Subject: Cynthia and the Little League-I
From: Oilbuckle@aol.com
Date: Fri, 9 Oct 1998 00:19:58 EDT

Cynthia and the Little League

When the Mafia conference at Gino Benedetto's house finally came to an end, I, as his young house guest while my widowed father continued to recuperate in the hospital, naively thought matters would return to a semblance of relative normality. But, as usual, I'd reckoned without Cynthia Benedetto's ability to plunge headfirst into unexpected situations, and it was barely a week after the conference ended, during the last week of school, that Porky Judson came up to me during recess.

"Uh, Lou?" he asked, with the unctuous tone of one asking for a favor. It wasn't a tone I was used to hearing from Porky, who was a year ahead of me by grade and two years ahead by age. Somewhat taller and much fatter than most seventh-graders, he was a notorious bully who delighted in pushing the younger boys around and giving them wedgies.

So I looked at him warily. "What do you want, Porky?" It was always best to be polite to Porky, especially without an older and stronger child around to provide some protection. (It was the source of much amusement that my usual protector was Cynthia, but she was nowhere in sight at the time. Still, Porky really looked as if he was prepared to be nice for once.)

"Uh... you know my Little League team? The Gaxton Dodgers?"

Baseball was Porky's other passion, and he'd talked about it constantly, especially when (as it was this year) his team was doing especially well. "Sure."

"Well, we're really short of kids this year. We had so much rain our season is running a week past the end of school, and a lot of our team is going away for vacation, or to camp. Hell, we're getting into the finals this year, and we've only got eight kids left! So... any chance you can come by the field and try out?"

I was better than I'd even been before, thanks to a season of extra experience and a lot of coaching from Cynthia, but I could tell he had to be really desparate to ask me. "Have you asked Cynthia? Or Tim Sherman?"

Porky looked contemptuous. "Don't you know anything? Tim spends every summer with his Dad. His folks are divorced. And Cynthia's out of the question."

"Why? I know she isn't going away."

Porky looked incredulous. "'Cause Little League isn't for girls, you idiot!" He suddenly softened. "Yeah, I know she's good, but that's the rule. So if you'll come..." he seemed to be struggling with himself, "...I'll never give you a wedgie again."

I didn't really like his attitude, or his dismissal of my best friend, but I knew enough about Little League to realize the rule was out of his control. So I finally let him give me the address of his playing field, and promised him I'd show up that afternoon, as soon as I could get there after school.

"That's a dumb rule!" Cynthia fumed, as I walked home with her that afternoon. "But you're right, it is a rule. And I don't blame you for going. I wish I could."

"I don't see why. You're a better hitter than any boy I can think of."

"Maybe they think boys are stronger, but that's nonsense. Adults, maybe, but not kids our age." She shrugged. "But I'm not a boy, so I'm out. Have fun."

"Well, I'm not a girl. But I passed for one anyway, that time at Mt. Ackersley."

I really don't remember what made me say that. One-upmanship, maybe. But Cynthia got an immediate gleam in her eyes, and I involuntarily shuddered.

Then she broke into a run and left me behind, her dress flying in the wind as she bolted toward her house. "Meet me in my room in ten minutes!"

The ten minutes were nearly up by the time I'd got up to the guest room where I'd been staying, and changed to a play shirt and jeans. I walked across the hall to Cynthia's room and knocked.

She opened the door with a flourish. "How do I look?"

If I hadn't known her, I might have thought she was a boy. Truth to tell, she looked pretty much like one anyway when she was in her jeans and T- shirt; she'd always walked with a rather masculine stride. Only her hair gave her away. "Well, except for the hair..."

Cynthia strode to the full-length mirror and looked at herself with a critical eye. "I think I can pass," she said. "My hands are big for a girl, and a lot of boys our age have voices higher than mine. And I stuffed some socks in the front of my undies to take care of the... other physical differences. But my hair..."

"Maybe you can tuck it under your baseball cap?"

She shot me a scornful look. "And keep it on all the time? Even when we go inside, or when they play the national anthem? No, I'll have to make a sacrifice for the good of the game." She opened her desk drawer and removed a pair of scissors.

"You're going to cut it off? But what'll your Dad say?"

Cynthia pulled out the chair and sat down, her back to me. "No. You're going to cut it off."

She must have felt my shudder as she slapped the scissors into the palm of my hand. Her father was not a man to be trifled with, especially when one was a guest in his home, and I could still remember how his big hand had felt on my bare bottom after he'd caught Cynthia and me spying on his private meeting, though he hadn't spanked me as long as he had his own daughter. So Cynthia added, "Don't worry. I'll tell him I did it, so it'll be my butt that gets blistered." Seeing my hesitation, she added in the demanding tone I'd never been able to resist, "And it'll be worth it to show Porky up! So get going!"

Before I could lose my nerve, I grabbed a handful of Cynthia's hair and cut it off. "Go on!" she said impatiently. "We've only got an hour before the tryouts start!"

I cut more handfuls, and still more to try to even things, but her hair only looked more and more ragged. Finally she stood up and walked to the mirror, shaking her head. "Can you dump the hair in the wastebasket, Lou?"

As I did so, she shook her head. "Well... you look almost like a boy..."

"Bull. I look like a girl whose best friend has been playing with her scissors. I should've gone to a professional." Her eyes brightened. "That's it! There must be a barber shop on the way..."

Five minutes later the two of us were on our bicycles, pedaling vigorously in the direction of the Dodgers' field. I hadn't been completely lying; with the wind in her shortened hair, Cynthia did look very much like a boy. And her bike was a boy's model; something she'd insisted on when her father had bought it for her. She felt the greater stability and speed the bar was supposed to give a boy's bicycle was important. Maybe a bystander could catch a glimpse of her panties as she threw her leg over, but Cynthia didn't care... and, as she'd pointed out, since she walked to school she usually had pants on when she rode it, anyway. She'd worn her father down, and gotten the model she wanted.

Braking to a stop as she saw a barber pole, she jumped off and ran inside, leaving me to fasten both bikes to a nearby fence. I went in to wait for her, finding her already in the barber's chair getting her hair trimmed more evenly. There was a stack of comic books that seemed older than those at the shop where I normally got my hair cut, and I picked out one that featured The Flash in a very different costume from the one I knew, with blue pants and a winged saucepan on his head. I'd finished his story, and the next and the next, and was buried in the adventures of someone called Hawkman before Cynthia tapped me on the shoulder.

"Let's get going! We've only got ten minutes!"

"Did he know you were a girl?" I whispered as we mounted our bikes. She shook her head, and I added, "That was a great idea to get a butch haircut!"

"Yeah, nobody'll ever realize I'm not a boy now! But call it a crew cut, OK? The other name has connotations I get enough of already." I didn't understand, but I nodded.

Ben Winship, the coach of the Gaxton Dodgers, was a brown-haired man of about thirty, with a slim, athletic body and a friendly smile. "Glad you could make it!" he said as he shook our hands. "You're Porky's friends?"

"Glad to meet you, Mr. Winship!" said Cynthia as she pumped his hand. "I'm Cy Benedetto, and this is Lou Remarra."

Mr. Winship threw some balls to both of us, and had us run the bases as the rest of the team watched. I didn't recognize any of them. "Where's Porky?" I asked.

"He called and said he had to go to the dentist, but he said he'd come as soon as possible." A yellow school bus approached, and he said, "Oh, here are the Orioles! You'll both have to play, without Porky. Cy, why don't you catch? And Lou... you can have right field." I knew from experience that that was the traditional place for the worst player on the team, but I didn't complain.

"Don't worry, Lou!" said Doug McMurdo, the Dodger's pitcher. He was a red-haired boy of thirteen with a quiet voice but a terrific fast ball. "We've all had a first Little League game!"

It was a close game... most of the teams had already been eliminated, and we were playing the best in the area. But Cynthia hit a triple, and Doug hit a home run, and even I managed to hit the ball once and send Jerry Hopper, the shortstop, home. Doug gave me a thumbs-up sign, and enthusiastically congratulated Cynthia.

"Why didn't you sign up before, Cy?" he exclaimed. "We could've used you this season!" He suddenly remembered me, and gave me a grin as well. "Whatever you say about Porky, his school seems to have good ball players!"

"I'm not surprised!" said Coach Winship. He reached into a box and pulled out two uniforms. "Cy, you'll be in the lineup for the rest of the playoffs. And Lou..." he hesitated, but with such a friendly smile that the inevitable disappointment didn't seem bad, "I'll want you on call, too."

"Ed Myers' grandmother is in the hospital," Doug explained as the three of us sat on the grass together afterwards. Ed played second base. "His family's talking about going out to see her, which would mean he'd miss the rest of the season. Hi, Porky!"

Porky Judson was sweating as he biked toward us. Doug walked up to him as he dismounted. "Thanks for getting your friends to try out!" he said. "You should've got 'em to try out long ago. Especially Cy."

Porky gave him a puzzled look. "Friends? I thought Lou was the only one!" He looked at me, and then suddenly recognized Cy. "Hell's bells! Cynthia!"

Now it was Doug's turn to look puzzled. "Who?"

Porky's eyes narrowed. "Cynthia Benedetto, that's who she is! We can't have girls on our team!" He glared at me as if the whole thing was my fault. "Even if we are stuck with Lou!"

Doug seemed to be thinking. Finally he said, "But what if Ed can't make the rest of the playoffs?"

Porky glared at him. "So what? We're not such a half-assed team we need a girl to win! It's against the rules!" He said it with such vehemence that even Doug seemed irritated.

"Now that I think of it, I've never seen why that is," said Doug. "She plays better than anyone else on the team!"

"Not better than you!"

Doug spread his hands. "Maybe even better than me. Or she will, when she's my age. So what do you want to do. Quit the playoffs if we can't get nine boys?"

Porky fumed. "But Coach Winship wouldn't allow it! If he finds out..."

"Why should he? Cy never said he... er, she was a girl. She didn't say anything about it. If she can play, why can't she be on it?"

Porky was silent for half a minute. "All right, if you say so, Doug. I won't tell. But nobody except the four of us will know. Even if you have to call in sick, Cynthia."

"They won't." she assured him. "But you'll all have to call me Cy, OK?"

"OK!" we all said, even Porky, though reluctantly.

Suddenly another thought struck him. "But your Dad will know as soon as he sees you, Cyn..." Doug looked at him meaningly... "I mean Cy. And when that happens, I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything!" He suddenly leered at her. "Or your panties!"

"What do you mean by that? asked Doug in an irritated tone.

Cynthia glared at him, but Porky enthusiastically explained. "Her Dad's strict! When he sees what she's done to her hair, he'll take her panties down and use a belt on her! Not to mention..."

