The Case of the Smelly Sneaker
It's girls versus boys in the biggest football game of the year! Jigsaw Jones is referee, while his partner, Mila Yeh, is coaching the girls' team. Bobby Solofsky has no doubt the boys will win, but the girls have a secret weapon. Then one of Bigs Maloney's sneakers goes missing, and Bobby wants to call off the whole game.
Can Jigsaw and Mila find this sneaker thief in time to save the game?
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Eddie Becker grabbed my football jersey. "Okay, Jigsaw. This is it. Tie score," he urged. "If they score a touchdown now, we lose the game. You know what's coming, don't you?"
"Yeah," I grimaced. "Bigs Maloney, right up the middle."
Joey Pignattano squeezed his eyes shut. Joey didn't want any part of tackling Bigs Maloney. I didn't blame him. We'd been trying to bring down Bigs all afternoon. It was like trying to tackle a refrigerator.
Ouch. Even my bruises had bruises.
I was so black-and-blue, I looked like a grape. I'd had enough football to last me through the winter — and it wasn't even Thanksgiving yet.
Bobby Solofsky clapped his hands together. He shouted, "All right, let's win this game!" Solofsky was quarterback for the other team. He stood over the ball. Ralphie Jordan got set, waiting for Bobby to hike the ball. Ralphie was playing wide receiver. He was faster than a text.
Joey Pignattano, my teammate, lined up opposite Ralphie. "You wouldn't hurt a guy with glasses," Joey bleated.
I stood across from Bigs Maloney. It was my job to cover Bigs. After all, no one else wanted to do it. Bobby called out the signals, "Ready, set, green thirty-nine! Blue twenty-six! Orange-orange, green-green. Hut-one, hut-two, hut-threee ..."
"Oh, just hike the ball already," Eddie complained.
I glanced warily at Bigs. No, smoke didn't pour from his nostrils. Horns didn't grow from his head. And Bigs didn't wear a ring through his nose. But in every other way, Bigs resembled a bull in a rodeo, busting to break loose. He was getting the ball, all right. I knew it. He knew it. Everybody on the planet knew it. I bet even the little green men on Mars knew it.
Bigs Maloney was going to take the ball, and he was going to run right over me.
And like a rubber dummy, I was going to try to stop him. I knew something else, too. In about ten seconds, I was going to be flatter than a tortilla at Taco Bell.
Who invented football, anyway?
"HIKE!" Bobby yelled.
Ralphie sprinted down the sidelines, arms waving. "I'm open! I'm open!"
Bobby faked a pass to Ralphie.
"Watch out for the Quarterback Sneak!" Eddie called out.
Suddenly, Bigs circled back and took the handoff from Bobby. It was the Statue of Liberty play! Bigs wrapped two thick arms around the ball. He cradled it to his belly. Bigs pawed the ground, snorted, and charged.
Where was a red cape when I needed one?
Whap, kersplish, oof, splaaaaatt!
The next thing I knew I was lying flat on my back. Dizzy, I stared at the spinning sky. A few clouds floated past. They were white and fluffy. One even looked like a wittle, itty-bitty bunny wabbit. Off in the distance — far, far away — I heard Bigs Maloney rumble into the end zone. Or maybe it was a herd of rhinos tap-dancing on my skull. I wasn't sure.
Joey knelt beside me. He poked at me with his finger. "Jigsaw? Are you okay?"
I blinked. At least my eyelids weren't broken. "Anybody get the license plate of that marching band? I think I was just trampled by a tuba."
"Don't try to talk, Jigsaw," Joey said. "You're not making sense."
Ralphie and Bigs gathered around me. "S-s-sorry, Jigsaw," Bigs stammered. "I didn't mean to hurt you. It's just that you were sorta in my way. Do you think you can walk?"
"Sure I can walk," I muttered. "You put one foot in front of the other."
"Can you get up?"
"Don't be silly, Bigs," I said. "Of course I can. But right now I'm doing my impression of highway roadkill. I'm pretending to be a chicken who tried to cross the road at the Daytona 500. What do you think?" Ralphie whistled softly. "I think you look like the agony of defeat."
"I think you look like road pizza," Bobby observed.
"I think you need a hand," Joey said. He reached down to help me up. And that was all anybody needed to know about Joey Pignattano. He'll help you up when you're feeling down.
After a few minutes, the feeling returned to my hands and feet. "Hey, look." I pointed. "Here comes Helen, Lucy, and Danika."
