A Charmed Life
Chapter 25: Behind the Scenes
Copyright© 2016 by The Outsider
05 January 1992 - Hardwick Road, Enfield, Massachusetts
“You’ve made incredible progress in the two and a half months we’ve been working together, Darrin.”
“I had to, Coach, if I wanted to stop getting shoved into the boards, dropped to the ice, having my pocket picked...”
“Okay, you ready?” Darrin nodded. Jeff snapped a low pass from the left corner, well to the side of the net. Darrin was waiting in the left slot; he blasted it back at net, sending the puck through one of the small openings of the target tied over the goalmouth. Jeff fed him pass after pass. Darrin placed shot after shot perfectly, changing his targets and scoring goal after goal.
“GO!” Jeff shouted after Darrin scored on the last shot. Darrin broke for the far end of the ice. Jeff moved behind the net they’d been using, retrieving the puck he’d reserved. Darrin came back down the ice at full speed. Jeff played a defenseman clearing the puck out of his end. He passed the puck to Darrin as he curled back out of the zone.
Darrin picked up the pass in stride; he drove back down the ice. He curled around the far net and came back at Jeff, now playing against Darrin. Darrin closed on Jeff at full speed. He shifted to his backhand side to pass Jeff. Jeff leaned to follow; Darrin popped the puck through Jeff’s legs. Darrin cut hard to his forehand side. He was by Jeff in a split-second. Jeff turned in time to see Darrin blast a shot from the top of the face-off circle. The puck entered the net “top shelf,” just under the crossbar.
“YES!” Darrin yelled, pumping his fist. He turned back to Jeff with a wide smile. Jeff skated over and bumped gloves with the freshman, then ruffled his hair.
“Nice job! It’s good to see you’re still sharp, even after the Christmas break. If you don’t make the team next year, I’ll eat my jock.”
“Um, ew, Coach?”
“Alright, maybe not my jock. Maybe one of those pickle-covered abominations you call a hot dog in Chi-town.”
“Don’t knock ‘em ‘till you’ve tried ‘em, Coach.”
“Hey, John, how was your break?” Jeff asked John Kessler when he walked into the coaches’ office the next day.
The head coach sat at his desk with his head in his hands. “It was good until today,” the older man grumbled.
“Why? What happened?”
“Wiznewski’s out. Academically ineligible; almost straight Fs on his report card. That’s going to leave us short at left wing.”
“Man!” The team was well-balanced this year, though only average in performance; they’d needed a spark of greatness before but this was going to cause major problems now. Then a lightbulb went off for Jeff. “Are we allowed to replace him?”
“Sure, but with who?”
“I’ve got an idea. I’ll fill you in at practice.”
Darrin dropped his books on the desk in his dorm room in Hampden Hall. His first full day of classes after the Christmas break was over; he had about two hours before it would be time to meet Coach Knox for his workout session. It was Monday so that meant on-ice leg day. He’d be lucky if he was able to walk back to his room afterwards. A knock at his door shook him from his musings.
“Who is it?” he called.
“Opportunity!” was the reply; it sounded like Coach Knox’s voice. Darrin opened the door and discovered he was right. “Grab your stuff and let’s hit the ice, kid!”
“Wha... ? What do you mean, Coach? Don’t we have to wait for practice to be over?”
“Not when you’re practicing with the team! Let’s go, Whitmore! Move with a purpose!”
“With the team?”
“We’re gonna be late if you don’t pick it up, Darrin!”
Darrin grabbed his already-packed hockey bag, slinging it over his shoulder. “Why am I practicing with the team today?”
“Because there’s an open roster spot for a left winger and I mean to get you on that roster! Let’s go! Shag it!” Jeff led the way to the field house. He directed Darrin into the referee’s changing room.
“Why am I changing in here?”
“You wanna spoil my surprise? Get dressed and start stretching. I’ll come get you.” Jeff hustled to the coaches’ office to get changed himself.
“Where’d you go?”
“You’ll see in a few minutes, John. I found you a winger.”
Jeff changed in record time. “I’ll see you on the ice, John.” He was out the door before John could say anything. He knocked on the ref’s room door two minutes later and stuck his head in. “You ready?”
