A rusted Honda Civic drove noisily down the street and parked across from the mayors house. Armpit had finished digging his trench and was attaching PVC pipe. The mayor had gone back inside.
The driver-side door had been bashed in, and it would have cost more to fix than the car was worth. The driver had to work his way over the stick shift and then exit on the passenger side.
The personalized license plate read: X RAY.
Armpit! X-Ray shouted as he crossed the street. Armpit!
The guys at work didnt know him by that name, but if he didnt say something X-Ray would just keep on shouting. Better to answer and shut him up.
Hey, he called back.
Man, youre really sweating, X-Ray said as he came near.
Yeah, well, youd sweat too if you were digging.
Ive already dug enough dirt to last one lifetime, said X-Ray.
They had met each other at Camp Green Lake.
Look, dont call me Armpit around other people, all right? Armpit said.
But thats your name, dawg. You should never be ashamed of who you are.
X-Ray had the kind of smile that kept you from hating him no matter how annoying he was. He was skinny and wore glasses, which were now covered with clip-on shades.
He picked up Armpits shovel. Different shape.
Yeah, its for digging trenches, not holes.
X-Ray studied it awhile. Seems like it would be harder to dig with. No leverage. He let it drop. So you must be making a ton of money.
Armpit shrugged. Im doing all right.
A ton of money, X-Ray repeated.
Armpit felt uncomfortable talking about money with X-Ray.
So really, how much you got saved up so far?
I dont know. Not that much.
He knew exactly how much he had. Eight hundred and fifty-seven dollars. He hoped to break a thousand with his next paycheck.
Got to be at least a thousand, said X-Ray. Youve been working for three months.
Besides working, Armpit was also taking two classes in summer school. He had to make up for all the schooling hed missed while at Green Lake.
And they take out for taxes and stuff, so really I dont take home all that much.
I dont know, maybe.
The reason Im asking, X-Ray said, the reason Im asking is I got a business proposition for you. How would you like to double your money in less than two weeks?
Armpit smiled as he shook his head. I dont think so.
I just need six hundred dollars. Double your money, guaranteed. And I wont be taking out any taxes.
Look, things are going all right for me right now, and I just want to keep it all cool.
Dont you even want to hear me out?
Its not against the law, X-Ray assured him. I checked.
Yeah, you didnt think selling little bags of parsley for fifty dollars an ounce was against the law either.
Hey, its not my fault what people think theyre buying. How is that my fault? Am I supposed to be a mind reader?
X-Ray had been sent to Camp Green Lake for selling bags of dried parsley and oregano to customers who thought they were buying marijuana. That was also why his family had to move from Lubbock to Austin shortly after he was released.
Look, I just dont want to do anything that might screw things up, Armpit said.
Excerpted from Small Steps by Louis Sachar Copyright © 2006 by Louis Sachar. Excerpted by permission of Delacorte Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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