Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Mystery of the Lost Toddler & Neill Ruskin's Adventure

Grass grows slowly in Breken Park, I can attest to that fact, because on January 12th, I was watching it grow - right through the snow. I wasn't bored. There was plenty for me to do. But, there I sat on the side of Breken Park near the frozen pond with the fountain spewing in the middle watching the grass grow. Of course there was the two year old sitting nearby under a picnic table sobbing into her coat sleeve that caught my eye. But, I assure you, I wasn't watching her.

You may have figured out that I'm Neill Ruskin, the youngest of the Ruskin four. I'm the photographer and columnist who writes about local historic places for the local paper. It was an easy job to get, since my Mom owns the paper. She needed writers and, well, I'm a writer.

On any normal day, meandering through the park might be a boring proposition, but it was Tuesday and I was supposed to be taking pictures of the park for a special column about the historic stone walls located in the park. I'd already written the column for the paper, but I needed photos to go with the column. I'd just passed the ridge wall, and crossed the bridge in the middle of the park when I saw the pink coat with white fur around the hood. I thought at first it must have been left in the park by some kid. Then it moved. I knew there had to be a kid still in it.

There wasn't another person anywhere around the park, and I looked around really well. I hadn't seen anyone since I walked into the park from Marsh Road. The park was abandoned, except for the squirrels in the trees and some birds fluttering overhead. Or so I thought until I'd noticed that pink coat. It wasn't particularly cold. I was strolling along in my short sleeved shirt.

I dialed 9-1-1 first to see if there'd been any reports of missing children. Officer Ross was in the area, so he was going to stop by the apartment complex on Antelope Road and see if anyone was missing a two year old on his way over to the park. They wanted me to just stay put and see if anyone was around.

So, there I sat on the rock wall, snapping pictures of my new subject, and of course... the grass growing through the snow that still covered much of the ground from the last snow fall. The toddler didn't seem to notice me at first. She continued to sit there under the table playing in the sand. When she finally did notice me, she'd carried a handful of sand across the grass and dropped it at my feet, toddling back to the table for more.

"What's your name?" I asked when she carried the second handful of sand to me.

She looked up with clear blue eyes and a smile I won't soon forget and said, "My name is Virginia."

I raised an eyebrow at the level of communication she was capable of and asked another question. "Where do you live?"

"With Mommy," she answered and ran back across the grass.

I waited. She carried another handful of sand and this time I reached a hand down to see if she'd take my hand. "Wanna join me up here on the rock wall?"

She reached a tiny hand out and I was surprised to feel very cold fingers touch mine. I lifted her up on the wall beside me and she continued to hold my hand.

"Is Mommy in the park?" I asked.

"No, feeding the baby..." she answered and looked back toward the apartment complex on the other side of the park.

"Did you come here to play while she feeds the baby?"

"Yes." She answered, looking straight at me.

"Should we go see if she's done?" I asked carefully.

"Okay," she answered, leaning to slide off the wall.

I helped her down and let her hold onto my finger as we walked across the grass. I could see Officer Ross standing outside the apartment complex with a man watching us.

"Do you think Mommy is looking for you?" I asked her.

"No, she'd be mad." She answered.

I thought about my own mother and what she'd think if I had taken off to go to the park while she fed a baby. Yeah, she'd have been really mad. We walked slowly across the park, steadily placing one foot in front of the other, her never letting go of my hand.

"Are you tired? Can I carry you?" I asked.

Her arms reached high and I picked her up to carry her. We were still walking when I heard the blood curdling scream. A woman carrying a small bundle came running out of the back of the apartment building, screaming, "Virginia?"

I waved to her and watched the police officer and his companion motion at her.

She seemed totally panicked.

I carried Virginia toward the woman I presumed would be her mother, who was now walking quickly in my direction. The officer was on an intercept course toward us.

"Oh my gosh, Virginia, why didn't you wait?" She hugged the child, still in my arms. "Thank God you found her..." She left her in my arms.

