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Monkey in the Middle
At a rest stop by the side of a road, the Alden family sat around a picnic table. In the middle of the table, next to their picnic basket, sat a coconut. This was not an ordinary coconut but one painted to look just like a monkey. Six-year-old Benny Alden had carried it all the way back from Hawaii on another family trip. Now the coconut monkey went with him everywhere.
When lunch was over, Benny picked up his coconut by its rope handle. He shook it to hear the rattle inside. Then he took the last bite of his banana.
"You look just like that monkey," fourteen-year-old Henry told Benny. "Especially with that banana."
Benny held the monkey coconut next to his freckled face. He made the same monkey face, too. "Can you take a picture of me, Violet?" he asked his ten-year-old sister.
Violet found her camera. She aimed it at Benny and his coconut. "Say cheese."
"Yip! Yip!" Benny said instead.
After Violet finished taking Benny's picture, Grandfather Alden stood up. "There's nothing I like better than a roadside picnic. Mrs. McGregor outdid herself with this lunch. Everything tastes better out in the fresh air after a long car ride. Now it's time to get going again."
The children cleared the picnic table.
Henry gathered up two bags of trash from around the picnic table. "Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints," he said. "Violet took the pictures, and I'm leaving nothing but footprints. This trash is going right into the Dumpster."
While Henry went off, Jessie spread out a map. She was twelve and the best map reader in the family. She always knew where they were and where they were going. "It's not too much longer, Grandfather. See, we're here, about an hour away from Hope Harbor."
"It'll be nice to see my friend Martin Bolt," said Grandfather. "Not to mention the new mall he's built! He said you children will have a very good time there."
Benny was excited. "I heard the mall is right where all the boats come in! I can't wait to see that."
"So you will," Grandfather told Benny.
"I took out that trash just in time," Henry said when he returned. "A garbage truck just came to pick it up."
"I'm glad we stopped," Violet said after everyone repacked the car. "It's so pretty here."
"And I'm glad we're not stopping again. This sure is a long car trip," Benny complained. "Whoops! Don't leave yet, Grandfather!" Benny said. "I forgot my car bag under the picnic table. It's got my travel games and toys in it—my coconut monkey, too!"
Benny raced out. From the car, the rest of the family could tell that Benny's bag was nowhere around.
When Benny returned, Henry gave him a friendly arm punch. "No luck, huh? I'll check the trunk. I bet you anything your bag is back there."
Henry got out and opened the trunk. When he came back, he was awfully quiet. "I hate to tell you this, but I think I made a bad mistake. I thought the shopping bag under the picnic table was trash, not your car bag. A truck just drove away with our bag of trash and your bag, too, Benny."
The children stared down at the empty highway. The truck had disappeared, taking Benny's coconut monkey with it.
"I'm really sorry, Benny. I should've checked both bags before I tossed them out," Henry said.
"It's okay, Henry," Benny said. "Maybe I can get another coconut monkey if we ever go back to Hawaii."
Mr. Alden drove for a long time before any of his grandchildren spoke up again.
"We're here!" Jessie announced an hour later, waking up the other children, who had finally dozed off.
When Benny opened his eyes, he saw a big sign on a building that said HOPE HARBOR MALL.
"See, Benny. We made it," Jessie said.
Benny sat up straight. He felt better already. He liked everything he saw. Crowds of shoppers strolled along walkways that zigzagged along the outside of the mall building. Seagulls swooped down to catch french fries tourists tossed out at them. Hope Harbor Mall looked like fun.
"Wow!" Benny said. "I never saw a mall on a big dock before. It's bigger than Main Street in Greenfield."
Mr. Alden searched for a parking garage. "Martin built the mall right on the water so shoppers would enjoy the view of the harbor."
Violet perked up when she saw all the shops that opened onto the pier. "I'm glad your friend's mall is indoors and outdoors, Grandfather. I like to be able to see outside."
"Same here," Jessie said. "Usually I can't tell if it's day or night in a mall. Hope Harbor Mall is different."
Mr. Alden drove through the underground parking garage. "Martin Bolt grew up in Hope Harbor. He built the mall to bring people back to the waterfront. Before he rebuilt the docks and put the mall on one of them, the whole area was just falling apart."
"Not anymore," said Benny. "It's busy around here, with boats and people and seagulls and lots and lots of places to eat."
Grandfather laughed along with Henry, Jessie, and Violet.
"You just finished Mrs. McGregor's picnic lunch," Jessie teased. "How can you even think about food?"
Benny smiled. "Because I smell food—all kinds. French fries, caramel corn, hot dogs, and pizza!"
Mr. Alden soon found a parking space. "Here we are."
The children locked their things in the trunk. Everyone trooped out and followed signs that said THIRD-LEVEL STORES AND OFFICES.
Mr. Alden opened the parking garage door to the light-filled mall. "Just look at this view."
Down below lay the bustling waterfront of Hope Harbor.
Benny ran over to the huge glass windows. "Tugboats! I love tugboats. They're small, but they push around big barges."
