The Battle of Jericho by Sharon M. Draper


  The door groaned loudly twice more, and several more groups of boys arrived and stood silently in the darkness, waiting for instructions. After one last, loud grinding of the door, when a single figure dressed in a black skull cap and jacket entered the room, the members of the Warriors moved simultaneously to the center of the floor near the candles.

  Finally a voice that sounded like Madison’s spoke with authority. “Be seated on the floor. Say nothing.” They complied.

  “What we say here,” Madison began, his voice sounding like a drum roll in the darkness, “is to be kept in absolute secrecy.” He held in his hands what looked like a large, leather-bound book. He opened it ceremoniously and read from the first page: “’Not one word of what we say or do from this point on is to be shared with another living soul—not your mother, your father, your girlfriend, your priest, not even your shadow on the sidewalk.’”

  “Agreed?” Eddie Mahoney spoke fiercely to the awestruck group in front of him.

  “Agreed,” the assembled group of boys replied in unison.

  “Yes, we do the toy drive. It gives us credibility in the community and at school,” Eddie continued. “But toys are for children, and we don’t play.”

  Jericho wondered what he meant, but was afraid to do anything to call attention to himself.

  Madison took over. “If you made it here tonight, you have shown your commitment to the group. We always cooporate with the administration at Douglass. They’re proud of us. So you will receive invitations to join the club through proper channels around the first of the new year. But officially, you are pledges now, if you choose to accept our challenge, and we require much more than the pink pledge T-shirt you’ll receive.”

  Madison continued. “We ask for—no, we demand—your dedication, your absolute obedience, your very life, if necessary. In return, we pledge to share with you our secrets, our connections, and our power. Any problems with that? If so, there’s the door.”

  No one moved. Jericho wondered if anyone else felt as uncomfortable as he did. He wondered what Madison meant.

  Eddie spoke next. “Since there seems to be full acceptance, we will continue with what we call the ’Bonding of the Brotherhood.’”

  “The Bonding of the Brotherhood,” Madison explained, “requires not only secrecy and obedience, but also responsibility, loyalty, and honor. Your first responsibility is to your pledge brothers. Look around you. The fifteen young men that you see here will depend on you for their success as well as their safety, and you will depend on each of them. You must provide anything your brother needs. Each pledge holds the responsibility for the other.”

  “Agreed?” Eddie Mahoney asked once more to the almost-trembling pledges.

  “Agreed,” they replied. Jericho shivered in the darkness with them, sitting together on the floor of that warehouse.

  “In addition, you must agree to do anything you are asked to do,” Madison said, an odd smile on his face.

  “Agreed?” Eddie Mahoney demanded.

  “Agreed,” they replied quietly.

  “I will lie if I must!” Eddie barked.

  “I will lie if I must!”

  “I will steal if it is necessary to help my brother!” Eddie continued. He looked almost demonic, it seemed to Jericho, in the dim light of the candles. He seemed to be enjoying himself as he chanted.

  “I will steal if it is necessary to help my brother!” Jericho did not like the sound of this, but he wasn’t sure how to get out of it. He whispered the words. His stomach was starting to hurt.

  Madison turned the page of the book and continued to read. “As a pledge, you must also understand the concept of loyalty. Each of you must think of yourself as one link in a chain that has no beginning and no end. Therefore, all of you must succeed in every pledge activity, or none of you do. The group must work together to help the individual.”

  “Repeat after me,” Eddie demanded. “All of us or none of us!”

  “All of us or none of us!” the group of pledges replied.

  Then Rick Sharp moved to the center of the circle. “These are the basic guidelines for the Bonding of the Brotherhood. Please repeat after me,” he asked the pledges.

  “Number One. A Warrior of Distinction is not afraid to lower himself for his brother.”

  “A Warrior of Distinction is not afraid to lower himself for his brother,” they repeated. Jericho wondered what “lowering himself” actually meant.

  “Number Two. A Warrior of Distinction does not show fear,” Rick intoned.

