Read an Excerpt
The Chocolate Sundae Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1995 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
The Pink Truck
One spring morning, four children stood outside their house in Greenfield washing the family station wagon. Six-year-old Benny Alden soaked his dirty rag in a pail of sudsy water. "Boy, it's getting hot out here," he remarked to his brother Henry.
Henry, who was fourteen, stood near Benny, carefully polishing the front bumper. "It sure is," he agreed. "When we're done, we could go get some ice cream at the Shoppe."
"Yes!" Benny almost shouted. He grabbed a clean cloth and vigorously dried the front fenders.
The Shoppe was the oldest ice cream parlor in Greenfield. Benny thought it served the best ice cream in town — even better than the homemade ice cream their housekeeper, Mrs. McGregor, made with her old hand-held crank.
"Ice cream before lunch?" Benny's twelve-year-old sister, Jessie, raised her eyebrows. She tried to sound stern, but secretly she couldn't resist teasing her little brother.
"Please, Jessie, just a small cone," Benny pleaded. He wiped the fender even harder. "I promise it won't ruin my appetite."
"As if anything could," Benny's ten-year-old sister, Violet, said, chuckling. She made sure to wink at Benny so he would know she was teasing. Violet never wanted to hurt anybody's feelings.
"Why don't we just have our whole lunch at the parlor," Jessie suggested. "I think they're still serving tuna and grilled cheese sandwiches." Jessie always had practical suggestions.
"Yes, I'm sure they are," Henry agreed. "I've never known the Shoppe's menu to change."
"Grandfather says the menu is the same as when he was little," Benny pointed out. "They're still using the same ice cream recipes."
"I'll just run in to tell Mrs. McGregor where we're going," Jessie said. Mrs. McGregor, their grandfather's housekeeper, took care of all the Aldens and their dog, Watch. Not that the Alden children needed much looking after. After their parents died, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny had lived all by themselves in an abandoned boxcar in the woods. When their grandfather finally found them, he invited them all to live with him.
The children knew they were really going to love Grandfather when he made sure to give Watch and the boxcar a home, too. Watch lived in the house with the children, and the boxcar was kept in the backyard so the Aldens could visit it whenever they wanted.
Quickly Violet gathered up the dirty rags and put them in a pail of clean soapy water to soak. Henry coiled the hose and hung it on a hook in the garage. Benny put away the car wax and cleaning supplies.
"Mrs. McGregor would like us to pick up a gallon of ice cream for the house," Jessie said as she came running out the front door with Watch at her heels.
"It looks like Watch wants to come with us," Violet said, smiling.
"He can't come into the Shoppe, though," Henry reminded them. "You know they don't allow dogs in restaurants."
"Oh, Watch won't mind waiting outside," Benny said as he clipped a red leash onto Watch's collar. "Almost everyone in Greenfield stops to pet him, don't they, Watch?"
Watch cocked his head at Benny, but suddenly he jumped up and tugged at his leash.
"Hey, do you hear that?" Benny asked.
"Yes, someone is playing some music. It sounds like it's coming from just down the street," Violet said. She ran across the lawn with Benny and Watch at her heels.
"I think it might be an ice cream truck," Jessie said as she and Henry caught up with the others.
Down the street the children could see a bright pink truck with a large green-and-white striped canopy over it. A loud melody sounded from the truck's speakers. White and green balloons were tied to its back fenders.
"I've never seen an ice cream truck like that," Benny said. His big eyes grew even rounder. Already a line of children had begun to form by the truck.
"'Saunders Ice Cream Treats.'" Violet read the green lettering painted on one side of the truck.
"Look at their flavors — 'hazelnut, lemon-lime swirl, English red raspberry, French vanilla, Jamaican coconut, double fudge chocolate,'" Henry read aloud from the big sign attached to the truck's fender.
"They sound very fancy," Violet whispered as the red-haired girl in front of her ordered a coconut cone with chocolate sprinkles. The Aldens stood off to one side so the woman selling the ice cream would not think they were in line.
