A Mission of Research

Though Jimmy’s unexpected question was not directed towards him, Rex was perhaps even more intrigued than Double-J. From his first appearance at practice in January, Jimmy had seemed an almost reluctant coach, engaged but distant, his aloof demeanor in sharp contrast to Coach Dan’s affability. It wasn’t that their new assistant coach didn’t care — Jimmy was just as insistent on proper execution, just as demanding of maximum effort, just as eager to support his students during tournaments, as Coach Dan — it was rather a feeling Rex had that a part of Jimmy’s awareness was always held back, lurking behind his words and actions, observing the fencing team, evaluating. And with Jimmy’s non sequitur of a question to Double-J just now, Rex fully realized that Jimmy had been hiding an agenda, a mission all this time — one he was now about to reveal.

“Been here five years.” Rex knew from previous conversations that Jimmy was refering to his time in Bark Bay. “Got here in April, started my business in May, catered my first job in June. Got so busy by July, knew I needed to hire on. Put an ad in the Beacon, didn’t promise much: dime over minimum, long hours, weekend work, no OT. Not surprising, most the calls were from kids — ” for not the first time, Rex noticed how Jimmy pronounced the word with an extra y, kyids — “just graduated, didn’t hire no drop-outs. Hired two, boy and a girl, both 18, boy turned 19 in September. Right around the time he left, took a job working some crappy fast-food place. Girl, she left before the holidays. No reason, just didn’t wanna work for me no more.”

“Must’ve been tough.” A subtle tone of sarcasm in Double-J’s voice, an implied admonition to get to the point of the story.

“Since then, must’ve had couple dozen kyids, working for me one time or ‘nuther. Some work out — Jelly-Jam, she started ’bout that time the first girl left, been with me ever since, made her office manager last year. But most, they with me a few months, then move on. The turnover, it’s a real problem, having to train new kyids all the time. Wears out Jelly-Jam, ‘s well.”

“Ah, I get it.” Double-J leaned forward, the cushions of the sofa billowing under his shifting weight. “So when Jacobs asked you about coaching, you saw it as an opportunity to conduct field research on the labor market.”

“You northern kyids — ” Jimmy’s voice softened, like he was ready for a nap — “I understand the grown-ups round here, they different sure but at least I can make sense of ’em. But the kyids; you ain’t like the kids I worked with down south, in Lousiana and Texas.” His right arm waved forward, in the general direction of the street outside the apartment building. “Most of you have got, so much goin’ for ya. Families with good homes, good schools — ” Double-J snorted a laugh, but Jimmy waved a dismissive finger in the teen’s face — “all them kyids work for me, they been educated, you best believe. Most of ’em, could go do whatever they want, if’n they set their mind to.”

[“Gray Metal Faces,” March 13E]

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