With the toughest baseball game of the season looming in the distance, Josh McKenzie is desperate to help his team pull off the upset-but he cannot do it without Ol' Blue. As revenge eats at the collective mind of the Gang, they must first figure out a way to get through old man Weaver's yard-the only thing that stands between the Gang and the Menace's family compound. But creepy old man Weaver is not about to make the boys' job easy-and neither is his savage dog.
In this first adventure of the TNT gang, all the boys soon learn that even the best laid plans can go awry-especially when tangling with the town menace.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 11 Years|
Read an Excerpt
By Matt Steiner
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Matt Steiner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe Challenge
"Hey. Wait up!"
Those familiar words always found their way out of the mouth of Travis Ketchum, younger brother and perpetual nuisance to Tommy Ketchum or, as his buddies liked to call him, TK.
"Come on, guys. Let's go," Tommy kept encouraging the usual gang in an attempt to lose Travis.
Unfortunately, his little brother was also his responsibility. Mom would always force Tommy to "just take him along" whenever TK had an adventure planned.
TK fumed as he walked along Clemens Drive today, remembering how the little eight-year-old worm managed to wiggle his way into his older brother's plans for the day.
"Tommy, what do you have going on today?" Mom had asked from the living room as TK munched on his breakfast, a toaster pastry and a banana. "I've got some errands to run."
"I don't know, Mom. I'll probably just head over to Josh's house and play some catch or something," he said, washing a mouthful of blueberry goodness down with a gulp of orange juice.
He wiped some icing from his lips and paused for a second, knowing what would come next.
"Well, I was hoping that Travis could tag along with you for a few hours while I go get mine and Sarah's hair done," she said as she helped TK's four-year-old sister with her shoes before giving her a kiss and gathering her things to go. "Oh, and get him some cereal and a banana before you guys head out."
"Aww, c'mon, Mom," Tommy replied. "I was hoping for a Travis-free day."
His younger brother bolted around the corner from the living room, excitement on his face.
"What are we gonna do today?" Travis teased his brother as TK angrily grabbed a bowl from the cabinet and began to pour his brother's breakfast.
"You better not get in the way!" TK said, grabbing a wadded up paper towel and pegging Travis in the head.
Before the boys could finish their meal, Mom streaked by, snatching her purse off the table and nudging Sarah along. She headed toward the door. "We'll be back early afternoon, Tommy. Be sure you guys eat some lunch."
"Yeah, Mom, I know."
Sarah said good-bye in her usual manner, sticking her tongue out at her brothers and making sure she was out of arm's reach.
TK had planned on heading to Josh McKenzie's house this morning, but a boring game of catch was not on the agenda. He and his buddy, who was a natural athlete despite his round form—and who boasted the ability to down three big bacon burgers, a large chili cheese fries, and a monstrous piece of chocolate cream pie in just one sitting—had other things on their minds. Josh, a hero to most boys in the seventh grade at Hoover Middle School because of these two skills, could only think of one thing and he wouldn't have fun until it was resolved.
Ever since Sunday afternoon, Josh had been whining about his lucky baseball bat, Ol' Blue, as TK had named his friend's Louisville Slugger. It had been handed down to Josh by his older brother, who had gotten it from their oldest brother. Today, a covert mission to get it back was on the agenda.
TK and his friends, also known as "The Gang," had stopped by Fillmore Park last Sunday for a dip in the river after a little baseball practice. Bart Woods took advantage and snatched the bat in hopes of keeping Josh from crushing the ball in the big game on Saturday.
The boys' baseball team, the Wolves, had their toughest challenge of the season in just three days. The first place, and much hated, Marauders, Bart's team, were on the schedule for that game. If Josh had any hopes of getting his usual big hit and helping the Wolves pull off the upset, it would have to be with Ol' Blue.
The friends had just finished a tough pickup game of three-on-three baseball against a group of brothers from the next neighborhood and were in need of a cool down on the hot June day.
Tommy couldn't wait to get in the water and neither could Nick King, the third member of The Gang.
"You guys better hurry up!" Nick King said to TK and Josh as he tossed his T-shirt on the bench in the big white gazebo. "Last one in is ... well, you know!"
The King sprinted toward the river, looked over his shoulder, and prepared to launch off the tire swing and into the cool, clear water.
The other boys followed, throwing elbows in a battle to avoid being the last to splash down for what was sure to be a blast. TK had the speed advantage, but Josh's burger habit had given him the strength needed to slow down most seventh graders, and probably a few tenth graders for that matter.
TK stopped quickly to avoid Josh's next move. He swerved to the side and left the McKenzie boy in the dust.
"Not today, Joshy boy!" TK said as he turned his attention toward Nick, who was too far ahead to catch.
"Cowabunga!" Nick let go of the tire and flew through the air, gaining the envy of the other two as the first to hit the water.
TK was just about to grab the swing when he looked back, noticing the determined look on Josh's face. That's not good, he thought as Josh closed in. The Ketchum boy decided that fumbling with the swing wasn't a good idea. It would only let Josh catch up.
