The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  “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!”

  “You think he’ll be glad you might be in it?” Kofi asked.

  “Probably.” Jericho bit into his second ice cream sandwich. “He don’t stress me about that kind of stuff.”

  “You think they make those Warrior jackets big enough for you, Jericho?” Josh asked with a grin.

  Jericho had actually wondered the same thing, but he said, “You just jealous ’cause when the girls try to put their arms around you, they think they’re grabbing a skinny old pencil instead!”

  “I’d rather look like a pencil than a bowl of oatmeal!” Josh countered.

  “Well, at least my hair doesn’t look like oatmeal!” Jericho zapped back at him.

  The three of them laughed as the bell rang and they picked up their lunch trays. “We’re gonna be Warriors of Distinction!” Josh declared as he did his own little dance of joy across the cafeteria floor.

  As they left the lunchroom, Jericho glanced over to Arielle’s table. She had gathered her books, and she seemed to be looking directly at him. The faintest hint of a smile touched her lips.

  THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4—AFTER SCHOOL

  “JERICHO, MAY I SEE YOU A MOMENT?” Mr. Tambori called as Jericho was packing his book bag after school. Jericho frowned momentarily and glanced at his watch. He was in a hurry to get out of school on time today. But Mr. Tambori was his favorite teacher, his music teacher.

  “Sure, what’s up, Mr. T?”

  “You know the citywide instrumental competitions are very soon—the last week of January,” Mr. Tambori began. “Your trumpet solo will be the highlight of the evening.”

  “Yeah, I know—a Thursday, right? Talk about pressure! I’ve been practicing every night. I’m at the place where I dream the music,” Jericho replied, smiling.

  “Good. A colleague of mine who lives in New York will be there. He is a professor in the music department at Juilliard. This could be the ticket to the rest of your life, Jericho,” he said seriously.

  Jericho fidgeted with the buckle on his book bag. “Can I just get a ticket for the rest of this week first? I don’t want to think that far ahead. Maybe I’d rather play football.”

  Mr. Tambori looked at Jericho intently. “Are you serious? You have a talent that is rare and wonderful.”

  Jericho shrugged. “Coach says I’m pretty good as a fullback.”

  “How many fullbacks were asked to play The Star-Spangled Banner’ at the opening day of the Bengals game last year?”

  “Look, Mr. T. That was really cool—my dad was so proud of me. Even some of the girls around here thought I had it all together when I was asked to do that. But I got to watch the game while I was there, and the football players saw more action, got more attention, and got paid more than any trumpet player I ever met!”

  “Have you ever met Wynton Marsalis?”

  “I wish.” Jericho smiled wistfully. “But don’t worry, Mr. T. I’m not gonna blow this off. Don’t get me wrong—I love my trumpet. And playing it makes me really mellow. But it’s hard to decide about the rest of my life in the next five minutes or five days. I can’t even decide whether I want pepperoni on my pizza or not. Give me a little space about the big stuff, okay?”

  Mr. Tambori smiled. “Okay, Jericho. Take your time. Just keep on practicing. And don’t be afraid to dream beyond where you can see.”

  Jericho wasn’t sure what that meant, but he thanked Mr. Tambori and hurried to the main hall. He knew he had missed his bus.

  Then he saw Josh at the end of the hallway. “Hey, Jericho, want a ride?” Josh yelled. ’I called my dad and he’s on his way to pick me and Kofi up.”
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  “Yeah, man, thanks. Will he drop us by Eddie’s house?”

  “That’s the plan, my man!” Josh had taken off his shoes and was sliding down the slick hall in his socks. Kofi walked behind him, shaking his head.

  “You’re in a good mood, Cuz,” Jericho said cheerfully.

  “No, he’s just crazy,” Kofi explained as he caught up with Josh.

  “Dad is gonna be so excited,” Josh said as he put his shoes back on. “I’m finally doing something he’ll be proud of.”

  “I know what you mean,” Jericho admitted. “Geneva sweats me all the time about my grades and my weight and the clothes I wear and stuff. Maybe she’ll think this is cool.”

  “Hah! My folks never sweat me!” Kofi bragged. “I don’t even have a curfew!” But he turned to the door and added in a quieter tone, “They don’t really care what I do.”

  “Don’t you like not having a curfew?” Jericho tried to sound encouraging.

