Annabelle followed the winding path until she came to a small town. There, she found the donut shop and used some of her money to order a Bavarian Cream. And then another. And then one more.
“Slow down!” said the man behind the counter.
Annabelle did not slow down.
“Are you the baker?” said Annabelle.
“I am,” said the man without moving his mouth in the slightest.
“Is your name also Baker?”
“I know, right?”
Annabelle tried her best to look confident as she slid Em’s note across the counter.
Baker read the note, gave Annabelle a knowing nod, handed her a wig and a trench coat, and ushered her out the back door, through a grimy alley, and into to the sidecar of a ferocious-looking motorcycle. Annabelle thought about Ellen as the motorcycle sped through incredibly steep and especially treacherous mountain roads. Baker dropped Annabelle off at a train station and handed another note to a woman in a turban (a porter named Porter), who ushered Annabelle into a private cabin where she listened to relaxing music while feasting on roast duck with capers and jumbo prawns.
“This is all so unexpected,” thought Annabelle as she brushed her teeth after dinner.
The train rolled past lakes and mountains and endless fields of purple flowers. It plunged through cities and towns and villages. Everywhere, Annabelle saw cats. Happy cats. Fat cats. Boring, normal, everyday cats. Irritated cats who were nevertheless minding their own business. None of the cats were doing yoga or karate or synchronized gymnastics. None of the cats were hissing or scratching.
When the train arrived in Lower Barmonia midmorning the next day, Annabelle was rather anxious, and so she gave herself a pep talk and felt a little better. Part of her wanted to climb into a tour bus and spend three days taking in the world-famous fountains and towers, but she knew that tourists seldom save the world, and so she bought a map and found the candy shop, which was on a shady side street near the center of town.
Annabelle sat on a bench across the street and watched the shop for a few minutes. It was early afternoon, and as far as she could tell, the shop was empty. Behind the counter, she could see someone reading a magazine.
Every passing minute was a minute wasted, so Annabelle decided to swallow her uncertainty and go inside.
As she opened the door, a bell rang above her head, and a man behind the counter looked up with an exasperated look. Remembering the picture, she knew it was Long Arm.
“What can I do for you?” he asked—in the same way someone might ask, “What’s that awful smell?” His right arm was in a sling, and his left arm was not nearly as long as Annabelle had expected.
“Oh . . . just looking for a present for my ailing grandmother.”
“What’s wrong with her?”
Annabelle wasn’t prepared for that particular question. “Sore throat,” she said, before wishing she’d chosen something a little more dire.
But Long Arm didn’t miss a beat. “Very well,” he said. “Aisle 3 is full of things that don’t require swallowing. Which you would have figured out if you’d simply read the sign.”
“Sorry,” said Annabelle, even though she wasn’t. Long Arm was being rude. Which made her all the more determined to thwart him.
Long Arm let out a deliberate sigh and went back to his magazine, though Annabelle sensed that he was keeping at least one eye on her.
Annabelle walked the aisles, pretending to be thinking very hard about which kind of candy to purchase but actually trying to figure out what to do next.
“This is where the rest of my training might have come in kind of handy,” she thought, regretting more than ever the three days she’d spent washing dishes.
Annabelle was pretending to read the warning label on a package of Cherry Charmers when she heard the bell above the door tinkle again.
She glanced up and peered through a gap in the shelf. Larf!
“Mission accomplished,” said Larf.
“Quiet, you imbecile,” said Long Arm, gesturing at Annabelle.
“Sorry,” said Larf, who was too busy stuffing his mouth to recognize her.
“If you will excuse me, young lady,” said Long Arm. “I need to alphabetize some documents in my office for a moment.”
“Okey dokey,” said Annabelle, keeping her head down to make sure Larf didn’t see her face.
“And . . .” said Long Arm, pausing for dramatic effect.
The ‘and’ was so chilling and cruel and heartless and terrifying that Annabelle had no choice but to look, if only to see what was headed her way before it hit her in the heart. “We don’t look kindly on shoplifters in this city. We don’t even bother calling the police. We just let Minos take care of them.”
Annabelle wanted to stand up and swear at the top of her lungs that she would never shoplift and that the very suggestion was unwelcome and offensive. But she did not. In part because she doubted this horrible man would care in the least. But mostly because, so far at least, Larf was still too busy gorging on Strawberry Bitter Bombs to notice her, and she didn’t want to draw attention to herself.
