The next few days were as busy as all get-out. We knew our teachers and parents would accept a ‘B’ rather than an ‘A’, but we would never get away with a ‘C’… even though it’s still a passing grade. We just finished our midterms in March, so really we were just trying to extend our Spring Break a little longer – no such luck. *sigh*

With all the school activity picking up, we had to put The Portals on hold during the week, although we managed to take a day trip to Los Angeles on Saturday and then another to Miami on Sunday. This was unbelievable!  We rode our bikes a few blocks from home and spent Saturday on the west coast and Sunday on the east. It was kind of hard to come back to the rain and clouds of Chicago after spending the weekend in the sun.  We were kinda surprised that we didn’t see Chuck over the weekend. Disappointed is more like it. Neither Danny nor I have pets, so Chuck was becoming our part-time dog.

By Wednesday of the second week – the one after our coast-to-coast bike trip – we remembered that we had to see Mrs. Scott and ask her about the landlord. Since she’s retired, and probably home during the day, we decided to see her after school. We also had to check out the buildings we found on Google Maps the first day – the ones in Cleveland and Kansas City. Both cities were accessed through Mrs. Scott’s building, but the reconnoitering would have to wait until Saturday since we both had a pile of homework. Geez, it was getting more and more difficult to stay focused on our schoolwork.

 

= = =

 

As we were entering the front yard at Mrs. Scott’s apartment building, Chuck came running up to us and nudged his snout into Danny’s hand looking for his treat. Danny and I laughed as we gave the dog our lunch leftovers. As I was scratching Chuck’s neck, Danny walked to the front door and rang Mrs. Scott’s bell. In a moment, her voice came over the intercom.  “Yes?” she said.

“Mrs. Scott, it’s Danny and Jerry. We have a few questions to ask you. Is this a good time?”

“Now is a great time, boys. I’d love the company. Let me buzz you in.”  A moment later the door-release sounded. I gave Chuck a pat on his hind quarters and followed Danny inside and up the steps to Mrs. Scott’s apartment, leaving Chuck outside. By the time we got there, she was holding her door open.  “Come in, boys, come in.  Would you like a beverage? I have coffee and water.

“Yes, thank you. A glass of water would be fine, ma’am,” Danny said. I told her that would be nice as well. She told us to take a seat on the sofa, as she walked out to the kitchen. In a moment she came back with a tray holding some napkins, two glasses of water and a small plate with some vanilla wafers on it. She set it in front of us on the coffee table. We thanked her again

After a few minutes of pleasantries, she asked us what she could do for us. Danny started.  “Well, umm, we tried to see the landlord, but we haven’t been able to get in touch with him. Do you have his phone number? We only have the number for the agency that hired us, and for some reason, they won’t give it to us. They said we’re supposed to bring our reports to the agency and they’ll take care of it.”

“My, that seems like a strange way to do business. You wait right here while I get my rent receipts.  I’ll be right back.”  And she walked out of the room. Danny and I used the break to eat a couple of cookies. Vanilla Wafers are kind of dry, so we were glad we had the water.  Mrs. Scott was only gone for a few moments, and when she returned, she had a Manila folder in her hands. She sat down, opened the folder on her lap, and started shuffling through her receipts.

“I think this might help you,” she said, as she pulled a rent receipt out and handed it to Dan. As Danny looked at the receipt, I pulled out my phone and started the camera. Danny set the receipt in front of me on the table and I took a picture of it, both the front and back sides. The address was in Wrigleyville – the neighborhood around Wrigley Field.  Hopefully, this wouldn’t be another wild goose chase like the address on Washington Street had been a couple of weeks ago.

We chatted with Mrs. Scott for a few more minutes before I said we had to get going, and Dan thanked her for letting us take so much of her time. She laughed and said, “Having company is never a waste of my time. You boys can come over any time… any time at all.”  We thanked her again and left. When we got outside, Chuck was nowhere to be found. We shrugged and started home so we could do our homework.

 

= = =

 

On the way to my house, I handed Danny my phone so he could see the picture of the receipt. He transferred it to our joint Dropbox. I knew Danny wasn’t concerned, but I had to ask him anyway.  “How do you think Chuck was able to get to the other buildings? I mean, so far the only tenant we’ve seen is Mrs. Scott, but Chuck has been all over the place, and when we least expected it.”

“I don’t know. How do you suggest we find out?” he asked.

“We still have time this afternoon.  Let’s go to the building on Nova.  It’s only a few minutes from here.  Then we can call for Chuck and see if he comes to us. If one of us is in the front yard and the other is in the backyard, we can see which direction he comes from.”

“Sounds like a plan.  Let’s go.”

And off we went. As we walked, Danny had a question.  “Jer, remember when we were talking with my mom about the wormhole stuff?”  He didn’t wait for me to respond.  “She said if a wormhole like that did exist we could make a lot of money on it.”

“Go on…” I encouraged.

“Well, I’m not sure how to set up a delivery service, but I think we should. I bet there’s a market for same-day nation-wide delivery of stuff.”

