The Case of the Gold Thief
A Shirley Holmes Fan Fiction

by HA
Prologue: March 27, 2001 ............ Epilogue : September 15, 2001
41,000 words



The Case of the Gold Thief : Prologue

Somewhere in the downtown district of Redington, Number Nine sat in his makeshift office and studied the file displayed on his desk computer. "Hmmmmmmm..." he thought out loud as he focused mainly on the accompanying picture, which was of a young girl with dark brown hair. "She doesn't look like much of a threat, does she, Mojo?" he said, his voice having a trace of an accent.

Near his computer, a small robot with a round body peeked its head at the screen now and then. It resembled a simplified monkey, complete with long arms and a tail. Its eyes flashing, the robot beeped and whistled in response to Number Nine's question. "True, but look at her eyes," Number Nine said, closely examining the girl's blue eyes. "You can see the curiosity in them, Mojo."

Mojo beeped and whistled while Number Nine stroked his dark upturned mustache, which was located underneath a pointed, elongated nose. "Mr. E perceives this girl as a threat to ENIGMA's existence." He adjusted the monocle over his left eye and looked over the data on the subject. "Considering all that she's done, including what's she's started and recently thwarting Number Eight's assignment in this area, it's a sound hypothesis."

Number Nine heard the door open behind him. Mojo turned around and watched as an ENIGMA agent in full uniform entered the room. "Sir, I have..." The agent froze, realizing that Number Nine was not wearing his mask.

Number Nine kept facing the computer and took out a rod-like object as he spoke. "Agent, haven't you heard of knocking?" he asked.

The agent spun around quickly. "Your forgiveness, sir! I...I...in my rush to deliver my news, I forgot about knocking," he said, keeping his eye on the door.

Hmph. Probably a new agent, Number Nine thought. He extended the rod in his hand, a telescoping pointer, to its full length. "You do know the penalty for seeing the face of Mr. E or another member of High Command without authorization, don't you, agent?"

"Y-y-yes, sir," the agent replied.

"Then what is it?" Number Nine asked, still keeping his face to the computer.

"Death, sir," the agent answered nervously.

"Exactly," Number Nine said as he pointed the pointer behind him.

The agent heard noises coming from something large covered by a white tarp on his left. The object moved, and the tarp fell off, revealing a robot that resembled a bear. Its hands had long, razor-sharp claws and its face held a not-so-friendly grin. The agent gulped as the bear robot advanced slowly on him, its claws outstretched towards him and a emitting a computerized growl. The sight of its glowing yellow eyes added to the agent's terror.

Mojo seemed to be laughing as he watched the towering bear robot march on the agent. "Please, sir! It won't happen again! I swear it!" the agent begged as he backed away from the robot, his eyes wide-open behind his dark goggles. He dropped a computer printout that was meant for his superior.

Number Nine silently watched the computer screen as the agent found himself backed up against the wall with no place to go. The bear robot had him cornered. "Mercy, sir! Mercy!" he pleaded as the bear robot got closer, snarling and ready to strike. He shielded his face with his arms and waited to die.

Number Nine smiled coldly, then addressed the bear robot. "Teddy, cease and desist!"

To the relief of the agent, the bear robot stopped in its tracks. "Teddy, back to your corner and stay there," Number Nine ordered further.

Wiping the sweat on his forehead through his mask, the agent let out a large sigh as Teddy marched back to his corner and resumed standing still. "Thank you, sir. Oh, thank you..."

Number Nine help up his hand to silence the agent. "Do this again and I'll allow Teddy to rip you to shreds, understand?"

The agent nodded quickly. "I understand, sir," he said.

Number Nine pointed the pointer to his right and pressed the button again. A four-wheeled robot with a covered serving tray moved towards his desk. "Keep your eye on the door if you value your life," he warned the agent harshly as he reached for the cloth covering the tray.

"Yes, sir!" the agent exclaimed, turning around to face the door as Number Nine donned what was on the tray.

"You may turn around now," Number Nine said, getting up from his seat and sending the serving robot away.

The agent turned around and faced the now-masked Number Nine. The master agent was dressed entirely in metallic gray with a necktie that had a gear drawn on it. His hands were covered by gray gloves. His mask matched with his suit. Its eyes were yellow, with the right eye being rectangular and the left resembling a large gunsight with a black gear around it. The mask's mouth was a yellow rectangular grin, and its nose was long and pointed to accommodate its wearer's large nose. On top of his head, he wore a white powdered wig with curled sides and a hat that resembled a mortarboard. The agent stared at this unusual apparition, but he knew better than to laugh. That was punishable by death as well, if the offended superior felt like it.

Managing to get almost everything together and picking up the printout, the agent recalled protocol when facing a superior. He quickly saluted Number Nine by pounding his right fist against his heart and outstretching it in the air. "ENIGMA forever!" he declared.

"Well, what is your news?" Number Nine asked as soon as the agent was done, his voice modified by his mask to sound more mechanical. He brought his pointer down into his other hand. Mojo leaped onto his chair and shrieked at the agent.

The agent gathered whatever nerves he had left and addressed his superior. "We've managed to hit the designated target a few minutes ago."

"Excellent," Number Nine said, satisfied. "Damage to the target?"

"According to Number Nine-Nine, there was extensive damage due to the crash," the agent answered, handing his superior the printout he had dropped.

"Did it accomplish its task?" Number Nine asked while looking over the printout to get the specifics of the night's events.

"It did, sir," the agent said, understanding what Number Nine meant.

"Good. Ah, what precision and accuracy. Typical of all my toys. Any damages to it?"

"No, sir. It came back here with no damage." The agent recalled something quickly. "It left too quickly for anyone to follow it, so this location is still secret. That's what Number Nine-Nine reported."

"Good," Number Nine said, nodding. "Were there any witnesses?"

"Yes, sir. I believe the police are on their way to the site."

"Very good." Number Nine folded his arms behind his back. "All goes according to plan, then."

"Sir, permission to speak freely," the agent asked nervously, eyeing the now-immobile Teddy.

"Speak, then," Number Nine said.

The agent gulped and kept a close watch on Teddy. "If you don't mind me asking, but why is a member of the Elite Eight in charge of such a standard operation in a city that holds no significant importance?"

Number Nine chuckled. "Agent, you are aware of the Red Zone Directive that has been passed by ENIGMA High Command, are you not?"

"The Red Zone Directive?" the agent asked, puzzled.

"Tsk, tsk, as the original supervisor of this operation, you really should keep up with decisions made by High Command," Number Nine said, shaking his pointer finger.

"I'm sorry, sir, but this is my first time I've been in such a high position for an assignment," the agent admitted with hesitation.

"I understand. I'll enlighten you, then." Number Nine stepped closer to the agent so that he could stare into his eyes, making his subordinate feel uneasy. A little closer, and the sharp nose would have stabbed the poor underling. "You see, agent, Mr. E and High Command recently decreed that any mission in the vicinity of the city of Redington, code-named the Red Zone, is to be under the command of a member of the Elite Eight no matter how small it is."

"Why, sir?" the agent dared to ask. His curiosity was getting the better of him, another mistake that could also be punished by immediate execution.

"Because of this," Number Nine answered, aiming his pointer at the back wall. A projection screen came down, and with another button push, the screen showed what was on Number Nine's computer. "Do you recognize this girl, agent?"

After searching his memory quickly, the agent answered Number Nine. "Yes, sir. That is Shirley Holmes, the daughter of one of the British diplomats stationed here."

"She is considered a great threat to our organization," Number Nine stated. "Mr. E has ordered her execution to be carried out as discreetly as possible."

The agent studied the picture of Shirley Holmes closely. "Sir, she's just a regular teen-age girl."

"Napoleon Bonaparte was known for his short height and was not considered by some as a man destined for greater things, but as emperor of France, he nearly conquered all of Europe," Number Nine noted. "This girl is carrying out the legacy of her great-granduncle Sherlock and has been linked to Inspector Christopher Hewitt, who is being seen as an expert on ENIGMA. Mr. E wants her dead and has authorized the Elite Eight to use any means to accomplish this goal. Naturally, we must also make sure that we're not connected to her death."

"I see, sir," the agent said, nodding.

"So, has your curiosity been satisfied?" Number Nine inquired as he aimed the pointer at the projection screen and made it roll up.

"Yes, sir," the agent answered immediately.

A beeping came from the computer. Mojo started jumping up and down in the chair, making electronic noises with great excitement. Number Nine looked at the computer screen. "Ah, Mr. E wishes to speak to me." He turned to the agent. "Leave me and begin preparations for tomorrow," he ordered. "Make sure Number Nine-Nine is ready for his part."

"Yes, sir!" the agent said, knowing better than to stretch his luck. Eyeing Teddy, he exited the room as quickly as he could.

Number Nine shooed Mojo out of his chair and sat down. The robot monkey jumped onto his shoulder. The ENIGMA master agent moved his mouse to a flashing light in the corner of the screen and clicked on it. The file of Shirley Holmes was replaced by the sinister figure of Mr. E, the supreme leader of ENIGMA. Wearing his usual dark glasses, uniform, and cape, he sat in a large chair. On his lap lied Chimera, a black cat with piercing yellow eyes, whom he stroked regularly with his gloved hand.

"ENIGMA forever!" Number Nine said, standing up and saluting his leader.

"Report," Mr. E said as Number Nine sat down again. Chimera purred as her master petted her.

"I'm happy to report that I have initiated my plan," Number Nine said. "I've just been informed that part one has been completed. My little toy did its designated function, so it's ready for the little job it's been assigned to."

"Good. Are you positive that Holmes will notice?" Mr. E asked.

"According to my calculations, there's a good chance she will, sir," Number Nine answered. "If that fails to pique her curiosity, what I have planned for tomorrow will."

"Good, Number Nine. Very good," Mr. E complemented. "Have you taken in account those special variables?"

"I have," Number Nine answered. "I guarantee that my toys will deal with them."

"For your sake, you had better be right, Number Nine," Mr. E said. Chimera meowed loudly at Number Nine. "My Elite Eight has already lost once thanks to Holmes, in addition to the other two defeats she's handed us directly plus the trouble she's caused us indirectly thanks to Interpol. Our clientele are not pleased with these recent failures, and quite frankly, I'm getting tired of arranging accidents to silence the complainers."

"I understand, sir," Number Nine said. "I assure you that my plan will work and not only will our client be satisfied, but the Holmes girl will be eliminated as well."

"I certainly hope so, Number Nine, or I'll be displeased. Very displeased," the ENIGMA leader said, while Chimera let out a loud meow that sounded almost like a roar.

"Yes, sir," Number Nine said, bowing his head solemnly. Mojo bowed and chattered something in its electronic sound language.

"Proceed with your plan, Number Nine. I wish to hear of our client's satisfaction and of Holmes' demise in the next few days."

"As you command, sir. The Elite Eight won't fail you again," Number Nine assured his leader.

"Let's hope not, Number Nine." Looking thoughtful, Mr. E stroked Chimera's back, eliciting a purr from the black cat. "Riddle me this. What's the only good detective?"

"A dead one, sir," Number Nine answered.

"Makes sure that happens." With that, Mr. E ended the transmission, and Number Nine was left staring at the file on Shirley Holmes.

Number Nine clicked the "print" option. The printer hummed to life and produced a copy of the file page he was viewing. He took the printout and stared at the picture of the girl whom Mr. E saw as a threat to ENIGMA. The master agent knew his leader's other reason for authorizing the execution of the girl, and he could not blame him. The name "Sherlock Holmes" was despised widely by the criminal element, and a descendant of the famed detective who was carrying out his legacy became a potential threat to all criminals. Number One and the Elite Eight, the people who made up the High Command of ENIGMA along with Mr. E, had become alarmed when the ENIGMA leader informed them the Mona Lisa fiasco was caused by a teen-age girl. When it was learned that the girl was a descendant of Sherlock Holmes, the matter became more serious, for the other members of the Elite Eight knew of the Holmes legacy. They also knew the reason why Mr. E hated the girl named Shirley Holmes so intensely, and they did not blame him, either. Besides, disagreeing with Mr. E was bad for one's health--dangerously bad.

"Mojo, the usual," Number Nine told the robot monkey, waving his hand in front of the screen. The computer shut down automatically.

Mojo leapt down from Number Nine's shoulder and went for the bottom drawer of the desk. It pulled out the drawer and took out a piece of white cardboard that matched the size of the printout and a jar of rubber cement. Mojo closed the drawer and laid the items on the floor. Number Nine handed it the printout, and the robot monkey laid it next to the cardboard. Opening the jar of rubber cement, Mojo used the brush attached to the lid to spread the sticky substance all over the cardboard. After examining its work, Mojo pasted the printout, with its blank side down, onto the cardboard. It handed the paper to Number Nine after a minute of drying.

Number Nine looked at the printout. He studied the picture of the girl to whom his leader had issued a order of execution. The killing of children was not new to him; besides designing the various weapons and devices ENIGMA used in its crimes and overseeing their development, he was also an expert assassin, and his targets ranged from the very young to the very old. He knew all people had to die; he just made death come to them sooner. As he looked at Shirley's picture, he examined the eyes he noticed curiosity in. Her file said that she was naturally inquisitive and was attracted to mysteries; she would not stop until she had solved one. Mr. E and the rest of High Command knew that she considered ENIGMA another mystery to solve, but they were determined to make sure she failed in her mission to find out more about it. Number Nine clearly saw determination in the girl's eyes as well.

"Why couldn't she just stick to normal girl things, like makeup and shopping?" Number Nine asked, addressing his synthetic simian, who responded with more of its electronic sounds. "Ah, but that wouldn't fit the profile of a budding detective, much less one who is carrying out the legacy of the greatest detective of all time." Mojo beeped its agreement while jumping up and down.

"Well, we can't have her running around contributing to ENIGMA's problems, now, can we, Mojo?" Number Nine asked, looking at the picture. The robot monkey chattered its agreement again. He stood up and walked to the center of the room. With one last glance at the printout, he tossed it in the air. Mojo watched as its master and creator looked up and a laser beam fired from his left eye. The printout was cut in half and its pieces fell to the floor.

As Mojo danced around doing its electronic chatter, Number Nine stared at the halves of the printout. "And now, ma jeune detective, it's time for me to join the game," he said, smiling evilly behind his mask.

END OF PROLOGUE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #1

"As of now, speculation runs rampant at the railroad tracks near Redington as the police attempt to find out what caused a nearly fatal train crash," the desk reporter on the TV said while footage of a train wreck was being shown. "The police are calling it a miracle that no one was badly hurt."

Shirley Holmes' ears perked up as she ate her breakfast in the kitchen with her parents. Her grandmother had gone out for a morning jog around the neighborhood. While having his coffee, her father was trying to read his newspaper, which was full of holes as usual thanks to Shirley. Like Shirley, her mother was paying attention to the morning news.

"According to the police, the train was carrying a shipment of gold bars meant for the Bank of Redington last night when it was reportedly attacked and forced off the tracks," the reporter continued. "We asked the engineer, who is recovering from his injuries at a local hospital, about what happened. He declined to be shown on camera, but he did say that he heard something fly by the train and shoot out some of its wheels, causing it to steer off the tracks and crash."

Shirley rubbed her chin. Things were getting interesting for the great-grandniece of Sherlock Holmes.

"The police are not confirming this story, but they did confirm that nine of the train's wheels were shot by what appeared to be a laser. They also confirmed that the car carrying the gold has a hole burnt into the side, also apparently the work of a laser. As for the gold, it was shipped immediately to the Bank of Redington." The reporter stopped as he heard something being whispered to him from off-screen. "I've just been informed that the bank has confirmed nine gold bars are missing from the shipment. I repeat, nine gold bars are missing from the shipment."

Mr. Holmes shook his head upon hearing that information. "Rather dumb of the crook to just take nine out of so many bars of gold."

"It does sound strange," Dr. Holmes said. "Why make a train crash and just make off with a small amount of gold?"

Shirley thought harder. Things were really getting interesting.

* * * * *

"No offense, Shirley, but that sounds really dumb," Bo Sawchuk commented. "I mean, someone just attacked a train with a lot of gold and just made off with nine bars?"

"You sound like my father," Shirley said to her best friend.

"It's a strange crime, though," Blake Hewitt acknowledged.

The three friends were on their way to Sussex Academy, a prestigious private school that included the children of diplomats and local businesspeople. All were wearing the school uniform, which was mainly green and included a striped tie. Bo and Blake wore gray trousers while Shirley wore a skirt.

"Yes," Shirley said in agreement. "All that effort for a few measly bars of gold?"

"Boy, whoever did this has got to be the dumbest man on Earth," Bo said, laughing a little.

"Or may have a claim to being the smartest," Shirley said.

"What do you mean, Shirley?" Blake asked curiously.

"Well, if someone wanted to get my attention, he or she succeeded," Shirley said.

"Huh?" Bo said, puzzled. "Who'd want to get your attention?"

"My best bet would be the ENIGMA organization," Shirley stated.

Bo groaned. "Not again."

"Are you sure, Shirley?" Blake asked, concerned. "No riddle was found at the wreck, I think."

"True, but who else would use lasers on a train?" Shirley asked.

"Some other guys?" Bo said. "ENIGMA doesn't exactly have a monopoly on lasers, you know. There's got to be other bad guys with lasers out there."

"Maybe. Maybe not," Shirley said. "I don't want to establish a hypothesis without further proof. Still, they are at the top of my list."

Blake nodded in agreement. All three had managed to survive three encounters with the evil organization so far. They knew ENIGMA was determined to kill Shirley when it had the chance, but fortunately, success eluded it. The last encounter with ENIGMA served as a reminder to the junior detective and her friends that it would do anything to accomplish its sinister goal and hinted at its true power.

They arrived on school grounds early, much to Bo's amazement. "Hey, we're pretty much on time," he said, smiling.

Blake checked the time on his watch. "Yep. Maybe under ten minutes to spare."

Bo grinned. "We should do this more often."

Shirley spotted something parked near the administration building that got her attention. It was a long, white limousine with a logo on its side. A uniformed driver was waiting outside the car. Shirley looked at the logo from where she was standing and recognized it. "The Knight Foundation," she said, focusing on the white knight chess piece in a black circle.

Bo and Blake joined Shirley in looking at the white limousine. "What are they doing here?" Bo wondered.

"Maybe they wanted to talk with Ms. Stratmann regarding Mr. Knight's financial aid to the school," Blake said.

"Perhaps," Shirley said. A conglomerate based in Redington, the Knight Foundation had donated generously to the occasionally strapped-for-cash Sussex Academy, much to Ms. Stratmann's relief. Shirley had her suspicions about the Knight Foundation, but she had not come up with any proof of any potential wrongdoings by the company.

"Come to think of it, Bart went on a Knight Foundation Scholar trip somewhere in the northwestern United States," Blake remembered.

Bo pointed to his watch. "Um, guys, we'd better get going. I'm really not in the mood to be late for class."

Shirley was too busy paying attention to the limo. She watched as a man in a gray business suit stepped out of the administrative building. He was elderly and short, with a balding head and a white mustache and goatee. He was walking with a cane, but there was something about him that reminded Shirley of her grandmother. He walked as if he was younger despite the cane, with a light spring in his step. Shirley saw that he was speaking to himself in a jovial tone. The limo driver opened the door for him. After helping the man in, the driver went back to his seat and the limo pulled out of the driveway and left the school grounds.

"Hmmmmmm..." Shirley said, going into deep thought. Her trance-like state was broken by Bo tapping her on the shoulder.

"Hello," Bo said, pointing to his watch. "Almost time for class."

Shirley blinked, then watched as the limousine drove away. Answering Bo with a brief nod, she followed her friends into the school building.

* * * * *

Shirley and her friends settled down in their seats, ready to start the day. "Another day of school," Bo lamented. "Why?"

"Because we need to learn," Blake said.

"No, because our parents make us come here," Bo quipped. "And it's such a beautiful day. We shouldn't be cooped up in here."

"Ah, so you would prefer working at your parents' fish store than come here," Shirley said to her best friend.

"I stand corrected," Bo said with a grin, knowing how pungent the smell was over there. Blake laughed in a low voice. Shirley smiled a little.

The class was about to begin when Sussex Academy's headmistress, Ms. Stratmann, appeared in the doorway. "If I may have your attention, everyone," she declared.

All eyes were on the school headmistress. Dressed in conservative attire, Ms. Stratmann had that type of authoritative voice that demanded attention to its speaker. Her authority weas symbolized by the medal on her chest. Shirley noticed two girls standing behind the school headmistress. They were wearing the Sussex Academy uniform. Her blue eyes widened when she recognized them.

Bo and Blake also recognized them. One was Asian, with long black hair. A backpack was slung over one shoulder. She was normal-looking; her companion was the one getting the most attention. To be more specific, stares. Shirley saw the teacher's mouth almost agape. Deathly pale and with silver hair done in large, long pigtails, she looked at the class through half-opened eyes.

"Is that...?" Bo whispered to his friends.

"It is," Blake whispered back.

"Indeed," Shirley said, looking at the newcomers, especially the silver-haired girl.

"Everyone, please welcome the latest additions to the Sussex Academy student body, Rika Tamura and Katrina Mansfield," the headmistress announced, motioning to the girls. She seemed not to notice the color of Katrina's hair. "I'm sure you'll all make them feel welcome here."

Rika bowed to the class. "I'm happy to be part of this well-known institution," she said.

"As am I," Katrina said emotionlessly. She seemed to ignore the intense stares from her new classmates and teacher.

"Hoo boy," Bo remarked.

Shirley watched as the newcomers took empty seats next to her. *Things are really, really getting interesting,* the amateur sleuth thought.

END OF PART ONE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #2

As soon as class was over, Shirley approached Rika and Katrina in the hallway. Bo and Blake tagged along with their naturally inquisitive friend.

"Well, they've gotten themselves a lot of attention," Blake said, noticing how everyone was staring at the newcomers, especially Katrina.

Shirley was positive if the other students knew the newcomers' membership in the Strangers' Club, their curiosity would extend beyond Katrina's appearance and mannerisms. The group was made up of kids dedicated to investigating all things out of the ordinary, like ghosts and aliens. Shirley encountered it recently, and together they managed to thwart ENIGMA's recent crime in Redington. She noticed how some of the members were out of the ordinary, like Katrina. Not many girls were psychics, after all. Although the Strangers vowed to work with Shirley on her cases if they had the time, she was still suspicious of them. The group had many secrets and she was determined to learn them. Bo and Blake shared her attitude, although Blake was less suspicious than Bo.

"What are they doing here at Sussex?" Bo asked the young detective in a low voice.

"I'm about to find out," Shirley said.

Before Shirley could ask, Katrina said, "All will be revealed at lunch."

Shirley nodded, deciding not to pursue the matter further until then. She reasoned she could wait and with her record, could not afford to be late for more classes. Her real motive to agree with the silver-haired girl was emotionally-based, a rarity with her. Her past experience with Katrina told her she could read minds, among other things. Privately, it creeped out the great-grandniece of Sherlock Holmes, but she managed to stay calm.

"We'll talk at lunch, then," Rika said, looking at her watch. "I need to go to my locker, then to my next class." She sighed. "Why did I get assigned a locker so far away from my classes?"

"I'd go for dumb luck," Bo said, smiling.

"I guess you're right," Rika said. She turned to Katrina. "You'll be okay on your own for one period?"

"I will manage," Katrina answered in her usual dead calm tone.

"That's good to hear," Rika said.

Before Rika could leave, Bo said, "Wait, where's Bart? He went on one of your field trips. Is he back yet?" In addition to being a Knight Foundation Scholar, Bart was the newest member of the club. Like his friends, Blake had a good idea Bart was participating in one of the club's cases.

Rika stopped. "He should be. His group came back last night."

"We haven't seen him since we got here," Blake said.

"Must be jet lag. Don't worry, he'll be fine," Rika assured him. "See you at lunch."

Shirley watched as Rika left. "Indeed," she said.

"So, what's next?" Blake asked.

Shirley saw Katrina open her locker. "We go to class and talk to them at lunch," she answered.

Bo was a little surprised at his friend's reluctance to confront the Strangers. "If you say so, Shirl."

They left Katrina at her locker. She placed her book from her previous class and started removing other books. She got what she wanted, then paused.

"Hello, Molly," the silver-haired girl said, closing her locker.

Behind her, Molly Hardy gasped. She had been watching Shirley and her friends talking with the new students. When they left, she took the opportunity to confront Katrina. Unfortunately, nothing was going according to plan. As Katrina locked the door, Molly did her best to supress her surprise.

"You have a question," the Stranger stated matter-of-factly, turning around to face Molly.

The blonde regained her composure and glared at Katrina. "Why did you say I was weak? That I was afraid of the dark a while back?" she demanded.

Katrina stared calmly into the blonde sociopath's eyes. "Because it's true."

"I'm afraid of nothing." Molly's blood was almost to full boil. "I have a lot of clout here. I control everything and everyone, you silver-haired freak. You'd better not cross me or else."

The threat failed to produce its intended effect. "You have no power," Katrina said.

Molly was furious. "You're an idiot and a fool," she said through clinched teeth.

"And you're afraid of the dark," Katrina said calmly.

"I am not!" Molly shouted, stepping closer to Katrina. "I'm strong! Strong!"

The tardy bell rang.

"You're weak," Katrina said. "Accept the truth. You still have time."

Molly could not take it anymore. "Who are you?"

Katrina met Molly's intense stare with serene eyes. "Who are you?"

"Molly?"

Molly turned around and saw Ms. Stratmann. "Ms. Stratmann, what a pleasant surprise," she said with a fake smile.

"Molly, that was the tardy bell. Why are you still here? Who were you talking to?" the headmistress asked her prized student.

"Oh, I was saying hello to one of the new students," Molly explained, gesturing behind her. "You know, Katrina Mansfield."

Ms. Stratmann looked puzzled. "Molly, no one is with you."

Molly looked behind her. Katrina was gone.

Ms. Stratmann watched as Molly searched for the silver-haired girl. "Molly, perhaps you should go to class right now. I'll explain everything to your teacher."

"But, Ms. Stratmann, I swear..."

"Go to class, Molly." The headmistress left for her office, wondering if Molly was still suffering from her earlier ordeal. ENIGMA had kidnapped her in part to get Shirley. When the young detective and her friends found her, she was a hysterical wreck. Only a visit from a renowned therapist/hypnotist restored the scheming sociopath back to normal.

Molly looked around, but she was the only one in the hallway. Frustrated, she gave up and started on her way to class. To her annoyance, Katrina's words echoed in her mind.

* * * * *

At lunch, Shirley and her friends ate in the cafeteria. Rika and Katrina joined them. Rika had her backpack with her.

"I see you've dared to sample some of Sussex's famous cuisine," Bo said half-jokingly. Like the others, the newcomers bought a hot lunch: chicken schnitzel, macaroni and cheese, a carton of milk, and a bowl of green Jello.

