Monday afternoon the Maxwell track and field team came out to the football field pumped up and ready to get back into shape after the holiday break.
It was a cold and cloudy afternoon. Connor and Daisy had left their sweatshirts in the gym because they had expected to start running right away and not need them. However, Coach Peggy had other ideas about how to start the practice. She directed everyone to sit in the bleachers so she could talk to them about the next meet.
She cleared her throat and waved at everyone to quiet down before she began. “This Saturday we will be going to Columbus High School. As you all know we had a pretty big run-in with the Surfside bunch at the last meet. I would like to avoid this kind of trouble in our future meets. Therefore, I have moved a few of you around. These are your new events. Susan Page, I want you to run the 2 mile with Grace this time. Willie Coleman, I want you to run the 5 mile with Mark. Daisy, I want you to move to the 10 mile and run with Maria. The rest of you already have event partners, so now no one is entering any event alone. Are we all good? Did I miss anyone?” Coach Peggy glanced up to check that each named person was in agreement.
Connor raised his hand.
“Yes, Connor what is it?”
“Can I go back inside and get mine and Daisy’s sweatshirts? I didn’t know it was so cold out here. They’re in the gym.”
“Sure, sure, go get’em.” She waved towards the gym and continued her lecture about the next meet.
Connor hopped off the side of the bleachers and ran back to the gym.
Inside the gym, he found the sweatshirts by the window with Daisy’s cell phone sitting right on top. “Man, I’ll have to remind her not to leave her phone out in plain sight like this. Somebody might swipe it.” He pulled his sweatshirt over his head and dropped her phone into his back pocket for safe keeping. As he was leaving, he noticed Coach Peggy’s office door ajar and someone moving around inside. He walked closer to see who would be in there without her and suddenly realized with a shock that it was Mr. Adams.
Mr. Adams was shuffling papers around on Coach Peggy’s desk like he was looking for something.
Terrific anger rose in Connors chest. “What the heck…” He cautiously walked across the gym into the office. “What are you doing in here?” Connor asked through clenched teeth.
Mr. Adams looked up. “You can go back to your class boy. I am waiting to have a meeting with Coach Peggy. She will be in here shortly.” His belittling tone irritated Connor even more. He knew that if Coach Peggy were expecting Mr. Adams she would be in her office and not outside.
Connor flipped open Daisy’s cell phone hoping to find Coach Peggy’s name. “Ah, there it is,” he said to himself.
“Damn you boy, put away that pho…” Connor pushed Coach Peggy’s name before Mr. Adams could finish his objection.
“Why in the world are you calling me on Daisy’s phone? Get back out here and do your laps!” Coach Peggy scolded.
“You need to get back to your office right now. Did you know that Mr. Adams is in here looking through your papers?”
Coach Peggy’s voice rose to an uncomfortable tone in Connor’s ear, “No, I did not! Stay in there Connor. DON’T MOVE!” She began running towards the gym. All of a sudden she stopped dead in her tracks and turned around. “Andy!” she screamed, “Keep everybody together and busy until I return!” Then she turned back around and hauled it to the gym as fast as she could.
Inside the office, Connor moved around the desk and plopped himself down right in Coach Peggy’s chair and stared at Mr. Adams defiantly.
Mr. Adams eyes narrowed slightly. “You don’t need to stay here son. I can wait for her here myself. Go back to your class.” He was now trying his parental tone to see if that worked better.
Connor adjusted himself in the chair and quietly said, “No. I think I will just sit right here until she comes.”
Mr. Adams wore a tailor made suit that fit him perfectly. In some circles he was probably considered good looking. He was well-groomed man who was used to having things his way.
“He’s over confident,” Connor thought to himself as he sized up his opponent. “He won’t get his way here though. Maxwell parents and school staff have already caught wind of his interference in the cross country meets. There would be no mercy or cooperation with him here at Maxwell,” Connor continued to think silently. He knew not to say anything out loud to this guy. It would only end up in a fight. He was sure of that. So he just crossed his arms across his chest and stared at Mr. Adams.
Mr. Adams moved slowly back and forth across Coach Peggy’s tiny office like a sleek, well fed tiger. Then a wicked spark came into his tiger eyes. He began to question Connor, “Are you a Maxwell runner? What’s your name? Are you a senior? I bet you need help getting to college. Who are the Regional runners this year? Are you one of them? Isn’t college worth more to you than one little championship?” Mr. Adams paused between each question but since he wasn’t getting any answers he continued with his list.
