Wednesday, March 09, 2016

Slippery Slope: Snow Job by Charles Benoit





Ta da.

I know you were expecting more. Something deeper, or at least that didn't sound like it came from a poster in a guidance office. But you try summing up the person you know you could be in eight words and see if it doesn't end up sounding just as lame. As lame as my list was, it was better than what I had before, which was nothing at all.

Nick is a high school senior who feels like a loser, circling the drain. He's smart enough, but he hates school, and he sees his parents already down the tubes and miserable, his dad covering up a lame affair by faking all-night breakdowns at the factory where he does maintenance, and his mother pretending not to notice while she needles Nick about "his future plans" for moving out. Nick comes up with his "list" and as the first step, he breaks from his "banger friends" by showing up at school in a shirt and tie and making a wild bet on a football game.

"Nick here"--Tony pointing at me--"Numbnuts thinks that the Bills are are gonna win." Here's the thing: Tony didn't care about football. None of us did. It was part of being a banger. But Tony wasn't going to pass up a free shot at me.

"The only one who'd be stupid enough to think they had a chance would be some dweeb with his head up his ass and shit for brains. Like Nick."

But I had my list now, and backing down wasn't on it. I said, "Wanna bet?"

Nick stands out and stand up, with two bucks and chump change in his pocket, and at a party that night he gets so drunk that can't remember upping the bet in front of Zod, a drug dealer just released from the two-year sentence that Nick's testimony had earned him. But Zod seems to have backed his bet, and is impressed when Nick lets him keep all of the two hundred dollars he won. Nick hopes that that's the last he'll see of Zod, but it's not.

Then Nick falls for a dark-haired girl who looks like rocker Joan Jett and seems to be interested in him. Despite her association with Zod's gang of cocaine dealers, he believes her story that she wants to make a fresh start far away from their town. The hitch is that she has to take her mentally handicapped younger sister along, and so the two set out to save two thousand dollars before they make their getaway together to Florida. Nick's job at the Stop 'n' Go earns only $2.85 an hour, and feeling that he has to stand by Dawn, he takes jobs as a runner for Zod and company, at first small-risk jobs delivering already paid-for marijuana to high school students he knows. But Reg, Zod's boss, is oddly impressed with Nick's honesty, and begins to send him out on big cocaine runs at $300 a trip. Nick is scared, but the escape to Florida is almost paid for, when Nick gets a call from Reg to make a major delivery upstate in an overnight snowstorm to collect eighty grand from the buyer.

Nick makes it back with the payoff before midnight and stops by to tell Dawn to get ready to take off when he returns from paying off Reg.

Dawn ran to me. "Oh, my god, you're safe." She leaned forward to look through the peephole and double-locked the door.

I glanced around the room. The bed was made, but it was covered in cut-up newspapers, a pair of scissors on top of a Cosmo, a pile of rubber bands. I tossed the money bag on the bed.

"No, don't put it there," she said. She dropped on her knees and stuffed the bag under the bed. "Nick, I'm sorry, I'm just really scared."

I hold her, hugging her body tight against mine.

But it is only when Nick takes off to turn in the haul to Reg that he realizes how in deep he is--in a snow job he never saw coming.

Something clicked. The clues I'd missed. The one truth I'd ignored.

"I'd do worse things than that for my sister," Dawn had said.

The bag, the one that had been out of his hands only when Dawn stuck it under the bed, has something besides long green inside, in Charles Benoit's just-published young adult thriller, Snow Job (Houghton Mifflin Clarion, 2016), with a double surprise ending that most readers will not foresee. A coming-of-age-the-hard-way story, this one proves that Beloit, a master of complex, character driven plots, can construct a suspenseful page turner that upends all logical expectations, and although this one concludes with a few improbabilities, it will leave readers with a gasp and a swallow, a little bit older and wiser.

For another sample of Benoit's riveting fiction, don't miss his notable mystery-thriller, Cold Calls. (see review here)

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