Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #Mysteries & Detective Stories, #General, #Girls & Women, #Action & Adventure

A Race Against Time (10 page)

“I’ll have a veggie wrap and an Americano,” he said. “Extra mustard on the wrap.”

“For here or to go?” Susie asked.

“Here, I guess,” he said.

“It’ll be just a few minutes,” Susie said. “Have a seat anywhere.”

The man turned and started toward the book-cases—the biology section—but I stopped him with a question.

“Excuse me—I saw you at the starting line of the
bike race this morning,” I said. “How come you’re not out on the course? Aren’t you on one of the cycling teams?”

I held my breath when he looked at me because he could have been asking me the exact same question. But my gamble paid off. Apparently he didn’t recognize me without my racing clothes. To him I was just a patron of Susie’s.

“Uh, no,” he answered. “I was just there to . . . uh . . . I was—do I know you? Haven’t I seen you around somewhere?”

I held my breath while he stammered out his questions. Maybe my first impression was wrong. Maybe he
did
recognize me.

“No, I don’t think so,” I answered quickly. “You might recognize me from this morning, though, hanging around the start of the race. Like I said, that’s where I saw you.”

He narrowed his eyes as I spoke. His shoulders seemed to tense up as he studied me. Did he remember bumping into me as he was chased offstage away from the safe?

“Oh, yeah, that must be it,” he finally said. He took a deep breath and appeared to relax.

He was kind of seedy-looking up close. If he’d shaved that morning, he hadn’t done a very good
job. Or maybe he was trying to grow a beard, and it was in that stage where it just made the lower half of his face look dirty. His black jersey was faded, and fraying threads hung from the ends of his sleeves. His sneakers were caked with muddy clumps.

“I’m sure I saw you with a bike this morning,” I persisted. “That must have been why I thought you were on one of the teams. I’m a big fan. That’s my road racer out there.”

Red Shorts looked out the window at my bike in the rack. “Pretty cool,” he said.

“I have your order ready,” Susie said, coming up behind Red Shorts with a tray. “Where would you like to sit?”

“You can join me if you want,” I suggested. “I love to talk about bikes.”

Susie gave me an odd look—almost a frown, but not quite. I could tell from her expression that she thought Red Shorts and I were an odd match. She probably wondered why I was even talking to him, let alone inviting him to sit at my table. She tilted her head slightly. Red Shorts couldn’t see her because she was still behind him.

I raised my eyebrow and shook my head slightly. She’s known me for a long time and knows I’m a
detective, so I took a shot and hoped she’d understand my gesture.

I could almost see her adding up the facts—Nancy’s left the race, Nancy’s talking to this weird guy, Nancy must be on a case. I knew she’d gotten the message when she smiled and spoke up.

“Good idea,” she said, putting Red Shorts’s sandwich and coffee in front of an empty chair at my table, and then handing me my muffin and latte. “Enjoy.”

She left quickly to go back to the kitchen, her straight hair flipping from side to side. Red Shorts paused for a minute, then pulled out the chair and sat down.

“My name’s Nancy,” I said, holding out my hand. I decided not to tell him my last name. I’d never seen him before this morning, but I’m often surprised to learn that people who’ve never met me have still heard of me.

“Jasper,” he responded.

He held out a thin, long-fingered, grubby hand. He barely clasped mine, then took his hand back and wiped it on his napkin. I wished he’d done that before he touched me. His hand felt oily, sort of slimy.

“Is that your first name or your last?” I asked. I couldn’t tell and didn’t know whether to call him “Mr. Jasper” or not.

“Just Jasper,” he said, taking a huge slurp of steaming Americano.

He looked out the window again. “So that’s yours, huh? I’m surprised
you’re
not in the race. You could make some real time on that thing. It’s pretty slick.”

“Yeah, well, all the teams were filled by the time I considered it,” I said, sipping my latte and breaking off a piece of my muffin. “What about you? How come you’re not out there?”

