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Authors: JAMES W. BENNETT

Blue Star Rapture

BOOK: Blue Star Rapture
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Blue Star Rapture

James W. Bennett

T
HIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY

OF MY MOTHER
, M
ARGARET
R
UTH
M
ORRIS
,

THE BEST PARENT A BOY COULD EVER HAVE
.

ONE

On the day they left for the Full Court basketball camp, T.J. was flat on his back on the concrete, cramped beneath the deteriorating Toyota. While the grease streaked his chin and rust flakes stung his eyes, he struggled with the bolts on the starter bracket. Tyron, who was supposed to be helping him, was instead power slamming the basketball through the old rim on the older garage. “Hawkeyes!” he cried each time. “Ass-kickin' Hawkeyes!”

Every now and then, T.J. hollered at him to come and pass a wrench under, or a bolt, or a screwdriver. Each time, Tyron asked him, “Is it fixed yet?”

“No,” said T.J. “It'll get fixed a lot faster if you stay here to help me instead of playin' Hawkeye over there.”

“Boring.”

“Did you know that next to the battery the starter is the heaviest engine part there is?”

“No,” Tyron answered. “Have you ever been to Carver-Hawkeye?”

“I've never been there. I've seen it on TV. It's a huge arena, but what else would you expect from a Big Ten university?”

“Sellouts, you mean. ESPN, huh?”

“I don't want to talk about it. They sent you a letter, that's all. Coaches send letters to lots of players, they work from a huge mailing list. Haven't you figured that out yet?”

“Maybe they'll offer me a scholarship, though.”

“Maybe a lot of stuff. Let's just kiss off on this Hawkeye shit, okay? North State was in on you from the beginning; if there's going to be a chance, that's probably where it will be. Either that or junior college.” T.J. tried to take a deep breath, but all he got for that was a mouth full of rusty granules. “This isn't the one,” he said to Tyron. “I told you the
crescent
wrench.”

“Slam-dunkin' Hawkeyes, man!”

Tyron jumped to his feet; after two or three of his giant strides, he was ready for another assault on the basket. The bolts were loose, so the rim wavered like a wire coat hanger. By turning his head to the side, T.J. was able to watch Tyron's drama. “You'll break the rim off if you don't watch it,” he said.

“No hangin' and no jacknifin',” Tyron replied. “Only power dunks.”

“Come get me that big screwdriver.”

When he passed it under, he said, “Explain to me about Proposition Forty-eight.”

“No. We've tried that before.”

“Okay then, explain to me Prop forty-two.”

T.J. had had it up to his eyeballs with all the talk he'd heard about Propositions 42 and 48 from Lindsey, the coach at North State, and others. The propositions were the combination of high school grades and standardized test scores you had to achieve to become eligible for a college basketball scholarship. At times, he himself was confused by it all, so how could he explain it to someone else? To
Tyron?
“The bottom line is, you've got to study hard and get good grades.”

“Shit.”

“You asked.”

Tyron's response to this was another slam dunk and another cry of “Hawkeyes! In your face, motherfucker!”

As soon as the starter was bolted firmly in place, T.J. crawled out from under the car. He flexed his torso to work some of the stiffness from his back while wiping grease from his hands and face. With his toe he kicked the tools out from underfoot.

Gaines, the sportswriter from the
Ledger-Daily
, was sitting on his front porch.
How long has he been sitting there?
T.J. asked himself.

“Is it fixed yet?” Tyron asked T.J. while ignoring the sportswriter altogether.

“It's fixed. Go get your stuff.”

The big guy didn't have to be told twice. He headed down the block in an up-tempo jog.

“Hey, Nucci.” The sportswriter was calling him. T.J. wondered why Gaines's clothes never seemed to work. He was wearing a pair of royal blue walking shorts, but with black socks and white canvas deck shoes. He asked T.J., “How close does he live?”

“Less than a block. Down on the corner.”

“He lives in a group home, doesn't he?”

“Yeah, he does.” T.J. was afraid this might become one of those
how lucky he is to have you for a friend
conversations, so he asked Gaines what he wanted.

“I thought I'd ask you if you'd like to take a few notes at Full Court. Call me when you get back and maybe we can get a story out of it.”

“Why?” asked T.J.

