With nothing to lose, Hutch accepts. After two grueling years at the Future Affairs Training and Education (FATE) Center, Hutch, now 16, can barely remember the boy he once was. Ready for anything, he expects to be plunged into a battle zone.
Instead, he learns that his FIP is someone named Ryo Enomoto: the soon-to-be front man of the boy band International. Worse, Hutch has to put his old talents to use. He must join the band and change his name to Bobby Sky. Is this for real? Has he really turned himself into a lethal killing machine . . . only to become a teen pop sensation?
|Publisher:||Soho Press, Incorporated|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Jingle all the way . . .”
Oh, I get how weird it is to be quietly singing Christmas songs to myself right now. Believe you me, I do. But I dare you, no, I challenge you to think about Christmas and not have a carol or seven pop into your head. It’s impossible. Christmas songs are like potato chips—you’re gonna need more than one.
“—in a one-horse open sleigh . . . HEY!”
Funny thing is, it’s not even the holidays right now. I had a random thought about what Christmas might be like here, and the dang things popped into my head. That’s how powerful those songs are. Right now it’s April, I think, and I’m straitjacketed up in a padded room, pretending to be crazy. Bonus, though, quietly singing carols to myself only adds to this stellar performance. There should be Oscars for acting in real life. I would totally be nominated for this.
Why am I pretending to be crazy? Why am I so nonchalant about being locked up against my will? Why am I laughing inside through daily beatings? Why am I not at all worried that I haven’t had anything to eat or drink in days and am slowly dying? It’s because I did it; I fulfilled the sole purpose of my life. Death? Cool with me.
It’s okay if my story ends here—heck, maybe it’s supposed to. It has been a ride, I’ll give you that. I was betrayed, heartbroken, shot, stabbed, and run over. And that was just during my first year in the program. That’s not even the good stuff. How do plane crashes, death squads, car chases, and the Yakuza sound? Are you interested? If not, you need to seriously reevaluate what you’re looking for in your entertainment needs, because that stuff should raise the eyebrow of a hairless cat. It’s a pretty long story and, if I had to guess, it’ll take a good . . . I don’t know, ten hours or so to tell? I’m not going anywhere, obviously. You got the spare time? Fair enough. Let’s do this.
I guess we could start with the first time I heard “Jingle Bells,” since that would sort of bring this rambling introduction full circle. But I have no idea when that was. I was four, maybe? Who knows? Doesn’t matter. No, we’ll start with the last time I was arrested, which, ironically, was during the holiday. (Take that, random “Jingle Bells” intro!) I was barely fourteen. I thought it would be like every other time I’d been cuffed, booked, and sent off to juvie.
It wasn’t. Oh boy, it wasn’t.
So, are you ready for a trip down memory lane? Good, because singing to myself and drooling on the plastic mats in here gets old pretty quick. Speaking of which, I should probably let out a good stream of craziness. I can’t let my captors realize I’m faking it. That would really screw everything up.
“JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS! JINGLE BELLS!”
Okay, that should buy us some time. I don’t think I’m due for any more torture sessions for a while.
TIME TO PAY THE FIDDLER
“Just open up, okay?”
The voice was friendly but commanding. A cop’s voice usually is. At least the cops I knew. This particular voice belonged to Officer Willis.
I’d put all my weight and strength into keeping the door shut. I was pretty big for a fourteen-year-old, already close to six feet. My muscles were getting thicker by the day, thanks to weights and the demands of Texas football. I knew I couldn’t stop them from coming in, but doing nothing seemed like giving up, which I’d never been good at. Like my dad always said: “Give it all you got until you can’t give anymore, and then try again to make sure you’re really done.” He’d drilled that into my head since birth.
“I’m not coming out,” I yelled. My trademark shoulder-length hair had fallen over my eyes, so I shoved a greasy clump behind my ears.
“Open the damn door, Hutch.”
A different voice, this time: Officer Ramirez. The other voice. They were a team.
I’d decided when I was five that “Bobby” was a stupid kid’s name and “Robert” was an old man’s name. I’d wanted no part of either. With my last name being Hutchinson, I had insisted on being called Hutch. It had stuck. One of the few victories in my life.
