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Authors: Matt Christopher

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BOOK: Front Court Hex
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In the locker room after the game Jerry
overheard Ronnie say to Freddie, “I don’t like the idea of freezing Jerry out. I think it’s mean.”

“Why? Because he’s your friend?”

“Because he’s my friend and because it’s mean, that’s why.”

“What good is a guy if he shoots and never hits?” Freddie snapped.

“Jerry’s the best dribbler we’ve got,” Ronnie countered. “And he’s good on the rebounds. Even better than you are, and he’s
shorter.”

“My eye,” said Freddie.

Jerry smiled to himself. Nobody but a real friend would stick up for him as Ronnie had.

He showered, dressed, and found Ronnie waiting for him near the door.

“Thanks for speaking up for me,” Jerry said as they left the warm smell of the
locker room behind them and stepped out into the chill night air.

“He had it coming,” Ronnie said.

They waited for a car to pass by, then crossed the street.

“When’s our next game?” Jerry asked.

“Thursday,” said Ronnie. “It’s another scrimmage. We don’t play a league game again until next Tuesday against the Skylarks.”

Jerry was silent a moment. “I won’t be there,” he said finally.

Ronnie frowned. “Why not?”

“I’m going to be sick that night,” Jerry replied.

10

J
ERRY KEPT HIS PROMISE. He didn’t show up for the game.

He started to read a book on antique and classic cars, but couldn’t concentrate on it. He knew that his place was at the game,
not here. Even though it was a scrimmage, even though he might not make a single basket, he should have gone to the game.

Darn it!
he thought.
It’s all Freddie Pearse’s fault!

Freddie was the real reason why Jerry didn’t go. Sometimes Chuck Metz and the
other guys made remarks to Jerry about his missing shots, but it was Freddie who really was the dirty one.

He’s the one who climbs all over my back whenever I miss
, Jerry thought despairingly.
He never considers how hard I play. He overlooks the times when I steal the ball from an opponent, pick off rebounds, and
dribble the ball upcourt to make it possible for him and the other guys to shoot. No, he thinks that I should make baskets,
too.

Jerry was quiet at the breakfast table the next morning.

“Jerry, I haven’t heard you say a word about Danny Weatherspoon lately,” his mother said.

“I haven’t seen him,” Jerry said.

“Oh? Do you suppose he isn’t well?”

“I don’t know.”

At about 10:00 Jerry was in the school corridor, heading for math class, when someone poked him on the shoulder. He turned,
and couldn’t believe his eyes.

“Danny!” he cried, and looked at the red bell-bottom pants and blue shirt Danny wore. “Man, do you look sharp!”

Danny grinned. “Thanks, Jerry. My mother thinks I should wear clothes according to the custom of the times.”

“Yeah, you sure look better,” Jerry agreed. “Where have you been during the last week?”

“Home. And here. Oh, I know what
you’ve
been doing. That’s what I want to see you about.”

Jerry frowned. “Now? This minute?”

“This minute,” Danny said. “Come on. Let’s get out of this traffic.”

He elbowed Jerry around the corner of the hall. “Jerry, you’ll have to get on the ball,” he said emphatically. “You haven’t
paid the slightest attention to what I’ve been telling you.”

“About my doing things at home, you mean?”

“Not things, Jerry! Duties! Your behavior is a disgrace to you and the Weatherspoons! Of all the relatives in our warlock
ancestry you are just about the most — well, I can’t describe it.”

“Then don’t try,” said Jerry.

“Can’t you understand that I’m trying to help you for your own good?” Danny persisted. “Unless you mend your ways you’ll continue
through life just the way you have been on the basketball court. Basketball is only one of the many ways in which you can
suffer for your shameful
behavior. Am I getting through to you, Jerry?”

“You’re all wet, Danny,” Jerry said seriously. “I’m not going to be a goody-goody to satisfy you or any other ‘warlock ancestor’
of mine. You’re wasting your time.”

“I’m not asking you to be a goody-goody. Nor an angel, either. I’m just asking you to live decently, not to steal, and to
love your parents by showing it. Is anything wrong with that?”

