The Case of the Piggy Bank Thief (10 page)

BOOK: The Case of the Piggy Bank Thief
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“Is it just me, or does that bird really need some new material?” I asked.

Humdinger flapped his wings against the bars of the cage.

Tessa got up and looked in at him. “Poor birdie, she didn't mean it!” Then she tested the door latch and its
twisty-tie reinforcement. “I still don't see how he got out. It's not like he can undo these with his beak.”

“Maybe Mrs. Hedges opened it to give him water or something,” Nate said.

“Mrs. Hedges?” I repeated. “Earth to Nate—I change the paper, and Granny gives him water.”

“So you're saying someone deliberately let him out?” Nate asked.

“Crazy, right?” I shook my head. “But so's all the other stuff going on around here lately. Tessa, can we tell Nate about your piggy bank?”

Tessa frowned. “You mean
about my piggy bank?”

I shrugged. “He'll find out sooner or later. Maybe he can help us.”

Tessa hesitated, then said, “Oh, all right,” and proceeded to confess.

This time, she didn't bother with “It's not my fault,” and when she was done Nate's eyes were as round as . . . well, gold coins. For a few seconds it was quiet while he thought through all he had learned. After that, he must've decided he wasn't a perfect person, either, because what he said was all about the mystery: “We know the coin was in the piggy bank. So that makes it logical that the thief smashed the bank to open it, found the coin and kept it. All that's left to figure out is: Who's the thief?”

Brilliant, Nate
, I thought. And at the same moment, a voice from the doorway said, “Who's


It was Granny, and she was all dressed up.

No one answered, and then something lucky happened. Granny got furious at us!

“Why on earth aren't you children cleaned up yet? It's almost three-fifteen!”

“Cleaned up for what?” Nate asked.

“What do you mean, what? The Rose Garden ceremony honoring Mr. August!” she answered.

Tessa whined, “Nobody told us we have to go, and I hate ceremonies.”

Sometimes Granny is exactly like Tessa—like right then, when she waved her arms dramatically. “Well, of
you have to go! The medal is being presented by Dr. Maynard, and he is one of your mother's oldest friends, not to mention a family friend. Get a move on, people! I want you outside ready for pictures in fifteen minutes!”


TESSA usually takes forever to get ready for an event.

But like a dose of jet fuel, Granny's anger sped her up. Both of us were clean, dressed and buckling our shoes with five minutes to spare.

“Get your notebook, Cammie,” Tessa said. “This is probably my last chance before . . .” She drew a finger across her neck, stuck her tongue out and dropped her head to one side.

My notebook was on my desk, and I got up to retrieve it. I guess I hadn't been exactly tidy changing my clothes earlier, because my capris were on the floor in my way. Mad at myself, I kicked them, and something fell out of the pocket.

“What's that?” Tessa pointed.

I reached down and came up with . . . three pink twisty ties?

Tessa's mouth fell open.
“Cameron Parks!”
she said. “My very own sister! It was
who let Humdinger out of his cage yesterday! And then you lied
about it, too. Not to mention you're so dumb you kept the evidence.”

“Tessa, you're crazy,” I said. “I was right here with you when Humdinger got out, remember?”

Tessa said, “Oh, yeah. . . . So if you didn't take the pink twisties off Humdinger's cage, where did they come from?”

I had to think before I remembered picking them up that morning. I hadn't wanted Mr. Golley to get mad at us for littering. While I was explaining to Tessa, it hit me. “Wait a second. Does that mean . . . ?”

My sister and I looked at each other.

“Cammie,” Tessa said slowly, “I saw that my piggy bank was gone yesterday—right after we came back from chasing Hooligan and Humdinger. Do you think that's when it disappeared?”


“So what if all that running around downstairs and scaring the visitors was just a whatchamacallit,” she said, “you know, when somebody distracts you on purpose so they can do something bad, like for example
steal the piggy bank right out of your laundry hamper

“You mean a diversion,” I said, and now my brain kicked into gear. “Plus, what about this? A certain somebody showed up awfully fast in the East Room—almost like he knew in advance we'd need help catching Humdinger.”

Tessa said, “Oops.”

I said, “Oops what?”

“Oops, I guess that might've been my fault,” she explained. “I showed a certain person some of our shortcuts around the White House.”

“Like the kitchen stairs?” I said. And by now my mind was racing. “Because
would explain the jelly bean stains, the ones on Hooligan's face just now. He kept finding jelly beans when we were tracking. I think
must have dropped them when he was using the stairs.”

For a moment the only sound was the quiet of two brains working. I don't know about Tessa, but I was feeling pretty clever.

Then my brain ran into a massive roadblock.

“Wait a sec. None of this makes any sense at all,” I said.

“Why not?”

“It's the same old problem. Nobody would've stolen your piggy bank for two dollars and twelve cents. And nobody knew about the gold coin. I mean, that's what you told me before. You swore,” I reminded her.

“Nobody did know!” Tessa insisted. “Except . . .”


Tessa looked at her feet. “Well, except I might've told a certain braggy, annoying someone that I happened to find something really special out on the South Lawn where Hooligan had been digging,” she said. “But I never said anything about gold.”

