Read Tight End Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Tight End (5 page)

Jim’s heart was heavy. “I can see that, Dad. Mom and Peg can see it, too. I think a lot of people can see it.”

“A lot. But not all,” said his father. He picked up the paper. “I’m going job hunting Monday. If I can’t find anything in
the next week or two, I might consider going somewhere else.”

Jim frowned. “You don’t mean you’d move out of Port Lee, do you, Dad?”

“What else can we do? It wouldn’t make sense for you, Peg, and your mother to live here while I live in another city where
I happened to find a job, would it?”

Jim stared at his father. “We can’t, Dad,” he said seriously. “I have to find out who’s making those phone calls.”

A muscle twitched in his father’s jaw. “I knew you were gutsy, son. I knew it all along.”

A warm feeling came over him. He cleared his throat. “What kind of job are you looking for, Dad?” he asked.

“An accountant’s job, like I had before. But I should do better now. I took an advanced course while I was gone these past
two and a half years.
Some businessman in town should recognize that. Otherwise” — he smiled — “they might be losing a top-notch employee to another
town.”

Jim smiled at him. “I hope you find a job here in Port Lee, Dad,” he said.

“I do, too, son,” his father admitted.

Jim heard footsteps descending the stairs. Presently Peg and his mother came into the room, both wearing their light winter
coats and hats.

“You two having a man-to-man talk?” Jim’s mother asked, glancing from one to the other.

“Sort of,” Jim said.

“Good,” Peg chimed in. “That’s proof that you should be glad we’re not here to intervene. Come on, Mother. There’s nothing
like a man-to-man talk between a father and his son — in private.”

They started toward the door, Peg leading the way. Jim stared curiously at his father. “Aren’t you going with them, Dad? I
thought you were going to buy some new clothes?”

“Your mothers going to get them for me.” His father shrugged. “I’m not worried. She’s done it before. She knows what I like.”

Jim peered at him, wondering if that was the real
reason why his father didn’t want to go with them to shop, or whether it was because he might face embarrassment if he met
someone he knew on the streets.

But he had attended the football game last night, and he wasn’t embarrassed then, Jim reminded himself. Had he attended it
just because Jim was on the team, and felt that he was obligated to?

Jim sighed. He suspected it would be some time before he would really know the answers.

There was a knock on the front door. Jim answered it and found Barry standing there, his forehead beaded with sweat, his dark
hair unkempt and matted.

“Hi, Jim,” he said. “Feel like playing catch?”

“Yeah, sure.”

He went out and played catch with the guys for about twenty minutes. Then Ed said he had to leave. During that time Ed had
scarcely said two words to Jim, and Jim began to wonder about him again. Just how long had the guys been out here before his
father had noticed them? he thought. The answer to that question could probably solve the all-important
question: who was the person who had made those two harassing phone calls?

A few minutes later Randy left, too. Then Barry decided to call it quits. He was dying for a cold drink, he said.

“Want one, too?” he asked Jim.

“No, thanks,” Jim said.

He wiped his sweat-beaded brow and headed for the garage to take a look at his damaged Kawasaki. He yearned to get it fixed
and take it out for a spin, but he hadn’t earned enough money yet to do so. Since his father had been away there had been
a lot of other necessities that took higher priority.

He reached the narrow door next to the wide, orange-paneled garage door, and his hand froze on the knob as something on the
door panel caught his attention. It was a drawing of a man in the black-and-white-striped clothes of a prisoner holding a
large dish with a clock on it.

It took Jim only a few seconds to read the sickening meaning in it. The prisoner was serving time.

“Darn you — whoever you are!” Jim swore, and struck the drawing hard with his fist. Then he ripped
it off the wall and started to tear it, when he suddenly stopped.

No. Save it, he told himself. Save the drawing. Maybe someone might recognize it, or recognize certain qualities about it
that were characteristic of its artist. Maybe the artist, the screwball who had drawn it, was a student in Miss Talmadge’s
art class.

Jim folded the pieces, started to walk away with them, when something on the ground, next to the paved driveway, caught his
eye. It was a yellow drawing pencil.

