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

To be updated when a new chapter is posted, like The Real McCoys Facebook page.

Chapter 8: Precision is Very Important

Mapping Device
“What now?” asked Annabelle, expecting #24 to pull out some device that would allow them to safely return to their scooters.

“I was hoping you would have an idea,” said #24, peering over the edge of the roof.

“The grappling hook?”

“Still hanging in the stairwell surrounded by angry cats.”

Annabelle thought about the cats. Maybe, just like the cats back home, these were just ordinary cats who were having a really bad day.

“I have a theory,” said Annabelle, walking over to the hatch.

“Do not tell me you are going to open that hatch,” said #24.

“Listen,” said Annabelle. The hissing and screeching seemed to have stopped.

“Interesting.”

Annabelle opened the hatch and peered down with the toothbrush flashlight. The cats were milling about as if nothing had happened.

“I remain skeptical,” said #24.

“Larf’s device,” said Annabelle. “I think it controls the cats, but once it’s out of range, the cats relax.”

Annabelle and #24 raced back to the alley.

“Darn it, Larf!” said #24. Various important pieces of their scooter were missing.

“Wow, he was really thorough,” said Annabelle.

“He’s on the move,” said #24. The little dot was zig-zagging through the streets of Lower Barmonia.

“Look. It stopped,” said Annabelle.

“I’m sending the location to Floyd,” said #24, pushing a few buttons on her phone. “He’ll analyze it for us.”

“What’s up with that guy?” said Annabelle. “Why so grouchy?”

“He has his reasons.”

“Which are?”

“Classified.”

“Is anything not classified?”

“Nothing interesting.”

“Discouraging!”

“Give it some time. Floyd will grow on you.”

Annabelle wasn’t sure about that, so she snapped back to the task at hand. “We’ve got to find Larf.”

“I agree,” said #24. “We need fresh wheels.”

“I’m a pretty good runner,” said Annabelle.

#24 and Annabelle jogged a few blocks and got winded. And yet they pressed on. A few blocks later, they passed bright yellow tandem bicycle that was chained to a fence outside a townhouse.

“This will do,” said #24, removing a tiny laser and cutting through the lock as if it were a mozzarella cheese stick.

“That is not our bicycle,” said Annabelle.

But #24 wasn’t even sort of listening. She was in the process of attaching a tiny tag to the fence where the bike had been. The tag read:

tag on fence

“Come on!” said #24.

Fighting every instinct, Annabelle hopped onto the back seat of the bike and started to pedal.

The words on the tag didn’t sit well with Annabelle. She made a mental note of the address and vowed that the first thing she would do after saving the world was find the bike’s owners and buy them a new one.

“Here, you navigate,” said #24, handing the device to Annabelle. Larf’s dot stopped a second time, and after a short pause, was on the move again.

Annabelle noticed that their route would take them right by the candy shop.

“What do you know about Long Arm?” she asked.

“One of the worst,” said #24. “We’ve been monitoring his movements for years. What I wouldn’t give for the chance to ask him a few pointed questions.”

“I might have locked him in a kennel in the back room of a candy shop.”

#24 looked over her shoulder with a mixture of excitement and irritation. “Well, did you or didn’t you?”

“I absolutely did.”

“Then say so next time. Precision is very important.”

“He is extremely locked up.”

“Where?”

“Turn right at the next intersection.”

When they got to the candy shop, the sidewalk was still a sticky purple-red mess.

“What did you do?!” said #24 with a mixture of admiration and horror.

“It’s not what you think.”

When they got to the back of the store, the kennel door was open and Minos was lying on his side moaning. Long Arm was nowhere to be seen.

“You’ll feel better in the morning” Annabelle assured Minos, giving him a little scratch behind the ear. That’s when she noticed the key in the lock.

“He must have had an extra in his pocket,” said Annabelle.

“Or…” said #24 pointing to an empty hook on the far side of the room. The hook was labeled “Extra kennel key.”

“That’s on the other side of the room!”

“His arm is really long.”

“It didn’t look that long.”

“Was it in a sling?”

“Yeah.”

“A trick to avoid drawing attention.”

“But that hook is like 15 feet away.”

“It’s really, really long.”

Annabelle was incredulous, but there simply wasn’t time to stand there arguing the details of Long Arm’s long arm.

“He’s stopped again,” said Annabelle, pointing to the screen.

“Are there any messages from Floyd?” asked #24.

“Nope.”

“Weird. He usually gets back to me right away. Let’s keep moving.”

They hopped back on the bike and sped across town.

It suddenly occurred to Annabelle that she didn’t really know who she was riding with.

“What’s your real name?”

“Classified!”

“Fine. But so you know, I’m Annabelle,” said Annabelle, knowing that #24 had no way of plugging her ears since they were currently being used to hold onto the handlebars.

“STOP! Knowing your name could compromise the mission,” said #24. But Annabelle continued.

“I’m 12 years old. I live in America. I have a mom and a dad and the world’s most sensible cat, whose name is Ellen. Turn left!”

“You are the world’s worst secret agent!” screamed #24, turning left.

“As far as I know, I am not a secret agent,” said Annabelle. “I am Annabelle Adams. I am here to stop Dr. Fungo. But I’m feeling undertrained and overwhelmed and, at this moment, I am trying to have a conversation with the closest thing I have to a friend. Turn right!”

#24 turned right.

“Fine,” said #24. “But for the record, you are having this conversation with yourself. I am forbidden from learning the personal details of my associates.”