“Never!” I yelled back playfully, but totally serious, too. Opening the door wasn’t going to happen. They’d have to kick it in. Keeping my shoulder pressed hard into the door, I took a look through the peephole. No surprise, Officers Willis and Ramirez were smirking at each other. They shook their heads, as if they had better things to do than hang out on the rotting deck outside the small apartment I shared with my mother. I agreed that they probably did. The home, if you can even call it that, sat above the landlord’s garage, and this door was the only way in or out.
The two officers had been dealing with me off and on since I was a little kid. It was mostly petty crimes, fights, that sort of thing. So we all knew each other pretty well. They were pretty relaxed.
“You got nothing on me,” I yelled, still watching.
Officer Ramirez pulled out a notepad. “Grand theft auto.”
“The keys were in the car and I brought it back when I was done. If anything, that’s just Grand Borrowing. Oh, and ungrateful, I changed the oil for them.”
The officers shared a grin. They were on one side of the game, and I was on the other. We both enjoyed playing it to its fullest.
I smiled and joked, “Can you be more specific?”
“Russ’s Convenience Store.”
“That? Come on. He wouldn’t sell me beer.”
“’Cause you’re only fourteen.”
“I’m almost fifteen!” I corrected them. “But anyway I paid for it, so it’s not robbery.”
“You were brandishing a weapon.”
“That’s just armed shopping, then. I never pointed it at him. He just assumed I was going to. I have the right to bear arms. Are you trying to deny me my constitutional rights?”
Still keeping my weight up against the door, I kept watching through the peephole as the officers exchanged a glance. Officer Willis nodded to Ramirez.
I paused. I didn’t have a smart-ass answer to that one. “He was hitting his four-year-old with a baseball bat. I took it and hit him back with it . . .”
“Not saying we disagree, but it’s not your place, Hutch, you know that. You nearly killed the guy. It’s time to man up. Now, open the door.”
I liked Officers Willis and Ramirez. They were actually pretty cool guys. None of it was personal and they tried to help me out of jams when they could. You couldn’t call them friends—they were the fuzz—but they were nice to me when they could be. I put my back to the door again. From the stereo I could hear the faint singing of Christmas music. My mother was a nutter for holiday tunes. She’d bought one of those Monster Christmas Song Collections you see on the infomercials at two in the morning. I knew every carol and song upward and backward. Publicly I’d say I hated them all, but privately I loved ’em. Who doesn’t, really? It gave me an idea. We all knew how this ended, but they were gonna have to earn it and I was gonna have some fun with them while they did.
“Guys, come on. This isn’t very festive of you. It’s the holidays,” I called out.
“It’s December first,” Officer Willis responded.
“Our lights are up.”
“Your lights haven’t been taken down in years, Hutch.”
“December’s the holidays!” I sorta yelled, before calming down and adding, “Which is why I have a proposal.”
“Hutch, we don’t have time for this,” Officer Ramirez groaned.
“Hear me out and yes, you do. You join me in a festive carol and I’ll come out.” I waited for a response, but when I didn’t get one, I decided to go for it and began to sing:
“Deck the halls with bells of holly . . .”
I waited for them to join in. Seriously, who can resist a falala-la-la-la-la-la-laaaaa! People will run in from the street to yell that one out. Apparently these coppers were the minority since I got nada. I tried again.
“Deck the halls with bells of holly . . .”
I waited again for them to join in but still got only crickets. I was about to try a third time when I heard . . .
I peeked out the peephole and saw Officer Ramirez shaking his head at Officer Willis, who shrugged.
“Yeah!” I couldn’t help but yell out. “Willie-boy’s a bass. Didn’t see that coming. Not bad, man. Okay, okay. You ready? Ram-Jam, you gotta join in, too. That’s the deal. Come on.” I cleared my throat before going on: “’Tis the season to be jolly . . .”
“Falala-la-la-la-la-la-laaaaa!” they both sang out loudly and then together . . .
“Don we now our gay apparel,
Troll the ancient Yuletide carol,
Fa la la la laaaaaaaa la la . . . la . . . laaaaaaaaaaaa.”
