Chapter 1: The Meeting
"How's your coffee, Mr. Jackman?" the stout waitress enquired.
"I could use a refill, thanks, Mabel, and for the fiftieth time, it's 'Paul', not 'Mr. Jackman'." I gratefully extended the mug toward the proffered glass carafe for another helping of boiler compound. Calling the dark substance produced from Manatee Bay's sole greasy spoon "coffee" would be far too charitable, but it did have that needed kick of caffeine to wake one up at this ungodly hour of the morning.
"So, Roger," I said, turning to the President of the Manatee Bay Parent-Teacher Association, "tell me again. Why for do you, and our esteemed Mayor," I pointed at the walrus-like form of Bill White, "and the Chairman of the School Board want to meet with me? By the way, Janet, am I still in the Board's bad books?"
Janet Brooks gave me the strangest look. I had a feeling that whatever was happening, she wasn't going to be exactly enthusiastic about it.
Roger Hollingsworth took control of the conversation. "Well, you know about how the State has mandated a number of school programs?"
"Yes, vaguely. I DO have two daughters, one going into Grade 8 in the fall and the other into Grade 5."
"And you're aware that they haven't provided any funding for these mandates?"
I thought I could see where this was going. My business is the largest and most profitable in the tiny community. I could see a request to open up my pocketbook coming up. As it turned out, I was wrong.
"Well, the unfunded mandate includes swimming lessons for all students from fourth grade on."
"Oh? You want the name of the contractor who built our swimming pool?"
"No..." Roger flushed. "We want to rent your swimming pool."
"You wanna WHAT?" I don't know which was more surprising, that statement, or the fact my eyebrows hadn't hit the ceiling. "You want ... to rent ... MY swimming pool?"
Roger nodded sheepishly. Janet stared at the table, clearly miserable.
I turned to Mayor Walrus. "Bill, you here to say anything, or are you just here for the free breakfast?"
"I'm here to provide moral support," the white-haired old political hack advised.
"To them or me?" I challenged.
He just grinned like a Cheshire cat and kept sipping his coffee.
"Paul, we don't have much choice here," Roger pleaded.
I agreed. "This town has had more than enough difficulties, hasn't it? The economic downturn, and then having its growth further constrained by being declared part of the watershed."
"Well, the point is that neither the Board nor the town has the kind of scratch we need to build and maintain a pool, much less staff one."
"So this isn't a one-day rental, but a long-term lease for year-long swimming classes. And how many students are we talking about here?"
Janet spoke up, clearly on the verge of tears. She obviously had memorized the numbers. "One high school, about two hundred students. Two middle schools, another couple hundred. Five elementary schools, there's another hundred kids."
I spoke slowly and deliberately, as to an idiot. Or in this case, three idiots. "So you figure your solution is to go to the owner of the local naturist resort and see if you can bus in some five hundred kids." Janet continued to stare at the Formica tabletop in unhappy fascination. Roger continued to look sheepish. Bill continued to smirk at me infuriatingly from behind his luxurious handlebar moustache. "For the mathematically challenged among you, I repeat: five hundred kids. It's one damned swimming pool. It's competition sized, but it's just ONE swimming pool."
"You have two," Bill reminded me, "the competition-sized indoor pool and the free-form outdoor pool. And the water's solar heated."
"Congratulations, you read the pamphlet I handed out at the last Town Council meeting. You'll note that nobody in the pictures on that pamphlet was actually wearing anything." I sighed. "OK, we can use the outdoor pool to teach the elementary school kids and the indoor pool to teach the teens. We still have one issue. No clothing permitted at the pool, full stop. You're going to be incredibly disruptive to my business, I should at least insist that if they're using naturist facilities, they're dressed in naturist outfits. I don't want to drive any more of my regular clientèle away than I absolutely have to."
It was now Roger's turn to look unhappy and Janet's turn to look indignant. Bill just sat there, hiding his smirk behind his now-empty coffee mug, amusement making his eyes glint.
There was a very long moment of silence – probably held in memory of deceased political careers, for agreeing to this would be a one-way ticket to Roger and Janet getting their mutual butts turfed from their respective offices at the next municipal elections. For the first time, Bill decided to contribute meaningfully to the conversation. "We were hoping you'd say that – either that, or go ahead and rent your facilities to a bunch of, what-you-call-them, 'textiles'. If you decided to insist on nudity, we could go back to the State and try for funding. And drag the press along."
The light dawned. "I get it. So if I hold onto my position, be unreasonable and all that, maybe that will raise enough of a media stink to loosen their purse-strings."
"You've got it," Bill smirked.
"Think it'll work?" I enquired hopefully.
"Nope," came the genial reply as Bill sat back with that infernal amused look still on his face. "You know who is heading up the Education Standards subcommittee? Farnsworth. Never met a penny he liked to spend. Good man, but a complete skinflint. He's on the record as saying he didn't care if kids had to go skinny-dipping to do so, they were going to learn to swim."
I did recall. I also recalled expressing at the time a deep sense of scepticism, which time had done nothing to diminish. "No way is the State going to fund this. They're in almost as parlous a condition as Manatee Bay. They do this for us, they'll be duty-bound to pay for every other broke little town and county up and down the coast."
