Chapter 3.2E

Coach Dan approached and nodded in the direction of Coach Pat, who grunted a reply and turned to leave, the Midland fencers following him with all the enthusiasm of a patient being escorted to a dental chair.

“Got the schedule,” said Coach Dan, the team gathering around him. “You’re on separate strips,” he said, then motioned to the near strip — “Rex” — the middle stip — “Annie” — then the furthest from them — “Bernie. Congrats — you get to face Francis Pine in the prelim.”

Bernie’s reaction ejaculated from his mouth, “Oh God, Frankenstein!”, as he flung his arms dramatically, wide and over his shoulders. Annie leaned forward, a concerned look on her face, whispered “Bernie” —

“And what have we here?” called a young man from behind Bernie, who froze in recognition of the approaching voice. “Is my name being uttered in derision? Come, come, allow me to face my tormentor!”

Bernie turned and saw the slim, tall figure of Francis Pine approaching — then suddenly stopping, holding his hand up to his mouth.

“Horrors! Is this the famed Bernie Scott, from Bark Bay High School! The one who vanquished the mighty Amy McIntyre from Midland last spring?”

Rex stepped forward, said “Good seeing you again — ”

“Pleasantries shall come later,” said Francis Pine politely as he side-stepped Rex and stood in front of Bernie. “And where is — Josh, was his name?”

“He didn’t make it,” said Coach Dan.

Francis Pine tutted loudly. “Ah, perhaps for the better, seeing as he was no match for Master Scott here. Now tell me, Bernie — I trust that I can call you Bernie, instead of Bernard, seeing as how you adroitly mocked me in a way that suggested a bit of, shall I say, admiriation? No, come to think of it,” he continued, waving a hand quickly in front of his face, “I should riposte your witicism with a playful jibe of my own –” his face now turning serious “– Bernie Scott, B Scott –” his eyes getting big, a hint of a snarl on his face, the final word spitting out — “Biscuit.”

Francis Pine allowed Bernie to stare back at him in silence for a moment, before backing away with a bow. “See you on the strip . . . Biscuit,” he said, then turned to Rex, greeting him warmly.

Chapter 3.2D, Revised

[I decided the coach for Midland needed a different personality, so I’m revising yesterday’s post]

“Don’t recognize you,” replied Mike. “Perhaps you’ll do something today that will make me regret that oversight?” Bernie smiled, shrugged his shoulders as he looked down. “Hey Coach,” Mike called to a middle-aged man walking up behind him, “Bark Bay’s got some new fencers.”

The man walked in front of Mike Paris, looked at each Bark Bay fencer seriously, like a man evaluating a recently completed paint job, and grunted. “Pat Williams,” said the man, stepping forward and extending his arm in Bernie’s direction, adding “guess you need to call me Coach Pat.” After greeting Kassandra and Butch as well, he said, “Dan — sorry, Coach Dan — he’s probably still acting like he’s your communal big brother, isn’t he?” Pause, with no reaction from anyone. “Hmm. Probably hasn’t said anything to you about how tournaments are different than practice. No more fun and games. Everybody you meet today, even people from your own team, they’re your enemy today. If you don’t go in with that attitude, it’s going to be a long day, and you’re gonna go home with your feelings hurt, and then you’re going to want to quit, and then you’ll be down to two or three fencers again and Dan’ll have to go before the clowns on the school board and plead for the team’s continued existence, like he should be thanking them for all his grief and aggravation.

He waited a moment before continuing, as if to make sure the proper level of surprise had grown on everyone’s face.

“Dan does this all the time, tries to be everybody’s buddy. Leaves it to guys like me to tell you the truth. Fencing isn’t a game, it isn’t a sport, it’s a competition. Has its origins in dueling, at its heart it’s as much about blood as sweat. If you don’t have a killer instinct out on that strip,” he said, pointing without looking in the direction of the judges assembling the third fencing strip, “you’re going to get creamed.

