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Chapter 1
Cory McClintock, You Are A Dead Man

December 18, 2012
"Cory McClintock, you are a dead man."
Riggo's hanging out the passenger window of his mom's mini-van. Their dog Monkey is slobbering down the side of the car.
"Be online in exactly one hour, or I swear, I'm going to kill you."
I shake my head, drop my skateboard on the school's driveway, and push off. I like Riggo; he's my friend and all, but sometimes he can be so thick. With the line of red brake lights snaking down Military Road in front of him, he'll be lucky to make it home at all.
"And my mom says you should be wearing a helmet."
Riggo's voice trails off behind me as I roll along the curb lane dodging potholes and trash, pointing my skateboard toward home. The way his mom is always hassling him about wearing a helmet, or doing his homework, or going to church, sometimes I think it's almost a good thing I don't have a mother. Who needs a helmet?
Dad's a different story. He doesn't care about helmets or church, but homework? That's a whole other matter. Dad teaches history at the all-boys' Catholic school where I go, and he definitely cares about homework. But because he and his warm car left hours ago without me I'm on my own for the trip home. He keeps telling me I gotta take care of myself. Right now, that means getting my tail home in a blizzard.
He rushed out of here to meet with some guy. What the big mystery was I don’t know, but that’s the other thing about dad, he doesn’t always let me in on what’s going on.
My wheels catch some ice hidden beneath a patch of snow, and my deck slips sideways. I'm totally jolted as adrenaline sends my heart banging against my chest like it's leaped into a mosh pit or something, but one thing I learned from wrestling practice with Coach Bristleman is using the fear to focus. In a split second, I'm back in control of my board again.
The weather geeks on TV have made everybody completely nuts by predicting a couple of feet of snow. Our principal, Father McIntyre's announcement this morning that school would close at noon today "until further notice" made the whole place go crazy. Closing school before mid-terms is weird enough—Father M isn't one to panic about a few snowflakes. The weird part came next. I guess he thought no one was listening because then he said, "And may God help us all."
I swear t'God, his voice actually shook.
Before taking off for home, I stopped by my Coach’s office. His voice shook, too, but for different reasons. We have our first big meet Friday against St. Anthony's, and he planned on busting our butts today at practice. According to Bristleman, it wasn't the snow that spooked Father M. It was some genius at NASA who released a statement this morning saying that the "end-of-time" predictions made thousands of years ago by the ancient Maya might not be totally bogus after all.
This NASA dude said yesterday's earthquake a couple of miles north of us in Maryland, and the one that hit San Francisco last week, plus the massive snowstorm barreling down on D.C., the tsunami in the Pacific, and snowstorms in Texas are all due to the gravitational pull of some mysterious energy coming from a black hole millions of miles out in space. According to him, "unprecedented galactic forces" could totally be messing with the planet's crust. Now the whole world is freaking out.
I personally don't buy all the end of the world stuff people are spewing these days. But since I'm the only Maya Indian anyone at school has ever met, it's like all the freak weather and earthquakes and volcanoes that have gone down lately are my fault.
Of course, nobody's thanking me for getting them out of exams this week, I noticed.
Right now, all I want is to get home and get online. For the first time ever, Riggo made me a squadron leader in the Battlefront Black Hole raid he set up against some kids from our study hall. Terry, Riggo's usual partner, got yanked out of school after the earthquake that hit San Francisco cracked a piling of the Golden Gate Bridge. Apparently, Terry's dad has completely bought the black hole thing and the end of the Maya calendar doomsday predictions. They headed for their cabin in the mountains. For some reason, he thinks they'll be safer there when all hell breaks loose. But now that the end-date is only three days away, no one has any idea what to believe.
A fat snowflake hits my cheek as I rip around the turn at Military and Twenty-seventh, right between two cars jamming the intersection. Okay, so the weather geeks got the part about the snowstorm right for once. Normally, I don't pay much attention to the weather, but since I've been praying for a miracle to get me out of tomorrow's algebra exam, I pump my fists at the clouds to thank the storm gods and sail past cars stuck at a light waiting to turn into the synagogue.
All I need is ten inches of smooth asphalt as I slide down the curb lane picking up speed. The collar of my puke-green uniform shirt the school makes us wear slaps against my chin, and my coat flaps open behind me. I'm all that's moving.
Even though it's just past noon, the sky looks like someone wiped axle grease on the clouds, and all the cars have their headlights on. It's weird how dark it is. Zipping between the circles of orange light under the street lamps, it's like I'm in some flip-o-rama in a kids' book—light flickers on-off, on-off, on-off. Halfway down Military Road, I twist my board and veer between a van full of screaming kids and a red Mustang whose radio is blaring with some preacher shouting, "Repent! The end is near!"
I twist and nail a kick-turn in the middle of the road. My pulse is pounding up in my face, and my knees shake at the thought of wiping out in front of all these cars.
Take that, all you long-legged, knuckle-dragging, skinny punks. You aren't the only ones who can pull off a hairpin turn in traffic.