"Yep," Rika said with a smile as she and Katrina sat down.

"So what brings you to Sussex?" Shirley asked.

"Ah, taking the direct approach," Rika said.

"Yeah, what are you doing here?" Blake asked.

"Spying on us?" Bo asked.

Katrina started eating her lunch, leaving Rika to answer. "Well, Arthur at least needed one of us to enroll here in order to give Bart and you guys a contact with the club," she explained, keeping her voice low. "Someone to keep him posted on assignments and to keep in touch with you just in case you need our help."

"Why you two?" Bo asked.

"Most of us attend public school. Katrina is home-schooled, so she could do it. As for me, my aunt has tutors handle my education," Rika said. "She's very protective of me, so she wasn't thrilled I decided to attend an institution. On the other hand, my grandfather was supportive."

"Your grandfather?" Blake wondered.

"The man who dropped them off," Shirley said. "He's a employee of the Knight Foundation," she added, remembering the Knight Foundation limo.

"Correct, Shirley," Rika acknowledged. "He's on the board of directors and a good friend of the Knights."

"He reminds me of my grandmother," Shirley commented. "He seems active for his age."

"He is," Rika said. "He once climbed Mt. Fuji without assistance. He has the walking staff to prove it."

"He was once head of his own company," Shirley said.

Rika was amazed at Shirley's deductive skills. "That's correct, but how...?"

"His suit was made by a prominent Italian designer. I recognized the look. Only the very wealthy can afford such a suit," Shirley pointed out.

"So your grandpa once ran a company?" Bo said. "How come he's here in Canada?"

"Grandfather was once head of a major electronics company, but after a while, he felt bored and lonely." Rika paused before continuing. "You see, my parents died while I was very young, and Grandfather was the only family I had in Japan. He had his hands full with me. Although I brightened his life, he still felt lonely. He was already a big success, yet he wanted more from life. So he sold his company for a good price and we moved to Redington, where my aunt was working in the PR department for the Knight Foundation."

"Whoa," Blake said. "How much did the company sell for?"

Rika drank her milk. "Grandfather got $5,000,000 from the sale, and with his savings, we have a small fortune."

Bo whistled. "Impressive."

"Indeed," Shirley said.

Blake spotted someone familiar. A boy with brown hair and glasses walked up to the small group with a lunch tray. His uniform seemed disorderly; the tie was barely hanging on to his collar and one pants pocket stuck out. "Hey, Bart," he greeted.

"Hey, Blake, everyone," Bart James, amateur investigator of weird happenings, answered. He noticed the two newest students of Sussex Academy. "Hi, guys."

"Hi, Bart," Rika said, trying to sound cheerful.

Katrina nodded without a word.

Bart looked at Rika and Katrina. "So Arthur made you two my contacts, huh?"

"That is correct," Katrina answered.

Shirley noticed Bart's sluggish manner. "Jet lag," she concluded.

Bart yawned. "Yep. My body's still getting used to the time."

"And your clothes," Bo said, pointing to his friend's uniform. "I'm amazed Ms. Stratmann hasn't run you down for that."

"Well, I came back late last night," Bart admitted. "I slept in, and I missed my first class." He yawned again.

"Don't worry about it, Bart," Rika reassured him. "Your status as a Knight Foundation Scholar excuses you from missed classes most of the time. In fact, you really should rest today. You've been through a lot."

"Tell me about it," Bart said, taking a seat. "I'm fine, though. Really."

"Not really," Katrina said. "You need to rest."

Shirley studied her friend. "Perhaps you should get more sleep. One of us can get your assignments."

"Speaking of assignments..." Blake decided to talk about Bart's new status as a Knight Foundation Scholar and latest member of the Strangers' Club. "How was your trip?"

"Actually, I'm not really in the mood to discuss it," Bart said.

"Oh," Blake said. "Another time?"

Bart nodded and started eating his lunch. In mid-bite, he yawned again. Shirley watched him carefully and wondered what happened on his first case as a Stranger. She was sure it was not the jet lag bothering him.

"I don't blame you," Katrina told Shirley. "However, he will come around."

Shirley stared at Katrina, then returned to her lunch. She was about to eat more when she froze.

"Shirley, what's wrong?" Bo asked, looking up from his food.

"If I recall, dessert was green Jello," Shirley noted.

The others looked at Shirley. "So?" Blake asked.

Shirley pointed to her dessert. "Then how did yellow Jello get on my tray?"

Everyone looked at Shirley's Jello. It was indeed yellow.

"What the...?" Bart's eyes widened at the sight of his green Jello. At least it was green. Now it was a bright yellow, almost golden.

The same was true for all the Jello at the table. "Talk about weird," Bo remarked, poking his dessert with his spoon. It responded by wiggling.

"That's our business," Rika said, examining her Jello closely.

"Apparently we are not the only ones who are experiencing this strange phenomenon," Katrina observed, looking around the room. All the kids were staring at their now-yellow Jellos.

"Hey, what happened?"

"Whoa, cool."

"Maybe it's some new color changing Jello?"

Bart looked around the room. Suddenly, his eyes widened in surprise when they reached the exit of the cafeteria. The others, especially Shirley, did not miss this and followed his gaze. They all saw a boy with platinum-blond hair standing there. He was probably about to leave, but he seemed to be watching everything.

"No," Bart said in a low voice, sounding shocked. "It can't be..."

"Bart?" Shirley asked. She noticed the look of surprise in his eyes.

"Hey, is that a scar?" Bo asked, seeing the boy's right cheek. "Wonder how he got that. Must have been painful."

The boy smiled and waved, then exited the cafeteria. Bart rose out of his seat.

"Bart, what's wrong?" Blake asked.

Before anyone could stop him, Bart dashed after the boy.

END OF PART TWO

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #3

"What the...?" Bo asked as Bart ran out of the cafeteria.

"After him!" Shirley ordered. Her friends and the two Strangers joined her getting out of their seats and running after Bart, leaving their schoolmates to ponder how their Jello changed colors. No one tried to stop the young detective and her friends. The lunch monitors were trying to stop the students from eating the Jello.

Meanwhile, Bart was running after the boy he saw. The boy turned a corner and Bart followed suit. He found himself at the back of the school. The boy stood there and smiled, his hands in his pants pockets.

Despite the Sussex Academy uniform, Bart knew the boy was no student. He spotted the long scar on the boy's right cheek. "It is you," he said.

"But of course," the boy said with a sneer.

"How...?"

The boy wagged his finger. "Never underestimate us, Bart. Never."

"You're the one who did the Jello color change," Bart declared.

"Good guess," the boy said.

"Why?" Bart asked, reaching into his pocket.

"Oh, that's for me to know and your detective friend to find out," the boy answered. "I think she'll be catching up with you any moment now." He started to pull something out of his pocket. "In the meantime, we should try to settle our little score."

Bart found what he was looking for and started to pull it out. "We don't have to do this," he said, pulling out a pen-like object.

"But we have to. Defend yourself!" The boy took out his weapon. After a moment of inaction, Bart fired.

* * * * *

It was Shirley who first heard the strange noise in the distance. "Huh?"

"Sonic boomer fire," Rika concluded.

"Sonic boomer? You mean that pen-like thing?" Bo asked. He knew what one was. He saw one in action.

Rika nodded. "It came from there," she said, pointing

"It's definitely Bart," Katrina said. "His thoughts are distinct."

"What exactly is he thinking?" Blake asked.

"He was trying to be rational with someone a while ago," Katrina answered. "Now he is thinking survival."

They ran to where the sound came from. Once they reached the back of the school, they saw two boys rolling in the grass.

"That's them," Blake said, speeding up.

"Wait for me." Bo dashed after Blake.

"You hesistated, Bart," the boy said with a sickly grin, pinning the young paranormalist. He held the metal claw on his hand to Bart's face. "You could've killed me with one shot. All you did was sting me."

"I'm not you," Bart answered angrily, trying to catch his breath.

"But you are. You've got to be mad enough to kill me after what I've done." The boy got into Bart's face, showing the scar. "Look at it! It's your fault I have it! You ruined everything! Everything!"

Bart kicked the boy off him, then got up. "I didn't mean to."

The boy picked himself up and glared at Bart, then laughed. "Come on, Bart! Let's continue our little dance." He charged, his claw ready to strike.

Bart dodged the swing of the claw, then another. "Hold still, Bart! I just want to give you a gift! The same one you gave me!" the boy shouted, still swinging.

Bo tackled the boy from the side. "What's your problem?" Bo demanded, struggling to hold his prisoner.

The boy tried to take a swing at Bo, but Blake showed up and pinned the claw to the ground. "Better answer the man," he suggested.

"Why don't you ask Bart?" the boy said, grinning. He slipped his hand out of the claw and cold-cocked Bo in the face. Bo fell back and before Blake could subdue the boy, he received a sweep kick, sending him to the ground. While Bo clutched his head in pain, Blake and the boy got up and faced each other.

Blake made the first move and threw a punch. The boy sidestepped it and grabbed his arm. He delivered a punch to Blake's stomach. As he clutched his stomach, his opponent knocked him down with a kick to the face.

Bo and Blake groaned and tried to get their bearings back. The boy looked at them with disgust. "Pathetic," he said, almost spitting the word out. He looked at Bart. "You mean you never told them, Bart? They're your friends, right? Don't they have the right to know about that little swim you took? Don't they want to know what I did to Daddy?"

Enraged, Bart aimed his sonic boomer and fired repeatedly. The boy dodged all the shots, then pulled a laser gun out of his pocket. He returned fire, which Bart dodged.

"I'm surprised you didn't use that first," Bart said.

"I wanted to cut you first, Bart. Guess I'll just have to kill you the easy way." The boy was about to fire again when the gun flew out of his hand. "What?" he exclaimed.

The gun flew into Katrina's hand. Shirley and Rika ran to the fallen Bo and Blake. "Are you two okay?" Shirley asked.

"Besides the small headache and the pain in my body? I'm fine," Bo quipped as Rika helped him up.

"I'll live," Blake said as Shirley helped him up. Bo could not help but glare at him.

"So, the detective's here," the boy said, seeing Shirley. "The one Mr. E wants dead."

"Mr. E?" Blake said.

"You're an ENIGMA agent?" Shirley asked, surprised at his youth.

"One of ENIGMA's best," the boy boasted.

"Guess that explains the train," Bo said.

"Oh, that's just the beginning," the boy said, grinning. He looked behind him, then at the other kids. To Shirley, it seemed he was waiting for someone. "When we're through, you'll wish you kept your nose out of our business, little girl."

"You're really cocky for a guy who's clearly outnumbered," Rika pointed out.

The boy looked behind him again. "Where is he?" he fumed.

Bo managed to look at the boy. "What's wrong? Your ride not here yet?"

The boy growled at Bo. Rika started walking up to him, ready for a fight. "Be careful! He's stronger than he looks!" Blake warned.

"Tell me about it," Bo said, wincing from the pain and hoping nothing was broken.

"I can handle him," Rika said.

The boy faced Rika, then saw a gray car drive up at a quick speed. "Another time, I'm afraid," he said, reaching into his pocket. "My ride's here."

"Get back!" Shirley shouted as the boy pulled out something small.

"I'll kill you and your detective friend later, Bart!" the boy shouted, throwing the object to the ground. It exploded and released a large cloud of dark gas. Everyone coughed and gagged. Shirley heard a car door open and slam shut, then the sount of a car engine at full speed. The smoke cleared long enough for the young detective to see the car take off.

"Is everyone all right?" Shirley asked as the gas dissapated.

"We are all right," Katrina answered.

"We're still here, so we're okay," Bo answered, waving away some smoke.

Blake saw Bart watching the car make its high speed getaway. "Bart?" he asked.

"That was him?" Rika asked her fellow Stranger.

Bart kept his intense stare at the car. "That was him."

Rika pulled out her comlink. "I'm telling Arthur." She dialed the right number.

Bo saw the claw the boy left behind. "At least we have a clue," he said, reaching down for it. He failed to notice the flashing light on it.

Katrina noticed. "Get away from that!" she shouted. With a wave of her hand, Bo was flung a safe distance away in time, for the claw exploded. Seeing the same thing on the gun, she tossed it skyward. The weapon exploded in the air harmlessly.

"Bo!" Shirley ran up to her friend, who picked himself up from where Katrina flung him. "Are you all right?" she asked with concern.

Bo brushed himself off. "Well, my mom's going to wonder why my jeans are so dirty," he replied. "You could've just thrown the rigged weapon instead of me," he said to Katrina.

"I'm sorry, but saving you came first to my mind," Katrina said.

Shirley watched the smoke clear in the sky and on the ground. "Apparently ENIGMA doesn't want any of their little toys to fall into enemy hands."

"That's a definite," Rika said in agreement.

"Bart, who was that guy?" Blake asked, facing the young paranormalist. "He seemed to know you."

Bart said nothing to his friend. "Well?" he asked Rika, who was finished talking on her comlink.

"Arthur's informed everyone who's not off on a case," Rika replied. "Problem is, almost everyone's off on a case. We got two of the Think Tank still in Redington, but not much."

"Is Susan on a case?" Bart asked.

"Yes," Rika answered. "She's went with Lucy to investigate a ghost sighting in Texas."

"When did they leave?" Bart asked.

"An hour ago," Katrina answered, checking her watch.

"That's good. At least she'll be safe," Bart said. "Better to face a ghost than him."

Shirley and Bo walked up to Bart. "What's going on, Bart?" Bo asked. "Who was that guy?"

Recalling something, Bart gave Shirley a serious look. "I have information on ENIGMA that you'll like," he said. "It's very important."

"Information on ENIGMA?" Blake asked. "My dad would be interested."

"Um, can it wait?" Bo said urgently. He saw people heading their way. He recognized the forms of Ms. Stratmann and two other teachers. "I really don't want to explain what just happened here."

"You won't," Katrina said. The silver-haired psychic closed her eyes, then opened them after a minute. "Problem solved."

"What do you mean by that?" Shirley asked.

"You'll find out," Rika said, grinning.

Ms. Stratmann arrived on the scene. Standing in front of the kids, she spotted the burnt spot where the claw was once. "What in the world?" she exclaimed. "I guess that's where the explosions happened." She scanned the area. "And no one in plain sight. How typical. They always leave the scene of the crime."

Bo blinked. "'No one in plain sight'? What is she talking about? She's standing right next to us."

"Maybe it was some juvenile delinquents with firecrackers?" one teacher asked. Shirley noticed he was unaware of their presence.

"Could be," the other said.

The kids watched as Ms. Stratmann huffed and paced. "First all the gelatin turns yellow, then this. Oh, what I wouldn't give for a normal day."

"We should leave," Katrina recommended.

"We should," Shirley agreed.

"Good idea," Bo said, a little creeped out. "Let's go."

As they left Ms. Stratmann and the two teachers to ponder what happened, Blake looked at Katrina. "What did you do?" he asked.

"I clouded their minds so they couldn't see and hear us," Katrina answered without looking into Blake's face.

"You what?" Bo exclaimed.

"She placed a thought in their heads to make them believe no one was here," Rika explained.

"It isn't the only time she did this," Shirley pointed out.

"Huh?" Blake said, confused.

"Ms. Stratmann is a stickler for order, and I doubt she approves of your real hair color," Shirley said to Katrina. "I've observed how normal she acts around you while everyone stares. Therefore, you planted a suggestion in her mind your hair color is normal."

"To be accurate, black," Katrina responded.

"Why not make the entire school think that your hair is black?" Blake asked. "It might avoid all that staring."

"I got used to it," Katrina replied. "Besides, Ms. Stratmann's the main problem."

"Ever heard of hair dye?" Bo asked. Katrina responded with a cold stare. "Um, guess that's not an option," he said, a little unnerved by the girl's icy-blue eyes.

"Let's go," Rika recommended. "Katrina can't keep both illusions up for long."

"I can," Katrina assured her.

"Still, we can't stay invisible to everyone for long," Rika reminded her fellow Stranger.

"True," Katrina acknowledged.

Shirley, her friends, and the Strangers left the scene of the fight. Once out of the area, Katrina deactivated the mental illusion and all of them returned to the cafeteria as if nothing happened. They found their schoolmates still studying the changed Jello. Shirley grabbed a Ziploc bag out of her backpack and dumped hers inside.

"Take-out?" Bo joked.

"Sample for analysis," Shirley answered.

"Let's hope no one got poisoned," Blake said.

Bart looked around. "You and me both, Blake," he said with a seriousness unlike him. "You and me both."

* * * * *

In the getaway vehicle, the boy glared at the driver. "You're late," he said angrily as he put away the self-destruct device.

The ENIGMA agent behind the wheel gulped. "I'm sorry, Number Nine-Nine, but traffic was difficult to navigate through."

"Excuses, excuses," the boy grumbled.

Both heard a beep. The ENIGMA agent touched a button on the panel. "Sir, it's a transmission from Number Nine."

"Patch it in to my monitor," Number Nine-Nine ordered.

The ENIGMA agent obeyed, and the metal-masked face of Number Nine appeared on the monitor before Number Nine-Nine. "ENIGMA forever!" he saluted.

"Did you accomplish your task?" Number Nine asked.

"Oui, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine answered. "The Jello changed color, just as you predicted."

"A little hint for our resident detective. Were you spotted?"

"An old acquaintance recognized me. The detective saw me as well."

"Hmmmmm...you do know the Red Zone Directive, correct?"

"Oui, but I was outnumbered, Uncle. I had Bart all to myself, then his friends had to show up and ruin everything."

"Don't lose your focus, Number Nine-Nine. The detective is a greater threat to ENIGMA than some budding ghost chaser. Rendezvous with me so we can carry out the next part of our plan."

"Oui, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine answered.

"As for the James boy, deal with him after we complete our objectives. Consider it a perk." The screen went off.

"Nnnnnnnngh!" Number Nine-Nine doubled up in pain suddenly. He clutched his chest and increased his breathing. Sweat squeezed out of his pores.

"Sir, are you all right?" the ENIGMA agent asked.

"I'm fine!" Number Nine-Nine reached into his pocket and pulled out a medicine vial. Snapping off the cap, he shook a number of blue pills out. Not caring if he was over the recommended dosage, he tossed them into his mouth and chewed them like they were candy.

"Sir?" the ENIGMA agent asked.

Number Nine-Nine took deep breaths, relieved the pain had subsided. "I am fine," he answered as he gasped for air and wiped his brow. "Take me to my uncle at once."

"Yes, sir," the ENIGMA agent said.

Regaining his composure, Number Nine-Nine stroked the scar, his eyes widening with each touch. "Oh, it won't be long, Bart. We'll get rid of your detective friend and I'll make you pay for ruining my beautiful face. Oh yes, you'll pay dearly." He giggled madly as he continued to stroke his scar.

Unnerved by his superior, the ENIGMA agent tried his best to focus on the road.

* * * * *

"It's called the Red Zone Directive," Bart said to his friends in his dorm room after school. Shirley and the others went there to get the information Bart had. The junior detective listened as the budding paranormalist continued. "ENIGMA sees you as a big threat to their operations, Shirley, so they authorized their top agents to handle assignments in Redington and the surrounding area. That's the Red Zone. They know you love mysteries, so if you show up to interfere, they'll kill you."

"In other words, ENIGMA's painted a big bullseye on Shirley," Bo said.

"They're going to send their best, huh?" Blake said. "Any info about them, Bart?"

"They're powerful and are known as the Elite Eight. They make up ENIGMA's High Command and answer only to Mr. E and Number One," Bart replied. "They're the only ones who know who Mr. E is."

"Well, that's wonderful," Bo remarked.

"That's not the worst part," Bart said solemnly.

"There's more?" Bo said.

"ENIGMA has files on everyone, Shirley," Bart informed the budding sleuth. "You, Bo, Blake, Stink, Alicia, Molly, your family...they have files. Very extensive files. They know everything about us."

"Not a good sign," Blake said.

"You got that right," Bo agreed.

"Who was your source?" Shirley asked. Bart bowed his head and said nothing, which told Shirley all she needed. "It was that boy, wasn't it?"

Bart broke his silence and faced Shirley. "He was bragging to me how the Elite Eight would kill you. How they'd present your head as a trophy to Mr. E at Shadow Axis."

"Shadow Axis?" Blake wondered.

"The code name for ENIGMA's main base," Bart explained.

"That's nice. Now if only we knew where ENIGMA's main base was," Bo said snidely.

"And who Mr. E is," Blake added seriously. "I have a score to settle with him."

Shirley looked at her friend with concern. She could not blame Blake for being angry with the criminal mastermind. ENIGMA did try to kill his father. She returned her attention to Bart. "Who was that boy?" she asked again. Getting no answer, she turned to Rika, who had accompanied them. Katrina had gone home, citing that something needed her attention. "Do you know who he is?" she asked the Stranger.

Rika nodded, then looked at Bart. "Bart, Shirley is your friend. You have to tell her and the others what happened."

Bart hesistated. "Bart, what happened on that case?" Blake asked kindly.

Bart looked at Shirley, then at Blake, and lastly at Bo. He sighed. "I guess I should. Besides, you'll find out sooner or later, Shirley."

"Who was that boy?" Shirley asked.

Bart took a deep breath. "His rank is Number Nine-Nine. My group encountered him while we were helping the Bigfeet."

"Bigfeet?" Bo realized something. "You mean as in Bigfoot?"

"That's correct," Rika said. "Bart and his group helped them escape some hunters looking to exhibit them for their own profit." She smiled at Bart. "He was the hero of that case."

"Bart? A hero?" Bo was astonished. "Our Bart?"

"I did what I had to do," Bart said.

"What happened?" Bo asked.

Bart took another deep breath before starting his tale. "My first case as a member of the Strangers' Club was to assist in helping a family of Bigfeet migrate to the northern mountains. Unfortunately, one of the kids was spotted by a camper, and soon a lot of hunters showed up. One of them was Number Nine-Nine, who was hired to bring at least one Bigfoot to some rich guy in France."

"You succeeded, right?" Blake asked.

"Yeah, but not before things got complicated," Bart answered.

"How?" Shirley asked.

"Well, we were able to get the family out of there and thwart the hunters. We managed to get rid of most of them."

"Most of them?" Bo asked.

Shirley understood. "Number Nine-Nine remained."

Bart nodded. "ENIGMA had a base underneath the nearby lake," he revealed. "Number Nine-Nine wasn't happy he didn't catch a Bigfoot, so he sent out agents to catch one. From what I've seen, he doesn't like to fail."

"How do you know all this?" Blake asked.

"Because I snuck into the base by myself," Bart said.

"And why would you do a stupid thing like that?" Bo asked, amazed Bart would take such a risk.

After a pause, Bart spoke. "Because he took Susan."

END OF PART THREE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #4

"What?" Bo responded.

Bart continued. "He took Susan while we were talking outside the motel we were staying at."

"What were you talking about?" Shirley inquired.

Bart bowed his head. The young detective noticed a creeping blush on her friend's face. "Um, anyway, we were talking, then I was hit on the head from behind. The last thing I saw before I lost consciousness was Number Nine-Nine and some ENIGMA agents taking Susan away." He closed his eyes. "I can remember his exact words as he took Susan away. 'Can you save her, Bart? Can you?'"

"So you just went after them by yourself?" Blake asked.

"As soon as I was up," Bart answered. "Hiroshi was the one who found me."

"How did you find the base?" Shirley asked. "I don't think this Number Nine-Nine told you directly."

"Yeah, Bart. ENIGMA agents aren't exactly direct," Bo commented.

"He told me," Bart said. "He used a riddle."

"Do you remember it?" Shirley asked.

"I can't forget it," Bart said, then recited the riddle. "'It can give life and take it away. It can change shape and form. It can be comfortable or not. What is it?'" "Water," Shirley answered without a second thought. "It's necessary for people to live, but it can be poisoned or people can drown in it. It can be a liquid, a gas, and a solid. It can be comfortable if hot and uncomfortable if cold."

Bo scoffed. "That was an easy one."

"I believe that was the point," Rika remarked.

"What happened next?" Blake asked.

"Well, I went alone after making Hiroshi promise not to tell anyone," Bart recalled.

"And why would you do a stupid thing like that?" Bo asked. "I think if you're going to storm an ENIGMA hideout, you'll need a few Strangers to back you up."

"On further reflection, that would've been a good idea," Bart sighed. "However, I wanted to prove to the others I could handle myself, especially after everyone else kept saving my life. I wanted to prove what I did wasn't just a fluke. Besides..." He bowed his head and spoke in a barely audible voice. "It was my fault. I should've been ready for them."

"They took you by surprise, Bart," Rika said, placing her hand on his shoulder. "You couldn't have known."

"We can't know the future until it happens," Shirley said to her friend.

"At least not you," Bo said. "I can't say the same for the other Strangers, though."

Bart cracked a smile. "Well, none of us can see into the future. Not even Katrina."

"I presume you were captured," Shirley stated matter-of-factly.

"Yeah," Bart admitted. "I found the entrance to the lake base. They were waiting for me."

"What did they do to you?" Blake asked.

Bart took a deep breath. "Besides the constant bragging I endured from Number Nine-Nine while I was tied in a chair, I had to watch him torture Daddy with a cattle prod."

"'Daddy'?" Shirley asked, blinking.

"The Bigfoot father," Bart explained. "ENIGMA caught him straggling. They locked him in a cage for transport to their employer." He sighed. "He just kept shocking him. Zap, zap, zap." With each "zap," Bart pretended to thrust something. "He kept taunting him. Laughing at him."

"A sadist," Shirley observed.

"Definitely loves his work," Bo commented.

"What happened to Susan?" Blake asked.

"They had her blindfolded and tied up in a dark room," Bart answered. "They didn't do anything to her. They just left her there. I found her after the other Strangers stormed the place."

Rika rolled her eyes. "Hiroshi was never good at keeping his mouth shut. In this case, it was a good thing."

"So you and the Strangers kicked ENIGMA butt, huh?" Bo asked excitedly.

"Yeah," Bart said. "We freed Daddy and we tried to get out, but Number Nine-Nine tried to stop us."

"By himself?" Blake asked, a little surprised.

"From what I've seen earlier, Number Nine-Nine's tougher than he looks," Shirley recalled.

"Tell me about it. I'm still feeling the pain he dished out," Bo said, feeling the places where he was hit. "How'd you get away, Bart?"

"I didn't," Bart answered gravely.

Bo's ears perked up. "Come again?"

"I became a decoy," Bart explained. "Since Number Nine-Nine hated me so much, I drew him away from the others while they escaped. I lured him to a faraway place, but I was trapped. Then he fired a missile..."

"A missile?" Bo asked.

"Take my word for it. It was a missile," Bart said. "Unfortunately for him, the wall behind me kept the water out. Also, one of the Strangers went back for me and got me out of the way in time..."