“You Coach Dan wants you to think we’re all a band of brothers and sisters,” he said, waving his arms in a circular motion meant to take in the entire gymnasium. “But the truth is, anybody competing against you today will do anything within the rules to defeat you. And it’s my job to help them.

“So — let me finish by wishing you good luck. I don’t mean it, but our sport has its traditions.”

Chapter 3.2D

Annie, Bernie and Rex pulled out their jackets, Butch and Kassandra helping with the zippers in the back. Double-J departed with a wave of his hand and a perfunctory good luck as Coach Dan met with the tournament organizer to go over the schedule.

Rex heard his name called from the service entrance, and turned to see Mike Paris, the top epee fencer from Midland High, walk in with the rest of his team.

“You doing foil too?” asked Mike as he walked over. Rex nodded. “Excellent. You — ” he said, pointing to Annie ” — are going to be trouble. And I see that Bark Bay has found three new fencers?”

“Two, actually,” replied Rex, then pointed to Bernie and explained he had competed last year.

“Don’t recognize you,” replied Mike. “Perhaps you’ll do something today that will make me regret that oversight?” Bernie smiled, shrugged his shoulders as he looked down.

“Did I hear we have new fencers today?” came an adult voice from behind Mike. “I’m Coach Pat,” continued the voice as he stepped forward, arm extended in Bernie’s direction. After greeting Kassandra and Butch as well, he said, “Now there’s going to be a lot going on today, and I know you’re going to feel overwhelmed. You’re probably not going to win a lot of bouts today, but if you observe, if you listen, you’ll learn a lot. If you have any questions and Coach Dan isn’t around, just ask me, or anybody on my team. Once a bout begins it’s everyone for themselves, but at any other time, we’re all in this together. We need fencers, there’s so few of us. Remember, the only dumb question is the one that’s not asked.”

Rex had begun thinking of ways to gracefully exit Coach Pat’s lecture when Coach Dan mercifully arrived with the day’s schedule.

Chapter 3.2C

As Coach Sara rushed busily back to where the Academy fencers were gathered, Coach Dan pointed to an open area in the far end of the court. The team walked over, laid the canvas equipment bags down, and unbundled from their bulky fall jackets.

While sorting through the fencing jackets, they were approached by a tall, thin middle-aged man, accompanied on either side by a teenaged boy and girl.

“Daniel,” he announced, extending a hand to Coach Dan, who accepted with a hearty shake then turned to his team and said this was Dr. Schmidt, who ran the En Garde! fencing club in the city. Dr. Schmidt turned to his pupils (as he called them), Donna and Ed, then looked up and down at the Bark Bay fencers with a mix of curiosity and disdain. “Your team will be getting dressed, yes?” he asked, clearly indicating he would be disappointed if the answer was not yes.

“They’re as dressed as they’re going to be,” said Coach Dan.

Dr. Schmidt waved his right hand up, then down in the direction of Donna. “But their outfits are not regulation,” he said. Rex now noticed that both Donna and Ed were wearing white, short-legged pants, extended just below their knees and held in position by long suspenders that ran from the top of their pants, over their shoulders, then crossing in the back before clasping the back of their pants. Rex looked quickly over at the Academy fencers, saw they were garbed in similar fashion. He remembered last spring’s state tournament, when Coach Dan suddenly came to Miles, Double-J and himself with these pants, hurried them to get dressed, said it was required.

“They’re not enforcing that regulation in this tournament,” said Coach Dan.

Dr. Schmidt shook his head, tut tut. “This sport is nothing without its traditions. When we start lowering our standards, we are finished.”

“It’s an expensive sport,” replied Coach Dan.

“All the more reason not to cheapen it, bring it down to the base level where most of our society chooses to live.” Coach Schmidt then nodded politely and turned to walk away, followed by Donna and Ed.

“Now there’s someone I can relate to,” said Double-J.

Chapter 3.2B

Suddenly a high-pitched voice to their right called out DAAAA-NEEEEEE, the team recognizing before turning in her direction that they were being greeted by Coach Sara of the Academy, who was now rushing to greet them, arms extended towards them. Double-J swore.

