Black Duck (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) (Puffin Sleuth Novels)

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9781417787302: Black Duck (Turtleback School & Library Binding Edition) (Puffin Sleuth Novels)

FOR USE IN SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES ONLY. Years afterwards, Ruben Hart tells the story of how, in 1929 Newport, Rhode Island, his family and his best friend's family were caught up in the violent competition among groups trying to control the local rum-smuggling trade.

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About the Author:

Janet Taylor Lisle was born in Englewood, New Jersey and grew up in Farmington, Connecticut, spending summers on the coast of Rhode Island. The eldest and only daughter in a family of five children, she was educated at local schools and at fifteen entered The Ethel Walker School, a girl's boarding school in Simsbury, Ct.

After graduation from Smith College in 1969 with a degree in English Literature, she enlisted and was trained for work in VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America). She lived and worked for the next two years in Atlanta, Georgia, organizing food-buying cooperatives in the city's public housing projects and teaching in an early-child care center. Catalyzed by this experience, she enrolled in journalism courses at Georgia State University with the idea of writing about the poverty she had seen. This was the beginning of a reporting career that extended over the next ten years.

With the birth of her daughter in 1977, Lisle turned to writing projects that could be accomplished at home. In 1984, The Dancing Cats of Applesap, her first novel for children, was published. Subsequently, she has published ten other novels.

Afternoon of the Elves, a 1990 Newbery Honor Book, has been translated into six languages. It was produced as a play by the Seattle Children's Theater in 1993, and continues to be performed in children's theaters throughout the U.S. In this book, as in others she has written, the author plumbs a borderland between reality and fantasy where imagination holds sway and the ordinary surfaces of life crack open to reveal hidden worlds.

Elves, fairies and exotic creatures make appearances in her novels but whether they are real within the story, or merely imaginative projections of her characters, is often left unresolved.

"I think of magic as that which is still waiting to be discovered," the author has said. "I put it in my books to remind readers (myself included) to keep a sharp eye out. The unknown is everywhere, all around us and lurking even in our own minds."

She lives on the Rhode Island coast with her husband, Richard Lisle, and their daughter Elizabeth, a college student.

copyright © 2000 by Penguin Putnam Books for Young Readers. All rights reserved.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

A secret memory . . .

What happened next that spring afternoon is something I know Jeddy remembers. I can see us standing there, two raw-boned boys beside the bootleg crate, seagulls wheeling overhead, making dives on a tidal pool up the beach from us. Almost as an afterthought we wandered toward this pool, not expecting to see anything. It came into view with no more drama than if it had been a sodden piece of driftwood lying on the sand: a naked human leg.


For Richard Lisle, with love.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events, locales, or living persons is entirely coincidental.

Table of Contents

Newport Daily Journal, December 30, 1929



NEWPORT, DEC. 30—Three alleged rum runners were killed by machine gun fire and another man was wounded near Newport shortly before 3 o’clock Sunday morning, according to the Coast Guard. The men were in a 50-foot speedboat well-known locally as the Black Duck.

The boat, carrying a cargo of 300 cases of smuggled liquor, was stumbled on in dense fog by Coast Guard Patrol Boat 290. A burst of machine gun fire killed all three men instantly in the pilot house. A fourth crew member was shot through the hand. No arms were found on board.

“The shooting is unfortunate but clearly justified by U.S. Prohibition law forbidding the trade or consumption of liquor anywhere in the United States,” a Coast Guard spokesman said in a statement to reporters last night. “These rogue smugglers threaten our communities and must be stopped.”

Other details were not available as authorities kept them guarded.

The Interview

A RUMRUNNER HAD LIVED IN TOWN, ONE OF the notorious outlaws who smuggled liquor during the days of Prohibition, that was the rumor. David Peterson heard he might still be around.


No one knew exactly. It was all so long ago.

Well, who was he?

This was equally vague. Someone said to ask at the general store across from the church.

It would be a miracle if the man was still alive, David thought. He’d be over eighty. If he were anywhere, he’d probably be in a nursing home by now.

But it turned out he wasn’t. He still lived in town. Ruben Hart was his name.

The number listed in the telephone book doesn’t answer. There is an address, though. David has his mother drop him off at the end of the driveway. It’s June. School is over. He tells her not to wait.

The house is gray shingle, hidden behind a mass of bushes that have grown up in front of the windows. David isn’t surprised. It’s what happens with old people’s homes. Plantings meant to be low hedges or decorative bushes sprout up. Over time, if no one pays attention, they get out of control. David’s family is in the landscaping business and he knows about the power of vegetation. He’s seen whole trees growing through the floor of a porch, and climbing vines with their fingers in the attic. Left to its own devices, nature runs amok.

David knocks on the front door. After a long pause, an old fellow in a baggy gray sweater opens up. David tells him straight out why he’s come: he’s looking for a story to get in the local paper.

They won’t hire me, but the editor says if I come up with a good story, he’ll print it. I want to be a reporter, he announces, all in one breath.

Is that so? the man says. His face has the rumpled look of a well-used paper bag, all lines and creases. But his eyes are shrewd.