  “A Warrior of Distinction does not show fear.” Jericho said the words with the rest of them, but he was feeling pretty fearful right now. He figured maybe this whole process was designed to intimidate and scare them. It was working.

  “Number Three. A Warrior of Distinction is bonded to his brothers.”

  “A Warrior of Distinction is bonded to his brothers,” the pledges repeated.

  Jericho glanced over at Josh, who looked intense and serious. He and Josh had been almost as close as brothers since they were born. Their birthdays were only a month apart, and when they were younger, his parents and Josh’s parents had apartments in the same building. Josh’s dad was working on his law degree while Jericho’s dad went through his training at the police academy. The two families shared everything back then—food, trips, baby-sitting. The two cousins had spent hours in the hallway of that apartment building, racing Hot Wheels cars down the long, polished corridor. Jericho wondered how he could ever be “bonded” as close to the boys in this room as he already was to Josh. He turned his attention back to the ceremony.

  “Number Four. A Warrior of Distinction never breaks the code of silence,” Rick continued.

  “A Warrior of Distinction never breaks the code of silence.” Jericho wanted to think about that one, but the rest of the group repeated it without hesitation, so he joined with the others and said the words as well.

  “Number Five. A Warrior of Distinction celebrates obedience,” Rick said clearly.

  “A Warrior of Distinction celebrates obedience,” the pledges replied obediently.

  Madison said to them, “Stand, young Warriors. The road ahead will be difficult, but the rewards are great.” Jericho, surprised at this sudden, secret confirmation of their membership, stood with the rest of the new pledges and stretched with pride. He hoped they would never be called upon to actually live up to all the words they had just said.

  “Are you ready for the challenges ahead?” Eddie shouted.

  “Ready!” they roared back at him.

  “Are there any questions?” Madison asked.

  A single hand went up. It belonged to the last person to arrive at the meeting.

  “Yes, young Warrior, what do you need? We are here for you.”

  Dana took off her skull cap and said clearly, “I’m ready for the challenge. Are you ready for me?”

  TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9—1:00 A.M.

  STUNNED SILENCE GREETED DANA’S SHOCKING revelation. The anger followed immediately. The Warriors closed in around her. Dana seemed calm and unconcerned.

  “What’s up with this? You tryin’ to make some kinda point?” Eddie said in a low, dangerous voice, his face just inches from hers.

  “I think I just did,” she answered.

  “How’d you get in here?” he demanded.

  “The door, just like you did,” she answered coolly.

  “Don’t you know these ceremonies are private and just for men?” he yelled.

  “I don’t see any men here—just a few high school boys.”

  “You don’t belong here!”

  “I don’t see your name on the door!”

  “You playing some kind of espionage game?”

  “I never play games.”

  “Who put you up to this?”

  “Your mama.”

  Dana never lost her composure, in spite of what looked like an angry pack of wolves growling at her.

  “You have no right to interrupt
what is secret and private!”

  “I didn’t interrupt. I participated. I took the pledge with everyone else. If they are now pledges,” she said, pointing to the astounded Jericho and Josh and the others, “then so am I.”

  “That’s impossible! There has never been a female member of the Warriors of Distinction!” Rick shouted.

  “Then it’s time, isn’t it?” Dana brushed a speck off her black leather jeans.

  “You just better get out of here while you still can!” warned Eddie, a fierce sneer on his face.

  “Or what?” Dana asked with a calm composure that amazed Jericho.

  “Or I can’t be responsible for what might happen. You’re out in the middle of the night in a warehouse full of men.” He paused, then added, “Might get dangerous.”

  Dana remained impassive. “I just pledged with my brothers that I am bonded to them, and that each of us holds the responsibility for the other. ’All of us or none of us!’ Does that have meaning or not?”

  The Warriors looked confused now, as well as angry. “It applies to them, but not to you!” Madison finally said.

  “Why?”

  “Because you were never asked to be a member!” Rick said triumphantly.

