This series has twists and turns galore for budding mystery lovers, all seen through the lens of a lovable and smart heroine. And the positive female friendships and hysterical writing will keep series fans coming back for more.
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Midnight Reynolds tightened her grip on the stall door in the museum's restroom. Since she'd moved to the town of Berry, West Virginia, she'd stopped a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old woman from stealing the souls of the dead, she'd made enemies with two of the most popular girls in school, and she'd dressed up as a Viking for Thanksgiving. But what she was about to do was more terrifying than all of those things combined.
In fact, triple it, and it still wouldn't be close.
"Come on," her best friend, Tabitha, said in an encouraging voice from the other side of the door. "It's going to be okay."
"But what if it's not?" Midnight made no effort to turn the handle. Fear leached into her bones. She'd actually been looking forward to the museum field trip until Mrs. Peyton had announced that Midnight would be paired with Logan Johnson — her crush. Which was why she was now locked in the toilet stall. "It's all been a big mistake. I'm not remotely ready. I should've known."
"If you don't come out, I'll have to climb over the stall door, and you know much I detest exercise." Tabitha's voice was mournful. "Not that I understand why it's a problem. You talk to Logan all the time. He sits our table. He laughs at your jokes."
"It's complicated." Midnight reluctantly stepped out into the brightly lit restroom and sighed.
It had been six months since she'd turned twelve and discovered her special ability to see spectral energy — the souls of people who had died. All because she'd been born at midnight on Halloween (hence her weird name). And, after a small hiccup, where she'd accidentally thought spectral energy was something evil that needed to be captured, she and Tabitha had spent the last two months working for a secret organization called ASP — Agency of Spectral Protection.
Working for ASP let her combine her love of spreadsheets and time management. Plus, each week, money was transferred into her bank account to cover her expenses, with some left over for a college fund. Her boss, Peter Gallagher, had even arranged for her to have a pretend babysitting job as a cover for why she was out so much. And her work with ASP let her make up for the damage she'd done when she'd been trying to fight spectral energy.
Unfortunately, none of it helped her speak to boys. Or, in this case, one boy.
Nor had it changed the fact that with her mousy brown hair, large glasses, and sludge-green eyes, she looked more like a goblin than a superhero. At least, she thought so.
"After everything you've faced lately, how can you be scared of this?" Tabitha's blue eyes filled with the confusion. As usual, she was wearing all black, right down to her lipstick, which meant that her confused expression looked similar to her scornful one, but Midnight had learned to tell the difference.
Midnight fumbled around in her pocket for her spreadsheet.
"It's scary because it's messing with my system. See, here in red is school time. That's when I can just be 'regular Midnight' and have normal conversations with kids at school. Kids like Logan. And this orange is home time. It's where I'm 'family Midnight' — the obliging daughter who doesn't throw a tantrum just because she has to dress as a shield maiden for her mom's wedding, even though it's the Most Ridiculous Thing in the World. Of course Taylor's pretending to love the idea, because that's just what she does —"
"I think 'family Midnight' is getting off target." Tabitha coughed. "And I still don't see what all this has to do with today."
"Because this pink section is where I'm 'protector Midnight,' and you can clearly see the museum falls into the pink section. We came here three times last month to do research. Spending unscheduled time with Logan will make me cross pink and red. Anything could happen."
Tabitha blinked and handed back the spreadsheet. "Okay, first, you know I don't like pink. I wish you'd stop using it. And second, while I think your spreadsheets are awesome, you can't compartmentalize your life. Logan's your friend. Your good friend." Midnight frowned. She'd come up with her spreadsheet system after reading the Agency of Spectral Protection's handbook. The handbook was split into twelve chapters, all going into great detail about how spectral protectors needed to behave in public and what they could and couldn't do.
And the most important rule of all? It was on page two:
Don't let civilians find out about spectral energy, because it could cause unnecessary attention and prevent ASP from doing our job. And when we don't do our job properly? Chaos follows.
Chaos? Not on her watch.
"But what if I slip up and talk about work? I haven't planned anything to say to him. For example, all those jokes he laughs at? You don't think I just leave them to chance, do you?" Midnight said as Tabitha dragged her out of the restroom into the foyer, where the rest of the class was milling around, taking selfies and talking in loud voices. Over to the left, their teacher, Mrs. Peyton, was deep in conversation with the museum staff.
The Berry Early History Museum was a two-story building that had thick interior columns, whose sole purpose seemed to be to make the place look spooky — at least to most kids. In the last few months, Midnight's definition of spooky had undergone a few changes.
"You'll be fine. If you get really stuck, you can just text me. Or you could talk about this lousy weather."
"Actually, that's not a bad idea." Midnight perked up and glanced out the window that ran down one side of the building. A gloomy, rain-soaked sky stared back at her. A true case of April showers. "My mom's been freaking out that her perfect outdoor spring wedding will be washed out. I downloaded a weather app to show her, but I think that's just made it worse."
