Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, alias Dorothy Lamour, the Sultan of Swap, Old Blue Oculars, Samwise the Recliner King of What Cheer, Bix, Bruce, Bobby or Brice, but close friends called him Stan, was speeding along the Olsen Motorway, which had been renamed from the Holbrook Highway. Previous to that it was simply State Route 85, before the land was colonized it was known as Bison Pass and prior to that it was called Stegosaurus Walkway Number 357. Stan, alias Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, alias Dorothy Lamour, the Sultan of Swap, Old Blue Oculars, Samwise the Recliner King of What Cheer, Bix, Bruce, Bobby or Brice, sped down this storied street in pursuit of the notorious Latchkey Kid, bank robber, cat burglar, identity thief, racketeer, counterfeit mustache creator, jaywalker, potato juggler, tax evader, high top fader, shoelace together tier, made you looker, and all around no goodnik. “Latchkey Kid, you are mine,” Stan, alias Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, alias Dorothy Lamour, the Sultan of Swap, Old Blue Oculars, Samwise the Recliner King of What Cheer, Bix, Bruce, Bobby or Brice, muttered under his breath, shifting his Buick Lustello into 45th gear.

The Latchkey Kid was wanted in 53 states, including the made-up states of Aardvarkansas, Pooisiana and Even Newer Mexico. Some knew the Latchkey Kid as the Wet Bandit, the Shaq-Foosball Mascot or Bad, Bad Lee Raw Umber. Other pseudonyms included Sue Denim, Madrock McAwesome Blossom, Norville Rogers, Guitar Guy, Onyx the Second, Nickelback Strickelback, Kid Disestablishmentarianism, Qbert Burgertime and Meteorologist Ed Wilson. What this multi-monikored monster was doing zooming down the Olsen Motorway in a hijacked smart car was unknown. Rumor had it he had purloined treasures from three years into the future. But Stan, alias Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, alias Dorothy Lamour, the Sultan of Swap, Old Blue Oculars, Samwise the Recliner King of What Cheer, Bix, Bruce, Bobby or Brice, didn’t know. What he did know was that on this moonless, star-filled, sun might be over in the corner there night, he was on the Latchkey Kid like white on rice, like brown on a paper bag, like yellowish green on the late Chester Allan Arthur.

As the Olsen Motorway merged into Interstate 1,698,422,352 or Highway 4, signs appeared, warning of road work ahead and mysteriously absent shoulders. The moon showed up in the sky, finally. Then the sun followed suit. The moon was all, whatever, and stole the limelight, literally, eclipsing the sun and plunging the night into even darker darkness. The stars were all, “yipes! Let’s get outta here!” and fled. It was just the moon, the sun, the Latchkey Kid, and Stan, alias Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, etc., etc., etc.

In all the celestial confusion, the cars collided. The two adversaries ejected and drew weapons at one another. Stan unholstered his 45 magnum; The Latchkey Kid upholstered his loveseat. He also brandished a large canvas bag containing scores of stolen futuristic merchandise. 4-D glasses! Serious straws! Talking calculator watches! And the mother of them all- the hoverboard! “Hand them, over, Latchkey Kid!” Stan shouted. “You know it’s a crime… to steal.”

“Am I such a criminal?” the Latchkey Kid hissed. “I mean, sure, I rob banks, burgle cats, counterfeit mustaches, tie shoelaces together and make you look, but are those really the really real crimes? What about the real crimes? Like the criminals in Washington, or in our nation’s capitol? What about kids eating fast food instead of carrots and grapes? Or people who make fun of other people just because they’ve got huge noses or stupid names? At least I didn’t scheme a bunch of elderly people out of their life savings! At least I didn’t de-fund the public school system! At least I didn’t release the second season of Joan of Arcadia without getting the rights to Shaking the Tree first! So villainize me if you must, for my stealing, for my racketeering, for my cooler than thou hairstyle, but don’t forget to look in the mirror, and ask yourself, am I so innocent? Am I really me? Who am I, really? Which me is looking back at me, in this mirrored glass we call a mirror? What is that?” He pointed behind Stan, who looked, as he was made to. And with that, the Latchkey Kid unleashed one of his signature smoke bombs, ollied away on his hoverboard and disappeared in the black nighttimey night. Stunned, hungry and fussy, the Snooper Spy walked away in disgust. It was going to be a long night of paperwork for Stan, alias Thomas Forcible, alias Peter Rank, alias The Red Splot, alias Dorothy Lamour, the Sultan of Swap, Old Blue Oculars, Samwise the Recliner King of What Cheer, Bix, Bruce, Bobby or Brice.

