What follows are the first three chapters of my latest novel in my series The Case Files of Lily and PAWS, called Lily Solves Them All. In it, Lily, her 14-year-old “owner” Celese, and the rest of PAWS attempt to solve seven of the most difficult cases they’re ever faced, using the methods of 7 of the most famous detectives of literature and the Silver Screen, like Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot, and more! If you like what you read, just click
here
to purchase the book for only $3.99, or you can go to Amazon and buy the papeback version for only $10.99! It, and all of the series, makes for great Christmas gifts!

PART ONE:
The Case of the Copper Crooks

Chapter One
“The Game’s Afoot!”
“As you may have already heard,” I said, addressing my friends, the fellow members of PAWS (Private Army of Warrior Sleuths),”a letter of great import arrived in my mail today, which prompted me to call this emergency meeting.”
“Hear, hear!” one of my best friends, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, bellowed out. This sentiment was echoed by the other members of PAWS, Prince Alphonse Saed and Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and also by my best-est friend in the world, the now fourteen-year-old Celeste Elizabeth Quince.
We were convening our meeting in the Centralia, AR. City Dog Park, despite the fact that none of us were—technically speaking—dogs. I, of course, am Lily, the leader of PAWS, and a mutant pterodactyl who has (among other powers) the power to cloud people’s minds into them thinking they’re seeing a wee brindle black-and-white terrier. Fuzzy, Alphonse, and Lucy are also mutants. You humans see only what we want you to see.
Celeste knows our secret, as I let her in on it and made her an Honorary Member of PAWS; and, Billy Zest, who lives in an alt-universe we visited as recounted in the second volume of my cases and memoirs, Lily and PAWS: The Ghosts of Summer, knows about us. With the exception of a certain lactose-intolerant Sasquatch, Beano Gruntley the Third, and a powerful witch friend of ours, Witch Hagatha, no-one else knows our secret identities, and that we are a powerful crime-fighting organization with the very apt motto: “Be Ever Vigilant!” The public has learned that there is, or may be, a crime-fighting organization called PAWS, but they know scant else about us.
Fuzzy Wally MacGee resembles to humans a Chinese Crested dog, though he is, in reality, a rhinocerous who loves to play rugby. He is known as the Distracter of PAWS, as his peculiar appearance and demeanor is very—um—distracting. He is a fun, rough-and-tumble kinda guy, whose zigzagging gait is a little like the drunken style of walking a dog might have that has licked up too much Antifreeze (not a drink I’d recommend to anyone, as it is quite poisonous, though I’ve heard it is rather sweet-tasting).
Lucy Marmoset Higgins is another dear friend of mine. She looks like a Great Dane to the eyes of humans, but she is actually an orangutan of superior intelligence. She is a fantastic fighter, and is a wonder at cracking safes and hacking into computers. Her skills (and opposable thumbs) have come in handy many times in the past, and have enabled us to enter many buildings which we might not otherwise have been able to access.
Prince Alphonse Saed is the only member of royalty in our close-knit group. He appears to be a relatively harmless, though quite feisty, Miniature Dachsund. However, Fonzie, as he’s often called, is really a Mountain Lion. He is an expert at using several types of ninja weapons and at being stealthy. As well, he often wears a turban, and can foretell the future (to an extent) through the use of Tarot cards and crystal balls.
As for Celeste, she is the teenage daughter of the Quinces, the family I live with. She has trained in martial arts like Aikido and Judo, and she’s become quite a good fighter and an awesome addition to PAWS in several other ways. She earns money now and then, given to her by the “owners,” of Fuzzy, Lucy, and Fonzie, through taking us for walks or taking care of my three friends when their owners are out of town. This serves as an excellent cover for our periodic meetings. It is difficult to put into words how much I care for her, other than to say she is my best-est friend. But, we both like to mess with each other and even exchange…er…playful insults back and forth. Her parents, the Quinces, are both multimillionaires, and are eccentric but very nice people to live with, on the whole.
Quentin Quintilius Quince, or Triple Q, Celeste’s father, has come up with some inventions on his own, but most are ones I have implanted into his mind, to make him believe he came up with them on his own. One of the inventions, for example, are the Melon Bottom Jeans, which aid “shorties” on the dance floor in springing back upright if they happen to get too “low, low, low,” through the use of a strategically hidden squeeze bulb and tube.
Clare, Celeste’s mother, has dreamed up many interesting inventions herself, all without my help. She is a wildlife specialist and an excellent painter. Her inventions are primarily animal-related ones, like coming up with an excellent shampoo for parrots and other animals. She is always volunteering to work with the animals at the zoo, and she often likes to take in and care for injured wildlife. This is very kind-hearted of her, but it has gotten us into many jams in the past.
