Penny & Alba

STINKY BENNETT

Well,…Penny and Alba were

reading in the family room when

they were startled to hear their

parents and aunt and uncle shouting,

“Gold and Green,

Hear us scream,

Centreville High

Is your worst dream

Tackle them, race them,

Kick ’em in the bum,

We’re the best

When it comes to fun

They’re always wrong

And we’re always right.

For Centreville High

We’ll fight, fight, fight”

Uncle Harold, Aunt Helen and Mr. and Mrs.

McCutcheon were laughing so hard that

Penny and Alba thought they were listening

to a seven year old’s birthday party.

“Look at the gym outfits,” shrieked Aunt

Helen as she pointed to a picture in the old

Centreville High year book from the year she graduated.

“Oh look,” said Mrs. McCutcheon, “there’s a picture of

Peter Bennett working on the school newspaper. He

was such a nice guy.”

“That’s right. But no one ever called him Peter.

“Stinky” was his name to all of his friends,” said Mr.

McCutcheon.

“And his enemies too!” added Mrs. McCutcheon.

“Well he was one of the nicest guys in all of Centreville

High and I’m looking forward to seeing him more than

anyone else at our high school reunion tomorrow,”

added Uncle Harold.

“What’s Peter doing now?” asked Aunt Helen.

“Last time I heard he was working with street kids. If

anyone needed help he was always the first one there to

offer a hand. We used to write each other but we kinda

lost touch in the last couple of years. Tomorrow I’m

hoping to catch up on a lot of memories.”

Penny and Alba grimaced. They were a little

disappointed that the reunion was tomorrow. That was

the only day that the traveling circus would be in town and

they wouldn’t be able to go because they had promised to

help out at the reunion. Neither of them had any idea why

anyone would want to go back to their old school after so

many years.

The evening for most of the adults progressed with

great hilarity. Once Mr. McCutcheon laughed so hard he

fell off the kitchen chair. But the girls noticed that a

cloud of concern seemed to come over Uncle Harold.

He got more and more anxious about the reunion as the

evening wore on.

Next afternoon, Stinky Bennett pulled into the Centreville

High School parking lot with a screech of brakes. His

smile, suit and car said, “Look at me, I’m rich and

successful.”

This was a great surprise to Uncle Harold because

Stinky had always been poor and while he didn’t

begrudge anyone becoming successful, he was a little

embarrassed about his own financial position. As soon

as Penny and Alba saw Uncle Harold react to the arrival

of Mr. Bennett they knew that their uncle had dreaded this

moment. Twenty-five years had passed since Uncle Harold

graduated from high school and he was feeling a little

embarrassed by the fact that he had chosen to stay in

Centreville and farm his parents’ land. Mrs. McCutcheon,

his sister, often told him how grateful she was that he and

Aunt Helen were improving the land and keeping up the

family farming tradition. Still, Uncle Harold knew that at

least for some of his old friends, money was very important

and they would try to impress one another with how

successful they had become since leaving high school. And

one of the problems with one person boasting about how

wealthy he had become, was that the other people acted as

if it was important too. lt made people who had made less

money feel like they weren’t as successful. It wasn’t fair or

even right but that’s the way it made Uncle Harold feel.

Inside the school gymnasium, the greatest topic of

conversation was how Peter Bennett had become wealthy

enough to drive a fancy car and dress in such an expensive

suit. After all, some of Uncle Harold’s friends said, “Wasn’t

he the guy they used to call stinky because his clothes

always reeked of cabbage.”

“In fact it seemed like their entire house always reeked of

cabbage” another replied.

The Bennetts had been very poor when they came to

Centreville and it was Uncle Harold and Aunt Helen who

had befriended them when no one else would play with

them. Aunt Helen’s Mom always said “It isn’t a crime to

be poor and it doesn’t matter how much you earn. What

counts is whether you live an honest life and you work hard

to be the best you can be.”

His mother was probably right. Mothers usually are. What

annoyed Uncle Harold most was the fact the Stinky

Bennett hadn’t even come over to talk to him when he

arrived at the school.

“Some reunion this is turning out to be,” grumbled

Uncle Harold to himself.

After an hour of selling refreshments in the sweltering gym,

Penny decided to go outside to get some fresh air. By this

time, the sun had started to set and there was an orange

glow over the school parking lot. A hot summer breeze

wafted over the grassy knoll where Penny was sitting and

the sounds of rock and roll music pulsated from the gym.

