Bibliographic record and links to related information available from the Library of Congress catalog
Copyrighted sample text provided by the publisher and used with permission. May be incomplete or contain other coding.
The Beginning of the End: January 28
The pledge masters marched the fifteen pledges to the middle of the soggy yard. The ground was muddy and squished as they walked, and the frigid air whipped across the pledges' wet T-shirts. Sharp needles of rain stung them as they stood there silently waiting for instructions.
"Kneel!" Rick Sharp shouted to Jericho.
Jericho wanted to disobey, but instead he knelt immediately. Cold mud soaked through his jeans in seconds.
"Take off my boot, Pledge Slime!" the six-foot, broad-shouldered senior shouted to Jericho over the noise of the pouring rain. He glanced down at Jericho, who huddled at his feet.
Jericho shivered as the rain came down harder and made him sink deeper into the mud of the desolate warehouse yard. His fingers were wet and stiff, but he reached for Sharp's big, black army boot and slowly began to untie the laces.
"Hurry up, Pledge Slime!" Sharp shouted. Jericho dejectedly struggled to untie the wet lace of the pledge master's boot, his fingers aching. He wasn't sure what to do when he finished. He had no idea how to get the boot off Rick's foot.
He glanced over to see, if he could, the line of the other pledges, also kneeling in the mud at the feet of their pledge masters. But the rain and the darkness made it difficult to see very much. Jericho could barely even see Josh, who was closest to him in the line, but he could hear Mad Madison shouting at him in the darkness. Jericho couldn't see Kofi or Dana at all.
"All of us have been where you are tonight," Sharp told Jericho. "A Warrior of Distinction is not afraid to lower himself for his brother. A Warrior of Distinction does not show fear. Are you afraid, Pledge Slime?"
"No, sir," Jericho replied. "I'm not afraid."
"Then get busy! The rest of your pledge class, slimy and disgusting as they are, seem to be doing fine. Do you want to let them down?"
Jericho inhaled slowly. It was all of them or none of them. "Can you lift your foot, Master Senior Sharp, sir?" Jericho asked timidly. As he raised his face to look at Sharp, he gasped as the icy rain stung his eyes.
"Did I give you permission to speak, Pledge Slime?" Sharp snarled. Jericho said nothing, but Rick lifted his right foot, using Jericho's head to balance himself.
Jericho pulled the boot off with difficulty. He was afraid that he would fall or would make Rick fall as he tugged at the boot. Either would have been disastrous, but he managed to get the boot off smoothly. The stench of Rick Sharp's foot was enough to make Jericho choke.
"Now take off the sock," Rick barked.
Jericho hesitated and hoped they would be able to go home soon. He slowly peeled off Rick's sock. Rick's foot reeked of sweat.
"Place the sock on the ground, then set my foot down on it. Make sure not a speck of mud touches my foot," he commanded.
Jericho did as he was told and Rick Sharp removed his hand from Jericho's head as he lowered his foot to the ground. Then he bent down and whispered into Jericho's ear, "You havin' fun yet?"
Jericho didn't dare tell the truth -- that he had stopped having fun long ago.
"You really want to be a Warrior of Distinction?" Rick asked.
Jericho nodded. He thought of the prestige of having one of those black silk jackets, the admiring glances in the halls at school, but mostly he thought of Arielle. He tried not to think of the rain and the mud and the stink of Rick's feet.
"Are you willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction?" Rick demanded. "You have permission to answer."
"Yes, sir! Yes, Master Senior Sharp, sir! I am willing to do anything to be a Warrior of Distinction, sir!" Jericho repeated the words that he and the other pledges had been chanting automatically since the whole process began. But he wasn't sure if he meant them anymore.
"Are you willing to do anything to help the others become Warriors of Distinction?" Rick demanded.
"Anything, sir." Jericho just wanted it to be over.
"Then suck my big toe."
"Sir?" Jericho wasn't sure if he had heard correctly.
"If you want to be a Warrior of Distinction, you must suck my big toe. Now!"
Jericho looked around desperately; he had no idea what the others were being forced to do. As he lowered his head close to the mud and closer to Rick Sharp's foot, Jericho wondered miserably how he could have sunk so low.
