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Billy’s Demise

Jack hurried across their fields swinging his arms and twisting his torso. He was trying to work out his sore stiffness. He found the going painful. Any thoughts that he’d be unable to practice were pushed aside by his determination to be a team leader and set a proper example.
He arrived at the practice field to discover his teammates already surrounding Moseby in kneeling positions. His mood was lifted by his amusement at the various styles of homemade protection the players were sporting for the defensive practice. Some wore puffed-out shirts where they’d sewn extra clothing around venerable areas. Others had pants with some sort of padding sewn into the knees. Many wore ridiculous headgear ranging from flying helmets stuffed with rags to thick leather straps which appeared to have been salvaged from ox or horse harnesses. He didn’t see Monty Willings.
“Where the hell you been, Espinosa?” Moseby shouted. “Practice started five minutes ago.”
Moseby’s expression soured further into one of shock and concern when he got a good look at Jack’s face.
“Good God. What happened to you?”
The entire team turned to stare at him. Jack felt self-conscious. He hung his head, and muttered,” Nothing.”
“Bullshit!” Moseby snapped. “Come here, boy. Let me look at you.”
Jack sulked around the gawking boys feeling highly embarrassed. He heard whispers, “look at his arms,” and “who could have done that?”
He couldn’t meet Moseby’s red-eyed glare. The coach gently lifted Jack’s chin until he could examine his face before repeating, “Who did this to you, son? You didn’t look like this last night. This must have happened after you left. Your stepfather did this.” It was a statement, not a question.
Jack started to shake his head in denial when Moseby whirled him around to examine his body.
“Don’t lie to me, Jack,” Moseby insisted. “I had an abusive father. He was second-generation military … a nasty drunk who got pleasure out of beating those he thought weaker. He specialized in using his feet and belt-buckle whippings. Drop your pants and strip off that T-shirt. I want to see your torso and back. There are boot-shaped bruises on your arms.”
Jack hesitantly complied. A few gasps escaped his teammates when he turned his back toward Moseby to examine.
“Jesus, Jack,” Moseby hissed. Jack yelped in pain when he felt a jab in the back. “Does that hurt?”
Moseby twirled him around to examine his ribs and front side, even his legs. “Good God, son. I don’t understand how you walked down here, or why you bothered to come. This is criminal. I should take you down to the police station. I can’t in good conscience let you practice like this.”
No,” Jack said, shaking his head.” I can’t go to the police. Ma claims we need my stepfather’s pay to live. I can’t have him arrested. And I came here to play. This ain’t nothing. I’ve had worse.”
“Horseshit!” Moseby snapped. “You could have broken ribs.
“No, you just sit tight today. Other than some tackling drills we’re just going to walk through some offensive and defensive formations while covering responsibilities. You can spend the rest of the practice over there sitting with Monty under that shade tree. He ain’t going nowhere today neither.”
No, sir,” Jack said defiantly. I can’t do that. I came here to practice, and I will. What kind of example would I be setting if I sat out every time I got a bruise or bloody nose?” Jack asked and grimaced as he began to redress.
“This ain’t no bloody nose!” Moseby shouted. “You ain’t got nothing to prove to anyone here. You belong in the hospital. Tell ya what we’re gonna do. If you don’t want to sit this one out, and if you feel you can manage it, you can walk or jog laps until we go over the formations and responsibilities.
“Then, after practice, I’m gonna walk you home so I can have a talk with your stepfather. My guess is that he’s beating your mother as well.”
Jack hesitantly nodded, but he turned and began walking away when the recollection of his mother’s bruises made him emotional.
Jack?” Moseby called after him. “You really don’t have to do this, you don’t see Willings trying to prove anything to his teammates.”
“I ain’t Monty Willings, and don’t ever put me in the same category with him or anyone in his family!” Jack turned and shouted before stalking away.
“That wasn’t what I was suggesting,” Moseby muttered.
Jack’s anger allowed him to jog about a lap before his inhalations became too painful. He slowed to a walk while keeping a close eye on the practice.
The team passed him when they jogged their lap. Jack was surprised by the number of greetings he received and the amount of encouragement offered from teammates he barely knew. He felt encouraged that he’d made an impression, and that maybe they’d understood the message behind Moseby’s motto after all. He decided he couldn’t let down his teammates. He picked up his pace to keep up with them while encouraging the trailers, Jimmy-O and Riley, by daring them not to let him pass them. Jack slowed when he began to pass Riley. The heavyset lineman really couldn’t lift his feet. He yelled for the rest of the team to slow so they could all finish as a team. Jack’s heart soared with pride and happiness when his teammates surrounded his threesome of trailers while cheering them on.
Moseby wore the first smile Jack had witnessed on the coach’s flat, scarred face when the team finished their lap as a team. The coach didn’t let them relax. Moseby motioned Jack to remain at his side before wrinkling his nose, and expressing his disgust, “Jesus, Jack, you stink like rancid lard. Move down wind a little. You’re turning my stomach.”
