Tommy Rogers put his books down on the table and then carried them back to his room as his mother reminded him that the table was no place for schoolbooks. After doing so, he hurried back down the steps and said, “Ma, what did you want me to do today? I had to bail out on the fellas!”
“Sorry, dear, but it is for a good cause,” she said. “I want you to run over to the Rutherford house and leave a tray for Mrs. Rutherford. She’s feeling under the weather, and I know a cold can really take a lot out of an elderly person like that.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” said Tommy. “She’s a real swell lady. I was kind of hoping she might bake some of her Christmas cookies for us again this year!”
Martha Rogers dusted off the table and adjusted her own apron before replying, “Now, Tommy, living on a fixed income means the poor old soul can’t waste money or rationing coupons!”
Tommy nodded and said, “Sure, Ma. I sure wouldn’t want my sweet tooth to help old Schicklgruber and his goose-steppers win the war!”
“You’re a scamp!” said Martha. “Now, hurry! I don’t want the food to spoil.”
Tommy took the tray and hurried out of the house. He smelled the inviting aroma of the meal below its carefully packed wrapper, and his stomach growled. I’m getting as bad as Tubby! he thought.
He whistled the new Ben Miller Orchestra tune American Patrol and stuffed one hand in his jacket pocket for warmth. He then removed it and balanced the tray up against his chest as he switched positions and put the other hand in his coat. Ma would really give me trouble over going out without gloves! he thought.
As Tommy approached the old house in which elderly Mrs. Rutherford lived, he frowned. “Her door’s wide open!” he said.
He ran forward and put down the tray. One thing he knew for sure was that, even in the rather idyllic town protected by heroic Dan Rogers and others, you didn’t leave your house unlocked.
Tommy glanced inside and saw a startling sight. The house had been ransacked. He saw open cabinets and turned-over tables, and as he reached the kitchen he found empty and hastily dropped drawers.
“She’s been robbed!” he said. “Gosh, I hope she’s OK!”
Moving swiftly and stealthily through the house, he soon realized that he was alone. With the nearby neighbors all at work, there’s nobody around to tell me anything about her! he thought. Ma said she was sick, too. That makes me doubt she would have left the house! Could she have been kidnapped? What would a gang want with a poor old lady?
He called the police and gazed sadly down at the tray. If only I’d been quicker, maybe I could have stopped them! he thought.
Later, after talking to the police and returning home, a relieved Tommy sat across from a distinguished-but-still-youthful man who wore a brown suit and smoked a pipe as he sat in a plush armchair.
“You were reckless to go in like that, son,” said Dan Rogers as he puffed on the pipe. “If the thugs had been there, you could have been seriously hurt. Still, you acted bravely and out of compassion, and I’m proud of you. Just don’t forget that you’re not Little Boy Blue and shouldn’t take such chances!”
“Ah, Pop, I know it,” said Tommy. “I’m just glad we found out what happened to Mrs. Rutherford.”
Dan Rogers nodded and stared off into space as he replied, “Indeed. Going to the hospital because her cough had gotten worse may have saved her from a rude surprise. I was very glad when Doc Stone called me to explain her absence. I just hate for the poor thing to come home to such a sad revelation!”
“Me, too,” said Tommy. “Maybe the crooks can be caught before Mrs. Rutherford gets out. It would be great if her stuff could be recovered as quickly as she recovers!”
Dan sighed and said, “I agree. That would be something of a Christmas miracle, though! The job was handled very well. There were no witnesses. These thieves may be tough to round up.”
Tommy nodded and thought, Maybe the crooks will strike again, and the Blue Boys will be ready for them!
That night, Tommy did not fall asleep immediately. He rested in bed with his head cradled in his entwined hands, and he gazed at the roof.
I didn’t even pay attention to the Lux Radio Theater tonight. Then again, “The War Against Mrs. Hadley” didn’t exactly sound like it would have been much of a cliffhanger! he thought.
His mind had been preoccupied with a dozen different ideas. He had pondered the problem of the robbers and how he and his pals could best handle the case. He had given some thought to the upcoming holiday and how much he looked forward to it. However, most of the time Tommy daydreamed about Debbie. He had never met anyone like her. He knew that if she only knew his secret, she might learn to care for him in time. What was a nine-or-ten-year age difference when two people were in love?