“That’s it? Stuff? Well, how does it work? How do we get customers?” I asked.

“Hey, you dope. I just said I didn’t know how to set up a delivery service!  How ’bout some help here?”

I said, “Hmmm…”  And we went silent until we reached the building on Nova Avenue.

I flipped a coin to see who had to walk around the block to get to the back yard… I lost. *sigh* A couple minutes later I texted Danny that I was ready. Then we both started calling for Chuck.

In less than a minute, I heard barking on Danny’s side of the building. He called out to me, “Jer! He’s here! He just came through the doggie door.”

I texted to him to let me call and see if he can get to the backyard, then I started calling Chuck. It took a minute, but then Danny texted that Chuck just went back through the doggie door. A few seconds later, Chuck exited through the doggie door on my side. I gave him a hug and a scratch behind his ear before I texted to Danny to call him back while I ran back to meet them at the front yard. When I got there, the two of them were wrestling on the front lawn. I joined in on the fun and soon enough, the three of us were tuckered out.

We reluctantly said goodbye to Chuck and he went back through the doggie door as we began our walk home. “Two things,” Danny started, as we were on our way. “First, what we just did really didn’t solve anything. Chuck must have already been at the Nova Avenue building. And second, have you given any more thought on how to start a delivery service?”

“As for the delivery service,” I responded, “why don’t we Google it tonight and we can compare notes tomorrow at lunch.”

“Fair enough,” he said, “but what about the Chuck issue?”

“Well, I agree with you that Chuck was probably there already. But how did we  happen to go to the one building where he was? Let’s go back and check out the doggie doors.” Danny agreed and we turned around and headed back to the Nova Avenue building.

When we got there, Chuck was nowhere in sight, so we walked down the four steps into the gangway and over to the doggie door. It was just a typical pet door – a piece of wood that hinged  at the top. I pushed on the bottom of the door, but it didn’t move. “What the heck?”

“Aww, is Jerry weak from the looooong walk we had today?” Danny asked. Then he pushed the doggie door – with the same negative results.

“Hmmm… you seem to have caught my weakness. Haha!. How can that be? Chuck pokes it with his snout and it opens easily.”

“Chuck!” Danny called. “Come here, boy!”

Sure enough, Chuck poked his head through the door. Danny quickly grabbed the door as Chuck walked out, stopping it from closing.  “Jerry, hold the door open. I want to look inside.” As I held the wooden flap. Dan stuck his head through to see what was there. “*sigh* It’s just a normal basement, Jer. It looks like an empty storage room for a tenant, Nothing unusual at all. C’mon and see.” And he pulled his head back and held the door for me.

As I looked through the doggie door, I saw that Danny was right – there was nothing unusual. Even though the lights were off, I could see that it was just a basement. I pulled back out and got up, but as Dan released the door, we both heard a faint ‘click’ as the doggie door shut. When Dan tried to pull and then push the door open, it wouldn’t budge.

“That’s strange,” Dan said, “it locked again.” Then he called Chuck over. As soon as Chuck got close to the door, we heard the ‘click’ again, and the door easily pushed open. “OK, that makes sense. The door locks after Chuck goes through it so raccoons and other animals – or burglars – can’t get in.”

“Burglars?” I asked. “They’d have to be contortionists to fit through that opening. You and I could never get through there. Heck, it was difficult enough just to get our heads through the door.”

“Now what?” Danny asked.

“I’m confused. Let’s go home.”

On the way home, we had to talk about the doggie doors again. “I still don’t know how Chuck got to the building on Nova from Mrs. Scott’s building,” I said. “We need to plan this out a little better. We both have tests coming up on Friday, so why don’t we try a different test on Friday afternoon after school?”

“OK,” Dan said, “I think we should go to different buildings and try the test again.”

“But if we go to a different building, won’t that be the same test?” I asked.

“You don’t understand. I mean, why don’t you go to Nova Avenue and I’ll go to Mrs. Scott’s building? Then we might be able to determine how he gets between the two buildings.”

“Wow! I don’t care what my mom says, you’re kinda smart.”

 

= = =

 

Thursday at lunch, we compared notes on how to start a delivery business. We agreed that we should do the work ourselves, since we really didn’t have any money to hire help… yet. We also had to figure out how much to charge. Since we were going to be providing same-day national delivery, it should be more expensive than over-night delivery. We just didn’t know how much more it should be. The size and weight of the item was important too. We settled on nothing larger or heavier than a family-size pizza. We also had to actually see what we were transporting. We didn’t want to be arrested for interstate  transportation of drugs.

When all was said and done, we figured that we would be transporting documents and small packages. We were truly thankful when lunch was over. We had no idea that opening a delivery service could be so complicated. We spent the majority of the 45 minute lunch period discussing what we would carry and we still have hours of additional discussions to look forward to. With this much planning required, I have no idea how any business gets started.

After school let out, Danny and I hopped on a bus and headed to Wrigleyville to see if we could meet the landlord. We really wanted to find out how he knew we would start coming to the buildings a couple of weeks ago, and had known even before we knew.

