ANOTHER SCHOOL YEAR

By peppe 1951

Summary: Another school year is about to begin for Face. What new surprises will he experience?

"What will you do on your last day of freedom before school starts tomorrow, Facey?". Murdock asked as he sat a platter of pancakes and bacon down in front of Face.

"School starts tomorrow?" Face said with disbelief. "Boy, did the summer go by fast," he moaned.

"Today is Labor Day, and school always starts the day after, don't you remember, little brother?" asked BA.

"Yeah, but it feels like school just let out a day ago."

"That is because you have had a busy summer, kid."

"Face, I have to go to the grocery store. Would you like to come, and I'll drop you off at your Aunt's?"

Face brightened up at seeing Abbie and Maggie again, "yes, ma'am, and I would love to come with you."

"Well, go and get ready."

Face flew from the breakfast table and took a quick shower, got dressed, and was waiting at the back door with Charlie.

"Mama, can we stop at the bakery before you drop me off? I want to get some pastries for Aunt Abbie?" Face asked as he saw the bakery coming up.

Mrs. B quickly pulled into the bakery and watched as Face darted out of the car. He was only gone for a few minutes before he reappeared carrying a box with

Parker's Bakery printed on it and hopped back into the car. "I got an assortment for Aunt Abbie to choose from."

"That didn't take long. Wasn't Timmy there, dear?"

"Nope, he went with his dad to get school supplies. I'm going to need those as well, Mama. Being fourteen sucks," Face muttered without remembering who he was with.

"FACE! Watch your tongue, young man." Admonished Mrs. B.

"I'm sorry, I forgot...but it is a bummer that I need someone to take me places when last year I could drive myself."

"Why don't you ask your Aunt to take you while I'm grocery shopping."

"Do you think she would mind?" asked Face.

"I think she would love to do for you. There she is; why not ask her?"

Mrs. B watched as her boy hopped out of the car and ran to his Aunt's house with Charlie only a few steps behind. "Aunt Abbie," Face called, stopping after entering the yard to pet Maggie. "I brought you some pastries from Parker's Bakery," as he handed the box over.

"What do you say we have one of these and visit?"

Face's smile got even bigger. "I was hoping you would say that," and followed her inside. "Mama thought I could visit while she grocery shopped."

While enjoying their treat, Face asked, "Aunt Abbie would you mind taking me to the local Kmart so I can get school supplies?"

"I would love to. I need to get a few things myself."

XXXXXXX

"Face!"

Face turned to the one who shouted his name and found Timmy Parker walking towards him. "Did you have a good time with your grandparents?" Face asked.

Timmy had spent the whole summer in Florida, where his grandparents on his mother's side lived. "Yeah, we went to the beach; I collected sea shells. I also got a little sunburn. They took me to an alligator and ostrich farm and a place that had miniature horses. Some were the same size as Maggie. We went to a Marine Museum and SeaWorld, that's located in Orlando, where my grandparents live."

"It sounds like you had a great time!"

"I did. Did you have a good vacation?"

"I got to go undercover on an A-Team mission as I used to until they learned of my actual age. I was undercover at a Wilderness Camp in Colorado. I rode horses and camped out in a tent…it was great. After returning home for a week or so, Charlie was stolen because a spoiled girl wanted him, but we got him back, and then I was reunited with my aunt. Aunt Abbie is my Mom's older sister. In fact, she is the one that brought me to get school supplies. She bought that small house we usually walk past to school. You know the one had had the small dogs

Behind the black fence."

"I'm so happy for you, Face," began Timmy as his father came up.

"Are you finished shopping, son?" Mr. Parker asked. "Hi Face, shopping for school supplies, I see," as he glanced in Face's cart.

"Yes, sir, plus some extras."

"I'll see you at the Bakery tomorrow as usual?"

Face nodded and watched as they walked away. He ran into other classmates before Abbie joined him. "Are you finished, dear?"

"Yes, ma'am. Aunt Abbie, would you mind if I bring a couple of friends by for a visit tomorrow after school? They are my best friends," Face asked.

"I will be delighted to meet your friends. I'll even bake some cookies for a visit, and they are my famous Blueberry oatmeal cookies," she boasted.

It was the first day of school, and Face was having trouble waking up. He had gotten used to sleeping later, so when Hannibal popped in at five in the morning, Face groaned and pulled the covers back over his head in an attempt to get some more sleep. Murdock wandered in around six to find the boy still sleeping soundly and attempted to wake him as well. " Wakey, wakey Face!" He even went so far as to shake him by the shoulder.

Face opened one eye, recognizing Murdock, and attempted to turn over and go back to sleep. "Just five more minutes, HM," he pleaded.

"Okay, but if you aren't at the breakfast table in thirty minutes, I'm sending the big guy," threatened Murdock.

Face waited until Murdock had left his bedroom before he closed his eyes and went back to sleep.

Everybody was at the breakfast table by six-thirty except for Face.

"It's up to you, big guy, to get Face up. Hannibal tried at five; I tried at six and warned him that he had better get here by six-thirty, and as you see, he hasn't arrived yet."

BA got up and headed to his little brother's room as everyone at the table waited silently. HM started counting down, and when he got to ten, they all heard a roar. BA came back giggling, "He's awake now!"

"What did you do?"

"I dumped him in a cold shower!"

Face came in dressed and ready for breakfast fifteen minutes later. His hair was still wet. "He put me in the shower in my pajamas, and the water was icy," he muttered indignantly.

"You only have yourself to blame, Facey. You should have gotten up when Hannibal first came in!"

"But it was still night when Hannibal came in," argued Face as he continued to eat.

"I did that on purpose, kid, because I knew it was going to take you time to wake up fully. Although I was expecting you to be up when HM came in."

"I was sleepy."

"You shouldn't have been if you went to bed at a reasonable hour the night before. When did you turn your lights off last night, kid?"

SILENCE

"Face, when did you close your eyes last night, Face?" asked Hannibal before a thought struck him. "You watched the tonight show last night, did you?"

"Only the monolog portion of it, then I went straight to bed," Face said as if it was the normal thing to do.

"Well, that explains a lot. You are not getting enough sleep, kid, but I know how to fix your sleep problem."

