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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of You Killed Wesley Payne
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Three years ago, a very curious manuscript was turned in to our offices. It was covered with coffee stains, crude drawings, and a patina of Cheetos dust. Some sections were cut out and taped back together. Others were torn away entirely. At times, the parts seemed to be shuffled at random, like two decks of cards.
Or so we at first thought.
The manuscript arrived in a manila envelope with no return address or explanation. It sat in the mail room for nearly six months before landing on a senior editor's desk. Less than an hour after finishing it, she was attempting to locate Ritchie Sudden with the idea of offering him a contract. Using the Internet proved fruitless, as did countless phone calls and inquiries. A detective was then hired. Despite being billed for a dubious number of investigatory hours, we have still found no trace of the town, friends, or high school Ritchie refers to below—let alone the curiously named Progressive Progress. Further, there is no Dr. Kiki Benway registered with the American Medical Association. The detective did discover that many East Coast criminal justice systems offer a ninety-day "observational detention" program for first-time juvenile offenders. As noted, Ritchie makes ninety entries and mentions "owing you ninety." Apparently, it is common practice for offenders in this program to keep a journal, which is used as a factor in determining whether a release date will be granted or further incarceration is appropriate.
Although that theory is purely speculative on our part, particularly given the gravity of his crime, as well as the fact that youth incarceration records are closed to public view, we will leave it to the reader to decide whether he or she feels this document is likely to have earned Ritchie Sudden his freedom, either from his demons or from the walls of Progressive Progress.
After two years of research, extensive discussion with legal counsel, and a protracted rights hearing, we were finally granted permission to print the ensuing pages. If Ritchie ever steps forward, any profits made from the sale of this book will be shared with him and/or the Sudden family, a legal codicil that has been enacted in perpetuity. And if, while reading this manuscript, any of these people or situations seem recognizable to you, please contact us immediately at www.suddenlyfound.com.
In the meantime, we sincerely hope you enjoy what Ritchie has chosen to share with the world. I think these are very brave pages indeed. And I hope that one day Ritchie Sudden and I, in whatever form he now takes, can sit down for a cup of coffee. Or two.
Gloria R. Quill
Executive Editor, Quality Division
Little, Brown, Inc.
I sit on my bunk, in a dark room that smells like a thousand stiff Kleenex and a unit filled with twenty sweaty boys. The air would taste like angst, except there is no air. The silence would sound like fear and pain, except there is no silence. In fact, there's only a constant jabber, like a hallway full of junkies waiting out their morning methadone, and a heavy fluorescent gloom that seeps and settles and makes everything green and dull and fake.
You want ninety? Fine, I'll give you ninety. And not just the ones in here. I'll give them to you coming and going.
Yeah, I'm going nowhere. Except where I'm told. Sit in this chair, eat this slop, put your toe on this line.
But it doesn't matter what they do with your body. Bodies are resilient.
It's what they do with your mind.
"Mr. Sudden, please open your notebook and re-create the sequence of events that led you to this point."
"I don't have a pen, let alone a point."
"It will be therapeutic."
"Can we skip therapy and get straight to the prescription?"
"Is that meant to be amusing?"
"My grandma always said it's the little laughs that cut the deepest."
"All right, stand against the wall and place your hands behind your back."
I let myself be cuffed and then shoved to the floor.
To the cold, wet concrete.
What's there to say?
There's the days I've earned, minus the days I have left.
Everything else is just another lame cliché.
Until you're the one standing ankle-deep in it.
And I'm not standing anymore.
So, okay, here's the beginning.
The hard truth.
The only thing you really need to know:
In the end, they want you to bend over and submit… in the end.
Actually, you don't need to know that. That's just bullshit someone carved into the wall with their fingernail.
What you really need to know is:
There's a kid in here wants to kill me.
Two of them, actually.
The hard truth is that no matter what you do, there's always someone better at it than you are. In my case, that's Elliot Hella. We've been friends since third grade. Or at least he's let me follow him around since then. Elliot's older brother, Nico, an original tatted badass now married and bagging groceries, was in six different thrash bands while we were still spooning up Lucky Charms. So by osmosis, Elliot has chops. I have no chops.
Especially on the folk guitar Dad Sudden left behind.
"You're getting an electric," Elliot says, wearing big black boots and stiff jeans with the cuffs rolled. "Today."