The Beginning: The First Week of December -- Thursday, December 4
The First Week of December --
Thursday, December 4
"Hey Josh, what you getting your girl November for Christmas?" Jericho asked as the two headed for a table in the hot, crowded cafeteria. The lunchroom, stuffy with the odors of pizza, salsa, and sweat, was especially full today because the weather was cold and blustery, and nobody chose to eat outside.
Josh laughed as he squeezed his long legs under the cafeteria table. "Oh, you know, the usual -- diamonds and gold jewelry!"
"So I see you plan to shop at the dollar store again this year!" Jericho teased his cousin. "I don't see how November puts up with you." Jericho's hefty body barely fit in the small cafeteria seat. He hated feeling squeezed in -- he liked his jeans baggy and his T-shirts extra large.
Josh grinned. "She knows she's lucky. She gets to walk in the glow of my light. She's thanked me every day since ninth grade when I first let her hook up with me!"
"That Rice Krispies-colored hair you got does make you kinda look like a lamp on top," Jericho joked.
"November loves it -- that's all that matters. She clicks my switch and turns me on. And then I let her walk down the halls with me so she can share in my glorious light!"
"You better not let her hear you talk about her like that, or she may put your lights out!" Jericho warned as he ate his cafeteria pizza. "November's like a deep lake, and you're a bowl of goldfish water!"
"How you figure?" Josh asked.
"When's the last time you volunteered to work with little kids at a hospital?" Jericho continued to eat the pizza, even though he thought it tasted like cardboard covered with red sauce.
"I used to be a little kid," Josh replied. "Does that count?"
Jericho laughed. "Maybe that's why she hangs with you -- you're just another project for her to work on."
"She can work on me all night long!" Josh answered with a grin.
"You know, this pizza tastes more like the plastic they wrap it in than real pizza." He licked the plastic just to make sure. Even though he didn't like the pizza, he ate four pieces.
"I don't know how you can eat that stuff, Jericho," Josh commented as he bit into a cold Big Mac that he had bought the night before.
"Look who's talkin'!" laughed Jericho. "At least I don't go with a girl whose mama named her for one of the coldest months of the year!"
"At least I got a girl!" Josh shot back as he stuffed the rest of the burger into his mouth. "She was born on Thanksgiving Day. I'm just glad her mama wasn't drunk that day. She coulda named her Turkey!"
A tall, thin boy wearing wire-rim glasses sat down with them. "Hey, whassup, Kofi?" Jericho greeted him. Kofi Freeman's face was covered with the zits and scars of an ongoing battle with acne, but Jericho noticed that he never seemed to have a problem talking to girls. "What took you so long?"
"Long line." For lunch Kofi had purchased a large bag of french fries and a Coke. He dipped each fry into his drink before he ate it.
"Now that's disgusting!" Josh hooted, shaking his head. "You both still coming over my house on Saturday?"
"Yeah, I ain't got nothin' better to do," Kofi replied as he sucked a french fry dry.
"You gonna bring Dana the Wolf?" Jericho asked Kofi. "You sure you're tough enough to handle her?"
"Yeah, probably. Strong, tall women turn me on!" Kofi answered with a laugh.
"Hey Jericho, speaking of women, here comes your girl Arielle," Kofi whispered as she walked toward them carrying her tray. Arielle wore a blue-and-white Douglass High sweatshirt, blue jeans that hugged her hips, and clean white tennis shoes. She wore her hair swept back from her face, with three small silver earrings in each ear. Jericho could feel his underarms getting clammy as she approached. "I heard she liked her men large and sloppy, with messed-up trumpet-playin' lips, so you just may have a chance!" Kofi said, giving his friend a shove.
Josh added, "Yeah, my cuz here knows how to kiss a trumpet and make it sing, but he may have some trouble with a girl like Arielle!"
"If she was shaped like a trumpet, Jericho would know just what to do," Kofi teased. "A trumpet he can handle -- it doesn't talk back like a girl does!"
Josh laughed, "Arielle is all that and a bag of chips! That girl can talk and walk better than any trumpet Jericho has ever seen!"
Kofi chuckled as he worked on his Coke-soaked french fries. "You better go ahead and talk to her, Jericho, before all that good stuff is gone!"
