An action-packed adventure about thieves, fishing, and two boys who lay a trap that will save the day.
Eddie's family has been trapping lobsters for generations. but lately someone has been stealing their catch. When Eddie happens across the thieves' trap, he knows it's up to him to bring in the culprits. With the unlikely help of a boy who has run away from sailing camp, Eddie embarks on an adventure that puts his very life at risk.
About the Author
CRAIG MOODIE is the author of The Sea Singer and Seaborn, as well as several works of adult fiction. He lives in Franklin, Massachusetts.
Read an Excerpt
AUGUST 12, 4:05 A.M.
EDDIE ATWELL TOOK LIGHT STEPS onto the dock, hoping to keep the warped planks from creaking, and paused by the stack of lobster traps. He looked back at the house beyond the trees. Only the dim porch light showed through the leaves. He took a deep breath and got a better grip on the fishing pole and tackle box he held in one hand and the bucket of live eels in the other. He glanced at the traps beside him stacked higher than his head. Warps coiled, buoys painted, bait bags ready, they waited to be loaded aboard Marie A., his father’s lobster boat, to replace the ones they’d lost to a dragger, its net clawing along the bottom in the area where they set their traps. If they’d been able to set the extra traps, they’d have all six hundred traps they were allowed in the water. But now that his dad was laid up, they were going nowhere. “The only thing worse than lost traps,” his dad had said, “are dry traps. And now we’ve got thieves trying to put us out of business. Seems we’d do better setting traps for thieves than lobsters.”
If he caught a few big striped bass, Eddie knew, he could make some money, and help his dad out.
But the only way to help was to break a promise. His mom and dad had told him they didn’t want him fishing alone while they were off-island for his dad’s operation.
He looked back at the house. Crickets trilled in the undergrowth. An owl made soft hoots. He shifted his weight and the planks groaned under his rubber seaboots.
But no one knew he was heading out to Greenhead Island, not even his sister Laurie.
Promise or no promise, he was going after those bass.
Beyond the traps was the floodlight his father had rigged on top of a piling. Moths swirled in the beam. He peered over to look into the submerged lobster car, a mesh pound as big as the bed of a pickup truck. In the light filtering through the water he made out the shadowy forms of only a few lobsters crawling along the bottom.
“Good luck to you, bugs,” he said. “Send up a flare if anyone tries to swipe the rest of you.”
He set his gear into his skiff and climbed in. He grabbed the plastic juice jug from under a seat and bailed out the water sloshing at the bottom.
The water made him shiver, and he was glad he wore jeans, his boots, and a plaid flannel shirt. He tugged his faded Red Sox cap down snug on his brown hair and yanked the starter. The outboard coughed.
“Come on,” he said. “Don’t give me any trouble.”
He yanked again and this time the outboard spewed a cloud of smoke and sputtered to life.
He uncleated the line and shoved off. He sat down on the seat, the skiff leaning under his weight, and idled away from the dock. In the east, below the stars speckling the sky overhead, he could see the faint blue glow of dawn. The moon had already set. He steered out of the cove and throttled up as he entered the bay.
He’d never fished Greenhead Island before. It was foul with shoals and rocks, but Jake Daggett, his sister’s on-and-off boyfriend, had told him striped bass might be feeding out there. “It’s a secret,” Jake had said. “Time I went out there, I slayed them. Big ones. Been too busy with other things to try it again. No one else bothers with it because you’re more likely to hit a rock than a bass.”
So what if Mom and Dad don’t want me going out by myself? he thought. How are they ever going to find out? And if I run into a school of thirty or forty pounders, and the price holds around two bucks a pound, they wouldn’t mind the payday.
Eddie hadn’t been able to go lobstering since his dad hurt his shoulder. With all the shore work—painting buoys, coiling line, mending bait bags, stacking and repairing traps—he hadn’t had a chance to go fishing at all. Not going lobstering was bad enough, but not going fishing made him feel trapped. He ached to be on the water. Even the long trip across the bay and the risk of snags or a scraped bottom would be worth getting out again. The way he had calculated it, poring over the tables in his dog-eared copy of the Eldridge Tide and Pilot Book, he’d be there right at the turn of the tide.
