The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg
Here it is, the first two chapters of my latest middle grade / young adult novel. I hope to have it available within the next few days. Enjoy!
My name is Halcyone Acasia Tintersmoot.
Please don’t hold that against me.
Everyone calls me “Hat,” you know, because of my initials, and I don’t mind it at all—in fact, I prefer it, even though my full name comes from historical family origins and has been handed down through many, many generations.
I am the owner and proprietor of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency. It’s a small, one-girl operation that I run out of my bedroom; that is, when I can keep my younger brothers and sisters from barging in and disrupting important detective work.
Ma says that if I have another project (she calls them “projects” and doesn’t understand that this is serious business) like the last one, which I called The Mysterious Case of the Golden Egg, then maybe I can set up shop in the garage where it’s quiet and I can study clues uninterrupted.
It was my most important case yet, and, anyway, this is how I solved it.
On the morning of my twelfth birthday, I got an unexpected present from my Grandpa Gordon, which was weird, considering he passed away when I was nine.
Ma went out the front door, carrying her coffee and wearing that blue bathrobe with the white flowers on it, her hair up in curlers and feet tucked into those ugly, white fuzzy slippers that keep her toes warm, even when it’s a hundred degrees outside. I heard a scream, followed by a crash—we all did from our seats at the breakfast table—and Pa dropped his newspaper, then ran toward the noise. I remember how his bare feet sounded when they slapped across the kitchen tiles. It was like somebody dropped a bunch of steaks in a hurry.
Of course, the rest of us followed: James, Donald, Emily, Laura, and me. (Somehow they all got normal names, but I guess that’s the benefit of not being the firstborn child in the Tintersmoot family.)
When we got to the front door, Ma held a small brown package in one hand and had the other covering her mouth. I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or crying, but her shoulders shook like it might have been either. Pa’s hands were on his hips, red pajama bottoms flapping in the breeze, and his wild, morning hair was splayed out in a bunch of different directions. He looked confused.
The five of us took a step closer, peppering Ma with questions about what was in her hand and what happened and who left it.
Pa pointed a finger toward the walkway and told us to be careful. The coffee cup had shattered into a bunch of pieces and the way it was scattered around, it could’ve been a ceramic jigsaw puzzle that someone dumped out of a box.
I said, “What is that, Ma?”
Her eyes were wet and red, but she didn’t seem sad, like maybe it was a happy cry. She held the box out to me. “It’s for you, honey. A birthday present from Grandpa Gordon.”
“Grandpa Gordon?” I took the box from her. It was heavy for such a little thing, but I cradled it delicately because this was a present from the past. “But how? He died—”
“Let me see it!” Emily reached for the box, but I turned away from her just in time, before she could get her syrupy, pancake hands on it.
“No fair,” James shouted. “Why does she get something from Grandpa Gordon?” He’s a year younger than me, and from what he says, things are never fair between us. It might be a little mean, but I enjoy rubbing it in sometimes. After all, what are younger brothers for if you can’t remind them who’s the boss once in a while?
“Now, now,” Ma said. “It’s Hat’s birthday, and besides, I don’t know where it came from or why. He never said anything about something like this. Wait—unless it’s the thing—Carl, do you remember?”
Pa shook his head and tried to mash his crazy hair down. “It could be.”
“Could be what?” I asked.
“Nothing,” Pa said. “More important, you know what this means, don’t you?” He looked at me with a knowing grin.
I jerked the box away again as Laura tried to grab it. “No, what?”
“Seems to me like The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency has another case to solve.”
I smiled back at him. I couldn’t believe I hadn’t thought of it first.
Later, after breakfast, after Ma had sent everyone outside to play so I could open my gift in peace, it occurred to me that Pa had no idea how true those words were.
Another case to solve, indeed.
Grandpa Gordon was a private detective, too, and that’s how I got interested in solving cases. Pa tried it for a while, but he said it was boring work, and I never really believed him because of all the fun stories The Judge would tell me about his mysterious adventures.
The Judge. That’s Grandpa Gordon. People called him that because his favorite line was, “…and that’s the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”
The Judge always uncovered the truth. Always.
And that’s what made the present so interesting—the fact he hid the truth about it and its origins. On purpose.
Ma had no idea why he sent it three years after he died, and Pa was no help either. She even tried to discourage him from encouraging me, telling him not to fill my head with such fantasies about being a private detective. He agreed, but then gave me a wink when she wasn’t looking.
I sat down on my bed with the brown cardboard box in front of me. It was small, about the size of a box of tissues, with a note written on the outside in black permanent marker. Big, looping letters with the T’s crossed low and the I’s dotted with smiley faces. It was The Judge’s handwriting, all right. I’d recognize it anywhere, but just to be sure, I slipped on a pair of white gloves (to keep my fingerprints away), reached into my nightstand drawer and pulled out the short stack of birthday cards he’d sent me over the years.
A real detective has to know whom she’s dealing with first.
