Chapter OneAre you going to feed us
something weird for your report?"
Sophie LaCroix looked up from the library table into the disdainful
face of B.J. Schneider. Disdainful was a word Sophie's best friend, Fiona,
had taught her, and this word definitely worked when B.J. or one of the
other Corn Pops narrowed her eyes into slits, curled her lip, and acted
as if Sophie were barely worth the breath it was taking to say something
heinous to her.
"As a matter of fact, yes," that same
Fiona said as she tucked a strand of
dark hair behind her ear. It popped
back out and draped over one gray
eye. "We thought we'd dish up some
sautéed roaches on a bed of seaweed
with a nice snake venom sauce."
Sophie dragged a piece of her own hair under her nose like a
"It is so disgusting when you do that," said another Corn Pop,
Anne-Stuart - with the usual juicy sniff up her nostrils.
Not as disgusting as you and your sinus problems, Sophie thought.
But she didn't say it. All of the Corn Flakes had taken a vow not to
be hateful to the Corn Pops ever, no matter how heinous THEY
were to the Flakes.
B.J. put her hands on her slightly pudgy hips. "I KNOW you
aren't really going to serve something that nasty for your culture
project," she said.
Fiona pulled her bow of a mouth into a sly smile. "Then why
did you ask?"
B.J. and Anne-Stuart rolled their eyes with the precision of
"What are y'all doing for your presentation?" Sophie said,
adjusting her glasses on her nose.
"We AND Julia and Willoughby - we're doing a folk dance,"
Anne-Stuart said. "And we're going to make the whole class
"You're going to 'make' us?" Fiona said.
Sophie cleared her throat. Sometimes Fiona had a little trouble
keeping the vow. It was hard with the Corn Pops acting like they ran
Great Marsh Elementary, especially when it stretched into Saturdays
at the town library.
"Then everybody can get used to dancing with each other," Anne-Stuart
said. She sniffled. "That way, SOME people won't feel so lame
at the graduation dance."
"What graduation dance?" Sophie and Fiona said together.
Sophie's voice squeaked higher than Fiona's, which brought a
heavy-eyebrowed look from the librarian.
"What dance?" Fiona said again.
B.J. and Anne-Stuart both sat down at the table with Sophie and
Fiona - every bit as if they'd been invited - and B.J. shoved aside
the Food from Around the World book they'd been looking at as
Anne-Stuart leaned in her long, lean frame. Sophie was sure she
could see moisture glistening on Anne-Stuart's nose hairs.
"The dance the school is having at the end of the year for our
sixth-grade graduation," she said.
"Duh," B.J. put in.
"Who decided that?" Fiona said.
"Just the entire class. Back in September." B.J. gave her buttery-blonde
bob a toss. "You were probably off in one of those weird
things y'all do - making up stories -"
"No," Fiona said. "I wasn't even HERE yet in September. I
moved here in October."
"I know YOU were here," Anne-Stuart said, pointing at Sophie.
Sophie shrugged. She knew she had probably daydreamed her
way through the entire voting process. That was back before she'd
gotten her video camera, and before she and the Corn Flakes had
started making films out of daydreams instead of getting in trouble for
having them in school and missing important things like voting for a
"What were the other choices?" Fiona said.
"Who cares?" B.J. said. "We're having a dance, and everybody's
going to wear, like, dress-up clothes, and -"
"So if you didn't even know about the dance," Anne-Stuart said,
"then you obviously don't have your dates yet."
"Dates?" Sophie said.
"You mean, as in boys?" Fiona said.
Anne-Stuart snorted and covered her mouth. B.J. waved at the
librarian, whose eyebrows were now up in her hairline.
"You know," Anne-Stuart whispered. "Boys. The ones with the
"Cute LEGS?" Sophie's voice squeaked out of her own nostrils,
and she was sure Anne-Stuart was going to drip right out of her
chair. B.J. kept smiling at the librarian.
"People are actually coming to the dance with DATES?" Fiona
"You meet your date at the dance, and he doesn't dance with
anybody else but you the whole night." Anne-Stuart put her
hand on Fiona's and wrinkled her forehead. "You don't HAVE
to. I mean, if you can't get a boy to be with you, then, you can't."
"I don't WANT a boy to be with me, thank you very much,"
Fiona said. She snatched back her hand.
Sophie was doing the mustache thing with her hair again. What
boy in their class would she even want to get within three feet of?
One of the Fruit Loops - Tod or Eddie or Colton? The thought
made her feel like she had the stomach flu coming on. She shrank
her already tiny form down into the chair.
