When Annabelle arrived in Dusseldam, she stopped at a newsstand to buy a banana and a pack of breath mints. While waiting in line at the checkout counter, she read the front pages of newspapers from all over the world. The news wasn’t good.
CAT-ASTROPHE IN CUTAN
IT’S ME-OW-FUL in MARBLEHEAD
FEEL-INE FRANTIC IN FROTSYLDAANG.
CAT-AMINATION in THYVALKIA
Me-OW in MUSTRECHT!
Beneath the headlines were photographs that looked not unlike the grisly scene that Annabelle had seen unfolding near the Fountain of Five Hundred Librarians.
“This is outrageous! Something must be done!” said Annabelle out loud.
“Ok! Calm down. Here’s your change,” said the man behind the counter.
Dodging angry cats at every step, Annabelle took a cab to the center of Dusseldam and used the search feature on Eleanor’s device to find a costume shop. She bought a wig, a trench coat, and set of false teeth, then rented a hotel room and transformed herself into a creepy looking salesman with long hair and bad teeth.
“Perfect,” said Annabelle, looking at herself in the mirror.
Next, she took a cab to the biggest candy store in town, where she filled a bag with delectable treats. Annabelle, who was usually careful only to spend her allowance on things that were useful, took particular glee in having a good excuse to buy a large amount of candy.
“When in Dusseldam…” she said, allowing herself to sample just one piece of homemade fudge before walking out of the store.
Then she took a cab to a butcher shop and did a bit of browsing before making her selection and walking out with a package wrapped in wax paper.
Finally, she took a cab to the waterfront, where she bought a sausage on a stick and munched and strolled and looked around.
Good thing Em gave me all this money, Annabelle thought to herself.
The pier was lined with fancy yachts, each bigger and prouder and shiner than the last.
But eventually, Annabelle found what she was looking for.
At the very end of the row of gleaming boats was one that didn’t match the others, a dilapidated houseboat with a rotting railing and broken windows. Painted in badly faded letters on the hull was the ship’s name, “Down the Gullet.” Annabelle wondered how the thing stayed afloat.
Annabelle took a deep breath, walked across a creaking, crooked plank that led from the pier to the mossy, moldy deck, and knocked on the door with as much confidence as her worried knuckles would allow.
A moment later, familiar face of Long Arm leered back at her through the circular window in the middle of the door.
“Who is it?”
Annabelle cleared her voice and spoke. “Naughtso Sweet.”
“Naughtso Sweet. Fungo sent me.”
“I don’t know any—”
“I am undercover as a traveling candy salesman,” said Annabelle insistently. “Because you are undercover as a candy store owner. I am dressed this way to avoid suspicion. But if you do not let me in, people will become suspicious!”
“Any people who might be watching.”
Annabelle looked around.
“Like that guy!” She said, pointing to a man who was eating a sausage on a stick and seemingly minding his own business on a different boat.
Long Arm looked mildly convinced.
“So can I come in?”
Long Arm’s face got serious again.
“What’s the password?”
Annabelle froze. Of course there would be a password. How could she have been so foolish? She was considering making a break for it when she remembered that Eleanor desperately needed saving and that she, Annabelle, was her friend’s only hope.
So instead of running away in fear, Annabelle dug deep remembered her mother’s advice, “When you don’t want to answer a question, convince the other person to answer it for you.” Suddenly, she had an idea.
“Exactly. What’s the password?” she insisted.
“That’s what I asked you!” said Long Arm.
“And that’s what I asked you!” said Annabelle. “There are spies everywhere! Fungo said I had to be sure it was actually you before I came to your rescue.”
“Came to my rescue?”
“Is there an echo in here?”
“Am I in trouble?” asked Long Arm.
“Terrible trouble,” said Annabelle, doing her best to look grim. “And I’ll tell you what it is as soon as you convince me that you’re actually you by saying the password.”
Long Arm’s face was having a war with itself. Annabelle watched a kind of movie play out as his expression changed from skeptical to concerned to downright worried.
“Is it bad?” asked Long Arm.
“You have only minutes to live,” said Annabelle. “I’d let me in if I were you.”
“Come in, come in,” said Long Arm. “What are you waiting for?”
“WHAT IS THE PASSWORD?” said Annabelle, surprising herself.
“Of course…the password…dog,” said Long Arm, “The password is dog.”
Annabelle, who was expecting something more complex or diabolical, hesitated for just a minute before saying, “Yepper. That’s right. Dog. We need to talk to the boss about getting a better password.”
