Hey, Sailor (mm hypno fet hum)

Copyright © 2005

View the dream cast for Hey, SailorJames stood outside the school doors, looking down at his feet, taking deep measured breaths. He knew he was going to have to go through the doors sooner or later. He just wanted it to be later, is all. He put his hand on the door handle, then took it off. He did it again. He repeated this action a third time before kicking the door and stomping around in a circle.

"DAMMITT!!" He cursed and seethed, pacing before the twin doors with only the rows of cars in the parking lot behind him as audience. James shrugged his shoulders, trying to get ahold of himself. If he didn't get up his nerve and just go in soon, one of the many kids who left campus for lunch would return and see him standing there (or stomping around in mid-tantrum, as was the case). Cracking his neck, James exhaled heavily through clenched teeth. He caught his reflection in the window beside the door and felt his heart sink into his belly. This could not be happening to him. It just couldn't, that's all. "And yet, here I am...", he mumbled to himself.

James's every instinct was to run home before he was spotted, to hide under his bed until it was safe to be seen again. But as captain of the swim team, that was hardly fitting behavior. Besides, after the call the cops made to the school to verify that he'd be there, he couldn't continue his charade of feeling sick and hiding out in his bedroom. Best to just get it over with.

James grasped the door handle, squeezing it hard, and then thrust open the door and stepped through. His feet touched the scuffed floor of the high school and he let out a huge breath. He had done it. He had taken the first step. Only who knew how many million more to go. Trying to look confident, James strode down the small hallway to the main cafeteria lunchroom. No use hiding out in the johns until class, he decided. Might as well let as many people as possible get an eyeful of him right off.

James walked with his usual broad steps and casual flair into the lunch room, making his way across the floor. At first nothing was amiss. No hollered jibes, no jeers. But then of course, other kids started to notice him.

"Whuh the fugg--?", came the garbled remark from a fat kid with a mouthful of lasagna.

His pencil-thin spectacled companion spun around to see what his friend saw and almost bit the tines off his plastic fork. "Holy crap!"

By that point, the effect was like a cascade of tumbling dominoes. As James crossed the floor, heads turned, guys did spit-takes with their little half-pints of milk, girls giggled while spilling their salads. Jaws hung open, fingers pointed, and elbows jabbed their way into the sides of various friends. James tried not to notice, or at least pretend not to, but his deeply reddening face did little to help maintain the facade.
James finally stood at his usual lunch table. It was the table he shared daily with his friends Jeremy, Eric, Gordy, Tom, and Adam. They were the chosen ones, the champions of Bay Harbor Central High's celebrated swim team, of which James was captain. The five guys were caught up in their own world, as they so often were, and despite the growing cacophony building around them, they failed to notice James's approach.

"Uh, hey guys", James said. "Scoot over so I can have a seat."

The five boys looked up, and they sure as hell noticed James now. Tow-headed Eric, the youngest of the group at 18, felt his jaw go slack, his eyes bulging to give his already boyish face an even more childlike appearance. Tom, with the dazzling blue eyes and full lips, ran a hand through his bush of raven hair and tried to say something, but found his moving lips produced only a soft mumbling sound. Adam was equally silent, as he blew a shock of his long bangs out of his eyes from the corner of his mouth. Jeremy, with the corn-colored pompadour, paused in mid-bite of a tuna fish sandwich, a glop of mayonnaise dropping to splat on his powerful forearms. Gordy alone found his voice. Of the six friends, he was the only one who could conceivably pass for a geek rather than a jock, with a slender frame and occasionally awkward manner. It was his face, which was hauntingly beautiful, and his genuine charm, that made Gordy so much a part of this elite group. As such, he was unafraid to speak his mind to their leader.

"Jimmy", Gordy gasped, "what in the hell are you wearing?!"

James looked at his friends' expressions of shock and then, for the umpteenth time that day, looked down at himself. James was not dressed in his typical manner. No letterman's jacket, no crisp jeans, no flattering shirt open at the collar to reveal a silver pendant. No Skechers, no Docs. Today and for who knew how long, James was dressed considerably differently. James was wearing a sailor suit.

From head to toe, James was attired entirely in white. He wore an authentic sailor's shirt complete with broad collar and back flap. The sleeves were loose and bulky, as was the dangling black naval tie which hung down to his waist. His pants were as shocking white as his shirt, with large buttons in twin rows straddling his crotch which competed with his flared bell bottoms for most embarrassing aspect. On James's feet were polished black rubber knee boots which could be called nothing less than clodhoppers (but were at least partially obscured by the bellbottoms). Atop his head was a classic white sailor's hat.

Tom let out a low whistle and finally found his voice. "Dude, you look like a complete asshole."

Eric hauled off and smacked Tom in the arm. "Watch it! A little respect for the captain."

Tom took a swig from his can of Coke. "He looks more like the first mate to me. Maybe even a deckhand." Tom started to laugh, but shut his trap in a hurry when he saw he was the only one who found the remark funny. He pretended to clear his throat and took another drink.

By now the initial shock of Sailor James's appearance had worn off and the cafeteria was alive with jeers and catcalls. "Someone forgot to change outta his p.j.s this morning!", came a call from across the lunchroom. "Lovin' those bell bottoms, Popeye!", came another. James looked like he was going to implode, and crumple into a ball inside his cavernous uniform.

Shoulders sagging, he said, "Guys, could you please just scoot the fuck over and give me some room?"
Adam yanked a chair over from an adjoining table and slid it up to James's side. The others scooched over to make room for their captain. As he sat, James removed his hat, which he folded skillfully and stuck into his hip pocket. Elbows on the table, fingers laced in front of him, James lowered his head and let out a deep sigh. The other five boys leaned forward, anxious to hear his story, which would be pretty difficult given the growing noise level in the cafeteria.

"What happened?", Gordy asked.

"Yeah, man", Adam said, tapping James's arm. "Why are you wearing that stupid thing?"

Tom leaned to say something, but his words were lost to the din. He stood up, his considerable height and physique towering over all the other students seated in the cafeteria. "Anybody have a PROBLEM here??", he called in a booming voice.

A hush fell over the room and faces that wore expressions of laughter and ridicule only moments before changed to those of fear and trepidation. Kids turned back to their tables, girls suddenly found an increased interest in fiddling with their hair or examining their nails. A few trouble-makers in the farthest corners of the cafeteria still snorted and mumbled things about the Village People. The sudden silence made their voices carry. Adam stood up as well, looking even more formidable than usual in his sleeveless T-shirt, and all present fell silent.

"Thought not", Tom said, and took his seat. Tom leaned in toward James, as did the rest of the group, and asked his question again. "James, what is up with the sailor suit, man? I mean, seriously."

James surveyed the group. These were his friends, his teammates, his compadres. They looked to him with eager eyes and curious expressions. He could see they trusted him completely and even in this ludicrous situation no doubt believed there was some reasonable explanation.
"Guys", James said, "you are not going to believe what happened to me last night."

What happened to James last night

James was having a grand old time. He had just finished his mid-week swim meet and he and his team had thoroughly devastated the opposing team. It wasn't one of the biggest meets of the year (or even of the month), but a victory is a victory and it deserved to be celebrated. James had already been with the boys at Tom's house jumping and screaming and putting the moves on the girls, but what he needed now was high speed in hot rod convertible. But since James didn't own a convertible, he appropriated one from a car lot where he used to work. More accurately, he used to stand around and gab with customers about his performance on the swim and water polo teams, after which he was given a paycheck. But James knew where all the keys were kept and which cars were gassed up and ready to go. Tonight James selected a red Dodge Viper that he thought would go well with his lead foot.

James sped through the city at top speed, having abandoned any ideas of cruising the highway overlooking the shoreline as being too boring in its safety. Besides, who could see their champion school athlete in this hot ride if he was way out by the sea? In short order, James caught the attention of another boy, a tow-headed young man behind the wheel of a vintage '67 electric blue Bel Air. It was the captain of the team James and his boys had defeated tonight. At an intersection, James revved his engine in challenge and the blond lad in the Bel Air responded by peeling out in front of the red convertible. The boy in the classic car no doubt knew that in a fair one-on-one, there was no way in hell his car could defeat the contemporary machine for speed, so he cut ahead in hopes of blocking the road with his larger ride.

James and the blond boy tore down the main drag of the small town, sending what few pedestrians were out and about scurrying for safety as the two racers drove too close to the curb, up onto the sidewalk, through red lights, and down the wrong side of the street. Older folks cursed and teenagers cheered at the spectacle. James finally forced the '67 Bel Air into a set of newspaper boxes, in a crash of twisted metal and glass, a spew of quarters filling the air. James himself ran his stolen vehicle off the road and into a fire hydrant. The laughing, whooping James threw his arms back and roared as the cascade of water splashed down upon him. If this was how much fun he'd have after an unimportant meet, he could only imagine how much fun he'd have after finals. He'd have to go on imagining.

The police arrived on the scene to find James still lounging in the now-waterlogged Viper, still laughing at his own cleverness. Officers Auden and Laubach got out of the squad car and approached their town's favorite son. "James", officer Auden said, "what in hell are you doing??"

"Evenin', officer", James smiled. "Just engaged in a little celebration after tonight's victory. You were there, right?"

"Yeah, James, purt' near everybody was there, you know that. But you really, really should not have done this. You know what we have to do now, don't you?"

James was still smiling. "Well, I imagine one of you boys is gonna have to give me a ride home." James dug water out of his ear with his pinky. "You wouldn't happen to have a towel in back of your patrol car, would'ya?"

Officer Laubach brandished a pair of handcuffs and approached James. "Turn around, son."

James scoffed. "What? You've gotta be kidding me! Nobody even got hurt this time. I mean, not really."
Laubach turned James around and locked his hands behind his back. "Sorry, James. Things are different now. We have to take you in."

James was incredulous. "Take me--? Guys, wait a minute. This is me, James Nathaniels! Captain of the Sailors swim team! I'm not just a sailor, I'm THE sailor! Since when do you guys ever enforce anything for us?"

Laubach just shook his head. "James, it'd be best if you were just quiet right now. You have the right to remain silent..."

"Aw, c'mon, man! I was here when you arrived, wasn't I? I'm a frickin' SAILOR already!"

Laubach eased James into the back of the squad car. "--anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law." James was still lamenting his sudden loss of privileges of being a Bay Harbor Sailor after being read his rights and chauffeured off to the courthouse.

* * * * *

James didn't walk so much as strut down the corridors of the town courthouse with the two arresting officers on either side of him. They had extended the courtesy of removing his handcuffs, but that was as far as they were prepared to go.

James caught sight of himself in the windows of the darkened offices as they passed. He ran a hand through his thick black hair and flashed a smile at himself. As luck would have it, the policemen did have a towel in their car, so James was at least able to readjust his coif. James was used to looking his best, knowing it won him almost as many favors as being on the champion swim team. James was tall, with a build closer to the toned musculature of a basketball player than a swimmer. As a swimmer, he kept his body smooth and in top condition.

What James's looks couldn't get him, and that wasn't much, he had at his beck and call because of the swim team. Bay Harbor was a town nearly devoid of most conventional sports. Very little land was suitable for a football or soccer field, and there simply wasn't enough track for track and field. Twice an attempted baseball field flooded before that project was abandoned. There were some indoor sports the likes of basketball and wrestling, but mostly what Bay Harbor had was water. Water surrounding the town, in the town, throughout the town. And high school athletics had learned to master the waters. There was some passing interest in the sailing team, but the swim meets and water polo matches were always the star attractions, and their players were celebrated champions. James was the captain of those champions, the Sailors, and both he and everyone else knew it.

"Guys", James said to the officers, "I don't get why you're so serious about this. It's gonna be okay. It's not like this is the first time or anything. I mean, come on, you know the drill. Nothing's gonna happen here. I'm a Sailor, for Christ sakes." James looked at each officer, saw their pained expressions and their forced stares forward to avoid eye contact with the young star athlete. Reiterating his previous comment, James added, "You could say I'm the Sailor."

"James", officer Laubach said through gritted teeth, "you really, really, don't want to be shooting off your mouth right now."

James let out a scoffing huff of breath. He knew the drill. He or one of his boys on the team would raise hell, be brought in and placed before Judge Douglas as a formality, mostly to placate the older members of the town who wanted the lads to "buckle down". Each boy would stand before the smiling judge, head bowed in mock contrition, as the "arresting officers" stood nearby ready to drive the lad or lads home after they got their stern talking-to. Invariably, each faux lecture would end with a compliment on the last meet, an inquiry about upcoming challengers, and a wish of good luck for the next meet. Damage control crews of police, firemen, and whomever else was on hand always swept in behind the boys to clean up their mess. James had been through it all before. As long as the Sailors kept winning meets, they'd also go free no matter what they did outside the pool. Tonight would be no different.

Officers Laubach and Auden took James by the arms and gave him a good shove through the double doors that led to the main courtroom. James was caught off guard by the firm grasp of the policemen and was easily pushed into the court. "We're real sorry about this, son", Laubach said under his breath.

As the doors swung closed behind the startled James, he heard Laubach add, "Poor kid." and Auden's reply, "We knew one of 'em had to be first."

James stood at the back of the courtroom, uncertain what to make of his situation. Normally, one or both of the arresting officers would accompany him inside for his obligatory scolding, not send him in solo and then take it on the lam. Was James supposed to just slip out on his own? He wondered if perhaps things had become so lax that they'd done away with the appearance of him being reprimanded altogether. But if that were the case, they wouldn't have seemed so nervous about James's fate.

Y'better get all the way up here in front of the bench, sonny."

James started, realizing he wasn't alone in the room. At the head of the courtroom, just to the right of the judge's bench stood an impressively-built, tall black man in a bailiff's uniform. He stared at James with a mixture of curiosity and contempt as he absently scratched at the inside of his ear with his little finger. With his other hand, he gestured for James to come closer.

"I mean it", the bailiff said. "You best get on up here and be ready for his honor. And keep a respectful tongue in y'head, if you know what's good for you."

James walked cautiously up to the head of the empty courtroom. Usually by now, Judge Douglas was already sitting at the his bench, or more often, he'd be sitting at his desk in his chambers to speak to James or one of his equally troublesome buddies in a more casual setting. This whole setup was far too foreboding to James in its formality. "What in hell's going on here, anyway?", James asked.

"You got yourself in it pretty deep is what's going on", the bailiff answered. A door opened just beyond the courtroom. "Now stand straight and look like you're sorry, whether you are or not. Here he comes."

Before James could ask who was coming, the side door opened and in strode a man in black robes who was obviously the judge. The man moved with a purposeful stride up to the bench where he took his seat. James couldn't tell how old the man was, but he was well over 50. James thought the man was 80 if he was a day, although the way he moved indicated a man far younger than that. His features, however, did not. The judge was bald, with a large beakish nose upon which rested thick glasses, and a brow so furrowed it looked as if it would never straighten out again. Just sitting at the bench, the man exuded an air of dignity and no small sense of power. He picked the arrest report and looked it over with a glare that nearly bored through the paper. Then he glanced disdainfully at James, then back to the report. He had the presence of a man to be respected and obeyed, if you were aware enough to pick up on it. James was not.

"So who the hell are you?", James blurted. The bailiff closed his eyes and gritted his teeth as if he'd suffered a sever cramp.

The judge peered over the top of the arrest report with fire in his eyes. He spoke with a deep, resonant voice of a man half his age. "Excuse me?" The question was a rare thing from this judge. He was giving the offender the chance to back peddle and apologize, or at the very least rephrase. But again, one had to be sufficiently aware to pick up on it. And this was still James we were dealing with, here.

"Where's Judge Douglas?", James demanded. "He handles all this stuff. He should be here. Why don't you go get him so we can get this show on the road?"

The bailiff signalled to James with waving hands and wild eyes that the boy had better silence himself. Some of the bailiff's signaling actually caught James's eye, but the star athlete chose to ignore it. His mistake.

The judge set the arrest report down and adjusted his glasses. "Your friend Judge Douglas is not here, my boy. And he is not going to be here any longer. I am the honorable Judge Lietermann. You will be dealing with me now. If you are smart, which I very much doubt, this will be the last time that you deal with me. Now, to business." Judge Lietermann leaned forward, interlacing his fingers. "Young man, do you know why you are here?"

"Besides as a fucking waste of time, you mean?", James scoffed. "Dude, I don't think you realize how things work around here. You're new in town, so I'll cut you some slack, but I'm guessin' that even if you've been here for five minutes, you've heard of the Bay Harbor swim team. Well, I'm the captain. That's enough said, right there."

"It is MORE than enough said!", Judge Lietermann howled. The ferocity of his tone made James jump. "When addressing this court, you will refer to me only as "judge" or "your honor" or "SIR"! Do I make myself clear, captain?" He spat out James's title with venom.

"Yeah, you should switch to decaf", the boy muttered under his breath. James was shaken, but not enough to keep his big mouth shut.

"I have excellent hearing, son", Judge Lietermann said, indicating he caught James's remark. "Another comment made out of turn and I will hold you in contempt of court. I will cease these proceedings and have you locked up immediately for however long I see fit. Do not test me on this." James saw the intensity in the judge's eyes and then glanced over to the bailiff for some kind of reassurance. The bailiff only nodded, indicating that his honor most certainly meant business. James swallowed hard, gulping back another caustic comment. The judge picked up the arrest report again and read aloud.

"Destruction of private property. Reckless endangerment. Disturbing the peace. Grand theft auto." The judge set the paper down. "These are just some of the charges against you. Do you have any idea of the severity of your situation? Because I get the distinct impression that you do not."

James realized that this new judge was taking things way too seriously. He clearly needed a quick education on life in Bay Harbor. "Whoa, whoa, whoa!", James said. "Dude, you gotta chill, man! I was just--" The judge's hard glare could've impacted physically with James's forehead. "Sir!", James corrected. "I mean, sir, judge, your honor! Sir, your honor, it was all just fun, man. I know the guy who runs the auto showplace. It'll be cool, I promise. It was all just--" James searched for the phrase. What did Judge Douglas always call it? "--it was just high spirits, that's it!" James smiled broadly, pleased with himself for recalling the wording his previous warder used prior to setting him free to cause more mayhem.

"All I was doing was celebrating, that's all. It just got a little out of hand." James leaned forward a bit, as if sharing a bit of information that the judge should have already had and sorely needed. "Didn't you know we just totally won a meet tonight?"

