Tall trees rushed by on either side, as if fleeing the liana vines strewn between them. Shrieks of birds, monkeys, and insects filled my ears, even above the roar of the truck. "Why did you do it?" I asked. "You could have hired someone much more skilled than me with all that money."
Prof was silent for a moment, then chuckled. "A terrible man, that Monsieur Tatagani. I knew it the moment I met him. He deserves this."
Prof pulled out his leather wallet and showed me a thick wad of those American traveler's checks. "See these? We make much better fake money in Cairo; he'd never seen a forgery that good."
"What you gave him wasn't real?" I asked, my insides drop-ping away.
Prof nodded and began chuckling again. "Trying to extort twenty thousand francs out of an AIDS orphan," he managed to get out. "That Monsieur Tatagani truly does deserve it."
I imagined Monsieur Tatagani arriving at the tax collector's that very moment, and pictured what would happen when they discovered the money was fake. He might be imprisoned. I was horrified by the thought of his fury. He'd cut the hands off that boy who'd run away, and this was much worse. I didn't feel like laughing. Not at all.
Our truck drew off the road to let another pass. As if frustrated at being confined, the machine thrummed angrily. "What about the cash in the case?" I sputtered. "Is that real?"
"Hmm . . ." Prof said. "Some of it!"
"You gave these loggers fake money, too?" I whispered, glancing nervously at the hulking men in the truck's cab.
"All in the name of science, Luc," Prof said. "All in the name of science. Besides, they should not be cutting down these trees. Look at it this way they are donating their services in the name of chimpanzee conservation. It's time they helped endangered ani-mals instead of destroying their habitats."
I lay on my side, feeling sick. A few things were clearer now. One, I could never return to Franceville whether he had meant to or not, Prof had guaranteed my doom if I showed my face there again. Tatagani, if he was free (or the police, if he was not), would destroy me the moment he saw me. If he could, he would hunt us down. I had no doubt of that.
Two, Prof was far more clever and dishonest than I'd first thought.
And three, there was a reason he'd picked me to be his assistant: I was a lot like him.
Excerpted from Threatened by Eliot Schrefer. Copyright © 2014 by Eliot Schrefer. Excerpted by permission of Scholastic. 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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