He shoves a poster in my face. It's for Rock Scene 2013: TWO DOZEN HOT ACTS! TWO BRUTAL WEEKS! ONE MASSIVE WINNER! Normally we're in the audience, holding our tools while lamer bands soak up all the glory. Not anymore. Not this year.
"There is only one thing standing between us and total domination," Elliot says.
"My ownership of a brand-new, bone-crushing noise machine?"
He grins and gives me a nod.
Half the kids at school would practically carve out their spleen to have El Hella nod at them like that, the dude too cool to know it, too weird to be popular, too hardcore to give a shit. You can practically see the musk rising off of him. In fact, he'd be an absolute monster, a campus hero, a woman-slaying juggernaut, except for how he's six-four packed into five-six, built low and wide and raw, too much torso and not enough legs, compressed, tamped down, ready to explode, a heavy dose of Hella on every front, way too much for some people.
But not me.
"So can we go already?"
Elliot drives his mom's Renault like a stock car, trading paint, switching lanes, gunning off ramps, catching air.
I want to ball up under the floor mat and suck my thumb.
But I don't.
On the outskirts of the city, we park under a bridge, then take the subway straight to Jazzbox Jim's, where I'm all pretending I know my ass from an E string. Dude, check out the action on this. Or, Dude, isn't this the axe Hendrix played? The aisles are full of guys in city bands, gelled hair and wallet chains, and a fat kid in the corner playing "Master of Puppets" note for note. It's hot and sweaty. I can't stop saying axe. The clerk wears a Western shirt with pearl buttons, shining us off 'cause he thinks we're gonna paw through his stock all afternoon without buying a thing. He is incorrect. I clear my throat, trying to sound like a dude who gets paid for gigs.
"Let us check that purple Strat."
Western Shirt sighs and takes it off the wall. Elliot whips hair out of his eyes, slinging the guitar over his shoulder like he just rappelled into downtown Basra, ready to lay out a blanket of suppressing fire. He runs through a bunch of tasty licks, ending with this weird descending octave pattern I could only dream of pulling off, stretching the last note with creamy élan.
"Cool run," Western Shirt says, already Elliot's buddy.
"Yeah," I say. "Nice… run."
I've actually wanted an electric since I was ten. Beth was always like, So stop talking about it and just get one.
Beth doesn't say that anymore, even though she was right.
"How much?" I ask.
Western Shirt, starting to take me an increment of seriously, checks the price.
"What else do you got?" Elliot says. "Like, for the semi-employed?"
Western Shirt strokes his Strokes sideburns, pointing to the junkie trade in the corner, the dozen shit-rides he can't give away. The best of the lot is a Les Paul "The Paul." It's turd brown with ancient twin humbuckers and looks like a two-by-four with a neck stapled on it. The tag reads $299.
"Well, the price is right," Elliot says.
The Paul is cracked and worn and tired. It's covered with band stickers and band grime and the residue of a thousand out-of-tune renditions of "Sweet Home Bamaslamma." It needs tender love and care. It needs penicillin and a solder gun. It needs a blindfold and a bullet.
"Yeah, it's not gonna win any beauty contests, but at least it ain't made in Korea."
"They make axes in Korea?"
Western Shirt rolls his eyes.
I finger a chord. Plink, plink, plink. I play a scale and doink half the notes. I slide up the neck, go for an arpeggio, miss it by a mile.
The guitar is clearly defective.
A stone-cold loser.
A rope-swinging albatross.
I am totally, completely in love.
"I guess it's possible I could be talked into taking this off your hands."
"You take two hundred cash?"
"You got two hundred cash?"
Elliot gets up and stands enigmatically by the window, staring at a stack of amps. Or maybe the face of Joey Ramone in a stain on the wall. I lean over and yank a roll of twenties out of my sock. Twenties I sweated hard for all summer, bussing plates of all-you-can-eat rib bones at the all-you-can-eat rib place where I never eat a single freaking rib because even the thought of them makes me ill.
Western Shirt sniffs the bills, rings it up. "So what's y'all's band called?"
"Death by Natural Causes."
"Actually, it's Death by Piranha."
"Not much better."
"Actually, it's Death by Whoreknife."
He doesn't laugh.
"Toss in a set of strings?"
