A seemingly normal October turns into an exciting and terrifying adventure for Alexander and his brother, Ben, when they discover that their uncle Charlie may be in danger because of a secret government project he is working on.
The boys notice strange happenings around their family's home; for example, why is there a clandestine protected Wi-Fi network on their forest covered property? When Alexander and Ben suspect that their uncle is being spied upon, they agree to warn him about what they've discovered. But on the same night that they tell him about their ﬁndings, he disappears without a trace.
Now, it's up to Alexander, Ben, and their family to solve the mystery about what happened to their uncle and bring him home safely. But although they are determined to rescue Charlie, they don't realize the dangers that lie ahead for them on their journey.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.26(d)|
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Alexander, Spy Catcher
By Diane Stormer
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Diane Stormer
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThings started off quietly that morning. At first, it seemed like any other Saturday. Looking back, this was the day of the first omen, a whisper of what was to come. There was a vague sense that things weren't right. For me, that Saturday was the beginning, even though it really wasn't.
Before I begin to explain, let me tell you a little about myself. My name is Alexander Scott. If I had to describe myself, I guess I would say that I'm tall and on the thin side. I have brown hair, wear glasses, and have braces. I plan to be a scientist, probably a physicist. I am the eldest of three children.
My father was a detective for our state police, and he went missing during an undercover operation right before my little sister, Lillie, who is six, was born. My mom is a freelance illustrator and works out of a studio in our home.
Three years ago, Charlie, my mom's brother, came to live with us along with his daughter, Savannah. Savannah just got her driver's license, and she's pretty cool about driving us kids when we want to go somewhere.
Charlie works for the Department of Defense. What he actually does, though, isn't something he shares with us. He has advanced degrees in computer science and oftentimes works at home, using his computer in the study.
I live with my family and miscellaneous pets in a house that is around150 years old. We live on the edge of a sleepy little village on the outskirts of a midsized city. Our house is the last one in the lane, with nothing but forest behind us.
Our house sits high on a hill, and behind it are three hundred acres of woods with a small creek running through them. Up a steep bank, in a clearing, are the remains of an old railroad track. It hasn't been used in years and years.
Folks around here say that Civil War battles were fought in these woods, and the gullies that remain were once dug by soldiers to use as trenches. The ground is thickly carpeted with fallen pine needles now, and the trees are so tall that their tops seem to reach past the sky.
It is here in the quiet of the woods that Ben, my younger brother, and I have played since we were small.
The summer I was nine and Ben was seven, we built a fort. Will and Caitlin had just moved into the house up the road from us, and the four of us spent weeks working on the fort. We used anything we could lay our hands on to build it with: boards, fallen branches, even an old wooden sign that Will found and dragged all the way up there.
It's roomy enough to where a picnic table would easily fit, but the roof isn't high enough to sit on a bench without feeling like you would have to keep your head ducked down. It was Caitlin who figured out we didn't have enough space overhead. It would have been nice if she'd realized it before Will, Ben, and I lugged the table halfway out there though. We don't have any dumb signs warning others to keep out because there's no one else but us around anyway. Although, when Lillie gets old enough to be allowed this far from the house on her own, that may change.
This past summer, we made a dam in the creek, so now, in one spot at least, the water is deep enough to swim in.
Now I need to get back to what I started to tell you about ...
That day really did not seem out of the ordinary. It was the first weekend in October. We had been back in school for a month. Will and Caitlin had ridden over on their bikes and asked if we were going up to the fort. I had promised mom I'd carry firewood in, so Ben went with them and I said I'd be along when I was done. It was supposed to rain, and I wanted to get done before it started.
At last the logs were stacked, and I went on out back to meet my friends. As I reached the edge of the woods, I saw Will and my brother walking toward me.
"Hey Alex," Will called. "Ben and I are going down to the corner store for something to drink. You want to come?"
I shook my head. "No, you go on without me."
