Chapter 9: Bedtime Story
Louey was in the playground one day when two boys came up to her and asked her if she and Danny and Clare were going to have to go to a “home” now. Now that their mother was dead, they meant.
“No,” Louey said quickly.
“Why not?” they said.
“We’re just not,” she said, as casually as she could. “We don’t have to.” She actually had never heard of Going to a Home, but the phrase scared her. What was a Home? An orphanage, like? A reform school? A prep school, like J.B. Overton from 8th grade had to go to, where they made you wear uniforms? A prison type of a thing?
As soon as these boys had wandered off, Louey hopped the playground fence, ran across the street, and found her father in his room, bent over his big, old, blue-ribboned typewriter. The page in it had the title: “To-Do List for Monday.” Under it he had written:
1. Apply for $ from feds for urban renewal. 2. Ask credit union for loan for Danny’s braces. 3. Buy white purse for Clare. 4. Get resolution in State legislature supporting Israel. 5. Make Louey act more ladylike, per Mrs. G. 6. Invite Rocky to 250th celebration on July 4th. 7. Follow up re: picking up Princess at Idlewild.
It was nice, leaning on her dad’s shoulder and watching him type and hearing the important words being banged out, just like she used to do before his stroke; before her mom died; before everything. She couldn’t remember a time when he wasn’t typing, just about every minute he was home. And now he was back doing it again. But she needed to ask him something.
“Daddy, are Clare and Danny and I going to have to Go to a Home?”
“Whaaaat?!” he said, swiveling his face to her. His fingers still hovered over the keys as he screwed his eyebrows downward.
“Chaz said you’re going to have to put us in a Home.”
Abe burst out laughing.
“You already have a home, you dope!” he guffawed. He pressed his fingers against his belt as he often did, so his hernia wouldn’t pop out.
“Oh, God!” he howled. “Where did Chaz ever hear that odious suggestion — from his mother, no doubt? Jesus! People in Newburgh are so stupid sometimes, you wonder how they can manage to pull their underpants up. Though in her case, maybe she doesn’t bother. Don’t repeat that.”
And he turned back to what he was writing, chuckling and shaking his head. He typed a few more letters and the typewriter “dinged.” He batted the carriage-return lever to slam the platen way over to the right.
He was starting a new paragraph.
Another way you could tell that Abe Levy was getting to be more like himself again was that he went back to making Sunday breakfasts for them all. Louey suspected that he took up pancakes as a specialty because of the chance to flip them, which you can’t do quite so well (he discovered) with scrambled eggs or cereal. It seemed as if making pancakes, to Abe Levy, was a great excuse to throw and catch things. He often flipped pancakes in time to the music he was singing. And if he couldn’t remember the words to any particular song, he would just make up his own, without missing a beat.
“Oh, it won’t be a stylish wedding,” he would sing. “We can’t afford the bedding.
“But you’ll look sweet, so I repeat: It’s a bicycle built for two!”
Abe would flip not only the pancake in question, nearly touching the ceiling with it, but also the long, metal spatula itself. Just as the pancake was beginning its descent, he would give the spatula a low, quick back-flip, ignoring the grease dripping off of it, and catch it a split second before the pancake landed perfectly on its wide, flat blade.
“Once again, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, the Great Avramo demonstrates the art of the Pancake Toss using nothing but his world-famous Banana/Walnut/Cucumber Pancakes, his incredible timing, and an ordinary, aluminum spatula from the Silver-Maid Company of — says here — Youngstown, Ohio. Never a miss, never a mess!
“You may applaud,” he proclaimed, whisking a plateful of already-flipped-about-20-times pancakes to the table.
“Dad, you shoulda been in the circus,” Louey said adoringly.
“Whaddaya mean? I am in the circus! It’s a three-ring circus down at City Hall every day, don’tcha know that?”
“Dad, you shoulda been a chef, honest,” Danny said, his mouth stuffed with pancakes.
“Look at this floor,” Clare added sadly. “Who’s going to clean this up?”
“Whaddaya mean? Who do ya think? You kids are! The cook doesn’t clean up — the cook cooks! That’s why they call him the cook!” Abe explained.