I only needed to read his personal notes in three of them to understand that the writing came from the same man. Big, looping letters, low crossed T’s, and smiley faces over the I’s. Grandpa Gordon. The Judge. Definitely.
I carefully placed the envelopes back in the drawer and removed the gloves, tugging at them finger by finger. I thought maybe I should leave them on, so I wouldn’t contaminate the box, but with my fingerprints all over it already, and Ma’s, and Pa’s, and four other sets of grubby, bacon-greased fingers after my siblings passed it around while I was in the bathroom, I decided that it was useless and that the evidence was wasted.
It would’ve been nice to know who left the box outside our front door, but maybe it didn’t matter. Uncle Mike, Pa’s policeman brother, would sometimes run a set of fingerprints for me if I begged hard enough. That ended when Ma found out he got in trouble for doing it the last time and almost closed the doors of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency completely.
I read the note on the box for the tenth time.
My dearest Hat, the Proprietor of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency,
Everyone else, keep your hands off! (That means you, James.)
Inside this box is an impossible mystery that only the purest of hearts can ever hope to uncover. Solve it, and you will discover the answer to one of the greatest secrets ever.
Love and Happy Twelfth Birthday,
The Judge (G.G.)
“One of the greatest secrets ever,” I said aloud, then I thought that it couldn’t possibly be a greater secret than The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Toothbrush. (The culprit in that case was Pa, who was playing a trick on Donald because he wouldn’t brush his teeth.)
I peeled the thin layer of tape away from the edges and pried the flaps open, closing my eyes before I peeked inside. I eased one eyelid open, and then the other, and finally let out a heavy puff of air. Inside was another box, smaller than the first, with Styrofoam peanuts packed around the sides, holding it in place. The message on the new box read only, “Game.”
I peeled the tape away and opened the new one, and again, I found a third, smaller box that read, “Riddle.”
The message on the fourth box read, “Puzzle.”
“Hmm.” Maybe these words were important—if you know where to look and why, almost everything can be a clue. I grabbed a pencil and the notebook where I keep all my important evidence written down, flipped to a blank page, and quickly scribbled Game, Riddle, and Puzzle.
Maybe it was important. Maybe not.
The fifth and smallest of the boxes, no bigger than my fist, had a word written on it that I didn’t recognize.
“Ana…anagr-uh…anagram? Anagram?” I had no idea what it meant, and I was anxious to open the box to finally find out what was inside, but a word that I didn’t recognize had to be important, so I climbed off my bed and then wiggled underneath it, looking for the unused dictionary that Grandma Bertha gave me for Christmas two years ago. I pushed boxes of dolls and girly toys out of the way, toys that I hadn’t seen or played with for months because a girl that runs her own detective agency has to keep a professional appearance.
I found a magnifying glass and a t-shirt that I thought I’d lost, Donald’s bag of marbles that he accused me of stealing, and a cap gun that I’d taken and hidden from James after he’d annoyed me for far too long one day. I had forgotten that it was under there.
I looked and shoved and rearranged but couldn’t find the dictionary.
The dust tickled my nose, and I let loose with a wild sneezing fit that seemed to go on forever before I heard a confused, “Hat? What’re you doing under there?” coming from my bedroom door. I felt Pa’s rough hands around my ankles as he grabbed them and pulled me from underneath the bed. “You okay?”
When I sat up, dazed and dizzy, Pa burst into laughter and then tried to hide his mouth with his hand. “You look like you got attacked by a bunch of dust bunnies,” he said, and then tried to pick something off my head.
I brushed his hand away, coughed and sneezed again, then used a sleeve to wipe away the dribble coming from my nose. I said, “What does anagram mean?”
“You won’t find one under your bed, that’s for sure, and don’t tell me that the great detective is already stumped.”
Lifting one side of my upper lip, I snarled at him. “Where’s my dictionary?”
“Did you look under your bed?”
“I haven’t seen it.” He walked over to my bed and examined the pile of boxes scattered around on the comforter. “All this was in that little box?”
He picked up each one and read the clues aloud. “Game, riddle, puzzle…and anagram. Interesting.”
“What does anagram mean?” I asked again.
“Do you want me to tell you, or does the private investigator want to figure it out herself?”
I thought about this for a moment. On a normal day, I would be happy to do some minor detective work—it would be a good “project” (Ma’s word, not mine) trying to figure out what happened to my dictionary. Where was it last? When was the last time I saw it? Did anyone borrow it? Who would need it? Did anyone steal it from me? I could shine a flashlight in Emily’s eyes and ask her, “Where were you on the night of March something-or-other?”
(No, no, that would never work. Police detectives did that. Private investigators, like The Judge and me, were clever and crafty and got information using their smarts and careful observation. They didn’t have to scare it out of people. Still, it might’ve been fun to see how Emily would react.)
