Chapter 27: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders

Note: This chapter reminds me that 14 years ago Google maps and GPS systems weren’t ubiquitous. There are negatives to having so much information at our fingertips, though. We have a tendency to trust the informtion more than we ought. We are more likely to be frustrated when it takes more than a few minutes to find information, or to believe it isn’t available if our first attempts at searching fail.

 On a different note, I think some parts of this chapter could be rewritten to be less exposition and more action. I’ll have to go back and decide to do that later. Right now, I’m anxious to keep writing ahead to see how this mystery wraps up.

Chapter 27

“What?!” “How do you know?” “Where is it?!” The car was in an uproar. Ashley eagerly told all about how she and Peter followed the footprints backwards to find the black Suburban and the brown satchel. Every now and then, Peter would add in a comment or two, but Ashley felt like she had the right to talk since she’d let Peter tell the most exciting news.

Frank especially had lots of questions, as he was the only one not to have an adventure at Lake Tahoe. “I thought I was going to scoop all of you when I thought I saw Tom Hanks walk by at the beach,” he said at one point. “But I was mistaken. On both counts.”

Between the stories and questions and answers, the family picked up a fast food lunch in Truckee and then stopped at the Donner Pass Rest Area to have a look at the satchel and its contents at a picnic table. Frank and Nanette both wanted to see the time machine for themselves.

The time machine was a wooden box  a little larger than a large shoe box. It was screwed shut, so they couldn’t see the inner mechanisms without using a screwdriver to take it apart. On the front was a row of dials that could be adjusted in different ways. None of the dials were labeled. On the side was a complicated little area that was clearly a place for inserting a key and there was a lever that could move up and down. The key itself was nowhere to be found. The family turned the satchel upside down and explored all the pockets, but it wasn’t there.

“I guess they’re still keeping the key separate from the machine. Good plan,” Nathan said, but sighed.

“I wish we had it, though.” Peter reached his hand into the satchel one more time and felt around. “Wouldn’t it be great to visit the past?”

“There are so many places I’d want to go!” Ashley said.

“No!” Nanette countered. “You remember what Tim said!” But she looked at the machine wistfully. She wasn’t fooling anyone into thinking she wouldn’t like to use the machine herself.

“I could probably figure out what those dials do, eventually,” Peter said. “But what I don’t know is how this can move a whole person or a whole car in time. How does it know what to take and what to leave behind?”

Nanette answered. “Tim once told me that it projects a something-something field. But that’s all I remember. I don’t even remember the name of the field.”

“What I don’t know is why we’re still talking about this.” Frank sounded perturbed and emphatic. “It doesn’t matter how it works because we’re not using it. No one’s using it. End of story!” With a quick motion, he slid the machine to the other end of the table, and the family turned their attention on the other items from the satchel.

“Nothing in my fanny pack,” Ashley said, unzipping it and turning it upside down for the third time. The strap had been cut when the BGs stole it, but otherwise it was still in good condition.

“Surprise, surprise, the thieves stole your money,” Nathan said drily.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie said.

“I wonder if there’s a way to fix it?”

“We can try when we get home,” Frank suggested.

They turned their attention to a crumpled note, that had been wedged in the bottom of the satchel.  The note appeared to give directions to somewhere in Bass Lake, but the top half of the note was torn off.  Everyone looked closely trying to read the sloppy handwriting.

“That’s tough to read. Can you decipher all of it, Dad?” Peter asked.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie said again.

“I’m sure we’ll figure it out—it’s not in code,” Nathan said.

“Uh-oh,” Charlie said a third time. This time Nanette looked over at Charlie and saw that he hadn’t been commenting on the conversation. He’d been commenting on the fact that when Frank slid the time machine across the table, it knocked over Peter’s cup of water, which then quietly spilled all over the time machine.  Charlie had picked up the machine by the lever and was holding it precariously over the table as water dripped off.

Nanette jumped up and reached for the machine, but her quick movements startled Charlie, and as he stepped back, the lever slid from his grasp and the machine fell, hitting the picnic table bench and then bouncing onto the ground.

“Oh no!” Nathan yelled.

“Charlie!  What did you do?!” Ashley added.

Peter picked up the box and with a scowl and noted that there was a rattling noise inside that wasn’t there before.

Charlie burst into tears, but Frank was quick to pick him up and tell him it was OK.  “And the rest of you—Charlie was only trying to save the time machine from the water. It was an accident, but a very lucky accident for all of us. Tim told us to break the machine, and now it’s done, whether you like it or not.”

Nanette nodded and said, “Glad to know the temptation is gone, and we can focus on the other important parts of the mystery.”

“I bet Tim could fix it,” Peter said under his breath.

