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Have you read this week's epistle from Jules?

Episode 172

How Do You Hold a Wave Upon the Sand?

     Father Fogarty Finnegan awakes at a few minutes before four o'clock in the morning. Some moments pass before his supine body recognizes that his mind has reached consciousness, then he reflexively opens an eye or two, pulls himself out of the bed and slumps into the bathroom, after which he immediately throws himself back into the bed and attempts to resettle himself under the covers. His first mass tomorrow is not until seven. He should be able to sleep until six. Except that Father Finnegan is not one of the world's better sleepers. Insomnia has plagued him since childhood, although its manifestation has changed. As a younger man he could never fall asleep; in his maturity, he can never stay asleep.

     It is not stress that plagues the priest's deepest hours. If it were, he could address the source of his unease, remove it, and sleep like the proverbial baby (keeping in mind that it is only proverbial babies who are paragons of Morpheus; actual babies only sleep when their parents are doing nothing worth interrupting). It is, instead, the disease of sleeplessness itself, or perhaps the syndrome of sleeplessness, or whatever medical term one might wish to append to the simple fact that the worst insomnia means being awake when you should be asleep with no root cause for your condition. You toss, you turn, you think, you ponder. You plan out your next day, you relive your previous day. You outline your scholarly biography of Joan of Arc, you devise ways of improving on the paper clip. You fantasize that you possess enormous superpowers, you fantasize that you are the leader of an enormous superpower. You design new rides for nonexistent theme parks, you imagine inheriting untold billions. You clear your mind of all thoughts, you numb your brain with a mantra of sheep-counting.

     You do everything but sleep.

     Father Fogarty Finnegan rolls over. There is one thought that plagues him this morning, that does keep niggling at him, providing more than the issue of merely not sleeping. He has a problem, and maybe if he solves it, he will sleep. The problem is the death of Sister Levi al-Chaim. How do you solve a problem like Sister Levi al-Chaim? Her death, so unexpected insofar as the death of any elderly person is unexpected, or for that matter that any death is unexpected, even the youngest infant is only spanning life for a limited--

     Get a grip on yourself, Fogarty. That's the problem with insomnia. You start thinking about one thing, maybe the thing that is keeping you awake, and you drift into some subsidiary thing, and you never solve the underlying problem, and you stay awake flowing with the currents of semiconsciousness while unconsciousness continues to elude you because its underlying cause has drifted out of reach, drawn by those same currents of thought and thoughtlessness that --

     Fogarty, you're doing it again. Think of Sister Levi. Think of this mainstay of the Forensics universe, a woman who has given her life to her students (or what was left of her life after first giving it to Jesus). She has passed to undoubted paradise in the blink of an eye. No one got a chance to say goodbye to her, and now her mortal remains will be taken away and that will be the end of her. The convent of Hebrides High School has arranged for their local funeral director to claim the body this coming day from the hospital where it is now. No doubt the school will celebrate Sister's life with due pomp, but what about the rest of the forensics community? What can be done now, while the Bede is still in business?

     Father Fogarty Finnegan's eyes pop wide open. Of course! It is what Sister Levi would want, and he can imagine no better way for the forensics community at large to honor this wonderful woman. It will take a few phone calls, a little arranging here and a little arranging there, but it can be done, and forensics will be the better for his having done it.

     Now he can sleep in peace.


Or as Another Song Says, It's that Old Devil Moon

     At this same moment, in a forgotten corner of either New York or Pennsylvania, or perhaps New Jersey, not a single person is awake at the tournament hotel. Every room is quiet, except for occasional snores or the soft drone of a television that was never turned off. The students themselves are switched completely off, and nothing short of the earthquake of wake-up calls and alarm clocks that will shake their firmament in a few hours will bring them to consciousness.

     The night manager who should be sitting at the front desk looking busy, is in the back office. He is stretched out on his chair with his head tilting back and his mouth open, a position of apparent total discomfort that he manages to find nearly every night that he is on duty. A half an hour of sleep in the deepest night always seems to revive him enough for the earliest rush of the morning. He is on duty until eight a.m., having started at midnight. If anything were to happen now, his phone would ring, or there would be enough noise from the front desk to startle him back to the real world. So he takes advantage of the time that is available to him. It is the best time of his working day.

     In the lobby, Disney Davidson and Gloria Fudless are likewise sound asleep. They are still on the couch. Disney has his arm around her, and she is snuggled into him in a fit made perfect by circumstance. They have talked practically the whole night through, and connected on every intellectual level they visited. Disney, who never thought of himself as being able to talk much to girls, found himself unable to shut up except with he was listening intently. Gloria, whose issues of identity may not be solved for years, if ever, found someone to share those issues with.