I peeked through the hole and saw them both smiling.
“That’s the spirit, boys!” I yelled.
“You do realize it’s ‘boughs of holly’ not ‘bells of holly,’ right?” Officer Ramirez called out.
Best to end this Christmas sing-along.
I bolted toward the living room window.
I was halfway out when Officer Willis’s size twelves kicked the door open. I smiled and gave them a mocking “Merry Christmas, boys,” before swinging my other leg over and going into free fall, then landing in the thick shrubs one story below. It hurt, but I’d done it before. I rolled out and sprinted across the yard.
They’d never be able to catch me in a footrace. I was younger, in better shape, and this was my home, so I knew every back alley and shortcut for blocks in every direction. I would lose them easily. I hopped over my back fence into the neighbor’s yard, jetted out to their front yard, and crossed the street toward the next house. I kept on cutting through lawns and hopping over fences as I went. A few streets away a massive, eight-foot wooden fence was staring me down, separating whatever house I was currently in the backyard of from the next. I scaled it easily, but only when I reached the top did I see the row of rosebushes on the other side. I tried to stop, but my momentum was too much and I fell headfirst into them.
I popped up out of the shrubs, my entire body cut and stinging from the nasty thorns. A shocked housewife stared openmouthed ten feet away with her pruning shears.
“Ma’am,” I said as I pulled a thorn out of my forehead. I ran across her backyard and out onto the front lawn. There were some sirens in the distance, but everything around here looked quiet. I stopped running, covered my face with my hair, and casually started to cross the street to the train tracks like any normal guy out for a walk. The plan was to get on the tracks and use them to avoid the roads for a bit.
I’d made it halfway down a back alley when the jarring, terrified shriek of a child stopped me dead in my tracks.
“Jesse! No! Help!” the voice screamed out.
I didn’t have time for this. I tried to convince myself it was nothing. This lull in the chase wouldn’t last much longer, so I had to keep going. Kids screamed all the time about stupid stuff, right? I didn’t need to worry about it. Or it was a crazy person who sounded like a kid; this area was full of them. Yeah, that’s all it was. I began to step forward when . . .
“Help! Help! Someone help!” the kid screamed again. The panic sounded genuine.
Something bad had happened.
I growled in frustration. Hating myself, I turned and sprinted toward the cries. A small girl appeared out of a backyard and flagged me down.
“Is everything okay?” I asked her.
“It’s Jesse. He’s hurt real bad!” She turned and ran back into her backyard.
I knew I shouldn’t do this. But I followed her into the backyard, where she fell to her knees in front of a flower bed and started sobbing, “No, no, no.”
Once I slid to the ground next to her, I saw her clutching a small dead frog in her tiny hands. You kidding me?
“I . . . I stepped on him,” she admitted. “I think he’s . . . hurt,” she said, sniffling.
Hurt? Oh, he’s dead, kiddo. I was ready to get up and walk away when she held the sad, limp body of the little frog up to me and stuttered out, “Can you p-p-please help?”
Ugh, why did she have to be so damn adorable?
“Um, uh, yeah, let me see,” I said, reaching out for the frog and taking it from her. What the heck was I supposed to do with this slimy thing? “You know, uh, let me take it to my, uh . . . vet friend, yeah, and I’ll see what he can do.”
Through her tears the girl suddenly had a sliver of hope and asked, “Really?”
“Yeah, he saves frogs all the time,” I lied. “I’m sure he’ll be able to save little Jesse here.”
“Yeah, totally. But you might not see Jesse again,” I added as I got an idea.
“Well, my vet friend, you see, lives in a swamp and Jesse may want to stay there ’cause it’s awesome. It’ll be up to him, and I’ll bet he’ll want to stay and play around with all the other frogs that live there. You do want him to be happy, right?”
She nodded. The squawk of a patrol car in the distance brought me back to the reality at hand.
“Okay, well, I gotta get Jesse here to the vet now before it’s too late, okay?”
“Okay. Goodbye, Jesse, enjoy the swamp,” she called out to me as I walked away.