Authors: Gary Paulsen
ALSO BY GARY PAULSEN
Alida’s Song • The Amazing Life of Birds • The Beet Fields
The Boy Who Owned the School
• The Brian Books:
The River, Brian’s Winter, Brian’s Return,
Canyons • Caught by the Sea: My Life on Boats
The Cookcamp • The Crossing • Danger on Midnight River
Dogsong • Father Water, Mother Woods • The Glass Café
Guts: The True Stories Behind
and the Brian Books
Harris and Me • Hatchet
The Haymeadow • How Angel Peterson Got His Name
The Island • Lawn Boy • Lawn Boy Returns
The Legend of Bass Reeves • Liar, Liar • Masters of Disaster
Molly McGinty Has a Really Good Day
The Monument • Mudshark • My Life in Dog Years
Nightjohn • The Night the White Deer Died
Notes from the Dog • Puppies, Dogs, and Blue Northers
The Quilt • The Rifle
Sarny: A Life Remembered • The Schernoff Discoveries
Soldier’s Heart • The Time Hackers • The Transall Saga
(The Tucket’s West series, Books One through Five) •
The Voyage of the
• The White Fox Chronicles
The Winter Room • Woods Runner
Picture books, illustrated by Ruth Wright Paulsen
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2011 by Gary Paulsen
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Wendy Lamb Books and the colophon are trademarks of Random House, Inc.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Flat broke / by Gary Paulsen.—1st ed.
Summary: Fourteen-year-old Kevin is a hard worker, so when his income is cut off he begins a series of businesses, from poker games to selling snacks, earning money to take a girl to a dance, but his partners soon tire of his methods.
[1. Moneymaking projects—Fiction. 2. Business enterprises—Fiction. 3. Conduct of life—Fiction. 4. Friendship—Fiction. 5. Family life—Fiction. 6. Humorous stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.P2843F1 2011 [Fic]—dc22 2010049415
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
This book is dedicated
with appreciation and affection
to Sandy Weinberg,
my agent and good friend.
I’m the best worker you’ll ever meet.
I should be good: I’ve had a lot of practice. I’m only fourteen, but I’ve known for as long as I can remember that you’ve got to do more than what’s expected if you want to get ahead. It’s a universal rule. A cosmic inevitability.
If you ask me, people who say you’ve got to work smart and not hard are just lazy.
I’m good because I give everything I do everything I’ve got.
See, people appreciate that kind of effort, and going the extra mile, I’ve found, always pays off.
“Kevin routinely applies himself, to the best of his abilities.” That’s what my teachers and counselors and coaches have always said. Whether it’s scissor skills (I cut the straightest edges in the history of the Golden Valley Preschool) or tie-dying in summer camp (I raided my family’s laundry basket and then twisted and rubber-banded and dyed everything white I could get my hands on—T-shirts, socks, shorts, my mother’s bras, pillowcases, dish towels) or playing T-ball (where, although I lacked batting strength and only played an okay third base, I kept up the chatter and made the rest of the team sharp), I always do my best.
My grades aren’t so amazing that people think I’m a prodigy or a cheat, but I’m in the top ten percent of my class and I always hand in a twelve-percent-higher page count than required for essay assignments. I’m the guy all my friends depend on to come up with a solid idea for what to do or crack a joke to lighten the mood. I’m the only person in my family who remembers to depoop our cat’s litter box, which doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it is to anyone who’s ever smelled a ripe box.
Whatever I do, I do it well. Always have. It’s just how I am.
I’m not bragging or conceited, I’m just telling it like it is.
I’ve usually gotten exactly what I wanted because I’ve always been willing to work hard.
I have a knack for knowing what needs to be said and done.
But it’s easy to get into trouble with the details if you don’t stay focused on the big picture.
Even though I know better, I forgot that bit for a while. Until my life turned into something like creamed chipped barf and peas on toast.
The Successful Person Can Make Something from Nothing
’d recently found myself in a world of trouble, because I used to lie. To everyone. About everything. All the time. But only because I was really good at it and lying made so much sense. Until my friends, family and teachers all got mad at me and I had to come up with about a hundred creative ways to apologize.
Things are better now. Except for the fact that I’ve got a serious cash problem. As in: I’m not making any.
My parents are teaching me a lesson: Since you lied, we’re taking away your allowance for a month. And even my weekend job working for my Auntie Buzz at her interior decorating business wasn’t bringing in the money like it used to.
“Are you teaching me a lesson too? Because of the way I lied to you, um, to everyone?” I asked her after she told me I couldn’t work for her for a month.
“No. I’m just mad at you.”
I’m the kind of person who takes his punishment like a man, so I didn’t even try to argue with her.
A guy’s got to have some walking-around money, though, and I thought I could still count on babysitting money because I watch my four-year-old neighbor, Markie, once or twice a week. Markie was the only person I hadn’t lied to, so I figured that income was safe.
“Hi, Dutchdeefuddy,” Markie said, using his name for me. It means “best most favorite buddy in the world forever.” As we waved goodbye to his mom on Sunday, he asked, “What does bankrupt mean?”
Last week I’d had to explain “ ’vorces” to him because his parents were breaking up. And now, I guessed, going broke, too.
“What did you hear?” I asked. Markie might have the attention span of a fruit fly, but he’s got the hearing of a NASA deep-space probe.
“Mommy said they can’t pay you or they’ll go bankrupt.”
