The Flip Flakes Caper

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Wildering Haven

"What's this, mom?" Inside the box with all the tasty great cereal was a mysterious piece of paper. "It must be a prize or something." Jimmy unfolded the grimy piece of paper and puzzled over it. His mother was making lunch and preparing for her busy day. The messy brown hand written lettering was a challenge to decipher.

This is a collaborative project originally created by Robin James and Robert Geiger many years ago. We are very open to negotiating future developments of this story: robinja56@icloud.com

1: Forbidden Cereal

“Most of the names on the manager's special list are fancy names, not that Johnson isn't a fancy name...” Taking note of the widow Mrs. Johnson's hardening face the check out clerk switched topics quickly, “Any coupons today?” Luckily the stock boy had arrived with the special box of cereal which was substituted for the box taken from the shelf. “There you are, Mrs. Johnson.” 

Ordinarily Jimmy’s mother, Dorothy Jangles, would have drawn the line at the excessively sugary “Flip Flakes,” but Mrs. Johnson simply bought Jimmy what he asked for. The lively six year old boy was accompanying her on this trip to the grocery store as a favor to his mom, who was feeling a bit of seasonal stress. He had no way of knowing at that tender age that life-changing events often surface from the most unlikely of places, such as inside a box of cereal. 

"What's this, mom?" Inside the box with all the tasty great cereal was a mysterious piece of paper. "It must be a prize or something." Jimmy unfolded the grimy piece of paper and puzzled over it. His mother was making lunch and preparing for her busy day. The messy brown hand written lettering was a challenge to decipher. It was some numbers and then some words. "Read it out loud, Jimmy." He was usually pretty good with his numbers and letters, but the note was smeared. He slowly read the numbers and sounded out the words. It turned out to be an address, telephone number, and four words: KILLING US PLS HELP.

"What does PLS mean?"

"Throw it away, Jimmy, it’s dirty." Into the trash the note went. It lay on top and Jimmy kept wondering about it. He planned on fishing it out later. His mother considered dumping the whole box of sugary cereal out, but that would be wasteful. On the other hand, the excessive sugar would make the youngsters behavior much more difficult.

Jimmy’s sister, sixteen year old Ginny, burst through the back door. Her arms were marked with new red cut lines and her feet were wet up to her knees. "Where have you been?" demanded the increasingly irritated mother.

"Call mother!" She stammered, "Call the police! That little fart next-door did it again!"

"What are you talking about dear? The Johnson boy? Can you two leave each other alone for a minute! I swear you will be the death of me! And what has happened to your arms?" 

"I don't want to talk about it mother, just call the police!" Said Ginny, a nickname she hated, but not as much as Virginia. She called herself Gin in a burst of rebellion, “…and why do you always take his side?!”

"I am not taking anyone's side dear, Jimmy get away from the trash," but by that time he already had what he wanted and jammed it into his pocket. He asked for permission to leave the breakfast table, and left his mother and sister in a heated discussion of rosebushes, and a lariat used to lasso an “innocent bystander” who was only trying to water her mother’s thirsty flowers.

Out of sight he ran and fell up the stairs, able to think only of his father's lighted magnifying headgear that were used to tie flies for fishing or sometimes work on electronic equipment his dad brought home from work. He found them in the upstairs study as expected and dug for the note he had rescued from the cereal box. He puzzled over the words one more time, tilting his head to the side like Mrs. Hamilton’s terrier next door did. Even without magnification the block letters presented an ominous message.

PLS might mean “Please” or it might mean something else, it’s just not clear. P-L-S. Hmm. Well, he decided to just set that aside for now and see what the other clue parts reveal. 

HELP it said. Help is a word you must never say unless you mean it. He had been told this repeatedly, one example of this is the tale of a little shepherd boy and a deadly wolf. 

That leaves KILLING US, which is quite disturbing. Something must be done.

Jimmy adjusted and slipped on the magnification headband and clicked on the light, almost frightening himself by his own image in a nearby mirror, alien eyes and eyelashes far too big for his tiny skull. Sure enough, the smudges were less pronounced than the numbers under this magnification. They were immediately familiar to him, something from when Dan the Fire Chief taught them all about 911 and “your very own phone number.” Jimmy was favorably impressed by Fire Chief Dan.

That must be it. It’s a phone number. Somebody needed help and he had to call. Jimmy dialed the number on the dirty paper, and waited, while all manner of fanciful notions waltzed through his head. He was too innocent to recognize that this was all wrong somehow, and he was simply unable to understand any one thought he should be having at this particular peculiar moment. 

Brrr Brrr, it rang, “I'll be...” Brrr Brrr...Brrr Brrr, he thought; Brrr Brrr, Fire Chief Dan rushing into a burning building, Brrr Brrr, “I'll be A HERO!” Brrr Brrr... 

But fire and wolves and bumblebees speak of poison and teeth and unspeakable pain, and now the voice of doubt spoke to Jimmy. "You'll be DEAD!” Brrr Brrr, he clenched his fist, a frozen smile of anticipation on his face, and waited, Brrr Brrr...

2: The New Guy

Things were not going so well for Dan Karratey at his new job. First days are always difficult, but at the newly remodeled office of Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight the culture was completely different than what he had been prepared for. He reported for duty at 5AM, and now it was four hours and ten minutes later. Six weeks of difficult training and he had been assigned to the small town of Duckburger. The whole training program emphasized the concept of teamwork, operating together and sharing information to catch the bad guys, not competing against each other in secret little blind groups. “No cowboys!” had been drilled into him. But now he was all alone in the gigantic shiny new complex. “Where is everybody?” Dan thought to himself as now the cornflower blue phone began ringing.

As he reached for the phone, across the building the entire staff was gathered around a huge wall-sized monitor watching the show. Tears were streaming down many faces. “Make him say it again!”

"Ka-Rah-TAY! Oh this is the best! Are there any more of those donuts with the rainbow sprinkles?”

"Wait a minute, which phone is that? Who is calling him? Is that you, Warner?”

"Uh, no, Chief... you uh, you want me to call him ..again? What do you want me to say to him this time?”

"IT’S A LIVE INCOMING CALL! SOMEBODY STOP HIM!!” 

Everyone looked up. Nobody moved.

The correct protocol for answering the blue phone is to pretend to be a bad guy so that fresh information can be gathered for an ongoing investigation. These are simple police-type undercover procedures, but it takes some informed preparation to know just how to act like the right bad guy. And now The New Guy, this idiot, this Danny Boy, forever to be known as the Karate Kid, this moron is going to...

"Surveillance, this is Agent Karratey.”

Jimmy stammered, “KILLING US... PLS HELP!” then he hung up. Dan stood there, wondering. The Chief barked.

"HOLY MACARONI! IT’S CODE BLUE! GET A MOULA SMACKER TEAM OVER THERE RIGHT AWAY! WARNER, NOW! GET OVER THERE!”

Just less than seven minutes later a MOULA “Smacker” Team blitzed the nearby suburban address where the cryptic phone call originated. Six trucks containing 66 large, heavily armed human assets wearing body armor roared into position and executed a perfect textbook domestic strike. Three surveillance drones were hovering overhead to monitor the situation from above; they were soon joined by seven more heavily armed drone units. More were on the way.

3: Dropped Call

Mrs. Jangles was just dialing Mrs. Johnson, the neighbor, when the front door and the back door blasted open. Commandos in black combat uniforms with black helmets instead of faces, and huge guns, crashed through both the doors and all the windows intending to achieve perfect synchronization. 

A megaphone blared out “SURRENDER... WHAT THE?” The new and previously untested siren made it impossible to hear Warner's megaphone.

Mrs. Jangles said “Sorry, I'll have to call you back...” but the phone was already dead and perfunctory politeness only a reflex. Mrs. Jangles had already forgotten who she had called, now holding only her hand to her ear as the phone bounced its little spinning dance on the linoleum floor. 

Her telephone call was predictably a warning signal to her terrorist network. So yet another set of MOULA Smacker units was already headed to Mrs. Johnson's house, before any crucial evidence could be destroyed or any further enemy cells alerted. As it turned out, the Johnson residence was already on a watch list, launching an additional hair-trigger response. Things happened quickly, and when things happen quickly, sometimes mistakes are made. In this case, a real doozy of a big mistake was at hand. The various teams were eager, well practiced, enthusiastic, heavily armed, and they knew exactly what to do. It was their first day of actual combat with live ammunition. This is not a drill. Gritted teeth and a “Can Do!” smile of excited confidence beamed under each of the helmet’s masked blank plastic faces. 

Another voice from a drone hovering above could be clearly heard, louder than the siren: “REMAIN CALM. EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL. PLEASE REMAIN CALM.”

The Mobile Ordinance Universal Logistical Assessment “Smacker” Teams are normally headed by one on-site commander, which would be Warner's luck today, but the as yet untested new technology made it possible for The Chief back at the base to keep a tight grip on the situation and provide direction using the drone megaphone, a circumstance of which he took full advantage. Plus there was a live feed to Global HQ (rumored to be located somewhere near DC) and they were also engrossed in the unfolding drama, calculating their own bets and tabling outcomes. Luckily they knew better than to further confuse the situation and just observed, taking notes for the coming discussion about how the first operation went and who to blame for any problems. 

As a result of the new technology the mobile units had no idea of who they were taking orders from -- the frustrated and irritated man called Warner standing right there wielding the silver-plated megaphone of confusion, or the louder and clearer voice in the sky. Never hesitating, the team carried on, just the way they were professionally trained. After a thousand drills they ought to know exactly what to do, blissfully unaware of any upper management conflicts today.

A cluster of missiles struck the Johnson household simultaneously and it exploded in flames. The whole house was obliterated in an instant. Team twelve had misinterpreted a gray-dog level six objective as a Venus-fly level nine objective and opened fire before coordinating with the other units. This means so much more paperwork. What was once a house was now a smoking crater under the flames, and burning debris showered down from the sky.

"PLEASE REMAIN CALM. EVERYTHING IS UNDER CONTROL.”

"Thanks mom! Geeze, that was fast!" said Gin, as nonplussed as her mother who had sidled out the kitchen door when the missile explosions shook their windows. Ginny was ready for some satisfaction from the little fart next door, but she never would have expected her mother to act so quickly and mercilessly. 

“Why did these ninja guys break all of our windows?” Oh well, things like that happen all the time in her favorite combat video games. Ginny smirked. That little fart next door is sure gonna think twice next time. Yesssss!! She gestured victoriously with her fist.

Jimmy wondered what all the fuss was downstairs and outside. He shifted in his seat and turned up the television. It was The Adventures of Koogles & Flip, two cats, one devious, the other oblivious. The distracting noise outside was irritating young Jimmy. He felt like shouting for them to keep it down out there, he was trying to listen to the TELEVISION.

4: We’re Invisible Now

Against her natural self-preservation instincts Mrs. Jangles ran towards the Johnson house instead of away from it. There was a boy inside, not her boy, but a boy nonetheless. At least so she assumed. She likewise made the assumption it was simply a state of shock when she saw her husband's disembodied head pop-up floating from between the rows of sheets from this morning’s laundry drying on the line. She tried to plow through a second set of billowing sheets, but before she could get them brushed aside her gingham apron strings took a hard yank and she was on her buttocks. Hunkered down before her now was the Johnson boy and his mother both in some sort of battle-shocked condition. Only Dorothy’s husband, Big Jim, appeared to have his wits about him as he whispered "Just keep quiet, honey. We're invisible now."

Dorothy Jangles watched her husband’s fingers dance over the far left side of what seemed a soft silken screen that stretched in a semi circular arc around them. The laundry billowed around their backs thereby finishing the absolute camouflage that her husband's sophisticated electronic device was as yet unable to completely accomplish. They had to remain crouched as the 4 1/2 foot tall “screen” could only keep them from being detected from above if they did not break the virtual canopy. 

"I couldn't believe it at first," said Jim, "but I have been tweaking the audio portion of this gizmo since early this morning, and picking up all manner of coded transmissions. Those goofball 'smackers’ have been spying on the Johnson house for over a week. They are apparently under new management and we are one of their first gigs, Dot, and all the bugs are not worked out yet!" A secondary natural gas line at the Johnson homestead exploded as if to emphasize Jim’s point.

Dan Karratey already had a nagging sense that "teamwork" was nothing but a buzzword for these bamboozling bozos, so he purposefully tore into the wrong end of the subdivision, prepared to explain that he had mistaken Muskrat Marsh Lane for Muskrat Marsh Court. He had exited the vehicle and positioned himself where he could see the TT (Terrorist Target) and yet not be detected by those annoying drones overhead, and that is when he saw the explosion and the running housewife who seemed to simply disappear into her own laundry.

A larger drone dropped a small egg shaped object into the middle of what was left of the burning house. The orb imploded, sucking the fire out and some of the loose debris inward before a chemical talcum “pfoom” covered the area in white and extinguished any remaining embers.

"Jimmy is still in there," exclaimed Dorothy, "...and Gin!" standing up and pointing to their own house, the back kitchen door centered below two upstairs windows, which appeared as a not so happy face with the screaming mouth and two black eyes shattered through by the storm troopers. "I know, honey," Jim pleaded, "I've been listening to these people all day, they don't respond well to reason. We're going to have to keep our heads down for now, pray hard, and contain our losses."

Dan continued to watch in bewilderment. There she was again, half the torso floating in between billowing sheets and gone again, after a hairy forearm forcefully clutches and yanks the front of that gingham apron. The line of black robots exiting the key lime pie green house, like so many ants after a picnic, soon had Dan's attention. He knew there were humans inside those black suits, but he had never met any of them. He thought of the training sessions. Teamwork did not mean working together because you knew each other so well. In fact you should be able to act as just your job description, a replaceable unit, for which another would drop into place if you, the person, were lost. 

The senior instructor was named Agent Highmaughn. His face had been accidentally burned off. He had not only survived, but he had turned his loss into an asset, he developed an infamous array of replaceable noses, cheeks, ears, chins and eyebrows which could be composed as necessary on his blank face. Ever the salty old spook, Buckminster Highmaunghn would bark at his recruits things like "Your elbow doesn't ever meet your finger, does it? No! But that doesn't mean your brain cell impulse gets lost on the way to Ms. Rottencrotch, no sir." Nobody could figure out what that meant, but it was a story told again and again, probably more for the shocking vulgarity than whatever the hidden meaning was. That was just his way, as the Wise Master.

Back on Muskrat Lane the response team took orders from the field office, and the field office from central administration, but that was it, and Dan could remember the buzzwords and jingoisms used to keep staff on-track. “No Lone Ranger cowboys,” Dan thought. Yeah, just an endless line of masked androids that he could now make out were leaving the house carrying two squirming bundles. “We are waging war on terrorists, and we are prepared to bring the battles right into our homes if necessary.” The manual was very clear about all that. But those were children. He glimpsed one almost chubby little towheaded boy in a football carry and a stringy-haired teenage girl with men gripping her arms and legs as they were being carried to the truck, and immediately driven off.

No need for any fire trucks here, as the drones buzzed off in different directions like so many mosquitoes. It was also Warner’s job to make sure that the Friendship Outreach Group came in to address all the neighbor's concerns in a most nondescript manner, "I hear that you are feeling dismayed..." and that sort of thing. I'll brief the FOG about this operation when we get back to the office, planned Warner. No use in interrupting their breakfast.

Only two or three brave neighbors had come out onto the porch as the sudden overpowering shock and awe of the explosions, and the nonsense megaphones and drone sky voices, were all pretty intimidating. After several black vans exited the cul-de-sac it was remarkably as if nothing had happened, and the billowing laundry could again be heard in the morning breeze as Dan made his way swiftly, but cautiously, towards the most recent thing in life that he absolutely could not explain.

5: I Want It

As Agent Dan neared the drying sheets he could swear he saw another woman. It was a comely brunette this time, doing a fast doggie crawl and eclipsing just before a bed sheet popped in the breeze and again obscured his vision. No time for caution now, in an impulsive effort to see better he outstretched his arms and began to spin, clearing everything off the lines as fast as possible. He stopped cold and deftly quieted the sheets twining around his legs just in time to think he heard a man's voice say, "No, come around me. Face it towards him." So Dan wheeled and lunged, clanging right into the tall metal laundry line’s T-bar. He tried to catch himself, but he was unwinding this time, lost his footing and fell.

"Ow!" Said Mrs. Johnson. "Get off my mom! You big ape!" The Johnson boy’s deceptively strong hands protected his mother, he catapulted the intruding bundle as if it were a rag doll, up and out, this time on the visible side of the magic electronic hiding place.

As he released himself from the twisted and ruined sheets Dan saw the three adults and teenage boy huddled in a half-formed transparent fuzzy igloo. Dan drew his wits together enough to utter the only thing he could think of, "Friend! Friend, Look, I know it might seem like I'm on the wrong side..."

"You got that right mister,” said Mrs. Johnson, and Dot quickly added her own invective assault “Your ‘friends’ just took my son and daughter away with them!" She was ready to tear him to pieces.

"Yeah, we have got to fix that..." Dan said out loud. Some of his extensive training might come in handy yet. "Come with me. I've only got a compact sedan, and I don't know if that thing will fit in the back, but please bring it along." He must have that invisibility device. For himself, and for the company, of course.

Dan watched "Big Jim" Jangles put the prototype Auto-Resolution Camo-Hood (ARCH) in "sleeper" mode and the hologram collapsed on itself until it fit into a tidy black Velcro wallet and they all climbed into his sedan. For some reason Agent Karratey couldn't help thinking about so many clowns and their tiny circus car as he and two suburban families careened out of the subdivision and towards what everybody in the town thought was a cereal plant several miles south, on the far outskirts of Duckburger.

6: The Voice

"Where am I?" Jimmy said aloud as he came to in a gray cinder-block room, itself not much bigger than a cereal box, but so brightly lit he had to put his hand up to shield his just-opening eyes.

"Oh my God, Jimmy!" He heard his sister's voice, "I thought you'd never wake up." They had put the two children together, hoping to overhear whatever the kids might blurt out.

"What is going on, Jimmy?" His sister Gin looked like she was about to cry, and he pondered, as best he could for being a six-year old, how to comfort her. But he was hungry, and when his nose started talking to his brain his sister’s pained expression took the last seat on that neural roller coaster.

"I smell Koogle's! AND FLIP FLAKES!!" "What? Jimmy are you nuts?!" said Ginny. "No, sis,” her brother waved his hands as he inhaled deeply and less than patiently explained, “Koogles and Flip! The cereal. It's here somewhere, and lots of it!" It was Jimmy's favorite cartoon. He loved the sleuthing and adventures where clues and greed always added up to just desserts. Every week in a new reincarnation the devious cat Flip was always blown to bits, eviscerated, or sucked through a jet powered vacuum cleaner at the end of the cartoon, hence the plentiful "Flip Flakes" in every box of the cereal. It was sure as mittens for kittens they were near the source of the cereal as was in the box where he found the mysterious note. "Hey, the note!"

Jimmy hauled it out and showed it to his sister, whose special glasses made for her by her father already were on 10x magnification, and she pointed out that not only were the smudged address (where, unknown to them, they were sitting at that very moment) and the phrase KILLING US in different penmanship than the phone number and PLS HELP, but the latter was in black ink, and the former in a kind of dark reddish brown writing that appeared to be flaking off some parts of the letters. Gin wet her finger, touched it to the paper, then looked at the residue on her finger and sniffed it.

Just as she was about to give the faded rusty writing a taste, Gin and Jimmy heard a voice from somewhere above and behind them say "It's blood."

The two of them looked at each other, eyes wide, hearts pounding, trying to keep from screaming out loud. Almost palsied with trepidation, they both slowly looked up and back at the same place, the exact spot where the sound came from. Nothing there.

"I didn't hear anything.”

"Me neither. No way.”

Silence. Hearts pounding. This is not happening.

They listened very hard. They were just starting to relax and it was almost time to sigh and ask each other simple questions about what it was that they did not hear.

"It’s my blood. That's how I know it’s blood.”

A thousand urgent new questions, two young excited voices, no words, wide eyes.

"I sent you the note, and you got it!”

7: The Secret Cabbage Patch

At the front gate of the cereal plant Rookie Agent Dan Karratay was trying to explain why he wanted to bring these particular guests into the secret facility. It was not going so well. 

Dan knew that the children of the Jangle family were in there. The natural thing would be to bring the parents and children together in the same facility, but the extensively detailed security protocol had no such provision. Rules is rules, and that has been the way of things since before the beginning of recorded law.

Inside the vehicle nervous young Saddam Johnson turned on the radio. “It’s a beautiful day in the greater Tri-Metro Valley, the morning traffic patterns are just getting back to normal. There was an earlier report of some kind of law enforcement activity over in Duckburger, but that now appears to be just another prank rumor. Now, CUT THAT OUT, wouldja?!! Everyone is getting ready for the Muskrat game tonight. Next we have a special live interview with Coach Disney...”

Now there were more guards and they were surrounding the compact sedan. Dan Karratay was turning beet red. His hands were above his head and several of the guards were pointing their salad shooters at him. Something was going terribly wrong.