I wanted to yell at my sister, but anger would only
have burned up precious time and brain cells. “So maybe this certain person wanted to know what special thing you had found?” I said. “And maybe you wouldn't tell him, and maybe he was going crazy with curiosity?”

Tessa looked at her shoes. “Well, yeah. Maybe.”

“And then he would've decided to find out for himself by looking where everybody knows you hide your secret stuff—in your laundry hamper.”

Tessa's shoes must have been really interesting. “Yeah. Maybe.”

“So when he found your bank, he took that, and finally had to break it to get at what was inside—”

“And then”—Tessa finally looked up—“at the museum, he found out the coin was worth a million dollars and panicked and got a tummyache, same as I did when I heard Wen Fei and Stephanie tell Professor Mudd they'd found gold. But why did this someone hide the piggy bank pieces by burying them?”

“I think I know,” I said. “I mean, for one thing, there was already a hole in that spot, so burying them was easy. And also, he probably thought nobody would look there. He had heard Professor Mudd tell Wen Fei and Stephanie not to waste time on that spot because there wasn't any gold. He wouldn't have known that later, after they double-checked their results, Professor Mudd changed his mind.”

My sister and I looked at each other. I think we were both a little stunned by all we'd figured out. Of course, we still had one big question: Where was the gold coin now?

But we'd have to wait till later to ask. We were almost out of time.

“Come on.” I stood up. “Let's take the kitchen stairs. It's the fastest way to the Rose Garden. There's somebody out there we need to talk to.”


THE Rose Garden is right outside my mom's office, the Oval Office, which is in the West Wing. You would think with the name Rose Garden it would be mostly bushes, right? But it's actually mostly lawn, which makes it convenient for holding events.

Or anyway, convenient when the weather's good. Now a warm breeze had kicked up and gray clouds were rolling in overhead.

Helping the photographer position us, Aunt Jen looked worried. “The forecast was for dry weather, but those look like thunderclouds. Tessa, that's excellent. Cameron, please don't slouch.”

We had to stand next to Dalton and Zach in the pictures, but with so many people around we couldn't really talk to either of them. Then, once the pictures were done, Tessa and I had to go sit next to Nate and Granny in the front row of chairs in the audience. Because Dalton and Zach's dad was in the ceremony, they were sitting with their mom behind the podium.

There were programs on the chairs. I picked mine up and read how Dr. Maynard was presenting his old friend Mr. August with the first national medal for a contribution to numismatics. I hoped neither one of them would make a long speech. To my mind, “You rock. Here's a medal,” followed by “Cool. Thanks,” would be about right.

Soon everything was ready, the TV lights came on and Mom strode toward us from the Oval Office while soldiers in the color guard saluted and eight marine musicians played the president's theme song, “Hail to the Chief.”

I've seen this happen pretty many times now, but still I can't help grinning and feeling proud. That's my very own mom!

At the microphone, she smiled and said, “Good afternoon, friends, honored guests and—” A clap of thunder interrupted. “Oh, dear.” Mom looked at the sky. “I hope that's not a comment on my administration's monetary policy.”

I only kind of understood the joke, but the reporters laughed and laughed.

Next Mom said a few things Susan must have written about coins and Mr. August and Dr. Maynard. I zoned out. It had been a tiring day for my brain already, not to mention I'd had to get up so early.

A crack of thunder jarred me awake.

Mom glanced at the sky again. “Without further ado,” she said, and introduced Dr. Maynard.

“Who else felt a raindrop?” he asked. “This may be the briefest medal ceremony in history.”

Tessa, Nate and I looked at each other.

Meanwhile, was I imagining it? Or did I hear something besides thunder—a familiar high-pitched, insistent bark? It seemed to be coming from somewhere inside the West Wing, but that didn't make sense. Pickles and Hooligan were having a playdate at a dog park, right?

Speaking quickly, Professor Maynard said nice things about Mr. August at the same time as he opened the blue velvet box that contained the medal. Then he held it up, a shiny gold disk hanging from a red-white-and-blue ribbon.

The rain began for real just as Mr. August stood up. Also, the barking got louder. And something else happened, too—something weird, and you had to be looking in the right place to see it: The first national medal for a contribution to numismatics self-destructed.

That is, the front of the shiny gold disk separated from the back and fell—so now there were two disks.

Mr. August saw what I did and reached forward so the broken part dropped into his palm. Then, naturally, he squinted at it, trying to see what in the heck he was holding. At the same time, a bolt of lightning split the sky. Around us, people jumped up and squealed and scurried for cover.

Tessa tugged my arm. “Come on!”

But I shook my head and pointed at Mr. August. Hand on heart and face pale, he had collapsed into a chair. I don't think he even realized he was getting drenched.

Tessa said, “Cammie, is he okay?”

My answer was cut off by an uproar from the West Wing walkway. Something had alarmed the people there, who started to scoot and scatter and shriek. My brain took a second to sort out the picture—but then I saw it: a wild and furry something that shot like a cannonball through an open door.

Check that. There were
cannonballs, together packing two times the destructive power: Pickles and Hooligan.

BOOK: The Case of the Piggy Bank Thief
7.49Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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