The secret word is: "Slime"

Northeast Southweston . . . a bustling burgh brimming with the palpable promise of plentiful potentials and possibilities. Yes, life in our fair city has perpetually been pleasant, to put it pithily. But presently, Northeast Southweston really stinks.

"Gosh, P.T. That's not a very nice thing to say," Doomsday pointed out.

"I know, Doomsday," I agreed. "And I didn't enjoy saying it. But there is definitely a malodorous aroma in the air."

"Are you sure it isn't just Doomsday's sandwich? Pastrami and pickles on pimento loaf?" Bugs asked.

"Well, that is a bit pungent, too," I admitted. "But no . . . this is something else."

"I wish I had some Provolone to go with this," Doomsday said, taking another large bite of his sandwich.

"Your sandwiches are becoming as alliterative as P.T.'s narrations, Doomsday," Doc commented.

"If alliterative is another word for complicated, I agree!" Bugs chimed in.

"So none of you have smelled anything unusual lately?" I asked.

"Not since Bugs stopped wearing that weird cologne," Doomsday answered.

"But Sgt. Vinton still wears it," Doc pointed out.

"Yeah, but somehow it doesn't smell as weird on Sgt. Vinton," Doomsday stated.

Doc could see that Bugs was about to let loose with some choice words, so he cut him off by asking me, "So, what exactly does this unusual odor smell like?"

"I'm not sure," I answered. "Seymour never smelled anything like it before."

"Well, maybe you should let Seymour take a sniff and then try to explain it to us," Doc suggested.

"That's a good idea," I agreed. I raised my head and let Seymour, my nose, take a few sniffs. "Let's see," I hummed in thought, "It smells like . . . " [sniff] " . . . pendulous pansies . . . " [sniff] " . . . drooping daisies and . . . " [sniff sniff] " . . . collapsed chrysanthemums."

"That's what you've been smelling around town?" Bugs asked incredulously.

"It doesn't sound that terrible," Doomsday said. "In fact, it sounds kind of pretty."

"If you ignore the pendulous, drooping and collapsing part," Doc added.

"That's not what Seymour's been smelling around the city lately," I corrected. "But that is what Seymour is smelling now."

"Maybe Seymour's out of whack," Bugs suggested. "There aren't any flowers around here, especially not dead ones."

The door of the C.A.P.E.R. room opened and a girl entered. She had cinnamon brown long hair and wore a blue pastel pair of overalls with a yellow t-shirt beneath. She was also carrying a sad-looking handful of dead flowers.

"I need help!" she said urgently.

"Well, your flowers certainly do!" Doomsday cried, dropping his sandwich and running to her side. He gently cupped his hands around the sagging blooms. "Poor little things! We have to save them!"

"You'd be better off seeing a tree surgeon," Bugs suggested. "He could get to the root of your problem."

"It's a respectable branch of medicine," I added.

"Unless you happen to get a quack," Bugs said.

"In which case he would probably only treat duckweed," Doc noted.

The girl simply ignored us. Her attention was focused on Doomsday, whose attention was focused on the flowers. "Do you think we can still save them?" she asked hopefully.

"I don't know," Doomsday said. "But I've always heard that talking to flowers helps them to grow."

Doomsday and the girl looked at each other, then Doomsday looked down at the flowers and said gently, "Hello there, little flowers!"

"Hello, little flowers!" the girl joined in.

"Don't die, little flowers!" Doomsday said sweetly.

"We want you to live, little flowers!" the girl sang.

"Perhaps they'd prefer some peace and quiet so they can convalesce," Doc suggested.

After a few minutes of speaking to the flowers, the girl placed a hand on Doomsday's arm. "I'm afraid it's too late for these flowers," she informed him gently.

"Oh," Doomsday sighed sadly. "We could have a funeral for them, I guess."

"Would you send flowers to a funeral for flowers?" I asked Doc.

"Seems a bit redundant, really," Doc replied.

"Look, we're not doctors," Bugs explained to the girl.

"Or morticians," Doc added.

"Botanical or otherwise," I agreed.

"But the police out front said you could help me," the girl explained. "You see, I have a mystery I need solved."

"In that case, you've come to the right place!" I assured her. "Because while we may not be agricultural specialists we are in fact . . . "

We all stood at attention and recited, "The Civilian Authority for the Protection of Everybody, Regardless!"

"Tadaa!" sang Doc.

"Tadaa!" sang Doomsday.

"Tadaa!" sang Bugs.

"Tadaa!" I finished, concluding with a swinging version of "Tiptoe Through the Tulips."

"That's very nice," the girl nodded her approval. "I belong to a choral group as well."

"What's your name?" Doomsday asked with a smile.

"Doris," the girl answered. "Doris Morris."

