If you reside along the rails, you may have heard of a boy named Wally and his best friend, the f lying dachshund. You may have heard rumors that this daring duo saved a train full of passengers from plummeting to their deaths. The rumors are true.
My name is Noodles. I am that dachshund.
More had rested upon the brilliant boy’s shoulders than even the rail men guessed. Walter Kennewickett, scientist in training, had not only invented the wings that saved the train, but also stymied Madini the magician and the peculiar pigeon Iron Claw in their attempt to capture President Theodore Roosevelt and subvert his will.
“Subvert” is a very unpleasant word. It means to overthrow completely.
Madini was apparently the mastermind of an evil organization that called itself the Mesmers. As everyone knows, the first and most famous rule of evil organizations is: Try to take over the world. The second and only slightly less famous edict of evildoers happens to be: When foiled, seek vengeance.
“Vengeance” is a particularly unpleasant word. In the weeks since Iron Claw and Madini had appeared at the Kennewicketts’ Automated Inn, I had become acutely aware of many unpleasant words, including subvert, sabotage, and mind transference. When the Mesmers sought vengeance, I felt it would be against the fearless boy who had foiled their plans. But by far the most unsettling word I had overheard in recent weeks—more unsettling even than vengeance—was the word mole.
You might think a mole is a small brown creature that lives in the dark and eats worms. But there is another kind of mole: a person you know and trust who is betraying you.
Calypso, Wally’s mother, believed that there must be a mole at the Automated Inn. Oliver, Wally’s father, could not believe any of the Kennewicketts’ friends or family capable of such subterfuge.
But neither could he explain how top-secret research papers had disappeared from his seemingly secure lab, subsequently to be published in Italy as the works of one Signore Giuseppe, a man famous not for science but for his copious coops of racing pigeons.
Both Oliver and Calypso agreed that the amazing automaton Gizmo should add one more job to her already busy schedule. In addition to scientific assistant and head cook, they had appointed her chief of security of the Automated Inn. Being an automaton, Gizmo was immune to the Mesmers’ mind control. Being Gizmo, she had the architect’s original drawings of the Inn stored in her mechanical mind. She was familiar with every nook and cranny where a mole might try to conceal himself.
Gizmo’s tireless toil left the Kennewicketts free to attend to other business. On this particular morning, that business was our Annual Open House.
I had been flitting about the crowds all morning, wearing the wonderful wings Wally had designed for me. I searched the skies above for pigeons—and the crowds below for somnambulists, mustachioed Mesmers, or bizarre behavior that might betray a mole. My tail was tired, and an undeniable emptiness was gnawing at my middle. Wagging to keep myself aloft was a great deal of work, and it had been hours since I’d eaten breakfast, but I dared not rest.
I’d appointed myself Wally Kennewickett’s personal security force. I had failed once, when I had not detected the scent of approaching danger. I would not fail Wally again. Everyone from the townspeople to the hobos who camped by the river had been invited to the Open House. I had a lot of patrolling to do.
“Hello, Noodles,” Mayor McDivit called from the deck of the Daedalus as I flew past. Oliver and Calypso were conducting tours of the aerostat extraordinaire, a lighter-than-air craft designed to resemble a sailing vessel.
The citizens of Gasket Gully fled in fright the first time the Daedalus weighed anchor over Irma’s Ice Cream Parlor so that Wally could descend by rope ladder to buy a treat. They had mistaken her for the Flying Dutchman, a ghost ship that sails the sky as a harbinger of doom.
Oliver appeared on deck, bullhorn in hand, to explain that what appeared to be masts, bowsprit, and spars were actually vanes for recording wind direction, electrometers for detecting atmospheric electrons, and various versions of lightning rods.
I tipped my wings to the mayor and dove lawnward, where Prissy Kennewickett, Wally’s almost-grown-up cousin, was performing a one-woman circus show. A stray ball from the lawn tennis tournament that her twin, Melvin, was officiating arced toward me. I caught it in midair and returned it to the court before rising into the sky again.
Everything seemed peaceful.
But no matter how hard I shook my ears, I could not dislodge the feeling that had settled over me as the sun rose that morning. Something horrible was about to happen. Such a feeling of dread can keep even a hungry dachshund aloft.
“Noo-dles!” Wally’s call drifted to me on the wind. “I need you!” I wheeled, wagging wildly, my every whisker alert as I rose above the parapet that crowns the Inn. There were neither Mesmers nor moles in sight. At the far end of the roof stood the original stone turret, topped by Oliver’s Gyrating Generator and accessible only by scaling a wind-swept ladder. A mysterious new tower had risen beside it.
Closer at hand, a cluster of townspeople were watching the boy scientist. Walter Kennewickett’s contribution to the delights of the day was a demonstration of his clever man-lifting kite. Today, however, it would be a watermelon-lifting kite instead. Calypso was not yet convinced of the contraption’s safety.
Wally had designed the kite in order to test the principles of wing angle as described by Mr. Wilbur Wright, a bicycle builder and aeronautical experimenter. Wally was adjusting the altitude of the rail cannon, the device that would launch his invention into the air.
I realized the problem at once, of course. The folded kite, with its cleverly concealed deployment device, which should have been affixed to the back of the chair that sat on said retractable rail cannon, was missing.
“Noodles,” Wally said as I settled on the rooftop beside him, “could you find Gizmo for me? She hasn’t delivered the kite, and I’m sure I shouldn’t leave our guests!”
I barked agreement and prepared to make my way through the gathered gawkers to the belvedere.
A “belvedere” is a building or room set on a high spot and situated in such a way as to command an excellent view.
Our spacious rooftop belvedere was completely enclosed due to the constant winds. Three walls were of stone, but the fourth was constructed of glass. The guests gathered around Wally had no doubt taken the time to look out over their town and the valley beyond before they’d stepped through the door in one of the stone walls and onto the roof. There were several more huddled around that doorway now, most of them awed by the expanse of blue sky above.