Authors: R. A. Spratt
Inside the House
Friday wasn't allowed into the house until she was decked out in a full crime scene suit, which included white paper coveralls, white booties, a face mask and shower cap.
âYou do realise that my fingerprints, hair and skin cells will be all over the house already?' said Friday. âI did live here for eleven years.'
âWhen it comes to evidence, you can never be too careful,' said Detective Summers, leading Friday
up the front path. When she reached the front door she stopped and turned to Friday. For the first time Detective Summers had a look of compassion on her face. âBefore we enter the house, I should warn you â what you see will be upsetting. Whoever took your mother made a real mess. The house has been completely turned over. They must have been searching for something. Your mother's research notes, perhaps. I know it can be distressing to see your family home violated.'
A lump formed in Friday's throat. She nodded because she didn't think she could trust herself to speak. It wasn't until now it occurred to her that the kidnapper might have handled her mother roughly.
Her mother might not have been the world's best mother. But she wasn't a bad person. It's just that Dr Barnes just lived in the theoretical world â she spent all her time inside her own mind, so to trick her into getting into a stranger's car would have been the easiest thing in the world. All you'd have to do is say, âGet in the car, Dr Barnes, I'm here to take you to a conference' and she'd be halfway to Mauritius before it crossed her mind to wonder where she was going.
Friday hoped the kidnappers hadn't hurt Dr Barnes.
Apart from being one of the world's leading scientists, she was Friday's mum. And she only had one mum. And she'd rather have a distracted, self-absorbed mother than no mother at all.
Detective Summers held open the front door and Friday stepped inside. She walked down the short corridor to the living room and then stopped. Three white-suited crime scene investigators were taking samples in the room, which was strange enough. It looked like aliens were paying an afternoon visit to her home. But as Friday looked about, she noticed the total dishevelment. There were papers and periodicals strewn everywhere. Cupboards hanging open, a broken mug on the kitchen floor, breakfast cereal trodden into the carpet and a chair was overturned.
Friday took it all in.
âAre you all right?' asked Detective Summers.
âOf course I am,' said Friday. âThis is what the house always looks like.'
âIt is?!' asked Detective Summers.
âWell, not always,' said Friday. âWhen I lived here, I used to tidy up after Mum and Dad as much as I could. But if I ever went away on a school camp or stayed with Uncle Bernie for a couple of
days, the house would always look like this when I came back.'
âBut it looks like it's been ransacked,' said Detective Summers.
âI know,' agreed Friday. âMum and Dad don't have very good life management skills. I really should have arranged some sort of careworker to look after them when I moved out. What they really need is a nanny â someone to tell them when to eat, when to brush their teeth and when to go to bed.'
âWell, your mother's still missing,' said Detective Summers. âPlus your brothers and sisters. There must be something going on. If five of the nation's leading physicists have been kidnapped, that is going to be a huge deal.'
âAre you sure she has been kidnapped?' asked Friday. âPerhaps there's another explanation.'
âYes, we're sure,' said Detective Summers. âI didn't want to distress you or your father, but there was a note.'
âFrom Mother?' asked Friday.
âYes,' said Detective Summers. âWhoever took her allowed her to leave a brief message.'
âMay I see it?' asked Friday.
Detective Summers looked doubtful. âYou're a child. I don't want to do anything that might traumatise you. Police departments are forever getting sued for things like that.'
âI won't sue,' said Friday. âFor a start, I'm not in touch enough with my emotions to be traumatised. The Barneses are big on suppressing all emotion. Just show me the note; I promise I'll be fine. At least, for the foreseeable future. If I have any psychological repercussions, I'm sure they won't become apparent for years.'
âAll right,' said Detective Summers, taking a plastic evidence bag out of her notebook. It looked like a sandwich bag, but it didn't contain a sandwich. It contained a crumpled handwritten note.
Friday took the bag carefully by the corner and inspected it closely.
âAs you can see, the handwriting is barely legible,' said Detective Summers. âShe was clearly extremely distressed when she wrote it. Perhaps she had to do it hurriedly while her kidnappers weren't looking.'
