Daisy and the Pirates
When you work in book publishing, and my mom does so I know what I'm talking about, you know that authors are waiting on pins and needles for those first book reviews from the industry press to see if anyone likes what they wrote. So when Booklife for Publishers Weekly gave Mr. Allen and I this quote we all did a happy dance!
“Eleven-year old Daisy Tannenbaum must outwit a group of pirates while keeping her family safe in this enjoyable series opener. Daisy is steadfast and intelligent, and her casual first-person narration quickly establishes a rapport with readers [who] should enjoy watching Daisy’s quick thinking in action in this paradise adventure.” Bravo, I say!
Here's an excerpt from Daisy and the Pirates:
This story is completely true. I’m not making up anything except maybe sometimes when I forgot the real name of something or when the pirates talk, which, because I don’t speak their stupid language, I couldn’t really know what they were saying. And also maybe I don’t remember the exact-exact words sometimes, like when Mom and Dad are shouting at each other, but that’s pretty much blah-blah anyway. The main thing is I didn’t make this up. Even Clymene will tell you that.
So I know you want to know about the pirates right away, because after all you opened a book with the word pirates in the title, but let me just explain a few things. Obviously I’m Daisy. I’m twelve now. I was eleven when this happened. I go to the Fairfield School in Paddington. It’s private, but not like ritzy private. We have our share of snoots I suppose, but mostly it’s the usual collection of nits and numbskulls. I know it sounds all high-drama to say I hate school, but it’s pretty much true. Maybe I’d like it better if I was any good at it.
I’m hideous at math and even though I read a lot and know my share of big words, mostly cause Mom and Dad toss them around like grenades, I tend to talk too much in class and know too much about stuff my teachers don’t have time for. Plus I forget homework assignments.
Otherwise I’m not really special in any outrageous way. At least I don’t think so. Some people call me a tomboy, whatever that means. I like playing soccer and softball, but I’m no super star or anything, and I like fishing, which I know sounds weird for a girl. I also like sailing, but not big boats, more like the Sunfish and Sabots they have at the park district. I never win any of the races they have and I’m certainly not some yacht-club brat, though I liked going out on my grandpa’s wooden sloop before he sold it. What else? Oh, no offense Mom and Dad, but Daisy is a stupid name.
My dad is a professor of archeology. He’s very normal dad-ish really, but with a beard. He has a bald spot on his head that he doesn’t want me to talk about, but he’s so tall that you don’t see it unless you’re riding down the escalator behind him. My mom busted up with Dad back during what they call “ancient history” when you ask them about it.
My older sister, Clymene (sounds something like Clay-meanie if you really have to know) once said there was another woman involved and that dad is a super-rat. Maybe she’s right, but Mom and Dad are totally CIA on the subject. Before this story began they got along okay except for the occasional shout-fest. Which, come to think of it, since Mom lived in Paddington and Dad lived all over the place and they didn’t see each other much, shout-fests happened basically whenever they got together.
It wasn’t always that way. When I go through old photos, we look like a regular family. Mom and Dad smile for the camera, Clymene stares at it like a goof, and I gaze off like a typical snotty-tot in hand-me-downs. We had some lovely Christmases—at least I’m pretty sure we did—with presents under the tree and an angel atop and the smell of cinnamon and cloves.
Which brings us to this: how come parents get to break up and kids don’t? Whatever happened with Mom and Dad couldn’t possibly be as bad as one night sharing a room with Clymene. But we can’t break up. We just get a rope with a blanket hung on it down the middle of our room.
So my mom works as an editor with a publishing company that specializes in textbooks (gag me) and most of the year we stay with her and go to school and come home to what she calls “the bungalow” and do our homework and do the dishes and do the laundry and clean up (our dog) Spartacus’s poop in the backyard which is somehow magically supposed to teach us responsibility. During the summer though, not always but lots of times, we get to go with my dad on one of the dig sites he’s supervising. I’ve been to Italy and Spain and Turkey and Cyprus. Really. You can check my passport.
Sometimes I even get to work on the site, brushing away the dirt around stones or pieces of broken pottery that all the grad students are gaga about. Then at night you sit like a wall-fly outside the tents or at the café in the nearest village while the grad students “hypothesize” something out of all the junk they’re digging up.
They can dream up whole cities and crowds of people and disasters and forests and even oceans where there’s nothing but dirt and rock. They can tell what these people did and how they dressed and who they were trading with and what gods they believed in; and all of this just from digging in the dirt, brushing it away with a toothbrush.
Then there are the old bones. They can tell all sorts of things by looking at the bones—what the people ate, how they died, how old they were.
