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Authors: Will Hobbs

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BOOK: Go Big or Go Home
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5
You Gotta Be Mental

I
F NOT FOR
B
UZZ'S COMMAND
—
“Leave it!”
—shouted at the top of his lungs, I might've been mauled to unrecognizable shreds. As it was, the war dog kept pummeling me and snarling bloody murder until the twins got there. I stole a glance from my fetal position and found Max standing over me. Buzz was pulling Attila back by that spiked collar. It was all he could do to pull the dog off me.

“Are you out of your mind?” Max screamed. “He could've torn you apart! You idiot, Steele, what were you doing?”

Attila was barking his head off and lunging to break free of Buzz's grip. “Leave it!” Buzz commanded again, and the war dog finally began to chill.

“Well, Steele?” Max, the older one by half an hour,
with the tight, curly black hair, always called me by my last name.

“You can get up now, Brady,” said Buzz. His real name was Bernard, but he'd always gone by Buzz, after his haircut. “Answer Max's question.”

My chest was heaving so bad, I couldn't even speak. I got to my knees.

“Must be his asthma,” said Max, and I hoped he wasn't right. All that dog dander I'd had in my face could trigger an attack bad enough to send me to the emergency room, and I'd left home without my inhaler. How could I have been so stupid?

Max looked disgusted. “Got your inhaler?”

I shook my head as I finally reached my feet. “It's at home,” I managed.

“Dumb,” Max said. I was kind of holding my meteorite against my side, hoping they wouldn't notice it.

Stealthy as a mountain lion, Attila had crept back into play without any of us noticing. With a slap of a paw, he knocked the space rock out of my hand, grabbed it, and ran off with it.

Fortunately he didn't run far, just a short ways into the meadow. The war dog turned around and looked at the twins. He seemed to be waiting for instructions, but they were baffled. Maybe they were figuring I'd grabbed the rock for self-defense, but that wouldn't explain why I was trespassing.

I was sick, just sick. Do something, I thought. “That rock's mine,” I blurted out. “I mean, it's my mom's.
Attila's been stealing rocks from around her flower beds. She called from Iowa this morning and told me to make sure he didn't take any more rocks.”

Smirkers from birth, Max and Buzz thought this was pretty funny. “Really,” I insisted.

Buzz cracked up. “We told him to get rocks, we just didn't know how far he was going to get them. We've got a big pile going. We're going to throw them with our medieval siege weapon.”

“I saw it just now, your catapult, like the one you made for school, except—”

“Except this one's the real deal,” Buzz said proudly. “What do you think of it, Brady?”

“It's the most amazing thing I ever saw. Does it work?”

“It's not done, but we're close,” Max put in. “It's top secret, Steele.”

“In that case I won't tell anybody. Is it okay if I tell Quinn?”

The twins were big fans of Quinn. Whenever he'd come down from Lead, they always invited us over for paintball. “War games,” they called it. Them against us, two hours of furious action chasing each other around their forty acres with guns. They even provided the cammo outfits, the goggles, and the paintball guns. Those guys always gave better than they got, but even if you only splattered them once or twice, it felt mighty good.

“Quinn comin' this summer?” asked Max. He had a
growl to his voice even when he wasn't growling.

“Maybe today.”

“In that case you can tell him about our siege catapult, but if word gets out, you guys won't get to see our demo. Invited guests only. We'll let you know.”

“Bring a toilet,” Buzz chimed in. “We're collecting a lot of cool things to throw. Hey, did you see the meteor shower last night?”

Uh-oh, I thought. Be careful, Brady. These guys are smart as whips. “I was watching TV,” I said. “Missed it.”

“We were in Rapid at a show.”

“Well, I guess I'll head home.”

“Go suck on your inhaler,” snorted Max. Evidently he'd decided we were getting too friendly. Aside from the haircuts, the biggest difference between the twins was this: Buzz played at being mean, whereas Max really was. Max, especially, liked to keep me on edge. I stood there awkwardly.