“It is perhaps not appropriate to shout ‘Hear, hear!’ after a simple statement of fact,” I said to the gathering, “but anyway, about this very odd letter. It is brief, and appears to be threatening in style and suspicious in substance.”
“Maybe it’s just a Get Well card,” Lucy Marmoset Higgins suggested, “or perhaps one wishing you Condolences because a dear, loved one has passed away.”
“No, Lucy,” I said, attempting to be the model of restraint that I most generally am, “No, it is most definitely not either a ‘Get Well card,’ nor one wishing me ‘Condolences.’ First of all, as you can plainly see, what I hold in my hands—er, talons—is not a card at all, but is, in fact, a letter. Secondly, I am not sick, nor do I know anyone who is sick. Thirdly, I also know no-one who has passed away. I deal in facts, as you all well know, not haphazard theories and guesses.
“The author of this letter,” I continued, “has issued me, and by extension, all of us, a challenge: to solve seven mysterious cases. Failure to solve even one of them will brand us laughingstocks, as the person who penned this says he, or she, will expose our failure to the newspapers and television stations.”
“That’s a rather sticky wicket,” Prince Alphonse Saed said. “Is that the correct term to use? I get so confused between American English, Australian English, Indian English, English English, and as to the Cockneys—well—“
“Yes, that would be an accurate summation of the state of affairs we’re currently in,” I answered hurriedly, to try to prevent Fonzie from saying anything that might be even more insulting to anyone who might read about this case in the future than what he’d already said.
“Who signed it, Lily, if anyone?” Celeste asked. Through long experience listening to us, and with the help of my tutelage, she’d come to understand our various languages.
“The signer is obviously mocking us, or me, anyway,” I said, “as he/she has not included a name, just saying that he/she is a ‘Friend.’ That can’t be, as why would a friend be writing me a threatening letter?”
I had asked the question rhetorically, but Fuzzy Wally MacGee said: “He could just be playing a game, yeah, that’s the ticket. Maybe like Tiddley-winks, or Uno, or Hide-and-Go-Seek, or—“
“No, Fuzzy, my friend! Well, actually, you could say yes!” I said.
“Which is it, no or yes?” Fuzzy asked. “You can be very confusing sometimes, Lily! I might not be as smart as you, but—”
“The person is not a friend, as he/she is trying to ruin us, and prove to the world that we are inept and can’t solve the cases he will present us. The game the writer of the letter suggests that we play with him is not a simple, though fun, sort of game, like the ones you named, Fuzzy. No, it is a much more deadly game, one that might be a matter of life or death.
As the famous detective Sherlock Bones says in cases like this: ‘The game’s afoot!’” I roared, regretting the unwanted attention in the form of uneasy stares that this caused us.
“Oh, so it’s a deadly game played with the feet, eh?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee asked. “You must mean it’s wicked good fun! So, what is it, Lily? Is it soccer, American football, rugby?” He said “rugby,” quite hopefully, but I dashed his ill-conceived notion to the ground with my reply.
“No, none of those,” I explained. “They’re all fine games. What I mean, though, is that whoever sent me this letter (an email would have been so much easier, though less personal, I suppose) is playing a game with our heads. He/she wants us to take the bait, to swallow it hook, line, and sinker, to—”
“Oh, I get what you’re trying to say now!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “You weren’t talking about a game at all; you were talking about that we’re about to go fishing! That sounds like a great idea!”
“GRRR! No, just like my saying ‘game,’ when I’m talking about the evil scheme the author of this letter has dreamt up, I’m using the symbolism of a fish taking bait to describe how this nefarious person wants us to do what he/she requests! He/she wants us to solve seven cases, and we’re going to accept his challenge. Each case must be solved according to the methods certain famous detectives have used in besting their foes. After we solve each case, we will be sent further information about subsequent cases.”
“Which detective does the author of the letter say he wants you to be like for the first case?” Celeste asked me.
“Why, one of my very favorite ones, who, like me, uses deductive logic to solve cases: Sherlock Bones!” I answered her.
“That should be right up your alley!” Celeste said. “It should give you no trouble at all!”
“And what,” Prince Alphonse Saed asked, “is the first case about?”
“I—we—are to solve who’s behind a recent rash of thefts around Centralia,” I answered.
“What’s been stolen?” Fonzie continued. ”Gold, silver, jewels?”
“No, Fonzie,” I said. “Though it is a metal that is becoming ever more scarce daily and is being sought after more and more by crooks who will stop at nothing to obtain it. The metal I’m speaking of is copper, and it appears that someone or possibly a group of thieves is trying to corner the local market on it by stealing it wherever they can find it.”
“I once knew a horse named Copper,” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “Are they after horses, too, Lily?”
