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Three Times Lucky (Mo & Dale Series #1)

Three Times Lucky (Mo & Dale Series #1)

by Sheila Turnage


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A Newbery Honor Book

"An irresistible Southern narrator—a literary descendant of Scout Finch of To Kill a Mockingbird." —Newsday

Rising sixth grader Miss Moses LoBeau lives in the small town of Tupelo Landing, NC, where everyone's business is fair game and no secret is sacred. She washed ashore in a hurricane eleven years ago, and she's been making waves ever since. Although Mo hopes someday to find her "upstream mother," she's found a home with the Colonel—a café owner with a forgotten past of his own—and Miss Lana, the fabulous café hostess. She will protect those she loves with every bit of her strong will and tough attitude. So when a lawman comes to town asking about a murder, Mo and her best friend, Dale Earnhardt Johnson III, set out to uncover the truth in hopes of saving the only family Mo has ever known.

Look for all the Mo & Dale Mysteries: The Ghosts of Tupelo LandingThe Odds of Getting Even, and The Law of Finders Keepers

* “A wickedly awesome tale…Mo LoBeau is destined to become a standout character in children’s fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
* “Turnage’s lively novel features a distinctive voice and a community of idiosyncratic characters.”—Booklist, starred review

* "Here is a writer who has never met a metaphor or simile she couldn't put to good use."—Publishers Weekly, starred review

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780142426050
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 12/31/2013
Series: Mo & Dale Mysteries , #1
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 64,997
Product dimensions: 5.32(w) x 7.64(h) x 0.90(d)
Lexile: 560L (what's this?)
Age Range: 10 - 14 Years

About the Author

Sheila Turnage grew up on a farm in eastern North Carolina. A graduate of East Carolina University, she authored two nonfiction books and one picture book before she started writing about Mo LoBeau and Dale. Three Times Lucky is a Newbery Honor book, a New York Times bestseller, an Edgar Award Finalist, an E. B. White Read-Aloud Honor book, and was included on seven Best Book of the Year lists. The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing, the follow-up to Three Times Lucky, has so far garnered five starred reviews. Today Sheila lives on a farm with her husband, a smart dog, a dozen chickens, and a flock of guineas.

Read an Excerpt

“Colonel!” I cried. The Colonel opened his long arms and scooped me in.

Miss Lana says hugging the Colonel’s like hugging a turning plow, but I like the scrawny steel of his muscles and the jutting angles of his bones. “I thought you’d still be in bed, resting,” I said.

He tightened the belt of his green plaid robe I gave him for Christmas the year I turned six. “Dale told me you had a stranger,” he said, eyeing Starr.

I pointed. “That’s Joe Starr,” I whispered. “He’s a lawman.” Everyone in the café pivoted to squint at Starr, who stood stock-still, the way you do when a mad dog comes near. “He looks like trouble,” I continued, keeping my voice low, “but he’s nothing I can’t handle.” I smiled at Starr. “No offense,” I said.

“None taken,” Starr said easily.

“Except for that, everything’s going great. Well,” I added. “There’s been a murder and we’re out of soup.”


Al Capone Does My Shirts Gennifer Choldenko

Almost Home Joan Bauer

Close to Famous Joan Bauer

Flutter Erin E. Moulton

Matilda Roald Dahl

One for the Murphys Linda Mullaly Hunt

The Outlaws of Sherwood Street: Stealing from the Rich Peter Abrahams

Remarkable Lizzie K. Foley

Savvy Ingrid Law

Small Persons with Wings Ellen Booraem

Sparrow Road Sheila O’Connor

Tracing Stars Erin E. Moulton

A Year Down Yonder Richard Peck

Three Times

by Sheila Turnage

Dial Books for Young Readers

an imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

Chapter 1

Trouble in Tupelo Landing

Trouble cruised into Tupelo Landing at exactly seven minutes past noon on Wednesday, the third of June, flashing a gold badge and driving a Chevy Impala the color of dirt. Almost before the dust had settled, Mr. Jesse turned up dead and life in Tupelo Landing turned upside down.

As far as I know, nobody expected it.

As for me—Miss Moses LoBeau, rising sixth grader—trouble was the last thing on my mind as I crept across Dale’s front porch at six o’clock that morning. “Hey Dale,” I whispered, pressing my face against his sagging window screen. “Wake up.”

He turned over, tugging at his sheet. “Go ’way,” he mumbled. His mongrel dog, Queen Elizabeth II, stirred beneath a hydrangea at the porch’s edge.

