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While competing with a rival restaurant for the winning float in the Founder's Day parade, nine-year-old Freddy Funkhouser constructs a batch of animated French fries in his secret laboratory that come to life after receiving an enormous jolt of electricity.
FREDDY T. FUNKHOUSER stood at the door of the Burger Castle and scratched his ear, which was a little difficult since he was wearing a chicken costume. He rubbed his beak and practiced his clucking as he waited for customers. His father, Alfred Funkhouser, insisted that Freddy greet each customer that came into the Funkhouser family's restaurant with a welcoming "cluck-cluck."
"Pow-pow-pow!" said Alfred Funkhouser as he rolled by on skates, dressed in his tomato costume, shooting seeds from the automatic seed shooters attached to his forearms. The seed shooter was one of Alfred's many strange inventions. "Take cover, incoming. Ack-ack-ack!" cried out Alfred as he fired all over the place.
"Better save the ammo for the paying customers, Dad," Freddy said as he patiently picked the tiny seeds off his wings.
"Right-O, Freddy. How many customers have we had today?"
"That would be, like, zero," said Freddy's thirteen-year-old sister, Nancy, as she flounced by in her ketchup-bottle costume. An aspiring actress, the tall, skinny Nancy Funkhouser flounced dramatically everywhere, swishing her flaming red hair this way and that. Shehad a large trunk of costumes in her bedroom she had gotten from an old theater and dressed up in crazy outfits all the time. She constantly spouted dialogue from plays, movies, TV, and commercials.
"O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou, Romeo?" cried out Nancy to an invisible audience. The five Guacamole brothers, who worked at the restaurant dressed as French fries, looked up, sniggered, and went back to their card playing and magazine reading.
"Cluck-cluck," replied Freddy, staring at his sister and tapping his beak with his left wing. "Cluck-cluck, here I am, O Nanny Boo-Boo. Herefore art I am."
Freddy and his Dad sometimes called her "Nanny Boo-Boo" because when he was very little, Freddy would run to his big sister when he got hurt and say, "Nanny, Boo-Boo." Even though he was nine years old now, Freddy still called her that when he wanted to make her mad. He considered making his sister miserable one of the most important jobs he had, because she certainly tried to make his life miserable every chance she got.
"Hmmpph," she snorted. "You've ruined my concentration. I can't possibly work under these conditions," she complained.
"You're not working right now," pointed out Freddy.
"Duh. We don't have any customers. They're all over there cramming dead cows into their mouths."
Nancy pointed her bottle top across the street to the enormous and fancy burger restaurant owned by the Spanker family. Patty Cakes, which served everything from burgers to cakes, was far more than a restaurant. The place had its own Ferris wheel, roller coaster, splash rides, movie theater, video arcade, and lots more. Their competitor's sign had a large plastic charcoal hamburger patty sitting on top of a pink cake. The patty and cake logo was on everything, from the staff uniforms to advertisements in the paper to the Patty Cakes blimp that glided all over town. The Spankers drove a big pink Cadillac that played the ditty: "Patty-cake, patty-cake, Spanker man, follow us, follow us to Spanker Land."
It made Freddy want to puke every time he heard it.
"Beef - it's what's for dinner," said Nancy dramatically, and then fell to the floor in a moving death scene before standing and taking a bow. "Thank you, thank you," she murmured. "No, no encore, really, not another encore, my adoring fans. Fifteen is enough. Well, perhaps just one more."
Freddy could only shake his head. Of fifty million sisters he could have had, he got her. He said, "I've performed a rigorous calculation and concluded that the fat and sodium content of a number six deluxe special at Patty Cakes is equal to eating four fatted calves and five pounds of salt." Freddy liked to use big words when he talked about scientific stuff.
"Right-o, Freddy," agreed his father. "I've made the same calculation. Not very healthy fare."
"But that's why everyone goes there, Dad," explained his daughter, "because it's bad for you and grease tastes good." She performed a little tap dance and squirted ketchup out of her costume's head. "Good to the last drop," she recited to her adoring fans.
"It doesn't taste half as good as Dad's soybean and tofu burgers or carrot and eggplant hot dogs," Freddy shot back. "Or how about the fat-free fries that make your hair grow?"
Alfred Funkhouser piped in, "And don't forget the Vroom shakes, which increase brain cell function fourteen-and-a-half percent on average, according to my latest tests." He searched the pockets of his tomato costume. "Now where did I put those results?"
"Well, the brussels-sprout-and-cauliflower doughless pizza gave me gas," replied Nancy.
"That's what they invented air fresheners for, dear," said her father.
"What we need," said Freddy, "is to get the word out and let people know about us. The Spankers have commercials all the time on TV, and they have people passing out coupons on all the streets. We should be doing that too."
"You doof! All that costs money - money we don't have," said his sister.
"That's just not fair. Our food is lots better than theirs, and it's good for you too."
