The Shirley Link mysteries for kids has a new volume!
I love writing mysteries for kids, so I hope you enjoy the first two chapters of my upcoming middle grade book, Shirley Link & The Treasure Chest. Follow Shirley on an adventure to find a hidden pirate treasure chest!
I’m watching my two best friends have one of their fake arguments again. It’s been happening more often recently. Usually, Marie (best friend number one) will say something about the way Wylie (best friend number two) lives his life. The way he flicks his bangs back when a cute girl walks in the room, for example. Wylie will then try to say something clever, which works about zero times out of a thousand. Marie will make fun of his wit. Then they’ll laugh together.
It’s really, really irritating.
“I don’t smell! You smell!” Wylie says, flicking his bangs back.
“That’s your comeback?”
“Give me a sec. I’ll think of a better one.”
Marie watches Wylie think hard. She always enjoys this part. Not because she’s mean. Because she thinks he’s so cute.
“Nothing?” she asks.
“Nope. Nada,” he says, shrugging. “That’s Spanish for nothing.”
“Muchas gracias por aclarar. That’s Spanish for “Thanks so much for clarifying.””
They smile at each other. Then they finally notice that I’ve watched this whole scene unfold from two paces back.
“What?” they both ask at exactly the same time, slowing down to let me catch up.
I’m tempted to say something like, “Why don’t you two just admit that you like each other?” or “Can you please just kiss and get it over with?” but I stop myself. For the hundredth time this month.
“Nothing,” I say, instead, pushing my way in between them. Now they’re playing catch-up with me. The way I like it.
“So when are you going to…” I instantly know she’s going to ask me a very sensitive question, so I shoot her a look. She catches herself and recovers pretty well. “… do that totally useless thing you mentioned?”
“Hope you wear a rubber suit,” Wylie says, making a face like he just licked a salt and lemon lollipop.
“Shirley, are you sure you want to do it? It’s disgusting!”
“Everyone will thank me later,” I say, veering left onto my front lawn. I’m home just in time to avoid a grilling by Marie. My lucky day! “When the next flood hits I bet you I get hired to help.”
My friends stand there, looking at me as if I suffer from some condition. I guess I do. It’s called boredom.
I’m a detective who lives in a town that always seems to need a detective, so I’m usually caught up in something that my parents don’t approve of. But there are those long runs where nothing happens. The town of Shelburne Falls wakes up at dawn, strolls through the day, then settles in for the night.
All while my brain screams out for some exercise.
It’s times like this where I have to make things happen. Even things that sound kind of crazy.
It’s 6am. I’m packed and ready to go. I need to grab a couple of trash bags and then Operation Mapmaker can begin.
I listen for Mom downstairs. She’s a police officer, so there’s always a chance that she’s returning home from a late night. But I don’t hear anything. So I tiptoe downstairs, grab a couple of trash bags from the kitchen drawer and throw my backpack on.
I write a note:
Mom and Dad
Out doing a project.
I leave the note on the butter plate in the fridge. It’s the only place where it’s guaranteed to be seen in the morning.
My parents will be on to me, of course. They live in a constant state of being on to me, especially since my detective work really took off. Let’s just say I’ve managed to get caught up in a few dangerous situations thanks to my job. Fortunately, they only know about one instance — the time I almost got clocked by Bob, the janitor. He stole thirty thousand dollars from the school and caught me snooping around his supplies.
But Mom and Dad still don’t know about the time I was kidnapped and dangled from the Town Hall flagpole. It happened last month. Jacob Graham, a classmate, did it because he wanted to be friends with me.
So I can expect my parents to have a hundred questions about my note when I get home from school.
I arrive at the waterfall. It runs under Shelburne Falls’ bridge and pulls in a lot of tourists who like to see water falling and splashing around. Or something. To each his own, I guess.
I arrive at the old steel door under the bridge. I break out the garbage bags. I slip one over each leg and tie them to my thighs with string.
I make sure no one is watching. All clear.
I open the door and aim the flashlight into the long tunnel that waits for me on the other side. It’s dark in there. Like drop-a-bucket-over-my-head dark.
