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The Man with the Red Bag

The Man with the Red Bag by Eve Bunting
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Right from the beginning I was suspicious of the man. Right from the minute he got on the bus. Maybe it was because he acted so strangely about the bag. But mostly it was because of the way he looked. And because my ears started tingling at the sight of him—an ancient warning of danger, not to be ignored.

Six months after 9/11, everyone wanted life to return to normal. But when Charles Stavros boards the Star Tours bus, twelve-year-old Kevin Saunders is sure this exotic-looking stranger is up to no good:

He sits alone.

He has a bushy black mustache and sinister eyebrows.

He carries a red bag with him wherever he goes—and even talks to it!

Kevin confides his suspicions to Geneva, a girl he meets on the tour bus. Together they watch the man's every move. Kevin is convinced Stavros isn't a typical tourist, interested in the Great Salt Lake, the Grand Tetons, or even Yellowstone National Park.

Kevin knows Stavros, red bag in hand, has something much bigger in mind, and it's up to Kevin to save the day, and maybe even the world.

HarperCollins; June 2009
240 pages; ISBN 9780061957376
Download in secure EPUB
Title: The Man with the Red Bag
Author: Eve Bunting

Chapter One

I held the bag tight against me. If there was a bomb in here, it wouldn't be too smart to jiggle it.

Running, running.

Stavros's boots pounded on the path behind me.

"Hey! You've got my bag!" he yelled.

My heart thumped with fear.

And then he was beside me.

Right from the beginning I was suspicious of the man. Right from the minute he got on the bus. Maybe it was because he acted so strangely about the bag. But mostly it was because of the way he looked. And because my ears started tingling at the sight of him—an ancient warning of danger, not to be ignored.

Of course, at that time, at the beginning, my suspicions were just gut level. Well, it was June 20, 2002, not even a year after 9/11. That's a date no one will ever forget. September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four planes and flew them into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York and into the Pentagon and that field somewhere in Pennsylvania. This guy looked like he might be Saudi Arabian or even Iraqian, if there is such a word. He was dark skinned, with bushy black eyebrows and a bushier mustache. So maybe it was natural for me to be on the alert. We were supposed to be. Even President Bush had said that on TV.

I could tell that I wasn't the only watchful one. There was a kind of rustling, a whispering from the other tour passengers, as he came through the bus door. I think that little 9/11 alarm bell was ringing for all of us. Of course, a bus isn't an airplane. But still, who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? And then there was the bag.

He was holding one of the dorky red carry-ons the Star Tours Company had sent to each of us before the trip. It was awkward for him to carry because his right hand was bandaged, all the way from his fingertips to his wrist. Declan Taylor, our tour director, immediately reached for the bag as the man stepped up into the coach.

"Hi!" Declan said. "Let me get this for you."

But the man pulled the bag close to his chest and shook his head. "No, no," he said. "I'll keep it." The words were forceful. But the intense way he clutched the bag was really strange. As if he was afraid someone would try to take it from him.

Weird, I thought. What could he have in there? Maybe a bunch of money or stolen jewels? My ears tingled ferociously.

I hadn't seen the man before. He hadn't been at last night's "get-acquainted" dinner. Maybe he didn't want to get acquainted.

He scared me, and I decided I'd keep a wary eye on him.

I was actually glad to have something to think about during this trip, besides the passing scenery. Grandma and I were starting out on a "nostalgic journey." Nostalgic for her, that is. We were going to see the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone Park in Wyoming and Mount Rushmore in South Dakota. My grandma had done this trip by car with my grandpa when they were first married. But Grandpa died last year, when I was only eleven, and we were all missing him so much. Especially Grandma.

"I want to go back and see it all again, Kevin," Grandma had told me. "Come with me," she'd said.

To be honest, I hadn't really wanted to go. It was the beginning of summer vacation. I could have been home in Los Angeles, skateboarding, shooting hoops, playing catch with the guys. My best buddy, Justin, and I had planned to camp out in my backyard. But I was here instead. There'd be a lot of sightseeing on this tour. I'm not much into sightseeing.

But my mom and dad had been all for it.

"You'll see parts of the country you've never seen before," Mom said.

"There'll be all kinds of wildlife, too," Dad added. "Moose and elk and deer and bears."

"Gnarly," I said, faking up my enthusiasm.

Mom stroked my hand. "It will be such a wonderful bonding experience for you and your grandma."

"We're already bonded," I told her. Not to be soppy, but I love my grandma a lot. She's fun. She listens when I talk to her. We both like old movies. She loves me a whole lot, too. And that's basically why I was here now.

"You'll bond even more," Mom said firmly.

Grandma had booked the ten-day trip way before 9/11. For a while after that we weren't sure if we should go. But one afternoon Gran had a long, serious talk with my parents. "I don't blame you for being worried," she told them. She offered to go alone.

"We think it's okay for him to go," Mom said. "But it's up to you, Kev."

I have to admit that for a couple minutes I was really tempted to use the big excuse Grandma had just given me and bail. But then I looked at her and I knew I wouldn't.

"Let's do it," I said.

We'd flown from L.A. to Salt Lake City.

In my Star Tours bag I'd brought my Walkman and a bunch of CDs, my new Joan Lowery Nixon novel, my much-read how-to-write-a-mystery book, and my trusty notebook, in which I planned to write my very first mystery novel following the guidelines and instructions that I would read carefully as we tooled along in our big tour bus. Tucked in the bottom of my red bag was my square of blue blanket. That's all that's left of what was once in my baby crib. I know I'm twelve years old. I know I'm a boy. So what? I still sleep with it under my head at night. I'd definitely croak, of course, if any of my friends knew about it. They'd . . .

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