Read Christopher Paul Curtis Online

Authors: Bucking the Sarge

Tags: #Flint (Mich.), #Group Homes, #Fraud, #Family, #Mothers, #People With Mental Disabilities, #Juvenile Fiction, #Special Needs, #Social Issues, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #Fiction, #United States, #Parenting, #Business Enterprises, #Humorous Stories, #Parents, #People & Places, #General, #African Americans, #Family & Relationships

Christopher Paul Curtis

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ALSO AVAILABLE FROM LAUREL-LEAF BOOKS

BUD, NOT BUDDY,
Christopher Paul Curtis

ACCELERATION,
Graham McNamee

FRESH GIRL,
Jaïra Placide

SHABANU: DAUGHTER OF THE WIND,
Suzanne Fisher Staples

DR. FRANKLIN'S ISLAND,
Ann Halam

COUNTING STARS,
David Almond

FALLING FROM FIRE,
Teena Booth

DAUGHTER OF VENICE,
Donna Jo Napoli

TARGET,
Kathleen Jeffrie Johnson

TAYLOR FIVE,
Ann Halam

To Shakira Chantelle Wilson and
Darnell Lee Wilson
And to the memory of my dear Uncle Sterling June Sleet

Many thanks to the following people who read the book and offered valuable suggestions:

Elaine Astles, Kay Benjamin, Pauletta Bracy, Steven Curtis, Terry Fisher, Dante Gatti, John Jarvey, Teri Lesesne, Edward Langstone, Megann Licskai, Blake Lundy, Mona Lundy, Kendra Patrick, Barb Perris, Alison Root, Traki Taylor and Mickial Wilson, Uncle Bullethead. And especially to WL, Eunice Blatt.

“Luther T. Farrell, you
got
to be more careful.”

Sparky climbed into the front seat and slapped something brown and squarish on the dashboard of my ride.

My wallet!

My hand flew to the back of my jeans and patted the pocket where my wallet was supposed to have been. Stupid. I know.

I snatched my wallet and opened it to see if anything was missing. I felt like I'd been gut-punched. Except for one thing, it was completely empty.

“Aw, man, someone jacked me! Where'd you get it?”

“On the floor in Mrs. Bohannon's lab.”

I'd been in Mrs. Bohannon's lab after my last class. She'd been trying to help me develop a knockout science fair project and she was almost as excited about it as I was. If I came up with a great idea I'd be the first student ever to win the
science fair for three years in a row at Whittier Middle School. And probably the first at any school in Flint.

It had to be one of those chemistry geeks who'd picked my pocket! I bet it was that Lucas Sorge.

Sparky said, “You know what, Luther, I didn't think it was possible, but if word of this gets out your reputation will sink even lower than it was before. You know everybody already thinks there's something wrong with you the way you stress out over that science fair, but if I let people know you lost your wallet you wouldn't just be known as a wannabe brainiac, you'd have the rep for being a
absentminded
wannabe brainiac.”

“Sparky, this isn't any time to be joking around, I'ma be in some big trouble.”

Sparky said, “And ever since you were in Pampers who is it that's had your back? Who's been there with you through the fire, to the limit, to the wall …”

I tuned Sparky out and started worrying about what my mother, aka the Sarge, was gonna say when she found out all my stuff had been ripped off. No, let me break that down; it wasn't what she was gonna say that had me worried, it was what she was gonna
do.
The Sarge's discipline techniques aren't the kind of thing you'd learn on the Parenting Network, they're more like what you'd pick up from watching the Animal Channel.

Sparky kept running his mouth: “… but I don't expect any thanks, it's just another case of me selflessly bailing my boy out.”

I said, “How're you bailing me out? How's you giving me a empty wallet supposed to be bailing me out?”

“It wasn't completely empty.”

Here it comes. Sparky was about to say something about the only thing the thief had left in my wallet.

I'm not ashamed, I'm not trying to hide anything, it was a condom. To be real, it was the oldest condom on the face of the earth. It'd been in my wallet so many years that I'd had to give it a name—I called it Chauncey. Chauncey and that wallet had spent so much time together that it would've been a crime to separate them, not that there was any chance of that happening anytime soon. They'd been together so long that Chauncey had wore a circle right in the leather, and a circle ain't nothing but a great big zero, which was just about my chances of ever busting Chauncey loose and using him.

I said, “Man, the Sarge's gonna kill me.”

Sparky said, “Maybe it's not as bad as you think, maybe this'll help.”

He snapped his fingers like a magician and a card appeared.

I took it from him. “It figures. My library card, what's a thief gonna do with a library card?”

Sparky said, “I can understand why they left you that, but what I don't get is why they left that condom. Old as that baby is, I bet they could've got some good money from a museum for it.”

Sparky snapped his fingers again. This time my driver's license appeared.

Whew! The Sarge had had to pull some serious strings to get me that, if I'da had to go apply for another one it wouldn'ta been good.

Sparky started reading from my license: “Height: six foot four, weight a hundred thirty-five.” He snorted and said, “Yeah, maybe if you had twenty pounds of quarters in your pockets. And here's something I don't get, if I'm a few months older than you and I'm only fifteen, how come this license says you're eighteen?”

