Authors: Kim Harrington
pizza is frozen,” Fiona said, her green eyes shimmering with excitement. “I repeat â¦ the pizza is frozen!”
Darcy and I exchanged confused glances. “What are you talking about?” Darcy asked Fiona. “What pizza?”
Fiona nodded at the cell phone in her hand. “You know â¦ the
. I was using code to tell you it's not moving yet.”
Darcy rolled her eyes. “We don't need code words. It's just me, you, and Norah here.”
Darcy was right. It
only the three of us: me, Norah Burridge; my best friend, Darcy Carter; and our other friend, Fiona Fanning. We were the members of Partners in Crime, a detective agency Darcy and I had started just a few weeks ago.
Now we were huddled against the brick back wall of Danville Middle School. It was Friday afternoon, so most kids had already left, but we were sticking around.
We were undercover.
Our classmate Abigail Mattimore had e-mailed us through the Partners in Crime website. She had a raging crush on Trey Watson, a popular jock in our grade, and she thought he might like her, too. They'd been talking and texting a lot. But every Friday afternoon, he disappeared. He would never answer his phone or say where he was. Abigail had his whole schedule memorized (stalker alert!) and knew he had no sports practice. She was worried that he was meeting another girl on Fridays. I suggested she just ask him, but Abigail said she didn't want to seem crazy.
Yet, somehow, hiring a detective agency run by seventh graders
So we took on the case and were now staking out Trey. Fiona's parents had a GPS on her cell phone that tracked where she was at all times. She thought it was annoying and overprotective, but it was sure coming in handy solving this mystery. Fiona had “accidentally” dropped her phone into Trey's backpack near the end of the school day. Now all we had to do was wait. We were tracking its signal on an app on Darcy's phone. As soon as the signal started moving, we'd know Trey was heading to his secret place.
And, according to Fiona's pizza code â it was standing still for now, meaning Trey was still in school.
It was kind of funny seeing Fiona all into being a detective with us. Only a month ago, I never would have pictured even being friends with her. Fiona is the prettiest, most popular girl in our school. Darcy and I are nerds and proud of it. Usually those two worlds don't mix, but we were enjoying sleuthing together.
“Let her use the code if she wants,” I said to Darcy.
“Oh, fine,” Darcy said, tucking a purple-striped chunk of her short black hair behind her ear.
Fiona took a moment to eyeball my T-shirt. I'm not into fashion like she is, but this was my favorite item of clothing. It's a shirt I got at the Museum of Science that says “Pluto: Revolve in Peace 1930â2006.”
“What does that mean?” Fiona said, frowning. Her long brown hair was twisted into this beautiful, complicated updo that I would need a degree in engineering to copy. I always wore my blond hair straight down my back, or up in a plain ponytail.
“It's a joke,” I said. “Like âR.I.P.' but ârevolve' in peace. Get it? Because Pluto was demoted from planet status in 2006 â¦”
“Huh,” Fiona said. I'd already lost her.
We each have our own hobbies. I'm an astronomy buff. Fiona is a fashionista. She can't name any of Jupiter's moons, but I don't know any expensive shoe designers, so we're even. Darcy's into technology, crime, and conspiracies, and she's totally obsessed with the TV show
Crime Scene: New York
Even though we all have our own interests, we work well together. At least, we have so far. This is only our second case. And we never meant to become private investigators. It started as a class project. But once we solved our first mystery, we were hooked.
“The pizza is on the move!” Fiona yelled. My heart jumped. She passed the cell phone to Darcy. We all huddled around it and watched the little red dot on the GPS map. Once we saw which direction Trey was going, we'd hop on our bikes, catch up, and find out where he went every Friday.
“Wait!” Fiona's voice was panicked. “It's moving too fast.”
I squinted at the map. The dot had already left the school parking lot and was headed down Main Street. Definitely too fast to be someone walking. “Is he on a bike?” I asked.
Darcy watched for a moment. “Don't think so. He must be in a car.”
