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A Game of Codes and Clues
"Wow!" cried six-year-old Benny. "Look at all the skyscrapers down there." The youngest Alden was staring out the window of the airplane.
"Philadelphia's a big city." Twelve-year-old Jessie smiled at her little brother. "It won't be easy tracking down clues."
Henry laughed a little. "It wouldn't be nearly as much fun if the mystery's too easy," he said. At fourteen, Henry was the oldest of the Aldens.
"We can do it!" said Benny. "We're good detectives. Right, Violet?"
"Right," ten-year-old Violet said. Then, with a worried frown, she added, "I know it's a game of codes and clues, but ... we've never had cameras following us around before."
The four Alden children—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny—were competing against another brother-and-sister team on "The Amazing Mystery Show." Grandfather, who had business in the city, had come along, too.
"Hey, I can see a river down there!" said Benny, pointing.
Grandfather nodded. "That's the Delaware River." He was looking out the window, too, over Benny's shoulder.
"I remember seeing a painting once," Henry said thoughtfully. "It showed George Washington crossing the Delaware."
James Alden nodded. "Yes, that's a famous painting, Henry," he told his oldest grandson. "Philadelphia's a modern city, but it's also a very old one. It goes all the way back to the Revolutionary War. In fact," he added, "this is where they signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776."
Benny's eyebrows shot up. "That was before I was born!"
"Even before I was born, Benny." Grandfather chuckled.
"Philadelphia is the home of the Liberty Bell," put in Jessie. "We read all about it at school."
"What's the Liberty Bell?" Benny asked.
"It's a big bell," Henry explained, "but it has a crack in it. That's why they don't ring it anymore."
"There's an inscription on it," Grandfather added. "RING LIBERTY THROUGHOUT ALL THE LAND."
"Cool!" cried Benny, catching on. "Know what else has a crack in it?"
The other Aldens looked over at their little brother. "What?"
"My cracked pink cup!" Benny said, making everyone laugh. "The one I found when we were living in the boxcar. Did you forget already?"
"We could never forget about your special cup, Benny," Jessie told him.
After their parents died, the four Alden children had run away. For a while, their home was an empty boxcar in the woods. But then their grandfather, James Alden, found them, and he brought his grandchildren to live with him in his big white house in Connecticut. Even the boxcar was given a special place in the backyard. The children often used it as a clubhouse.
As they made their way through the airport, Violet suddenly slowed her step.
Jessie seemed to read her thoughts. "Don't worry, Violet," she said. She knew that her younger sister was shy, and being on television would make her nervous. "When we start tracking down clues, you'll forget all about the cameras."
Violet gave her sister a grateful smile. Jessie always knew just what to say to make her feel better. "It will be fun exploring Philadelphia," Violet admitted, quickening her pace. "And I promised Mrs. McGregor I'd take lots of pictures." Mrs. McGregor was the Alden's housekeeper. She was staying at home with Watch, the family dog.
James Alden put a comforting arm around his youngest granddaughter. "I think it'll be a great experience," he assured her. "And I'm sure everyone on the show will make you feel at ease."
After flagging down a taxi, the Aldens headed for their hotel in the heart of Philadelphia.
"I sure hope they have good food around here," Benny remarked as they checked in at the front desk.
The young man behind the desk looked up, "Don't worry," he said, smiling at the youngest Alden. "Philadelphia's known for its great restaurants."
Henry grinned. "That's good," he said. "My brother's known for his great appetite."
This made everyone laugh—including Benny.
As they stepped inside their hotel suite, Grandfather nodded approvingly. "Looks like we'll be very comfortable."
"That's for sure!" said Violet, after looking around. "We even have three bedrooms."
"Henry and Benny can share one room," Jessie said. "Violet and I can share another. And there's one for you, Grandfather."
"We even have a kitchen!" Benny opened the refrigerator. "But no food."
"Don't worry," Henry said. "I just found a note taped to the bathroom mirror."
As everyone gathered round, Henry pulled up a chair and read the message aloud.
