It's the summer of 1935, and in the sleepy Florida Keys, thirteen-year-old Jake Pitney's life is quiet and easy. But all of this changes once Jake begins helping out the town's eccentric fisherman, Sharkey, with work.
On a trip to Key West, Jake is dumbfounded when Sharkey buys a mule named Jewel and her faithful sidekick, a dog named Rudy. Despite their troublemaking ways, Jake grows fond of the mischievous duo and their owner. All the while, Jake is trying to befriend Mara, the new girl in town, whose life has been filled with sadness.
During the Labor Day holiday, an unpredictable Atlantic hurricane hits Jake's hometown with devastating speed and power, reducing the island to shambles. Jake is determined to find his family, along with Sharkey and Mara. But he may need help from some unlikely sources.
From the bestselling author of Star in the Storm and Thunder from the Sea comes a gripping story of strength and determination in the face of uncontrollable circumstances. Based on actual events, Joan Hiatt Harlow's tale explores friendship, loyalty, and ultimately, hope.
|Publisher:||Margaret K. McElderry Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.90(d)|
|Age Range:||9 - 12 Years|
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The train stopped at Islamorada right on time, and Dad was there with the truck to meet us. I'll never forget the look on his face when we paraded Jewel and Rudy down the ramp and onto the dirt road.
"Am I seeing right?" Dad asked.
"You're seeing right, Dad!" I yelled, pushing the tipsy wheelbarrow, with the dog trotting along behind me. "Sharkey bought a mule and a dog in Key West!" Sharkey led Jewel nicely this time. The mule was probably tired of the train ride and eager to keep Rudy in her sights.
"She's a pretty thing, isn't she?" Sharkey said proudly as Jewel nuzzled his arm.
"Her name's Jewel," I told Dad. "The dog came with her. His name's Rudy."
"My game leg's been bothering me, and I thought the mule could help pull the boats in when they need work that kind of thing," Sharkey explained.
"I suppose a mule could come in handy," Dad agreed.
"Mules have put this whole country together," Sharkey went on, somewhat defensively, as if he had to explain that he wasn't totally crazy to have come home with Jewel. "They took the pioneers out West, they built the Erie Canal..."
"They work in the coal mines," an unfamiliar girl's voice piped up. "I've seen them down there hauling the coal cars. Some of them have never seen the light of day." The girl was sitting on the steps of the train station. Beside her was a battered cardboard suitcase that looked as though it might fall apart at any moment. I wondered if she was traveling by herself.
She went up to Jewel and petted her nose. Jewel seemed to like it. "Excuse me. I couldn't help overhearing. I love mules, as you can probably tell. And this one is pretty, and sweet, too." The girl's long red hair, which was held back with a white headband, reminded me of Rudy's tail. I felt a bit ashamed when the thought crossed my mind; comparing a girl's hair to a dog's tail wasn't very nice. But Rudy's tail was beautiful long and silky and the girl's hair, which fell to her waist, was long and silky too.
"I was to meet my aunt Edith here, but she's late. Can you tell me how to find Edith Kraynanski's house?" she asked.
Dad and I looked at each other in surprise. Edith Kraynanski was a Polish lady who had lived alone in her tidy little house for as long as I could remember. She was known for the delicious Polish food that she often shared with her neighbors. We never knew she had any family. "I'll show you where she lives," I offered. "But first I should help Sharkey with the mule and the dog."
"I'll give Sharkey a hand," Dad offered. "After you take..." He paused.
"Mara," the girl said, holding out her hand. "Mara Lynn Kraynanski."
"How do you do, Mara," Dad said, shaking her hand. "I'm Doug Pitney, and this is my son, Jake. We live at the general store down the road apiece, and your aunt Edith lives near us." He turned to me. "Jake, take Mara's suitcase and show her to Miss Edith's place. I'll help with the mule until you can get back to Sharkey's."
"Yeah, it'll take some doing to get these animals situated," Sharkey agreed.
"Thank you." Mara smiled at me gratefully.
I took her suitcase. "Come on. Miss Edith's place is just up the road a way. One thing about Upper Matecumbe Key is that it's a narrow island, so everything is pretty close together in the town of Islamorada. Folks live on one side of the tracks or the other. These railroad tracks were built up so high above the main road, we think of them as hills."
Mara laughed. "You should see the hills in Pennsylvania, where I come from!"
