Authors: Martha Freeman
Tessa didn't say anything. I guessed she was still upset. “Do you want me to help you look for your piggy bank?” I asked.
Tessa still didn't say anything, but I opened my notebook. Looking for an old piggy bank was better than doing homework. “When did you have it last?” I asked.
Tessa sighed and sat up. “It won't help, Cammie. But okay. It was yesterday before dinner. I remember because IÂ .Â .Â .Â uhÂ .Â .Â .Â made a deposit.”
I wrote that down. “And then what did you do with it?”
“Put it away in the laundry hamper.”
“Okay,” I said. “And when did you realize it was missing?”
“You know already.” Tessa was getting aggravated, which wasn't very fair considering I was being so nice. “It was today right before lunch. I opened the hamper to put my leotard from ballet in. I thought the piggy bank was on top but I didn't see it, so I emptied everything out and still didn't see it.”
“That's when you screamed,” I said.
Tessa nodded. “I don't see how anybody could have stolen itâthat's the weird part. I mean, my laundry hamper is the best hiding place ever.”
I probably shouldn't have laughed, but I couldn't help it. “I have news for you, Tessa. You are so proud of that hiding place, you've told everybody. Half the White House knows where you keep your piggy bank.”
Tessa pouted. “No, I didn't, and no, they don't.”
“Yes, they do, too,” I said, “and I can prove it. Come on.”
TESSA moaned but finally got up and followed me out our bedroom door and into the Center Hall. There we found Mrs. Hedges, the grumpiest maid in the White House. Hands on hips, head tilted, she was staring at a valuable and historic painting of a ship.
Instead of “Hello,” Mrs. Hedges said, “Does that look straight to you?”
Tessa and I are used to Mrs. Hedges. We went and stood next to her and stared at the painting.
“I think it's tilted to the left,” I said, but Tessa said, “No, right.”
Mrs. Hedges nodded. “
. It's crooked. And who'll get the blame for that? Me.” She shook her head. “My job's not easy, girls. You know that?”
“We do, Mrs. Hedges,” I said.
“All right, then. What is it you want?”
“Could you answer a question?” I asked.
Mrs. Hedges looked around for an armchair, then
dropped into it and made herself comfortable. “I hope it's not a hard one.”
“It's not,” I said. “Here goes: Where does Tessa keep her piggy bank?”
Mrs. Hedges laughed. “Tessa keeps her piggy bank in her laundry hamper. Everyone knows that.”
It's almost as useless to argue with Mrs. Hedges as it is to argue with Granny. But Tessa tried. “Everyone does not! You do because you clean our room!”
Mrs. Hedges shook her head. “Beg to differ with you there. I don't have time for laundry when I'm cleaning. Why, yesterday it took five minutes just to scrub your dirty sink.”
Tessa turned pink and hung her head. “Sorry, Mrs. Hedges.”
“I know about your hiding place,” Mrs. Hedges went on, “because you told me. Same as you told Malik, and Mr. Bryant, and Mr. Ng, and Charlotte, and Mr. Ross, andâ”
“Okay, okay,” Tessa said. “I guess I did happen to mention it to a few very trustworthy people.”
“It wouldn't matter that much, Tessa,” I said, “except now there're no suspects we can eliminate. Almost anybody in the White House could have taken your piggy bank. What I can't figure out isâwhy?”
HAVE you ever felt like an idea was knocking on your skull, but your brain wouldn't let it in? That was the feeling I had that afternoon. It had something to do with a connection between the two mysteries, the one about the piggy bank and the one about the goldâbut what was it?
I didn't have time to consider the question, though. Granny was making an early dinner for Nate, Tessa and me. Later Aunt Jen and Charlotteâshe's my favorite Secret Service agentâwould take us to the museum. Zach and Dalton were having dinner with their parents at a restaurant, then meeting us.
When Tessa and I got to the family kitchen, Nate was already at the table, and Hooligan was under it. Granny had made hamburgers, and Mr. Bryant served our plates. Then he sat down in a spare chair by the stove, and Granny leaned back against the counter. She was wearing an apron for cooking, but under it was a shiny red-and-white dress I'd never seen before.
“Aren't you eating anything?” I asked Mr. Bryant.
“Your grandmother and I have dinner plans later,” he said, “but those burgers do smell good.”
Tessa held her plate out and smiled. “You can have a bite of my hamburger if you want.”
I could see Mr. Bryant was thinking about it, but Granny spoke up. “Don't you dare, Willis! You're slow enough on the tennis court.”
Mr. Bryant sighed and looked from Tessa to me to Nate. “You see what I put up with?”
Tessa nodded sympathetically. “I know. She acts like that with us, too, sometimes. But deep down she's nice.”
“Did you play tennis this afternoon, Granny? Who won?” Nate asked between bites.
“I did, as usual,” Granny said.
Mr. Bryant raised his eyebrows. “ âAs usual'? That's not the outcome I remember yesterday.”
Granny's mouth was set in a straight line, but there were smile crinkles around her eyes. “What are you talking about? Personally, I don't remember that far back. Must be my advanced age.”