“Well, let's motor,” I said. “The car has to stop sometime.”
We jumped on our bikes. Darcy had the cell in her hand, so she took the lead. Fiona and I followed behind her, pedaling hard. After ten minutes, we stopped in the center of town.
“What's up?” I asked my BFF, panting. “You need a break?”
Darcy frowned at the cell phone. “Nope. It stopped. He's in there.” She pointed at a place called the Java Lamp. My mom had mentioned it once or twice as a great new spot to get afternoon lattes.
“A coffee shop?” I said, surprised. I love the smell of coffee, but I don't drink it. First, because I have enough trouble shutting my mind off and falling asleep at night as it is. Second, because I tried it once and it tasted like a cup of melted pennies.
“I guess Abigail was right,” Darcy said. “He
meeting someone else.”
Dread formed in the pit of my stomach, but I tried to remain hopeful. After all, Trey
come in a car. Maybe it was a family tradition or something. Coffee Fridays! Okay, even I wasn't believing that.
I sighed, then looked at my friends. “Let's go get the evidence.” All we needed was for Darcy to snap a picture with her cell phone and e-mail it to Abigail, and the case would be over.
And Abigail's heart would be broken.
I thought about
crush, Zane Munro, and how I would feel if he was meeting a girl every Friday at the Java Lamp. A girl who wasn't me. At the mere thought of it, my heart cinched.
I wished it didn't have to end this way for Abigail. Man, being a private investigator was tough.
Darcy shoved open the door with one shoulder, and Fiona and I followed her in. The place was packed. A big red lava lamp bubbled over the cash register. Little round tables were full of people holding steaming coffee mugs, chatting, reading books, or pretending to work on their laptops while eavesdropping on the table of women next to them. (Okay, that last one might have been just one guy.)
Trey, however, was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe he's in the bathroom,” I said.
Darcy made a beeline for a glass case that held baked goods. “You guys!” she called, waving us over. “They have giant cookies! They're the size of my face!”
Fiona ignored her. She was too busy checking out a table of cute boys. Was I the only one who remembered what we were here for?
Just then, an employee wearing a Java Lamp apron went up on the empty stage in the corner and turned on the microphone. Feedback screeched through the room, and people clapped their hands over their ears.
“Testing one, two, three. Sorry about that, folks,” he said. “We're happy to have one of our favorites return this afternoon to do a few songs for us.”
An afternoon with flavored coffee, giant cookies, and live music â¦ how romantic for Trey and his girl. I was suddenly starting to get angry for Abigail. Why did he make her think he liked her? I might do more than take a picture. I might give him a piece of my mind.
The man leaned into the mic. “Everyone, please put your hands together for â¦ Trey!”
The audience clapped, but I stood still, shocked. Trey â the big tough captain of the lacrosse team â sang on Friday afternoons in a coffeehouse?
Trey walked across the stage, carrying a guitar and looking uncharacteristically shy. He wrapped his hand around the microphone and spoke in a soft voice. “This one's for Abigail. Maybe someday I'll be brave enough to invite her here to listen.”
Darcy, Fiona, and I all exchanged stunned glances. We could only watch, mouths agape, as Trey sang a sweet song about crushing on a girl. A woman in the front row clapped the loudest. She had Trey's dark hair and blue eyes, so she was clearly his mom â and also the person who had driven him here.
Fiona and I joined Darcy at the counter to buy ourselves cookies as rewards. Darcy snapped a picture of Trey playing his guitar, then turned to us. “Good work, guys!” she exclaimed. “Partners in Crime has solved their second case. And I'm sure Abigail will be excited.”
Fiona nodded, grinning. “We did it! Code words and all.”
I took a giant chomp out of my chocolate-chip cookie. I was happy that the case was closed
that Abigail wasn't going to spend the night crying. But I was also a tiny bit aggravated that the whole thing could've been avoided if Abigail and Trey had only talked to each other.
“What's wrong, Norah?” asked Fiona.
