"Oh, man," said Puggy.
"Out," said the bartender.
Puggy was starting toward the door when, from the other end of the bar, the bearded man, who had watched the fight, not moving from his stool, said, in English, "You can stay."
The bartender looked at the bearded man, then shrugged and relaxed his grip on the bat.
Puggy said, "I got no money. They took all my money."
The bearded man said, "Is OK. No charge."
Puggy said, "OK."
He was drinking his second free beer, feeling better again about how the day was going, except for peeing his pants, when the door opened. He flinched, thinking it might be Snake come back to kill him, but it was a guy in a suit, carrying a briefcase. The suit went to the far end of the bar and started talking foreign with the other two men. Then the bearded man called down to Puggy.
"You want to make five dollars?"
"Sure," said Puggy. This was some town, Miami.
It turned out that the job was moving a wooden crate out of the trunk of a Mercedes parked outside. The crate was very heavy, but the bearded man and the man in the suit did not help. Puggy and the bartender, breathing hard, lugged the crate inside, past the bar, past the toilet, down a hallway to a room that the bearded man unlocked, which took a while because there were three locks. The room was bigger than Puggy thought it would be, and there were other crates inside, different sizes. They set the crate down and went back out. The bearded man locked the door and gave Puggy a five-dollar bill.
"You are strong," he said.
"I guess," said Puggy. It was true, although a lot of people didn't see it because he was also short.
"Come back tomorrow," said the bearded man. "Maybe I have another job for you."
That was how Puggy began his employment at the Jolly Jackal. Usually he came to work in the late afternoon and stayed until Leo (that was the bartender's name) or John (that was the bearded man's name) told him to go home. Some days they didn't need him to do anything, but they let him stay anyway. When they did need him to work, it was always moving heavy crates --sometimes from the Mercedes to the room; sometimes from the room to the Mercedes. Each time, when it was done, John gave him a five. One time, Puggy asked what was in the crates. John just said, "Equipment."
Mainly, Puggy watched TV and drank beer, which Leo almost never charged him for. It was like a dream. If Puggy had known jobs were like this, he would have tried to get one a long time ago.
At night, when they told him to leave, he went back to his tree. He had found the tree on his third night in Coconut Grove. He'd spent the first two nights in a park near the water, but some kind of nasty ants were biting him, plus, on the second night, from a distance, he'd seen Eddie and Snake go past, heading toward the dinghy dock. Snake was limping.
So Puggy went looking for another place. He discovered that, if you walked just a short way in Coconut Grove, you could be in a whole different kind of neighborhood, a rich people's neighborhood, with big houses that had walls around them and driveway gates that opened by a motor. There were strange trees everywhere, big, complicated trees with roots going every which way and vines all over them and branches that hung way out over the street. Puggy thought it looked like a jungle.
He found a perfect tree to live in. It was just inside a rich person's wall, but across a big, densely vegetated yard from the house, so it was private. Puggy got into the tree by climbing the wall; he was a natural climber, even after many beers. About twenty feet up in the tree, where three massive limbs branched off from the trunk, there was a rickety, mossy wooden platform, a kids' treehouse from years before. Puggy fixed it up with some cardboard on the platform and a piece of plastic, from a construction site, that he could drape over the top when it rained. Sometimes he heard people talking in the house, but whoever they were, they never came back to this end of the yard.
Reprinted from Big Trouble by Dave Barry by permission of G. P. Putnam's Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © 1999 by Dave Barry. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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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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