"That's not true!" snapped Cynthia. "He's never used a belt on me!" Her face suddenly reddened, as she realized what she hadn't said as well as what she had.

But Doug gave her a reassuring smile. "Maybe he won't if you explain. Or if I did. Maybe if I came home with you and..."

"It wouldn't do you any good!" said Porky enthusiastically. "You don't want to mess with Cynthia's Dad. You know who he is, don't you? He..."

Cynthia jumped up and shook her fist at him. "You shut up, Porky! Whatever happens between Dad and me is none of your business!"

Porky shut up; Cynthia had given him a black eye before and he didn't relish the prospect of another one. She reassured Doug that, whatever happened, neither of us would walk out on the team. And then, since it would soon be dinnertime in all our households, we said our good-byes and went our separate ways.

* * *

When Cynthia and I got back to her house, she disappeared into her room with the new uniform. I tried mine on, and thought of wearing it to dinner, but decided not to. Truth to tell, I'd been worried by Porky's comments about Cynthia's likely fate once her father saw the haircut... and perhaps, despite her earlier reassurances, mine.

Dinner at the Benedetto home was always at 7 P.M., with the only exceptions being when Mr. Benedetto was involved with some special arrangement. To my amazement, when Cynthia joined me in the hall, she was wearing a dress, which was rare. And a clean dress, which was even rarer. I couldn't help giggling at her incongruous crewcut head.

Cynthia cast me a disappointed look. "Well, what did you expect? Dad's not dumb. If I look too much like a boy, he'd probably guess why."

We sat at the table and started eating as Mrs. Scalia, casting a shocked look at Cynthia but saying nothing about it, began to serve us. Then Gino Benedetto arrived, with a smile that abruptly disappeared from his face as soon as he saw his daughter.

"Cynthia!" he bellowed. "What HAVE you done to your hair??!!"

Cynthia cast him a tearful look as he sat down. "I just thought I'd save you some money! I tried cutting it myself... and then it didn't look right, so I thought a bit more trimming would make it look better. But it didn't! I finally had to go to a barber just so it wouldn't look scraggly!"

Mr. Benedetto only glared at her in a fury I'd only seen on his face a few times... all of them ending with a spanking for her. And, since I'd moved into the house, for me. I wriggled on my own seat at the memories.

"Cynthia, don't you realize how ridiculous that haircut makes you look! After that banquet, I'd hoped to have you as hostess when the Mantalani Family comes to visit next week! And you'll look like a boy in a dress! Not to MENTION..." His voice rose and his face reddened.

Cynthia resolutely stood up. "It is my fault. So why don't we get this over with now?" She strode across to his chair and, to my astonishment, flipped up the back of her dress as she bent forward across his lap.

Mr. Benedetto seemed startled. "Cynthia, I didn't say I was going to spank you!" Suddenly his voice deepened again, and he moved his left arm forward to hold her down. "But only this morning I was telling Benito Mantalani what an accomplished daughter I have. And now"--he raised his arm and brought it down hard on the seat of Cynthia's clean white panties--"I have to explain that she's still an unruly tomboy who can't even keep her hair on her head!" He punctuated the scolding with several more swats to Cynthia's bottom, each of which caused her to writhe and groan.

Suddenly he glared at me. "Did you know about this, Lou?" I backed up with a sudden conviction that I'd be the next over his knee, but he suddenly subsided in the face of my silence. "Never mind. My daughter"--he swatted her underpants again--" decides what she wants to do, as I know better than you do."

With a couple of final spanks, Mr. Benedetto loosened his grip on his daughter. She began to wriggle loose, but he suddenly pulled her to him and gave her a hug. "Cynthia, I'm very disappointed in you. But hair grows back. Just don't ever do that again." He gave her a final swat on the seat of her panties and, as if suddenly aware of my presence, hastily pulled her dress down over them. He stood up. "And now I think it's time for dessert."

"Want me to fill your icebag, Cynthia?" I asked as we returned to our rooms after dinner, referring to the hot-water bottle that she usually filled with ice and stuffed into her panties after she'd been spanked.

She gave the seat of her dress a cursory rub. "Nah, Dad didn't spank me that hard this time. You learn how to gauge these things after awhile. I'm trying not to be a tomboy tonight, so I had to be a poor, confused little girl. And it worked. He didn't even pull my undies down."

"I noticed they were actually clean tonight, Cynthia! Was that so you'd look more feminine, or so he could hit you there without having to get mud all over his hands?"

She glared at me. "Figure it out for yourself!"

After making sure her father was safely ensconced in his office for the rest of the evening, Cynthia suggested we put on our uniforms and make use of the remaining summer daylight to practice our skills. We threw the ball back and forth, and after I'd managed to hit no less than four of the approximately thirty balls she'd pitched to me, she decided I was about as ready to be a Little Leaguer as I'd ever be.

While running to retrieve the last ball I'd hit, which had landed in the shrubbery, Cynthia paused as if struck by a sudden thought. "One more thing, Lou. Do you notice anything in particular from this angle?"

I read the words on the back of her... as well as my... uniform shirt. "'Colonial Insurance Co.' What's that?"

Cynthia snorted. "Don't you know anything about Little League? Somebody has to pay for uniforms, and equipment, and everything else. So each team has a company to sponsor it, in exchange for the free publicity."

"Doesn't Porky's dad work for Colonial Insurance?"

"Yeah. So does Coach Winship. But he's only a clerk, while Porky's dad's a vice president." She scanned the row of arborvitae, trying to get a glimpse of the ball.

"No wonder he got on the team!" I exclaimed.

"Actually," admitted Cynthia as she finally located the ball, "he's a pretty good player. Probably the best we have, besides Doug. But it's one reason they put up with so much from him."

She bent to pick up the ball. "But that's not... uh, quite what I meant. Be honest, now... do my undies show when I bend over?"

I couldn't believe Cynthia, of all people, was asking that. "Just the outline," I told her. "But not nearly as much as when you do that in a dress. That's never bothered you before."

"That's not it! How am I going to explain why Cy Benedetto has lace on his undies, and no fly in front? I'm going to have to borrow some of yours again."

This was not a pleasant prospect. She'd borrowed mine once before, when she'd ripped hers climbing the school fence to retrieve a football. "Uh... I'd really rather not. I never did get the stains out last time, even after you washed them."

Cynthia put her hands on her hips. "That's only because I had to wear them under a dress! I'll be wearing these under pants, just like you do, so they shouldn't get any dirtier. And it was your idea, don't forget!"

It wasn't as if I had any choice. So I got several old pairs of underpants for Cynthia, hoping I'd be able to get some more. It wasn't as if, with my mother dead, my father in the hospital, and Mr. Benedetto busy with his own affairs, I had anyone to shop for me.

The next morning at breakfast, Mr. Benedetto seemed especially happy. It wasn't until after I'd finished my scrambled eggs and prepared to leave the table that I found out why.

"Close your eyes, princess!" he said. Cynthia obeyed, and holding his finger to his lips to signal me to keep quiet, Mr. Benedetto opened a cupboard and pulled out a paper bag. He reached into it and pulled out a black wig, virtually identical to Cynthia's lost hair.

"Hold still!" He placed the wig atop Cynthia's crewcut head, adding, "No, keep them closed!" He reached into the bag again and removed a mirror, which he was holding up when he said, "Now open them!"

Cynthia opened her eyes, squealing with uncharacteristically feminine delight as she saw herself. "Oh, thank you, Dad!" she exclaimed, giving him a big hug. He hugged her back, then gave her one more light tap on the seat of her dress.

"Now get going, you two! You don't want to be late to school on the last day!"

And so it was... something I'd almost forgotten in the excitement over the tryouts and Cynthia's impromptu haircut. There as an extra excitement in the air as I realized this would be the last time we'd have to do this for a long time... until September, in fact.

"That was really great of your Dad to do that!" I said as I hurried after Cynthia toward school. "I can't believe he was able to do it so fast! Especially at night!"

Cynthia beamed at me. "Well, it did cross my mind that maybe he could. He's got resources, you know." At my incredulous stare, she added. "I saw him do it once!"


She giggled. "A girl he was took out once or twice... now that I think of it, the first one he dated after Mom died. She'd told him she always wanted to be a blonde just before she stayed over, so he called Nina and some other people, and he popped a blonde wig just her size on her the next morning. But I'm impressed. This time it looks just like my own hair used to! He must've sent pictures, too! So it all works out... nobody will associate me with Cy, even if they've seen me before!"

"It's almost like a secret identity!" I said. I was a voracious comic book reader... still am, though I hate most of what's been published recently. "Like Superman. Or Black Canary!"

"Who's Black Canary?"

"Someone I'd never seen before. A character in that old Flash comic book I was reading at the barber shop yesterday. She's a girl... older than you, maybe Diana's age." Diana was Cynthia's 18-year-old cousin. "Her real hair is black, like yours, but when she changes to Black Canary, she puts on a blonde wig. Like Superman puts on glasses when he changes to Clark Kent. So nobody can tell who she is."

Cynthia grinned as we entered the school playground. "Well, it all seems to have worked out!" She waved at Mike O'Reilly, who waved back and turned a cartwheel. "Very good, Mike!"

The third-grader gave Cynthia a slightly disappointed look. "Want to turn some more, Cynthia? We've still got ten minutes till class!"

"Not today, thanks. Some other time, OK?" She grinned at him, and headed on toward the school.

"I heard that, Cynthia!" said Jessica Harrington as she joined us. "It's about time you realized it's not a good idea to turn cartwheels in a dress!" She suddenly realized I was standing nearby, and shot me an embarrassed look as she headed for her own class.

"It's probably not," Cynthia whispered to me, "but I've always said that's the fault of the school dress code, not me. But I'll have to be careful with this wig. I can't have it falling off... and exposing myself at both ends would be a bit much, even for me."

That afternoon, all the students were called into the final assembly as the principal gave us a farewell speech... a permanent one for the eighth- graders and a few others who wouldn't be coming back, and a temporary one for the rest of us. Cynthia had made a point of plopping down hard on the wooden auditorium chair right next to Porky Judson, who seemed a bit disappointed that she clearly had no trouble sitting. Even so, he seemed to have a relieved expression when he learned that he would indeed be an eighth-grader, rather than being forced to repeat seventh grade... especially alongside Cynthia and me. "Coach Winship says he needs both of you," he told us. "Ed's grandmother died last night, so he'll have to go out to Montana for the funeral. So they won't even have nine boys... uh, kids... without you."

After a quick stop at home to change into our uniforms (and safely stash Cynthia's wig), we hurried to the playing field. The playoffs against the last Gaxton team, the Yankees, had been held back expressly because of Porky, Cy and me... the public schools had had only a half day for the closing day, but ours had scheduled almost a full one.

