I was just coming off Christmas break, and dreading my return to school, when the best case of my career came my way. Mrs. Thornton’s garage was broken into and her 1977 Mustang was stolen from it—right in broad daylight! She’s my neighbor, so I heard about the case first hand.
Well, needless to say, the neighborhood was in a ruckus. Everywhere I turned, I heard shouts of, “It’s not safe in our own neighborhood!” or, “What is happening to the neighborhood!” or, “I’m moving back to the Midwest where it’s safe.”
My head nearly spun with all the cries for help. “I can do this one,” I said to my mother on the third day after the robbery. She was tidying up the playroom and I kept running in front of her, trying to catch her attention. I slapped a closed fist into my palm. “It’s exactly what I’ve been looking for!”
She shook her head firmly and put on her serious—no room for negotiation—mother’s face. “This isn’t someone’s lunch money stolen, or misplaced dogs.” She cupped my chin in her hand and looked me straight in the eye. “This is too big for you to handle. Let the police do their work.” She raised her eyebrows. “Do you understand me?”
I nodded. She let go of my chin and I stalked off to my bedroom to pout. I threw myself on the bed and pursed my lips. How could I stay out of something so big?
My phone rang. With barely any enthusiasm, I answered, “Crime Solvers. Do you have a crime for me to solve?”
“Hi, Karrine,” came my little cousin’s perky voice. She lives in Sacramento with her mother, my aunt. My grandparents live there, too. She had spent the summer with me and we solved some awesome crimes together. She was determined to start her own agency in Sacramento. I told her she could call any time if she needed some advice. I guess she needed some.
“Oh, hey, Jayden.”
“What’s the matter?” she asked. “You sound so glum.”
I sighed, and rolled over. I plucked at a stray thread on my bedspread and winced when it pulled a whole string free. I tried patting it back in, but it wouldn’t stay. I patted it down, pretended it stayed, and rolled the other way. “I’ve got the biggest case of my career.” I told her about the break-in.
“That’s great! I wish I was there to help you. All I got is a dumb missing grade book.”
“It wouldn’t matter anyway,” I said. “Mother won’t let me take the case.”
I sighed again. “She thinks it’s dangerous.”
“Well, maybe it is—a little,” Jayden said.
“Not for an experienced detective like me,” I said.
“I guess you’re right,” Jayden said. “Is this a bad time to ask for help?”
“Not at all,” I said. “It will take my mind off my case that I can’t work. What’s up?”
“Someone stole my teacher’s test book and now she’s going to give a test twice as hard, unless I manage to find that test book. I’m sunk. It’s in math, and I suck at math!”
I thought for a minute, tapped the phone with my thumb, causing it to make a screeching sound. “Who are your suspects?”
“So far, I only have two—Jacob Martindale and Mark Hesper.”
I sat up, swung my legs over the edge of the bed and wandered over to my desk, where I picked up a pen. Poised and ready to write, I said, “Tell me about them.”
“Jacob is new. He’s my number one suspect,” she said.
“What puts him at the top of your list?”
“Well…for one, he’s new so no one knows anything about him.”
“Go on,” I urged. I needed more than that.
“He never raises his hand to answer a problem, so I figured he’s dumb at math and needs the test answers to pass.”
I nodded. “Good point, but there could be another reason for that.” I hoped I didn’t bring her down with my point.
“True,” she said, not seeming at all shaken. “He also keeps to himself and refuses to answer any of my questions.”
“Aha!” I said. “Sounds as if he’s hiding something.”
“That’s what I thought,” Jayden said. I could hear the pride in her voice.
“What about this Mark guy?”
Jayden paused. “The only thing I got on him was the fact he was seen in the hallway after school.”
“Interesting,” I said. “What did he give for a reason?”
“He said the football coach sent him to get some balls from the gym.”
“Likely story,” I said. “Did the coach confirm it?”
“Gee,” Jayden said. “I haven’t questioned the coach.”
“Do that next,” I said. “And see if you can find out where this Jacob kid came from. And see if there was any trouble reported involving him at his last school.”
“Thanks, Karrine! I’ll get right on that.”
We said goodbye, and I slumped back into my gloom. Helping Jayden had only made me anxious for a new case.
“Karrine, supper,” I heard my mother call from the dining room.
I rolled my eyes and shuffled my way to the kitchen. Mom’s call to supper was really a call to set the table, so I went straight to the cupboard and took down plates. I let the door close a little too loudly and got what felt like a five-hour lecture about respecting my elders and doing what’s expected of me. “I’m sorry, Mother,” I said. “I’m just still a little sore about the big case.”
