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.
Text copyright © 2012 by Gareth P. Jones
Illustrations copyright © 2012 by Artful Doodlers