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Authors: Matt Christopher

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BOOK: Front Court Hex
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He wore a heavy Windbreaker and was bareheaded. Jerry had never seen him before in his life.

“It’s late,” Jerry said. “And it’s cold.”

“It’ll only take a minute,” Danny Weatherspoon said.

Jerry shivered. “Okay, go ahead and talk.”

Danny Weatherspoon looked him directly in the eyes. “Don’t — don’t you think it’s kind of funny that you haven’t been making
baskets?”

Jerry blinked. What was the kid driving at?

“Well?” asked Danny.

“Yeah,” Jerry replied after he was able to. “Why?”

“I’m responsible,” Danny said.

Jerry stared at him. “You’re
what
?”

“I’m responsible,” Danny repeated. “Well — in a way, that is.” Danny smiled, looked up and down the street and back again
at Jerry. “The truth is, you brought this on yourself, so don’t blame it all on me.”

“Brought
what
on?” cried Jerry, completely baffled at what Danny Weather-spoon was trying to tell him.

“This — this
thing!
” Danny said seriously. “This — problem!”

“You’re nuts,” Jerry said, and started to cross the street. “Good night. I’m bushed. I’ve got to get some sleep.”

Danny Weatherspoon hurried up alongside of him. “I’m here to help you, Jerry! Please listen, will you?”

Jerry crossed the street and stopped. “Look, Danny Weatherspoon, I don’t like jokes on a cold, snowy night — especially from
some kid I’ve never seen before. Now leave me alone, will you? Play them on somebody else. Freddie Pearse, for example. He
might just
love
’em.”

“But Freddie is not a relative,” Danny said.

Jerry frowned. “A relative? You mean that you’re a relative of mine?”

Danny chuckled. “That’s right. From
way back, and I mean way back. Three hundred years, at least.”

“Mom and Dad never mentioned any Weatherspoons to me,” Jerry murmured.

“Of course not. That’s because they’re not your natural mother and father. You do know that, don’t you?”

“Sure I do. My natural parents died when I was about three.”

“Right. In a car accident,” said Danny.

Jerry frowned. “How did you know about that?” he asked curiously.

Danny grinned. “It’s true, isn’t it?”

“Well — yes.” Danny’s parents must have read about it in the newspaper and told him, of course. How else could he know?

Jerry saw the snow piling on Danny’s head, and knew that it must be piling on his, too. He felt chilled and wanted to
hurry home before he caught a cold. Mom and Dad would be wondering what had happened to him.

“What’s all this got to do with my not making baskets?” he asked.

“You’ve been spoiling the good reputation of a Weatherspoon, and until you change for the better your shots won’t get any
better either,” Danny said.

Jerry stared at him, and laughed. Suddenly he wasn’t angry at the kid anymore. He was amused. He would play along with him
for just another minute or two, then go home. It seemed that he had found a new friend, even if Danny was talking a lot of
nonsense.

“What have I been doing to spoil a good reputation?” he asked.

Danny shrugged. “A lot of things, like aggravating your mother, for instance.
And letting your father carry out the garbage and shovel the snow when you are supposed to do those jobs yourself. And, to
top it off, asking Ronnie Malone to do your book report for you. Man, that’s
real
nerve!”

Jerry’s heart drummed. “How — how could you know all this?” he asked huskily.

Danny’s eyes twinkled. “I’m a warlock,” he smiled.

“A warlock?” Jerry echoed. “What’s a warlock?”

“A person with supernatural powers. A man is called a warlock, a woman is called a witch. You know what a witch is, don’t
you?”

“Sure I know what a witch is,” Jerry replied, getting more annoyed with Danny by the minute. “Now that you’ve ex
plained it to me, mind if I go home?”

“Jerry! For Petey sakes, believe me, will you? I’m serious!”

“Okay, I believe you. All right?” Anything to get rid of the obnoxious kid, whoever he was. Warlock! Oh, man!

Just then the sound of loud, screeching tires drew Jerry’s attention, and he saw a red sports car cutting around the street
corner at a rate of speed that must have exceeded the town’s speed limit.

