Chapter 29: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

Note: Bass Lake is a real town and a real lake.  The resort the Hales are staying at is loosely based on a resort we stayed at. It is also true that some areas south of the lake are  “gold fields.” Other than that, my story takes a left turn away from geographical accuracy. This is partly because it’s a work of fiction and partly because I’ve forgotten what it was like to be there. I probably should have fictionalized the name of the town too.  Or made it into a great excuse to take a “research vacation”!

 Chapter 29

Nanette was moving toward the door. “Fantastic, Nathan! Let’s go to dinner and you can tell us your discovery. The rest of the family already headed over, but I waited for you to wake up.”

“What’s up with the sirens?” Nathan asked as he put on his shoes.

“False alarm. The smoke detectors went off while Uncle David and Aunt Holly were cooking dinner.  Let’s go see if the food suffered any.”

The resort had a large dining/meeting room connected to a kitchen that the Carson family reunion had reserved for 4 of their 5 nights. Each night a different group of families was making dinner, and tonight Uncle David’s famous barbecue was on the menu.

The food showed no sign of suffering. After loading up his plate with plenty of barbecue, potato salad and corn, Nathan sat down with the rest of the family and told them about his deduction. “I figured it out! The BGs live in the pale yellow house. Number 208.”

“Sabre-shield-bolo,” Peter said, using their weapons code.

“But it’s not red,” said Ashley.

“Remember that the word red was in quotes,” Nathan said. “Which made me think it could be a code. In my dream, the BGs were wearing red and blue bandannas. It reminded me that miners used to call gold ‘red’ and silver ‘blue.’ Kind of like that cat we saw this morning was silver-gray, but called blue.’”

“And kind of like they use gold to make red glass,” Nanette suggested.

“So it’s the yellow house. The one the color of gold!”

“But what if they weren’t thinking about slang? What if they really meant ‘red’ when they said ‘red’?” Peter asked between bites of barbecue.

“Ah ha! That’s not my only clue!” Nathan said, holding up a forkful of potato salad for emphasis. “I also remembered what ‘long Tom’ meant.”

“Oh, I know!” Ashley said. “I mean, now that you mention it, I remember reading about a long Tom in California Christy. I forgot what it is, though. It’s some mining tool, right?”

“Not just any mining tool,” Nathan said. “It’s a sluice. Like the one that house number 206–“

“Saber-shield-cutlass,” Peter interrupted.

Nathan rolled his eyes. “–has in the front yard with the fountain and the statue of the miner forty-niner! The note said that ‘long Tom’ was next door, and the house with the long Tom is next to the yellow house!”

“QED; makes sense to me,” said Frank. He took a long drink of iced tea. “Nice deductions.”

“Back to the old detecting ways?” Anna  Greene, Derrick and Jane’s mom, asked as she sat down next to the family.  Derrick and Jane followed her and also sat down at the table.

“Guess you could say that,” Nanette answered.

“And speaking of detecting, I detect that something bad has happened!  What’s up with that cast?”  Nathan asked, pointing to Derrick’s arm bandaged and in a sling.

Derrick sighed. “I’d like to say it happened when I jumped out of the tram to rescue a bunny rabbit from a trap.”

“But that didn’t happen,” Jane said.

“Or that I stopped a runaway golf cart from hitting a little kid.”

“Tell them the real deal,” Jane said.

Derrick huffed. “I’ve heard that little sisters are a pain and big sisters are bossy, but this twin seems to be the worst of both worlds.

Jane smirked, knowing he was just teasing.

“OK, the thing is, we went to the pool after we got back from the redwood grove. And I was hurrying to get into the pool.”

“He was running,” Jane said.

“That’s what I said! I was breaking the first rule of pools, ok? I slipped and fell and now I might have broken my wrist. And the worst part is that now instead of being a hero, everyone is talking about how stupid I was. I even heard Aunt Helen telling Robbie ‘see that’s why we don’t run at the pool.’ Bleah!”

“I can hear it now,” Peter said. “At every reunion the grown-ups will be reminding us ‘don’t be like Derrick.’”

“Hey, if you can’t be a hero, at least you can be famous,” Nathan suggested. Then Nathan changed the subject and filled them in on his deductions concerning the BGs house.  Derrick and Jane were in agreement with Nathan’s conclusion, although Jane still thought the house might be made of redwood.

After that the conversation turned away from the larger mystery. The Hales didn’t want to talk about the whole time-travel thing, so they talked about the plans to visit Yosemite Valley on Wednesday until it was time to help clean up.

After clean-up, most of the families stayed in the dining area for a group game of Charades and then another devotion led by David’s family. It wasn’t until the Hales returned to their chalet at 9:30 that they had a chance to discuss their plans for Tuesday.

“We know the BGs are thieves in this time period,” Nathan said. “We should call the police and have them arrested now that we know where they live.”

“Let’s make sure we have our evidence lined up first,” Nanette said. “And we’re not sure if they’re here or still on the road.”

“If we’re here, I bet they aren’t far behind,” Frank said.

“Maybe Tim should take them back to the 1800s,” Peter said. “That’s where they belong.”

“The best thing would probably be to wait until after we’ve seen Tim tomorrow,” Frank said. “He promised to meet us his cabin at ‘midday’ on Tuesday if we can get there.”

Frank laid out a map of Bass Lake.  “Here is the location of Tim’s cabin. It’s right next to this campground area. We can drive on this road to this parking lot,” Frank pointed at the map. “Then we hike a little ways to the cabin here. The cabin can be seen from this hiking trail that loops around from the parking lot back to another section of the campground.”

