Phin directed Frank to the yellow house on Bellwood Creek Circle and everyone got out of the car. Frank took his time, reaching down to adjust his shoes before getting out.
“Move it!” Phin said, and led them to a garden shed in the back. Al followed behind with the gun. Phin quickly opened the combination lock on the door and they all entered. Frank brushed by Peter on the way in and dropped something in his hand. Peter quickly moved the something into his pocket.
“Listen carefully,” Al said. “We have the woman and the older boy trapped in the mine.” Al held up the key to the chalet. “Look familiar? We’ll be happy to let them out and you all can go free. AFTER you have given us back the time machine.” Al looked at Frank and then turned to Curt, “And AFTER the time machine is fixed!”
Phin nodded to Frank. “You come with us. Everyone else is staying here.”
Ashley suddenly let out a screech. “Oh noooo! Don’t leave me here! I’m afraid of the dark! And I’m afraid of that strange man!” She pointed at Curt. “Let me go with Daddy!” She ran over and hugged Frank. A look of surprise passed over Peter, but he quickly covered his face with his hands to hide it. Ashley wasn’t afraid of Curt. And the shed wasn’t that dark.
“Please don’t say you’re going to leave that noisy kid with us,” Peter said in a muffled voice.
“Let me go! Let me go! Waaa!”
Peter hoped Ashley wouldn’t overdo it.
Frank patted her head. “There, there.” He looked at Al and Phin. “Let her come with me. Once I give you the time machine, she can stay at the resort. She’s too little to cause harm.”
“You already have my wife, my friend and two of my kids. I won’t trick you, you can be sure,” Frank added.
“OK,” Al said reluctantly. “But she better keep quiet in the car, or I’m leaving her on the side of the road.”
Ashley hid her face in Frank’s shirt. “I’ll try!” she said with a few whimpers. “Just please don’t make me stay!”
“Let’s go,” Al said.
Peter and Curt listened as the thieves locked the door and retreated. As soon as they heard the car start in the distance, Curt sprang to life. He pounded on the door and kicked at it, trying to break it. The shed had no windows, but Curt grabbed an old flowerpot off the floor and smashed it against the wall. The shed was sturdy and the clay pot shattered.
“Hey, watch out!” Peter said.
Curt didn’t look at Peter. He began talking, half to himself. “I’ve got to get out of here. I’m not fixing that time machine. I’ve got to get out of here at find Tim!” He threw another flowerpot at the wall. This one was plastic and cracked, but the wall showed no evidence of yielding.
“Wait a minute,” Peter said. “Slow down. We can figure this out. And Ashley will call 9-1-1 and get the police here if she can get away.”
“What?” Curt was looking around the shed for more things to throw and didn’t seem to be listening. “She’s going home, like she should. She can’t help us; no one will believe a little kid.”
“Don’t you know what 9-1-1 is?” Peter hoped that if Curt didn’t know, maybe the Shrikes didn’t know either.
“I’m not waiting around to find out,” Curt said. “I need to get out of here!” He paced wildly.
The shed was lit by muted light coming in through two translucent plastic vents, one on either side of the peak of the roof. As their eyes became adjusted to the dimness, they saw that the shed was mostly bare except for some miscellaneous small hardware pieces—washers and wire brads mostly—scattered on the floor and a few dusty garden implements piled in a corner.
Peter thought they must have been left by the previous owner. He didn’t see any long handled spades or sharp tools that might actually be useful. There was a rusty wheelbarrow, a few large buckets, a half empty bag of garden soil, and some more flowerpots.
“The only way out is to break down the door,” Curt said. He went back to banging on it with his fists, but the door was new and solid. “It won’t budge!”
“What’s the big deal?” Peter asked. “Don’t fix the time machine. Just say you don’t know how.”
“You don’t understand! They may be careless at times. A thing which I’m thankful for because that’s how I got away. But they can be ruthless when they want something badly!”
“And they want money?” Peter asked.
Curt shook his head. “Yes and no. True they are swindlers and robbers. The first thing they did when they got to this time was to find new ways to con people. But then they figured out the power they had with the time machine. They realized what it could do. And they want something much bigger. They don’t understand how bad this would be!“
Curt rubbed his forehead as if he had a headache. “Their family in Virginia suffered greatly. But I can’t agree with them.”
“What are you talking about?”
Curt looked directly at Peter for the first time. “They want to go back in time and change the outcome of the War of Rebellion!”
“The Civil War?” Peter said, aghast. “Could they do that?”
“Maybe they can’t, but they want to try. They want to be like spies for the Confederacy. In the future. I don’t want to think about the damage they could do. I’m from the North and I’m not going to let them do this! Unfortunately, they know I can fix the machine, but they can’t make me! And I’m not going to let them try!”
Curt resumed pounding and kicking the door.
“Wait. How about the vent?” Peter asked, pointing upwards.
Curt looked up. One of the two vents was cracked. Maybe a branch had fallen on it in a storm. Curt was tall enough that he could jump and grab hold of the rafters, but he couldn’t pull himself up.
The two of them slid the wheelbarrow upside down under the cracked vent and stacked one of the buckets on it. This made a precarious ladder, but Curt made it onto a rafter before the bucket crashed down.
Curt banged his fist on the vent trying to break it.
“Try this,” Peter handed him his multipurpose knife, and Curt succeeded in demolishing the remaining plastic over the small square opening. It looked like a tight fit, but Curt was skinny. He reached upward. With great effort he shimmied through the hole onto the roof.
Once he made it out, he looked back through the hole at Peter. Almost as an afterthought, he said, “I’m sorry, kid. There’s a big drop out here. I think I can break my fall with the bushes, but it’s too dangerous for you.”
“Where are you going?” Peter asked.
“Away. As far as I can.”
Peter thought that was a bad idea, but didn’t know how to tell Curt. He felt very young all of a sudden.
“Don’t worry,” Curt said, misinterpreting the look on Peter’s face. “Al and Phin won’t hurt you. They can’t get anything out of it as long as I’m gone. You’re safer this way.”
“Wait!” Peter said. He put his hand in his pocket and took our the thing his father had given him. “Take this!” Peter climbed onto the wheelbarrow and tossed it up to Curt.
Curt looked at the amber-encased feather that Peter had given him. “This is Tim’s locator!” He said with wonder.
“You know what it is!” Peter was relieved he didn’t have to explain it to Curt. He wasn’t sure Curt would have believed him.
“Tim showed it to me once. But I feel bad taking it. Tim must have given it to you,” Curt looked hesitantly at Peter.
“No,” Peter said. “Tim really needs to find you to get you back home. I’m already home. And you said yourself said the BGs wouldn’t hurt me. I’ll be ok.”
They heard the sound of a car on the road.
“Thanks kid.” Curt quickly moved out of view and Peter heard a thump at the back of the shed as Curt fell down into the bushes. Peter heard him running off and breathed a sigh of relief. If Curt could run, he probably didn’t injure himself in the fall.
Then Peter looked around the dismal room. He was all alone. When the BGs returned, they were not going to happy about this.
End of Chapter 31
The next chapter can be found here: Chapter 32: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)