Jericho didn't really mind the teasing -- he just wished he could be as comfortable with girls as Josh and Kofi were. "Shut up, man," Jericho whispered, "before she hears you. You know I been tryin' to talk to her since school started." He couldn't figure out how he managed to feel so completely stupid around a girl like Arielle.
"So talk! Here's your chance," Josh replied.
"I can't -- she's got Dana the Wolf with her." Dana Wolfe had a reputation of being tough. She had been the first girl to get a tattoo, the first to get her eyebrow pierced, and could be depended on to be the first to jump into a fight to defend her friends. And she could outshoot in basketball and outrun on the track many of the boys in the junior class.
Arielle and Dana whispered something to each other and laughed just before they reached the table where Jericho, Kofi, and Josh sat.
"Whassup, Kofi?" Dana said, clearly ignoring Jericho and Josh. Wearing tall black boots, a suede skirt, and a soft green sweater, she carried her five-foot-ten-inches regally. She was almost as tall as Kofi.
Kofi grinned and replied, "Just you, Dana. Did I ever tell you I was a wolf in a former life? Maybe that means we were meant to be together!"
"Yeah, and maybe that means you've got some serious mental problems!" she replied with a smirk.
"Ooh, she got you, man!" Josh hooted.
"Don't get me started on you," she warned Josh with a grin, "or I may have to chase you home from school, so you can run to your mama for protection!"
They all cracked up then. Arielle said very little, and even though she laughed at Kofi and Josh with the rest of them, she looked bored and impatient. She barely glanced at Jericho. He had stopped eating when the girls got to their table. He didn't want to say something to Arielle with pepperoni stuck in his teeth, and he couldn't think of anything clever to say anyway. Just as Jericho figured out that he'd ask Arielle about the biology homework, she and Dana saw three other girls they knew and went to sit at their table. It seemed to Jericho that the air where she had been standing was suddenly chillier when she left. Why did he feel like such an idiot whenever she was around?
The three boys had almost finished lunch when two seniors sauntered across the crowded cafeteria. They wore black silk jackets, black jeans, and the very latest, most expensive Nike shoes. Jericho recognized them immediately -- everyone in the school knew the Warriors of Distinction.
Whispers and rumors surrounded the club. It was common knowledge that the Warriors all wore the latest shoes and clothes -- every single day. They had a reputation of giving the very best parties -- you had to know somebody just to get an invitation. Kids who had been to these functions came back boasting about the live entertainment, the upscale houses where the parties had been held, and the easy access to kegs and smokes.
But the Warriors also had a positive reputation with adults. The club was well known for collecting and dis-tributing books to kids in the summer and toys in the winter. Many fathers of current Douglass students, and lots of men in town as well, had been members of the Warriors when they were students. They kept up with each other at annual meetings, and rumors of fixed parking tickets or lower rates for car loans buzzed around.
Jericho wondered whose table the boys were heading to as they walked confidently across the room. A club like that was just plain tight. His heart thudded as they seemed to be heading directly toward them. Jericho, Josh, and Kofi looked up with disbelief as the Warriors stopped abruptly at their table. Kofi dropped his french fry into his Coke.
"Kofi Freeman? Jericho Prescott? Joshua Prescott?"
"Yeah, that's us," Jericho answered.
"Are you two brothers?" one of the Warriors asked Jericho and Josh.
"No, cousins," they answered together. They were used to the question; people had been asking them that since they were kids.
"We've been observing the three of you," the taller of the Warriors began, "and we think you have potential."
"Us?" Jericho asked. He couldn't believe that anyone had bothered to notice him at all.
The two members of the club stared at Josh, Jericho, and Kofi with stony eyes. They turned as if they were going to walk away. Jericho gasped silently. Then the two seniors looked at each other, faced the three friends once more, and crossed their arms in unison. The taller one cleared his throat and said finally, "The Warriors of Distinction want to know if you would like to help us this year with our holiday toy drive. It's hard work and there is no pay. But underprivileged children all over the city will thank you."
Josh spoke first. "Yeah, I'll help."
"Me too," Kofi added.
"Sign me up," Jericho said quickly, just in case they might think he wasn't interested.
"We'll meet at five p.m. Eddie Mahoney's place on Gilbert Avenue. Here are the directions. Don't be late." With that, the two Warriors of Distinction turned and left the cafeteria. They spoke to no one else, although Jericho noticed that every girl in the lunchroom watched them as they made their way out of the door and into the hall.
