The family of completely disastrous, not-so-super superheroes are back in this sequel to The Powers
The second tale of the Powers centers on the adventures of Pucker, the family’s mutt of a pug-dog. After he is dognapped, along with a beautiful French poodle, the Powers must follow the clues through Dublin, Paris, and St. Petersburg to bring their beloved pup back home.
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'Bad dog, Pucker! Dad bog.'
JP pulled hard on the lead, but Pucker's tough little legs pulled harder. Tongue hanging out, ears flapping like furry butterflies, Pucker would not stay on the footpath.
All over St Stephen's Green were big black signs with big white letters:
STAY OFF THE GRASS
Did they think dogs could read?
'Pucker!' JP was still shouting. 'Stop it. Eating daffodils makes you sick. You know that.'
But Pucker Power had a mind of his own. And the lead was the stretchy kind that unspooled from the handle like a fishing line. JP had no control. So Pucker did whatever he wanted – eat the flowers, drink from the fountain, scare the ducks, dig a hole in the grass, lift his leg against one of ... one of the black signs?
Too late. The sign shone wetly in the February sun.
It wasn't fair. JP's sister, Suzie, had a piano recital at the Academy of Music, and that was all the Power parents could talk about. Isn't Suzie brilliant, and Isn't Suzie talented and What would we do without Suzie. Suzie, who didn't even have any powers. While JP had to wrestle with Pucker for an hour and stop him from destroying the most flowerful, dog-unfriendly park in Dublin.
And what was worse, tomorrow was JP's birthday and no-one in the family had even mentioned it. Could they actually forget his birthday?
Ahead, two men wearing white overalls and painters' caps pulled low over their foreheads were painting a lamppost. They both had thick glasses and bushy moustaches and spoke in a foreign language. One of them was on the footpath, holding the ladder firm. The other was high up the rungs, stretching to paint the light fixture.
There was a can of green paint hanging from the top of the ladder. More cans of paint were on the ground, along with a spotted cloth, a pile of brushes and a big wooden box with holes in it.
Pucker froze – still as a statue except for his ears twitching and the fur on his neck rising. JP grew nervous. This was not good. This was how Puckermania started.
Remember, JP – no flying. These had been his mum's last words before the rest of the family headed off to hear Suzie's piano recital.
Easy for Mum to say. What about now, when the safest thing for JP to do would be to pick up Pucker and zoom off, away from all trouble? Because it was perfectly plain that he did not like the painters. Was it the caps and the overalls? They looked sort of like a uniform. And, oh, how Pucker hated uniforms!
A trembling stare. A very low growl. His back legs tensed and then exploded into a blur of motion.
In an instant he had the hem of one painter's trousers in his powerful jaws and was thrashing and pulling like a tiny tugboat. JP yanked hard on the lead and dug his heels into the lawn. No use. He grabbed Pucker by the legs and pulled and pulled. Still no use. This was a mutt on a mission.
The painter yelled and screamed and shook his leg. His glasses went flying and his cap fell over his eyes. But he didn't let go of the ladder, which trembled and tilted as he battled to free his leg from Pucker's grasp. At the top, the other painter was like an acrobat on a high wire, twisting and turning his body and waving his arms as he tried not to fall. Both men were yelling in their language, which had lots of zh and shch sounds. JP didn't understand a word, but he was pretty sure there was some cursing in there.
The painter's trousers ripped, and dog and boy tumbled into a heap on the grass. A piece of white cloth hung from Pucker's teeth as he yelped and struggled in JP's arms. JP wouldn't let Pucker go, though.
Through the whirl of fur and legs JP saw the other painter, the one on the top of the ladder, teeter and totter and lose his footing, so that he came down head-first on top of his partner.
Their heads met with an almighty crack ... followed by the ladder clattering on top of them ... followed at once by the full can of paint, which spilled its thick liquid over their hats and overalls and moustaches. JP couldn't help but notice that the paint matched the lovely grass of St Stephen's Green.
Remember, JP – it was his dad's voice this time, in JP's mind – if you get into trouble and it's your fault, the best thing to do is to own up, admit your mistake, and face it like a man.
So JP legged it.
But he didn't have a choice. Really he didn't. Because Pucker had already taken off, tearing across the grass, ploughing through the flowers and knocking over two of the black signs.
It was JP's job to protect his pet. But Pucker wasn't plummeting across the park and causing even more damage because he was afraid of getting into trouble. No. There was something on the other side of the fountain that had attracted his attention.
For the first time in his doggie life, Pucker Power had found something more exciting than a uniform.
As he raced round the fountain, JP saw that Pucker had come to a stop beside the stone bridge that arched over the pond. His tail was wagging furiously, and his tongue hung from his panting mouth like a piece of washing on a clothesline. In front of him, her button nose in the air, her small mouth pursed, was a stylish black poodle wearing a diamond-studded collar, a fringed tartan doggie coat, and a pink bow in her perfectly groomed fur.
She was not impressed. And neither was her owner, a girl of about JP's age in a red coat, white scarf and blue beret.