I’m a senior in high school, David explains to build up his case. It’s a slight exaggeration. He’ll be a freshman next fall.

He receives a skeptical stare.

Then the man, who is in fact Ruben Hart himself, still kicking, as he says with a sly glint of his glasses, invites David in.

My wife’s in the kitchen. We can go in the parlor.

David has never before heard anyone say that word, parlor, to describe a room in a house. He’s read it in stories from English class, though, and knows what one is. The chairs are formal and hard as a rock, just as you’d expect.

I suppose you’re here to find out about the old days, Mr. Hart says. His voice is raspy-sounding, as if he doesn’t use it much.

I am.

Must be the liquor Prohibition back in the 1920s you’re interested in, rumrunners and hijackers, fast boats and dark nights.

Yes, sir!

I wasn’t in it.

You weren’t? David frowns. I heard you were.

I wasn’t.


I guess that’s that, Mr. Hart says. Sorry to disappoint you.

Did you know anyone who was? David asks.

I might’ve. Mr. Hart’s glasses glint again.

Could you talk about them?


That was the end of their first meeting.

A week later, David tries again. He’s done some research this time, found a newspaper article from 1929 about the Coast Guard gunning down some unarmed rumrunners, and learned the names of beaches around there where the liquor was brought in.

The first rumrunners were local fishermen who wanted to make an extra buck for their families. They’d sneak cases of booze onshore off boats that brought the stuff down from Canada or up from the Bahamas. But there was too much money to be made, as there is in the drug trade today. Hardened criminals came in and formed gangs. People were shot up and murdered. The business turned vicious.

My wife’s gone out, we can sit in the kitchen, Mr. Hart says this time.

When they settle, David has his plan of attack ready.

I don’t want to bother you, but I read about some things and wondered if I could check them out with you. Nothing personal, just some facts.

Such as? The old man’s eyes are wary.

Was Brown’s Beach a drop for liquor? I read it was.

I guess there’s no harm in agreeing to that. Everybody in town knew it.

And were there hidden storage cellars under the floor of the old barn out behind Riley’s General Store? Across from the church, you know where I mean?

They’re still there, as far as I know.

One other thing, David says. There was a famous rum-running boat around here named the Black Duck . . .

That was the end of their second meeting.

The man closes up, won’t even make eye contact. He says his heart’s acting funny and he’s got to take a pill. Five minutes later David is heading back out the driveway. He hitches home this time rather than wait for his mother. He’s touched on something, he knows it. There’s a story there. How to pry it out of the old geezer?

He’s still wondering a week later when, surprise of all surprises, Mr. Hart calls him. He’s managed to ferret out David’s home number from among the dozens of Petersons in the telephone book.

I’ll talk to you a bit. An old friend of mine is ill. You’ve been on my mind.

David can’t see the connection between himself and some old friend, but he gets a ride over there as soon as he can. His father drives him this time, grumbling, You’re making me late. What’s wrong with riding a bicycle? In my day, we went everywhere under our own steam.

David doesn’t answer. In a year and a half he’ll be old enough to drive himself and won’t need to put up with irritating comments like this.

Sorry about your friend being sick, he says to Mr. Hart. They’re in the kitchen again. The wife has gone away to visit her brother out of state.

Took a turn for the worse the beginning of the week, Mr Hart says. Jeddy McKenzie. He and I grew up together here. His dad used to be police chief in this town.

He gazes speculatively at David. Ever hear of Chief Ralph McKenzie?

David says no.

Well, that was way back, during these Prohibition days you’re so interested in. The law against liquor got passed and the government dumped it on the local cops to enforce. That was a laugh. What’d they think would happen? Afterward, Jeddy moved away, to North Carolina. I always hoped I’d see him again. We were close at one time. Had adventures.

What adventures? David asks.

Mr. Hart’s eyes flick over him, as if he still has grave doubts about this interview. He goes ahead anyway.

Ever seen a dead body?

David shakes his head.

We found one washed up down on Coulter’s Beach.

David knows where Coulter’s Beach is. He swims off there sometimes. Was it a rumrunner? he asks.

Mr. Hart doesn’t answer. He has watery blue eyes that wink around behind his glasses’ thick lenses. It’s hard to get a handle on his expression.

This was in the spring, 1929. Smuggling was in high gear. Thousands of cases of liquor coming in every month up and down this coast. Outside racketeers creeping in like worms to a carcass, smelling the money. People look back now and think those days were romantic, all high jinks and derring-do. They’re mistaken.

David has brought a notepad along, expecting to jot down interesting facts. Not romantic, he writes at the top of the page. (What are high jinks?) After that, he forgets to write. Mr. Hart’s raspy voice takes over the room.

So, Jeddy McKenzie and I came on this body.



A stiff sou’wester was in charge that day, shoving the waves against the shore like a big impatient hand. Jeddy’s head never could keep a cap on in a blow. I remember how he walked bent over, holding his brim down with both hands. I stalked beside him, eyes on the sand.

“Clean beach,” I’d say gloomily whenever we rounded a corner.

