Billy Sure, Kid Entrepreneur and the Stink Spectacular
I’M SITTING IN MY ROOM staring at my Laptop. My brain feels like it’s been zapped with a FREEZE RAY. I keep thinking the same thing over and over. Maybe my brain has been zapped with a repeat ray. Or a freeze and repeat ray.
How can this be?
How did this happen?
No way. NO WAY!
I read the e-mail from my mom for the twentieth time. Have I misunderstood?
No. There’s really only one possible answer here.
My mom’s e-mail clearly says that she hasn’t sent me any e-mails in weeks. And that she never switched to a new e-mail address. So for weeks I’ve been sending e-mails to someone pretending to be my mom. Not my real mom. A fake mom. An impostor mom!
And that’s not good. It feels crummy. But it’s even worse than that. I didn’t just e-mail my mom with normal life updates—stuff like how the Hyenas are playing (that’s our favorite baseball team, and they’ve been on a losing streak), or how annoying Emily has been (that’s my sister, and for the record, that would be: very annoying). None of that would really matter. It’d be okay for Impostor Mom to know about that stuff. Some of it, like the fights with Emily, even our neighbors know about. So it’s not exactly private information.
But I also wrote about my ideas for inventions. Which is bad. Really bad. Not to mention really private. Because, as you probably know by now, my inventions aren’t just things I make up and draw on a piece of paper and then forget about. They’re real products manufactured and sold by a real company, SURE THINGS, INC. (Named after me, Billy Sure, and run by me and my business partner and best friend, Manny.)
When I say “as you probably know by now,” I’m not trying to brag or anything. It’s just that our first two products, the ALL BALL (“The Only Ball You’ll Ever Need!”) and the SIBLING SILENCER (“Like A Mute Button For Your Brothers and Sisters!”) are selling like crazy. And there have been lots of stories about Sure Things, Inc. on TV and the Internet. You probably even own an All Ball or a Sibling Silencer. (If your sibling owns a Sibling Silencer . . . um . . . sorry about that. Time to buy one of your own!)
So it’s not a good idea for me to share my secret ideas about how to build my inventions with someone pretending to be my mom.
The question is, who is pretending to be my mom?
I’ve got to figure this out.
It’s late at night and I’m sitting at my desk. I do some of my best thinking here . . . that is, when my brain isn’t acting like it’s been zapped by a freeze and repeat ray. My dog, Philo, is already asleep next to my bed. I can hear him breathing slowly, almost like he’s snoring, but not quite. I kind of want to wake him up and tell him about my problem, but I know that won’t do any good. It’s not like he can tell me what to do.
Who is pretending to be my mom?!
It’d be nice to talk to someone about this. But I don’t want to wake up my dad. And I certainly don’t want to wake up Emily. That could prove fatal—I take my life in my hands walking into her room in broad daylight; I can’t imagine that going into her room in the middle of the night would go over very well.
My mom’s great to talk to, but she isn’t here. She’s off in Antarctica doing research for the government. Because of the storms down in Antarctica, the Internet’s been down for weeks, so she hasn’t been able to e-mail me. But I didn’t know that. During those weeks, I was sending e-mails to IMPOSTOR MOM, blabbing about my new inventions like an idiot.
But it’s not my fault, right? I thought it was my mom! Which brings me back to . . .
WHO IS PRETENDING TO BE MY MOM?!
Should I e-mail Manny? Manny is my best friend. He is also Sure Things, Inc.’s CFO (Chief Financial Officer), which means he keeps track of sales and the money. He’s probably still up, checking the latest sales figures for the All Ball and the Sibling Silencer. But I’d hate to spoil his good mood. Right now he’s really happy with the success of Sure Things, Inc.
And besides, I might get in serious trouble. Revealing secrets must have broken some company rule. Or maybe even the law! By sharing my ideas about new inventions, have I betrayed Sure Things, Inc., dooming our company to failure? Is Impostor Mom going to steal all my ideas and then take away our customers? What if Manny gets so mad at me that he refuses to forgive me? Only twelve years old, and already my life could be ruined.
This is serious.
