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Return of mr badpenny, p.1
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       Return of Mr. Badpenny, p.1

           Brian Bakos
 
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Return of Mr. Badpenny


  RETURN OF MR. BADPENNY

  Book 5, Time Before Color TV series

  by Brian Bakos

  Copyright 2013 Brian Bakos

  Other Titles by Brian Bakos

  Table of Contents

  Prelude: What Happened Before

  Part One: Tommy’s Story

  Part Two: Crunch Time

  Part Three: Melissa’s Story

  Part Four: Disaster

  Connect with the Author

  Prelude: What Happened Before

  The previous book in this series: The Great Flying Adventure gives some interesting background information that can help you to enjoy this story more. Click the link to obtain a copy.

  If you’d rather just dive in and read, that’s okay, too.

  Part One: Tommy’s Story

  1: At the Belcho Burger

  This strange girl was watching me and Quentin as we ate hamburgers and talked about our baseball game. She pretended to be clearing the next table, but she was actually spying on us. I looked directly at her.

  “Hey, what’s up?” I said.

  “Uh ... nothing,” the girl said.

  She scurried away clutching the burger wrappers and empty French fry cartons as if they were an armload of precious jewels.

  Weirdness.

  I turned back to the “Player of the Week” trophy. How could I help it? The shiny cup graced our table like a royal crown, hogging up half the area. A deep ache gripped my stomach, and it wasn’t just because of the greasy burgers.

  “Maybe you’ll win the trophy some week, too,” Quentin said.

  “Fat chance of that.” I pushed back my cap and sighed. “Everybody knows I’m the worst hitter on the team.”

  Quentin shook his head. “You’re too nervous at bat, Tommy. The power can flow better if you relax.”

  “Right,” I said.

  “Besides, you’re one of our best fielders,” Quentin said.

  “Maybe that’s true,” I said, “but it’s the big hitters who get the glory.”

  And the girls, too, I felt like adding but didn’t.

  Quentin shrugged and went back to his fries. “Yeah, Tommy. Whatever.”

  I guess he was tired of hearing me gripe. Couldn’t say as I blamed him. Man, was I ever in a downer mood! A chocolate fix was in order.

  “I’m gonna get a shake,” I said. “Want anything?”

  “Yeah, I’ll take one, too – strawberry.” Quentin reached in his pocket.

  “That’s okay, I’ve got it.”

  “Thanks, Tommy.”

  I headed toward the counter, glad to get away from the blazing bright trophy.

  If only I really could win it some week! Quentin – our captain, pitcher, top hitter, etc. – says the team needs me at second base. But I’m real tired of hearing the other guys groan whenever I pick up a bat.

  Behind the counter, the girl who’d been spying on us was busy with the cash register drawer. She wore a very intense expression as she jerked the coins around with her fingers, mumbling to herself. Her face was puffy, with dark circles under the eyes.

  “Excuse me,” I said.

  She flinched, as if I’d set off a fire cracker in her ear.

  “Could I have two large shakes, please?” I said. “A chocolate and a strawberry.”

  “Sure!”

  She scurried to the big silvery machine and started pouring our shakes, glancing back over her shoulder at me.

  Did I frighten her or something – did I have outrageous B.O.? She returned with the order and took my bill. Then she counted out the change, very carefully, and heaped it on the tray. A creepy smile moved across her face.

  “Enjoy that,” she said.

  I glimpsed something unusually shiny among the change, but paid it no attention as I maneuvered through the crowd. We had company when I returned, or at least Quentin did. Melissa Jordanek was standing beside him, one hand resting on his chair back and the other stroking the trophy.

  “You won this at the ball game today, Quentin?” she was saying. “You were the top player on the whole team?”

  “Yeah,” Quentin said.

  I approached carrying my plastic tray as if I were bearing some unworthy offering to a goddess.

  “Hi, Melissa,” I said.

  She looked up and her smiled faded. “Oh, hi Tommy.”