Face narrowed his eyes as he asked, "How?"

"From now on, your bedtime is nine, and I expect you in bed with your eyes closed by nine!"

Face's mouth opened in shock. "You can't be serious. I'm not a child, Hannibal!"

"No, but you are a kid, and kids don't always follow directions. But I'll give you a second chance; you can go to bed by ten, no Tonight Show, you will be awakened at six and at the breakfast table by six-thirty, bathed and dressed, or your bedtime will officially be at nine!"

"What about Saturday and Sunday? Can I stay up later?"

"Yes, but only an hour later…take it or leave it, kid!"

"I'll take it," Face replied as he fished his last bite.

XXXXXXXX

HM dropped Face off at Parker's Bakery so Face could walk to school with Timmy. They had been doing this ever since they became friends last year. The only difference was that Face parked his Corvette at the bakery. That all changed when Abbie Ross, Face's aunt, produced his actual birth certificate, which listed his birthday as May 1, 1961, instead of a year later. It proved that he was fourteen years old, which made him too young to have a driver's license and much less drive.

"Okay, what did you do to have your car taken away?" asked Timmy after HM drove off.

"Nothing personally; Aunt Abbie produced my legal birth certificate, which lists my birth year as 1961. I'm really only 14, and took away not only my driver's license but for me to drive," replied Face gloomy.

"Bummer, but on your next birthday, you will be able to drive."

"Yeah, but it is a whole year away!"

"Timmy, and want you and Neal to come with me to my Aunt's house. I want my best friends to meet her. She's looking forward to meeting you; she's even going to make our cookies. Will you come?"

Timmy nodded. "Where does she live?"

"Do you see that small house that we are about to walk past?" Face explained.

Timmy nodded.

"That's her house…and there is Maggie out in the yard," exclaimed as he rained to the house.

"Hey, girl," he greeted the golden retriever. The dog was all over him when he entered the gate. "Face!"

Face looked up into the face of his aunt. He stood and walked toward her, giving her a brief hug and then, remembering Timmy, quickly introduced him. "This is Timmy Parker," but before he could say more, they heard the bell ringing.

"We got to go…see you after school," Face said before running to school with Timmy. They barely made it into their homeroom before getting into trouble for being late.

Face found a desk next to his other friend Neal and sat down; Timmy sat behind Neal. Since the teacher hadn't arrived, the three friends began to talk. That was when Face invited Neal to go with them after school to his aunt's house. Face glanced around the room and noticed that Tony Decker wasn't in his homeroom and sighed relief. "Now, if I can just avoid him in my other classes, this will be a good year," he thought.

It was during lunch, when Face and his friends were together, that he told them the story of how his mother bested a bully. He had the whole table laughing uncontrollably by the end of the story. "Your mother sounds a whole like you, Face. Maybe that is where you get your ability to fight bullies from," remarked

Neal. "I remembered how you got Jake to stop bullying Timmy and me into doing his homework."

"I wonder how he is enjoying Military School…all that discipline and doing his own work," remarked Face.

"You ought to be glad that you were at camp when Jake returned from that Military school his father sent him to. He was only home for about two weeks, and all he talked about was getting even with you," Kathy told him.

"What about his two cousins? Did he mention them?" Face asked. It had been the cousins who had ganged up on him and totaled his first corvette.

"They were given the choice of serving time or joining the army. They choose the army and are now stationed in Germany. You won't have to worry about them for at least four years," Kathy replied. "Jake was mad about them getting caught, too."

Unbeknown to Face and his friends, Tony had heard Face tell the story of how his mother got back at the bully for stealing her chocolate. "Chocolate ex-lax…I think I can use that to get Face into trouble sometime this year," he thought.

Tony's father, and a former commanding officer of Face's when he first served in Vietnam, had ordered him to stop picking on Face and given him a taste of his riding quirt as a reminder of what would happen if he. Of course, Tony blamed that on Face and wanted to get the boy in trouble. He would just have to be careful how he accomplishes it.

It was during P.E. that the coach mentioned they would be having trial outs for two sports: basketball and baseball. There was a form he was handing out that would need a parent's signature for permission to play. Face quickly got one. "I'm going to try out for baseball. We used to play it at St. Mary's, and I got pretty good. I was a good hitter, too. I'm sure Hannibal will sign, giving me permission to play."

The rest of the day went well for Face but by the time the last bell rung dismissing

School for the day Face was ready to go. He got his books and waited for his friends at the school steps, and the three walked quickly to his aunt's house.

"Aunt Abbie," he called out after entering her house. "We're here."

Maggie was the first out of the kitchen to greet the boys, with Abbie a few steps behind. After hugging Face, she asked, "How was your first day back

At school?"

"Not too bad, I guess said Face with a shrug of his shoulders."

"Aunt Abbie, this is my other best friend, Neal Burke," Face said as he introduced

Neal to his aunt.

"It's nice to meet you, Neal. Would you boys like to have an after-school snack? I have homemade cookies. They are my specialty, Blueberry oatmeal cookies."

"Yes, ma'am," chorused the boys as they followed Abbie back into the kitchen, where they found three glasses of milk waiting for a platter of cookies in the middle of the table. "Help yourselves" was all Abbie needed to say before the boys sat to enjoy their after-school snack.

After enjoying a couple of cookies with glasses of milk, Timmy asked. "Why is Maggie here instead of at home with you?"

"When Aunt Abby first arrived, Maggie bonded with her, and I thought that maybe she should live with her. That way, she wouldn't be lonesome, and she agreed," Face replied as he reached for another cookie.

It only took a few bites before choruses of "these are good" could be heard between them, reaching for more.

"Mrs. Ross, would you mind sharing your recipe with me? These are the best oatmeal cookies I have ever tasted, and I know my Mom would say the same thing. Oatmeal cookies are her favorites," asked Timmy.

"I would be happy to, and since your mother loves oatmeal cookies so much, I'm going to send her a dozen to enjoy. I have more in the kitchen. I was going to send some with Face anyhow."

"Neal, would you like to take some home for your family, too?"