“What are you waiting for, Steele?”

“The rock.”

I glanced at their faces. Buzz was willing to let me have it, but Max wasn't so sure. “How can you prove this rock is yours?”

“That should be obvious if I went to the trouble.”

“Too much trouble,” Max said a little suspiciously. It looked like he was close to figuring it out.

Fortunately, he didn't quite get there. “You gotta be mental, Steele. Lemme get this straight. Attila had the rock, and you took it away from him? How'd that work?”

“It was all a blur, but I did.”

“That was crazy.”

“I know. I totally admit it.”

The brothers exchanged shrugs, and told Attila to drop the rock. It took both of them. Attila was mighty unhappy about it, but finally he let it go.

Max handed it over. “Here's your stupid rock, Steele.”

I made a beeline home. They were right about me being crazy. I'd lived through it in one piece, though, and was pumped to have the space traveler back.

6
A Strange Summer

B
ACK HOME,
I
SHOWERED
off the dog smell and dressed in clean clothes. My dad wasn't back from his bike ride, but I could hear the crunch of wheels on gravel. A heavy vehicle was on its way up the driveway, a diesel from the sound of it. I grabbed up the traveler and bolted out the front door, thinking it might be my uncle's truck.

It was them, all right, in a cloud of dust. Uncle Jake had his motorcycle trailer in tow, and his Harley was on it.

Behind the pickup's windshield, my uncle and my cousin both looked different than they had when I saw them last. Uncle Jake had grown a beard. Quinn's hair was longer than I'd ever seen it, like he hadn't gotten it cut all summer. He was wearing a white T-shirt with big
black letters. I couldn't make out what they said.

The diesel pulled onto the concrete apron in front of my dad's metal and wood shop. Quinn poured out of the passenger side, same old grin, fluid as ever but with more muscles. What his T-shirt said was
GO BIG OR GO HOME.
Quinn's eyes were on the meteorite. I held it up like a trophy.

Uncle Jake was hanging back, looking around the place fondly. “Cool,” Quinn said as I handed over the rock.

I'd been expecting “extreme” or “insane.”

“Heavy sucker,” Quinn said, doing a few curls with it. “Looks like a baked potato.”

“That's what
I
thought. Hey, you look like you've been working out, like with weights.”

“You should be doing the same thing, for basketball.”

“Dad says to wait another year.”

Uncle Jake sidled over, reached out, and shook my hand. I told him I liked his new beard and ponytail. He laughed, kind of shrugged.

Uncle Jake said to Quinn, “Notice anything different about your cousin?”

“How could I miss it? I could stand in his shade.”

“Yeah, right,” I said. Uncle Jake wanted us to stand back to back, and we did.

“Exactly the same height,” my uncle reported. “Brady's really shot up since Christmas.”

“We'll see if it does him any good,” Quinn cracked.
“I can probably dunk over him.”

“You could if we lowered the rim a couple of feet and I played on my knees.”

With a glance toward the house, Uncle Jake asked if my dad was home, and I brought him up to speed. I thought for sure he would wait around, but he was hot to jump on his Harley and ride up to Sturgis. He wanted to get in on the opening mayhem.

Sturgis sits just north of the Black Hills. The second week of August every year, it's home base for three hundred thousand bikers—biggest motorcycle rally in the world. This afternoon, there'd be a hundred thousand on Main Street. Next morning the bikers would head for the prairies, the Badlands, and the Pine Ridge Reservation, but mostly they'd ride the Black Hills. The following Sunday they would rendezvous back in Sturgis for the closing festivities, then blast home to who-knows-where.

“I've never ridden the whole enchilada before,” Uncle Jake said, “only the weekends on either side.”

“The mine never gave him much vacation time,” Quinn explained. “He always saved what he had for doing stuff with me.”

“Unemployment has its perks,” Uncle Jake noted wryly.

