The kitchen clock showed 6:15 a.m. when eight year old Judy Botts slowly closed the door. She was on her way to investigate the place where the dead woman was found. She’d done it without waking Mama and Daddy up. A note, written with a red crayon, “RIDING BIKE, BACK SOON” was on the kitchen table. She was ready to solve a mystery.
The sun shone and Judy smiled. She biked pass the Peach State College for the Colored academic buildings, then the dorms and didn’t see anyone. She was out on business, looking for clues. She could go places and do things grown-ups didn’t do, like lie down on the ground and look under things. Miss Hudson said the FBI agent looked around the rock where the body was, no place else. Judy went to the colored Boy Scout swimming hole almost every day in the summer. She knew that place.
Now she was off the campus and on the back road. The wind from her bike made her shiver, even though she had a sweater on. Maybe she should go back. No, for sure Mama would see or hear her so she kept on.
The hardest part of Judy’s bike ride was the last hill before the Boy Scout Camp. She’d never biked this far by herself and never been to a place where someone died. She told herself she didn’t care. Another thing she didn’t like to think about was someone killed Miss Harris. Judy wasn’t turning around and going home like a baby. Her job was to find out all about that dead woman. That’s why her investigation was so important. She was the only one who could figure this out.
Judy avoided the Camp entrance and went down the back road. At the short cut to the swimming hole, she stopped. It felt creepy, like someone was there already, looking at her, hiding in the trees on either side of the road. She was close to the Agricultural Extension. Tee was already up, looking after the animals. She could go see him. No, she was going to investigate, just like Nancy Drew. She stopped pedaling and listened. All she heard were rustles, no voices or cars sounds. It was too early for people and cars. She was just imagining things.
When she was almost at the swimming hole, she pushed her bike under a big bush that looked like a rhododendron. She lay it down and piled leaves and branches over it. Outside she walked around until she was sure the bike couldn’t be seen.
Her bike had to be hidden but near her so she could get on it quick and get away. If the bad guys found it, they’d take it. She’d be trapped. It happened to Nancy Drew. Actually, it was her car and the bad guys gave her a flat tire, but Nancy couldn’t get away. Judy would be trapped out here too if her bike were stolen.
On the way from her bike’s hiding place to the swimming hole, she made sure not to use the path. She walked through weeds and bushes, because that was safest. Once, when she felt someone’s eyes on her back, she crawled on the ground. She thought about going back home. No. Nancy Drew never turned back because it was scary.
She stood up when she saw the swimming hole. Shivers of excitement went through her. She was solving a mystery just like Nancy.
Last week Judy saw Rosetta talking to a strange white man in back of the saw mill. He had a suit on. He moved in a stiff way, which she was sure was how Germans moved. Everyone knew they wanted to find out what Americans were doing, so they had spies everywhere. And a spy would be more likely to kill someone than an ordinary American.
Judy lay on the bank under the big oak tree with the branch hanging out over the pond, and looked down at the honeysuckle vines covering parts of it. She didn’t see anything so she poked into the greenery with a stick. There was nothing there.
She walked around the swimming hole until she was on the opposite side of the tree, right next to the big rock where Miss Hudson said she found Rosetta. She put her hands down in the water and looked under rocks but the only thing she saw were water bugs.
Should she go home? She hadn’t found anything. She’d try one more time. Back to the other side, under the oak tree, she concentrated. She walked around it, then pulled at the honeysuckle. Now she saw something, a split in the trunk wide enough to stick her hand in.
She poked around at the top of the crack, and then worked her way down. Just when she thought nothing was there, her fingers felt something smooth. They closed over it. It was curved and round and thin. It didn’t feel like a piece of wood. The piece she held was connected to something bigger. She tried to yank the whole thing out, but had to work with it, tugging, then turning it around, then tugging again. Luckily, the hole was big enough. When it finally came out, she was surprised to see a handbag.
An ordinary handbag, something her mother might have. It wasn’t new. It was black and had a white spot on it. The clasp and trim were scratched. She was a little disappointed. She’d thought she’d find a leather briefcase or something official, like a spy would carry.
When she opened it, she smelled the same sweetish powdery smell that came out of Mama’s bags. Inside were two zippers, one on each side The pale pink lining was torn under one of them. There was a wallet, some papers, a lipstick and a compact. And a driver’s license with the name R. Harris.
Judy smiled. This was a big deal. She’d found something that Miss Hudson and the FBI agent didn’t know existed.
Should she stay here? She could dump it out right now and study each thing. She looked around. Someone could be hiding behind a tree, watching her. It might be whoever hid the pocketbook, or worse yet, killed Rosetta. If she stayed, he might get her.
A car, was that a car? Judy listened. Yes, a car and it sounded as if it were coming closer. Maybe it was someone coming to swim. Nobody with a car would drive out here this early to swim. Who could it be? Judy’s heart beat fast. Whoever hid this purse, that’s who.
“I’ll go to the camp office and call Mama”, she thought. Then she remembered the Boy Scout camp was closed and everyone was back in Atlanta. The white people around here wouldn’t let a little colored girl like her in their house, even if someone were chasing her.
Judy ran to her bike, fast. When she crawled under the rhododendron, her hair got caught in its branches. She tried to keep on but her hair was held tight. She couldn’t work it loose. She thought she heard the car turn onto the short cut so she jerked her head hard. Her scalp stung where the hair broke off
She got those branches and leaves off the bike quick. This time the twigs she’d piled on poked and scratched at her as she pulled them. Ow! A thorn got in her thumb. She pulled it out and sucked the blood. She had to crawl backwards, pulling the bike with her, then turn around to peek out before she stood up. She wanted to make sure no one was out there. She listened but didn’t see or hear the car.
Once the bike was out she put the pocketbook in the basket and started to push off. She stopped, took off her sweater, and wrapped it around the pocketbook then put it back in the basket. There, she thought, everyone will think it’s a sweater. She was proud she left one sweater arm hanging out. A grown up would wrap it up neatly and everyone would see the outline of the pocketbook.
Pedaling her bike down the back road she took the turn-off. She looked back to make sure no one was behind her. She should have kept looking ahead. Then she wouldn’t have crashed into the truck stopped in the middle of the road.