Authors: Charles Tang
As they reached the parking lot for the Athletic Center, Jessie slowed her bike to a halt. The others pulled up behind her.
Benny pointed. “There it is,” he said. “There’s the blue van.”
“Yes, it is,” said Henry. “And we’re not going to have to ask anyone who it belongs to.”
“Why not?” asked Benny.
“Because the parking place it is in has someone’s name on it,” Violet explained, staring.
“Who? Who is it?” cried Benny.
“Anthony Della,” said Jessie. Then she read aloud the sign on the parking place where the blue van sat: “Reserved Parking. Coach Anthony Della.”
Although it was a long ride home from the university, the Aldens didn’t feel tired. They had too much to think about. When they finally did get home, they got a pitcher of lemonade from Mrs. McGregor and took it out to the boxcar. They sat on the grass next to the boxcar, with the pitcher on the stump, and talked about the mystery.
“Coach Della couldn’t have done all those things,” said Violet.
“No, he couldn’t have,” said Henry. “He has no reason to.”
Benny picked up a stick and threw it for Watch. “Then why is Coach Della spying on us?” he asked.
“He’s not spying on
, Benny,” said Jessie. “But you’re right, he is a spy.”
Benny’s eyes widened. “He is?” he asked.
With a laugh, Jessie said, “Not a bad spy, Benny. But remember? He is hiring a new assistant coach at the university.”
“And Stan, Gillian, and Craig have all applied for the job,” said Henry. “So Coach Della has been coming to watch them coach. But he didn’t want them to know he was watching, so he has been careful not to be seen or recognized.”
“But if Coach Della didn’t do it, and Gillian didn’t do it, who did? Craig?”
“Craig couldn’t have been the one who put peanut butter on Robert’s gloves,” said Henry. “Don’t forget, Craig and Gillian had already left when Robert got there.”
“And Robert said that the only time his gear bag was out of his sight was when he left it in the car,” said Violet.
“But wait a minute,” said Jessie. “No one came into the parking lot after Robert and Stan left Stan’s car. We were there and we would have seen them. No one came near Stan’s car except . . .”
“Robert!” said Henry.
“Robert? Robert is mean, but why would he do all those bad things?” asked Benny. “And why would he put peanut butter on his own gloves?”
“So no one would suspect him,” said Violet.
Henry said, “But we’ve figured it out. And I think I know how we can trap him!”
“How?” asked Jessie eagerly.
“Like this,” said Henry. “Listen . . .”
utstanding practice, everyone,” said Gillian. “We’re in good shape for the game with the Bears tomorrow afternoon. Go home and get some rest now.”
Gillian slid her coach’s clipboard into her gear bag, slung her bag over her shoulder, and walked to her car.
Henry picked up his own bag and walked over to Robert, who was standing on the sidelines of the next soccer field with his team. Soo Lee and the other Aldens followed.
“Did you get new gloves for the game?” asked Henry. Robert looked up and frowned.
“Yes,” he said. “So if you were hoping I wouldn’t, forget it. I’m going to catch every shot the Panthers try to kick into the goal.”
“It’s going to be an interesting game,” said Henry. “I’m looking forward to it.”
“Ha,” said Robert.
Jessie said to Soo Lee in a loud voice, “You know what? I bet Gillian is looking forward to tomorrow morning even more than tomorrow afternoon.”
“Why?” asked Soo Lee.
“Didn’t you hear the good news?” Violet said. “Gillian has an interview for the coaching job at the university tomorrow morning.”
“At eight o’clock,” Benny burst out. “She’s leaving at seven
just to make sure she gets there on time.”
“That’s great,” said Soo Lee.
Henry glanced over at Robert. “Good luck tomorrow,” he said to Robert pleasantly.
“I’m not the one who’s going to need it,” said Robert. “The Panthers will. Especially your coach!” He turned and marched away.
“I think Robert believed us,” said Violet softly.
“I think so, too,” said Benny.
“We’ll find out,” said Jessie. “Tomorrow morning.”
