Read an Excerpt
The Great Detective Race
By GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp
ALBERT WHITMAN & CompanyCopyright © 2008 Albert Whitman & Company
All rights reserved.
Ready ... Set ... Go!
"It just hit me!" cried six-year-old Benny. He snapped his fingers. "I know the perfect gift!"
Ten-year-old Violet looked over at her little brother. "What's that, Benny?" she asked.
"A book about codes and clues!"
"Oh, Benny!" Jessie, who was twelve, couldn't help laughing. "That's a perfect gift for us."
"We're supposed to be looking for something for Mrs. McGregor," Henry pointed out.
Henry was fourteen. He was the oldest of the Aldens.
"Not everybody likes mysteries as much as we do, Benny," Violet said. In fact, the Aldens loved mysteries. And together, they'd managed to solve quite a few.
"Mrs. McGregor loves cooking," Jessie reminded Benny.
The four Alden children—Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny—were standing in the Rat Cellar, a bookstore in Greenfield. They were shopping for a birthday present for their housekeeper.
"Yes," said Benny. "Mrs. McGregor's the best cook in the whole world."
"Yes," Jessie said thoughtfully. "Maybe we should be looking at cookbooks."
"That's a great idea," agreed Henry. Benny nodded.
But Violet wasn't so sure. "Mrs. McGregor already has so many cookbooks. Don't you think we should get her something really special, Jessie?"
Jessie wasn't listening. Something had caught her eye. The others followed her gaze to a poster on the wall.
"The ballet's performing Swan Lake at the Greenfield Theater," Jessie said. "And Mrs. McGregor loves ballet!"
"Oh, Jessie!" Violet clapped her hands. "That really would be the perfect gift!"
There was no stopping Benny. The youngest Alden raced over to the checkout. "We'd like to buy a ticket to Swan Lake, please," he told the salesclerk.
The other Aldens smiled. They could always count on Benny to act fast.
The young woman behind the counter shook her head. "I'm afraid we don't sell them here. Why don't you try the ticket outlet in the Greenfield Mall," she suggested.
"Thanks," said Henry. "We will."
As they turned to go, a smartly dressed woman, her hair streaked with gray, suddenly stormed through the door.
"Not a single copy!" she almost shouted. "I don't see a single copy of The Art of Good Manners in sight." The woman glared at the sales clerk. "You promised to display my books in your store window."
"Oh!" The young woman behind the counter blinked in surprise. "You must be the author—Amber Madison."
"Well, who else would I be? I came all the way from Boston to promote my book. But it looks like I made the trip for nothing!"
"I'm so sorry, Miss Madison," the salesclerk apologized. "We've been rather busy around—"
"I'm not interested in your excuses!" the author snapped, cutting her short. "Do your job—or else!" With that, Amber Madison walked out.
The sales clerk let out a sigh as the door closed. "You'll have to excuse me," she told the Aldens. "I have work to do."
"No problem," said Henry. "Thanks for your help."
As they stepped outside, Jessie shook her head. "I think Amber Madison should read her own book on manners."
Benny frowned. "She wasn't very nice."
"I guess she was disappointed," said Violet, who always liked to think the best of people. "About her books, I mean."
"That doesn't excuse her for being rude," Jessie insisted, as they headed for the mall.
"One thing's for sure," put in Henry, "a book on manners is the very last thing Mrs. McGregor needs."
"Mrs. McGregor's always polite," agreed Benny.
"We're lucky to have her in our lives," Violet said with a nod.
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 them 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.
Inside the mall, the Aldens headed straight for the ticket outlet. "Mrs. McGregor will be so surprised," Violet said, her eyes dancing.
Jessie put the money on the counter. "We'd like a ticket to Swan Lake, please."
"Sorry." The tall man behind the ticket window shook his head. "I just sold the last one."
The Aldens could hardly believe their ears. "Now what?" Benny asked, his shoulders slumped.
Henry glanced at his watch. "It's almost lunch time," he said. "Why don't we stop for a bite to eat."
