by Dan Swanson
The ball game the next day was pretty much of an anticlimax.
As Uncle George had expected, Hawks Stadium was sold out, as almost everyone in town wanted to watch one of Redcliff’s favorite daughters play against the men. The manager of the other team protested playing against a team with a girl on it, but relented when George DeLuna told him that his share of the gate would more than twice what the Toledo Mud Hens usually got for playing in Redcliff.
As the Redcliff Hawks manager Frank Coles had expected, Lily DeLuna was an adequate replacement for his regular left-fielder. She made all the routine plays, and there weren’t any chances to do anything spectacular. The Hens ran on her once, checking her arm. Their leadoff hitter went from first to third on a weak line drive to left that fell in front of her. They only tried it that one time, though, as the runner should have been out by a few feet, except that he managed to kick the ball out of the mitt of the Hawks’ third baseman, Basher Brock.
At the plate Lily walked in her first at bat and was caught stealing on the next pitch. The next time up she struck out, and the time after that, she got a single and scored on a massive homer by Brock. In her last at bat, she finally got her timing right, and drove a pitch a long way to center field — unfortunately the deepest part of the park — and she was retired on a deep, but routine, fly out. If she had hit it to left field, well, who knows what might have happened?
The first real excitement in the game came in the top of the eighth inning, and it wasn’t caused by stellar play. One of the Mud Hens spiked Brock as he slid into third base. What’s worse, everyone in the park thought he was out except for the umpire. Bash was incensed, and he yelled and screamed until he was finally restrained by his teammates. Luckily for them, the dugout was on the third base side, and they were able to reach him before the umpire threw him out.
In the bottom of the inning, the Mud Hen’s pitcher deliberately threw one at Bash’s head, and once again, his teammates had to restrain him. A couple of pitches later, he was called out on strikes, and he just seemed to lose his mind. He pushed the umpire and was immediately tossed from the game. It was the third time this season, and, star or not, George had seen enough. He made his way down to the dugout and fired Bash on the spot.
Fortunately for everyone, sheriff’s deputies Tracey Thomas and his partner Bobby were watching the game as special guests in the Hawk’s dugout. Bash went wild, and started swinging at everyone around him indiscriminately. The deputies helped restrain him, led him out of the stadium, and suggested he get out of town. George was willing to let him keep the uniform, just as long as they never saw him again. Unfortunately, he wasn’t going to get his wish.
At that point, the umpire wanted to declare the game a forfeit with the Mud Hens the winner, but the Hens players decided to continue. The Hawks were disorganized and demoralized, and a couple of errors in the top of the ninth let in two runs to put the Hens ahead. A strong inning by the Hens’ fireman slammed the door, and the Hawks lost, six to five.
As was the usual custom in this particular baseball league, after the game, George and the general manager for the other team got together in George’s office to count and split the gate. They then headed for the bank. Because the gate receipts had totaled more than twice the normal amount, George had made a special arrangement with Harv Newbury, the president of the First Bank of Redcliff, to make a cash deposit into the team’s bank account, followed by a wire transfer to the account of the Mud Hens, even though it was a Sunday. George really didn’t feel safe with that much cash around. The two men, accompanied by Deputy Thomas, headed for the bank where Harv let them in, then locked the door while the deposit and wire transfer were concluded.
Before their business was concluded, the front door of the bank was violently blasted open by an explosion, and a strangely garbed figure moved into the bank at high speed. They quickly realized it was a man on roller skates, wearing a Redcliff Hawks baseball uniform, his face covered by a white mask, wearing a backpack and carrying a hockey stick in his left hand. Before they could move, he threw a baseball at them. It hit Newbury’s desk and exploded, releasing a gas that put the four immediately to sleep.
The masked figure scooped up the bag with the game receipts, looked at the vault for a second or two, realized he didn’t have any gimmicks that would help him open it, and then headed back out of the bank. He quickly started to skate away, much faster than a man could run. A couple of men ran out of a diner and tried to get into his path, but he dropped his shoulder and knocked them out of the way, a move that came right off of the roller-derby track. Behind him he heard a siren, and, looking over his shoulder, he saw a police car racing after him.
He stopped and turned, dropped a golf ball to the street, and manipulated the hockey stick, which turned into a golf club. He drove the ball at the oncoming police car, and was satisfied when it impacted the front window, causing it to shatter. The driver lost control of the car, and it veered off the street, smashing into a building. The masked man turned and skated away, headed out of town.
The bank robber had hoped he would have a few more minutes before the cops started chasing him, but they were more on the ball than he had expected. He needed something faster, like that motorcycle there.
