Whistling In the Darkby Lesley Kagen
Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said-actions speak louder than words. Now, during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has/i>
It was the summer on Vliet Street when we all started locking our doors...
Sally O'Malley made a promise to her daddy before he died. She swore she'd look after her sister, Troo. Keep her safe. But like her Granny always said-actions speak louder than words. Now, during the summer of 1959, the girls' mother is hospitalized, their stepfather has abandoned them for a six pack, and their big sister, Nell, is too busy making out with her boyfriend to notice that Sally and Troo are on the Loose. And so is a murderer and molester.
Highly imaginative Sally is pretty sure of two things. Who the killer is. And that she's next on his list. Now she has no choice but to protect herself and Troo as best she can, relying on her own courage and the kindness of her neighbors.
The loss of innocence can be as dramatic as the loss of a parent or the discovery that what's perceived to be truth can actually be a big fat lie, as shown in Kagen's compassionate debut, a coming-of-age thriller set in Milwaukee during the summer of 1959. Ten-year-old Sally O'Malley fears that a child predator who has already murdered two girls, Junie Piaskowski and Sara Heinemann, will target her or her little sister, Troo, next. Sally's mom is in the hospital, while her big sister, Nell, is distracted by love and her stepdad, Hall, by the bottle, so who can save her if the killer is, as she suspects, her neighbor, David Rasmussen, a popular cop who has a photo of Junie hanging in his house? Though the mystery elements are sketchy, Kagen sharply depicts the vulnerability of children of any era. Sally, "a girl who wouldn't break a promise even if her life depended on it," makes an enchanting protagonist. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
- Penguin Publishing Group
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- 18 Years
Read an Excerpt
The morning Mother told us she was sick, Troo and mewere just laying in the lime summer grass, smellingthe bleach comin’ off the wash that jitterbugged onthe line and getting ready to play that name game with her.“It’s important for you to understand who you’re dealingwith so you can know what to expect from them,”Mother said, pulling another sheet out of the laundry basket.“You’ve got to remember that people are different inthe city.”
How could we forget? She musta told us this over a gabilliontimes since we moved to the house on Vliet Street.We were a mother and her three girls. And I supposed I hadto count Hall, because that would be the charitable thing todo. Hall was Mother’s husband. Her third husband.
Troo and me, we liked our own daddy better than Hall,but he died two summers ago after a car crash. He was onhis way back home to the farm after a Milwaukee Bravesgame. Our uncle Paulie, who was riding shotgun, wentthrough the windshield and got his brain damaged when hehit a fire hydrant so he had to go live with my Granny overon Fifty- ninth Street. Some man at his funeral called ourdaddy, Donny O’Malley, lush. I didn’t know what that meantso I looked it up the next day in that big dictionary they hadover at the library. Lush is an adjective that means luxurious.That man was right. My daddy was lush. Stuffed with lushness.Like a chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolatefrosting.
Mother shook out the wet white sheet and said, “Andone of the ways you can know what to expect from somebodyis by knowing what country they originally came from.Right? People’s last names can tell you just about everythingyou’ll ever need to know about them.”
Troo and me groaned because the name game was gettin’kinda old and was about as much fun as a splinter underyour thumbnail, but Mother, she loved this name game evenbetter than Chinese checkers.
“I don’t have all day.” Mother gave us her do- you- smelldog-poop look, so Troo called out “Latour?” real quick.
Troo was gorgeous- looking. Red wavy hair that stoppedat her shoulders and freckles across her nose only. And shehad the kind of blue eyes that looked like the sky when it justwoke up in the morning and hadn’t turned that blue jeancolor it got later on in the day. Troo was thin except at herlips, which were poofy and made her look a little pouty allthe time, which was true some of the time. And she had longfi ngers, which were good for playing the secondhand pianowe had in the living room. Mother thought pianos made afamily look high- class. Granny told me that piano businesswas a little stuck- up of her daughter since Mother grew up inMilwaukee just a few streets down from where we lived now.Right across the street from the Feelin’ Good Cookie Factory,which was known far and wide for its chocolate chipcookies. (What Granny really said, because she was alwayssayin’ stuff like this, was, “Helen should know by now thatshe can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”)
Mother cupped her hand around her ear, so Troo yelledlouder, “Latour?”
Helen and Troo. “Two peas in a pod,” Granny also alwayssaid. “Just look at ’em.”
I didn’t look like Troo. Or Mother. My eyes weren’t bluelike theirs. Mine were green and they sat under eyebrowsthat were almost invisible to the naked eye but had somebulkiness to them. I was not as tall as Troo even though shewas younger than me. I had long legs but small feet andhands because I was born a month early. And I had no freckleson my face. Not one. But I had been told once or twicethat I had darling dimples and nice thick blonde hair thatMother and Nell got in an argument over every morningwhen they tried to put it into one fat braid that went downmy back. Nell was my other sister. But only a half of one.Nell’s father was Mother’s first husband, who she told medied of smelling ammonia.
Mother answered, “Latour is French.” She took a littlewhiff of her wrist that I knew would smell like Evening inParis, her favorite. “The French speak the language oflove.”
Troo wasn’t even paying attention. She was lookin’ overat our next- door neighbor’s house and wondering if the storieswe’d been hearing about the place were true. Because wewere sisters born only ten months apart, which made uspractically twins, her and me could have the mental telepathythat lets you read somebody else’s mind even if they don’twant you to, so I pretty much always knew what Troo wasthinking. “Kenfield?” she hollered out.