We walked along quietly for a while, and then Mara said, "You look a lot like your dad."
"Everyone tells me that," I said. Dad and I both had kind of bronze-colored hair and dark eyes. Mom and Star looked alike too, with blond hair and pale blue eyes.
"You live here all the time?"
"Yep, I'm a real conch. I was born here."
"What's a conch?"
"It's really a shellfish, but people who live on the Keys are called conchs."
"Do you go to school here?"
"We go to school up in Tavernier, about fifteen miles north of here. They have electricity for two or three hours in the morning. But when I go to high school next year, I'll have to board down in Key West. What grade are you in?"
"I'm going into tenth grade. I'll be fifteen next year."
"I'll be fifteen next year." I didn't tell her that my fourteenth birthday wouldn't be until December. I didn't want her to know I was only thirteen right now.
As we walked, I noticed that Mara was whistling a tune under her breath, so softly I could barely hear it. "That's the Atlantic Ocean on that side," I said, pointing to the dark-blue water to the east.
Mara stopped and looked out at the sea. "I never saw the Atlantic Ocean until today. Did you ever see so many shades of blue and green? It's like shiny ribbons spread across the sea."
I stopped too and followed her gaze. I'd never noticed that about the sea before. The shades of blue, turquoise, and emerald did look like ribbons all twisted together and laid across the water.
We began walking again. "How long will you be visiting your aunt?" I asked.
"Oh, I'm not visiting. I've come to live with her. And she's really my great-aunt."
I wondered why a girl about my age would come to live with Miss Edith, who looked at least a hundred years old.
Mara must have read my thoughts. "I lived in Pennsylvania with my dad, but last month he was killed in a coal-mine accident." She looked away.
"I'm real sorry to hear that," I said.
"Aunt Edith is my only relative now," she went on. "I've written to her off and on over the years, but we've never met. She's from Poland and so was my dad. When she heard that Daddy died, she sent me the money to come down and live with her here."
I wondered about Mara's mother. She hadn't mentioned her at all. "Is your mother living?"
"I don't have a mother," Mara answered abruptly.
No mother? That was a strange answer, but I could tell that it was better not to ask any more. "You'll like it here," I said, trying to be cheerful. "Do you fish?"
"I never have. In Pennsylvania we lived near a coal mine, not the water."
"So that's how you know about the mules in the mines."
"Yes. Those mules are so smart. They know how to change the train rails for the coal carts by kicking the switches."
"Jewel seems to be a good mule as mules go, I guess." I paused, shifted the suitcase from one hand to the other, and pointed to a two-story wooden building across the road. "That's the Matecumbe Hotel," I said. "It's not fancy like the hotels in Key West or Miami, but it looks real pretty with those new striped awnings, doesn't it?"
"Very pretty, but I've never stayed in a hotel."
"Me neither. People from up north come down here to fish in the winter. They stay at the hotel, unless, of course, they're rich enough to stay at the Millionaires Club near the water."
"No wonder people come down. It's like paradise here." Mara smiled, and her face lit up.
I laughed. "That's what folks call this place. Paradise. Actually, Islamorada means 'island home.'"
"Now it will be my island home." Mara looked up at me with a grin. "I'd like to learn to fish now that I'm here."
"I'll teach you," I said.
As we walked, not speaking for a while, I noticed Mara's soft whistling again. When we passed by the Robinsons' house, Ripper, their burly dog with bowed legs and a big head, barked viciously and pulled against his chain. Mara clutched my arm, and her eyes widened. "Can he get loose?"
"Don't worry, he's shackled up good. But he's strong and nasty. Don't ever go near him," I warned her.
We had approached Miss Edith's little gray shack. "This is your aunt's place," I said, setting the suitcase on the porch. We looked around, but there was no sign of her anywhere. The few chickens she kept clucked around our feet.
Mara knocked on the door. "Aunt Edith?" she called.
The door creaked open and Miss Edith stood in the shadows. Except for a bright orange cobbler's apron, she was as pale as a ghost in the darkness of the room. Then I realized she was spattered with flour. "Oh my, oh my! You must be my dear Mara! I'm so forgetful! I was so busy cooking up kolacki and pierniki for you, I completely forgot the time! I can't believe I wasn't there to greet you! So foolish of me."
"It's all right, Aunt Edith. Jake brought me here."