Annabelle turned her thoughts inward. This was not the affirming heart-to-heart she had been hoping for.

They burst suddenly into a huge public square, in the middle of which was the famous Fountain of Five Hundred Librarians. Thousands of people were milling about, taking photographs and eating ice cream on sticks.

“Stop here,” said Annabelle. “The map says Larf is in that alley on that far side of the square. And we’re in luck. It appears to be a dead end, so there’s no way he can escape.”

“Let’s stash the bike here,” said #24, pulling out a device that looked like a machine gun mixed with a can opener.

“What’s that?” asked Annabelle, who believed guns were a terrible way to settle disagreements.

“A Stun-Tastic 2000,” said #24. “It will stop a 600-lb man from 30 paces.”

“How?”

“Science. It temporarily turns his insides into a pile of cottage cheese.”

“Why didn’t you use it in the stairwell?” said Annabelle.

“I didn’t want to risk hitting you.”

Annabelle was touched. It was the first vaguely kind thing that #24 had said in their short time together.

“#24 doesn’t want to stun me,” thought Annabelle to herself, glad for any shred of comfort in the midst of this long, weird day. “She doesn’t want to turn me into cottage cheese.”

“Let’s do this,” said #24.

“Do you have another one of those for me?” asked Annabelle, gesturing to the Stun-Tastic.

“Nope,” said #24. “You keep tracking Larf’s movements. I’ll do the stunning.”

They crept silently into the alley. It was dark and damp and creepy. The buildings on either side of them towered up like the walls of a canyon.

“The map says Larf it at the very end of the alley,” said Annabelle.

They got to the very end. Larf was not there.

“Maybe he’s in the dumpster,” suggested #24.

They opened the dumpster. And saw a fuzzy grey head.

“Mr. Jingles!” said Annabelle.

“My hair clip!” said #24. It was true. There, on Mr. Jingles’ ear was #24’s bright pink butterfly hair clip with tracking chip embedded.

“Larf put the tracker on Mr. Jingles!” said Annabelle.

Mr. Jingles seemed like his old self again, and Annabelle was tempted to pet him.

But before #24 could ask, “And who is Mr. Jingles, anyway?” Annabelle saw the cat’s expression change from pleasant to uncertain to just plain mad. There was grey blur and the sound of a tiny bell as Jingles leaped forward and landed squarely on #24’s chest, digging in his claws as if she were a parade float he was determined to pop.

#24 made the most anguished sound that Annabelle had ever heard another person make as the Stun-Tastic tumbled from her hands and onto the grimy cobblestones.

Thinking quick, Annabelle grabbed the device and pointed it at Mr. Jingles, who had turned his glare on her.

Annabelle weighed the pros and cons. She knew that Jingles was not a bad cat and did not want to make him feel like a pile of cottage cheese, but she also knew that he was, at present, consumed in a murderous rage. As she stood there with her finger on the trigger, she saw a blur out of the corner of her eye.

It was Larf. Peering down from on a rooftop high above.

Annabelle pointed the Stun-Tastic at him. She had absolutely no problem making him feel like a pile of cottage cheese.

But Larf was already fiddling with his phone.

Immediately, Mr. Jingles stopped attacking #24 and started doing a moonwalk. And then he grabbed his rear paws with his front paws spun around on his back a couple of times.

Amazing! thought Annabelle. As much as she wanted to keep pointing the Stun-Tastic at Larf, she couldn’t tear her eyes away as Jingles did a perfectly timed handstand and then moonwalked right out of the alley.

As soon as Jingles was gone, Annabelle returned to her senses. She pointed the Stun-Tastic up to where Larf had been, but Larf was gone.

Annabelle couldn’t believe she’d let him slip away. Those dancing cats! Their lure was irresistible.

Annabelle heard a pitiful groan behind her. #24 had swelled up like a balloon.

“What the—?” asked Annabelle.

“I’m extremely allergic to cats,” said #24.

“Why didn’t you say?” said Annabelle, taking #24’s puffy hand in her own.

“The mission. It had to come first.”

“I assume you have an epi pen that will mitigate the swelling and make you feel like new again in no time?”

“I do. At least, I did. While you were transfixed by his incredible breakdancing, Mr. Jingles swiped my backpack.”

“I can’t believe I let him do that! I’m so sorry.”

“That’s ok. It was the best cat breakdancing I’ve ever seen.”

Annabelle was about to cry.

“Get ahold of yourself!” snapped #24. “There’s no time for emotion. Follow that cat! Save the world. And, if you have time, save me.”

“I will.”

“Annabelle.”

“Yes?”

“In case I don’t make it…”

“You will,” said Annabelle. “You have to!”

“But in case I don’t, the new HQ is located on a desolate island off the coast of Ye Olde Drumburgh. Just south of Tragic Rock. Em will tell you what to do next.”

Annabelle’s heart had to grow to make room for the information, which made her feel trusted and important.

“Also…”

“Yes?” said Annabelle, hoping that #24 was going give her some insight into the elusive Triple Jimbo.

“…my name is Eleanor.”

And to Annabelle, this information was the most powerful weapon she could have asked for.

“Thank you, Eleanor,” she said, “I will be back soon. You hold on.”

But Eleanor didn’t respond. Her eyes were closed and her breathing was shallow.

Annabelle ran out of the alley, feeling extremely sorry for Eleanor and for herself—and for the entire world—very much wishing there were anyone else on hand to save the day.

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?” asked 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?” asked 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