“Listen, I’m PERRY. You guys know Prince, right? Prince! Your leader, remember?”
Perry’s attempt to give the meaningless shopping list to Malice wasn’t successful so far. Royal Guard seemed to think he was trying to trick them into arrest and were currently backing him against the wall of their hideout.
“Prince. I’m her friend.” Perry said.
“Sure you are.” Said a cat. “Stay a while, will you?”
“Agents are great friends of ours.” A skunk told him.
Perry had a feeling they were being sarcastic. Except for the part about staying a while.
Perry put a hand in his fur pocket and held on to his grappling gun. He didn’t want to hurt anyone, but if they decided it was time to get messy, he’d prefer to defend himself.
“Who says I’m an agent?” Perry asked.
“Agents are the only animals who could possibly be as intelligent as you.” Said the cat.
“If that were the case, YOU’D be an agent.” Perry said.
“We’re all descended from agents, idiot!” Said a female hedgehog. “Our parents passed down intelligence to us!”
“Parents.” The cat spat on the ground. “Jerks.”
Most of the animals nodded in agreement.
Perry finally hit the wall. “Can you guys call Malice? He knows me.”
The skunk lunged at him. Perry fired.
Twelve animals tumbled to the ground, all tied to each other. Malice walked up as they fell. He looked down at them, and up at Perry.
“I’m sorry you had to do that. Guys, this one is a friend. Don’t harm him in the future.”
“How were we supposed to know?” The cat grumbled.
“Shut it, Finicky.” Malice turned to Perry. “You wanted me for something?”
“Prince had me write down a shopping list over the phone for your party or whatever.”
“What party?” Malice asked.
“I don’t know. That’s all she said. Here.” Perry handed him the list.
Malice stared at it for a moment. Then he slowly looked at Perry.
“Was she calling from a different number?”
“Did she hang up suddenly?”
“Did you write this in the exact order that she dictated it to you?”
“Yes. Why? What does it mean?”
Malice set the list down on the ground, took a pen out of his jeans pocket and circled the first letter of every word.
“I see HELP in there.” Perry said. “Do you think she’s in trouble, or is that just a coincidence?”
Malice shook his head. “Not a coincidence. We had no party coming up. We buy our own food. She must have been somewhere where she could be overheard, so she used first-letter code. Did she hesitate at all when telling you what to write?”
“Yes.” Perry said. “I remember her saying she couldn’t remember what was next.”
“So there’s a letter or two missing.” Malice said. “Probably one she couldn’t think of a food name for. Wait a minute…”
Malice wrote down TROBADOR and stared at it for a few seconds. “Yes. It must have been a U that was missing. She was trying to say Help Troubadours. I bet she forgot the S.”
“She wants us to help middle-age lyric poets. Good we cleared that up.”
Malice didn’t appear to have heard. “It all makes sense now. The Troubadours allow their prisoners one phone call, but if the prisoner says anything about location or asks for help or contacts any member of their own gang they’re killed on the spot.”
“So she’s been kidnapped by another gang?”
“Yes.” Malice said. “And a nasty one, too.”
“Where are they?” Perry asked, suddenly feeling angry.
“How am I supposed to know?”
“Don’t gangs know where-”
Malice shook his head. “They’re called hideouts because you use them to hide from other gangs. It’s very hard to figure out where a hideout is. I could probably get a bit of information from other gangs, but finding those gangs is the same problem.”
“Feels like you guys run into each other all the time.”
Malice smiled sadly. “Only when we don’t need each other. We do have two gangs we’re on friendly terms with, though. I could try them.”
“If you figure anything out, let me know.” Perry said.
“It’s New Years tonight, Perry!”
Perry took his eyes off of Sneakers, who was currently floating upstairs, and looked at Phineas in confusion. “No, it’s the 30th.”
“It’s the 31st! See?” Phineas pointed at a calendar.
Perry shook his head. “It… can’t be. Christmas was only a few days ago… it felt like it, at least…”
“I’m going to stay up all night.” Ferb said. “We can play DaYS!”
“NOOO.” Phineas said.
“Yes.” Said Ferb.
“But don’t you remember, Ferb? We’re going to Isabella’s for New Year’s.”
“Well, we can play DaYS at Isabella’s.”
“Or do something else.” Phineas said. “Perry’s gonna come too! He can help us figure out what to do!”
“I may have a mission tonight.” Perry said. “Sorry.”
“Can you come until then?”
“Sure. It’s just so soon… I wasn’t expecting it to be the New Year already. I’m not sure if I’m excited or not. Ferb, could you go and make sure Sneakers doesn’t float out of the upstairs window?”
Ferb ran upstairs.
“Are you going to bring Sneakers to Isabella’s, Perry?”
“I think she needs to stay here. It’s not good for her to be up all night, and she might get nervous around a bunch of people. Baby platypuses don’t process things the same way I do. But we need to make sure we close all the windows.”
Ferb came back downstairs, carrying Sneakers under one arm. Sneakers was glowing, making her cuteness even harder to resist.
