The Mighty Johns and Other Stories

The Mighty Johns and Other Stories


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This book of football stories, including one about rugby, Europe's football, includes the mastery of David Baldacci in the lead story, The Mighty Johns. Football in college includes mystery and a long ago disappearance of the ultimate star of the Draven University football team. Tor North, brilliant science student and football player looks for the answers and the result is very close to home.

Additionally, Super Bowl Sunday and its importance to the teams and the fans enters several of our stories - including A SUNDAY IN JANUARY and NO THING. More college ball is the theme when college rivalries are at stake. MIT and Harvard have a rivalry, and when Harvard plays Yale, MIT wants the glory. What they do to top last year's prank is worth the read.

The naughty boys of football are the topics of THE EHRENGRAF REVERSE, THE ARCANE RECEIVER, HOLLYWOOD SPRING AND AXLE, GONE TO THE DAWGS AND RUMORS OF GRAVITY. Murder, theft, gunshots, larceny, drugs and more bad behavior are the best of football mystery.

GOOD SEATS, GONE DOWN TO CORPUS, WHATEVER IT TAKES TO WIN and SEMI-PRO are darker revenge stories of getting even at any cost. The people, the players, and football are merged into human ego and animal cunning.

Finally, THE END OF INNOCENCE by Anne Perry, recalls the days just before WWI and a rugby match between friends and acquaintances before the troops head off to war. The end of an era, the end of relationships and the adjustment of friendships come together in this tale of family pride and protection.

Otto Penzler the mastery mystery collector, has brought these stories together to pay homage to the most frenetic and inspiring game of America. The Mighty Johns and Other Stories is a superstar collection from the smartest mystery editor of them all.

Mystery Writers and their stories:

  • The Ehrengraf Reverse by Lawrence Block
  • Semi-Pro by James Crumley
  • A Sunday in January by Brenda DuBois
  • Whatever it Takes to Win by Tim Green
  • Good Seats by Colin Harrison
  • Gone Down to Corpus by Dennis Lehane
  • No Thing by Mike Lupica
  • The Empire Strikes Back by Brad Meltzer
  • The Arcane Receiver by Carol O'Connell
  • The End of Innocence by Anne Perry
  • Hollywood Spring and Axle by Gary Phillips
  • Gone to the Dawgs by Peter Robinson
  • Rumors of Gravity by John Westermann

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781893224568
Publisher: New Millennium Entertainment
Publication date: 06/25/2002
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 6.24(w) x 9.28(h) x 1.08(d)

About the Author

David Baldacci lives with his family in Virginia. He and his wife have founded the Wish You Well Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting literacy efforts across America. He invites you to visit him at: and his foundation at .

Otto Penzler is the proprietor of the Mysterious Bookshop in New York City. He is the founder of the Mysterious Press and Otto Penzler Books, and has received an Edgar Award, an Ellery Queen Award, and a Raven Award for his contribution to the mystery field. His recent anthology, The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps was a New York Times Bestseller.

Scott Brick has performed on film, television and radio. His stage appearances throughout the U.S. include Cyrano, Hamlet, and MacBeth. He's read over 150 audiobooks in four years-for that, AudioFile magazine named Scott "a rising and shining star" and awarded him as one of the magazine's Golden Voices. The Audie- and Earphone Award-winning actor has read several Macmillan Audio audioBooks, including Dune: The Butlerian Jihad and Dune: The Machine Crusade by Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson. In addition to his acting work, Scott choreographs fight sequences, and was a combatant in films such as Romeo and Juliet, The Fantasticks and Robin Hood: Men in Tights.

Martin Jarvis is one of Britain's most distinguished and versatile actors. He has narrated and produced audiobooks in the UK and is beginning to apply his narrating talents to audiobooks in the U.S., as well. His appearances in West End theater productions are numerous, including Sir Peter Hall's On Approval, Alan Ayckbourn's Woman in Mind, and Michael Frayn's Exchange, a performance he repeated in Los Angeles. Martin's appearances for BBC Television include classics: Nicholas Nickleby, David Copperfield and The Pallisers; P.D. James's The Black Tower; and episodes of Inspector Morse and Rumpole. Jarvis is also one of Audiofile's Golden Voices.

Brad Meltzer was raised in Brooklyn and Miami. He graduated with honors from the University of Michigan and earned a degree from Columbia Law School in 1996. He has written speeches for President Clinton's national service program, devised marketing strategies for "Games" magazine, and earned credit from Columbia for writing his first book, which became "The Tenth Justice". He lives in Washington, D.C., with his wife, Cori, also an attorney.

