Kenya Man explodes out of my phone:
L.A. . . . L.A. . . . L.A. Gonna get my junk in play
At the corner of Sunset and La Brea.
I jerk out of REM sleep, level nine. Scramble and find my phone wedged under El Guapo’s ass, punch in.
“Dude,” I rasp, “be right out.”
But instead of Cam or Lobo on the other end, it’s some space cowboy.
“Hello, is this Arlo Santiago?”
Everything about the voice sounds like a jail door clanging shut.
“Am I speaking with Arlo Spencer Santiago?” “Uhhhhhhhmm . . .”
El Guapo—“The Handsome One”—arches his back and starts to hump me, his way of saying good morning. I shove him, and he tumbles ass-over-floppy-ears onto the floor. Then he pops up and grins at me.
He’s always grinning. Humping and grinning. He’s the grin- ningest, humpingest dog in the world. Probably the only stan- dard poodle in all northeast New Mexico.
“Guess so,” I say.
“Good morning, Arlo. I’m Major Keith Anderson, United States Air Force. How are you today?”
I glance at the clock—6:55 a.m. Damn, just what I need, a recruiter calling me at this hour. Messing with my routine.
I’ve polished my mornings to perfection. On the one hand, I give myself Maximum Sleep (MS)—sleep to the very last mil- lisecond. On the other hand, once Kenya Man starts rapping, I’m up, moving fast. In five seconds, I’ve accelerated to Maximum Efficiency (ME). Not to say I’m totally awake; I’m not. But my body knows all the moves, how to cut the corners.
On a blackboard, you can write it this way:
MS + ME = success
. . . with success being getting to school before the 7:29 a.m. bell.
I have exactly two minutes and twenty-seven seconds to piss, slap water on my face, get dressed, and eat breakfast.
But first I’ve got to deal with this tool.
“It’s an honor to speak with a world champion,” the man says. I rub sleep off my face. “Hey, who is this again?”
“Nice job yesterday on Drone Pilot,” he says. “You finally beat him.”
“Beat who?” “SergeiTashkent, of course.’” Now he has my attention.
“What are you,” I ask, “the CIA or something?”
The jail door laughs. “No, Arlo. Merely the United States Air Force.”
“Listen, dude . . . Major . . . whoever you are . . .” I roll out of bed and whip a T-shirt off the floor. “I’m running late for school.”
“Sure, I’ll get to the point. We want you to fly with us.” “No thanks. I’m only seventeen. Call me in a year.”
El Guapo leaps onto the bed and thrusts his shaggy hips at me. Hump and grin, hump and grin—only God knows the mind of a high desert poodle.
“Arlo, we’ve been following you on the leaderboards for some time,” the man says. “Last night, we watched you knock Sergei out of the number one position on Drone Pilot. Sergei’s a superb UAV pilot, technically the best we’ve ever seen. And you beat him. That was extremely smart flying.”
I clamp my hand on El Guapo’s snout. He freezes mid-hump.
“Look,” I say, glancing around for my jeans. “I don’t want to join the air force.”
“Arlo, I’m not a recruiter.”
“Well, who are you, man?”
“I’d like to invite you to join us for war games this Saturday at White Sands.”
I glance at the clock—6:57 a.m. Damn!
“You’ll get to test your skills against real pilots—some of our very best.”
Excerpted from Dirt Bikes, Drones, and Other Ways to Fly by Conrad Wesselhoeft. Copyright © 2014 by Conrad Wesselhoeft. Excerpted by permission of Houghton Mifflin Books For Younger Readers. 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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