6

H
e picked it up and saw that the lead had been broken. Turning it carefully around between his thumb and forefinger he saw
a name printed on it in bold type.
PAT.
There had been a last name on it, too, because its first letter was barely visible. But a part of it had been removed the
last time the pencil was sharpened.

Jim peered closer at the letter. It looked like a
c.
He compared it with letters of the name
PAT
and saw that the
c
was smaller. The top half of the letter
S
would look like a
c,
he thought.

The name could have been Simmons,
PAT SIMMONS.

He felt an instant flood of elation. It was Pat Simmons who had drawn the picture! Pat who had
made the calls! Yes! Pat, whose uncle had been hurt by what Jim’s dad had done!

But what could he gain by wanting to hurt me? Jim asked himself. My father has paid for what he did. He’ll keep on paying
for it the rest of his life. Is Pat trying to get at him through me?

The thought weighed heavily on his mind. He considered telling his family about it — to relieve him of some of the burden
— but he decided he’d wait till he saw Pat and got the matter cleared away.

He didn’t see Pat till Monday at school. Tense, fighting to keep himself from hitting Pat first and asking questions later,
Jim approached the burly, blond-haired junior in the cafeteria during lunch hour, held the pencil out to him, and asked, “Is
this yours, Pat?”

Pat gazed at the pencil and frowned. “Why, yes. Where’d you get it?”

He reached for it, and Jim gave it to him. “Where do you think?”

“From my desk. Where else? It’s the only yellow drawing pencil I’ve got.”

He’s either innocent or a terrific actor, thought Jim.

“Did you borrow it?” Pat asked. “Never mind. It’s
okay But I usually like to know who borrows my things, if you know what I mean.”

“I didn’t borrow it,” said Jim tersely. “I found it.”

Pat’s frown deepened. “Where?”

“By our garage, you bum. Near the door on which you pinned your lousy drawing of my father.”

Pat’s face blanched. He sprang out of his chair and stood up so close to Jim that Jim could feel his breath.

“Just what are you talking about, man?” he demanded.

Jim’s eyes narrowed.

“I don’t know anything about any drawing,” Pat went on angrily. “Anyway, if I did, you think I’d be dumb enough to leave a
clue like my own pencil, with my name on it, close to it where you could find it? Don’t be an idiot.”

He snatched up his paper napkin, wiped his mouth, slammed the napkin back down on the table, and stamped away. Jim stared
at his back, wondering whether to feel embarrassed or justified.

The football team was dismissed from school at three o’clock and was at the field, in uniform, by
three-thirty. Jim hated going. The guys had hardly talked to him at the game Friday night. Why should they act differently
toward him at practice? You would think it was he who had just been released from prison.

Apparently they believed that being the son of an ex-con was as close as you can get to being one yourself. Even though none
of them said anything insulting to him, he thought he could sense their feelings by the way they looked at him. And one of
them was the guilty rat who was calling him on the phone and had drawn that awful picture.

Coach Butler, with Hugh Gibson, his stocky assistant, standing beside him, conducted a conference first, bringing up the good
and bad plays of last Friday night’s game against the Bulldogs. He promised them that he’d show them the video of the game
soon. Nothing, he said, was better to point out mistakes, or successful plays, than watching the game on film.

Jim didn’t care that the film wasn’t ready for showing. He was fully aware of the big mistake he had made and didn’t need
to go through that experience again, even on film.

The team did the tiger dance — in which the first man knelt at five yards, the second man ran and jumped over him and knelt
on hands and knees five yards beyond him, the third man ran and jumped over both players and knelt five yards farther on,
and so on — until all the players were kneeling. Then Coach Butler had Chuck DeVal lead the squad in calisthenics, after which
the team did the tiger roll. This consisted of groups of three men doing flying rolls over and under each other for about
a minute.

Jim sensed both Pat Simmons and Ed Terragano avoiding him, and had a hard time trying to believe that neither of them was
responsible for the malicious phone calls and the drawing he had found on the garage door.

Darn it, Jim thought bitterly, if neither one of them had done it, who had?

The backfield men began working on shoulder blocks with the sled, and the quarterbacks on their footwork and ball handling.
Both Jim and Dick Ronovitz, ends on the offensive team, ran out for practice passes thrown by a back. Tony Nichols’s throws
to Jim were on the button, but Ed’s were
either overthrown, or too far on one side of Jim or the other.

