I dont know for certain it was Capone who helped us. I mean the guy is locked up in a five-by-nine-foot cell. Hes not allowed to make a phone call or write a letter that isnt censored word for word. It doesnt seem possible he could have done anything to help us, even if he wanted to.
But out of desperation, I sent a letter asking Capone for help and Natalie got accepted. Then I got a note in the pocket of my newly laundered shirt: Done, it said.
I havent told anyone about this. Its something I try not to think about, but today, the day Nats finally leaving for school, I cant keep my mind from going over the details again and again.
The thing that stumps me is why. I never even met Al Capone . . . why would he help me?
I watch Nat as she sits on the living room floor going through our books one by one. She looks almost like a regular sixteen-year-old this morning, if her mouth wasnt twitching right and right and right again and her shoulders were just down where theyre supposed to be. She opens a book, fans her face with the pages, then sets the book back on the shelf, just exactly as it was. She has been through one entire shelf this way. Now shes working on the second.
Normally, my mom wouldnt let her do this, but today she doesnt want to take the chance of upsetting her.
You ready to go, Natalie? my mother asks.
Nat moves faster. She fans the pages so quickly each book sounds like one quick ffffrrrt. All I hear is ffffrrrt ffffrrrt ffffrrrt as I look out our front window down to the dock. Sure enough theres Officer Trixle. Hes supposed to be off today, but Trixle cant keep his nose out of our business. Hes almost as much trouble as Piper, the wardens daughteronly not half as pretty. When you look like Piper does, people forgive a whole lot of things, but never mind about that. What I think about Piper is kind of embarrassing, to tell you the truth.
My father comes out of the bathroom. The toilet is running again. The plumbing in 64 building is held together with bubble gum and last years oatmeal stuck hard and solid. But luckily for us, Seven Fingers, our very own felon plumber, fixes it for free.
Not exactly for free actually. We pay him a chocolate bar every time, but no one is supposed to know that.
Time to go, Natalie, my mom says.
Natalie is wearing a new yellow dress today. My mother cut the pattern, but the convicts in the tailor shop sewed it. The cons did a pretty good job. Only the belt is bugging Nat. She pulls at it, weaving it in and out of the loops. In and out. In and out. Nats mouth puckers to one side. Moose school. Natalie home, she says.
Not today, my mother says brightly. Today is your big day. Today youre going to school.
Not today, Nat tells her. Not today. Not today.
I cant help smiling at this. Natalie likes to repeat what you say and here shes repeating my moms exact words with a change of inflection that makes them say what Natalie wants them to say and not at all what my mother meant. I love when Natalie outsmarts Mom this way. Sometimes Nat is smarter than we are. Other times, she doesnt understand the first thing about anything. Thats the trouble with Natalieyou never know which way shell go.
The first time Nat went to the Esther P. Marinoff School she pitched a fit the size of Oklahoma and they kicked her out, but I dont think that will happen this time. Shes getting better in her own weird way. I used to say Nats like a human adding machine without the human part, but now shes touching down human more days than not. And each time she does it feels as if the sun has come out after sixty straight days of rain.
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.
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