Once, when I was eight, they dug up a girl the same age as me. She was from a Roman family living in Turkey. They said she died of the measles. She would have been three inches shorter than me. They said her hair had been dyed blond. She was wearing jewelry that my Dad was all excited about because the gems came from Chanthaburi Province, in Thailand. The grad students named the girl Ariel. I can totally envision her and even imagine talking to her. My sister says that’s creepy. But what’s creepy to me is that she died of the measles.
Anyway, I love the summers when we get to be at these places with my dad. He was mostly the boss of a bunch of people and sometimes he’d be yelling at you every five minutes for getting in the way, or he’d be lost in thought so he wouldn’t even recognize your voice, but it was fun anyway. Even if he didn’t let you anywhere near the dig, you were free to wander around or just sit in your tent reading, reading whatever you wanted for however long you wanted. You didn’t even have to finish a book if you didn’t want. Nobody cared. The grad students had piles of them to lend because there wasn’t much else to do during their free hours but read.
Clymene hated being shipped off unless the dig was near a big city. Anytime anyone was driving into Istanbul or Nicosia she would be out of there. Probably she gets that from my mom who calls my dad Indiana Jones, but not in a nice way.
The whole Indiana Jones thing, which, by the way, makes my dad grind his molars, started when Mom was phoning frantically to find out what happened to him during one of those Iraq wars, the third or fourth one, I forget, when he was in the middle of Mesopotamia digging up some Roman outpost and the bombs started falling and he and his crew had to jump in trucks and flee for their lives. Iraqi soldiers were after them and Mom was calling everyone at the university and in Washington and no one had any idea what happened or whether he and his grad students were alive and she was just beside herself sobbing and crazy. For weeks this went on.
Finally he just walks in the door. In the middle of the night. Dusty and raggedy. We all hugged him like crazy. Mom was crying and hugging him like they weren’t even divorced or something and when he started to tell her about how he and his grad students escaped she just said, “I don’t want to hear about it, Indiana Jones.”
Because of that, she always has mixed feelings about letting Clymene and me go off during the summer. But the truth is, after nine months of living with us in the bungalow, Mom was usually dying to ship us off.
Clymene didn’t want to go at all cause she had her first serious, demented-toad boyfriend, which, of course, made Mom want to ship her off to Thailand all the more.
Thailand. Dad, who is a Roman Empire expert, sometimes supervises digs concerning maritime thingies. Like old ships. Like really old. So somehow—and you have to read one of his articles about it if you really want to know—he had found some scroll that talks about Roman sailors trading in Asia in the early A.D. years.
Most people know about Vasco de Gama, the Portuguese guy who sailed around Africa in 1497 to get to India, but the Romans built ships at the bottom of the Red Sea eons before and sailed there. My dad and some other Roman Empire guys were in a big cat-fight (they fight with articles and seminars) over whether the Romans got past India, or how far past India they got. So when somebody found what looked like the skeleton of a Roman ship in a mud bank on the coast of Thailand after a tsunami, they sent my dad out to dig it up.
I thought my Mom was going to have a heart attack getting us ready for this one. A few thousand e-mails, the regular shout-fests via Skype, shots in the arm, one in the butt that made me sick the whole next day, and all Clymene’s stupid drama about leaving toad-boy behind.
At one point the whole thing was off because “it was just entirely too much,” according to Mom, but I dialed international and woke Dad cause of the time change and begged him to talk Mom into letting us come, please-please-pretty-please.
So just after Memorial Day we were given a last lecture and packed off with tickets, bug spray, swimsuits, Band-Aids, snack bars, guidebooks, and freshly-minted Associate Professor Stewart Pilbey the pill-butt.
We flew to Los Angeles then to Bangkok then took a train to Surat Thani, where someone, probably Thum, picked us up in a rainbow-painted van. I slept through most of everything after climbing into the van and was in a cloud for the first day, but after that, amazing.
Ban Pak was a teeny-tiny village on a bay of the Andaman Sea, where a branch of the Tak Lop River made a delta, which is like a bar of sand and mud. When the tsunami came it melted part of the delta away and that’s when they found the old ship. Maybe like a hundred people lived in Ban Pak, maybe less—fishermen and farmers and their barefoot kids. The camp for the dig site was around the beach about five minutes’ walk from Ban Pak.
It would have been a terrific summer even if nothing else happened. Fishing everyday. Swimming everyday. Going out in Eck’s boat, which was painted crazy colors like all the other boats (to make the fish happy they said). Running along jungle paths worn down over the years by the bare feet of Aung and Siviga’s ancestors. The jungle was so thick you couldn’t walk more than a few yards into it without getting lost and so full of bugs and birds and snakes that you could never count them all.
