“What a boy!” Polina sang.

“What a boy!” the children repeated, reminding Miri of the way Penny and Betsy liked to imitate their parents. Let’s go, Jo! But thinking of Penny and Betsy made her too sad.


“I didn’t catch your name, dear…” the woman said.

“Miri.”

“I’m Mrs. Traynor. Sit right down here”—she pulled out a chair at the table—“and let Polina bring you a nice hot cup of cocoa.”

“Thank you,” she said to Mrs. Traynor, “but I have to go. My grandmother will be wondering where I am.”

“Not even one pancake?” Mrs. Traynor asked.

“No. Really. I have to go home and get ready for school.”

“I’ll tell Mason you stopped by.”

“Thank you.”

Elizabeth Daily Post

Special Edition

UMBRELLA OF DEATH HAS CLOSED

FEB. 11—Just hours after the crash last night of a National Airlines DC-6 into the field behind the Janet Memorial Home, the third such disaster in eight weeks, the Port Authority closed down Newark Airport “pending further investigation,” and Mayor Kirk has promised it will be shut indefinitely. “The chaos, the horror, the terror is over,” he said. “The Umbrella of Death has closed.”

In Washington, E. S. Hensley, director of the Civil Aeronautics Administration’s office of aviation safety, could offer no explanation why three major crashes have occurred in the same place within less than 60 days. “It could just as easily have been San Francisco, Timbuktu, or Saskatchewan,” Hensley said. “Why the Lord let it happen at Elizabeth I cannot guess. There is no earthly reason.”

22

Miri

At school, the boys were excited.

ANGELO VENETTI (waving around the special edition of the paper): No earthly reason. What did I tell you? But they won’t write about the unearthly reasons. They’re scared the aliens will unleash a full attack against us.

PETE WOLF: Yeah, but is it a plot against America or just a plot against our city?

WINKY HERKOVITZ: Either way, we’re in deep shit.

DERISH GRAY: But the mayor says…

WINKY HERKOVITZ: You’re going to believe him?

DERISH GRAY: And Newark Airport is closed.

CHARLEY KAMINSKY: Indefinitely.

ELEANOR: Robo’s father knew what he was doing moving his family out of town. And just in time, too.

SUZANNE: How did Robo’s father know?

ELEANOR: He’s connected.

SUZANNE: To the aliens?

ELEANOR: To the mob.

SUZANNE: This is about the mob?

WINKY HERKOVITZ: Wake up, Little Suzy. Everything is about the mob.

You should know, Miri thought, but she didn’t say so. She was willing to bet the kids at Robo’s new school wouldn’t be talking about the latest crash. They’d probably be talking about the latest show at the Paper Mill Playhouse. She felt like lashing out at all of them. She was sick of their stories. If only she could be sure Uncle Henry was right, that the crashes were accidents. But she’d just read a convincing article in Life magazine, “Making a Case for Interplanetary Saucers,” that made it all seem possible.

Miri turned and walked away. In a minute Eleanor was by her side. “They’re imbeciles,” she said, nodding toward the boys.

“They’re scared but they won’t admit it,” Miri said.

“We’re all scared,” Eleanor said. “Aren’t we?”

Miri nodded. They were all scared.

“I’m still not convinced it isn’t sabotage.” Eleanor said. “But if it is sabotage I believe your uncle will uncover it.”

Miri was glad to hear Eleanor had confidence in Uncle Henry.

At lunchtime, she ducked out of the cafeteria to call Natalie’s house. She’d called last night before she’d gone to sleep, before any of them knew their world would be shattered a third time. There hadn’t been any answer, which made no sense. Even if no one else was home there would still be a babysitter for Fern. This time Mrs. Jones answered. “Osners’ residence. Mrs. Jones speaking.” Miri recognized her voice before she identified herself.

“It’s Miri, Mrs. Jones. Can I speak to Natalie or Mrs. Osner?”

“Everyone is out. I don’t know where.”

“Do you know when they’ll be back?”

“Sorry, I don’t. Try them tonight.” Mrs. Jones hung up first.

She called again before dinner. This time she got Steve. When she asked for Natalie, he said, “She’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“Visiting relatives.”

“What relatives?”

He didn’t answer.

“Are you telling me the truth?”

“No.”

“Let me talk to your mother.”

“Say please.”

“May I please speak to your mother?”

“Sorry, no can do.” And he hung up.

Then Henry came home with the paper and Miri didn’t call the Osners again.

