Chapter 16: Inside the Courthouse


Today was the big day. 
Parker and Sophie were going through the tunnel. 
Sophie’s parents planned to spend most of the day on the bike trail, but would check in with them by cell phone. 

“Oh no!” Sophie said as she looked out the front window. 

Parker came over and looked too. “Wow.” he muttered. 

The courthouse square was lined with old cars. The kids had been so busy planning this day, they forgot that today was the Old Car Show. The Dallas County Sheriff sponsored this every year to benefit the Special Olympics. 
There were lots of old cars, and a few new cars. 
The pair went out and walked the square, looking at all the cars. Mostly though, they looked at the Sheriff’s registration table set up on the south side of the current jail. 

“Are you sure you want to go in the courthouse, Parker? Isn’t this asking for trouble?” 

“We’re not going to break into the courthouse.  We’re just going to see how far the tunnel will take us, OK? 
I doubt that we can even get into the courthouse, though that would be really cool." 

“OK,” Sophie said warily. They walked back to their building, then went down into the basement. 

They moved out the bookcase and climbed over the short wall. Sophie had her flashlight and a broom to sweep down cobwebs. She hated cobwebs. Parker remembered his nightmare and shuddered, shining his flashlight waaaaaaaaaay in front of them to see what was up ahead. 
They walked along step-by-step. Musty, dusty, brick walls were about all they saw until they arrived at a set of steps going up. 

"Where were these steps when I needed them in my dream?" Paker muttered under his breath.

There was a landing at the top of the stairs, with a door. Parker went up the steps and then turned the knob and pulled on the door. After a couple of tugs, it opened all the way and he walked into the little room. Wow! He was in! 
He listened to hear if anyone else was in the building, then he motioned Sophie in. 

She came up and they looked around. The room was the size of a tiny bedroom. They were in a storage room behind an office on the first floor.  They looked around again and then looked at each other. 

“What do you think?” Sophie asked Parker. "I don't like this. This doesn’t look like a staircase for inmates.”

“Well, we didn't break in, we just opened a door. But if this is supposed to go to the third floor, we’re not there yet. 
Is there any way to go up? 

One wall was full of boxes of air filters for HVAC machines. Parker went over and peeked through the pile of boxes. 

“Hey! There’s another door here behind these boxes. Wonder why they would put stuff in front of a door? Do you need to call your folks?” 

“Probably so, Sophie replied. “ Sophie called her mom, who asked if something was wrong. Sophie said no, but wanted to know if they could explore the town a little more today, with the car show in town. Her mom said that was alright, but to stay together and she could take money out dad’s desk to eat lunch at the car show. 

Sophie said goodbye. She felt some guilt. They moved the boxes and tried to open the door. It wasn’t locked, they could tell, but it didn’t want to open. A good tug popped the door loose. It was the landing for a staircase. They shined their lights up into a cobwebby staircase that hadn’t been used in a long, long time. Sophie and Parker scampered up to the third floor. There was no door at the second floor. 
Finally at the third floor, they listened if anyone was there, and then tried to open the door. They couldn’t, and weren’t sure what part of the building they were in. Parker tried again, tackling the door, but it wouldn’t budge. 

Disappointed, he said “I wanted to see where the inmates sat to go to trial and which courtroom they used. 

"Darn", said Sophie. “What do we do now? Is this the end of the adventure?” she wondered out loud. 
"Wait! Maybe there are file cabinets on the other side, Like Mr. Cadwell said.” 

“Maybe so!” Parker replied. “But look here around the corner, in this little alcove.” 

There was a closet-like room on one end that had an unlocked iron gate on it. There was an old-fashioned metal ladder going straight-up the wall, up to the next story, to the attic. 

“Want to go up there?” Parker asked. 

“Well, we've come this far.” Sophie said. 

Parker went first. He climbed up and pushed on the attic panel in the celling when he reached it. It gave way, 
and he sat it aside. Sophie was still standing on the floor and clapped her hands in joy when she saw that happen. 

She started to climb the ladder, but Parker said: “Only one person on a ladder at a time, for safety’s sake.” 

Sophie frowned, but then stepped off the ladder. Parker went up to, and then through, the attic panel, and then motioned for Sophie. She jumped on the ladder. She didn’t have good footing on one step, and her foot slipped off, scraping her shin on the step below. 
That hurt! 
She was wearing jeans, so it didn’t tear her skin, but it still hurt. It took a couple of minutes to recover, and then she limped up the ladder. 

Parker helped her through the attic door, then they sat for a minute and looked around, using their flashlights to see. 
On the left, they could see a big curved structure. They decided it must be the vault of the ceiling in courtroom 300, the room with the tall ceiling. It had a framework that looked like an upside-down wooden boat. Parker wanted to climb the structure to the top, like climbing a ladder. 
This alarmed Sophie, afraid he might fall through the ceiling, like he did at their grandparents’ house one day when they were in the attic. Sophie imagined Parker falling through the ceiling and she would have to call 911, then Parker would go to the hospital and she would go to jail. 

Parker said not to worry. This ceiling was lath and plaster and could hold hundreds of pounds. 
Even so, Sophie talked him out of it, and a good thing, too. He could have broken the plaster from the backside, and caused plaster to fall into the courtroom from the inside of the ceiling. That would have been a huge mess, 
with a lot of legal problems, damage costs, and embarrassment.

They crawled through a narrow area and went by some new HVAC units, then kept going and found themselves in the clock tower. 
Wow, the clock tower! Climbing the stairs, they found the pilot’s cabin that held the old-fashioned clock machinery. 
The old clock, the size of a huge sports cooler, used to run on weights, like a grandfather clock. 

There were two chases, or chutes, that once held the weights. 
One chute held the weight that did the time-keeping, the other weight was to power the bell that still rings on the hour and half hour during the daytime. Parker and Sophie looked at the weight chases, and found the autographs of different workers who had been in the bell tower. Sophie found a couple of signatures from 1920. 

And they traveled the inside walkway that connected the balcony doors on the clock-tower. Yes, they lock from the inside. And they found no cemetery.

Parker looked on the top of the pilot’s cabin and saw a little electric box, with rods running to each of the four clock faces. He understood that the old clock-machine didn’t work anymore. A new electric clock-motor was running the four clocks on the clock tower. 

Parker spotted a ladder that went from the top of the pilot’s cabin nearly straight up. He wanted to see what was up there, but Sophie talked him out of it. They decided they should go home. 
(at the top of the ladder is the roof hatch to the bell that hangs outside). 

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries.com
representative photo: https://cbs4indy.com/news/greenfield-court-house-clock-tower-back-in-working-order/
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