Authors: Matt Christopher
Copyright © 1970 by Catherine M. Christopher
Copyright © renewed 1998 by Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Little, Brown and Company
Hachette Book Group
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New York, NY 10017
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The characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and
not intended by the author.
Matt Christopher® is a registered trademark of Matt Christopher Royalties, Inc.
First eBook Edition: December 2009
To my cousin, Fred
ome on, Johnny,” said Toby, brown-haired, a head shorter and on the stocky side. “Let's get the toboggan.”
Johnny Reese pushed aside the thoughts of the home he and Mom had left in New York City and followed his new, younger brother
to the garage where a long, pale blue toboggan was hung on the wall. The boys lifted it off the hook and set it on the floor.
A toboggan. A sled. An aquarium in the living room. What is it
that this stepbrother of mine doesn't have? Back in the city I had nothing.
“You'd be a good man on our basketball team, Johnny,” observed Toby, smiling. “We need a guy with long legs.”
Johnny grinned and pulled his hat down over his ears. The early December air was nippy. “You play basketball in this small
“What do you mean?” snapped Toby. “Sure we do. We have a Junior Basketball League and play twice a week. We've already played
A league? Man! He had never played in a league game. Just scrub.
The boys pulled the toboggan across the snow-packed road to the hill, climbed all the way to the top of it, and then rode
down, Johnny sitting behind Toby. The wind lashed against their faces, the sound of the runners sang in their ears.
The field was long. The boys coasted nearly to the edge of it, close to the fence, and then started to pull the toboggan back
up again. One hundred feet away two guys were cruising along briskly on a snowmobile.
“Am I glad my dad and your mom got married,” said Toby. “I was getting tired of Grandpa's cooking. Potatoes, hamburg, and
hot dogs. You get tired of that after a while.”
“I suppose,” said Johnny, thoughtfully.
He had lost his dad in a car accident and Toby's mother had died from an illness. Later Johnny's mother and Toby's father
had met at an education convention in New York City and had written each other ever since.
Then along came the letter from Toby's father asking Mom to marry him. It seemed to be the happiest moment in Mom's life.
Johnny didn't know what to think of it at first. But after a long talk with Mom she
convinced him that she really loved the guy. And she'd been pretty lonely since Johnny's dad had died. In the end, Johnny
was glad she'd met Mr. Reese.
“I hope you won't mind living in a small town,” Mr. Reese had written. “You can put Lansburg on two blocks in New York City
and still have room to spare.”
Of course she didn't mind it a single bit. And Johnny didn't think he would either.
A thin spiral of smoke curled up from the snowy ground ahead of them. Johnny stooped, squashed the burning tip of a cigarette
into the snow, then stood and rubbed it clean.
“What are you going to do with that?” asked Toby curiously.
“Smoke it,” said Johnny. “Back home us guys…” He paused and looked at Toby. “Why?”
“Does Mom know you smoke?”
“No. But I don't much, anyway.”
“Better not let Dad see you,” warned Toby.
“You going to snitch?”
Toby didn't answer for a minute. “No,” he said then.
Johnny unzipped a coat pocket and dropped the butt into it. “Come on,” he said. “Let's get up the hill.”
He started school on Monday. Mom drove him there. He handed his transfer papers from Public School No. 14 to Mr. Taylor, the
guidance counselor, who introduced him to his new homeroom teacher, Miss Abby. She was shorter than Johnny in spite of her
high heels and wore her black hair up high.
Miss Abby introduced him to the class, then requested one of the boys, a Jim Sain,
to show Johnny to his classes after each period. She gave Johnny a card on which were listed the subjects he was going to
take, the room numbers, and the hours.
Jim Sain was slightly shorter than Johnny and reminded him of some of the boys at P.S. 14. His black uncombed hair hung over
his ears. His clothes were disheveled, as if he had slept in them. His face looked waxen, as if it seldom cracked a smile.
After the period was over, a finger jabbed Johnny's shoulder. “Come on,” said Jim Sain. “Grab your English book.”
Johnny followed him to a classroom down the hall. Students passed back and forth in the hallway in droves, their arms loaded
with books. Boys greeted Jim and looked at Johnny appraisingly.
Johnny saw Toby and for the first time felt like smiling. “Hi, Toby.”
“Hi, Johnny. How are you doing? Hi, Jim.”
“Hi,” said Jim.
Johnny wanted to stop a moment and talk with his stepbrother. But Jim kept walking and Johnny didn't have a chance to.
What's the matter with the guy?
Johnny asked himself.
Is it my fault that Miss Abby asked him to show me to my classes?
At lunchtime, twelve-fifteen, the two boys walked down the long white corridor to the cafeteria.
“You stand in line here to buy lunch,” grunted Jim.
Johnny looked around for Toby. “When do the seventh graders eat?” he asked.
“They already have,” answered Jim. “We're the last ones.” He looked at Johnny and chuckled. “That makes us big shots, I guess.”
They got their lunches and carried them to the long tables. Johnny started to follow Jim, then paused when Jim put his tray
on the table and sat between two boys. The
next vacant place was five chairs away. Johnny went to it, placed his tray on the table, and sat down.
Several girls sitting across from him were talking in soft tones and laughing, and for a minute he wondered whether they were
laughing at him. After a while he realized they were talking about some girl's hair style.
“Are you Toby's cousin?” asked the boy next to him.