"That's why our float in the Founders' Day parade is so important," Alfred said. "It'll help to remind everyone in town about the Burger Castle."
"It'll be the best float ever!" shouted Freddy. "I've been working on something top secret in my lab for it."
"What is it?" asked his father.
"I can't tell you yet, Dad, it's a surprise."
Nancy said, "I thought I'd act out all the plays of Shakespeare while we're driving along the parade route. You know, to give the crowd something really special."
Her father scratched his chin. "All of Shakespeare's plays, Nanny Boo-Boo? Umm, the parade route's not that long."
"Dad, my name's Nancy, remember?" she scolded. "Don't worry, I'm going to talk really fast. And you never know; I might even get discovered along the way."
"Discovered? Like by the people from the nuthouse?" piped in Freddy. "Does that mean I can have your room when they take you away in the straitjacket with duct tape over your mouth?"
"Hmmpph," said Nancy as she flounced away with a squirt of ketchup aimed at her little brother.
A few minutes later Freddy walked outside to inspect the Burger Castle sign that hung across the front of the restaurant. The project he was working on for the float competition was based on the sign, and studying the sign helped him think about how the float design should look. The Burger Castle had once been a Laundromat made to look like an old castle complete with drawbridge and turrets. When the Funkhousers bought it, the turrets were sagging like frowning faces and its walls were crumbling. The floors were uneven, the doors didn't open, and there were few windows. It was very dark inside.
The tall, thin Alfred Funkhouser had rubbed his sharp chin as he stared at the grand wreck for the first time. He then whipped out a level and plumb line and, using a thingamabob that looked like something very dangerous if it were thrown at you, he made a calculation. "It's three-quarters of an inch from total collapse. It's perfectly perfect!" he proclaimed, putting a hand through his jet black hair and rubbing a spot off his glasses.
He and the kids spent the next year fixing it up, complete with working drawbridge, a Vroom shake moat encircling it, and painted pickle chips hugging the turrets. No other restaurant in America looked quite like the Burger Castle. Freddy loved it. And yet almost no one ever came to eat there unless it was by accident.
But the project he was now working on for the Burger Castle float would change all that. He looked at the sign again. On either side of the words "Burger" and "Castle" were big French fries. In his secret lab, Freddy had constructed giant Fries using his father's super-secret potatoes. Then he gave them faces, painted them fun colors, and rigged them with wires and a small battery so that with a press of a button they would wave their hands and bob their heads while they were on the float. He had even thought of a way, using a loudspeaker and an electronic gizmo he'd built, to make the Fries appear to be talking. They would tell everyone to come to the Burger Castle. With the addition of the talking Fries, and some other things Freddy was working on, he thought they would be a lock to win the float competition.
Freddy's dream was to become a famous scientist, like his father had been. Alfred Funkhouser had worked for the U.S. Government and won lots of awards for his work. But after Freddy's mother passed away when Freddy was three years old, his father left his job and moved them to the farm so he could spend more time with his children. Freddy believed that his father should still be a big-shot scientist in Washington, D.C., but if his father couldn't be, then Freddy would do it for him.
Freddy looked over at Patty Cakes again, and then at the big warehouse that the Spankers owned next to their restaurant. Even from here Freddy could hear the sounds of machinery, sawing, and hammering. He watched as a big forklift carried a large wooden thing into the warehouse. Curious, Freddy slipped off his chicken costume and sneaked across the street to the warehouse.
A side door to the building was slightly ajar, so Freddy peered in. What he saw made his heart sink. In the middle of the warehouse it looked like they were building a replica of the Patty Cakes. Dozens of workers were hammering, nailing, painting, and sawing. The thing that Freddy had seen the forklift bring in was part of the Ferris wheel. It was now being lowered onto one end of the float. For that's what this was, Freddy was convinced: the Patty Cake float for the Founders' Day parade.
In a far corner Freddy saw Stewie Spanker, the owner of Patty Cakes, and also the town of Pookesville's police chief and mayor, talking with a well-dressed, short, blond-haired man with a skinny mustache whom Freddy had never seen before. They were going over what looked to be plans for the float.
A depressed Freddy walked back to the Burger Castle and put his chicken costume on. They didn't have a chance against the Spanker float. All the work he'd done was worthless. Colorful Fries that smiled and bobbed their heads and said stupid things? Who cared?
"Ow!" Freddy cried out, and grabbed his arm that had just turned red. He looked over and paled.
Coming across the drawbridge was Adam Spanker and his gang of bullies. They had their fancy paintball guns and wore Army helmets and camouflage uniforms and big black boots.
Adam Spanker had been Freddy's worst nightmare for years. One of his legs was larger than Freddy's chest. His stomach was so big that it was rumored he had actually swallowed a whole person. His hair was cut so short he looked bald. Some kids at school said Adam's mother was a witch who had taken all his hair when he was born and used it to make poisons. Other kids said that Adam had green blood - a sure sign of a monster.
