Grams told me my binoculars were going to get me into trouble.
I just didn't believe her. See, Grams worries. All the time. About the way I dress and the food I eat, about me getting home on time, and especially about nosy Mrs. Graybill seeing me come and go. It's not like I try to upset her—I try real hard not to—it's just that somehow Grams winds up worrying and I usually get blamed for it.
So when she'd see me looking out the window with my binoculars and say, "Samantha Keyes, you mark my words, those things are going to get you in a big heap of trouble someday," I'd just say, "Mmm," and keep right on looking. I figured it was just Grams doing some more worrying about nothing.
That is, until I saw a man stealing money from a hotel room across the street—and he saw me.
It's not like I was trying to get into trouble. And it's not like it was my fault I was stuck inside the apartment. If it was anybody's fault it was Mrs. Graybill's. Mrs. Graybill lives down the hall and has to be the nosiest person who ever lived. I swear she's got nothing better to do than to stand by her door, waiting for someone to do something she doesn't think they're supposed to be doing. Grams says she's just a bitter old woman, but when I ask why she's bitter, Grams doesn't seem to have much of an answer. She usually just shrugs and says, "It happens to people sometimes," and then changes the subject.
Anyhow, it's on account of Mrs. Graybill that I was stuck inside when I wanted to be outside. And since there's not much for me to do because everything I own has to be able to fit inside Grams' bottom dresser drawer, I was using the binoculars to at least see what was going on outside.
First I checked out the Pup Parlor. You can see some pretty weird-looking dogs leaving the Pup Parlor. Most of them come out all puffed up and wearing ribbons like they're going to a party instead of home to sleep on the couch. But since we're on the fifth floor and the Pup Parlor's clear down the street, there isn't really much to see if nobody's going in to pick up their puffy dogs. And since nobody was going in to pick up their puffy dogs, I didn't spend much time watching.
I didn't waste time at Bargain Books, either. The only interesting thing I ever saw there was when the owner, Mr. Bell, chased this kid all the way down to Main Street, yelling at the top of his lungs, "Stop! You come back here and get your filthy bubble gum off my wall!" His face was all red and I thought he was going to have a heart attack. He caught the guy in the middle of the intersection at Broadway and Main and dragged him clear back up to the bookstore by his collar. Then he made him pull the gum off the wall and throw it in a trash can. The boy looked really embarrassed, kind of checking around to see if anyone was watching him pick these big strands of goopy gum off the wall. I waved, but he didn't see me, and pretty soon Mr. Bell let him go.
Anyhow, I cruised right by the bookstore and started checking out the hotel. Grams hates the Heavenly Hotel—calls it seedy, but I think she's wrong. One time I even went inside. There was a man with greased-back hair sitting behind the counter reading a newspaper and smoking a cigar. He kind of eyed me from behind the paper, then rolled his cigar over to one side of his mouth and said, "Lookin' for someone?"
I just smiled and shook my head and sat down in one of the fuzzy green chairs they have waiting for you in the lobby. I'd always wanted to sit in a chair like that. The kind with the curvy legs that have paws on the ends of them and then backs that go way up. The backs on the ones in the Heavenly Hotel are pointy—like the pope's hat, only green.
Anyhow, I'm busy trying out one of the chairs when the guy behind the counter says, "You sure?"
I nod and ask him, "How old do you have to be to live here?"
He squints at me and rolls his cigar from one side of his mouth to the other. "Where's your mother?"
Now there's no way I wanted to get into that, so I just hopped out of the chair and headed for the door. I'd seen about enough of the Heavenly Hotel anyways. It wasn't anything like Grams had told me. I was expecting a bunch of people hanging around like they do in front of the Salvation Army but all I got to see was some old guy gnawing on a cigar.
Anyhow, from our window you can't see the pope-hat chairs or the guy with the cigar—not even with binoculars. Actually, you can't see much of anything until you're looking at about the third floor Then things start getting pretty good. Usually you just see people looking out their windows, pointing to stuff on the street or talking on the phone, but sometimes you can see people yelling at each other, which is really strange because you can't hear anything.
So I'd started looking at the hotel windows and was checking out the fourth floor when I noticed this guy moving around one of the rooms kind of fast. He disappeared for a little while but when he came back by the window I could see him digging through a purse like a dog after a gopher. And not only was he pawing through a purse, he was wearing gloves. Black gloves.
What I should've done was put those binoculars down and call 911. What I did instead was try to get the focus tight on my right eye. When I got the binoculars adjusted so that I could practically see him breathing in and out, I got the strangest feeling that I'd seen this guy before. Either that, or I knew his brother or something.
