Big Trouble by R.A. Spratt is the 3rd book in the Friday Barnes Mysteries series (available January 17, 2017).
Crime hits close to home when Friday Barnes learns her mother has been kidnapped. But her detective work gets put aside when Friday is distracted by other happenings at school: a new VIP student (a Norwegian princess!) has just arrived and a master thief called the Pimpernel is causing chaos across campus. Can super sleuth and girl genius Friday crack the case of her missing mother, reign in a royal brat, and unmask the elusive Pimpernel?
The Disappearing Doctor
Friday Barnes was running as fast as she could across the Highcrest Academy campus, which admittedly wasn’t too fast because running wasn’t her strong suit. She had just heard the shocking news that her father had turned up and taken over a physics lesson, and she was desperate to get to that classroom to minimize whatever public embarrassment he was undoubtedly causing.
Friday’s best friend, Melanie Pelly, ran with her, and Ian Wainscott came along as well. Ian was either Friday’s arch nemesis or her love interest. Nobody was quite sure which, least of all Ian and Friday. They were inexplicably drawn to each other, but Friday had put Ian’s dad in jail for insurance fraud and it is hard to get past that sort of thing in a relationship. And yet wherever there was a dramatic public confrontation involving Friday, Ian was always there.
When they burst through the classroom door they saw the science teacher, Mr. Davies, slumped at a desk, holding his head in his hands. All the students looked very brain-addled and confused. At the front of the room Friday’s father, Dr. Barnes, was scrawling equations over every last square inch of the whiteboard.
“You see here, X is a photon or Z-boson, and here X and Y are two electroweak bosons such that the charge is conserved…” droned Dr. Barnes. He had whiteboard marker and egg stains on his saggy brown cardigan, and it didn’t look like his hair had been brushed at any time in the last decade.
“Dad, stop!” cried Friday. “You’re hurting their brains!”
Dr. Barnes looked up and adjusted his glasses. “Ah, Friday. Yes, that’s why I’m here. I’ve come to see you.”
“Then why have you taken over Mr. Davies’s class?” asked Friday.
“I was looking for you when I walked past here,” said Dr. Barnes, “and I saw the lesson he was teaching. He clearly needed help. His explanation was childlike.”
“These are children,” said Friday. “He was explaining physics to children.”
Dr. Barnes turned and looked at the class. He adjusted his glasses on his nose again. “Oh yes, I suppose so. I hadn’t considered that.”
“The family resemblance is remarkable,” said Melanie.
“Yes,” agreed Ian. “And it’s not just the brown cardigan. It’s the total ignorance of social normality.”
“Not now,” said Friday, before going over to her father. “Dad, why were you looking for me? You never have before. Not even the time you left me at the mall, not realizing that I wasn’t in the car.”
“What?” said Dr. Barnes. “I don’t recall the data to which you’re referring.”
Friday sighed. “Of course you don’t. Just tell me, why are you here?”
“Oh,” said Dr. Barnes. Suddenly his eyes welled with tears and his chin wobbled. “It’s Dr. Barnes.”
“Isn’t that you?” asked Melanie.
“No, the other Dr. Barnes,” said Dr. Barnes.
“Mom?” asked Friday.
“Yes, her,” said Dr. Barnes.
“What’s happened to Mom?” asked Friday.
“She’s disappeared,” said Dr. Barnes as he dissolved into sobs.
Friday took her father outside so he could compose himself. She sat him at a picnic table with a strategically placed box of tissues in front of him just in case he burst into tears again. Melanie and Ian stood by.
“What do you mean Mom’s disappeared?” asked Friday. “She can’t have stopped existing. She must be somewhere.”
“All I know is that yesterday morning while I was eating breakfast I looked up and noticed she wasn’t at the table!” said Dr. Barnes.
“That is a bad sign,” Friday said, then turned to explain to her friends. “Mom never misses breakfast. She has an alarm set on her wristwatch to remind her when to eat.”
“When I reflected on the available evidence, I realized I had no memory of her sitting at the table for dinner the night before,” said Dr. Barnes. “So I investigated further and discovered she was nowhere in the house.”
“Wow,” said Friday, “and you noticed this in under twenty-four hours? I’m impressed.”
“So I called her office at the university, and she wasn’t there either,” said Dr. Barnes. “I’m worried that she’s been kidnapped!”
“Who would want to kidnap Mom?” asked Friday.
“Theoretical physics has all sorts of practical applications,” said Dr. Barnes. “She might have been kidnapped by an arms manufacturer.”
“Or aliens,” said Melanie. “They like kidnapping people too.”
“Have you called the police?” asked Ian.
“Why? Do you think they arrested her?” asked Dr. Barnes.
“No, to file a missing person report,” said Friday.
“I hadn’t thought of that,” said Dr. Barnes. “Is that the type of thing police do? I’d hate to trouble them if it’s not their field.”
“Of course it’s their field,” said Friday.
“I think your father is even vaguer than I am,” said Melanie.
“You should call the police right now,” said Friday.
“All right,” said Dr. Barnes. “Do you know their phone number?”
“Don’t tell me you don’t know the phone number for the emergency services,” said Friday.