She stopped stirring the spaghetti sauce and asked, “What big case?”
I shook my head as I placed eating utensils next to plates around the table. I stared opened-mouth. “The case…the really big one…grand theft auto,” I said.
She nodded. “Oh…yeah…the case. Well, I’m sorry about that but, safety first you know.” She set down the spoon and lifted the heavy pot from the stove and moved it to the table. Then she strained some pasta noodles and set the bowl on the table. “Call the boys,” she said.
I went to the bottom of the stairs and shouted up, “Grub is on.”
Thundering footsteps rushed past me as my brothers raced each other to the table. My step-father followed the boys, only he didn’t run. I sat down at the table. My head hung low to my chin. “What’s with you?” my step-father asked.
“Nothing,” I grumbled.
My mother sat down with a heavy sigh. “Mrs. Thornton’s car was stolen from her garage.”
“And I want to work the case,” I said, rushing in…hoping for an ally.
“And I think she’s too young.”
“Seems to me, it’s a police matter,” my step-father said.
I slumped back again. There went any hope of him being on my side.
“Besides,” Mother said, “You don’t even have a client.”
I brightened. “So, if I had a client, could I?”
“Well you don’t, so it’s a moot point. Eat your dinner.” She pointed at the plate I hadn’t even touched. I was too depressed to eat.
After dinner, I went into the den and turned on the news. My mother walked in and saw me sitting there, staring at the television. She looked at what was on. “You’re watching the news?”
I nodded, my eyes never leaving the screen. “Can’t a girl be interested in what’s going on in her own community?”
“She can,” my mother said, “but since when are you a news buff?”
I took a quick glimpse at her and returned to staring at the television. “I’m getting older now,” I said. “I’m turning thirteen next month. Don’t you think it’s time I acquainted myself with the goings on around me.”
“Mm, hm,” my mother said. “You’re trying to see if you can find out any information about the stolen car.”
I was astonished, insulted, ridiculed—and busted. “How’d you know?”
“It’s my job,” she said. She picked up the remote and flipped off the television. “You might have better luck if you Google the crime.”
I jumped to my feet. “Of course!” I ran from the room, shouting my thanks over my shoulder. I skidded to a halt at the computer, sliding into the computer chair. At first, I got way too many hits when I Googled stolen car. Then when I added my street name to the search…BINGO, it was there. I searched the article, looking for any clues. Mother said I couldn’t work the case, but she said nothing about following it on the internet. Buried deep in the newspaper, on about the sixth page, was a small blurb about the theft.
Apparently, the Las Vegas Crime Reporter didn’t share my opinion about this being “the big case.” I read that article four times and only learned that similar incidences were happening all over the city. Could this be a serial thief?
While I was online, I got an instant message from Jayden updating me on her own case. Our email conversation went like this:
Jayden: Sorry about your big case.
Jayden: I tried calling Jacob’s old school. They won’t give me any information. The lady on the phone said it was none of my business.
Me: Well, keep trying. Maybe your mom will call them for you.
Jayden: Great idea. I’d better solve this case fast; our harder test is scheduled for Friday. That’s only three days from now. Gotta run. Love you.
Me: Love you, too.
I signed off and went to bed.
I was in a terrible gloom the next day. I was itching for a case, and at this point, I didn’t care what it was. I wouldn’t even mind if Mrs. Jackson got into some more trouble. She had pulled a really good prank on her husband, just to get his attention. But she wasn’t clever enough to escape my sleuthing brain.
Pinky sent me a text saying Rusty was ready to go home. Last year, Mrs. Waverly, Rusty’s owner, had summoned me to find her “stolen” dog. It turned out he was in Pinky’s care and Mrs. Waverly had forgotten about asking Pinky to groom Rusty. I earned twenty dollars by finding him and returning him. Now, every time he went for a groom, Mrs. Waverly called saying someone kidnapped him and could she hire me to find him. I felt kind of guilty taking her money but, hey, if she can’t keep track of her own dog, how is that my problem? Besides, it really helped Pinky.
When the school bell rang, dismissing school for the day, I sent my mom a text and told her I was headed over to Pinky’s to take Rusty home. She responded by asking me to bring home milk with me. I sighed and said I would. Did any other private eye get asked by her mother to pick up things from the store on their way home from a case?
Pinky was glad to see me, as we had become good friends since the dog-napping case. Occasionally, she even had need of help around the dog-grooming salon, and she would pay me to wash dogs for her.
