Chapter 1 — 1 —
BUTTERBEAN LIKED TO THINK THAT nothing could shock her. She’d been part of an International Crime Syndicate, after all. She was an experienced Ghost Investigator. But this? Nothing had prepared her for this.
Mrs. Food had been eating tuna fish for the past five minutes and hadn’t offered her a bite once. NOT EVEN ONCE.
Butterbean scooted forward until her chin was practically in Mrs. Food’s lap. Maybe Mrs. Food just hadn’t seen her. That was the only logical explanation.
“You’re not getting any, Bean,” Mrs. Food said, her mouth full. “Stop begging.”
Butterbean fell backward in shock. BEGGING? As if a Ghost Investigator would resort to BEGGING. She was simply making herself available. Staying open to opportunities. And if that opportunity happened to be a mouthful of tuna fish, so be it.
Walt stopped licking her paw and looked over at the crumpled pile of what used to be Butterbean. “Do I even want to know?” she asked Oscar.
Oscar opened his beak to answer and then reconsidered. He shook his head. “No.”
“For the record, I was NOT begging,” Butterbean grumbled, picking herself up and stomping over to the living room. “I was very restrained.”
“It’s true!” Polo called from the rat cage. “I saw the whole thing!”
“Me too,” Marco said, climbing up onto the water bottle. “Oooh, you know what this calls for? I think this calls for an investigation!”
“Yes!” Polo narrowed her eyes. “Why wouldn’t Mrs. Food give Butterbean any of her tuna fish? Very suspicious, if you ask me. Mysterious, even.”
“Yeah! Mysterious!” Marco agreed. “We should definitely investigate.”
Oscar groaned. There hadn’t been much to investigate since they’d solved the mysterious haunting of Apartment 5B, it was true. But that didn’t mean the rats hadn’t tried. There had been the mysterious case of Madison’s missing hairbrush. (It fell behind the bed.) Mrs. Food’s suspicious behavior involving a series of mysterious and very short phone calls. (Telemarketer.) And the mysterious disappearance of Walt’s favorite seafood treats. (Chad ate them. He was an octopus they knew who lived on the eighth floor. And to be honest, he was usually behind any mysterious food disappearances.) Oscar was beginning to think that the rats didn’t really understand the meaning of the word “mysterious.”
“That’s not a mystery,” Oscar said. “We’ve talked about this.”
“Are we sure, though?” Polo asked. “Seems kind of mysterious to me.”
“Maybe we should investigate why it isn’t mysterious,” Marco said thoughtfully.
“Maybe we should investigate why you want to investigate everything,” Walt said, resuming her paw licking. “Begging isn’t allowed. Mystery solved.”
“I WAS NOT BEGGING!” Butterbean barked. “I WAS WATCHING CLOSELY.”
Walt rolled her eyes. “Fine. Watching closely is also not allowed. Not at mealtimes.”
“Well, when you put it that way,” Marco said. Walt was an amazing investigator.
“You know,” Oscar said thoughtfully. “Since there aren’t any crimes going on, I think it might be time for us to officially retire.”
“Retire?” Marco gasped. “You mean retire retire?” As far as he was concerned, being an investigator was the best thing that had ever happened to him. Well, that and being part of an International Crime Syndicate. Not many rats had that kind of résumé.
“Can you even retire from being an investigator?” Polo asked.
“I think we can,” Oscar said. “Besides, we have lots of other things to do now. I, for one, am thinking of improving my Human language skills. How does this sound?” He cleared his throat. “Quiet, Oscar!” He looked around expectantly. “That was me being Mrs. Food, in case you couldn’t tell.”
“I could tell,” Butterbean said. She’d heard Mrs. Food say that a lot.
Walt raised one eyebrow. “Impressive.”
Polo shot Marco a look. “Um, yeah. It sounded just like her.”
“Like looking in a mirror!” Marco piped up. “Or, no. I mean…”
“OOOHHH! Do the elevator lady voice next!” Butterbean said, wagging her tail. She loved the voice in the elevator that told you what floor you were on.
“It’s just a little something I’ve been working on,” Oscar said, preening. “I still need more practice.”
“What needs more practice?” Wallace, a wild rat who used to live in the vents, peeked around the edge of the sofa to make sure it was all clear.
“We’re talking about retiring from the investigating business,” Polo explained. “We’ve all got lots of other things to do. Oscar is going to work on his Human language skills.”
“Yeah,” Marco said. “And me and Polo, we’re, um…” He hesitated, looking around the cage. “Well, these seeds aren’t going to sort themselves,” he said, staring at the scattered seeds doubtfully.
“And I’m going to be a therapist!” Butterbean said.
Everyone stared at her.
Wallace shot a look at Polo, who shrugged. “Um, sure, okay,” Wallace said finally. “Well, I’m super busy too. I finally moved out of Apartment 5B and set up my sleeping bag behind the couch in 7C.” Wallace had used one of Madison’s pom-pom socks as a sleeping bag during a stakeout once, and he may have forgotten to give it back. It was one of his prized possessions.
“Wait, 7C? Mrs. Power Walker’s apartment? Are you moving there for sure?” Butterbean asked. Mrs. Power Walker was one of Butterbean’s favorite residents in the Strathmore Building. She was always really friendly in the elevator, pushing buttons when needed and never asking questions. The perfect neighbor.
