Jason is sure his sister, Becca, was murdered, but he’s the only one who thinks so. After finding a photograph Becca kept hidden, he decides to infiltrate a boxing gym to prove that she didn’t die accidentally.
As a transgender kid, Jason’s been fighting for as long as he can remember, and those skills are going to come in handy as he investigates. Quickly invited into the inner circle, Jason must balance newfound friendships with the burning hate that drives him. Jason soon feels torn between two worlds, determined to discover what happened to his sister but struggling with the fact that this is the first time he’s ever felt like he belonged somewhere.
About the Author
Tash McAdam is a Welsh Canadian author of several books for young people. Tash identifies as trans and queer and uses the neutral pronoun “they.” As an English teacher, they are fully equipped to defend that grammar! They teach high school English and computer science and have a couple of black belts in karate. They live in Vancouver.
Read an Excerpt
Jason's hands won't stop shaking. He clenches his fists, his sister's silver ring digging into his palm, but they keep shaking. He bursts into tears the second the door finally closes.
He can hear the footsteps of the police officer walking away. The same one who came six weeks ago to inform him of his sister's death.
Door closed and case closed. In front of Jason, on the sad, small bed in the sad, small room, is everything Becca left behind. Two boxes — a whole life — and Jason's hope for a future. He is about to age out of the foster-care system. In four months, when he turns eighteen, he'll be booted out of the group home. Maybe onto the street. Becca was supposed to be here. Becca was supposed to take care of him. But all that's left of Becca are these two boxes.
It's hard to breathe. His binder must be too tight. His chest feels like it's collapsing. It takes him three tries to get his shirt off. He pulls off the material crushing his breasts down flat and throws it on the old blanket on the bed. He feels better, but barely.
Two years on testosterone, male hormones, has changed Jason. It's made his shoulders wider, his jaw bigger and his body hairier. But without a shirt, it is easy to see what he is. A transgender guy. Someone in danger. The staff at the group home know, of course. They take him to get his shots and see his doctors. But if any of the other kids found out, Jason would be in for a world of hurt.
He stands in the middle of the room, his mind full of pain and fear. He feels like he's dying. He can't breathe at all.
After a while the panic attack fades. As he calms down he realizes he's half-naked. It would be so bad if someone walked in right now. Running to the bed, he grabs his binder. The door bangs open before he can put it back on.
Panicking, Jason drops the binder and grabs his shirt. If anyone sees his chest, they'll know what he has been hiding. He pulls the shirt over his head, his back still to the door. He prays for his strong shoulders to help him pass. For whoever it is to see just a boy.
"Yo, Jase, saw the pigs came by again. Did they solve your sister's murder yet?" The thick voice can only belong to Derek. Jason hates Derek. The guy is built like a monster and has a personality to match.
It takes everything Jason has in him to sound normal. "Not yet." Ever since he'd yelled at the care worker that his sister couldn't have overdosed, that she never did drugs, not ever, the other teens at the care home like to tease him about it. Especially Derek.
Jason's whole body shivers as he wonders whether Derek wants to fight again. Jason's ribs are still bruised from last time. If he stays facing away, his back is open to possible danger. If he turns around, Derek might see his chest under his shirt.
To his relief, Derek just snorts and bangs back out into the hallway. Jason waits until the door shuts behind him and then rushes to it. He kicks the door stopper tightly into place. It's dangerous. In case there's a fire. He's not supposed to have it. They've taken four off him already, but it's the only way he can breathe in this place.
Safely locked in, Jason walks slowly back to the bed. His whole body feels like it's full of rocks. What is he going to do without Becca? How can this be his life now?
Dropping down on the bed, he knocks one of the boxes over. It tips sideways, spilling its contents onto the blankets.
The copy of Sherlock Holmes that falls out makes him gasp. It was their dad's, the collected stories. When he'd lost his job and started drinking, he'd started selling most of his first editions. But Becca had taken this one. First it had been in her bedroom, on the shelf by her bed. Then, after she moved out, it was on display in her apartment, which Jason was going to move into once he left the group home. Part of their plan.
The book is light brown, with gold leaf on the leather cover and gold-edged pages. Becca has read it so often that the creamy cover is dirty. He reaches out to put the book back in the box. He can't face looking through the pieces of her life. But as he picks up the book he realizes there's something wrong. The page edges aren't shiny like they should be. They are dull and brown, no gold in sight. Curious, he picks up the book. He runs his finger down the spine. The cover feels weird in his hand.
He opens the book. As soon as he does, he can see what's wrong. The pages aren't pages at all. The cover of the book has been stuck onto a box. Sherlock Holmes's adventures aren't anywhere to be seen. There are no pages inside. No stories. Instead there are dozens of newspaper clippings.
Missing girls. Reports of missing girls from the Downtown Eastside. Dating back more than two years. The one with the oldest report has a face he vaguely recognizes. Anna Kerov, one of Becca's friends from work. She was a cocktail server, like Becca. Reported missing in 2017.