"Sorry Agent Carrot-tay, orders from The Chief. That's right son, the head of lettuce himself. Okay, everyone out of the vehicle. Come with us.” The little group was lead to a large air transporter and across the street the car was prepared for towing, probably to some huge secret cabbage patch where it would never be found again.

"Where are we going?” No response. Eyes shifting as fear increased. The silent anxiety grew deafening. Dorothy looked to Big Jim, who stared straight ahead. He was thinking about how he was going to explain his special gear that the authorities would soon be discovering. Maybe the gear should have stayed home. Maybe they all should have stayed home. Who is this Dan guy? Evidently he is just another prisoner now, and not so “in charge” as he seemed to be a moment ago.

The helicopter rose slowly and then sped them far from Duckburger. Soon they were in the endless rugged mountains of Calhoun County, approximately between the new Duckburger facility and the Global HQ, rumored to be somewhere near DC.

The interrogation took place in what appeared to be a cheerful motel room, with plastic pictures on the wall and soft music playing in the background. “Rain drops keep fallin' on my head...” It went on for hours, but the strange thing was that they never mentioned the special equipment that Big Jim had. It was on a table being ignored. In a small way, he was disappointed, but he decided to just let it go.

The questions seemed to be about the behavior and origins of the Johnson family, and the unusual name of the teenage son, Saddam Johnson. The widow, Mrs. Johnson, always said it was an unusual old Southern family name, he was named after his long-dead great uncle, Saddam, who had lived and died down in Georgia over fifty years ago. That was all she ever said about that matter and nobody had ever asked any more about it. The dutiful single mom supported the two of them somehow, working every day and, when asked, she complained about her meaningless and frustrating dead end job, the same as everyone else.

At last the flimsy new pressed cardboard door opened, this time with the man's face smiling as if nobody should have no worries no how. 

"Okay folks, sorry for the inconvenience. Grab your gear from the table and you will be transported back to, ah, Duckburger and your ‘home sweet home,’ just as soon as we can complete the arrangements. I know you are going to be happy to see your children. They have been kept safe and comfortable. Johnny and Jane sure are looking forward to seeing you.”

"You mean Jimmy and Virginia?”

There was a short tense pause as the now ruffled bureaucrat studied his dossier. “Right. Yes. Jimmy and Virginia. Did I say Jonathan and Jeanie? My mistake. Jimmy and Regina. Ginny. Of course.”

The Host-Interrogator was texting as he hastily turned into the door.

"What about the Johnson family?”

"I am not at liberty to say anything about them just now, they will be remaining with us for, ahhhh, a little while longer. They are comfortable, and that is about all I can say. We are making every effort to ensure that they are going home soon too, as long as they remain cooperative.”

The door closed. “Up, up and away, in my beautiful balloon...”

Dorothy Jangles had a lot more questions. What about the Johnson house being blown up? When are the kids going to be here? Where are we? What are they planning on doing to compensate us for the damage to our house? Who is that guy Dan? What did they think Jim's inventions were? Where is the Johnson family now? What is going to happen next? What the heck just happened anyway?

Never any answers. At long last, when they were returned to Muskrat Marsh the house had mysteriously been repaired and showed no sign of dozens of black-masked shock troops breaking the windows and kicking in the doors and trampling all over the flowerbeds on the front lawn. The laundry was fresh and folded neatly. The empty lot next door where the Johnson house might have been was a green vacancy that needed to be mowed, complete with an aged sign that read, FOR SALE CALL ME 712-1712 I'M VINCE. They were assured that “the kids” would be delivered to them any time now. They were given dozens of coupons for “buy one get one free” lunches, complete with apple pie desserts, in various local places with a warm sincere smiling bonus handshake for Dorothy and James Jangles. 

“Your kids should already be there by now.. I don't understand it. I'll look into it.”

8: Murphy’s Law

Back in the cereal plant, secretly owned by Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, the voice that the kids had heard was not audible to the technicians, but the children’s sudden reaction was. Murphy was sent in to take a look.

"Okay you two, come on out of there.” He introduced himself in Johnny Weissmuller fashion, gesturing with his pointer finger “Ugh. Me - Murphy, You - Monkeys. What're you true troublemakers doing now?”

The two monkeys were glad to stretch their legs, it was a bit cramped in there. Murphy bent down to get a good look. He was a tall skinny man and to get a good look he had to get down on all fours.

Once Murphy had put his head inside of the little room, the kids both heard that invisible little voice again, behind them. “Over here!” Jimmy and Gin looked down the hallway. A tall narrow hidden opening was clearly visible, if you knew what you were looking for. “C'mon, quick!” They did not like the bin they had been stored in, and this new opportunity seemed much more interesting, but they hesitated. Jangles always consider every possibility before they jump. It’s a well known Jangle family rule.

Murphy was on his hands and knees, investigating the small space that the children had been kept in. After a moment he was satisfied that nothing was unusual in there and he began backing out.

"Nothing in here,” Murphy said to himself, “just remember kids, Murphy say, monkeys do! And we should get along just fine. Time for you two to get right back in here, no discussion! Ugh. Ouch, what’s that?” Even if Jimmy and Gin wanted to comply, Murphy’s law was hard to obey. He was stuck in the opening. 

Jimmy wondered, “What would Flip do?” as he considered dusting off Murphy’s crotch with the toe of his slightly scuffed Florsheims but, as he had heard his father say, “If it ain’t broke, why make things worse?” Murphy squirmed, but did not appear to be going anywhere.

Meanwhile Ginny was trying to improve her perspective on the situation. One side of the hall had the hidden opening in the white wall, at the opposite end was the big door. This could be a trap. It’s just too easy. She decided to stop and look one more time before jumping into any dark secret holes in the wall.

"Hey, you kids!” Murphy sounded a bit ruffled, “What the heck am I hooked on? Can you see from there? Don’t you do anything funny.” Bad suggestion.B

"We won’t sir.” Gin kept talking loudly enough for Murphy to hear, "You're stuck on something, all right. Just calm down, and ... ah, shift over to towards your left so... ah, I can get a better look." She swung her head around as her eyes darted along the ceiling and walls. 

"Mr. Murphy, ah, sir. It's part of the metal door. It must be hooked on you somewhere."

She turned her head back towards the end of the hallway with the mysterious opening at one corner. The door opened slowly wider. It was dark in there.

"Yeah, that’s what I said, I can feel it on my belt!” 

In the ceiling right above where the wall containing all the bin doors should meet the back wall, was a functioning camera behind a spinning fan. That seems odd, the camera looks right through the fan. Another few inches either way and there would be no problem. What if the fan were stopped? It might block off the camera, or at least part of the camera's view and permit them some room to move without being watched.

"But how do I get LOOSE?” Murphy pleaded, more agitated as time passed and he wondered what those wiseacres in the control room might be thinking, two kids looking past Christmas clean into the New Year. 

Ginny followed the fan wire across the ceiling, down the wall and to the plug smack dab in the middle of the hallway, right behind her and her brother. She backed up against the plug and discretely dislodged it. Well, sometimes fans just stop working. 

Jimmy had been listening to his sister’s puzzling cooperation, and noticed she wasn't looking at Murphy at all. In fact, right now she had her eyes narrowed with her fingers crossed on both hands. She was slyly whispering to him, "The fan! Has it stopped yet?” She pointed at the camera with her eyebrow and a nod of her head. Jimmy spotted what she was doing and resisted the urge to ask her questions about it. He instinctively winked along, following her lead.

"Keep, ah, what you are doing seems to be working Mr., ah, Mr. Monkey, sir." said Jimmy. He cast his eyes down the hallway where his sister was trying desperately not to look, but she could no longer contain herself. The fan had stopped all right, and with what she calculated to be a 66.6% chance, sure enough, right over the camera lens.

Now, what about the human element?

Ginny tried to figure out what to say next, but then she heard her brother's voice. "When I got stuck backing out of Rugger’s doghouse, I just had to go all the way in again and turn around."

Way to go Jimmy! That did the trick. Murphy's pants disappeared without physical trauma, and the 2 by 3 foot heavy metal bin door swiveled shut with a tiny audible squeak and ‘clank.’ Ginny did not have to say anything to her brother, they had that kind of connection sometimes, as he had already carefully crept under the camera.

Nelson shifted in his chair on the television wall of the control room, smudging the left edge of the sports page with frosting as a few multicolored sprinkles rolled and bounced down into his lap. He rested the newspaper on his crossed legs and reached for his coffee, continuing to grill his coincidental partner, Lou, regarding his newest scheme, sending away for a mail-order bride. Nelson was a multi-tasker. 

The opening in the far end of the hallway went floor-to-ceiling and was not visible from the hall door or window. These had all been grain and cereal storage bins, with a vascular system of narrow honeycomb air vents all around. The gap appeared much wider as the children drew nearer, but it was still not wide enough. 

"Whole E Crap!" Said Lou, "Camera thirteen is down again!" Nelson was quick with a reply, a rabid realist with white frosting on his upper lip, "What do you expect, naming a perfectly good camera unlucky number ‘13.’ It's not old 13’s fault, anyway, it's that noisy fan. Would we really get into trouble if we ripped that old rattler right off the ceiling?! Maintenance was already supposed to take that down before installing the camera.”

"Typical." Another bite and the donut was gone. The frosted upper lip pursed.

"You can fit, Jimmy." Ginny whispered, as Murphy began making kettledrum sounds on the metal bin door. But the metal was solid, and the walls and doors were thick, leaving the guards, whose ominous presence Ginny had correctly guessed, as powerful but oblivious symbols of domination.

Jimmy sucked in tight and scooted through the opening. Some of the mortar between the cinder-blocks pulled at the back of his shirt as he clung close to the smoother bin side of the vertical crack. Several feet in there was an opening and, sure enough, when he was inside it was cool and shadowy.

It turned out this room was not like the bins at all, it was tall, narrow and much longer. It was comfortably dark, and Jimmy moved back towards where he knew his sister must still be stuck in the hallway, while spider webs broke across his face. He felt along the wall and found a finger hole with a latch, pulled, and ‘click,’ the opening widened just a bit more permitting her easy entry from the hallway. Jimmy was soon staring into his sister’s relieved, face. She entered, took a deep breath, and examined the hidden semi-dark world with silent amazement, while maintaining the proper teenage cool detachment. 

The secret door swiftly swung securely shut behind her and the hall now appeared to be empty. But what of the one who started all this craziness? Where was the source of the timid sounding little voice? No time to think of that now. Jimmy hurriedly turned from his sister in the now darkened interior, much the same as when he entered, and his foot struck an object with a muffled clatter. Gin bent to quickly flick open the lid of the rusty toolbox and, sure enough, there was a much needed flashlight, a four-battery baton style, which sent a strong beam into the inky darkness. “Look sis.” Jimmy whispered, “What’s that over there?” 

9: Cartoon Swearing

"Wait a minute. Why is Murphy still screwing around?" Lou was watching the cameras again, and it was number five that was perplexing him now. He twisted the sound selector from the radio broadcast of the Muskrat pre-game discussion back to where it was supposed to be. Murphy’s explosive kettledrum cantata abruptly snapped Nelson bolt upright in his chair, spilling his coffee into the morning paper.

Murphy began to scream again with deliberate momentum, trying desperately to be heard, "Let.... Me... OUT! You f-#%&ing morons!" By this time Nelson was flicking toggle switches, and the speakers in the anteroom of the prisoner storage area boomed, "Check the hall! Murphy's down. Well, he's hung…” Lou took over, “He’s locked in number five. Get in there on the double!"

The guards looked at one another with wide eyes, finally facing the fatal force they were told would be a daily danger in this secret facility. The time is now. The safety is off. There is a live one in the chamber. “Be alert." One beefy mouth-breathing guard said to his slightly less intelligent looking counterpart, "They tricked Murphy. Who knows what kind of DYNOTYN (drag your nuts out through your nose) terrorist close battle tactics they are teaching kids today." They covered one another with precision, and Number Two checked behind the door before covering the hallway so Number One could get to the door of number five. Skidding on his knees and down on his belly, quickly leveling his weapon towards the small opening as Number One swung open the small metal door, the second guard was facing nothing but Murphy who looked out with a face full of nothing but Number Two. “Where are they!” He demanded, “Get out of my way and let me out of here!”

The smooth white wall appeared innocently flawless as the guards and Murphy frantically spun and searched high and low for the sneaky siblings. No camera and no witnesses to tell anyone what went on while everyone was doing their duty. After several moments of heated verbal salvos from Murphy, the two armed guards still had not been able to convince him that these two children had not simply scampered like chipmunks right past them. One of the guards pointed back up the hall towards the door and the other respectfully reiterated in exasperation, "But Murph, that door was shut the whole time!"

Also pointing at the surrounding area with conviction, Murphy leaned in closer, "Do you see them here, Mister Security Man?” The thin man's logic was irrefutable, and one of the guards began looking at the ceiling. The other turnkey absentmindedly plugged in the cord for the immobilized fan, which immediately began humming with a familiar rattle.

The control booth now had a view of the Three Stooges in the hallway. Murphy was gripping at the front of one of the guard’s vests and yanking their face inches from his own for emphasis. His face reddened as he barked his disappointment. 

"Cheesh, is Murphy pissed!" Nelson was also a keen observer of human behavior. "Hey, Nelson,” said Lou, “Where did those kids get to?" 

Then that last donut recaptured his attention.

10: A Penny For Your Thoughts

Mrs. Jangles wandered past the distressed real estate sign onto the grassy property next to their own. When she turned around, Jim, could see that she was understandably not weathering this crisis well at all. He noticed Dorothy was whispering something as she looked down where the house used to be. “..got to do something...”

Jim remembered when the neighbors had moved in over nine years ago, a mother and her hyperactive, yet moody, seven-year-old son. She had wed a man with the same last name as hers, though the two families were otherwise unrelated. So she kept her last name and changed from Missy Johnson to Mrs. Johnson. Mr. Johnson had left for his now infamous last business trip in the early morning, the day after the moving vans deposited the whole family's “Handle With Care” and “Fragile” life in the front room and cold, damp garage. It was Dorothy who was nosy enough to notice the new mother next door had been up for two nights crying.

While Big Jim did not consider ‘nosy’ a family value, he had always admired his wife's insightful nature, her notion of common human decency appeared to him as extraordinary compassion. She had woken him at 4 AM with those hopeful words, "Jim, we have got to do something." The next day she and Jim broached the topic and, with Mrs. Johnson's permission, it was as if she and her son had been fully adopted into the Jangles’ family.

Jim knew that this was another moment to “do something” as he neared his wife and could hear her say that familiar phrase more clearly. While their elderly neighbor across the street looked on, Jim encircled Dorothy and hugged her close while she all but crumpled into his resolve. “We will,” she heard him say, “Hurry now, go get ready and meet me in the garage.”

Dorothy straightened and smiled, a ten second recharge like no other. She was never totally certain in what direction her husband was going next, but static inertia was never his problem. He was going to go ballistic, and she would be hanging on with both hands.

The elderly neighbor shook his head at the goings on of the day. Noise from the mornings explosions and invasion had long faded into the sounds of constant new construction. The growing modern din often made his hearing aid an unwanted accoutrement. So, he had simply left hanging on the bedpost this morning. Mr. Melvin Innski looked out the window and grimaced at how those youngsters across the way always seemed to find time to frolic in the tall grass. 

The neighbor, aptly nicknamed “Bud” by his deceased wife, Penny, continued his habitual scanning of the neighborhood. "That tall grass wasn’t there yesterday, was it, Penny?” He turned and pointed an arthritic finger out the window at the vacant lot across the street. She could no longer explain things to her “knight in shining armor” from her permanent resting spot, a few feet from their son Billy (sometimes “Junior Bud”), a veteran of Grenada who, while on shore leave in Europe after the conflict, came out of a pub and met his demise simply because he forgot Londoners drove on the wrong side of the road. Bud Senior returned to the kitchen to see how many days he had skipped on his medication. He briefly considered writing the Mayor a note about the suburban blight of noise pollution, but this, too, dumped automatically into the recycle bin of his brain as two squirrels tore around the tree in a crisscross pattern, reminding him of the braided bread Billy Bud sent him from France.

Jim’s PTA shower took less than a minute in the garage sink. He was surprised to see how quickly Dorothy reappeared, refreshed and ready in a dark turtleneck and camouflage jeans. He had already suited up and was loaded for bear by the time she pushed through the side door and climbed up into the modified family Hummer.

Dorothy remembered how embarrassed she was the time she had been forced to take “that H3 monstrosity” to the store. She had stepped out and hit the door lock button once, then twice, and then three times just to make sure. It was early and she had heard that a few derelicts often slept in the park across from the green grocer. The Klipsh horn made a muted “meep” after the second push on the button, but the third squeeze released a metallic saucer-shaped object about the size of the spare tire, quietly deployed from the trunk area, escaping Dorothy’s notice as she came around the tailgate and headed into the store.

Hovering three inches above the ground, BUB the “Bi-Umbilical Bot” had followed her like a very well trained Shih Tzu. Sensors trained on the Hummer’s key bob, BUB appeared to wait patiently as she pulled a cart out of the row and moved towards the produce section.

"Oh My Lord!” Dorothy dropped the best beefsteak tomato of the bunch, at which point a prehensile tentacle shot out and netted the red and juicy softball without a bruise, just inches before it hit the floor, and then humbly raised the rescued red rogue fruit to its master. Just as she was about to scream, Dorothy quickly recognized her husband’s favorite font style engraving BUB on the saucer’s leading edge. Dorothy sighed, took the blushing vegetable bundle from its hammock with a curt, “Thank you,” and completed her shopping amidst the gasps and startled reactions of the few shoppers wandering the store at that time of the morning. Well, there was no doubt about it, her husband was a nut. But he was her nut. 

Today though, this was no joke, the situation was the real McCoy, and they lit out of Muskrat Marsh Court like Lil’ Luke was shut in the stall with the barn on fire. Dials came to life and Dorothy felt the excitement as they turned and made a “B” line for the cereal factory.

Wrinkled eyes looked on. "There goes the ‘A’ team,” muttered the neighbor, “Bud” Innski; a dribble of milk meandering down a forest of stubble on his chin while he gummed his breakfast meal and the dusky evening light firmly settled in. “I love it when a plan comes together.”

11: Come Fly Away With Me

Saddam sat. And stood. And sat, nervously awaiting his captors, the hosts of this hermetically sealed cardboard Hotel California. “...and when she passes, each one she passes, goes a-a-ah...” The Girl from Ipanema played softly from the hidden speakers. His mother, finding herself together again with her son only because their holstered hosts hoped that their civilian “cover” would be blown if they were left alone to chatter in non-threatening surroundings. Mrs. Johnson attempted words of comfort. “I’m sure th...”

"Hush up, Mom!” snapped Saddam, burying his face in his hands and choking back tears of rage, deathly afraid that if they said anything it would only make matters worse. By instinct, Mrs. Johnson corrected her son immediately, “We don’t say ‘Shut up’ in this house, young man!”

"This house! Mom! Have you taken a look around you today? Cheesh! I mean, are you at all aware of what is going on? I mean, at all!” The Bossa Nova rhythm, even in that bizarre environment, “Tall and tan and young and lovely...” took a minute to have the poetically predicted effect upon this savage teenage beast. Saddam paused and calmed himself, “Because I am not. I don't get what is happening to us. I am sorry about the swearing, or whatever, but I am just a little, you know...” Struggling to find words where there were none, he stood up again in exasperation. He threw his hands up on either side of his ears and flicked his clawed fingers off his thumbs while making a high-pitched whining sound imitating fingernails on a blackboard, “…just a little, you know, greeee!” There was an ominous CLINK from above and the room shook.

The lights and music flickered momentarily and a rhythmic repeating “thup thup thup” became louder as the small mock motel room lifted up, broke free, and started to sway to and fro. Saddam lost his balance and fell onto the bed that then skidded on the wheels of its cheap adjustable frame. It careened first towards the door behind him and, now at the top of the ramp as the pendulum swung, skidded back more forcefully down towards his mother. “Jump!” shouted Saddam, and then they were both flailing on the bed and wrecking the sheets together. 

Saddam didn’t know whether to say a prayer or go blind as the flimsy drop ceiling caved in and the cage-like superstructure upon which motel room 51 was constructed became visible, while wind rushed in from every direction. The confusion of the chopper blades was blowing hair every which way and in their eyes. The once soft motel Muzak abruptly was now almost deafening after the curtain cord wrapped around the volume dial and pulled it full clockwise, Karen Carpenter boomed “ON THE DAY THAT YOU WERE BORN, THE ANGELS GOT TOGETHER AND...” 

Glancing down off the edge of the bed Mrs. Johnson looked through the exposed steel bars in the wall and she watched the shadow of the marionette motel room dance with the shadow of the helicopter on the trees and terrain below. Saddam thought about readying himself for anything.

A metallic voice transmission from above pushed through the artificial hurricane and the blasting Carpenters song, “Hey, you two!” Dan Karratay’s unmistakable voice commanded their attention, “Climb up the ladder!” 

