Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (4 page)

 

 

Ned!” I shouted again.

Nothing. Not a sound.

“Ned? Are you out here?”

My voice sounded hoarse, and I realized I was shaking. I’m not usually unduly afraid—and I’m always happy to rescue people. But it’s a little different when a good friend is in trouble. It’s harder sometimes to keep from being too emotional and losing your focus.

I took a deep breath and cleared my throat. This time my voice was strong and clear. “Ned!” I called out one last time.

I looked around, but there was no one in sight, no buildings, no hiding places. Ned definitely was not out there.

“Let’s go,” I said, racing to my car. “We’re going back to town.”

Again my friends didn’t say a word as they piled into the car and I pulled out onto Shady Road. We all gazed through the windows, lost in our own thoughts. I had a feeling they were as worried as I was.

We were still silent as I drove back to River Heights—the only car on the road in either direction. The last bits of twilight sparked out, and the sky turned dark gray. I strained my eyes, scanning the sides of the road and the landscape around us.

When I first saw the glimmer ahead, I blinked twice to make sure. The steady light grew stronger the closer I got, and at last I let out a cheer. “There he is!” I shouted. “That’s him! I’m sure of it!”

Ahead I saw the rear reflectors of a bike being guided down the road by Ned. I recognized him from a distance immediately, because he was wearing his red windjacket with the fluorescent silver lightning bolt on the back.

I honked the horn, and he turned. When he saw my car he shot his fist in the air and broke into one of those incredible smiles. I skidded to a stop and jumped out of the car. Bess and George followed closely behind.

“It’s always great to see you,” Ned told me, dropping his bike carefully to the grass beside the road.
“But this time it’s especially great. I’ve got really bad news. Someone stole my car. I always park it under—”

“Your car isn’t stolen,” I interrupted. “It’s at Charlie’s.”

“Charlie Adams’s? What’s it doing there?”

“He towed it out of the water earlier,” Bess chimed in.

“Water! Whoa—wait a minute. Start at the beginning.”

I told Ned about Charlie finding his car.


In
the creek?” he asked. “It was actually in the creek? Man, I’m glad Charlie came along when he did.”

“I’m so glad we found out about it,” Bess said. “That’s what prompted Nancy to go out there in the first place.”

“I talked to your dad earlier,” I told Ned. “He’d called Professor Herman and found out that you’d left the university hours earlier, so I was really concerned.”

Ned wrapped his arms around me in a warm hug, and it felt great.

“Where have you been all this time?” George asked Ned.

“Walking,” he answered. He stopped and leaned over, resting his hands on his knees. Then he stretched, arching his spine and throwing his head back. At that
point I noticed the large rip in his pants leg. It ran from his knee down to his ankle. When he moved, you could glimpse a nasty scrape that zigzagged down the side of his leg.

“Don’t tell me you walked from the university!” Bess said.

“Okay,” Ned said, reaching for his bike. “I won’t tell you that,” he said, loading his bike onto the rack on the top of my car, “but that’s exactly what I did.”

“What
did
happen?” I urged. I didn’t want to push him, but I was really eager to find out how his car ended up in the creek.

“I always use my class to get in an extra cycling workout,” he answered, as we all got into the car. Bess and George got in back and Ned rode in the front passenger seat. Bess handed him a water bottle, and he took several big slugs. I pulled out on the road and started the few miles back to River Heights.

“On the way to the university,” Ned continued, “I always pull my car onto the grass under the big sycamore tree and park. Then I bike the ten miles plus into class.”

“Did you do that this afternoon?” George asked.

“I did,” Ned reported. “I double-lock my bike on the rack outside the classroom, and I can see it through the window. When I got out of class I started
cycling back to my car. I had gone only part of the way when I wiped out.” He reached down to check the scrape on his leg.

“Did you hit a rock or something?” Bess asked.

“Nope. My chain busted out, and I went end over end and skidded on my leg.” He twisted around in his seat and flashed Bess a resigned smile. “I could have used your expertise on that chain, Bess,” he said. “And some of those extra links you always have handy.

“Anyway,” he continued, turning back around to look at me. “The worst part was that I’d left my phone in the glove compartment of my car. I was stuck in an isolated area and couldn’t even call for help.”

“So you walked,” I said.

“Yeah, back to where I thought my car was—safely parked under the tree.”

“Only Charlie had already seen it in the creek and towed it in,” I pointed out.

“So you kept walking,” Bess said. “Wow.”

“Until I saw an angel driving her blue hybrid to rescue me.” Ned reached over and squeezed my shoulder.

“I bet you’ll never leave your phone in the glove compartment again,” Bess said.

“Or park on an incline without pulling your emergency brake,” George added.

“But I did,” Ned said, twisting around again. “That’s just it. I
always
use the emergency when I park under that tree.” He frowned as he narrowed his eyes. He thought for a moment, then nodded firmly. “I definitely pulled that brake this afternoon.”

My mind sifted that information into the pot with the rest of Ned’s report. What was the
full
story here, I wondered.

“That’s quite a hike,” George observed, “especially when you’re dragging your bike along with you.”

“I took the shortcut across Fern Meadow,” he said. “That helped a little.”

“That’s why we didn’t see you on our way out to the sycamore,” I realized. Suddenly I remembered something. I reached into my pocket and took out the brass medallion with the Gemini symbol that I’d found under his car seat. “Is this yours?” I asked Ned.

“No,” he answered. “Why?”

“I found it in your car,” I told him. “I was pretty sure it didn’t belong to you. Have you ever seen it before?”