  I sat down, feeling about as important as a squashed cockroach. Some people crowded by with trays, and Melissa moved in close, supposedly to make way for them. But after the group had gone, she remained pressed against Quentin.

  “When’s your next game?” she asked.

  “Next Saturday, 12:30,” Quentin said.

  “Maybe I’ll watch you play,” Melissa said.

  “Sure.”

  Man, couldn’t he think of anything more to say? Melissa was falling all over him and he didn’t even notice. Just look at her fabulous blonde hair – the real thing, too!

  Melissa and I had been friends, sort of, back in grade school. At least we’d hung out with some of the same kids. Even then she was stuck up, but now that she’d become the queen bee of South Middle School, she was unbearable.

  Amanda Searles walked up, and the atmosphere improved quite a bit.

  “Hi, Tommy.” She flashed me a pleasant smile.

  “Hi, Amanda!” I said.

  I started feeling human again. Amanda’s really cute, and smart, too. A genuinely nice person. So, why did she hang out with a snob like Melissa?

  “Congratulations, Quentin,” Amanda said. “That’s a beautiful trophy.”

  “Thanks,” Quentin said.

  Melissa moved even closer to Quentin and shot Amanda a dagger-like glance. Amanda didn’t seem to notice, though. She held up a bag with the grinning Belcho Burger logo.

  “I’ve got our order,” she said.

  Melissa unstuck herself from Quentin and smoothed her hair.

  “We have to go,” she said. “There’s a special dance rehearsal this afternoon.”

  “Yeah,” Amanda said, “the recital is only three weeks off, and they’re working us pretty hard. See you guys later.”

  “Good luck at the next game, Quentin,” Melissa said.

  “Thanks.”

  They left. As she was going through the door, Amanda looked back toward me and waved good-bye. I waved back.

  “I think Amanda likes you,” Quentin said.

  “Well ... great!” I said. “Couldn’t you have asked them to join us? Melissa was practically in your lap.”

  Quentin shrugged. “She’s too mean.”

  2: Enter the Bad Penny

  I moved my finger absently through the change on the tray, wishing that Amanda was sitting next to me instead of that show off trophy. My shake tasted like chocolate cardboard pulp.

  Why did I keep buying these things? Must be force of habit, like my habit of getting zero hits per game.

  Our team, the Jaguars, only had Saturday games now, but when school got out in a couple weeks, we’d be playing more often. It was going to be a long summer for me ...

  There was something very odd about one of the the coins.

  A thrill ran up my finger when I touched it, as if I’d just rubbed against an electrified bloodsucker. I tapped the gleaming penny out from the rest of the change, then flipped it over. There was a head on each side.

  “Look at this.” I tossed it over.

  Surprise shot across Quentin’s face. “Ugh, it feels creepy!”

  He turned the coin over carefully, as if he were handling a scorpion.

  “It’s really two pennies, Tommy,” he said. “Somebody ground them down and stuck them together with both heads showing.”

  “Why would anybody do
that?” I said.

  “To cheat at coin tosses, I suppose.” Quentin dropped the penny on the tray. “If you picked heads, you’d always win.”

  I looked around for the worker who had given me the coin, but she was gone. For some reason, that didn’t surprise me.

  I nudged the penny with my finger. It was heavier and thicker than a regular penny, and warm, too. It almost seemed to throb.

  More weirdness.

  Quentin was leaning back in his chair now, one arm hooked over the back, drinking his shake. He’d probably forgotten all about the two-headed penny. His mind was filled with baseball strategies, batting lineups and the like. One playing days it was useless to talk to him about anything except baseball – unless it was about girls, of course.

  But I couldn’t forget. Something powerful about the coin attracted me. As casually as possible, I shoveled all the change off the tray and stuffed it in my pocket. The two-headed penny sank to the bottom. Having it there made me feel ... strong somehow.

  Quentin was watching some girls across the room. They noticed and started giggling among themselves. With his suntan, blue eyes and light hair tousled just right, Quentin looked like some movie star dressed up as a middle school baseball player. Plus that charming, President Kennedy type smile he flashed whenever he needed to.

