Kim and Viper stared up at the caricature flag which had replaced the ship's original Jolly Roger. "What the heck?" Kim wondered.
Viper groaned, pinching the bridge of her nose. "Ugh," she muttered. "Phantom thieves. I hate these guys."
"Phantom thieves?" Kim asked.
Viper looked around, then pulled Kim aside. Most everyone on deck was either pointing at the flag, leaning on the railing and yelling for help, or grouped together discussing the "event", believing it to be a staged performance. "Okay, you know how I mentioned I used to be a catburglar?" At Kim's nod, Viper went on, "Well, phantom thieves are the opposite of catburglars. Catburglars sneak into a place in the dead of night under the cover of silence, steal what they want, and slip out, and if you're doing your job right, nobody ever knows you were there. Well, except for things being missing, I mean. Some catburglars leave a calling card or have a signature style, but most do everything they can to avoid leaving any kind of 'signature' behind."
Kim nodded. "With you so far..."
"Phantom thieves want you to know they were there," Viper continued. "They send out an advance notice of their heist. They make big, flashy entrances. They crave the spotlight. And they absolutely love stealing something right out from under your nose, with you watching, and getting away with it."
"That sounds...crazy annoying," Kim said.
"The really eccentric ones do the whole theatrical costumes and props thing," Viper added. "I've never encountered one in person, but I hear they're real—"
A huge commotion erupted all around them. They followed the gazes and excited pointing of the trapped museum patrons to the mizzenmast, where a tall, lanky figure dressed all in white stood. Kim pulled a set of compact spy binoculars from her pocket to get a closer look.
He was thin, almost impossibly so. He wore an all-white tuxedo with a blue dress shirt and a red tie, a flowing white opera cape, and a tall white top hat with a blue band. He wore a monocle over his right eye, with a triangular charm dangling from a long chain.
"Oddballs," Viper finished, groaning, as she folded her own spynoculars away.
"And I thought I'd dealt with some crazy villains," Kim said. "This guy looks like a total whacko. Or a cheesy magician that escaped from a birthday party."
"Well, he's definitely a magician," Viper muttered. "He managed to steal and sail an ancient pirate ship crowded with museum staff and patrons, with nobody noticing anything was amiss until it was too...late..." She trailed off. "Oh no."
"What's up?" Kim asked.
Viper shook her head. "White suit, magician motif, known for huge, dramatic illusions..." She looked up at the calmly perched figure in white again. "I've heard of this guy. We can't let our guards down for even a second."
"That bad, huh?"
"He's been on Interpol's hit list longer than I have," Viper said. "ICPO International Criminal Number 1412, known colloquially in his native Japan as..."
The phantom thief on the mast abruptly vanished in a puff of smoke. Dozens of playing cards fluttered down like rain.
"Kaitou Kid," Viper finished.
* * * * *
Back at Section 13, a buzz of activity roused everyone before sunrise.
"Atchaa," Uncle complained. "Is five in the morning! We have to be at airport at nine! Why you wake Uncle before long flight?"
"What's going on?" Jackie asked sleepily.
"Trouble in England," Captain Black said brusquely. "That museum ship your friends went to visit? It's been stolen."
Jackie blinked. "Viper stole a museum?!"
"Not Viper," Black said. "Odds are she's still on board with the other museum patrons. We've lost contact. The ship's been taken out into open water by a Japanese phantom thief who recently reappeared after a long hiatus."
"Surely not Kaitou Kid?" Tohru rumbled.
"The same," Black confirmed.
"You've heard of him?"
"Yes," Tohru said, eyes narrowed. "I've had the...pleasure."
Jade, a cup of cocoa in one hand and her hair messy, patted back a yawn. "He stole something from Valmont, huh?"
"Yes," Tohru said. "It was...not a good week for anyone in the Dark Hand."
"Are Viper and Kim in danger?" Jackie asked, wide awake and alarmed. "Do we need to go there as backup?"
"It shouldn't be necessary," Tohru said. "Kaitou Kid is not dangerous. In fact, he's known for going out of his way to avoid hurting anyone. He is simply..." His face twisted into a sour grimace. "Severely frustrating. And impossible to capture."
"Something of an Arsene Lupin wannabe, I take it?" Jackie asked.
