Past episodes Reader's Guide to the Nostrum Universe Nostrum Correspondence Corner
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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?
The bus is waiting in front of the school, its engine rumbling with diesel dyspepsia, puffing steam and smoke into the cold of the autumn morning, a yellow monster surrounded by its own effluvia.
It is the day of the Blessed Moly speech tournament.
"Good morning, Mr. Jutmoll," the driver says as the coach climbs the stairs.
"Good morning, Rick. How are you today?"
"Fine. And yourself?"
"Very well, thank you."
Amnea Nutmilk follows Jutmoll into the bus. He performs the introductions between her and the driver, and the three of them are immediately the best of chums. It behooves any coach to remain on the good side of the transportation department, be it the garage manager or the secretary or the drivers. With the team traveling on a weekly basis, the last thing the coach needs is a breakdown of the bus supply network. Or a breakdown of a bus, for that matter, but that's a different issue altogether. Jutmoll has never had to suffer through a broken bus, and he hopes to leave his string unbroken.
No kids have shown up yet. Amnea and Tarnish have arrived almost ten minutes early, unlike the students who inevitably arrive within a minute or two of exactly on time. They may be willing to give up their Saturday mornings, but not any more of those mornings than is absolutely necessary.
"So are you ready to conquer Speech?" Jutmoll asks Amnea.
She smiles. "As ready as I'll ever be. I just hope I don't have to judge Dec."
"Everyone hopes they don't have to judge Dec," Jutmoll replies.
"Do you think you'll be able to get me into a round of Duo?"
"It will all be pre-arranged," Jutmoll says. "With a Speech tournament, unlike with Debate, you can usually schedule the entire tournament in advance, unless of course there are elimination rounds."
"Are there elimination rounds today?"
He shakes his head. "Three in and we're out," Jutmoll says. "An easy day."
"Good. I'd like an easy day my first time out."
"Don't worry about it. You'll do fine. And I think you'll like it."
"I hope so. I could be home sleeping in this one day a week."
"And abandoning me to the wolves?" Jutmoll asks.
"Tarnish, my dear, if you can't handle the wolves, no one can."
The first car of the morning pulls into the parking lot, a Ford Taurus. Ashley Ambrose exits from the passenger side. She is wearing a violet suit and a white silk shirt, with a kelly green scarf around her neck. Add to this her light blonde hair and she is a riot of color.
"She looks like a flower show after a hurricane," Amnea mutters.
"That's Ashley," Tarnish replies sotto voce as the girl comes up the stairs of the bus.
"Good morning, Mr. Jutmoll," she beams.
"Good morning, Ashley."
The girl continues down the aisle to the rear.
"Does she always smile like that?" Amnea whispers.
"She's very polite," Jutmoll says. "She's an OOer."
"She's one tetanus shot away from permanent lockjaw."
"Amnea, you are a horrible person!"
Amnea responds with a very large, insincere smile.
The next arrival is Kumar Juvaswami, with his green fedora planted firmly on his head. He greets the coach breathlessly and heads toward the rear of the bus to join Ashley.
"Nice hat," Amnea says.
"Poor Kumar." Jutmoll shakes his head. "He was going to do a Duo today, but he got sick and couldn't do the practicing. So he's only going to be able to do his Humor piece."
"So what's wrong with that?"
"He probably would have taken tin doing the Duo. His partner was very strong. But in HI on his own, his chances are iffy. A terrible way to end his Speech career."
"That's right," Amnea says, straightening in her seat. "For these kids today, it's the last time."
"The last time," Jutmoll repeats. "Hard to imagine. And next week it's the end of the LDers. The end of an era."
She takes his hand, but says nothing.
"Good morning, Mr. Jutmoll."
Cartier Diamond has come up the stairs. With her is a young man she introduces as her judge, Braun Saxon.
