Chapter 25a: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note: I am behind this week, but I want to keep the schedule of a post every Friday, so today it is only part of a chapter, rather than a complete chapter. I hope this section isn’t too moralistic, but since Nanette and Frank are expys of Nancy Drew, I think it fits.

Chapter 25a

The boys enjoyed their experience in the Salt Lake, but when they came out, the salt on their skin felt itchy and uncomfortable. They cleaned off as much as they could at an outdoor shower next to Saltair before putting on travel clothes.

Nanette and Frank found that salt water on the beach had seeped through the beach towels and soaked their shorts.  They dried quickly, but the material became unnaturally stiff. After driving west for a half hour, both Frank and Nanette wanted to stop and change out of their stiff, smelly shorts.

“How about here?” Frank said as he pulled onto an exit.

“Skull Valley? You have got to be kidding me!” Nanette said when she read the name of the town on the exit sign, but she was happy to stop anyway. They found a gas station where they could change in the restroom, fill up the gas tank, and buy sandwiches and fruit for lunch (as well as salty, sugary snacks for dessert.)

They took turns in the single person restrooms to clean off  and change clothes. When Ashley came out of the bathroom, she saw Nathan and Peter, staring at a gorgeous BMW convertible parked at a gas pump. A family of three was walking from the car to the convenience store. “Isn’t it beautiful?” Nathan said.

“Don’t be ridiculous,” Ashley said. “Only four people could fit in that thing. And I don’t want Charlie sitting in my lap!”

“Who said I was letting you ride in my car?” Nathan said impishly, but Ashley rolled her eyes and the three of them went into the store to scout for food.

As Ashley walked around one end of the candy bar aisle, she noticed the boy from the convertible, who was about Nathan’s age, at the other end of the aisle. He didn’t see Ashley, but was squatting down looking at the candy on the lower shelf, and  running his fingers over the boxes almost as if he were counting them. Then, quick as a wink, he slipped a box of Junior Mints into his cargo pants pocket. Immediately he stood up and started heading for the soft drink cases.

Ashley blinked, wondering if she had seen that right. Surely she hadn’t just witnessed a shoplifter had she? Maybe he planned to pay for it, and just pocketed it for a moment? Nathan came around to Ashley’s aisle to choose a candy bar and Ashley went over and whispered to him.  “Nathan, I think that kid is planning to steal some Junior mints. I don’t know what to do.”

Nathan was curious and his eyes lit up. Time to act like a real detective, he thought. “I’ll take care of it. Where did he put them?”

“Right front pocket. But maybe he’s planning to buy them. I don’t want to get him in trouble. But it’s not fair to the store owner!”

“I got this,” Nathan said. Using his own stealth tactics, he sneaked around the store watching the boy and his dad.  They both chose soft drinks and walked over to the counter where a woman, presumably the mom, was waiting with her own drink and a package of peanuts. Nathan saw the corner of the box sticking out from the boy’s pocket—Ashley was telling the truth.

Nathan walked to the other end of the counter and pretended to be interested in a display of car fresheners, although he carefully watched as the cashier rang up the items. The box was still in the boy’s pocket when the cashier finished and gave them the total.

“Whoops!” Nathan said loudly, walking towards them. “You’ve still got those Junior Mints I asked you to hold for me! I should get them back before you leave.”

The mom and dad, thinking he must be talking to someone else, ignored him, but the boy suddenly turned red in the face and looked back at Nathan with eyes like daggers.

“You remember,” Nathan said innocently, now that he had the boy’s attention. “Thanks for holding them, but I’ll take them now.” And he pointed at the boy’s pocket.

The boy’s eyes narrowed and he took the box out of his pocket.

“Oh thank goodness!” said the woman. “It would have been terrible if we’d taken it out of the store by mistake. Besides, we don’t want to spoil your appetite before getting to Grandma’s.”

“Thanks!” Nathan gave a sunny smile as the boy handed over the box, but he had the distinct feeling that if looks could kill, he’d be a pile of ash right now.

“What’s that all about?” Frank asked as he and the rest of the family came up with their items, and the three other people left the shop.

“Tell you in the car,” Nathan said.

The cashier jumped in, “I saw that boy take the candy and was going to say something if he walked toward the door with it. That kid should be thanking you for saving him from getting into trouble.”

Back in the car, Nathan and Ashley told their story between bites of sandwich.

“If I had seen him, I would have just told him to stop. None of this sneaking around business,” Peter said. He crunched his sandwich paper into a ball and tossed it toward the trash bag. It hit and bounced off.

“But he could have said he was going to pay for it. He hadn’t really stolen it yet when I saw him,” Ashley said.

“And he could have been dangerous,” Nathan pointed out.

At that Peter made a scoffing noise. “You forget, I saw him and he wasn’t any bigger than you!”

“But what if it had been a grown person?” Ashley asked. “Should we just ignore it?”

Nanette said, “If you think someone’s shoplifting, you can always mention it to an employee. They’re usually trained on what to do in different shoplifting situations. Nathan’s right that it’s not always wise to confront a thief. Pass me the potato chips, please.”

“A life of thievery and crime,” Frank said. “Reminds me of the Great Salt Lake. It looks fun and inviting, but it’s not. Instead of being surrounded by resorts and fun, the lake is alone and the only resort nearby is deserted. Rather than being a place of refreshment, it kills life.”

“Not if you’re a brine shrimp,” Peter pointed out.

“I didn’t say the analogy was perfect,” Frank  replied.

“But what if someone is stealing because they’re poor and have no food? Like Aladdin,” Ashley asked.

“I know!” Nathan said. “I’d toss a five dollar bill or something on the ground and say, ‘Whoops, you dropped this! Bet you’ll need it to buy those Junior mints!’”

“You would not,” Peter said.

“I’d like to think I would,” Nathan said and then took a sip from his water bottle.  “Right now I’m kind of saving up for something, though.”

“Whoops, you dropped this,” Nanette said pointing at the sandwich paper. “Bet you’ll need it to keep the car from turning into a dumpster.”

Peter sighed and rolled his eyes. “Can we watch a movie now?”

Chapter 25 continues here: Chapter 25b: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)






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