Read an Excerpt
The Mystery in San Francisco
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1997 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
"There he is!" said six-year-old Benny.
The airport waiting room was crowded, but the Aldens all saw the man in the baseball cap.
Henry waved to him. "That's Uncle Andy, all right."
"But where's Aunt Jane?" Jessie said.
The Aldens had come to San Francisco to visit their grandfather's sister, Jane, and her husband, Andy Bean. Chattering excitedly, the children surrounded their uncle. He laughed as he hugged them.
"Where's Aunt Jane?" ten-year-old Violet asked.
"She had some shopping to do," Uncle Andy explained. "She's going to meet us for lunch."
Benny nodded. "Good," he said. "I'm hungry."
"We ate on the plane," twelve-year-old Jessie reminded her brother.
"But Jessie, that was hours ago," said Benny.
Uncle Andy laughed. "Same old Benny," he teased. Then he said, "Let's get your luggage."
Fourteen-year-old Henry held up his duffel bag. "We carried everything on the plane with us," he said.
Benny pointed over his shoulder. "All my stuff is in my backpack."
"Well, then, let's go," Uncle Andy said.
On the way to the parking garage, he asked, "Did you have a nice trip?"
The Aldens said, "Yes!"
"I think you'll enjoy San Francisco," their uncle told them. "It's an interesting city."
He and Aunt Jane had been staying in San Francisco for the last few weeks. They would not return home until Uncle Andy had finished his business here.
"We're happy you invited us," Violet said.
Uncle Andy smiled. "We're happy to have you," he said. "I hope you've thought about what you want to do."
"We each want to do something different," Jessie said.
Henry nodded. "I'd like to see Chinatown. I've been reading about it."
"I'd like to take a boat trip," Violet told him. She had heard about sightseeing boat tours.
"The Golden Gate Bridge is my choice," Jessie put in.
"And the cable cars!" Benny said. "Don't forget the cable cars. They remind me of our boxcar."
The Alden children used to live alone in a boxcar after their parents had died. Then their grandfather found them and took them to his beautiful home in Greenfield.
Uncle Andy nodded. "You'll see all that and more." He took out his car keys. "Here we are," he said, and opened the trunk.
The Aldens piled their luggage inside. Then they all climbed into the car.
"Where are we going?" Benny asked.
Uncle Andy started the engine. "To Fisherman's Wharf," he said. "It's a good place to begin our sightseeing."
The Aldens looked at one another and smiled. With so much to do, they knew this would be a special trip.
Before long, they were in the city. The sun shone brightly on the bay. The tall buildings seemed to sparkle. Uncle Andy drove up one steep hill and down another.
"San Francisco sure is hilly," Violet observed.
"Some people call it the City of Hills," Uncle Andy said.
The car crested a hill and started down.
"They should call it roller-coaster city," Benny said. Everyone laughed.
Soon Uncle Andy pulled into a parking space.
"There's Aunt Jane!" Violet said.
Benny was the first one out of the car. "Aunt Jane!" he called, and ran toward the woman. The other Aldens hurried after him. Aunt Jane held out her arms. Benny hugged her.
"I'm so glad to see you all!" Aunt Jane said.
"We're glad to see you, too," Jessie said.
"If it's okay with everyone, I thought we'd tour the pier first," Aunt Jane said, smiling. "That way we'll work up an appetite."
They strolled along the brick sidewalk and under a sign that read PIER 39. The place was buzzing with activity. Here, an artist sketched a visitor. There, a group posed for a photo. Everywhere, people wandered along the wooden plank walkway. They went in and out of the small shops that lined both sides of the pier.
In one shop, Violet said, "We should buy a souvenir for Soo Lee." Seven-year-old Soo Lee was the Aldens' adopted cousin.
"I'm surprised she didn't come with you," Uncle Andy said.
"She wanted to come," Jessie explained, "but she's playing her violin in a concert this week."
"She's a really good violinist," Benny put in.
"Cousin Joe has been teaching her to play," Violet said.
"And Violet's been helping her practice," Henry added.
Aunt Jane nodded. "You children certainly know how to help people," she said. "Just like your grandfather."
