My Chimp Friday: The Nana Banana Chroniclesby Hester Mundis
Rachel can't imagine why Bucky Greene, a scientist friend of her father's who's developing genetically engineered bananas, would show up at their New York City apartment in the middle of the night to leave a baby chimpanzee with them for a week -- or why they absolutely, positively can't tell anyone about it. What could possibly be "top secret" about an adorable chimp like Friday?
Rachel hasn't a clue, but when Friday turns out to be really, inexplicably intelligent (Rubik's Cube's a snap) -- and Bucky Greene turns up really, inexplicably dead (he slipped on his own banana peel) -- she suspects serious monkey business afoot. And when chimp-nappers step into the picture, getting to the bottom of Friday's "top secret" before it's too late becomes a delightfully madcap mystery -- with Rachel in a riotous, nonstop race for survival of the fittest.
Written by four-time Emmy-nominated writer and acclaimed humorist Hester Mundis, who raised a chimp of her own in her Manhattan apartment, this is a wonderfully funny -- and heartfelt -- novel about endangered species, corporate espionage, and going bananas in more ways than one.
- Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
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- 3 MB
- Age Range:
- 8 - 12 Years
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: One Dark and Noisy Night
The buzzing was really annoying, and Rachel was getting very angry. Ticked off big-time. Mickey Phelps -- the unfunniest practical joker in the whole sixth grade (and possibly the history of the school) -- had dropped an alarm clock in her backpack, and she couldn't turn it off. It sounded like the hand buzzer he had startled her with the week before. For some dumb reason she was his favorite target and his best friend. Sometimes she wondered about the "best friend" part. Yesterday in the lunchroom he had planted a grossly real-looking fake bug in her Jell-O. It was totally not funny.
Table-turning time had come.
She was just about to slip a gooey slice of pepperoni pizza under him as he was sitting down (childish but well-deserved revenge) when suddenly Mickey Phelps started to bark.
Rachel's eyes snapped open.
The clock on her nightstand said 2:00 A.M., and someone was at the door.
The barking was coming from Wetspot, which was almost as weird as if it had come from Mickey Phelps. The Stelson family dog was the quietest (mostly) golden retriever in the history of golden retrievers. He hardly ever barked, except when Mrs. Carey, their housekeeper, turned on the vacuum cleaner. But he had a kind of dog sense when something wasn't right. And someone at the door pressing on the buzzer in the middle of the night like the building was on fire -- which maybe it was -- definitely wasn't right!
Rachel jumped out of bed. She went to the window, listened, and sniffed the air. No sirens, no smoke -- no fire. She breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. DeFina, her homeroom teacher at The Dahl Riverside School, would havecalled her quick deduction "specious." He would have called it that for two reasons. One of the two reasons was that Mr. DeFina liked to use words that he believed "enriched" his students' vocabulary, and "specious" -- meaning "apparently right but not necessarily so" -- was an enriching favorite of his. Rachel had won last week's spelling bee and moved into the school's semifinals by getting it right (beating Mickey, who goofed on "quibbling" by using only one "b").
The other reason was that the absence of fire trucks and smoke didn't necessarily mean there couldn't be a fire somewhere in the building, and Rachel knew it. Still, specious or not, she just didn't care to think about it at the moment.
She was too curious about who was at their door.
The buzzer sounded again, followed by another uncharacteristic throaty burst from Wetspot. It was almost as if after five years of occasional "woof-woofs" he had decided that tonight was the night to break his canine vow of silence. But then that would be just like Wetspot.
Wetspot just wasn't like other dogs. He hated rawhide chew bones, and doggie biscuits, too. He sometimes groomed himself like a cat, using his paws to clean his face and licking off anything clinging to his fur or undercarriage. He never drank from the toilet. Ever! And he loved broccoli. Broccoli! (Even Rachel's friend Brianne, who was trying to be a vegetarian, didn't love broccoli.) If his favorite pastimes weren't chasing tennis balls and Frisbees, you'd hardly think he had any dog in him at all.
In fact, Wetspot wasn't even his real name.
His real name, or at least the name he'd had at the animal shelter, was Prince. But when they'd brought him home, he wouldn't even look up when they called, "Prince!" Rachel had tried, "King," but the royal promotion didn't get his attention, either. As it turned out, he picked his own name.
