Devin skipped a stone across the pond, making intersecting rings across the mirrored surface until the stone disappeared into the depths. It was hot out, and he was bored. This was his one week a year that he spent at his grandfather’s farm, and his grandfather had been holed up in his office for the last two days while Devin wandered the farm and surrounding woods. Devin hadn’t minded so much for the first day because he had some catching up to do with his friend Lonnie who lived down the road, but he was now on day three of his visit and getting restless.
His previous visits had been filled with fishing at the pond, mushroom hunting in the woods, and trips to town, but this trip was turning into a bust.
“Hey!” Devin turned at Lonnie’s shout.
“What’s going on, booger brains?” Devin shouted back.
Lonnie was puffing as he trotted up. “Nothing much, turd muncher,” he retorted, wiping his sweaty bangs from his forehead. “Your grandpa still locked in his office?”
“Yeah.” Devin skipped another rock.
“Wow! That one bounced five times. Mine usually just splash.”
“Let’s go do something. I’m bored,” Devin bemoaned.
“Okay. What do you want to do?”
Devin scrunched his face in thought. “Want to go play spies by the barn?”
The pair took off, running to the barn as if they were being chased, their sneakers kicking up puffs of dirt. When they got to the barn, they made up pretend stories of following bad guys and stopping a jewelry heist, slipping in and out of character, acting as a spy one minute and a thief the next.
“Devin!” Devin heard his grandfather call from the front porch.
“Over here, Grandpa!” he yelled, coming out of the barn. “Lonnie and I have been playing spies.”
“That’s good,” Grandpa said as he approached the barn. “I’m going to head to the store to get some paper. Do you think you two can keep out of trouble for a little bit?”
“Sure! We’ll be on our best behavior,” Devin promised as Lonnie joined him. “Won’t we, Lonnie?”
“We sure will. We won’t break anything or nothing.” Lonnie nodded his head in agreement.
“Okay, I’ll be back in a little bit, and if you’re good, we’ll have ice cream after lunch.”
The boys cheered. They stood in the shade of the barn and watched Grandpa get into his truck and drive down the gravel driveway and turn onto the road to town.
“So what do you want to do now?” Lonnie asked.
“Let’s go inside and cool off. My grandpa had some lemonade in the fridge.”
The pair drank their lemonade in the kitchen, careful not to spill. They stood in one of the rare moments where boys aren’t chattering or balls of activity, Grandpa’s reminder to keep out of trouble still fresh.
A thought started to niggle at the back of Devin’s brain. “When we finish our lemonade, do you want to go look in my grandpa’s office? I want to see why he’s been so busy in there.”
“Sure,” Lonnie said and took a last big gulp of his drink. “I’ve never been in there before.”
Devin slurped the last of his lemonade and set his glass on the counter. His grandpa always said to rinse the glasses before they dried and got sticky, but now he couldn’t get his mind off of whatever the office could hold. Maybe he was doing science experiments with beakers. Was his grandpa secretly building a Frankenstein monster in there? He pictured Grandpa in a black and white dungeon with a Frankenstein monster strapped to a table. Or maybe he was raising animals in there like rabbits or snakes.
Devin and Lonnie headed down the shadow-filled hallway, the air conditioner rattled as it blew cold air.
When Devin opened the door, all that he found was his grandpa's office as it always had been: gray carpet, a big wood desk, an old computer with a fat monitor, and a pile of papers. There were no strange science experiments anywhere he could see.
"Let's look in the drawers and see if he's hiding anything," he suggested. "There has to be some reason he's in here all the time."
They went to the desk and started opening drawers.
"This one just has a bunch of batteries and some wires," Lonnie said, holding up a handful of computer cables.
"This one has a magnifying glass," Devin said in awe as he held it up for Lonnie to see the round glass and wooden handle. "It's like the one Sherlock Holmes uses."
"Maybe your grandpa is a detective, and he's been working on a case!" Lonnie suggested excitedly.
Devin kind of liked the idea of his grandpa as a detective and pictured him smoking a pipe while he figured out a mystery. "It's elementary," he would say as he puffed and handed a glittering necklace to a fretting woman. "I knew it was Mr. Green when I saw the mud on his shoes. The type of shoes matched the footprints in your garden, and you had just spread fertilizer, so I knew the perpetrator would smell, which he did."
"What are all these papers?" Lonnie asked, opening a blue folder on the desk. A stack of old newspaper clippings was inside, and they started to look through them.
"They're all about some bank robberies years ago. These are from before I was born," Devin said. He picked one and read aloud, "The suspects wore masks, so the witnesses' descriptions are limited. The men were tall with average builds. They wore sweatshirts and baggy pants."
"You don't think your grandpa has all this because he was a bank robber; do you?" Lonnie asked. "Maybe it is like a souvenir. I heard bad guys do that kind of thing like a killer keeps his victim's ear."
"No way," Devin shook his head, but he could already picture his grandpa wearing a black mask around his eyes like a cartoon cat burglar. He had plenty of sweatshirts which he claimed he had for when he had to work outside in the cold. Now Devin didn't feel so sure. "Maybe."
"No way!" Lonnie said in awe. "Your grandpa is a bank robber. Maybe he was like Jesse James or something."