Neal nodded, "and could I have a copy of the recipe, too? I know that once Mom and Dad taste these, they will want more."

"Okay, that will be recipes and cookies for all, and those cookies had better get home without tasting from the three of you. Face, be sure, and put this bag of cookies and the recipe in your Mama B's hands!" instructed Abbie.

Face nodded before asking, "Aunt Abbie, did Mom like sports?"

She watched football and baseball with our father when she was younger. Dad explained the games to her and what the hand signals meant for each sport, so if they wanted to follow two games, they could. The tv game would be muted. They would listen to the other game on the radio and keep up with both, which drove me nuts. Why do you ask?"

"I want to try out for the school's baseball team. Since it was obvious that she rubbed off on me in dealing with bullies, maybe her love for baseball will rub off as well," Face said.

"Well, there is only one way to really know, isn't there, dear? Give it your best shot, and have a good time," remarked Abbie.

"Mrs. Ross, the cookies were delicious, but I must head home now. Mom will be looking for me," Neal said as he stood to leave.

"We got to go, too, Aunt Abbie. HM will be waiting to pick me up at the Bakery. I don't want him thinking I got in trouble on the first day back and had to stay after school. I'll see you tomorrow?" he asked.

"You will always be welcomed, Face…bring your friends whenever you like, too."

Face and Timmy, each with a bag of cookies with the recipe tucked in their pockets. And HM was waiting when they arrived.

"I was beginning to worry that you had to stay after school, Facey," remarked HM.

"See, I told you," muttered Face to Timmy before replying to HM's statement.

"We stopped for an after-school snack at Aunt Abbie's. She sent some of the cookies home for us, plus her recipe for Mama B," replied Face.

It was on the way home that Face asked. "HM, the school is holding baseball tryouts for the school's team. I want to give it a try."

"That's great, Face. Do you know how to play?"

"Yes, I used to play ball at St. Mary's."

"Were you any good?"

"I had to say a lot of Hail Marys for penitence for constantly breaking windows at the orphanage," replied Face with a grin.

"If you are that good of a hitter, then you should be welcomed with open arms," chuckled Murdock.

"I have a form for Hannibal to sign, giving me his permission to play. He will sign, want he, HM?" Face asked worriedly.

"I think Hannibal will be delighted to sign your form, and if you make the team, you can count on us being there for as many of your games as possible."

Murdock had been right; Hannibal was delighted, in fact, so were BA and Mrs. B.

"That's great news, little brother," praised BA, and if you need any help with improving, I'll be here for you."

"We all will, kid. Now let me see that permission form so I can give you permission to play," and as soon as Face handed it over, he quickly glanced over it before fixing his name to the bottom. "There you go, kid."

"Hey, he's going to need a glove and a ball and bat to practice with. We got plenty of room for a practice field," Murdock was quick to point out.

"Why don't you take the kid and get all he needs," suggested Hannibal.

"Come on, Murdock; I'll drive and help you pick out what our little brother needs,"

volunteered BA with a smile.

"Where are they?" fumed Mrs. B. "Supper is ready, but Scooter, HM, and Face aren't back yet. They have been gone over two hours!"

"I'm sure they will be back soon, Mrs. B; as a baseball fan yourself, you know how boys can get lost searching for the best baseball can offer," Hannibal said, trying to soothe her feelings.

"Umph…well, I've given them five more minutes, then you and I will have our supper!"

It was closer to ten when they heard Charlie bark. "They are back, and now we can get ready to eat!"

"I'm sorry, Mama," apologized BA as he walked into the dining room. "There was so much to choose from, but we think we got a good glove for Face, one that fits his hand."

"And that took you over an hour to achieve?"

"Well, besides balls and bats and gloves for us all, we did pick up a few other items. Look what I got for you," BA said as he held out a Cubs ball cap and jacket to his mother.

"Thank you, Scooter…I guess there was no harm in holding supper a little longer. Where are HM and Face?"

"They're coming. Face was dropping off his stuff in his room, and Murdock was helping…here they come now."

"Just how much did you buy if it took Murdock's help to bring it in?"

Face's arrival prevented BA from replying. The big smile on his face said it all.

"Did you get everything you needed, kid?"

"Oh, yeah. I'm sorry we are late for supper, but there was so much to choose from…." Face started to explain when a combination of voices stopped him.

"Face…noooo! You weren't supposed to say anything," cried Murdock and BA in unison.

Hannibal raised an eyebrow at that. His Face radar had gone off when his son said that the store had too much to, he assumed, choose from. "Continue, son,

I want to know why it took over two hours for you to go to K-mart and pick up a glove, ball, and bat!"

Face looked helplessly back at BA, and Murdock was unsure how to answer his father. Their looks did little to reassure him, so he only smiled at him and said nothing more.

When it became apparent to Hannibal that his question was being ignored and

barked out, "LIEUTENANT! REPORT!"

Face replied at once now that Hannibal was in CO mode and pulled rank.

"We wanted a good glove, and it took some time to find it," Face replied carefully.

"And?" prompted Hannibal.

"Well, it took some time to find one." Face replied, hoping Hannibal would be satisfied with the explanation and drop the matter.

He didn't. "Let me rephrase my question, Lieutenant. Where did you three go to get you that right glove?"

"Los Angeles," whispered Face.

"Look, Hannibal, our K-mart had very little to choose from, so I drove us to LA to that new sports store so we could outfit my little brother right. We went as fast as possible because I knew Mama would want us back for supper and that Face needed time to do his homework before bedtime!" BA explained gruffly.

Hannibal held his severe glare a few seconds more before breaking into a big smile. "All you had to do was tell me that in the first place; after all, I did tell you

to go and get everything the kid needed," chuckling.

XXXXXXXX

Hannibal came into his son's room around ten that night. He found him in bed

with Charlie by his side. "Did you finish your homework?"

Face nodded; he had his glove on his left hand, hitting it with his right fist, trying to break it in. "Then put your glove up and go to sleep," ordered Hannibal. "Remember, the wake-up call is at six, and I want you at the breakfast table by six-thirty. I don't think you want to have BA get you up again."

Face only smiled as he put the glove on his bedside table and snuggled down under the covers. Hannibal leaned down and kissed him on his head before turning off the light.