It happened by accident. Well, "accidents." Whenever Rachel's younger brother, Jared, discovered that their new puppy had tinkled on the floor, he would point and announce loudly, "Wet spot!" And sure enough, the pup would come running, tail wagging. After three weeks, the wet spots no longer appeared -- but the name stuck.
The buzzer sounded again, eliciting another series of barks.
"Coming, coming," Rachel's father called.
"Daddy, who's there?" Rachel asked in a loud whisper.
"Your guess is as good as mine," he whispered back as he hurried toward the apartment door, though obviously not fast enough for whoever was on the other side. There was another buzz and louder barking.
Jared came into Rachel's room. "What's going on?" he whispered.
"I don't know," she whispered, though why they were all whispering at this point was almost as much a mystery as who was at the door.
"Now, Wetspot, shhhh," her father said, "that's enough. You'll wake the whole building" -- which seemed at this point to be what Wetspot had in mind.
Jared covered his ears. He had on Darth Vader pajamas, but with his thick, curly hair sticking out in different directions, he looked more like a Wookie than a Jedi warrior. "What's with Wetspot? I've never heard him like that. He sounds like Attila."
Attila was the building superintendent's dog and the most feared animal on the block -- quite possibly on the whole Upper West Side. An enormous rottweiler, he had teeth that looked like a bear trap and a growl that sounded like a trapped bear. When he passed a fire hydrant he didn't lift his leg -- he karate-kicked it. Mr. Aplox kept Attila on a very tight leash on walks and chained him to a post near the storage bays when he was doing work in the basement. He constantly tried to convince people -- and their terrified pets -- that his dog's bark was really much worse than his bite, but no one believed him.
No one, that is, except Wetspot. He and Attila were best friends.
"I think," Rachel said, "that Wetspot has just realized he's a dog. Come on!" As they went into the hall she flattened her younger brother's hair with her palm the way she remembered her mother doing.
"I'm coming, I'm coming." Ben Stelson's voice was remarkably calm considering the repeated buzzes that cut through the quiet apartment like a dentist's drill. Rachel's father was a very patient man. Her aunt Lisa swore that he had "the patience of a saint" whenever she came to stay with Rachel and Jared, and she'd stayed with them a lot in the three years since their mother had died.
Aunt Lisa was Rachel's mother's sister. She looked a little like Rachel's mother -- they had the same cinnamon-colored hair and dimpled smile -- which comforted Rachel. But that's where the resemblance and the comfort ended. Aunt Lisa was a royal pain in the butt.
When Aunt Lisa was around, Rachel couldn't eat anything she enjoyed without getting a totally boring lecture on how bad it was for her. Soda was "unhealthy." Fast food was "poison." And no bread in their house was ever whole-grainey enough. As far as Aunt Lisa was concerned, if you could chew it easily, it was "practically worthless," and if it tasted good, too, it was "totally worthless." She was a health nut, a neatness nut, a cleanliness nut, and totally germ-a-phobic!
The most fun Rachel had when Aunt Lisa was around was kissing Wetspot on the mouth just to see the horrified look on her aunt's face.
Oddly enough, it was not all that different from the look on the face of the man facing them when her father finally silenced the buzzing and opened their apartment door.
Chapter 2: A Mysterious Moving Bundle
Wetspot stopped barking.
Rachel and Jared stayed where they were and stared.
Standing in the doorway, tight-lipped and grimacing, was a very short, agitated man with wide, bulging eyes that gave him a permanently startled look. He wore thick, wire-rimmed glasses and had longish white hair that hung limply to the shoulders of a ridiculously large and tattered dark gray overcoat that was sizes too large for him; so much so that it looked to Rachel as if he had shrunk while inside it. The man's face was very pale, and he appeared to be sweating, which wasn't surprising considering the enormous coat he was wearing. What was surprising, though, was the oddly shaped blanket-wrapped bundle he was clutching.
It was moving!
Rachel inched closer.
"Why, Bucky Greene," Rachel's father stammered. "What a..."
Rachel hoped he wasn't going to say "pleasant surprise," although she wouldn't be surprised if he did. Her father was probably the politest man on the planet. He thanked automatic teller machines.
"What a...um...um..." Ben Stelson caught himself about to say what Rachel feared he was about to say and said instead, "Come in, come in. Gee, Bucky, it's been a long time. What...uh...uh...are you doing here...now? And how did you get into the building?"