“I’m so nervous I think I’m gonna throw up.”
“You’re ready. Let’s go.”
John Kessler looked behind him when Jeff and Darrin emerged behind the bench. “Darrin’s the player you’ve been working with for three months? He’s your special project?”
“You got anyone else ready to take Wiznewski’s spot? Let him prove you wrong, John. I’m telling you this kid’s ready.”
John looked at Jeff like he was shining him on. “Alright, Darrin, hit the ice.” Darrin charged through the boards and joined the team. “I hope you’re right, Jeff. I don’t want to disappoint this kid again.”
“He’s a sniper with rockets in his skates now, John. Just wait.”
John Kessler didn’t have to wait long. In the first round of drills Darrin blew by the defenseman and ripped a slap-shot past the goalie stick-side low. He scored glove-side high the next time. The skating drill proved Jeff correct about Darrin’s speed as well.
“Son of a bitch! I thought you were feeding me a line of bull, Jeff, but damn!”
“He just needed some fine-tuning with skating and shooting. Is he back on the team?”
Later that week Jeff was reviewing his EMT class notes in his apartment when his phone rang.
“Hey, Mom. What’s up?”
“Jeff, have you been hearing the rumblings at school?”
“Some low-level stuff with Wanamaker’s name attached, but what’s going on now, Mom? I haven’t really been paying attention.”
“Jay Wanamaker’s trying to get you fired! He’s painting you as a violent, out-of-control veteran who’s not fit to be working with kids!”
“I guess that doesn’t surprise me. Is he doing anything else?” He was counting to one hundred in his head, trying to keep his cool.
“He’s calling for a meeting of the entire high school faculty! He’s going to have the staff vote to ask the Board of Trustees to remove you!” Marisa was getting upset.
“Mom, deep breath. You think that’s really gonna go anywhere? When’s the meeting?”
“Next Monday, the thirteenth, at 6:30pm. It’s going to be in the Feldman Auditorium.”
The gears were already turning. “No worries, Mom. This is gonna all be just fine.”
Jeff and his guest for the meeting entered the Feldman Auditorium just after 6:30 the following Monday evening. His accuser was already railing at the pulpit. Jeff marched straight down the center aisle towards Jay Wanamaker.
“This meeting is for faculty only!”
“Ah, how soon we forget, Mr. Wannabe...”
“Whatever. Did you forget about our first meeting? In the weight room?” Jeff pulled his school ID from his coat pocket. “I believe mine says FACULTY like everyone else’s in this room, with the exception of the sergeant here. Anyway, I understand I’m a dangerous and violently unstable veteran who is unsuitable to be around kids?”
“You are! You pointed a gun at four men!”
“Oh, do you mean the four men who broke into my apartment in the middle of the night? Those four men? What, no answer? STREAK! ROLL TAPE!“ The audio of Jeff’s 9-1-1 call sounded throughout the hall, carried by the well-placed speakers and excellent acoustics. When it ended, Jeff took up the story again. “As you heard I remained inside the apartment, just observing, until they smashed the window on my door and entered my residence. I held them at gunpoint until the police arrived and arrested them.”
“You had no call to do that! You could have left!“
“He had no duty to leave his apartment, Wanamaker!” Jack shouted from behind Jeff. He made a disgusted noise before stomping past Jeff. He grabbed the microphone off the lectern, causing it to squeal. “For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Sergeant Jack Dwadczik of the Enfield Police Department. Mr. Knox is duly licensed to own firearms, and is well trained in their use; he also knows when not to use them. To answer Mr. Wanamaker’s assertion that Mr. Knox could have left his apartment to avoid confrontation: he had no requirement under the law to leave! NONE!”
“Allow me to quote Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 278, Section 8a for you:”
In the prosecution of a person who is an occupant of a dwelling charged with killing or injuring one who was unlawfully in said dwelling, it shall be a defense that the occupant was in his dwelling at the time of the offense and that he acted in the reasonable belief that the person unlawfully in said dwelling was about to inflict great bodily injury or death upon said occupant or upon another person lawfully in said dwelling, and that said occupant used reasonable means to defend himself or such other person lawfully in said dwelling. There shall be no duty on said occupant to retreat from such person unlawfully in said dwelling.
“If that person had taken one more step towards Mr. Knox on the night in question, Mr. Knox would have been justified in pulling the trigger on his shotgun. All four intruders have since been convicted of multiple crimes, including breaking and entering into Mr. Knox’s apartment. The only crimes committed that night were committed against Mr. Knox!”
“I completely agree, Sergeant!” a new voice called. A woman strode down the aisle from the shadows at the back of the auditorium. She smiled at Jeff on her way by. Wanamaker she ignored, despite his signaling from behind the lectern. She extended a hand, requesting the microphone; the woman nodded to Jack when he handed it to her. “Ladies and gentlemen, I am...”
“Excuse me, Mrs. Hightower... ?” Wanamaker tried to interrupt.
Meredith Hightower ignored him. “ ... Meredith Hightower. I am the Chair of...”
“Mrs. Hightower, please...”
“ ... the Board of Trustees...”
“Mister Knox!” she called, silencing Wanamaker.
“Yes, ma’am?” Jeff answered.
“You spent some time in my home state of North Carolina while you were in the Army, did you not?”
“If this person interrupts me again, I’d like to ask you to do something.”
“What’s that, ma’am?”
“Would you stomp a mudhole in his ass and walk it dry, please?” she asked in her best Southern Belle voice. She asked with the sweetest smile ever on her face.
“It would be my pleasure, ma’am.”
“Now, as I was trying to say my name is Meredith Hightower, Chair of the Board of Trustees. I can see by your faces that most of you are here to support Mr. Knox, and that you would have voted down any motion to try and dismiss him. I am here to tell you that regardless of the outcome of this meeting, Jeff Knox will remain on the staff here until such time as he chooses to leave us.”
“For those of you who do not know Mr. Knox, allow me to fill you in on who he is. He is a native of this town, of Enfield. His father has owned a prosperous business in town for many years. His mother is Marisa Knox, a long-time and valued member of the middle school faculty. He graduated this school in 1987, his sister in 1988. He decided to enlist in the United States Army, where he volunteered for both the Infantry and the paratroops. He is a combat veteran of both Panama and the Persian Gulf; he was wounded in action in Panama.”
“While he was in the Army, he completed a Bachelors of Arts in history. That’s while he exceeded what is required of a soldier; he earned two early promotions and numerous commendations. He chose to come back to Enfield. He chose to return to Thompkins, to come back here and to do the same thing you do: make our students’ dreams come true. He’s chosen to do that by working with our hockey team. You can vote to do whatever you want. The Trustees have already met and decided what we’re going to do, which is to keep him. Thank you. Good night.”
Meredith handed the microphone back to Jack and started walking up the aisle. Jay Wanamaker darted around the lectern and made one more attempt to speak to her. She stopped, looking him in the eye. “You may want to update your resumé, Mr. Wanamaker.” She left the stunned man and continued up the aisle. She walked to the audio/visual booth. Darrin Whitmore stood when she entered.
“Thank you for the phone call, Mr. Whitmore.”
“Of course, Mrs. Hightower. Coach Knox is the reason I have a second chance to play high school hockey.”
“Make the most of it then.”
That second chance paid dividends for the team as well. The Black Bears went from a team winning half its games to a team burning up the conference. The addition of Darrin was the catalyst the team needed. They stormed the gates during the second half of the season and were seeded third in the conference tournament in mid-February. They cut through the other teams with ease. Their combined margin of victory over three games was fifteen-to-two.
The Western Mass Division II tournament was more of the same for Thompkins. Seeded second, they cut down the seventh-seed, Monument Mountain Regional High School from Great Barrington, in a lopsided six-to-one game. Amherst High fell next, three-to-zero.
Thompkins hosted the Western Mass final against the eighth-seed, their old rival Petersham Preparatory Academy. Petersham, who eliminated first-seeded Greenfield in the first round, knew they had nothing to loose. They knocked the higher-seeded Bears back on their heels by scoring first at the mid-point of the first period. Jeff slapped Darrin on the helmet just before the end of that period. He’d just watched the freshman skate two uninspired shifts.
“Hey!” Jeff called to Darrin when he turned around. “Did I waste three months? Was I wasting my time?”