As the world flew by outside her window, Annabelle sat there marveling at all that had happened since she left home.
“Do either of you guys want some hot chocolate?” she asked.
Floyd’s eyes lit up. “My device!” he said. But then he remembered, “It’s untested.”
“What could go wrong?” asked Annabelle.
“Everything,” said Eleanor, with the knowing glance of someone who had been at the wrong end of Floyd’s experiments.
“Anything worse than what we’ve already been through today?” said Annabelle.
“Probably not,” said Floyd.
“All right then,” said Annabelle, taking out the device and placing it on her lap. “Shall I?”
Eleanor nodded. Floyd gave her the thumbs up.
Annabelle pressed the button and nothing went wrong. Floyd’s device brewed four perfect mugs of hot chocolate.
“Don’t get me wrong,” I like this hot chocolate a lot,” said Annabelle. But I’m wondering why you don’t just use a kettle of water and cocoa mix. Why all the complexity?”
“Oh, it’s not just normal hot chocolate,” said Floyd, taking a long, satisfying sip from his mug. “We’ll all be invisible for the next three hours.”
But before he reached the end of the sentence, he disappeared. They all did.
Annabelle made a note to talk to Floyd later about how he might label his devices more helpfully in the future.
But not now. Sitting there drinking cocoa with her invisible friends with whom she had just saved the world, the moment was just too perfect.
Eventually, the helicopter flew into a narrow valley that became an even narrower canyon lined with jagged rocks and sturdy pines.
Eleanor handed Annabelle a parachute. “Here you go.”
Annabelle looked down at the world flashing by. She still didn’t want to jump, but was pleased this time to have a moment to collect her thoughts without being rushed by angry cats.
“Just you, little fellow,” she said tucking the shoebox carefully inside her coat, taking a deep breath, and leaping into the open air.
Em was sitting at her table when Annabelle entered the Dojo.
“This looks exactly like the old HQ,” said Annabelle.
“Ninja doesn’t like change,” said Em. “We like to keep him as comfortable as possible.”
Annabelle didn’t want to spoil the mood, but she had something important to say.
Em looked at her with surprise. “What for?”
“For telling Larf the location of the old HQ. For being occasionally hesitant when action was required. For failing to catch Dr. Fungo. He’s still out there somewhere.”
“First off, I didn’t like that HQ. Too drafty. And you learned your lesson. Right?”
“Never reveal the location of the HQ?”
“No. When designing laser-hand robots, prioritize function over countdowns and purple smoke.”
“Second, sometimes it’s better to take no action than the wrong one. Did things turn out ok in the end?”
“Then you have nothing to apologize for. This was your first mission after all.”
Annabelle thought about that, and for the very frist time, successfully resisted her usual temptation to be as hard on herself as possible.
“As for Fungo,” said Em, “don’t feel bad for a second. We never catch him. We’ve thwarted him at least a dozen times now, and he always escapes. Every time. It’s uncanny.”
“Its like someone doesn’t want him to stay caught.”
Annabelle felt better, but just a little.
Em stood up and smoothed her stylish jacket and looked Annabelle in the eye.
“Well, Annabelle. You’ve done it. You have succeeded in the impossible.”
“Stopping Fungo and destroying The Machine?”
“No,” said Em. “Although I am glad and grateful, the fact that you accomplished these things was merely unlikely. The truly impossible thing you did was give me back my hope.”
“But how did I do that?”
“By escaping from Minos. By saving Eleanor. By fooling Long Arm. By climbing down the right gullet. By defeating Fungo and his 100 foolishly designed robots. By being you. By always finding a way.”
Annabelle wanted to point out that she ways always herself, but it didn’t look like Em was finished.
“I suddenly believe that the world can be saved.”
“It really is.”
“And what have you learned?” asked Em, suddenly quite serious.
Annabelle thought about that. She had done and seen so much. Before she could think of anything specific to say, Em continued.
“Remember how I told you that you’d eventually know everything?”
Annabelle did remember. It had been a compelling claim. “Yes.”
“Well do you?”
“But do you know more than you did two weeks ago?”
“So much more.”
“Then would you say you’re moving in the right direction?”
Annabelle smiled. “I would,” she said, “I definitely would.”
Em and Annabelle smiled at one another, continuing their conversation at a much deeper level than words could possibly capture.
But Annabelle had the sense there was still something more to know, and apparently Em could tell.
“You have a sense that there’s still more to know, don’t you?”
“I’m afraid so. Sorry!”
“No, no. You have a right to know. Have a seat.”
“For as long as the world has been around, there have been people trying to take more than their share. Fungo is a great example, but so was his father, Mitchell. And for as long as there have been people like that, there has been a clandestine network of girls about your age with pure hearts and focused minds to thwart them. Rhonda was a member when she was your age. And then she grew up and became their leader and recruited me. And now I am the person in charge of finding and training and protecting the Girl Detectives.”
Annabelle gasped. All of this was even more official and important than she had thought.
“How many of us are there?”
Em frowned and paused and looked wistfully out the window.
“There are two.”
Annabelle was pretty sure she must have heard wrong.
“You did not hear wrong. I said two.”
“Eleanor and me?”
“Because young women with the necessary collection of intangibles are getting harder and harder to find. We look long and hard, but everyone seems distracted with hand-held devices.”
Annabelle suddenly felt sheepish for wanting a device. But she also felt more inspired than ever to do whatever she could on behalf of the world. On the one hand, Annabelle missed Ellen and her parents and was ready to go home. But if the world’s supply of Girl Detectives was down to two, Annabelle was ready to do whatever Em needed her to do.
“I’m ready to do whatever you need me to do.”
Em looked at her with a sad smile.
“Thank you for that…but it’s time for you to go home.
“I will be resuming my previous duties,” Em continued, “and you will return to the business of finishing middle school and caring for the world’s most sensible cat.”
The word “school” sounded strange to Annabelle’s ears, like a part of her distant past, and the thought of going back was like the thought of un-jumping off of a diving board. She liked being Annabelle Adams, Girl Detective.
But Em had gone back to writing something, and it seemed that the conversation was over.
Annabelle walked toward the door of the dojo.
“Don’t forget to take your toothbrush.”
“Of course not,” said Annabelle, once again turning to leave.
“I’m certain that we’ll be seeing each other again. Fungo has a way of not staying thwarted for long.”
“I’ll be ready,” said Annabelle, walking out of Em’s office and into the dojo and back into her old life again.