Chapter 8

Barnaby was right about one thing–Crunch & Barley was a smelly place. But not a bad kind of smelly. It was more like being inside a big box of Cinnamon Rogers. Not bad at all.

Fay paused in the shiny tiled corridor to listen for any Barnaby-like footsteps, but only heard swooshing liquids and clinking glassware from a room up ahead. She peeked into the room, but there was no Barnaby–only a lanky man in a white lab coat pouring orange liquid from a flask into a bubbling beaker.

“Dad,” said Fay. “Nice lab you got here.”

“Hello,” said Mr. LaFarge. “Fay, did you lose your class?”

A jar on a burner behind him began to spit and smoke.

“No,” said Fay, “I didn’t lose them. I’m looking for Barnaby Hootsman. Mr. Arg sent him to get a mop.”

Mr. LaFarge hastily pushed the spitting jar off its flame, glanced at his watch, said “yikes,” and gave the orange bubbling beaker a hasty stir. A pan on a hotplate began to hiss yellow steam. Mr. LaFarge quickly turned down the heat.

“Dad,” said Fay, “Where’s the person who helps you?”

“Good question,” replied Mr. LaFarge, “Mr. Arg has him working on some kind of ‘special project,’ which must be very important, based on how loud Arg hollered.”

“The more important, the louder?” asked Fay.

“So it seems,” said Mr. LaFarge. “Hey, there’s a janitors’ closet at the end of the hall. Maybe your friend found it.”

“Thanks Dad, I’ll check,” said Fay ducking out of her father’s flavor lab.

The janitors’ closet was locked. And Barnaby was nowhere to be seen, unless he was locked inside, which wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. Or maybe he was stuck in the freight elevator at the other end of the hall, which was making loud bing bong noises as it stopped first at the basement, then at the roof, then at the basement again, in annoying repetition.

Fay was certain that an elevator would never behave this way if the person riding in it had actual work to do. She suspected foul play, and foul play almost always meant Barnaby Hootsman was involved.

Fay ran to the elevator and punched the call button. A few bings and bongs later the doors opened, and she was looking at Barnaby’s grinning face.

“Want a ride?” hooted Barnaby. “Only five bucks!”

“Where’s your mop, Hootsman?” asked Fay, leaning against the elevator door to keep it from closing.

“Mop department,” called Barnaby, “second floor, to the left!” He pushed the button marked two.

Fay felt the door closing against her back and she jumped inside the elevator so Barnaby couldn’t get away again. At floor two, the elevator lurched to a halt, and the door sprang open.

“There better be mops here,” snarled Fay. “You already lost me my pirate coin…you’re not getting me into any more trouble.”

“Oh the coin, the precious coin,” began Barnaby in a singsong lilt. “Fay LaFarge has lost her coin!”

“Mops Hootsman!” demanded Fay. “Where are the mops?”

“This-a-way!” squealed Barnaby, taking off down the hall at a run. He slid to a halt in front of a metal door. “Right in there,” he said with a dramatic flourish.

“Hootsman,” said Fay, “you’re going to die young.” She pushed open the door for Barnaby, then followed him through.

The noise was almost deafening. In front of them, a conveyor belt clicked by, carrying large stainless steel pots of a gooey oat mixture which Fay guessed was cereal dough. Pistons thumped noisily up and down to keep the belt moving.

“No mops Hootsman,” shouted Fay looking around. “But at least there’s a garbage can so I can lose the stinky baby food.” She pulled Lynette’s squash out of her pocket and tossed it in a lazy arc at the trash can. A lazy arc which was intercepted by Barnaby Hootsman.

“Yum yum!” said Barnaby with a grin. “You throw like a girl! Can’t let nutrition go to waste!” He popped the lid off the squash and emptied the contents into one of the moving stainless steel pots.

Fay merely rolled her eyes in disgust before pulling Barnaby back out into the hallway by his shirt collar.

“It’s swabbing time Hootsman,” she said scanning the hallway. A wooden door across the hall was narrower than most of the others, and Fay felt certain it must be a closet. But it was not a mop Fay saw when she flung the door open with her free hand. It was a chubby man in blue coveralls, furiously stuffing handfuls of trash into the door of an old-fashioned cast-iron furnace.

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