The Summer Set, by Jay Province
In the summer of 1956 two teenagers rescue a drowning woman from the Susquehanna’s turbulent waters, and their predictable lives suddenly veer towards a deadly detour. Shadowy men in black cars start tracking their every movement. A tall foreboding man clutching a snake-headed staff and chain-smoking through a hole in his throat seeks their names.
Fourteen year-old catcher Peter ‘Chumbucket’ Miller and his best friend pitcher Mike DeSorcier begin the summer on a mission to capture the World Series championship of their youth baseball league. Spying on a league meeting from a sweltering attic perch they uncover a group of extra-dimensional beings infiltrating the league. During their breathless escape, the boys discover two things: they are in mountains of trouble and they need help. Assistance (and more trouble) arrives in the form of two daring and mystifying girls – the unusual Karen Croft and the beautiful Jo Munro. Together, the teens must solve the mystery of the Noqumiut before a fateful August lunar eclipse.
Bizarre and comical events trail the foursome’s investigation: Santa and his merry elf magically appear in June running for their lives from a town hall fire; a teen girl flies her Cessna from the scene of a refinery explosion; and a dead body is left as a present on a leather couch – carefully wrapped in a mink coat and holding a red gift bow.
Unlikely sources aid their efforts. These include an Eskimo shaman, a magic stone carving of a lively seal, a ferociously loyal dog, and an opponent from Roswell, New Mexico whose talents (and origins) may literally be out of this world.
The Summer Set is a humorous, intense, action-packed story about friends, enemies and the pursuit of winning it all. The novel is for all story lovers ages twelve and up.
Karen imagined when she left her body at death it would feel the same as practice. But even in practice it was never the same twice. That early May evening she felt like pollen rising in the spring air. She lifted dreamily from her body and drifted out beyond her bedroom walls and into the dusky sky. Her unburdened spirit swept overWilliamsport’s rooftops and zoomed to the town clock tower. Three blocks away and far below she saw her friends Peter and Mike heading upThird Street.
Karen toyed with the idea of pulling Mike’s dark hair and pinching Peter’s cute nose. Later, she would casually ask them if anything unusual happened when they were walking home from baseball. She giggled when she envisioned their wide eyes and twisted tongues begging her for details, but she resisted her mischievous impulse. She reminded herself she didn’t know them that well, and her discipline returned.
She watched a woman in a white beret stop and question Mike and Peter. Across the street, a man wearing a black suit and hat unfolded from the rear door of a long black car. He eyeballed the woman, shoved the heavy door shut, and stepped into the shadows to light a cigarette.
Curious to know the man’s business, Karen concentrated her attention on him. His head suddenly jerked up like a bird’s and his sunken eyes seized on her. He snatched his hat off and an inky bloom jetted from beneath the brim, rapidly spreading and clouding her vision. She didn’t see the lashing black tentacle zooming up at her. She shuddered when its filmy tip pierced her and injected its cold venom. In that instant she recognized he wasn’t a man at all, but a Noqumiut.
Clawing in panic at the slimy tentacle, Karen heard her grandfather’s encouragement in the surrounding dark mist: ‘In the shaman’s world a thought is a thing, and fears are bad things. Release your fear. Steady your mind.’ She visualized her body safe in bed and a strong distant tug at her spirit’s silver cord brought her back with a sharp snap. She bolted upright in bed, startled and shaking. She shivered for a moment more and gathered her thoughts. Her mother called from the living room.
“Karen, it’s almost time for the show. I’ll drive you over if you want.”
“I’ll be out in a sec. Don’t worry about me, I’ll walk.”
Karen rolled from her bed and picked through her closet to change clothes. She didn’t want to involve her mother in such dark matters, but she wanted her grandfather’s opinion. She knew from experience the Noqumiut were very dangerous. She wondered whether Peter and Mike were safe.
* * * * *
“I saw a chopped-off finger yesterday,” Mike announced. “It was on my dad’s desk.”
Chumbucket and Mike were in a hurry to get home from practice. Chumbucket avoided stepping on cracks while he searched his duffel bag for a lost apple.
“The Case of the Missing Finger,” Chumbucket narrated darkly. “I’ve been waiting for this episode of Mike’s Amazing Stories. How did it get on his desk?”
“He said an FBI agent fromCaliforniawas coming to pick it up.”
“What do they want it for?”
“It matched the print of some guy that died in a shoot-out in 1954.”
“That’s pretty cool. Where did your dad find it?”
Mike removed his baseball cap, folded it and stuck it in his belt. He produced a cheap comb from his baseball jersey to feather and smooth his tousled pompadour. He quickly checked his hair placement with practiced hand pats. Satisfied, he pocketed the comb.
“The finger came from the door of Martin Flint’s T-Bird. Some guy reached inside and tried to grab his keys while he was necking with Susan Hebb on the Route 33 Overlook. Martin zoomed away before the guy could grab them.”
