Cam, Marcella, and Miguel discover Blackbeard’s plan to plunder the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine and they try to stop him.
What is Freebooter's Paradise?
Freebooter's Paradise is a children's novel. A story filled with adventure and mystery, pirates, gold, and magic. It's perfect for kids in 4th through 8th grade. After reading it, a few kids have told me that it reminds them of the novel The Lightning Thief. Some adults have told me it reminds them of The Goonies. Maybe Freebooter's Paradise is somewhere in the middle...
Here's the summary:
While the king of pirates, Blackbeard, drives in from Las Vegas, his crew flies his ship on dust devils to small town Apache Junction, Arizona. The pirates hold the Grand Opening of their magical emporium Freebooter’s Paradise—Plunder, Parcels, Pets, Pests, and Pawn. When the pirates kidnap his best friend Miguel, Cameron and Marcella attempt a rescue. Touched by a bit of stray magic Cameron thwarts Freebooter's glamor and uncovers Blackbeard's secret plan: to search for and plunder the fabled Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine. With the citizens of Apache Junction under Blackbeard's powerful enchantments, who's left to run the motley crew out of town? Blackbeard's magical wheel of fortune secretly instructs Cameron that, "Fortune favors the bold, the brave, and the true of heart!" Can Cameron Wrangler, an ordinary boy only a day ago, rescue Miguel, the town of Apache Junction, and protect the secret of the Lost Dutchman's Gold Mine?
Why this project needs your support
Freebooter's Paradise is a great novel and especially for the reluctant reader, boy or girl. It has a fast pace, with interesting twists and turns, and characters that keep kids interested. Over the last ten years as a Librarian (and Teacher), I have read a lot of Children's novels. I have heard what children have had to say about them, too. So, I have taken all of that, plus what I have learned earning my Creative Writing degree (University of Victoria, British Columbia) and created Freebooter's Paradise -- A Dangerous Tandem Adventure.
While Freebooter's Paradise is available as an eBook at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, iBooks, and Smashwords for $2.99, folks have been asking me for a paperback version. Well, this Kickstarter project is my way to raise the money to make a print run to get that first-edition of the illustrated paperback into their hands--and yours! By the way, in this first-edition are 28 illustrations drawn by the famous, United Kingdom artist, Leona Preston. They're not included in the eBook and you won't want to miss them! I can't guarantee delivery before Christmas, BUT those who pledge first will most certainly have a better chance for that to happen.
Thanks for checking out my project, and I hope you'll become a part of it!
What people are saying about Freebooter's...
"Freebooter's Paradise is a fantastic ride. Funny, smart, and highly entertaining--kids are going to dig this adventure!"
--Obert Skye, bestselling author of the Leven Thumps series
“... a fun book! Full of all sorts of adventures with pirates, fairies and even a wheel of fortune. There are a lot of good lines and some great cliffhanger chapter endings. The main characters, Cam, Mar and Miguel, have a wonderful, dynamic friendship that will appeal to both boys and girls… Well done!”
-- Janette Rallison, Teen Author of My Fair Godmother and Just One Wish
“I really enjoyed it! Freebooter's Paradise has all the elements of a good adventure story: appealing and believable protagonists, both male and female; humour; lots of narrative momentum (pretty much non-stop action); originality and tremendous energy! Congratulations on a great accomplishment.”
--Vivian Howard, PhD, Associate Professor, Library Studies and Children’s Literature, Dalhousie University, Nova Scotia, Canada
Read the first seven chapters:
1. Follow Me, You Really, Really Stupid Idiot-Dork
2. A Collision with a Yellow Bug, Big Red Gum,
and Bad Omens
3. Super-Sized Dust Devils Attack Apache Junction
4. Mar Uses Her Stink-Eye
5. Freebooter’s Paradise
—Plunder, Parcels, Pets, Pests, and Pawn
6. Captain Kidd’s 1001 Excuses
and the Truth about Moonbeams
7. The Sun Door and Nennah Fortuna,
the Wheel of Fortune
8. Cameron Is Forced to Walk the Plank
9. Pirates Treasure, Old Style and New
10. I Covered for You, Shrimp Boy
11. Déjà Vu and Mrs. Wong
12. Dueling the Doppelganger
13. Plan B
14. There’s a Fight a-Brewing
15. Daphne’s Ring
16. A Dangerous Tandem
17. Freebooter’s Dynamite
18. A Life-Changing Decision
19. Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits, Cha-Cha-Cha
20. Downunder, the Stewards, and the Guardians
21. The Night of Initiation
22. The Thunder God
23. The Incident with the Gold Nugget
24. Breakfast at the Road Runner Café
25. War On!
26. Blackbeard Counterattacks
with Confetti and Cannonballs
27. The Bold, the Brave, and the True of Heart
28. Birthday S’mores
Follow Me, You Really, Really Stupid Idiot-Dork
“Follow me,” said Miguel as he shoved the screen door open and ran right into the forbidden zone of Grumpy Ry’s driveway just to get a closer look at the tandem bicycle.
I didn’t move from my kitchen. I knew where the bike was parked and I wasn’t getting close to it. “You can see it from here!” I shouted after him.
“You’re a chicken, Cameron Wrangler!” Miguel shouted over his shoulder.
“We’re not playing Follow Me anymore. It’s a baby game,” I said, but I was very interested in taking a closer look at the bicycle.
A tandem bicycle is built for two. It has two wheels, two seats, two handlebars, and two sets of pedals. My neighbor, Mr. Donald Rysill, who we nicknamed Grumpy Ry, bought his from the Mesa megastore, HeapsMart, only three days ago. Sure, it was cheap, but it didn’t look cheap. It was all chrome and gray and shiny as heck, pumped up with fat whitewall tires, white striped seats, a horn for the first rider and a bell for the second. I mean, it was beautiful. Miguel and I had been staring at it from the safety of my kitchen. Grumpy Ry was old, and we stayed away from him and his stuff because he always yelled at us for something, even just for looking at him.
I left my kitchen reluctantly and jogged across our driveway, onto Grumpy Ry’s, and over to the tandem parked next to his house. I was scared to be there, but it felt so good standing next to the bike. I could smell new all over—new tires, new paint, and new seats. An electric shock of excitement bolted through me. I so wanted to take it for a ride.
Miguel ran his hand along the second pair of handlebars. He gave me a seriously angry look and reached towards the bike’s bell, as if he were going to ring it.
“What did I do?” I asked. I was there right next to him. Hadn’t I proved I wasn’t a chicken?
Miguel scowled. “You had to follow me, huh? Didn’t you just say we weren’t playing the Follow Me game anymore?” Exaggerating his movements, he pretended to ring the bike’s bell.
“Miguel, don’t do it. Grumpy Ry will kill us.”
Miguel stuck out his tongue. “You shouldn’t have followed me over here then, dork. Seventh grade starts in August. Aren’t we too old to be playing baby games?”
I stared at him and wiped sweat from my forehead. Summer vacation had just started I didn’t want to get into trouble on my first full day of freedom. Was he joking or serious? Miguel’s brown eyes never gave him away. I still had trouble calling his bluff, like right now. Was he pulling my leg? Or was he really mad at me for telling him I didn’t want to play Follow Me anymore? After all, we weren’t third graders, geesh . . . but we were best friends.
Miguel showed up in my sixth grade class last October. The only reason we talked was because during recess he followed me all around the playground. He followed me so close that he stepped on the heel of my shoe and my foot came out of it—that’s called a flat tire. “Hey, watch out!” I said. “Why are you following me?”
“Youuuu . . . dork,” I said, bending down to fix my sneaker.
“Sorry about the flat tire,” said Miguel, and then he stood there, gawking at me.
So I asked again, “Why are you following me?”
He shrugged. “Because.”
I gave him the meanest I’m-going-to-kick-your-butt-look, the same one my older sister gives me when I played the “because” routine on her. “Because why?” I growled.
Miguel twisted the toe of his shoe into the gravel. “I don’t have any friends.”
Nice, I thought. At least he was honest about it. Hmm, I thought Okay, so I don’t have a lot of friends either. Marcella, Mar for short, was the closest friend I had. Maybe Miguel knew that, but what should he care? I said, “You don’t have a lot of friends because you’re a dork.”
Miguel smiled and said, “I’m playing a game.”
“It’s called Follow Me, and you’re first so I have to follow you around. When it’s my turn, you follow me. See?”
I frowned. “It sounds stupid.”
Miguel laughed. He was a short kid, smaller than me, and I’m short to begin with. Even so, he had a very funny, big laugh. You wouldn’t forget it if you heard it. It was a fast, loud laugh like, “He, he, he-he-he, he-he-he, heeee.”
Miguel said, “It’s not a stupid game. It’s fun following you. You’re playing, and you don’t even know it.”
So that was why he tailed me across the playground. I hadn’t meant to play his stupid game. “You know what? You’re a dork.”
“Yeah, I know, but in the Follow Me game, I become what I follow. So, if I am, that’s because you are.”
It took a second for that to sink in. He just turned my insult back at me. This kid was tricky. I took a step closer to him and said, “Yeah, that’s really stupid. You’re a really, really stupid dork. Don’t you know that?”
“Yeah, I’m a really, really stupid dork, if you’re a really, really stupid dork.”
“You’re an idiot!”
“Yeah, I know. If you’re a really, really stupid idiot-dork, then I’m a . . . ”
I couldn’t take it anymore, and I grabbed Miguel by the arm, tucking him into a headlock. “Follow this!” I screamed, as I gave him my best, super-sized noogie.
Miguel squirmed and busted out laughing his idiotic laugh. I mean, he howled. The other kids turned around to look at us. Luckily, the recess monitor didn’t come runningand that was probably because Miguel sounded so happy. He was a total really, really stupid idiot-dork, and I told him so again and again, noogie after noogie.
“I am what you are! He, he, he-he-he, he-he-he, heeee . . .”
When I finally let him up, he snatched my hand and gave me a wrist burn I’ll never forget. It hurt. So we noogied and burnt each other until recess was over that day. The other kids and even Mar steered clear of us. I didn’t care. It was fun, and the next day Miguel and I decided to be best friends. We have been ever since.
And after all of that craziness, here we were, standing in front of Grumpy Ry’s tandem, Miguel’s hand resting on the bell.
“Don’t do it,” I warned, but it didn’t help.
When Miguel rung the bell, I didn’t know if I wanted to run or hide.
Miguel smiled so wide I could count his teeth. Maybe I should have punched him in his teeth, but instead I reached for the black bulb of the bike’s horn. If I was going to get into trouble for just standing here, why shouldn’t I have a bit of fun too? I squeezed.
Honk, honk, honkkkkkk!
“He, he, he-he-he, he-he-he, heeee.”
“Who do you think you are?” With his arms flailing like a demented scarecrow caught in a dust storm, Grumpy Ry flew out of his side screen door. He tried to slam the door behind him to get a crash, but he only got an “Umph.” Before he could finish saying, “Get your grubby, little hands—” the screen flew back open, slamming into him.
“Donald Rysill, if you ever slam a door on me again, you’ll be sorry you were born.” Mrs. Rysill stepped out of the house, one hand on the screen door and the other over her nose. Grumpy Ry stepped aside to let her out.
“Oh, Honey Bunches—”
“Ah!” She shushed him raising her index finger into the air. “I better not get a nose bleed.”
Nobody moved. I guess we were waiting to see if her nose would bleed. The space between the houses, where our driveways ran next to each other, acted like an echo chamber. Just a few seconds ago the tandem’s ringing and honking and our laughing filled the space. Now there was a deathly quiet. Was Mrs. Rysill’s nose bleeding?
Mrs. Rysill sniffed. Grumpy Ry winced. I sniffed, too, because of the dust and my allergies. Miguel giggled at me. I elbowed him. Geesh.
A sparrow hopping from the top of my garage to the top of the Rysill’s suddenly decided to chatter at us. Maybe he was saying, “Keep the noise down, you crazy, crazy nut jobs.” Miguel looked to the sparrow and then grinned at me. He probably thought the sparrow was saying, “Don’t stop the fireworks, more now, more now.”
Gurpmy Ry rubbed Mrs. Rysill’s back with one hand. “Dot, dear, I didn’t mean to.”
“Ah.” She rubbed her finger under her nose and then looked at it. No blood. “Don, you’re lucky this morning,” she said. “If you’re really lucky, I won’t find a bruise on my face tomorrow because if I do, I’m wringing this tandem around your neck.” The sparrow on the garage chirped and flew away. She continued, “In fact, about this tandem—these young men are lucky today, too. Aren’t they, dear?” She smiled at us and then at Grumpy Ry.
My heart skipped a beat. Was she going to let us ride the tandem? I held my breath.
“They don’t know how to ride it,” said Grumpy Ry, eyeing us. “It’s not like a regular bike. They have to work as a team riding a tandem. They’ll crash and ruin the paint job.” Notice that Grumpy Ry didn’t mention we could get hurt if we crashed—not that we ever would. With him it was always about stuff like his backyard, his car, his garage, and now, his tandem.
Mrs. Rysill shook her head and pointed to her nose and then to Grumpy Ry. He groaned, turned and stomped into his house like my sister might after not getting her way. Mrs. Rysill smiled at us. “Boys, would you like to give it a spin?”
Miguel whooped, but all I could do was nod. I couldn’t believe it. We were taking Grumpy Ry’s brand new tandem out for a spin. I moved out of the way as Mrs. Rysill and Miguel wheeled the bike around for our takeoff.
I stared at Miguel in wonder. He’d finagled us into fun adventures before, but this topped everything. Sometimes I joked with him that he was special because of his laugh and his stupid games like Follow Me, but maybe he really was special. I mean, in a good way, like he was magic or something. Maybe he was just really lucky on certain days, like today.
Grinning, Miguel pulled me to the side of the front seat. “You drive. I’ll follow.”
A Collision with a Yellow Bug, Big Red Gum, and Bad Omens
I jumped onto the front seat. “Thanks, Mrs. Rysill.”
Miguel jumped onto the back seat. “Yeah, thank you. This will be a blast.”
We rode down the driveway and made a wobbly right turn onto the sidewalk.
Mrs. Rysill called after us, “Have fun and be careful. Come back—oh, come back around supper time. I’ll tell your mom you’re out and about, riding the tandem.”
I told Miguel, “Mom won’t believe her.”
He completely ignored my comment and exclaimed, “We can ride all day.” And he whooped again. Ring-ring-ring!
I half-turned around to wave good-bye and I shouldn’t have, because we nearly tipped over.
“Aaahhh! Watch what you’re doing, Cam-moron! We need to work as a team. He, he, he-he-he. Mrs. Rysill rocks.”
She did. She liked kids. She more than made up for Grumpy Ry’s dislike of us. Every year she gave my sister and me a Christmas present and then later on, for our birthdays, she’d give us another present. She gave us special Halloween treats like the super-sized Snickers candy bars or a Ziploc bag stuffed full of homemade cookies. When she worked in her front yard, she always said hi or asked us how school was. Every so often, she would tell us funny stories about when she was in elementary school back up in Nova Scotia, Canada.
Now, Grumpy Ry, he was just mean. Once Grumpy Ry busted us after we snuck into his yard to get my Frisbee back. Boy, did he yell. He was so angry, his eyebrows went crazy. They were fat and white and moved around like some kind of fuzzy caterpillars. Miguel pointed and whispered to me, “His eyebrows are boxing.” And they were and we laughed. Pow! Bop! Boom-pow-pow! I mean, they were way too fun to watch. Grumpy Ry shouted at us to leave his yard, but we couldn’t.
Then Miguel said out loud, “Cam, I bet you a dollar his right eyebrow wins.” Well, Grumpy Ry heard that and figured out why we were laughing and blew his top.
“Making fun? Let’s see what your parents have to say.” Grumpy Ry marched past us straight for my house. Knocking hard on our kitchen screen door, he must have spooked my parents because both of them answered. Mr. Rysill tattled on us, shouting the whole time, “If I’ve told these boys once, I’ve told them a thousand times to STAY OUT OF MY YARD!” I thought he’d never stop. Dad’s frown pretty much signaled I would be grounded for life, but my Mom looked as if she was about to cry, and that worried me. Was my Frisbee worth making her cry?
