Authors: Marilyn Sachs
Tags: #Juvenile Fiction for ages 9-12
Doesn’t wear pants.
Doesn’t wear pants.”
They had just passed the fish store on Boston Road when they heard it. Veronica gripped Mary Rose’s arm and whispered, “Keep walking!”
“Aw, Veronica,” Mary Rose began whining, “just forget it today. Stanley’s waiting for us, and Mama left a quarter on the table, and the place closes at four-thirty. Please Veronica, not today, Veronica.”
But Veronica just gave her one look, that familiar look, and Mary Rose started whimpering, “Why are you looking at me like that? It’s not my fault.”
“Just shut up, and keep walking,” Veronica hissed. She slowed her pace, and waited. Sure enough, it came again, louder and clearer this time.
Doesn’t wear pants.
Doesn’t wear pants.”
“Peter Wedemeyer,” Veronica said decisively. “I’ll kill him.”
“How do you know it’s him?” said Mary Rose.
“Because he lisps,” said Veronica. “Can’t you hear? He says, ‘Veronica Ganth, doethn’t wear panth.’ It’s him all right.”
“But where is he?”
Veronica cast a quick look over her shoulder. “Behind the ice truck in front of the fish store. You can see his feet. Just wait till I get my hands on him!”
She looked around her again with an experienced eye, examining the terrain. “O.K., Mary Rose, listen! Here’s the candy store. Let’s make believe we’re going inside.” She turned Mary Rose toward the store and slowly, very slowly, so that Peter was sure to see them, she began walking toward the entrance. “We’ll wait till he says it again. He’ll stick his head out to say it, and then duck back again. As soon as he does, I’ll sneak up the block, cross the street, and double back on him from there. Meanwhile, you stand here and keep looking in the store like you’re waiting for me. Kind of stamp your foot once in a while like you’re sick of waiting, and maybe even yell ‘Veronica,’ and I’ll—
Doesn’t wear pants.”
Veronica flew up the block, crossed the street, and, stooping low on the sidewalk behind the parked cars there, began tracking her quarry. She could see him now, very clearly, hiding behind the ice truck, and peeking out every once in a while. There was Mary Rose in front of the candy store, playing decoy. Good old Mary Rose! Even though she was a fink, in moments like this, she sure was a help. Carefully Veronica moved silently along, narrowing the distance between Peter and herself.
“Hey, Veronica, what are you doing?” There was Rita Ferguson standing there, grinning. Big mouth! “Get lost!” Veronica snapped, and made a little move toward her. Rita went scuttling off down the street. Now for Peter. He’s been asking for it, Veronica reflected, as she continued padding along behind the cars. Peter was a new kid in her class, new in the neighborhood, too. He and she hadn’t been properly introduced, she thought with a grim smile, and lately some troublesome things had been happening. Somebody kept throwing her coat off the hook in the clothes closet, and somebody had put a tack on her seat this morning. She’d had her suspicions all right. Nobody else in the class would dare to tangle with her. They’d all been through it already one way or another. But every new kid, sooner or later, had to be educated. The girls were easy. They’d giggle or whisper about her, and generally one loud slap in the face kept them in line. She didn’t really enjoy fighting girls. They just stood there and cried. Boys were more interesting. Frank Scacalossi, for instance—he’d been interesting, and harder to beat than anyone else. Probably what she ought to do, as soon as a new kid arrived, was right away give him a poke in the nose so there wouldn’t be any question in his mind about who she was. Not that she really minded a good fight with all the trimmings, but some days it just was not as convenient as others. Now today, it was not convenient at all, but maybe if she got it over with quickly, she and Mary Rose could still get over to the day-old bakery.
Carefully she raised her head from behind the blue Chevy and gazed thoughtfully at Peter’s back. She was in a direct line with him now, and it was just a question of whether she should rush out at him from where she was standing, or continue up the block and make a charge on his right flank. More cautious that way, of course, but today she just did not have all the time in the world. She’d take a chance. Besides, if she caught him head on she could just drive him against the truck, which would be a convenient place to hold him and bang his head.
