If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut
About time,” Brianna said.“Hey, sorry, we were kind of busy,” Quinn snapped. “And I didn’t exactly realize I was on a schedule.”“I don’t like what I have to do here,” Brianna said. She handed Quinn the note.He read it. Read it again.“Is this some kind of joke?” he demanded.“Albert’s dead,” Brianna said. “Murdered.”“What?”“He’s dead. Sam and Dekka are off in the wilderness somewhere. Edilio’s got the flu, he might die, a lot of kids have. A lot. And there are these, these monsters, these kind of bugs . . . no one knows what to call them . . . heading toward town.” Her face contorted in a mix of rage and sorrow and fear. She blurted, “And I can’t stop them!”Quinn stared at her. Then back at the note.He felt his contented little universe tilt and go sliding away.There were just two words on the paper: “Get Caine.
Brianna’s looking for Drake,” Edilio said, thinking out loud.“You sent her out against Drake?” Albert demanded.“Sent her? Who sends Brianna out to get into a fight? She goes on her own. Anyway, it’s not like you’ve left us with anyone else.”Albert had the decency not to say anything to that.“You know, you guys put me in charge. I didn’t ask to be in charge. I didn’t want to be in charge. Sam was in charge and all you guys ever did was give him grief,” Edilio said. “You two, especially.” He pointed at Albert and Astrid. “So, okay, Astrid takes over. And then Astrid finds out it’s not so much fun being in charge. So it’s like, okay, let’s get the dumb wetback to do the job.”“No one ever—,” Astrid protested.“And me, like a fool, I’m thinking, okay, that must mean people trust me. They asked me to be in charge, be the mayor. Come to find out, I’m not making decisions; Albert’s making decisions. Albert’s deciding we need to find more water and sending our two best fighters off into the countryside. Now I’m supposed to fix everything? It’s like you go, ‘Fight a war,’ but you sent my army off on a wild goose chase.
I’m trying to help,” Albert said.“By paying him with beer?”“I paid him what he wanted, and Sam was okay with it. You were at the meeting,” Albert said. “Look, how else do you think you get someone like Orc to spend hours in the hot sun working? Astrid seems to think people will work just because we ask them to. Maybe some will. But Orc?”Lana could see his point. “Okay. I shouldn’t have jumped all over you.”“It’s okay. I’m getting used to it,” Albert said. “Suddenly I’m the bad guy. But you know what? I didn’t make people the way they are. If kids are going to work, they’re going to want something back.”“If they don’t work, we all starve.”“Yeah. I get that,” Albert said with more than a tinge of sarcasm. “Only, here’s the thing: Kids know we won’t let them starve as long as there’s any food left, right? So they figure, hey, let someone else do the work. Let someone else pick cabbages and artichokes.”Lana wanted to get back to her run. She needed to finish, to run to the FAYZ wall. But there was something fascinating about Albert. “Okay. So how do you get people to work?”He shrugged. “Pay them.”“You mean, money?”“Yeah. Except guess who had most of the money in their wallets and purses when they disappeared? Then a few kids stole what was left in cash registers and all. So if we start back using the old money we just make a few thieves powerful. It’s kind of a problem.”“Why is a kid going to work for money if they know we’ll share the food, anyway?” Lana asked.“Because some will do different stuff for money. I mean, look, some kids have no skills, right? So they pick the food for money. Then they take the money and spend it with some kid who can maybe cook the food for them, right? And that kid maybe needs a pair of sneakers and some other kid has rounded up all the sneakers and he has a store.”Lana realized her mouth was open. She laughed. The first time in a while.“Fine. Laugh,” Albert said, and turned away.“No, no, no,” Lana hastened to say. “No, I wasn’t making fun of you. It’s just that, I mean, you’re the only kid that has any kind of a plan for anything.
Mr. Albert? Mr. Albert?” Harley said.“Just Albert’s fine,” Albert said tersely.“Me and Janice are thirsty.”“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any water on me.” He managed a tight smile and moved on. But now Janice was crying and Harley was pleading.“We used to live with Mary and she gave us water. But now we have to live with Summer and BeeBee and they said we have to have money.”“Then I guess you’d better earn some money,” Albert said. He tried to soften it, tried not to sound harsh, but he had a lot on his mind and it came out sounding mean. Now Harley started to cry, too.“If you’re thirsty, stop crying,” Albert snapped. “What do you think tears are made of?
