This is where I share the adventures of my hero and the world’s greatest kid detective, Annabelle Adams, chapter by chapter.

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Chapter 7: Discouraged and Hastily Trained

Minos stuck in Jello

The moment Annabelle pushed the button, the room was flooded with purple light. Everything froze in place, including Annabelle. Her face was wet and sticky and she couldn’t breathe. She opened her mouth to scream, but it was immediately filled with…black raspberry Jell-O? Almost by necessity, Annabelle gulped and chewed and swallowed. Eating the Jell-O right in front of her mouth created a bit of room for breathing, and so she took a breath and allowed herself just a moment to ponder the hand she had been dealt.

Before her, Minos was stuck mid-lunge, claws bared, paws splayed, jaw open, teeth snarling, looking confused and alarmed and uncertain. Behind her, she could hear the muffled sound of sticky thrashing.

If it weren’t such a ridiculous thing to assume, I’d suggest the four of us are trapped inside a room full of black raspberry Jell-O, thought Annabelle.

Annabelle took another big bite. “Delicious,” the thought. She made a mental note to compliment Floyd on his choice of flavors if and when she escaped from her current predicament.

Her current predicament was in flux. Minos was thrashing about, carving out a dog-sized space in the Jell-O and gradually inching closer and closer to Annabelle. “I guess I’d better thrash about, too,” thought Annabelle, as she used her arms and legs to carve out an Annabelle-sized space.

As she saw it, Annabelle had two options, going back toward the door or forward toward the kennel. The kennel was much closer. Plus, Annabelle had an idea.

As she thrashed and dug and ate her way through the Jell-O, she veered slightly to avoid the thrashing, digging Minos. Behind her, she could hear the thrashing, digging men. For a while, there was nothing but the sloppy, slurpy sounds of Jell-O being gulped and swallowed and pushed around as everyone tried to catch Annabelle. But Annabelle was so fast! Before long, she had tunneled her way into the back corner of the kennel. Not long after, Minos had tunneled his way in as well. Right behind him was Long Arm, and, she assumed, Larf. But it was hard to see. There was a lot of Jell-O in the way.

Instead of stopping in the far back corner of the kennel and cowering like a frightened bunny, Annabelle dug her tunnel in a looping curve that led right back to the front of the kennel. Eventually, she found her way back to the gate and slipped back out. Minos and Long Arm were both still inside. And, she hoped, Larf.

Annabelle wanted nothing more than to slam the gate shut and say, “Take that, suckers,” but because of all the Jell-O in the way, slamming was not an option. But there was a second part to Annabelle’s plan. She just hoped it would work.

“Here goes nothing,” she said again, grabbing the Jiggler and crossing her heart and hoping not to die.

When Annabelle pushed the button again, the Jell-O stopped being solid Jell-O and turned into a sticky purple-red lake of sugary goop that drained in a torrent through the open door and toward the front of the store. Fighting the current, Annabelle pushed the kennel gate closed until she heard the latch click shut. Thinking quick, she turned the key, pulled it out of the lock, and said “Whew,” just as Minos threw his sticky wet body against the kennel door.

Annabelle took a moment to assess the situation. She was outside the kennel. Very wet. Extremely sticky. Rather red. Long Arm and Minos

Minos was inside the kennel. Also wet, sticky, and red.

And Long Arm was also inside the kennel—sticky, red, and wet. “YES!” said Annabelle. This had been her plan. And it had worked.

But Larf? He was nowhere to be seen.

“Hmm…” thought Annabelle. Just then, she heard a crash from the front of the store, followed by the jingle of the bell.

As much as she wanted to stand there and gloat a little, Annabelle knew that the snow globe and the piece of paper containing the secret location of Dr. Fungo’s HQ were rapidly disappearing onto the streets of Lower Barmonia.

Minos looked queasy. “I’m guessing you ate a little more Jell-O than you should have?” asked Annabelle. Minos lay down and started to pant.

Long Arm was looking at Annabelle with fiery eyes, as if he had a great deal to say but was, for the time being, choosing not to.

“See you later,” said Annabelle.

“You absolutely will,” said Long Arm, in a way that made Annabelle gulp.

As Annabelle waded through the front of the store, she was tempted to stop and grab some treats, but even in light of the current situation, she was pretty sure it would count as shoplifting. Plus, she was in a hurry. Plus, she was guessing that everything would be black raspberry-flavored, and at the moment, she’d had quite enough black raspberry.

When Annabelle got back to the sidewalk, she saw Larf trying to kick start a scooter on the other side of the street.

She was tempted to tackle him and grab the snow globe, but she wasn’t sure if that was the best approach.