This time he does laugh. At two hundred dollars, I don't even get a case, resting the guitar over my shoulder like a lumberjack.
On the subway I feel so freaking cool.
At Forty-Fourth Street, some Brooks Brother points to one of the stickers on the back, THE BLOWNUT HOLES.
"Hey, I saw them play CBGB's in college. They totally rocked!"
I turn and stare.
"You've never been to CB's in your life, suit."
The whole car laughs. A posse of cholos in the corner falls all over one another, goofing on the guy for being such a knob.
The suit frowns, goes back to his paper.
One of the cholos leans over to bump knuckles.
I reach out and we touch skin.
Elliot nods with appreciation, eyes intense, chin cleft, hair so black it's purple.
There is alchemy waiting to happen.
A band is dying to be born.
To rise from the ashes of our lameness.
Even though I do feel a little bad for the suit.
Truth is, I've never been to CB's, either.
But I do own an electric guitar.
You want a diary?
Diaries are for girls in pajamas.
For teacher-crushes and prancy unicorns.
Fancy leather bindings and tiny yellow keys.
Best-friend betrayals and grass-stained capris.
Fumbled bra-lifts and locker pose.
Angsty poems and parent-loathe.
All your random hope dreams.
All your dirty dope dreams.
No, man, this ain't no diary.
What we have here is a forced narrative.
What we have here is a failure to exaggerate.
What we have here is homework for a bunch of dudes who were too slick to get caught.
And then got caught.
Tried and tied.
Nailed and bailed.
This notebook is for those of us who need three-punch holes, a spiral binding, and the consistency of ruled margins to provide the sort of authoritative structure otherwise missing in our single-parent homes.
Hey, this notebook isn't for you.
It's for me.
For my delinquency.
A clean rectangle upon which to get down my thoughts.
Sound my thoughts.
Drown my thoughts.
Before they rear up, bare their fangs,
Spread 'em wide.
Go to town
For the love of Baal, The Paul is loud. I pose and strut, windmill Townshend, kick-leg Angus, duckwalk Chuck, crank the knobs, crank the amp, crank the stank, making Elliot admit every twelve minutes The Paul takes no prisoners.
"The Paul takes no prisoners."
"The Paul takes no prisoners."
He gives me a look, raises his lip, a smile that's not a smile.
"Don't push it."
So I pout for a while instead.
He finally slings the greasy hair out of his eyes and rubs his temples. "Fine. Your piece-of-shit guitar is less a piece of shit than anticipated. Okay, Ritchie?"
I shrug. "Yeah, okay."
We run through our set in his basement. Thirteen songs, not a single cover. Assuming you don't count the parts we blatantly stole as covers. Just a lick here, a riff there. Everyone thefts from everyone else and always has. Band to band, song to song, note to note. Blues to rock to punk. Take it and make it your own. Or at least disguise it well. But since we are on the verge of being the greatest act of all time—concerts selling out in fractions of seconds, so many records going platinum they have to discover a new alloy, Brazilian models fighting over the right to bear our children and name them things like "Amelia Beefhardt" and "Firetruck Inspektor," scientists bronzing the smell of my Nikes for the Smithsonian—we must be careful about these things.
After three encores, we're covered in sweat. My ears ring like a Weedwacker stuck between gears. Tiny threads of ceiling material waft onto my shoulders and into my lungs, settling like an asbestos lawsuit.
"We need a drummer."
Elliot frowns. "Screw that."
"We'll just sound like Fred Sabbath."
"But, dude, with the right cat on skins these songs would rock sixty-nine percent harder."
"We'll just sound like Fred Halen."
"And that's a problem because?"
"We'll just sound like the Jimi Fredrix Experience."
"Whatever," I say. "Be like that."
Elliot's face goes dark. His shoulders begin to tremble. He half turns away, voice cracking. "You really want to know why not?"
He takes a deep breath. "When I was little, there was this guy in our neighborhood."
"Who dressed up like a clown."
"With big feet? And a red wig?"
"And played drums."
"Yeah," Elliot whispers. "And that drummer clown… gave me a piece of candy."
"So? What's wrong with—"
"Right before he put his hand down my pants."
Water drips from a pipe in the corner. The basement, for the first time ever, is dead silent.