The Yankees and most of the Dodgers were already sitting around the field, patiently (and impatiently on the Dodgers' part, since without the three of us the Yankees would have won by default) awaiting us. Porky was already there with a furious expression. "Let's start, Coach!"

"Just a moment, Porky!" said Coach Winship. He shook my hand, and Cynthia's. Then, without warning, he pulled the front of Cynthia's uniform pants out and looked inside. I could tell our game was up; there was no reason for him to do something like that unless he knew or suspected the truth.

I started to explain, but the coach impatiently waved me to my field position. How we could play without a catcher I didn't know, but I looked back anyway. To my amazement, he was waving Cynthia to her catcher's position.

Not until the (scoreless) top of the first was over and our team was awaiting our turns at bat was I able to ask Cynthia. "He's going to let you play anyway?"

"Sure, why not? You don't think I told him?"

"But... but he's got to know! When he looked in your pants..."

Cynthia laughed. "Of course... you didn't even know! He didn't think I wasn't a boy. It's just the rule."

I was totally confused. "What rule?"

"To make sure I'm wearing this." She pulled her pants forward again, to show me the plastic cup she was wearing over her underpants. Porky gave a wolf whistle and Doug glared at him, but nobody else seemed to think anything of it.

"It's something the catcher has to wear. Otherwise a ball in the wrong place could really injure him if it hit him in the balls." She gave me a concealed grin. "He doesn't know that's not possible in my case. And it's a lot better than socks to hide the difference, anyway."

We won the game by a lopsided 7 to 2. One of the Yankee runs came when I missed a ball that came my way, but the rest of the Dodgers were enthusiastic about Porky's three-bagger, Doug's double, and Cy's last-minute slide home. Even Porky clapped her on the back, and wished me well as we separated.

"What were you talking to Doug about?" I asked Cynthia as we reached her house and headed for our rooms. He was the team captain, and it was quite natural that a new member would want to talk to him about plays. And I liked him well enough, but her fondness for another boy bothered me in a way I didn't understand.

"Just about the batting order for the playoffs. We're going to go to New York for the finals, you know that!" She suddenly gave me an embarrassed grin. "Oh, and I asked if I could borrow some of his old undies."

I should have been relieved that mine weren't in danger any more. Instead I was indignant. "Why his? Is there something wrong with mine?"

Cynthia stepped into her room, and suddenly pulled down her uniform pants in the back. "See for yourself!" she snapped.

Her... or rather my... underpants had ripped crosswise, revealing a flap of white cloth that failed to conceal the lower half of her bottom where the seat had separated from the legs. "They split while I was sliding into base," she explained. "Don't forget I'm a year older than you, which makes them a very tight fit."

"But won't Doug's..."

"They're old ones he's outgrown, so they should fit me without too much trouble." She pulled her pants back up. "Now, if you don't mind, it's time Cy Benedetto changed to her secret identity of mild-mannered Cynthia Benedetto."

I stood there, mixed emotions churning through my mind as I waited for her to change. "Well, get out of here! Does Superman change to Clark Kent with Lois Lane watching?"

"Lois doesn't know Clark is Superman!" I pointed out. (Which, at the time, was quite true.)

"Ever stop to think that there's probably a reason for that?" said Cynthia. Chastened, I went out and closed her door.

That night at dinner, Cynthia waited until her father was cutting his veal to bring up another delicate topic. "Uh, Dad, I was wondering about something..."

Mr. Benedetto raised his fork to his mouth. "What's that, princess?"

"What's Lou supposed to do about permission slips? The doctors say he shouldn't see his father, and he wants to be in a ball game in the city this week. We both do." She threw in the extra bit of information as casually as she could.

Gino Benedetto looked suspicious. "Cynthia, you know I'm busy the rest of this week. And I'll need Ferranti and the car, so I can't take you in."

Cynthia couldn't conceal a sigh of relief. "Oh, that's all right. We can ride the bus with the other kids, and they pay for the hotel rooms, too."

Mr. Benedetto asked a few more questions, which Cynthia answered honestly. Yes, we were going to play baseball. He knew girls sometimes played baseball, even then, and he didn't know the Little League rules. Finally Cynthia pulled out the permission slips. "You're sure you can sign this for Lou's dad?"

"Why not? I'm his guardian for the duration." So he checked GUARDIAN as he signed the slip filled out with the name L.L. Remarra, and then hastily signed the second one as the PARENT of C.E. Benedetto. "Now if you'll excuse me...?"

And so it was that the next morning, Cynthia and I joined Coach Winship, Mrs. Hopper (the "team mom" who'd come along to help supervise and provide some delicious sandwiches and drinks), and the rest of the Dodgers at the playing field. A yellow vehicle labelled SCHOOL BUS pulled up and we boarded, the first time either of us pampered rich kids had ever been aboard one. I looked rather ruefully at the cheap green leather that covered the seats, far different from the city and town buses with which we'd had experience.

Cynthia gave me a contemptuous look. "Time you learned how the other half lives, Lou!"

"Isn't there even a rest room?"

"Come off it! We'll be in the city in less than an hour!"

Famous last words...

* * *

Ten miles out on the Thruway, we heard a loud bang, and the bus came to a sudden stop. "Just a minute," said the driver, and went out to check the tires.

"We've got a flat. Three flats, I'm afraid." he announced when he came back. "Someone's been tossing these in the road!" He displayed a metal structure with four sharp points, the shape of a tetrahedron and about the size of a baseball.

"A caltrop!" exclaimed Coach Winship. His face took on a serious look.

"A WHAT?" asked Porky. For once, he spoke for all of us.

"It's a sabotage device they used in Korea," explained the coach. "However you toss it, it ends up with one prong up in the air, so anyone unfortunate to drive over it gets a flat. Or several flats."

"But we've got to be in New York by 10 for the game with the Senators!" protested Jeff Garwood.

"I've radioed the bus company," the driver reassured us. "They assured me they'll have another bus here in ten minutes. In the meantime, Coach, let's get the rest of those things off the road."

A half-hour later, still with no replacement bus in sight, Willie Kass blurted out, "I can't wait any longer! I'm takin' a leak now!"

He wandered down the hill and, half-hidden behind a tree, unzipped his fly and began to relieve himself. Several of the others joined him, and I got ready to do so myself.

"Coming, Cy?" Porky Judson smirked as he followed the others.

Cy glared at him. She muttered in my ear, "With him pointing me out to everyone, I'm sure!" Aloud she replied, Some of us can hold it! I'm waiting on the bus!" She stalked back inside and I, with what I can only excuse at this point as a macho attitude that I could hold it for as long as she could, followed her.

It was close to another hour before the replacement bus finally arrived, and another forty-five minutes before it got to our hotel. (Its driver apologetically explained that most of the buses were on call for the numerous summer camps and boarding schools that needed them at that particular time.) Cynthia had spent most of that time crossing and uncrossing her legs and trying to read SILAS MARNER, interspersed with derogatory comments on the the quality of the summer reading list and, when nobody else was in earshot, the failure of school buses to provide a rest room. By the time we pulled into the hotel and were allowed to leave the bus, Cynthia's face bore a look of utter desperation, and, in truth, I was none too comfortable myself.

As soon as we'd all been handed our luggage and herded into the lobby, Cynthia hefted her backpack and made a dash for the hallway, with me close behind. "There!" she said as she sighted a restroom, then stopped so quickly I bumped into her. "No, not ours!" she said furiously as she saw the designation LADIES. "Not today, at least," she muttered to me as we looked on the opposite wall and rushed through the door labelled MEN.

Cynthia dropped her backpack and made a bee line for the only stall, as I jubilantly headed for a urinal. As I unzipped my fly, I heard Cynthia pounding on the stall door. "How long are you going to be?" she asked with an urgent tone.

"Hold your horses!" snapped a deep masculine voice from inside. "I'll be right out!"

I finished relieving myself as Cynthia wobbled desperately from one foot to another, a look of utter fury on her face. I zipped up as she came over to me, glaring once again as the man inside the stall turned what seemed to be a page of a newspaper.

"Maybe you'd better go in the ladies' room after all?" I ventured.

Cynthia shifted her glare to me. "And blow my cover? Mrs. Hopper was heading for it, so what would I say to her?" She looked at the urinal with some interest, and it suddenly occurred to me that she'd had few, if any, occasions to see one before. "Say, how does that thing work? You just stand there and..."

She examined the porcelain structure, taking in at once the purpose of the concave white expanse extending from the approximate level of my chin (or Cynthia's shoulders, or a grown-up's chest) to the small basin that stuck out just below crotch height. I said, "That's right. Actually some of them go all the way to the floor, but these..."

Cynthia looked back at the stall, and her mouth set in a grim line as the man inside turned another page. "Then I'll just have to use this, won't I?"

"But...you can't!"

"Oh, can't I?" She turned to face the urinal, unzipped her jeans, and pulled both them and the underpants she'd borrowed from me down to her knees. Then she leaned forward and grasped the polished metal pipe emerging from the top of the urinal, holding a valve and flush lever at the point where it came out of the wall. The pipe seemed to move out as she shifted her weight, and she added, "But I'll need you to hold me up."

Trying not to look at her bare bottom, I grasped Cynthia under her shoulders as she swung her feet forward and up to the porcelain lip. Then her grasp on the pipe came loose, and the weight of a girl outweighing me by ten pounds proved too much for me. Her legs flew up and she plopped onto the tile floor.

"Hey, what's going on?" bellowed the man in the stall. "I told you I'll be right out!" We heard him turn another page of his paper.

"Are you all right?" I whispered to Cynthia as she began to untie one of her sneakers.

"I land on my butt all the time!" she snapped, pulling off one sneaker and beginning to untie the other. She got to her feet, rubbing herself where she'd landed, then bent over and pulled her jeans and underpants completely off, over her socks. "But I can see I need my legs free if I'm going to use this thing!"

"You still want to...?" I stammered.

Cynthia turned away from me and examined the urinal once more. "It's not as if I had any choice, is it? This time fold your hands the way you do when you're giving me a leg up a high tree."

I did as she'd told me, while she leaned farther forward and wrapped her arms around the pipe on top of the urinal. I started to bend down, but Cynthia stopped me. "Except you're not exactly giving me a leg up this time."

Bending her knees, she lowered her bare bottom until she was sitting on my clenched hands. "You're going to have to hold most of my weight, or I'll tear this stupid thing out of the wall!" Before I had a chance to say anything, Cynthia kicked her feet forward and rested them once again on the basin of the urinal. Trying without success to ignore the sudden weight of her naked buttocks pressing down hard on my clasped hands, I gamely held on.

