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Read an excerpt from

THE SECRET OF PIRATE KEY

by

Kathleen Culligan Techler

Chapter One-Homesick

Adria Miller pretended to read, but tears blurred her eyes. Outside, the lonely swish of the waves went on and on.

Near her on the big porch, her cousin Toby was reading his new book. "Hey, Adria!" he said suddenly, "Do you know what the pirates did? They took prisoners from the ships they captured. Then the prisoners' families had to pay money to get them back."

Without answering, Adria gazed out at the Gulf of Mexico. The blue green water seemed to touch the sky. On the horizon a white sail bobbed. She tried to imagine pirates on the Gulf, or pirates living on this island! That was why it was called Pirate Key. She thought she knew how lonesome the captives felt.

At the round patio table Aunt Jean and Uncle Paul were working crossword puzzles. Aunt Jean look up, her little frown wrinkles deepening. "Toby, why don't you read something else? You'll have nightmares about those pirates." She leaned forward. "Are you okay, Adria? You're very quiet."

"I'm fine." Adria tried to look happy. "This is a good story."

Aunt Jean smiled. "You look so much like your mother when we were girls. Same green eyes and light brown hair. And she loved to read, too. It's going to be great to have all of you living in Florida." Aunt Jean, Uncle Paul, and Toby lived in St. Petersburg, Florida, but they were spending the summer on Pirate Key. Uncle Paul, a building contractor, had been hired to build a house on the island.

Adria nodded, but she didn't think living in Florida would be so great. She stared at the open book in her lap. Dad said they had to move to Florida because of his new job. Right now her parents were getting settled in a house in St. Petersburg. In two weeks Adria would have to go there too.

But it would never seem like home. She knew that. Home was in Minnesota, where all her friends were. She missed them so much! In the fall she would start middle school, and she wouldn't know anyone. Toby was eleven years old, too, but he would be attending another school.

Adria missed her soccer team. She missed skating on Saturdays. She couldn't imagine a winter without snow, without skiing and sledding. She missed Taffy, her cocker spaniel. A tear rolled down Adria's cheek, and her stomach ached. She tried to forget what had happened to Taffy. On the beach the waves whispered sadly.

Suddenly the phone rang inside the house.

"I'll get it." Uncle Paul jumped up and hurried from the porch to the kitchen. "Hello? Yes! I've been expecting your call." Uncle Paul said.

Adria couldn't see his face, but she could hear his voice. He sounded excited.

"Yes. It's very secluded. You won't be bothered. It's perfect for… your plans. I understand. No, not a word." He hung up quietly and sat a minute in the kitchen.

"Who was that, Paul?" Aunt Jean asked when he came back to the porch.

"Just some business." Uncle Paul reached for his pencil and crossword puzzle.

"Someone looking for a house? I have a good rental available," Aunt Jean said. This summer she was working for a realtor, selling and renting island houses.

"No, it's, uh, nothing important." Uncle Paul stared at his crossword puzzle. Aunt Jean wrinkled her forehead and bit her lip as if she were mad about something.

Adria looked at Uncle Paul. Now he was gazing out at the Gulf. He was smiling, as if he knew a secret.

Toby's father had died a long time ago. And Uncle Paul and Aunt Jean had only been married for six months. Uncle Paul was friendly, and he laughed a lot. He wasn't quiet and worried-looking like Aunt Jean. Adria kept wanting to ask Toby how he liked his stepfather, but so far she hadn't. Now she felt another pang of loneliness for her own parents.

Toby was still reading his book. "Listen to this," he said. "After the pirates attacked a rich merchant ship they divided the loot. Then each pirate hid his share from the others. Some people say the pirates' ghosts still guard their treasures." Toby's big hazel eyes opened wide under dark eyebrows. "Is there buried treasure on this island, Paul?"

Toby's stepfather grinned. "I don't believe the part about the ghosts, but pirates did live on some of the islands in this area. They preyed on sailing ships traveling between Mexico and Spain. These Florida islands made great hiding places."

Forgetting her homesickness, Adria asked, "What kind of treasure did they hide?"

Toby answered, "Gold doubloons, rubies, jewelry, and gold bars."

"What are doubloons?" Adria asked.

"I guess they are coins," Toby said.

"That's right," Uncle Paul agreed. "Old Spanish coins."

Toby whistled. "I'm going to hunt for treasure," he said. "Do you want to help me, Adria?"

Treasure! Suddenly Adria felt better. "Sure!" If they found a treasure, Dad wouldn't need his job anymore. Then she and her parents could move back to Minnesota.

"Let's start right now," Toby said.

"No," Aunt Jean objected. "It's almost time for sunset. Tomorrow will be soon enough for treasure hunting."

But all the next day rain drummed on the metal roof. Aunt Jean wrote real estate ads for the newspaper. Uncle Paul spent a lot of time talking quietly on the phone. And Adria and Toby talked for hours about pirates and treasure.

"If tomorrow's nice, we'll hunt all day," Toby said.

"It better be nice," Adria muttered. "I've had it with this rain."

That night Adria dreamed that she and Toby were digging up a huge treasure chest, when a pirate's ghost appeared. He wore a red shirt, black knee pants, and a huge silver sword. "Touch my treasure, and you die!" he shouted.

Adria tried to scream and woke herself up. Her heart was thudding. She lay still, breathing hard. What a relief to escape from the ghost!

It must be early morning, she thought, seeing very pale light outside her window. She listened for rain, but it had stopped. Unable to go back to sleep, she tiptoed through the house to the porch.

The moon was setting into the Gulf. It shone dully through heavy mist. Then gusts of wind blew wisps of fog away, and Adria could see gray waves.

Something was out there! She rubbed her eyes. It couldn't be what it looked like! But it was! A pirate ship just like the ones in Toby's book! It had two masts, a lot of sails, and a dark square that must be a flag. She just knew the flag was the Jolly Roger, black with white skull and cross bones!

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