Read Tight End Online

Authors: Matt Christopher

Tight End (6 page)

Chuck frowned. “Jim, shall I tell Coach?” he asked.

“No. It’ll straighten out.”

“Hey! Come on, you guys!” Coach Gibson yelled from the other side of the scrimmage line. “Shake it up, will you?”

“Let’s go,” said Chuck. “Forty-five, on three.”

It was a through-tackle run, with Tony carrying the ball. Jim, dodging Barry, sprang toward the right flat as if he were going
out for a long pass. He stopped running when he saw that Tony had made the play through the line, gaining about five yards.

“Hold it, Barry,” Jim said, raising a hand as Barry bore down on him. “The play’s over.”

Barry stopped running, his cleats digging into the sod, and turned. His shoulders slumped as he ambled back to the line of
scrimmage.

Jim shook his head. Were Barry’s brains ever going to catch up with his size? he wondered.

The practice ended with a run around the field,
then a one-hundred-yard sprint, after which the team headed for a much welcomed, cool, refreshing shower.

As Jim neared the gymnasium door, he saw Jerry Watkins breezing around the corner on his motorbike. It was the same one he
had cracked up in the Winternationals.

“Hi,” said Jerry, pulling up beside Jim and cutting the engine to idle. “How did practice go?”

“Okay.”

Jim looked at the polished black, single-cylindered Honda under Jerry and felt a twinge of nostalgia. Someday, maybe, he’d
get his Kawasaki fixed up and start riding it again. “Hey, man, this looks just as sharp as the day you bought it.”

Jerry smiled thinly and gave the throttle a short twist. “Yeah,” he said. “They can fix machines good as new.”

Suddenly a thought popped into Jim’s mind. “Jerry, you get around school more than most of us do,” he said, glancing around
to make sure no one else was within hearing distance. “Do you know anyone on our football team who is a good artist? I mean
real good.”

Jerry frowned at him. “I might. Why?”

“I’d like to know.”

Jerry shrugged. “Okay. I know one.”

“Who?”

“Pat Simmons.”

Him again!

“Pat?” said Jim. His heart skipped a beat. Pat had denied knowing about the drawing. But, if Jim could prove it was his, then
he could prove Pat was lying.

“Jerry, do you think that you’re familiar enough with his work to recognize it if you didn’t know beforehand that he had drawn
it?”

“I don’t know. Why?” he asked again curiously. “What’s this all about?”

Jim’s mind was spinning in high gear. “I’ll explain later. Will you have time to ride over to my place as soon as I get ready?
I’d like to show you something.”

“Sure.”

Jim smiled. “Thanks. See you in a few minutes.”

7

J
im could hardly wait to get home to show Jerry the drawing. If Jerry could be sure that it was done by Pat Simmons, then Pat
had lied. Even though Pat had not put his name on the drawing, Jerry’s testimony, and Pats pencil found near the drawing,
should be enough evidence in Jim’s favor to confront Pat and make him stop the telephone calls. Such calls were against the
law. Certainly Pat knew that. And if he knew what was good for him, he would stop making them.

Jerry drove his bike slowly alongside Jim while Jim trotted at a steady pace between him and the curb. Jim was also anxious
to know if his father had found a job, but that was something he didn’t care to mention to Jerry. So far, he’d managed to
keep his
father out of any conversation he had with people at school.

He finally reached home, told Jerry he’d be right out with the drawing, and went into the house. He said a hurried hello to
his mother and Peg, who were in the kitchen getting dinner ready, and ran up to his room for the drawing. He kept it folded
as he rushed past them and out the kitchen door.

Unfolding it before Jerry, Jim said, “Well, can you tell who did this?”

Jerry took it from him. For a moment he sat on his motorbike, studying the drawing in silence. Finally he said, “It’s good,
but it’s not Pat’s. Pat uses stronger lines. And his shadings darker. Take a look at some of his work in school. You’ll see
what I mean.”

He handed it back to Jim. “Where’d you find it?” he asked.

“Stuck on our garage door.” Jim refolded the drawing. “Do me a favor, will you? Don’t mention this drawing to Pat, or anyone
else. If you happen to hear who did it, though —”

“I’ll let you know,” Jerry cut in. He turned the grip on the handlebar. The engine roared. “See you, Jim.”

“Thanks, Jerry.”

He watched Jerry ride off, then walked into the house. Peg glanced at the folded drawing he tried to keep hidden from view,
and stepped in front of him.

“What have you got there?” she wanted to know.

“Don’t get nosy It’s just a drawing.” He put it behind him and tried to pass by her.

She grabbed his arm and met his eyes. “I know about those phone calls. Dad told Mom, and Mom told me.”

Jim shot a look at his mother and met her mild, understanding eyes.

“Does this drawing have some connection with those calls?” Peg inquired.

Jim heaved a sigh and unfolded the drawing. His mother came forward, and both she and Peg looked at it.

“My Lord, who did that?” Mrs. Cort exclaimed.

Jim refolded the drawing. “That’s what I’m trying to find out,” he said gravely. “I found it stuck to our garage door last
Saturday afternoon. Don’t tell Dad about it. Okay?”

They promised they would try not to.

“Where is he?” Jim asked.

“In the living room. And not feeling so great, either,” Peg replied.

Jim took the drawing back upstairs to his room, then returned and entered the living room to talk with his father. Mr. Cort
was sitting by the window, looking out at the street in apparent deep concentration.

“Hi, Dad,” said Jim. “No luck finding a job?”