The judge stared at James for a moment and then extended one hand. James approached the bench, certain that this new guy was going to shake his hand in congratulations. Instead he said, "I need to see your driver's license." James was thrown for a moment by the request, then surmised that the judge merely wanted to confirm the athlete's identity. James nodded, pulling out his wallet and handing over the small piece of plastic.

Judge Lietermann took James's license, then pulled out a massive pair of shears and cut the license into little pieces. James cried out, "Hey!"

"You may kiss your license goodbye" the judge ruled. "From now on, you can get around via the sidewalk or the bus. I will circulate word to all police officers that you are deprived of your license and if you are seen behind the wheel of anything larger than a go-cart, you will be arrested and put in jail."

James was incredulous. "You can't do that!"

The judge leaned closer to James and spoke in very even tones. "Sonny, I am the man who presently holds your entire future in his hands. I can do anything right now and you would do well to get it through your head." James took a few steps back, beginning to register how hardcore this man was. Slowly, he backed away from the bench and turned to walk away. "Where do you think you're going?", the judge called. James turned and looked back. What could be next? Hadn't he just been punished? Weren't they done? "I am not through sentencing you. You will stand before me until such a time as I release you."

James let out a defeated sigh. "No way. There's more?"

The judge jabbed a finger at the floor before him. "Come. Here."

James shuffled back, shoulders sagging and head starting to hang low. Once in position, he said in what he hoped was a respectful voice, "Yes, your honor?"

The judge nodded, satisfied that some of this seemed to be penetrating the arrogant athlete's thick skull. "The destruction of your driver's license was only the beginning of your punishment. You have committed several crimes with apparent conscious awareness of what you were doing and total disregard for your transgressions, to say nothing of the safety and property of others." The judge paused for effect. "For that, you will have to pay a debt to society."

James felt his heart begin to beat faster. "Your honor, please. Wait a minute." The judge shot James a warning look. James amended his statement quickly. "Your honor, can I say something?" The judge gave a curt nod, indicating the boy could continue. "We do this kind of stuff all the time, me and the team, I mean. I swear to God, it's cool. We Sailors kick ass in the pool, win lots of trophies, and as payback we get to do stuff most regular, boring folks don't. It's all good, I promise you. That's just the way things work around here. Sir."

The judge looked at James with a mixture of fascination and disgust. "Is it, now?"

"Oh, yessir. That's just the deal. Nobody ever gets hurt. It's just--", James searched for the right words to capsulize the concept. "--we're the Sailors, man."

"I compliment you on what I'm sure you felt was a very compelling argument, my boy", Judge Lietermann said. "You're still going to be punished."

James spluttered. "What? Whuh--but--why? What for??"

"For the crimes which I have listed, to say nothing of the absolute arrogance and presumption by which you obviously live your life, you will now undergo sentencing", the judge announced.

James's mind scrambled for a way out. "Your honor! If you throw me in jail, you will totally, and I mean totally, get major grief from everybody for what it'll do to the team. Seriously, I'm not just saying that to save my own ass, I'm thinking of you, now!"
"How considerate." The judge continued, "Unlike in the past, the police page of tomorrow's newspaper will include a full report of your arrest and the crimes of which you are guilty. It will also include a photograph of you not smaller than 3x5 inches so that everyone can see the face of the criminal in question." James felt his stomach knot. It was hard for him to imagine anything more embarrassing than this, nor the razzing he'd no doubt get for it at school. To be the only Sailor to raise hell and not get away with it.

James looked at the floor, waiting for the judge to give his final words of admonishment so he could leave. But then the judge added, "And as for your personal sentencing--"

James looked up, horrified. "What, there's more?"

The judge furrowed his brow. "Of course there's more, boy. You are guilty of a number of serious offenses."

James began to plead. "But I already told you--if you put me in jail--!"

"I'm aware of what you said. I have no doubt I would indeed be set upon if I locked you away as I think you so richly deserve. However, I have something else in mind."

James's mind raced. What would come next after lockup? "Dude, judge, I can only do so much community service before it would eat into my practice time. The coach would be pissed--my performance in the pool would suffer--you'd be right back to where you'd be with the whole jail thing--!"

The judge slammed his gavel down. The harsh crack of wood on wood cut through the courtroom and silenced James. This was the first time the judge had used it. It was, in fact, the first time James had ever heard the strike of a gavel. It frightened him.

"I am well aware of how you and apparently everyone else in this town thinks that thinks work around here. I know how difficult it can be to change the mindset of a community that has been mired in years of tradition and favoritism, regardless how twisted and misguided. I also know that you will be made an example of, James Scott Nathaniels, captain of the Bay Harbor swim team." The judge nodded to the bailiff. "Please escort the prisoner into the next room so that we may continue these proceedings and mete out proper justice through a fitting a sentence."

The muscular bailiff strode over and took James by the arm. "Tried to warn you, kid."

James felt the first tendrils of panic work their way up from his belly into his chest as he was carted away. Helplessly, he muttered, "...but...but I'm a sailor..." Nobody seemed to care.

* * * * *

The bailiff shoved James into a small anteroom which contained only a couple of chairs, a closet, and a full-length mirror. James looked around the room trying without success to determine what could possibly be done to him in here. The bailiff answered that unspoken question with one word.


"Whoa. What'd you say?"

"You heard me, son. Take off all your clothes. Do it right now."

"Wha--what is this? Am I being fitted for, like, a prison jumpsuit or something?"

"Just get a move on, kid. You're in it deep enough as it is. Don't piss off his honor any more than you already have."
James thought to protest, but understood at last the reality of his situation. He was in the judge's domain now, and if James had been told to do something, he had better do it. With growing trepidation, James shucked off all of his clothes. The letterman's jacket, the designer shirt and $300 jeans, the brand new shoes. In moments, he stood humiliated and exposed clad in only his bikini briefs.

"Them too", the bailiff said, indicating James's underwear.

"Oh, no way."

"Yes way. Lose 'em."

Slowly, James peeled off his briefs, tossing them onto the pile of clothes he'd already heaped upon a nearby chair. He caught sight of himself in the mirror, standing with his hands covering his privates, looking stupid despite his impressive physique, shivering more from fear and embarrassment than cold. James eyed the door, waiting for the judge to storm in and stare at him in his vulnerable state of undress.

"He's not coming in", the bailiff said, noticing James's stare. "He sure as hell doesn't want to get a look at you in the altogether." The bailiff took James's clothes and stuffed them into a cardboard box. As he sealed it with packaging tape, the bailiff asked, "What's your address, kid?"

"917 Pinewood."

"Nice neighborhood", the bailiff said, addressing the box with a black marker. Once marked, he tossed the sealed box into the corner. "That'll go out in the morning mail. You'll get everything back, eventually."

"Eventually?", James asked, shivering.

"I've been told to send it out fourth class. You'll probably get your clothes inside a week. Give or take a day." The bailiff walked over to the closet and opened the door, which blocked the view of the interior from James. The bailiff tossed something at James. "Put these on first."

James caught the cotton bundle. It was a pair of what he assumed was underpants. It looked more like white knickers, with pant legs that fell almost to the knee. The pants had no elastic waistband, but rather a button-up front. James was in no position to be particular, and quickly pulled on the cumbersome under garments, buttoning them up as tight as he could get them, which wasn't much. He saw his reflection in the mirror and wasn't certain which was more humiliating; being naked or wearing the clumsy underwear.

"Come on over here and suit up", the bailiff said. With that he threw open the closet door and gestured toward what was inside.
James walked over to the closet and looked at what hung inside. A white sailor's uniform. Bright, crisp, garish and clownlike. "Aw, man", James said. "Please tell me this a joke."

"And it's on you", the bailiff said. "Judge wants you to take it off the rack yourself. Go on." Gingerly, James reached out and took the sailor suit as if it were a snake that might bite him. He looked it over, once again feeling his heart rate increase in speed.

"What's your shoe size?"

James looked at the bailiff. "Huh?" The question seemed to come out of left field.

The bailiff gestured to the floor of the closet, where there were four different pairs of shiny black rubber knee boots lined up. The bailiff repeated. "Your shoe size."

James swallowed. "Um, I wear elevens."

The bailiff picked up the first pair of boots and looked at their soles, discarded them. The second pair, the same. He picked up the third pair, turned them over, nodded, handed them to James. "These."

James nodded absently, taking the large boots in his hands, feeling both their weight and the thickness of the industrial rubber. The bailiff reached up to the top shelf of the closet for something. James stared at the absurd outfit in his hands and though it was apparent he was meant to put the costume on, he was still uncertain what to make of it all. Then he felt something soft pressed upon his head. James looked up, catching his reflection in the mirror, seeing the half-naked athlete holding a bundle of clothes and gigantic boots now sporting a sailor's hat atop his head.

"Go on and get dressed", the bailiff told him. "I'll be right back. Hurry up, now."

James stepped into his new uniform as if he were slipping into something toxic. He had never gotten dressed so slowly and with such reticence, but still he was in full costume by the time the bailiff returned. The large black man wheeled in a cart with an old phonograph player on it. This was a classic wooden record player complete with tin funnel speaker of the kind seen nowadays only in old logos and antique stores.

"Is--is that a gramophone?", James asked.

"Something like that", the bailiff answered. "Here. You'll need this." The bailiff handed James a sheet of paper. Printed upon it were song lyrics. James read:

I'm a little sailor, found far too proud.
I touted my worth way, way too loud.
I once was a bad boy, never did good.
Didn't know how to behave as a real sailor should!
Now I'm properly dressed up nice and neat,
To do my little sailor's dance to the little sailor's beat.
I'll mend my ways and do my best,
To always do good whenever put to the test!
I'll be very much aware of whoever sees me,
I promise to become who I'm supposed to be!
I'll respect my community, and those in charge.
Feel compassion for my mates, let my heart grow large.
I'll be a good sailor now, and come what may,
Will live as such for the rest of my days!

"What the hell is all this?", James asked.

"Your new theme song", the bailiff said. "Now watch." The bailiff opened up what until then James though was simply part of the wall paneling, but now was revealed as a cupboard with a video screen behind it. The bailiff pushed the play button on the console below the screen. The screen flickered to life and its blue screen was replaced by a black background upon which white letters appeared, reading, "SAILOR'S PUNISHMENT JIG". Then there was a black-and-white image of a slender man attired in a sailor's suit identical to James's. The man danced about on the screen, accompanied by no music or sound of any kind.

"What's up with this?", James asked.

"Just keep watching", the bailiff said.

James did, and watched as the man hopped and skipped through a foolish routine in which he saluted, placed one hand in the small of his back, stepped lithely in what could have passed for a soft-shoe (but for the large clodhopper boots on his feet), put his hands on his hips and danced about with feet clomping backwards and forwards, then repeated the brief routine again. After two times through the minute-long dance, the screen flickered and the dancing sailor began his jig again. It was apparent that the tape was recorded to loop the dance routine over and over again.

"So go ahead", the bailiff urged.

James looked at him, puzzled. "Go ahead what?"

"Do the dance. Follow what he's doing, and mimic it exactly."

"You've gotta be fucking kidding m--", James started, but saw the serious expression in the bailiff's eyes and stopped himself. Sighing, James resigned himself to this ridiculous punishment and did his best to follow along with the man on the screen. It took James ten minutes and as many run-throughs before he finally got the hang of it. After which, he turned to the bailiff and said, "There. I danced the jig. Can I go now?"

The bailiff seemed distracted, digging at something in his ear. Then he answered, "Not even close. Look at your lyric sheet." James looked at the piece of paper in his hand. He'd forgotten he even had it. He pointed to it, eyebrows raised. This? The bailiff nodded, then put the needle down on the old phonograph. A scratchy male voice with an air of the 1920s came out of the record player, singing the lyrics which were printed upon the paper James held. The music carried a clichéd nautical tone, reminiscent of an old Popeye cartoon. The scratchy voice sang through the 14 stanzas, then fell silent as it was followed by the instrumental accompaniment alone. James didn't get it.

The bailiff got James's attention by saying, "Hey!" James looked up and the bailiff padded his thumb and fingers together like a mock puppet. "Go on, kid. Sing."

James looked horrified at the concept, but resigned himself to the humiliating fate. So he sang the idiotic song first along with the vocalist and then on his own. At the end of this rendition, the needle would automatically lift off the thick vinyl record and go back to begin again.

"How long do I have to do this??", James said, exasperated.

"You got 20 minutes to get that song down", the bailiff said, walking out of the room. "The dance, too."

"Then what??", James pleaded.

The bailiff turned back to look at James. "How's that?"

"Than what? What happens after I learn the song and dance?"

"Then you do it for the judge", the bailiff said. Then, in a warning tone, added, "And he'd better like your performance."

The door closed with a disturbing finality and James frantically threw himself into his music lesson with great earnest. Over and over he repeated his lyrics while hopping about on one foot and then the other, his hand in the small of his back, "I'm a little sailor, found far too proud. I touted my worth way, way too loud..."

* * * * *

James was escorted back into the courtroom by the bailiff. To say that his demeanor had changed from one of a pompous prince of privilege to that of a contrite chastised schoolboy was putting it mildly. The judge was hard at work with some legal papers, which he shuffled about, scribbled upon, and tucked away in manila folders. James was anxious to be done with whatever little performance he was to be called upon to do, but opted to err on the side of caution and kept his mouth shut. Instead, he just stood there, in costume, hands behind his back, waiting. He wondered if perhaps he shouldn't take off his sailor's hat in the judge's presence. Fearful of incurring his honor's wrath by discarding any part of his costume, James left it on. Three minutes later, the judge looked up, but not at James.

To the bailiff, the judge said, "Is he ready?"

"I believe so, sir."

"Fine." Judge Lietermann tossed down his pen. "Wheel in the phonograph player." As the judge turned his head to watch the bailiff go, James caught sight of a rather enormous hearing aid plugged into the judge's right ear. James was amazed he hadn't noticed it before. In another moment, the bailiff came back with the cart and the old-fashioned record player.

Judge Lietermann looked down upon James. "Have you learned your song and your sailor's jig, Mr. Nathaniels?"

"Yes sir, your honor", James answered in what he hoped was a respectful tone. "I think so, anyway. I tried."

"We'll see", the judge said, unconvinced. He sat back, and signalled to the bailiff to put the needle on the record. "Please begin, Mr. Nathaniels."

James let out a deep breath and began his routine, feeling like a complete imbecile. He had never felt like such a fool and yet felt so determined to get something right. James danced as if his life depended on it. For all he knew, considering this unstable judicator, it did. He sang, "I'm a little sailor, found far too proud.

I touted my worth way, way too loud.

I once was a bad boy, never was good.

Didn't know how--"

"Did", the judge stressed, stopping James's performance.

James halted, uncertain what he was being told. The bailiff took the needle off the record. "What? I'm sorry sir, did what?", James bumbled, confused.

"They proper lyric is "Never DID good". You said never was. It's "did". Do it again. From the beginning."

James swallowed. "Yes, your honor. I'm sorry. I'll fix it."

"And sing out", the judge reprimanded. "Loudly, with conviction. Think about what you're singing. These aren't just words, they mean something. Convey that."

"Yes, sir. I-I will. I'm sorry."

"Don't be sorry, do it right! Again!"

James began again, his knees knocking a bit, throwing off his stride. "I'm a little sailor, found far too proud.

I touted my worth way, way too loud.

I once was a bad boy, never did good."

The judge leaned forward, his eyes intense. "Louder!"

"Didn't know HOW to BEHAVE as a REAL sailor SHOULD!"

"Step livelier! This is a jig, not a funeral march!"

James forced more energy into his dance steps, trying to look jolly even as he panted from fear. Hopping about, he continued, "NOW I'm properly DRESSED up NICE and NEAT, To do my little sailor's DANCE to the little sailor's BEAT!"

"No, no, no! Do it AGAIN!!"

It was some forty-five minutes later and what seemed to James to be countless run-throughs of the degrading and dehumanizing little sailor's dance routine before the judge was finally satisfied enough to let him stop. James was spent. The song and dance had not tired him physically. As an athlete in peak condition, dancing an old-fashioned jig could hardly make him break a sweat. Yet he was sweating, entirely from stress, and he felt emotionally drained. He silently thanked God that the judge appeared satisfied with his performance (he had insisted on three consecutive flawless run-throughs). James knew if he were made to sing and dance again, he'd collapse.

Judge Lietermann sat silently for a while, eyeing the tired and frightened James Nathaniels. "I know your type, child. You have a taste of fame, a glimmer of promise as the big sports hero and you grow accustomed to getting whatever you want, doing whatever you want, and having all around you gaze upon you in abject awe. Is that right?"

James knew it was. He lowered his head. "I suppose so, sir."

"Do you think anyone who could see you in this courtroom tonight would be in awe of you now?"

James felt the thick cotton of his uniform, the sweat soaked down his back which also held the sailor's hat tight to his brow. He felt the sweat puddling inside his rubber boots and collecting around his bare feet. He could still feel himself hopping around, making ridiculous hand gestures and singing that demeaning song. An object of awe? He had been reduced to an object of ridicule. James let out a sigh, knowing how foolish he looked. How foolish he was.

"No", he said softly. "No one would be in awe of me now."

The judge's eyes squinted partway and he licked his lips. "However humiliated you think you feel right now, son, is nothing compared to what you'll be experiencing tomorrow. And the next day, and day after that, and for however long I say you are to obey this ruling."

James just stared at the judge, unsure what that threat was supposed to mean. The judge said nothing by way of explanation, but only stared back with glowering eyes. "Your honor", James said, taking care to keep his tone respectful, "Am I supposed to come back here and do this little dance for you every day now?"

The judge began to smile. It was a frightening thing to see. "You like that little sailor uniform you're in, young man?", he asked. "Answer truthfully or I will hold you in contempt."

James knew by now that this man did not make idle threats. So he swallowed once, then answered honestly. "Sir, I really do not like wearing this thing at all. I feel like a complete idiot."

The judge leaned forward in his bench. "Get used to it."

The Swim Team

"Holy shit, James", Tom gasped. "The judge ruled that you had to wear that sailor suit every single day?"

James sighed. "Every day until he tells me otherwise." James ran a hand through his hair, feeling anew the exhaustion of the night before simply by reliving his tale. "And it gets worse", he added.

"How the fuck could it get worse?", Adam asked, astounded.

"I really do have to report to the court house every weekday and do the little song and dance. They're keeping a record of it. On weekends I have to do for my parents. My folks have to sign these papers testifying that I'm doing it, too. Or they get hit for perjury."

"For Christ sakes, why don't they just lie for you, man?", Eric asked.

