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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

Terror at Bottle Creek

Watt Key

Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)

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1



Dad said it was too early to be worried about the hurricane. So far, all the storms predicted to hit us that season had veered east into Florida. Besides, we’d been through plenty of them before. It was just part of life on the Alabama coast.

I wasn’t so sure. The storm I saw on our television was big, and it was taking a different approach than the others. And with a name like Igor, it sounded cruel and deadly.

I looked out the window of our houseboat. I’d have to think about the hurricane later. At the time I needed to worry about Dad’s two clients waiting outside in their truck. He was supposed to have been back an hour ago to take them on an alligator hunt. They’d come all the way from Mississippi and they were getting anxious.

I keyed the handheld radio and tried him again.

“Dad?”

He didn’t answer, but I didn’t expect him to. I knew he was just up the road at Mom’s rental house, and he didn’t want me to know. Ever since she’d walked out on us six months before, he’d been going over there and trying to convince her to come back. I knew she didn’t want to see him. Sometimes I think he just parked in her driveway and stared at the windows.

I walked out onto the deck and looked up the riverbank. The tall man named Jim got out of the driver’s side and leaned against his pickup under the utility light. He twiddled a toothpick in his mouth and looked at his watch.

“You get him?” he asked.

“He’ll be here,” I said.

The man scraped the gravel with his boot and frowned.

My dog, Catfish, trotted up the ramp and leaned against my leg. I knelt and scratched him behind the ears. There was a strong smell of fish about him.

“What you been into out there, boy?” I said to him.

He wasn’t much to look at. A dirty yellow mix of terrier and collie I’d found wandering the riverbank a few years before. Catfish thumped his tail against the deck and whined and trembled with excitement.

“We’re going,” I said to him. “Just hold on.”

He thumped his tail again.

I heard the short, heavyset man named Hoss get out of the truck. His feet crunched across the gravel.

“Maybe we ought to call it off,” he said.

“He’ll be here,” I said.

“Well, we got—”

We all heard Dad’s pickup coming down the hill. He stopped behind the two men from Mississippi and got out while pulling a ball cap over his head. He hefted his jeans, which always seemed to be falling off him these days. He’d been thin and wiry his whole life, but ever since Mom left he looked like he didn’t eat anything. She’d sucked the life out of him in more ways than one.

“Anybody ready to get a ten-footer?” he said.

“We been ready, Tom,” Jim said.

Dad approached them and shook hands with each. They grinned reluctantly. Dad put on his carefree act, which used to come naturally to him.

“Sorry about that, fellows. I’ll make it up to you. Gonna put you on old No-name tonight. Big rascal I been watchin’ grow for fifteen years.”

“Sounds good to me,” Jim said.

Dad turned and crossed the ramp onto the houseboat and rolled his eyes at me like some people just didn’t understand. Well, I understood. He was wasting his time and everybody else’s carrying on about Mom like he did. And it was embarrassing. But how does a thirteen-year-old tell his dad he’s being a fool?

“They almost went back to Mississippi,” I said.

“They’d be sorry, too. You got everything ready?”

“Yes, sir.”

“All right. Go help ’em with their gear, and let’s head out.”



Text copyright © 2016 Watt Key