Read Tight End Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Tight End (2 page)

A moment later she was back. “Jim, it’s for you,” she said. A frown knitted her forehead.

Jim frowned, too. Who would be calling him at this time of the night? he wondered.

He rose from his chair, went to the kitchen, and picked up the phone. “Hello?”

“Jim Cort?” The voice sounded muffled.

“Speaking.”

“Listen, we heard your father’s out of prison. Why don’t you get smart and quit football? Nobody will want to play with an
ex-convict’s son.”

Jim stared at the receiver. “Who in heck is this?” he snapped.

The caller hung up.

2

J
im stood, waiting for his heart to calm down. He tried to place the voice, but the muffled sound of it meant that the caller
had probably used a cloth to disguise it.

Darn! Jim thought. Who would be so crummy and low enough to make a call like that?

He returned to the living room and plunked himself down on his chair. He avoided his mother’s eyes, studying his left thumbnail
as if there were something on it he had just noticed.

“Who was that?” Peg asked. “His voice sounded funny.”

“It was Ed,” Jim lied, and thought quickly for an explanation. “He wanted to know if I was up for the game tomorrow night.”

“Wonder why he didn’t tell me who he was?” Peg said.

“Did you ask him?”

“Yes. He just said ‘a friend.’”

Jim got up and headed for the stairs. “Think I’ll hit the sack,” he said. “Good night, everybody. Real good to have you home,
Dad.”

“Thanks, son,” his father said. “Darn good to be home.”

“We’ll be going up shortly, too,” his mother said.

Jim went up the stairs, his gladness over his father’s being home again suddenly clouded by the mysterious phone call.

He took a shower, brushed his teeth, and went to bed. He didn’t fall asleep right away. The phone call stayed on his mind.
He was trying to figure out whose face might be behind that disguised voice, and why the person wanted him to quit the team.

Why? Why should anyone want to make a call to him about his father that was going to gnaw at him till he didn’t know when?
Did he have an enemy he didn’t know about?

It was late when he finally dropped off to sleep.

He started to get ready to head for Rams Stadium right after a light meal on Friday evening. While his father watched him
put clean football socks and a couple of small towels into his duffel bag, Jim said, “Hope you’ll see a good game, Dad.”

“Me, too. But that’s not important.”

He paused, and Jim found his father’s eyes focused on him with a strange awareness behind them.

“It’s not bothering you that I’m going, is it, Jim?” his father asked quietly.

Jim’s eyes widened. “Why, no, Dad. Why’d you say a dumb thing like that?”

His father smiled. “Sorry. But you look bothered. I just wanted to know.”

“I just hope I’ll do okay,” Jim assured him. “I’m on the first string, but the season’s early enough for the coach to shift
me back a notch.” He zipped up the bag, picked it up, and headed for the door. “See you at the game, Dad.”

“You bet.”

“We’ll all be there rootin’ for you,” his mother broke in from the dining room. “Just come out of it in one piece.”

“I plan to!”

Jim left by the front door, thinking about what his father had said, and about the phone call last night. The call had been
bugging him most of the day. He had tried to read something cold or bitter in the eyes of the guys he had met and talked with
during the day, but had gotten nowhere. He felt, though, that because the caller had mentioned football, he had to be a member
of the team.

Jim paused in front of Barry’s house and made a loud, sharp whistle through his teeth. Seconds later Barry came out of the
front door, carrying his duffel bag.

“Hi,” he said.

“How you doin’?” said Jim.

Barry came down the steps fast, and they walked up the street together. The boys had been friends since the Delaneys had moved
into their home eight years ago. They had gotten into squabbles now and then, which sometimes had turned into fist fights.
But the squabbles and the fights never lasted long. The boys would be sorry afterward, apologize to each other, and play again
as if nothing had happened.

“Your father looks good,” commented Barry. “Is he going to the game?”

Jim nodded. “He said that nothing’s going to keep him from seeing it.”

“Good go!”

At the school they went to the locker room, changed, and dressed. The Rams’ uniforms were maroon with white trim. The helmets
were white with the profile of a ram on their sides.

About a dozen players were in the locker room, suiting up. A flash of light lit up the room momentarily, and someone shouted,
“Oh, knock it off, will you, Watkins? Why are you wasting that film in here, anyway?”

Jim looked up from tying his shoes and saw the school photographer, Jerry Watkins, focusing his camera on a player putting
on his shoulder pads.

“You do your job, I’ll do mine,” Jerry answered him. The room brightened briefly again as the automatic flash went off.

“What are you complaining about, Newton?” Ben Culligan, the team’s one-hundred-and-eighty-five-pound nose guard, said. “This
might be your only picture. You might not even get in the game.”

The team responded with guffaws and sly remarks.

“Hey Jim! Look this way a second.”

Jim, his hand on the doorknob, turned and saw Jerry focusing the camera on him. He posed with a lukewarm smile.

“Come on. Let’s have it. Show those teeth,” Jerry coaxed.

Jim’s smile broadened, and Jerry snapped the picture. “Thanks, old buddy,” said Jerry. He grinned as he turned the lever for
the next exposure. “If it comes out real super, I’ll send it to
Sport Magazine.
And, look. Good luck out there.”

“Thanks. I’ll need it,” Jim said.

