This is an original Friday Barnes short story written especially for the podcast. It comes from her time in juvenile detention (between books 8 and 9). She is asked to help a fellow inmate who has been accused of eating her cellmate's pudding.
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Friday Barnes and the Case of the Purloined Pudding
Friday had been incarcerated in the juvenile detention facility for four weeks. It was still horrible but she was used to the horrible now.
Because of the seriousness of the allegations against her, Friday was not allowed out on bail while she waited for her trial. And because of the seriousness of the allegations, the trial was going to be complex, which meant it was going to be a long wait.
This is what happens when you hand in an assignment for your Criminology class that is so good, your tutor - who is secretly a sleeper agent for a terrorist cell - takes your idea and uses it to plan a major attack on several government facilities.
Law enforcement agencies take it very seriously when they find out someone is planning to attack their office building. And, unfortunately for Friday, despite being a brilliant detective, she was the one client whose innocence she had not been able to prove.
Which is how Friday came to be in the exercise yard walking up and down. She didn’t want to exercise. She just wanted to curl up in a ball on her bunk and wait for time to pass. But she knew intellectually that exercise was an important part of good health, so even though she hated every moment of it she spent the whole of her allocated hour in the yard trudging back and forth. She knew they would let her out eventually. She was innocent. They would figure that out. She had to keep it together in the mean time.
The other girls left her alone. They weren’t as intimidating as Friday had imagined they would be. They were probably deeply unhappy too. One girl had screamed at Friday for looking at her, which was alarming, until Friday realised this girl screamed the same thing at everybody.
Still, she went out of her way to avoid eye contact. She didn’t just avoid looking at eyes, she avoided looking at faces. She tried to keep her eyeline below the shoulder. But then she realised that she was staring at people’s groins, so she dropped her eyeline further and stuck to staring at feet as much as possible. So she didn’t notice at first when a girl rushed up behind her.
‘Hey,’ said the girl.
‘Uh,’ said Friday. She had been totally startled and her pulse rate when through the roof. The girl fell into step alongside her. Friday didn’t know what to do. She recognised it was Brianna from C-block. Was she being attacked? She wished she’d read more books on how to survive prison before she’d been incarcerated. The other girl glanced back over her shoulder to make sure no one was watching them.
‘I hear you solve problems,’ said Brianna, in a lowered voice so no one could overhear.
‘Not anymore,’ said Friday. ‘I’ve given that up.’
‘I’ll pay,’ said Brianna.
‘We don’t have money in here,’ said Friday.
‘My uncle is a bikie,’ said Brianna. ‘If you fix this for me. He’ll fix you up.’
‘With what?’ asked Friday. ‘A motorcycle?’
‘Sure, if that’s what you want,’ said Brianna. ‘Anything you need when you get out.’
‘I’m good,’ said Friday. ‘I don’t want to get into any trouble. I’ve got a trial coming up. I can’t put a foot out of line.’
‘Yeah yeah, I hear you,’ said Brianna. ‘No one would ever know. It would be between me and you.’
‘And your uncle,’ said Friday.
‘Yeah, but he’d never snitch,’ said Brianna.
‘I need you to disappear Kylie,’ said Brianna.
‘Dissapear?’ said Friday. ‘I can’t do that.’
‘You don’t need to kill her if you’re squeamish,’ said Brianna. ‘Just disappear her. She could be kidnapped. Or just help her to escape. Once she’s on the other side of the wire my uncle can take care of the rest.’
‘I don’t do that sort of thing,’ said Friday.
‘Yeah but you know people,’ said Brianna. ‘Bad people. Terrorists. This would be a walk in the park for them.’
‘I’m not a terrorist,’ said Friday. ‘I’m innocent. I didn’t do it.’
‘Oh, sure,’ said Brianna. ‘Of course.’ She looked around and said in an overly loud voice, ‘We all know you’re innocent. That all the charges against you are false accusations. That you are a victim of the system.’
‘I am,’ said Friday.
‘Yeah, so will you do it?’ asked Brianna.
‘Look, I want to be super clear here – I am not disappearing anybody, whatever you take the word ‘dissapear’ to mean,’ said Friday.
‘Yeah, I don’t really understand you when you talk posh,’ said Brianna.
‘Okay,’ said Friday. ‘Why don’t tell me what happened from the beginning. Why are you trying to get rid of Kylie?’
‘Oh, that’s easy,’ said Brianna. ‘Because she’s going to kill me.’
‘Did she say that?’ asked Friday.
‘Not with words,’ said Brianna. ‘But she made some very nasty hand gestures, and she flushed my toothbrush down the toilet.’
‘Maybe she got her anger out of her system and it’s all over now,’ said Friday.
‘After she flushed my toothbrush she told me I was next,’ said Brianna.
‘You could never fit a human down a toilet,’ said Friday.
‘Not in one piece,’ said Brianna.