I decide to lie in bed. I love my bed—it’s warm and soft. I guess everyone loves their bed, right? I mean, you spend a lot of time there. It would be terrible to be stuck with a bed you hate. I wonder if you’d just start liking it after a while? Maybe it would become comfortable to you and you would forget that you ever hated it. And then if someone sits on your bed and says, “I hate this bed, it’s so uncomfortable!” you’d get really mad and defend your bed because it’s yours and you love it. I bet that’s what happens.
I stare at the blueprints on my wall, lit up by the light from a streetlight outside my window. My dad framed the blueprints for the All Ball and the Sibling Silencer. Both sets of blueprints were plans I drew up while I was sleep-inventing. I know it sounds weird, but sometimes, when I’ve been working on a new invention and I’ve gotten stuck, I get up in the night and finish the invention while I’m still asleep. For someone who loves his bed as much as I do, I still like to sleepwalk apparently. But it’s not something I can turn off. I just do it. Plus, it’s kind of a good thing because my sleepwalking has turned into sleep-inventing, and let’s face it: Where would Sure Things, Inc. be without my inventions?
Speaking of Sure Things, Inc. . . . if it turns out that our company is ruined by my e-mails to Impostor Mom, will looking at those blueprints make me feel sad? If so, I’ll definitely take them down and put up some posters. Maybe of Carl Bourette. He’s the Hyenas shortstop, and my favorite baseball player.
Sleep is definitely out of the question. I get up and reread the e-mails I sent to Impostor Mom. I make myself read them with a “CRITICAL EYE.” (My English teacher, Mrs. Boniface, taught us that term. At first I thought it meant that you could criticize everything you read, which was kind of fun, but what if you like the stuff you’re reading? Manny doesn’t have Mrs. Boniface, but he told me he thinks it means you’re supposed to think really hard about stuff when you read it.) So after rereading my e-mails with a critical eye, I decide that maybe they’re really not that bad. I didn’t write anything all that specific about any new inventions. No details about how stuff works. I wrote more about baseball and school than I did about my inventions or Sure Things, Inc.
Philo twitches in his sleep, making funny sounds, like muffled barks. He must be dreaming. Maybe he’s inventing something, like a gadget to let dogs open refrigerators. (There’s an invention Sure Things, Inc. will not be making.) I get up out of my desk chair, walk over to his bed, kneel down, and pet him. Petting Philo always relaxes me.
I’m still not sure what to do about Impostor Mom, but I also do some of my best thinking when I’m asleep, so I should go back to bed. If I focus on how much I love my bed instead of worrying about Impostor Mom, eventually I will fall asleep. Right?
Maybe in the morning I’ll know what to do.
• • •
I’m tied up in a chair. I struggle to escape, but the knots are way too tight. I look around for some kind of tool to cut the ropes, but I’m in a small empty room. There’s nothing in here but me, the chair, and the ropes. I try to yell “HELP!” but somehow I can’t make any sounds.
A tall man dressed all in gray enters. Gray hat. Gray suit. Gray shoes. Gray gloves. And a gray mask hiding his face. He stands still, with his hands hanging at his sides.
“Ready to talk?” he murmurs in a low, threatening voice.
“Talk about what?” I ask.
The man chuckles. “You may call me . . . Impostor Mom.”
He walks over to the corner of the room. There’s a table I didn’t notice before. He picks up a small jar filled with liquid and a brush.
“Unless you talk,” he says calmly, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to use more drastic measures.”
I swallow hard. “Like what?”
“Like putting this ITCHING POWDER . . . ON YOUR NOSE!”
He dips the brush in the jar and moves toward me. I’m frozen. He begins to paint the itching powder onto my nose. . . .
• • •
LICK. LICK. LICK. . . .
I wake up from the nightmare and realize someone is licking my nose. Philo, of course. You might think that an inventor would invent a really cool alarm to wake himself up in the morning, but I don’t need to. I’ve got a furry alarm that licks me awake every morning. Right on my nose.
“Okay, Philo, okay,” I mumble. “Good morning. I’ll get up.”
I get up, and right away I remember what I was thinking about last night. What should I do about Impostor Mom?