But, today wasn’t a normal day. It was my birthday, and I had gift from The Judge that needed opening. I didn’t have time, or the patience, to chase down clues about a dictionary that had nothing to do with the mystery at hand.
“I could figure it out…”
Pa raised an eyebrow. “But…”
“Just tell me.”
Pa shrugged. “Okay. An anagram is a word that makes another word.”
“By switching the letters around. Let me think of an easy one,” he said, putting his finger up to his mouth, pondering. His hair still hadn’t flattened out from that morning. He looked silly, but then again, sometimes he does it on purpose. “How about this—you take the words ‘barn’ and ‘cow,’ switch the letters around, and you come up with something like, oh, I don’t know, ‘crab now.’ Does that make sense?”
“I think so.”
“I’m sure you’ll figure it out. Maybe there’s another clue inside this little box.”
“Can I watch you open it, or is that too super secret for the great detective to allow?”
“I’ll allow it, Pa, but just this once.”
“Wonderful! I’d bet I’m just as curious as you are.”
I nodded, but I wasn’t so sure that was true. Pa may have been curious, but the gift was for me, and so far, I had no idea what this whole thing was all about. Grownups always act like they know something you don’t. Yet, for once, I could tell Pa was just as clueless.
I picked up the box with “Anagram” written on it and shook it, feeling the weight of it in my palm. It made no noise, and I sort of expected to open it and find yet another box. And another. And another.
Thankfully, it was the last one, because when I peeled the flaps open, I saw something that I never expected. And truthfully, I didn’t know what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t a golden egg about the size of the chicken eggs in our refrigerator.
It gleamed and shined in the afternoon light coming through my windows. Pa whistled when I twisted it around in my fingers, examining it.
“What in the world,” he said. “A golden egg? I doubt it is, but if that thing’s made out of solid gold, it’s worth a lot of money. Be careful with it, okay?”
I scrunched up my nose and thought about the note that The Judge had written on the outside of the biggest box. Was the golden egg the impossible mystery that only the purest of hearts could ever hope to uncover? It was definitely a mystery, but not the kind I thought it would be. The real question was why this thing, and what was I supposed to do with it? I didn’t even know where to begin.
I twisted it around again and felt rough edges underneath my fingertips, then held it close to my face to get a better look. “There’s something written around the middle of it.”
“No kidding,” Pa said. “Like a secret message or something?”
“I…I can’t tell. They almost look like symbols. Can you tell what they are?” I handed the egg to Pa, and he held it up to the light to where it almost touched the tip of his nose. His eyes are bad, he says, and most of the time he has to put on his glasses to read something small.
He carried it over to the window for a better look. “I don’t know, Hat. It’s engraved, and they look like symbols, but that’s about all I can tell you. There’s a circle, and, uh, a star. Is there anything else inside that little box?” He handed the egg back to me, and it felt warmer, as if it still held the heat from his palms.
I picked it up and peered inside, finding a small slip of paper.
I read it out loud. “Hint…doughnut.”
“That’s all it says.”
“Hmm. Well, Hattie Hat,” Pa said, sticking his hands inside the pockets of his pajama pants, “what we have here is a conundrum.”
I sighed and shook my head. Grownups. “Like I didn’t know that already.”
Pa chuckled and rocked back on his heels. “You’ll figure it out. I haven’t seen a case yet that the owner of The Marshmallow Hammer Detective Agency hasn’t been able to solve.”
Of course he didn’t know about The Mysterious Case of the Cute Boy on the School Bus, but, then again, no one does, except for my friend Beth, and she promised not to tell anyone that the case remained unsolved.
Pa squeezed my shoulder and told me not to forget about my birthday party at three o’clock, as if I would forget something like that, and then left me alone in my room. A second later, he poked his head around the door and said, “Start with the anagram. I’ll bet there’s a clue in there.”
“Right.” I didn’t need him to tell me that, but he likes to help out sometimes, and I like to let him think he’s helping. As long as I keep Pa on my side when it comes to the business of solving mysteries as a private detective, then he’ll keep Ma from discouraging this career that I’ve chosen.
She almost stopped asking me to become a ballerina when I insisted that I don’t look good in pink.
I sat down at my desk and set the golden egg in front of me, watching it wobble and roll until it came to a stop up against…my dictionary. It’s funny how sometimes, when you’re looking for something, it was right in front of you all along.
From a desk drawer, I pulled out a clean writing pad—no need to clutter my evidence notebook with scribbled notes—and a fresh pencil. I sharpened it and licked the tip like I’d seen The Judge do a thousand times when he was jotting down his own observations.
“Yuck.” I scrubbed my tongue with a sleeve, then remembered it was the same one I’d used to wipe my nose after my sneezing fit. “Ugh, gross.”
This wasn’t going well already.
I wrote GAME, RIDDLE, PUZZLE and HINT: DOUGHNUT in big letters across the top of the page and set to work, rearranging them, trying to discover the super secret message that The Judge wanted me to find.
It really didn’t go well.