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Authors: Matt Christopher,The #1 Sports Writer For Kids

Tags: #JUV028000, #General Fiction

Soccer Scoop (4 page)

BOOK: Soccer Scoop
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Mac tried to catch up on some homework, but he really wasn’t in the mood.

“You can always clean your room,” his mother suggested. He knew that she must have been tired of having him wander in and out of the kitchen while she was trying to balance her checkbook.

“I already hung up my clothes,” he said. “And I stacked everything else in neat piles.”

“Well, I could clear out of here,” she said. “And you could bake some cookies. You haven’t done that in a while.”

Mrs. Williams had taught all her children to do some cooking and baking. Mac’s specialty was cookies. He never told her, but he liked nibbling on the raw dough as much as eating the final product.

“Nah, I’m not in the mood,” he said.

“I’m sure there’s nothing on TV,” she said. “So why don’t you just settle down and read a good book for a while. When I’m through, I’ll challenge you to a game of cribbage.”

“All right,” said Mac without much enthusiasm.

He had started looking through his books when he got an idea.

“Hey, Mom, I’m going to ask Dougie to come over,” he called into the kitchen. “We can play cribbage some other time, okay?”

“Fine,” replied his mother.

He dialed Dougie s number and made his proposal.

“Hi, Dougie, you have that new
Soccer Round the World
video, right?” he asked.

“Yeah, I told you my dad brought it home the other night,” said Dougie. “I haven’t taken a look at it yet, though. I thought I might this afternoon.”

“So why aren’t you watching it right now?” Mac asked.

Dougie whispered into the phone, “My mother’s got me doing things. She has a list yards long of things that have been waiting for a rainy day. And if I don’t do them just right … boy! We’re really getting on each other’s nerves, I think. Good thing she has to drop off some stuff at my grandmother’s house.”

“So why don’t you just ask her to drop you off over here? Tell her you’ll finish the list of stuff right when you get home. And bring the video. We can watch soccer even if we can’t play it today,” Mac suggested.

“Sounds good to me,” said Dougie. “Hey, should we give Jimmy a call? Maybe he’d want to watch it with us.”

“Naw, he can see it some other time,” said Mac. “He reminds me of the paper, and I don’t want to think about the
Chronicle
right now. Okay?”

After a brief conference with Dougie’s mother, it was settled. She’d drop him off for an hour or so, then pick him up on her way back.

While he was waiting for Dougie, Mac took his mothers suggestion. In no time at all, he had a batch of chocolate chip cookies baking in the oven.

“Sure smells good in here,” said Dougie when he arrived. He hung up his wet slicker in the mud room.

“It gets better,” said Mac. “Go ahead and set the tape up. I’ll be right back. Let me just get something from the kitchen.”

He returned to the living room with a plate of warm cookies.

“They have to cool off, so don’t burn your tongue,” said Mac.

“Or even worse, yours!” said Dougie. “I mean, where would the Cougars be if you couldn’t talk? Hmm, then again, maybe we’d all be able to get a word in edgewise for once!” He reached for a cookie and stuffed it in his mouth.

Mac didn’t say anything. But inside, he wondered about what Dougie had said. Was it possible that Dougie was tired of listening to his chatter?

And if so, how far would he go to stop it? Far enough to submit a drawing to the school paper?

Mac shoved the thought from his mind. That’s ridiculous, he said to himself. Dougie and I have been friends forever.

For the next half hour, they watched as teams from England, France, Brazil, Italy, Mexico, China, and a slew of other countries played parts of one soccer match after another. There were no full games on the tape, but the highlights made up for it.

One play in particular caught their eye. “Wow!” Mac cried. “Look at that pass! Talk about ‘threading the needle’—whew!”

“Stop the tape and rewind it,” said Dougie. “Let’s see it again.”

They watched it no less than three times—a forward on the Italian team booting an amazing pass. The ball went cross-corner through the legs of one defenseman, behind the back of another, off the heel of a third, and ended up in perfect position at the outside edge of the penalty area. It gave another forward a clear shot at the goal, which he took.

But the defending goalie managed to get the ball on a forward vault before it went into the net.

“See, once again, the goalie makes for the win or loss,” said Mac, clenching his fists together over his head and stretching.

“Oh, really? So I guess what I do doesn’t amount to anything,” said Dougie, his voice dripping with sarcasm.