Ah. Well. That figures.
Markie’s folks were paying for the house and an apartment—Markie stayed put in the family home and his mom and dad moved in and out according to their custody schedule.
I hoped to keep my job. Markie needed me. Or I needed him. I hadn’t figured that out yet. But there’s something really nice about spending time with a little kid. You learn so much.
“Bankrupt means they don’t have a lot of money right now,” I said. “It’s a grown-up thing, and you don’t have to worry. I’m going to keep coming over like always, even if they can’t pay.”
Yeah, I thought, lack of money is the new in thing. “Hey, how about a banana dipped in melted chocolate chips?” He nodded and started peeling.
I am an excellent babysitter. Kids in my care get their three to five daily servings of fruit.
I shook some chocolate chips into a microwavesafe bowl and wondered: Why was the universe ganging up to make sure I didn’t have any money?
Whoever says youth is the best time in your life has cash in hand and can’t remember being poor.
My best friend, JonPaul, pounded on the door just as the microwave dinged. You know you’ve got a great friend when he doesn’t mind hanging out with you when you’re Markie-sitting.
“I’m starving.” That’s JonPaul’s standard greeting. JonPaul is a jock, and it seems to me that he’s on every team except girls’ lacrosse, because he’s always coming from practice or going to a game. I don’t even know what season he’s in; I can’t keep track. “Let’s order a pizza.” He and Markie fist-bumped hello.
“Oh, uh … I’m a little short these days and …” I trailed off. JonPaul knew about my allowance penalty and how empty my pockets were.
“I got it,” he said, and called the delivery place on his cell. I heard him order a vegetarian low-fat-cheese whole-wheat-crust pie and didn’t feel so bad about not paying. JonPaul is a health nut and the food he eats is gross.
He’d been paying my way lately when we hung out and he never said a word about me being a mooch, but still, it hurt my pride.
“Hey,” JonPaul said after he and Markie had inhaled the pizza—I’d taken one look and made myself another banana with melted chocolate chips. “Did you hear that the new Death Rays of Mount Volupus IV game is coming out this week?”
I shrugged, trying to look like I didn’t care, because I knew I wouldn’t be able to afford it.
Markie and JonPaul started wrestling. Markie is small, even for a four-year-old, and JonPaul is ginormous because he’s a gym rat and a jock and he works out all the time. But it wasn’t even a close contest, because JonPaul is a little bit of a germaphobe. He pretended not to be bothered that Markie was all sticky and dirty with odds and ends of little-boy goo and snot, but he didn’t put up much of a fight. Markie pinned him in seconds. As soon as Markie started parading around the living room with his arms in the air while I clapped for him, JonPaul rushed to the kitchen sink to disinfect. This made him forget all about the computer game and my money situation.
didn’t forget. Every time I turned around, it seemed, I was reminded how crummy life can be when you don’t have spending money.
The final straw was the next day at school, when I saw a poster for a dance in a few weeks.
Not only did I want to go to that dance, I wanted to ask Tina Zabinski, the World’s Most Beautiful Girl, to go with me. She was absolutely perfect. Well, except for a small freckle underneath her right eye that I’d noticed the other day when the light hit her face just right as she walked to the bus after school. It was the freckle that made me think I might stand a chance with her. Not quite perfect was more in my ballpark than totally flawless.
Ever since I’d suddenly noticed how gorgeous Tina was and realized how much I’d like to go out with her, I’d been striking out in terms of coming up with ways to impress her. But inviting her to the dance was a great idea. Girls like dances. I don’t know why, I think they’re horrible—my friends and I just hang around the refreshment table hoping we’re not going to have to ask anyone to dance—but everything would be different if I walked in as Tina’s date.
Just then, I saw a flash of blond hair outside the cafeteria that could only belong to Tina. I decided to make my move.
I just hadn’t expected that my move would be tripping over the janitor’s bucket, spilling 700 gallons of filthy water on the floor. Which then cascaded down the southwest stairwell. The water picked up speed and, tsunami-like, wiped out a small group of sixth graders on the bottom step. I hung my head over the railing and watched them cartwheel off the step and land in a dingy puddle on the floor. I exhaled when one raised a hand to flash an “I’m-okay” thumbs-up.
As I slipped away from the gathering crowd and slunk down the hall to my next class, hoping no one would know I’d caused the flood and crash, I realized that it was just as well I hadn’t been able to ask Tina to go to the dance with me—I couldn’t afford the tickets yet.
I had to find a way to make some money again. And pretty fast, too.
I’d read about a kid who started his own lawn-care service and became filthy, stinking rich. He made it look so easy.
Because my mother works in a bookstore, she brings home piles of books all the time. As soon as I got home from school, I dug through the shelves in the family room and pulled out all the business books. I’ve always liked reading about military history and have learned a lot about how to handle problems that way. The business books turned out to be kind of the same thing, except instead of generals, it’s the chief operating officers who run the show. Same principle, though—divide, conquer, plunder, pillage, reap the spoils. Wash, rinse, repeat.
This was going to be great, I could just feel it. I wondered, though, why it had taken me until I was fourteen to think about getting rich. Better late than never, right? And after all, how many teenage gazillionaires are there? Getting rich would be helpful in making Tina realize how awesome her life would be once she became my girlfriend.
I was on track to win the girl of my dreams and get some money again.
I just had to figure out how.