Youre slow, I tell him as we press our ears against the frame to listen for unusual sounds, but its all quiet. We crack open the door a few inches; still nothing. We push it the rest of the way and Jimmybecause hes smallerpokes his head out.
All clear, he whispers, and we jump down.
Just as Jimmy finishes replacing the screws in the hinge, we hear footsteps on the old cement stairwell. Uh-oh, I whisper as I spot shiny black guard shoes coming down.
Thought you was working this morning, Jimmy? Darby bellows through his ever present bullhorn.
Yes, sir, Jimmy says.
Darby peers over the railing, but he cant see me because Im getting the baseball gear I stashed in one of the storage rooms.
What you doing down there? he asks Jimmy.
Nothing, sir, Jimmy answers.
Nothing, huh? Do I look like I was born yesterday, Jimmy? Darby asks.
No sir, Jimmy replies, skedaddling up the stairs. Jimmy doesnt say anything about me. He knows its better if Darby doesnt see me. Darby hates me on account of Im Natalies brother. Natalie really bugs him.
I stand quietly, waiting for them to leave. When theyre gone, I climb up to apartment 3H, Annie Bominis place. Annies the only kid on the whole island whos any good at baseball. What a shame shes a girl.
I peer through the screen door, focusing on the wooden table in the Bominis living room. It was made by the cons in the furniture shop that Annies father runs. The Bominis have a lot of wood stuff plus needlepoint everywhere. Needlepoint pillows, tablecloths, tissue holders, seat covers. Mrs. Bomini has a needlepoint toilet cover for every day of the week. I dont know why you need a Monday toilet seat cover on Mondays. Is it that important to know what day it is when you do your business?
Annie, cmon, I call, hoping Mrs. Bomini isnt around. Mrs. Bomini is a one-woman talking machine. Once she gets you cornered you pretty much have to have a heart attack and be carried away on a stretcher before shell stop.
Annies skin is pale, and her hair is so blond its almost white. She looks twelve but kind of old too, like forty-two. Shes squarish from head to foot, like God used a T-square to assemble her.
Annie props open the screen door with her foot. Moose. She gulps, her big flat face looking pinched today. You wont believe what happened.
Uh-oh, what if she doesnt want to play? Thats the trouble with girls. They have to actually feel like playing.
What happened? I ask.
We got the wrong laundry. We got yours, she whispers.
Laundry . . . that is the one word I dont feel like hearing right now. Ever since I got that note from Al Capone, Ive been very careful to be the first person to get my laundry in case he decides to send another note. My mom has even noticed. Why, youre taking care of your own laundry now, Moose, isnt that nice, my mom said.
So? Just give it back. I try to keep my voice from sounding as panicky as I feel.
I didnt realize it was your laundry. I started putting it away and . . . Moose, there was a note in the pocket of your shirt.
A-a note? My voice breaks high like a girls.
My hands shake as she gives me a scrap of paper folded twice. My mind floods with things I dont want to think about. Al Capone, the wardens office, Natalie being thrown out of school.
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.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
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