MORE ABOUT THIS BOOK
Friday Barnes and her roommate, Melanie Pelly, were sitting in the dining hall at Highcrest Academy, enjoying second helpings of chocolate cake. For two people who had absolutely nothing in common, except their mutual dislike of all sports, Friday and Melanie could not be better friends. They were more than just BFFs; they had formed a symbiotic relationship. Melanie was very vague, so she relied on Friday for basic information like what day of the week it was, what class they were sitting in, and how to do quadratic equations. Whereas Friday was socially clueless, so she relied on Melanie for intuitive knowledge, like telling her when she was being so irritating that her teacher was about to have a brain aneurysm.
Friday had never expected to attend a fancy private boarding school. That was until she received a $50,000 reward for helping her uncle solve a bank robbery. Coming from a highly academic family (both her parents and all four of her siblings had PhDs in physics), Friday decided to invest the money in her education, which was how she came to be at Highcrest.
Since arriving at the elite preparatory school, Friday had gone from being a scruffy eleven-year-old social outcast to being a brilliant eleven-year-old private detective. She’d had to because Friday didn’t come from a wealthy family like the other students, so working as a private detective was her way of earning an allowance. Friday was still scruffy and socially outcast, but people were prepared to overlook that when they desperately needed her help.
And Friday didn’t just help her fellow students. Even the Headmaster called on Friday when he had a problem he couldn’t, or didn’t want to, handle himself.
On this particular occasion, Friday and Melanie were at the end of a long week of searching for a swamp yeti, capturing bird smugglers, and saving the school’s reputation, so Mrs. Marigold, the cook, felt they had earned an extra serving of dessert. But their calorie-induced bliss was about to be interrupted.
“Barnes,” snapped a voice from behind them.
Friday and Melanie turned around. The Headmaster was standing next to a uniformed police sergeant.
“What’s this?” asked Friday. “Am I getting some sort of citizenship award for everything I’ve done for the school?”
“No,” said the Headmaster soberly. “I’m afraid not.”
“Friday Barnes,” said the police sergeant, “I have to ask you to come with me.”
“Why?” asked Friday.
“Because I’m arresting you,” said the police sergeant. “You are not obliged to say anything unless you wish to do so, but whatever you say or do may be used in evidence. Do you understand?”
“Not really,” said Friday. “Not the situation anyway. But I do have a large vocabulary and as such have no trouble understanding the meaning of your words.”
The police sergeant had dealt with people much more intimidating than Friday resisting arrest, so he simply took the matter in hand. He pulled Friday’s chair back for her while she was still sitting on it, took her by the elbow, and guided her to her feet.
Friday was mortified. She didn’t have to look up to know that everyone in the room was staring at her. This would be yet another reason for all her rich classmates to snigger and laugh at her. There was nothing she could do. She was the most exciting spectacle in the dining room since Mrs. Marigold lost her temper with a vegetarian student-teacher and dumped a pudding on his head.
“If you’ll come with me,” said the police sergeant, although Friday could barely hear him through the rushing sound in her ears. People always marvel that holding a seashell to your ear replicates the sound of the sea, but in the seconds before you faint the movement of blood rushing out of your brain replicates the sound of the sea, too.
Friday saw Melanie’s concerned expression, and then something made her look across the room. Ian Wainscott, the most handsome boy in school (also the most infuriatingly smug boy in school), was entering through the back door. He was Friday’s nemesis/love-interest, no one was entirely sure which. In the past, she’d put his father in prison for a case of insurance fraud involving a stolen diamond, and Ian had dressed up as a swamp yeti and tried to scare her to death. Yet they seemed to be magnetically drawn to each other, if for no other reason than to bicker.
Friday watched Ian’s face as he took in the scene. He seemed surprised for a moment; then he caught Friday’s eye, and his face returned to its normal apathetic mask.
The police sergeant started pulling at Friday’s arm and the world seemed to return to normal speed. Her ears started to process sound again, just in time to hear the first murmurs of malicious gossip.
It was at times like this when Friday wished she didn’t have a brain like a supercomputer. Having a photographic memory meant that the words, and the associated hurt, would be accessible in the long-term storage of her brain’s neural matrix forever.
“Typical scholarship kid, probably been stealing,” whispered Mirabella Peterson.
“Maybe she’s being arrested for wearing those brown cardigans,” said Trea Babcock. “She should get five to ten years for crimes against fashion.”
“Plus another ten for the green hat,” said Judith Wilton.
Now dozens of people sniggered. That was the last Friday heard as the dining room door flapped closed behind her.
A squad car with lights flashing was parked at the top of the school’s driveway.
“The Headmaster is going to hate that,” said Friday. “It’s a bad look for the school.”
“The Headmaster will be grateful I’m taking you off his hands after what y— Wagh!” said the police sergeant, who was interrupted midlecture because he had fallen into a hole about one foot round and one foot deep. “Ow, that hurt,” he said, rubbing his knees.
“I wonder who put that there?” said Friday. She inspected the hole. It looked like it had been dug out by hand.