We’d been hunting for lobster pots since lunch and would have gone on till dinner if not for the interruption. Marked pots returned to their owners paid ten cents apiece. We were fourteen years old and in dire need of funds. You couldn’t get a red penny out of your parents in those days. They didn’t have anything to spare.

“There’s got to be some! It blew like stink all night,” Jeddy shouted over the wind.

“Well, it’s blowing like murder right now,” I cried back, without an inkling of how true this was about to become.

We rounded a spuming sand dune to a burst of noise. Down the beach, braying seagulls circled at the water’s edge.

“Something’s driving bait. Maybe a shark,” Jeddy said. “Those gulls are getting in on the kill.”

I shaded my eyes. “No, it’s something else. I can see something floating in the water.”

“Dead shark, then.”

“Or a dead seal. Too small for a shark. Come on.”

We took off at a jog, wind tearing at our clothes. When we got there, though, all we saw was a busted-up wooden crate knocking around in the waves. Nothing was inside, but we recognized its type. It was a bootleg case, a thing we’d come across before on the beach. If you were lucky, and we never were that I can recall, there’d be bottles still wedged inside—whiskey, vodka, brandy, even champagne—smuggled liquor that could bring a good price if you knew what to do with it. Jeddy and I weren’t lawbreakers. We’d never even had a drink. But like a lot of folks along that coast we weren’t against keeping our eyes open if there was a chance of profit in it.

“Coast Guard must have been sniffing around here last night,” Jeddy said. “Looks like somebody had to dump their cargo fast.”

“Maybe. Could be it’s left over from a landing. They’ve been bringing stuff into the dock down at Tyler’s Lane.”

“How d’you know that?”

“Saw them,” I boasted, then wished I hadn’t. It was no secret that Jeddy’s dad was on the lookout for rumrunners. Police Chief Ralph McKenzie was a stickler for the law.

Jeddy gave me a look. “You saw somebody landing their goods? At night?”

I shut my trap and inspected a schooner passing out to sea. I knew something Jeddy didn’t.

“What were you doing at Tyler’s at night?” he demanded. “It’s way across town from your house. Ruben Hart! You’re fibbing, right?”

“Well.” I gave the crate a kick.

“I thought so! Next you’re going to say it was the Black Duck.

“Maybe it was!”

“You’re a liar, that’s for sure. Nobody ever sees the Duck. My dad’s been chasing her for years and never even come close. She’s got twin airplane engines, you know. She does over thirty knots.”

I glared at him. “I know.”

“So did you see her or not?”

“Maybe I heard somebody talking.”


“Couple of days ago. It’s dark of the moon this week. That’s when they bring the stuff in.”

“Who was talking?”

“I better not say. You’d have to tell your dad.”

“I wouldn’t. Honest.”

I shrugged and gazed across the water to where the lighthouse was standing up on its rock, high and white as truth itself.

“Come on. I’d only have to tell him if he asked me direct, and why would he do that?” Jeddy said. “Did somebody see the Black Duck come in at Tyler’s dock?”

“Listen, I don’t know,” I said, backing off. “I heard a rumor there was a landing, that’s all. Whoever did it could’ve cracked some cases to pay off the shore crew that helped unload. That’s one way they pay them. Everybody gets a few bottles.”

“Well, you should know,” Jeddy said, sulkily. “Your dad is probably in deep with the whole thing.”

“He is not!” I drew up my defenses at this. “My dad would never break the law. He might not agree with it, but he wouldn’t break it.”

My father was Carl Hart, manager of Riley’s General Store in town. He was a big man with a big personality, known for speaking his mind in a moment of heat, but there was nothing underhanded in him. He dealt fair and square no matter who you were, and often he was more than fair. Quietly, without even Mr. Riley knowing, he’d help out folks going through hard times by carrying their overdue accounts till they could pay. He wouldn’t take any thanks for it, either, which is why my mother would find a couple of fresh-caught bluefish on our front porch some mornings, or a slab of smoked ham or an apple pie.

“Now, Carl, what is it you’ve done to deserve this?” she’d ask, raising an eyebrow.

He’d shake his head like it was nothing, and never answer.

My father was tough on me growing up. He was an old-fashioned believer in discipline and hard work, far beyond what was fair or necessary, it seemed to me. There never was much warmth or fun between us, the way some boys have with their dads, but one thing I was sure of: he was an honest man. Whatever mischief was going on along our shores at night—and you’d have had to be both blind and deaf back then not to know there was a lot—it wouldn’t have anything to do with him.

Jeddy knew it, too. “Your dad wouldn’t break any law,” he admitted. “I was only saying that.”

“I knew you didn’t mean it,” I said.

We almost never fought. Whatever Jeddy thought or felt, I understood an...

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Janet Taylor Lisle
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Janet Taylor Lisle
Published by Turtleback (2007)
ISBN 10: 1417787309 ISBN 13: 9781417787302
Used Quantity Available: 1

Book Description Turtleback, 2007. Library Binding. Book Condition: Used: Good. Bookseller Inventory # SONG1417787309

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