The noises at night were spectacular. Leopards growled and barking deer barked and macaques cackled. Siviga’s mom said that ancestors walked the paths at night and we shouldn’t disturb them. But I was more afraid of running into a python.
The best part of all this was that my dad was so busy we got to run totally free. The bad part was I didn’t get to do anything on the dig, which was half underwater anyway, with everyone in a big frenzy and people coming and going all the time to see it—news camera people and journalists and professors. Most of dad’s projects never attract attention like this and it made him puggy and snappish.
Some crown-prince guy from Bangkok even came down to check it out. The villagers were all amazed. Till then we were just somebody to sell fish to. I had to clean up and put on a dress for this dinner with Prince Bigwig-Somebody-or-Other, Minister of Blah-Blah. After that all the people in the village, especially the older people, were really impressed with me. Big whipity-do.
By the middle of August dad was way beyond puggy and snappish. For a bunch of technical reasons, which you can read about in National Geographic if you care, they’d decided to move the Roman ship from the Tak Lop Delta. The main reason was that monsoon season would destroy it. But moving something that big and fragile was a super headache for dad. Finding sponsor money, getting a “small” freighter, getting extra people to do the work, making sure they didn’t completely trash the archeological site while erecting a bed and crane and temporary dry dock, would give Einstein a headache.
That’s why, when Mom was making arrangements to fetch me and Clymene back home, she mostly dealt with Helen. Helen was a grad student from California somewhere —somewhere where they spend all their time surfing apparently. She was blonde and klutzy and ran around in short-shorts, flip-flops and a bikini top, looking utterly tan and cute, slowing work everywhere she went. Your average geek grad student had no idea how to deal with her. Supposedly she could translate Old Latin and Ancient Arabic and a few other dead languages like she was reading the morning paper. Clymene hated her from the get-go.
I cut her some slack at first cause she knew the names of a lot of poisonous snakes and was an awesome swimmer, but after the time she told us, “your father is a great man,” with these big love-puppy eyes, I kind of saw Clymene’s point. Cly said Helen was after dad. She said I better get used to calling Helen “Mom.”
But Mom seemed to like Helen, at first, over the phone, when she was making travel arrangements, before she saw the surfer-babe get up.
Mom was being un-mom-like and planning to personally come get us instead of Dad appointing a grad student as our travel escort. She had heard an NPR segment about Dad’s Roman galley and wanted to get a glimpse herself. Then she wanted to stop off in Hong Kong on the way back and meet a publisher friend and do some discount shopping, including buying Cly a prom dress. What I was supposed to do during this prom-dress-shopping spree I can’t imagine.
It was totally outrageous that my mom was even traveling like this. It really was. She didn’t realize her passport had expired ten years ago until three weeks before she came over. Helen spent hours making calls to State Department friends, getting it all sorted out.
My mom is proud of her suburban roots. She likes schedules and conveniences and “the better” shopping malls. She once told my dad that the real Seven Wonders of the World included a short commute, paid vacation, and comprehensive health insurance. She actually tells people that though she likes Banana Republic, she would never visit a banana republic. But Helen’s soothing voice on the other end of the line had Mom convinced she was dashing off to Cape May.
It turned out Mom flew in just as the rail and airport workers went on strike in Bangkok (along with bus drivers, street cleaners, and postal workers). Bricks were being thrown. Soldiers were called in. No one would even speak to the jet-lagged American lady who couldn’t dial the local telephone code let alone unload her suitcase from a stranded jet. Dad was in the middle of moving his precious galley to the tramp, so, though he denies it now, I doubt he was even aware Mom had arrived. Besides, Ban Pak was far enough from Bangkok that things like general strikes hardly register.
Once again, Helen came through, donning chinos and a fetching Hollister polo, driving all the way to the city with Thum, locating the lost, parched, half-crazed Mom unit and rescuing her before she caused an international incident.
I’ll say it right now so there’s no doubt: I love my mom. I really do. She has a million great qualities. She’s never late picking you up at school and she never misses a birthday, which is more than I can say about some members of this family. But by the time she got to our village she had somehow managed to come to Clymene’s view about Helen. For all I know Helen deserved it. For all I know, well, okay, I do know, Helen was kind of after my dad. She was just being nice to Mom because she felt—oh, forget it, the whole thing is entirely too gross.
When Mom arrived, Dad broke off work just to have a shout-fest. Actually, for once, probably because he was so preoccupied, she shouted at him and he just blinked back. When her balloon finally sputtered out, he told her she should get some sleep and it would all work out. The Roman galley was loaded, the ship would leave tomorrow, we would all get on it, and in three days we would be in Singapore where we could book new flights home.
