A Very Long Summer: An I Want To Go Home! story


PROLOGUE

Date: 14-May 2:40pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: This sucks

My mom is making me work this summer. You'll never guess where.


Date: 14-May 2:41pm
To: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
From: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
Subject: RE: This sucks

Camp Algonkian Island.


Date: 14-May 2:43pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: RE: This sucks

OK, so you guessed where.

...

How the HELL did you know? I didn't even know until she called 10 minutes ago.


Date: 14-May 2:44pm
To: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
From: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
Subject: RE: This sucks

My mother e-mailed me. Apparently, your mother mentioned it on the phone.


Date: 14-May 2:46pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: RE: This sucks

THIS SUCKS!! Will you still be my friend when I'm a clone?

(Our moms talk to one another on the phone?)


Date: 14-May 2:50pm
To: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
From: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
Subject: RE: This sucks

> Will you still be my friend when I'm a clone?

Who says I am your friend now?

> (Our moms talk to one another on the phone?)

Apparently our maternal units started talking at one of the Parents Day events and bonded over their mutual loathing of meatloaf.


Date: 14-May 2:51pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: You suck too

Why couldn't they have bonded over a mutual loathing of making their kids spend time at camp?


Date: 14-May 2:55pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: Hello?

You still there?


Date: 14-May 3:00pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: I didn't mean it

C'mon Rudy, you don't really suck.


Date: 14-May 3:01pm
To: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
From: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
Subject: RE: I didn't mean it

> C'mon Rudy, you don't really suck.

Only if you ask nicely, in fact.

I was on the phone.

You'll never guess what my mother just called to tell me.


Date: 14-May 3:03pm
To: rudy.miller@mcgill.edu
From: mwebster34@utoronto.edu
Subject: RE: I didn't mean it

> Only if you ask nicely, in fact.

Huh?

> You'll never guess what my mom just called to tell me.

Holy CRAP!

Do you think they'll make us do trash duty again?


Chapter One: In which Rudy makes an Entrance

In the course of his friendship with Rudy Miller, Mike Webster had seen some terrible things -- dawn over a small lake in Ontario from the vantage point of a rapidly disintegrating raft; a conga line of camp counsellors, red-faced and jovial, shaking their collective tails to 'Lion Sleeps Tonight' led by Rudy himself; on innumerable occasions, the cumulative garbage created by 200 or so healthy young males trapped on an island together; and, though thankfully only blurrily recollected, on the weekend after they graduated high school, the interior of what Mike was pretty sure was a bar full of transsexuals in lumberjack shirts.

None of these had really prepared him for the horror that met his eyes as he stepped off the bus at the Camp Algonkian Island dock. Dust swirled around him as the bus pulled away with a hiss of hydraulic brakes. For a moment, he thought about running after it, but then, sighing heavily, shouldered his duffel bag and went forward to meet his fate.

His fate, apparently, was about fifteen guys, largely indistinguishable from one another, dressed in shorts and t-shirts with camp logos on them. They all seemed to be bellowing greetings, slapping one another on the back with what looked to Mike to be painful force, their perfect white teeth gleaming in the morning sun. Sucking in a deep breath, Mike muttered "Clones!" under his breath, and headed towards what he was assuming was the head counsellor, who was frowning over a clipboard.

"Hi," started Mike dropping his bag and holding out his hand. "I'm Mike..."

"Webster," said the head counsellor, ticking off a line on his clipboard. "You're late. Was there anyone else on the bus with you?"

Mike blinked and let his hand drop. "Uh. Well, no-one else got off here, no. Is Rudy here? Rudy Miller?" He glanced over at the other guys on the dock.

The man frowned even more darkly. "No. He's late too. I hope this isn't typical of you two."

Mike had just opened his mouth to respond when there was a sudden commotion behind him. The dock lay beside a narrow straight road that ran the length of the lake. Along this road, like a mirage in the rising sun, came a sports car, kicking up dust as it sped up and down the undulating lakeshore road. Behind Mike and the head counsellor, an excited chorus of interest broke out among the other boys.

"Whoa! Nice car!" someone yelled appreciatively. The growling purr of the engine came closer.

The car slowed down infinitesimally as it approached the dock, before the driver spun it into the small car park adjoining the dock, braking just a hair's breadth from the edge of the bay wall. The babble from the counsellors redoubled, and several of them jogged over to admire the vehicle up close, calling out questions to the driver as he extracted himself from the car.

"Excuse me," Rudy Miller said, his voice utterly bored, "Can you not breathe on my paintwork?"

* * * * *

Twenty minutes later, Mike was miserably aware that, shared adventures among the transsexual population of Ontario and occasional lengthy e-mail exchanges notwithstanding, a lot could change between two people in the space of a year. After removing a large bag from the trunk of his car, and agreeing placidly to the head counsellor's suggestion that he must be Rudy Miller, Rudy had been swallowed into the crowd of clones, who were excitedly demanding details of his "wheels". Mike, who had been in the car before, and knew all too well the speed that could be attained by a driver with the requisite nerve and sang-froid, had kept clear of the conversation, and now found himself sitting alone towards the front of the passenger boat currently skimming over the calm lake.

He sighed heavily, turning to look at the rapidly approaching shoreline. The camp looked a lot smaller than he remembered, the white paintwork on the cabins visible between the trees, the rustic cabin of the mess hall a large bulk at one end of the camp. There was a row of canoes on the beach, and a figure in overalls applying paint to their upturned hulls. Unconsciously he heaved out another breath. It all looked like good, clean, energetic fun -- absolutely the last thing he would have chosen for his summer break.

"So." A voice said from behind him. "I'm thinking we build another raft, one that doesn't sink this time, paddle back to shore, and head for Montreal."

Grinning, Mike turned. "Why Montreal?"

Rudy Miller's face was as expressionless as ever. "Legal drinking age of 18. French accents. What more could a man ask for?"

Behind him, several of the clones were looking bewildered and pissed that Rudy should have abandoned their male-bonding moment in favour of talking to the skinny loser at the front of the boat.

"Saddle up, guys!" The head counsellor suddenly stood up and shouted, "We're here!"

"Deep joy," said Rudy, swinging his duffle bag onto his shoulder. "Say, do you think that beaver still lives in the woods?"

The clones on the boat were cheering and whooping as they came in to dock. Several other boys, who had obviously arrived earlier, were lending a hand tying up and hefting bags.

At the back of the line to climb out onto the shore, Rudy sighed and, quietly, so only Mike could hear, murmured, "Alcatraz. Again."

It seemed particularly apt to Mike that he should start his career as a camp counsellor gulping down laughter while Rudy looked on, unperturbed as always.


Chapter Two: Clones, More Clones, and Cabin 13

The majority of the clones were still whooping and hollering ten minutes later as they were led into the mess hall by the head counsellor. There was a lot of manly back-slapping and good natured shoving going on in the main herd. Mike and Rudy brought up the rear.

"Your parents let you bring the car, then." Mike ventured, finally.

"I'm afraid I had to insist," said Rudy, his lip curling slightly as they entered the mess hall behind the others. "How else are we going to make a quick getaway?"

They found seats at the end of one of the long tables set up in the mess hall, leaving a few empty chairs between them and the other boys.

"Let's get started, men!" shouted the head counsellor, setting down his clipboard on the table. "I'm John, I'll be the head counsellor here for the summer. This is my fifth year here at Camp Algonkian Island as a counsellor, and my eighth summer if you include the times when I was a camper, and I have to tell you, those eight summers really have been some of the best times of my life."

The clones cheered again. "So, let's go around the table and introduce ourselves," John continued, "Tell us your name, why you're here this summer, and something that makes you special."

The boy nearest John sprang to his feet. "I'm Nick. I'm here because I want to help form young minds and make sure these kids have a great summer! I'm studying physical education at Lakehead in Thunder Bay, and I'm a provincial wrestling champion."

Beside Mike, Rudy made a sort of gagging noise at this pronouncement. The next boy jumped up as the applause for Nick the Wrestler died down. "Hi, I'm Steve. I'm so excited to be here! There's nothing more important than teaching young people moral values and healthy habits. I'm on a hockey scholarship at Laurentian and I am majoring in sports science."

The clones all clapped again, and Mike shrank back further into his seat. The next few introductions went by in a blur of single-syllable names and sporting prowess, until eventually it was Rudy's turn.

"Hello. I'm Marmalute Leipzinger the Third." Rudy began as he stood up. Two or three of the clones tittered and Mike, desperately fighting back laughter, hissed "Rudy!" at him.

Rudy looked down at Mike. "What? Oh, fine." He sighed, and continued in a bored tone. "I'm Rudy Miller."

He sat down.

The clones looked at him expectantly. Rudy nudged Mike with his elbow. "Wake up! Your turn!"

John frowned at them both. It was clearly already his expression of choice for dealing with Mike and Rudy. "Wait. You didn't tell us anything about yourself."

Rudy looked blandly back at John. "What did you want to know again?"

"Why you're here...' began John.

"It was this or jail. I thought hard labour was safer than prison showers," said Rudy. Mike kicked him under the table. The other clones stared at him, jaws ajar.

"What? Stop kicking me." Rudy turned to glare at Mike. "Oh, all right, my parents made me get this job."

John stuttered as he added, "...a-and something special about you."

"He has a very active imagination," said Nick the Wrestler meanly.

Rudy blinked at him slowly. "That too."

No-one clapped. Rudy turned to Mike and cleared his throat pointedly.

"Hi, uh, I'm...' Mike started, nervously, coming up to his feet.

"Wait. Rudy Miller. Not the Rudy Miller? From McGill?" A large, red-faced, red-haired guy interrupted. He had introduced himself as Chuck, and was some kind of football player. "The runner? The one they were all tipping for the Olympics next year?"

Rudy said nothing as excited chatter broke out around the table. "Were?" asked Nick, smirking.

"Wrecked his knee, right?" Chuck said, "Out of the running, so to speak, at least over the summer."

"Well, are you?" asked an as-yet-unnamed boy. "The Rudy Miller?"

"I'm certainly a Rudy Miller. I don't have exclusive rights to the name." Rudy answered blandly. "Now, if you don't mind, you're interrupting my colleague here."

"Uh." Mike said, intelligently.

"Your name," Rudy prompted, helpfully.

"Uh, yeah." Irritated, Mike glared at Rudy. "I'm Mike, I'm pre-med at U of T. Um, I thought it would be fun to work here this summer. I, uh, I've survived being friends with Rudy for five years."

He sat down again abruptly. There was a short silence, and one or two half-hearted attempts at applause, and then the next guy in the circle got to his feet.

Mike hissed at Rudy under the cover of Chris-the-championship-swimmer's introduction. "You hurt your knee?"

Rudy raised an eyebrow at him, and said "Shhh. I'm listening!" before turning back to watch the as the introductions continued.

Only one guy stood out to Mike among the remaining counsellors. He was tall and lanky, with a droopy moustache. He introduced himself as Sam, and said nothing more than that he was at the Ontario College of Art and Design and hated sports. The clones looked at him with instant loathing, and Mike immediately felt a great kinship with him.

"Right," said John, heartily, as the introductions ended. "I'll announce the cabin and work assignments, leave you guys to settle in until dinner with our special guest tonight." He handed a bundle of sheets of paper to the boy closest to him. "Pass around the time-tables. We have three days to complete your training programme, get to know one another, and put the finishing touches on the site before the campers start arriving Saturday. We'll get an early start, so set your alarm clocks."

Mike grabbed a copy of the time-table and looked with dismay at the first activity, scheduled at 7 a.m.

John picked up his clipboard.

"We have eighteen cabins this year. Numbers 1 through 10 will have ten campers. Numbers 11 through 18 will have fifteen. The bigger cabins will have two counsellors for the first time this year, and those of you with special responsibilities will bunk in with a cabin counsellor to help out."

He started to reel off numbers and names. "Cabin 1, Chris Stevens. Cabin 2...'

As he called names, guys picked up their bags and set off towards the cabins. "Cabin 13," John said, with a glint in his eye, "Rudy Miller."

Rudy sighed gustily. "Not again."

John reached the end of his list. Mike's name had not been called. John flipped over the page on his clipboard. "Special responsibilities," he said, importantly. "Computer room, Mike Webster. Football coach, Chuck Daniels...'

"Ah, a special clone," said Rudy, as they walked over to their bags, "Your mother will be so proud." Mike glared at him, and stalked over to pick his duffel up.

The big red-head caught up with them at the door. "Looking for a bunk-mate, Miller?" he asked, elbowing Mike out of his way. "Nice car, by the way."

"So you said on the boat." Rudy replied, disinterestedly. "Come on, Mike. Time to see if cabin 13 has improved any in our absence."

Chuck's already red face turned puce with embarrassment as Mike stepped around him and followed Rudy down the path towards Cabin 13. He noticed for the first time that Rudy did seem to be limping a little, favouring his left leg. "What did you do to your knee, Rudy?" he asked, tentatively, as they approached the cabin.

"I'm not sure the prison showers wouldn't have been preferable," was all Rudy replied, as they passed the shower block in the middle of the camp. "Just remember not to drop the soap."

They walked along the path for another minute or two. When they reached the cabin, Rudy pushed the door open, and they looked in to the large, bunk bed-filled room in silence.

"Nope." said Rudy, "No improvement since we left."

He stepped in, and moved through to the door at the back. Mike crowded up behind him and looked over his shoulder at the small counsellor's room. Two narrow beds filled the room, along with a desk, a tattered armchair, and a couple of shelves on the wall, one of them holding a vast first aid kit. The remainder of the room was bare, except for a large black and white photograph of the camp as it must have been in the 1950s.

Rudy sauntered into the room, threw his bag on the floor, dropped onto one of the beds, and sighed. "Home sweet hell. Welcome back to camp, Mike."

Mike looked at his friend sprawled out on the dingy orange bedspread, gulped, and dropped his own bag at the foot of the other bed. It was going to be a very long summer.


Chapter Three: All Cats Love Jam! All Boys Love Camp!

At five minutes to six, a bell started ringing somewhere on the camp, picked up and broadcast into the cabins by the loudspeaker system. Mike sat up with a jerk, before fumbling desperately for his watch on the small table between his and Rudy's beds. "Crap. We still have to get changed before dinner."

Rudy lay unmoving on his bed, gazing up at the ceiling. "I hate bells," he said, his voice as expressionless as always. "I also hate the food at camp."

He rolled over to face Mike. "Do you think anyone would notice if I didn't go to dinner?"

Mike started to tug his shirt over his head, responding in a rather muffled voice, "Notice if the Rudy Miller has come to dinner or not? Probably. Besides, after the way you behaved at the introductory meeting, I think John is going to be watching for us."

"Me?" said Rudy, his voice slightly affronted. "You were the one who kept kicking me."

Mike rolled his eyes, and rifled through his bag for a clean t-shirt. "Just get ready, will you?"

Rudy rolled off the bed, and started unbuckling his belt. "What's on the menu for this evening, other than the slop they'll claim is food?"

Mike sat back down on the bed, running his fingers quickly through his hair in lieu of finding his comb. "Dinner with special guest and welcome speeches," he read from the programme stapled to the front of his orientation pack.

Rudy paused in the process of unfolding a clean pair of pants. Mike tried not to look at the knee support bandage breaking up the smooth curve of muscle in his left leg. "Speeches," Rudy said, monotonously.

Mike shuddered. "It could be worse. On Friday night we have a campfire, with 'marshmallows and song'."

Rudy sighed. "At least we have time to brush up on our rain dances before then."

* * * * *

They were last to arrive at the mess hall, and Mike immediately noticed that all the other camp counsellors, save one, were wearing their Camp Algonkian uniforms. Only Sam, currently isolated at the far end of the long table laid for dinner, was still in regular clothes. He looked miserable. Mike slid into the seat next to him, while Rudy sat down opposite.

"Crap," said Mike, softly, "I guess the uniform wasn't really optional."

Sam sighed. "I guess not." He smiled weakly at Mike, his eyes flitting nervously to Rudy, who was ostentatiously polishing his fork on his t-shirt.

The other counsellors were laughing and talking like old friends. Mike decided to make an effort. "Which cabin are you in?"

"Seventeen," replied Sam, gloomily. "I'm the specialist arts and crafts counsellor, so I have to share."

Mike tried to remember who was the counsellor in charge of seventeen. "You're with, uh..."

"Bob," Sam replied, looking even more depressed, "He's the one with all the black belts. He spent the last hour setting up his weights in our room. I already stubbed my toe twice on his dumbbells."

They all looked up the table at Bob. Bob looked back at them. Mike averted his eyes hurriedly and picked up a bread roll from the basket in the middle of the table.

"Is it true that you're an Olympic runner?" Sam asked Rudy, reaching for a roll.

Before he could stop himself, Mike's foot made contact with Sam's ankle. "Ow!" Sam cried out, startled. He dropped the roll he was holding into the water jug. "What did you kick me for?"

Rudy raised an eyebrow. "He has an uncontrollable urge to injure his dinner companions." He sighed in a put-upon manner, and fished the bread roll out the water jug with his fork. "I've become accustomed to the black and blue bruises that mark my shins after only a few days of sitting with him."

Sam blinked and shifted unsubtly away from Mike.

Mike felt the flush start at his chin and creep up towards his eyebrows. "I didn't! I don't! I, uh, my foot slipped!"

Before Rudy could make his next, no doubt even more outrageous, remark, John stood up and cleared his throat noisily. "Quiet down for a minute, guys!"

The noise died away. "Welcome to Camp Algonkian Island, the best place to work in Ontario!" John said, beaming.

The clones all cheered. Sam, Rudy and Mike remained silent. "Tonight is just a relaxed get-together before we get stuck into the hard work of getting ready for the influx of campers in two days. Tomorrow, we concentrate on some of the bigger jobs that will need to be done before kids and parents arrive on the weekend. The following day, we'll be working on getting to know and trust one another, as we start out on a great season of friendship and fun."

Mike looked over at Rudy, seeing the shade of horror that passed over his normally expressionless face.

"Later tonight, our special guest this evening will address us, but for now, let's enjoy our meals."

The clones all cheered again, and there was a surge of bodies towards the serving counter, where two cooks in white uniforms were standing ready with trays.

As they queued up, Mike and Rudy slotting in at the back of the line, they overheard Chuck asking John about his history at the camp. "Five years as a camper," John replied, his tone pleasantly reminiscent, "Best days of my life! I only missed one year, when me and my brother and sister all got whooping cough. I begged and begged, even to come for the last week, but the doctor said I was still contagious."

Chuck made a sort of wordless sympathetic noise.

"From what I hear though," John continued, accepting a plate of stew from the kitchen staff, "I didn't miss much. There was some kid here, a real brat, who ruined everyone's summer. That was the year of the flood, when they rebuilt all the cabins, except 13, which wasn't too badly damaged. People were still talking about that kid a year later. He was apparently some kind of great athlete, won us loads of trophies, but just the most obnoxious kid you can imagine. Almost none of the counsellors that year came back to work here again."

Mike's hands were so tightly wrapped around his tray, he was losing feeling in his fingers. He couldn't look at Rudy; he couldn't look at anyone. He bit down hard on his lower lip, and shuffled a little closer to Rudy.

"What is this?" Rudy was enquiring in a tone of mild curiosity, as the kitchen server handed him a plate. "I don't like to eat things I can't identify without an encyclopaedia."

"Shut up!" Mike hissed at him, accepting a plate from the frowning kitchen staff with a rather weak smile, "Didn't you hear John just now?"

Rudy picked up a bowl of blue Jell-O with a sigh. "As a point of principle I never listen to twits."

Mike grabbed his own dessert, and hustled Rudy back towards their table, prodding him with the edge of his tray. Rudy went along with him but as they sat down next to Sam, remarked, "Really, Webster, I thought we'd worked on controlling your violent impulses."

Sam, who seemed to have cheered up a little at the thought of food, flinched away from Mike again.

Mike rolled his eyes. "He's kidding, Sam."

Sam eyed Rudy warily, and smoothed down his moustache. "Uh. If you say so."

For a few moments, they all concentrated on eating. At the other end of the table, the clones were bellowing at one another in some jocular discussion of sports team loyalties.

"So, you guys have been friends for a while then," said Sam, "Did you go to high school together or something?"

"Or something," agreed Rudy, blandly, holding up a forkful of his stew and examining it minutely.

Mike briefly thought about kicking him again, but decided against the scene, and probable alienation of Sam, that would follow. "We, uh, went to summer camp together one year, and got to be friends. Turned out we didn't live too far away from one another, so we hung out sometimes over the next few years."

"Oh," said Sam. "You didn't go back to camp?"

Mike eyed Rudy nervously across the table, "I, uh, went to day camp at home the next couple of summers. Rudy, um..."

"My parents were too busy dealing with my little brother's newly revealed criminal tendencies to think about sending me to camp," Rudy interrupted smoothly. Mike said nothing. Rudy had spent the following summers running, always either on the road to attend race meets or training with his coach.

"In fact," Rudy continued, "Until they dropped the bombshell that Mike and I were coming to work here, I don't think my parents ever mentioned camp again."

Sam nodded gloomily. "My parents made me do this, too. My dad said I couldn't spend all summer painting."

Rudy scooped the last of his Jell-O from the bowl. "Well, cheer up, you get to spend the summer warping young minds instead. I'm sure that's an even trade."

Before Sam could respond to this, John stood up at the head of the table, clapping his hands to get everyone's attention.

Rudy put down his bowl of Jell-O and picked up Mike's. "Do you think he'd do that if he knew how much it made him look like a performing seal?"

As the clones quieted, Rudy's last few words were clearly audible to John, who frowned at Rudy, blandly eating dessert and Mike, hiding behind his napkin stifling laughter.

Clearing his throat importantly, John began, "As you may know, the owner of the camp and grandson of the founder, Elias Warden the Third, unfortunately suffered a stroke over the winter. Although he's mostly better now, he won't be taking an active role in running the camp and so in addition to being Head Counsellor this year I will be the Acting Manager of Camp Algonkian Island. However, Mr Warden wanted to come talk to you this evening and welcome you to camp."

The door to the mess hall opened, Mike craned his neck to see Elias Warden totter uncertainly into the room, leaning heavily on a cane. He had dismissed his vague memory of Mr Warden as typical teenage exaggeration, but faced with the reality, he was forced to conclude that Mr. Warden was exactly as bandy-legged as Mike's memory had suggested. Bravely, he met Rudy's eye over the dinner table. Rudy merely looked imperturbably back at him.

"Gentlemen," said Mr. Warden, in a quavering voice, "Welcome to Camp Algonkian Island, the best place to come to camp in all of North America."

He paused. "My grandfather, Elias Warden the First, founded this camp thirty-six years ago to give young men an opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors and good, healthful sporting activities."

The clones all broke into applause at this. Mike tuned out as Mr. Warden droned on for a while about the history of the camp, and his own glorious career as a counsellor working for his father. As Mr. Warden's tone changed, suggesting the end of the speech was near, he started to pay attention again.

"It's up to you all to make sure these boys have a wonderful, safe, happy month here at Camp Algonkian. Never forget, my grandfather started this camp in the sure and certain knowledge that just like all cat love jam, all boys love camp!" He paused expectantly, obviously anticipating applause. The room remained silent, the clones wearing matching expressions of bewilderment.

Mike bit down hard on his lower lip.

"Milk, sir," said John, leaning in to speak to Mr Warden.

"Milk? Why would I want milk?" Mr Warden asked, belligerently.

"They all love milk." John looked slightly embarrassed.

Mike choked, trying to repress him laughter.

"Boys don't like milk!" exclaimed Mr Warden, frowning at John, "Can't abide the stuff myself!"

