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hurried out to the garage as if to set off in search of an endangered canine.

We took the keys away from him, but for more than an hour, he followed us around chanting, “We’re gonna rescue a doggy,” until to save our sanity, we decided to drive him to a pet shop and redirect his canine enthusiasm toward a gerbil or a turtle, or both.

En route, he said, “We’re almost to the doggy.” Half a block later, he pointed to a sign—ANIMAL SHELTER. We assumed wrongly that it was the silhouette of a German shepherd that caught his attention, not the words on the sign. “In there, Daddy.”

Scores of forlorn dogs occupied cages, but Milo walked directly to the middle of the center row in the kennel and said, “This one.”

She was a fifty-pound two-year-old Australian shepherd mix with a shaggy black-and-white coat, one eye blue and the other gray. She had no collie in her, but Milo named her Lassie.

Penny and I loved her the moment we saw her. Somewhere a gerbil and a turtle would remain in need of a home.

In the next three years, we never heard a single bark from the dog. We wondered whether our Lassie, following the example of the original, would at last bark if Milo fell down an abandoned well or became trapped in a burning barn, or whether she would instead try to alert us to our boy’s circumstances by employing urgent pantomime.

Until Milo was six and Lassie was five, our lives were not only free of calamity but also without much inconvenience. Our fortunes changed with the publication of my sixth novel, One O’Clock Jump.

My first five had been bestsellers. Way to go, Angel Ralph.

Penny Boom, of course, is the Penny Boom, the acclaimed writer and illustrator of children’s books. They are brilliant, funny books.

More than for her dazzling beauty, more than for her quick mind, more than for her great good heart, I fell in love with her for her sense of humor. If she ever lost her sense of humor, I would have to dump her. Then I’d kill myself because I couldn’t live without her.

The name on her birth certificate is Brunhild, which means someone who is armored for the fight. By the time she was five, she insisted on being called Penny.

At the start of World War Waxx, as we came to call it, Penny and Milo and Lassie and I lived in a fine stone-and-stucco house, under the benediction of graceful phoenix palms, in Southern California. We didn’t have an ocean view, but didn’t need one, for we were focused on one another and on our books.

Because we’d seen our share of Batman movies, we knew that Evil with a capital E stalked the world, but we never expected that it would suddenly, intently turn its attention to our happy household or that this evil would be drawn to us by a book I had written.

Having done a twenty-city tour for each of my previous novels, I persuaded my publisher to spare me that ordeal for One O’Clock Jump.

Consequently, on publication day, a Tuesday in early November, I got up at three o’clock in the morning to brew a pot of coffee and to repair to my first-floor study. Unshaven, in pajamas, I undertook a series of thirty radio interviews, conducted by telephone, between 4:00 and 9:30 A.M., which began with morning shows on the East Coast.

Radio hosts, both talk-jocks and traditional tune-spinners, do better interviews than TV types. Rare is the TV interviewer who has read your book, but eight of ten radio hosts