Elizabeth Daily Post

AIRLINER SMASHES INTO SALEM AVENUE APARTMENTS

Explodes in Yard of Janet Memorial Home Third Crash in 58 Days Brings Closure of Newark Airport

By Henry Ammerman

FEB. 11—Disaster from the sky rained down on Elizabeth for the third time in eight weeks. At 12:20 a.m., a Miami-bound National Airlines four-engine DC-6 taking off from Newark Airport sliced open the roof of a three-story apartment building on Salem Avenue. Spilling fuel as a wing tip ripped off, it set the apartment building ablaze before plunging to the ground and exploding in the playing field of the Janet Memorial Home.

Like a Swollen Cream Puff

Wrapped around the base of a tree was one of the plane’s engines. Hanging like a huge dead leaf from the blackened top of another tree was a jagged piece of silver wreckage. The roof of the apartment building looked as if the plane had taken a gigantic bite out of it. The wreckage of the 101-foot-long aircraft stretched across the recreation field of Janet Memorial, and into Westminster Avenue, all brightly lit by roaring flames that took hours to bring under control. Nearby, silhouetted like a sentinel against the orange-red flames was another engine, one propeller blade pointed skyward.

The plane had broken apart like a swollen cream puff. Lying in Westminster Avenue was the forward section, the tomb of the three pilots. Unlike the two previous crashes, which claimed the lives of all on board, 38 survived this time, some seriously injured, some able to walk away.

Janet Home and Schools Nearby

Twenty-two passengers and three crew members aboard the plane died. Four occupants of the ravaged apartment building perished, three of them from the same family—Irving Zahler, 30, his 27-year-old wife, Marilyn, and their 4-year-old son, Monte. They had recently moved from Newark to the Salem Avenue apartment house, where Mrs. Zahler’s parents live. Her father, distraught, said, “Planes come so low over our place you could make a malted milk from the vibrations.” Mr. Zahler worked at Zahler Brothers Potato Market in Newark.

But the block-long pile of death and destruction providentially spared the 48 children asleep in the Janet Home, virtually next door to the ill-fated apartment house. Only a block away were two schools, Vail-Deane and Pingry, which would have been occupied by hundreds of students a few hours later.

Young Heroes from Janet

Many owe their lives to a group of four boys from the Janet Memorial Home. Led by 16-year-old Mason McKittrick, the teenagers rushed from their building and were the first to offer assistance. Ignoring flames and the threat of further explosion, they pulled survivors out of the wreckage. Setting up an assembly line, they passed the injured to others, who transferred them to safety, many of them laid out on gym mats, awaiting medical attention.


MIRI READ HENRY’S STORY, then read it again. Swollen cream puff? She’d always thought of cream puffs as soft and sweet. But Henry was using it to describe something hard and horrible. She worried, for a minute, he was losing his mind. Or was it that when something so unimaginable happens you need to find a new way to help people see it?

Elizabeth Daily Post

NO VALENTINE’S WEDDING

BOSTON, FEB. 13 (UPI)—Plans for a Valentine’s Day wedding went awry because a tall bride-to-be has disappeared after leaving a note to her still taller fiancé, and her engagement ring pinned to a pillow. She said she just couldn’t go through with the ceremony.

Walter James Curran, 27, of Philadelphia, waited in a hotel room for some word of his fiancée, Kathleen Lorna Flynn, 23.

The Valentine Day’s wedding scheduled for Thursday was to climax a romance that began at a convention of tall people’s clubs last year in Kansas City. Curran, a strapping six-foot-five engineer, made a radio appeal last night, urging his five-foot-eleven fiancée to return.

Mrs. Barton Flynn said her daughter “simply vanished into thin air” on a shopping trip, after getting out of the family automobile.

23

Miri

Miri tried to imagine what went wrong. What would make Kathleen, the tall bride-to-be, decide at the last minute she didn’t want to marry Walter? Had she come to her senses and realized all they had in common was their height? Did she find him hopelessly boring? Or maybe she wasn’t attracted to him. Maybe she was disgusted by the idea of having sex with him. Maybe she didn’t like the way he smelled or the way he chewed his food or the way he mispronounced certain words. Maybe she never wanted to get married in the first place but her mother told her she’d better find somebody soon or she was going to wind up an old maid. He could have had a terrible temper or criticized everything she did. Or maybe she loved to dance and he wouldn’t even try. Maybe he drank. Maybe she was in love with someone else. Miri wished she could talk to Kathleen and find out the truth.

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