I’ve decided to map out the town’s sewers. Yes, for fun. It’s a pretty complex sewage system because of the waterfall under Main Street. The flow of hidden water beneath our town has been a challenge for a few hundred years, ever since the first settlements made camp at the base of the hills.
I checked the town records for documentation on the sewers, but they weren’t very good. So I figure I’ll do a public service and draw up a thorough map. It’ll be handy for everyone. Besides, it will let me practice my mapmaking skills.
I close the steel door behind me. I don’t want anyone to see it open and freak out. My flashlight’s beam bounces off the stone walls of the sewer, casting long shadows across the wet floor. Even though these tunnels don’t carry human refuse anymore I expected it to smell, but the musty odor isn’t unpleasant. I wouldn’t want my bedroom to smell like this, but I think I can handle it for thirty minutes.
I reach a fork in the tunnel after walking 27 long steps. I make a mark on my graph paper. Today, I’ll take the right fork.
Something just ran past me. Oh, wonderful. I catch a rat in my flashlight’s beam. It screeches at the sight of me. I try to keep my cool. Most people don’t know this, but rats don’t like water at all, so I kick a puddle and douse him. He scampers up a ledge and disappears in a crack in the wall.
I shake off the creepies and make much more noise as I walk. That way I won’t catch anything else by surprise.
After about 60 more long strides, I stop and make another mark on my paper. Just ahead of me, there’s a hook in the wall. Maybe meant for a torch? No, can’t be. The gasses that can build up in a sewer would make that really dangerous.
I pull on the hook gently and it slides down. It’s attached to a very fine chain. That doesn’t seem normal. It’s almost like I’m pulling on a chord on the back of a talking doll. I look around for other hooks but don’t see any.
But I do see something else unusual.
I take a few steps back to get a better look.
Yeah. Most of the tunnel wall is a gray-white stone, covered in moss. But right in front of me is a rectangle of coal-colored stone. It almost looks like…
It’s like a door has been covered up.
After I left the tunnel, my head cleared. The air is pretty thick down there and it was only when I took in some fresh air again that I realized how jumpy I was getting in the bowels of our town.
The covered door in the sewer is probably nothing. My guess is that it’s access to another tunnel that was closed off after a flood, or something. But the thrill of finding a secret in the tunnels below my hometown has me thinking about hidden treasure. Pirates. Adventure. It’s the nerd in me.
I love pirates. I mean I wouldn’t love them if they were running up the streets, swinging swords and stealing bikes, but I love the idea of them.
Life at sea.
I just checked out a book from The Scriptorium, my name for the school library, and I’m kicked back on the most comfortable chair in the whole state. The book is an ancient thing, written and illustrated by a lady named Meredith Savile, published in 1923 by by Doubleday, Page & Co. Its title is Massachusetts’ Treasures. Dusty leather jacket, musty old pages and beautiful illustrations of treasures reported to be hiding in my part of the world.
I’m really into this one drawing of a treasure chest, straight out of a pirate movie. The top is open and loot is pouring out. The story captures my attention, too:
The Frenchman, Jack Stringer, was a little-known captain of a small pirate ship from 1712-1718. That all changed on a foggy summer morning. Captain Stringer and his Dutch crew of six ex-military sailors accidentally grounded their boat on a pristine beach somewhere on the Carolina coast. The fog draped over nearby trees and filled the crew with a sense of dread. Stringer, unable to convince his men to come along, stepped into the haze alone, lantern held high.
What happened next is unknown to this day. The crew of men claim they heard the high-pitched song of whales, filled with sorrow, then, horrifically, anger. A single gunshot, likely from Stringer’s flintlock pistol, echoed down the beach. The men were so scared of the noises that they didn’t move. They spotted a dark figure stumble from the mist. Fearing a ghost, or worse, they scrambled to push the boat offshore.
It was Captain Stringer. He pulled a small chest behind him. The men helped him lug it on board and, upon hearing the piercing wails grow closer, shoved off the sands of the unknown beach for good.
Once on the boat and safely away, the pirates pulled the top open and revealed a most astonishing sight. Jewelry. Gold and silver coins. Loose gems of such dazzling colors that the mist around them parted from their glow. The few trinkets that fell to the wooden deck alone would make each man, and his distant offspring, wealthy forever.