"It's our only shot," Bill advised me.
I sighed in frustration. "How many a day would I expect?"
"We'll send a fifth of the students through each day. Half of those in the morning, half in the afternoon. That works out to fifty students each morning, another fifty in the afternoon, two sessions each. Plus the non-swimmers will be receiving individual instructions at the outdoor pool."
The pool has eight lanes – hey, the resort IS popular, just as popular as it was when the pool was built. My uncle was able to afford its construction easily, back when he was still alive and owned Barracuda Beach Naturist Resort, and we make good use of that size when we host the regional Nude Olympics every summer.
Janet added to the conversation for the first time in quite a while. "The afternoon classes could be bussed in just before lunch, share lunch with the morning classes at the resort, then the buses can take the morning classes back to their schools."
I did some mental math. "We are, just for the record, talking about having some one hundred kids in one spot at one time."
"Naked," I added.
They nodded again.
I sat back and fumed. I hate to be used as a catspaw in some insane no-win political game, especially one in which I myself may be looking at damages to my resort caused by even well-behaved teens. How many teens on a school trip are less than well-behaved? I shuddered to think.
"OK, then, if that's the game, we'll play for keeps." I crossed my arms and regarded the Three Musketeers across from me. Larry, Curly and Moe. The pair of hacks representing the school system regarded me much as a mouse would a ravenously hungry cat. Bill continued to regard me with that annoying look of absolute delight.
"First, I have costs too. You'll be using the bulk of the salts I use in place of chlorine; you're buying the salts. Here's a cost estimate. Add ten percent for cleaning costs." I hauled out a notepad and started scribbling. The three looked at the amount and agreed. It was far, far cheaper than building and running their own pool.
"Next, you're supplying the adult supervision." They nodded in agreement.
"Transportation, you provide." Again, no issues there – it was expected.
"Towels, no way I have enough. The kids bring their own." No cost to the school, so neither Janet nor Roger could object to anything there.
"Insurance to be provided by the school board." A cost they'd have to incur regardless of whether they went with me or with their own pool. They agreed.
"And all parties subject to this crackpot little agreement, being in full realization that they're entering a naturist resort, will be suitably attired before entering the premises. For further clarification, that means aside from hats and flip-flops, wearing absolutely nothing, period, full stop, end of discussion. And for even further clarification, that means that all students, teachers, lifeguards, whoever else they think they need, will get their togs off before they leave the resort's parking lot." Roger flushed. Janet's fingernails threatened to break the skin of her palms. Both reluctantly agreed. Bill just sat there and smiled with the amusement of a truly neutral observer. Why, I wondered for the umpteenth time, was that supercilious popinjay even here?
"One final point. Before they attend, I want everyone to sit through a lecture about what naturism is all about. That, or provide proof of their family's membership in a national naturist organization." Janet opened her mouth as if to object, but I hurriedly added, "I don't want anyone misunderstanding what a naturist resort is all about. I don't want anyone acting inappropriately in a naturist resort. Ours is a family resort, and the last thing I want or need is for some lunkhead, be they hormone-addled teen or hormone-addled parent, entering the resort under the misapprehension that it's Orgy Central. Got it?"
Both could see the logic. Both could also see the danger of being accused by the prudish of being fifth columnists spreading nudist propaganda.
"Agreed?" I challenged, scowling at Janet and Roger.
Reluctantly, Janet nodded.
"Anything to add? Any questions?" I asked.
"No," Janet assured me with a reluctant sigh, "you have us over a barrel. We need your pool, and you're in a position to dictate the terms, unless and until the State forks over funding for us to build our own."
"I trust the terms won't be that drastic that you'll have to turn down the offer. I'm not getting any profit from this, aside from, ahem, exposure to potential paying clientèle."
Small grins flickered briefly across both worried faces. Bill chuckled approvingly.
"We'll have to put this before the School Board for their approval," Janet advised me, "and I also want a vote of approval from the Parent-Teacher Association."
That explained Roger's presence. Politician, cover thy butt. Roger and the rest of the PTA board would cover the School Board.
Roger nodded assuringly at Janet. "We'll have a quick session just before yours starts, and give you the results of our vote then. I'm sure it'll be to approve." He smiled grimly. "It's not like we have much of a choice. We have to start teaching the kids swimming with the first full week of school, or the State will start levying fines."
"I'll see our lawyer this afternoon and have a proper proposal and contract written up," I assured them.
With that, the meeting broke up. As Janet paid Horace for our breakfasts, Mabel whispered to me, "So will our kids be using your pool, Mr. J?"
I looked over at Janet. "Looks possible. You have kids?"
"Two daughters, one goes into Grade Five in the fall, and the other into Grade Eight."
"So is your eldest my eldest daughter's classmate?"
"Yes, Mr. J, she must be! Say, do your daughters run around all nudie and that, like you?"
"Sure, why not? It's a family place. My children are being raised that way and I was raised that way, as were my parents before me."
That gave Mabel something to think about.