Penny hardly noticed as a dark van pulled into the parking

lot and slowly drove up and down the rows of cars as if

looking for a parking space. The van eased up beside Peter

Bennett’s car and the van’s door slid open. Suddenly, two

men in gray overalls sprang out and quickly looked around.

When they didn’t see anyone, the taller one slipped into the

front seat of the sports car. Something fell onto the ground

out of his overalls. Within seconds they had started the

sport car’s engine by hot wiring the ignition. In a flash, the

van and the sports car were tearing out of the school

parking lot and onto the road that leads from the school to

the centre of town.

Penny was shocked by how quickly this had occurred

but she was aware enough to hastily scratch the license

number of the van into the dirt at her feet. This way, she

would be able to recall it if the police asked. Penny then

jumped up and tore into the school where she found

Uncle Harold getting a drink from the water fountain and

hiding from his former classmates. By this time, Uncle

Harold looked like a lost puppy who would give

anything to go home and not have to go back into the

gym.

“Hey, what’s up Penny,” he asked as he saw the sweat on

her forehead.

“Someone just stole Mr. Bennett’s car,” she replied

breathlessly.

“Rollicking roosters,” exclaimed Uncle Harold, jumping

into action. “You go tell Stinky err … Mr. Bennett and I’ll

phone the police.”

Alba saw Penny race into the gym and shouted, “Hey it’s

about time. I’m frying over here. Come and take your

turn.”

Penny raced over and told her sister what had happened

and they quickly assigned a surprised Mr. McCutcheon

to take over the responsibility of selling refreshments

before they approached Mr. Bennett.

Stinky was at the back of the gym surrounded by a

fascinated group of people listening to him tell them

about how successful he had become. Penny and Alba

both knew how upset Uncle Harold was and Penny

secretly was glad that if anyone’s car had been stolen it

was this man’s. It took them a long time to get beside

Mr. Bennett and then at least another minute before he

would pay any attention to the two kids pulling at his

suit jacket. Penny said that she needed to talk to him

urgently and practically had to drag him away from the

group of impressed graduates.

“Well, what do you want kids, an autograph?”

“Actually we wanted to tell you that your car has just been

stolen,” replied Penny tersely.

And with this, the colour in Mr. Bennett’s face drained right

out. Neither Alba nor Penny could believe the change

that had come over him. At first, Penny was afraid that

he was getting terribly angry but then realized that he

was about to faint.

“Alba, quick grab him,” she said “and let’s get him out

into the hall where it’s a little cooler.”

They both pushed open the doors of the darkened gym

and guided the slumping man into the cooler hallway.

Mr. Bennett was gasping for air and Uncle Harold was

shocked to see the change in Stinky as he ran back from

calling the police. Instead of a confident boaster, now

what they saw was a broken man about to burst into

tears. Inside the gym they heard a commotion and a crowd

coming to the hallway door. A look of terror crossed Mr.

Bennett’s face. Uncle Harold didn’t know what was going

on but he sensed that something was very wrong. With the

help of the girls, he dragged Mr. Bennett into the men’s

changing room. This made Penny and Alba even more

uncomfortable. How would they explain to anyone who

came in why they were in the men’s change room? Alba

thought she was hot before, but now she really felt flushed.

Uncle Harold seemed oblivious to his niece’s unease and

got some cool paper towels to put on Peter’s forehead. He

loosened both Peter’s tie and then his own and for the first

time that day Uncle Harold appeared himself again.

“Stinky, what’s going on?” asked Uncle Harold. “The

police will find your car and if they don’t the insurance

will pay for its replacement.”

With this statement Stinky Bennett did faint and

slumped onto Penny and Alba. Now Stinky was a big

man and Penny and Alba were pinned under his

considerable weight They couldn’t move without dropping

him on the floor and so they did.

Clunk!

Slowly, with Uncle Harold’s help, they picked him up

and laid him down on a bench and started applying

additional cold towels to his forehead. The door of the

locker room opened a crack and Uncle Harold heard his

name being called by his sister, Mrs. McCutcheon.

“Harold, did you call the police because Sergeant

McGillvray’s here with another officer and I don’t have

the slightest idea what’s going on. And another thing.