"And the explosion broke the barrier between the base and the lake, causing a flood," Shirley concluded. "You were caught in it."

Bart forced the words out of his mouth. "It happened too fast. We tried to get away, but we were overwhelmed." Shirley noticed that Bart was shaking a little. "I felt my lungs fill up with water and I blacked out."

"But someone rescued you and your fellow Stranger," Shirley said.

"The Bigfoot and Damian rescued them in time," Rika stated.

"Damian? As in Lucy Knight's cousin? The creepy guy in black?" Bo asked. He pictured a tall boy with pale skin wearing a black coat and gloves.

"The one and the same," Rika said with a smile. "Good thing Susan knew CPR, right, Bart?"

Everyone watched as blood flooded Bart's face. "Uh, right," he said nervously.

"Well, that was a great way to come back to life," Blake said with a grin.

Shirley looked at Rika, but it was Bo who gave voice to what she had on her mind. "He could have been killed."

"But he wasn't," Rika said reassuringly. "We Strangers stick together and we've never lost a member."

"It better stay that way," Bo said, giving Rika a look.

"I'm fine, guys," Bart said.

"Until you saw Number Nine-Nine," Shirley pointed out. "You thought he drowned in the flood."

Bart nodded. "Some of the other Strangers thought he survived. I sure didn't. At least until he showed up in the cafeteria."

"Why has he exhibited such feelings of animosity towards you?" Shirley asked.

"Did you see the scar on his face?" Bart replied.

"Yeah," Bo said. "It was a nasty one."

"I gave him that scar," Bart revealed.

"You?" Blake said, surprised. During the time he lived in Redington, Blake did not see Bart as being the aggressive type.

"It was an accident," Bart said. He dug into his pocket and showed his sonic boomer "I had this. He had a bigger one. I fired just as he was about to. My shot hit his. His weapon exploded and a piece of shrapnel made that scar."

"So he wants you dead because of an accident," Bo stated. "The guy needs help from a shrink. Major help."

Rika studied Shirley's face. "You don't look surprised about the existence of a boy being an ENIGMA agent."

"Blake's father mentioned once ENIGMA employed young people in their crimes," Shirley recalled.

"Yeah, but they were usually dupes," Blake added. "In the cases my dad researched, he never found any instances of child ENIGMA agents."

"There's got to be a first time for everything," Bo quipped.

A low beeping sounded off. Shirley searched for the source and noticed it was coming from Bart and Rika. Both Bart and Rika reached into their pockets and pulled out their comlinks. Bart was the first to answer. "Bart here," he said.

"Ah, Bart." Everyone recognized the voice of Arthur Kingston. "There's something that might interest Shirley. She's with you, correct?"

"Y-yes," Bart said with some surprise. "She's right here."

"May I speak to her?" Arthur asked.

Bart held out his comlink to Shirley. "He wants to speak to you."

Shirley took the comlink and found herself looking at the bespectacled face of Arthur Kingston. "Hello, Shirley," the president of the Strangers' Club greeted, his red pipe in his hand.

"Arthur," Shirley said with a nod. "What is it?"

"You may want to go to the middle of town," Arthur replied, adjusting his glasses. "There's something there that might interest you."

* * * * *

After thanking Arthur, Shirley and her friends rushed to the middle of town. On their way, they passed backed-up cars filled with impatient drivers. Some honked their horns. Others swore. One yelled at a nearby policeman, "Hey, what's going on?"

Shirley observed the policeman was as baffled as everyone else. "Believe me, sir, I'm trying to figure that out," the teen-age sleuth heard the policeman reply.

"Man, talk about a traffic jam," Bo complained over the noise as he and the others walked on the sidewalk.

"Indeed," Shirley said.

"Reminds me of Tokyo traffic on a bad day," Rika commented as her gaze fell on the long lines of cars.

Blake followed Bart. "Hey, Bart," he said to his friend.

"Yes, Blake?" Bart asked.

"Just out of curiosity, where did you get that jacket?" Blake inquired. The new Stranger was wearing a gray-and-black sports jacket with alien faces on the front and back.

"Susan gave it to me as a welcoming gift," Bart answered.

"You two have really hit it off, huh?" Blake said.

"You could say that," Bart said, blushing again.

"Oh boy," Bo said, rolling his eyes.

Rika pointed to the front. "There's the source of the problem."

The kids hurried to the spot and saw the cause of the traffic jam. "Looks a lot bigger than it did on the comlink screen," Bo commented.

A large platform with a dome on top sat in the middle of the intersection. Cars surrounded it from all sides. The drivers honked endlessly at it without any response.

"I'm seeing a pattern," Shirley stated, noticing the vehicle's golden hue.

"I'm seeing the local law," Bo said, pointing out the number of policemen surrounding the mysterious vehicle. Two men in suits were directing the officers in examining it and keeping onlookers from getting too close.

"Dad?" Blake said, recognizing one of them.

"And Detective Tremain," Bo said, recognizing the other.

"Know him?" Bart asked Bo.

"Yep," Bo answered.

"Come on," Shirley told her friends as she advanced towards Inspector Christopher Hewitt.

A policeman spotted the junior sleuth and her friends. "Hold it right there! This scene is off-limits!" he warned.

Inspector Hewitt spotted them. He looked relieved upon seeing the great-grandniece of Sherlock Holmes. "Let them through!" he shouted.

"Sir?" The officer looked at his superior with a puzzled look.

"It's my son," Inspector Hewitt said, pointing to Blake. "He's bringing me something I asked for. Isn't that right, Blake?"

"Sure, Dad," Blake said, playing along. "You forgot your...um..." He dug into his pocket and yanked out the first thing he found. "...your lucky...handkerchief!" He held up a green handkerchief decorated with shamrocks.

"Thanks, son!" Inspector Hewitt turned to the officer. "I'll handle this. You help the others keep the passers-by away from this thing."

Once the officer joined the other policemen, Shirley and the others joined Inspector Hewitt. Detective Tremain walked up to the group. "Why is it that you always show up when there's trouble, Princess?" he asked Shirley.

"What's going on?" the teen-age sleuth asked the Interpol inspector.

"Apparently this thing came out of nowhere and landed in the middle of this intersection," Inspector Hewitt explained, pointing to the domed platform. "Witnesses said it just drove up out of nowhere."

"I can see that," Shirley said, eyeing the tank treads on the platform's sides.

"Hold on a minute," Bo said, holding up his hand. "This thing just rolled in here? Why? To tie up traffic?" Bo had to raise his voice over the shouting and honking.

"They're doing a good job so far," Bart said, observing the large number of angry drivers and curious bystanders.

"I assume you know who's behind this?" Inspector Hewitt asked Shirley and her friends.

"Who else would?" Shirley said matter-of-factly.

"Just the friendly folks down at Shadow Axis," Bo quipped.

Inspector Hewitt blinked. "Shadow what?"

"Come again?" Detective Tremain asked.

"Shadow Axis. That's the name of ENIGMA's main base," Blake explained to his father.

"Interesting." Inspector Hewitt rubbed his chin and looked thoughtful. "You guys really have to let me know where you get your information."

"No kidding," Detective Tremain grumbled, wondering how a few kids knew more about a secret organization than the police.

"We'll tell you everything, Dad," Blake said. "Right?" he asked Bart.

"Definitely," Bart answered with a nod.

Thanks, guys. I'd appreciate it," Inspector Hewitt said.

"Look!" Rika exclaimed, pointing to the dome.

All eyes watched as the dome rose from the platform, revealing a column with four circles. The top of the dome opened, followed by the column's circles. The sound of turning gears preceded cannons rolling out of the holes.

"I don't like this," Bo said, wide-eyed at the sight.

"I'd better take care of this," Bart reached into his pocket, but Rika shook her head.

For a while, silence dominated the intersection. It was broken by a loud ticking sound. Shirley was the first to hear it. "I think it's time to evacuate," she recommended to Inspector Hewitt.

The police inspector nodded. "Get out of your cars now! It's about to fire!"

"Run!" Blake shouted.

Detective Tremain started waving in the air. "Everyone get back! Now!"

Shirley and her friends did not need a second warning. They ran as far as their legs could take them. Drivers abandoned their cars and bolted off. Pedestrians ran away. Detective Tremain and the policemen tried to maintain an orderly evacuation, but it was no use. Still curious, some people chose to hide behind the cars and anything else that could pass for a barrier.

To Bo's surprise, Shirley stopped running. "Are you nuts?" he yelled to his best friend.

"We have to find out what it is," Shirley said. "This could be it."

"You mean this could be ENIGMA's puzzle?" Inspector Hewitt asked.

"It has to be," Shirley said.

"Behind there!" Rika shouted, pointing to a car located a good distance from the machine.

Shirley, her friends, and Inspector Hewitt stopped running and took cover. The machine stopped ticking. Its side cannons tilted upward.

"This is it," Bart said.

"The moment of truth," Blake said.

"Yeah," Bo said. "I hope we're still around to see it."

The machine's cannons roared to life at once, launching tiny egg-shaped projectiles into the sky. Once reaching a high-enough altitude, they exploded, releasing clouds of gold dust.

The people held out their hands and studied the fine particles raining down on them with awe. "Hmmmmmmmm," Shirley said as she examined the minute golden specks in her hand. "Nothing but gold-colored glitter."

"That's a relief," Bart said.

"Unless they poisoned it," Rika mentioned.

"Gee, thanks for the comforting thought, Rika." Bo started to brush gold dust out of his hair only to get more. "What was that all about?"

"Guys, the dome!" Blake pointed at the machine. The dome's side panels fell off and landed on the street with a loud clang.

"There seems to be some sort of markings on the dome," Shirley said, perceiving something through the golden rain. Before anyone could stop her, she ran towards the machine. Inspector Hewitt followed suit.

"Shirley!" Bo shouted with concern. He ran after her reluctantly. Blake, Bart, and Rika dashed after him without a second thought.

Brushing gold glitter off his balding head and suit, Detective Tremain marched up to the machine. "Stay back!" he shouted to the bystanders. "Let the police handle this!"

Reaching the machine first, Shirley and Inspector Hewitt studied the markings on the dome. "Stick figures?" Inspector Hewitt exclaimed.

"Upside-down stick figures," Shirley stated upon taking a closer look. The drawings in question were engaged in various activities. As Shirley and the inspector walked around the machine, they saw stick figures engaged in running, wrestling, discus-throwing, and other sports.

Bo and the others reached the machine. "Stick figures?" he said upon seeing the dome.

"That's what I said," Inspector Hewitt commented.

"Shhhhhhhh." Shirley's ears picked up a tiny noise from the machine. "Listen."

The machine came back to life, but this time in audio form. Everyone was treated to a loud "Wwwwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!"

Everyone covered their ears. "What was that all about?" Bo asked, wincing.

Before anyone could offer an answer, the machine spoke again. "Wwwwwwaaaaaaahhhh! Why did I lose? I was in the lead, and then that jerk cheated! Yeah, that's what he did! He cheated! Cheated! Cheated!"

As the message repeated itself, Shirley studied the machine closely. "This thing is an interesting clue," she muttered, trying her best to maintain her hearing.

"Weird is more like it!" Bo said, trying to speak over the message. "Whoever came up with this had a strange sense of humor!"

"Wwwwwwaaaaaaahhhh...!"

"This is worse than that banshee we faced in Ireland!" Rika shouted to Bart.

"This is worse than Hiroshi's snoring!" Bart shouted back.

"What are you looking for, Shirley?" Blake asked the young detective.

"Anything extra!" Shirley answered. "With ENIGMA, you have to examine things very closely." She gazed on the drawings and tried to figure out their significance. Around her, people watched as the gold glitter continued to snow down on them.

* * * * *

Number Nine watched the scene from a rooftop. His left eye focused on the young detective as she examined the golden dome while the gold dust continued to fall. "Ah, perfect. Just as I calculated," he said. Perched on the ENIGMA agent's shoulder, Mojo beeped its excitement. "Yes, Mojo. Now we may begin."

"Indeed, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine agreed as he put down his binoculars. He was dressed in a dark blue uniform reminiscent of the Napoleonic wars, white pants, and black high boots. He wore a white helmet with a face mask that covered his eyes. The scar was exposed. "We've got them," he said, rubbing his gloved hands together and grinning evilly. "Bart and Shirley Holmes together. We can get rid of them both."

Number Nine turned to his nephew. "Remember, the Holmes girl is our main target," he told him sternly. "Never forget that." Mojo added its own beeps of disapproval while wagging its little finger.

"Of course," Number Nine-Nine said with his head bowed.

"Is everything in place?" Number Nine asked a nearby subordinate with a remote control.

"Yes, sir," the lesser agent answered.

"Good." Number Nine looked down. "Everyone will be too busy to notice. That is, until it's too late."

"That is correct, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine agreed, studying the people below. "They're too busy wondering about their unexpected rain of glitter."

Number Nine touched the side of his mask, activating a two-way microphone. "Take care of the target now."

Standing unnoticed in a nearby alley, a cloaked figure with a cowboy hat brought out a rifle. It aimed the crowd and got Shirley in its gunsight. Its finger was about to pull the trigger.

Number Nine-Nine looked at the teen-age sleuth through his binoculars. "Bye, bye, Shirley Holmes," he said, giggling.

Mojo beeped with joy. Knowing that Shirley was oblivious to the danger she was in, Number Nine grinned behind his mask. "Adieu, ma jeune detective."

The shooter pulled the trigger.

END OF PART FOUR

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #5

Bo watched as Shirley continued to examine the golden machine. He turned around to brush off more gold glitter. His eyes went wide when he saw someone in a nearby alley. To be more precise, his eyes went wide when he saw the rifle in the figure's hands. Realizing who was going to be shot, Bo ran towards his best friend. Behind him, the rifle fired.

Before Shirley knew what hit her, Bo tackled her from her left. As they hit the ground, the bullet hit the dome with a loud ping. Inspector Hewitt stepped back and reached into his jacket. "Get down!" he shouted to the people, pulling out his gun. Everyone did as they were told.

Number Nine snarled and curled his hand into a fist. "Blast it! We missed!" he exclaimed angrily. Mojo expressed its frustration in a series of fast beeps.

Number Nine-Nine pulled out a laser gun. "I won't," he said coldly as he fired downward through the light gold mist.

Below, the machine suffered from the ENIGMA agent's shots. The only thing Number Nine-Nine killed was its repeated message. On the ground, Bo held Shirley tightly and shielded her with his body. Inspector Hewitt looked around for the source of the shooting. Bart reached for his sonic boomer.

"Damn dust," Number Nine-Nine muttered as he fired. "Where's the detective and Bart?" Spotting Bart through his binoculars, he took aim and fired. Below, Bart dodged shot after shot and Inspector Hewitt began returning fire.

With the police inspector's shots hitting the side of the building, Number Nine-Nine prepared to fire another shot only to have his gun knocked out of his hand by Number Nine. "You fool! You gave away our position!" the Elite Eight member shouted angrily as Inspector Hewitt continued firing.

The gun clattered across the floor. Number Nine-Nine ran for it. Suddenly, the gun vibrated and exploded. "What?" the young ENIGMA agent exclaimed.

"The self-destruct mechanism must've triggered by accident," Number Nine concluded. "We need to depart now!" He turned to the agent with the remote control. "Activate the self-destruct device!" he ordered.

"Yes, sir," the agent answered, pressing a red switch.

"Rendezvous with us at the designated meeting place," Number Nine told the shooter via the two-way mic as he and his two subordinates ran to the exit. Beeping wildly, Mojo hung on to the master agent's shoulder.

The shooter put away the rifle and tried to sneak away. Blake spotted the strange figure. "I'll get him!" he said as he took off.

"Blake, wait!" Inspector Hewitt cried as Bart and Rika followed his son on his pursuit. He was about to join them when he saw the machine start to glow brightly. "Get clear!" he shouted.

Bo got the hint and got up. "Come on!" he told Shirley, who nodded silently. He grabbed his friend's hand and they ran as fast as they could. Together, they made it to Inspector Hewitt, who led them to a safe spot. They ducked as the machine exploded, sending debris flying.

Once it was all clear, everyone got up. "That was close," Inspector Hewitt remarked, looking at the burnt spot in the middle of the intersection.

"Indeed," Shirley agreed.

"Oh yeah." Bo breathed a sigh of relief, then felt someone holding his hand. He looked down and realized he was still holding Shirley's hand. Shirley noticed too. Bo released his hold and turned away from her to hide the red spreading on his face.

Shirley raised an eyebrow at her friend. "Are you all right?"

"Yes!" Bo blurted, his face still red. At that moment, he was glad the others were not there.

Meanwhile, Blake and the others pursued the shooter down the alley. They heard the explosion, but kept to the chase, hoping their friends were all right. "Hold it!" Bart shouted, firing his sonic boomer at the fleeing figure. The shots got as close as his feet.

They chased the shooter into a dead end. "We got him," Rika said.

The shooter looked left and right, then took out the rifle. Everyone got ready to dodge the impending bullet. Before a shot could be fired, the figure started vibrating rapidly. The grip on the rifle weakened, and Bart shot it out of the shooter's hands. Blake and the others watched as the vibrating increased. Sparks flew out of the shooter.

"He's a robot?" Blake said, surprised. He got his answer when the shooter fell apart. Its head and limbs broke off and the cowboy hat floated to the ground.

They got closer for a better look at the mysterious assassin. Rika yanked the cape off. It was an android with light-blue plating. Bart studied the remains. "Something caused it to shut down," he concluded.

"ENIGMA really doesn't want anyone to learn about their technology," Blake observed. "The circuitry got fried, but it can still be examined."

"I believe we still have a chance," Rika said, holding up the head. "What do you think, Bart?"

Bart took a closer look. "Same as the body, but it'll be easy to transport. I doubt the police will mind its disappearance. Ivan's still here, right?"

"Hai," Rika answered as she put the robot head into her backpack.

"I'll call him and let him know we've got something for him," Bart said as he took out his comlink. "Besides, I want him to build me something."

Rika eyed the robot's firearm. "How unusual," she commented. The rifle consisted of a long tube and an oddly-shaped butt. "I believe Ivan will want to look at this," she told Bart.

"Better scan it," Bart said as he got who he wanted.

Rika took out her comlink and activated it. She pointed it at the rifle and pressed a button. The comlink scanned the rifle's image, and Rika sent it to someone. "Let's go," she said, putting away her comlink and taking up her backpack.

"Looks familiar," Blake said, looking at the rifle. He saw how the head weighed Rika down. "Do you need any help?" he asked.

"Don't worry," Rika said. "I can handle it."

Bart talked on his comlink as he and the others left the alley. No one saw the figure watching them from a nearby rooftop. Seeing that they were leaving, the figure walked away.

Blake and the others made their way to where Shirley and Bo were. They saw the remains of the golden machine. "That explains the explosion," Rika said.

Blake ran up to his father and friends. "Everyone okay?" he asked with concern.

Inspector Hewitt smiled. "It'll take more than a bomb to finish me off, son."

"We're fine," Shirley said.

"Yes we are!" Bo said, still facing away from Shirley.

"That's good," Blake said, staring at Bo. *What's up with him?*

Detective Tremain ran up to them. "Okay, now what'll we do? We'll never know what ENIGMA's up to."

"There's a robot back there," Blake said, pointing in the direction they chased the shooter. "At least you can study their technology."

"Thanks, son," Inspector Hewitt turned to Detective Tremain. "Someone fired from over there," he told him, pointing to the place where Number Nine was. "We need to check it out."

"Right, but what about...?" Detective Tremain turned to Shirley and her friends, but found they were gone. "Why should I be surprised?" he muttered to himself.

Shirley and the others left the scene of the crime without anyone noticing. "What now?" Bo asked.

"We go back to my lab," Shirley said.

"Correction." Bart hung up. "We're going to our lab."

"Your lab?" Blake asked.

"Don't worry," Rika reassured them. "You'll like it."

* * * * *

As the police continued its investigation, a gray car made its way out of the area. "Sir, we've lost Outlaw!" its driver reported to Number Nine.

The Elite Eight member nearly shot out of the back seat. Mojo nearly fell off his shoulder. "What? Are you sure?"

"I'm positive, sir. I'm not getting its life signal," the agent answered, noting the non-lit light on a device attached to the dashboard.

"This is unusual, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine said. "First my gun and now Outlaw. Two malfunctions?"

"My toys do not malfunction!" Number Nine said, giving his nephew a death glare. Mojo beeped into its master's ear, and that seemed to calm him down. "You're right, Mojo. We must focus on our assignment. I can solve these mysterious malfunctions later." He faced forward. "Back to the hideout," he ordered the driver. "We must get everything ready for the next part of my plan."

"Yes, sir!" the agent answered, taking the correct way.

As the car picked up speed, Number Nine-Nine chuckled malevolently. "Soon, Bart, you and your detective friend will be part of the heavenly choir. Oh yes, you will. I hope you're a good singer." He touched his scar and grinned wickedly.

Mojo shook its head. Number Nine leaned back in his seat and started planning his next move.

* * * * *

Shirley and her friends found themselves in a suburb of Redington. "Where are we going?" she asked Rika and Bart.

"The Think Tank," Rika answered.

"The what?" Bo asked, confused.

They arrived at a large yellow house with a white picket fence. "Here we are," Rika said.

"Okay," Bo remarked as he looked over the lawn. The grass was well-trimmed. Rose bushes stood against the house's walls. A trio of gnomes leaned against the porch railing. They reminded him of the ones owned by Irene Babych, a woman he did odd jobs for. She was the focus of one of his and Shirley's most interesting cases.

They followed Rika to the porch and watched as she rang the doorbell. "Yes?" a Russian-accented voice asked from a speaker.

"It's me, Ivan," Rika answered, pushing the "speak" button.

"Please state the password," the voice requested.

"Ivan, it's us," Bart said. "You can see us on your video screen." He looked up at the camera posted above the doorway.

"How do I know you're the real Bart and Rika?" the voice asked. "Especially with those strange people with you? How do I know you're not aliens masquerading as humans or government spies?"

"Hmmmmmm..." Shirley raised an eyebrow. "He's exhibiting signs of paranoia."

"Is this guy for real?" Blake whispered.

"Yep," Bart answered.

"And I thought you were bad," Bo remarked to the budding paranormalist.

"Get off that!" a girl with an English accent exclaimed over the speaker. After sounds of a brief struggle, she spoke again. "Sorry about that, guys. Ivan's been watching his X-Files reruns again."

"Was a Lone Gunmen episode among them?" Rika asked.

"Yes," the girl confirmed.

"Figures," Rika said with her eyes rolled.

"We need to be cautious!" the boy cried from the background.

"No prob, Gwen," Bart said. "We've brought Shirley and the others over so they can see what you guys do."

"The descendent of Sherlock Holmes is always welcome here," the girl said. "I'm opening the door now."

The speaker went off, and a loud click came from the door. Everyone watched as the door opened by itself.

Bo blinked. "A ghost?" he said half-jokingly.

"Remote control." Shirley pointed out a device attached to the door.

Rika and Bart went in, followed by Shirley and the others. The interior of the house seemed normal, with white walls and red carpeting. Shirley examined the contents on the wall closely.

"Hello?" Shirley called out.

"Hi," a red-haired girl greeted from behind. All eyes were on her.

"Shirley, this is Gwendolyn Sharp," Bart introduced.

"My friends call me Gwen," the girl said.

"You're a Stranger too, right?" Bo asked.

"Correct," Gwen answered.

"Gwen is a member of our Think Tank," Rika stated.

"Think Tank?" Blake asked.

"It's a name everyone's given to the brains of the club," Gwen explained. "We're the ones who do the research and come up with the gadgets we use."

"So you're the Q's of the Strangers' Club," Bo commented.

"You could say that," Gwen said with a smile. "Each of us has a specialty. For example, I specialize in..."

"Anything that has to do with medieval times," Shirley finished.

Gwen blinked. "How did...?"

"Your T-shirt," Shirley said, pointing to Gwen's clothing. "Its design contains a unicorn and a dragon. The necklace you are wearing has a silver unicorn dangling from it. From these observations, I deduced you are a medieval enthusiast."

Gwen nodded. "Correct, Shirley."

"Why the Middle Ages?" Blake asked.

"You might say I'm quite knowledgeable on the subject," Gwen remarked. "You have something for us?"

Rika pointed to her backpack. "Did you get the scan?"

"We did," Gwen answered.

Shirley reached into her backpack and took out the bag of yellow Jello. More accurately, it was yellow liquid. Amazingly, the bag was not damaged during the incident at the intersection. That did not escape anyone's notice.

"Shirley, you know how to pick plastic bags," Bo remarked.

"It's all in how you pack your backpack," Shirley admitted.

"I need to examine this under a microscope and conduct a chemical analysis," Shirley told Gwen.

"No problem," Gwen said. "Just follow me to the basement and we'll get started."

Gwen led the group to a door located near the back of the house. She opened it to reveal a series of steps leading down. "So if your specialty is the Middle Ages, then what's Ivan's? Paranoid delusions?" Bo joked as they walked down the steps.

"Ivan designs and builds most of our equipment," Bart said seriously. "He came up with the sonic boomers and the comlinks."

They made it to the bottom of the basement. They found shelves filled with broken appliances, miscellaneous inventions, and various mechanical parts. "Great, we're in the Lone Gunmen's warehouse hideout," Bo quipped as he studied his surroundings.

"I think the Gunmen had poorer lighting," Blake remarked, pointing to the fluorescent lights on the ceiling.

"Interesting," Shirley said as she studied an old vacuum cleaner, now taken apart.

A portly boy darted out in front of them. He wore a white labcoat, but that was not his dominating feature. The large-lensed goggles on his face made him look bug-like. He looked over the group, then circled them.

"Here we go again," Rika said with a slight groan.

"Good, good," the boy muttered as he studied everyone through his goggles. After a minute of examination, he took them off, revealing a blond flattop. "Excellent, you're all human," he concluded as he donned a pair of glasses.

Bo got a closer look. "Hey, you were at the meeting we attended. You told me it was starting."

"That is correct," the boy said with a nod. "I am Ivan Pushkin."

"What were you doing a while ago?" Blake asked, eyeing the goggles.

"I was making sure you're all human," Ivan answered.

"X-ray goggles," Shirley conjectured.

"Correct," Ivan confirmed. He saw Bo's eyes narrow and his hand form into a fist. "Relax. They act like an X-ray machine. They only see bones."

"They'd better," Bo muttered. His eyes wandered to Shirley, and he thought what he would have done to Ivan if the goggles did not just pick up bones. Then another thought filled his head, one that made him turn to a shelf in order to hide the creeping red shade on his face.

"I apologize for my previous behavior," Ivan began. "I tend to get into the spirit of The X-Files after watching a few episodes." He gestured to the others to follow him. "But you can't be too cautious these days."