After a few moments spewing about lost luggage and non-refundable tickets and why smart New Jersey girls never leave New Jersey, Mom followed Thum to the best tent with the best bed and fell asleep.
Three days on a tramp steamer! I was so happy I wanted to shout, but I didn’t dare wake Mom.
I loved the Ayutthaya. She was one-hundred-seventy-five feet long and twenty-eight feet wide. Her hull went thirteen feet down under the water. She was built in the 1950s and covered with a hundred coats of paint. Her single stack was at the rear, jutting from the bridge and cabins. She had a raised forward deck with a collection of boom arms and a low main deck where Dad’s galley sat in its cradle, strapped in and covered by tarps. The crew was Malay and Thai, the officers Pakistani, the captain Swedish.
Mom hated her of course. But some combination of jet lag and shock kept her at bay and she fumbled up the gangway from the mayor of Ban Pak’s motor boat, stumbling into the arms of Captain Ulf, a bearded, smiling giant who, tipped off by Dad no doubt, told Mom how sound the ship was, how honored he was to have her aboard, how well-trained his crew was, how serene the Adaman Sea was this time of year, and how he had personally seen to the menu with the ship’s cook. They went off toward her “state room” discussing lobster bisque or something.
Clymene pretended to hate the ship, too, but she was so faking it, hanging over the rail with her I’m-so-beyond-this look. Besides the mayor, everybody in Ban Pak who owned a boat had loaded it with everyone they could and motored, paddled, or sailed to see us off—grandmothers, kids, dogs, the village Buddha from its shrine with attending monks and incense—I doubt anyone was left in town.
I’m a bird-brain I guess, but I didn’t realize till I saw Siviga with tears in her eyes and Aung holding them back, bobbing below us in Eck’s rainbow-colored boat, that I’d never see them again. I got teary myself and we waved and shouted and waved more. Aung was holding up some swim fins and a fishing pole I’d left in Eck’s boat but I shouted, “Keep them, keep them.” We formed prayer-hands and bowed heads to each other and blew kisses.
After a great deal of clink-clunking the anchor came up, dripping sludge. The ship’s engines vibrated the deck and the village gave a cheer and we waved till our arms were ready to fall off as the Ayutthaya slipped away.
About then it dawned on me that aside from Siviga and Aung, they weren’t really waving for us—us after all was just Dad, Mom, Cly, me, and Helen—the rest of the dig crew, including Steward Pilbey the pill-butt, was either staying behind to continue at the site or going by land to Singapore to meet us. No, the villagers were waving goodbye to the strange fossil of a ship that had brought them a steady stream of people to buy their fish, fruit, and vegetables and had also brought them unexpected excitement and fame. Already everyone in Dad’s circle was calling this the Ban Pak Galley.
I drifted to the stern and leaned on the rail and watched the village disappear behind the tip of land that forms the bay. Dad went forward to check on his baby. Clymene had ditched out, I didn’t notice when. Helen stayed with me, but she was already yakking it up with the crew. She had mastered the local Thai dialect during the summer and was busy absorbing the dialect the crew spoke, while their eyeballs were busy absorbing her. I think I was the only one who saw the last glimpse of Tak Lop Bay.
After that I explored the ship. I was so excited I wanted to go over every inch of it, but each time I stuck my head into someplace interesting somebody would wave a finger and tell me to get out. The engineer was nice, though. I’ve forgotten his name. He was Pakistani. He showed me the boiler room and fuel bunkers and generators and bilge pumps and Stephenson Link and Throttle Valve. But it turned out he was only the assistant engineer. The chief engineer came down and kicked me out.
We did have lobster bisque that night, along with pork roast, mashed potatoes and lingonberry sauce—a miracle considering the cook was an ethnic Chinese Thai who was shorter than me. Captain Ulf plied Mom with a combination of gin, sea stories, and gossip on the Swedish Royal Family. He acted like he was Admiral of the QE2 or something, but I guess it was effective because Mom, after enough food and drink, seemed pleased to be on board.
Dad was silent mostly—exhausted and relieved. Relieved to have his galley safely afloat, relieved that Mom was enjoying herself. Helen was conversing with the chief engineer, in Farsi no less. I managed to get Captain Ulf to invite Mom and me for a tour of the ship the next day, with special emphasis on the engine room. We went off to bed with the Captain promising us Swedish coffee and limpa bread for breakfast.
