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Room One: A Mystery or Twoby Andrew Clements
Ted Hammond huffed and puffed as he pedaled up the small hill on the road back into town. Every morning he rode his bike to the junction of Route 92 and County Road 7 and picked up a bundle of the Omaha World-Tribune. And between seven thirty and eight thirty, rain or shine, summer or winter, Ted delivered the news.
The newspapers in his canvas shoulder bag felt like they weighed a hundred pounds. That's because it was Tuesday, and that meant he had an extra bundle of the county paper, the Weekly Observer. But at least there wasn't any snow or rain or hot dust blowing into his face.
May was Ted's favorite month for bike riding. Not too hot, not too cold. He loved October, too. But with May, summer wasn't far off, and summer meant no school. So May was the best.
It wasn't like Ted made a lot of money delivering papers, but in Plattsford, Nebraska, any job was a great job. Even during its high point in the 1920s, Plattsford had been a small town, not much more than a speck on the Great Plains of west central Nebraska. And for years and years the population had been shrinking.
But that didn't bother Ted. He liked the leftovers, the people who were still around. And when the Otis family had moved away? Didn't bother Ted a bit. He had delivered papers to them for two and a half years, and they'd never given him a tip, not even a dime — not even at Christmas. Plus Albert Otis had been a dirty rotten bully. Good riddance.
Ted could ride up and down the streets and know who lived in every house — well, nearly. He didn't personally know all 108 people who lived in Plattsford, because the whole township covered thirty-six square miles. But the in-town part, the part where he had most of his paper route, that was only about forty houses, and he'd knocked on almost every door looking for new subscriptions or collecting money from his customers. His last stop every day was Clara's Diner, right on Main Street, and a homemade doughnut and a glass of milk was always waiting for him on the end of the counter.
With a last burst of effort, Ted got his bike over the crest of the hill, and then he was coasting down the other side, the early sun bright on his face. Bluebirds singing along the fence row, the waving grass beginning to green up, the faded red paint on the Andersons' barn — Ted pulled it all into his eyes and ears, and then into his heart. He loved this place, his own peaceful corner of the world.
And when Ted happened to see a face in an upstairs window of the Andersons' house, he wanted to smile and wave and shout, "Hey! Beautiful day, huh?" But he didn't. And there was a good reason for that. The Andersons had moved away almost two years ago, and the old farmhouse was empty, boarded up tight.
At least, it was supposed to be.
Text copyright © 2006 by Andrew Clements
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