We walked over to check out their scooters. That is, everybody else walked. I limped. "Cool scooter," Joey complimented Helen Zuckerman. "Can I try it?"
"Yes ..." Helen answered, "if you let us play football."
"Sure, why not!" Joey answered.
"Why not?!" Bobby repeated. "WHY NOT??!! I'll give you a good reason why not. Take a look at 'em, Joey. They're girls."
"So?" Joey replied.
"Girls can't play football," Bobby stated. "It's un-American."
"Oh, yeah?" Danika Starling challenged.
Eddie stepped between Danika and Bobby. "This is fascinating, guys," he cracked. "But Sunday night is pizza night at my house. And I'm never late for pizza. I'll see you all in school tomorrow."
Bobby slid his tongue across his teeth. He made a sucking sound with his mouth. That was Solofsky for you. My dog, Rags, had better manners. "Consider yourself lucky we didn't let you play," Bobby said to Helen. "Girls can't play football. Everybody knows that."
Helen's cheeks flushed with anger. Lucy Hiller's eyes burned. Danika put her hands on her hips in defiance. "Girls are just as good as boys," Lucy seethed.
"Maybe better," Danika added.
Bobby laughed in slow motion.
Like this: Ha. Ha. Ha. Ha.
"What's so funny, Solofsky?" Helen said. "You afraid we might beat you?"
Bobby rolled his eyes skyward. "Afraid of you? That's a good one." A devilish grin crept across Bobby's face. "Bigs, Ralphie, and me just beat Eddie, Jigsaw, and Joey. I bet the three of us could beat any four girls in a game of football."
The girls huddled together, talking with hushed voices. Finally, Helen spoke up. "You're on," she said. "Name the time and place."
"Tuesday after school. Right here in the field behind the playground. That way you'll have a day to practice," Bobby quipped. "You'll need it."
"We've still got to find a fourth player," Helen said.
"A fourth victim, you mean," Solofsky replied. "Just make sure it's a girl. Any girl you want."
Ralphie and Bigs watched all this in silence, scratching their heads. It didn't look like they loved Bobby's idea. But it was too late. The game was set.
"One more thing," Danika said. "We'll need a referee. Someone we can trust."
"What's the matter? You don't trust me?" Bobby asked.
"I'd rather trust a rattlesnake," Lucy retorted.
"What about Jigsaw?" Joey suggested. "He's honest."
Helen Zuckerman glanced doubtfully at me. "Jigsaw ... and Mila, together. A boy and a girl. I'll call Mila as soon as I get home."
My ears perked up. Mila Yeh was my best friend. She was also my partner. We solved mysteries together. Now, I figured, we worked football games, too.
Helen reached out a hand to Bobby. "Deal?"
They shook on it.
"Tuesday," Helen confirmed. "Two days before Thanksgiving. Right here. Girls against boys."
"Just like the Super Bowl," Ralphie joked. "We'll call it the Turkey Bowl!"
Helen, Danika, and Lucy hopped on their scooters. They sped away without looking back.
Bobby let out a whoop. He smiled happily. "We'll kill 'em!" he shouted. "It'll be sooooo easy." He paused to look at Bigs and Ralphie. They weren't smiling. "What's the matter, guys? It'll be like taking candy from a baby."
"I guess," Bigs mumbled. "But I sort of like babies."
"And four against three," Ralphie said. "I don't know."
"Oh, stop your whining!" Bobby said. "They're just girls. We'll destroy 'em!"
"One last thing," Bobby added, jabbing a thumb in my direction. "Jigsaw, you're the hotshot detective. Keep an eye on those girls. I don't want 'em to try any tricky stuff. Us guys have to stick together."
I had to bite my lip not to laugh out loud. Solofsky was the world's biggest cheater. It was like a wolf telling me he didn't trust sheep!
The Spring Street Superstar
I took a long bath after dinner. Soaking my bones in the warm water, I decided that the next time I tried to tackle Bigs Maloney, I wouldn't.
I worked on a jigsaw puzzle until bedtime. That's how I got my nickname, Jigsaw. Because I love piecing together puzzles. My real name is Theodore. But only my mom still calls me Theodore. Everybody else knows me as Jigsaw.
I solve mysteries like I solve puzzles. One piece at a time.
Most nights my dad reads to me, or I read to him. Sometimes we take turns. That night, we read two chapters in Skinnybones by Barbara Park. Then my dad tucked me in and turned out the light. "Don't let the bedbugs bite," he chimed. I yawned, closed my eyes, and pretended to sleep. After he left, I pulled out my flashlight. I had other plans. I grabbed my trusty detective journal and a marker.