"Someone from the courts comes by for random checkups. They can show up whenever, unannounced. I am so screwed."

Gordy rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Okay, so it's not like your dad doesn't have some pull with the city council. Why doesn't he make a few calls and--"

"Fuckin' shit, man!", James spat. "I tried that already. Don't you think I would'a tried that?!"

Gordy frowned. "So what happened?"

"All I know is what I saw when my dad got off the phone", James said. "You ever see the blood drain from somebody's face? Not pretty. Whoever this judge guy is, I kinda think he can do anything he wants."

"But he can't throw your ass in jail", Tom challenged.

"He can do anything else, though", James countered, indicating his new attire. James leaned in close to share something confidentially with his teammates. "Whatever the deal is, our man Judge Douglas is gone. This new Lietermann guy is a total hardass. He knows enough not to try to dismantle the swim team, but for whatever reason, he fuckin' hates us."

Jeremy looked his beloved captain up and down. "And it looks like he means business."

The bell sounded, ending the lunch period. James lingered a moment, then had to stand, putting his hat back on his head. He and his posse of champion swimmers left the cafeteria, and not even the quintet of imposing muscleboys could stop all the laughter, snickering comments, and pointing fingers.

* * * * *

James felt better at swim practice at the end of the school day. He and his teammates walked out of the locker room and into the pool area dressed identically. For the first times since his sentencing, James had a legitimate excuse to remove his sailor suit uniform other than when sleeping or bathing. Leaving his sailor costume stuffed in his locker, James breathed easier and certainly walked taller. It was as if he had set down a very heavy weight he'd been dragging around for hours. James found he felt less exposed when nearly naked in his Speedos than he did when in the sailor's uniform.

As was their own tradition, the six heroes of the swim team waited until everyone had changed into their swim trunks so they could all walk out to the pool together. The other, less celebrated, members of the team already waited out by the pool. They knew their place and knew that each day the six champs would come out last so they could make an entrance. This day was no different, although before departure James' five followers patted their captain on the back and flashed him supportive smiles once they saw him out of his forced uniform and back into his swim suit. Cruel hard case judge or not, nothing could touch them here.

The six boys strode out of the locker room, with James in the lead as usual. They strutted out on the mopped and polished tile floor, aware not only of their reputations as swimming champions but also of their beautiful bodies. Each boy, be he powerfully built like Tom or trim like Gordy, had very toned musculature. Their physiques were extremely apparent now, their smooth bodies shaved of all body hair, their muscle definition standing out as they walked. Dressed only in tiny, snug red Speedos, the swim team moved like an undefeated military force rather than a group of school athletes. Which, given how seriously the town took their swim team, was not far from the truth. A few girls and even a couple boys lingered in the bleachers to one side of the pool. Many brought along their books and binders under the pretense of doing their homework at poolside, but everyone present came to watch their heroes practice. The six boys made a game of pretending not to notice, yet would occasionally cast a glance and a smile at the young ladies watching.

"Nathaniels!" The voice of Coach Brady caught the attention of the team. Each boy instantly took his place at starting positions. James walked up to the coach, perhaps the only authority figure he treated with any measure of respect.

"Yeah, coach?"

"I understand your shenanigans last night earned you a new fashion statement."

James could feel himself blush. "Yeah. We've got this new judge in town. It was his idea."

"His ruling, you mean", Coach Brady corrected. "At least this fella's got a sense of humor, anyway." James tried to smile, deciding not to share with his coach that this new judge was anything but humorous. The coach gestured to the far end of the bleachers. "Anyways, this judge of yours sent a pal of his over to see ya. Go see what he wants and make it quick. We've got lots to cover today."

James looked over and saw, seated just past a cluster of giggling girls, was a thin man with even thinner hair. He was dressed in a dark striped suit, vest and all. He looked like an accountant and watched the swim practice proceedings with furtive, darting eyes behind circular, wire-rimmed spectacles. "Sure, coach. I'll see what he wants." James walked over to the man in question, striding past his female admirers, not at all bothered by the fact that his miniature swim suit very blatantly framed his package. Each girl chittered and squealed as their team's captain (and his package) passed just inches before them. James made no notice of his cheering section and walked right up to the man in the three-piece suit. "So what do you want?"

The furtive man looked up at the muscular swim champ, clearly unimpressed. "Judge Lietermann sent me. It occurred to him that while swimming, you cannot wear your sailor suit. This bothers him."

"Yeah, so? I'm not swimming in that fuckin' suit, buddy."

The man blinked at James, still unmoved by him or his bravado. "I wouldn't imagine so. But you will wear these." The man opened a small brief case and produced a set of military dog tags. He held them close to James, who fingered them, reading the engraving upon them. James let them go as if they'd stung him.

"You have got to be fucking kidding me, man."

"I don't believe I am. You are to wear these at all times. ALL times. So that even when it cannot be helped that you have to remove your sailor suit, you be reminded of your wrongdoing and the reason for your sentencing." He stared at James for a heartbeat, looking into his eyes to see if his statement had registered with the pompous young man, then he spoke again. "Bow."

"Say what?"

"I have been instructed to place these dog tags around your neck personally. Bow."

"Dude! Right here, in front of everybody? The girls are watching--Can't we go in the locker room, or--??"

"Bow your head right now or I will report this offense against the court and you will face additional charges of --"

"Okay, okay! Alright already! Jesus, don't do anything else, just--" James looked around. All eyes in the pool room were on him. His teammates, the coach, every student in the bleachers, male and female. James let out a sigh and bowed at the waist. Under his breath he said, "Please just make it fast, man. This is embarrassing."

"It is meant to be." With painful slowness, the man gingerly draped the dog tags around James's neck. He fiddled with them, straightening them, even rereading the engraving, as if the letters could have somehow altered by being placed around the young athlete's neck. He was drawing the process out for maximum humiliation. It worked. When he finally let go, James stood up and stepped back rapidly.

"We done here?", James snapped.

"For now. But be advised that I have been assigned to visit the school and observe your practices regularly. It has already been cleared with your school principal. So I would advise against removin--"

"I'll leave the tags on. Christ." James walked back to rejoin his teammates. This time the stares and gawking of the other students on the bleachers were not those of admiration and flirting. The girls shared suspicious whispers and the boys shook their heads.

At the end of the bleachers, the man in the suit spoke into a tiny cell phone. "Yes, your honor. Yes, he has them on now. Oh, I'm quite sure he understands that."

Coach Brady pointed to James' dog tags as his team captain took his starting position. "Dammit, Nathaniels, no jewelry while swimming. Lose the--"

"Court order, coach." James kept his eyes straight ahead, looking at the other end of the pool, not wanting to meet his coach's stare. Coach Brady let out a heavy breath. James' situation was suddenly less amusing now that it could potentially affect his performance. Coach Brady shot the man in the suit a venomous look. The withering glare that could cow the most powerful school athlete had no affect on the representative of the court.

Since by now everyone was staring at either James or the man in the suit, the swim captain hollered out to him, "This thing is gonna make me move slower in the water. Resistance. You know that, right?" He jabbed a finger at his dog tags.

The man remained unshaken. "Then I suggest you swim faster."

The coach gestured to the boys to get ready to begin practice, and they yanked on their tight caps. James' face was almost as red as his Speedos. Eric stood closest to James. He reached over and gingerly lifted the twin dog tags and read their inscription. The first one read:


The second tag had a shorter engraving, which read:


"Well, now they're just being mean", Eric said.

James pulled his goggles over his eyes and commented, "At least it can't get any worse."

Eric was about to share a supportive joke in response when in dashed the gangling blond kid from the school paper, Devon. Too small and uncoordinated for the swim team or water polo, Devon turned his talents to writing for the school paper. His favorite topic was the swim team, whom he admired as if they were a pantheon of new gods. All that Devon wanted to be in life was James Nathaniels. His every review and report of the team's efforts and successes read like love letters. He stood in the doorway with laptop in hand, looking down the line of his heroes, bodies tensed, muscles rippling, ready to begin their practice. His eyes lit upon the tags draped about his champion's neck. He then looked to the bleachers, his eyes scouring for anything unusual, and saw the man from the court. He looked back to James, mouth agape. This couldn't be happening. Not to his hero.

As the swimmers bent down in their preparatory crouch to launch themselves into the pool, Tom said, "Your fan club's here."

James shook his head. "I really do not need that little geek right now." He glanced back at Devon, whose eyes looked like those of a puppy that had just been kicked by its beloved master. James looked back to the pool, trying to focus on practice. He blew a harsh exhalation from his lips. "Shit."

At the sound of the whistle, the six boys dove into the water. Devon's heart went with them.


* * * * *


James walked briskly into the locker room after practice. His pace was more that of a speed walker than a swimmer who'd just given his all doing speed laps in the pool. His five-man inner circle followed closely behind him, with the other team members keeping a more casual pace behind them. Scampering at full tilt at the back of the line was Devon.

"S'cuze me, guys. S'cuze!" Devon pushed his way past the bulk of the team in order to get to James. "James!", he called to him. "Wait up! I need to talk to you! Newspaper!"

Adam rolled his eyes and spoke out of the corner of his mouth to his team captain. "He's been dogging us for the last couple years for his column and he still thinks he needs to tell us he's on the newspaper."

Devon reached James, panting. "James! I heard about what happened. About the whole judge's ruling--and I saw that guy at the pool. Was he from the courts? Who was he? Why did he make you wear those dog tags?"

James held up a hand to silence the overeager newspaper student. "Dev, not now, okay? I want to shower up and I so do not want to wait until after I've given you an exclusive or something, alright?"

Devon immediately looked shamefaced. "Oh, right. I'm sorry, man. It's just, you know, I have such support for the team, and I want to make sure your story is told--I mean, from your point of view. So everybody knows the truth--"

James put a hand on Devon's shoulder to calm him. "Buddy, I get it. And we appreciate that you're behind us and everything, but just give us a minute here, okay?"

Devon looked around the locker room and was suddenly a bit self conscious that everyone else present was wearing nothing but snug Speedos. "Sure. Sorry. I just didn't want you to get away without knowing I was here--"

Tom muttered under his breath as he spun the combination on his locker. "How could he not, you're practically his fucking shadow."

James ushered Devon to the door. "Just wait in the hall or something, okay? You'll get your story, I promise. If not now, then later."

"Later? Later, like after you've showered and dressed or later tomorrow or later like as in--"

Devon got shoved out the door and James turned back toward the showers, letting out a heavy sigh. "Jesus."


It was twenty-three minutes later when the door to the locker room finally opened and the six primary team members made their exit. Devon had timed it. He had planned to give them a full half hour before going in to investigate the delay. Devon had been sitting upon the small radiator which lined the windowed hallway outside the pool area. He leapt to his feet when he saw his heroes appear, James in the lead. Devon saw that in addition to his court-ordered dog tags, James was indeed clad in an all-white sailor's uniform, with little white hat and big black deck boots. Devon's eyes widened and his mouth fell slack. His lower lip quivered a little.

"It's true..."

James caught sight of Devon's pained puppy dog look and put his fingers up to his eyes, rubbing the bridge of his nose in irritation. "God, I really do not need this right now", James mumbled to himself.

Devon stepped up to James and asked, flabbergasted, "How could this happen? Why do you have to wear this thing? For how long?" Devon reached into his pocket and pulled out a digital camera. Lifting it up, he clicked the camera on to get a picture of the team captain in his sailor costume. Tom hollered at him.

"Whoa! Whoa, there, newsboy! You wanna put that thing away?"

Devon wasn't sure why he should. "But-but people need to see what's been done to the leader of their school swim team--!"

James placed a hand over the lens of the small camera. Forcing a smile, he said, "You know, Devon, I thought I'd be up to an interview with you after practice and all, but I'm not so sure that's a good idea right now."

Devon looked heartbroken. "But you promised."

The other five guys snickered, amused by Devon's obsessive devotion to the team, and to James in particular.

"Yeah, I know I did, Dev, and I apologize for that", James admitted, actually meaning it somewhat. "But, you know", and he put an arm around Devon's shoulders, "this is my first day here in this--this outfit", and he gestured to his sailor costume, "and it's been really stressful, and then there was that guy from the court showing up at practice, and practice itself and all--" James let his voice trail off, and then added, "And I'm really kinda beat."

"You want to do this later?", Devon offered.

"You cool with that?"

"Oh, sure! I don't want to pressure you or anything." Devon slipped his digital back into his pocket. "I'll try to catch up with you tomorrow sometime. We can get a picture then."

James rubbed his chin. "Yeah, about that. I'm not sure if photographing me in this court-appointed outfit is such a good idea. I mean, to have the team captain immortalized on film looking like an imbecile..."

A light came on in Devon's eyes. "It would be terrible for school morale."

James pointed a finger at his fan. "That's what I'm thinking!" Then, seeing that Devon may have felt he was being scolded for bringing the camera, James suggested, "You have any other stock photos of me? Like in my trunks at a meet, or in my letterman's jacket?"

Jeremy leaned to Eric, whispering, "He probably has some taped to his bedroom ceiling."

"Oh, yeah!", Devon beamed. "I've got this cool one of you leaning against the lockers in your varsity jacket. You've got your hands in your pockets and your feet crossed at the ankles and you're expression is all--"

"Why not run that one?", James asked.

"With a caption reading, 'How A Champion Is MEANT To Dress'!", Devon said.

"That sounds tight." James let go of his admirer and walked off with his friends, trying to maintain a cool attitude while dressed like a spinach-eating cartoon character.

"So I'll catch you tomorrow then!", Devon called after them. James only responded with an absent wave of his hand. He never turned back as he departed.

Devon sprinted down the hallway to the newspaper room. Despite being well after school hours, it was unlocked and all the lights on. It was practically always unlocked with someone working there, regardless of the hour. Devon entered to find senior student Ramsey Oosdyke, the newspaper's editor, standing behind his large desk at the head of the room, various headline mockups and printed photo images spread out before him as he shuffled them into some semblance of a workable layout. Although most everything for the school newspaper was computerized, Ramsey still liked to lay out printed pieces of the front page "the old-fashioned way" as he called it. It made the process seem more official. He looked up when he saw Devon enter. Dev sat down on the classroom desk in front of Ramsey and pulled his digital camera out of his pocket. Gingerly, he set it upon the desktop before him.

"Tell me you got pictures of that dickhead Nathaniels in his sailor jammies", Ramsey sneered. Ramsey spoke around a well-chewed ballpoint pen which he had a habit of keeping clenched in his teeth while he worked.

"Not exactly", Devon said.

Ramsey spit his pen out onto his desk. "Why am I not surprised?? Dammitt, Dev, you chickened out, didn't you?"

"No", Devon insisted, raising an index finger to stress his point, "I did not. I had the camera, he was right there. You were right, he was in the white sailor suit, hat, boots, the whole deal. There was even this guy from the court at the pool before practice who made him wear these dog tags."

"Tell me you at least got a picture of that."

"But then I got to thinking about the good of the school", Devon went on.

"The school", Ramsey repeated, disbelieving.

"Yeah. What would it do to school spirit if the student body saw printed images of their head of the swim team humiliated that way?"

" Devon, they can see him dressed like that in the fucking halls already! And from what I hear, he's gonna be dressed that way for a while!"

"Then why do we need to report it if it's already right there--"

Ramsey grabbed up his jacket from where he'd slung it on the back of his chair. "I don't believe you're real sometimes", he grumbled.

"I mean, we could report it without the pictures, get the real story from James."

"And I'm sure that he'd be so concerned about making sure we get the truth on this story", Ramsey snarled. "The guy's a malicious, self-important asshole and we finally have the chance to show him looking like the fool he really is. Swimming Sailor Finally In Over His Head", Ramsey said, quoting an imagined headline. "The fucker needed to be taken down a peg. Him and his whole tagalong posse."

Devon let out a low breath. "Rams, they gave you a swirley in your freshmen year. It wasn't even the same guys. Let it go."

"It's the same thing!", Ramsey snapped. "Different jocks, but the same team, the same superior posturing. They run this school--and this whole town--like little tin pot dictators. And they live to treat guys like us like crap." Ramsey grabbed his backpack and retrieved his pen from his desk. "And we're doing the story about James being sentenced to wear a sailor suit. End of discussion."

"As long as it's objective and unbiased", Devon conceded, knowing full well he himself was anything but when it came to the swim team.

Ramsey stormed toward the door, sticking his pen back between his teeth. "I swear if Coach Brady didn't think you were God's gift to sports writers I'd can your ass. Lock up when you leave."

Devon watched his friend go, concerned that he'd upset him so, but pleased that their latest conflict over the swim team had ended, at least for now. Devon took his digital camera and went to the back area of the newspaper room. The back area was formerly used as a darkroom, but now that all the photos taken for the paper and yearbook were done digitally, the disused darkroom had been converted to extra storage area, including a small section of private lockers for the newspaper staff.

Devon went to his locker, opened it up and returned the camera to it's shelf. He took a moment, as he always did, to look at the inside of his locker door. Pasted on the metal door was a miniature shrine in photographs to his beloved swim team heroes. The main image was the team photo, with all the swimmers lined up along the edge of the pool. It was the first school photo Devon had ever taken. There were a few nice action photos as well, with the athletes diving into the pool, arms slicing through the water as they made their way swiftly down the lanes, bodies rising up from the water to step onto solid ground again, drops and splashes of water scattering as they moved. Another photo in the collection was one of James and Tom standing side by side, smiling after a pep rally. Just looking at that one made Devon smile, too.

Before closing his locker, Devon did what he only did when he was the sole person in the newspaper room. He reached up and pulled gently at the top border of the team photo. Unlike the other images which were fastened to the locker with tape, the top edge of this one was secured with a strip of Velcro. This way, Dev could pull it down and put it back up as he pleased. With the soft tearing noise that Velcro made, the photo peeled downward at Devon's tug. Beneath the team photo was another photo. It was a headshot of James Nathaniel. It was an image Devon had snapped using the digital camera but had never submitted to the paper's image archive. Instead, he e-mailed it to himself at his home computer. It was black and white. It showed James bare-chested, swim goggles hanging limp around his neck, his hair slicked back and dripping, but for a few stray raven locks which fell upon his forehead. James's eyes in the photo looked outward at some undetermined point, his focus sharp. It was far and away Devon's favorite image of the swim team's captain. He had cut the photo into the shape of a heart, it's outermost edges accented with red marker.

Devon traced the edges of the heart shape with his finger. Quietly, he whispered to no one, "He really did look cute in that sailor suit though."

