Authors: Jody Feldman
To Dick, Paige & Cassie
and to my mom and dad
who worked to remove the rocks
from this long, long road
If Gil Goodson was to have a chance, any chance…
Gil had flung open their front door after school on…
The wind had blown his sleeping bag a little, but…
“Gil. Gil! GIL! You alive?”
The announcement came over a loudspeaker at 8:30 the next…
“Please!” the announcer boomed for the fourth time. “Ladies and…
Gil thought he might explode. He’d just inhaled two hot…
Gil stopped cold, then backed behind a bank of bushes…
“I’m playing a game. I’m playing a game. I’m playing…
The five filed behind Carol like first graders following their…
Lavinia crept her index finger under the flap of the…
Rocky lunged for the envelope in Bianca’s hands.
Carol reappeared from nowhere. “Major mistake, major. But you’re still…
“Good news and bad news,” said Carol, ruffling her hair.
Could Gil’s heart pump faster? Could he scream louder? He…
Throw away the garbage? During each of the five challenges,…
Gil high-fived Lavinia. High-fived Carol, who took him by the…
Carol stood right outside his door, talking into her headset.
“One one thousand, two one thousand, three one thousand…” Gil…
Moments later, Bill whipped through the door, alone, and motioned…
The ground at Gil’s feet rocked like the whole building…
f Gil Goodson was to have a chance, any chance at all, he would have to run faster than he was running right now.
Run. Away from University Stadium, packed with throngs of contestants who’d suddenly appeared from nowhere to get in line. Run, blinking back the sweat, pushing the lawn mower he wished he could abandon on the street. Run, past the lawn he’d just taken valuable time to cut because Mrs. Hempstead really believed the national TV networks might show her boring street. What were the chances of that happening? About as much as, as…as what?
As Gil had of winning the Gollywhopper Games?
One chance in 25,000—if he could still get a ticket. He’d been planning this day since last summer, ever since Golly Toy and Game Company announced the Gollywhopper Games.
With Gil’s foolproof plan, he wouldn’t have to buy zillions of toys and games to find one of 500 instant winner tickets. He wouldn’t need to send in tons of entries, hoping his name might be drawn from millions and millions of others to win one of 20,000 tickets in that sweepstakes.
He lived eight blocks from University Stadium. He only needed to be one of the first 4,500 kids when the line opened at eleven
. today. The plan was to stand with his duffel and sleeping bag just outside the “no-enter” zone and storm the stadium at the front of the crowd.
He’d planned it all, except for yesterday’s monsoon that had kept him from mowing Mrs. Hempstead’s lawn. Why didn’t he realize the mushy ground would keep him working for an extra hour? Why didn’t he have weather ESP? Then he never would have let Mrs. Hempstead prepay him—double—to make her lawn perfect by this morning.
With the money already in the bank, Gil was stuck finishing the job. Only a thief would raise a son who took money then didn’t do the work. Not true, but people might say that. Wasn’t that one reason he needed to get into the Games? To erase it all?
Gil rammed the lawn mower into the splintered shed behind their pea-sized house, then jammed his key into the back-door lock. Inside, he grabbed a scrap of paper from the kitchen drawer and pulled out a pen. It slipped from his long, sweaty fingers and rolled under the stove. He grabbed another.
He raced to the front door, reached for the duffel, the sleeping bag and…
What was that smell?
It was him: a rising stench of grass and sweat and
lawn mower gas. Gil propelled himself down the hall, into the shower, beneath the cold water, fully dressed. He wedged off his shoes, peeled away his cutoff jeans, underwear, and T-shirt, and skipped the bar of soap over his body, squirted some shampoo on his wavy hair and urged the trickling water to rinse him faster. Then with one hand he turned off the shower and with the other grabbed the nearest towel. Damp. Who cared who used it last. His mom? His dad? He’d barely use it anyway. The August weather in Orchard Heights would finish the job.
He jumped into jeans that his legs had almost outgrown again, and by the time he’d struggled into a gray T-shirt, he was at the front door, hoisting the duffel over his shoulder and burrowing his fingers under the elastic bands that kept the sleeping bag rolled. He pushed his feet into his flip-flops, shoved a baseball cap on his head, and was back on the street.
Back toward University Stadium. Back past the parked cars bearing every license plate in the country. Back toward the massive line encircling the stadium then practically circling it again. Back past the
horseshoe pits, barbecue grills, and volleyball games.
“Are you at the end?” he asked a man making camp with his kids.
“Not anymore, son.”
Gil dropped his gear near a small tree and scanned the mass of bodies. How many of them were there? More than he could count. And no way he’d ask the reporter over there, take the chance she’d recognize him from The Incident.
Gil pivoted away, but seconds later felt a tap on his shoulder. Had she noticed him? He turned so the bill of his baseball cap masked his eyes.
Some shrimpy guy with a Golly badge handed him a yellow card. “Here.”