Why did his sister have these? Why was she collecting, and hiding, reports of missing girls? Jason's heart is beating too fast. His hands are shaking again. Becca must have been mixed up in something bad. Why else would she have this stuff?
Under the clippings there's something else. A flat white square. Not paper. Thicker. It is wedged into the corners of the box, and it takes a bit of effort to wiggle it free.
It's a Polaroid photo. A shot of a street. Two dark figures standing under a neon sign. Even with two letters blown out, Jason can see that it should say Ray's Place. A pair of red boxing gloves next to the name look like they probably flashed on and off.
What does this all mean? A photo of a boxing gym, in a box full of newspaper articles about missing girls. And now Becca is dead. Jason is more sure than ever that she didn't overdose.
His hand tightens around the photograph and crushes it into a ball.CHAPTER 2
Jason has already missed most of this school term, so taking another day off isn't a big deal. He's failing everything and has been for years. Another phone call won't make a difference. Going to class doesn't hold any appeal at the best of times. Right now is definitely not the best of times.
Walking around the Downtown Eastside in sweats and a hoodie, he finds that everything looks normal. Jason keeps the crumpled Polaroid in his hand, hoping to recognize something. Nothing looks like the gray stone of the building in the picture, but he's only been at it for an hour.
Just as he is about to quit and try to find somewhere cheap to grab lunch, he sees it. A dented old neon sign, flickering from bright red to dull gray. Two boxing gloves and a sign that says Ray's Place.
Jason had planned to just look. He'd thought maybe he'd find a fast-food place nearby and watch for a while. But his feet take him straight to the building without his brain's permission.
"Hey, kid. You here for open house?" Someone is talking to him from the alley next to the ratty entrance.
"Uh sure." While his mouth does the talking, his mind demands to know what the heck he thinks he's doing. It's just a boxing gym. What's the worst that could happen? he tells it. Oh yeah, a boxing gym you found out about by digging through your dead sister's murder box!
A man comes out of the alley and holds out a fist for a bump. Jason taps it and lifts his chin up in greeting. "You box before?" the guy asks, waving Jason up the stairs. He stubs his cigarette out on the wall and follows him.
"Some," Jason replies, nervous energy bubbling in his stomach. He feels a little sick.
Jason hasn't actually boxed before. But he has been in a ton of fights. Being trans usually means someone wants to smash your face in. Jason learned early on that you have to fight back or it just gets worse and worse. His parents used to yell about it, back before his mom died and his dad lost it. After that no one cared about his black eyes or split lips anymore. No one except Becca.
Up the stairs is a big open space with huge old windows. It looks exactly like one of those old-school sweat-stained places in the action movies. Jason expects a crusty military vet to step out of the dark and smirk.
A raised boxing ring dominates the center of the room. The posts and ropes wobble as two guys go at it. The meaty thud of their punches echoes through the large space. Looking around the room, Jason sees mats, weights, benches and the occasional torso dummy or freestanding punching bag.
"Yo, Little Jay, we got another fish." The guy who followed Jason up the stairs slaps him on the shoulder so hard that he staggers slightly. Then the guy just strides off.
"What's up, shorty?" A huge dark-skinned man Jason assumes to be Little Jay — a classic case of nicknames not fitting — is standing in the doorway of a room Jason hadn't even noticed. It looks like it might be a small office of some sort. "Welcome to Ray's. C'mon in and sign your day-one paperwork. Great timing. We have a class starting in a few minutes."
Jason is right — the room is a tiny office. Messy filing cabinets are spilling documents everywhere. He signs the form that Little Jay hands him without really looking at it. His brain isn't working right. He's drifting along without really feeling or doing anything on purpose.
He writes his name on the line, his chosen name. Not the girl's name that still hasn't been changed in the system. Little Jay doesn't ask for any identification. Just his address, social insurance number and date of birth. He fills it all out and then he signs on the dotted line.
"First session's free. After that it's five bucks a workout." The man grins at him, offers him a fist to bump. Jason taps it, and Little Jay waves him out into the gym again. Jason stuffs his hands into his pockets and glances around. His heart pounds, and he wonders what he's doing here, how he let himself get signed up for a class.
"Yo, newbies, hustle up," Little Jay yells, the volume making everyone wince.
About a dozen teens start lining up around the gym, facing Little Jay.
"First, we skip," Little Jay says, a huge grin on his face. "Preet, grab the ropes."
Jason watches a petite girl with big eyes and a tough-looking chin hand out ropes to the group. She keeps one for herself, scowling at Little Jay when he opens his mouth. Jason guesses he was about to tell her to put it back.
And skip they do. Jason skips so long he thinks his wrists might just break off and send his hands flying through the gym. Little Jay talks while they skip.
Some of the kids are making a complete mess of it and keep smacking each other with the ropes, but Jason is an okay skipper. That means he doesn't have to concentrate as hard as the others and can focus on what Little Jay is saying.
"Boxing is hard," Little Jay tells them. "It's hard, and it's sweaty, and you will ache and bruise and curse my name. But if you stick with me, little dudes, I guarantee you'll become something special. It's the perfect sport. Balance, agility, strength, heart."
