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"I do not believe I am having this conversation," said D. B. flatly a short while later. "I do not believe I am talking to a mouse."
"A mouse who needs our help," said Oz.
"We're the ones who are going to need help if your dad finds us here," said D. B., glancing over her shoulder at the cafe;'s back entrance.
"And I'm toast if anyone spots me talking to you two," said Glory.
Oz placed his hand, palm upward, beside her again. "Then there's just one thing to do," he said. "You'll have to come home with me. Both of you," he added, nodding at D. B. "We can talk in private there."
Glory hopped onto Oz's hand and he tucked her into the breast pocket of his polo shirt. He stowed her gear -- skateboard, helmet, and backpack -- safely in the pocket of his jeans, then followed D. B. back into the cafe;.
"There you are, my little gingersnap," said his father as he slid into the booth. "I was beginning to worry about you."
Oz took a bite of his grilled cheese -- still good, even if it was cold. "Is it okay with you if D. B. and I go back to our house to hang out for a while?"
"Fine with me if it's fine with D. B.'s mother," replied his father. He turned to D. B. "Why don't you give her a call? You can use the phone in the kitchen."
He glanced at the clock on the wall as D. B. scooted out of the booth. "If you can wait five minutes while I finish up here, I can drive you partway. I have to pick up a few things for tomorrow night's party from the caterers in Georgetown."
A few minutes later, Oz's father dropped them off in front of Thomas Sweet, the ice cream shop at the corner of Wisconsin and P Streets. Oz gazed longingly through the window. Bittersweet -- a dark chocolate confection that was his favorite flavor -- was calling to him.
D. B. plucked at his sleeve. "Not now, Oz," she said crossly.
Oz moved reluctantly past the shop and led them toward Q Street. As soon as they were away from the busy foot traffic of Wisconsin, he tapped lightly on his shirt pocket. "You can come out now," he whispered to Glory.
Her elegant little nose popped out, followed by two bright little eyes. "Hey, I know where we are," Glory said, looking around. "This is my neighborhood."
"Really?" Oz was surprised. "You live in Georgetown? I thought you lived at the Spy Museum."
Glory gave a tiny snort. "Why would I live there? Do humans live where they work?"
"Well, no, I just thought -- "
"You have a lot to learn about mice," said Glory. "I commute, just like everyone else."
"What, now you're telling me mice ride the Metro?" asked D. B.
"No, we leave that to the rats. We use Pigeon Air."
Oz and D. B. craned their heads back and stared up at the sky.
"Really?" said Oz.
"Only way to fly," Glory replied. She began to bounce excitedly. "There it is! There's my home!"
She waved a paw toward a heavy wrought-iron gate. The words DUMBARTON OAKS 1920 were picked out along it in gilded curlicues, along with interwoven patterns of gilded leaves and acorns. Behind the gate's black bars a long gravel drive swept up toward a grand mansion surrounded by formal gardens.
"You live in a mansion?" exclaimed Oz. "Cool!"
"Not the house, you goose, that oak tree there, just inside the gate," Glory said. "Goldenleafs have lived there for hundreds of years."
Oz turned and pointed at a brick townhouse directly across the street. "You're not going to believe it, but that's my house right over there. Glory, we're neighbors."
D. B. was still staring at the oak tree. "So do you live in the tree all by yourself?"
"Heck no," said Glory. "I live there with my mother and father -- " Her voice faltered slightly. "With my mother, I mean. And my brothers and sisters."
"How many of you are there?"
"Let's see," said Glory. "There's six of us in the muffin batch, and the four cookies -- Snickerdoodle, Macaroon, Hermit, and Brownie -- and Truffle and Taffy, the babies. That makes an even dozen of us now. Used to be seventeen, though, before the French pastries moved out. They're all grown up."
"Seventeen?" Oz gave a low whistle.
"French pastries?" added D. B., with a puzzled look.
"Croissant, e;clair, Petit Four, Napoleon, and Chantilly," explained Glory. "It's a Goldenleaf thing. My mother's from the Bakery Guild. She named all of us after sweets."
