Catch You Later, Traitor


By Avi

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From Newbery Medalist Avi comes the thrilling and suspenseful story of an ordinary American family who falls under suspicion during the 1950s Red Scare.

It’s 1951, and twelve-year-old Pete Collison is a regular kid who loves detective stories and radio crime dramas. When an FBI agent shows up at Pete’s doorstep, accusing Pete’s father of being a Communist, Pete is caught in a real-life mystery. Could there really be Commies in his family?


“Suspenseful . . .  Authentic period details–such as popular radio programs and the ongoing rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giantsadd a colorful backdrop to Pete’s quest as he navigates the murky gray area between truth and fiction. An excellent introduction to the frenzy of the McCarthy era.”Publishers Weekly, starred review

"Avi, a master of historical fiction, vividly recreates not only the neighborhoods and pop culture of period Brooklyn, but the runaway paranoia that dominated daily life in the early years of the Cold War. With each clue Pete uncovers, the tension picks up, engaging readers in solving the dual mystery of his father’s past and identifying his accuser whose name is kept a well-concealed surprise until the last moment . . . As a mystery, historical fiction, and love letter to 1950s Brooklyn, this novel succeeds on every level." School Library Journal, starred review

“Avi’s tale of one Brooklyn family living in a time of intolerance effectively explores the natures of suspicion, loyalty, and freedom, following a young protagonist who comes to learn the importance of freedom of speech and ‘staying true to your own thoughts.’”The Horn Book Magazine
“An involving, twisty mystery, grounded by the palpable emotional threat of Pete’s father being taken away. An accomplished historical mystery by one of kid lit’s most reliable craftspeople.” Booklist
“Thought-provoking . . . Avi builds Pete’s story, told in the first person, with page-turning tension and memorable characters that will leave readers with a strong sense of the insidious power wielded by the FBI and McCarthyites.” Kirkus Reviews
A Spring 2015 Kids’ Indie Next List Pick
A Junior Library Guild Selection


The way I see it, I stopped being a kid on April 12, 1951.

We were playing our regular afternoon recess punchball game out in the schoolyard. I was about to smack the ball when Big Toby, who always played catcher, muttered, “Hey, Pete, that true about your parents?”

I looked over my shoulder. “What?”

“Is what Donavan said about your parents true?”

I stared at him as if he had walked off a flying saucer. Why would Mr. Donavan, our seventh-grade teacher, say anything about my parents? And how come I hadn’t heard?

“Come on, Collison,” Hank Sibley yelled at me. He was near second base, which was someone’s sweater. “Stop gabbing. Recess almost up.” He blew a huge bubble with his gum, which popped as I punched a shot inside third.

Kat, the only girl playing, raced home.

Our schoolyard was cement, which meant if you slid home, you’d peel off your skin. So no sliding allowed. Anyway, Kat stomped on her geography text, our home plate, and yelled “Dodgers win!” well before the ball was thrown home.

Grinning, I stood on first base, my English reader. Next moment the school bell clanged, so we grabbed our stuff and headed back to class.

“Kicky hit,” Kat said to me.

Kat’s real name was Katherine Boyer. Some people considered her a tomboy. I couldn’t have cared less. She and I had been sitting next to each other ever since fourth grade. In fact, we did most things together: school, homework, movies, radio, and TV. Her mother once said we were back and forth between apartments so much, it was hard to know who lived where. Kat was pretty much the other half of my brain.

“Thanks,” I said, but Big Toby’s question—“That true about your parents?”—kept bouncing round my head like a steel marble in a lit-up pinball machine.

We poured into Brooklyn’s Public School Number 10. The old brick building had no music room, no art room, no library, and no gym. All the same, it had a locker room stink.

Back at our wooden desks, all of them bolted to the floor, we did what we were supposed to do: sit with faces front, hands clasped, feet together, like rows of plaster ducks in a Coney Island shooting gallery. Since Donavan wasn’t there, I wadded up a piece of paper and flicked it at Big Toby, hitting his fat neck.

He hooked a frown over his shoulder.

“Psst! What did Donavan say?”