After Grumpy Ry left, I stared at my shoes. I didn’t know what to do. Sometimes if I talked or moved the wrong direction when I was in trouble, I could make things worse. Miguel knew this too. We had been in enough trouble together to know that even looking at each other could bring extra trouble.
“Get in here,” Dad grumbled. He was wound up. His right eye twitched like he was sending a secret message in Morse code. “You almost gave Grumpy Ry a heart attack, or maybe a stroke.”
“Don’t call Don ‘Grumpy Ry,’ Jim,” Mom said, giving Dad the same you’re-in-trouble look she gave us. “You boys need to respect our neighbors. What did I tell you about listening to Mr. Rysill? Huh?”
Before we could answer, she kept talking, which was never good. It meant she had a lot to say, and she wanted to get it all out before she forgot anything. Even so, I was glad she wasn’t crying. Mom continued, “He’s worked hard all his life. He deserves his peace and quiet.”
My older sister, Julia, stood behind my parents and pulled faces and waved her finger at Miguel and me. She would have gotten in trouble too, if only Mom or Dad had caught her doing it. I hated my sister and referred to her as JJ, “Julia the Jerk.” She hated me too, so it was mutual.
By the time Mom finished her talk, Dad’s eye had stopped twitching. He didn’t say another word. He probably figured, like me, that Mom had said everything there was to say about the matter, twice. Mom sent Miguel home. “I’m going to call your Aunt Lucy,” she told him as he slouched past the screen door, giving me a halfhearted wave good-bye. “She needs to know.” Straight away, Mom had Miguel’s aunt on the phone.
Miguel had parents, but they fought too much and were getting a divorce or something, and he lived with his Aunt Lucy. Miguel hadn’t told me the whole story. He didn’t talk about his parents. The thing I know for sure was that he wished his Aunt Lucy was his real mom. “She loves me, you know,” he said to me, like if I didn’t believe him he would punch me. I believed him.
After riding the tandem a few blocks, Miguel and I stopped wobbling and fell into a rhythm. On that super-hot desert morning, the wind felt cool on my face. I was having a blast, and I couldn’t stop smiling.
It was fun to look down and watch our feet pedal at the same time. “Look at our feet,” I said to Miguel.
“Cool, but if you’re not driving, let me.”
“I’m driving. I’m driving.” I stopped looking at our feet.
After we cranked our speed I shouted, “Coast!” We peddled backward as fast as we could. Of course we didn’t move backward, but we probably looked like nut jobs pretending. We practiced our swerving maneuvers by switching from the sidewalk to the street and back to the sidewalk again. Keeping our balance was the key.
We must have looked smooth, the whole mile point five, because people in cars and yards smiled and pointed at us like they had never seen a tandem before. Mrs. Wong, who’d never talked or smiled at us before, even waved at us. Gee, I thought, when we ride our regular bikes, people ignore us or nearly run us over.
Before Miguel and I had a chance to test the brakes, a yellow Volkswagen Bug jerked to a dead stop right in our path.
The lady in the passenger’s seat pointed crazily up through the windshield of the car like she was arguing with the driver, but she should have been pointing at us because we were going to crash into her door speeding a hundred miles an hour. I slammed on the brakes. The squeal of our tires filled my ears and the whole world slowed down. I noticed clouds rolling in the sky. I noticed the lady had her black hair tied into a bun. She looked at me, and boy, was she beautiful. Her dark blue eyes locked with mine. She winked at me with a crooked grin, and in that wink it suddenly occurred to me that she had planned this crash. But why? I didn’t even know her. I had never seen her before. I would have remembered her because she was so beautiful. In the next instant I realized we were going to wreck Grumpy Ry’s tandem. I wanted to throw up the five waffles and orange juice I had for breakfast, but instead I could only scream, “Ahhh!”
With a thud we hit the car door and then bounced back.
“Cam, we’re dead!” Miguel shouted.
I looked around. A long, dark skid mark stained the sidewalk and a tire mark marred the dented car door. We jumped off the tandem, accidentally letting it fall over. I couldn’t help but stare in disbelief at the lady. Normal people flinched when their car door was hit, or at least they’d holler or something. She hadn’t moved, and now she ignored us, only staring at her hands. She spun a silver ring around and around her finger.
Suddenly my t-shirt grew tight around my neck. Miguel shouted, “Let him go!” By the back of my shirt someone pulled me onto my tiptoes. I tried to turn around to see who was doing it, but it hurt my neck to wriggle around. I heard the birds squawking and the wind rustling the palm trees. Pushed aside and let go, I spun around to look at my captor and lost my balance and fell backward onto my butt. From the ground I stared up at the tallest guy I had ever seen. He wore blue jeans and a yellow Hawaiian shirt with white flowers. His black hair gleamed in the flickering sunlight and on the ends of his long, bushy, braided beard were small blue ribbons. His red, sunburnt face grimaced at me. His wild, frightening black eyes sent a shiver down my back and clear to my toes. He didn’t say a word, but if he did he might have said, “I’m not the Devil, but would I tell you if I were?” The man growled when he looked at Miguel. I swallowed.
The beautiful lady rolled down her window and said, “See, Ed? The storm’s right on time. You should know better than to doubt me.” She gave him the warmest smile. I say warm because her smile made me feel good, too, even after all that had just happened. It made me forget that a storm was about to hit Apache Junction and that Miguel and I had just crashed Grumpy Ry’s tandem. I couldn’t think of anything except her. Who was she? She had to be a model or a movie star.
The big guy squatted beside her door and only glared back at her. I wondered if he had bad breath. I mean, he looked like the type of person who would. He pumped his fingers into fists low to the ground. He had a long white scar on top of his right hand. His arms were bulked like a WWE wrestler’s. What was he going to do? Was he angry with her because we dented his car? Because she made him stop in front of us? Was he going to sucker-punch her? I wasn’t sure, but I had to stop him.
“Leave her alone—it’s not her fault!”
The man didn’t bother looking at me, but his hands stopped pumping.
The lady laughed. Looking over to me, her eyes sparkled and her smile widened. I felt a frog in my throat and heat on my ears. The scent of strawberry and vanilla wafted over me. I wondered if there was ice cream melting in the car’s back seat. I had seen grocery bags back there. “You’re my hero,” she said, not in a mean or sarcastic way. “Or soon will be,” and she winked at me again.
I couldn’t help myself and grinned back at her. The big guy grunted. Miguel frowned and came over to stand next to me. “Cam, get up. Let’s go.”
The man swung back his fists, intending to hit something. I panicked, flipped onto my belly, and scrambled to my feet, facing home and ready to sprint for help. I figured he was going to hit her. Then came the Bang! I took off running, but I heard Miguel say, “Wow, that was way cool.”
Confused and curious I slid to a stop and turned around. The lady was fine. She was looking down at the car door. The dent was gone. Had he popped it out? I walked back to get a closer look. With his bare hand, the big guy rubbed off our tandem’s tire mark from the car door. When he stood up, sure enough, the door looked fine.
She said, “Like new,” and ran her hand along the outside of the door like she was buffing a fresh coat of wax. “We have only minutes before the Queen arrives. We shouldn’t be late.”
This lady worked for a queen? I knew there was something about her. I nudged Miguel, but he only scrunched his nose at me.
The big guy nodded to her and then turned to tower over Miguel and me. He squinted his eyes, pursed his lips, and pumped his fingers into fists again. The white scar on his hand seemed to squirm like a worm.
I looked from him to the tandem and tasted waffles in my throat again. I decided right then to never eat another waffle. Although the tandem’s front tire still looked round, I was sure we scratched the bike when we accidentally let it tip over.
“Leave the boys, Ed,” said the lady.
As fast as swatting a fly, the big guy reached around and grabbed us by the backs of our t-shirts. He knocked our heads together.
“Ouch!” cried Miguel.
Right then, I was too scared to say anything.
The big guy leaned in close like we were in a football huddle. He looked at us, nodded toward the car door and said a low, gruff voice, “You’ve crossed me, and I’m a dangerous man . . . Go home to your mother and pray to God you never do it again.”
When he let go of me, I felt like I had grown an inch taller.
The wind had stopped rustling the palms and the birds had stopped squawking. The man walked around the front of the Bug to the driver’s side. When he got in, it sank an inch. How he fit all of himself in, I don’t know. A big guy like that didn’t seem to belong in such a tiny car. It made me wonder if it didn’t belong to the lady. He started the car and sped off, burning rubber. Watching them zip down the road, I noticed the Bug’s Nevada license plate.
Miguel asked, “Was he chewing Big Red?”
I rubbed the back of my neck. “Yeah, it smelled like it.”
Already back to his happy-go-lucky self, Miguel snickered.
I asked, “What?”
“A big, ugly guy with ribbons in his beard should have big, ugly guy breath, but he chewed Big Red. That’s kind of cool. Got any gum?” Miguel held out his palm.
“No, and there was nothing cool about that big guy.” I righted the tandem.
“It was cool how he popped the dent out of the door.”
“Yeah, but besides the gum and the door, was he really that cool?”
“No, but I think I’ve seen him before . . . on America’s Most Wanted.” He grinned.
Checking the tandem for damage, I found a double L-shaped scratch on the side of the rubber handle bar. Worried that Grumpy Ry would see it, I tried to rub it out, but it stubbornly remained. I showed Miguel the scratch and then said, “The lady didn’t jump when we hit her door.”
“She didn’t? I would have peed my pants. I nearly peed crashing into them.”
“Did you notice how pretty—”
Miguel finished my sentence, “She was? Yes. I also noticed how you kept staring at her. Is she your girlfriend?”
“You dork.” I punched his shoulder. “It was weird how she didn’t jump or flinch. It’s like—”
“I bet she’s a model.” Miguel pretended to flip long hair over his shoulder.
“That’s my sister.” I laughed. JJ was forever flipping her hair.
Miguel dusted off his seat. “I bet Ed, the gorilla, is her bodyguard.”
“Probably.” I pinched the front tire. There was plenty of air in it and I was so glad that we didn’t pop the tire’s inner tube. “The front tire seems okay. Let’s see if we can make it to Luigi’s Market before it starts to rain.” I jumped on. Luigi’s Market was a store on Tracy Road. It was a little store like a 7-Eleven or a Circle K, but it didn’t sell gas.
Miguel climbed onto his seat. “I think I want some Big Red. I haven’t had it for a long time.”
Just before we hit a good rhythm, Miguel squeaked and slapped me between the shoulder blades. I braked. Miguel jumped off the bike and—like a madman—took off his t-shirt. “Ahhh!”
“Bees? Wasps?” I asked. “Killer bees?” I didn’t see any circling around. In fact, the sky directly above us was freakishly cloud free again, but I knew better. The birds hardly peeped, meaning they had found a safe place to hide from the coming storm and were ready for it. I hoped we could make it to Luigi’s Market, but if we got caught in the rain, it would be fun. Then again, we were riding Grumpy Ry’s tandem, so maybe we should have gone home.
Miguel examined the back of his t-shirt. Satisfied, he put it back on and came over to me. “He put a skull and crossbones on the back of your t-shirt, Cam.”
“Ed, the big guy. Right here.” Miguel poked my back at the base of my neck. “It wasn’t there before the crash—I know. It’s a skull. It’s creepy.” Miguel traced it with his finger. “And these are crossbones.” He crisscrossed over the spot. Irritated that we weren’t on our way to Luigi’s Market, I reached over my shoulder and wiped at it like it were a horsefly. Miguel didn’t like that and lamely joked, “You have eyes on your fingers?” Miguel sounded spooked and looked green, and I didn’t like that, so I took off my t-shirt.
Sure enough, I could see the skull and crossbones. But how could that be? It was a clean shirt; I just took it out of my dresser that morning. The half skull creeped me out too, but I lied hoping it would settle Miguel down and said, “That doesn’t look like a skull at all.”
Miguel outlined the skull with his finger for me. “Here’s the eye socket. Here’s the jawbone. Here are teeth. And these are crossbones.”
Again, I could see plain as day what he was talking about. “Maybe,” I conceded and tried to wipe it off. It smeared a little, but it didn’t go away.
Miguel said in total seriousness, “It’s an omen, Cam. A bad omen.”
“You dork,” I said, and then I caught my breath. I wondered if Miguel was right. What the heck was this black stuff on my shirt?
Then it came to me. I said, “It’s tire guck, Miguel. You saw big guy wipe it off the car door. He wiped it on my back to clean his hand—the jerk. Let’s go.”
“Yeah, that’s it,” said Miguel, but he stood there, not relieved in the least. Earnestly he said, “It’s still there, isn’t it? In the form of a skull and crossbones. I think you’re a marked man, Cameron.” Miguel stood there trying to dig the toe of his shoe into the sidewalk. “Maybe we should go home . . . Ed told us to go home.
I shook my head, trying to shake off Miguel’s bad omen stuff. I said, “Ed? We don’t even know who Ed is. Why didn’t the lady scream or jump when we ran into her door? Miguel, they stopped right in front of us on purpose.”
“That’s probably true,” said Miguel, tilting his head. After considering it for a few seconds, he nodded and finally smiled. “Maybe they were planning to sue us if we wrecked their Bug, but you stopped too fast for them.”
I put my hand out for a high five. Grinning, he slapped it.
I asked, “Do you still want to go home?”
Miguel jumped onto his seat. “No way. You know we’ll never get another chance to ride this.” He rang the bell. Ring-ring. Ring-ring!
I went to pull on my t-shirt, but Miguel snagged it away. I protested, “Let me put it on.” In Arizona, even the morning sun burned you.
“No, it creeps me out. I don’t want to stare at it. Keep it off or let me drive.”
I jerked my shirt away from him, turned it inside out, and slipped it on. “Better?”
“Yes, but I still want to drive.” Ring-ring! Ring-ring!
“Let’s make it to Luigi’s Market first.”
“All right, and then I’ll drive to Mar’s.” Ring-ring! Ring-ring!
Apache Junction is a small desert town located at the base of the Superstition Mountains. There weren’t a whole lot of places for kids to go or things for us to do. We had two movie theaters. The three-dollar movies were the best because they were cheap, but also because Sean Walker gave me free popcorn. He had a crush on my sister.
We didn’t have far to go to get to Luigi’s Market, but the wind returned with a vengeance and pushed against us. I tried to pick up the pace. Suddenly, sand stung my eyes. I glanced to the sky. “Faster!” I shouted. “Gigantica haboob—faster, faster!” A huge tidal wave of sand headed straight for us. I had never seen a dust storm that big.
“I am! I am!” Miguel shouted back.
Our feet blurred in a whirl. I was barely able to keep my eyes open when we finally made it to Luigi’s Market.
“Guys, hurry!” called Mar squinting and jumping up and down with her white-blond head poked around the glass door.
“Hey ya, Mar!” Miguel called back.
Her new lime-green bike was already locked in the bike rack. I always locked my bike, too. Once your bike was stolen, you never let it happen again.
We stopped and jumped off the tandem. I said, “We don’t have a lock. Let’s take it in.” Miguel shrugged and helped me heft the tandem up the one step and onto the porch. He held open the door. As I brought it in, Luigi shouted, “Don’t bring it in! Close the door—sand all over my donuts!”
“Please, Luigi,” I begged. “This is Grumpy Ry’s tandem. We don’t want it to get stolen. We don’t have a lock.”
Luigi frowned, crinkling his wrinkles, but he waved his hand as if saying Bring it in if you have to, you knuckleheads. “Why do you lie to me, Cameron Wrangler? If it were Grumpy Ry’s bike, you wouldn’t be riding it.”
“Yeah,” agreed Mar, giving me a suspicious look.
“It’s true,” chimed Miguel, nodding vigorously.
Luigi sighed and pointed his beefy finger for me to park the tandem in front of the shelves with the engine oil and windshield fluid. “I never thought of you boys as thieves. Maybe I should watch you more closely.”
“We’re not lying,” I said offended, and I set the kickstand.
“Well, it’s not a believable story, Cam,” said Mar. She took a swallow of her lime-green Icee. Mar loved anything lime-green, food and otherwise. “I can think of better stories.”