I shook my head. “Well, it's just that Trey kept this secret from Abigail. She kept her worries from him. People need to be more honest about their feelings!”
Darcy let out a giant laugh and gave me a look.
“What?” I said indignantly.
She pointed her cookie at me. “You think boys and girls should be honest about their feelings?”
I jutted my chin out. “Yes, I do.”
Darcy laughed again. “Two words for you, Norah: Zane Munro.”
I blushed. She had me there.
morning was a disaster.
For some reason, I'd copied down the wrong math assignment off the board on Friday. So instead of doing the problems on page thirty-three, I did all the problems on page thirty-eight. I was totally lost for the first ten minutes of class and spent the rest of the time playing catchup.
Then, on my way out of the classroom, I slipped on a pencil someone had left on the floor, and my books went flying everywhere. Slade Durkin started laughing â way too loud â which made me think he might have been the one who'd “accidentally” left his pencil there to be slipped on. Or he might have just been enjoying my trauma because he's meaner than dirt. (That's actually an insult to dirt. Dirt isn't so bad. Especially when compared to Slade.)
Slade's best friend, Hunter Fisk, came up next to him. They were both in seventh grade but didn't look it. They were already taller than some of the teachers. I half expected them to start shaving any day.
Slade showed Hunter my booksplosion and they slapped high five. Then, as I knelt down and gathered up my things, they walked on by, laughing in the most obnoxious way.
By midday I was glad for a break. I walked into the cafeteria and found Fiona already sitting at our table. Up until recently, lunch had always been just Darcy and me. Fiona's spot was at the center table with the popular crew. But since we'd become friends with her, Fiona sat at our table some days and with the popular kids on other days. It was like a joint custody agreement.
Darcy had been out that morning because she'd had a dentist appointment. But I knew she was due in soon. I laid my paper lunch bag down and Fiona examined my face with her head tilted to the side.
“What?” I asked.
“Your look,” she said. “It's missing something, but I don't know what it is.”
“Um, designer clothes? Straight-ironed hair? Highlights? Makeup?” All the things that made Fiona so pretty.
Fiona frowned. “Of course not. That's not your style. But you need
. I just can't put my finger on it.”
She reached out and pulled the elastic from my hair.
“Ouch! What are you doing?”
“Shush. I'm just trying something. Your hair is such a pretty shade of blond.”
I stayed completely still while Fiona ruffled my hair and bangs with her fingers. When she was finished, I gave my hair a tentative touch. It felt â¦ big and frizzy.
She handed me the elastic. “Nah, put it back up.”
I groaned and pulled my hair back into the ponytail.
“I'll figure out what you need,” Fiona insisted. “It just hasn't hit me yet.”
I didn't doubt that Fiona was a master at this stuff. Her sketchbook was full of totally cute fashion designs. But I lacked that knowledge. That's why I tended to wear jeans most days, while Fiona looked ready for the runway.
I was opening my lunch bag when Fiona looked up and said, “Uh-oh.”
Darcy was stomping across the room with her arms crossed tightly. She wore black boots, black tights, a black skirt, a long-sleeved black tee, and her angry face. She wasn't coming from a funeral. That was her typical look. But still, she seemed a bit more disturbed than usual.
“What's up?” I asked when she got to the table.
Darcy slumped into the chair beside me. “The dentist said I need braces.”
“Oh no.” I patted her shoulder. “I'm sorry.” Darcy was addicted to gum and candy, the chewier the better. I wondered if she'd be forced to cut back.
Fiona smiled like one of those models in a teeth-whitening commercial. “It's okay. Like half the kids in our grade have had them.”
not getting them, Miss Perfect Teeth,” Darcy said.
But before Fiona could respond, someone else said, “I had braces. They weren't so bad.”
I froze at the sound of his voice. Was this real or just a wonderful dream?
