Week 40

Putin and Snowy left the dock and headed for the fortress’s main dining hall—a one-hundred-foot–tall, torpedo-proof–glass geodesic dome.

“I am happy to have Peaches and Herb’s assistance,” Putin began, “but their arrival disturbed me. We were caught off guard. Shamefully so.”

“Had they been enemies … ” He looked off into the distance, a storm raging behind his eyes, his skin glowing slightly green.

He made an effort to calm himself before continuing. “Our work is too important; we can’t afford such mistakes.”

Snowy nodded. “It won’t happen again. I take full respon-” Putin raised his hand to quiet her, and cocked his head.

Snowy, you’re more Vyacheslav Vasilevsky than Aleksandr Vasilevsky. Enjoy that fact, little cub.” Putin chuckled at his own joke.

But the references were lost on Snowy, and she merely blinked in confusion. “Come, I’ll explain it to you over lunch,” Putin smiled.

In the dining hall, C-4, Murder Cat, and Black Ops were eating from their bowls; Peaches and Herb floated outside, snacking on cuttlefish.

The Pals all looked up when Putin and Snowy entered; no one stopped eating, but they all began chewing much more quietly.

Murder Cat had just bitten into a hunk of fresh elephant seal blubber when Putin caught his eye.

Nodding at the hunk of flesh, Putin flashed a mischievous smile and said, “Fight you for it, MC.” At once, the big cat grinned.

Come and take it,” replied the striped menace, spitting out a hunk of seal bone and licking one massive, bloody paw.

The Pals burst out laughing, and Putin joined in. Their leader was back! Finally, Putin signaled for quiet. “Enough joking, loyal friends.

“The ease with which Peaches and Herb sneaked up on us has been disturbing me. With all of us working, someone has to be on watch.”

I volunteer, Sir!” roared Murder Cat. “No, MC, you’re too strong,” Putin said, shaking his head. “We need you to keep building.”

“I volunteer, Sir!” bleated Black Ops. Putin looked at the eager young goat. “No, Black Ops—you have weird eyes.”

“Yap! Yap! Yap!” yapped C-4, peeing a little with excitement. “Not you either, little potato,” smiled Putin, patting the tiny poodle’s butt.

“No, we need a new team member for this job—one with special skills, one who can tell us what our enemies are doing, what they’re thinking.”

Putin tossed the Pravda sports section onto the table. Its cover showed an octopus with one tentacle wrapped around a little plastic cube.

“Paul is a telepath who can see the future. Currently, his talents are used only to predict the outcome of international football matches.

“He’s made enemies among Oberhausen’s bookies. We’re going to help him, and give him a chance to help us. Pals, we’re going to Germany!”