Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (6 page)

The starter’s gun cracked, and the six cyclists burst
away from the line. Thad Jensen bolted ahead of the others, his legs pounding away at the pedals. The six trucks shifted into gear and chugged away after the bikers.

The weather was still perfect. It was about sixty-eight degrees. The sun was masked by fluffy white clouds most of the time, and the air was dry with very little humidity.

Much of the course had been roped off for the race, so we rarely had to contend with any other traffic. Bess settled into an easy cruising speed, and we settled back into our seats for the two-hour leg.

“Have you been able to remember anything more about what happened to you yesterday?” I asked Ned. “Any memory flashes about seeing anyone hanging around the bike rack in the university parking lot, for example?”

“I knew you’d be asking me that, Nancy,” Ned said. His arm was resting lightly on my shoulder. We had one of those nice wide trucks, so all three of us could sit up front.

“Last night in bed, I went back over the whole thing in my mind,” Ned continued. “And I struck out completely. The only thing I remember for sure is that I definitely pulled the emergency brake.”

“Bess and I checked your bike chain, and it looks
like some of the links were filed partway through,” I told him. “That plus the car mysteriously rolling into the creek . . . well, it doesn’t look good.”

“Especially when you add in the flat tires this morning,” Bess said.

“Exactly,” I agreed. “We need to be on our guard during this race.”

We all talked some more about who might have sabotaged our cycle tubes that morning. But, again, no one seemed to have actually witnessed any suspicious behavior.

“George is right,” Bess said. “It’s got to be Evan Jensen. It’s something Deirdre would totally be behind, and Evan was missing in action at the time.”

I agreed with her, but didn’t say anything more. We could speculate all we wanted, but without proof, we had nothing.

George cycled in her usual masterful form, and by eleven-thirty she and Thad were neck and neck. They jockeyed back and forth for the lead position, but she pulled ahead in the last few minutes. When all the teams stopped for lunch at noon, my team was about fifty yards ahead.

Ned, Bess, and I tumbled out of the truck and raced over to congratulate George. She was lying on her back on a little grassy slope near a wooded area.

Her bike lay next to her, its spokes still turning slowly.

“You did it!” Bess yelled gleefully, parking herself next to George. “We’re Number One!”

George nodded and leaned up on her elbows. She looked energized, but ready for a break. While she checked over her bike, Ned stretched, and I helped Bess unload the picnic lunch.

Bess had put together the perfect spread for bike racing. Over a lunch of pasta salad, veggie sandwiches, and granola bars, we plotted our race strategy.

Deirdre’s truck was parked about half a football field back down the road from us. We could see the four team members sitting under a large tree in their black-and-blue outfits as they ate. They sprawled on a large blue blanket.

“So Thad gave you a workout,” Ned said, “but you took the lead when it counted.”

“He’s better than he looks,” George said. “You’ll probably have Deirdre for the next leg. But you can handle her. Just don’t give her too much draft. She might know cycling etiquette, but you can be sure she won’t use it. Which means she won’t be courteous enough to switch off and let you draft her for a while. You know she’s a taker, so watch out for her.”

“Thanks,” Ned said, handing George a sandwich.
“I’ll try to hold on to the awesome start you gave us.” He finished eating quickly, then he took his bike out onto the road for a couple of warm-up sprints.

“I wish I had a clue about Evan The Ghost Biker,” I told Bess and George. I took a bite of my sandwich and suddenly saw Deirdre and her cohorts strolling toward us.

The sun was in my eyes, so I couldn’t see their faces all that well at first. Deirdre led the parade of course—and Thad was right behind her.

“Hi, Deirdre,” I said, swallowing a wad of unchewed sprout strings. “Hey, Thad, you gave George a good workout!”

“I’m not Thad,” the young man said.

“This is Evan,” Deirdre said, “Thad’s twin.”

“Twins, huh? So are you as good as your brother?” I asked. I was just making small talk while my mind was working on something else. I visualized the small medallion I had found under the seat of Ned’s car. I didn’t even hear Evan’s answer, because I was thinking up my next query.

“I have a friend who’s really into astrology,” I said, when Evan stopped talking. “She says more twins are born under the sign of Gemini than under any other sign. How about you guys?”

“Yeah, that fits us,” Thad said, walking up to join the rest of his team. “We’re Geminis.”

“I’ve collected a ton of pledges,” Deirdre said, butting in to bring the conversation back to her favorite subject: herself. “My team and I are going to break all the records for this event. We’re not only going to win in record time, but we’re going to set a new high for pledges and money earned.”

“Mr. Holman says all the pledges are higher than ever,” Bess said.

George stood up so she was eye to eye with Deirdre. “Bess
alone
has brought in—”

“Yes, yes, yes, I’m sure you’ve all done very nicely,” Deirdre interrupted. “But no one else has a supporter as generous as my father. He’s agreed to give an extra thousand dollars to the total if we win.”

“And we will,” Malcolm said, strolling up. “By tomorrow I’ll have to rev up the truck just to stay tight with Deirdre. She’ll bring us over the finish line while the rest of you are just hitting the edge of town!”

“Deirdre, you’re going to be the sprinter?” George said. “Amazing.” She plunked back down on the grass.

“I am,” Deirdre said. “I’ve been working with a personal trainer for six months. Nancy, it looks
like you’ll have some real competition at the finish.”

As usual, she didn’t wait for a response before walking away. I didn’t dare look at the rest of my team. I was using every ounce of willpower I had to keep from whooping with laughter. And I knew that if I looked at Bess and George, I’d see the same tortured expressions on their faces.

Finally I heard Bess giggle into her napkin, and we all lost it.

“Deirdre—the sprinter!” George said, getting up and starting to pace. “There’s no way.”