"See, that's a start," Tabitha said as Mrs. Peyton gestured to the group.
"Okay, class. I'd like you to find your study partner," their teacher said. "You each have a sheet of questions that need to be answered, and I want you to work as a team. We'll meet back here for lunch, and then we'll go through the gold-mining exhibition."
"You can do this." Tabitha nudged Midnight toward Logan and then disappeared.
"Hey, Midnight. I wasn't sure where you were, so I grabbed an extra worksheet," Logan said with a shy smile. His thick brown hair fell in a tangle across his brow, almost covering his dark-chocolate eyes. He was wearing a green hoodie with Elementary written across it, with a magnifying glass next to the word. It was cute, and she knew Sherlock Holmes was his hero.
"Thanks," she gulped, not willing to admit she'd been hiding in the restroom like a coward. But Tabitha was right. Midnight had hung out with Logan plenty of times over the last couple of months, and if worst came to worst, she could always show him the weather app. It wasn't conversation gold, but it was better than reverting to the girl she once was around him. The one who couldn't even say a full sentence.
"Everyone's going to start with the geography questions, so I was thinking we should begin at the other end, with the dinosaurs. It'll be less crowded," he said, proving he was cute and smart.
"Good idea," Midnight said as they broke off from the rest of the class and headed to the next floor up.
"So, have you been here before?" Logan asked.
She nodded. "Yes. Tabitha and I were —" Midnight cut herself off from saying that she'd been there on ASP business. See, this was why it was a bad idea to merge sections of her spreadsheet. "Er, when we were researching ... my house."
"Wow, that's cool. Did you find anything out?"
"Not much." Midnight crossed her fingers. "I guess we'll have to keep looking."
"Yeah, though imagine how freaky it would be if you found out it was haunted," he said as they reached a Brachiosaurus skeleton.
"Yeah, totally," Midnight agreed, not bothering to add that with all the equipment she had hidden under her bed, fixing a haunted house wouldn't be a problem.
He grinned at her, and the next forty minutes passed quickly. Apart from a couple of awkward moments, Midnight didn't say anything to embarrass herself. They gathered in the foyer where Mrs. Peyton announced that since it was still raining, they'd be eating lunch in the museum cafeteria.
Immediately, a group of kids pushed their way to the door, sending Midnight crashing into Logan. He steadied her, causing her to catch her breath.
"You think it was something we said?" His hands dropped to his side.
"That or they can smell the vegetable quiche my mom made," Midnight said as they slowly joined the line of kids heading in the same direction.
"Could be my bologna," Logan countered before suddenly taking a deep breath. "So, Midnight ... I was kind of wanting to ask you something."
"No." He coughed, and his olive complexion seemed to redden. "Something else. I was thinking of going to the new Sherlock movie on Saturday."
She blinked. "Right. Well, I know you love him. I'm sure it will be great." "I hope so. I was wondering if you wanted to go with me."
Midnight blinked again. "To the movies, you mean?"
"Yeah." Logan nodded, seeming to simultaneously hold his breath. "I mean, if you want to. But if you don't, that's cool. Not everyone loves Sherlock. I get that —"
"Sure. I'll go with you," she quickly answered. Movies were like school. They were in the red column of her spreadsheet. Plenty safe.
Plus, Saturday was five days away, which meant she'd have time to prepare.
"Really?" His eyes widened and Midnight grinned, but before she could answer, Tabitha came bounding over. Her cheeks were flushed, and her scowl was nowhere to be seen.
"There you two are." Tabitha came to a halt, then looked back and forth between them, her eyes widening. "Am I interrupting something?"
"No." Logan shook his head and muttered something about having to talk to his best friend, Tyson. Without another word, he hurried away.
"What was that about?" Tabitha demanded as soon as he was gone. "Don't tell me your weird theory was true and that you accidentally told him you're a spectral protector who's saved the town on a regular basis."
Midnight shook her head, suddenly shy. "He asked me to go to the movies."
"Like a date?" Tabitha raised an eyebrow, which was her version of getting excited.
"I guess," Midnight said as they sat down and automatically swapped their lunch bags. Midnight's mom ran her own food vlog and was constantly creating new and interesting recipes. Which was great, but sometimes Midnight just wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, something Tabitha was happy to provide. "Is it weird? Do you mind if I go out with him? I don't want you to feel like I'm deserting you."
Tabitha gave a dismissive snort. "Please. I'm a strong, independent woman. Okay, a strong, independent twelve-year-old. Besides, who says I don't already have plans for Saturday?"
"Really?" Midnight widened her eyes. "Like what?"
"I wasn't going to tell you until afterward, in case it was horrible. But, Tyson Carl asked me to show him around the cemetery."