“I didn’t mean that. You know all the goals you’ve scored are important,” said Mac.

“Just important? Maybe you’re forgetting that it’s the goals I earn that win the game—not the number of goals you save,” said Dougie hotly.

“Oh, and I suppose you think I don’t save enough goals, do you? I bet you think I’m asleep on the job or too busy talking to play good soccer, just like those stupid cartoons say, don’t you? Maybe you’re even the one who drew them!”

The minute the words left his mouth, Mac wished he could take them back. Dougie was his best friend. What Mac had accused him of was ludicrous.

Dougie didn’t say anything. He just stood up and pushed the rewind button on the VCR.

Mac felt miserable. “Listen, Dougie —,” he started to say.

Dougie cut him off. “Just because one person who can draw is poking fun at you doesn’t mean everyone is against you.”

“I know, and I’m sorry, Dougie. I know it isn’t you. But why am I the target?” asked Mac. “Why isn’t anyone poking fun at you, for instance?”

“I don’t know,” his friend replied. “Maybe I’m not a big enough cheese.”

“But you’re the number one scorer on the team!” Mac exclaimed.

“Yeah, but you talk like a big shot most of the time,” said Dougie. “So people are more aware of you than they are of me. And you know, there may be some people who don’t appreciate all you have to say.”

Mac shook his head.

“So what should I do? Just shut up and play?”

Dougie snickered. “As if you could!” He settled back in his chair, munching on a cookie. Through the crumbs in his mouth he said, “Listen, we’ll figure out who’s doing those cartoons. But in the meantime, let’s test you through the rest of this video. I’ll bet you the last cookie that you can’t make it through three plays without making a noise!”

“Deal!”

Two plays later, Dougie was polishing off the last morsel, grinning from ear to ear.

9

B
y Friday, Mac had again managed to bury some of his feelings about the phantom cartoonist. Luckily he had other things to think about—like the game that afternoon and the school dance that would follow. He, Dougie, and Jimmy were going to go to the dance together “because,” as Dougie pointed out, “there’s safety in numbers!”

The hallways were filled with excited talk of the dance all day. At lunch, Mac joined his usual group of friends. He had just taken a huge bite of his peanut butter sandwich when Jimmy asked in a loud voice, “So, Mac, is my kid sister, Deanna, going to get all dolled up for nothing tonight?”

Mac sputtered but couldn’t get a word out around his sticky mouthful.

“He’s speechless! Ladies and gentlemen, it’s a first!” Jimmy chortled. “There’s something for the papers!”

While the rest of the guys laughed, Mac stared at Jimmy. A thought had suddenly crossed his mind.

Could Jimmy have something to do with those cartoons?

He hadn’t considered the possibility before, but the more he thought about it, the more it all seemed to fit. Jimmy had connections at the paper. He attended every game, including the two that came before the cartoons. He had been the lead scorer for the Cougars’ rivals only last year; maybe his loyalties were still with that team. Or maybe he was more upset than he let on that Coach Robertson had told Mac he’d take his help on the sidelines—yet had refused to let Jimmy lend a hand.

The evidence was only circumstantial, but it added up just the same.

“Jimmy?” Dougie repeated incredulously when Mac told him his suspicions after lunch. “You’re kidding, right? Jimmy hasn’t got a mean bone in his body. No way is it him.”

“I don’t want to believe it, either,” Mac admitted. “But everything points to him!”

Dougie shook his head. “You’re going to have to do better than that to convince me.”

“Okay, then let’s set a trap for him!”

“Trap? What kind of trap?” Dougie wanted to know.

Mac thought for a moment. Then he snapped his fingers. “I know. At today’s game, I’ll do or say something stupid when only you two are around. If it winds up as a cartoon, then we’ll know it’s him!”

“I guess that could work,” Dougie mused. Then he cracked a huge smile. “Of course, you’re always saying and doing so many stupid things, it’ll be hard for me to know which one is supposed to be the trap!”

“Hardy har har,” Mac said.

“Oh, good comeback.” Dougie gave Mac a friendly shove, then took off for his next class. “See you later in the locker room, genius!”

Mac knew he had to come up with something really good to test Jimmy with. And he had to be sly about it. If Jimmy was the cartoonist, he might suspect Mac was on to him if he was too obvious.

But what to do or say? Mac puzzled about that through the rest of his classes.

