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Authors: Matt Christopher

Front Court Hex

BOOK: Front Court Hex
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Books by Matt Christopher

Sports Stories

THE LUCKY BASEBALL BAT

BASEBALL PALS

BASKETBALL SPARKPLUG

TWO STRIKES ON JOHNNY

LITTLE LEFTY

TOUCHDOWN FOR TOMMY

LONG STRETCH AT FIRST base

BREAK FOR THE BASKET

TALL MAN IN THE PIVOT

CHALLENGE AT SECOND BASE

CRACKERJACK HALFBACK

BASEBALL FLYHAWK

SINK IT, RUSTY

CATCHER WITH A GLASS ARM

WINGMAN ON ICE

TOO HOT TO HANDLE

THE COUNTERFEIT TACKLE

THE RELUCTANT PITCHER

LONG SHOT FOR PAUL

MIRACLE AT THE PLATE

THE TEAM THAT COULDN’t lose

THE YEAR MOM WON THE PENNANT

THE BASKET COUNTS

HARD DRIVE TO SHORT

CATCH THAT PASS!

SHORTSTOP FROM TOKYO

LUCKY SEVEN

JOHNNY LONG LEGS

LOOK WHO’S PLAYING FIRST BASE

TOUGH TO TACKLE

THE KID WHO ONLY HIT HOMERS

FACE-OFF

MYSTERY COACH

ICE MAGIC

NO ARM IN LEFT FIELD

JINX GLOVE

FRONT COURT HEX

Animal Stories

DESPERATE SEARCH

STRANDED

Copyright

COPYRIGHT © 1974 BY MATTHEW F. CHRISTOPHER

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM OR BY ANY ELECTRONIC OR MECHANICAL MEANS INCLUDING
INFORMATION STORAGE AND RETRIEVAL SYSTEMS WITHOUT PERMISSION IN WRITING FROM THE PUBLISHER, EXCEPT BY A REVIEWER WHO MAY QUOTE
BRIEF PASSAGES IN A REVIEW.

Hachette Book Group

237 Park Avenue

New York, NY 10017

Visit our website at
www.HachetteBookGroup.com

First eBook Edition: December 2009

ISBN: 978-0-316-09563-1

to Marty, Margaret and Michael

Contents

Copyright

Books by Matt Christopher

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

1

H
OW COULD LAST YEAR’S basketball star have played two games this year so far and not have scored a point?

Jerry Steele looked up at the ceiling. Had he really played those two games so badly? Perhaps it was only a dream. But the
longer he stared the more certain he was that the games really had been played.

His mother’s voice boomed from the kitchen for the third time. “Jerry! Will you
please
get up? It’s getting late!”

Grumbling an unintelligible answer, he rolled out of bed, yanked out clean underclothes from the dresser drawer and began
to dress.

Five minutes later he was sitting at the kitchen table eating his breakfast. His mother, whose light brown hair lay in soft
curls across her shoulders, shook her head and sighed.

“Jerry,” she said, “sometimes you amaze me how quickly you can get ready.”

He grinned. “The secret word is ‘late,’ Mom. The minute I heard that —
zap!
— I moved like Batman.”

“I wish you’d move with half that speed when I ask you to take out the garbage, or shovel snow off the sidewalk,” she said.
“Your Dad had to do both of those chores yesterday, and it was your job.”

“Aw, Ma! I just forgot!” He chomped
on his toast without looking at her, knowing that she was right. But there was something about small jobs around the house
that made him ignore them, even though he knew they had to be done. His father did the bigger jobs, like repairing leaks in
the plumbing or fixing the roof; Jerry was expected to help with the smaller ones.

“Well, make sure you don’t forget again, young man,” said his mother as she stacked the breakfast dishes in the sink.

Jerry nodded. After he finished breakfast he put on his jacket, gathered up his books, and headed for the door. “See ya later,
Mom,” he said. He kissed her on the cheek and left.

The air was nippy, biting at Jerry’s face as he headed for school four blocks away. It was December, and a soft white blanket
of snow covered the roofs, the streets, and the sidewalks in the small town of Spit-ford, huddled at the foot of the Catskill
Mountains.

A new thought suddenly troubled him. He remembered the book report he had asked Ronnie Malone to do for him because he hadn’t
had time to do it himself. Well,
time
wasn’t quite the word. He had as much time as anyone else in the class. He just didn’t want to
take
it, that was all. And he assumed, Ronnie, being his best friend would do it.

“Don’t expect me to do it all the time, Jerry,” Ronnie had said. “If Miss Clarey finds out she’ll never trust either one of
us again.”

“Don’t worry, she won’t find out,” Jerry had answered.

He met Ronnie in the locker room. The
tall, red-headed boy, in blue pants and white pullover, passed a couple of folded sheets of paper to Jerry and said, “Make
sure you copy it over.”

“Don’t worry,” Jerry replied. “Think I’m stupid? Don’t answer that!”

He thanked Ronnie. Later, in study hall, he copied over the report. With every word he wrote he felt a sense of guilt. He
was tempted to throw the paper away and start one of his own, but the thought that the report was already completed won him
over. His forehead beaded with sweat, he finished copying it, tore up the original, and tossed the pieces into a wastebasket.

That afternoon he handed the report in, hoping that Miss Clarey didn’t notice his shaking hand.

That night the game against the Fox
fires started at 6:30 in the school gym. All the players were there at 6:00 warming up. The Chariots, for whom Jerry played
guard, wore maroon, white-trimmed uniforms. The Foxfires wore scarlet.