"Good night, kid."

"Good night, Hannibal.

Hannibal wasn't surprised to find Face ready for school and eating breakfast when he arrived at six-thirty. He looked well-rested and excited about going to school. It was a complete turnaround from the day before.

"Are you ready for school?"

"Yes, and can we leave earlier? I want to stop by for a short visit with Aunt Abbie before classes start."

"Sure, I'll even drive you myself. When do you want to leave by?"

"Do you think Aunt Abbie will be up by seven-thirty?"

"You can call her to check if she is up before we leave," suggested Hannibal as he sat down to have his breakfast.

"Well, where do you want me to drop you off?"

"At the bakery, and Timmy will walk with me to Aunt Abbie's," replied Face.

"Will Timmy be there that early?"

"Yeah, he comes with his father at seven and helps out if they need him. I called him this morning after checking with Aunt Abbie. He doesn't mind," replied Face.

"Did you bring your glove?"

"Yes, it's in my backpack. Mama B put my name on it, just in case someone accidentally grabs it."

Hannibal nodded; he knew that if anyone took his son's glove, it wouldn't be by accident. That glove was a better glove than what could be bought at K-mart.

"You have a good day today, son, and you will be picked up at the baseball field today. Now try your best, and that is all we ask of you."

Hannibal watched as Face hopped out of the car and went into the bakery to meet Timmy. He didn't leave until he saw the two exit and headed for Abbie's house.

"Face, my mother loved your aunt's cookies and wants me to ask her permission to sell them in the bakery," Timmy said excitedly.

"There she is in the yard with Maggie; go and ask her. I bet she will be pleased."

"Mrs. Ross, my parents love your Blueberry Oatmeal cookies and wanted me to ask you if they could sell them in our Bakery?"

"I would be honored to share my cookies with the community. You can tell your folks that they have my permission. Now could I interest you in a slice of my banana nut bread…let's call it a before-school snack?"

"Yes, ma'am…that would be great," replied Face as Timmy nodded his agreement.

"You two stay here, and I'll bring you a slice. I'm afraid that if you come in, you might be tempted to stay longer and be late to school." She was only gone for a few minutes before she returned with their treat, and it was still warm. The snack was gone within seconds. "Aunt Abbie, I won't be by after school; I have baseball tryouts," the boy said excitedly.

"That's okay, dear; my door is open for you whenever you want to stop by. Now do your best at the tryouts!" She gave him a goodbye hug before they headed to school.

XXXXXXX

School went by quickly, and Face hurried to the baseball field with others to try out for the school team. He had his glove on and was waiting to be called. He left his backpack at the front of the with his family, including Charlie, who came to watch.

Tony was there trying out as well, but both boys moved away from each other.

When it was Face's turn, he was sent to the outfield to see how he handled balls coming his way. He didn't miss any balls hit in his direction. They put him at first base and shortstop since those positions opened, and Face outdid himself. "Excellent fielding, Templeton; let's see how well you can hit?"

Face moved to the batter's box and stood in the position BA taught him, waiting for the first pitch. It was a fastball, and Face timed his swing perfectly and hit the ball over the fence. He had some trouble with the slider but hit well with the other pitches.

Coach Thompson came to him beaming, "I think you have just earned yourself a spot on our team, Templeton. You will work on hitting the slider better, but I see you scoring many runs for our team."

"Thank you, sir, but could you call me Face instead of Templeton? Face is a nickname."

"Whatever you like, Face. Practice is after school for an hour. I'll see you tomorrow."

Face was so excited that he could hardly contain himself. He ran to his family. He was happy to see that his Aunt Abbie and Maggie were there as well. "I made the team!"

"You played great, Facey…we need to celebrate!"

"Adele and I thought you might and have a celebration ready for you at my house," Abbie spoke up. " I also invited your friends Timmy and Neal to join us."

As they walked to Abbie's house, they were joined by Timmy and Neal. "You played good, Face," they said.

"Did the coach tell you what position you would be playing," asked Timmy.

"No, only that I made the team. I think hitting that ball over the fence had something to do with him choosing me. Personally, I don't really care where he puts me. Just playing on the team is enough for me. I guess I'll find out at practice

tomorrow," Face replied.

Abbie opened her front door and walked in with family and friends following.

She turned to her guests and said, "help yourselves. I have sandwiches, cookies, and cupcakes from the Bakery. Adele brought the chocolate cake and a gallon of sweet tea. I have soft drinks and milk in the refrigerator."

The dining room table was loaded down with food. There were cupcakes iced to look like baseballs, chicken salad sandwiches, ham sandwiches, and all kinds of cookies, including Abbie's Blueberry Oatmeal cookies. Soon everyone was eating with Face sneaking bites of ham to Maggie and Charlie until he was caught.

"Face, stop that; the food is our guests. I have a bowl of chicken scraps for both Charlie and Maggie in the kitchen. Why don't you go in and feed them?" suggested his aunt.

"Come, Maggie...Charlie," Face beckoned to the dogs and went to feed them.

They did quick work of consuming the chicken scraps and were soon back in the dining room, ready to finish whatever may fall to the floor.

Soon Timmy and Neal were saying their goodbyes. They had to get home and start their homework. Abbie sent a bag of sweets home with them both.

XXXXXXX

The next day during baseball practice, Face was told that he would play in the shortstop position. The coach said he was a natural for that position. His number was 4. "You will have your uniforms by the end of the week," Coach Thompson told him. "You will be given two, so you will always have a clean one to play in."

It was then that Tony, who had also been chosen, spoke up. "But coach, I wanted to play that position. You said that I was good in that position."

"Face was better, Tony. You are a good catcher, but since we already have a catcher, I was going to make you a first baseman, which is an important position, too. Surely you want the best for the team, and in this case, Face is the best one to play as a shortstop. He's fast and thinks quickly on his feet; as soon as he catches the ball, he throws it to whoever is best to get the opposing player out. You were good but not as fast as Face, and you did let a few balls get past you," Coach Thompson explained.

Tony nodded but inside, he was already planning on how to get Face kicked off the team so he could step into his position. Tony was given the number 20.