The office was just a store-front on Addison Street. We walked in and an older lady introduced herself as Mrs. Koenig and asked how she could help us. We showed her Mrs. Scott’s letter and told her that we’d like to talk with the landlord. Mrs. Koenig seemed confused about the letter. “Boys, we’re the management for that property, but we have no idea who sent this letter. We don’t know who this company is.”

“Are you sure, ma’am?” I asked.

“Quite sure,” she responded, handing the letter back to us.

We thanked her and left.

“Jerry, this is messed up! What the heck is going on?”

“I really don’t know, but I don’t think we should mention this to Mrs. Scott. It might worry her.”

“Good point. But we’re going to continue investigating the portals, aren’t we?”

“Absolutely!”

After leaving Mrs. Koenig’s office we went to my place to cram for our tests on Friday. When Dad got home around 5:30, Danny said he had to go home. “Mom’s making my favorite dinner tonight!”

“Ew! I hate spaghetti! How can you eat that slop?”

“It probably has something to do with my last name being Caputo.”

“Yeah, that’ll do it.”

As I walked Danny to the door, I reminded him that we were going to check out the portals after school tomorrow. He gave me a mock-surprised look and said, “Ya think?”

 

= = =

 

The next morning, as we walked to school, Danny and I quizzed each other on the classes we had together. We were pretty sure that the lowest grade we’d get would be a ‘B’. Heck, we might even get an ‘A’ or two.

At lunch, I grabbed a carton of apple juice and started eating my sandwich. Danny had to nuke some leftover spaghetti from last night’s dinner. Geez! I really can’t stand spaghetti, which is strange, because I like other pasta. I’m not sure what it is about this kind of pasta that turns me off. Oh well… I’ll figure it out some day. When Danny sat down, we started comparing our first three tests. We think we did well on them. Then we started quizzing each other on the next two. History was a lock; there was no way either of us would get less than an ‘A’ on it, so we paid more attention to Trigonometry. That test was going to be a bitch, and we had to get at least a ‘B’ – our parents wouldn’t accept anything less. Fortunately, we had a study hall after lunch, so we could run through some practice drills. Another thing the study hall would do is let lunch settle so we wouldn’t be sleepy during the Trig test. Unfortunately, we were in different rooms for the study hall.

When study hall was over,  we met up in our Trig classroom. When the test started, we buried our heads in our work. I don’t know about Danny, but I needed every minute of the time provided to solve the problems, but at least I was confident that my answers were correct. I was sure I had at least a ‘B’ – maybe an ‘A’. On our way to History class, Dan said that he was pretty sure that he got a ‘B’ as well. The History test was a breeze as compared to the Trig test. When we finished, we knew we had aced it.

After going to our lockers and loading our backpacks, we headed off for our new tests – the ones to see how Chuck knew where we were and how he found us without us seeing him. In this test, Danny was going to Mrs. Scott’s building and I was going to the building on Nova Avenue. Danny called me when he got there and we talked until I got to Nova. Once we were in place, I won the toss on who got to call Chuck first. As before, he came almost immediately. I had saved a bit of my sandwich and I gave it to him. We played for a bit and then I told Danny to call him and see what happened. It took less than a minute for Chuck to go back through the doggie door. I couldn’t believe what happened next. I was waiting for Danny to call me, but I didn’t expect him to come through the basement door next to the doggie door!

 

+ + +

Editor’s Note: Danny here. As Jerry said, I called Chuck and he showed up almost immediately at the doggy door! He was excited to see me, and when I grabbed his collar to get him under control, I saw a zippered pouch on the inside of the collar. When I took it off him and opened it, I found a printed circuit board and two keys. When I put the printed circuit board near the doggie door, I heard the lock click open. When I moved it away, the lock clicked shut again. But what were the keys for? I took them both out and compared them – they were identical. I put them in my pocket while I put Chuck’s collar, with the printed circuit board, back on him. I was about to call Jerry when I decided to try the keys in the door next to the doggie door… they fit perfectly! I unlocked the basement door and entered. Chuck joined me. I looked around and it seemed that I really was in a tenant storage room. It was about a five-foot by ten-foot room with a sliding access gate. There was nothing in the room, but I noticed that the door I had just entered through had a sign over it that said “Summit Front”. Next to it was a door with a sign over it that said “Summit Rear”.

For grins, I went through the sliding gate, which was locked in the open position. I was in a long hall, and there were tenant storage rooms on either side of the hall. Then I noticed it. Over the entrance to each storage area was a street name. The one I had been in was Summit. I looked up and down the hall until I saw the one labeled “Nova”. When I entered the Nova storage room, I saw it was empty as well. It also had two doggie doors and two regular doors – one was labeled “Nova Front”, and the other “Nova Rear”. I opened the Nova Front door and walked out to find a very confused Jerry staring at me.

+ + +

 

“Danny? Where did you come from?”

“You’re not going to believe me. Come and see for yourself.”

To be continued…

Published January 2, 2016

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