By: Laura Stewart Schmidt
Aspiring fifth-grade scientist Candy and her best friend Kiera are determined to win first prize for their project at the science fair and a chance at the summer STEM camp, but when a series of thefts rocks their small southern Missouri grade school, they must solve the mystery and catch the thief before their principal cancels the fair and wrecks their hopes.
The librarian looked like she always did—like she’d woken up that morning and been sentenced to prison before she got out of bed. “You heard about the thefts,” she greeted Candy.
“Uhm-yes.” Did she think Candy has stolen her own book? “Uh, my mom told me one of the ones taken was the Dummies vaping book. But it’s okay, because Mrs. Ellis told us we can’t do a project on smoking or vaping. Anything with nicotine.”
The librarian folded her hands under her chin and glared up at Candy. “It’s not okay. Do you know who might have stolen a book I had to order from the publisher?”
Why was she mad at Candy? It wasn’t like the book cost a fortune or she had to go to Wyoming or someplace to get it. Dr. Adams had offered to order it for them, but Kiera wouldn’t let him. The project was supposed to be all their work, not their parents’. “I mean, it’s bad that someone stole stuff, but it won’t mess up our project. In fact, I was going to ask you to get these instead.” She pulled a paper out of her pocket with the titles of two books on public water and bottled water that she and Kiera had picked out off the internet.
Mrs. Brandt didn’t take it. “Candy, I shouldn’t really order new books until we figure out what happened to the last set of new books I ordered.”
“Is that what you called me in to tell me?” Wow, that sounded rude. She’d get in trouble. “I mean, I don’t know who took them. I just know Kiera and I made up a new project and we need to get these new books for it. Please.” She waggled the paper at Mrs. Brandt.
Mrs. Brandt took it as though it were a dirty tissue. She tapped her computer and looked up at Candy. “One of these seems to have a religious focus. The other is written by a scientist with the Pacific Institute.”
Candy didn’t know what that was, but it sounded like a guy who would know what he was talking about. “I know. They’re the best books we could find.”
Mrs. Brandt smiled—maybe. “I’ll get these ordered. When they come in, as soon as they’re logged in to the system, I’ll pass them on to you. That should keep them safe.”
Candy nodded so hard her hair bounced on her shoulders. “Thank you.”
Mrs. Brandt smiled for real. Candy didn’t think she’d ever seen it. “I hope you don’t think I was angry at you. I’ve been here a long time, and sometimes a student loses a book or forgets to return it, but we’ve never had multiple books stolen. I can’t help but take it personally.”
“I know what you mean,” Candy said. It was personal to her, too. “Do you know how someone got to them?”
She held her breath. Mrs. Brandt might chase her out and tell her to mind her own business. But maybe not. She seemed to see Candy as an ally in her battle for a clean and honest library.
Mrs. Brandt sighed. “They were on the table to be entered into the computer system. I wanted to get that done right away so you could have the one you ordered. But then I was called to help a student with the computers, and when I came back, they were gone.”
Candy was dying to ask who was the computer student. But she knew Mrs. Brandt wouldn’t answer her, even if she remembered.
The thefts could have been a tag-team. One to distract Mrs. Brandt and the other to do the work.
Candy shivered and rubbed her arms. Whyever someone wanted any of the books, the whole thing was planned, which made it kind of scary. No wonder Deputy Phelps and Mom were involved.