I lay in the top bunk, face up, stuffed and unable to sleep, listening to all the wonderful hums and creaks and the soft thumpa-thumpa-thumpa from the engine that you could feel in your belly, sensing the ship leaning gently back and forth, amazed by my luck. We were entering the Strait of Mallacca, a major traffic lane, so occasionally a blast of spotlight from a passing ship would come in the porthole. I could hear Mom and Dad’s voices in the next room, just a vague rumble, but you could tell they weren’t happy. Clymene, tossing in the bunk below me, heard them too and hissed, “Oh, shut up, you losers.”
Helen, jammed into the single bed across from us, said something like, “Cly, I know it’s hard to understand at times, but—“
“Spare me, bitch, cause you’re the problem,” said my sister.
Helen didn’t say anything after that. I suppose she thought she was acting with restraint, but I wanted her to smack Clymene a good one. Even though I kind of agreed with Cly that Helen was the problem, even as I recognized that made no sense, since Mom and Dad were divorced after all. Clymene just had Ghost of Christmas Past Syndrome, like me, wanting them to be the way they were on Christmas mornings when they were sweet on each other. Deep down we wanted them back together, wanted our old life back so that we wouldn’t be a bad episode of Fractured Family Files, even if that old life probably never really existed.
I went from feeling great about being on the Ayutthaya to feeling terrible about everything. In less than a week I’d be back at school with all the nits that thought I was some weird loser. Every year it got worse. Mostly cause I didn’t feel normal coming back. Everybody spoke English, which, after spending the summer in a place where hardly anybody spoke English, really messed with your brain. Plus, a million details about America seemed strange: the food, houses, styles, stores. That wore off after awhile, after you’d eaten enough peanut butter, but then you ended up missing things from where you’d been all summer.
All of a sudden the thumpa-thumpa was saying, “Nine-months, nine-months, back to school for you, nine-months.” I felt like Papillon, the French convict guy, riding a prison ship out to Devil’s Island, chained at the ankles.
What happened next takes some explaining. At first it was like a dream. I must have fallen asleep. I heard strange clunking and clanking and then shouting voices and then a man’s scream. Then there were gunshots, lots of them. By then I was awake.
I whacked my head against the ceiling of the cabin just as Clymene whacked hers against the bottom of my bunk. Helen was out of bed like a flash and opened the door, only to have Mom shoved in her face, pushed by Dad, who came in after.
We all shouted, more or less at once, “What’s going on?”
Dad shushed us and told us to stay put and went out, but then came back in a hurry, pushed by one of the officers who slammed the door and locked it. Then came more shouting, footsteps on steel, more shots, and muffled arguing. Dad held a finger to his lips so we wouldn’t ask questions. I had them, I can tell you. My heart was thumping. Clymene curled up in her bunk and shivered. Helen stood pulling her lip and hyperventilating. Mom turned pale. Dad looked calm but I know he wasn’t, ear pressed to the door, listening with all his might.
The ship had slowed down, you could tell. The thumpa-thumpa had slowed too. We heard cables whining and several heavy metallic cha-rumps and then shouting and a loud splash.
I got to the porthole first. I could see one of the two lifeboats bobbing in the water below and astern. Then the crew started splashing into the water and swimming for the boat. Captain Ulf made the biggest splash of all.
“The Captain’s overboard,” I said. Dad shushed me and pulled me out of the way and looked himself.
“Pirates,” I said. I couldn’t keep it in any longer. Dad gave me a why’d-you-have-to-go-and-say-that look as Mom gasped, “Pirates?”
He shushed us both, but Mom was exhaling, “Ohmygod-ohmygod-ohmygod-ohmygod.” He tried to take her in his arms and calm her but she shoved him away and went for the door shouting, “Let me out of here.”
The thumpa-thumpa built up again and the ship plunged ahead. Even though it was dark I could tell we were turning around. Dad knew it too.
“Let me out,” Mom shouted. No amount of shushing was going to work with her. “Don’t you shush me, Jonathan. Don’t you dare. Leave me alone,” she shouted and pounded on the door.
I don’t know whether they noticed us right away and didn’t want to deal with us or whether they just had lots of other things on their minds, but it took the pirates about an hour to finally answer Mom’s shouting and pounding. She’d actually given up and was sitting on the bed holding Clymene when the lock clacked and the door swung open and three faces stared in at us. One of them swore, I’m not sure in what language, but you could tell he did, more in aggravation than anything else. (Excerpt from Daisy and the Pirates © 2013 by J.T. Allen Reprinted with Permission, thanks Mr. Allen!)
Hope you enjoyed this excerpt from Daisy and the Pirates and want to read more about what happened. I can assure you it's a really good story!