     Disney, the LD ronin, will have to judge this morning when the tournament starts up again. He will probably be able to devote about two percent of the necessary rigidity of concentration. He may make a bad decision or two, and leave a few debaters seriously shafted. In the best of all possible worlds, they will not hold this against him. If the song is correct, the world will always welcome lovers. And as another song says, if this isn't love, then the whole world's crazy.

Is That Your Final Answer?


     The tension that surrounds the morning is making Camelia Maru's existence almost unbearable.

     She alone of the girls in her room broke. After Tom Abelard left her last night, it didn't take long for the three OOers to return to claim their share of sleeping space, and although Camelia has no conscious memory of how it happened, she awoke on the floor, with no pillow, no blanket, and no one giving a damn. She had quickly showered and dressed while her roommates returned to the deepest of sleep, since they had nothing better to do with their morning. At seven a.m. Camelia was trundling down to the lobby with her backpack and her suitcase, since she would not be returning to the hotel again before leaving, and there was no way she could count on any of the sleeping OO girls to take care of it for her. It was as if Tom had flipped a switch, turning Camelia from welcome guest to unwanted hitchhiker-- or better yet, a forensician non grata.

     The lobby is teeming with debaters and Speechies who have broken, as well as many of their colleagues who have no choice but to return to the school to cheer their teammates on. While the Quilty bus will make as many trips as necessary to accommodate the ins and the outs, other schools are not so fortunate in their transportation arrangements, with one trip sufficing for everyone. As usual it is not hard to distinguish those still in the tournament from their less winning brethren: anyone not looking like an underage lawyer is not going to be in for the tin-taking later in the day.

     The Quilty bus is waiting outside the front door, and Camelia makes her way through the crowd to get to it. Once outside, she is hit by an unexpected blast of wintry morning. The bus driver opens up to allow her to climb the stairs, hauling her luggage behind her.

     "You're the first one here," he tells her.

     She nods, not surprised. Quiltians tend to arrive places at the last minute.

     Camelia arranges her suitcase on the second seat and drops down next to it. She nervously pulls out her cases and tries to concentrate on them. She is assuming that round one will be a flip round, and she isn't sure yet if she prefers affirmative or negative. If only she had some idea of what her record is, but all of yesterday is now something of a blank to her. The only thing she remembers completely and distinctly is Tom Abelard in her room last night.

     And she doesn't like that memory at all.

     The bus door opens, and a handful of Speechies come aboard, noisily working their way to the middle of the bus, studiously avoiding any eye contact with Camelia. The door opens again, for two more Speechies, and then one more time, for Tom and Bob Cratch. They sit down in the seat in front of Camelia after tossing their luggage on the open seats on the other side from them.

     "Good morning," Camelia says, leaning forward.

     "Hi," Bob Cratch says, turning back to look at her for no more than a second.

     Tom Abelard ignores her completely.

     The ride to the school takes little more than five minutes, and through it Camelia can feel the chill emanating from the seat in front of her. She has to find a chance to talk to Tom, to explain to him that she really likes him, but that she was a little afraid of him last night, and that she really isn't looking to get into that sort of relationship right now. Except, even as she forms those thoughts, she realizes that she used Tom to get to the Venerable Bede, and her dishonesty up until last night will outlast her excuses this morning. But on the other hand, she has to wonder who he thinks he is, taking advantage of her like that. There was no explicit promise in anything she said or did, just a debater asking a favor. She liked Tom from the first minute she met him, and she would like to be able to keep liking him, but there was something about him after last night that seemed a lot less than likable. But at the same time, there was something about herself before last night that was a lot less than likable too.

     When they reach the school, they all quietly pour out of the bus and walk wordlessly to the cafeteria, where the break round schematics will be posted. Everyone knows from the party last night who has broken, but no one knows who's hitting whom. The pairings will be out now.

     A thought occurs to Camelia. What if she has to debate Tom Abelard? After last night, she doesn't think she could face him in a debate round, at least not right away. She feels intimidated by simply walking behind him; how would she feel standing next to him in a cross-examination?

     And then it occurs to her that as far as the Bede is concerned, they are both from the same school. They can't hit each other. Or they can hit each other, but they won't debate. It will be a coach's decision. Except, of course, that they don't have a coach.

     Of course, the odds of them hitting are infinitesimally small. Or, well, small enough. They have to be in the same pairing bracket. There are 32 debaters still in it, and the odds of Tom being at the other end of her seeding tree are, she figures, 31 to 1. Or 32 to 1. Or, maybe, 16 times 16 to 1 -- Camelia isn't exactly sure, not having done probabilities yet in math class.

     By the time they reach the cafeteria, Tom and Bob Cratch are walking a good twenty yards ahead of her. They disappear into the building before she arrives. If they are attempting to make her feel unwanted, they are doing an excellent job of it. The Quilty Speechies, no doubt oblivious to what is happening among the LDers, are trailing a few steps behind Camelia.