Unable to restrain himself, Mike started to giggle, desperately trying to muffle the sound in his napkin. As soon as he started, Sam, who had been in equally dire straits beside him, broke out in peals of laughter, followed by first one, and then all of the clones, despite John's desperate gesticulating behind Mr. Warden. Only Rudy remained calm, finally setting down his Jell-O to applaud politely, his expression wholly indifferent to the hysteria around him.

Mr. Warden beamed at them impartially, delighted by the response of his employees. Turning, he asked John to assist him back to the dock, as he wanted to return to the mainland before darkness fell.

His hand solicitously under Mr. Warden's elbow, John turned at the door and barked out "Be here for breakfast at seven, men!" before letting the mess hall door bang behind him.

"Do you think there'll be jam with our toast?" Rudy asked, blandly, and Mike, who had finally stopped laughing, gasped and laid his head down on the table.


Chapter Four: Nothing Good Can Come Of A Group Sing-Along

By the evening of the following day, Mike was no longer laughing. He collapsed onto his bed in their room, groaning. Rudy, his limp a little more pronounced after their long day, sat on the edge of his own bed.

"I'm not being paid enough for this," said Mike, his arm pressed against his eyes.

"No-one could ever pay me enough for this." Rudy responded. Mike heard the mattress on Rudy's bed compress as Rudy lay down, and then the thump of shoes hitting the floor. They sighed, virtually in unison.

Mike reflected, a little meanly, that Rudy really had nothing to complain about. He had managed to evade the worst of the chores through a combination of simple refusal ("I don't scrub, sweep or mow.") and a letter from his doctor, produced at precisely the right moment. The contents of the letter remained a mystery to Mike, but apparently excused Rudy, and by extension, Mike, from all the more onerous of Setup Day duties. While the other counsellors toted heavy objects, cleaned, polished and swept for the morning, Mike and Rudy had only had to set up the computer room and get their cabin ready. Even then, Mike had done most of the work, while Rudy looked on, claiming to be supervising.

The afternoon had consisted of a series of stultifying lectures about safety, a first aid refresher and reviews of the camp curriculum. Mike had barely managed to stay awake in the stuffy, cramped room. Rudy hadn't really even tried, apparently nodding off during the lengthy discussion of the round robin football tournament with several other boy's camps nearby.

Mike heard Rudy sit up, and rolled over onto his side to see his friend unwind his support bandage from his knee. Underneath were two small, neat scars, still slightly red and new. Rudy began to gently massage his leg. Noticing Mike watching him, he asked abruptly, "What delights are in store for us tomorrow?"

Mike picked up the orientation pack from the night-table between their beds. "'A day of fun and team-building'", he read, grimacing, "Dinner at the usual time, then, oh lord, a campfire and songs in the evening."

"Nothing good can come of a group sing-along," Rudy predicted. "Unless it maddens the local wildlife sufficiently that they stampede and trample all the clones to death."

Mike chuckled tiredly. "I'm going to bed."

Rudy nodded, and began re-wrapping his knee. "Another early start tomorrow. I'm sure they'll want to pack as much mandatory fun into the day as humanly possible."

Glumly, Mike looked at his schedule. "Probably."

* * * * *

Sure enough, the bell rang to warn them about breakfast at the hideous hour of six in the morning. Wandering blearily into the mess hall, Mike sat down opposite Sam and smiled a greeting.

"No Rudy?" asked Sam, sounding surprised.

Mike blinked. "He'll be here in a minute. Why?"

Sam poked at a pile of scrambled eggs on his plate dubiously. "I've just never seen you without him."

Mike paused, his knife hovering over a piece of toast. "Well, we're friends," he said, lamely. "Everyone else here is too sporty for me."

"I'm not," Sam pointed out, mildly, "Miller's pretty sporty too. I checked him out on the internet last night. He is the guy Chuck mentioned -- the Olympic runner." He ate a forkful of eggs. "Or he would have been, except for this thing with his knee. So you can't say you're not friendly with sporty guys." He looked curiously at Mike.

Mike said nothing, just ate toast with fierce concentration until Rudy came in. "Morning." Rudy said to Sam. "I see you're risking the eggs. Very brave."

"Hey!" Everyone in the room jumped. A white-coated kitchen worker pointed a large knife at Rudy. "I told you once already."

Unconcernedly, Rudy picked up the other half of Mike's toast and began to eat it. Mike rolled his eyes and reached out for another slice. "What?" he said to Sam, noticing the other counsellor watching them.

"Oh, nothing," said Sam, airily. "Just..."

He was interrupted by a sudden thud and rattle of dishes as Chuck-the-Football-Guy settled his not inconsiderable bulk on the bench next to Rudy.

"So, Miller," he boomed jovially, "I'm picking my team for the activities today. Wanna join us?" He waved a meaty hand towards three other clones who were loitering a few feet away. Rudy swivelled in his seat to look at them, then turned back.

"Do you have room for Mike?" he asked, pleasantly.

Chuck seemed taken aback. "No, uh, it's usually just four or five people in a team." He bared his teeth at Mike in what Mike assumed was supposed to be a grin. "I'm sure Webster won't mind. He and, uh, Art Boy here can be in a team."

One of the other clones snorted a laugh. Rudy raised an eyebrow. "No, I don't think so."

Calmly, he stole another piece of toast from Mike, stood up, and headed towards the door. "Excuse me," he said to Bob, who was blocking out the daylight in the doorway. Silently, Bob moved out of his way.

Back at the table, Chuck was glowering at Mike and Sam. "What are you?" he asked Mike, sneering, "His girlfriend?"

Just then the bell rang, and the obnoxiously cheery voice of John the Head Clone came over the loudspeaker. "Let's get the day started! Assemble at the campfire, please!"

There was a surge of clones towards the door, hooting and cheering, Chuck among them. Mike picked up his last piece of toast and stuffed it in his mouth, wiping his hands on his jeans as he stood up.

"Come on," he said to Sam, "We're missing out on all the 'fun'."

At the campfire, they went over to join Rudy, who was eying proceedings with a cynical eye.

"We're choosing teams," Rudy told them, his voice unspeakably bored. "Apparently they want us to play games."

Mike looked over at the assembled clones, mostly huddled in bunches of four or five. "Do we need some more people?"

Rudy surveyed the crowd. "I prefer to think of them as throwbacks to Cro-Magnon man, rather than people," he said, casually, then waved a hand at Bob, Sam's roommate, who was standing around looking confused.

"What are you doing?" whispered Sam, sharply, "He hates me! He barely ever speaks to me, and I share a cabin with him!"

"He's probably shy," said Rudy, calmly. "Or perhaps he didn't notice you were there. Besides, it's always useful to have some brute strength on your side."

Bob lumbered over to them. "Need a fourth?" he mumbled, looking uncertain.

Mike nodded. "Do you know what we're doing?"

Bob just shrugged.

John raised his megaphone to his mouth. "Let's get started! For those of you new to Camp Algonkian, we counsellors always start the year with some games to build trust, friendship, and team spirit in our little group."

There were cheers. John raised his hand for silence. "I see you've all chosen teams. Let's start with our traditional first activity, the Trust Fall!"

John gestured at a wide tree stump, perhaps three feet in height, towards the edge of the clearing. "I'll go first!" Moving over to the tree stump, he gestured at the team standing closest to him, and clambered up onto the stump. Stepping up to the edge, he waited while the team linked hands, then allowed himself to drop into their waiting arms. There were more cheers as he came safely to his feet.

"Who wants to go first?" he shouted. Immediately, teams began to clamour for the opportunity to throw themselves off the tree stump.

Rudy sat down. "I don't fall," Rudy said, when Sam asked him what he was doing.

"What do you mean, you don't fall?" asked John, aghast, over-hearing him. "You have to! How else are you going to build trust with your team-mates?"

Rudy looked at Mike, Sam and Bob. "Can I trust you guys?" he said, blandly.

"Sure," said Mike, sitting down next to him. Sam and Bob nodded doubtfully.

Rudy turned back to John. "I choose to show my trust by not doubting them. It's merely co-incidental that this way I don't have to jump off a perfectly good tree stump and make them catch me."

John spluttered. "But. Team spirit," he said, a little desperately.

"Yay. Go us," said Rudy. He waved a fist in a vaguely celebratory manner.

Mike snorted with laughter. Fortunately, before John could round on him, there was an outburst of jeers and laughter at the tree stump. John left to see what the hold-up was. Nick was standing on the edge of the stump, apparently wavering. "But I'm heavy!" he was saying, "Are you sure you guys can catch me? I wrestle as a mid-heavyweight you know!"

"Nick doesn't seem very trusting." Rudy remarked, "Maybe we should set the stump on fire, force the issue."

Bob wordlessly dug in his pockets and handed Rudy a pack of matches. Sam started to laugh. Over at the stump, Nick continued to hesitate, but then turned around, ready to fall.

"Look! Beavers!" Rudy yelled suddenly, his voice astonishingly loud compared to his usual soft tones. The group of clones waiting to catch Nick turned to look, just as Nick let himself drop off the stump. There was a loud thump and a groan.

"Oh, no, sorry, my mistake!" Rudy called over to the group, now assisting Nick to rise from his pained sprawl on the ground. "It was just a really big bird."

"Perhaps today will be fun after all!" said Rudy, placidly, watching Nick limp towards a picnic table.

Mike gave up the unequal battle against hysteria.

* * * * *

After the campfire, and the dreadful attempt at singing (two verses of Kum Ba Yah, one verse of Jerusalem that someone had started much too high), Mike decided to take a shower. Rubbing shampoo in his hair, he reviewed the day mentally. Rudy had evaded every game, as usual, and they had spent the long, allegedly fun-filled day in blissful inactivity, mocking the clones. Mike grinned in recollection of some of Rudy's more outrageous remarks.

The door to the shower block opened. "I can't believe you keep trying to be friends with Miller!" a voice said. Mike recognised it as Chris, the camp swimming coach and Cabin 1 counsellor.

"He's famous," retorted Chuck, "Plus, I called my cousin. Apparently there's some big mystery over how he wrecked his knee. He said that if I could find out, he knows a guy who knows a guy who'll pay me the big bucks to tell the press."

"He spends all his time with Webster," said a third voice, one that Mike placed vaguely as Ralph Richardson, the Cabin 4 counsellor. "With his pathetic little crush on Miller."

Mike blinked, swallowed, and ducked his head under the shower spray, not wanting to hear any more. By the time he re-emerged, the shower block door was slamming behind the speakers. Mike dried off quickly, pulled on some clothes, and stepped out of the shower cubicle.

Bob was standing, brushing his teeth, at the sink in the room. "Hey," said Mike, grimacing. "Been here long?"

Bob shrugged, spat into the sink, and rinsed his toothbrush. He patted Mike on the arm as he left.

Mike stared at himself in the mirror for a few moments, before reaching for a towel and rubbing furiously at his wet hair.

* * * * *

When Mike walked back into their room in Cabin 13, Rudy was already in, or rather on, his bed, stripped to his boxers and his knee support bandage on top of the sheets, the orange bedspread folded neatly at his feet. His eyes were closed. Thinking he might be sleeping, Mike closed the door quietly behind him, and moved towards his bed, his arms full of his towels and his soap bag.

"If you were planning to seduce me, by the way, now would be your best chance. After this it will become exponentially more difficult, what with the hordes of small, obnoxious boys arriving in the morning." Rudy's voice was as calm and uninflected as ever.

In shock, Mike dropped all of his belongings with a sharp clatter. Dropping to his knees, he tried to pick up his scattered toiletries with nerveless hands, stuttering all the while, "I'm not... I haven't... What?" he said, his voice regrettably squeaky and bewildered.

Rudy, his eyes still closed, hummed contemplatively. "You mean you aren't in the mood for love? We've had dinner, or an approximation anyway, and moonlight, and, though I wouldn't normally dignify it with that name myself, music. I'm pretty sure that the next step is romance."

Mike heard himself gobble something incoherent in response. "No, I... no. That is..."

Rudy sighed. "Oh well," he said, "I suppose I was right then. Nothing good ever does come of a group sing-along."

With that he subsided, leaving Mike, shell-shocked and confused, standing in the middle of the room holding his shampoo bottle. Rudy didn't stir as he fumbled with his soap kit and struggled out of the jeans he had pulled on to walk back from the showers. About to pull his shirt off, Mike felt suddenly horribly exposed, and, pausing, glanced over at Rudy. Rudy's eyes were closed, his mouth very slightly open, and he was breathing quietly in and out in the unmistakeable pattern of sleep. He entirely failed to look young, sweet, innocent, or any of the other things Mike had heard sleepers called before.

Groaning inwardly, Mike yanked his shirt over his head, snapped off the overhead light, and threw himself onto his bed. After only a couple of minutes, he opened his eyes and glared up at the ceiling, his thoughts chasing around his head. Had Rudy been serious? Was it just a joke? What did Rudy think, or know, or think he knew, about Mike?

He rolled over and buried his face in the thin pillow provided by the camp. He wasn't going to think about it, he decided. He would just tell Rudy in the morning that it wasn't funny, saying things like that, and then they would forget about it.

He thumped his pillow to try to soften it up a little, and was still trying to stop listening to Rudy breathing when he fell asleep.


Chapter Five: Just Call Me Commandant Miller

Rudy foiled his plans by being his usual, inscrutable self the next morning, staring blankly at him when Mike attempted to bring up the topic in conversation. Aggravated, Mike decided to let the whole topic drop, not entirely certain he hadn't dreamt the whole thing anyway.

In anticipation of the arrival of the campers, the counsellors were once again toiling their way through endless menial chores, making sure that the camp was clean and shiny for the visiting parents.

Mike was helping Sam set up the Arts & Crafts room. "Rudy went to get the briefing on all the campers in our cabin this morning," Mike said. "I think John assigned us every freak coming to camp this summer."

Sam smirked. "You'll fit right in then," he said, unkindly. "What did you expect after the way you guys behaved yesterday?"

"No doubt Rudy will just make sure the consequences fall most heavily on me," Mike sighed, counting bottles of red paint.

Sam looked at him curiously. "I don't understand why you put up with--" he began, only to be interrupted by a loud hooting noise.

"What the hell...?" Mike started, before the loudspeaker crackled to life.

"All hands to the dock! The first campers will be arriving in ten minutes!"

"Shit!" exclaimed Mike, "I have to get into uniform first."

* * * * *

"Welcome to Camp Algonkian Island!" Mike said for the three thousandth time, his smile frozen in place. "Yes, your son will be fine. Rudy Miller, the cabin counsellor, and I will take good care of him. Yes, I know he has asthma. No, I don't think there are any rowan trees here."

The worried mother continued to cluck about her off-spring's medication and allergies for several more minutes. "He's delicate, you know," she said, pointedly. Mike looked over at her son, currently energetically pummelling what Mike took to be his younger brother.

"I can see that, yes," he lied, gritting his teeth. "We really will take good care of him."

Across the room, Rudy was being interrogated about the watersports programme. "It's really very safe," he was telling a large, overweight father, "There haven't been any fatalities in the lake for years, and you'd never know that the boats were refitted lifeboats from World War Two military craft. Hardly any of them sink in a typical summer."

The father looked alarmed, but before he could speak, Rudy held up a finger, "Your son will love it," he promised, "But if you'll excuse me for a moment, my co-cabin counsellor is waving at me."

As Rudy moved away, Mike heard the dad saying urgently to an equally overweight boy, "Just keep out of the dinghies, okay son?"

Biting his lip, Mike shook his head as Rudy joined him. "If John hears about any of this, we'll get fired!" Mike hissed.

Rudy shrugged. "And what a shame that would be." He plucked distastefully at his red uniform t-shirt.

Mike sighed, and looked around the cabin. Fourteen of the fifteen beds were claimed at this point, and boys and the last few lingering parents were chatting to one another. Three boys were huddled over someone's Gameboy, one seemed to be asleep, one was apparently picking the padlock on his locker with a hairpin.

"At least no-one brought a guitar this time," Rudy said with a shade of satisfaction, raising an eyebrow at Mike.

Mike flushed. "I wasn't that bad!"

"That depends entirely on your definition of "bad'," Rudy said absently, as the cabin door opened and their last camper arrived. An invisibly small boy staggered in carrying a large hard case emblazoned with the words "I LOVE BASSOONS'. Mike choked with laughter, and turned away.

Rudy shrugged philosophically. "I don't think Kum Ba Yah is scored for bassoon," he said, before walking over to greet the anxious parents of the new arrival.

* * * * *

Hours later, the Welcome Party (complete with Jell-O and the Camp Song) survived and the last of the parents waved away, Mike surveyed their cabin once again. The explosion of belongings of fifteen small boys, their clothes, sporting equipment, and snack food -- over every flat surface had totally transformed the once Spartan cabin. So far, there hadn't been any other kind of explosion, and thus far too Rudy hadn't frightened or maimed any of the campers. Mike congratulated himself inwardly on a successful day. Until:--

"Hey," called a small, piping voice. "Hey you, camp guy, help me get my bag into my storage locker."

Rudy straightened up from where he was assisting another camper to stow his belongings safely for the summer. Across the room, Mike, his eyes widening, thought of and discarded a dozen plans to prevent Rudy from happening violently to the offending child. Before he could do anything, though: "Camp guy? Hey, you!" the voice called again.

Rudy rounded on the unfortunate camper.

"My name," he said, with chilling calm, "is Rudy Miller. You will call me Miller, or Sir, or Commandant. I do not respond to 'hey you', or 'camp guy'."

The cabin was silent, as all the campers turned to stare at Rudy. He stepped forward into the centre of the cabin.

"Since I have your attention, allow me to disabuse you of any false impressions that you might be harbouring, particularly after John's touching speech about the process of democracy as it applies to camp life." Rudy paused dramatically. "I and I alone am in charge of this cabin, and that makes me your GOD for the next four weeks. You will obey me without question. You will be at least three feet in the air before I can finish saying jump."

Rudy's even, smooth voice was distinctly more frightening than any shouted order. Mike repressed a shiver, and, thinking to reassure the campers, stepped forward, "Hi, I'm, uh..."

Rudy moved in front of him. "This is my second-in-command, Mike Webster. You will call him Webster, or Mike. He does not respond to "hey you' either. You will obey him as you obey me. Should you fail to treat either of us with the deference that is our due, there will be reprisals, and they will be terrible."

One of the boys, rolling his eyes, murmured something obscene under his breath. The other boys inched away from him, their expressions horror-stricken.

"Ah, mutiny in the ranks already." Rudy said, stepping up close to the speaker. His voice was quietly menacing as he leaned in to eyeball the boy. "Planning to undermine me? Show me how smart you are? Forget it!" All the boys, and Mike, jumped as his voice suddenly rose, "Every rebellious thought in your head has already passed through my mind. Every prank you are planning, I have already pulled."

Turning away from the rebel, now distinctly isolated as the other boys bunched up together away from him, Rudy paced up and down the room. The campers, their expressions baffled and owlish, watched him silently as he walked. "Every trick, every trap, every little thing you are thinking of trying, I have I already tried. Every sneaky little plot you are planning to hatch, I have already enacted, and improved upon."

He whirled around suddenly. Several of the less confident boys shrank away from the finger he pointed at them. "I know you. I was you. don't even consider trying to prank me, or Webster, or the other members of Cabin 13, or there will be consequences the like of which you have never even considered."

Rudy paused for a moment, grimacing a little to bare his perfect white teeth. Even the hardier campers flinched this time.

"Other campers, other cabins, though..." he paused meaningfully. "They fall into a category I like to call fair game." He examined his fingernails. "There will, of course, be critique. There will be marks out of ten. There may even be prizes. One cannot, after all, learn or improve without support, advice and constructive criticism."

There was a brief, wordless hum of interest at this pronouncement. Turning away from the campers, Rudy met Mike's eyes across the room. "Webster is the tender-hearted counsellor in this cabin. See him for all ailments, home-sickness and other snot or odour related issues. However, we speak as one on issues of discipline and public health. Do not even consider playing us off one another."

Mike nodded solemnly, trying to stop his mouth from twitching as Rudy continued to lay down the law to their small charges. Taking a deep breath, Rudy drew himself up to his full height, and, striking a majestic pose said, "I expect you to live up to the slogan bestowed on us by our illustrious leader, Elias Warden the Third: All cats love jam! All boys love camp!"

The campers just stared, their jaws sagging somewhere around their knees.

Rudy nodded his head at them. "In conclusion, gentlemen, welcome to Alcatraz."

With that, Rudy swept magnificently into their room, leaving Mike to trail behind, shutting their door on the barely audible remark, "Holy shit! What the fuck...?" from one of the campers, and then throw himself onto his bed face down in order to muffle the hysterical laughter bubbling up from his lungs.

Rudy just eyed him benevolently as he snorted and choked, his eyes streaming, for the next five minutes.


Chapter Six: He'll Lose Points For The Dismount

Uncountable hours later, Rudy and Mike stepped into the ring of counsellors slumped exhaustedly around the campfire. Sam waved them over to join him and Bob on one of the long logs placed around the fire.

"Marshmallow?" Bob asked, stuffing two into his mouth at once. He gestured vaguely with his toasting stick at Mike, who declined it politely.

Sam stretched his legs out towards the fire. "I didn't know it was possible to feel this tired," he said. "Since lunchtime I've had two kids with uncontrollable vomiting, one kid with an asthma attack, and one who hasn't stopped talking for more than a nano-second since he arrived."

Bob nodded solemnly, licking marshmallow from his fingers.

"Our cabin doesn't seem too bad," Mike said, surprised. "There were a few food flinging incidents at dinner but other than that, we haven't had too many problems."

Sam glared at him. "I don't believe you."

"No, really!" Mike nudged Rudy, who seemed to be staring into the darkness on the other side of the campfire, his brow faintly wrinkled. "Rudy?"

"What? No, Mike's right, I think they are suitably cowed and obedient at present." Rudy reached over to borrow Bob's toasting stick and plunged a marshmallow into the fire.

"I hate you," said Sam, rubbing tiredly at his eyes. "I don't even think any of our kids were asleep when I left."

"Probably not," said Rudy, calmly inspecting his marshmallow and then re-inserting it in the blaze. "I doubt they'll get more than about an hour of sleep between them tonight."

"Except for Smith," Mike interjected. "He's been asleep since he got here. I'm not even sure he came to dinner."

Sam struggled to his feet. "Well, I'm going to make like Smith, then, and go to bed."

At his side, Bob nodded, and they exchanged goodnights.

"We should probably get back too," said Mike.

Rudy shook his head. "Ten minutes," he said. He held out the perfectly toasted marshmallow to Mike. "Here, eat this."

"Uh." Mike looked at the marshmallow. "Okay."

They sat in silence for a moment. On the other side of the campfire the clones were alternately complaining about the kids in their cabins, and boasting about the sporting prowess of their charges. A few seemed to be making bets on the outcome of the inter-cabin sporting competitions that were due to start almost immediately.

"One of my kids doesn't say anything except "I want to go home'," Nick was complaining. Mike perked up, pleased to think of a junior Rudy in Nick's cabin. "He's cried non-stop since he got here."

Mike subsided. "What are the campers supposed to be doing tomorrow?" he asked Rudy, shoving the last corner of marshmallow in his mouth and turning to his friend. "Rudy?" he said, as he got no response.

Rudy was gazing into the darkness again. Then he nodded very slightly. "Sorry, what was that?"

"What's going on, Rudy?" Mike said, suspiciously, "Was there someone out there?" He squinted into the darkness, but couldn't make anything out.

"I believe it's the swimming test and sailing tomorrow," Rudy replied, smoothly. "Have you eaten your marshmallow?"

"Yes, but..." Mike protested, as Rudy suddenly stood up and heaved him to his feet by the elbow. "Rudy!"