“Don't believe him,” Quinn said. “He can't stand it. He's totally a fish out of water.”

“It's been a strange summer,” Uncle Jake agreed. “Quinn's been the working man. As I've been telling
him, he's the ant and I'm the grasshopper.”

“Don't believe him, Brady. Dad makes it sound like he's been over at Deadwood making contributions to the casinos, when really he's been out looking for work.”

“On the road?” I asked.

Uncle Jake shrugged. “Some, but mostly on the Internet. Saves gas. Hey, guys, I'm ready to pull on my leathers and kick it into gear.”

“What about lunch, Uncle Jake? We can make tacos. You like tacos.”

“We just ate in Hill City. Grabbed some sandwiches at the drive-through and ate in the park.”

My head jerked in Quinn's direction. “The Grabba Java? You saw Crystal?”

“Barely,” Quinn said. “My dad drove through on her mom's side.”

“Awesome sandwiches, just like Quinn promised,” Uncle Jake said. “I asked the lady if she had regular coffee, black. She said she only had espresso.”

Quinn laughed. “Brady, you shoulda been there. Dad told Maggie that all that espresso lingo was way over his head, and he wasn't good at languages.”

“Uncle Jake flirting with Maggie Ruiz, the most beautiful single woman in the Hills? This is good!”

“Are you kidding? He was just being himself.”

“So, what happened next, Uncle Jake?”

“You're right about her being beautiful, Brady. She asked me if I'd ever had a designer coffee before, and all I could think was, I'd lived this long without buying a
four-dollar coffee, so why start now? I told her…How did I put it, Quinn?”

“You said, ‘I'm wary of investments, not ready to invest in coffee.' He actually said that, Brady. Can you believe it?”

“What then?”

“Dad turned red as a tomato.”

“The last thing on my mind was insulting her, and I just had.”

“My dad, the smooth operator. Right then Crystal looked over and spotted me—she was in between customers. ‘Hi, Quinn!'—big smile.”

“You lucky dog.”

“She told her mom who I was. Then Crystal said, ‘This must be your dad.'”

“Quinn admitted that I was. That was generous of you, son.”

“Then what, Uncle Jake?”

“Along with our sandwiches and Quinn's soda, the lady handed me the tallest cup of coffee I've ever seen. I was about to tell her she must have gotten confused, but I held off. I was confused myself. ‘On the house,' she said. ‘Looks like you're on your way to Sturgis—can't have Quinn's dad driving drowsy.'”

“Sounds like Maggie,” I said.

“Dad made a decent recovery. He asked Maggie what she just gave him, in case he was going to come by and ask for one again.”

“What was it called, son?”

“Triple-shot vanilla latte—three shots of fine-ground premium espresso coffee with steamed milk and a little vanilla flavor.”

“I'll have to admit, it sure was good. Mighty good. I'm going to be the most alert biker in Sturgis tonight—practically took my head off. Well, you guys aren't going to miss me unless I do something about leaving the premises.”

Uncle Jake parked his truck alongside my dad's shop. Quinn hopped onto the trailer and handed down his mountain bike and then his road bike. He hadn't forgotten his panniers. Whenever he visited, we always did at least one overnight ride.

While we were grabbing Quinn's duffel bag, sleeping bag, and such from the crew cab, Uncle Jake off-loaded his Harley. Then he pulled on his leather jacket, chaps, and motorcycle boots. It wasn't long before he was mounted and ready to turn the key. “It's been nice seeing you, Brady. Tell your dad I'll have a good visit with him when I get back. We have a lot of catching up to do. You guys have a good time messin' around, okay?”

“Guaranteed,” Quinn replied.

Uncle Jake fired up his gleaming machine. He gave a nod toward the rock in my hand. “All that talk about fancy coffee, and I forgot to make a fuss about your meteorite, and how happy I am that you're still with us. Are you going to check it out, find out if it's valuable in addition to being incredible?”

“I didn't think of that, but good idea!”

