Read an Excerpt
The Disappearing Friend Mystery
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
A New Friend
The Alden children, Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny, were in the supermarket shopping for groceries. Henry, who was fourteen, was pushing the cart. Twelve-year-old Jessie was holding the grocery list.
The Greenfield supermarket was crowded. Families went up and down the aisles filling their carts. Benny, the youngest of the Aldens, watched the other shoppers and the food they were buying with interest.
"All this shopping is making me awfully hungry," Benny said. He was six. He looked hopefully at his ten-year-old sister, Violet, who was in charge of getting the things off the shelves as Jessie read the list. "Could we get some peanut butter, Violet?"
Violet laughed softly. "Oh, Benny, I'm sure there's plenty of peanut butter at home. Mrs. McGregor always keeps it on hand for you."
"But we might need more," said Benny. "Maybe it's on the list."
Jessie, who was very organized, looked at the paper in her hand. "It's not on the list, Benny. But we can get a little more, I think."
"Oh, good," said Benny. He hurried ahead to the peanut butter. He studied all the different jars carefully, then chose one and took it back to the cart.
"It sure is crowded here today," said Henry. "Good thing we're almost done."
"Don't forget the flour, Violet," Jessie said. She looked down at her list as Henry pushed the cart around to the end of the aisle.
"Oops!" he exclaimed, turning quickly sideways. He had almost run into another shopping cart.
"Wow!" cried Benny. "Look at all that food!"
"I'm sorry," said Henry to the sturdy, brown-haired girl who was pushing the very full cart. She was wearing jeans and a long-sleeved blue shirt. She looked as if she were Jessie's age. Her dark brown, chin-length hair was pulled back with a blue headband.
The girl smiled, and her blue eyes crinkled. "That's all right," she said. She looked at Benny. "It is a lot of food, isn't it? We're new in town, and I'm doing some grocery shopping for my parents."
"Do you have a big family?" asked Benny. "With lots of brothers and sisters? These are my sisters and my brother, and we have a dog named Watch."
"We don't have a dog," said the girl. "But I like them."
"Oh, Benny," said Jessie apologetically. "Hi. My name is Jessie Alden. This is Henry, and Violet. And Benny, of course."
"Hi. I'm glad to meet you. My name is Beth Simon."
"Welcome to Greenfield, Beth," said Violet.
"Thank you very much," said Beth. "I like it here already. I hope we can stay a while—this time."
"Why wouldn't you stay here in Greenfield?" asked Benny.
"My parents are consultants for new companies. We have to move a lot," she said.
"It must be fun seeing lots of new places," said Jessie.
Beth paused. "Well, it is. But it's not always easy to meet people."
The Aldens and Beth had been walking slowly down the aisle as they talked. At the end of the aisle was a community bulletin board. Benny had stopped in front of it and was studying the signs.
"Help the ... Help the ho ..." he read aloud as Beth and Henry pushed the shopping carts closer.
"Hospital," said Jessie. "The sign says that they're building a new wing on the Greenfield hospital. They're trying to raise money for it."
"How?" asked Benny.
"They're asking people to donate money," explained Jessie.
"Can anybody give money?" asked Benny. "Could we?"
"If we had some to give them, we could," said Henry. He stopped the cart and looked at the other Aldens. "Maybe we could do that."
"What do you mean?" Benny asked.
"We could earn money to give to the hospital," Henry said.
"Yes," said Jessie. "We could hold a car wash."
"Or baby-sit," chimed in Violet.
"Or have a bake sale," said Benny, his eyes twinkling at the thought.
Henry grinned at his little brother. "Those all sound like good ideas."
"Well," said Beth. "Why not do them all ?"
"What do you mean?" asked Henry. "How could we do that?"
Beth turned her cart up the next aisle and Henry did the same with his. They walked slowly, pushing their carts as they talked and shopped.
"Well, where I used to live, my friends and I made money by having a helper service," said Beth. "People could call us for whatever they needed—baby-sitting, car washing, leaf-raking, or dog walking...."