"A damned good one," Captain Black said. "He singlehandedly managed to hijack a converted pirate ship right under the noses of twenty agents of Scotland Yard."
Jade whistled. "Whoa."
"And our friends are on board that ship," Jackie said gravely.
* * * * *
The crowd of onlookers watched in awe as Kim Possible flipped from rope to mast to rope, ascending the ship's rigging with ridiculous ease. Once she arrived on the spot where Kaitou Kid had disappeared, she crouched down and surveyed the scene. After a moment of exploring the upper mast, she slid down and dropped to the deck, where Viper was waiting.
"Flashy moves," Viper commented.
"No big," Kim replied absently, holding out a small metal object and a handful of burnt pellets. "I found this stuff up top. Looks like our thief does some serious planning ahead."
"Yeah, that sounds about right," Viper said. "Big heists need lots of tools. Flashy crap guys like this go in for? Need even more tools." She examined the items Kim found. "The smoke pellets are pretty standard fare, but this thing..." She frowned. "Maybe this is where all those cards came from? Speaking of which..." She picked up one of the cards and showed it to Kim. "They all have some kind of code on them."
Kim studied the random jumble of letters, numbers, and mathematical symbols on the card, brow furrowing. "Secret codes aren't really my thing," she said, shaking her head. "I mean, I can give it a go, but I think our time would be better spent trying to find this guy. He can't have gotten off the ship, and he said we'd be out here until midnight." She checked her watch. "That means we've got..." She bit her lip. "Ugh, forgot to set it to English time!"
"Eight hours," Viper said, taking a compact flashlight out of her pocket. "Let's get to work."
"And just what work would that be now, hmm?"
The women turned to see a stocky, square-shouldered man in a charcoal suit standing behind them. His face was haggard and unshaven. He flashed a badge. "Detective Inspector Sutter," he said curtly.
"Viper," Viper said. "Freelance security consultant. You can check with Section 13 in the States for my credentials. We got caught up in all this by chance. I'd be happy to lend a hand."
Sutter frowned. "Best to keep your nose out of police business, miss," he said.
"Oh come on," Viper cajoled. "Catching thieves is my job. Besides, having someone who thinks like a thief on the job can't be a bad thing, right?"
"She's a reformed catburglar," Kim supplied. "And I, well...I have experience dealing with oddball crooks." She shrugged gamely. "We'd love to help. Sooner this guy's bagged, the sooner we can get all these people off this boat, right?"
Sutter scrutinized the both of them, then let out a grunt. "Bad enough we've got that Hakuba kid back at the Yard," he said with a shake of his head. "Alright, but don't get in the way." He gestured and turned, stumping away toward the bowels of the ship. Kim and Viper followed.
"So what's Kid after?" Viper asked.
"Eye of Calypso," Sutter said. "We had everything shut down on the lower decks all day setting up security."
"That 'electrical maintenance'?" Kim asked.
"Yeah, that was us," Sutter said gruffly. "Had to keep the decks clear of anyone other than MPS, Kid's a master of disguise. He could've slipped in and out a dozen times over."
Viper frowned. "Then why not just close the museum for the day?"
"Oh, we tried that already," Sutter said with a heavy sigh. "The original advance notice said he'd try for the gem two days ago. We closed the museum and set all sorts of traps. All we got for our trouble was a second notice. The higher-ups decided it was a hoax, refused to shut down the museum again. Then that Hakuba kid all but said we'd never lure Kid out if we kept shutting it down..." He grumbled something under his breath.
"So you play Kid's game, by Kid's rules," Viper said as they arrived on the deck where the Eye was kept.
Sutter snorted. "Hell of a liberty, isn't it?"
* * * * *
The police, Kim, and Viper prowled the ship for hours, searching for any sign of the thief. The trapped patrons had all been isolated in two areas of the main deck and poop deck. Helicopters continually passed overhead, and a ring of escort ships surrouned the pirate ship, keeping a wary distance with floodlights trained on the rickety old vessel. The overall atmosphere was tense beyond measure, growing worse and worse as the night wore on.
Five minutes to midnight found Kim, Viper, and Sutter gathered in the exhibit room where the Eye of Calypso slept, with officers stationed in each corner of the cabin and at its only exit.
"So, how do you think this is gonna go down?" Kim asked.
