Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (2 page)

Okay, I’m getting a little ahead of myself. I do that
when I get excited. I’m going to back up and start where the problems did—at the beginning.

I live in River Heights. It’s a small Midwestern town on the Muskoka River. At first it looks like one of those sleepy burgs where everyone lies around on porch swings in the summertime, drinking lemonade and patting dogs. But it’s really a cool town, packed with lots of interesting people.

Every year Biking for Bucks raises a lot of money for the Open Your Heart Fund, which helps residents who are having trouble making ends meet. Everyone in town gets involved in some way, and it’s become a major two-day festival.

This year my team is made up of my two best friends—Bess Marvin and George Fayne—and my boyfriend, Ned Nickerson.

The evening before the race, my team joined the other five teams at the CarboCram in the convention center downtown.

I wore my good-luck sweater. It was
sky blue, one of my favorite colors. Bess helped me pick it out years ago. She said it matched my eyes and looked good with my hair, which is that unusual color some people call strawberry blond. I don’t give much thought to things like this, but Bess does. I like that sweater because it’s like a favorite pair of
jeans—the more you wear it, the softer it gets. Style’s okay, of course, but give me comfort every time.

Anyway, through the years I’ve worn that sweater before several competitions I’ve been in, and it’s always seemed to bring me good luck. So in the name of tradition—or superstition—I wore it that evening to the CarboCram. Even though it was a little worn out and faded.

We didn’t come just for the pasta, vegetables, and fruit. We were also getting the info pack, turning in our pledges and money, and checking out the competition.

All the teams had asked friends, family, neighbors, and even strangers to pledge money to support their efforts in the race. Supporters pledged to donate money for every mile the team completed and to give extra money if the team came in first, second, or third.

I arrived with Bess and George and we were sitting at a long table, eating spaghetti. Ned was late.

“I collected hundreds of dollars more this year than I did last year,” Bess told us, showing George and me the contents of her envelope.

It’s pretty easy for Bess to gather pledges. She has wavy blond hair, big blue eyes with superlong lashes, perfect teeth, and a perfect nose. She’s one of those
natural beauties who make some people jealous—except she’s so nice and so
that nearly everyone ends up crazy about her. And those who aren’t just don’t know her well enough yet.

“From what I’ve heard,” George said, “everyone’s been pretty generous this year. Biking for Bucks should set a new record for fund-raising.”

George’s name is really Georgia, but she likes her nickname much better. She and Bess are cousins, but you’d never guess by looking at them. They have hardly anything in common—except me, of course. George has dark brown hair and eyes and is a lot taller and leaner than Bess. George is the athlete, Bess is the fan. That’s why George would be our lead-out rider in the race, and Bess would be driving the support truck.

“Where’s Ned?” Bess asked, checking her watch. “Still hanging out at school, right?”

“He had a special seminar at the university,” I told her, “but he said he’d be here by now. He’ll show up eventually. He wouldn’t turn down free pasta.”

“Are you sure?” George said. “It sounds crazy, but sometimes I think he’d rather read than eat! It seems like once he gets lost in a book, he’s off in another world.”

George was right, and I was actually a little annoyed
with Ned. I reminded him twice to be sure and get back from the university in time for the CarboCram. I thought it was important that all the members of our team get together the night before the race and go over our strategy one last time.

“Did I tell you my whole family is coming for the race start tomorrow morning?” Bess asked. “What about your dad? Will he be home in time?”

“Not for the start,” I answered. “He won’t get back to town until tomorrow night. He’ll be there for the finish, of course.”

My dad is Carson Drew, the best attorney in River Heights—no question. My mom died when I was three years old, and that’s been hard to deal with sometimes. But Dad has always been there for me, and I can totally count on him. He’d been at the state capital for the week before the race, working on a big case. But he said he’d be back to see me roll across the finish line, so I knew he’d be there.

“Is the truck packed?” George asked Bess as she wound a big bite of pasta around her fork.

