Bessie Coulter has no idea why her father spirits her and her brother, Eddie, away from their home in Burlington, North Carolina, in the middle of the night, leaving their sick mother behind. But from the moment she steps off the train at Grand Central Station, she’s captivated by this teeming, colorful city that’s both scary and exciting.
Although Harlem is a thrilling place, Bessie misses her mother and can’t get used to living with her two aunts. She’s lonely and homesick, especially when her father begins going out with a beautiful, well-dressed woman. Desperate to find out what’s going on, Bessie launches an investigation that takes Eddie and her into a world of artists, jazz musicians, and writers, in search of a strange place called the Dark Tower. With the help of their next-door neighbor Lillian Moore and a Caribbean hoodoo woman named Miss Flo, Bessie is determined to uncover the mystery and get her family back together.
This ebook includes a historical afterword.
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Mystery of the Dark Tower
By Evelyn Coleman
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 2009 Evelyn Coleman
All rights reserved.
Bessie Carol Coulter tossed and turned in the wrought iron bed she shared with her younger brother, Eddie. The smell of honeysuckle wafted in through the open window on a cool spring breeze. Bessie sat up and peered out the window. The full moon and stars lit up the night sky above the tobacco fields. She fell back on her pillow and pulled the patchwork quilt up over her head.
Then Bessie lowered the quilt slowly and peeped upward, toward the ceiling. She always did this before she fell asleep on the nights the full moon allowed her to see. And each time, even though she knew what was up there, she felt a giggle of surprise.
The ceiling was indigo blue with tiny gold stars all over it. Papa had painted it for her last birthday when she turned twelve. A horse with a long flowing mane galloped across the ceiling. A picket fence covered with wisteria, her favorite flower, bordered one edge. On one side Papa had painted a bright yellow half-moon.
When Papa showed it to Bessie and Eddie, he said he wanted his children to sleep under beauty every night. Papa was always saying things like that. And even though the room wasn't fancy and there wasn't anything but one rickety bed and an old dresser in it, the ceiling made Bessie's room the most beautiful room in the world.
Bessie concentrated on the ceiling and wished she couldn't hear the rumbling thunder coming from her parents' bedroom. Her grandma always used to say, "If they's be thunder, lightning done already come." It was times like this when Bessie missed Grandma the most. Since Grandma's death last year, Bessie felt more and more stabs of loneliness in her heart, because there was no one to talk with anymore. Even though Bessie felt close to her mama and papa, Grandma was the only one who believed children should be seen and heard. Bessie hated being treated like a child who had no sense.
Bessie couldn't stand the angry sounds from the other room anymore. She squeezed her eyes shut and put her hands over her ears. Maybe parents are the ones who shouldn't be heard, Bessie thought. She tried to hear her grandma's voice talking softly to her and Eddie, instead of the stormy argument of her parents.
"Bessie Carol and Eddie," Grandma would say, sitting on the edge of the bed while tucking the quilt up under their chins, "this here quilt is made from clothes your papa and his sisters wore when they was no bigger'n you two. As long as you with your family, everything is always gonna be all right."
Bessie had always believed everything Grandma told her. But now she wasn't so sure. Bessie's parents had been arguing for weeks. Bessie knew her mama, Martha Coulter, was unhappy. And so was her papa, Edward Coulter Senior. What she didn't know was why.
This week had been the worst. Mama had been cooped up in her bedroom. Papa said Mama was sick with a terrible cold and needed her rest. Neither Bessie nor Eddie had been allowed to see her. They weren't even allowed to talk to her through the door. Papa was the only one who went in and out of the room. But Bessie never heard tell of nobody not being able to see their children just because of a cold. Something was wrong. Bessie could feel it. Bessie decided that tomorrow morning she would ask Mama what was the matter, even if she had to ask through the door.
Bessie was truly worried, especially since their neighbor Mrs. Cannon went away and left her husband and children two weeks ago. Everybody in church said that Mrs. Cannon wasn't coming back, but nobody said why. But Bessie wasn't dumb. She'd overheard the older people at church talking about families breaking up. "Separating," they called it.
Bessie paid attention to what grown folks said. She heard them whispering more and more about the year 1928, like it was mean and nasty. They talked about how the times were bringing mighty changes to the South. They said the government was taking back the few rights the colored folks had, so folks were running from the South by the truckloads. Men and women were all going north to find work and make better lives for themselves.
