Budget

[Inspired today to respond to another one-word prompt from The Daily Post — Survival]

“Six?” Right arm laying palm-up across the metal table, Stu Johnson leaned forward, a late-afternoon sunbeam striking the bald spot on top of his head. “Dan, we have twice as many students on the swim team, and the school doesn’t even have a pool. You really think I can continue funding your fencing team, if all you have is six members?”

On the other side of the desk, Dan Jacobs scratched his beard, short curls of black flecked with white. “Stu, we don’t need transportation, we’ve got drivers.” Not the time to discuss the suddenly uncertain status of Double-J, the only team member who owned a car.

“Equipment?” Stu drew his arm close, picked up a manila folder on his desk. Flipped it open. Pointed with his left index finger to a sheet of paper inside. “Last year, you invoiced $300 for — ” squinted, looked confused, as if suddenly reading Latin — “foil?” Looked up at Dan — “What the hell you doing, roasting a turkey?”

“Foils.” Dan shook his head. “Weapons — ” shook again — “swords. That’s what we call them, foils.” Smiled. “With Myles on the team, we had a couple dozen students come to the first practice last year. Didn’t have enough foils — swords — for everyone. There was room in the budget last year — ”

“Yeah.” Closing the manila folder swiftly, Stu tossed it contemptuously on top of the desk. “Things were different, last year.” Right hand extended, palm up, towards Dan. “Budget cuts are coming, Dan, everyone sees it. Town’s tax base is strong for now, but enrollment’s down, ten percent in the grammar school over the last five years.” The hand sighed down onto the desk. “Only way the school district’s going to have enough money to survive, is to trim fat. I respect you, admire what you did with the fencing team the last couple years. But Myles is gone, and when he graduated it looks like he took most of your team with him.”

Dan nodded slowly. “Well we obviously won’t need any new equipment for a while. Repairs — ” Rune had broken a blade that week, Butch’s jacket was tearing at the seams — “I’ve got resources to help us with those.” Any armory and tailoring work he couldn’t complete at his apartment he could take to the Academy, accepting Gavvy’s open invitation. “And I talked to the Hutchinsons, they’ve agreed to pay the laundry bill.”

Stu shut his eyes, wagging his head. “Sorry, can’t do that. School district’s got a contract with the cleaner, any school-related laundering has to be done by them.” His right index finger jabbed down on the manila folder. “They bill on weight — care to guess how much all your fencing jackets weigh?”

Realizing his fists were clenched, Dan unflexed his hands, laid them on top of his legs. “Rather not. Because I suspect you’ve already made up your mind, about whether to approve that expense.”

“Huh.” Stu Johnson raised his arms high, then twisting in his chair laced the fingers of his hands together and brought them behind his head. Stared up at the ceiling a moment. “Huh. Sending your jackets to the cleaners every week, that’s a little much.” He twisted towards Dan, bringing hands down to the desk. “Once a month, first Friday. Best I can do.”

“Deal.” Dan Jacobs extended his right arm forward, dismissing the image of Annie wrinkling her nose in disgust at practices towards the end of each month.

Stewart Johnson, assistant principal and athletic director at Bark Bay High School, glanced at Dan’s hand with amusement. “This isn’t a negotiation.” And stared into Dan’s eyes dismissively.

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