Chapter 24: The Solution to the Riddle


Sophie’s dad called them to the living room after dinner, three days after they requested his help in solving the riddle. 

He said, “I think we may have an answer to your dilemma; sit down and listen to my considerations.” 

“Cool!” Parker and Sophie said in unison as they sat on the sofa. 

Mom was there too, but just listened, wondering how this would unfold. 
She wanted to be excited for the kids, but dreaded a disappointment for them. 

“There is a place three high, with three on the top on three on the bottom. 
In the top of the three, life has been made. 
In the bottom of the three, life is hard. 
Even so, them in the top of the three have fed them in the bottom of the three. 
In the top of the bottom of the three, there is a place that holds my treasures, such as they be. 
Go down, go down and search for a seam. My treasures sit beside an old beam.” 

“I knnoowwww this by heart, Dad. Anything new?” 

“Patience, my beloved, daughter. When we bought this building, your mother kept the realtor’s ad.” 
He handed it to his wife and said, “Please read this it out loud, my Dearest, the Love of my life.” 

Sophie’s mom blushed, then stood and read the ad. Parker and Sophie’s eyes got wider by the moment, as they absorbed the information. 

“Historical, 3-storey building for sale in downtown Adel. 
Called the Stricklund Building; named after the first Sheriff who lived there. 
It was once the Dallas County Jail. The Sheriff lived in the apartment upstairs and his wife fed the inmates who stayed in cells in the basement, while the Sheriff's offices were on the main floor. 
 Currently, there is commercial space on the main floor, a comfortable three-bedroom apartment upstairs, 
and a tall basement with the three jail cells still in the basement. 
A very unique property with lots of history.” 

Parker stood up and yelled, “Wait! That’s it! This building is where the treasure is! 
Three stories, three up; that's the three bedrooms! 
Three down, that's the jail cells! The sheriff’s wife fed the prisoners, who had hard lives. 
The treasure is in the ceiling of the basement!!!” 

Sophie gasped, and recoiled from the revelation. 

“Well, that’s how it appears, kiddo!” his Uncle Jon replied. “But what shall we do now?” 

“Let’s find the treasure!” Sophie and Parker shouted in unison. 

“Great!” shouted Sophie’s dad, “Let’s go to the basement!” 

He stood up and headed for the basement. Suddenly Parker and Sophie froze and looked at each other with fear. 
They lost their enthusiasm, remembering the entrance to the tunnel was in the basement, behind the big bookshelf. 
What if the treasure was in the ceiling above the bookshelf? 
They timidly followed the adults downstairs, as though they were walking to the principal's office. 

In the basement, outside the jail cells in the big open room, sitting on a table, were a few tools. There was a hammer, a pry bar and a flashlight. A 6’ ladder leaned against the wall, for working in the ceiling. 
But instead of being excited, the kids were quiet, pale and huddled together at the stairwell of the basement. 

Dad rubbed his hands together and said, “So where shall we start?" 

“Look up?” offered Sophie, with shaky knees. She was afraid he would go snooping into the craft room, where the tunnel entrance was. 

In the main room of the basement, at the ceiling, there was a main beam that ran the length of the building. 

“Hmmm.” said Sophie’s mom, looking up. “There’s a beam.” 

Parker walked down underneath the beam, looking for some kind of seam. Nothing looked particularly like a seam. 
The ceiling was plaster. Then Parker followed the beam into the small room at the end of the gathering area. The room was the utility closet where the water pipe came into the basement from underground. They all squeezed into the little room, and then looked up. The ceiling in the little room was not plastered. It was covered with strips of wainscot wood. In one corner of the ceiling, next to the beam, was a place where the ceiling wood looked a bit different from the rest of the ceiling, though it was also made with strips of wood. 

“Look!” shouted Sophie as she pointed to the square area of wood, about 24' x 24”. 

“Hmmm.” said Sophie’s dad, “I guess I’ve seen it there, but never really focused on it.” 

Parker scurried out into the main room and grabbed the ladder and took it into the little room, excusing himself as he tried to open up the ladder. Everyone had to shuffle around to give the ladder room to open. Sophie too, went out to the main room. She picked up the hammer and pry bar and went back to the utility room. 

Dad climbed on the ladder and used the hammer to tap the edge of the crowbar into the edge of one piece of wood. 
He pried on it and the first board squeaked as it moved. Parker and Sophie looked at each other. 
The squeak reminded them of the door in the shanty in the courthouse attic. 
It didn’t take long to pull down the other strips.  It was an open area in the ceiling.

“Flashlight, please.” Sophie’s dad said as he went another step up the ladder. 

Parker scooted out and retrieved the flashlight and handed it to Uncle Jon. 

Peering into the cavity above the ceiling, Sophie’s dad said, “Well, look at this!” 

“WHAT IS IT?” Sophie screeched.

“A box.” Her dad said, giving back the flashlight after making sure there were no critters in the space, living or dead. 

He reached his hand into the ceiling space. Everyone watched wide-eyed as he grunted a little and pulled something toward him. All of them could hear a scratching sound as the thing was pulled from its hiding place. How long had that box been there? Then the box slid into view and he handed it to Parker and Sophie, telling them to carry it out to the table he had set up in the main room in the basement. 

They did so, trembling with excitement. The box was about 12” wide, 9” tall and 20” long; some kind of shipping box from decades past. 
It had a sliding lid. No lock. None needed. It was meant to be found and opened. 

Eric J. Rose
middlegrademysteries.com
photo: writermag.com
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