When practice was over with Face was tired. They had started with running laps before actually playing his position and batting and running the bases. Tony bumped into him "by accident" on his way off the field and knocked him down. He was about to stomp on his hand when he was met by the snarling Charlie, who had come to greet Face.

"Facey, are you okay?" called Murdock, who was running up.

"I'm fine, really; it was an accident. Right?" turning to Tony.

"Yeah, I tripped and knocked him down. I was about to help him up when

Your dog tried to bite me," he snarled.

"Charlie only snarled at you; you would have to really try and hurt me for him to attack," Face said as he eyed his enemy.

"I'm going to tell my dad that your dog tried to bite me!" Threatened Tony.

"You have no witnesses to Charlie trying to bite you…it will be only your word against mine," Face said as he called Tony's bluff.

Tony stalked off angrily as Face knelt to pat Charlie.

"Thanks, boy. I was afraid that he was going to stomp my hand."

"What was that about, Face?"

"I got the position he wanted to play. You are looking at the Bulldogs' new shortstop," he bragged. "My uniforms will be ready by the end of the week; I'm number 4."

"What position did Tony get?"

"First baseman, but he wanted to be the shortstop. Coach Thompson explained that while he was good, I was much better. I guess I have to watch my back again. I know that Tony is going to try and figure out how he can bet my position."

"How was practice today, kid? Do you know what position you will be playing?"

Hannibal hadn't even given Face time to sit and eat his after-school snack before springing that on him.

"It was great, but I'm tired. We did laps before we even started practice, and I was moving fast to catch those balls that were hit in my direction," replied Face.

"But what position are you playing?" Hannibal asked again.

"Shortstop!"

"You will be good in that spot, kid. Your reaction is spot on, and you are fast on your feet."

"That is what Coach Thompson told Tony when he complained that I got it and not him."

Hannibal could sense that something had happened from the way Face and Murdock was exchanging glances. "What aren't you telling me?"

When Face didn't answer, Murdock blurted out, "Tony knocked Facey down, and I think he was planning on stepping on his throwing hand when Charlie stopped him with a snarl."

He said that it was an accident and was only trying to help me up when Charlie appeared, but I didn't believe it. He's up to something to get me in trouble; I just know it. He also threatened to tell his dad that Charlie tried to bite him, but I called his bluff by saying that since there were no witnesses, it was only his word against mine."

"If Rod finds out that his son is at fault, he will be using his riding quirt on him, and Tony knows it. He's just bluffing to get you off your game.

"I hope you are right, Dad, but I have a funny feeling you are wrong."

The next day Face's focus was on what Tony would do next, and his concentration in some of his classes got him sent to the office.

"What seems to be the problem, Smith?" asked Vice-Principal John Davis. "This is the third time we have had this discussion today. I told you what I would do if you got sent to me a third time." John Davis, who had replaced Jason Matthews as the vice-principal.

Face nodded and bent over the vice-principal's desk. He took a deep breath as Mr. Davis walked behind him with his paddle in hand. He quickly gave Face three firm licks to his backside. Face would be feeling them for the remainder of the day.

"There had better not be a fourth time, Mr. Smith!"

"No, sir, there won't be," Face was able to croak out as he straightened back up.

"You are dismissed!"

Face lost little time in leaving the office and went back to class, embarrassed that

he allowed Tony to cause his attention lapse, which cost him three licks from Mr. Davis' paddle. He focused on his studies instead of Tony, and he made it through the rest of the day without any trouble. He was so glad when the school bell rang, releasing him from his seat. He grabbed his backpack, stopping only long enough to grab his glove before running to the baseball field for practice.

Fortunately, on the baseball field, Face focused completely on the sport. He joined his teammates as they ran laps and did an outstanding job as a shortstop in the practice game. The coach divided his players into two groups, and they played against each other. Tony got to play the shortstop position on the opposing side that Face was on.

Face hit a ball to Tony when it was his turn to bat, but Tony muffled the catch, and the ball rolled past him, and Face was able to turn it into a double. He stoled the next base while his teammate was at bat and easily scored when the ball was hit to the right field on the next play. Face scored the first run of that practice game, but it wasn't the only score he made when he came to bat next. He hit a solo home run. The game was called two innings later, with Face's team ahead 4-2.

When the boys were dismissed, Face saw Hannibal watching and ran towards him. "Did you see me play?"

"I saw all four innings, kid. You did great," he replied as he gave Face a hug.

It wasn't until they were on the road home that Hannibal said, "Mr. Davis called to tell me about you being sent to the office three times for not paying attention during class and that he paddled you the third time!"

Face looked deflated, knowing that his father knew.

"What's wrong, kid? You have been focused on your classes, and now this inattentiveness. What's causing it?"

"I'm worried about what Tony is up to, Dad. I know he wants to play shortstop, and he won't stop until he gets it," Face admitted.

"Face, you are playing into his hands; if you let him get to you. It seems to me that he isn't going to try anything physical against you after he knocked you down yesterday. He put the idea of hurting you into your brain and us sitting back

and allowing you to self-destruct on your own. I know it is hard, but your focus has to stay on your classes and baseball and not worry about what might happen.

Can you try and do this for me, son?"

"Yes, sir!" replied Face pausing a few minutes to ask, "does Mama B know that I got paddled today?" He remembered what his Mama had told him last year about getting into trouble in school and what to expect when he got home.

"Yes, but we talked it over and decided that if it was a legit reason that she wouldn't add to your pain, and in this case, I feel that it was, so your butt is safe from her spoon."

"Thanks, Dad."

It was at the supper table that Hannibal bragged on Face. "Our son did great today at baseball practice. First, they hit balls straight toward him, and he

caught them all; not a ball got past him. Then during a practice game, Face scored the first run and hit the only solo home run in the game. His team won 4-2."

"That's great, Facey. Hannibal. I'll pick him up tomorrow, so I can watch him play," volunteered Murdock. "Just out of curiosity, was Tony on your team?"

Face shook his head. "No, he was on the other team. The Coach let him play the shortstop position, and he did awful; he only made plays on half the balls hit in his direction and muffled the ball I hit straight to him; I was able to get to second place because of it."