The room itself was an anachronism, constructed like a child’s toy block set, it was from “The City of The Future,” a set of easily moved and stacked blocks of housing units. The original design conjectured that these box units could be moved as cages from one spot to another but there were some problems with stability if the units are allowed to swing when suspended, which was an increasing problem here right now.

As Mrs. Johnson and Saddam looked up, they could see the hatch by the ladder, as well as their reflections in the polished metallic helicopter, now much closer. They could see something else too, down below was the road, a black snake reflected in the chrome, with several green bugs moving along its curving back and... ping, ping, ping! Dark bullet holes in the chrome surface magically appeared, one right after another, with a smudge of leaking dark liquid lubricant from one of the holes making its way along the smooth windblown surface.

Saddam whipped around to look below them, and several jeeps were right on their tail down there. The yellow flashes of fire spitting from the mounted machine guns in the back of the half-tracks did not escape his mother’s notice either. Our very own “Rat-a-tat-tat Patrol,” she thought, noting how Dan's curiously evasive one-handed steering found the drivers below having trouble following them directly along the ground. Dan was holding the helicopter manual with one hand and flipping pages while he operated the controls with his other hand.

Saddam stood on the only available table and opened the latch, helping his mother up onto the table and giving her a leg up through the door. She was on the ladder quite quickly. Saddam was also stronger than he looked. His mother was now through the opening at the top, but he had to stop to wipe away the dark liquid that had splattered from one of the bullet holes in the fuselage onto his face, not wanting to lose his grip and trying to be careful as he neared the safety of the screaming mother-ship above him.

Ping, ping, ping, pop, and the ladder was about to be a ladder no more. The strong cable had been nearly severed on one side, and Saddam’s hands slid on their rung towards the frayed end of the cable, one foot dangling and one wedged in what had become a pinching parallelogram.

"Reach up, NOW!” He heard his mother command, and she had his arm, he nimbly swung his other arm up and onto a handhold near the door latch, and pulled himself up. The ladder fell away.

Now all three were in the cockpit together, with Dan frantically turning the helicopter manual’s pages and flicking gauges and passing off the Johnson’s expressions of gratitude. He had many problems at the moment, the top two were the gunshots from below and what to do with the now empty motel room 51.

Saddam pointed, “Head that way!” and Dan immediately completed the thought. Saddam ran back to the door in the fuselage for a better look and announced, bombardier style, “Hold on, hold on... now! Now! NOW!”

“Ka-TINK” the hook released and room 51 was in free fall. With notably less weight the helicopter shot up in the air, then eased and leveled off.

The music was still audible as the cube dropped away from its mooring, “Just like me,” Saddam chimed in, “they long to be, close to youuu...... Kapow! Ha ha ha, Ma, are you getting this?” The first of the vehicles stopped short of the ravine below, only to be butted over the rim by the next in line before they all slammed on their brakes and came to a dusty halt in what Saddam assumed must be much blue air and name calling.

Saddam made his way back to his mother and Mr. Karratey, and they were laughing. She was not yet strapped into the copilot seat. “Looky here!” Saddam did not like the way his mother deftly slipped her thumb and forefinger into Dan’s perspiring white shirt pocket and withdrew several small computer components, while Dan explained that the agency planes and helicopters couldn’t get airborne without their logic circuits. Dan was humble, and that only further irked Saddam. “Well,” Dan shrugged his shoulders, “They might be held up for a while, anyway.”

Saddam’s mother tousled Mr. Karratey’s hair, “Atta boy,” and Dan reassured them their pursuers would have to find a landline to call for reinforcements. It seems base communications and cell phone towers had been jammed for several kilometers, per standard operating security procedures, according to Dan, “In order to control communication in times of terror.”

"Or times of error.” volunteered Mrs. Johnson, mischievously.

"Well, this may not be a time of...” the engine suddenly began to grind and the cockpit lurched, forcefully throwing Mrs. Johnson onto the copilot’s steering column, hitting her head on the dashboard full of gauges. “Mom!” Shouted Saddam. As quickly and carefully as he could, he pulled her back onto the seat and tried to click her belt into place, but she looked groggy and out of it.

Saddam struggled to hold his balance, and the slippery scenery outside was going by pretty quickly now. Dan shut down the smoking motor in order to ‘auto-rotate’ and set the helicopter down safely, per the instruction manual now precariously perched on his lap, “...not unlike a glider airplane.” 

“Anchor yourself to something solid, kid, we are going down...”

12: Underwear Secrets

The Chief's favorite medicine for his acid stomach problems has been banned from the market for years, but he has a huge personal supply. He stores the extras in a row of large bottles over the sinks in his executive washroom at the Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight Duckburger Macro Command Center, building C, top floor.

He finishes off the end of another huge bottle, poking his pinkie finger in for the last few drops, and tosses it into the trash chute. A big sigh, a quiet little burp, a medicine aftertaste. Temporary relief, and back to work.

The Chief has bigger problems than usual today. That Karate guy is the biggest pain in his keester ever. He never saw this one coming. Maybe it can be turned into an opportunity. The other collaterals will be easy to correct, but the new guy, the lone man from DC “who comes and goes in a cloud of dust, with a hearty ‘heigh-ho Silver!” is going to take some kind of special handling. The Kah-rah-tey Kid. Even the medicine could not subdue the chuckle’s sour repeat.

What will it be... Simulated suicide? Heart attack? Sudden aneurysm? Food poisoning? Unexplained shooting? A car accident? An alien abduction? How about a good old-fashioned necktie party? The Chief would enjoy that. He imagines kicking the chair out from under ol' Dan as his legs jerk and shudder in mid air, Dan begging for mercy as he gurgles his last breaths past braided hemp. He takes the last Quinta Lobos cigar from the container, still lost in the fantasy of Dan’s demise. 

The modern way is a nice quiet lethal injection. Then they can decorate him up to suit whatever purposes are required. “Agent Karratey should never have gotten in an automobile when he was so riled up,” The Chief polished the sincerity of his testimonial lines while pushing the Rolls Royce cigar box off the edge of the desk. Pow, crash.

He pushes the intercom button. "Agent Bambi, get me Rumsbelly."

"Yessssirrrr, Misster Chief." He constantly tries to imagine what kind of underwear she is concealing at the moment. She is well aware of his lechery, and again vows that he will never find out. Never. She has advanced her lucrative career by smiling and skillfully crossing her legs at just the right moment. She has accepted his invitations to expensive dinners, and listened while not imbibing. Listened while riding with him in the car. Listened in the outer office. Listens. Bambi now knows where all the dead bodies are buried, and she herself has sent many a limp soldier to his final resting place, kicking them over lifeless, crushed and dejected.

God, sometimes I love this job, thought The Chief, as he pushed back into his double-wide executive chair and switched on the magic fingers. She's wearing simple cotton whites, for sure.

13: Few Options

Dan was not comfortable in his new cell. The music was loud, of course. IT’S BEEN A HARD DAYS NIGHT…. It’s not supposed to be comfortable there. It’s probably only been a few hours since the helicopter crash, luckily nobody had been seriously hurt. It looked like the boy had gotten away, but Mrs. Johnson had been taken into custody. Her head was bleeding. She was still holding the logic circuits that he had swiped just before he stole the helicopter. That is going to be hard to explain. He was troubled, but he was not thinking of himself, all his thoughts were of her. How to find out where she is now? I hope she is alright. ..AND WHEN I GET HOME TO YOU, I KNOW THE THINGS YOU CAN DO, WILL MAKE ME FEE-ALL AWL RIGHT...

His last meeting with The Chief did not go well. About an hour ago The Chief came down to his cell and quietly spoke to him through the face-sized portal in the door. Dan had to lean in close to hear The Chief, such a horrible medicine smell. For some reason that man is just impossible to comprehend. Instead of getting to the center of the real problem, the why's and what went wrong and how to make it right, The Chief kept on probing the outer boundaries of the situation and focusing on appearances: Who knows what about what, who Dan had talked to, who saw him take the copter. Did anyone else know about any of this? 

The Chief did not seem to care a flippin' fig about why Dan had taken it upon himself to intervene in the Johnson's predicament. For The Chief it was all about how to contain the mess. This is not what Dan had been trained to do. He was just trying to make things go right in a world gone utterly mad. He had so few options.

Jimmy and Ginny shone the baton flashlight over in the corner of what they were determined would not become yet another prison. “It's just numbers,” Ginny said quietly as she turned from two sets of numbers on the wall. Jimmy noted there were five numbers with a comma after each one, a space, and then two more numbers, “Forget it Jimmy, let’s look somewhere else, before they find us.” 

“No, GinGin, listen." Jimmy insisted, "It is like on the cereal box I was reading this morning, just subtract one more number for every one as you move to the right, count for the letters and replace the numbers with the letters. Wait a second, 3 is C, then 13,” He counted on his fingers and said, “M, no L.” This went on until they had C L I M B  U,” and Ginny raised her eyes. They could hear the men hitting the wall all along the corridor, and getting closer. “It looks like a trap door,” and she gave her brother a leg up as he pushed the ceiling open, “There’s a ladder, sis.” 

The Chief and Rumsbelly were crafting a general outline of what needed to be done, but they did not have all the smaller details worked out. They would never sweat the small stuff anyway. They are the big picture men. They have a staff of young ambitious flunkies just to take care of the silly little trivial logistics and fix it all, and to take the blame when anything goes wrong.

The disappearance of the children is actually only a small sized problem to The Chief's way of thinking, although it was the sole source of the most troublesome heat from above that he was enduring right now. Little Jacob and his sister Vanessa have tragically (or conveniently) been lost forever. So sad. Next:

Dan is clearly the most direct threat to their whole situation. There is no choice but to have him quieted and exited. Once he is out of the way they can focus on the larger unfolding story with fewer loose ends to worry about. They can keep him literally “on ice” until they decide exactly how his mortal remains will best fit into their big picture frame.

The big Johnson problem might actually be the key to resolving the mess. It’s nothing personal, it’s just a smart business decision. The defiant widow Mrs. Johnson had not revealed any important details about the obviously far-reaching sinister conspiracy yet, but as the woman she was quite likely kept in the dark by her evil master anyway. She was clearly the sultry distraction to bedazzle their eyes from the real trickster. They calculate that the mastermind behind the whole situation is the elusive Saddam.

That boy is probably the greatest sleeper agent that has ever infiltrated their assigned domestic security domain. For miles around. He must eventually be located and contained, but not too soon. First he has a very important role to play before the ultimately victorious conclusion. He would be the doomed fox, a Little Nikita, for their eager, relentless and ruthless hounds. Its time to play.

The larger conspiracy must be exposed and prosecuted. All the loose elements can be tied together. The search for Saddam must become the final focus.

14: One Lost Shoe

Ginny and Jim wasted no time exploring the various dark and mysterious levels and chambers above behind and below the walls at the fully automated cereal plant. After all, the cereal plant was only a front, and nothing but a skeleton crew kept the boxes packing. For the first day or so it was difficult keeping themselves hidden and out of any possible camera line. The going was slow as Ginny used a makeshift periscope fashioned from the mirror in the toolbox and an old paper towel roll before turning any corners. They frequently found themselves crawling on their bellies for yards and yards before unscrewing another ventilation cover and crawling into darkness. 

Jimmy spent their second night on the lam deciphering a whole list of the mysterious numbers they found in a long abandoned broom closet by using his infallible decoding system. Ginny counted and Jimmy wrote down the letters, “Don’t forget, sis. After ten spaces on any one line, you have to start the numbering system all over.” Neither of them knew what to make of the top line when he neared the end of the words hidden there, as they read off the letters, “K O O G L E S   B   L I V E and,” Jimmy concluded, “S.” “What is that supposed to mean?” They both whispered to each other, and Ginny counted, "There are nine more lines, little brother. You have got the system, go to work while I get some shut eye, but quietly.” In the morning the meaning was clear, they were warnings. Nine ways for kinder kittens to stay clear of danger in that plant, and from then on the going was easier. But what had become of the original author? Who made these strange marks?

No matter, Jimmy was in heaven. In one huge room, as far as his eye can see was an endless ocean of Flip Flakes and Fruity Koogles and when he dove in he was soon far from the shoreline. Like a happy little whale he just kept swimming and diving with his mouth open. They even found spoons and bowls and fresh cold milk in a part of the plant designed for special publicity events to promote the cereal. Though it was a huge television studio kitchen, nobody was watching there. The expert staff was hunkered down inside, intently focused on only their assigned targets. Waiting for break time. Yelling at one another. Keeping secrets from each other. Another day in the land of the grown-ups.

Jimmy lost one of his shoes while swimming in his sea of cereal. He didn't really care. Now he has a distinct walking sound, chuff-muff-chuff-muff...

Somehow Ginny kept young Jimmy from getting too loud. Because of the intensity of the situation they were focused on being careful to avoid discovery, but with all the sweet cereal stuffed into his youthful super-charged little body it was impossible to keep him still. She was beginning to see how mom must have felt trying to keep two kids in line in a world that could, oh so suddenly, turn dangerous. 

Now they inhabited a little secret world of their own, and it was a great adventure! A game of hide and watch. Explore all the passageways. There was a huge ancient dark and creepy labyrinth spreading out for what seemed to be miles to the excited kinders, leading to other buildings and other much older underground places. They had to see it all. Chuff-muff-chuff-muff-chuff-muff...

The kids found more of the numbered pairs, or sometimes three or four. Sometimes it looked as if they had been there for ages, and others freshly scratched in, but always the most simple instructions possible to get them where they needed to be. Once they found a clue that was harder than the rest, but when Jimmy finally finished solving it, the children were led way down to an oubliette marked "For Nobody," deep under the catacombs where endless spiderwebs of gas and electrical lines snaked their way from one end of the massive factory to the other. A place of safety where all the camera leads converged and had been hooked into discarded, and meticulously repaired, monitors apparently scavenged from all about the plant. But, by whom? This was the safest and best place they had discovered that would permit them to keep tabs on the staff with their own cameras. Watching the watchers. 

15: Plausibility

The web that The Chief was knitting was getting tighter, and all the pieces were beginning to fit, unencumbered by any pesky details of the humanity of the subjects under investigation. The Chief planned on how to employ the future facts surrounding Saddam's brutal murder of Agent Daniel Karratey, followed by Saddam's savage and frenzied murder of his own mother. He again tried out and discarded lines in his head, things he might say to his staff to make light of their often lethal and inhumane occupation. “Kids. Can’t live with ‘em, can’t shoot ‘em, Well, then again. What choice did he leave us?” Then there was the disappearance and presumed horrific murder of the two unfortunate children, “Happens every day, you know. Sometimes the whole kid, and sometimes just the kidney.” 

Why not, maybe all of the annoying Jangles could be casualties of the fight for hearts and minds, quite a bonus... "Well, they were neighbors, you know." All of this is easily connected and then resolved with a nice bow on top. Hell, if they did this right they could be in the headlines for weeks, and not in the customary “pants around the ankles” fashion, but in a good way for a change. Television cameras! Reporters asking questions! Flashbulbs! New suits! The Chief began talking out loud from his omnipotent office, “Make no mistake. Immense progress is being made.” And trying out hand motions to go with the words, sweeping gestures and karate chops, “Every day we get closer and closer to uncovering and neutralizing this diabolical and fiendish domestic terrorist conspiracy….” Payday every day, all the way. DC Global always loves this kind of stuff. It will require much more personnel, training, equipment and… wait for it…, The Chief rubbed his hands together and said aloud, “Funding.”

Funding. There it is. The meaning of it all. More Funding. Now we have a classic Big Extraordinary New Technical American Security Situation. Light up a fresh Monte Cristo. Good times. Fun! (ding!)

16: I Want To Be Alone

The new kids in the wall have plenty to eat, water and soap, and places of safety where they can rest, but by the third morning hour of the third day the excitement has warn off and “somewhere to sleep” is a poor substitute for “Home." It was now assumed by the WACO authorities that the kids must have fallen into a hole, or gotten out when nobody was looking, and the search teams they avoided had trickled to zero. 

The kids were growing sick of one another, too. Jimmy had been plagued by nattering nostalgia, all the things Ginny had driven to the back of her mind in order to focus on keeping them both safe, and his most recent sniffling rendition of "I miss mom and dad” found Gin losing her temper. He took several granola candy bars from the display area and a carton of milk (even he was getting tired of the sicky-sweet cereal), carefully took down and rolled up one of the “Koogles and Flip” posters, and set out on his own. Jimmy was cold, and had forgotten to grab a blanket for later, so he was happy to find the small metal room with warm air coursing through the grate that covered the entire floor. He wedged the top of the poster between two pieces of metal and it unrolled, not so unlike his hole in the wall at home. The warm air was comfortable and he soon fell asleep, only to be vigorously shaken awake before reaching dreamland. 

“Sis, cut it out, I just want to be left alone." The shaking continued, and Jimmy began to open bleary eyes, and dreamland had become a wide awake nightmare as he began to scream…

17: Everyone Is Tense

So the first thing to do is to send in a trusted super-secret sanitizing team, say some really reliable folks like... The Chief went through his mental Rolodex to come up with, “…Warner, Murphy, and Nelson.” Yeah, get them to administer “Preparation K,” the deep sleep injection, to ol’ Agent Dan. Get him all nice and peaceful and quiet and tidy and dead right away. Later they can put bullet holes in him or grind him up or cut his corpse to conveniently sized chunks, or just blow him to pieces, a decision they were not ready to make just yet. They would ultimately only need to provide just enough of him for a plausible DNA match.

Then they would see to Mrs. J.

Dan paced in his cell while carefully selected music blared. PLEASE ALLOW MAY TO INTRADUCE MAHSEFF, AH'M A MAYN OF WEALTH AND TASTE. AH'VE BEEN AROUND FOWA LONG LONG TIME... If he had a window he could figure out what time it was. He first would like to find out what happened to Mrs. Johnson. He would next like to contact DC Global HQ. He did not even have a bed or a proper chair. Just a cold cement floor and a toilet. ...PLEASED TO MEET YOU, HOPE YEW GUESSED MAH NAME, OH YEY-AH!

Dan could hear a squeaky wheel approaching in the hallway. He imagines what will happen now. Here is a bed for you Dan, come and lie down. Time for lights out. The music stops. Dan breathes so quietly to prepare himself, “Something really bad is just about to happen.”

SqueeeKLANG. The door opened. It’s Nelson and Warner and some other guy he did not know. The new guy is a tall thin man wearing a white lab coat and latex gloves. Sinister eyes. The suspicious eyes of a tool. Curse of the thin man. Its Murphy.

Warner begins, he knows how to talk to prisoners, to get them to do things quickly and quietly. Still Dan’s superior, and people who cooperate… well, nobody likes a non-team player. He begins purring in a condescending warm good-buddy voice, "Here's a nice bed for Danny. Come and lie down, Dan. We brought you this comfy bed. Doesn't that look better than that old cold floor you've been sleeping on?"

He could smell the cold and evil. Acrid. Like the old medicine smell of The Chief. He knew by the way they were acting that his visitors did not want to be in this cell either, despite their nodding and grinning in unison. He forced his face to maintain a smooth bland mask, but the monstrous butterflies in his stomach were careening towards a massive unnatural disaster. Focus on the mask. Hold tight Dan.

"Oh, that's okay guys. I'm plenty comfortable right here on the floor.” Murphy sidles up to Warner, and whispers, “I think your man is already ‘round the bend.” Alive, awake and enthusiastic Agent Karratay continued on without a pause, “Keeps me alert and ready for our next assignment, after the standard debriefing, you know. Is Mrs. Johnson alright?"

Nelson chimes in, "Mrs. Johnson is fine, she's..." Hand signal from Warner. SHUT UP.

The purr is fading as the jaw begins to clench. "Don't worry about the widow Johnson." Warner continues with an appeal to even higher authority. "The Chief would like you to lie down now. He wants you to be comfortable. Up here on the bed. Now, Dan." He gestures as if Dan did not understand what the bed was for.

"Well, that’s awful nice of him. Please tell him thanks for me. But no thanks, I decline to recline. I don't want to miss the meeting later. It’s good to see you guys. What time is it anyway?"

Nelson falls for it. Looks at his watch, "Oh, its about...."

"SHUT UP YOU FOOL. Now, come on Danny, it’s so much better up here on this nice new bed. Just take a look at it, it’s not very big but it is better than this old cold floor.” The purr is back again. “Hop on up here and relax, Dannnnnnn. Doesn't this look nice and comfy? Mmmm?"

Dan leans down as if he is going to rise, but instead peeks under the gurney, “What’s all this?” Dan strings them on with conversation as if he were not sickened by the tubing and greenish-yellowish fluids in vials. There appears to be all sorts of distressing machinery hidden down there, no doubt precursory to many secret atrocities. 

“Nothing for you to worry…” “Oh, I’m not worried,” Maybe I am nuts, Dan thinks to himself. Dan slyly blurts out his trick question, “By the way, What’s the weather like this mornin'?"

"Well, it’s sorta gettin'..." Nelson again. He is the weakest link.

"NELSON SHUT UP.” Warner snaps. Sharp impatience. Are they all idiots? Why am I stuck with these idiots? Help me Lord. Let’s get this the hell done. No more Mr. Nice Guy. His teeth grind for a moment as his eyes flash fire. His frown deepens. His face flushes red.