"You do have a point," Shirley said as they walked. "Your father is into repairing."

Ivan nodded. "Yes, he is. He has his own repair shop. But how...?"

"His 'Best Repairman' award is hanging in the hallway," Shirley answered.

Ivan led them to a large table equipped with a chemistry set and a number of microscopes. A computer and printer stood on a nearby desk. Two large, full bookcases and a TV cabinet with a TV/VCR and a large collection of videotapes completed the scene. "Here's our workstation," Ivan said in a friendly manner.

Shirley studied the bookcases and the TV cabinet. "All scientifically related materials focusing on the supernatural and paranormal." She examined closely. "And some conspiracy stuff and X-Files episodes."

"I'm amazed you could fit everything in here," Bo remarked.

"You're not the only one," Gwen whispered.

Rika placed her backpack on the table and took out the robot head. "I'll get started," Ivan said upon seeing it. He donned a pair of white rubber gloves and a headset rigged with a magnifying lens.

"Shouldn't we be worrying about a bomb?" Bo asked, pointing to the head. "Last time I checked, ENIGMA doesn't give away their stuff for free."

"All self-destruct mechanisms were deactivated," Rika reported as Ivan opened the head.

"But it exploded when we caught up with it," Blake recalled. "Right, Bart?"

"It started vibrating suddenly," Bart corrected. "Then it fell down, deactivated. Probably a malfunction."

"Good thing it malfunctioned," Ivan said, examining the head's interior with a flashlight and tweezers. "Otherwise we wouldn't be able to study such advanced technology." He leaned forward more. "Fascinating."

Using a liquid dropper, Shirley took a sample of the Jello and placed it on a slide. She went to a nearby microscope and began her examination. "Interesting model," she remarked, noting the futuristic look of the scientific tool. "Very advanced."

"Courtesy of the Knight Foundation. It's a prototype that's able to spot even the tiniest bacteria and viruses. We just perfected it first." Gwen took the bag and emptied some into a beaker. "I'll run a chemical analysis, but it'll take a while," she told Shirley.

Shirley nodded and continued looking at the sample through the microscope, adjusting the lens with a button on its side. "Hmmmmmmmmmm..."

"Ivan, did you look at that scan I sent you?" Rika asked.

"I did," Ivan replied, still examining the robot head. "I saved it on my harddrive."

"I'll show you," Gwen said, making her way toward the computer. "Bart, take over the analysis."

"Check," Bart said, taking Gwen's place at the table.

Shirley got up from the microscope. "Nothing unusual," she declared as she followed Bo and Rika to the computer.

Gwen sat down. "Here we go." With a few mouse clicks, she brought up the scanned picture of the robot's rifle.

"Weird looking gun," Bo said upon seeing the weapon.

Blake looked closer. "Wait. Now I remember what it is. It's..."

"An air gun," Shirley completed. "It matches the description from Conan Doyle's story..."

"...'The Return of Sherlock Holmes'," Blake finished. "No wonder no one could hear the shot."

"Perfect weapon to use in a crowd," Bo said.

"Oh, we have more information for you, Shirley." Gwen clicked on another window. "We started doing some Web research after we got Rika's call."

"On what?" Shirley asked.

"On robot sightings and the like," Gwen answered after bringing up what she was looking for. "Ivan and I found articles relating to mysterious crimes involving alleged mechanical devices. In some of the stories, people claimed they saw a robot of some type. Interestingly, most of them dealt with murders."

"Murders? Not a good sign," Bo said.

Gwen relinquished her seat to Shirley, who began to read the articles. The young detective assumed her thinking pose. She cupped her chin in her hand and started walking back and forth. "So we're dealing with an ENIGMA assassin specializing in robotics."

"An assassin who wants you dead, Shirley," Bart said gravely. He was holding the beaker full of the Jello. "Luckily, he wasn't trying to poison anyone."

"I know," Shirley said. "I didn't find anything unusual in the Jello. No viruses, no bacteria."

"Just a chemical that's basically a harmless food coloring," Bart added.

Removing his headset, Ivan joined the others. "There's no danger of the head being tracked down. In addition to the self-destruct mechanism being fried, the tracking device bit the dust, too."

"Any idea that caused it?" Shirley asked, her face still facing the computer.

"Possibly another device in the robot." Ivan shrugged. "I have no idea."

"You're probably right, Ivan," Rika chimed in. "However, I believe we need to find out what ENIGMA's after."

Ivan nodded. "Wait..." He snapped his fingers and started digging through his labcoat's pockets. "Bart, I have something for you."

Bart approached the flattopped Stranger. "You got it done that quickly?"

Ivan pulled a rod out of his pocket. "It was simple to piece together. It matches what you requested," he said as he handed it to Bart.

Bart felt the weight of the object. He noted how light it was. "So how...?" he asked as he noted the tiny ball at one end of the rod.

"Press the green button," Ivan informed him. "Make sure to keep the balled side out."

Bart pointed the end with the small ball away from him, then he pressed the green button. His friends watched as the rod extended to the size of a fencing foil.

"What is that?" Blake asked curiously.

"Bart's new weapon," Ivan answered. "It's made out of a special plastic developed by the Knight Foundation. It's heatproof and shatterproof. I call it a battle baton."

Bo blinked. "Battle baton?"

Bart swung his new tool around. "I have to be prepared for anything," he explained.

"Like Number Nine-Nine," Blake suggested.

Bart made a large swing that nearly made him lose his balance. Only Rika's quick hand on his arm prevented him from falling. "I think you need lessons," she told him.

Bart stood on his own feet. "I think you're right."

"Don't worry, Bart. When Collette's done training you, you'll be able to fight as well as Sir Duncan of Greenwood," Gwen reassured the new Stranger.

"Who's Sir Duncan?" Blake asked.

"He's a fr...knight I've been reading up on," Gwen replied. "The stories about him say he was a great swordsman."

"The battle baton is also equipped with the ability to administer electric shocks of any degree. Hold the green button to activate and maintain the charge," Ivan pointed out. Bart followed his instructions, and the battle baton crackled with electricity. "You can just the charge with that small dial at the other end," the inventor added.

"Why would Bart need an oversized cattle prod?" Bo asked.

"Not all enemies he'll face will be human," Ivan said gravely.

"I guess I'd better shut this thing down." Bart let go of the green button, and the electricity died down. "Red button?" he asked, looking at the handle.

"That's correct," Ivan confirmed. Bart pressed it, and the battle baton returned to its normal size. The young paranormalist pocketed his new weapon.

Shirley finished looking at the articles on the computer. "Let's look at what ENIGMA's done so far," she said as she got up. "First, they managed to steal nine gold bars from a train. Next, they placed a color-changing chemical into Sussex Academy's Jello. Then, there's the machine that fired gold glitter into the air."

"A little showy, don't you think? I thought ENIGMA agents were supposed to be all stealthy and shadowy," Bo said, moving his hands up and down to illustrate sneakiness.

"It seems this one is trying to get attention," Blake said.

"Shirley did expose them," Ivan pointed out. "I guess the element of surprise isn't a given for them anymore."

Shirley pointed upward. "What do these incidents have in common?"

"They were all committed by evil masked men?" Bo said half-jokingly.

"They all involved gold," Rika said seriously.

"Exactly," Shirley said.

"Great." Bo saw a pen on the table and picked it up. "Just what we need. A running theme." He rolled it around on his hand.

Ivan lunged forward and snatched the pen out of Bo's hand. "Don't do that!" he bellowed.

Bo was taken aback. "Hey, what was that for?"

Ivan thrust the pen into Bo's face. "This is a sonic boomer! A sonic boomer with a small crack! If you cracked it even further or dropped it on the floor, it would've exploded!" He placed it carefully where Bo picked it up. "There would be nothing left here save for a smoking crater."

"Oh. Sorry," Bo apologized.

Shirley looked at where the sonic boomer was placed. She noticed another sonic boomer next to it. A piece of paper was lying underneath it. She leaned in for a closer look.

"So what are they after?" Bart asked.

Shirley looked up. "The machine is the official clue. The first two instances were introductions, so to speak."

"So what does the machine mean?" Blake asked.

Shirley looked thoughtful. "First, we must consider its shape and surface features."

"Why don't we figure out all that whining it did about cheating?" Bo said. "It annoyed the heck out of me."

A flash of brilliance went through Shirley's head. "Bo, you're a genius."

"Huh?" Bo said, surprised.

"Whining," Shirley said, getting stares from everyone else. "It makes sense. The designs, the shape, and now the whining."

"Um, Shirley, care to let us know what you're thinking?" Bo asked.

"The top of the machine looked like an upside-down bowl," the young sleuth explained. "It was colored gold, and then there's the whining. Put it all together, and you get..."

"A noisy glitter machine?" Bo said blandly.

"A golden winebowl," Shirley answered confidently. "Ancient Greek, according to those symbols. They were all copying poses you see on ancient Grecian art."

"Hmmmm, Athena would've loved this," Gwen commented. "Ancient Greece is her specialty."

"Wait a sec." Blake snapped his fingers. "Mom mentioned something about a new addition to the museum. A golden winebowl from ancient Greece that she thinks was used at the Olympics."

"That explains the 'cheating'," Ivan said.

"And the various sports the figures were engaged in," Shirley added. "They were all played in ancient Greece."

"Blake, when is the bowl going on display?" Bart asked.

Blake checked his watch. "In about a couple of hours."

Rika looked at Ivan and Gwen, who nodded. "So what are we going to do?" Bo asked his best friend.

Shirley took out her cell phone. "Time for Inspector Hewitt to get another tip from his mysterious benefactors."

* * * * *

At the Redington Museum, a large crowd gathered around a large golden bowl encased in glass. The object promoted discussion among its onlookers. In front of it stood the curator of the museum and Dr. Lauren Hewitt. "A large crowd today, don't you think?" the curator asked the archeologist.

"Indeed," Dr. Hewitt agreed.

"We should begin then," the curator said, turning to the audience. "May I have everyone's attention please?" he asked, clapping his hands loudly. Once all the people stopped talking and gave him their full attention, he continued. "Today we have quite a find courtesy of our latest addition, Dr. Lauren Hewitt. Doctor, can you please explain your latest find?"

Dr. Hewitt spoke once the applause died down. "Thank you, sir. This," she said, motioning to the bowl, "is a winebowl from ancient Greece. As you can see, it is made mostly out of gold. It was found during a dig near Marathon..."

"...and now we will claim it."

All heads turned and saw Number Nine and Number Nine-Nine approach them. Mojo kept close to their heels. "I believe that is what we need," Number Nine said, pointing to the winebowl.

"I don't think so," the curator said. "Now!" he shouted.

Policemen and security guards appeared behind Number Nine and Number Nine-Nine. The people pulled out guns and surrounded the two ENIGMA agents. The "curator" ripped off his face to reveal Inspector Hewitt. "Surprise," he said with a smile.

"You're under arrest!" Detective Tremain shouted from behind, keeping his gun trained on Number Nine and Number Nine-Nine. "Put your hands up!"

The two ENIGMA agents surveyed their surroundings. "Uncle, I do believe they've got us," Number Nine-Nine observed with a sneer.

"Put your hands up!" Detective Tremain repeated. "It's over!"

Number Nine looked around. "How clever, Inspector. Did a little blue-eyed bird tell you we were coming?"

Inspector Hewitt only grinned. "Give up. You're outnumbered," he pointed out.

"But not outgunned." With a flick of his wrist, Number Nine made a tiny ball appear in his hand.

"Huh?" Detective Tremain wondered.

Number Nine threw the object up, and a brilliant flash filled the room. The light lasted for a few seconds. That was enough time for the two ENIGMA agents.

END OF PART FIVE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #6

So we called the police, right?" Bo asked Shirley as she quickened her pace. They had left Ivan's house immediately after the junior detective called Inspector Hewitt.

"That is correct," Shirley answered without looking back.

"Then why are we heading to the museum when everything's covered?" her reluctant sleuthing partner asked, partly annoyed.

"We're dealing with ENIGMA, remember?" Shirley said.

"True, but..."

"Bo, when was the last time the police took care of ENIGMA on their own?" Blake asked.

"Good point," Bo said, increasing his speed.

Blake started running faster, and soon he was beating Shirley and everyone else.

"Huh?" Bart wondered.

"His parents," Shirley said knowingly.

"Then let us hurry," Rika suggested, speeding up. Soon everyone was running in order to keep up with their friend.

* * * * *

"Pathetic." Number Nine looked at the small wound on his arm, then around him. The police officers and security guards who tried to stop him were now lying on the floor. Some of them were unconscious. Among them was Detective Tremain, who was knocked out with a punch to the left side of his face. Others tried to regain their equilibrium, but to no avail.

Managing to pick herself up, Dr. Hewitt groaned and knelt down next to her husband. The poor police inspector struggled with a spinning room. "Chris, snap out of it!"

"Well, this was too easy," Number Nine-Nine remarked coolly. "And the detective and Bart didn't show up."

"I admit it's a little disappointing, but I calculated she wouldn't show up," Number Nine said. "Now, shall we obtain the item we are after?" he asked, grinning as he eyed the unguarded winebowl.

"Oui," Number Nine-Nine answered, grinning evilly.

Dr. Hewitt watched as the two ENIGMA agents walked up casually to the winebowl. Inspector Hewitt tried to get up. "Hold it..." he managed to say, reaching out.

Number Nine ignored him and studied the keypad on the display case. A red light shone, indicating that the alarm was still active. "Hmmmmmmmmmm..."

"You won't be able to get in without the proper access code," Dr. Hewitt told the Elite Eight member boldly. "The alarm will go off if you try."

Number Nine-Nine looked at the helpless officers and guards. "Humph. Who'd hear it?"

Number Nine smirked. "No problem." He touched the keypad lightly, and then his fingers flew across it. The red light turned green. "Got it."

Dr. Hewitt stared at the ENIGMA agent. "How...?"

Number Nine studied his fingers. "Let's just say machines and I have an understanding."

Number Nine-Nine pulled out a walkie-talkie. "Get in here!"

Three ENIGMA agents burst into the chamber and joined their superior at the display case. They stood at attention, awaiting further orders. "You two, the bowl," Number Nine ordered. "You, the present."

Two lifted the glass covering off the bowl and placed it gently on the floor. Both men lifted the bowl off the case and carried it out. The third agent placed a long, white box wrapped with a blue ribbon at the foot of the case.

"Everything is ready," Number Nine-Nine said, smiling a little at the box.

"Excellent." Number Nine checked the time on a chain watch. "Ah, time to go," he said, turning to the Hewitts. "Adieu," he said, tipping his hat.

Dr. Hewitt watched helplessly as the ENIGMA agents departed with their stolen winebowl. Then she looked at her husband, who still struggled to regain his sense of space.

* * * * *

"Oh, no," Blake said, watching as the black van drove off from the Redington Museum. Once the street was safe to cross, he bolted across.

"Wait up!" Bo shouted as he and the others followed Blake.

Blake entered the museum first and stopped. The others followed suit. "What the...?" Bo began, but the sight of police officers and security guards on the floor stopped his tongue. Some were still suffering from imbalance and others were out cold.

Rika bent down near one of the security guards and checked his pulse on his neck. "He's still alive," she reported.

"Come on!" Blake urged, running off. "The bowl's supposed to be in here."

Everyone followed him and found Inspector Hewitt being cradled in Dr. Hewitt's arms. "Dad! Mom!" Blake cried, running toward his parents.

Dr. Hewitt looked up. "Blake, what are you...?"

Inspector Hewitt blinked as his son knelt beside him. "A little too late, son," he said with a weak smile.

"Are you okay?" Blake asked his parents.

"More or less," Inspector Hewitt told his son.

Blake helped his mother prop the inspector up. "What happened?" Shirley asked.

Bo looked at the empty display case. "ENIGMA happened."

Dr. Hewitt recalled what happened. "Chris, the police, and the guards were able to spring their ambush on the ENIGMA agents. Unfortunately, one of them threw something that caused a bright flash of light. While we were blinded, they attacked."

"They attacked?" Rika asked.

Inspector Hewitt finished the account. "They were too quick for us. Next thing we knew, we were being taken down left and right. Then came the strange light from his eye."

"Strange light?" Shirley asked.

"Yeah. It was more like a swirling and flashing light effect accompanied by some sound. Like the sound made by those UFO's in B-movies. Soon everyone who was still up started losing their balance. While we were helpless, they took the winebowl."

"A vertigo effect," Shirley conjectured after some thought.

"Vertigo effect?" Bo wondered.

"Somehow the ENIGMA agents made everyone dizzy and fall down," Bart explained.

Inspector Hewitt felt his head. "I can't believe two men did this to us."

"Who were they?" Shirley pressed.

"I didn't catch their names," Inspector Hewitt admitted. "However, one of them was dressed in gray and had this mask with a long nose. He also had a powdered wig and a mortarboard."

"The other one had to be Number Nine-Nine," Bart said.

"Well, one of them was a boy dressed in what seemed to be a variation of a Napoleonic era military uniform," Dr. Hewitt recalled. "He had a white helmet on."

"That's Number Nine-Nine," Bart confirmed.

Shirley spotted a spot on the ground. He knelt in for a closer look. "Blood," she said, recognizing the substance.

"That's right." Inspector Hewitt tried to stand on his own, but he fell into his wife's arms. "Before I succumbed to the vertigo effect, I managed to shoot him in the arm, but he didn't even flinch."

"Which one?" Rika asked.

"The guy in gray," Inspector Hewitt answered.

Shirley's ears received this interesting piece of information. She took out two cotton swabs and wiped them on the spot. Immediately, she placed them into a plastic bag. "A look under the microscope will definitely turn up something," she said as she pocketed the bag.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa," Bo said, waving his hands in disbelief. "You shot a guy, and he didn't even feel it?"

"I'm as mystified as you are, Bo," Inspector Hewitt said, managing to stand up.

"He also managed to break the security codes for the display case," Dr. Hewitt added.

"That's a given," Bo said, looking over the display case. Something below caught his eye. "Shirley! Get over here!"

Shirley went to where Bo was pointing. She found the box ENIGMA left behind. "Hmmmmm..."

The others joined them. "Another clue," Bart said.

"We must be careful, Shirley," Rika warned. "The last one nearly got you killed."

Blake knelt down and held up his hand to indicate he needed complete silence. He leaned towards the box and listened carefully. "I don't hear a bomb timer," he said after a minute.

Bart took out a device and waved it over the box. "Confirmed," he said, putting the device away.

"A bomb detector?" Bo asked.

Bart nodded. "A bonus when you're a Stranger."

Shirley picked up the box and undid the ribbon. Tossing the lid aside, she made her way past pages of old newspaper and found a doll. Her mouth fell open as she laid eyes on it.

Bo saw the expression on his friend's face. "Shirley, what's...?"

Shirley showed her friends the doll. Everyone gasped. The doll resembled Shirley in every way, from its dark brown hair to its light-blue eyes. It wore the Sussex Academy uniform. It had a small backpack slung over its shoulder.

Dr. Hewitt pulled out a cell phone and called the police station while checking the fallen policepersons and guards. Inspector Hewitt joined the kids and found himself staring at the smaller version of Shirley. "Is this some kind of sick joke?"

"I'm not laughing," Blake said, his eyes narrowing at the sight of the toy.

The doll's mouth started to move. A prerecorded message played along with its movements. "Beautiful gold, oh so rare! Take it away, and people will care. The rich have it; the poor do not. It's why wars are always fought. This time, we're after one who is a golden beacon, yet also not. Everyone, do please note. Better figure me out or prepare to choke."

As Shirley tried to process the message, the doll broke free of her grip and leaped at her with its hands outstretched. The tiny hands grabbed Shirley's throat and started to squeeze. Her eyes wide open, Shirley fell back with the doll still choking her. She gripped the doll's sides and tried to pull it off, but its grip was too tight. She gasped for air as the doll's grip gradually got tighter.

"Shirley!" Bo rushed to his friend's aid, ready to rip the murderous toy off. The backpack unzipped, and a small ball leaped out. Spider legs shot out of its side as it was about to land. As it did, a red optic sensor opened.

"A robot?" Blake remarked.

The ball robot scanned the area, then stopped at Bart. The top started to rise. Rika realized what was going to happen. Without a word of explanation, she shoved Bart to the ground before the robot fired a laser beam from a gun on its top. The beam nearly hit a painting on the wall behind them.

"Whoa!" Bo exclaimed.

"Get back, kids!" Inspector Hewitt pulled out his gun and aimed it at the robot. The robot responded by keeping close to Shirley and her tiny assassin.

"No, you'll hit Shirley!" Blake cried to his father.

The robot spared Inspector Hewitt the hard choice by shooting his gun. He winced and dropped the melting piece of metal. The robot moved towards Bart, who pulled out his sonic boomer and fired. His shots missed due to the robot's agility. Bart ran away, with the robot in pursuit.

"It seems to be after Bart only," Rika said.

As the doll choked Shirley slowly, its head rotated and watched as the robot went after Bart. Shirley felt herself getting weaker. Her upper body strength, gagging, and vision started to fade. The sound of the robot's laser blasts at Bart were getting lower. Her hands started to slide off the doll.

"No!" Bo ran forward and grabbed the doll from behind. His face tightened as he strained to pull the killer toy off his best friend. "I'm-not-going-to-let-you-kill-her!" he snarled, pulling harder with each word. The doll's arms began to give way, and with one big pull, Bo yanked the doll off and fell to the floor.

Tossing the doll aside, Bo got up and joined Shirley at her side. The young detective gasped for air and got the feeling of her limbs back. "Are you all right?" Bo asked as Shirley sat up.

"I'm...fine," Shirley managed to say. She looked at her best friend. "That's twice...you saved me...today."

Bo smiled. "I wasn't keeping count." Behind him, the doll picked itself up. It reached into its pocket and pulled out a tiny gun. It leveled its weapon at the two friends with its tiny finger on the trigger.

The ball robot had Bart trapped against the wall. Bart tried his sonic boomer again, but the robot leaped over his shots. To Bart's relief, it retracted its laser gun and stopped moving. "Whew," he said, wiping his brow.

Bart's relief was short-lived when he saw a spike shoot out from the robot's top. It squatted, then leapt upwards. As it fell, it aimed its spike at Bart.

"Bart!" Rika cried.

"Look out!" Blake shouted to Shirley and Bo, seeing the doll ready to fire.

Suddenly, the doll and the robot vibrated. Everyone watched as they exploded. Shirley and the others saw doll parts fly across the floor. Bart saw the robot's remains fall to the ground and land with a clatter before him. "Huh?"

Along with his parents, Blake joined his two friends on the floor. "Are you okay?" he asked with concern.

Bo looked around, then saw someone standing at the end of the chamber. "Hey!" he shouted.

The figure took off. Bo got up and ran out. "Bo, wait!" Rika shouted.

The Hewitts gathered around Shirley as she caught her breath. Blake reached out for her. Shirley took his hand and stood up with his help. "Are you..?" he began, looking into her blue eyes.

"I'm okay," Shirley said, looking into Blake's eyes. Unconsciously, her fingers tightened around his hand.

"You're a lucky girl, Shirley," Dr. Hewitt remarked.

"She sure is," Blake said, keeping his gaze on Shirley. He felt his face getting hot. Shirley bowed her head to hide the red blush on her face.

Bart and Rika joined them. Meanwhile, some of the people on the floor groaned and started to move. "I think you kids had better go," Inspector Hewitt recommended.

"It'll be awkward for us to explain to all these police officers why you're here," Dr. Hewitt added.

"Good idea," Bart said. "Let's go after whoever Bo's chasing."

"I second that motion," Rika said before taking off.

Detective Tremain blinked and started to picked himself up. Shirley, Blake, and Bart ran after Rika.

* * * * *

"Oh no, you don't," Bo muttered to himself as he chased the figure down an alley. He managed to see that his quarry was a boy wearing a jacket. The boy was fast, but Bo had the better motivation, so the distance between them shrunk.

"You're not getting away!" Bo lunged forward and took down the boy. "Got you!" he cried, holding him down. To emphasize the capture, Bo bent his prisoner's arm back, causing him to wince.

END OF PART SIX

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #7

When the others found Bo, they saw him struggling with a boy with ear-length blond hair. He kept a tight grip on his arm. "Come on, start talking!" Bo shouted. "Are you one of them?"

"Let me go!" the boy shouted angrily. "I'm not who you think I am!"

"Then start talking!" Bo demanded, with the image of Shirley being choked by the doll playing in his mind.

"Bo?" Shirley asked.

"He was trying to get away," Bo said as the others go in closer for a better look. "He's a tough one, but I'll make him talk."

Bart's eyes widened at the sight of the boy. "C.D.?"

The boy looked up at the new Stranger. "Hey, Bart," he managed to say through clinched teeth. "Could you tell your friend to let me go before I...?"

"Let him go!" Bart shouted.

"Why?" Blake asked.

"He's one of us," Rika answered.

Bo looked at the two Strangers. "He's a Stranger?"

Bart and Rika nodded. Bo released his grip and stepped back. The boy grumbled and managed to stand up.

"Guys, C.D. Morgan," Bart introduced the boy. "C.D., Shirley, Bo, and Blake."

"Hello," Shirley said.

"Hi," Blake said with a friendly wave and a smile.

"Um, sorry about that," Bo apologized.

C.D. shrugged. "No biggie. Can't blame you considering what happened. Still, good thing you let go."

"Why's that?" Bo asked, curious on what a person in an armbar could do.

"Let's just say you'd be in a lot of pain," C.D. said with a small grin. He looked at Shirley. "We would've met before, but I was in Pennsylvania at the time."

"You're the Big Ten member who wasn't at the meeting we attended," Blake recalled.

"And he's American," Shirley added.

C.D. held up his palm. "Oh, wait, don't tell me. It's the accent," he said with a laugh. "I keep getting that from everyone."

"He's also the one who saved me from the flooding base," Bart revealed.

"Well, we both needed rescuing from Damian and the Bigfoot," C.D. admitted.

Bart stepped up to his fellow Stranger. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be with Lucy in Texas."

"Change of plans," C.D. answered nonchalantly.

"Really." Shirley stood before C.D. "It's understandable. After all, Katrina is enough to replace you, Susan, and Hiroshi, correct?"

"What?" Bart glared at C.D., then eyed Rika suspiciously "What's going on?"

"Speaking of Susan and Hiroshi, where are they?" Shirley asked coolly. "Rika, do you have any idea?"

Rika sighed and pulled out her comlink. Switching it on, she said, "She knows. Get over here."

Soon, two kids entered the alley. One was a Japanese boy with tall, spiky hair. The other was a bespectacled girl with brown hair which ran down to her chin. The boy raised his arms in the air and declared, "Don't shoot! We surrender!"

The girl waved nervously at Bart. "Hi," she said with a little grin, showing her braces.

