Authors: Kim Baker
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To Jack and Molly. And to mischief makers everywhere. This one's for you.
A New Pickle
Can I trust you? I mean, to tell you this story I need to know that you can keep a couple of secrets. I'm already in a whole lot of trouble, and it's not just me. But I want to tell you everything that happened. Everything. I'll assume that you can keep the important stuff secret and not pass this book on to anyone older than twenty. I've been paying attention, and I'm pretty sure that's when a person's sense of humor starts leaking out. If somebody is that old, this isn't their kind of story, anyway.
I'm talking about the League of Pickle Makers. Can you think of a club a person would be less curious about? That's the point. Five of us meet on Thursdays, after school in the science lab. You'd expect somebody would think it was fishy that a group of kids are excited enough about making pickles to meet every week. On meeting days we take turns making a show out of carrying around some vinegar or a sack of cucumbers. We even have a website. Check it outâ
. Click on the “Fizzy Pickle Soup” recipe, and then click on the word “simmer” down at the bottom. The password is “cheese.”
Now you know we're not really an organization of picklers. Honestly, I don't even like pickles that much. Only a few people know how it all started. Usâand if you think you can handle itâyou.
One day after school, I looked through the online classifieds while I waited for my best friend, Hector, to get back from shoe shopping with his grandma. Finn Romo had told Hector and me that he found a practically new skate ramp in the free classifieds the week before. Someone just gave it away. I didn't believe him, so I walked over to his house to check it out. It wasn't that big, but it still took up the whole yard. The plywood wasn't even scuffed. Hector and I live in the same apartment building. We don't have a yard, so a ramp wouldn't work, but I wanted to see what other stuff people were just giving away. There were some cool things. Somebody was trying to get rid of a ferret named Bill, and someone else was giving away a unicycle with a sparkly red seat. I thought about emailing them, but something else caught my eye. Pete's Pizza, the local pizza place with all the games and stuff, had a post for free ball-pit balls for anyone who would come pick them up. The post said the balls were free “as is.” I dropped a blue raspberry slushy in the ball pit at Pete's when I was five, and I know Katie McLeod's little brother puked in there at his birthday party, so I had a pretty good idea what “as is” meant. Still,
Hector had been flaking out a lot lately, so there was only a fifty/fifty chance he'd even want to hang out when he got back to our building. I called the pizza parlor. The guy who answered said the balls would go to the first person who came and got them. So I grabbed a couple of black trash bags and ran down to Pete's Pizza like my butt was on fire.
For future reference, there are more than two bags of balls in a ball pit. A lot more. It smelled funky, but I still took a few bag-filling breaks to jump around and do some belly flops. Pete asked me how long I was going to take, so I filled up the second bag, ran home, and stashed them in my bedroom. I grabbed a box of garbage bags on my way out and made six more trips. I'm not going to lie: the closer I got to the bottom, the dirtier the balls got. I found a purple earring, two different sets of keys, three half-eaten lollipops, more than a few pizza crusts, and a copy of
A Cricket in Times Square
with a ripped cover.
I think Pete was getting pretty tired of me carrying bags of stinky balls out of his pizza parlor, because he said I could use the safety nets around the pit to haul the rest of the balls. After I scooped out the very last ball, Pete gave me some free pizza, like I'd done him a favor.
It was a really big pit. My bedroom was full after the first twelve bags, so I left the nets in the living room.
I didn't really have a plan for what I would do with the balls, so I figured I'd watch some TV until Hector got back. My dad came home just as
ended, and the first thing he said was “What's that smell, Ben?”
I told him about the major free ball score, but he didn't share my enthusiasm.
“You can't keep them here” was the second thing he said. Did I mention that my dad is over twenty, and therefore has sprung a humor leak? He walked around the apartment opening windows. “Get rid of them. It smells like a Parmesan cheese factory in here.”
“I think they smell like feet.”
“Parmesan cheese smells like feet,” he said. He was right. But I didn't think I could take the balls back to Pete. I had eaten the pizza already, so it felt like a done deal. He might not be happy to see me back, and Pete's a big guy.
“You can't keep them here
” My dad said. When he starts out in English and ends in Spanish, he means business.
I thought about just dumping the balls straight out of our living room window so they would roll down the street. We live on a pretty big hill, and a million balls bouncing and rolling away would be something to see.
But it would be less than awesome to clean up the balls, or have cars crash when they got pummeled with giant colored hail. The police might not like it, and I'm pretty sure Pete would rat me out if they started asking questions. For a guy who runs a pizza place with video games and stuff, he doesn't seem crazy about kids. I got a jolt like I had slammed an energy drink and I knew what I could do.
“I'll take care of it,” I said, and headed the six blocks back to school.
The school was still open for clubs. Hector and his grandma were in the front hall talking to Leo Saylor and his dad. Hector held a bag from the Shoe Station. I couldn't see what kind of shoes were in the bag, but I could guess. Hector's grandma usually picks his shoes out. They never have shoelaces, because she doesn't want him to trip. They usually have Velcro straps, and thick heavy soles that are supposed to keep his spine straight, or something.
I ducked behind the big fountain in front so they wouldn't see me. I was on a mission.
Hector's grandma is the principal, which is why Hector
stays out of trouble. I thought about getting his attention and filling him in about my ball plan, but I knew what his reaction would be. He looks like a tough guy, but having the principal for a grandma has done something to his nerves.
Our homeroom is around the back on the first floor, so it was easy to scope out. It was empty, and the windows were open. Perfect.
I went straight back to my apartment for the bags. My dad was watching a movie in the living room, so I dropped them off of the fire escape as quietly as I could. If I wasn't gone by the time the movie finished, he would ask where I was taking them. I heard the end music just as I climbed out of the window. I carried the bags back down the hill to our school and stashed them in the bushes under the windows. Then I ran back for more.
I was on the last trip, carrying one of the big nets full of balls over my shoulder when I smacked into Leo's dad, coming out of the school. Mr. Saylor is huge, so I almost dropped the balls all over the sidewalk. He talks a lot about how he played football and water polo in college, and I believe it. Leo is in soccer, junior baseball, young golfers, wrestling, and basketball. He falls asleep in class sometimes.
I started to fall, but Mr. Saylor grabbed my shoulder. It was dark out by then, so I hoped he wouldn't be able to see well enough to recognize my face. I thought about running away, but Mr. Saylor held on to my shoulder with he-man strength.
“Easy, Ben,” he said. So much for nonrecognition. He smiled at me and glanced down. “Some sort of game tonight?” In the dark, the net just looked like an equipment bag.
“Yeah. Game,” I said. I held my breath and waited for him to ask what sport Leo wasn't playing yet.
“GO BEAVERS!” he shouted, and walked past me down the sidewalk.
I ran back to the classroom window and started throwing balls in like I was warming up for the mound. I might play more sports if they were as exciting as this. It gave me goose bumps, and I may or may not have been laughing like a lunatic all by myself.