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Authors: Matt Christopher

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When Jerry arrived home, he asked his mother if it was okay for Danny to come for supper, and she said of course it was. He
started to the phone to call up Danny and suddenly realized that he didn’t know Danny’s number. Not only that, he didn’t even
know where Danny lived.

He looked in the phone directory for Danny’s number, but there was no Weatherspoon listed.

He put on his coat and walked out of the house, hoping that he would run across the little guy. He did — just as he reached
the corner of the street. Danny was bundled up in a heavy coat and hood.

“Hi!” Jerry cried. “You’re just the guy I’m looking for!”

“About the supper?” Danny asked.

“Right,” said Jerry. “Mom says it’s okay.”

“Fine. Want me to come now?”

“Why not?”

They went to Jerry’s house and Jerry introduced Danny to his mother. Then he took Danny to his room and showed him his antique
model cars. They were lined up diagonally in neat rows on three shelves, ten on each shelf.

“What a beautiful collection!” Danny exclaimed. “Did you assemble them yourself?”

“Of course,” Jerry said proudly.

“Every single bit of them?”

“Every single bit.”

“Hmm,” murmured Danny.

“Okay. So my father helped me,” Jerry confessed. “But I did
most
of the work.”

Danny smiled. He looked at the pictures on one of the walls, pictures of racing cars from the earliest days of racing down
to the present. On another wall were basketball pictures cut out from magazines, and autographed photos of basketball players.
Danny looked impressed.

He pulled open a drawer. “Wow!” he cried, and stared at Jerry.

Jerry slammed the drawer shut. “What’re you looking at me like that for?” he said tightly.

“That’s an awful lot of pens,” Danny said. “And most of them have somebody else’s name on ’em.”

Jerry’s heart pounded. “They’re cheap pens. Nobody missed them.”

“So what? You’ve got to give them back, Jerry.”

Jerry tried to hide his embarrassment and control his temper at the same time. Danny had no business opening that drawer.
That was going too far.

“Are you going to tell people that I took their pens?” he asked.

“No.”

The silence that followed hung over them like a heavy sheet. Jerry could hear his mother’s footsteps on the kitchen floor,
and dishes scraping as she set the table.

“Why, Jerry?” Danny asked imploringly. “Why did you take them?”

Jerry shrugged. “I was always losing my own, that’s why. Then one day Dad told me I’d better not lose another one because
he wasn’t going to buy me any more pens.”

“So you started to gather up a collection from the kids in school.”

Jerry nodded. “I know it’s not right, but —”

“Not right?” Danny stared at him. “Jerry! That’s stealing! You might get in real trouble!”

“I know.” Jerry paused. “Okay. I’ll give them back — every single one of them.”

His mother’s yell for them to come to supper interrupted further discussion about the pens. Mr. Steele had come home and Jerry
introduced Danny to him, adding that he was a new friend who lived a few blocks away.

“Got any hobbies, Danny?” Mrs. Steele asked after they began to eat.

“Oh, yes,” replied Danny. “Several.”

“What’s your favorite?”

“Reading.”

“What kind of reading?”

“Old American history.”

“Oh? That’s very interesting.”

Jerry saw a twinkle in his mother’s eyes, and his pulse quickened. Did she think she had trapped Danny? Was Danny’s answer
conclusive evidence that his story about being a warlock was due to his reading so much on old American history?

“As a matter of fact,” Danny went on to say, “I think that the seventeenth century was more fascinating than any other time
in our history.”

“Is that so?” Mr. Steele’s eyebrows arched with interest. “Why’s that, Danny?”

Danny chewed on a hunk of food before answering. “Because it was a period when many people believed in witchcraft,” he said.
“And a lot of innocent peo
ple died through no fault of their own. It was a horrible time to live.”

“That’s right, Danny. It sure was,” agreed Mr. Steele.

Jerry’s heart skipped a beat as he looked from his father to his mother, noticing the warm smile they exchanged with each
other.

He was glad when supper was over and he and Danny could leave the table. He was hoping that Danny would want to go home so
that there would not be any more discussion about witchcraft. But Danny seemed to be in no hurry to leave. As a matter of
fact, Danny said, “Come on, Jerry. Let’s help your mother do the dishes.”

9

I
S OLD AMERICAN HISTORY really your favorite kind of reading?” Jerry asked as he and Danny, bundled in their warm clothes,
walked down the street together.

“Of course it is. Why?”

Jerry shrugged. “It’s just peculiar, that’s all. Most kids like anything else
but
old — or even new — American history. Mom and Dad didn’t embarrass you with their questions, did they?”

“Don’t be silly. As a matter of fact, I anticipated their questions.” Danny’s eyes
twinkled. “I’ve been through that before, Jerry.”

They reached the end of the third block when Danny said, “We’re halfway to my home, Jerry. Thanks for walking this far with
me, and for inviting me for supper.”

“That’s okay,” said Jerry. “Good night, Danny.”

“Good night, Jerry.”

When Jerry arrived home he took off his coat and found his mother and father relaxing in the living room. His father was sitting
on his favorite lounge chair, reading the evening paper, and his mother was mending a shirt.

“Well, what do you think of him?” Jerry asked.

“Of Danny?” His mother smiled. “He’s a very nice boy. Smart, too, and well-mannered.”

“You’ve found a nice friend,” his father said. “Don’t lose him.”

“Now you know where he gets his ideas about warlocks,” his mother added.

“Yes,” Jerry replied. “From reading old American history.”

Jerry didn’t see Danny during the next two days, but thought nothing of it. Everyone was staying indoors as much as they could
since the temperature had dropped to a few degrees below zero.