His father looked at him. “Hi, son. No, no luck. I didn’t expect to find one right off the bat, anyway I’ve filled out a couple
applications, but if I don’t hear from one of them within two months or so, I’m going to think seriously about looking for
a job out of town. Don’t worry. It’ll be our last resort,” he added quickly as Jim’s face suddenly showed concern. “I know
how you, Peg, and your mother feel about living here. I like it, too, but if I can’t find work here we’ll have to go where
I can.”

Jim nodded. “I understand, Dad.”

“I’ve also applied for a course in advanced accounting,” his father went on. “They’re evening classes. They’re running for
eight weeks and are taught on Tuesdays and Thursdays. That, with the
training I got in prison, should help me find a job fairly easily, I should think.”

“I hope so, Dad,” Jim said. “When does the course start?”

“It started last week. But I can start tomorrow night.”

He tries to make it sound as if it will be simple to find a job with the course under his belt too, Jim thought. But he knew
his father wasn’t really sure he would. The stigma of serving time was going to remain with him until he found an employer
who would say to him, “You’re hired. Be here Monday morning at eight o’clock sharp.”

The next two days of practice were spent mainly on defensive plays meant to cope with the strong offensive team the Rams were
up against this coming Friday night, the Coral Town Indians. Coach Butler reminded his boys that the Indians had a running
back who had been the second highest scorer last year and was heading for that title, or better, this year. His name was Roy
Slate, and some of the reporters were already figuring he was big-time
material. He liked to run. His tactic was to carry the ball around the ends, usually his left end. This meant, thought Jim,
that Slate would be coming around his side of the line.

Coach Butler had Mark Taylor simulate Slate’s anticipated moves, so when the fullback came tearing around Jim’s side of the
line, Jim tried to meet him with his shoulders down around Mark’s knees. But Mark got excellent blocking from his linemen,
and Jim found himself knocked back on his rear, while Mark raced by for what could have been a long run, or even a touchdown,
in a game.

“You’re not dodging the blockers, Jim!” Coach Butler yelled at him. “Use footwork! Isaacs, hit your man, and
then
go after the ballcarrier!” Ron Isaacs, a short, stocky kid who was faster than he looked, played right tackle.

On both Wednesday and Thursday nights Jim studied his notes and the play patterns that the coach said the Rams would be using
against the Coral Town Indians. He was worried about his defensive playing. He knew he could stand a lot of improvement as
a tackier, and was sure that Coach Butler was aware of that, too. He hoped he could
help at least on one touchdown. Two or three would be better. But, from the number of plays he was involved in during the
past several days, he wondered if he would see any action at all.

He studied the 14 right flat option thoroughly. In this play the quarterback took the pass from center, pedaled back behind
the right halfback, then unleashed a long pass to either the fullback, or to the right end, who was running almost parallel
with him. In this situation Jim was the right end.

He stayed up till almost midnight Thursday, concentrating on the runs and pass plays. He had blocking assignments, too, but
he felt that memorizing his offensive plays was more important than the defensive plays. Scoring came on the offensive plays.

Another play he hoped Chuck would call was the T 17 fly. This play called for a pass deep downfield. Jim and left end Dick
Ronovitz scissor behind the line of scrimmage, while Chuck runs back after taking the ball from center, fakes a handoff to
Mark, then heaves a pass to Jim.

When he finally went to bed, his mind was a battleground of notes and football plays. But lurking in the background was an
unseen face, in shadow, ready to make another malicious telephone call to him about his father.

He tossed and turned, throwing the covers off his
hot, sweating body, then pulling them back on when he got cold. When he arose in the morning he didn’t think he had slept
at all. He thought he remembered seeing someone standing at the foot of his bed, someone he couldn’t see clearly, except a
pair of bright, staring eyes.

He guessed he must have looked as bad as he felt when he finally went downstairs $$$ sat at the table for breakfast, because
his mother stared at him as if he had suddenly contracted measles.

“What’s the matter, son? Didn’t you sleep last night?” she asked him.

“Not much, I guess,” he admitted. “Where’s Peg?”

“In the living room, cramming for an English test. And Dad’s still in bed. He didn’t sleep well, either.”

Jim began to wolf down the scrambled eggs and toast his mother had made for him, and she tapped him on the shoulder.

“Slow down,” she said. “You’re not going to a fire.”

He shook his head. “I guess I’m not all here,” he said.

She poured herself a cup of coffee and sat on the chair beside him. “You’re worked up over your father, aren’t you?” she said
quietly. “Between his
coming home from prison, those phone calls and the drawing, and your trying to play football, you must feel pretty confused.”

He nodded.

She poured a spoonful of sugar into the coffee, added milk, and stirred it. “First of all, son, remember this: officially
your father paid for what he did. He served his term in prison, but he’s going to keep on paying for it by just thinking about
it, because he’s that kind of a human being.”

“I know, Mom,” Jim said. “You don’t have to tell me that.”

“But I want to impress it on you,” she replied firmly “You don’t know how sorry he is for what he’s done, for what that foolish
act has done to you and Peg, and me. You haven’t seen the tears in his eyes like I have. You can’t tell that his heart is
broken.”

“Mom —”

“Jim, what I’m trying to say is, don’t let those phone calls or that drawing drive you crazy. Don’t let any of the members
of your football team interfere with your playing, or your school work. Get on the field and play as if none of those things
have
happened. I know its difficult to do. But play as if you’re playing for your father, as if he’s the coach.”

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