Anne Perry is the bestselling author of two acclaimed series set in Victorian England: the Charlotte and Thomas Pitt novels, including Seven Dials and Long Spoon Lane, and the William Monk novels, most recently The Shifting Tide and Dark Assassin. She is also the author of the World War I novels No Graves As Yet, Shoulder the Sky, Angels in the Gloom, At Some Disputed Barricade, and We Shall Not Sleep, as well as the holiday novels A Christmas Journey, A Christmas Visitor, A Christmas Guest, A Christmas Secret, and A Christmas Beginning. Anne Perry lives in Scotland. Visit her website at

Read an Excerpt

1 Novella & 13 Superstar Short Stories From the Finest in Mystery & Suspense

By David Baldacci
Edited by Otto Penzler

New Millennium Press

Copyright © 2002 Columbus Rose, Ltd..
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1893224562

Chapter One

"You know," said Tor North, "if one really thinks about it, this field is logically comparable to the cortex surrounding the brain. The cortex, as I'm sure you know, is one-tenth of an inch thick and has vertical columns running from top to bottom that are roughly two-thousandths of an inch in diameter." Tor bent down and plucked a few blades of grass and showed them to the young man next to him whose name was Jimmy Swift. An east wind careened over the strange topography that surrounded the pair, wrapping the two young men in, at best, a precarious embrace. An east wind here was never kind or coddling, sometimes it barely left you standing as it carried the foul smells of the nearby manufacturing plants and mining operations into the lungs of the folks here. The confusing gusts could do you serious damage if you weren't careful or respectful enough. Swift studied this visible air current, apparently very intent on the beast's artful maneuvering or whimsical ways, depending on how one looked at it. It was easy to see that Swift respected that east wind and understood its potential for deceit.

    Tor continued, "Now, those cortical columns could be the blades of grass on this field, Jimmy. Each column contains one hundred and ten neurons. There are six hundred million such columns and thus there are roughly fifty billion neurons in the cortex." He eyed his friend closely to gauge his interest and understanding for what lay ahead. For Tor North something inevitably lay ahead of one of his science-charged homilies.

    "So what are you trying to say?" said Jimmy, who had other things on his mind as his gaze caught and held steady on the flagpoles due west of him. "Left to right," he muttered to himself, and then he marched two steps to his left and one long step back. He and Tor agreed on one point. It was all in the details, what they did. Anyone who said otherwise was a fool.

    "Aren't you listening?" asked Tor, who then followed his friend's gaze to the poles and their accompanying flag erections. "The wind's fine. I calculate about six to eight knots, roughly east to west, not that significant really, though it is swirling, but then it always swirls because of the manufactured depression we're standing in coupled with the natural lay of the land outside of this concrete and steel bowl. And he's got a strong leg, and you're very fast. You're aptly named. So what do you think about my theory?"

    Jimmy glanced at Tor and the expression of confusion could be said to be more weary than profound. Swift often looked puzzled when Tor was lecturing him. And, at least to Jimmy, Tor North held forth on the most arcane, impossibly useless subjects at the most inappropriate times. Last week, during a particularly rugged drill, Tor had grilled him on Carl Jung's theories on individuation, synchronicity and the existence of archetypes, when weighed against modern string theory and neuron consciousness with a dollop of quantum psychology thrown in for no extra charge. As opposed to quantum physics, Tor had been quick to point out. Never confuse the two, he had warned Jimmy, though they were obviously somewhat linked, what with each depending to an ever-exacting degree on the "quantum perspective" on life, death, planet earth and beyond to the farthest-away galaxy, this dimension, that dimension, and just about everything in between, including sex, politics, sports, religion, all things Americans loved, despised and feared. If you do mix them up, Tor had warned, you'll find yourself the butt of endless jokes by science geeks, and there was nothing more humiliating than being the butt of jokes by them. This was something Tor could well appreciate, since he happened to be one of their numbers.

    "I'll be sure to remember that," Jimmy had said doubtfully at the time. Now he just looked blankly at Tor. Quantum theorizing obviously did not jazz Swift's motor to any appreciable degree. In his defense he had many other things on his mind, the wind for one. It was swirling, and swirling was not good. It also was gusting, and gusting was even worse than swirling as far as he was concerned.

    Tor let the blades of grass drop back down to the ground where they were caught in miniature cyclones of that stubborn and treacherous east wind. "It's obvious, isn't it?" said Tor. "Come on, think, Swift."

    Tor referred to him as Swift at such moments of divine ignorance on Jimmy's part, mostly out of good-natured joshing. If they hadn't been such close friends, Jimmy might have decked Tor. Yet the timing was no good. Right now he really needed the man, what with the grumpy wind and the darkening skies. It would be tricky, even for someone as skilled as he. The pulverizing of his friend might come later, though. That could have been Jimmy's unspoken thought as he glared at his companion, his concentration now completely broken by Tor's ill-timed pedagogical taunts.