  “Oh, but I was!” Dana replied. Jericho marveled at her nerve.

  “How?” Rick demanded.

  “You called me,” she replied with a slight smile.

  “I know exactly who I called,” Rick replied angrily. “And I sure as hell didn’t call any stupid girl!” He looked around at the other members of the club as if to make sure they believed him.

  “I can’t believe you didn’t check your attendance before you started pledging,” Dana said with a smirk. “Where is Demetrius Stanford?”

  No one spoke. Rick frantically checked a sheet of paper. “Demetrius?” he called to the room, which had been stunned into silence.

  “I’ve known Demetrius since third grade,” Dana explained. “He got a job a few weeks ago and decided he wasn’t going to have enough time to pledge. He knew I wanted to be in the club, so when you had that meeting at Eddie’s place, he put my phone number down instead of his. He came to wrap toys this afternoon, but he’s not coming back.” She grinned in triumph.

  “So you knew that call wasn’t for you! That’s fraud!” screamed Eddie.

  “Not so. The message that was left on my phone said, ’Be at the warehouse at midnight on Monday. Tell no one.’ So I figured it was for me. I was obedient and said nothing.” Kofi glared at her in anger. Jericho wasn’t sure what to think.

  “You can’t be in the club. That’s all there is to it.” But Madison was starting to sound defeated, Jericho thought.

  “Then I’ll tell everything I saw and heard here tonight. I’ll write it up in the school paper. I’ll call the TV news channels and newspaper reporters. I’ll call People magazine. Then I’ll call a lawyer and expose all of you and your discriminatory club, and force you to take me in!” Dana warned.

  “You wouldn’t dare!” Eddie said between clenched teeth.

  “Watch me.”

  “Why do you want to do this?” Rick asked.

  “Because I would be a valuable member of this club,” she replied, raising her chin.

  “Why do girls like you always want to dip into men’s stuff?” Eddie asked angrily.

  “Because I can.” Dana stood firm.

  “Don’t be so sure, honey girl. You may live to regret this night,” he warned.

  “I’m not afraid of you,” she told Eddie calmly, looking down at him a bit as she spoke. Eddie’s face was twisted with rage.

  “Women want to be soldiers and firemen and football players. What’s up with all that?” Eddie spoke directly to Madison, as if Dana hadn’t spoken.

  “Do you really want to be a member, or are you just trying to make trouble?” Madison asked with a sigh.

  “I really, really want to do this. When I said the words in the bonding ceremony a few minutes ago, I meant every word of it. I would be loyal—to the death if necessary—for my brothers. Give me a chance. You really have no

  The Warriors moved to the other side of the room and conferred together. Jericho could not make out all the words, but he could hear angry voices and pieces of bitter phrases.

  “Over my dead body!”

  “No way this is gonna go down!”

  “She knows too much.”

  “This sucks!”

  “You can’t let her...”

  “How is she gonna . . . ?”

  “... make her sorry ...”

  “This changes everything ...”

  “Kick her out...”

  “. . . lawsuit?”

  “Can she . . . ?”

  “... hate this!”

  The discussion broke up finally with looks of fierce determination on the faces of the Warriors. Madison and the others returned as a group. Eddie’s fists were clenched.

  Madison cleared his throat. “We are men of pride and dignity, and we have decided to allow you to honor the commitment you have made as a pledge, even though it was in the role of an infiltrator.”

  Dana looked him straight in the eye. She was as tall as he was. She said nothing.

  “Be warned, however,” he continued. “No special consideration will be given to you because you are a female. You will be expected to do everything the men do, and it’s difficult for them. You might even be expected to do more. We will not make your path any easier because of tears or whining. If you survive the activities of the next few weeks, we will welcome you into our organization. If you do not, too bad.”

  “I can deal with that,” Dana replied, showing no emotion at all. “You will not be sorry.”

  “Yeah, but you might,” whispered Eddie. Dana did not indicate that she heard him, but Jericho did.

