Chapter 1

"I'm telling you, Arnold, your ball is flat."

Arnold and his best friend, Gerald, walked along the hot sidewalk toward the boarding-house where Arnold lived.

"It's not flat, it's just a little low on air," Arnold answered, studying the well-worn basketball for a moment. "Look," he said, attempting a bounce-pass to Gerald. The ball made a dull thud on the concrete, hopped a few inches, and rolled into the gutter.

"Like I said, your ball is flat." Gerald stated. Arnold scooped up the ball and tried to dribble it.

"Man! I still can't believe we let those fifth graders beat us," Gerald said.

"Well, the important thing is we tried our best, and—"

Gerald held up his hand. "The important thing is, we got our butts whipped!"

Arnold frowned. "Come on, Gerald, we had fun. And we almost beat them."

"Why do you do that, Arnold?" Gerald said. "Why do you always have to look on the bright side?"

Arnold shrugged. "Somebody has to." He tossed the lumpy basketball to Gerald and started up the steps of the boardinghouse, where he lived.

A pair of large black helicopters suddenly appeared overhead. They roared above the neighborhood, whipping up a swirling gust that blew dirt everywhere. The boys looked up, squinting as they watched the helicopters pass out of sight.

Arnold looked around and spotted Mr. Green, the butcher, standing in front of his shop, Green Meats. There was a small group of neighbors milling around him. Arnold and Gerald rushed over.

"Mr. Green? What's going on?" Arnold asked.

Mr. Green gestured toward the television that he had wheeled out of his shop and onto the sidewalk. "It's Scheck! He wants to buy up the whole neighborhood so he can knock it down and put up a fancy mall."

"Who's Scheck?" Arnold asked. Mr. Green pointed at the TV

A TV anchorwoman was giving a live report. "The plan, which was just approved by the mayor moments ago, would allow Future Tech Industries to redevelop a six-square-block area between Thirty-third and Thirty-ninth Streets," said the anchorwoman.

"Redevelop? ..." Gerald asked.

The reporter went on. "I understand the president and CEO of Future Tech Industries, Mr. Scheck, is about to make a statement."

The camera cut to show the broad, grinning face of a large, athletic-looking man with perfectly combed hair. Scheck beamed at a group of reporters gathered around him.

"Thank you," he said. "I just want to say I'm delighted at the mayor's support of our renewal plan."

"Nice suit," said Gerald, and was immediately shushed.

"Look, there's the mayor," said Mr. Green.

"I'm behind Mr. Scheck's project one hundred percent," Mayor Dixie pronounced.

"Although some of you in the area may have concerns about how this plan will impact your homes and businesses, let me assure you," Scheck continued, "change is good. This plan represents the end of urban decay, the end of your broken-down shops and apartment buildings. It's time for a new world. Out with the old, in with the new. I have seen the future, and it's Future Tech Industries!"

"What's wrong with old things? Some old things are great," Arnold said, worried.

"Yeah!" Harold's voice piped up from the back of the crowd. "Like Mrs. Vitello!"

Mrs. Vitello, the crusty old flower vendor, brought a bouquet of daisies down hard on Harold's head. "Whippersnapper," she muttered.

Mr. Green put a clenched fist on top of the television. "This has been going on for months. The city council opposed it, but the mayor's letting Scheck do it anyway." He shook his head sadly. "I never figured he could pull it off."

Gerald looked at Mr. Green. "What does it mean?"

"It means they want us to sell out and move away, so this Scheck character and his big corporation can move in!"

The assembled neighbors grumbled angrily to one another.

"This is our neighborhood!" Phoebe piped up. "We live here!"

"Yeah, they can't just tear it down!" Rhonda said.

The rumble of a powerful engine made everybody turn. They watched as an enormous truck pulled onto the street, carrying a huge crane. On the side of the crane was a bright red-and-white sign that said fti. The crowd had to press against the storefronts to get out of the way as it roared past.

After the truck disappeared around the corner, Mr. Green turned to the crowd. "We can't take this lying down! We have to do something."

"Yeah!" Harold yelled. "But what can we do?"

"We could refuse to sell our houses!" Arnold said loudly.

"We can all sign a petition!" Gerald chimed in.

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