Authors: Tim Tharp
The Spectacular Now
Knights of the Hill Country
THIS IS A BORZOI BOOK PUBLISHED BY ALFRED A. KNOPF
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2013 by Tim Tharp
Jacket art copyright © Yakov Stavchansky for Shutterstock
Grateful acknowledgment is made to Hal Leonard for permission to reprint
lyrics from “Peggy Sue,” words and music by Jerry Allison, Norman Petty,
and Buddy Holly, copyright © 1957 (Renewed) by MPL Music
Publishing, Inc., and Wren Music Co. All Rights Reserved.
Reprinted with permission of Hal Leonard Corporation.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States by Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of
Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Mojo / Tim Tharp.
Summary: A boy who feels powerless in his own life sets out to investigate
the mystery of a missing high school girl in his town, who attends
an elite private high school very unlike his own.
[1. Self-realization—Fiction. 2. Missing children—Fiction. 3. High
schools—Fiction. 4. Schools—Fiction. 5. Secret societies—Fiction.
6. Mystery and detective stories.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment
and celebrates the right to read.
I never set out to look for Hector Maldonado. I was just minding my own business, walking home from my part-time grocery-sacking job. This was fall of my junior year, and I was one of the carless crew. So my skinny little work buddy Randy Skivens and I were plodding down the side of one of the busier streets in our Oklahoma City suburb, not far from the high school, having our usual conversation about nothing.
Randy’s like, “In my opinion Death Race is the best racing video game of all time.”
I wasn’t exactly the world’s biggest fan of racing games, but just for the sake of argument, I told him I thought Adrenaline Monster was the all-time best.
He gaped at me for a second. “Are you kidding, Dylan? Even Supercharger Pro is better than Adrenaline Monster.”
I’m like, “No way. That red car in Adrenaline Monster is the coolest car ever.”
“You mean that classic ’69 Mustang?”
“Yeah, I love that car. Matter of fact, as soon as I get enough paychecks put away, I’m going to buy one just like it.”
“No you’re not.”
“Sure I am. It’s going to be the fastest thing anybody’s ever
seen. I’ll pull into the high school parking lot and everybody’ll be like, ‘Check that out. I’ve never seen anything so awesome.’ ”
“No they won’t.”
“You don’t think people are going to be impressed by a ’69 Mustang?”
“Oh, they’d be impressed all right, but you’re never going to get one.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you don’t know anything about cars, and you’re never going to save enough money to afford a ’69 Mustang.”
And that was when these two ape men in an orange Camaro drove by, and the guy on the passenger side unloaded a half-full beer can that hit Randy right in the crotch.
Randy wasn’t a big guy, but he did have a big mouth and wasn’t exactly a genius, so he screamed one of his favorite obscenities and, in the direction of the Camaro, launched the single-finger salute, a.k.a. the “F” sign. As in “F” for
. Because that’s what you have to be to flip off a couple of nineteen- or twenty-year-old vo-tech-dropout gearheads on a weeknight bender.
The Camaro squealed to a stop.
Randy and I looked at each other, bug-eyed. “You are an idiot,” I informed him.
And Randy’s like, “Ruuuuuun!”
So away we ran. Over the curb. Around our high school field house. Past the practice field. Onto the senior parking lot. Here, I have to admit I carry a few extra pounds, so I’m not exactly a track star. And it didn’t help when Randy stopped all of a sudden.
“Wait a second,” he said.
“What the hell are you doing?”
He bent over and plucked something up from the ground. “I found a dollar.” He held up the bill like it was a winning lottery ticket or something.
“Are you kidding me?” I said. “Come on!”
Luckily, the Camaro couldn’t follow us directly but had to take the road to the east. Still, they’d hit the entrance to the parking lot just ahead of us, and doom would hammer us straight in the face if we didn’t do something.
“Split up,” I hollered. “They can’t follow us both.”
Without bothering to check which direction Randy took, I headed west and around the high school to the back of the building—behind the cafeteria where they dump the spoiled milk and the leftover rubbery Salisbury steaks.
The slamming of car doors echoed through the cool fall-of-junior-year evening, so I knew the ape men were close at hand. There was nothing to do but hide, and with the streetlight glaring down, I didn’t have any shadows to duck into. So, reluctantly, I flipped back the lid of the nearest Dumpster, hoisted myself over the side, and plummeted into the dank refuse of high school. With the lid closed, it was pretty much pitch black, and the stench was enough to cause a dude to almost puke. But that’s not all. As I tried to make myself at least a little comfortable, I leaned against what, for all the world, felt like somebody’s arm.