  TUESDAY, DECEMBER 9

  AFTER A LONG, FRIGID WALK BACK HOME, Jericho quietly slipped into the house with no trouble. Even Dimples slept through his tiptoed walk through the kitchen and upstairs. When he gratefully got back into his bed, he thought he’d be awake for hours thinking of the night’s unexpected turn of events. But he nodded off right away.

  The next morning at school Jericho Josh and Kofi said nothing to Dana, who sat with Arielle and November as usual in the front hall, waiting for classes to begin. If Dana meant what she had said, the girls would know nothing yet. They gave no indication that anything was different. Dana looked up at the boys, smiled sweetly, and continued her conversation.

  “So what you think about Dana?” Jericho asked Josh as they sat on the other side of the hall.

  “Makes me nervous,” he replied. “She’s in over her head and tryin’ to mess up our stuff.”

  “It sucks!” Kofi said angrily. “I’ve been dreamin’ about being a Warrior since I first set foot in this school—makin’ sure the members noticed me, workin’ my plan—here she comes tryin’ to prove some women’s lib point and messes up everything! It’s just not gonna mean the same thing!”

  “I don’t know, Kofi. Dana’s pretty tough. I think I’d be glad to have her back me up in a crunch situation,” Jericho said thoughtfully. “More than November, or even Arielle,” he added.

  “Don’t go blastin’ on my November,” Josh said with a grin. “She couldn’t whip a wet noodle, but she’d sure look good while she ran for help!”

  The bell rang then with nothing settled and no way for them to judge how Dana’s presence in the secret pledge class would make a difference. They had received no word as yet from the senior members of the club. Jericho had a feeling they were evaluating how to proceed.

  The next two weeks were extremely busy, but some of the best weeks he’d ever known, Jericho decided. He and Arielle spent hours at the warehouse, sorting and wrapping toys, laughing, sometimes dancing in the middle of the warehouse floor, and slowly getting everything ready for deliveries to be made. November came when she felt like it, and Dana never missed a session. She came early, stayed late, and never once spoke to
Eddie, except to ask for an extra pair of scissors or roll of tape. The tension between them was obvious to everyone.

  Kofi moped around her, trying to get her to smile at him, but she was all business and ignored him. “This sucks, man,” he told Jericho as they were finishing up one night. “How am I gonna get my wolf girl to get back with me?”

  “You still mad at her for trying to get in?”

  “She can try out for the Bengals if she wants to,” Kofi admitted. “I just want her to talk to me again.”

  “The way the Bengals have been playin’, she might actually help them!” laughed Jericho. “Seriously, though, just watch her back and keep an eye on Eddie. Even a wolf needs protection sometimes.”

  “You’re right about that. Thanks, man,” Kofi said, glancing over at Eddie.

  Homework was minimal at this time of the school year. Christmas was quickly approaching, and Jericho talked to Arielle late into the night every evening. Even Geneva was in a good mood. She hummed while she decorated the Christmas tree, with Rory and Todd bouncing around like two little wind-up toys. She gave Jericho extra allowance money so he could go Christmas shopping, and even told him to buy a couple of toys to donate to the Warriors’ toy drive.

  Jericho practiced his trumpet every night, feeling sure that he would be ready for the competition that was now only a month away. For the first time in a long time, Jericho felt good about himself and the rest of the world as well.

  FRIDAY, DECEMBER 19

  “HEY, KOFI,” JERICHO SAID AS THEY WERE leaving the toy session on Friday, “I’m going out to Tri-County Mall. Wanna come?”

  “Yeah, man, that’d be tight. You’re not hangin’ with your girl Arielle?”

  “Naw, she’s going to choir practice or something with her mother. You got bus fare?”

  “I’m straight.”

  Ordinarily Jericho hated shopping, but as they got off the bus in front of the mall, he whistled a couple of Christmas carols to himself as he headed into the frenzy of last-minute shopping.

  “You’re in a good mood, man,” Kofi said.

 
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