Bucky Greene glanced nervously from right to left as if he were trapped in the middle of a busy intersection. "No time. No time to explain."
"Or for a visit," Rachel felt like pointing out, but didn't. She was fascinated by the bundle that now appeared to be moving across their night visitor's chest.
Jared tugged Rachel's sleeve. "What's he carrying?"
Rachel shrugged. "I haven't a clue," she whispered, "but I think we're about to find out."
"I'm sorry to get you up at this hour, Ben," Bucky apologized, "but it was the only way I could leave the lab unnoticed."
Rachel wondered how the man could go anywhere unnoticed in that ridiculously large coat.
"With the security you have over at Bio-allmeans, I'm not surprised," her father said. "But -- and this may sound like a dumb question -- why did you have to leave unnoticed?"
It didn't sound at all like a dumb question to Rachel. In fact, she edged closer to hear the answer.
"I'm afraid I can't tell you. It's" -- Bucky lowered his voice -- "top secret."
"Not anymore," Rachel mumbled. For a biology professor who spent most of his life studying things under a microscope, her father still had a lot to learn about the Big Picture.
"Listen to me, Ben. You're a man of science as well as my friend. You're capable and you're trustworthy. And, well, quite honestly I couldn't think of anyone else to leave him with." With that, he thrust the wriggling bundle into Ben Stelson's arms.
"Him?" Rachel's father looked bewildered. "Who's him?"
What was him seemed a better question. Rachel leaned forward. Jared did the same.
Wetspot cocked his head.
Just then a small hand appeared from the top of the blanket and pulled it aside. There in their father's arms was a very adorable and very frightened baby chimpanzee.
"Wow! Cool!" Rachel said.
"Far out!" breathed Jared.
Wetspot made a noise that sounded as if a bark had gotten stuck in his throat.
Ben Stelson made a very similar sound. "Wait a minute, Bucky. What am I supposed to do with a -- "
"Chimpanzee," said Bucky quickly. "Come on, Ben. Chimpanzees are our closest living relatives. You wouldn't turn a cousin out in the middle of the night, would you?"
He wouldn't ask that question if he knew their cousin Richard. Cousin Richard had once spent a weekend with them and crept out in the middle of the night with Rachel's dad's credit cards and the whole envelope of money she had collected for Girl Scout cookie orders. The police had come to the apartment when Richard was picked up, but her father never pressed charges. He called Cousin Richard "the family's black sheep." Rachel called him "the family's big creep!"
"Now, Bucky, this is -- "
"This is important," Bucky said, emphasizing the word so that there was no doubt that it was. "You must keep this chimp here. It'll only be for...oh, about a week."
"About a week! Whoa, wait a minute." As Ben Stelson waved his hand, the chimp grabbed one of his fingers and put it in his mouth.
"I think he's hungry, Daddy," Rachel said, moving closer for a better look, Jared and Wetspot right behind her.
"Bright young miss you've got there." Bucky Greene patted her head. It reminded Rachel of the women who patted Wetspot and said, "Cute-looking dog you've got there," when her father took him out for walks. Aside from having the patience of a saint, Ben Stelson was a handsome, not-quite-forty-year-old widower and, as Aunt Lisa put it, "a catch." She'd told Rachel that those women who patted Wetspot "had designs" on her father.
Bucky Greene apparently had designs of his own on her father, but his involved baby-sitting a chimpanzee. Rachel found Bucky's designs a lot more appealing. There were a lot of things Rachel wanted, but a stepmother wasn't one of them. Mickey Phelps, whose real mother lived in California, had one. She was a child psychiatrist. Mickey said she drove him nuts.
Rachel's friend Brianne said the same about hers. Her parents had both remarried, so she had a stepmother and a stepfather. She also had a stepbrother from her stepfather, and a stepsister and stepbrother from her stepmother. Other than that, she was an only child.
Fumbling in the pockets of his huge overcoat, Bucky Greene pulled out a baby bottle. "Here. Give him this. He can drink from a cup, but this is neater when he's moving around. It's plain milk. He likes chocolate milk better -- who doesn't? -- but save that for a treat. He eats three meals a day. Lettuce, raisins, bread...and, of course, bananas."
