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Xenia read-along: Chapters 19 & 20

More author’s fun that I hope translates into enjoyment for the reader.

We start out chapter 19 with a little bit of analysis by Xenia and Vanessa, which makes a lot of sense. It’s been a pretty shcoking 24 hours since they first realized that CJ has gone missing. But Vanessa only states the questions more clearly — there’s no certain sense of who a culprit might be and Xenia is more disgusted than ever with herself. But the conversation has one important effect — it serves to trigger Xenia’s memory. In the shock of seeing Bjark tumble out of that fridge, she completely overlooked another clue that was staring her in the face — a brown envelope taped to the inside of the fridge.

In the end, the biggest positive effect of that is that it causes Xenia to go into her father’s office, all full of purpose, only to have him firmly put her down. And as sometimes happens — certainly happens much more in fiction — being thwarted leads our protagonist to a conversation that was much more important.


Discovering who Jessam Weeks really was

Just when we least expect it,  we get a tidbit of information from Xenia that turns the conventional wisdom about J. S. Weeks upside down.

God bless Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad (URR). When I was thinking about what I wanted the Weeks Treasure to be all about, my mind was full of vague memories that I hoped might come in handy. During a writer’s retreat, thoughts about the URR began to float to the surface, and a person doesn’t do very much research on that subject without the incredible “General” Tubman coming up. When I started reminding myself just what a remarkable figure she was in these times, I knew I had to build my mystery around her. I would’ve loved to establish some clearer connection to Jessam’s secret alcove, but all the indications are that Tubman operated closer to the east coast and never made it as far west as Missouri. So I had to settle for just hinting that she was overseeing the operations. All the facts I gave about her and the URR are as accurate as I could make them. It’s fascinating history for anyone that would like to take a deeper dive.

It’s just too bad that there aren’t a lot of known safehouses and URR “stops” around. If the Weeks alcove and ledger actually existed, they would be solid gold to historians and anyone interested in African-American history.

One last little sober note, before we leave the Weeks Treasure. Now that we know what Jessam was actually up to, it’s sad to remember what it cost him, in terms of familial relations. Remember that his family had shunned him, even though others who fought on opposing sides of the Civil War had been able to make up. Knowing what we know now, we can speculate that the issue that they just couldn’t forgive him for was his involvement in the URR, which they probably had some awareness of but didn’t want to make public. Sometimes, those who were pro-slavery were very passionate about it. To suspect that one of the family had abolitionist sympathies — and was actually freeing slaves — might well be enough to break a family apart. Sad times.


Back to the farm

On the rollicking drive over to Ms. Weeks’ farm, there is an opportunity — one last time — for the ETC to offer some vantage and frame some questions. Abigail suggests that even this latest adventure is an outgrowth of Xenia’s original mission. Xenia is slow to see this possibility, but grudgingly, she admits the merit in that argument. It’s true that is bringing all the ETC to the rescue, and that’s probably because she has begun to care a little bit more about people. She is still a born problem-solver. But what fired her up was not a riddle or a game. It is the sense she has that this particular mystery has real implications and will matter to real people.

The girls get to the house, and in short order are left to work things out for themselves while Xenia’s father goes on ahead to the farmhouse and the séance. He is on his own mission, but unfortunately for him, he doesn’t seem like he has much luck bringing the séance to an immediate halt.

So the girls are left to their own devices. And by “devices,” I don’t mean smart phones or anything with internet access. Not even a working phone line. When they finally get a look at that clue taped to the fridge door — “Julius Caesar” 3.1.274 0618 1600 — it’s up to Xenia to figure it out, but she has to do it without any of the cheats that modern technology provides. That pleased me greatly. I admit that I wanted her to have to solve at least one mystery without being able to look anything up online.

And she gets it, of course. Because she’s very clever about this sort of thing, and because Ms. Weeks has all “the classics.” So Xenia figures it out.

“He raises guard dogs. The dogs of war … It’s the kennels! Whatever is going on is down in the basement of his farm, in his kennels. I have to go open the dog cages.”

“Omigosh!” Photini gasped, as Vanessa held up the page to double-check.

“The kennels,” Maggie said. “Are you sure?”

“And these other numbers,” Xenia continued, pointing at the sheet. “0618 — that’s a date. I’ll bet you anything. June eighteenth.”

“That’s today,” Vanessa said in alarm. “And ‘1600’?”

Xenia blinked while Brain sent her a message, and then said, “A time, maybe? People sometimes write times based on twenty-four hours instead of twelve. So, 1600 would be, um … four in the afternoon.” (page 355)

Xenia knows immediately what has to happen, but she isn’t able to talk the rest of the ETC into it. Maggie and Photini don’t approve and go off by themselves on foot. Poor Abigail has been feeling more and more out of it.

The only one who gets it and doesn’t argue is Vanessa. She was the first one who figured out what Xenia had already realized. This clue, coming on the heels of the others, can only have come from Charlie. CJ didn’t put Bjark in the fridge because he wasn’t there. And none of the adults would have done it.

These “clues” — these little mysteries that have been thrown Xenia’s way —  begin to feel like the proverbial trail of bread crumbs, intended to lead a person on. But lead them where? The mysteries have grown more intense and malevolent. The last one was shocking … cruel … inhumane. As Xenia tells the ETC, Charlie is going to a great deal of trouble to get her to show up at a certain time and place.

But why?

And why in the world, when she is finally on her way over, with no obstacles in her way, would she recollect a moment from the week before, when Abigail told her simply that Mr. Rogers was lying?

Time to find out. The pace of things picks up a good deal in these next two chapters, so buckle up and hold on.

Coming up:

Chapter 20: A lot of answers at last — but be careful what you ask for

Chapter 22: Xenia gets help in order to give help

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