"We should buy something for Grandfather, too," Jessie said. She held up a T-shirt. On the front was a picture of the Golden Gate Bridge. "Do you think he'd like this?"
"You'll be here a while," Uncle Andy said. "Why don't you wait to buy your gifts. We'll be seeing so much more."
At the far end of the pier, a carousel whirled, its music playing. There were colorful horses on two levels.
Benny was impressed. "I've never seen a merry-go-round with an upstairs and a downstairs," he said.
Aunt Jane laughed. "How about a ride?" she said.
"Will you ride with us?" Jessie asked.
"Of course we will!" Uncle Andy answered.
The Aldens walked around the carousel. Each chose a horse to ride. Aunt Jane and Uncle Andy sat in a carriage shaped like Cinderella's. The music started and off they went. Up and down. Around and around. The bright colors along the pier streaked and blurred. Above them, the sky was like a blue dome.
When the ride was over, everyone felt wobbly. "Let's sit here until we get our land legs," Uncle Andy said, pointing to a nearby bench.
Henry said, "If we're like this from a ride on the merry-go-round, I wonder how we'd be after a ride in a boat."
"You'll soon see," Uncle Andy said. "And let me tell you, the water can be pretty choppy out in the bay."
After a few minutes, Aunt Jane stood up. "Let's take a look at the water right now," she said, and led the way to the far end of the pier.
The large, open deck was filled with people. Many of them had cameras. All of them were quiet as they looked out over the water. Far to the west, tall towers rose above the water.
"Is that the Golden Gate?" Jessie asked.
"That's right," Uncle Andy said. "It's one of the longest suspension bridges in the world."
The breeze picked up. It was chilly and damp and smelled of fish. After a while, Uncle Andy said, "Why don't we go have some lunch. I know just the place." He led them along the walk behind the shops. They heard a loud barking sound.
"What's that?" Violet asked.
"Look over the rail and you'll see," Aunt Jane told them.
Below them, sea lions lounged on large, floating platforms. Their thick, dark coats were shiny with sunlight. As the children watched, a few sea lions slipped into the water. Some stood on their back flippers and barked. Others slept through the commotion.
"I wish I had some bread or something to feed them," Benny said.
Jessie pointed to a sign. "It says don't feed the sea lions."
"They can take care of themselves," Uncle Andy said.
"Judging from the size of them, they have plenty to eat," Henry observed.
They continued along the way to a broad wooden staircase and climbed to the upper deck.
"The Eagle Cafe," Uncle Andy said. They went inside and took a table beside a large window.
Jessie looked around at the white walls and the green tables. "This place looks old," she said.
"It's the oldest place on the pier," Uncle Andy said. He told them the restaurant's history.
While they waited for their lunch, they watched the boats bobbing in the water below them.
"Are those fishing boats?" Benny asked.
"Most are sailboats," Aunt Jane answered. "They tie up here."
Uncle Andy pointed to several smaller boats at the end of the dock. "Those few out there are fishing boats."
Aunt Jane said, "But most of the fishing boats are down several blocks."
After they had eaten a delicious lunch of hamburgers and french fries, Uncle Andy said, "We have a friend who owns a fishing boat. His name is Charlie. Let's walk along the wharf. Maybe we'll be able to find him."
They walked west. Pigeons waddled at their feet. Gulls flew overhead, dipping and diving.
They hadn't gone far when Uncle Andy said, "Oh, there's Charlie!"
A short, stocky man stood on a pier beside a small fishing boat. On the side of the blue and white boat were the words Charlie's Chum.
"That must be Charlie's boat," Violet said.
"It is," Andy said.
"Chum? Doesn't that mean friend?" Benny asked. "That's a strange name for a boat."
"Charlie's boat is like a friend to him," Aunt Jane said.
"Chum also means bait," Henry said.
Benny liked double meanings. "On second thought," he said, "that's a good name for a fishing boat."
They headed down the long pier toward Charlie. Aunt Jane waved. Charlie saw them. He did not wave back. And he was frowning.
"Charlie, what are you doing here?" Uncle Andy asked as they approached. "Aren't you usually docked down the way with the rest of the fishermen?"