The second I spoke, Donavan walked in. “No talking in class, Pete,” he barked.

I ducked my head, looked toward Kat, and whispered: “Did Donavan say something about my parents yesterday?” It must have been when I’d left school early for a dentist drill.

She nicked a nervous nod.

That helped. “What’d he say?”

“Collison,” said Donavan, “do I need to send you to the principal’s office?”

Kat sneaked a small smile in my direction. It wasn’t her usual smile. More like the smile on a store window mannequin: all show, no tell.

“Collison!” Donavan barked. “Eyes front.”

With his potbelly, slack cheeks, large ears, and baggy eyes, Donavan reminded me of a beagle. He was strict, insisting we call him “Sir.” His smiles were as rare as finding two bits on the sidewalk.

The way he told it, he was a World War Two vet with Technicolor tales about what happened to him and his buddies in the Pacific. In the mornings, when we stood by our desks, hands over hearts, pledging allegiance to the flag up front, he snapped a military salute sharp enough to chop cheap paper.

So when Donavan called you by your last name, it was like hearing a cop-car siren. You might not know what you were doing wrong but you stopped doing it. In other words, there was a smell in the air and it wasn’t just the school.

School dragged on for another hour and a half, geography and then grammar. I was so rattled, my notion of a dangling participle was that long, skinny country of Chile.

When the class clock finally hit three and the bell rang, we poured out of school like beans from a split beanbag. It being Thursday afternoon, I should have gone to my once-a-week job, reading newspapers to a blind guy named Mr. Ordson, except he had called and canceled. Fine with me. I needed to talk to Kat about what Donavan said. But she raced ahead, and her mother was waiting for her outside.

Most times when Kat’s mom saw me, she flashed a friendly “hello.” That day when she saw me walking toward them, she hauled Kat away as if I had the chicken pox.

“Call me tonight!” I shouted to Kat.

With Kat gone, I searched for Big Toby, but he, too, had bolted. So there I was, alone, though what Toby said hung round like an annoying young cousin.

To calm myself down, I went over to Montvale Street to my favorite store, Ritman’s Books.

When I walked in, Mr. Ritman, a little man with big Albert Einstein hair, was sitting behind the counter reading Tales from the Crypt.

Ritman always wore a green plastic visor that protected his eyes from the glare of the naked light bulb that dangled over his head like a cartoon idea. From his thin blue lips a lit cigarette hung, the burning end pointing down, the smoke drifting up, the ashtray in front of him a bird’s nest built of butts. “ ’Lo, Pete,” he mumbled, his eyes fixed on the gore in his comic book.

The front room of Ritman’s store was filled with rotating wire racks stuffed with paperback books, comics, and magazines. I headed for the back room, which had the old detective magazines. I loved those mystery monthlies, ones like Black Mask, Dime Detective, and Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. Their covers always had some radioactive babe falling out of her dress next to a square-jawed guy about to either save her or kill her; it wasn’t clear which. The stories were full of hard guys in hard situations with hard bad guys and dames, talking in such hard ways it would take a chisel to break their sentences apart.

My all-time favorite detective book was The Maltese Falcon, written by Dashiell Hammett. It was about Sam Spade, a hard-boiled private eye, a gumshoe, who was tough, honest, and stuffed with feelings, which he kept stuffed inside.

The Maltese Falcon starts something like this:

“There’s a girl wants to see you, Sam.

Her name’s Wonderly.”

“A customer?”

“I guess so. You’ll want to see her anyway:

she’s a knockout.”

“Shoo her in, sweetheart,” said Spade.

“Shoo her in.”

Sam Spade, talking as if he were spitting firecrackers, was my Shakespeare. If I were a writer, that’s the way I’d write. I was always trying to talk like him.

After reading The Maltese Falcon tons of times, listening to hours of mystery radio shows, and losing myself in detective stories, I knew what I wanted to be: a hard-boiled detective.

Trouble was, I had nothing to detect. And a detective with nothing to detect is like a fish living in a tree.

