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Authors: Jerry Spinelli

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Maniac Magee (11 page)

BOOK: Maniac Magee
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Prompting Maniac, who didn't like seeing John disgraced before his little brothers, to say, "Yeah, but didn't John tell you what happened the next day?"

And the brothers said, "No, what?"

And Giant John said, "Huh?"

And Maniac winked at John and crossed his fingers. "Sure, John, you remember" --- (wink, wink) --- "at the Little League field the next day; you said I was lucky that all you threw me was fastballs, because you weren't ready to reveal your secret pitch, the one you'd been working on. Remember?" (Wink.)

McNab nodded dumbly.

"And so I said, 'Well, come on, I can hit anything, pitch it to me.' And you pitched it, and I missed it by a mile, and you kept pitching it to me all day long, and I never even hit a foul ball on it."

"What was the pitch? What was the pitch?" chanted the urchins.

"It was" --- Maniac paused for dramatic buildup --- "the stopball."

"The stopball?"

"Yeah, and you should've seen it. It comes right up to the plate, looking all fat and easy to belt, and then, just when you take your swing" --- Maniac got into his batter's stance and demonstrated --- "it sort of --- stops --- and your bat just whiffs the air." He whiffed at an imaginary stopball.

"Wow," said the brothers, gazing up at their big brother.

And so Maniac was invited to accompany the brothers McNab to their home.

 

Despite the cold, the front door was wide open, and Maniac could smell the inside before he could see it. The first thing he did see was a yellow, short-haired mongrel looking innocently up at him while taking a leak in the middle of the living room floor.

"Clean that up," John ordered Russell.

"Clean that up," Russell ordered Piper.

Piper just walked on by.

After closing the front door, which was surprisingly heavy, Maniac found a stack of newspapers in a corner. He laid some over the puddle to soak in, then gave himself a tour of the downstairs.

Maniac had seen some amazing things in his lifetime, but nothing as amazing as that house. From the smell of it, he knew this wasn't the first time an animal had relieved itself on the rugless floor. In fact, in another corner he spotted a form of relief that could not be soaked up by newspapers.

Cans and bottles lay all over, along with crusts, peelings, cores, scraps, rinds, wrappers --- everything you would normally find in a garbage can. And everywhere there were raisins.

As he walked through the dining room, something --- an old tennis ball --- hit him on top of the head and bounced away. He looked up --- into the laughing faces of Russell and Piper. The hole in the ceiling was so big they both could have jumped through it at once.

He ran a hand along one wall. The peeling paint came off like cornflakes.

Nothing could be worse than the living and dining rooms, yet the kitchen was. A jar of peanut butter had crashed to the floor; someone had gotten a running start, jumped into it, and skied a brown, one-footed track to the stove. On the table were what appeared to be the remains of an autopsy performed upon a large bird, possibly a crow. The refrigerator contained two food groups: mustard and beer. The raisins here were even more abundant. He spotted several of them moving. They weren't raisins; they were roaches.

The front door opened, and seconds later a man clomped into the kitchen. He wore no winter jacket, only a sleeveless green sweatshirt, which ballooned over his enormous stomach. Tattoos blued his upper arms. His hands were nearly pure black. Stale body odor mingled with that of fries and burgers coming from the Burger King bag he held. Dropping the bag next to the bird remains, he bellowed "Chow!" and took a beer from the fridge; he downed a good half of it in one swig, belched, doubled-clutched, and belched again. He had to know someone besides himself was standing in the kitchen, and, just as obviously, he didn't care.

Two floor-quaking crashes came from the dining room --- "Geronimo!"... "Geronimo!" Russell and Piper had taken the direct route via the hole. "Wha'd ya bring, Dad? Whoppers? Yeah - Whoppers!"

They tore into the bag like jackals into carrion. Plastic flew, fries flew. They both wanted the same Whopper. Mashed between their tugging fists, the Whopper splurted sauce and cheese and pickle chips; then it split. Russell lurched backward into the kitchen table with his half; Piper lurched backward in the opposite direction, and with nothing to stop him, sailed right through the cellar doorway and down the cellar steps. The final thud was followed by the truckhorn blast of Piper's laughter.

When Giant John ambled in, the father said, "Get the blocks?"