"And you're with a chorus?" Bugs asked.

"Yes, but primarily I'm a florist," she explained.

"Well, Doris Morris, a florist in the chorus," I said, "what mystery do you have for us?"

"We promise it won't bore us," Doc chimed in.

"In fact, we hope you'll adore us," Bugs smiled, making eyes at her.

She looked at Doomsday expectantly.

"So, what's the mystery?" he asked, not picking up on our theme.

Doris let out a sigh of relief. "Well, at least one of you is making some sense!" she said.

Doc, Bugs and I gave each other a confused look. "I guess she prefers to ignore us," I sighed.

"I own a little organic flower farm on the outskirts of town," Doris explained to Doomsday. "But lately, all of my flowers have been dying!"

"Gosh, that can't be good for business!" Doomsday gasped.

"It certainly isn't!" Doris assured him. "No one wants to buy dead flowers."

"Are we safe in assuming that you have made no significant changes in your usual routine which might have altered the course of your plants' natural life cycles?" Doc asked.

"Huh?" both Doris and Doomsday asked with puzzled looks on their faces.

"You haven't done anything different lately?" I interpreted for her.

"Is that what he said?" Doris asked, looking even more confused. "No . . . I'm using the same land, same water, same fertilizer . . . but look . . . " She held up the flowers once more. "My poor petunias!"

"Don't worry," Doomsday assured her. "We'll do everything we can to help you."

"Oh, I'm sure you will!" Doris smiled at him. "You must be the leader here because you're so very smart!"

"Doomsday?" Doc, Bugs and I cried.

"Well, he's the only one of you guys I understand!" she said before turning back to Doomsday. "That's your name? Doomsday? I like it!"

"Thanks!" Doomsday smiled, then he introduced us in turn. "That's P.T., that's Bugs and that's Doc."

"Oh, how nice!" Doris said. "You have some interesting boys working for you!"

"For him?" Bugs asked incredulously.

"Oh no, you don't understand . . . " Doomsday began. "I'm not . . . "

"If anyone can help me, I just know you can!" Doris said, clutching the flowers tightly with a look of hope in her eyes.

"I can?" Doomsday asked, gulping slightly. "But . . . . "

"Of course he can!" I said, stepping forward and placing a supportive hand on Doomsday's shoulder. "So, intrepid leader, what should be our first step?"

"Well, uh . . . " Doomsday thought, giving it a lot of effort. He looked at me with confusion but I just nodded encouragement. "Uh . . . I guess the first thing we should do is . . . go to Doris' flower farm?"

"Very good!" I smiled. I then leaned over toward Doris and said, "See? He's a born leader!"

Doomsday looked more confident now. "We were too late to save these flowers, but maybe if we talk to the other flowers we can still save them!" he suggested.

"And if that doesn't work, perhaps we could try to figure out what's killing the flowers in the first place," Doc added with an amused smirk.

"Oh yeah!" Doomsday nodded as he took Doris by the hand and led her to the door. "Come on, Doris. I'll take you to the Big Bologna."

"Big Bologna?" Doris asked with a smile and she leaned into Doomsday's arm as they exited. "I like bologna! Is that what I smell on your breath?"

"And just like that Doomsday gets the girl?" Bugs asked with frustration. "How does that happen?"

"Don't be upset, Bugs," Doc sighed. "How often is Doomsday going to find a girl who's his intellectual equal?"

"And it won't hurt to let Doomsday be in charge for once," I pointed out as Doc and I walked out the door.

"Yeah, well, even if Doomsday is the leader, there's no way I'm talking to a bunch of flowers!" Bugs insisted as he followed us.

Soon we were all seated in the Big Bologna and Bugs took the wheel as we headed for Doris' flower farm. As our vehicle pulled away from the front of the police station, Kurt Klinsinger pulled up to the same curb on his motorbike.

"Hmmm, I wonder where they're going?" the reporter thought to himself. "They may be on to a big story!" He revved his engine and pulled away from the curb, following us from a distance.

As we pulled through the front gate of the Sunshine Flower Farms on the outskirts of town, Bugs announced loudly, "Okay, we're here!" He said this with a tone of relief in his voice, probably because Doomsday and Doris had been serenading Mr. Featherstone with repeated choruses of 'The Three Little Fishies' throughout most of the trip. Granted, I probably didn't help matters by joining in on Ish Kabibble's parts.

Upon exiting the vehicle, I gave a start. The stench which had been plaguing Seymour the past week or so was even stronger here. "Now don't tell me you can't smell that!" I exclaimed.

The others sniffed at the air. "There is kind of a weird smell," Doc admitted. "Is that what Seymour's been smelling lately?"

I nodded. "But it's much stronger here."

"What is it?" Bugs asked, wrinkling his nose slightly.