Sliding between two oncoming cars, I cross the street. Moves like that are why Riggo calls me cocky. Okay, so it wasn't the smartest move I've ever made, but what does he know? He's warm and dry in his mom's car.
I shaved my head for wrestling season, so the cold bites at my scalp and ears like it hasn't had anything to eat in a very long time, and I'm the only thing crazy enough to be out in weather like this. Dad says being a full-blooded Guatemalan has nothing to do with hating the cold so much. He adopted me when I was a few weeks old, and I've lived in D.C. since, but man, my genes aren't made for this weather. I'm freezing my balls off!
I snap my board around the curve onto Nebraska Avenue, picking up speed, crouched low over my deck, and trailing gusts of breath. A flatbed truck that's got an open railing for a tailgate waits at a red light about fifty feet away. Catching up to it means I can hitch a ride up to Connecticut Avenue. Then I'll be halfway home where it's warm, dry, and there's a refrigerator full of Coke.
The light of the traffic signal up ahead splinters into what looks like a million pieces of green glass, and a ring of red mist around the truck's brake lights blinks out. Diesel fumes and a guttural roar rumble from the flatbed as it belches black smoke and accelerates.
My wheels skoo-ooo -oootch on the road's surface, rattling up my legs right through my chest and teeth. This grab'll have to be perfect. It's like my heart is some lunatic squirrel trapped in a cage that wants out—right now! I skitch all the time, but I've never gotten used to that pumped feeling just before the grab.
Leaning into the hill, I press my weight into my deck to accelerate and stretch barehanded for the railing. I wobble and my heart really goes nuts as the flatbed yanks me forward. I force my board back under me. Cold stings my fingers. Whichever one of the punks I call my friends stole my gloves is so dead. If the world doesn't end, I'm going to kill him.
Potholes and lumpy asphalt in the road rattle the truck's deck and threaten to toss me off as gears grind. I've taken faster rides than this one, but it beats pushing myself uphill. Just a few more seconds, then I'll ditch the truck and coast the rest of the way home—all downhill.
Clouds of exhaust drift in front of headlights from a long line of cars jamming the intersection. My skateboard hits a rut making my stomach do some crazy hip-hop move. I'm seeing myself roll under the wheels of the car behind me while trying to think of something to tell Dad about why I was skitching again even though he threatened to mutilate me the last time he caught me hanging onto the bumper going up this hill. Somehow, though, I pull it together without getting smeared across the road.
The truck's flatbed shudders. Diesel exhaust burns my throat as we reach the top of Nebraska Avenue. I check for a gap in oncoming traffic, let go, and slide into the intersection. Snowflakes flash like sparks in yellow headlights as I slip between two cars, brushing the grate of a Hummer. The driver pounds his steering wheel.
I'm no lip reader, but even I get his message.
My scalp tingles as I roll onto the side street heading south, rise up on my deck, and coast.
Nothing gets your heart thumping like a near-death experience. The tip of my nose is completely frozen. I can't even feel my fingers anymore.
"McClintock, you're just too friggin' good!" I shout, saluting the traffic with a gesture that would land me in detention if anybody from school was around. But, man I can't help it. I'm so juiced.
The rest of the ride I don't stroke the ground once, even though the snow is already deep enough to slow me down. By the time I jump off my board at my house I can barely see twenty feet in front of me. I stamp on the tail, and the board hops into my hand. Taking the stairs two at a time I fish the chain and house key from around my neck. The screen's hinges groan as I pull it open.
Before my stiff fingers can even get the key in the lock, the door gives. Dad is always getting on me about locking it. I'm so going to give him some for leaving it open.
Inside not a single light is on.
I drop my skateboard and kick off my shoes.
I head to the refrigerator, but as I round the counter my breath catches like I've been punched in the stomach. Dad is lying face down on the tile with a puddle of dark liquid on the floor under his head.
I drop to my knees beside him. My hands shake as I roll him over and smell the iron twang of blood oozing from a gash on his forehead. His eyelids flutter, and I swallow against the stinging in my throat.
He's alive! Oh, God. Call 911!
Something blocks the light from the back porch door. There’s a massive guy in a ski mask standing above me. His black eyes, all that I can see of his face, reflect the glow of streetlights in the alley and make his eyes look orange.
"Who are you?" I scream.
"Vamos," he says.
It takes a second but it suddenly registers that he's speaking Spanish. Where’s he want to go?
"What happened to my dad?"
Another guy wearing a ski mask moves out of the shadows. The first one steps forward, grabs my collar, and hauls me up.
"Hey, let go!" I twist around to give him a kick as his jacket falls open. Icy needles of panic prick the skin under my armpits. A large metal-gripped handgun is hanging in a holster under his coat.
No way I'm waiting around for introductions. Twisting the other direction, I wriggle out of my coat, pull myself around the counter, and run. The second thug shouts something nasty in Spanish, ordering me to stop. I don't care what he calls me, I'm out of here. In the front hall I grab my skateboard, throw the door open, and crash against the screen. The front door glass rattles as it bangs against the wall. Cold soaks through my socks as I slip on the top porch step, then leap off the porch. It's like I'm in one of those weird dreams where everything is silent and slowed down but I can smell snow, and cold smacks me in the face. This is no dream.