I wrote a secret message in code. It was called a Ticktacktoe Code. It's sort of like making your own secret alphabet. This is the letter key:
The alphabet for the code comes from the letter key like this:
I jotted down a quick note to Mila.
There was a sudden rapping at my door. "Theodore Andrew Jones," my mother's voice called. "You're not fooling anybody with that flashlight. Get to bed, mister."
First thing Monday morning, I handed the note to Mila on the bus. Mila rocked back and forth, staring at the code. Rocking was how Mila got her Thinking Machine started. In a few minutes, she turned over the page. Mila scribbled furiously:
"I don't get it," I said. "Do you really think Helen's team can win?"
"I know we can," Mila replied.
I raised an eyebrow. "We? Don't tell me you are going to play on Helen's team."
"Who, then?" I asked. "Athena? Geetha? Kim?" Mila shook her head. "Nope, double-nope, triplenope."
"Tell me," I demanded.
"Sorry, Jigsaw. It's a secret. But I will tell you this. I'm the coach!"
"What?!" I exclaimed. "I thought you were going to referee with me!"
"Geetha Nair will do it instead." Mila's expression turned serious. "You've got to understand, Jigsaw. This isn't an ordinary football game. The girls against the boys. I'm going to help Helen's team win."
"No one on Helen's team can tackle Bigs Maloney," I warned. "Believe me, he'll trample 'em like a steamroller."
Mila shook her head. "We've got a secret weapon."
The bus turned onto Spring Street. We stopped in front of Helen Zuckerman's house. Helen's older sister, Lydia, boarded the bus after Helen. Lydia Zuckerman was a playground legend at our school. She was tall and talented and tough as nails. Nobody messed with Lydia Zuckerman.
When she walked down the aisle to her seat in the back of the bus, Lydia gave Mila a sly nod.
"See you at practice," Mila said.
Lydia grunted. I took that as a yes. Two grunts, I guessed, meant no.
"Lydia Zuckerman!" I whispered to Mila. "The Spring Street Superstar?! She's the best athlete in our whole school. I can't believe you got her to play for you!"
Mila's eyes twinkled with delight. "Don't tell anyone," Mila said. "It's our little secret."
I crossed my fingers behind my back. "Sure," I lied. Maybe lying wasn't a nice thing to do. But like Mila said, this wasn't an ordinary football game.
Doing the Turkey Lurkey
I found Bobby, Ralphie, and Bigs talking in the hallway.
Solofsky didn't even blink when I told him the bad news. "Big deal," he bragged. "We'll still destroy 'em."
Ralphie and Bigs exchanged worried glances.
"She's a legend," I said. "Lydia Zuckerman is the fastest kid in school. She's strong, too. My brother Nicholas is in her class, and he says she beat everyone in an arm wrestle."
"I don't believe it," scoffed Bobby. "Boys rule. Girls drool. We'll win the game, easy."
He turned to Ralphie and Bigs. "Right?" "Er, yeah, right," they answered.
It was a busy school day. Thanksgiving was just three days away. Our teacher, Ms. Gleason, read a really good book called The Perfect Thanksgiving by Eileen Spinelli. Ms. Gleason was really funny when she read it. We got a little crazy, laughing and rolling around on the floor. Loving books was contagious in our classroom. It was catchy, sort of like the time when Stringbean Noonan started sneezing and our whole class got sick. The Perfect Thanksgiving showed how two different families celebrated Thanksgiving. One family was quiet and tidy. The other was loud and messy. They reminded me of Thanksgiving at my house. But no matter how different the families were, Thanksgiving meant the same thing to both of them. It was a day to be thankful. A day to celebrate our love for each other.
Plus, of course, we get to eat pie!
All our classwork had something to do with turkeys — even in math and science. Ms. Gleason helped us compare tame turkeys to wild turkeys. We made a big chart and hung it on the wall:
1) live on a farm
2) fat and slow
3) can't fly
4) short necks
5) short legs
6) not so bright
1) live in woods
2) slim and quick
3) fly up to 50 mph
4) long necks
5) long legs
6) very smart and cunning
"I'd much rather be a wild turkey than a tame one," Stringbean Noonan concluded.
Ms. Gleason agreed. "Me, too. Especially during Thanksgiving!" No one could argue with that. We all knew what happened to turkeys on Thanksgiving. And it wasn't pretty.