"Yes, I agree. She was just playing in the park. I just came across her and realized there was no adult there." I explained, "She looked like she needed supervision, so I stuck around and called the police to help me find a parent."

"I let her play in front of the television, while I nursed the baby. The doors were locked. When I finished I realized it was too quiet, just the cartoons playing and went to check on her." She gasped, "the baby is only a week old and I can't lift more than him yet." Tears rolled down her cheeks.

"She's fine," I nodded toward the baby, "We better get him back inside. I'll carry her in for you."

"Well, now, just a minute..." the man with Officer Ross spoke up. "We've called social services and they're sending out a care giver for the children. You obviously can't keep up with them."

The man's voice irritated me, but his words shot vibrations of anger through me. I was only fifteen, but I knew how difficult it is to take care of two children, particularly a toddler and always know where the toddler was. I punched the cell on and keyed in Mom's number. My mom was the editor and owner of the Breken Gazette. This was a story I knew she'd want to write herself.

I knew how difficult it was for single Mom's to care for infants. My mother had been a single mom when I was young. My brother had slipped out of the house and sat playing on the curb one afternoon, while Mom put me down for a nap. I remember hearing my mom talk about that difficult moment, and the relief she felt when she found him. This young mother knew the same pain my mother had experienced. Her child was safe. She'd learned not to let her out of her sight, that should have been the end of the discussion.

"Important news story at Breken Park, near the Hills Apartment Complex." I gave the story away without letting the man who stood before us threatening the young mother, I knew Mom would be arriving shortly. She always followed my lead, and I'd already let her know that I had found a child.

"We need to get them inside, it's getting cold out here." I interrupted the discussion, "I'll help you take them inside. If there's to be a visit from social services, they can come inside too."

The young woman nodded to me and followed us in, never letting go of the toddler's hand. We left the Officer and his co-hort standing at the bottom of the hill staring after us.

"Kate Gordon, thank you for bringing her home." She spoke as we arrived outside her apartment door. "I know you're the columnist, I recognize your picture. How did you find her?"

"I was photographing the rock walls for a commentary I wrote for the paper. It's due out in tonight's edition. So, I was walking the park." I shrugged, "I called Mom when that guy threatened social services. She'll be here in a bit to write up the story. She'll know what to do about him."

"He's a jerk. My landlord. He knows I'm here alone and he's always threatening me. My husband is a Marine and he's in service. I haven't got any family here and I can't afford to move where they are, so I'm stuck putting up with him until I have some options. He's been trying to force me out so he can raise the rents on the place." She explained as we entered a neatly arranged living room. Toys scattered over the coffee table and a few larger toys on the floor offered expected kid clutter, but the room was amazingly immaculate.

I looked at a message on my phone and let go of Virginia's hand, "Mom's downstairs. I'll be going now, but we may come up for an in person interview... Can I stop by and visit sometime?"

She nodded as she settled into a comfy chair with a book and Virginia to read. She snuggled the baby close and curled her legs around Virginia. I let myself out the door.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Gavin's Revelation

Investigation is serious business for me. I expect eventually to become an investigator for the FBI. Although my family thinks this is just a phase I'm passing through, I know there's a future for me to do more than just write about the mysteries I solve.

Take today, for instance. My brother, that's Neill, he's almost sixteen months younger than me and seriously not into growing a career of investigations. He believes our investigations now will simply be fodder for his books, those ones he wants to write eventually. My sister, Emily, thinks we're all a little squirrelly for working up a sweat trying to solve mysteries. We should be letting the police do it, since it's their job and they get paid to do it. But, she hangs out with us and mostly is there to rescue us when we get in over our heads. Morgan can identify with what I do, because she's studying to be a Criminal Investigator when she gets out of college. Personally, I think she'll get married and make pretty babies, because she's a girl, but I don't dare tell her that.

Mom is a writer for the local paper. She writes news stories and blogs about the events we get into on the town blog. She's probably solved more crime in print than the police department has in the courts - and she's good at getting to the meat of things. People stand up and listen when she speaks, especially when she's angry. They kind of react the same way to Morgan. I wonder if they'll listen to me when I get older?

