Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (7 page)

“Everything’s okay,” she said. “I told the woman Charlie is on his way, and that we’ll be back on the road as soon as possible. She said there’s no need to check back in when we get going—they’ll pick it up on the GPS. She also said it will be okay to take shortcuts with the truck in order to catch up to Ned.”

“Okay, I have just one little question,” George said, with a sly grin. “Which member of Deirdre’s team stole our distributor cap? We certainly had it when we parked here. So the theft
had
to have happened sometime while we were here. And there was only one set of visitors—Deirdre and her gang.”


Gang
is definitely the right word,” I groused. “And I didn’t see anyone else around the truck—or even this area.”

“But Deirdre’s team was with us the whole time,” Bess said. “They walked up, we talked to them, and they left.”

“Except for one member,” I said. I went back over our postlunch encounter with the other team. “Deirdre
and the twins walked up by themselves. Malcolm wasn’t with them then.”

“You’re right, Nancy!” Bess said. “Malcolm’s their driver. I remember now. I noticed he wasn’t with them, and I figured he must have been checking out their truck.”

“Looks like he was checking out
our
truck instead,” George said.

“We don’t really know that for sure,” Bess said.

“Well, it’s a pretty good guess,” George said. “We’re the only two teams camped out here. I’m really getting steamed about all these pranks.” George began pacing again. She looked like she was going to explode with anger.

“I agree that they’re pretty close to crossing the line,” I told her. “In fact I think they crossed it when they rolled Ned’s car into the creek—which I figure they probably did. But unless we can find Malcolm’s fingerprints all over the hood of our truck, we’re not going to be able to tie him conclusively to the stolen cap. And I have a feeling he’s too smart to leave his prints behind.”

“But now a bunch of different things have happened,” Bess pointed out. “Doesn’t that help us make a case against them? If we add up all these different incidents, isn’t that enough suspicious behavior to at
least have the police question them about it?”

“It
does
make a difference,” I agreed. “And when the race is over, we should definitely consider doing something official about all these dirty tricks. But for now let’s put the Open Your Heart Fund first.”

“Done,” George and Bess pledged simultaneously.

We all clasped right hands and pumped them into the air. Our mission was clear.

I went back to fine-tuning my bike. Bess continued checking the backup cycle, and George finished collecting the lunch trash.

Charlie Adams rolled up with his road-service truck just as I was finishing my cycle check. He was always a welcome sight. He waved to us all as he drove off the road and over to our truck.

“Hey, Nancy. So, you’re having some trouble, huh?” he asked with a warm smile.

“I’m sure glad you can help us out, Charlie,” I said. “We really need to catch up with Ned as soon as possible. I don’t like having him so far ahead of us. You brought us a new distributor cap that’s guaranteed to help us win the Biking for Bucks, I bet.”

“Well, now, I don’t know about that,” he said. “But I brought several, just in case. We’ll find one that works—I can promise you that.”

Charlie and Bess went to the front of the truck. George and I walked my bike to the back and secured it on the rack. Then I walked around to rejoin Charlie and Bess—and to pick Charlie’s brain. George followed my lead.

Bess was trying to fit a cap on the distributor, but it didn’t seem to be the right size. Charlie held two more caps in his hand. When he saw me coming, he ducked his head under the hood as if to escape.

“So what’s the latest word on the race, Charlie?” I asked. “I’m sure you’ve heard about everything that’s been going on. Anything happening I should know about?”

He pulled his head out and looked at me, and then he quickly looked away. He rolled his eyes around and looked over at George, and then down at the ground. He seemed to be nervous and uncomfortable.

“Well, yes, there
is
something—but I really can’t say,” he answered. He kept looking at the ground.

Bess popped out from under the hood. “This one doesn’t fit,” she announced. “Let me have the others.”

Charlie handed her the other two caps. He gave me a weak smile, then turned away to watch Bess.

“Everyone’s talking about our team being Number One, I’ll bet,” George said.

“Mmmm-hmmm,” Charlie mumbled.

“Charlie,” I said in my softest, most unthreatening voice. “What is it that you can’t tell us?”

“I can’t do it this time, Nancy,” Charlie said. “This is really big—the guy that told me made me swear not to say anything.” His voice echoed slightly, because he wouldn’t take his head out from under the truck hood.

“But, Charlie, you know I won’t tell anyone,” I nudged. “There’s nothing more sacred than the bond of confidentiality between a detective and her informant. I wouldn’t dare let anyone know you’d entrusted me with confidential information. Besides I’ve never betrayed your trust before—and I’m certainly not going to start now.”

“What about
them
?” Charlie said. He was obviously referring to Bess and George, but acted as if they weren’t even there.

“They’re not only part of my cycling team,” I told him, “they’re also trusted members of my detecting team. They are just as obligated as I am to keep your confidence.”

“Well, okay,” he said in a low voice. “But this is big, Nancy, really big. The guy that told me is in the know and everything.”

I wanted to reach down into his throat with both hands and pull the words out. But I forced myself to
stay calm. Sometimes getting Charlie to tell me something is like trying to get a cat out from under the bed for a trip to the vet.

“It’s okay,” I said in a low voice. “What happened?”

I held my breath so long waiting for Charlie’s answer, I could feel a warm flush in my cheeks.

“It’s the money,” Charlie finally said. “The Biking for Bucks pledges.” He shook his head, and his eyes widened into almost perfect circles.

“What about the money?” I prompted, although I had a feeling that I knew what he was going to say.

