Chapter 10: Sophie Finds the Tunnel


In the Stricklund Building in Adel, Sophie and her parents were living upstairs. 

Her mother was planning a venture for the main floor; a craft mall with businesses that would host kids’ birthday parties, where kids made things they could take home with them. 

Sophie is a mystery junkie and imagined all sorts of things about the building, after hearing from Parker about the old tunnel, two or three times a week, Sophie would look for a hidden panel somewhere in the house. She also looked for any sign of a secret exit from the basement.  The exterior wall of the basement was plastered. 

One day, men were working on the building next door and brought in a huge construction dumpster that dropped to the ground in front of the neighbor building, with  a loud Thud!  Clang!  The next week, Sophie noticed a hairline crack in the plaster, in the north wall of the basement. The crack started at the floor, and over a couple of weeks, worked its way up about six feet. She imagined that under the plaster, she would find a patchwork of brick that filled in an old doorway that led to the courthouse. 

Sophie was eager to tear off the plaster, but what about the noise? What about the mess? And how would she hide what she was doing?  If Sophie found a secret tunnel, it needed to stay a secret. 

She asked her dad if she could set up a workshop downstairs. He agreed, though he didn’t understand why she would want a room down there. But she liked to tinker, so that was okay with him. She asked for a workbench and a tall bookshelf.

“Why do you need a bookshelf?” 

“Why, to keep tools on, Dad.” 

They found a tall bookshelf at a yard sale that was a little wider than the cracks in the plaster. 
She had measured. She planned ahead.
Her dad helped her set up her workshop and loaned her a few tools. If he noticed the crack, he didn't say anything.
He asked her why she wanted certain tools. She said that Parker might want to build things when he came. 

Parker was born three weeks after her, the same year. Their grandma had a summer birthday party for them every year. 
Grandma had four birthday parties a year, for whoever was born during that season. 
Sophie thought summer parties were the most fun because they had water balloons then. 

Sophie’s mom was health-conscious, and would walk or ride her bike... a lot. So when her mom left to exercise, Sophie would get out the hammer, pull away the bookcase, and start tapping away at the plaster cracks on the wall. She found different-looking bricks each side of the vertical crack. She had a small bucket to put the plaster pieces in, and a broom and dustpan to clean up with. She would pound the old plaster into sand, then scatter the sand in the gravel alley. 

Sophie was frustrated that Parker’s next stay was two months away. She wanted his help, but would have to wait until summer. Parker's parents worked as medical missionaries every year during the month of June. That’s how they met Parker. They found him as a baby in an orphanage where they were giving medical care. 

Sophie was impatient, but she talked to Parker every couple of days and sent email photos of what she found, then deleted them. Parker said she should work from the top down or a whole bunch of plaster might come down at once and ruin the secret.  His uncle on the other side of the family was a brick-layer. Parker asked him questions without letting him in on the secret.

Sophie’s folks went antiquing one Saturday morning, leaving her alone at the house. 
They would be gone a few hours. 

Dad said “Don’t tear the house down while we’re gone.” 

As soon as her parents were gone, Sophie brought out the bucket and tools, then scooted out the bookcase. She worked from the top of the crack down and finished uncovering all the bricks that seemed to be a doorway. She hauled the crushed plaster into the alley and spread it around when she thought no one was looking. Afterwards, a quick washcloth to the hands and face and she was presentable, if not spotless. She made a point of making a garden in one corner of the property, so she had an excuse to be dirty. 

Sophie was excited. Behind the plaster was brick, different than the brick in the rest of the wall. (similar to the photo).
She couldn’t wait to tear into it. But Sophie couldn't do it all by herself. She and Parker didn't mean to hide anything, 
but they didn’t want anyone to stop the process before they knew what was on the other side of those brick. Talking on the phone, they decided that like the plaster, the bricks should be removed from the top-down, to prevent an avalanche that would spoil things. 

They made a plan. Parker said, “We need to find a place to put the bricks we take out of the wall. Sophie walked up and down the alley. In the next block, she found a neighbor with a brick pile beside his garage, saving up bricks for a pathway he wanted to build in his backyard. Sophie decided the basement bricks could go on that pile, just as the neighbor would regularly add to the pile. 

Sophie then went with her dad to an indoor flea market and bought a used cold chisel for hammering out the bricks. 

The older man selling the chisel asked, “What’s a young lady like you need of a cold chisel?” “It’s for my cousin, Parker; he likes tools. 
I thought it was called a 'coal chisel'.” “Nope, cold chisel.” said the man. “It’s made to cut cold steel.” 

On the following Monday, Sophie’s Dad was back at work, and her mom went grocery shopping after school. As soon as Sophie’s mom left the house, she pulled out the bookcase and went to work. That session lasted about an hour and a half. She took out five bricks. 

The first two took the longest, and then there was more space to work. As impatient as she was, the work would stop until Parker returned. 
If there was a tunnel there, it was probably full of spiders. That’s what boys are for…  

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries.com
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