Jerry admitted there wasn’t.

“Then will you please get off your high horse and start working at it?” Danny said. “You come from a distinguished family,
Jerry. You’re different from other people.” Danny smiled. “Really, it’s no disgrace being related to warlocks. It’s a lot
of fun most of the time. Who knows?

Maybe some day
you
may be asked to help a warlock relative yourself!”

“Don’t count on it,” muttered Jerry.

A buzzer rang.

“See you at the next game, Jerry,” Danny said. “And please be there.” He left.

“Warlocks,” Jerry mumbled as he headed for his classroom. “I still don’t know whether to believe that baloney or not. I don’t
feel
related to a warlock. Isn’t it supposed to make you feel differently?”

Jerry ignored Danny’s advice. Oh, he wasn’t going to do anything wild or far out to purposely prove that what Danny said was
hogwash; he was just going to live his life normally, that’s all. Any other way would mean that he was taking Danny seriously.
And he wouldn’t do that for all the nickels in the world.

“A warlock!” Jerry said again, disgustedly. “What does he take me for? A nut?”

There were several incidents that came up before the next game that gave Jerry an opportunity to prove that Danny was just
a fraud. He didn’t get up in the morning when his mother first called him, and he
borrowed
a bright blue felt-tipped pen from a girl’s desk with no intention of returning it. He took it for three reasons: one, he
liked its looks; two, he didn’t have one himself; and three, the girl could always buy another one.

He also tore two pictures out of a library book on antique and classic cars to add to his collection, telling himself that
nobody would miss them. See if warlock Danny Weatherspoon would find out about
that!

He thought of excuses to avoid helping
his mother do the supper dishes, lied that he had a headache when she asked him to go to the store, and spent two hours at
Ronnie’s house one evening, coming home too late to write an essay on pollution which had to be turned in the next day.

Although he knew that every one of those deeds was a violation of what Danny called decent living, Jerry didn’t think that
any of them would hurt anybody. He, himself, felt guilty about them — but not too guilty. He was just following the whims
of his nature, he told himself, hoping that his excuse was logical.

He could hardly wait for the next game. It was on Tuesday, December 21, against the Skylarks. He hadn’t touched a basketball
since last Tuesday when the Chariots had played an intrasquad game.

A large crowd filled the bleachers, including Jerry’s mother and father. While warming up before the game Jerry looked for
and saw Danny Weatherspoon on the top row of the bleachers. He tried to catch Danny’s attention, but the little guy was busy
talking with the boy beside him.

At last the referee blew his whistle, announcing the start of the game. But Jerry didn’t start. Manny Lucas played in his
place.

The Skylarks’ tall, dark-haired center, Stretch Peters, outjumped Freddie, and in no time the ball was at the Skylarks’ end
of the court. Quick passes, evasive action, and a hook shot resulted in the Skylarks drawing first blood.

Manny took the ball out-of-bounds, tossed it in to Ronnie, and the forward
moved the ball upcourt. He passed to Freddie, who tried a long shot and missed. Freddie ran in, nabbed the rebound and went
up with it. This time the ball dropped through the net.

The Skylarks scored again, and drew a one-shot foul as Manny recklessly charged a Skylark taking the lay-up shot that went
in. The three points put the Skylarks in front, 5 – 2.

They gained nine more within the next five minutes against the Chariots’ four, and five of those were sunk by Manny’s man.

“Take Manny’s place, Jerry,” Coach Stull said. “Stop that Skylark or he’ll sink us alone.”

Jerry reported to the scorekeeper, then went in when the Chariots called time. “Sorry, Manny,” Jerry said.

“Oh, not you again,” said Freddie. “What does Coach Stull expect you to do? Fire us up?”

“He wants me to stop that Skylark from getting more baskets,” Jerry said softly.

“Isn’t that nice? That Skylark’s name is Jeff Sanders and he’s one of the highest scorers in the league. And you expect to
stop him?”

“I’m going to try,” Jerry promised.