"No," grunted John, pulling out a pair of Whoppers. He tossed one to Maniac.

"We need more," growled the father. John didn't answer. "We need more."

"I heard."

McNab smashed the tabletop; three fries and a bird wing jumped to the floor. "Now!"

John walked out, nonchalantly munching. "I was busy."

The rest of the night was scenes from a loony movie.

Scene: McNab the father swaggers bare-armed out the front door, bellowing back, "Do yer homework!"

Scene: Maniac retrieves the wet newspaper from the living room. There are no wastebaskets in the house. He finds a trash can in the backyard, next to a pile of cinder blocks. He dumps the soggy papers in the can, which is empty.

Scene: Small turds of an unfamiliar shape appear here and there along the baseboards of the first floor. Please don't be rats, Maniac prays.

Scene: The Cobras come in. They glare at Maniac, but Giant John tells them to lay off. They raid the fridge for beer. They smoke cigarettes. They belch and fart. They curse. Russell and Piper, kiddie Cobras, pop their own beer cans, guzzle, swagger, belch, smoke, curse.

Scene: Football game, from the front of the living room to the back of the dining room. Except for space, it has everything a regular game has --- running, passing, blocking, tackling, kicking. There is little furniture to get in the way. Ordinarily, the windows wouldn't last five minutes, but the windows of this house are boarded up with plywood. Body-blocked Cobras fly into the walls. The house flinches.

Scene: A faint rustling noise behind the stove. Oh, no, rats! Maniac dares to look. It's a turtle, box turtle, munching on old Whopper lettuce. Whew!

Scene: The boys' bedroom. Russell and Piper lie prone at the hole. They fire toy submachine guns --- tata-tata-tata-tata --- at the Cobras heading out the front door. Piper jumps up and blows Maniac away, killing him at least fifteen times. "This is how we're gonna do it! Bam-bam-bam!"

"The guns'll be real," says Russell, still prone and firing, the stock of the toy gun tight against his cheek.

"Yeah!" squawks Piper. "Real!" He flops back to the floor, sprays the whole downstairs. "Soon's they start comin' in --- bam-bam-bam!"

"Who?" says Maniac.

"The enemy," says Russell.

"Who's that?" says Maniac.

Russell stops firing long enough to send Maniac a where-have-you-been? look. "Who do ya think?" he sneers. He points the red barrel of the submachine gun toward the bedroom door. Toward the east. The East End.

The heavy front door.

Scene: Darkness. Silence. Sometime early morning. Maniac lies between the two brothers, on the bed. Do cockroaches climb bedposts? Unable to sleep, asking himself: What am I doing here? Remembering: Hester and Lester on his lap, Grayson's hug, corn muffin in the toaster oven. Thinking: Who's the orphan here, anyway?

Hearing, as he at last lowers himself into sleep's deep waters, a door slam, a slurred voice: "Do yet homework!"

Fearing: Will I float?

 

*¤* nihua *¤*

 

 

Chapter 36

 

The deal was, if Russell and Piper went to school for the rest of the week, Maniac would show them the shortcut to Mexico on Saturday. He figured if they all managed to survive till then, he'd come up with something.

On Saturday, the boys had their paper bag packed, and Maniac had a new deal: go to school for another week, and he'd treat them to another large pizza. Besides, he said, crossing his fingers, this was volcano season down in Mexico. The whole place was a sheet of red-hot lava. Better wait till it cools down.

They bought it. And they bought the same deal the following week.

But school was still agony for the boys. It had to be worth more than a pizza a week. But what? The brothers thought and thought about it and soon began to realize that the answer was sleeping between them every night.

Ever since the famous Maniac Magee had showed up at their house, Russell and Piper McNab had become famous in their own right. Other kids were always crowding around, pelting them with questions. What's he like? What's he say? What's he do? Did he really sit on Finsterwald's front steps? Is he really that fast?

Kids started giving them knots --- sneaker laces, yo-yo strings, toys --- and saying, "Ask Maniac to undo this, will ya?" Really little kids referred to him as "Mr. Maniac."

The McNabs ate it up. In the streets, the playgrounds, school. The attention, not the pizza, was the real reason they put up with school each day. They began to feel something they had never felt before. They began to feel important.