“So the finger came off when Martin pulled away?”
“Probably. My dad found it on the door’s rubber seal. There wasn’t any blood. It was like the finger was already dead and just snapped off. It could have been a prank.”
Chumbucket imagined the bloodless finger lying on the desk. The image both horrified and fascinated him.
“Martin was lucky. He probably carries a rabbit’s foot like mine.”
“Chum, that rabbit’s foot is pure superstition. It sure wasn’t lucky for the rabbit.”
“It’s lucky for me,” Chumbucket grinned. He pulled the lost apple from his bag. He held it out for Mike to admire, and quickly snatched it away.
“Where did you get it?”
“Jo stopped by my locker and asked if I wanted it.”
“And? Anything else?”
“Nothing else – she said it was a lunch leftover.”
“A leftover?” Mike frowned. “No way. Jo has a plan for everything she does. You’ll find out.”
Chumbucket inspected the surface before polishing the apple on his uniform sleeve and chomping through its glossy skin.
“Not bad. Pretty juicy.”
He took another bite. His eyes widened in disgust at the sight of a half worm dangling from its burrow in the apple’s flesh. He dashed to the curb and spit the mash in the gutter.
“Gross! A worm! Ppptthh! Ppptthh!”
“Ah, so Jo does have a plan. A brain worm. Ingenious. It’ll eat its way through and come out your ear.”
“Mike, cut it out, ppptthh,” Chumbucket spit a last bit and they continued on their way. “You don’t take anything seriously – sometimes even baseball isn’t serious to you. The big game is tomorrow and you weren’t even listening to Coach. You really pissed him off.”
“So what? Coach gets pissed at me all the time.”
“Did you have to smile when he said the league was having problems?”
“I wasn’t. I was smiling at Jo flying over the ball field and jiggling her wings. I wish she would take me up someday. I hope the league stays in town, and I hope we win the World Series, not just the puny city title. But if my every wish and hope came true I’d be Pope. Actions are the only thing that matter.”
“Okay, Captain Action. Just so I know we’re serious about the same thing – winning it all.”
The boys continued up the block. A brown sedan rolled by on its lonely way out of town. Mike pointed up the street to a woman tugging at the locked door of a building. She stopped and cupped her hands to look inside the glass.
“She may as well stop trying,” Mike said. “The FBI office closes at five. There’s no one there.”
The woman knelt at the building’s entrance. Chumbucket looked at Mike with knit eyebrows.
“What do you think she’s doing?”
“She’s trying to slide something under the door. It might be stacks of cash, or spy papers. Maybe we’ll see when we pass her.”
The woman stood when they neared and she looked in both directions. She tapped her open palm with a thick envelope. Chumbucket noticed a large ruby dangling at her neck. Her brown eyes attracted his attention and she smiled at him.
“Hi. May I ask you guys a favor?”
“If it’s quick,” Mike answered. “We’re in a hurry.”
The woman smiled at Mike, but spoke to Chumbucket.
“Can I look at your duffel bag? I want one for my nephew, but I don’t know how much a bag like that will carry.”
Chumbucket dropped his bag to the ground and opened it for her inspection.
“It carries a lot of stuff. My dad used it during the war. It holds all my baseball equipment, including my catcher’s gear.”
She read the stenciled lettering on the bag’s side.
“Peter ‘Chumbucket’ Miller. You have an unusual nickname, Peter. Where did you get it?”
“Mr. Scott, our league commissioner, gave it to him,” Mike said. “Chum is fish parts used to catch big fish. Chumbucket can catch anything.”
“Do you have a nickname, Mike?”
Mike pulled at his collar and turned his head to avoid the woman’s eyes.
“Some people call him ‘Showboat’,” Chumbucket answered. “But he doesn’t like it.”
“I never liked mine either, Mike – ‘Maddie’. Can I ask you one last thing? You’re both from here. Tell me if you recognize the men in that car.”
Their eyes followed hers to the long black car idling on the opposite side of the street. A man in a dark hat and suit stood beside the car smoking. The man quickly looked away and up at the clock tower. He seemed to see something and took off his hat, perhaps to get a better look. Mike turned back to the woman. He noticed the envelope in her hand was gone.
“Never seen them before,” he said. “What about them?”
“Maybe I’m crazy, but I think they’re following me,” she said. She stared at the car for a moment until Mike scuffed his shoe noisily on the sidewalk. “Oh, forgive me. Thank you for stopping. It was nice meeting you both.”
“You’re welcome. Nice meeting you. Come on, Chum.”
Mike hurried on. Chumbucket shouldered his bag and read the writing on the glass door: ‘Department of Justice – Federal Bureau of Investigation’.
“If you don’t feel safe, you’re welcome to come with us.”