Both girl and poodle looked away from Pucker, their faces scrunched up in disgust, their eyes aimed somewhere high above the fountain, obviously hoping that this whining, slobbering pug with a squashed face and googoo eyes and the silly boy that owned him would just ... go ... away.
But the air around Pucker's head was throbbing with little hearts. Even JP could see it. The pug was in love. Plainly.
At least he was easy to grab now. JP caught him by the collar and re-attached the lead.
'I'm sorry,' he said, looking up at the girl with the poodle. Her nails were painted a red that matched her coat and a tiny silver earring quivered beside her clenched jaw. 'He got away from me.'
'Is that so? He got away from you?'
JP had started studying French in school, so he recognised the accent. And because he had a big sister, he also knew the language of sarcasm.
Iz zat so? JP mocked in his mind. But on the outside he was laughing nervously. 'A bundle of energy is this little fella. A devil to keep on the lead.'
And Pucker was doing his best to prove it, straining against JP's grip, trying to give the poodle an affectionate smooch with his dripping tongue.
When he got a little too close, the girl pointed at him and screamed, 'Keep that awful creature away from my precious Penelope.'
Penelope, startled by her owner's outburst, hid behind the girl's legs and yapped. An evil, tiny-dog yap. But music to Pucker's ears. He kept pulling away from JP, trying to plant a kiss on the poodle's snarling lips.
'Ah, he's no harm,' JP said, struggling to hold his temper as well as the lead. 'Really he isn't. He gets on with all dogs, so he does, and he's very clean. I gave him a bath this morning.'
The girl looked at JP with true horror. Of course. She would have servants to bathe her precious little Penelope, wouldn't she, and special groomers with degrees from French beauty schools for poodles, and a doggie dress designer and a doggie jeweller.
'I have no time for such nonsense,' the girl said dramatically, looking at her watch. 'I am late, and it is the fault of you, you and this – beast. I must meet my parents at the Shelbourne Hotel in cinq minutes. We are going to the rugby match and we must be on time. We are guests of honour.'
Really, JP wanted to say, guests of honour? Well, I can fly. But before he could say a word he saw the two painters, green-skinned and bug-eyed, their hats and glasses gone, heading towards him like lions after a gazelle. One had a big sheet in his hands and the other carried the wooden box with holes in it.
There was only one thing for it. Time for super-powers!
JP bundled Pucker into his arms and went into fly mode. But he didn't have his cape – and when JP was capeless, anything could happen!
He took off all right, but couldn't control his flight path. Whang – he flew right into a tree. Head first. Fireworks in his eyes, stars around his skull, birds twittering in his ears. Not real birds. Cuckoo-clock birds. Coo-koo. Coo-koo.
He lifted his groggy head, expecting to be grabbed by the painters and given a good hiding.
But they weren't grabbing him. They were grabbing the girl. The first man threw the sheet over her head and knocked her to the ground, while the other snatched the poodle and thrust it into the wooden box. Pucker leapt from JP's arms and went to the rescue of his beloved Penelope. But this time the painter was ready for him – using a second sheet, he wrapped Pucker up and threw him into the fountain.
The man kept shouting in his language. 'Vee gloopo mallinkaya sobochka ... Vee gloopo mallinkaya sobochka ...'
JP shook the stars from his eyes. Pucker! They were drowning his little Puckerstuck!
But in a flash the dog escaped from the sheet, climbed out of the fountain and, dripping wet, jumped back into the fray, lunging for the painter in full Puckermania again.
But this man knew what he was doing. Swivelling like a bullfighter, he grabbed the doggie by his collar, lifted him in a high circle, and thrust him into the wooden box, beside Penelope. Thump, thwack, click. Like that the box was locked, lifted onto the men's shoulders and whisked away.
Except for the muffled cries of the French girl as she unwound the sheet that bound her. A light rain was falling. Scattered around the fountain were devastated daffodils, pulverised pansies and shredded sheet.
It had all happened so quickly. Both dogs gone. Nothing left of the men but a trail of green footprints up and over the stone bridge.
Wide-eyed and breathless, the girl gasped. 'What ...? Where ...? Penelope!'
She ran to JP, who had struggled to his feet. She seemed to have forgotten how much she disliked him.
'What has happened?' she cried. 'Where is my precious one?'
His head still pounded and his vision was fuzzy, but JP knew what he had seen. Fighting back tears, he said, 'Pucker and Penelope. They've both been nog-dapped!'
Pearse Street Garda Station was a zoo. A herd of hairy buffalos dressed in rugby uniforms. An older French couple, sleek as jaguars. Street kids whooping it up like monkeys, while a red-faced sergeant, squealing like the little piggy who went wee-wee-wee all the way home, chased them out of the door.
Into this chaos came the Power family, looking for JP. Ted Power like a codfish, his chin thrust out, his teeth bared. JP's mum, Clare, eyes wide as a deer's. And Suzie, an angry sparrow, chirping crossly because her special music day had been ruined.
