SNOW GLOBES AND HAND GRENADES

Snow Globes and Hand Grenades by Kevin KilleenEight long years of grade school and nuns is about to end in freedom. Graduation! But only if Mimi Maloney and her classmates Patrick and Tony can outsmart investigators who suspect, and rightly so, they’re guilty of the worst crime ever in parish history.

Mimi Maloney, an average student who never gets in trouble, shows her genius in love and crime in this tale of Catholic school kids enduring the last two weeks of eighth grade. Police and church investigators conspire to learn who put the stolen snow globe paperweight in the hand of Mary on the church roof, and suspicion falls on Mimi’s classmates, Patrick Cantwell and his best friend Tony. A comic panorama of parish life in the 1970s, when lying to get out of trouble was considered a sacred art form, because, after all, wasn’t President Nixon lying too? In this suspenseful, laugh-filled sequel to Never Hug a Nun and Try to Kiss a Girl, award-winning author Kevin Killeen gives us a caper plot of flawed heroes and lovable villains that packs the comic blast of that old hand grenade dad brought home from the war and that illustrates childish daydreams all too often have adult, real-life consequences.

 

ABOUT KEVIN KILLEEN

A comic novelist who writes about family life, growing up and Catholic schools, Kevin Killeen has won awards for humor in his first two books, Never Hug a Nun and Try to Kiss a Girl. By day Killeen has worked since 1995 as a reporter for CBS Radio in St. Louis,covering crime, politics and human interest features. He has also written and directed some twenty humorous, full-length radio plays for the KMOX Holiday Radio Show. In his third novel, Snow Globes and Hand Grenades, Killeen for the first time puts the boys in the background and tells a story whose main character is a girl.

EXCERPT

Chapter 1

“WHAT THE HELL?” Mimi Maloney said, squinting into the sun. There was something strange about Mary, the gold statue on the church roof, and Mimi wasn’t the only one who saw it. As a crowd gathered, some began to point.

It was Mother’s Day, and the Archbishop in his flowing purple robe had just spoken from the pulpit. “Yours is a model parish,” he said. “The children so well-behaved, the adults so devout.” Walking out the front door of the church, the Archbishop saw the commotion and looked up for himself.

“What in heaven’s name?” he said whipping off his sunglasses.

Something was sitting in Mary’s hand, something glinting in the sun that had not been there before. Under orders to investigate, a heavy-set usher ran panting up the steps to the choir loft, cut through the storage closet ,and climbed through the trap door onto the roof. Standing on the highest peak, the usher looked like a miniature man in a dark suit beside a giant gold woman. The crowd on the lawn watched. An old man pinched his itchy nostrils. A new mom holding a baby squeezed his milk bottle so hard that formula shot out, spraying the Archbishop and several startled lay persons. Mimi got it in the eye.

“Be careful,” someone shouted at the usher as he stretched farther and farther, higher and higher, longer and longer until he finally snatched something from Mary’s grip. After climbing down and retracing his steps, he bolted out the front door, and handed the object to the Archbishop. Everyone leaned forward to see what it was. The Archbishop turned it this way and that, but there was no getting around the fact that it was a snow globe paperweight with the words “Visit Colorado” stamped on its base. Snowy particles suspended in water swirled about a mountaintop with skiers descending on a romantic village. Without saying a word, the Archbishop handed it to the usher, got in the back seat of his waiting car, and sped off.

“What does it all mean?” moaned a Mother’s Club member.

It meant that the missing snow globe someone had stolen a few days earlier from Miss Kleinschmidt’s classroom had been found. A stern, cigarette-thin woman who’d been teaching eighth grade for decades, Miss Kleinschmidt was given to outbursts over sloppy handwriting and boys with un-tucked shirts. Her fondness for the Visit Colorado snow globe had driven someone to swipe it, and it’s discovery in Mary’s outstretched palm touched off an Inquisition that would burn through the final weeks of school.

On Monday morning, Miss Kleinschmidt slammed the door and faced her class. “Whoever is responsible for this scandal, this sacrilege,” she said rubbing her arthritic knuckles, “will find his Catholic high school acceptance letter rescinded.”

Sara Jibbs, one of the nicest girls in class who never did anything wrong, raised her hand.