“The crooks are after just copper. and not horses.” I replied. “They are ruthless in their drive to obtain the metal, which keeps going up in price, making the costs of many things also greatly increase. We must round up the culprits and stop them! What was perhaps once a penny-ante crime is now a very serious offense, costing the citizens of Centralia, our state, and the world millions, maybe even billions of dollars every year.”
“How can we catch them,” Lucy asked, “when the police have obviously failed?”
“Do not be too hard on the police, Lucy, but that is a good question!” I said, pondering my response to her carefully before I went on. “These thieves, they are like ghosts! The police do capture copper thieves, but the scale that this person or group of people the writer of this letter mentions operates under is much larger than that dreamt of by most of the other criminals involved in stealing copper. We must catch these criminals in the act, which means staking out possible locations where the thieves might strike next!”
“I suppose you have a few ideas of exactly where these ‘ghosts,’ might materialize next that the police have not thought of yet?” Celeste asked, rather snarkily, I thought to myself.
“Why, actually, I do,” I stated, somewhat perturbed. “Businesses like car dealerships, manufacturers of washers and dryers, and building sites. Oh, and also places that cast brass statues, libraries, cemeteries, and any place that has a statue standing in front of it.”
“Well, that really narrows down the list of possible places where the crooks will strike next.” Celeste said. “Why, Lily, would the thieves be interested in brass when you say they are specializing in stealing copper?”
“They desire anything that contains copper—that much is obvious. They want to steal items like copper wires and pipes, so that explains their interest in building sites. They also have used metal saws to cut the catalytic converters from every car at a dealership, all in one night, as the converters contain substantial amounts of copper in them.
“The crooks are interested in anything made out of brass, as they can melt it down into its components, tin and copper, and sell each for more than the overall cost of the brass. They have been stealing statues from in front of government buildings, libraries, and parks. They have even stooped to stealing brass statues and vases from graveyards,” I stated.
“Lily!” Prince Saed shouted. “Over there, by those trees to the left—“
“What is it you sense, or that you see?” I asked, thinking back to our first case (well, at any rate, of those I’ve so far recorded for posterity). “Don’t tell me, let me guess—Scarlet Macaws?”
“No, Lily; something shiny, one could say—” Fonzie began; but, I cut him off, seeing the approaching figure now myself.
“Coppery!” I roared, not caring how loud I was; we were under attack, and all protocol went out the window. “Quick, we must defend ourselves!”
The copper-colored automaton was human in shape, and walked, or ran, on two legs, jointed at the ankles, knees, and hips. It barreled at us, and engaged Lucy in a fight. Though Lucy is very powerful, she was no match for the mechanical might of the Steampunk robot. The android grasped Lucy about her neck, trying its best to choke the life from her body.

Chapter Two
“The Copper-Clad Alibi”
We’d been practically frozen in place, disbelief etched on our faces, but our friend’s desperate gasps for air were so urgent that we emerged from our daze and began hitting the coppery humanoid, until we were finally were able to dislodge its hands and forced it to release Lucy, who collapsed in a heap on the ground, barely breathing.
The android then started to glow, and became a cherry-red in color, as heat built up inside of its shiny metal body. Prince Alphonse Saed and Celeste hefted Lucy onto my back, as I assumed my true shape as a fierce pterodactyl. I hate doing it in the daytime, as I don’t want to chance revealing our identities; but, I saw no-one nearby, and we really had to act quickly and decisively.
I had barely made it into the air, headed for the cover of the same trees the automaton had exited from when the thing exploded with massive force. Cogs, cranks, chains, and other unidentifiable parts were blasted everywhere. I knew such a tremendous explosion would soon have the police here to investigate what had happened, though I doubt they would be able to—er—piece together the remaining evidence.
Who was behind the brilliant creation of the Steampunk android? And, who was the author of the letter? Most importantly , was Lucy going to be okay after the savage attack on her, and was somebody trying to kill all of us, or had the robot simply malfunctioned, causing it then to explode?
Whoever had created the android, I was convinced, must also be the animal or person who was behind the recent wave of copper theft. This person, or animal, must be a genius with mechanical devices, and very adept with his/her hands (though no-one could be as good with them as Lucy, of course). He/she also had to have been tipped off that we were meeting at the Centralia City Dog Park at that particular place and time, and was perhaps even informed of this by the very animal/person who had written the letter. I felt we had to have been close to whoever the culprit was, that he/she likely had been in the park watching us from a distance, with binoculars, to see his/her plan succeed.
But I had foiled him/her with my lightning-fast reflexes and actions. There was no doubt in my mind that he/she would try again.
