Chicago Bound is a middle-grade adventure novel for ages 8-12. Jake needs to find the missing Mary Cassatt mural and solve his mother's murder. With the help of his trusty multitool, old friends, and new friends—including some feisty seniors at a retirement home—everything is possible!
Sunday Afternoon (December 21st)
Jake inspected the figure-eight knot that secured his harness to the climbing rope. He watched the slack tighten until he felt a slight upward tug and then reached back to grab a pinch of chalk. Rubbing his palms together, he prepared to make his first move onto the indoor rock wall.
“Climbing!” Jake shouted with a little more gusto than needed, given that his partner, Ben, was only a few feet away.
“Climb on,” Ben replied as he worked the ropes through his belaying device.
The rock-climbing gym was conveniently located near Jake’s home in Manhattan, but it was also insanely crowded. Consuming nearly a city block, the gym boasted the most diverse selection of routes of all the indoor fitness centers in the tri-state area. Membership was also wildly expensive, but Jake had splurged on it with some of his own money. Last summer, he’d had a fantastic and dangerous adventure in Ireland, culminating in the discovery of some long-hidden treasure, and once he’d returned home, he had zealously embarked on an exercise program, having come to the conclusion that it was important to be prepared for anything.
The beginner’s bouldering area was behind them near the entrance. And the gym’s most complex routes, with the most challenging holds, were farther down the line. To gain access to those routes, Jake and Ben would have to prove themselves on this 5.6 Yosemite Decimal System–rated climb. Attempting to tune out the masses of people around him, Jake placed his foot on the first climbing hold and hoisted himself onto the wall. His toes screamed in pain. Rats. Forgot to cut my toenails again. By design, rock shoes are extremely tight, and the millimeter of extra length his nails added quadrupled the pain factor.
With purpose and care, Jake made move after move until he was nearly forty feet in the air. He shook his head to flip his shaggier-than-normal sandy blond hair from his eyes. As best he could tell, the next handhold was a good eighteen inches higher than his reach. Although he’d hit a growth spurt over the summer, Jake was still well below average height for a fifteen-year-old. He looked down at Ben. “I’m not sure about this next move.”
Ben nodded and pulled any remaining slack out of the rope so that if Jake missed the hold, he wouldn’t fall too far. Tall and slim, with a mop of red curly hair, Ben had become a good friend of Jake’s. He occupied second-chair violin—right next to Jake, in first chair—in the school’s orchestra. They were both freshman at a large private New York City high school, and together they’d weathered the difficult middle-to-high-school transition. Knowing that later tonight they would be cramped inside a bus heading to a performing arts camp in Chicago, where they’d spend winter break, Jake and Ben were grateful to squeeze in some physical exercise before heading west.
Lunging, Jake stretched for the climbing hold. His fingers curled around the tiny grip and his muscles strained as his entire weight was suspended in the air, supported only by his right hand. He flexed and lifted himself up by one arm, just enough to get his other hand onto a hold. Moments later, he’d found decent footholds and took a minute to catch his breath.
“Nice move,” Ben called from below.
“Thanks!” Jake smiled down at him. Good thing I added pull-ups to my workout routine.
CRACK! The sound of metal cracking echoed throughout the facility, followed quickly by a scream. Jake swiveled his head in the direction of the noise. On the route next to his, a middle-aged woman swung suspended in the air. Jake tilted his head to examine the pulley system that was attached to the top of the rock wall. It had separated from its mount and appeared as if it could give way at any time. “Ben!” Jake called.
“Go, Jake, go!”
From the moment they’d met, Jake and Ben had instantly been on the same wavelength. Whether it was music, climbing, movies, or girls, they always seemed to know what was on the other’s mind. Jake let go of the rock holds and let the rope take his weight, snapping him into a position that was perpendicular to the wall. He ran sideways along the fake rock like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat as Ben expertly played out the slack. There was another loud snap, and Jake dove and wrapped his arms around the woman. She screamed as the pulley system gave way. Jake grunted as her entire weight bore down on him. Like a pendulum, Jake and the woman swung back toward his part of the rock wall. Ben let the rope slide freely and the two of them glided quickly but softly to the ground.
