Millionaire Dad

By: Leanne Banks

Prologue

^ ?

"How come you're so good at math?"

"I dunno." Joey Caruthers shrugged as he finished showing the tricks of long division to nine-year-old Ben. "It makes sense."

Math made sense, but there were an awful lot of other things that didn't make sense to him. Like why his mom had to work two jobs, and they still never seemed to have enough money. Or why he didn't have a dad.

He glanced at the three other boys in the tree house. They lived on Cherry Lane in nice houses with moms and dads. They had puppies and kittens, and new clothes whether they wanted them or not. They had shiny new bikes and played Little League baseball. They wore the hottest tennis shoes. They visited interesting places like the shore or Disney World on family vacations.

Joey lived in a small apartment several blocks away. He had a goldfish once, but it died. His mom said his feet grew too fast, so his shoes were tight. He had to ride an old, rusted bike to get to Cherry Lane. His mom said he couldn't play Little League because she couldn't drive him to practice, and the uniforms were too expensive.

When he grew up, it would be different. He would have a dog and a big house and different tennis shoes for every day of the week. It all came down to math and money, and Joey was good at math. If he was good at math, then he figured he could be good at money.

For now, though, he didn't really belong to the "club." But he liked the tree house. Being in it was almost like taking a vacation to somewhere far away. The tree house could be anything the boys wanted it to be. He liked these guys. Being around them made him feel better on the inside. Sometimes he even forgot about the stuff that bothered him.

Joey figured if he kept showing up, maybe they would let him stay.

Ben looked at Stan. "Are you ready?"

Stan glanced at Nick, then at Joey and nodded. "It's time."

Joey got a weird feeling in the pit of his stomach. The guys were staring at him, and he wondered if they'd finally found out where he lived, or worse, that he didn't have a dad at all. He swallowed over a knot in his throat and stood.

"Time for what?" he asked when he couldn't stand it any longer.

Stan stepped in front of him and just stood there for a long moment.

Joey felt his stomach turn again, but he was careful not to show it. Stan was the oldest, and the tree house was in his yard. Joey was as big as Stan, but Stan was older by one year, and he was smart.

Stan motioned the two other boys closer. "We're inviting you to become an official member of the Bad Boys Club. We'll teach you the secret handshake, and the password."

Shock and joy raced through Joey like an electric toy train. He was so excited he couldn't say a word.

"You gotta promise never to tell the secrets, and to stand up for a club member when he needs it."

Joey swallowed. "I promise," he managed solemnly.

"Your secret name is Joey 'Cash' Caruthers," Ben told him. "'Cause you're good in math."

Wow! he thought, but didn't say it because it wouldn't have been cool. Joey just nodded. "What are your names?"

"I'm Bad Ben," Ben said with an evil grin. "'Cause I get in trouble at school a lot."

"I'm Stan the Man, because I'm the oldest," Stan told him.

"And I'm' Nail 'em Nick," the smallest guy said.

"Why Nail 'em?"

Nick shrugged. "I liked the way it sounded."

"And the handshake—"

"Stanley," a man's voice called from the ground. "It's time to go."

Stan's eyes rounded. "Freak! I forgot." He raced to the window. "I'll be right down, Dad," he yelled. "I think all the guys can go."

He turned back around to Joey. "My dad's taking us to the new space movie. You wanna go?"

The new space movie was supposed to be very cool. Everyone in school was talking about it.

"You oughta go," Ben said. "Maybe you could call your mom."

Joey's heart sank. His mom told him to only call her in case of emergency. She was afraid of getting fired. "I don't know," he said. "She has a real important job, and it's hard to get her sometimes."

Nick made a face. "Could you call your dad?"

Joey immediately shook his head and gave his usual answer. "He's traveling again."

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