Some of the other counsellors looked over at them at his protest. "Miller!" called Chuck, raising soda can in their direction, "Come over here and have a root beer."

Rudy paused, his hand still under Mike's elbow. "No, I don't think so," he said, calmly.

Mike shook off Rudy's hand. Chuck looked at him sharply, then mumbled something to the clones nearest him, who looked over at Mike and started laughing.

"Hmm," said Rudy, thoughtfully, "Interesting."

With that, he started off in the direction of Cabin 13, Mike following close behind him. To Mike's surprise, Rudy pushed open the door of the cabin without any attempt to be quiet. It was dark, and noisy with the rustling sheets, snoring, and asthmatic wheezing of its occupants. Switching on his flashlight, he aimed it straight at the camper whose request for assistance had led to Rudy's earlier outburst. The camper, whose name plate said CHRIS DAVIS, slept on, his face angelic. "Hmm." Rudy said again.

"Shhhh." Mike whispered, "For God's sake, don't wake them."

Rudy turned the flashlight on him for a second, forcing Mike to shield his eyes. "Hmm," he said, a third time.

Mike rolled his eyes and stalked into their room. A few moments later, Rudy followed, and they quickly settled down to sleep.

* * * * *

Mike was rudely awoken what felt like only moments later by the wake-up bell being broadcast over the camp, followed by a thud and a sudden scream from the main part of the cabin.

"What the...?" he said, vaulting out of the bed and through the door. In the main cabin, the boys were sitting up in their bunks, blinking owlishly at the overweight camper Rudy had been talking to about boats. "Jason? Are you all right?" Mike asked, dredging up the boy's name, "Why are you in the middle of the floor? What was that noise?"

Jason looked unconcerned. "I have a tendency to fall out of bed in a morning."

Mike looked at Jason's bed. "Why did you choose a top bunk then?" he asked, still wrapped in early morning confusion.

Jason shrugged. "I thought it would be fun."

Mike just looked at him. "Oh, well, all right then."

Jason nodded at him and got to his feet.

"Uh, breakfast in thirty minutes, guys, so get your butts in gear." Mike said, rubbing his hands through his hair. He turned to go back into his own room, only to recoil in horror from the boy standing between him and his door.

"Uh," he said, inarticulately. "Rudy!"

At his shout, Rudy appeared at the door. The camper turned to face him. Rudy's eyes widened momentarily. "Did you arrive with eyebrows?" he asked the boy, calmly.

"Yup," the camper said, rubbing his forehead thoughtfully.

"But you've misplaced them between then and now, I take it?" Rudy continued, his tone one of mild interest.

"I shaved them off last night," said the camper, proudly.

"I see," said Rudy. "Well..."

He paused expectantly. "Gabe." the camper supplied.

"Well, Gabe," Rudy continued, "Hurry up and get dressed."

With that, he disappeared back into the counsellor's room. Mike followed, sat down on the edge of his bed, and buried his head in his hands. "Oh, this is so not a good start."

"Cheer up," said Rudy, "Maybe we'll lose some of them to food poisoning from the unidentifiable breakfast meat."

Mike groaned again.

* * * * *

Despite his fears, all of the campers (and Mike) survived the swimming test and lunch. Gabe, eyebrow-less throughout, preserved a perfect sang-froid throughout the morning, despite the jeers of campers from other cabins.

"You let a camper shave his eyebrows?" John had accosted the Cabin 13 group as they walked down to the docks for their scheduled sailing lesson.

Rudy looked blandly back at John. "It wasn't so much a case of letting him, as being completely unaware of his intentions until it was far too late."

Mike chipped in, "We got up this morning, and there he was, no eyebrows."

John was speechless. "What...? How...?" he spluttered.

"I don't think he'll do it again," Rudy offered placidly. "For one," he continued in an audible aside to Mike, "I don't think they'll grow back before camp is over."

Mike hastily turned a laugh into a cough, and smiled feebly at John, still gobbling with rage.

Stalking past them, John reached the dock ahead of Cabin 13, and raised his megaphone. "Hello Cabins 12 and 13! It's a great day for sailing!" he said, his cheerful voice at distinct odds with the murderous looks he was still casting in Rudy's direction. Cabin 12, accompanied by their counsellors Nick and Chuck, cheered. Most of Cabin 13 just looked at the boats in horror.

"I see Jason has been spreading rumours," Rudy murmured in Mike's ear.

Mike choked on another laugh.

"It's two people to a boat!" John was continuing, "So one of you from each cabin will have to pair up."

Harold, the bassoon-playing camper from Cabin 13, raised a hand. "Smith didn't come along with us!" he called out, "So there are only fourteen people here from Cabin 13!"

John glanced at Rudy, who spread his hands and shrugged. "Fine, then one of the counsellors from Cabin 12 will accompany one of his campers."

"Great!" Chuck said heartily, grinning inanely at his charges. They looked back at him sceptically.

After a brief period of instruction, John suggested that Chuck and the camper, a small-ish boy called Dave, demonstrate some of the things he had been talking about. Solemnly, Chuck tied himself and Dave into life jackets, and the two boarded the small dinghy. They pushed off while John reminded everyone how to raise the sails.

A few yards from the dock, Chuck reached down to hoist the sail. "Oh, crap!" he exclaimed, earning a warning look from John, "John, this boat is filling up with water!"

The small camper picked up a bucket from the seat next to him and started to bail out frantically. Chuck bent to help him, cupping his hands together and desperately flinging water overboard. "We're sinking!" Dave suddenly screamed, and sure enough, the majority of the hull of the boat was now under water. The campers left on the dock called encouragement and advice to their stricken comrade.

"Can you swim?" Chuck asked him, urgently, and then as the camper nodded, picked him up and flung him into the water near the dock. He landed with a splash, drenching the Cabin 12 campers who had been unwise enough to run to the side of the dock to help him out. He swam a few feet to the dock, much hampered by his life-jacket, and was tugged out of the water by Nick.

Meanwhile, back on the dinghy, Chuck was still bailing. "Abandon ship!" Rudy called to him.

Chuck glared at him, and as the water rose and the little boat sank, he grabbed onto the mast and shinned up it. The water was not very deep, and the mast was fairly tall, so within a few moments Chuck was left a good six feet above the water level, clinging to the swaying mast.

"Get me down from here!" he bellowed, his face red with embarrassment and exertion. The mast tilted a little more, and Chuck exclaimed profanely, and hung on more tightly. Rudy piously reached out and covered the ears of the nearest camper.

"Really, Chuck!" he called, "Little pitchers!"

Turning to glare at Rudy, Chuck unbalanced himself again, and lost his grip. Dropping from his perch, he hit the water awkwardly with a loud SLAP! The campers all cheered.

"I thought his position in the air was good." Rudy's voice floated over the noise of the cheering, laughing crowd. "But he'll lose points for the dismount."

John, purple with ire, was shouting into his megaphone for all the campers on the dock to return to their cabins.

With a slight tsk-ing noise, Rudy stepped away from Mike, now doubled over in hysterical laughter, and headed towards the milling group of campers. "CABIN THIRTEEN!" he bellowed. "Shape up, or you won't get fed."

The Cabin 13 campers gathered around Rudy, most of them still giggling, and began to trail back towards Cabin 13, looking back every so often at Chuck, now dripping and furious on the dock. Mike stayed behind for a few minutes to check all their campers were on their way back, chuckling every time the submerged mast, topped with a jaunty orange flag flapping in the slight breeze, caught his eye.


Chapter Seven: The Beaver of Doom

When Mike arrived back at Cabin 13, most of the boys were sitting on the floor or on the lower bunks, their eyes fixed on the door to Mike and Rudy's room. Four campers were missing.

"Where are the others?" Mike asked.

Silently, the campers pointed at the counsellor's room.

Mike walked to the door and turned the handle. Nothing happened. Unwilling to believe Rudy had locked him out, he twisted the handle more violently and pushed at the door.

It didn't open.

"Rudy!" he yelled.

He heard the latch click, and Rudy half-opened the door. "Yes?" he asked, politely. Mike could just make out the figures of Davis, Jason and Harold in the room behind Rudy.

"What are you doing?" Mike asked through gritted teeth, aware of the fascinated audience of campers in the main room of the cabin.

"I'm just having a constructive discussion with some of the campers," said Rudy, "Keep the others amused for a little while, will you?"

With that, he slammed the door shut again. Mike beat his fist against it for a moment, but Rudy did not come back to the door. He turned around.

The campers looked back at him wide-eyed.

Frowning suddenly, Mike looked around the room again. "How many boys are in there talking to Rudy?" he asked, counting the occupants of the main cabin.

"Three," said Jimmy Cohen, looking around the room as well.

"Who's missing then?" asked Mike, feeling an edge of panic creep into his voice.

The boys all looked at one another. "Everyone's here," someone said.

"No, I only count eleven," said Mike, counting for a third time just to be certain.

"Oh!" said Jimmy, "don't forget Smith!" He pointed over at one of the lower bunks, heaped with dirty clothes.

Mike blinked, and went over to investigate. Now that he looked more closely, there was clearly a boy tangled up in the sheets and blankets, his fair hair the only thing visible among the bedding and scattered clothes.

Mike excavated. "Don't pile your laundry on top of other campers!" he said, and then stopped, appalled at the words coming out of his mouth.

Smith, once uncovered, proved to be sleeping peacefully, drooling only very slightly into his pillow. Mike shook his arm. "Smith?" he called, "You all right?"

One blue eye opened and looked at Mike. "Mmph? What...?"

"Are you all right?" asked Mike again, touching his hand to boy's brow. "Do you want to go to the infirmiary?"

The eye dropped closed. "Jus' sleepy. Leave me alone." With a huge yawn, Smith rolled over, and within seconds was asleep again, snoring a little.

Not knowing what else to do, Mike covered the sleeping Smith with the blankets again and turned back to the other campers, feeling remarkably foolish.

Just then, the door to Mike and Rudy's room burst open, and the three campers emerged. Davis and Jason looked sulky, but Harold was beaming. He was also clutching a large stuffed beaver to his skinny chest.

"I'm the Keeper of the Beaver!" he announced, cheerfully, placing the beaver on his pillow. "He said he liked my style!"

"I have a criminal record, you know." Davis was saying in an aggrieved tone.

"All that means is that you have a history of getting caught," said Rudy, crushingly, from the doorway to the counsellor's room. "Shape up..."

"Or you don't eat!" chorused the campers, giggling. Rudy raised his eyebrows very slightly, but said nothing.

He beckoned to Mike, who had to step around the crowd Harold had attracted.

"Rudy!" he said, warningly. Some of the campers looked over.

"Really, Mike. Pas devant les enfants," Rudy said, gesturing for Mike to precede him into their room.

"How did you know it was those three who sabotaged the boat?" asked Mike as Rudy closed the door.

"I saw them heading down to the dock last night when we were at the campfire. Heard them, too, for that matter," said Rudy, disapprovingly, "Davis' idea of sneaking around is distressingly noisy."

Mike suddenly noticed the large chalkboard propped up in the armchair in one corner of the room. It read:--

"STEALTH -5
INGENUITY +2
ATTENTION TO DETAIL +5'

"You didn't really...?" Mike said, sinking down to sit on the edge of his bed. "Where did you even find a stuffed beaver?"

"I liberated it from the still life display in the art room," Rudy said. "I think it's from about 1953."

Mike grabbed at his hair and said, semi-hysterically, "You stole a historic stuffed beaver from the art room? It probably has the plague! We'll get thrown in jail for infecting campers with ancient beaver diseases! And inciting riots! And we'll get fired!"

Rudy eyed him. "Really, Mike," he said, soothingly, "You take a needlessly pessimistic view of--'

Here he broke off as a sound like a small explosion came from the main cabin, followed by a few alarmed voices shouting "Miller! Sir! Mike!"

"I'll get this one, shall I?" Rudy asked, picking up the first aid kit and a small fire extinguisher from the shelf over his bed.

Mike said nothing, just fell backwards onto his bed and gazed up at the ceiling despairingly.

* * * * *

The next few days rushed past in a crazy patchwork of boredom, terror and hysterical laughter, a combination Mike couldn't remember feeling since, well, since the last time he had spent the summer at camp with Rudy.

They quickly found a routine with their cabin duties. Mike was first up, out of bed as soon as the bell rang and the vibrations from Jason Roberts falling out of the top bunk had died away. He checked everyone had survived the night, found out how much hair Gabe had left ("But why did you shave a stripe down the middle of your head?" asked Mike, looking with horror at the boy's inverted Mohican. "I thought it would be cool!" replied Gabe cheerfully, wrinkling his still bald forehead.), and shepherded the boys to breakfast and to meet Rudy at the first activity of the day, usually some kind of sporting competition. (Cabin 13 was on an unprecedented losing streak, beaten soundly in every event from football to swimming to tiddly winks. "Your guys suck!" said Nick, gleefully, at one of the official meetings for the clones. "They're conserving their energy," said Rudy, imperturbably.) At lunchtime, Rudy took over and Mike ran the computer room, which mostly amounted to trying to stem the flood of porn into the camp, and preventing the more technically minded campers from developing weapons of mass destruction and triggering an invasion by the United States.

He even found a way to live with Rudy's scheming with the campers. Every night after dinner, Mike would go take a shower while there weren't many people in the shower block. On his return to the cabin, he'd note the change of position of the Beaver of Doom (Harold, despite his stature and meek appearance, was apparently some kind of evil genius, and had possession of the Beaver most often in that first week.) and try not to wince at Rudy's scoring system, on display in their bedroom (CUNNING: +6. POTENTIAL FOR PAINFUL DEATH: -5. RIPPING UP WEBSTER'S WHITE T-SHIRT TO MAKE FLAG OF SURRENDER: -50). He only stepped in a few times when the plots seemed to be getting out of hand ("I don't know, Jimmy, Harold's awfully small," said Davis. "That just makes him more aerodynamic," said Jimmy Cohen, distractedly, "Hand me that wrench, will you?") preferring blissful ignorance and at least partial deniability.

Once the campers were in their bunks for the night and asleep, or pretending to be, he and Rudy went to sit on a log by the campfire with Sam and Bob, where Rudy toasted him a perfect marshmallow. He fell asleep every night telling himself he wasn't listening to Rudy breathe.


Chapter 8: Never Hold A Woman's Underwear Up For Public Scrutiny

The announcement about the trip to Silver Lake was made at breakfast mid-way through the second week. John stood up at the front of the room and started to clap his hands loudly to try to get everyone's attention. "Listen up!" he shouted, still clapping.

The noise level started to decrease, until only Gabe's voice could be heard over the slight murmur from the waiting campers "... looks like a seal!"

The boys nearest him snickered. Mike sighed, and gave a little wave to John when he turned, frowning, to look at the table Cabin 13 were using.

"This Friday, we'll be visiting Silver Lake for the annual Camp Algonkian Island/Camp Silver Lake dance!" said John, brightly. Most of the boys cheered noisily. A few looked horrified, Jason among them. His normally pink-cheeked face paled.

"Your counsellor will tell you what time your cabin is due on the boat over to the mainland," John was continuing, "We'll be taking buses over to Silver Lake, where we'll have dinner with the girls and dance the night away!"

There was more cheering. Jason was deathly white. Mike leaned over to whisper to him. "You all right?"

"My sister is at Silver Lake," Jason said, "Oh, this is the worst thing that could possibly have happened!" With that, he put his head down on the table, his hair in the bowl of oatmeal he had been eating.

The other boys looked questioningly at Mike, who just shrugged, "Who knows?" he said, "Okay guys, it's lacrosse this morning. Can you at least try to remember which way up the field you're supposed to be running today, please?"

* * * * *

On the night before the Silver Lake dance, Mike and Rudy were later than usual getting to the campfire meeting.

"Hey," Sam called over to them from their usual log, "What happened to you guys? We were about to give up and go in."

Mike rolled his eyes. "Dance fever," he said, "Suddenly half our cabin decided that jumping up and down on the spot isn't really dancing and that they needed to learn something a bit more sophisticated before tomorrow night. Someone downloaded instructions from the Internet, and when I came back from my shower tonight the entire cabin was tangoing. It took half an hour just to stop the worst of the bleeding."

Sam laughed. "Where were you while all this was happening?" he asked Rudy, who had accepted a toasting stick from Bob and was carefully flambeeing a marshmallow.

"Supervising," Rudy said, lazily, handing Mike the marshmallow.

Mike snorted. "Yeah, supervising. From the other room. With the door shut. Listening to my iPod."

Rudy stretched his legs out closer to the fire. "I draw the line at the tango, as rendered by Harold on the bassoon, as musical accompaniment to my evenings."

"Rudy has a lot of lines like that," said Mike, nibbling at his marshmallow.

Bob slapped Rudy on the back, grinning widely.

"Hi," said Chuck, from behind them. Startled, Mike dropped the toasting stick he was holding.

"Uh," said Sam, hesitantly, "Hi?"

Mike looked sadly at his dirt-encrusted marshmallow. Rudy held out a hand for it, threw the offending treat into the fire, and set to work toasting another.

"So, Miller," said Chuck, ignoring Sam, "Since Cabin 12 and 13 are sharing a bus tomorrow, I was wondering if you wanted to take the car instead. I thought maybe you and I could drive over together, you can tell me everything you know about professional sports. I'm hoping to get scouted for the CFL, you know." Chuck was beaming.

"No," said Rudy, blandly, carefully rotating the marshmallow in the fire.

"You didn't know?" Chuck said, disbelieving, "I'm sure I've mentioned it before."

"Only about five million times," said Sam, under his breath.

Chuck glared at him, and sat down next to Rudy on the log, smiling ingratiatingly once again, "So, what to do you say? I'd love to see what the ride is like in that sweet car of yours."

"No," said Rudy.

"You're supposed to be on the bus to chaperone the campers," Sam said, indignantly.

Chuck shrugged. "Nick and Webster here can do it. I'm sure it doesn't need four of us. Nick said he didn't care."

"I care! Have you met the kids in Cabin 13?" Mike asked, irritated.

Chuck ignored him. "C'mon, Miller, it'll be fun!" he coaxed.

"You seem to be struggling with the concept of no. I'm not sure I can think of any smaller words to use." Rudy said, handing the toasted marshmallow over to Mike. "Would it help if I grunted?"

Chuck's face fell and he stood up. "You're sure?" he asked, disbelieving, "It's not just because your friend Webster is being a shit about you going on the bus?"

"Hey!" said Mike, around a mouthful of marshmallow, "I'm not!"

Rudy looked up at Chuck. "Ugh! Mmph Ugh Ugh!" he said, "No."

"Fine!" said Chuck, scowling at Mike like it was his fault. He stomped off to the other side of the fire to join his usual cronies. Within seconds most of the clones were glaring at Mike too.

"Wow," said Sam, picking up his bag of marshmallows, "What is his problem?"

Mike jumped to his feet. "He's a twit," he said, dusting off his pants, "Wish he wasn't on the bus with us tomorrow."

"Hmm," said Rudy, looking at Mike. They all looked at him, but he didn't say any more.

"I'm going to bed," said Sam, yawning, "See you tomorrow!"

They exchanged good nights and went back to their cabins. Mike pushed the door open quietly. The campers were all asleep. "Damn!" whispered Mike, tiptoeing past the bunks. "Gabe shaved more of his head."

* * * * *

When Mike climbed aboard the bus the next afternoon, he was almost gassed. He looked at the Cabin 12 campers, who were already in their seats.

"Holy crap," he exclaimed, "What is that smell?"

Nick and Chuck, who were sitting at the very front of the bus, frowned at him.

Rudy climbed on board behind him, and took a cautious sniff. "Ah, the mingled scents of a dozen cheap brands of aftershave," he said, covering his nose. "Let's sit at the back. And open the windows. And break out the gas masks."

Mike laughed. "Okay, all aboard," he called down to the campers milling about outside. He counted them in.

"Nice hair!" hooted a Cabin 12 camper as Gabe got on the bus. He now had a shaved stripe running horizontally across the centre of his head as well as vertically from back to front. Gabe gave the other camper a thumb's up sign as he went to sit down. "Thanks! I really like it!" he said, cheerily.

Smith trailed in last, clutching a pillow. He settled into the unpopular front seat, put his pillow down, unfurled a blanket from his bag and curled up for a nap.

Mike shook his head. "Fifteen. Okay," he told the bus driver, "We're all in."

The boys all cheered as the bus set off, and Mike made his way to the back of the bus, where he and Rudy piled up the camper's bags, and sat down themselves in the small remaining space.

The trip was only about an hour, and the campers were still at a hundred and sixteen bottles of beer on the wall when Jason suddenly appeared beside Mike. "Hey," he said, looking uncomfortable. "I need to tell you something."

Mike nodded and shuffled along the seat, pressing up against Rudy to let Jason sit down. Rudy opened one eye, sighed, and slung an arm around the back of their seat to give Mike a little more room.

"What's up?" Mike asked, knowing Jason had been strangely subdued all week.

"So. Okay." He looked over at Rudy, who had closed his eyes again. "Is he listening?"

Mike shook his head. "He's got my iPod."

"Right." Jason paused, chewing his lip.

"It's all right," Mike said, "You can tell me."

"So you know I had that picture, of you and me and Miller at the campfire?" Jason said in a rush, "And I have this sister, see, and she's at Silver Lake, and I e-mailed my mom the photo to show her I was having a good time, and she forwarded it to my sister." He stopped to draw breath.

Mike nodded. "Yeah, with you so far."

"And my sister e-mailed me and said I had to make you dance with her at the Silver Lake dance, because you're cute, right? So, I said yes, because she's scary, only I thought that we weren't going, because we were so bad at sports and everything and because we were in trouble all the time, but now we're going to be there, and she's going to expect you to like, dance with her." Jason said, finishing up breathlessly.

Mike blinked. "Uh."

Jason looked at him pleadingly. "Please! She's like, really scary!"

Mike grinned. "You're not selling me the idea very well here, Jason. So all I have to do is dance with your sister once, right?"

Jason stood up. "You'll do it? Promise?"

"Promise. One dance with your sister." Mike held out his hand to shake Jason's.

"And maybe a couple of her friends," said Jason, backing away once he'd shaken Mike's hand.

"What--?" said Mike, getting up to follow Jason down the bus. At that moment though the bus slowed, and he fell back onto his seat. The campers gave up on singing ("Ninety seven bottles of beer...") and started to cheer as the bus turned under the big sign that read: WELCOME TO CAMP SILVER LAKE.

Rudy opened his eyes and eyed Mike, pressed up close to him again by the motion of the bus. He handed back Mike's iPod. "Sucker," he said, softly.

* * * * *

Mike gritted his teeth. This was his eighth dance of the evening, John was glaring at him, two of the clones had already asked him scornfully if he liked little girls and Jason, surprise surprise, was nowhere to be seen. His current armful of pre-pubescent Silver Lake camper looked up at him through inexpertly mascara'd eyelashes. "You're not a very good dancer, are you?" she said.

"No," admitted Mike, scenting a possible means of escape. "I know someone who is though."

"Who?" she asked suspiciously,

"My friend Rudy," Mike said, gladly sacrificing his friend to the greater good. "He's amazing, really."

The girl bit her lip. "Well, all right then," she said, frowning a little, "You really aren't very good."

Mike grinned at her. "Great! I mean, I'm sorry, no, I'm not very good. Why don't you just wait here..." he groped desperately for her name.

She pouted. "Sally!" she snapped.

"Sally. Wait here, and I will bring my friend here to dance with you." Mike inched away from her. Finally, she nodded. "Okay! Wait here though!" he said, and then made a break for it through the side door of the building.

Outside, he could only just make out the bass beat of the Kelly Clarkson song he had just evaded. He stumbled along the path away from the Silver Lake mess hall, and headed for the shore of the lake, thinking the hordes of teenage girls who had descended on him as soon as he arrived wouldn't look for him there.

