Slam sniffed the air as his "civilian-issued" Zoomatrix rocketed through downtown. Aromas of Chinese take-out, fried fish, Italian restaurants, cheese burgers, and countless others--all ready for the lunch crowd--took turns teasing his nostrils and setting his mouth watering. It tempted him to stop the coyote-made machine and start going door to door, but he resisted the urge. He had a job to do, and it would not get done by ordering the delectable pastries from the bakery he was passing. Still, he could not help but look forward to arriving at the Mastermind's appointed pizzeria, and he licked his lips in anticipation.
"You're going to flood your helmet if you keep drooling like that, Slam," Duck cracked as he glided beside him.
Slam laughed good-naturedly, and he glanced down at the controls of the flying vehicle. According to the screen the pizzeria was only a few blocks and a left turn away. Slam felt his face break into a grin, and he sped the Zoomatrix up a little, forgetting for a moment that he was undercover and liable to draw attention from the police. He and Duck soon zoomed around the corner, and they spotted the restaurant—Rock'n'Roll Pizza, it was called. A picture of a guitarist in black graced the rooftop billboard, and it seemed to be a well kept place, but Slam noticed that the lights were off inside.
The two Loonatics landed in an alley a few buildings away from the restaurant, and Slam removed his helmet. He ran his hand over the light brown area of his head and sucked in the cool air, still adjusting to being without his black-and-purple uniform. Their fighting suits had a built-in cooling mechanism that kept them from getting overheated, which could not be said for the thermal obscuration suit. However, Tech had said that their uniform was too well known for Mastermind not to recognize them--even in disguises--so there he was, wearing the thermal obscuration suit underneath his jeans and jacket. Slam quickly replaced his helmet; Duck, on the other hand, merely tucked his under his arm.
If Slam had been among other Tasmanian devils, he might have said, "Comrade, I think it would not be wise to compromise our position by the incompletion of your suit. Mastermind will suspect something if she detects a floating head on her thermal detector." However, with his limited English vocabulary, he was reduced to saying, "Helmet on."
"No can do, buster," Duck snapped, combing his feathers with his fingers. "I'm not about to turn into roast duck any time soon."
"Helmet on," he repeated. "Ablahwah Big Head?" he added with a quick glance about the pedestrian traffic, meaning to say, "What about our enemy? Surely, you don't want her to discover us!"
"Don't worry about Mastermind," Duck replied, waving the issue aside, as he stepped out onto the busy sidewalk. "She would have to have pretty poor taste to choose this dump."
"Don't crack your knuckles at me, Slam," Duck chided, though he was already lifting the headgear. "If Mastermind wants trouble, then she'll have to deal with--"
Both crime fighters whirled around. A man and a woman, arm-in-arm, were studying Duck; their eyes were glimmering with surprise, excitement, and disbelief. Slam quickly began to laugh. "No Danger," he chuckled, pointing to his comrade. "Just Duck."
"Yes. Indeed," Duck added and cleared his throat. "Of course, I can't blame you for the mistake, what with my good looks."
The woman smiled. "My mistake," she apologized, tossing her black ponytail over her shoulder. Her dark eyes sparkled as she reached into her purse. "Would you mind, though, if I took your picture for my website? John and I are big fans of Danger Duck."
Slam knew from the way Duck's chest swelled up that this would take a while, but he also knew that he could not risk drawing attention by insisting Duck come along. He quickly grumbled a good-bye and turned his attention to the pizzeria down the street.
In a moment he stood in front of the glass doors, staring at a black sign that read:
"CLOSED FOR REPAIRS"
Tech was right then--or was he? For all Slam knew it could be closed for electrical repairs, meaning that Mastermind would not come here. On the other hand, the repairs could be for the pizza oven, and in that case Mastermind might want to use the lack of activity to her advantage. Slam could not begin to understand that woman, and he hoped that Tech was a better judge of her behavior.
Beneath the closed sign a number was printed for further information, and Slam quickly recorded it on the handheld digital database Tech had issued to the undercover team members. He shoved the database back into his pocket, and he pressed his face against the glass. The interior was small, hardly big enough to fit forty customers. He could see a row of booths, a few tables, a music-player that looked like it came from the twenty-seventh century, and a counter. He could just make out a door at the back, and he wondered if it might lead to an exit. He whirled around and headed back to the alley.
"So, then Danger Duck says 'Yoinks and away!'" Duck regaled as Slam passed the trio; the Tasmanian devil figured that he still had another ten minutes before Duck joined him.
The backstreet was deserted, and Slam counted the buildings until he reached the back door of the pizzeria. Slam tested the latch lightly with his super-strength, and he could determine that the lock was a good one. Of course, that would not be a problem for Mastermind if she wanted to get in--or out--yet from what he could see, it seemed that no one was inside now.
He was about to go, but, with a glance upward, he suddenly considered that Mastermind might not be planning to use a door. If he were Mastermind, he might lure Tech in and then have some sort of machine to bring the roof down on the coyote. Slam broke into a run and rounded the corner into the alley and punched the controls to open his Zoomatrix.
"But really," Duck's voice said as Slam hopped in, "sometimes I think Rev is only good for naming the countries of the world."