"And then he stoled third and on the next hit race home to score," bragged Hannibal.

"Hannibal, I'm going with Murdock to pick my little brother up tomorrow," BA said with a smile.

Face just beamed with all the attention and praise heaped on him that night.

XXXXXXX

Tony approached him the next day as he and Timmy arrived at school.

"It wasn't my fault that I missed that ball," he whined, "a speck of dust got in my eye and caused me not to catch it."

"Then there must have been a dust storm in your area to account for all those other missed catches," chuckled Face as they walked on.

"Just you wait, pretty boy," Tony muttered to himself, "I'll have your position yet."

Face was a different boy from the day before. "I'm not going to let Tony get to me," he said to himself as he walked into his first class, and he reminded himself of that throughout the day. It was during the lunch period that Face's bully story was making its round around the cafeteria. "It seems that everyone like that story that you told earlier," Kathy said to Face.

"I wonder how it got around?" Face asked his friends.

"I'm afraid that I'm to blame for some of that," admitted Kathy. "I shared it with the cheerleaders. It was so funny."

"I did the same during Math Club, Face. I thought they would enjoy it since we are often bullied," Neal explained.

Tony was silently smiling within. The first part of his plan was coming together. "And to think, Face's friends spread the story instead of me," he chuckled quietly.

Face heard the last part of his mother's story when he walked on the field. "Hey, Face," one of his teammates called. "Did that really happen?"

"Yep, at least that is what my Aunt Abbie told me," Face replied.

Coach Thompson came up and started practice, and all talk concerning Face's

bully story came to an end. The team did their laps before returning to stand in front of the coach. "Okay, everybody, take up your positions, and we will work on improving your skills."

He had players pitching to each other and others hitting balls to the different positions to check their reaction times. Face excelled throughout but especially when he was at bat. He hit balls all over the field and a couple over the fence.

The Coach introduced Jim Stevens, a former pitcher from the LA Dodgers who was going to not only teach their pitchers on how to improve their pitching skills but to teach their batters how to improve their skills on hitting.

"Jim, this is Face, who just recently joined the team. He is a natural at shortstop and an outstanding batter. He has been hitting everything pitched at him, but he has trouble with curve balls. I was hoping you could give him some pointers on how he can improve," Coach Thompson said as he introduced Face.

"Face? Why does that name sound familiar?"

"I was a member of the A-Team. We were the best team during Vietnam War," explained.

"You were kind of young to serve in Vietnam, weren't you, son?"

"Yes, sir, but I had to get away from an abusive foster family at the time, and this was the only way I could think of."

"Then you know BA?"

"Yes, sir. He's my big brother. In fact, he might be watching me play now," Face added as he pointed off the field.

"I'm originally from Chicago and grew up with BA; we are old buddies. I would love to visit with him again."

"Why don't you join us for supper then? His mother, Mama B, always makes enough for leftovers," invited Face.

"Okay, I accept your invitation...but now let's get back to the game. Jim Stevens spent the rest of practice with both the pitchers and hitters until Coach Thompson dismissed them and thanked Jim Stevens for his help.

They had only gone a few feet when Face heard, "Jim? Is that really you," from BA as he came running onto the field.

"It's been a while, BA. How is your mother?"

"She is doing great...of course, you will be having supper with us?"

"Your little brother already invited me," smiled Jim.

"Jim, this is my other brother, HM Murdock," Face introduced.

"It is good to meet you, HM. Then I can also expect to meet Hannibal?"

"Yes, we stayed together after being falsely accused of treason and continued to stay after we were cleared. We might have started out as only one of many

a-teams in 'Nam, but now we are family. Hannibal even adopted Face when we learned his actual age," explained Murdock.

XXXXXXXX

"Mama, I brought a friend over for supper," called BA as he walked into the house.

"Do you remember me, Mama B?" Jim asked when Mrs. B walked out of the kitchen.

"Jim Stevens, of course, I remember you; you were Scooter's best friend. What are you doing here?"

"Coach Thompson is an old friend, and he asked me to help his pitchers and hitters. You got an amazing hitter in Face, but I understand he has trouble hitting curve balls. I hope I can give him some tips on how to improve."

They had a grand time catching up and talked during supper and afterward until

Hannibal looked at his watched and told Face to start his homework because

bedtime was a few hours away.

"But I want to listen to more stories," Face whined.

"Lieutenant, do I have to make it an order?" Hannibal said in his commander's voice.

"No...I'm going. It was a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Stevens," he added as he left the table grumbling.

Jim watched as Face left the room before turning to his old friend. "How did a kid that young serve in Vietnam?"

"He lied and conned the recruiters into taking him. He was an orphan living with abusive foster parents when he finally had enough of their abuse and escaped into the army. When he arrived in country, he was unlucky to be assigned to Colonel Roderick Decker, who took delight in abusing him. Hannibal got him reassigned to our unit, and we became a family," explained BA.

"Did you know he was just a kid when he was with you?"

"No, we knew he wasn't the nineteen years old that was on his service record. I thought that he might be sixteen, still a kid in my book, but no way was he older.

He also conned me; I've known people that look much younger than they are and thought this was the case with Face," explained.

"How old was he when he served with you?"

"We didn't find his age until after we started up our On The Jazz Agency that he was thirteen and then didn't find out his actual age until a month or so ago when his mother's sister located him and produced a copy of his birth certificate. He is fourteen now, making him twelve when he served with us."

"Murdock told me that you adopted the boy?"

Hannibal nodded, "I couldn't let a fifteen-year-old live on his own. I always considered and tried to treat Face my son when we were in 'Nam pretty much in the same way HM and BA considered and treated him as their younger brother, who needed to be protected, often from himself."

"Once we were no longer fugitives and opened our investigation agency, I invited Mama to come down and join us. She became Face's surrogate mother; he needed a mother's influence in his life. We may not be an average family, but we are a loving and caring family nonetheless," explained BA.

Jim looked at his watch and exclaimed, "look at the time, I need to get back to my hotel, and I know you all have things to do. Mama B, can I help you clean up?"

"Nope, they are all done, and why hurry off? You can stay with Scooter and me; we have an apartment behind this house and have plenty of room."