"Like you push me around, right?" Henry said, teasing Benny.
At that moment, a tall, thin man with straight gray hair came up to Benny. "Move away from that window. If you want to see the boats, you'll have to go out to one of the walkways."
As soon as Benny moved away, the man took a paper towel and rubbed the window.
"I didn't lean on it," Benny said. "See! No fingerprints."
"Humph," the man said, polishing the clean window anyway.
After the man left, Benny turned to Grandfather Alden. "I didn't touch the window. I just looked at the boats."
Mr. Alden put his arm around Benny. "I know that. Sometimes older folks like us forget what it's like to be children."
"I'll never forget," Benny said. He stayed a good distance from the big picture window now.
"There's Martin's office," Mr. Alden told his grandchildren when they reached the end of the long hallway. "You'll get a view of the harbor on all sides from there. Let's go in."
Violet and Benny joined their grandfather. Henry and Jessie stayed behind, reading a bulletin board.
"Come on, you two!" Benny said. "What are you reading, anyway?"
Jessie caught up to the others. "Help-wanted signs. This mall is hiring people to work here."
"Greetings, Aldens!" a cheerful-looking man said when the Aldens came in. "So these are your grandchildren, James. I've heard all about the four of you. Your grandfather has mentioned so many times how lucky he was to find you after your parents died. He's told me how well you took care of one another and that you lived very snugly in a boxcar. Now I have the pleasure of meeting all of you in person. This is quite a treat."
The children liked Grandfather's friend very much. Martin Bolt even looked like James Alden, tall and silver-haired and just about the same age. Mr. Alden introduced the children.
"I bet you like boats," Martin Bolt said when he noticed Benny glued to the window.
Benny nodded. "I like boats, but somebody didn't like me looking at boats. He thought I got my fingerprints on your windows, but I didn't."
Mr. Bolt just laughed. "I'm sure you didn't. And even if you did, I wouldn't mind. The view is there for the looking. Now, I hope you young people plan to stick around Hope Harbor Mall while your grandfather and I go to our college reunion. Just enjoy this place. I could use some young folks like you to tell me what you like and what you don't like, so I can keep my customers happy."
"We saw all the jobs posted on the bulletin board down the hall," Henry said. "Since you asked what we like, we like working. That's what keeps us happy."
"Work on a vacation?" Martin Bolt asked. "Nonsense. You children are my guests. Mrs. Frye, my housekeeper, will set you up in my house. The top rooms are fixed up just like cabins on a ship. You'll have a fine view of the harbor, and it's just a few minutes from the mall. I want you to have fun."
Mr. Alden laughed deeply. "You don't know my grandchildren, Martin. Work is fun for them. If you have anything at all that needs doing around here, my grandchildren would love nothing better."
"Hmmm," Mr. Bolt said. "I've got a good idea of a store where you could work and have some fun. Let me check with my mall manager, Hap Merchant, first."
Martin Bolt came back a few minutes later. "Hap is on his way over to meet you. Tomorrow morning, he'll bring you to Penny's Emporium, a shop that just opened. Hap's been helping out Penny Block there while she breaks in a new store manager. But I need Hap for other things. If Penny has some extra helpers, Hap can get on with his other jobs."
At that moment, the grouchy man who had scolded Benny stepped into the office. Seeing the Aldens didn't make him any more friendly.
"This is my manager, Hap Merchant," Martin Bolt told the Aldens. "Hap, meet my good friend James Alden and his four grandchildren. Oldest to youngest, they're Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. I thought they could give Penny a hand with her new shop. That will free you up a bit."
Hap Merchant ignored the Aldens' outstretched hands. "Well, I don't know that Penny needs a bunch of kids running loose in her shop."
Mr. Bolt's smile disappeared for a second. "Now, Hap, I want you to know the Aldens have worked in stores before. If James Alden tells me they're hardworking, I know Penny will be tickled to have them."
Everyone noticed Hap Merchant's frown. Mr. Bolt waved him into a back office. The Aldens could hear the low, serious voices of the two men. A few minutes later, Martin Bolt and Hap came out. Hap brushed by everyone, then left.
"Sorry about that, James," Martin Bolt said. "If I let him, Hap would run the whole mall by himself. I can't have him spending so much time at Penny's shop. I need him to supervise workers all over the mall. Anyway, he'll call you children tomorrow at my house to give you the details."
"Let's hope Hap Merchant is friendlier to us tomorrow," Jessie whispered to Henry. "I wonder if he'll really call."CHAPTER 2
A Mixed-up Day
The next morning, Benny woke up to the sound of tooting. He kicked off his covers and went to the window. Down in the harbor, a red tugboat tooted again. Slowly, it pulled a barge away from the dock.
"Henry," Benny whispered. "Time to get up. Come look outside."
Henry opened one eye, then the other. "Where are we? Why are there round windows in this room? Are we on a boat?"
Benny pulled off Henry's covers. "We're in Mr. Bolt's house. The windows are round, like on a boat. Come look outside."
