Well…all the McCutcheon
neighbours living on Oak Street
were very friendly. All of them,
that is, except the lady on the right. If there was
a weed in the lawn she complained.
If a ball went onto her grass she was furious.
If there was a school concert and the kids
were practicing, she raised a ruckus.
Since all the other neighbours were so nice,
it made Mrs. Fairweather seem even worse.
Both Penny and Alba thought a better name
for her would be Mrs. Stormybum but their
parents put a quick end to that.
“She may not be as friendly as we’d like but
she’s entitled to her own space,” said Mr.
McCutcheon. “I bet she’s more frightened of
you than you are of her.”
“Remember she’s pretty old and sometimes
it’s harder for older people when all the
things change around them,” agreed Mrs.
Reluctantly, Penny and Alba could
understand what their mother was saying.
Mrs. Fairweather’s house had been the
original farmhouse in the area and her father
had sold off all the rest of the farm when
their first home had burned down. They had
needed the money to rebuild. And when you are used to
having a lot of privacy and living in an orchard, it must
be hard to see the fruit trees chopped down to make
room for a subdivision. On the other hand, Penny and Alba
loved having neighbours on all sides. It meant that there
were lots of kids to play with. There was always a game
going on from morning to night and always lots of
excitement and noise-just what a kid likes and just what
an older lady might find disturbing.
Now, Mrs. Fairweather was very independent. Every
morning she was out watering her flowers at the crack
of dawn. Every Monday her washing was hung out in
the back yard. Everything was done on a fixed schedule.
Though she didn’t cut her own grass anymore, she
followed Billy Adams around the yard as he cut the
grass and pointed out every blade he missed with the
On Monday after school, Penny and Alba were playing
ball in the backyard. Alba shouted “Go out for a long one”
and Penny ran backwards to catch the pop fly. Before she
knew it, she had backed into the hedge between her house
and Mrs. Fairweather’s and was blocked by the dense
cedars. The ball bounced off of the hedge, ricocheted off
the McCutcheon garage, into a paisley house dress hanging
on their neighbour’s clothes line and dropped into Mrs.
Fairweather’s beloved flower garden.
“Holy cow and rats” said Penny. “That’s our only ball.
There’s no way I’m going over into that backyard to get
“Let’s wait ’til Billy cuts the grass and he can throw it
back to us” agreed Alba.
And almost like he had heard them, Billy came through the
garden gate with his lawn mower and started cutting.
Hiding in the bushes the girls whistled at Billy and got his
“Hey, can you throw us back our ball?”
Billy looked over his shoulder to make sure that Mrs.
Fairweather wasn’t watching from the house and he
flipped the ball back over the fence. It was only then
that Billy realized how strange it was that Mrs.
Fairweather wasn’t out in the yard saying, “You missed a
In fact it was so peaceful that Billy felt uneasy when he
had finished the yard before anyone came out to order
him about. Somehow the yard felt very different and
empty as he swung the rusty gate shut.
“Oh well,” he said, “I guess Mrs. Fairweather must be
out of the house.”
The next day, as Penny and Alba were walking to
school, they couldn’t help but notice that the flowers
beside Mrs. Fairweather’s front porch were drooping a
little and that for the first time that they could
remember, the morning paper was still lying on the front
sidewalk. After school when they were playing ball in the
backyard Alba said “Go out for a long one.”
Penny replied, “Hey remember what happened
yesterday. Let’s not let that happen again.”
Even before she had finished saying it though, she
looked into Mrs. Fairweather’s backyard and observed
that something seemed out of place.
And as she was thinking that thought, the rain started to fall.
Penny and Alba tore into the house and ran up the stairs
into their bedroom. Looking out the window they saw the
rain come down in sheets.
“Well at least the flowers will grow” said Alba, trying to
Penny said, “Looks like Old Mrs. Stormybum’s laundry is
going to get another wash, too.”
They both giggled quietly because they knew that it was a
mean name and also because they would get into trouble if
they used it in front of their parents. As the two of them
started to play cards Penny looked out the window again at
the clothes on the line. The wind was starting to blow
harder and some of the clothes started to fly off the line.
“Something’s wrong,” said Penny. “We’ve got a mystery
alert. Alba, what’s wrong with this picture?”
Alba scratched her head. “I give up. What’s wrong?”
“Mrs. Fairweather is very particular about everything,
“You got that right” agreed Alba.
“Well, would anyone particular about their good clothes
leave them on the line over night and not take them
inside in a torrential rain storm?”
The girls stared at each other, raced down the stairs,
and went to look for their mother who was busy on the
computer in the basement.