Other utensils, even knives, were not exempt from the Levy habit of treating every moveable object as a type of ball.
One Sunday morning in May, Clare entered the kitchen to find Abe happily singing, “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” and flipping pancakes in time to its beat, while Daniel and Louey tossed their large, heavy carving knife and fork back and forth across the table in full view of their father and in time to the “music,” the sideshow to his deranged circus act.
Clare stood in the doorway looking stricken. Louey cheerfully called out to her, by way of explanation about the knives: “Hey! Once they’re out of the drawer, they’re in play!”
“Are you people crazy?” Clare cried in horror. She ran crying from them all, back up the stairs to the safety of her room.
But Louey loved it, because now their father was acting just the way he was supposed to act; the way he used to act.
“Daddy?” she called from bed that night.
“Would you please tell us a Three Kid Detectives story?”
“The Three Kid Detectives? Them, again?”
“Yes!” all three cried, for Danny had heard from his room, too.
“All right; give me a minute, and I’ll be right in.”
“Yay!” all three yelled.
When he appeared in their room, he sat down on Clare’s side of the bed and removed his heavy shoes. They thumped to the floor.
“Move over, will ya? I need room to think, here!” He poked Clare in the side.
She clambered over him so that Abe would be in the middle, between her and Louey.
He slowly lay down on his back, making the father-noise that is a cross between an “oy” and a groan. He was on top of the covers, while they were under; that made Louey feel even more snug and cozy.
“Once upon a time, there were three kid detectives,” he said slowly, rubbing his face.
“And their names were …?” Clare asked sweetly.
“Well — you’ll never believe this — their names were Daniel, Louisa, and Clare Levy! Same as you guys! How the heck do you like that? I mean, what are the odds o’that, huh? Pretty wild, right?”
“Daddy, are you just stalling ’til you can think up a plot?” Louey asked.
“Oh, my God — now, what kind of a thing is that to say to your father? You think I’m makin’ up a plot, here? I’m tellin’ ya a story, for cripe’s sakes!”
“Oh, OK; sorry.”
“Danny? Can you hear me OK in there? Why don’t you open your door?”
Danny jumped up and swung his door wide open.
“OK, good. Now, Louey and Clare went to Grand Street School in Newburgh, New York, and Danny went to North Junior High School, in that very same city.”
“… Cause he was smarter than them,” Danny called out.
“Shut up, will ya? Who’s tellin’ this story — me or you?”
Louey hoped her dad would start from the beginning — where they had to get out of class to go on their adventure. That always made the stories much longer — and better.
“Anyway, one day, just as he was about to give the class a really hard test, Danny’s math teacher, Buster Crabapple, gets a call over the loudspeaker.”
“Hey, I thought my math teacher’s name was Michael McTurdy!”
“This isn’t you, ya dope — this is some other kid named Danny Levy! Whaddaya think? You think you’re the only Danny Levy in the world?”
“Last time, you said Danny’s math teacher was Michael McTurdy,” Clare noted.
“Yeah, well, Danny drove that guy to the nut-house. He’s in Middletown now, in a rubber room. The school had to hire a sub for the rest of the year. They have Buster Crabapple now.”
In those days, Middletown Psychiatric Hospital was the threatened future for all Newburgh children who acted crazy. If you acted crazy and were bad, too — “if you chopped your mother up into little pieces and then ate her,” was the example Bonnie always gave — they might send you Across the River to the Matteawan Psychiatric Center for the Criminally Insane, in Beacon. The stories people told about Matteawan’s inmates were just as scary as its name. But Middletown was second worst.
“Anyway, go ahead.”
“So anyway — where was I? Oh, yeah. Just as Buster Crabapple was starting to pass out a really, really hard test, the principal’s voice comes over the loudspeaker.
“‘Mr. Crabapple, please send Daniel Levy to the office immediately.’ The teacher goes over to the intercom button, and he pushes it, and he says back to the loudspeaker, ‘But Mr. Peacock, I’m just about to give the most important test of the month, and Danny missed the last test I gave, too. I don’t think he should miss another one. He’s not doing so hot, you know.’
