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Authors: Matt Christopher

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But Mary Ann grounded out to first for the third out, and Penny would have to wait
till the next inning to see what Faye would do.

She didn’t have to wait long. Helen Chang grounded out. Her sister, Rose, singled but got out in a double play on a sharp
drive to short, and the half-inning was over.
But that double play. So swift and accurate
. Penny couldn’t believe it.

Now we’ll see how and what Faye does at bat, Penny thought as the Hawks ran off the field.

Faye, leading off the top half of the second inning, swung at the first pitch, a fast ball down by her knees. She met it squarely
and the ball shot between third and short for a sharp single. Nothing spectacular, Penny thought, but Faye
had
hit it pretty hard.

Shari, up next, didn’t waste any time, either. She also swung at the first pitch, delivering it out to right center for a
stand-up double, scoring Faye, who, Penny noticed, ran around the base paths as if a swarm of bees were chasing her.

The run was the only one the Hawks scored that inning, but it put them farther ahead, 3 to 0.

Penny couldn’t help but glance at Harold
after Faye had crossed the plate, and see the faint smile on his face as he wrote in the scorebook. Was there another meaning
behind that smile, besides the fact that Faye had scored a run? A gleam of satisfaction, maybe? Of triumph? Was Faye’s performance
expected?

What was in that mind of Harold Demp-sey’s — the computer expert — anyway? What was he thinking of as he wrote the “single”
and “run scored” signs in the score-book after Faye’s name?

Harold Dempsey.
Where had he taken Faye and the other two girls, after they had left the movies those Saturday afternoons?

SEVEN

P
ENNY
, standing on the ground behind and to the side of the third-base sack and just inside of the short-cut grass, waited for
the Hard Hats’ leadoff girl to come to the plate. But her mind was still on Harold and the three girls, Shari, Karen, and
Faye. What could she do? Now that her closest friend, Faye, was also under that strange spell — Penny couldn’t think of anything
else to call it — whom could she talk to? Who would believe her? You would think that other members on the team could
see
that something had turned those girls into strangers and superstars, but no one else had mentioned it. Maybe some of them
had noticed
it but were reluctant to say so. As I am reluctant, Penny thought.
But someone has got to say something to somebody sometime!

Joyce Buddins, the Hard Hats left center fielder, corked a single over short, and the next two girls got out, both on fly
balls to the outfield. Then June Cato, the top of the Hard Hats’ lineup, came up again and drove a hot grounder down to third.
Watching it come at her in short, rapid hops, Penny knew she was going to miss it. She felt too tense and nervous.

And miss it she did. The ball struck the heel of her glove, hit her on the chest, and bounced to the ground. By the time she
retrieved it, June was almost on first base — too late for Penny to throw there — and Joyce was on second.

“Sorry,” Penny said apologetically to Mary Ann as she tossed the ball to the pitcher.

“Forget it,” said Mary Ann. “That came at you like a bullet.”

She doesn’t know that I missed it because I wasn’t concentrating on my playing, Penny thought guiltily.

Effie Moon knocked a high bouncer down to third. Penny caught it easily and stepped
on the bag for the force-out. She caught Mary Ann’s smile as the girls ran off the field together. “I needed that,” Penny
said, feeling better.

She reached the dugout and was about to sit down when she heard Harold calling out the names of the first three batters. “Farrell!
Keech! Kowalski!” Oh, no! she thought, forgetting that Kim Soo had made the last out in the bottom of the second inning.

Penny dropped her glove on the bench, walked to the pile of bats, selected her favorite yellow one, and went to the plate.
She felt nervous and hot. A lot of things were on her mind. That error, for one, in spite of her redeeming herself on the
next grounder hit down to her. The three girls. Harold. And her striking out her first time up.

She let the first pitch sail by. “Strike!” cried the umpire, a six-foot, broad-shouldered guy towering behind the catcher.

Who can I talk with about it? Penny asked herself. Who can I confide in?

She was tempted to swing at the next pitch, but wasn’t ready.

“Strike two!” boomed the umpire.

“Relax, Penny!” Coach Parker’s voice drifted to her from the third-base coaching box. “Just meet it!”