“Thanks for the offer,” she laughed. “Don’t be surprised if I look you up sometime. I might have a look at your duffel again.”
“Okay by me. See you later.”
Chumbucket jogged to catch up to Mike. Rounding Court Street he looked back a last time and saw the black car prowling towards the woman. She darted across the street and he heard the faint clatter of her heels as she disappeared down Market towards the bridge. The car turned slowly, stalking her movements. Chumbucket stopped.
“Mike, I think that car is following her. She might really need help. I have a bad feeling.”
“She said she’ll be okay, she’ll be okay.”
“What happened to Captain Action? You go on ahead. I’m going back.”
Mike cursed under his breath when he found himself racing acrossThird Streetwith Chumbucket, through an intersecting alley and edging the last five feet to Market. The black Cadillac zoomed past them and headed back toThird Street. Distant cries for help pulled them past rows of warehouses towards the bridge. They found a man on the riverbank gesturing towards a drift of tangled wood.
“A woman jumped from the bridge. She waved her arms like she meant to flag me down and then over she went. I watched her drifting in the water towards that pile of logs. It’s probably forty feet to the water where she went in. I’d go after her, but I can’t swim.”
Chumbucket looked to Mike.
“You’re the one with the Rescue Merit Badge.”
“It’s a bad time you’ve chosen to remind me of it. Mister, you go call the police. My dad’s on duty – he’s the chief – Chief DeSorcier. Tell them to get here quick, and bring blankets.”
Mike stripped off his baseball uniform, shoes, and socks. He left his pants on for decency. Chumbucket watched the bare soles of his feet running into the cold waters. Mike ran in up to his chest before stretching into a dive and swimming towards the dark heap on the drift pile. He reached the woman in about a minute. He towed her limp body on his hip, keeping her head above water while paddling to shore with his legs and free arm. The current washed him fifty yards downstream. Chumbucket ran through the undergrowth, wading out to meet Mike as he came near shore.
“It’s that woman, for sure. We have to get the water out of her lungs.”
After pulling the woman from the muddy waters, they lay her on her back. Mike knelt at her head, sweeping his hand through her mouth.
“Nothing in her mouth. Collect some brush to prop her shoulders up while I do the arm lifts.”
Mike gripped the woman’s wrists, crossed her arms at the jewel on her chest, and pressed down hard. He released the pressure to draw her arms out, up, and back over her head. He repeated the motions while Chumbucket pushed his collected brush under her shoulders to allow her head to drop back. She began spitting up water. Mike and Chumbucket looked at each other and smiled.
“A few more times. We’ll carry her back to the road when my dad gets here.”
The woman moaned and coughed up more water. She pulled at her necklace and mouthed a few words. Mike placed his ear close to her lips to hear. He removed the necklace and put it in his pocket.
“She wants me to take it.”
The boys carried her to the bridge with Mike supporting her shoulders and Chumbucket her legs. Chumbucket noticed two puncture wounds just above her right ankle.
“Mike, she’s got a snakebite.”
“She’s alive, that’s the important thing. She needs to get to the hospital, fast.”
Flashing red lights signaled the arrival of Mike’s father. Chief DeSorcier pushed into the brush to help carry the woman to his cruiser. They laid her across the back seat.
“Do you know what happened?”
“We were passing by onThird Street. The man who called you said she jumped from the bridge.”
“Well, ain’t this a mess? This is gonna take a while to straighten out. I have his statement. I’ll get your story later, Mike. Are you boys okay to get home?”
“We’ll be okay. Take care of her.”
Chief DeSorcier turned on his siren and pulled away. A small group of interested bystanders shared their excited stories. Chumbucket plopped down on the riverbank and waited for Mike to put his shoes and socks back on.
“Man, you’re Tarzan,” Chumbucket said. “I don’t know who else could have done that.”
“Everyone a swimmer, every swimmer a lifesaver. That’s the commodore’s motto. Lucky for her we came back. She was face down in the water when I pulled her out. I wonder who she is?”
“I guess we’ll find out. Why didn’t you say anything about the necklace or the black car to your dad?”
“The man saw her jump from the bridge. We didn’t see anything. I don’t think she wants anyone else to have the necklace. If my father turns up anything about a stolen necklace or some men in a dark car I’ll say something. Otherwise, we’ll assume it’s hers and keep it safe. Swear you’ll keep quiet about the rescue. I don’t want my name in the news, do you? Those men who were after her might come looking for us.”
“Cross my heart I won’t tell. What did she mumble to you?”
“The same thing over and over: ‘Don’t let them have it.’ She’s probably delirious. I’ve got mud all over me and you don’t look so good yourself. We need to get home and shower before the show. Meet me at the tree house and we’ll head to school together. Karen will have our skins if we’re late.”
The Summer Set, by Jay Province