Practice 2Q

Jimmy walked in front of Annie, ponytail smiling behind her head. “Daniel — Coach Dan tells me you’re ready to try other weapons.”

“I’ve done a little epee with Rex.” Her ponytail pranced as she nodded in the direction of the tall teen. “And I’ve told Double-J I’ll take him on in sabre, any time he wants.”

Jimmy turned, found Double-J with his eyes. “Here you go,” he said, waving his arm in Annie’s direction. “I believe you were complaining about not having anyone to practice with earlier.”

“I wasn’t complaining.” Double-J’s voice was emotionless, analytical. “I was stating a fact. I got no problem with Annie, but I’m not here for her amusement. She wants to play around with sabre, she can do that with Butch or someone.”

“Why are you so arrogant?” Annie’s sudden question caused Jimmy to turn towards her.

“What you call arrogance, I call confidence.” Double-J’s voice remained emotionless. “Sabre’s not like foil, you can’t be tentative, decisions have to be quick. If you hesitate, you’re dead.”

“Same could be said for any weapon.” The tone of Jimmy’s response matched Double-J’s analytic disinterest.

Double-J shook his head. “Worse in sabre,” he replied, turning his back to show that he was finished with the conversation.

Practice 2P

“What’s your name, son?”

“What?”

Jimmy rolled his eyes. “Aside from ‘Biscuit,’ I don’t know what else you don’t like to be called. I don’t like calling out hey you, and if I just call youson I might get your friend Double-J here confused. So, if you don’t mind — tell me your name.”

“Bernie. Bernie Scott, sir.”

“Ah, sir again. Listen, the name’s Jimmy, and if this assistant coaching thing’s going to work out for me, I need you to help me out by getting rid of the bone that’s stuck up your ass.”

The chorus of nervous laughter rising from his teammates broke through Bernie’s anxiety, caused him to smile back at Jimmy.

“Well it’s a start.” Jimmy now turned his attention to the teen to Bernie’s right. “Young man, I believe I heard someone refering to you as ‘Butch.’ I’m assuming that wasn’t the name your parents gave to you.”

“No sir — I mean, Jimmy.”

“I begin to like you already, son. And what would your Christian name be?”

“Benjamin, si — Jimmy, I mean. Ah, not Benjamin Jimmy, just Benjamin — ”

“I gathered that.”

” — Goodman! Bejamin Goodman, that’s my name.”

“Yes.” Jimmy looked at Butch thoughtfully. “So I take it you prefer not to be called Benny Goodman?”

“Who?”

Jimmy smiled, shook his head. “Nice to meet you, Butch.”

Practice 2O

“Before you two go off on your own,” Coach Dan called in the direction of Jimmy and Double-J, “let’s have everyone line up.” He waved his arm down at one of the edges where black tile gave way to white.

Jimmy looked over at Double-J. “You don’t have any trouble with footwork drills, correct?”

Double-J shook his head, the long black wires of his hair rising as if from static electricity. “Nah. It’s kind of fun, actually, watching Biscuit trip over his feet.”

Jimmy scanned the faces of the teens as they formed a line along the black tile’s edge. “Judging by facial reactions,” now looking at Bernie, “I would guess that you are ‘Biscuit’.”

“Last name’s Scott,” Bernie replied. “‘B – Scott,’ becomes Biscuit.”

“It sounds like you’re not particularly fond of that name.”

Bernie shrugged, looked down at the tiled floor.

Practice 2N

Double-J stared back impassively at Jimmy, who stared back silently. Annie watched, sensed that the still-fluid relationship between the two was about to solidify, that Double-J’s response to Jimmy would set the tone for their future together as student and coach.

Double-J spoke, his eyes not breaking contact with Jimmy’s as he turned slightly to his right, towards Coach Dan. “I’m still not doing foil, you know.”

“I’ll leave that up to you and Jimmy.”

“Hack and slash, hack and slash,” Jimmy said, waving his right arm widly in front of him as he turned to the team’s equipment bags. “Let me know when you figure out the importance of point control, even in sabre.”