Watch yawned. “Shhh,” said Benny. Then Benny yawned, too.
Henry looked at his watch. “It’s almost seven
.,” he whispered to Jessie.
“What if he doesn’t come?” Jessie whispered back.
Violet said very, very softly, “I hear someone!”
The Aldens crouched lower behind the hedge along one side of Gillian’s driveway. On the other side of the hedge, Gillian’s car was parked in the driveway. They could see it by peering through the branches of the hedge.
As they watched, a figure on a bicycle rode down the sidewalk toward them. The bicycle slowed down. Then it stopped.
Robert Post got off. He parked his bike on the sidewalk and walked slowly up the driveway. Once he stopped and looked all around, as if he suspected a trap.
No one moved a muscle. At last Robert started walking again. He reached the car and crouched down next to it.
“What is he doing?” whispered Violet.
Just then, they heard a hissing sound. Benny knew that sound. He had heard it when Watch had accidentally bitten a hole in the soccer ball. “He’s letting the air out of her tires!” Benny cried, forgetting to keep his voice down.
Robert jumped to his feet. He looked wildly around. Then he sprinted toward his bicycle.
The Aldens ran after him. “Stop!” Henry cried.
Robert grabbed his bicycle. Watch ran past them all. He jumped at the bicycle and it fell over with a loud crash. Robert fell, too.
He looked up. The Aldens and Soo Lee had him surrounded.
“Your dog pushed me down,” he said. “You’re going to get in a lot of trouble for that.”
“No, we’re not,” said Jessie. “You are the one who is in trouble.”
“I — I don’t know what you are talking about,” said Robert.
“Yes, you do!” shouted Benny.
“You’re the one who’s been sabotaging the teams,” said Violet.
“You let the air out of the balls. You locked Elena in the locker room,” said Soo Lee.
“And you tried to make us think that our game had been changed,” said Jessie.
“Why would I do that?” protested Robert. “Besides, someone tried to sabotage me! Someone put peanut butter on my goalie gloves.”
“No. You did that. So no one would suspect you,” said Henry. “You were the only one to go near your car when you’d left your gear bag in it. We know because we were in the parking lot and we saw you.”
“Oh,” said Robert. He sounded very much like a soccer ball that had the air let out of it.
“But why?” asked Violet. “Why did you do it?”
Robert pushed his bicycle to one side and got up slowly. He said, “I was trying to help my brother.”
“How would doing all those things help your brother?” asked Soo Lee. “The Bears were winning anyway.”
“I know. But I wanted to make sure he won. Stan’s the best. I wanted it to look as if Craig and Gillian, especially Gillian, were careless and disorganized,” said Robert. “I borrowed the key from Stan’s key chain and slipped into the storage room one afternoon when no one was around to let the air out of the soccer balls.”
“And you locked Elena in the locker room,” said Benny.
“I hadn’t planned on that,” said Robert. “But I saw her going in as I was coming out of the boys’ locker room, so I just locked the door behind her. It was so easy!”
“You called us, too, and disguised your voice and told us our game had been moved,” said Violet.
“Yes,” said Robert. “And when I heard that Gillian was going for an interview, I knew I had to stop her. But that wasn’t true, was it? It was a trap, to catch me.”
“You only did those things when Coach Della was around,” said Henry. “Even that time when I lent you my goalie gloves and you were polite to me — it was only because Coach Della was standing right behind me.”
“You know about Coach Della? Yes. I saw him and recognized him right away. But I didn’t tell anyone. I decided this would be a good chance to make sure Stan got the job at the university. And I thought the only way for him to get the job was to make sure his team won every game. Winning is everything,” said Robert. “That’s what Stan says.”
“It’s not true,” said Benny. “You were cheating and being a bad sport. And when you do that, you don’t win.”
Robert looked around at the five Aldens. “What are you going to do?”
“Call the police!” said Benny.
“No, Benny. We’re not going to call the police. But, Robert, you have to tell Stan what you did. If you don’t, we will. It was wrong,” said Jessie.
“I know,” said Robert. He picked up his bike. As the Aldens watched, he got on it and pedaled slowly away.