After another moment or two spent with his idol, Devon put the team photo back up, once again obscuring his secret photo. He closed his locker and departed the newspaper room, shutting off the lights and locking the door behind him.

* * * * *

The six swim team members sat in James's living room, drinking. James was allowed to have beer provided he didn't do so out of the house and didn't extend the privilege to any of his friends. That he regularly broke this rule was both well known and totally ignored by his parents, neighbors, and anyone else who anticipated a college athletics scholarship.

"This sucks", Tom grumbled.

"We'd usually be hanging out at Morey's or something", Adam added unnecessarily.

"I'm not going out like this", James said. "It's bad enough everyone in school sees me like this. It's not like I'm gonna advertise."

"Why not ditch the clown suit while you're here at least?", Jeremy asked. "It's not like we're gonna narc on ya."

"They could come by any time and check on me", James reminded him. "I don't want to risk it. So I'm stuck."

Tom put his feet up on the coffee table. "So the judge didn't throw you in jail but with this sailor suit thing, it amounts to the same thing 'cause you're trapped in your own house. It's practically house arrest is what it is."

"And we're stuck here with you, I guess", Eric lamented.

"Maybe that was the idea", Gordy suggested. "Take down our leader, the rest of us go with him."

James pondered that. He set down his beer, looked sternly at his crew. "Screw that. Maybe I got caught this one time. So I'm stuck in this stupid uniform. So what. No way in hell I'm changing who I am. Neither should you. In fact", and he picked up his beer again, "I hereby suggest that all'a you guys go out and raise twice as much hell while I'm forced to put up with this stupid ruling."

Tom perked up. "Like, as a protest?"

"As a testimony", James corrected. "To who we are--and that everyone should stand up and recognize who we are. This Judge Lietermann asshole can change my wardrobe, but he's not gonna change me or how this town sees me."

The six raised their longnecks and clinked the bottles together in agreement. "Here, here!" The Bay Harbor Sailors would be hell raisers until the end.

They just didn't realize how rapidly the end was approaching.

Jeremy's Transgression

The spirits of the swim team were extremely high, in every sense of the word. They had just defeated yet another neighboring town's school swim team in a meet at Riverside High. The rest of the team was climbing aboard the Bay Harbor bus amid whoops and cheers over the Sailors' spectacular defeat of the Raiders. James and the rest of the six elite were inside Tom's massive 4x4 having a little post-game celebration of their own. As soon as the six boys were old enough to drive, they were allowed to drive on their own to the out-of-town meets, provided they arrived on time and were not late returning for school the following weekday. It was relatively well known that it had become a tradition of the boys to stop on their way home for fries, a quick burger, or breakfast platter at the local watering hole or all-night diner, preferably one frequented by their opponents, so the Bay Harbor champs could better make their presence felt.

Even though it was also well known, and well ignored, that the six champions tended to tip a few while on their own, Coach Brady allowed it as he knew that as much as they were hellraisers, they weren't stupid, and always had a designated driver in the bunch. It's not that they cared much for the safety of others, but getting into a wreck due to intoxication would obviously cripple their proficiency in the pool, or more likely, end it entirely. Neither Tom nor Gordy cared too much for drink, anyway, beyond the occasional beer, so in this much the six showoffs displayed that much responsibility, regardless the less than admirable way by which they came by it.

Tonight Tom had been relieved of his position of D.D. by Gordy, who kept both his mind and his eyes sharp in preparation for any altercation with the opposing team should they run into the other swimmers while out carousing. The rest of the boys passed around tiny smuggled bottles of liquor pilfered from Jeremy's father. They were of the in-flight variety handed out liberally in first class business airlines.

"Here's to another success of the best damn swimming champions in the whole fucking universe", Adam crowed, lifting his small bottle.

"And to Jeremy's dad", Eric grinned, "for spending so much time racking up those frequent flyer miles!"

The group responded with laughs and loud agreement, clinking their little pilfered bottles together. Gordy knocked back a ginger beer, the spiciest sodapop he could find which offered enough burn when going down to emulate actual booze without containing an ounce of alcohol. He was still safe to drive without having to sit out the festivities. Even James temporarily forgot about the bright white sailor suit he wore as they guzzled down their complimentary drinks and ripped on the other team. But James noticed that Jeremy, while laughing just as loud as everyone else, was abstaining from imbibing in the booze he himself had stolen.

"Not drinking, Jer?", James asked, puzzling over this.

Jeremy smiled, as if he'd been waiting for the question to be asked. "Nope. Drove my new Testarosa! 512 M. Red. Very red. Why do you think I arrived inside just a minute later than you guys?"

Tom slapped Jeremy on the arm. "Dude! So the parental units finally broke down and got it for you!"

Again, Jeremy grinned. "Wellll...my mom did. I went through the whole thing about not having to drive the family car to formals and all that." He rolled his eyes. "She's a sucker for any sob story about high school formals."

Adam muttered into his little booze bottle. "Well, when that's when your life peaked..." He stared at his half-finished bottle and grimaced. Adam loved the effect of alcohol, hated the taste. Adam set his bottle down.

"So what's your dad say about the new machine?", James asked.

"We'll find out when he gets home from his latest business trip", Jeremy answered. He wriggled his eyebrows comically. The festivities were just getting started and the group had already selected an all-night restaurant frequented by high schoolers where they could show up and show off. James slid out of his seat and prepared to leave.

"Whoa, whoa there, Mon Capitaine", Tom said. "Aren't you comin' with?"

James opened the door and stepped out onto the parking lot blacktop. His rubber boots made an odd "clump"ing noise against the pavement. "Like this?", he said, indicating his court-enforced uniform. "Nah, I'm getting on the bus before it pulls out. I don't want to let anyone from Riverside see the outfit." Tom began to protest, and some of the others began to open their mouths, but James held up an index finger to silence them. He pointed toward another vehicle on the lot, a pickup truck, into which climbed a cluster of the Riverside swim team. James regarded his boys inside the van. "I'll say traveling on the bus'll be for the benefit of the junior members of the team. To boost 'em up on the ride home after a victory." The other elite nodded, liking the sound of it.

James turned toward the bus, which already had its engine revved up and was preparing to roll out. Then he looked back at his pals. "Be sure to let these Riverside chumps know who's boss. And if any of their team gets in your face--"

"We'll give 'em extra shit just for you, man", Tom responded.

James smiled, giving them a quick wave and bounding onto the Bay Harbor bus, surprising both driver and passengers.

As the bus pulled out and headed back home, the remaining five boys toasted James and reinforced their solidarity in staying true to his request to behave as belligerent bastards in his absence. After a few more toasts and lude jokes, the large stash of little bottles was empty. Tom then said one word which usually announced that it was time to head off to the local Denny's or Big Boy, or wherever else they had targeted.


The rest of the group roared their approval. "Yeah!!!"

* * * * *

Tom looked over the menu at the all-night diner and pretended to consider the "Breakfast- Anytime!" page. "Soooo...tell me", he said to the waitress, who appeared to be either of high school age or a recent graduate, "what would be good for a strapping lad to have when he's fresh from a victory over the local swim team?"

The girl rolled her pen back and forth between thumb and forefinger as it hovered over her order pad. "A sense of humility", she deadpanned.

Tom peered over the top of the menu. "Does that come with hash browns?"

Adam and Eric turned to each other, laughing uproariously at Tom's retort. Jeremy and Gordy exchanged a look that said they too thought the jab was funny, but being mutually sober helped them to restrain their reactions.

Across the diner, seven members of the local swim team sat at an adjoining table and booth. All but one wore their letterman's jackets, all seven of them wore expressions of disgust and repressed rage. Whether or not they were friends with the young waitress, the rival athletes had plenty to be steamed about as the five Sailors took every possible moment to remind all within earshot that they had just beaten the local school heroes. And given the way their voices carried, anyone inside the building was within earshot.

Jeremy was in rare form as he found that anything in front of him served as a handy prop to reiterate the Sailors' athletic superiority by visual example. "Ah, a short stack of pancakes", he crowed as the young waitress returned with their orders. "Kind of like a REAL stack of pancakes--but just not quite good ENOUGH!" He turned to his teammates for their agreement. "I mean, they TRY to be a full stack of pancakes, but they don't quite cut it. Poor little underachieving pancakes."

Tom snickered. "They must be Raider pancakes", he said.

"Why, yes, Tom!", Jeremy blurted out. "I think you've hit on something! These runty little weenie flapjacks are actually a short stack of Raiders!" He hollered to the waitress, "Oh, miss! You really gotta rename these thingies the Raiders stack! Miss!"

Across the diner, one of the Raiders team began to rise from his seat, his ears turning red, his hands clenched into fists. Two of his buddies on either side of him slowly pulled him back down into his seat.

Jeremy made a show of pouring the syrup over his short stack of raidercakes. "Ooh! here comes the rich and tasty Sailor syrup to cover the poor little Raiders in a sticky coating of defeat from which they cannot escape! My goodness! Look how much better they seem now!" He shoved a big forkful into his mouth, relishing the taste. "MMMM! It tastes like victory!"

Jeremy continued on that way for the duration of his meal, the other boys laughing along with him, adding comments to punctuate his performance as the opportunity allowed. Diner patrons got up and left in disgust, many changing their orders to takeouts, others just getting up and leaving in mid-meal. An older couple walked into the diner, saw the ruckus that was going on, and turned tail and left. The Sailor boys yocked it up through it all.

By the time the raucous Bay Harbor champs had finished both their plates and their repertoire of insults, the seven impressively-built Riverside students approached their table. The rival swimmers stood before the cackling Sailors like an elite military attack squad; postures stiff, eyes sharp, ready to move in a moment's notice.

"You know we could easily kick your asses", said the tall dirty blond boy who seemed to be their leader.

"Well, it's a shame they don't hold the swim meets in a diner", Jeremy jibed, "because you sure couldn't touch us in the pool." The other Sailors laughed heartily.

The dirty blond took a step forward, but the boy next to him, a boy with chocolate brown hair, touched his arm. The dirty blond stopped, and looked where the brown-haired boy was pointing. Behind the register, the young waitress, now with very tired eyes, was shaking her head. No, guys. Not here.

The dirty blond looked back to Jeremy. "Just be grateful that I care about my town and the people who live here. That's the only thing that's saving your ass right now."

"I'll be sure to send you a Christmas card for that", Jeremy remarked.

The Raiders team turned and left, seething, but showing more restraint than the five ill-mannered Sailors could begin to conceive.

After their rivals had left, the laughter and snide comments of the Sailors was stopped by the sight of a police car slowly circling the diner's parking lot. Jeremy paused in mid-laugh, registering what that black-and-white vehicle could mean to them in an unfriendly town. They could no longer count on manipulating the law in their own town, after all. Jeremy tossed down his rumpled napkin on the table. "Let's go."

Tom led the way to the register, waving their cheque like a tiny banner or page from an autograph book. "Champions departing the establishment! Last chance to get a good look at some real men! Feel free to gawk, don't be shy!"

Still conscious of the police car which had now parked in the lot in direct view of the front door and the register behind it, Jeremy snatched the bill away from Tom and set it down before the tired young waitress. The other boys were amused by Tom's announcement and were a bit put off by Jeremy taking his prop away. As the girl at the checkout rang up their bill, the phone on the wall rang. Tom grabbed the receiver before the girl could respond.

"Hello! Diner where losing swim teams come to be humiliated by their betters! Smoking or non-smoking?" The guys laughed some more.

Jeremy took the phone from Tom and handed it to the waitress. To Tom, he said softly, "Our work here is done." Tom nodded, understanding that it was time to retreat. Jeremy jerked his head toward the door and the boys moved quickly to the 4x4. Jeremy doled out the cash to the girl at the register and she handed him his receipt. Jeremy then pulled out an extra $20 bill and set it down before her as he snatched up a complimentary piece of bubblegum from an open candy dish, neatly popping the sugary pink square into his mouth.

The girl held up the twenty, confused. "My tip?"

Jeremy smiled, chewing his gum. "Next time, root for the winning team." Then he turned to leave.

The girl looked at the sizeable tip and knew it did little to make up for the disruption the Sailor boys caused. She called out, "You could at least apologize for the way you behaved here!"

Jeremy looked back from the door as he walked out. Snapping his gum, he said, "Maybe next time."

In the lot, the five boys from bay Harbor High were already climbing into the 4x4. Jeremy saw that their eyes were fixed on something else. Jeremy saw that it was the police officers who had stepped out of their patrol car. The officers, however, had their eyes on the seven Riverside students who were clambering into a rather worn Chevy van. Jeremy hurried over tot he 4x4, parked beside his new Testarosa.

"Looks like we're in the clear", Tom said. "The cops are more into seeing that the local boys don't start a fight." He reached behind him and produced a baseball bat. "Shall we take the scenic route? Lots of roadside mailboxes around here. And I know the street that most of the swimmers live on." Adam and Eric burst into convulsive laughter from where they sat.

"Better put it away", Jeremy said. Tom looked crestfallen. Jeremy amended, "Nothing says we can't come back later on. For now, head back to town, I'll follow."

"Fair enough." Tom smiled with perfect teeth that were marred only by the malice behind his expression. "Let's ride."

As Tom closed the door behind him and Gordy turned the key, Jeremy leaned in the window. "Do the speed limit this time. Just to be on the safe side." Gordy saluted playfully in recognition.

Jeremy hopped into his 512 M, noting as he pulled out looking behind him, that the policemen, along with the other boys' van, were now gone.


The first several miles were uneventful. All seemed safe and Jeremy began to regret not going along with Tom's suggestion to partake of some mailbox baseball. Jeremy's cell rang. "Yeah?" It was Tom.

"Nothing going on. I think we're good. Gordy wants to know if we can open 'er up."

Jeremy wasn't sure if he should say yea or nay, until the Riverside swim team's beatup van pulled up alongside them, honking their horn and shouting insults, flipping the other boys off. "Look out your window", Jeremy said. "That should answer your question."

It certainly did. Gordy looked out the driver's side window of the 4x4 and sneered, "Oh, you wanna go, sissy boys? You wanna go? Let's go!" Tom leaned over from his side, momentarily blocking Gordy's view in order to shout foul imprecations at the opposing team. The van's engine gunned, small flakes of rust fell away near its sliding side door and a small puff of blue smoke shot from its tailpipe.

From the tailing Testarosa, Jeremy said aloud, "They gotta be daffy if they think they can outrace the 4x4." But then he realized that a drag race was not what they had in mind. The van veered over rapidly and brushed against the side of the Sailors' truck. There was no real impact, but only because of Gordy's quick reflexes at the wheel.

"What the hell's the matter with them??", Gordy gasped.

"We fucking beat their sorry asses is what's the matter with them", Tom mocked, his partial drunkeness preventing him from realizing the seriousness of their situation. Tom leaned over again to shout more taunts out the window. "ASSholes! Muther-fuckers think yer gonna mess up MY truck??" Gordy shoved him back into his seat.

"Dude, not now." Gordy was stronger than he looked and Tom flopped back into place easily.

The beatup van swerved again, savagely, its driver intent on smashing into the polished 4x4. Unlike Tom, the driver of the dilapidated van had no compunctions about damaging his vehicle to run the hated rivals off the road. From behind the on-road carnage, Jeremy swore under his breath, unable to do anything against the van--or simply unwilling, considering his own love for his vehicle. At the moment before impact, though, the van broke suddenly, and as the other two vehicles sped onward, the van drove madly off the road into what appeared to be a grove of trees. Jeremy couldn't understand the reason for this until he spotted a set of headlights in his rearview mirror.

Gordy's cell phone began ringing. It was a special ring, sounding like an emergency alarm, which is precisely what it was. It was the alarm the Sailors used when raising hell in neighboring communities. It meant one thing: cops.

Immediately Gordy slowed the 4x4 down to just below the speed limit. Jeremy kept pace. Eric's cell began beeping. He looked at the incoming text message. "Gordy, dude! Jeremy says get off the road! Quick as you can!"

Gordy was about to snap back a question of "where?" when he spotted an access road only a quarter mile ahead. "Ask and you shall receive." The 4x4 and sports roadster made it safely onto the access road and the police car drove on past them without stopping. Everyone piled out.

"That was just too fucking close!", Tom announced unnecessarily.

"We've got open containers in the 4x4!", Adam said, sounding panicked.

"And there's no way in hell we'd pass a breathalyzer", Eric added.

Gordy and Jeremy exchanged looks, the only sober ones in the group. Gordy furrowed his brow. "Should we just dump all the bottles here?"

Jeremy shook his head. "No. The cops saw us pull over here, whether they stopped to check us out or not. If we dump 'em here, they'll know we're guilty of underage drinking." He paused, thinking. "Grab all the bottles and stash 'em in my car."

"How will that help?", Gordy asked.

"I'm sober, for one, without passengers who aren't. As long as I drive like a little old lady, there's no reason to stop me, no matter how fast my car looks."

Eric piped up. "If those jackasses in the van come back--"

"The van was after you guys", Jeremy said. "Probably a size thing. Big ride after the other big ride. Even if they do draw attention, you got Gordy as your D.D." The boys nodded. Good plan. In moments everything was shifted to Jeremy's Ferrari and the other four were piling back into the 4x4. Jeremy sidled up to the driver's window and said to Gordy, "Goldilocks driving."

Gordy smiled. "Not too fast, not too slow, juuuust right." Jeremy patted the side of the truck and sent them on their way.

Jeremy held back a while to let the 4x4 get ahead of him. That way, the eyes of the police might be more likely to watch the faster-looking car and let the guys get home untouched. Jeremy soon was back on the road, driving nice and easy. One mile under the speed limit. Nothing to worry about. Nothing, that is, until the van with the angry Raiders team reappeared. They sped up alongside Jeremy and continued their torrent of profane outcries, doing their best to smash their van against his new car. Reacting instinctively, Jeremy veered away from the van as best he could to avoid impact, but the van was relentless. In just two more attempted swipes, the boys in the van forced Jeremy off the road in a whirl of dust and gravel, very nearly sending the expensive car into a ditch.

Jeremy leapt form the car and slammed the door behind him. Seven-to-one odds or know, he was going to kick somebody's ass. The Raider athletes poured out of the aged van and surrounded Jeremy. The dirty blond kid who'd confronted him in the diner stood before the champion swimmer, gesturing for the other boys to give them room.

"Pompous ass gets the first shot, dickweed. Or has daddy gotta buy you that too, along with your new car?"