Friday peered closer. The letters barely looked like the standard Roman alphabet. It was as if they'd been furtively stabbed into the page, literally
tearing up the paper fibres and blotting ink as she wrote.
âCan you make out what it says?' asked Detective Summers. âOur cryptographers have been working on it but they haven't had much luck yet.'
âYes,' said Friday. âIt reads,
They are taking me away now. I tried to argue. They leave me no choice. I am being forced. Farewell
âThe poor woman,' said Detective Summers.
âHmm,' said Friday. âMay I have a look around to see if anything is missing?'
âOf course,' said Detective Summers. She followed Friday into the bedroom. The bed was unmade. The drawers were hanging open and clothes were strewn about.
âYou'll never be able to tell what's missing in all this mess,' said Detective Summers.
Friday opened the wardrobe. There were very few clothes hanging inside there. Just a couple of shirts. The wardrobe was mainly full of old scientific periodicals, which had been untidily stacked on the floor up to waist-height.
âThat's interesting,' said Friday.
âWhat?' asked Detective Summers.
âHer dress is missing,' said Friday.
âWhich dress?' asked Detective Summers.
dress,' said Friday. âMother has no interest in clothes or fashion. She owns one navy blue dress. For weddings, formal dinners and things like that. And that one dress isn't here.'
âWhat does that mean?' asked Detective Summers.
âI'm not sure,' said Friday. âLet's have a look in the kitchen.'
Friday led Detective Summers to the kitchen, where she opened a cupboard and took down a canister that said âsugar' in blue print.
âWhat's sugar got to do with this?' asked Detective Summers.
âMy mother doesn't believe in processed sugar,' said Friday. âShe never has it in the house.' Friday opened the canister and looked inside.
It was empty. âThis is where she keeps her passport,' said Friday.
âSo the kidnapper took her passport?' said the detective. âThis is serious. If she's been missing since yesterday, she could be anywhere in the world by now.'
Friday was staring into the canister. âI've got a suspicion where my mother might be.'
âWhere?' asked Detective Summers.
What's the date?' asked Friday.
âSixteenth of October. Why?' asked Detective Summers.
Friday sighed. âBecause the tenth of December is Alfred Nobel's birthday and the traditional pre-ceremony lecture tour of Europe takes about six weeks.'
âWhat's that supposed to mean?' asked Detective Summers, looking baffled.
Friday strode across the front yard to confront her father. He was still waiting on the other side of the tape with Melanie.
âDad, can you remember Mum mentioning something about her winning the Nobel Prize?' asked Friday.
âThe Nobel Prize?' asked Dr Barnes. âIt doesn't ring a bell.'
âShe hasn't been planning a trip to Sweden, has she?' asked Friday.
âSweden? Why would she go there?' asked Dr Barnes.
âBecause the Nobel Prizes are presented each year in Sweden on the tenth of December, the anniversary of Alfred Nobel's birth,' said Friday. âBut the winners are announced much earlier, in mid-October. Is there any chance Mum has not been kidnapped but has, in fact, simply flown out to Europe for a lecture tour ahead of her acceptance of the Nobel Prize for Physics? And that Quantum, Quasar, Halley and Orion have gone with her?'
âNow that you mention it,' said Dr Barnes, âyour mother did say something about wanting me to go with her to some awards night. I must have missed the taxi when they all left.'
âWas the taxi due to pick you up at 7.45 last night?' asked Melanie.
âYes!' said Dr Barnes. âThat's right, I remember now. How did you know?'
âYes, how did you know?' asked Friday.
âIt says 7.45 on the back of Dr Barnes' hand,' said Melanie.
Dr Barnes looked at his hand. âOh yes! My secretary must have written it on there to help me to
remember. She writes down all my important scheduling on my hand in permanent marker.'
âBut what about the note?' asked Detective Summers. âYour mother obviously wrote it in desperation. The handwriting alone showed that.'