Sometimes they'd take their families, but oftentimes the husband or the wife went alone. A few people had been gossiping, or "syndicating," that Mr. and Mrs. Cannon had separated and that Mrs. Cannon went north, leaving Mr. Cannon to take care of the three younguns by himself.
The loud crash of the front door slamming startled Bessie out of her thinking. Eddie was only seven and such a sound sleeper, he didn't even stir. Had Papa left? Was he that mad with Mama? Bessie could hear Mama coughing in her room. She could hear Papa stomping onto the porch.
Then Bessie recognized another voice outside. It was Mr. Cannon.
She threw the covers back and got up on her knees so she could peer out the window. The thin feather-bed mattress didn't give much under her bony knees. Bessie couldn't see anything. She hoisted the window up higher and climbed out. She knew how to do it quietly. She'd done it many times before when she wanted to sneak out to the barn to sleep with her horse, Brownie. She had to be real quiet so as not to wake the chickens. Bessie knew that if she woke them, they'd make so much fuss that Papa would come around the house to see why they were squawking.
Bessie's bare feet stung as she hit the ground. She bent down low and crept quietly toward the front of the wood-framed house. The barn and chicken coop were only a few clotheslines away from the house. When Bessie neared the porch, she heard Mr. Cannon talking.
"I know you ain't wanting to do it. But I'm telling you, it's the best for your chillun, son. You don't want your chillun to be here." Mr. Cannon stopped and spit a plug of tobacco onto the bare dirt yard before he spoke again.
"I knows how you feel. But it ain't nothing else to do. Your time's done run out. She ain't gonna be able to go off and leave you like my Sally done. You gonna have to leave her."
"I can't do it," Papa said. But it didn't sound like Papa. He was talking funny, like his voice was cracking open with each word. "Martha wants me to leave, too, but man, I can't. I tell you, I just can't."
Bessie's hands flew up to her face to hold back the yelp that sprang from her mouth. She stood still, not breathing, as she heard Papa ask, "What was that?"
"Just a dog yelping," Mr. Cannon replied.
"I reckon," said Papa, looking toward the side of the house where Bessie crouched.
Bessie moved closer to the shadows of the house. The yard's dirt was packed hard and felt cool and slick under her feet from the early evening dew.
Mr. Cannon began speaking again. "Now you go on and tell Martha you leaving her, Big Ed," he said, slapping Papa on the back with a thud of his heavy hand. "Everything will be all right. You'll see. Time's a-wasting."
Why was he talking Papa into leaving their mama? Maybe it was because his wife left him, Bessie thought. But Bessie didn't want Papa to leave Mama. Bessie sure wasn't leaving Mama. She didn't care what anyone said, Bessie Carol Coulter would not go anywhere, not without her mama.
Bessie needed to do something. She picked up a rock. She wanted to hurl it at Mr. Cannon's fat head. He was a big man, almost as tall as Papa. A little rock wouldn't really do much damage to him, just make him shut up his old turkey mouth.
Bessie fingered the rock. She burned to let it fly. Bessie was known for throwing rocks dead on target. She turned around and threw the rock as hard as she could toward the apple tree. She wanted to knock the tree's bark off. But when she heard the ping of the rock, it didn't make her feel better.
Bessie sat down on the dirt, wishing Grandma were still with them. Grandma wouldn't let Papa leave Mama.
Bessie's old hurt rose up like a water moccasin out of the fishing pond. She thought about the day of Grandma's funeral. Bessie could see her grandma's coffin sitting in the front room, draped with one of her favorite lace tablecloths, a bunch of white roses on top. That day Bessie's mama came out and sat with her under the big old willow.
"You mad?" she asked Bessie.
Bessie nodded her head yes.
"She wasn't my blood mama," Bessie's mama said, "but since Memaw died she's been the only mama I knew. I think I'm mad, too. So what you want to do about it?"
Bessie shrugged her shoulders.
"Well, you know what your grandma would say. She'd say, 'You ain't really mad. You sad.' We both just sad."
Bessie shrugged again. Then she looked directly into Mama's eyes and said, "I'm really mad."