Cynthia twisted her head back and gave me a smile. "Good! Now lift me up into firing position, and I'll be all set!" I had to lean back and push my own legs under my hands in order to lift her, and I desperately tried not to get my crotch right under her bottom for fear she'd feel my unexpected erection, but I finally managed to push her up several inches.

"There! Hold me right here!" whispered Cynthia, and let go. The stream she sent flying in the general direction of the urinal almost knocked me over, but I held on as she wrapped her hands around the pipe. I tried to keep my mind off the weight I was carrying, even though the only other thing I could think of was how strangely exciting her firm bottom felt as I held her up. Still having only a vague notion of how girls urinated without the same equipment I had, I was just as relieved her body kept me from seeing anything further. Cynthia wriggled, breathed heavily, and twice, to my dismay, farted into my folded hands, but in less than a minute the stream dissipated, and I lowered her to the floor in blessed relief.

Cynthia turned her head to grin at me as she reached for her borrowed underpants. "Not bad for a first try, eh?"

I got up and headed toward the sink, casting a dubious look at the somewhat damp floor around the urinal. Her stage whisper floated back to me: "It's not as if guys never miss a bit. What's their excuse?"

My hands thankfully looked clean, but I was washing them anyway as, two minutes too late, the door of the stall began to open. "Cyn -- Cy!" I cried as a surprisingly young man with a folded newspaper and a furious expression emerged.

Thankfully, Cynthia had pulled up her underpants an instant before. But to my amazement, Cynthia didn't even try to put on her jeans. She coolly walked over to her backpack and unzipped it.

"What the hell were you kids up to?" bellowed the man, as if he hadn't been responsible for our discomforture. Cynthia... to my amazement... was now removing her T-shirt.

"Just needed a place to change to my uniform!" replied Cynthia, pulling it out of the bag and donning the shirt. She held her hand out to him. "Cy Benedetto, of the Gaxton Dodgers. Our bus was late, so we didn't have a chance to..."

"I KNOW that!" retorted the man, ignoring her hand. "I'm Vic Cardwell, coach of the Booneville Senators, and YOU"RE keeping us waiting! Don't bother with the uniform... just get DOWN to the auditorium!" He stalked out the door.

"Idiot!" Cynthia said as she pulled on on her catcher's cup and reached for her uniform pants. "To think his team's won the championship three years running! Now we've got to beat them, just so we can have the last laugh!"

Bearing his words in mind, I didn't try to don my uniform, but just picked up my own bag and followed Cynthia outside. "I think they said the auditorium was this way," she said.

"How could you just stand there and change your clothes like that?" I asked Cynthia as we headed down the hall. "I'd have been too scared even to talk!"

"That's the trouble with you, Lou!" Cynthia said, affectionately slapping my bottom. "You have to learn to go with the flow. And that'll make the Dodgers the first team to beat the Senators in four years!"

"You really think so?"

"I know it," replied Cynthia. "Hell, I'm probably the first girl to use a urinal in the history of the world! That should count for something."

The playoffs for our particular region were set up in a somewhat different way from most of the others I'd heard about since. The sixteen finalist teams were all brought to New York, where they played against each other. The auditorium was big enough to accomodate two games at once, so with one game in the morning on each side and two games in the afternoon, a total of eight games would have been played by the end of the following (Friday) morning. With the losers eliminated, the eight winning teams would face off against each other that afternoon, narrowing the field to four by the end of the day. Then two more would be eliminated Saturday morning, with one final, big game between the two winners of the other games that afternoon. The Dodgers' delay had led to a last-minute rescheduling of the morning games.

"Oh, there you are!" said Coach Winship as we got to the field. "It's good you already changed, Cy... we're first at bat this game, so you can get right in line. You can change in the men's room over there, Lou. They had to reschedule when we were late, so we're playing the Giants right now. It's good we got here when we did, or things would have been a real mess!"

Several of the others were still changing as I got in, and I realized Cynthia had used some foresight in changing elsewhere. Otherwise it might have been even more of a mess if the others had taken a close look at her while she was changing. All I managed for myself was three strikeouts and absolutely no action in the field, but a double by Cynthia and a triple by Doug McMurdo gave us the last two runs we needed to beat the Giants, saving our place for the next round.

As we crowded around our coach, he handed out the keys to our hotel rooms. There'd be two of us to a room, so Cy and I quickly paired off and collected our keys.

"You know, there's a great indoor pool in this hotel!" said Porky. "Why don't we meet there for a swim before dinner?" The others cheered, as Porky cast a meaning gaze at Cy. "Too bad you didn't bring your suit, Cy!"

"Who says I didn't? Meet you there in fifteen minutes!"

We picked up our bags and headed for our room, which proved to be on the fourteenth floor. (Really the thirteenth, but I wasn't superstitious. I didn't think.) Once we were alone, I protested, "But how can we go for a swim with them?"

"What's the matter? Didn't you bring your bathing suit? I did."

"I did, now that I think of it," I said. We'd got to the room and tossed the suitcases on the bed. "But what about you? When you show up in a girl's suit..."

"Who's to know?" she replied. She opened her suitcase and rummaged through it, removing the purple trunks I'd seen her wear at Mt. Ackersley. "This is just a kid's suit where we bought it in Europe, remember? They don't differentiate. Not at our age."

I knew that already, of course, and it hadn't made much difference at a family gathering. But wearing it in a hotel in front of a lot of strangers somehow seemed different... and yet, now that I thought of it, why not? Cynthia seemed to have lost herself completely in her role as Cy Benedetto.

"OK if I have the shower first, Lou? I probably got a lot dirtier than you with that slide." She pulled off her uniform shirt and tossed it on the bed. "You know, Coach Cardwell has a hell of a nerve blaming us for being late. With us gone, the Senators waltzed over the Phillies to a place in the next round." She pulled off her pants as casually as if she were the boy she was pretending to be, once again revealing a pair of my briefs with several rips and split seams. "Oh, sorry about the undies. We'll stop at Doug's room after dinner to pick his up." Whatever excitement or jealousy I might have felt was overwhelmed by relief. Otherwise, Cynthia's constant bending, squatting and running in my too-small briefs would have worn through the rest of my supply before the playoffs were over...

"Hi, Cy! Great double in the fourth!" said Ned Branson as Cynthia in her purple trunks and I in my blue ones entered the pool area. "We'll be up against the Tigers tomorrow, so keep it up!"

The others casually greeted us, with the exception of Porky Judson, whose head swivelled toward us in astonishment. He came up to us, staring at Cynthia's bare chest as if she were Marilyn Monroe. I couldn't see why. Looking around at the other boys, I couldn't see any difference between them and Cynthia.

"What're you staring at Cy's chest for, Porky?" asked Ned. Thankfully, he seemed to be the only one besides me who'd noticed; the others were mostly swimming in the pool or looking in other directions. "Is he starting to grow hair or something?"

"I don't think that's poss--" Porky began, but Doug McMurdo came up behind him and poked him in the side. Porky shrugged, and Ned wandered away.

"Cut it out, Porky!" Doug whispered. "Do you want to give her away? What did you expect her to wear?"

"I thought she'd have the sense to stay out of the pool!" whispered Porky. "Then again, I'm not surprised she'd come out like this. She's always showing her panties on the playground," he added contemptuously. "She..." He broke off as Doug twisted his arm.

"She's an excellent ball player who keeps her mind where it belongs. On the game, not in the gutter."

"And what do I have to hide that the others don't?" Cy added.

Porky started to protest, but Doug let him go with a final shove. "She's absolutely right. The only reason I can see that girls wear tops is that they have breasts, so if anyone here needs a top, it's *you!"*

Cy looked at Porky's flabby chest with its protruding breasts and burst out laughing. So did I. Porky hung his head and slunk away.

Cynthia ran to the edge of the pool. "Come on! I'll race you to the other side!"

* * *

Dinner was in a ballroom with several long tables, and Cynthia and I, who didn't even know most of our own team members all that well, got to meet some of the members of the other teams. Most of them were friendly, and as excited to be in the big city as we were. Even those whose teams had already been eliminated were good sports, realizing it had been a great honor just to get this far... more of an honor, really, than coming onto an already-winning team at the last minute the way Cy and I had. She looked with new admiration at her other teammates... especially at Doug, but even, with all his faults, Porky.

"Aaah, what a bunch of chickens!" came a deep voice from across the table. Even Doug McMurdo's voice was just beginning to break, but the tall boy across the table already had a deep teenage voice laced with contempt.

Porky jumped to his feet and started cursing at the boy, but Doug pulled him back. "Cool it, Porky. You know Evan's not worth it."

"Not worth it?" snapped Evan. "Who was so afraid of us that they didn't bother to show up until it was too late to face a real team like the Senators? Even a bunch of girls could beat the Giants!" Cynthia's eyes narrowed at this, but thankfully nobody noticed amidst the resulting protests from both Dodgers and Giants.

Even Doug's voice was unusually strained. "Evan, our bus had three flats. Everyone on it saw them. And it was sabotaged, too! These were in the road as we drove by." He pulled one of the caltrops out of his pocket. "Somebody gave us those flats and kept us away!"

Evan clenched his fists. "So WHAT? I think your Coach Winshit planted those caltrops himself!"

Porky jumped up and swung his fist at Evan. Evan punched Porky in the stomach, and at once Cynthia, and then Doug, were charging at him. Several of the other Senators rushed to Evan's defense, and it was turning into a regular free-for-all before several of the adults came running up and pulling us apart.

"Porky, I'm ashamed of you!" said Coach Winship. And Cy... and... Doug! I expected better of you!"

"He was insulting you!" whined Porky. "He accused you of sabotaging our own bus, so we'd get out of playing his rotten team!"

"Rotten team, my ass!" began Evan, but Coach Cardwell silenced him with a look.

"I'll admit he should have known better, Ben," said Mr. Cardwell, "but it does seem you have an unusually undisciplined crowd this year. I tell you, if anyone on my team behaved that way, they wouldn't be sitting comfortably for quite a while!"

"Evan's sitting pretty comfortably!" Cynthia noted.

Coach Cardwell glared at her, recognizing her for the first time from the restroom. "I beg your pardon! My team members do not start brawls, not make scenes in rest rooms!" He transferred his glare to the seething Coach Winship.

With a few more apologies back and forth, we returned to our seats. The Dodgers and Senators glared at each other but said very little throughout the rest of the meal, but as she was finishing her dessert, Cynthia looked over at Evan. "By the way, how come you knew that thing was called a caltrop? None of us did!"

"Shows how dumb you are! I read a lot!"

