Steven sat on the banks of the Flint River below the Kearsley Dam crying. Not just little splishy-splashy tears either--his tears were gooshy waterfalls coming out of his eyes. He was crying so hard that the tears weren't just running down his cheeks, they were running over his forehead into his hair and sideways into his ears!
But who could blame him? Even though he was nine and one-third years old and probably a genius he was boo-hooing like a kindergarten baby because he'd just seen the most horrible thing any kid could ever see. Well, almost.
His best friend for this week, his greatest pal ever, the only one he'd ever shared all his secrets with, was gone. Not gone for the weekend or to a new neighborhood or to a new town or even out of the country. He was gone forever!
Steven kept his eyes on the churning and boiling and splashing water at the base of the dam, but deep down inside him he knew. No one, no matter how big and strong they were, could fall over that dam and hold their breath for fifteen minutes, and that was how long it had been.
Gone. That one word kept coming into Steven's mind. It stopped that other word, that other four-letter word. He didn't want to think of both that other four-letter word that began and ended with d and his best friend in the same sentence.
For the first few minutes after he'd dragged himself out of the water Steven had stared at the spot where they had landed. He kept saying, "Come on! Come on, where are you?"
He'd always believed that if you thought about something hard enough and positively enough you could make it happen, so for ten minutes he kept imagining his friend popping to the surface of the water, gasping and gulping in huge lungfuls of precious air before finally swimming over to the riverbank, where Steven would help pull him out.
After he had imagined this over and over and over and after no head came to the surface, Steven knew, he knew he'd been very lucky in the two-hundred-and-fifty-foot fall over the dam. His friend had not.
Steven sat on the riverbank in shock. A pretty good-sized puddle that mixed Flint River water and tears was growing around him but he didn't care, he didn't even put his face in his hands, he just stuck his face out and cried.
Crashing down the bank toward him through a jungle of thrown-out refrigerators and TVs and plastic garbage bags and weeds were six men all dressed in black suits with white shirts and red neckties. One of them yelled, "Over here! The little boy's alive! He's down here!"
All six men held objects that looked like teeny-weeny satellite dishes. All six dishes were going "Beep! Beep! Beep!" and flashing green and blue lights. The man who had spotted Steven pointed his dish and it beeped faster and faster as he got nearer.
Steven didn't even care. His friend had only been gone for a few minutes and already Steven felt so bad and lonely and sad that nothing seemed important.
The man crouched beside him and said, "There, there, son, it's going to be all right."
Steven felt like he was dreaming when the man took off his black suit jacket and wrapped it around his shoulders. "I'll call an ambulance. You've got a pretty nasty bump on your head there and we don't want to take any chances."
It didn't even seem strange when the man started talking into his watch: "Come in, base, Agent One here, I've got an injury at the bottom of the dam. Subject A Three has suffered a possible concussion and appears to be disoriented, request an ambulance at"--the man looked at his little satellite dish--"at coordinates nine oh three tristar three eight seven ooga-booga three three three four. Over."
The watch answered the man, "One, is A Three in possession of the item? Does he still have it?"
Agent One pointed his mini-dish at Steven. It went "Beep! Beep! Beep!"
One answered, "I'm afraid not, base, that's a negative."
The watch said, "Oh, no, this is terrible, he must've lost it in the fall over the dam. Is A Three alert enough to be questioned?"
Agent One gently shook Steven and said, "Son? Son, are you okay?"
What kind of question was that? How could someone be okay when they knew their best friend was de . . . was gone? Steven just looked at the man.
"Now, son," Agent One said, "you've got to help us out here. Things will be a lot easier if you cooperate, all right?"
Steven nodded, not because he agreed, but because he knew that was what the man wanted him to do.
"Okay, good boy. Now, where is it? We're pretty sure you had it when you two started running across the top of the dam. Did you drop it in the water? Do you know which side it fell on? Just tell me where it is and maybe I can help you out and you won't have to go to jail for too long."
Steven had to think about this. He wished his head would stop spinning for a second so he could make the kind of decision a good detective would about what he should do next.
One thing he did know, spinning head or not, was that this man didn't really care about helping him. He was trying to scare him with that talk about jail, and it worked--Steven started wondering what bad thing could happen next.
"Look, kid, tell me where it is or things could get pretty bad for you." The man's tone changed.
"He . . . he . . . he . . ." Steven pointed at the spot where they'd landed in the water. "He must still have it. I think he swallowed it while we were falling."
One aimed his mini-dish at the spot where Steven pointed. The dish went "Ba-weep! Ba-weep! Ba-weep!"
One yelled into his watch, "Base, base! Subject B One allegedly still has the item in his possession! I'm getting a positive reading on my parabolic unit indicating the item is underwater at the foot of the dam!"
Copyright © 2007 by Christopher Paul Curtis. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.