by Rick Beck

Chapter 3

Truth & Consequences

After an assembly to honor Grant's football team for winning its eighth consecutive football game, Coach Winger finds a note in his school mailbox. Suddenly the team that refuses to lose is in danger of having their undefeated season ended by a technicality.

The coach is having difficulty deciding what to do.

Should he confront Bonner. Risk upsetting him before the biggest game of the season or should he destroy the anonymous note?

Closing in on the greatest season of his coaching career, Coach Jonathan Wilson Winger was at a loss. No matter what he did, there were going to be consequences.

The information contained on the note seemed improbable. His mind couldn't get beyond the confusion the note caused. Coach Winger was an educated man and he should be able to find a reasonable solution that wouldn't compromise his team and end the best season in Grant's history short of its natural completion.

He was in an awkward position. His career and the teams season depended on him making the right call. What was the right call and could he make it and still live with himself after he did? The answer eluded him.

The note could still be a hoax. It was unsigned.

There plain and simply was no replacement for Bonner. Scott could take snaps and hand off to one of the backs, but they weren't going to beat Woodruff with a patchwork backfield.

If they didn't beat Woodruff, there would be no championship game. He couldn't help but wonder if that's why the note arrived now. Someone wanted Grant to fall to Woodruff.

For the first time in his twelve years at Grant, he knew his Lions were better than the Woodruff Eagles. As the team stood, with Bonner at quarterback, Grant would likely win.

With Bonner at the helm winning the championship was a real possibility. Without him the winning streak would end at Woodruff. The repercussions could be never ending.

Coach Winger hated the idea of being dishonest. If he broke a rule to win, and got caught doing it, his coaching career was over. He might coach at some out of the way backwater, but he'd never get a shot at coaching a first class program again and his reputation would be trashed no matter where he coached.

Maybe by talking to Bonner the answer will become obvious. The note could well be a hoax. Spoiling what the entire team had accomplished was unthinkable. What he should do is tell Bonner to clear out his locker, but what if the note wasn't true. What if it was meant to disrupt preparations for the Woodruff game.

What was his next step? If this came to light, he was obligated to file a report with league headquarters. They'd rule Grant was playing with an ineligible player. The entire season would be forfeit.

What if he said nothing? Let Bonner play the last two games. An undefeated season and a championship would speak for itself. The league would have a hard time overruling that once it was done.

What if this wasn't the only note sent. Would anyone start an investigation on the basis of an unsigned note? Such a note wasn't evidence of anything. It was gossip.

Who would know he got the note?

The author of the note. He would pick up a paper and see that Bonner played in the Woodruff game.

Someone was out there that might be able to blow up Grant's season no matter what Coach Winger did. He had to do something to head off that possibility. He was the coach.

"Bonner!" he yelled through his open office door, having waited for as long as he could.

"Yeah, Coach?" Bonner answered from the locker room.

"Get your ass in here, pronto!"

"Yeah, Coach, I got to dress, " Bonner explained in his raspy voice.

"Do it pronto and get your ass in here," Coach Winger said loud and clear.

He was setting wheels in motion that would leave a trail a mile wide if there was ever an investigation. He should have waited until he could get Bonner alone, but he hadn't. He needed to do something now.

Bonner didn't like the sound in Coach Winger's voice. As Tad stood next to him drying his hair, the coaches bellow echoed through the locker room. Everyone looked up.

Had the fair haired Bonner finally stepped into it?

"Are you OK," Tad asked, wrapping his towel around his narrow waist.

"I'm fine. He probably put too much sugar in his ice tea," Bonner said, but the sound the coach made worried Grant's quarterback.

Bonner finished buttoning the shirt as he stepped into the coaches office.

"Shut the door and get your butt in that chair, " the coach ordered with anger in his voice.

Coach Winger was as close to blowing a fuse as he'd ever come. He wanted to stay in control, but there were some things that didn't come with an on and off switch.

Bonner sat facing the Coach's desk.

The coach had yet to stop pacing behind his chair.

This caused Bonner great distress. Coach Winger looked as if he was about to explode. Bonner calculated that only one thing was capable of getting this kind of reaction out of him. The only flaw in Bonner's makeup had been revealed. Nothing else would explain the emotion in the man's words. He'd maintained a gentleness while handling Bonner since the Central game, once he realized the season depended on him.

