By Ron Bates
Foreword by James Patterson
Read by Adam McArthur
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James Patterson presents: The Titans of the Toilet! The Wonders from Down Under! Nitro City’s very own sewer superheroes: The Plumbers!
Thirteen-year-old Sully Stringfellow has always admired the great plumber heroes of Nitro City. These wrench-wielding warriors guarded the sewers — until they were discredited by the powerful Ironwater Corporation, which has a sinister scheme to take over the city.
Without the plumbers, Nitro is being overrun by mutant creatures — and things are about to go totally nuclear thanks to the potentially explosive 50th Anniversary Burrito Festival! It’s up to Sully and a league of long-forgotten plumber heroes to save the day, making it safe for all to flush again. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it!
Why did the superhero flush the toilet?
Because it was his doody.
HA! If you laughed at that joke, twelve-year-old me would’ve given you a high five. I’ve always loved potty humor—that’s why I just had to publish The Unflushables. In the wacky town of Nitro City, the plumbers are the true superheroes. And it’s their doody to fight mutant sewer creatures, like the croctopus and mucus monsters, and keep them from taking over the city. This book reminds me of some of my favorite stories, with awesome action scenes and hilarious, gross-out jokes like in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Ghostbusters. I ain’t afraid of no jokes!
He who controls the sewers controls everything.
The Greeks knew it. The Romans knew it. Now you know it.
Monday, 1:34 p.m.
I’m a tiger, still and silent, waiting to pounce. That’s what I keep telling myself. It might be easier to believe if this were a jungle instead of the third stall in the downstairs boys’ restroom, but I go where the trail leads me. I’m hunkered down, gripping my knees for warmth. Why is it so cold in here? Probably because there’s a weird hissing toilet poking me in the backbone. What do they make those things out of, ice? It doesn’t matter. Right now, I’m only thinking about three things:
Who’s it going to be?
When’s it going to happen?
What did I just step in?
I’m not going to lie, that last one worries me a lot. I mean, I’ve seen Timmy Wattenberger use this stall. No offense, but I play basketball with Timmy—he can’t hit the rim. Just thinking about his terrible aim gives me the willies. I’m tempted to scoot away, but a sound stops me…
Not ordinary footsteps—heavy, trudging thuds like someone has given a musk ox a hall pass. The restroom door glides open, then slowly closes again. I take a deep breath, count to ten, and burst out of the stall like a claustrophobic rodeo bull.
Mumford Milligan lets out a high, piercing, baby-like squeal. It’s embarrassing for both of us.
“Wh—what the…” he shrieks. “Are you stupid or something? You coulda gave me a heart attack!”
Please. We both know Mumford has no heart.
“What are you doing in here, Mumford?”
I’ll be honest, it’s not a great question to ask in the bathroom. But someone in this school has been clogging toilets, and I don’t have time for niceties.
“Nuthin’,” he grunts.
It’s the answer I expected, just not the one I want.
“So what have you got behind you?”
“What… this?” he says.
He pulls his hand out from behind his back, and it’s like he’s surprised to find there’s a cigarette in it. But I’m not. My nose picked up that noxious death-stick the second he lit it up.
“It’s not mine,” he lies. “I, uh, found it. It was in the hall. I just came in here to get rid of it.”
“Oh? You mean like you got rid of these?”
I show him the plastic bag I have in my pocket. Inside it is an ugly, mangled, moldy wad of partially decomposed bathroom-butts.
“I pulled these out this morning,” I tell him. “They get stuck in the pipe.”
Mumford looks like he might be sick.
“You mean you got those out of the toilet?” he asks.
“And you carry them around in a little bag?”
Oh, sure, leave it to Mumford to turn this into something weird. Do I like having half-flushed toilet tobacco in my pocket? No. But there’s a Phantom Clogger out there, and I’m going to find him.
Unfortunately, it’s not Mumford. I can see that now. Mumford’s smoking some cheap, flimsy stink-log. The Phantom? He goes for the fancy stuff—Torpedoes. I know because I’ve found them at the scene of every clog. They’re his signature brand.
Which means I’m wasting my time.
“Just keep your lip-warmers out of my toilets,” I growl.
It’s probably not the smartest thing I could’ve said. I mean, first of all, they’re not “my” toilets. If they were, Timmy Wattenberger would never be allowed near them. And second of all, it’s pretty clear I’ve been doing some unauthorized plumbing in here, which makes threatening Mumford a dangerous game. The fact is, if he wants to get me in trouble, he can. Big trouble. But he won’t. Guys like Mumford don’t turn in people like me—they have other ways of handling their problems.