Our most recent adventure revealed a plan by the City Administrator to overtake the local air field and stop local pilots from using the services. He had decided there were more important planes to fly, so to speak. Of course, I don't think he was aware of the spunk and spirit of our local airport mistress. This is how it happened.

"Hey Gavin, you boys haven't been up in a while. Why don't you come out and fly with Mitch this afternoon?" Lauren Tate invited us to fly with her husband often.

He flew spray planes and was one of few pilots Mom allowed us to use in our stunt photography. He was good.

"I'll get Neill and the cameras, we'll be back about noon?" I asked rushing out the door of the terminal. I'd actually arrived at the airport to check on a flight for Morgan, who wanted to fly in over the weekend. Given good circumstances, Mitch might pick her up on his way home, if I asked. I waited.

The run home took me cross country, I ran down the side of the field to a ditch road and down the ditch to town, where we lived about half a block from the irrigation ditch. Neill and I rode our scooters back to the airport and arrived just as Mitch set down for the noon fuel up.

Mitch was a clean-cut, cowboy type, who wore his jeans tucked into his yellow leather boots and a stetson on his short curly black hair. He didn't much look like a pilot. He really looked a bit out of place in the plane, but he could fly anything that had wings, and I'd been told he'd even landed one that didn't. I never asked about that.

With all the noise of planes lining up, we couldn't hear him talking, but he pointed toward the hanger on the far side and motioned for us to put our scooters in there, so that's where we took them. We cut the motors long before we got inside and coasted our bikes into the side wall, where we'd left them before. We never talked when we parked the bikes, no rule, just not something we did.

Neill heard it first. He motioned to me and stepped into the shadows. We stood against the wall in the shadow watching as four men walked into the hanger. One I vaguely recognized, the others were strangers. The one doing the most of the talking was the one I recognized.

"If we cut the local flights, we could have three commercial flights a day. That should make this a profitable buy for the city. It would benefit everyone, and these spray boys can find another site to fuel their chemical blasters."

"When you condemn the property, you'll have to act fast. This guy isn't your usual fly-boy, he's been around the ranch a while. He's likely to catch on. You'll have to get his property and boot him out of the saddle before he has a chance to figure out what's going on."

They walked past us and we ran out the door. One of them hollered after us, but we kept running past the next hanger, all the way over to the fuel bays where Mitch was fueling up his plane.

I'd go on, but I don't want to miss up the story for you. This one is the Mystery of the Cowboy Pilot. Keep reading.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Emily's Attraction

Standing on Breken Ridge when the rain came sheeting down wasn't exactly what I'd expected to be doing during the first massive Noah-type rain storm the plains got this year, but there I stood. Holding onto the umbrella that wasn't keeping me dry in any form, I stood there, waving the flashlight in hopes that my brothers the Ruskin Sleuths of Breken would be able to find their way back up the rock toward me and hopefully safety. The lower the clouds hung, the less hope I had they'd ever find their way up the rock.

I shivered in the cold wet winds as thunder rolled through the valley below. I felt as if I was standing on the edge of an earthquake. Lightening cracked, splintering the sky above me and I shut my eyes against the flash.

"Emily, put that umbrella down!" Gavin snarled, yanking it out of my hands and pulling it flat. "You're a lightening rod with that thing in the air. Let's get out of here."

"I'd have been gone if I wasn't waiting for YOU." I snapped, tears filled my eyes, and I ran for the black four wheel drive truck. I slid behind the wheel and Neill slid in between Gavin and I on the front seat. The truck rumbled to life when I turned the key in the ignition and I turned it around and headed down the mountain toward Ruskin. "What took you so long?"

"Nobody was in the castle. We decided to search for clues," Neill announced. He didn't look as if it had been his idea.

"It couldn't have waited for dry weather?" I stole a glance at Gavin. I knew without looking that it had been his fault. But the smug grin on his wet face told me I was right.