"Dan. This is not an option. You are going to lie down here right now and get some nice sleep. If you lie down here we will turn the lights out for you. You would like that, wouldn't you? Nice and dark and quiet. Sleep. Perchance to dream. We will keep the music off too. Doesn't that sound like heaven?"

So, here is my very own stairway to heaven, thought Dan, feigning compliance by coming to his feet...then, “Whoa, boys, I am just a little....” 

For his last stand, since all is clearly lost, Dan decided to just go limp. Sinking onto the floor he slumps to a semi-sitting state. He rolls his eyes upward on purpose. He tells himself that he knows what he is doing. Unfortunately, so do the experienced professionals. They are more prepared and carry the moment forward. He is resorting to regression, unsuccessfully disguising himself as a puddle, and the other men here are loaded for deep chop.

The two men in white lab coats prepare to cradle Dan up and onto the gurney. Through eye slits all hazy Dan’s gaze falls on the linoleum floor, less brightly lit than before, but still picture show white. His eyes pulse wide though his captors’ attentions are elsewhere, and into sharp focus comes the elongated silhouette of the third figure holding something Dan must not be allowed to see. The shadow of the thin man. Dan’s brain sends messages to muscles at all corners of the globe as he whips around in one last mackerel flail and catches Murphy’s disgusting tool face shift from flat to tense. Everyone is tense.

18: Hey! Meet Nobody

Jimmy's scream is muffled by a hand over his mouth, and he hears a more reassuring voice of an adult than he has been used to lately, "You can't stay here kid. C’mon, I got you. Hurry up. You’re heavy. A little help here, push with your feet.” And the man pulls Jimmy back through the metal door of the tiny room as flames blast through the grate in the floor and up the shaft of the incinerator. "That was a close one, kid!” Jimmy has heard his voice before, but he did not recognize it at first. The hot blast of air gets more intense and the metal door closes as Jimmy catches a last glimpse of his favorite Koogles and Flip poster in flames, but in this episode both of them are scorched to a cinder for a change.

"It's your blood.” Jimmy says, turning around to see the little person who rescued him, just as his sister comes around the corner into the chimney room. "Blood!?" Ginny exclaims, as she grabs a little man by the front of his tattered sweatshirt and pulls him to his feet. "Ginny, no! He's the guy! The one who's been leaving us the help, the clues…” and Ginny loosens her grip just enough to let his feet touch the floor, at which point their new friend raises one hand and waves in a gesture of mock ease, "Hi. How ya doin’.”

19: It’s For You

Just about to inject their prisoner, Murphy freezes on hearing the knock on Dan’s cell door. Interruptions are not supposed to happen. We are cleared for cleanup. Who would dare press us pause? It’s Rumsbelly. He is holding a cell phone. He also looks tense, but in control. He always looks tense, and in control. Everyone hates him. He cultivates that underling animosity, proudly misinterpreting their response as a symbol of his well-deserved respect. It works for him. Always has. Why change?

"Gentlemen, we have a phone call here for our Danny. Here you go, son. Lets go, leave him to finish up his business." His eyes are rapidly shifting to and fro like a pair of flashlights in a haunted house on a windy night. This makes Rumsbelly look even more nervous than usual. The men leave the gurney and step into the hallway. Dan swings his legs around and jumps off, only too happy to be away from that gurney come-garotte/guillotine/iron maiden. The thin man has just gone home.

The voice on the cell phone is familiar. It’s Alexander Graham, Dan’s trainer. Formerly holding the highest office on the 40th floor of the new Duckburger HQ, Graham is now calling from the big new Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight Global HQ, rumored to be somewhere near DC. On this occasion it is so good to hear his dulcet voice. Saved by the bell. The instructor's timing is still consistently perfect. It’s like music. 

"Dan, sorry to interrupt whatever it is that you have going on there. I don't know how much you know about all this, but we have some concerns. We feel that it’s time to step in now."

Alexander Graham talked on and on, Dan was hungry, rattled, relieved and distracted. But he respectfully held on, trying to grasp all the details that were now swimming around in the air above his head. He kept making affirmative sounds when it seemed appropriate. “Um hmm.... Mmmm. Right... Yes.”

Suddenly, this stood out: "The Chief has crossed the line. We have to take drastic action."

"You're going to, um, t-terminate him?" Dan crossed his fingers and raised his burdened eyebrows.

"You mean kill him? Oh no no no, we don't do things like that any more. What we are going to do is to promote him, get him out of there quickly and quietly, keep him busy so he can make no more trouble for us. He will go away and prosper somewhere else. He is going to become the station commander in our busy new offices in, ah,” Dan can hear the omnipotent sound of paper shuffling in the marionette master’s office, “…Oslo. You wont be hearing from him again. He'll be happy up there in Sweden. We are also sending Warner, Rumsbelly and his special assistant Agent, um,” more hasty form checking, “Bambi.” (Really? We have an Agent Bambi?) This time Dan’s burdened eyebrows raised themselves as he inadvertently repeated the name in attempts to grasp the situation. Graham took no note of the impertinence and pressed on, “They are practically on their way right now.”

"We have a bigger issue to discuss with you, Dan. You have only been there a short time, but you have shown us that you grasp what we are trying to do with our larger new security programs here at WACO Global HQDC." Dan wondered to himself if he had been injected and was in Lala land, some of this was turning out too good to be true. He'll wake up in a moment.

"The Chief tended to have some odd and, to be honest, embarrassing, conspiratorial notions. It may be he's been around for too long. There was way too much ‘off the books’ activity. He seemed to be constantly looking for devils under his neighbor's bed rather than keeping up with our wider and constantly changing scenario. An anachronism with too many cadavers in the kindling for today’s up-front security profile. Now more than ever we need some nimble clear thinking, and we need someone that the local team has already met and can come to trust. We would like you to help us out by taking a leadership role there in Duckburger. What do you think?"

"Well, I'm surprised really." Dan stumbled around in his own head, then he took a deep breath and steeled himself to reflexively reply with preeminent conviction. He thought to himself the two words that were part of his daily drill during training: Can do! Then he picked up the thread and ran with it, but he resisted actually saying the slogan “Can do!”

"I will require operatives, of course, of my own choosing. You could streamline my requisition of some former associates from the training program?" Dan asked with measured punctuation falling halfway between a Jedi-style suggestion and a question, displaying a conspicuous respect for his superior and all that. 

"Can do!" You could hear the relieved grin glowing on Alexander Graham's face.

20: Dan’s New Plan

The first thing Dan did was to get Mrs. Johnson released. Her head was bruised but not so bad. The bandage came off, there was a little mark, it would heal nicely, and she looked great. She was glad to get out of where they had been keeping her, in another one of those dreadful “City of the Future” motel room/torture cell/building blocks. Hers was decorated with a cheerful blend of contemporary Family Dollar plasticware, and two or three “starving artists" oil paintings screwed into the wall. The paintings each have at least one camera hidden in the picture somehow. The rooms all have that endless music wallpaper, but her room had windows, a real bed, chairs, a single flimsy small table (as somebody had taken note of her climbing ability), and she was given a special coded menu from which she was to choose her meals. But now Dan is in charge and she can go home. She is happy now.

Dan's new plan. Dan's new office. Building C. Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, Duckburger Macro Command Center. Top-most floor. Corner office. Great view. Abundantly spacious. Track lighting. Glowing polished hardwood. No music unless he wanted it. A huge aquarium with special lights. Lots of monitors. He has to be in video-linked contact with Alexander Graham almost constantly. The Chief had barely warmed the buttery-soft expensive black leather furniture, and it turns out that this was Graham’s old office before The Chief moved up the ladder. 

The new team would be arriving soon. He was to start getting to know all of the Duckburger crew better. He had already scheduled meetings with the department heads. He was still learning his way around. The department heads seemed to be adjusting to the prospects of his new leadership fairly well. Initially, the staff were skeptical of the work it would require to implement the "new management” directives, but once they figured out the larger new game plan, they were soon enormously relieved to have their same job descriptions and the same comforting donuts with the patriotic sprinkles.

Odd that they would have so few questions about their previous Chief. The Chief. That's his name. 

Presumably it’s all part of the compartmentalized old spook culture, hush hush, need to know only. Pop in a new man for the job when the old one disappears. Don't look back. The grunts were apparently willing and eager to proceed with their ongoing projects, monitoring telephonic communications, financial transactions, looking for patterns and catching the bad guys. Business is brisk, the days fly by.

No more secret internal cabals. This time there should be nothing off the books. No more of that old sneaky stuff, no more secret agent solo man, moving in and out quickly, no more of “no questions asked,” and no more dodging oversight committees. Honest Injun…er…Native American. Dan was starting to learn to really think like a responsible figurehead. His potential has just shifted from “already dead” to “full speed ahead!” Can he handle it? No problem!

Mrs. Johnson immediately went back to survey the old neighborhood. Her blind fear over the fate of her son subsided considerably when she read his note, discretely left in a hiding place up in the treehouse only mother and son knew of. Mrs. Johnson then contacted the Jangles by telephone. They were on the road somewhere, and they didn't want to say where. Have they heard from Ginny yet? Has Ginny heard from Saddam? Nothing. And the Johnson house is GONE! Yes, it’s just gone. Just a grassy knoll now. 

Everyone knows that “They” are listening, so don't say too much. Yes, the, uh, (click) weather sure is getting nicer for a change. About time, yes it is. It is about time. Yup. (wink) Keep in touch. Buh-bye now.

Dan's new plan. Dan's big new company car. He confides to himself “things are coming together now.” 

There are some public relations issues that Dan handles on his own. Mrs. Johnson, for example. No house? Dan instantly arranges a furnished apartment for her, near his new place. He reassures her they will never stop searching for Saddam. And it was true that Dan had been pushing his new team to uncover just what became of the Jangles children and Saddam, but nobody else was about to stop and look back, to get ahead one must appear invested in forward motion only. The burdens of the old mistakes must be quickly left behind and the future will take care of itself, so it is written in the manual.

Dan will do it all. Take control of the future of the Duckburger offices of Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, and find all the lost kids. Oh, and solve all the problems of the world. “By myself if I have to,” he absentmindedly muttered, internally revising the mission statement to reflect the “People Oriented” nature of the Security biz. All those things at once. 

Can do, Mrs. Johnson. Can do, Alexander Graham. Can do, new car. Can do, because ol' Danny Boy got he some brand new plan.

21: Blond On New Don

As the helicopter went down Saddam had jumped into the bushes, rolled down the ravine, and then ran like the devil was after him. It's what his mom would've wanted him to do. Probably his dad, too. If he only knew. Can't run fast enough. He came to a road and there was a commuter bus station. Hiding behind a newspaper, he went all the way into Gat City where nobody knows him. In Gat City, nobody knows nobody. Was it that easy to get away? Or is this a trick?

This newborn boy, flung from the birthing bay of a smoldering helicopter, decided first of all to do something he had always wanted to do, but his mother would never allow: he would change his name to Don. He changed his hair color too, like they do in the movies. Blond on Don. He went to the coin car wash after dark, and made himself useful vacuuming, waxing and detailing or doing other odd jobs for tips. He found a hot meal and a place to sleep at the mission. No questions yet.

The rest of the time Don spends out of sight, and when he is tired he goes to the movie theaters where he can evaporate into the crowd and relax in the dark. In a short time he is running out of money and ideas. He won’t look back. He will play the game to win. No more snake eyes. Boxcars, maybe. He will eventually somehow secretly contact his mother, but he knows if he goes straight back to Duckburger he will probably be nabbed. He tried to figure out what to do and what not to do, and when not to do it. Roll, Run, Stop. Dye, Don, Dark. Think, Think, Think. Again.

Are they watching him right now? Are they waiting for him to paint his own hands red? What the hell do they want? He was just a regular kid in high school, but now he has some adult problems. Problems with twisted adults. They seem to think that he is some kind of an evil grand spy-master. A moniker that...

Upon generous reflection of his achievements with his new life thus far, well, it feels rather flattering to be their new grand spy master. He thought of his favorite 007 movies. He knows all the clever things to say, he bides his time for the proper moment to say it, cool as a martini. Shaken, but not stirred.

Yes, shaken. Seriously. Feeling unable to think straight or figure out where to get help. Should he contact the police? Should he try something he saw in a movie one time, duct tape some phones together so they can't trace the call, and lead the hounds on a merry chase? How did that work? In the movie it worked perfectly. These guys are too busy.

Chances are they would just silently shoot him, poor boy, small and inconvenient. Trouble. One more limp and lifeless Johnson in the world. Maybe he should just quietly walk away, just go do something else for a while. The New Blond Don must make his own time, go his own way.

It’s been just short of two days since the sun set after his one and only helicopter crash which began his new life. He can hardly stand it any more. He stands around all day at the car wash and that night he spends the last of his pocket money on a one-way bus ticket to Duckburger. It’s close to midnight when he finally walks all the out way to Muskrat Marsh, and discovers that his house is gone. It’s an empty lot, not even a burnt spot. He is stunned. In the night shadows it appears that his home of nine years never was there. Is this the right place? Muskrat Marsh Court. The Jangles house is still there. Who is Vince?

What the hell is going on here?

The New Don sneaks to the side kitchen door of the darkened Jangle home. Knocks. No answer. It’s completely dark. He knocks some more and peeks in more windows. He shades his eyes with his hands to see inside the dark enclosure of the garage. The Jangles’ Hummer is gone.

22: Unplanned Road Trip

With the Jangles we last left off the barn was on fire somewhere as they tore along the inter-urban for about three miles before Dorothy picked up the “Smacker” broadcast on Big Jim's special equipment. It seemed The Chief was furious about their release and dispatching another team with equally muddy and nefarious objectives to their house at that very moment. They could hear the high-pitched hum of the drones, and Dorothy got out her field glasses to confirm that several of the speedy white mosquitoes were headed their way. Big Jim yanked the steering wheel of the Hummer to the right and down the side of the embankment, pulling around into a huge culvert where they would be out of sight. Within moments he had misdirected the team to think the Jangles H3 had gone in the other direction. Jim set his own specialized GPS system on “serpentine,” which proceeded to take them on a tour of several neighboring states, broadcasting bogus GPS tracking data to anyone who might be on their trail. 

Dorothy marveled at her husband Jimbo's adapted and insubordinate GPS remake that, like her husband himself, was a work in progress. This is not the first time it had taken them to some unexpected new places, the perfect invention for people whose in-depth conversations characteristically distract them from making important navigational observations along the way. Big Jim and Dot are by now quite accustomed to these spontaneous extended road trips, and after some even more animated discussion and a quick update concerning the missing children from their former neighbor, they decide that the road may indeed be the best place to hide from their most recent acquaintances, the troublesome psycho-ninja buffoons in black. 

Despite assurances a truce was in place and confirming that their two children were indeed on the Amber Alert system, the Jangles wisely did not trust any information that could be traced back to their recent infestation of bi-pedal pests. Each time the subject was broached, Dorothy found a new way to express her frustration with the ninja nincompoops. Their personal band of birdbrains. Flock of seefools. Their faceless night-colored persistent chrome-plated gang of bozos from nowhere. Dorothy was an English major when she met her winsome young Jim, the engineering graduate student. They both had a backpack full of expensive adjectives to unload, and did so upon each other whenever possible.

Jim and Dot continued constantly calling for updates about the status of the return of their children and for equally useless navigational assistance. Always new voices answering their calls. Always having to repeat their entire implausible story again, from the top. Always the same old non-answers. Can you hold please? Well, maybe we two, too, can play at that game. A call from Agent Karratay, from Rangoon, it appears. Nope, says so right on the computer, Rangoon. No, wait. Hackensack, Philly, Bhopal? WTF?

Should they contact the police? “Here is how that might go,” Dorothy counseled her husband. “Hello? Yes, that's right. Ninjas stole our children and blew up our neighbor's house. It was right there yesterday. Call Vince. He'll tell you. What?!!? Can I hold please? NOOOOOO..." she was quite convincing, and so they drove and drove, and stopped and thought a while, and then drove some more. 

23: The Rat

New Blond Don waits in the dark in a back yard on Muskrat Lane, pensively. It’s a quiet evening, a few crickets and a wandering pussycat keep him company. The summer has begun, there is no more school until the autumn. Mom had kept pushing him to choose a university. “Anywhere in the world you could go with your brain, son. Yeah, right.” More like Cow College in the neighboring town, where she could keep an eye on him. As it was she volunteered at the high school cafeteria three days a week. Just the jumpstart his ego needed, that poor boy whose dad ran off. “Did you hear? Yeah, that’s his mommy over there behind the cardboard pizza and unkempt Josephs.” That used to be his biggest problem, school. And Gin, his relentless one and only annoying next door neighborhood frenemy.

And what's with his mom now! Flirting with that Karate Dan guy? True enough, Dan was just trying to rescue them, for which Don is majorly grateful. It’s just hard to see his mom with her hands in Dan's ample hair, her hands reaching into Dan's humble pockets, her jingling laughter mingling with Dan's annoying bray.

He sometimes wanted to just slap her good. Mom! Be my MOM. Cheesh.

On the other hand, he knows that she deserves to get on with her life and not be waiting on him all the time either. He has got to get away from this scene. He does not want to see her with other men. Maybe it’s time for him to make some really big changes in his life. Maybe he can find out more about what happened to his dad.

Nobody thinks or even knows about about his dad anymore. The rat. No word from him except for that final “good luck!” on the answering machine. Then a few months later came the letter from some lawyer in California. Mr. Johnson had been arrested in Delaware, Florida and Idaho for bigamy and an assortment of fraud charges. Then he was locked up in Texas, where they said that he had suddenly died of food poisoning. “Good riddance” comes to mind, as Don grits his teeth. Then, they said that they had somehow lost his dad’s dead body. Hmmm. Nobody knows quite what to make of that suspicious chain of events. And nobody could provide any answers, not on their current Johnson family budget.

Now the surviving Johnsons are officially still waiting for word from Texas, Idaho, Florida, Delaware, and the California Bar Association. That was like a hundred years ago now, since they first moved to Muskrat Marsh. All they had was that one letter which he presumed had just been burned up in the house, and a whole crap-load of unsubstantiated assurances, followed by the California lawyer's telephone number dropping out of service. Cold trail. His dad was probably out there somewhere, laughing at them. The rat.

Nothing will ever be the same again. He missed Gin's endless taunts and accusations. Her over-the-top dramas, her trivial deceptions and her perpetual selfish troubles. It’s time to make his own moves, rather than be the Old Boot or some other novelty play-piece for everyone else's board games. "It's time to find the man in the Top Hat maybe. Mr. Money Bags, baby!"

24: Spooks

“Ginny, let him go!” And his sister reluctantly releases her grip on man who just pulled Jimmy's fritters out of the fire. "Who the ‘H-E-double hockey sticks’ are you!" Ginny blares, having to bend perpendicular at the waist to get in his face, as their diminutive new benefactor puts his finger to his lips, "Shh.” He shifts his eyes back and forth to indicate there are bigger problems with which they must deal. “Kids, you know we still have to be quiet, right?" 

"But, where did you come from? What's your name? Why have you been helping us?" Both Jimmy and Gin fire a barrage of questions, while their host responds simply by repeating, "I'm Nobody," flailing his hands alongside his bowed head as if overwhelmed, long having been absent dialog with anyone, much less two hyperactive little ones. But he soon holds up both palms towards them and motions for them to follow him back to the oubliette where they can converse with more privacy.

There the children learned that their newfound friend had been scooped up early, back when Alexander Graham had been putting out mailers with puzzles and word games to see who might be clever enough, and crazy enough, to run the cereal prize side of the operation. The cereal was easy; the cereal they already had. They needed the enhancements, puzzles and games, prizes in with every box. Graham drew from a population of top scientists, philosophers, mathematicians, chemists, and other university hot shots from all over the world. Seven years ago, the man who called himself Nobody had responded to just such a set of puzzles, a hepadrome, or kind of six sided holographic crossword puzzle. 

“Three days after I sent in my solution my mom sent me an urgent note, it was definitely in her handwriting and everything, to meet her at a church we knew of in Minsk, not so very far from where I was teaching.” Nobody went on to relate that the puzzles sent from the cereal factory were designed to mimic the style of secret communiqué of terrorist groups. “Our private security team has a grant from the government, they do not engage in the same activities as other independent security firms, and they aren’t exactly spooks like FBI or CIA.”

“Spooks!” Said Jimmy, recognizing the other anagrams, but not ready for the Halloween reference. Truthfully, he was having trouble following most of it, but looked up and saw his sister nodding affirmation and decided to do the same. “The notes inside were for anyone who might telephone to contact the PLS for instructions,” continued the strange man. “Only certain boxes, sometimes mailers in the form of giveaways of smaller boxes of the cereal, were used to disseminate the disinformation to our targets.” Sometimes it was just engineered so that the suspect families would pick up a “loaded” box at the local Grocery. “It was just simple slight of hand really, the way we got those boxes into the hands of suspected individuals and families.”