Tod Ravelli had a pointy face like a Dr. Seuss character and acted
like he was all big, even though he was one of the shrimpiest boys in
the class. Acting big included trying to make Sophie feel like a worm.
Colton Messik wasn't any better. He seemed to think he was cute
the way he could make the Corn Pops squeal when he told a joke.
Sophie and the rest of the Flakes thought the only thing funny about
him was the way his ears stuck out.
And Eddie Wornom was the worst. He acted like Mr. Football, but
mostly he was what Sophie's mom called "fluffy" around the tummy,
and he was louder than the other two put together, especially when he
was calling their friend Maggie "Maggot" or some other lovely thing.
"I doubt any boy would ask you anyway," B.J was saying to
Fiona. "Not unless it was one of the computer geeks. Vincent or
one of the boy-twins or - I know! Jimmy Wythe - he's like the
KING of the computer geeks. You could go with him."
Fiona let her head fall to the side, eyes closed, and pretended to
snore. Sophie watched the librarian march toward them. B.J. lowered
her voice. "But you better hurry up because there are more
girls than boys in our class. You COULD get left out."
"We have to go," Anne-Stuart said. She grabbed B.J.'s hand,
pulling her from the chair, and cocked her head at Mrs. Eyebrows.
Silky-blonde tresses spilled along the side of Anne-Stuart's face.
"We tried to get them to be quiet, ma'am," she said. She and
B.J. trailed off.
"Come on," Fiona said. "Let's wait for Kitty and those guys
Sophie left Food from Around the World on the table and
followed Fiona past the glowering Mrs. Eyebrows and on outside - where
a corridor of trees sheltered the library and the Poquoson,
Virginia, City Hall from the road. Big, fluffy hydrangea bushes
provided a getaway spot for the two of them. Sophie sat down on the
curb and wriggled herself under a snowball cluster of blue flowers with
Fiona perched next to her.
"Just when I think they couldn't GET any more scornful, they
reveal yet another layer of contempt -" Fiona's eyes narrowed, Corn
Pop style. "They're evil."
Sophie nodded. "And Julia wasn't even with them. Or Willoughby."
"Julia always lets them do the dirty work, being the queen and all.
And Willoughby - you can hardly tell if she's even a Corn Pop
anymore. Have you noticed that sometimes she's with them and sometimes
"I invited her to hang out with us that one time -"
"And the Pops snatched her right back. Even if THEY don't
want to be her friends, they don't want US to be her friends. I told
you - they're evil."
Sophie squirmed. "What about this dance thing?"
"It's lame. I vote the Corn Flakes just don't even go. We have
better things to do. Hey - I have an idea." Fiona nodded toward
Sophie's backpack. "Get your camera out. Let's hide in this bush
and film Kitty and Darbie and Maggie when they get here."
Sophie felt a grin spreading across her face. "Let's pretend we're
secret agents -"
"Hired to do surveillance on -"
"A new group of agents being gathered for a special mission -"
"Quick - here comes Maggie's mom's car!"
As Senora LaQuita's big old Pontiac pulled into the parking
lot, Sophie climbed into the hydrangea bush with Fiona, fished
the camera out of her backpack, and became -
Agent Shadow. With a practiced hand - and eye - Agent
Shadow framed her fellow agent in the lens. Wide-set brown eyes,
dark chin-length hair, and a classic jaw line revealed her Latino
heritage. An experienced agent knew these things. The dark-haired
agent didn't say good-bye as she drew her boxy-square frame from
the car, but, then, according to classified information, this was not a
smiley spy. Agent-from-Cuba was known as the most serious of this
collection of agents from all over the world.
Yeah - an international group. That was good, Sophie decided.
As Maggie plodded up the library walk with her leather backpack,
Sophie panned the camera, but Fiona gave her a poke and pointed back
to the parking lot. A van was pulling up -
"There's Kitty," Sophie whispered to Fiona.
Agent Shadow focused the camera and watched the girl hop down
from the van, her black ponytail bouncing. Agent Shadow continued
to film Agent Ponytail as she stood on tiptoe to talk through the
window to the driver. Agent Shadow was sure she was getting ALL
the instructions about when to be back at headquarters - for the
fourth time at least. This agent's documents had revealed that
she could be scatterbrained at times. Just as she turned, Agent Shadow
got a good shot of her profile - an upturned nose that looked like it
had been chiseled out of china. Agent Ponytail was very un-agentlike.
That must be part of her cover.
"Hey, Mags!" Kitty called up the walk.
Agent Shadow jumped and collided with Agent Big Words,
nearly tumbling the two of them from their hiding place -
"Better let me," Fiona said. She picked up the camera where it
teetered on a hydrangea branch.