"Escaped?" asked Rudy's placid voice from the darkness as he approached the water.

"Ack!" Mike yelped, "Geez. Give a guy a heart attack, why don't you?"

He went to sit next to Rudy on the bench overlooking the water, leaned forward, and dropped his head into his hands. "I feel unclean," he moaned, "I want to make an official complaint about sexual harassment."

Rudy's hand was warm on his back, stroking him through the thin material of his t-shirt. "I hate you, by the way," Mike said, his voice muffled by his hands. "I hate Jason, too. I think I'll hire Jimmy to build me a cannon so I can fire Jason out of it."

He sat up. Rudy's fingers slid up to rub soothingly at his neck, ruffling the hair that brushed his collar. "Rudy?" he said, his voice high and nervous.

Suddenly there was a strange crunching noise from the direction of the lake, and a startled scream. Mike jumped to his feet, trying to see what was going on. "What the hell was that?"

"Davis," said Rudy, tersely, "And a couple of others. I saw them take a boat out earlier. I've been waiting here to make sure they got back in all right." As he spoke he was stripping off. "They aren't out too far, it'll be faster to swim than get another boat out."

Mike nodded and pulled his shirt over his head, toeing off his shoes and fumbling with his belt buckle. "How many of them are out there, and who?"

"Davis, Jason, Harold," Rudy said, walking down to the water's edge in his boxers. Mike followed, shivering. "They all had life jackets." They looked at one another briefly. Only one of the boys was a proficient swimmer.

They waded into the water. Rudy kicked off as soon as he was in swimming depth, his smooth stroke allowing him to pull quickly ahead. Mike swam doggedly in Rudy's wake, still unable to see where they were headed. After a few minutes, he heard voices up ahead, and stopped to tread water. The boys were bobbing about in the water in their lifejackets, while a sailboat floated upside down next to a buoy. There were, Mike was surprised to see, women's undergarments floating all over the surface of the water nearby.

"Anyone injured?" Rudy was asking, calm as always.

"I cut my f-foot," said Harold, shivering, "And Jase is sort of wrapped up in something."

"It's around my leg," came Jason's voice from the darkness.

"I'm okay," said Davis, his tone disgusted. "I can swim back."

"Mike," called Rudy, "Grab Harold, help him back to shore. Davis, follow Mike. Keep really close to him."

Mike approached Harold. "Hey," he said, gently, seeing the tears rolling down Harold's face, "How are you doing?"

"My foot hurts," Harold whispered.

"Okay, well, let's get you to shore and get that seen to," Mike said. He helped Harold float onto his back in the lifejacket.

Davis paddled up alongside them. He held up one end of a rope, "Rudy said I should tie myself on to you with this," he said. Mike nodded, and wrapped the rope around his wrist and through the hook on Davis' life jacket. He could feel some sort of fabric attached to the rope, but ignored it, concentrating on keeping Harold calm.

"All right, shall we go?" he said, at last, "Nice and slow, let's just head toward the lights from the camp."

They swam slowly together for a few minutes, Mike keeping up a steady stream of comforting words, pulling Harold along and keeping a close eye on Davis, who was tiring rapidly. He could already hear activity on the dock though, and he soon heard a small motorboat pull away from the dock and head towards them. He came to a halt, and helped Davis to float as well while they waited for the boat, manned by two of the Silver Lake counsellors, to reach them. Once it arrived, he helped boost the two boys into the boat, and then turned back to see Rudy swimming towards them, Jason in tow. The little motorboat was full, so he and Rudy waved off the boys and continued to swim back to shore, Rudy holding back his pace without a word so that Mike could keep up with him.

There was a huge crowd assembled on the shore when they climbed out of the lake, shivering. Mike staggered up the pebbly beach towards his clothes, the long rope he had tied to himself to tether Davis trailing behind him. As he wearily unwound it, he realized it was some kind of washing line, attached to which were pairs of pink frilly panties.

"What the hell?" he exclaimed, holding them up. "Um. Do these belong to someone?" he asked, as a group of Silver Lake campers turned to look at him. Suddenly, a girl screamed, and ran forward, snatching the underwear from him. Seeing his confused expression, she became even more irate, and slapped him fiercely across his face, before bursting into tears and running away. Startled, he stumbled back, tripped, and ended up on his back in the dirt, clutching his cheek.

Rudy and the remaining Cabin 13 campers loomed over him.

"Let that be a lesson to you, boys," Rudy intoned solemnly, offering Mike a hand up. "Never hold a woman's underwear up for public scrutiny."

Glaring at Rudy, Mike pushed away his hand and scrambled to his feet unaided.

* * * * *

Two hours, a fast shower, and some emergency medical treatment later, waiting to board the bus back to Camp Algonkian Island, Mike was seething and looking for someone to take it out on. He shivered in the late night breeze.

Rudy appeared beside him, accompanied by two of the counsellors from Silver Lake. "Thank you so much," they were saying, smiling coyly at Rudy.

"I hope your boys are all right," said one of them, flipping her long blonde hair over her shoulder.

"Will you call me and let me know?" asked the other girl, pressing a slip of paper into Rudy's unresisting hand. Both girls looked over at Mike when he made a growling noise, and then, waving cutely at Rudy, they walked away, giggling and looking back a few yards from the bus.

"Give me your sweater," said Mike, abruptly, holding out his hand to Rudy.

Rudy blinked at him. "My sweater?"

"Yes. Give me your sweater." Mike glared at him.

Rudy looked at him. "But I'll be cold," he said, crossing his arms.

Mike leaned in and poked him in the chest. "Listen. So far today I have been pimped out by one of our campers, molested by thirteen year olds to the soundtrack from hell, rescued three campers who wouldn't have been on the lake in the first place if you hadn't encouraged them," Rudy opened his mouth to speak, but Mike over-rode him, his voice rising now with every word, "I've been slapped, I'm going commando in the most uncomfortable jeans I own and because someone stole my favourite shirt, I am currently wearing a pink t-shirt with a smiling seahorse on it because it was the only thing in the lost and found box that fit me. Give. Me. Your. Fucking. Sweater."

Wordlessly, Rudy stripped out of the sweater and handed it to Mike.

"Thank you," he said with freezing dignity, and boarded the bus as the Cabin 13 campers, more subdued than their wont, approached.

Curling up among the bags on the back seat, he plugged himself into his iPod, closed his eyes, and pretended not to notice when Rudy sat next to him and said, softly, "Mike?"


Chapter 9: Sebastian Bucktoast, Volleyball Champion of the World

Ignoring Rudy on the bus very quickly turned into falling asleep on the bus. Mike woke up gently, dreaming that someone was stroking his hair back from his face. He opened his eyes.

Rudy was crouched down in the aisle in front of their seat.

"Hey," Mike said, his voice husky with sleep.

"Hi," said Rudy, equally quietly, standing up. "It's our turn for the boat."

Mike sat up, dislodging the blanket that had been draped over him. The bus was empty except for the two of them. "Where are the kids?" he asked, picking up the blanket and looking at it in surprise. Rudy took it from him and folded it.

"Waiting outside," he said, "Sam and Bob are watching them. And the boat guy. And the bus driver. I thought about chaining them together, but Davis has been teaching them all lock-picking techniques."

Mike smiled uncertainly and nodded, stretching as he came to his feet. Rudy just watched him, inscrutable as ever. Mike pushed the too-long sleeves of Rudy's sweater up to his elbows, and led way out of the bus.

Outside, Sam was on the dock helping campers jump onto the boat.

"Feeling better?" Sam asked, his moustache twitching as he took in Mike's bedraggled appearance.

Mike rolled his eyes and climbed into the boat. The Cabin 13 campers avoided his gaze as he found a seat among them.

"Rudy apparently spent the entire bus ride threatening violence if anyone woke you up," whispered Sam, sitting next to him. "And he stole some kid's blanket for you."

Flushing, Mike looked over at Rudy, who was talking to Bob towards the prow of the boat. "I yelled at him earlier," Mike muttered.

Sam grinned. "Lover's tiff?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.

"What?" said Mike, seeing the campers around them taking an interest in the conversation.

Sam just laughed.

* * * * *

Back at the camp, Mike herded the campers into Cabin 13, leaving Rudy to escort the three leading players in that night's drama to the infirmary for a check-up. By the time he got back, the campers were all tucked up in their bunks, and Mike was lying in his pyjama bottoms on top of his bed, face down on his pillow.

"Harold's foot all right?" he asked as Rudy came in, his voice muffled.

"They decided not to amputate." Rudy said. "The nurse kept them in case one of them has a disturbed night. I suggested she sedated them, but she didn't seem to appreciate my advice." Mike heard rustling noises as Rudy undressed.

Sighing, Mike rolled over. "Gah!" he said, suddenly catching sight of the Beaver of Doom on their desk. "Why is the Beaver in here?"

"I confiscated him," said Rudy, pulling off his t-shirt.

"I can't sleep with him looking at me," said Mike, eyeing the Beaver, "He's got freaky teeth."

He picked up the revolting pink t-shirt from the floor and threw it so it landed on top of the Beaver. "Much better!" he said, lying back again. Rudy raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. Pulling on his nightwear quickly, he threw himself on his bed and snapped off the overhead light.

For long moments, Mike listened to the sound of crickets chirping outside. He rolled over again, curling his arms around his pillow. He sighed. "Rudy?"

Rudy hummed indistinctly.

"I shouldn't have yelled at you," Mike murmured sleepily, looking over at the indistinct shape of Rudy on the other bed. "I'm sorry."

"Go to sleep, Mike," said Rudy.

"I left your sweater on top of your bag," Mike added a few moments later, just hovering on the edge of sleep. "It's a nice sweater. Warm."

Rudy said nothing, and Mike sighed again and closed his eyes.

"You can keep it if you like," Rudy said, his voice just above a whisper, "So long as you let me tell everyone we're going steady."

Mike chuckled, and fell asleep.

* * * * *

When the bell rang the next morning -- later than usual after the camper's late night at Silver Lake -- Mike lay awake for a few seconds, wondering what was missing.

"Somewhere in the infirmary," Rudy said from the next bed, "Jason just hit the floor."

Mike laughed and swung his legs out of bed. "What's on today's schedule?" he asked, searching through the papers on the desk, ignoring the pink t-shirt clad Beaver.

Rudy stretched lazily in bed. "First aid class with Cabin 17," he said, "You and I, unfortunately, have a meeting with our fearless leader."

Mike gave up his search. "With who?" he said, confused, looking for clean socks instead.

"John caught me as I came back from the infirmary last night. He demanded that we appear in his presence at ten today. I tried to decline, but, alas, he was very insistent," Rudy explained.

Mike sat down with a thud. "Oh, shit. Are we about to get fired, do you think?"

Rudy shook his head. "Are we ever that lucky?"

Mike laughed, weakly, and pulling on his socks, went to greet the campers he could hear moving around in the main room and take them to breakfast, agreeing with Rudy that they would meet back at the cabin to go up to John's office.

Having delivered the Cabin 13 kids to the First Aid class, shuddering at the distinctly bloodthirsty look in several of the campers' eyes, Mike was on his way back to the cabin when he met the three chief miscreants. They looked miserable.

"Hi Mike," said Davis, dispiritedly, the other two echoing his greeting.

"How are you guys this morning?" asked Mike, looking them over, "Foot all right, Harold?"

Harold seemed to droop a little more. "It's fine. Not even any stitches," he said, in a distinctly plaintive tone.

Mike smothered a grin. "You boys seem pretty down today," he said, "Tired, or...?"

"Miller," said Jason, "He came to get us this morning to take us back to the cabin."

"He took the Beaver away," said Davis, sounding stricken. "He said we were so deep in negative points..."

Mike covered his ears. "Not listening!" he said, frowning at the boys.

Davis subsided. The other two boys toed the ground and looked nervous. Mike took his hands away from his ears. "Why don't you go join everyone else in class?" he asked, taking pity on them, "I heard there was going to be lots of fake blood."

Even this did not make the campers to perk up. They all avoided Mike's eye and sidled a glance at one another. Mike waited patiently.

"Millersaidwehadtosayweweresorry," said Jason in a rush, "About the boat."

"And his sister!" added Davis.

"And making you mad!" said Harold.

They looked at one another, and then chorused, "We're sorry!" and then all three of them ran off, leaving Mike on the path, laughing.

When he arrived back in the cabin, Rudy was tidying up his half of the room a little, sorting out his laundry. Mike looked over at the chalkboard, propped up on the armchair:

"DUMB IDEA: -50
BADLY EXECUTED: -50
INJURIES: -50
FORCING US TO SWIM OUT TO RESCUE YOU: -100
GENERAL AGGRAVATION: -500'

"Ooh," he said, "Minus seven fifty. That's harsh."

Rudy shrugged, "There's still some time for them to recover their position in the league table," he said, folding a pair of jeans.

Mike rolled his eyes. "I don't want to know. Can you award this Beaver to someone soon, though? I can't sleep with a fifty year old dead beaver watching me." He poked at it, still shrouded in the pink t-shirt, with disfavour.

"I believe there is something afoot involving fake blood, a bowl of peeled grapes, and a wig," said Rudy, placidly, "I will have to await the outcome. "

Mike blinked at him. "Do I want to know where they got the wig?" he asked, cautiously.

"No," said Rudy, "Let's go."

* * * * *

When they arrived at John's office, he was just leaving. "Miller," he said, skidding to a halt and frowning at them.

"John," said Rudy.

"Cabin 6 have had an incident in the Arts & Crafts cabin," John said. "Go into my office, I'll be right back." He rushed away.

"See, we aren't the only cabin to have incidents," Rudy said, with the air of one conclusively winning an argument.

Mike didn't answer, but looked around the office. "I'm having a terrible sense of deja vu," he said, leaning on the desk. "All we need is for the phone to ring and it be a volleyball salesman."

As if on cue, the phone rang. Mike jumped up from his perch, startled, and then grabbed fruitlessly at Rudy's arm as he reached for the receiver. "Hello?" Rudy said, smoothly, fending off Mike with his other hand.

"I'm sorry, John has stepped away from his desk momentarily. I'm his assistant, Marmalute Leibinger the Third, can I help? Sorry? Yes, Leibinger. The Third. Yes." Rudy said, wrapping an arm around Mike to prevent him from disconnecting the phone. "Sports equipment order? Really? Well, I can certainly assist you with that. Mmm. Mm-hmm."

Mike squirmed, trying to get free, but Rudy's arm just tightened. Resigned, he stood still in Rudy's restraining embrace. "Yes, that all sounds fine," Rudy was saying, "Oh, you haven't mentioned volleyballs! I'd like, um, let me think, one thousand and one of your highest quality volleyballs, please."

"Rudy!" Mike hissed, flailing at the phone again. Rudy evaded his seeking hand. "Oh yes, definitely. Among our campers this year is Sebastian Bucktoast, so I'm sure you understand the necessity. You haven't heard...? Why, I'm shocked. He's only the volleyball champion of the world. Canada's best hope for volleyball gold in the Olympics!"

Mike could hear the sports equipment dealer squawking at the other end of the phone. "Yes, quite," said Rudy, "Well, if that's settled? Excellent. Delivery at the end of the month? Mm-hmm. Good doing business with you too."

And with a flourish, Rudy put the receiver down. "Rudy!" Mike said, squirming to be free again, trying not to laugh.

"Yes, Mike?" Rudy said, not loosening his grip.

"I can't believe you did that! Again!" said Mike, half turning to look at Rudy, and losing his tenuous grip on disapproval when he saw Rudy's calm expression. "Oh God, they still have a cupboard full from the last time we were at camp together!" he said, giggling.

At that moment, John walked back in, stopping dead at the sight of them apparently hugging in the middle of his office. "Uh..." he said, taken aback.

Mike felt himself flush deep red, and jumped away from Rudy. He moved to sit on the chair opposite John's desk, trying not to meet Rudy's eyes. Rudy, of course, showed no discomfort at all, and took the other visitor's seat with perfect calm.

"Uh," said John again, intelligently, clearly at a loss what to say.

Out of the corner of his eye, Mike saw Rudy's mouth open and, in the interest of continuing to be employed, rushed into speech. "You wanted to see us?" he said, surreptitiously moving his foot into kicking range in case Rudy was inspired to say something unhelpful.

"Oh! Yes. Miller, I've had the letter from your father about your appointment on Monday, requesting that Webster go with you." John sorted through the papers on his desk, "However, I don't think that's wise, particularly after the events of last night." He frowned at them.

"Oh?" said Rudy. Mike cringed, recognizing the tone of his voice.

"Yes, clearly Cabin 13 need constant supervision by someone familiar with their... habits." John said, "I mentioned it to one or two of the other counsellors, and Chuck immediately said as you and he have become such good friends he'd be delighted to step in to help out and allow Webster to remain here." He beamed at Rudy, obviously pleased to have organized things to his -- and Chuck's -- satisfaction.

"Out of the question," said Rudy, calmly. "Mike is the only one who can drive my car if necessary."

Mike, bewildered by the entire conversation, blinked at Rudy. "But you said you would never let me drive your car unless..."

Rudy kicked his ankle, "Unless it was an emergency, yes. I know you haven't done a lot of driving."

"Well, surely that can be fixed," said John, fumbling through his papers again. "I'll just give your father a call."

Rudy stood up. "No point," he said, "He's on a business trip in Peru. It's Webster or I don't go." He leaned on the desk, moving into John's personal space. "I assure you my father will not be pleased if I don't keep my appointment, and my recovery is set back in any way. Nor will the Canadian Olympic Committee."

John sank back in his seat. "Well. Yes. All right. Fine. Do as you please. You always do," he added, in what he apparently thought was an inaudible aside.

"Thank you," said Rudy, "Come on Mike."

Outside John's door, Mike whispered, "What was that about? Why would he be scared of your dad? I've met your dad! Why is your dad in Peru? He's an accountant. And what does the Canadian Olym...?"

"Shhh!" said Rudy, pushing Mike along the corridor and towards the door of the building. "My dad isn't in Peru, you twit. He didn't write the letter!"

Mike stopped dead. "Rudy! What the hell is going on? Where are we going on Monday?"

Rudy sighed. "Okay. Come here!" He looked up and down the corridor, and quickly opened a door and shoved Mike through it, following him quickly into the small storage room to which the door led.

"I have a check-up on my knee on Monday," Rudy said, rapidly, "I thought it would be more fun if you came with me."

"Oh," said Mike, looking down at Rudy's leg. He didn't seem to have been limping since the first couple of days. "Do I really get to drive?" he asked, grinning.

"I'm more likely to hand my keys over to Harold," said Rudy, without expression.

"Oh," said Mike, disappointedly.

At that moment, the door to the store cupboard opened. Mike and Rudy blinked at Nick as he stood gaping at them from the open door.

"Yes?" said Rudy, "Can I help you?"

"I was coming to see John when I heard voices," Nick said, still seeming taken aback.

"Well, this is a private meeting," said Rudy, "Knock next time, please."

"Uh," said Nick. "Sorry." He closed the door carefully, leaving Mike and Rudy inside.

Mike started laughing. Rudy looked at him tolerantly. "So we're on for Monday?" he asked.

Grinning, still chuckling a little, Mike nodded. "Hell, yeah!"


Chapter 10: I don't See Why Freedom Had To Start So Early In The Morning

Mike woke up just before the morning bell on Monday with a tremendous feeling of well being. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the Beaver no longer glared at him toothily from the desk (having been bestowed on Jimmy for his wig-related activities in First Aid class) and he and Rudy had most of a day off together on the mainland.

"If you start singing a cheery little song, particularly one of Disney origins," Rudy said from the other bed, "I will strap you to the roof of the car for the day."

Mike started, and grinned ruefully, realising he had been humming happily for the last couple of minutes. "Sorry," he said, sitting up, "I'm just thinking about freedom."

Rudy closed his eyes. "Personally, I don't see why freedom had to start so early in the morning."

Just then, the bell rang. "Aiiiiee!" The scream in the main cabin was muffled by their door, as was the thud that followed.

Mike sighed. "Well, I get to hand over the kids in about an hour. Shall I meet you down by the dock?" he asked, tossing his counsellor's uniform across the room gratefully and pulling on some regular clothes.

Rudy agreed, but eyed Mike's jeans and t-shirt askance. "You're wearing that for our day off?" he said, disparagingly.

Mike blinked at him, then looked down at himself. "It's all clean," he protested, "Honestly!"

Rudy sighed, "You don't make any effort for me any more," he said, getting out of bed himself, "The magic has gone."

Mike laughed, rolled his eyes, and went off to separate two campers who were engaged in some kind of stand-off over toothpaste in the main cabin.

A short while later, they stepped off the Camp Algonkian Island boat and onto the mainland. "Ah, smell that!" said Rudy.

Mike sniffed. "Dead fish?" he said, hazarding a guess at the pungent odour, "Diesel fumes?"

Rudy raised his eyebrows. "Freedom," he said, patiently.

Mike grinned. "I smelled it earlier. You just complained it was too early for freedom."

They wandered over to Rudy's car, dusty now after several days in the parking lot beside the dock and Rudy slid into the driver's seat. Mike climbed in and buckled his seatbelt, "Ready?" Rudy asked, not waiting for a reply.

Mike let out a yelp as Rudy rocketed out of the parking space and pulled onto the lake shore road. "As I'll ever be!" he said, hanging on to his seat as Rudy accelerated away. "Holy crap! Watch out for that cow!"

* * * * *

Rudy's appointment, it turned out, was at a large medical centre on the outskirts of a town some thirty miles away.

On arrival, Mike emerged from the car, distinctly ruffled and shaken, and immediately spotted a familiar figure. "Isn't that Jeff?" he asked, squinting over at the younger man sitting on a motorbike in one corner of the parking lot. Hearing voices, the man waved, and came over to join them by the car.

"Hi guys," said Jeffrey Miller, throwing his motorcycle helmet onto the narrow back seat of Rudy's car. He clapped Mike on the back and grinned widely at his brother.

Rudy looked at him blandly. "I was under the distinct impression you were working this summer," he said, "And yet, here you are, in a parking lot a couple of hours from home."

Jeff raised an eyebrow at Rudy, "Couldn't let my big brother get his knee checked without family support, now could I?" he said, trying to make his freckled face look innocent. Failing, he let his grin widen again, edged with mischief. "You're just lucky Mom didn't come."

Both boys shuddered at this. Mike grinned, having met Mrs. Miller on a number of occasions. "You came on your bike, Jeff?" he asked, "Cool!"

"Dangerous," said Rudy, looking at the two of them. Mike choked with laughter, thinking of Rudy's calm, terrifying driving speed.

Jeff, who had been grinning at Mike, looked at his watch and turned to his brother. "Good luck," he said, suddenly serious, reaching out suddenly to bestow a quick hug on Rudy, who bore with this display of affection tolerantly. Jeff stepped back and looked expectantly at Mike.

"Uh," said Mike, bewildered. "I hope it goes all right," he offered eventually, smiling uncertainly at Rudy.

Jeff rolled his eyes. "Oh, please. Let's go have pancakes," he said, tugging at Mike's elbow, "Over there, and you can tell me how your sister is while we wait."

He pointed at a sign that read: ANGIE'S DINER.

"You're not dating Vicky," Mike said, automatically, "The only thing worse than you dating Vicky would be Rudy dating Vicky."

"Oh, please," said Jeff again, even more sarcastically. "We'll meet you there when you're done," he said to Rudy, who nodded and walked off towards the door.

"Pancakes," sighed Jeffrey happily. "I haven't eaten in at least an hour!" Catching Mike's elbow again, he marched them over to the diner and, despite Mike's laughing protests, ordered enormous stacks for both of them, chattering all the while about the evils of his summer job in his dad's office.

