Note: This is the fourth in a series that starts with Long Fiction for Middle Grades: Cross-Country Mystery Chapter 1.
After Nanette saw the kids off to school, she found Peter’s lunch still sitting on the counter and Nathan’s homework folder on the floor. Nanette decided the lunch was her fault, as she had pulled it out of Peter’s backpack to add a cookie, and then didn’t put it back before going upstairs to see why Charlie was making a fuss. Nathan’s folder was another matter. That was another clue that his mind was on something else.
Nevertheless, since she was going to the elementary school to take Peter’s lunch, she might just as well take the homework folder this one time. After getting Charlie dressed, the two of them drove to school and then stopped at the grocery store for milk. Grocery stores keep the milk in the back so that you have to walk past everything else in the store to get it, and, although Nanette was in a hurry, she really did need the crackers, the tuna, the cereal, the eggs, the cookies on sale, and the other twenty items that found their way into her cart. By the time she got home, unpacked, and was ready to think about the mystery, the phone rang. The washing machine repairman had an opening and could come over right away. She reluctantly agreed, hoping they’d be gone before Tim Trave arrived at noon. Meanwhile, Charlie discovered an open cereal box, and was making it “snow” on the dog, Watson.
By the time the repairman left and everything was back in order, little time remained before Tim’s planned visit. I’ll just run up to Ashley’s room and look at some of those books in that western series she likes, Nanette thought. As she grabbed California Christy and Arizona Annie, she remembered Nathan’s sudden interest in these books. He couldn’t have overheard, could he? Nanette wondered as she flipped through the pages looking for information about stagecoaches, fur traders, and the Yosemite Valley. Tim claimed to have had a cabin near the Yosemite Valley in the 1860s, but how could that be?
Nanette turned her thoughts to Tim’s strange tale. Could the time machine be real? How can I find out for sure? Maybe if I checked some science books. Peter has a couple books about inventions on his shelf. This train of thought reminded Nanette of Nathan’s secret request of Peter. She scowled. Nathan seemed to be making an investigation similar to hers, and the most likely explanation for that was not “coincidence.”
The doorbell rang, and before she could answer, Tim Trave strode in. Charlie was playing nicely with his wooden train in the living room, and, to Nanette’s relief, didn’t immediately demand attention when he heard the door open.
“I don’t have much time,” Tim said. Then he let out a mirthless chuckle. ‘You’d think a guy with a time machine would have all the time in the world, but there are those rules I was talking about. No time to go into that now.”
Nanette got the message and spoke without preamble. “I have reason to believe my son Nathan overheard us last night.”
“That’s fine. Don’t worry. I think you should probably tell all your children. They can help with the search. Try not to scare them, but they should be on the lookout for anything strange. I’ll do what I can on my end to help you, but time travel is working more weirdly than usual with two machines running at the same time. I’m shut out of some time periods that I thought I should be able to visit. Other times I can only observe, but I don’t know why.”
“What do you mean?”
“Not all times are open to change. Like a ghost, I can watch what’s going on but I can’t interact with the people or things. Other times are blocked to me entirely. I can’t even visit them. This has always been true, and I thought I had figured out the rules, but suddenly the rules seem to have changed. I think it has to do with the operation of the other machine.”
Tim held up an index finger. “Priority number one is getting that machine out of their hands. Finding my friend Curt Hopewell is the next priority. I would have made Curt number one, except that I believe many more lives are in danger if the time machine remains in evil hands.” Tim sighed. “That’s a tall order, I know. But if we can do those things, I also hope we can get the gold recovered and the bandits arrested.”
And cure cancer and achieve world peace…Nanette couldn’t help thinking with a touch of sarcasm.
The cuckoo clock started to cuckoo. Tim stiffened at the sound. “I have to go. I have to be here at another time.” He turned around and ran out the front door. “You’ll understand in a moment!” he yelled back over his shoulder.
Nanette stared after him in amazement. Charlie came up behind her making train sounds, and she picked him up absently and walked to the door. In his haste, Tim had left it open. She reached out to close it and saw a black Suburban slowly drive into the neighborhood, as if trying to find an address. She closed the door and she and Charlie went upstairs to his room.
Nanette settled down to read some books to Charlie, and they had just finished the first story when they suddenly heard a loud BANG in the front yard. A car backfiring, Nanette thought, but she gave Charlie another book and left him to investigate.
As she opened the front door, she was horrified to see a man in the black Suburban pointing a gun at another person in her front yard. The gun was smoking and had recently been fired. The gunman and the driver both had bandannas over their faces and hats pulled low over their foreheads. Their gun looked old-fashioned, but Nanette wasn’t sure. Despite her past detective work, she had never become an expert on guns.
The man in her front yard was apparently uninjured. His clothes were ragged, and his long gray hair streamed behind him as he ran toward her.
“Get inside!” He screamed in a voice that must be obeyed.
Nanette ran inside but immediately went to the front window. She knew the window was also dangerous, but she needed to see what was going on. The gray haired man ran to the porch, grabbed a cardboard package that was sitting there, and flung it toward the street. It landed 40 feet from the door and then exploded with a terrific blast of fire and sound.
“Thunder!” Charlie exclaimed from upstairs. Charlie liked thunder. Nanette willed him to stay in his room.
The black Suburban drove off with a screech, but the rear tire had suffered damage from the explosion. The car swerved right, knocked over a stop sign, and then swerved left, landing in a ditch across the street.
Suddenly the air around the Suburban started shimmering, like heat waves rising from the road on a hot day. The shimmering waves grew larger and larger, and the Suburban slowly disappeared. The shimmering then grew smaller and smaller, and the ditch appeared empty, with just tire tracks and a gouge in the dirt to show where the car had been.
Nanette gasped. She ran to the door and flung it open. On the porch steps stood the ragged man with long gray hair. He was gasping for breath, but as he turned around and looked at her, she saw a familiar wry smile on his face.
Nanette gasped again. It was Tim Trave!
End of Chapter 4
The next chapter can be found at Chapter 5: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders).