Chapter 5 – January 1H

Footsteps from his left, Coach Dan recognizing from the sounds that he was being approached by Jimmy Saunders (light footfalls, long strides) and Pat Williams (heavy, rapid steps), fencing coach at Midland.

“Since when were you able to hire a saber and epee coach?” Pat’s question sounded more like an accusation.

Coach Dan waved a hand in Jimmy’s direction. “He’s getting paid the same as you and I, my friend.”

Pat grunted dismissively, like he was expunging a virus. “Probably get as much respect from the administration. What do you teach?”

“I don’t teach.” Jimmy’s voice was as smooth as a pane of expensive glass. “I run a catering business. Squisito.”

“Ah!” Pat’s dark eyes brightened. “Heard about you guys.” Confusion crossed his face. “I thought you guys were Italian.”

Jimmy smiled, held the blink of his eyes an extra I get that a lot moment. “Yes, black men from Louisiana know how to cook pasta.”

“Been meaning to ask about that.” Coach Dan waited until Jimmy and he made eye contact before proceeding. “Why Italian, not creole?”

“Because I’m a smart businessman, Daniel. Tried creole, Cajun when I first moved up here ten years ago. Year later, I was almost bankrupt.” Coach Dan heard more of Jimmy’s native accent than usual. “I’d made some contacts with other caterers, so I started asking questions, got answers to what I’d already pretty much figured out — people around here didn’t have a taste for what I was cooking.” Jimmy shrugged. “So I looked up a few recipes, came up with a new menu. Made more in my first month than from the entire time I’d been here.”

“In other words, you adapted.” Coach Dan’s face beamed with satisfaction. “You analyzed your situation, found the flaw, and made the necessary correction. Exactly like I ask my team to do on strip.”

Pat snorted, shook his head. “Fencing’s not a metaphor for life, Dan. It’s a sport. Their skills’re the only things your students have with them on strip that do them any good, and the only thing they take with them when their bouts’re over is their score.” And then Pat left abruptly.

Priorities

Results weren’t there at today’s tournament. I fenced with better energy in the pool bouts, but still only managed six touches in four bouts. A -14 indicator; not good at all. Once again, I fenced much better in my DE, getting 10 touches.

Didn’t have fun. Spent the day in a funk, lamenting my performance. If I’m going to be like that, then it really is a waste of time to attend tournaments.

So perhaps I should change my priorities on competition day. Plan to enjoy the experience, talk to people, cheer for my teammates. Don’t make it about me or my performance. Try to have fun, regardless of the results.

Chapter 5 – January 1G

The voice of a referee called Rex’ name, and after a quick nod to his coach the tall teen turned towards his strip. Left alone at the center of the university’s secondary gym, Coach Dan surveyed the scene around him.

An eruption of black wiry hair against the far wall, near his team’s equipment sacks — Coach Dan instantly recognized Double-J sitting by himself, back resting on against the concrete, legs extended straight out from his body across the hardwood floor. He didn’t seem to be at all interested in the bout taking place near him, where Rune was currently retreating from his opponent’s attack. On the next strip over, the one closest to Coach Dan, Rex began connecting to his cord reel.

There were two other strips behind him. Coach Dan turned, saw Annie talking with Juan as he unhooked from his reel. Juan had been a surprise addition to the team that morning, after only attending a handful (one? two perhaps) that fall. Next to Miles, Kwon Joo-Won had been the team’s most accomplished foil and saber fencer the prior year, and if it had been his coach’s call he’d have been team captain this year. But Juan had told him that spring he’d be focusing on his grades and test scores as a senior, and Coach Dan felt he had not choice but to give his blessing. Come back whenever you have time, he’d told him, in the belief that only a little bit of Juan this year was better than none at all.

Juan looked in his coach’s direction, and the two made eye contact. Coach Dan raised his chin. “How’d it go?” Juan raised his right thumb, an action imitated by Annie as she also turned in her coach’s direction. Soon joining the two students was Butch, a broad smile on his even broader face.

Chapter 5 – January 1F

“Gavriella, would you mind explaining why you’re interrogating one of my students?” Rex relaxed at the sound of his coach’s voice, approaching from behind.

