Lesley Kagen: Whistling in the Dark

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Lesley Kagen Whistling in the Dark
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    Whistling in the Dark
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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.

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Lesley Kagen

Whistling in the Dark

The first book in the Whistling in the Dark series, 2007

For my sisters


From the bottom of my heart, thanks a million to:

Ellen Edwards, Molly Boyle, and all the other talented folks at NAL.

Bill Reiss, my agent extraordinaire.

Generous early readers Eileen, Eileen, Hope, Emily, Angela,

Nancy, Stephanie and Donna.

The ever-supportive Backspacers.

The always delicious Restaurant Hama.

Wise and wonderful Dr. Mike Lebow.

Pete, one heck of a first reader and a darn good kisser.

Casey and Riley, the reason for it all.

Je t’adore .


I never heard exactly who it was that found Sara Heinemann’s dead body over at the lagoon. But it was Willie O’Hara who told us that she was lying neatly on the grass between those rotting red rowboats you could rent for a dollar if you wanted to do a little fishing. Sara’s pink undies were wrapped around her neck like a bow and she was naked. And some of her blond hair had been cut off just like Junie Piaskowski’s had the summer before.

Something like that wasn’t supposed to happen on Vliet Street. But like Daddy always said… things can happen when you least expect them. Things that can change your whole life. How right he was. Because after they found Sara’s body, it seemed like our nightly games of red light, green light and the Fourth of July parade and even cooling off in the Honey Creek on days so hot they’d curl the hair on the back of your neck might become part of the good old days that Granny always talked about. Because one dead girl was one thing. But two dead girls… everybody started wondering who would be next. Except for me. I knew I was next.

It was the summer of 1959. The summer I was ten. That summer on Vliet Street everyone started locking their doors.


The morning Mother told us she was sick, Troo and me were just laying in the lime summer grass, smelling the bleach comin’ off the wash that jitterbugged on the line and getting ready to play that name game with her.

“It’s important for you to understand who you’re dealing with 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 in the city.”

How could we forget? She musta told us this over a ga billion times since we moved to the house on Vliet Street. We were a mother and her three girls. And I supposed I had to count Hall, because that would be the charitable thing to do. 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 on his way back home to the farm after a Milwaukee Braves game. Our uncle Paulie, who was riding shotgun, went through the windshield and got his brain damaged when he hit a fire hydrant so he had to go live with my Granny over on Fifty-ninth Street. Some man at his funeral called our daddy, Donny O’Malley, lush. I didn’t know what that meant so I looked it up the next day in that big dictionary they had over at the library. Lush is an adjective that means luxurious. That man was right. My daddy was lush. Stuffed with lush-ness. Like a chocolate cake with chocolate filling and chocolate frosting.

Mother shook out the wet white sheet and said, “And one of the ways you can know what to expect from somebody is by knowing what country they originally came from. Right? People’s last names can tell you just about everything you’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 under your thumbnail, but Mother, she loved this name game even better than Chinese checkers.

“I don’t have all day.” Mother gave us her do-you-smell-dog-poop look, so Troo called out “Latour?” real quick.

Troo was gorgeous-looking. Red wavy hair that stopped at her shoulders and freckles across her nose only. And she had the kind of blue eyes that looked like the sky when it just woke up in the morning and hadn’t turned that blue jean color it got later on in the day. Troo was thin except at her lips, which were poofy and made her look a little pouty all the time, which was true some of the time. And she had long fingers, which were good for playing the secondhand piano we had in the living room. Mother thought pianos made a family look high-class. Granny told me that piano business was a little stuck-up of her daughter since Mother grew up in Milwaukee 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 chip cookies. (What Granny really said, because she was always sayin’ stuff like this, was, “Helen should know by now that she can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.”)

Mother cupped her hand around her ear, so Troo yelled louder, “Latour?”

Helen and Troo. “Two peas in a pod,” Granny also always said. “Just look at ’em.”

I didn’t look like Troo. Or Mother. My eyes weren’t blue like theirs. Mine were green and they sat under eyebrows that were almost invisible to the naked eye but had some bulkiness to them. I was not as tall as Troo even though she was younger than me. I had long legs but small feet and hands because I was born a month early. And I had no freckles on my face. Not one. But I had been told once or twice that I had darling dimples and nice thick blonde hair that Mother and Nell got in an argument over every morning when they tried to put it into one fat braid that went down my back. Nell was my other sister. But only a half of one. Nell’s father was Mother’s first husband, who she told me died of smelling ammonia.

Mother answered, “Latour is French.” She took a little whiff of her wrist that I knew would smell like Evening in Paris, her favorite. “The French speak the language of love.”

Troo wasn’t even paying attention. She was lookin’ over at our next-door neighbor’s house and wondering if the stories we’d been hearing about the place were true. Because we were sisters born only ten months apart, which made us practically twins, her and me could have the mental telepathy that lets you read somebody else’s mind even if they don’t want you to, so I pretty much always knew what Troo was thinking. “Kenfield?” she hollered out.

“Kenfield is English,” Mother said. “They like to keep a stiff upper lip. That means they don’t like to show what they’re feeling.” She bent down to take another sheet out of the basket, and when she did her hair came undone from the white ribbon. I was always surprised by how long it was. And when the sun shined on it, even though it was red, you could see the gold hiding in it. I thought she was more beautiful than the movie star Maureen O’Hara. And so must the men on the block because they set their beer bottles down when she walked by and sometimes, if those beer bottles were all drunk up, they gave her a low wolf whistle she pretended not to hear.

Troo nudged me with her elbow and started giggling. “O’Malley.”

Mother shook her finger and said, “Troo O’Malley, being silly never got anybody anywhere in life.” But the corners of her mouth went up just a smidge to let us know that we were better than everybody else and not just potato heads or micks, as the kids on the block who were Italian and Polish and 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.

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