“I’m busy with someone on-line right now, but you had
better go into her yard and pick up the clothes” she said
when the girls explained their dilemma. “She must have
forgotten her washing and gone out of town for the night.”
Now the rain was really coming down in sheets. In fact the
sheets of rain were coming down so hard the sheets on the
line were also coming down and the girls knew they would
have to put on their slickers to stay dry. Normally they
would only wear the slickers until they were out of sight of
the house and then stuff them into their school bags but
today it was raining so hard that they wore them even with
the hoods up. They figured they were probably going to be
killed by Mrs. Fairweather when she saw them in her
backyard anyway so they might as well die dry.
By the time they got to the backyard the laundry was
strewn all over the place and it took ten minutes to get it
rounded up. The only thing left was a sheet that had blown
up into the apple tree outside her second story window and
after carefully placing the clothes in a basket on the back
deck Penny and Alba climbed the apple tree to try and
get the sheet down.
“Boy are we going to get it. The sheet is ripped and
she’s going to blame us for sure,” said Alba. “Come on,
let’s get it down before I get any more soaked.”
Penny couldn’t help but look into the second story
window as she was climbing down. As she peered in, it
seemed strange to her that the bed wasn’t made.
Wouldn’t Mrs. Fairweather have made her bed before
going away? Surely she was that type of woman who
would leave everything perfectly tidy. And as they
closed the garden gate behind them Penny noticed that
two days of papers were now blowing all over the front
yard. When they got back to their driveway, Mrs.
McCutcheon was just driving away in the car. She had left
them a note to say that she would be at the school board
meeting for the evening and that they were to call if they
had a problem.
Both girls peeled off their wet clothes, got into warm
PJ’s and drank the hot chocolate that their mother had
left for them. Her note said “Thanks for helping Mrs.
Fairweather, I’m sure she’ll appreciate it even if she
doesn’t say so out loud.”
Mrs. McCutcheon was no dummy. She knew what
Mrs. Fairweather was like but she also was very
supportive of Mrs. Fairweather and always kept an eye
out for her. She took her Christmas treats and offered to
bring her things every time she went to the store.
“That’s the way I’d like to be treated if l were living
alone in a big house by myself” she’d say in an old witches
voice trying to make light of a very difficult situation. The
girls were beginning to understand that one day their
parents would be older and they would help take care of
Alba and Penny sat in their rooms doing their homework
and Penny looked out the window at her neighbour’s
“Wouldn’t you leave some lights on if you were going
away,” asked Penny. “It looks totally deserted.”
“Maybe she doesn’t want to spend the money” replied
“I know she’s tight with her money, but she’s also very
careful,” said Penny. “Something’s wrong. I wish Dad
and Mom were home.”
“Come on, we’ve got to investigate. Get your clothes
on and grab a flashlight,” exclaimed Alba
“Are you crazy? Go back out into the storm and check
out Mrs. Stormybum’s house. Not a chance. I’m staying
here” replied Penny.
“OK suit yourself, chicken lips,” challenged Alba. Well
normally the girls didn’t fall for that kind of taunting.
Scaredy-cat never worked but chicken lips always did
and the two sisters were instantly ready to be the
McCutcheon sisters- ‘Big time detectives.’
Outside, the bushes were waving in the wind casting
shadows on the houses from the flickering street lamps.
The sky exploded with light as a shot of lightning struck
a hydro transformer a couple of streets away, plunging
the street into pitch darkness.
“Great night for a horror movie,” said Penny.
“Yeah. Look at me.” replied Alba in a ghoulish voice. “I’m
the monster who’s going to suck out all of your blood” as
she shone the flashlight up from under her chin.
A gust of wind whipped the branches of the oak tree in the
McCutcheon front yard against the house, making a
sound that reminded Alba of fingernails on a
chalkboard. She began to feel a little less brave and a
lot more uneasy.
“What are we doing here?” she said quietly. “It’s raining.
We’re not allowed out when Mom and Dad aren’t home.
Mrs. Stormy bum is going to yell at us and get us into
trouble. And we don’t even like her. Earth to Penny,
have we gone nuts?”
“Something’s wrong Alba. Something’s happened to
Mrs. Fairweather and we’re the only two who can help
her. If we get yelled at I’ll take the blame” said Penny
bravely. “Go home if you want but I think she’s in
Well, the girls often disagreed, but when it came down
to the crunch, sisters are sisters and they would do
anything for each other and trusted each other’s
instincts. By this time they had reached the Fairweather
front porch and shone the light through the living room
window. The curtains were just open a crack and they
couldn’t see anything in the room.