“Little Boy Blue might stand a better chance with her than I do, but I can’t tell her my secret,” he said. “That could spoil things for the fellas, too. Boy, I bet real mystery-men like Superman and Green Lantern don’t find themselves worrying about how their gals go for them more when they are in costume than when they are out!”
Snapping his fingers, he said, “Say, maybe I could show Debbie how I feel by giving her a nice gift for Christmas! With school ending for the holiday in around two weeks, maybe I can pick out a swell present. I’ll have two weeks’ worth of allowance, plus some savings to spend, too!”
Tommy turned over after cutting out the lamp by his bed. He closed his eyes and determined to think only of his girlfriend.
The next day found Herb “Toughy” Simms running down the street, deftly tossing newspapers in his wake. As one struck a mailbox and bounced through a shrub to land on a porch, Toughy smiled and said, “Toughy, ol’ boy, Leo Durocher’s Brooklyn Dodgers don’t know what a find you could be!”
He made his way up the street and squinted a bit into the slowly rising winter sun as he glanced down at a headline on one of the papers he was towing along behind him in a battered old wagon he had taken from a junkyard. “The Axis Bomb Philippeville harbor in North Africa!” he read out loud.
“Man! Those guys got to get theirs yet! It’s only one day after Pearl Harbor’s first anniversary, and they just keep on going!” he said with a sigh. He spat on the pavement and then continued along until he drew closer to a pink house with a swing on the front porch and the now-barren remnants of a victory garden in the back.
Kelly Walton’s place! What a doll she is! She’s a reg’lar Libby Lawrence! he thought.
He grinned broadly as a shiny cab pulled up in front of the house, and a very pretty young woman stepped out.
He frowned a bit as he noticed her blonde hair was now worn in a closely cut upswept style instead of in her customary peekaboo cut, so-called because of a carefully placed lock that covered one eye of the wearer.
“Yoo-hoo! Hi, there, Herbie!” she called as she paid the cab driver and blew a kiss to Toughy.
“How’s it goin’, Kelly!” he said even as he glanced left and right to be sure none of the guys heard her use his hated proper name.
“Fine!” she said. “I just finished my swing shift at the factory! See my new hairstyle? I had to cut it. They say the government’s even asked Veronica Drake to do the same thing as a good example for all the gals in the factories!”
“Yeah?” said Toughy. “Well, you can’t work on airplane engines with long hair. You still look peachy!”
Kelly giggled and said, “Got to scoot! Toodles!” She walked up the drive and started to open her door when she realized it was already unlocked. “Oh, my! The door lock is broken!” she gasped.
Toughy heard her cry and turned around to check out the scene. “What’s up wit’ dis?! Somebody done broke in the joint!” he cried.
He picked up a rock and pushed past the upset blonde to barge into the house, only to find a scene much like the one that had greeted Tommy the day before at the Rutherford home. Toughy said, “The mugs cleaned her out but good! I’d sure like to get my hands on dem!”
Kelly sobbed as she followed the boy around the now-empty-but-forever-altered home. “Herbie, I only started working the swing shift four days ago! I could have been here asleep when they broke in otherwise!” she said in a trembling tone.
Toughy nodded and said, “Yeah, dat’s no lie! It’s a good thing you was working!” He wanted to comfort her, but even a knowing boy like Toughy could only do so much for an adult woman. He helped her get some water and then called the police.
After the cops arrived, Toughy made himself scarce, as he put it. He finished delivering the papers and managed to intercept Tommy and Tubby as they made their way to school.
“We got trouble, fellas! There’s been a robbery at Kelly’s place!” he said as he gasped for breath.
“Kelly?” asked Tommy. “You mean Miss Walton? That makes two robberies! I was just telling Tubby here about one that happened yesterday at the Rutherford place!”
“Gosh!” said Tubby. “Was Miss Walton hurt?”
“Nah!” said Toughy. “She started working at the factory. You know how they are takin’ on dames now that so many Joes are in the Army and Navy!”
“Ma invited her over for dinner around a week ago,” Tommy said. “She wasn’t working then. She told me that she was applying for work, though.”
“I guess she just started, and then this happened!” said Tubby.
Toughy rubbed one slightly grimy hand over his mouth and then spat. “Say, you got that egghead look in your eyes, pal. You got some kind of plan?” he asked.
“Well, first Mrs. Rutherford’s place was robbed in the middle of the afternoon when she just happened to change her routine and go to the hospital due to illness,” said Tommy. “Now, right after Kelly Walton started a night job, her place was robbed. It sounds like this gang knows everyone’s comings and goings, all right!”
