An extraordinary middle grade mystery novel for kids

By Kraig Dafoe

Twelve-year-old Nathaniel Jones wants to be a detective. Though his imagination tends to run wild, Nate knows something strange is going on and he is determined to figure it out. Hearing noises at night, the young detective sees a strange figure lurking about. The Turkeltons are rich and Nate’s grandfather is their groundskeeper. As a result, Nate gets to spend the summer on the manor grounds. With priceless art and expensive jewelry in the mix, and someone creeping around at night, Nate becomes determined to catch a thief. There’s just one problem; nothing seems to be missing.


Chapter One

A Shipment Arrives
Mid-day Friday

      Picasso, Dali and Monet were just a
few of the artists whose works graced the walls of Turkelton Manor. The
museum-like display was worth a small fortune, but no ropes or security
guards kept visitors from getting too close.
Around mid-day on Friday, Nate was riding his
bicycle along the long paved driveway of the manor when he noticed a small
white delivery van enter through the open gates of the estate.
Usually closed and
controlled by remote, the twelve-foot double gate was currently broken, along
with many other things at the estate, which its new owners were in the
process of fixing.
The day could never be boring if Nate’s imagination
had anything to do with it, but it seemed he rarely had to depend on his
imagination to keep him busy for long, and this sunny summer day was no
The vehicle had no windows except for the ones up
front and, at first, Nate thought it might be Fed Ex, but a sharp glint of
sunlight bouncing off the hood of the van kept him from seeing it had no Fed
Ex markings, until it got closer and the glare went away.
Nate was always paying attention to the little
things, and his observation skills often amused his family, but it never
surprised them as Nate’s father was a police detective and his grandfather on
his father’s side of the family was a famous private investigator. Family
members commented that it ran in his blood.
The delivery van
stopped just before it reached the  detective and the driver got out and
buttoned his suit jacket. The idea that he wore a dark suit struck Nate a
little odd, as he was driving a delivery van. The man was small, around five
feet, eight inches tall, and very lean. He looked to be in his late forties
or early fifties as his hair was beginning to gray above the ears and recede
at the top, but it was possible that premature graying made him look older
than he was.
“Hello,” the stranger said politely as Nate stopped
his bicycle and stood with it balanced between his legs. “I have a delivery
of art for the Turkeltons. Do you know if they are at home?”
There was something in the man’s tone that made Nate
think he sounded like a bit of a snob, but he wasn’t able to put his finger
on it. The man spoke as though he had an accent, though only with certain
“I’m not sure,” Nate replied. “I know some people
are working at the house though. Just follow the drive straight down,” Nate
said, as he looked the direction of the house and pointed.
The man smiled at him. “Of course,” he said, looking
down the drive. The man gave him a little bow and then he unbuttoned his suit
jacket before hopping back into the van. As he slowly pulled away, he waved
and smiled again.
The boy turned his bike and followed the vehicle
down to the huge house looming in the distance. Pink Dogwood trees lined both
sides of the driveway which ran pretty much straight down to the manor. The
trees offered, aside from their visual beauty, an aroma that varied from day
to day. This day they smelled as pretty as they looked, while other days the
odor was downright unpleasant. Nate was familiar with these trees, but didn’t
dwell too much on why their smell changed.
Through the trees, Nate could see much of the
grounds. To his right, as he rode toward the manor, was a thick batch of woods.
The many oaks and maples intertwined with various other trees struggling for
sunlight through the thick canopy. Where the woods ended, a lush green
paddock for the horses began. On the opposite side of the driveway was a
large pond, or a small lake depending on who was referring to it.
The boy’s curiosity started getting the best of him
and he wanted to see some of the art that was in the van. When the vehicle
approached the circular round about in front of the house, the driver was
careful not to hit the various other work trucks parked there or drive on the
grass in the center. The house was under renovation and the construction crew
was still hard at work.
Nate rode around the circle a couple of times after
the man found a place to park. An empty water fountain sat in the center of
the grass circle and Nate couldn’t help but think it was big enough to swim
in, if it were full. He watched as the man made his way up the curvy brick
walk that had low flowering shrubs on either side of it, and then climbed the
steep wide stairs leading to the large front door of the manor.
Nate continued to ride around the circle and watch
as the man waited for someone to answer the door. Typically, Nate would be
helping his grandfather work on the grounds, but today Grandpa William was
running errands and Nate opted to stay behind to help his grandmother with
household chores. Nate’s grandfather, on his mother’s side, was the
groundskeeper for the estate, which afforded him the opportunity to live on