Driving out in black leather, on his silver and black Harley, Uncle Jake looked like a movie star. He was a good-looking guy to begin with, but with his new beard and ponytail, he looked like he should be on the Sturgis poster.

I said to Quinn, “How come your dad never wears a helmet? What if he ever got in an accident?”

Quinn shrugged. “I know what you mean. I have to, but he doesn't. I'm pretty sure it's because he can't stand helmet hair.”

7
Bring Me Your Serious

Q
UINN THREW HIS DUFFEL
bag on his bed, across the room from mine, then gave a close inspection to the puncture in the ceiling above my bed and the hole through my mattress. His pronouncement was worth waiting for: “That's so sick, it's wack.”

A couple minutes later we were shooting hoops on the paved apron in front of my dad's shop, which is what we always did as soon as Quinn came down from Lead. Both of us played on school teams and were more than decent. There wasn't much doubt we'd both be JV starters in ninth grade.

We tossed our T-shirts aside and launched into a furious game of one-on-one. Quinn had always had a step on me. With his new strength to go along with his speed and quickness, I knew he'd be better than ever.

At the first opportunity, he faked me out in typical Quinn fashion, blew right by like my feet were buried in concrete. He scored with a reverse left-handed lay-in just to serve notice he'd been working on some new moves. He flipped me the ball. “Wake up, Brady. Bring your A game—I'm not taking any prisoners.”

Kids from Lead are competitive to begin with, and tough as mining hammers and drills. Then there's Quinn. The only reason I was any good came from playing against him in the summers.

Five minutes in, we were drenched with sweat. The pace was unforgiving, and he had me down 16–12. I was keeping it as close as I could have expected. I mean, I'd never beaten him, and never really believed I would or could.

How I envied his new muscles, in his shoulders and arms especially, even his neck. There was no hope I was going to turn the tables on him.

Quinn scored with a couple of his sudden, silky outside jumpers, then blew by me again and took it to the hoop. “28–16,” he announced, and tossed me the ball. “Bring it, Brady. Let's see what you got.”

I dribbled in place, letting us both grab some of that thin Black Hills air. Our place on Spring Creek is nearly a mile high. I felt the strange electricity again, head to toe, and with it I felt a surge of strength pour through me. I wasn't breathing nearly as hard as I should have been. “Are you ready to play some serious basketball?” I said with a laugh.

“Oh, I see, you were only warming up. Bring me your serious.”

Surprise him, I thought. Don't hold anything back.

And I didn't. I kept my eyes on my cousin's, accelerated on a dime, faked him left, faked him right, then went up for a jump shot, surprising myself with how high I was going, higher than I'd ever been. My release was effortless and smooth, and I drained it dead center, nothing but net. What a sweet, sweet sound.

Quinn's eyes were big. “Where did that come from?”

“No idea,” I replied. I got ready to defend. “Game on,” I told him.

Quinn was ready to step it up a notch himself. “Comin' through,” he announced, which may or may not have been true. He drove for the basket, long hair flying, but I didn't buy his fakes. For whatever reason, I still had that lightning quickness that had enabled me to beat Attila to the punch. I picked Quinn clean, then spun and scored with a left-handed reverse of my own. I've always been awkward with my left hand, but it felt totally natural.

“Beautiful,” Quinn said, more than a little shaken. “You go to basketball camp this summer?”

“Nah, I've just been playin' against my dad.”

Not even very much, I thought, but I wasn't going to say it. Mostly I'd been hanging out at the town swimming pool.

I flipped Quinn the ball. He looked more determined than ever, but I suffocated him with defense. When he
finally went up for a shot, I didn't allow him an open look, and it clanked off the rim. I soared for the rebound and banked it through while I was hanging in midair. Quinn was looking at me like he wasn't even sure this was me.

Before long we were tied. Soon after that, for the first time in my life, I not only pulled ahead, I put him away. With me leading by fourteen, Quinn called it quits.