“No,” he answered, shaking his head. He squinted his eyes as if he were trying to remember something.
Then he shook his head again. “No—I really don’t have a clue,” he said. “Maybe it’s some sort of medal or something. I have no idea why it was under my seat though.”

“You’re sure you set the emergency brake,” I reminded him. “So maybe this was dropped by someone who opened your car and
un
set the brake. Someone who released the brake so that your car would roll into the creek.”

“You’re saying that it wasn’t an accident?” George asked.

“I’m saying that’s possible,” I confirmed.

“Deirdre,” George said in a very low whisper. Then she spoke up. “What about the race tomorrow?” she asked Ned. “Are you up for it?”

“Absolutely,” Ned answered. “A long shower, a big meal, and a good night’s sleep, and I’ll be ready to ride.”

“I’m biking the first leg,” George reminded him. “So you’ll get even more rest in the truck tomorrow morning.”

“Excellent,” Ned said. “That’s all I’m going to need.”

“Are you sure?” I asked. “I don’t care as much about the race as I do about you.”

“I’m sure,” he promised. I could tell by the look in his eyes that he meant it. “I’m fine now, and I’m going to be even better tomorrow.”

“How about taking a detour to the hospital emergency room,” I suggested, “and have someone take a look at your leg. You’ve got a really bad scrape.”

“Not necessary,” Ned said. “Really. I’d do it if I thought I needed to.”

“Okay.” I handed him his phone. “You’d better call your dad.”

While he talked to his dad, I went over Ned’s story in my mind. Who would want to put Ned out of commission? And why? Did it have anything to do with the race? Or was it something personal against him?

“I didn’t tell my dad what happened,” Ned said after he hung up. “We’ve got unexpected house-guests—a couple of his old colleagues here from Washington. I’ll wait until they leave, and then give my folks the full story.”

“Maybe by then we’ll have figured out exactly what
did
happen,” I said.

As I pulled back into River Heights, I asked the hardest question. “Ned, is there anyone who would want to harm you for some reason? Have you made any enemies recently?”

“I can’t think of anyone,” he answered.

“Okay, then, we’ll just go with what we’ve got and see what we can figure out,” I assured him. Now if I
could only assure myself, I thought pessimistically, we’d be in business.

I took Ned home first—he was really hungry and needed to get that leg wound cleaned up. And besides, I knew a good hot shower would make him feel a lot better.

When we got to his house, Bess told him to just leave the bike on the rack. “I’ll repair the chain tonight,” she told us, “and make sure the bike is ready for the race.”

“As your team captain, I order you to cram some carbs and get a good night’s sleep,” I told Ned, giving him a kiss. “Bess will pick you up in the morning.”

“Go team,” he called back as he walked inside. He looked tired, but I knew he’d be back in form by the next day.

“So, tell us, Nancy,” Bess said as I backed out of Ned’s driveway. “What do you really think happened? Who did this to Ned? And why?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I answered. “I believe what Ned told us about not having any current enemies.”

“Are you sure he’d tell you if he did?” George asked. “What if it’s someone really nasty, and he’s not telling you so you won’t get involved? What if he’s just trying to protect you?”

George had a point. Ned doesn’t lie, but he sometimes hedges the truth for my sake. This wouldn’t be the first time he had put my welfare before the pursuit of a case. But this time I believed him. Something in my gut told me he was being totally straight with me. I shook my head.

“What about Deirdre?” George said. “She’s not above doing something like this, just to mess with our heads the night before the race.”

“I thought about that when you suggested it,” I said. “And I’m not ruling her out . . . yet.”

I dropped off George next, then drove to Bess’s house. They live a few blocks apart off Vernon Avenue.

Bess and I took Ned’s bike down off the rack. Together we looked at the broken chain. It was easy to see where the broken links had snapped. It was also easy to see that they had been partly filed through before snapping.

Finally I headed home. Hannah Gruen, our housekeeper, had already turned in for the night. When my mother died, Dad hired Hannah to keep house, cook, and baby-sit. But she does much more than that. She’s definitely a valued member of our little family.

I wasted no time getting cleaned up and collapsing
into bed. It had been a long day, and it took me a while to wind down my mind. Two trains of thought whizzed along parallel tracks: What happened to Ned? and Is my team ready for the race?

Without answers to either question, I finally gave up and fell asleep.

The Race Is On?
 

 

Saturday morning’s weather lived
up to the local forecasters’ expectations: It was sunny but not hot, breezy but not blowy, dry, and gorgeous. I called Ned the minute I woke up, and was relieved to hear him say he felt great and ready to ride.

I showered and dressed in my racing gear. Bess had chosen these bright purple biking shorts and jerseys with green stripes for our matching uniforms. Not all the teams went that far, but with Bess on our team, we couldn’t help it.

I packed my sports bag with sunscreen, lip balm, a pocketknife, a miniflashlight, a couple of hair-clips, my cell phone, energy bars, insect repellant, and other odds and ends. Something told me to
grab the Gemini medallion I’d found in Ned’s car, so I dropped it in, too. Then I went downstairs to the kitchen.

Hannah had posted a note on the refrigerator telling me she had already left for downtown. She had volunteered to help cook and serve breakfast for the race organizers. The aroma of her homemade banana bread still floated around the room—and a loaf waited for me on the counter.

Although I wasn’t scheduled to ride until three o’clock, I was still feeling jumpy and excited. So I decided to down a peach protein smoothie and a piece of Hannah’s melt-in-your-mouth bread.

Bess picked me up in the truck she had outfitted for the two-day event. George and Ned were already aboard.

“Hurry up,” Bess called to me. “We don’t want to be late for all the prerace stuff.”

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