“That would be a great help,” she said. “In fact, I’ll give you an extra ten if you take Blue Bell, too.”
My eyes lit up. Not only did I like Blue Bell, business was kind of slow at the minute, and I could use the money. “Sure,” I said.
“I’ll be right back,” Pinky said, but halfway to the backroom she stopped and turned around. “Did you hear about the Stanley’s Mustang?”
“You mean the Thornton’s Mustang? Yeah, I heard about it.”
Pinky’s eyes flew open wide and she rushed back to the counter. “The Thornton’s Mustang was stolen, too?”
My eyes went wide as well. “The Thorntons and the Stanleys!” It was starting to seem as if a crime wave was brewing. “Are there any leads?” I asked.
Pinky shrugged. “I was hoping you’d know. I thought you’d be all over this case.”
My shoulders slumped into their now typical pose. I frowned. “My mother forbade me to touch it.”
Pinky frowned from one side of her mouth. I was amazed she could do that. “I guess I can see her point.”
“Well, I can’t!” I screamed. “How am I supposed to be a top-notch crime solver if my mother won’t let me work any cases beyond stolen lunch money?”
Pinky sprayed some perfume on Blue Bell, who sneezed and then growled. I sat up straight and waved the perfume fumes away. “It smells good,” Pinky said, indignantly.
“Maybe a little bit,” I said, “but you don’t have to douse the dog with the entire bottle.”
Pinky frowned. “What else do you have going?”
I slumped again. “Nothing.”
She clipped on Blue Bell’s leash and handed it to me. “I’ll be right back.”
Blue Bell clamped down on the leash and she and I began a game of tug-o-war. I was winning when Pinky reappeared with Rusty. She handed me his leash, too. We made our way to the door, Rusty nipping at Blue Bell all the way, and she looking at me with a pathetic help me look. “This is going to be interesting,” I muttered.
I hopped on my bike and tied a leash to each handlebar. Rusty immediately began to run. Poor Blue Bell’s little legs worked with a frenzy to keep up. “Slow downnnnnnnnn!” I screamed at Rusty. By this time, Rusty had spotted a puppy scampering under a fence. He increased his speed. I must have been going at least sixty miles per hour, judging from the way my hair blew out behind me. “Stop it right now, Rusty!” I screamed again. He didn’t listen to me one bit, and now both dogs were chasing at high speed. I slammed on my brakes…big mistake; I flew over the handlebars and for the first time was grateful of my mother’s insistence I wear a bicycle helmet. My head collided with the fence. I saw stars spin above my head. My knee was bleeding—nothing a little Band-Aid wouldn’t help—and I felt like a fool.
Three people rushed over to me…yes, it’s true some humans still care. Unlike the four-legged monsters who now sat barking at the fence they never had any chance of making it through. Rusty looked at my frowning face, whined, and licked my hand.
“Are you okay,” someone asked.
I looked up into the face of the cutest boy in school. Jared Sinclair. I had never met Jared because I was too intimidated to talk to him, but here he was jumping to my rescue. He extended his hand down to me. His face wore the cutest, hugest, smile I’d ever seen.
My knees shook as he helped me stand. “Are you all right?”
I nodded. “That was a close one.”
He looked down at Rusty and Blue Belle. “How are your dogs?”
I ruffled Rusty’s head and gave Blue Belle a little stroke. “They’re not mine. I’m just doing a favor for a friend and returning them home.”
“Here,” he said, “let me take one of them for you. My name’s Jared.”
“Yes, I know,” I said, smiling at him.
“Don’t we have English together?”
I nodded. “Science, too.”
“That’s what I thought. You’re the smart girl who sits at the front of the class.”
“I’m not that smart,” I said, as if being smart were a bad thing.
He chuckled and I noticed he had the cutest dimples. Why hadn’t I ever noticed them before?
We walked past the ice cream shop. Mr. Scoops was sweeping the sidewalk outside. He waved. “Good afternoon, Karrine,” he called.
I waved back. “Hey, Mr. Scoops.”
“I’ve got tables to clean. Busy lunch period today.”
I held up Rusty’s leash, pointed at Blue Belle and said, “Sorry, I’m taking these critters home for Pinky.” My mouth suddenly filled with the taste of strawberry ice cream. “I could stop on the way back,” I said.
He waved. “I’ll save them for you.”
We walked on and I explained my arrangement with Mr. Scoops. “I help him out in exchange for free ice cream.”
“Sweet deal,” Jared said.