    "Not to me," said Jimmy, and he licked his fingers, just as he did every few seconds, to improve the traction there. "Look, I need to clear my mind, okay, not fill it up with stuff I'm never going to use once in my life. Particularly right now."

    Tor tapped the bottom of his shoes clean and said, "Never use! The unmitigated arrogance of human beings truly is astonishing. Let me spell it out for you. We could be standing on a creation of nature with an intellect perhaps surpassing our own and we're stomping all over its neurons, Jimmy, the delicate yet critical canopy over its nuclear engine, so to speak. Where's the respect in that? Where's the inter-species diplomatic relations there? Do you truly believe that such a profound, life-altering concept has nothing to do with you? Are you that clueless?"

    "Looks like grass and dirt to me, Tor, but then I'm just a dumb poli-sci major." Jimmy looked up into the bright lights that surrounded them and he stiffened when he saw what was coming. "Forget the cortex, Tot, time to go to work." Jimmy performed a little jig to get the circulation going in his legs and licked his fingers a final time. He cast one last look at the flagpoles which were barely visible now, what with the low cloud cover and the rapidly failing natural light, and then he set himself to wait for it to commence as the screams plummeted down upon the two men like August hail, and the ground shook like a six-point continental plate-basher was barreling their way. A smile eased across Jimmy Swift's face.

    Tor looked up, saw what Jimmy saw, strapped his helmet tight, inserted his mouthpiece and squatted low like a man about to do some serious personal business. His heart rate had just doubled, and he knew Swift's had too. And yet Tor had a relative calmness about him that came from the most basic of all endeavors: preparation. In fact he was never more ready in his life. And he was about to do something that, if it played out as perfectly as it had in his mind the last week or so, would literally rock the world, in his humble opinion, of at least make the powers-that-be sit up and take a good, hard look. And yet maybe not, for people were so obtuse and, unlike a carefully controlled science experiment run through to its final logical outcome, so maddeningly unpredictable.

    The football descended upon them from out of the lights. Overcast skies pregnant with rain had further aged a gloomy Saturday afternoon into an early, melancholy dusk. It would have been difficult to see a plane coming at them from out of the blinding crest created by the banks of thousand watt stars that ringed the stadium. Yet, as usual, Jimmy fielded the small brown blob of leathery pigskin that plummeted from the sky with an athletic grace he possessed in envious quantity. For his part, the blocky, slower-footed, and yet extremely capable Tor eased back on his right foot and established a firm center of gravity on the possible cortex of a potentially large intellect lying beneath them. He silently counted to three as he eyed screaming barbaric young men charging at him and Swift. This fanatical—some would say infantile—group had somehow been transported into the "civilized" world for four quarters every Saturday in the rail across the length and breadth of America's college football empire. The cries from the stands echoed the brutes' battle hymn as blood-lusting spectators, now mere ghostly outlines in the diminished light—silhouettes of Johnny Rebs or Union Blues hunkered at the fogged tree line moments before the deadly clash—leaned forward and awaited with indefatigable glee a violent collision of young, strong bodies that was bare seconds from occurring. Not even patrons of the Roman bloodbaths snorting their fix of human pain and cruelty had ever witnessed anything quite so spectacular in its potential for glorious mayhem.

    With an explosive burst, Tor North took off running. He said not one word, uttered not a single reciprocal scream, for he was saving every ounce of energy he had in order to transfer it on to others. As Newton's Third Law of Motion dictated with a majestic certainty, when an object exerts a force on a second object, the second object exerts an equal and opposite force on the first. And, at least for now, E did approximate MC squared, though Tor was working on alternative theories that were holding some promise. Yet, for his purposes right now, all that mattered was angle, speed and weight displacement, and the use of power against itself to maximize effect beyond all reckoning, for the sum of the parts was very often not so great as the entire throbbing whole. Tor had lectured Jimmy on this time and again, and the boy still was not getting it. Yet Tor North completely and absolutely understood each and every wonderful theoretical possibility, each tantalizing conundrum of secular faith and omnipotent science. What was rushing headlong at Tor North was a living, breathing physics experiment, and the young man did not intend to screw up such a magnificent display of infinite beauty.

