The Curse of the Ancient Mask and Other Case Files

Saxby Smart, Private Detective: Book 1

Saxby Smart, Private Detective (Volume 1)

Simon Cheshire, illustrated by R.W. Alley

Roaring Brook Press

THE CURSE OF THE ANCIENT MASK AND OTHER CASE FILES (Chapter One)

My name is Saxby Smart, and I’m a private detective. I go to St. Egbert’s School, my office is in the toolshed, and these are my case files. Unlike some detectives, I don’t have a sidekick, so that part I’m leaving up to you—pay attention, I’ll ask questions.

My full name is Saxby Doyle Christie Chandler Ellin Allan Smart. Yes, believe it or not, I’m named after all of my dad’s favorite crime writers. The Allan is from Edgar Allan Poe. I mean, even my dad wouldn’t call his kid Poe Smart! Mind you, he called me Saxby Smart…(Saxby isn’t a crime writer, by the way; Saxby is apparently a Ye Olde English name, originally pillaged from the Vikings).

Dad is a big fan of crime novels, and ever since I could read I’ve worked my way through his library of great detective stories. He has an impressive collection. It was all those books that made me want to be a detective in the first place. I love them just as much as he does. Which I guess is another reason I’m beginning my case files here: to show you that I can be just as good a sleuth as Sherlock Holmes or Nancy Drew.

You might think my dad was a detective himself, but actually he’s a bus driver. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a bus driver. In fact, he loves being a bus driver. And I love him being a bus driver, because it means all the local bus drivers know me, and that’s very useful when you’re a kid detective trying to get around town following clues.

What I mean is that he only reads detective stories. I live them.

My mom? She programs computer games for a living. She works from home and spends all day in her office, which is the closet under the stairs. And that’s all there is to say, really.

The only reason I mention my parents at all is to let you know that I’ve got some. They play no part in any of my great cases, and won’t be appearing much in these pages.

This is the story of my first really interesting case. Up to that point, I’d dealt with quite easy stuff: The Adventure of the Misplaced Action Figure or The Case of the Eaten Cookies are examples from my files that come to mind. But The Curse of the Ancient Mask was something altogether more puzzling. What’s interesting is that I wrapped up the whole case using only a plastic bucket of water.

It started one very hot Saturday, while I was in my Crime Headquarters. I call it my Crime Headquarters, but really it’s a shed. In my backyard. It’s a small yard, and a small shed, and I have to share this shed with the lawnmower and other assorted gardening-type things. I have an old desk in there, and a cabinet full of case notes and papers. Most important of all, I have my Thinking Chair. It’s a battered old leather armchair which used to be red but has worn into a sort of off-brown. I sit in it, and I put my feet up on the desk, and I gaze out the shed’s Plexiglas window at the sky, and I think. Every detective should have a Thinking Chair. I’m sure Philip Marlowe would have had things tied up in the space of a short story if only he’d had a Thinking Chair.

Anyway, on that particular very hot Saturday, I was rearranging some of my notes when there was a knock at the shed door. Its painted wooden sign, the one that says Saxby Smart—Private Detective: KEEP OUT, fell off with a clatter. I keep nailing it up, but I’m no good at that sort of thing, so it keeps falling off again.

The door was opened by a girl from my class at school, Jasmine Winchester. She was red and flustered from a long walk, and she fanned herself with her hands while knocking some of the grassy mud off her shoes.

“Hi, Saxby. Sorry, this dropped off your door,” she said, picking up the sign.

Jasmine is a very tall girl, the sort who overtakes everyone else in height at about the age of three and never lets the rest of us catch up. I’m pretty average-looking myself—average height, average fair hair, average glasses—but Jasmine is one of those people you can always pick out of a crowd. Mostly because she’s poking out of the top of it.

“I know walking along the river looks like a shortcut,” I said, “but you’d get here quicker if you stuck to the path across the park.”

She stopped fanning and stared at me. “How on earth did you know I’d walked by the river?”

She looked impressed when I told her. It was a simple deduction: there was grassy mud on her shoes, she’d obviously walked some distance— because she was hot—and on a hot day, you’d only pick up mud where the ground was still damp.

“How can I help you?” I asked. I offered her my chair, and I perched on the desk (I told you there’s not enough room in that shed…).

“Well,” she said, taking a deep breath, “I can see why everyone at school says you’re a good detective…”

“True.”

“…so I need your help to solve a mystery. My dad is cursed.”

THE CURSE OF THE ANCIENT MASK AND OTHER CASE FILES. Text copyright © 2007 by Simon Cheshire.