Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocksâ€™ Secret (Amanda Lester, Detective #4)
by Paula Berinstein
Age category: Young Adult
Release Date: March 31, 2016
What does a dusty old secret have to do with peacocks?
Everything, as it turns out. When Amanda is knocked off her skateboard by a rare all-blue peacock, she learns that the species harbors a vital secret she must race to uncover. But before she can unravel the mystery, a startling archaeological discovery turns all of Britain against the detectives and threatens their very existence.
As old enemies gather strength and new adversaries emerge, Amanda finds herself dealing with hysterical teachers, a disappearing mentor, a mysterious poisoner, and a would-be magician. With so much at stake and so little time, the last thing she needs is to fall in love.
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Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret first Darktower class excerpt:
On Monday Amanda and her friends had their first class with the new logic teacher. It was a scary affair. The pirate was rude, strict, and humorless, and now he smelled like cigars. Probably drank grog too, by the look of him, Amanda thought, whatever that was.
The first thing Professor Darktower said, in a really loud voice, was, “Alice in Wonderland is not fun!” No introduction, no “Good morning,” nothing. The statement was so abrupt and the message so out of any context that every kid in the class dropped something, gasped, choked, or bit their tongue, even if they weren’t chewing. Then he said, “In this class we will read nothing but Lewis Carroll—Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Through the Looking Glass, the whole shebang. These publications are no laughing matter. You think Tweedledum and Tweedledee are funny? The Mad Hatter is a joke? Alice is cute? BALDERDASH!”
This extremely loud exclamation caused poor Dreidel to fall off his chair and twist his knee. But Professor Darktower would not let him go to the nurse. “Detectives are not sissies,” he said. “You will stay here and learn to be absolutely, impeccably logical. Got that?”
The boy nodded up and down and attempted to hide his pain. It was obvious that he was hurt, though, because he kept grimacing every time he tried to move his leg. Amanda was so outraged that she refused to keep quiet. “He’s hurt. He needs medical attention.”
The huge man fixed her with a stony stare and said, “Then he’s out of my class. Do you think, missy, that when you’re out battling the likes of Blixus Moriarty you can take a time out and go to the nurse? Now stop acting like a girl and be a detective. And as for you, laddie, one more sissy incident like this and you’re out of my class. Got that?”
Dreidel nodded again but Amanda was furious. She opened her mouth to protest, but Ivy tugged on her sleeve and gave her a low “Uh uh,” and she realized that her revenge would have to wait. But revenge she would have, and it would be a doozy. The man was worse than a boor. Why, he was even ruder than an arch-criminal. Even Blixus had never been as bad as that. She wondered what Professor Darktower’s parents must be like to produce a son like him.
There was something she could do right then and there, however. She reached into her bag and surreptitiously texted Dreidel: “R U OK?” “Y,” the response came almost immediately. Of course he would say that. Dreidel was a trouper. And then it hit her that he hadn’t gone off to Skye after all. She was glad, not just because he’d stayed to support Legatum, but because he was a good guy and a great lab partner. She texted back a smiley and let it go for the time being.
Darktower glared at the class and said, “As I was saying, there are equations and syllogisms in these volumes that underlie every word, and we’re going to find them. You will be responsible for finding them. Then, for your term paper, you will be expected to arrange them in a different way that’s still logically valid and write the text they would produce. Is that clear? I repeat: this task is not humorous or fanciful. It is deadly serious work, and you won’t be able to build ironclad cases unless you can master it.”
The man made about as much sense as that strange page Amanda had found. Sometimes it was hard to understand Professor Ducey, but not like this. What did he mean, equations and syllogisms underlie every word? It sounded like he was saying that the books had been translated into English from math. You could read an equation out loud, of course, and you could translate it into Spanish or Chinese, but how could you—OMG. This was storytelling, just like the way she and Holmes had done when they’d put together the training film about a cyberforensics problem, except with math rather than words.