“Mr. Peacock says, ‘Sorry, Buster. The President is on the line, and he wants to speak to Danny right now. If he doesn’t come down here immediately, you won’t be doing so hot!’
“‘You mean to say, the president of the PTA can’t wait until my test is over, to start that student-polling project?’ Crabapple says. ‘The president of the PTA has to pick on my class first, every single time he wants to do another one of those “student interviews”? The president of the PTA …’
“‘Not the president of the PTA, Crabapple — the President of the United States! And he needs the Three Kid Detectives, so get Danny down here right now!’
“Well, Danny jumped up from his desk and was out the door before Peacock had even finished speaking. But he opened the door a second later just to stick his head back inside the room and say: ‘Sorry, Buster!’
“Poor Crabapple was left standing there, turning as red as a … as a crabapple.”
“Crabapples are green,” Clare said.
“Whaddaya mean, ‘crabapples are green’? Crabapples are red, like all apples! Aren’t they?”
“No. Crabapples are little green things. And they’re hard. They’re like little, wrinkly, green golf balls.”
A rare silence ensued while the Levys pondered this new information.
“Dad? I hate to tell ya. I think she’s right,” Danny called.
“Huh. I’ll be damned. All right, so he turned as red as the ‘F’ at the top of Danny’s last math test. So sue me. Anyway, while all this was going on, Louisa was in gym class. It seems like she was always in gym class, doesn’t it? But there she was. Her class was outside, and her gym teacher had gathered Wilma Rudolph, the great Olympic athlete, and Floyd Paterson, the world champion boxer who lives right near Newburgh, in case anyone here didn’t know that, to be witnesses. Because Louey — that’s right, Little Louey Levy, ‘the Jewish Jumping-Bean,’ they called her — was about to go for the national high jump record for girls under 18 years old.”
“What’s that record — two feet?” Danny sneered.
“Shut up, dope,” Louey responded.
“Knock it off, both a ya,” Abe said. “The fact is, that record is exactly 5-foot-2-inches high — higher than Louey herself.”
“A shrimp is taller than her!” Danny said.
“Shut up, I said!”
Abe plowed on.
“‘Why, that bar’s higher than Louey herself!’ Floyd Patterson said.
“And Wilma Rudolph said, ‘They tell the Olympic high-jumping gals that that’s their goal, you know — to try to jump more than their own height. But even though it’s taller than you, I know you can do it, Louey. I can see that fire in your eyes.’
“And Floyd Paterson said, ‘It’s set at exactly 5-foot-2½, Louey. This is gonna be real tough. So go, baby, go!’
“A silence fell over the whole school yard. All the other girls gathered around to watch. And not just the girls, but the boys who were having their gym class outside that day, too.”
Louey squirmed with delight at that, because she loved to show off her athletic prowess in front of the boys. She loved it when, running back an intercepted pass in the Liberty Street Playground, she’d hear the grudging praises of the older boys she’d eluded, far behind her: “Damn! She’s fast.”
Abe continued: “Louey stared and stared at that bar, backing away slowly, like a tiger getting ready to spring. Then she stopped, and went into a slight crouch. All you could hear was one lonely little robin, singing in the tree by the back door of the school. And then, just as she was about to take off, everybody hears: ‘Louey! Hey, Louey!’
“It was the principal of Grand Street School, Mr. Moodwrecker.”
Moodwrecker! Their dad always thought of the best names.
“‘I’m glad I found you. I’ve been looking all over for you,' he says. ‘Sorry, Miss Mussels,’ he says to the gym teacher. ‘Say, look who’s here! Aren’t you Floyd Paterson and Wilma Rudolph?’
‘Yeah,’ they say, ‘we’re here to be witnesses. The most amazing thing is just about to happen! Stick around, because you’re gonna be glad you saw this!’
“‘Look,’ Moodwrecker says, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt, but whatever you’re doing is gonna have to wait. Louey’s gotta come with me. President Eisenhower is on the phone, and he wants to talk to her! It’s about the Russians.’