Did I mention Mumford is enormous? He’s a big, bulky eighth-grader with arms like jackhammers and a personality that ought to come with a warning label. I see an unsettling grin cross his face as he moves calmly to the nearest bowl and dangles the putrid puffer out over the rim, daring me to stop him. Am I scared?
Plenty. But I knew the risks when I walked into a middle school john.
I give him my fiercest glare, narrowing my eyes until they’re squinty and hard. He gives one back to me. His looks tougher. Doesn’t matter, it’s too late to back off now. We’re locked in a good old-fashioned bathroom stare-down, and neither of us wants to be the first to blink. It’s only been a few seconds but my corneas already feel like walnut shells. The tension is unbearable. Suddenly, Mumford’s hand twitches, I see his fingers move, and then…
He pulls the choker away from the bowl.
I can’t believe it—he backed down. Quietly, I let myself start breathing again. But just when I think I’m out of the woods, Mumford flicks off the ashes, wads the cigarette into a ball—and swallows it.
“The next time I get rid of a butt, it’s going to be yours,” he says.
Then without another word, he turns and walks out the door.
It’s over. Did I win?
Well, the Phantom Clogger is still out there, I just made Mumford Milligan’s hit list, and my sneakers smell like somebody else’s pee.
You tell me.
I rush down the hall toward Mr. Dunn’s algebra class. Sure, he’ll give me the stink-eye for being late, but I’m riding the line between a C and a B-minus, and if I fall any further behind—
The loudspeaker on the wall crackles.
“Sully Stringfellow, report to the principal’s office. Sully Stringfellow to the principal’s office.”
Oh, well. When was I ever going to use algebra, anyway?
Monday, 2:12 p.m.
I walk into the principal’s office, which is a small, crowded room inside a bigger, crowded room near the front of the school building. The principal is sitting in a high-back chair turned to the window. He swivels to face me.
“Sully,” he says.
“Leonard,” I answer, collapsing into the green armchair across from him. I grab an orange jelly bean from the big jar on his desk and pop it into my mouth.
It’s our standard routine.
“I’ll tell you why I called you here,” he says.
“Toilet in the downstairs boys’ room? Third stall?”
He looks surprised.
“Yes. How did you know?”
“It’s a troublemaker,” I tell him. “I’ve had my eye on it for a while, but I’ve been a little busy with—”
“The Phantom Clogger?”
I nod. “He’s still out there—and up to his old tricks.”
Leonard’s normally blank face develops deep worry lines. He jumps to his feet and leans over his desk.
“He’s got to be stopped, Sully. I put you on this job because I thought you could get results!”
“I’m trying!” I say.
“Well, try harder. I can’t keep having toilets go down, not with this many students. It’s bad enough that I have to worry about…”
He doesn’t finish his thought. Instead, his voice trails off like someone who’s said too much already.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
The anger leaves Leonard’s face, and in no time, he’s back to looking like a potato with glasses.
“I know what you think, Sully,” he says. “You think a principal’s job is all about power, and detentions, and telling people what to do. But that’s just the fun part. The truth is, my day is filled with more responsibilities than you can imagine. And it all starts in the bathroom.”
His eyes flash and he points a long, skinny finger at me.
“A school without a functioning bathroom is not a school—it’s chaos!” he says. “Look, I haven’t told you this, but the Phantom Clogger isn’t our biggest problem. Sinks, water fountains, the showers in the gym—they’re all slowing down. It’d be one thing if it was just happening here, but it’s not. I’ve talked to other principals, and this is system-wide. And last week at Nitro High… they found something in one of the toilets.”
The tension in the room is as thick as extra-chunky peanut butter.
“Was it…” I ask, almost afraid to finish the question, “big?”
Leonard bites his bottom lip and nods.
“It wasn’t a student who found it, thank goodness,” he says. “They were able to call someone who could handle it quietly before anyone found out.”
When Leonard says “anyone,” he means Ironwater. They’re the corporation that controls the plumbing in Nitro City. According to them, the pipes in the schools are absolutely, 100 percent fail-proof. They’re not, of course, which is why when something goes wrong, they blame the principal.
No wonder Leonard looks worried.
“These are troubled times, Sully. You don’t know half of what’s going on,” he says. “I need every stall open for business, and I need it by tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow? Why tomorrow?”
Leonard turns toward the window and puts his hands in his pockets. He lets out a long, troubled sigh.