“Come on!” Jim yelled at him disgustedly. But, if Ed heard him, his passes didn’t improve.

During scrimmage, because there weren’t enough players to make up two teams, some of the tackles who played both offense and
defense in regular games now took their defensive positions. Pat Simmons, a right tackle on offense, played left linebacker
on defense.

Chuck named a play in the huddle that called for Jim to run out to the right flat and buttonhook back for a pass. The pass
was successful, and, although Jim was only supposed to run a few yards and then throw the ball back to the quarterback, he
was suddenly tackled and thrown hard to the ground. A pain shot up his right elbow as the tackier, his arms tight around Jim’s
waist, rolled over with him and then flung Jim aside.

For a few seconds Jim saw fireflies. He waited till his head cleared, then rose to his elbow and gradually to his feet. He
stared at the big kid walking away from him, a kid with the number 75 on his back. Pat Simmons.

“You okay?” Chuck asked him as he returned to the huddle.

“Yeah,” Jim said, rubbing his aching elbow.

“He hit you pretty hard.”

Jim glanced at Ed Terragano. “I guess there are a couple guys on the team who wish I wasn’t on it. Maybe more.”

Chuck frowned. “What gives you that idea?”

“Never mind. You’re holding up practice.” Jim didn’t miss seeing Ed’s cold stare before Chuck called the next play.

It was a draw with Mark Taylor, the fullback, taking the ball through right tackle. He picked up three yards.

Chuck called for two more running plays, then again a play that involved Jim: twenty-eight fly, on two.

They broke out of the huddle, went to the line of scrimmage, and Chuck began barking signals. “Hut one! Hut two!”

Steve Newton snapped the ball. Chuck took it and made a handoff to Ed. Ed started to run through the center of the line, then
pitched it to Mark. Mark cut to the right, the ball under his left arm. Then he
stopped dead, grabbed the ball in his hand, looked for his receiver, and threw.

Jim, after faking a block on his guard, was running hard in a diagonal angle, from right to left, down the field. He saw Barry
Delaney coming at him. Barry was playing left end now in place of Fred Yates, and was bearing down on Jim like a truck coming
down a hill with its brakes broken loose.

Jim saw him, but he also saw the spiraling pass Mark had thrown. It was a beauty, a perfect spinner that was heading ahead
of him and in the right direction.

He reached for it, grabbed it with his fingers, and started to pull it to him when Barry tackled him. The ball puffed out
of his hands as Barry grabbed him around his waist, and then hit him with his shoulder. Barry was no giant, but at the speed
he was traveling he felt like a two hundred pounder as he struck Jim and sent him flying to the ground.

He kept hanging on to Jim for several seconds after Jim was down before releasing him.

Jim got up, staring at him. “Hey, what’re you trying to do, man?” he asked, frowning. “Squeeze my guts out?”

Barry looked at him. “Did I hurt you? I’m sorry.”

“No, you didn’t hurt me,” said Jim. “But once I’m down, I’m down. You don’t have to hang on as if I’m going to get up and
run again. Anyway, I missed that pass.”

Barry looked surprised. He turned around and saw the ball lying there on the ground.

“I know you’d like a starting position at one of the ends, Barry,” Jim said. “But I didn’t think you’d try to kill me to get
it.”

“Drop it,” said Barry indignantly. “I told you I’m sorry, didn’t I?”

He grabbed up the ball, tossed it to Chuck, and started to trot back to the line of scrimmage. Jim shook his head, then followed
him. It was the first exchange of unpleasant words he had had with Barry in a long time. He hoped it was the last.

“You had it in your hands, Cort!” Pat Simmons yelled at him as he approached the scrimmage line. “Wash off that butter, why
don’t you?”

“Knock it off,” Chuck ordered. He met Jim’s eyes. “What’s the matter with you guys? Something happen between you two some
of us don’t know about?”

Jim didn’t answer.

“Oh, Pat’s got a bug up his nose,” said Tony Nichols. “His uncles the president of the firm in Searly that Jim’s father robbed.”
He paused, and shrugged. “Anyway, I think that’s why he’s giving Jim a hard time.”

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