“Understood,” said Annabelle, as meekly as she could tolerate sounding.
“Good,” said Long Arm. “I will return shortly.”
The two men left the room, shutting the door behind them. Annabelle crept carefully toward the back of the store and did her best to listen at the keyhole.
“Well done. Casualties?”
“I took out the ninja.”
“Please be precise. Not ‘the ninja.’ His name is just Ninja.”
“I know, right? Are you certain he’s dead?”
“No one could have survived the combined fury of five hundred cats.”
“Did you recapture the girl?”
“I didn’t see her.”
“Weren’t you following the tracker in her hair clip?”
“Then she was there!”
“Remind me to tell Fungo that we need a better henchman.”
“For now, I need you to take this seemingly ordinary snow globe—which, in fact, contains the top secret codes that will make The Machine fully operational. You absolutely must not mess this up. Our plans to ensure the utter destruction of everything depend on you. Do you understand?”
“Got it. Which secret HQ is Fungo at right now?”
There was a pause.
“I’m not going to say it out loud. There are spies everywhere. I’ll write it on this piece of paper. And then I will slide this piece of paper into this hidden compartment at the bottom of the snow globe. Do you understand? Nod if you understand. Please nod slightly more vigorously so I know for sure that you understand. Good. Now, let me be clear. I want you to deliver the snow globe to him personally.”
“He’s not going to be happy about the girl, you know. This girl is the one person who could still foil our plans for the utter destruction of everything.”
“I know. My bad.”
“Wait a second . . .” Long Arm paused, his voice trailing off from one thought into another.
“Was the girl sort of tall for a 12-year-old?”
“A look of penetrating wisdom that belies her years?”
“Uh . . . I guess.”
“Let me see the picture again.”
“Here you go.”
Annabelle knew it was time to move rapidly away from the door and out of the shop and as far away from Long Arm as possible. But it was too late. The door flew open, knocking her back onto the floor. Suddenly Larf and Long Arm were standing above her with eyes full of anger and excitement.
“You!” said Larf.
“Get her!” Long Arm snarled.
Annabelle scrambled backwards down Aisle 1, the two men in pursuit. Larf chased Annabelle down Aisle 1, and Long Arm darted down Aisle 3.
“Thank goodness this store has three aisles,” thought Annabelle, as she scooted back up Aisle 2.
When she reached the back of the store, Annabelle leaped over the counter, ran into the office, and slammed the door shut behind her as gracefully as a gazelle that has spent many years studying ballet.
She managed to find the lock just moments before Larf and Long Arm slammed into the door and used words that Annabelle knew existed but preferred not to use or even think about.
But while Annabelle was trying to remember how to breathe, she heard from behind her a sound that was even less welcome. A low and menacing growl.
Deciding it was better to see her foe before becoming its lunch, Annabelle turned.
At the far end of the office was sturdy dog kennel. A large and angry looking Barmonian Schnauzer was standing inside it. Which would have been fine if the kennel door had been closed and locked. But it wasn’t.
“You must be Minos.”
The dog did not return Annabelle’s polite greeting. He bared his teeth, and the fur along his spine stood up like a row of razors.
The men continued to hurl themselves against the door. The hinges shook. The wood was starting to splinter.
Instinctively, Annabelle reached into her bag and pulled out one of Floyd’s devices.
It looked like a miniature leaf blower combined with a regular-sized egg beater combined with a gummy bear, but she had no idea what it did or didn’t do. There was a tiny label attached.
THE JIGGLER – For when you’re in a pinch—or really hungry.
“For when you’re in a pinch?!” thought Annabelle with indignation. “Could you be any less specific, Floyd?!”
But Annabelle didn’t have time to be properly indignant. There was no denying the pinch she was in. And she was extremely hungry. She had no idea what would happen if she pushed the glowing red button. All she knew is that the alternative was being turned into dog food.
“Just wait until we get our hands on you!” said the men on the other side of the door.
“Grrrrrrrrrr,” said Minos.
“Here goes nothing,” said Annabelle, closing her eyes and pushing the button at the exact same moment that the door burst open and Minos and his savage fangs lunged toward her.
THANK YOU for reading this installment of Meet Annabelle Adams. The next chapter will be posted on February 15, 2018. To be alerted when it is posted, please ask your favorite grownup to like The Real McCoys Facebook page.