Emmy Budd and the Hijacked Train
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by Jean Blasiar
Category: Mystery/Crime/Young Adult
Description: Emmy Budd is a twelve-year-old tomboy who finds her adventurer's match in the new boy in town, T.J. Blake. It is a hot summer day in the small Mid-Western hamlet of Jerseyville, Ohio. With no money and lots of time on their hands, Emmy and T.J. ferret out every freebie in town, from sailing kites off the tower in the local stadium to building a raft out of discarded lumber and sailing the old swimming hole. Emmy and T.J. sneak aboard a mail train bound for Pittsburgh and end up in the middle of a hijacking. Operating undercover, the teen detectives risk their lives as they confront a desperate fugitive.
eBook Publisher: Charles River Press, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: April 2010
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [141 KB]
Reading time: 85-119 min.
* * * *
We met in a casual way, nothing remarkable to remind me later of the day or the hour. I do happen to recall that it was sundown, the time of day when the firemen lower the American flag on the courthouse lawn. I was watching this ceremony sitting on my bike, licking an ice-cream cone. Nothing unusual, nothing sensational, nothing extraordinary about the first time I ever laid eyes on the most exciting young person I ever met in my life, Thomas John Blake, T.J.
He was also sitting on his bike. Out of the corner of my eye I watched him watch me watch the fireman lower the flag, fold it neatly into a tight little triangle, walk ceremoniously back to the firehouse - tripping over the only rain-bird on the courthouse lawn - and sprawl unceremoniously onto the wet grass.
The stranger on the purple bike never took his eyes off me. He watched me as I watched the fireman get up with the flag high over his head. The tight triangle never touched the wet ground.
Did you know, I asked the handsome boy on the purple bike, that in St. Louis in the early nineteen hundreds, there were only two automobiles in town, and they ran into each other.
The boy continued to stare at me, specifically at my long red pigtailslike honey to flies, baited hooks in a sea of innocent young boy fish. I flicked my pigtails over my shoulders seductively.
Youve got very nice hair, I thought he said.
Thanks, I replied.
For what? he asked.
For saying I have nice hair.
I said, youve got ice cream in your hair.
You probably got hair in your ice cream, too.
I looked at the cone.
Throw it away, he suggested. Ill buy you another one.
He turned and started to ride away. The nerve of him, I thought. I tossed the ice-cream cone in the metal container on the corner. He was looking back and waving for me to catch up.
Following T.J. was how I spent the rest of that summer, the most exciting, frightening, wonderful summer of my life.
* * * *
T.J. loved and hated the same things I did. We loved three-way chili nine ways. We even talked Mrs. Blake, T.J.s mom, who was a waitress at The Chili Bowl, into serving the MT Special (M for Em, T for Tommy), now a hot item on The Chili Bowls menu: spaghetti, chili, beans, onions, cheese, avocado, sliced ripe olives, bacon bits, and sour cream.
Also, we discovered one dark and stormy afternoon while riding our bikes that we both loved thunderstorms. It was sticky and steamy, not unusual weather for Jerseyville in summer. After the first slam-banging bolt of lightning and earth-shaking thunder, I stopped riding my bike, threw my head back, and let the big welcome drops of rain run down my face and neck. T.J. told me it was then that he decided I was okay...for a girl.
The BlakesT.J. and his momlived on the other side of town. The Courthouse Square was exactly halfway from their house to ours. That summer I was twelve and he was thirteen, I rode my bike to the flagpole in the square every morning about ten, met T.J., who always got there first, and took off, cruising the town for freebies.
Swimming at the playground was free. I wore a T-shirt over my bathing suit to keep from being covered with angel kisses, my dads expression for freckles. I also wore the T-shirt because Debbie Farwell wore a bikini, and next to her, I looked more like T.J.
It didnt make me at all unhappy that Debbie Farwell was not the least bit interested in T.J. Not that she didnt think he was cute. She even said that she thought he was cute. Thick, curly brown hair, green eyes, freckles on his nose (like me), not too tall (like me), not too fat, and not too thinnot too anything but too young, Debbie said. I told her what a fun guy he was, but that summer Debbie was only interested in guys who appreciated more sophisticated girls. T.J. said he liked to dunk a girl and see if anything important came off, like eyebrows or the color of her cheeks. He didnt actually come out and say so, but I was pretty sure that he didnt like Debbie Farwell. That didnt make me unhappy either.
The two of us swam a lot those first few weeks we were getting acquainted. I mean we SWAM. Laps! We didnt sunbathe or mess around. We worked out. I lost six pounds.