Anyway, I found an old Black Mask magazine, full of detective stories, the kind I loved. I flipped a dime to Ritman for the magazine and went to buy Ma her afternoon Post at the corner newsstand.

For a nickel, I got the newspaper and read the screaming headline:



I went to the back page.


Yanks, Giants, Dodgers Hopes High

Thinking baseball until I turned onto my street, I tried to imagine the scene as if it were in a detective story I had written:

Hicks Street was lined with large apartment buildings with walls of blank-eyed windows, facing narrow streets with parked cars lined up like rows of dead sharks. Among the apartment buildings stood old brownstone houses, which seemed to have been assembled from slabs of brown bread. Here and there, skimpy pin oaks managed to grow in squares of unbreakable dirt. A tin sign that read “Curb Your Dog” was nailed to each oak. The cocker spaniel using the square closest to Pete Collison’s building for a public squat must not have been able to read.

Pete shot through his building’s lobby, grabbed two letters from the mail table—one for his parents, one for his brother Bobby—and took the elevator up to the third floor. Unlocking the door, he stepped into apartment 3B. As always, the place smelled like an unwashed ashtray and was as quiet as a sleeping brick.

I usually got home before my folks. Ma, a guidance counselor at Brooklyn Trinity School, often had to stay after school guiding kids. Dad was at New City College, where he taught American history. He got home around five. As for my brother Bobby—two years older than me—he usually stayed late at his high school working with his Rocket Club.

I headed down the dark, narrow hall, toward the bedroom I shared with Bobby. The hall was lined with so many books it might as well have been a bargain basement bookstore. Small, framed family photographs of cousins, aunts, uncles, and grandparents were stuck between the books, creating the impression of a ship’s passengers peeking at me through portholes.

I was halfway down the hall when our phone rang in the kitchen. Hoping it was Kat—we talked every day after school if we weren’t together—I ran and picked up. “Hello?”

“Is this Pete?”


“You need to help us, Pete.”

“What? Who is this?”

The next sound was a dial tone that sang like a bee that hadn’t bothered learning more than one note. I stood there, phone in hand, not sure if it had been a prank call or if someone had just threatened me.

Except … why would anyone threaten me?

Telling myself a threatening call was nuts, I dialed Kat.

I wanted to tell her what had just happened, as well as ask about Donavan. There was no answer.

Leaving Ma’s newspaper in the kitchen, I went to my room. A couple of years ago Dad had built a plywood partition down the middle of the room so Bobby and I could have our own space.

It was a gloomy room, the only outside light coming from the window over Pete’s desk, which offered a terrific view of the building next door, maybe five feet away. The only slice of sunlight that managed to sneak in did so between eight and ten in the mornings. It didn’t promise much and left early.

I dumped my schoolbag on my desk and tossed the Black Mask onto my bed, then glanced at the Dodger team picture and the pennant over my bed, thinking, This year Brooklyn wins. No more “Wait till next year.” Then I settled in for some reading.

Didn’t take too long before my stomach started asking for its after-school snack.

Back in the kitchen, I took out a box of Shredded Wheat and filled a bowl. Shredded Wheat wasn’t my favorite cereal, but for three box tops, plus twenty-five cents, I could get a Secret Code Maker, which I could use to send and decode secret messages. Kat was working her way through boxes of Shredded Wheat, too, so we’d each have one.

I finished eating, ripped off the box top, collected the two other box tops from my room, and shook twenty-five cents from my Campbell’s Mushroom Soup–can bank. Then I headed for Dad’s small office to find an envelope and stamp.

Pete’s ma claimed his dad’s place was the biggest wastepaper basket in the universe. Papers were everywhere, some stacked, most not. Three walls of stuffed shelves had so many crisscrossing books, it looked like a massive game of pick-up sticks. Heaps of books covered the floor and topped the wooden file cabinets.

Next to the desk was a small table, which held an old Royal typewriter along with paper, regular and carbon for making copies. Over the desk was a picture of Thomas Jefferson, his white wig looking like a melting snowball.

Finding anything in Dad’s office was hard. I searched his desktop and found nothing, but got lucky in the top desk drawer: an envelope alongside a small dish holding some three-cent stamps.

