Karen wasn’t human anymore. Breathing a sigh,
Penny got her glove and ran out to her position at third.

The Owls picked up a run during their turn at bat and two more in the bottom of the sixth to go into the lead, 10 to 9. Penny
had hoped that Shari, batting third in the top of the seventh inning with two outs, might spring again with a long clout that
would tie up the game and give the Hawks another chance to win. But all Shari could do was crack out a single. Then Gloria
grounded out, and the game went to the Owls.

“Shari, can I see you for a minute?” Penny called, running onto the infield to meet the girl as she came running in.

“Sorry. I have to get home,” Shari answered.

“But — ”

“Sorry,” Shari repeated, and hurried to the dugout to pick up her catcher’s mitt and mask.

THREE

P
ENNY LOOKED AROUND
for Karen and saw her walking off the field with Jonny. He was looking at her and talking to her in that friendly, vibrant
way of his. The sight of him made her forget even Karen for a moment. She knew she was too young to date, and Jonny was the
first boy she had ever taken an interest in. The only trouble was, he hardly knew she existed.

Had he noticed the change in his sister? Penny wondered. How could he
not
have?

She heard footsteps behind her and turned around to see Shari rushing away from the dugout with her mitt.

“Shari! You okay?” Penny called to her.

“I’m fine!” Shari shot back over her shoulder.

Penny saw Harold and Coach Parker look up at her from the dugout, a curious look on their faces, and she quickly turned away,
hoping they wouldn’t ask her what had made her say that.

Just then Faye ran up to her, and Penny felt relieved. She took Faye’s hand and propelled her away from the dugout and across
the infield.

“Hey! What’s the hurry?” Faye exclaimed, pulling her cap down firmly over her thick red hair.

“Just wanted to get away from those two before they start asking me questions,” Penny answered. She bobbed her head toward
Harold and Coach Parker.

“Questions? Why?”

They headed toward the left side of the backstop screen by the gate, Penny maintaining a rapid, one-step lead on Faye.

“Have you noticed anything different about Shari and Karen?” Penny asked, trying to keep her nervous excitement under control.

“Well, they certainly played much better softball in today’s game than in any games before this,” Faye observed.

“Yes, but I’m talking about something else,” Penny said. “Something about their behavior. Particularly
after
they got their hits.”

Faye paused and relaxed her grip on Penny’s hand. Penny stopped and looked at her. “Penny, just what are you trying to say?”

“Well, think,” said Penny seriously. “If you got a double, or a home run, and the crowd cheered for you like crazy, wouldn’t
you smile at them, or tip your cap at them? Wouldn’t you do
something
to show your appreciation?”

“Yes. I think I would.”

“I think you would, too. I think most kids would. But did Shari or Karen? No.”

Faye’s green eyes went wide, and her mouth parted in a tiny oval. “Hey! Now that you mention it, I did notice that! But —
” She tipped her head down slightly and narrowed her eyes to slits. “I don’t know what you’re driving at, Penny. But I think
you’re making something out of nothing. Maybe Shari and Karen are having a hot streak and can’t
get
over the shock themselves.” She started running ahead of Penny. “Sorry, but I feel my stomach touching sides, and you know
what that means! See ya later, alligator!”

Penny stood, watching Faye racing through the gate and down the sidewalk, locks of her red hair bobbing beneath the back of
her softball cap. Penny frowned, thinking, Maybe Faye’s right. Maybe I
am
making something out of nothing. But it sure is funny the way those two girls have suddenly started acting.

She continued through the gate and was on the sidewalk when she heard a familiar voice calling her name. “Hey, Penny! Wait
a minute!”

She spun and saw Harold Dempsey running toward her, carrying his scorebook. Suddenly the scorebook gave her an idea, so she
didn’t mind waiting, even though her stomach was touching sides, too.

“Thanks, Penny!” Harold exclaimed breathlessly as he popped around the open gate and stopped beside her. “Man! I’m out of
shape!”

Penny flashed a grin. “You need more exercise, Harold,” she said amiably. “Just sitting in front of that computer won’t do
it, you know.”

He smiled. “I know.”

“May I look at that scorebook a minute?” she asked, reaching for it.

“Sure.”

She turned to the second page, which showed the box scores of the Hawks’ first game, glanced at Karen Keech’s name at the
top, and read off Karen’s at-bat record silently. No hits.

Penny ran her forefinger down the lineup column to Shari Chung’s name, read her statistics, and saw that Shari had gotten
one hit. She turned to the next page and saw that Karen had not gotten a hit in that game either, and neither had Shari. Karen
had broken her hitless streak in the third game — against the Comets last Friday — getting two singles. Shari had gotten three
hits, including a triple.

“Checking on somebody’s hitting record, Penny?” Harold asked, his deep voice more like an adult’s than a kid’s.

