Welcome to the Finally, Something Mysterious mystery solving contest! Here's how it works: below is an exclusive (website only!) short mystery featuring the One and Onlys, a trio of young detectives from the small town of Bellwood. Your mission: read the short story carefully, noticing as many details as you can, then put your detective cap on and try to solve the mystery! When you think you've come up with a good answer, email me at (with parent/guardian permission!) and don't forget to explain your reasoning! I'll read every entry, then when the contest closes I'll randomly select one winner among the best answers to win a signed hardcover copy of Finally, Something Mysterious! Good luck, and happy sleuthing!
A Race For the Truth
Shanks was in charge, and everybody knew it. Even though she was our age, she looked tiny among our group of fifth grade boys, especially compared to Peephole, the tallest and lankiest kid in our grade. But her big personality more than made up for it. Her long, electric blonde hair swished behind her as she jerked her head to look at Zeb, then Jeb, laying out the rules in a loud, firm voice.
“Let’s get one thing straight,” she said,”you called me, Peephole, and Paul here for a reason: to witness your bike race and to determine the winner, fair and square. And that’s what we’re going to do. No shenanigans. No funny business.”
Actually, the twins, Jeb and Zeb Beverly, called me to witness their bike race. The Beverly brothers knew I was trustworthy and could be counted on to give a fair account of the outcome. Or maybe they just knew I’d be available, because what else was I going to do at 9 o’clock on a Saturday morning? And as soon as I got off the phone with the twins, I texted Shanks and Peephole, my best friends, to help me do it. The One and Onlys have a case! I told them, even though it wasn’t technically a mystery.
Peephole, Shanks, and I did everything together, but most of the time that “everything” was pretty much “nothing,” because Bellwood was a little nowhere town where real excitement was hard to come by. But we still looked for it, and we even started a detective team. We called ourselves the One and Onlys, because we were all only children. So far, the only mystery we’d investigated was why Bellwood was so boring.
But we knew something mysterious could happen at any moment, so we showed up to the meeting spot--the parking lot of Dr. Dave’s Scoops, the second best ice cream parlor in town--ready for action. It was still pretty early in the morning, but the sun was already shining and the day was warming up. After three straight days of rain that made the whole town feel like a soggy sock, the big blue sky above us felt like Bellwood was getting a nice, late springtime hug.
“Let’s get this race started,” Jeb said impatiently. “Baby Blue here wants to show what she’s capable of.” He wasn’t shy about how proud he was of his brand new bike, going so far as to give it a nickname. “Baby Blue,” he said, was finally going to give him the edge over his brother Zeb.
Every kid in Bellwood knew that two things were true about Jeb and Zeb Beverly. The first was that they competed over everything. I’d seen them challenge each other over who could do the most push-ups (Jeb won), who could spit the highest into the air without getting hit by the spit when it came down (Zeb won), who could do the best impression of a confused rooster (tie), who could eat the most popcorn flavored jelly beans without barfing (everybody lost). Even when they decided not to compete, each brother tried to be less competitive than the other.
“Ok, ok,” Shanks said. “Peephole, would you please go over the race route again?”
Peephole didn’t respond. He was nervously eyeing a worm that was oozing sloppily across the sidewalk below him. He had a thing about worms. As in, he was terrified of them. But then, he was terrified of most things, which wasn’t a great trait for a detective. But he did have a couple of special skills that would come in handy if the One and Onlys ever got a real case: Peephole had a photographic memory. If he saw something once, he could take a picture of it with his mind. And he had a perfect sense of direction.
“Peephole! Snap out of it!” Shanks barked.
“Oh, sorry!” he said, turning back to us. With a deep breath, he shut his eyes. He always did that when he was trying to remember things. “The race starts here on the east side of town, in front of Dr. Dave’s Scoops. You’ll head further east down Pine Street, take a right and head south for a block on Hooper, then a left that will lead you into a short dirt path through the Bell Woods. You’ll come back out of the woods heading west on Richard Nixon boulevard, past Mr. Babbage, the bratwurst king’s house--”
“He makes a mean bratwurst,” Jeb said.
“The best,” Shanks agreed.
We all nodded.
“Then you’ll bang a right and head north up Menino Drive, right on Radford, left on McGillicuddy, swing up on the west side of the Elementary school past the statue of Wolfgang Munchaus, the founder of the Bellwood Bratwurst Bonanza, then right on Pine street again, past the water tower, for a final straightaway to the finish line. Got it?”
I was confused. Shanks looked confused. The twins, Jeb and Zeb, looked confused. Peephole looked proud, but also still a little nervous about that worm.
But the twins both nodded their heads and said “got it” simultaneously.
“One last rule,” Shanks said, fixing her gaze on Zeb, then Jeb. “No cheating.”
Zeb drew back, aghast. Jeb put a hand on his hips and scoffed at the insult.
The second thing that everybody knew about Jeb and Zeb was that they did a lot of things to the truth--bent it, twisted, ignored it, but rarely ever told it. Well, I’ll just say it: they were liars. Jeb once called out “absent” during roll call in math class, even though he was in the first row, because he thought he might get out of the day’s quiz. Zeb claimed he couldn’t do his science homework because he was allergic to the paper in the textbook.
“I mean it. No shortcuts. And no cheating and then lying about it,” Shanks added.
