Excerpt of Al Capone Shines My Shoes by Gennifer Choldenko
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1. THE CREAM OF THE CRIMINAL CROP
Monday, August 5, 1935
Nothing is the way its supposed to be when you live on an island with a billion birds, a ton of bird crap, a few dozen rifles, machine guns, and automatics, and 278 of Americas worst criminalsthe cream of the criminal crop as one of our felons likes to say. The convicts on Alcatraz are rotten to the core, crazy in the head, and as slippery as eels in axle grease.
And then theres me. Moose Flanagan. I live on Alcatraz along with twenty-four other kids and one more on the way. My father works as a prison guard and an electrician in the cell house up top. I live where most of us civilians do, in 64 building, which is dockside on the east side of Alcatraza base hit from the mobster Al Capone.
Not many twelve-year-old boys can say that. Not many kids can say that when their toilet is stopped up, they get Seven Fingers, the ax murderer, to help them out, either. Even simple things are upside down and backwards here. Take getting my socks washed. Every Wednesday we put out our dirty laundry in big white bags marked with our name: flanagan. Every Monday our clothes come back starched, pressed, folded, and smelling of soap and flour. They look like my mom washed them for me.
Except she didnt.
My laundry man is Alcatraz #85: Al Capone. He has help, of course. Machine Gun Kelly works right alongside him in the laundry along with thirty other no-name hit men, con men, mad dog murderers, and a handful of bank robbers too. They do a good job washing the clothes for us and most everyone else on the island. But sometimes they do a little extra.
The cons dont care for Officer Trixle, so his laundry doesnt return the same way as everyone elses. His shirts are missing buttons, underwear is stiff with starch or dyed pansy pink, pants are missing a cuff or the fly is sewn shut so the guy cant even take a leak unless he pulls his pants down like a little girl.
I cant say the cons are wrong about Officer Trixle. Darby Trixle is the kind of guy who only his wife likesand not that much either. Last Saturday my best friend Jimmy Mattaman and I were looking for a barrel for Jimmys fly menagerie, and Janet Trixle, Darbys seven-year-old daughter, just happened to see we were walking by the Black Mariah, the Alcatraz paddy wagon. That was all we were doingwalking by it. But when Darby saw the Mariah had a flat tire, who do you think got the blame?
It couldnt have been Darby drove over a nail. Oh no. It had to have been us. We had to go with him to San Francisco and carry a new tire down Van Ness Avenue, to the ferry and up the switchback, to where the Mariah was parked up top. Darby wouldnt even let us roll it on the road. Didnt want it to get dirty. Its a tire! Where does he think it usually goes?
My father wouldnt help us with Darby either. I know you had nothing to do with that flat tire, but it wont hurt you to give Darby a hand, Moose, is what he said.
When I first moved here, I thought all the bad guys were on one side of the bars and all the good guys were on the other. But lately, Ive begun to wonder if there isnt at least one officer on the free side who ought to be locked up and maybe a convict who isnt half as bad as hes cracked up to be. Im thinking about Al Caponethe most notorious gangster in America, the worst guy we have up top. How could it be that he did me a good turn?
It doesnt make sense, does it? But Al Capone got my sister, Natalie, into a school called the Esther P. Marinoff where shed been turned down twice already. Its a boarding school for kids who have their wires crossed up. Its a school and not a school . . . a place to make her normal.
Excerpted from Al Capone Shines my Shoes © Copyright 2009 by Gennifer Choldenko. Reprinted with permission by Dial Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Penguin Young Readers Group. All rights reserved.