And then, because these things always end with an explosion, the sky blew up.




SKWA-BWOOSH! That was the sound of Xapno Mapcase sliding through the window (the SKWA) and falling heavily onto the museum tile (the BWOOSH!) Already, the museum’s security system had been compromised, as if it decided to make pancakes instead of waffles. You know, because someone else wanted waffles. Look, if you have a better example of a compromise, then by all means, replace this one! Huh? What’s that? Didn’t think so. Maybe you can just stick to the reading and let the writers do the writing.


“Too late,” Xapno Mapcase thought aloud. His thought echoed through the vast, shadowy museum. It was quiet in there. Overly quiet. Shouldn’t there be a tender rustling of exhibits, the soft snore of congested statuary, the sweet buzz of facts as they float, suspending themselves in the air like hummingbirds? But no. In its place was the overly quietude of the sound of nothing making a sound. Something was amiss. Something was amissing.

The museum in question was the Aaron Space Museum, named after the wealthy astro-philanthropist Aaron Space. There had been a tip-off that the famed Crosby Diamond would be yoinked from this very museum on this very night on or around this very time. This very Xapno Mapcase had been tasked by the local federal government officials with beards and bowler hats to ensure this would not happen anytime, anywhere. Lots of head nods and handshakes ensued, along with a promise to be on time and to wear something nice for a change. But he had been late. And he wore tie-dyed overalls and a ratty t-shirt. Confounded by an ice cream sandwich, he arrived just in time to find the Crosby Diamond gone and what appeared to be a Buh-Buh-Buh Boom Bomb in its place.

The Buh-Buh-Buh Boom Bomb was well known in the 1930’s, causing mellifluous explosions popular amongst the bobbysoxers and the tommysandalsers. It was still a destructive bomb, which led to its eventual downfall, only to be replaced by the Baby Boom Bomb in the 1950’s, which somehow caused life instead of ending it, and was the subject of a thought-provoking docu-drama starring Diane Keaton. Xapno Mapcase knew all of these things, and little to nothing else, as he was a bomb enthusiast and secretary of the Diane Keaton Fan Club. Being a bomb enthusiast, he set to defusing the Buh-Buh-Buh Boom Bomb.

Carefully, he removed the lid to the bomb, negotiating the child-proof cap and fingerally tweezing out the cotton ball inside. To Xapno Mapcase’s dismay, there was only one cord, a thick black one labeled, “Do Not Cut. Or Do. See If I Care. Because I Don’t.” This was going to be trickier than he thought. Placing a hand under his chin and a toe in his ear, Xapno Mapcase began to think.

He thought of boyhood summers riding horses on his uncle’s farm. He thought girlhood winters riding taun taun on his aunt’s ice planet. He thought of that confounding ice cream sandwich, I mean, how do they get that little rectangle of vanilla betwixt the cookie layers like that? Do they have a rectangle-inserting machine or-



AGENT: Oona Phlegming.

CODE NAME: The Secret of the Ooza.

AGE: Thirty-seven.


EDUCATION: Graduated Cum Laude Hush Hush Intelligence Academy for Ladies, PhD in Arm-Wrestling at Lincoln Hawk University, Excelled in top secret secondary colors at the Pre-School that Came in From the Cold.

SKILLS: Covert shoe-tying, kung fu, speaks fluent housecat, player piano, blonde, pretty good fake foreign accents, out of this world rhubarb pie.

QUOTES: “90% of success is 10% shy of perfection.”

AGENT: Xapno Mapcase.


HEIGHT: Tallish.

WEIGHT: Sixteen stone, eleven pebble.

EYES: Googly.

HAIR: Fright.

KNIT: One.

PURL: Two.

SKILLS: Bomb-defusing, sandwich consuming. Invaluable at folding fitted sheets. Cannot pull off a turtleneck.

QUOTES: “I’m Xapno Mapcase!*” *Attributed.

AGENT: Fred Herring.

CODE NAME: Red-fey Erring-hey.



SKILLS: Hand-to-hand handshake, milk-to-milk milkshake, keeps hot things hot and cold
things cold, can realistically feign enthusiasm for family functions, ESP, DDS, TTFN.

WEAKNESSES: Fire, bees, fire bees, Council Bluffs, belly pinches.

QUOTES: “Prepare for the end of eternity!”