"All of my clothes are at the hotel. I'm looking for a place nearby. I'm retired and want someplace quiet to live. Bradbury is perfect, and knowing you are nearby is perfect."

"Well, tomorrow, check out of that hotel and stay with us until you find a place," invited BA.

"I don't want to intrude...I want to pay you for the place to stay."

"I won't hear of it, but if you help Face with his batting, we will consider that as payment!"

"Deal!"

XXXXXXXX

Jack Miller was a teammate of Face. He played in left field and caught most of the balls hit in his direction, but he was best at batting. He was a power hitter. He was a senior and thought he would pass his tips to Face. He taught the sophomore the best way to stand in the batter's box and the best way to hold his bat to get more power in the swing. You would see the two practicing together, and they soon became friends. Jack always carried a ziplock bag of chocolate. It was his favorite candy, and he always had it in his pocket. The chocolate was broken into bite-size pieces, and he would sneak a piece off and on in class. Most of his teachers would ignore him. He was, after all, the Bulldogs' power hitter, which gave him some privileges. He was a likable kid but had a quick temper.

It was Thursday morning that Face spied a bag on the floor and picked it up, knowing immediately that it was Jack's and must have slipped out of his pocket.

"He's going to miss this the next time he wants chocolate. I'll just take it to him," Face thought to himself as he went looking for his friend.

He found Jack just as he was about to enter class. "Jack! I have something for you," and handed the bag of chocolate to him. He was about to explain that he found it when the bell calling the kids to their classes began to ring. "I'll explain later," Face thought as he ran to his class.

It was during Face's history class that the intercom sounded requesting Face to go to the vice-principal's office at once. Face left with everyone staring at him.

"Mr. Davis, you wanted to see me?" he asked as he entered the office.

The vice-principal's expression warned him that something was seriously wrong, and he immediately asked, "Is one of my family injured?"

"No, they are fine. It is you. Smith, it is you who is in trouble. Have a seat while you can?"

Face sat nervously, the crack about sitting while he could do nothing to reassure him. "Smith, did you give Jack Miller a bag of chocolate this morning?"

Face nodded. I found it on the floor and assumed it was his and was returning it," he explained.

"Jack said only that you gave him a bag of chocolate. He said nothing about you telling him that you were returning it. Is he lying?"

"No, sir. I didn't have a chance to tell him that. The bell started ringing, and I had to get to class. I thought I would explain later. What's wrong? Did something happen to Jack?"

"You might say that; he ate a fairly large portion of chocolate ex-lax and spent two periods of classes in the boy's restroom. His mother had to bring him a clean pair of shorts," Mr. Davis said sadly.

As soon as Face heard the words chocolate ex-lax, he paled, knowing at once that it was a setup and he could be in pain soon.

"Mr. Davis, I didn't know that the bag contained ex-lax. I wouldn't do that to anyone but especially not to a friend," Face argued.

"I'm sorry, but all of the evidence points to you. I will suspend you for the rest of today and tomorrow, too. You will also receive six licks for this embarrassing prank." Mr. Davis decreed.

"Bend over my desk, son!" he requested, and when Face didn't move, he added, "It will be easier for you if you obey me."

Face reluctantly got in place over Mr. Davis' desk. "But I didn't do this. I've been set up!"

"By whom?" asked Mr. David, who really didn't want to paddle this boy, who has not been a troublemaker.

"Tony Decker is behind this," Face blurted out.

"Tony wasn't even here this morning; he had a dentist's appointment."

"It doesn't matter if he was here when it happened, sir. He still could have arranged for a friend to help," argued Face.

Mr. Davis paused as he considered that suggestion, but before he could comment, his door opened, and Jack and Timmy walked through it.

"Mr. Davis, Face is not responsible for this prank played on me," Jack said.

"Do you have proof to back your statement?"Mr.Davis asked eagerly.

"Yes, sir. Timmy was with Face when he picked that bag of chocolate up from the floor and walked with him while they searched for me to return it. If Face had put anything in it, Timmy would have noticed."

"Is this true, Timmy?"

"Yes, sir, and to be honest, I saw the bag drop before Face noticed it on the floor," Timmy replied.

"Did you see who dropped it, Timmy?"

"No, only that he was wearing a Bulldog letterman jacket. That is why I thought it was Jack who had dropped his bag of chocolate. I mentioned that to you, Face, don't you remember?"

By this time, Face had straightened up and was standing next the Mr. Davis' desk. "Yeah, you asked if I saw Jack dropping his bag of chocolate, but I hadn't, but I saw it on the floor and picked it up. I said that if we hurry, we can get this back to him before class begins."

"That's when I heard my name being called and saw Face rush up with Timmy a few steps behind, but then the bell began to ring, and Face only had time to throw me the bag and yell out that it was for me. I assumed that it was a gift and was safe to eat. I knew my bag was in my backpack," explained Jack.

Mr.Davis weighed the new information before turning to Face. "Your friends have cleared your name and saved you from a paddling. I will investigate your suggestion, but for now, you are dismissed. Let me write all three an excuse for missing your classes.

As they were walking back to their classes, Jack asked, "What did you suggest to Mr.Davis that he is going to investigate?"

"Before you two came in and saved me, I told Mr. Davis I was being framed. He asked by whom, and I told him Tony was behind it all. He told me it wasn't possible since Tony was not here due to a dentist appointment. I told him that Tony could have gotten a friend to help set me up. He was considering when you two came in," explained Face.

"We'll talk more during lunch," Jack said as the three friends separated to attend class.

XXXXXXXX

Although they discussed the culprits during lunch, they couldn't narrow it down to who was helping Tony. It wasn't until after school, when Face headed to the Baseball field, that things came to a head.

As Face walked onto the field, he was accosted by Tony, surrounded by his friends. "What are you doing here?"

"For practice, what else would I be here for," replied Face as he brushed by Tony.

"You got some nerve showing up here after playing that prank on Jack this morning!"

"I didn't play that prank on Jack!"

"Hey, guys," Tony yelled. "This is the kid that pulled that embarrassing prank on Jack, and he thinks he can just waltz in

and practice here!"

