Chapter 36: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle-Graders)

Note:  It is 2003, remember. No smart phones to play with. Borders Bookstores were still a thing.

Chapter 36

“We’re halfway through our stay at Bass Lake,” Nanette said as she poured milk on her cereal at breakfast Wednesday morning.

“With all this mystery stuff behind us, maybe we can spend some time just enjoying ourselves!” Frank added with a cheerfulness that seemed forced.

Nathan scowled at his cereal and shoved a spoonful of frosted shredded wheat into his mouth to keep from saying anything that would get him in trouble. Everyone knew that the mystery would never feel finished until they talked to Tim and found out what happened to Curt. And what about the BGs? Was it right for them to remain in the 21st century?

Frank left for the police station shortly after breakfast. Peter had begged to go with him and then Ashley joined in saying that she needed to tell her story to the police too. Frank was firm that he needed to go alone, and left while Peter and Ashley were still protesting.

“The station is a boring place,” Nanette said. “And…Oh no!”  She was interrupted by a crash. “Get me some towels from the bathroom quick!”  Charlie had just dropped an entire bowl of cereal and milk on the floor.

“Like the Urgent Care waiting room will be any more exciting than the police station?” Peter grumbled as he and Ashley went to get towels.

“Well, Charlie will be there.” Ashley couldn’t help giggling a little despite her frustration.

Nanette and the four children left for the Urgent Care about a half hour after Frank. The waiting room proved to be as boring as Peter predicted—at least to Peter. Ashley brought her crayons and a coloring book, but somehow managed to spill all the crayons on the floor. While she was grumbling and picking them up, Charlie grabbed two of them and nearly succeeded in decorating the wall.

Nanette scooped him up just in time. “What has gotten into you today? You’re old enough to know better!”

Once they got into see the doctor, Nanette kept the wiggly Charlie on her lap while Peter and Ashley slumped against the wall, trying to look as bored as possible.

The doctor poked and prodded Nathan’s ankle and asked things like, ‘Does this hurt?’ and ‘Can you do this?’ Eventually she concluded it wasn’t a break, but was probably just a bruise or a mild sprain. Ice, ibuprofen and rest were the treatment.

Nathan muttered under his breath, “Not sure about the ‘rest’ part.” No one heard him because Charlie chose that moment to start belting out the song Three Blind Mice. Ashley immediately tried to shush him with little success. Peter ignored the whole scene.

On the way back, they stopped at a drug store for some instant cold packs and ibuprofen.  As they walked through the store, Ashley saw a sticker book full of Historical Miss figures.

“Can I buy that, please,” Ashley asked.

“Yes, I think we should all get a treat,” Nanette said. “What would you like, boys?”

“Nothing,” Peter said. He was stubbornly determined not to enjoy anything since he wasn’t allowed to go to the police station with Frank.

“There’s a bookstore next door,” Nathan said. “I’d like a new book for when I’m resting.”

In the bookstore, Nanette tried to get Nathan and Peter interested in a display of classic books, but Nathan picked a Tintin comic book and Peter didn’t want anything. Nanette picked out the board book Blue Hat, Green Hat for Charlie and Homer Price for Peter. She figured Peter would like it when he got over his attitude.

When they got back to the chalet, they had more bad news. Frank was back and said that the cousins had left for Yosemite already, but agreed to meet them at the Bridalveil Fall parking lot or trail around 1:00, or at the Valley Visitor’s Center at 2:00. The kids had been looking forward to riding with their cousins on the hour and a half drive to Yosemite Valley, but now they were stuck with each other.

To save time, Nanette and Frank picked up some fast food at a drive through and they ate in the car on the way. At first, the frustrations of the morning seemed to continue in the car. Peter spilled ketchup on Ashley’s backpack, and Ashley was furious. Nathan spilled his French fries but claimed he couldn’t pick them up because his ankle was being iced. Charlie tried to sing with his mouth full and spit chewed burger on his lap. To top it off, Frank hadn’t checked the bag at the fast food place, and they came away with Nanette’s order missing.

When the chaos of lunch was finally over, Charlie immediately fell asleep. The rest of the family stayed immersed in their own thoughts and an uneasy quiet reigned.

Finally, Nathan broke the silence with the topic they had all been thinking of. “We know that Tim Trave appears at unexpected times. I bet we see him in Yosemite!”

“I think you’re right,” Ashley said. “I hope so!”

Nathan continued, “I think we should have a contest.  Let’s see who can be the first to spot him!”

“What’s the prize?” Peter asked.  “You can’t have a contest without a prize. How about some extra souvenir money?”

“I think we can do that,” Nanette answered. “Just a little.”

Frank cleared his throat. “By the way, the police would like Nanette, Nathan, Peter and Ashley to go to the station and give statements about what happened yesterday. I said we’d go tomorrow since we’re leaving Friday.”

“I knew we should have come with you,” Peter said.

“Well,” Frank said. “I wanted to see the Shrike brothers and talk to them alone. It turned out they had already been moved to a different location so I didn’t get the chance after all.”

The tension in the car seemed to ease. Ashley pulled out her coloring book and Peter watched the cars as they went by in case Tim was in one of them. Nathan’s ankle was feeling better and he read through the brochures they had on Yosemite National Park. He had forgotten to make a ‘Just the Facts’ page, and he didn’t want anyone else to find out. If anyone asked, he hoped they’d be content with a few words about glaciers, the Miwok people and Half Dome that he could spout from memory.

The family’s time at Yosemite went well at first. They drove in from the south and had a gorgeous view of the valley, including the famous granite giant known as El Capitan.  The weather was beautiful, but a slight haze caused by far off wildfires hung over the valley.

Yosemite0002 Modified

They arrived a little past 1:00 and drove to the Bridalveil Fall Parking Area.  They didn’t see any of their family members and assumed they were already on the trail. The trail was only a half mile one way, and Nathan insisted he could follow it without any trouble. The ice and the medicine had made his ankle feel much better.

“Don’t stare at people,” Nanette had to remind Peter and Ashley as they looked for Tim in the faces of every person they saw in the parking lot. Nathan wore sunglasses to mask his eyes, but even without them he knew how to look at people without being obvious.

It wasn’t just the people, though. Every tree, every boulder, every bush and embankment was a place where Tim could be waiting for them. The children finally relaxed their watch when they met up with twelve of their extended family members coming back down the trail.

Peter and Ashley were happy to see Derrick and Jane. The twins offered to walk with them back to the falls, which they said wasn’t far. Nathan leaned on a boulder to take the weight off his sore ankle until burly Uncle Andrew came over and unexpectedly lifted Nathan up to his shoulders.

“Hey! I can walk. I’m not a little kid,” Nathan said.

Uncle Andrew laughed. “The little kids are walking,” he said nodding toward Charlie and his son Robbie. “I heard your foot could use a rest, but don’t worry. I’ll only carry you a short way to the falls. You’re not as light as Robbie and you can get back on your own.”

Aunt Helen, Robbie, and Anna Green decided to keep going back toward the parking lot and wait for the others there. The other families with them decided to go on ahead and tour the park on their own. “See you around the park or perhaps at dinner,” Carolyn said. “Have fun!”

It’s nice to have family around, Nathan thought.

After the hike to Bridalveil Fall, Jane and Derrick switched cars with Nathan and Charlie for the drive to the Valley Visitor’s Center (and for the later ride back to the resort). From the Visitor’s Center they caught the shuttle tour around the valley.

They disembarked to hike to the Lower Yosemite Falls, and the view did not disappoint. Nathan reminded everyone that Yosemite Falls was the tallest waterfall in the United States and the fifth tallest in the world (although he didn’t remember the exact height.) He also pointed out that it consisted of Upper Yosemite Falls, the Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Falls. They had a dramatic view of the entire drop from the trail. The falls were not as full as they would have been earlier in the summer, but the sight was still breathtaking.

Yosemite0001 Pixelated
Nanette, Charlie, Frank, Nathan, Peter and Ashley

Although the total hike was about the same as the one to Bridalveil Fall and back, Nathan went slower and slower, stopping for a rest several times and for another short lift from Uncle Andrew. He started looking forward to more ice and painkillers.

They also all got off the shuttle at the trail to Mirror Lake. Nathan said he was going to stay on a bench near the stop and read his Tintin book while the rest went on without him. He also hoped to have a better chance of catching sight of Tim with all the people coming and going on the shuttles. Frank insisted on staying with Nathan and reading over his shoulder. After the events of the previous day, Nanette and Frank were not eager to leave any of their children alone.

The rest of the group didn’t finish the hike to Mirror Lake. The children were tired and crabby. Peter complained that the trees and rocks were all looking the same. Robbie slipped and scraped his knee. And everyone was getting tired of Derrick saying, “Ooooh! Ah hates rabbits!” and “Ragger Fragger Friggen Frazzer!” in the voice of Yosemite Sam.

They finished the shuttle tour and then drove back to Bass Lake. The Hale children half expected to see Tim and Curt waiting for them at the chalet, or serving food at dinner, or even knocking on their door at midnight. When none of those things happened, they tried to practice patience, like Nanette was always telling them. But it was hard.

Nanette called Liz and Jorge on the phone to update them on the mystery. Nathan was dismayed to overhear Nanette telling them that the mystery was over. The rest of the trip suddenly seemed to lose its shine, like his brand new matchbox car after it got stuck in the garbage disposal. Nathan was still upset thinking about that incident.

Thursday was their last day at Bass Lake. After visiting the police station, the family spent the rest of the morning at the resort. Peter and Nathan played some tennis, and the whole family spent time in the game room. After lunch they rented a patio boat to do some more tubing. They had just boarded their boat when they heard someone running on the dock and calling to them.

“Wait! Wait!”

“Maybe Derrick and Jane changed their minds about going to the zip line place,” Peter suggested.

The family turned toward the sound and saw two men running down the dock toward the boat. One of them was wearing a bandana and for a moment Ashley felt a thrill of fear thinking that the BGs had somehow gotten out of jail.  The other man carried a cotton bag and had red hair.

As the two men stepped on the boat, Frank and Nanette greeted them warmly. “Tim! Curt! We thought we’d never see you again!”

End of Chapter 36

The next chapter can be found here: Chapter 37: Cross-Country Mystery (Long Fiction for Middle Graders)


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