The coach of the Academy fencing team ducked her head to Rex’s right, looked past him. “I wasn’t interrogating him, I was congratulating your team’s success.” Her tone had grown playful. “Bark Bay’s catching up to us, it’s not just Miles, I’ve been telling the team that for a year, and unless somebody takes Annie down, this might be the day you finally beat us!”

Coach Dan uttered a sound that sounded to Rex like a mixture of a laugh and a snort of contempt. He pointed at Coach Gavvy with his chin, the short dark curls of his beard nearly waving at her. “This isn’t a team event, Gavriella, you know that.”

Her eyes widened, making her round eyeglasses seem to expand to the size of manhole covers. “If you don’t think — ”

“It doesn’t matter what you or I think.” Coach Dan waved a dismissive hand. “And it doesn’t matter if our teams are keeping an unofficial team score, if that’s what you’re getting at. Even if this were a team event, the focus wouldn’t change.” He pointed down with both index fingers. “This tournament, this sport, is about competing, about challenging each of our athletes to discover their potential.”

Coach Gavy blinked, her long eyelashes nearly brushing the inside of her glasses. “Oh please, Daniel. If you’re team ever beats mine, you’ll be telling everyone at temple.”

Coach Dan smiled impishly. “Never said this job didn’t have its perks.”

Coach Gavvy turned with a disgusted laughing uuu-huh-UUU!, and walked away quickly.

Layoff

My time in the warm land of plentiful sunshine was a true vacation, a time to put my feet up and rest. After an active, productive, and at times stressful fall which included four tournaments and almost daily practice, I realized that what I really needed was time to recharge. Did some running, in order to keep up my conditioning, but no footwork drills — it just felt like stepping away for a while was the right thing to do.

So now I’m back, and a little more than a week after the end of my layoff, I have a tournament. This will be a C event, so the competition will be tougher than it has been in most of my tournaments (but not as tough at the open I entered in September — I have no desire to enter one of those any time soon). My goals remain the same as if this were a D or E event — win once in the pools, keep my indicator in the single digits, and if the lower seeds have to face each other in the DEs in order to face the top seeds, win that qualifying bout.

Went to practice a couple days ago, and didn’t feel that my skills had deteriorated during my two week layoff. Perhaps I’m wrong, and I’ll be surprisingly disappointed on Saturday. But even if I get shut out once again, I’m glad to have motivated myself to compete right at the start of the year. Compete — that’s such an important word for me. If I can compete, and continue working on my skills, I really think I can achieve my goal in this sport: to earn a rating in all three weapons. That’s not going to happen in 2014, but what I can do is make this the year that I compete.

Chapter 5 – January 1E

“You boys are doing well today!” Double-J and Rex turned at the sound of the voice they found both friendly and annoying, and saw the approaching figure of Coach Gavvy, from the Academy, her large circular glasses in thick frames seeming far too heavy on her elfish body.

Rex waved a greeting. “Hey Coach — ”

“Annie just beat Mike — ” Coach Gavy leaned forward — “Mike! — 5-2 on the far strip! I thought she was a year away from beating him, has she been taking lessons?” Rex shook his head. “Well I figured she had, it’s not like her family doesn’t have the money to send her to Dr. Schmidt, you know her father’s running for state senate this spring?” Rex nodded. “How much you bet they’re finally gonna get that bridge built when he gets elected, they’ve been talking about that bridge for years now but have you met her father?” Rex nodded, and resisted the urge to grab hold of Double-J as he walked away. “He’s a real mover and shaker, got real chutzpah — ” she jabbed a finger into Rex’s chest — “you know what that is don’t you, sometimes Daniel” (that was always how she referred to Coach Dan) “shows a little of that himself, has he been working with Annie?” Coach Gavvy exhaled audibly.

Rex cleared his throat. “He works with all of — ”

“No, I’m not talking about pratice, that’s what, Tuesday after school isn’t it, that’s when Daniel had me come a couple years ago, maybe it was three years, two three I don’t know, it was Tuesday, you still in that cafeteria?” Rex nodded. “UHHHH! I keep telling Daniel he needs to talk to Stu, tell him he needs to give the team gym time, it’s a lack of respect — ” with each of her next words, she slapped the back of her left hand into her right palm for emphasis — “PLAIN. AND. SIMPLE. You need to tell him — ” she was jabbing Rex in the chest again — “that you’re SICK and TIRED of being treated like second-class athletes at Bark Bay!” She exhaled audibly.