"Me too, then," Mama said, standing up. She picked up a rock. Mama leaned back and threw the rock hard at the side of the barn. Boom, it thundered. "Your turn," Mama said.
Bessie chose a rock off the ground, leaned back, and fired it. Bam. The barn door shuddered. The two of them threw rocks until they both were too tired to lift their arms. Then they slumped down beside the willow's trunk and cried while holding on to each other. That was the closest Bessie had ever felt to Mama.
And now Papa was talking about leaving Mama. Bessie couldn't think of nothing to do to fix this. Then it was like she could hear Grandma's voice, saying "If anger come down on you so hard you can't think, then there ain't but one thing left to do. Let it go. Cry it on out." Bessie whimpered into her hands. She cried for Grandma, Eddie, Mama, Papa, and herself.
Bessie finally wiped her face with the tail of her pajama top and sneaked back into her room. She got in bed and curled up around Eddie so they made an S shape together. She put her arms around her little brother and held back her sobs. At long last, she fell asleep.
Bessie woke in a haze of someone shaking her.
"Bessie. Bessie, get up now, girl. Come on."
It was Papa.
Bessie squeezed her eyes tighter. Maybe he would leave her be.
Papa lit the bedside lamp. "Bessie, I need you to get up and get ready. Then get your brother ready. We got to go. Hurry up now."
Bessie stretched her eyes as wide as sleep would let her. "What do you mean, Papa? Where we going?"
"We're going on the train. We ain't got much time. Come on, baby girl."
This was serious. Papa only used "baby girl" when he didn't want to say what he had to say.
"Papa, what about Mama?" Bessie asked as Mr. Cannon's words popped into her head. "Is Mama going on the train, too?"
Papa's eyes filled with tears. "Baby girl, I ain't got time to talk now. We got to leave. The train, it don't wait for folks. Come on now."
Papa yanked the quilt off the bed and bundled it under his arm. He began stuffing things into an old suitcase. He closed the worn suitcase and walked to the door with it.
"Mama's gotta pick out Eddie's clothes to wear," Bessie said, tears coming to her eyes.
Papa said softly, "Your mama can't come right now, so you pick them out for Eddie. Now hurry up."
Bessie stood very still. "I ain't leaving Mama, Papa. I just ain't," she said, her voice barely above a whisper.
Papa turned around. With quick, long steps he walked back to the bed. "Bessie Carol Coulter," he said, raising his voice, "you gonna do what I tell you. I said get dressed and help your brother. You both better be ready by the time I'm back."
Bessie cried as she pulled on her clothes. She sniffled loudly as she helped Eddie get dressed. Eddie sniffled along with his sister. Bessie put on her socks and shoes and hurriedly pulled on her jacket. All the while she was thinking, Papa can't leave Mama. They's married. Mama always say, "Papa the best man in the whole world."
"What's h-h-happening, Bessie?" Eddie asked.
"Don't worry. I'll be with you." Bessie clasped Eddie's hand and squeezed until the blood drained from their fingers.
Papa rushed back into the room. "Come on. Hurry. Mr. Cannon's taking us to the train in his truck." He grabbed Eddie up.
"But Papa," Bessie cried, "where's Mama? Ain't we gonna even say good-bye?"
Papa didn't look down at her. He took her hand and pulled her by the arm through the house, toward the grumbling truck outside. Bessie whipped her head around, looking for Mama.
"Mama?" Bessie called, trying to pull her hand out of Papa's grip. "Mama!" she yelled, louder.
Eddie struggled. "M-m-mama!" he called, tears streaming down his face.
Bessie jerked away from Papa and raced to the bedroom door. She yanked the door latch. It was bolted. She thought she heard a sob from behind the door. "Maaamaa," Bessie cried again, frantic now. "Mama, come on out, please," Bessie pleaded, wildly pulling on the door. "Mama, come on!"
"Here now, child," Mr. Cannon said, snatching Bessie up by the waist. "Tour mama gonna be all right. Come on now."
Bessie barely heard him. "Maaamaa. Maaamaa. Come with us, Mama," she called, struggling to free herself from Mr. Cannon's clawish hands. Bessie felt as though her heart were breaking into tiny little pieces, like nuts cracked open at Christmastime. "Maaamaa. Maaamaa," she screamed as Mr. Cannon dragged her out onto the porch.