“How many shots are you going to miss tonight, Jerry?” somebody asked.

Jerry looked around at the tall, blond boy behind him. Freddie Pearse was the Chariots’ center. Although he was never a close
friend of Jerry’s, that wisecrack made him less a friend now. The fact that Jerry had played two games without scoring a single
point hadn’t set well with Freddie either.

Jerry shrugged. “Let’s wait and see,” he said.

Each Chariot took his turn shooting at the basket. When Jerry’s turn came, he ran in toward the basket, caught the toss
from the man in the other line, jumped up and laid it in.

“Hey, man!” shouted Chuck Metz, the team’s forward and Freddie Pearse’s pal. “He made it!”

“Sure, but wait till the game starts,” said Freddie. “He’ll choke up.”

Jerry’s face turned cherry red as he tried to ignore the center’s sarcasm. Freddie was getting to be too much.

Game time came and the Chariots huddled around Coach Dick Stull, a tall, broad-shouldered man with black hair and long sideburns.

“The big thing on defense is to play your man,” he reminded them. “Keep between him and the ball and be careful not to foul.
Last Thursday the Pilots picked up eight points on us on fouls alone, so
let’s cut that figure down. Jerry, you’re starting again. You didn’t score a single point in the first two games, so I’m
sure you’re ready to bust loose. Okay, let’s go.”

They broke out of the huddle and ran to their positions on the court, Ronnie and Chuck at forward, Freddie at center, Lin
Foo and Jerry at guard. Jumping center for the Foxfires was Eddie Reed, a tall, rangy kid with glasses. A chorus of yells
and whistles exploded from the fans in the bleachers.

The referee’s whistle shrilled, the ball went up, the centers jumped. Freddie tapped the ball to Chuck. Chuck caught it and
dribbled down the sideline. The Foxfire guarding him bolted in front of him, arms reaching for the ball, and Chuck passed
it to Ronnie. Ronnie turned, faked
a throw that fooled his guard, then shot. The ball sank through the hoop without touching the rim.

The Chariot fans went wild. Jerry, watching both his man and the Foxfire taking out the ball, kicked out his right foot as
he saw the bounce coming. The ball ricocheted up, he caught it, and bolted down the court. Seconds later his man was in front
of him, arms beating the air. Jerry passed to Chuck, then broke for the basket. During that moment while Jerry was in the
clear, Chuck passed him the ball and up he went with it.

The ball hit the boards, bounded against the rim — and off!

“Ohhhh, no!” groaned the Chariot fans.

“Jeepers, Jerry!” grumbled a voice Jerry recognized as Freddie Pearse’s. “You couldn’t make a shot if you were standing
over the basket! What’s with you, anyway?”

I don’t know
, Jerry wanted to say.
I just don’t know
.

2

A
FOXFIRE CAUGHT A REBOUND, passed to a teammate, who dribbled down the court, no one in front of him. No one for a while,
that is, for just as he crossed the center line Jerry reached him and stole the ball.

Jerry dribbled to the sideline, two Foxfires after him, and shot a pass to Ronnie. Ronnie moved the ball halfway down the
front court and was instantly double-teamed. He leaped and passed to Freddie who came to a dead stop near the foul line and
took a shot. The ball bounced
against the boards and into the net.

“Nice steal, Jerry!” yelled a fan, and Jerry recognized his father’s voice. He smiled warmly. His father and mother, his best
rooters, never missed a game if they could help it.

Again the Foxfires took out the ball. This time the pass to a teammate was good. He dribbled the ball down the court and passed
it to a man in a corner. The man shot and hit for two points.

Jerry took out the ball for the Chariots, bounce passing it to Ronnie who dribbled it upcourt. A Foxfire threatened to take
the ball from him and he passed to Freddie. The tall center was smothered instantly, the ball slipping out of his hands and
rolling free. Jerry and a Foxfire bolted after it. Jerry, reaching it first, grabbed it up, dribbled to a corner, saw no one
free
to pass to, and took a set. The ball hit the rim, bounded up high, came down and hit the rim again. Jerry rushed in for the
rebound, caught it, jumped for the lay-up and missed.

Again he got the rebound, yanking it out of a Foxfire’s hands. But this time he didn’t shoot. Panting breathlessly, sweat
rolling down his cheeks, he passed off to Ronnie as he heard Freddie’s voice ringing in his ears, “Pass it, will you? Your
shots are bad, man!”

The whistle shrilled for a jump ball as a Foxfire trapped the ball in Ronnie’s hand.

A sub rushed in, pointed at Jerry and Jerry went out, wiping the sweat off his forehead.

“I just can’t understand it, Coach,” he said, grabbing a towel and drying his face. “The ball just won’t go in for me.”

“I can’t understand it, either, Jerry,” Coach Stull admitted. “That corner shot looked sure to drop in, and at the last second
it looked as if somebody had pulled it away with a string. The same thing happened with that lay-up. No reason why it should’ve
bounced way off the boards like it did, but it did. I guess it’s the breaks. Anyway, you’re doing fine in defense and I want
you to rest a while.”

Jerry tossed the towel back to Mickey Ross, the small, dark-haired manager, and sat down.
Yes
, he thought,
it’s a good thing I’m doing all right in defense, otherwise I’d be sitting on the bench most of the time
.

The Foxfires held a two-point lead when the quarter ended, and were ahead by six points at the middle of the second quarter.

BOOK: Front Court Hex
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