"Welcome to Philadelphia! Join us for dinner in the hotel restaurant at six o'clock."
Violet nodded as she glanced over Henry's shoulder. "It's signed by Hilary Griffin."
"Who?" Benny said.
"Hilary Griffin," Violet repeated. "The producer of 'The Amazing Mystery Show.' Grandfather spoke with her on the phone."
James Alden nodded. "It'll be nice to finally meet her."
Jessie glanced at her watch. "We'll have just enough time to unpack before dinner," she said in her practical way.
The other Alden children looked at each other and smiled. They could always count on Jessie to be organized.
Inside the restaurant, a young woman wearing a blue dress and sandals hurried over to greet them. "You must be the Aldens!" she said, holding out a hand. "I'm Hilary Griffin."
"I'm James Alden," Grandfather said, shaking hands. "And these are my grandchildren—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny."
"It's very nice to meet you," Jessie said, speaking for them all.
"Come and join the Best family," Hilary said, leading the way to a long table by the window.
As everyone sat down around the table, Hilary introduced the Aldens to the other brother-and-sister team—twelve-year-old twins, Rob and Rosie, and eight-year-old twins, Tim and Tammy. They all had the same curly fair hair and freckles.
"And this is Fiona Best," Hilary added. She nodded towards a middle-aged woman with gray streaks in her dark hair. "The children's aunt."
Fiona forced a smile. "So ... you're the Aldens, are you?" she said. Then she suddenly leaned forward as if about the share a secret. "I don't mean to alarm you," she told them in a whisper, "but my nieces and nephews are unstoppable."
"They're really good detectives," Benny praised. "We saw them on 'The Amazing Mystery Show.'"
"Which city?" Twelve-year-old Rob wanted to know.
Henry answered, "San Diego."
"Oh, that one." Rosie yawned. "We're won so many times, it's hard to keep track."
"That's so true," said Fiona, laughing. Then she began to tick off each city on her fingers. "Let's see now, they won in San Diego ... in Chicago ... in Nashville ... and in Boston. One more win and they'll become—"
"Five-time champions!" finished Tammy, holding up five fingers.
Rob nodded. "And that means we can take part in the Tournament of Champions."
"That's right," Hilary said as she passed around the menus. "The tournament's in Hawaii this year."
"Can you imagine?" Fiona clasped her hands together. "Honestly, I've always wanted to visit Hawaii." She had a dreamy look in her eyes.
Timmy put in, "We're this close." He held his finger and thumb an inch apart.
"Oh, honestly!" Fiona waved that away. "It's as good as done."
Grandfather looked up from his menu. "I wouldn't be too sure about that," he said. "My grandchildren are first-class detectives."
Fiona rolled her eyes. "Yes, I'm sure they're real pros," she said, though it was clear from her voice that she didn't think they were real pros at all.
Henry squared his shoulders. "We have solved quite a few mysteries," he said, looking Fiona straight in the eye.
Fiona did not seem very happy to hear this.
"But we never solved a mystery in front of cameras," Violet added honestly. "That must be harder." She glanced at Jessie nervously.
Fiona caught the look. "Are you sure you're up to it, my dear?" she asked. Then she reached over and patted Violet's hand. "Honestly, it's not easy being on television. I certainly couldn't do it," she quickly added. "Not with all those people watching at home."
Jessie couldn't shake the feeling Fiona was trying to make Violet even more uneasy. She opened her mouth to say something, but Hilary spoke first.
"Let's back up a minute," she said with a frown. "There's no reason for anyone to be nervous. No reason at all."
"I wouldn't say that," Fiona mumbled. "Not really."
"Well, I would." Hilary sounded annoyed.
"The cameras won't be rolling all the time. Even our cameramen needs breaks." She looked over at Violet and winked. "Besides, most of the film ends up on the cutting-room floor. It's only a half-hour show."
Violet looked relieved to hear this.
After the waitress took their orders, Tim said, "I take my lucky penny everywhere." He fished a coin from his pocket and held it up. "See?"
