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Secret Agent 00Zero (also known as Jackson to his mom) took a deep breath and opened the gate into Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy’s yard. He glanced around nervously; he knew they could be under attack at any moment …
“Wait until you see what I’ve got in my bag,” his best friend, Quigley, said, following him through the gate. “I’ve been working all night and—”
“Wait,” Jackson interrupted. He squinted up at the sky. The strange-looking cloud he’d noticed a few minutes before was getting bigger. And closer. And … flatter? Jackson felt a tingle in his beak as his danger detectors went off. “Does that cloud look weird to you?”
“Huh?” Quigley (also known as Secret Agent Q to Jackson) glanced up. “Nah, it looks like a regular nimbostratus, approximately a thousand flippers high, suggesting it may rain soon. But anyway, you’ve got to see what I’ve come up with.”
Quigley began rummaging in his backpack, but Jackson was still distracted by the cloud. There was definitely something odd about it. It was kind of … wriggling!
“Agent Q!” Jackson said, grabbing his buddy’s flipper. “I think we’d better move.”
“What?” Quigley blinked up at the sky.
“RUN!” Jackson shouted. “Enemy attack!” He tugged Quigley across the yard. They dived over a low fence, ninja rolled through some prickly bushes, and threw themselves behind Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy’s wheelbarrow just as a huge, squawking flock of gulls swooped down from the sky.
“Ha!” Jackson shouted, waggling his flipper at the gulls. “You missed us!”
“Um … not quite.” Quigley pointed to Jackson’s head.
“Urgh!” Jackson shook the lumps of sticky white poop out of his crest and shuddered. “I hate gulls!”
“I don’t think they like us much, either,” Quigley said. “That’s the third time they’ve gunked us this week, which is exactly why I’ve been working on these new gadgets. Let me get them out…”
Jackson sighed. This was all his mom’s fault. It had been her idea to send them deck scrubbing as punishment for sticking their beaks into FBI business. Joining the FBI (the Frosty Bureau of Investigation) was what Jackson wanted more than anything else in the world. And after solving the case of the stolen fish from Rookeryville’s City Aquarium, the head of the FBI had very nearly made his wish come true—until Jackson’s mom found out. She definitely DID NOT want them to be secret agents. Too dangerous, she said. And because they’d broken her rules and gotten involved in spy business, she’d flipped! She’d gone Great White on the Shark Scale of Crossness and put Jackson and Quigley on the worst punishment duty she could dream up: scrubbing gull poop off their neighbors’ decks for the whole midterm vacation. And Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy’s deck was the poopiest of all.
“Coo-eee!” called an old-lady penguin voice, and Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy emerged from her house, waving to them across the yard. “I’m just filling the gull feeders. Keep up the good work, boys.”
Jackson and Quigley waved back.
“I wish she wouldn’t feed them,” Jackson muttered as Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy waddled off. “Then her deck wouldn’t be so covered in poop!” As he spoke, the flock of gulls swooped back down to gobble up the food. “Look at them!” Jackson groaned. “They’re like pooping machines! We’re going to be here all day. No way are we going to make Uncle Bryn’s birthday party.”
Uncle Bryn wasn’t just Jackson’s favorite family member; he was also a real, live secret agent with the FBI. And today was his birthday. Uncle Bryn had planned a small party with a few FBI friends down at Brain Freezers, the best milk shake shack in all of Rookeryville. And Jackson and Quigley were invited, too. Not that they were allowed to go, of course. They were still grounded as part of Jackson’s mom’s punishment plan. But Jackson had a plan of his own. He knew his mom was at work until 6 P.M. and his dad was busy building a new game room in their basement, so Jackson figured they could sneak down to the party without anyone finding out. But first they had to finish scrubbing Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy’s deck.
“Don’t worry,” Quigley said. “I’ve been trying to tell you. I’ve been working on some awesome new deck-scrubbing inventions. They’ll get the job done quicker. Check these out!”
Jackson peered at the flowery bits of fabric Quigley was waggling in front of him. “They look a lot like your nana’s old curtains.”
“They ARE my nana’s old curtains,” Quigley said. “Or they were, until last week. Now they’re my latest and greatest invention—Poop Protector Hats! See, you put them on like this and—”
“Why have they got spoons attached?” Jackson asked, crossing his flippers in the hope he wouldn’t have to wear one.