Practice 2M

“I have enough other problems, Jimmy,” Coach Dan replied. “One of which is getting enough practice time for Double-J.”

Jimmy nodded in the direction of the team. “I’m sure any of these fine young people would be willing to practice with him.”

“They don’t do sabre.” Double-J’s response bristled with indignation. “We lost our only other sabrists when Miles graduated and Danny’s parents made him quit.”

“Danny says he made that decision on his own.”

Double-J turned to Annie, shook his head. “Whatever. Anyway, sometimes Rex and Annie drill on epee, but aside from that, it’s just foil.”

Jimmy shrugged, staring directly at Double-J. “So practice foil.”

Double-J’s chest seemed to expand under the ribs of his heavy down jacket. “I don’t do foil.”

Jimmy smiled. “I am not asking you to do anything, son — and by the way, I’m going to call you son, so you’d best be getting used to it. All I plan on doing with you is asking for your goals, and then letting you know what you need to do in order to get where you want to go. What you do with that information — will be up to you.”

Practice 2L

“Really?” Jimmy replied, his expression revealing genuine surprise. He then turned to Annie. “Your brother, doesn’t he go to the Academy?”

“Ah — yes,” Annie’s mind flashing back to last month’s party. Si didn’t come down until after the caterers left. We didn’t talk about Si outside the kitchen. Did he talk to my parents? Only other time I talked to him was when he arrived, I took his jacket — jacket! I walked Jimmy to the coat closet, opened it, pushed aside Si’s jacket, it has the Academy shield on it.

“Hmmm.” Jimmy scanned the faces of the Bark Bay fencers thoughtfully. “It seems to me that you, all of you, have more in common with the Academy than you’re willing to admit.”

“They’re our rivals,” Bernie replied. “They’re always beating us, in everything, not just fencing — basketball, football — ”

“And what do those other sports have to do with fencing?” Jimmy’s voice was sharp, commanding. He turned to Coach Dan. “How many public schools in our area have fencing?”

Coach Dan shrugged. “Not many. There’s Midland, in the city, we see them all the time. Couple others a little further out, sometimes they show up.”

“Well, some things haven’t changed.” Jimmy’s voice softened, but the tone of command remained. “I’m willing to wager that everyone at the Academy, these arch rivals of yours, is aware of how shallow their pool is of available fencing opponents. If they’re as smart as everyone says people at the Academy are, they’re concerned. All I’m saying is that if you haven’t asked the Academy for help — haven’t asked if they have spare equipment — ”

“They do,” Coach Dan interjected. “I’m working on getting it over here.”

“Good. I’m glad to hear that the virus of foolish pride hasn’t infected you, Daniel.”

Practice 2K

Height average and weight slender for a man in his mid-40s, Jimmy located several fencing jackets that appeared to suit his frame. “Any that don’t zip in the back?” he called to Coach Dan as he sorted through the jackets in the canvas sack.

“‘Fraid not, my friend. No room in the budget.”

“More like there’s no budget at all.” Coach Dan nodded in Double-J’s direction.

“So,” Jimmy continued, pulling a jacket from the sack and running his right arm through the sleeve, “where do you get these from?”

“You have to step through the strap first,” Butch called. Jimmy looked down, saw the wide white nylon strap connected to the front and looping down, then up and connecting to the back.

“Ahh.” Jimmy shook his head as he removed his arm from the sleeve. “As I said, it’s been over ten years.”

“Got these from the College, four years ago,” Coach Dan said. “Stu Henderson, he’s the assistant principal, he gave me the name of the AD at the College when I started the team. The College had some old equipment they were looking to donate, thought he heard something about fencing. That’s where ninety percent of what you see here came from.”

“Well Stu was right about this equipment being old.” Jimmy had put on the jacket, which hung unzippered on his back, the sides flapping like feeble wings as he walked over to the foils. “These grips are worn, Daniel, blades look ready to snap.”

“It’s the best we can do.”

“Even after four years? Aren’t there other schools with surplus equipment? What about the Academy?”

The students of the Bark Bay Fencing Team groaned harmoniously.