"Look out below!" TK took three steps, vaulted himself off the rocks, and soaked Josh with a picture-perfect cannonball.
"That's it! You're a goner!" Josh yelled as he grabbed the tire and propelled himself toward his friends. "Prepare for your doom!" he said a split second before hitting the water.
Little did The Gang know, but Bart, The Menace of Mt. Vernon, and his sidekick, Carlos, just happened to be cruising by the park on their bikes. They noticed TK, Josh, and The King splashing in the river.
Bart dropped his bike and got ready to sprint into the park.
"What the heck are you doing?" Carlos called to his cohort.
"Shut up, dummy!" Bart said, motioning for his friend to stay low.
The Menace darted from tree to bush and to another tree in an effort to remain in stealth mode. He made his way to the gazebo unnoticed.
Ol' Blue shined in the sunlight, leaning up against the railing.
Bart slinked into the open, grabbed the bat, and turned to hightail it out of there.
The King noticed some movement out of the corner of his eye, but it was too late.
"Hey, you stupid jerk! Stop!" Nick yelled, trying to fight the current and get to shore as quickly as he could.
By the time the boys made their way to the riverbank, The Menace was on his bike, streaking away and victoriously holding the bat high in the air, his sidekick in tow.
The Gang couldn't stop reflecting on the annoying incident at the park as they walked through the neighborhood and continued on the quest to return Ol' Blue to its rightful owner.
Nick and Josh slowed the pace once in a while to let TK's little brother gain some ground.
"Forget about him," Tommy insisted.
Josh and Nick didn't mind Travis tagging along most of the time, but for TK the "little pest" was just there to cramp his style. However, it seemed TK, although trying to look cool for The Gang and whoever else they might run into, purposefully kept "the pest" from getting too far behind. After all, facing the wrath of Mom was much worse than a minor crimp in TK's reputation. Plus, the little bugger always gave The Gang a willing participant when they needed someone to "see if the coast is clear" or to attempt a feat that seemed a bit "sketchy," as The King always put it.
Revenge ate at the collective mind of The Gang as they nervously embarked on the day's task.
The first challenge was to get close enough to Bart's backyard to stake out the situation and find out where Ol' Blue was hiding. Only one place gave the guys the view needed to see what challenges lay ahead. That was Old Man Weaver's yard, more specifically, the narrow void between his garage and The Menace's family compound.
Mr. Weaver's place was more like a junkyard than a backyard. The old man never got rid of anything. You name it, from old appliances to lawnmowers and even the front end of an old Chevy pickup, the place was a mess.
The problem they faced was getting over the six-foot fence, into the yard and behind the garage, where the overgrown brush would keep The Gang camouflaged enough to scan the compound.
This is where Travis came in.
"Slow down, guys. I've got an idea," TK said with a smirk on his face as they approached Mr. Weaver's street. "Travis, hurry up! We don't have all day!" he yelled back to his brother, who quickly turned his half-walk, half-trot into a fast jog.
Travis knew his brother's willingness to let him catch up to The Gang meant only one thing. There was a chore for him.
"We need you to distract Old Man Weaver for us," TK said.
"You've got to be kidding. That old guy's freaky. I'm not going anywhere near him."
Mr. Weaver didn't come out of his house too often. Once in a while, the grouchy old man could be seen at the grocery store or just creeping around his yard pulling weeds and, as the kids always said, cursing people with his evil eye as they walked past.
"You've got to do it, Travis," TK continued. "Anyway, if you help us, old Josh here will let you ride the chopper later," TK said, referring to his friend's Schwinn Sting Ray bicycle, which Travis thought was the coolest thing on two wheels, almost as cool as being a part of his brother's scheme.
"Hey, I didn't say he—" Josh began before TK shut him up with a nudge and a wink.
"All you have to do is knock on his front door and get his attention while we jump the fence and get into the yard," TK said.
"Why? What are you guys going to do back there?"
"We're gonna get Ol' Blue back. If this works, Josh will let you ride the chopper all afternoon," TK added for some more motivation.
"What do I say?" Travis said, staring at the Weaver house that loomed in the distance.
"You probably won't get a chance to say anything," Nick said with a laugh and a high five for Josh. "The old guy will grab you and toss you in his dungeon as soon as he opens the door."
"No, he won't," TK said, elbowing The King, slowing down and urging Travis in the direction of the spooky old house. "You'll think of something."
Travis hesitantly continued toward the house, looking back as The Gang began to run.
They took a detour to get to the other side of Old Man Weaver's place without being noticed.
"Jerk!" the younger Ketchum boy grumbled to himself, kicking a stone and wondering why God had made him so gullible.
As Travis approached the Weaver place, his walk slowed and a sick feeling began to invade his stomach. Suddenly, he couldn't move. Travis stood in front of the house, staring at the front door, trying to get the nerve to walk up and ring the bell. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed TK and the crew ducking through some bushes and making their way toward the yard.
Travis was about to abort the mission when his brother scowled and motioned for him to get moving.
