"Why pick on me? Why not pick on Steve?" he asked.
Claudia sighed, "I don't want Steve. Steve is one of the things in my life that I'm running away from. I want you."
Despite himself, Jamie felt flattered. (Flattery is as important a machine as the lever, isn't it, Saxonberg? Give it a proper place to rest, and it can move the world.) It moved Jamie. He stopped thinking, "Why pick on me?" and started thinking, "I am chosen." He sat up in his seat, unzipped his jacket, put one foot up on the seat, placed his hands over his bent knee and said out of the corner of his mouth, "O.K., Claude, when do we bust out of here? And how?"
Claudia stifled the urge to correct his grammar again. "On Wednesday. Here's the plan. Listen carefully."
Jamie squinted his eyes and said, "Make it complicated, Claude. I like complications."
Claudia laughed. "It's got to be simple to work. We'll go on Wednesday because Wednesday is music lesson day. I'm taking my violin out of its case and am packing it full of clothes. You do the same with your trumpet case. Take as much clean underwear as possible and socks and at least one other shirt with you."
"All in a trumpet case? I should have taken up the bass fiddle."
"You can use some of the room in my case. Also use your book bag. Take your transistor radio."
"Can I wear sneakers?" Jamie asked.
Claudia answered, "Of course. Wearing shoes all the time is one of the tyrannies you'll escape by coming with me."
Jamie smiled, and Claudia knew that now was the correct time to ask. She almost managed to sound casual. "And bring all your money." She cleared her throat. "By the way, how much money do you have?"
Jamie put his foot back down on the floor, looked out the window and said, "Why do you want to know?"
"For goodness' sake, Jamie, if we're in this together, then we're together. I've got to know. How much do you have?"
"Can I trust you not to talk?" he asked.
Claudia was getting mad. "Did I ask you if I could trust you not to talk?" She clamped her mouth shut and let out twirl whiffs of air through her nostrils; had she done it any harder or any louder, it would have been called a snort.
"Well, you see, Claude," Jamie whispered, "I have quite a lot of money."
Claudia thought that old Jamie would end up being a business tycoon someday. Or at least a tax attorney like their grandfather. She said nothing to Jamie.
Jamie continued, "Claude, don't tell Mom or Dad, but I gamble. I play those card games with Bruce for money. Every Friday we count our cards, and he pays me. Two cents for every card I have more than he has and five cents for every ace. And I always have more cards than he has and at least one more ace.
Claudia lost all patience. "Tell me how much you have! Four dollars? Five? How much?" Jamie nuzzled himself further into the corner of the bus seat and sang, "Twenty-four dollars and forty-three cents." Claudia gasped, and Jamie, enjoying her reaction, added, "Hang around until Friday and I'll make it twenty-five even."
"How can you do that? Your allowance is only twenty-five cents. Twenty-four forty-three plus twenty-five cents makes only twenty-four dollars and sixty-eight cents." Details never escaped Claudia.
"I'll win the rest from Bruce."
"C'mon now, James, how can you know on Monday that you'll win on Friday?"
"I just know that I will," he answered.
"How do you know?"
"I'll never tell." He looked straight at Claudia to see her reaction. She looked puzzled. He smiled, and so did she, for she then felt more certain than ever that she had chosen the correct brother for a partner in escape. They complemented each other perfectly. She was cautious (about everything but money) and poor; he was adventurous (about everything but money) and rich. More than twenty-four dollars. That would be quite a nice boodle to put in their knapsacks if they were using knapsacks instead of instrument cases. She already had four dollars and eighteen cents. They would escape in comfort.
Jamie waited while she thought. "Well? What do you say? Want to wait until Friday?"
Claudia hesitated only a minute more before deciding.",No, we have to go on Wednesday. I'll write you full details of my plan. You must show the plan to no one. Memorize all the details; then destroy my note."
"Do I have to eat it?" Jamie asked.
"Tearing it up and putting it in the trash would be much simpler. No one in our family but me ever goes through the trash. And I only do if it is not sloppy and not full of pencil sharpener shavings. Or ashes."
"I'll eat it. I like complications," Jamie said.
"You must also like Wood pulp," Claudia said. "That's what paper is made of, you know."
"I know. I know," Jamie answered. They spoke no more untiI they got off the bus at their stop.
Steve got off the bus after Jamie and Claudia.
Steve yelled, "Claude! Claude! It's your turn to take Kevin. I'll tell Mom if you forget."
Claudia, who had been walking up ahead with Jamie, stopped short, ran back, grabbed Kevin's hand and started retracing her steps, pulling him along to the side and slightly behind.
"I wanna walk with Stevie," Kevin cried.
"That would be just fine with me, Kevin Brat," Claudia answered. "But today you happen to be my responsibility."
"Whose 'sponsibility am I next?" he asked.
"Wednesday starts Steve's turn," Claudia answered.
"I wish it could be Steve's turn every week," Kevin whined.
"You just may get your wish."
Kevin never realized then or ever that he had been given a clue, and he pouted all the way home.