“Well, Miss Mussels knew all about the Three Kid Detectives. So she heaved a big sigh (though where she heaved it to, I have no idea), and she says, ‘Good luck, Louey. Be careful, will ya? You can always break that record when you come back.’
“Well, now there was only one Kid Detective left to get. At just about the same time that Moodwrecker was outside rounding up Louey, his assistant, Mr. Nosinbutt, was headed for Room 224, where Clare was about to do something special, too.
“You see, Gertrude Cleff — ‘Old G. Cleff,’ they called her for short — was the music teacher at Grand Street School, and she had gotten a little group together to hear Clare sing. Seated in that little room, all together for the first time, in fact, were Leonard Bernstein, Mahalia Jackson, and Ethel Merman. They had all canceled overseas trips and televised concerts so they could come to Grand Street School that day.
“Mrs. Cleff had never been so excited in her life. She was so excited, she was about to tinkle in her pantaloons.”
Tinkle in her pantaloons! Louey and Clare both rolled over laughing, kicking their blanket off. Clare laughed silently, shaking until she finally ran out of breath and, on the next inhale, snorted like a horse. That made everybody laugh even worse.
“Who the heck is in that bed — Buttermilk?” Danny yelled from his room. Buttermilk was the horse of Roy Rogers’ wife, Dale Evans.
Finally Abe continued: “But anyway, today was just not her day. In comes Nosinbutt.
“‘Mrs. Cleff, is there a Clare Levy down here?’ he says.
“‘Shhhh. … Quiet, please,’ Mrs. Cleff says. She’s sitting at the piano, and she turns her sheet music to the right spot, and she’s about to play the first note of the aria from that famous opera, A Zilberne Nixel oyf Dayn Pupik.”
That’s Yiddish for, “A Silver Nothing from Your Bellybutton.” Again, pillows hit the floor, bedclothes were torn off, and the sound of snorting could be heard 20 feet away.
“Yeah, like there could ever be a Yiddish opera,” Danny called out with scorn when they’d settled down a little.
“Are you kidding? Didn’t you ever hear of the Yiddish Opera?” Abe replied. “My God, on the Lower East Side, they performed live operas every Saturday night. Grampa and Grandma used to go whenever they could afford it, when they were first married.”
“Really?” Louey asked. “I mean, that’s like Shakespeare being performed in Yiddish. It just doesn’t go, y’know?”
“Whaddaya mean? Shakespeare is great in any language. When you tell a good story, it doesn’t matter what language you tell it in. The people who read or hear it will appreciate it, even many years later. They’ll still get it. And the people who acted in the Yiddish Theater were some of the greatest actors in the world! Didn’t you ever hear of Stella Adler? Where do you think she got her start?”
“Who? Never mind! Don’t tell us! Would you please just continue with the story, already?” Danny called.
“OK; all right. Now, where was I. Oh yeah. ‘Clare,’ this poor Nosinbutt says, ‘I need you to come with me right now! There’s a phone call for you from the President, and he says it won’t wait!’
“‘Oh, my God; does he need the Three Kid Detectives again?’ Mrs. Cleff asked.
“‘He does,’ Nosinbutt says with a big sigh.
“Well, Leonard Bernstein gasped and clamped his hands down on all his curly hair; Ethel Merman nearly fainted; and Mahalia Jackson crossed herself and looked up to the heavens for help. But Clare just ran off with Nosinbutt, to the school office.
“Nosinbutt told the girls what Peacock had just told Danny up at North Junior: They were to get on the phone right now. One on one extension, and one on the other. Danny was patched in from North Junior High School so that they could all talk to the President at the same time.
“‘Kids, we got a problem,’ Eisenhower says. ‘There’s a guy running around Moscow who the Russian police are looking for, and Krushchev says they can’t find him. The KGB has given up. They’re asking us for help. If we can succeed with this mission, Russia might decide to become friends with the U.S.A, and we could end the Cold War! But the only possible way to catch him is to call in the Three Kid Detectives.’
“‘Wait,’ Danny says into the phone. ‘Why should we cooperate with Russia? They’re our enemy, aren’t they?’