“They’re not spoons. They’re poop splatterers. See, you press this button here,” Quigley said, fiddling with the top of the hat, “and they spin around. Then if a gull drops poop on you, it gets batted away. Genius, right?”
Jackson nodded. “Um … sure.”
“I’ve got more,” Quigley said, rummaging in his bag again. “Ta-daaa!”
“Skates?” Jackson’s sister, Finola, had a pair just like them. Except Finola’s definitely did not have brushes attached to the bottoms.
“Robo SCRUB Skates!” Quigley corrected. “Look, I’ll show you.”
Jackson kept his eyes on the gulls as he followed Quigley across the deck to the dirtiest area, where the birds were pecking at the seeds Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy had put out for them.
“So you tie the Robo Scrub Skates on your feet like this,” Quigley said, “then flick the switch on the back, and—whoa!” He steadied himself as the skates began to twitch and shudder. “See? They do all the scrubbing for you! Awesome, right?”
Jackson jumped out of the way to avoid being trampled by his friend, who was now jerking backward and forward wildly as the skates scrubbed the deck’s boards.
“Oh, and you’re going to love this…,” Quigley shouted. “Catch!”
Jackson caught the small silver object his buddy had thrown. “A whistle?”
“Blow it!” Quigley said.
Jackson did as he was told. “I don’t hear anything.”
The gulls had heard something, though. They’d stopped pecking and spun around to stare at Jackson.
“It’s a Gull Scarer! Only gulls can hear it. And they hate it!” Quigley pulled out another whistle. As he blew it, the gulls began to squawk and shuffle around, fluttering their wings. Two of them flew away.
“Wow,” Jackson breathed. “You really are a genius.” He reached for the second pair of skates. Who cares if we look lame, he thought, pulling them on and picking up the other crazy hat. At least there’s no one here to see it. “Hey, maybe Uncle Bryn’s boss will be at the party,” Jackson said, his feet now jerking backward and forward as the spoons spun wildly around his hat. “Then we can remind her about her idea to start a junior wing of the FBI.”
But Quigley didn’t reply. He was staring at the sidewalk outside Mrs. Hoppy-Floppy’s house. “I think that penguin just took a photo of us.”
“What penguin?” Jackson tried to turn to look, but his Robo Scrub Skates had other ideas. Jackson went one way, his feet went the other. And—doof!—his face hit the deck.
“Hey, loser patrol!” shouted a familiar, annoying voice. “LOVE the hats!”
Jackson scrambled back up and locked eyes with—
“Hoff Rockface!” he growled. Their number- one enemy from school.
Hoff turned and called to his friends down the street. “Hey, dudes, come check out these losers.”
Jackson felt his cheeks burn. He tried to pull the flowery hat off his head, but the spoons were rotating so fast he couldn’t grab it. “Quigley!” he hissed. “How do I get this off?”
But before Quigley could answer—
“Smile for the camera!” Hoff took another picture of them.
“Stop that!” Jackson yelled. “You can’t take our photo!”
“Why not?” Hoff looked offended. “I’m just doing my school vacation homework. You’ve done yours, right?”
Jackson glanced at Quigley. “Homework?” he mouthed.
Hoff sniggered. “Did you guys forget? Miss Chalk-Feather is not going to be happy.”
Miss Chalk-Feather was their new teacher. She was a super-strict sort of penguin, almost as strict as Jackson’s mom.
“We’ve got to make a Visitor’s Guide to Rookeryville, showing all the best sights in town,” Hoff said, talking slowly, like he was speaking to hatchlings.
Jackson groaned. Now he remembered! Miss Chalk-Feather had said they could make any kind of guide they wanted—a drawing, a leaflet, a photo display, or anything else. Jackson and Quigley had buddied up to do theirs together, then immediately forgotten about the assignment.
Hoff pointed his camera at Jackson again. “Well, you and Gadget Boy are definitely appearing in my Visitor’s Guide to Rookeryville. You’re the freakiest sight in town. Smile!”
Jackson felt a bubble of anger in his belly. NO WAY was he appearing in Hoff’s homework. “Code Red!” he hissed at Quigley. “Quick! We’ve got to get that camera off him!”
Copyright © 2019 by Sam Hay. Illustrations copyright © 2019 by Marek Jagucki