A pleased grin spread over his face as he watched the slender, six-foot-one photographer move quickly, in spite of his slight
limp, to another part of the room to get in position for another shot. Jerry’s injury was the result of a motorbike accident
that had happened two years ago at the Winternationals in Tallahassee. Jim’s bike had hit a bump and crashed into Jerry’s,
leaving Jim with a smashed-up Kawasaki 125 cc, which was still in disrepair in his father’s garage, and Jerry with a lame
knee.

The accident ended Jerry’s sports career, but it didn’t keep him from being one of the best photographers Port Lee High School
ever had. And his sports writing was as good as his pictures.

Jim chuckled as he considered the prospects of seeing his picture in
Sport Magazine.
That’ll be the day, he told himself.

A girl came running toward him and Barry as they headed for the field.

“Oh, no,” said Jim, cringing. “Where can I hide?”

Margo Anderson was in her maroon cheerleader’s uniform. It was, she said, the closest she could get to wearing the football
uniform of the Rams. After all, she could throw a football as well as some of the Rams players, punt almost as well, and wasn’t
bad as an open field runner. Jim had to concede that, because he had seen her perform in some pick-up touch games.

She stopped in front of Jim, smiling up at him from her five-foot-one height. “Hi!” She didn’t seem to realize that Barry
was there, too.

“Hi,” Jim answered. “What’re you doing out here?”

She got beside him. “I heard your dad came home. I just wanted to say I’m pleased for you.”

“Thanks.”

Neither he nor Barry slowed their pace, making her break into a fast trot to keep up with them.

“I also want to say something else.”

He looked at her. She had short brown hair and dark brown eyes and wasn’t bad looking. But how could he like a girl who said,
herself, that she wished she were a boy? “Okay. Say it.”

“I hope you score a couple touchdowns.”

He stared at her.

She took off, darting ahead like a bird toward the gallery of cheerleaders sitting on a long bench in front of the south grandstand
where the Rams’ school band was slowly climbing up into the seats. “Crazy kid,” he said.

He looked for Peg, caught sight of a flashing trumpet, and saw her getting ready to sit down.

“She’s got her sights on you, Jim,” said Barry.

“Who has?”

“Margo.”

“Oh. Well, I wish I knew how to turn them somewhere else,” Jim replied coolly.

“Why? Why don’t you like her?”

Jim gazed at Barry. “Why should I? Girl jocks
don’t do much for me. Know what she told me once? She wishes she were a boy!”

Barry laughed. “She’ll get over it.”

“Maybe. Meanwhile, there are girls who are glad they’re girls. So why should I ignore them and pay attention to her?”

They reached a small crowd of Rams playing catch with footballs, and exchanged greetings. Jim wondered if most of them knew
that his father had been released from prison. There was a piece about the release in the newspaper. Maybe some of them had
read it and had broadcast the news to the others. The person who had made the phone call last night had certainly heard about
it one way or another.

Jim got a sidelong glance and a quiet “Hi” from Pat Simmons, who was playing catch with a couple of guys. Pat, the Rams’ left
linebacker, was the son of the vice-president of the First National Bank of Port Lee, and nephew of the president of the company
that Jim’s father had robbed.

Jim’s nerves tightened. He thought he could feel a change in the atmosphere when he came on the scene. They weren’t going
to ostracize him now just
because they had been reminded of what his father had done, were they?

He got beside Randy Hardy, a defensive halfback, who was playing catch with Dale Francis, another halfback. “Hi, Rand,” he
said.

“Hi, Jim.” Randy caught a spinner from Dale. He threw it back. Dale caught it and this time pitched it to Jim. Jim’s tension
eased as he continued to play catch with them.

The phone call continued to nag him, and he glanced at Pat. Pat was a big kid and had all the guts it took to make him the
team’s outstanding linebacker. He was tough on the field, and off. He wouldn’t take anybody’s lip. Jim had once seen him lay
into a tough who was trying to bully a little seventh grader.

Pat surely couldn’t have been the one who made that phone call last night.

What’s wrong with me? Jim thought. I’m suspecting everyone. What I need to do is find who had a motive to make such a call.

Then he might be able to figure it all out.

The lights came on. Cheers exploded from the crowd, and the band struck up a chorus of “When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Jim, waiting anxiously at his right-end position for the signal from the ref to start the game, felt tense and nervous. Somewhere
in the stands were his parents. His mother came to all the games, but it was his father whose presence made a difference in
tonight’s game.

His dad had paid the penalty for his crime, but Jim knew that the stigma of it was going to remain with him. He would never
forget it. He was going to be sorry the rest of his life for the stupid thing he had done. Jim knew this, and knew that he
and Peg and his mother would have to live with it, too.

Whoever had called and harassed the family would see tonight that Jim was on the team for keeps, and that he wasn’t ashamed
of his father. They’d know better than to call again.

3

T
he Bulldogs’ right corner man caught Mark Taylor’s kick on the nine and carried it back to their thirty-four. They tried a
line buck and gained three yards, then an off-tackle run that netted them a first down.

“Come on, guys,” said Dick Ronovitz, the Rams’ safetyman and defense captain. “Let’s close those gaps. A truck could’ve gone
through that hole.”

The Bulldogs’ fullback tried a line plunge and just about went over the line of scrimmage as Pat Simmons hit him with his
full one hundred and eighty-four pounds.

“Second and nine,” said the ref.

“Play in a little closer,” Dick said to Pat and Steve. “Maybe we can make ’em fumble.”

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