Penny stepped out of the box, shut her eyes tightly for a few seconds, took a deep breath, then opened her eyes and got back
in the box again. The next pitch was a fast one that zoomed up near her shoulders. She swung at it, and missed.

The cheer from the Hard Hats’ fans hit her as if it were a physical thing, and she returned to the dugout, not looking up
once till she got there.

“It’s only a ball game, Penny,” Melanie Fallon said to her as she gave Penny room to sit beside her. “Don’t feel so bad.”

“I guess I just can’t help it,” said Penny, her heart pounding.

Cries from other team members began exploding from the dugout. “Get on, Karen! Get on!”

“Another long clout, Karen!”

Karen lashed out a single.

Sophie came up next, and doubled. And Karen, who Penny thought would hold up at third base, raced all the way in to score.

“Oh, wow!” Melanie exclaimed. “Can she
run!

Penny looked at her, wondering. “Have you noticed how much
faster
she’s been running lately? And how much
better
she’s been playing?”

“Who hasn’t?” Melanie replied. She had her cap tipped back, revealing her short, blond hair that partially covered her ears.
Her blue eyes were wide, enhanced by her long lashes. “You’d think she was getting tips from some big-leaguer or something.”

Penny looked harder at her. Maybe I can confide in
her
, she suddenly thought. Melanie was eleven, sensible, and smart. She’d understand.

“Can I talk to you after the game, Melanie?” Penny asked, making sure only Melanie heard her.

Melanie stared at her, frowning. “Sure.”

Penny smiled, a wave of relief sweeping over her. At last, she thought. Even if Melanie couldn’t help her solve the problem,
Penny at least could share her views with someone. Talking with her mother or father, or with both of them, was out of the
question, Penny had decided. They didn’t know any of the girls half as well as she did, and they wouldn’t be able to compare
the girls’ present behavior with their past.

It would seem that their own parents, or their brothers and sisters — especially Karen’s brother Jonny — would recognize the
change in them, Penny thought. But, so far, none of them had said anything. Were they so naïve as to think that whatever it
was that had changed the girls was temporary? Or that it wasn’t serious? Maybe someday I’ll find the answer myself, Penny
thought. I just hope that by then it won’t be too late.

Too late for what?
she asked herself. But how could she know what would finally happen?
What if, whatever it was, had already happened?

Penny was so absorbed in her thoughts that she didn’t see what: the next two batters did. Not till she saw Faye leaving the
on-deck circle for the plate did she notice Mary Ann on first base.

“How’d Mary Ann get on?” Penny asked Kim Soo, sitting on the other side of her.

“Jean grounded out to short, and the shortstop missed Mary Ann’s grounder,” Kim Soo answered, flashing one of her bright,
eye-sparkling smiles. “Aren’t you watching the game, Penny?”

Penny shrugged. “I guess I wasn’t paying much attention to it,” she admitted.

She focused her attention on Faye now, and saw her take two pitches, both almost hitting the plate. Then Faye swung at the
third pitch so hard that one would think she was trying to smash the softball into pieces. The sound of bat meeting ball was
solid, and almost instantly a roar exploded from the crowd as the ball soared out to deep center field. Everyone in the Hawks
dugout stood up — stunned silent — as the ball cleared the fence by at least thirty feet for one of the longest home runs
ever hit there.

The team cheered and applauded, and then each member of it dashed out of the dugout and up to the plate to shake Faye’s hands
— both of them — as she crossed the plate behind Sophie and Mary Ann. Penny met her eyes, and for a moment their eyes were
locked as Penny said, “Beautiful hit, Faye. It was just fantastic.”

“Thanks,” Faye said.

“Thanks.”
That was all. She never even cracked a smile.

Penny saw Faye go down toward the end of the dugout and sit next to Karen, and looked to see if there was room on the other
side of Faye. There was. Penny then got up, walked down to the vacant spot, and sat down.

She looked at Faye. “Faye, I’ve got to talk to you,” she whispered.

Faye looked at her. Her eyes were blank. “I don’t want to talk,” she said.

“Faye! We have to!”

Faye looked at her a moment longer, and nothing on her face or in her eyes suggested she was interested in what Penny wanted
to say. “I told you, I don’t want to talk,” she said again, and looked away.