“Tomorrow is Tuesday, Sully. Taco Tuesday.”
I gulp. At Gloomy Valley Middle School, the second Tuesday of every month is half-price tacos in the cafeteria. They’re very popular.
“I’m sorry. I forgot,” I say.
Leonard shakes his head.
“You’re not the one who put them on the menu. So… can you help me?”
“Can you get me out of PE?”
“That’s your fifth period, right?”
“Right,” I say.
“I’ll write you a hall pass.”
Of course he will. Leonard—or Principal Bogart, which is what I have to call him everywhere except in this office—knows how to get things done. He’s a practical guy—I could tell it the minute I saw his buzz haircut, clip-on tie, and no-nonsense loafers. We’ve got a sweet little arrangement, him and me: Leonard gets his drains fixed without attracting any attention, and I get a day away from the athletic torture chamber known as physical education.
Of course, if Ironwater ever found out I was messing with the plumbing system… well, let’s just hope that never happens.
Leonard hands me the pass, meaning our business is done. I stuff it in my pocket and start toward the door.
“Sully,” he calls out after me. “The Phantom Clogger?”
My eyes narrow and I feel my jaw clench.
“Don’t worry, Leonard,” I tell him. “I’ll flush him out.”
Monday, 10:08 p.m.
“Creepy crawlers in your pipe—
Make you want to fuss and gripe—
Don’t let creatures spoil your day—
Use Muta-Nix—and then flush away!”
“Muta-Nix is the number one anti-mutation treatment on the market. Use it once a week to keep your drains clean, shiny, and mutant-free! That’s Muta-Nix, a division of Ironwater.”
5… 4… 3… 2… 1… aaaaaaaaaaand my door opens. Great. Here we go again.
“It’s after ten. What’d I tell you about that TV?”
“The TV’s not on, Big Joe. It was my computer.”
“Computer? They’ve got commercials on the computer?”
I nod, but I’m not sure he believes me.
“They pop up on the internet. It’s kind of annoying.”
I only mention that last part because being annoyed is one of Joe’s hobbies. He gets grouchier before breakfast than most people do all day.
“Noise is noise,” he says, forming his mouth into an upside-down horseshoe. “I don’t want to hear it after ten.”
I nod again and hope that’s the end of it, but he’s still looking at me. Is he mad? I honestly can’t tell. That’s the problem with living with an old grump—they always look mad. I’m trying to remember whether he looked this grumpy before—maybe, but I don’t think so. I do know that except for the permanent frown, he looks exactly the same as he did when I was little: large head, no neck, thick chest, thicker belly, and a pair of khaki pants that keeps falling down in the back.
Big Joe Feeney is my grandfather, so it’s not like I’m sharing a house with a complete stranger, but it’s close. He disappeared four years ago without saying a word to anybody. I didn’t even know he was back in town until three months ago—that’s when I moved in here. It was the only place I could go after I lost my parents.
Okay, I didn’t actually lose them—I mean, I know what ocean they’re in. They’re on Viti Levu, which is in the Fiji Islands, which are in the Pacific Ocean, which is on planet Earth, or at least that’s what they keep telling me. I guess I’m supposed to find it reassuring that if I really need them, they’re just a hop, skip, and 7,933 miles away. I mean, it’s not as if they abandoned me and went to Mars, which would have been irresponsible and kind of awesome. No, the way they tell it, they’re still right down the hall like they’ve always been, but now our house is the size of the Western Hemisphere.
“Honey, this is a good thing for all of us. Especially you,” my mom said when she sprang the news about my abandonment. “Yes, I’m being transferred to Fiji, and your dad and your sister are coming with me, but you… you’re going to have your own amazing adventure right here!”
An adventure? Oh boy! What skinny, defenseless thirteen-year-old wouldn’t love being left alone in Nitro City, the most dangerous place on Earth?
All right, technically Nitro City is “The Most EXPLOSIVE Place on Earth,” at least according to the billboard at the edge of town. That’s supposed to mean we have a “booming” population, but everyone knows it’s because there used to be a nitroglycerin factory here. It blew up decades ago, and the chemicals seeped into the ground, and some people say that’s what started all the weirdness. Me? I don’t know. I think some places are just naturally weird.
Some people, too.
What’s he doing over there? He’s just staring at a wall. Is this still about the noise?
“What is this?” Joe says.
“That’s a poster, Big Joe.”
“You just put this up?”
Okay, now I’m lost. Is he frowning or is he thinking? Big Joe is a hard one to read. He runs his hand through that thick mop of gray hair and walks the length of the wall.