At that, the chimp gave an interested "hoo-hoo."
"I guess he really likes bananas," Rachel said, and there was a louder "hoo-hoo."
"Believe me, bananas are a very important part of his life," Bucky told her, adding quietly, "and mine, too."
"Say, that's right," Ben said. "Now I remember. You've been working on genetically engineered -- "
Bucky thrust his palm in front of Ben's face. "Shhhh."
Bucky nodded. "Trust me. Shhhh."
Jared tugged Rachel's arm and whispered, "He's one to say 'shhhh' after the racket he made."
Rachel told her brother to "shhhh."
Bucky's face grew dark, his voice serious. "I have to leave tonight."
"Where are you going?" Ben asked, equally serious.
"I can't tell you. It's confidential." He lowered his voice again. "And if anyone asks about me, say that you haven't any idea where I went."
"Considering that you're not telling me, that shouldn't be difficult."
"Also, you must not -- under any circumstances -- let anyone know this chimp is here. His presence has to be kept a secret. I'll explain everything when I return."
"Could you -- maybe -- explain a little bit now?"
"There's no time." There was definite urgency in Bucky's voice.
"Okay, let me get this straight," Ben said. "You're not going to tell me where you're going. You're not going to tell me why you're going. You're not going to tell me why you're leaving a chimp here. And you're not going to tell me why we can't let anyone know that the chimp is here."
"Well, that certainly clears it all up." Rachel's father smiled.
Bucky Greene didn't smile back. "The less you know, the better."
If that's the case, Rachel thought, it doesn't get much better than this.
"I haven't a lot of time left," he said quickly. "I have to get going."
"Now, Bucky, this is -- "
Rachel watched the chimp's tiny hand try to grab the bottle that kept moving out of his reach as her father gestured.
"Daddy, the little guy is really hungry. Let me feed him."
"Well, okay." He handed her the bottle.
As she took it, the chimp reached over, threw his arms around her neck, and was suddenly out of her father's grasp and in her arms. For a moment she didn't know who was holding whom, but somehow it didn't matter. It felt really good in a way nothing she could remember had felt in a long time.
She wondered if she might still be dreaming, but not for long. The chimp tightened his grip on her neck.
"Hey, quit the hammerlock. I'm not going to drop you!"
The chimp looked up and blinked, almost as if he understood. But he didn't loosen his grip.
Rachel didn't care. He was the most amazingly adorable creature she had ever seen, let alone held. Dark chocolate eyes were set in a light mocha face that was as soft as the softest suede she had ever touched, and on his chin was a powder-white fuzz of a beard. His hair was silky and black and parted in the center of his head, bristling out at the sides around two comically big ears. It was hard to believe he was real. It crossed her mind that maybe Bucky Greene had created some sort of high-tech, battery-operated toy -- which would explain it being "top secret." But the thought disappeared when the chimp pressed his lips against her earlobe. Battery-operated toys -- top secret or not -- didn't kiss earlobes.
It tickled. Rachel stifled a giggle.
Mickey Phelps had told her she sounded like a mouse with hiccups when she giggled. He'd even tape-recorded her to prove it. She wasn't convinced the recording had proved any similarity between her giggle and a hiccuping mouse -- never having heard a mouse hiccup (if in fact mice could hiccup at all) -- but thereafter she had tried to avoid giggling whenever she could. It wasn't easy, either. She happened to be extremely ticklish. Her father's nickname for her was Gigglepuss.
"He's more interested in you than in the bottle," Bucky Greene said. "That's good. Here" -- he reached into another pocket of his huge coat and handed Rachel a half-eaten banana -- "give him this instead."
Rachel took it from him, hoping he wouldn't notice her shiver of distaste as she did. An unwrapped, half-eaten banana. Yuck! She hoped it was the chimp who had eaten the first half. What else did Bucky Greene keep in that coat? And did she really want to know?
"Give it to him already," Jared said.
"I will, I will," Rachel said. She certainly wasn't saving it for herself.
Holding the fruit up over her shoulder so that the chimp could see it, she said, "Want a nana?"
"Nana!" Bucky Greene's face suddenly turned white. "Why did you say 'nana'?"
"Well, excuse me," Rachel said, more tartly than she intended. What was his problem? She held up the fruit again, this time enunciating clearly. "Want a BAnana?"
