Read an Excerpt
Big City Bust-Up
By Gareth P. Jones
McMillan Copyright © 2012 Gareth P. Jones
All rights reserved.
In the early evening hustle and bustle of Covent Garden no one paid any attention to the automatic street-cleaning machine that trundled over the cobbles, whisking up discarded trash with its two spinning brushes. Certainly, no one suspected that inside the machine were four Ninja Meerkats.
Donnie was sitting at the front, using a control that he had installed to override the automatic route of the cleaner. He steered the machine around the tourists, market stalls, and street performers that filled the famous London square. Jet, Chuck, and Bruce were behind him, squeezed around a long tube that ran through the middle of the cabin, which sucked up trash into a large container at the back of the vehicle.
"This is an excellent disguise, Donnie," said Chuck.
"Actually it's a rubbish disguise," said Jet, with a chuckle.
Bruce pulled his head out of a take-out box and said, "Rubbish? It's the first one we've used that actually collects food — it's brilliant."
"I can't believe you're eating again," said Jet. "You ate twelve bags of jellied crickets on the plane here."
"That was just a snack. Look, I found half a burger," Bruce exclaimed, excitedly holding up the soggy specimen. He took a big bite. "Hmm, there's a bit too much ketchup, but it's nice of them to leave the pickle in."
"Bruce, you don't know where that's been," said Chuck, wrinkling his nose in disgust.
"Yeah, but I know where it's going," he replied, taking another huge bite.
Donnie pressed a button and the machine came to a standstill. "The meeting point is directly below us," he said. He pressed another button, which opened a hatch in the base of the vehicle, revealing a drain below. "This must be the way in."
"I wonder why Grandmaster One-Eye told us to come here. It's all very mysterious," said Jet.
"He said he received a message from an old friend," said Chuck. "And that it was a top secret mission."
"Hey, look! Street entertainers," said Bruce, distracted by a man juggling with flaming torches next to the vehicle.
"Fire juggling. Pah!" said Jet. "If I was a street performer I'd demonstrate my new move, the Quake Maker."
"What's that?" asked Bruce.
"I'll show you."
"Jet, no!" started Donnie. "Not inside the —"
It was too late. Jet leaped up and came crashing back down. Had they been outside, the force would have caused the ground to shake, knocking anyone nearby off their feet. But inside the street cleaner it had a different effect — the entire vehicle collapsed in a heap.
"Whoops! Sorry," said Jet.
"Bruce, Jet, Donnie," yelled Chuck. "Into the drain before anyone spots us!"
Donnie keyed a code into a tiny keypad on the drain cover and it slid open. One by one, each of the meerkats slipped through, sliding down a chute and dropping into the pitch-black drain below.
"Where are we?" asked Bruce. "I can't see a thing."
There was an electronic whirring as the drain cover slid back over the entry point. A light flickered on to reveal that they were in a room filled with technological gadgetry. The walls were lined with screens displaying CCTV footage from all around London. Sitting by a console covered in rows of buttons was a lumbering bulldog wearing a small bowler hat. He turned to face them, revealing that he had a monocle in his left eye and a scar down the right side of his face.
"Quite an entrance," he said. "It reminds me of the time I had to evacuate a tank after some fool pulled the pin out of a grenade, thinking he was opening a tin of sardines." He chuckled. "Clan of the Scorpion, thank you for responding to my request for assistance. Allow me to introduce myself. I'm Major Works, chief of the British Secret Secret Service."
"The Secret Service?" said Donnie.
"No-no-no," said the major, shaking his head so that his jowls flapped about. "Every Tom, Dick, and Harry knows about the Secret Service. This is the Secret Secret Service."
"What's the difference?" asked Bruce.
"The Secret Secret Service is actually a secret."
"And you need our help?" asked Chuck.
"Yes, well," said the major, adjusting his monocle. "We don't normally recruit outsiders, but all my spies have gone missing. It's a very peculiar business."
"Missing?" said Jet.