"Wow, man," I finally say. "That's really heavy. Do you want to talk about it, or—"
El Hella busts out laughing, then plays a massive distorted chord.
"You idiot. I just think we're better off as a duo."
Five Things Our Band Needs (to win Rock Scene 2013):
1. A name
2. A drummer
3. A singer
4. A signature song
5. A slightly less evil Elliot
I turn it loud, then louder, then loudest. We run through our set one more time, full bore, like an army of marching noise-bots. Like an amplified steel thresher. The Paul owns several major frequencies. Rude vibrations sterilize every rodent within a two-mile radius. Virgin ears beg for mercy and are turned down flat.
"This is awesome!" Elliot says, looking like a punk bricklayer.
"I know!" I say, looking like the guy who invented chat rooms.
The reason we get away with making such colossal racket is because Elliot's mom is never home. And by never I mean not ever, all busy being this upper-crusty Greek chick out riding horses in thigh-high boots and orange mascara. Seducing stable boys in tight horse-tights. Having cocktails and sashimi and correctly pronouncing dressage. She's also working on her fifth husband, having killed off the first four. Heart attack. Cancer. Cancer. Heart attack. Pocketing a nice chunk of change each time. Even Elliot calls her the Black Widow.
Husband number five, name of Lawrence, has little tufts of gray hair and miles of wrinkly skull, sitting upstairs in a leather chair next to a reel-to-reel player spooling out Tchaikovsky. There's a jar of honey on the side table that he eats with a spoon. We take a break and Lawrence tells me he once worked on the Manhattan Project.
"No fooling, huh?"
"Like Oppenheimer?" Elliot explains. "The dude who assembled the first nuke? The Manhattan Project was his team. Mushroom clouds and shit. Lawrence racked the abacus and got all theoretical on Hitler's ass. He mathed up hard and ended the war."
"Well, not alone," Lawrence says.
"L-Dog, I so had no clue you were famous!"
Lawrence shrugs and nods, practically a living memory, a dream of tweed suits and chalkboards and differential equations, like Russell Crowe in that movie where he's not a gladiator.
How can you not love the guy?
Plus, he couldn't care less how terrible we are. How loud and clumsy and angry and awesome we are, amps cranked post-max, hammering through the floorboards for hours while he just sits there readjusting the quilt on his legs.
"Lawrence," I say, "you're totally getting a major shout-out in the liner notes."
"Don't get ahead of yourself," Elliot says, scratching neck stubble. "We don't even have a name yet and you're hanging the Grammy over the mantel."
"How about the Envisaged?"
"How about Betty Got Eddie Pregnant?"
"Even worse. Sounds like an avant-garde theater troupe."
"How about Murder Coaster?"
"Hey, that's good," Lawrence says.
Elliot takes off his steel-toes and rubs his real toes. Dude don't wear no socks.
"Like I said, we don't even have a name."
The phone rings.
The phone never rings at the Hellas'. Literally. I have never once heard it ring before.
We all crowd around the speakerphone. "Hello?"
It's the Rock Scene people. The guy sounds too happy to be alive.
"Hey, guys, we have some great new twists this year that will be announced soon!"
"Great," Elliot goes.
"Twists," I go.
"Like live streaming. It may go viral."
"Live streaming," Elliot says.
"Viral," I say.
"Also, on the downside? We've received your application."
"What about it?"
Turns out there are two problems with our application. One is that we forgot to include the entrance fee, which is more or less a direct result of the fact that we didn't include it, since I earmarked every last available dollar for The Paul. We were sort of hoping they wouldn't notice, like, Whoops, it must have fallen on the floor.
Rock Scene Guy goes, "Sorry, guys, but rules are rules. Deadlines are deadlines. Disqualified is disqualified."
Until Lawrence reaches into the side table without a word, pulling out a checkbook made of, like, papyrus. He writes in the amount, one hundred shaky dollars, with this thing that looks more like an eagle feather than a pen. He actually dips it in a jar of ink.
Elliot gives Lawrence the thumbs-up, already arguing with Rock Scene Guy about the second problem.
The second problem is that we didn't fill in a name.
"Our name is Band."
"The Band? I think that's already taken."
"No. Just Band."
"Not Banned. Band! We are called Band. Our fans know us as Band. The world worships us as Band. Should I drive down there and sound it out for you?"