“You can ask me about yesterday,” said Tessa, “ 'cause my advanced age is seven. And it was me who watched Hooligan so you could play, remember? Afterward, Mr. Bryant said he beat Granny big-time.”
Hearing his name, Hooligan shifted in his sleep. Usually, he would have been begging for burgers, but not today. Maybe he was still full of jelly beans?
Meanwhile, Nate had set his fork down. “Wait a
sec. Tessa, you were outside with Hooligan yesterday afternoon?”
Tessa's jaw froze midchew.
“That's right,” I said. “I totally forgot, but Ms. Major said she saw you, and Hooligan was sniffing in the bushes where the stray cat lives.”
“Stray cat?” Granny said.
Oops. I hadn't meant to bring that up. Granny didn't want to listen to any more whining from Tessa on the cat subject.
But now I had to explain, so I did, and the second I stopped talking, Granny raised a warning hand. “Don't you even start, Tessa. I know how much you want a cat, but I don't see how that's ever going to work with this canine of yours.”
kitties!” Tessa nudged him with her toe. “Don't you, puppy?”
Nathan laughed. “Loves to munch them, you mean. Right, buddy?”
Hooligan opened his eyes and said,
which did not exactly answer the question. Our dog hasn't been around cats much. Was Tessa right, or was Nate?
“You're not one bit funny, Nathan,” Tessa said. “And anyway, I don't want some old grown-up cat. I want a cute, furry little kitten.”
Nate rubbed his belly. “MmmmmÂ .Â .Â .Â even more delicious!”
Tessa whined, “Grannyyyy! Make him stop!”
Granny gave Nate a look; he shrugged and changed the subject. “Tessa, if you were out by the dig yesterday,
you might be an important witness. Did you see Wen Fei and Stephanie? Did you see anybody digging holes?”
Tessa didn't answer right away. Instead, she took a bite of her hamburger, chewed, swallowed and dabbed her mouth politely. Finally, she asked who Wen Fei and Stephanie were, and when Nate reminded her, she said, “Oh. UhÂ .Â .Â .Â and where did you say the dig is, again?”
I couldn't believe my sister. “We were there this afternoon!”
“Oh, right,” she said. “UhÂ .Â .Â .Â nope, didn't see a thing.”
I looked at Tessa. “Are you sure you feel okay? Because you're acting kind of crazy.”
“Well, maybe I don't want to be interrogated!” she snapped.
Nate and I looked at each other. What the heck?
Then Mr. Bryant said, “Sounds like there might be some more detecting going on. Do I have that right?”
Nate explained about the maybe gold that was maybe missing.
“A buried piece of gold?” Granny said. “Could it be a coin, do you think? If so, then you're going to the right place tonight to do some more detecting.”
THE National Museum of American History, part of the Smithsonian Institution, is wide and white, with a fountain on one side and a statue that looks like silver ribbon on the other. It's on the National Mall in Washington, DCâpretty near my house. Inside is cool stuff like race cars and steam engines, five-hundred-year-old violins, mannequins wearing beautiful First Lady dresses and the ruby slippers from
The Wizard of Oz
Usually there would be lots of people inside, too, but Dr. Maynard had arranged for us to visit when the museum was closed. That's why when Nate, Tessa, Aunt Jen, Charlotte and I walked through the heavy glass doors, only two guards and a man in a suit and tie met us. The man was Dr. Maynard's friend, a curator named Mr. Augustâthe same guy who would be getting a medal at the ceremony the next day.
After the usual handshakes and “how are yous?” Mr. August took all of us up in an elevator to a room on
the fifth floor, where Zach and Dalton and their parents were waiting for us.
“Welcome to our library,” said Mr. August.
The room had blue walls and bookcases, but it was small and not exactly fancy. In fact, with all of us in there, it was kind of a tight squeeze.
“Aren't we going to see an exhibit?” Tessa asked. “Like when we went to see the Hope Diamond?”
Mr. August shook his head. “Our collection is so big we can only display a few things at a time. The rest is kept in the vault. When Dr. Maynard told me you're also working on Professor Mudd's dig, I decided to get out some coins from the same time periodâearly American history.”
There was a table in the middle of the room. The grown-ups sat around it while Charlotte and us kids stood behind them. On top of the table was a black case like a big jewelry box.
“What's in there?” Tessa pointed.
“You'll see,” said Mr. August mysteriously. “But first, I want you all to look in your pockets or coin purses, get out any change you might have and put it on the table.”
“What if we don't have any?” Tessa asked.
I told Tessa I'd share. A few seconds later, there was a handful of quarters, dimes, nickels and pennies in front of each of us.
“Most collectors get interested in coins when they examine the ones they have on hand every day,” Mr. August said.
Dr. Maynard nodded. “That's what happened to me.
When I learned that coins have dates on them to show when they were made, I got the idea it would be neat to have pennies from as many years as possible. I asked my father for the coins from his pocket, and that's how I started collecting.”