“It’s gone,” he said. “It’s all gone.”

Shifting My Gears
 

 

Gone!” Bess shouted, breaking
the quiet tension of the previous few minutes. “What happened to it?”

“Someone stole it, that’s what,” Charlie said. He took a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh. Then his words began pouring out.

“When the money was put back into the vault,” he said, “the guards were required to recount it. When they opened the locked box, all they found was shredded newspaper. The cash was gone—it had just disappeared!”

“I remember the old-fashioned safe that the money was in,” I said. “Mr. Holman opened the safe to show us all the money.”

“That’s right,” Charlie said. “I was there. I wanted
to see the beginning of the race. And I knew they were going to be showing the money.”

“We’re talking about a
lot
of money,” George said. “Thousands—tens of thousands.”

“That was their first mistake,” he asserted. “You show all that money to people, and someone’s bound to get greedy.”

“As a matter of fact, there was a guy with a mountain bike—,” I began.

“Are you talking about the one in the red shorts?” Bess interrupted.

“Right,” I said. “Did you see him, Charlie? Do you know who he is?”

“I don’t remember seeing him,” Charlie said. “But he wouldn’t have been in this race on a mountain bike, would he?”

“He wasn’t one of the starters,” George said, “but he could be on one of the teams. We just don’t know yet.”

“When Mr. Holman left the stage after he’d opened the safe, the guy in the red shorts hopped right up there,” I told Charlie. “He was showing a lot of interest in the money, and was hanging around the open safe.”

“Where was the security guy when he got up there?” Charlie asked.

“Officer Rainey was distracted and didn’t see him at first. When he finally did spot the guy, Rainey chased him off the stage—but I couldn’t believe that guy was up there in the first place.”

“Did Mr. Holman see all this?” Charlie asked. “He wouldn’t have like it one bit.”

“I don’t know,” I answered. “He climbed back onstage shortly after that. That’s when he and Officer Rainey wheeled the safe offstage. The race started soon after.”

“That’s right,” Charlie said. “I saw them push that thing away. The safe looked pretty heavy.”

“And the thieves didn’t take the safe,” I said quietly, mostly to myself. I was trying to picture how it happened. “They just took the money.”

“But when did they take it?” Bess asked.

“That’s the big question,” Charlie said. “When they opened the safe to recount the money, there was nothing but newspaper.”

“All those stacks of cash,” Bess said, shaking her head in disbelief. She was still trying the new caps.

“So it happened between the time they wheeled off the safe, and when they reopened it to count.” I was still thinking aloud.

Charlie started stepping back and forth from one
foot to the other, as if he were getting nervous about telling us what happened.

“The cops are keeping a really tight lid on this,” Charlie said, looking around as if there might be eavesdroppers around him. “Remember you promised not to tell anyone I told you about it.”

“I’m sure they’re trying to find the money before the race is over,” I pointed out. “They don’t want the riders and their supporters to be discouraged about the whole point of this event: the money they’re raising for charity.”

“The Open Your Heart Fund, yeah,” Charlie said, nodding. “It’d be a real shame if that money’s gone for good.”

“How did you find out about it?” I asked.

“I got called to tow in a car with an overheated water pump,” he answered. “And it happened to belong to someone working at the race. Hey, it was that Rainey guy—the one who’d been up on the stage with Mr. Holman. No wonder he was frantic.”

“Does Officer Rainey work for the bank?” I asked. “Or is he someone hired by the race organizers—a private security service?”

“I don’t know,” Charlie answered. “I’ve seen him around, though.”

“I got it!” Bess yelled triumphantly. “This cap works.” She raced around and jumped into the truck. I breathed a big sigh when I heard the engine start up.

“I’ve got to get back to town,” Charlie said. “Good luck, you guys. You’re my favorite team!” He started his truck and waved. “Don’t forget. You heard
nothing
from me about the missing money!” he shouted out the window as he pulled away.

“Let’s go,” George said, jumping into the backseat.

“I can’t,” I told them. “We have to change our strategy. Right now.”

Bess and George got out of the truck and walked over to where I stood. As I worked out the plan, I started to talk.

“Look, it was sometime during the last three hours that the money was discovered stolen. I figure the police put roadblocks up on every street leading away from River Heights, and they’ve got to have officers watching the river, too.”

“What are you saying?” Bess asked.

“If someone was trying to get out of town with that money, they’d have been caught by now, and the money would be back in the bank.”

“And Charlie would probably have heard about it,” George said.

“Exactly,” I agreed. “Whoever stole it is smart enough to wait and not try to escape until they think they can get away with it.”

“Like at night?” Bess reasoned.

“That’s what I’m thinking,” I said.

“So the money is probably still around town somewhere,” George concluded.

“Which means I’ve got a chance to find it and get it back into the right hands before the race is over,” I said. “I have to try.”

“Wait a minute,” George said. “Are you saying you’re pulling out of the race?”

“I have to,” I said. “I’ll ride our spare bike back to town. And you two and Ned can keep going in the race. Bess has to use my bike because it has the GPS on it.”

“Nancy, we’ll help with the case too,” Bess said. That was just like my friend—always wanting to help.

“I’ve been saying all day that we have to stay focused on the race,” I said. “And we
still
do. There’s a rule about having no more than three riders on a team. But there’s no rule about who drives the truck or who does the cycling. We packed the backup bike in case of an emergency. This definitely qualifies.”

“So you want me to bike
and
drive the truck?” Bess asked, confused.

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