 

Although initially reluctant, he immediately became addicted to the pay, and was a willing sugar-coated Judas in that duplicitous occupation for almost a year. Nobody shook his head and looked at his feet, “When I started to think about what I was doing, about who I was working for, I refused to go on and it turned into a kidnapping.” 

 

“So the PLS is....” “Nobody.” “Precisely!”

 

Jimmy and Gin looked at each other, anticipating more of the punishment they had already sampled. “They had me locked in that same set of bins, lights on all night, injections sometimes, and I had to keep giving them those cereal box puzzles and clever traps in exchange for water and gruel.” A tear came to the corner of his eye as he told how the interrogators had broken him, and finally made him admit he was nobody in the great scheme of things. “But it backfired on them. What they tried to force on me I took as a badge of pride.” He straightened with his chest out and pointed his thumb at his sternum, “I stand for ALL of us Nobodys in the world now.” He fiercely held his fists high for a tableau moment.

It was not long after that he had found his way out through the prison walls and into the belly of the beast, into the machinery that almost made Nobody no more. He told the two eager listening children, “I knew the layout too well for them to keep me under wraps forever, but I thought I was a goner one night.” On into the night Nobody explained how he had snuck out of the holding cells and into the factory, “…so there I was stuck in the conveyor belt assembly headed for the processor.” 

“We saw those,” said Ginny, Those flake choppers and Koogle cookers looked nasty!” 

“That they are. I had one of the telephone number papers with the PLS logo and only enough time to add our address here at the plant and try to tell the world the urgency of the situation.”

“Killing Us!” Said Jimmy. Nobody continued. “Yeah, but I dropped the note, and the next thing I knew it was already in a cereal box headed for shipping here in Duckburger. I said my last prayer, the choppers and cookers drew me closer, closer, CLOSER... and the belt stopped! Quitting time, I guess. Anyway, by the next morning I had freed myself and found the first hiding place, that abandoned broom closet. Did ‘Koogles Nine Lives’ help?” 

“Well, yes.” Said Ginny, looking at Jimmy, who was counting on his fingers. “That was a ‘B’ for sure, but I never figured out why it was underlined!” Said Jimmy, thumping himself in the head when he realized, “The ones that were really numbers were underlined to tell them from the letters!” 

“Don’t give yourself grief, kid. You got here, didn’t you.” Said their wise new friend, “This place was supposed to be For Nobody.” 

25: Chuckie

Somewhere not so very far away from the factory, slow night hours go by for another wayward child. Depressed, he tries to cheer himself up by remembering how his mom did a man’s job of helping him build “a home in the clouds,” complete with drapes on the windows. The New Don scribbles a note, hides it up in the old tree house so the wrong passers-by won’t find it first, and then heads off. Once more clearly lit by those rosy fingers of dawn a teenage boy “just hanging out” would surely be spotted, and soon grabbed by the police. Or, worse, grabbed by who ever those pompous storm troopers were, and that will be the end of his time in the sun. He heads back to the highway and puts out his thumb. 

Just at sunrise a truck pulls over and Don is now headed to Santa Fe, New Mexico, with his new best friend, Chuckie. He forgets himself as he tells Chuckie that his name is “Sa…Sam.” “Okay-hey, Sa-Sam” chuckles Chuckie as they head out onto the roaring and vast concrete river of steel and inflated tires. Comin' thru.

Nervous New Don watches the hopeful new dawn in the colorful sky and thinks to himself that a little time should go by after all he has just been through; his house blowing up, the stupid extended interrogation and the equally stupid, but admittedly exciting, helicopter crash. Things need to cool down. He needs to breathe some free air and feel some miles go by. This is it. Here he goes.

His plan is like in the movies, he will see where the wind blows him, and he will get by somehow, maybe scrubbing dishes, parking cars, walking dogs, washing windows, selling pro-rated mortgage insurance. Something. Anything. Doesn't matter. He will survive. He is fifteen years old and it’s now time to leave his ninjas behind him.

26: Jeb and Annie

Mrs. Hamilton was up for her pre-dawn insomniac home tour. "How long was the boy there, Jeb?” 

“Oh, about four and a half hours. I noticed him at about 23:55, walking around that grassy lot where his house used to be. Can't say I blame him, but he sure as Hades better stay away from our perimeter or he's gonna be talkin' to my little Annie Kay,” he pats his lock, stock and barrel friend resting on his knee.

“Then that kid went right over to the Koo-koo's house and knocked on the door a few times. He checked the garage, and then he sort of hid in the shadows there, lookin' real sad. Oh, his hair is blond now. He went up in his old tree house for a bit, and then just left. I’d say about 04:30 hours. The mom was there too, not two hours later, before 06:30. But she took off after a visit to the family tree, too.” Jeb Hamilton had used his night vision glasses to watch the house of the mad inventor every night. And the budding young daughter was mucho entertaining too. The Koo-koo's was the best show going. Sure beats anything on television.

"Get to bed, Jeb. Dr. Goolywallahpodoomi says you need to be on a regular schedule.” Jeb had never been successful in convincing his psychiatrist that shooting his left thigh out from under him was just bad luck and not a suicide attempt gone bad, and his overly protective mother swore that she never knew anything about the large caliber weapon that must have inflicted such a wound. It passed completely through his leg and was nowhere near his femoral artery so he survived. “It’s all war, son. Fall back in your foxhole to reload or jump out and fight,” or so his dad would have said if he had not been mistaken for a big buck deer on the last day of hunting season some years ago. 

“Now, son. Please, you know the Doctor makes me keep a diary of your ups and downs.” Mrs. Hamilton was doing the best she could with young Jeb since her husband was brought back from that ill-fated hunting trip by his apparently lethal lodge buddies. 

Jeb responded with his overused and overly harsh reply, designed to end the discussion. “Good Night Ma.” He decided to abandon his rear window for the night. Jeb picked up his night specs, cleared the chamber of his AK-47 (little Annie Kay), laid it carefully across his fancy but unnecessary wheelchair and then rolled himself back down to his den for some soothing multiplayer online role-playing massive cyberdrama joystick action. 

27: Just Friends

Mrs. Johnson finds herself growing closer to the new rising star at CAN DO Global HQ/DC, but, by Dan's insistence, they must remain just friends, at least for now. Still, there was some unspoken mutual sparkle in the air, and they occasionally socialize under the pretense of updates on Saddam and the Jangles. 

To not so casual observers it’s abundantly clear that Mrs. Johnson is ready for a major romp, although Dan has his hands full tracking down the blind alley of expense accounts and bills of lading for much too many explosives and cereal chemicals headed for the plant outside of town. 

A little hanky-panky is just fine, but Dan is not the Hefner type, and although he tries to be open minded, his natural born work-boy ethic tends to conflict with this unfamiliar modern romance stuff. When Dan ventures anything along the lines of “Honey I'm home!” that is when Mrs. Johnson starts with her own version of “Easy Does It,” as she is not shopping for another white picket fence, and can see that Dan is torn. 

Dan invites Mrs. Johnson to accompany him as he goes to inspect the various company properties. Although on paper a peripheral investment, the cereal plant appears to Dan as the hub of some very interesting and wholly covert activities. To avoid suspicion, Dan places this last on his schedule for grand tours. This time approaching the gates he is in charge, and all the doors now swing open when he is greeted with, “Yes sir, right this way sir.” Along with Mrs. Johnson, Dan also has a couple of his old associates in tow from the academy. 

Just after sunset, Dan’s intimate VIP tour passes through the building entrance and up to the elevators that lead to the communications center. Immediately Ginny and Jimmy recognize Mrs. Johnson when she enters the building, and from their hidden vantage they can hardly contain their excitement. 

They are so very ready to go home now, this is their ticket. Relief at last! It seems like months or years instead of days. The adventure has been fun but it’s time to go. Nobody looks sad. This is no place for kids, that is for sure. 

Jimmy turns to look for their newfound friend, “Come with us!” Ginny bites her lip, how could they all get out at once?

But Nobody has already vanished like he was never there, with one last message finger painted in the dirty black dust of the air vent, “Aloha, scoot!” Gin smudges it out with her shoe and tells her brother, “He says we’ll see him again someday, Jimmy. But now, we've got to go.”

They cautiously scurry down to the underground parking area. Chuffmuff chuff muff. The familiar hidden world lets them easily escape detection. Just two more little ghosts. They pause in the huge air duct before entering the large dimly lit area where the cars are parked.

"Okay Jimmy, where's the camera?” He surveys the parking lot ceiling. “Right there!” he points triumphantly.

"See any others?” He looks carefully. “Nopey-dopey.”

"So lets keep over to that wall, way down low.”

"Righty-tighty, sis!”

They easily are able to identify the right car – it’s the big one in the Executive Parking spot that is usually empty. They observe Mrs. Johnson's familiar autumn jacket in the front seat, patiently awaiting her return. Plus the deer hunting license is easy to see and has her name and picture on it.

They approach from the side hidden to the camera and carefully climb into the luxurious back seat. Ginny can hardly keep her brother from giggling too loudly, they are like guests resting before the surprise party. Time passes. They find snuggly blankets to burrow under and soon fall fast asleep. Tired little puppies. Ready to go home.

After a long but superficial tour, Dan escorts Mrs. Johnson to the car. She pulls her escort around to show him the front ornament of his charger, then suddenly pounces and presses Dan quietly against the hood. He is caught by surprise as she takes the initiative. She eagerly searches his frantic eyes in the darkened underground garage. According to her internal clock it is time for a quick sneaky little hanky-panky session. Her hands are quick. He is undone. Fast, then slow, do not frighten the prey. She crouches like a leopardess, turning up the heat by toying with him. She bites her lower lip as her hands prepare to free him from what must be by now great stress. She will soon have him right where she wants him. Lips are licked.

He might just tell you that none of this ever would have been his idea. But this has been the story of his life, at least lately. “Some men have greatness thrust…” he thinks, unable to summon his best intentions of changing course as the last bastion of his moral resolve becomes unbuckled. He could not bear to see her feeling rejected. There goes the bible belt. His breathing is raspy and is quickening. He is making odd little high-pitched noises. His shoes are trembling, following suit with his knees, as his eyes slowly loose focus and flutter closed. His head tips back as he squeaks. His surprised reaction, his trembling feeble attempts at resistance and ultimate primitive quivering in total surrender puts her in absolute control. The widow Johnson enjoys the upper hand, served up on his abandon.

She keeps her momentum going, whetting her appetite for his shivering self-sacrifice, one last move for check-mate, Queen on Knight One. She moves in for the kill.

ME PLUS YOU IMA TELL YOU ONE TIME ONE TIME ONE TIME... It’s his pocket. Its a Justin Tyme ring tone. “Uhhhhh... sssssssssorry.” He finds his cell and theatrically rolls his eyes for her benefit. Deep breath. “Karratey here.” It's Alexander Graham. Dan is needed immediately, back upstairs in the plant's board room for an abrupt conference. More new staff sent by the DC Global HQ have just arrived from the Tri-Valley International Airport and are ready for their briefing tonight, pronto. He hands over the car keys and tells her to go on ahead, hurriedly tucking in his shirttails. He will be busy for a few hours here. He can figure out his transportation later. He is already up the stairs. She groans and rolls over on the top of the fancy new car, staring up at the concrete foundations of the underground garage, “Why do men keep running away from me?”

28: In Bin 5

After the interminable series of longer than necessary meetings, very late at night, Dan goes back down to where the Jangle kids were being held, in bin number five. Since there are currently no prisoners, ahem, special guests, everyone has gone home, and the place is a bit too quiet. Creepy quiet. Arachnid quiet. Is it a full moon?

Agent Karratay carefully searches the brightly lit bin and the shadowy hallway, testing the wall for hollow sounds. Nothing. He keeps moving back, the hallway is not so large. One side has a big door that leads to the guard station, now empty, the other a dead end and a smooth white wall. The low doors of the bins are on both sides of the hallway. There is a camera behind a noisy little fan up on the wall. He backs away from the door and checks carefully all the way to the end of the hall. Nothing.

Back to bin five. Something about that place really bothers him. No time like the present for another close look. He slowly crawls in on all fours and eventually sees the mysterious small marks on the brightly lit far wall. He gets closer and closer. The bin is not the right size for a grown man. Easy to stand up in, but confined and with that low doorway. 

Dan felt like there was something hidden nearby, he might have heard a slight sound. On a whim he called out "Johnny? Victoria? Are you kids in here? Hellooooo?" It was just a feeling.

The 2 by 3 foot heavy-metal bin door to bin five swiveled shut with a tiny audible squeak and ‘clank.’

Hugo Warner tested the door to bin five, he was satisfied that it was locked. Then he made his way up the hall and into the control room. He looks at his watch. “Jimminy Crickets, look at the time. I've got a plane to crash, er, catch.” Then his gloved hand takes hold of the WARNING lever and gives it a mighty pull. Seven tons of Fruity Koogle gummy bits start pouring into bin five. “Say good night, Danny Boy,” Warner puts his palms together and bows, in a gesture of mock respect, “Sweet dreams, Daniel-san. Whu Huu, That’s rich!”

Warner turns the lights off again, whistling, and, as much as a grown man can, he sort of merrily skips off to his waiting limo. He sings a little tune making up lyrics while spoofing an old world war one song he only half remembered, “It’s a long way, yeah, to-wu Oslo, Its a long way, Hugo. La de daaaaa, mmm-mmm, yo ho! It's a long way, la da da dah deee, oh all right, let's go!”

Nelson is the first one in the complex the next morning. The blinking WARNING light greets him. He finds Dan in bin five, crammed full of Fruity Koogle cereal gummy cat shaped bits. It’s Dan that is full, not the bin. The bin has an ankle high mound of fruity colored nuggets on the floor, and Dan has been nervously, albeit somewhat reluctantly, munching on them for several hours now, waiting to be discovered. 

Dan never wants to smell or even see another sicky-sweet Fruity Koogle as long as he lives. He should have been crushed by seven tons of gummy false fruit flavored sugary cereal ingredients, but he wasn't. What happened?

Nelson is very helpful. Dan deems that he is a nice guy, even though Nelson tried to kill him the last time he saw him. Just following orders, of course. A job's a job. Together they find that something is stuck in the hopper, holding back the massive fake fruity food flood. It’s a child-sized scuffed Florsheim shoe.

Alexander Graham is again waiting for him on the video line in the communications studio upstairs. What they say is true. There is no rest for the weary.

"Rough night, Dan?” Graham just lets it hang there, he knows something about Dan and Mrs. Johnson, but he is keeping it to himself.

"Its a long story. Have you heard from the boys yet?”

"No sign of Agent Highmaughn. Nugice and Snaporaz want some breakfast. They're waiting for you at “The Dunk’n Cup. ”

Dan says a little prayer. “Please, Dear God, no Koogles and Flip.”

"What's that, Dan?” Alexander Graham is still struggling with a smirk that is trying to overcome his face, having seen just enough of act one with Mrs. Johnson to know they are getting along fine. The underground parking lot camera is one of the buttons on his console.

"I'll be right there.”

29: A Fresh Start

The dawn has long passed, now the sun is up, it's a fresh spring morning. The Jangle kids wake up in the car, parked in the sunny lot outside an apartment in a part of town they have never been to, and with no idea where they are.

At a breakfast place across town, Vittorio Giovanni Marcello Antoninus Beluga Snaporaz was the most talkative. He has lots of good ideas about how to tighten up the overall structure of the organization. He uses his considerable charm to talk himself into a secondary leadership position, which is supported by the omnipresent Alexander Graham, on this occasion by way of the portable video link. It’s kind of odd having breakfast for three with a fourth chair and a kiddie seat occupied by a laptop computer displaying a talking head. These are clearly modern times. Dan convinced himself that it was his own suggestion to promote his friend Snaporaz to a co-leadership position, a move “I believe will work out well for everyone,” says Dan. Plus, its lonely at the top.

Highmaughn, master of disguise, slipped in the back door of the breakfast café. He could not find a waiter’s uniform that would fit him, but he improvised, one of his greatest skills. He has found there are few who will question a well-dressed man with a napkin over his arm, especially if it has precisely two tiny food stains on it. He preferred one dark gravy and one Bordeaux wine, but one must make do. 

He regards this latest lark as a bit of reconnaissance, an exercise in independent information gathering, and maybe he could say it’s a little lesson for the new team. How close can he get, what can he learn, how far should he go? He knows how his old recruits had referred to him. He doesn’t mind the machismo moniker, and Buster Highmaughn loves his job. Man alone. In quickly, out quickly, with no residue. 

How close can you get? Bomb close, hack zealot. Rifle close, scaredy cat. Handgun close, sloppy thug. Poison close, hapless Hamlet. Knife close, clumsy tool. Suffocation close, Artist at work. Highmaughn hides the boxes others are trying to think outside of. How close, indeed. Let's just go find out.

He never changed his pace to signal insecurity or haste. He spotted Dan and the boys, then he grabbed the coffee pot as he walked past the wait station as if he owned the place. There was a music to it, and in an imported local accent he initiated the obligatory servant’s conversation. 

"Haven’t seen you folks before, you’re not Muskrats, are you?”

Dan answered. “Nope, we're new to Duckburger. It seems like a nice place so far.”

"More coffee?” He gives nodding Ned Nugice a nice refill. Ned is a very patient man, most of the time. He knows how to wait for the right moment. The idiots will fall and Ned Nugice will rise, one day.

Highmaughn offered a refill to the computer and paused for dramatic effect, shrugged a clown's pantomime “No?”

On the screen Alexander Graham did a double take, then pretended to be angry. "Watch it, Buster." A stern warning which in the end melted into a sly grin that nobody else noticed.

Highmaughn slipped in a subtle return wink to the screen and pretended to be startled by the computer, then turned to Snaporaz, gesturing with the coffee pot.

"Sure.” 

"Cream?” 

"I like my coffee like I like my men, hot and black,” declared Snaporaz with a flare.

Highmaughn laughed heartily and pretended to catch himself just before almost knocking the computer off the kiddie seat. Dan tried to fit in by joining in, but was immediately uncomfortable feeling he may have laughed a little too hard and a little too loud for a little too long. It was just a minor re-purposed old Mae West joke.

Nugice snorted uncomfortably and looked like he just ate a bug. He appeared to have dropped something and quickly disappeared under the table making a chuffling sound. Nobody inquired as to his health.

The café manager came storming up, glaring at Highmaughn and audibly hissed in his ear “Can I help you!?” 

Thus concludeth Highmaugh's lesson plan for today. Unlike the old school traditional mortal combat of the legendary times, nobody is hurt today, it’s an easy and honorable retreat. They'll all be back safe and sound for another day. Highmaughn is operating independently, collecting several paychecks from several different bosses, some of which know nothing of his wider allegiances. One must do whatever it takes to prosper, not acting on an opportunity is worse than treason. Nobody knows, nobody notices nothing new now. Highmaughn has exited, stage left.

"Is everything alright?” The café manager is trying to swiftly correct a possibly awkward situation.

"Everything is fine. Your waiter is a really nice guy.” says Dan.

"I'm going to leave the chap a really big tip.” quoth sipping Snaporaz, still savoring his coffee.

"A good man is hard to find.” said Alexander Graham. 

“And visa versa,” quips Snaporaz to an immediate “Hmphh,” from Nugice, still chuffling under the table and fumbling with his valise. 

The café manager startles at the “good man” comment, surprised by the curiously verbal laptop in the kiddie seat. “Hyah. Well. We're a little short today, one of my regular staff called in sick.” He zips off to a bell's ding that signals an order is up.

Dan checks his watch. "Is Highmaughn going to get here sometime this week?"

"He may already be there." replies Graham, cryptically, not smiling.

Nugice is back from under the table. "I hear he's a master of disguise, there are some wild stories about that guy. I've never met him. He sounds like a spy's spy. A classic spook from the glory days."

"His skills are legendary." concluded Graham dryly. “I'll get the check. Did you put your tip back in your pants, Snap?”

Dan turned off the computer and took the check to the counter.

30: Everything was going my way

Dan is relieved at the new development as far as adding Snaporaz to his little leadership team, and gratefully trades his ostentatious office for a smaller one next door. Though smaller, this sanctum sanctorum was Hugo Warner's domain, so it’s also very comfortable, with lots of monitors, buttery soft black leather chairs and polished oak tables with matching bookshelves. No aquarium. An empty birdcage. They share the executive washroom and sauna. 

Dan's new office does not have the corner view, but he does not care about all that. Dan is still the New Chief, and Snaporaz is now his Commander. He is glad to have some of the leadership burden distributed to someone he thinks he can trust, someone with whom he has shared the same training and is more likely to be on the same page as far as the overall corporate objectives are concerned. Yep, Dan is quite comfortable with good old Snaporaz at his side. It’s a chance to get to know his famously charismatic and flamboyant classmate. 

Snaporaz asks Karratey about the Jangles children. Dan raises his eyebrows and switches notebooks.

"There is still no sign of young Joseph and Mary, but I have some ideas about what might have happened.” Dan is initially pleased about having the opportunity to share his thoughts on this topic, nobody else at Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight would ever take the time to listen to him discuss the embarrassing past.

Snaporaz discretely corrects him. “You mean Jimmy and Virginia?”

