The Mystery at Turkelton Manor Chapter one
This is a middle grade mystery. Ages 10 +
A Shipment Arrives
Picasso, Dali and Monet were just a few of the artists whose works graced the walls of Turkelton Manor. The museum-like display was worth a small fortune, but no ropes or security guards kept visitors from getting too close.
Around mid-day on Friday, Nate was riding his bicycle along the long paved driveway of the manor when he noticed a small white delivery van enter through the open gates of the estate.
Usually closed and controlled by remote, the twelve-foot double gate was currently broken, along with many other things at the estate, which its new owners were in the process of fixing.
The day could never be boring if Nate’s imagination had anything to do with it, but it seemed he rarely had to depend on his imagination to keep him busy for long, and this sunny summer day was no exception.
The vehicle had no windows except for the ones up front and, at first, Nate thought it might be Fed Ex, but a sharp glint of sunlight bouncing off the hood of the van kept him from seeing it had no Fed Ex markings, until it got closer and the glare went away.
Nate was always paying attention to the little things, and his observation skills often amused his family, but it never surprised them as Nate’s father was a police detective and his grandfather on his father’s side of the family was a famous private investigator. Family members commented that it ran in his blood.
The delivery van stopped just before it reached the detective and the driver got out and buttoned his suit jacket. The idea that he wore a dark suit struck Nate a little odd, as he was driving a delivery van. The man was small, around five feet, eight inches tall, and very lean. He looked to be in his late forties or early fifties as his hair was beginning to gray above the ears and recede at the top, but it was possible that premature graying made him look older than he was.
“Hello,” the stranger said politely as Nate stopped his bicycle and stood with it balanced between his legs. “I have a delivery of art for the Turkeltons. Do you know if they are at home?”
There was something in the man’s tone that made Nate think he sounded like a bit of a snob, but he wasn’t able to put his finger on it. The man spoke as though he had an accent, though only with certain words.
“I’m not sure,” Nate replied. “I know some people are working at the house though. Just follow the drive straight down,” Nate said, as he looked the direction of the house and pointed.
The man smiled at him. “Of course,” he said, looking down the drive. The man gave him a little bow and then he unbuttoned his suit jacket before hopping back into the van. As he slowly pulled away, he waved and smiled again.
The boy turned his bike and followed the vehicle down to the huge house looming in the distance. Pink Dogwood trees lined both sides of the driveway which ran pretty much straight down to the manor. The trees offered, aside from their visual beauty, an aroma that varied from day to day. This day they smelled as pretty as they looked, while other days the odor was downright unpleasant. Nate was familiar with these trees, but didn’t dwell too much on why their smell changed.
Through the trees, Nate could see much of the grounds. To his right, as he rode toward the manor, was a thick batch of woods. The many oaks and maples intertwined with various other trees struggling for sunlight through the thick canopy. Where the woods ended, a lush green paddock for the horses began. On the opposite side of the driveway was a large pond, or a small lake depending on who was referring to it.
The boy’s curiosity started getting the best of him and he wanted to see some of the art that was in the van. When the vehicle approached the circular round about in front of the house, the driver was careful not to hit the various other work trucks parked there or drive on the grass in the center. The house was under renovation and the construction crew was still hard at work.
Nate rode around the circle a couple of times after the man found a place to park. An empty water fountain sat in the center of the grass circle and Nate couldn’t help but think it was big enough to swim in, if it were full. He watched as the man made his way up the curvy brick walk that had low flowering shrubs on either side of it, and then climbed the steep wide stairs leading to the large front door of the manor.
Nate continued to ride around the circle and watch as the man waited for someone to answer the door. Typically, Nate would be helping his grandfather work on the grounds, but today Grandpa William was running errands and Nate opted to stay behind to help his grandmother with household chores. Nate’s grandfather, on his mother’s side, was the groundskeeper for the estate, which afforded him the opportunity to live on the property, which in turn meant Nate was able to spend the summer enjoying the surroundings.
After a few moments, the main door of the manor opened, and the man entered, but Nate couldn’t see who answered the door. Aside from the family, there was a part-time staff of helpers plus the construction workers. He hadn’t yet met the Turkeltons as summer had just begun and the family was usually busy, but he knew there were four of them. The two children, one boy and one girl were about his age, but Nate was in no hurry to meet them as he didn’t feel comfortable around people his age and much preferred talking to adults. Nate was shy and this tended to trip him up in conversations. Kids at school often teased him, which is why he usually spent the summers with his grandparents, away from his hometown, alternating between them every other year.