Miss Edith reached out and gathered Mara into her arms. "Welcome, my little Mara!" she exclaimed. Miss Edith turned to me, wiped her pastry-covered fingers on her colorful apron, and stretched out her hand to me. "Thank you, Jake. You're such a good boy."
"You're welcome, Miss Edith," I said, carefully shaking her hand. The whole house smelled of good things to eat.
Once again, Edith Kraynanski took Mara into her arms. "I'm glad you've come to live with me, Mara."
"Thank you for sending for me, Aunt Edith," Mara said. "When Daddy died, I felt so alone and lost. I didn't know what to do or where to go." Mara's voice broke into a sob. "And then I got your letter and knew I still had someone in the world who cared what happened to me."
For a moment my own throat tightened. I couldn't even imagine what it must be like to lose your family and be alone in the world.
"It's all right, dear," Miss Edith said, stroking Mara's long hair. "This is your home now."
"And I have a new friend. Jake is going to teach me how to fish." Mara turned and smiled at me through her tears.
It made me feel good to see her smile and to be called her friend.
Copyright © 2007 by Joan Hiatt Harlow
RUINED PLANS 6
I went over to Sharkey's after saying good-bye to Mara and Miss Edith. Jewel was tied up with a thick rope to a gumbo-limbo tree, while Rudy was checking out the landscape, sniffing and smelling every bush. Dad had gone on home, and Sharkey was trying to erect a rickety fence that had fallen down over the years.
"This thing's too old and rotted." He hurled the dilapidated wood into the brush. "I need something else to keep this mule confined. Though maybe Jewel will be okay and stick around once she knows this is home."
"If you tie Rudy up, Jewel would probably stay with him," I suggested.
"Humph!" He held a pail up to Jewel's nose and she pushed her head into the bucket. "Oats," he said. "Your dad stopped by the store on the way over here and brought some for me. I'll call the farmers' market in Homestead and ask them to send hay on next Tuesday's train."
I stood by, watching. It was getting late. I hoped Sharkey remembered that he'd offered to lend me his favorite fly for the contest tomorrow. He'd also given his word that he'd pay me for helping him today, but he hadn't mentioned it again.
Jewel roamed around on her long rope after she ate the oats, and she discovered a star-fruit tree with a couple of early fruits on the lower branches. "They're not ripe yet!" I exclaimed, as if Jewel knew the difference. She sniffed the fruits, and within a second she had neatly picked them off the branch and was eating them happily.
"She'll never go hungry," Sharkey said with a snort. "Looks like she can fend for herself."
"What about Rudy?"
"He can eat what I eat."
"We know he likes hot dogs." I suddenly remembered that I had paid for the frankfurter in Key West. So Sharkey owed me for that, too. Should I ask him about my pay? I kicked the dirt, not sure what to do. "I guess I better head home. Mom will have supper ready. And I'll need to get up early tomorrow for the fishing contest."
Sharkey nodded absently as I started up the path toward the road.
"Hey, Jake!" he called after me. "Come back here! Don't you want your pay?"
I turned around. "Sure! I almost forgot."
Sharkey pulled out his wad of money, sliced off three one-dollar bills, and handed them to me. "Not a bad day's wage, eh?"
Three dollars was a great day's wage. Dad talked a lot about the Depression; he said many folks in Florida only made seven dollars a month! Plus, I'd had the trip to Key West and, well, it was fun. Especially watching Sharkey at the auction. "Thanks, Sharkey," I said.
"Listen, kid," Sharkey continued, "you didn't even ask me for the money. That's no way to do business. You've got to speak up for yourself. Don't be afraid to ask for what's rightly yours."
"I...forgot," I lied again, gazing down at my feet.
"We both know you didn't forget." Sharkey bent closer. "Now, if we're going to work together, you have to be honest with me. I won't bite." He put out his hand. "Deal?"
"Deal." I shook his hand, took a deep breath, and spoke right up. "You owe me a nickel for the hot dog."
Sharkey reached into his pocket. "You're right. I do." He gave me the coin. "Get over here early tomorrow, and we'll do a little fishing out in the flats. I'll take you to one of my secret places for bonefish. And once you catch a good-sized silver beauty with me, you'll become an honorary member of the Bonefish Brigade."