“‘Well,’ Eisenhower says, ‘they are right now, but this guy stole their Secret State Formula for making … uh … vodka. And now they’re afraid he’ll escape from the country with it, and try to sell it for a million bucks to any country that wants it, see? Then Russia will have no money-making industry at all! So if we can help them out here, they might call a truce in the Cold War.’
“‘So we need you to go over there and pose as American tourists,’ Ike says. ‘You’ll be given a Russian KGB agent who’ll be your translator, and who’ll pose as your father. He speaks fluent English, they told me. And he’ll be dressed in American clothes. It’ll be natural for you to be hanging around at the Moscow Airport all the time, because that way you can be looking for this guy while you’re pretending that you’re waiting for some arrivals, or getting ready to board a flight, or that you’re lost, or something.’”
“That’ll be natural for Danny,” Louey said loudly.
“Hey! I never get lost,” Danny yelled from his bed. “When do I ever get lost?”
“Look! Do you wanna find out what happens next, or not?” Abe said.
“Yeah. Go ahead,” they all said.
“So anyway, they all go home and get packed, and two hours later, they’re off to Idlewild. On the way, they get their instructions from their chauffeur, who’s from the CIA. They are to meet their KGB agent, Boris, in the International Departures Lounge. He’ll look like a typical American. He’ll have their tickets. And don’t worry, he says; Boris speaks perfect English, because he’s been in Russian spy school for three years. Boris will tell them everything else they need to know, on their way over there.
“‘Louey?’ the chauffeur says when they get to the airport, ‘you take this book, How to Learn Russian on Your Way to Moscow, and study it on the plane. You’ll love it. It’s a best-seller. Now Clare: You make sure Louey and Danny don’t get in trouble over there. Got it?”
“‘Got it,’ she says.”
“‘And Louey,’ he says, ‘we’re counting on you to find this bastard. This may end the Cold War, if you can succeed in this mission. Understand?’
“‘Da,’” she says, flipping through the book.
“‘Yeah?’ he says.
“‘Don’t get lost.’
“So anyway, off they go. They pull up to Idlewild, and they get outta the car, and they shlep their bags up to the International Departures Lounge, and they start looking around for their KGB agent, Boris. All they know about him is that he speaks perfect English and is dressed like a typical American. And they also know the Secret Password. There’s an Official Secret Password they have to say that only Boris will recognize: ‘Jellyfish never wear raincoats until they see a cloud.’ And when Boris hears that, he’s supposed to respond with the Official Secret Password Response: ‘And neither do the Methodists.’
“Well, they start looking around, but they can’t find Boris.
“‘We better split up,’ Clare says. ‘We’ll find him faster that way.’
“‘Da,’ Louey says. “Ocheen khorosho.’”
“‘Oh, stop showin’ off, will ya?’ Danny says. ‘You go that way, and Clare, you go look over there, and I’ll go see if he’s in the bar.’
“So off they go. Danny goes into the bar, and right away, he sees that the men are all watching the TV set in there. It’s tuned to the Yankees game, and they’re sitting or standing around at the bar watching it. Now, this one guy looks like a likely candidate. He’s dressed like a typical American guy, with a suit and hat on and his coat over his arm, and he’s got a briefcase in one hand and a Ballantine beer in the other. Just then Mickey Mantle hits a grand slam, and this guy raises his glass and gives out a big cheer, and Danny says to himself, ‘Now, there’s a guy playing the role of a perfect American! I bet that’s Boris.’ So he casually sidles up to this guy and he elbows him in the side and says, ‘Well, you know what they say: Jellyfish never wear raincoats until they see a cloud.’
“The guy turns and looks at him all puzzled, and he looks him up and down and he says: ‘What are you, some kinda philosopher?’
“Danny gets the heck outta there as fast as he can.
“But on his way out the door, who does he bump into, but Clare and Louey! And they’ve got Boris in tow.
“Boris is a short, squat little guy, about 5-foot-2 and about 300 pounds, with a bright red face, as red as a … as red as a bowl of borscht.