Rex drew his head back. “OK — ”

Coach Gavvy shot her left hand behind her, pointed in the direction of the far strip as she continued staring up at Rex. “Didn’t you hear me? Annie — you’re Annie — just beat Mike Paris! FIVE! TWO! Who’s working with her? Where’s she getting her training? Because I certainly don’t think she could have advanced so far this past year just by showing up in your CAFETERIA at PRACTICE Tuesday afternoons!”

Chapter 5 – January 1D

[Today’s entry is the second of my contributions to this week’s challenge from The Daily Post.]

Double-J came forward, and without looking Rex could sense Kristof beginning to retreat, preparing for his counter-tempo attack. The ting of blades — a second ting — Double-J had parried Kristof, then landed his riposte to score his first touch.

Their bout moved quickly from that point, Double-J using a series of feints and disengages to further throw off Kristof’s timing. Having surrendered three straight touches and now trailing, Kristof abandoned his counter-tempo strategy and became the aggressor. Now it was Double-J who had his opponent playing his game, scoring a riposte off a desperate Kristof lunge with an ease that made his action looked choreographed. Kristof did manage to land a touch off a disengage, but then Double-J coaxed Kristof into attempting his counter-tempo attack once more. Double-J was waiting with the parry, and his riposte gave him the 5-3 victory.

A quick salute to Kristof and the referee, an obligatory shaking of hands, then Double-J, the thin black wires of his hair and moustache matted with sweat, turned to face Rex, who smiled in greeting. “So you figured it out.”

Double-J squinted. “Figured what out?”

Rex widened his eyes, waved in the direction of the strip. “The . . . the counter-tempo. You saw what he was doing, beat attacking off your advance.”

“Huh.” Double-J looked thoughtful, then proceeded to unhook himself from the cord reel. “That what he was doing?”

The tall teen looked down on Double-J, incredulous. “You don’t see? But you did the perfect response! How could you do that if you didn’t see what he was doing?”

Double-J looked up disdainfully. “Yeah I saw — just didn’t think about it.” He tapped his temple lightly, twice. “You’ve been doing epee too long — you think too much. I beat him by fencing like we were doing saber, going on instinct. Don’t think — just go.”

Chapter 5 – January 1C

[For today’s post I am once again incorporating The Daily Post’s Weekly Writing Challenge into the flow of my current project. This week’s challenge is to write a cliffhanger, “a post that will leave readers waiting for more.” That more will come tomorrow.]

“Saw his bout with Jen.” Rex flicked his head back, in the direction of Double-J’s opponent at the other end of the strip.

“Who won?” Double-J sounded indifferent.

“They were tied at 2, then he got the last three.” Rex lowered his voice. “Watch his — ”

Beeeehhhh. Double-J followed his abrupt, guttural dismissal by stepping past Rex. “I’ll figure it out.” He stepped to the center of the strip, raised his foil for the referee’s weight test; a moment later he then tested his foil against his opponent’s lame, an action mirrored by his opponent. The lights on the scoring machine lit correctly, and at the referee’s command the two fencers stepped back to their starting lines, quickly saluted each other and the referee, then donned their masks.

“Fence.” Double-J advanced quickly on his taller opponent, stopping when he reached lunge distance. Another quick step forward — Double-J’s opponent didn’t flinch. Another step — the opponent retreated, Double-J advanced again, began to lunge — the opposite foil flashed, kissed Double-J’s foil, the tip then landing on the shoulder.

Counter-tempo. That was what Rex had been trying to warn Double-J against, the strategy that this opponent (Kristof?) had used to beat Jen. Not the first time Double-J had turned down assistance, probably wouldn’t be the last.

The two fencers traded off-target hits, then Kristof scored again off a retreat. Double-J turned, dark murmurs seeping from the cold gray metal of his mask. Rex caught his eye as  he returned to his starting line. “Watch — ”

Shut up.

Rex turned, shaking his head. He knew from watching the earlier bout that Kristof wasn’t skilled enough to beat Double-J on a level playing field. But Double-J’s impatience was playing right into Kristof’s game, and if he let his anger and frustration take over he was likely to continue this misplay.