He didn’t answer at first, opting to take an enormous bite out of his wrap. “This is really good,” he said. He wasn’t exactly talking to me. He was just announcing it into the air.

He whipped his head around and yelled at Susie. “Fix me another one of these wraps, okay?” he yelled. “Man, I’m hungry.”

“You got it,” Susie called back.

A group of six chattering college-student-types came through the door and took a long table with benches next to the far wall. I didn’t know any of them, and I was relieved about that. I didn’t want anyone recognizing me and asking me about my team in front of Jasper.

“I don’t have a road bike,” Jasper said, finally coming back to my question. “Or any bike, for that matter. This morning I had a mountain bike. But there aren’t
too many mountains around here.” He grinned.

“We’ve got a lot of rough terrain though,” I said. “A mountain bike would be really handy along the river and over some of the hills around River Heights. Do you live here in town?”

“Well, that bike’s not mine anyway,” Jasper said, ignoring my question.

“It isn’t?”

“Nah, it’s my brother’s. I haven’t had a bike since I was a kid. I borrowed the mountain bike from him ’cause I was going to trek downriver for the weekend. Do you like snakes? I do. I was going down to pick some up. Thought I’d start a little business.”

“You must have had to cancel the trip, I guess, or you wouldn’t be here,” I concluded. “So what happened?”

“Eh, my brother needed the bike back. He had to go someplace after the race started and his car broke down. I might get me one of my own though. That bike’s got a real good feel to it. And you’re right, it does great along the river. So much of that land is still so wild.”

“It’s wonderful, isn’t it?” I said. “It’s so cool that the town is keeping it undeveloped. It’s great for hiking and riding.”

“Mmmmmph,” Jasper said, stuffing the rest of his wrap down his throat.

“Okay, I’m taking this one with me,” he told Susie when she delivered his second sandwich. He glugged the rest of his coffee and jumped up from his chair.

I watched closely as he paid for his meal. He used grubby old bills wadded in a small change purse. Then he nodded once at me, grabbed his bag of food from Susie at the counter, and hurried out of the café. He shuffled across the street and out of sight.

I went outside to watch him, although I was pretending to check my bike chain. Crouched behind the spokes, I had a good view. A block away he got into a beat-up tan sedan and quickly drove up Main Street. The car wobbled in the back, as if the shock absorbers were shot.

I stood up. It would do no good to follow him on my bike. Even if I could keep up with him, every time he looked in the rearview mirror, it’d be pretty obvious that I was tailing him. So I went back inside to pay my bill—even though I hadn’t even had a chance to eat my muffin.

“Tell me the truth,” Susie said, her voice low. She looked from side to side while she talked, as if to make sure no one was overhearing our conversation. “You’re on a case, right? Can you tell me about it?”

“Let’s just say I’m looking into some things,” I
answered. “Do you know anything about that guy? Does he live in town?”

“I’ve only seen him a couple of times,” Susie said. “I think he lives somewhere on the river. I try not to listen to my customers’ conversations, but I can’t help hearing sometimes. He was in here once before with someone, and they were planning to go down the river to Rocky Edge and catch snakes.”

“Right—he told me he wants to start a snake business, whatever that means. Yuck.”


Yuck
is definitely the word,” Susie said. “I stopped listening when I heard that.”

Susie handed me my change and I left. I knew I had to call my team. By this time they’d set up camp and were probably eating dinner. I wondered how Bess had done on the last leg of today’s course. I missed being in the race, and I wished I’d been out there streaking through the loopbacks with the others. But there was no question about what my priority should be. All the racing these two days would be for nothing if the stolen pledge money wasn’t recovered.

I also knew that I
had
to talk to Officer Rainey. My encounter with Jasper Red Shorts was inconclusive. His whole attitude and his behavior in Susie’s café had been so casual and laid back. It was hard to believe
that he’d committed a major theft just hours earlier.

