Randy Wilcox lived with his family in New Market, a little town in Virginia. Their house sat along a tree-lined street in an old established part of town. Some of the houses in his neighborhood were built before the Civil War, but Randy’s wasn’t that old.
All things considered, Randy had it pretty good. He enjoyed a loving family, and he lived in a beautiful part of the country called the Shenandoah Valley. Clear rivers and lush green hills surrounded his home. New Market was such a little place with nothing very far away.
Randy abruptly awoke to the sound of a heavy truck rumbling up his street. “Could that be it?” he wondered right out loud.
He rolled out of bed and stumbled to the window of his upstairs bedroom. Randy’s room faced out toward the front of the house, so he could easily observe anything that went on in the neighborhood, unless it happened in the backyard, of course.
The sound grew louder as the lumbering truck drew closer to Randy’s house. Then it stopped in front of the house next door.
“Come on,” Randy complained, “I could make out the name on the side if we didn’t have that overgrown oak tree in the yard. Wouldn’t you know the truck would have to be coming from that direction?”
Finally, the large gray truck pulled up right in front of his house and stopped, blocking the driveway. Its bright yellow warning lights flashed like something out of a science fiction movie.
Randy’s light green eyes darted toward the truck, straining to read the name.
“Oh man,” he groaned, “I forgot. This is our garbage pickup day.”
What a disappointment. Now he would have to wait a little longer for the most important delivery of his life. He had placed the order about a week ago, but he and the guys were too cheap to pay for next day delivery. The shipping company promised ground service on his package in seven to ten days. This was only day eight, but it felt like eight months to Randy.
And the guys?
Stewart Adkins looked like a guy that never met a dessert tray he didn’t like. His rounded features matched his large bushy head of hair.
Jeff Stevens and Hal Conti were about the same size and both had short black hair and dark eyes. Jeff liked to pick on the others sometimes.
Three of the friends were eleven years old. Randy was the oldest. Hal’s birthday was still a couple months away.
These were Randy’s friends but not just any friends. These guys had formed the Hilton Park Road Detective Club. Together they planned to help solve crimes.
Randy was president. Besides being a good leader, one of the reasons he won the election was because he was the only one with a broken down shed in the backyard that they could turn into their headquarters.
Randy ran a long extension cord from the house out to the shed so they could have electricity. That figured to be very important once that package arrived.
“Why does it have to take so long?” he asked himself. “I can’t stand it!”
He decided that since he was already up, he might just as well go on downstairs and see what he could find for breakfast. His mother was there preparing for a busy day of caring for her family. Most of the year she taught second grade at New Market Elementary.
“Good morning,” she greeted in her usual cheerful voice. “Why are you up so early? It’s Saturday.”
Randy hadn’t thought about that. He usually liked to sleep in on Saturdays.
“I heard a truck and thought it might be making a delivery,” he groaned.
“A delivery?” his father asked as he walked into the kitchen. He wore a thick plaid shirt, blue jeans, and leather boots. Under one arm he carried a heavy jacket and a hard hat. “The day a garbage truck starts making deliveries is the day we pack up and move out of this neighborhood.” They all laughed.
“Well, I’m expecting a package that’s all.”
Rufus, the family’s lop-eared basset hound, slept soundly on a big rug by the back door. Even with all this commotion he never moved a whisker. Rufus was the smartest one in the house this morning. At least he knew when to sleep in.
The rest of the detective club members weren’t expected until around ten for their regular weekly meeting.
“I was hoping to announce some big news for the guys this morning.”
“I forget,” his father responded. “What exactly is it you’re waiting for?”
“I want to surprise you, so I’m keeping it a secret. I mean the guys know what it is. They helped pay for it.”
“How much did this thing cost you?” he inquired.
“A hundred and seventy-eight bucks.”
“You paid a hundred and seventy-eight dollars for something without asking us first?” his mother challenged.
“Hey, I could have bought one for three hundred forty-nine ninety-five. That thing had enough power to do just about everything except my homework.”
“Where did you order it?” his father asked.
“I found it on an Internet auction.”
“Tell me you didn’t use one of my credit cards,” he warned.
“No, of course not,” Randy assured. “We all went down to the post office and bought a money order. I think that’s why the delivery is taking so long.”