    With Jimmy dancing and juking behind him, awaiting any crevice he could slide through, Tor counted off his steps and simultaneously calculated axis rotation, curvature of the earth, mass, speed, and possibly most important for his purposes, angle of impact. When he reached the count of five Tor hit the wall of men at what seemed like the speed of light, or, as Tor would later say in his inimitable way of pedantic embellishment, actually at the speed of a subatomic particle tunneling under a quantum barrier, or at approximately four point seven times the speed of light. So fast, in fact, that the particle would exit the tunnel before it even entered it. Try explaining that to a layperson and one would observe eyeballs slowly glaze over for an interminable duration! Tor knew because he had tried. Tack on to that the morsel of knowledge that at the speed of light time stands perfectly still, like the hands of a stalled clock fittingly enough, and that traveling at a rate faster than that of light would actually carry one backwards in time, then one would see the entire body of the unscientific dunce recede into a state, the coroner would conclusively term "rigor mortis," with the attendant physical rigidity and intellectual perception of a cinder block.

    Of course one had to extrapolate out to the heavens and beyond to reach such a level of intergalactic thrust as that entailed by multiples of 186,000 miles per second, or six trillion miles per year, from something as relatively slow as a college football-playing science major. Yet extrapolation, even at extreme levels, Tor believed, was a necessary part of life if one was ever really going to get to the truth, which was always far more complex and even chilling than most humans dared to confront. Scientists possessed courage, Tor knew, far beyond the comprehension of most people. And the physicist, more than all the other disciples of pure, raw science, realized that humankind was simply one modestly evolved, often chaotic (and perhaps low-level) organic species existing in a single puny dimension on one truly unremarkable—some called it middling—planet among billions like it and unlike it. The authentic disciples of science could take the truth; the rest of humanity was blissfully ignorant, or as Tor often said, existing in a permanent state of self-denial of what actually could be out there; the very real possibility that mankind would not be anywhere near the top of the intelligent life heap. What terrified others, enthralled him.

    Tor took out six men with his masterfully timed and placed flying body block that dropped the orange and black like dominoes in exact accordance with the formula of mass displacement at precisely angled high-speed collision on tortured playing field that Tor had so painstakingly devised. He had worked it all out the previous week, in between molecular analysis labs. Jimmy Swift exploited his enormous gash in the kickoff team's heart, flashing by as Tor lay in the dirt and grass, his facemask bent, his mouthpiece knocked out, a spot of blood on his cheek. All around Tor sprawled a sextuplet of young men in orange and black uniforms stunned by the impact of a quantum tunneler who had exited before he had entered. Not one opposing player had a good shot at Jimmy until he was at the opponent's forty-yard line. A very fast cornerback, Leon Panders—who had given Jimmy fits for three years—had selected a decent angle of attack as he raced after his streaking opponent. However, this time Leon had underestimated both Swift's speed and determination. Right as the cornerback went in for the kill, Jimmy kicked it into a higher gear, and Leon ended up eating grass, or billions of neurons, if you believed Tor. Jimmy sped untouched into the end zone to complete his one hundred-and-three yard trek, and then respectfully tossed the ball to the waiting official and jogged to the bench where he was mobbed by his frantically delighted teammates.

    Tor rose among the bodies of the fallen enemies, snagged a few precious blades of grass, and mouthed a mea culpa to the great mind that might or might not be lurking below the football field at Draven University. The school sat in a drab, manufactured valley of perpetually darkened hues among the squat, hollowed and stripped coal hills of western Pennsylvania, and was home to the Mighty Johns football team. As Tor gazed at the berserk crowd, the metal and concrete stands shaking under their collective mass times energy, he knew these emotion-charged plebeians hadn't a clue as to what really had just taken place on the field. Tor had only displaced the almost century-old blocking stratagems of X's and O's by using the principles of modern quantum theory that most people would never be able to comprehend to any measurable degree, much less consciously use in their lives. Still, Tor had to smile at the mad party going on over at his team's bench. What could be better than an extravaganza of science coupled with the exuberance of raw, young men in all their beastly pomp and pageantry that co-existed for at least sixty violent minutes on Saturday afternoons in the fall at the universities of the best and brightest all across the land? Where else could you see smart, educated people physically wreck one another for nominal cost that included food, drink and even a place to sit? Perhaps it was worth tramping all over the brain sheath of a new species of intelligent being. At least for now, Tor would assume it was.

    He jogged to the bench and slapped skin with Jimmy. His teammate also whacked him on the helmet with his hand. "One for the old cortex," Jimmy said, and the two friends sat down next to each other. Then it was dramatically announced over the PA that Jimmy Swift's run was actually a yard longer than originally thought. The rollicking, delirious crowd grew still and quiet at this momentous and stunning proclamation, for the truly unthinkable had just occurred.

    Jimmy Swift had broken the forty-year-old record for kickoff returns held by the immortal Draven alumnus, Herschel Ruggles.


Excerpted from THE MIGHTY JOHNS by David Baldacci. Copyright © 2002 by Columbus Rose, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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