The students of Stoneybrook Middle School are starting a new Short Takes class called Project Work, which means for 3 days a week for the next 6 weeks, each one will go out into the community after school & get to actually work with a business to get a feel for what the real world is like. The members of the BSC agree to try and get jobs at Washington Mall so they’ll be on the same schedule which works out: Kristy will be working with mall security, Jessi will be working at Cinema World, Claudia will be working at the Artist’s Exchange, Mallory will be working at BookCenter, Logan will be working at the takeout counter at Casa Grande, Mary Anne will be working at Critters, and Stacey will be working at Toy Town.
Stacey is excited about working at Toy Town; April, the woman who runs the story is very nice and the store has lots of neat toys, but there’s only one problem which April warns Stacey about which is shoplifting. When Stacey meets up with her friends during her break time, she learns that all of them have been given the same speech by their new bosses. Shoplifting happens during Stacey’s first week at Toy Town and she blames herself, but April assures her that it’s not her fault.
The next week, a display model of a Gamester disappears and the next day, the replacement model goes missing too. Right after the Gamester is taken, there is a commotion out in the mall. Stacey sees a bunch of people running by Toy Town, but nobody seems to know what’s going on. Then, she sees the police arresting a bunch of teenagers, one of whom that Stacey recognizes as having been in the store. Stacey runs and tells one of the police officers that she saw the kid in the store right before the Gamester disappeared and the kid has it.
With all the arrests that were made, everyone thinks that the shoplifting will stop, but little things such as toothpaste and children’s clothes are disappearing and also some larger items such as VCRs and camcorders have been taken, sometimes from locked storerooms. Stacey has a scare when she goes back to Toy Town’s stockroom to get something for a customer when she’s surprised by a man in a ski mask who orders her to be quiet before he runs out of the back entrance into the mall.
There is also some evidence that somebody’s been sleeping in the movie theater at night and using the kitchen at Casa Grande to cook. The girls think that it might be three grubby-looking kids whom they have seen all around the mall which would explain why the smaller items have been disappearing , but it doesn’t explain how & why the larger items are being stolen. The girls believe that Mr. Morton, the new mall manager might be responsible for that because he would know how to get around security to steal things without being seen and would have access to locked storage areas. They even saw him talking to the three kids on the security cameras.
At first, it seems as if the kids might be working for Mr. Morton, but then they think it’s more likely that they just found out about what Mr. Morton is doing. They believe the kids might be in danger and they decide to head to the mall right away to find them. After showing up at the mall, the girls (along with Charlie Thomas) give themselves two hours to find the kids. Just before time is up, they discover them sleeping on some mats in the back room of an empty store. The kids’ names are 12-year-old Mara, 8-year-old Kyle, and 6-year-old Brenda. The girls and Charlie take the kids to Friendly’s to get something to eat while Stacey notifies the police.
The BSC is helping some of the store owners at Washington Mall open a daycare center. Lots of parents have been leaving their children in places like Toy Town and BookCenter while they go shopping & some of the employees themselves want to have a place to leave their kids while they're at work.
The Baby-sitters are all taking a class at SMS where they are assigned jobs at the Washington Mall. How cool — going to "school" at the mall!
But soon Stacey learns that some pretty bad things are going on there. Besides the regular shoplifting problems, expensive things are being stolen too. And then Stacey has a big scare when she's working at Toy Town.
Is it safe to shop at Washington Mall anymore? The Baby-sitters aren't sure — but they're going to make certain this mystery is solved!