If this book had come later in the series, it definitely would have been a BSC Mystery. But, alas, it was only the second book ever. Truth be told, this book scared the shit out of me when I was younger. Let’s dive in!
It’s a dark and stormy night as Mimi helps Claud finish her homework, and then poses for the oil portrait Claudia is painting of her. Claudia asks Mimi why she and Janine aren’t friends and Mimi serves up some friend wisdom realness:
“Being friends takes work… to be a good friend you must spend time with someone. You must talk to her and try to understand her.” – Mimi, page 9
Claudia tries to read her Nancy Drew novel, but her thoughts keep wandering to Stoneybrook Middle School hunk Trevor Sandbourne. Stacey calls and says she can’t stop thinking about Sam Thomas (Kristy’s brother and a high school freshman… get it, Stace!) The next day when the two of them hang out with Kristy and Mary Anne, Claudia announces that she’s IN LOVE with Trevor the brooding poet. Kristy says he’s in her math class and he sits next to – DUN DUN DUN – Alan Gray. Everyone’s like “EWW ALAN GRAY” and Kristy describes him to Stacey as “the most disgusting boy in this whole solar system” (page 17).
Suddenly Mary Anne freaks the hell out – she sees a story in the newspaper with the amazing headline Phantom Caller on Rampage in Mercer. Rampage? Sounds like a mass murderer. Oh, nope, just a burglar. Apparently the Phantom Caller calls the house and hangs up if someone answers. Then, if a call goes unanswered, the Phantom Caller assumes no one is home and goes inside to steal jewelry and valuables. RUDE! It turns out a couple of times the Phantom Caller even struck while people were home. The girls start freaking out – what if the PC strikes at one of the houses at which they’re baby-sitting? Claudia remembers that when she baby-sat for the Marshalls recently, someone called and hung up twice. COMMENCE PANIC. Kristy calls an emergency meeting of the BSC.
Stacey the beautiful genius comes up with the idea of a phone code the girls can use if they’re baby-sitting and think someone is in the house. If you’re in trouble while baby-sitting, you call another club member and ask, “Have you found my red ribbon?” and that club member calls the police so the burglar doesn’t hear you calling for help. The club member would reply “No, the blue one” to let you know they understood. If the baby-sitter is in big trouble she follows up with “Now I’m in for it”; if she’s not sure there’s trouble, she says “That’s okay”. Hugely bossy Kristy drills them on the code words like an egomaniacal filmmaker until they’ve all got it down. They decide to bring the BSC Record Book to school every day so they can know where everyone is baby-sitting in case they need to call for help.
They move on to homespun burglar alarms (I wonder if John Hughes read this book before he wrote Home Alone?). Mary Anne has the idea to stack cans behind a door so that if someone opens it the cans will come crashing down, alerting you of their presence. Everyone agrees it’s a good idea but they have to clean up before the parents get home, and they can’t tell their parents about the Phantom Caller because they don’t want to be forbidden to baby-sit.
At school, Alan Gray catches Claudia stalking Trevor and sings the “K-I-S-S-I-N-G” song, which infuriates Claud. She thinks Kristy has blabbed about her crush on Trevor. But she gets distracted because at lunch her friend Dorianne Wallingford tells their clique that her grandparents were robbed (correct term would actually be burgled, unless her grandparents were held at gunpoint while someone took their shit) and she thinks it was the Phantom Caller. Claudia is freaked out but relieved the PC hasn’t made it to Stoneybrook yet.
Claud confronts Kristy about blabbing, but Kristy is like “WHY WOULD I TALK TO ALAN GRAY?!” and Claudia’s like “oh yeah” so no bad blood there so far. There is an announcement that Stoneybrook Middle School’s Halloween Hop dance will take place on Halloween from 4-6pm. (What kind of dance is held at 4pm, Stoneybrook?)
While Claudia is baby-sitting for Jamie Newton, she notices a light go on and then off while they’re outside. She is freaked out, especially when the phone starts to ring. Could it be the PC?! Next thing you know, Claudia and Jamie hear footsteps leading up to the fence and everyone screams until they realize it’s just Kristy, who had dropped off a casserole for the very pregnant Mrs. Newton. Phew, right? But wait, two things: 1) who was on the phone? and 2) if you are scared of a burglar on the loose, WHY WAS THE HOUSE UNLOCKED FOR KRISTY TO WALK IN? Common sense, Claud. You probably can’t spell it but you should still have it.
Later that night Claudia hears a radio report that the Phantom Caller has left the state and is heading south through New Jersey. Phew, right?! But wait… the next night she finds out that they captured the wrong person and the Phantom Caller is still at large! And of course, while she’s baby-sitting Nina and Eleanor Marshall, the phone rings. And when she answers… the person on the other end doesn’t say anything, and then hangs up. GASP! She calls Stacey for comfort but she’s shaken when it happens again as she’s getting ready to leave.