"Guess what?" Benny said with a grin. "I take my cracked pink cup everywhere." Tim grinned, too.
Over dinner, Jessie turned to Hilary. "Working on a television show must be fun," she said.
Hilary's eyes sparkled. "I really love my job, Jessie," she said, helping herself to a roll. "And since every show takes place in a different city, I even get to travel." Then she added with a sigh, "I plan to enjoy it while I can."
Henry raised an eyebrow. "While you can?"
Hilary nodded. "You never know when a show might be cancelled," she explained. "It all depends on the ratings."
Benny scrunched up his face. "The ratings?"
"That's the number of people who watch, Benny," Hilary explained. "If we don't get enough viewers, then the show's cancelled."
"And you lose your job?" asked Violet.
Hilary nodded again. "And so does everyone else who works on the show."
"From what I hear," put in Fiona, "the ratings have really shot up lately. Honestly, my nieces and nephews have taken the nation by storm."
"True enough," said Hilary. "Can the Best family become five-time champions? Everyone's tuning in to find out."
"Do you make up the codes and clues yourself, Hilary?" Grandfather asked over dessert.
Hilary shook her head. "We have a team of writers who come up with the mysteries," she said. "They do the research on each city," she added. "Then they decide where the three gold coins should be hidden."
"Cool!" said Benny.
"Speaking of the gold coins," said Hilary, "we'll be meeting in the hotel lobby in the morning. We'll give both teams the same clues. As soon as you find the first gold coin, come right back to the hotel."
It wasn't until the Aldens were heading for the elevator after dinner that Jessie realized something. Hilary hadn't mentioned what time to meet in the lobby the next morning. As she dashed back to the restaurant, Jessie noticed Hilary sitting at the table talking on a cell phone. Coming up behind the producer, Jessie couldn't help overhearing bits and pieces of the conversation.
"Of course, I don't like sneaking around," Hilary was saying. "Yes, but ... what choice do I have? No, no ... I'm telling you, I'll do whatever it takes."
When Hilary caught sight of Jessie, she quickly pocketed the cell phone. "Oh!" She looked startled, as if she'd been caught doing something wrong. "I was, um, just ... checking on a few things."
"I didn't mean to startle you," said Jessie. "We were just wondering what time to meet in the lobby tomorrow."
"Oh, right," said Hilary. "We meet at nine o'clock sharp." The producer seemed unable to look Jessie in the eye.
As Jessie headed back to the elevator, she wondered just what Hilary had meant about sneaking around.CHAPTER 2
"Where is everybody?" Benny said as he looked around the hotel lobby the next morning.
Henry glanced at his watch. "We're a bit early."
"Well, you know what they say," said Jessie. "The early bird catches the worm."
"Then I guess that's us," said a voice behind them. "We've been here for ages."
The Aldens turned to see Fiona coming into the lobby—with the four Best children close behind.
"We just dashed into the gift shop for a second," added twelve-year-old Rosie, as they sat down on a long leather couch.
Tim looked over at Benny. "Can you guess what's in my pocket?"
Benny grinned. "Your lucky penny?"
"I've got my lucky cup, too," Benny told him.
Fiona frowned. "You're not here to make friends, Tim." She gave her youngest nephew a little nudge. "You're here to win."
Jessie glanced over at Henry. She could tell by the look on her brother's face that he was thinking what she was thinking. What's wrong with making friends and trying to win?
Just then, a teenaged boy in a baseball cap poked his head into the lobby.
"Aren't you the kids from 'The Amazing Mystery Show?'" he asked, staring wide-eyed at the Best twins.
"Yup." Rob was beaming as he nodded his head. "That's us, all right."
"Wow!" The teenager hurried over. "Can I get your autograph?"
"No!" Fiona made a shooing motion with her hand. "I won't have these children mobbed by fans."
The boy in the baseball cap walked away, his shoulders slumped.
Jessie glanced around. Mobbed by fans? Nobody else seemed to be paying any attention to the Best family.