  Kofi picked at a button on his coat. “Hey, no curfew means I’m never late, man. It’s cool with me.”

  They hovered just inside the front doors. The early December winds were frigid—the temperature was barely in the teens. Jericho shivered a little, thinking of what Kofi had just said.

  Just then, Eric Bell, another junior, rolled into the main hall in his motorized wheelchair. His feet, strapped into the foot pads of the chair, were motionless. Jericho wondered what it felt like never to be able to walk. He had heard that Eric had been injured in some kind of swimming accident a few years ago. Eric’s tennis shoes carried none of the scuffs that everyone else’s shoes had; they looked brand-new. He had his book bag slung around the wheelchair’s back, and he controlled the movement of the chair with a lever on the right arm rest. “Did my bus come yet?” he asked.

  Kofi glanced out the door. “No, man, not since we been standing here.” He looked at Eric’s wheelchair and asked, “Hey, Eric, how do you manage that thing on the ramp in the ice and snow?”

  Eric spun the chair around with skill. “Sometimes it gets pretty rough, but I’m used to it. I’ve been doing this since I was twelve. I remember one time I slid backward down a ramp, flipped my chair over a couple of times, and landed like a turtle on its shell, kicking and cursing!”

  “I don’t think I’ve ever heard a turtle curse,” Jericho said, not sure if he should laugh or not.

  “I don’t think I’d want to,” added Josh.

  “What are you guys doing here so late?” Eric asked. “Detentions?”

  Jericho chuckled. “I’ve done my share of detentions, man, but today we’re just waiting for Josh’s dad to pick us up. I hope he’s not late, because we have to get to a meeting called by the Warriors of Distinction,” he asserted proudly. “For the toy drive,” he added.

  “Oh, is that meeting today? I hadn’t heard.” Eric looked down and fumbled with one of the straps on his chair. Jericho didn’t know what to say.

  “Here’s your bus, Eric,” Kofi said finally. “You need some help?”

  “No, I got it. Just hold the door for me.” Eric wheeled out into the cold, down the wheelchair ramp to the left of the front steps—the ramp that many of the students used for skateboarding—and over to the electric lift of his waiting bus. He did not look back at Kofi, Jericho, and Josh, who somehow could not look at each other, either.

  “So, who do you think is going to the Super Bowl?” Jericho broke the awkward silence that remained after Eric’s bus took off.

  “Too soon to tell, man,” Kofi replied.

  “Hey, here’s my dad—finally,” Josh said with relief. “Let’s get out of here.” They dashed from the warmth of the school building into the cold December air, tossed their book bags and Jericho’s trumpet into the trunk, and sank into the soft leather seats of Mr. Prescott’s car. Jericho always enjoyed it when it was his Uncle Brock’s turn to pick them up from school or games or rehearsals. He was a lawyer in a big firm downtown, and he drove a loaded, late-model Lexus.

  “How was school today, guys?” Josh’s dad asked as he adjusted the climate control.

  “Boring as usual,” Kofi began.

  “Till lunchtime,” Jericho continued.

  “So what happened then? Somebody throw a stink bomb in the hall? We did that once when I was your age,” he chuckled.

  “No, Dad, we don’t do old-fashioned, juvenile stunts like that,” Josh replied, rolling his eyes at Jericho. “Today at lunch we got asked to come to a meeting of the Warriors of Distinction to help with the Christmas toy drive!”

  “Hey, that’s great! Is it that time of the year already? Yep, the first week of December. I had almost forgotten.”

  “Can you drop us off, Dad?” Josh asked. “Here’s the address.”

  “Of course. I’d be glad to. I am so proud of you, son—and you two as well,” he added. “This brings back such strong memories. It will make you a man, son. It will make all of you better people!”

  “So what happens after the toy drive, Dad?” Josh asked.

  “Oh, I couldn’t tell you that,” his father replied. “A Warrior of Distinction never breaks the code of silence.” Jericho and Kofi, sitting in the backseat, looked at each other and frowned. “Besides,” he continued, “it would spoil all the fun if I told you anything. Just do your best as you work the toy drive and everything will be revealed as it should.”

  “Hey, Uncle Brock,” Jericho began, “has there ever been a Warrior of Distinction with, like, a disability, or in a wheelchair?”

  Brock Prescott was silent for a moment. “I don’t think so, Jericho. Why do you ask?”