Albert had created a currency based on gold bullets and McDonald’s game pieces. He’d wanted to call the currency something else, but no one remembered what. So, ’Bertos they were, a play on “Albert,” coined by Howard, of course, who had also come up with “the FAYZ” to describe their weird little world.Sam had thought Albert was nuts with his obsession with creating money. But the evidence was in: Albert’s system was producing just enough food for kids to survive. And a lot more kids were working. Far fewer were just hanging out. It was no longer impossible to get kids to go into the fields and do the backbreaking work of picking crops. They worked for ’Bertos and spent ’Bertos, and for now at least starvation was just a bad memory.
What’s Albert going to do?” a boy named Jim demanded. “Where’s Albert?”Albert stepped from an inconspicuous position off to one side. He mounted the steps, moving carefully still, not entirely well even now.He carefully chose a position equidistant between Caine and Sam.“What should we do, Albert?” a voice asked plaintively.Albert didn’t look out at the crowd except for a quick glance up, like he was just making sure he was pointed in the right direction. He spoke in a quiet, reasonable monotone. Kids edged closer to hear.“I’m a businessman.”“True.” Toto.“My job is organizing kids to work, taking the things they harvest or catch, and redistributing them through a market.”“And getting the best stuff for yourself,” someone yelled to general laughter.“Yes,” Albert acknowledged. “I reward myself for the work I do.”This blunt admission left the crowd nonplussed.“Caine has promised that if I stay here he won’t interfere. But I don’t trust Caine.”“No, he doesn’t,” Toto agreed.“I do trust Sam. But . . .”And now you could hear a pin drop.“But . . . Sam is a weak leader.” He kept his eyes down. “Sam is the best fighter ever. He’s defended us many times. And he’s the best at figuring out how to survive. But Sam”— Albert now turned to him—“You are too humble. Too willing to step aside. When Astrid and the council sidelined you, you put up with it. I was part of that myself. But you let us push you aside and the council turned out to be useless.”Sam stood stock-still, stone-faced.“Let’s face it, you’re not really the reason things are better here, I am,” Albert said. “You’re way, way braver than me, Sam. And if it’s a battle, you rule. But you can’t organize or plan ahead and you won’t just put your foot down and make things happen.”Sam nodded slightly. It was hard to hear. But far harder was seeing the way the crowd was nodding, agreeing. It was the truth. The fact was he’d let the council run things, stepped aside, and then sat around feeling sorry for himself. He’d jumped at the chance to go off on an adventure and he hadn’t been here to save the town when they needed it.“So,” Albert concluded, “I’m keeping my things here, in Perdido Beach. But there will be free trading of stuff between Perdido Beach and the lake. And Lana has to be allowed to move freely.”Caine bristled at that. He didn’t like Albert laying down conditions.Albert wasn’t intimidated. “I feed these kids,” he said to Caine. “I do it my way.”Caine hesitated, then made a tight little bow of the head.“I want you to say it,” Albert said with a nod toward Toto.Sam saw panic in Caine’s eyes. If he lied now the jig would be up for him. Toto would call him out, Albert would support Sam, and the kids would follow Albert’s lead.Sam wondered if Caine was just starting to realize what Sam had known for some time: if anyone was king, it was neither Sam nor Caine, it was Albert.
ot everyone liked Albert. Not everyone was happy that he had become the most important person around. Lots of people were jealous that Albert had a girl to clean his house and the porcelain basin where he did his business at night when he didn’t want to go outside to the only actual outhouse in Per-dido Beach. And that he could afford to send his clothes to be washed in the fresh water of the ironically named Lake Evian.And there were definitely people who didn’t like working for Albert, having to do what he said or go hungry.Albert traveled with a bodyguard now. The bodyguard’s name was Jamal. Jamal carried an automatic rifle over his shoulder. He had a massive hunting knife in his belt. And a club that was an oak chair leg with spikes driven through it to make a sort of mace.Unlike everyone else Albert carried no weapon himself. Jamal was weapon enough.
