The Hamster of the Baskervilles

BOOK: The Hamster of the Baskervilles
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The Hamster of the Baskervilles
Bruce Hale

HARCOURT, INC.
Orlando • Austin • New York • San Diego • Toronto • London

Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Hale

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be
reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic or mechanical, including photocopy, recording,
or any information storage and retrieval system, without
permission in writing from the publisher.

Requests for permission to make copies of any part of the
work should be mailed to the following address:
Permissions Department, Harcourt, Inc.,
6277 Sea Harbor Drive, Orlando, Florida 32887-6777.

www.HarcourtBooks.com

First Harcourt paperback edition 2003
First published 2002

The Library of Congress has cataloged
the hardcover edition as follows:
Hale, Bruce.
The hamster of the Baskervilles: from the tattered
casebook of Chet Gecko, private eye/Bruce Hale,
p. cm.
"A Chet Gecko Mystery."
Summary: Something is trashing the classrooms at
Emerson Hicky Elementary School, and fourth-grade
private eye Chet Gecko sets out to find the creature
that's responsible.
[1. Geckos—Fiction. 2. Animals—Fiction.
3. Schools—Fiction. 4. Mystery and detective stories.
5. Humorous stories.] I. Title.
PZ7.H1295Ham 2002
[Fic]—dc21 2001003845
ISBN 0-15-202503-0
ISBN 0-15-202509-X pb

Text set in Bembo
Display type set in Elroy
Designed by Ivan Holmes

E G H F

Printed in the United States of America

This one's for Ma Hale

A private message from the private eye...

Science. Ben Franklin couldn't juice it up, Madame Curie couldn't cure it, so let's tell the truth: Science is a snooze. In fact, the only science I like is the sweet science of detection.

Detection is my business. But you probably guessed that, if you know I'm Chet Gecko—the best lizard detective at Emerson Hicky Elementary. Unfortunately, my school doesn't give classes in private eyeing.

But it does have science—five days a week. Yuck.

What I know about science, you could just about fit into the Grand Canyon (and still have enough room left over for the entire population of China, a medium-sized brontosaurus, and a tuba).

Despite his best efforts, here's all I've learned from Mr. Ratnose's class:

—Some people can tell what time it is by looking at the sun, but I've never been able to make out the numbers.

—Rain is saved up in cloud banks.

—And germs come from Germany, while viruses come from Vireland.

But all my fourth-grade education couldn't prepare me for one case that started with science and headed off into the supernatural. Normally, I don't believe in that stuff My idea of voodoo is Mom's mosquito-swirl ice-cream sundaes.

But when you're face-to-face with something from a late-night movie and you can't change the channel, you've got to ask yourself the important question: If it doesn't act
super
and it doesn't look
natural,
why do they call it
supernatural?

1. A Heck of a Wreck

Some Mondays drag in like a wet dog, dripping puddles of gloom and trailing a funky stink. (Actually, at my school most Mondays are like that.)

But this Monday opened with a bang, like a fat frog fired from a circus cannon. And, like that frog, it turned into an ugly mess quicker than you can say
ribbet-ribbet-splat.

No clue tipped me off as I trotted through the gates of Emerson Hicky Elementary mere minutes before the morning bell. One more tardy slip and I'd win a one-way trip to detention with the Beast of Room 3—not my idea of a dream vacation.

I dodged and darted down the halls past other stragglers, trying to beat the clock.

A sleepy second grader wandered into my path. Dazed as a meerkat on a merry-go-round, she stumbled along toward her classroom.

Za-yoomp!

I planted my hands on her shoulders and vaulted over the little shrew easy as slurping a gypsy-moth milk shake. My feet pounded onward.

Rounding the last corner, I was running full tilt—only seconds to go!

Old Man Ratnose's classroom loomed ahead. I bounced off the bright-orange door and skidded for my seat just as the bell went
rrriinnnng!

And I would've made it, too, if not for Bitty Chu, the gopher.

Whomp!

Like a crazy cue ball, I hit her at top speed, ricocheted into Waldo the furball, and sprawled across Shirley Chameleon's desk. Private eye in the corner pocket.

Shirley blinked down at me with one eye, while the other scanned the room. Chameleons—what you gonna do? I saluted her.

"Hey, green eyes," I said suavely, "did you get the answer to that second homework problem?"

Shirley snorted and tossed her head.

"What's up, buttercup?" I said. "You've gone all yellow around the edges."

And she had. One thing about chameleons, there's never a dull-colored moment.

"Use your private eye, wise guy," she said.

Since when would Shirley skip a chance to flirt like the cootie machine she was? Something was rotten in the state of Ratnose.