“Oh my,” said Luigi as he raced around the counter tightening his apron around his large, bouncing stomach. He stopped next to Miguel and Mar. I joined them, and the four of us stood in front of the market’s rattling glass doors watching the red wind carry garbage and tumbleweed down the street.
“This might as well be the surface of Mars,” said Mar.
“Except for the garbage,” I said.
The doors rattled violently, threatening to fly open. Luigi simply reached out and turned the lock on the right door, securing them shut. He turned the open sign in the window so it read closed on the outside.
“What if someone wants in?” Miguel asked.
Or wants out, I thought. I looked around the store. We were the only ones in there, as far as I could tell.
“I don’t care,” Luigi said. “Only a fool would get out of his car now.”
Unlike other haboobs, this one made people pay attention. They actually stopped driving and pulled over to the side of the road. Some even turned on their hazard lights.
“Oh my, MY,” Luigi laughed after a particularly strong gust of wind hurtled the huge white letter H from the face of the newly built HeapsMart across the street. It crashed into the freshly paved parking lot and disintegrated, blowing away. “Serves them right,” he said. “That store will take away my business. A full page in today’s newspaper announced their official grand opening. They’re opening today? Ha! Two people went inside that store today. Two.” He held up two fingers. “Other than that, I haven’t seen a soul over there for three weeks—I’ve been watching. And you kids know, I see everything.” He raised an eyebrow and nodded once. His double chin wiggled like Jell-O. “I know everything going on in this town. Trust me. They need staff for that store, lots of people. Who’s going to work there, across the street?” He pointed with his thumb. “I’ve asked everyone who’s come into my store. Still, nobody knows. Nobody has a family member or a friend or even an acquaintance working there. Not one person in Apache Junction has seen an advertisement for a job over there.” He pulled a hanky out of his apron and wiped sweat off of his brow, even though it wasn’t warm in the store. I thought it was actually too cold.
“How can HeapsMart open without workers?” asked Mar. She took another sip of her Icee.
“They can’t, unless Nobody the Ghost rings up customers. So, there will be no grand opening today. No free ice cream. Ha, ha!”
“No free ice cream?” Miguel lamented.
Parked on the far side of the HeapsMart parking lot was a familiar-looking car. A shiver raced down my back. “Miguel,” I asked, “is that a yellow Volkswagen Bug?”
I pointed. Miguel pressed his nose against the glass and squinted his eyes like it would help him see better. It was getting harder and harder to see anything.
“Yes, it’s a Bug,” said Mar. “The guy driving tried to run over a pigeon in the parking lot. How could someone be so mean?”
Luigi said, “A big guy climbed out. How he fit in that thing and drove, I don’t know.”
“A lady was with him? A pretty dark-haired lady?” I asked.
“Cam lost his girlfriend,” Miguel said, pretending to be totally serious.
“Yes,” said Luigi, “a woman was with him.” Miguel and I exchanged looks. “They arrived just before the storm.”
I caught Miguel glancing at the back of my t-shirt. He crossed his fingers, probably trying to keep the stupid bad omen away.
Mar saw him look so she looked at my back too. “Why is your t-shirt on inside out?”
“I’ll tell you later,” I said. I wanted to hear what else Luigi had to say about the lady.
“They went in through that little side door,” Luigi pointed to the far side of the building, “and carried a bunch of grocery bags inside. Those were the only people I saw go in there today. To be honest, with no end to truck deliveries all April, I don’t know how they could carry more stuff in there.”
The sky was completely sand-covered. I felt a little panicky and wondered if Grumpy Ry was driving around looking for his tandem. I should call Mrs. Rysill, I thought. I should call home, too. A tumbleweed as big as a shopping cart sped down the road. It must have rolled in from the deep desert.
“Ahhhh!” screamed Miguel. “Look at the size of that dust devil.”
“It’s a tornado,” said Mar.
The dust devil was gigantic, and others followed behind it. Dust devils were basically whirlwinds, but normally they weren’t that big. But then again, neither were our dust storms. Somewhere I had heard that the Navajo believed dust devils were spirits. If they spun clockwise, they were good spirits. If they spun counterclockwise, they were bad. Watching the flying debris, I could tell these dust devils spun counterclockwise. More bad omens.
Super-Sized Dust Devils Attack Apache Junction
The Domino’s Pizza sign broke away from the top of the parked car and flew down the road. Everybody laughed, except for Mar. She set her Icee on a stack of Dr. Pepper twelve-packs and crossed her arms, shivering.
“Don’t worry, Mar,” said Luigi. “Those are dust devils, not tornados, but they’re not called devils for nothing. These are just super-sized dust devils. Everything will be fine. Listen, you kiddos have a free Icee on me today.”
Mar jumped and squeezed my arm as the rest of the large HeapsMart letters flew off and crashed in the parking lot. Boom! Kaboom-boom-boom-boom-boom!
No one laughed at this.
Luigi said, “We should all go to the back room,” as he walked away. “It’ll be safer there. Let me lock the register. Get your Icees.”
“Thanks,” said Mar, halfheartedly. She whispered to me, “I already paid for mine.”
“Get another one.”
Mar shook her head pointing to her abandoned Icee. “I can’t finish that one.”
Through the glass door we watched the driver from the pizza delivery car climb out and run over to us. He pulled on the doors. “Hey, dudes! Let me in.”
“Don’t let him in!” Luigi shouted from behind his register, locking it. “The wind will catch the door and break it and I don’t want any more sand in here. Tell that fool to go back to his car. It will all be over in minutes. It always is.”
“Dudes, help me.” The skinny guy was shouting again like he was about to cry.
Miguel had already gone for his Icee, and Mar, she adjusted her glasses, cocked her eyebrow, and waited for me to do something.
“Let me in, please?” the pizza driver asked. I would want someone to let me in, too, if I was out there in the storm. Plus, the guy was so afraid he was shaking . . . so I turned the lock and opened the door. The right door snapped open caught in the wind just like Luigi had warned it would. The guy rushed in and ran straight for the back of the store. “Thanks, dudes.” Tons of sand and even a tumbleweed followed him in.
“Close the door—my donuts!” Luigi shouted as he raced back around the counter. “Why do I bother to tell you what to do, Cameron Wrangler? I know darn well you won’t listen.”
Together, Mar and I struggled to pull the door shut. By the time Luigi got to us, all he had to do was turn the lock. The doors were secured.
“You knuckleheads,” scolded Luigi, and he stopped to look at what had caught Mar’s attention. She gasped and held her finger to the glass, pointing.
What I saw, I would never forget for the rest of my life. High on top of the dust devils sailed an old-fashioned ship, a galleon. Its glowing green sails were stretched full to their limits. A small sail at the top of the front mast ripped away and flapped loose, ruining a perfect image. At the back of the massive ship, a huge black flag with a devil skeleton snapped in the wind. A pirate ship surfed dust devils to Apache Junction? It couldn’t be true. It seemed all wrong. I rubbed my eyes. There was so much sand everywhere, it must have seeped into my brain. When I looked again the ship was still there, but it had turned and was heading straight for us. It disappeared when the sand erased it from our view, but then seconds later, it faded back.
“I don’t believe what I’m seeing,” said Luigi. “It’s devilry.”
I looked to Mar, and when she looked to me with the same surprise and awe I had, I knew we had both seen the pirate ship. The wind whistled between the locked doors and I heard a thud behind us. I glanced back. Miguel had dropped his Icee and it had splashed everywhere. I could smell raspberry. Miguel stared out the doors with huge, round eyes. Just then, a dust devil crashed into the side of Luigi’s Market. The building moaned. The glass doors wobbled. At that point, the sand was so thick that the doors looked like they were painted red. Something hit the left one, and it cracked. The crack expanded, creeping down the door like a spider web.
“In the back, now!” shouted Luigi. He muttered a Hail Mary as he rounded us up. In a rush, I accidentally sloshed through Miguel’s spilled Icee. I felt the wet seeping through the side of my sneaker.
Luigi shouted at the pizza driver, “You, too!”
“Dude, do you see that ghost-ship?” asked the pizza guy. “It’s flying straight at us.”
Luigi said, “You saw nothing. It was garbage blowing in the wind, or somebody’s mobile home most likely. Now move.”
He ushered us into his back room. After we were all inside, Luigi lunged at the door, locking it and jumping away like it was a hot potato. That got under my skin. I mean, it seemed like he locked it not to keep the storm out, but more like to keep the pirate ship out.
Miguel, Mar, and I huddled together in Luigi’s well-lit backroom. His desk and the full-sized safe stood against the inside wall. The rest of the storeroom was filled with shelves and boxes. The back wall housed the loading dock and an emergency exit. This was all new to us. Luigi had never let us back there before.
Mar pushed Miguel’s chin up, closing his mouth. “Your tongue grosses me out,” she said.
Miguel looked blankly at her. “Did you see what I saw?”
Mar and I nodded. The pizza driver nodded, too, as he sat fidgeting on supply boxes.
Luigi sat at his desk and picked up his telephone. He pushed the tab up and down a few times and then hung up. “I thought I’d call my great aunt to make sure she was okay, but the phone’s dead,” he said. “May I borrow one of your cell phones?”
All three of us pulled out our phones. I gave mine to Luigi.
“Sorry, old dude. I can’t afford a cell today, but ask me tomorrow,” said the pizza driver. Awkwardly, he fumbled with something behind his back.
“I should call home and let my parents know we’re okay,” said Mar.
“Me, too,” said Miguel. He stared at his phone and punched the power button a few times. “No way, it’s dead. I guess I forgot to charge it last night.”
Luigi said, “Cameron, it’s searching. I can’t get a signal.” He passed it back to me.
“Mine, too,” said Mar. “It must be the dust storm. I’m turning it off. If it just keeps searching for a signal, the battery will die.”
Another dust devil hit the store. The lights blinked twice and then went out. The back room, without windows, was pitch black. The howling wind tore around the store. It was spooky and I laughed nervously. I felt like I was in a haunted house. I couldn’t help but laugh again.
“Don’t worry, and be still,” said Luigi. “I’ve got back-up power. I don’t want you knocking things over and hurting yourselves.”
A second later, the emergency light flickered on. It spotlighted the skinny pizza driver. Looking at his battered watch and speaking through a mouthful of food, he complained, “For the first time in my life I go to work early, and I’m still going to be late. Dudes, I won’t ever go in early again.”
“Do you work at the Apache Junction Domino’s?” asked Mar. “That’s my favorite pizza, Dominos.”
“No, I worked in Tempe, but I quit and took this last week off because I start my new job today making twenty-five dollars an hour.”
“Twenty-five dollars an hour—all right,” said Miguel.
“Yeah, little dude, it’s all right,” cheered the pizza driver.
Mar asked, “Where do you work now?”
“I’m supposed to start across the street at the new HeapsMart.”
Luigi had been nervously pacing and wiping his forehead every few seconds, but after hearing that, he spun around and asked, “You said you were going to be late for work at the HeapsMart across the street?”
“Yeah, like I start at ten a.m., but I got lost coming here, and then this storm hit. Usually these storms last a minute or two, but this one’s like fresh wax: sticking around for a while.”
Luigi walked over to stand directly in front of the pizza driver. “It’s 9:50. You still have time to make it. Tell me, what’s your name?”
“Chad, old dude. What’s it to you? Why are you getting in my face all of a sudden?”
“If you quit Domino’s, then why did you still have their sign on top of your car?”
“Um, well . . .” He looked sideways at Luigi. “I don’t have it any more. Do I? Ha,” he said and busted out laughing.
“Those signs cost money!” Luigi shouted at him.
“What do you care, old dude? Back off, Wrinkles!”
“How long did you work for Domino’s? Two weeks? Three?”
“I got a pay check.”
“Don’t expect another one. They’ll keep it to pay for the sign you stole.”
Chad recoiled. “Who are you? The IRS? Or just a nosey old dude with a crappy little store?”
“Actually,” Luigi rolled back on his heels and tucked his thumbs under his apron, “I’m undercover FBI. You owe me a dollar and eight cents for the Suzy Q you ate without paying for when the lights went out. I watched you take it off my shelf on our way back here.”
“No, you didn’t,” argued Chad as he tugged on his tight, new, green uniform shirt, which was buttoned all the way to the top. He seemed to be missing a tie. “I didn’t eat no stupid Suzy Q. I hate Suzy Qs!”
I joined the argument by asking, “Then what are those black crumbs around your mouth from?” I liked Suzy Qs. I knew exactly what their crumbs looked like, and how they tasted.
Chad jumped off the boxes and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He looked at the crumbs and defiantly dusted them from his hand to the floor. “What crumbs?”
Luigi reached around Chad and he ducked, probably thinking Luigi was going to punch him. Luigi produced the Suzy Q wrapper that had been lying on top of the boxes behind Chad. Luigi held it in front of the guy’s face.
“I didn’t eat that Suzy Q—the little dude did. He came over here when the lights went out and planted the wrapper. Bad little dude, bad!”
“Liar!” Miguel shouted. “You’re a zit-faced liar!”
“Miguel, calm down. I know the truth,” said Luigi. “I’ll make you a deal, Chad. The Suzy Q is on the house, if you tell me one thing.”
Chad crossed his arms and rubbed his chin. “Okay. Sounds fair. One question, then.”
“No, I want to know two things, maybe three,” Luigi said. “I’ve changed my mind.”
Chad scoffed. “No, I won’t tell you a thing now because I just changed my mind, too.” He laughed.
“Tell me what I need to know, or I’ll arrange to have a Mr. Chad D. Smith of Tempe, Arizona, arrested for stealing a two-hundred-dollar Domino’s car sign and a dollar-eight Suzy Q.”
“What? How did you know my last name? I only told you my first name. Are you really FBI?”
Miguel pointed on himself where a name tag would be if he were wearing a uniform, and then he pointed to the pizza driver. Mar and I looked over and saw, like Miguel, that the guy was wearing a name tag. What a dork. He didn’t realize Luigi had read his name tag. The three of us snickered.
Luigi asked quickly and forcefully like an FBI agent on TV would, “How did you find out about the job at the new HeapsMart?”
“HeapsMart called me two weeks ago and interviewed me over the phone.”
“I see. Of course they would call an outstanding Tempe citizen like you out of the blue for a twenty-five-dollar-an-hour retail job.”
“With full benefits and a free pair of glasses, if I want them.”
Luigi raised an eyebrow. “Sure, with a free pair of glasses,” he repeated, stretching his arms out in mock surprise. He winked at us and continued, “Here’s my second question: is that your uniform?”
“Yeah, and no more questions. That was your two,” said Chad.
“Two’s all I needed,” Luigi said. “Thank you.” And he jabbed his finger into the pizza driver’s name tag.
“Oh, I forgot about that.” The pizza driver tilted the tag up trying to read it upside-down. “That’s how you knew my name. You’re not FBI, old dude. You’re just an old chubby dude, old dude.” He pushed a finger into Luigi’s belly.
Luigi stepped back and said, “An old dude who can read. Try it sometime. What’s Freebooter’s Paradise? Why wouldn’t your name tag say HeapsMart?”
Chad tilted the tag up again to look at it. “I have no idea. I’ve never heard of Freebooter’s Paradise.”
“Could it be the department you’ll work in?” Mar offered, being the best shopper among us. “And thanks for answering three questions instead of two.”
I held my fist up, and we knocked knuckles.
Luigi cocked his head. “Shh, listen.”
“There’s no wind,” said Miguel.
“That’s a good sign,” said Luigi. “There’s thunder, but no wind.”
I heard something else, too. It was faint. Voices. Shouting?
Chad, so ready to get away, bolted to the storeroom door and unlocked it. We ran after him as he raced to the double front doors and unlocked them, too. Surprisingly, the cracked glass of the left door was still in the door frame. The pizza guy stood in awe of the sight across the street. We piled together on the porch.
Against black, lightning-filled thunderclouds, the pirate ship sat with its left side against the HeapsMart entrance. The ship was taller than the building, but the building was longer so the small side door on the far right was still visible. The galleon’s railings were painted gold. A threatening row of cannons loomed out from the side. Everything was soaked, and the bottom of the hull was stripped raw of paint. The wind had died and the huge pirate flag hung limp. Lightning flashed, followed by thunder, and another downpour threatened any second.