Dan is thinking about his taste of doom down in the bin. Maybe he has less of an appetite for regurgitating the past than he thought, and passes the buck like the superiors from whom he has learned some dubious lessons. “Who? Oh, yeah. I'm reading right off of The Chief's notes. It’s hard to read what the names are. They've been written over several times. Right. Jimmy and Virginia, I'll just put that in here right away as soon as I get a chance to.” He closes the notebook and throws it down into the lower drawer with the big medicine bottle half emptied of pink liquid.

"Have you ever seen them?”

"Yes, of course. When they were acquired I got a good look at them, I'll never forget them. Anyway, the other night at the cereal plant down in the area where the kids were last seen I think that I've made a remarkable discovery. Right now is not a good time but let me take you down there and show you what I found. Meanwhile, I have to scoot along, busy days, you know.”

"Oh, wait, just one more thing. What about the boy, Saddam?”

"Nada. More later, Snaporaz old chum.” Dan points at him like his finger is a gun and winks a shot off. He is already on his way.

At last the morning meetings are over, and Dan shifts his thinking to other even more pleasant things. He is provided with a nifty classic sports car from the motor pool and heads out to hatch new plans. The car is awesome, a 1966 Jaguar. It is a dream to operate. 

All the traffic lights, all the new developments at Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, everything is going his way today.

Dan passes by two awkward looking kids walking out near the highway, a slender teen-aged girl with stringy hair holding the younger hand of one almost chubby little towheaded boy wearing one shoe. Dan does not pay any attention to them except to think that they should not be in such a dangerous place, some horrible neglectful adults in their young lives, that’s for sure. His mind is more on the widow, Mrs. Johnson, as he is ready to reap the benefits of his leadership position like never before. She certainly surprised him, but now he is prepared and ready for anything she wants to do. 

Dan carefully constructs and rehearses his suave new plan. He makes his list of preparations. Flowers, expensive chocolate, he is confident that he knows what she wants more than anything -- hot and intensely physical romance. He thoughtfully purchases a Barry White CD, mmmm baaabe, a bonus box of the best sexual aids. 

What was the last tip on her son? Dan couldn’t remember and, right now, couldn’t care less. Work Boy Dan, Boy Scout Dan, Decent Dan. Who? Somewhere back there he had crossed a line and, looking back over his shoulder, the once prominent Bible Belt is a dot to him now. Now that he has had some time to reflect on his overall career and life situation, he has adapted his mind, a new romance would probably be the perfect compliment to his new job. Now he is a new man, a man for a woman. This is uncharted territory now.

It’s high noon. He stands in front of Ms. Johnson’s door with the necessary ordinates: flowers, a large box of fancy chocolates, Barry and a ripe rooster ready for ribbing. Danny is just bursting with that tremendous optimism. This is going to be his big happy surprise for the woman he has just rescued from the dragons. But all that was before the armor went hollow, and “Can do” Dan made a killing selling tickets for the spectacle. 

Dan takes a deep breath and reflects on what is about to happen to him. Checks the flowers, the chocolate, the teeth, the hair. Another quick squirt of breath freshener. “I hope she's home. Car's there.” He silently practices his make-out line again, smirks and thinks to himself, “Why, Mrs. Johnson, are you trying to seduce me?”

He knocks. He waits. He hears footsteps. He is soooo ready. He thinks he should return her spontaneous enthusiasm and just gobble her up as soon as she opens the door. He attempts to adjust his clothing slightly as his anticipation has created a noticeable stir. Since his hands are full there is not much he can do, and perhaps simply presenting solid evidence is better than words anyway. 

The keyhole is checked as shadow gives way to the light in the room. The chain clatters off and there is a click of the door's lock. The door opens. It has to. It is the new Chief Karratay who commands this. Breathing harder...

It’s Snaporaz! Holding his pants in front of him and wearing nothing else except for his unusually big confidence and his famous charming smile. Not quite fully shielded behind Snap’s trim triangular physique Dan can see a surprised and squealing Mrs. Johnson dash into her new bedroom, down payment and damage deposit courtesy of “the agency.” She is also somewhat, er, completely naked, as was consistent with the smattering of clothing spattered about. The dining room table appeared to have been cleared off in great haste, the floor is cluttered with an assortment of table top debris -- spilled purse, loose change, fallen lamp lying on its side, folded newspaper, blackberry, handgun, sunglasses, car keys. Doing the math, Dan arrives at a most binary conclusion. “Snap on, Dan off,” he thinks to himself. Egads, has her tiara slipped! This was not the talent contest Dan had been hoping for. 

"Dan!?, errmm, Chief! What a surprise! I would invite you in, but as you can see this is…” Vittorio Snaporaz glances behind him, “…a sensitive moment. What's that you have there? Daffodils and Ghiradelli chocolates!” He quickly grasps Dan's plan and decides to assist him through his awkward confusion by accepting the candy on behalf of Mrs. Johnson. Snaporaz does this with a smile that is as compassionate as he can muster. Dan is jaw-drop stunned, still holding the slowly wilting flowers when the door closes in front of him. 

This is the moment when Dan began working on his really REALLY big new plan.

31: Uncle Al

The 1992 Ford Crown Victoria with Montana “Blue Sky” plates was once a dark blue and white police car and had been repainted light blue, and then silver-grey. There are places where the new paint has worn off and other places are rusty, so the Interceptor has some odd spots. A burly man with a bushy black mustache and black sunglasses is driving, and next to him is a pale blond young man, probably in his teens. They have twice driven the ominous car past the two children who are tired of walking and not paying attention. The young boy had only one shoe and the teen-aged girl appeared to have retained her determination and resolve, yet now completely physically exhausted. They are hungry.

The blond boy rolls down his window. “Hey Ginny, it’s me!”

The man calls out “Hey! Chou keeds luke tired, kamto hop on een to moi owtow mauv-eel!” TRANSLATION: Get in the car.

Jimmy abruptly refuses. “We are not supposed to get into any cars driven by strangers,” quickly remembering he is not to talk to them either. He was nonetheless proud that he had been so firm and, though his little feet hurt, he was not about to just climb right into any more trouble than he already had seen in the past several days. He is a Jangle. He can endure tribulations. He always looks both ways before leaping.

The mustached man nodded his head and put the car in park.

Ginny starts to defend herself and her young brother, pulling Jimmy around behind her. “Who are you?” now turning her focus from a righteous fear of the big sinister man to... “Saddam?” Could it be, she thought to herself, trying out yet another of the dozen names she had used to piss him off in the past. Names she made up mostly to hide her true feelings, that embarrassing and comical cliché crush on “The boy next door.” But they are nicknames only he would know, "Sad Mad? Is that you?” That gnarly boy next door seemed to have turned manish overnight, and it was all Gin could do to keep from showing she was noticing. She scrambled to think of some imperfection of his to balance her now dirty tattered clothing and scraggly hair. When he speaks again Gin must banish any doubt of who has come to the rescue. 

The blond boy laughs, also overjoyed at having found someone, however much they are less like a blood relative, who feels more familiar, like family, “Ginny, I changed my name to Don!” Turning to the man opening the driver’s side door, 

“…and guess what! This is my Uncle!” 

“Oh my gawd! Oh My God!! OH MY GOD!!!” Ugh, again with the swooning teen motif. Less me, more you, like mom said, “What happened to your hair?” 

The mustache man wearing black sunglasses has begun moving some boxes in the back seat in order to make room for the two tired kids. He politely says “Naz to mitchau. Latus gitchou keeds uffada bizzy strit, chew luke hangry. Ledus gauant gat samtink to it!” TRANSLATION: Get in the car.

Ginny had already leaped into the back seat. Though excited to see her new old playmate and chattering warmly away, she was becoming dimly aware that there were no interior car door handles, and there was a sort of cage between the front seat and the back seat. Jimmy Jangles was still considering the possibilities. He was reluctant to get into any strange cars, and this car looked very strange. However, he was hungry and the man said he would take care of them. His Jangle Sister was already on board. He now also recognized their neighbor, the boy her sister referred to as "the Dam Sad Kid,” and now his sister was growing impatient with him, so Jimmy was soon packed in that odd back seat next to Gin, like two little criminals.

"Haz yew know, I ham Saddam's, axkooz me, Don's ankle. I ham from Georgia, from near Batumi, on Blick Sea. Myh nim is Soth Yogoth Abdul Alhazred Johnson. Pliz, to call me Al.” TRANSLATION: Call me Al.

"Okay, Al. Whats in this box? It says DYNAMITE.”

The man peeped over his sunglasses and replied “Chou dun't smuck, do hew?” TRANSLATION: Chill out, princess.

“Smoke? Well, no, of course not, first of all I'm only 17, and my mother says…”

"Zen you shud bay chust fine, yang lidy. Now, vat vudchou lak to it?” TRANSLATION: No worries, princess. Hungry?

Jimmy spouts out, like many his age he is good at mimicking but often ever so socially unaware, “Ve vant far to gau hum, pliz! Tik us to or hum. Pliz.” TRANSLATION: Cut the crap, Al, take us to our home. NOW. 

“Okay okay.” Maybe he really is driving them home now. Things slowly relaxed and time quickly passed. Al appears to resign himself to the driving, muttering mild curses at passing traffic. 

In his own way Jimmy has just mastered this new man's language and used it for his own purposes. Ginny continues to be surprised at her younger siblings abilities, but she is the big sister. Maybe she should scold him for his disrespect for Uncle Al.

Any other time she would have elbowed Jimmy’s ribs and teased him, but not on this occasion. Exhausted, Ginny nods in agreement. She is ready to tell their mother all about their big adventures and the secret passageways and the little man behind the mysterious voice. She has lots of questions. She would not know where to begin, but she would like to get started right away. Ginny's eyelids were sore, and her head began to tilt to the side, "Right away," she thought, "…after just a little short nap in my own bed.”

To Gin it might have been hours, as she reviewed her adventure through the catacombs and tunnels under the old cereal plant, often surprised but not frightened by the little Yoda man who had nervously protected them through several days of hiding out. The not always smooth ride of the big old late-model car had only gone a few miles when she heard the Yoda man say in her brother's voice, "Are we there yet?"

"Vell, ve vill get chou hum zoon enaff yonk minh. Furst, I gnaw the grit plis to it da pitza. Dow hew keeds lak to it da pitza?” TRANSLATION: Pizza, kiddies?

"Pizza, Uncle Al, say pizza. Eat pizza.” Ginny heard New Blond Don say, realizing she, too, had a gaping pit in her stomach. 

CODE RED: PIZZA PIZZA PIZZA

"Yaaay!” shouted the kids! All three, Don, Gin and Jimmy are agreeable to “it da pitza” anytime. They are miraculously starting to energize for the occasion. Now a vigorous discussion about toppings and favorite beverages fills the hungry air.

Cruising down the entrance ramp and gaining speed the Crown Vic heads away from the general area of the Global DC headquarters and, as the rear end shimmies, waves goodbye with the Big Sky plates. The sky they were under now was overcast and glum and Jimmy knew that more than a couple things about this whole situation were just not right. He watched the gathering storm silently from the rear passenger window. Ginny and New Don had so much to talk about and were chattering away a mile a minute, headed towards the promise of pizza. Al just drove.

32: Dan's Really Big New Plan, Continued

Dan has crawled back to his cave to lick his wounds and reflect on the affairs of the day. There it is. The shame that his mother seemed to speak so highly of, as he remembered her preaching, "Feelings can be like roadsigns, son. Only some say, ‘Wrong Way." Its the shame of life.

He flipped over the calendar blotter in his new small borrowed office at DC Global HQ just a short distance from Mrs. Johnson’s apartment in one of the Agency occupied apartment complexes. Dan began to take notes on the big blank pieces torn off the back. 

The blank pages filled up quickly and began to line the office suite with circles and arrows and a paragraph beneath items marked cereal plant, HQ, SMACKERS, The Chief, the Three Stooges, BH; each explaining an intersect point of the spiderweb he had drawn. 

He looked at his watch. In Minsk it was about 4:30 in the afternoon, and he hastily sent a text message to a man he knew there, an underling in one of the subsidiary offices of WACO Global HQDC. “This is my personal fax, no others. Contact 7 p.m. on Burger phone." Why is it the quiet men in the organization have so much access?

Lots to worry about. Land ownership, privacy, allegiances and secrets staying put. 

33: A Place Of No Answers

 The car stops at a quiet roadside pizza palace, and round pies are eaten with bubbly beverages. Then the wheels turn some more. The moon rises. They are headed in the general direction of home before tomorrow. Pavement slides by and children of various ages and temperaments dream in the sleep of the just.

Hours later, in the intense gloom and inky blackness, a pair of dim and sinister headlights slowly whisper onto a vacant lot. The air is heavy and deadly still, it desperately needs a breeze right now, and there is a great painful emptiness on the land. The shocked moon looks down on a place where once there was life, and now there are only unseen but not forgotten ruins and a lingering failed hideous void. It’s just wrong. By the dim distant streetlight shadows grasping the gray there could be anything you might want to imagine, or not want to imagine. It could be huge dark nearly dry pools of old blood and odd lumps of what appear to be bits of bones, crushed skulls and ruined discarded torn clothing. A place of never ending weeping. A place where a terrible crime has happened. A place where there are no answers, only silence. Or it could be an ordinary empty grassy vacant lot that needs mowing. And some crickets. And a puddytat. That's really all it is.

Big Sky comes to a quiet crunch and pauses. After an unbearably long moment the mysterious car silently pushes on and then ghosts to a stop again, in front of a dark house next door. The car's noisy back door creaks open like a banshee scream piercing the night's velvet vampire heart.

"Thanks again for the great pizza, Al!” There is nothing like a cheerful young voice to banish the suspected evil that could be always waiting in the darkness.

"Yoor so very velcome, sveet childt.” TRANSLATION: Your sweet satisfaction is my humble reward.

"The time of victory for the people is at hand, Comrade Soth Yogoth Abdul Alhazred Johnson!”

"Goooot naucht, Chimmy. Zhere is nussing hum achore hauz, vat vill yudo?” TRANSLATION: Nobody is home. Are you okay here?

"We'll just wait over at our babysitter's house. Mom and dad probably went out driving and got lost again, er, I mean, um, they're just not quite home yet. Jeb is usually awake at this time.” Gin confirms her brother’s assertion, and then she waves and points to the lighted window of the neighbor's house and shouts, “Yes, there's his shadow in the window. See? He's wearing his night vision glasses right now!” 

The light goes out.

“Good night, Al!”

"Goooot naucht, sveet chiltren.” TRANSLATION: Buenos noches, muchachos.

"Good night Sadda... oops! Don. Good night, Donny!”

"Nighty-night. GinGin.” The car door closes, the two children get the extra key from under the flowerpot, and the kitchen lights go on at the Jangles’ house. The car grumbles off and the taillights ease into the night.

The next morning there is still no sign of Big Jim and Dot, more often called Mom and Dad in the Jangle Home. The kids have been dialing the Hummer's special cell number, sometimes they get a busy signal, sometimes it just rings and rings. Sometimes they get the “no longer in service” message. Right now they are getting a signal that they have never heard before. 

34: Agent Bambi Is Back

Dan has returned to Duckburger Macro and is in his regular electronic conference with his superior, Alexander Graham.

"I just want to make sure that I am the only one with the keys for the back offices and ancillary properties at the cereal plant until we can go through with the liquidation plans."

"Uh, sure Dan, we can do that. Should I ask you why?"

"Just containing costs. Safety issues and risk management. We should keep the cereal manufacturing cover side of the operations active since it’s still making us some money actually selling cereal. Some of the older buildings though, especially the ones that were specially purposed, will need to be converted before we can actually sell the property. I estimate it will take us about five years to find a good buyer."

"Fine Dan. Good thinking. I think you should continue to manage all that. Keep me informed."

"Righty-O. Perfect. Thanks boss."

"Nugice tells me that you and Snaporaz are not speaking to each other so much any more. Everything alright with my new Duckburger management team?"

"Oh, no problem, everything is fine. Not anything that should concern you boss. We can work it out. Just a little adjustment phase. At first I was a bit concerned about where he was fitting in, but I really only have myself to blame for that. No worries now, though. Can do!” (dry laugh).

"Well (imitates dry laugh), that’s good to hear. We do worry about our leadership operations, that's the key to the whole ball game, right Dan? By the way, have you seen Highmaughn lately? He keeps filing his reports, like clockwork, but it sounds like he has not even checked in with you guys yet."

"Well, that's the problem. Nobody knows what he looks like. In the updates you always send us, we get the redacted copies, there are several different accounts which tell us nothing useful, just that once he was a truck driver named “Chuckie” and once he was a waiter, and several times he was flower delivery service driver, and twice a telephone installation repairman. Once he was a cable guy. The delivery guy collecting signatures. Odd, that one is dated today. So on and so forth, and those are only the times that we know about. From our side we have zip. 

Nada. 

Nothing. 

Zilch. 

Nix. 

Bubkis. 

Not even an expense report. I am paying his salary, right?"

"That's our Highmaughn. He's so damn good at what he does, nobody knows he's there." 

A distinctly feminine sneeze, somewhere nearby, off camera. “Chew!”

Dan laughed nervously. He hears something unusual off camera, somewhere behind Alexander Graham.

"You got company?"

"Oh, its just Special Agent Lieutenant Bambi, she has transferred from Oslo back to the states, and so now we are happy to have her here at Global HQ.” He looks off camera, “I'll be right with you, um, Lieutenant. Have a seat over there," and then she whispers, "By the jacuzzi?” 

“Is there anything else, Agent Karratay?"

"What about Warner and Rumsbelly and that guy, The Chief?"

"No news is good news. Agent Lieutenant Bambi reports they are plenty busy with their new jobs off there in Oslo. Okay.” Graham shivers as if distracted by his own left leg. "Hey! Cold fingers!" somewhere in the room could be heard a sexy giggle. He moves out of the camera view. “Over and out Dan. We're always here for you. Keep me informed."

"Over and ah," but the screen was already blank. 

Dan whirled around. Someone was in the room, but he didn't hear anyone come in. It was a delivery guy, apparently looking for a signature. Dan looked carefully at him, kinda stocky. Is that Highmaughn? It probably is.

“How’s things? Picking up? Dropping off?” No reaction. Highmaughn always loves a bad pun. That old gag should have gotten a response. Dan did not say anything more, but he watched skeptically, carefully. He was so nervous he really was not paying attention to the paperwork.

“Just sign here. And here. And here. Once more. Okay, ooooop, one more. That'll do'er.” The deliveryman disappeared.

35: Making Another Call

As there was no word from anyone by the next morning, Jimmy and Ginny went to visit the neighbor across the street to see if they could learn something about what happened. They were glad that Mrs. Hamilton offered them lunch and that she was not asking too many questions. They played with the terrier and cautiously discussed their situation over a delicious pickle and tuna fish feast, while the nice neighbor lady went to see if her son Jeb Hamilton wanted to get up and join them on the sun porch. Ginny says they probably need to call someone to help them sort things out, to help them find their missing parents and to replenish their kitchen. Jimmy suggests calling the number on the original note again but Ginny thinks that’s a really bad idea. She then she reconsiders it, having nothing better to offer, and her usually no-nonsense guts are getting a little bit panicky inside her.

"Okay, then you dial it Jimmy.” She dares him, placing the white phone near Jimmy on the shiny clean glass tabletop, marred only by rings of milk. 

They are startled by Mrs. Hamilton’s return, “I don' t think calling the police is a good idea either, kids. Once you open that door, all kinds of paperwork and all sorts of trouble follows. What ever happened to our neighbors. You know, your little friend, what was his name, Siam?” “Saddam.” Unusual for a Southern name. Sometimes they are bible names, I guess,” Mrs. Hamilton digressed, “…but usually more like confederate generals, Billy Lee or Annie Kay, or Jefferson or Davis or something. The boy was always good to his mother, though, I have to say that. I just don't understand why they took the whole house with them when they moved.” She goes back inside.

Ginny again pushes the phone towards Jimmy with daring eyes. For the second time in his life Jimmy calmly and purposefully dials the number on the grubby note that he found in the cereal box.

Brrr Brrr... Brrr Brrr... Brrr Brrr... Brrr Brrr.....

36: In Bin 7

In bin five, Mr. Jangles was slowly waking up, while in bin seven, Dorothy Jangles was shielding her eyes from the light. She had been awake for about five minutes. The smell of cereal did not please her one bit, too sweet, her stomach was turning. She was struggling to retain her nourishment.

The bin was tall and narrow, she had been lying supine when she awoke with a start. She was trying to remember what had happened and it was not going so well. They had been on the road for days, trying to remain invisible, hiding inside the landscape. But what were they avoiding? She groped the gaps in her memory. They are looking for Jimmy and Ginny. That was it – Jimmy and Ginny! Still out there somewhere! Alone and frightened! Her heartbeat quickened. She was in a cement box or cell, helpless. There was nothing she could do.

She thought of her husband. Their emotions were raw and they had been quarreling. They were fed up with being jerked around, but they were not about to return to the police. They had several conversations with the constabulary that went nowhere, and felt lucky to have made it out of the police station after that. Obviously the police had plenty to do and did not welcome any crazy parents making hysterical demands concerning their run-away kids, especially when the plot eventually twists into some kind of wild and wacky ninja conspiracy. 