Nate was from a little town called Crape Myrtle Cove, just forty-five minutes north of Sleepy Shores, where Turkelton Manor is located. This was much closer than his other grandparents who lived just outside of Los Angeles, which was all the way across the country.
Nate stopped his bike near the delivery van and put the kickstand down. The boy walked up to the van and looked inside through the driver side window to see how much art was in there.
Though he couldn’t see the entire back of the van, he could see a couple of large pieces still in wooden crates and a dozen or so smaller framed pieces set in racks. There were also four small sculptures and a couple of busts, none more than a couple feet tall.
After a few minutes, the man exited the manor with a couple of the construction workers following him. One of the men was at least six foot, two inches tall and very muscular while the other man was smaller, but still in good shape.
Nate quickly moved away from the van without the men seeing him and repositioned himself nearby, behind one of the other work trucks. He was close enough to hear the construction workers as they spoke and as long as he stayed crouched down, they wouldn’t be able to see him, though if anyone looked out the second floor windows of the manor, they would have no trouble spying the curious boy.
“I don’t know why we have to unload this stuff,” the smaller one said.
“Just do it Bobby,” the other replied without looking at his co-worker. “Get it done and we can get out of here for the weekend. The boss said we could cut out a little early today.”
The three men approached the back of the van. The driver of the van opened the back doors and latched them to the side of the vehicle.
“Gentlemen,” he said. “Please be very careful. Some of these pieces are priceless.”
“Really,” Bobby said sarcastically. “I’m sure you put a price on ‘em when you sold ‘em.”
The man held his tongue and smiled, while nodding toward the construction worker, acknowledging his correctness. The other worker seemed to take everything in stride where the smaller man seemed mad at the world. Nate watched the men as they unloaded the truck. They would have to make several trips up the stairs, which didn’t seem to make Bobby very happy. With each trip, the worker seemed to become more displeased with the task. At one point, he nearly dropped one of the busts and Nate could see the deliveryman flinch when it almost hit the ground.
“Please be careful my good man,” he said as the man struggled to regain his hold.
Nate wasn’t sure, but the bust looked like Mozart. The worker hosted the piece to his shoulder.
“Don’t worry pal, I got it,” he replied sarcastically.
The deliveryman disappeared inside as the workers came back for the last of the art in the van. They still had no idea Nate was watching them.
“I wonder how much this stuff is really worth,” Bobby said.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” the other man replied.
“I bet these guys wouldn’t even know if something was missing,” Bobby commented. “They’re so rich; this is probably like us buying groceries or something.”
“Whatever man, let’s just get it done,” the other man said. “I just want to go home.”
As the two men made the last trip up the stairs, Nate got back on his bike and headed up the driveway toward the gate. After a few minutes, the man in the delivery van left. He saw Nate near the end of the drive and waved to him as he pulled out.
A few minutes after the deliveryman left, the construction workers filed out, four trucks in all. Nate saw the one named Bobby in the passenger’s seat of one of the trucks. The man had a scowl on his face as though he was still upset that he had to unload the art.
Shortly after the workers left, Nate’s grandfather returned from running his errands and Nate spent the afternoon helping him with some odd jobs.
“You trim the hedges by the manor and along the walkways while I prepare some of the flower beds for planting,” Grandpa William instructed.
“No problem, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
Hours passed with the two hardly seeing each other. Around five o’clock Nate and Grandpa William went in for dinner. The boy loved his grandmothers cooking and the three would often have lively discussions about their day. William and Beatty Livingston, both in their mid-fifties, just recently moved into their new home on the same grounds as the Manor, which was a benefit associated with being the groundskeeper.
“So, what did you do while I was running around today?” Nate’s grandfather asked him. “I could have used your help in town gathering supplies.”
“After I helped around the house a bit, I rode my bike for a while,” Nate replied. “The Turkeltons got a delivery of art today.”
“Really?” Grandpa William replied. “Anything interesting?”
“Yeah,” Nate said. “One of the construction guys wasn’t too happy about having to unload it,” Nate responded with a smile.
“And how would you know that?” Grandpa William asked.