  Suddenly I was very irritated, furious almost. Who did Quentin think he was showing me up like this? I’m not bad looking myself – why didn’t those girls notice me?

  With an empty-straw slurp, Quentin finished drinking. “Ready to go, Tommy?”

  This sounded like a question, actually it was an order. Quentin had this way of making people think that they were in charge while he was the one making the decisions. Resentment flared in my heart, for an instant I wanted to knock the trophy off the table.

  “Yeah, let’s go,” I said.

  I got up with the tray and followed Quentin toward the exit. For some strange reason I felt like a whole different person – like a movie heavy who could simply knock aside anybody who got in the way. Another kid reached the trash bin ahead of me and I had to hold myself back from shoving him.

  The coin was doing this, I realized. The thought really scared me.

  But I liked it, too.

  The kid ahead of me finished dumping his trash, and I stepped up to the bin. Quentin walked out the door. Good-bye Captain, go organize the world outside.

  I was delighted to be rid of Quentin. Yet, at the same time, I felt terribly alone and unsupported. Something was wrong with this scenario, and an alarm siren started howling in my brain. I felt dizzy, the room spun like some insane carnival ride. The chocolate shake starting coming up for an encore. I choked it back down.

  With a slow, robot-like movement, I reached into my pocket. Then ...

  Quentin poked his head back in the door. “Hey, you coming, Tommy?”

  “Yeah, sure,” I answered from a million miles away.

  I yanked the two-headed coin out of my pocket and dropped it on the tray with a dull thud. It gleamed angrily, and I could barely resist snatching it back. With a jerky push, I dumped the whole tray into the trash bin.

  3: Speedy Mart Surprise

  Thoughts of that fantastic penny haunted me the rest of the weekend. At night I wandered through dreams with the two-headed coin clutched in my hand, peering through the darkness and opening doors into mysterious regions.

  The feeling of power I’d gotten had hit me like an addictive drug. I even considered sneaking back to the Belcho Burger parking lot after dark and rifling through the dumpster. I knew I could find the coin again. It was calling to me.

  By Monday I felt better. My battle with the coin seemed over. At least school was back in session, and I had new stuff to think about – particularly the spelling contest coming up in Miss Greene’s English class.

  Winning a spelling contest might not seem like such a big deal to most people, but to me it would be a fine achievement. I’d always been good at spelling. Besides, Miss Greene was one of the coolest teachers at school – young and attractive – and all us guys were big admirers.

  So, I was spending every spare moment going over my spelling lists. I had lists in my pockets, in my books, and lists running through my head.

  After school, I stopped at the Speedy Mart to buy some candy. Spelling words from the “D” list were going through my mind as I handed the clerk my paper money.

  “D-e-b-t-o-r,” I recited silently. “D-e-f-e-r-r-e-d.”

  Coins shot out of the cash register and rolled down a slot into a little change tray. I absently scooped them up.

  “D-e-s-i-r-a-b-l-e,” I thought, “D-i-l-e-m-m-a ...”

  I felt something very peculiar.

  “Oh!”

  “Is anything wrong?” the clerk asked.

  I gaped at the double-faced penny leering up from my hand.

  “No ... I-I’m fine,” I said.

  I backed out the door, practically knocking over the potato chip display.

  “Be careful!” The clerk’s voice seemed to come from the bottom of a deep well.

  The coin burned my palm. All the spelling words fled from my brain, replaced by the urgent voice of the two-faced penny.

  “Take me with you!” it screamed.

  But I couldn’t do that. It was wrong! I reeled down the sidewalk like some drunk. I scarcely seemed to be walking at all, rather the sidewalk appeared to be moving while I just stumbled around in one place. A sewer grate approached. With a desperate heave, I flung the penny away and watched it tumble down out of sight.

  The voice in my brain vanished. My arm hung numb and useless.

  4: Mr. Badpenny Steps Out

  I usually walked home alone since none of my better friends lived in my exact neighborhood, but by Tuesday I was too spooked. Maybe I’m just being paranoid, I told myself. This was all just childish fairy tale stuff like in those Lord of the Rings stories.

