Read A Race Against Time Online

Authors: Carolyn Keene

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

A Race Against Time (8 page)

“You can all bike, and you can all take turns driving the truck. Bess, you take my leg this afternoon after Ned. Then if I’m not back to ride by morning, we’ll set up a new schedule for tomorrow so that the strongest one sprints the last leg.”

the strongest,” Bess said. “We’ll need you.”

“I’ll try to be back before tomorrow morning,” I said. “Until then each of you has to do your best. The point is to make our pledges.”

“Are you sure you don’t want our help with the case?” George said. “I’ll give up the cycling if you think you could use a hand.”

This was a lot for George to offer. She’s been involved in sports practically since she started walking, and she’s one of the greatest competitors I’ve ever known. It was really cool for her to be willing to give that up to help me solve a case. But it wasn’t necessary. I smiled and shook my head.

“What about Ned?” Bess asked. “Don’t you think we’d better call him now and tell him we’ve changed the plan?”

“Or we could wait until the three o’clock changeover,” George offered.

“I’d better call him,” I decided. “I really don’t want to disrupt his focus now. But if he sees you riding up to take over at three o’clock instead of me, Bess, he’ll be even more disrupted. His first thought will be that something happened to me.”

“Good point,” George said. “Plus it’s one forty-five now. He’s figured out that we’re not nearby, so he’s probably already wondering if something’s happened. It’ll ease his mind just to hear your voice and know what’s going on.”

“You call him,” Bess said. “We’ll get the backup bike down—I’d better give it a quick once-over.”

“I’ll drive the truck the rest of this leg, so Bess can rest up,” George said. “Find out exactly where Ned is, so we can catch up with him.”

The racecourse took us on a very convoluted path. There were lots of twists and turns, hairpin curves, and blind hills. It was designed to be a difficult course to follow, and thus harder to race. By using straight country roads, George could meet up with Ned more quickly.

I took out my cell phone and pushed the speed-dial button that connected me to the cell phone behind Ned’s seat.

George had rigged up the racer cell phone with a remote button attached to the handlebar, and a one-unit earpiece/mouthpiece that fit into our helmets.
When the phone rang, we wouldn’t have to reach behind the seat and pull it out; we’d just push the remote button, and the caller’s voice would fill our helmets. The mouthpiece was in our helmet straps, so we didn’t have to handle that either. She modeled the whole system after the one that racecar drivers use.

I was happy to hear Ned’s voice. At least one member of our team was on track. It took me only a few minutes to give him the full story and to tell him my plan.

“And you’ll be okay?” he asked. I could hear the concern in his voice, and it gave me a warm, comfortable feeling.

“I’ll be fine. And I’ll be even better when I know that money’s safe and secure back where it belongs.”

“So I’ll be changing over to Bess at three o’clock,” he said. “I’ll miss seeing your big blue eyes.”

Sometimes Ned knows just the right thing to say. “Yeah, well, Bess has big blue eyes too,” I reminded him.

“That’s right . . . she does.” He laughed. “Okay, then.”

“You sound pretty chipper. Where are you?” I pulled out a map of the route.

“I’m approaching the hills near Berryville.”

“Perfect! The truck will meet you on the other side. And Bess might be able to get you all to Swain Lake by five o’clock. Or at least close to it—maybe by the river.”

“Excellent. Take care of yourself. Get the case solved and the money back and meet us at Swain Lake for dinner.”

“Hmmmm . . . that’s a tall order! I’ll either be there or call in. You take care too.”

I hated to break the connection, but we both had major business to attend to. Images of gazing at moonlight on the water with Ned had to be filed away until later.

“The backup bike is totally clean,” Bess said, wheeling my cycle over. “It’s a hybrid, too, so it will not only take you over roads. You can also ride it on any weird detours you might have to follow. I’ve got your backpack and snacks in the panniers. I also threw in your jeans and sweater in case you don’t have time to go home and change.”

I thanked Bess and showed George where Ned was on the map, and where I told him he could hook up with the truck. Then I pulled on my helmet and gloves.

“Okay, team, go get ’em,” I said as I mounted my bike.

“You too,” Bess called back as she climbed in the truck’s passenger seat.

George and I each pulled out onto the road. George turned left, and I turned right.

Feathering My Brakes


I rode the straight
chute back to town, cutting across lawns and through alleys. It was only a few miles that way. I headed for downtown and the finish line, at the intersection of Highland Boulevard and Main Street.

I briefly considered stopping off at home to change clothes, because I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself. I’ve lived in River Heights all my life, and a lot of people here know me for one reason or another. Even people who didn’t know me would notice someone riding around town in race clothes on race day. I didn’t want anyone to know that I had dropped out of the race—mainly because I didn’t want anyone to know

Just then I remembered that Bess had packed my sweater and jeans in the panniers—so I decided to ride over to Dad’s office downtown to freshen up instead of going all the way home.

I biked from the edge of town to Highland Boulevard. My dad’s law office is on Highland. Sometimes it’s open on Saturday, but that day it was closed because of the race, and because Dad was out of town.

I had my own key, of course. I unlocked the back door and took my bike inside. I spent a few minutes washing up. I left my racing clothes on, but pulled my jeans and sweater over them. I was a little warm, but a bit of sweat never hurt anyone.

Grabbing my backpack, I locked up Dad’s office, and left. I walked up Highland to the corner at Main Street. This was not only the start and finish line for Biking for Bucks, it was also where Mr. Holman had shown us the pledge money in the safe.