Charlie nodded. "Herring season," he explained. "They were overcrowded. A few of us agreed to dock here."
"Charlie, I want you to meet my brother's grandchildren," Aunt Jane said. "They've been wanting to meet a fisherman."
Charlie glanced at the Aldens. He nodded a greeting, but he did not smile. "Good you met me today," he said. "I might not be a fisherman tomorrow."
Uncle Andy cocked his head to one side. "More trouble?" he asked.
Charlie didn't seem to hear the question. He looked over his shoulder. Henry followed his gaze. Not far away, a tall man in a dark suit and sunglasses leaned against a rail, staring at them. When Charlie caught his eye, he quickly looked away.
I wonder who that man is, Henry thought. He sure doesn't seem dressed for a day at the pier.
"We just toured Pier Thirty-nine," Aunt Jane said to Charlie, startling Henry out of his thoughts.
Charlie turned back to the Aldens. Shaking his head, he said, "Everybody wants to visit Pier Thirty-nine."
"We liked it a lot," Benny said.
"We've never seen anything quite like it," Jessie added.
"It's nothing but window dressing for the tourists," Charlie said. "Wait till you get a taste of the real wharf."
Down the way, a young woman called, "Charlie!" Her long, red hair glistened in the sunlight.
"I think someone's calling you," Violet said.
Charlie turned. "That's Kate Kerry," he said. "She's working for me and going to school, too. Putting herself through college." Then he added, "There're some fish I have to fry," and he hurried off without saying good-bye.
Puzzled, the Aldens watched him go.
"Charlie just isn't himself these days," Uncle Andy said as he shook his head.CHAPTER 2
A Crooked Street
Uncle Andy suggested that they continue along the wharf. "I'll show you where Charlie usually docks."
They passed big sightseeing boats. Aunt Jane stopped at the ticket booths to collect information. "So well be prepared for our tour," she explained.
A block away at open-air fish markets, men prepared giant crabs for steaming kettles. Inside, people sat at tables with checkered cloths enjoying fresh fish dishes.
They came to an open section. At the railing, Uncle Andy said, "Look down there."
The Aldens looked over the side. Below them fishing boats — small and large — rocked beside high wooden posts. No docks separated the crafts.
"How do the fishermen get on their boats?" Violet asked.
Uncle Andy pointed out the metal ladders leading down to each boat.
"I can see why Charlie had to dock somewhere else," Benny observed. "This place is filled up."
Aunt Jane headed toward the car. "Let's go home," she said. "It's time you children were settled in."
Benny skipped after her. "Is your friend Charlie a fisherman and a cook?" he asked.
Uncle Andy opened the car door. "A cook? Charlie? What makes you think that, Benny?"
Benny climbed into the backseat. "He said he had to fry some fish."
Uncle Andy eased into the driver's seat. "That's just an expression," he said. After everyone was inside the car, Uncle Andy started the engine and soon they were on their way.
"I've never heard that expression before," Violet said. "About frying fish. What does it mean?"
"It means he has some business to take care of," Uncle Andy explained.
"What kind of business?" Benny asked.
"Fishermen lead busy lives," Aunt Jane answered. "They're out on the water before dawn, and when they come back to shore, they have to take care of their catch."
"I don't think Charlie was talking about ordinary business, though," Uncle Andy said. "There's been trouble on the wharf."
"Trouble?" Henry repeated. "What kind of trouble?"
Uncle Andy shrugged. "Charlie hasn't wanted to talk about it, but I know something is bothering him."
"That explains it," Benny said.
In the front seat, Aunt Jane turned to look at him. "Explains what, Benny?"
"Well, he wasn't very friendly."
"Benny, that's not polite" Violet said.
"It's okay, Violet. Benny's right," Uncle Andy said.
"That wasn't like Charlie at all," Aunt Jane said. "He must be very worried about something."
They slowed down. "Look to your left," Aunt Jane told them. "We rent the second house right down there."
The sign said LOMBARD STREET. Underneath it, the narrow road zigzagged down the hill. Houses and flower gardens were perched on either side. The Aldens were amazed.
"I've never seen such a crooked street," Henry said.