"I don't know," Doris said, "but I've been smelling it off and on for a while now. It somehow seems worse whenever I leave and come back."

"Your nose gets used to the smell," Doc explained.

"I don't think Seymour could ever get used to that!" I argued.

"Here, look!" Doris said as she led us to her fields and motioned around her.

We stood eyeing the rows of flowers and could immediately see the problem. The poor little plants didn't look at all well.

"This is so sad!" Doomsday sighed, then he looked determined and rolled up his sleeves. "This is going to take some very sweet and loving words to reverse this!"

"That's my cue to excuse myself," Bugs said, turning around to leave.

"Actually, I'm sure Doomsday was planning to tell the three of us to look around to see if we can find anything to explain what's happening while he and Doris give the flowers some encouraging words," I said. "Weren't you, Doomsday?"

"Gosh, was I, P.T.?" Doomsday asked with surprise. "That sounds like a good idea!"

"You're just full of good ideas, Doomsday!" Doris smiled.

"Really? I had no idea!" Doomsday said in awe.

"We'll get right on it, Doomsday," Doc assured him.

Doc, Bugs and I walked away and left Doomsday and Doris to talk sweetly to the flowers.

"You were right, P.T.," Bugs said. "Having Doomsday in charge isn't so bad."

"Yeah, so far it's a lot like having you in charge," Doc smiled at me.

"Don't underestimate Doomsday," I told them. "He has his moments."

"Cheer up, little flowers!" we could hear Doomsday calling behind us. "Don't die! You have so much to live for!"

"Is this one of them?" Bugs asked.

Doc had walked over to a faucet at the end of one of the rows of dying flowers. He squatted down and turned it on, studying the water coming out. "Looks like she's using the city's water," he noted. "It doesn't seem like the smell is coming from here."

I leaned over and let Seymour sniff at the water. "No, definitely not," I confirmed.

Doc turned off the water and stood up, looking over the fields. "Do you guys notice anything strange?"

"You mean besides Klinsinger sneaking around over there behind the tool shed?" I asked.

"And besides Doomsday and Doris singing 'Where Have All the Flowers Gone?'" Bugs added.

"Yes, besides those strange things," Doc said.

We looked at the field of flowers, trying to figure out what Doc had seen. Finally it dawned on me. "The decay of the flowers is worse on the left side of the field than the right," I pointed out.

"Exactly," Doc nodded.

"And you know what?" I asked. "The smell is stronger coming from that direction as well."

"Then it stands to reason we should investigate what's beyond the left side of the farm," Doc deduced. "Come on."

We walked past the edge of the farm and through some bushes. From there we could see an open field on the other side of a small brook.

Moving down a small incline, we stood at the edge of the brook. The smell was even stronger here and Seymour wrinkled with displeasure. There was a strange, iridescent sheen on the still sections of the water which reflected back rainbow colors to us not unlike an oil slick.

"Worse here?" Doc asked me.

I nodded. "Definitely. But according to Seymour it's even worse further upstream."

Doc looked in that direction, thinking. "There's a remote industrial area up that way, as well as the phone company's switching station."

"There used to be a manufacturing plant over there, too," I reminded them. "But I think it went out of business last year."

Doc looked down at the water with a frown. "If there is something polluting the water, it could definitely be seeping into the ground here and affecting the plants."

Doomsday and Doris stepped through the bushes above us, looking concerned. "Hey fellas, Doris says she saw someone sneaking around the farm!" Doomsday said worriedly.

"Oh, that's just Klinsinger looking for another big scoop," Bugs explained.

"Oh!" Doomsday sighed with relief. He turned to Doris and assured her, "It's okay. He tends to follow us around for some reason."

"Well, I sure hope he isn't going to do a story about my failing flower farm!" Doris said sadly. "My business is doing poorly enough without any bad publicity."

"Don't worry," I told Doris. "If he hasn't popped out exclaiming about finding the latest, greatest, award-winning story yet, that means he's still looking."

"And I think we may have uncovered a bigger story already," Doc said. "Something seems to be polluting the ground water."

"Oh no, that's terrible!" Doomsday cried.

"What do you think we should do?" I asked Doomsday.

"Well, I think we should find out where the pollution is coming from and stop it!" Doomsday said adamantly.

"A very good suggestion," Doc agreed. "Let's follow this brook upstream and see if we can't find the source of the slick and the smell."

We walked along the bank of the stream for a while, and as we proceeded the noxious smell grew increasingly worse. Every once in a while I caught the sound of Klinsinger stumbling along somewhere behind us, trying to keep up while attempting to remain out of sight.