Jeremy smashed his fist into the dirty blond kid's face with astounding force. Blood geysered from his nose and his lower lip. The boy would've tumbled over backwards onto the grass had Jeremy not reached out and grabbed hold of his jacket to catch him. Jeremy reeled his fist back to pummel the boy but was stopped when he noticed something unexpected. The boy he just punched was smiling. Jeremy couldn't imagine why that was. Until he heard the siren.

"Care to tell me what all this is about, gentlemen?" Flashlight beams stabbed at the students but, upon finding Jeremy, lingered in his eyes. "Got reports of some wild driving going on out here", the officer said. Well hell, Jeremy thought, they sure responded fast.

Jeremy caught his breath and said, "These jerks drove me off'a the road! They were gonna beat me up!"

The officer stared with obvious suspicion. "That's not the way it looks to me." The policeman pointed his flashlight beam at the dirty blind boy, who still hung, bloody, from the jacket held by Jeremy. Jeremy let go and the boy fell to the ground with a thud.

"Oh, get up", Jeremy said. "I didn't hit you that hard."

The boy put a hand to his nose, whimpering. "He--he brote by dose--!" When the policeman looked away, the dirty blond boy pantomimed a ferocious laugh at Jeremy.

"We don't take kindly to assault around here, son."

"Assault? They almost frickin' killed me! Almost wrecked my car!"

The second officer was looking over the Ferrari. "This your car, son?" Jeremy nodded. "Awful lot of car for just a high school kid. You didn't steal it or nothing?"

"No, it's mine."

One of the Raiders chimed in, "I dunno, that doesn't look like the old Jetta he drove to the swim meet tonight." His friends laughed.

"You have a reason to switch cars tonight, son?" The flashlight beam went back into Jeremy's eyes.

"No! No, I didn't! I mean, I didn't switch cars! This has always been my ride. These guys don't know what they're talking about."

"Can we see your license and registration, son?", the first officer asked. "Assuming you have that?"

Jeremy pulled out his wallet and snidely tossed his I.D. to the policeman. To the other, he said, "Registration's in the glove box with the insurance card." But no sooner had the officer leaned in to check it out than Jeremy blurted out, "No, wait! Let me get it! It's kind of tucked away behind that--" Too late.

The officer came back from the car with several open airline booze bottles. "You realize its against the law to drive with an open container in your vehicle?"

"There--there's nothing in those!", Jeremy insisted. "And I'm sober! I haven't touched a drop all night! Test me if you want, I'm cool!"

"No need", the policeman said. He picked up one bottle from the floor of the car and shook it. The liquor inside sloshed about. It was clearly still half full.

Jeremy threw his head back in defeat. He muttered one word. "Adam."

"Son, I'm afraid you'll have to come with us", the first officer said, turning Jeremy around and handcuffing his wrists behind his back. He looked at the now very happy Raiders and said, "You all better get on home yourselves now." He shook hands with one of them, and Jeremy saw something he did not like in that. As the rival high school boys departed in their old van, Jeremy asked a question.

"Your local judge isn't prone to cruel and unusual punishment, is he?"

The second policeman smiled amiably. "Now, there's no need for you to worry about something like that", he said. Guiding Jeremy by the shoulder, he directed him to a road sign that was only twenty or thirty feet back from where they stood. In the chaos of being driven off the road, Jeremy had missed it. The officer shined his light on it. The sign read "You Are Now Entering Bay Harbor Welcome!" The policeman patted Jeremy on the shoulder. "We'll see to it you get into the right hands."

Jeremy sighed heavily. "Aw, shit."


Judge Lietermann looked daggers at Jeremy. "Not more than twenty-five feet back into our city and you perpetrate reckless endangerment, assault, driving with an open container in your vehicle--"

"Your honor", Jeremy interrupted, "there were extenuating circumstances. If you'd just let me explain..."

"It seems there are ALways extenuating circumstances with you people", Lietermann spat, and by "you people" Jeremy knew he meant the Sailors swim team. Lietermann smiled his wicked, nasty smile and interlaced his fingers upon his bench. "Do you have any idea what I have in store for you, young man?"

Jeremy looked up and saw the bailiff wheel in the old phonograph James had described. Over one shoulder the bailiff had a garment bag inside which Jeremy imagined was a garish white sailor suit. He sighed. "Yes, sir, I think I know exactly what you have in store for me."

The bailiff brought the garment bag over to Jeremy and unzipped it, revealing its contents. Jeremy blanched. No, he most certainly had not known what was in store for him.

Lietermann pushed his glasses back up his nose. "Get the lad his sheet music."

* * * * *

The next day at school, the kids parted in the hallways for James as he passed. Before, this was a common show of respect for their class hero, but now it was more for people to get a better look at the ridiculous outfit he'd been forced to wear. (That, and no one appeared to want to be seen associating with him.) Even the geeks who were once threatened by James' presence felt emboldened to snicker and point as they walked by. At his locker, James was trying to work his combination but the sound of the snorts, giggles, and whispered jokes were distracting and frustrating him. It took him five tries just to get the lock to work, and once he got the door open he found himself shuffling odd items around inside his locker absently as he tried to recall what he'd gone in there for in the first place. As his focus began to return, the laughter and jibes rose up again, coming from the right. James felt his anger rise, wondering how long it would take these assholes all around him to get their fill of looking and laughing at his ludicrous new uniform. He forced himself not to turn around as the slight chortles became harsh guffaws.

"Uh, James...", a voice spoke from the team captain's right.

James continued to putter around inside his locker. Now that he was stuck in this stupid uniform, it was amazing how much locker space was freed up by absent jackets, sweaters, sunglasses and the like. "Yeah, what?"

"Uhh...we got a problem, Cap."

James now realized the voice was Jeremy's. He was the only swimmer who ever called James "Cap". James kept his eyes in his locker as he rearranged his iPod, his stacks of junk food, and what few books he kept track of. "Yeah? Like what?"

"James, I'm serious man", Jeremy said, his voice pained with desperation. It was only then that James let himself truly register the increase in laughter and snide remarks all around him, being far more so than he had been getting regularly in response to his navy whites. He turned to face his teammate.

"So what's the big prob--" James stopped short and stared at his friend. James felt himself collapse against his locker door, slamming it closed. "Holy shit."

There before James stood Jeremy, clad in his own sailor uniform. But it was nothing like the whites which his team captain wore. Jeremy had on a navy blue sailor suit with a truncated red tie dangling from its collar. Atop his head was an old-fashioned shaft-and-pancake hat with a red fuzzball at its peak. On his feet he wore 17" tall fire engine red rubber boots with broad white top cuffs and matching white soles. his outfit made James's look like something from an Abercrombie ad.

"Whuh--what the fuck, man?", James gasped.

Jeremy sighed. "That judge guy. He got me."

James covered his mouth, looking his friend and teammate up and down. "I'll fucking say he did."


That afternoon, following a thoroughly humiliating day for Jeremy, and by association, for James as well, the boys went to swim practice. As with the team captain previously, the court representative sat in the bleachers not far from the student onlookers, awaiting the second offender's arrival. Coach Brady took Jeremy by the shoulder as he entered the pool area, pointing the athlete in the direction of the court rep. The bespectacled man said nothing, but held up a new set of dog tags and curled an index finger inward to draw Jeremy over so they could be placed around his neck. Jeremy sighed heavily, but complied. Girls giggled and boys sneered as Jeremy bent over, bowing, for the tags to be hung upon him. As he walked back to his starting position, he heard the man from the court speak into his cell phone.

"Yes, sir. Two down."

The words came back to Jeremy after practice when he took his place beside James in the town court building, and did his song and dance for the judge as his sentence dictated. "I'm a little sailor, found far too proud. I touted my worth way, way too loud--"

There was some small comfort felt between the two boys in that they now had to go through the embarrassing routine together.

But it didn't help much.

Eric Makes a Blunder

James and Jeremy took to walking the hallways of Bay Harbor High together. Now that there were two of them who looked like idiots, they thought there might be some strength in numbers, even if that number was only two. They were wrong. Making their way from class to class was a torturous and humiliating experience, and time spent in class was not much better. Their only relief was the lunch hour, where they got some support from their four swim team friends. Evens till, the staring and ridicule James and Jeremy garnered in the cafeteria prompted the six teammates to take their lunches outside to one of the school's courtyards. Slightly obscured beneath the shade of one of the larger trees available, the sextet conversed.

"I'm telling you, I saw an exchange between one of the Raiders kids and the cop who cuffed me", Jeremy explained.

Gordy scrunched his eyebrows. "What kind of exchange?"

Jeremy jabbed at his chicken fingers with a plastic fork. "It looked like a payoff."

Tom sat up a bit straighter at that. "What, in Riverside the kids have to pay off the cops to do their job?"

Jeremy shot Tom a withering look. "The cop wasn't getting the payoff, genius. He was giving it."

Adam drummed his fingers on his lunch tray nervously. "They wanted to make sure the kids would get us to start a fight. Maybe worse."

A light came on behind Tom's eyes. "It sounds like maybe all the cops and stuff in this area are really out to get us!"

James and Jeremy looked at each other, at their uniforms, then at Tom. In unison, they answered, "You think?"

Feeling put upon, Tom picked at his tater tots, mumbling, "Excuse me, man. Not my fault your little suit is even gayer than James's."

Eric let out a long, strained breath and rumpled his sack lunch with clenching fingers. James looked at him, noticed that Eric, always the least hellion of the group, looked very unwell. "Eric, you okay, man?", James asked. "It's okay. We'll get through this."

Adam looked at Eric as well, noting that the blond boy with the soulful eyes looked very nervous. "Dude, you aren't sick or anything, are you? We're gonna need you in the pool later."

Eric kept staring ahead at empty air, nervously clutching and releasing his lunch bag. James snapped his fingers in front of Eric's eyes. "Hey. You okay in there, Eric?"

Eric blinked back to reality. "Hmm? Oh. Oh, yeah. I'm just thinking."

Tom stuffed more tater tots into his mouth. "'Bout what?"

"I can't stop wondering about what's going to happen next." And he thought about that, then rephrased, "About which one of us is going to be next."

James tried to reassure him, "Man, you can't think like that. Who's to say that anyone's even gonna be next?"

"Look at you guys", Eric said. "James, you in that outfit, and Jeremy, yours is even worse."

"Hey, thanks", Jeremy said, "It's been seconds since I dwelled on that. I appreciate the reminder."

"I'm serious!", Eric almost shouted. "We used to always eat on campus because of how everyone treated us when we walked through the cafeteria. We had, like, the star table. Now it's like we're banished outside and, and--" He put his head down. "I just can't stop thinking about what's gonna happen to--to the rest of us." The six boys finished their lunch in silence, while Eric hoped no one gleaned to the fact that while he said he feared what would happen to "the rest" of them, what he meant was "what's going to happen to me".


In the hallway before the next class, the remaining uncostumed swim champs tried to comfort the nervous Eric. "So people think they look like goofs right now", Tom conceded.

"I give it a week and they'll have everyone seeing those uniforms as a badge of honor", Adam offered.

"It's all good", Gordy agreed. "They're still James and Jeremy. It's not like they're suddenly different people."

There was a familiar crash of body against metal that the swim team knew all too well meant someone was being slammed into a locker. Tom smiled, saying to Eric, "See? Business as usual. The guys are probably already reminding some geek who's...boss."

The four Sailors looked in horror to see that it was not some geek, but James who was pressed up against a locker. The geeks were present, but they were the ones standing tall. A scrawny kid cheered his companion, a bespectacled boy with a bad complexion.

"Dude! You freakin' nailed him!"

The other boy, who could have almost passed for handsome if not for the skin problem and the outdated glasses frames, acted surprised. "I barely touched him. It was gonna be a smack on the arm. I was...I was gonna run away."

"I know you, kid", James said, still hunched against the locker. Other students had begun to gather around to watch. "I--I pantsed you at one of our meets. The regionals." James paused, the memory coming back clearly. "It was more than your pants...I-I yanked your boxers down, too. Lots of people saw you..." And he whispered, "Exposed." Then, in a normal voice, "Everybody laughed."

"For weeks", the kid said, emboldened by James's extreme reaction to the light smack on his arm. "There are still kids who call me Pants. Teachers, too."

James, looking all the more timid to be hunched against the locker in his white sailor suit and hat with his big rubber boots, looked at the boy with sad eyes. "I'm so sorry", James said, softly. "It was just supposed to be a little joke."

"At my expense", the boy snarled.

"I'm sorry", James repeated. "I'm so sorry, ---" he groped for the boy's name, realizing he didn't know it.


James swallowed hard. Then he said with great conviction, "I'm sorry I hurt you, Matt."

The boy in the glasses could see that, miracle of miracles, James really did seem to be sorry. More than that, he truly was sorry. Matt waved his hand dismissively, a gesture that indicated that he felt James's sudden discovery of conscience came too little, too late. The crowd that had been laughing and joking about James earlier was now watching in stunned silence. To see their jock hero made to look weak was one thing, but to see him actually being weak was another.

Jeremy, who had been standing nearby during the confrontation, went to James's side and helped him up. James didn't notice Jeremy so much as he noticed the boy in glasses walking away. James called out to him, "Matt, I mean it. I'm really sorry!"

Jeremy patted James on the shoulder. "It's okay, man. Let him go."

"You're as bad as he is!"

That came from the scrawny kid who had been beside Matt. He was pointing at Jeremy. "You helped spread that nickname." Jeremy's expression went blank. His jaw went slack and he shrugged weakly. Had he really? "Look at you! You do all this nasty shit and you don't even remember doing it! You hurt people and then you just blow it off like you don't care! Like we're nothing to you!"

Jeremy felt a wave of regret wash over him. "I--I don't mean to..." He hung his head, unable to look into the eyes of the boy half his size. He stared instead at his comical giant red boots. He felt he deserved them.

The buzzer sounded and the crowd dispersed. The show was over, time for class. Only the six swim team members remained. Tom, Adam, and Gordy watched dumbfounded. Eric was slowly backing up, finding the whole thing too difficult to process. He finally turned and fled the building.

James slid down the locker he'd been leaning against and sat upon the floor. Jeremy, his head still hung in shame, looked down at his team captain. James looked up at his friend and in a searching voice asked, "Jer? Are we bad people?"

The three friends looking on said nothing.


Eric peeled out of the high school parking lot in his blue Mustang as if he were fleeing for his life. In many ways, he was. Eric's mind was reeling from having seen his friend, his captain, brought so low in front of everybody. In so many ways, James was not just Eric's friend, he was his hero. If his hero was helpless in the face of all this, what chance did Eric have?

The blond boy drove fast, not entirely sure where he was going. If he should decide on a destination, the car would take him there. The Mustang was technically Eric's father's, but the young man had driven it exclusively for so long now that the vehicle was like an extension of himself. Whenever Eric had needed time alone, to think or collect himself (which admittedly he hadn't had to do in a while), he'd go to the far shoreline drive across town. Consciously or otherwise, he was driving there now.

Eric's eyes were on the road, but his mind was not. In his head he kept replaying the scene with James nearly down on his knees against the lockers as a science class geek towered over him. He saw the formidable Jeremy cowed before someone whom he could snap in half like a toothpick. He had seen his heroes humiliated and dismantled. And he kept seeing it over and over again on a continuous loop in his mind. Traffic seemed to clog up here and there, but with his body on autopilot, Eric easily maneuvered his way around it, sometimes through it. Eric though he might have heard some harsh comments, even swearing, coming to him dimly from somewhere on the periphery of his consciousness. He ignored it. Whoever was having a problem somewhere else was no doubt engaged in a cake walk next to the trouble facing the Sailors swim team.

The number of lanes reduced the closer Eric got to Shoreline Drive. Colors of fluorescent orange and neon greens melted from his perspective into sailor whites and navy blues. He tried to imagine himself in one of those suits, being forced to walk the hall each day. Laughing faces surrounded him, fingers pointing. Girls who once flocked to his side jeered and turned away. The respect he fought so hard to command deteriorated to shame and ridicule. Familiar wimpy geeks grew bold amidst the laughter and scorn and pushed him around the school halls like a pinball. Eric's hands gripped the wheel and he tried to shake off the overpowering images of his peers and teachers howling with derisive laughter. In the end, he was successful. He finally saw something else. A screaming construction worker from a road crew. He saw him too late. Then he saw sand. Lots of it. Again, too late.

Eric's Mustang ran full bore into a huge mound of sand and rode upwards against like a ramp. Sand flew everywhere and workers dove to the sides as Eric's car launched over the sandy barrier and came crashing down amidst ponding water and fractured highway.

As the dust cleared and the water ran down the sides of Eric's car and into the open windows, the frightened blond boy blinked furiously and gasped for breath. He had no idea what had happened. One moment he was driving to his favorite spot to think and the next moment he was splashing down like a space capsule. Eric tried to open his door but it was held tight against wet sand and chunks of blacktop. So he leaned out his window and looked in the direction from which he had come. For what seemed to be at least four miles back, road construction crews lined the roads, hard at work. Green vests with reflective tape were across every back, along with similarly colored hardhats. Orange hazard cones kept traffic separate, or at least they were meant to until Eric had barreled right over the top of them. Diamond-shaped movable signs warned of construction ahead and screamed the word "SLOW" in three-foot tall letters. Eric could see at least four such signs in immediate view.

Eric realized that this road, so close to the surrounding waters, had once again been flooded and the already-damaged infrastructure of the road, frequented by everyone in town, had finally given way. Teams of workers had been brought in to fix the mess with all speed. Eric was so caught up in his world of worry that he never saw any of it. Not the warning signs, not the screaming motorists he was forcing off the road, not the furious construction workers he had frightened--whom he was extremely lucky not to have injured--and not the massive buildup of sand and rubble behind the barriers and caution signs. But he saw them now.

"--OUT of your goddamned MIND?!!" Eric finally heard the screams of the foreman who had come up beside his car. "You could've KILLED somebody! What in HELL were you trying to PROVE, anyway?? HUH?!" The foreman gripped the sill of Eric's car window and thrust his head inside. Eric flinched, but did not pull away. The foreman took a breath, ready to unleash another torrent of outrage, when he saw a duffle bag in the back seat. It bore the school logo of Bay Harbor and had a variety of swimming gear, towels, and bottled hair remover protruding from it, most of it thrown loose when the Mustang soared over the barricade.

The foreman seethed. "Boy, you're one of those damnable Sailors, aren't you?"

Eric slowly fell forward, his forehead coming to rest upon the steering wheel he was still gripping with white knuckles. He sighed with resignation, "I get the feeling I'm going to be."