"Looks like our cover's been blown," Rika sighed, putting away her comlink.

"Really? I did not know that," Hiroshi cracked.

C.D. crossed his arms over his chest and looked at Shirley. "So, how'd you figure it out?"

"Yeah, Shirley. How'd you know?" Bo asked.

Shirley explained how she figured out everything. "First, Katrina never rejoined us after the incident after the school. She also wasn't present at Ivan's house. Second, the two sonic boomers that needed fixing. They were on top of a note reading 'Must fix for Susan and Hiroshi ASAP.' The date that followed was today's, so it didn't make sense to me for them to be without any means of self-defense on their mission."

"Okay, need to remind Ivan to be more discreet next time," Hiroshi thought out loud.

"But why would they stay here when they have a case in Texas?" Blake wondered.

"Because they thought I'm still incapable of doing things on my own," Bart concluded, sounding hurt and angry as he looked at the faces of his fellow Strangers. "Did Arthur put you guys up to this?"

"It was her idea!" Hiroshi shouted, pointing repeatedly at Susan. "I didn't want to stay behind, but they made me!" He fingered Rika and C.D.

Rika rolled her eyes and let out an exasperated sigh. "Hiroshi's partly right. It was Susan's idea, but Lucy was the one who authorized them to stay behind while Katrina took their place."

"But Arthur approved," Shirley stated. "Otherwise, the Think Tank wouldn't have known about it."

"Yep, we're all one happy family," Hiroshi said, adopting a Southern accent. "Yessirree."

Bart walked to one side of the wall and stared silently at it. Shirley noticed that his head was bowed and his arms hung at his sides.

Susan looked at Bart, then at the others. "Um, can I talk to him alone?" she asked in a barely audible voice.

"What can you do?" Bo asked.

"I think she can do something," Shirley said, her eyes looking over Susan. "Let's go."

"Do we have to?" Hiroshi asked.

"Yes," Rika said firmly, looking at Susan and Bart.

"We'll be around the corner if you need us," Blake told Bart, who kept silent.

Everyone left Susan and Bart in the alley. Susan walked up to him and placed her hand on his shoulder. "Bart..."

"I can't believe you still think I'm helpless," Bart said, keeping his face to the wall. "I can't believe you guys still think I need to be watched at all times."

"I was worried about you," Susan said softly.

"So you decided to watch me secretly and bail me out," Bart said sharply.

"That's not how we had it planned." Susan was still looking at Bart's back. "We were just going to keep an eye on you for a while, then we learned Number Nine-Nine was in Redington." She took a deep breath before continuing. "Bart, he nearly killed you last time, and he would've done it again at Sussex."

Bart turned his head a little. "I can take care of myself."

"Bart, you nearly drowned in there..."

"Susan, I'm okay..."

"...because of me."

Bart stopped himself from saying another word. He turned around to face Susan. "Wha...?"

"You wouldn't have tried to sneak into the ENIGMA base if I hadn't been captured," Susan said. She blinked, and Bart swore she was about to cry. "You risked your life to keep Number Nine-Nine busy, and you nearly drowned." She sniffed and bowed her head. "Maybe I shouldn't have told you about the Strangers' Club."

Bart placed his hand on Susan's shoulder. "Don't worry about it," he said softly. "Considering what Number Nine-Nine told me, ENIGMA would've targeted me sooner or later." He formed his mouth into a little grin. "Good thing you knew CPR."

Susan blushed brightly. "You wanted me away from here because of Number Nine-Nine."

"Well..." Bart struggled momentarily with his mouth before saying the right thing. "I didn't want you hurt."

Susan looked up and flashed a brace-lined grin. "I'm a Stranger. Remember, I can take care of myself."

"I just wish that you guys would give me that chance," Bart said.

"Bart..." Susan took his hand. "We were just looking out for you."

"I know, but still..."

"You're not alone now," Susan reassured him. "You're part of a team, and we don't let anything happen to our teammates." She found herself blushing again as she showed Bart her hand. "Remember this?" she asked, moving a finger.

Bart stared at a silver ring on her delicate finger and smiled gently. "I should. I gave it to you."

Susan kept her hand up. "Bart, you gave this to me because you love me. To me, it shows I'm committed to you, and I'll be damned if I'm going to leave you alone with some masked psycho," she said softly yet firmly.

Bart continued to wear his smile as he shook his head in resignation. "What did I get myself into?" he asked half-jokingly, reaching for her hands.

"Oh, you'll find out soon," Susan replied, smiling back. She took Bart's hands and gazed into his eyes.

As they stared into each other's eyes, they heard gagging from around the corner. They recognized Hiroshi's voice. "Waiter, I'd like a barf bag, please." Next came the sound of a slap followed by a loud "Ow!" They watched as their friends entered the alley. Hiroshi was rubbing the back of his head.

"Why must you be so annoying?" Rika asked sternly, glaring at the wisenheimer Stranger.

"So sue me for being a character," Hiroshi answered.

"Don't tempt us," C.D. quipped, pointing at the wisecracking Stranger.

Bart fixed his eyes on his friends. "How long were you guys listening in?"

"I wasn't," Shirley said. "I was watching the museum."

"The ambulances came," Blake added. "We saw some people getting medical attention outside."

"They looked all right," Bo added further.

"We can't do anything else," Shirley stated.

"Time to split?" Bo asked.

Shirley nodded and led the way out of the alley and onto the sidewalk. As she and the others walked away from the museum, she reached into her pocket and took out the plastic bag with the cotton swabs. "I believe Ivan would be interested in examining this," she said, taking one out and showing it to Rika. "After all, your microscope is better than mine."

"I'm sure he'd love to," Rika commented, taking the cotton swab and wrapping it in a handkerchief before placing it into her pocket.

Bart and Susan walked together and glanced at each other occasionally. "Hey, C.D." Bart addressed his fellow Stranger.

"What?" the blond American said, still keeping his face forward.

"How come you decided to stay here? Why didn't you go with Lucy and her group?" Bart asked curiously.

"She asked me to," C.D. answered, still facing forward. Shirley, who had been listening, turned around and noted how C.D. tried to keep a straight face, but could not stop the mild blush forming there.

Bart and Susan looked at C.D., then shook their heads. Hiroshi rolled his eyes. "Somebody stop the pain now," he groaned.

"Hiroshi..." Rika began, annoyed.

"I'll be good," he squeaked.

"You've got a good grip," C.D. told Bo.

"Thanks," Bo replied.

"A little longer and I might've been forced to seriously hurt you," C.D. said in a factual manner. "Maybe even kill you."

"Yeah?" Bo looked at C.D. closely. "What can you do?"

C.D. smiled and flexed his hand. "Blake, you're from California, right?"

"Uh-huh," Blake answered.

"That's my hint," C.D. said cryptically.

As her friends talked amongst themselves, Shirley silently pondered what had happened at the museum. She replayed the killer doll's message in her head, searching for a clue to ENIGMA's next move.

* * * * *

With Mojo resting on his shoulder, Number Nine watched his computer as it played the footage taken by the doll. He scratched his chin as he watched the ball robot attack Bart. "I don't recall adding that to the doll," he said with a tone of anger.

Behind him, Number Nine-Nine gulped loudly. Number Nine turned his chair and faced his nephew. "Well, I did add something extra..." he admitted under his uncle's withering glare.

Number Nine banged his fist on his armrest, startling Mojo. "Our orders are to carry out this job and eliminate the Holmes girl, not carry out your personal vendetta!"

Number Nine-Nine stood at attention. "But Uncle, isn't that what Mr. E is doing?"

"Perhaps, but this Bart James isn't the one who's helping Interpol," Number Nine answered. "You've risen through the ranks to become my secondary, but your recent failure has prevented you from seeing Mr. E. You're probably the only secondary who hasn't met him. It is a great honor to see the face of our leader, and you've possibly blown it!"

"But Bart must pay for what he did!" Number Nine-Nine fingered the scar on his face. "He ruined my beautiful face, not to mention my standing within ENIGMA. He's the reason why I haven't had the honor of seeing Mr. E!"

"That's enough!" Number Nine rose quickly from his seat, forcing Mojo to hang on to his shoulder. The Elite Eight member statred down his subordinate. "You will follow my orders and keep your emotions in check. Otherwise, I will do the one thing you fear the most."

Number Nine-Nine's face blanched. "Uncle, you wouldn't..."

"I would." Number Nine reached into his nephew's pocket and pulled out the tiny medicine vial. "If you don't keep your priorities straight, I'll tell Number Eight to stop manufacturing these," he warned, shaking the vial before Number Nine-Nine. "You know what will happen if you stop taking these. Do you want that to happen?"

Number Nine-Nine bowed and shook his head. "No, Uncle," he answered solemnly.

"Good," the top ENIGMA agent said as he tossed the vial back. "However, the next part of the plan may require you to channel your rage at the detective's friends, including Monsieur James."

"Really, Uncle?"

"Yes. You can even employ your special toy along with the ones I'm giving you."

"Goody!" Number Nine-Nine clapped his hands together. "I can't wait to show it to Bart and his little friends," he said, giggling with evil glee.

"I'm glad you agree." Number Nine paced around his nephew. "Now, here's what we'll do tomorrow..."

* * * * *

That night, Shirley looked up from her microscope. "Fascinating," she remarked as she took the slide with Number Nine's blood. "Watson, this is simply fascinating."

Shirley's pet basset hound answered with a yawn from his place on a nearby chair. Shirley smiled, then recalled the doll and its message. After some thought, she put it all together. "Of course! The uniform!" She pulled out her cell phone and dialed Inspector Hewitt's office number.

END OF PART SEVEN

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #8

"What do you mean he didn't believe you?" Bo asked Shirley angrily the next morning on the way to Sussex Academy.

"It's not that," Blake said. "My dad did believe Shirley, but..."

"The police came up with another solution to the doll's puzzle," Shirley completed. "They think ENIGMA's going to kidnap philanthropist Ned Goldman."

"And you think they're after Mrs. Goldstein, our English teacher, because teachers can be considered beacons and she's the only one here with 'gold' in her name," Bo recalled. "I think the rich guy's more likely to be the one, Shirley."

"ENIGMA is never simple," Shirley said seriously.

The three friends arrived at Sussex Academy at their usual time. "Anything on the blood sample you got?" Blake asked the teen-age sleuth as they went to the lockers.

"Although my microscope isn't as powerful as the Think Tank's, I managed to find what looked like tiny bugs in the blood," Shirley stated as she got her books out.

"Tiny bugs?" Bo said, his eyes wide with disbelief.

"I deduce they're nanobots," Shirley hypothesized.

"Nanobots? You mean like tiny robots?" Blake wondered.

"Exactly." Shirley closed her locker. "ENIGMA clearly has the technology to develop nanobots."

"Why would a guy have these creepy bugs in his body?" Bo asked, trying to shake the idea out of his head.

"I believe they enable him to exhibit unique abilities, like the quick healing," Shirley hypothesized. "The report of the gunshot seems to confirm this."

"Makes you wonder if there's any normal agents in ENIGMA," Bo commented as they made their way to class.

"Somehow I doubt that." Rika appeared behind them.

"How long have you been listening in?" Blake asked the Stranger.

"Quite a while," Rika acknowledged.

"Did Ivan look at the blood sample?" Shirley asked her.

Rika nodded. "I presume you found the same thing?"

"I did," Shirley answered.

Just when Shirley and her friends settled in their seats, the PA system crackled to life. "Will Miss Holmes please report to my office at once?" the voice of Ms. Stratmann commanded.

"Huh?" Bo said, puzzled.

"Wonder what Ms. Stratmann wants?" Blake asked, trying to think of a reason why the headmistress needed to see Shirley.

"Only one way to find out." Shirley rose from her desk and left for Ms. Stratmann's office. As she arrived, she could not help but think that the headmistress sounded funny. Her voice was correct, but something about it nagged the sleuth.

As she entered the administration office, Shirley noticed that Ms. Fish, the headmistress' secretary, was missing. *Odd,* she thought as she approached Ms. Stratmann's door. She knocked. "I'm here, Ms. Stratmann." Her ears picked up no response. "Ms. Stratmann?"

Her curiosity at an all-time high, Shirley checked the doorknob. Finding it unlocked, Shirley burst into the office. Her eyes widened at the sight of the empty desk.

Suddenly, someone moved in from her side. The last thing Shirley saw was a gloved hand shoving a rag into her face. Her nose picked up a smell she was familiar with as a result of her detective work. *Chloroform,* she thought as she lost consciousness and fell into the arms of her captor.

* * * * *

"Man, Shirley's taking too long," Bo remarked to Blake and Rika as their teacher .

"I don't like this," Blake said.

The PA system came to life again. "Attention, students. I would like to inform you that today's classes have been canceled. The majority of the campus will be undergoing bug spraying. All students living on campus are to go back to the dorms and stay there until further notice. Please exit the school in a calm and orderly manner."

The class broke out into cheers and rose from their seats. "Well, that was strange," Rika remarked as she filed out with the other students.

"Definitely," Bo said as he watched Sussex Academy students crowd the hallways. Teachers found themselves herding the kids towards the exits.

Bart spotted his friends and joined them. "You heard?"

"Yep," Bo answered. "Too good to be true, don't you think?"

"I agree," Rika said.

"Yeah..." A thought crossed the mind Blake's jaw nearly dropped. "Oh no!"

"What's wrong?" Bart asked.

"We need to get to Ms. Stratmann's office now!" Blake fast-walked through the exiting students, then broke into a run. He managed to avoid any teachers acting as traffic controllers.

"Shirley's there," Bo explained to Bart as they followed Blake.

The others caught up to Blake. "What's wrong?" Rika asked.

"Shirley misinterpreted the doll," Blake revealed. "I think this time ENIGMA was being simple."

"You mean...?" Bo began, knowing the answer.

"They're after Shirley," Bart said, giving voice to Bo's thoughts.

They arrived at the administration office. Bart pulled out his sonic boomer. Rika reached into her backpack and pulled out two metal gauntlets with yellow Chinese dragon designs. "What are those?" Bo asked as Rika slipped them on.

"Family heirlooms," Rika answered.

Finding Ms. Stratmann's office door open, Blake led the way in. "Empty," he observed.

Bart sniffed the air. "Chloroform," he concluded.

Bo let out a frustrated growl and punched the wall. "They got her!"

"But where could they have taken her?" Rika wondered, rubbing her chin.

"They couldn't have taken her off-campus. Not enough time," Blake said. "We'd better start searching."

"We'd better split up," Bart suggested.

They all nodded and dashed off in different directions. In the hallway, Molly watched them go off in search for their friend. *What are they up to?* she wondered. Blake was closer, so she tailed him.

* * * * *

With the sounds of rapid beeping in her ears, Shirley slowly opened her eyes and rubbed her head. She still felt light-headed. She blinked and tried to recognize her surroundings. Finding herself in a large spacious room, the young detective's eyes made out a basketball hoop hanging over the side of the wall. "The school gym?" she observed.

"Ah, you're awake. Excellent."

Shirley followed the voice to behind the basketball hoop. She perceived a figure dressed in gray with a metal mask and mortarboard. Blinking, she confirmed a long pointed nose and a creature on the individual's shoulder. Regaining her balance, she got up. "Number Nine, I presume?"

The ENIGMA agent looked down at the young detective. "Ah, you picked up my little hint?"

"I did," Shirley said, staring upward at the villain. "Clever of you to steal the number of gold bars equal to your code number."

"A pity I can't compliment you on your deductive reasoning at this time," Number Nine said. "I calculated that you'd interpret the doll the way you did. Your deductions were correct, but then, so were the police's."

"You're after Ms. Goldstein and Mr. Goldman," Shirley said knowingly.

"You're half-right," Number Nine said. "We already have the English teacher, along with your headmistress and her secretary. My men are about to get Mr. Goldman." He shook his head. "I'm amazed you fell for my voice synthesizer. But then, your curiosity always gets you in trouble, doesn't it?"

"How are you going to kill me?" Shirley asked. "You can't reveal that I was always a target."

"Actually, I was planning to make it look like you died in an accidental fire here in the gym," Number Nine admitted while Mojo beeped in agreement. "Ah well, time to introduce your executioner."

Shirley watched as Number Nine took out his pointer and pointed it at the middle of the court. She felt the floor tremble. Sensing that it came from the center, she turned around just in time to see something burst out and leap into the air. It landed before her with a digitized chuckle. Shirley looked at the instrument of her destruction, a tall, thin robot with curved blades on its shoulders, wrists, elbows, and knees. Red eyes took in the robot's target.

"Meet Ginzu, detective," Number Nine said. Mojo beeped with joy. "Ginzu, dispose of this pest. Chop chop."

The red eyes glowed, and the robot advanced on Shirley with its wrist blades ready for the kill. Shirley began to back away. Above her, Mojo beeped loudly, cheering on its fellow robot.

* * * * *

"Nothing?" Bo asked after he met up with Bart and Rika outside the main building.

"Nothing," Rika answered, catching her breath.

"Where could they have taken her?" Bart wondered.

Blake joined them. "You guys found nothing?"

Bo nodded. "What about you?"

"I think we'd better check the gym," Blake said. "We haven't checked there yet."

"What's going on here?"

All eyes turned to Molly Hardy. "What are you doing here?" Bo demanded.

"I could ask you the same thing," Molly said, glaring at him. "You shouldn't even be on campus still."

"Shirley's missing," Blake explained.

"Holmes is missing?" A wicked smile crossed the budding sociopath's face. "Today is a good day."

Rika snarled and met Molly's icy gaze. The Stranger's hand tightened into a fist. "Leave us, you heartless little manipulator! We have no time to deal with you!"

"That's right!" someone declared from above. "You have to deal with me!"

Bo looked around. "Who said that?"

"Scatter!" Bart shouted suddenly, running off. Rika followed him.

Blake was about to ask what was going on when he heard something heading towards them. He recognized the sound instantly. "Incoming!"

A "Wha...?" escaped from Molly's lips as Blake took her hand and ran. The others followed Blake's lead in time. Four mini-missiles flew down from the sky and exploded, leaving a burnt crater where a finely trimmed patch of grass used to be.

"Close one," Bo remarked as he looked at the smoking crater.

"Indeed," Rika agreed.

Yanking her hand away from Blake, Molly stared at the point of impact. "What's going on here?" she demanded angrily.

Her answer was evil laughter. "Well, let's show the little schemer, Bart."

A thought crossed Bo's mind. "Hey, that voice. It's..."

"Number Nine-Nine," Bart finished, reaching into his pocket.

"Exercise discretion," Rika warned her fellow Stranger, motioning to Molly.

"Look!" Blake pointed to something in the sky.

Before everyone's eyes, a blurry shape materialized. It revealed itself to be a gold-colored robot with a dome head; large, long shoulder guards; and long handless arms. Two spike-like appendages shot out from its underside. It hovered over the kids, who noticed Number Nine-Nine's grinning face through the robot's eyeslot.

"A robot?" Bo asked, blinking to make sure he was not imagining things.

"A Mechapanzer, to be exact!" the voice of Number Nine-Nine boomed from the robot. "What do you think, Bart? Isn't it an improvement over the one you destroyed?"

Bo looked at Bart, who had his sonic boomer out. "You took on one of these things?"

"Guess that explains the missiles," Blake said, recalling Bart's story.

"Well, time to take care of you." The robot lowered itself to the ground and hovered before the teens.

"So you're going to kill us?" Rika asked, assuming a fighting stance. Bo stared at her and wondered if she was crazy.

"To be honest, I just want Bart. But don't worry. I've got some toys for you to play with," Number Nine-Nine admitted with a chuckle as he pressed a button on his control panel.

Bo heard heavy footsteps coming from behind the Mechapanzer. "Guys, we got company!" he warned, pointing toward the new arrivals.

Three life-size toy soldiers armed with bayonets marched towards the teens. Two were thin while the third was rather portly. "Is this some kind of a joke?" Molly scoffed.

Her answer came in the form of the soldiers taking aim and firing. Everyone dove to the ground, allowing the bullets to whiz by.

"That answer your question?" Bo told Molly snidely.

As Molly glared at Bo, Bart took a chance and fired. His sonic shots knocked the bayonets out of the soldiers' hands. Blake rose quickly and charged one of the thin soldiers. Bo followed his lead, leaving the others to face the Mechapanzer.

In the Mechapanzer's cockpit, Number Nine-Nine smiled. "Goody, that leaves me Bart and his friend. Just what I wanted." He pressed a switch. "I also get to eliminate Molly too, although no one's really going to miss her." Hatches on the Mechapanzer's shoulder guards opened, revealing two multi-missile launchers. "Bye, bye, Bart," he said, giggling as he pressed another button and deployed the entire content of the launchers at his targets.

The two Strangers and Molly found themselves facing a barrage of fast-moving missiles heading their way. Molly did the only thing she could do in this situation. She screamed.

END OF PART EIGHT

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #9

Ginzu backed Shirley into the wall and thrust its wrist blade at her. Shirley ducked in time to avoid it, and the assassin robot punched into the wall, getting its arm stuck. The young detective took advantage of its inconvenience and ran away. Beeping angrily, Ginzu pulled out its arm and pursued its target.

"Get her!" Number Nine ordered his creation. "We must eliminate her before we are discovered!" Mojo copied its master's command and shook its fist.

Shirley ran as fast as she could, but her automated killer picked up the pace. She moved forward to avoid a blade swing. She broke left and started looking for something to use against the robot. Nothing was against the walls. Even the fire extinguisher was mysteriously missing.

"I've taken the liberty to remove any objects that would have been possible aids against Ginzu," Number Nine revealed. "You've got brains, detective. Do you have the brawn to match?"

Shirley reached for her cell phone and turned it on. She dialed Inspector Hewitt's number, but all she got was static.

"No help from your Interpol friend this time, detective. This building has been outfitted with a communications shield," Number Nine said, sneering behind his mask.

Shirley let herself get distracted as she stared at her useless phone. Only the sounds of metallic footsteps from behind brought her focus back. She ducked in time to avoid another of Ginzu's blade swings. The only casualty of the attack was her hair. She rolled away as the sliced-off strands floated to the ground.

"Ginzu, don't decapitate her!" Number Nine shouted. "When we burn down this building, we must not let the authorities know she was killed intentionally."

Shirley got up just as Ginzu leapt at her. Its blades dug into the gym floor, giving her enough time to run to the door. She pushed and pulled, but nothing happened.

"Oh, the entire facility has been secured, courtesy of my locking devices," Number Nine mentioned as Ginzu freed itself.

Shirley turned away from the door only to face Ginzu. The robot slashed at her. Shirley moved away in time, and the only victim this time was the sleeve of her blazer. After running away, she felt a little pain in her arm. Looking closer at her arm, she saw a small cut caused by the tip of Ginzu's blade.

"You can't keep going forever, detective!" Number Nine declared from above. "Unlike humans, Ginzu never tires! Sooner or later, you will be nothing but a memory!"

Shirley caught her breath as Ginzu advanced on her. She moved again in time to dodge another lunge by the killer robot.

* * * * *

Molly continued to scream as the missiles got closer. Her mouth stopped emitting her distinct sound when the projectiles started exploding. Blinking, she noticed that a yellow energy barrier was blocking them. An even closer look revealed that it was coming from Rika. Her hands, or rather, the gauntlets she wore, emitted a yellow glow that generated the barrier.

Molly's mouth fell open. "What?"

In the Mechapanzer, Number Nine-Nine slammed his fist onto his control panel. "Damn! Those were my last missiles!"

Bart looked at Molly, then at Rika. "What happened to exercising discretion?" he asked his fellow Stranger.

"Sorry. Habit," Rika said as she made the barrier vanish. "Last time I checked, life was precious." She glared at Molly. "Even this little vixen's."

"Who are you?" Molly asked, still trying to take everything in.

"If you value your life, I suggest you run and find cover," Rika told the blonde sociopath sternly.

Fortunately, Molly valued her neck enough not to waste her time asking questions. She glanced at Rika, then Bart, and finally at the Mechapanzer before running away.

"Hmph. Mr. E probably wants her alive still," Number Nine-Nine mused to himself. "Or maybe not. He's so fickle sometimes," he said as he raised his robot's arm.

"Hey!" Bart fired rapidly at the Mechapanzer, causing tiny pinging noises. "It's me you want, remember?"

"Good point." Number Nine-Nine aimed for Bart and unleashed a powerful particle beam. Rika stood in the way and used her barrier again.

"Well, those are very effective toys," Number Nine-Nine commented as he continued to fire.

"Help Bo and Blake," Bart told Rika as the beam continued to push against the barrier.

"Are you crazy?" Rika asked, straining to maintain their only defense.

"I think they need more help than me." Bart observed as the three toy soldiers dominated his friends.

"Well, he can't keep firing this type of weapon for long," Rika noted. "Once he stops, I'll help the others."

"Blast it!" Number Nine-Nine said with a snarl as he noted a nearby heat gauge. The pointer leaned towards the red side. "I'd better switch to shorter blasts or I'll overload the system."

Rika let out a sigh of relief as the beam faded away. "You'll be okay?" she asked Bart as she got ready to run.

"I'm prepared this time," Bart answered.

Rika nodded and took off. Number Nine-Nine looked at Bart. "Well, looks like we're all alone."

"Yep," Bart said coolly.

"There's no river to save you now, Bart!" Number Nine-Nine declared as he fired. Bart ducked in time and fired back. The young ENIGMA agent laughed as the sonic boomer's shots pinged against the Mechapanzer. "You can't hurt me! My armor's too thick!"

Meanwhile, Bo and Blake were being manhandled by the toy soldiers. One of the thin ones grabbed Bo and tossed him to the ground. Blake kicked the fat one aside, but the other thin soldier grabbed him from behind and started squeezing. Blake's face tightened from the pain.

"Blake!" Bo tried to rise, but his opponent stomped its foot on his chest and kept him pinned.

Thankfully for Blake, Rika tackled the toy soldier from behind, forcing it to release him. The soldier holding Bo down witnessed this action and was about to attack. However, Rika prove too fast and punched it in the chest with a glowing fist. "You two need a lady's touch," she said as the soldier fell to the ground. The fat soldier jumped up and tried to land on Rika. She moved in time, and the soldier crashed onto the grass.

"Much obliged, ma'am," Blake said to Rika with a smile.

"Yeah," Bo said as he got up. His eyes fell on the glowing gauntlets. "Nice trick."

"Thanks," Rika said. "Good old reliable family heirlooms."

The toy soldiers recovered and regrouped. "Okay, time for round two," Bo said, getting ready for the upcoming charge.

The soldiers rushed Bo and the others, and another fight broke out between the two sides. Meanwhile, Bart and Number Nine-Nine continued to exchange fire. Bart dodged the Mechapanzer's beam shots and fired his own in short intervals, resulting in more pinging on the robot's surface. As he fired, Bart heard the beeping from his weapon become faster.