****
I lived with Celeste and her parents at 221 Barker Street in a modest 3-story 250,000 square-foot mansion with a gabled roof. We had very recently moved, just about a week ago, from where we used to live, at 1611 Chickamunga Street, though we still lived in Centralia, AR. The move had been planned for awhile, but Celeste’s parents hadn’t officially closed on the house until the first week of August. We were only a mile away from our old house, which was roomy, at 200,000 square feet; but, you know, a growing pterodactyl needs plenty of space! Also, as an added bonus to me, being a great fan of Sherlock Bones, the name of our new street was very similar to the address where that great detective resided: 221and-a-half B Baker Street.
“Whoever the criminal mastermind is that’s behind the copper thefts and the creation of the copper automatons, Celeste,” I said to her in her bedroom that night, “is trying to throw us off the scent of the trail he is oh, so assuredly leaving.”
“What are you talking about, chica?” Celeste asked me. “You are talkin’ crazy talk. Who do you think you are, Sherlock Bones?”
“Well, he is the first famous detective I’m supposed to use the methods of in solving the—what would be a good name to call them—‘Seven Scintillating Cases,’ mentioned in the mysterious letter.”
“What do you mean, he’s trying to ‘throw us off the scent’?” Celeste asked next. “I’m sure whoever it is doesn’t want to be caught—what criminal does? But still—“
“A kleptomaniac does! But, the criminal we’re dealing with is not a kleptomaniac, though he/she is involved in a series of copper-related thefts. But, see this bit of metal I salvaged when I went back later on? The police must have missed it. It says: ‘Made In China.’ The thief must want us to think he, or she, is Chinese!” I said.
“That’s just ridiculous!” Celeste said. “Lots of things are made in China! That doesn’t mean the head of the gang is Chinese!”
“You—you’re ridiculous!” I said back to her. “Burn! You can’t help it, though—you were just born an hour ago, and you don’t know anything about the world! You are a squid-headed whale-baby, with your tentacles flapping around, and when you cry, you squirt your tears out of a blowhole on your neck! Wah! Wah!” Okay; I wasn’t exactly being mature here; but, ya gotta have a little bit of fun now and then. It helps relieve the tension when you’re on a big case, like the one we were currently engaged in solving.
“You’re the baby, and you were just born two minutes ago! You’re a whale-headed squid baby, and you have to were a bag over your head, so people won’t run in terror when they see you! You can’t help it, though; you’re new to the world, and don’t know you’re a freak of nature!”
“That wasn’t exactly being mature, Celeste!” I said. “Nor was it accurate, as you are the freak of nature, but you can’t help it; you’re all alone in the world, and are a new-born! You don’t know why the neighbors are carrying torches to the house; you don’t know things yet!
“Like why,” I said, trying to return to the subject, however much in vain my attempts might be, “the villain was trying to make us believe he’s Chinese! But, it could be he really is Chinese, and he’s trying to make us think that he isn’t, by making it seem too obvious. But, Celeste; whom do we know that is evil, and who is Chinese, that could be behind such an operation? That is the person we must find, mark my words, and then we’ll get to the bottom of this mystery!”
“Chinese?” Celeste asked. “The only person—well, the only animal we’ve ever met before who was Chinese was General Yao Xing, the red panda. But, remember? He lost his memory (because of you), was on exhibit at the Centralia Zoo for awhile, and then got flown back to China! It can’t be him that’s the criminal mastermind here—you must be barking up the wrong tree!”
“Celeste, you know I don’t bark—I roar! But, never mind that,” I said. “This case has all of the hallmarks of General Yao Xing’s being the one behind it! Who else, I ask you, would be able to plan the copper thefts so carefully, so meticulously—(drat! I hate to use two synonyms in a row like that!)? Who else is so interested in mechanical devices—well, you probably haven’t read up on his exploits in China like I have, but he does have a fascination for them—and—who else do we know who is…um…from China?”
“Lily,” Celeste said, doubt in her voice, “as I said, just because you found a hunk of metal that happens to say ‘Made In China,’ on it doesn’t mean that the person behind the thefts is from China!”
“What-ever,” I said. “You just don’t want to admit that I’m right, as usual!”
“Arrgh!” Celeste said. “Sometimes you’re so frustrating and pig-headed!”
“You! You are!” I said. “I’ll admit it seems far-fetched. But, as Sherlock Bones is fond of saying: ‘When you have eliminated the possible, the impossible, however strange it might seem, must be the answer!’”
“Hmm…” Celeste said. “I’m fairly sure that’s not exactly the correct quote—“
“I tell you, I’m on to the truth here, Celeste!” I said. “In the morning, we’ll just look in the phone book, and—“
“The phone book?” Celeste asked. “You really think that if General Yao Xing somehow regained his memory and made it all the way back to America, he would have also traveled to Arkansas once again, just to try to annoy you and foil you?”
“You’re speaking of General Yao Xing, Celeste!” I said. “He not only could have done something just like that, but he would if he could! In that respect, he is somewhat similar to a woodchuck, rather than to a red panda.”
