Fifteen-year-old CLIFF ROGERS finds himself facing the worst problem of his life thus far: His close friend, Gary, has joined a gang of vandals and is helping them to destroy valuable private property!
Cliff, realizing that Gary is on a fast track to meanness and self destruction, attempts to bring him back from the edge!
(This book was formerly published under the title, The Winning of Gary Hastings.)
For a sneak preview of this book read the sample pages below:
1 – SPLINTERING NOISES
DURING THE NIGHT of October eleventh the gang of vandals made their first hit. In a few minutes they destroyed several thousand dollars worth of property.
On that night Cliff Rogers stepped out through the doorway of an old rickety shack and turned back for a final word with the person he had been visiting. Street lamps were scarce in this run-down section of town along Railroad Avenue, but Cliff stood within the rays of bright light coming through the open door.
He was a dark-haired youth of average height and weight for his fifteen years, and his slender, denim-clad frame was put together in a way that suggested athletic ability. “See you, Jack,” he said to the man who was holding the door open. “And I’m sorry I keep buggin’ you with my problems. You must think I’m some kind of weirdo.”
“Not at all,” replied Jack. “If anybody around here is a bit strange, it’s me.” He made a skinny silhouette against the doorway’s bright rectangle. “But, if I ever have the misfortune to meet someone who can honestly say he has no problems at all–well, then I’ll know I’ve found me a weirdo. And don’t worry, Cliff, you’ll get over this hang-up about being left out of things.”
“I know I shouldn’t let it get to me,” said Cliff, “but it’s frustrating. It seems you’re the only one I can really talk to about it. Y’know, just the other day…. Hold it! I’m complaining again. Well, I’m gonna shut up now and go home.”
Jack laughed. “That’s what I like about you, Cliff. No matter how upset you get, you can still poke fun at yourself.”
They said goodnight then, and Cliff started on his long walk back to his home on Dunwall Street. He got out of the shabby section of town, crossed through a corner of the business section, and continued on into a respectable middle-class residential area.
The wind carried a touch of frost that evening as it swept along Dunwall Street, swirling dry leaves and city dust around like an impatient janitor who was in too big a hurry to keep his broom low. Cliff pulled the collar of his jean jacket up closer around his square jaws, as the wind turned the locks of his dark hair into wild dancers. With his hands in his pockets and his shoulders hunched up, he hurried on.
He wished he had taken his bike instead of walking to Jack’s place. But he didn’t have much farther to go now; his home was only a few blocks away along this same street. He came by here in the mornings on his way to the bus stop where he took the 26 Hillcrest for the ten-block ride to school, and after that he came by here again on his way home. Also, Cliff took this familiar route when he went to see Jack in the evenings.
His mom didn’t approve of his friendship with Jack. She would say things like, “Why don’t you chum around with someone your own age?” or “People say he’s a lazy good-for-nothing. I’m afraid he’ll be a bad influence on you.” Or, at the worst, she might even say something like, “He seems friendly enough, but I don’t like the way he stares at people without saying anything. Maybe Vietnam did something to his mind.”
It was true that Jack was a bit different. He went around in ragged, tight-legged jeans and lived in a sway-roofed shack that should have been bulldozed into the city dump at least twenty years ago. He had no job and didn’t seem to be looking for one, apparently being content to scrape along on a small pension he got because of a Vietnam leg injury. But there was nothing wrong with his mind; of that Cliff was confident. And Jack was nice to be with–interesting, cheerful, and friendly with almost complete consistency, so that after you had been with him for a while you didn’t feel so lonely anymore.
That meant a lot to Cliff, because loneliness was always hovering nearby, trying to cast its cold shadow over him. Just the other day he had thought about the matter carefully and realized how lonely he had been for two years now.