More days went by and Jerry still didn’t see Danny. One sunny, not-too-cold day he walked near the neighborhood where he first
saw Danny but saw him nowhere. Now and then Ronnie Malone stopped in to visit Jerry and Jerry visited him. They were still
the best of friends. But not seeing Danny Weatherspoon all this time be
gan to leave a void in Jerry’s life. What had happened to the little guy, anyway?

Meanwhile Jerry got back into his regular routine again. It was so easy for him not to take his mother seriously whenever
she ordered him to do things, like getting rid of the cobwebs in the basement. What was wrong with cobwebs? Who saw them,
anyway? And weren’t spiders beneficial? They trapped flies and moths in their webs and ate them up, didn’t they?

The garbage was a problem, too. Jerry had promised his mother that he would carry it out at night for sure. But when the time
came he would neglect to do so, and his father would have to carry it out before he left for work in the morning.

And his dirty clothes. His mother wanted him to put on clean clothes every
day and to take his dirty ones down to the laundry room every morning. But he seldom did.
Why carry them down every day
, he reasoned,
when Mom launders only a couple of times a week anyway? She can pick them up when she cleans the room. Why all the fuss about
cleanliness, anyway?

“Ronnie,” Jerry asked his friend one day, “do your parents make you do a lot of chores around the house?”

“Well, I mow the lawn.”

“In winter?”

“No. In summer, lunkhead.”

“What do you do in winter?”

“I always carry out the garbage — in winter and summer,” Ronnie replied. “And every time the bottles pile up, I take them
to the special bin out in back of the
grocery store. Most of them are being recycled.”

“Your parents pay you for doing all that?”

“Heck, no. Why should they pay me?”

Jerry looked at him a long minute. “Forget it,” he said.

The Chariots had intrasquad practice on Tuesday, December 14, and Jerry started. He looked for Danny among the few scattered
fans sitting in the bleachers, but didn’t see him.

“Ronnie, have you seen Danny Weatherspoon lately?” he asked.

“Danny who?”

“Danny Weatherspoon. A little guy. Has dark hair, wears a heavy coat.”

“Is that so? A little guy, has dark hair and wears a heavy coat. Do you know
how many guys go to our school who look like that?”

Jerry stared. “You don’t know Danny?”

“No, I don’t know Danny.”

Freddie Pearse walked up to Jerry and looked him straight in his eyes. “Jerry, if you want to yak, sit on the bench. You do
a lot better job yakking than playing, anyway.”

“You must’ve forgotten who sparked the team in that last game, Freddie,” Jerry said, standing up to Freddie without twitching
a muscle.

“If you ask me, you were just lucky,” Freddie said.

“I’m not asking you,” said Jerry.

The whistle shrilled and Coach Stull yelled, “C’mon, you guys! Let’s get the show moving!”

Freddie gave Jerry a burning look be
fore he turned and walked to his center position. Opposite him was the team’s alternate center, Pat Wilson, who was as tall
as Freddie but who lacked the spring in his jump that Freddie had. Freddie out-jumped him, tapping the ball to Chuck Metz,
who dribbled quickly upcourt, then passed to Lin Foo. Lin dribbled up closer to the basket, then almost fell as a couple of
opponents swarmed over him. He passed to Jerry and Jerry took a shot. The throw looked perfect. The ball struck the boards
and bounced into —

No, it didn’t! It hit the rim and bounced off!

“Tough luck, Jerry!” Ronnie cried.

Freddie caught the rebound and laid it up. The ball dropped smoothly through the net, and Freddie, running downcourt, glared
at Jerry.

“Just pass the ball, Jerry,” he said. “If you keep on shooting we’re going to freeze you out.”

Jerry stared at him. “Freeze me out? That shot just missed by a hair!”

“A miss is as good as a mile,” Freddie grunted.

Once, later on, Jerry had another chance to shoot, and took it. He was in the clear and all of his teammates were thoroughly
covered. The ball struck the rim, bounced halfway to the ceiling, then dropped. It headed directly for the middle of the hoop
— but suddenly, as if a string had pulled it, it struck the rim and bounced off.

“Oh, no!” Jerry moaned.

“Number two!” Freddie yelled. “Okay, Jerry! You asked for it!”

Jerry was too disheartened to run in for
the rebound. Pat Wilson caught it, took it upcourt and shot a long pass to a teammate waiting near his basket. The kid caught
the ball and laid it up for an easy two points.

The whistle shrilled and Jerry saw Freddie walking over to the coach. Freddie said something, then both he and Coach Stull
looked at Jerry.

The rat!
Jerry thought.
Freddie’s probably told the coach to take me out!

The coach said something to Freddie, and Freddie came trotting back onto the court, his face cherry red.

“What’s up, Freddie?” Chuck Metz asked.

“Nothing,” Freddie said.

I bet
, Jerry thought.
“Nothing,” the way Freddie had said it, meant “a lot.”

The scrimmage continued, but Jerry
lacked the spirit and the energy that he had earlier. Knowing that Freddie Pearse was angry because Coach Stull was permitting
Jerry to stay in the game sapped the strength out of him. Jerry didn’t shoot after that, nor did the guys pass to him as often
as they had. They were already beginning the freeze.

As the freeze continued, Jerry noticed the change in the first team’s play. Both Lin Foo and Chuck Metz, although fast runners,
weren’t good dribblers. Twice the ball was stolen from them, each time resulting in a basket for the second team. Also, by
freezing out Jerry, their pass patterns went awry. The team was disorganized. Only because the second team was inferior in
every respect was the first team able to outplay them.

BOOK: Front Court Hex
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