“I tell him that all the time,” said Long Arm, opening the door and gesturing for Annabelle to sit down.
“Now, what is it?” asked Long Arm nervously.
“Here,” said Annabelle, handing him the bag.
“What’s in it?”
“All that’s left.”
“Just look,” said Annabelle, pretending she was too emotional to keep on talking.
Long Arm looked down at the bag nervously.
Annabelle broke down sobbing, grateful that her parents had enrolled her in theater camp the summer before. She gestured wildly at the bag as if to say, It will be difficult, I know, but be strong and look inside.
Long Arm peered into the bag and gasped, his face white with horror.
“What is this?!”
“It’s…all that’s left…”
“Of…of…oh, don’t make me say it,” said Annabelle, as she burst into another round of wailing tears.
“It’s not…?” Long Arm looked at Annabelle desperately.
Long Arm started sobbing uncontrollably. It was astonishing to see pure evil reduced such bawling.
“It was a terrible accident.”
“Was it…The Machine?”
“YES! The Machine!”
“I knew it!” blubbered Long Arm. “I knew it was too soon. I knew The Machine wasn’t ready! Why is Fungo always so impatient?”
“I know,” said Annabelle. “He can be so tedious. Here, let me get you some Kleenex.”
“Thank you,” said Long Arm, blowing his nose, looking back into the bag, and then starting to wail again, even louder this time.
“Would you like me to make you some tea?” asked Annabelle.
Long Arm nodded, too miserable to speak.
“And the kitchen is…?”
Long Arm gestured vaguely toward the back of the boat.
Leaving him sobbing on the stinking couch, Annabelle walked down a narrow hallway.
The first room she came to was filled with stuffed elephants. “Weird,” thought Annabelle. The second was a tiny bedroom with a puppy-themed bedspread. The bedroom was empty. In the third room was Eleanor, tied to a chair with a sock in her mouth.
Annabelle removed the sock.
“Annabelle! How did you—?”
“There’s no time. We have to get you out of here.”
Annabelle untied Eleanor’s hands.
“What about Long Arm?”
“He’s busy having an emotional episode in the living room.”
“What’s the plan?”
“Working on it. Be ready.”
Annabelle made a cup of chamomile tea and returned to the front of the boat. Long Arm had stopped crying, but his face was still damp and blotchy.
“How can I help?” asked Annabelle, taking the hand attached to Long Arm’s regular-sized arm and holding it reassuringly. “Would you like…a hug?”
The word “hug” had an astonishing affect on Long Arm. His face melted into a puddle of gratitude and he threw his normal sized arm around Annabelle.
Annabelle glanced across the room at Eleanor as if to say, This is probably the perfect moment for you to sneak out.
“There, there,” said Annabelle, hugging Long Arm tighter and turning him ever so slightly away from the side of the boat where Eleanor would need to walk to make her escape. “What can we do to make you feel better?”
“We need to get to The Machine! I need to fix it before this happens again! And I want to give Franz a proper burial. Oh FRANZ!”
With a quiet sneakiness that would have made Ninja proud, Annabelle slid one end of her handcuffs around a railing that was bolted to the wall just behind the couch.
“Where?” she said gently, “Where do you want to bury him?”
“Right next to the HQ,” said Long Arm.
Annabelle squeezed Long Arm even more tightly, trying to move his regular arm closer and closer to the other end of the handcuffs.
“But where is that?” asked Annabelle.
“On the Island of Miniature Porcupines, of course,” said Long Arm. But then, something inside him clicked. “But you should have known that,” he said pulling away from Annabelle, his eyes mistrustful again.
“Of course I knew…I just wanted to make sure you did,” Annabelle stammered.
“Of course I know! I built The Machine! The island was my home before Fungo stole Franz and drove me away—”
In the middle of his sentence, Long Arm noticed Eleanor creeping across the room. Annabelle took advantage of his moment of outrage to grab Long Arm’s regular-sized arm, slap the other end of the handcuffs around his wrist, and leap away from the couch.
“Run!” she shouted. But Eleanor was already out the door.
“You can keep the candy!” said Annabelle, racing after her friend.
Long Arm let out a bellow of rage as he pulled against the handcuffs and realized he was stuck.
Annabelle and Eleanor walked quickly but carefully across the rickety plank. Not only was it wobbly and splintery, but it seemed as if it might break in two at any moment. Almost there, almost there, thought Annabelle.