She looked up and down the street. No cars. Here goes! She flew out from behind the car, dashed across the street, and grabbed Peter just as he was beginning to poke his head around the side of the truck and holler. In fact, his mouth was halfway open, and his beginning cry of “Ver
” was shouted, but never finished, into Veronica’s grinning face.
“Did you call?” Veronica inquired politely, as she lined Peter up against the back of the truck and banged his head against it.
Peter closed his mouth. His face turned pasty. This would not take too long, Veronica knew.
“Well, here I am,” said Veronica, banging his head again. A few more bangs, one or two pokes, and it would be over. But Peter kicked her hard in the shins and flew off into the sanctuary of the fish store.
That lousy little shrimp! Veronica thought, standing uncertainly in front of the fish store and gazing inside. He kicked me. Peter was the smallest kid in the class, but Veronica knew that size was no measure of a challenger’s mettle. It was frequently the little kids who gave her the most trouble. Howard Tannenbaum, now, another shrimp, and only in the seventh grade, had cut her lip so badly last month that she hadn’t been able to chew for a couple of days. Of course, a cut lip was nothing compared to what she had done to Howard. But that was all water under the bridge, and right now Peter was hiding in the fish store, and how was she going to get him out?
She snapped her fingers at Mary Rose, who was still standing near the candy store. Mary Rose came running.
“Where’d he go?” she asked. “What happened?”
“In there,” Veronica said. “He kicked me. Oh, will he be sorry! Now, go inside, and tell him to come out. Tell him I’m waiting, and I don’t have all day.”
Mary Rose entered the fish store. In a minute, she was back. “He won’t come.”
“Tell him,” said Veronica, “if he doesn’t come out, I’ll come in and get him.”
“He said come and get him,” Mary Rose said, reporting back.
Veronica weighed the various possibilities. She could just stand around and wait for him to come out. Sooner or later, he’d have to come out. Or, she could go in and get him. Trouble with that was there were grownups inside who were certain to break it up, and equally certain to yell at her, and call her a bully, and tell her to pick on someone her own size even though he had started it. Or she could wait until tomorrow and catch him on the way to school.
“Come on, Veronica,” pleaded Mary Rose, “let’s go home. You can get him tomorrow.”
She looked up at Mary Rose’s anxious face in distaste. Her mind was made up. She’d get him today. Maybe somebody would break it up, but not before she’d given him a few wallops he wouldn’t forget in a hurry.
She strode into the store. The fish man was busy waiting on a woman, and another customer was inspecting the gills of a big fish lying on the ice. Peter was crouched down at the end of the counter. Jerk! Veronica thought. Does he think I don’t see him there?
“Come on, Peter,” Veronica crooned, walking quickly toward him. “Come on home, Peter. Mama’s got a nice bottle of milk waiting for you. Come on, baby.”
Peter stood up and waved. Funny kid! “Come and get me,” he said, grinning.
Veronica smiled a wide, loving smile, and rushed forward with both arms outstretched. She saw him stoop down, and just as her fingers were beginning to close on his shoulders —
it was suddenly dark. She stood there choking and gasping, and struggling to breathe under the waste bucket Peter had thrown over her head. On her nose, her mouth, on her shoulders, up and down her arms and legs, a cascade of scales, fish heads, tails, and other odoriferous fish leavings enveloped her. She yanked the bucket off her head, and the smell and the feel of being encased in decaying fish was too much for her.
“Aaaah, aaaah, aaaah!” she shrieked.
“Whatsamatter? Whatsamatter?” yelled the fish man, darting toward her. “You crazy kids — get out of here!”
“My goodness, what will they think of next?” said one customer.
“It’s a disgrace,” murmured the woman who had been examining the fish’s gills, and was now looking into its eyes.