“You should put a little bow on her head.” Phineas said.
“Are you kidding? Then we’ll go robbing stores for her!” Perry took Sneakers back from Ferb. “She’s too cute as is.”
“Buh-lowfish!” Ferb said.
“You’re right, Ferb! We still have lots of time before we have to go to Isabella’s!” Phineas said.
“How did you get that from ‘blowfish’?” Perry asked.
“A little blowfish goes a long way.” Said Ferb.
“Last night was fun.” Phineas said.
Phineas began drawing up a building plan in his project book. He looked toward Perry.
Perry was lying on his back on the floor, snoring loudly. Sneakers was trying to get underneath him for warmth.
“I wonder what Perry did last night for New Year’s. He seems pretty tired.” Phineas said.
“Maybe his mission had a lot of running around in it.” Ferb said.
“It’s a shame he didn’t get to stay for the ball drop.” Phineas said. “Hey, imagine curling glass windows on a building, Ferb.”
Ferb thought for a moment and shrugged.
“Indifferent? I’ll write that down as a maybe.” Phineas left the building’s windows blank. “Should we wake Perry up?”
Ferb shook his head. “He looks like he’d want to stay sleeping.”
“Okay, fine.” Pinky said. “I admit that you can blow a big enough gum bubble to allow you to float for five whole minutes! Now STOP showing off!”
Peter continued to remain in the air, his large gum bubble carrying him innocently along.
“Don’t laugh, Peter.” Perry said.
Peter snickered. The bubble popped, and Peter landed on top of Pinky.
“You couldn’t have waited a couple more seconds before tricking him into coming down?” Pinky grouched.
A terrible scream sounded from another room. They froze.
“EEEEEEAAGGGHHH!” Carrie the cat yelled. “A SPIDDDEERRRR!”
“AAAAAGGGHH!” Shrieked Sandra the spider. “A CATTTTTT!”
Perry shook his head. “Just Carrie. Blow another bubble, Peter.”
Peter put another stick of gum in his mouth and started chewing.
“Carl!” Monogram shouted from another room. “Someone’s hacked into our announcement system. I have no idea how long the software has been there, but I need you to get rid of it!”
“Whoever hacked into our system…” Monogram lowered his voice, but Perry could still easily hear him through the wall. “…can listen to what we’re saying! Get it out of there!”
“Checking systems, sir.”
Perry took out his phone and checked the sound system. Sure enough, a foreign device was connected to it.
“Sir, whatever the connected device is, it’s not anywhere in the agency. It’s wireless. I can’t shut it down.”
“Well, LOCATE it!”
“Impossible, sir. The only way we would be able to know who had it… well, the device would probably scramble up most electronics, so if a person’s television were blinking random colors and such…”
“OW!” Perry rubbed his head. A furry foot had whacked him.
“Thorry.” Peter said through his gum bubble as he floated along.
JD had never tried to glue a record back together before. He wasn’t even sure if the record would work again.
He had broken the record after learning more about the beat-up van. He wished he had taken his anger out on something else, though. He liked his records.
A knock sounded on the door.
“I’m comin’.” JD set the record to dry on the kitchen table and opened the front door.
The first thing he saw was a fist. A second later, he was lying on the ground, rubbing his jaw.
“You think that’s funny-” He stood up to face his attacker, and stopped in confusion. “Perry? What’re you doin’ here? Why’d you just-”
“You’ve been spying on the O.W.C.A. You listen in through some radio device.”
Perry threw another punch at JD to try and get past him.
JD dodged and grabbed Perry by the wrists. “Hold on. Why’d you think that?”
“Your television, when I was last here. Flashing colors.”
JD gave Perry his broken smile. “Ah. You’re smart, aren’t ya? But I don’t use my listener for the agency.”
“Let. Go. Of. Me.” Perry growled.
“You gotta promise you won’t sucker-punch me again.”
“That depends. Whose side are you on?”
“I don’t take sides. I do my own thing, everyone else does their own thing, the world is happy. I ain’t spyin’ on your agency. I promise. Come.”
JD dragged Perry into the living room and dug around in his couch. He pulled out a small listening device. “This was Prince’s. I believe she used it to listen in to your agency before you two were friendly with each other. But it also connects to police electronics and detective agencies. In my case, useful when you wanna know more than the news tells you or check up on your niece. In her case, useful for avoiding the cops.”
JD released Perry. Perry rubbed his wrists. “You swear that’s all you use it for?”
“There was a van on the news. Apparently a shooting happened near it. No one found inside, but looked as though animals had attacked it. I tuned into the police and learned a little more. Reptile footprints were seen in the van. Rollerskate skidmarks in the trunk.”
“And according to the indentations in the mud near the car, a struggle took place.” JD said. He pressed a couple of buttons on the device. “And now this is disconnected from that agency that I forget the name of. Are we all good now?”
“Of course. JD… Prince is stuck with a gang called the Troubadours. We received a message from her. But I have no idea where to find them.”
JD narrowed his eyes. “Give me ten minutes. I’ll locate them.”