Authors: Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Mystery in the Mall
At a rest stop by the side of a road, the Alden family sat around a picnic table. In the middle of the table, next to their picnic basket, sat a coconut. This was not an ordinary coconut but one painted to look just like a monkey. Six-year-old Benny Alden had carried it all the way back from Hawaii on another family trip. Now the coconut monkey went with him everywhere.
When lunch was over, Benny picked up his coconut by its rope handle. He shook it to hear the rattle inside. Then he took the last bite of his banana.
“You look just like that monkey,” fourteen-year-old Henry told Benny. “Especially with that banana.”
Benny held the monkey coconut next to his freckled face. He made the same monkey face, too. “Can you take a picture of me, Violet?” he asked his ten-year-old sister.
Violet found her camera. She aimed it at Benny and his coconut. “Say cheese.”
“Yip! Yip!” Benny said instead.
After Violet finished taking Benny’s picture, Grandfather Alden stood up. “There’s nothing I like better than a roadside picnic. Mrs. McGregor outdid herself with this lunch. Everything tastes better out in the fresh air after a long car ride. Now it’s time to get going again.”
The children cleared the picnic table.
Henry gathered up two bags of trash from around the picnic table. “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints,” he said. “Violet took the pictures, and I’m leaving nothing but footprints. This trash is going right into the Dumpster.”
While Henry went off, Jessie spread out a map. She was twelve and the best map reader in the family. She always knew where they were and where they were going. “It’s not too much longer, Grandfather. See, we’re here, about an hour away from Hope Harbor.”
“It’ll be nice to see my friend Martin Bolt,” said Grandfather. “Not to mention the new mall he’s built! He said you children will have a very good time there.”
Benny was excited. “I heard the mall is right where all the boats come in! I can’t wait to see that.”
“So you will,” Grandfather told Benny.
“I took out that trash just in time,” Henry said when he returned. “A garbage truck just came to pick it up.”
“I’m glad we stopped,” Violet said after everyone repacked the car. “It’s so pretty here.”
“And I’m glad we’re not stopping again. This sure is a long car trip,” Benny complained. “Whoops! Don’t leave yet, Grandfather!” Benny said. “I forgot my car bag under the picnic table. It’s got my travel games and toys in it—my coconut monkey, too!”
Benny raced out. From the car, the rest of the family could tell that Benny’s bag was nowhere around.
When Benny returned, Henry gave him a friendly arm punch. “No luck, huh? I’ll check the trunk. I bet you anything your bag is back there.”
Henry got out and opened the trunk. When he came back, he was awfully quiet. “I hate to tell you this, but I think I made a bad mistake. I thought the shopping bag under the picnic table was trash, not your car bag. A truck just drove away with our bag of trash and your bag, too, Benny.”
The children stared down at the empty highway. The truck had disappeared, taking Benny’s coconut monkey with it.
“I’m really sorry, Benny. I should’ve checked both bags before I tossed them out,” Henry said.
“It’s okay, Henry,” Benny said. “Maybe I can get another coconut monkey if we ever go back to Hawaii.”
Mr. Alden drove for a long time before any of his grandchildren spoke up again.
“We’re here!” Jessie announced an hour later, waking up the other children, who had finally dozed off.
When Benny opened his eyes, he saw a big sign on a building that said HOPE HARBOR MALL.
“See, Benny. We made it,” Jessie said.
Benny sat up straight. He felt better already. He liked everything he saw. Crowds of shoppers strolled along walkways that zigzagged along the outside of the mall building. Seagulls swooped down to catch french fries tourists tossed out at them. Hope Harbor Mall looked like fun.
“Wow!” Benny said. “I never saw a mall on a big dock before. It’s bigger than Main Street in Greenfield.”
Mr. Alden searched for a parking garage. “Martin built the mall right on the water so shoppers would enjoy the view of the harbor.”
Violet perked up when she saw all the shops that opened onto the pier. “I’m glad your friend’s mall is indoors and outdoors, Grandfather. I like to be able to see outside.”
“Same here,” Jessie said. “Usually I can’t tell if it’s day or night in a mall. Hope Harbor Mall is different.”
Mr. Alden drove through the underground parking garage. “Martin Bolt grew up in Hope Harbor. He built the mall to bring people back to the waterfront. Before he rebuilt the docks and put the mall on one of them, the whole area was just falling apart.”
“Not anymore,” said Benny. “It’s busy around here, with boats and people and seagulls and lots and lots of places to eat.”
Grandfather laughed along with Henry, Jessie, and Violet.
“You just finished Mrs. McGregor’s picnic lunch,” Jessie teased. “How can you even think about food?”
Benny smiled. “Because I smell food—all kinds. French fries, caramel corn, hot dogs, and pizza!”
Mr. Alden soon found a parking space. “Here we are.”
The children locked their things in the trunk. Everyone trooped out and followed signs that said THIRD-LEVEL STORES AND OFFICES.
Mr. Alden opened the parking garage door to the light-filled mall. “Just look at this view.”
Down below lay the bustling waterfront of Hope Harbor.
Benny ran over to the huge glass windows. “Tugboats! I love tugboats. They’re small, but they push around big barges.”
“Like you push me around, right?” Henry said, teasing Benny.