the property, which in turn meant Nate was able to spend the summer enjoying
the surroundings.
After a few moments, the main door of the manor
opened, and the man entered, but Nate couldn’t see who answered the door.
Aside from the family, there was a part-time staff of helpers plus the
construction workers. He hadn’t yet met the Turkeltons as summer had just
begun and the family was usually busy, but he knew there were four of them.
The two children, one boy and one girl were about his age, but Nate was in no
hurry to meet them as he didn’t feel comfortable around people his age and
much preferred talking to adults. Nate was shy and this tended to trip him up
in conversations. Kids at school often teased him, which is why he usually
spent the summers with his grandparents, away from his hometown, alternating
between them every other year.
Nate was from a little town called Crape Myrtle
Cove, just forty-five minutes north of Sleepy Shores, where Turkelton Manor
is located. This was much closer than his other grandparents who lived just
outside of Los Angeles, which was all the way across the country.
Nate stopped his bike near the delivery van and put
the kickstand down. The boy walked up to the van and looked inside through
the driver side window to see how much art was in there.
Though he couldn’t see the entire back of the van,
he could see a couple of large pieces still in wooden crates and a dozen or
so smaller framed pieces set in racks. There were also four small sculptures
and a couple of busts, none more than a couple feet
After a few minutes, the man exited the manor with a
couple of the construction workers following him. One of the men was at least
six foot, two inches tall and very muscular while the other man was smaller,
but still in good shape.
Nate quickly moved away from the van without the men
seeing him and repositioned himself nearby, behind one of the other work
trucks. He was close enough to hear the construction workers as they spoke
and as long as he stayed crouched down, they wouldn’t be able to see him,
though if anyone looked out the second floor windows of the manor, they would
have no trouble spying the curious boy.
“I don’t know why we have to unload this stuff,” the
smaller one said.
“Just do it Bobby,” the other replied without looking at
his co-worker. “Get it done and we can get out of here for the weekend. The
boss said we could cut out a little early today.”
The three men approached the back of the van. The
driver of the van opened the back doors and latched them to the side of the
“Gentlemen,” he said. “Please be very careful. Some
of these pieces are priceless.”
“Really,” Bobby said sarcastically. “I’m sure you
put a price on ‘em when you sold ‘em.”
The man held his tongue and smiled, while nodding
toward the construction worker, acknowledging his correctness. The other
worker seemed to take everything in stride where the smaller man seemed mad
at the world. Nate watched the men as they unloaded the truck. They would
have to make several trips up the stairs, which didn’t seem to make Bobby
very happy. With each trip, the worker seemed to become more displeased with
the task. At one point, he nearly dropped one of the busts and Nate could see
the deliveryman flinch when it almost hit the ground.
“Please be careful my good man,” he said as the man
struggled to regain his hold.
Nate wasn’t sure, but the bust looked like Mozart.
The worker hosted the piece to his shoulder.
“Don’t worry pal, I got it,” he replied
The deliveryman disappeared inside as the workers
came back for the last of the art in the van. They still had no idea Nate was
watching them.
“I wonder how much this stuff is really worth,”
Bobby said.
“Don’t know, don’t care,” the other man replied.
“I bet these guys wouldn’t even know if something
was missing,” Bobby commented. “They’re so rich; this is probably like us
buying groceries or something.”
“Whatever man, let’s just get it done,” the other man
said. “I just want to go home.”
As the two men made the last trip up the stairs, Nate got back
on his bike and headed up the driveway toward the gate. After a few minutes,
the man in the delivery van left. He saw Nate near the end of the drive and
waved to him as he pulled out.
A few minutes after the deliveryman left, the
construction workers filed out, four trucks in all.  Nate saw the one
named Bobby in the passenger’s seat of one of the trucks. The man had a scowl
on his face as though he was still upset that he had to unload the art.
Shortly after the workers left, Nate’s grandfather
returned from running his errands and Nate spent the afternoon helping him
with some odd jobs.
“You trim the hedges by the manor and along the
walkways while I prepare some of the flower beds for planting,” Grandpa
William instructed.
“No problem, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
Hours passed with the two hardly seeing each other.
Around five o’clock Nate and Grandpa William went in for dinner. The boy
loved his grandmothers cooking and the three would often have lively
discussions about their day. William and Beatty Livingston, both in their
mid-fifties, just recently moved into their new home on the same grounds as
the Manor, which was a benefit associated with being the groundskeeper.
“So, what did you do while I was running around
today?” Nate’s grandfather asked him. “I could have used your help in town