The chimp's answer was a machine-gun series of excited "uh-uh-uh-uhs."
"I'll take that as a yes," Rachel said. Almost before the words were out of her mouth, the fruit was sucked from her fingers.
"Cool," Jared said.
Bucky Greene let out a relieved breath. "There, you see. Nothing to it. He's happy here already."
"Now, just a minute, Bucky...," Rachel's father began.
"It's only for a week," Bucky called over his shoulder as he dashed for the elevator.
"You can't do this to me, Bucky," Rachel's father pleaded. "I have a job, the kids have school. I'm a biologist, not a zoologist. And -- "
"And," Rachel shouted, "you didn't even tell us his name!"
"See you, Friday!" Bucky Greene waved as the elevator door slid closed.
And then he was gone.
"So, is that his name?" Rachel asked as her father shut the door.
"Is what whose name?" Ben Stelson looked a little dazed and totally baffled. He looked as if he'd just read in one of his journals that new studies had proved that the moon really was made of green cheese.
"The chimp's name. Your friend called him 'Friday.'"
"My friend," Ben Stelson explained, emphasizing the word in a way that made it clear that at that moment Bucky was anything but, "said, 'See you, Friday,' meaning that he won't be back for a week! And of all fifty-two of them he could have picked to not be back for, this is the worst."
It might not have been the worst, but it was pretty bad at best.
This was the one week that Rachel's father had midterm exams to grade as well as one-on-one student conferences (which Rachel knew from past experience always strained his "saintly patience"). And he had already agreed to do something that she knew he didn't want to do. He'd promised Aunt Lisa that he would escort a friend of hers whom he'd never met to a black-tie dinner. And if there were a couple of things her father REALLY didn't like, they were formal dinners and blind dates.
"He could have just been saying good-bye to his chimp, Daddy," Rachel said encouragingly. "You know, 'See you, Friday. So long, Friday.'"
The chimp let out an interested "hoo-hoo."
"There, you see," Jared said happily. "That proves it. His name is Friday."
S-p-e-c-i-o-u-s. Rachel spelled silently in her head.
"I would have preferred it if he'd said Monday." Their father sighed. "But I suppose Friday is as good a name as any."
Friday "hoo-hooed" in agreement.
"Right now, though, I think we could all use some sleep. I have a feeling we're going to need it."
"The chimp can stay in my room, in Wetspot's wire travel crate," Rachel said excitedly. "I'll make a little bed in it. There's a latch, so it can be his cage, too." Before her father could refuse, she kissed his cheek and took off down the hall with Friday hanging around her neck, Jared and Wetspot trailing behind in fascinated Pied Piper pursuit.
Later that night, which was already early the next morning, Rachel was awakened by a soft snuffling sound next to her ear. Friday was curled up beside her, nuzzling her neck. It was like having a favorite stuffed toy come to life. Sleepily, she pulled him closer and nuzzled back.
Then she bolted upright!
How the heck had he gotten out of the crate? She was sure that she'd latched it after tucking him in. Then again, she had been "sure" of things before that she wasn't really sure of. (Last year she'd been "sure" the Mets were going to win the World Series after taking the first three games, and then look what happened.) She slid back down and hugged the tired chimp. He hugged her back. He probably missed his mother. Rachel knew what that was like, so she pulled him closer.
What could possibly be "top secret" about a baby chimpanzee?
As she tried to go back to sleep, she thought about everything Bucky Greene had told her father and about all the things he had refused to tell him.
She also thought about Bucky Greene's coat, which was about the ugliest one she'd ever seen. Personally, she wouldn't be caught dead wearing something like that. Little did she know that less than three months later that coat was going to save her life.
Copyright © 2002 by Hester Mundis
Meet the Author
Hester Mundis, a TV comedy writer, performer, and former book editor, is the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including Heart Songs for Animal Lovers; 101 Ways to Avoid Reincarnation, or Getting It Right the First Time; and the autobiographical No, He's Not a Monkey, He's an Ape and He's My Son. (Her personal ark has also embraced dogs, cats, iguanas, fish, birds, a goat, and a guinea pig.) She is the mother of two sons, Shep and Jesse, and lives in the Hudson Valley with her husband, Ron VanWarmer. They currently share their home with a large, long dog and a nosy, noisy cockatiel.
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