“Most of the best players in the state will be there, as well as several of the top prospects in the Midwest. A lot of high-profile college coaches will be there. If you kept your ears on, you might hear something.”

“You mean like who's going to which college, right?”

“Sure.”

He asked Gaines, “Why aren't you covering the camp yourself?”

“I would if I could, but there's an international softball tournament down in Belleville. I'll be there all week. I don't like it, but that's where my editor is sending me.”

“I don't know. I'll keep my ears open, but I won't promise about taking notes.”

“Did I mention the paper would be willing to pay you?”

T.J. didn't know if this made it any better or any worse, but it certainly got his attention. “Let me think a minute,” he said to the sportswriter. “I'll be right back.” He went into the kitchen where he could be alone, where there might be some sanctuary for this
thinking
he needed to do.

It would be easy enough, for sure. All he would have to do would be to keep his ears open and then pass pieces of information about big-time players at the camp to a newspaper writer. But it didn't feel right, somehow. It reminded him too much of the diary he had been keeping for several months in which he made notes about Tyron's letters and contacts from college coaches.

He entered the bathroom and began scrubbing his face and hands. The diary really seemed lame at times, and it also seemed lame how important you suddenly were if you were the closest friend of a big-time college prospect.

Back in the kitchen, on top of the table clutter consisting of catalogs and third-class advertising circulars, was a note from his mother. In the freezer, according to the note, were eight pigs in a blanket wrapped in a box that used to house Tyson frozen chicken breasts.
Take these with you
, instructed his mother's looping cursive,
and they'll be thawed by suppertime
. T.J. couldn't help but smile. His mother couldn't get past the notion that
camp
meant they would be sleeping in lean-tos and fishing along the riverbank for food to eat.

The note had a P.S.:
As soon as you get back, I want you to show me some more stuff about the Quicken
. He had to smile again. Quicken was the financial program his mother was studying in a night school computer course. Sometimes explaining computer information to her was as challenging as interpreting scoring averages for Tyron.

He took the box of frozen pigs in a blanket, then gathered up his wallet and car keys. As soon as he was on the porch again he asked Gaines, “How much would the paper pay me?”

“Can't say for sure. We'd have to see what you find out.”

“We'll see,” said T.J. It wasn't the kind of thing he could make up his mind about on a moment's notice. Tyron was approaching the driveway with his huge Georgetown duffel bag slung over his shoulder. He was wearing the headphones of his Discman.

Gaines was smiling. “I told you he was going to be good, didn't I?”

“Yeah, you did.” said T.J.

“He scored twenty-two points a game and averaged double-figure rebounds. I told you he was a prospect, didn't I?”

“Yeah, you did.”

They loaded the car and left. Tyron reclined the passenger's seat as far as it would go, but his knees still jammed up awkwardly against the dash. At six feet nine inches, and 270 pounds, the big guy wasn't likely to find a physical comfort zone in a small Japanese car. Tyron's open, ingenuous face was smooth-complexioned, the rich color of coffee with milk added. His too-long nappy hair constructed an out-of-date Afro shag, but it made a convenient resting place for his marbled pick.

“Do me a favor, Tyron,” said T.J. “Take the pick out of your hair, okay?”

Tyron frowned. “But why?”

“It's one of those things that gets interpreted as some kind of gang shit. We don't need that at the camp.”

“My pick is nothin' to do with gangs.”

“You and I know that, but not everybody else does. Coaches and administrators, they think everything unusual is some kind of gang shit. You don't want to do anything to get Lindsey suspicious. Or any other coach, for that matter.”

Tyron leaned forward to slip the earphones of his Discman into place. He was so huge that in this position he blocked out all the light from the passenger's side window. The secured pick stuck out at an acute angle like the armature on a coatrack. He spoke in the direction of his knees: “I got a letter from Georgetown. From John Thompson.”

“I know. Remember, you showed it to me?” Tyron had received letters from so many colleges, T.J. would have lost track long ago were it not for the diary he maintained. T.J. had given up trying to explain to him that most of them were merely formal letters of introduction; they didn't necessarily indicate any serious interest.

“Slam-dunkin' Hoyas, man,” murmured Tyron.

“Take the pick out, okay, Tyron? All you have to do is put it in your pocket.”

BOOK: Blue Star Rapture
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