"Give up, Bart! Your puny weapon can't penetrate my armor!" Number Nine-Nine taunted as his beam weapon cooled down.

"Good point," Bart said, looking at the tiny light on his weapon as it switched from red to green and the beeping became even louder. "I'm almost out of power, so I'd better make this quick," he noted as he twisted the end. Finished, he took aim at the Mechapanzer.

"Come now!" Number Nine-Nine's laughter echoed from the robot as he raised its arm for another shot. "You'll need a bigger weapon to beat my Mechapanzer!"

"Not exactly." Bart smiled and fired, unleashing a large sonic shot that threw him to the ground. As Bart's butt made contact with the grass, his shot impacted with the Mechapanzer.

Inside the robot, Number Nine-Nine jerked back as he felt the sonic boomer's blast. "Curse you, Bart!" he shouted, pushing buttons to maintain his stability and restore his weapons. "Once I get weapons control back, you're dead! Dead!"

Bart watched as the Mechapanzer struggled to stay up. "Then I'd better be quick," he muttered as he stood up. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small disc. "Time to see if this thing will work, Ivan," he said before throwing it at the large robot. The disc attached itself to the robot's chest and emitted a pulse throughout the Mechapanzer.

"No!" Number Nine-Nine shouted as all his systems shorted out. He shielded his eyes from the shooting sparks with his arm. Without power, the Mechapanzer crashed to the ground.

The toy soldiers stopped to see the wreck of the Mechapanzer. "All right, Bart," Bo said.

"Now! While they're distracted!" Rika said, pointing to the soldiers. Bo and Blake followed her in a charge at the metal menaces. The attack took the toy soldiers by surprise and each teen tackled one to the ground.

"I don't think so," Bo told his captive, one of the thin ones, as it struggled to break free. He responded with a few punches to the face, and the robot's struggles weakened.

Rika readied her glowing fist for a blow to the fat soldier's face. With a cry, she brought it down quickly. Suddenly, the fist stopped about two meters from the robot's face. "Nani?" she said in amazement.

"What's wrong?" Blake asked as he pinned his soldier's arms.

Rika reached for the bottom of the soldier's head. Her friends watched as she removed it, revealing the face of a dark-haired woman with a double chin. "This is..." she began.

"Mrs. Fish?" Bo said, shocked. He looked at his own captive and pulled off the head. "Oh, no," he said, his eyes as wide as tennis balls when he beheld the face of the school headmistress. Her eyes half-opened, Ms. Stratmann moaned. "Um, Blake? I just beat up Ms. Stratmann."

Blake yanked off his robot's head, and he recognized Ms. Goldstein. "I hope this won't affect my essay grade," he said half-jokingly. His eyes fell upon a flesh-toned bandage on her forehead. Curious, he pulled it off, and a tiny chip fell off. He caught the object before it could hit the ground.

"What is it, Blake?" Bo asked as he joined his friend at his side.

Blake held the chip between his fingers. A tiny flare of heat told him to let go, and as he did, the chip disintegrated. "I'm guessing remote control devices," he hypothesized.

Bo removed the ones on Ms. Stratmann and Ms. Fish and threw them away before they destroyed themselves. All three women closed their eyes. As Bart joined them, Rika checked the pulses of the three faculty members.

"Are they...?" Bart began.

Rika shook her head. "Thankfully, no. Their pulses are normal, but they need medical attention." She pulled out her comlink, switched it to phone mode, and dialed the appropriate number.

As Rika got in touch with the city dispatcher, Bo and Blake watched the three women with Bart. "Nice shot," Bo told the bespectacled boy.

"Thanks," Bart said with a small grin.

"Why didn't you do it sooner?" Bo asked.

"Powered-up shots really drain the battery," Bart answered, checking his sonic boomer. "In fact, now this thing's due for a recharge," he added as he pocketed the pen-like weapon.

"How'd you take down that thing?" Blake asked.

"EMP bomb," Bart answered.

"EM-what?" Bo asked, puzzled.

"Electromagnetic pulse," Blake explained. "Shorts out electronics."

Bo understood. "So you just shut down his big toy."

"Exactly," Bart said with a nod.

"You think he's down for good?" Blake asked as he looked at the wreck of the Mechapanzer.

"I doubt it," Bart said seriously.

Rika hung up. "An ambulance is on its way. They said it'll take about twenty minutes or less."

"Then let's save Shirley!" Bo shouted anxiously.

"What about them?" Blake asked, pointing to Ms. Stratmann and the other Sussex staffers. "Someone has to stay with them until help arrives."

Bart heard noises coming from the Mechapanzer. "What?" he wondered as his gaze went to the ruined robot. The head flew upward and landed with a thud. The new Stranger saw a raised gloved fist sticking out of the hole.

"Worry about yourself, Bart!" The fist lowered itself, then Number Nine-Nine jumped out of the worthless Mechapanzer.

"Guy's got good hang time," Bo commented as the ENIGMA agent landed before him and the others.

Number Nine-Nine stood up and faced his enemy. His uniform was slightly dirty, and his helmet showed no sign of damage. "Looks like I'll have to take care of you myself!" he declared as he glared at Bart, reaching for the sword sheathed at his side.

Bart turned to his friends. "Go!"

"Are you nuts?" Bo exclaimed, staring at his friend. "You can't take this guy on by yourself, especially without your sonic thingy."

"Don't worry about me. Shirley needs you guys," Bart answered, keeping his gaze on Number Nine-Nine as he reached into his pocket. "Get going!"

"Come on!" Rika tugged on Bo's arm.

"We can't just leave him here," Bo protested.

"He knows what he is doing," Rika said solemnly.

"I hope so," Blake said. "Let's get to the gym."

Bo did not wait for the others. He bolted towards the direction of the gym. *Hang on, Shirl!*

Number Nine-Nine sneered as Blake and Rika took off after Bo. "They won't make it in time, Bart," he said. "Uncle will kill her, and I'll kill you."

"We'll see about that," Bart said, removing the battle baton for his pocket. With a push of a button, the weapon extended to its full length.

Number Nine-Nine studied the weapon in Bart's hand. "Ooooooo, Bart's got a new toy," the ENIGMA agent said mockingly. He yanked his sword out of his scabbard. "Let's see if you can handle it."

Bart glared at Number Nine-Nine. "Bring it on."

Number Nine-Nine held out his sword. "Let's begin the dance." With a yell, he charged Bart with his sword ready to strike.

Bart blocked the coming swing and made his own. Number Nine-Nine knocked it aside, and with the headmistress of Sussex Academy, her secretary, and an English teacher lying unconscious nearby, the two boys engaged in a duel to the death.

* * * * *

Shirley leaned against the wall. Her breathing was heavy, and she was surprised her legs were still able to support her. Her blue eyes looked up to see Ginzu advancing on her with its arm blades ready to carry out its instructions. Behind it, Number Nine and Mojo watched the show.

"I believe it's time to join your great-granduncle, Mademoiselle Holmes," the Elite Eight member declared. Mojo beeped its agreement.

Shirley slid her backpack off and knelt down to open it. As she searched through its contents, Ginzu appeared over her. It emitted an electronic sound akin to laughter as it eyed its target. Hearing her assassin, Shirley's blue eyes darted upward. Her hand continued to dig through her backpack.

"Adieu, Shirley Holmes," Number Nine said.

Mojo beeped loudly and clapped its hands. Ginzu raised its arm and prepared for the death blow.

END OF PART NINE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #10


Just as Ginzu was about to strike, Shirley found something useful and moved her hand inside her backpack. Before the robot assassin could make the killing blow, Shirley pulled out a white plastic bottle and squeezed its contents into the robot's face. Blinded, Ginzu swung wildly, and Shirley moved out of its way.

"What?" Number Nine exclaimed. He focused his monocle eye on his creation and examined the white substance. "Talcum powder?"

Shirley showed the bottle of baby powder to the Elite Eight member. "You overlooked a few things," she remarked.

Mojo jumped up and down on its master's shoulders, emitting electronic shrieks of displeasure. "Well, the old Holmes resilience," Number Nine observed. "I should've separated you and your backpack."

Shirley watched as Ginzu charged blindly into a wall. "Perhaps," she said as the robot fell to the gym floor.

Number Nine glared at Shirley. "I never had to deal with my targets personally, but I suppose there's always a first time for everything." He leapt down from his position and landed on both feet. He stood up and faced the heir to Sherlock Holmes' legacy. Mojo jumped off its master's shoulder to assist Ginzu.

Shirley saw Number Nine's circular eye beginning to glow. Something told her to move, and she took this piece of wise counsel in time. A laser shot out of the eye, leaving a burn mark where Shirley once stood.

Shirley barely had enough time to escape the next shot. Soon, she found herself dodging laser blast after laser blast from the ENIGMA agent's eye. Meanwhile, Mojo endeavoured to remove the talcum powder from Ginzu's face with its small hands.

* * * * *

"Hear that?" Blake asked as he and the others approached the gym.

"It sounded like laser fire," Rika concluded.

"Oh, man..." Bo bolted for the entrance to the gym. "What the...?" he said, stopping.

His friends also stopped upon spotting the two unusual objects at the gym door. One was a box with two arms stretched out across the door. Another was a box with a crank on its side.

"A locking device," Blake concluded, recalling the incident at the Harrison house.

Bo stared at the box. "Looks like a jack-in-the-box."

The crank turned, and "Pop Goes the Weasel" played from the box. Blake sounded out the tune as he waved his fingers like a conductor's baton. "Duh duh duh duh duh duh duh duh..."

Bo raised an eyebrow at his friend. "Okay..."

Rika stepped forward. "Better get behind me."

"Why?" Blake asked, following her advice.

"Hunch," she answered. Blake followed Rika's instructions, but Bo remained in front of them.

The jack-in-the-box sprung open to reveal a golden clown wearing a wide-brimmed hat. "I'm getting really sick of this gold theme," Bo muttered.

Blake's eyes went wide. "Bo, I think you'd better get over here," he recommended, pointing enthusiastically at the clown's arms.

Following Blake's finger, Bo understood. The clown held a tommy gun in its arms. Just as Bo started to move behind Rika, the clown opened fire. Rika raised her arms and formed an energy shield, and Blake pulled Bo to safety behind it.

Bo watched as the clown's gunfire pinged against the energy shield. "Great," he groaned. *Shirley, hang in there.* he thought as he eyed the door leading to his best friend.

* * * * *

Number Nine-Nine laughed as Bart fell to the ground butt-first. The battle baton landed next to him, still electrified.

"Pathetic, Bart," the ENIGMA agent taunted, his mouth widening into a maniacal grin. He leveled his blade at Bart's throat. "Now, what should I do? Cut your face, then you into little pieces, or the other way around? Decisions, decisions..."

"I'll save you the trouble," Bart said. He quickly swung his leg and performed a sweep kick that knocked his enemy to the ground.

"Oooof!" Number Nine-Nine cried as he hit the ground hard, his sword still in his hand.

Bart took the opportuniy to recover his weapon. Getting up, he took a swing at Number Nine-Nine. Snarling, the ENIGMA agent blocked the attack with his sword. The two boys pushed with all their might, but in the end, Number Nine-Nine shoved Bart back. As the Stranger struggled to keep his balance, the ENIGMA agent got up and knocked the battle baton out of Bart's hand.

"Ha!" Number Nine-Nine swung at Bart, who jumped back. "Give up!" he shouted as he swung again. "Why put a lot of effort in surviving if you're going to die anyway?"

"Aren't you a little presumptuous?" Bart commented as he dodged the swing.

"I'm far more superior to you, Bart!" Number Nine-Nine declared as he kept swinging and Bart kept dodging. "There's no way you could've beaten me! There's no way you could've scarred me! I'm perfect! I'm supposed to be perfect!"

"I'd say your streak's over," Bart taunted as he backed away, looking at the ENIGMA agent's scar.

Number Nine-Nine clenched his teeth and snarled. "I'll make you pay!" he yelled, charging the newest Stranger with his sword raised.

Bart was ready to sidestep the crazed villain when Number Nine-Nine stopped. Suddenly, the ENIGMA agent doubled over in pain and fell to the ground, dropping his sword in the process. "No...not...now..." the scarred boy forced himself to say through a strained and sweaty face. He fumbled through his coat. "Pills. Must get...pills..."

Kicking the sword away, Bart ran past Number Nine-Nine and recovered his battle baton. Running back to his spot in front of his opponent, he watched the spectacle before him curiously. With sweat falling off his face, Number Nine-Nine found his medicine vial and opened it, ignoring the pain coursing throughout his body. His clenched teeth held in any screams of agony. Blue pills jumped out of the vial due to his shaky hand. "No!" the ENIGMA agent shrieked, grabbing at the fallen pills and tossing them into his mouth. He did not care about the dirt and grass he shoveled in along with the medicine.

Bart's ears picked up sounds of sirens. *The ambulance,* he concluded. He listened more. "The police," he muttered.

Recognizing the sirens, Number Nine-Nine got up. Sweat still covered his face, and his breathing started returning to normal.

"Care to stick around?" Bart asked tauntingly, pointing his battle baton at the young ENIGMA agent.

Number Nine-Nine glared at Bart. "If I were at full strength, I'd rip you apart, weapon or no weapon."

"But you're not," Bart observed.

Number Nine-Nine snarled in the direction of the sirens. "I've done my job. By now, my uncle has killed your friend," he said, almost spitting out the words. He turned and ran. "I'll kill you next time!" he declared as he increased his speed.

Bart deactivated the battle baton and placed it in his pocket. Behind him, two ambulances pulled up, accompanied by a police car. Inspector Hewitt and Detective Tremain sprang out of the car.

"What's going on here?" Detective Tremain asked as the paramedics brought out stretchers and medical equipment for the three unconscious ladies.

"Bart, what happened?" Inspector Hewitt asked the budding paranormalist. "Where's Shirley and the others?"

Bart watched as the paramedics checked the three women. "They're still alive," one of them reported.

"Then make sure they stay that way," Detective Tremain said sternly. "Hey!"

To everyone's surprise, Bart bolted the scene. Suspecting he knew what was going on, Inspector Hewitt went after him, leaving a befuddled Detective Tremain to oversee the paramedics.

* * * * *

"Hmmmmmmm...not a bad little display of agility," Number Nine conceded, ceasing fire.

Catching her breath, Shirley blinked and waited for her enemy's next move. As she did, she heard gunfire from outside.

"Ah, your friends, I believe," Number Nine concluded. Mojo beeped loudly from his place with Ginzu, who was starting to recover its sight. "A pity they'll be too late," the Elite Eight member added, his round eye starting to glow.

A bright flash caught Shirley off-guard. She stared at Number Nine, but found him to be too wiggly for her. In fact, he was starting to spin around into different colors. Her ears pikced up a strange noise that fluctuated in volume. Soon the room was spinning. Lightheaded, Shirley fell to the floor. Only her arms kept her from collapsing completely.

With the powder gone from its eyes, Ginzu picked itself up. With Mojo cheering it on, the robot assassin marched up to the disoriented Shirley, emitting an electronic laugh as it did.

* * * * *

The jack-in-the-box continued firing upon the three kids outside. "Any suggestions?" Rika asked. "We have to get inside to help Shirley before she is killed."

"I suppose waiting for this thing to run out of bullets is out of the question," Bo quipped.

"I'd say this little thing's got a lot of ammo," Blake observed as more bullets pinged against the energy shield. "We've got to take it out. We're running out of time."

"Leave it to me." Rika's energy shield started to fade. "Better back away from me."

"What are you doing?" Bo exclaimed. "That's our only protection."

"Trust me," Rika said with a small smile. "I've done this before."

Both boys looked at each other and shrugged, then did as Rika said. "Let's hope she knows what she's doing," Bo said to Blake.

"Welcome to the club," Blake said.

Rika closed her eyes and concentrated. Remembering what she had been taught, she found her balance point. Meanwhile, the jack-in-the-box's gunfire continued pinging against her energy shield.

Bo blinked as he watched Rika. "Uh, is it just me, or is she glowing?"

The energy shield had enveloped Rika. She controlled her breathing and faced the attacking toy. With a cry, she opened her now-glowing eyes and let loose.

* * * * *

Ginzu stood over its target as she tried to fight Number Nine's vertigo effect. Nearby, Mojo cheered on its fellow robot, waving its arms in the air and doing a little dance.

Number Nine grinned malevolently behind his mask. "Now I believe it's time to truly say 'adieu' to you, Mademoiselle Holmes."

Ginzu raised its arm blade. Below him, Shirley still tried to sort out what was the top and what was the bottom of the gym. Straining to stay up, she felt her arms losing their strength.

END OF PART TEN

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #11

Shirley's imminent death was interrupted by the gym entrance exploding. The metal doors flew a few meters and crashed into the farthest basketball hoop. As glass and metal crashed to the floor together, Ginzu froze and stared at the smoking entrance.

"What?" Number Nine's went wide behind his mask. A beeping filled his ears. His left eye was picking up an energy signature. Deactivating his vertigo inducer, he began scanning for unusual energy sources. He looked ahead, and his scanner went wild at the glowing person before him.

Rika stood in the empty doorway. In her hand were the remains of the jack-in-the-box. She glared at the ENIGMA agent.

"Hmmmmmmm..." Number Nine read the readouts he was getting on Rika. "Interesting." Ginzu made electronic noises akin to snarling.

Bo and Blake appeared behind Rika, who slowly ceased glowing. "Remind me never to get mad at you," Bo quipped, spotting the broken hoop on the floor.

Blake spotted Shirley, who was still trying to hold herself up. Crying out her name, he ran up to her. Bo found himself running after him, but Blake beat him to her. "Are you okay?" Blake asked her as he took her left arm.

"Somewhat." Shirley tried to regain her equilibrium.

Bo joined them and took Shirley's right arm. Together, the two boys helped Shirley up. "Maybe that'll teach you to go to Ms. Stratmann's office if there's no good reason," Bo told his best friend, smiling.

Shirley nodded silently and smiled back. "What took you?"

Rika joined them. "Our friend Number Nine-Nine kept us busy." She showed the amateur sleuth the jack-in-the-box. "Then there was this nuisance."

"Incompetent..." Number Nine fumed, his hands balling into fists at his sides. "Ginzu, kill them all!"

With a shriek, Ginzu charged the kids. Not caring what happened to him as long as Shirley was safe, Bo gave her to Blake and ran at the robot.

"Bo!" Shirley cried.

Glowing again, Rika dashed ahead of Bo. Before Ginzu could strike the boy, Rika focused her energy on her fist and did a straight jab on the robot's chest. The resulting explosion threw the robot into the wall and broke it into pieces.

Running onto its master's shoulder, Mojo shrieked as what was left of Ginzu tumbled to the floor. Rika calmed down, and her glow faded.

"So, you can utilize your inner ki, correct?" Number Nine asked knowingly. "Interesting power levels for someone so young."

Bo balled his hand into a fist. "Give up! You're outnumbered!"

"If I recall correctly, my nephew and I were outnumbered at the museum," Number Nine mused.

Blake appeared at Bo's side. "He's got a point. We'd better be careful."

Number Nine reached into his pocket, and the kids watched him closely. Bo was ready to jump him. The ENIGMA agent pulled out a pocket watch and checked the time. "Ah, I've tarried here too long," he commented as he returned the watch to its place. "I have a schedule to keep, after all. I believe my men have already done their part."

"You're referring to Goldman," Shirley said.

"Clever girl!" Number Nine pulled out his pointer and activated it. "Let's see if you're clever enough to survive a raging inferno. Mojo!"

The robot monkey pulled out a remote from its chest cavity. Chattering, its finger hovered over the bright red button.

"Raging inferno?" Blake wondered.

"He's rigged this entire gym to burn down," Shirley explained.

"Hey, won't you get caught in the fire, too?" Bo asked.

Number Nine laughed and jumped onto the above walkway. "I think I can escape before the flames reach their full intensity."

"Can't ENIGMA send any normal agents?" Bo asked.

"Define 'normal,'" Shirley said, keeping her gaze on Number Nine. "If he triggers those incendiary devices, the fire will consume not just the gym, but all of Sussex Academy."

"An adequate distraction while I escape, don't you think?" Number Nine said. "Mojo, now!"

Rika flared up again. "No you don't!"

Just as Mojo's finger edged towards the button, Rika flew at Number Nine. She threw a punch at the monkey, who dodged it. In the process, it let go of the remote.

"Idiot!" Number Nine admonished his pet as he dodged another punch.

The remote flew towards the center of the gym. Bo dashed out and held up his hands to catch it. It was his lucky day; the device landed squarely in his hands. "Whew," he said as he examined the remote.

Rika threw another punch. Number Nine sidestepped it and grabbed her arm. "You fancy yourself a strong person, yes?" he asked. Rika felt his grip get tighter; his fingers pinched into her sleeve. "Well, I fancy the same thing."

Shirley and her friends watched as Number Nine threw Rika from the walkway. At the moment of impact, Rika dropped something on the floor. Seconds later, a large cushion inflated itself and Rika landed safely on it.

"Whew," Bo breathed out, relieved.

Shirley and the others ran up to Rika, who was picking herself up. "I see you Strangers are prepared for anything," the young sleuth observed.

"When you investigate the unusual, you have to be really prepared," Rika said as she got off the cushion.

"How clever!" Number Nine commented from above. "You children have toys that remind me of my own." He pulled out his pointer and extended it. "In fact, here's one of them now!" he declared as he pushed a minute button.

A minute later, a large object crashed through the gym wall. Shirley and the others ran back to avoid the falling debris. Once clear, Shirley made out what Number Nine summoned. "A robot bird?"

A large robot resembling a bird hovered behind the ENIGMA agent. Its long-beaked head was connected to the egg-shaped body by a long neck. Its metal wings were shaped like the blades of an axe, and its sharp clawed feet were folded underneath the body.

Number Nine pressed the button on his pointer again, and the bird shrieked. Gazing on the kids below, its eyes began to glow.

"Move!" Shirley shouted.

A few seconds later, the eyes fired lasers at its targets. Everyone moved in time to avoid being struck by them. The end result was two burn marks on the gym floor.

Bart and Inspector Hewitt arrived in time to witness the spectacle. As Inspector Hewitt reached for his gun, Number Nine and Mojo boarded the robot. Spotting the inspector, Number Nine produced a small ball. "It will be hard to hit a target you can't see," he declared before throwing the ball to the ground.

The ball exploded, releasing a thick cloud of gas that spread around the gym. "Not again," Bo said, coughing.

Hearing her own coughing as well as the others', Shirley managed to make out the bird backing out of the hole. She reached into her backpack and pulled out a flashlight. Turning it on, she waved it in the air. "This way!" she shouted, moving towards the exit.

Soon the detective lead everyone out of the gym. Scanning the sky, they found the bird flying away at a high speed.

"Whoa," Bart remarked.

"I believe we found what attacked the gold train," Shirley concluded as the bird became a speck in the clear sky.

Detective Tremain ran up to them. "What the heck was that thing?"

Inspector Hewitt faced the police detective. "Trouble. How are the women doing?"

"Ambulances took them to the hospital. They'll definitely make it, but I want the doctors to examine them, just in case," Detective Tremain answered. "Bad news. As the ambulances were leaving, I got a call."

"ENIGMA agents grabbed Goldman," Shirley stated.

Detective Tremain stared at the teen-age detective. "You're good, Princess." After getting over his astonishment, he continued with his report. "A few of the blue-suited guys showed up at his place. Our people were ready for them, but not for what they brought with them."

"Another robot," Bart guessed.

"Does everybody here know more than me?" the police detective asked, slightly annoyed. "Well, considering what's been happening recently, I shouldn't be surprised."

"So what did this robot look like?" Bo asked.

Detective Tremain recalled more of what he was told. "Well, the guys said it looked like a big bear. They remembered the claws mainly. Blasted robot nearly killed them all before it grabbed Goldman. Now ambulances are being sent there."

"Did the agents leave any clues or say anything?" Inspector Hewitt asked.

"Just a newspaper clipping," Detective Tremain answered. "It was just some old story on Goldman with something written in the margin. A social piece, I think. They faxed a copy to the station."

Shirley sank into deep thought. Nearby, Bart and Rika talked to each other in low voices. Both nodded to each other when they finished. Bart took out a piece of paper and scribbled something on it. As Inspector Hewitt and Detective Tremain discussed Goldman's kidnapping, Bart slipped it to Shirley.

"What's this?" she asked.

"My comlink number," Bart answered. "If you find out what ENIGMA's after, just call me, and I'll bring the cavalry."

After memorizing the number, Shirley placed it in her blazer pocket. "I'd appreciate the assistance, Bart."

"C.D., Susan, and Hiroshi are the only field operative Strangers in Redington right now besides us," Rika said. "C.D. will be a great asset to us when we find those ENIGMA agents again."

"What can he do?" Bo asked.

Bart grinned. "You'll see if we end up in a fight."

* * * * *

"Well, at least one good thing came out of all this," Bo said as he and his two friends left the Sussex Academy campus.

"What would that be?" Blake asked.

"No school indefinitely," Bo replied with a smile.

"At least until the police remove the incendiary devices from the gym," Shirley elaborated. "That and the lawn needs to be retouched."

"Let's not forget the big killer robot sitting on the lawn," Bo added.

"I don't think we'll be learning anything from it," Blake said.

"Right now, I don't care," Bo admitted. "I'm just glad those ENIGMA creeps are gone."

"Who said they were gone?" Shirley said.

Bo stopped and faced his best friend. "Shirley, they failed to kill you. They don't have anything else to do here."

"Except the assignment they have in the Redington area," Shirley said matter-of-factly. "Killing me may have been Number Nine's goal, but he's here because someone hired ENIGMA to do something here."

"Great, so they can try again at any time," Bo said, groaning.

"Not really," Blake said. "ENIGMA can't just kill Shirley directly. They need to make it look like she happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time."

"And that's supposed to make it better?" Bo asked, fuming. "She was nearly killed by a walking knife set! If we hadn't made it in time..." He stopped walking.

Shirley and Blake stopped. Bo's hand formed into a fist at his side. Shirley observed how tightly he squeezed. "Bo?"

Bo took a deep breath, then opened his hand. "I'm fine. Really."

"So, you want me to get you a copy of that article Tremain was talking about?" Blake asked.

"If possible," Shirley said. "It's more likely it'll be on the news soon, but I'd like a copy."

"Will do." Blake left his two friends. "I'll see you later!"

Bo continued walking with Shirley. "Don't your parents need you back at the fish shop?" Shirley asked.

"I thought you needed the company," Bo answered.

"You don't have to worry about me," Shirley assured her friend. "ENIGMA can't get at me directly without casting suspicion on themselves."

Bo stopped in front of Shirley and looked into her blue eyes. "You could've been killed."

