Read an Excerpt
By Gareth P. Jones
Macmillan Copyright © 2013 Gareth P. Jones
All rights reserved.
Bathed in the warm glow of the morning sun, the world-famous Sydney Opera House looked like it was made out of segments of a gigantic orange. Hidden between two of those segments were four ninja meerkats.
Donnie Dragonjab put away the grappling hook they had used to climb up there. "I wonder why your sister chose this as a meeting point, Bruce," he said.
"Search me," said Bruce. "But she definitely said in her e-mail to meet on the roof of the Opera House."
"I expect Bella chose it because it is discreet and yet easy to find for first-time visitors to Sydney," said Chuck.
"Who's this Sydney you keep talking about?" asked Bruce.
"Sydney is the name of the city, Bruce," said Jet.
"Oh yeah," replied Bruce, scratching his head.
"I'm amazed a sister of yours even knows how to send an e-mail," said Donnie. "The last time you tried to use the computer, you smashed it to pieces."
"You were the one who told me to boot it," protested Bruce.
"I said reboot it," replied Donnie.
"Yeah, well, Bella was always the smart Willowhammer," admitted Bruce.
"What does she do here in Australia?" asked Chuck.
"I don't know."
"I hope it's something exciting," said Jet. "Life's been so boring since we defeated our enemy, the Ringmaster."
"As followers of the Way of the Scorpion, we should not seek excitement and adventure," said Chuck.
"Yeah, but since he's gone, the closest we've had to some action was when Bruce thought that someone had stolen his packet of pickled newts' knees."
"It didn't take long to solve that one, did it, Bruce?" said Donnie pointedly.
"I told you, I forgot I ate them," said Bruce.
"The point is that since Chuck pushed the Ringmaster into the volcano on Dragon Island, everything has been as dull as dishwater," complained Jet.
"Now Jet, you know perfectly well I did not push the Ringmaster into that volcano," said Chuck. "I tried to stop him, but he had already become hopelessly confused by inhaling the red fumes of the Herbiscus Confusus."
"All I know is that this mission had better involve some real fighting," said Jet. "I'm itching to practice my new Australian-style moves. Who wants to see my Counter-clockwise Clonk or my Upside-down Punch?"
"I do like a meerkat who knows his moves," said a female voice.
The Clan of the Scorpion spun around, but they were unable to see where the voice had come from, until a meerkat appeared, apparently out of thin air. Bella Willowhammer landed in front of them and smiled. She wore a brimmed hat, an overcoat, and a satchel over her shoulder.
"Sissy!" exclaimed Bruce, grabbing hold of her and giving her a big hug.
"Hello, Bruce," said Bella, gasping for breath.
"Miss Willowhammer, I am pleased to meet you. I'm Chuck Cobracrusher," said Chuck, solemnly bowing.
"The name's Jet Flashfeet," said Jet, shaking her paw.
"How did you jump out of thin air like that?" demanded Donnie.
"And you must be Donnie Dragonjab," said Bella. "In answer to your question, my sudden appearance is down to this little beauty." She pressed a button on her coat collar, and a strange flying object came down from above and landed next to her. It had a circular base with a long pole in the center and propellers on top.
"Cool flying machine!" said Jet.
"Nice design," said Donnie. "But how was it invisible?"
"It wasn't," replied Bella. "The base is painted the same color as the sky. This makes it impossible to see from below, which means that it's a perfect vehicle for getting around the city unnoticed. I call it the Bella-copter."
"Bella, we are all intrigued as to why you have summoned us," said Chuck.
"I work as a private detective here in Sydney," she replied, "and I need your help. Recently I was hired by a scientist called Professor Bill Abong. He's an expert in rare plants. He sounded all jittery on the phone. He kept saying he thought he was being followed. I told him to call the police, but he'd already tried them. They laughed him out of the station."
"Why?" asked Bruce.
"He believed he was being followed by koalas."
"Koalas? You mean those cute cuddly teddy-bear things?" said Bruce.
"That cuddly stuff is just a front," said Bella. "The League of Extreme Koalas have a claw in every crime in the city."
"And were they following this scientist?" asked Chuck.
"Yes. They were watching him and I was watching them. But they must have spotted me, because while I was keeping an eye on the professor's house late at night, they attacked me and knocked me out. When I came round, the professor had been kidnapped. So, you see, I need your help to rescue him. These koalas can be pretty rough, and I need some real fighters on my side."
"Then the Clan of the Scorpion is at your disposal," said Chuck.
"Now this sounds like a real adventure," added Jet.CHAPTER 2
BRUCE'S BATH OF DISCOVERY
The ninja meerkats clung on to the pole at the center of the Bella-copter while Bella flew them over the city.
"Isn't there a danger we could be seen from tall buildings?" asked Chuck, noticing that they were approaching a skyscraper.
"Don't worry about that," said Bella. She pressed a button and a screen rose up, blocking them all from view. The screen had four sets of eyeholes. While the others looked out, Donnie fiddled with his phone, tracking their progress across the city.