Rex scratched his chin. He could blurt out his advice now, and hope some rational instinct in Double-J would take heed. Or he could let the bout play out, allow his friend and teammate to go on his own, as he typically preferred. Perhaps he’d see what was happening, respond effectively. Or perhaps he’d continue charging forward, right into his opponent’s strength, straight into an avoidable loss.

“Fence.” Double-J advanced quickly, Kristof waiting at his line like a man with all the time in the world.

Chapter 5 – January 1B

As he crossed the wooden floor of the university’s secondary gymnasium, Double-J became aware once more of the familiar sounds of the fencing tournment — quick shuffling footfalls followed by the crisp kissing ting of steel blades; sharp referee commands to Halt! and Fence!; the abrupt buzzing of scoring machines. Lurking under all these noises was the soft murmured voices of the spectators, mostly other fencers between bouts and their coaches, or perhaps one of the small numbers of parents or friends. Tournaments at the university tended to draw more non-participants than those held at a local high school, though not nearly as many as would be present at the Academy, where supporting the fencing team was taken as a point of pride.

Double-J lifted his chin as he looked up and made eye contact with Rex. The tall teen nodded back. “You’re up.” Rex looked around him quickly, confirming nobody was in hearing distance, then turned back to Double-J. “Mike beat up on some newbie from the Academy. Skunked ‘im.”

“No surprise there.” Double-J walked past Rex, reached down to the cord reel at the end of the fencing strip, and pulled up its three-pronged connector. “Who’s first on the menu?”

“Bednarik.”

Double-J looked up at Rex. “Who?”

Rex shrugged. “Bednarik. Kristof, I think. He’s from Wolford.”

Double-J laughed, as he reached behind him and plugged the cord reel’s connector into his body cord. “Didn’t know Wolford had a team this year.”

“They don’t.” Rex clapped down on Double-J’s shoulder playfully. “He’s one of Herr Schmidt’s boys.”

Double-J looked up suddenly, stared down to the other end of the strip, where he saw a slender, curly-haired teen hooking into the opposite cord reel. Next to the teen was Dr. Schmidt, fencing coach of the En Garde! fencing school. Double-J looked down, shaking his head. “Hate him already.”

“Thought you hated everyone.”

“I do.” With his left hand, Double-J grabbed the other end of the body cord that was dangling out of his right sleeve. “But now he’s given me a real reason to hate him, which just totally pisses me off.”

Chapter 5 – January 1A

The second Saturday.

“Why?” Then Double-J stood up, his broad frame seeming to hover over the equipment sacks belonging to the Bark Bay High School fencing team.

Still squatting on the other side of the sacks, Rune shrugged. “I don’t know. Different, I guess.” He brushed the wavy curls of his hair away from his brow.

You’re on deck. Double-J half-turned in the direction of Rex’ voice behind him, nodded quickly. “Remind me why I agreed to fence foil today?”

“Hector’s competing.”

Double-J grunted contemptuously. “Not in my pool he isn’t. Hate foil.”

“So — you coming?”

Double-J knelt down, reached into the long canvas sack that contained the team’s weapons. He lifted a foil, let it fall back into the sack, clak. He picked up another, raised it in the air, examined it closely, brought it down to his side, then turned his attention back to Rune. “You need my car, don’t you?”

Rune stared back at Double-J. A wavy stream of his greasy hair fell back down into his eyes.

Double-J laughed. “Coach can fit five in his car, maybe six. You heard there were more than six yeses? Or did someone tell you?”

Rune brushed the hair from his eyes, and smiled back at Double-J. “We won’t make you clean out the back seat.”

The thin black wires of Double-J’s hair waved crazily as he shook his head. “Still don’t know why we’re doing this.”

“I don’t either.” Rune stood, spread his arms wide. “Why are we going Tuesday? Why are we here today? Why are we here at all?” His eyes grew wide, as if gazing into the heart of eternity. “What, after all, is the meaning of life?”

Hey. There was a tone of urgency in Rex’s call. Double-J turned, walked in the direction of the strip, towards his next bout, yet his voice was clearly aimed back at Rune. “I’m expecting money for gas.”