“Holy cow,” whispered Miguel.
Pirates sang as they lowered the sails and adjusted the riggings. I wondered if, up close, they looked like they sounded, tough and mean.
To the mast nail our flag, it’s dark as the grave,
Or the death which it bears while it sweeps o’er the wave;
It shall never be lowered, Blackbeard’s flag we bear,
If the sea be denied us, we sweep through the air.
I come, as the lightening comes red from above,
O’er the race that I loathe, to the battle I love.
At the end of this verse a woman’s laugh rung as clear as a bell. I wondered if it belonged to the beautiful lady. Was she there, not of her own will? She said I was her hero, or I soon would be. I couldn’t be any kind of hero—I was just a kid. The more I thought about her, the more I had to wonder was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life working for pirates?
The people who had parked their cars temporarily at the side of the road for the dust storm continued on their way. Why they didn’t drive into HeapsMart to check out the pirate ship I didn’t know, but I knew I was going to take a closer look.
Someone on the galleon fired a gun. Luigi fell back against the store windows and held his hand over his heart. His eyes bulged and his head swiveled, trying to spot the shooter. After a couple of seconds I realized Luigi wasn’t hurt—and that was great—but his reaction to the gunshot freaked me out.
The pirates had stopped singing, and a booming voice called, “Look sharp about it . . . heave, heave ho!” And a sixty-foot-long sign resembling a huge piece of driftwood flew up from the deck to hang in the air. A roar of grunts erupted from the pirates towing the ropes.
“Heave, me hearties, to the bow and then aft here around the outside.”
They swung the sign forward and then came back around the outside of the ship’s riggings to return suspended over the side of the ship. Before it steadied, the sign dipped and bumped against the row of cannons. A lightning bolt lit up the sky, and when its thunder followed, I jumped, thinking for a split second that it was cannon fire.
“Sweet, merciful heaven! Hold your dear tight!”
“Aye, aye, sir,” answered the crew.
“Raise her two feet, balance, and tie her off—be quick about it!”
“Aye, aye, sir!”
Splashed across the unusual sign were huge, red, glowing metallic letters. Luigi read them out loud, “Freebooter’s Paradise.” Mar read the smaller, lime-green letters that were underneath, “Plunder, Parcels, Pets, Pests, and Pawn.”
“That must be my department,” Chad said as he jumped from the porch and walked to his car. He didn’t seem afraid to be going over there. In fact he seemed brave. “I might make it on time after all.”
I am a huge pirate fan, and I was curious to see the ship up close because it looked like a real pirate ship. Suddenly, I wanted to go with him and it took all I had to stay back.
Just then a few cars turned into the HeapsMart parking lot and sped to the corner where the yellow Bug was parked. The people getting out of the cars wore green uniforms and walked over to stand near the pirate ship. A really short pirate lady seemed to be organizing them.
It started to sprinkle. We stood there gawking at the pirate ship that seemed completely amazing and somehow menacing as well.
Luigi wrapped his left hand around a porch pole and stepped down into the rain. He cupped his right hand around his mouth and shouted to those people gathering in the HeapsMart parking lot, “Don’t go in—it’s devilry. Today’s the end of time. The apocalypse begins!”
Miguel whispered, “I think Luigi’s lost it.”
“Maybe he’s right,” said Mar. “This is all incredible. I still don’t believe my eyes.”
A red Saturn swerved off the road and into our parking lot. It skidded to a halt close to us. Too close. I thought Luigi was about to become roadkill. The driver rolled down his window. He looked like a normal guy—I mean, he didn’t look like a hit-and-run type of guy. In a Southern accent he said to Luigi, “Calm down, man. Hel-ee-copters, four of them, carried the ship in.” He shifted his eyes as if someone might be watching and said in a quieter voice, “I heard it was a publicity stunt for the new store’s grand opening.” He pointed with his elbow to the HeapsMart, keeping his hands on the steering wheel like he had to speed off any second. “Too bad the dust storm ruined it. Thousands of dollars down the drain if nobody saw it. Oh well, as they say, money’s made to be spent. Didn’t you see the hel-ee-copters?”
“How could you see anything in that storm?” demanded Luigi.
“I didn’t see the hel-ee-copters myself,” the man said. “But I heard them. Now don’t tell me you didn’t hear them.”
“I’m not telling you a thing,” said Luigi, crossing his arms. I could tell Luigi didn’t like this guy.
The man gave Luigi a false-sounding laugh and then asked, “Are y’all going to the grand opening at noon?”
“No,” said Luigi.
“I wouldn’t miss it if I were you,” the guy said. “This store is the likes of which the world has never seen.” This guy reminded me of a used car salesman, the kind you always see on TV, ripping people off.
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” replied Luigi, dryly.
“I’m driving there right now to find a good parking spot, in the shade. It’s as hot as Hades around here.”
I glanced across the street. Typical Arizona, there were no trees in the parking lot.
He continued, “We’re—I mean—they’re having incredible sales today.” He eyed the three of us and added, “There’ll be free ice cream for children.”
“Free ice cream? Oh yeah—the free ice cream,” Miguel repeated happily.
“You bet. Tell your brothers and sisters about it. Older teens with a driver’s license get a free music CD of their choice. You see, teenagers can drive their friends to our store. I mean, the new store.”
Miguel deflated. “I’d rather have a CD.”
Luigi shot Miguel a pained look and said, “Nothing for free.” Now white as a ghost, Luigi wiped a hand across his face and, without another word, stepped onto the porch and back inside the store.
“I hope Grandpa takes it easy,” said the guy pointing after Luigi. “He looks tuckered out. Anyway, at noon, I’ll meet y’all at Freebooter’s Paradise.” When he said “Freebooter’s Paradise,” he said it like it was the latest attraction at Disneyland. “Remember, free ice cream . . . yum.” And he drove off.
“Who says ‘yum’ to seventh graders?” asked Mar.
“Dorks, that’s who,” I said.
“I want a free CD,” said Miguel. “Not ice cream.”
We watched the Saturn drive down the block and pull into the McDonald’s. The guy sat in his car and talked to gawkers there, like he had to us. What happened to finding a good parking spot?
I asked, “Do you think he works for HeapsMart?”
“You mean Freebooter’s Paradise?” said Mar.
Miguel said, “I like HeapsMart, but it doesn’t sound like a HeapsMart at all. They give out free ice cream and popcorn, not CDs. Besides, they wear blue uniforms, not green. They advertise in the newspaper and on TV, not driving around in cars. This is way different. This is all really, really cool, but just a little—”
“Creepy,” we all said together.
“I don’t believe his hel-ee-copters story,” Miguel said, mimicking the man’s pronunciation.
“I don’t either,” Mar agreed, “and neither did Luigi. But what else could explain what we saw?”
“I didn’t hear any helicopters, and how could they handle that huge ship and super-sized dust devils?” I said.
Miguel stepped into the sprinkling rain and twirled around with his arms out. “Well, I still want the free ice cream. How about you guys?”
“I think free ice cream should be safe. I’m in,” Mar said.
“Count me in, and I want to walk the plank.” I joked. I took out my cell phone. “I should call home first.”
“Good idea,” Mar said, and she pulled her phone out of her pocket while she walked over to her bike.
“Mine’s still searching,” I said.
“The worst part of the storm’s over. I wonder why it’s not connecting,” asked Miguel, coming in slightly soggy from the rain. “There’s a pay phone across the street. Let’s just go to HeapsMart.”
“You mean Freebooter’s Paradise,” corrected Mar, again.
“I’m getting the tandem,” said Miguel, and he went into the store. I held the door open for him and looked around Luigi’s Market. It was a mess, with sand and Miguel’s Icee everywhere. Except for small bits of straw, the donuts in the glass display looked great—if you thought they were brown sugar donuts. Luigi was nowhere to be seen. The sign in the window was still turned to closed.
“Thanks for holding the door,” Miguel said to me as he led the tandem out to the porch.
“I’m going to make sure Luigi’s okay.”
“But the ice cream,” Miguel protested. “It’ll be gone.”
I ignored Miguel. Freebooter’s Paradise wouldn’t be open for another two hours.
Usually whenever you thought Luigi wasn’t around he would appear out of nowhere. That’s why the bad kids didn’t hang out at Luigi’s Market. Luigi talked to them, and they ended up kind of liking him, which kept them from stealing. Luigi always watched everything, too. He had mirrors that he called “eagle-eyes” all over the place. Looking for him now, I glanced into one mirror and then into the next, turning in my place, listening for him, expecting him to call my name and say, “Cam, did you get your Icee?” or “Cam, free donuts today. Help yourself. Ha, ha.”
“What are you doing?” Mar had popped her head in.
“I’m looking for Luigi.” I pointed to the mirror and then turned to the next.
“Have you checked the back room?”
I found Luigi in the back room. He was just standing, staring at his desk. I waited for him to say something, to acknowledge that I was there, but he didn’t, so I stayed by the door.
“Luigi, we’ll help you clean up the store.”
He heaved a sob. Was he crying?
“Luigi,” I said walking forward, but he held a hand up to stop me.
“Cam, you kids are good, good kids. When have I told you last?”
“You tell us every day.” And it was true, he did.
“Tomorrow morning I could use your help. I don’t feel so well right now,” he said, nearly in a whisper.
“Want me to get help?” I thought maybe he needed an ambulance.
“No, I’m fine. With the grand opening across the street . . . I’ve decided to close for the rest of the day and go home for a nap. I haven’t napped on my couch in years.”
“You never close the store.”
“Not true. I close for Christmas every year!”
“I know, but—”
“Cam, I’m not going to tell you what to do, because you never listen—”
“I listen most of the time.” And I did, most of the time.
Still not looking at me he said, “Then listen now.” He coughed and wiped his eyes, sighed, and turned around to sit against his desk. “Hold on,” he said, and he took a bottle of water from a case sitting on his desk. He opened it and took a swig. He held out another bottle for me. “Have one.”
I walked over and took it. “Thanks.” I took a sip. I hadn’t realized I was so thirsty.
Luigi continued, “I have a bad feeling about Freebooter’s Paradise. And I think you do, too.” He gave me a tired smile. I nodded. “You know the word ‘freebooter’ means pirate?” I nodded again. He said, “My great-grandfather was a fisherman back in Italy, and he used to tease me when I was little, ‘Beware of pirates, aarrgh!’ I’m telling you the same, but I’m not teasing. Funny, I haven’t thought about great-grandpa for years. It’s not good to forget about your family, or your couch—ha, ha. Watch, I’ll go home and dream about him while I nap on my couch . . . Now, you kids go and enjoy your free ice cream and go back for seconds because when you grow up you’ll learn that nothing is really free.”
“No, that can wait. It’s not open ‘til noon anyway. We’ll start cleaning while you rest here.”
“Cam, I said go!”
I strode back to the door. “We know where the brooms are, and I’ll throw the donuts away, and Miguel can clean up his Icee, and—”
Luigi laughed heartily and wiped his eyes with his apron. “See, Cam? You never listen.”
In just over an hour, the three of us had Luigi’s Market looking better. While we cleaned, it rained harder. Rainstorms in Arizona were usually short, and by the time we finished cleaning, the rain had stopped, and the cloud cover started to break.
Luigi claimed he felt better, but instead of driving home in his own car, he called a taxi. After he got inside he rolled his window down. “You kids are good, good kids. Your help means a lot to me. Now, go have fun eating ice cream and tell me all about it tomorrow.”
We waved goodbye. Luigi sounded like his old self, but he didn’t look any better. I hoped he felt better tomorrow. I planned to have a lot to tell him.
The happenings across the street had only increased. The employees had all been ushered in. Two wide ramps had opened out of the ship’s hull creating entrances into the ship straight from the parking lot. Assembled on the parking lot between the two ramps was a round help desk with a tiki roof. Across the roof it said info-tours. A line had already formed at the booth. Sitting on the porch of Luigi’s Market, we watched two mini carts with pirates hawking artesian water for $3.00 a bottle and Captain Kidd’s Sea Salt and Buccaneer Vinegar Potato Chips for $4.00. The two pirates had big mouths. From across the street, we could hear them fine.
“What do we do with the bikes?” I asked.
“My chain could lock both of them,” said Mar.
“There’s a bike rack by the little side door.” Miguel pointed.
Standing up, she said, “Really? I don’t remember seeing it. They must have just put it out.”
“Let’s go then,” I said.
“I’m driving,” Miguel called.
“All right,” I agreed. Before I got onto the tandem I saw the most interesting-looking rock. I picked it up. It looked like a bunch of clams cemented together. “Look at this.”
“Let me see.” Miguel took it away from me.
“Barnacles,” said Mar. “I bet they’re from the ship. Here, give them to me.” She snatched it from Miguel. “Let’s see if we can find more.”
Street traffic picked up, so we walked our bikes across Tracy Road and jumped back on them in the parking lot. It was only just after eleven, and the parking lot was already filling up.
The closer we got to the bike rack, the harder Miguel giggled.
“What’s so funny?”
“The naked—heee. On the ship.”
“You mean the mermaid?” I asked.
“He, he, he-he-he, he-he-he, heeee.”
On the bow of the ship was a huge wooden mermaid. She wasn’t really naked because her hair, painted black, was long and covered most of her. I didn’t see how, but her face reminded me of someone . . . the beautiful lady?
Halting, Mar exclaimed, “Isn’t she beautiful? I wish mermaids were real.”
“She looks like the yellow Bug lady,” said Miguel.
“That’s what I was thinking,” I said.
After locking the tandem and Mar’s bike with the same chain, I picked up another barnacle wedged against the frame of the little side door. Mar plucked it out of my hand and dug the other one out of her pocket. Holding them up next to each other against the ship’s hull, Mar said, “The dust devils must have stripped them off. Usually ships are covered with them and need to be scraped off once in a while.”
The ship looked odd in that one way: without paint on its bottom. I mean, besides being docked against a HeapsMart in Apache Junction. The rest of the ship looked recently painted, if not polished, from the masts to the railings all the way down to the freshly stripped hull. I wondered if the barnacles proved that the ship was not part of a promotional stunt.
“Ice cream,” said Miguel. “Let’s go. I’m starving.”
Mar tossed the barnacles down and started to run, dashing out in front of us with her long legs. We stopped at the first entrance into the hull of the ship, the one that was closer to the bow, or the front of the ship. It didn’t us take long to find out why we were the only ones standing there.
“This be the exit!” howled a gray-haired pirate waving his cane at us. “Ye’d know’d it, if it weren’t for Slugabed ’ere.”
“I’ve got it,” interrupted a boy not much older than us. He half-carried, half-dragged a homemade ladder made of two long tree branches with rungs that got progressively smaller toward the top.
“Blimey, where’d ye sail off to find it? Katmandu? Ye’ve eyes, but no more sight than a blind puppy. Why, yer nothing but a Slugabed, good for nothing son of a hag!”
At that, Mar gave me a pained look like she was the one on the receiving end of the tirade. I started the timer on my watch. How long would it take for Mar to lecture the old pirate about impatience, bad tempers, and child abuse? I glanced from my watch to Mar, but she wasn’t saying a word. When she put her hands on her hips, I figured out what she was doing. She was giving the old pirate her best stink-eye, as Luigi would put it. She intended to stare him down.
The thing about Mar was that she befriended everyone: the nerds, the cool kids, and even the bullies, but when she was tired or thought you weren’t listening to her, she always reacted the same way, with her stink-eye. Once at school Mrs. Toze, our sixth-grade teacher, even let us have an extra day to finish our science project because Mar gave it to her. Teachers loved it when Mar helped them out by staring down class bullies and clowns, but Mar had never given a teacher her stink-eye before, and I think she startled Mrs. Toze when she did.