Agent Shadow grew more intent as she crept deeper under cover.
She had been in the field for forty-eight straight hours without
sleep. Perhaps it was time to let Agent Big Words take over the
She watched, her mind razor-sharp, as Agent Ponytail hugged the
neck of Agent-from-Cuba. Agent Ponytail appeared to be the slobbery
type. Agent-from-Cuba obviously was not.
"Psst - here comes Darbie!" Fiona hissed.
Agent Shadow swiveled her gaze to the figure getting out of a
BMW. She was the newest agent to be recruited into this gathering.
Recently arriving from Northern Ireland, she would have much to add
to the mission internationally speaking, especially when Agent Shadow
determined just what the mission was - which would come later. It
always came later.
Refreshed from her short break from the camera, Agent Shadow
snatched it back from Agent Big Words and zoomed in on the subject
striding up the walk. She was swinging her arms and her reddish hair
and taking in everything with flashing black eyes.
"Agent Irish will be helpful in giving each of our agents new names
and identities," Agent Shadow told herself. "Once we figure out what
dangerous, risky, and utterly vital mission we'll be on. But first I must
see just how observant she is. Can we remain hidden - or is she just
as sharp as her file says she is?"
Even though Agent Shadow burrowed herself deeper into the
treacherous tangle of brush, she could see Agent Irish growing bigger
in her lens - and bigger - and bigger -
"Don't be thinking you're sly, you two," Darbie said - her nose
pressed against the camera lens. "You're just a bit obvious."
"But we got you on film!" Fiona said.
She crawled from behind the bush, shaking tiny blue blossoms
from her hair. Sophie wriggled out after her.
"Our next Corn Flakes production should be a spy film, I
think," Sophie said.
"My mom could make us trench coats," Maggie said.
Fiona bunched up her lips. "That's better than dance dresses."
"DANCE dresses?" Kitty's clear blue eyes were lighting up
like tiny flames. "That's right - the sixth-grade dance!"
"You knew about it?" Fiona said.
"Of course she did. So did I." Maggie shrugged. "They do it
Darbie gave a grunt. "You won't be seeing me at a dance. Those
Corn Pops already made me feel like an eejit about my dancing when
I first came here." "Eejit" was "idiot" in Darbie's Northern Irish
accent. It was one of her favorite words. "I'd rather be making a spy
flick," she said.
"Exactly," Fiona said.
Sophie looked at Kitty, who was poking at a weed growing up
through a walkway crack with the toe of her pink flip-flop.
"You WANT to go to the dance, Kitty?" Sophie said.
"Kind of," Kitty said. "It would be fun to be all, like, dressed up.
We don't HAVE to dance." Kitty's voice was starting to spiral up into
a whine. Whining was one of the things she did best.
"You just want to get dressed up and go stand around?" Fiona
"Maybe we could just dance with each another -"
"And pretend we're agents in disguise, keeping the Corn Pop
organization in our sights," Sophie said.
"That definitely has possibilities," Fiona said, rubbing her chin.
"What if we could foil their plans with their 'dates'?"
"Define 'foil,'" Darbie said.
"I think that means mess them up," Sophie said.
Darbie giggled. "You mean, like mix them up so they end up
dancing with each other's boyfriends?" she said.
"The only thing is," Sophie said, "we can't be hateful to the
Pops just because they're hateful to us. Corn Flake code."
"I know - bummer," Fiona said. She sighed. "But you're right.
We'll have to think of some other mission."
"Whatever it is, we can't let them see us filming them," Darbie
"WE don't have to dance with any boys, though, do we?" Maggie's
voice was thudding even harder than usual.
"Absolutely not," Darbie said. "We'll have nothing to do with those
Blaggards, Sophie thought, repeating the word blackguards in her
mind the way Darbie pronounced it. With her Irish accent, Darbie
could make anything sound exciting and exotic and worth doing.
"We might look a little suspicious not dancing with ANY boys,"
Kitty said. "It's not like ALL of them are blackguards."
"The Fruit Loops definitely are," Fiona said with a sniff. She
dropped down on the grass, and the rest of the Corn Flakes joined her.
Darbie nodded slowly. "But those boys that are always raving on
about computers - they aren't THAT bad."
"You mean like Nathan and Vincent and Jimmy and the twins?"
"Ross and Ian," Kitty said.
Sophie peered at Kitty through her glasses. Kitty was looking suspiciously
dreamy, and Sophie had a feeling it wasn't about being a
"I can't keep any of them straight," Darbie said.