Read an Excerpt
LUCK O’ THE IRISH
“Canya dew any bett’r?” said Frank. Listening to him, I had to admit I was impressed. His Irish accent was impossible to understand. That afternoon he had spent watching and rewatching The Commitments had paid off.
We were sitting in the small backroom of a gas station on the western coast of Ireland, across a wide wooden table from three men who couldn’t have looked more like stereotypical Irish gangsters if they tried. Each guy was shorter, skinnier, and tougher looking than the next. All three wore brown newsboy caps. They looked so much alike they had to be brothers, or a father and two sons, or a grandfather, father, and son. The only way I could tell them apart was their hair. In my head, I’d dubbed them “Black,” “Gray,” and “Salt-’n’-Pepper.”
They huddled together and whispered furiously. Then Salt-’n’-Pepper turned back to us.
“No,” he said.
“Yer a man of few words,” I said. “I loik that in a fella.”
No one said a thing. So much for that famous “gift o’ the gab” the Irish are supposed to have, I thought.
“Right ye are then,” said Frank. “A mil.”
He pulled a small bag from beneath his chair and popped the lid, showing the neat stacks of euros, one atop the other, inside—or rather, four neat stacks of just euros and beneath them four more stacks, one of which also held a tracking device. Once this sale was complete, these guys would be going to jail for a good long time. We just had to get one thing out of harm’s way first.
Black picked up a stack of euros and flipped through them, making sure they were real. Then he nodded to Salt-’n’-Pepper, who pulled a medium-sized black box out from behind him. He placed it on the table and slowly removed the lid to reveal a two-foot tall, incredibly delicate gold statue of a woman—a woman with six arms! Her lips were curled in a snarl, and a chain of skulls hung around her neck. It was gross and cool all at the same time. I decided it would make the best Halloween costume ever—if I were a girl, that was. What was it the briefing had called her? Kali! “An Indian goddess in charge of time, and change, and death.” She was definitely hard-core.
“Whoa!” I said as I admired the statue. “That is awwwwwe-some.”
Salt-’n’-Pepper froze. Frank kicked me under the table.
“Uh … I mean … brill?” I tried to cover, but it didn’t work. I could see it on their faces. Our cover was blown.
Salt-’n’-Pepper slammed the cover back down over the statue, but Frank grabbed it by the base and yanked it out from under him. Black and Gray were getting to their feet, reaching inside their jackets for something. I was pretty sure they weren’t about to offer me a piece of gum.
I kicked up as hard as I could. The heel of my boot caught the table by the edge and flipped it over, sending it slamming down hard on the toes of Black and Gray. They howled in shock. A million euros were suddenly flying through the air. Black was hopping on one leg and trying to grab the money with his free hand, while Gray was on his knees, cradling his foot.
“Git ’em!” screamed Salt-’n’-Pepper. “We been had!”
“Window!” I yelled to Frank.
Thankfully, we’d already scoped out the exits before we even got to the meet. The gas station was a front. The clerk behind the counter? She was an assassin on Interpol’s most-wanted list. Going back out the door we came through was a one-way ticket—and not back to Bayport. But the small window on the other side of the room seemed to be just wide enough for us. Or at least, for me. Frank had been eating a lot of junk food recently and …
Frank hit the window like a football quarterback aiming for a touchdown, his body curled protectively around the statue of Kali. The glass, the frame, and part of the wall exploded outward in a rain of shrapnel. I was right behind him. And right behind me was Salt-’n’-Pepper.
Bam! Bam! Bam!
“I thought they didn’t have guns over here!” I yelled, as we ducked and wove across a long grassy field.
“The police don’t!” Frank yelled back. “But no one said anything about the criminals. Here, catch!”
Frank tossed Kali up in the air. She shimmered in the sunlight as she spun end over end. I squinted, my vision blurred by the bright light, but Frank’s aim was perfect. All I had to do was open my hand, and Kali fell right into it.
“Good throw!” I yelled to Frank, holding the statue aloft. Then a bullet nearly took one of her six arms off, and I stuffed her into a specially designed pocket inside my coat. I glanced back. Salt-’n’-Pepper was pretty spry for his age! He wasn’t far behind us. And in front of us …
“Uh, Frank?” I said. “I think we have a problem.”