It was about an hour later when Rudy joined them, sliding into their booth just as Mike had reduced Jeffrey to tears of laughter describing the events at Silver Lake.

"Oh, he's laughing about it now," said Rudy to his brother, shoving Mike along the seat so he could sit down, "He wasn't nearly so amused when he was swamped in little girls in Hello Kitty t-shirts trying to get into his pants."

Jeff just laughed harder. Mike blushed at this description, and poked Rudy in the ribs with his elbow. "Shut up!" he hissed, "Or I'll tell Jeff about the chick at Silver Lake who keeps sending you letters sealed with a kiss. On pink paper. Scented pink paper."

Rudy raised an eyebrow. "This from a man whose shirt was stolen by pre-teens and probably turned into a shrine."

Jeff hiccupped, and grinned at them. "You guys have so much fun," he said wistfully. "I hate being dad's mail room boy."

Just then, his cellphone rang, and he picked it up to answer. "Hi. Hi, yeah, he's here," he said, "I haven't asked him, do you want to speak to him?"

Rudy was shaking his head violently, trying to fend Jeff off when his brother offered him the phone. They scuffled for a moment, and then Rudy bowed to the inevitable, "Hello? Yes, it's me."

Mike cocked his head questioningly at Jeff. "Our mom," Jeff whispered, wincing along with Rudy as the phone squawked and Rudy pulled it away from his ear, "She'll be yelling to dad to pick up the other extension."

"Yes," Rudy was saying. "No, he said it was fine. Yes. Yes. Hi, Dad. Yes, he said it was fine. I can start training again in three weeks." He pulled the phone away from his ear again hurriedly, "Yes, I'm still here," he said, gingerly holding the handset about six inches from his ear. "Yes, I'm very pleased." He listened for a few moments. "Yeah, he's here, he and Jeff were just having pancakes."

He handed the phone to Mike. "My mother wants to speak to you."

Mike blinked. "She what? Why? I haven't done anything!" he said, leaning away from Rudy. Jeff started laughing. Rudy grabbed his hand, folded his fingers over the phone and forced it up to his ear. "Wait, no, stop... Oh, hello Mrs. Miller."

He could hear Mr and Mrs Miller laughing on the other end of the phone. "Call me Liz," invited Mrs. Miller, "We just wanted to say hi, and say how glad we were that Rudy is enjoying his summer with you, after everything that happened." Mr Miller made agreeing noises from the extension.

"Uh," said Mike, intelligently, "Okay."

"Are you boys getting enough to eat at the camp? I always remember Rudy complaining bitterly about camp food. Maybe I should I send some cakes or something." Mrs Miller continued. "Would you boys like some cakes? I can make a couple, put them in a big box, mail them to you. Oh, I should have sent something with Jeff, not that you can fit anything on that awful motorcycle of his."

"Um," said Mike, "I'll ask." He turned to Rudy, his eyes slightly wild. "Do we want cake?" he asked, "Your mom says she'll send us some."

Jeff and Rudy instantly voiced approval. "Rudy says yes, cake would be good." Mike relayed down the phone, "Sorry, hang on a second. He says apple sauce cake, please."

Mr Miller was chuckling on the other phone. "I'm fairly sure he didn't say please. Thanks, by the way, Mike, for looking out for Rudy this summer," he added. "Could you put us back on to Jeff please?"

Mike said goodbye and handed the phone over to Jeff as quickly as he could. Jeff sighed and started to reassure his parents that he would drive home very carefully.

Rudy looked at Mike speculatively, "Do you often inspire gifts of cake?" he asked.

"She told me to call her Liz," said Mike, still shell-shocked, "I didn't know what to say."

Rudy patted his arm, "My family has this effect on people," he said, without sympathy.

Across the table, Jeff snapped the phone shut and grimaced. "Even on us."

Despite Rudy's argument that he shouldn't have to be burdened with his little brother on his one day of freedom, Jeff decided to hang out with them for a while. Leaving his bike in the parking lot, Jeff shoe-horned himself into the back seat of Rudy's car.

"Let's go somewhere fun, and have lunch," he said, leaning between the two front seats.

"Put your seatbelt on, you twit," said Rudy, "I'm not paying a fine because of you."

Jeff subsided onto the seat and buckled up. "I'm taller than Mike," he said, plaintively, "Why doesn't Mike sit in the back? There's no room."

Rudy just looked at him in the rear-view mirror. Jeff subsided, muttering something about favouritism.

The sports car's engine thrummed as Rudy turned the key, "Pool?" he said, glancing over at Mike and then into the mirror at Jeff. Both boys nodded. Rudy shifted into gear, and Mike closed his eyes quickly, "Oh my God, watch out for the mail box!"

Ten minutes later they turned into the parking lot of a pool hall Rudy had seen on the way to medical centre.

"What are we gonna play for?" said Jeff, racking the balls and going to choose a cue. "Since dad is paying me like, nothing for my hours of toil, I am all in favour of cold hard cash."

Mike rolled his eyes. "Why don't I just take my wallet out right now and give you guys all my money?" he said.

Jeffrey grinned. "How will you buy me lunch if you do that?"

Rudy smacked his brother on the back of his head. "Mike and I will play you," he said, handing a cue to Mike and picking one for himself. "Since you're the one with the misspent youth in pool halls."

"Oh!" said Mike, grinning at Jeff, "Now the truth comes out!"

Jeff smirked. "Better than running round in circles all the time," he said, sitting down on a stool next to Mike and watching Rudy break. "I still say you should take up marathon, Rudy," he called over to his brother, "At least then you go somewhere."

Rudy raised an eyebrow and sent the cue ball spinning across the green baize.

* * * * *

A couple of hours later, a small crowd had gathered around their table. Mike had bowed out of what was obviously a grudge match between the brothers after the first game, restricting himself to laughing at the increasingly pithy insults the Millers were throwing at each other as the contest heated up.

Mike picked up his beer and took a sip. He hadn't ordered it, but the waitress had apparently taken a liking to their table, lingering to watch Rudy lean over and take a shot every time she came by. Both brothers had acquired supporters in the crowd, and money was changing hands with almost every shot. Rudy had edged ahead in victories after the last game, but Jeff was pulling out all the stops, playing trick shots and generally putting on a show for the crowd. The game had been going on for a long time now though, and between the beer and the dim room and the repetitive clicking of cue on ball, he was starting to feel drowsy.

Rudy wandered over to him, keeping an eye on Jeff as he set up for yet another impossible shot. "Hey," he said, "You hungry?"

Mike grinned at him sleepily, "Sure," he said, "I could eat." He squinted at Rudy. "You have chalk on your face," he said, reaching out to brush it away. "Looks funny."

Rudy stood still as Mike swiped at the blue dust. "How many beers have you had, Mike?" he asked carefully, glancing at the bottle at Mike's elbow.

Mike grinned at him again. "Oh, a couple, the waitress, she likes your butt, she kept giving me them to me, even when I told her I was underage."

There were cheers and groans from the crowd around the table, and Rudy went to play again. Mike took another sip of beer. His face blank, Rudy studied the table for a few moments, and then began sinking balls, one after the other, barely taking a pause between shots.

"Aww, crap," said Jeffrey, watching his brother sink the eight ball, "I guess that means I have to buy lunch."

The crowd applauded as the brothers stepped away from the table, several men stepping forward to ask them for a game. Rudy and Jeff declined, and came to stand in front of Mike.

"Is he drunk?" Jeff asked, interestedly, "Can we get him to do spill all his darkest secrets?"

"I already know all his secrets," said Rudy, taking the beer bottle out of Mike's hand.

"Hey!" Mike said, "Give me my beer back! I have secrets from you! All kinds of secrets!"

Jeffrey laughed. "Can he walk?"

"Of course I can walk!" Mike slid off the stool and on to his feet. The floor kept on coming up to meet him. Rudy caught him under the armpits as he sagged down to his knees. "Or, maybe you guys could help me?"

Rudy slung Mike's arm over his shoulder and together, they staggered out into the sunshine. "Ooh!" moaned Mike, "Bright!"

"Let's get some lunch into him, sober him up a little." said Rudy. "He's a very cheap drunk, so it shouldn't take much to get him back to what passes for normal for Webster."

"Hey!" said Mike indignantly, but then was distracted by the strange bendiness of his knees.

Jeff nodded. "You sure we can't get him to tell us something we can blackmail him with later?"

Mike smiled at them both impartially, and hugged Rudy closer. "I don't know how you get to be so mean about clones," he said, addressing Rudy's shoulder, "When you and Jeff are just as bad! The same! Itendi... Idintica.... Exactly the same!"

Rudy wrapped his arm around Mike's waist. "I don't know whether I'm insulted that you think I'm just like my brother or... No, wait, there is no 'or', I'm definitely insulted," he said, and gently stuffed Mike into the passenger seat.

* * * * *

Mike was almost sober again by the time Jeff was climbing back onto his motorcycle, the alcohol soaked up by lunch back at the same place they had pancakes.

"See you in a couple of weeks," Jeff said, beaming at them both, "Thanks for lunch, Rudy."

"Next time you bet me lunch," said Rudy, "Think about bringing enough money with you to pay for it."

Jeff grinned unrepentantly at his brother, snapped down the visor of his helmet, and pulled away, waving once from the turnout of the parking lot.

Mike and Rudy walked back to the car. Mike sighed. "Do we have to go back?"

"Voluntarily return to Alcatraz," said Rudy, climbing into the driver's seat. "It's not something that should be asked of a man."

Mike patted his arm consolingly, causing Rudy to eye him with an unreadable expression. "Hmm," he said, and turned the engine over.

As they pulled out into the road, Mike gasped and said, "Cyclist! Cyclist! Holy crap!" and resigned himself to another journey spent clinging to the dashboard.


Chapter 11: I Think Of Us More As An Axis Of Evil

Mike and Rudy arrived back on Camp Algonkian Island about an hour before the dinner bell.

"It's very quiet," Mike said, surprised, as they approached Cabin 13. Normally the campers spent the time between the last of the day's activities and dinner in cheerfully noisy chaos in and around the cabin. Tonight, the door was closed and there wasn't a sound to be heard from within. "Maybe they all went to the computer room."

He pushed the door open, and then recoiled backwards into Rudy at the sight that met his eyes. "What the--?" he said. Recovering, he stepped into the cabin, Rudy following close behind.

"You were all in a perfectly good state of repair when we left less than six hours ago," said Rudy, sweeping his glance over the Cabin 13 campers. "I'm almost impressed at how much damage you've sustained in such a short period of time."

The campers were all sitting or lying on their bunks, muddy, bruised and scratched. Some of them were in worse condition than others: Gabe had fared worst on the mud front, drying soil flaking off him as he shifted to look over at them; Harold's shirt was ripped; Davis looked like he had a black eye. There was a certain amount of doleful sniffling going on in some quarters; all the boys looked weary and upset.

Rudy leaned on the door. "Is it too much to ask that the other guys look worse?" he asked, blandly.

Harold sniffed, and some of the boys shifted uncomfortably. Mike sat down beside Harold on his bunk. "I guess it is, then," he said. "What happened, guys? Did a prank go wrong?"

His gentle question opened the floodgates, and all the boys started to talk at once. All Mike caught amid the babble of hurt and angry voices was 'Cabin 12' repeated several times. He hushed the room and glanced over at Rudy questioningly when he cleared his throat.

Rudy examined his fingernails. "I believe I made it understood that anything that I wasn't witness to didn't count and was therefore a wasted effort," he said, disinterestedly.

The boys all nodded. "Not a prank then," said Mike, "So what did happen?"

Davis spoke up. "We were paired all day with Cabin 12," he said, in an aggrieved tone. "Chuck made us all play football in the morning. Even Smith!"

Mike looked at Davis uncertainly. "You guys usually like football," he said, confused, "I know we don't win much, but you normally have fun, right?"

"He made us play," said Harold, "You never make us play. He picked positions for us, and yelled at us all the time. And he didn't do anything when the Cabin 12 players broke the rules."

"The Cabin 12 guys were crazy!" Gabe added, "They kept jumping up and down on people! And every time one of us said anything, Chuck would just say we needed to toughen up."

"Then when we went canoeing in the afternoon," said Jimmy, "He kept saying it was a no-rules race, and letting them make our canoes roll over. So we all fell in the water, and Gabe fell in the mud."

"Twice!" said Gabe, scratching his arm and causing a small shower of dirt to patter onto the wooden floor of the cabin.

"And then," said Harold, clearly working up to a crescendo, "They were all being mean about how we always lose in the competitions, and no-one from Cabin 13 is on any of the camp teams, and we don't have a single sports ribbon, and... and..." He paused, looking nervously at Rudy and then subsiding.

"And?" said Rudy, softly.

"They were all saying things about you two," said Davis, bravely meeting Rudy's eye, "So I hit this one guy, because he was saying... And then it all got a little out of control."

Mike sat back and sighed. "You were all in a fight? With Cabin 12?"

The babble broke out again, and Mike looked over the heads of the campers at Rudy, who shrugged and levered his body away from the wall. "That's not the worst!" someone was saying, "Tell them!"

"Tell us what?" said Mike, nervously.

There was a moment of silence. "They drowned the Beaver!" blurted Harold in a wavering voice. The campers all looked miserable.

Mike blinked. Even Rudy seemed momentarily taken aback. "Who did?" Mike asked.

"Cabin 12!" several of the boys chorused.

"Chuck must have stolen him when he came to get us at lunchtime," said Davis, "He was waving it around when we lost the canoe race. But when I made his canoe roll over, the Beaver fell out, and sank. I tried to dive for him, but I couldn't find him."

"Uh," said Mike, unable to think of appropriate way to deal with Beaver related grief.

"I tried! I really did!" Davis said.

"I'm sure you did," Mike said, throwing a desperate glance at Rudy. He regretted this almost immediately.

"I call this an unprovoked act of aggression against the sovereign nation of Cabin 13. One of our number has already met an untimely end at the hands of the enemy. He must be avenged. This can only mean one thing," Rudy said, calmly. The boys were all gazing at him wide-eyed. "Total war on Cabin 12," he said, an evil glint in his eye. "Who is with me?"

The boys all jumped to their feet, yelling, "Me, me!"

"Rudy!" Mike protested, biting his lip to stop himself from laughing. Rudy ignored him loftily, and began to pace the cabin.

"We will fight them on the beaches," Rudy continued, and struck a noble pose, "We will fight them on the water; we will fight them on the playing fields; we will defend our cabin whatever the cost may be. We shall never surrender."

The campers all cheered, and Mike groaned. Thinking to distract the campers, he looked at his watch. "Well, if you can briefly postpone your plans for world domination, I suggest you go invade the showers. You all kind of stink."

The campers laughed, and Mike continued, "Anyone who needs a band-aid or anything, come see me when you're clean."

Rudy nodded. "We march on the showers in three minutes," he said. The campers laughed and began to scurry around, looking for towels and clean clothes.

Mike moved through into their room, picking up the first aid kit and getting ready for a flood of minor injuries.

Rudy came through with him. "Finally, a use for history class," he said, placidly, as he looked for a clean uniform t-shirt.

Mike glared at him. "An untimely end? The Beaver died in 1953!" he said, pulling cotton balls and antiseptic ointment out of his kit. "The kids got beaten up once already," he continued, "Can we not try diplomacy before force of arms?"

Rudy pulled his shirt over his head and smoothed down his ruffled hair. "But where would be the fun in that?" he asked.

Before Mike could protest further there was an impatient knock on the door to the main cabin. "Miller! We're ready!"

Rudy opened the door and called out, "Forward, men!" and followed the marching campers out of the cabin.

* * * * *

Mike swabbed minor wounds and applied band-aids as the campers straggled back from the showers, listening to Rudy lay down the law to his newly formed army.

"From now until further notice, all extra-curricular activities are on hold," said Rudy, "Davis?"

Davis, who had been stealthily opening the cabin door behind Rudy, jumped and let the door bang shut again. "Uh, yeah?"

"Just letting you know that I'm aware you're about to pretend you weren't here for this announcement." Rudy didn't turn around. "Whatever you're planning, call it off."

"Ohhh," whined Davis, "This was a good one too."

Rudy finally turned to face him. "It's for the greater good," he said solemnly. "All energies must be focussed on the war effort now."

"What is the war effort?" asked Jason, eating a Twinkie.

Rudy looked down his nose at the boy. "That is currently need-to-know information."

Mike started laughing, "That means he doesn't himself know yet," he told the campers, applying a band-aid to Harold's grazed elbow. "He's just trying to sound mysterious."

When the bell rang, the campers were still begging Rudy for clues, and pursued him down the path to the mess hall suggesting increasingly wild battle plans.

Dinner though, was not the usual cheerful affair. Everyone in the camp seemed to know about the fight, and the campers from Cabin 13 were getting a hard time from all the other kids. They gradually grew quiet and one or two of the boys began to look unhappy again. At the centre of the jibes were Cabin 12 and Chuck Daniels, who Mike was beginning to hate.

"Good day off?" asked Chuck smirking as he walked past Mike and Rudy to collect a tray. Mike ignored him, smiling reassuringly at the campers opposite him.

On his way back to the Cabin 12 table, Chuck clipped the back of Mike's head with the tray. "Ow!" said Mike, turning to glare at Chuck.

"Sorry, Webster," said Chuck, sounding anything but apologetic, and sauntered off.

Mike sighed. Rudy raised his eyebrows at him from the other end of the table, but said nothing.

Towards the end of the meal, Mike slipped away to the washroom. As he emerged from a cubicle, he saw Chuck was standing just by the sinks. Ignoring him, Mike went to wash his hands. Chuck didn't move. When Mike walked past him, though, he stuck out a foot, and Mike, taken by surprise, tripped over it, stumbled, and crashed into the wall nose-first.

"Ow," he said, thickly, clutching his nose as he reeled back. "What the hell is your problem, Daniels?"

"You are," said Chuck, with a smirk, as he left the room.

Mike went to examine his nose in the mirror, cursing under his breath. Just as he was about to leave, reassured that his nose looked pretty normal, the toilet flushed in one of the cubicles, and Harold slipped out into the room, looking nervous.

"Oh," said Mike.

Harold sidled to the sinks and washed his hands, glancing at Mike in the mirror every so often. Mike held the door open for him when he was done, and they walked back to the table silently. Mike watched as Harold, seated at the far end of the table near Rudy, leaned over to have an urgent, low-voiced conversation with Davis, who glanced up the table at Mike, before turning to whisper something to Jason. Mike buried his head in his hands. Rudy tended to only have selectively bad hearing.

By the time it was time to go back to the cabin, all the campers had heard the story. They spent the whole walk alternately gazing at Mike with wide-eyed concern, and watching Rudy like he was a large and volatile keg of explosives. They even went to bed suspiciously early, claiming to be tired after their difficult day, but Mike thought it was just a ruse to get the counsellors to leave for the nightly meeting at the campfire. He was pretty tired too, and would have given it a miss himself, but Rudy was strangely insistent.

On the way to the campfire, Rudy said nothing to Mike about the events at dinner, just made a series of light-heartedly sarcastic remarks about the likelihood that Jeff made it home in one piece and Mike's ability to hold his beer. Mike relaxed.

That was his first mistake.

* * * * *

When they arrived at the campfire, everything was satisfyingly normal.

"Hey!" called Sam from his usual station on the log, his bag of marshmallows by his feet. "How was the day off?"

Mike slouched down onto the log. "Well, Rudy drove, so mostly it was a blur." He grinned, and picked up a toasting stick and a marshmallow. "We had a good time."

Rudy said nothing, just took Mike's toasting stick away from him and poked it into the fire.

"Your kids had a bad day though," said Sam, dropping his voice and glancing over the fire at a group of clones, including Chuck, who were gathered there.

Mike nodded. "Poor guys, they were head to toe in mud when we got back. Stank out the cabin," he said.

Bob grunted. "Damn canoes. Kept tipping over."

Mike said nothing, casting an involuntary glance over at Chuck.

Rudy pulled the marshmallow from the fire, examining it closely for a moment, apparently checking it had reached the right level of gooeyness. Then with a quick flick of his wrist, he sent it flying off the end of the toasting stick, sailing through the air until it landed with astonishing accuracy between Chuck's ginger eyebrows.

"Ack!" said Chuck, slapping at the marshmallow, "What the fuck?" He growled as he wiped the sugary confectionary from his face onto his t-shirt, and glared angrily at the group of counsellors sitting on the other side of the fire.

"Oops!" called Rudy, unrepentantly, "Sorry about that, Chump! I mean, Chuck! Hand slipped."

Chuck's expression wavered uncertainly between pissed and jovial. Mike bit down hard on his lip to hold back a giggle as Chuck replied, through gritted teeth, "No problem, Miller."

Rudy placidly threaded another marshmallow onto the toasting stick and held it over the flames.

"Rudy!" Mike whispered, warningly.

"What?" said Rudy, "I'm just trying to get a marshmallow here."

"You don't like marshmallows!" Mike said, accusingly.

Rudy just hummed under his breath. Sam and Bob looked on with amused speculation as he removed the second marshmallow from the fire and again inspected it carefully. "Incoming!" murmured Sam semi-hysterically as Rudy made some experimental swishing movements with the toasting stick and then sent it skimming over the fire and right into the middle of Chuck's back.

Chuck roared. "Miller!"

"My bad!" called Rudy, standing up and holding up his hands in a gesture of apology. "Don't know why I'm suddenly so clumsy. Must be something infectious in Cabin 13 today. People seem to have been tripping, falling, walking into walls all day."

"Unlucky for some," said Chuck, with a smirk, "Maybe you could get John to change your assignment. Guy with your record, you should be with athletes, not a cabin full of losers. Cabin 12 has won almost every sports competition so far this summer. The kids would love to have two quality athletes running the cabin."

Mike stiffened. "What do you mean, losers?" he said, angrily, "Our cabin isn't full of losers!"

Rudy put a hand on his arm. "Who would be the second quality athlete then?" he asked, politely. "You surely can't mean you? You're just a third string player who only played twice last season. You're an inch from losing your scholarship."

No-one said anything. Rudy's smooth, diabolical voice broke the silence. "I can use the internet too, Chump."

Even in the gloom of the evening, the flush on Chuck's face was clearly visible. "Shut up, Miller!" he said, "You're no better. If you were as good as everyone says, you wouldn't be out here at a summer camp!"

"He hurt his knee!" said Mike, heatedly. "I'd like to know what your excuse is!"

"At least I can still coach!" shot back Chuck, "Your kids are losers. Cabin 13 hasn't won anything since camp started, not even tiddly-winks!"

"Our kids are having fun!" Mike defended them, "Who cares if they win or not! Better that they have a good time than spend all their time being yelled at!"

"Your campers couldn't even stay standing on the football field today. Our campers stomped on them." snarled Chuck, looming menacingly at Mike.

"You let our campers get hurt, you twit!" Mike said, furious, taking an impetuous step forward. Rudy yanked him back, wrapping an arm around his torso.

"Really, Mike, I thought we'd talked about these violent impulses," said Rudy, his breath tickling Mike's ear.

"You suck," Mike yelled at Chuck, who was half-laughing at him and Rudy.

"Not as much as you do, apparently," Chuck said, smirking, "You and your friend Miller...'

"Enough," said Rudy, still hanging on to Mike, who was squirming to get at Chuck. "Let's put this to a test, shall we?"

"A test?" said Chuck, confused.

"A little competition, between Cabin 12 and Cabin 13," Rudy said. "Three rounds. We choose a game, you choose one, and, let's see, the other counsellors choose one."

There was a murmur round the campfire. Most of the other counsellors had bunched up around them during the confrontation. "Sounds fair!" said Sam.