“You’ve touched a sour spot,” Coach Dan observed.

Practice 2J

“Hey, I remember you!” exclaimed Butch suddenly, as Jimmy took off his long jacekt. “You work for that catering company — Mosquito, right?”

Squisito,” Annie’s voice shooting past Butch. Jimmy nodded. “Yes, Squisito. It’s Italian.”

“Ohh,” Butch replied. “I didn’t know they had mosquitos in Italy.”

Annie stepped toward Butch, panic on her face as giggles escaped from Double-J and Rex. Jimmy quickly raised his right hand. “Tuesday’s our slow day. We clean up from the weekend banquets on Monday, start preparing for the coming weekend on Wednesday. Sometimes we get a mid-week order from the Rotary or Lion’s Club, so I won’t be here every week. But I should make it often enough to give young master Johnson here regular workouts on sabre.”

“Double-J.” Jimmy turned quickly at Double-J’s utterance, and Annie quickly replied, “Hey, show some respect to Coach — Jimmy.”

Ahhh!” Jimmy exclaimed mockingly, hands flying above his head. “There’s no cause for calling me coach anything. Please, folks — everybody calls me Jimmy, and as special as you might think you are because you’re on a fencing team, you’re just like everyone else, no better and no worse. So,” he said, stepping in the direction of the canvas sacks on the tiled cafeteria floor, “do you suppose there’s a jacket in there that fits me, Daniel?”

Practice 2I

“So where’s the sabre coach?” Double-J asked, stepping in front of Coach Dan and scanning the room impatiently. “All I see is our usual gang of winners.”

“That,” Coach Dan explained, “was the second call I made. When I talked to him over the weekend I told him I’d let him know once my meeting with the AD was over. He should be here — ” ka-klack ” — exactly when his expert sense of timing kicks in.”

The team turned towards the metal double-doors of the cafeteria, and while they instantly recognized the figure in the dark full-length coat walking towards them, he was still one of the last persons they would have expected to see that evening.

“Jimmy!” Coach Dan exclaimed, sweeping his arms open in greeting. “Ladies and gentlemen of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, please greet our new sabre coach!”

Annie quickly recalled the conversation she had with Jimmy and Double-J, in the cold outside the back kitchen door, at the holiday party her parents had held last month for the team. Yeah, I fenced, she remembered him saying. College. All three weapons. Sabre was my best event.

Jimmy stopped a few feet in front of the irregular semi-circle in which the fencing team was standing. Nodding to Coach Dan, he quickly scanned each teen’s face — Kassie, Butch, Annie, Bernie, Rex, Double-J — making eye contact with each, his firm stare commanding attention. He turned again to Coach Dan, and spoke.

“As I’ve explained, tonight will be the first time I have touched a weapon in over a decade. I also have no coaching experience. Unlike all of you,” he continued, his gaze now turning in the general direction of the team, “fencing is in my past, not my future. However, Daniel here believes my presence will be helpful.

“So, if you’re willing to accept my thin resume — ” his face suddenly brightened, voice softened — “and are not overly nervous at the sight of a black man coming at you with a sword in his hand — ” He paused, his smile indicating that he was not about to continue until he heard their nervous laughter — “then I will gladly take part of my day off to be here with you.”

Practice 2H

Ka-klack and the team turned to the double doors of the cafeteria, saw Coach Dan walking in, his sports jacket and tie having been replaced with a t-shirt and sweats. The doors closed began to close behind him, but a hand shot in, grabbed a door panel, pulled.

“I thought you guys had to leave,” Annie’s voice carrying beyond Coach Dan to the figures of Double-J and Rex as they walked into the cafeteria.

“I made some calls,” Coach Dan responded. “Talked to the guy from the State, explained that Rex really needed to be at practice today. He said it was OK, he really only needed to see his mother.”

“Will she be OK?”

“I talked to her,” Rex explained, his voice confident. “She’s feeling good today, and when she feels good she doesn’t let people walk over her. It’s only when she’s sick that — ”

“She makes bad decisions?”

Rex nodded a response towards Annie.