Why did her stink-eye work so well? I thought about that and came up with a few ideas. Maybe it was because Mar’s white-blond hair was quite often lime green, or because she was taller than most of us at school, or because her glasses magnified her hazel eyes to gigantica proportions, and when she squinted they looked super sharp and mean. Anyway, Mar became more popular because of how things worked out with Mrs. Toze and our science projects, and now she thinks she can stink-eye anyone she wants. She doesn’t stink-eye Miguel and me, though, because we stick out our tongues, tuck our thumbs in our ears, and wave at her saying, “Dhaaa.” She doesn’t like that and usually slugs us when we do it.
The old pirate stared right back at her. Stink-eye for stink-eye. The boy ignored them both and wedged the ladder along a running board on the ramp. The ramp, about twenty feet wide, reminded me of the ramps leading the animals onto Noah’s ark. The boy dashed back into the ship.
I looked in after him. I could see shelves of books and a magazine rack. Straight through the ship, I could see into the HeapsMart. There must have been a ramp going down that side, too. The original glass doors on the building must have been taken off their hinges.
The boy dragged out a long driftwood sign with ropes tied to it. In red metallic capital letters was the word exit.
The old pirate, apparently tired of Mar’s stink-eye, grunted low and quick, breaking into a grin. “Shiver me soul! Ye win, mighty lass. Me thinks ye could stare down Medusa and every one of ’er snakes.” He chuckled.
Mar smiled smugly and apparently took the old pirate’s compliment as permission to help. As the boy struggled to carry the sign up the ladder, Mar hefted the far side of it.
He sneered at her. “I don’t need help.”
“Jared, by land’s end,” the pirate growled. “Me drub ye within an inch of your life, and that inch also, if I ’aven’t cracked manners into ye yet.”
Coming from an incredibly rude guy, that made me smile. Miguel rolled his eyes and pointed to the information booth. That was his way of telling me he was going somewhere because he was bored.
Jared glared at Mar and then at me. He had buzzed black hair. His blue eyes looked the same as yellow Bug lady’s. Why did everything seem to remind me of her?
“Fine,” Jared huffed at Mar. Then he pointed at me and ordered, “Get my hammer. I forgot it on the counter.”
“I dare say ye’d forget yer head,” squawked the old pirate, “if it weren’t attached.”
Jared sighed and continued up the ladder.
I was cautiously walking up the ramp when the old pirate snapped up his cane, and it hit across my chest. After I stopped, he poked me in the ribs. “There be the tag on yer shirt. It’s inside out devil a doubt. Turn it around, ‘nd square it right.”
I might have, just to get him off my back, but what should that matter to him? I also remembered the skull and crossbones that freaked Miguel out, and I didn’t want to have to argue with him again, if I turned my shirt around.
Jared shouted, “Where’s my hammer?”
The old pirate leaned toward me and said, “Get ‘is hammer, and then we’ll right yer shirt. D’ye understand?” His breath reminded me of my grandfather’s: beer and herring. He gave me a phony smile, showing me a mouth half empty of teeth. What did he mean by ‘We’ll right yer shirt?’ I wasn’t going to let him help me do that.
When I stepped past him he swatted me on the butt with his cane. It made a loud whack and hurt, and he cackled at me. Mar, still holding the ladder, was oblivious to what had just happened, and that made me angry. I almost kicked the pirate in the shins, when Mar complained, “Cam, my arm’s falling asleep! Hurry.” So instead, I turned and did what I’d been wanting to all morning— I walked into the pirate ship.
After stepping through an invisible blast of cool air, I was finally inside the pirate ship. The room seemed larger than it should have been from the outside. Hanging from the wooden beams of the ceiling, were all kinds of black, sword-and-bone-filled pirate flags, as well as security cameras and mirrors. Nearly overflowing were bookshelves and magazine racks. The magazine covers were plastered with pictures of pirates, ships, and islands. Further away were cool-looking pirate t-shirts, plastic swords, and sweet-looking gadgets. I almost walked over there, but then I remembered Slugabed’s command for the hammer.
The checkout counter stretched along the whole bow of the ship and was lined with cash registers. I walked to the nearest one. There was the hammer, right on the counter like he said it would be. As I picked it up, the store’s music started blaring. I heard people laugh and my heart flip-flopped. I recognized one of those laughs. It belonged to the beautiful lady. The sound was coming from across the ship, down the ramp that led down into the HeapsMart store. And when I looked down that way, there she was—the beautiful lady, standing just inside of the building. Even from a distance, she was beautiful. She wasn’t dressed like a pirate or a HeapsMart employee, but wore a pale blue dress with a thick matching band in her hair. She was working with a HeapsMart crew—Chad, the former Domino’s Pizza guy, included. They watched the beautiful lady bust into a little dance to the music as someone was apparently trying to adjust the volume. The crew had been setting up a cardboard island display. The sign read welcome ashore, matey! I felt a sudden rush to walk down the ramp and join them, to laugh, and to help out.
A hand hit the back of my head, and an elbow jabbed into my ribs. It was Jared. “Trying to rob us, loser?”
I wanted to say, Yeah, I’m stealing your hammer, dork, but all I could say was, “No.”
He grabbed the hammer out of my hand. “Come on,” he said, like I was his least favorite and most annoying cousin.
In that instant I decided I didn’t like Jared. Not willing to turn my t-shirt right-side out with the help of the old pirate, either, I dashed out of the ship and down the exit ramp toward the information booth. On my way out, I purposely elbowed Jared.
“Watch it!” he snapped.
I wish I hadn’t glanced back at the old pirate after I was down the ramp. He jabbed the air with his cane and gave me an evil-looking stink-eye. How could Mar stand it? I crossed my fingers, on both hands.
Where did Miguel go? In just a few minutes two lines had grown at the information booth, but Miguel wasn’t in either of them.
“Cameron Wrangler, I’ll give you a cut in line if you want,” said Mrs. Wong, the new neighbor who lived down my street. She smiled and karate chopped the air in front of her. I wasn’t used to her smiling, let alone being nice to me. Her English surprised me because my sister told me she only spoke Chinese.
“Thanks. I’m looking for Miguel. Have you seen him?”
She pointed toward the back of the pirate ship. “I’ll save you boys a spot.”
“Thanks.” As I ran to find Miguel, I wondered how Mrs. Wong knew my name. How did she know Miguel’s? My mom? Had Luigi told her about us? That was probably it. Luigi loved to talk.
Behind the pirate ship, I found Miguel standing between two parked cars. He shaded his eyes from the searing afternoon sun with one hand, and with his other he gave me a ticket with the number 071808. “It’s a charity raffle ticket, for orphans. I bought one for Mar, too—three for a dollar. One of us could win a prize or a two-hundred-dollar gift certificate at two o’clock.” He pointed up to the ship and said, “That’s the Sun Door.”
The back of the ship was flat and its rudder was widest at the bottom. Wrapping its way around the main deck was a gold hand railing. The first floor, which sat on the main deck, had three large sets of windows. The next floor up, the great cabin floor, had the Sun Door built into the center of it, and the door sparkled like mad in the bright sun. The top of the door was rounded. It was made of glass and gold, surrounded by foot-long golden flames. Even for me, a future seventh grader, it seemed incredibly beautiful, but also out of place on a pirate ship. I mean, if it were to ever open, a person could fall and land splat, flat like a tortilla on the parking lot. Above the great cabin floor was the smallest floor that housed the navigation room. My eyes fell back to the Sun Door. “Awful fancy door for a pirate ship,” I said.
“It’s really just a window. At the turn of the century, it was crafted by the finest gold guild in New Orleans.”
“How do you know?”
Out of his pocket, Miguel pulled a crumpled, parchment-lookalike, tri-fold brochure. Miguel was a crumpler. Mar hated that about Miguel. I didn’t mind so much as long as we weren’t doing a school project together. Miguel would be an A student if it weren’t for all of the grade-docking he suffered because of his crumpling. His grades were docked for bad handwriting, too, but he wanted to become a doctor, so bad handwriting was one less thing he had to learn—according to Mrs. Toze.
Plastered across the front of the brochure was FREEBOOTER’S PARADISE: Plunder, Parcels, Pets, Pests, and Pawn. There was a photo of the pirate ship, and in smaller letters was Everything 60% to 80% off New and Used Plunder! Credit Guaranteed! In even smaller red letters: No Returns Allowed, EVER! Typed smaller yet: Meaning Yellow-Bellied Sapsuckers and Milksops need not climb aboard. I could barely read the last line: All enter at their own risk—beware of pickpockets and beggars. The tiny bottom black line, which passed for decoration, caught my eye. Wondering, I stared at it. After a second, I knew I was right. It read: freebooter’s paradise is not responsible for any loss of any kind, including one’s life.
“Miguel, did you read this?”
He glanced at it quickly and then squinted at me confused. “You mean the black line?”
He gave me the what-are-you-talking-about look. I scratched my head and read it aloud to him.
“It’s a store, Cameron. What are you afraid of?”
“Look,” I insisted, pointing to the fine print, but he didn’t look, so I shrugged. I didn’t know a lot about pirate ships or even stores, but this seemed like an odd brochure with silly messages at the bottom. How many people die shopping? How many beggars and pickpockets lived in Apache Junction anyway? Then Luigi’s voice flickered through my mind, “It’s devilry. Today, the apocalypse begins!” I shivered involuntarily. I shook Luigi out of my mind and read the second section of the brochure.
Happily I said, “This is supposed to be Blackbeard’s ship—Queen Anne’s Revenge II—I should have guessed.” I wrote a report on Blackbeard last year. It was a blast to write. I usually don’t like writing reports, but the reason I liked writing that one was because I like pirates, and Blackbeard was sort of the king of pirates, the meanest and the richest, too.
“Yep,” said Miguel, “remember the big guy, Ed, from the yellow Bug—”
“He’s supposed to be Blackbeard?”
“Yep, and he’s a good Blackbeard I think.”
“Good and creepy,” I said, and I continued reading the brochure:
The Queen Anne’s Revenge was originally a French slave ship, La Concorde, which weighed over 350 tons. Today, The Queen Anne’s Revenge II weighs slightly more. It has a crew of 100 pirates, but in days past it had over 300. Back then, each pirate received a percentage of the plunder for payment. Today, new recruits earn an hourly wage and ARE NEEDED. If you’re looking for adventure and nonstop fun, then stop by the information booth for a Freebooter’s application. Free room and board for all pirates who sign a long-term contract (three years or longer).
Miguel pointed to the brochure. “Check out the cool departments—Plunder, Parcels, Pets, Pests, and Pawn.”
“Cool,” I agreed.
The pet shop interested me the most even though I could never own a dog because of my allergies. I love dogs. I’ve been told I used to cry when I was little because I couldn’t have one.
There was a tour of the ship: Where you’re guaranteed to learn everything there is to know about this ship and the original Queen Anne’s Revenge, the brochure said. It sounded awesome, but it cost too much. “Twenty dollars for a tour—even for kids, unless they’re six or younger—what a rip off.”
“Who needs a tour?” said Miguel. “Just let us in.” He kept glancing up at the Sun Door like he was in love with it or something.
I said, “I guess we can listen in, to the tour guides, I mean. They probably sell a cheap book about Queen Anne’s Revenge. I saw a whole shelf full of that stuff.”
I flipped open the brochure, excited to read more, but I only found a credit card application. At the top was a picture of the credit card. It looked a lot like Blackbeard’s pirate flag. It had a black background and a white skeleton with creepy devil horns holding a spear in his left hand. In his right hand was not a goblet, like on Blackbeard’s original flag, but a fistful of money. The spear jabbed a huge red heart at the bottom of the card. On the original flag, below the heart, were three drops of blood, but on the credit card it bled three large green dollar signs. In big letters across the application was INSTANT APPROVAL. Apply now with ink signature, thumb print, and proper ID with Social Security number. Shanghai Credit never, EVER denied!
Bored with the credit card application, I folded the brochure back up and added an extra crumple for Miguel. I handed it back.
He flipped it over and pointed to an advertisement for Daphne’s Deli and her grand opening, free ice cream special. “That’s where we’re going first.” He stuffed the brochure into his pocket like it was a tissue for later. “Only while supplies last,” he warned. He led the way back to the ever-growing line to get into Freebooter’s Paradise.
Should I have been surprised to find Mar helping Jared put up the entrance sign? She made friends with everyone, even if they didn’t want to be her friend, but for a split second I wondered if she had developed a crush on Jared.
The old pirate was there too, complaining to Jared in front of the growing crowd. “Make haste, Slugabed! Why didn’t ye tumble up when I asked ye over an hour ago?”
“Yeah,” someone from the crowd chimed in, generating a sparse round of laughing.
“I don’t like that old guy,” I muttered.
Miguel nodded. “He’s crotchety all right.”
Mrs. Wong waved at us from the long line.
I waved back and walked toward her. “Mrs. Wong speaks English,” I said, “and she knows your last name.”
“How does she know my last name?” Miguel asked, like he’d been busted for toilet-papering her house or something. “I don’t want her to know my name.”
“I know! She probably knows our names because of Luigi.” I shrugged. “Anyway, she’s willing to give us cuts in line.”
“Um, do we really want to take cuts from her?”
I shrugged again.
Mar jumped off the ship’s entrance ramp and ran toward us. Delightedly she informed us, “Captain Kidd said he would let us in now, ten minutes early—just the three of us—because I was kind enough to help Jared out.”
I asked, “The old guy is supposed to be Captain Kidd?”
“Yeah,” said Mar.
“We’re in.” Miguel and Mar high-fived each other.
I followed behind them, not happy about Mar’s new fondness for Captain Kidd. She still didn’t know he’d hit me with his cane. We were ditching Mrs. Wong, too, but she would get in soon enough. I didn’t look over at her even though she was calling for us. We started up the entrance ramp when somebody from the line groused to Captain Kidd, “Hey, why does Marcella Bethke get in before it opens?”
“Yeah, we were here first.”
Somebody’s mom said, “Well, why weren’t you helping then?”
Walking up the ramp, I made sure I was as far away from Captain Kidd as I could get. Surprisingly, he ignored me but gave Mar the biggest toothless grin he could, like Mar was suddenly his great-granddaughter.
Before we made it to the top of the ramp, a misting system over the entranceway turned on. It made a fine mist to cool people off. These systems were everywhere in the desert, wherever people had to stand outside in the heat. But I knew right away that Blackbeard’s mist wasn’t like the mist at Starbucks. “I smell waffles,” I said. They were still my favorite breakfast even though I had just sworn off them this morning. I held my nose just in case my allergies took offense.
“No, it’s apple pancakes.” Miguel took a huge sniff.
“You’re crazy, it’s homemade peanut brittle,” Mar said, taking a lot of short, quick breaths.
Stepping off the ramp into the ship, we walked across a narrow grate with grass growing through, but Mar and Miguel didn’t even notice. I bent down to take a closer look. The grass looked a healthy green and, by the smell of it, freshly cut. How strange, I thought. I stumbled sideways after someone pulled on me.
“Ah!” Using a belt loop on my shorts, Captain Kidd had pulled me aside with the curved part of his cane. He grabbed my t-shirt, pulling it up while he shouted, “Meself right this shirt, boy!” I shoved him off me and knocked his cane out of my belt loop. “Why, ye little ingrate, good fer nothing, dog fish!” I dashed into the ship totally annoyed that not only did Mar ignore this exchange but so did Miguel. What was going on? Would they believe me when I told them?
To my left, the stern of the ship was the Parcels department. It resembled a post office, but it was drab and sterile with lots of empty space compared to the rest of the ship. To my right was the Plunder department, which had the books and t-shirts and really good stuff, but I couldn’t see where Mar and Miguel had gone. They had disappeared.
With his cane, Captain Kidd trampled toward me surprisingly fast. He was wide-eyed and looking angry so I decided to run straight through the ship and down the opposite ramp into the HeapsMart store. I dodged through the women’s clothes department. Captain Kidd shouted, “Jared, get that shrimp. ’Is shirt’s inside out!”
“What does he know? He’s a kid, Kidd,” Jared said sarcastically.
“AARRGH!” shouted Kidd, raising his cane.
Jared threatened, “If you hit me with that cane again, I’ll break it!”
“’E’s up to somethin’. That powder boy held ’is nose walking across the threshold!” Captain Kidd shouted. “On my soul’s salvation, ‘e’ll be the ruin of us all. D’ye hear? Fetch ’em to me.”