BRIEF BIO: Ex-Mysterian.

QUOTES: “Cry! Cry, cry, cry!”

AGENT: 99.9.

CODE NAME: Babs, Feldon.

AGE: Early twenties.




SKILLS: Intrigue, Advanced Placement Intrigue, Intro to Enigma, Pretty knowledgeable on the subject of Hayley Mills.

QUOTES: “School? I was… too cool for school.”


Oona Phlegming did not look down. Her super spy training at Hush Hush Intelligence Academy for Ladies had taught her how to defuse a time bomb with Snozzberry Smoke eyeliner, how to negotiate ductwork in a bridesmaid uniform and never to ever, ever look down when hanging from a great height.

While tailing Fred Herring’s flying cell phone kiosk over enemy waters, she had been fired upon and forced to eject from her flying pint container of New York style potato salad. Now she was tangled at the top of a tree in the jungles of Parmistan, open to any manner of attackers. Snipers. Vipers. Navy Seals. Navy Blazers. Green Berets. Raspberry Berets. Assassins, muggers, white collar criminals, pirates, Vikings, killer sharks, killer bees, killer Boris Karloffs, paparazzi, vampires, mosquitoes, really tall men with pointy, pointy sticks and the heartbreak of psoriasis.

Suddenly, a twig snapped. A bird chirped. A gorilla nodded knowingly. A frog pretended she was a lawyer. And a stargazer lily continued to smell good. Oona Phlegming, throwing caution to the wind like a dandelion being thrown to the quickly moving air, did something that ran counter to all of her training and all of her instincts. She looked down.

It turned out she was hanging barely three feet from the ground. And, crouching behind a nearby zebra was Fred Herring, grasping the elusive and dangerous Emoti-swoom bomb. The bomb itself was designed to release the mysterious and devastatingly depressing Serum Sincerum, said to saddlepate the brainpan of anyone unluckily exposed to it. The Serum Sincerum’s origins were unknown. Scientists had carbon-dated the satchel it had been found in to fifteen kazillion years into the future. The satchel had been snatchelled from its hidey hole in the Library of Kong-Rest, on Skull Island. Fred Herring had been photographed at the scene, and Oona Phlegming dispatched sparingly to retrieve the Serum.

The Serum Sincerum’s powers were not to be trifled, or truffled, but terrifyled. It was purported to be made of the milk of belittled goats, the juice of neglected grapes, the sap from emotionally scarred birch trees and the tears of unhappy musicians from Ireland and Omaha, Nebraska. One minor spill could cause an entire continent to curl up into a ball and weep uncontrollably for a century. But the Emoti-swoom bomb would release toxic levels of the Serum, bumming out the entire galaxy at once, like a simultaneous visit to Aunt Francine’s. Oona Phlegming could not let this happen. She reached for her turkey baster, which was a laser machine gun in disguise. But as she was about to unsheathe it from her ankle, it slipped from her fingers, hit the ground and fired, dislodging Oona from the branches.

Untangling herself from her parachute, Oona Phlegming could hear the nasal cackle of Fred Herring. “Hoist by your own potato salad,” he said. “It is to cackle.”

“Stuff your cackles, Herring, and hand over the Emoti-swoom bomb, by order of the Sylvanian Prime Meringuery!” Oona shouted, as she finally freed herself from herself. But Fred Herring was gone. The only thing remaining behind the zebra, besides the fine Parmistanian jungle, was the Emoti-swoom bomb. Too late, Oona Phlegming realized the bomb was counting down milliseconds until-




“Pancakes on the streets of London! Pancakes on the streets of Birmingham!” the brassy anchorman roared. From her secret hideout on Bakersville Road, the sultry, shadowy spy known only as 99.9 snapped her TV set to the off position. It was only a matter of time now. As she sat sultrily in the shadows of her contrasty flat, her eyes narrowed, her nose flattened, her chin became intolerant. Her face was the face of beauty, her body the face of her body. Many a heart had been broken by 99.9, many a gall bladder burst. Many a lower intestine eviscerated, many a spleen spelunked. She was an equal opportunity organ destroyer. And she had never cried, except once, to prove to herself that she could. She was like a machine. A beautiful machine, like an attractive rock tumbler or an alluring soldering iron. Just as she anticipated, her bowl of porridge began ringing like a cow, if cows rang like porridge. She lifted the bowl of porridge to her ear, nodded and said, “I’m on it.” Then she hung up the porridge and sleekly exited the flat.

