A/N: Still a work in progress, the story is about a sports magazine reporter assigned to write a piece on a high school girls basketball team in the Midwest. The team has won several championships despite being fed by a small, poor town on the river. The following sections involve the reporter, Ben, interviewing the coach, Hatch and briefly meeting his wife, Jenny. These are incomplete but should offer an idea of what's to come.

Hatch's house was located in a new subdivision just south of town, on a street of thin-walled, split-level duplicates, except for their paint jobs. Ben parked just short of the mailbox on the street and made his way up the driveway; Hatch's wife - Ben knew her name was Jenny - had gardened the area to both sides of the front porch with flowers. The door had a knocker installed, but Hatch had opened it before Ben made the stairs. Hatch was in his sweatsuit, a paw thrust out for a handshake. He squeezed hard again and Ben hardened at yet another coach who enjoyed showing off his strength.

Inside, the decorations were bright and sweet; it was the type of surroundings Ben imagined he might have liked had he not grown up rich and in the city. The carpets were beige, and ornate arrangements of fake flowers - orchids, irises, poppy stems - graced most of the end tables in the living room, which included a widescreen television, a long, cream sofa and one overstuffed recliner.

"Jenny's work," Hatch said, noticing Ben's attention.

"Like it."

Jenny Hatch emerged from the kitchen and Ben was surprised - his stomach panged. He had guessed, for whatever reason, she'd have full lips and an open, Swedish-looking face. Instead here were hard features of a small, demure dancer, a dramatic, Russian face, the shoulders of Susan Sarandon. Pretty, yes - much more than that - her hair was tied tight into a bun, and she was dressed simply but tastefully in a white shirt and khakis. Hands at hips, she arched her back to regard him, raised an eyebrow to signify Ben's importance, tightened her bare lips. Her little brown eyes flickered.

"So," Jenny said.

"Mrs. Hatch."

She shook his hand with her long veined fingers.

"My apologies for clammy hands," she said.

"S'okay. I get that too."

Jenny turned to her husband. They exchanged looks that were meant for Ben to notice.

"Young," she said to Ben.

"Still under thirty."

"Could go either way," Jenny said to Hatch.

"That's what I'm thinkin," Hatch said.

"What?"

"Whether you'll do us right," Jenny said.

"That's my goal."

"We've been expecting it, the story."

"So the coach said."

Jenny took a full, clearing breath and looked to Hatch. "You'll see to him?"

"Mmm-hmm."

Jenny turned back to Ben. "Well then." She shook his hand again, brushed past him to a purse on an end table near the door and hustled out. The door closed inaudibly. Ben found himself following her through the window to her Honda in the driveway. A palpable silence, followed by Hatch.

"Formidable," Hatch said.

"Hmph."

Hatch chewed a forefinger. "Does that to me too."

Ben caught himself and blushed. Hatch motioned to the kitchen, which led to the small deck in back.

"Want something?" Hatch asked.

"No."

"Pickled herring?"

"Huh-uh."

"Hunk a cheese? Budweiser?"

"I'll take the beer."

The deck was barely large enough for a patio table and four chairs; as it was, the set was wedged so tight it blocked the doorway. They sat for a minute, drinking their cans of beer, listening to the grass stretch to the heat of the sun. Ben looked to the small backyard, landscaped within an inch of its life with planted baby firs, rock gardens, three bird baths and a preponderance of ceramic turtles amidst the clutter. It was barely a yard.

"Your wife's really done this back up," Ben said.

"You stayin across the river?"

Ben nodded. "That Hyatt."

Hatch snorted. "A Hyatt in a dump like that."

"Don't like it?"

Hatch puckered. "Whole city of Germans. That's why everybody's so old. Too tightass to have ever moved."

Ben didn't miss a beat. "On this side?"

"English. Irish. Scots. Got the meat packing plants on this side so you've got buncha Latinos. Coupla Indians. Coupla blacks."

"Secret?"

"You don't have to call it that."

"Nah nah. It'll stick. I have a secret, then. You wanna broadcast it to the world."

"It'd probably fit into the story."

Hatch leaned back in his chair. "And you won't call it country bullshit."

"No. No."

"Cornpone? Narrow-minded? Myopic?"

"No."

"Behind the times? Out of mode?"

"Coach. No."

"Stupid?"

"What is it?"

Hatch swigged his beer and pursed his lips. He ran his forefinger across his mouth as if it were a toothbrush. "Okay. Pop the recorder."

"You wanna know my secret," Hatch said. "Drive twenty miles west of here to Pendleton. That's the seat in next county. Go to Clete's Roadhouse, far edge of town. Order the tavern sandwich with pickle and mustard, side of homegrown tomatoes, piece of German chocolate cake. Leave a good tip. And before you leave you ask everyone in there - there'll be Clete, his wife, Jeanette the waitress and a coupla Pendleton Loan & Trust retirees who like to hash out the world's problems - you ask them who owns the best farm in the county. And they'll tell you Jim Breck. And then you ask them how long Jim's been at it. And they'll tell you going on about fifty years. And then you ask them when Jim got his start. And they'll tell you Jim's daddy had him on a tractor at seven and pulled him out of school when he was thirteen. And when Jim's dad died of lung cancer, Jim was nineteen, and he took over the farm full time. And he grew it. Took care of his mother, his one unwed sister, an autistic brother and the families of two full-time farmhands. Now he owns half the county's land."

"That's something," Ben said.

"Now here's the part you'll find objectionable," Hatch said. He settled himself better in the metal chair. "A lot of 'enlightened minds' will tell you the key to happiness is to sample every experience on the buffet. Go everywhere. Learn everything. Gorge and gorge and gorge on the full spectrum of life. To me, that's an excuse to be a flake. Life is, you find that one thing, or it finds you, or, in our case, it surrounds you, injects itself into your personality. And that's what you do."

"Find a niche," Ben said.

Hatch nodded.