What happened to Stinky? Everyone is worried out

here.”

“Just tell everyone that everything’s fine. Stinky and I

are just reminiscing. But you can ask the sergeant to come

in as soon as he can.”

“Harold, you’re not telling the whole truth,” Mrs.

McCutcheon stated but she didn’t dare go into the men’s

dressing room.

“Trust me, this is best. Just ask the sergeant to come in”

replied Uncle Harold.

Mrs. McCutcheon now knew that something was

definitely up but the sound of her brother’s voice, made her

realize that this was a time to be supportive. She would get

the whole story afterwards.

Sergeant McGillvray came into the dressing room and

first saw the man lying on the bench and then looked at

Uncle Harold and then looked at the girls. It was a pretty

funny sight because now the girls were really embarrassed

about being in the men’s dressing room.

“I’m almost afraid to ask what happened. Penny, was it

you who saw the robbery? Did you notice anything

about the people who stole the car?” he asked.

“Well,” Penny said, “come with me. I’ve written down the

plate number of the men who stole Mr. Bennett’s car.”

“How about the number of the stolen car?” the sergeant

asked Penny.

“No I didn’t get that”, she replied “but Mr. Bennett

will know his own number.”

Sergeant McGillvray immediately looked at Peter

Bennett and asked him as he was slowly coming around.

“What is your car’s license number, Mr. Bennett?”

Stinky looked up at the police officer and said, “I don’t

know” just before he fainted again.

“Come on sergeant, I think I can describe it pretty well”

and with that Penny and Sergeant McGillvray left the

dressing room and exited toward the parking lot.

At the front doors of the school, Mrs. McCutcheon caught

up to her daughter and gasped, “Penny, what were you

doing in the men’s dressing room and where is your sister?”

“Oh, she’s in there too!” shouted Penny as she lead the

police outside.

This was embarrassing and would have to be explained

but Penny knew that she should help the police first

before attempting to go over her predicament with her

mother.

Penny took Sergeant McGillvray over to where she had

scribbled the van’s plate number in the earth. Then she

described Mr. Bennett’s car to the police. Now Penny

didn’t know a lot about cars but this one was so

distinctive and had been the talk of everyone so it didn’t

take long for Sergeant McGillvray and the other officer

to describe the stolen car to the police dispatcher via the

police cruiser radio.

“They’ve got a big head start,” said the other officer to

Sergeant McGillvray. “Without any more information

we’ll have a hard time finding them.”

And then Penny remembered the object that had fallen out

of the overalls of one of the thieves. She ran over to where

the men had stolen the car and searched the ground around

it. Nothing was obvious but she was sure that something

had fallen out, and then she noticed something bright and

shiny. Under the wheel of an adjacent van she spotted a

red rubber clown nose.

“Well you certainly have a nose for crime,” chortled

Sergeant McGillvray as he came up behind Penny.

“Maybe I can help find these guys. I’ve got an idea,” she

said.

“Would it be okay if Penny came with me in the squad car

so she can identify the van of the auto thieves?” Sergeant

McGillvray asked Mrs. McCutcheon. “She’s our only

eyewitness.”

“I guess that would be fine as long as there are no high

speed chases and you think she’ll be safe officer.”

“You can be sure that I wouldn’t put one of the best

detectives in Centreville in danger,” he said. And with that,

the police and Penny raced out of the parking lot in the

squad car with the siren blaring.

Back in the dressing room Peter Bennett was starting to

recover and both Alba and Uncle Harold continued to

apply cold towels to his forehead.

“I am such an idiot,” he blurted.

“Pardon,” replied Uncle Harold. “One second you own

the world and you won’t even talk to me and the next

second you’re calling yourself an idiot. Stinky, what’s

going on?”

Stinky looked down at his feet, said “I’m such an idiot”

and slumped even more.

Alba dove forward thinking that he was going to collapse

again but this time Peter caught himself and said to Alba,

“Next time I faint let me hit the floor. I’m such an idiot.”

“Here, drink this,” Uncle Harold said as he handed Peter a

paper cup of water. “I think you’d better start telling us

what’s going on.”

Stinky rubbed his shoes against the hard floor for a few

seconds and then said “You see these shoes-pretty nice

eh?”

“Yeah they’re expensive shoes, so what,” replied Uncle

Harold.