I’ve got to talk to Manny. Even if it ruins his good mood. And even if what I’ve done could destroy our business forever. I’ve still got to tell him. We’ll figure this out together. That’s what best friends—and business partners—are for.
I get up and go to the bathroom. I’m ready to head downstairs to pour myself a bowl of cereal. Philo trots down the stairs ahead of me. It’s Saturday, so I don’t have to rush to school. But now that I’ve decided to tell Manny about Impostor Mom, I can’t wait to get it over with. My stomach is growling, though, so I need to eat first.
But then I smell something that makes me lose my appetite. Something . . . AWFUL. I freeze on the second step.
Emily comes out of her bedroom. “Eww. What is that foul and horrid smell? Is it you, genius?”
Emily often calls me genius. But when she says it, it’s not a compliment.
And she says it all with a British accent. But she’s not British. Despite that little fact, she’s been speaking with a British accent for the past few days. I have no idea why. But I have learned from experience with Emily that sometimes it’s best not to ask why.
“It’s not me,” I say, heading downstairs again. “Maybe it’s your accent. That stinks pretty bad.”
“Wait!” she says. “Stop!”
I stop. I have no idea why she’s telling me to stop. Is there a rattlesnake on the stairs? Nah, I think Philo would have noticed.
“I know what the horrid odor is,” she says dramatically, as though she’s announcing who the murderer is at the end of a mystery.
“Dad’s cooking breakfast!”
If she’s right, this is a terrible development. My dad thinks he’s a gourmet chef, but everything he makes is awful. Actually, awful is too kind a word to describe my dad’s cooking. Maybe “disgusting beyond belief”? Philo won’t even eat food my dad has cooked. And let me tell you, Philo lives for people-food. Just not people-food that’s been cooked by my dad.
Luckily, my dad never makes breakfast because he’s usually out painting in his studio in the backyard. He says he loves the early morning light.
Philo, Emily, and I cautiously make our way into the kitchen. Sure enough, Dad’s at the stove, humming to himself as he turns something in a frying pan. Something HISSES and foul-smelling smoke wafts up from the pan.
“Dad?” Emily asks cautiously. “You’re . . . making breakfast?” Even in a situation this upsetting, she doesn’t lose her new accent.
“Good morning, honey!” he says cheerfully. “I sure am! Hungry?”
“But, Dad,” I say, pointing to the window. “You’re missing the beautiful morning light.”
He salts whatever disgusting thing is in the pan. “I am. And I still love the light right at sunrise. But for the paintings I’m doing right now, I prefer the light of sunset. So for the next couple of weeks, I can cook you breakfast!”
“Does this mean you won’t be able to cook dinner?” Emily asks hopefully.
Dad laughs. “Of course not! Now, who wants turnip turnovers?”
He’s holding a big sizzling green blob on the spatula. I’m not a turnip expert, but I’m pretty sure they’re not usually green.
Emily and I start talking at the same time, firing off excuses one after the other. Here’s what it sounds like in my kitchen:
“Sorry but . . . Ihavetoeatcerealforaspecial homeworkassignment—I’mallergictoturnips—onaturnipfreediet—fastingforworldpeace—Ialreadyatebreakfast . . . I HAVE TO GET TO THE OFFICE!” I finish loudly just as Emily pauses to take a breath.
I run out, knowing I will have to pay later for leaving Emily alone with my dad and his turnip terrors . . . but when it comes to my dad’s cooking, it’s every kid for himself.
When I say I have to get to “the office,” I’m telling the truth, because I really do have an office. The office of Sure Things, Inc. is in the garage at Manny’s house. But it’s not like any other office you’ve ever seen. Sure, there are desks and computers and office stuff like that, but there’s much, much more.
We have: A soda machine that can make millions of flavors. A pizza machine that gives you a slice with whatever you want on it. (Now that I am outside in the fresh air, my appetite has miraculously reappeared. For breakfast, I think I’m going to have a slice with bananas and walnuts when I get to the office.) A baseball pitching machine. A foosball table. An air hockey table. Pretty much every video game console ever made. A pinball machine. And, of course, a punching bag.
