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"Perfectly all right, Mr. Rhoades. Take all the time you want."
Before 30 seconds had gone by, Larry Brock was standing at the net saying, "You're O.K. now, huh, Charley?"
"Yeh, I guess so," Charley said, and slowly took up his proper position.
Father served to Larry Brock, who hit the ball to Charley, who returned it weakly to Mr. Brock, who drove it back at Charley. The whole rally lasted eight or 10 exchanges, and every ball was hit hard at Charley. The Brocks finally took the point on a smash at Charley's feet. They went on to break Father's service by determinedly slapping every ball in Charley's direction. They won their own service in the same way, and the Rhoadeses were vanquished. Father walked off the court without saying a word to the victors, and we drove home in silence. Two days later Father rushed excitedly into the house. "Boys! Boys!" he cried. "I just found out! There's another father-and-son tournament on Labor Day!" Charley and I looked weakly at each other.
Father turned our house into a tennis factory. "We have two months!" he said. "A lousy two months! When those two months are up, Charley, you and I will be the hardest-hitting tennis assassins since Big Bill Tilden."
The side of our detached garage became a backboard for tennis shots, with a net line marked on it. Father and Charley would stand out there for hours on end, practicing lobs, drop shots, slices, drives and serves. Father put up a light for night practice, and he extended Charley's bedtime one hour, to 10:30. To keep Charley interested, Father paid him 25� an hour for practice time. Slowly Charley began to improve, and by the end of the two months he was blistering the paint off that garage. On weekends Charley and Father would sneak over to the public courts on the other side of town to work out as a team. Before long, Father was playing like a 20-year-old, and so was Charley. They were still not good tennis players, but by the standards of the Shadyside Club they were Murder, Inc.
On Labor Day, Father and Charley presented themselves for the father-and-son tournament. "Giving it another go, eh, Rhoades, old fellow?" said Mr. Sedgwick in his best station-wagon English as he wrote down their names on the list for pairing.
"Oh yes, old chap," Father said. "Really we are. Pip, pip, and all that sort of rot, don'tcha know." Mr. Sedgwick gave Father a funny look.
Charley and Father went out on the courts for a warmup. They hit the ball gently to and fro, lacking only pantaloons to look exactly like a pair of elderly maiden ladies chasing butterflies across the meadow. Once Charley accidentally put a little steam on one hit, and Father made an elaborate show of missing the ball completely. "C'mon, now, take it easy!" Father shouted. "You know I haven't been playing." Soon a small crowd had gathered, and an occasional titter would emanate from the sidelines as Father or Charley would pat the ball. Then two familiar faces appeared on the courts. "Why, Brock," Father said, his face a cheerful fountain of friendliness, "nice to see you again."
"We drew you in the opening round," Mr. Brock said.