What a wonderful thing, this importance. Waiting for them the moment they awoke in the morning, pumping them up like basketballs, giving them bounce. And they hadn't even had to steal it! They loved it. The more they had, the more they wanted.

And so, when Maniac tried to cut the next pizza-for-school deal, Russell answered, "No."

"No?" echoed Maniac, who had been afraid it would come to this.

"No," said Russell. "We want something else."

"Oh," said Maniac. "What's that?"

They told him. If he wanted another week's worth of school out of them, he would have to enter Finsterwald's backyard --- "and stay there for ten minutes!" screeched Piper, who shuddered at the very thought. When Maniac casually answered, "Okay, it's a deal," Piper ran shrieking from the house.

On the next Saturday morning, Russell, Piper, and Maniac set out for Finsterwald's house, about seven blocks away. They took the alleys. Along the way they were joined by other kids, who were waiting, their eyes at once fearful and excited. By the time they got to Finsterwald's backyard, at least fifteen kids huddled against the garage door on the far side of the alley.

Maniac didn't hesitate. He walked straight up to the back gate, opened it, and went in. Not only that, he went all the way to the center of the yard, turned, folded his arms, smiled, and called "Who's keeping time?"

Russell, his throat too dry to speak, raised his hand.

For ten minutes, fifteen kids --- and possibly the universe --- held their breath. The only sounds were inside their heads --- the moaning and wailing of the ghosts of all the poor slobs who had ever blundered onto Finsterwald's property.

To the utter amazement of all, when Russell finally croaked, "Time," Maniac Magee was still there, alive, smiling, apparently unharmed. Even more amazing, he didn't come out. Instead, he said, "Say, you guys, how about adding to the deal? If I do something else while I'm here, will you make it the next two weeks at school?"

"W-watts you g-gonna do?" stammered Russell.

Maniac thought for a minute, then announced brightly, "I'll knock on the front door."

Five kids finsterwallied on the spot. Several others screamed, "No! Don't!" Piper went into some sort of fit and began kicking the garage door. Russell zoned out.

Maniac took all of this to signify a deal. He hopped the backyard fence and strolled around front.

The others went back down the alley and around the long way. They stationed themselves not only across the street but almost halfway up the block. And even then, they squeezed together in a bunch, as though, if they allowed any space between them, Finsterwald might somehow pick them off, one by one.

They huddled, trembling, to bear witness to the last seconds of Maniac Magee's life. They saw him stand directly in front of the red brick, three-story house, the bile-green window shades. They saw him climb the three cement steps to the white door, the portal of death. They saw him raise his hand, and though they were too far away to hear, they saw him knock upon the door, and fifteen hearts beat in time to that silent knocking.

The door opened. Finsterwald's door opened. Not much, but enough so the witnesses could make out a thin strip of blackness. Would Maniac be sucked into that black hole like so much lint into a vacuum cleaner? Would Finsterwald's long, bony hand dart out, quick as a lizard's tongue, and snatch poor Maniac? Maniac appeared to be speaking to the dark crack. Was he pleading for his life? Would his last words be skewered like a marshmallow by Finsterwald's dagger-tipped cane?

Apparently not.

The door closed. Maniac bounded down the steps and came jogging toward them, grinning. Three kids bolted, sure he was a ghost. The others stayed. They invented excuses to touch him, to see if he was still himself, still warm. But they weren't positively certain until later, when they watched him devour a pack of butterscotch Krimpets.

 

*¤* nihua *¤*

 

 

Chapter 37

 

Thus began a series of heroic feats by Maniac Magee.

At twenty paces, he hit a telephone pole with a stone sixty one times in a row.

When the once-a-week freight train hit Elm Street, he started running from the Oriole Street dead end --- on one rail --- and beat the train to the park, no-sweat.

He took off his sneaks and socks and walked --- nonchalant as you please --- through the rat-infested dump at the foot of Rako Hill.

The mysterious hole down by the creek, the one you would never reach into, even if you dropped your most valuable possession into it --- he stuck his hand in, his arm in, all the way to the elbow, kept it there for the longest sixty seconds on record, and pulled it out, dirty, but still full of fingers.

He climbed the fence at the American bison pen at the zoo --- he had suggested this feat himself, everyone else scoffing --- and, while the mother looked on, kissed the baby buffalo.*

BOOK: Maniac Magee
11.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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