“What!?” Miss Kleinschmidt snapped.

“What’s that word mean, rescinded?”

Miss Kleinschmidt clapped her hands together as if popping a child’s birthday balloon. “It means taken away, torn up, no longer yours. It means even though you think you’ve been accepted, the gates will be barred and you won’t be let in.” She paced up and down the aisles, smacking her dry tongue off the roof of her mouth and looking around at the boys. “Whoever did this, will find his future scuttled in the opium den of the public school system.”

As Miss Kleinschmidt wheezed on and on, Patrick Cantwell stole a glance at Tony Vivamano, his best friend, and then stared out the window at the green grass of their last spring at Mary Queen of Our Hearts grade school. Patrick looked guilty. And so did Tony.

Chapter 2

MIMI HOPPED on her green Schwinn with a white basket between the handlebars and rode off the school playground. She stopped on the golf course where she thought no one was watching and took off all her clothes down to her white underwear.

“Hey, what’s that?” said Tony, who was down the fairway with Patrick. They had stopped on their way home to discuss the snow globe crisis and were lying on the thick grass watching the clouds drift across the sky. “Holy crap, Patrick, look!”

Patrick rolled from his back to his stomach and blinked. With her hands on her hips, chin up and her bobbed brown hair breezing above her shoulders, Mimi faced the sun like a statute of flesh and freckles.

“That’s Mimi Maloney. What’s she doing?” The boys lay silent on the grass next to their bikes and waited for her next move. Mimi reached into a bag in her bike basket and pulled out a green blouse. She slipped it over her head, buttoned it up, and then pulled out a red plaid skirt and stepped into it. It was a Catholic high school uniform, the kind the older girls wore at Holy Footsteps Academy, an all girls prep school. Mimi picked up her grade school clothes and stuffed them in the bag. Then she got on her bike and pedaled away.

Tony squinted in thought and looked at Patrick. “Her house is the other way. Where do you think she’s going?”

“I have no idea,” Patrick said. Without another word, they got on their bikes and followed her, careful to keep their distance.

Mimi knew exactly where she was going. She’d been planning her trip to Holy Footsteps Academy for weeks. Her mission was to sneak in and steal a blank sheet of school stationery from the office. She planned to take it home to type an official letter to her parents informing them that her earlier acceptance to Holy Footsteps was a mistake—and that Mimi should attend Webster High instead.

Mimi was sure her plan would work. It had to work. She was in love. She was in love with a public school boy from Webster High and was determined to pedal her bike forward toward a future of her own choosing.

By the pond at the edge of Holy Footsteps Academy, the boys stopped to watch Mimi lean her bike against a tree and run in the front door. “What’s she up to?” Patrick said.

“I don’t know, but whatever it is, I think I’m in love,” Tony said. “Let’s follow her in.”

“No, wait. What about our plan? We have to decide.”

Their plan, which was really only Patrick’s plan, was to hop a freight train and run away. He’d been dreaming about it for years. Living near the Missouri Pacific train tracks and seeing hobos all the time, he too, wanted a future of his own choosing. He wanted to ride the rails away from the future others had planned for him—high school, college, marriage, working downtown—and let his legs dangle out of a slow boxcar as he passed through other towns, other states, and wide open farm country with no nuns.

In fifth grade he’d been home sick with a croup the day five friends got caught smoking on the kindergarten roof. They ran away from the principal’s office, busting out the door to spend hours on the loose. The Gang of Five had lived off the land, swiping candy bars from the Tom Boy in Glendale, hiding out on the Interstate 44 construction zone, and evading an hours-long search by concerned parents and police. Their freedom, though it only lasted for six hours, gave them the honor, respect, and self-confidence no school desk ever could. Having missed that day sick at home coughing was a failure that still stung. And now the snow globe crisis had given him his last best chance to have a good reason to run away, but only if Tony could see the good in it and join him. Freedom was fine, but only if you had a friend to share it with.

“Maybe we could run away,” Tony said, his voice full of hesitation “But let’s see what Mimi’s up to first.”

Mimi’s footsteps lighted catlike across the front hallway, over polished floors, past dark woodwork, and through dust particles dancing in the afternoon sun. Her head was down so no nun would notice she was a stranger. She could hear the muffled notes of nuns lecturing and smell the old books with doodles in the margins from girls long graduated whose daughters were now doodling. Up ahead was the office with its milk glass door showing the dark shape of nuns moving about to process tuition invoices. Mimi stopped.