“I borrowed them from my brother. He’s a shoe

salesman.”

“Pardon?” asked Uncle Harold.

“See this suit? Oh I’m such an idiot!”

“What about the suit?”

“Rented. I’m such an idiot.”

“See this watch?” he asked as he showed a very

expensive looking watch to Alba. “A fake. See this

man” he said pointing to himself. “I’m a fake as well

and an idiot.”

“What do you mean?” asked Alba.

“Well,” he said and paused a minute, “I couldn’t bear

the thought of coming back to the high school reunion

and still being poor. Everyone looked down their noses

at me when I lived here twenty-five years ago. That is

everyone except your family,” he said looking at Uncle

Harold. “I wanted to show them that they were wrong. I

wanted to see how they would act if Stinky Bennett were

rich. So that’s why I didn’t come over to my only friend,

you Harold. I was too embarrassed to lie to you.”

“But the letters that you wrote said that you were

working with street kids,” said Uncle Harold.

“Well, that’s what I’ve been doing .”

“So what’s wrong with that. You must be an idiot,” said

Uncle Harold. “How can someone have such an important

job and not even realize it?”

“But you always said that being a farmer wasn’t an

important job” retorted Mr. Bennett to Uncle Harold.

“Who could be more important than someone who

grows our food?”

“Well, I never really thought of it that way,” replied

Uncle Harold. “I must be an idiot too!”

“Join the club,” chuckled Mr. Bennett. “The idiot’s

club-it’s got a nice ring to it.”

“Now that we all agree that everyone’s an idiot, why did

you faint when my sister and I told you about the car?”

asked Alba.

Mr. Bennett looked down at the ground. It was Uncle

Harold who answered for him for now the whole situation

started to become clear.

“Because you rented the car to come to the reunion so

you could impress everyone and holy cow,” Uncle Harold

exclaimed as he realized what was going on. “You couldn’t

afford to buy car insurance, could you?”

Peter Bennett could only nod his head slowly.

“I don’t get it,” said Alba.

“Either did Stinky” Uncle Harold continued and then

looked at his friend. “You were driving an $80,000 car

with no theft or damage insurance and now if the car is

damaged of lost you’11 have to repay the rental company

the whole amount. You really are an idiot.”

And with this statement both Uncle Harold and Peter

Bennett slumped on the bench.

“This is a huge problem,” sighed Uncle Harold.

“Idiot, idiot, idiot, idiot,” groaned Peter Bennett.

Just then, the door to the locker room opened up and Mr.

McCutcheon quietly entered to see three downcast people

all looking at the floor. He whispered to Alba that maybe

this was a good time for her to leave.

“Besides,” he said, “I happen to know that the disc jockey

could use some help choosing some tunes that will get

everyone up and dancing. Anyway,” he continued, “if you

stay in the locker room any longer you’re going to

permanently smell of old gym socks.”

As Alba left the three men in the locker room, she looked

over her shoulder to see them huddled together with Uncle

Harold bringing Mr. McCutcheon up to date on the

problem.

Two hours later, Alba and the DJ had everyone in the

gym forming a conga line and dancing out the back

doors, through the equipment room, past the cafeteria

and around to the front of the school where they saw

Penny returning in the squad car with Sergeant

McGillvray. By the look on her face you could tell that

they had had a tough time. In fact they had been

humiliated. When Penny had seen the clown nose in the

parking lot, she had remembered that the circus was in

town that day. So she convinced Sergeant McGillvray

that the best place to look for the van and the car was at

the circus in the Centreville fairgrounds. They had

mistakenly run into the big top circus tent in the middle

of a performance and been chased around by a broken

down jalopy and squirted with water by the elephants

when they had tried to interrogate the two clowns.

Everyone in the audience had thought that the police and

Penny were part of the show and the audience had

cheered and clapped loudly as they were drenched.

After this humiliation and an exhaustive search, the

police were unable to find any trace of the car anywhere

in the circus lot. Even though they found the van and

Penny recognized the clowns as the men who had stolen

the car, without the car they had no way to prove that

those men had stolen it. Besides not finding the car at the

fairgrounds, Sergeant McGillvray reported that none of

the other local police departments had seen a trace of a

rented car that matched the description given by Penny.

