Name: Pete Catalano
Genre: Middle Grade Contemporary Humor
Title: MIDDLE SCHOOL MAFIAAfter a very long drive, my dad finally pulled off the highway in a small town in North Carolina. Looking out the window at the well-kept houses, and neatly trimmed lawns, I quickly realized there wasn't a satellite dish in sight.I can see it now, I thought as we swung around another corner. Deech Rosselli, age twelve found dead after being placed in Witness Protection. The cause of death wasn’t a snitch giving up the Rosselli’s whereabouts and the bad guys finding them, but rather a fatal case of boredom. Rosselli passed while sitting on the couch, staring at the TV, remote in hand, waiting for his new podunk little town to get DirecTV.My daydreams were interrupted by my dad yelling, “HOLD ON,” as our Jeep came to a screeching halt less than three feet from the back of the moving truck parked in front of our new house.“DAD!” my sister Angie shrieked, jamming her feet into the back of my dad’s seat, bracing for impact after the Jeep had already stopped. As usual she’d been playing on her iPhone, oblivious to anything that wasn’t on her screen.“What are you putting your feet up for, knucklehead?” I asked her. “You’re still crunched if dad hits the back of that truck. Only thing you can do at that point is hope the hospital you’re being rushed to has Wi-Fi.”“I’ve been hoping for only one thing for the last twelve years,” she hissed after she put her feet back down on the floor, “but you’re still here.”“Wendell, are you all right?” my mom said harshly, a smile on her face, but her teeth clenched tight.“Hey, mom,” I called over the backseat. "You said they took away his gun and his passport. Maybe they took his ability to decide between the gas pedal and the brake too.”“I’m good.” My dad raised his hands up in the air to silence her and end the discussion. “And you need to remember how you speak to Big Rosie . . .”“Wendell,” my mother corrected him for probably the fortieth time on this trip alone, “your name is Wendell now. And not even ‘Big’ Wendell.”“What kind of name is Wendell anyway?” my dad asked, his face scrunching up in disgust. “Do you have any idea how many Wendells I’ve beaten up in my life?”“It’s a perfectly normal name for a perfectly normal family,” a man in a dark suit stepped up to the driver’s window. “Rosie Rosselli is traceable, Wendell Walker is not." Suit looked into the back seat at Angie and me. "Hey kids, I’m U.S. Marshall Stratton and welcome to Walnut Creek. The kids in town call me ‘suit’. I’m not sure if it’s a sign of respect or an insult, but these days I choose to look at everything on a positive note.”“It’s not a sign of respect,” I said, stumbling past him as I got out of the car.“A man who speaks his mind,” Stratton said. “I like that. But not a lot of kids at that new middle school of yours will.”As I walked to the edge of the sidewalk, I kept my eyes on Stratton the entire way. There was something I liked about him, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I took a deep breath and looked at my new block as it stretched out before me.There was a work van parked a couple of houses down that had two men working busily around it. The word Satellite was prominently displayed on the side. They didn’t seem to be doing much of anything, so I knew right away they weren’t repairmen, but they were pretty convincing.“Well played fake repairmen,” I said, staring at them. “Well played.”“You all right?” Stratton asked as he stepped up behind me.“Yeah, I’m good,” I nodded. Then I motioned toward the van. “Should I be worried about that?”“About what?’ Stratton asked.“Satellite TV guys fixing cable in a town that has no satellite dishes,” I said.“No,” Stratton laughed. “They’re mine. You won’t see any of the bad guy vans in front of your house, on your block, or even in the city limits while you’re in my town. You have a good eye.”“Lot’s of vans in front of my house back in Brooklyn,” I said. “I’ve had a lot of practice.”Just then a couple with a kid about my age came out of the house across the street.“Those are the Millers,” Stratton said. “Bob, Judy, and Bartholomew. You should take a walk over and meet them some time. Bartholomew is about your age and they’ve only been here about a week so far.”“Bartholomew?” I asked him. “Did you give him the name Bartholomew?”“Sure did,” the man said.“Why didn’t you just paint a target on his back instead?” I laughed at the thought of living with a name like that in middle school.“I don’t know, Durwood,” he smiled. “Why don’t you tell me? Maybe I should put bigger one on your back.”“You just did,” I said. “Durwood?”“Didn’t your parents tell you?” Stratton asked. “I pick the name for everybody that steps into my town. After I went over your family’s new names with your parents and Angie, they all thought Durwood would be appropriate. Especially Angie.”“Wait, wait, wait. Bartholomew is a wonderful name,” I backtracked as quickly as I could. “Durwood? Please don’t name me Durwood.”He looked at me and smiled. “I’ll see if I can figure out something that won’t get you beat up so quickly. Now, run inside, go find your room, and then meet me back in the living room. We have to go over a few more things before I turn you loose.”I followed Stratton into the house and then went up the stairs to find the bedrooms before Angie claimed all of them. The one on the right side of the house was the master suite for Mom and Dad. There were two smaller rooms on the left side of the house that I knew Angie would be all over. But then I noticed a small doorway. As I walked up one more flight to the attic, I saw the room of my dreams open up before me.It was gigantic! The ceiling soared up until all four sides met in the center and there was an old-timey window set into each of the sides. The walls all had windows, too, so no matter where I put my bed, I would be able to look out and see everything . . . and if any of the bad guys had gotten past Stratton.I ran back down the two flights of stairs, and in the middle of the flight back down to the living room, I stopped and watched as all these guys carrying boxes marked “Walker” moved quickly throughout the house.“Is this one yours, little man?” this giant of a mover asked as he stood there holding a box with “Tommy Walker” written across the side.“I hope so,” I said, very happy I didn’t see the name “Durwood” anywhere on the box.“Which room is yours?”I turned to look at my Mom and Dad and then over at my sister Angie, who was still moping on the couch. “Top of the stairs and then go up one more flight,” I said, feeling pretty good about it. “Best room in the house.”“Come on.” Stratton called me off the stairs. “Family meeting.”I came down the stairs and settled in onto the couch next to my mom, dad, and Angie. And waited.