"I didn't think he ever read anything he wasn't assigned," remarked Doug, as Cynthia and I accompanied him back to his room before Willie, his own roommate, could catch up. "But I suppose if he did read anything, it'd be war stories."

"How's this look?" asked Cynthia. I'd finished using the bathroom, and had emerged to find her standing in the middle of the room, wearing nothing but Doug's underpants. They were blue boxer shorts, not briefs like both Cynthia's and my regular underpants, and they fit her surprisingly well.

"Very good!" I said, trying to suppress my excitement. If Cynthia was even aware of it, she dismissed it as of no consequence, especially when she was absorbed in one of her ruling passions... such as, in this instance, winning our next game.

"Rick Dexter will be pitching for the Tigers," said Cynthia as she walked away from me. "He likes fast balls, so I'll have to move quick... oops!" she said as Doug's underpants slipped down in back. "I knew these'd need some adjusting... but it's just as well he had them. Otherwise I'd have had to stick with yours. I couldn't wear Porky's," she added with a grimace. "Especially since they'd be around my ankles before I could take a step."

Pulling the shorts up, she gathered the material on both sides and walked to back to me. "Hold these for me, OK?" she asked. I tried to act nonchalant as I grasped the fabric, feeling her firm muscles as she suddenly bent over and retrieved an imaginary ball. "Even at my fastest, I'll miss some, so I'll have to relay 'em fast." She pretended to throw it, then squatted into a catcher's position. "And be ready to tag home plate." Every so often she'd gather more of the material or adjust my hands.

"That should do!" announced Cynthia. She reached into her suitcase and pulled out several safety pins, which she used to fasten the material across the folds she'd made. Then she pulled them down around her thighs and sat down on the bed. "Now be very careful as you pull them off," she said as casually as if she'd been another boy, even though a quick glimpse of her crotch made it all too clear she wasn't. I hastily tried to look away as I pulled the borrowed underpants down to her ankles.

She reached for a second pair and pulled them on. We went through the same procedure, a bit faster now that we knew the drill, as Cynthia continued to plot catching strategy and possible plays if the Giants' people performed as they had earlier in the season. When all the safety pins were in place, she reached for the first pair, and once again began to rummage through her suitcase.

"Aha! I knew I'd packed it here somewhere!" She pulled out a needle, and I shuddered. Was she going to expect me to take a blood oath again? Or extract splinters from some embarrassing part of her body? But I couldn't have been more astounded by the next thing she pulled out. It was... a spool of blue thread! Cynthia wet the end of it, threaded the needle, and sat down with the extra pair of underpants in her lap.

"You can SEW?" I said, open-mouthed, as she began to stitch over the folds she'd made.

Cynthia looked at me ruefully. "Yeah. Depressing, isn't it? Aunt Joyce insisted I learn how. And every so often it's useful. But if you tell ANY of the other kids about it I'll rip your tongue out."

She sewed up the shorts expertly, then had me carefully pull off the other pair. Putting on the pair she'd just altered, she executed her moves again. "Perfect! Now I'll do this pair, and I'll be set for the rest of the playoffs. And nobody will ever know."

I looked at the clock. It was almost eleven, and our official curfew was ten. I reached into my own suitcase for my pajamas, and, almost as an attempt to prove to Cynthia I could be as casual as she was, forced myself not to go into the bathroom to change, though I did turn my back on her before taking off my underpants and slipping on my pajama pants. She largely ignored me anyway as she completed her final stitches.

"Going to change, Cynthia?"

"Nah, the room's too hot. Besides, even my PJ's are a bit too feminine to pass in case there's a fire. I'll just sleep in my undies."

After all that had transpired that night, the fact that there was only one bed in the room seemed of little importance. It was a lot bigger than the bunk we'd once shared in Mt. Ackersley, so we could stretch out without touching each other. I'd gotten her a copy of CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY, the new novel by my favorite author Robert Heinlein, as a graduation present, and she seemed to like it... she was two-thirds of the way through it. I was almost embarrassed to pull out my comic book, but I wanted to show her something.

"See? Here's Black Canary. I went back to that barber shop and bought that comic. Would you believe he wanted a dollar for it?"

"A dollar for a ten-year-old comic book? You were gypped!"

"Maybe. I could almost see you wearing a costume like that. When you're older."

"Fishnet stockings? Not likely. I'd want something a bit more practical, especially if I had to wear it under my clothes. Like Robin the Boy Wonder wears. He's pretty close to my age, so I could start a lot sooner after he gets too old."

I grinned. "I can't see it. First of all, kids don't grow old in comics. Dick Grayson will be a kid when we're collecting Social Security. Second, if he did grow up, Batman wouldn't take a girl for a partner!" I tried to imitate Porky Judson's tone. "And besides..."

Cynthia pulled out her pillow and hit me with it. "You take that back!"

I giggled. "Okay, I take it back. Good night."

"No. NOT good night. What else?"

"What else what?"

"You said, 'And besides.' Besides WHAT? Why couldn't I be just as good a partner for Batman?"

She held the pillow over my face. I gulped. "It's just..."

"It's just WHAT?"

"It's just that Batman's a crimefighter. There's no way he'd ever team up with a Mafia princess!"

Cynthia socked my so hard with the pillow I saw flashes before my eyes. But then she burst out laughing. "So I'll be the first woman in Major League baseball, then. Now we'd better get to sleep, so you won't doze off IF the ball comes to you."

Cynthia and I, along with Doug and Porky, got a surprise at breakfast. Evan Howarth sat across from us once again, but the moment he sat down he gulped. "I'm really sorry for what I said yesterday. I was way out of line. Will you forgive me?"

"What happened?" Porky asked him. "Your coach give you a spanking like he said?"

Evan said nothing, but his face turned a deeper shade of red. Cynthia looked across in sympathy. Doug said, "Well, as far as I'm concerned, we can let bygones be bygones."

"Great!" said Evan. He thrust his hand across to Doug. "Friends?" Doug shook it. So did Cynthia and, though not without some reluctance, Porky. Then, almost as an afterthought, he stretched it across to me as well. I shook it, and, with what seemed like relief, Evan launched into a detailed discussion with my three teammates about baseball, going into batting averages and other trivia I could only vaguely follow.

I wandered away to get some more food; the hotel's breakfast was served buffet-style. I was getting some more scrambled eggs when I heard my name mentioned. I looked across and saw that Coach Winship and Coach Cardwell seemed to be engaged in a deep conversation.

"...Remarra and Cy Benedetto go to Porky's school," Mr. Winship was saying. "No, I don't know why they're not at some expensive camp. I heard Porky got thrown out of one last summer, but don't quote me."

"I just don't see why someone as good as Cy hasn't been in Little League before!" remarked Mr. Cardwell. "Say, isn't there some Mafia kingpin named Benedetto?"

"I thought of that when I saw her permission slip," said our coach. "His dad's even named Gino Benedetto, like that guy. But there's got to be more than one Gino Benedetto. There are lots of Italians in our town."

"You're sure? It could explain why he's never played Little League..."

"Positive. There was a piece in the paper about the Mafia don last month. Seems he's grooming his nephews to succeed him, because he doesn't have any sons of his own. Even young kids like Cy. It specifically mentioned that."

I finished filling my plate and headed back for our table. I thought I'd have to tell Cynthia about the conversation next time we were alone. But I never got the chance.

After breakfast, Evan and his friends on the Senators invited us to join them to watch the morning playoffs. After lunch, the Dodgers watched the Senators win their second game of the playoffs, guaranteeing their survival into the third round. They in turn cheered us on as the Dodgers went up against the Braves, in a squeaker of a game that was against us until the very end, when Doug slammed a homer that sent Porky as well as himself home. Evan gave us a thumbs-up sign as we went wild with jubilation.

Dinner conversation was again on topics I didn't know much about, but an ebullient Cynthia explained most of the references to me. It was one of the greatest days of my life... until dinner was over and we separated to head for our respective rooms.

"Uh, Lou." Cynthia told me as I held the elevator for her. "I won't be up right away. Do me a favor and tell the coach I'm there if he calls, OK?"

"Where are you going?" I asked, confused.

She gave me a smile, but a determined one. "Out. Don't follow me, OK?"

I didn't. But somehow, I couldn't get interested in rereading my new comics, nor even in the book Cynthia had brought along. I finally wandered down to the lobby, thinking I could strike up a conversation with somebody...

And there was Cynthia! In deep conversation with Doug McMurdo, completely oblivious to anything else, including me. I fought down a pang of jealousy. So what if I'd shared Cynthia's life and experiences extensively for the last few months? I realized I'd never be much of an athlete, nor have as much in common with her as Doug did. I reluctantly turned to go, as Porky Judson strode by.

I stared in astonishment as he joined Cynthia and Doug. What was Cynthia up to? At least I liked and respected Doug, but why would they want Porky along and not me? And, to complete my puzzlement, who was next to join them but Evan Howarth of the Senators!

WHAT could those four have in common, apart from being perhaps the best players in the entire playoffs, from which Cynthia was so quick to exclude me? Should I walk over and ask, or wait for Cynthia to explain it to me... IF she'd explain it to me... when she got back?

I wrestled with myself before looking over again... and they were gone! I scanned the room... and there they were, happily chatting as they disappeared into a hotel elevator. None had noticed me, and the door was closing. I raced to the elevator, but it was already rising before I got there.

Frantically I punched the button and watched the numbers on the elevator. It was almost up to 14, where all the Dodgers' rooms were, but it didn't stop. It continued to 15, 16... all the way up to 19, where it stopped. A sudden ding alerted me that the other elevator had arrived.

With my thoughts in a complete turmoil of frustration and jealousy, I rushed into the elevator and pushed the button for the 19th floor. Nothing happened, and I fumed as two men entered and pushed 8. Then, mercifully, the door closed, only to open again on 5 as a thin woman entered and pushed 16. I was a nervous wreck by then, but to my relief it only made the two stops on 8 and 16 before it brought me to 19. I dashed off and saw, naturally, an empty corridor.

I knew exactly what I SHOULD have done... gone back to my room and waited for Cynthia. If I had, the playoffs and perhaps my entire life would have turned out very differently. But I'd seen it this far, and I told myself I at least wanted to be sure Cynthia was all right. So I slowly wandered through the corridor, listening for a familiar voice.

There it was! Cynthia's unmistakable voice, and Porky's, coming from 1958 (the same as the current year, I told myself ruefully). Should I? I cracked open the door, and found myself staring into Porky's furious face. "What the hell are YOU doing here? YOU weren't invited!"

But to my amazement, Evan's voice floated over to me. "Well, come on and join the crowd! Lou, I wanted to throw a special party for what I'll freely admit are the best damn players in the Little League! I should've realized all of you are friends!"