When the last customer had been served, the tall blonde woman behind the counter leaned out the truck's window. "Are you in line? May I help you?" she asked. She even leaned further out the window of the truck so she could see the children better. The woman wore a bright red and gold sweater. Her thick blonde hair was pulled back with a large glittery gold bow. The deep, red nail polish on her fingers matched her lipstick.
"Uh, no, we were just looking," Jessie answered politely. "Are you Mrs. Saunders?"
"Yes," the woman answered proudly. "I own this business and the truck."
"Maybe we should bring Grandfather and Mrs. McGregor back a carton of one of these fancy flavors," Violet suggested to Henry under her breath.
"I bet Grandfather would like some hazelnut ice cream," Henry answered just as softly.
"What's that? Speak up," the woman called.
"Oh, Violet, I really wanted to get our ice cream at the Shoppe," Benny said more loudly than he meant to.
At the mention of the Ice Cream Shoppe, the woman's face fell. "Well," she said huffily, "if you just want plain old-fashioned ice cream with no flavor."
"The Shoppe's ice cream has flavor," Benny couldn't help saying.
The woman rolled her eyes. "I can tell you children don't know much about ice cream."
Watch picked that moment to start barking at a squirrel. He pulled at his leash, as the squirrel raced up the tree.
"Please get that dog away from my truck," the woman said, noticing Watch for the first time. "It's not sanitary for animals to be near food."
"We were just leaving," Henry answered. His sisters had already turned to go. Benny gave Watch's leash a firm tug.
"You know," the woman called after them. "The Shoppe never tries new flavors, and what's more, they've never remodeled their store. Their kitchen is probably filthy."
Benny stared at the woman. He was so angry, he could feel his face turning bright red.
"That's not true!" he cried. "The Shoppe makes the best ice cream in Greenfield."
"And their kitchen couldn't be cleaner. We've seen it," Jessie called as she put her arm around her little brother. "Come on Benny. Let's just go to the Shoppe."CHAPTER 2
The Ice Cream Shoppe
"I wonder what that lady has against the ice cream parlor?" Jessie asked thoughtfully when the Aldens were further down the street.
"Maybe she's just mad the Shoppe is taking customers away from her business," Henry suggested.
"She had lots of customers," Benny pointed out as he stopped to wait for a red light.
"She did. But she probably knows it's going to be hard to keep up with a place as popular as the Shoppe," Violet said as the Aldens crossed the street.
"She didn't have to be so rude." Benny still felt upset. Without saying anything more, he helped Violet tie Watch's leash to a tree.
"I know what you mean," Jessie said sympathetically. She nodded at Benny before opening the door to the Ice Cream Shoppe.
"Hey, wait, Jessie, did you see this sign?" Henry said, as he pointed to the parlor's big window. Violet read the sign aloud:
"That's strange," Jessie said thoughtfully. "The Shoppe doesn't get much turnover. People hardly ever quit."
"I hope Tom still works here," Benny remarked as the children went inside. Tom had worked in the parlor for as long as Benny could remember. Benny liked Tom because he always gave Benny an extra big scoop of ice cream and remembered to put extra cherries on the children's sundaes.
The Ice Cream Shoppe had a black and white tiled floor. Bright red and white lamps hung from the high ceilings. There were red leather booths facing the large picture windows and high stools by the wooden counter. In the middle of the parlor were small tables with marble tops, and chairs with comfortable red cushions.
Behind the counter hung a large mirror in a wooden frame. As long as the children could remember, an old-fashioned clock had ticked loudly in front of the mirror. Today the children noticed the clock had stopped.
"Oh no, I hope nothing's wrong with that big clock," Benny whispered sadly.
"Well, it was old; it probably got tired of running," Jessie said. She tried to sound comforting, but Benny looked even sadder. He didn't like it when anything in the parlor changed.
