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Treasure Hunters: The Plunder Down Under
By Chris Grabenstein
Illustrated by Juliana Neufeld
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QUICK NOTE FROM BICK KIDD
Before we begin our awesome adventure in the land of Oz (which is what some people call Australia), I just wanted to remind everybody that I, Bickford “Bick” Kidd, will be your fair dinkum journo, which means I’ll be writing the story while my twin sister, Rebecca “Beck” Kidd, a ridgy-didge, bobby-dazzler of a doodler, will be drawing the illustrations.
And, before we’re done, you might even learn what those Aussie slang words mean.
But first, we have some treasure to hunt!
You know what’s between the Hawaiian Islands and the island continent of Australia?
Lots and lots of water. Half an ocean of the salty, seaweedy stuff.
We were sailing the whole way because Mom and Dad had promised us that we Kidds would one day, before we grow up, explore every single continent on the planet. Once we do Australia, we’ll only have Antarctica left, although I’m not sure what kind of treasure we could dig up down in penguin land. Maybe a pirate ice chest filled with Popsicles.
Uncle Richie “Poppie” Luccio was also with us on board The Lost, which, I know, is not the best name for a boat, especially when you’re sailing across an ocean that covers more than sixty million square miles. That’s a lot of deep and square miles to get lost in.
You might remember Uncle Richie from our last adventure back home in the USA. He helped Beck, Storm, Tommy, and me track down some long-lost American treasures while also helping us make sure the land of the free and the home of the brave stayed that way. FREE.
Uncle Richie is Mom’s favorite uncle. He took her on her first archaeological dig way back when she was younger than Beck and me (we’re twelve). He’s a swaggering, blustery guy who’ll probably remind you of Teddy Roosevelt (not that you’ve ever met Teddy Roosevelt, but you know what I mean).
“Land, ho!” shouted Storm from her perch up in the bow. “It’s the coast of Tonga! I recognize its volcanic peaks.”
Of course she did. Our big sister Storm has what they call a photographic memory. Once she sees something (like a topographical map of the coastline of Tonga, a Polynesian country east of New Zealand), she never forgets it.
“Bully, Storm!” shouted Uncle Richie. “Always keep your eyes on the stars and your feet on the ground!”
“It’s daytime, Uncle Richie,” Storm shouted back. “There aren’t any stars. No ground, either. This is a boat.”
“Ah, a very keen observation, Storm. Bully for you! Bully, I say.”
“Bring her about, Tommy!” Dad shouted. Tommy, the oldest Kidd kid, was manning the wheel and letting the wind blow through his wavy hair—just in case any mermaids were checking him out, I guess.
“Drop anchor, Bick and Beck!” cried Mom. “Then we need to do our pre-dive prep protocol.”
“Aye, aye,” Beck and I shouted back. Actually, it was more like “aye, aye, aye, aye,” since there’s two of us.
It was time to climb into our wet suits and put on our SCUBA gear.
We were going on a dive. There was a ship just off the coast of Tonga. A vessel called the Port Au Prince.
Only it was under the water.
That’s right. It was a shipwreck. And, legend had it, it was filled with treasure!
We dropped anchor and pulled on our wet suits.
Well, everybody except Storm and Uncle Richie. Neither one really liked getting wet. They were kind of like cats that way. Sort of made the whole seafaring, oceangoing thing a little tricky for them.
“We shall remain on board and guard the treasures that this noble vessel already holds,” Uncle Richie proclaimed dramatically, pointing one finger toward the sky.
“We’ll probably also fix ourselves a sandwich,” added Storm.
“Indeed,” said Uncle Richie. “Tuna on rye might be nice.”
As we dug out our SCUBA gear, Storm gave us a quick lesson on the Port Au Prince shipwreck. “It was a British privateer,” she said.
“Cool,” said Tommy. “Pirate ships are always loaded down with pirate booty—and not the salty, cheesy kind they sell in supermarkets.”
“Privateer ships are different from pirate ships, Tommy,” Storm explained. “The Port Au Prince was a private ship with a special commission from the English crown that gave it permission to attack and plunder the ships of Britain’s rivals, Spain and France.”
Dad picked up the story. He has a much more dramatic way of dishing out the facts. “And so, the Port Au Prince entered Tongan waters in 1806 in search of whales for whale oil, a prized commodity at the time. However, the ship was quickly seized by the local chief, Finau Ulukalala the second, whose warriors massacred most of the crew, including the captain, and then scuttled the vessel, with all the treasure still on board.”
“That means there’s a vast amount of copper, silver, and gold resting with the wreck on the bottom of the sea,” said Storm. “Not to mention a number of silver candlesticks, jewel-encrusted crucifixes, and gold chalices.”
“Woo-hoo,” shouted Tommy, flapping across the deck in his flippers. “Let’s do this thing.”
