Authors: Ellery Queen Jr.
“He’ll be there,” the old lady said in a kindly voice as she rose from her chair. “Come and see me again while you’re here, but be sure to hang on to your dog’s leash or Tootler will eat him alive.”
“Yes, ma’am, I will, and thank you,” Djuna said. “Good-by.”
“Hurry back,” Mrs. Pulham said as Djune bounded down the steps.
Djuna ran all the way back to the bus station with Champ panting along at his heels. Just as he arrived there Mr. Williams drove up in his old sedan. Tommy was by his side. Tommy jumped out of the car as soon as Mr. Williams brought it to a stop. He and Djuna shook hands delightedly while Champ jumped up and down to let them know that he was glad to be there, too. Mr. Williams, who was a tall, heavy-set man with a hooked nose and graying hair, greeted Djuna warmly and Djuna told him how Champ had tried to chase a yellow cat that belonged to Mrs. Pulham. But he didn’t tell him that Mrs. Pulham was going to take her cat to a dentist, because he wasn’t sure that Mrs. Pulham was
going to do that.
“I don’t know her, but I knew her husband,” Mr. Williams said, and then he asked Djuna if he’d like to drive over to the beach before they went home.
“I’d like to see the beach and the ocean, if it isn’t too much trouble, Mr. Williams,” Djuna said promptly.
“No trouble at all, Djuna,” Mr. Williams said, and he drove around the corner and east on Atlantic Avenue while Tommy pointed out the points of interest and told Djuna the names of the different flowers around the houses.
As they approached the narrow bridge Djuna had seen in the distance, a green light on the bridge turned red and the bridge tender dropped the black and yellow striped gate across the end. Mr. Williams brought his car to a stop as the tender ducked under the gate and went to the middle of the bridge. There he removed an iron bar that locked the bridge in place and turned an electric switch. Djuna, who had been so interested in listening to what Tommy was telling him that he hadn’t even noticed that Mr. Williams had stopped the car, gasped as he looked through the windshield and saw the bridge turning. He looked quickly up and down the narrow stretch of water the bridge crossed and said, “Jeepers, what’s the name of this river?”
“It’s not a river,” Tommy said. “It’s the Inland Waterway. See—” he pointed down the waterway at a boat that was approaching the bridge—“its for small boats.”
boats!” Djuna exclaimed as he looked at the trim sixty-foot cruiser that was approaching the swinging bridge. He bumped his head on the top of the car as he jumped up in his excitement to watch the sharp prow of the boat knife through the water. “Wow! I wouldn’t call that a small boat. It’s about the biggest one I ever saw!”
Two men and a woman lounging on the afterdeck of the cruiser waved and Djuna leaned out the window of the car to wave back.
“Tommy means the waterway is for boats that are too small to weather the open sea,” Mr. Williams explained. “It runs all the way from New York to the tip of Florida and is used by boats that are too small to risk going back and forth on the ocean.”
“Is it fresh water?” Djuna asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer. His eyes grew wide as he pointed up the inland waterway to a spot the sixty-foot cruiser was passing. There he saw, glistening in the bright sunlight, between twenty and thirty boats of all sizes and kinds lying in their berths.
“What’s that?” he gasped.
Mr. Williams laughed as he followed his wide-eyed gaze. “That’s the Dolphin Beach Yacht Basin. And just beyond it is Captain Andy Jackson’s boatyard where they repair and paint boats. You see, quite a few people live on their boats down here. They bring them down the Inland Waterway and live on them here in the wintertime, and then take them North in the spring and live on them up North during the summer. If they don’t want to live on their boats down here, and can afford it, they can get apartments in that long white building at the end of the yacht basin. It’s called a Yachtel.”
“It must be fun to live like that!” Djuna eyed the gaily bedecked yacht basin with its streaming flags and pennants.
“sort of like living in a trailer,” Tommy said, and Djuna nodded his understanding as the black and yellow striped gate lifted and Mr. Williams drove on across the bridge. On the left, a half-dozen men and women were fishing from the concrete bank of the waterway; a little further on, a wide-beamed sightseeing craft was moored. A banner across its stern announced a daily Jungle Cruise for two dollars and a half a person, and among other things it promised a wrestling match between Seminole Indians and live alligators.
There were so many things to see and ask about that Djuna couldn’t find time to ask about any of them!
