Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (5 page)

I jumped into the backseat, and we sped away.

“So are we excited or what?” George asked everyone. “I am
so
ready to start this race! We’re going to leave Deirdre and her team coughing in our dust.”

“I’m ready,” Ned said.

“Me too,” I chimed in.

Soon we were driving into the parking lot at the bank downtown. The starting line for the race was at
Main Street and Highland Boulevard, right in front of the bank, on one of the busiest corners in town. All the streets in the area had been roped off for the race. Temporary bleachers had been erected on the sidewalks for supporters and fans, and a small stage constructed near the starting line.

Red and gold banners billowed out from all the streetlights, and the storefront windows of all the downtown businesses and shops had handmade posters cheering on their favorite teams. Members of the high school pep band had staked out a spot in the minipark across from the bank, and the air was full of rousing music.

George, Ned, and I unloaded our bikes in the parking lot and did a few warm-ups. I hate racing in brand-new clothes, so I’d worn my new gear for a couple of ten-mile rides earlier in the week. When I warmed up with a few stretches Saturday morning, my new shorts and jersey felt perfectly broken in.

“Uh-oh, there she is,” Bess said. We all looked up as she alerted us. Deirdre was gliding across the parking lot, followed by a couple of guys.

“Looks like her team got matching uniforms too,” Ned noted. “Black with blue stripes.”

“Mmmm,” George said, “black and blue. Sounds
like and omen to me—like maybe DeeDee will crash her hotshot new bike as much as she always crashed the old one.”

“Okay, racers, can you gather over here for a minute, please?” Ralph Holman’s voice boomed across the parking lot. He was better at speaking through the bullhorn than he’d been at the microphone during the CarboCram the night before. “Just leave your bikes and come in closer,” he urged us.

Mr. Holman was standing on the small temporary stage. Next to him stood an impressive, old-fashioned safe. It was black cast iron with shiny brass curlicues and leaf figures in all the corners. A man in a gray uniform stood on the other side of the safe.

All the bikers and the supporters and fans who were there to see the start of the race jostled one another to get a better view of the little stage. I looked around at the other bikers, mostly to check out the competition. I knew most of them, but a few I’d never seen before.

Two of the guys Deirdre had pressed into service were clustered with her, but one had drifted off somewhere. I recognized Malcolm, their truck driver, from school. He was very tall with long brown hair pulled into a ponytail at the back of his
neck. I’d never met the other one, but he must have been one of the Jensen brothers. His hair was sun-bleached almost white—at least I assumed it was from the sun.

There were a few people I didn’t know at the edge of the crowd who were dressed in racing gear. One of them seemed totally out of place, because he was leaning against a tree and holding on to a bike with fat knobby tires, cantilever brakes on a straight handlebar, and three chain rings. I figured that he couldn’t possibly have seen the race route because he had a mountain bike, not a road racer!

“As I’m sure you know, the pledges and donations for this year’s Biking for Bucks have already set a record.” Mr. Holman’s voice pulled my attention back to the stage. “We thought you’d like to see what you’re racing for.”

Mr. Holman reached over and twirled a long bar that was connected to the center of the antique safe door. The crowd got really quiet. The safe door clicked open slightly. Dramatically he pulled the door open the rest of the way. Everyone gasped. The safe had stacks of money in it—a
lot
of money.

“All the money that you see here has been pledged to the Open Your Heart Fund,” Mr. Holman said. “And best of all, it’s been pledged in
your
names.”
He swept his arm around in front of him, almost as if he were bowing to us.

“Congratulations for everything you’ve done so far for this wonderful cause,” he said, “and for everything you’re about to do.”

His words made me feel really good. My team came in for a group hug; then we threw our arms up in the air with a cheer.

I led my team through the crowd so we could wish the other five teams a good race. Some of them were kind of scattered around, so we didn’t actually get to talk to all of the other competitors.

Deirdre walked up with her team. I recognized one of the guys immediately.

“You’re Malcolm Price, right?” I said to her driver. “I’m Nancy Drew.”

“I remember you from school,” Malcolm said. “This is Thad Jensen.”

“That’s right,” Deirdre said. “You all don’t know the Jensen brothers, do you? They’re practically cycling professionals. They’ve won a lot of competitions—all just a warm-up to this race, of course.”

Without another word Deirdre turned and walked away. Malcolm and Thad smiled and nodded, but then turned on their heels and trotted off after their queen.

“You don’t suppose she’s brought in a ringer, do you?” Bess asked. “I mean a real pro—someone we have to worry about.”

“So what if she did?” George said. “We can take him. Today we can take anybody!” She put her arm around Bess’s shoulder and gave her a good squeeze. “You just keep the truck running. We’ll do the rest.”

“Did any of you see the man in the red biking shorts?” I asked. “He had a mountain bike and was hanging way back from the crowd, leaning on a tree by the bank.”

“I did,” Ned said. “Someone should tell him that this is a road race. He’s going to have a real handicap against the faster road bikes. There’s no real trail-riding in this race.”

“I wonder if his whole team is on mountain bikes,” George said.

I looked over at the tree where the man in the red shorts had been leaning. His bike was still there, but he was walking toward the stage. Mr. Holman had stepped down into the crowd and was talking to some of the supporters.

Something about that mountain biker bothered me. This guy just didn’t seem to fit the picture of an entrant in a charity road race. He also seemed to be a
loner with no one hanging with him. So where was the rest of his team?

I watched him pace around the stage for a few minutes. Mr. Holman had moved farther away, meeting and greeting the crowd. The security officer was still onstage, but he was looking over to the side and didn’t seem to notice the man in the red shorts circling the area.