“I guess they are locals, or maybe they cased the places!” added Tubby. “I saw that in a movie at the Bijou!”
“Let’s think this over some more after school,” said Tommy. “We’ll meet up at the clubhouse.”
That afternoon, on the way to the clubhouse, Tommy and Tubby made one brief stop in front of the windows of Griffith Jewelry.
“You thinking about getting your Ma a necklace or something?” asked Tubby as he munched on a candy bar.
Tommy gazed up at a gold necklace and said, “Look, you won’t rib me about this, will you?”
Tubby shook his head and said, “No. You know you can trust me!”
Tommy hesitated and said, “I want to give Deb… Miss Roberts a gift. She’s really nice to me!”
“You’re sweet on her!” said Tubby. “I knew it! Well, that’s OK. Don’t let it get to you. She is very pretty. You know, she reminds me of that singer/actress Julie Gumm from the Ralph Andrews movies and The Magician of An!”
Tommy grinned and said, “Yeah, she does look like her, but Debbie’s even prettier!”
“That necklace would be nice, but how can you afford it?” asked Tubby, pointing to the displayed price and shaking his head.
Tommy nodded and lowered his eyes in dismay. “I couldn’t pay that if I had eight weeks, much less just two,” he said.
They continued on to the Rogers house, and in the nearby vacant lot, they entered the wooden shack that they called their headquarters.
Toughy was snoring loudly from inside, and as they entered he jumped up abruptly and cried, “Keep ’em flyin’!”
Tubby laughed and said, “Calm down, Toughy. It’s us!”
“Right,” said Tommy. “You must have been having a whale of a nightmare!”
Toughy shrugged defensively and said, “I was catching some shuteye so I’ll be all ready for tonight. We may be going into action, huh? While you schoolboys was polishing apples and all that, I was snooping around town. The rats struck a third time today! They robbed old man Johnson! He’s even offering a reward! The old miser is as mad as a wet hen!”
“Mr. Johnson’s the wealthiest man in town!” said Tommy. “How’d it happen?”
“Johnson’s on the draft board,” Toughy explained, “and he had to go up state for some kinda meeting. Well, he was too tight to let his staff get vacations when he might need them, so he up and told them to clear out for their vacations this week while he was gone!”
“So, the mansion was empty,” Tubby said, thinking about it, “but once again even the staff didn’t know they were going to be gone! How’d the gang find out?”
“They seem to know when folks come and go even at the smallest amount of notice!” added Tommy.
“How can we know where the gang will strike?” asked Tubby. “They hit Mrs. Rutherford’s right after she went to the doctor! I mean, they must have, since my Ma talked to her at three, and she was coughing something fierce.”
“Right,” said Tommy. “I was there around four o’clock or so. The gang hit and cleaned her out within one hour!”
“Yeah, but with Kelly it was different,” added Toughy. “She works a swing shift from ten to seven, so that bunch of mugs could have robbed her anytime after she left but before the cab brought her home.”
“Hold it — you said a cab brought her home?” said Tommy.
“Well, sure,” said Toughy. “She’s a doll and all that, but after working all night, she didn’t feel like hoofing it. Who could blame her?”
“Nobody,” said Tommy. “It just makes me curious about something. Mrs. Rutherford doesn’t drive, either. We don’t have a bus or anything like that. How did she get to the hospital? Maybe she took a cab, too!”
“I didn’t think a taxi company could make it in such a tiny town,” said Tubby, “but the Ace Cab service has been doing big business, according to something my Pop said over supper last night!”
Toughy grinned and elbowed the plump boy. “Knowing how much yer ol’ man likes his grub, I’m surprised to learn he says anything between mouthfuls!”
“Ah, knock it off, Toughy,” said Tubby. “Seriously, that new cab stand is doing pretty well! With so many men in the service and many women not knowing how to drive, cabs are becoming real popular across the nation, even in our town!”
“That gives me an idea!” said Tommy. “We know Johnson took his limo to the meeting, so he didn’t use a cab, but just maybe one of his maids or the butler took a cab to go on their own vacation! Cabs may be the key that links all the crimes!”
“Say, maybe we can catch the gang and win that reward from Johnson,” said Tubby. “He came back real fast after he heard his place had been hit.”
Tommy smiled as he realized that reward could enable him to buy Debbie the perfect Christmas gift, if he could just solve the crimes and catch the crooks before school let out for the holidays.