George and Bess stared at Nancy, waiting for her to explain what she’d meant when she said she’d just solved both mysteries. Before they could ask, the two boys returned with fistfuls of napkins in their hands.
Max said, “The paper towel dispenser in the bathroom was empty, so we had to detour to the snack bar. Here you go.”
Bess waved them off. “Thanks, but we’re all set.”
She was eager to hear Nancy’s theory. Her shirt could wait! Max and the other boy looked confused, but they shrugged and set the napkins next to Bess.
“They’re there if you need them. We’re going to play Monaco Racetrack,” Max told them.
Bess and George gave distracted thanks and waves as the boys left.
“What do you mean, you solved both mysteries?” George asked, turning back to Nancy.
Nancy gave them a secret smile. “It’s just a hunch... but I think I’m right. We need to get back to Michael’s house.”
The cousins exchanged confused looks.
“But we already ruled out Michael as a suspect!” Bess protested.
Nancy’s smile grew even bigger. “We did. But I’m not interested in talking to Michael this time.”
Still baffled, Bess and George trailed Nancy out of the arcade. They were barely to the corner, though, when a small cluster of adults blocked their path. They could see that the mayor of River Heights was part of the group.
As they drew closer, the three girls could tell that everyone was listening to a woman holding a clipboard and wearing a navy-blue business suit. Over her shoulder was a soft-sided briefcase embroidered with the words BEAMISH BOOK OF WORLD RECORDS.
“That must be the judge!” Bess said in a hushed voice.
The girls moved aside to let the group pass. They watched carefully as everyone paused outside the entrance to the arcade. Sure enough, the mayor reached over and opened the door, ushering the others inside.
“Hurry! There’s no time to waste!” Nancy yelled, tucking her notebook into her pocket and picking up her pace to a run. George and Bess did the same.
They careened around the corner and nearly crashed right into Michael and Caroline. All five kids spilled onto the concrete, but luckily, no one was hurt.
“Where’s the fire?” asked Michael.
“Actually... we were... coming to see... you,” George said through huffs and puffs as she collected her breath after running so hard.
“Me?” asked Michael.
But Nancy was shaking her head. “Nope. Not you. Actually, we were coming to see your sister.”
Bess and George swiveled their necks to stare at Nancy.
Caroline squeaked, “You were?” in a small voice.
Nancy smiled reassuringly. “Yes, and we have no time to waste, because the world record judge just arrived. If we don’t act fast, Katie might tell her she can’t compete today!”
“What does that have to do with my sister?” Michael asked.
Nancy turned to Caroline, who was still sitting on the sidewalk, looking alarmed. “Caroline? Is there any chance you have Katie’s lucky headband in your bag?”
Everyone gaped at the little girl, who immediately pulled her purse to her. It was decorated with hot-pink glitter swirls, and row after row of tiny rhinestones dotted the edges. Bess and George both gasped when they spotted the embellishments.
“Rhinestones!” whispered Bess.
“Glitter,” whispered George.
Nancy held up the washcloth she still carried in her hand.
“A perfect match,” she added.
Caroline reached inside and extracted a stretchy fabric headband, which was covered in hot-pink glitter and rhinestone accents.
“Sure. It’s right here,” she said. “I was just bringing it back to Katie before she went for the world record.”
Bess couldn’t contain her groan. “We’ve been all over town looking for that. Katie’s really upset it went missing!”
Caroline bit her bottom lip and looked like she might cry. “She is? I thought for sure I’d get it back to her before she even noticed, but the glue was taking forever to dry and I wanted to make extra sure the rhinestones wouldn’t fall off while she danced. It took way longer than I expected.”
Michael stared at his sister. “Caroline! You should have known better.”
“But Nancy and Bess were so excited about my designs, and then I saw Katie put away her plain-as-could-be headband and I thought maybe I could surprise her for her special day. I didn’t mean to cause any problems!” Caroline looked so small and upset that none of the other kids had the heart to lecture her.
Instead Bess said, “It really does look great. And I’ll bet Katie will love it. Let’s hurry and get it to her before it’s too late!”