gathering supplies.”
“After I helped around the house a bit, I rode my
bike for a while,” Nate replied. “The Turkeltons got a delivery of art
“Really?” Grandpa William replied. “Anything
“Yeah,” Nate said. “One of the construction guys
wasn’t too happy about having to unload it,” Nate responded with a smile.
“And how would you know that?” Grandpa William
“I overheard him talking,” Nate said.
“Overheard or spied on?” Grandpa William asked with
a scowl.
Nate didn’t respond as he stuffed some mashed
potatoes into his mouth and averted his eyes.
“What have I told you about eavesdropping?” Grandpa
William asked.
“I know,” Nate replied after swallowing. “I
shouldn’t go snooping around.”
“That’s right,” Grandpa William replied. “I know
grandpa Jones encourages the matter seeing he was your age when he got
started in the private investigation business, but I don’t think it’s
appropriate behavior for someone so young.”
“I’m almost a teenager, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
“You still have ten whole months to go,” Grandma
Beatty replied. “Don’t be in too much of a hurry to grow up Nathaniel. There
are a lot of experiences for you to have and you have plenty of time to
figure out what you want to be when you get older.”
Nate already knew what he wanted to be. Though he
was twelve at the time of starting his investigation firm, Nate’s Grandpa
Jones, with the help and support of his friends and family, quickly made a
name for himself and for almost fifty years, his firm, “The Three
Investigators,” named for him and his two partners, has been going strong.
Though Nate didn’t really have much in common with
William, and he preferred the summers in California, he still loved William
and Beatty very much and they loved him.
After eating, Nate retired to the basement for a
while and crawled into his secret fort to read. Nate built the fort out of
the excess furniture and some old blankets and tarps, which were plentiful as
the groundskeeper’s house was much smaller than where the Livingstons lived
before. Still, the ranch style home was more than they needed and Nate had
the basement to himself, unless his grandmother was doing laundry. Piled
nearly to the ceiling in some areas, boxes and furniture cluttered what would
normally be a family room.       Nate arranged
the items so that he would have to crawl under a table piled high with boxes
to get inside. A blanket hung to the floor on the inside of the table so it
would take great effort to peek inside. This was the only way into his
sanctuary and he knew neither his grandfather nor grandmother would crawl
underneath to get into the area. Inside the fort were his books, a laptop, a
writing desk, some old newspapers and magazines, a television, a chair, a
couch and a lamp. The only thing missing from this space was his bed, so when
he had free time, this was where he would spend it in the evenings, unless he
was playing board games or cards with his grandparents, which they did often
to appease him.
The boy liked to keep up with the world through
books, however, on this occasion, he decided on something a little more
adventurous and read an Enola Holmes mystery. He had read all the Sherlock
Holmes mysteries and, after hearing about several of his grandfather’s old
cases, Nate thought reading about a mystery from the female perspective would
broaden his senses.
Just before dark, Grandpa William yelled down the
stairs to his grandson.
“Nate, can you go out and close the front gate and
lock it?” Grandpa William asked.
“Sure, grandpa,” Nate replied.
“Make sure you don’t actually lock it though,”
Grandpa William shouted.
“I know, Grandpa,” Nate replied.
Nate walked out to the gates, as they weren’t far
from the groundskeeper’s home. They could be seen from the front windows if
it weren’t for the trees that stood in the way. He closed the metal gates and
ran a chain around them at the middle. He didn’t lock the gates in case of an
emergency, but Nate looped a paddle lock through the chains to give the
appearance of a locked gate. When the gate was fixed, they wouldn’t need the
chain or lock.
The sun was just setting over the horizon and the
street lamps came on in the cul-de-sac outside the gates. Nate looked around
at the other homes in the neighborhood, most of which sat much closer to the
road than did the manor. This was definitely a much nicer neighborhood than
he was used to.
No matter where he stayed for the summer, Nate
always called his mother every evening. Usually he was too busy to miss home,
but he was never too busy to miss his mom and dad.
Nate returned to the basement of the home, using the
outside door on the side of the property that gave him direct access to the
basement. It wouldn’t take the boy long to drift off to sleep, when the time
came. He read a little more of his book and instead of drifting off in his
chair, he opted for the comfort of his bed, not knowing that he wouldn’t be
asleep for long.







Kraig Dafoe was born in New York.  Kraig went back to college at the age of 42 earning his BA in English writing, and graduating cum laude from Washburn University in 2017. Deciding to continue his education, Kraig received his Master of Liberal Studies degree in 2019. Kraig is a member of Sigma Tau Delta, the English honor society and The Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.

Visit his website at

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