I was about to close the drawer when I noticed a photograph tucked under the dish, as if hidden. I pulled it out.

The faded black-and-white picture showed two girls, two boys, a man and a woman. I thought I recognized the woman as Dad’s ma, Grandma Sally, when she was younger. The three kids were Dad and his two older sisters. I didn’t recognize the other, younger boy. One of Dad’s friends, I guessed. As for the man, he looked like Chris, Dad’s uncle.

But—how come I hadn’t seen the photo before? Ma stuck family pics all over the apartment, and she was forever working on her photo scrapbooks. The point is, Dad never was interested in family photos. How come he had this picture in his desk?

I did what a detective would do: I rummaged through the drawer for other photos. When I didn’t find any, I tucked that one photo back exactly where I found it, then went to mail my envelope in the corner mailbox. As I walked, I kept mulling over the phone call and that picture. None of my mulls mounted to more than molehills.

Back in my room, I flopped on my bed and went back to my Black Mask magazine and that story I’d started, “The False Burton Combs.” It was about a detective who pretended to be someone else so he could catch some crooks as he tried to keep from being murdered himself.

I was still reading when I heard the front door open. I quickly put the book over my face, as if I’d fallen asleep, so I could do some detective listening.

Ma—the click of her heels told me it was her—came in first, stood at my doorway, probably looked in, then went down the hall toward the kitchen. Dad, with his slower, heavier step, came next. Bobby was last. Always in a hurry, he burst into our room with enough clatter to wake me, if I really had been asleep. I just lay there.

Then, when he left the room, I worked on dinner smells. I detected fried liver, onions and beans, plus spinach, Dad’s favorites.

Around six we had family dinner. I had been right about the menu. The routine was the same as every night. Ma sat at one end of the table, near the stove. Dad was at the other end, Bobby and I in the middle. Ma always served Dad first, then us kids, herself last.

Ma said, “How was school?”

I was about to tell my folks about the phone call when Bobby said, “I got big news in the mail.”

Far as I was concerned, Bobby was mostly a germ, so most times I didn’t listen to him. This time I did. Seems the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, a government agency, ran a summer camp for smart high school kids. Bobby applied, and had been accepted.

“You’ll see,” he said, “I’m going to do so well at this camp, I’ll get into a great college. A great college will get me into the U.S. rocket program. The rocket program will put me on the moon.” His grin told us he was already doing cartwheels up there.

I didn’t cheer the way my folks did, but I wasn’t going to rain on his party, either.

After dinner, my folks went into the radio room to talk about how General MacArthur had been fired by President Truman. These days all they talked about was the war in Korea, Communism, Republicans, and Democrats. I stayed in the kitchen, glad it was my night to do cleanup.

After a while Kat called to go over geography, but she was so rushed I couldn’t get in a word to ask about Donavan. In fact, she jumped off the phone so fast I wondered why. Not her normal way. One more riddle.

At seven thirty, I listened to Martin Kane, Private Eye on the Mutual Broadcasting System. Then I went back to “The False Burton Combs.” I couldn’t concentrate, too distracted by the day’s strange events: Big Toby’s remark, how Donavan was treating me, Kat not telling me what Donavan said, her mother dragging her away without a spot of smile, that mysterious phone call, the photograph in my dad’s desk, and finally Kat’s rushed call.

Here was my chance. In fact, plenty of chances: If I wanted to figure things out, I should keep acting like a detective. Keep my eyes and ears open. Find clues. Try to connect the day’s dots.

I couldn’t connect those dots. Not yet. But by the next day, so much happened, all I could see was dots.

It was Friday the Thirteenth and that should have been warning enough. It started regular, with me waiting in front of my apartment building for Kat. I reminded myself that I was going to do Sam Spade that day: be calm, watchful, and collect facts. First job: get Kat to tell me what Donavan had said.