A bit of an exaggeration when it came to me and Porky, but Doug and Cynthia shook my hand and invited me in. "I really felt bad about leaving you out," Cynthia told me. "But Evan..."

"...Forgot how it was to be a first-time Little Leaguer!" said Evan. "There are chips and drinks here, so enjoy!"

* * *

The next ten minutes were spent in a spirit of cameraderie. And then, with a flourish, Evan reached into a drawer.

"And now, in honor of the best MEN ever to shake up the playoffs, an extra treat!" He pulled out a pack of Old Gold cigarettes and offered one to Porky. He took one, and Evan pulled out a cigarette lighter and lit it for him. He coughed, but gave us a smile.

"Doug?" Doug looked a bit dubious, but also took one, which Evan lit. He smoked it a bit more expertly, without coughing. "Cy?" She coughed up a storm, but gamely held on. "And Lou?"

"No, thank you." I gave them a smile and waved him away.

But Evan's expression had suddenly turned black. "NO? What kind of baby are you, Lou?"

"Yeah!" sneered Porky, trying to suppress another cough. I looked toward Doug and Cynthia for some trace of support, but Doug looked back with a rueful, disappointed expression, and Cynthia was too busy coughing to come to my aid.

"Well, I guess you knew what you were doing when you didn't invite THIS sissy!" said Porky.

"Yeah!" said Evan. "Why don't you just go to bed like the rest of the LITTLE boys?"

I can't claim any moral superiority for resisting the cigarette. I simply never saw the point of smoking, especially since my mother, who had been a chain smoker, had died three years earlier of lung cancer. My father had always tried to talk her out of it, and had never given me any orders or instructions one way of the other, but I simply had no interest in smoking. With a last bleak look around the room, I headed for the door.

I didn't even have the heart to push the elevator button right away. I just sat down on the floor outside and listened to the delighted voices of Evan and Doug, Porky's sneers, and Cynthia's occasional coughs. Finally I decided it was time to go. As I headed for the elevator, I spotted a little alcove with a Coke machine in it, which reminded me how thirsty the smoke had made me. I was so thirsty I didn't even mind the whopping twenty cents the machine charged, but put it in and hit the button. I took a soothing sip and prepared to exit.

And then I heard Evan's voice again. NOT from 1958, which was at the other end of the corridor, but from much closer! I popped my head outside and listened to the voice emanating from 1926...

"Yeah, that's right. They're all in there. Better get up fast, Coach."


I raced out and almost bumped into Evan. "Hey, what was that all about?"

A shocked and furious expression came to his face. "None of your beeswax, you little turd!"

I called in the direction of 1958. "Hey, Cyn -- Cy! Doug..." And then Evan clamped his hand firmly over my mouth.

"YOU keep quiet!" He reached over toward the elevator and tried to push the button, but I struggled so hard he tipped over instead. We wrestled on the floor for about a minute; he had the edge in age and weight, but was handicapped by his determination to keep his hand over my mouth so I couldn't call for help. And apparently nobody had heard me before.

Finally Evan struggled to his feet and, still holding me, pushed the button. The elevator came up, and he shoved me into it.

And right into the chest of Coach Winship.

"Lou! Evan! What are you DOING here?" said our coach, with a shocked and disappointed look on his face. But even more shocked was the expression on the face of Coach Cardwell, who stood immediately behind him.

"Evan can't have anything to do with this!" said Mr. Cardwell with a quickness that astounded me, as he seized my hand. He stepped aside to allow Evan to lunge toward the elevator, but Mr. Winship grabbed him by the arm and pulled him out.

"We'll soon see!" said Mr. Winship. "We got a report that some of my team was smoking in a room on this floor! Room 1958, right, Vic?"

Holding Evan firmly by the arm, he advanced, as Mr. Cardwell dragged me along in his wake. I tried to call out, but Coach Winship was too fast. Doug and Porky were frantically racing toward the toilet with their lit cigarettes, as Cynthia looked up from her latest coughing fit to give her coach a weak smile.

"Porky! Cy!" said Coach Winship with a disappointed and firm voice. "And... Doug?? How could you break the rules like this?!"

"HE gave us the cigarettes, Coach!" protested Porky. Cynthia gave him a look of utter contempt; there was nothing she detested as much as an informer.

Evan looked around frantically, clearly wishing he were anywhere but there. "Surely you don't believe that lying little tattletale?"

"LOOK who's talking!" I screamed at him. "What did YOU just call the Coaches about? After YOU gave..." Realizing I was letting myself in for Cynthia's disdain, I suddenly stopped myself, but it was too late.

"There's absolutely no evidence Evan was EVER here!" said Coach Cardwell glibly.

Doug stared at him. "No evidence? But it's HIS room!"

"I told you what liars they are, Coach!" said Evan, the picture of injured innocence. "You both know the Senators' rooms are on the 11th floor! They probably just found an empty room with a door ajar!" Which, I suddenly realized, was exactly what Evan HAD done. And my friends had fallen, very neatly, into his snare.

"But we've caught YOU three red-handed!" continued his coach. "And you know the rules as well as I do, Ben. Any player caught smoking is IMMEDIATELY suspended. No exceptions."

"Surely there's something else we could do, Vic!" protested our coach. "I don't have any other players! If any of them are suspended, we'd have to forfeit the entire series!"

Evan gave him a triumphant sneer. "How do you expect to punish these kids, Winshit?" he said. "Spank them and put them to bed without supper?"

Mr. Winship seized on his taunt. "They've had supper, you little brat! But, Vic, you always said that if your kids misbehaved, you'd see to it they couldn't sit for a week. Wouldn't that be enough punishment now?"

The others stared at him, Porky with horror, Cynthia with what looked almost like relief, Doug with sheer surprise. "They could certainly use it, Ben! But..."

"Then how about a sound spanking for all the boys?" I cringed in horror, and Evan's gleeful smile suddenly disappeared at the implication. "Except Lou, that is. He wasn't in the room until we brought him here."

"Like hell he wasn't..." began Evan, and suddenly clapped his hands over his mouth.

Coach Winship whirled on him. "And just how could you possibly know that, unless you were here before? I think that pretty much proves it, Vic."

"There's no proof..." began Coach Cardwell. But with a new, more desperate tone in his voice.

Our coach moved in for the kill. "Of course, if you want, we can see the committee tomorrow, and give them all the facts. Let them find out what happened. Very likely my three boys will be disqualified, along with Evan."

"That's not fair!" protested Mr. Cardwell, sounding almost like his player. "Evan's my right-hand man! I need him..."

"And I need my boys!" said Mr. Winship. "So it's settled, then? You can spank my three, but I'll attend to Evan!"

Porky looked around in desperation, and his eyes met those of Coach Cardwell, who made his decision.. "Very well!" thundered the Senators' coach. "And I'll start with this one!"

"NOOOO!" screamed Porky as Mr. Cardwell seized him by the arm and began to pull him across his knee. "Please don't hit me! I promise I'll never smoke again..." he babbled.

"Come on, Porky!" said Doug in what was meant to be a reassuring tone. "You don't want to forfeit the whole game!"

"And it's not that bad once you get used to it!" put in Cynthia.

"Yeah, but..." began Porky, but their reassurances seemed to have some effect. He set his jaw and let Coach Cardwell unbuckle his belt and pull down his pants, but screamed again when he started to pull down his huge white briefs. "No! Not on my bare behind! Not in front of..."

"In front of who?" shot back Mr. Cardwell. "We're all boys here!"

Porky knew that wasn't true, but Cynthia turned her back on him, and he seemed to relax a trifle as the coach finished baring his bottom. "Does he think I want to look at his flabby butt?" Cynthia whispered to me.

Fortunately, everyone else was giving too much attention to Porky to even notice Cynthia's move. I probably should have looked away too, but I'd suffered too much at Porky's hands in the past to spare myself a chance at gratuitous revenge. Evan rubbed his hands in glee as Porky whimpered, and even Doug seemed to be of mixed emotions regarding his teammate's punishment.

"OWWW!" screamed Porky at the top of his lungs as Coach Carswell's palm met his flesh. His big bottom jiggled as the coach's hand rose and fell, again and again, and Porky's wails became even louder: "OHHH! Stop, Coach! PLEASE stop, Mr. Cardwell! I'll NEVER smoke a cigarette for the rest of my life! I swear! Just STOP!!"

Doug looked away in acute embarrassment, and Coach Winship's face looked almost as red as Porky's bottom had become. "Hasn't he had enough, Vic?" he almost pleaded. It suddenly occurred to me that he had a lot at stake... if Porky's dad ever found out what had happened, Ben Winship would very likely be looking for another job. Then again, probably Mr. Judson would be even less pleased if his team were thrown out of the playoffs because his own son had been suspended for smoking... and it was clear as day that Porky would rather die than ever let his father know exactly what was transpiring this evening.

"Who'd believe he could even feel it through all that flab?" Cynthia remarked in a stage whisper. Porky stiffened and glared at her back, but was soon screaming and pleading all over again, and Coach Cardwell stopped spanking after fifteen swats. "Let that be a lesson to you!" he growled in a disgusted tone.

He loosened his grip, and Porky jumped up. His hands flew to his immense bottom and he rubbed it thoroughly, all thoughts of modesty forgotten as he ran around the room in circles, showing Doug, Evan, me and even Cynthia a good look at his front as well as his back. We all tried to look away, even Evan and his coach.

Mr. Cardwell stood up and walked toward Doug, who let him take his arm and lower his pants and blue boxer shorts, identical to the ones Cynthia had borrowed, around his thighs. Unlike Porky, he said not a word as the coach commenced spanking him, which didn't seem to please Mr. Cardwell at all. He swatted harder and harder, turning Doug's bare bottom a bright shade of red, but Doug only set his jaw until he'd been slapped an even dozen times. He groaned with the thirteenth swat and uttered an "Ohh..." with the sixteenth, but Coach Cardwell only continued to spank him further.

"That's enough, Vic!" protested Mr. Winship after the eighteenth whack. "You didn't hit Porky anywhere near as long!"

"He should know better!" snapped Mr. Cardwell. "He's older than Porky!" He administered five firm swats to Doug's bottom before he let him go. Doug stood up with great dignity, wincing as he pulled up his shorts and jeans but doing so anyway before he allowed himself to rub his injured bottom.

Coach Winship looked at his team captain with sympathy in his eye, and at his rival coach with increasing fury. Suddenly he reached for the guffawing Evan, and yanked him across his knee. He pulled down the teenager's loose jeans and briefs, and slapped him hard on his exposed bottom. Evan just sneered.