Even though I treat Sparky like a brother, the Sarge taught me that there are some things that aren't
anybody
else's business. I said, “Connections, my brother, connections.”

Sparky said, “I guess so.”

He snapped again and read from the piece of paper that magically appeared in his hand. It was the title to my ride. “Yeah, you really would need some serious connections to be fifteen years old and have a eighty-five-thousand-dollar ride that's already paid off.”

He shook his head and handed me my title.

He snapped again. This finger popping was starting to get old, but at least every time he did it it meant I was getting something back.

Sparky was holding three credit cards.

Oh, snap! Sparky handed me my JCPenney's card, my Platinum MasterCard and my American Express Gold Card.

That was just about everything, just about. I waited for another pop.

Sparky was torturing me. Finally he snapped again and a fifty-dollar bill was in his fingers. It wasn't what I was really looking for, but fifty bucks is fifty bucks. It was my emergency money. He handed it to me and said, “I know I'm supposed to be your boy, and I know we swore to have
each other's backs from womb to tomb, from birth to earth, but after going through your wallet I gotta let you know something, my brother.”

“What's that?”

“You need to quit all that whining about how rough your life is.”

I said, “Look who's talking.”

“Naw, Luther, I'm for real.”

I told him, “Buckle your seat belt, Sparky, you know I gotta pick up my crew by four.”

Sparky buckled his belt as I pulled away from the curb. I always parked a few blocks away from the school.

We'd had this conversation about who was better off before. We look at things in different ways but we always stay tight.

Sparky's been my main dog since kindergarten. His real name is Dewey but he outgrew that around second grade.

His father used to be a fireman and since their crib was just around the corner from the firehouse, his dad let him walk down there after school and polish the bell and do other cool things all the time.

After his dad got shot the other firemen still let Sparky hang around and always had something for him to do.

Darnell Dixon, the Sarge's go-to guy and my boss and one of Flint's leading psychopath nut jobs, had told Dewey, “It's a crying shame the way they treat you down at that fire station, youngblood. Word is that the way you hang out there so much they think of you like some kind of little mascot. Fact is they been calling you Sparky the Fire Dog behind your back.”

That's one reason I have so much respect for Sparky. Darnell called himself trying to be hateful but Sparky flipped the script on him. He took the name and wore it with honor. He was proud of the firemen because they always made him feel at home and mostly because they reminded him of his pops, so from the time he was seven years old he made everyone call him Sparky.

I turned left onto Court Street.

Sparky said, “Naw, Luther, you got it straight-up made. Stop and think about it, you know how you always making them lists for everything you're gonna do and everything you want to do? If I sat down and made my own list of the top one hundred things that I'd ever wanted in life you'd already have ninety-eight of them.”

Sparky started ticking things off on his fingers. “One, you're toting all that plastic around and I know that AmEx card don't even have a limit; two, you got your own vehicle; three, you got a for-real, honest-to-God, straight from the Secretary of State phony driver's license that says you're eighteen when we both know you're only fifteen—and a immature fifteen at that; four, you kiss every teacher in school's behind and get good grades; five, you carry fifty bucks in your wallet at all times; six, your momma owns half the ghetto; seven, she's got them group homes; eight, she's got so much cash she lends money out like a bank; nine, you got six million dollars she set aside in that education fund …”

I interrupted, “Being real it's ninety-two thousand, five hundred and ten dollars, and that's ninety-two thousand, five hundred and ten dollars for more than two years of eighty-hour weeks.”

Sparky said, “Whatever, Number ten, she bought that bad fifty-three-inch plasma TV….” Sparky ran out of fingers so he started slapping the dashboard. “Eleven …”

Bam!

“… she had Darnell Dixon hook you up with that free satellite; twelve …”

Bam!

“… don't no one care if you watch high-definition cartoons from sunup to sundown; thirteen …”

Bam!

“… you're gonna inherit all them things from her, and that's just the start. You got it all, baby.”

I rolled my eyes.

Sparky said, “Of course you do have a couple things going on that wouldn't make my list.”

I said, “A couple? How 'bout having to look after a bunch of grown men twenty-four seven?”

Sparky said, “And for number two, the way you have to clean those dudes up and change some of their diapers.”

I said, “And three, having to work all day Saturday and Sunday and from four till midnight every other night.”

Sparky said, “And four, when it comes to basketball you're a waste of six-feet-and-four-inches.”

I said, “And five, having to make sure my crew gets shaved, dressed, washed up, medicated, driven to the rehab center, and driven to their doctors' appointments and therapy sessions. Then there's prepping and painting the rental houses for new tenants, and cleaning the—”

Sparky said, “And six, there's the thing about you not being exactly the best-looking brother in Flint.”

Sparky was on a roll, but he was wrong there. I've always thought of myself as being handsome, but in a unusual sort of way. And if that Clearasil really works it won't be too much longer before I'll be handsome in a more normal sense of the word.

Sparky said, “Then seven, there's the fact that you ain't never had a woman, and probably never will.”

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