Caitlin was lying on top of the roof of the fort, reading a book. This is pretty much what she always does. She's nice, and really pretty too, but she's shy. I think she prefers books to people. She looked up from her book long enough to let me know that she wasn't sure where the guys went.
"It's okay; I saw them on my way up here. You go on back to your story. I'm going down to the creek for a bit, before the rain comes," I said.
As I neared the creek bank, I lost my footing in the mud and slid partly into the water. Oh great, just great, I thought, my cell phone is in my jeans pocket! I dug it out to see if it had gotten wet. It had a little water on it, but seemed like it would still work. There was never a signal this far into the woods, so there was no point trying to make a call to see if my phone was okay. I touched the icon for opening the browser, just to make sure my touchscreen still worked, and a message box appeared on the screen showing an available Internet connection. How strange is that?
The sky grew suddenly darker and, with a clap of thunder, a torrent of rain let loose. I ran for shelter into the fort, and Caitlin clamored down off the roof and joined me.
I looked over at her. "Whew, that was a close one! I almost fell into the creek with my phone. What's weird is when I checked to see if it still worked after getting wet, there was a screen message asking for my password to connect to a Wi-Fi network. I wonder where the signal could be coming from"."
Caitlin nodded. "Yeah, that's odd. We've never even come close to having phone or Internet service out here. Let me see."
I pulled my cell out, but this time the screen was blank, and nothing happened when I opened the browser.
So we sat leaning against the back wall of our fort, watching the rain fall. When it finally stopped, the air was so much colder that we decided to go back to my house.
Chapter TwoThe rain continued for days. It was so drizzly and cold that we stayed inside for most of the next week.
After school on Thursday was when the next strange thing happened. At the time it didn't seem important. Later on, it became obvious that what I'm going to tell you about was another sign of trouble. It was a new clue. But on that Thursday afternoon ... well, I didn't even realize there was a mystery.
It was raining—again. The water was just running down the window panes. The whole world seemed cold and gray. It was a day that made you happy to be indoors.
I was in the kitchen (being in the way) while Mom was making dinner. Charlie had his music blasting in the study where he was working at his computer. He loves classic rock, and because he loves it, and almost always has it playing somewhere in the house, we all have come to love it too.
Ben had been playing with his remote control car in the study. Suddenly he let out a yell and I ran in to see what was wrong.
"Lillie must have been messing with my car because now it won't work right!"
I asked if I could try. Sure enough, for a while the car went as I was directing it, but when it neared the west side of the study, it went totally berserk. It backed up and started zigzagging along the edge of the paneling.
Our uncle got up from the computer and turned down the music, "Here, Ben, let me see the controls for a minute. Perhaps there is a loose connection."
Lillie poked her head in the door and said, "Ben, I'll have you know that I have better things to do with myself than play with your stupid old car."
Ben replied, "It's not as stupid as running around the house pretending to be a horse."
Lillie made a face that looked a bit horse-like even to me, tossing her hair like it was her mane. "You're a significant nerd!" she yelled and flounced out of the room.
Even Ben couldn't help laughing at that. You see, Lillie is always trying out new words and using them totally wrong.
"Say, Ben, what is a significant nerd exactly?" Uncle Charlie asked.
By then, the car was steering fine again, and it was time to eat.
Chapter ThreeSaturday morning was cold and wet. Will had slept over at our house, and we were just hanging out, playing video games. Late morning, my friend Brad rode down on his bike. We all went down to the basement game room to watch TV.
Ben was restless, which was usual for him. He powered up the Lionel train set that had been our dad's. The track took up the entire top of an old billiards table. It was a cool setup. There were miniature trees, tiny fences, even houses with working lights.
My dad had spent a lot of time making the tabletop landscape. Most people who knew him probably thought that playing golf was his great pastime, but I remember finding him down here in solitude, tinkering with his train village late at night while the rest of the house slept.
I heard Mom come down the stairs and go into the laundry room. She stopped what she was doing and came over to the doorway of the game room. She stood watching for a moment.