“What’s this?” Gil asked.
“It’s not a ticket, but guard it with your life,” said the guy. “If you lose it, you might as well go to the end of the line. The first person has number one, and you’ve got…Well, look at your own number. The first forty-five hundred have guaranteed tickets tomorrow morning, and I’ve heard maybe a thousand more will get in. Everything’s printed on the back.”
Gil looked at his yellow card.
5,915? No. No!
If he could somehow get in, even if 1,415 people who had instant win and mail-in tickets didn’t show up, he still might be disqualified in the end. It was, after all, Golly Toy and Game Company that had had his father arrested.
il had flung open their front door after school on February 13, exactly eighteen months and two days ago, grumbling to his mom. Their teacher, who apparently lived in the Paleozoic Era, was forcing them to follow “the age-old ritual” of handing out valentines.
“Like we’re supposed to learn something from shoving pieces of paper at each other. If they make us do this next year in sixth grade, Frankie and Lonnie and Donnie and the rest of the guys and I already decided. We’re all gonna put worms in our envelopes.”
His mom leaned her full weight against the living room wall.
Gil’s stomach moved to his throat. “What’s wrong? Where’s Dad?”
“He’s okay,” she said, “but he’s at the police station, helping straighten out an incident at work. Someone tried to steal a lot of money.”
“So why were you crying?”
“The people at Golly are like family.” She took a shaky breath, cleared her throat, and straightened up. “Okay, then. Valentines, huh? Let’s find something that won’t embarrass you.”
They spent the evening filling out valentines and playing chess, and the last thing Gil remembered was trying to stay awake through the end of an old Indiana Jones DVD.
The next morning, he rounded the corner for breakfast in time to catch his mom throwing away the unread newspaper. Strange. Both his parents always read it from first section to last, then recycled…Where was his dad?
Gil sneaked the paper from the trash.
–Police yesterday arrested Charles Goodson, vice-president of Golly Toy and Game Company, for attempting to embezzle company funds. Goodson, 36, of Orchard Heights, was seized in his office at Golly and went peacefully with arresting officers.
A Golly spokesperson said the attempt involved an account theoretically accessible only to company president, Thaddeus G. “Bert” Golliwop Jr. and his attorneys. Goodson allegedly reprogrammed the computer system to send himself $25,000
each week until the fund, containing approximately $5 million, was depleted.
The company believes Goodson accessed the account through an outdated series of passwords once used to protect the files.
Goodson declared his innocence, but declined further comment on advice of his counsel. A bail hearing has been set for tomorrow morning.
That day at school, one group of kids bombarded Gil with questions. Another avoided him like he was a rabid bat. Even the whisperers outnumbered the people who tried to treat Gil normally. Those reactions weren’t so bad, though, not compared to basketball practice the next Sunday when Rocky Titus, this guy in the grade above Gil, decided to slash Gil’s arm every time the coach wasn’t looking. Even Gil didn’t see the last blow coming, the one that made him fall to the ground, writhing in pain. He did hear Rocky whisper, “Serves you right, you son of a crook.”
By the time Gil’s arm healed that spring, baseball season had started without him. And when football season began in late summer, just before sixth grade,
Gil thought he was ready to get back in there until Lonnie and Donnie, the twins in his grade, came up to him during their first practice.
“We’ve been thinking,” Lonnie had said. “We don’t want a cheater on our team.”
“I’m not a cheater,” said Gil.
“Yeah, right,” said Donnie. “And your dad’s not a thief. Go home.”
Gil looked to his so-called friends for support, but they just shook their heads. That night, Gil convinced himself that sports weren’t so great. Maybe he’d change his mind after the trial.
The trial that November was ten days of pure nastiness. Gil’s mom had warned him that one whole set of lawyers didn’t care about the truth. Their job was to get a guilty verdict and send Gil’s dad to jail for a long time.
It was even uglier than that, but when the jury came in with a not-guilty verdict, Gil floated as if his body were filled with helium. Get ready, sports. Goodson’s back!
“Wipe off that smirk,” said Rocky Titus at school the next morning.
Gil felt all the color drain from his face. “What do you mean?”
“I mean your father’s still guilty. They just couldn’t prove it. Everyone knows that.”
“You are such a jerk.” Gil shoved past Rocky and tried to make himself invisible again.
After the trial, Gil’s dad talked about leaving town and starting over, but even now, on August 11, they were still in Orchard Heights. His dad worked a low-paying job at the university library, then every night he’d comb through the investigation files the private detectives had left behind. Gil could barely get him outside to play catch anymore. His dad sat glued to the dining room table, scribbling in those old folders, typing into the computer. Again. And again.
“Are we ever going to leave?” Gil had asked his dad about six months ago.
He pointed to the files. “Can’t afford to right now. Maybe soon.”
“What if I can afford to?” said Gil. “What if I win the Gollywhopper Games?”
“You win,” his dad had said, “and we’ll move.”