I looked up over my right shoulder. Zane Munro was standing there wearing jeans and his soccer jersey. He was one of the stars of our school's team, but that wasn't why I had a major-league crush on him. It wasn't his cute freckles or his adorably messy brown hair, either. It was that he was cool without even trying. He was nice to everyone. He wasn't a jerk like some other kids in school (coughcoughHunterandSladecoughcough).
“When did you get your braces off, Zane?” Fiona asked.
“Over the weekend!” He smiled big to show off his braces-less teeth.
I wanted to say he looked great. I tried. My brain sent signals to my mouth to speak, but my voice wouldn't cooperate.
“Looks great!” Fiona said. In a bubbly voice, not a flirty one, thank goodness. Almost every boy at Danville Middle School had a crush on Fiona at some point. She could have them all, as far as I was concerned. Except this one.
“Thanks,” Zane replied. “It really wasn't that bad, Darcy. Your teeth are sore for a couple days after the braces get tightened, but that's a good excuse to beg your mom for ice cream.”
Darcy grunted in response. I think she just had her mind made up that this was the end of the world and nothing anyone said would change it.
“So, um, Norah?” Zane looked at me.
Is he here to ask me something? Oh my universe, yes, he is going to ask me something!
I tried to talk my face into not turning ten shades of red while I said, “Yeah?”
“I was absent last Friday and we have that big Spanish test next week. I was wondering if I could borrow your notes from Friday's class?”
My heart sank. All he wanted were class notes?
“Yeah, sure.” I reached down into my backpack, pulled out my green notebook, and handed it to him. “Here you go. Just try to get it back to me by sixth period.”
“Oh. I didn't realize you'd have it with you now.” He took the notebook, then gave a little wave. “'Bye, guys.”
I turned back to my sandwich, a little depressed, but Fiona and Darcy were staring at me. “What?” I said. Did I have something in my teeth?
“He totally likes you!” Fiona said.
I wish, but no.
“All he wanted were my notes, Fiona.”
“He could have asked anyone for those notes,” she pointed out. “He has friends in class. Why didn't he ask one of them?”
I shrugged. “Because I'm a nerd and take great notes.”
Darcy said, “If that was the case, he could've asked any nerd. He could've asked me.”
I didn't want to explain to Miss Grumpy Pants that in her current mood, no one would ask her for anything.
“I think he was using the notes as an excuse to talk to you,” Fiona said, twirling a long strand of brown hair around her finger. “He seemed disappointed when you had the notebook right here. Like he was hoping you'd have to meet up at your locker or even after school or something.”
I shook my head. “I don't know.” I desperately wanted the conversation to move on to something else.
As if granting my wish, a small voice interrupted.
I turned around to see Maya Doshi, her dark eyes wide and anxious. Maya was a new girl in our school this year. Her family moved to town when they opened up an Indian restaurant on Main Street. Maya seemed very nice, but she was so shy it was hard to get to know her. She looked so nervous standing there waiting for one of us to respond.
I smiled to put her at ease. “Hi, Maya. What's up?”
“I'm sorry,” her tiny voice said. “I hope I'm not interrupting anything.”
“Nope,” Darcy said.
“I have to go fix my makeup before class,” Fiona said, standing up. “Later, gators.”
I gestured for Maya to fill Fiona's now empty chair. “Have a seat.”
“Oh. All rightâ¦.” Maya sat and fiddled with the strap on her book bag. She was always a little bit nervous when she had to talk to someone, but it seemed like something was really eating at her.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
She chewed on her lip for a moment, as if she was trying to decide whether or not to say what she'd come over to say. “I need â¦ help.”
Darcy said, “Help â¦ in, like, a class or something?”
“No.” Again Maya's eyes got all jittery. Her voice came out even softer than usual. “I need help from Partners in Crime.”
After helping Fiona solve
mystery a few weeks ago, Darcy and I were eager to keep the detective agency running. But we didn't know how to advertise. We're only seventh graders after all, and it's not a real, licensed detective agency.
Fortunately, Fiona was a marketing maven. She said advertising was no different than starting a rumor â make it cool and it will grow by itself. In text messages, passed notes, and hallway whispers, she knew how to get the word out to the kids and keep the grown-ups in the dark.
