With his mind racing even amidst the somnolent drone of fifteen typewriters click-clacking away in unison, a young boy named Tommy Rogers had better things on his mind one December morning in 1942.
Tommy was a handsome, quick-witted, brave youngster with a keen intellect. He was resourceful and capable, and these traits allowed him to perform many tasks beyond the scope of a typical boy of his age. However, Tommy’s typing skills revolved almost entirely around possessing unique speed and accuracy in typing one name: Debbie Roberts.
Smiling in a slightly dreamy manner, he glanced down at his paper as it slowly rose out of the typewriter. “Debbie Rogers. Mrs. Debbie Rogers. Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Rogers.”
His smile was swiftly replaced by a look of stolid concentration as he caught the eye of the small elderly woman who stood at the front of the classroom in Big City Middle School. Mrs. Woofentweeter was benign, but he didn’t want his typing teacher to discover that his typing exercises consisting entirely of variations of the name of the young woman he had a crush on. Thus Tommy swiftly removed his paper and thrust it into his notebook.
“Tommy, gently, gently!” cautioned the smiling old woman as she peered at the boy through bifocal glasses.
Tommy nodded politely and replied, “Sorry, Mrs. Woofentweeter!” He spotted the wall clock and gulped. Three minutes until the bell that ends this period! I can’t go just yet. I have to time this just right.
Calmly gathering his notebooks and pencils, he tried to adopt a casual air as he stood up, walked to the front of the class, and stepped over to the small pencil sharpener by the door.
“Broke my lead!” he murmured as he placed the pencil in the device and slowly turned the handle.
“Hey, Rogers, sit back down! Why’ve you taken your books with you?” said a smirking boy with nearly white blond hair and a rather coarse and cocky demeanor.
Shut up, Dinford! thought Tommy as he mentally winced at the loud words of his nemesis and their possible consequences. All he needed was for that bullying jerk to call Woofentweeter’s attention to what Tommy hoped to be a smooth ploy.
The bell rang, and Tommy darted out the door. If he dropped his pencil, he didn’t know or care. He hurried down the still-empty hall and rounded the corner.
As he made his way down, he moved with the agility of an athlete as he deliberately chose a path that arced away from the rapidly opening doors of the classrooms lining the long hallway. He knew the exiting pupils would emerge and delay him unless he avoided the proximity of the opening doors.
He sidestepped around a tall girl who thought she looked like actress and sweater girl Lola Warner. She sniffed dismissively as Tommy bounded by with a muttered, “Scuse me!”
Drawing closer to the third classroom from the end of the hall, his heart beat a bit faster. The class has left — except for that weasel Harrington, he thought as his excited expression became clouded. He entered and saw the rows of now-empty chairs with their attached and worn desks.
Tommy walked to the front after quickly smoothing down his hair, but he frowned as he saw a rail-thin boy with dirty red hair and freckles moving away from the front of the room where the teacher was packing up her materials.
“Have a good day, Mike!” she said.
Mike Harrington the Weasel nodded and walked by Tommy in a smug manner.
That creep! thought Tommy as Mike stuck out his tongue and exited. Look at him smirk. He likes her, too — I just know it! Boy, I’d like to get him alone in gym class for just five minutes!
Tommy hurried to a desk near the front and said, “Good morning, Miss Roberts!”
Debbie Roberts looked up and smiled a warm and welcoming smile as she greeted the boy. She was twenty-two, petite and perky, and had light brown hair worn in a short pixie-cut. She wore a pale yellow turtleneck sweater with a light brown skirt. To Tommy, she was simply adorable.
“Hello, Tommy,” she said. “How are you today?”
“Fine! How are you?” he said eagerly.
“I’m OK. It’s chilly today, isn’t it?” she said. “Well, it is only seventeen days until Christmas!”
Tommy smiled in a slightly dazed way and said, “How are you?”
She smiled and said, “I’ll be seeing you, Tom.”
He grinned foolishly and sat down. Seconds after the English teacher left to head for her next classroom for the third period, Tommy frowned.
Chilly! he thought. Why didn’t I say something like it’s never chilly with your sunny smile around? I’m such a dummy!
He sighed as his thoughts were disturbed by the noise of the rest of the class entering and taking their seats as Mrs. Jones, the burly-but-good-natured teacher, took her place where only moments before Miss Roberts had stood.
Tommy frowned. I always get just a few precious moments with Debbie by rushing out of my second-period typing class and getting to her second-period room just before she leaves to head to her own third-period room. If next semester’s schedule puts us at different areas of the building during the day, I might not get to be alone with her at all! he thought as he rested his chin on his hand. It doesn’t help any that guys like Harrington the Weasel loiter around her and cut into my time! He’s such a worm. How can she wish a guy like that a good day? Doesn’t she know he’s just a creepy suck-up?