"You know," she said, "that train reminds me of something I was reading the other day. There has been a special series in our local magazine on Victorian era homes. I was hoping our house might be featured in one of the write-ups seeing as it is the right age. There was a small mention of it a couple of times, but I guess our house was not considered unique enough to warrant more attention.
"This last installment was intriguing though. It talked about how a few of the wealthier businessmen of that day had their own private entrances connecting their homes to the railroad."
Will, Ben, and Brad looked up with interest. I knew they were thinking of the old rails in the woods. Brad asked what Mom meant by a private entrance, and she explained that a few homes had underground tunnels that connected their homes to the public railroad.
"This article didn't talk about the houses very much. The focus was more on how daily life must have been for people living around here during the latter part of the nineteenth century. Back then, many people took the train into town to work. As time went by, more people owned cars, and the railroad was used less and less."
Just then, the phone rang, and Mom went upstairs to answer it. We stared at each other after she left the room.
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?" asked Will.
"I sure am," I replied. What if our house had a secret passage to the railroad? The house was certainly the right age, and then there were the remaining railroad tracks in the woods near the fort.
We decided to search the house for a hidden tunnel.
After a short discussion, we agreed that the study seemed the most likely place to start looking. This room is located on the first floor of our house. One wall is mostly windows, but this wall also has some built-in floor to ceiling bookcases. The study runs across the back of the house, so it was logical that this would be the room that had access into a tunnel.
We armed ourselves with flashlights and a magnifying glass (that was Will's idea) and went up to the study.
Savannah was talking on her phone in a big easy chair over by the windows. She looked up at us, taking in our flashlights, magnifying glass, and the Sherlock Holmes hat that Ben was wearing.
"Okay, what are you guys up to?" she asked. We looked at each other and shrugged.
"Oh, never mind," she said. "I'll go somewhere else to talk. Tell me if you have any luck." With that, she gave us a knowing look and left the room.
After an hour, we had gone over all the bookshelves; we found nothing but some dust. We took down the pictures from the walls, and I shone my flashlight over the paneling. We ran our fingers along the edge of the molding, hoping to feel a door frame, or maybe a button to press.
Will climbed up on a chair, and examined the top surface of the fireplace mantle. Brad wanted to pull back the carpet to check for a door in the floor, but before we could get that far, Caitlin called and said that it was time for Will to come home. Shortly after that, Brad had to leave too.
When Ben went up to his room to do his homework, I was alone in the study. I just wasn't ready to give up on the idea. I decided to do some research on my own.
First, I got Mom's magazine and read the article through myself—twice. Then, I searched through the books on the shelves in the study to see if I could find anything else on secret passageways.
Finally I found a book on Victorian architecture. It was old and the pages smelled musty, but it looked promising. I took it upstairs and left it in my room to read later that night.
All through dinner, I kept thinking about hidden tunnels—and how great it would be if our house had one.
Uncle Charlie must have asked me three times to pass the salt before I heard him. Savannah made a crack about me being the absentminded professor. Other than that, I don't think anyone perceived how far away my thoughts were from the food I was eating.
* * *
I was in bed and reading that night by ten o'clock.
The book explained that Victorian era homes were the first houses to be built with the comforts that we have today. Before that, houses may have looked grand, but they were little more than basic shelter.
Before the Civil War, houses were drafty and cold in the winter. They did not have inside plumbing, which meant no bathrooms, and they had no running water in the kitchen.
The Victorians changed all that. They were the first to build houses with central heating, weather-tight windows and doors, indoor running water, and lights—either gas or electric.
This type of housing was expensive, and only the well-to-do upper-middle class could afford it. For the first time in history, the value of a house was based on how comfortable and modern it was.
I learned that secret passageways were frequently built into houses of our home's age. Speaking tubes and dumb waiters were even more common.
Speaking tubes were basically an early form of the intercom. Pipes ran inside the walls with openings into various rooms. It was typical for speaking tubes to be either connected to more than one room, or to use a separate speaking tube in each room, connected to a central location.
