“Do you think they saw us?” Freddie Merrill breathed.
“If they’d’a seen us, they’d’a killed us,” Tommy Hastings whispered. “What are they doing here? I thought we left them behind!”
“Who cares what they’re doing here! We go in the opposite direction!” Freddie leaned back from peeking around the corner just as the door of the store they were hiding in front of opened. Both boys scampered onto the sidewalk.
The man who walked out shouted, “What are you doing here? No hooligans in my store! Now get out before I call the police!” He shook his fist at them as they dashed across the busy street, dodging cars, bicycles and a bus. Freddie started off down the sidewalk on the other side of the street heading south. Tommy hesitated, followed after him then stopped.
Freddie said, “If we can make it up the hill soon enough, we should be able to hitch a ride with…” Freddie stopped and turned around. Tommy was staring after him, hands stuffed into his pockets. When Freddie glared, Tommy dropped his gaze to the ground. Freddie stomped back to his old friend and said, “You’re not thinking of keeping on going, are you?”
Tommy didn’t look up and shrugged instead. Freddie grabbed his shoulder, but Tommy jerked away, still not looking up. Freddie said, “You’re not thinking of staying in town, are you?” Tommy shrugged again. “The mobsters are here!” Freddie shouted. Passersby glanced at the boys and a few gave them wide berth. “The witch is probable here, too!” Tommy scowled and finally looked up. Freddie added, “And your communist uncle!”
“He ain’t a communist, he’s a socialist,” Tommy said sulkily.
“What do you know about socialists and communists?”
Freddie glared at him for a while then he twisted his mouth sideways and finally said, “About as much as you do, which is to say – nuthin’.”
Tommy grunted and digging his hands deeper into his pockets, he replied, “True. But I wanna find out, ‘cause if my uncle is a socialist then maybe Dad or Mom is, too.”
“I thought you said your mom don’t talk about her brother hardly at all.”
Tommy shrugged, “She don’t. But that don’t mean I can’t talk to him. Charlie’s dad was dead set against him but that don’t mean I have to be. He’s my uncle and I want to see him.”
“What if he’s messed up with the mobsters?”
Tommy snorted, “And the witch?” He thought a moment. “Maybe I’ll leave and never go back. But maybe not. I wanna talk to him at least.” He finally met Freddie’s gaze full on and said, “If he’s as important at Charlie’s dad says he is then he can protect us from the witch and the mobsters no matter what.”
Freddie shook his head but said, “It still stinks, but goin’ with you has got to be better than hosing down milk tanks and listening to Mr. Fairlaine rant about socialists.”
Tommy nodded, adding, “And letting Charlie pick on you.” He turned and started walking north along North Shore Drive.
Freddie ran up beside him and said, “He wasn’t pickin’ on me! He liked me. He was picking on you!”
“He was not! He liked me. He thought you were stupid,” Tommy fired back.
Freddie grunted and said, "I don't think he liked anybody -- least which his own son."
Tommy had nothing to add as they headed north toward the mansions.