Chapter One – The Stolen Bike
“Are you going to play football on the computer all evening?” complained Debbie. She stared at the back view of her brother Joel and their two friends, Ravi and Lance, and sighed loudly. “Can’t we do something else, all together?”
“Like what?” asked Joel without turning round, his dark curly hair bouncing in excitement as he gained possession of the ball and aimed for the net. “Oh, did you see that goal!” He cheered loudly and the other boys congratulated him.
“Well, that’s it, you’ve definitely won, Joel,” admitted Lance, running his hands through his fair hair.
“You’re too good for me. Do you want a go, Rav?”
“No, it’s OK. Joel would beat me anyway!”
“That’s only ’cause he spends half his life playing it,” muttered Debbie, but Joel only grinned.
“The best half of my life!” he sighed contentedly, turning off the computer and flopping into a soft armchair. “I’m glad our mums don’t mind having their prayer meeting in the dining room, or we wouldn’t get the decent chairs and the computer!”
Ravi looked at his watch. “What shall we do now? We’ve still got about an hour.”
“Can’t we just chill?” asked Joel. “This is the first evening of the holidays.”
“We’ll chill properly if we get the snow they’re talking about,” said Lance with a grin. “I hope we get loads, we’ll need something to do.”
“No youth club for three weeks,” sighed Ravi. “How boring is that? And I can’t even go out on my bike, now it’s been stolen!”
Joel stretched himself out lazily. “I can’t wait to do nothing,” he yawned. “Plus, we get Easter eggs next weekend! All that chocolate! Anyway, if it does snow, we’ve got to deliver parcels, remember?” Everyone nodded. Tina, the youth club leader, had made an arrangement; if it did snow, as was forecast, the young people would pick up food parcels from the church and take them round to elderly people who couldn’t get out.
“I hope the snow will be thick enough to go sledging in the park,” said Debbie. “We’ve got a sledge, I think it’s in the loft.”
Ravi nodded eagerly. “And we can have snowball fights! Even delivering parcels might be fun in the snow.”
“As long as we don’t get Mrs Adamson to deliver to,” agreed Joel.
“Why?” asked Ravi. “What’s the matter with her?”
“She’s scary,” answered Joel with feeling. “She lives next door to the park and if anyone’s ball goes in her garden, she doesn’t let them have it back. You know Vince, from school? He knocked on her door once for a dare, asked for his football back. She waved her walking stick at him, shut the door in his face and the next day his appendix burst!”
“You’re not saying she had anything to do with his appendix?” laughed Ravi.
“Well, people said so at the time!”
Ravi looked at him scathingly. “You don’t really believe that though?”
“No, I suppose I don’t!” admitted Joel, laughing. “But you know, she does glare at you as if she’d like to turn you into a toad!” He did an impression of a fat-faced toad, which made the other boys laugh.
“That is so mean!” protested Debbie. “I know she never smiles, but that doesn’t mean she’s horrible.”
“Well, she’s wrinkled and bent over and she’s got a big nose,” said Joel, grinning rather sheepishly.
“You read too many fairy stories!” said Ravi. “I think we ought to ask if we can deliver to her. After the talk at Club yesterday – you know, Jesus visiting Zacchaeus, us being kind to people nobody likes?”
“No way!” said Joel. “Anyway, we don’t get to choose; Tina said she’d text us and give us someone. If we get her, I’m not going. She might wave her walking stick at me and turn me into something nasty!”
“Too late,” declared Debbie. “You’re already something nasty!” They all fell about laughing as Debbie handed round the biscuit tin.
“Talking of nasty people,” said Ravi, “you know that quiz we did at youth club? Who did you all put for the person you would least like to buy a birthday present for?”
“That was easy,” said Debbie immediately. “Gerry, in my class. She thinks she’s It, she thinks she knows everything and she pushes in the dinner queue. How about you?”
Lance grimaced. “My dad’s new partner, Helen. She buys me things my mum can’t afford and I have to say thank you or Dad has a go at me for being ungrateful. Mum made me give her a present last Christmas. I’d made up my mind I wouldn’t ever do that again, but I suppose I’ll have to now.” He sighed ruefully.
“I couldn’t think of anyone,” admitted Joel, “so I put in tax collectors.”
“Tax collectors?” laughed Ravi. “There’s no such thing any more!”
“There is,” argued Joel, “you just don’t see them, because they sit in offices!”
“Trust you to come up with something stupid,” groaned Debbie. “How about you, Rav?”
“Well, I was going to put the evil people who force children to work in factories,” replied Ravi. “But in the end I put the thief who stole my bike and the other things from our shed.”
“I can understand that,” agreed Debbie and the others nodded too.
“Being kind to people who don’t deserve it is really hard,” said Ravi with a frown. “I can understand why nobody would want to go to Zacchaeus’ house. Who’d want to visit a liar, thief and cheat?”
“And I should be nice to Helen!” moaned Lance.
“And I’ve got to forgive the criminal who stole my bike,” sighed Ravi. “That’s not easy, I can tell you!”
“Maybe we should try and find out who did steal it,” suggested Debbie.
“Why?” asked Joel, grinning. “So we can give him a birthday present?”
“No, Stupid,” groaned Debbie, pulling a face in her brother’s direction. “To get the bike back!”
“I’d like to,” agreed Ravi, “but it was already two nights ago. The thief will have long gone. There have been other burglaries from sheds round here, though,” he mused. “Perhaps we could set up a trap?”
“In our shed!” yelled Joel, jumping up.
“You mean now?” asked Debbie. “But it’s freezing out there!”
“So what? It’s a brilliant idea,” said Lance, nearly spilling his drink in his excitement.
“You wanted to do something all together, Debs,” Ravi reminded her.
Debbie’s eyes shone. “This is just the sort of thing,” she agreed. “Solving a mystery!”
“I know what!” exclaimed Joel, dumping his glass on the table with a splash. “I got a room alarm last Christmas in a spy kit, we can use that!”
Ravi grabbed his trainers. “And what if we put mud round the shed door to get footprints? Some might be the same as round my shed! You can come round and we’ll check tomorrow, I’m sure you’ll be allowed. What do you think?”
“Excellent idea,” agreed Lance.
“And I’ll get my lip gloss!” yelled Debbie, aiming for the door. The boys made faces at each other.
“Your what?” asked Joel.
“Lip gloss – smear it on stuff in our shed, get fingerprints!” explained Debbie.
“Oh, right!” laughed Ravi.
“Good idea, sis,” admitted Joel, grabbing a handful of biscuits from the tin. “I’ll get the torches and room alarm, back in a minute!” But Lance stopped him.
“We should pray about it first. We know God answers prayer – we’ve proved that, although we knew it anyway,” he added.
The others nodded in excitement. “Well let’s pray then,” said Debbie, as they all sat back down. “Then we’ll get on with the job.”
“OK!” said Ravi. “Dear Lord, we know stealing’s not right and we pray that I’ll be able to get my bike back.”
“And please keep us safe from danger,” added Debbie.
“Amen,” agreed everyone.
“This is going to be such fun!” said Joel, leaping up again. “I can’t wait to go to Ravi’s tomorrow and look at the crime scene!”
Ravi laughed. “What happened to you wanting to do nothing?”
“This is different!” replied Joel, running upstairs. “This is a real mystery to solve. Oh, I’ve got another idea – we could put banana skins on the path for burglars to slip on! Help yourselves from the fruit bowl, everyone, back in a minute!”