Slam turned the Zoomatrix on and gently moved it up to his companion and his listeners. Suddenly, the smell of honey tickled his nostrils as he passed the woman. It gave him an idea. "I think I'm in the mood for Chinese, really. This pizzeria appears to be shut down," he excused himself. Of course, with his accent, it sounded very much like, "Awugh, ooh, ooh, eggroll, pfft! Yuh, yuh."
"Do you ever think without commentary from your stomach?" Duck asked, clearly irritated at the interruption.
Slam waved his hand apologetically. "Do finish your invigorating account, comrade. In the meantime you may find my personage at the distinguished restaurant around the corner."
"Whatever." Duck returned to the couple. "Anyway, you should hear him at it--'United States, Canada, Mexico, Panama…'"
Slam moved the controls, and the machine rose higher into the air. He flexed the acceleration, and he zipped down the street. He made a left at the light and turned into the backstreet where it joined with the downtown traffic.
He slowed the vehicle down and lowered it upon the roof, but after a quick check, he could not find anything that might trigger an internal booby-trap. He even performed an interior scan with the computer in the Zoomatrix. It seemed to be an ordinary pizza restaurant that was closed for repairs. Perhaps this was not where Mastermind wanted to go after all?
Still, he set up the surveillance mechanisms just as Tech had instructed. He returned to the Zoomatrix and rode to the Chinese restaurant. Duck had already parked his vehicle right out front, and he was waiting inside.
"Did you stop for a hot dog before coming?" Duck demanded. "While you were off slacking, I found out from that nice lady that the pizzeria is closed for repairs. I bet that's more than you dug up."
"The Heavenly Bean is closed as well," Lexi said after Slam and Duck had finished their report. They were all assembled in the control room around the coyote. "They are undergoing re-decoration and won't open for another two weeks."
"We tried contacting the manager," Rev added. The snap in his voice told his teammates that he had had a long morning. "You wouldn't belie-e-eve how many Sarah Smiths there are."
Tech looked up from the computer screen. "You couldn't find her?"
"Well, I was able to find the assistant manager, but Smith is on vacation. The assistant manager can't remember what hotel she's staying at."
"That seems to be a consistent thing with her."
Ace glanced at the coyote. His eyebrows rose, and Tech could detect a hint of curiosity. "You know her, Tech?"
"Just an old friend," he admitted, turning back to the computer. Systems were working well. The surveillance cameras he had given the two teams were transmitting perfectly. He had a command view of the back and front entrances of the two buildings. "She worked there even when I was in college," he continued. "She was the reason that Mallory hardly went there."
"Should we be concerned for her then?"
"Probably not right now," he replied. "Mastermind will want to settle her vendetta with me before going after anyone else, and even then, that'll probably be you guys."
"That makes everything so much better," Duck snorted, rolling his eyes.
"Why didn't Mastermind like Smith?" Lexi asked. She had been leaning against the railing, but now she had moved beside Tech. One look told him how much she remembered his telephone adventure. "I thought you said she was an old friend?"
The coyote scooted his chair away, pretending to pick at his shoe. "They were at least old… acquaintances," he said slowly, and then added, "Sarah used to torment Mallory endlessly."
Tech nodded. "Sarah was always tampering with her inventions, and she even got almost everyone on campus to call Mallory 'Malfunction'."
Lexi snorted into her hand and to steady herself against the computer. Ace, Rev, and Duck snickered, but Slam guffawed outright. Tech, however, gravely continued.
"Besides that, though, they seriously differed in opinion on what to do with special-needs people."
"And Mastermind probably voted for exterminating them," Duck decided. "She always did strike me as being another Hitler."
Tech opened his mouth but immediately closed it. What did he care? He had more important things to do than defend her soiled reputation.
Ace, meanwhile, had been studying the monitors, and now, he leaned back as if he were satisfied. "So, what now, Tech? Where does Shiny want to meet you?"
"It has to be the pizzeria," Tech maintained.
"Bwuh eh sowah ordahnahree," Slam pointed out.
"I know it's ordinary, but I know that's where she wants me."
Ace folded his arms, and he studied the technician. His eyes were overflowing with disapproval at this seemingly unfounded selection. Tech could not blame him for the mistrust. Ace had every right to object; it seemed silly to choose the pizzeria simply because his teammate had been friends with the villain two years ago and still believed to know how she thought. Yet, Tech knew he was right, even under the critical stare of the team leader.
"You just have to trust me, Chief."
With visible effort Ace tried to smile, but the seriousness never left his eyes. "If you're wrong, Tech, it's curtains for Ralph."
Tech snorted. "Ralph? Who said anything about a hostage rescue?"
Lexi tapped his shoulder. "I think that this is what we've been spending the last several hours trying to accomplish?"
Tech stood and faced his five teammates. Each masked face had its own mixture of incredulity and confusion--except Rev, who usually could be counted on to figure things out faster than his feet could run.
"Pretty slick!" he exclaimed with a whistle.
Tech nodded. "Of course, though, even she has limits in her intelligence," he pointed out smugly.
"So, are you going to turn on the subtitles," Lexi interrupted, "or do we have to buy the movie guide to understand what's going on?"
"Oh, you'll understand what's going on," he assured her, smiling genuinely for the first time in days. "And you'll understand just how I'm going to stop her too."