Our coach continued the treatment, his hand coming down over and over on Evan's bottom. Evan was wincing by the seventh hard spank, groaning by the fifteenth, and after the twenty-third he suddenly protested, "Hey! Haven't I had enough?"

"I don't think so!" said Mr. Winship firmly. "Frankly, I think you could have used this a lot sooner!"

"Oww! Mr. Winship, that's not fair! You only hit Doug 23 times!"

"You were counting? Well, by your coach's own reasoning, you're older! You should know better!"

"He's not older!" put in Mr. Cardwell. "He's 13, same as Doug!"

"Well, you couldn't tell to look at him!" muttered Mr. Winship. But he let Evan go, and his hands promptly flew to his bottom to massage it before, remembering himself, he yanked up his pants and underpants. Sneering at the rest of us, he stalked to the corner of the room and flopped down, wincing as his bottom hit the bed but defiantly remaining there.

"You watch what you say, Ben!" raged Coach Cardwell. "You know as well as I do that Evan's only 13, or he couldn't even be IN the Little League! I've seen his birth certificate!" he added, almost mechanically, as if he'd made the same statement many times before.

Mr. Winship looked as if he wanted to protest further, then shrugged his shoulders. "Well, that would seem to take care of it, then. "They've all been disciplined, except..."

"Except that one!" finished Mr. Cardwell.

Cynthia calmly walked toward him, unbuckling her belt as she did so. Before he could reach for her, she bent forward over his lap, pulling down her jeans and borrowed boxer shorts as she covered herself in front. "I'm ready," she said resolutely.

"And you should be!" roared Coach Cardwell as he gave Cynthia's bottom a hard swat. She closed her mouth tightly as he repeated the treatment, which only seemed to infuriate the Senators' coach further. He brought his hand down again and again on her reddened bottom, raging about latecomers who wangled their way onto winning teams at the last minute.

Porky, still rubbing his own bottom, wandered behind Cynthia and stared openly at hers as Mr. Cardwell continued to swat it. I wanted to turn away, but found myself staring in horrified fascination, and hating myself for it. Doug also seemed incapable of looking away, but tried to give Cynthia a reassuring glance. Evan rubbed his hands in glee, and I wanted to kill him. Cynthia seemed to be tightening every muscle of her body in order to hold her buttocks together, out of what the adults assumed was modesty. But Doug, Porky and I were in constant fear, even if mingled with voyeurism at least in Porky's case, that she might slip and expose, not only her androgynous bottom but her specifically feminine parts.

To my utter astonishment, Mr. Cardwell didn't stop with the fifteenth spank as he had with Porky. After he'd spanked her for the 23rd time I opened my mouth for the first time to protest. "That is enough!"

"Are you trying to tell me what to do, brat?!" roared the coach. "Do you want to be next?"

"He's right!" said Mr. Winship, reaching for the other's hand. The other coach shook it off and brought it down harder than ever on Cynthia's bottom. "Cy's younger than Evan and Doug!" continued Coach Winship. "He's even younger than Porky! You can't hit him even longer..."

"I'll hit him until he feels it!" screamed Coach Cardwell. "Goddamn you, you're not going to ignore me!" Holding Cynthia down firmly, he attempted to reach under her and unbuckle her belt.

"I said ENOUGH!" Coach Winship screamed back, seizing Coach Cardwell's spanking arm with both hands. "He's BEEN punished. So have ALL the kids! Let's get out of here before someone needs this room!"

Mr. Cardwell looked up and glared at us. With the exception of Evan, still slouched in the corner, every one of us was staring at him in disgust, though Porky was still rubbing his own bottom hard through his thin summer pants. "Very well." he said.

Suddenly he pulled Cynthia off his lap, but didn't let her go. His eyes filled with fury as he held her by the shoulders and began to scream in her face. "You think you're so tough because you didn't make a sound!" he sneered. Cynthia looked back at him defiantly, her hands clenched tightly over her crotch, the scar on her red bottom resembling a relic of battle as it faced us. "All that proves is that you've probably been whaled plenty already! Goddamn you, put your hands at your SIDES while I'm talking to you!" Abruptly, he let go her shoulders and pulled her hands away. "It isn't as if I haven't seen a dick before..."

Mr. Cardwell stopped and stared, and his jaw literally dropped. Then his face turned even redder than Cynthia's bottom, and he made choking noises. He grabbed her shoulder again and whirled her around to face Mr. Winship. "What the HELL are you trying to pull??!!"

* * *

Abruptly a louder bellow came from the floor below. "Hey, some of us are trying to SLEEP in here!" Coach Cardwell closed his mouth, but continued to gasp in indignation as his face turned from red to purple.

"Trying to pull?" Coach Winship was indignant. "You're the one who just... oh, my GOD!" he said as Cynthia's crotch was revealed to him for the first time. Evan sat up like a puppet on a string, and stared so hard that even Porky was embarrassed into looking away from her, as the rest of us were trying to do.

"Now that that's settled, is it all right if I pull my pants up?" Cynthia put in sarcastically. Receiving no answer as the two adults continued to wrangle, she did so.

"He... I mean SHE is out of it! Now! And so are you, Ben! Either you tell the committee or I do! Using a ringer like that..."

"I swear I had no idea, Vic! He... she showed up at practice, saying her name was Cy Benedetto..."

"And it is!" Cynthia interpolated. "Cynthia Benedetto. I never told you anything that wasn't true!"

Coach Winship's eyes were almost pleading. "I thought we'd agreed, Vic. That the spanking was punishment enough..."

"For the smoking, YES! But for breaking the Little League's most basic rules..."

"And what if I DID?" Cynthia suddenly put in. "How does a team with a girl on it have an unfair advantage? It's not like a team with an overage boy!" She looked pointedly at Evan.

"I've had ENOUGH of that vile accusation!" bellowed Coach Cardwell. "I've said repeatedly that I've SEEN his birth certificate! He was born in 1945!"

"Bull!" snapped Cynthia, dodging the coach as he leaped up and lunged at her again. "We all SAW him with his pants down, and there's no 13-year-old in the world with that much hair on his balls and legs!" Coach Winship restrained his rival as Cynthia gasped for breath, and added, "AND he just creamed all over his pants when you flashed my vagina at him!"

Mr Cardwell stopped and gawked at his team captain, who had his hands tightly clenched over his own crotch. He looked sick, but finally tried to smile as he nodded.

"And I'm sure you've seen his birth certificate!" Cynthia said, leaning against the bed and trying to strike an arrogant pose. "But maybe you should show it to the committee. Let them examine it very closely. Maybe even call the clerk of the city where Evan was born..."

Slowly Coach Cardwell sat down again. He was clearly staggered, but he finally said with determination in his voice. "It can't be done. Tomorrow's Saturday, so city offices wouldn't be open. Besides, Evan's parents are abroad, and they're the only ones who know where his birth certificate is." He sat up smugly. "And there's no way you can prove what you claim Evan is, but it's very easy to prove what you are!"

He rubbed his hands together in triumph. He shot back one final sentence, "Besides, if I did let the game go through, how am I to know you won't spread your lies later?"

Cynthia had totally ruined the effect by rubbing her abused bottom once again. Now she shot back, "Because we Benedettos aren't informers!"

Mr. Cardwell sniggered. "Spoken like a true Mafioso!" He suddenly glanced nervously at Mr. Winship, and added, "You did say Cy wasn't related to those Benedettos, didn't you?"

"Of course not! I told you that Gino Benedetto hasn't got a son! Just a dau..."

It hit them both at the same time. They stared at each other in sudden realization.

Amazingly, it was Porky who broke the silence. "Sure, she's Don Benedetto's daughter!" He whirled on the Senators' coach and defiantly rubbed his own bottom again. "And maybe when you make her pull down her pants and show her front end to the committee, her Dad will show up and catch a glimpse of her rear end! And when he finds out who did that to us... to her--I wouldn't be in your shoes for anything! Right, CardCHEAT?"

Coach Cardwell looked as sick as his team captain had earlier. He drew in his breath and opened his mouth as if to make a blustering statement, then closed his mouth. Finally he said in a croaking voice. "I think you're right, Ben. It'd be best if we all forgot the events of this evening, and allow both our teams to complete the playoffs as scheduled."

He stood up and beckoned to Evan. "It's well past curfew, and it's time all of us got to bed. Good night." He briskly strode to the door, with Evan, still covering his crotch, following him out.

For a moment nobody spoke. Then Cynthia walked over to Porky and shook his hand. "You did it, Porky! Congratulations!" She turned to face everyone. "By the way, ice does wonders for your butt after you've had it warmed. Believe me, I know. There're ice buckets in the rooms..."

Suddenly Porky, who'd been standing by the door, put his finger to his lips and beckoned us over. Cynthia, Doug, and even I put our ears to the door as our coach looked at us with a hint of disapproval. But he made no move to stop us, and seemed to be listening hard himself.

The unmistakeable, and rising, voice of Coach Cardwell was clearly audible from the hotel corridor: "...don't win tomorrow? Why couldn't you control your fucking hormones? My god, she's not even twelve! And about as feminine as a Mack truck!" For reasons I couldn't comprehend, Cynthia seemed almost annoyed at that.

"Look who's talking! You seemed to get quite a rise out of spanking her!"

"JESUS! Do you think I would have whaled her like that if I'd had ANY idea she was a girl??!! If I'd KNOWN, I'd just have told the committee and we wouldn't have NEEDED that setup! And a fine mess YOU made of it!"

"So you thought that was a boy's ass you were hitting? Like the other two? I guess that makes it all right, faggot! AHHH!" he screamed as the clear sound of a spank came down in what must still have been a very sensitive place.

"ONE MORE WORD and I'll take my OWN belt to you! I'd have done it long ago if I didn't need you for tomorrow's game! Even so..." And then the elevator door closed on them, and they were gone.

Coach Winship stood up. "Well, he was right about one thing. It is well past curfew, and this room doesn't even belong to anybody. It's time we got back to our floor."

We were out of there within a minute, though not before Porky gathered up the remnants of the snacks Evan had provided. Doug looked at him ruefully, but nobody made a move to stop him. None of the rest of us had any appetite left.

Porky and Doug had already disappeared behind the doors of their respective rooms before Coach Winship said good-night to us at the door of ours. Suddenly he thought of something, "Say, how many beds are there in your room?"

Cynthia grinned. "Don't worry. I won't take advantage of the kid." Mr. Winship looked a bit concerned, but strolled down the hall and let us settle in for the night.

"You know, I was thinking..." I said to Cynthia. I was lying in bed with my pajamas on, again trying to reread CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY.

"That's a switch!" Cynthia replied. She was facing away from me as she sat on the ice-filled bucket, her underpants pulled down so she could cool her reddened bottom. "Ahhh! This feels almost as good as my icebag. I should've brought it, but who knew?"