Finally we rounded a bend where we found the source of the stream. It wasn't large enough to be a lake but was certainly larger than a pond. Half of it was blocked off by a dilapidated chain link fence which encircled the old manufacturing plant. Two things were immediately obvious: the factory was up and running again and the water was badly polluted. Poor Seymour could hardly contend with the foul stench emanating from the shiny black ooze which lapped at the shoreline.

"Ooh, this is nasty!" Bugs complained, pinching his nose.

"What is that stuff?" Doris asked.

"Well, it isn't oil or tar," I said, covering Seymour with one hand.

"But it's obvious that whatever it is it's coming from the factory," Doc pointed out.

"I didn't even know the factory was in operation again," I said.

"This is terrible," Doomsday sighed sadly. "No wonder your poor little flowers are dying! And there aren't any animals around here at all. This stuff must be driving them away."

"This can't be legal," I complained.

"I would hope not," Doc agreed, reaching into his inside breast pocket and retrieving a Petrie dish. "But we'll need to examine the substance to determine how detrimental it may be. Which means, we need a sample."

We all looked at the icky black muck with disgust. "Well, collecting samples doesn't require any cleverness," I was quick to point out.

"Or brains," Doc added.

"Or even sweetness," I finished as Doc and I looked expectantly at Bugs.

"Now wait a minute," Bugs protested, holding his hands up and taking a step back. "I thought Doomsday was the leader. Let's hear what he has to say about it!" Bugs turned to Doomsday with a look of hope.

"They're making a lot of sense to me," Doomsday said.

"Me, too," Doris agreed. "For once."

Bugs sighed in defeat and took the Petrie dish from Doc. "Okay, okay . . . at least I don't have to talk to it!" Bugs walked over to the water's edge and squatted down to get the sample.

"After Bugs gets the sample, we should go to the factory and ask them if they know about this," Doomsday suggested.

"They have to be aware of what's happening," Doc noted.

"Do you think so?" Doomsday asked with surprise. "I can't believe anyone would pollute like this on purpose."

"Yes," Doris agreed. "I'm sure when they find out what this stuff is doing to my flowers they'll want to stop it."

Doc and I exchanged a look. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to get their side of the story," Doc sighed.

I shrugged. "Doomsday is the leader, after all. And we might be able to gain some useful information by going there."

Bugs eyed the slimy black ooze with trepidation, wrinkling his nose as he worked up the nerve to dip the Petrie dish into it. Slowly he lowered the dish closer to the surface of the water, but before he could scoop up the slimy sludge it separated on the surface, moving away from the container. Bugs' furrowed his brows as he tried to understand this. He again attempted to scoop up some of the ooze but it moved away just ahead of the dish, at the same time changing momentarily from a shiny black to a muddy red color.

With growing frustration, Bugs pulled the dish away and waited until the slick settled. He brought the dish down more quickly, but hesitated at the last moment. The ooze seemed to swirl in place for a moment, then suddenly it bulged upward toward his hand. Bugs let out a yelp as he pulled away quickly, falling back onto the bank and quickly scrambling away from the water's edge.

"Well, did you get the sample?" Doc asked as Bugs backed into Doc's legs.

"Th . . . th . . . that . . . that stuff!" Bugs stammered nervously. "It . . . it . . . !"

"Yes, I know it's unpleasant, but we have a job to do," Doc sighed impatiently.

"But it tried to attack me!" Bugs complained.

"The sludge tried to attack you?" I asked with surprise. "How?"

"It jumped at me!" Bugs cried.

"It jumped at you?" Doc asked incredulously, then he rolled his eyes and reached down to take the dish from Bugs. "Look, if you don't want to get the sample, just say so!"

Doc walked over to the water's edge as Bugs watched on in horror. "No, Doc! Look out!" Bugs cried out.

But Doc had leaned down and, without hesitation, scooped up some of the ooze into the dish and twisted the lid into place before wiping off the exterior with his handkerchief. "Honestly, Bugs . . . I think you watch too many late night horror films on television."

"But it did jump at me!" Bugs insisted. "And it changed color, too!"

"Maybe the nasty smell is making him hallucinate," I speculated.

"That stuff isn't normal!" Bugs insisted.

"Well, we know that," Doc said. "That's why we have to test it."

"Let's go back to the Big Bologna and drive over to the factory to investigate," I suggested.

We turned around and headed back downstream to Doris' flower farm as Bugs continued to try to convince us that the sludge had jumped at him. We caught sight of Klinsinger as he scrambled to conceal himself (not very successfully) amidst some tall reeds, but we just let him be. When we were past him and he thought we were out of earshot, he leapt out of the reeds.

"What a scoop!" Klinsinger exclaimed to himself. "Rampant pollution! Environmental disaster! This will be the latest, greatest, award-winning story of my long, illustrious career!"

I turned back to Doris and said, "See? Now he's got his story."