“Totally,” Bess answered, sipping her juice. “I’ve got complete camping equipment for all of us—food, bike maintenance and repair stuff, everything we’ll need. George, I even packed your spare bike and a couple of extra pairs of biking shorts and jerseys in
our colors. It won’t hurt to have backups on hand, just in case.”

“I’m so hyped about the GPS,” George said, as she read the race fact sheet. “I love that tracking system. And it says here the race organizers lock them on so they can’t be removed or switched around until the end of the race. And they can’t be altered. A friend showed one to me—even
can’t break into this thing—so far, anyway.”

George is our resident electronic genius. She’s not only a computer geek and an ace at getting me information through the Internet, she’s also an expert at rigging electronic equipment into the most incredibly handy tools.

“The GPS is to make sure each team follows the rules, right?” Bess asked.

“Absolutely,” I replied. “Each team has to ride the same course. And everyone has to stop, eat, and camp overnight at the same time. The GPS guarantees that no one cheats.”

“Speaking of cheats,” George muttered, “prime example at ten o’clock.”

“Well, look who’s here—the famous Nancy Drew!”

I didn’t need to glance up to know who was talking. I’ve heard that same whiny voice since the first grade.

“Deirdre,” I said, finally looking up. “I saw your name on the list. Who’s on your team?”

“Evan and Thad Jensen,” Deirdre answered. “Malcolm Price is driving our truck.” I recognized the names, but didn’t really know any of them. It was typical of her to surround herself with a team of guys.

“Looks like your team is short one rider,” she added. She glanced around at Bess, George, and me without making any real eye contact. “Where’s Ned?” she continued. “Shouldn’t he be here with the rest of you? Don’t tell me he stood you up! Doesn’t he have class this afternoon? Maybe he got stuck at the university.”

Deirdre is one of those girls who’s really hard to like because she seems to go out of her way to be as obnoxious as possible. She’s very striking in a Cruella kind of way—black hair, green eyes, really pale skin. But she’s self-centered to the extreme. She seems to think the world revolves around her—or at least that it

I ignored her crack about Ned. She’s always had her eye on him, and everyone knows it. But frankly, I don’t see her as any real competition in that department. It’s like my dad says: “The Drews can always take the Shannons.”

Deirdre’s father is also a big-time attorney, but when he and my dad meet as opponents in court, my dad usually wins. I intend to continue that family reputation.

“Ned’s fine,” I told Deirdre. “But it was kind of you to ask.” I flashed her my sweetest smile. I’ve learned that the best way to deal with her is to keep her off balance. And the best way to do that is to not do what she expects me to do. Smiling is the
response when she’s trying to get to me.

“Dad bought me the greatest new bike for the race,” Deirdre said. I always know I’ve won a round with her if she changes the subject abruptly.

“Really?” I said, still smiling.

“It’s got everything,” she rattled on. “It’s Italian—made of the same alloy they use in fighter jets. Custom-made frame, forty-five gears, unified pedal/shoe cleats, gel saddle, aero bars, titanium spokes. Five thousand dollars plus.”

“Sounds great, DeeDee,” George said, standing up. “See you at the finish line—we’ll be waiting there for you.” She left the table and headed back to the food line.

Deirdre’s white cheeks flushed little spots of pink for a minute or two when George used her grade-school nickname.

“Yeah? Well, we’ll see who gets there first,
” Deirdre’s comeback was pretty lame, but I knew she’d gotten to George, since George hated to be called by her full name.

“You’re surely not riding a bike, Bess,” Deirdre said, turning her forked tongue on a new prey. “You must be the truck—”

Bweep . . . Bwirrrr.
The irritating sound of microphone feedback interrupted the irritating sound of Deirdre’s voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen . . . ladies and gentlemen . . . if you’ll take your seats, please.”

One of the race organizers, Ralph Holman, spoke from the large stage in the corner of the room. Deirdre sidled away and rejoined her team at a table up front.