“Just to prove you wrong,” Celeste said, “How about I get the phone book now, and we can see if his name is in it?”
“Ah!” I said. “There’s hope for you yet, my dear Celeste! That’s just what I was about to suggest, though we’ll have to put off trying to find where he lives until the morning, as the hour is getting late….”
“General Yao Xing’s name won’t be in the phone book, Lily! But if it will get you to shut up and admit you’re wrong for once in your life, I’ll look up the name for you!”
Celeste went down the stairs to the kitchen, three flights below, acting oddly huffy. I’m not sure what excuse she gave to her parents, if they asked her what she was doing; but, it didn’t take Cel very long to return with the book in her hands. I impatiently waited, looking over her shoulders, and—BAM—there was his name! Well, it didn’t say ‘General,’ but it did list a number for a ‘Xing, Yao.’ We had, it seems caught a bit of luck for a change!
“Lily, okay, there is a ‘Xing, Yao,” at 1112 Sparrow Street, but that is just a coincidence! There must be a million Yao Xings in the world, and the odds of this particular one being the red panda General Yao Xing must be astronomical!”
“Taking into account the population of China, which is currently at 3,571,896, and factoring in the commonality of the name compared to other Chinese names, there are, it’s safe to say, 2,548,923 gentlemen with that name. But, the vast majority of them are still living in China, not here. In America, there are fewer than 1,000 people with that name, and only one other who lives in Arkansas, an 87-year-old fellow in Little Rock.
“Ergo, by the process of elimination,” I continued, “the Yao Xing now residing at 1112 Sparrow Street has a very high degree of probability of being our General Yao Xing. Besides, he has a Facebook page—check it out!”
I showed her the results of a search I’d just done on my laptop computer, which I kept in her room underneath her bed. There, looking back at us from the monitor’s screen, was the smiling face of the red panda General Yao Xing. There was no mention at all about his ever having had a career in the military, of course; he didn’t want that knowledge broadcast for the authorities to use against him, if they ever had the reason to investigate his background.
“Fine!” Celeste said, again in a very huffy tone of voice. “We’ll go to his address tomorrow, and ask him a few polite questions. Still, it might be just a distant relative, like a second cousin, to General Yao Xing.”
“I’ll admit that there is a microscopic possibility that you could be correct, Celeste,” I said. “Perhaps in the light of the day, my brilliant deductions will be shown to be erroneous. But, I highly doubt that. We shall see, we shall see.”
“Will you please stop talking like that?” Celeste asked me.
“Like what?” I said.
“Like you’re the actor Basil Rathbone, who played Sherlock Bones in lots of black-and-white movies!” she said.
“There are ears and eyes everywhere!” I said. “I need to not only assume the methods of the great Sherlock Bones, and the deductive ratiocination he displays, but I need to even act like him, lest someone questions whether the case was solved in the manner stated in the letter. One can never be too careful, Celeste!”
“Oh, just shut up and go to bed!” she said.
With those words as my cue—not the kind used in billiards, but as my none-to-subtle hint to leave her room—I did as she asked, and went to sleep, curled up beside her, with my head on her other pillow and my body underneath her toasty-warm covers.
****
The following day was a Sunday. In just another week on a Monday, Celeste would be starting 9th. grade at Centralia Jr. High, “Home of the Fightin’ Musk Ox.” The skies were cloudy, indicating that a thunderstorm was on the way. Still, if my calculations were accurate, based upon past weather patterns and thunderstorm occurrences, we had time to eat our breakfast (the most important meal of the day), round up the rest of PAWS, and get to the address before the storm began—if we had a little bit of help, in the form of Triple Q’s driving us in his blue Mustang.
The breakfast was spectacular, as usual. The Quinces had ham, bacon, scrambled eggs, and buttered toast with jam. I had…horrors…dog food. But, Celeste slipped me some choice pieces of bacon, and her mother gave me what was left of the scrambled eggs, so I had a pretty decent breakfast, myself.
Triple Q was Centralia’s mayor, despite the attempts of certain criminal elements, i.e., the SNURFLES, at having the election results overturned. Celeste asked her father to drive her to pick up the other members of PAWS for a walk, and he could hardly refuse, as we did not now live as close to them as we once had.
“I’ll give you a ride, no problem!” he said. “I’ll take you to the dog park, and you can walk them there, okay? It could storm soon, so I will wait in the car while you walk them for about a half hour or so. But, get some towels from the bathroom, so if it does start raining, you can wipe off their paws so the car doesn’t get dirty.”
“But, Dad,” Celeste said, “I just took them to the dog park yesterday! I was thinking of walking them around our neighborhood today. Why can’t I do that, instead?”
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Triple Q said, “but there are some crazy people around, and I don’t want anything bad to happen to you.”