“I overheard him talking,” Nate said.
“Overheard or spied on?” Grandpa William asked with a scowl.
Nate didn’t respond as he stuffed some mashed potatoes into his mouth and averted his eyes.
“What have I told you about eavesdropping?” Grandpa William asked.
“I know,” Nate replied after swallowing. “I shouldn’t go snooping around.”
“That’s right,” Grandpa William replied. “I know grandpa Jones encourages the matter seeing he was your age when he got started in the private investigation business, but I don’t think it’s appropriate behavior for someone so young.”
“I’m almost a teenager, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
“You still have ten whole months to go,” Grandma Beatty replied. “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up Nathaniel. There are a lot of experiences for you to have and you have plenty of time to figure out what you want to be when you get older.”
Nate already knew what he wanted to be. Though he was twelve at the time of starting his investigation firm, Nate’s Grandpa Jones, with the help and support of his friends and family, quickly made a name for himself and for almost fifty years, his firm, “The Three Investigators,” named for him and his two partners, has been going strong.
Though Nate didn’t really have much in common with William, and he preferred the summers in California, he still loved William and Beatty very much and they loved him.
After eating, Nate retired to the basement for a while and crawled into his secret fort to read. Nate built the fort out of the excess furniture and some old blankets and tarps, which were plentiful as the groundskeeper’s house was much smaller than where the Livingstons lived before. Still, the ranch style home was more than they needed and Nate had the basement to himself, unless his grandmother was doing laundry. Piled nearly to the ceiling in some areas, boxes and furniture cluttered what would normally be a family room. Nate arranged the items so that he would have to crawl under a table piled high with boxes to get inside. A blanket hung to the floor on the inside of the table so it would take great effort to peek inside. This was the only way into his sanctuary and he knew neither his grandfather nor grandmother would crawl underneath to get into the area. Inside the fort were his books, a laptop, a writing desk, some old newspapers and magazines, a television, a chair, a couch and a lamp. The only thing missing from this space was his bed, so when he had free time, this was where he would spend it in the evenings, unless he was playing board games or cards with his grandparents, which they did often to appease him.
The boy liked to keep up with the world through books, however, on this occasion, he decided on something a little more adventurous and read an Enola Holmes mystery. He had read all the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and, after hearing about several of his grandfather’s old cases, Nate thought reading about a mystery from the female perspective would broaden his senses.
Just before dark, Grandpa William yelled down the stairs to his grandson.
“Nate, can you go out and close the front gate and lock it?” Grandpa William asked.
“Sure, grandpa,” Nate replied.
“Make sure you don’t actually lock it though,” Grandpa William shouted.
“I know, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
Nate walked out to the gates, as they weren’t far from the groundskeeper’s home. They could be seen from the front windows if it weren’t for the trees that stood in the way. He closed the metal gates and ran a chain around them at the middle. He didn’t lock the gates in case of an emergency, but Nate looped a paddle lock through the chains to give the appearance of a locked gate. When the gate was fixed, they wouldn’t need the chain or lock.
The sun was just setting over the horizon and the street lamps came on in the cul-de-sac outside the gates. Nate looked around at the other homes in the neighborhood, most of which sat much closer to the road than did the manor. This was definitely a much nicer neighborhood than he was used to.
No matter where he stayed for the summer, Nate always called his mother every evening. Usually he was too busy to miss home, but he was never too busy to miss his mom and dad.
Nate returned to the basement of the home, using the outside door on the side of the property that gave him direct access to the basement. It wouldn’t take the boy long to drift off to sleep, when the time came. He read a little more of his book and instead of drifting off in his chair, he opted for the comfort of his bed, not knowing that he wouldn’t be asleep for long.
This story pulled me in right at the beginning and kept me there. There is just the right amount of suspense and mystery to keep any discerning fan turning the pages to see what happens next. The writing style flowed easily, and I enjoyed the way the pace stayed fast. Nate's adventures never slowed down, and I could feel how life is for a child of twelve years. I found myself smiling many times over Nate's attempts to get out of chores so he could continue his investigations.
The plot is swift and fast-moving, and the writing fluid so that young readers will find this novel fun, entertaining and thought-provoking as they try to guess the truth along with Nathaniel. Dafoe astutely builds the tension at the end of every chapter, begging readers to flip ahead.
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