She came running, her denim Eisenhower jacket unbuttoned, her tin Nancy Drew lunch box in one hand, her fringed cowgirl book satchel in the other. Kat couldn’t decide which she wanted to be, Roy Rogers’s wife, cowgirl Dale Evans, with her trusty buckskin horse, Buttermilk, or Nancy Drew, the girl detective with her own blue roadster.

I liked her all ways.

She was taller than me by a head, with brown hair cut pageboy style with bangs. Her eyes were brown, she had a pug nose, and she wore cheaters (rimless glasses) too big for her round face. She looked like a skinny owl that hadn’t grown into her eyes.

While most girls in our class wore white cotton shirts and skirts, Kat wore flannel plaid shirts and jeans, the shirts never tucked in, the jeans always baggy. Her Wingfoot sneakers were forever smudged. The way she dressed left her parents frosted. I thought she looked cool.

Soon as she reached me, she started gabbing about the Roy Rogers TV episode she’d seen the night before. Providing every detail, she never stopped. It was as if she didn’t want me to talk.

Only when she took a breath could I slip in my first detective question. “Hey,” I said, “the other day, when I left school to go to the dentist, what did Donavan say about my parents?”

Not only did Kat not answer, she walked faster.

“Hey! What did he say?” I pressed.

She shoved her glasses up and took a few seconds to say, “Not much.”

“How come you didn’t tell me?”

Her face flashed something I’d never seen from her before: fright. Before I could take it in, she turned away and said, “I forget.”

I wanted to say, “How could you forget?” but didn’t. I told myself to stay cool, detective style. I got the message. Something was wrong. So I backed off. I’d try for more information later. In the meantime, I told her something I knew she’d like. “Sent in for my Code Maker.”

That got a smile. “I’ve got half a box of Shredded Wheat to go,” she said, only to turn on the no-talk switch again.

After a moment, I said, “Baseball season starts Tuesday.”

“We’ll beat the Giants easy this year,” she said.

“Won’t even take it easy,” I agreed, and we talked Dodgers the rest of the way.

If you lived in Brooklyn—and most everybody I knew did—your blood was Brooklyn Dodger blue. Didn’t matter what else was going on, even if there had been a hurricane or a blizzard, you talked Dodgers, you thought Dodgers, you breathed Dodgers, and you hated the New York Giants.

Life was that simple.

We got to school just as the eight thirty bell rang. In class, with Donavan up front doing his military salute and our hands on hearts, we pledged allegiance to the flag, squeezing the whole thing into one long word.

Then Donavan said, “Any announcements?”

Chuck Guterson raised his hand.

“Yes, Chuck?”

“Mr. Donavan, sir, baseball begins next week.”

Donavan said, “It sure does. Who’s going to win the pennant this year?”

The whole class, including me, yelled, “Dodgers!”

“Who’s going to lose?”

“Giants!” we roared, and banged our desktops.

For once, Donavan laughed. “Well, keep your fingers crossed. And remember, Dodger rally on Monday. Wear something blue.”

I couldn’t wait, though I needed to figure out what I’d wear.

“Also,” said Donavan, “the other day I forgot to say I was disappointed that only half of your parents came to Parents’ Night.”

Typical Donavan. One second, he had the class dancing with Dodger talk. Next second, he turned everything frigid with his Parents’ Night thing.

Still, my dad had gone, so I felt okay.

Donavan remained before his desk, as if making a decision. Then he said, “When we did the Pledge of Allegiance this morning I was reminded that I needed to say something important.” He looked right at me. “I spoke about it Wednesday but Pete wasn’t here. Please pay close attention.”

I sat up straight, eyes locked front.

“Starting today we’re going to be studying our 1846 war with Mexico. As we all know, the United States is at war in Korea. This time we are fighting Communism, the Reds being our greatest enemy. We also know—or should know—Reds have infiltrated our government, even our schools.”

Donavan looked right at me. “Pete, can you tell the class what Communism is?”

Taken by surprise and pointing to myself to be sure, I said, “Me?”

“Yes, you.”

Why was he asking me? I had no idea how to answer. To make things worse, the whole class was looking at me with Orphan Annie eyes.

“Come on, Pete,” Donavan pushed. “Tell us what you know about Communism.”