"Or errands or cleaning or whatever," said Jessie excitedly. "What a great idea, Beth."
Beth's cheeks turned pink. "Thank you," she said.
Violet spoke up. "Why don't you work with us, since you thought of it? It would be lots of fun."
Beth hesitated for a minute. Then she said, "I'd love to."
"I'd still rather have a bake sale," said Benny.
"Maybe we still will," said Violet, smiling.
"We need to make posters to advertise," said Jessie. "Beth, could you come over tomorrow? We could all make them together."
Again Beth hesitated. "I ... think so. Okay!"
"Oh, good," said Benny. "You can meet Watch. And Grandfather. And Mrs. McGregor—she's our housekeeper. And you can see our boxcar."
The Aldens couldn't help but smile at Beth's puzzled look. They explained how they had lived in a boxcar before they'd come to Greenfield to live with their grandfather Alden. They were orphans, and had run away when they'd heard that Grandfather was a mean person. When he had found them and their boxcar, they'd realized how kind he was and how silly they'd been to run away. They had gone to live with him, and they'd been happy there ever since.
"And Grandfather moved the boxcar so it's behind our house and we can visit it whenever we want," Benny said.
"I can hardly wait to see your boxcar, and to meet Watch, and to make posters," said Beth.
"Where do you live?" asked Henry.
When Beth told him, he said, "Good. That's not far from where we live. You'll be able to get to our house quickly, especially if you have a bicycle."
"I do," said Beth. "Should I bring anything?"
"We have plenty of art supplies," said Violet. "Can you come around ten o'clock?"
"I think so," said Beth.
"Who do we give the money to?" asked Benny suddenly.
"The hospital," said Violet.
"We should find out who's in charge at the hospital," said Jessie.
"We can stop by there after we drop off the groceries," Henry said.
They stopped at the end of the next aisle. Jessie consulted the grocery list. "That's everything," she announced.
They waited while Henry explained to Beth how to get to their house. Then Beth looked at her very full grocery cart. "I'd better hurry. I still have some more shopping to do. I hope the grocery store can deliver all this!"
"If we had our errand service, we could do it!" Henry said, laughing. "But the store delivers."
"Good," said Beth. She waved cheerfully and pushed her cart back up the aisle. "See you tomorrow."
"See you tomorrow," echoed the Aldens.
They paid for their groceries and started to walk home.
"Beth is nice," said Violet.
"And that was a great idea she had," said Henry.
"I think so, too," said Jessie. "I hope Beth has fun doing it with us. For a minute, I didn't think she was going to agree to join us."
"She's probably just a little shy," said Violet, who could understand because she was a little shy herself.
"That's true. And it's a little scary to move to a new place," Jessie said.
"This will be an adventure," said Benny. "Having lots of jobs and making money for the new hospital wing."
The Aldens didn't know it then, but this new project would be not just an adventure, but a mystery.CHAPTER 2
The Greenfield Hospital was a big, old red-brick building near the center of town. The Aldens pedaled up the long driveway that led to the main entrance and parked their bikes outside.
"Where do we go to find out more about the fund-raising for the new hospital wing?" Henry asked the receptionist behind the desk.
"Fund-raising?" The young man raised his eyebrows in surprise.
"Yes," said Jessica. "We would like some more information."
"Oh." The young man pointed down a hall opposite the desk. "Go down that hall all the way to the end to Public Relations. It's the last door on the right."
"Thank you," said Violet.
In the Public Relations Department, the assistant asked them to wait. The Aldens sat down on a long sofa on one side of the office.
Just then, a tall, thin, red-haired woman in a gray suit came into the office.
"Is the director in?" she asked the assistant.
"Yes, but—" the assistant began to answer.
The tall woman didn't stop to listen. She marched angrily across the office, pushed open the door, and went in.
"Wow!" said Henry.
The assistant, a young woman, looked very nervous. She jumped up and followed the tall woman.
Through the door, the Aldens could hear everything that was being said.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Alvarez," said the assistant.