“Why?” asked Dr. Barnes. “Is it my birth date or something?”
“It’s nine one one,” said Friday.
“That’s not my birthday,” said Dr. Barnes.
“I’ll call them,” said Friday. “Then we can meet the police at your house. They’ll want to search for evidence before the trail goes cold.”
“I don’t follow. The ambient temperature is pleasantly balmy,” said Dr. Barnes. “I can’t see why a trail would go cold.”
“It’s a figure of speech, Dad,” said Friday. “I’m not literally talking about a low-temperature footpath.”
“Really? Fascinating,” said Dr. Barnes.
* * *
It was a two-hour drive to the Barneses’ family home. Melanie went along with Friday, supposedly for emotional support, but really so she could get out of classes for the rest of the day. Friday tried questioning Dr. Barnes (her father) as he drove, but she had to give up because he was a terrible driver and it was distracting him too much. He nearly drove into an oncoming ice-cream truck while trying to remember what his wife had been wearing the last time he saw her. When they pulled up at the Barnes family’s ordinary suburban home, the police were already there. They had marked off the whole front yard with crime scene tape.
“Oh my goodness!” exclaimed Dr. Barnes. “What’s happened here?”
“Mother has gone missing,” Friday reminded him. “We called the police about it two hours ago.”
“And they’ve done all this already?” said Dr. Barnes. He was a university academic, so he was not used to anyone taking action with any degree of rapidity.
“Come on,” said Friday. “Let’s talk to the officer in charge.”
They all got out of the car. Melanie and Dr. Barnes hung back while Friday ducked under the tape and started walking toward the front door.
“Stop right there!” snapped an angry-looking woman in a beige pantsuit. “If you take one more step, I’ll arrest you.”
Friday froze, one foot hovering midair.
“This is a crime scene,” said the pantsuit woman. “With every step you take, you are contaminating the evidence.”
“It may be a crime scene, but it’s also my family home,” said Friday, “and the missing person is my mother. If you allow me to put my foot down and continue walking into the building, I will probably be able to assist the officer in charge.”
“I am the officer in charge,” said the pantsuit woman. “My name is Detective Summers, and my experience with children is that they are anything but helpful.”
“Well, you could have my father come in and have a look around to see what is missing or misplaced,” said Friday. “But he is a theoretical physicist, with tenure, so he is about as aware of his physical surroundings as a dead geranium.”
“That’s ridiculous,” said Detective Summers. “He’s the victim’s husband.”
“Allow me to demonstrate,” said Friday, turning to her father, who was still on the other side of the tape. “Dad, what day of the week is it?”
“What?” said Dr. Barnes.
“Do you know what day of the week it is?” repeated Friday.
“I suppose it’s one of them,” said Dr. Barnes. “I don’t know … It will say on the calendar, I presume.”
“Can you narrow it down?” asked Friday. “If you concentrate really hard, can you work out whether it is a weekday or a weekend?”
“How on earth could I be expected to know that?” asked Dr. Barnes.
“You just picked me up from school and classes were in session,” said Friday. “So you should be able to deduce that it is a weekday.”
“Oh yes, that line of reasoning does follow,” agreed Dr. Barnes. “I hadn’t really thought about it.”
“What color are Mom’s eyes?” continued Friday.
“Her eyes?” said Dr. Barnes. “Well, they’re eye-colored, I suppose.”
“Think hard, Dad,” urged Friday. “You’ve been married for twenty-eight years. In all that time, have you ever looked at Mom and noticed what color her eyes were?”
“Blue … or maybe brown,” said Dr. Barnes. “One of those two colors, I’d say.”
“Behold my father’s power of observation,” said Friday.
“There must be an adult family member I can talk to,” said Detective Summers.
“Yes, I do have four adult brothers and sisters,” said Friday. “Quantum, Quasar, Halley, and Orion. They’re all top physicists, too. You could get in touch with one of them.”
“Oh no, you can’t do that,” said Dr. Barnes, shaking his head.
“Why not?” asked Friday.
“I tried already. I couldn’t get hold of any of them this morning,” said Dr. Barnes. “None of them answered the phone when I called. That’s why I had to go and get Friday.”
Friday was a little hurt. “I should have known I wouldn’t be the first person you’d contact.”
“So your four older children are missing as well?” asked Detective Summers. “And you didn’t think to mention this before?”
“Could it be relevant?” asked Dr. Barnes.
Detective Summers looked like she wanted to slap Dr. Barnes. She took a deep breath, then turned to Friday. “Perhaps you had better be the one to come inside.”
Copyright © 2017 R.A. Spratt.
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R.A. Spratt is an award-winning author and television writer. Her Nanny Piggins series went into nine best selling volumes in Australia. She lives in Bowral, Australia with her husband, two daughters and a puppy called Henry. Like Friday Barnes, R.A. enjoys wearing a silly hat.
Phil Gosier is an independent art director and designer working in the Washington, D.C. area. His illustration and design clients include Kellogg's, the Discovery Channel, Marvel and DC Comics, and Macmillan. At Macmillan, Phil has worked on the Friday Barnes Mystery series and the picture book Snow Beast Comes to Play. He graduated from the University of Maryland and lives in suburban Maryland with his family.