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- THROW, CATCH, THROW, CATCH
I’d hoped we’d be able to scoot across in the shadows, but now I’m pretty certain we’re dead meat.
“We got to pretend we’re supposed to be here,” Piper says, still breathing hard from the run. “Let
me handle it.” She darts across before I can stop her.
Within seconds, Mattaman’s high-powered searchlight finds her, and I scuttle out to where she’s
“Piper? Moose?” he calls through the bullhorn. “What’s going on down there?”
“Just coming back from playing for Mr. Hoover, Mr. Mattaman,” Piper calls back.
“Thought you were done earlier,” Mattaman bellows.
“No, sir,” Piper answers.
“That right, Moose?” Mattaman calls down.
My heart beats loudly in my ears, flushing me with guilt. “Yes, sir,” I say weakly.
“Okay then.” Mattaman gives us the nod.
When we arrive at the Mattamans’, Piper cracks a big smile. “I’m so good,” she says.
Doesn’t she ever feel ashamed, I wonder as Mrs. Caconi pounces on us, her face red and shiny
with sweat. “Do you have her?” she cries.
“Who? Have who?” I ask, but I already know the answer. I can feel it in the tightening of my belly
and the dizziness in my head.
“I don’t know what happened, Moose.” Mrs. Caconi’s lip begins trembling. “One minute Natalie
was here. The next minute she was gone. Jimmy and Theresa are out looking for her. But you’d know
where she’d have got to. Course you would!” She mops her forehead with her handkerchief.
“I better go get my parents,” I say.
“Oh now, Moose . . . you don’t need to go and do that, do ya? Go on. You’ll find her. I know you
will.” Mrs. Caconi’s big pink hand is on my back, pushing me out the door.
“She doesn’t want us to tell,” Piper blurts out as we run down the balcony. “She doesn’t want to
get in trouble either.”
I try to figure out where Natalie would go.
“Let’s try the swings,” I say as we head up the stairs to the parade grounds, though I wonder again
if I should get my parents. I don’t want to tell them I wasn’t with Natalie, but this is serious.
We round the corner of 64 building and slam into Jimmy and Theresa. They’re panting like they’ve
just run a few miles.
“Natalie?” my voice croaks.
Jimmy is doubled over with a side ache. “We checked behind 64 building, Chinatown, the parade
“I was in the bathroom,” Theresa explains in a high voice. “Jimmy was supposed to be watching
Jimmy puts his head in his hands. “Two minutes I was gone. I just went to get the ball. It went over
the railing,” he mutters miserably.
“That’s all you ever do. Throw and catch. Throw and catch,” Theresa practically shouts at him.
“Shut up, Theresa. Let’s just find Natalie,” Piper tells her.
“Where would Natalie go?” I try to think, but my mind is jammed with fear.
“The secret passageway?” Piper whispers.
“She doesn’t know about it.” Then it comes to me, what I told her yesterday: tomorrow. We can
see Molly tomorrow. “Your house,” I tell Piper.
Theresa’s head is like a little nodding machine. “She kept talking about that mouse, Molly.”
“Why didn’t you tell me that before?” Jimmy shouts at her.
Theresa takes a big wobbly breath. “Don’t yell at me. I didn’t think of it.”
I’m already running up the steps with Piper right behind me. Mattaman can see us here too, only not
as easily or as clearly. But right now I don’t care about Mattaman. I just want to find Natalie.
We tear up out of the tower guard’s sight lines and take the shortcut to Piper’s house. At least the
passmen won’t be at the warden’s house. Thank God they don’t work at night.
When we get to Piper’s doorstep, heaving from the uphill run, Piper pulls open the door, slips
inside, and slams the door in my face. “Wait here,” her muffled voice barks from inside the house.
“Hey.” I shove open the door.
“No!” She squeezes it shut again and turns the lock.
I pound on the door. “Piper!” I yell. Then I run around to the back door and shove myself against it.
This door opens easily and I almost fall into the kitchen.
A bed has been moved inside the large kitchen along with bags of fluids and containers of pills.
Mrs. Williams is lying on the bed, a thin cover over her enormous stomach, her skin as gray as dead
fish, and a smell like overripe peaches is hanging in the air. Doc Ollie’s sister is running a washcloth
across Piper’s mom’s forehead.
“Moose?” Doc Ollie’s sister looks up in surprise.
“I found her! She’s here!” Piper yells from another part of the house. Relief shoots through my
I duck out the back door, but not fast enough. Piper has run around the house looking for me. She
sees me come out the back door.