Kristy baby-sits for her soon-to-be-step-siblings Andrew and Karen, who informs Kristy that their witchy-looking neighbor Morbidda Destiny (not her birth name, just what Karen calls her) has cast a spell on her to give her more freckles. Kristy is rightly skeptical. But then Kristy is rightly frightened because the phone rings and when she answers there’s just some light breathing… and then the caller hangs up. Kristy also has a face-to-face run-in with Morbidda Destiny! But no one gets murdered, so it’s all good.
“I’m through being scared. I’m a baby-sitter.” – Kristy, page 73
Stacey baby-sits for Charlotte Johanssen and the power goes out – spooky! – but she doesn’t get any Phantom calls. Mary Anne baby-sits for David Michael and gets freaked out so she sets up some booby traps: pots/pans/cans stacked at the inside garage door, a bag of marbles rigged to a string on the front door, and a boom box at the back door that would blare loud music when the doorstop hit the play button. She’s a regular Kevin McCallister! But she’s actually kind of a flop Kevin McCallister, because her alarms get set off by the wind and by Louie the dog (and in both cases because the doors weren’t properly locked… like if you’re so freaked out, locking the doors should be YOUR FIRST MISSION), and the Thomas family when they come home. Whoops, Mary Anne.
Now here’s where shit gets real – Claudia is studying with Mimi when her neighbors come to the door saying they think they’ve been robbed. The police check it out and confirm their suspicions. And Mrs. Goldman (Claudia’s neighbor) says she got a hang-up phone call earlier that afternoon. Claudia is freaked the hell out – the Phantom Caller has struck in her neighborhood!
The police think it might be a copycat burglar, since the real Phantom Caller usually hits wealthier neighborhoods, but Claudia is still scared and has to inform the rest of the BSC. Of course, when Mr. Spier hears the news, he forbids Mary Anne from baby-sitting until the Phantom Caller is caught. Claudia laments her poor relationship with Janine to Mimi and Mimi drops some more wisdom:
“In order for things to change, you must change them. You will grow to be an old woman like me, if you wait for others to change things that do not please you.” – Mimi, page 113
In the cafeteria, Claudia accidentally drops a plate of red Jell-O in Trevor Sandbourne’s lap. SHIT. Not the smoothest move when she wants him to ask her to the Halloween Hop. Later that day, Kristy and Claudia show up to the Newtons’ to baby-sit for Jamie and his rowdy cousins Rob, Brenda, and Rosie. When the parents leave and the kids all go apeshit, Kristy yells “one false move and I’ll punch your lights out!” Um, interesting strategy, Kristy. But it works.
While at the Newtons, Kristy and Claud each answer a phone call where no one says anything, and then hangs up. Could it be the Phantom? The girls gather the kids for dinner and while they’re eating they hear a few weird noises outside. Then they hear noises at the living room windows. And when Claudia goes to check it out, she sees a shadowy figure in the yard. OH CRAP. She’s like “HEEEEELLLLL NO” and calls the cops.
When the cops arrive at the Newtons’ door, who do they have in tow but ALAN GRAY?! Kristy starts to go off but the officer asks if they can come inside to discuss a few things. Once inside, Alan admits it was him who had been calling Kristy and hanging up while she was baby-sitting. He’d gotten the addresses and phone numbers from the club record book, which Kristy had been keeping in her desk at school – D’OH! But why had he been trying to scare her? Was he just being a jerk? Nope… wait for it… he wanted to ask her to the Halloween Hop. And an even bigger shocker? Kristy says yes! And even thanks him. Hmm, Kristin Amanda Thomas… what’s going on here?
On the way home Kristy admits to Claudia that she thinks Alan is kind of cute and she’s happy that a boy likes her. Claudia is like FINALLY! WELCOME TO THE CLUB! But when Claudia goes home later and thinks about things, she realizes that Alan Gray wasn’t the one calling her while she was baby-sitting. So who was it? The Phantom?! Nope… Trevor Sandbourne! Smoldering poet of Claudia’s dreams Trevor calls her while she’s baby-sitting at the Marshalls’ the next day and asks her to the Halloween Hop! (She also gets an 86 on her math test, but that kind of pales in comparison.) Trevor admits that Alan had given him Claudia’s baby-sitting info and that he’s liked her all year but was too shy to talk to her. Claudia calls it “the happiest day of [her] life” (page 149).
Oh, and don’t worry – they caught the Phantom Caller and Mary Anne is allowed to baby-sit again.