Face suddenly found himself surrounded by a group of angry students. " I didn't do it," began Face as he was suddenly grabbed and held tightly.

"Hey, maybe he should experience what he put Jack through," yelled Tony as he pulled out a bar of chocolate ex-lax. "Let's feed this to him!"

That suggestion was met by laughter as they tried to force the bar down Face's throat. Face clamped his mouth shut until Tony grabbed his nose, cutting off his means of breathing. Face led out as long as he could, hoping help would come before he was forced to open his mouth.

Tony got tired of waiting and hit Face in the stomach, causing him to open his mouth, and before he could close it, the bar was shoved in, but fortunately, Jack appeared with his teammates before he was forced to swallow.

"Let him go," he ordered.

As soon he was freed, Face spit out the bar. "Thanks, Jack!"

"Why did you stop us," complained Tony, "I would think you would be happy to see the one responsible for the prank punished in the same manner!"

"Maybe, only Face wasn't the one who pranked me; he was the one tricked into giving me the ex-lax," explained Jack. He noticed the bar on the ground. "What's that?"

"A bar of chocolate ex-lax, they were forcing me to eat," replied Face indignantly.

"Who gave it to you?" asked Jack as a thought suddenly came to him.

Face caught onto what he was thinking. "Tony pulled it from his pocket."

"Where is the wrapper?"

One of the boys found it and handed it over to Jack, who used it to gingerly pick up the chocolate ex-lax bar. It was exactly half. Jack and Face exchanged a look, and then Jack spoke.

"Tony, you mentioned earlier that I should be happy if the one who pranked me be punished in a like manner. Do you still believe that?"

"Yes, why not."

"Then boys, I have discovered at least one of the culprits of that embarrassing prank. Are you with me in making that one pay?"

The resounding YES was the answer Jack was hoping for.

Jack pointed at Tony. "This is the one who planned it, and he had an accomplice who planted the bag where my friend would find it and give it to me. Now the accomplice was wearing a Bulldog letterman jacket like mine."

Face's teammates lost little time in discovering that Mikey was the only other one wearing a Bulldog jacket, and they knew that he was friends with Tony. They quickly grabbed him and brought him to stand next to Tony.

"Open wide, boys," ordered Jack as he broke what was left of the ex-lax bar in half and, with the help of his teammates, brought the ex-lax bar to Tony and Mikey's lips, only to throw it down at the last minute. "I'll not stoop to your levels!"

Jack turned to his teammates and said, "release them!"

"I will tell Mr. Davis this so he can give you what he would have to provide to Face. And don't think you are getting out of this because I have a team of witnesses that will back me up!"

Tony and Mikey left, and the team converged on Jack and Face with slaps on the backs and well wishes. "Well, let's get going before Coach Thompson gives us extra laps to run," Jack said.

"You had better hope that Coach Thompson never talks to my father. Hannibal has an obstacle course that we run to keep in shape, and occasionally I have to run until I drop if I disobey him," Face recounted with a winced.

"That doesn't sound so bad," remarked Jamie Thomas, the team's pitcher.

"it does if you have to do twenty-five push-ups first and carry a heavy backpack when you run," Face went on to explain.

A collective moan was heard, and they hurried to start practice.

XXXXXXXX

"How was school today, Facey," asked Murdock, who came to pick him up after baseball practice.

"Well, I almost got suspended and paddled," began Face.

"Almost? Why?"

"I told that story of how Mom took care of that boy who was bullying her. My friends loved it, and it quickly got around the school. An enemy used it to get me in trouble, but a couple of friends saved me," Face replied mysteriously, "but can we wait so I only have to explain it once?"

"Sure, Facey."

xxxxxxxxx

It was during supper, when everyone was present, that Murdock asked Face again.

"How was school today, Facey?"

"Interesting, for sure. I got called to the vice-principal's office during my second class. When I got there, I was accused of playing an embarrassing prank. All the evidence pointed at me, and I was about to be paddled and suspended for two days. The school has a low tolerance for playing pranks, they consider it a form of bullying, and bullying carries a mandatory punishment of six licks and a two-day suspension," Face explained as he ate his supper.

He didn't look up until all talking had ceased at the table, and his family looked at him. "I didn't do it!"

"We know that Facey; we just want the details of what happened, that's all."

"Well, you know the story of how my Mom got back at the boy who was bullying her?"

There were nods all around the table. "Well, I told my friends the story, and they told others, and soon the story had been repeated all around the school."

"Don't tell me that someone pulled that prank on a student, and you were blamed for it?" asked Hannibal. "You can't be held responsible for someone hearing your story and acting on it. It's not like you actually gave the chocolate ex-lax to the victim."

Face looked sheepish and nodded.

"FACE!"

"I didn't know that the bag I found had chocolate ex-lax broke up in it, Hannibal!

That was the evidence that was about to get me suspended and receive the six licks!"

"Well, since you are sitting comfortably at the moment and I haven't received a notice of your suspension, I take it that you were cleared!"

"Hannibal, if it weren't for Timmy and Jack, I would have been. They came in at the last minute to prove to Mr. Davis that I was innocent," Face explained as he went on to tell them everything that had happened.

"Were the real culprits ever identified?"

Face nodded, "and you probably can guess the identity of one of them."

"Tony Decker?"

"Yep and his accomplish was Mikey, a friend of his. Tony has been suspended for a week and got twelve licks for trying to get me in trouble and thrown off the team. Mikey only got six licks and a two-day suspension."

"Will they be kicked off the team?" asked Mrs. B.

"I don't know, maybe. After all, Tony pulled a prank on Jack, and the only reason he did it was to get me thrown off the team."

"That's a shame; that one bad decision will get him off the team," she added.

"Only it wasn't one bad decision, Mama. He has gotten me in trouble since last year!"

"I know, but be the bigger man, son, and forgive him. Tony lost his mother to cancer only a few days before classes started. Her not being around could have been the reason for his bad behavior. Put yourself in his shoes, and you may see things differently."

Face nodded, " Yes, ma'am, I will."

The End

(This story will continue in the next...The Obstacle Course or the Beginning of a Friendship...coming soon.