“How do you know you can trust this Internet person? You might as well kiss that money goodbye,” his father said.
“Wait a minute. We’re going way too fast here,” Randy cautioned. “I didn’t use just my money. All the guys pitched in. We used some money we had saved from our allowances for one. Jeff used some money from his paper route, Hal collected cans, and Stewart . . . well, Stewart’s mother just gives him money if he asks her for it. The auction seller has a four star rating from other customers, so I think our money is in good hands.”
“What could possibly be so important that you decided to spend that much money?” his mother pried.
“Could we wait just a couple more days? I’d really like it to be a surprise,” Randy pleaded.
“All right,” his father agreed, “but just make sure you let us know.”
“Remember, this family is based on honesty and trust. It might have been a better idea if you’d talked with us first,” his mother added.
“I guess so. I just thought it was different this time since the whole club pitched in. Can I be excused? I want to go out and get the shed ready for our meeting.”
“Okay,” his father responded. “I’m going out to take some readings around Broadway and Timberville. We think there might be part of a cave complex out there. Want to come along?”
“No thanks, Dad. Maybe some other time.”
“Oh right, your meeting.”
Randy’s father gathered up his things, stepped carefully over Rufus, went out the back door, climbed into his pickup truck, and drove away.
His father worked for a company that had something to do with geology and minerals. Randy wasn’t exactly sure what it was, but he had gone with him into caves a couple of times. Randy liked exploring almost as much as he liked detective work. To him. the perfect job would be a cave detective, but he’d never heard of a job like that.
There were several caves in the area around New Market. Some of the most famous caves in the country were not too far from his front door. Many of them were still privately owned, and occasionally a new cave entrance was discovered on private property. This was also an area where some important battles took place during the Civil War, especially the Battle of New Market.
Randy’s shed needed a major clean up. He was so busy getting it in shape for the club meeting this morning that it seemed like the rest of the guys arrived in no time.
“Did it come yet?” they all asked.
“No, not yet. I thought the delivery truck was coming this morning, but it was only the trash man.”
“Hey,” Hal protested, “I hope you didn’t spend our good money on trash.”
Randy shook his head. “That’s almost as funny as what my dad said. Trust me. We’re all going to be very happy when it gets here, especially me.”
“Isn’t it time to start the meeting?” Jeff asked.
“Yes. As president of the Hilton Park Road Detective Club, I hereby declare the meeting open. First order of business is the treasurer’s report. Stewart?”
“It isn’t the best report we’ve ever had,” Stewart complained.
“Yeah, we had around two hundred dollars last time,” Hal remembered.
“Anyway, after spending the hundred and seventy-eight dollars for our order and the fifteen dollars for shipping and handling, we’ve got exactly twelve dollars and eighty-eight cents,” Stewart sadly reported.
“Okay, the next order of business is to decide if we’re going to take the caving class at the park district next week. Any discussion?”
“I have a question,” Hal declared. “Since Jeff’s uncle already has a cave on his farm, why can’t we skip the course and just go on out there?”
“Well, there are rules you have to follow. We don’t know anything about cave safety, and I know of some people who got in trouble for taking rocks out of a cave. We just need to make sure we know what we’re doing,” Randy replied.
“Does it cost anything?” Stewart asked. “We’re down to just about a big fat zero here.”
“It’s three bucks a head,” Randy reported.
“Three bucks?” Jeff asked. “Let’s see. Three, six, nine . . . that comes to twelve dollars.”
“Twelve dollars?” Stewart gasped. “That’s going to bring us down to a grand total of eighty-eight cents by my calculations.”
“Well, what good is money if you can’t enjoy it?” Randy asked.
He looked around the room. “Let’s put it to a vote. Remember, majority rules. All in favor raise your hand.”
Randy held his up first. Then one by one all the others raised theirs, everyone that is except Stewart. He could get money from his mother any time he begged for it, and yet he was the biggest tight wad of the group.
“I count three “yes” and one “no.” The motion passes,” Randy reported. Then he added, “If there aren’t any questions, we’ll meet again next Saturday at the park district’s office for the caving class. I’ll call a special meeting as soon as the package shows up on my doorstep.”