“I want to go early,” Nathan said. “To make sure we’re not late and to see what the area is like. Maybe I could even find some gold!”

“You mean some ‘red’?” Ashley teased.

“Not too early,” Peter said. “I was going to go play some Monopoly with Derrick in the morning. He’s bummed because he can’t go swimming with his arm.”

“And Jane and I had plans too,” Ashley said. “We don’t need to be at the cabin until noon.”

“Maybe Nathan and I can go first,” Nanette suggested. “And the rest of you can meet us there.”

“With whose car?” Frank asked.

“What about this?” Nathan pointed at a dock on the south side of the lake. “Mom and I could take a boat across the lake and hike to the cabin. It looks like it’s only a half mile or so on this road from the dock to the other parking lot.  We could hike there and you all could meet us later.”

“We’ll see,” Nanette said. Nathan was disappointed. The words ‘we’ll see’ usually meant ‘if pigs fly.’

The next morning at breakfast Nanette surprised him by saying her cousin Carolyn and family were taking a patio boat out at 9:00 and would let them hitch a ride. In celebration, Nathan tossed a piece of bacon into the air and tried to catch it in his mouth. Then he hurried to fill his day pack with water bottle, snack and other items before the two of them headed out. Frank promised to meet them at the cabin some time between 11:30 and noon.

The morning was clear and cool.  After waving goodbye to the boat, Nanette and Nathan decided they had time to take a roundabout route through one of the camping loops.

They waved at campers who were cleaning up from breakfast. They petted a friendly black lab that was frisking around one campsite.  They stopped to talk with another family whose camper had a North Carolina license plate and found out they were from the Charlotte area. Eventually they came to the parking lot and looked around for the hiking trail that would lead them to the cabin.

“Tim said the cabin can be seen from this trail at about three-quarters of a mile. How long do you think it would take to walk there?” Nathan asked.

“Well, I can walk a mile in almost 15 minutes if I’m really pushing it,” Nanette said. “We’ll go slower. We’re more likely to do a 20 minute mile or more depending on how tired we are.”

Nathan kept a close lookout for the cabin the whole hike, but after 10 minutes, he started going slower to make sure he didn’t miss anything.  Eventually, they caught sight of a peaked roof off to the left of the trail. They hiked through the trees and some scrub and came to a rundown wooden cabin. The front door had fallen and one of the walls was caved in.

“Just like Tim warned us,” Nanette said. “It looks pretty sad.”

The two of them circled the building, but didn’t go inside. The roof looked dangerous, and the only items they could see inside were an old table and a three-legged stool.

“I’m going have a snack,” Nanette said, sitting down by a pine tree and taking off her day pack . “You should have some water, too.”

Nathan took a long drink from his water bottle. “I’d like to see what’s over there,” Nathan said pointing to the area behind the cabin where the ground rose a bit and then fell away. The top of several dead pine trees could be seen beyond.  “Looks like there was a fire here not long ago. And before you say it, I’ll be careful!”

“OK,” Nanette said. “Don’t go far. I’ll be behind you in a minute or two.”

Nathan walked behind the cabin and over the little rise, carefully picking his way past trees, rocks and bushes. He went down the other side past plants blackened by fire. In front of him was a thick stand of dead trees. One of the tallest had a long black scar running along its trunk. Lightening, Nathan thought. He continued past the trees and past a blackened fence post. The ground still sloped downhill.  He looked back and could no longer see the peak of the cabin above the rise.

I wonder how the cabin escaped the fire? Nathan thought. Maybe the wind was blowing in the right direction?

Ahead he glimpsed another rickety wooden structure up against the next rise.  It had black streaks on the sides and no roof. He decided to check it out. Maybe from the higher ground he would be able to see how far the fire damage extended.

The brush ahead was thicker than anywhere else, and he made his way through it carefully. A loud caw from a raven overhead startled Nathan. He looked up and at the same time stepped on a branch and lost his footing. The branch rolled forwards, he fell backwards, and unexpectedly started sliding down a cliff he didn’t know was there. A thrill of adrenaline rushed through Nathan as he realized he was falling into a pit of some kind. He grabbed wildly at the bushes, but they didn’t slow his descent. He landed hard at the bottom, and looked around wide-eyed and shaking.

The pit was deep but had been well hidden by the vegetation. Nathan looked at the branches in his hands and saw that their ends looked like they had been cut, rather than broken. Had someone been trying to hide this pit?

The opposite wall of the pit had a tunnel in it, sloping downwards into the ground. Nathan wondered if bears or mountain lions lived there. His heart pounded and he tried to stand up. A jolt of pain from his ankle told him to sit down again, and quickly.

“Mom! Mom! Can you hear me?” Nathan started to yell. No answer. Nathan waited a few minutes and called again. And again. She said she’d be right behind me. What’s taking so long?

After what seemed like an age, Nathan heard rustling in the brush above. “Mom! I’m here? Is that you?” Nathan yelled.

No answer, but the rustling sound came closer.

Why wasn’t Mom answering? What if that’s a bear? Nathan decided to make himself as small as possible in the corner of the pit opposite the tunnel. He wrapped his arms around his legs and stayed still.

If it’s a bear, maybe it won’t see me, Nathan thought. That’s silly, they would still smell me, wouldn’t they? Before Nathan had time to think further about the proper way to meet a wild animal, a human head peered down at him from the top of the pit. A man’s head with a bearded face Nathan had seen before. And around his neck, a bandanna.

End of Chapter 29

Chapter 30 can be found here: Chapter 30: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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