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Aldens to the Rescue
"Watch this!" Six-year-old Benny Alden ran across the lawn at Grandfather's house and leaped into the huge pile of leaves under the maple tree.
Henry leaned on his rake and laughed. "That was your best jump yet," he said. But when Benny didn't pop up immediately, Henry got a little worried. "Benny? Are you okay?"
"Where did he go?" asked ten-year-old Violet. She was sweeping leaves off the path.
Watch, the Alden's wire terrier, barked anxiously. He dug into the pile of leaves, his tail wagging, until he found Benny hiding at the bottom.
"That was cool!" Benny said, jumping up and patting Watch on the head. "The pile is so big now that I can hide in it! I'm going to make a tunnel." Benny burrowed beneath the dried leaves with Watch close behind.
Violet looked up at the trees. She caught a red maple leaf that floated down on the cool breeze. "What a pretty color," she said. "There are still so many more leaves to fall. We have a lot more work to do."
Just then, Jessie came out on the porch. "It's almost time to go," she called to her sister and brothers. "We should start to clean up. We told Grandfather that we would meet him at 12:30."
Benny hopped up from the pile and threw a fistful of leaves into the air. "But where are we going?" he asked.
"It's not like you to forget a lunch date, Benny!" Jessie said. "We are meeting Grandfather at Green Fields, the new restaurant that just opened in town. The owner of Green Fields is one of Grandfather's friends."
"Oh right! I almost forgot, but my stomach sure didn't! Listen." Benny's stomach began to growl loudly. "I'm starved!"
"We'd better hurry, then." Henry laughed. "We don't want to keep Benny's stomach waiting. It sounds dangerous!" Benny was famous for his big appetite and growling stomach. "I'll dump these leaves back in the woods," Henry said. At fourteen, Henry was the oldest of the four Alden children.
"I'll help you, Henry," said Violet.
Jessie began to brush the leaves from Benny's jacket and to smooth out his hair. "Can't have you looking messy for our lunch date," she teased. Jessie was twelve and often acted like a mother to her younger brother.
The Aldens were orphans. After their parents died, they ran away and lived on their own in an old abandoned boxcar in the woods. Their grandfather found them and brought them to live with him in his big house in Greenfield.
The Aldens hopped on their bicycles and headed into town. Henry led the way. They stopped at the corner of Chestnut and Main Streets to wait for the light to turn green. A man in a blue shirt was crossing Main Street. He was struggling with a large box that appeared to be very heavy. Just then, another man wearing a dark brown hat and scarf hurried into the street. He shoved the man with the box as he walked past.
"Oh my!" Violet cried.
The man in the blue shirt tumbled to the ground. The box he was carrying broke open, and canned goods rolled every which way. The light turned green, but the cars could not move. There were cans all over the street! Impatient drivers began to honk their horns.
"Out of my way!" cried the man in a hurry. He pulled his brown hat low and quickly walked away.
"How rude!" Jessie exclaimed.
The Aldens jumped from their bicycles. Henry helped the man to his feet. Jessie and Henry quickly picked up the cans in the street. Violet and Benny collected those that had rolled to the sidewalk.
"Are you all right, sir?" asked Violet.
The man was brushing off his pants. "Yes, thank you, I will be fine. I'm not even sure what happened."
Henry placed the last of the cans in the pile on the sidewalk. "Someone bumped you from behind. He seemed to be in quite a hurry."
Jessie looked down the street to where the man had disappeared. "It almost looked like he did it on purpose. Did you know him?"
"I didn't really see him," said the man in the blue shirt. "Everything happened so fast. What did he look like?"
"He was wearing a dark brown scarf and hat," said Violet. "I couldn't see his face. Maybe he just wasn't paying attention to where he was going."
"You're probably right. Thank you for all your help," said the man. "My name is Brian Grayson. It's nice to meet you."
Jessie introduced the Aldens. "I'm afraid your box is broken, Mr. Grayson," she said.
Mr. Grayson sighed. "Yes, I see." He tried to pick up the cans, but there were too many for him to carry.
