Excerpts for Hamster of the Baskervilles : From the Tattered Casebook of Chet Gecko, Private Eye


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!

Mr. 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. I tipped my hat.

"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 downstream 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."

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."

Copyright © 2002 by Bruce Hale

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