"Fine!" said Chuck, "What do we get when we win?" He smirked.

Rudy let Mike go, satisfied he wasn't going to try to hit Chuck. "If you win, our cabin does trash duty until the end of camp," he said. "And if we win, your cabin does."

Chuck laughed. "Sure! Maybe your guys will build a little muscle shovelling garbage." Some of the other counsellors chuckled with him.

Rudy just raised his eyebrows. "We choose chess," he said smoothly.

Chuck looked taken aback. "Chess?"

"Chess," affirmed Rudy, "It's a game. I'd explain it to you, but I don't know any words small enough. All the kids play one game against another camper, the counsellors play one another. Seventeen matches."

Chuck growled. "Fine! Chess!" He smirked suddenly. "My choice is soccer. My team against yours. Three substitutes. Sixty minute game. Penalty shoot-out if there is a draw at the final whistle."

"Done!" said Rudy. He turned to the watching counsellors. "We need a third event. Any suggestions?"

"Obstacle course," rumbled Bob, "Whole cabin, including counsellors. Fastest time wins."

There were murmurs of agreement from the other counsellors. "Good." Rudy turned back to Chuck and poked a finger into his chest. "Thursday, when John is off the Island. Then we settle this."

Rudy turned away, Mike, Sam and Bob following as he left the fire.

"Holy crap!" said Sam, awed, as they walked away. "What the hell was that?"

Behind them, Mike could hear laughter and backslapping as the remaining clones reacted to the challenge Rudy had thrown down. "I believe that was Rudy's plan for world domination swinging into action," he said, numbly. "Did I really almost hit Chuck just now?"

"Wow. You guys are heroes!" marvelled Sam, ignoring the question.

"I think of us more as an axis of evil," said Rudy placidly. "Would you like a paper bag, Mike? You appear to be hyperventilating."

"We're going to lose!" said Mike, despairingly, "We've lost every soccer game we've played. And the obstacle course! I don't want to do garbage duty!"

He was still lamenting when they approached Cabin 13, and barely noticed when Sam and Bob said goodnight, waving at them distractedly as they headed towards their own cabin.

On auto-pilot, he crept through the cabin into the room he shared with Rudy, and began to get ready for bed. "What have you done?" he said, despairingly, as they both climbed into their beds and switched off the lights. "And to think today was such a good day before we came back!"

Rudy sighed. "Shut up, Mike," he said, patiently, "The kids will love it. Besides, I have a plan."

Mike rolled onto his back and looked up at the ceiling. He should know better, really he should, but despite knowing everything he did about Rudy, he found that statement strangely reassuring.

"Besides," Rudy said, his voice quiet, "You didn't really think I was going to let some Neanderthal get away with harassing my ... my best friend, did you?

Mike blew out a breath. "No," he murmured, and thought about that until he fell asleep.


Chapter 12: Great Plans Are Afoot

The next morning, Rudy woke Mike before the bell. "Get up," he said, "We need to start planning."

Mike moaned. "Can't world domination wait until after breakfast at least?" He rolled over and yawned.

Rudy just looked at him.

"Oh, well, what am I saying, of course it can't." Mike said, grumpily, swinging his legs out of bed. "I'll go wake the kids up."

Some of campers were already awake when he went through into the main cabin. Harold was reading a large heavy book. Davis was frowning at the bunk bed above him pensively. They both smiled at him when he walked through into the cabin.

"Your hair is all stood on end," whispered Harold, grinning.

Mike grinned back, tried to smooth back his hair, and went round the room gently shaking each camper awake. "Up and at 'em, boys," he said, as the campers blearily struggled to sit up, knuckling their eyes and yawning.

"What's going on?" asked Gabe, scrubbing at his face with his hands, "Why are we up so early?"

"Great plans are afoot," said Rudy, appearing, fully dressed, at the door between the two rooms. The campers perked up visibly at this announcement, glancing at one another excitedly.

"Last night, I declared war on Cabin 12," Rudy said, loftily, "And we agreed a battleground."

"You declared war?" said Jason, awed.

"He splatted Chuck with marshmallows," said Mike, trying to keep a straight face. Rudy eyed him with a shade of annoyance, but the campers were very appreciative, grinning and laughing.

"Wow," said Harold, "He didn't hit you?"

"On the contrary," said Rudy, "I had to prevent Webster here from hitting him."

The campers all swung around to look at Mike in amazement. He felt his face flush pink. "Uh."

Rudy swept on, "As I said, we agreed the battleground. In two days time, there will be a competition, us against Cabin 13. There will be three events: chess, soccer and the obstacle course." He explained the terms they had agreed at the campfire. The enthusiasm visibly drained out of the room.

Davis groaned, and flopped back onto his bed. "We're going to lose," he predicted gloomily. The other boys murmured agreement, looking deflated.

Rudy shook his head. "This is not the fighting spirit I expected you to display," he said, his tone disapproving.

"We could win the chess, at least," said Harold, thoughtfully.

The other campers looked over at him in surprise. Rudy stepped over to Harold and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Harold here was the runner up in the Canadian National Junior Chess Championship this year," he announced. Harold nodded and held up the book he had been reading when Mike came into wake them: The Art of the Middle Game read the title, over a picture of a chessboard.

"Harold said he didn't want to play at the chess night, though!" said Gabe, surprised.

"I didn't feel like playing. My parents said I could take a break from it over the summer," Harold said, shrugging. "My chess tutor and I e-mail most days though."

"What about the rest of us though?" objected Jason, "I've never even played chess!"

"Nor have most of Cabin 12," said Rudy, dismissively, "And they don't have Harold to train them in their cabin."

"From what I've seen at the chess night, there were only two decent players in Cabin 12," Harold said, musingly, "Adam Taylor and Joe Thomas. I can play one of them, but we'll need at least one other good player."

"I can play," Mark Fields offered, from the back of the room, "My dad and I play on the weekends I stay with him. I play at school as well, I have the top rating in the school district." He seemed slightly embarrassed by this admission, but the campers nearest him grinned and slapped him on the back.

A couple of other boys raised their hands and said they had played before.

"And you play, of course," said Harold, turning to Rudy. "So you can coach people as well."

Everyone swung around to look at Rudy. "He won the Junior Nationals when he was ten," explained Harold, sounding slightly awestruck. "And then he retired from the game."

Rudy stared blandly back at the campers as they goggled at him. "I hereby declare that Lieutenant Harold will take charge of the chess competition. Everyone let him know what your level of expertise is, and he'll schedule some tuition for anyone who needs it."

The campers all nodded. Harold preened a little at the title that had been bestowed upon him.

"Well, all right, but what about the soccer?" said Davis, disgustedly, "They've won every single game they've played. We've never even scored a goal yet."

The other campers all nodded.

"That will be where I come in," said a sleepy voice from one of the lower bunks. "Right?"

Everyone jumped, and looked in amazement at Smith, untangling himself slowly from his blankets. "According to the application form for camp that his parents filled in, Smith is the captain of the Ontario Under 14 Soccer Team," said Rudy, calmly. "He plays striker."

"What?" said Jimmy, bewildered, "You've never even joined in one of our games! You're always asleep!"

"Miller and Mike said we didn't have to do anything we didn't want to, and I didn't want to play before now," said Smith, simply. "There's Jase too, of course."

The camper's gazes swept around to Jason in confusion. "Smi-ith!" Jason whined, as everyone looked at him. Rudy raised his eyebrows at the camper. "Oh, all right!" he continued grumpily, "I suppose you know anyway, if you've read our application forms." He took a deep breath. "I play goalie on the same team as Smith. My dad got talking to his dad at a game and that's why we're both here. We're going straight to training camp after this."

Davis' jaw dropped open. "You've been playing left wing! All summer! And you're horrible at it!"

Jason frowned at him. "Well, I know that. I just wanted to try though. I never get to play anything but goalie normally."

"Right," said Rudy, "Lieutenants Smith and Jason, you're in charge of soccer strategy."

"That leaves the obstacle course," said Jimmy, dubiously. "I don't think anyone here is secretly an obstacle course champion."

"No," said Rudy, and an evil glint appeared in his eye, "But I have an idea. Davis, Jimmy, you're both promoted to Lieutenant, with special responsibility for the obstacle course. We'll talk after breakfast and I'll tell you what I have in mind. Lieutenant Gabe, you're in charge of espionage. Your job is to find out everything you can about what Cabin 12 is planning."

"Yes, sir, Commandant!" said Gabe, smartly, making all the other boys laugh.

"Do you really think we can win, Miller?" asked a camper, a little wistfully.

Rudy just raised his eyebrows. "I am certain of it," he said. The boys cheered and whooped at this answer. Just then, the wake-up bell rang, and Rudy looked around the room. "Less of this lolly-lagging!" he said, severely, "Shape up, boys...'

"...Or you don't eat!" the campers chorused with him, and laughed as they began to scramble out of bed to go to breakfast.

The whole camp was buzzing with news of the competition between Cabins 12 and 13 when they got to the mess hall. Mike was relieved that the tension of the previous night had vanished, and the remaining cabins seemed about equally divided between supporting Cabin 12 and supporting his own campers.

"You guys better beat them," said a camper from Cabin 10, grinning at Davis. "They whomped us at almost everything this summer."

"They suck!" yelled a camper from Cabin 6, pulling a face at Rudy. "They'll never win!" The Cabin 12 campers cheered at this statement.

Rudy just ate cereal blandly.

Gabe suddenly wormed his way between Rudy and Mike at the breakfast table. "Hey, guys," he said, "I just heard who the referees are going to be. Mark Talbot, the counsellor from Cabin 3, is charge of the chess game. Chris Stevens and two kids from Cabin 1 are going to referee the soccer. Sam and Bob are organizing the obstacle course."

"Excellent work, Lieutenant," said Rudy, stealing a piece of toast from Mike. Gabe grinned.

"Good choices, too," said Mike, grabbing another piece and slathering it with marmalade, which Rudy hated, before it too could be filched from him, "Chris and Mark are okay."

Rudy nodded. "Excellent," he said again, musingly, "Mike, can you cover the rest of the campers while I have a chat with our Lieutenants?"

Mike nodded, "Of course," he said, confused, "You don't need me?"

Rudy looked at him. "Hmm," he said. "No, not for the meeting. Gabe, can you round up the other officers and meet me back in the cabin? Tell everyone else to meet Mike on the baseball diamond." Gabe nodded, and rushed off to catch up with the other boys, who were finishing up their breakfast and wandering away.

"Great plans are afoot," said Rudy, with satisfaction as he stood up.

Mike looked at him distrustfully. "You're not going to tell me what you're plotting, are you?"

"All in good time," said Rudy, and stole his toast.

* * * * *

By the time Wednesday night rolled around, Mike was exhausted. The previous two days had been a whirlwind of activity as Cabin 13 prepared for what the campers had taken to calling the Great Battle of Algonkian Island. He sat on the floor of the main room of the cabin, leaning against one of the bunks, and listened to Rudy make the final preparations for the competition with the boys.

"Lieutenant Harold," Rudy said, "Report?"

Harold unfolded a wrinkled piece of paper. "I got all the matches organized with Joe Thomas," he said, "He's organizing the chess side of things in Cabin 12. We got every game we wanted except for two, but those could go either way. Everyone knows who they are playing?"

The assembled campers all nodded seriously. "Mike is playing against Nick," Harold continued, "Our espionage department tells us that Nick is pretty bad, but so is Mike, so I don't know about that game."

The campers all grinned at Mike, and the two boys next to him patted his arm consolingly.

"Hey!" said Mike, mock-annoyed, "I'm doing my best!"

Harold glanced at him apologetically and looked back over his sheet. "That leaves you to play Chuck," he said to Rudy, "I think we're ready."

Everyone cheered until Rudy cleared his throat. "Smith, Jason. What about the soccer?"

Smith pulled out a clipboard. "The team is ready. We're fielding a 3-4-4 combination at the start of the game, Defence is good, but we're still weak on the offensive side. We've got to score goals, guys."

Jason broke in. "Bad news though. They know that I'm the goalie. We got caught practicing penalty shoots."

The campers all murmured in dismay at this. Jason's expertise in goal had been one of their secret weapons.

Smith shrugged. "They still don't seem to know about me, so we still have an element of surprise. We're as ready as we're going to be," he finished, looking over at Jason for confirmation.

"Yup," he said, "Just everyone keep calm on the pitch, listen to Smith, listen to me, and we'll be golden."

Everyone clapped and hooted.

Rudy held up a hand for silence. "Finally, obstacle course."

"We're all set," said Jimmy, with a distinctly evil grin.

"And we know that we'll get away with this?" asked Mike, for the fifth or sixth time.

Davis nodded. "I talked to Sam and Bob, and they talked to Cabin 13. Every camper has to make it over every obstacle on the course. The total team time is the time from the first person leaving to the last person going over the finish line. Those are the only rules."

"Cabin 12 have practiced six times," said Gabe, "They have three people who are pretty slow. Chuck yells at them a lot. They think we're crazy because they don't think we've been practicing."

The campers all grinned at one another.

"We're ready," said Jimmy.

"Excellent," said Rudy, sweeping a look around the room. He came to his feet. "It is a most serious time that we enter upon," he said, striking a pose, "But we enter upon it in good heart, and in good friendship! Long live the Beaver!"

The boys took up the shout, "Long live the Beaver! Long live the Beaver!" they cheered.

Mike put his head in his hands and laughed until he cried.


Chapter 13 Part I: The Great Battle of Algonkian Island; or Long Live The Beaver!

Thursday morning dawned bright and clear. The campers were up early, nervous and excited about the day ahead, which was due to kick off as soon as John was off the island.

"How is it that everyone in camp is talking about the competition, and John hasn't even noticed?" Mike asked, sitting down across from Rudy at the breakfast table.

"He had a sudden influx of very urgent paperwork," said Rudy, blandly, pouring milk into a glass. "Do you think bacon is supposed to be this colour?"

"Shut up, Miller!" yelled a voice from the kitchen.

Mike ignored the interruption. "A sudden influx of paperwork," he said, suspiciously, "Would you have had anything to do with that?"

Rudy widened his eyes at Mike. "Me? How could I have?" he said, "I really don't think food should move independently on the plate, you know."

"Miller! This is your last warning!" called the same voice from the back.

Mike looked at him. "I don't know how you do half the things you do," he admitted, "But I recognize your evil genius at work when I see it."

Rudy looked up from his contemplation of his eggs. "Why, thank you, Mike," he said, "I'm profoundly moved by your compliment."

Mike eyed him. "If you steal my toast, I'll profoundly move you to another table," he threatened.

At that moment, John stood up at the front of the room and announced, "Campers! I'll be off-Island today. In my absence, Chuck Daniels of Cabin 12 will be acting Head Counsellor."

The Cabin 12 campers cheered. Mike rolled his eyes.

John turned to Chuck, "Walk down to the dock with me, Chuck, I need to tell you a couple of things." He turned to leave with Chuck, and as the door closed behind them, a huge surge of chatter broke out, as the rest of the campers eyed Cabin 12 and 13 speculatively.

Mike looked down the table at the Cabin 13 campers, fizzing with excitement beside him. "Everyone ready?" They nodded, looking nervous. "Uh. Gabe?" said Mike, suddenly catching sight of the camper.

"Yeah?" said Gabe, cheerfully.

"Your hair?" said Mike, trying not to laugh, "You don't appear to have any left at all."

"Aerodynamics!" said Gabe, giving him a thumb's up sign. "I did it last night!"

Mike looked at Gabe's bald head. "Uh. Okay then. Well, let's go down to the first event, guys!"

Reaching down to pick up the last of his toast, he grasped nothing but empty air, "Damnit, Rudy!" he shouted after his retreating friend, "Why do you always steal my toast?"

* * * * *

The chess game was set up in the picnic area. All the tables had been pushed closer together, and three boards were set out on each. One table, set off to the side a little, was set up with two boards, and was intended for the four counsellors.

"Cabin 13! Huddle!" called Harold over the buzz of the crowd, as Mike stepped into the large clearing by the woods. Most of the rest of the campers had come to watch the game, and were sitting on the ground scattered around the tables.

Mike joined the other members of Cabin 13 in a tight bunch around Harold. "Everyone remember what I taught you," he was saying seriously. "Don't let your opponent worry you. Concentrate on the game, not the player."

The boys all nodded seriously. "Long live the Beaver!" shouted Gabe.

"Long live the Beaver!" yelled all the other boys in response, and then clapped and cheered.

Chuck sneered at them from the other side of the clearing.

"Places everyone!" shouted Mark Talbot through the megaphone, "Places please!"

The boys all scrambled for their seats.

"We have a forty minute time limit on the game," announced Mark, "Spectators, please keep the volume to a minimum. We'll put the scores on the chalkboard," he waved at a big chalkboard on his right, "as games are completed."

He paused, and lowered the megaphone as the last of the chess players sat down. After a few moments, he raised it again, "Ready? Then start!"

The players all started their clocks and began their games. Mike tried to concentrate on his game with Nick, who was gingerly advancing a pawn on his side of the board, and not look round to the campers or to Chuck's game with Rudy.

For a while, there wasn't much noise; a gently murmur from the watching crowd, the click and tap of pieces moved and chess clocks struck, the occasional soft exchange amongst players.

Suddenly Jimmy jumped to his feet. "Checkmate!" he called, and Mark stepped over to adjudicate.

"That's one to Cabin 13!" said Mark through the megaphone, and a Cabin 3 camper chalked up the score on the blackboard.

Mike turned round to clap along with the crowd while Nick thought about a move. Jimmy grinned at him, and went to go watch Harold's game against Joe Thomas.

"Check," said Rudy, softly. Chuck grumbled, and bent his head over the game.

A few minutes later, five more games had declared a winner, and the score stood at four games to Cabin 12, and two to Cabin 13.

"Check," said Rudy, again, as the applause died down from the sixth declaration.

Mike tried to force his attention back to the board, and looked at it in dismay. Nick was chasing his last remaining pieces all over the board. Suddenly he saw an opening. "Checkmate!" he said, as he moved his piece into place, and raised a hand to summon Mark Talbot. "Good game!" he said cheerfully to Nick, offering to shake hands as Mark announced him the winner. To his surprise, Nick smiled back, and shook his hand heartily.

"Not really," said Harold, at Mike's elbow, looking at their board. "Absolutely horrible, in fact."

"Hey!" said Mike, "I won, didn't I? How did you do?"

Harold pointed at the board, which now read Cabin 12: 4, Cabin 13: 4. "Joe was an interesting player," he said, "I enjoyed our game."

"Checkmate!" called another voice behind them, and Mike and Harold turned to see Jason, his head in his hands, looking at his board in dismay as his opponent jumped up from his seat.

"Check," said Rudy, and Harold turned back to watch his game.

The minutes ticked by. Then there was a sudden spate of shouts, and the score stood at seven games each, with only three pairs still playing. Mark Fields was caught up in an epic battle with Adam Taylor, Gabe was playing an unorthodox game against a bewildered chess novice, and Rudy and Chuck were still playing at the counsellor's table. Most of the spectators were intent on this latter game.

"Check," said Rudy.

"What's going on?" whispered Mike to Harold as they hovered near the table.

Harold shook his head, his eyes wide and confused. "That's the ninth time he's called check. He could have finished the game fourteen moves ago."

Mike looked at Rudy, sitting indolently in his seat at the picnic table, cool and unconcerned. By contrast, Chuck's face was contorted with the effort of thought, and he was sweating profusely. "If I was Chuck," Harold said, "I'd have conceded twenty moves ago."

Chuck, catching this remark, looked up at Harold and scowled. Harold blinked, and stepped back. Chuck glanced over at the scoreboard.

Suddenly, behind them, Gabe stood up with a shout, "Checkmate!" he called.

Mike watched as Chuck seemed to grow even more tense. He fumbled with a pawn, advancing it, and then pausing with his finger still on the piece, his brow furrowed. Rudy looked at him and sighed. As soon as Chuck released his piece, Rudy moved his knight.

"Check, and mate," he said, his tone bored, raising a hand to summon Mark. Just as he did so, Mark Fields stood up as well, "Checkmate!" he said, grinning.

Mark Talbot walked quickly from one board to the next and then held up his megaphone. "Gentleman! This competition is at an end. Our winner is Cabin 13, with ten wins out of a possible seventeen!"

The crowd clapped and cheered, while the Cabin 13 campers danced around and hugged one another. Chuck refused Rudy's politely outstretched hand, and stomped away from the clearing just as Mark announced "That means the competition is currently at one-zero, to cabin 13!" The crowd broke out in cheering and some good-natured booing.

"The next event will be the soccer game," Mark continued, when the noise died down, "Which will be refereed by Cabin 1. Players, please be ready in one hour! Spectators, please sit along the west side of the field if you want to watch the game!"

Boys streamed away from the picnic site, laughing and talking about the chess game. The Cabin 12 campers headed dispiritedly towards their cabin, consoling one another as best they could.

* * * * *

"They look pissed," whispered Jimmy, as he and the rest of the Cabin 13 team warmed up on the edge of the soccer field.

Mike glanced over. Cabin 12 did look pissed, Chuck most of all. He was standing in the middle of the ball passing practice Cabin 12 were finishing, barking at them angrily.

"Don't worry about them," Mike whispered back, "They'll get over it once the game starts."

Jimmy looked doubtful, but ran off to join the huddle of campers that Smith was calling to order towards the centre of the pitch. Mike and Rudy jogged over to meet them when he beckoned.

"Keep cool," Smith was saying, "If you get stuck, kick the ball out of play, or try to pass it to me, or to Jase."

The campers all nodded. "Okay," said Smith, "We're golden."

"Long live the Beaver!" yelled Gabe.

"Long live the Beaver!" everyone yelled back, and Mike and Rudy jogged back to the sidelines with the three substitutes.

Out in the centre of the field, the two team captains shook hands. The whistle blew.

"And the game has started!" announced an excited camper from Cabin 1 over the megaphone. "Cabin 12 are in early possession. As you all know Cabin 12 is currently at the head of the camp leader board in the soccer tournament while Cabin 13 are at the very bottom, four points adrift of the second lowest team. Cabin 13 is captained by David Smith, who attends school in the Ottawa area. Cabin 12 is captained by John Jones, of Kingston, Ontario."

Mike tuned out the announcer and kept his eye on the players. Gabe, Smith and Harold were the three strikers. Harold had been the biggest surprise of Smith's new look soccer team. "He's little," Smith had explained when Mike asked, "But he's quick and he's sneaky. Plus, with all the chess, he has great spatial awareness."

Suddenly there was a flurry of activity, and Mike was up on his feet as one of the Cabin 12 players made a break towards their goal. "Catch it Jason!" he heard all the kids yell as the ball arced slowly through the air towards goal.

Jason jumped up and the ball deflected harmlessly away from his gloves.

"A great save by the Cabin 13 goalie!" the announcer said cheerfully, "Jason is the goalie in the Ontario Under-14s team but has been playing left wing for Cabin 13 while at camp in order to improve his pace, according to a pre-game interview."

Mike laughed. "Our kids were giving pre-game interviews?"

Rudy raised an eyebrow.

As the game went on, Mike cheered and jumped up and down with the campers, while Rudy remained calmly in his seat, occasionally hand-signalling Smith. Chuck, meanwhile, yelled at his team throughout from the sidelines, shouting instructions, praise and thinly veiled insults at his players as they ran past.

Rudy looked at him with his usual inscrutable expression. "Chuck reminds me of a trip to Toronto Zoo I went on when I was at school," he said loudly, "There was a special exhibition of howler monkeys."

Mike choked with laughter.