Frank was silent. I looked over at him. He’d swung his backpack around to his front, like all the Spanish high school tourists did at the airport. He was fiddling with it somehow, and it looked like the bag was starting to come apart in his hands. I could see the metal rods that made up its frame, and something heavy and black inside it. Now was so not the time for fabric origami.
Bam! Salt-’n’-Pepper took another potshot at us, but I guess he’d realized he didn’t need to shoot us. We were running out of options—literally.
“Frank? Hey! FRANK!” I yelled. “Look up.”
Finally, Frank did. We were thirty feet from the edge of one of the biggest cliffs I’d ever seen in my life. It plunged straight down into the ocean, hundreds of feet below. And it extended as far as I could see in either direction! Salt-’n’-Pepper had us trapped.
“Yeah, what?” was Frank’s nonchalant response. “They’re the Cliffs of Moher. They’re famous.” He returned to fiddling with his bag, which now looked like some sort of mutant half backpack, half kite.
“Well right now, they’re famously in our way! We have to … What’s that?”
Frank’s bag no longer looked anything like a backpack. In fact, it looked like a hang glider. The metal frame of the bag had become the frame of the glider, the fabric was the wings, and the metal box was … a weird metal box attached at the top.
“It’s an ultralight!” Frank replied. “Didn’t you read the briefing notes?”
“No!” I yelled back. The cliffs were maybe ten feet away, and at the rate we were running, we only had a few seconds before we went over. “And now isn’t the time to lecture me about it!”
“Grab on!” Frank replied, holding the ultralight in front of him.
Without any other options, I did as he said. Hands latched on the frame of the ultralight, we ran right off the edge of the cliff. The wind plucked us up, and suddenly we were gliding out over the crashing waves below.
“Great!” I yelled at Frank. “But what do we do now? This thing isn’t going to stay in the air long—not with both of us hanging from it.”
Frank had strapped himself to the bar before we jumped so he could reach up and flick a switch on the small black box at the center of the ultralight. A tiny motor kicked on, and we leapt upward. Suddenly, this whole ultralight thing became a lot cooler.
A bullet ripped through the left wing of the ultralight, throwing us into a tight slide to the left. I grabbed Frank’s shoulder with my free arm and we clung to the ultralight with all our might. We dropped ten feet in two seconds, like a plane in heavy turbulence, before the ultralight found a new updraft and recovered.
I peered behind us. Salt-’n’-Pepper was standing at the edge of the cliffs, jumping up and down with frustration.
“Careful!” I yelled back at him. “You don’t want to fall in!”
I stared out at the ocean. Away from the cliffs, the water was smooth as glass. We were surrounded by a million shades of blue—the water, the sky, even the clouds seemed tinged with blue. I could get used to this!
“You know, the meeting point makes a lot more sense now,” I said to Frank, as we flew swiftly out to sea.
“Ha!” replied Frank. “Someday, you’re going to read an entire mission briefing, and I’m going to drop dead from shock.”
“I would never do that to you … promise.” I smiled at Frank. “Hey, look!”
A small blue ship had appeared on the horizon, flying a pirate flag with two crossed video-game joysticks below it. It was maybe twenty feet long and would have been pretty difficult to land a hang glider on, if we weren’t the two awesomest spies in the world.
“That must be Vijay!” I yelled, as a small figure waved at us. Vijay was another member of American Teens Against Crime. He was a field agent, like us, but he mostly handled the tech side of things. Our job in this mission was to rescue Kali, his was to make sure she got back to her rightful owner, the National Museum of India.
“Taking us down,” said Frank. Carefully, we shifted our weight back and forth, slowly guiding the ultralight down. Below us, the deck of the ship got bigger and bigger. Vijay was there, standing next to a big red fishing pole whose line was bobbing in the water. Behind him was an open hatch that led belowdecks. Aside from that it was just warm sun, cool breezes, and perfect blue water. A guy could get used to this!
“Hey guys,” said Vijay, as we landed on the deck with a thump. “Yes!” he yelled suddenly, pumping his fist in the air. “Twenty–pound rainbow trout, for the win!” He waved a black handheld video game in the air.
“Are you playing a fishing game?” I asked, as Frank began dismantling the ultralight. “You’re standing on a boat in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. Next to a fishing pole! Why don’t you actually, like, fish?”
Vijay shot me a cold look.
“One,” he said. “Do you know how hard it is to catch fish in the ocean? The ocean is big, my friend. The fish? Small. Very small.”