‘Ah,’ said Friday. Friday had never spoken to Kylie but she knew just from the body language of the inmates alone that Kylie was top dog. She had the best job – she worked in the kitchen where she had unlimited access to iced tea. She had the best cell. Furtherest away from the toilet block (and the smell of the toilet block). And other inmates scurried about doing things for her, like fetching snacks and cleaning up her cell. ‘Why does she want to kill you?’
‘Because her pudding was stolen,’ said Brianna.
Pudding was a highly prized commodity in the detention centre. Inmates traded pudding like a form of currency. One pudding could get you a phone card, or two hours of TV priveleges or a toothbrush that hadn’t been flushed down the toilet.
If nothing else, a pudding could be eaten. It was one of the best things served in the canteen. When there wasn’t much to look forward to in your day. That little plastic tub of pudding came to mean a lot
‘Did you steal it?’ asked Friday.
‘Are you kidding me,’ said Brianna. ‘I’d have to be insane to steal a pudding from Kylie.’
‘A lot of the people in here are in here because of poor impulse control and bad decision making skills,’ said Friday.
‘I didn’t take it,’ said Brianna.
‘Who are the other suspects?’ asked Friday.
Brianna sighed, ‘There are none. I’m Kylie’s cellmate. It was just the two of us locked together in the cell when it went missing.’
‘That is a very short list of suspects,’ said Friday.
Brianna nodded. ‘Maybe I should just try and escape. But I’d rather not. Escaping always involves running and I’m not very good at running.’
Friday could sympathise with that. ‘You’d better show me the scene of the crime. Maybe I’ll be able to solve the mystery.’
C-block was a two-storey building. It had a large common room in the middle. And two storeys of cells down either side of this room. A landing ran along in front of the second storey cells to staircases at either end.
In the centre of the common room was a long table with chairs and a ping pong table. It had been designed so a guard standing in the common room could see into every cell on either side and on both floors. The guard’s office was at the far end from the ping pong table.
Friday followed Brianna up a staircase to the upper floor. She looked over the railing. She didn’t care for heights. There were four inmates playing cards at the table. She could see what they were each holding in their hands. One player had a full house. Her brain told her that this was a one in 3744 possibility. She resisted the urge to offer this statistical information.
Brianna’s cell was at the end of the landing. It was not like Friday’s. It was a two person cell, so it was larger and it was cluttered with more stuff.
Brianna was in the low security section so she was allowed to have stuff. Friday was in the high security wing which meant no room mate and the only stuff she could have was books, which actually suited her because that was the only stuff she wanted.
In Brianna’s there were bunk beds up against wall and a small en-suite bathroom on the far side. There were also two desks. All inmates were expected to study while they did their time. But not many were diligent in their academic pursuits.
‘So where was the pudding?’ asked Friday.
‘On Kylie’s desk,’ said Brianna, pointing to the desk closest to the bed.
‘And where were you?’ asked Friday.
‘I was lying on my bed, the lower bunk’ said Brianna. ‘I’m in the cleaning crew. It’s my job to get up early and hose the common room before everyone else gets up. By dinner time I’m always knackered. Kylie came in just before lights out. She’d been cleaning up in the kitchen. She had a pudding in her hand. She put it on her desk and got in to bed.’
‘Did you say anything to her?’ asked Friday.
‘I said, Thanks for bringing me a pudding?’ said Brianna.
‘You did,’ said Friday.
‘I was joking,’ said Brianna. ‘She knew that.’
‘What did she say?’ asked Friday.
‘She said, Shut it,’ said Brianna. ‘And that - if I touched her pudding my life wouldn’t be worth living. I laughed and said good night. It was just a bit of cellmate banter.’
‘Did anyone come into your cell during the night?’ asked Friday.
‘No, I asked Barb, one of the guards,’ said Brianna. ‘I wouldn’t have noticed. I sleep like a log. But if a guard goes into an inmate’s room they have to log the reason.’
‘Could one of the guards have failed to log it,’ asked Friday.
‘No, because whenever the doors open and shut that is automatically logged by the computer, they have to fill in a reason,’ said Brianna. ‘There was nothing on the log.’
Friday nodded. She started her inspection of the room. She stood in one spot and slowly pivoted 360 degrees taking in everything in detail. Then she crouched down and inspected the legs of the table.
Friday got down on her hands and knees and lowered her face right down to the floor so she could look under the bed.
‘Can you see anything?’ asked Brianna.
‘Nothing,’ said Friday. ‘Have you searched the room.’
‘The guards did that,’ said Brianna. ‘Kylie put me in a headlock and was screaming at me, so they came in, broke it up and did a thorough search. Pulled apart the bed and everything. It’s not in here.’
‘Could she have eaten it?’ asked Friday. ‘Some people sleep eat. They don’t realise they’re doing it.’
‘I suppose,’ said Brianna. ‘I can see her sleep eating a pudding. But even asleep I don’t think she’d eat the plastic pot.’
The prison served all its desserts in round plastic. They didn’t use glass or metal because inmates could fashion that in a weapon. And the pots were cylindrical so you could fit the maximum amount into a tray in the fridge.
‘What are you doing here?’ an angry voice demanded from behind Friday. ‘Are you two going to steal more of my stuff?’