Nanette said, “We’ll keep this and give it to Tim on Tuesday. Now, let’s look at this note.”

The note looked like this:


“Is that ‘Bert’, ‘Bart,’ ‘Brent,’ ‘Brad,’ or ‘Bret’?” Nathan asked pointing to the signature.

“Hm. Hard to tell,” Frank said.

“Didn’t Curt say the BG’s relative in Chicago was named ‘Bent’?” Nanette asked.

“What kind of name is that, anyway?” Nathan asked.

“Probably short for ‘Bentley’ or ‘Bentham,’” Frank suggested. “Let’s assume this is ‘Bent.’
That makes the most sense.”

Frank copied the note onto another piece of paper in a more readable way, and it read like this;

… keys in
The address
11wood Creek Cir.
‘red’ house
t door to Long Tom-
be there tomorrow
to show you the electronics.
You’ll love ‘em. 


“Is that ‘11’ Wood Creek Circle, or is it double ‘L’-wood Creek Circle?” Nanette asked.

“Good question,” Frank said. “When we get to Bass Lake, we’ll buy a map and see what’s there. That should give us a clue. But for now, we better get on the road if we expect to make it there by supper time.”

They piled back in the car, ready for the five hour drive to Bass Lake. They were all excited to reach the resort and see the aunts, uncles and cousins that were coming from all over the country to the five day family reunion at the Evergreen Resort. They were equally eager to see the location of Tim’s old cabin and, with luck, to find the BG’s Bass Lake house. Nathan, Peter and Ashley also secretly hoped they’d find some gold, unlikely as that may be.

Traffic around the Sacramento area slowed their journey. They kids discussed the note and watched movies to pass the time, and they eventually reached the resort late for dinner.

The reunion was with Nanette’s extended family. Besides the Hale family, there were about 30 other people coming from the “Carson” side of Nanette’s family, including two aunts and their husbands, Nanette’s sister Helen and her family, and four of her first cousins, along with their families. They all had lodgings at the same resort and were planning day trips to various sights in the area, including the giant sequoias at the Mariposa Grove and the Yosemite Valley.

For tonight, the Hales were just thankful to be off the road for a few days. They arrived late to dinner, which had been a family affair. The cousin in charge of Sunday night dinner saved some sloppy joes, watermelon and dessert bars for the Hales, who were very hungry after the long drive and very thankful. They finished up in time for devotions, which were led by one of the other cousins who was an elder in his church. The kids wanted to skip the gathering to check out their new surroundings, but Frank and Nanette reminded them that it was Sunday, and it was important to take time to consider things outside of their own selfish interests.

When they finally had time to unpack at the chalet, Peter, Ashley, and Nathan got in an argument about where to sleep. The chalet had a pull out sofa bed in the living room and a small loft overlooking living room. Even though there was no bed there, all three kids wanted to sleep in the loft, but there was only room for one. The other two would have to take the sofa bed.  Nanette, Frank and Charlie planned to sleep in the downstairs space below the living area, which was laid out like a motel room with two double beds.

Finally a truce was resolved when they three kids agreed to take turns in the loft. Fighting broke out again when they realized they were only staying 5 nights, so someone would get only one night in the loft while the others got two.

Nanette and Frank decreed everyone get only one night in the loft and two nights no one would sleep there, but then the three said they’d be willing to draw straws for the extra nights.

Everyone was tired, crabby and excited, so of course no one got to sleep early. “So much for ‘considering things outside their own selfish interest,’” Frank noted.

“It’s been a long day,” Nanette said.

“We haven’t looked at the map yet!” Nathan said, coming out of the bathroom after brushing his teeth.

They had bought a street map of Bass Lake and the surrounding area at the gas station on their way into town, but had been too busy since then to open it.  Frank got the map in from the car and laid it out on the table.  He and Nathan looked at it while the rest of the family continued preparing for bed.

“The index doesn’t list a ‘Wood Creek Circle’ anywhere,” Frank noted.

“Down here, south of the lake, is the area where some old gold fields are supposed to be,” Nathan said, remembering some of the research he did before they left.

“Tim’s cabin is in that area too. Which makes sense,” Frank replied.

The two of them studied the roads and subdivisions. Eventually Nathan pointed to a residential area a little ways northwest from the resort. “Here’s a ‘Knollwood Avenue’ and a ‘Greenwood Creek Lane,’” he pointed out. “They almost fit the note.”

“Close, but not quite.  How about that?” Frank pointed to a short cul-de-sac that branched off of Knollwood Avenue. “Bellwood Creek Circle.”

“That’s it!” Nathan said. “It must be! Can we go there tomorrow and look?”

“First thing in the morning,” Frank promised.

End of Chapter 27

Chapter 28 can be found here: Chapter 28: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)
















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