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Authors: Joan Bauer

Sticks

BOOK: Sticks
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A
GE DOESN’T MATTER IN POOL

What matters is playing smart.

My dad was a world-class player. I’ve seen him play on videos my mom took when he was on the professional nine-ball circuit. He was big—six feet two inches—and when he leaned over a pool table, he’d smile and shoot his stick fast like a rifle. On a video Mom took in Atlantic City he ran 289 balls without missing. He had jet-black hair and brown eyes. His favorite color was blue. I’ve got everything about him memorized good.

He would have become nine-ball champion of the world if he hadn’t gotten all that cancer.

He died when I was eight months old.

That leaves me to be nine-ball champion of the world someday.

But first I’ve got to beat Buck.

Books by

JOAN BAUER

Backwater
Best Foot Forward
Hope Was Here
Rules of the Road
Squashed
Stand Tall
Sticks
Thwonk

STICKS

JOAN BAUER

STICKS

Speak
An Imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

SPEAK

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 345 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.

Penguin Group (Canada), 10 Alcorn Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4V 3B2
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)

Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

Penguin Ireland, 25 St Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland
(a division of Penguin Books Ltd)

Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd)

Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre,
Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India

Penguin Group (NZ), Cnr Airborne and Rosedale Roads, Albany,
Auckland, New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd)

Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd, 24 Sturdee Avenue,
Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

Registered Offices: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

First published in the United States of America by Delacorte Press, 1996

Published simultaneously by G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Puffin Books,
divisions of Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers, 2002

This edition published by Speak, an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2005

Copyright © Joan Bauer, 1996

All rights reserved

THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS HAS CATALOGED THE G. P. PUTNAM’S SONS EDITION AS FOLLOWS:

Bauer, Joan, date.

Sticks / Joan Bauer.—1st G. P. Putnam’s Sons ed.

p.    cm.

Summary: With the help of his grandmother, his dead father’s best friend, and his own best friend, a math genius, ten-year-old Mickey prepares to compete in the most important pool championship of his life, despite his mother’s reservations.

[1. Pool (Game)—Fiction. 2. Mothers and sons—Fiction. 3. Fathers and sons—Fiction. 4. Grandmothers—Fiction. 5. Friendship—Fiction. 6. Mathematics—Fiction.] I. Title.

PZ7.B32615St 2002     [Fic]—dc21     2001018597

Speak ISBN: 978-1-101-65792-8

Except in the United States of America, this book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

Once again, for Evan

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

CHAPTER

Wham
.

Buck Pender rams the five ball into the side pocket and leans across the pool table like a gorilla.

“Just keeps getting worse, don’t it?” he says like I’m supposed to say, “Yeah, Buck, I quit. I just can’t take it. You’re the greatest.”

Buck tips the six ball into the side pocket and gives me his fat smile. The bearded guy on table eight is watching me. I hold my stick tough like I don’t care that I’m getting crushed by an ape-boy in my own family’s pool hall.

Buck misses an easy bank shot on the seven and steps back like I’m diseased. Here’s the thing about nine ball: Whoever gets the nine in on a legal shot wins—it doesn’t matter if every other ball you hit goes in perfect. The nine ball is king.

I study the table for the best shot as Arlen Pepper eats a Raisinet. Arlen is my best friend. Sometimes
he’s my coach too. Some people say he doesn’t look old enough to be in fifth grade—he’s short and skinny with a bunch of blond hair that never stays put.

He wipes off his glasses and studies the table. We’ve worked out signals between us like pitchers and catchers use in the heat of a big game. Arlen taps his new Red Sox cap and coughs twice, which means I should go for the bank shot—that’s when you bounce a ball off the rail and into a pocket. Bank shots are my specialty because I’m good at math. Pool is pure geometry, plus a little physics.

Pow
.

I bank the seven ball at a ninety-degree angle and watch it zip into the corner. Arlen shakes his box of Raisinets, which means good shot.

“Lucky,” Buck says, hissing.

I nail the eight in the side. Tell me about lucky.

I do a little dance around the table to show I’m hot. I chalk my stick light—losers chalk hard. Only the nine ball’s left. If I make it, I get some pride back. Buck’s beating me five games to zip. There’s nobody I want to beat worse than him.

My hands are sweating. That’s death to a pool player—sweaty hands make your stick slip. I wipe them on my jeans. I stretch to reach the white cue ball.

I’m thinking about Buck’s fat face.

Thinking about all the times he’s pushed me around.