“Hello Sara,” Coach Dan replied before accepting her embrace. Coach Sara stepped out, her eyes sweeping over the team members.

“You Bark Bay Bad Boys are Back for more Bedlam, are you?” she called, exaggerating each alliterative b. Making no attempt to hide his disdain, Double-J rolled his eyes said, “Excuse me, But I have to go to the Bathroom and have a Bowel movement,” and walked away.

“Double-J’s mentally prepared for sabre, I see,” said Coach Sara, then confirming that Rex would compete in both foil and epee, with Annie and Bernie competing in foil. “And your newcomers as well?” she asked Coach Dan as she pointed first towards Butch (standing next to Coach Dan and looking attentively at Coach Sara), then Kassandra (standing furthest back, and looking back at the doors they had entered through).

Coach Dan shook his head. “A shame,” called Coach Sara. “Fencing is the only way to learn how to fence. You’re too cautious with your fencers, Dan, and you need a team you know, how long do you expect Bark Bay High’s going to put up with your rag-tag bunch? No offense, everyone,” she said, now facing the team directly, “in fact I admire you, you have to use second-hand equipment, stuff teams like ours didn’t have any use for — ”

Coach Dan jerked his head back, tightened his lips, braced himself for the unfortunate yet unstoppable verbal barrage.

” — and I bet they didn’t give you guys a bus to get here did you?” — Annie shoke her head — “they still have you in that cafeteria, no gym time?” — Annie nodded — “it’s disrespect I tell you, I’d never put my team through that, would quit before it came to that, I could start my own club you know, Tony keeps bugging me has he asked you yet?” (she was now looking at Coach Dan, who nodded) “Lord knows with your salary you need the money more than I do are you going to accept?” (Coach Dan shook his head) “good because I’m afraid most of you wouldn’t be able to afford Tony’s lessons, no offense of course, it’s just that we need more fencers, there’s so few of us, that’s why I admire what Coach Dan is doing for you, hey I gotta go, got two new fencers first meet is today,promise to take it easy on them, share some of the medals with us this time, bye.”

Chapter 3.2A

They entered through what had originally been a service entrance when the gymnasium had been built several decades ago, when the large athletic parking lot was a long berm. These stairs therefore lead down, and when the parking lot was built later the decision had been made to keep the stairs in their original orientation. The team descended these stairs and entered the gymnasium.

Ceiling lights reflected off the hardwood floor, which was in good shape, not much being asked of it in recent years. It was painted for one full-sized basketball court, with two additional backboards and painting along either side for the half-court games that were popular among the College coeds. The bleachers that were originally installed at the building’s construction had long been replaced with maintenance and administrative offices.

About twenty people were in the gym when the team arrived. In the center of the court, an adult man and women were using blue painter’s tape to mark the boundaries of a fencing strip. At either end was a gray box, about two feet square and low to the ground, with a hole near the top of one end from which a wire, about an inch in diameter, snaked out. A clip and socket at the end of this wire prevented it from coiling past the hole into the device. Another wire ran from the other end of each device, and this second wire was connected to a small machine mounted on a table located outside the middle of the fencing strip.

Two other adults were assembling another strip on the far end of the court. Later, a third strip would be built immediately in front of the old service doorway, from which the Bark Bay Fencing Club now walked through.

Chapter 3Z

Coach Dan opened the trunk of his car, reveaking the familiar canvas sacks that contained the team’s equipment — the large, bulky sack of masks, and the smaller, longer sack of weapons. Rex reached in and grabbed the masks, while Double-J picked up the weapons.

“Coach, remember this tournament two years ago?” asked Rex. “How we medaled in all three weapons?”

Coach Dan smiled. “Yes. That was Miles’ first win. You came in third for epee, Greg got third in sabre. Had a bet for a drink with Razza that we’d get at least two medals, and when we wound up with more medals than the Academy that day, I told her she owed me dinner as well.”