âNo, actually that's Mum's regular handwriting,' said Friday. âThe clichÃ©s about “mad scientists” don't just come from nowhere. And you've got to realise that my mother is very clinical and ordered in the way she thinks and speaks. So her words
They are taking me away now. I tried to argue. They leave me no choice. I am being forced. Farewell
could simply mean the taxi is here, she had an argument with my brothers and sisters about sending the taxi away and waiting for Dad, she lost the argument and they are setting out for the airport.'
âI can't believe it,' said Detective Summers. âAll the time and resources wasted because some crazy academic is too vague to notice that his wife has gone to collect a Nobel Prize. This can't be happening to me. Are there hidden cameras somewhere? Is this a prank show?' Detective Summers looked about as if expecting a camera person to jump out of a bush.
âNo, I'm afraid it's just regular day-to-day life in the Barnes household,' said Friday.
âI ought to have you both arrested for wasting police time,' said Detective Summers.
âHey, I'm the one who sorted it out for you,' said Friday. âAnd shouldn't you be relieved that my mother hasn't been kidnapped?'
âI have real crimes I'm supposed to be investigating,' said Detective Summers, âand I've just wasted four hours and goodness knows how much of our department's crime scene investigation budget on this.'
âThose shower caps and paper booties are expensive, are they?' asked Melanie.
Detective Summers took out her phone and started dialling. âMy boss is going to looove this,' she muttered sarcastically as she walked away.
âI suppose we had better be getting back to school,' said Friday.
âBut what about me?' asked Dr Barnes.
âWhat do you mean, “
what about you
”?' said Friday. âWe've established that Mother is all right, Quantum, Quasar, Halley and Orion will look after her. She's only going to be gone six weeks.'
âBut who's going to look after me for six weeks?' asked Dr Barnes.
âWhat do you expect?' said Friday. âDo you want me to hire a babysitter to look after you?'
âDo you know anyone who would be interested?' asked Dr Barnes optimistically.
âI was being sarcastic,' said Friday. âYou're a grown man. You should be able to look after yourself.'
âBut I never have before,' said Dr Barnes. âYou can't expect me to take on a new role without a discussion, written instructions and a training program.' Dr Barnes was starting to get very agitated. He looked like he might start crying.
âI think you might have to find a babysitter after all,' said Melanie.
âThis is ridiculous,' said Friday. âI'm eleven years old. I can't be responsible for your wellbeing. I've got to get back to school.'
âWhat about your Uncle Bernie?' suggested Melanie.
âThat buffoon!' exclaimed Dr Barnes. âHe's not staying here.'
âThey can't stand each other,' explained Friday.
âBut aren't they brothers?' asked Melanie.
âExactly, that's why they can't stand each other,' said Friday.
âWe could take your dad with us,' said Melanie. âIf he was at Highcrest Academy, he'd get his meals and accommodation taken care of.'
âI think Dad is a little bit too old to enrol as a student,' said Friday.
âOf course,' agreed Melanie. âBut I'm sure the Headmaster would be happy to give Dr Barnes a job. You know how much he hates the head of the science department. And it would really irritate Mr Breznev if the Headmaster hired someone much more qualified to come and be a guest teacher.'
âI suppose that might work,' conceded Friday. âBut frankly, I'd rather not have my father hanging about at school.'
âWhy?' asked Melanie.
âBecause, you know â¦' said Friday awkwardly, âhe'll cramp my style.'
âFriday, I hate to break it to you,' said Melanie, âbut you have no style.'
âTrue,' conceded Friday.
âBesides,' continued Melanie, âyou've never been
close with your parents. This could be an opportunity for you to get to know your father better.'
âThat's a nice thought,' said Friday. âBut I think I know him just well enough already.'
âThe only other alternative is that you take six weeks off school and come and live with him here,' said Melanie.
Friday looked at her father. He was staring at his own shoes, no doubt lost in his own thoughts about physics.
âMe and Dad together in the house for six weeks?!' Friday shuddered at the mental image this generated. âI'll call the Headmaster.'