Quickly he stole a look behind the counter. He was relieved to see the shiny row of glass containers holding peanuts, cherries, chocolate sprinkles, and other sundae toppings, just the way he remembered.
"Let's get a booth," Henry suggested as his sisters grabbed some menus from the counter.
"Oh, look, they have fresh strawberry ice cream," Violet said as she settled herself in the soft leather booth. She scooted over to the window to make room for Jessie.
"Do you think Tom is working here today?" Benny asked as he looked around the large sunny room.
"I don't see him," Henry remarked. "You know, this place seems different."
"You mean because of the clock," Benny suggested as he pored over the colored drawings of sundaes, banana splits, and other goodies on the menu.
"Not only because of the clock, Benny," Henry said.
"Well, there aren't many customers here today," Violet observed.
Henry nodded his head. "That's just what I was thinking."
At lunchtime, the parlor was usually so crowded it was hard to find a seat. Today nearly every booth was empty and only two people sat at the big counter.
"Maybe that ice cream truck is hurting the parlor's business after all," Henry said grimly.
"I just can't believe it could," Violet shook her head. "We should ask Ruth about this." Ruth was the waitress who usually worked the lunchtime shift.
"I don't see her working, either," Jessie said as she took some napkins out of the dispenser and passed them around to her family.
"No," Henry shook his head. "In fact, I don't recognize the waitress on duty at all."
Jessie and Violet turned to look at the dark-haired girl behind the counter. She had short black hair, almond-shaped eyes, and very fair skin. She wore a red-and-blue T-shirt underneath her white apron.
The girl caught Violet's eye. "Someone will be right with you," she told the Aldens as she continued to mix a chocolate ice cream soda for one of the customers at the counter. The children noticed she spoke with an accent.
"I wonder where she's from," Benny whispered.
"Hard to tell," Henry answered. "You know," he continued, "it's strange there's no one here we know."
"Yes," Jessie agreed. "Where are Mr. Richards and Pete?"
Mr. Richards, the elderly owner of the parlor, usually came around to all the booths to visit with the customers. His grandson, Pete, worked in the Shoppe as a cook.
"Excuse me, I couldn't help overhearing your conversation." A short, round man came toward their table. He wore a sparkling white apron over his rather large stomach. "I'm afraid Mr. Richards and Pete no longer work here."
"But Mr. Richards is the owner," Jessie sounded so surprised she raised her voice.
"Not anymore, I'm afraid. He sold the parlor to me last week," the man answered. He smiled at the Aldens, but he could see how sorry they were to hear his news.
"Why did he do that?" Benny couldn't stop himself from asking.
"The Shoppe was getting to be too much for him," the new owner explained.
"It's true, he was very old," Jessie said.
"Do Tom and Ruth still work here?" Violet asked. "We know them very well." Though Violet was sorry to hear about the changes at the Shoppe, she found she liked the new owner's open, friendly face. In fact, she thought he looked a little bit like Santa Claus with his twinkly blue eyes, bushy white beard, and red cheeks.
The man stopped smiling and shook his head. "No, Tom and Ruth left last week," he answered abruptly. "They both got jobs that paid more. I'm hiring a whole new staff."
"We saw your sign in the window," Benny said sadly. He forgot, for an instant, how hungry he had been. "Does that mean everything will be changing?" He was afraid to hear the answer.
"No, not at all. The parlor's always been so popular. Why fix what isn't broken?" The owner looked so cheerful again, the children didn't want to ask why business seemed so slow.
"Oh, I'm glad to hear that!" Benny sounded very relieved. "I think I'll order a chocolate sundae."
"Good for you," the owner said, chuckling. He turned around and called to a young boy carrying a tray of banana splits. "Oh, Brian, come wait on this table next, please."
Brian couldn't have been more than twelve years old. He had fine blond hair and lots of freckles. He was tall and thin. "I'll be right there," the boy answered, nodding to the owner.
"I'm hoping working here will fatten him up a bit," the owner confided to the Aldens. "Well, I have to get back to the kitchen. I hope to see you all again."
