Chapter 23: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Notes: I have no intention of explaining the details of any of the gadgets that Peter makes in this book.  Although he’s interested in inventions, Peter is not some whizz-kid making flying bikes or things like that.  My plan for Peter is that he can use only regular materials and modest “inventions.” I’m trying to make his inventions vaguely believeable with a touch of absurdity. So far we’ve had his rube goldberg snooze button, the doll catcher, the communicators, the stink bombs, the confetti gun, and now: grippy gloves.

Chapter 23

Peter bounded through the sagebrush a little ahead of Frank and Nathan.  They had made it down the steep parts of the gully as well as the more gradual slope at the foot of the hill and now could see clearly the family car up ahead.  Peter started waving.

“Hello!” He yelled and the echo of the mountain repeated it back.

“Hello!” Ashley yelled back. She ran toward the trio of climbers with Laurie and Charlie following behind.  Harry and Nanette had just finished changing the tire on the Suburban and were lowering the jack.

It took longer to reach the hikers than Ashley expected.  Although she was bursting with the news of the BGs, she was out of breath by the time they met, and Laurie spoke first.

“Uh-oh, looks like you had a bit of an accident,” Laurie said noting a large tear in Frank’s jeans.

“Not too bad,” Frank replied. “I’ve got a matching bruise under this tear, and a sore ankle from a falling rock. Other than that, I’m still in one piece.”

“And I’ve got a big scratch here,” Nathan held up his arm. “And some smaller ones on my other arm.”

“Me too,” said Peter. “But nothing major. And I got a chance to try out my “grippy gloves”! They worked great!”

“I don’t think he gripped the rocks any better than I did with my bare hands,” Nathan said.  “And I still think you should have been using that glue and stuff to make spiderman-type web slingers instead of “grippy gloves”.  That we could have used!”

“The gloves were great!” Peter said defensively. “Make your own web slingers.”

“The BGs were here and they shot our car!” Ashley finally blurted out.


Ashley’s news suddenly trumped anything the the boys could think of to say. Frank took off running the last bit of distance toward Nanette and Harry while Ashley told the story to Nathan and Peter in a rush, sometimes getting the events out of order.

“So they shot the tire when Mom wouldn’t give them the key?” Nathan asked.

“No, I think that happened before.”

“Why waste a bullet?” Peter wondered.

“To keep Mom from driving off? To prove they weren’t afraid to use it?” Nathan suggested.

“What did Charlie do?”

Laurie answered, “Your mom said he slept through the whole thing.”

By this time they had reached the others and Nanette was repeating the story to Frank.

“Do you have a pencil and paper?” Ashley asked Peter. Peter was wearing a mini backpack that held his grippy gloves, the trash paper from some snack bars they ate on the mountain, and, as Ashley expected, a small notebook and golf pencil.

“What do you want it for?”

“Come over here,” Ashley said. “I want you to sketch something.”

Ashley led Peter and Nathan to the place where the BGs car had been. “You can see a faint shoe print here in the dirt by the side of the road. See?  It’s got a kind of star pattern. I thought we should sketch it and try to remember it in case we see it somewhere else.”

Peter rolled his eyes. “Yeah, that’s likely,” he said sarcastically. “Out of the millions of shoe prints we’ll see, I’m sure we’ll notice this one.  Besides, who knows how many people are wearing this shoe brand?”

“Because maybe we will! Like Dad says, Try things; maybe they’ll work!” Ashley stomped her own foot in frustration.

“Why didn’t you just have Mom take a photograph?”

“She did!” Ashley said, talking louder. “But who knows when they’ll be developed! I want a drawing! Mom also photographed those tire tracks over there.” Ashley pointed to the other side of the road. “They went off the road a little when they turned around.”

“She’s right; it might be helpful,” Nathan said.

Peter grudgingly agreed. “OK, I’ll try.” Although none of the children spent much time drawing, Peter was considered the best of the four because he often sketched his gadget ideas. He had also learned a few rules of perspective from Frank, which always made his drawings look more realistic than drawings by other kids his age, so he had a reputation of being good.

Nathan noted that the shoe print appeared to be three notebook pages long (the notebook pages were only about 3 ½ inches long). Peter’s drawing turned out something like this:


“They look like hiking boots. But that star pattern is probably not very common,” Nathan said with more confidence than he felt. By then, everyone was ready to go, so they didn’t bother to sketch the tire track.