The minutes were ticking away towards half time, and the score was still nil-nil. Mike was just starting to relax a little, thinking they had survived the first half without conceding a goal, when suddenly the Cabin 12 captain, Jones, faked out the defender in the mid-field, and ran towards goal. He drew his boot back and the ball sailed in the top corner of the net, just past Jason's reaching hands.

The crowd went wild. The Cabin 12 players converged on their captain, hugging him and patting him on the head before running back to take their positions. Two seconds after play resumed, though, the whistle blew, and both teams ran off the field towards their benches.

Mike handed out drinks and towels to the sweating boys. "You looked good," he told them, "You did well to hold them to one goal."

Smith nodded. "We just need to push forward a bit more, guys."

The campers nodded, frowning in concentration while Rudy and Smith talked tactics with them. After a few minutes, the whistle blew again, and the campers ran back on to the field for the second half. "Keep going, guys!" Mike yelled after them, "You can do it!"

A couple of campers turned back and waved, grinning.

"And so we start the second half," said the same excitable camper over the megaphone, "With Cabin 12 just edging ahead with one goal. Can they hold on to the lead over the next thirty minutes?"

For the next ten minutes, Mike was on a knife-edge. Cabin 12 continued to have the best of the chances, but Jason and the other Cabin 13 defenders constantly frustrated them.

All of a sudden, though, the tide turned, and Smith was racing down the field, the soccer ball apparently glued to his feet, Harold running with him towards the goal. Caught on the hop, the Cabin 12 defenders tried to keep up, but were outfoxed by Smith. On the edge of the box, he passed to Harold, who lined up to shoot and...

"Foul!" screamed Mike, along with most of the rest of the crowd.

The Cabin 12 defender who had taken Harold down was looking worried, bending down over the small form of Harold huddled on the ground. Smith signalled Mike frantically, who grabbed his first aid kit and ran onto the field.

"I didn't mean to!" the Cabin 12 player was saying, "Is he all right?"

Mike knelt next to Harold. "Hey Harold," he said gently. "Where do you hurt?"

"My f-foot," Harold said, "The one I hurt on the lake."

Mike eased Harold's boot and sock off, murmuring comforting nonsense when Harold flinched. The long cut in Harold's foot from the boating accident was bleeding sluggishly.

"That's a yellow card for Gus Wilson of Cabin 12 for that foul," said the announcer, "And a penalty kick to Cabin 13."

Mike assisted Harold from the field as Jimmy rushed on to substitute for him. They turned back just in time to see Smith line up for the penalty. The goalie, terrified, dove right as the ball flew from Smith's feet. The ball slid sweetly into the net on his left.

Mike jumped up and down, yelling, on the sidelines. "And that makes the score one all!" said the announcer.

The game seemed to speed up suddenly, the campers racing from one end of the field to the other. Mike glanced anxiously at his watch. "We must be into injury time," he said, standing up again to look at his campers. The boys all looked tired. "Not much longer, guys!" he called out to them, "Just hang in there!"

A moment later, there was some kind of confusion in the mid-field, and two of the Cabin 13 players crashed into one another. Seeing an opening, one of the Cabin 12 strikers got possession of the ball, and pelted down the field. In the net, Jason readied himself, and threw himself down in front of the ball, reaching out for it. As it bounced towards the goal, it hit the ground in front of him, striking an uneven piece of ground and flying over his prone body and into the net behind just as the final whistle blew.

"Noooooo!" howled the Cabin 13 campers and their supporters. The Cabin 12 campers ran around the pitch, celebrating.

"And Cabin 12 win the game!" screamed the announcer into his megaphone, "With a narrow two-one lead. That means at the end of the second competition, the teams are tied! Well done every... hey give that back!"

The deeper, calmer voice of Chris Stevens, the referee took over. "That concludes the soccer game. The third challenge, the obstacle course, will take place at two this afternoon. We'll now break for lunch."

At the Cabin 13 bench, the team were miserable.

"It was a good game," said Smith, unlacing his boots, and looking at them sadly, "Well played."

Jason had taken his gloves off and was stomping on them. "In the last minute! In the last twenty seconds, they get one by me!" he howled, furiously.

"How can I run around the obstacle course with my foot like this?" Harold was saying, upset.

Mike grimaced, and glanced over at Rudy.

"Come, come," said Rudy, raising his eyebrows. "We can't let a little thing like this minor defeat concern us. Everyone go wash up, consume whatever the kitchen staff are passing off as lunch today, and meet back at the cabin in an hour."

The boys smiled weakly, and set off slowly back towards the main camp buildings.

"Seriously, what do we do now?" whispered Mike, keeping a close eye on Harold, who was limping with Davis' help towards the nurse's station.

"My dear Mike," Rudy said, superciliously, "We have not yet even begun to fight!"


Chapter 13, Part II: The Great Battle of Algonkian Island; or Long Live The Beaver!

It was a forlorn gathering in Cabin 13 after lunch. Harold's foot was bandaged up to the point where he could hardly put it in his shoe, and he was limping badly. The other boys were tired and dispirited after the difficult soccer game.

"Twenty seconds!" said Jason, for fortieth time.

Smith patted him on the arm. "You saved a dozen though," he said consolingly, "Some of them were good chances too!"

Mike smiled at him. He was sitting on the floor of the main room while Rudy, Jimmy and Davis conferred about obstacle course strategy in the counsellor's room. "It was a good game, guys!" he said, encouragingly, "Think how much better we did than the last time we played them."

Everyone thought about their previous eleven-nil defeat by Cabin 12 in the intra-camp soccer competition for a moment and looked marginally less depressed.

"We won the chess pretty convincingly, too," said Mark Fields, cautiously cheerful. "At least it's a tie going in to the last event."

Mike nodded encouragingly. The campers began to look a little more cheerful.

"But the obstacle course," said Harold, despairingly, "I can't run!"

The room was plunged once more into depression.

"Twenty seconds!" said Jason, again.

Mike was relieved when, a few moments later, the door between the rooms swung open and Rudy and the two campers stepped out into the main cabin. Rudy was, as always, inscrutable, but Davis and Jimmy were grinning from ear to ear.

"This is not the scene of unbridled enthusiasm and energy I was hoping to see," said Rudy, taking in the glum expressions of the silent campers.

"They're worried about the obstacle course," said Mike.

"Ah, the obstacle course," Rudy said, "Fortunately, I have a plan." Beside him, his co-conspirators were practically bouncing with excitement.

The other campers exchanged looks, and slowly, smiles spread across the faces of all the campers in the room. Mike sighed, watching the ripple effect, as Rudy's cunning achieved what a half hour of his own patient encouragement had not.

Rudy retrieved the chalkboard from the room he shared with Mike, and propped it up against the wall.

"If I can direct your attention to figure A," said Rudy, pointing at the upper left corner. "Now, what I have in mind is...'

* * * * *

At ten minutes to two, the obstacle course field was filling up quickly with spectators. Sam and Bob were standing in the middle of the field directing spectators to the designated seating areas.

Cabin 13 marched onto the field en masse, carrying a hastily assembled flag bearing the words "LONG LIVE THE BEAVER', and an inexpertly drawn picture of a small toothy mammal ("It looks more like a rabbit than a beaver!" said Davis critically. "Do I look like an expert in beaver-drawing?" asked Jason, scowling at him, "Do you want to do it? No? Then just hand me that pot of brown paint.") Cabin 12 were already on the field, quietly warming up while Chuck bellowed at them and Nick skulked in the background.

Rudy made the Cabin 13 campers form a circle, and ran them through some stretching exercises. Sam and Bob walked over to them. "Everything all right?" Sam asked, chewing nervously on his moustache. "Shame you lost the toss this morning. Chuck wants his team to go first."

Mike grinned at him. "We wanted to go second anyway," he said, cheerfully, "Where do you want us to stand while they go?"

"Over by the finish line," said Sam, pointing. "Good luck guys!"

The campers all waved as he and Bob jogged back to the centre, and the whole team marched off to the finish line, which was at the top of a short slope. From there, Mike looked out over the course.

There were ten obstacles in total. Some easy, like the row of tyres pinned to the ground that the boys had to skip through, and some rows of short hurdles. Some were more difficult. There was a group of tall poles, connected by horizontal ladders that the boys had to hang on to as they swung their way across the intervening space. There was a set of ropes used to swing across a pit of mud. The worst was the very last obstacle, which all the campers called the wall. It was shaped like the letter A, with the steep sides covered in nets to help them climb up and over before they raced up the hill to the finish line.

At the far end of the course, Chuck was still yelling at his campers, who were lining up at the starting line.

"Gentlemen! We're about to start the obstacle course race that will decide today's competition!" announced Sam through the megaphone. "The first team up this afternoon will be Cabin 12, including their two counsellors, Nick and Chuck!"

He paused while the spectators cheered. "The only rule is that every person in the race must successfully pass through every obstacle in order, and reach the finish line. Bob will be timing both races, and we will record the time it takes from when the whistle blows until the last team member crosses the line as the total team time."

"Cabin 12! Are you ready?" he shouted, turning towards the field.

"Yes!" yelled out Cabin 12.

"On your marks! Get set!" called Sam over the megaphone, and then blew the whistle as hard as he could.

The crowd cheered as Cabin 12 set off from the starting line towards the first obstacle, the hurdles, with Chuck and Nick's longer legs propelling them straight to the front of the pack. The boys streamed over the hurdles, and headed towards the next obstacle. Already though, two of the boys were starting to fall behind while others surged ahead.

The main pack of Cabin 12 hit the fourth obstacle, the rope swing over the mud, in a group. As there were only three ropes, they ended up bunched up on one side while their team-mates swung across and then sent the rope back. Meanwhile, up at the seventh obstacle, Nick and Chuck were crawling under the knee-high nets that had been placed across two tunnels made of railway sleepers. Other campers were still swinging across the metal ladders back at the third obstacle. One camper in particular kept falling and having to go back to the start.

The crowd cheered and roared as the race progressed, with just a nervous oasis of calm around the waiting Cabin 13 team. Some of the campers had set their own stopwatches going at the start of the race to keep track of Cabin 12's time. "Four minutes," whispered Davis to Jimmy. "They're ahead of where we plan to be at this point." Jimmy nodded, and frowned in thought.

Chuck and Nick, still miles ahead of the rest of the group, had just arrived at the wall, and were swarming over the top and down the other side in seconds. They broke into a sprint for the last few yards up the hill to the finish line, where the waiting spectators cheered their arrival.

Back on the obstacle course, the Cabin 12 team was spread out over a large number of obstacles. As soon as he had been marked on a chalkboard as having crossed the line, Chuck ran down from the finish line onto the field and began to shout at the campers at the very end of the line. "Come on! Hurry up! You're letting the team down," he howled, "Thomas! Get moving!"

Rudy raised an eyebrow. "Definitely a howler monkey," he said, "They make a hobby of flinging dung, you know."

The Cabin 13 team giggled, and then turned back to watch the action unfold. Cabin 12 campers were arriving at the finish line now, red and sweaty, and were cheering their remaining team-mates on. The last campers were just then clearing the ninth obstacle, the tyres, and heading towards the wall. Tired, they struggled up the steep slope with difficulty, Chuck hollering at them from the sideline of the course. Finally only Joe Thomas, the Cabin 12 chess champion, remained; he kept skidding down the side of the wall and getting tangled up in the net. Chuck was red with the effort of screaming at him.

"Poor kid!" said Mike, under his breath, to Rudy. The camper looking terrified and miserable. "He looks like he's going to cry."

Finally, Joe made it over the top of the wall, and began clambering slowly down the other side.

"Faster! Faster!" Chuck was yelling.

Joe staggered to his feet as he dropped off the last part of the wall, and started to run, panting breathlessly up the slope. The other kids in Cabin 12 were hopping up and down and screaming encouragement right up until he crossed the finish line.

The crowd cheered as he collapsed in a heap just past the line, tired and pale under his tan.

"The Cabin 12 team completed the course in nine minutes and twenty-six seconds!" called Sam through the megaphone. "Well done to Cabin 12!"

There was a huge roar from the crowd as the time was announced.

"Cabin 13! Will you take your places, please!" said Sam.

Mike, Rudy and the campers set off down towards the starting line in a tight huddle, leaving their flag at the finish line.

"Everyone remembers what they're doing?" said Davis, as they walked briskly to the flags that marked the start of the course.

Mike nodded solemnly along with all the campers.

"Harold?" said Jimmy, who was carrying a backpack, "You doing all right?"

Harold was limping badly, but was keeping up with the group somehow. "Yes," he said, his face white and determined. "I know what to do."

Cabin 13 lined up at the starting line. "This is going to be so much fun!" said Gabe, grinning, as he found his designated place at the front of the group.

"Cabin 13! Are you ready?" called Sam.

"Yes!" they all screamed back, waving at him.

"All right then! On your marks! Get set!" he called, and blew the whistle.

Mike crouched down, and Harold got onto his back, piggy-back style, wrapping his arms around Mike's shoulders.

"Okay back there?" Mike said, as he set off jogging towards the hurdles. "Hang on tight!"

He jumped lightly over the beams set just off the ground, aware that the rest of the Obstacle Course Plan was kicking into action around him. Jimmy and Gabe, the two fastest runners in the cabin, were out at the front of the pack, clearing obstacles as fast as they could. Rudy was jogging along in the middle of a large phalanx of campers. Mike, carrying Harold, and Jason, one of the slower runners in the cabin, brought up the rear.

The main part of the group hit the third obstacle. There were only two rows of rungs, and it had been a major bottleneck for Cabin 12. However, as Cabin 13 arrived, boys started swinging across the gap as fast as possible, while Rudy boosted other kids up to the top of the structure, to crawl across the rungs behind them. At the other end, the kids on the top of the obstacle were helped down by their team-mates.

Meanwhile, at the seventh obstacle, Jimmy and Gabe had unpacked the backpack and were unrolling long sheets of plastic along each net covered tunnel, before pouring out the contents of two big bottles of soapy water all over the plastic as they crawled through. Popping out the other side, they ran on, Jimmy turning back for a moment to wave at Rudy, who had run ahead of the main body of campers to the rope swing, to let him know their objective had been achieved.

Rudy waved back, and then swung across the pit. As the big group of campers jogged up, he took charge of the ropes, catching campers and swinging the rope back to speed up the process. Other campers simply threw themselves into the mud pit and waded across as fast as they could, helped out on the other side by Davis, or took a running leap at the pit if they were taller. The whole group passed through in half the time Cabin 12 had taken.

Mike breathing hard, arrived at the pit just as the last of the previous group swung across. Harold slid down from his back, grabbed a rope, swung across, and waited for Mike to hit his side of the pit and pick him up again. "Foot all right, Harold?" Mike asked, breathlessly, as he jogged on.

"Yes, it's fine!" called Harold, hanging on tight as they ran down a slight hill.

The crowd was screaming as the main group of Cabin 13 campers arrived at the seventh obstacle. The first boy in the line, Mark Fields, sprinted towards the long sheet of plastic leading into one of the tunnels, threw himself down onto it, tucked his head in, and moments later, popped out the other end of the tunnel, sodden and grinning. He leapt to his feet and ran off, followed by the other campers.

"I can't believe it's working!" yelled Mike as he and Jason, still somewhat behind, negotiated the second set of hurdles.

"I can't believe you didn't think it would work!" said Jason, laughing.

The main group of campers was soon running through the tyres, muddy, wet, and grinning from ear to ear, Rudy once again at the head of the pack. He reached the bottom of the wall and bent down, his hands cupped together. As each camper ran up, he put a foot into Rudy's waiting hands and was thrown up towards the top of the wall. He climbed a few feet, and then Gabe or Jimmy, who had been sitting on top of the wall waiting, grabbed his hand and helped pull him up to the top.

Mike was tiring rapidly at the back of the group, and was relieved to take even a short breather at the seventh obstacle while the boys slid through on their improvised Slip 'N Slide.

"I could run for a bit," said Harold, anxiously, as Mike appeared dripping on the other side.

"Nah, I'm fine," said Mike, "Just don't grab my neck, okay?"

Jason jogged just ahead of them as they ran on, finally reaching the bottom of the final obstacle where Rudy was waiting for them. He flung first Jason and then Harold up to the top of the wall, and saw them both over the other side before he and Mike started climbing. Harold, descending to the ground, found Jason and three other campers waiting for him. Stiffening his limbs, and folding his arms across his body mummy style, he waited while the boys lined up, two either side, and linked hands, and then fell forward into their impromptu stretcher. Calling out marching instructions, Jason got them all moving briskly towards the finish line, Harold working hard to stay completely still as they jogged along.

Mike was grinning as widely as any of the campers when he and Rudy hit the ground on the other side of the wall and signalled Gabe and Jimmy to follow them. They jogged quickly up the slope, crossing the line just behind Harold and his assistants. Mike could hear Chuck screaming about cheating somewhere in the crowd, but ignored it in favour of grabbing Rudy's wrist to see how long their team had taken. Eight minutes and forty-five seconds. He looked back towards the course. Jimmy was sprinting towards the finish line, but Gabe was still at the top of the wall, scrabbling frantically at his foot.

"He must be caught up in the net!" said Mike, as Jimmy came through the line, grinning from ear to ear. Gabe was still struggling. "What should we do?"

Even as he said it, he saw a flash of light on a blade, and Gabe was soon sawing away at ropes at his feet. "Nine minutes ten seconds!" shouted one of the campers.

"Come on, Gabe!" everyone screamed.

Suddenly Gabe was slipping down the wall, jumping the last few feet and then breaking into a run as soon as he had his balance.

"You can do it, Gabe!" Mike yelled, "Come on!"

Gabe put on an extra burst of speed and shot over the finish line, crashing into the rest of the Cabin 13 campers.

"And Cabin 13 have finished the race in nine minutes and twenty seconds!" announced Sam over the megaphone.

The crowd went wild. Davis picked up the Beaver flag from where they had planted it in the ground at the start of the race, and waved it wildly while the Cabin 13 campers all chanted "Long live the Beaver! Long live the Beaver!"

"Told you!" Gabe was telling everyone, "I told you I'd be more aerodynamic without any hair!"

Into this scene of jubilation broke Chuck, his face puce with anger and exertion. "Cheaters! You cheated!"

"We did not!" said Mike, hotly, facing off to him. "All our campers made it through every obstacle in order."

"You were carrying one of them!" Chuck bellowed back.

"He hurt his foot in the soccer game!" said Davis, coming up beside Mike with Rudy. "He still made it through all the obstacles!"

Chuck ignored him. "And you helped them!" he said, poking at Rudy's chest, "You helped them up onto the wall. You let them build a slide under the nets!"

"It wasn't against the rules," said Rudy, calmly, brushing at the spot where Chuck had prodded him, "You could have done exactly the same thing."

"There was nothing in the rules, which you agreed to, Chuck, to say you couldn't do any of the things Cabin 13 did," agreed Sam, coming up beside them.

Chuck made a wordless sound of disgust and anger.

"Wow," Joe Thomas was saying to Davis, by Chuck's elbow, "That was so cool! Did you guys practice with the Slip 'N Slide much?"

Suddenly, Chuck rounded on the him, "You! If you hadn't been so slow, we would have won! You should be thinking about that, not their cheating tricks!" he howled.

Joe flinched back, his face crumpling in distress. Mike stepped forward and shoved Chuck as hard as he could, away from the two campers.

"You TWIT!" he screamed, pushing Chuck again, "Don't you dare yell at the kids! They all tried really hard today. Don't you dare!"

Chuck raised a fist, but the blow never fell. Bob had appeared behind him and wrapped one large hand around Chuck's wrist. "I can break your arm with one finger," he rumbled threateningly, "You don't want to know what I can do with my whole hand."

Meanwhile, Rudy had dragged Mike back out of harm's way and had Mike's arms pinned down by his side. "We really need to get you a better class of invective," he was saying, his voice amused, "You really can't just go through life calling people twits."

"Well, he is a twit!" said Mike, angrily, struggling to get free.

"Undeniable. He's also literally twice your size," Rudy said soothingly, "So try not to get too worked up, okay? Besides, your audience is already as impressed by you as they're ever going to be, no need to spoil it by being pounded."

The Cabin 13 campers, Mike noticed as the red haze dissipated from in front of his eyes, were staring at him in stunned admiration. Self-consciously, he stopped struggling, and shook off Rudy's arms as they loosened. He smiled weakly at the campers. "Uh, sorry guys," he said, going red, "I got a little carried away there."

Chuck had also been released. " Don't think you've gotten away with this Miller!" he started, still furious.

"Oh, shut up, Chuck," said Rudy, placidly.

"Yeah, shut up, Chuck," said Nick, suddenly, from where he'd been standing with the Cabin 12 campers. "I'm sick of you yelling at the campers and at me all the time. I'm going to ask John to move you out of my cabin. Maybe you can help him with the paperwork or something."

He crossed his arms, and went to stand by Rudy and Mike. After a moment, most of the other counsellors joined him.

Chuck, stunned, opened and closed his mouth like a fish for a few moments, until finally he said "Fine!" in an angry voice, and stomped away from the field and the group of clones backing Rudy and Mike.

Rudy moved away and picked up the megaphone. "On behalf of Cabin 12 and 13, I would like to think you for coming to watch today's events," he announced to the spectators "I would like to conclude today's competition by sharing with you the immortal words of wisdom bestowed upon us by our Founder, Elias Warden the First. 'All cats love jam! All boys love camp!' and on behalf of the victorious Cabin 13, I would just like to add, long live the Beaver!"

It was Mike, as always, who started laughing first, but it soon spread to the campers and counsellors all over the field, until all that could be heard on Camp Algonkian Island were howls of merriment.


Chapter 14: All Things Must....

Against all the odds, seemingly, life after the Great Battle of Algonkian Island settled into the normal ups and downs of a summer camp. In Cabin 13, Smith resumed his restful approach to life, curling up in his bunk and declining to emerge except for the occasional meal, despite the pleas of the camp soccer team captain. The campers lost most of their games in the sports activities, returned to the cabin at night plastered in mud more often than not, and generally enjoyed themselves hugely.

Davis, released from Rudy's moratorium on "extracurricular' activities, subjected the camp to the Saran Wrap Incident (INGENUITY: +10, AMUSEMENT VALUE: +50, WASTE OF KITCHEN RESOURCES: -1, IMPLICATING YOUR COUNSELLORS: -300). Jimmy accidentally blew up the darkroom in the Arts and Crafts cabin. Gabe shaved his eyebrows in vertical stripes as they grew back in.

Chuck, deprived of his campers, continued to snap and snarl at Mike and Rudy, but having lost his support among the clones was merely a minor annoyance. At night, he would sit and sulk among the clones, while Mike, Rudy, Sam and Bob sat on their usual log and toasted marshmallows.

The days rushed by, until suddenly the campers were packing, desperately looking for lost possessions and exchanging e-mail addresses so they could keep in touch.

"Gentlemen, if you would care to follow me," said Rudy, walking into the cabin on the last evening. He held a wooden box, made of some kind of thin planed wood. There was no lid, just a covering of straw. Mike, beside him, held another box, this time cardboard and marked with the Fedex symbols. Rudy nodded to Harold, who picked up his bassoon, and followed Rudy out the door.

"What's going on?" said Gabe, curiously.

Mike shrugged. "I'm just a box carrier," he said, grinning, and followed Rudy out of the cabin towards the docks.

Intrigued, the campers formed a semi-circle around Rudy as he stood on the dock, his wooden box in his hands. "I am sorry to inform you," he began, as the last camper joined the circle, "That the remains of the Beaver washed up on shore two days ago. I thought it fitting that on this, our last night on Alcatraz, we should mourn his passing properly." He held up the box. "The Beaver's earthly remains," he said, seriously.

Setting the box on top of the water, he said, "Beaver, we commit you to your long overdue grave," he said, solemnly, and, lighting a match, dropped it into the straw and pushed the box out into the lake.

Harold, taking this as his cue, began to play a dirge on his bassoon.

Mike, unable to keep a straight face for a moment longer, spluttered and choked as he started to laugh. After a moment, the campers all joined him, except for Harold, who played on, his eyes closed. The last notes died away just as the general hysteria subsided.

Rudy sighed. "Young people today," he said, "No sense of decorum."

Behind him, the Beaver's funeral pyre suddenly flamed blue and green, there was a loud pop, and the box abruptly sank without trace. Mike hiccupped with mirth.

"Despite the sad occasion, it is my duty this evening to present the Miller-Webster award for the Cabin 13 camper who finished their sentence at camp with the highest number of points in our private competition." Rudy produced an envelope from his pocket. "I'd like to start with the runners-up, starting with Harold, for his creative use of Jell-O; Jason, for the incident with the showers in the first week; and Gabe, for creative personal hair-styling throughout."

The campers all clapped politely, and Gabe grinned widely at everyone. "I'll be branching out into dyes next year," he said, beaming.

"The winner though, despite his subsequent faux pas in naming me as a co-conspirator, is Chris Davis, who managed to ensnare not only John, but also both Chuck and Mr Warden himself in the Great Saran Wrap Incident. I give you Davis!"

Everyone hooted and clapped, and Rudy reached for the box Mike still held. "Your first job as honorary Keeper of the Beaver," said Rudy, opening the lid and retrieving an even more alarmingly toothy taxidermed rodent, "Is to restore this Beaver back to his rightful place in the Arts and Crafts cabin. Sadly, all things must end, and the Beaver should probably return to grace the still life exhibit."

"The Beaver is dead! Long live the Beaver!" said Rudy, placidly, handing Davis the Beaver Mark Two. The boys laughed, and took up the shout until the dinner bell rang back at camp and they had to rush back up to the cabin.

Mike and Rudy followed more slowly. "Do I want to know where you obtained a new beaver?" Mike asked, his ribs aching with laughter.

"Jeffrey," said Rudy, sublimely indifferent, "And before you ask, I don't know where he got it from. I find it better not to probe too deeply into the doings of my little brother."

Mike looked at him speculatively. "You know, that box for the original Beaver. It looked awfully familiar."

Rudy glanced over at him reproachfully. "You mean you didn't recognise the emblem of our youth that I just burned and drowned?"

"No, I don't..." said Mike, confused, "Oh wait, no! You didn't steal the boards from someone's bunk, did you?"

Rudy just carried on walking serenely. "Shape up Webster, or you won't eat," he said, pointing to where the campers were already jogging down the path to dinner, and speeding up to a slow run himself.

"Rudy!" Laughing, Mike put on a burst of speed to catch up with him.

* * * * *

The next morning, parents and guardians started arriving early to pick up their kids. The first boatload arrived on the island as early as eight, Smith and Jason's families among them.

"He looks so well," gushed Smith's mother to Mike. "It must be all the fresh air. And to think we were worried he'd find it too tiring to do summer camp and training camp back to back."

Behind her, Smith rolled his eyes and shook his head. "He, uh, he definitely found some activities that he enjoyed," said Mike, shaking hands with her quickly.

Smith grinned and winked at him, before following his mother down to the dock to where Jason and his father were waiting with Rudy.

"What is that?" asked Jason's father curiously, pointing at the small flag still flying on the mast of the submerged dinghy by the dock. "Some kind of marker?"

"Oh, that's the boat that sank," said Jason, brightly. "On the first day too! That's even before the one that sank at Theresa's camp!"

Aghast, Jason's father glanced over at Rudy, and hurriedly suggested that he and Jason immediately board the ferry back to the mainland. "Bye!" called Jason, waving from the window with Smith.

"Have fun at soccer camp!" Mike yelled as he waved back.

The boys left in ones and twos all day. Davis' parents seemed relieved to find him in one piece. "He sends the most hair-raising e-mails," his mother confided to Mike, "About beavers, and competitions, and people blowing up the darkroom."

Mike bit his lip, and tried to look surprised. "Oh, really?" he said, desperate not to catch Davis' eye. "Well, he did get dunked in the water a couple of times, I suppose. Shall I show you back down to the docks? The next ferry is due to leave in a few minutes."

Harold rushed up to him on the path with a small stooped man in tow. "Do you know where Miller is?" he asked, "My chess coach would like to meet him. He says I've developed a Machiavellian touch since Miller started to play with me in the evenings."

Wordlessly, Mike pointed towards Cabin 13.

He saw the Davis' and their son off, and was still on the docks pointing some parents in the right direction for Cabin 4 when Gabe appeared beside him. "Hey!" said Gabe, cheerful as ever. "This is my brother Luc. My parents are in Europe still, so he came to get me. I was just going to show him around camp."

"Hi," said Mike, transfixed by Luc's hair. Like his little brother, he was bald, apart from a single spike, growing from the centre of his head and dyed purpled, gelled to stand upright.

"Hey! Gabe tells me the eyebrows were your idea," said Luc, grinning as happily as his brother.

"I, uh, I may have mentioned the idea in passing, in his hearing," said Mike, feebly.

"Do you mind if I steal it?" said Luc, seriously. "I might dye mine in stripes. Zebra pattern, you know?"

"Uh, no, absolutely," Mike said, "Knock yourself out."

Luc shook his hand, and went off with his brother to see the sights. "This is where I fell in the mud most times..." was the last thing he heard Gabe say as they disappeared into camp.

* * * * *

Hours later, sitting by the campfire for the last time with Bob and Sam, he had them howling with laughter at the tales of the family visitors. The counsellors were all on the Island for one more night, having spent the evening after the last campers left clearing up their cabins.

Sam wiped a tear away from his eyes. "You guys really did get all the freaks in your cabin this year."

"They were good kids," Mike protested, "Mostly."

Sam grinned at him. "You and Miller are just too much like them to notice how freakish they were."

Mike laughed, and accepted a perfectly toasted marshmallow from Rudy.

"They were almost tolerable," said Rudy, thoughtfully. "It was almost like having minions. I haven't had proper minions in years."

Sam grinned at him.

"So, Miller," he said, "How can I convince you to pose for me before school starts?"

"Pose for you?" said Mike, curious, "You paint portraits?"

Sam nodded. "Nudes, mostly," he said.

Mike blinked. "And you want Rudy to pose for you?"

Rudy yawned. "Do you want another marshmallow, Mike?"

"No, thanks," said Mike distractedly.

"Bob already did," said Sam.

Mike's jaw fell open, and he looked at Sam's silent shadow, who appeared to blushing. "Uh," he said, stunned, "That was, uh, nice of him."

"Before these revelations become all too painfully personal," said Rudy, standing up, "I think Mike and I should go pack our bags ready for our escape from here tomorrow."

Mike stood, and exchanged slightly dazed good nights with Bob and Sam, with promises to exchange contact details in the morning. He and Rudy wandered slowly back up to the cabin. It seemed very strange for it to be empty of the fifteen boys and their belongings.

In their room, Rudy yanked his bag from under his bed and began to sort his belongings out. Mike started to do the same thing, but then paused, sitting down on the edge of his bed.

"Rudy?" Mike said, hesitantly.

"Yes?" Rudy didn't look up from where he was shoving dirty clothes into the bottom of his bag.

Mike took a deep breath, and screwed up his courage. "If you were going to seduce me," he said, hating the way his voice went all high and scared, "Now would be a good time, before we go back home and we're surrounded by our parents, and your brother, and my little sister, and the five and a half million other people in Greater Toronto."

Rudy's hands stilled. He didn't turn around. The silence stretched out.

Mike felt the hot wash of colour up his neck and face. "Oh my God," he said, horror-stricken, "You didn't mean... You don't... Oh God, I'm going to kill Jeffrey."

Rudy hadn't moved. Mike jumped to his feet. "I'm just going to... I'll just. I'll go." he stuttered, stumbling towards the door blindly as Rudy still didn't say anything.

Just as he reached for the door handle, Rudy's hand closed over his trailing arm, yanking him to a halt. Mike swung back to meet his eyes.

"Do you mean it?" Rudy asked, his own face pale, "Say you mean it."

Mike gulped. "I mean it."

Rudy tugged him closer. "Say it again."

"I mean it. I mean it. I mean it." Mike said, wildly, watching as Rudy, Rudy the imperturbable, Rudy the calm, Rudy the impossibly unmoved, started to smile, his lips turning up, his eyes lightening, dimples appearing in his lean cheeks. Mike took a step closer, until he could feel the warmth of Rudy's body so near his own. "I really do. I mean it, so much," he whispered.

He closed his eyes, and the smiling lips touched his, and gentle hands slid into his hair, thumbs shivering over his cheekbones. At first it was gentle, just a breath of touch between them, Rudy's lips warm and dry against his, moving away to whisper over the planes and hollows of his face. After a few moments, they returned to his mouth, and nibbled against his lower lip. Mike sighed, and licked his lip. Rudy kissed him again, a little harder, but still playful.

At some point, they left playful behind, and Mike found himself pressed between the door at his back, and the heavy, trembling weight of his best friend, his hands scrabbling at Rudy's waist, trying to find a way to skin.

He broke away, moaning as Rudy's lips descended to kiss their way down his throat.

"Rudy?" he said, "Rudy..."

"I meant everything I said," Rudy murmured against his skin, "Every time I said it. You've been driving me crazy for months. You just never seemed to notice."

Mike sighed, and leaned harder against Rudy. "You should have just done this," he said, finally loosening Rudy's t-shirt from his jeans and slipping his hand beneath to stroke warm skin, "I would have noticed this. You should have done this our first day here."

Rudy gasped at the first touch, and arched harder into Mike. "We would never have left the cabin," he said, his breath warm against Mike's ear, "Oh God, do that again."

"It might have been an education for the campers, too," said Mike, laughing against Rudy's warm shoulder, his breath hitching as Rudy's hand slid down his spine.

"They wouldn't have come in without knocking more than once," Rudy agreed, sliding his hand underneath Mike's shirt, and helping Mike lift it over his head, before shedding his own.

Mike lost track then, caught up in the warmth of Rudy's arms, the whispers of passion and laughter that ghosted over his skin. There were flashes of lucidity: lying down with Rudy, the bed creaking and squeaking so hard under their combined weight he was certain it was going to give way; Rudy's sleepy, lazy smile between kisses; the sudden urgent question as the passion mounted:

"What have you done, Mike?" asked Rudy, against his lips, his land low on Mike's stomach.

Mike, nervous and enchanted by the position of that hand, shivered. "Done?" he said, confused, "Rudy...?"

He slipped his fingers into Rudy's hair, pulling him down for a kiss. Rudy sighed, and sprawled over him, the hand between them slipping a little lower. "You've been with someone else?" Rudy asked, his voice patient.

"Th-there was a girl," said Mike, bewildered. "In Grade 12. She had curly hair." He arched up from the bed as the heavy hand on his abdomen started a gentle rubbing motion. His voice acquired a note of desperation. "Does it really matter right now?"

"No," said Rudy, and smiled, and kissed him, and slipped his hand lower. The world slid away again.

* * * * *

Later, sleepy, sticky and tangled together, there was more time for conversation.

"I'm sure I don't really want to know," said Rudy, "But what exactly does my brother have to do with you suddenly getting with the program?"

Mike laughed, and then winced as the bed beneath them groaned and squeaked. "When we were having pancakes, he told me you had two other job offers for the summer, that you didn't have to come here."

"So you decided I must be secretly in love with you, just from that?" Rudy said, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, that and Jeffrey welcoming me to the family," Mike said, starting to laugh, and then yelping as Rudy's arms tightened.

"He didn't," Rudy said, his voice pained.

"His exact words were that I didn't have to hold back in front of him if I wanted to hug you or 'whatever it is you guys do'," said Mike, "I think he thought we were being stoic when you went into the clinic to get your knee checked. He told me your parents were just waiting for you to tell them about us."

Rudy's arms slackened. "I'm going to kill him," he said, "Forget the bike, my parents should be worried about fratricide."

Mike chuckled. "After he said it," he said, "I thought maybe, you know..."

"You mean when Jeff smacked you around the head with a clue, you thought there might be something in it?" said Rudy, raising his eyebrows. "And how do you explain the last two weeks?"

"I wanted to be sure," Mike said, softly, "You're my best friend. I didn't want to lose that. And. Well, it was fun. Tormenting you a little. Plus, you toast a great marshmallow when you're motivated."

Rudy looked taken aback for a moment, and then pounced, his fingers going straight for Mike's ribs. "No! No! No tickling!" gasped Mike, laughing. "Stop!"

As he writhed, he banged his leg hard into Rudy's, who pulled away, his hand going straight to his still-bandaged knee.

"Ouch!" said Rudy, sitting up and massaging the joint.

"Oh, geez," said Mike, sitting with him. The bed creaked ominously. "Are you okay?"

"It's fine," said Rudy, "You caught one of the scars. They're a little tender if you knock against them."

He lay back down, pulling Mike with him. "What did you do, Rudy?" asked Mike, softly, his fingers tracing the edge of the bandage. "I looked on the net, but I couldn't find anything about an accident on the track or anything."

Rudy cleared his throat uncomfortably. "I... uh... I haven't told anyone, really. It's kind of embarrassing."

Mike looked at him, wide-eyed. "You did it having sex?" he said, his voice squeaky with shock.

Rudy blinked. "No!" he said, "Why would you think that? No! I fell in a hole. I landed with my leg underneath me, and wrenched my knee."

"You did what?" said Mike, choking on a laugh, "What kind of a hole?"

"What do you mean, what kind of a hole?" asked Rudy, irritably, "It was a hole. One second I was innocently walking along a street, and the next minute, I was at the bottom of a hole."

Mike started to laugh. "I don't believe you!" he said.

Rudy reared back, poking him in the ribs with his elbow. "I can introduce you to the lawyer who is suing the highways authority in Montreal if you like."

"Oh, I believe you fell in a hole!" Mike said, still laughing, "Just not that you were walking innocently anywhere!"

"You know, one of your jobs as my boyfriend is to appear at least vaguely sympathetic when I am injured," Rudy said, loftily.

Mike stopped laughing. "Am I?" he said.

"Unsympathetic?" said Rudy, "On current evidence, I would have to say yes."

"Your boyfriend?" said Mike, smiling uncertainly.

Rudy just looked at him. "I came back to Alcatraz for you," he said, "What do you think?"

Mike pulled him back down onto the bed, and answered with kisses.

* * * * *

When the bell rang the next morning, Mike sat up, "Oh, shit," he said, "Rudy, Rudy, wake up!" He shook Rudy's shoulder violently and desperately fought with the sheet they had pulled up over their bodies late in the night.

Rudy sighed, and opened his eyes. "I see if I had been hoping for a relationship in which you woke me with tender protestations of love, I would be doomed to disappointment."

Mike paused in his task of shoving his clothes into his duffel bag for a moment, confounded. "You wanted that?"

Rudy stretched lazily, "Sarcasm," he yawned, "A dying art."

Mike remained confounded, watching the ripple of muscles under Rudy's skin as he shifted beneath the sheet.

"Mike?" Rudy said, sitting up, "Earth to Mike?"

Blinking, and shaking off thoughts he most definitely didn't have time for, Mike, threw Rudy's jeans from the night before at him from off the floor.

"That bell means we have a half an hour before the boat leaves," he said, "So unless you want to stay on Alcatraz, I suggest you pack. In a hurry."

Rudy slid out of bed and rapidly buttoned up his jeans. "Appealing though the idea is of you, me, and an empty rustic cabin," he said, shovelling clothes, books and personal items into his bag feverishly, "I'll give it a miss if we can find somewhere equally empty with a larger and less noisy bed."

Mike stopped his own headlong rush around the room, collecting his belongings. "Yeah?" he said softly.

Rudy looked up, and his habitually cool mask broke for a moment. He grinned at Mike, and his face flushed a little. "I can remind you why that would appeal, if you like," he said, his voice husky.

A loud hooting noise broke into their moment. "Crap!" said Mike, "That's the damn boat!"

They had to run to make it onto the boat, and once there the clones, busy comparing stories about their next destination, surrounded them. "Miami!" Chris Stevens was saying. "Sun, sea and life-guarding duties."

"I have to work in my dad's hardware store," said Mark Talbot, gloomily. "Advising people on nails for the rest of the summer. Can't wait."

"Anywhere with a decent bed," groaned Chuck, "Some joker half dismantled mine a few night's ago and I've been sleeping on the floor ever since."

Mike bit his lip.

"How about you, Miller?" asked Sam. "Did you decide whether to pose for me?"

"Alas, no, I will be depriving the world of that masterpiece," said Rudy, "I start training again in a week. Mike and I are going to Montreal 'til then."

Sam looked over at Mike speculatively. "Oh, really?" he said.

Mike felt himself blush right up to his eyebrows. "Yeah," he said defiantly, "French accents. Legal drinking age of 18. What more could a man want?"

Sam grinned, and seemed about to answer when the ferry came to a bumpy halt on the mainland dock, and whatever his response would have been was lost in the rush to disembark.

John shook hands with them as they left the dock, wishing them success and saying to many of them that he hoped to see them next year. He pointedly left this segment of his speech off when he said good-bye to Mike and Rudy.

Mike was still laughing about this when Sam and Bob came over to say good-bye too, exchanging pieces of paper with their e-mail addresses on and promises to keep in touch. "Bye guys!" Mike called, as they ran over to join the others and climb aboard the bus.

A few of the clones waved as well. Mike sank into the passenger seat of Rudy's car. "Montreal?" he said, raising his eyebrows.

"Friend of mine asked me to house-sit for a week. Full-sized bed," said Rudy, in a satisfied tone.

Mike grinned over at him, slightly shy. "Sounds good to me," he said, softly.

Rudy threw the car into reverse.

"Shit!" said Mike, hanging on to the dashboard, "Holy crap, Rudy! Watch out for that truck!"

John watched Rudy Miller's car rocket out of the parking lot, and pause for only the briefest of moments to avoid a collision with a large truck. He sighed. That was one counsellor he hoped never to see back at Algonkian Island!

"Delivery for Camp Algonkian Island?" he called up to the truck driver.

"Yeah, sports supplies," replied the man, pulling out a clipboard. "Can you sign for it? It's for the attention of some guy called Marmalute Leibinger the Third."

Puzzled, John accepted the clipboard, and scanned down the list. "Well, this all looks to be in ord... What the---? A thousand volleyballs?" he howled, suddenly recognising the name the driver had been given. He ran out into the road, where the dust from Rudy's passage was still settling. "Miller!" he howled, "Miller!"

"Is that John back there in the road?" asked Mike, looking in the side mirror.

"Looks like it," said Rudy, "I think he's waving."

"Huh," said Mike, squinting in the mirror, "Weird."

Rudy looked over at him for a moment, and Mike saw the wicked glint in his eye.

"Holy crap! Watch the road! Watch the rooooooad!" gasped Mike, and resigned himself to a very long drive.


Epilogue: One Year Later

Canada's Golden Boy -- "This Time Last Year, I Was At Summer Camp"

For his first major interview since his triumphant return to Canada with three Olympic gold medals, Rudy Miller chose to meet me in the lobby of a large, expensive hotel in Montreal. Asked about the venue, the 20-year-old athlete, a native of Toronto and student at McGill when he isn't representing Canada on the track, replied only: "Montreal is my favourite city, it's a lot of fun."

This measured, some might even say bland, response is typical of Miller, who, despite his achievements has come in for considerable criticism from the press. A difficult interviewee, his laconic responses to questions and refusal to take part in what he once described as 'asinine talk shows' have not endeared him to the media. Despite his reticence, however, Miller remains a regular feature in the gossip columns of some newspapers. He shrugs off the speculation about his allegedly reckless driving stunts and his public relationship with University of Ottawa student Mitchell Webber, 19, who accompanied him to the Games this year, saying only: "It's the price of fame. I don't let it bother me."

I ask him about other changes in his life since he ran in the Olympics this spring, and he briefly becomes more talkative. "This time last year I was working at a summer camp," he tells me, "I was recovering from a knee op after an injury. I wasn't even sure then that I was going to be able to compete this year, let alone go to the Olympics."

Like most people, I am familiar with Miller's refusal to discuss the circumstances of his knee injury last year, which required two operations and lengthy absence from the track. Up to now, his whereabouts during that break were unknown. Miller refuses to disclose more, but investigation later revealed that he spent several weeks working at Camp Algonkian Island, an exclusive summer camp for boys in southern Ontario. The manager and former Head Counsellor at the camp, John Paffey, declined to comment on Miller's employment, remarking only, cryptically: "Miller! Don't talk to me about Miller! A thousand volleyballs!"

Other sources were less reticent. Former campers who lived in Miller's apparently notoriously misbehaved cabin, remarked that Miller was "Awesome!" and "Only the best camp guy ever!".

These endorsements may come as a surprise to many of his fellow athletes, among whom Miller has developed something of a reputation as an inscrutable schemer. Canadian teammate and rival, Jonathan Welsh, recently described Miller in an interview as "diabolical'.

"I don't know what he meant by that," Miller responds when I ask. "I don't think of myself as being any more devious than the next man."

Mike paused in his dramatic reading of the article and started to laugh. "'No more devious than the next man', " he chortled. "Yeah, if the next man's last name is Borgia."

"Why are you reading that crap?" Rudy asked lazily, as Mike continued to giggle. He was lying on his back on the rumpled sheets of the bed in their hotel room. A room service trolley was pulled up between the bed and the armchair where Mike was lolling, reading the feature section of the Sunday paper.

Mike wiped at his streaming eyes. "To see whether they got my name right this time."

Rudy sighed. "Alas, some poor sap called Mitch at U Ottawa is even now being e-mailed by everyone who knows him to find out if he's lucky enough to be having sex with 'Canada's Golden Boy'."

Mike hiccupped with mirth. "Lucky enough!" he repeated, grinning at Rudy.

Rudy rolled over to face him. "It sounds like John remembers me with all the fondness I would expect. Perhaps I could take up a career in camp management if running doesn't work out for me."

Mike grinned, and turned the newspaper over again to look at the photos of Rudy that accompanied the article: a head-shot of Rudy, his expression typically bland; Rudy warming up at a deserted track; Rudy standing on the medal podium receiving his first gold, the Canadian flag in the background. "I love how they make it sound like you were at summer camp last year in the headline, and not working at summer camp. Thankfully, you're not quite that young."

Rudy batted his eyelashes. "Are you suggesting you wouldn't love me if I were only fourteen?"

Mike stood up, stretched luxuriously, and then dropped onto the bed next to Rudy. "You forget, I knew you when you were fourteen." He reached out to glide his hand down Rudy's muscle-rippled abdomen. "You didn't quite have the body back then, for a start."

Rudy rolled away from him. "Hey!" Mike protested, "Where are you going?"

"To look up Mitchell Webber's phone number. I'm sure he'd promise to adore and worship me if I were still fourteen."

Mike laughed again, and scrambled up to his hands and knees to pin Rudy down. "Twit," he said, affectionately, dropping his head to nibble at Rudy's lower lip.

He had only a split second's warning before Rudy unseated him, rolling them over until Mike was pinned down instead. Rudy bent his head, his lips an inch from Mike's. "Shape up, Webster," he said, his eyes sparking, "Or you won't get any."

Mike freed one hand and tugged Rudy down to him. "Yes, sir, Commandant Miller," laughed Mike, reaching up press their lips together. Rudy's hands clenched on his hips, and he dragged Mike closer. Mike pulled away, gasping. "Oh my God," he said, "That gets you hot! You like me calling you that. You pervert!"

"Just shut up and kiss me," Rudy said, uncharacteristically flushed.

So, still laughing, Mike did.

THE END
(maybe)
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