We continued on our way as Klinsinger headed for a gap in the chain-link fence with the intention of sneaking inside the factory grounds. Unfortunately his supposedly keen reporter's eyes didn't observe that the sludge along the side of the water seemed to be following him.

Before too long we were pulling in through the front gate of the factory. A sign on the fence read "Mystic Manufacturing," which told us very little. The horrible smell, which had seemed weaker when we returned to the Sunshine Flower Farms and then grown stronger again the closer we drew to the factory, was assailing poor Seymour even worse than before.

A security guard met us at a sentry post just inside the gate. Bugs rolled down the driver's side window, and a gust of wind blew the stench into the vehicle, causing even Mr. Featherstone to mumble in disgust and take shelter under water.

"How can I help you, boys?" the elderly security guard asked.

I did my best to ignore the smell and spoke to the man over Bugs from the front passenger seat. "We were wondering if we could meet with the President of Mystic Manufacturing?"

"Do you have an appointment?" the man asked.

"No, this is an impromptu visit," I explained. "But it's very important we see him."

"Yeah, we're with the police and we have some questions for him," Bugs added.

"Just a moment . . . let me see if he's available," the security guard said, and he walked over to the sentry shack and picked up a telephone receiver.

"This should be very telling," Doc noted from the back. "If he refuses to see us, then that means he may have something to hide."

We waited while the security guard spoke on the phone a few minutes, then he hung up and walked back to us. "Mr. Mystic has a pretty full schedule today . . . "

"There you go," Doc said.

" . . . but he said if it's a police matter he'd be more than happy to meet with you," the guard finished.

"He would?" Doc asked with surprise.

The security guard pointed toward the front of the factory. "Just turn left at the end of this drive and you can park by the offices over there. Mr. Mystic will be out to greet you shortly."

"Thanks," Bugs said. He was about to roll up the window when he thought to ask the man, "Say . . . how can you stand to work out here when it smells so bad?"

"Is there a smell in the air?" the man asked, taking a moment to sniff.

"You can't smell that?" I asked in disbelief.

"I'm not exactly a youngster any more, Sonny," the guard explained. "I'm afraid the acuteness of my senses have left me."

"You haven't seen any sludge crawling around here lately, have you?" Bugs asked.

"Excuse me?" the guard asked with a look of bewilderment.

"Never mind," I told the man as I pointed to Bugs. "His senses have taken leave of him as well."

Bugs gave me a sharp look and then rolled up the window and drove the Big Bologna down the driveway toward the factory. "I'm not crazy, you know," he insisted.

"Well, I have to admit that's a surprise," Doc commented.

"That I'm not crazy?" Bugs cried with indignation.

"No, that Mr. Mystic agreed to see us!" Doc explained. "There's no question about you being crazy."

"You see?" Doomsday said. "I'm sure this company doesn't mean to do any harm."

"It would be nice to believe that you're right, Doomsday," I sighed.

Bugs pulled the Big Bologna into a parking space outside the offices and we exited the vehicle. Seymour was not at all happy about the intensity of the stench in the area but I did my best to withstand it.

A few moments later a man wearing dress slacks and a white shirt with a tie exited the building. He stopped momentarily, eyeing us with surprise. But he quickly composed himself and approached us, smiling.

"Hello. I'm Marvin Mystic," he said, holding out his hand which I shook in greeting.

"Thank you for agreeing to see us on such short notice, Mr. Mystic," I offered sincerely.

He looked from us to the Big Bologna and said, "I thought you said you were with the police department?"

"We are," I quickly assured him. "The 927th precinct, to be precise. We're interns."

"Oh, I see," Mr. Mystic nodded. "I naturally expected to see uniformed officers. But that's all right. So, what is the nature of your visit today? Nothing serious, I hope."

"I'd say monstrous sludge is pretty serious," Bugs said under his breath.

"We hope not," I quickly covered. "But we do have some questions about your operations."

"Well, why don't you step inside where we can talk?" Mr. Mystic offered. "I'd be happy to show you around!"

We followed the man into the office building, where thankfully the smell was much less strong. As we walked through the corridors to his office, I asked, "So, when did you start production in this facility?"

"Just about nine months ago," Mr. Mystic answered. "I were looking for a base of operation and this plant turned out to be perfect for what I needed. I was very lucky to get this place at all. The owner said that the amount I offered just barely surpassed someone else's bid."

Doc ventured to ask, "Are you aware of the foul aroma your factory is creating in this area?"

"Oh, is that what you're here about?" Mr. Mystic asked, turning toward us for a moment and walking backwards so he could answer Doc. "I'm afraid that's an unavoidable result of our manufacturing process. But when you see what we're creating, I'm sure you'll agree it's a small price to pay!"