At that moment, a tall, thin man with straight gray hair came up to Benny. “Move away from that window. If you want to see the boats, you’ll have to go out to one of the walkways.”
As soon as Benny moved away, the man took a paper towel and rubbed the window.
“I didn’t lean on it,” Benny said. “See! No fingerprints.”
“Humph,” the man said, polishing the clean window anyway.
After the man left, Benny turned to Grandfather Alden. “I didn’t touch the window. I just looked at the boats.”
Mr. Alden put his arm around Benny. “I know that. Sometimes older folks like us forget what it’s like to be children.”
“I’ll never forget,” Benny said. He stayed a good distance from the big picture window now.
“There’s Martin’s office,” Mr. Alden told his grandchildren when they reached the end of the long hallway. “You’ll get a view of the harbor on all sides from there. Let’s go in.”
Violet and Benny joined their grandfather. Henry and Jessie stayed behind, reading a bulletin board.
“Come on, you two!” Benny said. “What are you reading, anyway?”
Jessie caught up to the others. “Help-wanted signs. This mall is hiring people to work here.”
“Greetings, Aldens!” a cheerful-looking man said when the Aldens came in. “So these are your grandchildren, James. I’ve heard all about the four of you. Your grandfather has mentioned so many times how lucky he was to find you after your parents died. He’s told me how well you took care of one another and that you lived very snugly in a boxcar. Now I have the pleasure of meeting all of you in person. This is quite a treat.”
The children liked Grandfather’s friend very much. Martin Bolt even looked like James Alden, tall and silver-haired and just about the same age. Mr. Alden introduced the children.
“I bet you like boats,” Martin Bolt said when he noticed Benny glued to the window.
Benny nodded. “I like boats, but somebody didn’t like me looking at boats. He thought I got my fingerprints on your windows, but I didn’t.”
Mr. Bolt just laughed. “I’m sure you didn’t. And even if you did, I wouldn’t mind. The view is there for the looking. Now, I hope you young people plan to stick around Hope Harbor Mall while your grandfather and I go to our college reunion. Just enjoy this place. I could use some young folks like you to tell me what you like and what you don’t like, so I can keep my customers happy.”
“We saw all the jobs posted on the bulletin board down the hall,” Henry said. “Since you asked what we like, we like working. That’s what keeps
“Work on a vacation?” Martin Bolt asked. “Nonsense. You children are my guests. Mrs. Frye, my housekeeper, will set you up in my house. The top rooms are fixed up just like cabins on a ship. You’ll have a fine view of the harbor, and it’s just a few minutes from the mall. I want you to have fun.”
Mr. Alden laughed deeply. “You don’t know my grandchildren, Martin. Work
fun for them. If you have anything at all that needs doing around here, my grandchildren would love nothing better.”
“Hmmm,” Mr. Bolt said. “I’ve got a good idea of a store where you could work
have some fun. Let me check with my mall manager, Hap Merchant, first.”
Martin Bolt came back a few minutes later. “Hap is on his way over to meet you. Tomorrow morning, he’ll bring you to Penny’s Emporium, a shop that just opened. Hap’s been helping out Penny Block there while she breaks in a new store manager. But I need Hap for other things. If Penny has some extra helpers, Hap can get on with his other jobs.”
At that moment, the grouchy man who had scolded Benny stepped into the office. Seeing the Aldens didn’t make him any more friendly.
“This is my manager, Hap Merchant,” Martin Bolt told the Aldens. “Hap, meet my good friend James Alden and his four grandchildren. Oldest to youngest, they’re Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny. I thought they could give Penny a hand with her new shop. That will free you up a bit.”
Hap Merchant ignored the Aldens’ outstretched hands. “Well, I don’t know that Penny needs a bunch of kids running loose in her shop.”
Mr. Bolt’s smile disappeared for a second. “Now, Hap, I want you to know the Aldens have worked in stores before. If James Alden tells me they’re hardworking, I know Penny will be tickled to have them.”
Everyone noticed Hap Merchant’s frown. Mr. Bolt waved him into a back office. The Aldens could hear the low, serious voices of the two men. A few minutes later, Martin Bolt and Hap came out. Hap brushed by everyone, then left.
“Sorry about that, James,” Martin Bolt said. “If I let him, Hap would run the whole mall by himself. I can’t have him spending so much time at Penny’s shop. I need him to supervise workers all over the mall. Anyway, he’ll call you children tomorrow at my house to give you the details.”
“Let’s hope Hap Merchant is friendlier to us tomorrow,” Jessie whispered to Henry. “I wonder if he’ll really call.”
The next morning, Benny woke up to the sound of tooting. He kicked off his covers and went to the window. Down in the harbor, a red tugboat tooted again. Slowly, it pulled a barge away from the dock.
“Henry,” Benny whispered. “Time to get up. Come look outside.”
Henry opened one eye, then the other. “Where are we? Why are there round windows in this room? Are we on a boat?”
Benny pulled off Henry’s covers. “We’re in Mr. Bolt’s house. The windows are round, like on a boat. Come look outside.”
Henry pulled the covers over himself again.
“You’re no fun,” Benny complained. “I’m going to wake up Jessie and Violet.”
Benny tiptoed down the hallway. The floor creaked. When Benny opened the door to his sisters’ room, that creaked, too. Mr. Bolt’s house was like an old, creaky boat.