Monsieur Tatagani made a loud cluck. "The case was stolen by one of the kivili-chimpenze? In Franceville? And let me guess: This beast got away before you could stop him."
"No," I said. "I caught him. I fought him to the ground. I wrestled the professor's case away. The mock man escaped, though, and by then it was so late. I decided I would wait for the morning, when I'd walk the case back to the hotel and return it."
Prof clapped his hands. "See? I knew there had to be an explanation."
"Why are you even listening to this street rat's lie?" Monsieur Tatagani asked. I was wondering much the same thing.
Prof tapped his chin. "I am a world-renowned expert on chimpanzees, and this behavior is very likely for one of them. Last night this boy promised to come with me for a very important scientific study. I need someone to carry my things, and he has proven him-self to be resourceful and courageous. He wrestled down an ape, after all!"
I stared at Prof, openmouthed. I was being saved with a fable. Why anyone would want me to be part of his life, even at this strange price, was beyond me.
"Isn't that right, Luc?" Prof asked me. "Isn't that what you promised?"
I nodded, slowly at first, and then energetically.
"That's right. I promised that I would go with you."
Monsieur Tatagani grunted. "This boy is not going anywhere until he's paid his debts. His mother ran up a large hospital bill before she went. She had the worm."
"Luc," Prof said to me, his eyes smiling in deep crinkles, "if you tell me where my case is, I can get money out of it to pay Monsieur Tatagani."
I nodded numbly and pointed to the front door, for the moment beyond words.
As I stepped out, Omar remained clutched to my ankle, like a fur boot. Finally he let go and toddled next to me, my pant leg in hand. Prof and Monsieur Tatagani were close on either side, no doubt ready to grab me if I tried to run.
When I got to the iboga bush and pulled out the case, Monsieur Tatagani coughed. "Why didn't you bring this case inside the house to keep it safe, boy?" he asked.
"Perhaps because he thought it was safer here," Prof snapped.
I frowned. All I needed was to get these two going after each other before the transaction was finished.
"Just open the case," Monsieur Tatagani ordered.
Prof shook his head. "Not here. Come with me." With Omar on his shoulder, he started down the road. At the corner I saw two men in police uniforms seated at a café table. I was relieved that Prof had already figured out not to transact with Monsieur Tatagani unless there were witnesses.
The policemen frowned when Prof explained that the case had been recovered by me and that he was paying my debt as a reward. "As you wish, monsieur," one of them said.
Prof laid the case on an empty table and rolled the combination lock. When it opened, we all fell into a stunned silence.
Francs. It was full of francs in paper-wrapped bundles. The kind of cash a movie spy would have had, only this money was African!
"How much does this boy owe you?" Prof asked.
Monsieur Tatagani surprised me by not exaggerating. "Nineteen thousand francs."
Prof danced his fingertips over the precious notes. I looked at them in awe, a purple drawing of a beautiful woman repeated from one side of the case to the other. "Now," Prof said, "we can do each other a favor. You would prefer to have United States cur-rency, yes? So would I, but I will need these francs in the smaller villages. Will you accept traveler's checks instead, drawn from an American bank? For your trouble, I can raise your price to twenty thousand."
Monsieur Tatagani nodded solemnly, his excitement so intense, it had made his body go rigid. Only really important people spent American money. This might be Monsieur Tatagani's first time to have any.
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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