We entered the man's office and he stepped behind his desk and pulled open a drawer. He paused a moment, as if he were debating about something, then shook his head. "It's close enough to our launch now . . . I can trust you boys to keep a secret without having to sign any confidentiality agreements, can't I?"

"As long as what you're doing is legal," I assured him.

Mr. Mystic smiled excitedly. "Okay, then . . . hold out your hand . . . "

I looked at him strangely. "Should I shut my eyes as well?"

"If you want," Mr. Mystic answered seriously.

I looked back at the others, who shrugged, then held out my hand with my eyes closed. A moment later I felt something placed in my palm. It didn't feel particularly remarkable; it just felt like a small, round object, not unlike a rock. I opened my eyes to look and saw . . . a rock.

"It's a rock," I stated.

"Ah, but not just any rock!" Mr. Mystic assured me, still grinning.

Doc had walked over and eyed the rock in my hand. "Certainly not any rock I've ever seen before," he said.

"It feels strange," I agreed.

"Close your hand around it," Mr. Mystic coaxed.

I closed my hand around the rock and noted that it seemed to have a strange, smooth coating on it. It also felt oddly light.

Mr. Mystic was watching this with great excitement. "Okay . . . now open your hand."

I opened my hand and saw that the rock was now a strange combination of colors, but predominantly blue.

"There you go!" Mr. Mystic stated proudly. "How about that?"

"That's pretty!" Doomsday said as he and Doris looked at the colored rock.

"Pretty weird," Bugs added.

"But what is it?" Doc asked, taking the rock from me and studying it.

"It's the next biggest fad," Mr. Mystic explained. "It's a mood rock!"

"A mood rock?" we all repeated, as if we hadn't hear correctly.

Mr. Mystic nodded excitedly. "A combination pet rock and mood ring. It's going to be huge!"

"You mean, you're going to make them even bigger than this?" Doomsday asked with confusion.

"I had a pet rock once," I said.

"What happened to it?" Doomsday asked.

"It didn't feel appreciated, so it ran away," I replied. "I guess I took it for granite."

"You should have been boulder in your discipline," Bugs said.

Doc was rolling the mood rock in his hand. "This isn't an actual rock," he said.

"You mean it's a mock rock?" I asked.

Doc nodded. "It's a manufactured piece of . . . something . . . but what?"

"Ah, now that's a trade secret," Mr. Mystic said, taking the mood rock back. "The mood formula wouldn't stick to just any rock, so we had to create a base substance for the rock itself."

"And this is the revolutionary thing that's worth all of the pollution you're creating?" Bugs asked.

"Pollution?" Mr. Mystic asked with surprise.

"In case you haven't noticed, your factory isn't only exuding a foul odor but a potentially toxic by-product into the surrounding environment as well," Doc explained.

"Oh, now that's not possible," Mr. Mystic insisted. "We carefully contain all waste by-product for proper disposal. Now I admit the smell is something we can't really contain, but believe me, we follow every regulation the law requires."

"When was the last time you took a look around your property?" Doc asked.

"I admit it's been a while," Mr. Mystic said.

"Maybe you'd better come have a look with us," I suggested.

"By all means!" Mr. Mystic agreed, following us out the door.

Stepping outside again was torture for poor Seymour, but I fought back the growing feeling of disorienting discomfort as we escorted Mr. Mystic around the office building and down a path which led to the edge of the water on his property. The water continued into a cement culvert which actually ran underneath part of the factory.

"Don't get too close!" Bugs warned us. "There's no telling what it might do!" He started looking around the ground nearby as if searching for something.

Mr. Mystic approached the waterline and a look of horror crossed his face when he saw the black, slimy goo lining the edge. "This isn't possible!" he gasped. "No, we have safety measures in place to prevent this kind of thing!"

"Obviously they're not working," I stated.

"Obviously," Mr. Mystic said worriedly, running a hand over his chin.

"And this stuff is flowing downstream and killing the flowers on my flower farm!" Doris explained.

"And there aren't any animals around here," Doomsday pointed out. "This stuff is ruining their homes."

"I'm so, so sorry," Mr. Mystic offered sincerely. "I really didn't know this was happening! I guess I just trusted that the safeguards I put in place were adequate." He turned to us and said, "I am so glad you boys pointed this out to me. I'll do everything I can to set it right. And Miss, I'll certainly compensate you for your losses."

"I just want to be able to grow my flowers again," Doris said sadly.

Bugs had picked up a long stick he'd found and quickly pushed passed us. "Okay, now . . . watch this!" he said. We gathered around as Bugs pushed the end of the stick into the sludge and moved it around. The black ooze swirled as the stick pushed through it, but that was all.

"Yes, it is pretty nasty," Mr. Mystic agreed, not understanding what Bugs was trying to show him. "I'll make some calls and get a hazardous materials team out here right away."

