Chapter 14: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note: Once again I use hand-waving to skip over whatever it is the police might do in this situation.  But I feel like Nancy Drew and those other mystery series for children do a similar thing–otherwise I  probably would be an expert…

Chapter 14

Jorge and Uncle Carl had called the police, and they walked with the officers over toward Nathan and the scattered treasure. Nathan told his story while the two young men and Peter helped pick up the paper money, which was blowing in away in the breeze.  Robin and Frank arrived just behind them and helped gather up the other scattered contents of the box—mostly jewelry and coins—while listening to the story.

When Nathan finished his story, the police started to ask questions. Frank held up his hand to interrupt. “I think before we do any more talking, we need some time with the first aid kit, pronto.”

The officers agreed. Nathan was a sight, with skinned knees, a torn shirt, a variety of cuts and bruises, and a red area on the side of his face that was starting to swell.  Nathan was sure his dad was going to lecture him on safety, but this time Frank kept silent as they walked toward the car and got the kit.

Nanette’s car drove up about this time and Nanette gasped at the sight of Nathan. Then she got a hold of herself and said calmly, “I can see there’s a story here,” as she helped Frank get the cold pack and bandages from the kit.

“Quite a story!” Frank answered. Nathan briefly explained his encounter again for Nanette, Liz and Ashley while antibiotic cream and bandages were applied to his cuts and skinned knees.

“Wow,” was all Liz had to say.

From their experience in Merrillville, Frank and Nanette expected another long wait while the police gathered information, but this time they were surprisingly efficient. Using the computer in their car, they verified that some items in the box were stolen, a fact that made Nathan breathe a sigh of relief. For a while he had a nagging feeling that it might turn out that the box legitimately belonged to the two men and that he was the real thief. He knew he hadn’t intended to keep the contents of the box for himself—he really thought it was stolen—but the police couldn’t know that for sure.

While the others were busy talking with the officers, Ashley walked off by herself, looking at the lake. She was angry that her car had arrived after all the excitement was over. It isn’t fair! she thought to herself and tried not to cry. If only they hadn’t spent so long talking at the shop and looking at the motorcycles. If only Charlie hadn’t wanted another drink from the machine…

As she picked her way among the blocks, she saw three or four more coins—presumably more escapees from the box—glinting in the late afternoon sun.  Ashley gathered them up to take back to the others, but her eyes caught sight of another shiny object below the blocks in a crevice. She got down on her hands and knees for a closer look and curled her lip in disgust at the spider webs and dirt below. No way would she climb down there, but the shiny thing appeared to be on a little ledge, not far below. She lay down on the cement block and stretched her arm down to reach it.  Her fingers closed around a cold metal object and she pulled it up.

A bronze-colored key lay in her hand. It looked old-fashioned, or maybe a little like the fancy key that locked the family’s roll-top desk at home.

“What have you got there?” Peter asked, coming toward Ashley.

“Nothing! Just some more coins.  Here!” Ashley thrust the coins at Peter but was reluctant to give up the fancy key. She slipped it into her fanny pack. It’s not fair that Peter should have been here for all the action, she thought.  I’ll show them the key myself later.

Ashley thought about all the ways that she would have been the hero if only they hadn’t arrived late. She would have thrown rocks at the bad guys chasing Nathan. In her mind, her aim was perfect. Like David and Goliath.

She looked toward the parking lot and saw a construction area close by. She imagined running to the loader—the key would still be in the ignition—and driving it back to the parking lot to block the way of the PT Cruiser. She would be like Texas Tess riding the bronco to head off the rustlers.

As she continued to gaze in the direction of the parking lot and daydream, she gradually became aware of a man watching her. He was wearing a motorcycle helmet with tinted glass, so it was impossible to know for sure what he was looking at, but Ashley had the creepy feeling he was staring right at her.

She looked at the motorcycle he was sitting on. It was a purple Harley-Davidson. Feature after feature looked exactly like the one they had examined at the shop. Except this one was purple–the color of the thieves’ motorcycle!

Ashley hurried back closer to her family. The motorcycle revved its motor.

“Mom! Mom!” Ashley cried over the noise. “Look at that motorcycle!” As she pointed, the motorcycle took off, roaring off across the parking lot, and disappearing down the main road.

“It looked just like the one at the shop!” Ashley cried.

Everyone looked up to see it, and Robin managed to get a glimpse through his binoculars.

