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.