"Honestly!" Fiona shook her head. "I suppose that's the price of fame," she added with a sigh. She was still shaking her head as she walked over to a table by the window. "These must be for us," she said, holding up some travel brochures and street maps. "Let's take a look at them while we're waiting, shall we?"
"Are you sure Hilary won't mind?" Violet asked as Fiona handed out a street map and a handful of brochures to each team.
"Honestly!" Fiona rolled her eyes. "Of course she won't mind."
At that moment, Hilary stepped into the lobby. She was chatting with a middle-aged man wearing jeans and a T-shirt. A younger man—about Hilary's age—strolled in behind them. He was tall and slim, with curly dark hair. Both men were carrying television cameras.
"Good morning!" Hilary said in a cheery voice. Her smile suddenly vanished when she caught sight of the maps and brochures. "How on earth did you get those?"
"Actually, we just helped ourselves," Fiona said. "Is that a problem, Hilary?"
Hilary did not look pleased. "I always give those out myself."
"Oh?" Fiona seemed surprised to hear this. "I didn't realize that."
"Well, what's done is done," Hilary said, forcing a smile.
Jessie and Henry exchanged puzzled looks. If Hilary always gave out the maps and brochures, why did Fiona act so surprised?
"I have a few more hand-outs," Hilary told them. She gave each team a large thermos of lemonade, paper cups, and an envelope filled with dollar bills.
"Wow!" Benny's jaw dropped. "Is all that money for us?"
Hilary nodded. "You'll need it for lunch and transportation."
"Especially lunch," Benny said with a grin.
This made Henry smile. "Benny's middle name is food," he teased.
Hilary smiled, too. Then she gestured towards the middle-aged man. "This is Mike," she said. "He'll be with the Best family again. And Andy with be with the Aldens."
The young cameraman was leaning against the wall. He waved to the Aldens, and they waved back.
"Mike and Andy will get everyone ready for the day," Hilary told them.
"This won't take long," Andy said, after shaking hands with each of the Aldens in turn. "We just need to get you set up with microphones."
Benny's eyebrows shot up. "We'll be holding microphones?"
"Nothing to hold, Benny." Andy held up a small recorder about the size of a wallet. "We'll clip this onto the back of your shorts. You'll soon forget you even have it on."
But Violet didn't look so sure. She was still nervous about being on television. How could they ever forget their words were being recorded?
"Nobody will even see them under our T-shirts," Benny remarked.
"That's the whole idea, Benny." Andy winked at the youngest Alden. "We don't want the folks at home to see our television equipment."
As soon as everyone had been equipped with microphones, Hilary handed each team a small wooden box.
"The clues inside these boxes," she told them, "lead to the hiding place of the first gold coin. You'll have until five o'clock today," she added. "Best of luck!"
With that, both teams headed for the door, with the cameramen close behind.
Outside, the Aldens set off in one direction, the Best family in the other. When Jessie spotted an empty bench by the bus stop, she sat down with the box.
"Hurry, Jessie," Benny pleaded. "Open the box, okay?" The youngest Alden was bobbing up and down with excitement.
With Andy's camera rolling, Jessie lifted the lid of the wooden box. Inside, they found a note, some cloth stars, and three spools of colored thread—red, white, and blue.
Jessie read the note aloud: "Cats at play will show the way."
"Cats at play?" Benny echoed. "What's that all about?"
"You got me," said Henry.
"Thirteen," Jessie said, after counting the white stars. "Thirteen stars and three spools of thread. How weird is that?"
"I was just thinking," said Violet. "I'm not sure about the thread and the stars, but I have a feeling we should head for the zoo."
Benny looked confused. "The zoo?"
"I think I know what Violet means," said Henry.
Excerpted from The Amazing Mystery Show by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2010 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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Remember- this book is meant for children in grades second through fourth, do therefore are meant to be fun and easy reads. G.C. Warner wrote these books because, "[She] discovered when she was teaching that many readers who like an exciting story could find books that were both easy and fun to read
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