“But it wasn’t from embarrassment, and it wasn’t from the cold. Cold, hell! It was spring! This was June, already! It was from, let’s just say, drinking a bit too much, now and then. Because all the Russians do that. They love that vodka, y’know.
“Anyway, Boris gives Danny a friendly clap on the back and almost knocks him halfway to the boarding ramp.
“‘Jolly good show, there, Daniel my lad, eh wot? Caught up with you at lahst, eh, old chappy?’ he says. ‘Jolly good job! Well, just in time, eh? Let’s be off then, eh, my little ones? Come along, then!’ And off he runs to the boarding ramp, because they’re calling their flight over the loudspeakers.
“Clare, Louey, and Danny are all running along behind this guy, and taking out their passports, and Danny whispers to Louey, ‘You sure this is the right guy? He talks like an English fruitcake!’
“‘Yeah, I’m sure. He had the “Methodist” line down pat. I found him at the newsstand, buying the Times of London,’ Louey says.
“‘Yeah, well, he may speak English, but he sure don’t speak American,’ Danny said. ‘Who the heck is he gonna fool?’
“‘He must have gone to spy-school at Oxford,’ Clare says.
“Anyway, after their long flight, they land in Moscow and Boris has told them exactly what to do: Look for a guy right there in the airport, who’s acting suspicious and looks like he’s hiding something.
“‘But be careful,’ he says, ‘because this poor fellow is armed and extremely dangerous. He’ll kill you as soon as look at you, if he thinks you’re on to him. Well, good luck, and keep a stiff upper lip.”
“‘OK,’ Louey says. ‘Let’s get started. Clare and I will stick together and try to find this recipe-thief right around here. If he’s trying to get outta the country, he’s gotta go through that gate over there. Danny, you go see if he’s in the men’s room,’ Louey says.
“Danny is pulling on his top lip, trying to make it stand out straight. He’s looking down at it cross-eyed.
“‘‘Danny! Pay attention, will ya?’ Louey says. ‘This guy is armed and dangerous!’
“‘Sorry; I was just trying to keep a stiff upper lip,’ Danny said. ‘What did you say, again?’
“‘I said, go to the bathroom!’ Louey says.
“‘Fine; I was just gonna do that, anyway,’ he says.
“Well, they’re all keeping in touch with one another via their walkie-talkies. Which was a little embarrassing because Danny left his on, and two minutes later, Louey hears the sound of a toilet flushing. Louey and Clare were still in sight of each other at the time, and they just rolled their eyes at each other. But then, the strangest thing happened.
“Just as Danny was coming outta the men’s room, this tall, nervous-looking guy comes running like hell into the men’s room. I mean, he was really running. He was going about a hundred miles an hour. He bumps right smack into Danny, and knocks him head over heels, right onto the cold tile floor.
“‘Hey, you big Russian spaz! Why don’t you watch where you’re going?’ Danny wanted to say. But he was trying to be polite in a foreign country, so he didn’t. And then he noticed something. The guy had a magazine with him that had gone flying onto the floor too, and inside it, there was a piece of lined notebook paper that came out and had floated down to the floor. It looked like a list of some kind.
“Danny’s walkie-talkie had flown outta his pocket, onto the floor. The guy sees the walkie-talkie, and looks Danny right in the eye, and he knows this must be one of those famous Three Kid Detectives!
“He grabs the Secret Recipe off the floor, and pulls a gun out and aims it right at Danny, but just then the door opens, and another guy comes in. A witness! So the tall guy runs. He runs like hell, out the door and through the airport!
“Danny grabs his walkie-talkie.
“‘Louey! Clare!’ he says. ‘I found him, but he got away! He’s a big guy in one a those Russian fur hats, and he’s running! And be careful; he’s got a gun!’
“Clare and Louey both hear, loud and clear. They started looking for the guy.
“Louey was looking to the left; Clare was looking to the right; and Danny was looking for a bus. He was gettin’ the heck outta there!
“Suddenly, the girls see the bad guy. He’s down on the runway, heading toward the steps of a Finlandia plane that’s about to take off.