As always, Tommy was the first one ready to dive.
“Buddy up,” said Mom. “Go through your pre-dive checklist.”
Beck and I checked out each other’s equipment, using the BWRAF technique Mom and Dad taught us when we were toddlers. No, BWRAF is not the noise people make when they barf. It means you check for Buoyancy, Weights, Releases, Air, then you do a Final okay: inspecting the fins, mask, and snorkel, checking out our dive flashlights, taking a compass bearing, and giving Mom and Dad a gloved thumbs-up.
While Beck and I BWARFed each other, Mom, Dad, and Tommy checked one another out, too.
“We are good to go!” Dad pronounced. “Remember, it’s even more important that we all stick together down below.”
He popped his regulator into his mouth and lowered his mask. We all did the same. Then Dad and Tommy scissor-kicked off the back of the boat while Beck, Mom, and I went with the backward flop over the side. It’s like an upside-down cannonball dive. It’s way cooler than just flicking your flippers as you step off the boat.
We regrouped underwater. Dad consulted the dive computer in his watch and made a series of hand gestures telling us which way to kick and swim.
The five of us were like a well-organized school of fish, following Dad down into an amazing world of pink and orange reefs where brilliant little red and blue fish seemed to glow as they darted in and out of the coral formations.
But then something shiny caught my eye.
A glint of silver.
Dad kept leading us onward.
Which meant the shimmering object was soon behind us.
I looked over to Beck. She’d seen the silvery glint, too.
We also both simultaneously knew the terrible truth: Dad’s dive computer had messed up.
It was leading us away from the sunken treasure!
Beck and I kicked our flippers into high gear.
We were bringing up the rear of the dive pack but we needed to catch up with Dad to let him know that he and his super sophisticated dive watch were swimming the wrong way.
That’s when a humpback whale came between Beck and me and the rest of our dive team. It slid right in front of us. We had to slam on the brakes and let it pass.
When the Big Bad Whale finally swam on by, Mom, Dad, and Tommy were about fifty yards away. They didn’t see the whale cross behind them because SCUBA masks don’t come with rearview mirrors. They also weren’t looking over their shoulders to see how Beck and I were doing. They assumed we were still obeying Dad’s orders, sticking with the pack, and bringing up the rear.
I swerved around and hand signaled to Beck. When you’re on a dive, that’s just about the only way to communicate. You can’t talk into an underwater walkie-talkie because your mouth is already busy breathing. Over the years, Beck and I have developed a few Twins Only hand gestures that go well beyond the usual stuff for “Okay,” “Level off,” and “Ears won’t clear.”
“We should go back to where we saw the sparkle!” I signaled. For “sparkle,” I popped my fingers wide open on both hands like a Broadway dancer.
“We should stay with the group!” Beck signaled back.
“And abandon the treasure? You’re nuttier than a squirrel’s cheeks!” That one involved me twirling fingers near my temples while making a chubby-cheeked, buck-toothed face behind my mask.
“Oh, yeah?” Beck signaled back. “You’re nuttier than a pecan pie on the Fourth of July.” I think that’s what her rapid series of gestures meant.
And just like that, we erupted into our first ever underwater Twin Tirade.
When we have TTs on dry land, we both erupt with volcanic fury, spew molten lava at each other, and then, after a few good blasts of hot, fiery gas, cool off instantly—just like lava when it slides into the ocean, simmers down, and makes a brand-new island for an archipelago.
After about fifteen seconds of rapid-fire hand and arm gestures, our subaquatic Twin Tirade was over.
Beck and I decided to go semi-rogue and retrieve the treasure from the spot we’d passed over earlier. We figured Mom and Dad would forgive us once we showed them how they’d swum right past the shipwreck without seeing it. Beck and I are younger than Mom, Dad, and Tommy. That means our eyesight is sharper.
We swam back to where we’d seen the silvery glint.
We saw it again!
And soon realized it was just a fish. A dogtooth tuna, I believe. They’re very silvery. They’re also very common in the tropical waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Beck gave me a look of frustration.
I shrugged my shoulders.
I was about to signal, “Let’s head back to the others” when something slimy wrapped around my legs and waist.
Turned out, it was the same thing that was grabbing Beck’s arms.
A giant octopus!
And it wasn’t just any octopus!
This was a massive eight-tentacled monster. A giant sea creature straight out of Greek, or in this case, Polynesian mythology. It latched on to Beck and me and wouldn’t let go.
One of the octopus’s suction-cupped appendages was squeezing my neck and cutting off my oxygen flow. I couldn’t breathe, which is a horrible thing to have happen underwater (or anywhere, actually). Beck’s face was turning green. Probably because the demented sea creature had her in his grip and was whipping her up and down as if she were a yo-yo in a wet suit.