Veronica fled, leaving a trail of fish behind her. Outside, Peter was already nearly at the corner, and she flew after him, shouting, “Peter Wedemeyer, Peter Wedemeyer, I’ll get you, Peter Wedemeyer!”
Peter kept running. Behind her she could hear Mary Rose calling, but she didn’t turn around. Nobody had ever done anything like this to her in her whole life. When Sanford Feldman had pushed her into Indian Lake it was nothing compared to this. Besides, she had been holding Sanford.
Swiftly, Peter fled down Boston Road, and hot on his trail flew Veronica. Faster and faster her long legs beat on the pavement, and smaller and smaller grew the distance between them.
She lost sight of him just for a moment when he turned on Clinton Avenue, but she saw him again as she sped around the corner. There he was, less than half a block away. Another burst of speed, and she’d have him. But suddenly Peter darted up the stairs of an apartment house and disappeared inside. Good, good! Let him hide inside. She’d find him, and drag him out, and let him scream his head off, once she had him, he was hers. Up the stairs Veronica ran, into the building, and immediately raced for the bottom of the stairwell. Peter was not there. She raced up the stairs, pausing at each landing to look, but Peter had disappeared. The door to the roof was locked, so he hadn’t gone there. Where was he then? Where was he hiding?
“Peter Wedemeyer,” she boomed into the heart of the silent building, “wherever you are, I’ll find you.” Quickly she descended and stood at the bottom of the staircase, breathing very hard, with her heart thumping loudly in her chest. How could he have disappeared? Where did he go? Oh no! Not that! It couldn’t be!
She charged over to the mailboxes in the vestibule and inspected the names under them. Wedemeyer-apt. 3A. This was the house he lived in.
Veronica sat down on the floor, put her right hand over her heart, and raised her left hand in the air. “I swear to God I’ll get Peter Wedemeyer,” she chanted. “And if I don’t, may I fall down dead, and —” Mary Rose opened the outside door and gaped at her. “And may Mary Rose fall down dead.” (Mary Rose started crying.) “And may Stanley fall down dead, and may Ralph fall down dead, and may —
” No, there was no need to add Mama to the list. It would do. “May we all fall down dead if I don’t get Peter Wedemeyer.”
“What happened?” Mary Rose sobbed. “I wanna go home.” Suddenly she stopped sobbing, and a weak little smile began growing on her face until it blossomed into a wide, wondering laugh. “You got a fish head in your hair, and —” Mary Rose sniffed the air. “What’s that funny smell?”
With a cry of fury, Veronica leaped up and ran back into the hall — 3A, that’s where he lived, 3A. She passed 1A, 2A, and stood, snorting, in front of the innocent-looking green door marked 3A. She knocked at the door. Nobody answered. She rang the bell. Nobody answered. She kicked the door, and leaned on the bell.
“Go ‘way,” said a voice from behind the door.
“Open up this door,” shouted Veronica, struggling to turn the knob, which of course refused to turn.
“Go ‘way,” said Peter.
“Let me in,” Veronica cried, pounding on the door, “or —”
And there was Peter, laughing. She and Mary Rose could hear him clearly, laughing. “Or,” he cried, “you’ll huff and you’ll puff, and you’ll blow the house down. Ha, ha, ha, ha. Hee, hee, hee
” They heard a thump, and the laughter coming from lower down behind the door where Peter had fallen, roaring with laughter.
Veronica began to fling herself against the door, but the door to Apartment 2A opened and a woman came out into the hall.
“What are you doing to that door, little girl?” she said. “What’s going on here?”
Veronica continued flinging herself against the door.
“Now stop that!” the woman said sharply. “Stop that right now!”
“Mrs. Rizzio,” came Peter’s voice from behind the door, sounding very high and frightened. “Please, Mrs. Rizzio, make her go away. My mother’s not home, and she wants to hurt me. She’s the biggest bully in the world, and she followed me home from school, and — oh, please, Mrs. Rizzio,” Peter was sobbing now. “I’m all alone, and I’m so scared.”