About three years ago, when Cliff was twelve and city life was still a novelty to him after his family had moved in from the country, he made the mistake of associating with a group of young hoodlums. This gang did their best to get into trouble. Fortunately for Cliff, he had not gotten too involved with them before the great change took place–before he did what the pastor of a little, old, run-down church on the corner of his block had asked him to do.
Cliff gave himself, and his whole life, completely over to Christ.
Immediately Cliff broke with the gang, and for a short time he was happy. But, when he turned thirteen and decided to delve into spiritual matters more deeply, he came to realize that the good news about Jesus is to be shared with others; and then things changed. His relationship with God continued to become more beautiful and meaningful, but his circle of friends began to shrink until now, two years later, he sometimes felt he was the loneliest fifteen-year-old kid in the world. Everyone seemed to be having fun but him. In an effort to become more popular he took up learning to play the guitar, but he didn’t have the money to buy an electric guitar and amplifier. He had to be content with an old, second-hand acoustic model. But he was learning to play. His loneliness, however, had not lessened.
Tonight he felt particularly low. Even Jack’s cheerfulness had not been able to lift him up as much as usual. And now the cold north wind was shriveling his heart still more. He looked forward to getting into the
brightness and warmness of his home.
He drew near to a familiar vacant house that stood dark, lonely, and aloof on a large plot of ground; and he was glad that from here he had only two more blocks to go.
As he walked along beside the low wrought-iron fence that bordered the sidewalk in front of the vacant house, he heard loud, cracking, splintering noises coming from inside the handsome two-story building. He stopped and looked in the direction of the sound.
He stood still, listening intently; then he stepped through the gate and began to walk up the driveway that led to the front door. He walked slowly and quietly in Indian-style moccasins. His jeans and jacket of dark blue denim blended into the shadows so that he seemed almost invisible. As he neared the front door he was momentarily revealed clearly by rays from the nearest street lamp that had found an opening through the elm trees and high shrubbery surrounding the yard. Cliff jumped forward sharply, his athletic, well-muscled young body quickly taking him through into the shadow beyond. From the house, only a few feet away now, the scraping, banging noises continued.
Cliff went to the right and headed for the side of the house. A loud crash from inside the building brought him to an involuntary stop. The squeamish feeling that had been growing in him since he had first heard the sounds rose high enough in his chest to choke him a little. His hair seemed to be lifting up now without any help from the wind. But he continued on, ducking below a dark window and then slipping around the corner of the house. He continued to walk close to the side wall.
Another loud crash from inside the house brought Cliff to a stop just as he came close to a large window. By now he was almost sure that he had come across a gang of vandals who were damaging the vacated house. He felt sorry for the owner, a medical doctor by the name of Denison. The doctor had moved to Africa for a two year term of volunteer service in the drought stricken Sahel area along the southern rim of the Sahara, where thousands of men, women, and children were dying of starvation. It was ugly, thought Cliff, that while the doctor was working without pay to ease suffering in a far country, people from his own country were destroying his property.
Now there was a dim light in the house. A flashlight! Cliff could see the beam weaving about as he peered through the window at an angle. Then, again, came the sound of something being smashed.
Cliff felt anxious and desperate in his desire to stop the vandals. He assumed there were probably several of them, since this kind of public enemy usually travels in packs. He thought of running to find a phone so he could call the police; but he knew that, by the time the sirens started to wail, the vandals might be finished with their night’s operation.
Cliff reasoned that the vandals were likely to flee if they heard someone coming, and yet it was taking a chance for one person to go barging in there alone. Half a dozen tough street kids could probably beat the tar out of a lone opponent in a few seconds. They might even have switchblades, chains, and brass knuckles.
A decision had to be made, and Cliff made one. He ducked under the window and hurried on toward the back end of the house. As he had expected, the rear door was open. The lock had been ripped free of the doorframe, possibly with a wrecking bar. Cliff stepped into the complete darkness of the building’s interior.