Dale sleeps with his window up in summer partly because he likes to hear the tree frogs and crickets, but mostly because his daddy’s too sorry to bring home any air-conditioning. “Dale!” I bellowed. “Wake up! It’s Mo.” Dale sat bolt upright, his blue eyes round and his blond hair spiking in all directions.

“Demons!” he gasped, pointing vaguely in my direction.

I sighed. Dale’s family is Baptist. “It ain’t demons, it’s me,” I said. “I stopped by to tell you: The Colonel’s come home and he ain’t up to cooking.”

He blinked like a stunned owl. “You woke me up for that?”

“I’m sorry, Dale, I got to open the café today.”

“Oh,” Dale said, his disappointment riding the word to the ground. “But we been planning this fishing trip forever, Mo,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “How about Miss Lana? Can’t she whip up some craps, or—”

“Crepes,” I said. “It’s French. And no, she can’t. Miss Lana slammed out just after the Colonel slipped in. She’s gone.”

He swore, his voice soft as a breeze through the reeds. Dale started swearing last year. I haven’t started yet, but the way things are going, I could at any moment.

“I’m sorry, Dale. We’ll have to go fishing another time. I can’t let the Colonel and Miss Lana down.”

The Colonel and Miss Lana are the closest thing to family I’ve got. Without them, I wouldn’t have a home. I probably wouldn’t even have a name. I am bereft of kin by fate, as Miss Lana puts it, washed into my current, rather odd life by Forces Unknown.

Just then, Dale’s bedroom door creaked open and his mama leaned into the room, her green eyes soft from sleep. “Dale?” she whispered, clutching a faded pink housecoat to her throat. “You all right? You aren’t having nightmares again, are you, baby?”

“It’s worse than that, Mama,” he said gravely. “Mo’s here.”

Miss Rose used to be a real beauty, back before time and Dale’s daddy got hold of her. That’s what people say: coal-black hair, a tilt to her chin, and a sway that made men stand taller.

“Morning, Miss Rose,” I said, pressing my best smile against the window screen.

“Lord have mercy,” she said, staggering back. “What time is it, Mo?”

“A whisker past six,” I said, smiling. “I sure hope you slept well.”

“I did,” she said, “for a shockingly brief period of time.” Like Dale, Miss Rose doesn’t necessarily wake up good. Her voice took on a silky, dangerous tone. “And you are on my porch before the sun has wiped the sleep from its eyes because …?”

I took a deep breath. “Because the Colonel’s back but Miss Lana’s gone, so I got to open the café, which means Dale and me can’t go fishing, and I feel like it would be rude not to let him know. I’m just trying to do what’s right,” I concluded.

A tiny frown creased her forehead.

Fortunately, Miss Rose is a person of manners and, as Miss Lana says, manners will tell. “Well,” she finally said, “as long as we’re all awake, won’t you come in?”

“She can’t,” Dale said, swinging his legs over the side of his bed. “Me and Mo are opening the café today.”

“Mo and I,” she murmured as he stood up fully dressed and stepped into a pair of sandals that looked way too big. She blinked. “What happened to your pajamas? And why are you wearing your brother’s old shoes?”

“Sleeping in my clothes saves time, and my feet are growing,” he replied, shoving his black T-shirt into his shorts and running his fingers through his hair. The men in Dale’s family are vain about their hair, and with good reason.

“He’s growing feet first,” I added. “The rest of him will catch up later.” Dale is the second-smallest kid in our class. Only Sally Amanda Jones is smaller. Dale’s sensitive. “Gotta go!” I shouted, and grabbed my bike and headed across the yard.

Dale caught up with me just outside town. We coasted past the mayor’s new sign—WELCOME TO TUPELO LANDING, NC, POPULATION: 148—and skidded to a halt in the café parking lot, kicking up a rooster tail of oyster shells and sand. “Holy moly,” he said, dropping his bike. “Looks like the Colonel’s got a new car.”

“A ’58 Underbird,” I said modestly. “Original paint.”

“You mean a Thunderbird,” he said, strolling around the car.

Dale’s family knows cars. In fact, his big brother Lavender, who I will one day marry, races at Carolina Raceway. Dale kicked a tire and squinted at the silvery letters sprawling across the car’s fender. “Used to be a Thunderbird,” he announced. “Looks like the T and H fell off.”

“Well, it’s an Underbird now,” I said, waving my key in front of the café’s door.

“I don’t see why you do that,” he said, watching me. “Everybody in town knows that door won’t lock.”

“I don’t do this for everybody in town; I do it in case of strangers. You can’t be too careful about strangers. That’s what the Colonel says.”