Friday turned around to face Kylie. She was large and intimidating, ‘No,’ said Friday. ‘I’m not a thief. And even if I were, I wouldn’t want to steal any of your stuff.’
‘What? Right, that’s it,’ said Kylie. ‘You’re both going down. She reached out and grabbed Brianna by the collar.
‘Wait,’ said Friday, grabbing Kylie’s hand before she could throttle her roommate. ‘I know where your pudding is.’
‘So do I,’ said Kylie. ‘This one ate it.’
‘No,’ said Friday. ‘I have every reason to believe it is still intact.’
‘What?’ said Kylie.
‘It hasn’t been eaten yet,’ said Friday.
‘Then where is it?’ demanded Kylie.
‘Bear with me a moment,’ said Friday. ‘It’s going to take me a moment to figure it out.’
Friday disappeared into the tiny bathroom and came out with a plastic jug full of water.
‘That’s not a pudding,’ said Kylie.
‘I know,’ said Friday. ‘Just watch.’
Friday then proceeded to pour the entire contents of the jug, about two litres of water onto the floor.
‘What are you doing?’ demanded Kylie. ‘You’re making a mess.’
‘I’m solving a mystery,’ said Friday. ‘Watch the water.’
‘It’s just water,’ said Kylie.
‘Watch where it goes,’ said Friday.
The three girls looked at the water at their feet it was moving ever so slowly towards the cell door. There was obviously a slight slant in the floor and the water was travelling with gravity down the gradual slope.
‘All the floors in here are sloped to make them easier to clean,’ said Friday. ‘If someone makes a mess the guards can come in and blast a cell with a high pressure hose. Then all the water drains out.
The water Friday had spilled passed out through the cell door now and was edging across the landing. When it got to the edge of the landing it tipped over the edge.
‘Hey!’ cried someone from below. ‘Who dropped water on my head.’
‘Sorry,’ said Friday. ‘But could you please move. We need to see where the water goes.’
The girl from below had already stepped aside and the water was dribbling onto the floor of the atrium. If oozed into the middle of the room which was apparently the lowest point because after briefly puddling there, the water started moving again, towards the guard station at the end of the common room.
‘Come on,’ said Friday. ‘We’ve got to follow it.’
The three of them jogged down the staircase and met up with the water as it passed out of the common room to the floor just in front of the guard’s office, where it drained into a grate on the floor.
‘There you go?’ said Friday.
‘What?’ said Kylie.
Friday reached down and laced her fingers through the grate and lifted it up. There - floating on top of the very disgusting brackish water – were three ping pong balls and one cup of pudding.
‘My pudding?!’ exclaimed Kylie.
‘No one stole it,’ said Friday. ‘It’s round, it rolled it’s way here following the exact same path at the water.’
‘But it was sitting on the desk,’ said Kylie.
‘Do you have any mysterious bruises on your hips that you can’t remember getting?’ asked Friday.
Kylie’s eyes gaped, ‘How did you know about that?’
‘Because you have unlimited access to iced tea,’ said Friday.
‘Huh?’ said Kylie.
‘Iced tea is one of the few things made in the kitchen that tastes good,’ said Friday.
‘Hey, I make the food in the kitchen,’ said Kylie.
‘Then you know I’m right,’ said Friday. If you drank a lot of iced tea, you would naturally need to get up in the night to go to the toilet. The cells are dark. Your desk is right by the bed. And I know your desk has been bumped across the floor two centimetres recently from the scuff marks on the concrete. So I deduced that you bumped it with your hip.’
Kylie rubbed her hip as she thought about it. ‘I guess so,’ she said.
‘And when you bumped the desk, the force propelled the pudding off the side,’ continued Friday.
This initial force created momentum. Gravitational force pulled the pudding down the slope and because the pudding was in a round cup, friction force caused it start rolling.
And that’s how your pudding came to roll right across your floor, drop over the landing and keep rolled until it reached the centre of the into the centre of the common room.
And every morning before everyone gets up the floor is hosed down sweeping the pudding down the room and into the drain. Mystery solved.
‘Thanks,’ said Kylie.
‘Aren’t you going to apologise to Brianna for wrongly accusing her?’ asked Friday.
Kylie looked confused, ‘No. I’m going to eat my pudding.’ Kylie got down on the floor and climbed into the drain to grab her pudding - when suddenly - a siren went off, all the automatic doors in the centre started slamming shut and guards were yelling. ‘Escape attempt! ‘Prisoner escaping!’
Friday looked around to see who was escaping. Then she realised the guards were converging on Kylie. Friday took a step backwards and melted into the crowd returning to their own cells.
‘Thanks,’ Brianna whispered to her.
Friday smiled. Brianna wasn’t exactly a friend. But she had forgotten how good it felt to help someone.
‘I owe you one,’ said Brianna.
‘One what?’ asked Friday.
‘A motorbike,’ said Brianna. ‘Let me know what you want. My uncle will steal one for you.’
‘I’m all good,’ said Friday. ‘But thanks for the thought.’
And so the case was solved. The end.