I was about to close my eyes and say buh-bye when, all of a sudden, I could breathe again. Oxygen was flowing through my hoses and into my lungs.
Beck wasn’t bobbing up and down anymore, either.
Because Tommy had swum to our rescue.
He was wrestling, as best he could, against the eight-armed underwater ninja. Good thing Mom and Dad taught us martial arts. Tommy was giving almost as good as he was getting. Too bad he only had four limbs to fight with.
Mom and Dad came churning through the water. Dad had his speargun raised! I noticed something odd on the tip: a ginormous seashell.
Dad aimed his weapon—away from the octopus—and fired!
The sea monster saw the shell go shooting by and, figuring it must be dinner, let go of Tommy and went jetting off after the flying shell.
I could see Dad’s eyes, magnified by the lens of his dive mask. There was a mixture of anger and relief in them. He was mad at us for breaking away from the group, but glad we were all still alive.
I glanced over at Mom. She had the same set of emotions in her eyes. But, I think the anger took over once the octopus was safely away. She gave us one (and only one) hand gesture.
The five of us kicked hard and streaked back to the surface, as quickly as we could without giving ourselves decompression sickness or what they call “the bends.”
We all scrambled up onto the boat. Mom and Dad insisted that Beck and I climb aboard first, then Tommy, then Dad, then Mom (Mom’s the best swimmer in the whole family).
Once we’d ripped off our masks and regulators and caught our breath, Mom and Dad marched over to have “a word” with Beck and me. They had The Look. You’ve probably seen it. Right before your parents have “a word” with you.
“What did we say about sticking together down below?” asked Dad.
“That it’s more important underwater than it is up here,” said Mom, answering for us. That was fine with Beck and me. We were really dreading this particular pop quiz.
“Explain yourselves,” said Dad.
“W-w-well,” I stammered, “we saw this shiny, silvery object.”
“It turned out to be a fish,” added Beck.
“But first there was this whale,” I said. “It cut us off from you guys.”
“Was it silver, too?” asked Tommy, strutting across the deck, drying his hair with a towel, giving his mane a good shake, looking like he lived in a shampoo commercial.
“No,” said Beck. “It was more blue.”
Uncle Richie and Storm came up from the galley. They both had toast crumbs sprinkled across their shirts.
“Is everything all right?” asked Uncle Richie.
“Fine,” said Mom. “Now.”
“But Bick and Beck went totally rogue on us down below,” said Tommy. “Thought they could fly solo, treasure hunt alone.”
Uncle Richie shook his head and clamped one hand on each of our shoulders. “Bickford? Rebecca? If I may?”
We nodded. We could tell he wanted to give us some wise advice. It’s what he likes to do. Who were we to try and stop him?
“Always remember one thing, children.” Uncle Richie stiffened his spine and planted his fists on his hips. “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much!”
“Chya,” said Tommy. “Like, together, we can save Bick and Beck’s butts. Repeatedly.”
Dad chuckled. “We can also find a certain privateer’s treasure.”
He held up a single black coin and rubbed it clean with his thumb. With the oxidation scraped off, the coin revealed itself to be silver. It sparkled and shimmered in the sun—way more than that tuna fish Beck and I went chasing after.
Seems Mom, Dad, and Tommy had found the sunken Port Au Prince (exactly where Dad’s dive computer said it would be) but had to scurry away from the shipwreck with only one silver coin when they saw Beck and me tangled up in a tango with an eight-legged monster.
“Everybody recheck their gear,” said Dad. “We’re going back down. Let’s grab the metal detectors and dive nets.”
“This is going to be quite a haul,” said Mom. “On first inspection, the cargo hold looked to be loaded with treasure chests.”
“Woo-hoo!” shouted Tommy. “We’re gonna be rich.”
“Actually, Thomas,” said Dad, “we already have more money than we’ll ever need.”
“Even if, someday, I want to buy, like, a Maserati or a Lamborghini?”
“You can buy those with your own money, Tommy,” said Mom. “Any treasure we find down below will be immediately donated to the Tonga National Museum in Nuku’alofa.”
“But then we’re heading on to Australia to search for Lasseter’s Gold,” I said. “Right?”
“Indeed, we are,” said Uncle Richie, getting kind of wound up. “For it is the stuff of myth and legend! The most famous of all of Australia’s long-lost treasures. Imagine, an inland reef, hidden in the desert, rich with gold.”
Tommy raised his hand.
“Yes, Tommy?” said Mom.
“Are we gonna donate all of Lasseter’s Gold to a museum when we find it?”
“We will give it to whomever deserves it,” said Dad.
“Fine,” said Tommy, sounding sort of sullen. “Whatever.”
I think he really wanted to buy a snazzy car.