And we fished. Fishing was free. I never caught anything, but T.J. hooked a couple of little fish, which I made him throw back. He suggested that we take them down to The Chili Bowl, but I didnt have the nerve. Mrs. Blake would have skinned us.
T.J. got a book at the library (libraries are neat free places) on how to make paper gliders, and for almost a week we searched every morning for a higher place than the day before to sail our planes. The best place we found was the high school stadium. T.J. became so good at sailing paper airplanes that he could make them loop over the goalpost. I loved flying those planes with him.
The second craziest thing we did that summer was build a raft. T.J. got the idea for it when we found these poles (each one a different length, some of them split) that the hardware store put out for trash. T.J. talked Mr. Foster, the owner of the hardware store, into letting us have them. It didnt matter to Mr. Foster one way or the other who carted the poles away, us or the garbage truck, but after the fifth trip on our bikes from the hardware store to the creek at the edge of town, I began to wonder if it was such a terrific idea after all. T.J. was so excited about it; I had to go along.
The rope to tie the poles together was one of our few investments that summer. I had four dollars; T.J. had three. It took almost all of it to buy the sturdiest nylon rope we could find. Mr. Foster even gave us a discount, probably because we told him that we were building a fence for a neighbor who was crippled. I doubt we would have gotten the discount if we had told him we were building a raft. Maybe he wouldnt even have let us take the poles. My guess is he wouldnt.
T.J. tied the poles together in a half hitch or a hitch or a slide or something he learned as a Scout; anyway, they held. It took half a day to get all the poles to the creek bed and almost the other half to lay them out, figure which one went where (all of them different lengths), tie and tie knots until I thought my fingers had permanent grooves in two joints. It was just about sundown when The Unsinkable MT (our forever and for everything coat of arms) was ready to launch.
T.J. saved one long pole to push off the side. The pond wasnt that wide or that deep. We were never really in any danger even if we fell in or capsized, but we pretended that we were. We were the African Queen, the first white settlers in hostile Indian territory, Tarzan and Jane, Robinson Crusoe and Friday, and a name that I was afraid might stick, Tom Sawyer and Huck, and you know who was Huck.
What we were hoping for that first launch when it was almost dark was a raging thunderstorm. We could ride the frightening sea, pit ourselves against the fierce waves, cling to the poles for our very lives, but all we had was a gentle wind that cooled the air and made it only delightful, not life threatening.
My jeans are soaked, I announced after our first round-trip. I also remarked, It isnt very comfortable, is it?
T.J. looked at me, exasperated. Female! he shouted. I came to know it as his curse word.
My bottom hurt. My fingers ached. I wasnt comfortable sitting or lying or kneeling, especially kneeling, but I smiled. It was wonderful.
We can hide it in the bushes, T.J. said. Cover it with leaves and come back every day for a float down the river.
River was an exaggeration. Lake was an exaggeration. Old swimming hole is what it had been before it got too murky even for that. For the first time since we met, I began to wonder if this was how I wanted to spend the summer, with a boy on a raft.
We could bring some pillows, I suggested.
And you could make curtains, T.J. said disgustedly. Youre a FEMALE, just like my mother.
I am not a FEMALE! I mean, how ridiculous.
T.J. was staring at me.
I mean, I am a female, but not like your mother.
Whats wrong with my mother?
Shes never happy any place we live. We move every two years, not just houses, but towns, different parts of the country. Did I tell you that we used to live in Florida?
No, I said. You didnt. I didnt know very much at all about Tommy John Blake and his mother actually, even though wed spent every day for over a month together. Did you like Florida?
No. But I did swim every day.
I hesitated, but I had to know. Do you like it here?
He looked at me and I went all...female. Yes, he said, sending funny little sensations through my body.
I guess I better go, I said, not wanting to.
Yeah, he said. I guess. He helped me off the raft and I helped him hide it in the bushes.
The next day we rode the raft again. And the day after that. And the day after that. By that third day I walked like Id been riding a horse most of my life. It hurt to walk straight or even bend my knees.
I was glad that my dad was away on a trip to the West Coast. We did things together, my dad and Ibasketball in the evenings in our side yard, bowling or softball on the weekends with some kids from school. Dad likes to get out and exercise on weekends. He sure would have noticed how funny I walked. Nothing much escapes him. Mom didnt seem to notice anything but how much I was growing and how many new clothes I would need for school. School and new clothes were two things I wouldnt even talk about. Period.