Connor never opened his mouth. He just thought to himself, “Where in the world was Mr. Adams going with this? This full grown man was not actually trying to bribe a teenager with college money, was he? Was he really going to ask him to drop out of the race so his sons could win?” Connor, being a basically honest person could hardly think the thought but here he was listening to the bribery attempt with his very own ears. A smile crept across Connor’s face. Mr. Adams took the slight smile to mean that he was interested but in reality Connor was almost ready to laugh. He knew that even in a million years he would never take such a lame offer. In Connor’s opinion, the whole thing was just plain laughable.
Coach Peggy grabbed Principle Murray on the way back to her small gym office. They both arrived together to take on Mr. Adams as a team.
“Thank you, Connor, for waiting here for me,” Peggy said as she stormed into her office. “I believe Daisy is freezing now and needs her sweatshirt. So why don’t you take her shirt to her and help Andy keep the group out there organized for me.” She tried to smile at Connor as she replaced him in her chair.
The mentioning of Connor’s and Daisy’s name together caught Mr. Adams attention. He had seen those names in the paperwork on Coach Peggy’s desk. “Ah, Connor is it then. A working man’s son.” Mr. Adams studied Connor for a moment as he took this new bit of information into consideration.
Coach Peggy looked at Mr. Adams with distaste. She didn’t like his comment about Davis’ working status one bit. “On second thought Connor, maybe you should stay here a little longer with us.” She waved Connor to stand near her chair. Then she looked down at her desk to see what Mr. Adams had been messing with while she had been out. “Mr. Adams, it looks like my scholarship documents are all out of order. Most of them I have not even finished filling out yet. Why are you in here looking at my private paperwork?”
“I’m interested in making a business arrangement with you.” Mr. Adams smiled.
“A business arrangement,” Principal Murray repeated the words suspiciously.
“Some of the boys on your team are in need of more money than just the scholarship money that they will get from running. I am in a position to be very helpful to both your sports program and your senior students, if they would just do me one little favor.”
“One little favor,” Connor grumbled at the way Mr. Adams referred to cheating.
Mr. Adams continued, “Let my boys win the 10-mile Florida State Championship. I will make it worth it to all of you. My sons are seniors. They only need to win once. Then they are gone, out of your hair, off to another state for college.” He let his hand flutter through the air lightly as he spoke to show how quickly this one small “favor” would flutter away, never to be thought of again.
Connor tried to conceal his laughter by rubbing his face with his hand as Principle Murray and Coach Peggy stared at Mr. Adams in blank disbelief.
Coach Peggy cleared her throat after a moment or two. “You have GOT to be kidding me. You cannot possibly be offering college money to my students so that we would back off from the Championship coming up. That is completely out of the question. We aren’t gonna do you any favors.”
Mr. Adams reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his checkbook as though Coach Peggy had said nothing at all. He was so sure that the amount of money he was willing to write on the check would change everything. “They don’t have to get out all together. Just move them to a different event, that’s all.”
His smugness ticked Coach Peggy off even further. “You are out of your mind!” she hollered.
Principle Murray knew he did not have to take any bribe so the fact that one was being offered made no difference to him really. However, he felt he better speak up before Coach Peggy climbed over her desk and killed Mr. Adams in front of them all. “Mr. Adams this is a school. This is a place where children learn to be good citizens. We teach them to grow up and to contribute honestly to society. I don’t know how we could accomplish that if we were taking bribe money and telling our kids to drop out of races,” Principle Murray gave another little chuckle at the outrageous thought then continued, “Really, Mr. Adams you are wasting your time making this kind of offer here at Maxwell.”
“This is strictly a business arrangement just between us, you don’t need to tell everyone. You can still teach all that stuff to the other kids. You only need to redirect, if you will, two runners. Those two in the 10-mile boys run. Just put those two boys in a different event, you know, like… the long jump or something. This Connor boy standing here with us and that Andy boy are the only two you need to move. They can still compete, just not in the 10-mile event, that’s all I’m asking.” He held his hands out in an imploring fashion. “I see from your paperwork that both of these boys need help with their college tuition. I’m sure they would prefer money to winning a race. You wouldn’t want to stand in the way of them getting the money they need, would you?” He smiled sympathetically.
Connors eyebrows went up and his smile returned. “Coach Peggy, ya gotta let me answer that. Please let me answer that.”