  The real world didn’t work that way. Did it?

  I had half convinced myself that everything about the past few days had just been dreamed up. Still, I didn’t want to take unnecessary chances. After school I attached myself to a group of kids who were walking my direction. I didn’t know them very well, so I just hung back minding my own business.

  We came to the Speedy Mart. Some of the group went inside, but most kept walking. I stayed with them, trying to be casual, as if I were sneaking past a grave yard at midnight. Two of the guys, Greg Rolando and Bob Stewart, started a mock Karate fight, jumping around throwing kicks at each other.

  Suddenly, fear was walking right beside me, blowing cold breath down my neck. Why hadn’t I taken the long way home? Idiot! I could be walking with Quentin right now, talking baseball and girls. Something awful was going to happen. I tried to concentrate on something else.

  Spelling words whipped through my mind like a fast-forwarding movie. C-a-n-c-e-l-e-d, C-o-m-m-i-t-m-e-n-t, I thought desperately, C-o-n-s-c-i-e-n-c-e.

  I was at the sewer grate now. Too late, I realized my error.

  A mini tornado exploded up through the grate, a rotten smell swirling around with it. I stood frozen with shock. The spinning air hypnotized me. The spelling words fled from my brain along with most of my sanity.

  In the midst of this cyclone whirled a tall, thin man wearing a top hat. Then he was gone, then back again. My knees started to give way, but the updraft kept me on my feet.

  As if this wasn’t bad enough, the man in the tornado had a second face on the back of his head! My heart almost stopped cold.

  “Look! Look!” I called after the other kids, unable to raise my voice above a terrified rasp.

  They turned back.

  “What’s the matter?” somebody asked.

  I stood pointing, my mouth working like a goldfish out of water. The kids stared where I was pointing, then at each other. Then they started laughing.

  “You’ve got a serious head problem,” Greg Rolando said.

&nb
sp; “Jeez, what a dork!” Bob Stewart said.

  More laughter. Everyone turned and walked away, leaving the street as deserted as the dark side of the moon. My stomach curdled as the man stepped onto the sidewalk.

  “W-who ... w-who are you?” I blurted out, like a frightened owl.

  “Good afternoon, Tommy,” the man answered with a polite bow. “My name is Mr. Penny, and I am at your service.”

  I could almost see through him like he was a ghost, or else a living person that was half erased. His face was plenty ugly with a big twisted nose, buggy eyes, and a large mouth full of crooked teeth. A scraggly beard covered his chin.

  “H-how do you know my name?”

  “Why, we met at the Belcho Burger the other day, didn’t we?” Mr. Badpenny said.

  I’d added the word “Bad” to his name, because that’s just how he felt. Yet, his voice was mellow, almost hypnotic.

  “You accepted me of your own free will, Tommy,” he said. “I even rode in your pocket for a while – until you tossed me in the trash, that is.”

  An angry scowl flickered across his face, and he leaned down toward me. “I think you’ll find I’m not quite so easy to get rid of!”

  I backed away, nearly tripping over my feet. Mr. Badpenny swiveled his head and turned his other face toward me. It was a normal one, smooth and pleasant, with a friendly smile.

  “But let’s not talk of such misunderstandings, shall we?” the new face said.

  “Yes,” I said. “I mean no! I mean, whatever you say.”

  Mr. Badpenny chuckled softly.

  “Those youngsters weren’t very nice to you, Tommy,” he said. “Shall I teach them a lesson?”

  I looked down the street at the retreating group. They were having all kinds of fun – laughing at me, no doubt. Greg and Bob continued their Karate routine. Anger pushed aside my fear. I wanted to Karate their butts!

  I turned back toward Mr. Badpenny with murder in my heart. He stood quietly with his hands behind his back, waiting for my answer. Then I thought better of things, just barely.

  “No thank you ... sir,” I said.

  “Very well then, some other time, perhaps.”

  I stood rooted to the sidewalk like a concrete tree. What was I supposed to do?

 
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