The session is not all skipping. There are also sprints and footwork drills. And homework. Little Jay tells them that they should all run every day for at least thirty minutes. Finally, when the hour is nearly done, they head to the punching bags. Little Jay lets them whale on them for a while. He pauses by Jason's bag, then slaps him on the shoulder. What is with all these big men hitting him? He will probably have a bruise forming.
"You should come back," Little Jay says to him. "I can see you've got heart, kid."
Despite the fact that Becca's dead, despite everything else shitty going on right now, Jason wants to come back. He's sweaty and tired and sore. But for the first time in six weeks, he's not screaming inside.CHAPTER 3
Jason returns to the gym after skipping school again the next day. For one thing, he'd been so caught up in the class the day before that he hadn't done any investigating. But it is more than that. Maybe it's the comforting feeling of his muscles aching from exercise. Maybe it's the good sleep he had — the first one in weeks.
This time he walks into the gym like he belongs there. He sees some of the kids from the day before. He didn't talk to any of them yesterday, but maybe today he will. He drops his hoodie onto one of the wooden benches lining the wall, leaving him in a tight black T-shirt and knee-length shorts. After watching for a moment, he makes his way over to the group.
"What's up," a tall boy says. He scratches the back of his neck under his head covering. A patka, Jason thinks it's called.
"Hey," Jason replies, offering a fist. The boy leans out to bump it. The group shifts a little, making space for Jason to stand with them in a loose circle.
"I'm Sunny," the boy says. Then he gestures at the girl who had fetched the skipping ropes the day before. "This is my sister, Dilpreet."
"Preet," she corrects him, offering her fist to Jason.
He hesitates for a second because girls don't usually want to bump fists. Annoyed with himself, he taps it. She rewards him with a nod and a grin.
"I'm Lucky," the third kid in the group announces. He's a short guy with the sort of cheeky face Jason would bet gets him in trouble with his teachers often. He's bouncing on the balls of his feet, like he's moving to music Jason can't hear. "You're new, right? I saw you yesterday. Boxing is awesome. I'm going to be a champ! My granddad was a kung fu master back in China." Lucky puts up his fists, shadowboxing playfully.
Jason can't help but let out a soft laugh, because Lucky is tiny. And he's got his thumbs tucked inside his fists.
"I'm Jason," he says, then jerks his chin at Lucky's fists. "Your thumbs should be on the outside. You'll break them like that."
"Oh, new kid knows what's up." A deep voice right behind him makes Jason jump.
"Hey, X." Sunny shifts back as he greets the man, shoving his hands into his pockets.
"Cupcake, there's files that need sorting in the office." He waves a hand in the direction of the room.
Preet twists her mouth to one side like she's got something to say. Sunny kicks her in the back of the calf, quick enough that Jason almost misses it.
Something's making Jason feel uncomfortable. It might be the guy's body language, the way he physically dominates the space. Or maybe it's as simple as him not using Preet's name. Jason can feel anger rising in his chest again. He's been angry since Becca died, ready to break things. His hands are in fists.
The guy looks him up and down. He raises an eyebrow and then snorts. "Looks like everybody's here now." He motions to another group of kids sitting on the bench near the entrance. "Line up, two rows. Let's get warm. I catch you slacking and you're out."
"That's X," says Sunny in a whisper. "I think his real name is Xavier, but everyone just calls him X. He's the boss around here. I wouldn't cross him if I were you."
X takes them through a violent twenty minutes of sit-ups, push-ups, on-the-spot sprints and stretches. Jason is pleased to learn he's in good shape compared to most of the other trainees. There's a wiry kid who kicks his ass in the push-ups though. Jason makes a mental note to double his daily workout. There's jack shit to do at the group home anyway. He doesn't have a phone, there's only one computer in the place, and he doesn't care enough to fight for a spot in front of the TV. So Jason usually spends most evenings on his own in his room, trying to bulk up. Since he started hormone therapy, he's gotten way stronger, with bigger shoulders, a broader chest. His muscles are one of the only things he likes about his body. Muscles and the soft mustache that's beginning to fill in on his upper lip. Becca used to tease him about it, calling it a little caterpillar. Jason's proud though. He feels like he fought a war for the right to have this mustache.
As he pushes his body through a series of punches that X demonstrates for them, Jason zones out. He finds himself remembering his dad teaching him how to throw a punch. He was around six years old. His dad took Jason's small hand in his larger one and folded it into a fist. Talked him through the bits to hit. If you have to hit someone. If they make you. The places that will make them stop hitting you. Throat, eyes, solar plexus, nose. Stuff that crushes or breaks.
"Focus, kid." X kicks Jason on the side of the knee, opening his stance up a little more. Jason shakes his head, willing himself to just be here, in the moment.
Sweat drips in his eyes, stinging. It feels better than crying.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Blood Sport"
Copyright © 2020 Tash McAdam.
Excerpted by permission of ORCA BOOK PUBLISHERS.
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