     When Camelia opens the door of the cafeteria, she follows the crowd upstairs to the ballot table area rather than down to the seating areas of yesterday. She has been told that the announcements of the pairings will be made by the hanging of large posters with the names of the breakers and their panels of judges, and the upstairs room, in which there is barely enough space to exhale since it is packed with every forensician of every denomination from a five hundred mile radius, is indeed lined with posters hung at about ten feet above the ground. Members of the crowd are pushing and pulling their way from one poster to the next, trying to find the ones that are relevant. It is like participating in a vast biology experiment.

     OO is over there. Camelia is crushed to her left, and over there is DI. Off in the distance she thinks she can see US Extemp. And then, finally, the letters L and D beckon to her from the right rear of the room, and she dives into the pool of humanity, swimming her way upstream.

     There is a small puddle of unexpected space directly below the LD pairings, and Tom Abelard and Bob Cratch are standing in the middle of that emptiness with unexpected expressions on their faces. Tom looks happier than Camelia has ever seen him, while Bob Cratch has a look of painful distractedness. She glances up over their heads, and sees her code.

     And imagines what her own expression must be.

     "Coach's decision," Tom says to her through his big smile.

     She is not paired against Tom; she is paired against Bob Cratch. Nice old harmless Bob Cratch.

     "How do we find out who's the higher seed?" Camelia asks.

     "The higher seed?" Tom repeats. "My dear young lady, there is nothing to find out. In lieu of a coach, we have me. And when it comes to seeds, there are Quiltians and there are fellow travelers. The Quiltians get all the seeds, and what you get is the pits."


     "But nothing. You are the lower seed because I say you're the lower seed."

     "But maybe I'm--"

      "Are you listening to me? You can go home now. You're finished." Very slowly Tom Abelard raises his right hand, his index finger pointing upward. He carefully moves the finger closer and closer to Camelia until he is softly touching the tip of her nose. "Camelia, my dear, you are… the weakest link. Goodbye."

     And then he snaps his fingers in front of her nose, startling her, before he spins around to face Bob Cratch.

     She has been dismissed. Completely.

     The tension of the tournament, and whatever it was that happened between her and Tom last night, and Melvish's bracelet, and the whole deception of the weekend, and not telling her parents where she really was, and not having Jasmine to help her sort things out -- all at once all the pieces come together in an unbearable weight, and she can barely breath. She starts pushing her way toward the exit. She has to get out of here. But there are too many people. It's too far to go. Tom and Bob Cratch have disappeared into the crowd, and she sees no familiar faces. Not too far to her right, there's a hallway, and it's empty. There has to be another way out of here!

     She breaks free of the sea of humanity. She is starting to cry, and she wants to run. She doesn't know where, but she wants to get away as quickly as she can. There is a stairway down, and she fights the light tide of risers as she heads to where she hopes she can find fresh air. Someone bumps her shoulder with a backpack that must be filled with cannonballs.

     She keeps moving, and at the bottom of the stairs, she can see a doorway to the world straight ahead. She runs to it through a handful of forensicians, pushing it open with all her might, as if by sheer force she can make the building and everything in it disappear if she only moves forward with enough determination.

     She is concentrating on where she is coming from, and not where she is going, and it is in total shock that she suddenly finds herself bumping into someone, someone who steadies the two of them, and she is staring into the eyes of Tarnish Jutmoll, who has a hand on each of her arms. The Bisonette team is on either side of them.

     "I am not losing my mind," Tarnish says to her triumphantly. "You are here!"

     "Oh my God!" Camelia breaks away from him, running as fast as she can.

     "I told you I saw one of my students here," Tarnish says triumphantly to Amnea Nutmilk.

     "I didn't disbelieve you," she replies.

     "You acted as if you disbelieved me."

     Amnea Nutmilk shrugs, then swiftly turns her head as one of her own students starts tearing off in the same direction as Camelia.

     "What got into him?" Tarnish asks. "Does he know Camelia?"

     "Binko? It would seem as if."

     Tarnish shakes his head. "It's hard enough managing their debate lives, without having to manage their love lives."

     "They're not asking you to manage their love lives, my dear. Come on, we have to get in there. I'm probably going to have to judge, and Chesney is still in the tournament."

     "What about those two?"

     "What about them? They can't go all that far."

     Jutmoll sighs. "I guess not."

     And the remaining Bisonetters head into the building, to finish up the rest of their tournament.

What is Father Fogarty Finnegan's great idea?

Is it Disney and Gloria 4ever?

Is Tom Abelard really that big a quiz show fan?

Will Binko catch up with Camelia?

Will Rudy and Donna kiss and make up?

Check out our special guest stars in our Venerable finale: "No doubt the same guy who figured if you beat an egg white for half an hour you can make a lemon meringue pie also came up with the idea for deep fried Mars bars, or, Pardon Me Ford, is that the Chatty Nixon Boo Boo?"

Go to the next episode due June 6, 2001.