While I watched, Red Shorts bounded gracefully up onto the stage and walked right over to the safe. He crouched down in front of the open door, as if he wanted to get a closer look at all the money inside.

I wandered over to get a better view of the action, and I reached the stage just in time to see the security officer in the gray uniform hustle Red Shorts back away from the safe with a friendly smile. Red Shorts jumped backward off the stage without a word and bumped into me as he hurried off. I turned and watched him grab his mountain bike and rush it to the parking lot.

“You too, miss,” I heard from behind me. “It’s time to get ready for the race. I’m closing up the safe now.”

I turned back to the stage and realized the officer was talking to me. “Uh, yes, you’re right, Officer . . .
um . . . Rainey,” I said, reading his name tag. “You’ve got quite a job there, protecting all that cash.”

Officer Rainey smiled warmly and gave me a brisk professional nod.

“Well, hello there,” Mr. Holman greeted me when he stepped back onto the stage. “You’re Carson Drew’s daughter, aren’t you? It’s Nancy, right?”

“That’s right,” I replied.

“I see you’re one of our cyclists today,” Mr. Holman said, slamming the door shut. “Good luck to you! Better get yourself ready.”

As Mr. Holman spoke I watched Red Shorts move through my peripheral vision and then vanish.

I glanced over to the starting line. What I saw shocked me back into reality. Most of the starting riders on the other teams had already pulled their bikes into position. I checked my watch. I’d been so distracted by Red Shorts that I’d missed the call to report. The race would start in twelve minutes.

When I looked back at the stage, Officer Rainey and Mr. Holman were wheeling away the safe on a large dolly. I sprinted back to the parking lot.

“Where’s George?” I mumbled to myself. She wasn’t at the starting line. In fact I didn’t see any of my team anywhere near the line, and the starter was getting his pistol ready.

I found my team still in the parking lot. Everyone was hard at work, unloading spare tubes and tire irons from the truck.

“It was Deirdre, I know it,” George snarled as I ran up. “All the tires are flat!”

Ready, Set . . . Stop!
 

 

Just strip out the
tube in the back wheel,” Bess ordered. “We’ve got to get you on the road, George.”


Both
of George’s tires are flat?” I asked, using one of the frame pumps to partially inflate the spare tube.

“Yeah,” Ned said with a nod. “And the tires on all the other bikes are too. But you know Bess—she’s got plenty of spares.”

“Stop talking and pump,” Bess said. “We’ve got to get her out there! We’ll worry about the other tires later.”

“Evan Jensen was missing from the whole safe presentation, Nancy,” George said. “He’s probably the one who deflated the tires. But we know Deirdre’s
behind
it. We’ve got to do something about it.”

“We don’t
really
know that, George,” I reminded her. “At this point we have only suspicion, and no proof. Sure I think her team is out to get us. She’s always out to get us! But for now we can only stay alert, and see what she might have planned next. And
your
whole focus should be on your ride.”

George was really angry—and that was a mixed blessing. A certain amount of heat against Deirdre’s team would make her even more fiercely competitive. But I didn’t want her to be
so
angry that she’d be distracted from the real goal: bringing home the pledges for the Open Your Heart Fund.

“Just take care of business this morning,” Ned told George. “And don’t waste your energy thinking about making Deirdre pay.”

“Right,” I agreed. “She’ll make a mistake eventually. She always does. And we’ll catch her then. Just be on guard.”

With Bess as chief mechanic, we were back in business in six minutes. Bess, Ned, and I helped remount the panniers—the cycle saddlebags—on the rack over George’s rear wheel. Then the three of us accompanied George as she walked her bike to the starting line.

“Let’s go over it one more time,” I suggested as we waited. “This is a relay race, so we’ll each take one
shift today and one tomorrow. George bikes from ten until noon today. Bess, Ned, and I will be behind you in the truck, George. If you need anything, let us know.” I checked her cell phone in its plastic case, which she’d mounted behind her seat.

George flipped on her bike’s computer—the same one she had rigged on all our handlebars. Instantly a map of the race course popped onto the screen.

“You’re a genius,” Ned said, grinning.

“Looks like I have everything I’ll need for two hours,” she said.

“Well, we’re on standby for anything,” Bess told her cousin.

“Okay,” I continued. “Precisely at noon we will signal you to stop. Remember we’ve got a GPS on board, so we have to be exact on the times. We’ll have one hour to eat.”

“I’ve got the meals all packed, and they’re yummy,” Bess promised.

“Ned, you’ll take the second shift from one until three. Then I’ll ride from three to five. We stop exactly at five for the night. I’ll do my best to get us to a cool campsite,” I added with a grin. “Remember, today’s the hard day—tomorrow we each bike only an hour, and the race will be over around noon.”

I looked at a map of the race course. It took us
along a set of roads in and around River Heights and some of the neighboring towns. “Maybe we can camp along Swain Lake,” I suggested.

“Excellent,” Ned said, looking at his map. “We should be able to make that.”

“Okay, everyone, let’s ride,” I said. “George, I know you’ll give us a great start.” We sent her off with a cheer and she took her place with the other five riders at the starting line.

“Deirdre’s sending Thad out first,” Bess noted, as Ned and I joined her in the truck.

“I still haven’t even seen his brother—the elusive Evan Jensen,” I pointed out.

“Deirdre’s team truck is ready to roll,” Ned said, “so he must be inside already. I wonder who she scheduled to ride next.”

“She’s not really a sprinter,” I answered, “so she’s probably going to be up against you. Then Evan will be sprinting the last two hours each day.”

“You can take him, Nancy,” Bess said. “You’re the best. Come on—let’s get in the truck. We can see the start from there.”

I’m pretty good on a bike, but I knew I’d feel more confident about my ability to do well in this race when I actually saw my competition.

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