I’m trying to make a profit. I’m using batteries, toilet paper, and paper towels as currency. Each is something that will eventually be in short supply.”“You’re trying to get all the toilet paper in town?” Astrid shrilled. “Are you kidding?”“No, Astrid, I’m not kidding,” Albert said. “Look, right now, kids are playing with the stuff. I saw little kids throwing rolls of it around on their lawns like it was a toy. So—”“So your solution is to try and take it all away from people?”“You’d rather see it wasted?”“Yeah, actually,” Astrid huffed. “Rather than you getting it all for yourself. You’re acting like a jerk.”Albert’s eyes flared. “Look, Astrid, now kids know they can buy their way into the club with it. So they’re not going to waste it anymore.”“No, they’re going to give it all to you,” she shot back. “And what happens when they need some?”“Then there will still be some left because I made it valuable.”“Valuable to you.”“Valuable to everyone, Astrid.”“It’s you taking advantage of kids dumb enough not to know any better. Sam, you have to put a stop to this.”Sam had drifted away from the conversation, his head full of the music. He snapped back. “She’s right, Albert, this isn’t okay. You didn’t get permission—”“I didn’t think I needed permission to give kids what they want. I mean, I’m not threatening anyone, saying, ‘Give me your toilet paper, give me your batteries.’ I’m just playing some music and saying, ‘If you want to come in and dance, then it’ll cost you.’”“Dude, I respect you being ambitious and all,” Sam said. “But I have to shut this down. You never got permission, even, let alone asked us if it was okay to charge people.”Albert said, “Sam, I respect you more than I can even say. And Astrid, you are way smarter than me. But I don’t see how you have the right to shut me down.”That was it for Sam. “Okay, I tried to be nice. But I am the mayor. I was elected, as you probably remember, since I think you voted for me.”“I did. I’d do it again, man. But Sam, Astrid, you guys are wrong here. This club is about all these kids have that can get them together for a good time. They’re sitting in their homes starving and feeling sad and scared. When they’re dancing, they forget how hungry and sad they are. This is a good thing I’m doing.”Sam stared hard at Albert, a stare that kids in Perdido Beach took seriously. But Albert did not back down.“Sam, how many cantaloupes did Edilio manage to bring back with kids who were rounded up and forced to work?” Albert asked.“Not many,” Sam admitted.“Orc picked a whole truckload of cabbage. Before the zekes figured out how to get at him. Because we paid Orc to work.”“He did it because he’s the world’s youngest alcoholic and you paid him with beer,” Astrid snapped. “I know what you want, Albert. You want to get everything for yourself and be this big, important guy. But you know what? This is a whole new world. We have a chance to make it a better world. It doesn’t have to be about some people getting over on everyone else. It can be fair to everyone.”Albert laughed. “Everyone can be equally hungry. In a week or so, everyone can starve.
What’s up, Albert?”“Well, I’ve done inventory at Ralph’s, and I think if I had a lot of help, I could put together an okay Thanksgiving dinner.”Sam stared at him. He blinked. “What?”“Thanksgiving. It’s next week.”“Uh-huh.”“There are ovens at Ralph’s, big ones. And no one has taken the frozen turkeys. Figure two hundred and fifty kids if pretty much everyone from Perdido Beach shows up, right? One turkey will feed maybe eight people, so we need thirty-one, thirty-two turkeys. No problem there, because there are forty-six turkeys at Ralph’s.”“Thirty-one turkeys?”“Cranberry sauce will be no problem, stuffing is no problem, no one has taken much stuffing yet, although I’ll have to figure out how to mix, like, seven different brands and styles together, see how it tastes.”“Stuffing,” Sam echoed solemnly.“We don’t have enough canned yams, we’ll have to do fresh along with some baked potatoes. The big problem is going to be whipped cream and ice cream for the pies.”Sam wanted to burst out laughing, but at the same time he found it touching and reassuring that Albert had put so much thought into the question.“I imagine the ice cream is pretty much gone,” Sam said.“Yeah. We’re very low on ice cream. And kids have been taking the canned whipped cream, too.”“But we can have pie?”“We have some frozen. And we have some pie shells we can bake up ourselves.”“That would be nice,” Sam said.“I’ll need to start three days before. I’ll need, like, at least ten people to help. I can haul the tables out of the church basement and set up in the plaza. I think I can do it.”“I’ll bet you can, Albert,” Sam said with feeling.“Mother Mary’s going to have the prees make centerpieces.”“Listen, Albert…”Albert raised a hand, cutting Sam off. “I know. I mean, I know we may have some great big fight before that. And I heard you have your fifteenth coming up. All kinds of bad stuff may happen. But, Sam—”This time, Sam cut him off. “Albert? Get moving on planning the big meal.”“Yeah?”“Yeah. It will give people something to look forward to.