“This crazy school,” muttered the police sergeant. “There’s always something going on. Rich kids with their weird pranks or bitter teachers with their revenge plots. The sooner we get out of here, the better.”
Friday looked back at the main building. She had a lump in her throat and her eyes started to itch. She knew she wasn’t suffering from pollen allergies because it wouldn’t be spring for another six months.
Friday wasn’t terribly in touch with her emotions, but she was able to deduce that she was upset. Being forced from Highcrest Academy was affecting her more than she would have imagined. The police sergeant was entirely right. Highcrest Academy was full of obnoxious children and strange teachers, but it had also become her home. She had friends—well, one friend. And she received three warm meals a day. So despite the Gothic architecture and the even more Gothic attitudes of the staff, this place had made her feel safe and needed—in a way her family home never had. As the squad car started to pull down the driveway, Friday hoped this would not be the last time she saw her school.
* * *
The police car wound its way through the rolling countryside to the nearest town. A female police officer was driving. They were heading for Twittingsworth, a fashionable and well-to-do rural area where the weekend homes of city bankers and lawyers were nestled among local farms.
“So what crime am I being accused of committing?” asked Friday.
“We’ll discuss all that in the formal interview,” said the police sergeant.
“Why, is it some sort of surprise?” asked Friday.
“It’s a very serious offense,” said the police sergeant. “We don’t want to jeopardize the case by deviating from correct procedure. We’re going to do this by the book. There will be a lot of scrutiny. The National Counterterrorism Center has been alerted.”
“Counterterrorism!” exclaimed Friday. “But I haven’t done anything.”
The police sergeant snorted. “Save it for the interview.”
* * *
The police station was an old stone building, built back in the day when people had taken pride in the appearance of official institutions.
Friday had not been handcuffed. No doubt there were rules about handcuffing children. She also thought it unlikely that her own thin, spindly wrists could be contained by the same handcuffs that would be needed to restrain a fully grown man.
It was the policewoman who led Friday into the building, taking her through to an open-plan area where there were half a dozen desks cluttered with mountains of paperwork. There was one separate office partitioned off at the end of the room, no doubt for the sergeant. There were two doorways on the side. They looked like they led to cells, but they were marked “Interview Room 1” and “Interview Room 2.” A wooden bench sat between them.
Everything inside the police station was gray-green except for the cheerful posters on the wall, featuring famous athletes urging citizens to be respectful of women’s rights.
Friday was underwhelmed. She had imagined the inside of a police station to be a more exciting place, but she supposed they could not put up gruesome crime-scene photos on the wall. As a result the police station looked like an average boring office.
Friday sat down on a wooden bench outside the interview rooms. The bench reminded Friday of the one outside the Headmaster’s office, although on the whole it was more comfortable. Plus, the police station had less of a feel of impending doom than the Headmaster’s office.
On the far end of the bench sat a man who looked like a vagrant, though a strangely large and athletic vagrant. He had been handcuffed to the seat. It was hard to gauge his height because he was sitting down, but he must have been well over six feet tall. He had thinning blond hair and a rough beard. His clothes were old, worn, and crumpled. And Friday noticed that he smelled quite distinctly of mold, even though she was trying her very best not to breathe through her nose. Friday felt like she had been put next to the lion enclosure at the zoo.
The policewoman bent down to speak to Friday in what she clearly hoped was a comforting fashion. “We’ve left a message for your mom and dad,” she said, “so they should be here soon.”
“I doubt it,” said Friday. “They never check their messages. They only have an answering machine because they find it less irritating than letting their phone ring.”
“How do you get in touch with them, then?” asked the policewoman.
“I don’t,” said Friday. “I suppose I could send an e-mail to one of my mother’s PhD students and ask them to speak to her in person. That’s what I did the time I broke my ankle on a geology excursion.”
“You did?” asked the policewoman.
“Yes,” said Friday. “I needed to let Mom know I wouldn’t be home because the rescue helicopter couldn’t pick me up from the cliff face until daylight. But I haven’t done that for ages, because we’re not allowed to have e-mail access at Highcrest Academy. They have a strict anti-technology policy. They’re frightened that students will use handheld electronic devices against the staff.”
“Really?” said the policewoman.
“Yes,” said Friday. “But students find ways around it. I know a girl who only took art so she could sketch incriminating drawings of her history teacher and mail them to her lawyer.”
“This is a problem,” said the policewoman. “We can’t interview you until a family member is present.”
“By ‘interview’ you mean browbeat me into confessing, don’t you?” asked Friday.
“Well, um…” began the policewoman.
“It’s all right,” Friday assured her. “As a fledgling detective, I’d enjoy seeing professionals at work. Will you do ‘good cop, bad cop,’ or are you doing it already and that’s why you’re being nice to me?”
“Well, er—” said the policewoman, blushing a little at having been caught out by an eleven-year-old.
“This is exciting,” interrupted Friday. “Call my Uncle Bernie. He’s an insurance investigator. I’ll write his number down for you. He’ll come right away. I can’t wait to get started.”
Text copyright © 2014 by R. A. Spratt
Illustrations copyright © 2016 by Phil Gosier