“Yes. But — ” Penny cut herself off short. Why should she tell Harold her discovery, anyway? He wouldn’t know what she was
talking about.

“But what?” he asked.

“But nothing,” she replied. She closed the scorebook and handed it back to him. “Thanks, Harold. You’re a king . . . or a
prince . . . or whatever. Well, I’ve got to get
home and shower. See you at the next game. Okay?”

“Penny, wait!” Harold shouted after her as she started to run off. “I want to ask you something!”

She stopped, turned, and watched him walking hurriedly toward her. “Ask me what?”

He cleared his throat. “Will you go to a movie with me this Saturday afternoon? There’s a good adventure — ”

“A movie? With you? Are you — ” Penny almost said “crazy” but caught herself in time. “Sorry, Harold,” she went on, blushing
slightly. “I . . . ah . . . I think I’m going to be busy Saturday afternoon. But, thanks, anyway. Okay? See you!”

She turned and sprinted away, grabbing her cap before the wind could blow it off. Imagine Harold asking
me
to go to a movie with him, she thought. What nerve! Now, if that were Jonny . . .

FOUR

S
HORTLY AFTER SEVEN O

CLOCK
that evening, Penny telephoned Karen. She couldn’t get the thought of her strange behavior out of her mind, and figured that
the best way to get to the root of the matter was to talk to her personally.

Mrs. Keech answered.

“This is Penny Farrell,” said Penny. “Can I talk to Karen, please?”

“Karen’s in her room, Penny,” Mrs. Keech answered. She had a soft, low-pitched voice that made her sound as if she were holding
the telephone too far away. “She doesn’t feel well.”

“Oh. I’m sorry,” said Penny.

“Nothing serious, I don’t think,” Mrs. Keech went on. “She played a pretty hard game this afternoon, Jonny said, and must
be tired. Any message you want me to give her?”

“No. I just wanted to talk with her, that’s all. Thank you.”

“I’ll tell her you called,” Mrs. Keech said.

“No, that’s okay,” Penny said quickly. “You don’t need to.”

She hung up, feeling no different now than she had before she talked with Mrs. Keech. Except that even Mrs. Keech did not
seem to suspect anything unnatural in Karen’s behavior.

Karen ill? Perhaps, but it’s not the kind of illness I’ve ever seen before, Penny thought. Nobody can be ill and play the
kind of ball game that Karen had played. Or Shari, either, for that matter.

I wonder if I’ll ever know the truth, Penny thought. Does Jonny know? Penny tried to imagine the conversation that might have
taken place if he had answered the telephone instead of his mother. It might have fizzled like a damp fuse, she thought.
What can I do to make him notice me?

She went into the living room and glanced
at the tall, oak-brown grandfather clock standing in the far corner. It was almost a quarter after seven.

Her mother and father were sitting in their favorite easy chairs, watching television. They glanced up at her, and Mrs. Farrell
smiled. “I heard you ask about Karen, dear. Is she all right?”

Mrs. Farrell was a tall, slim woman with warm brown eyes, heavy eyebrows, and wavy black hair that Penny had so often wished
she had inherited.

“She’s in bed,” Penny answered. “Played a hard game, her mother thinks.”

“Well, didn’t you?” said Mr. Farrell.

Penny glanced at her father, saw his hazel eyes twinkling, and shrugged. “Maybe she didn’t feel well during the game,” Penny
replied, just to say something.

Mr. Farrell grinned, pushed back a strand of blond hair that had fallen over his face, and resumed watching TV.

“Okay if I ride my bike over to Faye’s?” Penny asked, shooting her eyes from her mother to her father to show them that her
question was impartial.

“Of course. Just watch out for traffic,” her mother said warningly.

“And get home before dark,” her father added.

Penny smiled at them. “Don’t I always?” she said. She turned and darted out of the room to the back door.

Penny got her bike out of the two-car garage and rode down the street toward Faye’s house. But when she reached the intersection
of Teall and Meadow, she turned left. The Keeches lived in the fourth house on the right on Meadow Street, and maybe, just
maybe, Jonny would be out there in the backyard, mowing the lawn or something.

Penny rode past the house, glancing over the hedgerow into the backyard, hoping . . . hoping . . .

Her heart skipped a beat as she saw Jonny. He
was
out there! Playing catch with someone!

“Hi, Jonny!” she cried, excitement in her voice.

He looked around at her and waved. Then Penny saw whom he was playing catch with. It was Karen!

Well! Penny thought, surprised. She certainly got well quickly!

Penny braked, pulled up to the curb, and got off the bike. “Hi, Karen!” she called.

Karen caught her brother’s throw, glanced briefly at Penny, said hi, and returned the throw to Jonny. She showed no emotion
whatever — neither pleasure nor displeasure at seeing Penny. Penny was more certain now than ever that something was wrong
with Karen.

BOOK: Supercharged Infield
13.37Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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