Sam, I know you’re upset over what happened with you and Drake,” Astrid began.“Upset?” Sam echoed the word with an ironic smirk.“But that’s no excuse for you keeping secrets from us.”“Yeah,” Howard said, “Don’t you know only Astrid is allowed to keep secrets?”“Shut up, Howard,” Astrid snapped.“Yeah, we get to lie because we’re the smart ones,” Howard said. “Not like all those idiots out there.”Astrid turned her attention back to Sam. “This is not okay, Sam. The council has the responsibility. Not you alone.”Sam looked like he could not care less about what she was saying. He looked almost beyond reach, indifferent to what was going on around him.“Hey,” Astrid said. “We’re talking to you.”That did it. His jaw clenched. His head snapped up. His eyes blazed. “Don’t push me. That wasn’t you with your skin whipped off and covered in blood. That was me. That was me who went down into that mine shaft to try to fight the gaiaphage.”Astrid blinked. “No one is minimizing what you’ve done, Sam. You’re a hero. But at the same time—”Sam was on his feet. “At the same time? At the same time you were here in town. Edilio had a bullet in his chest. Dekka was torn to pieces. I was trying not to scream from the…You and Albert and Howard, you weren’t there, were you?”“I was busy standing up to Zil, trying to save Hunter’s life,” Astrid yelled.“But it wasn’t you and your big words, was it? It was Orc who stopped Zil. And he was there because I sent him to rescue you. Me!” He stabbed a finger at his own chest, actually making what looked like painful impact. “Me! Me and Brianna and Dekka and Edilio! And poor Duck.
Man, sometimes you are clueless. You don’t even see what’s happening.” He perched himself on the arm of the couch so he could look down at Turk. “It’s not just about freaks. I mean, you’re the guy who thinks of ideas and all, but you’re missing it. You don’t even notice that the whole council is either black or Mexican. See, that’s what’s happening: it’s all these minorities hooked up with freaks.”The wheels in Turk’s mind began to turn slowly. But they were picking up speed. “Jamal’s with us and he’s black.”“So? We use Jamal. He gets us into Albert’s. You do what you gotta do. All I’m saying is, you and me, we’re normal people. We’re not black or queer or Mexican. And we’re the ones digging toilets. How come?”Turk knew the answer: because they had failed in their attempt to take over. But he’d never thought about this new angle.“Astrid’s a normal white person,” Turk argued halfheartedly. “So’s Sam.”“Sam’s a freak, and I think he might even be a Jew,” Lance said. His eyes were glittering. He was showing his teeth, grinning as he talked. It wasn’t a good look for him. “And Astrid? She’s not even on the council anymore.
Leslie-Ann set down her own bucket and watched, marveling, as a quarter of an inch of water covered the bottom.When she looked away, she saw an older kid. She’d seen him around. But usually he was with Orc and she was too scared of Orc ever to get near him.She tugged on Howard’s wet sleeve. He seemed not to be sharing in the general glee. His face was severe and sad.“What?” he asked wearily.“I know something.”“Well, goody for you.”“It’s about Albert.”Howard sighed. “I heard. He’s dead. Orc’s gone and Albert’s dead and these idiots are partying like it’s Mardi Gras or something.”“I think he might not be dead,” Leslie-Ann said.Howard shook his head, angry at being distracted. He walked away. But then he stopped, turned, and walked back to her. “I know you,” he said. “You clean Albert’s house.”“Yes. I’m Leslie-Ann.”“What are you telling me about Albert?”“I saw his eyes open. And he looked at me.
Stay in your boats,” Dahra said. “We’re still going to need food. Throw your fish onto the dock. I’ll get Albert to send someone here to collect it. Then go back out, row up the coast a little ways, and camp out.”“Camp out?” Quinn echoed.“Yes!”“You’re serious.”“No, it’s my idea of a joke, Quinn,” Dahra snapped. “Pookie just coughed up a lung and fell over dead. You understand what I’m saying? I mean he coughed his actual lungs out of his mouth.
Have either of you seen Sam? Brianna can’t find him.”Albert sighed. “He’s out of town.”Edilio felt the blood drain out of his face. “He’s what?”Astrid arrived, coldly furious. “I’m not on the council anymore. You have no right—”“Shut up, Astrid,” Edilio said.Astrid, Albert, and Howard all stared. Edilio was as amazed as any of them. He considered apologizing—he had never spoken to Astrid that way. He’d never spoken to anyone that way.The truth was he was scared. Sam was out of town? With Drake running loose?“What makes you think Sam is out of town?” Edilio asked Albert.“I sent him,” Albert said. “Him and Dekka. Taylor and Jack, too. They’re looking for water.”“They’re what?”“Looking for water.