Benny didn't need to be asked twice. The youngest Alden was known for his appetite. In no time at all, the four children were carrying their trays to an empty table in the food court. Violet and Jessie were sharing a ham and cheese submarine sandwich. Henry had chosen fish and chips. And Benny's plate was piled high with fried chicken, cole slaw, and potato salad. While music blasted from the overhead speakers, the Aldens turned their attention back to Mrs. McGregor's birthday gift.
"I guess we could still get a cookbook," said Henry.
Benny nodded. "Maybe one with cookie recipes in it."
"Sounds more like a present for you, Benny," Henry teased.
Benny grinned. "Well, I do like—" The youngest Alden suddenly stopped talking.
"What is it, Benny?" Jessie asked with a worried frown. She often acted like a mother to her younger brother and sister.
Benny put a finger to his lips. "Shh, listen!"
No one spoke for a moment. They heard a man's voice coming from the radio on the overhead speakers.
"You heard me, folks! Free tickets to Swan Lake! But remember, time's running out to sign up for the Great Detective Race. This week, radio station WGFD is coming to you on location in the Greenfield Mall. Just head for our booth—right behind Alice—and fill out an entry form. Track down the right code word and win front-row seats to Swan Lake—as well as a ride in the sky with our very own traffic reporter, Chopper Dan. I'll be interviewing the winner on my afternoon program, so sign up now. Just tell them Mike Devlin sent you!"
Violet's hand flew to her mouth in surprise. "Did he just say something about free tickets to Swan Lake?"
Jessie nodded. "Front-row seats for the winner of the Great Detective Race!"
"And we're detectives!" cried Benny, his eyes shining. "We'll win for sure, right, Henry?"
"Right!" Henry agreed. Then he added honestly, "At least, we'll do our best."
The four Aldens quickly finished their lunch. Then they hurried over to a fountain decorated with a statue of a mermaid.
The stone mermaid, nicknamed Alice, was holding a mirror and smiling to herself. People in Greenfield often made a wish as they threw coins into the water. The bottom of the fountain was covered in pennies, dimes, and nickels. All the money went to charity.
Benny looked at his brother. Henry knew why. "Here you go, Benny," he said, fishing a penny from his pocket.
With a grin, Benny took the penny and tossed it into the water.
"I bet that's Mike Devlin," Henry said, nodding in the direction of a booth nearby.
The other Aldens looked over to see a young man of about thirty sitting behind a microphone. He had sandy-colored hair and a golden tan.
"I'm sure of it," said Jessie. She pointed to a WGFD poster with photos of both Mike Devlin and "Chopper Dan" Beamer.
Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny hurried over where a crowd had gathered around a long table. Everyone was busy filling out entry forms.
"Hi, kids!" A smiling young woman with coppery-red hair greeted the Aldens. "Are you here to sign up for the Great Detective Race?"
The youngest Alden nodded. "I'm Benny. And this is my brother Henry, and my sisters, Jessie and Violet."
"Nice to meet you. I'm Debra Belmont."
"It's nice to meet you, too," said Jessie, speaking for them all.
"It's my job to get more people to listen to this station," Debra explained.
"The more listeners, the better." She handed each of the children a WGFD baseball cap.
"Cool!" said Henry.
"Just fill out an entry form," Debra went on. "Then I'll give you the first clue. All the other clues are hidden somewhere in town. Oh, by the way," she added, "you might need to use the magic words—'I listen to the Big G.'"
"How dare you stick me on your Late Night show!" A woman stepped up to the table, waving a letter in the air. "I was expecting an interview with Mike Devlin."
The Aldens looked at each other in surprise. It was Amber Madison—the author of The Art of Good Manners.
"I'm afraid that's not possible, Miss Madison," Debra explained, as nicely as possible. "We never do interviews during the daytime."
"Oh?" Amber looked cross. "Won't Mike Devlin be interviewing the winner of this ... this silly race on his program?"
"Yes, but it's just for the contest," Debra told her.
"I'm promoting my book!" Amber argued. "Nobody listens to the radio late at night. I want to talk about my book during the day. "
"I'm sorry, but it just can't be done," Debra said with a shrug. "We do interviews at night."