We turned away from Bugs as he continued to prod at the slime with the stick. "We're certainly glad to hear that you're going to do something about this right away," I told Mr. Mystic.

"I'm just sorry I didn't know about it sooner," Mr. Mystic sighed. "It certainly isn't the legacy I wanted to leave Northeast Southweston."

Bugs was becoming more aggravated as he poked at the slime more adamantly. "Come on! Move! Change color! Anything!" he grumbled.

He suddenly felt the stick being pulled away and grabbed it with both hands, holding on tightly. He planted his feet firmly on the bank and braced himself as he found himself engaged in an earnest tug of war with the slime. Unfortunately our backs were turned and we didn't see this ensuing struggle.

"We took a sample of the substance and I'm going to give it a thorough examination," Doc told Mr. Mystic. "I'll be sure to inform you of my findings so you can pass the information along to the hazardous materials team. It might speed up the process somewhat."

"That would be wonderful," Mr. Mystic said.

"We should head back to the C.A.P.E.R. room so Doc can begin his experiments," I said, then remembering I added, "Right, Doomsday?"

"Sure, P.T.," Doomsday said. "If we can tear Bugs away from whatever it is he's doing."

We looked at Bugs, who still seemed to be playing around with the stick in the muck. "Come on, Bugs!" Doc called. "We're leaving!"

"And not a moment too soon," I sighed, shaking my head. "I don't know how much more of this smell Seymour can take."

Bugs was startled when the black ooze started bulging up, taking on some kind of form. He could make out what seemed to be two distinct arm-like protrusions which were holding on to the other end of the stick. Suddenly, it started to pull harder and Bugs felt his feet slipping closer to the ooze which seemed to be inching towards him. We couldn't see this, however, because Bugs was standing between us and the slime.

"Thank you again for alerting me to this problem!" Mr. Mystic said.

"Just doing our job," I assured him. "Rest assured that the Kids from C.A.P.E.R. will always be on top of things."

At this moment Bugs pulled back even harder right when the sludge released its grip on the stick, sending him flying backwards. Anticipating what was about to happen, Doc took a strategic step back as Bugs stumbled past him and collided with Doomsday and I, knocking us to the ground as he fell on top of us.

"Including each other," Doc added.

"Did you see that?" Bugs asked, sitting up excitedly. "Did you see it trying to pull me in? It's alive!"

"Oh Bugs," Doc sighed, reaching down to take Bugs' hand and pull him to his feet. "It's not scientifically possible for sludge to come to life."

"It's not?" Bugs asked.

"No," Doc insisted.

"Well, then you'd better tell the sludge that!" Bugs countered.

"Oh Doomsday, are you all right?" Doris asked as she helped Doomsday to his feet.

"I'm fine," Doomsday assured her. "But I don't like the sound of this living sludge stuff! It sounds creepy!"

"Bugs, are you sure you're not just imagining things?" I asked as he turned to help me to my feet.

"I'm not imagining it!" Bugs insisted. "That stuff is alive!"

"But there's no precedence for such a thing," Doc countered.

"Oh no?" Bugs asked. "Didn't you see 'Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster?'"

"Ooh, that was scary!" Doomsday said, his eyes widening.

"Somehow I don't think Toho Company Limited is considered a viable reference source by the greater scientific community," Doc pointed out.

"Well, living or not, whatever that stuff is it needs to be dealt with," I pointed out. "So let's get back to the station so Doc can conduct his experiments."

"I'm going to see if I can't find the source of the leak," Mr. Mystic told us. "That way I can put a stop to the spill and prevent this from becoming worse."

"We'll give you a call later today when we know what we're dealing with," Doc promised the man. "Come on, guys."

We turned to head back to the Big Bologna as Mr. Mystic headed towards the factory, walking down the cement walkway along the water's edge that led into the culvert. Bugs hesitated, almost calling out a warning to Mr. Mystic, but when he saw we were leaving he hurried to catch up with us.

Doris was walking alongside Doomsday in front of us. "You know, Doomsday, you sure don't do much of the talking in this group," she noted.

Doc and I looked at each other worriedly. We had set Doomsday up to be in charge to impress Doris and we certainly didn't want to ruin it for him. I quickly tried to think of some explanation for this.

Doris smiled prettily and leaned closer to Doomsday. "I like the strong and silent type," she said. "They're the best kind of leaders!"

Doc and I exhaled with relief.

"Would you like to come back to the C.A.P.E.R. room with us?" Doomsday asked. "We could watch Doc work and I could buy you a late lunch / early dinner from the vending machines upstairs. They have Sno Balls!"

"Oh, that would be nice!" Doris agreed. "I've never watched a scientific experiment before!"

"Maybe when Doc's done analyzing the slime he can analyze what's actually inside of the Sno Balls," I joked.