“Sure, go ahead. Please answer that for us all, would you?”
Connor’s steel grey eyes focused on Mr. Adams. “No one at this school is interested in your money. Mine and also Andy’s college arrangements are really none of your business. All this bribery talk you are doing just makes me all the more determined to win the race. We are going to win because we are faster than Gary and Glenn.”
Mr. Adams chuckled. “Let’s not call it ‘bribery’. That is such an ugly word. We are just rearranging some of the sports events. Coaches do it all the time. The money is just a ‘thank you’ for your trouble. This is the business end of sports son, that’s all this is.”
“That’s enough!” Coach Peggy stood up quickly. Inflamed by Mr. Adams words she hollered, “Gary and Glenn will be withdrawn from the Championship because of that low-class move they made at the mall on Thanksgiving day! And, on top of that, once I call and explain what has happened here in this office you might even find the entire Surfside school getting pulled from Regionals as well, Mr. Adams! There will be no rearranging of events! Connor and Andy will run the 10 mile just as planned and they will win!”
Daisy came running into the office breathing heavily, “Connor, what is taking so long? It’s freezing outside. I need my sweat…” She said it before she got a good look at what was happening in the office and who was present. Once she looked around the office she realized she probably should not have barged in but it was now too late.
Connor reached out quickly and grabbed her around the shoulder pulling her in next to him, away from the door where Mr. Adams was standing. She was freezing so he wrapped his other arm around her as well. “Sorry babe. I couldn’t leave,” he whispered into her ear. “Coach Peggy,” he turned to look at his coach, “Can we go now?”
“Yea, I guess you made your feelings on this subject clear enough to Mr. Adams. Go ahead and I will catch up with you two later.” Coach Peggy glanced up at them from her chair.
Connor excused himself and began to guide Daisy out the door past Mr. Adams.
Mr. Adams brushed Daisy’s cheek with his finger and said, “Aren’t you a pretty little thing. I do believe you are prettier than the girls I was looking at down in Brazil. I’m bringing back a whole bunch of them for my clubs. They are all about your age.” He gave a wicked chuckle then continued, “I know how to get around that ‘ol age thing. I am still looking for some more dancers. Do you dance Daisy?”
Connor slapped Mr. Adams’ hand away from Daisy furiously! “You can stay away from her!”
Mr. Adams began laughing. “Touchy, touchy, aren’t we there Connor? If money won’t do it, there is always something else that will.” Mr. Adams smiled at Daisy. “I’ll see you later.” He reached out towards her again.
Principle Murray stepped in between them. “That is quite enough Mr. Adams! There will be none of that here! Daisy is completely off limits!” Principle Murray then positioned himself directly in front of Mr. Adams defensively. “Coach Peggy, call the police and ask them to come down here for a report. Then call the sports officials and inform them of what has taken place here,” Principle Murray ordered.
“Yes sir,” Coach Peggy responded eagerly. She got on the phone right away.
Mr. Adams glared hatefully at Principle Murray and spouted, “This is just business, I tell you! Nothing more! Businessmen have to negotiate. We are negotiating, there is no need for reports! Don’t you get tired of reports! Just give me what I want and I will be gone!” Mr. Adams glared down his nose at the Principle.
“We will make reports, Mr. Adams. My students will not be threatened by you! There will be nothing done in secret around here! Nothing! End of negotiations! We are not interested in your money!” Principle Murray was now starting to understand Coach Peggy’s frustration with this family. Talking to Mr. Adams was like talking to a concrete wall.
Connor began to exit with Daisy again. As they passed through the door, Principle Murray said, “Connor, you guys can go, but when the police get here they will probably want to hear what you have to say about all of this so don’t go too far. You should probably call your Dad too.”
“Yes sir, I’ll do that.” Connor shot a quick glance at the Principle then at Mr. Adams as he left.
“Well, don’t think I am standing around to help you fill out paperwork!” Mr. Adams huffed and stormed out of the tiny office, banging the door against the wall as he left.
Connor kept his arm tightly around Daisy as they walked across the gym floor. The confrontation with Mr. Adams was sort of funny when it came to money but it took a sick turn and became very “not funny” to Connor when it came to threats on Daisy. He didn’t want to let go of her now. They sat down in some spare chairs against the gym wall to call his Dad.
Davis, after hearing the “quickie version” of what had just happened said, “I can be at the school by 5:30. I will look for you in the gym, okay son?”
