Authors: Heather Vogel Frederick
For my true-blue familyâSteve, Ian, and Benâwith happy memories of a New York City Thanksgiving
DAY ONE â¢ TUESDAY â¢ 0745 HOURS
Something small and white catapulted across the upper corridor of the Library of Congress. If any humans had been present to witness the object's soaring flight, they would have been surprised to see that it was a mouse. A lab mouse, to be exact. But there were no humans present. Not this early in the morning.
The lab mouse turned a somersault and landed on the marble floor with a tiny thud. He lay there for a long moment, motionless. His skateboardâmade from a Popsicle stick painted flamingo pinkâlay upside down beside him, its wheels still spinning.
Finally, he sat up. “It's no use, Glory,” he said sadly. “I just can't do it.”
Another mouse stepped forward. A very elegant little mouse. Her glossy brown fur was impeccably groomed. Perched jauntily atop her head was a safety
helmet crafted from a bottle cap and secured with a rubber band.
“Cheer up, Bunsenâit's not that bad,” she said, reaching out a paw and hauling her colleague upright. She began to brush him off vigorously. “You're getting the hang of it. This is only the sixth time you've fallen this morning.”
“Seventh,” corrected Bunsen.
“So who's counting? You need more practice, that's all.”
“I've been practicing day and night for weeks,” Bunsen moaned. “Let's face it, Glory. I'm just not cut out for this. I should go back to work in the lab.”
“Nonsense,” said Glory crisply. “Julius had good reason to promote you to field agent. Anyway, it's too late now. You've already graduated from spy school.”
“Barely,” muttered Bunsen.
“You just need to build up your confidence,” Glory continued, ignoring his glum face. “Besides, all this practice is for a good cause, remember? Lives might depend on your skill someday.” She waved a paw at one of the many quotes adorning the walls around them.
“I know, I know,” grumbled Bunsen. “The Spy Mice Agency motto. âThe noblest motive is the public good.' But what does some old Greek poet know about skateboarding? I'll bet Virgil never had to do anything like this in the line of duty.”
“I'll bet he wouldn't have complained about it if he
had,” chided Glory. “You're getting your whiskers in a twist over nothing, Bunsen. You should have seen me when I first learned, and look at me now.”
Glory slapped her shiny silver skateboardâstandard issue for elite field agentsâdown onto the marble floor. With a graceful leap, she landed atop it, then pushed off with one hind paw and flew down the corridor.
The tip of Bunsen's nose turned bright pink as he watched Glory carve her way down the long passageway. Beautiful, clever, and brave, Morning Glory Goldenleaf was his colleague and friendâand the mouse of his dreams. His eyes shone in admiration as she spun around, ollied over a crack in the floor, and slapped down on the other side, whizzing to an expert stop in front of him.
“Perfect,” whispered Bunsen, gazing at her adoringly.
“Spin still needs work,” Glory replied, not catching his drift. She flipped her skateboard over and fiddled with one of its wheels. “This back one still sticks, no matter how much I oil it.” She glanced up at her colleague. “Come on, let me see you try again.”
Bunsen shook his head. “I'm calling it quits for today,” he said, rubbing his sore behind. He picked up his skateboardâGlory's old one, on loan until he passed the agency's Basic Skills Exam and earned an official board of his own. “Besides, it's time we got a move on. The humans will be arriving soon, and we don't want to risk being spotted.”
“You're right,” Glory agreed. “Our rides should be here any minute anyway.”
The two mice gathered up their gear and climbed onto the nearest windowsill. A moment later, a gentle
on the pane announced the arrival of their Pigeon Air taxis.
“Right on time,” said Glory, wriggling through a crack under the window sash onto the ledge outside. “Morning, Hank! Morning, Ollie!”
The larger of the two birds bobbed his head. “Morning yourself,” Hank replied politely. As Glory started to climb onto his back, he added, “There's something you'd better see before we take off.”
“Can it wait?” she asked. “We're on kind of a tight schedule. Julius will have my tail if I'm late for the Tuesday morning staff meeting again.”
“Trust me, Glory. You need to see this.”
Glory shrugged. “Okay.”
Once she and Bunsen were securely aboard their pigeons, the birds spiraled upward toward the library's copper dome. All of Washington, D.C., spread out beneath them in the steely November light. The wind was brisk, and Glory shivered.
The pigeons landed outside one of the dome's stained-glass windows, and the two mice slid off their backs.
“Take a look,” said Hank. “The table nearest Father Time.”
Glory and Bunsen cupped their paws around their eyes and pressed their noses to the window. They peered down into the library's magnificent Main Reading Room far below.
“There's no one there,” Glory reported.
“He's there all right,” said Hank. “We spotted him earlier when we paused for a breather. Keep looking.”
“He?” Glory's heart skipped a beat. “You meanâ”
“Yep. I'd know that ugly snout anywhere.”