“Get off your ass, Vitale!” the coach shouted with a lazy kick at the reclining center, “No one sad it was nap time.”
“Okay gents,” Moseby restarted, “like I told you yesterday, today will be a defensive practice. I was thinking of finishing our offense, but not all the players I want have shown up yet. Anyone know if John Miller, and Matt Carl are going to play this year? They both said they were going to try and make it last spring.”
The teens muttered while shaking their heads until Sam Ward offered, “The last time I saw Miller he was tied up with his dad’s stable. He was doing most of the iron work and shoeing after his dad hurt his back”
Damn!” Moseby shouted with another kick that sent Vitale scrambling. “I was counting on Miller’s big back and strong arms to help fill out the middle of our offensive and defensive lines. But I guess the town needs a black smith to fix their wagons and shoe the horses more than it needs a winning football team. We’ll have to make do with what we have here. What about Carl? I wanted him for a backup offensive back in case someone was hurt.”
“I’ll talk to him later this afternoon, coach,” offered Jimmy-O. “My dad gave him a part time job down at our mill this summer. Last I heard he was still working there or part time at his dad’s shop. I’ll go by the mill on the way home after practice.”
“I’d appreciate that,” Moseby muttered, “Oh, and if Carl tries to back out of playing, tell’im I want to talk to him.” The players chuckled when Moseby spat, and grew an evil grin. The consensus seemed to be that there’d be some strong language and arm twisting involved in Moseby’s talk. Matt Carl would soon be joining the team.
“Okay, listen up,” Moseby raised his voice. “Billy, you and your brother want to quit fondling each other and come here?”
Billy helped Monty to his feet before ducking beneath his arm to help him join the group surrounding their coach.
“Keep going, Billy,” Moseby instructed, “Stand in front of the ball in the center of those stakes I set out. Good. Monty, who told you to lay down again?
“Those stakes represent the other team’s offensive line with the ball being their center. Billy, until John Miller shows up, you’re going to be our middle defensive lineman. You’ll always line up on the nose of their center. Monty, you’ll line up about a yard off your brother’s ass. Just far enough away that you can’t smell his farts. You two have to make sure they aren’t running the ball down our throat.”
“Gower, where are ya?” Moseby asked impatiently. A tall teen struggled to his feet, Moseby muttered, “oh yeah, how could I miss the tallest kid in Salem Township high school? Go stand two stakes to Billy’s left. No, his other left, ya idiot. Gower, you’ll be one of our defensive tackles, but you’ll have to pay attention. I’ll probably flip-flop the side you’re playing to the strong side of their offensive formation. That means you’ll play the side where they line up a tight end or another player on our outside. Monty, you’ll have to make sure Gower is lined up correctly each play.
“On your feet, Vitale!” Moseby shouted. “God-damn, dago. Go stand to Gower’s left. We’ll start out with you as our left defensive end. Jack, this is where you come in. I’ve given your position a good deal of thought because of your speed and aggressive tackling.
“Go stand just off Vitale’s left shoulder. That’ll be your starting position each play, but here’s how this defense is different this year. Jack, you’re sole responsibility will be the other team’s top offensive back. That might be their quarterback. Hell, it could ne Moses, I don’t know. It could be anyone. We’ll start out with you covering their quarterback, and we’ll make adjustments as the game progresses. I want you to adjust your position each play so you have the best, clearest angle at the player you’re covering. You’ll be roaming all over the defense with no set position. Get it? Good, I figured you were smart enough to understand this.”
“What’s his position called?” Monty wanted to know.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Moseby admitted, “I just drew this up on a bar napkin last night. We’ll call it ‘Jack’s position.’”
Further acknowledgement of Jack seemed to anger Willings.
Moseby filled out the defensive positions before forming a scout offense to run some fake plays to see if everyone understood their jobs. Vitale couldn’t understand the concept of: “Don’t let anyone get outside or around you!”
When the fake plays turned into pushing-shoving matches and general horseplay, Moseby appeared disgusted. He pulled his tobacco plug from his rear pocket before gnawing off a mouthful.
“Enough of this shit!” Moseby shouted. “If you girls want to play patty cake, we’ll have tackling drills. Form two lines like yesterday.”
Billy Willings scooped up the ball at his feet. He ran to stand five yards across from Moseby. Billy raised his hand and announced, “Here’s the start of the running line. I’m the first runner. Who has the guts to ne the first tackler?”
Jack pushed his way through to stand across from Billy. “I left you crying yesterday, I can do it again today,” he promised.
“Bring it on, bean!” Billy roared.
“Hold on. Hold on, Jack. I ain’t letting you do this,” Moseby said. The coach tried to grab Jack’s arm. Jack ripped away while shouting, “No. I’m doing this! I got something to prove if only to myself. Someone has to show the idiots like Billy of this world they don’t scare everyone. Some of us will fight.”