Luigi was right about pirates: they’re bad news. I dropped to my knees and crawled under clothes racks, making sure not to bump anything hanging above me that would give me away. I slowly and carefully worked my way toward the display of cardboard palm trees with the sign welcome ashore, matey! where the other ramp would lead me back into the ship.
I’d find Mar and Miguel and talk them into leaving. I kept glancing behind me looking for Jared’s feet, but I didn’t see him, so I thought he gave up on me.
Not far from the welcome ashore, matey! display and the ramp up into the ship, something caught my eye. It was Jared. He was on his hands and knees staring at me with a huge goofy grin.
I was busted, so I stood and looked around for Captain Kidd. To my relief, he was gone, but right then the beautiful woman walked up behind Jared. She smiled at me and spoke something to Jared I couldn’t make out. He frowned and said, “But Kidd,” and pointed to the other ramp where Captain Kidd had sent him on his mission to catch me, but then she said something else to him and he frowned and completely turned around and walked toward the back of the store.
As the lady walked toward me, it occurred to me that she had become my hero. She said this morning I would be hers, but just now it turned out the complete opposite.
“Thanks,” I said, barely able to look into her beautiful face.
“You’re welcome. My name’s Daphne,” she said, holding out her hand.
As I shook her hand I realized I had never felt anything softer. She smelled like some kind of flower. She was definitely a model, if not an angel.
“I’ll safely escort you to your friends,” she said. “Sorry about Captain Kidd. He should have retired centuries ago.”
I nodded in agreement—he was awfully grumpy—and then I racked my brain for something to say. I couldn’t think straight. Finally I asked, “Daphne’s Deli, is that yours?”
“Yes, up on the second deck. Stop by and get some free ice cream.”
I nodded again, probably looking like a bobblehead, as we walked up the ramp and into the ship. Miguel and Mar were there. They held wide mason jars and giggled, completely oblivious to the fact that I wasn’t with them. If I wasn’t with Daphne, I probably would have been angry with them, but Daphne made me feel happy and relaxed. I bet she made everybody feel that way.
Daphne stopped at the base of a narrow staircase just inside the ship’s hull. She said, “This is the way to the other departments and my deli. Here’s a piece of advice for you, Cameron Wrangler: If you plan to buy any souvenirs, buy them before you leave this floor. Keep your receipt, and you’ll be fine visiting the rest of the ship. The cash registers will ring nonstop for the next three days. I’m just saving you time in line, that’s all.”
“Okay,” I said, thinking, How did she know my last name? “Thanks.”
She waved goodbye and started up the steps.
I went over to my so-called friends and grumped, “Didn’t you miss me?”
“Cam,” Miguel said, completely ignoring my question, “these are lanterns.” He held out the blue-tinted glass mason jar by the wire handle that wrapped around its neck.
“They’re called Moonbeams,” said Mar, and then she laughed in a ridiculous way I have never heard her laugh before. “Aren’t they idiotic?”
I thought they looked interesting, but a jar is a jar. Printed on the label was take a moonbeam home in a jar! The price was marked fifty percent off, from $29.99 to $14.99.
“Look,” Miguel tapped the black lid, “on top, these are solar chips.” He tipped the jar upside down. “From the bottom of the lid, the light shoots down to light the jar. He, he, he he he—”
Mar giggled too, but like she was three years old. Of course, I was glad she was happy, but I was worried. Mar was the biggest desert-solar-energy dork I knew. Every day we had to hear her gripe about how we lived in the biggest loser state because we had the most sunshine and the fewest solar panels per household in the country. How could she not like the Moonbeam? Was she just trying to be funny, trying to be contrary? After thinking about it, I decided Moonbeams were the coolest, for sure, the whole mile point five. On any other day, I was sure Mar would agree.
“Cameron,” Mar said in a mocking way, “You want to buy one, don’t you? I could, I have the money, but I think they’re stupid.”
Mar and Miguel busted out laughing again. Miguel did a silly jig. The Moonbeam swung back and forth in his hand. It wasn’t that funny, but Mar was right, I wanted to buy it.
“I would,” said Miguel, “but I only have two dollars.”
He handed me the Moonbeam.
“I think I only have fourteen,” I said, pulling money out of my pocket.
“That’s not enough,” said Mar. “Here’s five bucks. Pay me back later.”
Pointing to the stack of Moonbeams, Miguel asked, “Do you want one that’s still in a box?”
“No, this one’s okay.” For some reason I had a good feeling about it.
A thunderous cheer arose from the parking lot. I checked my watch. It was twelve o’clock. Captain Kidd was letting customers in. I wondered if that meant he would be gone from his guarding post at the entrance.
Remembering what Daphne told me about buying souvenirs, I said, “I’ll go buy this now and then we can go get ice cream.”
“Free ice cream!” Miguel shouted.
“We have to go up those steps.” I pointed to the Pets, Pests, and Pawn arrow-shaped sign which hung near the stairs that Daphne had gone up.
“Okay, okay, okay, okay—OKAY!” said Mar. “Go buy your stupid Moonbeam.” She pushed me toward the cash registers.
“Hurry, hurry, hurry!” Miguel shouted, jumping up and down. “Free ice cream!”
I raced to the closest cash register that had a cashier standing ready. As she rang me up I noticed the black flag hanging above her had the outline of Ed’s face on it. In bold white letters was blackbeard lives! After forking over the money for my Moonbeam, I looked back and watched as Mar and Miguel started up the stairs. “Wait for me,” I called, but without a glance toward me they started up anyway. The rush of people poured into the store and some of them followed Mar and Miguel straight up the steps.
After paying I said thanks to the cashier, took my receipt and my new Moonbeam, and ran to the stairs.
“Don’t you want a bag?” the cashier called after me, holding up a black plastic bag with a skull and crossbones on it.
“No thanks.” I intended to run up the steps after my strangely-behaving best friends, but on the second step, someone grabbed my shoulder.
I near jumped out of my skin and almost dropped my Moonbeam. If Captain Kidd had caught up with me, then both of his shins were going to ache tonight.
“Cameron Wrangler, where’s the fire?”
It was Grumpy Ry. I didn’t recognize him at first because he was smiling at me. He never ever smiled at me. I opened my mouth to say something, but I couldn’t think of anything. I completely forgot what he had asked me just then. Then I remembered the tandem and braced myself for the biggest chew-out of my eleven-year-old life.
Instead, Grumpy Ry laughed and patted me on the shoulder. “You look like you just saw a ghost.”
Was I looking at one? Was the whole world turning upside down? First Mar and Miguel behaving strangely, and now Grumpy Ry?
A short older lady, wearing thick, dorky red-framed sunglasses said, “Move it or lose it, boys. Grandma’s got this horrible necklace to pawn.” She fingered the pearl necklace hanging around her neck. “Apparently the pawnshop is on the third floor,” she continued. “You’d think some genius could’ve built an elevator in this claptrap.” She blew her nose and stuffed her hanky into her purse. She had a cold. I could smell the cherry cough drops she’d been sucking on.
Still on the steps, I squeezed myself against the railing and the woman stepped one foot onto the first step and then the other foot onto the same step, holding onto the wall side railing for dear life. She did the same thing for the next step, like she was expecting a tidal wave to rock the ship. She said, “I hate ships. Especially cruise ships. I fell once and thought I needed a hip replacement it hurt so bad. It turned out I only bruised myself, but my hip ached for half a year.”
Grumpy Ry said, “I spotted a freight elevator in the Parcels Department back at the entrance. You couldn’t miss it—really, it’s big enough to drive a car into. Why don’t you go back and ask them to take you up?”
The woman stopped and huffed. She turned to stare at us and said, “I’m halfway there, and now you’re telling me? Thanks, genius.” But she was only on the third step. Taking her hanky back out, she blew her nose again.
Expecting a super loud, rude response from Grumpy Ry, I looked to him, but he only grinned at me and winked. I couldn’t believe how happy he was. “Sorry about that,” he said to her politely, putting his foot on the first step. “You know, the pawn might give you a mint for your sunglasses too.”
The woman huffed again but ignored us and continued up.
Grumpy Ry looked amused, and I couldn’t help but grin. It felt good.
He asked, “Do you know what a pawnshop is, Cameron?” I thought I did, but I shook my head anyway. “People take their things, from jewelry to TVs, to sell to the pawnshop. It’s not a good deal. You only get a little bit of money for your stuff, but if you don’t want your TV, then a little money is better than no money. Sometimes, unfortunately, people bring things that have been stolen. That’s bad news. Me, I’m looking for mistakes—good deals—things the pawnshop under-prices for resale. Come on, let’s high-step past Crazy Shades.” He chuckled.
Crazy Shades was only a few more steps up and didn’t say a word when we passed her.
We arrived at the Pets Department which burst with sound: puppies barked and whined, kittens meowed, and birds sang and cawed. It seemed way stinkier than a pet store should be—I knew that much—and I pinched my nose shut again.
Standing at the base of the next staircase, Grumpy Ry said, “Between you and me, I think Crazy Shades is up to the same thing I am: good deals.” He waved goodbye and continued up to the next floor. I waved back at him, astonished he could be a nice guy and that he hadn’t said a word to me about his tandem bicycle. It didn’t take a genius to figure out that something odd was going on around here. Did the waffle-flavored door spray or the grass growing through the grate have anything to do with people behaving differently?
I found Miguel and Mar playing with four sickly-looking puppies in an open-topped cage.
Mar giggled, “Cam, they’re chewing my fingers off.” Two puppies chewed and slobbered away on her fingers.
According to the sign, they were $550.00 each, but they didn’t look like they were worth it. I mean, they were so skinny and unhealthy looking. I’m sure it didn’t help that their food bowl was empty. At least their water bowl was full.
“They’re starving,” I said.
“Well,” said Miguel, “they’re awful fat for being so hungry.”
“Look how roly-poly they are,” siad Mar, rubbing the head of one puppy and then the head of the other.
“What are you talking about?” I said. “These puppies are nothing but bones—they’re sick. Why are you letting them slobber all over you?” Mar and Miguel started at each other and then burst out laughing. I couldn’t tell if they were teasing me or if something was wrong with their eyes. I wanted to believe they were teasing me.
Not sure what to think anymore, I decided to look around the shop. A longhaired, one-eyed, professional-wrestler-type pirate sat at the half-door, which formed a makeshift counter right under the rat-shaped Pests sign at the entrance of the next room. Like a stone gargoyle, he watched us threateningly and unmoving. I don’t think Mar and Miguel even noticed him.
Strategically placed next to the one-eyed pirate was a whole shelf full of sparkling, gold-framed aquariums. If sick puppies cost $550 each, I wondered how much the fish and their fancy aquariums were.
As I walked around, I felt the pirate’s one good eye drilling holes through me. I glanced back to Miguel and Mar. They were still entertaining themselves with the starving puppies. More people thundered up the wooden stairs, some staying in the pet department, but most tramping on up. Chad, the pizza guy, arrived wearing a skull-and-crossbones necktie. He happily talked with Mar and Miguel like they were his old friends. I was about to join them, but when I noticed that the one-eyed pirate had left his post, I decided to take a closer look at the aquariums and hightailed it over there.
Instantly, I recognized that the smaller aquariums were for sea monkeys. Sea monkeys are shrimp, little ones. These tanks were the same type that Miguel and I owned but they were way more expensive because they were supposed to have a real gold base and trim. They were $550, too. Geesh, I thought, What isn’t five fifty around here? I set my Moonbeam on the wooden shelf and picked up a tank. It was heavy. Inside at the bottom was an incredibly detailed model of the Queen Anne’s Revenge II—Sun Door included. There seemed to be a crack in the glass that twisted all around the tank. That nearly gave me an asthma fit—what if they thought I cracked it. I went to put it down and noticed that all of the aquariums had that same crack in the same place, like they were designed that way. Looking closer, I realized the glass wasn’t really cracked. At the bottom of the line was a bunch of ridges, almost like a stairway.
From behind me came a squeaky voice. “They’re $550 and made of real gold. So, unless you intend to buy one,” said the one-eyed pirate, “put it down.”
I jumped and put it back right away, feeling like the pirate had snuck up on me on purpose so that I might drop it and then have to pay for it. I said, “That’s a lot of money for a sea monkey tank.”
“These’re not for sea monkeys,” he said to me like I was as stupid as a rock. He opened the half-door like he was going to go back to his post. “They’re for King Kennys.” Before I could ask what those were, he pointed to a large aquarium and said, “Real, full-sized shrimp—fairy shrimp.” They looked the same as sea monkeys, just way bigger. I noticed, too, that at the back of the large aquarium sat another replica of Queen Ann’s Revenge II. When I walked to stand in front of it, a fairy shrimp, or a King Kenny, came up to the side to visit me.
“Hi guy,” I said, gently tapping the glass.
“Cam,” shouted Miguel, “free ice cream!”
I turned to see Miguel and Mar run up the stairs for the next floor.
“Wait.” I turned to follow when the one-eyed pirate slammed his hand onto my shoulder. I flinched, but he only said, “Don’t forget your Moonbeam.”
“Thanks,” I said, truly thankful for his help, but I was also eager to get away from him. I grabbed my lantern and dashed up the stairs.
I stopped at the pawnshop only long enough to notice the cannons that lined both sides of the ship’s hull. Grumpy Ry, Crazy Shades, and a lady pirate with white and black striped hair were laughing it up. I continued on up the last flight of stairs, suddenly starving for ice cream.
Reaching the top of the staircase, the sun streamed down, blinding me. I wish I had brought along sunglasses. As I stepped onto the main deck I raised my hand against the sun only to find Mar and Miguel yakking it up with my favorite pirate—NOT—Captain Kidd. Geesh.
I cautiously approached the trio. Captain Kidd rested comfortably in a lawn chair under a huge umbrella which sprung out of a cart stacked full of small, colorful locked boxes. The sign read:
Captain Kidd’s 1001 Excuses For Every Occasion!
From $1 to $1,000
“Aargh, there’s the captain of her heart,” growled Captain Kidd as he watched me step up behind my friends. What did he mean by that? Did he figure out Daphne had helped me get away from him? Both of my friends turned to glance at me and then promptly turned back to Kidd, ignoring me. Captain Kidd seemed to ignore me too, but somehow it felt like he was watching my every move.
Mar said, “Okay, I’d like to buy a dollar excuse for missing homework.” She pulled money out of her pocket.
“Ye sure ye don’t wish to upgrade to a twelve dollar ’scuse?” he said, his eyes glued to Mar’s small stash of dollars. “Cheap ’scuses don’t float as well as the upgrades.”
“Well,” said Mar, “I just might want one of those, too, if the dollar excuse is good.”
I couldn’t hold back and said, “Mar, you always do your homework. You’re never late and you’d never use it. You’re wasting your money.”
Nobody reacted to what I said. It was like I wasn’t even there. With a silly grin on his face, Miguel just stared at the locked boxes like he had at the Sun Door earlier.
“Aye,” chirped the pirate. He lowered his voice and said, “Just for ye, Marcella, I’ll give ye the dollar ’scuse free, as proof that me goods are sterling.”
“Thank you.” Mar giggled and jumped up and down like a third grader. Miguel joined her.
I frowned, just about finished with this whole pirate ship thing, when I spotted Daphne’s Deli cart on the bow side of the ship, up one more deck. She was serving ice cream to the Fremont twins, Sheri and Karen.
Captain Kidd made a big production about finding the right key for the little blue box he walked over to. For all we knew it could have been the same key for all the boxes, but he did have a mess of keys on his key chain. He opened the box and took out an index card. He handed it to Mar.
Miguel and I closed in as Mar read it aloud. “My cousin’s goat ate my homework.”
“No,” I said, “it’s supposed to be ‘my dog ate it.’ Either way it’s a lame excuse.”
“I think it’s original,” Mar said.
“Yeah,” agreed Miguel.
“Dogs, bah!” shouted Captain Kidd.
“Everybody knows that goats eat anything and everything. And besides,” said Mar, “nobody knows who I’m related to or if they have a goat. You have to agree with that, Cam. That’s why this is a great excuse.”