“That man is a great deal larger than I am,” she reasoned. “Further, I have been hastily trained and have no actual experience in physical combat. Third, it’s possible that if I follow Larf, he will lead me to some valuable information. Lastly, he is now disappearing down the street on his scooter.”

The last point suddenly seemed like the most important, so Annabelle raced after Larf, ducking behind the row of cars parked along the street to avoid being detected. Larf’s scooter was not particularly fast, but it was much faster than Annabelle.

“Discouraged!” said Annabelle, as Larf turned around a corner and disappeared from view.

Annabelle kept running. She was an excellent runner. At this moment, she was inspired by an intense sense of duty as she remembered Long Arm’s words. The “utter destruction of everything” struck an unpleasant note in her soul.

As she turned the corner, she saw Larf idling at a stoplight a few blocks ahead. Annabelle sprinted, but before she could catch up with him, the light turned green, and he pulled away again. This kept up for a while, Annabelle never losing sight of Larf but never quite catching up.

Annabelle was starting to feel a little winded when she heard a roar behind her. And then right beside her.

“Get on!” said someone. Annabelle allowed herself a quick glance to her left. A girl about Annabelle’s age was riding alongside her on a stylish scooter.

“No thanks,” said Annabelle, who was not about to take another ride with a stranger.

“We’re going to lose Larf. Get on!”

“Who are you?” asled Annabelle, between jagged breaths.

“There’s no time for that,” said the girl. “I’m on your side. Em sent me. Ninja says hi.”

“You speak Ninja?”

“Of course!” The girl looked perplexed. “Don’t you?

Annabelle could barely see Larf now. He was getting farther and farther away. For the second time in as many days, Annabelle ignored her parents’ best advice and took a leap of faith.

“Ok,” she said. The girl stopped the scooter, and Annabelle climbed on behind her.

“Helmet?” asked Annabelle.

“In that compartment,” said the girl.

Annabelle strapped on her helmet. “Follow that henchman.”

“Already on it.”

They followed Larf through the city, staying far enough back that they wouldn’t be spotted.

“For now, our mission is to see where he goes,” said the girl.

Annabelle felt gratified that her instincts had been correct.

Eventually, Larf pulled into an alley, parked his scooter behind a dumpster, opened a heavy-looking metal door, and slipped inside.

“What is this place?” asled Annabelle, as the girl parked their scooter behind a different dumpster.

“Not sure,” said the girl. She tried the door, but it was locked.

“Who are you?” asked Annabelle.

“#24.”

“I mean, what’s your name?”

#24 looked at her with surprise. “Classified, of course. What’s your number?”

“My phone number?”

“Your agent number.”

“I don’t have one.”

“Impossible.” #24 looked at Annabelle as if she could not be trusted.

“My training was cut short by a cat attack,” said Annabelle.

#24 looked not entirely satisfied. While Annabelle combed through her brain for a better explanation, the girl removed a gun-like gadget from her backpack, and shot it up toward the roof.

“What the—?” said Annabelle.

“Grappling hook,” said #24, tugging on the thin black cord to make sure the hook was firmly set. “Shall we?” she asked, grabbing Annabelle around the waist and flipping a switch that activated a motor that quickly reeled in the line, causing them to fly upward at a breathtaking speed toward the roof of the building.

“Wow,” said Annabelle as she climbed onto the roof.

“Never gets old,” said #24.

They were on a flat roof covered with gravel. It was sunset now, and as Annabelle looked out over the skyline of Lower Barmonia with its 32 historic towers and 19 extraordinary fountains, she was struck by the magnificence of the city. It looked nothing like her neighborhood from home. “The world is big,” thought Annabelle. “The world is beautiful.”

“No enjoying,” said #24. “The mission.”

“Right,” said Annabelle, remembering the snow globe.

In the middle of the roof was a hatch, which #24 cautiously opened. A ladder led down into darkness.

“After you,” said #24.

“I couldn’t possibly,” said Annabelle, hoping to seem polite instead of nervous, which was closer to the truth.

“This is your mission,” said #24. “I’m just here because Em thought you could use a little backup.”

“Right,” said Annabelle. Her mission. Larf. Long Arm. Fungo. The utter destruction of everything.

She opened her backpack and rummaged around, looking for a flashlight.

#24 gave an irritated sigh. “Here,” she said, handing Annabelle a toothbrush. “Twist the end.”

Annabelle did, and an intense blue light emerged from the bristles. “Amazing,” said Annabelle.

“Not really,” said #24. “It’s just a flashlight.”

Annabelle thought to herself that #24 and Floyd would probably get along great. “Why are secret agents all so crabby?” she wondered.

Using her toothbrush light to guide her, Annabelle climbed down the stairs, and #24 followed. They found themselves in a room full of small cages.

“Weird,” said Annabelle.

