[Ongoing story of “Free Stubs!” and Julia, the 10-year-old protagonist, in a San Francisco neighborhood, around 1965]
Julia heard the familiar whistle from down in the alleyway and opened the window. There was Benjy, the only friend in the world she had right now, doing the Second Street Gang whistle. It was hard to believe that Little Benjy was David O’Leary younger brother. David was big and mean at times, while Benjy was still a cute little kid.
Dad had told Julia to stay in her room and not cause any more trouble, especially with the police. But Julia had to save Stubs, the three-legged guinea pig, who now was lab bait at the laboratory where they do experiments on animals. She was sure of it.
Julia tiptoed to the door and opened and shut it quietly. Only Mom was home and she probably wouldn’t notice anyway. She was most likely absorbed in her book of the day and smoking cigarettes in the kitchen. She met Benjy by the alleyway door.
“I’m supposed to be grounded,” Julia said, “But we gotta save Stubs.”
“Okay, let’s go!”
Julia and Benjy ran up Second Avenue to Irving Street stopping at each corner and peering around to make sure David O’Leary and the gang weren’t around. Then they sprinted up the steep Third Avenue Hill to the laboratory. It was a Saturday and most likely the professors would not be there.
“I saw Professor Fentley at the store earlier,” Benjy said. “And he didn’t have his lab jacket on.”
They ran down an alleyway alongside the laboratory which was actually a three story house, and into the backyard. The yard looked like an overgrown jungle of bushes, tall grass and trees.
“Hmmm, I wonder if there’s a way in,” said Julia.
“Hey, look, there’s a tree right next to that patio thing!” Benjy pointed to a sprawling plum tree which grew alongside the back of the house.
They ran towards the tree, and then Julia stopped. She held on to the special peace necklace with turquoise and silver embedded in it her dad had given her earlier that day which now seemed like ages ago. She wondered if maybe they shouldn’t climb a tree and break into a house. She didn’t think it was something her dad would do or that he would approve of. In fact, she already disobeyed one of his rare requests to stay in her room. Dad didn’t like cops much and was not happy to see them show up at the front door holding on to Julia’s arm because of the demonstration he started.
“What’s wrong?” Barry asked. He was already by the tree and had even climbed up a small part of it. “This tree is easy to climb!”
“I know. Maybe we shouldn’t do this. I don’t know.”
Benjy jumped down from the tree. “Okay, if you don’t want to, but what about Stubs?”
“You’re right. We’ve gotta do this. For Stubs!” Julia ran over to the tree and followed Benjy up. At one point the branches were thinner, and she felt a branch sway as she stepped on it. Benjy stopped to grab a plum off a branch and eat it.
“Hey, hurry up or I might fall!”
Both of them managed to heave themselves up onto a large patio with old, rusted outdoor furniture, some chairs and a table. The wooden floor needed to be painted. They peered through the glass of the door and saw what looked like a lab room.
“Well, here goes,” said Julia. She grabbed the door handle and paused. She looked at Benjy, and he looked back at her and at the door handle.
“Do it!” he said.
Julia turned the handle and the door opened.