Immediately, the woman’s climbing partner and the facility’s staff descended upon them.
“You . . . you saved my life.” The woman was near tears.
“Well, it was teamwork.” Jake stood up and brushed himself off. He went to high-five Ben but stopped when he saw blood dripping from his friend’s fingers. “Wicked rope burn!”
“I wanted to make sure you two descended fast in case it was difficult to hold onto her,” Ben said, wiping the blood onto his shorts.
“Good call, Ben. Hope it doesn’t interfere with your violin playing, though.” Jake took a step backward from the crowd of people enveloping them.
* * *
By the time Jake made it home to the two-story brownstone he shared with his father, the cell phone video of the rescue had garnered thousands of hits.
“Quick thinking, son,” Mr. McGreevy said, greeting Jake as he walked through the door. “There are more than a few messages by the phone from reporters wanting to talk with you.”
“No thanks,” Jake said, as he shed his shoes by the front door and followed his dad into the kitchen. “After last summer, I think I’ve had enough of reporters. Besides, Ben and I were just at the right place at the right time——that’s all.”
“I understand, Jake,” his dad said, giving his son a quick pat.
Their townhouse was very similar to the other hundred or so in the neighborhood——with the exception of the widened doorways and the mini-elevator that went to the second floor. Mr. McGreevy had been paralyzed after a horse-riding accident nearly two years before, and their house had been modified to accommodate his wheelchair.
“Dinner smells good. What is it?” Jake bent down to peer into the oven.
“Osso buco with a savory rosemary-balsamic reduction,” Mr. McGreevy replied.
“I assumed it was pizza,” Jake said.
“Of course it’s pizza.” Mr. McGreevy smiled and Jake laughed, their running joke continuing for another night. Mr. McGreevy, despite his exacting architect’s mind, disliked following recipes and cooking, so they tended to eat a lot of pizza.
“It won’t be ready for a few more minutes. Remember our deal? You have to finish unpacking that last box before you leave tonight for Chicago,” he said as he rolled over to the cupboard to get some silverware.
“All right,” Jake grumbled, heading upstairs to his room. They’d moved into their brownstone two months ago, but Jake hadn’t yet finished going through the last box. He entered his room and padded over to it. Lifting the lid, he stared at the old things strewn about. What am I going to do with all this junk? He shuffled through the matchbox cars, empty CD jewel cases, and pieces of electronic gear that even he, with his knack for fixing things, couldn’t save. He spotted a medium-sized teddy bear. “The Art Institute of Chicago” read the bear’s shirt. Chicago: Jake hadn’t really thought about it before, but he suddenly realized that he was going to the same city where his mother had died.
He freed the stuffed animal from its cardboard dwelling and sat on the bed with it. My mom bought this for me, right before . . . Two years old then, Jake couldn’t remember receiving the gift, but he did recall his dad telling him when he was young that it was the last gift his mother had purchased. Dad was so angry when he found me roughhousing with the bear. After that incident, Jake had let the bear sit on a shelf in the closet. He gazed into the bear’s eyes. Who was she? Lately, his father had opened up a little more and discussed the mother he never knew, but he still felt a persistent emptiness.
Turning the bear over, he saw some brown thread, slightly off color from the rest of the stitching along the seam. Never noticed that before. The string was loose and Jake gently tugged on it. The bottom of the bear separated, revealing a yellowed piece of folded paper.
I’m sorry you couldn’t be here to explore the city with me. I took a break to clear my head and went to the Chicago Theatre. You simply must read the notes in my binder so you can understand what I experienced. The Art Deco sconces on the second floor remind me of our spectacular time in Paris together.
The date at the top nearly leapt off the page. The day she was killed! She died outside the theater, so she must have written this note just moments before. What’s it doing inside my bear?