“We caught him,” crowed Benny. “Didn’t we, Watch?”
Watch barked happily. Then Benny yawned. “We caught him,” he said. “And now I’m sleepy.”
“Me, too,” said Henry. “Let’s go home and get some rest. We’ve got an important game this afternoon!”
“Go, go, go,” shouted Grandfather Alden.
“Woof, woof, woof,” barked Watch, wagging his tail and pulling at his leash.
Out on the soccer field, Benny, Violet, Jessie, and Soo Lee played as hard as they could. At the goal, Henry tried to catch every ball.
“Good! Good! You guys are doing a great job!” Gillian shouted.
“Run harder! You can do better than that!” Stan shouted at his team.
Henry jumped for a ball. It hit the tips of his fingers and went into the goal.
The Panther fans groaned. But Gillian called, “That’s okay! Keep trying.”
Elena got the ball and ran down the field. She passed it to Jessie. Jessie passed it to Violet. Violet kicked it back to Elena. Elena kicked the ball into the goal.
Now the score was tied 1–1.
But the game was almost over. Everyone played harder than ever. Suddenly a Bear player ran down the field with the ball and kicked it into the goal, just past Henry’s outstretched arms.
The score was 2–1. And that was how the game ended.
“We won, we won, we won!” chanted the Bears.
Although they were disappointed that they had lost, the Panthers went out to the middle of the field to shake hands. Some of the Bears ignored them. But Robert led the others over to the Panthers. He shook hands with all the Aldens and Soo Lee. “Good game,” he said.
As the Panthers walked off the field, Coach Della came up to Gillian. “Congratulations on a game well played,” he said. This time, Coach Della wasn’t wearing dark glasses and a hat pulled over his eyes.
“Coach Della!” said Gillian. “I didn’t know you were here.”
“I’ve been around,” said Coach Della with a little smile. “And when you get a moment, I’ve got a job offer I’d like to discuss with you.”
Gillian stood very still. Her cheeks got pink. “A job offer?” she said.
“Yes. I like your style. You aren’t afraid to take challenges, and believe me, I know what a challenge it is to have a team with so many skill levels, from beginners to experienced players.”
“Thank you,” said Gillian, sounding stunned. “We didn’t win very many games, though.”
Coach Della smiled more broadly. “Winning isn’t the only thing — although it
important. Come to my office tomorrow morning at nine and we’ll work out the details.”
“I’ll be there,” promised Gillian.
Coach Della nodded and walked back across the field.
“Hooray!” shouted Henry. “Hooray for Gillian!”
“Yes. You are a
winner,” said Jessie.
“When I grow up,” said Benny, “I’m going to go to the university and play soccer for you, Gillian.”
“Me, too,” said Elena.
“Me, too,” said Violet.
Then the Panthers gave their coach a victory cheer. It had been a winning season after all.
“Hurry,” urged Benny. “Or someone will get our seats.”
He jumped out of the car and pointed toward the university stadium.
“It’s okay, Benny,” said Violet, catching Benny’s hand. “The tickets Gillian gave us are special seats. No one else can sit in them.”
“Are you sure?” asked Benny.
“Yes,” said Grandfather Alden with a laugh. “We’re sure.”
“Hello,” someone called.
The Aldens turned.
“It’s Stan and Robert,” said Soo Lee.
Sure enough, the brothers were walking across the stadium parking lot toward them.
“What are you doing here?” Jessie asked.
Stan said, “We came to watch the university’s first soccer game of the new season. I’m glad we ran into you. Robert and I both have something to say to you.” Stan put his hand on his younger brother’s shoulder.
Clearing his throat, Robert said, “I’m sorry about what I did. It was wrong. And you were right, it was cheating and being a bad sport.”
“And I was wrong, too,” said Stan. “Robert learned his win-at-all-costs attitude from me. I didn’t realize how bad I had gotten until this happened. And until I lost that coaching job.”
Henry held out his hand. He and Robert shook hands. Then all the Aldens shook hands with Robert and Stan.