Dale grabbed my arm. “Wait. Don’t open up today, Mo. Please? Let’s go fishing. I was going to surprise you, but … I got us a boat.”

I froze, the door half-open. “A boat? Where’d you get a boat?”

“Mr. Jesse’s,” he said, rocking back on his heels.

I tried not to sound impressed. “You stole Mr. Jesse’s boat?”

He studied his fingernails. “I wouldn’t say stole,” he said. “But I did borrow it pretty strong.”

I sighed. “I can’t, Dale. Not today.”

“Tomorrow, then.” He grinned, grabbing the CLOSED sign and flipping it to OPEN.

Dale’s my best friend. By now, you can see why.

We barely had time to rev up the air conditioner and click on the ceiling fans before our first customer stumbled in. I won’t say our patrons are an ugly lot, but at 6:30 a.m., they ain’t pretty. I stepped up on the Pepsi crate behind the counter as Mr. Jesse came sauntering in, thin-shouldered and round-bellied, wearing a faded plaid shirt, khakis, and last night’s whiskers. “Morning, Mr. Jesse,” I said. “What’ll it be?”

“Hey, Mo,” he said, grabbing a menu. “Shouldn’t you be in school?”

“School ended last week, Mr. Jesse.”

“Oh? What grade will you …?”


“Sixth grade? Good gracious, girl,” he said, looking at me for the first time. “You are growing.”

I sighed. “I’m standing on a Pepsi crate, Mr. Jesse. I ain’t grown that much since yesterday. You want to order? I got other customers to think about.”

He looked around the deserted café as the 7UP clock ticked loud and lonely on the far wall. “Other customers? Where?”

“On their way over here.”

“Oh. Lessee then,” he said. “I don’t know what I’m in a mood for. Some jackass stole my boat last night, took my appetite with it.” Dale dropped a glass. “Big-footed buzzard, too, from his prints,” he added. “I’m guessing he’s at least six foot four and a good two hundred twenty pounds.” Dale kicked his oversize sandals under the counter. Mr. Jesse licked his thin lips. “Miss Lana take her biscuits out of the oven yet?”

I made my voice gentle, the way Miss Lana does when I have a fever. “We ain’t having biscuits today, Mr. Jesse,” I said.

“Oh,” he said. Then: “Oh!” He sniffed the air like a hound, and a frown flashed across his unshaven face. “Doesn’t smell right in here,” he announced. “No coffee, no bacon, no biscuits …”

“Miss Lana’s taking some time off,” I said, keeping my voice low. “It’s probably for the best. Her biscuits are awfully fattening and you could stand to lose that belly, Mr. Jesse. You know you could.”

His eyes darted to the gray double doors leading to the kitchen. “Is the Colonel back there?” he demanded. I couldn’t blame him for being nervous.

“Want me to see if he’s in?” I offered, stepping off my Pepsi crate. I won’t say I’m short, but without the crate, I’m not tall.

“Disturb the Colonel?” he gasped. “No! Heavens no. I just like to know when he’s in town.” He dropped the menu. “What do you suggest this morning, Mo?”

I stood up straight, the way Miss Lana taught me, and draped a paper napkin over my arm. “This morning we’re offering a full line of peanut butter entrées,” I said. “We got peanut butter and jelly, peanut butter and raisins, and a delicate peanut butter/peanut butter combination. These come crunchy or smooth, on Wonder Bread, hand-squished flat on the plate or not, as you prefer. The special today is our famous peanut butter and banana sandwich. It comes on Wonder Bread, cut diagonal on the plate, with crust or without. What can I start you with?”

“The special,” he said.

“An excellent choice. Hand-squished or fluffy?”

“Fluffy,” he said. “No crust. And …” He gazed at the coffeemaker, his pale eyes hopeful. “Coffee?”

I shook my head. “Our drink du jour is Mountain Dew,” I said. “I got a two-liter breathing in back.”

His shoulders slumped.

“Morning!” Mayor Little sang out, the door slapping shut behind him. He smoothed his ice-blue tie over his pudgy belly and flashed an unnaturally white smile.

“Hush!” Mr. Jesse barked. “Miss Lana’s gone and the Colonel could be in the kitchen!”

Mayor Little tiptoed to the counter, his polished loafers tick-tick-ticking across the tile floor. “Miss Lana gone? The Colonel back? An unfortunate turn of events, but put in an historical context, it’s nothing the town can’t handle,” he murmured. “Morning, Mo. Give me a special and drink du jour. No ice. My gums are giving me fits.”

“Coming up,” I said, turning away.