I’m like, “Jesus, Randy, how did you get in here already?”
“Randy?” I gave the arm a nudge, but still no response. I was like,
Hmmm, this is strange. Maybe it’s just a garbage bag or something
. But I never knew a garbage bag to have arms.
I reached over and gave whatever it was a squeeze. It felt like an arm all right, though it was somewhat on the rigid side. Not
good. Either this guy was frozen stiff with fear or he was frozen stiff with a whole bunch of dead.
Outside the Dumpster, the voices of the ape men piped up. “Hey, you little high school wussies, come out and face the music.”
“Yeah,” added the other one. “We’re gonna play the bongos on your skulls, that’s what kind of music we’re gonna play.”
“Heh, heh,” the other one snickered. “Bongos. That’s good.”
That was the IQ level of what I was dealing with here. Stephen Hawking they were not. But cuddling up to what might be a corpse wasn’t so cool either. Unless—an idea suddenly hit me—maybe this wasn’t a corpse after all. Maybe it was a dummy, like the kind they practice CPR on. Sure, I told myself, that had to be it. Somebody got a little too rambunctious during first-aid lessons and busted the dummy, and the Dumpster was now its final resting place.
I reached up toward the head area and copped a feel. Hair. That was strange. Since when did they start making CPR dummies with hair? But it wasn’t impossible, you know? If they can make bomb-detecting robots these days, why not a dummy with lifelike hair? A wonder of modern technology. And now here it was hiding in the Dumpster with me so Ape Man 1 and Ape Man 2 couldn’t get their paws on us.
“You ain’t got a chance,” said Ape Man 1. “You might as well give up. We saw you run back here.”
And then Ape Man 2’s like, “Hey, I got an idea.”
? That seemed unlikely coming from one of these knuckleheads, but there was always a first time for everything.
Their footsteps headed in my direction. Loud footsteps. These guys must be wearing boots. All the better to kick my butt with.
One of them banged on the side of the Dumpster. “Come on, little wussies. Don’t make us come in there and get you.”
“You’re just gonna make it worse on yourself,” the other one said.
At this point, my choices were severely limited:
1. I could try to scrunch down in the trash, but that was likely to make too much noise
2. I could try to hide behind the CPR dummy, but it probably wasn’t big enough. Like I say, I carry a little extra weight
3. I could sit there as quietly as possible and hope they went away
But of course they weren’t going anywhere. The lid to the Dumpster sprang open and the streetlight’s glare flooded in.
“Gotcha,” said Ape Man 1.
“You ain’t gonna have any fingers left to flip people off with now, boys,” added Ape Man 2.
Their fat white faces loomed over me like two evil moons. Then something happened—their snarling mouths went horrorstruck.
Ape Man 1’s like, “What the hell?”
And Ape Man 2 goes, “Jesus, what did you do, kid?”
They looked at each other, and then it was like, both at the same time, they go, “Shiiiiiiiittt!” And bolted. I stood up just in time to see them fighting for the inside lane as they galloped around the corner of the building.
I’m like, “Wow. What got into them?”
Then I looked down. It was no CPR dummy stowed away with me in that pile of trash. No. It was Hector Maldonado.
Hector Maldonado. Dead as a plank. You better believe I couldn’t clamber out of that Dumpster fast enough. It was like just touching the same trash might make me catch whatever it was that killed him. But once I was out, despite a case of the cold shivers, I couldn’t help gawking back in. I don’t know why, but there’s something about death that makes you want to stare at it. Maybe it’s just because you’re glad it’s not you.
Hector was my age. I had him in Western Cultures. His father laid tile or something like that. I didn’t know about his mother. Hector and I weren’t friends, but he seemed like an okay guy. Smart, didn’t play sports, not in a bunch of clubs, didn’t crack jokes in class or bully anyone in the halls. I guess he was kind of a good-looking guy—not to sound gay or anything—but he was really quiet. Maybe in some other universe, he could’ve been cool, but not in the one at our high school. At our school he was just kind of
. Like desks, and water fountains, and vice principals.
Now here he was, stiffly leaning against one side of the Dumpster, chest-deep in garbage, his eyes staring blankly at the sky, a candy-bar wrapper sticking to the side of his face. A
strange coldness seeped into my stomach, my elbows, my knees, like some kind of poison. This was real. Final. Foreclosed on.