Henry pulled the covers over himself again.
"You're no fun," Benny complained. "I'm going to wake up Jessie and Violet."
Benny tiptoed down the hallway. The floor creaked. When Benny opened the door to his sisters' room, that creaked, too. Mr. Bolt's house was like an old, creaky boat.
Violet stood at the window. "Hi, Benny," she whispered. "Look, there's a tugboat pulling a barge. Come see."
"I saw it already," Benny answered. "Can we go down to the docks before we go to the mall?"
"As soon as we get dressed," Violet told Benny. "Jessie and I will meet you and Henry downstairs in ten minutes. I think Mrs. Frye already has our breakfast started. I smell bacon."
"There you are!" a cheerful older woman said when the Alden children appeared in the kitchen doorway.
"Good morning, Mrs. Frye," Jessie said. "We didn't need an alarm clock to wake us up. The sun reflecting on the water came right into our room."
"And boats tooting. That's my alarm clock," Benny said. "It's hard to sleep with all that tooting going on."
Mrs. Frye laughed as she set out breakfast for the children. "After a while you don't notice the tooting. I'm glad there's no phone on the top floor, or you would have been up even earlier when it rang for you."
Henry poured milk on his cornflakes. "Did Grandfather call already? He and Mr. Bolt only left last night."
Mrs. Frye poured herself some coffee. "Oh, the call wasn't from Mr. Alden. It was Hap Merchant. He said to go off and have a good day and not to worry about working at the mall until he calls again."
"Gee, I think Hap might be mixed up," Jessie said. "He was supposed to tell us when to meet him at Penny's Emporium. We'd better get this straightened out."
Mrs. Frye came around with a pile of toast. "We're just a few minutes from Hope Harbor Mall. No need to rush off. Why you children want to work when there's so much fun to be had, I just don't know!"
Benny reached for another piece of Mrs. Frye's buttery toast. "We do know. We like jobs. That's our fun."
"We'd better talk with Hap in person," Jessie said. "Then we can explore."
The Aldens helped Mrs. Frye with the breakfast dishes. She loved their company. While the children scraped and washed and rinsed the dishes, Mrs. Frye told them all about how Mr. Bolt had brought back the wonderful seaport of Hope Harbor.
"Now that the mall is here, the boats unload a lot of freight right off the docks for all the stores in the mall. Hope Harbor Mall is different from most malls. The stores sell things from all over the world. Just last week at Penny's Emporium I found a lovely plate from Switzerland."
Benny seemed worried. "Does Penny's shop just sell little china dishes and fancy kinds of stuff like that?" he asked.
Mrs. Frye laughed. "Not to worry. Penny's is the perfect place for children to shop in or work in. You can do both. Penny's shop has everything—candy a caramel corn machine, souvenirs, and balloons. There's even a corner in the shop where folks stick their faces behind a pirate cutout and have their pictures taken. You'll find toys and souvenirs from all over the world. Penny gets her goods from Asia, Europe, Hawaii."
When Benny heard Hawaii, he made his silly monkey face. "I had a coconut monkey that had a face like this. It came from Hawaii, only not on a boat. I carried it all the way back on the plane."
Mrs. Frye laughed. "Did you eat your coconut monkey?"
"Not that kind of coconut. It was a big coconut shell with a monkey face painted on it. I bought it with my own money. They had pirate coconuts, but I like monkeys. I lost it when we drove here. It went into a garbage truck by mistake."
Mrs. Frye patted Benny's head. "What a shame. Well, you must tell Penny Block about it when you meet her. I've never seen coconut monkeys in her shop, but I bet she'd know where to get one. Now off you go, children. I'll leave a message at Penny's shop telling her to expect you. Take your time getting there. Penny doesn't open up her shop until ten."
On their way to Hope Harbor Mall, the Aldens had plenty of time to walk along the waterfront. Several freighters were unloading at the docks.
"I wonder what's on all those boats," Henry said. "Some of those freighters come from far away. That one says 'Tahiti' on it. See, Benny? That's far away, like Hawaii."
"Hey, look! The police are checking one of the boats," Benny said.
The other children looked up. A man and woman in blue uniforms followed a young crewman with curly black hair from crate to crate on a small freighter. They poked around, checking some of the boxes and taking notes on their clipboards.
Benny grabbed Henry's arm. "Maybe the crewman is really a pirate! What if there are stolen jewels inside one of those boxes? Will those police put him in jail?"
Jessie laughed. "We've all been reading too many mysteries to you, Benny! Those aren't regular police. They're customs inspectors. Customs people check goods that come into the country from other countries."
Benny noticed that the inspectors checked some boxes but not others. "Well, they're not doing a very good job. They skipped some boxes."
"Let's get a little closer," Henry told Benny. "The inspectors can't check every single thing, or they'd never finish. They just pick boxes at random. The shippers have no idea which boxes will get checked."
Excerpted from The Mystery in the Mall by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1999 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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Posted March 15, 2014
Posted January 1, 2012