* * * * *

Judge Lietermann looked intently at the arrest report and then lowered it with dramatic flair before saying one word to the quaking Eric. "Joyriding."

Eric shook his head vehemently. "Oh, no sir. I swear to you, no."

"Truant", the judge added.

Eric's eyes widened. True, he had ditched before--lots of times--but could he even be truant at his age? "Sir, judge, your honor, I'm 19. You--you can't be truant past 18, can you?" Lietermann looked at him with squinting eyes that threatened Eric not to attempt to tell the robed man his business. "I'm not trying to contradict you, sir, but I can prove I'm old enough--that I'm over 18! I have my I.D. right here--" Eric groped around the back pocket of his pants and found nothing there. His face grew pale and slack. He quickly darted his hand to his other pocket, his back left pocket--which he had never used for his wallet, but he checked anyway--then he desperately shoved his hands into his front pockets, digging madly. All he found was a lunch ticket and some spare change. Eric's wallet was sitting on the second shelf of his hallway locker, along with his backpack, extra goggles and swim gear, and other high school sundries. Eric looked up at Judge Lietermann with his heart almost literally in his throat.

"Oh please, sir. I promise you on my life I had it."

Lietermann sat back in his chair, his expression hardening. "Driving without a license."

The honorable Judge Lietermann only pointed to the far side of the courtroom, where the bailiff stood opening the door which led to the next room. The muscular bailiff gestured with the inward curling fingers of one hand for Eric to come forward. Eric looked up at the judge with pleading eyes, but the man's arm never wavered. With head hanging and feet shuffling, Eric walked to the next room, and disappeared within. The door closed tight behind him with what for Eric was a resounding thud.


Eric reentered the court room and gulped audibly. He looked down at himself, a pain-stricken expression on his face. Eric now had his own sailor suit, distinctive in cut and design from those of his fellow teammates, but not entirely unique on its own. Eric had seen its like before. In fact, Donald Duck had one just like it.

Eric wore a bright baby blue sailor's jacket, with open V-neck collar and back flap, neatly trimmed with double stripes of white piping. The V-neck ended in a bright red bow tie and was underscored by four gigantic yellow buttons across his abdomen, arranged like the number four on gambling dice. The sleeves rode long on his arms, the cuffs resting just above his knuckles. Eric's pants were short, just like his cartoon counterpart's, perhaps even a bit shorter than that and certainly more form-fitting, showing off his smoothly-shaved, muscled swimmer's legs. On his feet were very snug, knee-high yellow boots tapered at the ankles, with broad folded-down top cuffs. Eric's size 13 feet made the large yellow rubber boots seem even larger and gave him the appearance of having duck feet. Atop Eric's lowered head was a large Donald Duck sailor's hat, complete with black stack, blue pancake top which matched his jacket, and dangling back ribbon. Eric could feel his heart pounding through his chest, even beneath the heavy jacket, as he imagined the ridiculing eyes of his mocking classmates upon him.

"How does it fit, lad?", the judge asked.

Slowly, Eric raised his eyes to the man behind the bench. "Please, sir", Eric begged, licking his lips, "you can't do this to me."

The judge pulled himself up taller in his chair. "Oh, I can't, can't I?"

Eric quickly rephrased. "No, your honor, I didn't mean it like that. Of course you can, you can do anything, I get that, sir. But--please, judge, I'm begging you, I--I can't handle this. I can't do it."

"You look to be wearing that uniform just fine from where I'm sitting", the judge remarked, nodding a signal to the bailiff. The bailiff left the room.

Eric fell to his knees before the judge. "Please, sir! Don't DO this to me! I'm innocent, I swear to GOD! I never meant to...I can't go to school like this! Your honor, don't MAKE me!"

The judge's voice grew harder. "You will do just that, or I will hold you in contempt."

Eric broke down and cried. He blubbered further protests and pleas, all of them incoherent and unheard. The bailiff reentered the room with the old phonograph on a push cart. At the judge's signal, he placed the needle on the vinyl record and the tinny music began to fill the courtroom. The judge looked down at the weeping boy who now had his face buried in his hands, tears streaming down his cheeks.

"Do your jig", the judge commanded.

Eric looked up at him, disbelieving. "Whuh--what?"

"On your feet and do your jig."

Eric broke into more crying, his shoulders heaving. "...no...I can't..."

"Yes, you can and you will. Get up and dance."

Eric shook his head, tears falling down upon his bare knees. He sobbed heavily.

The judge rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Bailiff..."

The tall man strode over to Eric and hefted the young athlete to his feet. "Come on, kid. Let's get this over with." Eric allowed himself to be brought to his feet, bringing his sobbing under control but with no visible stemming of tears.

The judge waved his gavel at Eric in a circular motion. "Dance."

Limply, like a puppet with two much string to work with, Eric flopped about and shuffled his feet to the music, still crying quite audibly. "Do the hand gestures, like you were taught", the judge reminded him. Eric nodded, still crying, making the little salute, placing one hand behind his back then both hands to his waist, doing his best to carry out his clumsy rendition of his musical punishment.

"The song, too", the judge said. Eric looked up at him, sniffling back more tears. The judge repeated, "Sing the song, Eric. Sing the song while you dance. Go on." Eric dropped his head low, crying harder as he danced miserably, trying to bring forth the words, finding only sobs. A harsh crack of the gavel brought his back up swiftly. The judge fixed him with steely eyes. "Sing. The. Song. Do it!"

Choking back tears, stumbling through his choreography, Eric mumbled out,

"...I'm a little sailor, found far too proud..."


Eric cleared his throat and croaked out,

"I'm a little sailor! found far too proud!

I touted my worth way, way too loud!"

Eric was forced to go through his song and dance five more times before he was allowed to go home.

Tom and Adam Caught in the Act

"Absolutely no muther-fucking WAY", Tom said as the team entered the pool room for early morning practice.

His teammates followed behind him in their snug Speedos, and they too had similar responses to what Tom saw. Spray-painted upon the wall in neon day-glo pink was the legend "PELICANS RULE! SAILORS SUCK!" in gigantic letters. To accentuate that notion, there was a clumsy cartoon of a pelican munching on a tiny sailor caught in its beak. The pelican had a few "Ha-Ha"s floating by his head and the sailor spat out a limp dialogue balloon that read "Help! I suck!"

"Those Portview rat bastards", Gordy said.

Adam walked over to the bleachers and found that they too had been saturated with the pink paint, decorated liberally with slogans about the superior ruling of the Portview High Pelicans and how terribly the bay Harbor Sailors sucked. "The little shits got the bleachers, even!", Adam cussed.

"Someone clearly has a serious problem with the threat of honest competition", James remarked, drawing strange looks from Tom and Gordy.

"Those assholes knew our match with them is at our school this weekend!", Adam spat unnecessarily.

"Wha--what happened here?", Eric said from behind the others. Eric deliberately came in later than the others so he might stash his court-ruled sailor's suit and get into his swim trunks before the others saw. To stall that revelation by even an hour or so would be a relief to him. Now it seemed the team had a distraction far bigger than Eric being nabbed and sentenced like James and Jeremy.

"I thought I told you boys to wait in the locker room with the rest of the team, damn it all!", Coach Brady roared, entering the pool area.

"We wanted to get in some laps before practice", Tom said innocently.

"And I didn't want any of you six to see this mess until after I'd had the chance to talk to you about it!"

"What's to talk about?", Adam asked.

"A serious ass-kicking is what's called for", Tom said.

"THAT right there is what I wanted to talk to you about!", the coach snapped. I know how proud you all are of this school, this team, and especially yourselves." James and Jeremy glanced at the floor when they heard that last part. "But you will NOT retaliate against the Portview school over this."

James and Jeremy looked up, Tom, Adam, and Gordy exchanged looks of confusion. "What? Are you serious? Somebody's gotta do something!" Eric said nothing.

"Yes", Coach Brady agreed, "somebody does have to do something. But it won't be you and it won't be whatever half-cocked revenge scheme I know you're already cooking up. This is being looked into. You better believe the authorities have been duly informed. I for one would sure like to know how someone waltzed right in here when the place was supposed to be locked up tight as a drum."

"But the bastards who did this--", Tom began. The coach cut him off.

"Yes indeed. Those terrible bastards. And can you name any of 'em? Do you know or even suspect who might've done this? Was it their swim team, was it the pep squad? Was it an old drunken graduate from the Class of '92 who had nothing better to do with his time?" The boys just stared back in silence. They had no answer. "Exactly! All we need now is for you to act as immature as whatever imbecile made this mess and go wreaking havoc on everyone over the actions of a few dimwits. I'm not gonna have it!" He looked at James and Jeremy, at the dog tags hanging around their necks. And in a controlled voice, he added, "Don't we have enough to worry about?"

At that, someone cleared his throat. It was the representative from the court, suit pressed, spectacles shiny, briefcase in hand. The coach looked at him with disgust.

"And what the hell do you want?"

Unperturbed, the man said, "I heard you had an early morning practice, so I came over straight away."

"What for?" The coach gestured to the two tagged swimmers. "You can see they've got their damn tags on, there's no need for you to come over here and check up on 'em. I won't let them take 'em off. Or don't you trust me, either?"

"The issue of your trustworthiness not withstanding", the man said, smiling, "these two young gentlemen are not why I am here." He pointed to Eric. Everyone turned to look at him.

Eric sighed, then looked back at his friends and his coach. "I'm really sorry, guys." He then walked up to the court rep and met his gaze.

The man grinned. "You'll forgive me if I don't take my usual seat on the bleachers, but as you can see--", he indicated the paint-covered stands. Eric said nothing as the man produced Eric's set of dog tags. "You'll need to--" Eric bowed formally at the waist. He knew the routine. The man nodded approvingly and placed the tags around Eric's neck. He then regarded the others present. "Good day to you, then." The court rep went only as far as the door to the locker room when he took out his little cell phone and dialed someone up. The coach was about to ushered the man out when he said into his cell, "Yes, it's me. Just now, sir. We're halfway there." He put away his phone, smiled to everyone present, then went on his way.

As he left, Eric saw the disbelieving stares of his teammates and Coach Brady. Eric simply said, "Wasn't paying attention to where I was going. Ran into some road construction, literally. They got me for joyriding." That the charge was most likely groundless or at the very least extreme went without saying. The boys all looked defeated. Coach Brady looked infuriated.

"You boys get into the water and give me ten laps, each", was all the coach said as reprimand. "I'll brief everyone else on the situation." He stopped, looked at Eric with great disapproval, and then left the pool area.

Eric stood there, tags around his neck, as the other athletes each dove into the pool in turn. He closed his eyes and tried to concentrate on the splashes, the sounds of limbs knifing through the water. In another few moments he dove in after them, feeling that perhaps he no longer had the right to do so.

* * * * *

The morning's practice ran longer than usual. The boys poured their anger over the defacing graffiti and their shock about Eric being sentenced into their efforts in the pool. By the time they all finally rose from the waters, they could make out the dim rumble of student throngs filling the hallways even from past the locker room. Coach Brady's anger had subsided somewhat at the sight of the excellent practice and he was hollering as he always did for the boys to hit the showers and then hit the books in class.

The six champs grabbed up their towels and moved toward the locker room, almost running into Devon, who had his trusty digital camera out and was photographing the vandalized wall and bleachers.

Tom shook his head, water scattering in droplets from his thick hair. "He can't really want that for his stupid scrapbook."

James walked past Tom, commenting, "Let me", to show he'd inquire about what Devon was doing. "Dev? What's all this?"

Devon turned around, saw James and smiled brightly. For a second his eyes lingered on James's Speedo, but he quickly brought his gaze up to James's eyes before anyone noticed. "James! I wanted to get this for the paper. Show everyone what lowlifes those Portview guys are for doing this to the center of our universe." He clicked off a few more shots and began to move down a ways for different angles. "Don't worry about a thing, guys", he said loud enough for all to hear. "I will devastate these guys in print."

Adam passed by on his way to the lockers. "Wonderful", he muttered. "All our worries are over."

Eric was the last to leave, feeling the need to put in a couple extra laps both as a form of penance and to feel he was earning his place. As he walked toward the showers, Devon called out to him.

"Eric! The whole school's already buzzing about the accident last night."

Eric looked at him, puzzled. "Accident?"

"That you had with your car on Lakeshore Drive. But hey, I'll be sure to get your side of the story later so the truth gets told!"

Eric ambled away, thinking the last thing he needed was to be granting interviews. "Great, kid. That's just swell."


The six boys showered quickly but due to various primping were the last of the swim team to leave for their first hour class. By the first warning buzzer, signaling the student body that classes began in five minutes, all but Eric was dressed. The rest of the six elite had lingered to offer their support to their recently fallen comrade. They were also dying of curiosity to see his new suit.

"I don't think I can show you guys", Eric said, standing before his locker with only a towel around his waist. "It's too humiliating."

"I can relate", Jeremy offered, his bright red boots squeaking as he stepped across the still-moist tile floor.

"It's okay, man", James said. "Just pull the damn thing out then yank it on. Like pulling off a band-aid, only in reverse."

Eric braced himself against the locker and stood there for a long time. He let the towel drop from his waist and stood there a bit longer, apparently more comfortable being naked than having to wear his ridiculous uniform. The guys said nothing. Then, slowly, Eric reached into his locker and withdrew the boots. He set them on the floor beside his bare feet. Then he put on the hat. Then he took the shirt and short pants, and holding them in front of himself, turned to face his friends. His didn't speak, but his eyes projected the message of, "Go on, get a good look."

Unable to help himself, Tom burst out laughing. "Dude! Where's Mickey and Goofy??" With the speed of a rattlesnake, Gordy punched Tom on the arm, hard. "Ow!!" Then, Tom looked at Eric, seeing the hurt in his eyes. "Sorry."

James let out a deep breath. Then in his "captain's voice" that he used as official team leader, he said to Eric, "Go ahead. Suit up."

Slowly, Eric did. First the old-fashioned underpants, then the short-shorts, the tunic, the boots. Then he straightened his hat. He turned and stood before his friends once again, arms hanging limp at his sides. This time his eyes said, "Please help me."

Adam came up beside Jeremy, and looking at Eric said, "Nothing to it but to do it. Let's get out there."

Jeremy nodded to Eric. "He's right, you know. We can't stay in here forever."

The second buzzer sounded. First hour. Eric stared up at the ceiling and looked as if he was about to cry. "Oh, Jesus. Now I'm gonna have to walk into class after everyone else is seated. I have to make an entrance like this. I--I don't know if I can."

James was at his side in an instant. "We'll be with you. All the way."

"Only as far as the door", Eric corrected.

James looked to the rest of the team. "Nobody has first period with him?" They all looked at each other, searching for a reply in the positive, then all shook their heads. James gave Eric's shoulder a gentle squeeze. "We'll see you at lunch. We'll even eat inside. Our old table. Nothing's changed. We're still the top six."

"We're still brothers", Jeremy added. James nodded in agreement.

"Let's all go learn something", Gordy said, and the group turned to depart the locker room. But only five of them reached the door.

James looked back at Eric, who stood in his cartoon duck sailor outfit, leaning back against his locker. "Eric? You comin'?" Eric just shook his head. With one hand, James signalled the other boys to join him in seeing to Eric. All five gathered around their friend as James asked, "You gonna be alright, buddy?" Eric just shook his head.

"I can't go out there like this. Today is the worst day of my life. I can't do it."

James tried to sound confident and reassuring. "Hey, hey, man. You'll be fine, I promise you. So they put us in stupid outfits. They can't break us, we're the Sailors, right?"

Jeremy rested a hand upon Eric's baby blue-clad shoulder. "We'll protect you. We won't let anything hurt you."

Eric sniffled. "Little late for that, isn't it?"

Tom stepped forward. "We stick together. Strength as a team."

Eric leaned his head backwards against the metal of his locker, looking up at the ceiling. His pancake platter hat flattened against the door, he felt the ribbon brush against the back of his neck. "God, I'm being punished."

James gave a short laugh. "Dude, we all are. That's the whole point. So we show 'em that the punishment they picked doesn't affect us. We--"

"No! Not just this!", Eric stressed. "Not just for being a...a scofflaw, or whatever Lietermann wants to call it. It's more than that."

"It's a sick ruling from a vindictive old prick", Tom piped in. "Who has a hate on for successful jocks because he was probably one of those pathetic little dweebs that get slammed into lockers--" he looked at James, who winced at the comment. "Oh. Dude. Sorry." He shrugged clumsily. "I didn't mean you." This time Adam gave Tom a punch on the arm. "Ow! Quit it!"

Gordy pushed past the two and questioned Eric, "What do you mean it's more than that?"

Eric turned his head to meet Gordy's eyes. "You know I used to have a whole different set of friends? Before I moved here? My family only lived over near Portview."

Tom's eyes widened. "You don't think they trashed the pool room to get to you, do you??"

Gordy nudged him with an elbow. "Shut up." Then, to Eric, "Go on."

"I was a geek", Eric confessed. "Back in Portview. But when I got here, I saw you guys, or the guys who were the team back then, anyway. I wanted to be like that. I wanted so fucking bad to be a Sailor. I busted my ass in training, I gave it everything I had. I swam like a fish, I worked like a son of a bitch." He looked up at he ceiling, eyes beginning to tear up.

Tom smiled. "And you made it. See? That's good!" Gordy held the back of his hand over Tom's face to make him stop talking.

"I ditched all my old friends, I fucked up my grades." He looked at Gordy. "Did you know I used to be on the Honor Roll?" Gordy shook his head. "Was gonna teach History. Threw that out for sports. And I started acting like I thought a Sailor should act." Eric clenched his teeth, tears now rolling down his cheeks. "I raised hell, I treated people like shit. I broke the law over and over, at first because I thought I had to, then because it felt good. It made me feel tough." He leaned forward, hands bracing himself against his smooth bare knees. He caught sight of his big yellow boots, the oversized sleeve cuffs falling down around his knuckles. "And oh, God, now I'm being punished for it! I'm suffering because I made other people suffer!" Eric's blubbering deteriorated into muffled sobs and Gordy, James, and Jeremy huddled around him, trying their best to offer comfort and support. James knelt before Eric, the other two came to either side of him.

Tom pulled Adam aside and spoke in a conspiratorial whisper. "That's it, man. We are so going to destroy those fucking Pelican bastard assholes."

"You saw us at practice", Adam agreed. "We're ready."

Tom slapped Adam on the chest. "Not at the meet, dumbass. They trash our school, we trash their school. Only worse."

Adam furrowed his brow. "You sure that's a good idea? Cops'll probably be expecting us to do something now. Shouldn't we wait a while, or--?"

