Excerpt from Freaky Fast Frankie Joe by Lutricia Clifton

From the chapter entitled Saturday, October 31 . . .    

 

     “Oh. How ya doin’, Miss Peachcott? I’ve been busy, real busy. You know, with homework and chores and delivering pizza.”

      “Yes, I hear you’ve started a delivery business. That’s why I needed to see you.”

     “It is?”

     “You see, I’m crippled up . . .” She holds her cane with its black rubber stop
in front of my nose. “And we’re nearing the winter solstice. You know what that means.” She pauses, studying my face. “You do know what that means?”

     I shake my head no.

     “Means the days are getting shorter. You noticed that?”

     I nod, even though I’m still confused.

     “I need to dedicate my daylight hours to my formula,” she continues. “My eyes are worn out—cataracts, you see. Makes things blurry. And Nova just returned the trial sample of my latest formula. They say I still don’t have it right.” She leans close. “I just made a new batch today. Can you see that birthmark?”

     The spot on her face looks like it’s throbbing. “Yes ma’am, I can see it.”

     “Blast!” She sighs. “So, when can you start to work for me?”

      “Well, what exactly would I be doing?”

      “Why, delivering Nova so I can dedicate myself to my formula!”

     More deliveries! I need money bad because, thanks to Matt, I’ve decided to give up scrounging for things. I didn’t like being called a thief. Now, I’ll have to buy whatever else I need.

“So you want me to drop off Nova bags to your customers?”

            “Yes, and pick up the money.”

            I can’t believe it. She knows Mom’s in jail. and she still trusts me. On the
spot, I go from liking Elsie Peachcott to loving her.

“Okay,” I say. “Can I start right away?”

            “Not so fast, buddy. How much you gonna charge a crippled-up old woman?”

            Is she trying to make me feel bad so I’ll work cheap? She is—she’s haggling with me! I grin, remembering the way Mr. Lopez taught me to haggle with people in the markets across the border. “Never pay the asking price, Frankie Joe,” he told me. “Dicker them down to your price.”

            “Well, depends on far I have to travel,” I say now. “Um, how about fifty cents per delivery inside the village limits . . . and a quarter a mile for out-of town deliveries. That’s what I charge Mr. Puffin and Mr. Lindholm—a quarter a mile.”

            Miss Peachcott looks thoughtful. “That’s gonna add up.”

            It might, I think, but I’m running out of time. 

            “Well, you see,” I tell her, “I got homework to do when I get home—and chores!” I suck the spit from between my teeth and shake my head slowly. “F.J. won’t let me work for you if I don’t get my homework and chores done.”

            “He won’t, huh?”

            “No ma’am. And if Nova buys your formula, you’ll be on easy street.”

            “That’s true.” She looks thoughtful. “Well, I guess we have a deal . . . if—”

            Uh-oh.

“If . . . what?” I ask.

           If you’ll agree to be my Tester.”

            “Tester?”

            “Yes, Tester. Someone to tell me if I have got the formula right before I send it off to Nova again. They’ve only given me one more chance. I must
get it right.”

            I helped Mr. Lopez mix his paint color. How hard can it be?

            “Okay—”

           And,” she interrupts, “if you help me  dye my roots.”

            “Roots?”

            Exasperated, Miss Peachcott parts her hair, exposing white roots below her black-licorice curls. Then she pulls a small brush from her pocketbook. “I use this slanted eye-shadow brush to dab color on the roots, you see, and my hands are not as steady as they once were.”

            Her hands are shaky.

            “So,” I say, taking a closer look at the black blotches on her scalp. Her hair dye is the blackest black I’ve ever seen, and her scalp is the whitest white. 
I can’t decide which looks worse—the black blotches on her head or the throbbing blotch on her face. “You want me to deliver Nova . . . and be a Tester
and a Dabber.”

            She blinks. “Yes, a Tester and Dabber.”

            We shake hands on the deal.