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Authors: Bonnie Bryant

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BOOK: Team Play
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F
ROM THE LOOK
on Stevie’s face, Lisa knew that something was on her friend’s mind, and it wasn’t going to be anything about new leaves. The excited look of the old, mischievous Stevie was there in full force.

“So what is it?” Lisa asked.

“Come sit down,” Stevie invited her, patting the bench next to her in the tack room. Stevie had managed to whisper a message about a Saddle Club meeting in the tack room after class. Now it was about to start. “We have a lot to talk about,” Stevie said. “Everybody take a piece of tack and some saddle soap.”

At Pine Hollow, the riders were allowed to hang around as much as they wanted, as long as they were doing something useful. Cleaning tack qualified as something useful. It also meant they could be together and talk while they were working.

“I’ve figured it out,” Stevie began.

Lisa saw the twinkle in her friend’s eyes. She could hardly wait to hear what was coming.

“The mess I’m in is all Veronica’s fault,” Stevie continued. “See, I didn’t actually volunteer to head the Hospital Festival.”

“You didn’t?” Carole asked. Stevie shook her head. “Then how did you get to be in charge?” Carole wanted to know.

“Veronica volunteered me,” Stevie said simply. “And I didn’t circulate a petition to run for President of the Middle School.”

“Do we have to ask who did?” Carole said.

“Veronica,” Lisa supplied.

“And I definitely did not enter my name in the election for chairman of the Spring Fair,” Stevie said.

“Veronica again?” Lisa asked.

“Go to the head of the class,” Stevie told her.

“But it doesn’t make sense,” Carole protested. “Why would Veronica try to make you into some kind of hero?”

“She isn’t,” Stevie explained. “She’s trying to make me go so crazy that I won’t be able to do everything at once.”

“Well, you can’t,” Lisa said sensibly. “You’re going to have to give up some of it.”

“And play right into her slimy little hands?” Stevie asked.

“What are you talking about?” Carole asked.

Stevie scooped a generous glob of saddle soap out of the container and began rubbing it vigorously onto Topside’s saddle. “It all has to do with the Italian boys,” she said. “Veronica is trying to force me to give up the job of hosting them. She wants them all to herself!”

“You’ve got too much there,” Carole said, taking some of Stevie’s soap. She worked it into the bridle she was cleaning.

“I’ll take some, too,” Lisa said. Stevie offered her a third of the soap.

“That’s what friends are for,” Stevie said. “I knew I could count on you.”

Lisa looked up from the bridle she was cleaning. “I’m getting a funny feeling about this,” she said to Carole.

Carole nodded.

Before Carole or Lisa could ask Stevie exactly what she’d meant by that remark, Mrs. Reg appeared. As well as being Max’s mother, the riders thought she was a kind of part-time mother to all of the riders as well. That included the bossy side of mothering as well as the loving support.

“I trust you aren’t talking so much that no work is getting done,” she said.

“No, Mrs. Reg,” Stevie said. “Believe me, a
lot
of work is getting done.”

She said it so positively that everybody looked at her a little oddly.

“Hmmm. All this chatter reminds me of something,” Mrs. Reg said. Everyone looked up eagerly. Mrs. Reg was famous for telling the most astonishing stories about horses and riders. But nobody had ever found a way of talking her either into or out of telling one of her stories. When she had something to say, she said it.

“What’s that, Mrs. Reg?” Carole asked.

“Reminds me of a rider we had here a long time ago. Important man, he was,” she began. She sat down on one of the benches near Stevie and picked up a sponge and a bridle. She talked best when she was soaping leathers. “Mr. Dunellen, I think that was his name. He appeared here one day and told my husband, Max—your Max’s father—that he’d just bought two horses, and he
wanted to ride them every day. At first, Max was pretty happy about that. Times were thin then, and a paying boarder was very welcome. Then the man brought them in. One was a bay mare, the other a gelding, gray, I think. Anyway, he told Max he was going to ride every day.”