Tom looked back at the other four boys. Eric had his head buried in Gordy's chest, crying openly. James's hands rested on Eric's knees. Jeremy stroked the back of his teammate's head.

Tom looked back at Adam with fire in his eyes. "Tonight."

* * * * *

The two boys drove Adam's classic '73 Pontiac hardtop convertible. Tom's 4x4 was great at transporting the group to and from swim meets, but was not the equal of Adam's Pontiac when it came to speed. If they needed to make a fast getaway, speed was what they wanted. The duo slowly cruised the Portview high school. It was well after dark, and Tom was determined to find some way inside the building.

"Are you sure this is such a good idea?", Adam asked.

"They were the ones with the bad idea to trash our pool room. This is a justified response", Tom said confidently.

Adam twisted in his seat to look directly at Tom. "You heard that court guy on his cell phone this morning. 'We're halfway there' he said. About taking down Eric. That means we're next. Or one of us, anyway. How do we know we're not being followed by cops right now?"

"For what?", Tom said accusingly. "Driving to another town to look at a school in the dim light of evening? Is that a crime now?"

"They only need intent to commit a crime, don't they?"

Tom spread his hands out. "Show me intent! We're two guys riding in a car! There's nothing any more incriminating here than a worn-out air freshener!" And he bapped the cardboard pine tree hanging from Adam's rearview mirror for emphasis. Adam rolled his eyes and Tom leaned over and sniffed the little tree. "Seriously, dude. You need to replace this. It's giving off like, nothing."

Adam tapped Tom on the arm. "Look! What's that all about?"

Up at the far corner of the school, near a portion of the building with a high ceiling that might indicate a gymnasium, a man in gray coveralls was moving boxes out of a utility door beneath the light of nearby street lamp.

"Who's that, do you suppose?", Adam asked. "Janitor? Maintenance guy?"

"Either way, he could've just given us our way in", Tom grinned. Shutting off the headlights, he drove the car quietly into the parking lot, taking care to park in a heavily-shaded area. The duo then crept up to the side of the school and watched as the man in the coveralls loaded up a small orange Volvo with his cardboard boxes. Once his vehicle was filled up, he got inside his car and made his way down a dirt utility road that arced its way around the back of the building, in the opposite direction of Tom and Adam.

"Quick, check out the door", Tom whispered. Taking care to move rapidly and not linger beneath the light, the two boys rapidly checked the knob and found the door opened easily. They quickly leapt inside the door to a darkened room.

"Where the fuck are we?", Adam whispered.

Tom groped along the side of the wall for a light switch. After a few bumps and stumbles, he found one, and with a flick illuminated the room. It was a storage room, its walls lined with circuit boxes and various energy meters. Tom made his way across the room and stuck his head out the door there. The hallways beyond was lit at random intervals with small security lights recessed in the ceiling. Just beyond them was the Portview gymnasium. Adam stuck his head out after Tom and patted him on the arm. Tom looked to see Adam pointing to a small sign posted on the wall near the gym door. It read: "TO POOL " with an arrow directing down the hall.

The two did a quick 'happy dance', fists pumping up and down, unable to believe their luck. They ducked back into the storage room. "We've got our way in", Tom beamed.

"What if that guy comes back?", Adam asked nervously. "Why would he just leave the door open? What if he's only in the middle of whatever he was doing?"

"What if he was ripping off school property?", Tom retorted. "If he was coming right back, why'd he shut the lights off?"


"With his hands full?", Tom challenged. "Naw, he probably just forgot. His fault. Our golden opportunity." Tom looked at Adam with steely eyes. "We go get what we need to trash this place. Paint, whatever, we do it quick, and we haul ass back here. In and out."

Tom dashed back to the doorway again and waved frantically for Adam to get a move on. When Adam joined him, Tom doused the lights and the two ran back to their car. "What do you suppose that guy was moving, anyway?", Adam whispered.

"Out of date text books", Tom sneered. "Who gives a fuck? As long as he doesn't come back to check on--"

A harsh "clack" sounded and a car-mounted spotlight shone on Tom and Adam's car just as they reached it. "--anything...", Tom finished.

Two burly policemen stood beside their patrol car--a Bay Harbor patrol car, mind you--and smiled at the squinting cohorts. "Evenin' fellas", said the first officer. "You here late studying for your SATs or something?"

"Oh, God, we're screwed", Adam mumbled.

"Shut up!", Tom whispered. "We haven't done anything. We're not DOING anything!"

"Care to explain what you're doing here so far from home so late at night?", the second policeman asked.

"Just out for an evening drive, sirs", Tom said. "Kind of clearing the cobwebs."

"Kind of an odd place to go for a night drive", the officer said.

A car whizzed by on the street beyond the school lot, apparently giving Tom the break he needed. Tom pointed at it as it went by. "Not for everyone, I guess, sirs." Adam alone seemed to notice that the car was the orange Volvo, its back seat now piled with empty cardboard boxes stuffed one inside the other. Though the figure was in silhouette, Adam could see him playfully waving his hand as he drove by.

"Um, Tom...", Adam began.

"So this is your car, boys?", the first officer asked.

Adam forgot the Volvo for a moment and said quickly, "Yes, sir! Got my license right here!" He pulled out his wallet and waved it around. "No illegal driving for me, sir!"

The policeman looked at the Pontiac and put a hand to his chin. "Got out in a bit of a hurry though, didn't you?" Tom and Adam gaped at the car to see that its passenger side door was wide open. "Kind of forgot to lock your door."

The second officer stood beside Adam's car, peering into its open door. The policeman's adjusted the spotlight beam, which stabbed into the backseat and revealed an enormous amount of paraphernalia that came straight from Vandalism 101. Large cans of paint, bolt cutters, crowbars, utility knives, spray paint cans, matches, oily rags, even an automated power paint sprayer. The list went on.

Reaching inside the car, the policeman withdrew a can of paint, holding it aloft by its wire handle with one finger. "We aren't interrupting any...plans you boys had this evening, are we?"

Adam made a strange gulping sound low in his throat and Tom just sighed. "Aw, man."


Tom and Adam fumed as they were escorted roughly down the hallway to the courtroom. "This was all a setup", Tom snapped at the officers.

"There is no way in hell you're gonna make this stick", Adam added.

The officers were unimpressed. "Yeah, yeah, boys. You were framed. It's all a conspiracy."

"It is!", Adam insisted. We only went to their school to--to check things out! We weren't going to actually do anything!"

"That stuff in the car wasn't ours", Tom persisted.

The officers looked at each other and exchanged looks of exasperation. They too were hardcore Bay City High swim team fans, but by now they had learned that it was useless to fight what had been set in motion against these champion ne'er-do-wells. "Tom, Adam", the one officer said, "the less you say at this point, the better."

"I'll say plenty when I get a lawyer", Tom argued. "We didn't do anything illegal and you guys know it! It's not against the law to drive to a high school parking lot and even if that stuff was ours--"

"Which it wasn't", Adam contributed.

"--it's not like it's a federal offense to drive with an open container of paint in the car!"

"Fellas, you just do not comprehend how screwed you are", the second officer remarked.

The duo was pushed through the double doors into Judge Lietermann's courtroom and found themselves staring across the room at their new nemesis. The hawkish judge with the thick spectacles motioned his clawlike finger for the two boys to approach.

Tom leaned to Adam, who had already begun to shake. "Do not let this old goat intimidate you! We were not caught in the act of anything against the law and we are not going down without a fight!" Adam nodded, feeling none of the confidence Tom conveyed in his voice. Slowly, the two approached the bench with measured steps.

"I understand that the two of you have been up to no good tonight", the judge said in a very even tone.

"S-sir", Adam stammered, "that is not exactly what happened. Y-you see--"

"I don't think we should even be talking to you without a lawyer present", Tom said firmly.

"Oh, really?", the judge said, eyebrows raised. He leaned forward on his bench. "And if you did nothing wrong, then why the concern about representation?"

Tom hesitated. Then, "You're--you're just trying to bait me. You'll twist whatever I have to say so it'll sound bad--"

"Am I right in saying that your school was vandalized this afternoon?"

"We didn't do THAT!", Adam cried.

"Just answer the question."

"Yeah, that's right", Tom answered.

"And given the manner in which the property was defaced, you suspected that students from a rival school were responsible?"

"It looked that way, yeah", Tom conceded.

Judge Lietermann leaned back in his chair, looking almost as if he were about to put his feet up. "I see. And you did find yourselves, the both of you, at that same rival school this evening, is that correct?"

"Well, yeah...", Tom said.

The door to their right opened and the bailiff crept in slowly, wheeling a cart bearing the old record player in ahead of him with one hand, scratching at his ear with the other. The bailiff left the door open behind him. He looked cautiously to the judge, who gestured that he could come all the way in. Both Tom and Adam felt their heartbeats speed up at the sight of the phonograph.

"Dude", Adam whispered, "that's the record player, man. That's it, we're fucked." Tom waved a hand in attempt to calm his friend.

The judge continued his inquiry. "And what was your intent in going to this rival school?"

Tom was stumped. "Um, I dunno. We just--we just wanted to check things out, is all."

"You anticipated perhaps that the vandals responsible would be waiting there for you, possibly wearing name tags identifying them as the culprits?"

"Well, no. We didn't think that--"

"Were you going there with the intent of retaliation, perhaps?"

"No way!", Tom declared. "We were just gonna look around, that's all."

"And you swear that you had no materials such as spray paints, crowbars, matches, and the like with which to conduct your own acts of vandalism against the Portside School?"

"Absolutely not."

"And yet, according to the police officer's report, your back seat was full of just such items. Can you explain that?"

Adam jumped in, sounding desperate. "I swear those weren't ours, sir. That guy in the Volvo--"

Tom interrupted. "I have no idea how those got there, but I am telling you right here and now that we only drove there with just ourselves in the car. We brought nothing else with us."

The judge nodded, considering this. He signalled with one hand to the bailiff, who put the needle on the record. In seconds, the old-time vocalist was singing about being a good little sailor, though the volume was muted to the point of background music. Judge Lietermann turned back to the two boys. "Tell me this, then. You claim to have gone to the school for no other reason than to look around and you brought nothing with you." Tom nodded. "But if you had found easy access to some portion of the building and no one around or likely to observe you, were your intentions to go and get vandalizing materials of your own and then return to trash the school?

"Well, fuck yeah! Duh!", Tom said loudly. As soon as the words left his mouth, his eyes went wide with horror.

Adam shot him a pained look and gasped, "Thomas! What the fuck are you doing??"

Tom couldn't believe what he had just said. And not even said so much as proclaimed. He tried to salvage the situation. "S-sir, you honor, they'd just trashed our pool. That's like the center of our universe. We-we-we--oh, God."

Without prompting, the bailiff stepped back inside the open door behind him and returned with two sailor suits on hangers, one in each hand. The judge gestured for the bailiff to approach the two boys. The bailiff walked right up to Tom and Adam and held one costume before each of them. Before Adam was a dazzling white suit with a low front collar revealing a red-striped shirt beneath. The tunic of the sailor suit bore a canary yellow fold-over cross flap from sternum to waist secured by large snaps. The tie dangling atop the breast piece was dark blue. The sleeve cuffs had a triple piping of red, the trousers had one thick red stripe on the outermost seam. Adam's hat was identical to those worn in the Russian navy, but with a red base, white platter, and red fuzzball on top.

Tom's sailor costume was more understated but no less embarrassing. His suit was almost entirely deep navy blue. This only made the white piping on the sleeve cuffs, along the edge of his massive collar, the anchors stitched across each sleeve arm, and the huge white tie stand out more. Tom was awarded a classic white sailor's hat like James's.

The bailiff gently lay the two suits atop a table before the boys. He then stepped out the door again, and returned with two pairs of boots, both knee high rubber sailor's boots. White boots with red soles and red top cuff trim for Adam, solid white for Tom. The bailiff set them solidly on the table next to their new uniforms.

"You'll find your new underwear inside each uniform, gentlemen", the judge said. "And you are to wear your pants tucked into your boots, by the way. Please give your clothes and personal belongings to the bailiff and he'll see to it they find their way to your respective homes."

Tom and Adam looked at each other. Tom looked like someone who couldn't believe he'd just fallen for a trick he saw coming a mile away, Adam bore the expression of someone who'd just learned his dog had been hit by a truck.

The bailiff turned up the volume on the phonograph player and stood waiting nearby with two lyric sheets.

"Well?", the judge prodded. "Suit up, boys."

The two Sailors slowly began to peel off their shirts and kick off their shoes. Adam looked at Tom and said through gritted teeth, "I'm so glad we decided not to go down without a fight."

Gordy Makes a Full Crew

The following morning's early swim practice found all of the team members present at the pool, as well as the representative of the court. As with his "tagging" of Eric, he stood nearby the entrance rather than take his seat on the paint-coated bleachers, forcing Tom and Adam to come to him, and bow down at the waist so their dog tags could be placed around their necks. The weasly man smiled a greasy little smile as he took his own sweet time hanging the small metal plates on their chain-link coils around the two athletes' necks.

"I've never had the pleasure of doing two at a time before", he remarked, and snickered a snorting little laugh in response, finding it hilariously funny.

The court representative preferred to have an audience watching as he went through his little ceremony. But that early in the day, there were no loyal supporters in the stands--not that they'd want to sit in the pink neon paint, anyway. When the rep saw the look of devastation in the eyes of the other swimmers, and the one of outrage in those of the coach, he thought perhaps that was sufficient. As he departed, he used his cell phone to contact Judge Lietermann. His report consisted only of the phrase, "Almost there."

Coach Brady walked up to Tom and Adam and took their dog tags, one in each hand, and looked at them as if they were infected with something toxic. Tom and Adam tried looking straight ahead to avoid their mentor's gaze, but weren't terribly successful. The coach read the first of Tom's tags. "I am wearing this because I behaved as a bad person", he read sternly. Then, looking Tom in the eye, he snapped, "I'll sure as hell say you did." Tom looked down at the floor. Coach Brady then moved over to Adam, his other hand still clutching Tom's tags, and read with dripping sarcasm, "I promise to be a better man." He stared at Adam, blurting out, "While you might start that behavior by not listening to pigheaded jackasses who behave as a bad person and can't even listen to his coach!"

Coach Brady flung the tags down harshly, making them snap against the boys' bare skin. They both twitched slightly at the metal contact with their pecs, but did what they could not to wince. The harsh touch of the dog tags may have stung, but not as badly as their coach's words.

"I gave you a direct order", he snarled, finger pointing in Tom's face, "and you, in your infinite wisdom, elected to ignore it completely, didn't you?"

Tom looked very frightened by the coach's justifiable outrage over his mistake. He then made another by trying to talk his way out of it. "C-coach, it's not like that. See, Eric was all upset about everything--" Eric's face blanched as if to say "Don't blame this on me!" Tom went on, talking faster, "--and we were all so pissed about the graffiti, and it's like we're always victims lately, and--"

"So you just decided to make matters worse?! I don't wanna hear it!" Tom shut up. Coach Brady looked daggers at Adam. "You have something to say for yourself?" It was a challenge rather than a question. Adam just shook his head very slowly. The coach turned away from Tom and Adam and looked at the other four boys, three of whom bore similar dog tag necklaces. "Start your practice. NOW!"

In a panicked flurry, the other boys went to the starting boards and dove into the pool. Coach Brady turned back to Tom and pointed angrily at the pool waters. "And you two. Get in there and swim until you think you're gonna sink." He began to walk to his office, adding, "Then swim some more."

After their coach had left, Tom looked to his friend Adam and asked, "Did coach just tell us to drown ourselves?"

Adam wrinkled his brow. "Like living this way would be better?"

* * * * *

The boys were forcing themselves to eat at their old lunch table. It was no small task. With Eric's sentencing, they decided they would no longer be relegated to the outside courtyard where so many losers and dweebs sat, either to avoid those who would beat them up or to play chess. The swimming champs had tried going out for lunch, to a burger joint or such, but even the drive-through proved too humiliating to endure. Their houses were all too far away to drive to and back during the lunch time allotted. It was the cafeteria or nothing. Right now, nothing was beginning to sound like the better bet.

The steady fall of the elite swimming squad had given all those aforementioned losers and dweebs the courage they needed to jeer and stare all they wanted. That, and word about James's public cowering before the pock-marked Matt had spread fairly quickly. The six boys sat together, eating in silence, heads lowered and shoulders hunched, as if their comical sailor hats were made of lead and weighed a ton.

It was now hardest on Gordy. Always the smartest of the group, his lanky build and average looks had always made him feel the need to prove he was worthy of being with the elite squad. Now as so many students were laughing at them, he felt the need to justify why he stayed with them. Like Eric, he had put too much into gaining his place with the elite six to abandon them now that they finally faced real trouble. But after so much time being respected, Gordy was frustrated and outraged at seeing his friends ridiculed.

"Guys, what are we gonna do later?", Gordy asked, trying to prompt some conversation. The five costumed guys just shrugged, mumbled incoherent responses. "We don't have to go out", Gordy offered. "Video games. My place." He swatted Tom on the arm. "Give you a chance to try to kick my ass in Grand Theft Auto." Tom only shook his head.

"Not really in the mood."

Gordy looked to Jeremy. "Jer? Halo? Maybe some Splinter Cell?" Jeremy stabbed at his food with his fork, making a noncommittal frowning expression. Flustered, Gordy said, "Guys! Look at us! What, are we just gonna give up and die now? This is what they want! We can't just fold like this!"

Adam looked at him, mumbling, "Easy for you to say", as he tugged at his yellow breast flap, straightening it out. "You can still get your clothes at the mall."

"How's it feel, guys?!", three kids appeared at the table, smiling down at the Sailors' misfortune. Two of them stuck their heads between the hunched forms of Tom and Adam. The boys were dressed equally poorly, with out-of-style jeans and second-hand polo shirts. They smelled faintly of the potions and burners of the Chemistry lab. One boy, with glasses recently repaired with white tape, looked at Tom. "It's not so much fun to be laughed at and made to feel like a complete asswipe, is it? Like when you blew up my science fair project? Big laugh, huh? Who's' laughing now?"

The second kid, his shirt striped in green, blue, gold, red, and orange, nudged Adam. "Or the time you thought it would be so funny to write "FAG" on my forehead with permanent marker? Gotta love that highbrow humor." The kid behind the other two snickered.

James looked up at them with sad eyes. "Guys, lay off, okay? The laugh's on us, now. We get it."

