Book excerpt

Danger & Diamonds

A Mystery at Sea

by Elizabeth Levy, illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Roaring Brook Press

I stared down at the dock from the deck of my ship. Okay, most eleven-year-olds don’t get to call one of the world’s great cruise ships, theirs. And no, I’m not rich; I don’t own it. But I grew up on it! My parents have worked on the S.S. Excalibur for the last four years, and so I get to live on board the ship when we’re out at sea. This is always my favorite time—right before a voyage begins. It must be like being backstage before a big rock show. Most of the crew is scurrying around getting ready for the guests, and every cruise has a different cast of characters coming on board. You never know what will happen!
A black Hummer SUV rolled up to the edge of the pier. The barricades that were usually there had been moved for the car. I wondered who warranted the VIP treatment. A boy about my age hopped out of the back of the SUV and opened the hatch. A long-legged white poodle bounded out of the car. The poodle looked around alertly, smelling the air. He had on a dog collar studded with huge rhinestones that gleamed in the sun. The dog stood calmly while the boy put a leash on him.
My father came up to me and leaned against the rail. My father has a swimmer’s body, with a long torso and strong arms. He teaches water sports on board, and he says that almost from the moment I was born I loved the water as much as he did.
“That must be the new captain and his son,” said Dad. I looked at the boy and his dog. The captain’s son would, of course, have privileges the rest of us wouldn’t dream of. I love animals and have always wanted one, but I’m not allowed to have any on the ship.
Mom came over and stood next to me. “Did you know the captain’s son is named Philip?” she asked. “Isn’t that a strange coincidence? You’re the same age, and you have almost the same name.”
I fingered the little golden sea horse around my neck. Mom and Dad gave it to me when I was five. My name is Philippa. I love my first name. Philippa means lover of horses, and since I love both horses and the sea, the sea horse is my mascot.
“Does his name mean lover of horses, too?” I asked Mom.
She nodded. “I wonder if the captain’s son is going to think it a good coincidence or a bad one that our names sound the same?” I asked. Mom and Dad laughed as if I was making a joke. I wasn’t. If the captain’s son didn’t like me, it would be a very long journey.
The son of the new captain reached into the backseat of the car and pulled out a big birdcage with a brightly colored parrot inside—two pets—now I was really jealous.
A man unfolded himself from the driver’s side of the Hummer. He must have been over six feet five. He was already wearing the white uniform of the captain.
The senior crewmembers were on the dock, standing in a straight line leading to the gangway. They snapped to attention as the boy and the captain came aboard. Our old captain, Captain Raynor, shook the new captain’s hand. I wondered if it were hard to hand over his command. He said that once he retired he missed the sea every day. For this voyage, Captain Raynor signed on to be the tutor for the kids whose parents work on board and to give lectures for the passengers on the mysteries at sea. Captain Raynor didn’t have any children and I am one of his favorites.
The boy and his dog looked like they couldn’t wait to get aboard. The dog strained on his leash as they came up the gangway. My parents and I, and all the people who worked on the ship in activities and entertainment, stood up a little straighter to meet the captain and his son… and his pets!
“Ah, Captain Vittiganen,” trilled Camilla Trout, our cruise director, “what a pleasure it is to have you and your son aboard. I want your son to meet my precious jewels, Ruby and Sapphire.” Ruby and Sapphire are only nine—two years younger than I am, but just because their mother is my parents’ boss, they think they are the boss of me. I wondered if the captain’s son would be bossy, too. He couldn’t be any worse than the Trout twins.
“I like your dog’s collar,” said Ruby. “They look like diamonds.”
“Diamonds,” repeated Sapphire. “Jewels, just like us.”
“Danger!” squawked the bird in the cage.
“Did your bird just say danger?” I asked Philip.
“I think he said diamonds,” said Ruby.
“Diamonds,” repeated Sapphire.
“I heard danger,” I said suspiciously.
“Philippa likes to make a big mystery out of everything!” Ruby whispered to Philip. “It gets so boring!”
“So boring!” repeated Sapphire.
“So is repeating everything your sister says,” I snapped. I wished I could have bitten my tongue. I just can’t control myself around the Trout girls, but I didn’t want Philip to think that I was as mean as they are.
“Sorry,” I muttered, “but there’s nothing wrong with loving mysteries.”
“I like mysteries, too,” said Philip. “At least in books.”
“I LOVE mysteries!” I said. “And I’m good at solving them. I love to find one to solve on each voyage.” I held out my hand. To my astonishment, Philip’s dog beat him to it and raised his paw. The dog was so tall that his paw reached my waist.
“My dog seems to like you,” said Philip.
“What’s his name?” I asked.
“Maximillian of Borgunlund,” said Philip. It was quite a mouthful of a name for a dog.
“Hello, Max,” I said, rubbing the dog under his chin. “I’m Philippa Bath.” Max opened his big mouth in -to a doggy smile. I rubbed his ears. “Your dog is very beautiful.”
Max’s big doggy grin got even bigger.
Philip laughed. “My dog loves compliments. Poodles are very smart. They know when you’re talking about them. The poodles of Borgunlund are famous.”
“Borgunlund… I’ve never heard of it,” said Ruby.
“I have to admit, I haven’t, either,” I confessed. Mom and Dad and I had sailed all over the world, and I had never heard of Borgunlund.
“It’s between Finland and Russia,” said Philip. “Not too many people have heard of my country.”
“Borgunlund,” I repeated. “It has a beautiful sound to it.” The poodle looked up at me with his dark eyes.
Philip’s eyes lit up. His dark eyes seemed to match his poodle’s.
“Borgunlund is beautiful,” he said. “We are on just a sliver of the North Sea. I was only a little boy when my family had to move.”
“Maybe I’ll ask Captain Raynor if we can study Borgunlund,” I said to Philip.
Philip’s expression cooled. “I don’t think that’s a good idea,” he said. He sounded as if he were giving me an order.
Suddenly the parrot began to squawk. “Kiem say!! Kiem say!!”
I looked at Philip. “What is your parrot saying?” I asked.
“Oh, just nonsense,” said Philip. I could swear the parrot’s beady eyes looked right at me. As Philip walked away, his dog looked back at me, too—it was as if both animals wanted to warn me about something. Maybe the Trout twins were right. Maybe I liked mysteries just a little bit too much.
Excerpted from Danger & Diamonds by Elizabeth Levy.
Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth Levy.
Published in 2010 by Roaring Brook Press New York.
All rights reserved. This work is protected under copyright laws and reproduction is strictly prohibited. Permission to reproduce the material in any manner or medium must be secured from the Publisher.
Elizabeth Levy has been writing and publishing award winning books for more than thirty years, and in that time she has written more than eighty books, a number that continues to surprise her. She lives in New York City. Mordicai Gerstein is the author and illustrator of The Man Who Walked Between the Towers, winner of the Caldecott Medal, and has had four books named New York Times Best Illustrated Books of the Year. He lives in Westhampton, Massachusetts.