"I see." Amber looked as if she wanted to argue, but she didn't. Instead, she sat down on the edge of the fountain, shaking her head.
Benny's eyes were round. "That lady sure gets upset a lot."
"Some grown-ups are like that," said Henry, putting an arm around his brother.
On the other side of the table, a boy about Henry's age suddenly called out, "Does spelling count?"
Debra shook her head. "Don't worry," she said with a smile. "I'm not much of a speller myself. If you can figure out clues, that's all that matters in this race."
"Guess what?" Benny piped up, as Jessie filled out an entry form. "We like tracking down clues—and we're good at it, too!"
"Oh, really?" Debra looked over in surprise.
"We have solved quite a few mysteries," Henry admitted.
"Well, good luck with this one," Debra said, holding out an envelope. "The first clue's a real doozy!"
As the Aldens walked away, they didn't notice the boy on the other side of the table frowning—or Amber Madison watching them carefully.CHAPTER 2
The Pied Piper
"We were in the mall," Benny was telling Grandfather at dinner that night, "and guess what we heard on the overhead speakers?"
"I have a hunch it had something to do with a mystery," answered Grandfather. "Am I right?"
Benny's jaw dropped. "How did you know?"
Grandfather chuckled. "Because my grandchildren have a way of attracting mysteries."
"The Greenfield radio station is having a contest, Grandfather," Henry said. "The Great Detective Race."
Jessie added, "There's a code word hidden somewhere in town. The first person who finds it, wins the race."
"We're hoping to win tickets to Swan Lake," Violet said. She looked to make sure their housekeeper wasn't around. "For Mrs. McGregor's birthday," she whispered behind her hand.
Grandfather nodded approvingly. "That's a great idea."
"And that's not all," Benny added. "The winner gets a ride with Chopper Dan—in his helicopter!"
"Well, it's not Chopper Dan's helicopter, Benny," Henry corrected. "I'm pretty sure it belongs to the radio station."
"It won't be an easy race to win," Jessie said. "Lots of people were signing up for the contest."
"Unless I miss my guess," Grandfather said, pushing back his chair, "my grandchildren will have this mystery wrapped up in no time."
The Aldens got up to clear the table as their grandfather left the room.
"Debra was right," Henry said, stacking the dinner plates. "That first clue really is a doozy!"
"Why don't you read it again, Henry," Violet suggested, as they carried the dishes into the kitchen.
Henry read the riddle aloud:
The Pied Piper's tune
is the sweetest of all;
to find the next clue,
just answer his call.
"I remember that story," Benny said, handing Jessie an empty platter. "The Pied Piper saved a town from rats."
Jessie nodded as she opened up the dishwasher. "He saved the town of Hamelin."
"But Hamelin wouldn't pay the piper's fee," added Henry, "so he decided to teach them a lesson."
"What did he do again?" Benny wanted to know.
"He played a tune on his pipe," Violet reminded him. "All the children followed him out of town."
Benny frowned. "Did that really happen?"
"No, it's just a story, Benny," Jessie told him.
"Then how can we follow his call?" Benny wanted to know. "If he isn't real, I mean."
"Good question," Henry said. He gathered the dirty forks and knives and put them into the dishwasher rack.
Just then, Mrs. McGregor came into the room. "I never imagined they'd be sold out already," she said, more to herself than anyone else.
"Is anything wrong, Mrs. McGregor?" Violet asked.
"I was hoping to get tickets to see the ballet, Violet," Mrs. McGregor told her. "But it looks like I'm out of luck." She reached her sewing basket down from the cupboard with a sigh. "I guess the early bird gets the worm."
As their housekeeper left the room, Violet shook her head. "Mrs. McGregor looked so disappointed. I sure hope we can win those tickets for her."
Henry nodded. "The answer's got to be somewhere in the story of the Pied Piper of Hamelin."
"There's something about that name that rings a bell," said Jessie.
"What name, Jessie?" Benny wondered. "The Pied Piper?"