It's my job, at least the one I've taken on since I was five and big enough to change Gavin's diapers, to make sure he's safe and healthy. Somehow, he's managed to survive all these years, in spite of my best care and concern for him.

They all tell me I was born with that Mommy voice, and I suppose it's true. I tend to take on the world to protect my family. Mom's a single mom, and we have a very close family. We focus on the important things and everything else just works.

I shiver, thinking about how wet all three of us are, and know we'll have to get changed and dry as soon as we get home. It's silly that we got so wet.

I'm thinking about this project and Gavin's dedication to getting to the truth. I wonder if he realizes the risks he took. Probably not... I think, realizing that it's my plan to protect the family, his to solve crimes. Oh the joy of life with two little brothers.

I'm Emily, the younger of the sisters, who tends to think of all the crazy bad things that could happen, while everyone else is just out taking risks for their cause. I realize risk is necessary, but I don't like those kinds of crazy stunts and frequently warn my family against them.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Morgan's Escape from Breken

You may think it's fun to live in a small town, but I couldn't wait to escape. I'd grown up in Breken, long enough to know the community wasn't playing on a steady foundation of justice. The Sheriff had been a real loser when I was in high school. His escapades with a local teenager were well known, though never publicized. Somehow the community always overlooked his failures.

The Mayor at the same time had kleptomaniac tendencies and spent her days at the book store where I worked. The owner was a generous lady who figured since she was a good mayor in most respects, she'd just let it go --- at least those times she didn't catch her and ask for the merchandise back. She never took anything big, just twenty cent bookmarks and ribbons.

I'm Morgan Ruskin, the oldest of The Ruskin Family Sleuths. I started this gig on the fly and I still avoid the drama and just rush in at the last moment, barely in time to save the day. Although, I have been known to come home in the middle of an investigation and kick start the process. I'm a meddling kind of person, so I suppose that's why I get involved.

After four years of playing explorer cadet with the local police department, there wasn't much I didn't know about the community residents. And I didn't like many of them at all, including many of the officers on the force. I chanced the run and left home for college. Living in the dorms was bound to be better than my one-horse hometown with skeletons and secrets in every closet.

Little did I know, I'd have a lot of growing up to do over those next four years. Life would change and I would grow up, but seriously, Breken changed too. When my brothers happened on their first adventure, I thought it was going to be all fun and games, just show up, save the day, and rush back to the big city to brag to all my friends about my great weekend sleuthing adventure. Casualty number one was my trip back to Breken. I became embroiled in The Ruskin Adventures. A daring member of the crime fighting family, willing to risk it all for the cause of justice, at least until I knew enough about law to get myself and the rest of the family out of the neck of danger just in time and save the day.

My daring mother, the wanna be reporter turned author, captured the interest of the Nation with her crime fighting articles. My brothers sleuthed into any minor mystery they found, and Emily simply held them all together, being whisked away by the tide now and then. All together we formed a tight family unit, and I'll tell you, nothing gets past The Ruskin Sleuths in The Ruskin Adventures.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Neill talks about Weathers' Sand Castle

Growing up on the edge of Breken Ridge definitely has benefits. The rock ledge overlooking the river and the valley was our first home. Some called it the jagged mountain, but my brother and I preferred to call it "Home", at least until the house burned. Mom had replaced the rickety old two story craftsman with a double wide when I was three because the house wouldn't stay warm enough and I kept getting sick. About ten years later, Rouse, the Eco-Thief, set the double wide home on fire in an effort to get us to shut up and stop chasing him. We didn't, he got 20 years for setting the house on fire, and another twenty for burning the riverbottom. Then he got life for murdering the Mayor. We all figured Bob Keller put up a heck of a good fight, when ole Rouse set the river bottom on fire.

I suppose everyone in town thought we'd just up and leave town. We'd lived there on the Ridge for so many years. Mom still owns the property. She leased it to the Department of Wildlife for a Garage for their equipment, because they can see nearly forty miles down the river either direction from the ridge, and it's got easy access. We moved into town on High Street, in the old Crabil Mansion. I don't think it's very old, but it's got big wide porches, huge rooms and three stories of space. Mom loves writing in her new office. And... The manuscript she'd sent out just before the fire? Well, the publisher bought it and she sold a million copies of that book the first year after it was published.