Glory peered through the window again, more urgently this time. She gasped. “There! On the floor by the third desk from the end! Hank, you're rightâit
“Roquefort Dupont, in the fur,” murmured Bunsen, eyeing the large gray rat with distaste. “What on earth is he doing here?”
“And where has he been for the past month?” added Glory.
In the wake of his humiliating defeat at the paws of the Spy Mice Agency on Halloween, the leader of Washington's rat underworld had vanished without a trace. Rumors of Dupont's whereabouts had circulated like wildfire, but for weeks now the mice had seen neither hide nor hair of him.
Glory and Bunsen watched as Dupont struggled to drag something out from underneath the desk. Something that looked suspiciously likeâ
“A book?” cried Glory in disbelief.
“Impossible,” echoed Bunsen. “Can't be.”
But it was. The two mice exchanged a glance. What could Roquefort Dupont, Lord of the Sewers and supreme commander of Washington's rat underworld, possibly want with a book?
“Maybe somebody accidentally smeared ketchup on it?” ventured Bunsen. “Or used a sandwich as a bookmark?”
What other explanation could there be? Rats were famous both for their gluttony and for their contempt for the written word. Dupont and his kin were illiterate and proud of it. They had nothing but scorn for their mouse rivals, who had forged a sophisticated society through shrewd use of human knowledge and technology. “Not fit to be rodents!” the rats sneered, clinging stubbornly to their primitive ways.
“We've got to go in for a closer look,” Glory said. “Hank, you and Ollie wait hereâwe won't be long. Come on, Bunsen.”
The two mice squeezed through a crack in the stained glass, emerging onto a plaster windowsill. Bunsen crept forward cautiously and peered over the edge. He gulped. It was a long, long way down to the floor.
Glory rummaged in her backpack. “Right tool for the right job, as Julius always says,” she said, pulling out what looked like a ballpoint pen. “I've been wanting to test this.”
Bunsen inspected it closely. “I see the lab's been
busy while I've been at spy school,” he said. “What kind of range does it have?”
“Let's find out.” Resting the pen on her shoulder, Glory aimed it toward the window behind them, sighted expertly along its barrel, and pulled the pocket-clip trigger. What looked like a shiny arrowhead (actually the nib of a discarded fountain pen, sharpened to a razor's edge) shot out, trailing a length of dental floss. The tiny harpoon arced across the sill, then buried itself silently in the wood of the window frame.
Glory nodded her approval. “Now let's see how this floss performs.” The Spy Mice Agency had recently upgraded from yarn to dental floss at the suggestion of Glory's brother Chip, who worked as a forager. Floss was sturdier than yarn, he'd argued, and easy to come by from the city's many dentists. Less labor-intensive, too. The yarn required for field operations had involved many tedious mouse-hours unraveling discarded sweaters.
Glory tugged on the line of floss to make sure it was secure, then clipped it deftly through a carabiner (the metal tab from a soda can) on her utility belt (a discarded watch strap). She strode across the ledge and carefully and quietly lowered her harpoon gun toward the Reading Room floor. Bunsen watched as the floss was slowly unspooled. Lots and lots of floss. He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
Glory looked at him. “This is what we live for,
Bunsen!” she said with a grin. “You're a field agent now, remember?”
The lab mouse tugged unhappily at his ears. “This field agent nearly flunked rappelling,” he confessed.
Glory gave him a comforting pat. “Don't worryâyou're in good paws. I won't let you fall. Wait here for my signal.”
Bunsen's stomach did a flip-flop as Glory leaped fearlessly off the ledge, hooked one paw around the line of floss and rappelled swiftly down, down, down the high wall. She landed atop Father Time, whose statue adorned the fancy clock above the Reading Room's main entrance. Setting her backpack down, she gave the line a sharp tug to signal Bunsen that it was his turn.
Reluctantly, Bunsen grabbed the dental floss with both pawsâwinding his tail around it too, for good measureâand clipped it to his utility belt. Then he inched his way backward off the ledge. His hind paws waved wildly in the air for a moment as he eased into the first drop. He swung in toward the wall and would have crashed, but Glory held the line taut, and he managed to steady himself. He pushed off and dropped again. Too fast! With a squeak of alarm, he toppled backward and dangled upside down.
“Come on, Bunsen, you can do it!” Glory called softly.
With an effort, the lab mouse wiggled himself upright again. Hesitantly, he pushed off and dropped
again, more successfully this time. Push, drop, push, dropâslowly at first and then faster as he found his rhythm. Finally, panting hard, he landed beside Glory. His pale face was flushed with pride. “I did it!” he whispered excitedly.
Glory slapped him a high paw. “Of course you did, Bunsen. You are true-blue. It's like I said before: You just need to build up your confidence.”
She pulled a second ball of floss from her backpack and fastened one end to Father Time's sickle. “Remind me to tell Chip that he was rightâthis floss works much better than the yarn.” She dropped the ball over the side of the clock, waited for it to hit the floor, and then rappelled the rest of the way down. Bunsen followed silently.