D. B. raised her eyebrows. "And I thought it was bad being named after my great-aunt."
Inside the Levinsons' townhouse, Oz set Glory down on the kitchen counter and popped a plate of frozen cookies into the microwave. "They're best when the chocolate chips are gooey," he said.
"Just the way I like them," Glory agreed.
Oz poured milk for himself and D. B., and rustled up a thimble for Glory. "So," he began, pulling up a stool. "Where exactly is Dupont's headquarters?"
Glory, who was perched on the edge of the cookie plate, took a sip of milk from the thimble and wiped her whiskers delicately with the corner of a napkin. "The entrance is under a bench at the Dupont Circle Metro station," she replied. "That much we know for sure. My father was the last mouse to try to infiltrate -- he led a Mouse Guard commando squad on a special mission last July. They were ambushed. The others got out safely, but my father...my father..."
Her voice trailed off. Glory stared down at her cookie. "Dupont mailed us his tail," she whispered.
"That's horrible!" cried D. B.
Glory nodded. "It was horrible. My poor mother..." Again, her voice trailed off.
"And now you're on his hit list," said Oz, looking at Glory's own little tail with concern. "Glory, I don't think you should go through with this. Not with the Black Paw hanging over you. You're marked for death! It's far too dangerous. Couldn't we just toss some rat poison down there?"
"Dupont's stupid, but he's not that stupid," said Glory. "Every rat in D.C. knows about rat poison. No, I have to go in. Unless I get the Kiss of Death back, how am I ever going to feel safe again?"
Oz prodded at his glasses with his finger, leaving a chocolate blotch on one of the lenses. He sighed. "Well, if you're determined to go, I guess we can't stop you. We need to figure out a way to get you in and out safely."
The three of them were quiet for a while, the only sound the munching of chocolate chip cookies.
"I've got it -- how about a disguise?" suggested D. B. "Like at that workshop this morning. We could dress Glory up as a rat."
Oz eyed Glory dubiously. "She'd be the smallest rat in history. Have you seen some of the bruisers patrolling the Metro tracks?"
"I agree," said Glory. "Dupont would sniff me out in a heartbeat."
The three of them were quiet again for a bit. Then D. B. sat bolt upright.
"The Trojan Horse!" she said.
Oz and Glory looked at her blankly.
"What?" said Oz.
"The Trojan Horse! From your social studies report, Oz, remember? It's perfect." She ran to the front hallway, where she had left her backpack, and brought it to the kitchen. D. B. pulled out the fake soda can she'd purchased at the Spy Museum gift shop. "It's just the right size for Glory," she pointed out, unscrewing the top. "We just need to poke a few airholes here and there, and roll her in."
"Hey, that's not a bad idea," said Oz, taking the can from her and inspecting it. "But how do we get her out again?"
D. B. bit her lip. Glory stroked her tail. Oz took another bite of cookie. The three of them were quiet again as they considered this.
"My father's old fishing rod might do the trick," Oz ventured.
D. B. looked at him as if he had two heads. "What?"
"You'll see," he said, darting through the basement door. He returned again a minute later covered in cobwebs and waving a dusty fishing rod. "Watch," he said, unreeling a piece of transparent line from the reel. "We tape this end to the can -- duct tape should work -- then roll her in. When Glory's ready to go, we reel her back out."
Glory leaped off the cookie plate. "It just might work," she said, her whiskers beginning to twitch in excitement. She crawled inside the soda can. "Yes," she said, her voice echoing tinnily, "there's definitely enough room in here for me and the Kiss of Death." She crawled back out again and began to hop up and down along the counter. "Oz, D. B., this is a stroke of genius!"
"But how will we know when Glory's ready for us to pull her out?" said D. B.
Glory stopped hopping. Oz looked crestfallen. The three of them were quiet again.
"Unless," Oz suggested, "we can figure out a way to rig the soda can with a transmitter or something."
At this, a slow smile spread across Glory's face. "That's easy," she said. "I know just the mouse for the job."
Copyright © 2005 by Heather Vogel Frederick