He paused to slip the game system back into the pocket of his jacket. Then he picked up the fishing pole and began reeling the line in.
“Two,” Vijay continued. “Look at these hands. Do you know how much they’re worth? ATAC insured my hands for a million dollars last year. Or did you think that ultralight made itself?”
The fishing line reached the surface of the water, but instead of a hook, there was a metal sphere at the end of it. Vijay picked it up, removed a key from his pocket, and opened the top of the sphere to reveal a waterproof chamber inside.
“Three, this fishing pole is really just a docking station for a homing submersible I built last week, which will get this”—Vijay paused and plucked the statue of Kali from me—“all the way back to India without sending it through the mob-controlled Irish customs department.”
Vijay slipped Kali into the sphere, where she fit perfectly. Then he flipped the lid back down and turned the key all the way around in the lock twice. A small blue light appeared on the top of the sphere, and somewhere inside it a motor began running.
“Want to do the honors?” Vijay asked, holding the sphere out to us.
“You go for it,” Frank said. I took the sphere in my hands. It weighed barely more than the statue alone. I hefted it high. I glanced at Vijay, just to make sure. He nodded, and I threw the submersible as hard as I could through the air. It landed with a splash, bobbed in the water for a second, and then rapidly motored away.
“So that’s it?” I asked, sitting down on the deck. “We’re done here?”
“Yup,” said Frank as he joined me. “Go team! As a reward, I say we stay here for the rest of the weekend.”
Vijay cleared his throat. I knew from the sound that he didn’t have good news.
“Sorry guys, I have to send you back out on a mission. But there is a silver lining….” Vijay raced below decks and came up with a large pizza box.
“Give it here!” I yelled, scrambling for the pizza. Missions have a way of making me hungry.
I flipped open the lid and there was a piping hot, fresh pizza covered in sausage and onions—my favorite.
“How do you do that?” I asked. Vijay often hid our missions inside pizzas, and somehow, no matter where we were, his pizzas were always fresh and hot. If I wasn’t certain before, I knew it now: Vijay was a genius.
“Shhh!” responded Vijay. “Trade secret. If you knew, I’d have to kill you. Now check out the screen on top.”
I looked at the lid of the pizza box. Sure enough, inside the top was a flat screen TV! Frank scraped some cheese off the glass and we sat down to watch.
“This is Claire Cleveland,” the narration began, showing a photo of a pretty girl with long brown hair.
“Oh, I know her!” Frank yelled out. “She’s on that show, Joy!”
“Claire is the star of the hit musical show, Joy!” continued the narrator, and I whacked Frank on the shoulder to get him to be quiet. “She’s also set to star in a new Broadway musical, Wake, which tells the story of one of World War II’s most decorated female spies, Nancy Wake. The show opens this week—or at least it will, if the two of you are able to stop the mysterious accidents that have plagued the show throughout rehearsals.”
A blond man and woman—obviously related—appeared on the screen. They were young, richly dressed, and seemed too perfect looking to be real.
“This is the brother-and-sister Broadway team behind Wake—Laurel and Linden von Louden. Last night Linden called ATAC for help. It seems the ‘accidents’ have been getting worse, and as of last night, he has confirmation that they aren’t really accidents.”
A new shot appeared on the screen, a close-up of a cell phone. Across the screen, in big letters, was a text message that read “You will die here!!!!!”
I bit down hard in surprise, and the pizza burned the roof of my mouth, badly.
“Ow!” I mumbled, trying to stay focused on the briefing.
“This message was sent to Claire late last night,” said the narrator. “Claire refuses to go on without adequate protection. This is where the two of you come in. It’s up to the two of you to make sure the curtain goes up without a hitch. Good luck, boys.”
The screen went blank.
“So … does that mean we don’t get to spend the weekend on the boat?”
A strange noise began to grow in the distance, a sort of whump-whump-whump sound.
“’Fraid not,” said Vijay. “In fact, I’d scarf that pizza down quick, because unless someone else called the helicopter taxi service, that’s your ride!”
I noticed a distant dot on the horizon starting to grow bigger. I looked at Frank. He nodded at me. Together, we reached down and grabbed a slice of pizza in each hand. I looked back at the helicopter. It was maybe two minutes away.
“We got this under control,” I said. Then Frank and I fist-bumped our pizza-filled hands and laughed.
Spy life was the sweet life, for sure.