It became more and more evident that Mr. Bennett was

going to have to pay a great deal of money if they couldn’t

find the car. And all because of his vanity. How he had

wanted to impress his classmates after all of these years!

Alba went out and stood beside her sister. As if to add

insult to injury, she saw that a line of circus vehicles had

made it’s way from town and was starting to pass by the

school on the way to their next engagement.

“Boy they sure have a lot of stuff to transport” said Alba

as the huge sixteen wheeler transport trucks went by

with the circus name on the side.

Penny said “How could the car have been taken out of

the town so quickly?”

Sergeant McGillvray agreed . “It doesn’t make sense

that nobody noticed such a flashy new car.”

Alba thought for a moment. “Suppose the car didn’t leave

town and that’s why no one noticed it.”

“What do you mean?” queried Penny.

“Well suppose you had something you wanted to hide

and knew that everyone would be looking for it out of

town. What would you do?”

“Well I suppose I’d leave it in town until people

stopped looking for it.”

“And then how would you move it out of town?” Alba

questioned excitedly. “Would you drive it down the

road for everyone to see?”

“No, I’d hide it in something where no one would look

and then take it out of town when I was moving something

else,” answered Penny.

“You mean like a whole circus?” shrieked Alba.

“Hold on Alba. If you’re suggesting that the car was at the

circus all the time, I don’t think you’re right. We looked

everywhere, didn’t we Penny?” replied a discouraged

Sergeant McGillvray.

“Are you sure you looked everywhere?” replied Alba.

“Because it sure looks like those huge trucks could hide a

little sports car.”

“You’re right,” replied the police officer. “But we looked in

all of them thoroughly. Except the tiger’s truck. Only a fool

would go in there to look.”

And at that moment a look of comprehension appeared

on the three faces of Penny, Alba and Sergeant

McGillvray.

“So if you were going to hide something at a circus, where

would you be sure that no one would look thoroughly?”

asked Sergeant McGillvray.

“In the tiger cages!” they all replied.

“Stop that caravan,” shouted the sergeant and the group

of police officers that had accompanied the circus

search sprang into action and pulled off out of the

parking lot with their lights flashing .

“Please don’ t search the whole caravan” pleaded the

manager of the circus. “We’ve got a long trip to make

tonight. Besides, you checked everywhere back there

when we were set up. Look I’d like to help but I’ve got

a schedule to keep.”

“This shouldn’t take too long,” replied Sergeant

McGillvray. “But I need your most experienced animal

trainer as well.”

“Well, that’s Jake, our lead clown” replied the manager.

When Alba heard this, it was like all of her suspicions

were starting to come true.

“Open up the trucks with the wild animals” ordered the

manager of the circus “but let’s do this very carefully. We

don’t want anyone hurt and we have to be really careful

and gentle with the animals.”

Alba and Penny watched the two clowns as the police

searched the trucks carefully once again and it was Alba

who noticed the younger clown get more and more

nervous as the police started to approach the final truck.

“Now be really careful here” said the one trainer. “These

tigers aren’t very well trained and they can bite your arm

off in a second if you’re not careful.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t get too close to these guys” said the

other clown. “They’ re real killers.”

With flash lights piercing the darkness inside the cargo

space, the police carefully crept into the truck. In front

of them they found two lazy looking and curious caged

tigers and a pile of hay.

“Doesn’t look like there’s anything here boss,” said one

of the junior officers. “I guess maybe the kids were

wrong,” he continued.

Much as he hated to agree, Sergeant McGillvray thought

that they were probably right and since he had already

been humiliated at the circus once that day, he was

anxious to finish up this second piece of investigation

without further mishap or embarrassment.

Penny and Alba could hardly believe what they were

hearing because their analysis of the crime had seemed

so right.

“Wait just a second,” came a voice from behind the

crowd.

Penny and Alba recognized Uncle Harold’s voice as he

came forward.

“Sergeant, may I have just a minute to look myself.”

“Well, I guess another minute won’t matter,” the sergeant

replied.

And without a thought about the danger, Uncle Harold

climbed up into the truck beside the officers.

Before he could get a step farther, Aunt Helen called

out “What are you doing up there? Didn’t you hear the

trainers say that those tigers were vicious?”

“Yes I did,” Uncle Harold assured her “but they’re caged

and I think I can get around the cage without them clawing

me. Besides, I think that Penny and Alba are right. I think

someone is trying to scare us off.”