Wallace shrugged. “I’m not ready to move my collection of lost keys in or anything, but it looks promising. She leaves a bowl of milk out every night, so that’s a plus. She says it’s for the brownies. I think that’s a kind of fairy,” Wallace explained.
“No, brownies are like cookies but fatter,” Butterbean said. “Like flat cake.”
“That’s true,” Polo agreed. “Madison eats them.”
Oscar closed his eyes. He decided not to say anything.
“Well, I haven’t seen any, so I think it’s fair game,” Wallace said. “I’m not turning down free milk.”
“Sure,” Butterbean said. Free milk was free milk.
“See? It sounds like we won’t even miss being investigators,” Oscar said, clicking his beak. “What with Wallace’s new apartment, Marco and Polo with their seed sorting, Walt with her…”
“Relaxing,” Walt said. “I’m planning on doing some high-quality relaxing.”
“Right. Relaxing. And Butterbean with her—”
“Being a therapist,” Butterbean said, nodding.
“Um. Right,” Oscar finished lamely. He didn’t even want to ask. But somebody had to. “Butterbean, about this therapist job—”
“You can’t just decide to be a therapist,” Walt interrupted.
Butterbean looked offended. “I’m not. It’s a real job.”
Walt sighed. “Of course it is, but you’re a wiener dog. Do you really think—”
She hadn’t even finished the sentence when the front door slammed open, and Madison Park, the medium-sized girl who lived with them, rushed into the room waving a piece of paper over her head.
“It’s all set!” she said, dropping her backpack and throwing herself into the chair next to Mrs. Food.
“Well, hello to you too,” Mrs. Food said, swallowing the last of her tuna. Butterbean looked mournfully at the empty plate. It was so unfair.
“Right, sorry, hello. But it’s all set! See?” She pushed the piece of paper toward Mrs. Food. “I got the appointment for Butterbean.”
Mrs. Food peered down at the paper through her glasses. “Well, isn’t that something!”
Madison jumped up and hurried over to Butterbean. “You’re going to be great, Bean!” She kissed Butterbean on the head. “She’s going to be perfect. Look at her—she even looks like a therapy dog!” Madison rubbed Butterbean’s ears and then rushed off toward her bedroom. “I can’t wait to e-mail Aunt Ruby!” Madison was staying with Mrs. Food while her aunt was deployed overseas.
“Therapy dog?” Oscar said slowly. It was all making sense now.
“I told you. I’m going to be a therapist,” Butterbean said smugly.
Walt raised an eyebrow. “I don’t think it’s quite the same thing, Bean.”
“You’re just jealous because I’m going to have my own practice,” Butterbean said.
“OOOOoooh, are we talking about our careers? Me next, please.”
Everyone jumped at the voice. (Marco hit his head on the bottom of the water bottle.) “DON’T DO THAT!” Marco said, rubbing his head.
“Sorry, did I scare you?” The white cat emerged from behind the couch and blinked at them innocently. “Oops. My bad.”
“YOU KNOW YOU DID!” Polo said. “And you can’t just come in like that. Mrs. Food is RIGHT THERE!” She waved her arms in the direction of the dining room table.
“Relax, you know I always keep out of sight,” the white cat said. She lived on the fifth floor but didn’t see anything wrong with using the vents to explore other apartments. “So did I tell you I’ve come out of retirement?” The white cat was the cat featured in all the Beautiful Buffet Cat Food commercials. (Print and television.)
“Only a million times,” Marco grumbled softly.
“Sales of Beautiful Buffet Cat Food PLUMMETED when I retired. They practically begged me to come back. I didn’t have the heart to say no.” The white cat curled her tail around her feet.
“So you’ve said,” Oscar said politely. He’d heard the story so many times he could practically recite it word for word.
“Well, it’s true,” the white cat said.
“I’ve got a career now too,” Butterbean said. “I’m going to be a therapist. That’s why we’re all retiring from investigating, because we’ve got so much to do.”
“Hmm. Well, good to know. Of course, that’s bad news for Biscuit, but I guess he’ll figure things out himself.” The white cat lashed her tail in the air as she turned to go back behind the couch.
“Wait, Biscuit? What’s wrong with Biscuit?” Butterbean asked, frowning.
“Oh, nothing important.” The white cat waved a paw dismissively. “Nothing that a career dog like you should worry about.”
“But which Biscuit?” Butterbean asked. There were a lot of Biscuits in the building, and Butterbean was friends with them all. “Second Floor Biscuit? Eighth Floor Biscuit? Biscuit with the Slobber Problem? Biscuit who—”
“Second Floor,” the white cat said. “But like I said, he’ll probably be fine. I’m sure he’ll survive somehow.” She turned to leave, but Walt blocked her path.
“Okay, spill it.” Walt’s whiskers were bristling. She didn’t have strong feelings about any of the Biscuits, but she didn’t love the way the white cat was toying with them. “What’s wrong with Second Floor Biscuit?”
“Well, if you must know,” the white cat said, her eyes gleaming. “Your friend is in big trouble.” She made a sympathetic face at Butterbean. “He’s getting evicted. Kicked out. By this time next week, your little friend will be out on the street.”