"Think Doug and Porky are trying that, too?"

"I know it! I met 'em both at the ice machine when I filled the bucket." She laughed. "Mind you, Porky had to make several trips... he'd squash one of these buckets if he tried to sit on it. So I don't know where he put the ice. Probably in the bathtub. Or even," she added with a giggle, "in the toilet."

"No, I just wanted to ask a favor." Cynthia turned and gave me a suspicious glance. "Since you can sew..." (her eyes narrowed at that reminder), "...any chance you could mend those underpants of mine you borrowed? Not tonight, but when you get a chance."

"No way!" snorted Cynthia. She wrapped a towel around her waist and stood up, towelling herself dry before she pulled up Doug's blue shorts. "Even if I ever get married, which I doubt, my husband can do his own darn mending, if you'll pardon the expression. And right now, all I'm going to do is sleep." She pulled back the covers and flopped down next to me, face down."

"Even if his clothes get ripped while you're wearing them?"

Cynthia sighed. "Well, maybe then. After we're back home, I'll see what I can do." She reached to turn off the light.

I lay back, thinking back on the events of the very strange day. "Feeling all right?"

"I'll live. Thanks."

"You really don't think you'll ever get married?"

"Naah. Seems like a bore to me. Who'd want to, anyway?" She wriggled around and tried to get comfortable. "Or did you think *you...?!"

I was glad she couldn't see my face, which I was sure must have been redder than her bottom had been. "Well..."

"Not a chance. I'm older than you, for one thing."

"That doesn't make any difference. I'm reading a book on the summer list about Shakespeare. You know, his wife was eight years older than he was? That'd be like me marrying Diana!"

Cynthia laughed out loud. "You and Diana? Now, that is ridiculous. She's not your type at all!"

"Then who would you say is my type?"

"How should I know! Stop worrying about nonsense like that and try to figure out if we'll be in shape for the games tomorrow! Now good night!"

I closed my eyes. "Good night."

At breakfast the next morning, Evan pointedly led the Senators as far away from our table as possible. (With only four of the original sixteen teams remaining, there was plenty of space.) Cynthia and Doug seemed limber enough and well recovered from their experiences of the previous night, though Porky still seemed a bit stiff. Nevertheless, we beat the Cubs in less than two hours, and wandered over to watch the end of the Senators' game against the White Sox, which ended up running into eleven innings. We were all heartened when the Sox got the final run in the top of the eleventh, only to have the second-best Senator hit a double that assured them of one final chance against us.

"How you feeling, Evan?" taunted Porky. Evan gave us the finger as his triumphant team surged by.

The auditorium was genuinely filled up by the time of the final playoff. Many of the players' parents were in attendance, and I couldn't suppress a pang of loss when I remembered that one of my parents was in the hospital and the other was dead. Both of Porky's parents sat in the front row, right next to a man named Galvin, identified by Porky as the president of the Colonial Insurance Co., Porky's father's boss. "I'll bet Dad gets to be president when Mr. Galvin retires next year!" enthused Porky, and none of us begrudged him his moment of glory.

The Senators took the field for the top of the first inning, and the game settled into one high on fielding and low on runs. Doug's potential homer was caught by a revitalized Evan, but Willie in turn put Evan out three innings later. We were winning by 5 to 2 in the top of the ninth, and it looked as if everything was going to work out fine.

As we waited in the bullpen for our turns at bat, Cynthia suddenly poked me. "Look! Up there!"

I looked, and gasped. There, three rows from the front, sat Gino Benedetto, flanked by his chauffeur, Ferranti, and his consigliere, Giordano. "I didn't even know he knew!" I cried.

"He didn't!" whispered Cynthia. "But if he's found out... well, let's just say it's not pleasant to get spanked twice in 24 hours!"

She struck out, and so did the next two batters, putting us once more in the field. It wouldn't be long now, I told myself... and continued to do so until Al Hennessey, the Senators' second-baseman, slammed the ball for a double. Cynthia threw her glove down in indignation. Things improved when the next batter struck out, but then Jack Dillard hit a sacrifice bunt that our first baseman bobbled, not only sending Al to third but leaving Dillard safe at first. I looked up at Mr. Benedetto in the stands, who was watching the game, Cynthia in particular, intently with an inscrutable expression.

And then Evan Howarth sauntered up to the plate. He ignored the first three balls, for a ball and two strikes. Was he actually going to strike out? The bat met the next ball, which flew up, right toward...

Toward ME! I reached for the ball, and grabbed it! For a triumphant instant I held it, luxuriating in Evan's dawning realization that a ten-year- old novice had single-handedly put him out.

And then it slipped out of my hand, and fell to the ground. Al Hennessey had made it home, and Even's long legs had almost brought him to second.

In desperation, I threw the ball to Doug. It missed by a mile, and Doug frantically raced toward it as Jack Dillard passed third and headed for home. By the time he snatched it up, the Senators had doubled their score, and Evan was pounding toward home with the tying run.

Doug hurled the ball to Cynthia. But Evan's foot was in the air, landing on home plate... JUST as Cynthia tagged him with the ball.

Everything was silent as the umpire surveyed the situation. Even in right field, I could hear him draw his breath as our world waited for his decision...


Evan was screaming at the umpire and at the beaming Cynthia, until the umpire physically hustled him off the field. The next batter was a ten-year- old even fatter than Porky, so it was all anticlimax, but we still pounded Willie on the back when he had the honor of catching his ball for the final out.

The Dodgers were the champions of the 1958 regional playoffs. We were at once congratuated, enfolded and cheered by our coach, team mom, and various parents and patrons, as Mrs. Hendricks, team mom to the Senators, wandered around asking, "Has anyone seen Coach Cardwell?"

I looked for Coach Winship, and found him talking to... Mr. Benedetto! Cynthia's father was saying, "Yes, Cy is... a close relative of mine. And Lou is a friend of Cy whose father is ailing, and has temporarily place him in my care. So, as soon as the closing ceremonies are finished, both... uh, boys will be returning home with me."

Mr. Winship shook our hands as we prepared to leave. Porky's parents had already taken him out to dinner with Mr. Galvin, and several of the others were already gone. Doug hugged Cynthia and gave her a playful swat on the seat of her uniform pants. It was nothing more than a lot of the other boys had done to each other, but I'll admit to feeling a faint twinge of jealousy... and more than a trace of worry that both Cynthia and I would soon be getting something similar, a lot harder and more frequent, from her father. We'd already checked out of the hotel, and now, at his boss's instructions, Ferranti picked up our bags and carried them to the car.

Not a word was spoken as Mr. Benedetto directed Giordano into the front seat of his Rolls with the chauffeur. An ominous note. As we got going, Mr. Benedetto closed the soundproof partition between the front seat and the back seat, where he sat with Cynthia and me. More ominous still. I still had vivid memories of the story Cynthia had once told me, of how her father had gone through a similar procedure the time she'd thrown the rock through the police car, after which he'd taken down her panties and spanked her right there in the back seat.

Mr. Benedetto broke the silence. "I understand congratulations are in order for both of you. And for your team... but both of you played a major role in its surprising victory."

Cynthia seemed to brighten "Yes! Uh, Dad... you aren't mad about my not telling you, are you?"

Gino Benedetto's eyes narrowed. "It's true you never lied to me about anything specific. But you did deliberately deceive me. And, although you may nor be aware of it, these playoffs were the subject of rather intensive gambling."

Now it was Cynthia's turn to be amazed. "Gambling? On a Little League game?"

Mr. Benedetto gestured with his hands. "Some people will gamble on anything at all. Especially a high-powered game like this one. Do you realize, Cynthia, that the Senators were heavily favored to win?"

"I knew that! Everyone did!"

Her father's voice grew louder. "But did you also realize that certain people within my organization took steps to ensure that the Senators would, in fact, win? And that, for reasons I still fail to totally comprehend, those steps proved ineffective? Cynthia, your actions have cost me a great deal of money!"

Cynthia's face fell. "I'm sorry, Dad. I really didn't know. And Lou had nothing to do with it, so please don't spank him."

Mr. Benedetto glared at his daughter. She instinctively flinched as he pulled her to him... and then he gave her a big bear hug and burst out laughing. "You have nothing to be sorry about! I've always taught you to compete fairly, to do the very best you can, and to be true to your friends and companions. And, it appears, both of you did. I'm very proud of you, princess." He suddenly reached out and drew me into his hug. "And of you as well. I will truly miss you when, as your father's doctors inform me is likely to happen within the next week, you and your father return to his own home."

Cynthia giggled in delight. Finally she asked, "But what about the gambling? What did you do?"

"Very little. The steps in question were entirely the work of a man several levels below me, who acted without my authorization, nor with Giordano's nor anyone reporting directly to him. But I am not a stupid man, and could hardly fail to notice the significance of your cutting your hair so soon before I signed the permission slip. Which I did read carefully, although quickly. Although business regrettably kept me unable to attend your earlier games, I was gratified that I did indeed have a chance to witness your final triumph. I would not have authorized my underling's actions, had I known. Corruption in sports is not unknown, but I am personally uncomfortable with the corruption of children. They should learn that there are honest people in the world as well."

Cynthia blushed. "But I did bend the rules... a little..."

"So do most of us. As you are surely aware, much of my business is against the written rules of society as well. But it all serves a need, and not all rules make sense all the time." He raised his arms again. "For all we know, the day may yet come when people in America may once again gamble legally in this state as easily as they do in Nevada. Or when a girl of your abilities can openly compete in the Little League or a similar organization, without being forced to cut her hair and disguise her sex. Who can say?"

The car pulled into the Benedetto driveway, and Feranti let the rest of us off at the front door, carrying our bags inside before driving away to the garage. Cynthia's father bade us good-bye and set off in the direction of his study.

I followed Cynthia upstairs toward our rooms, still impressed by how very well she filled out a Little League uniform, and how perfectly everything had turned out. Too bad her first, ever so brief, season would also have to be her last... and probably mine as well. Or maybe not...

Cynthia reached behind her and massaged her bottom as we approached her door. "Don't tell me you still feel what... what Cardwell did to you!" I said.

She grinned ruefully. "Nah. I just didn't take in these undies as well as the others... they've been chafing me ever since the third inning. One has to make sacrifices, of course, but I can't wait to get back into my own undies again."

Cynthia stepped into her room, beginning to close the door before I could follow. "And I've got to call Doug. He said he'd be home by now, and I promised I'd let him know if I got... in any more trouble. Wonder what his folks are like...?"

She closed the door, leaving me to wander back to my own room. Well, everything had turned out almost perfectly.