Me So Kitty“Not really,” said #24. “This is weird,” she said, holding up a stuffed pig wearing a t-shirt that said “Me So Kitty.”

“What IS this place?” asked Annabelle.

“That’s what we’re here to find out.”

Annabelle lifted a trap door, beneath which was a stairway. The climbed down and found themselves in a dim hallway with squeaky floors.

“What’s that smell?” asked #24.

#24 was right. The hallway smelled like a litter box that needed to be cleaned three weeks ago.

“What’s that sound?” asked Annabelle.

“Barking,” said #24.

The barking was distant, but there was another, closer sound.

“Meowing,” said Annabelle.

There were doors all along the hallway. Annabelle and #24 pressed their ears against the closest one and listened.

“So much meowing,” said #24.

Cautiously, Annabelle opened the door, and a huge herd of friendly-seeming cats poured into the hallway. The room was full of cages, all of which were open and empty.

“How did they escape?” asked #24, reaching down to pet one of the cats, as one naturally would. It was extremely cute.

Given her recent experience with cats, Annabelle was hesitant. But these cats seemed no more antisocial than your average cat would be.

A door opened at the far end of the hallway, and a figure appeared, along with another flood of adorable cats.

“Larf!” said Annabelle.

“Get him!” said #24.

As #24 raced along beside her, Annabelle found herself flipping down the hallway like an acrobat, dexterously and intuitively leaping and twisting and definitely not squashing cats each time she touched the floor.

Wow, thought Annabelle, where did these moves come from?! But she didn’t have time to truly appreciate what was happening.

She reached the end of the hallway in no time, but Larf was already out the door and racing down the stairwell, followed by a sizable flood of escaping cats.

Larf had a head start, but Annabelle was so much faster. She quickly left #24 behind and nearly caught up with Larf, who suddenly stopped. Which made Annabelle stop. She knew how to chase, but now that she had caught up, Annabelle was drawing a blank.

She was at the top of a flight of stairs, and Larf was at the bottom. Between them was a sea of cats. #24 was still two flights above. If Annabelle was going to stop Larf, she’d have to do it on her own.

Larf took out his phone and turned the knob. Instantly, the hundreds of cats suddenly stopped being calm and cute. All of them turned to look at Annabelle.

“You weren’t really calling your mom the other day, were you?” asked Annabelle.

“My mom is a kindergarten teacher. She disowned me the day I became an evil henchman.”

“Do you want me to feel sorry for you?”

“Yes,” said Larf. He was so sincere that Annabelle believed him. He was such an ineffective henchman.

“Well I kind of do,” she admitted. “But more important, we’ve got you cornered.”

“Ha, ha. We both know that’s not true,” said Larf, turning the knob on his device some more, at which point the cats got very angry.Grappling Hook

“See you later!” said Larf cheerfully, as he slipped through a door, leaving Annabelle alone and surrounded in the rapidly shrinking eye of a class-five cat hurricane.

She heard a voice from above. “Retreat!”

Annabelle looked. The grappling hook was dangling just beside her.

“Clip it onto your belt!”

Annabelle did, and a moment later, she felt herself being lifted up through the air as a chorus of disappointed cats wailed and hissed beneath her.

“Thanks!” said Annabelle.

“Just doing my job,” said #24.

With cats in pursuit, the two girls raced back to the roof.

They looked over the edge and saw Larf climb back on his scooter and scoot back down the alley.

“We lost him!” said Annabelle.

“Not quite,” said #24, pulling out a tiny screen that showed what looked like a map.

“Lower Barmonia?” said Annabelle.

“Yep.”

“And that flashing dot in the middle of the screen?”

“Larf.”

“But how did you—”

“I let him borrow my hair clip,” said #24. She gave Annabelle a thin smile. “Those were some nice moves in the hallway.”

“It’s all Ninja,” said Annabelle, who was never one to take credit but who was still rather surprised by the moves. And even more surprised by how much she had enjoyed them.

Chapter 6: A Low and Menacing Growl

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?”

“Indeed.”

“Weird.”

“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.

“Completely destroyed.”

“Well done. Casualties?”

“I took out the ninja.”

“Please be precise. Not ‘the ninja.’ His name is just Ninja.”

“Weird.”

“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?”

“Yeah.”

“Then she was there!”

“Fair point.”

“Remind me to tell Fungo that we need a better henchman.”

“Sure thing.”

“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.”

“Absolutely.”

“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.

“Yeah?”

“Was the girl sort of tall for a 12-year-old?”

“Yeah.”

“Brownish hair?”

“Sure.”

“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

Chapter 5: The Triple Jimbo Will Have to Wait

Climbing the stairs

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?”

Ninja nodded.

“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.

“Larf!”

“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.”

Floyd glowed.

“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