Sam, Edilio’s a good guy,” Albert said, breaking in on Sam’s gloomy thoughts. “But like I said, he’ll tell the rest of them. Once the council knows, everyone knows. If everyone knows how desperate things are, what do you think will happen?”Sam smiled without humor. “About half the people will be great. The other half will freak.”“And people will end up getting killed,” Albert said. He cocked his head sideways, trying his best to look like the idea had just occurred to him. “And who is going to end up kicking butts? Who will end up playing Daddy and then be resented and blamed and finally told to go away?”“You’ve gained new skills,” Sam said bitterly. “You used to just be about working harder than anyone else and being ambitious. You’re learning how to manipulate people.”Albert’s mouth twitched and his eyes flashed angrily. “You’re not the only one walking around with a big load of responsibility on your shoulders, Sam. You play the big mean daddy who won’t let anyone have any fun, and I play the greedy businessman who is just looking out for himself. But don’t be stupid: maybe I am greedy, but without me no one eats. Or drinks.
Sorry, folks, but the maximum occupancy is seventy-five,” Albert said. Then he spotted Jack. “Jack, how’s it going?”“What? Oh, fine.” Jack was confused as to how to proceed. He didn’t want to wait in line if Brianna wasn’t even inside.“You look like a man with a question,” Albert prompted.“Well, I’m kind of looking for Brianna. We had this…it’s a…tech thing. You wouldn’t understand.”“Breeze is already inside.”One of the kids in the line said, “Of course she is, she’s a freak. They always get in.”A second kid nodded. “Yeah, the freaks don’t wait in lines. Bet she didn’t have to pay, either.”Albert said, “Hey, she got here a little before you guys did and she waited. And she paid.” Then to Jack. “Go ahead in.”“See?” the first kid crowed. “He’s one, too.”“Dude, he set up my sound system,” Albert said. “What have you done for me other than stand here and bust on me?
Um, people.”It wasn’t hard to get their attention. They gathered around. Even the littlest ones toned down their giggling, at least a bit.“First of all, thanks to Albert and his helpers for this meal. Let’s give it up for the true Mac Daddy.”A round of hearty applause and some laughter, and Albert waved sheepishly. He frowned a little too, obviously conflicted about the use of the “Mac” prefix in a way that was not approved in the McDonald’s manual.“And we have to mention Lana and Dahra, because without them, there would be a lot fewer of us here.”Now the applause was almost reverential.“Our first Thanksgiving in the FAYZ,” Sam said when the applause died down.“Hope it’s our last,” someone shouted.“Yeah. You got that right,” Sam agreed. “But we’re here. We’re here in this place we never wanted to be. And we’re scared. And I’m not going to lie and tell you that from here on, it will all be easy. It won’t be. It will be hard. And we’ll be scared some more, I guess. And sad. And lonely. Some terrible things have happened. Some terrible things…” For a moment, he lost his way. But then he stood up straighter again. “But, still, we are grateful, and we give thanks to God, if you believe in Him, or to fate, or to just ourselves, all of us here.”“To you, Sam,” someone shouted.“No, no, no.” He waved that off. “No. We give thanks to the nineteen kids who are buried right there.” He pointed at the six rows of three, plus the one who started a seventh row. Neat hand-painted wooden tombstones bore the names of Bette and too many others.“And we give thanks to the heroes who are standing around here right now eating turkey. Too many names to mention, and they’d all just be embarrassed, anyway, but we all know them.”There was a wave of loud, sustained applause, and many faces turned toward Edilio and Dekka, Taylor and Brianna, and some toward Quinn.“We all hope this will end. We all hope we’ll soon be back in the world with people we love. But right now, we’re here. We’re in the FAYZ. And what we’re going to do is work together, and look out for each other, and help each other.” People nodded, some high-fived.“Most of us are from Perdido Beach. Some are from Coates. Some of us are…well, a little strange.” A few titters. “And some of us are not. But we’re all here now, we’re all in it together. We’re going to survive. If this is our world now…I mean, it is our world now. It is our world. So, let’s make it a good one.”He stepped down in silence.Then someone started clapping rhythmically and saying, “Sam, Sam, Sam.” Others joined in, and soon every person in the plaza, even some of the prees, was chanting his name.
Albert, I don’t know how long we can keep Sam involved at all,” she said.“You’re upset,” Albert replied.“Yes, I’m upset. But that’s not the point. Sam is out of control. If we’re ever going to have a working system we may have to find someone else to play the role of savior.”Albert sighed. “Astrid, we don’t know what’s out there in the night. And maybe you’re right that Sam is out of control. But me? I’m really glad it’s him out there getting ready to face whatever it is.”Albert picked up his omnipresent notebook and left.To a now empty, silent room, Astrid said, “Don’t die, Sam. Don’t die.