Chapter 28: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note:  I finally decided what to do with the chase scene that my then-11-year-old son wrote for this story back in 2003. I’ve made it into a “dream.” Maybe not the most original plan, but I think it works… 

Chapter 28

Frank awoke to Nathan gently shaking his shoulder and whispering, “Psst.  Dad, it’s 6:20. The market will be opening soon.”

Frank rubbed his eyes and sat up in bed.  “Do Peter and Ashley want to come too?” he whispered back.

“Peter said he changed his mind, and Ashley did too. They both went back to sleep.”

“OK, guess it’s you and me.” Frank yawned and thought Peter and Ashley had the right idea, but got up anyway.

They followed the map to the Lakeside Landing subdivision and drove down Knollwood Avenue to Bellwood Creek Circle. Only six houses were on the cul-de-sac, and Nathan jotted down notes on each one.

On the way back, the two of them stopped at a market to get food for breakfasts for their week at the chalet.

Nathan showed off his map to the rest of the family as they woke up and it looked like this:

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“Peter should have drawn this,” Ashley said.

“Or Dad. He was right there!” Peter said, pouring milk on his cereal.

“I’m not entering it in an art contest,” Nathan replied testily. “I’ve got the house numbers and colors and anything else I thought was interesting. We can’t tell which one belongs to the BGs because none of them are red!

“And watch out with that milk, don’t let it splash on the map!”

“Are you sure none of them had a red stained glass window?” Ashley asked.

“Or a red door? Or a red mailbox?” Peter suggested.

“Nope,” Frank said, sitting down with a bowl and reaching for the cereal. “Even though I was sleepy, Nathan and I were on the lookout for red. We would have noticed a red door or red trim.”

“Maybe the house has been repainted since the BGs moved in. The note seemed old,” Nathan said.

“That would rule out the log houses, then,” Nanette said as she helped Charlie pour milk on his cereal.

“I don’t know. I think the BGs’ house must be this one that’s hidden. It makes the most sense,” Peter said pointing at 214.

“Maybe it’s got some red on it that you can’t see from the road,” Ashley suggested.

“Can we rule any of them out for sure?” Nanette asked. She hadn’t had a good chance to look at the map yet, but was enjoying hearing the children’s deductions.

“Well, this one has a sign in the yard that says ‘The Kellogg’s,’ so that’s probably out,” Nathan said. “Not to mention it’s got lots of fancy flower gardens. I can’t imagine the BGs as flower fanatics.”

“Maybe it’s a diversion,” Peter said. “They use lots of aliases, you know. And I bet some of the flowers are red!”

“Too bad the sign didn’t say ‘Thomas’ or something like that. Then maybe it would be ‘Long Tom’ and next door would be the BGs’ house. And since 204 only has one neighbor…” Nathan left the sentence hanging.

“The note’s handwriting was pretty bad. Maybe they meant ‘LOG Tom’ instead of ‘Long Tom.’” Peter suggested. “And it’s next to one of the log houses.”

“That doesn’t exactly narrow it down,” Nathan said.

“What’s this?” Ashley pointed to house number 212. “Is this house named ‘Greg’?”

“Gray! The house is colored gray,” Nathan said with an exasperated sigh. “I’m never sure whether to spell that with an ‘a’ or an ‘e.’”

“That’s not how you spell ‘miner,’” Peter said, looking at house 206.

“Or ‘sluice,’” Frank couldn’t help adding.

“Close enough!” Nathan said. “Next time you lazybones come with us and draw your own stupid maps.”

After breakfast, the family got together with three of the cousins’ families to drive to the Mariposa Grove to see the giant sequoias. They took a tram tour around the grove and marveled at the size of the ancient trees.

“I feel like I’m in the story of Jack and the Beanstalk in giant land!” Ashley said.

“I wonder if the early pioneers were afraid they’d run into giants when they saw these trees?” Nathan said. “Or giant termites or giant woodpeckers that lived in the trees?”

“Or sasquatch!” suggested one of Nathan’s cousins.

“We could ask Curt,” Peter said. “I wonder when we’ll see him. He promised to find us in Bass Lake. We should keep an eye out for him,”

Several times the kids saw people with red hair, but it was always a false alarm. One of the tram stops was at a souvenir shop, and Nathan looked carefully at all the employees, knowing that Curt had done that kind of job before.  Nathan also reminded Nanette to ask the clerk if they knew of anyone named Tim Trave or if they had any red-haired employees.

“Our only red-haired employee is that one,” said the clerk, whose nametag said ‘Jan.’

“Aww. Can I pet it?” Nanette asked as she saw the ginger tabby cat that Jan was pointnig to sitting on the other end of the counter. Just then, another cat, this one a Siamese, jumped onto the counter and started chasing the tabby.

Jan chuckled. “Those two are frisky this morning.  Julius is the tabby and has been our mascot for seven years. The blue point just showed up a couple days ago, and we put a notice in the paper. I bet he has an owner looking for him.”

“Blue?” Nathan asked. “He looked silver to me.”

“Blue point is what they call gray Siamese cats,” Jan said. “Lilac point is what they call light gray Siamese, and that makes even less sense. Trust me, they’re not purple.”

“Check it out!” Peter said from behind them. He was holding up a magazine about water sports. “Intantly inflatable rafts for emergencies! I want one!”

Jan chuckled. “We don’t sell them here. But we do have some toy rafts and boats over there.”

After buying souvenirs and finishing the tram ride, the families had lunch at a snack shop near the Yosemite golf course. The shop had picnic tables outside, and Nathan, Peter and Ashley ate at a table with their, 9-yr-old twin cousins Jane and Derrick Greene. They got to talking about finding the BG’s house and Jane came up with an idea that the Hales hadn’t thought of.