“How’d that work out for you?” asked Annie.

Coach Dan laughed. “Had a liquid dinner that evening.”

Double-J closed the trunk door, then turned his attention to the team. “This is what it’s all about, guys,” he announced. “All the practices, all the drilling, none of that means anything anymore. It’s all about how well you fence in the tournament. I don’t know about anyone else,” he said, looking directly at Rex, “but I have something to prove today.”

Double-J turned and walked up the weathered wooden steps that led up to the gymnasium. Coach Dan shook his head, and the team followed him up the stairs as the lead them into their first tournament of the fencing season.

Chapter 3Y

Traffic in the College town was light, being a Saturday morning without a football game on the schedule. Double-J pulled into the central parking lot, a massive area of several hundred square feet of uneven asphalt and faded yellow paint. The lot was adjacent to most of the College’s athletic buildings — football stadium, baseball and track fields, the basketball arena.

This morning there were only about 20 cars in the lot, all concentrated around the side entrance to building that was dwarfed by the larger, more modern looking facilities around it. Rex pointed to a white van parked closest to the entrance, as if to acknowledge that the Academy had indeed arrived for the tournament.

Double-J parked the car, and as its occupants got it Coach Dan pulled up beside them. Rex walked behind the Coach’s car, and waited for the trunk to be opened with the same still patience of the cool autumnal air around him.

Chapter 3X

“Who did you beat last spring?” asked Double-J. “Wasn’t it Josh?” Bernie nodded, then said “there was that girl from Midland, too.”

Yes, Midland High should be there, said Coach Dan. They’re the largest school in the state, they field teams in more sports than most any other, and they’re only about fifteen minutes away from the College. I’m good friends with the coach at Midland, she’s real sharp. They’ve got a good team.

“Midland’s a bunch of losers,” said Double-J. “And Josh,” he said, reaching out with his right arm and nudging Rex, “didn’t he show up for like, two practices, then never showed up after losing in the tournament to Zorro back there?”

Between bites of his roast beef sandwich, Rex garbled out an mwhy gwuess.

“How’d you do against the Academy, Zorro? You face Neil? How many touches did you score?”

“Two.”

“Gwen?”

“I faced her twice, in the prelim and then the elimination. Got three touches against her.”

“Three in the elimination, right, that was to fifteen. How many in the prelim, the five-touch bout.”

Bernie listened to the hum of the car’s engine for a moment before he spoke. “She shut me out in the prelim.”

“So let me get this straight,” said Double-J. “You scored two touches against the Academy’s weakest foil fencer, who didn’t even crack the top ten at the tournament, and when you faced somebody who actually knew what she was doing, you failed miserably. You beat some nobody from Midland, and some guy from our school who was in it for kicks, and dropped out because he was embarassed to have lost to you.

“So what makes you so confident about today?”

Chapter 3W

“So you don’t feel lonely anymore?” asked Double-J, finally looking at Butch’s reflection in the rearview mirror. Butch smiled contentedly, like a man savoring an enjoyable dinner, and shook his head.

Why are you so afraid to speak? asked Annie. Because the words I use are never what I mean answered Kassandra. Coach Dan said if people didn’t understand her that was their problem, but Kassandra shook her head, They understand the words I am saying correctly, but the words I use are not correct. I feel like I’m a different person when I speak, that I’m one person when I think and another person when I speak, and the two people are never the same, and they can’t never get together and agree on anything. Annie cleared her throat, asked if what she was speaking now was what she was thinking. Kassandra thought a moment, said Yes, they’re the same, and Coach Dan said, see what happens when you stand up for yourself, it’s like fencing he said, I’m always telling everyone to be aggressive, don’t sit back and wait for your opponent to come at you, take the initiative. Kassandra shook her head, said Thank you, but it’s not going to work today.

“Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to this tournament since last spring,” said Bernie. “Want to prove to hot-shot up there,” thumbing in Double-J’s direction, “that last spring wasn’t a fluke.”