“Celeste,” I softly growled, “Don’t worry! Let’s just go; I’ll make sure we make our planned rendezvous with the General!”
With a stack of five towels in hand, and myself on—yet another indignity—a leash we climbed into Triple Q’s Mustang and drove off to gather up the other members of PAWS. Fortunately, we learned upon picking up Lucy, that she had not experienced any lingering effects of the attack. She seemed to be alright, though her voice was a little hoarse. I used my ability to control minds by ordering Celeste’s Dad to then drive us not to the dog park, but to—you guessed it—1112 Sparrow Street.
Getting out of the Mustang, with all of our leashes in her hand, Celeste walked up to General Yao Xing’s front door and rang the bell. Nobody answered it after the first ring, so thirty seconds later, she rang it again. We heard footsteps approaching, and someone fumbling with a chain, and then the door opened and we saw the red panda within.
“Yes? General Yao Xing said. “Can I help you? Have we met before?”
“General Yao Xing, I presume,” I said. “I am Lily Elizabeth Quince, though some people for some odd reason call me Victoria. Anyway, You know very well you’ve seen me, Celeste, Fuzzy Wally MacGee, Lucy Marmoset Higgins, and Prince Alphonse Saed before. We are the ones who put you behind bars, at the Centralia Zoo, until your country asked for you back!”
“Lily?” General Yao Xing pondered. “I seem to dimly recall a ‘Lily,’ who shot me with a tranquilizer dart even though I was actually trying to turn against the SNURFLES and reform! And then, you made me “accidently” lose my memory, and after wondering who I was and how I’d ended up behind bars in a zoo, I do remember a lengthy boat ride back to China. But, now I’ve returned, and I’ve reformed for good. I am living an honest, honorable life, so—not that I don’t enjoy reunions, but—you can all leave now!” he said, about to close the door.
“Wait just a moment!” I said. “We have some questions for you first!”
“Will you go away and leave me alone if I answer your silly questions?” General Yao Xing asked. Huffiness, it seemed, was like a disease, spreading from person to person to even animal.
“Yes,” I said. “You have my word on it! But, only if you answer me honestly, Yao. Now, admit it; it’s for your own good—you are the one responsible for the recent wave of copper theft in Centralia, aren’t you?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” General Yao Xing stubbornly replied. “I have heard about there being such thefts taking place, but I have nothing to do with them! I told you, I’ve reformed!”
“Where were you the night of August 4th , then, Yao? Answer me that!” I said, trying to shake his story and catch him in a lie.
“I was—out of town visiting a sick relative.”
“And what about the night of August 11th.?” I asked him.
“Yeah, and how about the afternoon of the 12th, and morning of the 14th?” Fuzzy Wally MacGee chimed in, just saying dates at random.
“Uh, um…” General Yao Xing began, thoroughly confused. “The night of August 11th., I was, um, at a basketball game, watching the Centralia Dragons defeat the Alabama Meercats The afternoon of the 12th, I was here, watching TV. The morning of the 14, I was…where was I? Oh, mowing the lawn, I believe!”
“You believe, or you know?” Prince Alphonse interjected. “Tell us what it really was, or we’ll have to turn you over to the cops!”
“That’s what I really was doing!” the red panda said. “Mowing the lawn! It was supposed to rain later in the day, so I wanted to get it over with before the rain started.”
I almost felt sorry for the poor red panda that had once been one of China’s greatest criminal masterminds. Perhaps he still was, and he was just feigning ignorance.
“We’ll check all of those dates, you understand, Yao?” I asked. “If there is anything squirrely about any of them—and you know how much I hate squirrels—though, they taste rather delicious, if prepared correctly—we will be back!”
“What?” Lucy muttered as we walked away from Yao’s door. . “Is that all we’re going to do to him? Just let him go?”
“Why, yes, Lucy,” I answered her. “For now, anyway. You see, if what General Yao Xing is telling us is true, he has a copper-clad alibi. The nights of August 4th and August 11th are two nights when copper thefts occurred. On the night of the 4th, the two bronze statues of lions were stolen from in front of the Centralia Public Library. Then, on the night of August 11th, the housing development that’s being built downtown was also hit, and all of the copper pipes and wiring that was going to be used in constructing the houses was pilfered. We will corroborate his story, but even someone like General Yao Xing can’t be in two places at once.”
“Wouldn’t it be accurate to say that General Yao Xing has an iron-clad alibi, Lily?” Celeste asked, as we got into the Mustang.
“Copper-clad sounds cooler,” I said. “Burn!”

Chapter Three
“He Who Smelt It, Dealt It”
The return drive was uneventful. That is, until suddenly there was an awful aroma in the car, emanating, my keen nose told me, from the direction of Fuzzy Wally MacGee. I wasn’t about to say anything to embarrass him, but truth be told, Fuzzy Wally MacGee is not someone who’s embarrassed easily.
