Coach Graffe’s office. 9:30 PM.
Virginia and Angie stared at the enormous lion head on Coach Graffe’s desk. In the darkness, its jovial expression contorted into a teethy sneer. Black shadows ringed its bulging eyes, and the fake hair of its mane was matted and tangled from drifting in the river.
“Find a light switch, will you?” Virginia told Angie, eager not to be standing in the dark with this creepy mascot head. They were waiting for Benny to return from the woodshop with a hammer.
Angie flipped the light switch and blinked in the sudden brightness. The lion head looked absurdly huge in the middle of the coach’s tiny office. She carefully placed a hand on either side of the head and turned it on its side. A vaguely rotten smell wafted up from inside. Slowly, she ran her hand along the plastic interior.
“Feel anything?” Angie asked eagerly. She knew this was her chance to make everything go back to normal. She could get the furniture back, get the Lexus back, and maybe even get her dad back from South America.
Virginia was reaching her entire arm inside the head, feeling along the interior of the face, for the crevices around the mouth and eyes. “Wait,” she said. “I can’t feel the nose.”
At that moment Benny came in with a hammer. “Any luck?”
“It’s in the nose,” Virginia declared.
“Omigod!” Angie squealed.
“Feel the inside,” Virginia said to Benny. “There’s no crevice where the nose is. It’s filled in or something.”
Benny gritted his teeth and raised the hammer. “Step back,” he said. Then he brought the hammer crashing down on the lion’s face. The plastic cracked. Benny pounded the hammer down again and again. He smashed through the ogling eyes and the roaring jaws, until the bulbous brown nose fell away amid fragments of heavy plastic. As the lion’s nose bounced off the desk and onto the floor, a silvery white orb popped out and rolled right to Virginia’s feet.
For a moment they just stared at it. Then Virginia bent over and picked it up. It was the hugest diamond she had ever seen—an exquisite round-cut jewel that fit perfectly in the center of her palm.
Triumph, Benny thought as he looked at the diamond in Virginia’s hand. This is the feeling of triumph. He thought he’d known triumph last year, after recovering the stolen French horn. But that had been nothing compared to this.
“This must be worth millions,” Virginia said, in awe.
Angie was jumping up and down, squealing and clapping. “Now I can get my Lexus back! Yay yay yay!” Then she held her hand out to Virginia. “Gimme gimme!”
But Virginia snapped her fist shut. “No.”
Benny felt the excitement go rushing out of the room, replaced by a sudden, heavy tension.
“I said give to me,” Angie demanded.
“Um, Virginia…” Benny said uncertainly. What did she think she was doing?
“I said no,” Virginia snapped back. “You wouldn’t ever have found it without us. It belongs to Mystery Club now.”
“But it belongs to my family!” Angie said, her voice almost a shout. “Choi stole it from my family.”
“Well, your family probably stole it to begin with.”
“Virginia, come on,” Benny said, trying to intervene. “We solved the mystery—that’s all we came for. What are you going to do with a gigantic stolen diamond anyway?”
“I dunno,” Virginia said, looking at her fist. “I just want to keep it. Just to know that I have a diamond.” The girl with the diamond, Virginia thought. Having a secret diamond was pretty much the coolest, most mysterious thing she could imagine. There was no way she was giving it up to Angie just so her spoiled family could be rich again.
“OK, everyone relax. What if we split it?” Benny suggested. It was against his ethos to solve mysteries for personal gain, but he saw the intense look in Virginia’s eyes—sheer, demented determination. The knuckles of her fist were bright white, she was clutching the diamond so tightly. She was clearly not going to give it up without a fight.
“You can’t split a diamond,” Angie spat. “There’s only one of it.”
Benny raised the hammer. “What if we break it?”
Angie scowled. “You can’t break a diamond, idiot. It’s the hardest substance on earth. That’s, like, a famous fact.”
“A famously misunderstood fact,” Benny corrected. “Diamonds are hard, but they’re not strong. They’re brittle. It’ll break, and we can divide the pieces.”
Virginia felt a pain in her fist. She realized she was squeezing the diamond so hard it was cutting into her skin. “OK, I accept that,” she said. “We’ll split it.”
“Whatever, fine,” Angie said, throwing up her hands in defeat.
Pathetic, Virginia thought. She couldn’t believe Angie wasn’t putting up more of a fight. It felt weirdly disappointing. The prospect of fighting for the diamond had made it seem even more valuable. But Angie had clearly never fought for anything in her life.
Benny pushed the plastic fragments of the mascot head onto the floor. Then he took the diamond from Virginia’s open palm, and placed it carefully on the desk, with its point facing upwards. He took a deep breath, raised the hammer, and brought it crashing down right onto the point of the diamond.
It was like magic. One second the diamond was there, the next it was gone. It took Benny a moment to realize what had happened. A pile of dust shimmered on the desk. The diamond had shattered.
Virginia was the first to break the silence. She burst out laughing.
“I’m…so sorry,” Benny said feebly.
Angie stared mutely at the white powder. The color had drained from her face. Even her lips were pale. She looked like a statue. “Get out,” she said flatly.
“OK…” Benny said hesitantly. “Except you’re our ride.”
Angie’s eyes snapped to Benny. She looked furious. “Oh, certainly. Allow me to give you a ride home after you destroy my family fortune.”
Virginia rolled her eyes. “Come on, don’t be all mad. It’s pretty funny.”
Angie glared at her. Then, in a sudden movement, she seized a handful of diamond dust and flung it in Virginia’s face.
Virginia stumbled backwards. “Agh! You got it in my eye!”
“Come on, let’s just go,” Benny said, grabbing Virginia’s arm.
Virginia was rubbing her eyes and blinking. As Benny pushed her out of the office, he looked over his shoulder at Angie. She was crying, crawling on the floor, pitifully trying to gather the dust back into a little pile, as if that could make it a diamond again.
The bridge. 10 PM.
Benny was on the phone, asking his mom to come pick them up. From the assorted ers and ums on his end, it was clear he was trying to avoid explaining how they got from the library to the school. “Mom, please. It was a vital Mystery Club matter.”
Virginia peered over the rail at the river below. The water rushed past, reflecting the white light of the moon. She blinked, still feeling a few grains of diamond dust stuck in her eyelashes.
Benny snapped the phone shut. “She’ll be here in 20 minutes.” Then he shook his head and said, “Poor Angie. I really feel terrible.”
“I don’t,” Virginia said. It was hard for her to feel sorry for someone who had just hurled a thousand specks of diamonds in her eye.
“She’ll have to be poor now.”
“No, she won’t.” Virginia gestured grandly toward the night above. “Every star is a diamond in the sky.”
Benny laughed. “I’m sure Angie would be comforted by that.”
Virginia looked at him. She’d never actually heard him laugh before. She was about to point this out, but stopped herself. It would just make him self-conscious. Usually Virginia didn’t care about stuff like that, but for some reason, with Benny she did.
“I’m sorry we didn’t get to use the decoder rings,” he was saying, looking down at his hand. “They’re really cool.”
“We can use them next time.”
Benny smiled. With two of them on the lookout, they were twice as likely to find another mystery, twice as fast. It had been seven months between the Case of the Stolen French Horn and the Case of the Disappearing Mascot. He didn’t think either of them wanted to wait that long again.
Mysteries are everywhere, he reminded himself. Be there. Be watching. ♦