And a basketball hoop. When I ride in the side door and lean my bike against the wall, Manny’s standing at the free throw line he painted on the floor. Lately he’s been trying to see how many free throws he can make in a row. He shoots an All Ball. Swish!
“Nine,” he says, going to get the ball out of the trash can it’s fallen into. “You know, I’ve been thinking about getting one of those chute things that you attach to the hoop so the ball comes right back to you. What do you think?”
“Sounds good,” I say.
He walks over to his laptop and starts clicking his mouse through web pages. “Sweet. I’ll order one right away.”
“Yeah, but first I wanted to talk about something.”
“Oh,” he says, spinning in his chair to face me. “Okay, cool. What do you want to talk about? A new invention? It’s really not too soon to start thinking about our next product.”
“No, it’s not that,” I say, picking up an All Ball and using the remote control to turn it into a tennis ball. I toss it up over the garage rafters and catch it. I’m not sure how to tell Manny about Impostor Mom. I sort of rehearsed in my head on the bike ride over, but then I started thinking about pizza and now I can’t remember what I was going to say. “Um, you know my mom?”
“Of course,” Manny says, looking at me strangely. “I’ve known your mom my entire life, Billy.”
“Right,” I say, nodding. “Well, while she’s gone, in Antarctica, I’ve been writing her e-mails, you know?”
“But last night I got this e-mail from her saying the Wi-Fi’s been down in Antarctica for the last few weeks.”
“Probably on account of the storms,” Manny says, shaking his head grimly.
Am I the only person in the world who doesn’t follow the weather in Antarctica?
“Yeah. Anyway, the thing is, I thought I was writing to my mom, but it turned out to be some impostor pretending to be my mom.”
Manny’s grim look gets even grimmer.
“What, you mean, like, a hacker?” he asks.
“I guess so,” I say. “Whoever was pretending to be my mom got my e-mail address somehow and then lied and said my mom had a new e-mail address. I wrote back to that address.”
Manny sees the problem right away. He looks very worried. The words start tumbling out of his mouth really fast. “What did you write about? Did you talk about your inventions? Did they ask about your inventions?”
I nod. Manny looks a little green. In fact, his skin tone reminds me of my dad’s breakfast turnips. Now he looks like he’s going to be sick . . . like he ate one of the breakfast turnips. My best friend is going to throw up and it’s all my fault! I have to fix this!
I set the tennis ball down and hold my hands up for emphasis. “They asked a lot of questions, but I didn’t talk about inventions that much! I reread all the e-mails last night with a critical eye, and I really don’t think it’s that bad.”
Maybe it’s my impressive use of the term “critical eye,” but Manny looks calmer. His face goes from bright green to just slightly green. He gets up and starts pacing around. “CORPORATE ESPIONAGE! I suppose it had to happen sooner or later!”
“What do you mean?” I’m watching him pace, trying to figure out if he’s going to throw up or not.
“You know, businesses spying on each other! I’ve read about it in my business journals! It happens all the time! I just didn’t think it’d happen to us! At least not so soon. . . .”
He walks quickly over to the door, opens it, and looks around, checking for spies. “I should have seen this coming. I should have beefed up our security. When you’re in the invention business, there are bound to be spies and thieves!” He closes the door and starts pacing across the room again, faster and faster.
A moment later he walks over to the pizza machine. “Want a slice?” he asks me, and I suddenly feel a thousand times better. It’s not that bad if Manny wants pizza.
“Yeah, a slice with banana and walnuts,” I say, grinning.
I walk over to where Manny is standing and watch him press buttons on the pizza maker. “Thanks for not freaking out,” I tell him. “I know I messed up, and I’m sorry.”
The pizza maker dings and a perfect slice of banana walnut pizza slides out. Manny slips a paper plate under the slice and hands it to me. “This isn’t your fault, Billy,” he says, and then he presses buttons on the pizza maker to create his own slice. Pepperoni-mushroom-sausage. “Let’s eat and then we can figure this out,” Manny adds just as his slice comes out. “We both think better on full stomachs.”