Celeste had no such compunctions, however, about whether or not she embarrassed anyone, so she said: “Holy crap! What is that smell? Did someone die in here?”
“Ha, ha!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee laughed, looking very pleased with himself, as if he’d done an amazing trick. “She who smelled it dealt it!”
“Eureka!” I roared. “Fuzzy Wally, you’re a genius!”
“Yeah, I know…wait…what was that you just said?” he asked, bewildered.
“I said, you’re a genius!” I repeated.
“Why-why are you saying that?” Fuzzy asked.
“Elementary, my dear Fuzzy!” I said. “Everyone knows that to extract copper from copper ore, it must be smelted. Therefore, it stands to reason, wherever the nearest place is that smelts copper must be the next place we investigate!”
“I went on a field trip to the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant in 6th grade,” Celeste said. “It’s pretty near to us, just over on Temple Street.”
“That must be our destination, then!” I said. “There is still time to get to the bottom of this and solve the case, before the storm comes!”
“Do you really think you can solve the case that quickly?” Celeste asked.
“It is entirely possible,” I answered. “Who knows until we try?”
The exterior of the Centralia Copper Smelting Plant was made of white bricks that had gotten progressively dingy over the years. Smokestacks arose from the rooftop and smoke issued forth, but it was not nearly as grey-black as it had been when the plant was first constructed. New antipollution regulations had greatly reduced the amount of pollution they spewed into the atmosphere. An engraved copper sign affixed to the bricks by the entrance stated that the building was the property of Lao Tzu Xing.
We—all of us, including Celeste’s father—entered the facility through the visitors’ entrance, but strangely enough, we saw no secretaries at the front desks nor any other employees within sight. Not letting that stop us, we went through two doors that led onto a railed balcony overlooking the shop floor. Below us, there was a bustle of activity, but none of it coming from humans. There were noisy machines all around us, being operated by copper automatons. There were also huge vats that glowed with the heat of the molten metal that they contained. The entire factory appeared to be self-sufficient, with human employees having been made obsolete due to the extreme efficiency of the androids.
“Get you dirty, stinkin’ robot hands off of me!” Prince Alphonse Saed suddenly yelled. Automatons dress in security guard uniforms had snuck up on us and one had grabbed Fonzie. I blasted the robot with fire I created using my pyrokinetic abilities, doubtless resembling a dragon of old. The automaton immediately let go, and Fonzie whipped out a special pair of steel nunchuks from where he’d kept them hidden inside his turban. He wanted to be prepared after the fiasco yesterday so he’d be ready if he ever had to do battle with automatons again. The fight was on!
Lucy had recovered from her mild injuries, but didn’t want to risk the chance of getting surprised and throttled again, so she was very wary, dodging the attacks of her foes. She got in blow after blow on them, swinging her forearms like they were massive billy clubs, but only seemed to be denting their bodies with her efforts.
Celeste managed to exploit the size and weight of her opponents and use it against them, throwing two of the copper automatons into vats of boiling metal. They landed with a huge splash, sending up waves of molten copper into the air before they then sunk, after thrashing about a bit. Besides fighting the automatons, we needed to prevent them from accidently harming Triple Q, who was still in a hypnotized, dazed state.
“Stop! Stop that fighting right away!” someone yelled. I turned my head and saw the form of a red panda racing as fast as his stubby legs could go towards us.
“Finally!” I said. “So you’re calling off your copper goons?”
“Are you kidding?” the red panda asked, I assume rhetorically. “You might damage them if you’re not careful! Go easy on them!”
“’Go easy on them’?” I repeated. “They’re the ones who started it! We only came here to interrog—uh, ask the owner of this place, Lao Tzu Xing, some questions!”
“I am the person you speak of, Lao Tzu Xing, but you will have to leave immediately! Visiting hours are over!”
“We’re not here to merely ‘visit’” I said. “As I said, we’re here to ask some questions to—the identical twin brother of General Yao Xing!”
“But—how did you know I was the twin brother of General Yao Xing? How did you find me?” Lao Tzu asked.
“Though you both have the same last names, I wasn’t sure until you just now confirmed my suspicions,” I said. “Confess, Lao Tzu! You are the criminal mastermind behind the recent thefts of copper around Centralia, aren’t you?”
“Copper thefts?” Lao Tzu said. “No; I am a law-abiding citizen of America! If my brother, the General, is involved with this mess, go arrest him, if you’re the police! I don’t want anything to do with him. I disowned him years ago, after he became a member of that criminal organization—“
“The S.N.U.R.F.L.E.S.?” I said. “The Super Nefarious Union of Rascals Formidably Linked in Everlasting Solidarity?
