Bullies, bravery, fear, integrity, heroism, and redemption–all revolve around a huge challenge taking place during the last two weeks of a hot summer. Ricky the paperboy, stumbles upon a tragic boating accident where a popular teenager is killed. Rumors abound that drinking was involved and Ricky is unknowingly blamed for starting them. As a result, three boys relentlessly bully him along his route. The city seeks to ban swimmers from the shipping canal while police and firefighters chase kids away.
Mr. Rocco, a storekeeper along the paper route, forces the boys to settle their hostilities once and for all in a dangerous contest of ‘manhood’. Leo, one of the bullies, is arbitrarily chosen to race against Ricky across the Welland Canal. Winner not only takes the prize money but takes the respect, a commodity needed as the first year of high school looms in a few weeks.
Race day turns into a circus with the police, two rival gangs, and a newspaper reporter all arrive with their own agendas. Leo is not to be trusted. He’s not a good swimmer and cuts a last minute deal with Ricky. Worst of all is the unstoppable Great Lakes boat bearing down on them. Whatever happens in the water will change Ricky’s life. (read excerpt below)
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excerpt – As soon as I stepped around the corner of the building to get my bike, hands grabbed me and pulled me around the side of the store.
Johnny shoved me roughly over my bag, while Leo and Skinny Pete closed in. Pete chewed on his gum like it was a piece of leather. I felt like an ant waiting for a giant shoe to fall. For a bunch of loudmouths they sure had kept quiet back there. This was not the Welcome Wagon for the friendly neighborhood paperboy.
I quickly recovered from the assault and pulled myself up halfway, until Skinny Pete pushed me back down. He swung my bag around and smashed it against the stucco wall. Some of the papers skidded out. Not good.
“Take it easy,” I pleaded, sprawled on the grass. “You’re interfering with the newspaper. You can’t do this to the papers.”
Johnny clenched his teeth. Muscles in his jaw twitched. “We’re not gonna interfere with the papers, we’re gonna interferewith you.”
Another technicality. A loophole. Kill me, but don’t dare touch the Tribune. Pete balled his hands into fists, turning his knuckles white.
I got to my feet and stepped to my bag, feeling an up swell of hate warm my head. A rush of blood caused a blurry red border to frame my vision as adrenaline seeped into my veins, stoking an instinct to either fight or flee. If I fought I’d lose; if I fled they’d grab me before I could get on my bike.
Johnny’s head shook back and forth. His face expanded and turned crimson. I took a cautionary half-step back. Leo babbled something about my fly being open.
I looked down. Big mistake.
I didn’t see Johnny lower his shoulder.
In a flash, he rammed me, landing a super body check that would make his hockey coach proud.
I flew off the ground, slamming against the stucco wall of the store, rattling the small side window. Air shot from my lungs like a spouting whale. I crashed to the grass. My ears roared in a white light pain.
Spots raced before my eyes. A searing ball of fire blazed in my chest. I gasped, open-mouthed, trying to find my breath.
A screen door slammed somewhere in space.
A loud voice. Angry voices.
Scuffling. I was aware of people moving in front of me. Time drifted.
A hand rested on my shoulder.
“Hey, Ricky,” asked the voice. “You okay?”
Mr. Rocco pulled me up into a sitting position against his store. I opened my eyes, looked into his, and saw an anger he could barely contain. His whisker-shadowed cheeks and cleft chin filled my vision. His breath smelled like licorice.
The trio sat against the building not far from me, licking their wounded pride, tails between their legs.
Mr. Rocco’s big Italian frame stood like a sweaty statue, his hairy fists on his hips. His frown crushed his eyebrows together in a long, dark uni-brow as he surveyed the boys. Unable to contain his disgust, he ripped into them with fire-breathing, finger-thrusting lecture. A robin flapped out of the tree above us in terror.
In my woozy state, I didn’t catch much of it, but one in particular caught my ear.
“This here is a working boy. What could Ricky–one boy–do to you three, to make you beat him like a dog?”
I’d like the answer to that one, too.