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This is the fifth chapter of a nine-chapter serial story to be published weekly in NeXt. The story takes place in the 1920s during Prohibition, when alcohol was illegal. It explores the life of gangsters and the harsh reality of their criminal enterprises.

Our story so far: Kenny meets Eddie, and helps load bags full of bottles into his fancy car.

>Chapter Five / The Gangster

It was the last day of school, and Kenny had a C in arithmetic.

He'd been promoted to eighth grade and the rest of his grades were A's and B's, but there on the card was that C.

Pepe and Meme wouldn't care, as long as he passed, but he'd have to explain it to Raymond, and Kenny wasn't looking forward to that conversation. Raymond wanted A's, and he wasn't even happy when Kenny brought home B's.

He was thinking so hard about it that he didn't notice Frank Ashline and five other boys standing on the stoop outside Jaques Drug Store until Frank mooed.

"I smell a cow," Frank said.

Kenny stopped, but one of the other boys spoke up before there could be a fight. "Did you pass, Rascoe?" he asked.

"Yeah," Kenny answered, but he kept looking at Frank for another minute. "Yeah, I did OK," he said at last, turning to the boy who had spoken. "C in arithmetic, but the rest were good."

"Quite the brain," Frank said, stepping down to the sidewalk, but before he could say anything more, a long, low-slung red Pierce Arrow pulled up to the curb and all six town boys stopped to stare.

The man behind the wheel was wearing a straw boater and a pin-striped suit. "Any of you boys know where I can find --" he began to say, but then the beautiful woman next to him said something, and he paused, pushing his hat back and taking a closer look.

"Kenny? Is that you?" he asked, with a laugh. "Boy, will you look at this guy, baby! What a Joe Brooks! Quite the scholar, you are!"

Kenny grinned as he looked down at his school clothes and walked over to the car. "Last day of school," he said, as if it were an excuse, but Eddie's girlfriend giggled.

"I think you look swell," she said, and now it was Eddie's turn to laugh.

"Hey, you're beatin' my time, Kenny," he said. "You and me are gonna have to have a little talk! Meanwhile, my friend, we've got ourselves turned around. How do we get to the Hotel Champlain?"

"You're turned around," Kenny agreed. "You've got to get over on the other side of the river and head south." He pointed back down the street. "Just cross the river and then go south, past the barracks. It's a couple of miles down on the left."

"Thanks, pal," Eddie said, and started to put the car in gear, but then paused. "Hey, come here a minute." Kenny stepped up and put a foot up on the runningboard of the Pierce Arrow. Eddie lowered his voice. "You doing anything next weekend?" Eddie asked. "Want to make some extra money?"

"Yeah, sure," Kenny said.

"I'll let you know," Eddie said, and now he did put the car in gear and pulled away. His girlfriend waved as they disappeared down the street.

When Kenny turned to walk back to the sidewalk, he saw his six schoolmates standing staring open-mouthed after the Pierce Arrow.

"That was Eddie Nickels!" Frank Ashline said.

Nobody said anything, so Kenny said, "Yeah, I guess."

"You know who he works for?" Peter LaRoche asked. "Frankie Yale!"

"No, he doesn't," Bobby Sears scoffed. "He works for Waxey Gordon. You don't know what you're talking about! Frankie Yale is in the Black Hand Gang. Eddie doesn't have anything to do with them."

"That was Eddie Nickels!" Freddy Bushey said. "Eddie Nickels, right here in Plattsburgh!"

"Did you see that car?" Peter asked. "That was a brand new Series 33! It's got a dual valve six-cylinder engine!" Peter might not be current on gangsters, but he knew cars. "Rascoe! Did you ever ride in it?"

"OK, farm boy," Frank asked. "How do you know Eddie Nickels?" And everyone turned to Kenny to hear his response.

Kenny tried to think of a safe answer. "I helped him fix a tire," he said. "He got a flat, and I patched the tube for him."

"Where?" Frank challenged him. "Are you telling us that Eddie Nickels was driving through Altona? What was he doing out there?"

It was a good question, Kenny realized. There was no legitimate reason for anyone from the city to be driving through Altona.

"No, not there," he said. "In Chazy. He was coming down from Montreal and he got a flat." They were all still looking at him. "I was at my Uncle Paul's, and I was going into town to get a, uh, a thing he needed, and Eddie was on the side of the road with a flat."

That was a good lie. Lots of people drove through Chazy, and people got flat tires all the time. It made sense that a well-dressed man like Eddie would want someone else to fix his tire for him.

It might have been more fun to lie about what good friends he and Eddie were. The boys would have been impressed. But Kenny realized that, truth or lie, it wasn't a good idea to brag about knowing somebody like Eddie Nickels. It would start rumors. It would start trouble.

Kenny still had the five dollar bill Eddie had given him. It was too big. He didn't dare take it to a store, because people would wonder where he got it.

And now Eddie wanted to help him earn even more.

Next week: George and Kenny plan to work for Eddie.

***

Funded by the New York State United Teachers and New York Newspapers Foundation. Text copyright 2011, Mike Peterson. Illustrations copyright 2011, Christopher Baldwin.

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