It came to him during the coach’s pre-game pep talk.

“Okay, listen up,” Coach Robertson called. The team gathered around him. As usual, Jimmy Palumbo was sitting in, hoping for an inspiring quote to start off his weekly column. “I know you guys don’t think that the Blue Sox are that much of a threat because they have a really poor record so far. Well, I’m telling all of you that you have to be on your special guard today. There are two enemies out there. There’s the Blue Sox, with their losing record for the season. And there’s complacency. That’s right. You could be your own worst enemy if you take it for granted that you’re better than they are and try to coast through the game.

“But you can’t. Every single one of you has to give it everything you have—or they’ll end up walking all over you. That goes for you wings. It goes for you midfielders. It goes for the backfield, for the defense, for the sweeper. And Mac, as our last hope, it’s up to you to be on your toes. Now get out there and do your best.”

“Go, Cougars!” Mac led the cheer as the huddle around the coach broke up and the team headed for the field. Then Mac suddenly stopped.

“Dougie, Jimmy, I can’t find my gloves! Can you guys give me a hand?”

“A hand to find your gloves?” Dougie echoed. “Pretty funny.”

Jimmy started digging through the mess in the bottom of Mac’s locker. Mac pretended to search the floor, and Dougie pawed through his duffel bag.

Mac cleared his throat. “Hey, did you guys catch how the coach called me ’the last hope’? Just goes to show you how highly he thinks of me.”

Dougie snorted. “Yeah, but he also warned you to keep on your toes, don’t forget.”

Mac gave Dougie a significant look. Dougie glanced at Jimmy’s back, and raised an eyebrow at Mac.

“Keep on my toes?” Mac repeated, then waited a beat until he was sure Jimmy was watching him. “You mean, like a ballerina? Like this?” With a simpering look plastered to his face, he circled his arms above his head, raised himself up on the balls of his feet, and tippytoed across the floor.

Jimmy and Dougie cracked up. Then a holler from the field reminded Mac and Dougie that they had a game to play.

“Yikes! Let’s go!” Mac cried.

“Wait, what about your gloves?” Jimmy asked.

“Hey, what do you know? They were in my gym bag the whole time!”

“Oh, brother. Listen, I’ll see you guys later. Dougie, your mom’s picking us up for the dance at seven o’clock sharp, right?” Jimmy called as he ran to the stands.

Dougie nodded, and he and Mac joined the rest of the team on the bench.

“Well,” Mac said. “That oughta do it. Now we sit back and see what appears in the paper on Monday.”

“Forget Monday. Let’s concentrate on today— and winning this game!” Dougie cried as the team took to the field.

10

O
kay, you Cougars! Show ‘em your stuff, Dougie! Mickey, put ‘em where they belong! Mel, you’ve got the muscle! Billy, try giving me a hand today, what do you say? Cougars! Cougars! Eat ‘em up alive!”

The Blue Sox had won the toss and elected to kick off.

Mac stared down the field toward the center spot as the two teams lined up. He took a deep breath, and the game began.

The kick went toward a Blue Sox halfback, who tried to nudge the ball to one of their forwards. But the Cougars swarmed in and managed to snag it. The halfback was left standing alone as the ball went off in the other direction.

Mickey took control of the ball and led the charge toward the goal, passing it back and forth with Stevie, who paralleled him down the field.

But the Blue Sox weren’t rolling over. Even from his distance, Mac could see that they were all set to play a strong, hard game.

“Set ‘em up, Mickey! Set ‘em up! Watch out for those Blues! In there, Dougie! Find your spot!” His chatter continued as long as the ball was in play.

Every now and then Mickey managed to send the ball through the maze of players to the opposite side of the field. The Cougars had several plays that started out with Stevie on the right side facing the goal. But every time, as though it had a bungee cord attached to it, the ball sprang back to the left side of the field.

“Set it up, Mickey! Come on, Dougie!” Mac called. The Blue Sox defense was tougher than the Cougars had thought it would be, but Mac could tell that they were weakest in the middle. The Cougars had the best chance of scoring by concentrating their efforts there.

Mac knew Dougie was the key to play in the middle. And sure enough, when Dougie got ahold of the ball a moment later, he didn’t give it up easily. He quickly dodged around the Blue Sox sweeper. And then, before the Sox knew what was happening, he took a shot.

BOOK: Soccer Scoop
7.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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