Jericho and Josh looked at each other and grinned. "You know what this means?" Josh said. "It means we're on the list to be Warriors!"
"Not necessarily," Jericho countered. "I knew a dude last year that got asked to do the Christmas thing and he didn't get asked to pledge."
"Well, there's lots of things they check, you know," Kofi reminded them. "Like grades, stuff you do around the school, and who you hang with." He had pulled the dropped french fry out of the soda.
"And how you eat your french fries?" laughed Josh.
"Who knows what they check? Who cares! All I know is the first step to getting in is being asked to help out at the toy drive, and we just got there!" Jericho said exultantly.
"What's the real deal with Warriors of Distinction and the school?" Kofi whispered, looking around to make sure that no Warriors were close enough to hear him.
"Well, it's not officially school sponsored anymore -- some business in the community decided to sponsor them a few years back, I heard," Jericho explained. "But only Douglass kids are members, and they always get a Douglass teacher to help them out."
"Doesn't matter," Josh declared breezily. "They've been around for like a million years -- almost as long as this old, rusty school has been here."
"So how do they get over with the principal and teachers if they're not really a school club?" Kofi continued.
"I've seen the principal, Mr. Zucker, wear his old Warrior jacket to school sometimes, so I know he was a member of the Warriors when he went to school here -- several of the teachers, too," Josh offered. "Even my dad was a Warrior!"
"Yeah, yeah, we know." Jericho then said thoughtfully, "I've seen the Warriors around at school stuff, at Open House and Homecoming and Teacher Appreciation Day. They show up and look good, doing stuff for the school like showing parents around or passing out apples to the teachers, and the school has always given them perks."
"Like what?" Kofi asked.
"Like they get their schedules fixed so they have no afternoon classes. And they get trusted with keys to things that no other student has access to -- the faculty lounge, the student store, the supply room. And who ends up working in the office in the computer room where report card records are kept? Warriors of Distinction!" Then he lowered his voice. "I've heard kids talkin' about grades being changed. I don't know how they do it, but I'd love to have that kind of power."
"I heard they've got the answers to every teacher's final exam!" Josh exclaimed.
"Is that, like, possible?" Kofi asked.
"And did you ever notice the hottest girls in school seem to hang with the Warriors?" Jericho asked, thinking of Arielle.
"Well, sign me up, dude!" Josh declared cheerily.
"You ever been to one of their parties?" Kofi asked in a whisper.
"Not hardly. I know some kids who did, though," Jericho told them. "All the way live!"
Josh finished the last of his chocolate-chip cookies. "Where you think they get those jackets, man? They wear the silk ones when they want to look slick, and the leather ones when they want to look tight. Either way, I'd look too good in one of those!"
"I hear they got connections. Goes way back, I hear," Jericho answered vaguely. Since everybody at school talked about the Warriors all the time, it was hard to tell what was real and what was made up. Not all the whispers about the Warriors were good.
"Aw, you can't believe everything you hear, man," Kofi told them. "But I'd take that kinda hookup if it's for real."
"I can see how they'd ask you two -- Kofi, you're the computer genius, and Josh, you're good at sports and just about everything else, but I can't believe they asked me, too," Jericho admitted quietly.
"Aw, quit dissin' yourself," Kofi told him. "The Warriors know who's got it together. And I bet Arielle figures it out too!"
"For real, though, the only way I can get a girl like Arielle to speak to me is if I need to borrow a pencil in class."
"Relax, man. I bet she'll be sharpening your pencils before you know it," Josh said with a chuckle. "This is so awesome! I can't wait to tell Dad."
"Yeah," Kofi said. "He'll think it's pretty cool that his pinhead son finally did something right! Hey Jericho, didn't your dad go to school here too? How come he wasn't a Warrior?"
Josh's father, Brock, and Jericho's father, whose name was Cedric, were brothers and had both attended Frederick Douglass High. However, Cedric, the older of the two, had never been asked to pledge. Brock, three years younger, had pledged and boasted about it ever since. Jericho wasn't sure if his father regretted not being a Warrior or not. But he told Kofi, "Aw, my dad ran the school when he was here -- he didn't have time to be a Warrior!"
Copyright © 2003 by Sharon M. Draper