  “No reason—I just wondered.”

  THURSDAY, DECEMBER 4—5 P.M., EDDIE’S PLACE

  EDDIE DIDN’T LIVE FAR FROM THE SCHOOL. Jericho, Josh, and Kofi drove in silence for a few minutes, then Josh’s dad pulled into the lot of a huge, old, brown apartment building. The building, with seemingly endless rows of windows and walls, was depressing-looking, Jericho thought.

  “Where are we supposed to go?” Kofi asked quietly.

  “It says go to the recreation room on the first floor,” Jericho replied, looking down at the invitation in his sweaty hands. He was surprised at how nervous he felt.

  “Do you guys want me to pick you up?” Josh’s dad asked as they climbed out of the car.

  “Naw, we’ll get the bus,” Jericho replied. “But Uncle Brock, could you call Geneva and tell her where I am so she won’t be sweatin’ me when I get home?”

  “Sure, Jericho. Kofi, do you need for me to call your folks?”

  “They’re not home, so I’m cool. But thanks anyway,” Kofi replied quietly.

  Josh’s dad drove off and the three friends stood hesitantly at the door of the apartment building, not sure which of the dozens of doorbells to push to get in. Jericho closed his eyes and picked one. A buzzer bleated from within, and the heavy, battered door swung open.

  They found themselves in a dim hallway. Irregular, dirty tiles lined the floor, and the walls were painted a faded gray. A single sheet of typing paper was stuck to the wall with a piece of tape. It read, “Warriors meeting—Second door on the right.”

  Jericho, Josh, and Kofi said nothing, but turned right and entered what looked to be a general meeting room for the apartment complex. A soda machine and a snack machine decorated one wall. A stack of well-used board games and puzzles sat on a shelf in the back. The rest of room contained about a dozen card tables with metal folding chairs surrounding each. The room looked bleak and cheerless, Jericho thought as he looked around. Then he noticed the other people in the room—a nervous cluster of boys waiting for the meeting to start, and confident Warriors, whispering and laughing with one another.

  Jericho recognized Eddie Mahoney standing near the door, checking off names on a clipboard. He looked more fierce than welcoming and wore his black silk Warrior jacket tied around his waist by the arms. He wore his T-shirt so tight that his well-developed biceps and triceps bulged menacingly. It was clear he wor
ked out regularly. He was short and rarely smiled. Jericho had heard that girls would only go out with Eddie one time—he had a reputation at school of being mean.

  He was surprised to see Mr. Culligan, wearing not the lab coat that he usually wore when he taught chemistry at school, but an old-fashioned-looking black Warriors of Distinction jacket very similar to the ones worn by the young men standing around the room. A few more anxious-looking boys hurried into the room as Jericho, Kofi, and Josh sat and waited quietly on the uncomfortable folding chairs. When it seemed that everyone who had been invited had arrived, Mr. Culligan called the meeting to order.

  Josh whispered to Jericho, “Everybody looks pretty nervous.”

  Kofi added, “They know what a big deal this might be.” Jericho nodded in agreement.

  “Welcome, gentlemen,” Mr. Culligan began. “You have been asked here today for only one reason: to help in our holiday drive for underprivileged children. Nothing else. We choose the best and the brightest in our school to help us out on these occasions. The holiday toy drive has been one of the traditions of the Warriors of Distinction for almost fifty years. We take this very seriously and we expect you to do so also. I’m only the unofficial sponsor of the club; it runs pretty well under the leadership of the seniors. I’m going to turn the meeting over now to one of those seniors, Rick Sharp, truly a man of distinction. Rick?”

  Rick, looking relaxed and comfortable in his Warrior jacket, smiled at them. “Welcome,” he said. “First we’d like to tell you a little about the Warriors of Distinction. Believe it or not, this is our fiftieth year in existence. Basically, we work out of Frederick Douglass High School, which, as you know, was built when dinosaurs roamed the Earth!” Everyone laughed a little, easing some of the tension.

  “I know that’s kind of amazing—that a club could last so long—but I think it’s because of the kind of members we have and because of the good things we do,” Rick continued. “We began as a service organization, and that continues to be our main focus. We have other activities on our agenda as well, and those will be revealed in time. We do not discriminate—as you can see by looking around at the members, all races, religions, and ethnic backgrounds are welcome. All of us work together for our common goals.”

 
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