Cat Burglars

By Bernie Suttle

cat burglars


“Dean Higgins has one but he says it doesn’t work all the way,” I told my fifth-grade friends.

Kyle, the Alfalfa look-alike, who always wore cheap, scuffed, cowboy boots to remind us all that he had once ridden a horse, chipped in, “Nothing he has works all the way.”

“We can make it work for him, then we can listen to Cap’n Midnight, Jack Armstrong, Hop Harrigan and all the neat programs every afternoon. Then after we repair it and we’re sure it works OK, we’ll return it. He’ll really like that.”

“Sure! He’ll just let you walk out with his Philco radio?” Kyle sneered.

“Naw. How about we take it during the Parachute Jump at the Monrovia Airport late Sunday afternoon? Dean and his folks will be out on Maple Avenue with all the others watching it.”

“He’ll miss it right away,” said Kyle, whose enthusiasm would fail whenever he met challenges attendant to any activity.

Philly, chiming in behind his horned-rim glasses and runny nose tended to by the back of his left hand and sleeve, said, “Not our Dean. He doesn’t even know if he’s got his shoes on.”

“No. If we plan it and follow our plan carefully it’ll be easy,” I said, with my usual optimism.

The Maple Avenue crowd assembled for one of the few free offerings of late 1941, the Sunday afternoon parachute jump. The radial-engine bi-plane growled its way to jump altitude in the eastern skies of Monrovia as the sun started its slide toward the Pacific Ocean.

The screen door to the service porch of Dean’s house was never hooked. The spring moaned during its torturous extension as Philly slowly pulled the door open for my stealthy entrance. Kyle, at the corner of the lot, was the lookout.

I slipped through the opening with the almost silent footfalls my aging sneakers provided. Preparations for Sunday dinner had commenced with the familiar smell of boiled cabbage. The floorboards squeaked their complaints as I moved across the kitchen toward Dean’s room. His mother had made his small bed; the rest was in mild disorder. Beside a beat up cardboard wardrobe was a card table with an incomplete model airplane lying on its side. Next to it was the mute Philco - unplugged.

I scooped it up. “Hey! This thing’s heavy.” I carried it through the kitchen, out and down the stairs, to my house where I put it under my bed.

The next afternoon the gang gathered on the floor of my room for the test.

“OK, let’s hear it,” Philly said.

“Hmmmmmm,” It moaned.

“It needs an antenna,” Kyle chipped in.

“There’s a long one on the radio Dad uses every night to listen to Gabriel Heater’s news. It’s too long. I’ll cut some off for Dean’s radio.” And I did.

“Let’s try it now,” I said, “With the volume all the way up.”

Kyle lit up. “The hum is louder. We’re on the right track.”

“Beans,” Philly said.

“No, really I think I heard Morse code in there.”

“Double beans,” Philly said.

“It’s the radio. It’s no good. Got to get it out of my room before my mom finds it. She’s always cleaning and will spot it. Can’t throw it in the trash, its Dean’s. That would be stealing. We got to return it.”

“Why? Forget about it. We were lucky to get it out. We’ll be caught we’ll be cat burglars,” Philly said.

“C’mon! This Sunday during the Jump we can get it back into Dean’s room. We know how.”

As the people gathered on Maple Avenue we cat burglars took up our practiced positions to undo our previous crime. Kyle, the lookout, kept peeking out to watch the jump. Philly cautiously pulled open the screen door at the back of Dean’s house muttering, “I’ve never stolen anything before. Quick! Put it back.”

Carrying the ill-gotten goods I sneaked up the steps past Philly and the open door, through the kitchen by the table down the hall and into Dean’s cell-like bedroom. The model plane lay in its same state of disassembly on the card table. I put the Philco down, glared at its failed promise and exited. The kitchen still smelled of boiled cabbage. The three of us snuck away reveling in the restoration that we hoped absolved us of guilt.

The next day we returned to the scene of the crime, but this time Dean, unaware of our earlier invasion of his space, was with us. “It works, it works! “Dean yelled. “My dad must have taken it to work at the shipyards to get it fixed and now it’s back and all our programs come through swell.”

“Dad told me the little knob in the middle, the AC/DC knob, had to be turned to the right all the way.”

Philly stared at Dean and said, “That’s all it took to make it work, turn that center knob to the right?”

“Yeah, isn’t that great?” Dean exclaimed, with his goofy grin.

Philly sighed and hit Dean square on the nose.


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