Visiting Fat Perez was Papa's idea, but it was Maman's headache because she was the one who had to take me there. Papa was busy working up in the clouds, saying cabin crew, fifteen minutes to landing, doors to manual and studying pressure maps and going on a people-skills course because -
Actually I don't know why. I don't know what a people-skills course is.
Fat Perez's apartment was on the rue Malesherbes in Gratte-Ciel. First you rang the bell and he buzzed you in and there was a stink of bouillabaisse on the way to the lift, or sometimes green beans, and you had to go up four floors in a creaky old lift, and you needed to pee every time you got in. Fat Perez said it was about feeling trapped.
-- You suffer from mild claustrophobia, he says. - It's not abnormal, it happens to lots of kids and some grown-ups too, this need to relieve your bladder in confined spaces. Just try to hold on.
But every Wednesday I still had to rush to pee as soon as we were in Fat Perez's creepy apartment. The bladder is like a balloon. It's a muscular bag, but it pops if you hold on too long, trust me. Before I flushed the toilet I sometimes went out and put my ear to the door of his living room to hear what they were saying about me. Sometimes they'd be arguing, like they were married. But I could never hear the words properly, even using the glass he keeps his toothbrush in that's always got gross green gunk at the bottom.
If you pay someone, they shouldn't argue with you. When I came out, she'd say, See you later, Louis darling, I'll do my shopping. And then she'd leave so that me and Fat Perez could have our little conversation that cost a whole lot of euros from the cash machine that came from Papa being in the cockpit. Sometimes the stewardess brings him coffee while he is flying. Or sometimes tea but never beer or cognac.
-- How's life been treating you then, Louis? goes Fat Perez.
-- Papa could get sacked from Air France if he drank beer or cognac. Fat Perez is old, probably forty, and he has a big fat face like a baby. If you had a pin you could burst it, and yellow gob would splatter out.
- Yes. I believe that's true. Or any alcoholic drink for that matter. They have strict rules for pilots, says Fat Perez. - Now my question, Louis.
Question One is always the question about how life is treating me; But sometimes he doesn't ask it, he just waits for me to start but that never works because of the secret rule, called Don't Say Anything, so we just sit there till he can't stand it any longer. I'm much more patient than Fat Perez, because five minutes is the longest he can do before his chair squeaks, and he doesn't know the secret rule because I invented it. When he asks me Question One, if I'm not playing Don't Say Anything, I might tell him Everything's perfect, thank you, Monsieur Perez. Is your diet going well? Or I might make up a story about school, about fights and stuff. Sometimes there's a real thing that happened to someone else, but I tell him it was me. He's such a sucker, because he always believes me or if he doesn't, he pretends to. Pretending makes him even more of a sucker. It makes him a double sucker. Watch this.
--Today I got attacked ultra-violently, I go.
Squeak. -- Tell me more.
-- In Carpentry. I was making this spiral staircase out of balsa wood, a scaled-down model. Then along came the bullies, eight of them, saying Wacko Boy, Wacko Boy, Wacko Boy. They were all carrying hammers, but one of them, the biggest bully, he had a fretsaw too. He grabbed me by the neck and forced my head into the vice. And then they all got their hammers and started bashing nails into my skull.
--Ouch, says Fat Perez. Squeak.
What a creep. What a sucker. We don't even have Carpentry, that's from the old days when Papa was at school. We have IT instead, that's much more useful because you can learn to be a hacker.
Excerpted from The Ninth Life of Louis Drax by Liz Jensen. © Liz Jensen, 2003. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or reprinted without permission.
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