"That's all right, Ms. Grady," a man's voice said.
Then the red-haired woman said firmly, "Mr. Alvarez, Silver City needs a new hospital much more than Greenfield needs a new wing. This is not fair! We won't stand for it!"
"Doctor, I can understand why you are so upset," said Mr. Alvarez. "But, if you remember, this decision was made by the entire County Board. All the board members agreed that it would be much better to add a new wing to the Greenfield Hospital."
"Not if I have anything to do with it!" said the doctor. A moment later Mr. Alvarez's door swung wide open and the red-headed doctor strode out. She didn't even notice the Aldens. She marched out of the office and slammed the door behind her so hard that the pictures on the wall rattled.
"Wow!" said Benny, echoing what Henry had said a moment before.
Ms. Grady, the assistant, came out a moment later. Her face was pale.
"Mr. Alvarez will see you now," she said, sinking down in her chair. She didn't look too happy.
Thanking Ms. Grady, the Aldens went into Mr. Alvarez's office.
Mr. Alvarez, who had brown eyes and black hair with gray streaks in it, looked as upset as his assistant. But he smiled at the children. "Hello," he said. "I'm Mr. Alvarez. What can I do for you?"
"We'd like to know more about the fund-raising drive for the new wing for the Greenfield Hospital," said Jessie.
Seeing Mr. Alvarez's slightly puzzled look, Henry explained carefully, "We want to help. We'd like to raise money to contribute."
"That is very generous of you," said Mr. Alvarez. "If only everyone felt the same way." He shook his head. He walked over to a table that had a model of a building on it. He beckoned the Aldens to join him. "This is a model of what the new wing will look like. It will have the latest in emergency room equipment. We are very proud of it."
"We also are proud that a very wealthy person, who wishes to remain anonymous, has offered to match the amount of money we raise."
"So if you raise a thousand dollars, they'll give you a thousand dollars, too?" said Violet.
"That's right." Mr. Alvarez nodded. "So any money you give will count for twice as much."
"That's great!" Henry said. "But whom do we give the money to?"
"You can give it to me. I'll give you a receipt, and the money will go into the Hospital Building fund at the bank."
"Thank you," said Jessie. "We're going to start earning money tomorrow."
Mr. Alvarez smiled. He didn't seem quite as upset as he had when the Aldens had first come into his office. "Your donation will be greatly appreciated," he said.
The Aldens left the hospital and rode slowly home through the late afternoon shadows.
"I wonder why that red-haired doctor was so angry," said Jessie as they pedaled down the street.
"Maybe she's from Silver City," suggested Violet.
Jessie said thoughtfully, "But you would think a doctor would be glad to have a new wing on a hospital, no matter where it was built."
"Yes," said Henry. "It is very puzzling. But I don't see how she can stop the new wing from being built, especially if it's already been voted on and decided."
"We'll ask Grandfather tonight at dinner," said Henry. "He might know."
Benny had ridden ahead. Now he looked back over his shoulder. "Let's race home!" he cried. "One, two, three, go!" He took off, pedaling as fast as he could.
"Hey, Benny," shouted Henry, "no fair! You got a head start!" But he and Jessie and Violet began to pedal as fast as they could, too. The four Aldens raced into the driveway of the big old place where they lived. Benny got to the house first.
"I won, I won," he cried gleefully.
"You sure did," said Violet, chuckling. "Come on, let's get ready for dinner."
Laughing, the Aldens went into the house.CHAPTER 3
At the Ice Cream Parlor
"What have you been doing today?" asked Grandfather as they were finishing dinner that evening.
"We went shopping for Mrs. McGregor," Henry answered. "And we met someone new."
"A new friend?" Grandfather Alden smiled.
"She's coming tomorrow to see our boxcar," Benny said.
"And to meet Watch, Benny, don't forget," Jessie teased. "Her name is Beth Simon, and her family just moved into town, Grandfather. She's going to help us with a project."
"That sounds interesting," said Grandfather.
"We're going to help raise money for a new wing for the hospital," explained Violet. "At the grocery store we saw a sign asking people to donate money."