“It’s great to see you all,” Mr. Holman said. “We have scheduled the weather to be perfect tomorrow and Sunday, so let’s have a great time and break a few records. As you know, this race is sponsored by the Mahoney Foundation and benefits the Open Your Heart Fund, and its grand trophy is donated by Mrs. Cornelius Mahoney.”

A large cheer rang out and most of us stood up to show our respect for Mrs. Mahoney. Her husband was the only descendant of Ethan Mahoney, an original
settler here in the nineteenth century. When Ethan recognized that he was sitting on top of a huge lode of iron ore, he founded Mahoney Anvil Corporation. That was a stroke of genius. Now, a century later, Mrs. Mahoney controls the Mahoney Foundation, which is worth billions of dollars.

We stopped clapping and cheering and sat down again, just as George returned with another plate piled high with food. “Ned isn’t here yet?” she whispered, looking around the room. “Do you suppose you should try to check in with him?”

She’d read my mind. I already had my hand on my cell phone and was pushing his speed-dial number. I wasn’t annoyed anymore—I was concerned. Ned can sometimes get distracted, but he would
intentionally miss anything this important. Not without letting me know.

His phone rang a long time before I was transferred to his voice mail. “Hey, Ned,” I spoke softly into the phone, “we’re all cramming carbs and we miss you. Give me a call on my cell phone, okay?”

I switched the phone from ring to vibrate, and held it tightly as Mrs. Mahoney took the microphone.

“Hello, everyone,” she said. Her voice sounded reedy, but proud. Her hair is always smooth and shiny, and even when she’s dressed simply in a blazer
and slacks, like she was that evening, she always looks like she stepped out of a fashion magazine.

“Thank you for participating in this weekend’s exciting race,” Mrs. Mahoney continued. “Your dedication to this wonderful cause warms my heart, and certainly would have pleased my dear husband very much.”

Mrs. Mahoney was a little blinded by love when she referred to Cornelius Mahoney as “dear.” According to everyone who knew him—including my father—he was anything but dear. Most remember her husband as a pretty nasty guy, and he was probably a crook and securities manipulator. Mrs. Mahoney always refers to him as a generous man, however. And, since people like her a lot more than they disliked Cornelius, no one questions her memories.

I was listening to her, but just barely. My real concentration was on the cell phone in my hand. I couldn’t shake this uneasy feeling I was getting about Ned.

“Remember,” Mrs. Mahoney said, “you’re not only competing for this.” With a grand gesture she swept her arm toward the pedestal beside her. Balanced securely on top was a large statue of an anvil that had been painted gold. “Winning the anvil is a great honor, of course,” Mrs. Mahoney continued, “but the
real privilege is being able to do something for those less fortunate than we are. Thank you especially for joining the race to help others.”

During the second round of cheers I felt my phone vibrate. My heart seemed to stop for a moment and then it began racing. I gestured to Bess and George that I was leaving the table, and went into the hall so I could hear.

“Hi,” I answered the phone, my heart still pounding. “I’m so glad you finally called.”

“Hi, Nancy. It’s James Nickerson.” The low voice of Ned’s father rumbled through the receiver.

I was sure it was going to be his son. My mind raced with questions about Ned and his whereabouts. I was so preoccupied with my own thoughts, actually, that it took me a minute to bring my attention back to the voice in my ear.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Nickerson,” I said. “What did you say?”

“I said I know you’re at an event, so I won’t keep you,” Mr. Nickerson repeated. “Can I speak to Ned? His phone isn’t on.”

“Ned isn’t here,” I told him. “In fact, I just left him a message myself a few minutes ago. He must still be at the university.”

“No, he’s not. That’s why I’m calling you there.”
I could hear the irritation in Mr. Nickerson’s voice. “I just talked to Professor Herman. He said Ned left at the end of class a couple of hours ago. Look, just have him give me a call when he gets there, okay?”

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