It was that Sunday morning when they had arrived for a meeting back at the cereal plant followed by Agent Dan in his own brand new big red Charger. With him were his friends Ned and someone called Snappy. Snaparez. Snap-a-rod. Something like that. They were all going down the stairs to retrieve the kids. Dorothy was teary eyed, so relieved she would soon be reunited with her children. Then there was some kind of acrid smell, and everything went black. Now she is in what appears to be a concrete cereal box.

Dan switched on his monitor a little early for his regular morning conference with Alexander Graham. There he was, grinning deliriously past the camera, he was talking to someone. It was obviously Special Agent Bambi. Special Agent Lieutenant Bambi. By now and forever Dan would know that giggle anywhere. They seem to always be feeling each other up. Graham: great big white hunter, she: cute little deer demurely off-camera. Dan was disgusted, but shrugged and thought, “It’s none of my business. Some guys are lucky that way. Not Dan,” but he was thinking about the widow Johnson, “Nope. I don’t need that physical stuff, all that distraction and maintenance. For Dan it’s work, not play, Mrs. Johnson.” Mrs. Johnson wasn't there but Dan was carrying on an imaginary dialog with her.

Suddenly Graham spun around. “YOU!?!!” while somewhere off-camera two more exclamation points erupted. “Foom..Foom,” the silencer discretely burped as Alexander Graham's head exploded, and the crimson splatter on the screen dripped a sanguine red. A woman screamed. The muzzle quietly coughed again followed by silence. Through the red haze a gloved hand reached into the range of the video camera to close it down, but it stays on and crashes onto its side, where it lies there for many long moments, showing only any empty room with some shadows, through the red patina. There is a sound of a metal bucket being filled with hot water from a faucet, and the screen went blank.

37: An Important Announcement

The late model Crown Vic with Montana plates again pulled up in front of the Jangles’ house. Nothing happened. From the house next door a terrier came running out, barking, followed by Jimmy and Ginny. Mrs. Hamilton peered anxiously at them from the window, they waved to her tersely and fairly flew towards the car door shrieking open. The car door slammed, a friendly beep of the horn and a cheery wave from the burly mustached man who was driving. The rusting old car rumbled off. Mrs. Hamilton waved sadly.

Mrs. Hamilton reached for her son’s binoculars. She wrote down the Montana license plate number. Her son Jeb was fast asleep as usual, as it was daylight. She pondered what to do with this information as she turned on the television for her regular morning advice programming.

At all of the Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight offices around the entire planet a major announcement was in progress, not for the public. Seated in front of the camera was a man known to the Duckburger office as The Chief.

“... I just want you to feel secure in your new leadership here at the Global Offices. As with many of the recent changes we have had in the past few months and hours there is no reason for alarm. Your day-to-day operations are not going to change for quite some time, if at all. Make no mistake. Here at Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight we have the safety of all the United States and every one of its overseas programs in our capable and informed hands.” 

The camera moves in for a close shot of his face.

“As always, you can depend on us to be there beside you, as we guide our world-wide enterprise to new and exciting, undreamed of horizons. With our new partnerships we are going to be creating a world in which our children will be able to play freely and build their own successful business organizations. We will one day look back on our times now, before the coming new dawn, as the end of a frightful dark age. This is the moment just before our great new world awoke and accepted its natural triumphant role in universally secure commerce.”

Cut back to a wide shot, showing The Chief seated at his comfortable office desk. His beaming face was masked in paternal sincerity.

“Thank you, Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, and God bless us, every one.” The camera lingered on The Chief as he smiled and made a gentle wave with clear-eyed comforting authority. The hypnotic beat of the patriotic power music swelled. Fade to flag, and dim to black.

Next, that very morning, Dan received a bill from accounting instead of his paycheck. The destruction of Room 51, damages to the pursuit vehicles, and a demolished trestle bridge, one helicopter crashed, vandalizing a significant portion of the Global HQ air fleet, the rent for his expensive apartment, the rent for Mrs. Jangles’ expensive apartment, several vehicles including the car she is now driving, the 1966 Jaguar, the bright red Charger. Transportation, expenses and overtime wages for Agent Highmaughn. The list went on and on. Dan owes the company just over one hundred and seventy million dollars on paper, including his purchase of the cereal plant. That was his signature, all right. He thought about crumpling it up but instead he hesitated. “Crisis opportunity,” he muttered. 

Dan, Snaporaz and Nugice considered starting their own business. They were counting on exploiting the new inventions that Mr. Jangles had discussed with them. They had no idea where the Jangles children were, but that did not stop Nugice from bargaining. There were several hours of video recordings of the children sitting in bin five and Nugice had no compunctions about using whatever was necessary in order to gain an advantage. 

If the kids were not enough to convince the Mr., there was always Mrs. Jangles.

38: The Insane Dungeon Master

Dorothy Jangles was now in bin 3. She was entirely despondent. Nothing fit. WHERE ARE THE KIDS? What is she doing here in this improvised cell? Where is her husband? Who is this Dan guy? At first he seemed like it was the Jangles and Dapper Dan against the evil ninjas, rescuing the children, but now that’s all gone. Devil Dan had put them in this place, and now she is at the mercy of Nugice, the insane dungeon master.

As she lay in the corner and tried to calm her troubled thoughts, there was a strange sight. She assumed that she had lost her mind and that she was hallucinating. The wall seemed to shift as if it were a secret door and a large dark passageway opened up. She lay there motionless, terrified, doubting and staring in total disbelief. The smell of mystery filled her quivering nostrils. She did not move for quite some time as she pondered the whispering horrors lurking in the darkness and what appeared an infinite beyond.

Nelson was nervous. Bin three was empty. He had no explanation. He had already checked all of the other bins. Upstairs, downstairs, out back, out further back. Nothing. Where the heck is Dorothy Jangles? He hoped that Dan or Snaporaz had her somewhere. Now he could not find them either, if they are both gone they must be together. There was no other explanation, so it will have to stand. Might as well head back to the WACO Macro Command Center in Duckburger. He headed for his vehicle. He hesitated. Well, not yet. Might as well stick with Plan A, wait here a minute more and see if anyone shows up. Then go on with Plan B, go back to the office and get some work done.

The old cereal plant was still busy actually making cereal, trucks coming and going, but back here it was creepy. The land of spiders. Some of the dark old buildings back here have no windows. One or two suspicious lights were on in an otherwise empty and ruined three-story garage with huge rolling doors. Some places have strange hidden basements, doors that do not belong where they are. Darned if he is going down there to see what kind of special equipment or “guest rooms” are hidden away. No way. Not today. Not now. Hopefully not ever. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. 

Before the place was converted into a cereal plant it was something else, evidently it was an old estate. One of the last things the original owner did before he died was to create the cereal plant. The family who owned it had been desperately trying to think of a way to make some money on the old property. Times were hard for the dwindling family, so they did not spend much money either, they just quickly finished converting the larger buildings by the road, outfitted them with the cereal cooking machines, storage bins, packaging area, all that stuff, and left everything else alone. Then Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight bought the property and set up a few quick secret labs in some of the back areas, leaving the noisy factory to look busy and allowing the rest of the place to just sit quietly for some time. There had been some big plans, but they were secret plans. Now, nobody knows what all is down there.

It seemed like a good investment at the time when The Chief took the initiative and started spending money on developing his extensive empire with secret buildings where anything he wanted to do could be done without attracting unwanted attention. The new cost savings plan of Dan's went over really well at Global HQ, dumping the whole thing would save Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight a big bountiful bundle. They have plenty to work with at the shiny new remodeled complex in downtown Duckburger.

With the current abrupt new changes in Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight Global HQ leadership all bets were off. Anything could happen. Now The Chief was back and had risen to the top of the whole freaking empire. He just might go ahead with his darker original plans. Nobody knows. It’s just how large spy organizations work these days, especially in the private sector. Not long ago, when the government paid for everything, it was important to be accountable and plausibly transparent, now it is all different. Rich men are different than the rest of us.

Since this part of the operation had closed down Mr. Jangles could continue his work without any interruptions, but Nelson had yet to see the long term wisdom of kidnapping and emotional torture to accomplish clandestine goals.

And anyway, this place is too quiet now, thought Nelson. He had had enough, and left the spiders to their own devices. It is getting too dark, he thought, both figuratively and literally. Tomorrow is another day. Plan B it is.

39: Flying Saucers

Billy liked the new cereal, and his mother let him have it because it was a good source of fiber; plus the little fruity bits reminded her of her childhood in Sweden. Instead of a cereal bowl, Billy went to the cupboard and picked out one of his mother's mixing bowls, and dumped out the entire box. With the box still upside down, he reached up inside, and quickly grabbed what he was after; a small saucer shaped object amply big enough to technically avoid being a choking hazard for young children. His eyes glistened. He held the grayish colored saucer in both hands like a sandwich in front of his eyes, and then let both hands go. The saucer hung in midair. He stood up, and the saucer raised and adjusted, coming to a stop at about the height of his head where he had first released the impish mechanism, undoubtedly the best toy ever made.

Sabrang liked the new cereal, and her mother let her have it because every princess must have at least one. She met her mother’s official shopper at the door, and jumped for the box, kicking Puja in the shin as she had done many times before. Sabrang tore open the box without ceremony and dumped the contents out on their $24,000 entry rug. As per the instructions, she then reached up inside and took the smooth gray object in both hands. She held it in front of her nose and breathed a princess breath onto the magical marvel, and released it. It floated! She ran around and around, up the stairs and back down, out to where the royal herd of elephants was kept, followed all the while by her new best friend. Raja trumpeted and raised up on her hind legs as the princess ran past, followed by the small grey UFO toy.

Dr. Bugatti did not like the remarkably under-average sugarcoated flake cereal, and he despised the little gummy fruity bits, some of which stuck to his shoes after overflowing the largest sized garbage pail he could find. He made a brief entry in a notebook as reached up and took down yet another box, deftly cutting off the top with a box cutter. As the contents poured out he reached up inside with a pair of laboratory tongs, while several of the little saucers encircled his head like so many flies. Next, Dr. Bugatti, or “go batty” as his staff clandestinely called him, removed a small object and held it firmly on his woodblock lab table, carefully labeling it with the numerals 147 before a sterile machete came down and separated the little saucer in two almost identical pieces. 147-A and 147-B. The homogeneous solid foam-like material lay in two lifeless half moons on the table, though its little chums seemed unaffected, still loyal to the belfry on which they had first imprinted. 

Bugatti swung the machete wildly around his head trying to shoo away the annoying toys, no closer than he was yesterday at this time when he signed the invoice for the palate of 144 cases. He checked his notes. Yes, just under 24 hours ago he had dumped out the first box, and held the prize in both hands in front of his nose as instructed. The first one he saw was still wildly encircling his furrowed brow, although he had since decimated several of its putative siblings with the machete or other "laboratory tools." Sometimes spinning, and sometimes simply resting in place, Dr. Bugatti recognized it as the original because he could see the numeral 1 he had printed with an indelible felt marker just above the initials b.u.b. stamped in each saucer’s upper surface. As he watched, with a kind of “pop,” the saucer fell, the falling pieces crumbling and dissolving with no residue. No shards of paper, no powder, no nothing. Dr. Bugatti looked at his watch, and then ran to his notebook, and looked at his watch again. “Pop,” from over behind an orange crate a second saucer was no more, having been struck lifeless with a baseball bat sometime around hour seven of the frustrating experiments. He looked up at the ceiling where the crossbow arrow had impaled number three, looked down at his watch, and up again. “Pop…”

40: Mrs. Johnson's New Job

Mrs. Johnson was correct in her suspicions all company apartments were wired for more than sound. Her “nooner” escapade with Snaporaz, interrupted by a once decent Dan, had nonetheless caught the attention of The Chief. She received a cryptic note one morning from an unidentified source telling her where to go for employment within the agency, and a friendly warning suggestion, "Nobody rides for free."

"So," said Mrs. Johnson with an alluring shy coyness, "…this was Agent Bambi's office?" 

"Well. In fact, yes, when she worked for me here in Duckburger. That was before being transferred to Oslo and then transferred back to the main offices, before that nasty business with Alexander Graham at the DC Global HQ," said The Chief, giving an obligatory sigh and quickly moving on, "…but, such is life in the big city, I guess.”

"I wouldn't know. I am originally from kind of a small town, myself," said Mrs. Johnson, hoping to get The Chief to move on and leave her to her assigned duties. 

“Well, anyway…” The Chief rambled on, hoping he might be able to ascertain how his comely new assistant felt about inter-office intimacy issues, “…an office is an office, and you are our best candidate for administrative associate right here in this office since I have taken over Graham's position. I asked to be centered here in Duckburger, though. This place holds a special place in my heart." 

Once he was gone, she searched the room for any recording devices. Using just her eyes, she immediately found one camera, in front of which was a miniature rendition of the Marines planting a flag at Iwo Jima, screwed down tight into the wood of the wall seat probably by, she could only surmise, Agent Bambi. 

The more she looked the more she found.

41: The Taste Of Phong

For the third time in one week six black vans tear into the Muskrat Quarry subdivision and 66 large heavily armed human assets wearing body armor surround a house while two official looking men in black suits and sunglasses knock on Mrs. Hamilton's door. The terrier scrambled past her through the doorway, but with four uniformed legs to choose from he is momentarily confused as to which one he might bite first, quickly settling on Willie Phong. "Ow," Willie winced, while trying to shake himself free from the furry defender's persistent gripping nip, "ma'am, could you, ah, do something about your dog?"

Mrs. Hamilton did not budge. "Sorry. He's got a mind of his own. Sometimes I can't do a thing with him." Agent Snaporaz reached down and picked up the dog by the scruff of the neck, which resulted in Agent Phong's immediate liberation. "Now, this will only take a few minutes ma'am. But we must get right down to business." Mrs. Hamilton grabbed her terrier away from the smiling and charming yet subtly threatening Snaporaz, she stepped out of the way just in time to avoid being pushed aside by the pernicious pair.

42: Power Play

Mrs. Johnson knelt down close to the wooden window seat and attempted to look from the viewpoint of the camera, closing one eye and squinting as she looked past the bronze miniature. Odd things lined up, while others were missing.

The door opened and two officious looking men in plain brown suits entered, still talking to one another from the hallway. "…and I sure don't argue with fate, Rummy old boy, but it must have been messy. Of course, they had it all cleaned up by the time…” Warner stopped startled, while Rumsbelly narrowed his eyes in a first bid at the contempt he cultivated in underlings, "Hey, what are you doing in this office?"

"Oh, gentlemen, come in. Do you have an appointment with The Chief?" Mrs. Johnson could match anyone's power play.

"I asked who you were. Do you work here? The Chief never mentioned he had a new assist…, er, secretary."

She extended her hand, "I'm Mrs. Johnson, the new administrative assistant," and again, "Do you have an appointment?" Warner shook her hand, clearly charmed, but Rumsbelly deferred, still sowing sour seeds, "Only for the regular morning meeting. Aren't you up to speed yet?"

The Chief burst into the outer office, "Gentlemen, get in here! It's all over the television! The Kid has done it, again. How he pulled his lallywhacker out of the liniment this time I will never know," all four of them stood in the suite occupied by The Chief and stared at a bank of television sets that dominated the left wall. 

Several of the television monitors had reporters standing in front of grocery stores, many of which were covered in foreign writing, but everyone, as characterized by one freckle-faced cub reporter in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, was saying the same thing; "Yes, folks, they cannot get enough of them. The shelves are empty and people are still storming from one store to another. If it's not the parents kowtowing to the little darlings, it's the grandparents. But everyone, confidentially some grownups included, must have a chance at the newest invention modern science has to offer, even if the rumors are true that it only lasts for 24 hours."

"The stock will go through the roof!" Said Rumsbelly, and The Chief chimed in, "We may have to do something drastic to reverse this revolting development." "Dr. Bugatti called me this morning," said Warner, "But he is no closer to understanding this than my daughter. Oh, and the wife wants me to pick up seven boxes on my way home just to last through the week! She thinks I have some kind of ‘in’ just because the company used to own the plant." Rumsbelly and Warner set off for their offices and a conference call with their boys at the plant, to see what Nugice, Murphy and Nelson had been able to glean from the mysterious goings-on since the Jangles “disappearance.” The Chief made a quick phone call, and grabbed his jacket to head for the underground garage. Mrs. Johnson quietly listened.

When they had all left she went to The Chief’s monitor control station, and flicked the switch for the outer office. 

Then she noticed the monitor for the parking lot and she had to sit down.

43: The Children Are Running the World

Nugice watched the video feed from the underground laboratory where Mr. Jangles worked. Dan insisted that no microphone feeds be allowed. He clearly had maintained control over Mr. Jangles as he stormed around his chair striking the most threatening poses, obviously railing on Jangles for more secrets and inventions. A couple hundred-gallon vats of the gray foam-like liquid with large LED temperature and timer displays attached percolated over against a back wall, presumably waiting for their saucer molds. 

“It is better if you do not know what I say to the detainees,” Dan had told him. Nugice had to admit heavy handedness had been no success with Mr. Jangles before Dan had taken over the “protocol of persuasion,” a phrase the new boss Dan coined in a kind of Orwellian Newspeak. Creepy, kind of, but Nugice relished the permission for future clandestine evil. 

In his mind Nugice jokingly contrasted his two underlings, Murphy and Nelson, respectively, as “Irish,” and “Irish you wouldn’t,” thinking Nelson might not have the stomach for the latest goings on down there in what he calls “The Land of the Spiders.” 

Nugice silently savored Mr. Jangles’ futile resistance while Dan strapped him in a chair and tilted his head back level with his body in an old shampoo sink. Then Dan secured the man's head into an iron mask with a strange tubular feed and straws that would apparently allow Mr. Jangles to breathe only when Dan wanted him to. “Sweet Jesus,” Nugice said aloud, “I thought water-boarding was bad!” all the while secretly wishing to get his hands on such a tool. “Oh, Well. Looks like that's the life in the small town. Ha, ha.”

The conference call continued despite the fact Nelson was still on a plane coming back from the company offices in Europe and Murphy was attending a week-long seminar training session learning “The Romantic Language of Lapland.” Nugice sat in Nelson’s chair in the control room, still central operations there for HQ, as the agency now had to rent that small area of the plant from owner and CEO Dan Karratey. Lou was in Baktou with the flu. While he waited Nugice spun himself around and around.

Nugice explained to Warner what Rumsbelly already knew, “That area of the physical plant is entirely off limits to anyone but the owner,” and grimaced at his declining to shoulder some of the debt when Snaporez approached Karratay with a deal. Rumsbelly knew The Chief would be upset they no longer maintained some hold over the finances, as Nugice went on, “But Danny wanted too much for too little portion of the profit from the so-called inventions,” and both remembered how hard The Chief laughed when Karratey got the bill for his purchase of the whole plant. Or, rather, Plantation. They had all left Agent Karratey alone though, as long as he kept his part of the bargain so the Jangles could not go to the press concerning the kidnapping of their entire family. For The Chief, murder was always an option, but even Rumsbelly and Nugice knew it was smarter to keep murder as a final option. 

Nugice assumed it was Dan who had secreted Dorothy Jangles out of bin 3, for more persuasive protocol in front of her husband, to squeak out another invention or as yet undiscovered principle of physics. “If The Chief had any idea what he was passing on when he let go of control of Mr. Jangles…” Nugice ventured, to which Rumsbelly replied, “Well, I got a feeling he wants him back. Be ready for anything down there at the plant.”

Nugice could still recall how his superior had laughed at the little family man come inventor, “Yeah, yeah,” chuckled The Chief, crusty pink medicine at the corners of his mouth, “Jangles could come up with a moisture sensing variable speed windshield wiper or something, but I think his genius is a flash in the pan, and we have all the techie inventor nerds we need. You should see what some of those remote control drones can do.” But now Dan had really gone and done it; no discernible power supply in the little saucers, “…and he is giving them away!” chirped Warner on the other end of the line. Giving!? Thought Nugice, the cereal production was scheduled to go up over 7000 percent to accommodate the demand for the little saucers, as they were selling just like what they looked like, little silver dollar hotcakes. But the stock was the real moo cow. It was pulling the entire index during the past day, surpassing even military growth spurts in time of war. 

It was Official, the children are running the world. 

44: The Burnt Feather

The current head of operations sat in his car in the underground garage of the offices of Duckburger Macro HQ, and waited. The Chief was used to the unexpected, and swallowed his disbelief as a rusty 1992 Ford Crown Victoria with Montana plates pulled up along side. A gloved hand offered a white feather to The Chief, but this was simply unacceptable. How could he sanction this signal that the single greatest undercover agent they would ever know must now be nothing but a memory? The Chief could swear he sees movement in the back seat under some kind of tarpaulin or blanket, but it couldn’t be, Buckminster Highmaughn always worked alone. Not any more. Retired? No way! 