“I’m not an idiot!” Billy responded. “C’mon, bean, I got a score to settle.”
No; Billy,” Moseby muttered, “Don’t sell yourself short. You are an idiot. I wasn’t stopping Jack to save him from you. I was trying to save you from him. Look into his eyes, Billy. He has a score to settle with the man who beat him and his mother. I wouldn’t run the ball against Jack today.”
“I ain’t afraid of no immigrant,” Billy assured everyone.
“You should be,” the coach cautioned. “Go ahead, Jack. I tried to warn him.”
A chorus of, “Get’im, Jack,” arose from his supporters.
The shouts enraged the red-haired gorilla. Billy let out a bestial snarl. He charged. Jack expected the onslaught. He met it with a slight change in tactics from the previous day. He ducked his head into the thick -leather strap Billy had tried around his forehead. Billy’s head was rocked back, straightening his body to a near-erect position.
The lard covering Jack’s hair allowed his head to glance off Billy’s head strap. Jack found himself with his face pressed against Billy’s soft midsection. He grinned. Jack drove his fist into Billy’s gut. The runner was doubled over sucking for air. Jack reached up. He grabbed Billy’s right nipple, pinched down, and twisted as hard as he could. Billy finally sucked in enough breath to release a womanly screech. Billy dropped the ball again. Jack scooped it up to score his second defensive touchdown against the same opponent in two days.
Moseby was standing with his arm on Jack’s shoulder when he claimed, “God damn, boy. You’re about the dirtiest player I’ve ever seen, and I saw a few playing for the Spartans. You also have more guts than brains. Keep that anger under control before it gets you hurt.”
Jack had to agree. His gutsy collision with Billy was hurting him enough now that he wished he hadn’t done it. On the other hand, he felt great about the acknowledgements he got from his teammates.
“That ain’t fair, coach,” Billy whined, “He cheats.”
“Life ain’t fair, Billy,” Moseby responded. “Ya want another go at him?”
Billy had pulled up his shirt and was staring slack jawed at the purple bruise surrounding his nipple. He raised his head with a pout on his lips. Billy shook his head that he desired no further punishment.
“What about the rest of us, coach?” Sam Ward asked from the back of the tackling line. “I wouldn’t mind having a go at Billy. I got some old scores to settle.”
A few others added, “Me, too.”
Billy wasn’t having any of it. He was shaking his head with wide eyes while backing away on the verge of turning tail and bolting.
“No,” Moseby responded, “it appears that big bad Billy has had enough for the day. If you want a crack at him, switch the lines for side tackling. Billy get your ass back here. If you’re too scared to participate in drills, take your lazy-ass brother home. I can’t use ya.”
Billy snuck back with his shoulders down and his bravado gone. He gave Jack a fear-filled glance to make sure Moseby had him under control. There was a mad rush to form the line of tacklers. Moseby placed his hand on Jack’s shoulder to keep him at bay. Jack felt too bruised to argue.
Jimmy-O was first in line to face Billy’s timid run from the side. The larger boy hit, wrapped, and lifted the screaming runner before hurling him to the ground. Billy remained there as if stunned by his demise.
Moseby was enthusiastically shouting his congratulations when Jack heard someone, he could have sworn it was Monty, shout, “Pile on the Pollock!”
Before Moseby could stop them, the team members were diving on Billy. Jack laughed until he was crying and his ribs were too painful to continue. Moseby shouted for a water break. A few of the players were slow to unmount Billy. Jack saw a few punches snuck in from players seeking revenge on the downed bully. He no longer cared. He’d proved himself. He was in too much pain to watch the team going through fourth-quarter conditioning. Jack returned to walking laps, and enjoying the warmth on his face. He was considering his newfound popularity and how to use it.
“Okay, bring it in everyone!” Moseby shouted when Riley fell and refused to move despite all Moseby’s ranting and threats.
“The heat must be too much for the fat-ass,” Moseby muttered. “Jimmy-O. Help Riley over to the pump. Dunk his head under the water. It should cool him off.”
Jimmy-O, who reminded Jack of a lumberjack, whispered something under his breath. It sounded like a curse in a foreign language to Jack. He marveled at his teammate’s lean muscularity as Jimmy-O assisted the much heavier Riley to the hand pump. The team had another hearty laugh watching Jimmy-O give the squawking Riley a bath.
Moseby called for everyone’s attention again.
“Better practice today, gentlemen. We still have a long way to go, but I saw positive things. Youi did some things as a team. We need more of that.
“Now for the good news. I promised Jack that I’d give him assistance this afternoon, and Semper Fidelis even applies to me, especially to me. I will always have your backs. Since this afternoon promises to be a scorcher, and I’m already busy, I’m giving you the afternoon off to go home and work. Of course, should any of you feel the need to do some extra conditioning, I won’t stop you. Be on time tomorrow morning, and plan on a tough practice.”
Moseby’s announcement was met with some weak cheers. The team began to disburse