Caroline still looked glum at how badly her surprise had backfired, but she scrambled to her feet and joined the others as they raced back to the arcade.
“I hope Katie hasn’t had a chance to cancel her attempt yet!” Nancy said as she held the door open for the others to jostle inside.
They all went straight to the Dance-A-Thon game, where they could see Katie standing amid a small circle of people, including the judge and the mayor of River Heights.
Katie was gesturing, and from the expression on her face, it was clear she was telling the judge she couldn’t dance that afternoon.
“Wait!” called Bess, George, and Nancy.
Their three voices combined to rise above the dings and whistles and music of the noisy arcade. Katie peered over the judge’s shoulder at the members of the Clue Crew. Nancy held the BeDazzled headband above her, and Katie’s eyes widened. Her hand went to her mouth.
The girls stopped right in front of her, and Nancy offered Katie the headband. Michael and Caroline pushed in behind them.
“Is that my headband?” Katie cried. “Who — where did you —” She paused and took a breath. “How did you find it?”
Bess linked arms with Nancy and George. “A little good old-fashioned detective work,” she said with a giant grin.
Katie grinned too. “I’m so happy I had you guys in my corner today.”
The girls shrugged modestly, then explained to the dancer what had happened.
Katie glanced down at the headband in her hand and examined it closely. “Wow! This is a work of art now. Who did you say did this?”
Michael gently pushed his sister to the front. “She did.”
Caroline kept her eyes on the ground, avoiding Katie’s, as she said, “I’m really sorry. I was only trying to surprise you and give you something to help cheer you on.”
Katie waited for Caroline to sneak a peek up at her, and then she smiled. “I truly love it. I’ll feel extra sparkly as I fly across the dance floor.”
Caroline swallowed. “You’re — you’re not mad?”
Katie shook her head. “I wish you’d told someone about your special plan, but I understand why you wanted to keep it a surprise. If there’s one thing I learned early on — when I was trying to master Dance-A-Thon — it’s that everyone messes up. That’s why it’s great that games come with a reset button. I think life should too.”
Caroline’s answering smile was as sparkly as Katie’s glitter-ific new headband, especially after Katie hugged her.
The judge, who’d been standing just behind Katie as the whole scene went down, cleared her throat. “Well, I, for one, certainly hope you don’t need that reset button today, Katie. I’ll be cheering hard for your perfect score. But we should get started or I won’t have time to see your triumphant finish before my train leaves to go back to the city.”
Katie squared her shoulders and grinned. “Okay. Let’s do this thing!”
She smoothed back her bangs and slipped the lucky headband into place while the arcade made an announcement on their loudspeaker. A crowd quickly formed around the Dance-A-Thon game.
Katie stood in the center of the electronic pad. The rhinestones on her headband flashed under the pulsing lights. She took a deep breath and gave a thumbs-up to her mom, who released a token into the game. It dropped and the screen lit up. Katie winked at the audience as the music kicked in.
“Go, Katie! Go, Katie!” the crowd chanted, no one more enthusiastically than Nancy, Bess, and George.
Well, it’s possible Caroline was just a smidge louder.
The score climbed higher and Katie’s feet looked like they weren’t even attached to her body as they twirled left, right, back, and left again. She spun and shimmied her hips in time to the music, never taking her eyes off the screen’s instructions.
After several songs, she finally missed a step and the screen flashed GAME OVER.
The whole arcade hushed and turned to the judge. Smiling at the crowd, then at Katie, she said, “I’m proud to proclaim we have a new world record holder: Ms. Katie McCabe. Congratulations!”
Nancy, George, and Bess joined right in the celebration with everyone else. Michael slipped away to speak to the judge as she put her clipboard into her shoulder bag. Nancy noticed the judge peek at her watch and then nod. Michael’s face lit up with a grin. It looked like he’d get to attempt his record as well!
Nancy turned to face her friends. “It’s too bad there isn’t a world record for solving mysteries.”
“It wouldn’t even be a contest,” added Bess.
George nodded. “Hardly even fair for anyone else attempting it.”
The girls smiled at one another. “We don’t need a certificate to tell us what we already know,” said Nancy.
“The Clue Crew rules!” all three girls shouted together.
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