Eddie banged his fists into Papa's chest, trying to get down. Mr. Cannon plopped Bessie onto the truck seat. He jumped in and revved the engine. Papa, still holding Eddie tightly, leaped in on the passenger side. Bessie could see her brother's face turning red as he yelled. Bessie screamed and yelled with him.
As the truck lurched forward, Bessie spotted Brownie at the edge of the fence. The mare kicked up dust and whinnied as if she knew what was happening. Bessie felt as confused as a bumblebee trapped inside a jar. She squirmed to look back out the truck window as they rumbled up the dirt road. The truck took them past their cornfields and the rows of string beans and watermelons. They rode out past the pig trough and the field where their two milk cows grazed and along the edge of the pond toward town.
Bessie was afraid she might be smelling the sweetness of the apple orchards and the honeysuckle for the last time. She cried as she listened to the distant call of a whippoorwill singing them a good-bye song. Finally, exhausted, she cried herself to sleep.
When Bessie woke up, they were in town. She peered out the truck window and saw the man who sat high up in the little wooden house beside the railroad tracks. His job was to put the wooden arm down or up, to let people know if it was safe to cross the train tracks. Bessie usually loved seeing the man in his little house and always waved to him. But not tonight. I wish the man would make the train stay right here and never leave Burlington, North Carolina, she thought as Papa lifted her up on one hip and Eddie on the other and carried them crying into the colored section of the ugly iron train.
Bessie wiped her tears with her sleeve as she heard the rumbling of the train on the tracks and the whistle blowing. The bouncing vibration of the train's wheels reminded Bessie of riding Brownie. She wondered if Brownie had knocked down the fence to follow her. But Bessie knew she hadn't. Papa built sturdy fences.
Bessie finally sat up straight and looked around the car. A few people were eating from shoeboxes as though they were having a picnic. Some people were asleep, and others read from Bibles.
"Where we going, Papa?" Bessie asked weakly, choking back tears. But even as she asked the question, she knew. This had to be the Southern Crescent. It came through Burlington in the wee hours of the morning, five days a week. The whistle always whoooed when it got into town. After picking up a few passengers, it pulled out, singing its whistling song.
This was the train Mama told her about, the one that connected the South to the North. Bessie had never been on a train before. She'd always dreamed of riding on the mighty Southern Crescent, but not like this—not without Mama.
Papa whispered to her, "Bessie Carol, I promise everything will be all right." He added weakly, "It'll be fine. Honest."
Bessie laid her head back in the crook of Papa's arm. Papa rubbed her head gently, the way he did when she fell asleep on him at church while the choir sang the words of her favorite song, "Amazing Grace."
Bessie raised her head just a little, enough to see where Eddie was. He lay sleeping on the seat next to them, leaning against Papa.
"But what about Mama? Where's Mama?" Bessie whispered.
"Your mama's home," Papa said. "Your mama can't come just yet. But she gonna come. Soon."
Excerpted from Mystery of the Dark Tower by Evelyn Coleman. Copyright © 2009 Evelyn Coleman. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
ContentsChapter 1 Misery,
Chapter 2 Hating Harlem,
Chapter 3 Sounds in the Night,
Chapter 4 Weary Blues,
Chapter 5 Caught,
Chapter 6 Half-Truths,
Chapter 7 Fixing Legs,
Chapter 8 The Conjure,
Chapter 9 Getting There,
Chapter 10 The Darkest Hour,
Chapter 11 Family,
Going Back in Time,
About the Author,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is another good History Mystery. I can't really tell you why I like it. I think it has something to do with the style of the story. There was so much going on. This book shows how important family is, even I myself don't always think that. This one wasn't as good as The Night flyers, but it was just as good as Voices at Whisper Bend. I'm not going to write 'I recomand it for ages 10-12' because y'all probably know I would say that.
if i could ever see the author i would say great job,and say i love your book.I give this book 5 thumbs up.
The Mystery Of The Dark Tower was an excellent book because it talked about the harlem renaissance and how if you want to reach your goals dont give up. I gave this book 5 Stars***** because of the style of the book.It keap you guesing about what was going to happen next i couldnt put the book down.Thats why i liked this book!