Fiona told people that we'd solved a problem for her. Rumors about her case varied from us finding out who stole her designer handbag to reuniting her with a long-lost cousin. When anyone asked us, we simply replied that we don't share anything about our cases. Client confidentiality and all that.
The truth was a lot more complicated. No one else at school knows, and it has to stay that way.
And now I knew why Maya looked super nervous. Something was going on! She had a case! Already my heart started beating faster in excitement. All the bad parts of the day â my math disaster, Hunter and Slade being jerks â faded away.
Darcy seemed as intrigued as I was. “What can we do for you?” she asked.
Maya inched her chair closer to the table and spoke in a hushed tone. “Something very strange happened last Saturday night. My parents were working late at the restaurant, and my older sister was out with her friends. I was stuck home watching my baby brother. He was upstairs in his crib sleeping and I was downstairs watching TV, but then â¦”
“Then what?” I leaned forward, hooked.
“I heard this strange noise on the baby monitor.”
“Interference?” Darcy said.
Maya's eyes went to the ceiling like she was trying to remember. “No â¦ it was voices. Maybe one, maybe more, I couldn't really tell. Most of the words I couldn't make out, but then I clearly heard someone say, âGet him,' and then a scream.”
A chill went through my body, and Darcy gasped. I realized I'd been gripping my sandwich so hard I'd smooshed it.
“Then what happened?” Darcy asked.
The cafeteria was so loud and Maya's voice was so soft. I wished I could make all the other noise disappear. I leaned even farther forward.
Maya said, “I got scared and ran up to my brother's room. But he was in there alone, still sleeping. I dashed back downstairs and listened to the monitor, but it was quiet the rest of the night.”
I shivered as I imagined being alone in a house and hearing a voice that didn't belong. Poor Maya. No wonder she was so shaken up.
“How could a voice be on the monitor if no one but the baby was in the room?” I asked, trying to put things together in my head.
“Baby monitors can sometimes pick up other things,” Maya explained. “Other noises or even other conversations if someone else in the area has a monitor, too.”
So at least the stranger wasn't
her house. But still â¦ hearing voices like that. Mega-creepy. Fiona had picked a bad time to leave the table. She'd missed this entire story. I'd have to fill her in later.
I asked, “What would you like us to do?”
Maya looked around nervously. “Maybe help me try to find out who it was. What happened to the person. I told my mom, but she said it was nothing. Probably just someone's television.” Maya paused. “It sounded like more than that to me.”
Maya seemed like such a caring person, all worried about this stranger in the night. I didn't think it was very realistic that we'd ever find out who it was, though. I hated to disappoint her, but this case was impossible. I said softly, “It was a one-time thing, Maya, so we'd never be able to â”
“No, it wasn't,” Maya interrupted. “I haven't told you that part yet. It happened twice. Two Saturdays in a row. The first time I was half asleep on the couch and thought I'd left the TV on. When the voices stopped, I opened my eyes and realized the TV was off. I figured maybe I'd been dreaming, but now that it happened again, I know it was real.”
Darcy drummed her fingers on her chin. “Now
we can work with. It happened more than once and both times were on a Saturday night?”
“Yes. That's right,” Maya said.
“Then that's a pattern,” I said, getting excited.
“Which means,” Darcy added. “It might happen again.”
“Will you help me?” Maya asked. “I'd really like to look into this.”
“That depends,” Darcy said. “Would your parents mind if you had a few friends over to the house while they were at work?”
Maya brightened. “No, not at all.”
“Are they working again this Saturday night?” I asked.
“As always, yes.” Maya nodded enthusiastically.
Darcy smiled. “Okay, then. Saturday night it is.”
Darcy held out her fist and I held out mine. I motioned with my eyes for Maya to join us. We all bumped fists.
Maya asked, “But â¦ what are we doing?”
I grinned. “Planning a sleepover stakeout.”