Abby's bored. It's still February, and there's not much she can do, sports-wise, unless it either gets cold again or spring comes. Then, she sees an ad on the new SMS job board asking for students to help clean up the new Greenbrook Country Club before it opens. Abby decides that a part time job is just what she needs, and (of course) the other BSC members decide the same thing. Before they even start work, though, they discover some unsavory information about Greenbrook's past. It used to be called Dark Woods, and was a very exclusive country club. It only let in certain types of people. In fact, Nikki Stanton-Cha, current owner of Greenbrook, was once reprimanded for bringing a Jewish friend to the club when she was a child. This makes Abby pretty mad, but Nikki is committed to making Greenbrook a place where ALL families can go to enjoy time together.
The first day of work goes pretty well; Abby, Kristy, and Stacey are joined by Rick Chow (I think it's Rick Chow...his last name isn't given), as well as Cokie, Alan, and Cary. Two odd things happen, though: first, Abby keeps seeing a limo circling the grounds. Second, Mr. Kawaja, the gardener, seems awfully determined to keep everyone out of the hedge maze that's on the club grounds. He also won't speak to anyone, and Abby wonders if (maybe) he CAN'T speak. Day two reunites the BSC with their old friend, Sgt. Johnson. The girls ask him if he's there on police business, and he tells them it's more personal than anything. Thirty years ago, his best friend (an investigative reporter) starting digging into some of the shady dealings that took place at Dark Woods. This friend, David Follman, suspected that a secret society was operating out of the club, and used their power and influence to make things happen in Stoneybrook the way they thought they should happen. Just before David was going to go public with his findings, he died in a car accident. Sgt. Johnson has never been able to let the case go, even though the police department considers it closed. The only clue that his friend left behind was "watch where you step." As for the secret society itself, it was thought that Mr. Armstrong, the former mayor of Stoneybrook, might have been involved...along with a Mr. Stanton, Nikki's father. She hasn't seen him in years; he basically disowned her for marrying a Korean man. Mr. Stanton's never even met Nikki's son, Stephen.
Over the next few days, the BSC members work on the mystery whenever they're at Greenbrook. One day, the limo comes back. A man gets out of it, and sits on a bench, watching Stephen Stanton-Cha playing tennis for the longest time. The girls think it's pretty creepy, so they head inside to tell Nikki about it. On the way, Mary Anne spots some photos of old Dark Woods members on the wall, and recognizes the man they saw sitting outside. It's Paul Stanton, Nikki's father. She's surprised to hear that he's hanging around. Then, that same day, Kristy discovers another clue left by David Follman. She trips over some loose carpet, and when she lifts it up to see what's underneath, she sees a message written in some kind of purple-red substance. It says "1954 (DF);" Kristy has no idea what it means.
Another day, Claudia, who's been working with the architect that's helping with some of the renovations, finds some old blueprints from the club's Dark Woods days. She locates the hedge maze on the map, and sees that there's some sort of structure built in the middle. No one knows what it is. The day after that, Nikki gets an unwelcome visitor to the club: Mr. Armstrong, former mayor of Stoneybrook and possible member of the secret society. He's not thrilled with all the work that's being done, and ESPECIALLY not thrilled that the club is not the exclusive, snobby place it used to be. Nikki has to kick him out.
It's raining at the beginning of the following week, so Nikki assigns all the SMS kids indoor jobs for the day. Stacey finds a note in one of the lounges that looks like it's from David Follmer. It says "think penguins." The girls think it's weird, but spend the whole day looking for penguin-related stuff anyway. At the end of the day, they find out that it wasn't a real clue; Alan and Cary had overheard them discussing the real mystery, and played a little prank on them. Cary also confesses to sending those notes to Mary Anne and Logan in the last mystery (aha, I KNEW I remembered reading that somewhere...).
