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This is the sixth 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 decides he wants to learn how to make more money. He lies to his schoolmates about how he met Eddie.

>Chapter Six / The Invitation

Now that school was over, Kenny was back living at the farm full time.

He was getting up early each day and working in the milking parlor, then, when the barn was clean, hoeing in the cornfield and splitting wood until the cows came back and it was time to milk again. Weekends during the school year had kept him in good shape, but he was still glad to see his bed at night and sorry to leave it the next morning.

It was Thursday when George came up to him in the cornfield. "Eddie says he talked to you about working," he said, keeping his voice low.

Kenny looked up and stopped chopping at the weeds in that row, leaning on his hoe and wiping his forehead with the back of his hand. "He said something about making some money," he agreed.

"He seems to have taken a shine to you," George said. "Or at least Theda has."

Kenny smirked. "Her name isn't really Theda, is it?"

"She's Eddie's girlfriend," George replied. "If she says her name is 'Charlie Chaplin,' then I'm gonna call her Charlie Chaplin. You will, too, if you're smart. Anyway, Eddie's getting some people together at a camp on Chazy Lake this weekend and he wants us to come up and help out. Serve drinks and clean up, but also take these city people out and help them catch some fish."

"For the whole weekend?" Kenny asked.

George nodded, and looked over the corn to where Pepe was working. "I'm going to tell Pop that I'm taking you up to Quebec to work construction with me," he said.

"You think he'll agree?"

"I've learned never to try to figure out what he knows and what he doesn't know," George admitted. "And, since I don't know what he knows, I don't know what he thinks about it. But Raymond is on patrol all weekend and, after the time they spent getting wood in last week, the others are all busy catching up on the chores they let go at their own farms. So, if Pop is OKwith it, we'll be fine. If he says 'no,' I'll just tell Eddie you couldn't make it."

George started to go back to the row where he had been working, but then turned back. "Kenny, if you go, you've got to understand, you are a waiter, OK? You're not one of the guys. You can't clown around or make jokes or anything. Just do what you're told and keep your mouth shut and stay out of the way, got it?"

"I know," Kenny said. He watched George walk away through the corn and then went back to his work. He wondered to himself what Theda's real name was, but he knew Eddie's last name wasn't really Nickels, either.

George waited until they were in the shed putting away their tools. "Think you can spare this fellow for the weekend?" he asked Pepe. "We're putting up trusses and we're shorthanded. He'd make some extra money and maybe he'd learn something."

Pepe looked at Kenny and then back at George. "You think he's tall enough? How can he push up trusses, as little as he is?"

"He's nearly as tall as Paul," George said. "And anyway, he can haul tools while the others are pushing the trusses into place."

Pepe rubbed his chin for a moment. "You know, that leaves me with everything for the weekend, all the milking and the mucking out. Most weekends, when you're up there working, I've got him here. That's how it worked so well to have you gone. Now you're both going to be gone?"

George was right, Kenny thought. You couldn't tell whether Pepe was really concerned about the work or whether he knew what George was up to and didn't want Kenny getting involved in it. They stood silently as Pepe continued to ponder things.

At last, he spoke again. "When do you plan on leaving?"

"Around noon," George said. "We have to run up to Huntingdon and pick up some tar paper and shingles."

"In the Roadster?" Pepe asked, and now Kenny really didn't know if he was serious or if he was just trying to pick apart George's story.

"No, there's a truck there," George said.

Pepe didn't say anything for a few minutes, but started to straighten some screwdrivers on the tool bench, putting them back in their slots. He had to know, Kenny thought. He had to know. He was trying to decide if he would let Kenny get involved in the rumrunning.

Pepe turned to him. "You want to do this, do you?" he asked, and Kenny nodded, his eyes begging for the chance.

"Well, I don't plan to split any wood this weekend, you know," Pepe said. "I'll have enough to do without that. But if by noon tomorrow, you've got the barn and the milking parlor clean, and that stack of wood by the dooryard all split for your grandmother, I suppose you can go. But you might want to do a little splitting tonight after dinner, just to be sure you've got it done."

He walked out of the shed, and George followed him. Kenny stayed behind for a moment, wondering.

If Raymond had been coming to the farm this weekend, would Pepe have agreed to let him go with George?

Next week: Someone gets hurt.

***

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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