"No, genius, F-I-S-T-E-D. Yes. How many times do I have to say it? Band!"
Rock Scene Guy sniffs, like his feelings are hurt. "If you have to say it that many times, it's probably not a very good name."
There's a long pause. Elliot knows the dude is right. He clears his throat like he's about to apologize, and then doesn't. The discussion continues, the whole thing extremely interesting, but I'm not really paying attention anymore.
Mostly because I'm way off in that space I go to alone, about sixty-nine times a day.
The space where I'm thinking, hard, about Ravenna Woods.
It doesn't pay to think about Ravenna in here. So I don't. There're sixty dudes in one big concrete crate. Which is fifty-nine dudes too many. It doesn't pay to think about anything you do want, anything you will want, anything you ever wanted.
But let's not get too dramatic.
This is no movie.
Lockdown and solitary.
Shaw and shank.
It's mostly just a parade of dimwits, shit-lucks, knuckleheads, fist-fuckers, finger-sniffers, ass bandits, wrong-place-wrong-timers, and dudes too weak to pull off even the most minor crimes.
Which, ironically, makes the ten guys who are actually dangerous 63 percent more dangerous.
At Progressive Progress we have classes. Like Art Therapy, and How to Do a Job Interview, and How to Not Be High All the Time. Then there's "counselors" instead of guards. Some of them are hard-asses. A couple true believers. Most of them are just bored.
But that doesn't mean it's not hairy at times.
You cram a hundred degenerates into a box, eventually one of them's gonna come up with The Merchant of Venice.
And another's gonna come up with Undercard.
Which two of them actually did.
Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots played out by juvie knucklettes.
Punch or be punched.
Do not pass Go; do not explain your bruises.
No ring, no gloves, no trainer.
It's about bouts. Kids crowding around going "Oooh!" and "Damn!" while they stand on the sidelines, safe and whole.
At least for a week.
Undercard pays in smokes. Or, as the slang-happy residents of Unit 3 call them, bones. Like, "You want to brawl, homes? No? Cost you six bones. Don't got 'em? Then you're on the list. We'll see you at fight time in the dayroom."
Saying no is not an option.
In the dayroom, there're a dozen plastic chairs. This muscle dude named Conner is barn boss. He's got eleven chairs stacked up, sitting on them like a throne, daring anyone to ask, let alone try, to take one. So people just stand. For hours. No one sits on the floor, 'cause it smells like piss. Next to Conner is his second in command, kid named Peanut.
Peanut sits on the one other chair.
A horizontal scar across his throat like a necklace.
Busy picking the bouts.
He doesn't seem to like me a whole lot.
In fact, word is he hates my guts.
If Peanut hates my guts, that means Conner hates my guts.
I'd ask them why, but that would be stupid.
"You down with Undercard, Sudden?"
"Um, well, I…"
"Sorry, son, you been chosen."
So I lost my first two fights.
Got punched and kicked until the punching and kicking stopped.
Went to lunch a little on the tender side.
"You fall down in the shower?" Conner asked, then laughed.
I paid in cigarettes to get out of the match after that.
But they didn't like me ducking.
For some reason I'm a big draw.
Apparently, people like watching me get punched.
I can't figure it out.
School starts in one week exactly. My senior year. Supposed to be awesome. King of the Hallways and all that shit. But I'm fairly sure it's just another fantasy, like winning the big game or nailing the hot cheerleader—except no one fantasizes about those things anymore, since football is a concussion factory and cheerleaders are hot pockets of chlamydia. So it's more like dreaming about getting accepted to Princeton on hardship or writing the next killer social media app.
- * "Beaudoin is the Fred Astaire of comic writing, translating each sentence into a manic dance routine of half-invented jargon ("chewing the profunda-cud") on his way to blessedly non-cloying coming-of-age glory."—Booklist (starred review)
- *"The author does a brilliant job getting into the head of a troubled teen and does not shy away from racy topics."—School Library Journal (starred review)
- "Larger-than-life characters....Behind the music quest, sarcasm and pursuit of girls, however, lies a more complicated and often compelling story about family, grief and flawed coping mechanisms."—Kirkus
- "[Beaudoin] plays language like Hendrix plays a guitar."—BCCB
- On Sale
- Aug 6, 2013
- Page Count
- 448 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers