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From the PublisherA powerful first novel. (Booklist, starred review)
The reader will be cheering for this determined and admirable character. (The Horn Book)
The reader will be cheering for this determined and admirable character. (The Horn Book)
From where he sat in the principal's office, eleven-year-old Ricky Gordon could see the empty swings in the playground rocking in the breeze. Fifteen minutes ago, beneath that blue sky that felt more like May than the first day of March, he'd gotten in a fight with Bugsie McCarthy, a sixth-grader twice his size. My father said the best thing your father ever did for your family was running his truck off of Dead Man's Curve. Although Ricky secretly agreed, Bugsie had no right to say it, so he'd attacked the bigger boy with wild, flying punches. It was a fight he'd lost, and as if to confirm it, he ran his tongue over his swollen, salty lip.
Mr. Daniels, the principal of Harmony Elementary, tapped his silver pen on the desk mat in front of him. "I'm getting tired of seeing you in that chair, Richard."
Not as tired as I am, thought Ricky.
"This is the sixth time you've been in my office thisyear for fighting." The principal gave the desk mat a harder rap. "The sixth!"
"The seventh," Ricky corrected automatically.
"I hope that wasn't meant to be a joke."
"No, sir, it's just ... it's the seventh, not the sixth."
"It's nothing to be proud of either way."
Ricky didn't respond; he usually didn't. He wouldn't have spoken up a moment ago, but he couldn't let Daniels' mistake pass; he had too great a respect for numbers. There was something clean and real about numbers. They were exact; they didn't lie.
"Now, I think I've been very lenient with you up to this point, Richard. I know you've had a hard time lately with your father's death and everything, but I can't let this behavior continue on my premises. Someone's going to be hurt, and I am ultimately responsible for that ... ."
Ricky watched the second hand revolve around the clock. Cripe, he'd already lost twelve minutes of math. Even though he was only in fifth grade, Mr. Garvey had him working at the seventh-grade level.
" ... One bad apple will spoil the whole barrel, Richard ... ."
If it takes 1 bad apple 2 days to spoil 4 apples, how long will it take to spoil a barrel of 84? Ricky wondered. By day 2, there'd be 5 spoiled apples; in a couple of days they each spoil 4, then those 25 ...
" ... And, frankly, I don't want any bad apples in my barrel ..."
Less than a week to spoil every kid in the whole school!
" ... There are certain rules the students of this school must follow ... ."
If the bad apple got paid 50¢ a head for spoiling all those apples, how much would he be paid?
"Rule number one! There is no, I repeat, no fighting on the premises ... ."
$42 or ...
"Are you listening to me, Richard?"
... 33 comic books and 75¢ left over--not including tax.
"This is exactly what I'm talking about, Richard. You haven't heard a word I've said. Because of your family situation I've been reluctant to call your mother in, but now I see I have to get her involved. If you won't listen to me, maybe you'll listen to her."
A jolt of protectiveness straightened Ricky's shoulders. "You can't do that, Mr. Daniels," he pleaded. "My mother's got enough to worry about."
"I'm afraid I don't have a choice."
Ricky's mind raced wildly. Already he could see the hurt in his mother's eyes, hear the disappointment in her voice as she said, You promised me. "Listen, Mr. Daniels, I'll make you a deal."
The pen hesitated in midair; then the principal asked in disbelief, "A deal?"
"You said you didn't want any fighting on your premises, right?"
"Well, if you don't call my mother in, I'll give up recess, and when I get to school in the morning, I'll go right to my classroom. That way, the only time I could get in a fight on your premises would be in class, and that wouldn't happen, 'cause Bugsie ain't in my class."
Mr. Daniels leaned back in his chair, shaking his head, a small smile lifting the corners of his mustache. "You'd do that?"
"If you don't call my mother in, I'll do it."
Mr. Daniels resumed drumming the pen as he thought. "If this doesn't work out, Richard, or if you end up in that chair again for any reason, I'll have to call her. Is that clear?
"You may leave now. And please tell Mr. McCarthy to come in on your way out."
Ricky closed the door behind him, then glanced at Bugsie, who was sitting on the black bench outside of Mr. Daniels' office. "He's ready for you," said Ricky, trying to avoid the older boy's glare.
"And I'll be ready for you on the bus, Gordon," said Bugsie, punching his right hand into the palm of his left.
Ricky looked up sharply, the anger he'd felt on the playground washing over him anew. His urge to hurt Bugsie was so powerful that he could envision his hands squeezing that thick neck, could see Bugsie's freckled face turning blue and his bugged-out eyes rolling like marbles in their sockets.
"Out of my way, wimp," said Bugsie, shoving by him.
It was enough to snap Ricky out of his fantasy, but for just a fraction of a second, as he watched the bully's strutting figure disappear into the principal's office, it amazed him that Bugsie was still alive and able to walk. Slowly, Ricky looked down at his clenched hands, and it was only then that he realized how difficult it was going to be to keep his deal with Mr. Daniels.
Lyle Benson, Ricky's one and only friend, looked uncertainly at the school bus that was preparing to leave. "You can't walk home, Ricky ... .
Ricky stood beside Lyle, searching the windows of the yellow bus for his little brother's face. He'd already informed Matt he was walking--had told him at lunch, "If I get on that bus there'll be trouble, and I can't afford it."
" ... it's more than five miles," Lyle continued, pleading his case.
"Three and a half," said Ricky. "And I'm walking. You do what you want."
"But if you don't take the bus, all the kids will think you're chicken of Bugsie."
"I don't give a rat's turd what they think," Ricky countered. He spotted Matt, who had his face squished against the window so that his lips looked like a brook trout's, his nose like a pig's. Ricky started laughingand gave him the thumbs-up sign for the funny face and for sitting up front, just like Ricky had told him to.
Lyle jabbed at his thick glasses until they rested squarely on his pug nose. "If I ain't home for milking, my old man will kick my butt all over the barn," he said nervously.
"Catch the bus then," Ricky snapped; he slung his backpack over his shoulder and stepped off the curb. When he reached the other side of the driveway, he turned around in time to see Lyle running for the bus. Ricky's stomach sank as he watched the bus lurch forward with a burp of exhaust. He thought Lyle had deserted him, but after the bus passed by, there was his friend, standing on the sidewalk, coughing and fanning away a black cloud of fumes.
A smile tore at Ricky's sore lip. "You going to stand there all day or what?"
Lyle started walking toward him with a martyred look on his face. "You owe me," he said.
Ricky didn't like owing anybody anything--not even his best friend. "This will make up for all the times I do your math homework," he told him.
Lyle jabbed at his glasses, then shot a wary look toward the bus that was already at the stop sign. "For someone who's so smart in math, you sure are stupid," he said. "Bugsie's gonna lap this up like a dog. Heck, he'll probably use it against you the rest of the year.
"A hundred-percent chance of that," Ricky agreed, then started walking across the empty playground,where patches of snow still clung to the mud and rust-colored grass.
"Never heard of anyone crazy enough to tangle with Bugsie," said Lyle, awe tingeing his nasal voice. "His whole gang's gonna be gunning for you. You won't be able to use the boys' room till September."
Ricky glanced down at his friend tagging along beside him. Lyle was the runt of the Benson family--short, spindly, always sick with asthma. "Any more good news?" he asked him.
Lyle was silent for a moment. "Yeah," he finally said. "Next year, Bugsie and his boys will be going to the junior high. We won't have to see that skid's face on the bus till we're in seventh grade."
Ricky and Lyle cut into the woods, following the narrow muddy path edged with white oak. Many of the grayish-white trunks had been carved with initials, hearts, and dates by students past and present at Harmony Elementary. On one tree, just below where the trunk turned into a V, Ricky's parents' initials were connected with a plus sign. More than once he'd been tempted to find a sharp rock and erase those scars from the tree, but something had always kept him from it--perhaps the fear that his father might find out.
Today, however, he passed by the tree without giving it a glance or a thought. His eyes were trained on the dirt trail in front of him, which was bedded with wet brown leaves and remnants of last year's acorns, his mind on what he was going to tell his mother. He had to have a good excuse to explain away his fat lip;there was no way he could tell her what Bugsie had said on the playground loud enough for Matt and everyone to hear.
The way his mother had been acting lately, Ricky wasn't sure what she'd do. Before his father had gotten killed, she'd never dared to say anything and hardly ever went out of the house. Back then, he could always trust her with his secrets. We have to make sure your father doesn't find out, or you'll feel the back of his belt for sure.
But now that his father was dead, his mother was breaking all the rules. She'd gotten a job sewing up at Mrs. Chaffee's and had started going grocery shopping with his aunts, who, when his father was alive, were never supposed to come over to the house. With her new haircut, she didn't even look the same. It was like he had a different mother, and now that they had a phone again, he was afraid that his new mother might even call up Mr. McCarthy if she knew the truth about what had happened on the playground. That's all I'd need, thought Ricky, Bugsie after me for that on top of everything else.
The thing was, Bugsie was right. Getting killed was the best thing his father had ever done for them. On New Year's Day, when "Our Cop," the town constable, woke them up to break the news, Ricky had felt so relieved he'd had to stop himself from singing out loud--Ding-dong, the old man's dead!
And at the wake, while all those grown-ups were walking back and forth in front of the casket pretendingthey were sorry, he'd just sat in a metal chair thinking about how nice it was going to be to go home and not find his father passed out on the couch. There would be no more running to the neighbors in the middle of the night in his underwear to call for help. No more lying in bed listening to the clink of beer bottles. No wondering what was going to set him off this time--potato chips eaten too loudly, a supper that wasn't hot enough, a misplaced screwdriver. No more of him. Ever.