It had been so humiliating. JP had rung their mum's mobile in the middle of Suzie's piano performance. He rang from the station, crying his head off and making no sense. The family had rushed out of the academy hall, Suzie's beautiful phrases from Mozart completely forgotten. Typical of JP. Absolutely typical. He couldn't even take the dog for a walk without creating a disaster.
JP was sitting at a desk in the station's back office, his hair sticking up. A garda held an ice pack to his head, mooning at him as if he were her long-lost baby boy.
'The poor little chap,' she said. 'He got an awful knock on the head. Do you want another ice-pop, JP?'
'I'm fine for the moment, thanks very much.' JP spoke in that weak, whiney voice he put on when he was milking sympathy.
The garda lifted the ice, revealing a lump the size of a tangerine. Banged his head trying to fly, no doubt.
No sooner did they see him than Suzie's parents were stuck to JP like a wet shirt.
'Are you all right, pet?'
'That's some lump you have.'
'We were mortified when the guards rang.'
'Is there anything we can get you?'
'Where's Pucker?' Suzie said, in a flat, bored voice.
Her dad looked around the room. 'Yes. Where is that little rascal?'
JP's face crumpled like an old newspaper. He started crying. 'He ... he ... he's been ...'
Across the room, a red-white-and-blue girl wailed, 'Ma Penelope!'
French, Suzie thought. The couple must be her parents.
'Excusez-moi?' said the dad, leaning in to the Powers. About Ted's age, he was dressed in an expensive suit, silk tie and pointed black leather shoes. A very elegant man, with perfectly parted hair, but a face like a tin opener. 'You are the family of the pug, no?'
Ted looked the man up and down, brushing sandwich crumbs from the stomach of his snot-green Dunnes Stores jumper. 'If you mean Pucker, then, yes, the pooch is a Power. And more pucker to him for being a power is what I always say.'
Ted laughed maniacally, the Frenchman stared, Suzie cringed.
'My daughter, Paulette,' the Frenchman said, pointing at the weeping girl, who was clutching her mother, 'she has told us how brave your son is today. You must be varry proud.'
They all looked at JP. He was picking his nose.
'We have raised our boy,' Ted said, 'always to do the right thing. Er, what did he do?'
'His varry best I would say,' the Frenchman said, raising his hands. 'Though, alas, it did not stop the villains from their evil ways.'
At the mention of evil and villains, Ted heated up, wisps of smoke curling from his ears. He was having more and more trouble controlling his super-fire these days. 'Villains, you say? Mischief? Arch-criminals needing to be taught a lesson?'
JP wailed. 'The bad men took Pucker away in a booden wox!'
The red-faced sergeant, returning from another shouting match with kids from the road, stopped in his tracks, eyeing up Ted and sniffing the smoke. 'Sweet Jaypers. What are you doing here?'
'Here to serve, sergeant, here to serve.'
'Now listen here, you Powers, you just stay out of this. The daughter of this distinguished French gentleman here is upset, very upset. Her pedigree poodle's gone missing, and the last thing we need is you and your so-called super-powers creating another international incident.'
'But, sergeant,' the Frenchman said, pointing at JP, 'this family also ...'
'Their chien ... how you say? Kidnapped? Dognapped?'
JP and Paulette cried in chorus.
'What!' yelped Clare.
'Poor Pucker,' shouted Suzie.
'Oh, no,' said the sergeant.
'Oh, yes,' said Ted, folding his arms. 'But never fear, the Powers are here.'
Penelope's owner, it appeared, was named Paulette Parfait. Paulette's dad, Pierre, was president of the French Rugby Federation. Her mum, Patricia, was a famous ex-model with a perfect nose and a mouth that didn't know how to smile. Clare was trying to be nice to Mrs Parfait and getting nowhere. Suzie could see that her mum would much prefer to be planting flowers in her garden than stuck here with a bunch of French snobs. And all Suzie wanted to do was play the piano.
Mrs Parfait certainly wasn't giving her hysterical daughter much attention. Paulette was beside herself, but her mother was beside the radio, listening to coverage of the Ireland–France rugby international being played at the Aviva Stadium. The doggie crisis meant that the family was at the garda station instead of the match, and every few minutes Mrs Parfait would glide across the floor and whisper the score in her husband's ear. With every whisper, he grew more irritated. Ireland was winning.
The French team had sent along several beefy, unshaven substitutes to support the Parfaits, and with every update on the score, Mr Parfait would glare at them, as if it were their fault. They cowered like scared chickens, even though any one of them could have knocked over their boss with a baby finger.
'We must do something, now!' Mr Parfait shouted, though Suzie wasn't sure if he was talking about the dognapping or the rugby match.
'I'll tell you what we don't do,' Ted said, a finger in the air. 'We don't lie around here like a bunch of stand-byers wondering what to do next. We are the Powers. Fighting crime is what we do. I ask you – can a leopard change his stripes?'
But Mr Parfait wasn't listening. His mobile rang. He answered, went silent and turned deathly pale.
'Oui ... oui ... oui.' He hung up and said in a whisper. 'They have the dogs.'
Excerpted from "Pucker Power"
Copyright © 2015 Kevin Stevens.
Excerpted by permission of Little Island.
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