Arlen’s tapping and coughing hard; he wants me to bank the nine. It’s a maniac shot off two rails. I look up at him.
I can’t make that shot!

I aim my stick for a big slice on the nine instead. The sweat keeps coming. Arlen’s tugging at his earlobe, which means I’m making a mistake. I hit the white cue ball just as my stick slips. The nine ball misses the pocket.

“Ahhh!” I ram my stick on the floor.

Buck goes, “Tsk, tsk.” He rams the nine in the side. I close my eyes and hear it roll inside the table.

“Game,
Vernon
.”

Buck kisses his stick and walks off laughing. He stops at the red shirt with the white lettering that’s hanging in the big window that faces Flax Street, the main drag in town. I don’t like him near that shirt. It reads:

VERNON’S POOL HALL

YOUTH TOURNAMENT CHAMPION

CRUCKSTON, NEW JERSEY

The tournament’s for ten- to thirteen-year-olds and I’m finally old enough to compete. Pool is big stuff in this town. Vernon’s makes sure of it. We’ve got special deals for kids and families, free lessons on Saturdays. When the paper mill on Grossmont Street closed down, Poppy, my grandmother, let all those out-of-work folks and their families play pool for free on Wednesday afternoons for a whole year. We got a plaque from the mayor saying how for forty years Vernon’s has been an anchor for the town. Poppy keeps it on the shelf above the cash register next to her bottle of Pepto-Bismol.

Buck’s not looking at the plaque. He turns to me with his thirteen-year-old’s sneer: “The shirt’s mine,
Vernon
!” and walks out the door like God’s gift to the galaxy.

“You’re not winning it!” Arlen screams after him. “Mickey’s going to win it because you’re a stupid moron!”

The bearded guy on table eight is watching me again like he’s trying to figure something out. I don’t like being watched when I’ve lost. I look at the gray tile floor. I look at the old paneled walls. I feel the roll of the green cloth on table seven. We’ve got twenty-four Brunswick pool tables at Vernon’s and I’ve played on every one.

Now it might sound impossible, me, a ten-year-old, gunning to beat a teenager, but I can beat lots of kids my age and older in this hall. I’ve got pool in my blood.

I’m tall for my age—five-four to be exact. This puts me dead even with Poppy except when she stands on her toes to holler. I’ve got long arms and big hands like my dad, light brown hair like my mom.

My grandparents built this hall forty years ago and stuck their house on top of it because Grandpa didn’t want anything between him and the tables. It’s a big house, too, the only one in the business district—every inch of it brick-laid, like the hall below, with eight long rooms and a secret passageway going up to the roof. The roof’s so cool; being on top of things makes you feel important. It’s got a black iron fence around it so no one can fall off.

I had my tenth birthday party up there last September. Guys came up the passageway, which you get to through my closet; it was dark like always because
the light doesn’t work. We took flashlights and made it up the creaky stairs. I had everybody feel raw egg in a bowl and told them it was a brain. We could see the old abandoned paper mill and the blinking
LOANS WHILE U WAIT
sign and the big trucks rolling six blocks away on the New Jersey Turnpike. Then me, Arlen, Petie Pencastle, T. R. Dobbs, and Reed Jaworski slept in a tent even though it was raining. It was the best party I ever had.

My dad learned to shoot in this very hall. I did too. Dad was beating adults when he was twelve years old. Like my grandmother Poppy says—age doesn’t matter in pool. What matters is playing smart. My dad was a world-class player. I’ve seen him play on videos my mom took when he was on the professional nine-ball circuit. He was big—six feet two inches—and when he leaned over a pool table, he’d smile and shoot his stick fast like a rifle. On a video Mom took in Atlantic City he ran 289 balls without missing. He had jet-black hair and brown eyes. His favorite color was blue. I’ve got everything about him memorized good.

He would have become nine-ball champion of the world if he hadn’t gotten all that cancer.

He died when I was eight months old.

That leaves me to be nine-ball champion of the world someday.

But first I’ve got to beat Buck.

Arlen’s staring at me. He’s mad I didn’t try to bank the nine ball.

“You forgot your secret weapon?” Arlen yells. “You forgot
math
?”

“I didn’t forget.”

I didn’t know anything about the connection between math and pool until Arlen pointed it out to me two years ago when we were in third grade. I was standing on an A&W crate practicing bank shots when Arlen leaped up all excited and told me I was doing geometry. I’d heard of geometry. I just didn’t know what it was.

BOOK: Sticks
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