“Wow! Look at him go!” Jerry cried. “How would you like to have wheels like that?”

He turned to look at Danny, a fat grin on his face. Instantly the grin faded. His skin crawled.

“Danny?” he said.

But Danny seemed to have vanished. He was nowhere in sight.

5

W
HAT KEPT YOU so late?” Mr. Steele asked as Jerry pulled off his snow-covered jacket and tossed it over the back of a chair.

“I met a kid who said his name is Danny Weatherspoon,” Jerry replied. “He said he’s a relative of mine, and a warlock.”

His father laughed. “Where does he live?”

“Somewhere nearby. I didn’t think to ask him.”

“A warlock, huh?” Mrs. Steele picked
up his jacket, shook the melting snow onto a rug near the door, and went to hang it in the closet. “What kids will do nowadays
for kicks. Want something to eat, Jerry?”

“A bowl of cereal and something hot to drink,” he said.

“Hot chocolate?”

“Okay.”

In bed he tried to erase Danny Weatherspoon from his mind, but couldn’t. How could Danny know so much about him? Danny’s words
echoed in his ears as he fell asleep.

The next morning he heard his mother yelling to him to get up, but he only turned over and tried to fall back to sleep. She
would call again, he was sure. She always did.

Suddenly he remembered what Danny Weatherspoon had said to him, and in a
flash he was out of bed, yanking on his clothes and running downstairs just as his mother was about to yell again.

She stared at him as he popped into the kitchen, panting. “I can’t believe it,” she exclaimed. “Is it really you, Jerry?”

He grinned. “It’s really me, Mom.”

He looked out of the window and saw a thick blanket of snow covering the driveway. Deep tire tracks indicated that his father
had left for work without having shoveled off the snow.

“I’ll shovel out the driveway before I eat, Mom,” Jerry volunteered.

He put on his jacket, noticing his mother’s surprised expression.

“Jerry, are you all right?” she asked.

“I’m just fine, Mom,” he smiled.

He got the shovel from the garage and had the driveway half shoveled out when
his mother yelled to him from a window, “You don’t have to shovel it all now, Jerry! Leave the rest of it for this afternoon!”

A good idea, he thought. He was getting tired, anyway, and it wasn’t absolutely necessary that he finish it now. His father
wouldn’t be home till about 5:30, by which time Jerry, starting after school, could have the driveway shoveled out clean.
He put the shovel away and went into the house.

He took a shower, then sat down for breakfast, feeling hungry enough to eat a whole hog. Well, two eggs and two slices of
toast, anyway, which were what his mother made for him.

That afternoon, when he returned home from school, he finished shoveling off the driveway. When Mr. Steele drove
in his expression clearly indicated that he couldn’t believe what he saw.

“Who did you hire to do that?” he asked Mrs. Steele.

She smiled and nodded at Jerry. “Your son did it.”

Mr. Steele’s eyes brightened. “Good work, son. I had a rough day, and thinking about shoveling off this driveway when I got
home made it rougher. Thanks very much.”

Jerry didn’t tell him that he had done it just to see if being obedient and cooperative at home could have anything to do
with his making baskets. What nonsense! How could it possibly have a connection? A guy has to be a nut to believe such garbage.

Nonetheless, he decided he would go
one step farther. After supper he would wash and dry the dishes. If Mom and Dad wondered if there were an ulterior motive
in his being such an eager beaver all of a sudden, he would think of an explanation.

“Jerry! What do you think you’re doing?” his mother asked as he cleared the table after supper and started to run water into
a large pan in the sink.

“You and Dad sit in the living room and relax, Mom,” Jerry said. “I’ll do the dishes.”

“I can’t believe it!” she cried. “What’s got into you?”

“Nothing. I just want to give you and Dad a day off. Isn’t that all right?”

She looked at him a long moment before she answered. “Yes, of course, it is, and we appreciate it a lot. But you don’t have
to overdo it, you know. We don’t
want you to get so tired that you won’t want to do it again. Let me wash the dishes and you dry them.”

Well, I won’t argue with her
, Jerry thought. So she washed and he dried.