We always choose a Little for mayor in case a television crew ever comes to town. Littles like to talk and they’re naturally neat; even their babies dress good. As the mayor sipped his Mountain Dew, the breakfast crowd trickled in.

Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton parked her Buick by the Underbird and strolled to a table by the window. Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton always wears a navy-blue suit and shoes. Their color offsets her white-blue hair, which she sweeps up in a halo around her heart-shaped face. She stands just a little taller than me, but somehow looms above everyone in the room.

Tinks Williams darted in next to grab a sandwich, leavinghis John Deere tractor idling in a patch of shade. Then came slow-talking Sam Quinerly, Lavender’s racing partner and mechanic. He already had grease on his hands. Before Dale could make Sam’s sandwich, in strolled Reverend Thompson and his boy, Thessalonians.

“Hey, Thes,” I said, sliding him a glass of water. “How’s summer school?”

He grinned, his carrot-colored hair glistening. “Wouldn’t know. I ain’t going.”

Like me, Thes doesn’t over-study. Unlike me, he’s F-prone. I keep my borderline straight A’s to myself, preferring to spring my brainpower on others when they least expect it. I take after Miss Lana that way. “How’d you wiggle out of that?” I asked.

“Makeup tests, and prayer,” Reverend Thompson muttered.

Thes beamed. “Hey Mo, we got three potential hurricanes off Africa this morning. I figure we got a thirty percent chance one will make it all the way to us.” Thes is a weather freak. He dreams of being a TV weatherman, and updates for practice. As far as I know, there’s no way to stop him.

“A couple of specials, please, Mo,” Reverend Thompson said.

“Coming up.”

By 7:30 half the town had crowded into the café and rising seventh grader Skeeter McMillan—tall, slender, freckles the color of fresh-sliced baloney—had claimed the counter’s last spot.

“Morning, Mo,” Skeeter said, propping her law book open. “I’ll have the alleged special, please.” Skeeter, who hopes to one day be an attorney, loves to say “alleged” and “perp.” Rumor has it she’s already written to Matchbook University for a paralegal course under an assumed name. She won’t say if that’s true or false, only that unsubstantiated rumor won’t hold up in court.

“Hey Skeeter, the Colonel’s back,” Dale told her, speeding by.

She swept her law book into her bag. “Make mine to go,” she said.

The Colonel hates lawyers. We allow Skeeter to come in, since she’s only in training, but she keeps a low profile out of pride.

By 8:30, Dale and I were tearing around like our shirttails were on fire. I am permitted to serve meals since the café is a family business, but not to use the stove, which the Colonel says could be dangerous for someone of my height and temperament. The pre-lunch lull found me opening jars of Miss Lana’s Practically Organic Garden Soup—which, fortunately, serves up good cold in the bowl. “Miss Lana better come home soon,” I said, twisting the ring off a quart jar. “This is the last of her soup, and I ain’t no gardener.”

“You can say that again,” Dale muttered.

Dale gets his green thumb from Miss Rose. I, personally, am practically herbicidal. I’ve killed every plant I ever met, starting with my lima bean sprout in kindergarten.

As the lunch crowd drifted in, I plugged in the jukebox. The lunch crowd is the breakfast crowd shaved and combed, plus the Azalea Women, who call themselves the Uptown Garden Club. There’s six of them, all told. Add the Azalea Women to our regulars, and the café was bustling when the stranger parked his dirt-colored Impala out front and pushed open the café door.

“Afternoon,” he said, and the place went still as well water. I glanced at the clock. It was exactly seven minutes past noon.

Chapter 2

The Colonel

The stranger looked slow around the café, his eyes the color of a thin winter sky. “Give me a burger all the way and a sweet tea,” he said, strolling to the counter.

Already I didn’t like him.

Didn’t like the starch in his shirt, or the crease in his pants. Didn’t like the hook of his nose, or the plane of his cheekbones. Didn’t like the skinny of his hips, or the shine of his shoes. Mostly, I didn’t like the way he didn’t smile.

I stepped up on my Pepsi crate. “Sorry, we’re out. You want the special instead?”

“What’s the special?”

I hooked my thumb toward the blackboard.

He frowned. “That’s all you got?”

“It’s good enough for us,” Tinks Williams growled from the stool beside him.

His eyes narrowed. “Give me the Carnivore’s Delight, then.”

Tinks handed me three dollars. “Keep the change,” he muttered, slapping his green John Deere cap on his head. “We tip good around here,” he said, directing his words in the stranger’s direction.

It was a bald-faced lie, but I appreciated it. “Thanks, Mr. Tinks,” I said.