"Yes, I'm afraid so. I have operatives all over the place. There's a spaniel in Spain, an Afghan in Argentina, a Pekinese in Paris ... Not to mention all the others. But they've all disappeared and we don't know who's behind it. This mission is of highest national importance so I contacted old One-Eye, hoping he might be able to help, and he recommended you."
"How do you know Grandmaster One-Eye?" asked Donnie.
"Agent One-Eye has been of great assistance to the Secret Secret Service in the past," replied the bulldog.
"He was a spy?" exclaimed Jet. "That's so cool."
"He once prevented an attack on London by the Seventeen Samurai Sheep of Shetland — specialists in sabotage, don't you know. Agent One-Eye secreted himself in a shepherd's bag, infiltrated the flock, and fed us information to stop them."
"So he was a shepherd spy?" said Donnie, chuckling. "Shepherd's pie? Get it?"
"No," said Bruce.
"And if he had been hiding in a cottage, he'd have been a cottage spy," added Jet.
Major Works looked confused.
"Major Works," said Chuck seriously, "please tell us what our mission is. While our enemy the Ringmaster is lying low, we are ready to assist you."
The major pressed a button and a glass cabinet appeared on one of the screens. It was filled with expensive-looking gold items encrusted with sparkling jewels. "These are the crown jewels," he said. "They are kept underground at the Tower of London and guarded by the country's top security. Three days ago someone entered the Tower undetected and made off with the royal orb."
"What's the royal orb?" asked Jet.
Major Works pointed to a golden globe with a cross on the top.
"Nothing else was taken?" asked Donnie.
"No. Just the orb."
"How did they get around the security?" asked Chuck.
"The guards in the Jewel House were all rendered unconscious by some kind of knock-out gas that came in through the vents," said the major.
"What about the CCTV?" asked Donnie. "You seem to have the whole city covered."
"There are a few blind spots, I'll admit, but you're right — the coverage is pretty good and there is a camera in the Jewel House of the Tower." The major clicked another button and some of the screens showed different views of the Tower of London, including one overlooking the jewels themselves. "This is how everything looked before the robbery," he explained. "Now watch carefully." Slowly the picture fizzled away until all the screens were completely blank.
"They've been scrambled," said Donnie. "Didn't anyone notice this happen?"
"The security guards watching the live surveillance footage were also knocked out. No one knew anything was amiss until the guards woke up and found the orb gone."
The major pressed a button and the images returned to the screens.
"Maybe it was those birds," suggested Bruce, pointing out a number of large black birds in the grounds of the Tower.
"No-no-no," replied the major, once again wobbling his jowls. "Those are the ravens that live in the Tower. They're so doddery, they don't know what's going on. Legend has it that if they ever leave, the Tower will fall to the ground. But they're so old they couldn't go anywhere if they tried."
"Is there any reason why someone would target the orb? Will the thief try to sell it?" asked Donnie.
The major shifted uncomfortably. "Well ... never mind that ... But it's imperative that it is returned as soon as possible."
"Why? What's so important about it?" asked Chuck.
"I'm afraid I can say no more. Unlike the Secret Service, we pride ourselves on secrecy here at the Secret Secret Service. Now, will you help?"
"Yes," said Chuck, bowing graciously. "We will find your orb. You have my word. Donnie, any ideas?"
"I should be able to descramble the footage," he replied.
"Is that possible?" asked the major.
"Oh, yes. It'll take me a couple of hours with someone to help me," said Donnie. "But I can definitely do it."
"Good," said Chuck. "Bruce, stay here and help Donnie. Jet and I will go to the Tower and see what we can find out."
"I'd be grateful if you could wear these," said Major Works, handing Jet what looked like an ordinary pair of sunglasses. "They have a camera on the front and a microphone and speakers on the sides. That way I can see what you're doing and communicate with you at all times."
"Why me?" asked Jet.
"Oh, if you don't want to, perhaps Mr. Cobracrusher will," said Major Works. "I need to be in constant communication with our top agent, but since you're all new to this ..."
"I'll wear them," said Jet quickly, putting on the sunglasses.
"Excellent work, Agent Flashfeet. We'll make a secret secret agent out of you yet."
"Fine," said Chuck. "Now, Donnie — Jet and I will need a disguise."