I wasn’t so sure about that because Apache Junction was a pretty small town. People usually knew who was related to who. I bet Luigi knew who Mar was related to. “He’s ripping you off, Mar—he’s a pirate!”
“Stint ye clack, boy! Ye’ve been taken already.” Captain Kidd laughed and pointed at my Moonbeam. “Only one in a baker’s dozen of those Moonbeam Chiner lanterns work—ho ho ho.”
With that Mar gave me a serious, dark look for the first time since we boarded the ship. She even lost her smile. Maybe she got it? Maybe she understood that getting all caught up in the moment wasn’t worth her hard-earned babysitting money, especially since I just got ripped off. I hoped she was finally waking up, but a second later she blinked, and a silly grin crossed her face again. In one swift movement she stomped on my toes.
“Ouch. What was that for?”
With the three of them letting out joyous howls, I left. Daphne’s Deli cart was just up a set of steps under a large umbrella.
Daphne called to me when she saw me run up the steps. “Cameron Wrangler, I’m so glad to see you.”
“What will you have this wonderful afternoon? Chocolate, strawberry, or vanilla?”
“How about three scoops?”
“Sure.” I set my Moonbeam on the far side of the picnic table out of the shade of the umbrella and in the sun so the solar chips could start charging. I thought I had better test it before I left Freebooter’s Paradise just in case it was one of the duds. I went back and sat in the shaded part of the table close to Daphne. My stomach ached as I watched her pile three scoops of vanilla onto a sugar cone. Free ice cream, nice.
When Mar, Miguel, and Captain Kidd busted out laughing again below, I told Daphne, “His 1001 Excuses aren’t very good. I wouldn’t spend a dollar on them… Captain Kidd doesn’t like me much.”
“Don’t take it to heart. He doesn’t like anyone,” said Daphne. “Not even me. Here you go.” She held out the ice cream cone.
“Thanks.” I swear it was the largest ice cream cone I had ever seen. I mean, the scoops were huge, the whole mile point five.
“You better get started,” Daphne suggested. “It melts fast in this heat.”
“Not to worry,” I said. “Arizonans win ice-cream-eating contests all over the world.” And we do. The ice cream was delicious. I think it was the best I ever had. I was already done eating my second scoop when Miguel and Mar finally made it up for ice cream. Daphne created ice cream monsters for them as well, and we all sat at the picnic table under the umbrella and watched people come and go.
After Mar and Miguel settled in to their ice cream, I asked, “Are you two okay?”
“Yeah,” said Miguel. “This is the best ice cream ever.”
“Sure, I’m great,” said Mar. “Are you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine,” I said, still disbelieving that they were okay.
Crazy Shades arrived on deck and ended up having a shouting match with Captain Kidd. After buying one of his excuses, she shouted, “That’s completely idiotic! I want my ten dollars back!”
“Stop yer drivellin’!” he shouted back. “There be no refunds, ye spindle-shanked, red-eyed bug!”
“Bug? How dare you call me a BUG!”
They were fun to watch, and it was the most fun I’d had all morning.
When Mar started to eat her third scoop of strawberry, she handed me the index card that was her ten dollar excuse for not turning in homework: My father accidentally made a paper airplane out of it and crashed it into my mother’s boiling celery and cabbage soup.
I said, “Does anybody eat celery and cabbage soup? Mar, you got ripped off.”
“No, I didn’t,” said Mar with melting ice cream dribbling to the picnic table. “You got ripped off by buying that stupid Moon-flashlight-thingy.”
“Mine works,” I said, not knowing for sure.
Miguel asked, “Have you tried it out yet?”
I shook my head.
Daphne said, “Cameron, your lantern’s been in the sun for a while now. Why don’t you test it? Find out if you need to return it or not.”
“Tap the button on the cap, Cam,” said Miguel. “That turns it on.”
“That’s right,” said Daphne, “but you won’t be able to tell if it really works, here in the sun. You need a dark place.” She paused for a moment glancing across deck. “There.” She pointed to a door directly across from us. It was down the steps and clear across the main deck. “Pop in there and see if it works. Even better, there’s a broom closet a few feet down the hall on the left. That would be the perfect place to test it.”
“Is it okay if I go in there?”
Daphne smiled in a way that made me feel it wouldn’t be okay, but then she said, “Oh, if someone sees you, just tell them you wanted to test your Moonbeam, and that you got lost.”
“I got lost?” I repeated doubtfully.
Daphne gave me a nod. “What can they do to you?”
“Yeah,” said Mar. She took another quick lick of her strawberry ice cream.
“Make you walk the plank?” asked Miguel.
Everyone laughed at that, and then they all stared at me.
Daphne said, “Now seems to be the best time, Cameron.”
I reluctantly nodded. I didn’t want to get ripped off, but I didn’t want to go through that door alone either. “Miguel, come with me?” I asked him.
He shook his head and asked Daphne, “May I have some more ice cream?” He was happy as a clam to stay behind, which was so not Miguel. He was the master explorer. He always dragged me along with him.
“Mar, you come with me.”
“No, I can already tell you what you want to know. Only one in a baker’s dozen of those Moonbeams work, so yours probably doesn’t,” she said. “You’ve wasted your money.”
I shot back, “Who spent ten dollars on a lame excuse?”
“I got two excuses for ten dollars. Remember? Anyway, both of them are completely original and totally believable. I’m using them the first chance I get—look out, junior high. Go, Cam. We’ll wait for you. May I have some more ice cream, too, please, Daphne?”
“All right,” I said. “I’ll see you in a bit.” I slunk down the steps from Daphne’s Deli throwing my almost-finished sugar cone in the trash. As I walked across the main deck I noticed that Captain Kidd had abandoned his Excuse Cart. That was good. I didn’t want to talk to him again. Ever.
For me ten bucks was a lot of money. I didn’t get an allowance so I had to wash both Mom and Dad’s cars to earn that much. If this stupid Moonbeam didn’t work, I wanted to exchange it for one that did, or I wanted my money back. The wooden door I was supposed to go through was plain compared to the others on the ship. There weren’t fancy swirls carved on it or gargoyles in the corners of the doorframe. The most interesting thing about this door was its old knob. It was painted black but the worn round edge glinted a metallic brass in the sun.
I turned the knob, which was extremely hot, and the door swung open. I peered into a dark hallway. Yeah, Daphne was right, this was perfect for a test. I stepped in, closing the door behind me, and the dark startled me. Suddenly, a bit afraid, I wondered if the door had locked me in. I wondered if this was some sort of trick. From what I had learned around here, this was not your average pirate ship. I shoved the door back open and peeked out. Mar, Miguel, and Daphne were still at the picnic table. Miguel saw me and waved. He held up his ice cream cone and rubbed his stomach like he was saying, “You’re missing out. Hurry up or I’m going to eat it all!”
Resolved to hold my test, I decided to leave the door open just a crack. The strong Arizona sun poured through, but that would have to do. I held the Mason jar up and told it, “Buddy, please don’t be a dud.” All I had to do was to gently tap the button in the middle of the solar chips—that was the on and off switch. So I did, and WOW!
The jar filled with a noticeable blue light. I held it in front of me like a lantern. From the bottom of the jar there was even a faint blue circle on the wood planked floor. “Holy Toledo,” I whispered. I would never have to buy batteries for a flashlight again, and I could even do my homework without turning on my bedroom light. My Moonbeam was a good investment after all, the whole mile point five!
Excited and thrilled, I ran down the hallway and found the broom closet. It was just around the corner, on the left, like Daphne said it would be. I went in and closed the door behind me. YAHOO! I nearly shouted out with joy when I saw what a Moonbeam could really do. My lantern glowed wide like a blue basketball and through the bottom came a strong blue beam like a flashlight. I held my Moonbeam up and searched around the broom closet. A long case of shelves lined the back of the room. The shelves were filled with paper towels, soaps, detergents, piles of ropes, wasp-killer-in-a-can, and boxes of rat poison on the bottom shelf. To the right sat a bucket with two mops and in the far corner stood a broom. The small square room glowed in the bluish-white light. My Moonbeam seemed as strong as a light bulb but way cooler because the blue jar gave everything a bluish tint.
I set my lantern on a shelf and made shadow puppets on the back of the closet door. Two happy bunnies went for a walk, got bored, and ended up beating each other up when all of a sudden I heard stomping like someone running down steps. The shelf along the back wall softly creaked and slowly swung toward me. I backed into the mop bucket and froze. A pirate raced by, turning the coat hook on the wall with one hand and opening the door with another. He left, and the shelf creaked back. Just as I breathed a sigh of relief, the closet door cracked back open. The pirate’s hand groped the wall for the light switch. He flipped the light on and off. He was trying to turn the light off but was confused by the light from my Moonbeam. Quietly as I could, I reached for the top of my lantern. I tapped the button and the Moonbeam went out. The pirate flipped the switch a couple more times and then said, “Huh,” and closed the door.
I listened for his footsteps. They echoed down the hall. And there I was, in the quiet dark with a secret passageway just behind the shelf. I so wished Mar or Miguel were with me. We would have been up those stairs in a flash, but no, I was alone because Miguel wanted more ice cream and Mar thought my Moonbeam was stupid. Where did the secret staircase lead? A secret room? What were my chances of getting caught? I wondered if the excuse “I got lost” would work if I got caught. Hmm.
I fumbled for the light switch and turned it on. I tucked my Moonbeam behind a roll of brown paper towels and peeked my head out of the closet into the hallway. The coast was clear. I tiptoed back down the hallway and opened the door that led out to the deck, convinced I could wave Miguel and Mar over, but they were gone. Daphne was still there serving other kids, but Miguel and Mar . . . What happened to “We’ll wait for you”? I was only gone, what, five minutes? It made me angry that they went off together and left me. Well, they’ll be sorry to miss the secret staircase. “You dorks,” I whispered. I left the door ajar again, just in case, and I headed straight back to the broom closet. I left the broom closet door ajar too, and with my heart racing I turned the coat hook. The shelf creaked and slowly swung open. I stepped forward into a shaft of light.
Without a second thought, I started up the blue-carpeted steps. Half way up the staircase, I slowed down, ready to sprint back if I had to. From there I could see that the room’s walls were dark blue, its ceiling white and sparkling. Unlike everywhere else on the ship, this room was totally modern. Feeling every beat of my heart, I stopped. Should I go back?
I forced myself to take another step. I could see straight ahead now that there was a coffee table and a long, comfortable-looking couch behind it. I went up a couple more steps and stopped to listen. I could hear the soft hum that must have been the air conditioner and a soft ticking that might be a clock, but I didn’t hear or see anyone. I could still go back, if I wanted, and nobody would know I was ever there. Then I remembered Miguel and Mar. Won’t they be sorry to hear about this room, I thought, and I ran up the last three steps.
To the right of the couch, a huge room opened up.
To my right, behind me, was an alcove filled with cabinets, a stove, a counter with a sink, and a microwave, and hogging the back wall stood a huge stainless steel refrigerator. Against the stairwell wall was a small table with a napkin dispenser and two chairs.
At the corner of the alcove, where the room opened up, stood a wooden man in a black suit and a tall black hat. He had a black beard and stubby legs. Strewn about him were large cardboard boxes. They must have been supply boxes because printed on their sides were words like coffee cups, plates, napkins, POTATO chips, and paper towels. I crept between them and stacked a couple up to help hide me while I checked out the big room. I placed my hands on the back of the paint-flaked wooden guy and peered around him.
The big room sparkled like crazy. There were lights in the ceiling, but the fierce Arizona sun poured through the only window in the room, the glass Sun Door, and the sparkling ceiling reflected and danced with the rays. The two walls of this great room angled to merge at the Sun Door. Like outside, the foot-long golden flames surrounded the door’s frame, but these flames flashed all at once. I stared at them to see how. The flames, probably made out of real gold, flinched upward about every second reflecting the light. I could hear again that small tick a clock would make. It was coming from the door and it mesmerized me and I couldn’t look away. The door was beautiful but somehow unnerving, and goose bumps raced up my arms. All at once, the flames dropped significantly and began to flash slowly back up again. Was this door some sort of clock? I set my watch to its stopwatch mode and waited for the golden flames to drop again. When they did, I pressed start and peered around the room while I waited.
The Sun Door stood on a small, raised half-circle of floor, a dais. On the dais too, but opposite the door, was a large wooden steering wheel, a helm. It had many handles and looked exactly like the ship’s helm on the poop deck directly above this deck. Down the side of the dais were four steps leading to a small half-circle of blue marble floor. After that, on the blue carpet, a grand old fashioned desk stood regally in front of it all. On both ends of it were see-through computer monitors. Behind the desk was a tall leather chair. A large, golden bird perch stood off to the left. Along both side walls were three computer workstations all with tall stools, keyboards, and glass monitors. Multiple images flashed across the monitors. I figured they came from security cameras.
My side of the room seemed to be an entranceway where two long, room-wide steps set off the Sun Door area. Placed at ends of the steps were life-size statues. One was King Neptune riding a seahorse and the other was a mermaid sitting on a rock. The last wall bowed away from the main room and had double doors in the middle. From the floor to the ceiling, it was almost completely covered with huge gold-framed paintings.
The Sun Door’s golden flames softly flicked into their highest position and then fell back to their lowest. I checked my watch. Sixty seconds exactly. The door was a clock, too—way cool—point five!
Just when I felt satisfied that I had seen everything there was to see, I noticed a title plate at the base of the statue I was hiding behind. I leaned around and read: mr. lincoln, saxman totem park, alaska. So, this was a totem? Was it an original? Did Blackbeard steal it? It was definitely old and worn. Hello, Abe Lincoln, I thought. Patting him on the shoulder, I accidentally snapped off a chip of black paint. It fell to the carpet. Wasn’t President Lincoln supposed to be a tall guy? Why did this Abe have such stubby legs?
Before I could move an inch, the double doors flew open and Ed, the guy who drove the Volkswagen bug and who is supposed to be Blackbeard, marched in, his parrot swooping in after. A lady dressed in a business suit followed, but stopped just inside the double doors. I ducked back behind Mr. Lincoln. My heart nearly jumped out of my chest. Remember, I got lost. Oh, I hoped that excuse would work. Maybe I should have bought an extra excuse from Captain Kidd.
“I’m not to be disturbed, Josephine,” Blackbeard bellowed.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” Josephine answered. She backed herself out of the room and closed the doors behind her.
What now? Hiding behind President Lincoln, I felt excited, but scared too. I was crazy for being here, the whole mile point five! Why hadn’t I left two seconds earlier?
I amazed myself, realizing how quiet and still I could be. Had I stopped breathing? No, I was still breathing. Good. I can’t describe how I felt right then. Was this what it felt like to be a spy? Weren’t you supposed to be brave if you were a spy?
If I took a peek, that would be brave. Mar and Miguel would do it, no questions asked. Both of them are super brave. I would look too, if they were there, but they weren’t. They were off having fun somewhere else on the ship. Then something inside of me bubbled up, and I knew I had to take a peek. I had to prove to myself that I had as much courage as Mar and Miguel. Slowly, I moved to peer between a supply box and old Abe.
Blackbeard raced across the room. I watched him skip up the first and third dais steps. Standing on the dais, he stared down through the Sun Door. “Who would guess we would strike it rich in tiny, worthless Apache Junction?” he said in a low gruff voice seemingly to no one. “Look at the tour line alone.”
From his perch the parrot said, “And we haven’t even started our search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine.”
Odd, I thought, that was a lot for a parrot to say.
“How do you know,” Blackbeard answered in a mocking tone, “that we’re not mining their gold right now by selling all of this junk and blessing this town with predatory credit—I mean Freebooter’s credit?”
I had to agree with Blackbeard. A lot of the stuff, like the sick puppies and the cheap junk were bad, but I didn’t think the Moonbeams were junk. Well, at least mine wasn’t. It worked.
Blackbeard turned around and gently spun the helm. He stared at the center of it as he asked, “Didn’t you claim it would bring in the money, Nennah? A Freebooter’s credit card with high interest rates, continually creeping due-dates, and late fees a pirate could be proud of?”
A girl’s voice answered, but by the sound of it she seemed reluctant. “Fortune favors the bold, my captain.”