The truth must have come out, but how? No one knew anything. Smart people had covered his trail.

If that was what was eating on Winger, it would take some fancy footwork to defuse this eventuality.

Bonner thought about this contingency, after Casterbrook's injury. Being the starting quarterback for the Grant Lions was not part of the original plan. His initial instincts were to run like hell.

He wasn't as sure about being the starting quarterback as he was about making the team. It was a big step up, a challenge.

Was he good enough to pull that off? There was only one way to find out.

Once Casterbrook went down, who else was there?

He was thrust into the league's football wars at Central. After a pretty bleak beginning, Bonner began to play football the way his brothers taught him to play.

It was too late to devise a reasonable escape plan after that. His initial instincts weren't developed beyond, run like hell.

Once he took the first snap, there was no escape clause that appealed to him. He decided to see if he could be Grant's starting quarterback. He could for seven games. He lead the Grant Lions to seven wins.

Bonner was trapped by his deception. Unless he was wrong, it was about to come back to bite him. In his wildest dreams he'd never seen himself leading the Grant Lions onto the field before a game. He'd never seen himself as becoming one of the most popular boys in school.

How could he. The plan was to make the team.

He didn't want it to stop playing once he started. He couldn't quit without knowing how far he could go and they still had Woodruff to beat and a championship game to win. He was living a dream he never dared to have. Why shouldn't he finish what he started and see just how far the Grant Lions could go on his arm? They had been playing the best football they could play and it happened to be the best football being played in the league that season.

But why get too far out ahead of himself. Maybe it was something else. Maybe the worst thing that could possibly happen to him at this stage of the game wasn't happening.

If his secret became public knowledge, he'd not only loose his position as Grant's quarterback, but he'd be thrown out of school to boot, but education wasn't the reason he enrolled at Grant. Football was. Except for one tiny alteration of his documentation, Bonner was like any other kid playing football at Grant.

Maybe it wasn't what he thought. Maybe the coach didn't know the truth.

While passing behind his chair the coach yanked it off the floor and threw it against the file cabinet over and over again. He banged the chair on the floor time and time again, once it failed to sit level on its now broken wheels.

Coach Winger had boiled all afternoon and the pressure was released in his rage. His hopes of a perfect season dashed against the rocks of reality, like the wheels on his chair were smashed on the concrete floor in his office.

Bonner shuddered. This wasn't going to end well. Secrets were a terrible thing to keep and they became worse once the secret was out, but nothing but the secret would cause Coach Winger to erupt this way. He was always careful with Bonner, until now, and Bonner knew why.

The coach was a good man. He could be reasoned with. Finally picking up his chair, the coach placed it where it belonged behind his desk. He appeared to have gotten what ever it was out of his system.

Bonner waited.

Coach Winger sat down in his now lopsided chair. Bonner was relatively positive that the wheels might come off of one if not both of their wagons by day's end. It was obvious that somehow the truth had surfaced.

The trick would be to state the facts of the matter clearly and without equivocation. It would be necessary to trust Coach Winger's judgment on the matter.

What was done was done. Why not finish the season. If they defeated Woodruff and won the championship, they were going a long way in proving their case to anyone who questions Bonner's eligibility.

Coach Winger wasn't a man who could easily cut and run. If there was a cause bigger than himself, he might see the wisdom in finishing what had been started all those weeks ago. Neither of them wanted to turn back. The season was coming to a close.

Regaining his composure, the coach looked at Bonner. He calmly ran both hands through his thick black hair. He sat up straight, drumming two fingers on his ink blotter. The blotter was filled with the coach's scrawl. Designs, numbers, notes without symmetry covered the blotter. Bonner was written diagonally across the entire ink blotter in bold black letters. A huge question mark came after the name.

The drumming continued.

Bonner anticipated what was coming. It wasn't going to be good. There was no changing what was already set in motion. The trick would be to finish what they'd started and Bonner had no idea how to reach that outcome.

It was the logical thing to do, since they'd come this far. It wouldn't be without cost, should the truth come out, but an undefeated season and the championship just might be worth the fallout.

Both Coach Winger and Bonner wanted the same thing. Bonner knew the Coach wouldn't call him into the office just to say, 'clean out your locker.' No, there was some give in the coach. He was looking for a way to finish the season with Bonner at quarterback.