A nun burst from a storage closet across the hall carrying a fresh spool of calculator paper to tabulate the incoming checks.

“You there! What are you doing out of class?” the nun said, “Come here.”

Mimi flinched, but kept her head down and itched her forehead to hide her eyes. “Sorry, Sister, it’s my period. Gotta go.” She ran around a corner and up a flight of steps, leaping three steps at a time, hoping to reach the landing and get around the corner before the nun would reach the bottom of the stairs and see her. Heart pounding, she stopped on the next floor to listen. Nothing. The nun had walked on to the office.

Meanwhile, out by the pond, where the lazy tips of a weeping willow teased the top of the water, Patrick and Tony talked about the church investigation.

“We can either run away before they find out or after,” Patrick said, “Maybe I should just turn myself in and tell the truth.”

“Never tell the truth when God wants you to lie,” Tony said watching the school for some sign of Mimi. “It’s in the Bible.”

“Really? Where?”

“Lots of places.”

“Like where?”

Tony picked up a big rock to stall for time and threw it in the water with a splash. “I got it. Samson.”

“Who?”

“You know, the muscle guy. When he lied about his hair, he was fine. But as soon as he told the truth, they had him.”

Mimi pulled her hair back into a ponytail as she tiptoed past a drinking fountain and along a hallway lined with lockers. She spied her destination in the distance: the fire alarm with its bright red paint and big white letters screaming at her to “PULL.” That was her goal—to pull the fire alarm and dart into a nearby restroom while the rest of the school emptied out. She stopped short of a classroom full of senior girls listening to a nun read romance literature. Mimi’s cold fingers reached toward the fire alarm while the nun paced back and forth and the girls’ crossed legs bobbed beneath their desks.

“Let him kiss me with the kiss of his mouth,” read the nun with no makeup, “for thy breasts are better than wine, smelling sweet of the best ointments. Thy name is as oil poured out; therefore young maidens have loved thee…”

The alarm clanged. The nun’s head whipped up from her book. Mimi ran.

Out by the pond, Patrick and Tony were skipping rocks to see who could get one to the island first when they heard it. They watched as lines of girls in red plaid uniforms skirts led by nuns in black habits filed out of the doors onto the lawn.

“Must be a drill,” Tony said. Then his eyes widened and he turned toward Patrick.

“No way! Did she do it?” Patrick said. “But why?”

Tony blew an Italian kiss toward the school, hoping it wound find her. “I don’t know, but if she did, God, I love her even more..”

Mimi peeked out into the hallway. The last girls were going down the stairs. She stole out into the open, dashed for the staircase, and bounded down toward the first floor.

She skidded to a halt next to a white statute of Pope Pious XII and spied around the corner as the last nuns left the office, scurrying out the front door. Mimi was alone. She owned the school. Running into the principal’s office, she opened desk drawers looking for the letterhead. Pens, caramels, and broken rosary beads cluttered the main drawer. She tried another one, rooting around beneath a browning banana. Slamming that drawer, she opened another and there it was—a stack of virgin white official Holy Footsteps Academy letterhead with matching envelopes. She grabbed two of each, folding the paper to fit in the envelopes, stuffed them in her blouse and ran out a side door into some bushes just as the fire truck arrived, siren wailing. Waiting for the next part of her plan to fall into place, she watched as the firemen in their yellow hats ran into the school.

Then it happened.

Though Mimi could barely hear it over the fire alarm still blaring inside, the class bell rang, signaling the end of the school day, and the girls of Holy Footsteps Academy broke formation as if on command. Laughing, chatting, and ignoring the nuns hollering at them, they headed toward carpool moms waiting in station wagons lined up down the street. For all they knew, their school would be burned to the ground by tomorrow, but the girls  didn’t care. It was time to go home for Ding Dongs and Twinkies. Mimi blended into the crowd, got on her bike, and rode away with a determined look on her face. She rode right past the pond where Patrick and Tony studied her from behind a tree.

“What do you think it’s all about?” Patrick said.

“I don’t know, but I’m definitely in love.”