Floyd and Annabelle climbed and climbed and climbed for seven minutes.
“I don’t feel winded, do you?” asked Floyd, who was obviously winded.
“Not even a little,” said Annabelle, who was obviously winded, too.
When they reached the top of the stairs, there was nothing but rubble. The dojo was destroyed, along with the rest of the HQ.
Em was standing over the crumpled body of Ninja, who was surrounded by approximately five hundred calm, meandering cats.
“Was it the cats?” asked Floyd.
“Yes,” said Em. “They may seem normal now, but a minute ago, they were going berserk, scratching and hissing and destroying everything.”
“Did they dance first?” asked Annabelle.
“Yes! It was enchanting. We couldn’t stop watching, even though we knew what was going to happen.”
“How did they find us?!” wailed Floyd.
But before anyone could answer, Annabelle saw Ninja’s nostril flare just a little. “Ninja is alive!”
“Slap him,” said Floyd.
Annabelle was shocked. “I won’t!”
“Just a little slap to wake him up.”
“Forget it,” said Annabelle. Instead, she took Ninja’s hand and gave it a tender squeeze. “Come on, Ninja, be okay.”
Ninja’s eyes fluttered open.
Annabelle gave him a hug.
“Ninja says, Thanks but please don’t ever do that again,” said Floyd.
“Sorry,” said Annabelle, who once again doubted Floyd was being entirely truthful.
“What happened?” asked Em. “How did they find us?”
“Tracking chip?” Floyd suggested.
Em looked at Ninja. “Did you incinerate Annabelle’s clothes?”
“Well then, how?”
“Wait a second,” said Floyd, reaching into his backpack and pulling out a small device that looked like a hairbrush combined with a TV remote control.
The device made an excited beeping sound that got louder when he held it near Annabelle’s head.
“Your hair clip,” said Floyd. “Hand it over.”
“There’s nothing wrong with my hair clip,” said Annabelle, handing it to Floyd. With a flash of his nimble fingers, Floyd broke it apart and held up a tiny chip.
“A GN74 tracker!” he said. “Very sophisticated.”
“She led them right to us,” said Em, disgusted. “How many times have I told you, Ninja? You have to incinerate the accessories, too!”
Ninja hung his head.
“Ninja says he’s really sorry,” said Floyd.
“I know,” snapped Em. “I SPEAK NINJA!”
Annabelle’s mind raced. She felt guilty and mystified. How had the tracker gotten into her hair clip?
Together, they did a search of the premises. Pretty much everything was destroyed.
“What’s this?” asked Floyd, picking up a candy wrapper of some sort.
Annabelle took a closer look. Strawberry Bitter Bombs. “It’s the candy Larf was eating in his car!”
Floyd pulled out a flat device that looked kind of like a tablet.
“What’s that?” asked Annabelle. “Some sort of advanced machinery for locating supervillains?”
“It’s just a tablet,” said Floyd, scornfully. “I’m going to look up something on the Internet.”
Floyd found what he was looking for and read. “Strawberry Bitter Bombs are an obscure, mostly disliked candy that is only available in Lower Barmonia.”
“It’s a critical clue,” said Em. “What else, Floyd?”
Floyd pulled out another device that looked like a flashlight.
“Is that a flashlight?” said Annabelle.
“No,” said Floyd, even more scornfully this time. “This is a piece of advanced machinery for locating supervillains.”
Floyd flipped a switch, and a purple light shone on the candy bag. Previously invisible fingerprints came into view.
“Analyzing,” said Floyd. A pleasant beep sounded and green light clicked on. Floyd then pointed the device toward the wall and an image appeared. An image Annabelle knew all too well.
“Indeed,” said Em.
Suddenly, Annabelle put it all together.
Larf had been eating Bitter Bombs in the car. Larf had planted the bug in her hair clip. Larf had tracked her to HQ, where his army of cats had destroyed everything.
“This is all my fault!” she said.
“We don’t blame you, Annabelle,” said Em.
“I do,” said Floyd. Annabelle shot Floyd a withering glare, and Floyd looked down at his shoes.
The device made another beep.
“Wait,” said Floyd. “There’s another set of fingerprints on that bag.” He shined the flashlight at the wall again and another face appeared.
The face of a lean and scowling man with a narrow head and long mustache.
“Long Arm,” said Em.
“You know him?” asked Annabelle.
“He’s one of Fungo’s most ruthless associates. He poses as the proprietor of a candy shop in Lower Barmonia.”
“A store that’s just a front for his many criminal activities,” Floyd explained.
“Another clue,” said Em. “Well done, Floyd.”
“Annabelle, pack your bags,” said Em.
“I don’t have any bags. Just a toothbrush.”
“That’s all you need.”
“Where am I going?”
