An excerpt in honor of National Custodial Worker’s Recognition Day

Piper Houdini: Apprentice of Coney Island

Chapter 7—Detention

PS 90 in the 1920s

Public School 90 (a.k.a. the Flatbush School) as it looked in the 1920s.

Piper had always gotten good grades in vocabulary, but she had no idea what “thaumaturgy” meant. She continued to study the notice as she blindly followed the other students into the hallway.

The detention was scheduled for the next day. But she wanted to speak with the person who had issued the notice so she could explain to her aunt and uncle exactly what it was that she had done wrong.

The numbers on the classroom doors ascended as Piper made her way down the hall. She stopped when she reached Room 117. It was the principal’s office, which was no surprise to Piper. Principal Kaiser probably wanted to discipline her for flicking Sal on the noggin.

The notice, however, said that detention would be held in Room 117B. Piper looked around, but the only thing between the principal’s office and Room 118 was a door marked “Cloakroom.”

Being sent to stand in the cloakroom was the customary punishment for misbehaving in some of her other schools. So Piper walked toward it and reached for the doorknob. A booming voice stopped her coldly.

“Whatcha doin’ there, lass?” asked a man in denim overalls who was sweeping the floor with a wide push broom. His hair and beard were almost as red as his face. A patch on his left shirt pocket identified him as the school’s custodian, Mr. McFadden.

“I’m new here,” Piper said, dropping her hand. “I’m just trying to find the best place to hang my things.” She didn’t mention the detention notice because she didn’t want the custodian’s first impression of her to be that of a delinquent.

PS 90 in 2016

The Flatbush School at 2274 Church Avenue, on the corner of Bedford Avenue in Brooklyn, as it looked in 2016 before it was demolished for public safety reasons.

Mr. McFadden stopped sweeping and leaned on his broom handle. “You won’t be finding any coats in that room, missy. Hasn’t been used in over thirty years. Don’t even have a key for it no more.”

“Why not?” Piper asked.

“Student got locked in there one Christmas break. Wasn’t a pretty thing when everyone got back.” His eyes bulged as though he had witnessed the tragedy himself. “That’s why each classroom now has its own cloakroom—ones with no locks on the doors.”

Mr. McFadden grasped his broom handle again. “So let that be your first lesson in your new school, lassie—don’t be playin’ in locked rooms,” he growled, pushing a growing pile of dust across Piper’s path that almost soiled her new shoes.

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