Lily DeLuna had plans to join some of her friends for dinner, and she was just arriving at the restaurant when the masked man rolled past it. He grabbed a lamppost to stop himself, leaned down to pull some quick-release levers on his skates, stepped out of the wheels, and launched himself in a tackle at Lily, who had just gotten off her bike. She barely had time to see him coming when he hit, and they both rolled onto the ground. He tried to wrest the keys to the bike from her.
She managed to get away, and quickly launched a side-kick at his head. Holding his arms in the classic boxing ready position, he used his left hand to deflect her kick and jabbed at her with his right. Lily backed away, her own hands in the Sinshido ready position. He quickly attacked, and Lily immediately realized that he was well trained in the manly art of boxing. Lily managed to block or avoid most of his punches, but he was bigger and stronger than she was, and just as fast, and she was taking painful damage even from the blocked punches. She barely managed to keep him off of her with a series of kicks. He apparently had never fought a kicker before, but he quickly adapted. She got a few shots in, but he was hurting her worse than she was him.
This could only be Basher Brock, she realized. He was still wearing his Hawks uniform, and Lily had seen how fast and powerful Bash was during the ball game. “Bash, what are you doing? I know you’re mad about getting kicked off the team, but why are you trying to hurt me? What did I do?”
Brock was startled when she used his name, and she managed a glancing kick to his jaw. While it didn’t hurt him, it did skew his mask, and he could no longer see through the eye cutouts. He jumped backward out of Lily’s range, pulled off his baseball cap, and threw the mask away. Lily saw that it appeared to have been cut from a towel from the Lincoln Hotel. And it was Basher Brock under that mask, not that she had doubted it.
“I’m not interested in you — I want the bike!” he snarled. “Don’t make me hurt you! I’ve watched you play for the Blue Sox, and I’d hate to be the one who ends your baseball career, Tedi Villas!” He reached into his pack and came out with another baseball, which he flung at her. She didn’t have time to avoid the throw, and when the ball hit her it burst, covering her with some kind of gooey stuff. This slowed her long enough for Brock to hop on the Peashooter, and he was gone.
The next day, someone from the next town over found the Peashooter. It seemed that Brock had been renting a garage from him, and had kept a car there since the start of the baseball season. Nobody in Redcliff had even realized that Brock owned a car.
Lily figured that Brock had hidden his car from everyone in order to keep from drawing unwanted attention to himself. It was a new Plymouth P-11, painted a flashy red and yellow. It was almost impossible to get a new car these days, especially a P-11, most of which went directly to the military for use as staff cars. If people had seen Biff driving that car, they might have investigated how a Minor League ballplayer, who was avoiding military service because of epilepsy, had managed to obtain such a rare car.
Later, Lily did some investigating and found that the car was apparently stolen. She could find no record of Basher Brock from any time before he joined the Hawks. You would think that a player that good would have received some kind of press, she reasoned. She also found no evidence that he actually had epilepsy. No one had actually ever seen or heard him having a seizure; surely he couldn’t have been lucky enough that all his attacks happened when he was in private? As far as she knew, epilepsy didn’t work that way. It sounded to Lily like a good cover for someone who had illegally evaded military service — who had gone to a place where they didn’t know him and pretended he had been rejected by the military so the people there wouldn’t get suspicious.
The next morning, the garage owner had found the garage door wide open, and Lily’s bike was parked inside, while the Plymouth was gone. The bike was undamaged, and, in fact, Brock had filled the gas tank.
Brock had lived in the Lincoln Hotel throughout the season, under a special arrangement between Mr. Lincoln and the Redcliff Hawks. When the police searched his room, they found enough evidence to convince them that Brock had been the mysterious house thief. Unfortunately, most of the valuables he had stolen were never recovered.
Years later, when Lily first read about the mystery-man criminal the Sportsmaster, she was reminded of Basher Brock. The Sportsmaster’s real name was Crusher Crock, and given Brock’s nickname and his use of sporting equipment in his crimes, it seemed unlikely that it was coincidence. Crock must have been using an alias that summer, and it must have been early in his career as a criminal, a career that eventually led to him becoming the Sportsmaster. And a few years later, when she actually did encounter the Sportsmaster, her suspicions would be confirmed. (*)
[(*) Editor’s note: See The Brave and the Bold: Lois Lane and Liberty Belle: Times Past, 1948: Women of Journalism.]
Lily went back to her regular life as a mechanic in a shipyard in the baseball off-season, left fielder for the South Bend Blue Sox for the summer. She began attending journalism school part-time after the war, as she was certain the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League would soon disband. Her last season was 1946, when she was voted most valuable player on the Blue Sox, picked up the Cord, and learned to shoot. She was wrong about the future of the league, which lasted into the early 1950s, but by then she was well into an exciting career as a freelance journalist.