Archie Reaches Too High and Makes Enemies by Bill Frank Robinson

The clanging bell hammers relentlessly as children pour from the old school house into the bright sun. They hit the street and scatter in all directions, headed home for the day. One little towhead darts through the crowd, running hard. It’s Archie Cleebo dressed in bib overalls, man’s work shirt, and worn-out tennis shoes. He slows as he approaches a vacant lot. A group of junior high school guys are in the middle of the lot; they’re playing marbles. They call themselves the best marble players in town. Archie snorts, they never get beat 'cause they won’t play with anybody that might beat
'em. Archie picks up speed and passes the lot. Then, for no reason he knows about, he stops running and walks back to watch the game.

Billy and Arnold Weaver, twin brothers and big fat mean guys, are doing all the talking.

Arnold is saying, “Clean the pot, Billy. Show these monkeys what a Weaver’s made of."

Billy is on his knees and aiming his shooter at the pot; the guy never uses any spin and he shoots too hard most of the time. Besides, he uses a rug to kneel on and a rabbit’s fur under his shooting hand. All these guys are wearing corduroys and they don’t wanna dirty 'em. Archie’s overalls have holes in the knees and the knuckles on his right hand are scabbed, raw, and bleeding-that’s the way to play marbles. He turns to go when something catches his eye.

He can’t take his eye off the marble Arnold is spinning into the dirt. It’s big and it’s pretty, the prettiest shooter he has ever seen. It has all the bright colors and when it’s spinning a purple color flashes in and out of sight showing how fast it’s spinning. Archie decides that he must have this weapon.

“Hey, Arnold. Ya wanna play for keeps?" The low-key banter ceases and all the boys stand up to stare at the new guy.

Arnold recovers first. “You’re too little to play with us. Go home and tell your mama she wants you."

Arnold and the crowd laugh at this joke. “And what kinda marbles ya got anyway? Ya probably only got 'dobies and steelies.'"

“No. I got good marbles. I won 'em fair and square over at Bobby Watson’s house."

“Bobby Watson? He would never let a dumb little kid like you come over to his house. And he damn sure ain’t gonna letch’ya win his marbles. I oughtta knock your block off for

“I didn’t win Bobby’s. I won everybody else’s though."

Billy says, “Maybe ya oughtta play him, Arnie. Teach him a lesson." Archie sees the big wink Billy throws at his brother.

Arnold walks over to Archie. “You’re the dumb kid that’s always first in line at the picture show. And ya only brought nine cents last week. I’m surprised they let you outta the house. Let’s see your marbles."

“ They’re at home."

“At home? All that big talk and you ain’t got no marbles in your pocket?"
“I can get 'em in a jiffy."

“Well…if you bring back any bad marbles I’m gonna make ya eat 'm."


“Dang! That kid’s good. Ya see the way he shot those edger shots? Spun his shooter right up into the pot and once he got in there he cleaned out all the dates. Guess he got all your marbles, Arnie." The talker is Curley Malone, a short skinny dark haired kid of thirteen.

Arnold whirls around to face Curley. “Shut up 'afore I bust ya one in the mouth. He ain’t no good, just lucky’s all. And he ain’t leaving here with my marbles in his pocket. Who’s gonna grub stake me?"

Tom Bailey, who never says much but packs a big punch in his right fist, says, “Ain’t nobody gonna loan you some dates. Your rules, remember?"

“I’ll put all the marbles I won up against your shooter."

Arnold’s jaw drops as he turns to stare at Archie. “ That’s my best shooter. You trying to chisel me out of my best shooter? I’ll knock you into the middle of next week. I’m not gonna put my best shooter in the pot."

Billy says, “Come on, Arnie. You’re a lot better than he is. Put your shooter in there and send the little pissant home crying."
Archie sees that wink again.

Archie can’t take his eyes off the magnificent shooter setting on a peak in the middle of the ring as he carefully scrapes dirt into peaks with his left hand and places a date on the new peak with his right hand. He counts 150 marbles, all his winnings as he stands up and looks at the biggest pot he has ever seen. This is going to be the best thing he has ever done.

He stands beside Arnold facing the lag line ten yards beyond the other side of the ring. Arnold says, “You go first." Archie lofts his shooter high into the air with lots of spin on it. Then he races around the ring and runs beside the spinning marble as it bounces then rolls to a stop just a whisker from the lag line. He whoops for joy.

“Grab dates!" Archie hears the scream and turns to see Arnold and Billy scrambling on the ground, stirring up a dust storm. They ain’t protecting their corduroys no more.

“No fair. No fair." Archie hollers as he races towards the brothers. “ This ain’t no fair. We was playing a fair and square game."

Arnold stands up and finishes stuffing his pockets with marbles. “Oh yeah? What’re ya gonna do about it? Ya wantta fight?"

“You’re too big. I just want my marbles back. I won 'em fair and square."

Billy says, “I see Paulie across the street. He’ll fight this little snot nose. Hey Paulie, come over here some guy your size is looking for a fight."

Archie recognizes Paulie from school and he knows not even the big guys want to fight him; he’s a mean guy. “I don’t want to fight nobody. I just want my marbles."

Paulie, his face twisted into a hateful grimace, walks up to Archie and says, “What’sa matter? Yeller?"

Archie don’t have time to answer the question, seems like everybody starts shouting, “He’s yellow. He’s yellow. Let’s get him." Archie dodges the first guy and starts running but somebody jumps on his back and rides him to the ground.

Archie’s mind leaves him and comes to rest in a tree high above the melee. He sees his body tossed back and forth as five big guys are trying to tear his clothes off. He knows he’s twisting, kicking, trying to get loose but he also knows he can’t get away. He hears the loud hollering, “Pants him. Let’s teach him not to mess with us. Get him good."

Arnold’s gloating face comes into focus, and then the smile turns to surprise. Somebody has grabbed Big Arnie by the shirt collar and tosses him aside. “Come on. Be off with ye before I take my belt to the whole lot of ye." The man is old, short, and walks with a bad limp. He’s shorter than most of the big boys but he picks them up and throws them aside with ease. When they see the old man’s face they run away without a word.

“Come on laddie give me your hand." The guy’s smiling as he pulls Archie to his feet.

“Don’t ya know you can’t whip everybody in town? What’s your name, boy?"

“Archie Cleebo."

“Your pa Cab Cleebo?" Seeing Archie nod he keeps talking. “I’m Lonnie Johnson. Your dad and me go back a long ways. He ever tell you anything about me?"

“No," Archie lies. “I know Andy tho’."

“You know old Andy? Hot ziggedy! I got another boy just your size. Maybe you and him can be friends. Come on, let’s go over to my house and see if Grandma saved us any dinner."

“What’s your other boy’s name?"




The Archie stories were written for The Voice newspaper magazine that was based in the small mining town of Silverton, Idaho. They ran from 2003 through 2006 when the newspaper went out of buisness. The Archie stories are set in the years just prior to WWII and are loosely based on the life of the author.
Archie and his family fled the dust bowl of the Midwest USA and moved to California in 1938 where Ma and Pa Cleebo found harsh conditions and 10 year-old Archie was left largely on his own until he was befriended by neighbors (the Johnsons) with a questionable reputation. Archie, and everyone else, called the matriarch of that family Grandma. Grandma and her family were carnival workers until the carnival folded and then they moved to California where they opened an automobile repair business and thrived until driven out of business by a thug and his influential father.

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