He turned back toward the house where he could have sworn a pair of eyes was glaring at him through the dirty front window. The eight-year-old nearly wet his pants, but he couldn't let The Gang down. He began slowly walking up the path to the front porch. With each step, the sense of someone watching grew stronger and stronger.
Suddenly, a startling chatter came from beside the porch.
The boy jumped to the left, then froze in his tracks.
A squirrel wandered out from under the bushes, looking at Travis and letting out another loud chatter.
"Ugh, it's only a squirrel," Travis said with a sigh, attempting to put himself at ease.
He walked up onto the porch, scanned the situation, and readied himself to ring the bell.
"What do you want?" a gruff voice snapped at him as the door swung open.
"I, eh, I, ah ..." Actual words failed to come from Travis's mouth, as certain death seemed inevitable at this point.
"Spit it out!" Old Man Weaver snapped again.
At least Travis assumed it was the old man. With the dirty screen and the sun hitting him in the eye at the worst possible angle, all Travis could make out was a silhouette. For all he knew, it was some hunchbacked butler answering the door while Mr. Weaver performed some hideous experiment in a hidden laboratory deep within the creepy place.
"N-n-nothing, sir," Travis stuttered, suddenly turning and sprinting down the steps and across the yard before falling on his face.
Looking back at the porch, the younger Ketchum thought he felt a hand reach out and grab his foot. He didn't notice the rusty old sprinkler that was the true reason for his tumble.
It's true! he thought, as his imagination raced. The old man is going to have me for supper!
Instinctively, the kid jumped up, continuing his sprint down the road and back toward his end of the neighborhood—despite now having just one shoe.
He ran for what seemed like forever before a sharp cramp pierced his side, slowing him to a stop. Travis plopped down on the curb and looked back toward the Weaver place. He tried to catch his breath as he then stared at his naked foot, wondering how he'd get his shoe back.
"Cripes!" he blurted out.
Travis still had the wild idea that the seemingly feeble old man had somehow found the energy to chase him away and grab his foot.
That guy is evil, he thought again, rubbing his head and looking around.
The commotion on the porch proved to be just enough of a distraction. TK and his buddies managed to make their way over the fence, through the junkyard maze, and behind Mr. Weaver's garage.
"We'll get poison ivy for sure," whined Nick as they crouched down in the underbrush.
"Shh!" TK said sternly, trying to avoid a nasty pile of twisted metal that was partly blocking the way to the back fence.
Josh had already made his way through the weeds to the break in the fence that separated them from The Menace family compound. While Nick and TK continued to bicker over the situation, Josh was focused, scanning the yard for his precious bat.
"There it is," he whispered, motioning for his friends to join him, "against the house."
Sure enough, Ol' Blue was leaning against a spigot right next to the back door of Bart's house.
And there he was, The Menace himself.
Bart and his sidekick, Carlos, came through the gate and into the yard. Carlos gave out a laugh just as Bart punched him in the shoulder.
"Oww!" Carlos rubbed his arm.
"Shut up," The Menace said in the distance. "If you tell a soul, I'll make you wish you never met me."
They were obviously up to something.
Josh's smile turned to a serious look as he wondered how they'd get to the bat now with Bart in the yard. He turned toward his friends and paused. Suddenly, Josh's face morphed to a look of stunned horror.
"What's wrong?" TK whispered to Josh.
But Josh just sat in the weeds staring past his friends.
Nick turned to see what Josh was looking at. The King jumped back suddenly, borrowing Josh's terrified look.
Something warm hit TK on the back of the neck.
A breathing sound followed by a grrr broke the silence and sent TK lunging toward his friends.
A huge monster with drool dripping from its long fangs growled even louder at The Gang.
"Ahh! Run!" Josh yelled, as his instincts kicked in.
Bart's and Carlos's attention shifted to the commotion behind the fence.
Arms and legs flew in every direction as the boys scrambled for the nearest way out of there.
The beast, all teeth and claws, chased after them with a deafening growl followed by a horrifying bark.
The King, the most agile of the trio, made it over the side fence first, quickly followed by TK.
The chubbier, slower Josh lagged behind a bit, clawing his way over the chain link fence as if his life depended on it.
"Help!" he yelled, panicking as the beast grabbed his shoe.
TK and Nick turned around just in time to grab their friend's hand and pull him to safety.
The beast, or as they now noticed, the dog that attacked them turned its focus from the boys to the shoe in its fangs, shaking it furiously and disappearing back into the brush.
"What the heck was that?" Nick said with a quiver in his voice.
Just then they heard laughing coming from beyond the fence.
Bart and Carlos had made their way to the back of the yard and were holding Ol' Blue and making fun of The Gang.
Excerpted from Mission Possible by Matt Steiner Copyright © 2011 by Matt Steiner. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Contents1. The Challenge....................1
2. The Mission....................11
3. Plan B....................23
4. The Next Master Plan....................37
5. Sweet Music....................45
6. The Meeting....................59
7. Game Day....................65
8. Moment of Truth....................73