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Ladies and Gents, I give you a sneak peek at the intro to The Robusta Incident

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September 14, 1981

A canary yellow sun beamed its unfortunate spot-light down on seven-year-old Howard Danishefsky, paying special attention to the taut-puffed circle of purplish skin around his left eye, as he limped home. He stopped to kick loose gravel at a fire hydrant, despite the fact that it hadn’t done anything to him. A thin trail of red ants scurried away from the shower of dirt and rocks, some scrambling over the pavement, others down the cracks young Howard avoided stepping on like the plague. Life was complicated enough, without adding Mimi’s spine to an ever-growing list of worries. She was already going to be so mad over what those darned bullies had done to his Legends of Dance lunchbox. Stupid left-footed fourth graders…what had Astaire and Rogers ever done to them, anyway?

“Hey, little man.” The dark-freckled stranger, trimming the hedges outside Howard and Mimi’s new apartment, looked concerned. “You alright?”

Howard, versed in Russian stoicism since the wise old age of four, just shrugged and answered, “I’m still walking, what more should I ask for?”

Little man. Howard sighed as he half limped and half marched up the steps, keeping his chin high. Everyone seemed to be calling him that these days. At least when Mimi did it, he was her little man. The only one who’d ever been around, as far as he could tell. He’d asked a million times about his dad: Where was he? Who was he? Why wasn’t he there? All he knew was a name and a title: Archibald Danishefsky, astrophysicist (although he added extraordinary in there, when people asked about it). My father is Archibald, and he is an extraordinary astrophysicist…whom I have not met.

It took a few minutes to dig the key from his back-pack’s belly, with only the one good eye left. He finally found it underneath the Living Dead comic book he’d traded his lunch to Billy Decker for. Normally, his mother would’ve left the front door unlocked for him anyway. He blamed it on the man outside, running his big hands all over Mimi’s shrubbery. Strangers were dangerous, people had been telling him that his whole life. He’d always wanted to ask, “compared to what,” which was a legitimate question, but Mimi insisted he avoid using phrases that sounded disagreeable. No one liked a child who questioned authority, even when the authority was entirely questionable.

“Mimi!” He stepped inside quietly, careful to lock the door behind him before setting down his burden. He took off his shoes and stood up on a ridiculous plaid sofa, worn in all the right places, so he could peer at his goose egg in the mirror on the wall above it. “I’m home!”

“There’s my little man.” Mimi rounded the corner with one of her secret smiles, the kind willowy Russian dancers who had led hard lives reserved for very special people. The smile faded into a frown. “Howard, what kind of trouble did you get yourself into?”

He turned to face her, still shy of being face to beautiful face by an inch or so, despite the beat-up furniture under his stinky socks. He shook his head and denied the allegation. “Not me, Mimi…no trouble here. I’m a dancer, not a fighter.”

Mimi pursed artfully painted lips. She cupped a hand beneath his chin, peering thoughtfully at him with green eyes—cat’s eyes that saw through the whole world as if it were nothing. “Bullies, then?”

“Yes, Mimi. Bullies.”

“And what did you do to them, my little man?”

“Nothing.” He couldn’t tell if she was pleased or not.

“Did they tell you why?”

“In a roundabout way,” he sighed, sinking into a seated position with a wince. “It was the lunchbox.”

“Cretins,” Mimi growled. “The children of barbarians.”

“Yes,” Howard nodded, glancing over at his back-pack on the floor. “Barbarians.”