I didn’t expect the thief to be out of town yet. Luther made a lot of sense when he compared today’s robbery with the historic one by the Rack-ham Gang. Whoever stole the money would be crazy to try to leave town before dark. And Chief McGinnis reinforced that when he confirmed that there were roadblocks to the main exit routes.

But nighttime is another matter—especially along the water, where there’s no way to cover every inch of the riverbank. Susie said she thought that Jasper lived somewhere on the river. He’d probably know all sorts of inlets and hidden spots along the bank where he could launch a boat and get away with a stolen bag of money.

Officer Rainey could definitely be the key. He would surely remember the only person in the crowd who dared to jump onstage and practically stick his hands in the safe.

There must be some way . . . Mrs. Mahoney! She’s the chairwoman of the Biking for Bucks board of directors, and they hired Officer Rainey. She’d have some idea where I could find him. I also wanted to get her thoughts on why Mr. Holman had been arrested. I’d talk to her first, and then call my team and give them a full update.

I jumped on my bike and headed straight for Mrs. Mahoney’s home. I knew she would see me without an appointment. My father has been her attorney for as long as I can remember—since her husband, Cornelius, was alive. And I have helped her occasionally fend off the con men who have preyed on her since she became a rich widow.

The Mahoney home is in the most elegant area of town, on Bluff Street. Mrs. Mahoney answered the door herself, dressed in navy blue slacks and a creamy white sweater.

“Oh, Nancy, dear, forgive me for greeting you like this,” she said. “Our butler is out of town visiting his sick aunt.”

That was typical of Mrs. Mahoney.
She
apologized to
me
because the butler didn’t open the door for me and she had to. Dad says that she is very up to date in a lot of ways. But in other aspects—such as manners and behavior—she is definitely from a different era.

“Oh dear, Nancy, you’ve heard, haven’t you? What are we going to do? You’ll help, won’t you? How nice to see you, by the way. But aren’t you supposed to be biking?”

She looked at her watch. “Oh, it’s evening, isn’t it? The teams are resting now. But you’re not, are you? You’re trying to find our missing pledge money. I
suppose you’ve heard about Ralph Holman. How lovely of you to work on this case in the middle of your racing.”

In less than two minutes, she had summed up my whole day.

“Yes, I am on the case, Mrs. Mahoney. I’ve already talked to Chief McGinnis and some other possible witnesses. But I’m trying to find a source who might be able to open up the case a bit more, and I’m coming up dry. I came here because I know you can help me.”

“Of course, Nancy. Anything I can do, of course. What is it? What do you need?”

“I need to talk to the security man you hired to supplement the bank’s security force and watch the pledge money. His name is Officer Rainey. He’s from a private firm, but I don’t know which one. If you can tell me that, I can track him down. I really think he’s key to the investigation, and I’m eager to interview him. Can you give me the name of his firm?”

“I can do better than that, my dear. I can give you Officer Rainey himself. He’s in the conservatory right now.”

11
 
My Midnight Sprint
 

 

Here?” I said. “Officer
Rainey is here?” I couldn’t believe my ears. Sometimes a detective digs and probes and studies and researches. And sometimes she just lucks out.

“Yes,” Mrs. Mahoney said with a warm smile. “He is giving me his report about the theft and how it happened. Come join us for tea. Three heads are better than two.”

She led me to one of my favorite rooms in River Heights. No matter what time of the year, this room could transport you to paradise. It was a two-story round room capped with a large dome. All the walls and the dome were made completely of large panes of glass set in copper frames. The copper had weathered
to a rich, pale greenish gray. Most of the glass was very old, with wavy patterns, and even bubbles in it.

“Officer Rainey, you are in for a real treat,” she called out as we entered the room.

She led me through the thousands of blossoming flowers and dozens of tall trees and other potted plants that thrived in the room. We skirted around small tea tables and chairs to the main table in the middle of the room.

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