"Guess you had to label me as a fag to throw everyone off. 'Cause it's obvious now from those cute little outfits who's really gay--"

With no warning whatever, both boys found themselves snatched by their shirtfronts and lifted almost off the ground. "Watch it, you little maggots!" Gordy had grabbed the boys so quickly that no one at the table had even seen him move. The taut muscles in his wiry arms rippled as he clutched their shirts tight, nearly choking the boys with their own collars. "Sailor suits or not, we are still better than you can ever dream of being. Ten thousand of you miserable fucks aren't worth one of these guys.", Gordy seethed through clenched teeth. "You talk to them again, you better be all 'Please' and 'May I' and "Yes, sir", or so help me--"

Gordy could not finish his threat as he was shoved backwards almost over the top of the lunch table. He spun around, fists ready to wail on the perpetrator, but he froze when he saw it was Tom. Behind Tom, Adam was seeing to the two boys, helping them regain their footing, straightening out their shirts, asking repeatedly if they were alright.

"Guys?", Gordy gasped, incredulous. "What the fuck?!"

Gordy leapt from the table, trays and stray food sliding this way and that as he got to his feet. Tom quickly placed a large and powerful hand flat against Gordy's chest. Quietly, but with a voice that meant business, Tom said, "Don't do it, man. Not here, not now."

James stood up and looked at the three frightened boys respectfully. "You guys better go. I'm real sorry about that, but I promise you nothing like it will ever happen to you again. You got my word." The Chem. students weren't quite sure what to make of the bizarre turn of events, so they simply backed off slowly and then briskly walked away.

Tom, Adam, and James sat back down, noting that the other students in the cafeteria were just as puzzled by what had transpired as the science geeks. Gordy remained standing. "What was up with that??"

Tom and Adam looked at each other as if they had no idea why they had done that. But then Tom said, "We should just be on our best behavior right now, is all."

Adam nodded. "This is the wrong time to pick a fight."

"THEY picked a fight with us!", Gordy cried.

James spoke from his place as the head of the table. "Gordy, we don't need any more trouble. Have a seat and let it go."

"What about us not changing who we are? What about the big claim that we'd raise twice as much hell?!"

James fixed Gordy with a hard stare. "Man, let it go."

Gordy threw his arms up in the air and, growling in frustration, stormed off.

Back at the lunch table, Eric placed gentle hands on Adam and Tom's arms. "Guys. What you just did, standing up for those boys..." The group stared at him, waiting for his assessment. "That was AWEsome!"

The five sailors looked at one another, weighing that opinion. They reflected for almost a minute. Yeah, maybe it was.

* * * * *

"You're ahead of your time", Coach Brady said, watching Gordy strut into the locker room. "Practice isn't for almost another half hour." The coach was scribbling something on a clipboard pad.

"Why is there police tape over the doors to the pool?"

"Right to the point. I like that about you, Gordy. But it's caution tape, not police tape. We've got some people in the pool area right now cleaning off that graffiti that had Tom and Adam so up in arms. The neon pink may look all happy and cheerful but it's a screaming bitch to clean off. There's fumes aplenty in there right now, and I don't want any of my boys exposed to it."

"So where are we supposed to practice?"

"Easy there, tiger. The good folks at Bay Central have been good enough to allow us to share their pool for the day. I'm assured that ours will be scrubbed clean and fume free come morning. I'll be shuttling the whole team over there when everyone's arrived." The coach wondered why Gordy was alone. "So where are your nattily-attired friends?"

"Haven't seen 'em since lunch", Gordy said, leaving out that he had been deliberately avoiding them since lunch. "Okay if I drive on ahead to Central?"

The coach considered it. "Well, they are expecting us, so it should be okay. I trust that I don't need to tell you to keep your nose clean and your wits about you, do I?"

Gordy smiled. "I'm smart enough not to let myself get baited or act out to prove anything, coach." His feelings were precisely the opposite, but he was indeed smart enough not to act upon them.

"Glad to hear it", the coach said, returning his attention to his clipboard. "We'll see you there."


The home of the Bay Central Bluejackets was small and cramped. Their millage had been turned down five years running and when it came to things like school sports, they had to make due. The Bluejackets had long been living in the shadow of the more popular Sailors and were not short on resentment because of it. Their pool was smaller than the one at Bay Harbor High, as was the locker room, the showers, and just about everything else within the building and on the grounds.

Gordy found it uncomfortable to suit up in the locker room where the lockers were within just a few feet of each other, the lockers themselves no more than perhaps twice the size of a glove compartment. Knowing it just for the one day, Gordy did his best to ignore the inconvenience. Besides, he was anxious to get to the pool.

In the pool room, the air was thick both with the humid air that often hangs heavy around indoor pools, and a feeling of open hostility from the Bluejacket swimmers. Their team was not overly large, but they shared something in common besides limited funding for their athletic department. Each one of the Bluejacket swim team, either due to requirement or mutual agreement, looked almost exactly alike. Each boy was between 5'9" and 5'11", with very defined musculature, and a close-shaved military haircut leaving a peach fuzz covering of no more than an eighth of an inch. They all wore identical royal blue Speedo and the same brand of swimmer's goggles around their necks. Most were in the process of putting them on as Gordy entered the pool room. All of them turned to look at him with suspicion as he approached.

"Hey", Gordy said. "Thanks for letting us use your pool for practice. That's pretty cool of you." Gordy extended a hand to one of the clone-like swimmers, who only looked at it disparagingly.

"Where's the rest of you?"

Gordy was taken aback for a moment, considering that he was being addressed by one of a group of young men that looked more like they came off an assembly line than a high school swim team, but quickly realized the boy was referring to the rest of the sailors. "Oh, they're all coming over by bus. I just wanted to get a head start, is all. Well, thanks again for the use of the pool."

"Whatever." Then, he stopped to ask, "Hey, you one'a those kids got stuck wearing a gay sailor costume 24/7?"

Gordy wanted to snap back some snide remark, but pretended to be amused, smiled, and said, "Not yet." The goggled swimmers all exchanged a look, but Gordy could not tell what it meant, so he dismissed it.

Gordy was about to dive into the far left lane when one of the Bluejackets grabbed his arm. "You're supposed to use the other side. We always practice on this side."

Gordy's first instinct was to smack the kid' arm away and belt him one, but instead he just said, "Okay, thanks." Gordy moved to the other side of the pool and began to climb up on to the diving platform. But another one of the near-identical swimmers came out of the locker room, waving for Gordy's attention. "Now what?", he thought.

"Coach says you guys'll do better if we split up the pool with the divider rope."

Gordy considered that. "Um, okay."

The boy handed him a small key. "It's in the equipment bin. Use the one with the red buoys, not the blue. It's longer, it'll fit the pool lengthwise."

Gordy took the key. "Okay, thanks."

As Gordy reentered the locker room, the boy who'd given him the key (or maybe it was a different one?) stuck his head around the corner and said, "That lock is older'n the hills. You may to jiggle it. If it sticks, reach around through the hole and just flip the latch."

Gordy acknowledged the advice with a grin. "Got it. Thanks."

The lock was indeed, as the boy had said, older than the hills. Gordy fought with it for what seemed like five minutes before it reached a point that he was afraid he would snap the key off in the lock. Going around to the side of the equipment cage, Gordy could see a portion of the wire fencing that had been torn away and bent upwards, creating a gap just large enough to fit a forearm through to jimmy the door. Gordy did so, with some effort, and was able to force the lock open by reaching around from that side hole.

Once inside, Gordy looked around for the pool divider rope, which he was beginning to suspect hadn't been used in some time. He wondered how the Bluejackets ever had any swim meets if they couldn't even create lanes for their swimmers. Gordy finally spotted the rope with the red and white buoys beneath a small pile of other equipment, mostly from other random sports, some of it actually in quite nice shape. Gordy hefted the equipment, or most of it, into his arms and turned to set it outside the cage so he could reach the divider rope. He only just turned around when he got screamed at right in the face.

"And just what the HELL do you think YOU'RE doing??!!!"

It was the Bluejackets sports coach (he oversaw most of the athletic teams), a man of maybe 6'2" with arms like a gorilla and a head and neck like a jam jar. He wore a whistle around his neck and large sweat stains on his gray shirt under both arms and across his chest.

"Whu-whuh--I-I was just trying to get to the pool rope", Gordy said.

"The rope we keep over there??", the coach yelled, pointing into his cramped office. Sure enough, there was a bundled divider rope (possibly several) thrown in a heap by his desk.

"And what the hell have you done to my equipment bin? LOOK at this!!" He fingered the hole from the torn-up fencing.

"Sir, that was like that when I came in here, really."

"Well, it wasn't when I left here not half an hour ago!"

"Sir, I promise you, I was told that I'd been instructed, by you, to come to this bin and get the pool's divider rope. Which is right there." Gordy pointed to the rope, plainly visible from where they stood.

"Oh, so you say I sent you in here--and I ain't never laid eyes on YOU before-- after this??" The angry coach snatched up the divider rope, which fell apart into three pieces in his hand. It was clearly an antique no one had bothered to either repair or throw away. At this point, the coach's roaring had gotten the attention of the Bluejacket swim team, who all crowded into the locker room to watch.

"And if you wanted this piece of crap rope so bad, why are you making off with what little GOOD equipment we've got left?!"

"Sir, this stuff was sitting on top of the rope, I was only trying to move it", he pushed the equipment into the coach's hands, who angrily threw them back into the cage, helter-skelter. "I'm not trying to steal anything", Gordy insisted.

"Ah, but you got no problem wreckin' my cage just for the fun of it."

"Sir, please listen, I was told to come in here--"

"By ME evidently. You'll have to do better than that."

"No, sir. Not by you. One of the swim team members told me the orders came form you."

"Well, which ONE of 'em??", he snarled. "Point 'im out and we'll all have a talk!"

Gordy looked at the swimmers, all of whom could have been clones of each other. Gordy sighed. "I can't tell."

"I'll just bet you can't!" The coach turned to one of the look-alikes and said, "Get on my office phone, and get the campus officers down here pronto." Budget cuts or not, it appeared that Bay Central High still had their on-premises policeman handy.

The policemen arrived at the locker room in record time, ready to believe everything the coach said, and with the unanimous backing from the swimming clone squad, nothing that Gordy said. He was barely given time to gather his things from his tiny borrowed locker and pull on some clothes before the officers hauled him out.

In the hallway, Gordy and the campus policemen passed the Bay Harbor swim team as they came in. Gordy just said, "Hiya, fellas. Hey, coach", as he was dragged past. Coach Brady watched his last remaining swimming star being hauled away, his look of shock projecting the question, "What could have happened in less than fifteen minutes?"

By the time the policemen had gotten Gordy outside, there was already an audience waiting for them. Bluejacket students clustered around the campus police car where it was parked in the school lot, cheering the efforts of the law officers and chiding the Bay Harbor swim champ. Shouts went back and forth among the students. "What'd he do?" "Tried to steal equipment!" "Bastard! Get him out of here!" Gordy wondered how it was that news traveled so fast at this school. Gee, it was almost as if, by some strange series of events, this had all been set up beforehand.

As Gordy was shoved into the back of the patrol car, he decided to make use of the jeering onlookers that the arresting officers had to hold back. While the policemen were distracted by the catcalls and hooting of the opposing school's students, Gordy dug his cell phone out of his pocket. Gordy had only been one of the six swim team hellraisers for the just under two years, but he knew enough as one of the elite to have certain fallback preparations in place at all times. Having his father's attorney on speed dial was one of them. The officers were still eschewing the crowding high schoolers as Gordy hit the "send" button. He found himself muttering "C'mon, c'mon" as the other end of the line rang once, then twice. It picked up on the third ring.

"Yes? This is the Caulfeld residen--"

"Mr. Caulfeld. It's Gordy. Trouble."

Mr. Caulfeld sighed, but that was the only luxury of exasperation he allowed himself. In the next instance, he was all business. "Highlights. Make it snappy."

"Just got arrested. They're taking me to the court house now. I need you to meet me there."

"So what else is new?"

"This time I didn't do anything."

"That is new. I'm on my way."

Gordy clipped his phone closed and shoved it back into his pocket as the police officers climbed into the front seat.

"Geez, it's like we're celebrities or something", said the driver.

"Looks like our new judge isn't the only one who didn't particularly care for our fair city's swimming champions", the other commented. He then leaned back and spoke through the grate which separated the front seat from the back. "You okay back there?"

"Peachy", Gordy huffed.

"Don't fret it, son. It's a short ride to the courthouse."

Gordy settled in for that short ride. It wasn't the trip that caused him to fret, but what waited for him upon his arrival.

* * * * *

With practiced swiftness, the attorney Mr. Caulfeld was there waiting for Gordy at the courthouse when the star athlete arrived with his arresting officers on either side of him. It was Mr. Caulfeld who accompanied Gordy, with the officers permission, down the hallway to the court room.

"This man's reputation precedes him", Caulfeld warned Gordy. "So for God's sake, let me do all the talking."

"No problem."

Standing before Judge Lietermann, Mr. Caulfeld stated his case as eloquently as he could. Gordy stood silently at his side, trying to look respectful and praying that his lawyer's eloquence would do some good.

"Your honor", Gordy's counsel began, "with respect to the local law enforcement who have clearly been very responsive this evening, I believe you'll see as I do that this has all been a misunderstanding."

The judge looked unimpressed, but rested his chin in the palm of his hand and said, "Go on."

My client Mr. Jakely believed that he was going into the equipment room on the direction of his coach and was simply following the orders of a respected authority figure. His jostling open of the locked supply cage was done under the suggestion of one of the other students--a student who attended that school and was a member of the opposing team, whom Mr. Jakely trusted would know how to operate stubborn doors and other objects common to many older school buildings. It was never his intention to break into anything or in any way engage in disruptive or illegal behavior."

"Despite the fact he shows a history of doing just that", the judge countered.

"Perhaps, your honor, if we were to ask those present precisely what was happening with this young man--"

"I have already done so. And according to the school's respected coach, he gave no such order to go into the equipment room."

"But that's what they told me--!", Gordy blurted out. Caulfeld put an index finger to his lips and hissed out a "Shh!" to silence him.

"What's more", the judge went on, "I have a number of witnesses who say they saw Mr. Jakely go into the equipment room uninvited and without prompting, and without receiving these "suggestions" to break locks and confiscate athletic supplies, that he claims to have gotten from this supposedly helpful student whom he seems mysteriously unable to identify."

"They're lying!", Gordy said angrily. "And they all looked the same. They were--!"

Caulfeld placed a firm hand on his charge's shoulder. Out of the corner of his mouth, he said, "I'm not going to tell you again, Gordy." Gordy bit his lip and fumed.

"So it seems to me that Mr. Jakely's guilt is very clear, despite what story he's concocted to convince you otherwise", the judge concluded.

"Judge Lietermann, sir, is there any chance that Mr. Jakely here could be dismissed with a warning or perhaps a small fine that might be appropriate to his charges?"

"No chance."

"Then perhaps if we might speak to those who have accused him of this crime, that he might state his case--"

"They have no desire to see the culprit who vandalized their equipment room nor are they willing to drop the charges. I have already taken the liberty to check on that count."

"You're very thorough, your honor."

"That I am."

"Then might I suggest we simply take this to trial?", Caulfeld suggested.

Judge Lietermann raised an eyebrow. "Excuse me?"

"What the hell are you doing?!", Gordy hissed at the lawyer. Caulfeld waved his remark away.

"If those who feel they have been wronged have no interest in letting the matter drop and my client persists in his innocence, then I see no other option than to have the matter decided by a jury of Gordon Jakely's peers. I'm sure you can sympathize, your honor, that the citizens of this community, whom you know very well are staunch supporters of Jakely's record--" and he paused just long enough so that his honor understood that he was referring to Gordy's athletic record rather than his legal one-- "and would be most interested in seeing to it that proper justice was meted out to one in whom they have such invested concern. I trust you can appreciate this?"

Gordy felt his jaw drop. He saw what his lawyer was doing. If Lietermann pushed this little b&e scam to trial, there was no way the townspeople fans of Bay Harbor would ever let it stick. Gordy was going home free, and in his own clothes.

Lietermann gazed at Mr. Caulfeld for a long moment, considering this. Finally, he said in a low voice, "Very well, then."

Gordy felt himself bounce on the balls of his feet. Yes!

"The defendant is to be held by the county without bail until such a time as the docket is cleared for a trial date and a jury can be selected and properly screened. Officers will take the accused into custody immediately and see to it that he is ensconced in the county jail."

Gordy felt his world swim. "Say what?"

Caulfeld protested, "Your honor, is this really necessary--"

Ignoring the attorney, Lietermann continued, "Given the hustle and bustle of our legal schedule, I foresee that we can rush this matter to trial within the first of next month."

Gordy whirled to face his lawyer. "Next month?! I'll miss this weekend's meet! I'll miss like three meets! He can't do this! You can't let him do this to me!"

"Calm down, Gordy. We'll figure this out."

Judge Lietermann leaned forward and rested his elbows on his bench. "There is, of course, another alternative I can offer." He snapped his fingers and on that cue, the bailiff entered, predictably, with a final sailor suit costume. He walked over to the table behind which Gordy and Mr. Caulfeld stood, and laid out the mock uniform.

This sailor's suit was baby blue with white trim. It had a navy blue dangling tie, and matching rubber navy blue boots with huge fold-down cuffs. Gordy picked up the hat, which like Eric's, looked like it belonged on the head of a cartoon water fowl. He swallowed hard. Gordy then fingered the trousers' gigantic bell bottoms. "At least they're not short pants", he conceded.

"You don't have to do this", Mr. Caulfeld said.

Gordy picked up the baby blue suit and heaved a great sigh. "No, I think it's pretty obvious that I do." He looked up at Judge Lietermann, who leered back at him. Gordy asked, "I'm a little sailor found far too proud, right?"

"Who touted his worth way, way too loud", the judge answered back. His honor nodded to the bailiff, who turned on the phonograph and produced the last lyric sheet.

Gordy peeled off his designer shirt and prepared to slip into something of an entirely different design. Under his breath, he mumbled, "Goddammit."


At the next practice, all eyes were on Gordy as he marched solemnly up to the court representative in the pool area and bowed to receive his dog tags. Several of the girls who hung around the bleachers during practice got up and left. Gordy looked at his teammates with new sympathy for their plight and understanding for their state of mind. Coach Brady could not look any of them in the eye. The court rep got on his cell phone and said six words. "Yes, sir. That's a full crew."

Read the next chapter