A person could speak into the opening on one end and it would be heard easily by someone at the other end—even one or more floors away. This let servants talk to each other without having to walk through the house.
Dumb waiters were small elevators in which laundry or heavy objects could be placed to be hoisted from one floor to another.
I even learned that different floors of a house are called stories because the landings of the stairways usually had stained glass windows. The pictures that the different windows depicted quite often told a story.
I put down the book for a minute, wondering about the history of my own house. How strange to think that when it was new, the family who owned it certainly would have had servants who lived in the house too. Life must have been very different back then if having central heat and running water were only for those who were wealthy.
Just then, Mom tapped at my door, reminding me it was late. Reluctantly, I turned off the light by my bed, and pulled the covers up over my shoulders.
Chapter FourThat night, I tossed and turned. Try as I might, I just could not sleep! I had been so confident that we would find a secret passage leading from the study. Seriously, every wall in that room had paneling and bookshelves, so many places a secret latch or doorknob could be concealed. It was the perfect room for it.
In movies I'd seen, someone would press on a panel, and a secret door would swing open, or roll back, or the bookcase would turn out to be a door. Why couldn't there be a hidden passageway in our house?
When I heard the clock strike one, I decided to go down to the study and investigate again. My bedroom was at the opposite end of the house, and the hallway leading to the study would be dark. I grabbed a flashlight and headed down for one more look. The light cast by my flashlight made the room seem foreboding. I hurried to close the door so that I could turn on the lights and dispel the shadows that loomed around me.
I glanced around the room. Where should I start? I looked thoughtfully at the windows. Outside were the woods where I had loved to play since before I was Lillie's age. These same woods were where railroad tracks lay, long forgotten now by almost everyone. I felt a shiver and turned from the windows to begin my search.
My eyesight isn't the greatest. At times I have trouble noticing things that others seem to see right away. But sometimes more than just sight needed to look for something ...
Excerpted from Alexander, Spy Catcher by Diane Stormer Copyright © 2012 by Diane Stormer. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
How would you react if you had an uncle who worked for the government and suddenly went missing? Twelve-year-old Alexander Scott lives with his mom Anna, who is a freelance children’s book illustrator, his ten-year-old brother Ben, and six-year-old sister Lillie in a 150-year-old Victorian house on the edge of a sleepy little village at the outskirts of a mid-sized city somewhere near Washington D.C. Alex’s dad was a state police detective who had disappeared about six years earlier during an undercover operation. After Mr. Scott’s death, Alex’s uncle, Charlie Massey, and his daughter Savannah came to live with the Scotts. Charlie is a research and development scientist for the United States Department of Defense. Early in October, Alex notices some strange things happening around his family’s home. There’s a Wi-Fi network connection on his cell phone in the middle of his forest-covered property where there’s never been one before. Ben’s remote-controlled car seems to go haywire when he’s playing with it in Uncle Charlie’s study. There might be a secret tunnel in their home. Then Alex notices a mysterious man peeking in their back door. When he chases the man, he loses him but finds an old pickup truck on the abandoned railroad line behind their house, crawls in the back behind some equipment, and is taken for a wild ride into town before he escapes. Just after Alex and Ben share all this with Charlie and they decide that maybe he’s being spied on, Charlie suddenly disappears. While looking for him, Alex and Ben are kidnapped too. What will happen to them? And will they ever find Charlie? Alexander, Spy Catcher is reminiscent of the kinds of exciting adventure-mystery books to which boys, and girls too, thrilled back in the 1950s and 60s when I was growing up, although it is updated with modern technology such as smart phones. There is nothing objectionable in the enjoyable story. Author Diane Stormer, who lives in Maryland, has worked as both an artist and a flight attendant but retired shortly after being diagnosed with a rare, untreatable, neurological disease and began to follow her dream of writing. The main characters of the book are loosely based on the personalities of her own children. With its suspenseful plot and short chapters, the story is perfect for young independent readers or for reluctant readers. Diane has already begun a new book in which Alex and Ben stumble upon another adventure.