Sybil Bruncheon's "Crime Time Tales for Children"... HOWDY-DO!

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The kidnapping had been planned for months. It wasn't going to be one of those failed attempts that ended in cross-country chases, false leads, haggling over ransoms, easily spotted look-outs, needless injuries or deaths, and of course apprehension, arrests, and executions, because back in that time, kidnapping was still a "capital offense". Oh yes, you could be executed for kidnapping, and if it was a child or a famous celebrity, or the "ultimate", a famous (and much beloved!) child-celebrity, you would be lucky, if caught, to even be handed over to the authorities. Because in those early years of the new fangled "television", its stars rose to international fame overnight, and the public was fierce in its loyalty and defense of their new friends that visited them in their actual home every night in the little box. Television brought everything glamorous, magical, and exciting right into your own home.... no need to go to the decaying movie theatres anymore with their enormous chandeliers, their gigantic pillars, their miles of dusty velvet draperies, and their strange murals of other times and exotic lands.... India, China, Zanzibar, Katmandu... no more sticky floors, sticky armrests, and seat cushions that leaned this way and that with the sharp little spring that poked you in the behind! Now, you could stay home and see everything and eat dinner off a little tray right there!...a dinner your Mom had made in 7 minutes......

That was why, when the news came on at 6 that terrible Tuesday night in February, that homes all across the nation erupted in fury.. Howdy Doody!... yes, HOWDY DOODY had been kidnapped from his dressing room, right in front of stage hands, technical persons, staff writers, interns, producers, co-stars, and even the studio audience. When questioned by frantic police and representatives from the Mayor's office, the only clue was that what appeared to be a nice married couple with their own little girl who had come to see the broadcast, had left before it began carrying (inexplicably!) a 1955 American Tourister suitcase; the new "Jet-Streamer Line" with the woven wicker grass-cloth sides that resisted rain and scuffing and retailed for the extravagant price of $29.95 for just the overnight size! It was a warm, honey-amber color with brown leather edging, stitching and a handle...and the two horizontal stripes woven into the fabric were a rich teal blue that matched the luxurious satin and "stain-resistant" interior with its zippered pockets.

The couple had looked ordinary enough, like any other from Levittown or Mamaroneck...or Sayville...or Ronkonkoma. But a few more observant stage hands had noticed that their little girl was odd.... they overheard her asking questions about Howdy, and Buffalo Bob...and of course, Clarabell. She even managed to engage them in a short chat.... Buffalo Bob was carrying a bottle and busy looking for a glass as he passed. He smiled at the child, patted her head which, for some reason, spun completely around. Clarabell was next but pushed by her and the adults muttering something unpleasant about an axe and kindling.... and then it was Howdy! He was accompanied only by his agent, a nice Mrs. Trefeeley, who showed him some changes in the show's script, and the fact that a giraffe and a lemur would be doing a political sketch. Howdy was pleasant, even jolly, and when he was introduced to the little girl (her name was thought to be Irene or Ilene...or was it Lulu?....whatever..) his eyes twinkled.

After all, he was only 11 and he had started to get crushes on his prettier fans.... and she was pretty indeed.... in a ....well... somewhat "society debutante" way. Her eyes had that cool, appraising look to them... the kind that go up and down you "like a searchlight"! That's what they said in the movies! Howdy had heard a lady say that about his Aunt Joan (Crawford!). But he still liked the little girl and her nice parents. They asked if they could meet him after the show for ice cream..or maybe some martinis.... Mrs. Trefeeley saw they were all getting along so nicely, that she excused herself, and went over to scold some stagehands who had pinched her bottom with their rough hands right before lunch...and she wanted to make sure they understood that meant they had to all take her out for dinner that night...to Schrafft's... not someplace cheap! When she turned back around, the married couple was gone...so was Irene/Ilene/Lulu...and Howdy!.. HOWDY!! GONE! Not in his dressing room! Not at the shoe-shine stand with Mr. Clem. Not at the snack table, or in the prop room, or in Wardrobe, or...anywhere.

People began murmuring...then calling out...and finally yelling, and even screaming while out in the studio, the waiting audience began to panic and even cry and scream themselves. ..especially the adults. Buffalo Bob was grabbed by a couple of big policemen and dragged to his dressing room. His bottle and the full glass got spilled and broken, and someone said he cried and threw up. Clarabell was found in the alleyway smoking a $2.00 cigar and talking to himself. The police didn't bother to bring him inside... they just slapped him around out there, and when he sassed them, they slapped him some more, and one of them kicked him in the ass and honked his nose. That shut him up, and he apologized to them. They made him curtsy...like a little girl!..and make donkey-sounds to make sure he got the message! But no matter what everyone was doing inside and out, no trace of Howdy was found. Finally, everyone began to put the couple with the suitcase and the strange little girl together with his disappearance....maybe they weren't from Ronkonkoma after all...

That night's broadcast was canceled while the "Special Reports" went out across the country. Two hours later a note scrawled on double-spaced lined notebook paper and in Crayola's "Eggplant Whimsy" arrived at the studio..... "We want $36,048 in ones and twos in a Donald Duck lunch box by midnight. We'll tell you where to drop it. If you don't, we'll send you Howdy's left arm ..and the hinge! Here's some proof we have him!" ... and there, tacked to the note was...oh God, no! NO!! Mrs. Treffeeley screamed and fainted. So did Buffalo Bob...and a stagehand! The detectives covered their mouths in horror... tacked to the note was a wad of...string...wadded up STRING!!!... oh God!! NO!... and that's when Clarabell, for the first time sounding concerned about his little co-star, that bright and sunny, freckle-faced kid with the big smile for everyone!..that was when Clarabell snarled to anyone listening, "This is why they still send kidnappers to the gas chamber! TO THE GAS CHAMBER!!... C'mon Sergeant! Let's go find my little buddy!" .....And out they all went...but then ...well... you remember how it all ended....

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