“Kenfield is English,” Mother said. “They like to keep astiff upper lip. That means they don’t like to show whatthey’re feeling.” She bent down to take another sheet out ofthe basket, and when she did her hair came undone from thewhite ribbon. I was always surprised by how long it was.And when the sun shined on it, even though it was red, youcould see the gold hiding in it. I thought she was more beautifulthan the movie star Maureen O’Hara. And so must themen on the block because they set their beer bottles downwhen she walked by and sometimes, if those beer bottleswere all drunk up, they gave her a low wolf whistle she pretendednot to hear.
Troo nudged me with her elbow and started giggling.“O’Malley.”
Mother shook her finger and said, “Troo O’Malley, beingsilly never got anybody anywhere in life.” But the cornersof her mouth went up just a smidge to let us know thatwe were better than everybody else and not just potato headsor micks, as the kids on the block who were Italian and Polishand German liked to call us. We called them wops (loud,but great cooks) and Polacks (not so smart) and bohunks(thick- ankled), so I figured it all came out in the wash.
Somebody down the block yelled, “Ollie, Ollie, oxenfree,” and Little Richard singing “Tutti Frutti” drifted byout of a car radio. That’s how it was on Vliet Street. Somethinglively was always going on. Except for dead Junie Piaskowski,who everyone on the block said was murdered andmolested. Sara Heinemann hadn’t been murdered and molestedyet when Mother fastened the last clothespin on theline and said, “O’Malley sisters, come over here. I have somethingto tell you.”
Of course, I let Troo sit next to Mother on the stonebench near the pink peony flowers that were falling all overthemselves because I made my daddy a couple of promisesbefore he died. And if there is one thing you’re gonna get toknow about me, it’s that I was a girl who wouldn’t break apromise even if her life depended on it.
Right when the sun was going behind the trees, Daddymade everybody else go out of the hospital room and askedme to come lie down next to him in his bed that he couldmake go up and down whenever he wanted.
“Sally?” He had all these tubes coming out of him. Andnext to him was a machine that ping ping pinged just like thesubmarine in that movie Troo and me had seen at the UptownTheater called 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.
“Yes, Daddy?” He didn’t look so much like himself anymore.His face was swelled up and he had cuts around hismouth and bits of blood that didn’t seem to wash off. Alsohe had a big purple circle bruise from the steering wheel goinginto his chest. Something had collapsed in there, the oldnurse said.“You need to take care of Troo,” Daddy said ever so quietly.His usually fluffy red- as- a-pile- of- fall- leaves hair cameinto points on his forehead. “You need to promise me that.”
I patted his hand that felt smooth because the old nursehad just put some cream on it. “I promise. I’ll take care ofTroo. Cross my heart. But I gotta tell you something reallyimportant, I’m—”
“You have to tell Troo for me that it’s okay,” Daddy interrupted.“Tell her the crash wasn’t her fault.”
Troo was in the hospital too, down the hall from Daddy,because she was also in the car when it ran into that big elmtree on Holly Road. Since she was sitting in the backseat,she didn’t get as hurt as Daddy or Uncle Paulie. She just gota broken arm that ached sometimes now before it was gonnarain.
Daddy took in a breath like it was the hardest thing he’dever done, and when he let it out he said, “And tell yourmother that I forgive her for what she did. Promise?” Thenhe started coughing some more and a little pink spit cameup onto his lips. “I’ll be watching, Sally. Remember . . . thingscan happen when you least expect them so you always gottabe prepared. And pay attention to the details. The de vil is inthe details.” Then Daddy went to sleep for a minute butwoke up again and said, “And Nell is not the worst big sisterin the world. There are one or two that’re worse.”
The old nurse came back into the room then and saidDaddy was either delirious or hilarious. I couldn’t quitecatch it because she had a funny way of talking.
Troo’s fault that Daddy was in the hospital? How couldall this be Troo’s fault? Troo couldn’t drive a car, she wasonly seven years old! Oh, Daddy. And I had no idea what hewanted to forgive Mother for and why he couldn’t tell herhimself, but maybe it was because she was crazy with grieflike the doctor said.
Even though Daddy had fallen asleep, I whispered,“Roger, wilco and out.” That’s how we always said good- byeto each other. Just like Penny said good- bye to her uncle SkyKing when he was up in the clear blue of the western sky inhis plane the Songbird. Daddy and me just adored that TVshow, watched it together every single Saturday morningbecause Daddy was a pilot, too.
And then the old nurse said, “Visiting hours are over.”“But I gotta…,” I tried to say, but she shook her headin a way that I knew there’d be no gettin’ around. What Iwanted to tell him would have to wait until tomorrow. I putmy hand on his whiskery chin and turned his face towardmine so I could give him a butterfly kiss on his cheek, becausethat was his absolute favorite, and then an Eskimo kisson his nose because that was my absolute favorite.
Daddy’s funeral was three days after I made him thosepromises. I never did get to tell him I was sorry.
Meet the Author
Lesley Kagen is an actress, voice-over talent, and restaurateur, as well as the author of two previous national bestselling novels. Whistling in the Dark has been translated into five languages and was a Midwest Choice Honor winner. Land of a Hundred Wonders, an Indie Next pick, was also nominated for a Midwest Choice Award. She lives near Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
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