“What if ‘red’ house meant ‘redwood’? Then the house you’re looking for would be one of the log homes—the one made from redwood.”

“Do they make houses from redwood?” Nathan asked.

“Not sure. We could ask a local,” Jane said. She turned to a brown-headed cowbird that had been hopping around the dining area pecking at crumbs. “Hey Blackie, do they use redwood to make houses around here?”

The cowbird suddenly took to wing and flew over them and dropping a cricket on their table.

“Eww,” Ashley said.

“Derrick was throwing crumbs at it, I guess it decided to throw food at us!” Nathan said.

“Food fight!” Peter said.

“Settle down, over there,” Derrick and Jane’s mom said from the other table.

They originally planned to swim at the pool when they returned to the resort that afternoon. Instead, Nanette’s sister Helen and her husband Andrew met them at the chalet and invited them to spend some time out on the patio boat they had rented for the day. Andrew also rented a jet ski, and offered to have Nathan ride with him.

They had a great time that afternoon on Bass Lake. Nathan and Peter took turns riding on the jet ski with Uncle Andrew and everyone took turns riding in the float behind the patio boat. All except for Charlie, that is, who hated the boat and cried for awhile before falling asleep.

They only had a short time on the lake before it was time to return the rentals, but the Hales decided they would rent a patio boat again later in the week. Ashley got a bit of a funny sunburn on her back. White finger shapes covered a red background where she had tried (and failed) to get sunscreen on the hard-to-reach section.

They returned to the chalet with plenty of time to get showered and dressed before dinner. Nathan was particularly tired after getting up so early, and he flopped down on the couch after a shower and promptly fell asleep. Immediately, he began to dream.

In the dream, Nanette, Frank and Peter decided to go back to the lake and ride the patio boat again while Uncle Andrew and Nathan went out on the jet ski. Charlie stayed at the cabin with Aunt Helen and the little cousins. Ashley was sun bathing on an inner tube. Nanette was yelling at Ashley to put on more sunscreen when suddenly the BGs climbed onto the boat! One was wearing a red bandanna and the other a blue bandanna and surprisingly, the bandannas weren’t wet.

Blue bandanna snuck up behind Peter and tossed him in the lake. After a scuffle, the two of them tied up Nanette and Frank.

Peter surfaced and swam to Ashley’s inner tube. Suddenly a shot rang out and the inner tube started leaking air. Ashley screamed and, with the inner tube rocking wildly, fell into the water and began to sink. Peter dived after her and used his claw-grabbing device to catch the strap of her swim suit and pull her to the surface.

The inner tube was now flat, but Peter whipped out an auto-inflating raft and lifted the now unconscious Ashley onto it.  Uncle Andrew, hearing the shot and seeing Peter and Ashley in distress, steered his jet ski close to the raft. Nathan tied a lariat knot and tossed the loop around Peter from 20 feet away. Peter adjusted the rope around his waist and performed CPR on Ashley while Andrew started towing them toward shore.

Something like a grenade hit the side of the jet ski. Red bandanna had just thrown a container of knockout gas at them, and Uncle Andrew breathed in the gas full strength and passed out. Nathan tossed another lariat around Uncle Andrew and tied him to the jet ski to keep him from falling off . Then he took control of the careening jet ski, turned it around and headed straight for the patio boat.

The BGs were just about to throw Nanette and Frank overboard when the jet ski rammed full force into the side of the pontoon and flew into the air.

Blue bandanna lost his footing and fell overboard, and red bandanna fell, hitting his head on the railing.  Nathan jumped off the jet ski in mid air and yelled at Peter, “Take over!”

Nathan climbed up the back of the patio boat and untied Nanette and Frank, just as blue bandanna climbed up the front of the boat aided by the recovering red bandanna. Nathan saw red bandanna reaching for his gun, which had fallen on the deck, and yelled to his parents, “Jump!”

Nanette and Frank jumped overboard, and Nathan ran to the console, taking control of the boat. He swerved, causing the BGs to lose their footing and drop the gun again. Then he set the boat on full throttle, headed toward the shore at 50 mph. The BGs were too stunned to think, but Nathan dived off the back of the boat just before it slammed into the land.

Meanwhile, Peter tried to control the jet ski. When it landed after the crash, the throttle became stuck open and Peter was steering like crazy trying to avoid obstacles in the water. He aimed it toward an open part of the lake, and then took his multipurpose knife and gouged several holes in the gas talk. The jet ski finally stopped and floated placidly in the middle of the lake after all the gas ran out.

Miraculously, Ashley and Uncle Andrew, although still unconscious, were safe and unharmed. Nanette and Frank swam out to help Peter tow the raft and jet ski to shore. Meanwhile, police and emergency vehicles from the town of Bass Lake gathered around the the wrecked patio boat. The BGs, unharmed but for a few cuts and bruises, were being taken into custody.

The sirens of the police and emergency vehicles were loud and wouldn’t stop. Nathan tried to tell a policeman to please stop the noise, but he was too busy to listen. He tried to approach a paramedic, but the woman hurried away before Nathan reached her. He tried to get the attention of another policeman, but he didn’t seem to see Nathan.

Suddenly Nathan awoke, and realized the sound was a real emergency vehicle outside. Except for the siren, it had all been a dream.

The siren stopped and Nathan sat up. The dream had been a jumble, but something about it had shaken his memory. Nanette was at the window looking out at something. She turned to Nathan and said, “Hey, you’re awake.”

Nathan blinked and said, “Mom! I figured it out!  I know which house belongs to the BGs!”

End of Chapter 28

Chapter 29 can be found here: Chapter 29: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

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