While serving a detention in the soup kitchen at St. Mary's Church for an infraction committed during her last case, Sammy Keyes becomes the prime suspect in the disappearance of Father Mayhew's prized ivory cross. Ace detective that she is, Sammy manages to prove her innocence but soon discovers that, under its calm exterior, St. Mary's is abuzz with gossip, jealousy, and intrigue--just like junior high! Meanwhile, back at school, Sammy's beloved catcher's mitt--her only connection to her father--disappears just when her team makes the semifinals. Add to this mix: a dog who eats everything in sight, a lesson in safe cracking from a homeless girl who bears a striking resemblance to Sammy, and an exuberant trio of gospel-singing nuns called the Sisters of Mercy, and you've got one wild ride of a mystery--or just another week in the life of Samantha Keyes.
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October 11, 1999
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Excerpt from Sammy Keyes and the Sisters of Mercy by Wendelin Van Draanen
She was on her way out of the church before I could get a very good look at her, but what I could see was that she was thin, had a brown ponytail, and was about my age. Now, kids don't usually come to church in the middle of the afternoon on a school day --they're too busy running around town trying to put together enough sins to make going to church on Sunday worthwhile. So her just being there was enough to make me do a double take, but it was her shoes that made me want to go up to her and say, "Hi!" She was wearing high-tops. Like mine, only older. And I was about to chase after her, only just then Father Mayhew comes through the side door and says, "Samantha, I want to see you. Right now! In my office!" and I could tell from the way his voice was booming through the church that something was wrong. Very wrong. *** I followed him, all right. Straight back to his office. And when he sits down behind his desk and stares at me, I stand in front of it and ask, "What happened? What's wrong?" He swivels in his chair for a minute while his fingers push back and forth against each other. Then he takes a deep breath and says, "As I'm sure you know, we religious take a vow of poverty. The Church provides us with food and shelter and a modest living allowance, but by and large, we own very little. Very few things that I have do I consider to be mine. Do you understand this, Samantha?" This priest sitting behind the desk may have looked like Father Mayhew, but he sure didn't sound like him. I just gulped and said, "Yes, sir." He takes another deep breath like he's counting to ten. "One of my few earthly treasures is my papal cross." He's quiet for a long time, pushing his fingers up and down. Then he says, "It was given to me by my father when I was ordained. He has since passed on, and it can never be replaced." He looks straight at me. "Samantha, I implore you -- give it back. There'll be no repercussions -- just, please, return it." Now I think I know what cross he's talking about. Whenever Father Mayhew gives a service, he wears this ivory cross on a knotted rope of ivory beads. It's not a plain cross or one with Jesus on it like you're used to seeing. It's got one big cross bar with two smaller ones above it -- like the top of a powerline pole. So I ask, "Your ivory cross?" His fingers freeze. "Please, lass, give it back." "But Father Mayhew, I didn't steal your cross!" "Samantha, please. It's very important to me." "I don't have it!" "Samantha..." "Really, I don't!" He shoots out of his chair. "Well if you insist on denying it, then perhaps it'd be best if you spent your time with Sister Josephine over at the soup kitchen." He comes from behind his desk, and you can tell from the way he's moving that he wants me out of there. I say, "But..." but he refuses to listen, and the next thing you know I've been thrown out of church. I stand on the walkway, staring at St. Mary's front door, not quite believing what's just happened. Why did he think I'd stolen his cross? Just because I'd broken some rules at school didn't make me a thief! But I could tell that this new Father Mayhew was not someone to argue with, so after a few minutes of standing around fuming, I headed over to the soup kitchen. The soup kitchen doesn't serve soup. Not that I've ever seen, anyway. It mostly serves sandwiches or just pre-packaged food. I'd never actually been inside the Soup Kitchen, but I'd watched people waiting for it to open or eating on the benches outside. Some strange people hang out at the soup kitchen. It's next to the Salvation Army, and right between them is this grassy area where people spend the day passing ci