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Chapter 3 Continued

Grandpa and Carl had stopped now looking over the wines that had been raided.

“Cara, you and Tom go over on the left side, and Jill and I will go to the right.”

“What are we looking for?” Tom wanted to know.

“To start with, anything that is out of the ordinary,” Cara put in.

“We can figure out later what they may be, but gather anything we can find now while it's fresh.”

The quartet divided up as James had suggested and began a stroll between the now bare wines, looking for any clues to the intruders. It had rained the night before so there were muddy tracks on the black plastic on the ground between the rows. All the rows had been covered with a type of plastic with holes that allowed the wine to spring up through. The tracks were made by careless steps or people in a hurry and not by the farmworkers because some of the wines were crushed by their steps.

“Look here,” Cara whispered to Tom, pointing to a set of tracks.

“Some of these prints are smaller than others.”

“Yeah,” Tom said looking closer.

“Kids.”

He kissed his teeth in annoyance.

“But it's too many melons to be just kids,” Cara pointed out.

“And there are big prints too. Somebody had kids with them doing this.”

“Let’s head back,” Grandpa called to them.

He and Carl were walking back to the truck.

As they walked back to meet grandpa, Tom said, “I wonder if there are any tire tracks, they couldn’t walk with all those melons.”

“Good point,” Cara responded.

She thought back now to something else she had noticed on the plastic. There was a set of narrow prints that almost looked like a bicycle tire but she had dismissed it saying that it couldn’t have been a bicycle. She made a note now to add that to their list of discoveries when they got a chance to discuss it.

They got into the truck and headed back to the trailer that grandpa utilized as his office. He and Carl went inside to talk to some other workers gathered there, to give them instructions for the day, to check the wines and the rest of the crop.

Grandpa assigned the quartet to the crew picking the remainder of the melons that were due for harvesting. They stored their lunch in the office and headed out with the field crew. Their discussion would have to wait until they stopped for lunch.

The teens worked hard. Some of the melons were big and heavy. They were putting them in wheel barrels and carting them to a flatbed truck parked in each of the lanes. There were only two rows of vines left for them to harvest as the thieves had done their harvesting, but the rows were large and so there was still quite a bit of work to be done. Other workers were at the trucks to transfer the melons to cardboard boxes and stack them on the back of the truck.

Everyone stopped for lunch at noon and Carl drove the cousins back to the trailer office. They quickly washed up and went to find a cool, quiet spot for them to eat their meal. None of them had eaten breakfast. The news of the theft had thrown the events of the day right off schedule and there had been no time for them to partake of the packed meal, so they were famished. It was a hot day so they skipped over the tea they had brought and had a cool drink instead along with their lunch. They would have breakfast later for a snack if they had time.

When they had eaten their sandwiches, Cara pulled out a notebook and a pencil from her backpack.

“Let’s make a list of what we saw in the fields.”

Cara spoke aloud as she scribbled down what she and Tom had seen.

“Big and small footprints, so the thieves probably had children with them.”

James stood up and pushed a hand into his pants pocket and pulled something out. He stretched out his hand and carefully unwrapped the content with his other hand for the others to see. It was a nicely crafted folding hunting pocket knife.

“Woah, where’d you get that?” Tom asked, eyeing the knife with appreciation.

“Found it in the field among the vines,” James replied proudly. The others looked on with round eyes.

“James thinks one of the thieves dropped it,” Jill supplied.

“Let’s look at it,” Cara asked, reaching for it.

“Careful,” James warned. “We don’t want to smudge the prints.”

Cara took the knife in the plastic wrapping and slowly turned it over and over in her hand.

“What are you looking for?” Tom asked her.

“Something that will tell us whose knife it is,” Cara responded, squinting closely at the steel handle. “Here,” she said excitedly holding it for the others to see.

The others leaned over her hand, looking closely, trying to see what she was showing them, but their leaning in was counteractive because their bodies cast a shadow over her hand and so they could not see.

“I don’t see anything,” Tom told her disappointed.

“It is right here, the letters N. T.,” Cara told them. “This knife belongs to someone whose initials are NT. That is a clue.”

She gave the knife back to James and excitedly jotted it down in her notebook.

“And,” she added, “Tom, remember you asked about tire tracks?”

“Yeah, how did they carry them?” Tom asked.

“They used wheel barrels,” Cara piped. “I thought of it while we were picking this morning,” she went on. “Other than seeing the shoe tracks, I also saw some tiny wheel tracks that I thought at first were bicycle tracks. But it is no way they could have carried all those melons on bicycles.”

Jill asked contemplatively, “You think grandpa’s workers took the melons?”

Cara, James, and Tom all looked at Jill wide-eyed. The thought had not occurred to them until that moment. What if grandpa’s workers were the ones stealing from him?

“It makes sense,” Tom said now. “They would know when the crops were ready to be picked,” he continued.

“And which ones were marked for picking,” James put in.

Cara was busy writing in her notebook. She asked now, “Ok, so how do we prove it?”

“I have a plan,” Tom said suddenly. “But it will have to be just James and me.”

“What?” Screeched Cara. “Whatever we do, we do together,” she continued obstinately. “Now, tell us the plan.”


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