“That’s all you will do — try,” Freddie said, and wiped his sweat-beaded forehead.

Time-in was called and Lin Foo took the ball out for the Chariots. Jerry caught the throw-in and started to peg the ball to
Ronnie. A Skylark vaulted in front of him, intercepted the throw and heaved it to a teammate downcourt.

Jerry stared, hardly believing it. That
had
never
happened to him before.

“Nice play, Jerry!” Freddie yelled. “You sure could stop anybody playing like that!”

11

J
ERRY TURNED OUT to be as ineffective against the Skylark forward as Manny was. He was almost worse. Once he accidentally tripped
the player and the ref called it a foul. The Skylark sank the shot. At another time Jerry bolted in to stop the player from
taking a set shot, and slipped and knocked him down, a violation that gave the Skylark two shots. Fortunately the Skylark
sank only one.

Lin Foo scored a lay-up and sank a foul shot to make the score 21 – 11 in the Skylarks’ favor when the first quarter ended.

“Coach,” Freddie’s voice was loud and brittle as he looked at the coach during intermission, “are you going to keep Jerry
—” He faltered. “Sorry. Forget it.”

Jerry blushed. Nothing ever pleased Freddie more than having a scapegoat to blame for the team’s not doing well. Especially
a scapegoat whom he had never liked in the first place. Jerry understood the reason why perfectly.

About a year ago, during basketball season, Jerry had been dropping in baskets from all over the front court with a regularity
that earned him the honor of being best player of the year. Second highest in scoring was Freddie. Jerry was certain that
it was because he beat out Freddie that Freddie held a grudge.

Coach Stull looked at Jerry. “Kid, for some reason or other you’re way off target.
You’re not playing half as well as you played last year and I’m at a loss to understand why. Is something bothering you?”

Jerry shook his head. “No. Nothing’s bothering me.”

Danny Weatherspoon came to his mind, but he couldn’t mention Danny. If he said that Danny was a warlock, they’d laugh him
off the court. Jerry was really inclined to believe now that his playing was once again so poor that what Danny said could
be true — he was a warlock.

“Maybe you’ll snap out of it eventually,” Coach Stull said. “In the meantime, I think you’d better rest a while.”

Feeling everyone’s eyes on him, Jerry looked at the floor and said nothing. As soon as the horn blew to start the second quarter,
he left the circle of men and sat down.

The Skylarks had control of the ball during most of the quarter and led 31 – 19 when the half ended.

It wasn’t until the fourth quarter that the coach had him go in again. The Skylarks now led 44 – 29, a lead that almost assured
them of a win.

Jerry saw the dirty look that Freddie Pearse shot at him, and wished that the coach had kept him on the bench. The thrill
of the game had been drained out of him. He lacked not only the enthusiasm to play, but also the strength. All he would do
is make himself more humiliated.

A minute went by and he didn’t get the ball once. It was obvious that the guys were freezing him out, and he couldn’t blame
them. Anybody could see that he was practically worthless.

He saw Danny in the stands. For a mo
ment their eyes met, and Danny shook his head sadly from side to side.

Jerry wanted help from him, but was sure he wouldn’t get it. Danny wasn’t one to go back on his word. At least not under these
conditions. Whatever Jerry wanted, he had to earn.

Jerry was alone in a corner on the front court when Ronnie dribbled the ball across the keyhole and snapped a pass to him.
Caught by surprise by the unexpected throw, Jerry almost missed it. He clamped his hands tightly on the ball, glanced around
for someone to pass to, and saw Freddie’s hands fluttering high in the air. But Freddie’s guard was on him like a leech, and
Jerry was afraid that a pass to the Chariot center might be intercepted.

“Shoot, Jerry! Shoot!” the coach yelled.

Jerry shot. The ball arced through the air and headed directly for the center of the hoop. It struck the side of the rim and
bounced off.

Jerry, running forward the instant he had shot, caught the rebound and tossed it to Ronnie. Ronnie rose out of the cluster
of players and laid the ball up and into the net for two points.

BOOK: Front Court Hex
8.81Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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