Bonner was ready to fight for the starting quarterback position, which was a dream too vast to consider at the time of tryouts for the team. Making the team was a long shot back then. Once on the team, there was the outside hope of coming in to spell the starting quarterback late in tough games. It's what backup quarterbacks did.

At five foot eight and one hundred and fifty pounds, Bonner was light and agile, not to mention ten pounds lighter than his physical said. A couple of five pound inserts in his clothing accounting for the extra weight. His equipment made him look more like a quarterback. It would be quick accurate releases that told the tale in a game. You couldn't see those aspects by glancing at Bonner.

Casterbrook looked like a quarterback. At six foot and a hundred and eighty pounds, he was in command, He was the returning starting quarterback. He started most games in his junior season. The Grant Lions' future rested on his arm and his slippery running game, until it no longer could. All bets were off after Casterbrook's injury.

Grant's football future was in tatters. The hopes for a championship season were gone.

No one, especially Coach Winger, could imagine a walk-on, a backup quarterback who hasn't played a single down with the first team, could save the season. It was inconceivable. Grant would have yet another losing season. With so much hope, the air went out of Grant's balloon while Casterbrook still lay on Central's football field.

There had been no option and Bonner was the only one in the running for the job. Anyone could stand behind the center and take snaps, but what you did after you got the ball required imagination and skill.

Bonner had none of the assets that made Casterbrook a better than average quarterback. Even with his short comings, Grant had won every game. The only game in doubt was the game in which Casterbrook was injured. He'd fumbled. A Central player ran for a touchdown and the lead.

Bonner struggled but managed to save the Central game. Prepared for defeat, Coach Winger liked how Bonner moved. He was quick. His passes were accurate. These things didn't offset his size.

Replacing Casterbrook, no matter who played in his place, would be unpopular. Put an inferior player in his place and Coach Winger would never hear the end of it.

Something about a season lost and being found again gave Bonner an edge over the negativity. Winning does that. Perhaps Bonner being small somehow helped to win over the student body.

No one imagined Bonner as the starting quarterback but once he was, he proved he was up to the challenge, while being petrified. This wasn't part of the plan, but athletics do make for strange heroes and strange goats.

Everyone at Grant knew who Bonner was. No one knew much about him, not that it mattered. He'd shown up in the nick of time. No one cared where Bonner came from. Coach Winger didn't give it a thought. He walked on at summer practice. He was registered as a Grant student and his physical to play sports at Grant was in order.

What else did a coach need to know?

He hadn't given it a thought until now. He didn't care how Bonner got to Grant, he did. Until he found the note in his mailbox, he knew everything he needed to know. Casterbrook tore up his knee. Bonner replaced him and the Grant Lions were 8-0 for the first time in school history.

Coach Winger knew nothing to the contrary until now. He was innocent until now. Bonner was Grant's quarterback until now. That's what the coach knew looking at Bonner..

What was the right thing to do? What would he do?

If the note was true, what options did he have?

"Hey, Bonner, don't you ever shower?" Crockett asked. "You're lady must love getting a whiff of you. You hiding a tiny pecker or something?"

"If you want to see my dick, just say so Crockett. We shouldn't do it in front of the team though. I wouldn't want you feeling inadequate once you get a look at what I got."

There were chuckles before the locker room went back to its usually low buzz. Coach Winger had heard the exchange. Boys took pride in grossing each other out. He'd heard it all and he could no longer be surprised by boy talk. Coach Winger remembered the conversation. Bonner's physical had said, 'Skin condition makes it advisable for Bonner not to shower in gym. The condition can be spread if another boy comes in contact with water Bonner has been in contact with. It isn't likely, but it is possible. Better to be safe than sorry.'

Coach Winger recalled those precise words, because they struck him as unusual. Bonner's appearance at summer practice had been unusual.

Bonner had been waiting for this confrontation. It was inevitable and he'd known to go at it head on. He was the team's leader in title if not in the minds of defensive players. Casterbrook's friends resented Bonner, but as long as the Grant Lions won, Casterbrook's best buds stayed silent, except for the locker room hijinx.

The difficult part was in keeping Tad from coming to his rescue when someone threw an insult Bonner's way. Tad wanted to protect his smaller friend. This came natural to Tad. It also gave other players something else to talk about.