“I … I think … it’s the … the kind of government the Soviet Union has. Which is against us, I guess.”

“You guess,” said Donavan, his sarcasm dripping like ice cream in August.

He picked up the big blue dictionary sitting on his desk. “Come on up here, Pete.”

I found my feet and went up front.

Donavan handed me the book. “Please open at the marker.”

I opened the book where a red ribbon was sticking out and looked to Donavan for directions.

“I’ve marked a word and definition. Please read.”

There was a black line next to the word Communism.

I hesitated.

“Read it,” he insisted.

Because of all the big words, and being uncomfortable, nervous even, I read clumsily. “ ‘Communism. A system of social organization in which all economic and social activity is controlled by a totalitarian state denominated by a single political party.’ ”

I looked at Donavan.

“What do you make of that?” he asked.

“I … don’t know …”

“You don’t know?”

“I mean … I don’t know what total—totalitarian means.”

“Then look it up.”

Fumbling, I found the word and glanced at Donavan again.

“Read it,” he said.

I sucked up spit to wet my mouth, and read: “ ‘Totalitarian. A centralized government that does not tolerate parties of differing opinions and that exercises dictatorial control over many aspects of life.’ ”

“Now what do you think?”

“It’s … not good.”

“Not good,” echoed Donavan, saying “good” so it sounded bad. There were some giggles from my classmates. Hoping for a friendly look, I peeled a peek at Kat, but she was staring down at her desk.

“Fortunately,” Donavan went on, “there are people in government, the Congress, the FBI—I have FBI friends—who are ferreting out red traitors, people who pretend to like America but secretly oppose it. All of us, even kids like you, need to do your patriotic duty to make sure reds, Commie symps, fellow travelers, and pinkos, un-Americans, don’t infiltrate our lives. None of us should have anything to do with reds.”

Donavan had shot speeches like that before. This time he was aiming it right at me. I felt like enemy number one without knowing my crime.

Most of the kids sat stony silent, and Big Toby and Sibley were glaring at me. Kat was still staring at her desk.

Donavan went on, “So when we study history, especially American history, we need to be alert to Commie lies.” He gave me a furious look, and then turned to the class. “Let’s have no mollycoddling of reds in this classroom. Do we all understand that?”

“Yes, sir,” the class chorused.

Donavan came back to me: “Red traitors should be put in jail or kicked out of the country. Love it or leave it. I hope you all believe that.”


  • “Avi, a master of historical fiction, vividly recreates not only the neighborhoods and pop culture of period Brooklyn, but the runaway paranoia that dominated daily life in the early years of the Cold War. With each clue Pete uncovers, the tension picks up, engaging readers in solving the dual mystery of his father’s past and identifying his accuser whose name is kept a well-concealed surprise until the last moment . . . As a mystery, historical fiction, and love letter to 1950s Brooklyn, this novel succeeds on every level.” —School Library Journal, starred review

    “Suspenseful . . . Authentic period details--such as popular radio programs and the ongoing rivalry between the Dodgers and the Giants--add a colorful backdrop to Pete’s quest as he navigates the murky gray area between truth and fiction. An excellent introduction to the frenzy of the McCarthy era.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

    “Avi’s tale of one Brooklyn family living in a time of intolerance effectively explores the natures of suspicion, loyalty, and freedom, following a young protagonist who comes to learn the importance of freedom of speech and ‘staying true to your own thoughts.’” —The Horn Book Magazine

    “An involving, twisty mystery, grounded by the palpable emotional threat of Pete’s father being taken away. An accomplished historical mystery by one of kid lit’s most reliable craftspeople.” —Booklist

    “A thought-provoking story about suspicion, trust and a memorable pennant race from a one-time Brooklyn boy.” —Kirkus Reviews

On Sale
Mar 1, 2016
Page Count
304 pages



About the Author

Avi is the author of the Newbery Medal novel Crispin: The Cross of Lead and the Newbery Honor books Nothing but the Truth and The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, among many other books for young readers. He lives in Colorado with his wife, an inventor. You can visit him online at

Learn more about this author