Class started, and Tommy listened after rapidly writing down what Miss Rogers had said to him and how she had looked. His journal of Debbie moments was precious to him.
Later, as Tommy sat in the small cafeteria of Big City Middle School, he thumbed through a small but already-worn and smudged book.
A good-natured plump boy with a slightly unruly shock of blond hair sat across from him. He wore a green V-neck sweater vest and brown slacks. He munched down on an apple as he reached into a rather unusually large, brown paper lunch bag.
Tubby Watts frowned and said, “Say, Tommy, why do you still carry your yearbook around like that? We got ’em back in October! Surely, you aren’t still having kids sign it?”
Tommy blinked and looked up from the page he had been staring at. He had kept the yearbook tilted up slightly so not even his best friend Tubby could see just what page he had turned to. Had Tubby been much of a sleuth, he might have deduced that the battered book almost automatically flipped up to one page because of its frequent perusal.
He had been looking at the faculty pages, where photos of teachers like Miss Roberts, Mrs. Woofentweeter, and Miss Demming filled a few pages. Tommy enjoyed looking at Debbie’s picture, and thus the boy always carried the yearbook to school with him each day. He remembered how eagerly he had asked her to sign it back in October, and he still felt warmth wash over him when he read her inscription.
“To Tommy, Keep reading! Best wishes for a bright and sunny future! Love, Debbie Roberts!”
He closed the book swiftly and said, “Oh, uh, well, gee, that is, would you like my pudding, Tubby?”
Tubby grinned broadly and said, “Sure thing, Tommy! That would be swell!” He eagerly scooped up the pale banana pudding from the other boy’s lunch tray and forgot all about his curiosity as contentment swept over him.
Tommy smiled and shook his head.
Later, Tommy Rogers and Tubby Watts exited the school and crossed the playground as wind blew across the field, pushing their scarves around with ease.
A loud whistle echoed across the field, and Tommy and Tubby glanced up to see a beaming boy with a rather long and sharp nose and dark black eyes peering gleefully at them from atop a wooden fence.
“Hiya, fellas!” cried their pal Toughy Simms as the boy in a battered gray cap and nondescript shirt and pants dropped down with his casual agility and surety.
Toughy was a bit different from the other two boys. He didn’t go to school very often, spending most of his day doing odd jobs around town. The boy was a bit worldlier than his pals, but then he’d had to take care of himself since he was even younger.
“Hi, Toughy! What’s up?” asked Tommy as he received a playful punch in the arm from the grinning boy.
“Well, I was just waitin’ on you two bookworms to get paroled so we might knock about a bit, unless you got chores or somethin’?” he said.
“I’m free,” said Tubby. “What do you want to do?”
“We could go to the clubhouse and suit up,” suggested Toughy. “Maybe we could track some some Ratzi spies or mad scientists — or just pretend to.”
“No,” said Tommy. “I sort of have to go home. Mom needs me to run some errands for her!”
Toughy draped one arm over Tubby’s shoulders and said, “That’s rough. Well, while our fearless leader keeps his ma happy, the Blue Boys will make sure the clubhouse is free of Bundists!”
They laughed and called out goodbyes as they reached a pleasant block of modest-but-neat houses.
Tommy ran up the steps of his home and threw open a screen door, which banged behind him and attracted his mother’s attention.
“My goodness, Tommy! Do try to leave it on its hinges!” she said as she reached out to straighten her son’s collar. “You know your poor father is more like Dagwood than anyone else when it comes to house repairs. It’s a good thing he’s better in the courtroom than he is in the tool shed.”
Tommy agreed as he thought of his father Dan Rogers, the town district attorney. Dan was something of an idol to Tommy. The two enjoyed long conversations, and Tommy admired his courageous father greatly. It was a desire to help the once-beleaguered lawman that had driven Tommy and his pals to don the homemade costumes that became their trademark in their roles as junior mystery-men Little Boy Blue and the Blue Boys. That same desire to do good and have adventures had been fueled by reading accounts of the heroic deeds of other adult heroes like Wildcat, Mister Terrific, and Green Lantern. The boys — Tom, Tubby, and Toughy — had used a ramshackle wooden shed as their headquarters and had been remarkably successful in bringing in many smalltime hoods that frequented the small town because of its formerly bucolic nature.
“You know, I think it shows the founding fathers were a bit screwy when they named this tiny place Big City!” Toughy had once announced.
“It’s named from a derivative of Alexander Vander Bigge, the Dutch settler who founded it. Over time, Bigge became Big!” Tommy had explained.
Now, Tommy wondered if he could spare the time to continue his crime-busting duties when he had more adult things on his mind. He had developed a real crush on pretty English teacher Debbie Roberts earlier in the semester. Something about her had just carried him and his feelings away. He had not been attracted to her last year when she had actually been his teacher, but something had changed in that year of growth and maturation, and now Tommy was hopelessly smitten.