Midnight's mouth opened, but she quickly closed it again. Not only was he Logan's best friend, but he was everything that Tabitha wasn't. A sports-loving, popular kid who told jokes at every opportunity. Midnight had even seen him wearing a peach-colored sweater once.
"Don't," Tabitha warned, as if reading Midnight's mind. "I'm going into it with an open mind. Okay?"
"Sure." Midnight nodded, and they spent the rest of the break discussing and comparing answers before rejoining Mrs. Peyton in the foyer. Next to her was a tall, middle-aged man with blue eyes.
"Hello, everyone. My name's Alan, and I'm the museum director," he said in a happy, singsong voice. "I hope you're all enjoying yourself. Next up, I'm going to show you our latest exhibition. It's an interactive display to let you experience the heyday of gold mining in our area. You can pan for gold, as well as see what it was like to live as a miner."
"Sounds wonderful," Mrs. Peyton said in a loud voice to cover up the groans as everyone trailed the adults through to the main wing of the museum. The lights had been dimmed (which Tabitha explained was to help preserve things), and all around were glass display cabinets. Over at the far wall, Alan pointed to a blown-up sepia-colored letter that a long-dead miner had written.
Alan directed them to the life-sized replica of a miner's cottage, with a wax miner sitting at the table. Tabitha's blue eyes gleamed as she held up her cell phone to take a photograph.
"That's Ethan Talbot," she explained to Midnight. "He was one of the first miners to actually strike it rich. He owned the Berry National Bank and is buried in that tall mausoleum with the spooky angel on top."
Of course he was.
Midnight bit back a smile. No wonder Tyson had asked her for a guided tour. When it came to the Berry Cemetery, Tabitha was an expert.
"Over to the left are several traditional quilts that have been donated by the Perkins family," Alan said. "They were made in the late 1800s, and the fabrics tell a history of the time. And finally, the pinnacle of the show. The first piece of gold that Ethan Talbot found on his claim. It's called Sweet Wednesday."
Alan pointed to a freestanding white plinth that was covered in glass. Sweet Wednesday was as big as Midnight's fist, and even with the dull lights, it glittered like a disco ball. At that moment, a security guard appeared at Alan's side and whispered something.
"Excuse me for just one moment. This won't take long," Alan said.
"Of course." Mrs. Peyton motioned for the class to gather around Sweet Wednesday as she read from the plaque. "It was discovered in a gully at the bottom of the Madison Valley and weighs two hundred and sixty-eight ounces. At one time —"
"Hey, why does it look so weird?" Reuben interjected.
"Reuben," Mrs. Peyton growled. "How many times do I have to tell you to behave? If you can't find your manners, then you can wait in the bus."
"But it is weird," Reuben insisted. They all watched as the large gold nugget collapsed in on itself, like ice cream melting on the pavement. Amber liquid spread out across the bottom of the display and dripped down the plinth.
Mrs. Peyton let out a surprised gasp.
"It looks like it's been hit by an invisibility ray," someone else called out as the gold continued to melt.
"No, idiot. It's not invisible. Must be a heat ray," another voice chimed.
"I can assure you there's not an invisibility ray or a heat ray," Mrs. Peyton retorted, though her brows were drawn together. "I'm sure there's a logical explanation. Perhaps it's part of the new interactive experience?"
"But I was on the museum website last night, and there was no mention of any melting gold. What would be the point?" Tabitha frowned and took another photo.
Alan reappeared. "Sorry about that, folks. Now, where were we?"
"Actually ..." Mrs. Peyton turned to him. "We're all very curious what this is meant to be. Is it some kind of virtual reality exhibition?"
"I'm not sure I understand what you're talking about." Alan gave the teacher a blank look before turning to the plinth as Sweet Wednesday evaporated entirely from sight.
At the same time, Midnight's skin puckered, and the sound of a thousand buzzing bees echoed in her ear. Sparks of electricity cut through the air, fizzing and crackling with rage. They were followed by tendrils of dark fog, reaching through the room like fingers, and hidden to everyone but her.
It was what happened when spectral energy was trapped.
She pushed her glasses further up her nose. Once upon a time, she'd hated them, but then she'd discovered that they helped her see spectral energy, and now she always wore them.
"Something's wrong," she whispered, and Tabitha stifled a gasp.
"No. Way. Do you mean you can —"
"Yes." Midnight cut her off, just as their cell phones beeped a distinctive pattern. It was the app that always let them know when spectral energy was trapped. Midnight didn't need to look at the map to find the location. It was right there in the museum. Panic pounded in her chest, but before she could talk to Tabitha, Alan clapped his hands together, his voice high-pitched and panicked.
"Security," he shouted. "Lock down the museum. Sweet Wednesday has been stolen."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Midnight Reynolds and the Agency of Spectral Protection"
Copyright © 2018 Catherine Holt.
Excerpted by permission of Albert Whitman & Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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