“I told you not to go in.” Piper’s voice drops suddenly as Natalie comes around the house.
“Natalie,” I say, so glad to see her, my insides ache with relief.
“I told you!” Piper shouts.
“Yeah but—” I mumble, staring at Piper, whose face is half lit by the glow of the big yellow moon.
“Stop looking like that!” She shoves me.
“Like what?” I mutter, wondering how I’m supposed to look.
“Stop!” Piper’s nails are ready to scratch my eyes out. “My mom is fine. Buddy said so.” Her
“Okay,” I whisper.
It’s quiet up here—a world away from the party below. Only the sound of the night crickets and a
distant boat horn. Piper looks as if she might burst. “Hey, I believe you,” I whisper in my most
Piper lunges at me again. “She is.”
“Okay, all right.” I lift my arms in the cool night air.
Tears stream down Piper’s face. “I told you to stop looking that way! She’s fine!” Piper sobs.
“She’s just going to have a baby. That’s all.” Piper is crumpled over like an empty dress. “Say it!”
she cries, her voice choked with sobs.
“She’s fine, Piper,” I tell her. Natalie is rocking from one foot to another, her eyes scanning Piper
and then the ground, Piper and then the ground.
Piper’s eyes spit like bacon on the griddle. “You think you know everything. But you don’t.
Everyone hates you, Moose.”
“Everyone hates you, Moose,” Nat repeats. “Not Natalie. Not me,” Nat mutters, touching her chest.
Piper ignores Natalie. “Jimmy does. You treat him like an imbecile because he doesn’t like
“I don’t treat him like a—”
“Why do you think he’s trying so hard to learn to play?”
I grind my teeth.
“Yeah. Annie’s teaching him. And Annie . . . you only like her because she has a great throwing
“There are lots of things I like about Annie,” I whisper. “Piper, you’re just upset. Don’t take it out
“Yeah, name one. Name one thing you like about Annie.”
“She’s nice. She’s smart. I can trust her.”
“If she couldn’t play baseball, you wouldn’t be her friend.”
“That’s not true.”
“Yeah, it is, and Scout hates you because you’re always sure he’s after me.”
“Well, he is after you.”
“You don’t know anything, do you?” she lashes out at me. “You’re a complete moron like your
sister. It runs in your family.” She glares at Natalie, the tears streaming down her face.
“You’re a moron!” Piper screams at Natalie.
“Shut up!” I can’t help myself. Nobody says this to Natalie. Nobody. But then the scene in the
kitchen flashes through my mind. The gray, sick, drawn face. The sickly sweet rotting smell.
“What’s wrong with your mom, Piper?” I whisper.
“Nothing!” she screams. “Nothing is wrong!”
But the louder she screams, the more she sees I don’t believe her. She shoves me away. “Can’t you
see, you moron? Nothing is wrong!” She turns and runs into the house.
When Natalie and I get back down to 64 building, Mrs. Mattaman is waiting for us outside our
apartment. I’m not sure what Mrs. Mattaman knows and what she doesn’t know, but from the way her
eyes are squinting and her foot is tapping, she’s clearly hopping mad. “Go straight to bed, you two.”
Her voice is cold and hard. “I will be back in half an hour to check on you, and you had better be in
bed snoring, do you understand me? My kids have no school tomorrow. What about you, Moose?”
I shake my head. It’s peculiar we would all be off when it isn’t a holiday. Normally I’d be happy
about this, but with Mrs. Mattaman so burnt up, I wish I did have school.
“When Mr. Mattaman gets off at eight tomorrow morning you, Moose, will report to our apartment.
You and Theresa and Jimmy have a lot of explaining to do, you hear me? Pulling shenanigans on an
important night like this . . . shame on you!” She waves her fancy jeweled purse at me.
“Mrs. Mattaman?” I ask as she turns to leave. “Is Piper’s mom okay?”
Mrs. Mattaman stops, her chest heaving. “I dunno, Moose,” she says without turning back. “I really
PIG HALF IN THE POKE
Monday, September 9, 1935
The next morning when I wake up, Natalie is staring over me, peering into my eyes like she’s doing a
“What is it?” I ask.
Natalie says nothing, but I can see by the way she’s digging her chin in her chest that she’s anxious.
I wonder what she made of what happened last night. Did she know she wasn’t supposed to go to
the warden’s house? Did she understand why Piper was yelling at me? Does she know what the word
moron means? It would be a lot easier to feel sad for Piper if she wasn’t so mean.