"I've been locked in a vault by Molly, Bo," Shirley recalled. "I'm not easily scared."

"But Molly wanted to just expose and humiliate you," Bo said. "Mr. E wants you dead."

"Then I'll just have to make it harder for him," Shirley said firmly. "Come on. We'd better get to my place before my family gets worried." She walked past him and continued on her way home.

Bo sighed and followed her. "Why her?" he muttered as he kept his eyes on the young sleuth. "Why me?" he added, shaking his head.

"What did you say, Bo?" Shirley asked curiously.

"Nothing," Bo answered quickly. "I'm just wondering if we can beat this guy, that's all."

"We will," Shirley stated. "We will."

* * * * *

In Shirley's attic, Bo flipped off the TV. "Present time: If a father gave his eldest son $0.11, his second eldest $0.09, his third eldest $0.04, and his youngest $0.02, then what time was it?" he recited from what Inspector Hewitt read at the press gathering regarding the Goldman kidnapping and the happenings at Sussex.

"3:45," Shirley answered, now dressed in a brown beret, lavender T-shirt, and blue jeans.

Bo blinked. "What?"

"If you add all the money together, you get $0.25, or a quarter," Shirley explained. "Hence, the father gave a quarter to four, or 3:45."

Bo smiled. "Have I ever told you that you're very smart?"

Footsteps echoed from below. Dressed in casual clothes, Blake rushed up into the attic carrying a paper. "Good thing I watched you open that bookcase," he said.

Bo looked at Blake, then Shirley. "Maybe I should've gone home and changed."

"Why didn't you...?" Blake began to say something, but stopped himself. "Oh."

"Not one word," Bo said.

"That's it?" Shirley asked, pointing to the paper.

"Yep. That is what Dad faxed me after the press meeting," Blake said, handing the paper to Shirley. "I take it you heard the riddle?"

"And solved it," Bo said.

"ENIGMA's up to something today at 3:45," Shirley said, skimming the paper.

"Too bad we don't know what they're up to," Bo said. "Frankly, I don't know how an old article about some rich guy can tell us what ENIGMA's big crime is."

"They could be ransoming him for something," Blake hypothesized. "You know, if the ransom isn't paid by 3:45, they'll kill him."

"Too simple for ENIGMA." Shirley's eyes stopped at something in the article. "Of course!" she exclaimed. "Now everything makes sense!"

"Huh?" Bo wondered.

"What did you find?" Blake asked.

"'Fun guy.'" Shirley handed the article to her friends and pulled out her cell phone.

"'Fun guy'?" Blake asked, looking for the phrase.

"That's how the reporter describes Goldman at one point in the article," Shirley said, dialing Bart's comlink number.

"What does Goldman being a 'fun guy' have to do with ENIGMA's crime?" Bo asked as he looked over Blake's shoulder.

After the dial tone, Shirley heard Bart's voice on the other line. "Shirley? What's up?"

"I know what ENIGMA's after," Shirley informed the young scientist. "I take it C.D. can drive?"

"Yeah. Damian left his van here, so we can use that."

"Good. Get all the available Strangers and pick us up as soon as possible. Something extremely valuable's at stake."

"Right. Anything else?"

Shirley looked at Bo in his Sussex Academy uniform. "Can you stop by Bo's and get him some regular clothes? I doubt the school would appreciate it if we ruined his uniform."

END OF PART ELEVEN

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #12

An hour later, a black van was speeding down the empty road to the nearby woods. Behind the wheel, C.D. kept his eye on the road and his foot on the gas pedal.

"You know, I think we'd like to get to the woods while we're still breathing!" Hiroshi shouted from the backseat.

"Hey, you want to get there before ENIGMA does its thing or not?" C.D. asked, annoyed.

"What about the police?" Bo asked.

The van slowed down a little. "Good point," C.D. said. "My uncle would kill me if I got a speeding ticket."

"Besides, we have a lot of time to spare," Blake reported, looking at his watch.

"I recall that it was quite a hike," Shirley said. "Still, we should make it at this rate."

"So, Shirley, care to share with us what you learned?" Rika asked from the front passenger seat. She was dressed in a red T-shirt and denim jacket and pants. A red headband was wrapped around her forehead.

"Yeah, Shirl," Bo said. "You haven't told us what ENIGMA's after."

Shirley faced her friends. "Armylaria bulbosa," she stated.

Silence filled the van as everyone except C.D. gave the teen detective a blank look. Hiroshi dared to break it. "Uh, waitress? I'd like that explanation in plain English, please."

Bart caught on. "Hold on. You mean ENIGMA's after the golden caves?"

"The what?" Blake asked.

Recalling something, Bo waved his hands in the air. "Hold on a minute. You mean ENIGMA's after those mushrooms in the woods?"

"Huh?" Blake said.

"I'm with him," Hiroshi said, jerking a finger at Blake.

"Armylaria bulbosa is a 1500-year-old fungus located deep in the forest outside Redington," Shirley explained. "It covers 37 acres and weighs around eleven tons."

"We found out about it on a wilderness orienteering trip for school a while back," Bo added. "This guy, Harvey Millstone, tried to scare us away from it in order to save it."

"So this big fungus is pretty rare, I gather?" Rika asked.

"Very," Shirley confirmed. "That's why that part of the forest has been placed off-limits as a nature preserve."

"I'm curious on how you came to this conclusion," Rika said, interested.

"It was easy once I pieced together all the clues," Shirley said. "The first was the overall theme of gold: The gold bars, the gold Jello, the golden machine and the dust it fired, the golden winebowl, our English teacher, and Mr. Goldman. The second was the shape of the machine. It resembled a mushroom. Then there was the article on Goldman left at the scene of his abduction."

Bo snapped his fingers. "Fun guy! It said he was a fun guy!"

"So?" Hiroshi said. After a few seconds, he got it. "Oh, I see."

Rika nodded. "I recall you telling a joke using that punchline, Hiroshi."

"It was a really bad one," Susan added, rolling her eyes.

"Oh yeah!" Hiroshi recited the joke. "What do you call a partying mushroom? A fun guy."

Everyone groaned. "And I thought you were bad with jokes, Shirley," Bo told his friend.

"Wait a sec," Susan said. "Does Mr. Millstone still live in the forest?"

Bart thought for a moment. "He does. He was appointed the preserve's official overseer."

"Then along with Mr. Goldman..." Blake began.

"We have a hostage situation," Rika said. "C.D...."

"Gotcha." C.D. pressed the gas pedal. "Hopefully my uncle won't find out about this," he said as the van sped up.

Susan looked at Bart. "Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine," Bart answered. "My sonic boomer's been recharged, and my battle baton still works. I'm ready for anything."

Susan frowned. "He nearly killed you."

Bart placed his hand on her shoulder. "I can take care of myself. Besides," he said with a smile, "I'm not alone."

Susan smiled back. Meanwhile, Bo had watched the whole exchange. He looked at Shirley, then Blake, then both at once. He leaned back in his seat and sighed.

* * * * *

"Fascinating." Number Nine studied the sight before him with his mask's cybernetic eye. "Truly a wonderful example of how a lifeform can evolve. No wonder our client desires it so much." The Elite Eight member turned to the large robot bird, now manned by Number Nine-Nine and Mojo. "Are you sure your measurements are correct?"

"Oui, Uncle," Number Nine-Nine answered over Mojo's beeping. "Thanks to this, I've successfully mapped out the full size of the fungus," he said, patting the side of the bird.

"Good." Number Nine looked at a metal crate with a glass cover. Dirt filled most of it. "Ah, soon we will have our merchandise."

An ENIGMA agent on a hover platform floated up to Number Nine. "Sir, we've finished installing all the microteleporter poles around the perimeter of the fungus," he reported.

"Good." Number Nine watched as two ENIGMA agents were setting up a control console. One agent placed a pole with a clear red orb on its center. "Status?"

"Once we make all the connections, we'll be ready to proceed, sir," one agent reported.

More ENIGMA agents on hover platforms joined their comrades. "Excellent." Number Nine checked the time on his pocket watch. "However, don't hurry on my account. We have a while before it's 3:45."

"But, sir, what if the cops show up?" another agent asked.

Number Nine managed a small laugh. "The police aren't our main concern."

Number Nine-Nine looked down from the bird. "Uncle, you think she'd...?"

"I'm sure of it," Number Nine answered. "Her very nature dictates her actions."

"She won't be alone," the young agent warned. He grinned a little. "I hope she brings Bart. I still owe him for this," he said, pointing at his scar.

"If my calculations are correct, nephew, both of us will terminate our chosen targets." A loud beeping sounded from Number Nine's mask. "Ah, she's here." He turned to the ENIGMA agents. "All assigned agents take your positions in the forest. Take those hunting rifles only. We want her death to look like a hunting accident."

"Yes, sir. ENIGMA forever!" After doing the ENIGMA salute, the agents landed and after grabbing rifles from a nearby gunrack, they ran into the forest.

An agent approached the chief agent. "Sir, don't you already have something out there to deal with the detective?"

"True," Number Nine answered. "However, why take chances she won't make it past our primary line of defense?"

"Understood, sir," the agent said.

"Uncle, I believe our guests are coming to," Number Nine-Nine observed, pointing to two people tied together on the ground.

An elderly man with a beard and outdoor clothing gained consciousness first, followed shortly by a man dressed in a business suit. The first man blinked and saw the ENIGMA agents. "Wh...what?"

"Ah, Monsieur Millstone, Monsieur Goldman, you're awake," Number Nine said as he walked up to the caretaker of the golden caves and the well-known philanthropist. "Right on time, too," he added, checking his watch.

Mr. Goldman took in his surroundings. "Wh-wh-what is all this?"

"Gentlemen, you are about to witness a scientific miracle courtesy of ENIGMA," Number Nine said, chuckling. "Once my men are finished setting up and everything is checked, I'll make this section of this forest vanish," he revealed, motioning to the area where part of the fungus was.

"What?" Mr. Millstone exclaimed. "You can't be serious!"

Mr. Goldman laughed. "That's a powerful boast. It can't be done. It's impossible."

Number Nine leaned towards Mr. Goldman, his pointed nose nearly poking the philanthropist's own. "I assure you, Monsieur Goldman. Nothing is impossible for ENIGMA." He faced Mr. Millstone. "And believe me, Monsieur Millstone, I am very serious. Soon your precious fungus will be gone and in the hands of a collector whose name I cannot divulge at this time."

"You can't take it!" Mr. Millstone growled, struggling to break free. "If you take even a piece of it, it'll die!"

Number Nine laughed cruelly. "Monsieur, my client asked for the whole fungus, and I intend to transport the whole thing to him."

"But how?" Mr. Goldman asked curiously.

"This device," Number Nine began, pointing to the machine his men were setting up, "is a matter transporter. It will transfer the fungus into this," he said, now pointing to the metal crate.

"You're mad if you think you can fit the whole thing into that box!" Mr. Millstone said, laughing.

"Ah, but it will after I shrink it accordingly," Number Nine said, wagging his finger. "My men have installed transmitter poles along the fungus' perimeter. Not only will they transport it to this box, they will reduce its size so it'll fit." He pointed to the bird. "As soon as everything is ready, my men will transmit the activation signal via that console, and the process will take place. Lastly, the robot will take the crate and carry it to the rendezvous point, and we'll return the fungus to its original size at our client's residence. Technology is simply wonderful, isn't it, gentlemen?"

"You won't get away with this!" Mr. Goldman declared boldly. "When the police find out what you're up to..."

"I'm afraid the local authorities are idiots," Number Nine said. "Even if by some miracle they figure out my crime, you won't be alive to see them."

Mr. Goldman's face whitened. "You...you mean...?"

"I have no need for you anymore," Number Nine said coldly. "As for you, Monsieur Millstone, since your life work is vacating the premises permanently, I doubt you'll have the will to live anyway." He turned his back to the two prisoners and watched his men continue setting up the console. "But don't worry. You'll still be alive to witness our little theft, so I recommend you use this generous amount of time to make your peace with God."

* * * * *

"Nice place," Hiroshi remarked, looking around. "Does the Blair Witch stop by here now and then?"

Shirley put her finger to her lips. "We have to be careful," she whispered.

"I don't think we have the element of surprise, Shirl," Bo commented. "Something tells me Metalface will be expecting us."

"I have to agree with Bo," Blake said. "ENIGMA's got to be ready for us."

"In that case..." Bart pulled out his sonic boomer turned it on. Susan and Hiroshi followed suit. Rika checked her dragon gauntlets.

Shirley observed that C.D. was doing nothing. "Forgot your weapon?" Bo asked the blond American.

C.D. smiled. "I am a weapon."

"Guys..." Blake held up his hand for silence. "Do you hear that?"

Hiroshi perked up his ears. A faint buzzing passed through them. "Goody, we're going to be attacked by bees."

Shirley listened closely as the noises got closer. "No, not bees. This sound seems mechanical."

Five toy biplanes appeared in the sky. "Okay..." Hiroshi said as they circled over the teens.

"What are they doing?" Susan wondered.

"Their design is reminiscent of World War I aircraft," Shirley observed.

The planes broke formation and flew around to a position behind the kids. "Huh?" Bo said as the planes dove at them.

Blake was first to spot the guns on the planes. "Run!"

No one questioned him, and the teens ran as fast as their feet could carry them. Their action was done in time, for the planes opened fire. The forest was filled with the ratatatating of little gunfire.

"Gee, and I gave up ghost hunting in Texas for this?" Hiroshi shouted over the sound of gunfire. "I could be enjoying a big, juicy steak, but no-oh...!"

"Shut up and keep running!" Rika and Susan shouted back.

As she ran, Shirley turned her head. She saw that the planes were not increasing their speed, and their shots fell exactly behind their targets. "Hmmmmmmm..."

"I have to be honest, Shirley. We should've called the police first," Bo told the young sleuth bluntly.

Suddenly, Bart stopped running. He aimed his sonic boomer at the deadly flying toys.

"Bart!" Susan cried.

"Are you nuts? Keep running!" Hiroshi shouted.

Bart fired, and a plane exploded into tiny pieces. Another took aim at the young scientist, but it exploded and joined its fellow toy. Bart turned around and found Susan with her weapon out. He smiled at her, and she returned her own. Shirley and the others were behind her.

"Eh, while we're here..." Hiroshi took aim and hit another plane. He joined Susan and Bart in shooting at the remaining toys, and their marksmanship proved excellent. A second later, three groups of toy parts joined two to make five, or rather, a small mess on the forest floor.

"That was close," Bo remarked.

"Nice shooting there, Bart," Blake complimented.

Hiroshi looked at C.D. "You know, you could've helped."

C.D. shrugged. "You guys had it covered."

Rika eyed Shirley, who was studying the assortment of toy parts. "You suspect this was too easy," she said matter-of-factly.

"It was," Shirley replied. "The planes kept themselves at a fixed distance while they were chasing us. Their gunfire never hit us at all."

"So why'd they do that?" Bo asked.

Shirley turned to face the way she and the others were going. "To force us to go this way."

"Yeah, but why?" Blake asked.

The answer came in the form of a loud roar. Soon a series of quick, heavy footsteps followed it. "Okay, not liking the sound of that," Hiroshi remarked.

Shirley listened closely. "Sounds metallic."

"Get ready," Bart said, pointing his sonic boomer along with Susan and Hiroshi. Rika and Blake assumed battle positions. C.D. joined them and stood nonchalantly.

"Uh, Blake, what makes you think you can take on a robot?" Bo asked.

"Only one way to find out," Blake replied, glaring in the direction of the approaching thing.

Bo rolled his eyes. "The things I do for you guys..." he said as he joined the others. "Shirl, I highly recommend you stay behind us."

Shirley took out the talcum powder from her backpack and joined her friends. "Just in case," she said.

Visual contact was established, and Bart, Susan, and Hiroshi fired. With sonic boomer shots bouncing off it, Teddy charged at the teens with a roar and its claws ready to strike.

"Well, that worked," Hiroshi said.

"Scatter!" Shirley yelled.

Everyone got out of the killer robot's way. Teddy stopped and searched for its target. Its eyes finally fixed on Shirley, and it advanced on her.

"Oh great!" Hiroshi cried as he continued to fire.

Bo rushed forward to help his friend, but the robot bear swatted him out of the way. Blake also dashed in to assist, but was caught by a paw to the side. Both boys fell hard.

Rika prepared to charge up, but Teddy turned to her and fired a weighted net from its chest. Tangled in the trap, the Stranger fell to the ground. As she struggled to break free, Teddy knocked down C.D. before he could attack. Bart pulled out his battle baton and tried to sneak up on the metallic menace, but Teddy elbowed him, sending him down hard.

"Bart!" Susan ran to his side just as Teddy fired another net, covering both of them.

Hiroshi ran over to them and tried to removed the net. "Okay, having a problem here," he said, straining with the heavy net.

Seeing no opposition, Teddy refocused on its main target. Growling, it advanced on Shirley. The teen detective got ready with the talcum powder, but the robot bear responded with a claw swipe and knocked the white bottle aside. Shirley backed away and found herself against a tree.

"Hmmmmmmm..." Shirley searched her backpack for something. As she did, Teddy continued advancing on her.

END OF PART TWELVE

The Case of the Gold Thief : Part #13

Author's note: Somewhere in this section there is a line which was taken from an e-mail from one of my fellow SH fanfic writers, MacgyverMagic. In my opinion, it was so witty I could not help but include it in this part. MGM, I thank you :o)


Shirley found what she was looking for. "Ah, here we go."

Before Teddy could make another claw swipe, it found itself at the receiving end of a flash from Shirley's camera. Its optic sensors going crazy, the robot staggered back.

"Hey, ugly!"

Teddy turned to the source of the shout. Its optic sensors made out C.D. through the flashes of colors.

Bo willed his arms to lift him up. "Is that guy crazy?"

Blake blinked as he watched C.D. "Huh?"

Shirley was wondering the same thing. Then she noticed C.D.'s hand. *Wait, is his hand...vibrating?*

Its vision getting better, Teddy roared at the blond Stranger. C.D. placed one hand behind his back and waved over the robot with his other. "Yeah, that's right. I've got something for you."

Hiroshi watched as Teddy marched towards C.D. "Here we go again," he said as he kept trying to open the net covering Bart and Susan.

"Hmm. Should've known," Bart remarked.

C.D.'s mouth formed a grin. "Take this!" His hand shot out from behind his back and unleashed a powerful shockwave upon the killer robot. Everyone watched as Teddy exploded into pieces. Its head landed at C.D.'s feet. Glaring at it, he smashed it with his foot.

"Whoa," Bo said after a moment of silence. He and Blake picked themselves up and walked towards Shirley.

C.D. walked up to Rika and placed his hand on the net trapping her. He sent a shockwave through it, snapping it apart.

"Domo arigato," Rika said.

"No prob," C.D. said, pulling Rika to her feet.

Shirley bent down next to Hiroshi and took out her Swiss army knife. She cut the threads of the net enough so Bart and Susan can free themselves.

"You guys okay?" Blake asked.

"We're okay," Susan answered as Bart helped her up.

Now on his feet, Bart faced C.D. "I should've known you were the one who destroyed those robots," he said with a smile.

"Well, someone had to watch over you," C.D. said. "Besides, I was the only one who could make those malfunctions look accidental."

"Okay, now I've seen everything," Bo remarked as he studied C.D.

"I told you I was a weapon," C.D. said, grinning and flexing his fist.

"The reference to California was a good hint," Shirley acknowledged as she got to her feet. "A subtle connection between you and the state's occasional earthquakes."

"So," Blake began to ask, "how did you get this ability?"

"To be honest, I'm not sure." C.D. faced where Teddy came from. "Hey, we got a big fungus to save, right? So why are we standing around here talking?"

"An excellent point," Shirley said in agreement. "We should get moving."

"I'll go ahead and take care of any more surprises these guys may have." C.D. looked skyward. "Better stand back."

"I'd do as he says," Rika said, backing away from C.D. Her fellow Strangers, including Bart, did the same.

Bo gave Shirley a puzzled look. Shirley just shrugged and joined the other Strangers along with Blake. Sighing, Bo followed them.

Taking a deep breath, C.D. rose his hands and willed them to vibrate. He quickly aimed them towards the ground.

"Hmmmmmm..." Shirley said as she looked on.

The ground began to shake. "Hey, are you trying to...!" Bo started to shout.

"You're coming back, right?" Bart asked.

"Definitely!" C.D. shouted back over the vibrations.

"Gee, I wonder why?" Hiroshi said.

"You'd better!" Susan shouted. "She'll be mad if you don't!"

C.D. smiled, and a mild blush on his face did not escape Shirley's eyes. "I'll save you some bad guys." Concentrating, he fired a powerful shockwave that lifted him off the ground. Everyone watched as the blond Stranger took off into the sky.

"Whoa," Bo said, his eyes wide open.

"Hey, you heard the man!" Bart said loudly. "We have a big fungus to save!"

"Let's go!" Susan joined in.

Nodding silently, Shirley led the charge into the forest. "I've never seen Bart so gung-ho before," Bo said to her.

"Apparently the thrill of adventure has gotten to him," Shirley conjectured.

"Come on, people! Let's nail those Nines!" Hiroshi chimed in, waving everyone forward. Everyone paused briefly to stare at the spiky-haired Stranger before groaning in unison. Shirley raised an eyebrow and gave Hiroshi the look she usually reserved for Bo. "What?" he said.

* * * * *

As he took a pill to stop the incoming pain in his body, Number Nine-Nine watched his uncle shake his fist in the air. "What's wrong?" he asked after swallowing the capsule.

"Teddy has suddenly gone offline," Number Nine answered angrily. He tuned his built-in communicator into a frequency used by the ENIGMA agents sent into the forest. "Attention all units! Primary unit has fallen! I repeat, primary unit has fallen! Take care of the detective and her friends as soon as you see them!"

One agent answered. "Yes, s...Aaaagh!"

Number Nine paused briefly. "Agent, what is going on out there? Respond!"

Another agent spoke. "Sir, we're under attack!" Before he could give more information, he was cut off immediately by a sound Number Nine recognized as a punch.

"All units, report!" Number Nine bellowed. Only static answered him. "Check your line," he ordered Number Nine-Nine.

The young ENIGMA agent checked the communication device in the robot bird. Static crackled through the speakers. "What the...?" he wondered.

Number Nine cupped his chin. "Clever little kids." He turned to the agents at the console. "Is everything ready?"

"Yes, sir," one agent acknowledged.

"Then begin the process," Number Nine ordered. "I'm changing the timetable." He ignored the cries of protest from his captives.

"Well, Uncle, we never said we'd be starting early," Number Nine-Nine pointed out.

"Exactly," Number Nine said. "Activate the device now!"

"I don't think so!" someone said from above.

Suddenly, the console exploded, throwing the agents in charge of it to the forest floor. "Huh?" Number Nine-Nine exclaimed.

Number Nine's eyes darted to the sky. There, C.D. was descending quickly to the ground, his hands ready to fire more shockwaves. "Heads up!" he shouted as he got closer to his target.

* * * * *

"Okay, someone's been having fun," Bo remarked as he and the others passed another group of ENIGMA agents. Like their colleagues in crime before them, the masked criminals were laid out on the ground along with their rifles. Some had cracked goggles, and all were out cold.

Shirley bent down and studied one of the agents. "He's alive," she reported, hearing faint breathing. "They all are."

"Your friend C.D. really loves his work," Blake said.

"Uh, yeah," Bart said, glancing at Rika, who nodded silently.

Something close to the agent got Shirley's attention. Just as she was about to pick it up, Rika came up behind her. "We'd better keep going," the Stranger recommended urgently.

After taking in the object mentally, Shirley nodded and got up. Glancing sideways, she saw Rika whispering something to Bart and the other Strangers, who nodded quietly after she was done. "Let's go," the young detective said.

As the kids ran deeper into the forest, they encountered more unconscious ENIGMA agents. Soon they heard loud explosions in the distance. "Sounds like C.D.'s found our robot-loving friends," Susan said.

Shirley listened closely just as the explosions faded away. "This way," she said, pointing towards the correct direction.

Shirley's group arrived at Number Nine's location, ready for action. Just when they were about to move forward, C.D. landed in front of them. Dirt and tears covered some of his clothing.

"Hey, guys," C.D. said with a small smile as he lifted himself off the ground slowly. "I told you I'd leave some bad guys for ya."

Shirley saw Number Nine with Mojo on his shoulder and two armed ENIGMA agents standing in front of what was left of the console. The Elite Eight member had his retracting pointer out, and the clothes of all three men were torn in various degrees. Her eyes swept the area further, and she saw some wreckage on the side. Further examination told her it was the robot bird she encountered back at Sussex.

"Just as I calculated," Number Nine said, seeing Shirley. "Your friend here caused quite a mess," he added, looking at C.D. Beeping loudly, Mojo agreed with its creator.

"Hey, I aim to please," C.D. quipped, standing up.

Number Nine's gaze shifted from the destroyed console to the wreckage of the robot bird. "Well, since I can't accomplish my official assignment, I might as well carry out the Red Zone Directive." Finished speaking, he and his men aimed their weapons at Shirley.

Rika dashed in front of the group and activated her energy shield, and the enemy's shots pinged against it. As Number Nine and his henchmen fired in frustration, Shirley spotted Mr. Goldman and Mr. Millstone. "We need to get them out of here," she told the others.

"Get going!" Rika shouted. "C.D. and I can handle these jokers."

While Rika and C.D. stayed to face the ENIGMA agents, Shirley and the others rushed over to the hostages. "Hey, I remember you!" Mr. Millstone exclaimed when he saw Shirley and Bo.

Shirley took out her Swiss army knife. "Hold still. I'll have you free in a moment."

Number Nine saw the would-be rescuers. "Get them!" he ordered his men.

The two ENIGMA agents rushed at Shirley and the others. "Blake, interception!" Bo yelled upon seeing them. Blake nodded and kicked one in the abdomen while Bo shoulder-tackled the other. Both agents went down hard.

"Yeah!" Bo shouted. He and Blake exchanged a high-five.

"Getting a little cocky, aren't we?" Bo and Blake watched as Number Nine-Nine appeared before them. "Well, let's see if you can survive Round Two with me," he continued. Seeing Bart, he grinned. "Don't worry, Bart. After I'm through with your friends, I'll come for you."

Looking at each other, then at Number Nine-Nine, Bo and Blake charged him, hoping to get the first hit. His grin widening, Number Nine-Nine ran at them.

"Got it," Shirley said as she finally cut and pulled the ropes off Mr. Millstone and Mr. Goldman.

"Hiroshi, get them out of here," Susan said as the two men got up and flexed their hands.

"Er, why me?" Hiroshi asked.

"Because I really don't want to hear you say 'We're gonna die!' repeatedly," Bart said half-jokingly.

