Case of the missing scientist

Noises at midnight, a missing scientist, and grandma acting funny... Just what is going on, wonders Shivani.

Published - February 27, 2023 12:42 am IST

Shivani was spending her summer holidays with her grandmother. She loved grandma’s old bungalow with its many rooms and passages, wooden floors and high roof. What made her holidays extra special was her grandma, who was full of fun and mischief. Mr Banerjee was grandma’s neighbour and bitter enemy. Every time they saw each other, they fought. Their feud had been ongoing for more than six decades. Shivani could not even imagine that many years.

On her first night back, Shivani snuggled into bed with her book. But, the long journey had tired her out and, before she knew it, she was fast asleep.

Noise at midnight

Suddenly, she woke up. The luminous dial on her bedside clock read 12.00. The room was dark. Grandma had switched off the light. She wondered what it was that woke her. Then, she heard it; a steady “TCHACK TCHACK TCHACK”. She was too frightened to get out of bed and look out of the window. Who could be out there, she wondered. It was over an hour later when everything became quiet again. But, it took Shivani much longer to get back to sleep.

While she was having breakfast, she scanned the headlines of the local newspaper. She almost choked when she read the main headline: Retired scientist Mr Alok Banerjee Missing; foul play suspected.

“Grandma, did you see this?” said Shivani excitedly. “Mr Banerjee is missing.”

“Good for him. That’s where he should be!” replied grandma, unfeelingly. She handed Shivani a plate with toast and egg.

“Grandma you have scratches on your hand,” said Shivani, as she took the plate.

“Oh have I?” said grandma, absently. Shivani noticed there was mud under her nails.

Shivani was puzzled. Was it grandma who had been digging in the garden last night? If so, what was she burying? Could it be Mr…? Oh my goodness, no! Shivani paled at the thought.

After breakfast, she slipped out of the house and sneaked into Mr Banerjee’s house through the hedge. He always left a spare key under a pot near the front door. Shivani found the key and opened the door. Immediately, a loud shrill screeching filled the house. It was with relief that she realised it was the telephone. She hoped it would stop but it didn’t.

The incessant ringing was getting to her. Hesitantly, she picked it up. A shrill voice shouted, “GET OUT, GET OUT.” She got so flustered that she dropped the receiver and turned to leave, but her foot caught in the wire and the phone came crashing down. The instrument had broken and its pieces lay scattered. She saw a small piece of paper lying in the ruins of the telephone.

A possible clue?

She looked at it. On the corners were written N W S E and at the bottom was the picture of a cherry. On four sides were written 35° 20° 45° and 40°. There was no time to hang around and decipher it. So, Shivani shoved it into her pocket and rushed out.

She flung open the back door of grandma’s house. She heard a yell and the noise of falling plates. Her grandma was sprawled on the floor with plates and food strewn all around.

She picked up her grandma. While cleaning the floor, she looked at her grandmother questioningly.

“I can explain,” said grandma.

“Famous words,” said Shivani. “I know everything now. You killed him, didn’t you? Your fight got serious and you killed him.”

For a minute grandma looked shocked. Then, she began to laugh. Shivani was surprised at grandma’s callous behaviour. Grandma had tears running down her face and couldn’t stop laughing.

Big reveal

With a shaky finger, she pointed behind Shivani. Slowly, she turned around and, to her surprise, found Mr. Banerjee standing there.

“Sorry, Cherry. I know I was supposed to be hiding in the cellar. But I got worried when I heard the noise upstairs, so I came out,” said Mr. Banerjee.

“Oh, you silly man. You will be your own downfall,” said grandma.

“You’re not very smart yourself,” said Mr Banerjee. “Knocked down by a chit of a girl.”

“Stop! Stop! What’s happening? I found this piece of paper inside the telephone.” Shivani’s eyes widened, as realisation dawned. “It was you on the phone telling me to get out.”

Grandma smiled. Shivani held out the piece of paper and said, “This is our backyard. Cherry’s backyard. This is the location of what you have buried … and you both are friends, not enemies!”

“You have a clever granddaughter, Cherry. Yes, dear, we’ve been fighting friends from the time we were in school,” said Mr Banerjee.

“Of course she’s smart. She is MY granddaughter isn’t she?” said grandma.

“Stop it, please. What’s buried there?”

Mr. Banerjee shuffled his feet and looked down. Grandma looked serious.

“Oh, come on. Just tell me…” said Shivani impatiently.

“It’s my grandmother’s recipe for Fallongapane. Adam’s Bakery wants it. They have been threatening me.”

Shivani was baffled. “What is that?”

“It’s a dessert. It’s soft and creamy, spongy and crumbly, nutty and caramelly and heavenly. Only my grandmother can make it.” Mr. Banerjee was drooling at the very description of it.

Shivani smiled. She knew where the recipe was hidden.

Who do you think is going to be digging in the backyard tonight?

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