There was another block of interesting-looking novelty stores on the other side of the bridge; and, about two hundred yards beyond the stores, Atlantic Avenue came to an end as it ran into a street called Sunrise Boulevard. Sunrise Boulevard ran north and south along the beach. There were restaurants on the two corners, and on the other side of Sunrise Boulevard was the beach parking space.
Directly beyond the benches where Mr. Williams brought his car to a stop the white sands of Dolphin Beach sparkled in the bright sunlight. The beach was dotted with people of all sizes and shapes wearing colors of every hue. At its edge the waters of the Atlantic played a muted melody as they came rolling in on an incoming tide. Beyond the breakers, where the water was shoal, it was a cool, inviting aquamarine in color and then merged into a great sheet of rolling turquoise until it became as blue as the bluest sapphire. There it flowed north and was called the Gulf Stream. Just inside the Gulf Stream there were prancing white dots that were fishing boats, and cruising along only a few hundred yards offshore were two black-hulled cargo vessels, their stacks pluming black smoke on the blue horizon.
“Chattering chimps!” Djuna said with an excited voice. “I wish I had on bathing trunks.”
Mr. Williams laughed and said, “It’s too late today, Djuna. I’ve got to get out to my beanery before—”
“What’s that?” Djuna wanted to know, as Tommy snickered.
“My bean farm,” Mr. Williams explained. “You boys can come over here the first thing in the morning on Tommy’s bike.”
“Oh, that’s all right with me, Mr. Williams,” Djuna said. “It’ll look even better in the morning.”
Mr. Williams turned his car around and they re-crossed the bridge over the Inland Waterway and went down Atlantic Avenue until they crossed the Federal Highway and were on their way toward the business section of Dolphin Beach. The houses on the west side of the Federal Highway were much like the houses on the east side, with their lawns studded with colorful flowers; and here and there a flame vine blazed.
Djuna was so busy looking at all the strange vegetation that he wouldn’t have noticed the old lady who had told him her name was Mrs. Pulham, if Mr. Williams hadn’t stopped the car. He had stopped because it was only too apparent that old Mrs. Pulham was having difficulties. She had put the wicker bag she was carrying on the ground and was leaning against a jacaranda tree that stood beside the sidewalk. She was holding a handkerchief over her face and she looked exhausted. Mr. Williams put his head out of the car window and said, “Can’t I give you a lift wherever you’re going, madam?”
When Mrs. Pulham took the handkerchief away from her face it was startlingly white; but she looked relieved when she understood that Mr. Williams had offered to give her a lift. But before she could speak Djuna said, “Why, it’s Mrs. Pulham!”
He opened the door of the car and leaped out as Mrs. Pulham said, “I’d be very much obliged to you. I live only a half mile up this street.”
Djuna picked up the heavy cat bag and helped Mrs. Pulham across the street and into the front seat beside Mr. Williams, who smiled at her and said, “I thought it was too hot a day for you to be lugging that heavy bag.”
“This is Mrs. Pulham, Mr. Williams,” Djuna said politely. And then he said to Mrs. Pulham, “This is the Mr. Williams I was telling you about.”
Mrs. Pulham thanked Mr. Williams again and then she turned and smiled at Djuna who was holding Champ down on the floor in the back so he wouldn’t begin to bark at the yellow cat again. “I guess it was a lucky thing for me that your dog chased my cat,” she said. “I suppose this is Tommy?” Tommy grinned at her as Mr. Williams turned the car around and went back up Atlantic Avenue.
“That dratted dentist wasn’t in his office and there wasn’t even a note on the door saying when he would be back,” Mrs. Pulham said to Djuna. Then she turned back to Mr. Williams and said, “I took my cat to the new dentist to have his teeth fixed and he wasn’t even there.”
“I see,” Mr. Williams said, but he looked as though he didn’t quite understand what Mrs. Pulham was talking about. He turned his head to give her a fleeting glance and his expression showed that he thought she was a little crazy.
“My husband always used to keep the cat’s teeth in shape,” Mrs. Pulham went on. While she was explaining it to Mr. Williams, Djuna whispered to Tommy, “Could you carry me and that cat bag on the handlebars of your bike?”
“Sure,” Tommy whispered back.
Mr. Williams stopped his car in front of Mrs. Pulham’s house and after she had thanked him Djuna took the cat bag and carried it up on the front porch for her. On the way he said he and Tommy would come over the next day and get the cat and take it down to the dentist for her if she wanted them to.