“I don’t care how good the Jensens are,” Bess said. “They are
not
going to beat us.”

“Speaking of the Jensens,” I said, “did either of you find the fact that they’re twins interesting?”

“What do you mean?” Bess asked. “Wait a minute—they’re twins!”

“And?” George asked. She stopped pacing.

“Gemini!” Bess exclaimed.

“Remember the medallion I found under Ned’s car seat?” I reminded George.

“Proof!” George said.

“If we can connect one of the Jensens to that medallion, then yes, that could be evidence that one of them was in Ned’s car,” I agreed. “But our first priority is this race. Let’s stay focused on that for
now. The best thing we can do to show Deirdre’s team what we think about their attempts to keep us out of the running—”

“Is to beat them to the finish line!” Bess declared.

“Looks like Mr. Shannon made a safe bet,” George added, gathering up some of the leftover food. “His extra thousand dollars is going nowhere.”

We had thirteen minutes to get the picnic site cleaned up and get ourselves back on the road. It was crucial that we not waste any time that was legally designated for cycling.

We helped Ned get his bike ready, and he took his place on the edge of the road. While we finished packing the truck, we watched Evan Jensen take his place on the road behind us.

Finally George, Bess, and I piled into the truck. George stretched out on the backseat for a catnap, and Bess and I had the whole wide front seat to ourselves.

“Let’s move,” I said. “I’d like to get our rig on the road before Deirdre’s truck.”

“I hear you,” Bess said, turning the ignition.

There was nothing but the click of the key in the slot.

I watched as she turned the key again. Nothing.

“Hey, what’s happening up there?” George
mumbled drowsily from the back. “Let’s hit the road.”

“It’s no good,” Bess said, taking the key out of the ignition slot. She slumped back in her seat. “It’s not going to start.”

Charlie’s Got a Secret
 

 

What’s wrong, Bess?” I
asked.

“Something serious,” Bess answered, as she hopped down out of the truck.

She hurried to the front and lifted the truck hood. George and I joined her. I peered inside, although I wouldn’t know what was wrong from just looking in there. Bess was definitely the mechanic on this team.

“I was right,” Bess said immediately. “The distributor cap is missing.”

Bess is amazing when it comes to cars—or anything mechanical, for that matter. She might look like someone who wouldn’t know a distributor cap from a hubcap. But she does. If she says the distributor cap is missing, you can bet that’s exactly the problem.

“Not the kind of thing you have spares of on hand, I’ll bet,” I said. I pulled out my cell phone and pushed the fifth button. Everyone laughs when they discover that I have Charlie Adams on speed dial. But it has always been a good idea. And today it was a
great
idea.

“We were lucky,” I told the others. “Charlie was in the garage. He’ll be here right away.” I checked my watch. “Okay, it’s thirty seconds to one o’clock. It’s time to count down for Ned. Don’t tell him about the truck.”

“Shouldn’t he know what’s going on?” Bess asked.

“No. It’s not necessary right now,” I answered. “Not when he’s about to kick off his leg of the race. His focus needs to be totally on outcycling Evan Jensen. I don’t want to distract him from that.”

“There’s nothing he can do about a missing distributor cap anyway,” George added.

“Exactly,” I agreed. “If Charlie gets here pretty quickly, we can get on the road right away, and Ned won’t even notice that we had any trouble. If we get stuck out here longer, we can call him later and tell him.”

We ran to the edge of the road where Ned sat on his bike, keeping his balance by leaning down on his left foot.

“Nineteen . . . eighteen . . . seventeen . . . ,” I called out, watching the second hand on my watch.

My temples throbbed as I watched him lean down over the handlebars. Suddenly something occurred to me. Was the stolen distributor cap a prank played by Deirdre’s team? If they could do that right under our eyes, could they have done something to Ned’s bike, too?

And what about his broken chain the day before, and his car in the creek? Prank or crime? Dirty trick or assault? If they could get away with that, what else could they think up?

“Ten . . . nine . . . eight . . .”

I shook off any concern I had. He’d just checked out his bike from top to bottom—it was good to go. And Bess had even given her stamp of approval. That’s all anyone needed. As if he were reading my mind, Ned flashed me a winning grin and a thumbs up.

“Three . . . two . . . one.”

He kicked off and cycled away without a backward look. Bess, George, and I stepped out into the road and sent him off with an exhilarating cheer.

We heard an echoing cheer behind us. I turned around just in time to see Evan Jensen barreling up the road. I pushed Bess and George onto the grass and leaped after them. Fifty yards back, Deirdre, Malcolm,
and Thad were still cheering as they ran to their truck.

“That jerk didn’t even swerve to miss us!” George said.

With a roar Deirdre’s truck peeled by. Deirdre, Malcolm, and Thad laughed and waved as they raced by.

“They know our truck won’t start,” George grumbled. “Because
they
sabotaged it!”

“It’s going to take Charlie at least fifteen minutes to get here,” I said. “I can’t stand to just sit and wait. I’m going to check over my bike.”

“Good idea,” George said. “If they could mess with the truck, they could get to the bikes—which they already did this morning, actually.” She lay back on the grass and looked at the cloudy sky. “I can’t wait until tomorrow morning,” she muttered. “I’m going to grind that Thad Jensen into the road!”

I got my bike off the rack and began going over every inch of it to make sure it was as ready as I was to take on Deirdre’s team.

“Bess, why don’t you call race headquarters and tell them what’s happened,” I suggested. “When they check our GPS, they’ll wonder why we’re sitting here.”

Bess punched the number into her cell phone and started talking almost immediately.

“And tell them we’ll be using the shortcut to catch up with Ned,” I added.

Bess nodded at me as she spoke into the phone. When she was finished, she flipped it shut and reported the conversation.

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