Viper shrugged. "You never know with a guy like Kaitou Kid. He could come in through that window, he could use gas on the cops, or he could already be here. He might have even already taken the jewel hours ago and we're guarding a fake."
"Not bloody likely," Sutter said. "I've got the real one in my pocket."
"Really now," Viper said, raising an eyebrow.
The entire ship swayed and creaked suddenly as the anchor was dragged up, the scraping of the chain startling everyone in the room. "And that's my cue," Viper said, spreading her fingers wide and tossing down several small, round balls.
"Wait, what?" Kim began, just as clouds of pinkish-grey gas rose from the floor. The room was quickly filled with gas and smoke; the officers began coughing and hacking as they rushed to put on their masks. Kim felt a mask pressed into her hands and rushed to put it on, coughing as her eyes burned.
A vacuum fan overhead cranked noisily to life, and the smokescreen and gas were sucked up, clearing the room. As the officers recovered, Sutter let out a loud curse, checking his pockets. "The gem!" he bellowed. "She took the gem! After her, you sots!"
Kim's eyes narrowed as she pelted for the open door. Scrambling through the dark corridors and up rickety old stairs as the ship swayed and groaned, she burst out onto the deck, where the officers stationed topside were struggling to keep order. "Keep aside, you lot!" one officer bellowed. "We shall have order!"
Kim spied a flash of pink ascending the rigging and gave chase. Illuminated by spotlights from the helicopters circling above, Viper swung from rope to rope, climbing higher and higher. Growling, Kim pulled out her hair dryer grappling gun and aimed high, wrapping the line around the topmast. She pulled herself up, then cartwheeled down the length of the mast, landing three feet from Viper. "Alright, what's the sitch?" she growled.
Viper smirked, her eyes shadowed by her bangs, and pulled out a large, oddly-shaped gun. Taking aim at Kim's feet, she fired several razor-sharp cards, which bit into the wood in a straight line, forcing Kim back. With one last shot, Viper leapt high into the air, catching hold of the fluttering pirate flag and tearing it loose from its anchors. She whipped it around herself like a shroud...
Kim stared in shock as the black flag fluttered to the deck below, along with Viper's pink top, shoes, and capris. Where "Viper" had been, Kaitou Kid now hung by one hand from the mast, grinning down at her in the moonlight.
"Thank you for the exercise," he called as he produced the Eye of Calypso from his pocket. He held it up above his head, scrutinizing it. With a sigh, he shook his head and tossed it down to Kim, who yelped in alarm and scrambled to catch it without falling to her death. "Give that back to Inspector Sutter with my compliments," Kid said. "Oh, and you might want to take a look in the crow's nest before you head down." With a jaunty wave, he launched himself into the open air. In a bright puff of smoke, a shining white hang glider burst from beneath his cape; he glided serenely off toward land, a graceful ghost lit from above by the moon and below by the searchlights.
Kim scowled, blowing her flippy red bangs out of her eyes, watching the phantom thief's escape with narrowed eyes. "So not cool," she growled. Shaking her head, she pocketed the Eye of Calypso, then made her way to the crow's nest. She peered inside and blinked, green eyes wide and startled.
Viper—the real Viper—lay there, tied up, wide awake, and growling angrily through a canvas gag.
She was also in her underwear.
"Umm..." Kim bit her lip, then gently began untying Viper.
Viper sat up, scowling as she rubbed feeling and warmth back into her arms and legs. "I'll murder that little bastard," she snarled.
"When—?" Kim asked, holding up an index finger.
"When I went looking for the restroom while you were in the captain's cabin," Viper said. "The little pervert was hiding on the ceiling."
Kim blinked. "Wait. That means I spent almost the entire day with an impostor?! And I never noticed?"
"Well, it's not like we really know each other," Viper said. "I mean, we just met."
"But then how did he show up on the mast earlier, if he was standing right next to me?"
"Kaitou Kid is a magician," Viper said with a shrug. "I've heard of some of his illusions. I'd believe just about anything. Besides, how'd one little punk thief manage to rig a massive pirate ship to sail itself out to sea?"
"Good point." Kim coughed. "Umm...I should go down and get your clothes...oh, and give Inspector Sutter the Eye of Calypso."
"Take your time," Viper said sourly. "I'll just be here, naked and freezing my butt off and thinking up all the very slow and painful things I'm gonna do to that damn thief..."