By Jim Bowman
. . . We left our heroes on the third-floor landing, balancing a garbage can on Mr. McLaughlin's railing. A dog started barking in the next yard. . . .
We froze again. Then Mel gestured, "Let's go." He tied twine to the can, now balanced on the rail and made sure it was good and tight, giving it a pull while I held the can steady. Then he threw the ball of twine over the railing to the pavement below, where it landed with the slightest pop. Then we started down the stairs, quickly as we could, quietly, one flight then another.
We were already grinning with the sheer fun of it as we headed to the first landing where the new people lived. Mel even jumped the last few stairs, landing with a thump. Then the screen door flew open, and out jumped the biggest guy I'd ever seen. "Hah!" he yelled, and blocked the way.
Mel stopped short, but I couldn't. Coming down behind him, I banged into him and pushed him forward into the arms of the giant.
"Hah!" he yelled again as Mel fell into him. There was no getting by. I looked behind me. Maybe I could get back upstairs and . . . I didn't have the slightest idea what I might do, but I ran back upstairs. But there on the second landing, blocking the way, was the lean and mean Mr. McLaughlin, breathing fire.
He just stood there, hands on hips, his gray hair standing up from his head, his eyes aflame.
I turned back to the big guy. "Hah!" he yelled again. Out the door came a woman, young like him and blond and pretty, looking like she was about to burst. I mean she was ready either to laugh or cry. I hoped it was laugh.
It was the first time in my life I wanted to be laughed at. Go ahead, laugh at me, flashed through my mind. I won't mind. Just let me go. And I will go right home, and I will never do it again, and I'm a good boy . . . I was scared, and so was Mel. I could tell. His usual smirk wasn't there. That big guy meant business. Oh boy.
"Call the cops, Joe," said the woman. I looked at her. She still looked ready to cry or laugh. But now a little more like laugh.
Joe narrowed his eyes. Mel and I looked up at him. He had the broadest shoulders and biggest hands. He put hands on hips and looked.
Then the woman laughed. It was the laugh we had heard earlier. Joe glanced at her, his mouth starting to turn.
"Don't laugh at 'em," said a voice from behind me, Mr. McLaughlin's. "They deserve every bit of scarin' they can get."
"Get in there." It was Joe. He pointed to the screen door, now held open by the woman. We did what he said. Joe had the start of a grin, but a glint in his eye. He was nothing to fool with.
We went inside and found out a few things. Joe and Sally, the new people, were both cops. Mr. McLaughlin knew them from his time spent at village hall. He'd seen us on his porch and called them on the phone. They had waited for us.
Joe put us in front of his telephone and told us to call our parents. Unluckily, both of mine were home, and one of Mel's. We had to tell the whole story. Then Joe got on the phone and added his part. Then he sent us home, where I'd rather not say what happened.
One thing I remember: Mr. McLaughlin calling down to us from his landing as we slunk out of the paved yard, and us looking back up in time to see the twine float down. It might have been a garbage can, I thought. And as the twine fell, I shivered. Dangerous stuff, I thought, dumping garbage cans.
Mel and I took the twine and ran. (end)
Answer Book 2019
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