I hadn’t even raked Tinks’s crumbs to the floor when Mayor Little took his spot at the counter. “Mayor Clayburn Little,” he said. “Welcome to Tupelo Landing.”

The room relaxed. The Littles are good with strangers.

“Starr,” the stranger said, introducing himself as he flipped open a gold badge. “Detective Joe Starr.”

The mayor formed his mouth into a perfect O. “A detective!” he said, shaking Starr’s hand. “Isn’t that wonderful? We don’t see many detectives around here.”

“My boat got stole last night,” Mr. Jesse said from down the counter. “You come about my boat?”

“It’ll show up,” Dale shouted, his voice raw and panicked.

Mayor Little forced a smile. “Your boat’s a local matter, Jesse. I’ll look into it.” Then to Starr: “Where are you out of, Detective, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“Winston-Salem,” Starr said.

“My, my. You’re a long way from home. Passing through, I imagine. On your way to … a crime scene, of some sort?”

“Something like that,” Starr said. He gazed at me. “What’s your name?”

I swallowed hard. I’m not good with authority figures. “Mo,” I said, a blush walking up my neck. Sometimes I could kill the Colonel for giving me a name like Mo.

“Unusual name,” he said.

“It’s Biblical,” I told him. “Don’t take this wrong, but the last person to make fun of it got swallowed by the Red Sea.”

An Azalea Woman tittered.

Dale slid Starr’s paper plate across the counter. “There you go: a Carnivore’s Delight. I gave you a cucumber strip, on the house.”

“Thanks, son,” he said. Starr’s gaze traveled from the dollar bill over the kitchen door, to the Colonel’s hand-lettered sign over the coffee urn: NO LAWYERS. Starr picked up his sandwich and studied Dale. “What’s your name?”

Dale blanched. “Me? My name is … Phillip. Sir.”

The café gasped, and I gave Dale a sharp kick in the shin. “I mean, it’s Dale,” he said, his eyes filling with tears. Dale’s family is like that. Let the Law come within twenty yards of them, and every male over the age of six—uncles, brother, father, cousins—starts lying his fool head off. Dale says it’s genetic. Miss Lana says that’s poppycock.

“So,” Mayor Little said. “To what do we owe the honor, Detective Starr?”

“Just passing through, like you said,” Starr said. “Headed for Wilmington. Who’s that?” he asked, glancing at a black-and-white photo on the wall.

“Miss Lana,” I said, ringing up Tinks’s bill and dropping the extra into my tip jar. “She doesn’t always look like that,” I added. “She’s dressed up like Mae West.”

Mayor Little propped his elbow on the counter and beamed at Starr. “Hollywood Night here at the café, don’t you know,” he said, crossing his chubby legs and waggling one loafer. “We’re a wonderfully creative community.”

“I see that,” Starr said, glancing around the room. “Miss Lana own this place?”

“Goodness, no,” Mayor Little said. “The Colonel does. He’s not in today. A bit under the weather, I suppose.”

The crowd’s attention swiveled to Starr, who sauntered toward the photograph. As he passed the Azalea Women they leaned away from him, like rabbits shying away from a bobcat. “She looks familiar,” he said, squinting at the photo.

“Well, that was the idea, Detective,” Mayor Little said in a pained voice. “We had Hollywood Night here at the café, and we all dressed up. The whole town. Miss Lana came as Mae West, I chose Charlie Chaplin. I went silent for once, you see. Sort of an inside joke. We made an evening of it. Skits. Impressions.”

Dale seemed to have regained his composure, even with a detective within arresting distance. Or so I thought until he opened his mouth. “The boobs aren’t real,” he squawked.

Mayor Little frowned. “Dale!”

“In Miss Lana’s photograph, I mean. Those boobs aren’t real,” he babbled. “Neither is the hair.”

“Dale, go check our Mountain Dew supply,” I said, giving him a shove. The kitchen door swished shut behind him.

“Well, sir, what are you investigating?” Mayor Little asked as Starr settled back onto his stool. “Anything exciting?”

“A murder,” he said, and the Azalea Women shuddered.

“Where?” Mayor Little asked.

“Happened in Winston-Salem, a couple weeks ago,” Starr said, picking up his soupspoon and leaning over his bowl. “Good soup,” he muttered.

“Miss Lana put it up last summer,” I told him. “It’s practically organic.”

Mayor Little smoothed his tie. “Who is the, uh, dearly departed?” he asked.

“Fellow named Dolph Andrews. Ever hear of him?” Starr pulled a photo out of his shirt pocket and slid it down the counter. The mayor and I leaned over the counter, studying it. Even upside down, Dolph Andrews was a good-looking man.

“Looks a little like George Clooney,” Mayor Little said. “No, Dolph Andrews has never been here. I’d remember.” He slid the photo back. “Who killed him?”

“Don’t know.” Starr nudged the photo toward me. “Go ahead, pass it around. Let everybody take a look.” The photo went from hand to hand, around the café.

“Somebody slit his throat?” I guessed, and an Azalea Woman dropped her spoon.

“Interesting thought, but no—somebody shot him dead,” Starr said. “Cut his phone line, came into his house, and pulled the trigger.” At the end of the counter, Mr. Jesse studied the photograph for a long moment. His hand shook as he passed it on.

“Who would kill a nice young man like that?” the mayor sighed as Starr polished off his sandwich and pushed his plate away.

Starr shrugged. “Somebody who thought Dolph needed killing, I guess,” he said. “Could have been right too, for all I know. What do I owe you, Biblical Mo?”

“Two seventy-five, plus tax.”

“Don’t be silly,” Mayor Little said, reaching for his wallet. “Lunch is on me.”

Joe Starr handed me a five. “Keep the change,” he said, a whisper of a smile in his eyes. “And that spooky kid in the kitchen—”

“You mean Phillip?”

“I mean Dale,” Starr said, slipping the photo into his shirt pocket and buttoning the flap. “Tell him the next time I come in here, I expect to see shoes on his feet.”

He strolled to the door and stopped, looking out over the parking lot. “Nice Thunderbird,” he said. “Whose is it?”

I hesitated. The Colonel always says not to lie, but sometimes the truth doesn’t feel like a good fit. “Well,” I said, my voice trailing off.

Fortunately, at that moment, the kitchen doors behind me swung open, slamming against the wall. The dollar bill over the door tilted. The café jumped. “It’s my car, you nosy son of a gun,” the Colonel growled from the doorway. “What’s it to you?”

“Colonel!” I cried. The Colonel opened his long arms and scooped me in.

Miss Lana says hugging the Colonel’s like hugging a turning plow, but I like the scrawny steel of his muscles and the jutting angles of his bones. “I thought you’d still be in bed, resting,” I said.

He tightened the belt of the green plaid robe I gave him for Christmas the year I turned six. “Dale told me you had a stranger,” he said, eyeing Starr.

I pointed. “That’s Joe Starr,” I whispered. “He’s a lawman.” Everyone in the café pivoted to squint at Starr, who stood stock-still, the way you do when a mad dog comes near. “He looks like trouble,” I continued, keeping my voice low, “but he’s nothing I can’t handle.” I smiled at Starr. “No offense,” I said.

“None taken,” Starr said easily.

“Except for that, everything’s going great. Well,” I added. “There’s been a murder and we’re out of soup.”

At the end of the counter, Mr. Jesse leaned forward and cleared his throat. “Oh, and Mr. Jesse’s boat went missing,” I said.

The Colonel patted my shoulder. “Good job, Soldier,” he said. “You are temporarily relieved of duty.”

“Thank you, sir.”

An uneasy silence fell over the café.

“My goodness, where are my manners?” Mayor Little sputtered from the counter. “Detective Starr, this is Colonel LoBeau, proprietor of the Tupelo Café. Colonel? Detective Joe Starr, from Winston-Salem. As I believe Mo mentioned, he’s looking into a murder.”

“Afternoon,” the Colonel said.

Joe Starr’s gaze drifted from the Colonel’s close-cropped military haircut, to his acorn-brown eyes, to his rough beard. He scanned past the frayed bathrobe to linger on the Colonel’s tan bedroom slippers. “Colonel,” he said, and from his tone I knew he would have tipped his hat if he’d been wearing one.

The Colonel faked a thin smile.

Everybody knows the Colonel handles authority figures even worse than I do. Some say it’s because of a tour of duty in Vietnam. Or Bosnia. Or the Middle East. Miss Lana says it’s because he’s an arrogant fop who can’t tolerate somebody else being in charge. Either way, the lunch crowd fluttered like nervous wrens.

“Colonel LoBeau,” Starr repeated, and glanced at me. “So, that makes you …”

“Mo LoBeau, with the accent at the end,” I said. “It used to be Mo Lobo, with the accent up front. But Miss Lana changed it when I went to first grade. She says it makes us practically French.”

“Plus, Lobo means ‘Wolf,’” Dale chimed in. “Who wants to lug around a name like Mo Wolf when you’re headed for something like first grade? That’s like heading for Niagara Falls with a cinderblock strapped to your ankle.”

Starr ignored him. “Colonel, you look familiar to me,” he said. “Have we met?”

“Not likely.”

“Ever visit Winston-Salem?”

“Not that I recall.”

Mayor Little swiveled on his stool. “The Colonel? In Winston-Salem?” He barked out a little laugh. “Unlikely indeed. The Colonel’s avoided cities since when … Bosnia?” He looked at Dale, who shrugged.

For some reason, Starr ignored him too. “Know a fellow named Dolph Andrews?” he asked the Colonel, flipping Dolph’s photo onto the counter.

“Nope,” the Colonel said. “Is he your murderer?”

“He’s my victim.”

“I’m afraid I can’t help you,” the Colonel said, turning toward the kitchen. “So if there’s nothing else. …”

“One more question,” Starr said.

The café went tense. The Colonel had already been polite longer than anyone expected, and when he turned back, the smile had slipped from his face. He put his hands on his hips and jutted his chin forward. “Let me ask a couple questions, if you don’t mind,” he suggested. “Am I under arrest?”

“No sir.”

“Do you plan to take me in for questioning?”

“No sir.”

“Are you hungry?”

“No sir.”

“Then please help me understand what business remains between us.”

The café relaxed. That wasn’t bad at all, not for the Colonel.

“It’s about your Thunderbird,” Starr said. “Where did you get it?”

“Robeson County, I believe,” the Colonel said, his voice glassy smooth. “Cash transaction. Is there a problem?”

Starr shook his head. “No problem. When was that?”

“A couple years ago, maybe.”

Dale’s face reflected my shock. The Colonel just got that car! What on earth? The Colonel never lies. My shock went molten in a heartbeat. “You stop picking on the Colonel,” I shouted, stepping on the Pepsi crate for extra height.

“I’m just asking a few questions,” Starr said. “Dolph Andrews here collected vintage cars and a couple seem to be missing.”

Mayor Little’s mouth dropped open and he gaped at the lunch crowd, inviting everyone to share his horror. “Surely you’re not suggesting the Colonel’s—”

“I’m not suggesting anything,” Starr said. “There’s nothing wrong with driving old cars. I like them myself.”

The mayor forgave him with a wobbly smile, and the café relaxed again. “If you like old cars, Detective, eastern North Carolina’s perfect for you,” he said, smoothing his tie. “We have oodles of vintage vehicles around here, don’t we, Colonel? In fact, I like to think of them as one of poverty’s little perks.”

Starr didn’t smile. “Thanks again, Mo,” he said. “I’ll be seeing you. Soon.”

“Another visit?” Mayor Little said, holding out his hand. “I know we’ll all look forward to that.”

I bet we won’t, I thought as they shook hands.

As the door slapped shut behind Starr, the Colonel shuffled toward the kitchen, yawning. “Give a man a badge, and he thinks he owns the world,” he muttered to no one in particular. “Only thing worse is a lawyer.” Like I said, the Colonel hates lawyers.

Outside, Starr slowly circled the Underbird.

“Can you handle checkout, Soldier?” the Colonel asked, and I nodded. “Very well, I’ll take the supper patrol.”

Dale stood on his tiptoes, trying to see over the Azalea Women’s hair and into the parking lot. “What’s Starr doing?” he asked.

“He’s squatting to write down the Colonel’s license number,” Grandmother Miss Lacy Thornton said from her table by the window. “For a man of his age, he has excellent balance.”

The Azalea Women murmured in agreement.

As Starr settled into his Impala and began scribbling on a clipboard, the lunch crowd stampeded the cash register. Only Mr. Jesse hung behind. “Don’t see why folks care about a murder a half day from here when they don’t give a Fig Newton about my boat,” he said, pushing his three dollars across the counter and holding out his hand for change.

“Yes sir, that’s a pity,” Dale said, straightening the salt and pepper shakers. “Too bad there’s no way to get your boat back. Hey!” he said, his blue eyes flying wide. “Maybe we could … No,” he said, his face falling, “that would never work. I guess I really am dumb as dirt, like my daddy says.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Mr. Jesse snapped. “What’s your idea? Spit it out.”

“Well,” Dale mumbled. “I was just thinking if you offered a reward …”

A reward! My heart leaped like the cheerleader I will never be. Dale shows glimmers of genius at times, no matter what our teacher, Miss Retzyl, says.

Mr. Jesse scowled. “You think I should pay a thief to return my own property?”

“Don’t you listen to him, Mr. Jesse,” I said, dropping his change into his hand. “The thought of rewarding somebody for bringing your boat back. … That’s wrong. Shoot. It would be better if they kept it, and that’s the dog-honest truth. You don’t need a boat. Besides, you can use that dab of reward money for … for …”

“For canned goods,” Dale suggested.

