Who Stole the Zmulobeast, Chapter 3, Scene 1


Chapter 3

For a critter with just two legs, I gotta admit that Maria can move. I mean quickly. Not as fast as me, but if she ad four legs I think she just might give me a serious run for the money. But even with all that running back through the woods, out of the woods, and through the streets, we were still the last ones to make it back to Headquarters.

Then again, there was that stop we made along the way. Hadn’t been for that, we would have made better tracks than we did. Thing is, Maria came up with a pretty good idea along the way, namely to drop in on the Park Ranger and see if he knew anything about animal traps in the woods. Once we told him about it, he looked kinda shocked, which told me this wasn’t something he was wanting to hear,

“Excuse me, did you say your name was Maria?”

“Yes. Maria.”

“And you say there was a trap in the woods? With blood on it?”

“Yes. Blood.”

Poor guy. Here it was the start of his shift, and he’s gotta hear something like this from a kid who he knows coulda gotten caught in that trap. In a public park. Believe me when I say, that woulda been what they call a public relations disaster. Most parents wouldn’t be too anxious to have their kids play in a park full of bear traps, you know?

So anyway, this ranger fella’s trying not to look too shaken up in front of Maria, but I can see plain and simple his heart is about to pound its way right outta his ultra-neat, super-starched, military-pressed uniform. This guy was so clean-cut you’d think he really was in the military. I had to stop myself from saluting him every time he looked at me. To top it all off, he had recycle signs posted up all over the place – alongside the Save the Whales posters. The posters that were uhhh…hanging over the recycling bins…

You know, I could kind of figure the recycling thing. But Save the Whales? I had to wonder how a guy who spent so much time on land in the woods came to care so much about a beast the size of a hotel that spent all its time in the water…

Interesting guy, this ranger.

“Can you tell me where you saw the trap?” he asked.

Maria tells him.

“Thank goodness. Can you and your dog get home all right from here? I’d be happy  to arrange for a ride.”

“We are fine,” she says. “But I was curious; how long do you think the trap has been there?”

The ranger, a tall skinny guy with a thin face full of hard angles, puts his hands on his hips, then looks down at the floor and whistles. Then he reaches up and scratches his head.

“You know, that’s a good question, Maria. I’m afraid all I can say is that it definitely wasn’t there when I left the park ;ast night. Last thing I do every evening before leaving is make the rounds of the park …you know, making sure that no trash is dirtying up our grounds for the next day’s visitors. I’m the first one here every morning and the last one to leave in the evenings. That means that whoever did this pulled it off during the night when no one was around. I must say that upsets me quite a bit. I just don’t know why they would choose this park for such a thing. So many other places where they could have done this legally, but why…”

And that’s how we left the ranger, standing there in the middle of the station, trying to understand what could be happening to the park where he had been a ranger for close to 20 years. The park that had been so nice and safe for as long as he could remember. Maria wished him luck, but explained that we really had to be getting on our way. The Pi sign was still flashing like a blinking light against the clouds, and we were already running late.

Chief gave us a few seconds to catch our breath before she started the meeting. I knew the meeting had to be serious when I saw Stool Pigeon there. That kid was never at a meeting unless something really heavy-duty was going on. For one thing, he wasn’t even a full member of the Squad. More like a consultant.

But like I said, there he was, seated on a stool. That’s where he got his nickname from was because he always liked to sit on stools whenever one was around. Kid’s real name was George Lane, but we all agreed that didn’t sound as cool as Stool Pigeon.

“It appears we have movement,” said Chief.

Maria and I glanced at each other. Once we figured neither one of us knew what Chief was talking about, we looked back at her, hoping she might catch the confused looks on our faces. She did.

“Of the Zmulobeast. It seems someone may have seen a group of men herding a strange creature into the back of a large van – a very, very large van – down on the docks just a little while ago. The creature was laid out on a stretcher-like contraption, and it had some heavy sheets pulled over it, which means our source couldn’t get a very good look at it – but they got a good enough look.”

“May I ask what did they see?” asked Zippy, who was sounding even more worried than usual.

“The source saw a tail hanging out from one end of the stretcher. The tail was fairly long but…well, it had what looked to be a large fan attached to the end of it. I think we can safely assume the fan was part of the tail itself. The head was covered over, so that wasn’t seen, but there was also something that appeared to be a claw sticking out the side. We had hoped the source might have gotten a better look at the color of the fur, but no luck…”

“It’s rainbow colored,” said Maria.

“Pardonme? But how do you…”

Maria reached down into her pocket, then pulled out the sample we had found by the trap. She handed it across the table to Chief.

“See? Rainbow-colored. WE found it in an animal trap in the woods across the road from the playground. There was some blood too. Here. See? We, that isa, Spike and I, we believe this must be the Zmulobeast’s blood.”

She had reached back into her other pocket where she had stuffed this little glass container. The blood scrapings were inside the container. After passing that along to Chief, the room was so quiet that a pin drop would’ve sounded like a tree falling.

“This is …wonderful work,” said Chief, almost in a whisper. “Wonderful. The two of you have…yes, this is great.”

That’s when it came time for more throat-clearing on the part of Arthur and Zuke. Loud throat-clearing.

“Uhhh yo. Excuse me, Chief, but I’m just thinkin’ maybe we all did a pretty good job here? Matter of fact, wasn’t it because of what me and Arthur found, along with Stool Pigeon over there, that made you decide to flash the Pi sign?”

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