As the two boys left the school woods behind and prepared to cross Route 26, Lyle sang "Hi ho, hi ho, off the premises we go."
It was enough to derail Ricky's train of thought, and he started laughing.
The smile on Lyle's face broadened. "Bet Daniels said that word a few million times when he had you in his office."
"No kidding," said Ricky. "That's his favorite word. But you have to Scouts' Honor you won't tell anyone about the deal I made with him."
Although Lyle had quit Scouts right after Ricky had been kicked out, they both continued to use Scouts' Honor on serious matters. Without hesitation, Lyle raised his two fingers. "Scouts' Honor," he said, then asked, "What about your lip? Your mother's gonna want to know how you got that."
Ricky touched his lip with a gentle finger. "I'll make up something," he said. "Maybe I got hit with a baseball at recess."
"Believable," said Lyle. "And it wouldn't be a whole lie, 'cause Bugsie did hit you at recess."
"At least I won't have to lie to her about the bus," said Ricky, easing his conscience more. "Even walking, I'll be home before she is. The only way she'd find out is if Matt told her, and he'd never do that." He and Matt always covered for each other. Their father used to say, "One lies and the other one swears to it." It was probably the only truthful thing their father ever said.
Ricky and Lyle walked along Route 26 for a quarter of a mile, sticking to the soft shoulder, then turned onto Ridge Road, which would eventually lead them home. The afternoon sun was warm on their shoulders, and a mingled scent of earth and manure wafted up at them. As they ambled down the country road that snaked its way past woods, fields, Hatchet Mountain, and a scattering of houses, the weight of Ricky's troubles seemed to grow a little lighter.
At the Bakers' farm pond the winter ice had already disappeared, and they stopped to throw rocks into the murky water. At the Williamses', whom Ricky's father used to call "them stupid city slickers," they spent a few minutes visiting with a golden retriever who'd run up the driveway. And by Slowpoke Clara's, who always seemed to take an hour getting on or off the bus, they found a dime. Ricky was just starting to think that walking home wasn't so bad when he heard the first faint rumble of the bus.
Both boys veered toward the side of the road, then turned and looked behind them as the bus, whichhad already made its loop around Mountain Road, rounded the bend and came into view. The bus picked up speed as the road straightened, the whining of its shifting gears making Ricky reach out to pull Lyle a little closer to the ditch. He braced himself as the yellow vehicle grew larger. It barreled by, its big wheels spitting sand into the hot tailwind, and he heard someone yell, "Hope you make it home before darrrk!"
Ricky glanced up just in time to see Bugsie and his gang laughing and flipping him the bird through the rear window.
He glared at the bus until it disappeared a few seconds later with the next twist in the road, then kicked at a stone and watched it skip across the tar, pretending it was Bugsie's head. "One of these days," he promised himself, "I'm gonna beat the crap out of that kid."
Lyle, who was cleaning off his glasses with the hem of his untucked T-shirt, added, "And one of these days Our Cop's gonna give Mr. Mack a ticket for driving so friggin' fast. Just hope I'm on the bus when he does."
"Scouts' Honor, his own mother won't know his face when I'm done with it." Ricky struck a boxer's stance and pummeled the air with his fists. "Take that! And that! You snot-sucking skid."
Having donned his glasses, Lyle jumped into the imaginary fray, throwing a punch at their invisible tormentor. "That's the last time he calls me Four-Eyes," he proclaimed, and they started laughing.
For a time, they chewed Bugsie up with brilliantstatements such as Lyle's: "Bugsie smells so bad he makes a wheelbarrow full of cow flaps smell like roses." But after two more bends in the road, their banter came to a sudden halt as both boys got a glimpse of the Beady property through the bare trees.
Ricky had been so preoccupied with the idea of keeping his deal with Mr. Daniels he'd forgotten that walking home included having to walk by ...
"The Murder House," croaked Lyle.
Copyright © 2001 by Sis Deans. All rights reserved.
Posted May 12, 2014
* basic shower wuth closed off sections. For privacy or comfort. Every wasable item is chained down and no casuaklties shall occur. If so...one hr in the Death Room *Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2011
The reason I loved this book is because it gets to the point and doesn't jump around. The characters are well described and it feels like you know them.
When I read this book I felt like I was there with the characters. I think that the author also did a great job on the settings. The settings are spread out and not crammed in on one page. The settings play a key role to the story and the suspense.
I though the theme of the story was "to never give up and follow your dreams."
Posted October 11, 2005
Posted July 8, 2003
This was an excellent comming-of-age story sure to give hope to readers everywhere. It is something that we can relate to, and its realistic edge adds the affect only great books posess. Two thumbs up, a worth-while read!!!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 17, 2013
No text was provided for this review.