Crockett was humungous and thus no physical threat to the slightly built Bonner. There was a mismatch physically but in the intelligence end of the game, Crockett couldn't carry Bonner's jockstrap and Bonner knew it. On the intellectual scale, Bonner was quicker on and off the field than most of the Grant players.

Coach Winger had checked it all out thoroughly. Bonner was a good student and football made him popular with the student body. He was a regular guy by all reports.

Bonner walking toward Crockett's locker confused everyone. Stopping very close to Crockett, who was startled to see Bonner come so close, played into Bonner's hands.

"I got me this skin condition, Crockett, old buddy," Bonner said, looping his arm over Crockett's burly shoulder in a friendly gesture.

"What kind of condition?" Crockett quizzed, reluctant to be that close to any boy not on a football field.

"I'd spell it for you but we wouldn't want you to hurt your brain," Bonner said.

A few boys chuckled, realizing Crockett was no match for Bonner in the brain department.

"I caught it while my family was in Asia. There was a bacteria in the water and once you got it inside you, your skin gets funky. You catch it by drinking the water or by having physical contact with someone else, you see," Bonner said, ever so slowly moving his arm away from Crockett.

Crockett looked horrified.

"That's why I don't shower with you boys. It's nothing personal, you see, but I promised to be careful."

"That's gross," Crockett said.

"Don't worry. It's not easy to spread if you remove water from the equation. "An infected person can't give it to you by touching you. I was just pulling your chain, but we're in contact with the same water, the wiggly things would jump off me and into the water and then they can jump on you. Water is the pathway to getting it."

Bonner patted Crockett's shoulder.

"Quit it. Don't touch me," Crockett said, losing his appetite for his annoying banter to get Bonner's goat.

"Why don't we quit trying to cause trouble, Crockett. I don't like trouble on my team and I'm way bigger than Bonner," Tad Johnson said, coming over to stop the confrontation before it could escalate.

Coach Winger moved toward the door of his office. He watched the activities in the locker room. He decided to defuse any further discussions of Bonner's showering habits.

"It's not contagious," Coach Winger said. "We wouldn't let a student come in here if it was contagious or represented any health risk. It's a medical condition and best left to the doctors and not so much football players. It has nothing to do with you boys and that will be the last we hear about it."

Coach Winger gave little thought to that paragraph in Bonner's physical, until now. It would be consistent with the conclusion the note came to.

So could a dozen other things.

Looking at Bonner, Coach Winger saw the same medium size boy he'd been seeing all season. He was still too small to be playing at this level.

How Bonner had the instincts of a seasoned football player was hard to say, but he did. He used his size to his advantage. Bigger boys couldn't stop on a dime and reverse direction in which they were running. When a defense broke through Grant's offensive line to charge Bonner, he stopped moving backward and stepped up. The defense ran right past him, which gave Bonner time to get rid of the ball .

By that time Bonner had honed in on an open receiver, and if he didn't pass, he might run for ten yards.

These things gave Coach Winger heart palpitations and one win after another.

Coach Winger needed to do something, but what? He wouldn't make a decision on his emotions. He had Bonner where he wanted him, but what did he do with him?

The grace and poise of Grant's new quarterback was being discussed around the league by game eight of the season, after another team fell to the Grant Lions. Most teams decided to blitz Bonner as often as possible, and defense men made mad dashes to stop the dancing quarterback before he had time to pass the ball.

By the time most coaches realized they were playing Bonner's game, the Grant Lions led by two or three touchdowns. Bonner didn't set out to pass, but he had no other option with so many boys rushing into Grant's backfield to stop him, but big defensive players couldn't change direction as fast as Bonner could, but they didn't stop trying.

They were playing Bonner's game. While you are chasing the quarterback, his receivers are getting open. Bonner passed accurately while he was on the run. He spent years running from his brothers in games in his old neighborhood.

Those pickup games had taught Bonner well. He had moves honed by years of running from the bigger boys his brothers always brought along to play.

It's why he loved the game. Besides his brothers being good football players, they were quick to admit that Bonner could always figure out a way to throw or run the football before taking another big hit.

He'd wanted to make the Grant football team and what happened after he did wasn't in anyone's game plan.

Bonner wanted to finish what he'd started, and he'd need to be fast on his feet to convince Coach Winger that the right path to take was to let Bonner do what Bonner did best.

It served no purpose to quit before the season ended.

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