This time, they both shrugged and nodded their heads in agreement. “Fair’s fair,” Jeb said.
“Alright everybody, let’s do this,” I said. “Racers, take your mark.”
Jeb and Zeb inched their bikes to the starting line. They leaned over the handlebars.
With a chorus of Beverly grunts and huffs and puffs, the twins were off, pedaling furiously down the street. Peephole, Shanks, and I watched as they screamed forward, neck and neck, until they cut a right onto Hooper and went out of sight.
“So who do you think will win?” I asked.
“Who cares?” Shanks shrugged, scrounging through her backpack for a bag of potato chips. “I came because you said we had a case.”
“Me too,” Peephole said. “This is not a case, Paul.”
I wanted to argue, but I couldn’t. They were right. It wasn’t a case. But it was something to do.
“What I want to know is, If a worm gets cut in half, can it still live?” Peephole hadn’t moved on from the worm.
“Yep,” Shanks said. “And then both ends can bite you.”
“Worms don’t bite,” Peephole said, but he sounded more hopeful than certain.
“Vampire worms do,” Shanks said.
“No such thing,” Peephole shot back.
Shanks and Peephole went on like this for a while. They always did. You’d be surprised how long they could bicker back and forth about absolutely nothing. As the official voice of reason in our detective team, it was my job to be the traffic cop for their conversations and make sure nobody got out of line, but I was too hungry to concentrate. I’d skipped breakfast to get there on time. I stuffed my hand into the bag of chips and came out with a fistful, trying to follow the conversation. Something about worms being more like zombies than vampires. I gazed up at the sky and zoned out. That small cloud looked like a pretzel covered in vanilla ice cream. That one looked like a banana covered in vanilla ice cream. That one just looked like vanilla ice cream.
“All I’m saying,” Peephole continued, “is that if your a super slimy, rise out of the dirt, and can lose part of your body and not die, you’re basically a zombie--”
“Look!” I interrupted. “They’re almost at the finish line!”
It was true. I’d glanced up and seen the twins already careening toward us down Pine Street. They’d made it past the water tower and it would only be a few seconds until they’d make it to us. Jeb put his head down and, with a final push, edged out in front of his twin brother just in time to cross the finish line first.
“I’m the faster twin!” Jeb belted out in a sing-songy-but-also-out-of-breath voice, skidding to a stop. He reached down and patted the shiny clean tires of his new bike. “Baby Blue did the trick, even though you cheated by taking a shortcut.”
“I cheated?!” Zeb squawked, also gasping for air. “I completed the entire course from start to finish. You were the one who disappeared down a shortcut!”
“Woah, woah, everybody calm down,” I said, stepping in between the rabid Beverlys. “So, you both claim you biked the whole course, but the other took a shortcut?”
“That’s right,” they said together.
“So it’s up to us to determine who the rightful winner is?” Shanks said, a smile blooming on her face. She looked at me, then Peephole. We were grinning, too. The One and Onlys had a case!
“We were glued together all the way up to the Bell Woods,” Jeb explained. “I was halfway through the dirt path when I looked back and saw that Zeb was nowhere to be found. He must have skipped the woods altogether.”
“No way!” Zeb protested. “I went through the woods, too! I knew I was in the lead so I kept my head down and pumped my legs as fast as I could. I don’t need a fancy new bike to help me.” He swiveled the handlebars of his old ten speed, causing a few droplets of mud to swish onto the ground near Peephole’s feet. Peephole didn’t like mud. “I didn’t look up until I was swinging around the other side of the elementary school. I saw that Jeb wasn’t behind me, and I figured he ran out of gas and was panting on the side of the road somewhere. I allowed myself to slow down and enjoy the view. The reflection of the sun glinted off the windows of the elementary school, and the statue of Wolfgang Munchaus seemed to be smiling just for me. It wasn’t until I took a right onto Pine street that I noticed Jeb sneaking back onto the road after taking his shortcut.”
“That’s when I noticed you taking your shortcut!” Jeb snapped.
Peephole and Shanks cast each other stymied glances. Then, Peephole’s eyes lit up with an idea.
“What color is Mr. Babbage’s front door?” He asked.
Jeb looked at Zeb. Zeb looked at Zeb.
“Blue,” Jeb said.
“Red,” Zeb said.
“A ha!” Shanks pounced. “Now we’ve got you. Peephole, which one is it?”
Peephole bit his lip. “I don’t know. I never actually looked at Babbage’s door. Why would I?”
Shanks slapped her forehead.
“It doesn’t matter,” I said, corralling Shanks and Peephole into a huddle. I turned back to the twins. “Just give us a second.”
I gathered my fellow sleuths in closer and whispered. They whispered back. I whispered some more. Then, realization dawned on their faces.
“Did you figure out my brother cheated?” Jeb said, puffing his chest out as we turned to face them.
“You mean, they figured out I’m the rightful winner,” Zeb said. “Didn’t you?”
“Oh, we know who the rightful winner is, alright, and we know who took a shortcut,” I said. “It was just a matter of paying attention to the details…”
Who is telling the truth? And who is the rightful winner of the race? With your parent/guardian's permission, email me your solutions (don't forget to explain how you solved the mystery) to firstname.lastname@example.org.