On Thursday night, December 9, the Chariots played the Peacocks. The game started with Jerry on the bench. He couldn’t believe
it. Even as he watched the short, stocky player running out there, catching a pass, throwing it, jumping for a rebound and
not getting anywhere near it, Jerry couldn’t believe that Coach Stull would start Manny Lucas instead of him.

Immediately he thought of the chores he had done at home — the hard work of shoveling off the driveway and the easy job of
drying the supper dishes — and he told himself that he had wasted his time. Believing a single word that Danny
Weatherspoon had told him was like believing in elves and leprechauns.

He looked around for Danny and saw him sitting among a group of guys on the top row. Danny waved and Jerry waved back, though
not enthusiastically. Frankly, he was hoping that Danny had stayed away.

Freddie Pearse sank the first basket for the Chariots, then Ronnie was fouled and managed to sink one out of two. The Peacock
playing opposite Manny was fast and handled the ball well, scoring twice and even stealing the ball once from the stocky Chariot.
Jerry covered his eyes and wondered how long Coach Stull would keep Manny in there.

The Peacocks crept up to a 13 – 8 lead. Then — Jerry could hardly believe his
eyes — Manny sank a twenty-footer! The Chariot fans roared and Manny grinned, taking a bow as he ran upcourt.

Jerry couldn’t help but smile, too. Manny deserved a basket once in a while.

But so do I
, Jerry thought.
Why can’t I sink one? And now, while I’m warming the bench, what chance have I got to get back into the groove again? How
long will the coach have me sit here?

There were two minutes left in the first quarter when Coach Stull sent Jerry in to replace Manny. Jerry, caught by surprise,
wasn’t ready. He had practically accepted the fact that he wouldn’t be playing at all the first quarter.

After reporting to the scorekeeper he ran in and met Freddie Pearse’s eyes squarely.

“I was wishing you’d sit out this whole game,” Freddie said evenly. “Manny was doing fine.”

“I knew you’d be happy to see me come in,” Jerry replied.

Freddie glowered at him and looked away, shaking his head. Jerry knew he had to play harder now, harder than he had ever played
before, to keep the team together and to show Freddie a thing or two.

6

J
ERRY GOT THE BALL only once during those two minutes. Even though he was in the open several times no one passed to him. Not
until he ran to a corner on a hard press by the Peacocks did Ronnie pass him the ball.

“Shoot!” a voice Jerry recognized as Danny’s shouted. “Shoot, Jerry!”

Nervously Jerry stood looking at the basket, the ball gripped in his hands. He wanted to shoot, but he was afraid he would
miss. He had missed so many times before.

“Jerry, shoot!”

Jerry never saw the Peacock sweeping in until the player hit the ball out of his hands. He hustled to retrieve it. But the
Peacock, a little dynamo, dribbled it away and passed it downcourt to a teammate. Seconds later the Peacocks scored another
basket. 15 – 10.

Jerry ran downcourt in a daze. He felt that every eye in the gym was on him. He bumped into Chuck Metz, who almost tripped
over his own feet as he tried to regain his balance.

“Look where you’re going, will you?” Chuck snorted.

“Sorry,” Jerry murmured.

The first quarter ended, and Coach Stull rose from the bench as the guys crowded around him. “You seem to be in
a fog out there, Jerry,” he said. “You all right?”

Jerry nodded.

“I don’t think he is, Coach,” Chuck said. “Did you see him run into me?”

Jerry glared at him, looked at the coach, then at the floor.

“Something’s really bothering him, Coach,” Freddie said. “He doesn’t know what he’s doing out there.”

“Nothing’s bothering me,” Jerry grunted, trying to keep his temper under control. “You guys were freezing me out. What do
you expect me to do?”

“You haven’t scored a point this year,” Freddie snapped. “What do you expect
us
to do?”

“All right, cut it out,” Coach Stull ordered. “We can’t have a team of squab
blers. I want you to start the second quarter, Jerry. If you need warming up you’ll have the chance. Okay, get together out
there and play basketball like you mean it. We’re trailing 15 – 10. Let’s get in front for a change.”

BOOK: Front Court Hex
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