“Well, there’s not much we can do about it now,” Nanette said as it disappeared from view.  The police had just about finished gathering information and the two young men had left to continue their walk along the lake front. Uncle Carl and Robin decided it was time to head back to Merrillville. They had a quiet conversation with Nanette and then said their good-byes all around.

Frank and Nanette thought it would be best to call it a day, too, but Liz wouldn’t hear of it.

“It’s still early! Still vacation!  At least come and see Chicago from the Sears’ Tower. It’s a view you’ll remember.”

The Hales relented and the two families drove to a parking garage near the tower.

“Wow, it’s really big!” Ashley said after they parked and looked up at the 108 story skyscraper .  “Are we really going to the top?”

“What’s the matter? Scaredy-cat?” Nathan asked.

“I’m not a scaredy-cat!” Ashley replied hotly.

“So does the Historical Miss series have a girl from Illinois yet?” Liz asked Ashley, trying to head off an argument.

At the same time, Jorge walked up and put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. “You really were very brave at the lake front,” he said.

“Thanks,” Nathan replied without enthusiasm. On the drive to the tower, Nathan no longer felt brave. The excitement was over, and now he felt every ache and pain from his bruises. He face throbbed where the shoe had hit him. Worse than that, he felt nervous and jumpy. He felt like the bad guys were about to attack him from behind every corner. Maybe he wasn’t cut out for detective life after all. Being a detective had always been his dream, but now he wasn’t so sure. He felt tired, achy and depressed.

The family went inside the Sears Tower and bought tickets to the Skydeck. Before getting on the elevator, they had to sit down in a little theater to see a movie about the Tower. Nathan’s eyes grew heavy in the darkness. Little Charlie, sitting on Nanette’s lap, fell fast asleep, and soon Nathan drifted off too. Fifteen minutes later the lights of the theater came on and Nathan awoke.

“Come on sleepyhead. It’s time to go,” Jorge said as he roused Nathan. Although Nathan was stiff, the mini-nap had refreshed his mind a little, and he boarded the elevator with less worry.  Charlie stayed asleep on Frank’s shoulder, letting out a delicate snore from time to time that made the other passengers smile.

The ride to the Skydeck was over a minute long, and a little video ran in the elevator to keep the occupants from thinking too hard about the long trip in close quarters. Two cartoon birds cracked jokes and told facts about the height of the tower compared to other tall buildings in the world. The video seemed to work, for they arrived at the Skydeck in no time, and if any of the passengers were claustrophobic, they didn’t show it.

Nathan thought maybe he should make up a little video like that in his mind. Then, whenever he felt nervous or scared, he could imagine those two wisecracking birds commenting on the situation and breaking the tension.

The view from the Skydeck was breathtaking. The family split up, enjoying the sights of the city from all angles. Chicago was spread out before them like a map. Nathan enjoyed seeing the location of the chase from this distance. Even with the binoculars, the lakefront seemed small—only a tiny part of the greater world.

Nathan was startled several times when he caught a glimpse out of the corner of his eye of someone who looked large or bearded. It was always a false alarm, but it would start his heart beating in an unaccustomed, panicky way. Then he imagined the wisecracking birds from the elevator saying, “Awk! Just testing your reflexes!” and he’d feel better. Mostly.

Peter looked out at the lake and watched an airplane trailing a banner in the sky. He wondered how many fish were just out of sight under the surface of the lake. He wondered if he could build an invention to make fish fly. How surprised those seagulls would be if a fish—a shark maybe—came flying out of the lake in his invention and started chasing them!

After looking outside, Ashley spent some time reading about the history of Chicago on the inner walls of the Skydeck. As she had told Liz earlier, the Historical Miss series was coming out with an Illinois book next month—and she was preparing for it.  She wondered how many of these facts would show up in the book.

Ashley was especially interested in the Watertower—the only building still standing from the great Chicago fire. She tried to find it out the window, and finally asked Liz for help.

“Can’t see it from here,” Liz said. “Skyscrapers hide it.”

“That’s funny,” Ashley said. “From way up here it seems like nothing could be hidden.”

Liz smiled. “Seems like—but isn’t!”

Charlie woke up and Liz and Jorge took him for a while. They didn’t have any children yet and were happy to show Charlie lots of attention which Charlie was happy to receive.

Nanette and Frank stood together, alone for a change, enjoying the panoramic view.

“If only we could get a view like this on our life sometimes,” Nanette said. “So often situations pile up on each other and it’s hard to see how everything fits together.”

“You mean the mystery?” Frank asked.

“No—everything,” Nanette answered. Then she admitted, “But mostly the mystery.”