“Seems like you’ve got a lot of these,” he says.
“Not really. I know people with more.”
“There are people with more stuff like this?”
He’s stopped in front of a faded black-and-white poster of Tank Huberman.
“Not exactly like that one. It’s vintage.”
“Vintage?” he says. “That mean ugly?”
Ugly? Tank Huberman isn’t ugly. He just has what we call plumber’s face.
“It means old,” I tell him.
I don’t know the exact date, but that particular picture is from at least thirty years ago. And it’s a classic, the one where Tank is covered in dirt and bruises, and both eyes are nearly swollen shut. At the top of the poster, in big white letters, are the words THE TANK, because that’s what everyone called him. It’s an original, not a reprint like some of my friends have. I’m kind of a collector, I guess, but only stuff from plumbing’s Golden Age. I’ve got Tank Huberman, Snake Johnson, Captain Clog, the Pipe Princess—some of the really big names.
“Bunch of old junk,” Big Joe says.
His voice sounds strange, almost like he’s talking to the posters instead of to me. I’m not going to lie—I’m a little creeped out.
“You don’t think these guys were great?”
Joe stares at the wall, taking in the pictures one at a time.
“Who remembers?” he says.
He looks back at the Tank Huberman poster.
“You know this one went to jail, right?”
“That doesn’t bother you?”
“What do you mean?” I ask him.
“Waking up every morning face-to-face with a criminal. You’re okay with that?”
I’d never thought about it that way—having a criminal on my wall. But I know quite a bit about the Tank, what he was before everything changed, and what he became after. And yeah, I’m okay with it.
“He didn’t do anything really bad,” I tell him. “He was just plumbing, the same as he did when it was legal. It’s not like he was the Midnight Flush or something.”
Joe starts to answer, then rolls his eyes. He’s in one of his moods. I could argue with him, but what’s the point? It’s not like he’d listen.
“What time are you coming home tomorrow?” he says.
“Probably late. School lets out at three thirty, but I’m going straight to work.”
I wait, sure that he’s going to ask me about my after-school job, but he doesn’t. He’s never asked about it—not once. I used to think that was odd, but considering the way he just glared at my walls, I hope he never does.
Tuesday, 5:14 p.m.
Gladys looks angry, which is how most people look when they see us. She’s standing in the doorway with her arms crossed like some genie that only grants horrible wishes.
“Are you the…” she says, then looks around and lowers her voice to a whisper, “plumber?”
“You were supposed to be here two hours ago!”
“And you were supposed to be charming,” says Max, walking right past her into the house. “It’s been a disappointing day for both of us.”
Gladys’s mouth opens so wide I could perform dental surgery.
I call her “Gladys” because she looks like a Gladys, meaning she’s short and squatty with big, shiny doll eyes and hair the color of Velveeta cheese. I like to give the customers made-up names, since most of them don’t bother to introduce themselves. Probably because they’re hoping to never see us again.
“Thisssss way,” Gladys hisses.
We walk into the master bedroom and stop in front of a plain brown door. Max grabs the plastic doorknob that, for some reason, looks like a gaudy plastic diamond.
“You might want to stand back, lady,” he says.
Then he gives me the “go” sign, I give it back, and we move in.
That’s when I see them—those scaly, bug-eyed creatures we’d encountered in far too many bathrooms. Glaring at us from every wall are dozens of decorative ceramic clown fish.
“Don’t freak out,” Max warns me.
“They watch me when I pee,” I whisper.
Which is true. Why people put these things in their homes is one of the great mysteries of our age. I’m focusing on a disturbingly large specimen hanging just above the medicine cabinet when something else catches my attention.
It’s the toilet lid whizzing past my head.
I turn just in time to see a horde of giant mutant tentacles bursting out of the bowl.
“Croctopus!” I shout, and leap back into the bedroom.
If you’ve never seen a croctopus, they’re easy enough to identify—enormous crocodile jaws, flailing octopus-like tentacles, a smell that makes you want to have your nostrils removed…
Max hits the deck and tuck-rolls across the floor while the beast’s slimy feelers lash at him like bullwhips. He reaches the corner behind the sink, springs to his feet, and flattens his back against the wall.
“Okay, I think I found the trouble,” he says. “Looks like you’ve got a blockage in your sewer line. Big job.”
Gladys’s doll eyes pop wide open. “How big?”
He shoots her his million-dollar grin, which, if I know Max, will be included in the final bill.