“Lucky guy,” Carole remarked. “He must have been a millionaire, huh?”

“No, he was just the town pharmacist,” Mrs. Reg replied. “Didn’t make a lot of money at that, though he paid his bill on time every month. Well, Max predicted that this man was going to be more trouble than he was worth. Said the man had too much to do to ride every day. Said he’d be calling in all the time and getting us to exercise those horses.”

“Why was that?” Stevie asked.

Mrs. Reg appeared to ignore the interruption. One of the things about her stories was that she told them exactly the way she wanted to tell them.

“That Mr. Dunellen was one of the busiest men in town,” Mrs. Reg went on. “See, because he was the only pharmacist in town at that time, he always knew who was sick and who wasn’t. He always took the time to do something nice when people were laid up—you know, call on them with a bunch of flowers, a covered dish. Whatever he thought they needed, he’d just do it. Then, a lot of people sort of thought he was a doctor and they’d come to him when they were sick. Often, he’d end up
delivering medicine to them, even did it himself when his delivery boy was off. He sang in the church choir. He was a tenor, and never missed a Sunday. People trusted him. Eventually, because everybody knew him, he ended up being elected mayor. If somebody had a problem, Mayor Dunellen would go there and solve it on the spot.”

“Boy, I bet you and Max ended up exercising his horses for him all the time, didn’t you?” Lisa asked.

Mrs. Reg looked at her with a puzzled expression on her face. “Oh, no, not at all,” Mrs. Reg said. Then, without any further explanation, she stood up, hung up the now clean bridle, and returned to her office. One of the other things about Mrs. Reg’s stories was that she often ended them just when they were beginning to get very interesting. Lisa thought it was a bad habit.

For a moment no one spoke. Then Lisa turned to her friends. “So what was that all about?”

“Beats me.” Carole shrugged. “I mean, it sounds like the man had this incredible schedule and there was no way he could take the time to ride.”

“You two!” Stevie said, beaming. “Don’t you get it?”

“Get what?” Lisa asked. She was a little annoyed. She didn’t like it when somebody else understood something that was a mystery to her.

“How he rode, of course,” Stevie said.

“I guess he hired somebody else to exercise the horses,” Carole suggested.

Stevie grimaced. “No, he didn’t. Didn’t you hear what Mrs. Reg just said? That’s not what that story is about. He rode all the time. He used his horses to make his visits to sick people, to deliver medicines, and to be on the spot when he was mayor. He probably even used the horses to ride to church on Sundays when he had to sing in the choir.”

“Oh,” Carole said. “I get it now.”

“I guess he was pretty smart,” Lisa said. “He figured out a way to combine two things he wanted to do so they only took up the time of one.”

“You know, it’s a little bit like my mother once said to me,” Carole said. “She told me that if something was important to me, I’d find a way to do it.”

“My thought exactly!” Stevie said, a gleam in her eye.

“I know that look,” Lisa said, recognizing it from the many times when Stevie had come up with some kind of impossible scheme—and had pulled it off successfully!

“So, what’s the most important thing you’ve got to do?” Carole asked.

“Beat Veronica,” Stevie said. “And I know just how we’re going to do it!”

“We?” Carole asked dubiously.

“I’m in,” Lisa said.

Carole sighed. “Me too,” she said.

S
TEVIE LEANED BACK
in Max’s eight-passenger van and sighed. It felt like the first time she had relaxed in almost three weeks. As she thought about the days that had just flown by, she was sure that was the case.

Since her terrible discovery of Veronica’s plot, Stevie and her friends had been working at nonstop, breakneck speed. So far, everything was looking good.

A lot of Stevie’s work had been done on the telephone. She’d had to talk to the hospital administrators, who were thrilled with her ideas. She’d also had to talk to Miss Fenton, who was less enthusiastic, and to Max, who was downright dubious. Finally, she’d had to talk to her opponent in the presidential race. He had given her his total cooperation. There were a few people she hadn’t
talked to. For instance, she hadn’t talked to Kate and Christine and told them what parts she wanted them to play in her plans. And she hadn’t talked to the Italian boys. She wasn’t even sure if she would be able to talk to them, if they didn’t know any English.