I was getting excited. The Bonefish Brigade was a group the famous author Zane Grey started when he came to fish on the Keys, and Sharkey had often been his guide. Fishing for the swift gray ghosts was fast becoming a popular sport.
"As I said, I'll let you use one of my favorite flies," Sharkey said. "We'll fish off my boat, so you don't need hip boots."
"I've never tried fly-fishing. I've caught a couple of small bonefish using shrimp."
Sharkey shrugged. "You can use shrimp if you'd rather. No skin off my back," he muttered.
"No, no, the fly sounds good," I said quickly. "Thanks!"
During supper that night I told Mom and Dad about my trip to Key West, and how Sharkey bid on the mule. They laughed when they heard how he ended up with the dog, too.
"What's a mule?" Star asked.
"It's part horse, part donkey," Mom explained.
"What's its name?" Star sputtered, her mouth now full of spaghetti.
"Jewel," I answered.
"Can I have a ride on Jewel?" Star asked.
"No, you can't. Jewel's a working mule; she's not a pony," I told her.
"You're mean, Jake," she said with a pouty face.
Mom pulled Star over and wiped her face with a napkin. "Sharkey could use some help hauling in his boats and getting around with his bad leg. The mule might come in handy for him."
"Sharkey said he was glad you went with him today, Jake," Dad said.
"You know what? Even though he can be real grouchy, I'm getting to like Sharkey!" I told them. "He's taking me fishing tomorrow morning."
"I need you to watch Star tomorrow morning," Mom said.
"Mom! Sharkey's going to teach me how to use his flies."
"Not tomorrow he's not," Mom stated with a frown. "You're watching Star."
"Mom, I can't! The fishing contest is tomorrow, and I need Sharkey's help to win." I glanced at Dad for reinforcement, but Mom had already given him a glare that meant, Back me up here.
Dad looked down at his plate and pushed the meatballs around. "Jake's already got plans with Sharkey, Louella," he finally said.
Mom's eyes narrowed. "I have to make pies and biscuits and sandwiches for the weekenders, Doug. You know it's hard to work on Saturdays with Star getting into things."
"Maybe Jake can take Star fishing with him," Dad suggested.
"I want to go fishing with Jake!" Star begged.
My heart sank. I'd go crazy with Star. She'd be pestering me every minute. "No, Dad! I watch Star all the time. Billy and Roy said I'll be a nursemaid when I grow up!"
"They should talk!" Mom said. "They have to watch Bessie, don't they?"
"But there are two of them, so they at least have some time to themselves." I turned to Dad again. "Dad, this is my chance to learn from Sharkey. Maybe someday I can be a guide for the millionaires, like he is."
"I want to go fishing too!" Star whimpered, her eyes filling up with tears.
"We'll work something out," Dad said, with a nod at Mom and a wink at me.
"Thanks, Dad," I said gratefully.
"There's nothing to work out," Mom said. "Jake watches Star tomorrow morning. That's it!"
Dad and Mom were staring each other down, and Star was crying. It was a good time for me to leave and keep my fingers crossed that Dad would win. I got up from the table, accidentally knocking a meatball on the floor as I went toward the kitchen. "Don't spill anything on my genuine American Oriental rug!" Mom yelled after me.
I grabbed the meatball and then deposited my dishes in the sink with a loud clatter. "Why do I have to be stuck with Star all the time?" I muttered, loud enough to be heard over Star's howling. I went outside and let the door slam behind me, not stopping to put on my shoes.
Copyright © 2007 by Joan Hiatt Harlow
Table of Contents
2 A CHALLENGE
3 KEY WEST
4 GOOD THINGS COME IN PAIRS
6 RUINED PLANS
7 MARA'S SOLUTION
8 THE BONEFISH
9 TROUBLE FOR RUDY AND JEWEL?
10 PANTHER TALES
11 MARA'S SNOW
12 JEWEL'S CORRAL
13 DANGER IN THE TREETOPS
14 MARA'S FISHING LESSON
15 HARSH WORDS
16 MOM'S GENUINE AMERICAN ORIENTAL RUG
17 A BAD FEELING
19 "STAY SAFE"
20 THE KILLING MONSTER
21 THE RESCUE TRAIN
22 MONSTER FROM THE SEA
23 THE PROCESSION
24 "MORE THAN THE WORLD"
25 GOOD-BYE, GOOD DOG
28 THE MOST BEAUTIFUL WORD