At first I hung out casually near the minipark,
to read the paper in the newsbox, but really watching the activity in front of the bank across the street. A few people walked around, but not many. Most of the shops were closed because of the race. With the streets blocked off, there wasn’t much point in stores being open.

I wanted to check out the area around the start and finish line, but that was impossible. Two uniformed police officers and at least three recognizable detectives in plain clothes were still looking for clues around the makeshift stage and bleachers that had been constructed for the weekend. Clearly, neither the money nor the thief had been found yet.

I crossed the street and walked past the bank. I wasn’t surprised to find that it was closed. It would have been even if there hadn’t been a theft, because it always closes at noon on Saturday, and it was already three o’clock.

No one seemed to recognize me or pay any attention to me. I strolled past the bank and looked in the window. There was a lot of activity inside. Tellers counted money in drawers, and officers questioned security guards. Others just sat, checking papers, which I guessed were probably lists of pledges—pledges of money that had vanished.

In the corner Mr. Holman and Officer Rainey stood on either side of the old-fashioned safe. Its door was open, just like it had been that morning before the race. Except this time the safe was empty.

I walked back to the other side of Main Street and into the minipark. As far as activity was concerned, the park was the exact opposite of the bank. A couple
of fat bumblebees lazily nosed their way into some petunias, and a plump red cardinal sat in the middle of a birdbath. He wasn’t even flapping his wings to pretend he was actually bathing. He was just zoned out, tail-deep in the water.

A weathered bench offered a perfect view of the front door of the bank. I really wanted to talk to Officer Rainey, since he was the one who had been watching the money. But how was I going to get to him?

I sat for a while, watching the cardinal sitting like a fat red rock in the birdbath. My mind was busy with images of the safe, of Mr. Holman and Officer Rainey, and of the man in the red shorts.

For a moment I considered going over to police headquarters. My main source there is Chief McGinnis. He isn’t exactly a friend, but he’s more than just an acquaintance. The best word to describe him is
. We often find ourselves working on the same case, although we definitely have different methods—and often different results.

As I was debating with myself about the merits of checking in with Chief McGinnis, I was joined on the park bench by a friend.

“Luther!” I greeted him. “Lend me some of your wisdom.”

I’m always happy to spend a few minutes with Luther, because I always learn something when I do. And sometimes I don’t realize I learned anything until later.

“Hello, Nancy,” Luther said with his thin little smile. “Now why am I not surprised to find you down here instead of sprinting around the cycling course?”

“Because you know me so well?” I guessed, smiling. Even though Luther is old enough to be my father, we always treat each other like good friends.

“So tell me,” I continued, “why don’t you seem that surprised to see me out of the race?” I asked.

“Because a major crime’s been committed on the same day,” Luther replied, his blue eyes shining.

“You’ve heard about the stolen pledge money,” I said, nodding.

“I have, and I figured I’d find you down here where the action is. And besides, it’s a nice day to be in the park.”

“Well, it seemed like the right place to be—but now I’m not so sure. I want to talk to Ralph Holman or the security officer who was guarding the pledges this morning. But it looks as if the police have them tied up inside the bank.”

“Not literally, I hope!” Luther said with another smile.

I couldn’t help but smile back. “They might as well be. They’re standing guard over an empty safe.”

“You know . . . ,” Luther began.

I love it when he begins a sentence with “You know,” because it’s usually something I
know at all.

“You know,” he repeated, “this whole theft reminds me of the original River Heights Heist.”

I know the legend of course. Everyone who lives here has heard it a million times. But Luther’s definitely the expert on this town and knows all the little sidebars that haven’t necessarily made the history books.

“You know about the Rackham Gang of course,” he said.

“Before the settlement even had a name”—I paraphrased the brochure from the River Heights Welcome Board—“a steamer arrived with a big load of cash to exchange for Mahoney anvils. But the word got out, and the Rackham Gang stole the money.”

“You get an A-plus for common knowledge,” Luther said. “
tell me some of the not-so-common facts.”

“Okay, let’s see. I remember you showing me exactly where the original heist took place,” I said. It had been pretty exciting, actually. I could almost feel the history of the place come alive as he described the legendary theft. It was as if River Heights had its own pirate tale.

“What else,” I said. “Oh, yeah—when Lucia Gonsalvo found that gold coin last year and thought it was from a sunken treasure ship, you identified it as part of the Rackham Gang loot.”

“Very good,” Luther said.

“So what am I missing?” I asked. “Why are we talking about the Rackham Gang?”

“Well, as I said, it seems to me that the theft that took place across the street this morning is like the one by the Rackham Gang a century ago.”

“How so?”

“The Rackhams seemed to disappear into thin air. They were spotted before the heist, but nobody saw them in town after the theft.”

“You told me they escaped on the Muskoka. They had a boat waiting downstream.”

“That’s right,” Luther said. “The sheriff staked out the river, but unless you plant someone every couple of yards or so, there’s no way to cover every possible place to cast off a boat—especially at night. The
Rackham Gang hid out until after dark. Then they escaped down the Muskoka with the loot.”

“Are you saying you think today’s thief escaped the same way?”

“I’m sure you’ll figure it out,” Luther said, patting my shoulder as he stood. “You’re a clever one.”

As I watched Luther walk down the path, the bright red cardinal shook off his soggy feathers and flew away. I watched the bird until it vanished in the afternoon sunlight, and I thought about my conversation with Luther.

Suddenly I flashed back on the scene at the starting line that morning, when a stranger in shorts the color of a cardinal’s feathers seemed to vanish into thin air.

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