And I'm trying to get a better look at his face through all his bushy brown hair and beard, when he stuffs a wad of money from the purse into his jacket pocket and then looks up. Right at me.
For a second there I don't think he believed his eyes. He kind of leaned into the window and stared, and I stared right back through the binoculars. Then I did something really, really stupid. I waved.
He didn't wave back. He just took a good hard look at me and then ducked out of view.
I sat there for a minute not knowing what to do. I wanted to run and tell Grams, but I knew all that would do was get me in trouble. See, she doesn't know I look at the hotel—she thinks I just watch people on the street. Besides, I'd have to tell her about how he saw me, and that would make her worry. I was worried, and if I was worried you can just picture how Grams would be.
I thought about dialing 911, but the only phone in the apartment is in the kitchen and since Grams was in there making dinner I couldn't exactly go dialing Emergency without her knowing about it.
Then I thought about running down to the police station. It's only about four blocks from the apartment and I could've been there in no time. Trouble was, Mrs. Graybill.
So I'm sitting there, trying to figure out what to do, when Grams calls, "Samantha? It's time to feed that cat of yours."
I jumped right up and said, "Coming!" and the whole time I'm fixing Dorito's dinner, I'm watching Grams out of the corner of my eye.
Well, she's measuring out some rice, watching me out of the corner of her eye. Pretty soon she stops measuring. "What have you been up to, young lady?"
"Up to? Me?"
She puts down the measuring cup and takes off her glasses. "Yes, Samantha, you."
I check out my high-tops for a minute, kind of studying the place where the rubber's peeling away at the toe. "Nothing."
"Ha!" That's all she says. "Ha!" But what that means is I'm busted and had better start doing some pretty fast talking. Either that or come right out and tell the truth.
I step on the peeling rubber with my other foot, trying to break it off, but it just snaps back. When I look up at Grams, her hands have made it up to her hips so I know it's time to come out with the truth. At least part of it.
"I was using the binoculars. Sorry."
She lets out a little sigh—"Oh"—and turns back to the rice.
So there I am, waiting for her to ask me what I saw, thinking that maybe I'll tell her because I'm feeling kind of shaky about the whole thing, but she doesn't ask. She just sprinkles out some more rice and says, "Well, I suppose it can't be helped with Daisy being such a busybody today." And I'm standing there, not real sure I like getting off the hook so easy, when she turns to me and says, "You know what the problem is? The problem is that I haven't taught you how to knit."
I couldn't believe my ears. "To knit?"
Now Grams doesn't usually get too excited about stuff but when she does you can tell because her eyes get really big and she starts moving. And thinking about teaching me to knit was making those eyes of hers pop wide open. I just said, "Uh-oh," and got real busy giving Dorito fresh water.
It didn't help. She comes over to me with this measuring cup full of rice and says, "To knit, or crochet, or embroider—that's it! I'm going to teach you how to embroider."
"Embroider?" I fill up Dorito's water dish. "No way!"
She chases after me with that cup of rice in her hand. "It would be fun. Trust me, you would enjoy it! Besides, it would give you something constructive to do on the days when you have to stay in."
I look straight at her. "I would hate it." Then I point to the kettle of water splashing away like crazy on the stove. "Water's boiling."
She hurries over to the stove. "How do you know you'd hate it? You've never even tried it."
I laugh. "Oh yes I have. Lady Lana tried to teach me."
"Please don't call her that."
I just shrug. "Well she did. When I was in the third grade. I kept poking myself with the needle and she got mad at me 'cause I bled all over the place."
Grams didn't have much to say to that. I mean, everyone knows how much my mother likes blood. So she stirs the rice some and finally she says, "Well, okay then. I'll teach you how to knit."
I groan, but I can tell it's hopeless. Grams is going to teach me how to knit whether I like it or not.
Just then the doorbell rings. Now normally when the doorbell rings I just get up from doing whatever I'm doing, make sure none of my stuff is sitting around the living room, and head for Grams' closet.
This time, though, I jumped. I jumped and I yelped like a puppy. And all of a sudden my heart's pounding because I know who it is.
It's the guy I saw at the Heavenly Hotel, come to shut me up for good.
Excerpted from SAMMY KEYES AND THE HOTEL THIEF © Copyright 2002 by Wendelin Van Draanen. Reprinted with permission by Knopf. All rights reserved.
Sammy Keyes and the Hotel Thief
- paperback: 176 pages
- Publisher: Yearling
- ISBN-10: 0679892648
- ISBN-13: 9780679892649