We came to Rusty’s house. “You wait here with Blue Belle. Mrs. Waverly doesn’t do well with strangers.” I started to walk toward the door, paused and then looked back at Jared. “Come to think of it, she doesn’t do well with people she knows, either.”
I shook my head and made my way up the driveway. I knocked on the door. From the other side, Mrs. Waverly said. “Who is it?”
“It’s me, Mrs. Waverly, Karrine.”
Her voice turned hard and lowered as if she were trying to sound like a man. “Karrine who?”
I shook my head, turning around to smile at Jared. I waved my finger in circles, indicating she was slightly cuckoo. He smiled back. “I’ve got Rusty for you.”
She flung open the door and snatched him from my hands. “Thank goodness,” she said. “I was just about to call the police.” She looked at me and narrowed her eyes. “Young lady! Just who do you think you are stealing my Rusty?” She made kissy noises at him, puckering up and smacking her lips. “You poor darling.” She slammed the door.
My shoulders dropped, I sighed, shook my head back and forth and knocked again.
“Who is it?” Mrs. Waverly said in a singsong voice.
I sighed again. “It’s Karrine,” I said.
“What’s wrong with her?” Jared shouted to me.
“Nothing,” I shouted back. “She’s just trying to get out of paying.”
Jared joined me on the doorstep and said, “Maybe she has that Alzheimer’s thing. My grandpa has it. He can’t remember a thing.”
I frowned. “Gee, I hope not,” I said, “I’d feel bad if she really does.” I banged again.
“Who is it?” Mrs. Waverly said.
I grunted. Jared grinned at me. He said, “It’s UPS. I have a package for you.”
The door flung open wide and Mrs. Waverly stood on the porch, still holding Rusty. “Where?” she said, trying to look for the package. I held out my hand and tapped my palm. She sighed in defeat. “Oh, all right,” she said.
She put Rusty on the ground, where he proceeded to growl at Jared. “Is that dog going to bite me?”
I put a hand out to Rusty. “Good boy,” I said. He immediately sat and wagged his tail at me. When I first met Rusty, the entire community was afraid of him. He bit and barked, and chased anything that moved. With my patient teaching, he had become a much friendlier dog. “He’ll be fine,” I said.
Mrs. Waverly returned with her wallet and handed me ten dollars. I waved my fingers to indicate I needed more. I was collecting Pinky’s fee, too. She started muttering something about a fixed income, which meant nothing to me. When she counted out the right amount of bills, I thanked her and waved, stooped to give Rusty a pat, and walked away. The door slammed behind me. I grinned at Jared.
Delivering Blue Belle was a piece of cake, and we even got milk and homemade chocolate chip cookies as a bonus.
“Is this what you do with your free time?”
“Naw,” I said,” just when business is slow. I usually spend my time solving mysteries.” My frown appeared. “I’m just in between cases right now. There’s a really big case going on right now, but my mother won’t let me work it.” I felt foolish the minute the confession left my mouth. I sounded like a whiny baby.
“What if you had a partner?”
I thought about this for a minute. I wondered how I’d feel with someone else sharing my adventure. “I’ve used my cousin Jayden before, but she went home.”
Jared stopped and spread his arms out wide. “How about me?”
I stopped and looked at him. I could feel my eyes grow large with surprise. “You!”
“Sure. I don’t see why not.” He stood up straight, stuck out his chest and chin, grabbed the edge of his jacket, and stuck his elbow out like a clucking chicken. “I’d make a great detective.”
I stared quietly at him. Crime Solvers was my agency. I didn’t know how I’d feel about sharing the glory with Jared...even if he was the cutest boy in school.
I started walking again. Jared gave me a minute to think. We were coming up to Mr. Scoop’s store and I hesitated before going in. I looked at Jared. He looked at me. “I usually work alone,” I said.
“But this is a really big case, and you said your mother wouldn’t let you work it.”
I frowned. Jared was standing there with a really stupid grin on his face, showing me his beautiful, pearly-white teeth. He tipped his head sideways and stuck out his lower lip. He whined like a dog.
I stomped my foot on the ground. “That’s not fair. You know how much I love dogs.”
“Is that a yes?”
I thought back to the conversation with my mother. Had she actually said I couldn’t do it? A smile came to my lips. No, she hadn’t. What she said was it was too big for me to handle, but wasn’t that just her opinion? Her warning to let the police handle it didn’t mean a thing, as I had no intention of interfering with their investigation. I was just going to do one of my own. “All right,” I said. “But don’t get in my way.”
He clapped his hands. “Where do we start?”
“At the scene of the crime.”
We hurried back to my house to make our plan.
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