In Harbour Thieves, Jamie and Meg Bains arrive in Toronto with little money and no prospects. Jamie, only twelve years old, manages to get work as a news boy, selling papers on the street corners of the city. He meets other boys, much like himself, who support themselves by their wits and is drawn into a crime network led by the powerful Stinger. As the police close on them, how is Jamie going to prove that he was not responsible for the crime wave that has gripped the city?
Harbour Thieves is an adventure story in the acclaimed Bains series for young readers 10 to 14, written by Bill Freeman. The book is illustrated with 19th century photos of Toronto and its harbour. The Bains series has won the prestigious Vicky Metcalf Award for a body of work.
ISBN: 0-88862-746-7, Cloth; 0-88862-113-2 Paper
Harbour Thieves is available from Chapters Indigo online for $12.88
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This is an excerpt from Chapter 9 of Harbour Thieves.
“Why didn’t we go back for them when we had the chance?” Jamie raged into the storm, the rain washing his face. It was more than anger he felt. He had betrayed his best friends. “We should have waited for them, Stinger!”
“Row, kid! Row and keep quiet!”
And row he did. The swelling waves heaved the little skiff onto the crests and then dropped it into deep troughs. He rowed to keep the bow into the waves so they would not get swamped, and he rowed to escape the police. The rain poured down, soaking them to the skin and chopping the water into foam.
“You deserted them, Stinger! You left them to the police!”
“The coppers were chasing us!”
“You only worried about yourself! Jamie shouted at the dark form huddled in the stern of the boat. “We could have waited for them!”
“The coppers would have got us all if we waited.”
“You were only interested in saving your own skin. I hate you!”
A howling wind was driving the rain before it. Waves broke into whitecaps as the crested and foamed on either side of the small boat. As each wave swept under them they wallowed into the next trough and then climbed unsteadily up to the next crest.
“Pull on the oars or we’ll capsize!”
Jamie rowed with all the strength in his arms and back. Suddenly the wind caught the bow and blew them off course. Before he could correct it the next wave caught them sideways and as they fell into the trough it seemed like they were going to roll over. But with a powerful sweep of an oar the boy brought the bow into the waves again. He knew there was no time to argue now. He was rowing for their lives.
The darkness was complete. There was not a sign of life, not a light anywhere. The rain pelted down, making an impenetrable curtain. The black clouds rumbled and thundered, giving sudden flashes of lightening that streaked across the sky. Those fractions of a second revealed a ghostly scene of Toronto Harbour awash in a raging torrent, and showed Stinger, sitting immobile in the stern, holding his canvas bag up against his chest, his eyes wide, his mouth open, mesmerized with fear.
It was up to Jamie to pull them through. His arms were aching, his back shooting with pain, but still he rowed with all the strength in his body. The storm worsened. Now the waves were cresting all around him. The wind was a deafening howl.
With each flash of lightening Jamie tried to look around. They had pulled a long way away from the complex of wharves now but seemed to be no closer to the island. He was rowing with his back to the bow of the boat and he tried to see where they were going, but the flashes of lightening died before he could turn around.
Water was sloshing into the bottom of the boat. As they crested a high wave a foaming whitecap came dangerously close to the gunwales.
“Stinger! You’ve got to start bailing,” he shouted. But the boy remained a darkened, hunched-up form, clutching his bag in terror.
Jamie shouted again. “You’ve got to bail, Stinger! We’re taking on water!” But still he didn’t move.
The boy was at the point of exhaustion now. His arms and back ached from the effort, and his hands were sore from gripping the oars.
Gusts of wind drove the rain at them like stinging pellets. The bay was a heaving turmoil of boiling waves. Overhead the black sky rumbled and churned, spitting out bolts of lightning like they were being delivered from the white-hot furnace of a god. The thunder that followed cracked as if the world was splitting from end to end.
“Stinger! You’ve got the bail! Bail, Stinger, or we’re done for!”
“I can’t do it, Jamie! I can’t!” A flash of lightning showed his face wet with rain and ghostly pale.
The boat was wallowing deeper now. A wave lapped over the bow. “You’ve got to bail, Stinger! We could go under!”
With Jamie’s words lashing him, Stinger began. With one hand still clutching the canvas bag he used the other to dip the pail into the water sloshing around the in the bottom of the boat and flung it into the night.
Suddenly there was a prolonged flash of lightning. Jamie managed to turn around and found that they had wandered off course and were heading towards the eastern entrance of the harbour. That was the reason the waves were so high. They were sweeping in from the open water of Lake Ontario. He would have to head farther west, but to do that the boat would have to run a course diagonally across the waves. It was dangerous but he had to take the risk.
Carefully he swung the bow of the skiff westward. The next wave lapped up the side, and then the boat skidded dangerously at an angle down into the trough. He had turned too far and had to strain to bring the bow back into the waves.
Jamie rowed and rowed, concentrating on the motion of the boat until he knew instinctively what was happening. He rowed with the lash of the rain and the wind at his back until suddenly the waves seemed to ease.
At first he didn’t believe what had happened. He dipped the oars twice more and found they were drifting in water as calm as a pond. The rain continued, the wind surged around them in gusts, but the waves had died. With the next flash of lightning Jamie saw that they had moved into the lee of the island and were only a few yards off shore. Finally he could slump on the oars and rest.
“You ain’t gonna leave us here, are you?” asked Stinger sharply.
Jamie looked at the darkened form no more than three feet away from him. Now he felt no fear of the big boy. “I’ve got a mind to dump you overboard for all you’ve done, Stinger.”
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