“First things first,” said Mom. “Before we head off to Australia…”
“Which is still three thousand two hundred and thirty-nine miles away,” added Storm.
“Thank you, Stephanie,” said Mom, who, by the way, is one of the few people allowed to call Storm by her real name. Dad and Uncle Richie are the other two. “Before we even think about Australia and Lasseter’s Gold, we need to retrieve the Port Au Prince’s silver and jewels!”
So, we all went through our pre-dive checks once again and grabbed the extra gear we’d need for finding and then hauling the treasure up to the surface. We tumbled and scissor-kicked back into the ocean. This time, Beck and I were behind Mom and Dad but in front of Tommy. When I glanced over my shoulder, he did one of those two fingers to his eyes, two fingers to me, two fingers back to his eyes gestures. Yep. He would be watching us.
Hauling treasure out of a sunken hull is always a blast.
We use a metal detector to sweep the barnacle-encrusted wreckage to make sure we don’t miss anything. Then we load dive nets with as much loot as they can hold.
Working together, we had five big bags stuffed with silver candlesticks, gold crosses, and jeweled goblets. The museum in Tonga would probably need a new wing to house it all.
Mom gave the signal and we headed back up, dragging our bulging treasure nets behind us. When we broke through the surface of the water, we noticed something peculiar.
Another boat was docked right next to ours. The Venus was stenciled across its stern. From our vantage point, bobbing up and down in the water, we could see Uncle Richie and Storm chatting with a giant of a woman. She had to be six feet tall with long blond dreadlocks streaming out of her wide red bandana. Even though the sun was scorching hot, she wore a waxy-looking long coat and boots up to her knees. Two men, with muscles nearly as thick and big as hers, were standing beside her. The lady looked like an Amazon warrior. And not the kind that sells things online.
Tommy was open-mouth gawking at the lady who had to be at least ten years older than him.
“I think I’m in love,” he blubbered.
In case you didn’t know, Tommy falls head over heels in love on a regular basis. It’s why Mom and Dad nicknamed him Tailspin Tommy.
He started swimming for our ship, faster than I’ve ever seen him swim before—even though he was hauling two heavy, treasure-filled dive bags behind him. The guy moved like a torpedo slicing through the waves.
Yep. He was definitely tailspinning again.
Beck and I swam after him. So did Mom and Dad. But Tommy beat us all to the dive ladder, clambered up, dumped his treasure bags on the deck, and tried his best to look suave and cool, which is kind of hard to do when you’re dressed like a frogman with an oxygen tank strapped to your back.
“Hey,” I heard him say to the lady when we were all back on deck. “I’m Tommy. And you must be… gorgeous!”
Storm rolled her eyes. Beck did her famous “gag me now” gesture. Mom and Dad both shook their heads. We were all kind of used to Tommy and his tailspinning.
Fortunately, the lady laughed. A big, boisterous laugh. Uncle Richie joined in. Then the two big guys behind the lady laughed, too.
“G’day to you, Tommy,” said the lady. “I’m Charlotte Badger. These are my mates from down under, Banjo and Croc.”
“G’day,” said the two men, who had very stubbly beards, lots of piercings, and more arm tattoos than a Maori warrior.
“Ms. Badger and her esteemed associates hail from Australia,” said Uncle Richie. “They might be able to offer us invaluable assistance in our quest for Lasseter’s Gold.”
“Be happy to help, mate,” said Ms. Badger.
I’m not sure if Uncle Richie was supposed to be discussing our Australian treasure hunt with total strangers. But it was our main mission. And if the lady was from Australia, she might be able to help us find one of the biggest missing treasures in the whole world: Lasseter’s Gold!
“I see you lot already beat us to the Port Au Prince,” said the lady, gesturing to dive nets loaded with clinking treasure we’d flung up on the deck. “Good on you. You did a bonzer job. My mates and I do a wee bit of treasure hunting ourselves from time to time. But you beat us to this beaut, fair and square.”
Praise for Treasure HuntersA New York Times Bestseller
"This series promises it all: ruthless pirates, CIA spies, terrorists, stolen works of art and priceless treasure. More important, it delivers. A high-seas adventure that will entice even the most confirmed of landlubbers."--- Kirkus Reviews
"A frenetic sense of excitement and adventure permeates this nautical escapade... There's little time to breath as the Kidds pinball from one spot of trouble to the next, making for a fun and fast-paced ride."
--- Publishers Weekly
Praise for Treasure Hunters: Danger Down the Nile"Short chapters, copious illustrations, and a rollicking, nonstop plot....The fiercely loyal Kidds and a healthy dose of humor... make this fun-filled adventure series stand out.... It's hard to imagine the adventure-loving reader who wouldn't be hooked by this series."
--- Kirkus Reviews
- On Sale
- Jun 1, 2020
- Page Count
- 336 pages
- jimmy patterson