"Cluck-cluck, Funky Funkhouser!" roared Adam Spanker.
Freddy's teeth chattered uncontrollably. "Yo ... you're ... you're tre ... tress ... tresspa ... passing," said Freddy.
"We ... we ... we're tre ... tre ... tresspa ... trespassing?" mimicked Adam. "Well, I just saw you poking around our place, Funky."
"I wasn't doing anything."
"Yeah, right." Adam looked slyly at his gang. "Well, boys, now that we're here, we might as well go into the old burger dump."
"But you never buy anything. And I ... I ... think ..." Freddy stopped.
"Just spit it out, you little nerd," bellowed Adam.
Freddy swallowed a big lump in his throat and said quickly, "I think you're just coming here to engage in clandestine operations with a subversive purpose."
Adam looked totally confused until one of his gang whispered in his ear.
Adam marched up to Freddy towering over him. "Are you calling me a spy?" he snarled.
Freddy looked around at all the big kids with paint guns staring at him, and his teeny bit of courage melted right away and into the Vroom shake moat. "Well, yes, I mean, no, I, uh, I mean, uh -"
"You got something you want to say to me, say it man to man, Funky," yelled Spanker, his big hands balled into fists.
Freddy desperately wanted to be brave and stand up to Adam, and he would have, except he was scared to death. "Uh, I ... I said ... cluck-cluck, welcome to the Burger Castle."
Adam pointed his paintball gun at Freddy. "Welcome to the Burger Castle what?"
"Uh, welcome to the Burger Castle ... Mr. Spanker?"
"That's better. Come on, men, let's check out the burger dump." As he passed by Freddy, Spanker shot out a big, doughy hand and pushed Freddy into the moat. The gang roared with laughter and then swarmed into the Burger Castle.
Freddy swam to the side of the moat and got out. He wrung his chicken feathers dry and hurried into the Burger Castle to see what the Spanker gang was up to. Turns out they were up to a lot.
"Stop that right now!" yelled Nancy before she was hit in the face by a blue paint splotch. She raised both her hands up and said in a loud, deep voice, "Whosoever shall smite me with another blow shall reap the unstoppable force of all that is good and right."
Then she was smote with a purple paint splotch right in the nose and dove behind the sales counter screaming, "I shall live to fight another day!"
The Guacamole Brothers had scattered when the Spanker gang had attacked. On their way out the back door they yelled in unison, "We quit!"
Alfred rolled out of the back in his tomato costume and said, "Now, you boys stop that right now or I'll be forced to call the chief of police."
Adam shot Alfred in the butt with a green paint splotch.
"Go ahead and call him," crowed Adam. "My Dad's right across the street at our warehouse. I'm sure he'll be right over."
Freddy snuck in the side door and started edging toward Adam. Right before he reached him Adam whirled around and drilled him with a shot. Freddy went flying backward, pink paint all over his beak.
Adam and his gang stood triumphantly over their fallen foes. "Look, Funkies," he said, "If I were you I'd just pack up and leave town. Nobody comes to your crummy burger dump and nobody comes to the crummy farm you live on. There's only room for one burger restaurant in this town. And that's the Patty Cakes."
"Oh yeah?" said Nancy. "Just wait until we win the float competition at the Founders' Day parade. Then we'll see who's number one."
Adam laughed. "We've won it five years in a row, and there's nothing stopping us from number six. So the day you win the float competition is the day I turn fat and ugly."
"Gee," said Nancy as she poked her head over the sales counter where she was hiding. "Why don't you just declare us the winner then?"
Adam looked at her in confusion until one of his gang whispered to him.
Adam yelled out to Nancy, "Hey, did you just call me fat and ugly?"
"If the adjectives fit, oh meat-headed one," she said.
Adam looked at his gang. "All right, boys, time to show the Funkies who's boss. Let's give 'em the Deadly Dose." The gang loaded fresh paintball bullets marked with skulls and crossbones in their guns and pointed them at the ceiling.
"Don't!" yelled Alfred. He shot tomato seeds at them, but they bounced harmlessly off the gang.
"Aim!" said Adam.
"Stop!" screamed Nancy, squirting ketchup at them. Adam just licked it off his shirt.
"NOOOO!" Freddy tried to run away, but his foot hit some wet paint on the floor and he flipped up in the air, directly in front of the paintball guns as they fired. The paintballs hit him at the same time, covered him with a black ooze, and sent him flying up, up, up to the ceiling.
"Retreat, men!" barked Adam. "Mission accomplished."
The Spanker gang flew out the door.
Alfred and Nancy watched Freddy shooting to the ceiling. He seemed to be moving in slow motion, his mouth open and one long scream coming out of it. "AAAAAHHHHHH!"
Excerpted from Freddy and the French Fries by David Baldacci Rudy Baldacci Copyright ©2005 by Freddy and the French Fries, Ltd.. Excerpted by permission.
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