99.9 was well known in spy circles as a specialist in food-related espionage. Perhaps her most infamous case was when she thwarted the evil Clem Brulee; a villain nicknamed the Napoleon of Desserts. His attempts to whip the Pacific Ocean into a thick cream and then set it on fire were no match for 99.9’s wits and way with a dart gun. Ever since that triumph, she had been the go-to agent for any covert confectionary contrivances. Admittedly, all this food work was beginning to get a little stale, and she vowed this would be the last edible assignment she accepted. But this assignment was too delicious to pass up.

Comically oversized flapjacks flipped over metropolitan cityscapes? It could only be one culprit: the failed artist turned food terrorist Biz Quisto. Quisto was a mysterious character who snuck into highly populated cities and blanketed them in egantic pancakes. The motive was unknown, but even more unknowner was who Biz Quisto was and how he was able to place these pancakes in heavily populated areas undetected. He truly put the syrup in syrup-titious.

99.9 didn’t care about Biz Quisto’s motive. She accepted it as one of the great mysteries of the universe, like why dolphins lay eggs or why fire hydrants lay eggs. She wasn’t concerned with such piffle. The piffle she concerned herself with was how he did it, and who he was, and how was she going to stop him. Those were the three primary piffles. Only the infinity of the depths of a man’s mind could fathom the answer to the unanswerable. And then, there was the taste. It was bad enough the pancakes enveloped entire city blocks, but to add insult to injury they were bland and chewy. Clearly, Biz Quisto was a failed artist and failed pancake chef. Clearly, a madman. Clearly.

99.9 arrived via jetpack and alighted atop the toppest flapjack, face to face with the face of Big Ben. No casualties had been reported yet, aside from the casualties of the palate to those who tried to eat the pancakes. As she wobbled from to to fro and fro to to, 99.9 surveyed her breakfastial surroundings. Something seemed off about this particular batch of hotcakes, and it wasn’t just the aftertaste. Then, she heard it. The ticking. 99.9 had initially thought it was just Big Ben ticking off the seconds of the London day, but it was coming from inside the stack of cakes. But where? She knelt down, pressed her ear to the surface and heard the soothing waves of the ocean as one generally does when listening to pancakes. But when she listened closer, she heard what she feared. The ticking was still muffled, but getting clearer. And faster. Too late, 99.9 scrambled like an omelet toward the horizon of the pancake, catching the heels of her shoes in the cake. After a flapjack face plant, she rose, kicking off her shoes and trying to reach the ground before-




Xapno Mapcase wiped his sweat-deluged brow. “Think, think, think!” he yelled to himself. He scrunched up his eyes, reddened his face, permed and de-permed his hair. It was to no avail, not even imitation avail. Bombs were the last thing on his mind. The first thing on his mind was an egg salad sandwich. Then bombs. He had exactly two things on his mind.

Xapno Mapcase was a very simple fellow, a bomb enthusiast who ate nothing but egg salad sandwiches. He was hired by the Klopstokian government as a bomb defuser. At first he balked at the offer, like a chicken replacing its w’s with l’s. But when they promised to pay him in egg salad sandwiches, he accepted. Since then, he had defused bombs in bassinets, bombs in bubble gum machines, even a bomb buried in a backhanded compliment. He had to admit, those terrorists had made his life easier by not hiding that one well.
Now, though, he had been sent to a small cottage in the tiny French town Quand. There was a bomb in the guest bedroom and, being a bomb enthusiast, he was enthused by this. It was shaped like a lower case e, only upside-down. A digital timer digital counted down digitally, but backwards. The only way to defuse the bomb was to eat the fuse. However, there was a catch. In the world of bomb-defusement, there was always a catch. The fuse was indeed edible, but it was made of red licorice. The fuse was not an egg salad sandwich, no matter how squinty Xapno Mapcase made his eyeballs. This was a problem. The bomb-makers had thought of everything. All two things that would deter Xapno Mapcase from defusing this bomb.

How would he get himself out of this predicament? How could he get himself out of this predicament? The clock was ticking down, two minutes and twenty-six seconds, then what? What would happen at the end of the timer? Would everything just stop? Or would it stop suddenly? Was there any real difference between those two statements? So many questions volleyed in Xapno Mapcase’s mind, but he could address none of them, like a failed volleyball coach. He twiddled his thumbs. He gritted his teeth. He gritted his thumbs and twiddled his teeth. Still, time was running out.