"We have baskets on our bicycles," Henry said. "We could put the cans in there and deliver them for you to wherever you are going."
"Yes," Jessie said. "We would be happy to do that. We are meeting our grandfather for lunch, but I am sure he will understand if we are a few minutes late."
"Where are you having lunch?" asked Mr. Grayson.
"At Green Fields restaurant," Violet said. "It's new."
"And I'm starved!" Benny added.
Mr. Grayson smiled widely. "What a coincidence! Green Fields restaurant is just where I am going."
"Have you ever eaten there before?" asked Benny, placing cans of corn into his basket.
"Oh yes," said Mr. Grayson. "Many times."
"Is the food good?" Benny asked.
"Well, I sure think so. But I'm prejudiced." Mr. Grayson winked at the Aldens.
With their baskets filled with canned goods, the children pedaled slowly behind Mr. Grayson toward Green Fields. Grandfather was standing in front of the restaurant. He was checking his watch.
When he looked up, Grandfather smiled at the group approaching him.
"Well, Brian, it looks like you have already met my grandchildren!" Grandfather said.
"I have, James," Mr. Grayson said, shaking Grandfather's hand. "They came to my rescue a few minutes ago."
Grandfather looked puzzled.
"I'll explain inside," Mr. Grayson said. "Why don't you leave your bicycles here, children? I will have my employees come out and collect the cans from your baskets."
"Your employees?" asked Henry.
"Yes," said Mr. Grayson. "Green Fields is my restaurant." He held the door open for the Aldens. "Come on in and let me show it to you."
"How beautiful!" Violet exclaimed once they all got inside.
Tables and booths were arranged on a grass-green carpet. The sky-blue ceiling was decorated with fluffy painted clouds. Plants hung near every table and grew in containers in the corners as well. A waterfall trickled into a fountain in the center of the room. Even the chairs had green leaves painted on their sides.
"And it smells good, too!" Benny said.
Mr. Grayson smiled. "I'm so glad you like it." He led the Aldens to a big table. "Make yourselves comfortable," he said.
A young waitress approached the table. "Hello, Noreen," said Mr. Grayson. "These are the Aldens, and they are my special guests for lunch today."
"Hello," said Noreen. "Welcome to Green Fields. Would anyone like a glass of fresh apple cider?"
"Yes, please," answered Jessie. "We all love apple cider."
"I'll bring it right over for you, along with some of our wheat rolls," said Noreen. "They just came out of the oven!"
Mr. Grayson sat with the Aldens.
"I like your restaurant," said Benny. "It looks really cool in here. And I'll bet the food is good, too!"
"Thank you," said Mr. Grayson. "Everything we serve here is organic."
Benny looked puzzled. "What is that?" he asked.
"It means that all the food we serve is grown or raised naturally, without chemicals. We buy most of our food from local farmers," Mr. Grayson explained.
"But then why did you have all those cans?" Benny asked. "They don't come from a farm, do they?"
Mr. Grayson laughed. "No. They don't come from a farm. They are donations that I was collecting."
Benny gazed around the cozy restaurant. "You take donations for your restaurant?"
Mr. Grayson shook his head. "It's not for the restaurant, Benny. It's for the food pantry."
Benny was very confused. "Food ... what?"
Jessie smiled. "Food pantry. It is a place where people who don't have a lot of money can get groceries for free for their families."
"I didn't know we had a food pantry in Greenfield," Grandfather said. "I've never seen it."
"It's a new idea of mine," Mr. Grayson said. "I started the food pantry about a month ago. First, I rented a store. I tried to fix it up inside. Then I put lots of shelves in for the food."
"That's a wonderful idea," said Grandfather.
"I'm afraid it hasn't been going too well," Mr. Grayson said. "I don't have enough food to put on the shelves. And almost no one knows that we even have a food pantry in Greenfield."
"It must be hard to start a new restaurant and a food pantry at the same time," Henry said.