She glanced over at Holmes and found him looking at her and smiling. He’d got it too. He gave her a quick wink and then everything exploded.
“MR. Holmes!” bellowed the teacher. “Out, NOW!” Holmes looked astonished, then got up and walked out of the room. “MISS Lester!” the teacher continued. Amanda was surprised. “Oh, you thought I didn’t know who you were,” the man said. “I want you to take your things, find Mr. Holmes, and wait in my office. Is that clear?”
“But—” Amanda said.
“OUT!” he roared.
Amanda felt the strongest urge to stick her tongue out at him again, but she managed to control herself and abstained. She picked up her bag and followed Holmes out into the hall.
“What in the world was that?” he said when she’d caught up with him. He looked confused, as if he didn’t know quite what to do with himself.
“The man is a lunatic,” said Amanda. “He wants us to go to his office.”
“But the class just started,” said Holmes. “It will be fifty minutes.” Gosh, he looked good. His eyes seemed to be on fire. She looked away for a second.
“All I know is that’s what he said.”
He shook his head but he was smiling. “You know, the dumb thing is that up until he had his little meltdown, he was making sense.”
“You got that too?” she said, matching his grin.
“Of course. You taught me.”
“I did, didn’t I?” she said. She felt absolutely triumphant. It was a wonderful feeling after that ridiculous scene in the classroom. “Who needs him?”
“I guess we do,” said Holmes. “If we want to stay here.”
“You’re not thinking of going to Skye?” she said.
“Never. Not even for Professor Ducey.”
And then, instead of worrying or fuming or plotting revenge, the two of them cracked up so hard they had to hold their stomachs.
When they calmed down enough to speak, Holmes looked at her with mischief in his eyes and said, “You know what this means, don’t you?”
She threw back her head and laughed. “We have forty-five minutes to do whatever we want.”
“Come on,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret peacock poop in the lab excerpt:
“Obviously we have to look at the page under the microscope,” Amanda said a few moments later. “That should be easy.”
She took the paper over to the nearest microscope and stuck it into the viewing area. Then she fitted her eye to the eyepiece and, “Whoa! I can see the fibers. They look like spaghetti that’s been cooked about a minute—really hard and straight. Here, take a look.”
Clive edged over and looked into the eyepiece. “You’re right. There’s something plastic about them.”
“Do you suppose there’s a plastic coating?” she said.
“Let’s see,” said Clive. He raced over to one of the many bookcases in the room and scanned the titles. “This one looks good,” he said, pulling out a gigantic green volume and placing it on a bench. He opened the book to the index, skimmed a couple of pages, and flipped to a bunch of pictures somewhere in the middle.
Amanda came over and looked at the book. “Hm, those pictures don’t look anything like what we’re seeing. Those fibers are natural and they look less regular than our page. All ours look the same.”
“Yep,” said Clive. “I think ours is plastic. Was there such a thing as plastic back when the Bible was created, though?”
“Let’s find out,” said Amanda.
She did a quick lookup on her phone and said, “Apparently Celluloid was invented back in the 1840s. It was patented in 1869 and 70 by some guy named John Wesley Hyatt. It’s a camphor-modified cellulose nitrate. They made billiard balls out of it. Film too. Ha! This is interesting. There was a big legal fight over who the true inventor was.”
“Could we be looking at Celluloid then?” said Clive. “The book was created about the time the school was, in 1887. That’s late enough.”
“Hm,” said Amanda, “I don’t think so. It says here that Celluloid is flammable. Our Bible is supposed to be virtually indestructible.”
“What do you mean ‘virtually indestructible’?’ said Clive.
Oops. Amanda hadn’t told anyone what Professor Also had divulged during the summer—that it was almost impossible to destroy the book. She had said something about it being vulnerable to explosion, though, or was it fire?
“Oh, uh, well, Professor Also kind of told me that it was,” she said. No sense in lying. Anyway, what was the big deal? Everyone knew about the book now.