“Incredible,” he said. “What got into you?”

“No idea. Feelin' my oats, I guess.”

“Wish I was eating out of the same feed bag.” Quinn looked kind of stunned. What had just happened didn't compute. And the same went for me.

My cousin didn't stay stunned for very long. Quinn was still Quinn, his mind going as fast as his body. “Remember that time we played egg toss? How about meteorite toss, on the lawn, only fast, more like hot potato?”

We started at about ten feet, underhanding the rock to each other from farther and farther apart. Catching the thing was fairly brutal. Before long we were forty feet apart, neither of us having dropped the spud. This time, instead of giving it plenty of loft, Quinn did a full underhanded windup and delivered a screaming fastball.

Like a dope, I tried to catch it. Game over. The heel of my thumb hurt insanely. Quinn came running. “You shoulda let it go by!”

“Thought I could make the catch.”

“Lemme see.”

“Look, it's just a scrape.”

“Yeah, but it's bleeding.”

“Not hardly.” I was pretty good at shaking off pain. “The main thing is, I made the catch.”

I washed the scrape with the garden hose. The bleeding had pretty much quit. We drank from the hose and splashed the meteorite to make it glisten. Quinn held it in his palm and said, “Think where it's been.”

“I know. He's a real space traveler.”

“He? Are you going to give him a name?”

I thought for a second. “How about Fred?”

“Fred? Why Fred?”

“I dunno, I just like it.”

“Maybe the letters stand for something?”

“How about…‘Far Roaming Earth Diver.'”

“There you go. Fred is perfect. Welcome to our planet, Fred.”

Next thing I knew Quinn was bouncing around, tossing Fred between his hands, off-the-wall excited. “Just think how valuable Fred might be! I mean, he's from outer space! We have to find out!”

“I've been thinking we should take him to the museum in Hill City. Tomorrow's Monday; they'll be open.”

“Great idea. That meteorite expert guy will probably be there, the one the TV station talked to.
All right,
things are moving right along!”

We made ourselves some nachos in the toaster oven. As we devoured them, I filled Quinn in on the medieval
war machine the Carvers were building in their backyard. He was happy all over again that he'd quit his job busing dishes. I swore him to secrecy, of course.

I didn't explain about my trespassing episode. He knew Attila. It would have defied explanation. Every summer Quinn had tried to make friends with Attila, and every time he'd struck out. Deep in his genes, the war dog knew that everybody outside of his family was on his enemies list.

“Sure hope they get their catapult finished while I'm around,” Quinn said. “This, I gotta see.”

Quinn wondered if Cal was going to play football his senior year, after losing a season on probation. “I sure think so,” I said. “Football practice starts next week, and everybody's counting on it. The rest of the league better watch out. Cal's going to come back with a vengeance. With the famous Bolt from the Blue carrying the football and his huge little brothers blocking for him, the Rangers are going to go places. The town's talking title. State title.”

“Buzz and Max are a lock for varsity freshman year?”

“Unless they break into the school and trash stuff, I guess.”

“Cal did that about this time a year ago, right?”

“Yeah, at two in the morning, after a party. Cal and that other player were beered up.”

“Buzz and Max will stay out of trouble, would be my bet.”

“Mine, too. They have too much to lose. The news
paper gave 'em nicknames last month—Buzz Saw and Max Hurt. Called 'em the future of Hill City football. So, what are you up for next, like today?”

Quinn had a glint in his eye. “Monster bike ride.”

“I'm ready. My legs feel like pistons in a Porsche.”

“Are your lungs good to go?”

“Like bellows at a steel mill. What about doing a loop? Iron Mountain, Custer State Park, and back via Needles Highway?”

“That would be a monster, all right. I'll drop you on Iron Mountain like you've never been dropped. Leave you eating my exhaust like I'm on a Harley and you're on a tricycle.”

“We'll see about that. I need some fuel, though. What do you say we head over to Crystal's for sandwiches and smoothies?”

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