"You're right, Henry. But when I was growing up, my family didn't have much money. Sometimes we didn't have enough food to eat. I remember going to bed very hungry on many nights. I want to have a nice restaurant, but I also want to make sure that no one in our town has to go to bed hungry. But I guess I just don't have enough time to do everything."
Benny looked sad. "I'm always hungry," he said. "But Mrs. McGregor makes great meals for me. It would be awful to be hungry and not have a dinner to eat. My stomach would hurt a lot." Mrs. McGregor was the Aldens' housekeeper and a wonderful cook, as well.
"We could help you with the food pantry, Mr. Grayson," said Violet.
"Yes," said Jessie. "We would love to help out."
"Are you sure?" asked Mr. Grayson. "I've only just begun to set it up. It will take a lot of hard work."
Grandfather smiled. "My grandchildren don't mind hard work," he said. "And they are very helpful."
"That would be wonderful!" said Mr. Grayson. "James, your grandchildren have rescued me twice today." Mr. Grayson explained about the fall he took in the street and the mysterious man in the dark brown hat and scarf who had hurried away.
"That's very odd," said Grandfather. "Thank goodness you weren't hurt."
Mr. Grayson gave Henry the address of the food pantry. "If you four can meet me there tomorrow morning, I can show you what needs to be done."
Just then, a tall woman walked into the restaurant. She banged a can of green beans onto the table right in front of Mr. Grayson. "I found this on the street, Brian," she said. "I saw you spill those canned goods. You should stop lying to people about the food you serve here."
Some customers looked up to see what was happening. Mr. Grayson stood. "Betty, I never lie to my customers. Please leave this restaurant."
"I'll leave," the tall woman said. "But this restaurant is a fraud!"
Mr. Grayson sat back down. "I'm so sorry," he said to the Aldens. "That was Betty Matthews. She owns Harvest Restaurant. I don't think she likes that I have opened my restaurant right across the street from her."
Benny looked out the window. He watched Betty Matthews march back into Harvest Restaurant.
Just then, Noreen approached the table with glasses of apple cider, wheat rolls, and a huge tray of food. "I thought you might like to sample all of our most popular dishes," she said, placing the tray on the center of the table. "Mr. Grayson said you were special guests!"
"Oh boy!" Benny exclaimed. "Pass me everything!"
Jessie looked at her little brother.
"Excuse me," Benny said. "Pass me everything, please."
Everyone laughed and filled their plates with the delicious food. They quickly forgot about Betty Matthews and her rude outburst.CHAPTER 2
A Mysterious Crash
At the breakfast table, Benny excitedly told Mrs. McGregor about all the good food at the Green Fields restaurant.
"I hope all that good food didn't fill you up too much," Mrs. McGregor said as she set a plate of apple-cinnamon pancakes in front of Benny.
Benny couldn't answer. His mouth was already full of the warm, tasty breakfast.
Henry laughed. "It's impossible to fill Benny up too much," he said.
Benny swallowed. "These pancakes are so good! You should open up a restaurant, Mrs. McGregor. Nobody can cook better than you can!"
Mrs. McGregor beamed. "Thank you, Benny. But why are you children eating so quickly? There are plenty more pancakes."
Jessie explained that they had agreed to help out at the new food pantry this morning.
Benny put down his fork for a moment. "Some people don't have enough to eat, Mrs. McGregor. I wish I could share these pancakes with them."
"That's very kind of you, Benny," Mrs. McGregor said. "But you should eat a good breakfast. You will need lots of energy if you are going to work hard at the food pantry." Mrs. McGregor set another platter of pancakes on the table. "I would like to help, too. I can make some cakes and pies. Do you think they would accept them at the food pantry?"
"Oh yes," Violet answered. "I'm sure they would love them."
After the children cleaned up the breakfast table, they jumped on their bicycles and headed toward the address that Mr. Grayson had given to Henry.
"It has to be somewhere around here," Henry said, stopping his bike and staring at the written address. "But I don't see it."
The children looked at all the addresses on Chestnut Street. There was a grocery store, a dress shop, a movie theater, and a hardware store. But they did not see a food pantry.