Bella took them over the harbor bridge, past Sydney Tower, and across town until eventually she brought the Bella-copter down on a flat rooftop. "This is where the professor lives," she explained.
The meerkats stepped off the Bella-copter. Bella pressed another button on her collar, and the flying contraption retracted until it was no larger than an umbrella.
"I was watching from that tree across the road two weeks ago when I was attacked," she continued. "I never saw my attackers, but I know it was the koalas."
"How do you know?" asked Jet.
"Because when I came to, I was sneezing like mad," she replied. "You see, I'm allergic to koala hair."
"And you believe the koalas kidnapped the professor?" said Donnie.
"No, I know the koalas were watching him, but there is no trace of koala hair in the house. Whoever kidnapped the professor was human. Now, follow me."
She led them over the edge of the building, down a drainpipe, along a ledge, then through an open window into a carpeted hallway.
"Does anyone else know about the kidnapping?" asked Chuck.
"No one but me," replied Bella. "I've searched the house for clues, but I still don't know where they've taken him."
"With your permission we will conduct another search, in case we can discover anything more," said Chuck. "Jet, you take the bedroom. Donnie, see if you can find any information on the professor's computer. Bruce, you check the bathroom. Bella, could you talk me through the evidence you have found so far?"
Jet, Donnie, and Bruce disappeared in search of clues while Bella led Chuck down the stairs to the front door, where a coat stand lay on the ground next to a pile of shoes.
"I've pieced together the exact events of that night," said Bella. "The professor was having a bath when the doorbell rang. He got out of the bath and came downstairs in a towel, but when he opened the door, the kidnappers overcame him in a struggle. They were clearly lacking in kidnapping experience because they then led him upstairs and waited outside the bathroom while he got dressed. Once dressed, they took him back downstairs, tied his hands together, and left."
"How can you know any of this if you were unconscious?" asked Chuck.
"It's my job to know," said Bella. "When I regained consciousness, I checked the house immediately. There are no signs of forced entry, so whoever it was must have rung the doorbell. The coat stand was knocked over, which suggests a struggle. There were still wet footprints leading down the stairs, so the professor must have been in the bath when the kidnappers arrived. Also, there are no fingerprints, so they must have been wearing gloves."
"But how do you know about the professor being led back upstairs and the kidnappers waiting outside?"
"This is a thick carpet," said Bella. "The kidnappers wore large shoes and there was one set of imprints outside the bathroom, where someone had waited while the professor dressed. That's how I know they were inexperienced kidnappers. Professionals never let the victim out of their sight, not even for a moment."
"What about tying his hands?"
"Ah, well," Bella smiled and pointed out the row of shoes by the fallen coat stand. "See how these shoes have no shoelaces? The sleepy kidnappers must have forgotten to bring rope so they were forced to use shoelaces to tie up the professor."
"You have truly remarkable detective skills," said Chuck.
"Hey, Chuck," shouted Donnie from upstairs. "Come and check this out."
Chuck and Bella raced up the stairs to Jet and Donnie.
"What have you found?" asked Chuck.
"I hacked into the professor's computer and checked his e-mails," said Donnie. "I think I know why no one else is looking for him. In the last e-mail he sent, he says that he's off on a research trip. Here, I printed it out."
"Let me see that," said Bella, taking the e-mail and studying it carefully. "The date and time show this was written during the kidnapping, and it wasn't the professor who wrote it."
"How can you be so sure?" asked Chuck.
"Whoever wrote it spelled his name wrong. There's an extra 'g' at the end. Anyone reading it might dismiss it as a typing mistake, but I'll bet my hat one of those silly kidnappers wrote this to cover up his disappearance."
"What have you found, Jet?" asked Chuck.
"His bedroom is full of books — including the A to Z of Rare Plants," replied Jet. "But the volume on the letter 'H' is missing."
"Interesting, and yet we still have no clues as to where they've taken him," said Chuck.
"Where's Bruce?" asked Bella.
Suddenly, they heard a strange sound from the bathroom, as though Bruce was howling out in pain.
"Bruce is being attacked," exclaimed Jet. He leaped up and kicked the door open with a cry of "Ninja-boom!"
A cloud of steam billowed out.
"Who's there?" asked Chuck.
The steam cleared enough to reveal a blue jumpsuit lying on the floor and Bruce splashing about in a bath full of bubbles.
"Bruce, what on earth are you doing? What was that noise?" demanded Chuck.
"I couldn't find any clues in here, so I thought I'd take a bath while you were looking around. I was singing. I always sing in the bath," said Bruce.
"Oh, Bruce," said Bella, shaking her head.
"Wait a minute," said Jet. "There's something written on the mirror."
They all looked at the bathroom mirror. The steam had revealed a message. It read:
THEY'RE TAKING ME TO KOLLAWOLLABOLONG. PLEASE HELP!
"The professor must have written it when the kidnappers were waiting outside," said Donnie.
"I'll bet he overheard those half-baked kidnappers talking about it," added Bella.
"It seems as though Bruce's bath has revealed the most vital clue of all," said Chuck.
"So where is Kollawolla ... whatever it was?" asked Jet.