"Braun." The name reverberates in Jutmoll's mind. He feels he ought to know who Braun is, but at best he's some connection of Cartier's, and since after today Cartier will be history, Jutmoll doesn't trouble himself about it.
"We can't drive behind the bus, can we?" Cartier asks.
"No, for the thousandth time. School rules; you know that."
"School rules." She exchanges a glance with her companion, and the two of them continue walking.
"That man is married," Amnea says after they disappear into the back of the bus.
"He's married. I distinctly saw the tan line on his left ring finger. He usually wears a wedding ring, but he isn't wearing it today."
"That's it!" Jutmoll says. "The married boyfriend. That's who Braun is."
"That's her boyfriend, and he's married?"
"I thought they'd broken up."
"They're obviously back together now. What are you running here, Tarnish? 'Dawson's Creek' with speaker points?"
He shrugs as Mark and Noah come into the bus, carrying their evidence tubs.
"Either of you seen Mordred?" Jutmoll asks them.
They shake their heads as they portage toward the rear of the vehicle.
Jutmoll looks at his watch. It is seven-thirty. Time to rock and roll. All he needs are Mordred, and William and David.
"We're waiting for three more," he tells the driver. He turns to Amnea. "My new Extemper and my Duo team."
"We've got plenty of time," the driver says.
"I know." But that doesn't make him any less nervous. Tarnish Jutmoll likes to be on time for things. He does not like it when any of this students hold him up.
After three long minutes, a car pulls up next to the bus, and Mordred Prentice gets out. He is not dressed for a tournament; he is wearing what Jutmoll thinks of as puffy clothes, outdoor gear that is probably never worn in any serious outdoors, plastered with the name of the manufacturer on the back, the front, the side, and presumably inside the lining. On his feet are sneakers the size of the Twin Cities.
A moment passes, and Mordred's head appears at the top of the stairs of the bus.
"Mr. Jutmoll," he whispers softly.
"Mr. Prentice," Jutmoll responds impatiently.
"Can I talk to you?"
"We are talking."
Mordred's eyes dart around. "Outside, I mean."
Jutmoll exhales loudly and follows the boy outside of the bus. "What is it?" he asks as they step onto the curb in front of the school. "Why aren't you dressed to compete?"
"I don't think I can. I'm not ready."
"What do you mean, you're not ready?"
"I'm just not ready. I mean, I don't think I'm cut out to be an Extemper."
The last car drives up and pulls into a parking space. William Hand gets out of the driver's side, and David Brillig exits the passenger side.
"How can you tell me you're not cut out to be an Extemper? You've never done anything in the two years you've been with the team, and now the team is closing down, and this is your last chance, and you tell me you're not going to do it. This is ridiculous."
"But I'd still like to come and, uh, watch," Mordred says, unable to meet Jutmoll's eyes.
"You'd like to watch?" His loudness stops William and David dead in their tracks. "You'd like to watch? Go home, Mordred. You're done. Finished. Kaput. This is our very last Speech tournament, and we are not conducting it for the benefit of entertaining you. You have done nothing to earn any special favors from this team. So long. Farewell. Auf wiedersehen. Good-bye."
He turns and stomps up the stairs to the bus.
"Whoa," David says to his partner. "I've never seen Jutmoll that mad."
"I've never seen Jutmoll mad, period," William replies. He turns to Mordred. "What did you say to him?"
"Just that I wasn't going to do Extemp today. I thought at least he'd let me watch, though. Now how am I going to get home?"
William looks at him meaningfully, then he turns to David. "I was going to talk to Jutmoll myself, but now I think I'll skip it."
A window drops open from the bus. "Are you two getting on?" Jutmoll calls out.
"Right there," WIlliam says, waving.
The window slams up again.
William turns to David. "I'm not going today," he says softly.
David and Mordred both look at him in astonishment.
"But why?" David asks. "I thought we were going--"
"Not we. You. You're getting on that bus."
David seems suddenly dazed. "I don't understand. What about you?"