"I'm telling ya, fellas . . . that stuff is dangerous!" Bugs insisted as he came up behind us, looking back to see Mr. Mystic approaching the culvert then turning away from it to walk up to the factory.

"Well, we'll know for sure when we get back to the C.A.P.E.R. room," Doc assured him.

Bugs thought he heard a noise and looked back again. He was surprised when he realized Mr. Mystic was no longer in sight. But where could he have disappeared to so quickly? And was that some kind of dark movement he saw just inside the culvert?

"Uh, fellas . . . ?" Bugs began.

"Come on, Bugs!" I urged, and Bugs hesitantly followed.

We climbed into the Big Bologna and Bugs took the wheel.

"Seymour isn't sorry to get out of here!" I told the others.

"Neither am I!" Bugs agreed, pulling the vehicle down the drive.

As we passed the guard shack we saw that it was empty. "Hey, where did the old man go?" Bugs asked.

"He's probably on his break," Doc offered.

"Or the sludge monsters got him, too!" Bugs said.

"Bugs, would you cut it out?" Doc cried. "There is no such thing as a sludge monster!"

"Doc, I sure hope you're right and I'm wrong," Bugs sighed, turning the Big Bologna onto the main road.

"Statistically it's usually the case," I reminded Bugs. "But then stranger things have happened."

Doomsday and Doris sat on the bench in the C.A.P.E.R. room, eating their pre-packaged vending machine late lunch / early dinner. We were waiting for Doc's family driver, James, to arrive with the additional equipment Doc needed from home to conduct his experiments.

"What time is it?" Doc asked.

I looked at my watch. "It's just going on three p.m."

"Ooh, time for Klinsinger's mid-afternoon report!" Bugs said as he hurried to the television set. "I'm sure he's on the track of those sludge monsters! Now you'll see that I was telling the truth!"

Bugs hit the top of the television set to turn it on. We looked at the screen and were surprised to see nothing but an empty desk.

"It's not like Klinsinger to miss his mid-afternoon report," Doc noted.

"This certainly is strange," I agreed. At that moment the turquoise telephone rang and I reached over to answer it.

Doomsday and Doris got up and walked over to look at the television with frowns on their faces. "Usually Mr. Klinsinger's reports are much more interesting than this," Doomsday said.

"Well, at least he's not talking about my failing flower farm!" Doris noted.

"Yes, sir, we'll get right on it," I said into the telephone and then hung up. "Fellas, that was the television station. They called to report that Klinsinger is missing."

"The sludge monsters got him!" Bugs exclaimed just as Sgt. Vinton entered the C.A.P.E.R. room.

"The what got who?" Sgt. Vinton asked.

"Oh, Sgt. Vinton," I said, "That was the news station. They called to report Kurt Klinsinger missing."

"And he's missing his own report," Doc added, pointing at the screen.

"He's not missing much, though," Doomsday offered. "It's pretty boring, really."

"How very odd," Sgt. Vinton hummed. "But then, Klinsinger always has struck me as being a bit odd. Well, I suppose I should go out looking for him then."

"We know where he was," I reported. "He was following us around earlier today when we were investigating the pollution at Doris' flower farm near the Mystic Manufacturing plant. He may still be there."

"Or he may have been eaten by the sludge monsters!" Bugs added.

"Say, what's all this about sludge monsters?" Sgt. Vinton asked.

"Bugs believes that the pollution has come to life and is attacking people," Doc explained.

"Oh yes, I think I saw that in a Japanese monster movie once," Sgt. Vinton said, then he placed a firm hand on Bugs' shoulder and spoke to him in a fatherly tone. "Don't worry . . . it's just a guy in a rubber suit."

"You mean like on Scooby Doo?" Doomsday asked.

"I'll go find Klinsinger and then you'll see there are no such thing as monsters," Sgt. Vinton promised Bugs in a condescending manner.

Bugs rolled his eyes, trying to remain calm. But it was clear he didn't like being spoken to as if he were a child.

"I should really get back to my flower farm," Doris said sadly. "My buds need watering."

"Oh, okay," Doomsday said with some disappointment.

"But, Doomsday, surely you were planning to go with them so that you and Doris could show Sgt. Vinton where we last saw Klinsinger?" I suggested.

"Oh, Doomsday, that's a good idea!" Doris agreed.

"Yeah, it is!" Doomsday smiled. "Wow! They're coming to me so easily today!"

"Come on then," Sgt. Vinton said.

"Give us a call on the C.A.P.E.R. band when you find him," I told Doomsday, handing him his radio.

"Okay, P.T.," Doomsday said. "And we'll watch out for those sludge monsters, too!"

After they left, Bugs looked from Doc to me and sighed, "Well, at least somebody believes me!"