Max Bleeker can be an intimidating guy. He’s six three, taller if you count that bright-red tower he calls a flattop. He wears black boots and sunglasses. His tight-fitting T-shirt makes his biceps look like over-inflated party balloons. But once you get past the rudeness, the selfish behavior, and the bad disposition, you’ll find he’s genuinely unpleasant to be around.
“P.C.,” he says, snapping his fingers.
I should explain that when Max says P.C., it means he wants his plunger caddy. And by plunger caddy, I mean me. That’s my job—carrying the plunger—which isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds. Personally, I would’ve preferred a title like “wrench valet” or “vice president in charge of tool distribution,” but no one asked my opinion.
I cross the room and—very gently—extend a clipboard through the web of flapping tentacles. Max scribbles a number on the page and hands it back to me. I show it to Gladys.
“For a clogged toilet?” she shrieks. “Look, if you think I’m going to pay this much, then—”
“Oh, for cryin’ out loud, just shut up and write the check!”
I’m stunned. While this is exactly the kind of thing I’d expect Max to say, it wasn’t Max who said it. It was a completely different voice—and it was coming from inside the bathroom. Carefully, I look through the doorway and spot a soap-covered, middle-aged man peeking out from behind the shower curtain.
Gladys rolls her eyes.
“That’s my husband, Bud,” she says. “He was in the shower when one of those leg-thingies started flopping out of the john this morning. Then it was, ‘Call somebody! Call somebody!’”
“Just pay the man!” Bud screams.
“Oh, all right!”
Gladys glares at Max, then pulls a checkbook from her pocket and appears to be trying to stab it to death with her pen. I can’t blame her for being upset. It’s a big number. Still, it’s a bargain compared to what she would’ve had to pay Ironwater—and she knows it.
I mean, isn’t that why she called an outlaw plumber in the first place?
When Gladys finally finishes murdering our payment, she hands it to me and I take it to Max. He stuffs it in his jeans, flips his Ray-Bans back down over his eyes, and turns toward the creature.
“Okay, beautiful,” he says. “Let’s dance.”
From my spot at the doorway, I watch a pair of black, unblinking lizard eyes slowly rise out of the smooth white bowl. I don’t mind telling you it is the single grossest thing I have ever seen in a toilet, and I go to public school. The green snout climbs higher and higher while the twitching tentacles flow across the floor like melting ice.
Reaching into the big blue duffel, I pull out a long-handled, thirty-six-inch pipe wrench and hand it to Max. He grabs hold of the heavy titanium handle, adjusts the gripping jaw, and—WHAP!—whacks the bejeezus out of a wriggling limb.
Yellow pus splatters the fish-lined walls.
“He’s a maniac!” Bud screams, then races into the bedroom, the shower curtain streaming behind him like a Superman cape.
Max pays no attention. He swings again, opening a deep gash in the creature’s squirmy flesh. Suddenly, a tentacle bursts through the side of the bowl and wraps itself around his waist, flinging him hard against the doorjamb. He grunts painfully, then looks at Gladys.
“You’re also going to need a new… toilet,” he tells her. “That’s extra!”
The words are barely out of his mouth before the monster lifts him into the air and smashes him against the ceiling. He drops the wrench. I lunge for it, but just as my fingers reach the handle, something wet and slimy slithers up my leg. The next thing I know, a thick green tentacle is dragging me across the floor. I claw at the tiles, but there’s nothing to hold on to, nothing to—
Wait a minute… what is that? My hand brushes against something cold and smooth—and sharp. It’s porcelain, a jagged chunk from the broken toilet. I snatch it like it’s the last slice of pizza at a sleepover party, and plunge it into the horrible limb.
Praise for The Unflushables:A Parents' Choice Awards (R) Winner!
- "Pacey, punchy and with more jokes than you can shake a plunger at, The Unflushables is unputdownable!"—Mo O'Hara, New York Times bestselling author of the My Big Fat Zombie Goldfish series
- "Hand this to avid fans of Captain Underpants who are looking for something longer but with ample potty humor and slapstick comedy."—School Library Journal
- "50% detective mystery. 50% superhero saga. This book is 100% hilarious. Take the plunge with The Unflushables... Plumbing has never been this much fun!"—John Kloepfer, author of the Monsters Unleashed and Zombie Chasers series
- "Half superhero adventure, half noir mystery... In typical pulp crime fashion, corruption and intrigue lead to some entertaining twists in an amusing story of potty play."—The Bulletin for the Council for Children's Books
- On Sale
- Apr 10, 2018
- Hachette Audio