"I have just the thing," replied Donnie.CHAPTER 2
A TRIP TO THE TOWER
The major led the meerkats out of the control room and up some steps. A panel in the wall slid open and they stepped out into a quiet courtyard just off Covent Garden.
"Agent Flashfeet, Agent Cobracrusher, good luck on your mission," said Major Works. "Agent Willowhammer and Agent Dragonjab, I'll see you back in the control room."
He went back inside and Donnie pulled out what looked like a flattened gray bird. "It's my new disguise, complete with working wings," he said, carefully unfolding it. "I call it the Carrier Pigeon."
"And it actually flies?" asked Chuck, looking at it doubtfully. "I mean, it's been tried and tested, hasn't it?"
"Of course! Well ... I tried to test it. It did crash, but only a little bit and I've improved it since then."
"OK," said Chuck. "Jet —"
"You mean Agent Flashfeet," said Jet.
"OK. Agent Flashfeet, climb in. Bruce, can you help him?"
While Bruce helped Jet into the costume, Chuck took Donnie to one side, away from Jet and his sunglasses. "There's something Major Works isn't telling us," he said. "We must try to discover what it is."
"Agreed," said Donnie.
"Also, I fear Jet is a little taken with playing spy."
They could hear Jet humming the tune to one of his favorite spy movies.
"You think?!" said Donnie.
They turned to see Jet inside the bird disguise, peering out of the beady glass eyes.
"Where's mine?" asked Chuck.
"I should have mentioned that the Carrier Pigeon is only really designed for one," said Donnie.
"Don't worry, I'll get you in," said Bruce.
"Really?" said Chuck uncertainly.
"Oh, yeah," said Bruce. He grabbed Chuck and thrust him into the rear half of the bird disguise. "It's like Christmas — stuffing a bird."
"Ouch," yelped Jet.
"Sorry, that was my sword," said Chuck's muffled voice.
"Hold on, I'll zip you up," said Bruce, tucking Chuck's tail in to avoid getting his fur caught in the zipper. Once he had finished it looked more like a feathery sack of potatoes than a bird.
"It's quite a tight fit," said Chuck.
"Hey, Chuck, it tickles when you talk," said Jet.
"Jet, can you see the row of buttons in front of you?" said Donnie.
"Yep," replied Jet.
"Press the one marked 'stand.'"
Jet did so and the bird's legs suddenly stood bolt upright.
"Now press the one that says 'walk,'" said Donnie.
Jet pressed the button and the bird began walking forward, making an electronic clicking noise as it moved.
"There's a joystick for controlling direction," said Donnie.
Jet turned the bird around.
"To make it fly you need to get a bit of speed up, then press the button marked 'fly,'" said Donnie.
Jet pushed the joystick forward and the bird began to run.
"Wait!" said Donnie. "I haven't told you how to land."
But Jet and Chuck couldn't hear him above the clicking noise.
Jet pressed the "fly" button and the wings began to flap. Gradually the bird took to the air, soaring up and narrowly avoiding a brick wall.
"Ninja-zoom!" shouted Jet. "Agent Flashfeet is in the air."
"Something tells me I should be grateful that I can't see anything," said Chuck.
"Don't worry, you're in safe hands, Chuck. I was born to fly — that's why Mom called me Jet." He laughed. "Now, which way are we going?"
At that moment, Major Works's voice crackled through Jet's sunglasses. "The Tower is east of here. You see that river down there? That's the Thames. Follow it to the left. The Tower isn't far."
In the back, Chuck wasn't feeling at all well, especially since Jet insisted on catching rising air currents and performing bold loop-the-loops for fun. He was relieved when Jet finally announced that he could see the Tower.
"Donnie didn't tell us how to land!" shouted Chuck. "Contact Major Works through the headset, Jet! Donnie should be with him, unscrambling the footage."
"You worry too much," said Jet, gliding to the right. "I've got the hang of this thing now. Hold on tight."
Chuck felt the bird fall into a nosedive and heard Jet whoop with excitement.
"Jet ... I really think you should check with Donnie before landing," he said.