The fourth morning after we built the raft, I was surprised that T.J. wasnt
waiting for me at the flagpole at ten oclock. He hadnt missed a morning until then. I wondered devilishly if maybe he was having trouble getting out of bed also, but as I sat on my bike wondering how long I should wait and whether I should phone him if he didnt show up, I spotted his bike racing toward me. He came to a screeching halt, leaving a skid mark about twenty feet long. His legs couldnt be hurting, like mine.
Em! he blurted out excitedly. I have a great idea!
Superman didnt know how unadventurous Lois Lane was feeling. Still, I was willing to consider anything but climbing back on the raft.
I dont want to spoil it until I show you, T.J. said, turning his bike around. Follow me. He was a good fifty feet away before I managed to get my unbending knees moving again. I felt like the Tin Man before Dorothy found the oil can.
Whats the matter with you? T.J. called, turning around and coming back for me. Are you stiff?
Are you kidding? I yelled back. Im sunburned. I was that, also.
He smiled that little grin of his. Why, I never would have known.
Go on. Go on. Im coming.
And I thought you were just blushing.
Will you move it!
Oooh, that boy. After three days of doing not much of anything but sitting on the raft and sailing the wild sea, T.J. knew everything there was to know about me and I knew just about everything there was to know about him. We both told the darnedest things about ourselves, nothing I regretted, but a lot I never told anyone else. Frankly, I about ran out of things to tell T.J. Blake, and I think he was running out of things to tell me. The last thing I wanted to happen was that we would start to bore each other. Seeing him racing ahead excitedly on a new kick kept my aching legs pedaling.
T.J. stopped at the train yard. I couldnt see anything very exciting happening. The Commodore was in the station, about a block away from where T.J. pulled up. He was staring at the back of the train.
Fascinating, I said sarcastically.
Keep watching, T.J. urged, never taking his eyes off the last car. Two men in a jeep drove up and started putting mailbags and boxes into the last car on the tracks.
The baggage car? I said. Is that what youre watching?
Shush, T.J. growled. He turned to look at me. Are you watching? he asked sharply. Obviously, I was missing something.
What? I whispered. Give me a hint.
His eyes glared at me as he pointed to the baggage car. I watched the two men load the car, watched them climb back into the jeep and ride along the train until they came to the dock where passengers were boarding. The station was about a block away from where we sat on our bikes.
At the risk of sounding really stupid, I said, what am I supposed to see?
T.J. stared at me. I was not sharing his enthusiasm for this wonderful event. Emmy, he said slowly, whats happening up there at the station?
I grinned. He was playing games with me. People are getting on the train? I said.
And whos in the baggage car? T.J. said, father to child, big brother to little sister, genius to stoop.
Who? I said. No one. At ten oclock the sun was already blistering my already blistered face. Can we leave? I asked impatiently.
Em! T.J. shouted. Where are you today? Dont you see the opportunity here? There is no one, NO ONE, in that baggage car. And everyonelook at them, Em, up at the stationEVERYONE is up there with the passengers. Nobody is paying any attention to the baggage car once its loaded. Now...do you know where that train is going, Em?
Thats in Pennsylvania.
Very good, Emmy Budd.
Dont mention it.
What? Im sunburned! Cant we stand in the shade at least and talk about this?
T.J. jerked me and my bike over into the shadow of the stations large oak trees.
Better? he said angrily. I nodded. Have you ever been to Pittsburgh? he asked coolly.
I shook my head. Suddenly, I had this crazy idea that T.J. was suggesting we hop on the baggage car and ride The Commodore to Pittsburgh.
Why dont we go, he whispered.
Youre crazy. Youre absolutely crazy. And the craziest thing about it is, I think youre serious.
I am. Listen. I dont mean right now. Tomorrow. We can hide our bikes in these bushes and sneak on board after they load the baggage car. See how much time there is?
Thats what he was doing. He was suggesting that we run away to Pittsburgh.
I checked the schedule this morning. The Commodore lays over two hours in Pittsburgh. We can catch the two-thirty baggage car back to Jerseyville.
He wasnt asking me to run away to Pittsburgh forever...only for the day.
Id never been on a train before. Suddenly, the adventure of it, the excitement of taking a train anywhere got to me, too. What was it we were doing? Hoboing! Thats it! Hoboing! Not terribly illegal...I guess.
Why not! I said agreeably.
T.J. punched me in the shoulder affectionately, the sunburned shoulder. Tomorrow, Em, he said excitedly. Tomorrow well go to Pittsburgh.
He turned his bike around. Youre terrific, Em, he said, shaking his head and making a little admiring sound with his teeth. Lets go to the pond.
* * * *