“Yes, Double-J.” Coach Dan’s voice suddenly lost its moxie. “Take it he hasn’t been at practice lately?”
“Well — ” Big Paul’s voice rising an octave — “you wouldn’t know, because neither have you.”
A titter of laughter sprinkled through the students gathered around the two volunteer coaches of the Bark Bay High School fencing team, as Coach Dan pursed his lips, nodding his curly head. “Guilty as charged, my friend.”
“So where have you been?” Having just finished a practice bout with OK, Annie entered the semi-circle, her face flushed with exertion, brown pony-tail laying limply along her back. “Aren’t we supposed to be getting ready for the regional?”
“Yes we are, my friend.” On the last Saturday of every March (or perhaps a week earlier or later to avoid a conflict with Easter), the University’s fencing team hosted the Lunge into Spring, a large tournament open to all collegiate fencers in the state. Experienced high school fencers were also encouraged to participate, the event serving as good preparation for April’s state high school tournament, as well as an opportunity to catch the attention of collegiate coaches. “That’s why I’ve had Mr. Saunders here — ”
” — leading practice.” Coach Dan’s focused his attention squarely on Annie. “And what he’s telling me, is that you and Rex, anyway, are ready for the regional.” His bearded face now beaming at Big Paul — “Care to join us? Might get another shot at Jamie, before States.” Big Paul had an ongoing rivalry with Jamie Yoder from the Academy, the two facing each other four times last year in pools (never in DEs), each winning twice but Jamie leading in touches by two.
“Nah.” Big Paul rubbed his square chin. “Not this time.”
“And how about you, Bird?” The Bird found the sudden shift in Coach Dan’s attention jarring. “You seem to be ready for competition.”
No, she replied. She said she didn’t want to compete, at the regional, or at States.
“What about Midland?” Annie’s question seemed directed at both The Bird and their coach. Midland High School was hosting a high school tournament the week before States. “That’s where Rune and I first competed last year.”
Coach Dan raised his eyebrows, but then his concentration seemed to be suddenly violated. “What’s the date?” Annie answered immediately, her coach responding by drawing the sole of his right sneaker towards him over the black tiled floor, sheeek. “Out of town, that weekend. Jimmy, I assume — ”
“Don’t go there, Daniel.” The owner of Squisito’s Catering frowned dismissively. “This man’s got bills to pay.”
“It appears, then — ” Coach Dan regained his swagger as he stepped in the middle of the team’s circle — “that some alternate means of transportation needs to be identified. Big Paul, you have your license?”
Big Paul pulled air into his cheek, chk. “Parents won’t let me take the car up to the city.”
Coach Dan looked at Annie, raising his eyebrows. “Your folks going up to the Academy that day?”
Annie grimaced. “Midland’s a pretty big detour. I can ask — no promises.”
“I know.” Rex strode with long legs towards his coach. “Lemme talk to Double-J, get him to go. He’s not going to the regional, already know that, but Midland, he might do.”
The Bird then said she doubted Double-J would listen to him, surprising even herself with her words, before adding that if he wasn’t already planning to be there, he wouldn’t be talked into going. Annie turned toward her, surprise turning to recognition on her face, before Coach Dan regained everyone’s attention, raising his arm to place his hand on Rex’s shoulder.
“You’re his friend, and he listens to you — but, don’t take this the wrong way, you’re not the most persuasive person in the world.” Rex closed his eyes, nodded. “You’re going to need backup, when you talk to him.” Lowering his arm, the instructor with the fourth-longest tenure at Bark Bay High School glanced over at The Bird. “Think it’s safe to say he won’t be too amenable to what I say — ” the frail teen shook her head — “and Annie, you’ve got your own history with him, that would probably get in the way.” The sophomore captain of the fencing team bit her lower lip, staring down at the tiled floor.
“Jimmy — ” Coach Dan’s command caught his assistant coach by surprise — “you and Double-J, seem to get along pretty well.”
Jimmy expanded his cheeks, blew out. “Depends on your perspective.” He shook his head, growled, as if suddenly attacked by a pesty flying insect. “All right, you want me to talk to that boy, I’ll go do it.” His eyes shot towards Rex — “Just don’t make it no Tuesday, or Wednesday.”
“Get Lefty, too — whoa — ” Big Paul nearly dropped the mask he had been holding in his left hand. “He’s his boss, but outside the shop, they’re like family.” The junior foil fencer saw Rex’s frown — “I mean, not like his real family but some other kind, one where everybody likes each other.”
“Lefty’s a good man.” Jimmy seemed more comfortable in his newly assigned role. “Need to take the van in next week, fix that AC ‘fore the weather gets warm. I’ll talk to him, figger out a date.”
Coach Dan threw his arms wide, as if to embrace the encircled members of the fencing team. “I believe, my friends, that we have a plan.”
“Allez.” Go ahead, take the middle. Head cut, here comes the line change, GOT the parry this time, riposte EEEP EEEP. Tell me you saw that! “Attack right is parried, counter-parry of the riposte — ” NO NO NO! — “touch right.” Try to argue, there was ONE blade contact not two, it’s my parry; get him to blink, he knows I’m right but he’s one of these self-righteous pricks who can’t ever admit he’s wrong, not going to reverse himself. “En garde. Pret.” Down 3-1, should be up by the same score. “Allez.”