My skateboard lands on the sidewalk with a muffled thud as I glance over my shoulder. My shoes are still sitting by the front door, but from the size of the guns those two are packing, now doesn't seem like the time to worry about some wet socks.
When I wheel around to catch up to my board I run smack into somebody the size and shape of a gorilla. Every muscle in my body feels like I've been tazered, and I fall hard on my butt. Snow seeps through my pants. My skateboard disappears under a black BMW parked facing the wrong way at the curb. The driver's door is flung open.
The gorilla sneers at me as he bends down, grabs me by the shirt collar, and hauls me to my feet like I weigh nothing at all. In the next second he twists my arms around my back and pushes my head down. He smells of cheap aftershave and breath mints.
"Te agarré," he says. Gotcha!
I give a little grunt as he drags me toward the car. No one has to say anything. I already know I am completely screwed.
The rear passenger window of the Beemer slides down, and some dude with greased hair in a black overcoat and a tie raises an eyebrow at me.
"Put him in the car," he says in Spanish. The door opens and he slides across the seat. He stares at something outside the opposite window. Silently, I thank Isabelita for speaking only in Spanish all those years she was my sitter. Because of her I understand every word they say.
The two thugs from my kitchen climb into the car and yank their ski masks off. They look like a matched set: Thug Number One and Thug Number Two. Both have necks like pillars and dark buzz-cut hair. The one in front turns around to glare at me. The other one stuffs his huge frame in beside me in the back seat.
"Vamanos," the little guy in the suit says. "We're wasting time." His voice is high-pitched but calm.
Me? I'm panicking. Who are these guys?
All Coach Bristleman's training about never showing fear is about to go right out the window. Sweat and snow drip off my head and face. I'm struggling just to breathe normally. I can only imagine how weak I look. The doors slam shut; then comes the loud, dull thunk of the locks slapping down, and it's like I've been kicked in the stomach. Bracing myself against the leather seat I try to keep from looking as scared as I feel.
"It's like I always say," the guy in the suit says, still looking out the window. He has a heavy accent, but his English is clear and slow. "Never underestimate your opponent—no matter how small."
Who's he calling small? The sneering gorilla whose driving must have two hundred pounds on me at least. It wasn't even a fair fight. Besides, I'm no expert, but I've played enough first-person shooters to know that the guns the thugs from my kitchen are carrying are state-of-the-art Czech-made semiautomatic pistols. Big ones.
My fingers and toes sting as the car's heat seeps into them, and blood pulses under the scrapes on my palms. My heart's pounding in my ears as I scan the back seat. I have to get out of here. Now.
I rub the back of my hand across my nose, and the guy in the suit hands me a folded handkerchief. Weird designs in bright red on the corner make my stomach catch. I know Maya glyphs when I see them. Dad has some framed in his office.
"So, chico, allow me to introduce myself. I am called Omar Culebra. I hope you enjoyed your last romp in the snow. Where we are going there won't be any." He pauses. "Unless, of course, you prove unworthy of the effort we put into finding you." Something about his eyes reminds me of coals in a fireplace. A gold cap on his front tooth glows dully in the grey light.
"Al aeropuerto," he says, and the car moves forward.
"The airport?" I struggle to keep my voice from shaking.
"Ah, yes. I see you are confused." The y in "yes" sounds like a j. He lights a cigarette and shakes out the match. The smile is gone as the car inches into the intersection at Veazy and Wisconsin Avenue. "No need to worry. We are merely taking you home. You are needed in Guatemala."
"Guatemala!?" My throat's so tight I can barely swallow, and my voice sounds like a squeak. No one else in the car is paying any attention, like they steal kids from their homes every day.
"Look, Mr. Whoever-you-are, I really gotta call an ambulance for my dad."
Then I get it.
"Are you kidnapping me? Boy, have you screwed up. My father's a history teacher. We don't have any money."
I scan the backseat checking out my options. If I can just get around the little guy, I’m sure I can outrun the big ones…Shoes or no shoes I've got to be faster, right?
I scoot to the edge of the seat, leaning forward.
The thug on my left clamps his hand on my knee and squeezes. His fingers are the size and shape of sausage links, but it feels like being grabbed by a vise.
Culebra glances sideways in my direction as I squirm.
"Ah, yes. Your 'dad.'" Culebra draws the word out. He breathes through the cigarette and cocks his head like he's thinking about something. "He isn't your real father, you know, chico."
"Yeah? He adopted me as a baby. That makes him my father in my book. Look, I gotta make sure he's okay."
"Your family was very upset that your mother sent you away. I have been looking for you a very long time."
Something catches in my chest as his words register in my not-so-quick brain.
"You know my mother?" Now my heart really begins to kick.
The corner of Culebra's mouth lifts slightly.
", chico. I am her brother."

1 comment:

  1. This is so exciting! I can't wait to read the book!!