He felt he was just filling time until the bomb’s timer ran out. But how? How? How to fill time? What could fill this time, the time until the timer on the bomb ran out. He could think of nothing to say or to think. The timer was now at forty-two seconds.

Could he just ride out the bomb’s timer? Isn’t this an interesting story, Xapno Mapcase thought. I bet if this were a tense, well-written short story, the author would receive accolades, hugs and perhaps even blank checks. But it would have to be extremely well-written. Ten seconds, huh? What then? This bomb is pretty small, I doubt there’s any way it could possibly-




“Hand over the pelican!” Oona Phlegming demanded. Her gun, a pistol disguised as a salami which was disguised as a lady’s sun hat, was pointed at Fred Herring’s chest. In the distance, a wolf howled. A baby cried. A dress shirt was ironed. A pudding was digested. And a Lincoln Town Car was parallel parked successfully. All the while, Oona Phlegming, Fred Herring, and the pelican were caught in a Mexican stand-off, complete with jumping beans. Until Fred Herring shattered the silence like a majestic lion opening an antique store.

“Okay,” Fred Herring said. He lifted the pelican, which crowed like a rooster and flapped its wings rapidly like a hummingbird (clearly attempting to mask its very pelicanity), and held it out to Oona Phlegming. “You win,” he said. “Take it,” he said also. Oona Phlegming tried to read Fred Herring’s expression through her 3D X-Ray shaded flip-top spectacles. Was he bluffing? Was he not bluffing? Was he bluffing by not bluffing, a double bluff? Or was he not bluffing by bluffing about not bluffing about bluffing, thereupon rebluffing and debluffing at the same time, a maneuver known as the reverse double dog rebluff double bluff and a half combo. Oona Phlegming continued pointing the pistol disguised as a salami disguised as a lady’s sun hat at Fred Herring’s chest, staring at the middle of his forehead. A peachy pink sea of skin slightly blemished by furrows returned her stare. She blinked. The forehead did not.

Fred Herring shifted from foot to foot, then from kidney to kidney. His mind was a blank slate, like a slate with nothing on it. Not even an unfinished game of Hangman. His gaze was steely, his listening was aluminumy, his sniff was zinc oxidey. Oona Phlegming was stymied. What was the game here? They had been chasing each other from continent to continent and time zone to time zone, across the wings of airplanes and the belly buttons of zeppelins, from soup to nuts and from salad to screwdriver. They’d tossed everything from horseshoes to hand grenades, salads to cookies, basketballs to much smaller basketballs. All to obtain this very pelican. A pelican said to hold the secret to the Sonic Sh-Boom bomb. The greatest threat to mankind ever conceived, an explosive designed to release a noxious chemical gas that smells like sour milk, the inside of unplugged mini-fridges and the farts of reanimated Elizabethans, and has a gag worthy Dreamsicle aftertaste. And then it explodes and kills everyone and everything. It was a terrorist plot dubbed Operation Double Whammy. The blueprints were hidden in the cavernous beak of this pelican, stashed when a Sylvanian spy was glimpsed poring over them on a pier, the Pore Pier. The pelican had passed through many hands, feet, tentacles and claws to keep the Sonic Sh-Boom bomb blueprints from leaking like a punctured balloon animal. And now, on the roof of the Vampire Stake Building in the Sylvanian capital of Trentino, Fred Herring was just handing it over like a half-eaten muffin or a half-worn pair of bicycle shorts. It seemed almost too easy. There had to be a catch.

But, what the heck. Oona Phlegming snatched the pelican away from Fred Herring, who pivoted and vamoosed as soon as it was in her grasp. See ya nara, Oona Phlegming thought, smiling widely. At last, the pelican was hers! This was the greatest day in her entire espionage career. She would get assuredly get a medal for this. The Gold Medal, awarded to national heroes and dipped in chocolate. White chocolate! She may even get a kiss from the Magistrate, if the other operatives had retrieved his lips from the infamous Face Snatchers of Farflungsabad. She didn’t notice the fuse that was quickly burning its way to the pelican’s tail feathers until it was too late. Five seconds and a furious flurry of feathers later, a stunned and sautéed Oona Phlegming whispered from the corner of her mouth, “I’ll get you for this, Fred Herring. I’ll get you for this.”

But Fred Herring was already halfway across the globe already. Already playing the game of cat and mouse, already playing the game of hide and seek, already playing the game of Strunk and White. Already. Already.