“Awesome!” said Clive. “So that means it’s intact somewhere. And based on the fact that you found this page, I’d venture to say that Moriarty doesn’t have it after all.”
He had a point. There was a lot of reason for hope now. Amanda wished she could tell Thrillkill. He’d be so pleased.
“Of course the question now is, why are the peacocks so attracted to it?” said Clive. “Do they eat plastic or something? Whoa, I’ve got the most amazing idea.” He grinned at her wide, then wider, then still wider.
Amanda couldn’t imagine what he was thinking. Surely he wasn’t going to propose that they feed the peacocks a bit of the page. That would be a terrible idea for all sorts of reasons. What else could he be thinking? And then it hit her.
“You don’t mean . . .”
He laughed diabolically. “I do!”
Ugh. It was a disgusting idea. “Do we have to?”
“You don’t, but wouldn’t you like to get the credit?”
“Not if it means pawing through poop I wouldn’t,” she said.
“Aw come on, Amanda,” said Clive. “We’re scientists. We do what’s necessary to solve problems.”
“Maybe you’re a scientist,” she said. “I’m a detective.”
“Fine,” he said. “I’ll do it.”
“No!” she said, diving into the rubbish to find that piece of poop she’d pulled out of her hair. Where was it now? Rummage, rummage, crinkle. “Ta da!” She held up the discarded poop in triumph. No sooner had she done that than Binnie walked in again.
“Eeeew,” she said. “What are you two doing? Is that feces?”
“Uh . . .” said Clive.
It took Amanda about a split second to realize that this was a great opportunity.
“Binnie!” she said enthusiastically. “You’re just in time. We’re about to do an important experiment and we could use a helper. Are you up for it?”
This didn’t seem to be what Binnie had expected when she’d entered the room because she looked at Amanda, then Clive, then hesitated, then said, “Well, I, uh . . .” then looked at Clive again and said, “Uh, sure.”
“Wonderful,” said Amanda. “We need to analyze this peacock poop.”
Binnie grimaced, then looked at Clive again and said, “Okaaay. Uh, what do you want me to do?”
“Well, we were thinking—” said Amanda, but Clive could take no more of it.
“We need someone to document our experiment,” he said generously.
“Oh, that,” said Binnie. “Of course. What do you need?” She looked immensely relieved.
“Here,” said Amanda, handing Binnie her camera. “If you could just record us, that would be great.”
Binnie took the camera and flashed a grin at Clive, who smiled shyly. Then, seemingly realizing that she’d forgotten something, she smiled at Amanda too. “Glad to,” she said. The girl was so obvious.
Amanda Lester and the Blue Peacocks’ Secret Silver Dirk excerpt:
And then the moment came. The crew had broken through the tunnel wall and there was indeed empty space on the other side. As head of the dig Liam got to be the first to look inside.
Normally academics tend to be cautious, and Liam never liked to get ahead of himself. But in this instance he was visibly excited and moved quickly. Amanda could see that he was breathing faster than usual and trying to suppress a grin. The way he was clamping his mouth shut made him look like he was sucking on a lemon. Of course it didn’t help that Twinkle kept hovering in a very Lila sort of way, attempting to give him advice that he didn’t need and could not possibly want. “Don’t you think this light would be better?” “You should really cover your nose and mouth in case there’s something noxious inside.” “Be sure to remember your first impression because that will make your article much more exciting.” Amanda thought she’d lose her lunch and stuffed a gingersnap into her mouth.
But Liam was nothing if not gracious. He simply smiled at Twinkle, said “Thank you,” and, mouth covered as procedure dictated, approached the opening. He turned on his light and was just about to shine it into the space when Amanda cried out.
“There it is. A huge red spider. Did you see that?”
Liam was so surprised that he dropped his light on his foot. “Ow!”