Just then there was an explosive roar from the fans, and Penny looked up in time to see Shari thrown out at first base. The
third inning was over. Hard Hats 0, Hawks 7.

T. K. Ellis, a tall, spindly-legged girl, led off the top of the fourth inning for the Hard Hats and dumped a Texas leaguer
over second base. Barbara Nelson then tripled, scoring T. K. Helen Chang homered, and the Hard Hats’ fans went crazy.

Then Mary Ann walked the next two girls, and Penny began to wonder: Aren’t we ever going to get them out? Isn’t the
thing
that’s happened to Shari, Karen, and Faye enough?

She realized that in her uppermost thoughts she was hoping for the Hawks to win, momentarily forgetting that they had been
doing so well only because of the
change — the superstar qualities — that the three girls had mysteriously acquired. If she had a choice, what would she want?
A winning team, or to have her friends return to their normal selves?

Wow! she thought. What am I thinking? The
girls
come first! I want them to be normal again! Winning comes second.

EIGHT

J
OYCE
B
UDDINS
, the Hard Hats’ tall, freckle-faced left center fielder, got her second single of the game, a sharp drive over third base,
scoring Rose Chang. Rose and Cay Lattimore were the two girls Mary Ann had walked in succession after that home run by Helen
Chang. Cay stopped on third.

“Wait a minute! Time!” Penny yelled to the base umpire, and trotted in to the pitcher’s mound, hoping to say something to
Mary Ann to calm her down. Jean came in from first base, too, but Karen and Faye remained at their positions at the edge of
the infield grass, and Shari behind the plate, as if their presence wasn’t needed. Penny wasn’t surprised
that they didn’t come. Whatever it was that had made them become almost one hundred percent emotionless had made them less
considerate about certain things, too. Always before they used to come to the mound with Penny and Jean when their pitcher
needed that much-welcomed moral support. That
it
— whatever it was — had changed all that.

“Slow down,” Penny advised Mary Ann. “Take a breather.”

She could see that the girl was sweating profusely, moving about every second, looking this way and that like a worried bird.
Suddenly Penny heard feet pounding behind her and turned to see Coach Parker running toward them from the dugout. He was looking
back over his shoulder at a girl warming up in the bullpen. When the girl, Edie Moser, looked up, he signaled for her to come
in. She tossed the ball to the girl she was playing catch with, and came running out to the field.

“I guess I should’ve put Edie in right after Chang knocked that home run,” the coach admitted to Mary Ann. “But you were doing
so well before that, I hated to take you out.”

Mary Ann smiled, and shrugged. “I guess
I started to get nervous,” she said shyly. She handed him the ball and ran off the field, receiving applause and cheers from
the fans till she disappeared into the dugout.

Edie threw a few underhand pitches in to Shari, Coach Parker left the infield, Penny and Jean returned to their positions,
and the game resumed. Annie Moses, the Hard Hats’ batter, laced Edie’s first pitch in the gap between left and left center
fields for three bases, scoring two runs, and Penny wondered again whether the inning was ever going to end. Had that crazy
spell touched the Hard Hats, too?

Then Pam Colt, the Hard Hats pitcher, drove a sharp grounder to Karen, who caught the ball easily and whipped it in a straight
line to Jean for the putout. The next batter grounded out to Penny, and the third flied out to Gloria in right center field
to end the Hard Hats’ big inning. Hard Hats 6, Hawks 7.

The score remained the same until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Faye connected with a double over the shortstop’s head,
followed by another double by Shari. Both hits were solid line drives that were
hit directly at the outfielders, but not high enough for them to catch the balls in the air. Any other girl — including me,
Penny thought — would not have risked running to second base. But both Faye and Shari had stretched their hits to doubles.

Melanie grounded out to short. Then Gloria singled, scoring Shari, and Kim Soo singled, driving Gloria all around to third
base. Penny popped out to short —
disgusting
, she thought — ending the half-inning, and the Hawks led by three runs.

“Don’t let it get you down, Penny,” Harold said, smiling, as Penny came into the dugout for her glove. “We’re ahead.”

She wanted to ignore him; there was something about him — something strange — that bothered her. She couldn’t describe the
feeling, but it was there.

BOOK: Supercharged Infield
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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