Gobble-gobble ... GACK!
"Can anyone tell me what bird is our national bird?" Ms. Gleason asked.
About ten hands shot to the sky. "Oh, oh, oooooh! Ms. Gleason! Ms. Gleason!!"
Ms. Gleason called on Joey. But Joey just stared into space. "I think I used to know when I raised my hand, Ms. Gleason," Joey admitted. "But now I sort of completely forgot."
Ms. Gleason covered a smile with her hand. "How about you, Kim? Do you sort of remember?"
"A bald eagle," Kim Lewis answered.
"That's correct," Ms. Gleason said. "But here's an interesting fact. Benjamin Franklin wanted another bird to be our national bird. He preferred the wild turkey! What do you kids think?"
We discussed different birds. Geetha liked owls. Bobby voted for the vulture. Lucy admired seagulls. But most of us stuck with the good old American bald eagle.
"Poor baldy," Ralphie joked. "Too bad we can't buy him a wig!"
Ms. Gleason glanced out the window. It was raining hard. "It looks like we won't be going outside for recess today. So let's take an exercise break. Stand up, everyone."
She told us that wild turkeys follow a set pattern when they scratch the dirt. A pattern is when the same thing happens over and over again. We studied patterns in math.
"I call this dance the Turkey Lurkey," Ms. Gleason announced.
She tucked her arms to her sides. She gave the floor a long scratch with her left foot. Then two quick scratches with her right foot. Then another with her left foot. Soon, everybody was wandering around the room, gobbling and scratching, stretching their necks and flapping their wings.
That's when our principal, Mr. Rogers, stopped by.
"What's going on here?" he demanded.
We froze in place.
Ms. Gleason laughed. "It's the Turkey Lurkey!" she announced. "Please join us, Mr. Rogers! The children will show you how!"
Mr. Rogers sighed heavily, shook his head sadly, and eyed the door hopefully.
"PLEASE!" a chorus of voices chimed.
Flap, flap. Scratch. Gobble.
"Come on, Mr. Rogers," Kim Lewis said. "You can do better than that!"
And Kim was right. After a while, Mr. Rogers scratched and flapped with the rest of us. I've got to hand it to him. After a little practice, Mr. Rogers made a pretty good turkey! He'd better be careful next time he goes to the supermarket. Some hungry shopper might take him home and pour gravy on his head!
I thought I'd be watching the Turkey Bowl on Tuesday afternoon. Instead I was tackling a mystery. Somebody had swiped Bigs Maloney's smelly sneakers.
It was 1:45. We had just gotten back from the library. Ms. Gleason was on the reading rug, gabbing to a group of kids. They were trying to write a play about Squanto, the Native American who helped the Pilgrims.
I was sitting at my table with Bigs, Lucy, and Stringbean Noonan. I drew a picture of a steamroller crushing a football player. I labeled the steamroller BIGS. I drew an arrow at the frightened football player. It read, THE GIRLS' TEAM.
Who says art is only for sensitive types?
Lucy leaned forward and gave Bigs a friendly tap. She teased, "Are you ready to lose today?"
"I'm ready to win," Bigs replied, smiling broadly. He gestured toward the cubbies. "I've got my football sneakers in my backpack right over ..."
The smile fell from his face and crashed to the floor. "My backpack?!" he roared. "It was right on that hook. Where'd it go?"
We found the backpack on the floor near the front door. The zipper was open. It was empty, except for a few rocks. "My sneakers are gone!" Bigs scowled. "They've been stolen!"
A group of kids gathered around. Everyone felt bad for Bigs. Except Helen. She was only worried about the game. "No sneakers, huh?" Helen said. "Tough break, Bigs. But like they say on Broadway, the game must go on."
Bigs gestured to his heavy hiking boots. "I can't play in these clunkers!"
Excerpted from "A Jigsaw Jones Mystery: The Case of the Smelly Sneaker"
Copyright © 2001 James Preller.
Excerpted by permission of Feiwel and Friends.
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.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1 Splaaaaatt!,
Chapter 2 The Challenge,
Chapter 3 The Spring Street Superstar,
Chapter 4 Doing the Turkey Lurkey,
Chapter 5 Swiped!,
Chapter 6 The Kid in the Hall,
Chapter 7 The List of Suspects,
Chapter 8 Lydia,
Chapter 9 The Confession,
Chapter 10 To the Dumpster,
Chapter 11 Touchdown!,
Other Books By James Preller,
About the Author,