With this statement he looked directly at the two clowns

who were now getting angry but also more visibly

nervous.

“Please hand me your flash light Sergeant,” Uncle

Harold said to Sergeant McGillvray and then he

proceeded to make a careful route around the cage of the

curious tigers and into the hay at the back of the truck. It

seemed like an eternity but in what must have been only

a couple of minutes everyone in the crowd heard “toot

toot a-uuga.”

Now you’ll no doubt agree that this was a very strange

sound coming from a tiger truck unless of course you

know that hidden beneath the hay was a very expensive

sports cars with a horn that went “toot toot a-uuga.”

Suddenly the two clowns tried to make a run for it but

were captured by the other officers. Stinky Bennett

fainted again but this time it was with relief.

A very pleased Uncle Harold, who by this time was

covered in straw and looked like a scarecrow, came

back into sight and announced to the crowd, “I’d like to

introduce to you, Centreville’s three greatest detectives.

Sergeant McGillvray and my nieces Penny and Alba.

Take a bow, the three of you, because this case is

closed.”

And with that pronouncement one of the tigers behind

Uncle Harold roared at the top of her lungs sending Uncle

Harold flying off the truck into the arms of the laughing

crowd.

Twenty minutes later, all the circus employees had

secured the wild animal trucks and the convoy was

heading down the highway again. The two clowns however

wouldn’t be joining the circus for a long time. They were

taken to a squad car for further questioning.

And under the amber streetlight sat Mr. Bennett’s car. Only

this time it had a long deep scratch down the driver’s side

of the car that had been made when the robbers had driven

the car hurriedly into the tiger truck.

The people from the reunion surrounded the car.

“Boy look at the damage,” one of them said. “I bet that

will cost thousands to fix.”

“Yeah it’s a good thing that Stinky’s made of money,”

said another.

Well, the rest of the evening went on without any other

major disasters and Penny and Alba lost track of Mr.

Bennett and their parents and aunt and uncle.

Just as the evening was winding down, Alba told Penny

“It’s a good thing that you saw that one man drop his

nose.”

“It was a very good thing for me,” said Mr. Bennett

who had come up behind them with Uncle Harold and

had overheard their conversation.

Mr. Bennett asked the girls if he could talk to them and

then awkwardly searched for the words he was looking

for.

“I want to thank the two of you for helping me today.

The police tell me that if you hadn’t acted so quickly

they never would have found the car and I would have to

repay the rental company the entire $80,000. As it is,

I’ve talked with the company and the damage is about

$3,000. Your parents and aunt and uncle have loaned me

the money to get it fixed and I’ve agreed to repay them

over the next year.”

Penny and Alba were a little surprised to hear that their

parents and aunt and uncle were so generous because they

knew that neither family had a lot of money. But they both

realized that sometimes being a friend meant helping out

your friends even when it wasn’t convenient.

“I was such an idiot to try to be someone I wasn’t,” Stinky

went on to say “and they had every right to laugh at me and

tell their friends what happened.”

“No, no” interrupted Uncle Harold. “All you wanted

was the respect that everyone is entitled to. We’re not

going to tell anyone what went on today girls so that

Stinky …. I mean Peter can come back to see us anytime

without anyone making fun of him. Do you think you can

keep this a secret as well?”

Penny looked at Alba and Alba looked at Penny.

“Okay with us,” the girls replied in unison. After all,

they loved secrets almost more than Uncle Harold did.

“I really appreciate your kindness” said Peter to the

girls .

“And your friendship and financial help” he said in the

direction of Uncle Harold.

“After all,” said Uncle Harold, “you don’t judge a

person by how much money they have but rather by the

size of their heart.”

“And the great friends that they make through their

life,” smiled Mr. Bennett.

And with that, Uncle Harold put his arm around Stinky

Bennett’s shoulder and started to whisper the school

chant building to a grand finale,

“Gold and Green,

Hear us scream,

Centreville High

Is your worst dream.”

“Come on, join us,” he said to Penny and Alba and to all

the people standing outside in the Centreville High parking

lot on that warm summer evening,

“Tackle them, race them,

Kick ’em in the bum,

We’re the best

When it comes to fun.

They’re always wrong

And we’re always right.

For Centreville High

We’ll fight, fight, fight!”