“Lower Barmonia. Someone has to find Long Arm and determine the location of Fungo’s HQ.”
“I’ll come, too,” said Floyd. “No way she’s ready to do this alone.”
“You will stay here with me,” said Em.
Floyd looked furious but held his tongue. Annabelle wasn’t entirely sad to hear that Floyd would not be coming along.
“I guess it’s just you and me then, Ninja,” said Annabelle.
“Don’t bother Ninja. He’s sleeping!” said Floyd. Annabelle took a closer look. Ninja was still standing next to her, but his eyes were, in fact, closed.
“We’ll leave as soon as he wakes up,” said Annabelle.
“Ninja doesn’t go on missions,” said Em. “He’s conflict averse.”
“You, then?” Annabelle looked at Em hopefully.
“Sorry,” said Em, “I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on.”
Annabelle let it all sink in. No Floyd. No Ninja. No Em.
“I’m going all by myself?”
“You are,” said Em. “I admit I’m not terribly hopeful that you are going to succeed, but as I said before, I’m not hopeful about much of anything these days. We have done our research, and you’re our best shot.”
“We’re doomed,” said Floyd under his breath, but still loud enough for Annabelle to hear.
Em shot Floyd a glare.
“Floyd will equip you with some random gadgets,” said Em.
“Ugh,” said Floyd.
“What about the rest of my training?”
“Before we were attacked, Ninja told me you had a very good session.”
“But it was just one session. I was supposed to train for four weeks!”
“Ninja is an excellent teacher. You are an excellent student.”
“But what about his new move? The Triple Jimbo? We didn’t have time to get to it. Apparently, it’s a ‘game changer’.”
“The Triple Jimbo will have to wait. We have to get to Long Arm before Larf does, and he’s already had a head start. Floyd, take Annabelle to the lab and give her a full briefing on the laws and customs of Lower Barmonia.”
Just then, the ground rumbled and a column of fire shot out of the elevator shaft.
“Profoundly irritated!” said Em.
“My research! My inventions! My legacy!” howled Floyd.
“Don’t you have it all backed up on the cloud?” said Em.
“I do,” said Floyd.
“Then we will rebuild.”
“But what about my random gadgets?” said Annabelle.
“I guess you’re out of luck,” said Floyd.
“What’s in your backpack, Floyd?” said Em.
“Just a few odds and ends,” said Floyd. “All of them experimental and untested.”
“Let Annabelle take them,” said Em. “She needs all the help she can get.”
“Ugh,” said Floyd, handing Annabelle the backpack as if his only friend were inside.
“And here is a big stack of Lower Barmonian money,” said Em. “And passports for the seven countries Fungo tries to ruin most often. And the address for the candy shop.”
“Thanks,” said Annabelle. It was all so exciting and yet so overwhelming.
“Take this note,” said Em, handing a folded piece of paper to Annabelle. “And give it to Baker, who works at the donut shop at the bottom of the mountain. To find him, take the winding path that begins over there.” Em pointed to a sign that said, “Path less traveled.”
“Where does that path lead?” said Annabelle, pointing to a different sign by a different path that said, “Safer and less compelling.”
“Same place,” said Em. “But it’s a lot less scenic.”
Annabelle looked around at the destruction she had caused and felt a lump the size of Saskatchewan gather in her throat.
“But what makes you think I can do this?”
Em looked at Annabelle as if she were going to say, “I’m not at all sure you can do this.” But instead she said, “Annabelle, you may not have all the training. And you may have no idea how to use the gadgets in that backpack. And you may lack knowledge of the Triple Jimbo. But you do have the most important thing of all.”
“And what is that?” said Annabelle, who could not for the life of her figure out what Em might be referring to.
“Intangibles. Do you know what that means?”
Annabelle was unsure and admitted it.
“Intangibles are the things that cannot be measured or counted or photographed or described. They cannot be given and they cannot be taken away. They are the stuff you are made of. Your toughness and your courage and your wisdom and your goodness. You, Annabelle Adams, have all the right ingredients inside you. That’s how I know you’re going to save the world.”
Annabelle stood there for a minute trying to figure out what to say, but the compliment was a shirt that was just too big to fit.
Then Em’s face snapped from tenderness into fierce determination. “Floyd. Ninja. Grab your toothbrushes. While Annabelle is looking for Long Arm, we will build a new HQ.”
“Where?” said Annabelle.
“I can’t tell you,” said Em. “Though presently docile, these cats could be spies.”
“But how will I find you?” said Annabelle.
“You won’t,” said Em, handing Annabelle a new hair clip. “We’ll find you.”
THANK YOU for reading this installment of Meet Annabelle Adams. The next chapter will be posted on February 1, 2018. To be alerted when it is posted, please ask your favorite grownup to like The Real McCoys Facebook page.