“We should keep a lookout for these,” Ashley said as they climbed in the car.

“I’m glad we brought a full sized spare tire,” Frank said as they drove back toward town. “We don’t have to take the time to seek out a repair place.”

“That’s probably what the BGs are doing now,” Nanette said. “I wonder what place or time they went to?”

Back at the house, the three climbers took showers and changed clothes while the rest of the group discussed the excitement of the morning. Nanette had to explain to the Jameson’s about the time machine, which she had hoped to avoid. Harry and Laurie were skeptical, and wondered aloud whether the BGs—and maybe even Tim Trave—were illusionists and the time machine was a fake. Nanette didn’t want to argue, but she asked them to keep that part of the mystery secret.

Despite the busy morning, the family was still interested in seeing the rodeo that was being held in nearby Woodruff. Frank decided not to go because he had been to rodeos before and he wanted a nap. Charlie and Laurie also stayed home, but Harry drove Nanette, Nathan, Peter and Ashley to the rodeo.

They found a good spot in the stands to watch the events, and they stayed for the saddleback bronco riding, calf roping, bareback bronco riding, and barrel racing. Partway through the rodeo, Nathan asked Harry if he could teach him how to tie and throw a lasso. The two of them went behind the stands, and Nathan practiced, rather than watch the rest of the events.

Nathan kept practicing when they returned to the Jameson’s house for the cookout, but he made sure to practice where the other kids couldn’t see.

About a dozen people arrived to join the Jamesons and the Hales for the July 4th cookout in the Jamesons front yard. They set up grills to cook hamburgers and hot dogs. Some people brought barbecued chicken, and there were lots of salads and yummy desserts.

Most of the people who came were friends of Frank and Nanette who they knew from their visit 15 years ago. They had a lot of catching up to do, and there was lots of reminiscing and laughter. Other children came too, and together the kids played tag, horseshoes, and hide and seek with their new friends.

At the end of the party, after the yard was cleaned up and darkness fell, they lit sparklers and sang songs. Everyone had so much fun that for a moment, the current mystery was forgotten.

When they went to sleep that evening, Nathan couldn’t help remembering the stories the grown-ups were telling about The Mystery of the Circle J Brand. Would their current mystery ever be solved as completely as that past mystery? What if they never solved it? What if the BGs left for another time period and never returned? Nathan felt a sadness at the thought that a mystery investigation could fail, and he resolved to work as hard as possible to…Nathan didn’t even finish the thought before falling fast asleep.

The next morning the family packed up the car and prepared to leave. Ashley breathed in the sweet smell of the sage in the driveway and thought about her ride on Zinnia.

Peter looked up at East Mountain thinking about the hike, and planned how to improve his grippy gloves.

Suddenly, a lasso snaked out and caught Peter’s suitcase.

“Ah ha!” Nathan said, pulling the suitcase toward himself. “You are no match for my web-slinger!”

At first Peter looked annoyed, but then he laughed. “I guess I told you to make your own web-slinger, didn’t I?”

“Wow! Great job!” Nanette said.

“I‘m a great teacher,” Harry said with a wink.

“Again!” said Charlie.

Peter said, “But what you need is maybe a retractable rope—like those dog leashes, you know? And some glue…” While Peter thought out loud about how to improve on the lariat, Nathan basked in praise from the rest of the family and lassoed a few more items (with about a 50/50 success) for their entertainment. Charlie was still saying, “Again!” when they all finished their farewells and climbed in the car for the next leg of their journey.

“’Again’ is what I want to say too,” said Ashley. “I wish we could stay another day.”

“But now we’re headed to Reno, Nevada,” said Frank. “Then the next day we’ll get to our big destination—the family reunion in Bass Lake, California!”

“With a little detour,” Nanette said. “Or at least an extra stop.  Remember the photo of the BGs map? We can’t go past Salt Lake City without spending at least a few minutes searching for their hiding place.”

“How will be know where to look?” Peter asked. “I don’t remember Curt telling us anything except that it was near a run down old resort. How will we find it?”

“Wait and see,” Nanette said mysteriously.

End of Chapter 23

Chapter 24 can be found here: Chapter 24: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)








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