Devin now envisioned his grandpa as a cowboy outlaw with a cowboy hat and a red bandanna covering most of his face. “I don’t think my grandpa could rob a bank. He’s too nice.” Devin shook his head.
“What does nice have to do with it?” Lonnie asked. “Besides, why else would he have all of these clippings?”
Then, the boys heard the crunch of Grandpa’s truck on the driveway, and they hurried to put everything back the way they had found it
They were heading back to the kitchen when they heard Devin’s grandpa open the front door.
“Devin! Lonnie!” he called out as he walked through the living room. “Come help carry!”
The two boys approached him cautiously and took the grocery bags he held out. “Since the house is still standing, I guess you two can have the Rocky Road ice cream I got. I also got pizza puffs for lunch. How does that sound?”
The boys were cautious with their answers. “That sounds good, Grandpa.”
“That would be great,” Lonnie said.
“You two don’t sound as excited as I thought you would be,” Grandpa said as he turned on the oven to heat the pizza puffs. “Did you get into trouble when I was gone after all?” He looked at the two boys, studying their responses.
“No, sir,” Lonnie said quickly.
“Uh uh,” Devin agreed.
“Okay then. Devin, how about you pour us all some lemonade while I put away the rest of the groceries?”
“Okay, Grandpa,” Devin said as he went to the fridge for the lemonade bottle.
Grandpa picked up a pack of paper and started down the hallway.
“He’s going to his office!” Devin whisper-yelled to Lonnie.
“We put everything back. He probably won’t notice we were in there,” Lonnie whispered back, but his tone was unconvincing.
They held their breath as they waited for his return, and when he came back and put the pizza puffs in the oven without a word, they sighed in relief.
The boys sat at the table sipping their lemonade, and Devin’s grandpa picked up his glass for a drink. “So boys, what did you do while I was out?”
“Oh, not much,” Devin said. “We played spies, and then we got hot and came inside and got some lemonade.”
“Is that all?”
Devin searched his grandpa’s face for signs that he knew they had been in his office and decided to be vague. “We just hung out in the house.”
“You didn’t happen to go into my office; did you?”
Devin gulped. His heart was galloping like a runaway horse. “Well…” He looked to Lonnie. “We thought we heard a noise in there, so we peeked in there to see if a burglar or something broke in.”
“You heard a noise? What kind of noise?” Grandpa asked, the corner of his mouth twitching.
“I don’t know. Like something fell down,” Devin said.
“And was there a burglar?” He looked to Lonnie to respond.
“No, sir. There wasn’t anyone in there, so maybe it was a ghost.” Lonnie looked down at his feet.
“Would you boys like to see what I’ve been working on in my office? We’ve got a few minutes until the pizza puffs are done,” he offered, looking at the oven timer.
“Sure,” the boys said, still nervous about getting caught in a lie and wondering what Devin’s grandpa would show them. Would he admit that he had been part of a bank-robbing gang? If so, what did he do with the money? Did he give it to the poor or use it to save the farm when it was in trouble?
Devin’s grandpa led them back down the hallway to his office and opened the door. Everything looked the same as when they were there a few minutes earlier. He walked to his desk and took a seat in his chair. He opened the folder to show them the newspaper clippings.
“When I was younger,” he began, “there was this group that started robbing banks. They would go into banks wearing knitted masks like you wear when it is cold that would cover their whole face except for their eyes and mouths. One of them would go up to a teller while the other guys would stay back by the doors and windows to keep watch, and the one guy would slip the teller a note telling her to give him all the money and not to trip any alarms.”
The boys stood next to his desk, hanging on every word.
“The teller would usually give them all of the money in her drawer, and they would just leave. One day, things went wrong. As the teller was putting the money in a bag, she looked over to the side. The robber turned his head to see what she was looking at, and there was a security guy trying to hide behind a big, leafy potted plant. The robber motioned for one of his accomplices, and they went and got the guard. The guard struggled, and one of the robbers knocked him on the head so that he went unconscious.
“They grabbed a lady who was there to cash her paycheck and used her as a hostage as they left.”
“Did the lady get away?” Devin asked excitedly.
“The robbers let her go a few miles away at a forest preserve, and she had to hike to a gas station to find a payphone and call for help.”
“Whoa! Did they ever find the guys?” Lonnie asked.
Devin’s grandpa shook his head. “They never found the robbers. They had robbed five banks and got a lot of money, but after that last one, they were never seen again. No one ever figured out who they were. Since they wore gloves and masks, people didn’t know what they looked like, and they didn’t leave any fingerprints.”
“So what are you doing with all of these papers, Grandpa?” Devin asked, nervous for the response.
“Well, when this all happened, it was big news. It was in all of the papers and on television. I took an interest and kept tabs on everything. I kind of thought I might be the one to crack the case. Last year, I decided I was going to write a book, so I’ve been in here writing away so that I can finish it and send it to a publisher.”
“You’re going to be a writer with books in a store?” Devin was in awe.
“I hope to be if this all goes right. That’s why I needed the paper from the store so I could print it out and send it in.”
The boys nodded as everything now made sense.
The oven timer beeped from the kitchen, and Devin’s grandpa stood to go get the pizza puffs out of the oven.
As they headed down the hallway, Lonnie turned to Devin and whispered, “I still think he did it.”
Devin punched Lonnie in the arm, and the two went to eat their pizza puffs.