“Professor, are you all right?” screamed Twinkle. The screech caused Ivy to shriek, Nigel to bark, the archaeologists to rush to Liam’s side, Elbow Marconi and his crew to scamper to the opening and block it, Simon and Clive to bash into them, and Amanda to fall on her coccyx. The confusion and panic grew so swiftly that soon the only person who hadn’t run into about five other people was Darius, who just stood there with his camera on his shoulder capturing the entire incident.
Then Amanda saw it again—a blur of red whooshing past at breakneck speed.
“Simon!” she screamed. “There!”
Simon wrenched his neck around, mouthed “Ow,” and seemed to miss the spider entirely because he said, “What?”
“The spider!” Amanda yelled. “It was right there.” She pointed to a spot a few feet from where Simon was standing.
“I didn’t see it,” he said. “Clive, did you see anything?”
“Nope,” said Clive.
“What is wrong with all of you?” shouted Twinkle. “Can’t you see that the professor is hurt?”
“I’m not hurt,” said Liam. “I was just a bit startled.”
“Your foot,” said Twinkle. “You’re limping.”
“It’s just a muscle spasm,” said Liam. He flexed his foot and didn’t grimace at all. “Now, shall we get on with things?”
Everyone moved away (Amanda had to get up first, which was no easy task. Her butt hurt like crazy.), and Liam raised his light to the opening again. Amanda took her place next to Ivy, who had moved closer again, and whispered, “I saw it. It was a huge red spider.”
“I believe you,” said Ivy.
Liam peered into the hole, moving the light this way and that.
“See anything, Professor?” said Twinkle needlessly.
“Sh,” hissed Felix.
“You sh,” said Twinkle.
“Both of you sh,” said Liam. He stuck his head into the opening so that both head and light were on the other side and said, “Ladies and gentlemen, we have a hidden room!”
The tunnel erupted in claps loud enough to bring down the ceiling, except that they didn’t.
“Woo hoo!” yelled Twinkle loud enough to raise the dead.
“Yes!” shouted Simon loud enough to break Amanda’s left eardrum.
“Arf, arf!” barked Nigel loud enough to echo off the walls and cause people’s chest cavities to reverberate.
Darius moved in as close as he could without getting in Liam’s way. He winked at Amanda. She smiled.
“What do you see, Dad?” said Ivy.
Everyone stopped yelling.
“Well, um, uh, dirt,” said Liam.
“What color?” said Twinkle.
“How much?” said Louie.
“I’ll get a brush,” said Felix.
“Hold your horses, all of you,” said Liam. “Procedure, remember?” He snapped his fingers. The chamber was still.
Then Twinkle whispered loudly, “I’ll get the log.”
Louie said, “I’ve got the camera.”
“Tape measure,” said Felix.
“That’s what I like to see,” said Liam. “Mr. Marconi,” he nodded to Elbow. “Gentlemen,” to the construction crew. “Thank you for your excellent work, as usual.” Elbow and his men nodded back. “Take a gander?”
The construction crew approached the opening shyly, which made quite a contrast with their earlier bumptiousness. From the back they looked almost reverent.
“What’s that over there?” said Elbow loudly, after he had stuck his head through the opening.
“What are you referring to?” said Liam.
“I see something silver,” said Elbow.
“A coin, perhaps?” said Liam.
“I don’t think so,” said Elbow. “It’s pointy.”
“May I?” said Liam, taking Elbow’s place. Twinkle passed him a spotlight and he held it high, then lowered it and shined it this way and that.
“Well?” said Twinkle.
“Hush,” said Louie. Twinkle gave him a dirty look.
“By golly you’re right, Mr. Marconi,” said Liam. “It is indeed pointy. It looks like we’ve got ourselves a silver dirk.”
About the Author:
Paula Berinstein is nothing like Amanda. For one thing, she's crazy about Sherlock Holmes. For another, she's never wanted to be a filmmaker. In addition, compared to Amanda she's a big chicken! And she wouldn't mind going to a secret school at all. In fact, she's hoping that some day she'll get to build one.
You can find and contact Paula here:
- Paula's blog on Goodreads
- The Writing Show podcasts
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