None could get the story of what happened on the beach from Captain Stringer’s lips. He vowed to never speak of it, and kept to his word. In fact, Stringer never spoke a word again. For the treasure he pulled from the shore was priceless.
But it was also cursed.
“What’re you reading?”
Marie’s voice broke the spell that the tale had on me. She sits down in the cushy chair across from mine.
“Book about treasures,” I mumble, wanting to dive back in to see what happened next.
Marie leans her head back. I don’t think she even heard my answer. “I’ll never get this algebra stuff.”
“You’ll get it,” I answer, trying not to be grumpy. I actually feel like telling her she should stop wasting time complaining and study instead. Probably not a good idea.
She frowns at me. “You really want to tell me to be quiet and study so you can go back to your book, right?”
Marie amazes me sometimes. When she knows someone or something, she understands completely. It’s one of the reasons I admire her. It’s also why I’m not worried about her problems with math. Once she gets it, she will so get it.
“Precisely,” I say.
“Fine. I guess you’re right. It’s just so awful to leave algebra class every single day and feel even more confused.”
I close the book. She needs my attention.
“Kate could tutor you.”
“She’d tell me 2+2 = 2. Katie hates me.”
Kate is a Sophomore who has a crush on Wylie, my other best friend. Kate thinks Marie has a thing for Wylie, which is true, but Marie is not about to let anything happen. That would mess up our trio. But sometimes I wish they’d just be honest with each other. I think the truth is always best.
Speak of the devil. Wylie comes out of nowhere and plops in a third chair. “You two look like something the Catwoman dragged in.” He loves comics and he shows it. Every chance he gets.
“Did you craft that joke during algebra class?” Marie teases.
“Yup,” he says, flipping open a textbook with an X-Men comic hidden inside. But before he starts reading, he spots my book.
“What Massachusetts treasures?” He leans forward to get a look at the page I’m on.
“Apparently, there are a lot of them. I’m following up on a theory.”
I go back to reading.
For the treasure he pulled from the shore was priceless.
But it was also cursed.
I feel the heavy silence surrounding me. My friends are glaring.
“Are you going to give us this theory of yours, or are we going to have to tell your mother about the map you’re making of the town’s sewage system?”
“That’s the thing,” I say. “I found something while I was exploring this morning.”
“Get out,” Wylie says, raising his voice to unacceptable levels. Ms. Conway, the librarian, shushes us. He whispers, “You found a treasure?”
“No.” I pull out my notebook and flip to the sketch of the tunnels that I’d made earlier. “I think it’s a covered up door, though.”
“Probably just a tunnel they closed off after one of our 19,000 floods,” Marie says. I smile at her, proud. “Why are you looking at me like that, Shirley Link?”
“You’re right. It’s probably a plugged hole. Still…” I start to go into my deep-thought place. The one that makes my face wrinkle up and scares puppies away.
“There she goes,” says Wylie, teasing me.
“Still,” I continue. “There’s a hook on the wall nearby. It pulls out like a lever. Snaps back into place. Weird.”
“We are so going with you after school,” Wylie beams.
“You are so not going with me, ever. It’s risky enough going alone. No way could three of us get in there without being seen.”
“Then I’ll go by myself,” Wylie says, getting huffy.
“There are rats.”
“Okay, never mind.” Wylie throws his legs over the chair armrests and settles in to read his comic book.
Marie looks a little stunned.
“You’re just going to let it go? Just like that?” she asks him. Wylie is not known for giving up. If he wants to do something he’s like a dog who has a good grip on a rope with his teeth. He’d rather get pulled off the ground and twirled in circles until he passes out than give up.
“Just like that,” Wylie says matter-of-factly.
“He’s scared of rats.”
“That’s not true. I’m scared of rat’s teeth.”
“Well, I’m going with her tomorrow morning. You shouldn’t be down there alone, Shirley. What if something happened to you?”
Marie has her Huffy Face on. She’s right, of course. I need to stop trying to do everything by myself. It gets me in trouble.
“Fine,” I say, opening my book. “6am at my house. Now, do you mind if I finish reading?”
The school bell rings. Fourth period. Wonderful. I guess I’ll see what happened to Captain Stringer when I get home from school.