"I'm staying here with him till the bus gets safely away."
"No, William. What has happened to you? Last weekend we said--
"Last weekend we said a great many things. I decided that I was to do the
thinking for both of us. Well, I've done a lot of it since then and it
all adds up to one thing. You're getting on that bus with Kumar."
"But William, no, I--"
"Now you've got to listen to me. Do you have any idea how important it is for Kumar to win a trophy. This will be his last chance. He's never won anything. Ever. Isn't that true, Mordred?"
Mordred nods. "I think so."
David turns to William. "You're saying this only to make me go."
"I'm saying it because it's true. Inside of us we both know you belong with Kumar today. You've worked on this part with him; doing a Duo with you was the thing that kept him going when they announced the team was over. He's only doing his Humor piece today out of habit. If that bus leaves the parking lot and you're not with him, you'll regret it."
"Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of your life."
David shakes his head. "But what about us?"
He puts his hand on David's arm. "We'll always have Parrots. We didn't have it, we'd lost it, until I came to your house. We got it back last weekend."
"And I thought we were a team again!"
"And we are. But I've got a job to do, too. Where I'm going, you can't follow. What I've got to do, you can't be any part of."
"What job is that?"
"I'm going to take Mordred home." He pauses. "David, Kumar deserves this chance. It's the last chance of his school career to take tin. I'm no good at being noble, but it doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little Speechies don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world of forensics finances. Someday you'll understand that. Not now."
David is speechless.
"Here's looking at you, kid," William says, giving him a soft punch on the arm.
Suddenly Kumar himself is standing next to them.
"Jutmoll sent me out here," he says. "If you don't get on the bus in two seconds, he says he's leaving. Is everything all right?"
"All except one thing," William says. "There's something you should know before you leave. I'm not going. You and David are going to do the Sullivan and Gilbert piece together."
"No buts, Kumar. You know how many trophies I have in my house? I don't care any more. The important thing to me is my friendship with David, and I've got that back."
Kumar looks at him meaningfully. "You don't have to--"
"I know I don't have to. That's the beauty part of it. And don't try to get me to explain. There isn't enough time."
Kumar's eyes begin to mist. "I mean, thank you, man. I can really do this. David and I can win today. For you."
"You don't have to thank me, Kumar."
There is a honk of the bus horn.
"Are you ready, David?" Kumar asks.
David looks at William for the last time.
"Yes, I'm ready. Good-bye, William. God bless you."
"You better hurry, or you'll miss that bus."
As David and Kumar walk up the stairs to the bus, Mordred regards William curiously.
"Well. You're a sentimentalist!"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Jutmoll's questioning face looms in the window of the bus as the door closes and the bus pulls away down the driveway toward the exit.
"Now what?" Mordred asks.
"Now I drive you home," William replies.
"I've got nothing to do today," Mordred says. "Now that I'm not going to the Moly."
"Either do I, for that matter," William responds.
He and Mordred start walking toward his car. The mist hangs heavy on the morning.
"You could come to my house," Mordred says. "I know it's early and everything. Maybe we could have breakfast."
"I have to admit, I haven't eaten anything yet today."
"And I rounded up this movie for the weekend that's supposed to be good. It's called The Usual Suspects. Did you ever see it?"
William shakes his head. "Can't say as I have."
"Want to come over?"
They are looking at each other over the top of William's car.
"Mordred," William says, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
They get into William's car, and drive off together into the morning.
Now do you understand why we asked you to watch Casablanca last summer?
Did you watch Casablanca last summer, or were you too enthralled by There's Something About Mary ?
Would Ronald Reagan have been one-tenth as good as Bogart in the part?
Is colorizing this movie a sin great enough to send Ted Turner directly to "the other place"?
Is Jane Fonda the other place?
The answer will be far from apparent in our next episode: "Stubby Kaye on the Dark Side, or, Sith Down You're Rockin' the Boat."
Go to the next episode due June 23, 1999.