"An excellent idea." Grandfather nodded approvingly. "The hospital needs a new wing. Having it will help many people."
"But, Grandfather," said Jessie, "we went by the hospital today, to find out more about the fund-raising. We spoke to Mr. Alvarez, who's in charge. While we were there, we heard a doctor arguing with him about the new wing."
"Yes," Henry said. "She was very angry. She said Silver City needed a new hospital more than the Greenfield Hospital needed a new wing."
Grandfather's eyebrows drew together. "Some people did feel that way, when the new wing was first proposed," he said. "But the County Board finally decided that it would be better to have one big hospital all in one place. With two small hospitals, they would always need to buy two of everything. But with one big hospital, more money could be spent on the latest medical equipment."
"That makes sense," said Jessie thoughtfully. "I wonder why that doctor was so angry."
"Anyway, we're going to start a helping service," said Violet. "We will baby-sit, wash cars, run errands, and do whatever else people want done."
"And maybe we'll have a bake sale," said Benny.
Then the Aldens all began to talk at once, telling their grandfather about Beth's idea and the posters they planned to make and all the jobs they could do.
Grandfather laughed. "It all sounds good. But, meanwhile, why don't we go to the ice cream parlor for dessert? Is that a good idea?"
Benny bounced in his chair. "It's a great idea, Grandfather!"
Soon the Alden family was driving along the quiet streets of Greenfield. Grandfather parked the car and they headed toward the ice cream parlor, with Benny leading the way.
"We can put posters in all these stores," said Henry as they walked down Main Street.
"I'm sure you will have requests for all kinds of jobs," said Grandfather.
In the ice cream parlor, several tables were full. But the Aldens found one near the corner. After a few minutes, the waitress came to take their order.
Henry had a double-scoop cone of chocolate chip mint. Jessie had peach ice cream with whipped cream in a bowl. Violet chose plain blackberry sherbet. She liked it because it was almost the shade of violets, her favorite color. Grandfather had one scoop of vanilla with chocolate syrup. Benny asked for a banana split.
"Can you eat all that?" asked Grandfather.
"I'll try very hard," Benny promised, laughing.
"Okay," said Grandfather. "And I'll help you if you have trouble."
"Okay," said Benny.
Just then, Jessie saw a familiar figure. "Look! There's Beth."
The Aldens turned and saw Beth standing at the counter. Her dark brown hair was pulled back with a red headband and she was wearing a skirt and a red-striped T-shirt.
Jessie jumped up. "I'll go get her and then you can meet her, Grandfather," she said.
Beth had just finished talking to the young woman behind the counter as Jessie came up. "Yes," the woman said. "That's plenty for four people."
"Then that's exactly what I want," said Beth.
"Hi, Beth," said Jessie.
Beth quickly turned around. She looked startled. "Oh!"
"Are you buying ice cream for your family, too?" asked Jessie.
"Yes," said Beth.
"While they're getting it ready, come meet our grandfather," Jessie suggested happily.
"But, well, my ice cream will melt," Beth objected.
"You'll be back by the time they have it ready," promised Jessie, leading Beth toward the table where all the Aldens were sitting.
"This is our grandfather, James Henry Alden," said Jessie. "Grandfather, this is Beth Simon."
Grandfather stood up. "Welcome to Greenfield, Beth. Would you like to join us?"
"No. Uh, I mean, no, thank you. Um, I can't." Beth said quickly. "I have to go. Good-bye."
She hurried back to the counter, although her order wasn't quite ready.
"I'll write out the directions to our house on this napkin," said Violet. "Just so she remembers."
Violet began to scribble down the directions. Jessie waved at Beth, motioning her to come over as she left the counter.
For a moment, Beth hesitated. It didn't look as if she wanted to stop to talk to them again. But then she did.
Excerpted from The Disappearing Friend Mystery by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Charles Tang. Copyright © 1992 Albert Whitman & Company. Excerpted by permission of ALBERT WHITMAN & Company.
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