“Finland? That was even colder than Moscow, and Louey was freezing her tukhes off already! She couldn’t let him get on that plane!
“So, she ran as fast as she could. She jumped over the turnstile and ran like the wind. She made a diving tackle just before he reached the top step of the plane, and knocked him down … right at the feet of Boris. Boris was cool as a cucumber, with his little black Derby hat and his black umbrella over one arm. Boris grabbed the guy’s gun and the paper with the secret formula on it, and told him in Russian that he was under arrest-ski, and he was going straight to Siberia to chop wood-ski for the rest of his life-ski.
“‘Boris! How did you know he’d be trying to get on this plane?’ Clare asked.
“‘Elementary, my dear Clare! This was the only plane leaving Moscow for a foreign country this morning!’ he says.
“Now, finally Danny shows up on the scene, huffing and puffing up the steps behind them.
“‘What took you so long?’ Clare says.
“‘I got lost for a minute,’ he says.
“‘You got lost between the airport and the plane?’
“‘Well, I was detained, is a better word. I was detained by a beautiful blonde teenage girl who wanted directions. Unfortunately, I was unable to help her, because her English was awful.
“‘By the way,’ he says. ‘Not to change the subject, but you better let this crook use the john before he has an accident. Believe me, this guy has to go, bad!’
“Well, the next day, they were all lionized in Pravda as Heroes of the Soviet Union: the first Americans to win such an honor. ‘By saving the Secret State Recipe for vodka,’ the paper said, ‘the Three Kid Detectives have helped end the Cold War.’
“Well, they got back to Newburgh on a Friday, just in time for that math test that Danny had so dreaded.
“He flunked it, of course, but he had an excuse.
“‘Please allow Daniel to re-take this exam,’ Peacock wrote to Crabapple. ‘He had to be out of town for two days on assignment.’
“And because of that, Danny was able to raise his grade on the test from a zero to a 64 and a half. He gave him half a point for spelling his name right.”
“Hey! Round it up, and that’s passing!” Danny called from his bed.
“And when Clare got back to Grand Street School, guess who was waiting for her? Ed Sullivan! Mrs. Cleff had called and told him all about Clare, and he came to ask her to be on his show the very next Sunday.”
“Why didn’t he just call her? We have a phone!” Danny said.
“Shut up!” Clare and Louey yelled together.
“Louey wandered slowly past the playground, dawdling on her way into the building,” Abe continued. “And she sighed: Oh, how she wished she had made that jump when all her heroes were there. As she was strolling by the wooden wall surrounding the schoolyard, she didn’t notice it, but: A squeaky little mouse was right in front of her. And she stepped right on its poor little tail.
“Oh, how it yelped! It let out this high-pitched squawk that nearly startled the life out of her. She leapt right over that fence, with all her schoolbooks and everything still in her arms. And when she finally caught her breath and dusted herself off and picked up her books, she just shook her head and walked sadly into school. What she never looked back to notice was: the top of that fence that she had just jumped over. One of the fence-posts had stamped across the top of it, like all fence-posts do, in little tiny letters, its width: ‘4 inches.’ And its depth: ‘4 inches.’
“And its height: ‘64 inches.’”
“That’s 5-foot-4, in case you didn’t know,” Louey immediately called toward Danny’s room.
“I knew that!” Danny yelled out, indignantly.
“But that’s life, sometimes, when you’re one of … the Three … Kid … Detectives.”
Everybody said those last four words in unison.
“Yay!” Danny, Clare, and Louey yelled, and clapped long and loud.
“Dad?” Danny called.
“How come he didn’t just shoot me?”
“The bad guy. He had a gun! Why didn’t he just shoot me and the witness?”
“Jesus! How the hell do I know? Maybe he was outta bullets. Maybe he was afraid to draw even more attention, by making so much noise. Maybe he had a guilty conscience. I don’t know: Let it be, will ya? It’s a happy ending!”
Abe Levy shook his head as he rolled wearily out of his daughters’ bed.
“Let that be a lesson to ya, Louey,” he added. “You make up a story, and suddenly everybody’s a critic.”