"Oh, you will," Jessie assured him. "This is our favorite place to eat in Greenfield."
"Good," the owner said. Before he left their booth, he introduced himself as Mr. Brown.
"He really should be Mr. Red because of his red cheeks," Benny blurted out when the owner had gone back into the kitchen.
"Ssh, Benny, he might hear you," Jessie said, giggling into her napkin.
"I think Benny's right," Henry said, winking at his brother. They went back to their menus and didn't even notice Brian standing by their booth.
"Excuse me. Are you ready to order?" the waiter asked softly.
The Aldens didn't seem to hear him. Brian gulped and looked down at the floor before asking again, this time more loudly.
Henry looked up a little sheepishly. "I'm still trying to decide." He sounded apologetic.
Jessie and Violet ordered tuna salad with lettuce and tomato, and dishes of strawberry ice cream for dessert.
"The strawberry ice cream was just made today," the boy said, looking at Violet. He seemed glad to have something to say to her.
"Are you new here?" Violet asked.
Brian blushed. "Uh, I started last week," he muttered while he looked down at his notepad and busily wrote their orders.
"Do you like working here?" Benny asked after he'd ordered his grilled cheese sandwich and a chocolate sundae with extra chocolate sprinkles on the side.
"Oh, yes, I really like the ice cream," Brian said, smiling.
"Me, too," Benny said.
Brian grinned so widely his eyes crinkled. "Your sandwiches will be out in a few minutes," he said.
As Brian hurried away, Benny noticed a group of four boys hovering outside, near the front door. The boys were dressed in old T-shirts and pants that looked too big for them.
The tallest of the group tried to get Brian's attention by knocking on the window. When Brian looked in the boys' direction, the tall boy held up his hand and quickly opened and closed it.
"Why don't those boys just come in?" Benny wondered aloud.
"What boys?" Jessie asked, raising her eyebrows. Her back was to the window. Quickly Benny explained what he had seen. By the time Jessie and Violet turned around to look, the boys were gone.
"Excuse me! This still isn't a good ice cream soda. You put too much fizzy water in it! Can't you understand simple directions?" The loud voice of an angry customer interrupted the children's conversation.
"Who's he talking to like that?" Violet asked, rather shocked.
"To that new waitress up at the counter," Henry answered pointing with his head. The Aldens turned.
The customer waved his hands in the air as he tried to tell the waitress how to make his soda. By mistake, his hands hit his glass. His soda spilled all over the counter.
A young woman sitting a few seats away jumped up to avoid staining her white linen skirt. The waitress looked as if she were about to cry.CHAPTER 3
The Angry Customer
"Hey, what's going on out here?" Mr. Brown called as he came hurrying out of the kitchen. "That's no way to talk to one of my waitresses," he told the man angrily. "She's new here, new to this country, and she's never worked in an ice cream parlor before."
"That's obvious," the man answered. He was very tall, and when he stood up, he towered over Mr. Brown. Without saying another word, he stormed out of the parlor. He didn't even stop to pay for his lunch.
"Well, good riddance to him," Mr. Brown said, shaking his head at the waitress. She managed a small smile then buried her head in her hands.
"Why don't we help clean up the counter?" Jessie suggested. "They seem very short of help."
"Good idea," Henry said. Hastily, the Aldens gathered up some napkins. Henry and Violet began mopping the counter. Jessie cleared away a soggy sandwich.
Mr. Brown wiped his hands on his big apron. He patted the new waitress gently on the arm. "Simone, please don't cry," he said gently. "I've just been so busy this week, I haven't had time to train you properly. It's not your fault we lost that customer."
Benny quietly handed Simone some napkins so she could dry her eyes. "Thank you," Simone said, smiling at Benny.
"Where are you from, Simone?" Jessie asked gently.
"I'm from France," Simone answered proudly. "I came here for the summer to improve my English."
Excerpted from The Chocolate Sundae Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1995 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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