Natalie stays with me as if she is suddenly glued to my side. I have to go in the bathroom and close
the door in her face to get changed. When I’m done, she’s waiting right outside.
In the kitchen, we hear my dad rattling around. What does he know about last night, I wonder. I’d
rather he find out about it from me, but maybe he won’t have to hear about it at all. Maybe the
Mattamans will want to keep this quiet. Mrs. Caconi too. I’m sure she’d prefer if my parents didn’t
know Natalie disappeared on her watch.
“What’s your plan this morning?” Natalie asks when she sees our dad.
We both look at her as if the stove just spoke. This is what my father usually asks. Slowly, my
father’s face changes from surprise to pleasure.
“Gonna make myself some breakfast,” he tells Natalie. “And you, sweet pea?”
“Moose,” she mutters. “Stay with Moose.”
“Mrs. Mattaman invited us over,” I tell him.
“For breakfast?” He cocks his head and sets the coffeepot down.
“Uh-huh. Dad, what’s happening with Mrs. Williams?”
My dad shrugs. “It’s hard to know. The warden likes to play things close to the vest.”
My mother pokes her head in the kitchen.
“Piper’s mom . . . is she okay?” I ask her.
My mother rubs her eyes and tightens the cord on her bathrobe. “We’re all worried.” She sighs.
“You hear something?”
I can’t tell her what I saw without explaining what in the heck I was doing up there. I wish I could,
though. I really wish I could.
At the Mattamans’ the first person we see is Riv Mattaman. The whites of his eyes are shot through
with pink and his legs are kicked over the arm of the chair, as if he’s too tired to sit the normal way.
Mattaman did a shift and a half in the guard tower. No wonder he’s beat.
He groans when he sees me. I can’t meet his bloodshot eyes.
Nat sits right down to a game of button checkers already in progress from last night. She looks up at
Theresa, her eyes full of longing, but Theresa has hold of her dad’s hand and won’t let it go. Natalie
reluctantly settles in to play by herself.
“Piper’s not here, Dad.” Theresa pulls on his arm. “You can’t start till she gets here.”
“Mind your own business, missy,” he tells Theresa, then looks at all of us. “What the heck
happened last night?”
Jimmy takes a step forward. “Piper got you and Moose’s dad in trouble because she was mad at
“I didn’t do anything! It wasn’t me,” Theresa cries.
“Was so.” Jimmy glares at her.
Mattaman pulls at his still crisply creased pant leg and rests his foot on the chair rung. “Come
again?” he asks.
“She told the warden she saw you and Mr. Flanagan drinking just before you went on duty.”
In the kitchen, Mrs. Mattaman slams her rolling pin down, then yanks her apron off, wads it up,
tosses it on the chair, and marches into the living room.
“She said she’d get you out of trouble if Moose would help her meet Capone,” Jimmy explains.
“So she and Moose snuck back inside to watch.”
“That true?” Mr. Mattaman directs his question at me.
“Yes, sir. We saw Capone spit in Eliot Ness’s mashed potatoes. He hocked up a gob of phlegm,
then he smoothed it over with his finger. Gave it a little swirl. I saw with my own eyes.”
Mr. Mattaman pulls at his mustache.
Theresa makes a face. “Eew,” she says.
“But Natalie didn’t go with you. It was just you and Piper in there?” Mr. Mattaman asks.
“While they were gone, we were watching Natalie with Mrs. Caconi,” Jimmy explains, “but Nat
snuck out. She went to the warden’s house.”
“She wanted to see Molly, the mouse Willy One Arm has,” Theresa adds.
Mr. Mattaman points at her. “And you, missy? What did you do that annoyed Piper so much that
started this whole thing?”
Theresa’s lower lip puckers up. “Nothing. Piper is the wrong one, not me.”
Jimmy snorts. “C’mon, Theresa.” He glares at his sister, then turns to his dad. “She spies on us,
Dad. And she can’t stand that Moose likes Piper.”
The blood rushes to my face. “I do not like Piper.”
“Do so,” Theresa says.
“Theresa! Since when is that your business? You and I need to have a talk about this in private,”
Mr. Mattaman tells her. Theresa’s mouth droops.
“And you two.” He points at me and Jimmy. “Why didn’t you tell me about this? For Pete’s sake
—” He sighs, his brown eyes softening. “Since when do you think you run the place?”
“Can I ask one little tiny-teeny question?” Theresa’s hand is up by her face like she’s not sure
whether to raise it all the way or not. “When are you going to talk to Piper?”