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April 3, 2011

'The Colorful Spy'

April 03, 2011|By Catherine Hein
  • "The Colorful Spy"
"The Colorful Spy" (Patricia Cantor )

It is 1942 in Wormhoudt, France. Circus Jeanne remains under German occupation.

On one very hot night the clowns, the belly dancer and the ballerina were gathered around a large tub of water they had set up behind the tent. Milo and Günther were wiping off grease paint when they noticed that Crimson Queen, the red musk parrot, was chattering away in the dark.

Günther paid more attention than usual.

"It's just her usual gibberish — the heat must have gotten to her," said the belly dancer.

"The bird never shuts up! She repeats everything everyone says! She's driving us all crazy!" said the ballerina.

"No, really. Lauschen. Listen to her."

"Wir werden die Giraffe entführen. Die Giraffe wird unsere Trophäe sein."

The words rang clear in the air. The two clowns looked at each other in alarm.

"What is it? What's wrong?" the others asked.

"It must be a plot," Milo said.

"Tell us, please," said the ballerina.

"Soldiers are plotting to kidnap La Reine, our beautiful giraffe."

"Something about the giraffe will be their trophy."

"They think they are going to take our La Reine?!"

"No, it will never happen. We will be sure of that."

By sun up, all hands were erecting a shelter for the giraffe. Within hours she'd be on her way to a neighboring town in the back of the baker's delivery Renault. La Reine trembled at the thought of being cooped up and far from home.

Two of the jugglers were assigned to drive her seaward as soon as night fell.

"Stop for no one," they were warned.

Back at Jeanne's ring, the fire jugglers were reconstructing an old searchlight on the platform behind La Reine's car. There was precious little time left, if their colorful spy's information was correct.

"Wait in dark behind the train," Olaf told them. "Flip the switch as soon as you see the soldiers try to enter the car."

"Aye, Olaf."

All the circus family waited in silence for the sound of tires on the dirt.

Only the stars shone when, finally, an equipment truck rattled up and backed against the train. Three infantry hopped out carrying ropes and an enormous net. Slowly they crept up the steps to the giraffe's car. The switch was flipped and the car was illumined.

"You idiot! You've brought us to the wrong car!"

"No, this is it. I saw the giraffe last night. It has to be this car."

"She's not there, is she? And we have no time to look for her. If we can't have the giraffe, we have to take something else."

Petey jumped out from the shadows. "Take the Queen." Petey held the parrot for them to grab. "She's worth a lot and she'll do you proud."

The men looked at one another and hurriedly tossed Queen into the net. They sped away, yelling at each other the whole time.

Jeanne's performers confronted Petey at once. "How could you just hand off Queen like that? She saved all of us."

"Don't worry about her," said Petey. "She's smarter than you think."

On the 11th day of the afternoon performance, in the middle of the chimp brothers tumbling act, a bright red bird flew into the tent and circled several times.

"It's Queen," yelled the ballerina. Petey stepped out to catch her and held his finger to his lips.

Once the performance ended, the circus members gathered round and laughed as Günther translated Queen's latest German phrase: "That bird's driving me crazy! Now that the officials are gone, just let her go."

"Guess she gets on everyone's nerves."

"Aye, blokes, I told you. That's my Queen."

Olaf quickly sent a wire: Bring La Reine back home. Stop. Circus safe now thanks to colorful spy. Stop. Visit when you can.

Special thanks to Patricia Cantor for this week's illustration. To see more of her work, visit patriciacantor.com.

For more Kids' Reading Room visit latimes.com/kids.

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