At the next BSC meeting, the club stays a little late to talk about the mystery. They return to the "1954" clue written under the carpet, and none of them could figure out why David Follmer wouldn't have just used a pen to write his message. The girls decide to try and figure out exactly what he used to write the message by scribbling on some spare pieces of wood flooring in anything red or purple that the Kishis have laying around. They're just about to give up when Abby gets the idea to try grape juice. Even that doesn't work...right away. Claudia calls her later, after the juice has dried, and tells her that it now looks an awful lot like the message written on the floor. Claudia also remembers seeing a wine cellar on the blueprints, and thinks that maybe the message was written in grape juice to indicate that the next clue is located in the wine cellar. It is; as soon as the club has a chance, they head down into Greenbrook's wine cellars and find a bottle from 1954. Inside, they find a golf tee with the words "open WWII" scratched into it. The next day, some of the club heads to the library to research WWII, while some head to Greenbrook's pro shop to see what they can find there. It takes days for any of them to figure out the clue on the golf tee; finally, Abby realizes that "open" isn't a command. It refers to the Dark Woods Open golf tournament. Back in the pro shop, they head straight for the tropy case that contains the awards from that tournament. There's only one from the WWII era, and it has a false bottom. Inside are two silver keys, and a note from David Follmer that says "shelter favorite food." No one, not even Sgt. Johnson, knows what it means. Abby thinks she might, though, so she cooks up a little plan.
Abby sends an anonymous note to former mayor Armstrong that supposedly came from David Follmer, telling Sgt. Johnson to look inside the golf trophy because he had the "goods" on Armstrong. They think Armstrong will take the bait, and maybe help unlock the final clue. Sure enough, Armstrong turns up, looks in the trophy, and finds the keys and note. He thinks for a minute, and then heads straight to the mysterious maze. Abby, Sgt. Johnson, and the other BSC members follow him. Once they reach the maze, it looks like Mr. Kawaja isn't going to let Armstrong in. Armstrong just pushes him out of the way and barges in. Just then, Stacey runs up and tells the others that Stephen is missing. She also thinks she's seen his grandfather hanging around again, and that Stephen might be in danger. Abby and Sgt. Johnson decide to follow Armstrong into the maze while the others go warn Nikki that her son is in trouble. Abby and the Sgt. have lost Armstrong at this point, and find themselves stuck in a dead end in the maze. Just then, Mr. Kawaja shows up and tells them to follow him. Yes, he TELLS them; he can speak after all, but doesn't most of the time. They reach the center of the maze just in time to see Armstrong digging in the ground. He uncovers a trap door at the exact moment that Stephen Stanton-Cha rushes into the clearing, and just as Sgt. Johnson orders Armstrong to stop what he's doing. In a split second, Armstrong grabs Stephen and orders everyone to back off unless they want the kid to get hurt. Then, Mr. Stanton arrives on the scene and tells his old friend/foe to let go of his grandson. As it turns out, Mr. Stanton never quite believed in what Armstrong and his cronies were doing, and he's realized what an idiot he was not to speak up. He also very much wants to be reconciled to his daughter and her family, which is exactly what happens. As for the mystery, they figure out that "shelter" in note meant the bomb shelter that was built at the center of the maze. "Favorite food" meant Ovaltine...something David Follmer drank a lot of when he was a kid. Everyone heads down into the bomb shelter through the trap door that Armstrong uncovered, and they find a whole bunch of documents and information incriminating the secret society members. There was also a nice note from David to Sgt. Johnson that makes him cry. :) Greenbrook opens, and everyone is happy. Except maybe Armstrong....
Thoughts and Things
- This book kind of ruined my "Sgt. Johnson is hot" coping mechanism. First, if his best friend was old enough to be a reporter 30 years before this story takes place, then Sgt. Johnson must be in his 50's at least. Second, some of his interactions with the BSC members are a little creepy. He's always giving them his phone number or spilling personal information, or socializing with them as if they were his equals. It doesn't always read as totally innocent. Third, his first name is Jim. Jim Johnson is NOT a hot name....
- Yet another huge but previously unheard of property appears in Stoneybrook. The town is like that house in Rose Red: it just keeps adding onto itself....
- I like treasure hunting/following a chain of clues mysteries, so this one was actually pretty bearable. and the discrimination issues weren't nearly as heavy-handed as they could have been