“See, I told you it was lucky for me that your dog tried to chase my cat,” Mrs. Pulham replied. “I’ll give you each fifty cents if you will. You’d better come in the forenoon so that you can catch that dentist before he goes out.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Djuna said politely. “We’ll come as early as we can.”
“Not too early, though,” Mrs. Pulham warned. “I go to bed late because I can’t sleep and then I stay in bed late because I can’t get up.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Djuna said.
“And don’t bring your dog with you,” Mrs. Pulham went on, “or you’ll have trouble with the cat.”
“Yes, ma’am,” Djuna said, and he said good-by as he scurried down the steps.
When Djuna got back to the car he told Tommy how they were going to earn a dollar between them the next day. Mr. Williams laughed and shook his head but he didn’t say anything.
When they arrived at Tommy’s home out on the Dixie Highway, west of Dolphin Beach, Mrs. Williams came out on the porch while they were getting out of the car. She was a tall woman, nearly as tall as Mr. Williams, and had coal black hair and white even teeth that flashed a great deal of the time because she liked to laugh. She was laughing as she came off the porch and gathered Djuna into her arms and gave him a hug and a kiss.
“My, but I’m glad to see you, Djuna,” she said, and then she smiled at Tommy and added, “It’s nice to see you two together again. How’s Miss Annie?”
“Oh, she’s fine, thank you,” Djuna told her. “She is going up to spend Christmas with her sister, Mrs. Silvernails. She told me to be sure to give you her love.”
When they were inside Mrs. Williams wanted to know all about everyone in Edenboro, where the Williams family used to live and where Djuna still lived with Miss Annie Ellery.
Djuna told them all the news, including the fact that his friend Socker Furlong, a newspaper reporter, had driven over to Edenboro to wish them a Merry Christmas on the very day he had received the letter from Tommy asking him, Djuna, to visit Dolphin Beach over the holidays.
“He’s that newspaper reporter on the
in the city where Mrs. Silvernails lives, isn’t he?” Mrs. Williams asked.
“That’s the one,” Djuna said excitedly. “And I couldn’t have come down here if he hadn’t arrived, because Miss Annie couldn’t spare the money for my fare. Socker said he could get me a special rate through his newspaper, and he did.”
“Jeepers, Socker is an awful nice man!” Tommy said stoutly and Djuna nodded his head in confirmation.
After a while Mr. Williams stood up and said, “Look, you old ladies can gossip after supper tonight. What about taking a run out to my bean fields with me, now, while I give my supervisor the money to pay off the pickers for their day’s work?”
“Sure,” Djuna and Tommy said in unison, and Mrs. Williams laughed assent.
On the way to Mr. Williams’s bean fields they passed an enormous covered platform that was built a few feet above the ground. On the end of the huge building was a large sign in six-foot letters that read: D
“That,” Mr. Williams said as he drove slowly around the platform, “is the largest vegetable market in the world, Djuna. They ship out hundreds of thousands of hampers and boxes of vegetables to every part of the United States each winter. And over there,” he pointed, “where you see all those refrigerated boxcars lined up on the rails, they ship about a hundred boxcars full every day during the winter season.”
“Jiminy crimps!” Djuna said as he gazed with awe at the hampers of vegetables being unloaded from small trucks on conveyers to the platform, and then reloaded on other conveyers into larger trucks for shipment. “I didn’t think there were so many vegetables in the world!”
The platform was over a quarter of a mile long and several hundred feet wide. The ground around it was all paved and at the north end there were fifty or sixty enormous diesel trucks parked, waiting their turn to be loaded. All around the platform there were other enormous trucks backed up to take on hampers and boxes packed with ripe corn, green beans, peppers, potatoes, eggplant, and other vegetables. Beside the larger trucks were smaller ones that had brought hampers and boxes of vegetables in from the endless fields to the west. The voices of the buyers and sellers could be heard above the roar of the trucks as the farmers sold their vegetables to the distributors. There were great piles of hampers waiting to be loaded into the refrigerated trucks and sent scurrying over the country’s highways.
A little later Djuna was even more astonished when he saw Mr. Williams’s bean fields. He couldn’t believe it because he had never seen beans grown any place except in short rows in backyard gardens up north. He remembered the little fifteen-foot rows he had helped Miss Annie Ellery plant and pick up in Edenboro. Here, the rows of beans ran on and on and on, as far as the eye could see and until they seemed to disappear over the horizon.