"Right." Hiroshi waved his hand at the ex-hostages. "Okay, everyone who wants to live, please follow me."

Mr. Goldman blinked. "No offense, young man, but..."

"You'd rather stay here?" Hiroshi said, pointing to the fighting going on around them. Having dropped her shield, Rika was engaged in a fight with Number Nine. C.D. fired shockwaves at the Elite Eight member, who avoided them with ease. Nearby, Number Nine-Nine was overwhelming Bo and Blake. After a missed punch by Bo, the young ENIGMA agent grabbed his arm and threw him into Blake, who was about to attack from behind.

"Kid's got a good point. Come on!" Mr. Millstone said.

"But will you be all right?" Mr. Goldman asked.

"Just get going!" Bart yelled as he watched Number Nine-Nine kick Blake in the chest. "Call the police when you get out, Hiroshi!"

"Check, Bartman!" Hiroshi led the two men away from the area.

Bo attempted to grab Number Nine-Nine from behind, but got an elbow in the stomach for his troubles. As Bo sank to the ground, Blake attempted a flying kick. The ENIGMA agent grabbed Blake's leg and threw him towards Shirley, Bart, and Susan.

Shirley gasped as Blake landed in front of her. She quickly joined him at his side. "Blake?" she asked with concern as she assessed his injuries.

Blake looked into Shirley's blue eyes and managed a little grin. "Only hurts...when I laugh."

Laughing evilly, Number Nine-Nine kicked Bo in the face. "Not so tough, are you?" he taunted as Bo landed on his back. Grinning widely, the young ENIGMA agent pulled out his sword and stood over Bo. "I think I'll practice what I'm going to do to Bart on you." He moved quickly to stomp his foot on Bo's hand, which was still moving. "Uh uh uh. Just for that, that hand goes first!" Applying more pressure to Bo's hand, Number Nine-Nine raised his sword and aimed for his wrist.

Moving quickly, Bart took aim and blasted the sword into bits. Wincing and holding his hand, Number Nine-Nine glared at Bart.

"Hey, remember me?" Bart asked angrily.

Giggling, Number Nine-Nine removed his foot from Bo's hand. "So you're so anxious to die, huh? Fine with me!" Laughing maniacally, he charged Bart.

Bart ran out and led the young villain away from the others. With Susan's help, Shirley got Blake off the ground and on his feet. The young detective examined her best friend calmly, but her thoughts expressed her fear best. *Please be all right, please be all right...*

Bo groaned. "H-h-h-hey..." he said upon seeing Shirley.

"The blood is flowing back into your hand," Shirley remarked as she examined the appendage. "If he had applied more pressure, you'd be in line for an artificial one."

"Gee, thanks," Bo said dryly.

"You still among the living?" Blake asked with a small smile.

Bo smiled back. "Gonna take more than some nut job in a mask to stop me."

"Can you feel this?" Shirley asked as she ran her hand over Bo's and poking it occasionally.

"Yeah," Bo answered, turning away to hide the redness forming on his cheeks.

Meanwhile, Rika and C.D. continued their fight against Number Nine. Rika tried power punch after power punch while C.D. tried a combination of rushing moves and shockwaves. Rika leapt into the air while C.D. fired a shockwave at Number Nine's feet. The master ENIGMA agent leapt into the air and knocked Rika into C.D. The two Strangers crashed into the ground hard.

"Hmph," Number Nine remarked as he returned to the ground. "Did you children really think you could beat a member of the Elite Eight?" Pointing at the two kids, Mojo joined in with its own electronic chatter.

"That was the idea," C.D. said snidely as Rika tried to get off him.

Sitting up with Shirley's help, Bo saw Number Nine stand over the two Strangers. "Oh great." His focus shifted to Bart and Number Nine-Nine. The young ENIGMA agent was throwing punches as he yelled "Hold still, Bart!" One punch knocked down a nearby tree, forcing Bart to jump away. "I think we'd better help him out," Bo recommended.

"What about them?" Blake asked, looking at Rika and C.D.

"They've got superpowers," Bo reminded Blake. "Bart doesn't." He rose to his feet. "Come on, let's help him."

Susan watched as Bart activated his battle baton, only to have it knocked out of his hand. Bart barely dodged another punch, which took out a tree behind him. As Number Nine-Nine lunged at him, Bart got out of the way in time and recovered his weapon.

"He seems to be doing well," Shirley observed.

"He won't be for long. Come on!" Bo urged, moving towards the combating youngsters.

"Don't," Susan said softly.

Bo stopped. "What? That guy will kill him!"

"Only if he really needs our help," Susan stated, but Shirley could see the poor girl was about to cry.

"We'd better hurry and help the others," Shirley said firmly.

Number Nine-Nine noticed Shirley and the others heading towards Rika and C.D. "Looks like you're all alone, Bart."

"So what's your point?" Bart said coolly as he caught his breath.

Number Nine-Nine took advantage and charged the new Stranger. His arms shot out, and Bart found the ENIGMA agent's hands pressing against the sides of his head. Number Nine-Nine increased the pressure, and Bart dropped his battle baton. "You know what, Bart? Forget scarring you! I'll just crush your little skull instead!" the villain declared, increasing the pressure pushing into Bart's head.

"Ah, so nice of you to join us, Mademoiselle Holmes," Number Nine said as Shirley and the others joined Rika and C.D. His left eye changed from regular to vertigo wave mode. "At least I can carry out the most important part of the Red Zone Directive," he commented as his eye began emitting the vertigo-inducing light. Their surroundings now spinning and swirling around them, Shirley and the others fell to the ground and tried their best to stay up. "Don't worry, ma jeune detective, you won't feel a thing."

Ignoring the increasing pain being pushing into the sides of his head, Bart fished inside his pocket and felt a small ball. Pulling it out slowly, he rubbed against a tiny button and flipped it with his thumb in the air between him and his opponent. Closing his eyes, Bart braced himself.

"What the...?" Number Nine-Nine wondered.

The ball exploded, unleashing a flash that blinded the ENIGMA agent. He lost his grip, and Bart broke free. While Number Nine-Nine staggered back covering his eyes, Bart threw a punch into his stomach. "That was for Daddy Bigfoot!" he yelled. Still catching his breath, Number Nine-Nine received a punch to his cheek. "That was for the rest of the Bigfeet!"

Gasping, Number Nine-Nine glared at his sworn enemy through the many colored flashes dancing in front of his eyes. "Let me guess. The next one's for you."

"Actually..." Bart grabbed Number Nine-Nine's shoulders and pulled him in while raising his knee. The young ENIGMA agent felt something hard connect with his groin, forcing him to bend over while his lips opened to release a faint exclamation of pain. "That was for Susan," Bart clarified as Number Nine-Nine instinctively placed his hands into a protective stance over the injured area. "This one's for me," he said before his fist made an uppercut into the ENIGMA agent's chin. The impact sent him crashing to the ground, and Bart found his battle baton.

Mojo beeped loudly when it saw Number Nine-Nine lying on the forest floor. "Now what?" Number Nine snarled. His focus shifted to his fallen nephew and Bart standing over him with his battle baton pointed at him. "How...?" he began incredulously.

The brief distraction gave Shirley a chance to act. During the vertigo attack, she had been practicing her tai-chi breathing exercises and reaching for a rock besides her. Her hand closed over the object, and seeing her chance to use it, she flung it at Number Nine's eye. The rock hit its target, shattering the glass and sending slivers into the Elite Eight member's left eye.

Number Nine let out a tiny cry of pain as he clutched the left side of his face. Mojo hung onto its master's shoulders tightly. "Damn you, Holmes!" he yelled angrily as he staggered around fighting off the slight pain in his eye.

Recovering quickly, Number Nine-Nine tried to attack Bart, but got a baton strike on the mask which cracked it slightly. Bart took the opportunity to grab the dazed villain's arm and swing him towards his uncle. Unable to stop himself, Number Nine-Nine crashed into his uncle, and both ENIGMA agents fell to the ground.

The vertigo effect gone, Shirley and the others got to their feet. "Okay, the trees aren't spinning anymore," Bo remarked.

"A good thing, indeed," Rika stated.

C.D. blinked upon seeing the two fallen ENIGMA agents. "Bart, did you do this all by yourself?" he asked as Bart joined the group.

"Just Number Nine-Nine," Bart answered. "Someone else got Number Nine."

"That would be me," Shirley said, grateful for paying attention to Gran's lessons. She studied the two defeated villains. "However, it seems you handled Number Nine-Nine well, Bart."

"Whoa," Blake said as he looked at Number Nine-Nine. "Bart, I didn't know you could fight."

"Neither did I," Bart admitted. He winced suddenly. "Oh, my hands."

Susan joined Bart at his side. "You okay?" she asked with concern.

"Except for my hands, just fine," Bart answered with a weak smile.

Susan took one hand and kissed it lightly. "Feel better?"

"A little," Bart replied, blushing.

Everyone stared at the young couple. Even Shirley managed a little grin. Bo was about to say something when he saw movement coming from Number Nine. "Um, guys..." he said, pointing at the Elite Eight member.

All eyes present shifted to the ENIGMA agents. As he glared at Shirley, Number Nine felt the nanobots in his body repair the damage caused by the rock and glass. "Mojo, initiate escape plan!" he ordered the robot monkey.

Mojo beeped and reached into its chest cavity. It pulled out something egg-shaped and tossed it into the air. The object exploded, releasing a dark gas.

"Not again," Bo said as the air around him became darker.

Number Nine laughed as he rose and grabbed his nephew. "Until next time, ma jeune detective!" he declared.

"Somebody do something!" Bo yelled between coughs.

"Not unless you want me to destroy the whole forest!" C.D. shouted before resuming coughing.

Bart and Susan stayed together. Bo and Blake reached for Shirley. A few minutes passed before the gas dispersed. When it did, the Elite Eight member and his secondary were gone.

"Looks like your dad won't be learning more about ENIGMA today," Shirley stated, looking at Blake.

"Yeah," Blake said, sounding a little disappointed.

"At least we stopped them from getting all this," Bo said, pointing at the fungus with his free hand.

"I'd have to agree," Shirley said. She felt two people holding her hands. Looking downward, she found both Bo and Blake at her sides. "I believe you two can let go now," she said matter-of-factly.

Both boys released their hold on the teen detective. "Sorry about that," Bo apologized, fighting the urge to blush.

"Ditto here," Blake added.

Turning away from the others, Shirley glanced at Blake and flashed him a small grin. Blake gulped nervously before smiling back. Seeing this, Bo sighed and shook his head.

"Is there something...?" Susan began to ask Bart in a low voice as she watched the three friends closely.

"Yep," Bart whispered back knowingly.

"That bad?" Susan asked.

"Yep," Bart answered.

Remembering the current situation, Shirley cleared her throat. "We should go."

"Good idea," Bo agreed. "Police will be here any moment."

"Let's get everything ready for them," Rika said.

"I've got this one, guys." Bart reached into his pocket and pulled out something.

An hour later, Inspector Hewitt and Detective Tremain along with a large group of police officers arrived in the woods and found unconscious ENIGMA agents tied up on the ground after meeting up with Mr. Millstone and Mr. Goldman. Further investigation revealed two more agents tied up next to two destroyed pieces of technology in a deeper section of the forest. Examining the men closely, the inspector found a card sticking out of one of their berets. On it he found a black and white picture of a face with nothing but a question mark, a bowler, and a bowtie.

END OF PART THIRTEEN

The Case of the Gold Thief: Epilogue
by HA

On board the transport heading towards Shadow Axis, Number Nine prepared his report for Mr. E. Having given Number One the gist of recent events in Redington, he was aware that his leader had a fairly good understanding of this recent failure by now, but it was standard operating procedure to prepare a report, especially when more detail was needed. Mojo beeped loudly to its master as he added more details.

"Yes, Mojo," Number Nine said, keeping his eyes on the computerized notepad. "We will get her next time."

On the Elite Eight member's right, an unmasked Number Nine-Nine giggled in a low maniacal tone as he held a picture of Bart's face. His other hand held a nail which occasionally added another scratch to the newest Stranger's face. "Such a pretty face you have, Bart," he whispered to the picture as he stroked his scar. "When I'm through with you, you won't have it any more along with your limbs." He stroked his scar harder. "Just you wait, just you wait," he intoned, grinning as his giggles grew louder.

As his nephew continued talking and giggling to the picture, Number Nine made a mental note to see Number Eight in the main laboratory once he returned to Shadow Axis. Glancing at what he wrote so far, he also reminded himself to look into special projects, both his and those done in conjunction with Number Eight. "Perhaps it is time we sped things up in research, eh, Mojo?"

Jumping up and down on its master's shoulder, Mojo beeped out its agreement.

* * * * *

"So, Number Nine failed me," Mr. E said as he walked down one of the many brightly-lit corridors located inside Shadow Axis. Chimera walked besides him, occasionally purring.

Keeping pace behind the ENIGMA leader, Number One gulped. "I'm afraid so, sir."

"What should I be expecting from Number Nine's report?" Mr. E asked.

"Well, he mentioned fighting some kids that were like the ones Number Eight encountered," Number One said.

"Hmmmmm, I believe our special projects will be accelerated if I know those two," Mr. E said thoughtfully. "Any word on that nephew of his?"

"Number Nine did mention he's still obsessed with that friend of the Holmes girl," the second-in-command answered. "He feels he isn't ready to meet you yet."

"What about his physical status?" Mr. E inquired.

"Still suffering from occasional seizures," Number One reported.

"Inform Number Eight of that. Anything else?" Mr. E asked as the group stopped before a large door.

"Oh yes. Number Nine did say our client is very displeased about our failure to get the fungus," Number One recalled.

Nigel stepped ahead and pressed a button next to the door. "Has our client made any other complaints?" Mr. E asked as the door opened.

"No, not really," Number One answered as the small group entered a large chamber. Nigel turned on the lights, revealing the almost emptiness of the room. Number One eyed the floor, which was mostly composed of colored tiles.

"Good." Mr. E walked over to a nearby gun rack. "Looks like there won't be another 'accident' this time." After looking over the selections available to him, he pulled out a rifle. "This will do."

As Mr. E took his place behind a line on the floor, Nigel took out a pair of goggles and ear protectors and presented them to his employer. Mr. E took off his dark glasses and gave them to Nigel, then put on the goggles and ear protectors. The elderly manservant walked over to a control panel located on the right of the room. "Ready, sir?" he asked.

Mr. E aimed the rifle towards the far wall. "Pull!" he yelled.

Nigel pressed a button. Number One and Chimera watched as a floor tile opened quickly and tossed out a small doll resembling Shirley Holmes. As it flew upward, Mr. E took aim and pulled the trigger. An energy pulse shot out of the long barrel and hit its target.

"Pull!" Mr. E yelled, and another Shirley doll flew out from another panel. The ENIGMA leader shot it with ease. Number One watched nervously as his leader shot doll after doll. Chimera meowed loudly, apparently with approval.

"Feeling better, sir?" Nigel inquired after a while.

With a cold smile crossing his face, Mr. E gazed upon the charred pieces of the Shirley targets on the floor. "Almost. This is rather therapeutic, really." He leveled the rifle again and prepared for the next one. "Pull!"

* * * * *

Bo watched with a mix of disgust and amazement as Hiroshi stuffed lumpia after lumpia into his mouth. "Um, is he always like this?" he asked. He, Shirley, and Blake were sitting at a table in the Changs' restaurant for dinner. After everyone got cleaned up at home, Bart and the Strangers still in Redington had invited them to celebrate their latest victory over ENIGMA. The table was laden with platters and bowls of rice, fried rice, lumpia shanghai, Chinese-style fried chicken, adobo, and other Chinese and Filipino dishes.

"Hai," Rika answered.

"That's a definite," Ivan added.

Rolling her eyes, Gwen sighed. "He eats like...never mind."

"A pig?" Blake suggested with a grin.

"Actually, I was thinking of someone I once knew," Gwen admitted, letting her mouth turn into a frown.

"Hey," Hiroshi said, spitting out chewed-up ground pork and carrots, "I've been through a lot recently."

"Tell me about it," Bo said as he ate a drumstick. "Killer robots and psycho kids," he remarked, looking at Shirley. "Remember when our cases didn't involve anything that didn't come from sci-fi stuff?"

"I recall past cases involving alien abductions, alleged poltergeists, and alien children disguised as human adults," Shirley said matter-of-factly as she dined on rice and adobo.

"Yeah, but when was the last time we had to deal with killer robots?" Bo asked.

"We still lived," Blake said, taking a break from shoveling fried rice into his mouth. "Bo, you've got to relax," he told his friend with a smile.

"Unfortunately, we can't relax," Shirley stated. "This recent encounter with ENIGMA shows their technology is highly advanced. We shouldn't take them so lightly."

"Great," Bo said.

"Don't worry," Rika said. "We in the Strangers' Club will be there to help you out."

"Speaking of Strangers..." Shirley noted the three empty chairs at their table. "When will the rest of our party come back?"

"When they're done with their business," Rika said, smiling a little. The other Strangers followed her lead, and Shirley began silently making hypotheses about the supposed business.

* * * * *

"So it was just a Scooby?" C.D. asked the person on the screen of his comlink as he stood outside the restaurant.

Lucy Knight nodded. "Yep. The whole ghost thing was just a cover for a drug smuggling ring."

"How's everyone?" C.D. asked.

"Fine," Lucy answered. "It's the smugglers who got the worst of it, especially after what we did to them. Honestly, those guys didn't stand a chance against Katrina, Marcus, and me."

"That's good to hear," C.D. said, smiling.

"So, um..." Lucy fidgeted on the screen. "How were things in Redington?"

"Just helped Shirley beat one of those ENIGMA goons," C.D. answered.

"What about Bart?" Lucy asked.

C.D. looked up briefly and spotted Bart and Susan talking near the back of the restaurant. "I think he's going to make it as a Stranger," he said. "He really gave it to that ENIGMA kid."

"What about you?" Lucy could not hide the blush appearing on her face. "You didn't do anything rash, right?"

"I did get the drop on those ENIGMA agents before the others caught up," C.D. admitted.

"Cody, you didn't try to..."

"No, I didn't. The end result would've been the same if I did, though."

"Are you sure you didn't?"

"I swear to you, Lucy. This time, I wanted to come back alive," C.D. said.

"You still...?" Lucy began.

"Yeah, I do," C.D. replied, his eyes looking downcast. He gazed briefly skyward. "I do a lot."

"I'm glad you're okay, Cody," Lucy said softly.

"I'm glad you're fine too, Lucy," C.D. said, smiling gently.

"Um..." Lucy gulped. "I'll see you later, then."

"Yeah. See you." C.D. watched as the screen went blank. Sighing, he went back inside, leaving Bart and Susan alone.

Bart stared at the object in Susan's hand. "Are you sure?"

"Don't worry," Susan said, placing it in Bart's hand. "It was my mom's idea."

Bart studied the simple-looking ring in the palm of his hand. "Does she really want to part with this? This was your dad's wedding ring."

Susan bowed her head. "I guess she felt she needed to move on," she said sadly. A few seconds later, her mood brightened. "Besides, we'll match," she added, showing Bart her ring.

Bart slipped the ring on. "I thought people who were going steady wore pins or something like that," he mused as he looked over his hand.

"You started it," Susan said with a grin.

"Point taken," Bart said, smiling back. "Let's go back inside and show everyone."

* * * * *

"Hey, look, it's Mr. Extreme," Hiroshi remarked as C.D. rejoined the group.

C.D. examined the table. "Amazing. There's still some food left," he quipped, eyeing Hiroshi.

"I take it everything went well," Rika said.

"Yeah," C.D. said before grabbing a piece of Chinese chicken and biting it.

"So when will she...?" Hiroshi revised his query quickly as C.D. glared at him. "When will they be back?"

C.D. swallowed. "Probably tomorrow or the next day. Lucy said it was a Scooby."

"Scooby?" Shirley asked.

"It's what we call a fake supernatural occurrence that is used to cover up illegal activity," Ivan clarified.

"Oh, Scooby," Bo said, understanding the term. "Scooby Doo."

"Pardon me?" Shirley said, a little puzzled.

"You know, Scooby Doo." Hiroshi cleared his throat. "Raggy! Raggy! Rum wick!" he said, sounding like the animated cowardly Great Dane

Everyone except Shirley and C.D. broke out into laughter at the impression. C.D. just ate some fried rice while Shirley stared at Hiroshi blankly. "What's so funny?" the young detective asked.

Blake caught his breath. "Shirley, someday I'll have to make you watch all the Scooby Doo cartoons I taped while I was living in California."

"You taped Scooby Doo?" Bo asked, giving Blake a weird look.

"Well, Sherlock Holmes isn't the only detective I like," Blake admitted sheepishly.

Bart and Susan's return saved Blake from explaining his interest in Scooby Doo any further. Bart pulled out Susan's chair for her before sitting down.

"A interesting gift," Shirley remarked to Bart, eyeing his hand.

"What?" Hiroshi exclaimed, darting his eyes towards the ring on Bart's finger. "Oh no, she's got you hooked, Bartman! Bye bye freedom! Hello, ball-and-chain!"

Bart bent his head down to hide the red blush forming on his face. "I wanted him to have a ring so we'd match," Susan explained. "And don't make me start about y..."

"Here comes the bride..." Hiroshi began to sing, interrupting his friend. Unfortunately for him, Susan stomped his foot, and the musical effort ended in a restrained "AAAGH!"

"Looks like Bart's engaged," Blake remarked with a smile.

The pain in his foot fading, Hiroshi dared another wisecrack. "So, when's the wedding, you two?" he asked, nudging Bart lightly with his elbow while flashing a mischievous grin.

Bart felt his face get hotter. Susan gulped and kept her eyes on the bowl of adobo.

"Yes, that is an interesting question," Rika remarked, rubbing her chin while her mouth formed a small grin.

"Et tu, Rika?" Susan said.

"I have some ideas for a wedding dress," Gwen chimed in.

Ivan looked over both Bart and Susan closely, focusing especially on their faces. "I believe the children will be healthy and attractive according to current standards."

"What?" Susan exclaimed, her face getting redder.

"Guys, we're not going to get married tomorrow," Bart said quickly.

Hiroshi shrugged. "True, but you never know," he said, displaying another mischievous grin.

"He does have a point," Susan admitted, smiling at Bart. The amateur paranormalist smiled back, and almost everyone present said "Awwwwwwwwww."

Ignoring the light-hearted talk around him, C.D. continued to eat. As everyone else at the table continued to talk to Bart and Susan regarding their "engagement," Shirley silently contemplated ENIGMA's recent crime in Redington.

"Shirl?" Bo brought the young detective back to the present. "You okay?"

"I am," she answered.

"What's on your mind?" Bo asked.

"Oh, just something," Shirley answered. Phasing out the surrounding conversation, she returned her focus to what she saw in the forest.

* * * * *

Upon entering her home, Shirley found her family assembled in the living room watching the news. Heading towards the stairs, she got a glimpse of Inspector Hewitt talking to a reporter as ENIGMA agents were led away in handcuffs. She made it to her room after briefly answering her parents' inquiries regarding the dinner she had with her friends. Wearing her pajamas, she took out her journal and reflected on what happened recently.

"Once again, the ENIGMA organization attempted to perpetrate a crime in Redington while also trying to dispose of me," she wrote. "Fortunately, they failed again on both counts, although they came close. Thanks to Bart, I now know a little more about this mysterious society which is now dedicated to eliminating me. From what I've observed, the Elite Eight are indeed ENIGMA's elite thanks to their special abilities. It's a good thing the Strangers were prepared to take on this new threat. Bart has found himself good company.

"I am sure Mr. E hasn't given up on his goal of killing me. So far, two members of the Elite Eight have revealed themselves to me. I wonder about the remaining members and whatever abilities they possess. Number Nine was correct. There will be a next time. With their advanced technology and agents like the Elite Eight and Number Nine-Nine, ENIGMA remains a powerful force to be reckoned with.

"On a lighter note, I'm happy to report that Bart and Susan March are officially a couple, expressing their affection for one another with rings they gave each other. Eventually, mostly everyone present teased them about their relationship. Marriage even came up."

Shirley paused momentarily. As her pencil hovered over the page, she started recalling how Blake took her hand at the museum and in the forest. She remembered how firm his hand felt against hers. Blushing, she returned the memory to her internal backup storage facility and resumed writing.

"Besides the robots and superhumans, something else perked my interest. On the way to Number Nine, the others and I passed a large number of fallen ENIGMA agents in the forest. I spotted something unusual lying next to one of them. Rika interrupted me before I could pick it up, but I can reconstruct its appearance from memory. It looked like a white feather, but it was abnormally large and didn't look like it came from any of the local birds. A curious thing, indeed.

"Now I regret not getting that feather when I had the chance. Rika's interruption seemed too coincidental. Did she know where it came from? I believe she did, and she's not alone. Apparently, the other Strangers knew, including Bart. When I look at it, I'm dealing with two groups with secrets to hide, and one of them is on my side. Nevertheless, I'll learn more about the Strangers' Club as well as ENIGMA."

Finished, Shirley put away her journal and climbed into bed. She closed her eyes and eventually drifted into sleep, hoping a certain silver-haired little girl would not show up in her dreams and a young man with neatly-cut light-brown hair would appear in them.

* * * * *

In his bedroom at the Knight residence, Arthur Kingston sat at his computer. The monitor displayed pictures drawn by Rika of the various robots and machines encountered by the Strangers and Shirley.

Arthur dipped his red pipe into a bowl of soap water. "Not good," he remarked before blowing a few bubbles. "They've started using them here. What if...?"

As the pipe was replaced into the bowl, a small ringing came from the pocket of the Strangers' leader's pocket. Reaching into it, Arthur pulled out his comlink and used its phone mode to answer. "Yes?" he asked, and he heard the other speaker. "Ah, good. Has the evidence been destroyed?" He listened to the reply. "Excellent. It wouldn't be good if anyone found them, especially for you, my friend." The other side asked a question. "No, not yet. Shirley doesn't have to know yet. Besides, it's more interesting for her to try to find out on her own. I wouldn't want to discourage the detective in her." He checked the time on his monitor. "I'd better go to bed before Uncle Nathan and Aunt Regan start wondering why I'm still up at this hour. I'll see you later. Good night."

Hanging up, Arthur closed the picture files and shut down his computer. Getting up from his chair, he stretched his limbs. As he did, he eyed the framed photograph sitting next to the soap water bowl. He reached for it and picked it up. His eyes focused on a man, a woman, and a little boy standing between them. Large-lensed glasses sat on the boy's nose. Arthur kept his gaze on the man and woman, and a further examination of the Strangers' Club's president would have revealed he shared features of the couple like the woman's brown hair and the man's nose. After staring at them for a while, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Exhaling and opening his eyes, he replaced the picture and went off to get ready for bed.