Authors: Jerry B. Jenkins
The Left Behind series
Though None Go with Me
’Twas the Night Before
The Margo Mysteries
Copyright © 2002 by Jerry B. Jenkins
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The Youngest Hero
was originally published in a completely different version as
© 1991 by Jerry B. Jenkins.
Warner Books, Inc.
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First eBook Edition: October 2009
To Robert W. and Mike H.
With thanks for your confidence
on’t be giving me the credit. I’m just the mother. Seems like yesterday it was just Elgin and me on the Trailways from Hattiesburg.
That was four years ago. He was ten.
“You’re not gonna go barefoot in Chicago,” I told him. “And you’re not gonna say ‘not gonna’ up there neither.”
“‘Either,’ Momma,” he said, turning from the window to face me. “You mean ‘either.’”
I pursed my lips. “Thank you, Mr. Know-It-All.”
My hair hung heavy from sweat. I shook my head, but I wasn’t really upset. I was the one who taught him to read when he was
four. I’d watched him devour baseball books and schoolbooks ever since.
Elgin climbed over me and into the aisle where he stood on tippytoes and dug an aluminum bat out of his bag. I saw the driver
watching him in the mirror. “There’s no room, El,” I whispered.
He climbed over me again—this time with the bat—to sit by the window. “I just want to hold it,” he said. “Daddy told me—”
“If you’re gonna play with that thing, you can go sit by yourself.”
Elgin let the bat slide between his knees. “You shouldn’t have
said that, Momma. You know I’d rather sit with you than even feel a bat.”
It was the highest compliment I could hear from him. I wasn’t much bigger than Elgin, but when I hugged him I felt strong.
Ownership and responsibility, I guess.
“Elgin, just don’t—”
“I know,” he said, closing his eyes. His arms were moist and cool against mine. “Don’t talk about Daddy.”
Elgin and I lugged four suitcases from the bus station to a Chicago street littered with trash. A transient hotel was all
I could afford. In my purse I carried nine hundred and ten dollars in cash. I had squirreled it away over seven months on
a salary that would have made a panhandler blush. I only broke even when I sold our house trailer. That cash was my net worth.
By the end of the day, we had settled into a two-bedroom flat on the sixth floor of a building that smelled like the rescue
mission in Hattiesburg. Like I told Elgin, at least it was better than living where people knew your business.
I know Momma was worried cause I was sitting there so quiet while she cooked red beans and rice. There was stuff I missed
already. Like screen doors. Room to move. Buddies.
Momma said, “If I never see another IRS form as long as I live, it’ll be too soon.”
“But you were good at it, weren’t you?”
She snorted and nodded, setting a full plate in front of me. “I don’t believe I saw more’n two, three adjusted gross incomes
She had her wish. She was out of it, away from it, away from Hattiesburg. If only she could explain it. I didn’t understand
why we had to move. She’d tried to tell me enough times. I learned to quit pestering her.
* * *
The next day Momma found a job in the accounting department of a distributing company four and a half miles away.
“You could act a little more excited,” she told me. ‘This is food and rent.”
But I had my own news. I had discovered a game close enough to baseball to hold me until Momma could find a real league she
could afford. ‘They call it fastpitch,” I said. “You stand on one side of the street with a building behind you and the strike
zone chalked on the bricks. The pitcher stands in the street with a tennis ball that has the fuzz off it. He tries to strike
you out before you get a hit. You make singles, doubles, triples, and homers by how high your hit goes on the front of the
building across the street.”
“How did you do?”
She would ask that. “Haven’t hit a foul yet. But I will. A couple of Puerto Ricans can really fire.”
Three days later, Elgin came home crying.
“A kid stole my bat,” he told me. “And we can’t get it back cause he’s not from around here.”
“Can’t you use someone else’s?”
“All they have are broom handles with black tape. And I was just starting to hit with my bat. I’ll never hit anything with
a broomstick! Anyway—”
“I know, Elgin,” I said. “Your daddy gave you that bat.” I gathered him in. “A broomstick is about all I can afford right
now. Everything costs so much more up here.”
“Daddy says I should hit with a wood bat anyway. Get a better feel of the ball.”
I sighed. “Money never meant much to your daddy. If he had his way, you’d have had a breakable bat whenever you needed one.”
Elgin shook his head and pulled away.
“I don’t want to hear about it all the time, Momma. I know. Okay?”
It burst from me before I could think. “You would’ve had a sister by now if it hadn’t been for that man.”
“I hate when you call him ‘that man.’ He has a name.”
“Yeah, and he’s also got a number.”
He brightened. “Daddy’s playing ball again?”
Just like Elgin to assume the best.
“That’s not what I meant.” I reached into a cupboard and handed him an index card.
Neal Lofert Woodell
Alabama State Penitentiary
The pain in Elgin’s eyes pierced me. “What for this time?” he said.
I stalled and sat next to him. “Reckless homicide.”
“You know. Figure it out.”
“Why do you have to make everything like school? Homicide is like murder, right?”
“Um-hm. Drivin with no papers, drivin while drunk, hit an old man on a bike.”
Elgin stared at the card. “Then he’s not going to come see me? He said he would.”
“When did he say that?”
“My birthday, and also the last time I talked to him on the phone. Just after Christmas.”
“He was already in jail by then.”
“He didn’t tell me.”
Elgin nodded, his eyes wet. “Can I go see him?”
I shook my head. “What do you want to see him for when he’s only seen you once in more than a year?”
Elgin shrugged. ‘That’s why.”
* * *
On my way to the bus the next morning, I mailed a letter from Elgin to his father. It had taken him most of the evening to
write it. I told him I wouldn’t read it unless he said I could.
How are you? I am fine. I didn’t know you were in prison. I’ll bet you’re as sorry as I am. Momma says it could be lots of
years. I hope not. I miss you and especially talking and playing baseball. Is there anyone there that can strike you out?
I’d like to see them try!
I’m switch-hitting like you taught me. My metal bat got stolen, so I’m going to get a wood one when I get enough money. I
lost my batting helmet too. Sorry.
Chicago is different, but we like it. At least I do. I can’t go barefoot. I’m not looking forward to school, but Momma is.
She doesn’t like leaving me all day. I have to call her from the pay phone in the hall at the same time every day. Once I
forgot, and once I got my money stolen. I got whipped the first time and haven’t forgotten since.
I didn’t get whipped for getting my money stolen, but Momma told me how to tell the manager so he could call her. She worries
too much, but I’m not scared. I just play fastpitch all day. I’ll tell you about it when I see you. How much would it cost
for me to come see you?
I love you and miss you, Daddy. I wish you would have told me what happened. It’s bad, and I know you’re sorry, so don’t worry
about me not loving you anymore or anything like that.
You still love me, don’t you? Mom doesn’t love you anymore because of that night, you know. I was mad at you too, but I knew
you meant it when you cried. I’m never ever never going to drink beer or anything like that, Dad. It makes you do stuff you
don’t want to do, and it makes people quit loving you, but not me.
t was September before I started to get the broomstick on the tennis ball. I was in school most of the day, and they didn’t
allow fastpitch during recess. Too many broken windows last year, I guess.
Every day at 3:40 I had to call my mother from the hotel pay phone in the hall. Usually, I was still catching my breath from
the run home.
“No letter from Dad,” I’d tell her, wishing she would care. She’d just tell me what to put on for supper so it would be almost
ready by the time she got home. She let me play fastpitch as long as I was home when the streetlights came on.