Blackbeard roared with laughter. The parrot jumped from one foot to the other, bobbing his head and laughing, too. I couldn’t tell if it was really laughing or if it was just imitating Blackbeard. Maybe it was doing both? And where was this girl I had just heard? I didn’t see her.
On his way down from the dais, Blackbeard skipped the same steps again, like he was a kid. He sat in his chair, pulled off his boots and socks, leaned back, crossed his feet on the corner of his desk, wriggled his toes, and said, “Ahhh.”
His parrot whined, “You know how I love to stare at the bottom of your feet. Caw. You slob!”
Blackbeard ignored his parrot, but I couldn’t. Was that something he trained his bird to say?
From a pocket, Blackbeard pulled a silver ring and placed it on the tip of his pinky finger. He said, “I think she knows I switched rings in Vegas.”
“Oh, you think, do you?” scolded the parrot. “Caw!” He flapped his wings and continued sarcastically, “It never occurred to his Royal Majesty, the Great and Dishonorable Pirate King Blackbeard, that a psychic girlfriend might figure it out?”
Blackbeard took off the ring and slapped it onto his desk. Half a second later, his foot snapped out and kicked over the parrot’s perch. The bird screeched, launched himself into the air and flew in fast circles around Blackbeard’s desk squawking, “You knew she would—you knew! I was only stating the obvious—you knew!”
“Oh, calm down and shut up, Rudy. The things I can do with this Gemini Ring. The people it will allow me to change into.”
Rudy landed on a handle of the helm and said, “What can Daphne do about it anyway?” He jumped to a handle on the far side of the wheel, and the wheel started to rotate. Rudy walked from handle to handle keeping the wheel turning. “She would never do anything to jeopardize her father’s life.”
The mysterious girl’s voice said, “Rudy, please stop walking on me.”
But Rudy kept walking. In fact, he picked up the pace. “The question is,” Rudy said, “will the ring work for you? First of all, you stole it. And secondly, you were human once.”
I swallowed. Did that mean Blackbeard wasn’t human?
“Rudy, please,” begged the girl. “I’m not a hamster wheel. Allow me some dignity.”
Blackbeard sighed. He said, “The important question is: Does she love me?”
“Ahoy, my heart, my heart,” cawed Rudy. He bobbed his head while laughing hysterically and took to running. The wheel spun wildly. “Does she love me? Ha! Ha, ha, ha!”
The mysterious girl’s voice warned, “This is your last chance to stop, Rudy.”
Blackbeard jumped up and walked to the dais steps with his hands out like he was going to strangle Rudy when the wheel lurched faster and swatted Rudy. He went flying and slammed into Blackbeard, who luckily caught him.
Rudy said breathlessly, “Timber me shivers.”
“I’m not a treadmill,” the girl’s voice scolded. “And I’m not a toilet either. Could someone please help me? Bird poo is horrible for my finish.” The wheel spun to a stop and revealed three handles spotted with white poop.
Rudy flew from Blackbeard’s arms to perch on the nearest stool. “Sorry about that, Nennah,” said Rudy. “Some things you can’t help when the wind’s knocked out of you.”
Blackbeard looked to his own clothes splashed white. He turned an ugly stare on Rudy. His face turned beet red. His eyes went round as if he were about to burst into fire. I’m surprised his beard didn’t start smoldering all on its own.
“Sorry about that, Captain,” whined Rudy as sweetly as he could, but apparently he knew he wasn’t finished apologizing. “I’m sorry, too, about that whole ‘does Daphne love me’ teasing.”
Blackbeard drew the pistol from his belt and took aim at Rudy.
Rudy squawked and took to the air in a dart-and-dodge flight path. I ducked back behind Abe Lincoln and scrunched down, keeping every bit of me out of range.
“I said I was sorry,” whined Rudy again. I watched for his shadow to fly across the wall. “Ah, you won’t shoot me if I’m in front of Homer’s painting.” He hovered before one of the large gold-framed paintings that had two fishermen hulling in fish using a net.
“Why not?” asked Blackbeard. “You like herring more than me.”
“You’ll have a priceless painting with a hole in it, or blood on it!”
“I’m still going to shoot you.”
“Why are you doing this to me?”
“In Vegas, not only did I steal Daphne’s ring, but I also won a potion bottle of Midas touch in a poker game.”
“Scallops with fries, we’re rich! Gold! Gold! Gold!” screamed a near breathless Rudy who was obviously getting tired of flying.
“No gold, unfortunately, but with the touch of my right hand, this potion allows me to fix things better than new. I took a drop of the potion this morning in my coffee. So, my friend, if I miss you and hit the painting with a bullet, then I will only increase its value after I fix it myself. But this gun, my dear friend, rests in my Midas hand. I don’t intend on missing you.” He laughed.
I remembered the long white scar I had seen on his right hand—was it because of the potion? Was that how he fixed the door of the yellow Bug? That was the same hand he grabbed me with. I wanted to jerk around and take a look at his hand to see if his scar was squirming like a worm again, but I caught myself.
Rudy didn’t say another word. I watched him as he flew to the alcove and hovered over the secret staircase for a second, then swooped down the steps. He must have seen the passageway I’d left open.
“Dead end, my friend. And I do mean dead,” called Blackbeard as he ran to the top of the stairs.
My knees shook. I was hiding behind Abe and the boxes, but what would happen if Blackbeard saw me, if he was so willing to kill his own pet parrot? “I’m lost,” I’ll say. Daphne said that would work. So, I’m lost. I’m lost! Should I shout it now? I’m lost!
“Aarrgh!” Blackbeard cried and disappeared down the steps. “Who doesn’t close doors? Do we live in a barn? . . . Jared!” I heard a thump and imagined Blackbeard knocking Jared against the wall.
Jared screamed, “I didn’t do anything! I just got here!”
“Close doors after yourself, especially secret ones!”
I heard a smack.
“Ow!” wailed Jared.
“He buzzed me in the hall!”
“You let him out?”
“I came from the mess—I don’t know which way he went!”
There was another smack and an “ouch!”
“Bird’s don’t open doors, idiot!”
There was a clunk and then footfalls running away. “Now, why is this door open?” Blackbeard shouted a few foul words and then left, slamming the door after himself.
Rudy escaped because I left the doors open for him. That made me happy, but before I could move from my spot I heard footsteps running up the stairs. Jared emerged from the secret staircase. I watched him as he rotated the empty coat hook on the wall. The broom closet shelf croaked and I knew it had begun to close. “Close secret doors,” grumped Jared. “Bird poo?” he asked himself as he tried to flick white off his clothes. “Close secret doors,” he said again. “Then why did you leave it open in the first place, Pirate King Poo!” He smiled and giggled.
I was extremely nervous right then and I thought that was funny so I accidentally snickered. Unfortunately, Jared heard me, and he stopped in mid-stride and glanced my way. I didn’t dare move. He might see me if I did, but after a few long seconds, Jared ran to Blackbeard’s desk. I peeked around old Abe to watch. He snatched up Daphne’s ring and put it into his pocket. He dug into his other pocket and put something back on the table. He returned to the stairs, rotated the empty coat hook and dashed down the steps. A second later the shelf croaked again, closing.
Dying of curiosity, I weaved my way out of the supply boxes and ran to Blackbeard’s desk. There was nothing but a ring sitting there. It was a wide, silver ring with a leaf pattern on it. Did he just steal the real one back and replace it with a fake? How did Jared know the ring would be there waiting for him? And then it occurred to me that he probably didn’t know, but Daphne would know, if she were psychic. Did that mean I was a part of this plan, too? To give Rudy an escape to get Blackbeard out of the room? Did Daphne know that this morning when we crashed the tandem?
I shook my right leg. It had fallen asleep and was a little numb.
“Oh, the smell,” said the mysterious girl’s voice, and the wheel spun clockwise. It raced around and around. She said, “Fly off, poo. Fly, poo, fly!” A few spirited spins later the wheel stopped, and again the room fell silent except for the air conditioning and the soft ticking.
Now seemed the perfect chance to escape, but I hesitated. Daphne’s Gemini ring could change someone into another person? If that’s true, that’s completely amazing. I remembered Daphne spinning it on her finger after we crashed the tandem into her car. That must have been Blackbeard’s fake ring, the one he switched for her real one, the one that Jared might have just returned. And if Blackbeard wasn’t human—then what was he? And he was in love with Daphne? Now I know she was in trouble. Who could love Blackbeard, or Ed, or who ever he was, especially if he wasn’t human?
If Luigi were here, he would tell me to leave right now, this very minute. He would be right, of course, I should, but I couldn’t leave. Not yet. I was too curious. Instead, I took napkins off the table in the alcove and put a couple under the faucet to get wet. With wet napkins in my one hand and dry ones in another, I walked over to the helm.
I admit, I was a nut job for not leaving then. If Blackbeard returned, would he shoot me? Or blame me for switching back Daphne’s ring? When the carpeting ended I walked onto the blue marble floor and noticed that it was filled with small golden stars in patterns of constellations. In the Superstition Mountains Scouts, when we went camping we always looked for the Big Dipper and the North Star. I spotted them in the floor, and the constellation of Orion, too.
On the floor in front of the helm was a big moon; a quarter of it was gold like the stars but the rest of it was made of black marble. Covering the side of the dais was navy blue velvet. I stood on the moon and rubbed the back of my hand against the velvet. It was cool and soft. If you could feel the color blue, I thought, that is exactly what it would feel like.
Now or never. I walked to the side of the dais and skipped up the steps like I’d watched Blackbeard do, just in case there was a trick to it. The floor on the dais was strange. There wasn’t plush carpet or smooth marble. It was a gold grate. The kind I hated walking on in downtown Phoenix. I always imagined they would break on me and I would fall into a poisonous black pit of pollution. I hoped the golden grate wasn’t a trapdoor. I held my breath and stepped onto it. Nothing happened. Good.
I glanced out of the Sun Door. The parking lot was full of cars. A four-person-wide line stretched clear around the back of the ship. No wonder Blackbeard was so happy.
I turned to the helm and instantly dropped the napkins. Floating in the air at the heart of the wheel was a girl’s face. Her pale, slim, freckled face seemed a tad surprised. She stared at me and blinked her whitish-blue eyes. “You can’t see me, can you?” she asked. Her red hair floated slowly in the air like she was underwater.
She rolled her eyes. “Well, if you can hear me, then—”
“Who are you?”
She hesitated and then said, “My name is Nennah Fortuna.”
I picked up the napkins. “What are you?”
“I’m a magical helm and Blackbeard’s Wheel of Fortune. What are you?”
“I’m, I’m,” I stuttered, surprised by that question. “I’m a boy, of course!”
“No, you’re not.”
“Yes, I am! I’m not a girl—can’t you tell?”
“I didn’t mean that, silly. I simply meant that humans can’t see me, let alone hear me. That means you’re not human but something else. Are you a fairy shrimp? One of King Kenny’s children? Or are you a Sonoran desert elf or maybe a Tasmanian Devil on a holiday?”
Panicked and confused, I asked, “Do I look like a Tasmanian?”
I said, “I don’t know why I see you. I just do.”
“If you’re not anything special—oh sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I mean, I guess there could be another reason why you can see me, if you’re human like you claim.”
“Look, may I clean the bird poop off?”
Nennah grinned. “Please, you’re so kind. Hurry—I can hardly stand it.” She rotated so that the stained handles were on the top of the wheel.
I used the wet napkins first and then followed up with the dry ones. “I’ve never met a wheel of fortune before, or anything magical, actually.”
Nennah giggled, and I wondered if it was because of what I said or if I was tickling her while cleaning off the poo.
When I finished, Nennah smiled again and said, “Thank you.” The wheel spun on its own and Nennah let her face spin once upside down. “I need to ask the crew for another polish. It’s time . . .” She let go and let her face spin around with her wheel.
“I know what you’re saying. I take a shower every day now.” I grinned because I was talking to a wheel of fortune. If Mar or Miguel were here, I wondered if they would be able to see her too.
Nennah abruptly stopped spinning. “Thank you again, but you’re in grave peril for loitering in Blackbeard’s office. He’s a pirate never to be crossed, and his first mate, Rudy, should never be trusted.”
“Rudy doesn’t talk like a parrot.”
“That’s because he isn’t really a parrot. He’s the most powerful shapeshifter I’ve ever encountered. He can take the form of many, many beings.”
A shapeshifter? And then I wondered how powerful Nennah Fortuna was. She was a magical helm. The memory of super-sized dust devils roaring into town made me shiver, and I wondered out loud, “Were you the one who flew the ship to Apache Junction?” I knew for a fact that Blackbeard was driving back from Vegas just before the ship arrived.
Nennah tilted her face and narrowed her eyes. “Yes, and like I was saying, you ought to leave. In fact, leave Freebooter’s Paradise altogether and never return. Queen Anne’s Revenge is full of enchantments and I’m afraid you’ve already been affected—for good or bad.”
Before I could say anything else, her face disappeared. “Nice meeting you,” I said, sorry to go, but at the same time ready. I heard Luigi in the back of my mind, “Run!” I skipped down the steps just like Blackbeard had, just in case.
“Cameron Wrangler,” Nennah Fortuna called after me.
Shocked, I stopped, not even to the blue carpet yet. How did she know my name? It creeped me out that everyone around here seemed to know my name.
“If you step onto the moon, you’ll see me again.” I walked back, I stepped onto the moon on the marble floor, and I looked up at the center of the helm. She said, “It’s not my place to tell the fortunes of humans, which I’ve determined that you are,” and she appeared. “But for you, it’s as a thank you.”
I smiled at her, glad to talk more with her. “Have you determined that I’m a boy, too?”
Her face turned pinker, if that were possible. Right then I decided I liked her, and I hoped she liked me, too.
“Spin the helm, Cameron, and I’ll tell you as much of your fortune as the Fates will allow me.”
On my tiptoes, I reached up as far as I could and pulled down on the wheel. I felt like I was on the TV show The Price Is Right, except I wasn’t going to win any prizes. Nennah closed her eyes and let her face turn with the wheel. Watching her face made me dizzy and started to give me the creeps, so I stepped away from the moon. Nennah’s face disappeared. As I waited, I noticed that after the Sun Door’s flames dropped, a little gold comet on the frame moved. There were numbers carved into the top of the door’s frame. The comet had slid closer to the Roman numeral two. I checked my watch. In about fifteen minutes it would be two o’clock. The two-hundred-dollar raffle should be starting. Maybe I could find Mar and Miguel that way.
When the wheel stopped, I jumped back onto the moon to see Nennah again.
With her eyes still closed and in an unfamiliar, mature woman’s voice she said, “Extreme peril—don’t walk the plank—even in jest. If you do, then you’ve chosen a path of peril. Beware of traitors, treachery, and even a doppelganger!” After a pause she continued, “Plank or no plank, death lurks, waiting to ferry across someone.” A couple of seconds later she laughed and said, “What a dangerous tandem of friends you keep! What’s this: Grumpy gold? Gold? Gold! And more gold—more than a heart’s desire!” Then she shouted happily, “Your future, Cameron Wrangler, will be filled with outrageous fortune!” And then she said urgently, “Hark, Blackbeard returns! Nennah Fortuna has spoken!”
“Thanks,” I said, totally unnerved and not knowing what to think. What was a doppelganger? And grumpy gold? Why does death have to lurk? Not wanting to be caught by Blackbeard, I ran to the secret stairs and turned the empty coat hook on the wall. Nennah Fortuna called, using her girl voice again, “A piece of advice, Cameron: fortune favors the bold, the brave, and the true of heart! Remember!”
Not wanting to shout back and give myself away, I waved goodbye hoping she could see it and dashed down the steps. Her advice echoed in my mind, Fortune favors the bold, the brave, and the true of heart! . . . Fortune favors the bold, the brave, and the true of heart! Remember! In the broom closet, I turned on the light, turned the coat hook to close the passage, and grabbed my Moonbeam. I flipped the closet light off and slipped out, making sure I closed the door softly. I sprinted back down the hallway when the door to my freedom opened.
Standing in the doorway was Blackbeard, followed by Captain Kidd.
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