“Stepbrother,” said Johnny.
“I'm Bert Buttons,” said the boy. He had a mop of blond hair and lots of freckles. “Guys call me Stitch.”
He held out a hand and Johnny took it.
“Stitch, huh?” Johnny grinned. “I'm Johnny Reese.”
“I've never seen you before.”
“Came Saturday,” said Johnny.
“New York City.”
He lifted his glass of milk. Just as he started to drink it someone bumped his head and half of the milk spilled over his
shirtfront and pants.
Johnny looked around. Jim Sain was standing there, a faint, apologetic smile on his face.
Instant anger flashed in Johnny's eyes. He felt like belting Jim, but he controlled himself and didn't move.
“What happened?” asked a sharp, adult voice.
Johnny saw a man in a black suit and green tie looking at them from the next table.
“I bumped into him,” confessed Jim. “And the milk spilled on his shirt.”
Johnny wiped the milk from his clothes with a napkin. Jim might have bumped him by accident but there was a lot of room between
the chairs. And the way Jim had been acting toward him…
“I saw it happen,” said one of the girls. “Jim did it on purpose.”
“I did not!” Jim snarled. “Anyway, who asked for your two cents?”
He suddenly swung off to the kitchen with his tray, then stamped out of the cafeteria with long, bold strides.
Johnny looked at the girl. Her brown eyes matched her thick shoulder-length hair. “Are you sure he did it on purpose?”
“Yes, I'm sure. If I were you I'd knock his block off.”
“Enough of that, Karen.” The man in the black suit had come over and was standing behind Johnny. “I'll speak to Jim about
he said. “You're the new boy, aren't you? Johnny Reese?”
“Yes. But you don't have to speak to him, sir. It could have been an accident.”
“I'll speak to him anyway.” The man smiled, patted Johnny on the shoulder, and left.
“That's Mr. Thomas,” said Stitch. “He'll speak to Jim, but I doubt if it'll do any good.”
“He's a punk,” said the girl.
Johnny finished his lunch, feeling better now that someone had come on his side. Jim was a strange one, all right. His type
was the last Johnny had expected to see here in Lansburg.
“Do you play basketball?” asked Stitch.
“Some,” replied Johnny.
“Maybe you can play with us. We're the White Cats. Toby's on our team. You might
have your chance to get even with Jim on the court. He plays with the Hornets.”
Johnny felt discouraged. He didn't want to get even with anyone. He had hoped not to make enemies here. Especially not on
the first day of school.
n Tuesday, December 7, the White Cats played the Swordtails at five o'clock in the Community Hall gymnasium. Tonight was the
third night of the Junior Basketball League. The White Cats' record was one win, one loss.
Toby introduced Johnny to Coach Biff Dates, a big, barrel-chested man.
was printed on the back of his sweatshirt.
“Can we use him?” Toby asked. “He played basketball a lot in New York City.”
“In that case I think we can,” answered the coach, pumping Johnny's hand and looking
him up and down with a very pleased expression on his round face. “We need those long legs. Did you play center, Johnny?”
“Mostly.” Johnny blushed. Everybody always reminded him of his long legs.
“Well, that's where I would put you,” said the coach. “Can't try you out tonight anyway. Have to register you first. I'll
watch you work out tomorrow night and possibly start you Thursday against the Astro Jets.”
Coach Dates introduced him to the members of the team and let him sit on the bench with them. The White Cats uniform was all
white with the team's name printed on the front and numbers on the back. Toby's number was 8. He played left guard. The other
guard was Cotton Cornish. At center was Rick Davis. The forwards were Stitch Buttons and Huck Stevens.
Johnny couldn't get over the large, beautiful gym. The two baskets had glass backboards
behind them. A large electric scoreboard was at one end. A movable seating stand was against one wall. This court would put
the one he had played on in New York to shame.
And imagine having a ref with a black and white striped shirt and black pants with white stripes down the sides. The kids
in his neighborhood never had real refs. They took turns refereeing themselves.
Rick scored the first basket with a layup, then Toby tossed one in from a corner to put the White Cats in a 4 to 0 lead. Later
the referee's whistle shrilled and a foul was called on Huck. Huck had struck a Swordtail's hand when the player jumped for
Two shots. The Swordtail missed the first and made the second.
Gradually the Swordtails crept ahead of the White Cats. The Cats finally evened the score, rallied for a while, then fell
again. They trailed 12 to 10 when the first quarter ended.
Then Johnny realized that he was alone on the bench. The other players were standing around Coach Biff Dates. No one seemed
to notice him and he didn't know whether to join them or not. He stayed there.
I don't know,
I never played basketball like it's played here. Move your foot an inch and you're called for traveling. Touch a guy and it's
a foul. I've never played by such strict rules.
There were basketball leagues in New York City but Mom had not wanted him to join a team. She had not wanted him to play basketball
at all. Only after he had pleaded with her had she allowed him to play scrub games. She didn't care for basketball. She didn't
care at all for athletics.
Was it his fault that he had to prove to the guys that he was no sissy by smoking with
them? Once a kid had dared him to swipe a melon from a fruit stand. He swiped it, but had been caught and made to promise
he would never steal again or he'd go to jail. He had kept that promise.
The second quarter got under way. Huck dumped in three field goals himself. The quarter ended with the Swordtails leading,
26 to 23.