Once she was across, Annabelle allowed herself just a second to rest and appreciate the feel of solid ground.
“Keep moving!” screamed Eleanor, but it was too late.
Annabelle tried to walk, but couldn’t move forward, as if she were snagged on something. She turned to look and realized with horror that Long Arm’s long arm had grabbed the back of her shirt and was pulling her back across the rickety plank.
“Here!” said Eleanor, tossing Annabelle another set of handcuffs. With the grace of a gazelle standing on the edge of a pier while being dragged backward into peril, Annabelle attached one end of the handcuffs to the rickety wooden railing and the other to the extended wrist of Long Arm’s long arm.
Which meant that Long Arm could only pull her back so far. But he still wasn’t letting go.
If only he weren’t so very strong, thought Annabelle. But Long Arm was so very strong. Bellows of rage ensued as he pulled with all his might against the handcuffs.
Annabelle sensed that the rickety railing was not going to last long.
“What do we do?” she pleaded, hoping that something in Eleanor’s vast training would have prepared her for this particular situation.
“I don’t know!” said Eleanor. “Do you have any of Floyd’s devices?”
“The only one I have left just makes a cup of cocoa!”
“That does sound delicious, but…”
Annabelle had an idea. “What would Ninja say?”
Eleanor’s eyes got wide. “Everyone has a weakness!”
In Annabelle’s experience, this was true. Her teacher Mr. Potter could be distracted out of giving a scheduled quiz if you asked him enough questions about mini golf. Ellen produced undignified purrs when scratched behind her left ear. And no matter how busy she was, Annabelle’s mom could always be lured away from her paperwork by the scent of a fresh-from-the-oven oatmeal raisin cookie. Which was the reason Annabelle had learned to bake in the first place.
Long Arm is very emotional, thought Annabelle. My uncle Duncan is very emotional. My Uncle Duncan is extremely ticklish. Might Long Arm also be—?
Long Arm gave another mighty yank. The the splintering rail was threatening to give up.
“Tickle him!” screamed Annabelle.
Eleanor’s face wrinkled up as if Annabelle had asked her to tickle a tarantula.
Another yank. The railing shuddered.
“Just do it! On the wrist. Just a little tickle. I’d do it myself, but I have to…”
Eleanor reached out with her pointer finger, and gave Long arm the tiniest tickle on the wrist. And that’s all it took. From inside the boat, they heard a high-pitched shrieking sort of wild and unhinged cackle.
“Stop it! No! Nononononono! Please! HA HA HAHAHA! I can’t take it! STOP!”
“I will if you let go of Annabelle!” Eleanor bellowed.
“I can’t. Ha ha. I WON’T!” As he laughed, Long Arm clenched Annabelle’s shirt even harder.
Eleanor’s face went from worried to just plain mad, and she began to tickle Long Arm’s wrist with gusto.
The laughing got louder and even more crazed as Long Arm’s grip softened just a bit.
“It’s working!” said Annabelle. “Keep going!”
“I’m tickling as hard as I can,” said Eleanor, who was now using both hands to tickle Long Arm’s wrist in two different places.
“We’re almost there,” said Annabelle, “Try something else!”
“I don’t know! Make him laugh harder!”
“Hey, Long Arm,” shouted Eleanor, “Why was the little cookie sad?”
“HAHAHAHAHA. I don’t know. Why? HAHAHAHA?”
“Because his mommy was so crumby and his daddy was a wafer so long.”
Long Arm’s erupted in a geyser of laughter so wild and reckless and frightening that Annabelle worried he might explode. His grip loosened a little more. And then a tiny bit more. Annabelle waited for a particularly intense burst of laughter and then pulled forward with all her might just as the railing gave out, and Long Arm pulled his long arm back inside the boat.
His laughter was replaced by a bellow of rage.
“Let’s go!” shouted Annabelle.
“In a minute” said Eleanor, who ran to the piling, untied the rope attaching the boat to the pier, and gave it a good shove.
“Help me,” she said. Keeping an eye out for the arm, Eleanor and Annabelle pushed the boat away from the pier and out into the harbor.
“Now can we go?” said Annabelle.
“Is crème brule the tastiest dessert you can make with a blowtorch?”
“Was that a yes?”
Eleanor raised her hand and held an open palm out for Annabelle. Annabelle moved her own palm in a perfect arc, completing a high five so crisp and confident and satisfying that Annabelle knew in the depths of her heart that she and Eleanor had been put on the planet to save the world together.