"I've never heard of it," admitted Bella.
"I'll check," said Donnie. He pulled out his phone and pressed a few buttons. "Apparently it's a dry lake about three hundred miles east of here," he said. "That's right in the Australian outback."
"Why would they take him to the outback?" said Bella. "There isn't much of anything out there."
"Whatever the reason, we must follow them," said Chuck.
"And I know just the thing to get us there," said Bella. "Come on."CHAPTER 3
THE KICKBOXING KANGAROOS OF KOLLAWOLLABOLONG
The Indian Pacific train travels all the way across Australia, from Sydney to Perth. The train travels at an average speed of fifty-five miles per hour, and it can get pretty windy if you happen to be clinging to the top of one of the carriages, which is precisely what the five meerkats were doing.
Since there was no stop near the dry lake of Kollawollabolong, the meerkats had to use their ninja training to jump off the moving train and land safely. And judging by the way Bella hit the ground in a perfectly executed roll, it clearly wasn't the first time she had jumped from a moving train either.
However, the meerkats' ninja skills didn't help them to predict an ambush by three aggressive-looking kangaroos, wearing homemade boxing gloves.
The sudden appearance of the kangaroos didn't even give the meerkats time to dust off their fur.
"More intruders come to invade our land and disrespect our rights," said one of the kangaroos.
"Noble kangaroos, we mean you no harm," said Chuck.
All three kangaroos laughed loudly and took a step even closer.
"I'd like to see you try and harm us, mate," said the biggest kangaroo.
"Bring it on," said Jet, leaping up and spinning around, his feet coming extremely close to the kangaroo's nose. "I've got some new moves I want to practice."
"Jet, stand down," said Chuck. "Good marsupials, we are the Clan of the Scorpion."
"Yeah, well, we are the Kickboxing Kangaroos of Kollawollabolong," replied one of the male kangaroos. "I'm Boomer, the leader of this little mob. This here is my missus, Norma, and my little brother, Jack."
The largest kangaroo flexed his muscles.
"Little?" said Donnie.
Boomer chuckled. "He's a year younger, but you wouldn't believe it, would you?" Then, suddenly remembering what he was doing, he said, "Anyway, this is our land and we don't stand for trespassing."
"We are here in search of a human," said Chuck.
"So you admit you're with that rabble," said Jack. "Prepare for a pummeling. Let's get them!"
The kangaroos jumped into action and the meerkats had to dive out of the way to avoid being flattened. Boomer aimed an enormous foot at Jet, which he dodged, kicking up a cloud of dust. Jet sprang up, spun around, and whacked the kangaroo on the nose, sending him staggering back.
"You rotten flaming gallah," he exclaimed, charging back into battle.
"What's that mean?" asked Jet.
"It means I don't like you," replied Boomer.
The large kangaroo called Jack was facing Chuck and Donnie. He spun around and swung his tail at them. Chuck and Donnie leaped over it, but as they came down, Jack tried to pound them with his fists. Chuck blocked the attack with an open palm, but Jack jumped onto his back and sent Donnie flying with a powerful kick.
Bruce and Bella were busy with Norma, who was fighting as fiercely as the others. When one of Norma's punches connected with Bella, Bruce flipped out and yelled, "That's my little sister. Now you're in for some Bruce Force!"
He charged forward and knocked Norma clean off her feet.
"No one hits my ma," said a squeaky voice that came from Norma's stomach.
"Huh?" said Bruce.
Suddenly, from within Norma's pouch, appeared a fourth kangaroo. This one was much smaller than the others, but it took Bruce by surprise. It flew at him in a rage of fists and feet, with a cry of "Joey Whack Attack!"
"Now, Joey, what have I told you about scrapping?" scolded Norma, getting up and brushing herself down.
"Yes, listen to your mother. No fighting," said Boomer, while jumping around trying to flatten Jet.
"Oh, come on, it's so unfair," moaned Joey. "You all get to fight. Why can't I? Look, they're only teeny weeny."
"Only teeny weeny, eh?" said Bruce, preparing to teach the small kangaroo a lesson he wouldn't forget.
"Don't hurt him," pleaded Norma. "He's just an ankle-biter."
"He should have thought of that before taking me on," said Bruce.
"Bruce, do not harm the young one," said Chuck.
Bruce paused, giving Joey the opportunity to leap up and catch him between the eyes with his tail.
"Ow," said Bruce, rubbing his head.
"Ha, Joey Whack Attack!" proclaimed Joey.
"So you like catchphrases, do you?" asked Donnie. "Well, I've got something to catch you."
He pulled out a pistol from his backpack and fired a net that landed on top of the small kangaroo. Joey struggled to free himself, but the more he tried, the more tangled he got. Donnie pressed another button that reeled the net in, dragging the struggling kangaroo across the ground.
"Let me go," protested Joey.
"Joey!" cried Norma in distress. "Release him," she said, fixing her eyes on Donnie, in fury.
Excerpted from Ninja Meerkats by Gareth P. Jones. Copyright © 2013 Gareth P. Jones. Excerpted by permission of Macmillan.
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