Guess I should introduce myself. I'm Neill Ruskin, the youngest of the tribe. My brother Gavin considers himeself a sleuth and I tag along. I'm usually the one who solves the crimes. He chases the clues around, gathers them all up and I put them together. Of course, when we get into an investigation too deep, our sister, Morgan rushes in to save the day. Mom's been an investigative reporter for about a hundred years, so she often helps us gather information and keeps the press alerted to any criminal activities going on in the area. My other sister, Emily, keeps us all pulled together and organized. We all work together to make crime prevention work here in Breken.

Right now, we're working on a case Gavin calls, "Mystery of the Sand Castle." Over on Breken River there's a kind of sand castle built back in the cove. The old guy that lives there died several years ago, and the sand castle is vacant. At least, it's supposed to be vacant. Lately, there's been a light on in the back of the castle and at night it blinks upward into the sky. I told him it's probably haunted by old man Weathers, but Gavin says there's something going on...

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Introducing Breken, Colorado

You've probably been through Colorado a time or two, may know every town in the state. But, I guarantee, you've missed this jewel of a town. Everyone does. Breken lies on the edge of the mountains, just a little too far east to be part of the Rockies, and just a little too far west to be part of the plains. Home to none other than the Ruskin family, a team of sleuths bent on stopping crime, or at the very least capturing every criminal in town. Add to that, any who come through Breken, and perhaps any who think they might come through Breken.

Nestled into a cove along the Breken River, Breken rests beneath a ledge of rock croppings that separate the town and the river, from the Interstate and the city that lies just beyond view. Breken houses more than a fair share of the state's criminal element, and for whatever reason, the rest of them tend to come through hoping to find a safe place to stay. However, they're not counting on the youngest sleuths in the state living just beyond the bridge, on High Street in a part of the community where homes have personality, charm and history.

Neighbors count themselves proud to be friends of the Ruskin family and everybody in town knows them, speaks their name, and recognizes them on sight.

Julia Ruskin works at the Breken Daily Trader as a reporter, when she isn't out chasing criminals and hovering over the sleuthing team on their latest adventure. Or, more importantly when she isn't writing another book more important than the town council or some other community project. A native to the area, Julia's interests have more to do with raising her family and being a good parent than they do with fighting crime, but for some unknown reason, she keeps finding the two go hand in hand.

Morgan is away at college most of the time, unless of course her siblings uncover a crime ring too big and complex for them to solve. In which case, she arrives home in the nick of time to save the day and rescue any missing persons from the long arm of the criminal and the lost focus of the law. The police department in Breken is more focused on bringing her home to fight crime than on protecting the small town she'd rather bury under rock than live in, but her brothers keep her coming back home.

Emily chases away crime with a broomstick. She'd really rather have an organized and peaceful home. Her job is to keep things running smoothly, but how can she when the sleuths of the community keep bringing her into the middle of their rough and tumble adventures. Her duty to protect little brothers and keep Mom organized fall into the same category as her relationship with the County Attorney, Ross Burmingham, whose attention often gets side swept by family adventures.

Gavin focuses his interest on crime the way a blood hound focuses on the fox. Once he's got a clue, he doesn't let up until the crime is solved. His interest in criminal justice and law keep him on the lookout for anything that smells of criminal activity and he recognizes a crime from a mile away. His interest in Charlotte Robbins keeps him side tracked just enough to spend time away from the crime scene.

Neill spends his time thinking about his projects, ambivolent to the tyrades around him until the peices come together. He solves the crime, non-chalantly, leaving the chase to everyone else. Although, he loves a good adventure, so he often tags along with big brother Gavin to rescue him, or more likely to stave off danger.

The story rests more in the process of a family living in small town, rural America with hopes dreams and visions of success and a future where love grows.