"And I doubt you'll ever see another one," Uncle Andy told him. "This block of Lombard Street is said to be the crookedest street in the world."
He pulled into a garage underneath a white house. Benny hopped out. "Don't go inside yet," Benny said. "I want to see something."
The others followed him. Then they stood watching as Benny dashed down the brick street. He didn't go far, though, and after a few seconds, he came trudging toward them.
"Eight!" he said. "There are eight sharp turns!" He stopped to catch his breath.
Uncle Andy chuckled. "Much easier going down than coming up. Right, Benny?"
Inside, Aunt Jane showed them to their rooms. The boys had one, the girls another. Each room had a view of the bay below. They unpacked and then met on the deck outside their rooms. The view was thrilling.
Henry dug a guidebook out of his back pocket. He looked at a map. "See that tower?" he said. "It's called Coit Tower. It was built to look like a fire hose nozzle. It's a tribute to the firemen who fought the earthquake fires in 1906."
Benny shivered. "I hope there's no earthquake while we're here," he said.
Jessie said, "I've been thinking about Charlie. I wonder what could be bothering him."
"Maybe he didn't catch many fish today," Benny suggested.
"Fishermen are probably used to bad days," Violet said.
"Uncle Andy mentioned trouble," Henry said. "I saw a man on the wharf. He was acting strangely. I wonder if he has anything to do with the trouble."
"The one in the suit?" Jessie asked.
"I saw that man, too," Violet said.
"He seemed out of place," Henry said. "He was so dressed up."
Benny hadn't noticed the man. "Maybe he was sightseeing like us," he suggested.
Henry shook his head. "I don't think so."
"He was staring right at us," Violet said.
"At Charlie, not us," Jessie corrected.
"And when Charlie looked at him, he turned away," Henry said.
Benny smiled. "Great! Another mystery," he said. "I'm ready!"
By the time they came downstairs, Aunt Jane was preparing supper. "I thought we'd eat here in the kitchen tonight," she said.
"It looks like home," Benny said. He was thinking of Grandfather Alden's big, airy kitchen in Greenfield, where they all lived.
Henry offered to set the table. Aunt Jane showed him where she kept the plates and silverware.
"Is there anything we can help you with?" Jessie asked.
Aunt Jane said, "No, thank you. Everything's ready. We had such a big lunch, I wasn't sure what to fix. I decided on a little of this and a little of that."
She carried a large platter of meats and cheeses to the table. To that, she added a basket of bread, a bowl of fruit, and a pitcher of cold milk.
Benny rubbed his hands together. "I'll have a little of everything," he said. They made sandwiches and ate fruit. Benny drank two glasses of milk.
When they had finished eating, Jessie asked, "Do you know that woman — the one who works for Charlie?"
"Kate Kerry," Uncle Andy said. "We've met her. She's been working for Charlie for a while. But I can't say we really know her."
"Why do you ask?" said Aunt Jane.
"I just wondered," Jessie said.
"Has she heard about the trouble Charlie's having?" Henry asked.
"I can't say for certain," Uncle Andy answered. "Charlie doesn't talk about it much."
"Charlie's not one to complain," Aunt Jane said.
Henry looked at his uncle. "Is Charlie the only one having trouble?"
Uncle Andy shook his head. "I don't think so."
When they were finished eating, the children cleared the table. Uncle Andy got out the maps so they could plan their next day.
"Refresh my memory," Uncle Andy said. "What was it you wanted to see?"
The Aldens all spoke at once. Aunt Jane held up her hands. "One at a time," she said.
"I have an idea," Uncle Andy said. He opened a drawer and took out paper and pencil. "Each of you write down what you most want to see."
Uncle Andy got his baseball cap from a hook near the back door. "Now, put the papers in my hat."
Each Alden dropped a folded piece of paper into the cap. "Now what?" Benny asked.
"Nothing yet," Uncle Andy answered. "We'll just leave this here." He put the cap on the counter near the phone. "Let everything sit till morning. Then I'll pick a paper. Where we go will be a surprise."
Aunt Jane smiled at her husband. "Andy Bean, you are full of good ideas."
Excerpted from The Mystery in San Francisco by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1997 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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