“Thanks Dad.” Connor hung up and leaned back resting his head against the wall. His arm was still around Daisy’s shoulder. He pulled her back with him and held her there close as he exhaled loudly. He rested there for a moment running over in his head what just happened.
Daisy rested her head on his shoulder. She had just spent two hours in the freezing cold with no sweatshirt and was glad to be warming up next to Connor. He could feel how cold she was so he grabbed her sweatshirt and pulled it over her head and straightened it. He helped her as if she were his child.
Daisy started laughing. “Connor, your abnormal, overly developed parental skills are showing again. You don’t have to baby me like this.” She giggled some more.
“Yea, I do. I like baby ’in you.” He smiled back at her and began to rub her side to speed up the warming process. He looked down at her and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry you had to come in there and see that,” Connor said softly. “That guy is such a jerk. I can’t believe the things I heard him say,” Connor said in a low bewildered tone. “You’re going to have to stay with Dad and me until your Grandparents get back from their trip or something because that guy is nuts. No matter how many times we said ‘no’ to him he just kept on demanding the same thing. He’s crazy!” Connor shook his head. “And when he tried to touch you, man, I thought I was going to kill him!” He hugged her closer. “He better not touch you,” Connor stated defensively.
“What does he want?”
“He basically wants me and Andy out of the Championship 10-mile race, but that’s not happening. We are going to run. We’ll win too. Mr. Adams doing this just makes me all the more determined to beat his stupid sons.
“The only sad thing about it is that Coach Peggy will call the sports officials and get them kicked out. Now we can’t even have the satisfaction of smearing them again.” Connor chuckled. “Ya know, Gary and Glenn were our chief competitors. If they’d just focused on training hard and running fair they might have beaten us.”
Connor leaned back and thought some more. “He tried to bribe us and that didn’t work. He saw how mad it made me to pick on you. You can’t go anywhere alone, okay? He somehow thinks he is above the law. He doesn’t seem disturbed at all by us telling the police. I don’t get it.” Connor looked down into her eyes again. “Please stay with me, okay?”
“I always want to stay with you. Besides I think when the sports officials call Coach Timbers and suspend his team, Mr. Adams will quit all this nonsense. Don’t you think so?”
“Not after today. He wouldn’t listen to a word we said. He really thinks, for some strange reason, that he can win this way.” Connor sighed and leaned back against the wall again. “He thinks it’s just business. He can’t see anything wrong with what he’s doing.”
“Look, there’s your Dad and the police.” Daisy pointed to the gymnasium doors with relief. Connor and Daisy stood up and crossed the floor to greet them.
They spent the next two hours in Coach Peggy’s office rehashing the entire event in detail for Davis and the police.
When the officers felt that they’d been properly informed, they stood to leave. “We will look into this matter ASAP.”
“Thank you for your time, officers. We hope to see you at our next meet. It will be at Columbus High School,” Principle Murray informed them.
“Yes, of course, we will be there.” The officers shook hands with Davis and Coach Peggy and Principle Murray escorted them out.
Davis looked across the tiny office at his son. Connor had somehow managed to squish himself into a single armchair with Daisy. They were whispering and enjoying their comfortable position a little too much as far as Davis was concerned. Davis spoke up loudly for Connor’s benefit, “I’m starving. Let’s take these ladies out to dinner.”
“That’s the best idea I have heard all afternoon,” Peggy cheered.
“Can we get seafood?” Daisy asked.
“I like seafood,” Connor spoke quietly still looking at Daisy.
Davis rolled his eyes and picked up some bean bags that Coach Peggy had in a basket on her desk and threw them at Connor. “Connor!” Davis joked “Snap out of it boy! Quit your spoon ’in!” Davis threw some more bean bags at him.
Peggy started laughing hilariously.
“What the heck is spoon ’in?” Connor wondered as he grabbed Daisy’s hand and strolled out of the tiny office with his Dad and Peggy right behind. “Does this mean we’re having a double date?”
Davis chuckled bashfully and rubbed his chin. “I guess it is something like that.” He placed his hand lightly on Peggy’s shoulder and smiled at her. “Is it okay with you if we call this a date?”
“If you want it to be a proper date then you ought to ride in my car with me. Let spooner boy here drive your car with Daisy. We can just meet ’em at the seafood place.”
“Great idea,” Davis answered as he tossed the keys to his son. “See you in ten minutes.”
Connor caught the keys in the air. “What the heck is a spooner?”