I raised my head and checked out my fourth-grade classroom.

My jaw dropped. I didn't pick it up.

Mr. Ratnose's room was a mess. No—more than a mess, it was the Cadillac of cruddiness, the
Titanic
of trash, the Grand Canyon of chaos. If that mess were a monument, it'd be the Statue of Litterty.

Desks lay tumbled around the room like blocks in a cranky preschooler's playpen. Half-eaten papers covered the floor. Deep gashes raked the walls. A handful of seeds was scattered by the door. The seeds of destruction, maybe?

Most of my classmates stood gaping, saucer-eyed in amazement.

Bitty Chu tearfully fingered a wad of shredded paper. "Somebody's been munching on my math quiz."

Waldo the furball ran a finger along his toppled chair. "Somebody's been slobbering on my seat."

I noticed a jagged cut on the wall had mutilated my latest masterpiece, a safety poster. Somebody'd

been slashing up my artwork—and I guessed it wasn't Goldilocks.

What twisted hoodlum was responsible?

Mr. Ratnose stood knee-deep in the mess. His eyes were round as doughnuts, with a dollop of bitter chocolate in the middle. He sputtered like a deranged sprinkler head. Finally he choked out, "Who ... is ... responsible ... for this?"

Nobody moved, nobody spoke.

"Who wrecked my classroom?" he asked.

Bo Newt nudged me. "Whoever it was, he had monster feet," he whispered. "I'd hate to have to shop for his tennies."

I looked at the muddy footprints. Bo was right. Whoever had made those tracks would wear shoes big enough for the football team to float down-stream in.

"Who spoke?" said Mr. Ratnose. "Chet Gecko? Do you know something?"

With you as a teacher?
ran through my mind. But for once, I passed up an easy joke. "No, Mr. Ratnose."

I tried to rise up on my elbows and tumbled off the desk. Retrieving my hat (and my body) from the floor, I got to my feet.

Mr. Ratnose's whiskers quivered like an overstrung banjo. He paced up the aisle to me, wringing his paws. "You're some kind of detective," he muttered. "Can't you find out who did this?"

I tilted my hat back and gazed up at him. "I'm some kind of detective, all right—the kind that likes to get paid. If I track down this goon, what's in it for me? Can I get out of doing my science project?"

"No," said Mr. Ratnose.

"Can I get free lunches for a month?"

"Not likely," said Mr. Ratnose.

"Can I—"

"How about two get-out-of-detention-free cards and a box of jelly doughnuts?"

"Done," I said. "Mr. Ratnose, I'm your gecko."

2. Intestines and Questions

We hit the cafeteria to watch a science film while Maureen DeBree and her janitors tidied up the mess in our room. My class flopped down at the scarred brown tables and stared blankly at the silver screen.

The movie was a classic:
The Splendor of Your Lower Intestines.
But I'd seen it before. After a few minutes, I sidled up to Mr. Ratnose, who was standing in the back, nibbling on an earwig eclair.

He bared his front teeth and put the pastry box behind his back. "Nothing for you until you catch that vandal," he said. My teacher, the mind reader.

"You insult me," I said.

"Not often enough," he replied.

I leaned back on my tail and crossed my arms. "Hey, we could sit here and swap insults all day. But if I'm gonna catch that hoodlum, I need a lead. Tell me..."

"Fire away," he said.

"Got any enemies at school?"

Mr. Ratnose's ears twitched. "Enemies—me? I'm a model teacher."

Yeah,
I thought,
a model of Attila the Hun.
But I didn't say it.

Instead I asked, "Any former students who might hold a grudge?"

Mr. Ratnose stroked his whiskers. "Can't think of any," he said. "All my students love and respect me."

Boy, was he dreaming.

"Oh, wait," said Mr. Ratnose. He scratched a pink ear. "A few years back, I did flunk Erik Nidd. He wasn't too pleased, I recall."

"That's a long wait for a guy with a short memory. Anything else?"

He shook his head. "It must've been a bunch of hepped-up juvenile delinquents."

"I'll check it out," I said. "Do you—"

"Aren't you going to write all this down?" said Mr. Ratnose.

"No need." I tapped my head. "Photographic memory."

Mr. Ratnose raised an eyebrow. "Must've run out of film in math class," he drawled.

I coughed. This interview was going nowhere faster than a coyote in concrete booties. Time for one last question. "Who else has keys to your room, other than the janitors?"

"Oh, let's see," he said. "There's Principal Zero and the assistant principal. But that won't help."

I frowned. "Why not?"

"The door wasn't unlocked—it was ripped open."

"What?"

BOOK: The Hamster of the Baskervilles
8.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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