He glanced at his watch: 4:22. His parents had given him the watch, a diver’s waterproof model, for his twelfth birthday back in March.
“You’re always late, just like your father,” his mother said. “But now you have no excuse about coming home on time.” She brushed a strand of her gray-streaked brown hair off her face and smiled as he put the watch on.
His father laughed. “That’s a better watch than mine,” he said. “But remember: it’s not a toy. It’s the kind of watch a real lobsterman needs.”
Eddie stood up and leaned over to hug his mother, then shook his father’s hand.
“Before you know it you’ll be running your own boat,” his father said, “just like my dad and his dad before him.”
Eddie felt heat rise into his cheeks. He looked back at the watch.
A real lobsterman. That’s what he was going to be.
He pointed his bow at the horizon and opened up the throttle. The skiff unzipped the flat water of the bay. This time of day was one of his favorites, the time when daylight was only a hint on the horizon. Dawn and dusk were the best times to be alone on the water. He settled onto the stern seat and watched the water ahead of him.
He knew he didn’t have to worry about Greenhead Gut, a whirlpool that could trap a small boat like his skiff. It only appeared when the tide was running hard, and now the tide was slack. He checked his watch again. His dad would be heading into the hospital in a few hours, “to see if Dr. Sawbones can fix my wing,” as he had said the night before. Eddie knew that for his dad, the pain in his shoulder wasn’t nearly as bad as the pain of not going lobstering—and not being able to get his lobsters back or catch the thieves himself. “You want something fixed right,” his dad told him time after time, “you fix it yourself.”
At first his dad hadn’t even wanted to tell Chief Snow about the missing lobsters. But since he hurt his shoulder stacking traps, getting the catch back himself wasn’t an option.
“Bad timing for a torn rotator cuff,” he said, after he made the call to Chief Snow. “Nothing better I’d like to do than get those lobsters back—and put those poachers away. I’d poke into every cove and haul-out and creek in the marshes for any sign of them. But now we’ll have to rely on the cops to do it for us. Don’t hold your breath about ever seeing any of those lobsters again.”
The silhouette of the island appeared in the dimness, and Eddie throttled down. Ahead the water spread out smooth, its surface salted with reflections of stars. He neared the island and idled along shore, steering past rocks sticking out of the water. When he came around the far point, he made out the shape of a small sailboat anchored in a cove.
What’s that boat doing out here? he thought. Looks like one of those boats from the sailing camp. Just what I need, some off-islander to spoil the fishing.
He turned the skiff around and headed past a point to the other side where he’d seen the mouth of a creek.
He grabbed a burlap bag, reached into the bait bucket, and gripped an eel by the head. In the beam of light from his flashlight, it writhed and flexed and spiraled itself like a wet vine around his forearm. He held the flashlight between his teeth and reached for his hook. When he jabbed it through the eel’s pale chin, then worked it up through its nose and out again, the eel jerked and unwound itself.
Then he steered around the rocks close to the mouth of the creek and cut the engine. He swung the pole outward, rose up in the skiff, and cast the eel toward a patch of grass that was almost swallowed by the high tide. The eel and weight splashed in front of the grass.
He set the drag, jigged the pole, then carefully began reeling in. As he shifted his weight, the boat rocked, sending silver pulses out across the surface. Water gathered around his boots.
He held his breath. He felt a quiver run through his hands—his own excitement. A striped bass could strike at any moment.
He gave the pole a short jerk, then kept reeling. Nothing yet.
Then he felt a jolt and a yank on the line. He was sure he had a bass on. He gripped tighter and pulled up hard to set the hook, the pole bending down in a question mark. He braced his knees against the rail of the skiff. The fish might run. He knew he couldn’t manhandle it or it might throw the hook. He eased the tip of the pole upward. It stayed bowed toward the water. The pole felt heavy, the fish at the end of the line an unmoving mass.
He let out a stream of breath and shook his head.