“Well, let’s think about the case for a moment,” Frank said. “Let’s get a new perspective. What has been going well so far?”

“Hmm. Well, from Jimmy Vann we know the license plate of the motorcycle and the PT Cruiser. We have a photograph (probably) of the two thieves from the newspaper. We have information about their dealings with Josie’s Jewelry and Fine Gifts. We recovered a box of stolen money and jewels from one of their hiding places and have turned it over to the authorities. We know that someone with Curt’s description and Tim’s name used to work at the Cumberland Gap Visitor’s center.”

“That’s all good. What has been going poorly?”

“We don’t know why there seem to be three bad guys rather than two. Nathan got hurt. We got hurt. The bad guys are still at large. If that motorcycle at the waterfront really belonged to them, they may have gotten a good look at us and our car. We may be in even more danger.”

Frank didn’t answer. He moved his finger to his lips and inclined his head toward someone behind Nanette. Nanette’s spine tingled. Had someone been listening?

She glanced around and caught sight of a man in gray, with a gray ponytail, looking out over the city. He had a hat pulled down low over his forehead and he rested his chin in his hand hiding the lower part of his face. His other hand held a battered briefcase. Frank had seem him slide closer to them as Nanette talked, and now wondered if he were eavesdropping on purpose.

The man turned his head to look at the pair, and they immediately pretended they hadn’t been staring and looked somewhere else.

“Aren’t you going to say hello to an old friend?” the man said.

“Tim Trave!” Nanette smiled and turned back to face the mysterious man.

Frank shook his hand. “We certainly didn’t expect to see you here. How long have you been listening to us?”

Tim laughed. “Not long enough to hear anything but the last sentence. Something about danger, I think. It didn’t take long for you to notice someone suspicious!”

“You better believe it!” Nanette said. “Frank has a sixth sense for that sort of thing. It is so good to see you, and we have so much to tell you!”

Tim held up his hand. “I already know most of it. I just came back to tell you that you are doing a great job and to keep at it.”

“Came back? From where?” Frank asked.

“From a week in the future, actually.”

“Did you come to tell us our fortunes?” Frank asked. “Let me guess, we’ll be taking a long trip…”

Tim chuckled drily. “No fortunes. I visited your Uncle Carl next week and talked to him for a while about the mystery. He told me about the man you heard about at the Cumberland Gap who called himself Tim Trave. I’m sure that must be Curt, and I am so glad to hear he’s OK and isn’t being held by those crooks. I don’t know enough about the future to know if Curt is still all right, but I trust the two of you will find out one way or another. When I heard that you visited the Sears Tower today, I thought I’d see if I could visit you for a few minutes and encourage you to keep up the good work. My time machine has been working better lately. In fact, there has been a dramatic change in performance.”

“Why?” Frank asked.

“My theory is that the crooks have broken theirs. If so, that could be a big help to you in finding them.”

“That would be great news if it were true,” Nanette said.

“Can you give us any hints as to what this time machine looks like or what might be wrong with it?” Frank asked.

“I thought we talked about that before.” Suddenly Tim’s body gave a funny shake. He looked like a person on a video rewinding at fast speed. His mouth moved as if he were talking backwards, but no sound came out. Then he said, “I thought we talked about that before.”

“Uh, what just happened here?” Frank asked as Nanette stared at Tim with concern.

“I’m unphasing,” Tim rewound again and repeated, “I’m unphasing. That’s what like to call it anyway. I think it should stop for a moment now. I was on the Skydeck an hour in the future. The first time I came, I miscalculated and you had already left. I can’t be at the same place at the same time twice.” Short rewind. “at the same time twice. This always happens when I get within an hour of so of being somewhere I have already been at the same time.” Short rewind. “at the same time.” Short rewind. “At the same time. I should leave now.  Here, take this.” Tim handed Frank an envelope. Frank opened his mouth to ask a question but Nanette spoke first.

“What happens if you don’t go? I mean if you just stay here to greet yourself?”

“I don’t know.” Short rewind. “I don’t know.” Short rewind. “I don’t know. It could be fatal. Maybe I would get stuck in a short moment of time and never be able to leave. I don’t want to take the risk to find out!” Tim smiled and took his leave with quick steps toward the men’s room. Apparently he would use his time machine in one of the stalls where no one would notice.

Frank and Nanette stared at each other and shook their heads. This unphasing business was the weirdest thing yet.

End of Chapter 14

The next chapter can be found here: Chapter 15: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)



















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