At that moment he heard a muffled shout from behind him that sounded like, “Lowfen zee!” Cliff couldn’t understand the words but he assumed it was a warning cry from a sentry that had been stationed out on the backyard. Feeling stupid for not having thought of the obvious possibility that there might be a lookout, Cliff ducked to the side of the door, still inside the house, and crouched in a corner. He was not too upset about being discovered, for his purpose was simply to frighten off the vandals, and it looked as though maybe he had a good start on that.
Once more came the subdued shout from the backyard: “Lowfen zee!”
It must be some foreign language, thought Cliff, or maybe code words.
In the house all was silent now, for a few seconds. Then came the clattering sound of feet, running, stumbling through the darkness. There was a crash, thud, and grunt of pain as someone tripped and fell. The rest of the pounding feet–and there seemed to be many–drew rapidly closer to the back of the house where Cliff squatted not far from the door. A few seconds later they ran by him at top speed. Cliff wondered if they’d be able to stop in time to avoid crashing into the high board fence that bordered the alley–that is, if they even got through the door in one piece. There was some bumping and scuffling, but they seemed to make it all right.
Cliff thought everyone was out. He was about to get to his feet when he heard more footsteps from within the house. Supposing it was a straggler–likely the one who had tripped and fallen–Cliff remained in his crouching position.
A light appeared through the doorway of the adjoining room, first dimly and indirectly, but then quickly coming into clear view as the glow of a flashlight.
Cliff stayed where he was, because he was not afraid of this bumbling culprit who couldn’t even make a decent escape after all the ugly damage he had done. The light was flagging up and down as he ran.
If he saw Cliff’s crouching figure he gave no indication of it. As he passed close beside Cliff, the swinging flashlight revealed that the fleeing legs were clad in black, and a red bandana had been tied just above the right knee as a decoration. It was a style thing that some young men and boys sometimes did. Just once Cliff had gotten brave and did it himself.
The light shone down on the vandal’s pants very briefly; then the fellow was outside, and the house was dark and silent.
From outside there still came the sound of fleeing footsteps, but that sound was being blotted out more and more by an ever-increasing noise. Police car sirens!
Cliff Rogers stood up like a jack-in-the-box. For the first time the thought got through to him that, if he was caught here by the police, he would look just as guilty as if he was one of the house wreckers.
He left the building and followed the vandal’s escape route across the backyard toward the big open gate in the board fence. He saw the blinking red light coming along rapidly down the alley. The siren was now a loud, wavering scream.
Cliff skidded to a halt so sharply that he went down on one knee. Then he was up and running back in the opposite direction. He pounded past the side of the house in a few seconds; but, when he rounded the corner into the front yard, he once more braced his legs out in front of him and slid several feet through the grass on his smooth moccasins. There was another police car coming along the street.
Cliff bounded off at a right angle and in a moment was in among elm trees and shrubbery. He continued to charge forward toward the side fence like a runaway mustang. The thought of being falsely accused and maybe even convicted of a crime so stupid and ugly as vandalism was unbearable to him. He got to the high board fence, reached up and grabbed a hold of the top. Desperation combined with a healthy young body drew him up in three seconds. He rolled over the rough edge and lowered himself on the other side. As his moccasins touched the grass, he spun around and raced away.
Never before in his life had Cliff run as he did now, unless in a bad dream. He later admitted to himself that he had let panic get the best of him, for he ran several blocks through back alleys without stopping to look, listen, or think. But finally he found himself gasping for air and hiding in a narrow space between a building and a huge trash container.
He had managed to get away from the scene of the ugly crime without having been seen or challenged by the police, and yet he was not very happy.
Cliff didn’t have many friends, but those he had meant an awful lot to him. At the top of the list was Valerie Hastings, a cute fourteen-year-old blonde with dimples on both ends of her smile. Somewhere near the top of the short list was her brother, Gary. He was fifteen, like Cliff, and, although he was a bit of a rebel at times, he was a nice person and a loyal friend.
He usually wore black jeans, and he often tied a red bandana just above one knee.
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