The Chief stuck his hand out the window and with a flick of his butane lighter, the white feather burst into flame. Although well aware "This means war!" before The Chief can take steps to detain the apparently no longer cooperative Highmaughn, his flamboyant gesture is superseded by three muffled explosions of the SWAT style “smokers,” and the underground garage coughs a smoggy goodbye to Big Sky. What now, thought The Chief. There goes our best bet to quietly undo the fiasco with The Carrot Kid, an operation that now would monopolize an overwhelming majority of the agency’s best assets and technical spy gear. 

But The Chief ran the show. The Chief returned to the upstairs offices to let the seconds in command know they were about to handle a major insurgence into enemy territory, the plant they had formerly owned and operated. Nugice was on board, and had been saving a trump card, arguably the most valuable intelligence yet. Since Nelson returned, he was the second to gain access to a map of the entire plant, complete with explanations of how to access the underground tunnels and hiding places. Agents could be stationed everywhere, ready to pounce. He was positioning to be right up under Snaporaz, now that Dan was rumored to soon be kaput.

Snaporaz already had a global alert out for the Big Sky plates with the description consistent with that of the Jangles children and a burly mustached man. Could it be Highmaughn? Had he already turned the children to his own advantage? No matter. Snappy would bring all three of them down, noting his communiqué from The Chief that Highmaughn was no longer killer elite, he was now the low man. 

"And there they are!” Snaporaz shouted, “Just driving along as pretty as pie." One of the drones was able to get a closer look and had the carload about six miles away from Duckburger HQ. "Are they lost?" Said Snaporaz to the Bluetooth techie at control central. “They seem to be just driving around the HQ in circles," Snaporaz commented as he moved in on an intercept vector. The mustached man in the late-model Crown Vic brought the car to a stop as he looked down the road at a single figure standing beside a Wasp helicopter. He or she was holding an RPG on his or her shoulder and aiming it straight at the Big Sky plates.

"Vell, Jungsters. Kip yore pints own. Et ess up to sumvun lls nau.” TRANSLATION: Anchor yourself to something solid, kids…

45: The ‘Kill Or Be Killed’ Game

Confident that Mrs. Johnson must remain under his consequential influence, Snaporaz tells her to watch the Jangles children and the trussed-up mustached man for safekeeping, up in the now empty Duckburger Macro HQ while the rest of staff has left, locked and loaded, for the Duckburger cereal plant. Snaporaz has Saddam Johnson in his helicopter, complete with his crazy surfer bum hairdo. What can Mrs. Johnson do but vow allegiance and wait for further instructions?

After both had been called back to the Duckburger cereal plant, Murphy and Nelson were again manning the control room under the watchful eyes of the sour and gloating Nugice, now having access to all camera and microphone positions, giving them eyes and ears virtually everywhere. The Chief had taken one of the larger company helicopters to Duckburger, with several of the faceless black flack suits, and was ready to lead the operation, piloting a high-speed Wasp already on the ground, while Snaporaz and Nugice snaked through the catacombs and added a royal flush to what they felt was already a pat winning hand. Luck is for the busy duck! Two prisoners are added to the collection.

Dan stood over his lucrative captive, and the man strapped in the chair made grunting sounds and flailed fruitlessly. "Tick tock, my friend. You are the whole show now. You're probably wondering, ‘Where has Danny's loyalty gone, long time pa-assing,” he sang, imitating the old war protest song. He made sure the straps on the head and arms and legs were secure, and continued humming, reminded how their own interrogation rooms always kept some background music going, “Looong time ag-oh.” He checks the wheels on the round bottom of the torturous barber chair, and gives his "detainee" one last good spin, “Gone to graveyards, ev'ry one. When will they eeeeeeeeeeeeeeever learn..”

As if from nowhere, a small man is all but thrown into the room, followed by the pushed and stumbling Mrs. Jangles, clearly distraught and dirty, with her hair in a tangle. "Jim, oh my Lord!" She cries out seeing the familiar clothing worn by man in the spinning barber chair. Immediately Snaporaz enters, toting a Walther PPK, and fancying himself the debonair Bond, quips, "Moneypenny. Is that you? Goldfinger?” Pointing the weapon and sniggering in Dan's direction, “And, apparently ready for another close shave, our inventor, Q." He went on sarcastically, "But Mrs. Jangles’ latest charm for her bracelet puzzles me." Snaporaz pointed at the clearly irritated Nobody, once author of some of the most sophisticated code in the spy business. Still brimming with his own cleverness and bending at the waist with his palms on his knees, Snaporaz queries, "You wouldn't be the inevitable and inimitable Mini-M…” only to be cut off in mid-sentence by the ferocious and oddly intimidating small man. ”Don’t go there. I will bus’ you up!" Nobody snarls.

"Anyway…” Returning to his triumph, Snaps turns back in the direction of the barber chair, “Dan, I found them together down there in the tunnels. It's all over, my boy. That's the Monopoly game." By this time Dan had grabbed the ever ready hypodermic syringe and was holding it to the neck of what he knew must be the real focus of Snaporaz’ attention, while from behind Dan in the other direction, The Chief spoke. "Steady there Danny boy! You don't want to tear up the prize winning lottery ticket, do you?" Dorothy Jangles screamed, a look of disbelief on her face.

"Don't try me -- any of you -- these people mean nothing to me!"

"Of course not Dan," Snaporaz confirmed, "We went through the same training. Everyone is expendable, none of us are virgins to the ‘kill or be killed’ game, Buster Highmaughn has seen to that." The figure in the chair struggled vigorously, and Dan clamped down hard with the needle to his neck.

46: King Takes Queen

Several monitors on the far back wall of the laboratory clicked on to show Mrs. Johnson pacing back and forth in front of her three detainees, and Mrs. Jangles again screamed, "Give me back my children!"

"We will get to them in a minute. Suffice to say you will do what I say," the confident poet Snaporaz said.

"The plant is nothing," Mrs. Jangles broke in. "It's the man in the chair who controls everything!" She wiped tears from her eyes in a last ditch effort to turn back the tide. "Those saucers look harmless enough. Half pint little gray hockey pucks. Toys! ‘Pop’ and the whirling devils are simply gone. But the door swings both ways. My husband told me it is a simple signal to reverse them. And then, watch out in a big way! Dignitaries, ‘pop,’ heads of state, ‘pop,’ troublesome presidents, ‘pop.’ Even the guy on television said so. Every little prince or princess must have one."

Suddenly, Justin Tyme started singing in The Chief's pocket. Dan's mouth gaped, while The Chief smiled. "Can everybody hang on just a second?" He put his cell phone to his ear, and held up a finger to first Snaporaz and then Dan, a gesture under even the best of circumstances that could only be taken as very rude and presumptuous. “I have to take this." Dan closed his mouth and turned to Snaporaz, who had by this time turned back to Dan and was shrugging both palms to the sky, his right-hand still holding the Walther. 

"Yes," the chief spoke, "Bring up, oh, the standard four observation cameras." Murphy self confidently smirked as he flicked the switch in the control room marked “standard four,” while Nugice snored over a half eaten doughnut with patriotic sprinkles and a Café Caramel with whipped cream on the rim, blissfully unaware that one or both had recently been drugged. 

Three more images instantly appear on the screens in the laboratory to supplement the ever-pacing widow Johnson; The Chief’s office, a semi-long shot taken from a nearby skyscraper showing the silhouette of the Duckburger HQ with the helicopter on the roof and, finally, the now all but empty parking garage except for one automotive relic from the land of the Big Sky. "No agency cars in the underground, eh, Snaporaz? Got the building all to themselves, do they?" From The Chief's office Rumsbelly and Warner hug in for a close shot, smile and wave through the monitors, with Rumsbelly making it clear he is holding the other end of the conference call with The Chief. "Warner, get the chopper warmed up. Rummy, ready on the gas."

"So you see, Snappy, King takes Queen. Checkmate. Why are you still smiling?"

"Because the lady in question still answers to me. She found Agent Bambi’s hiding place, and all the dope on you and Alexander Graham. She contacted me while I was on the way over here. Concerned I might wax her surfer bum son or some such. In any case..." 

"Yes, yes. Cold war microfiche and all that. Teeny tiny files. Thumb drive bull shizzle. Humbug, I say! Humbug! Ha, Ha, Ha.” The Chief laughs until he gets a catch in his throat and begins to cough uncontrollably for a few moments.

Clearly The Chief still has everyone’s attention, and they wait for him to regain his composure before continuing, “Rumsbelly is about to gas the whole room. I never had the knock-out bomb canister removed after Graham bid us adieu, au revoir, auf wiedersehen, adios… You know, that weasel fart never even said goodbye.” The Chief smiled at his own use of Mel Brooks cleverness, and continued, there was no stopping him now. "Then, while the Von Trapp’s are asleep, to Victor Hugo the spoils. All that agency history will remain a mystery. By the way, with the plant go the toys," and, while glancing down at Nobody, The Chief rhymes on, "...while I make war with bigger boys.” 

Never mistake size for determination or speed. Because he was considered inconsequential, he had not been tethered. Nobody knew what he must do, and this last heroic act made perfect sense now that the fate of world leaders had been laid on the altar by the frightened Mrs. Jangles. A short dash towards the barber's chair, and the little man lunged, throwing all his weight forward. Wrested from the startled Dan's grasp and careening backwards, there was no stopping both the bound and masked man in the barber chair and Nobody himself from toppling into the gray quicksand and being quickly engulfed. 

The LED clock behind flashed 0.12, 0.11… as the yellow panel ‘DORMANT’ flipped to read a red flashing ‘IMPRINTED,’ and Mrs. Jangles bit the hand of agent Snaporaz, grabbing the Walther PPK he had recently retrieved from ordinance lockup in the control room. Apparently still unsure of friend or foe, and unwilling to assault either man who might have current purview over her children, Mrs. Jangles seemed to level all her anger at her original captor, Dan.

"Get him out of there! Now!" she commanded. …06, "Great Zeus, Dan." Snaporaz pleaded …04, "Do what she says!" Even The Chief’s Good Humor Bar cool was melting, "We need him. Dan, turn off the Flubber!” …02.

"I…I can't." Dan stammered, "Get back! The countdown is over and I don't…” ‘POP,’ and 100 gallons of matter was no more. At that same moment the startled Dorothy Jangles jumped as the Walther busted a cap and Dan's chest instantly spit red. Their ears popped and the windows blew in, raining glass on the laboratory occupants, as the vacuum instantly sucked Dan's limp torso into the now empty hundred-gallon vat. A red streak followed as Dan slid like a sandbag down the narrowing walls and rolled out of sight into the emptying trough. Snaporaz squeezed Dorothy Jangles’ wrist painfully and easily regained control of the weapon. 

“Dammit,” The Chief struggled to regain his customary composure. "Oh well, maybe the Mrs. still has some of his secrets in a lockbox somewhere. Just think, Snappy, with Dan gone all that phony paperwork puts you in charge." 

Dorothy Jangles surprised them both as she summoned the strength to speak, first and foremost a mother, "Mr. Snaporaz, you can have everything my husband was working on if you will just let me have my children back safe."

The Chief was back, flippant as ever, "Tut, tut. Round three. Rumsbelly, you read?" Vittorio Snaporaz leveled his weapon, but there was really nothing he could do but watch the monitors.

Rumsbelly smiled at the camera as he made a dramatic thumb down push on the large red button on The Chief’s desk. The room on the monitor shook, and the screen with the parking garage went static, followed by that of the quietly sitting trio and Widow Johnson, who had not varied her stride back and forth across the office for the last several minutes, pacing in front of the apparently exhausted Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod. They were peacefully snoring now.

Sitting there with a look on his face like somebody moved his cheese, Rumsbelly’s screen was the next to go to static. The only remaining screen reveals a distant view of the entire shiny new Duckburger HQ sinking into the billowing smoke.

Mrs. Jangles slumped to the floor with her face buried in her hands, leaving a clear pathway between the two men, each convinced one of them would soon be the most powerful person in the world. "Don't shoot. I've still got the boy  Saddam. And if anything happens to me, the Wasp explodes, and him with it!” Snaporaz raises his left arm and reveals a bracelet with a small but bright green light, counting down (08 07 06...) each blink marking moments spent among the living. 

But The Chief will have none of it and, believing his man Murphy still dominating the control room, he taunts, "Snappy, Snappy, Snappy. Number one; the only person who has seen the paperwork detailing the true ownership of this plan is, put quite simply, expendable." Nelson's eyes narrowed as he watched from the control room. A profound frown broke across his brow, although his two former compatriots were unable to discern his discontent from the nether regions of dreamland where they both now resided, courtesy of his magic sprinkles. 

"Number two." The Chief gives the ‘come hither’ signal to a faceless goon, half-obscured by one of the huge blackboards on which Mr. Jangles had once rattled off subatomic computations. The goon yanks the struggling blond Don from behind the slate, "Poor Vittorio Bumblepuss," continued The Chief, "Snaps, my man, but I guess you didn’t really think it through," and The Chief’s gun now has the floor. "Looks like I have the last standing Johnson, after all. It ain't much of a Mexican standoff, but I still can't put the gun down until you do, Agent Snapor-AZZZZZZZZ.” 

As The Chief purposely mispronounces the name to take the lift out of Vittorio’s loafers, he turns to his goon. “Take the bleached beach bum to the helicopter and…" The Chief catches himself forgetting his nice office in Duckburger is no more, but quickly resumes his orders "…I guess you'll have to take him and the Jangles gal back to central headquarters at DC HQ." By this time the goon has the inventor’s wife and her next-door neighbor boy by their arms and easily in his control. He marches them out through the slowly-opening industrial door to the midsize helicopter, secures them in the cargo area and seats himself in the cockpit. The Chief signals for them to take off.

As The Chief watches his helicopter swiftly clear the nearest hill and drop out of sight, Agent Snaporaz seizes his final opportunity, and fires the Walther at his only remaining opponent. The sound is right, but The Chief does not crumble and fall as every other of the expert marksman’s targets had done. Instead he spins a startled look at Snaporaz and, in the same motion, exercises his only viable option to return fire, the live ammunition cuts a red path across Agent Snaporaz who spends his last moment digesting the various deceptions that have just unfolded. 

Snaporaz stares at the persuasive but fake gun in his hand in disbelief, but the pieces of the puzzle come together to late, and the traffic light goes from green to red, signaling the end of an all too short "Logan's Run.” The Chief yells for everyone to stay clear of the Wasp helicopter that remains idling near the hill, as The Chief’s helicopter is again visible above the rise. The Chief cannot believe his eyes as his own helicopter, and not the Wasp, comes crashing down after a brilliant explosion knocks several Agents and goons off their feet.

47: Tickets For The Spectacle

Forty-five minutes earlier on the roof of Duckburger HQ, with a look as though he would never see his cheese again, Warner lay on his back watching the sleek executive helicopter hover, while he had several moments of weightlessness riding the 40 floors of marble and concrete to the pavement below. He couldn't take his eyes off the big bird, and before his consciousness was permanently mingled with Rumsbelly's in the rubble, he could swear the huge whirligig disappeared as if simply enveloped by the sky.

There was a flight recorder recovered from the twisted helicopter wreckage, and bloody scorched fragments of cloth that would turn out to be from some of the heavily armed human assets. Nelson made a special point of delivering the fireproof box to The Chief himself, after taking out the thumb drive he had also found hidden inside, of course. The Chief was never heard from again after reading the message found inside the flight recorder. Nelson never had to decide whether to use the thumb drive to persuade his boss to make an immediate capitulation. The Chief simply left instructions that Nelson was in charge, “Somebody the team has already met and come to trust,” until further notice. 

Somewhere between the empty lot where stood the Duckburger headquarters of Central Authority Neighborhood Domestic Oversight, and the now empty cereal plant and surrounding plantation, a ’66 Jaguar pulls into an empty field where the grass whips strangely to and fro as if by a great and capricious wind. Popping out of midair, a much less frazzled looking Mrs. Johnson jumps to the ground and momentarily to her knees on the frenetic grass, immediately springing back up to a dead run towards the Jag, smiling as she greets the driver and one small passenger, an exciting new friend. She leads the two of them back to the area from where she appeared, and as they peek in the executive helicopter doors where many of her close friends from Muskrat Marsh come clearly in view.

“Dan!” Screams the New Blond Don, "You were a gonner. Spit red! I saw it with my own eyes, man!” He turned to the pilot still in a black goon suit, but with the visor pulled up so his bushy black mustache was visible, “And even when Uncle said everything was okay I couldn't believe it. Hey, who's the little guy?" 

Ginny bristled, "He’s not little! He had this all figured out before any of us!” By that time the little person had joined the crew. "It's okay kid. I actually am a little guy. But I'm no longer Nobody. I decided that when I almost didn’t make it out of that gray junk in time. I didn’t count on that Highmaughn guy clutching at my pants leg. I finally kicked him off and got through the escape hatch with about a second to spare before Buster’s Big Sleep.” 

He turned to the others and smiled, "The name is Noah, Noah Noonan from now on. I'm at a disadvantage, though," and he turned to Mrs. Johnson with a captivating smile, "I caught your act a few times at the plant, but I never caught your name, Mrs. J., maiden or otherwise." She immediately found the light in his eyes exceedingly compelling, as if his formidable intelligence had been lapped by his charm on that heady racecourse of love. “It’s Wilma. Well, Wilhelmina, but I was never crazy about my given name," she looked wistfully at the man who flattered her so openly, and glanced out at the Jaguar she had also quickly come to love. She has named the Jaguar “The Jitterbug.” The two of them sat close in the rear of the copter for several minutes deep in discussion.

Then the man in the white trench coat, also sporting a bushy black mustache like the helicopter pilot, spoke, "I think we all owe a debt of gratitude to our local cereal killer. I am told you really sold it, Danny my boy." Dan Karratay took off his dark glasses, rested one foot on the open helicopter door and grinned, "I just wish I could have seen their faces when they found out that second vat was just gray sand!” He then looked somewhat concerned as he turned to the man in the trench coat and queried, "Those little things aren't really dangerous, are they?" quickly reaching up and yanking the black mustache off the inventor’s face. "Yeowch! Honey, what did you tell this guy!?" Dorothy Jangles giggled and hugged her two children, "What do you think, kids? Did daddy make something to kill the president?”

“Ach.” The helicopter pilot spoke, "Eim hattink to brik dis ip, bit dun’t ju tink ve shit be goink?” TRANSLATION: Nature calls to me now.

Noah Noonan looked at Wilma. Dan grinned at blond Don. Mrs. Jangles cradled her giggling children and smirked at Big Jim still holding his upper lip, and everyone burst into laughter at the same moment.

Dan pulled himself aboard the helicopter and gave one last hug to Wilma Johnson, and did his best Bogart impression, “Don’t give it a second thought, Sweet Cheeks. We’ve both been looking for love in all the wrong places.” She immediately turned to her son, "Come with us Sa…Donny, won't you?” “Yeah, kid." Noonan chimed in, "We’re gonna kick a can around Europe for a couple seasons, that new look you got ought to catch on big there." Donny looked at the helicopter pilot, and then back to Dan who nodded and smiled reassuringly, "No, mom, I am going to hang with these guys for a while. Uncle Al might be able to tell me more about why dad was the way he was. I need to take some time out and figure out what I'm going to do, anyway. What kind of schooling would be best, and like that. But I have a feeling we'll be back together soon.”

The Jangles family strapped in for take off, and Jimmy turned to his sister having kept most of it straight throughout these brain teasing last two weeks, and said, "Who's doing what now?" Ginny pointed at the sleek puce Jaguar pulling out of the grassy field, and tried to explain how their friend Nobody could change his name and find his heart in one fell swoop. Ginny then looked up at their neighbor’s son, so handsome as he leaned into the cockpit with his tousled hair, no longer any kind of mama's boy, and said something Jimmy also didn't understand, "The heart wants what it wants, puddin’ head.”

“Who are you calling Puddin' Head, FART BREATH?” Jimmy was abruptly piqued. 

All: “JIMMY!”

“I AM NOT PUDDING HEAD.”

“Alright then.”

The Jangles family soon piled into their Humvee, and prepared to relocate. They watched as disembodied arms waved out of the invisible helicopter, and Big Jim pulled out his own ARCH wallet and set it on the dashboard in case they faced any further emergencies today. Big Jim imagined it was probably easier flying the helicopter than it was driving the car, remembering how the first time he took the Humvee out on an invisible trial run there was a near tragedy when that tricycle came out of nowhere.

Nelson grinned thinking of his former boss on the lam from the none-too-subtle threats leveled by the deceased Agent Highmaughn which were also found to be documented within the fireproof box. Nelson would keep the thumb drive for an emergency. Just in case Nugice, Murphy or, perish the thought, Lou still AWOL in Baktou, threatened his authority as the new head of operations. 

Things will now be different. Nelson will do it all, "…by myself if I have to,” he said aloud. Recall all those nasty saucers, “Can Do.” Protect Sultans and Presidents and Rajas and other Heads of State, “Can Do.” New offices, “Can Do.” New helicopters, “Can Do.” Nelson's new plan. Yep. Things were sure going to be… different. 

And if not, at least Nelson could make a killing selling tickets for the spectacle. 

 


Submitted: November 04, 2021

© Copyright 2021 Robin James. All rights reserved.

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