“Yes, that’s the one!” he said.
“So, you deny creating these copper automatons and sending one to try to kill us at the Centralia City Dog Park yesterday afternoon?” I asked him.
“Yes, and no,” Lao Tzu Xing answered. “Yes, I invented the automatons. I wanted to see if I could make some that were just as good as the ones I have read about in Steampunk novels. I’m a fan of them, you see. And, I found that I could make the Steampunk robots I read about come to life! But, I did not send one of them to mur-der you. I would not want to risk that any of my…I think of them as my children…would become damaged!”
“Come now!” I said, anger entering into my voice. “Fact: Someone sent a copper automaton after us! Fact: When the automaton failed at strangling Lucy to death, it still attempted to fulfill its mission by exploding! Who else would have had access to the automatons, other than you?”
“There is one other ‘person,’ who had access to them…” the red panda said.
“Who? Your brother, General Yao Xing? Was he working with you all along, despite your previous claim that you’d ‘disowned’ him?” I asked, pressing the matter, wanting to—nay, needing to—solve this case once and for all.
“No, not him. I’d heard rumors he’d made his way back to America, and had given up his life of crime; but, I didn’t try to find out if the rumors were true or not.”
“If not him, then who was it?” I said.
“I needed help programming my creations,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I had built them, everything seemed to be in order. The robots should have worked. I didn’t know what was wrong, why they wouldn’t get up off of the wooden work tables and move. That’s when I was contacted by a mysterious individual who called herself Professor Polynesia.”
“Professor Polynesia!” I roared. “How could I have been so stupid not to have detected her hand—er, wing—in this whole sordid affair!”
“Professor Polynesia?” Celeste echoed us. “Who’s that? I thought we were done with parrots for awhile, now that you’ve become obsessed with solving these seven mysteries.”
“Professor Polynesia is my arch nemesis, that’s who!” I said. “Well, she’s among my—how would I say it?—arch nemesii? Sometimes even I lose track of how many I have! But, she’s definitely in the Top Five, or Top Ten…
“Anyway,” I went on, “Long story short, she is the granddaughter of the Polynesia, who was Dr. Doolittle’s Macaw..or, he was, I suppose, her doctor…she hatched not more than twenty years ago, so she is still fairly young as far as Macaws go. Unlike Doolittle’s Polynesia, or vice-versa, Professor Polynesia is evil. I wouldn’t doubt if it’s her claw-writing on the letter I received! But why…why would she risk my solving this case, and putting an end to what seems to be a profitable criminal enterprise?”
“Maybe she likes you, and wants to be friends!” Fuzzy Wally MacGee said. “I likes perty birdies! Maybe she could even join PAWS!”
“Wha-wha-what?” I said. “Professor Polynesia is ‘perty,’ as you suggest, Fuzzy; one could even say she’s beautiful; but, she is a criminal, and so she could never be a member of PAWS, so get that idea out of your head!”
“Aw,” Fuzzy said, “Couldn’t we make an eggs-ception? Maybe, like General Yao Xing, she reformed!”
“As you may recall, Fuzzy, it was Professor Polynesia who sent one of these copper-clad criminals after us at the dog park. Lucy, and all of us, could have been killed by what she tried to do!”
“We could let bygones be bygones, can’t we, Lily?” Fuzzy protested.
“About some things, Fuzzy, yes—but, I take an assassination attempt on any of my friends or myself very personally.”
Still without having had my question answered, I pondered it over. “She must not really care very much about this copper theft scheme she’s dragged you into, Lao Tzu,” I finally said. “That’s got to be the answer! She intended you to be left to take the responsibility for the copper crimes, if I made it this far in solving the case. She would be long gone, and—”
“Lily!” Celeste shouted, “We’re being surrounded! All of the robots have been closing in on us while you were yakking with Fuzzy!”
“Nice,” I said. “Blame your ‘best-est friend,’ for this trap we now find ourselves in! I can’t help it if I think aloud sometimes. I guess Professor Polynesia hasn’t gone, after all…she was just ensnaring us in her wicked web!”
“I thought you said that she was a Macaw, Lily, not a spider!” Fuzzy said.
“She is a Macaw, Fuzzmeister,” I said. “but she acted like a spider, in that she—’
“Leave the explanations for later!” Celeste said. “How in the heck can we get out of here? We can’t fight against all of these automatons!”
“Lao Tzu, there is still a chance they will listen to you!” I roared. “Order them to get back to work and leave us alone!”
“I’ll try, but I don’t think it will work,” Lao Tzu Xing said. “I command you all to return to your jobs!”
Unfortunately, his order fell on deaf ears. The copper-clad criminals, who likely were the ones who had stolen Centralia’s copper to make even more of themselves at the commands of Professor Polynesia—their real boss—kept getting closer and closer.