“Right. For tuna,” I said. “That way you’ll still get plenty of fish in your diet.” I buffed a napkin holder to a high sheen with my shirttail. “Too bad, though, losing a nice boat over a little finder’s fee.”

Mr. Jesse drummed his fingertips against the counter.

“A finder’s fee,” Dale said mournfully. “See? That’s smart.”

“Sure,” I told him. “A reward is like welfare, which Mr. Jesse here has said a million times will bring about the end of civilization. Isn’t that right, Mr. Jesse? But a finder’s fee! That’s more like a minimum wage job.”

Mr. Jesse squinted at me, his eyes glittery hard. He snagged my pen and scrawled a notice on my order pad:

“Put this on the bulletin board,” he said, and slammed the door behind him.

We watched Mr. Jesse cross the parking lot, giving Starr a wide berth as the Impala roared to life. “Think Starr will really be back?” Dale asked as Starr’s taillights disappeared around the curve.

“Yeah,” I said, thinking of the Colonel’s Underbird.

“Me too.”

I could feel it in my bones: Trouble had come to Tupelo Landing for good.

Chapter 3

The Three Day Rule

That evening, as the Colonel puttered about our living room, I settled on my bed and printed a title across the bright blue cover of a new spiral notebook. THE PIGGLY WIGGLY CHRONICLES, VOLUME 6. TOP SECRET. If you ain’t me, stop reading.

As far as I know, I’m the only kid in Tupelo Landing researching her own autobiography. I’m also the only kid who needs to. So far, my life is one big, fat mystery. At its heart lies this question: Who is my Upstream Mother, and why hasn’t she come for me?

Fortunately, I’m a natural born detective, hot on my own trail since birth. I mostly decorate my room with clues.

The Piggly Wiggly Chronicles, volumes 1 through 5, line the bookshelf over my flea market desk. The sprawling map of North Carolina, which Miss Lana helped me tape on the wall above my bed, pinpoints my search for my Upstream Mother. Using the process of elimination and a set of color-coded pushpins, I’ve marked all the places I know she’s not. By now, the map bristles like a neon porcupine.

My bedside phone—a heavy, black 1950s model with a genuine dial—jangled. I scooped it up on the second ring. “Mo LoBeau’s flat, Mo speaking,” I said. “A message in a bottle? Yes sir. It’s mine. … You found it where?”

I hopped onto my bed and studied the map. “Cypress Point? I see it on the map, sir. … No, I’m not upset that you’re not my mother. Thanks for calling.”

I jammed a green pushpin into Cypress Point and settled on my bed.

How did I wind up short a mother? Good question.

I was born eleven years ago, during one of the meanest hurricanes in history. That night as people slept, they say, the rivers rose like a mutiny and pushed ashore, shouldering houses off foundations, lifting the dead from graves, gulping down lives like fresh-shucked oysters.

Some say I was born unlucky that night. Not me. I say I was three times lucky.

Lucky once when my Upstream Mother tied me to a makeshift raft and sent me swirling downstream to safety. Lucky twice when the Colonel crashed his car and stumbled to the creek just in time to snatch me from the flood. Lucky three times when Miss Lana took me in like I was her own, and kept me.

Why all that happened is Mystery on a larger scale. Miss Lana calls it Fate. Dale calls it a miracle. The Colonel just shrugs and says “Here we are.”

Behind my back, Anna Celeste Simpson—my Sworn Enemy for Life—says I’m a throw-away kid, with no true place to call home. So far, nobody’s had the guts to say it to my face, but I hear whispers the way a knife-thrower’s assistant hears knives.

I hate Anna Celeste Simpson.

The Colonel knocked on my open door and peeked in from the living room, his gray stubble glistening in the lamplight. “Busy, Soldier?”

“Sorry, sir,” I said, closing my notebook. “I’m contemplating an intro to Volume Six. It’s Top Secret.”

“I’m sure I haven’t got the clearance,” he said. “But as a dedicated member of your mess crew, I’m contemplating popcorn. Thoughts?”

What People are Saying About This

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«“A wickedly awesome tale…Mo LoBeau is destined to become a standout character in children’s fiction.”—Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Spunky and hilarious, eleven-year-old Mo LoBeau is one of my newest favorite heroines. Three Times Lucky will make everyone want to ride his or her own hurricane all the way to Tupelo Landing, just to join the fun.”—Ingrid Law, Newbery Honor-winning author of Savvy

«“Turnage’s lively novel features a distinctive voice and a community of idiosyncratic characters.”—Booklist, starred review

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