Jessie shook her head. "No, not that," she said. "I'm talking about the name of the town. I have a feeling—" Her face suddenly lit up, then she dashed from the room.
A moment later, Jessie came back waving a street map in the air. "I want to check something out," she told them.
The other Aldens gathered round while Jessie opened the map. As she bent over the table to look at it, she suddenly thumped her finger down. "I knew it sounded familiar!" she said, pointing to a street just behind the Greenfield tennis courts.
Henry, Violet, and Benny took a closer look. "It's Hamelin Lane!" Violet realized.
"That's good detective work, Jessie!" said Henry. He slapped his sister a high-five. So did Violet and Benny.
"You think that's where we'll find the next clue?" asked Benny. "Somewhere on Hamelin Lane?"
"That'd be my guess," said Jessie.
Benny let out a cheer. It was always fun figuring out clues.
After breakfast the next morning, the Aldens put on their WGFD baseball caps and hopped on their bikes. With Watch beside them, they set off for Hamelin Lane. Henry held their little dog's leash as they pedaled along. They were careful not to go too fast so that Watch could keep up with them.
"Keep your eyes peeled," Henry advised when they reached the lane behind the tennis courts. "Remember, anything unusual can be a clue."
The children rode up and down Hamelin Lane. Once ... twice ... three times. They saw a teenager cutting the grass, kids throwing a Frisbee, and a woman knitting at her kitchen window. But they saw nothing that would help them win the Great Detective Race. They finally stopped.
"I was so sure we were on the right track," Jessie said, as they walked their bikes across the grassy lawn by the tennis courts.
Henry nodded. "The clues seemed to fit." Benny had a thought. "Maybe we should be looking for rats."
"Ooooh!" Violet shivered. "Do you really think so, Benny?"
"Well, The Pied Piper of Hamelin was a story about rats."
"You might be on to something, Benny," Henry said thoughtfully.
Jessie turned to her older brother. "What are you thinking, Henry?"
"What's the name of the bookstore?" Henry asked.
Jessie snapped her fingers as she remembered. "The Rat Cellar!"
Benny grinned. "Now we're getting somewhere."
With that, they headed down Main Street. While Violet waited on the sidewalk with Watch, the other Aldens went inside the Rat Cellar to look for clues. They searched up one aisle and down another. They even checked out the books on the bargain table. But it was no use.
"Looks like we struck out again," Henry said, heading for the door.
"Wait a minute, Henry." Benny pulled on his brother's arm. "We're forgetting something."
Henry turned around. "What's that, Benny?"
"Remember what Debra Belmont said?" he reminded them. "About the magic words, I mean."
"Oh, right!" said Henry. "Good thinking."
With that, Benny walked up to the salesclerk. "I listen to the Big G!" he announced.
"What ...?" The salesclerk looked startled. "That's, um, ... nice," she said, then hurried away to help a customer.
"Well, that didn't work," Henry said as they stepped outside.
"No luck?" Violet asked.
Jessie shook her head. "Zero."
Violet had been thinking. "There's a music store just down the street. Let's check it out."
"A music store?" Henry looked puzzled, but only for a moment. "Oh, because the Pied Piper played music on his pipe, right?"
"Exactly," said Violet, taking her bike from the rack.
"Hi there, kids!" said a voice behind them.
As they whirled around, Amber Madison flashed them a smile. The children were so surprised by the author's friendly greeting, they were speechless for a moment.
"You're the Aldens, right?" Amber went on. "I noticed you signing up for the Great Detective Race. Are you getting anywhere with it?"
"Not really," said Jessie. "Not yet, anyway."
"Oh," said Amber. "Too bad." She sounded disappointed.
"But we're getting warmer," Benny said.
Amber lifted an eyebrow. "Oh?" She flashed them another smile. "I'd love to hear all about it," she said. "I find it quite fascinating."
Jessie suddenly felt very uncomfortable. "We have to go," she said, glancing at her watch. "Sorry."
The Aldens hurried away.
Excerpted from The Great Detective Race by GERTRUDE CHANDLER WARNER, Robert Papp. Copyright © 2008 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.
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