“Come on, let’s go around the back, maybe we’ll get a
But all the blinds were closed at the back of the house.
Mrs. Fairweather didn’t like the sun streaming in and
fading her furniture.
“I don’t see anything. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”
“Wait a second,” replied Penny. “Let’s check out the
second floor from the apple tree.”
But by this time the tree was soaked and the branches
were very slippery.
“Be careful not to slip” Alba warned her sister.
They shinnied their way up to the branch where they
had been the day before and shone the light through the
window and all around the floor.
“I don’t see anything, Alba” said Penny as she turned
around to talk to her sister. When she looked back at
the bedroom a lightning fast object jumped up on the
window frame, startling Penny and causing her to lose her
grip on the tree.
“Hold on,” cried Alba “I’ve got you.”
Alba barely did catch her because Penny was wet and
two years older and quite a bit bigger than Alba.
Fortunately Penny was able to grab another branch and
climb back to the window to see the face of a pitiful
black cat meowing on the other side.
“That settles it,” said Alba. “Something is wrong. Mrs.
Fairweather might not like kids much but she loves that
cat. She’ s never left it alone without food . I’m calling
Within a minute the girls had slid down the tree and
were back in the McCutcheon kitchen calling the
Centreville police station. They were lucky that the
phone was still working even though the main house
hydro was out and they immediately asked for Sergeant
McGillvray because he was an officer who trusted them.
I guess a lot of kids do some pretty dumb things but the
girls had learned in the past that he would always take
what they had to say very seriously. And he did this time
“I’ll be there in a couple of minutes” he said. “That’s
showing good observation techniques, kids.”
And true to his word, Sergeant McGillvray arrived with
lights flashing on his squad car shortly before an
ambulance pulled into the Fairweather driveway. The
girls told him everything they had done. Trusting the kids,
the sergeant didn’t waste a minute. He tried all the doors
and windows and finally broke a back window to get into
the house. Three minutes went by with no word from inside
and the girls started to worry that they had imagined
everything and that they would get into trouble for having
an overactive imagination. The ambulance drivers were
snickering to themselves because they had gone on many
‘kid originated’ wild goose chases before and they didn’t
have the same faith that Sergeant McGillvray had in
Suddenly there was another shot of lightning. This one
illuminated the faces of Mr. and Mrs. McCutcheon as
they drove into their driveway, back home from the
school board meeting.
Terrified to see the flashing lights in their neighbour’s
driveway and their kids out in the torrential rain, Mrs.
McCutcheon jumped out of the car even before it had
stopped and ran across her neighbour’s soaking lawn
towards the girls shouting “What’s going on?”.
“Maybe you ought to ask your girls” said one of the
ambulance attendants and they all laughed.
“Looks like a case of overactive imagination” the other
But before she could talk to her kids, the front door of
the Fairweather house flew open and Sergeant
McGillvray shouted at the men to get a stretcher and
oxygen up to the bedroom right now. Within seconds
the ambulance attendants were sheepishly racing up the
staircase into the second floor bedroom and within
minutes Mrs. Fairweather was in the ambulance headed
for Centreville hospital.
“Looks like your kids are heroes” said Sergeant
McGillvray”… again. Best kid detectives in the whole
Mrs. McCutcheon said, “I’1l have someone board up the
broken window at the back and get in touch with her
Sergeant McGillvray added. “It looks like she’s going to be
OK but she fell and broke her hip and couldn’t get to the
phone. She could have suffered for days if your kids hadn’t
cared about her. She’s lucky to have such good
Both girls looked at each other because they certainly
didn’t think that they were good neighbours to Mrs.
Stormy … Mrs. Fairweather. But like with a lot of things,
piano practice included, you don’t have to like it to
know it’s important to do.
Just as Sergeant McGillvray was locking the front door,
the lights went on all over the neighbourhood and Alba
shouted “Wait a second” and ran into the house.
Mrs. McCutcheon called after her, “Alba you can’t go
in there, you’re trespassing.”
And sure enough she was, but Penny knew that Mrs.
Fairweather would have approved because in a minute
Alba came out the front door carrying Rufus, Mrs.
Alba said, “You almost broke my sisters neck when you
scared her, but I like you anyway.”
We’ll take care of the cat until Mrs. Fairweather gets
out of the hospital and we’ll let her know that her cat
will be OK,” Mr. McCutcheon said to Sergeant
Sergeant McGillvray locked the door to the house and
watched as the McCutcheons strode across the lawn to
their home. He wished that everyone had such good
neighbours and knew that he would have lots more
adventures with his two favourite detectives, Penny and