"Nah," said Jet. "Landing's just like taking off but the other way around. Brace yourself!"
"Je-et!" yelled Chuck, as they went swooping down inside the grounds of the Tower, brushing their wings on one of the turrets and zooming over the head of a guard. As Jet brought the bird in to land, its legs hit the ground and snapped clean off, sending it bumping along the ground.
"See, I told you I could land it," said Jet, as the bird finally came to a standstill.
"I think we should swap places," groaned Chuck.
"Not now, we've got company," said Jet.
Two large black ravens ambled over to look at the strange pigeon that had just crash-landed.
"Oh, it's a pigeon," said one. "I say, old bird, one can't land in here, you know."
The other bird looked at him with a puzzled expression. "You can't stand it here, Jonnie? Well, why do you stay?"
"Land in here, Larry," shouted the first. "I'm telling this pigeon he can't fly in here."
"Yes, it can be, can't it?" said Larry, nodding.
"Can be what?"
"Flying can be rather dear, can't it?"
"No, no, no," said Jonnie, raising his voice. "I'm talking about him flying ... FLYING!" he yelled. "USING YOUR WINGS."
"I'm losing my wings?" said the other, looking to check they were still there.
"Not losing. Using ..." bellowed Jonnie. "U-SING!"
"Oh, if you like." Larry began to sing. "God save our gracious Queen ..."
"We're here about the missing orb," shouted Jet. "DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE MISSING ORB?"
"There's no need to shout, old bird. He's the deaf one," replied Jonnie. "Yes, that was a terrible business. No one saw a thing, you know."
"You didn't see anything suspicious at all?" asked Jet.
"See any fishes?" said Larry, who had stopped singing.
"Larry, leave this to me," said Jonnie. "No, we have no idea who took the orb."
"Oh, the orb," said Larry. "Of course, it's what's kept inside that really matters."
"Hush, Larry. We're not to speak about that," scolded Jonnie.
"What is kept inside?" asked Jet.
"You had better leave now," said Jonnie abruptly. "We can't help. And if one of the guards spots a pigeon in here, you'll be in trouble!"
The two ravens turned and walked away, talking to each other as they went.
"I couldn't hear a word he was saying," said Larry.
"That's pigeon English for you," replied Jonnie.
"We should go," said Chuck, "before we draw too much attention to ourselves."
"How are we going to take off with no legs?" said Jet.
"This situation calls for me to make a stand," said Chuck. He kicked his legs through the bottom of the disguise and stood up. The odd-shaped pigeon looked even odder with two furry meerkat legs poking out. Chuck started running as fast as he could.
"That's it," said Jet. "Keep up the speed." He pressed the button marked "fly" and the wings began to flap, sending the bird soaring up into the sky.
"And please fly more sedately this time!" said Chuck.
"What does sedately mean?" asked Jet.
"It means no more loop-the-loooooo —"
Chuck's words were lost as Jet executed a spectacular loop-the-loop over Tower Bridge.CHAPTER 3
PANIC ON THE STREETS OF LONDON
The sun was setting over London as Jet brought the pigeon disguise down in the quiet courtyard off Covent Garden. He gave Chuck just enough warning of when his feet would touch the ground and they managed a clumsy landing. They both squeezed out of the disguise and, as they approached the entrance to the headquarters, the panel slid open automatically. Downstairs, in the control room, they found Donnie frantically pressing buttons and pulling levers on the console, while Bruce lay underneath it, following Donnie's instructions. Major Works was monitoring the screens.
"Bruce, connect the red and the blue wires," shouted Donnie.
"OK," said Bruce.
"How are you doing, Donnie?" asked Chuck.
"We're almost there," replied Donnie. "What did you find out?"
"Not much," said Jet, "except that those ravens are stark raven mad."
"I did warn you," said the major, without turning around.
"Major Works," said Chuck. "One of the ravens mentioned that there is something inside the orb."
The major coughed and said, "Yes, well —"
Excerpted from Ninja Meerkats by Gareth P. Jones. Copyright © 2012 Gareth P. Jones. Excerpted by permission of McMillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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