Sneak Thief

Word List

Nariz = noseUna ladrona = a thief (female). Un ladrón is a male thief.

What in the world . . . ?” Dad said groggily.

“Guy!” I hissed. “Come down closer to the floor.”

The bunk jiggled above me in the darkness, and my friend slid off the end, landing on the tiles with a thump and a muffled “Yowtch.”

“Don’t move, guys,” Dad said, his voice now perfectly clear and low. “Just stay where you are and listen.”

We must have lain in absolute silence for five minutes, though it seemed longer.

“It was a pistol, I think,” Dad whispered. “Probably on campus, too, by the sound of it.”

“I want to go home,” Guy said in a small, scared voice. I entirely agreed, though I didn’t dare say so. After all, I was several months older.

“Well, anyway,” Dad said in a louder voice, “it didn’t start phase two of the revolution. I’m going back to sleep.”

* * *

Guy and I compared notes at the breakfast table.

“I’m surprised how calm everybody is about those shots,” I said.

He nodded. “I asked Mr. Kinney about them, but he hadn’t heard them.

“Of course, he sleeps on the opposite wing,” I pointed out.

During Mr. Kinney’s usual announcement time, he didn’t even mention them. “Even though it’s Sunday,” he said, “it’s back to work this morning on the orphanage. We can’t afford to waste a day. By the way,” he said, as an afterthought, “we will be having lunch without the cooks today. They’ve been working so hard that we’re letting them go sightseeing in town. When I’m done with these announcements, you can assemble sack lunches from this line right here. Just take your lunches with you. Mr. Denton has volunteered to stay here at the dorm to guard our valuables.”

Since the assigned building jobs for the day involved heavy labor for the bigger kids, Guy and I would be free.

“Victoria talked to me before breakfast,” he whispered. “She wants to give us a tour of where she’s staying.”

I shivered, remembering last night. “Are we going to be safe? Did you ask her about the gunshots?”

“Yeah. No big deal, she says. Happens all the time around here.”

“But somebody must be shooting at something.”

“She said it might have been the campus night guards.”

“But what were they shooting at?

We waited at the front of the building near the bat tree for a half hour. The building was empty except for Mr. Denton, who sat in the dayroom, where he could see down the halls of all four wings.

Finally Victoria arrived and immediately led us across campus to the girls’ dorm, where she and 15 other orphans and foster children stayed in one wing. A tiny boy, whom I recognized as Nestor, began to follow us.

“It’s mostly girls here,” said Guy, “except for Nestor.”

Victoria nodded. “That is true,” she said. “When the boys are 10 or 11 or 12, their relatives come and take them away and make them work.”

“Work?” I asked. “Where?”

She shrugged. “Factories. Farms. Anywhere there is work.”

The director of the orphanage met us at the front desk and exchanged a few words with Victoria before smiling at us.

“She said you can see my room,” Victoria told us with a bit of pride in her voice, and a little ways down the hallway she opened a steel door.

Curtains of plain pink cloth masked the metal bars and provided privacy for the stark white-walled room, which held two gray metal bunk beds and a small battered dresser.

“How many roommates do you have?” I asked.

Once Victoria understood what “roommate” meant, she wrinkled her nose in good-humored annoyance. “Three girls. Ages 5 and 7 and 10. I have to take care of them, because I am older.”

“You’re like their big sister,” Guy said.


I asked, “Are they hard to take care of?”

“Lilia is,” Victoria said. “She is the one who is 10. She makes noises with her nariz, her nose, at night.”

“She snores?” Guy asked, and gave a brief but very effective demonstration.

Veronica laughed. “Yes, she snores. And she is una ladrona. She takes things from people.”

“Does ladrona mean ‘thief’?” I asked. “She steals?”

“Thief.” Veronica nodded, tasting the new word on her tongue.

“Does she steal from you?”

The girl shook her head vigorously. “No. I taught her not to thief–to steal–from me. She goes to the

outside . . .”

Here Veronica paused, realizing that she didn’t have enough English words to describe how Lilia did her dirty work. “Come, please,” she said to us and led the way outside to a couple clothesline posts. She picked up a long piece of wire lying on the ground and expertly bent one end of it into a hook.

“This is how Lilia steals,” she said. She walked over to an open window, peered inside, and then quickly inserted the wire at arm’s length between the bars and through the glass window slats. An instant later she had pulled out the wire again, and neatly caught on the hook was a rumpled blue T-shirt. After showing it to us, she wadded it up and shoved it back inside.

“Wow,” said Guy, glancing thoughtfully at me. I knew he was thinking what I was–had we left valuables close to the window bars in our room?

That night at supper Sally Campbell beckoned us to her table.

“Are you guys still willing to help with Vacation Bible School?” she asked.

Guy and I looked at each other. “Sure, if it’s something we can do,” I said.

“It’s easy. Just be there. Help hand out coloring books and craft supplies, that kind of thing.”

Guy nodded. “Sure, we can handle that! Anything to

help–that’s what we’re here for, isn’t it?”

“Great. Just be ready to get on the bus at 1:30 tomorrow afternoon then.”

* * *

“Mark,” Dad said later, when we were in our room getting ready for bed.


“Got my camera?”


He cocked his head and stared at me. “You don’t have it?”

I shook my head. “Last time I saw it, you had it.” I recalled how he’d been busily clicking away at the botanical gardens. “I haven’t touched it since.”

“Oh no,” he moaned. “I have been through this room from top to bottom looking for it.”

I grabbed for my backpack and prodded it, then unzipped it and felt around inside. “Sorry. Guy, you don’t mistakenly have it in your stuff, do you?”

“No,” Guy said, and hunted through his own luggage and backpack just to make sure. “I wouldn’t know what to do with it if I did.”

“Someone,” said Dad in a voice of doom, “has stolen my camera.”

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Sneak Thief

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