Suddenly, Jessie looked up and noticed that Benny was missing.
"Benny! Benny!" she called. "Where are you?"
"I'm over here, Jessie."
Jessie still did not see her little brother. She ran toward his voice.
Benny popped out of a very small alley. "I think I found the food pantry," he said.
Jessie, Henry, and Violet followed Benny down the dark alley.
"I never knew this alley was here," said Henry.
"It's very dark," said Violet. "I don't like it. How did you ever find this, Benny?"
Benny pointed to a corner. "I saw that cat come in here and I followed it." A yellow cat was curled on top of an old trash can.
"Look there!" Jessie said. There was a gray door at the end of the alley. Someone had taped a sign to the door. It read, "Greenfield Food Pantry."
"How did you know this was the food pantry, Benny?" asked Henry. "Were you able to read the sign?"
Benny was just learning how to read. "I thought it said food, but I wasn't sure," Benny said. "Then I found a clue that helped me." Benny showed Henry a small bin by the door. It had several cans of corn and beans in it.
"Good detective work, Benny!" said Jessie.
Suddenly the door flew open, and the children jumped back in surprise. Mr. Grayson had an angry look on his face. When he saw the Aldens, he relaxed.
"I'm sorry to startle you, children," Mr. Grayson said. He rubbed his hands through his hair. "It's just that someone has been playing tricks on me. The sign I made was stolen from my door this morning. I had to tape up this paper sign in its place. I thought maybe you were the thieves coming back."
"How terrible!" Jessie said. "Who would do such a thing?"
"I don't know." Mr. Grayson looked very tired. "But come on in, kids. I'll show you around."
"This is a food pantry?" asked Benny, looking around the dim building.
"Yes, but not a very good one, I'm afraid," Mr. Grayson said.
Boxes were scattered around the mostly-empty-building. Metal shelves were set up in aisles, but they were dusty. A few cans and boxes of cereal sat on the shelves. The floor was dirty. A lightbulb in the corner flickered on and off.
"There are some donations in those boxes," Mr. Grayson said. "But I haven't decided on the best place to put them yet."
Jessie's arms were folded. She looked up and down the entire room. "Mr. Grayson," she said, "I think the first thing we need to do is clean up. If you have a mop and a bucket, I can start by washing the floors."
"Benny and I can dust those shelves," Violet offered.
"Is there a ladder in the back?" Henry asked. "I will change the lightbulbs and make it brighter in here."
Mr. Grayson nodded. "Your grandfather was right. You children are helpful!"
Mr. Grayson showed the children the back room. It had plenty of cleaning supplies. Soon, he needed to leave for the restaurant. "Are you sure that you will be okay here by yourselves?" he asked.
"We'll be fine," Jessie answered. She had already filled her bucket with hot, soapy water.
Once Mr. Grayson left, Violet and Benny used rags and a bottle of spray to shine up all the shelves.
Henry found a box of lightbulbs. He set up the ladder and began to remove the old ones.
"This place sure is a mess," Jessie said, wringing out her mop.
"Yes," Violet agreed. She wiped a cobweb from the corner of a shelf. "But even after it is clean, I am afraid it will still look dreary. It is not a very pleasant place for a food pantry."
Henry stood on top of the ladder. "Violet is right," he said. "Now that the room is brighter, I can see how bad things are."
Benny pointed. "Look," he said. "There are even some holes in the walls."
"I can fix those," Henry said.
"And maybe we can paint the walls a more cheerful color," Jessie added.
The children were standing together near the ladder when they heard a loud crash at the door. Everyone jumped.
"What was that?" Benny asked.
Violet took Benny's hand.
"Stay there," Jessie said to her sister and brother. "Henry and I will check it out."
There were no windows to look outside into the alley. Henry slowly opened the door. Something red dripped down the door. Garbage was scattered in the alley.
"What's that smell?" Benny held his hand over his nose. "It's terrible."
Henry opened the door wide. "It looks like a trash can full of garbage was overturned."
Excerpted from The Great Turkey Heist by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2011 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted September 11, 2014