The people she’d been talking to most of all had been Lisa and Carole. That first afternoon, in the tack room, she’d talked a lot and she hadn’t thought it was going to do any good.

“Don’t you see what Mrs. Reg is telling us?” she had asked.

“Us?” Carole had said.

“Yeah,
us
. The answer is in making everything happen at the same time,” she had said.

“It
is
happening at the same time,” Lisa had reminded her. “That’s the problem!”

“Right,” she had replied. “So, now what we have to do is to make it all happen at the same place.”

Seventy-three phone calls later, it had all been settled. The hospital had agreed to let the school use its grounds for the school’s Spring Fair, which was where the Hospital Festival would also take place, and where the candidates’ speeches would be delivered. All of this was going to happen with the help of the Saddle Club, including all of its out-of-town members and, with some luck, the Italian equestrian team.

Stevie sat up. “Uh, Max,” she began tentatively. “I have a little favor to ask you.”

He glanced at her quickly. “Well, Stevie, you can try, but right now I’m having a little touble keeping track of all the favors I’m already doing you.”

Stevie really hoped he was joking.

“It’s about Saturday,” she began. “See, the boys’ first demonstration is scheduled for late afternoon, but I’ve got something else right then that I have to do. Can Carole and Lisa be their hostess for that?” She wasn’t sure exactly how truthful to be. After all, if Max found out how many things she had going at once, he might decide that she shouldn’t take on the extra responsibility of the Italian boys. Veronica had taken the time to remind him every day that she’d be more than happy to pitch in.

“Does this have anything to do with Favor Number Two—my pony cart?” Max asked.

“Uh, yes,” Stevie said.

Max gripped the wheel of the car tightly. “Stevie, if there is one thing I’ve learned about you over the years it’s that I can’t possibly trust you—”

The words hung heavily in the air. Stevie braced herself for the worst.

“—to do anything in the slightest bit predictable,” Max finished. “But since I know you’ve worked so hard to plan a visit for these boys, I don’t suppose it will matter if you’re not there for an hour or two.” Stevie sighed with relief. “Now, about Favor Number—what is it, Three? Where exactly do we have to go first?”

“The private aviation hangar,” Stevie replied. “It’s on the far side of the airport.”

One of the things Stevie had arranged was for Frank Devine’s plane to arrive half an hour before the Italian boys. And since they were all going to the same place, Max and Stevie were picking up Kate and Christine as well. “After all,” she had reminded Max when she’d requested Favor Number Three, “Kate is a championship rider, too.”

“What’s that got to do with anything?” Max had asked.

“Nothing,” she’d said. “I just thought, well, think of the honor to your van, to have five championship riders in it, all at—”

“I give up! I give up!” Max had cried. “We’ll do it.”

S
TEVIE THOUGHT IT
was a good sign that Christine and Kate were already waiting for them when they got to the hangar. Frank explained that there had been favorable head winds, so they’d made good time. Stevie had no idea what head winds were, but she was glad for them anyway.

She hugged Kate, Christine, and Frank, and introduced Christine and Frank to Max. Max already knew Kate from her involvement in the gymkhana.

The girls tossed their bags into the back of the van and hopped in, waving goodbye to Frank.

“This is going to be fantastic,” Kate said when the girls were settled in their seats. “Christine and I are exhausted from all the work we’ve been doing at school. We need a nice relaxing vacation.”

“Maybe you’d rather try a forced-labor camp, then,” Max said drily.

“What’s he talking about?” Christine asked suspiciously.

“Oh, well, we’ve got a few things going on now around here,” Stevie explained vaguely.

“I’m getting a funny feeling about this,” Kate told Christine.

“Me, too. But, if I remember correctly, funny feelings around Stevie are pretty common and usually turn out okay—hey, didn’t you just miss the airport exit? Where are we going?”

BOOK: Team Play
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