It wasn’t a bass—it was a snag. He yanked the pole sideways. He spun the tip of the pole around in circles. He laid the pole down in the skiff, got the paddle, and splashed toward the line. He gripped it and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. He picked up the pole and wound the reel as tight as it would go and pulled back, let the line go slack, then jerked the pole once more as hard as he could.
Finally he took his jackknife out of his pocket and cut the line.
Lost a lively eel, he thought. He checked his bait bucket. There were only three eels left. Maybe the water out here really was too foul for fishing. No wonder no one comes out here.
But since he made the long trip out, he wasn’t going to give up yet. He tied on another leader, hook, and weight and baited the hook with another eel. Yanking on the outboard’s starter rope, he got the motor going on the first pull and idled the skiff along the shore to a point of rocks. He cut the engine. He stood up in the bow and cast to a spot well off the last rock and hurried to retrieve the line.
The line went taut and he sucked in his breath, hoping the heavy tug was a fish. He pulled back to set the hook and felt the tip of the pole bending. Whatever it was wouldn’t move.
That’s it, he thought. Another snag.
He tried to dislodge the hook, yanking and pulling and then paddling over to the line. For the second time, he had to cut the rig free.
Two eels, two weights, two hooks, he thought. Zero bass. No percentage in it, as his dad would say.
He ran his eye along the dark form of the island close by. He’d come all this way, so he might as well see what was on it. Besides, he was hungry, and he figured blueberry bushes grew on the island. He wanted to save the peanut butter sandwich and granola bar he’d put in his tackle box for later.
He stowed his pole and yanked on the starter rope. The engine made only a small chug. He yanked again and the engine coughed, then went dead. It was quirky. Sometimes it started right up, other times it took a lot of coaxing. He didn’t mind—when it ran, it flew.
The skiff and engine were Laurie’s, a step up from the leaky old tub he used to take out fishing but not worth much just the same. She gave them to Eddie since she worked day and night at the ice-cream parlor in town, saving money for college, and didn’t have time for the water.
Eddie gripped the handle of the starter again and gave a mighty yank. The motor wheezed.
“Evinrude, you know something?” he said to the motor. “Sometimes you’re nothing but rude.”
At last the outboard spat and coughed and spewed out smoke and settled into a rough whine.
He steered past a sweep of grass. Only the tips stuck above the water. No light showed from the dark hulk of the island. He pointed the flashlight at the shore.
There, between two tumbles of boulders and a shelf of rock, lay a strip of beach.
He idled through a channel between the rocks, cut the engine, and coasted to the beach. The boat landed on the sand with a wet scrape. He leaped out and hauled the boat up, then took a few steps toward the thickets.
He stopped to listen. In the woods, snowy tree crickets sang their ceaseless chime. The drowsy chirp of a lone field cricket came from somewhere in the grass. A colony of katydids yakked back and forth at each other. Water lapped at the rocks.
Without turning on his flashlight, he made his way along the tide line past a salt marsh. Why he felt as though he was trespassing, he wasn’t sure. He squinted ahead and took measured steps. The sense that he was being watched came over him. He was about to turn on his flashlight when right at his feet a furious flutter erupted and burst past his face. His heart lurched and he jumped back.
“Doves,” he hissed. “I flushed a couple of doves.” They had been roosting on the beach because the sand retained the day’s warmth.
He moved on, his heart settling. He switched on his flashlight and the beam lit a blueberry bush laden with ripe berries. As he plucked them, he popped them into his mouth one by one.
Then he worked his way back. The dawn light was turning a grainy gray, and he was beginning to make out the green of leaves and the silvery pelt of the sand.
He was almost back to his skiff when he spotted a large tidal pool right at the edge of the water by the marsh. He ran his flashlight beam over the water. Hermit crabs tiptoed away along the bank when he shined the light on them. Minnows switched this way, then that.
But there was something below them, something moving well below the surface of the water.
“What?” he said out loud.
It was a lobster claw waving through the square of a wire mesh cover.
He shined his light into the pool. In the yellow beam, he saw movement.
The pool was packed with lobsters.
Text copyright © 2011 by Craig Moodie
Map illustration copyright © 2011 by Laszlo Kubinyi
Table of Contents
Part I: The Bait,
Part II: The Catch,