As Dr Pheidippides stormed into his log hideout his brain was racing. If one wants to be one of the world's leading secret agents then it is, of course, necessary that one should do it in secret. One accepts that occasionally a criminal mastermind might begin to peel back the layers of deception to discover your true identity. Your job was to uncover them before they uncovered you; that was the whole point of his organization. However if three dull-witted mice knew who you were and could penetrate (which means to push into something) your home base past some of the most sophisticated traps ever devised them something was wrong. Seriously wrong.
Very quickly the brilliant tortoise reached a conclusion which was even more troubling than the idea that his secret hideout and been discovered by three dumb mice: his secret hideout could not have been discovered by three simple mice. And that meant that someone must have told the mice how to get to him. And there were only four people that could possibly have done that. Pheidippides reached the back of his hollow log and rummaged in the moss until he found the big red button.
Most humans in the neighborhood were aware that their houses had been fitted with alarm systems. In normal circumstances a gentle beep was sounded whenever a door or window was opened. If a door or window was opened at the wrong time an extremely loud alarm would sound to alert the residents to an intrusion (which means someone penetrating, or breaking in, to the house). That same loud alarm would sound if any of the smoke detectors detected a fire.
What most humans did not realize was that all of the smoke detectors in every house were connected to a second alarm system which in turn was connected to Dr Pheidippides big red button. When the small tortoise pressed the big red button one or more of the smoke detectors would begin to beep. This beep was enough to alert all of the other animal agents in their owners' houses that the leader of their covert (which means hidden) organization was calling a meeting. Better yet - the distraction caused as the humans hurried to turn on lights, find batteries and scramble up ladders was more than adequate (which means enough) to allow the animals to escape un-noticed.
Dr Pheidippides pushed the big red button very hard; this caused the smoke detectors in the highest, nastiest spots to emit their loudest and most piercing sound. The tortoise smiled grimly; technically this level of alert was not needed at 3AM. All the humans would be sleepy enough to be distracted by a very minor alarm; but he was not in the mood for playing nice with anyone.
A couple of minutes later the first arrival bounded into the tortoise's box. Lieutenant Winston: penetration and evasion (which means keeping out of the way) specialist. To the outside world a toy terrier that couldn't be caught by a family of five humans; to Dr Pheidippides a secret agent that could get in and out of a criminal hideout without anyone being able to stop him.
Pheidippides did not so much as see as sense the second arrival. A slight movement of the air, an almost imperceptible (hard to notice) twitch of the bedding moss and an extremely small depression (which means dip) in the wood-chip floor altered him that Sergeant Cham was present. "Sergeant Cham, Covert Surveillance I presume" said the tortoise. The chameleon briefly flushed red with anger at having been spotted before quickly turning back to the green of the walls. "I must be losing my touch" said the secret agent. "Not at all" replied his boss; "I knew you were going to be here. No one else would have stood a chance."
Then a loud knocking at the base of the wall alerted them that the third arrival was present. They lowered the fish-hook on the wire over the edge and a few seconds later heaved a large and grumpy looking turtle into the box. "You do know I'm a reptile!" said the turtle. "We don't do nights; we need the heat." He said shivering. "Feel free to sit under my lamp," said the tortoise. The turtle grumbled and moved under the light which highlighted the many scratches and scars on his shell. The turtles perennial (which means 'all the time') bad moods always annoyed the tortoise a little and this evening Pheidippides was in a bad mood too. He did remember, however, that if you need an agent in the water, or help in a nasty fight: Poseidon the Snapper Turtle, ('Snappy' to his friends, of which there were very few) was the person to have around.
A gentle padding sound behind him announced the arrival of the final member of Pheidippides team. Sylvester: Unauthorized Acquisitions Specialist (unauthorized means "without permission", "acquisitions" means those things you get) - if ever they had caught him humans would have called Sylvester a cat burglar; which would make a great deal of sense as he was a large black cat. "A little later than I expected!" snapped the tortoise. "Yes, sorry about that," replied the cat "was down the other end of the neighborhood. A couple of mice had been hiding in a drain just outside the house on the corner - was just finishing them off!" he said whilst licking his lips with satisfaction.
Pheidippides shuddered a little. He too ate meat occasionally but it was always a little disturbing to hear of a fellow animal meeting his end quite that abruptly. "Yuk" said Winston "fancy having to go down a drain to get your food!" "Scared it would dirty your beautiful pink ribbon?" the cat replied silkily. Snappy's head darted inside his shell which started to shake. Cham suddenly appeared in purple as he desperately held his breath trying not to laugh. Winston glanced at the large pink ribbon in his hair and glared angrily at the cat. "As you are fully aware," he growled "my cover involves being a pet to two teenage girls. From time to time they like to dress me in ribbons; there is nothing I can do about it!" "If you say so," smirked (which is halfway between smile and a snigger) the cat as he began licking his paws.
"Anyway" Winston continued "I don't mind the ribbons so
much. Even the music is ok as long as you grow fur over your ears. It is the
nail polish parties I really hate!" "Nail Polish parties," said Dr Pheidippides
suddenly alert, "why do you hate them?" "Well for a start there are dozens of
girls so it is very loud," declared the dog "but the worst part is the smell, it
is horrible, so horrible that I pass out!" "Hmmm..." said the Doctor "it may not
just be the smell that is the problem. Are you aware that nail polish remover is
a narcotic?" "A nar... what?" replied the dog. The tortoise smiled. Brave: yes.
Loyal: probably. Fast: extremely. Smart: not even close. "A narcotic" said the
"is something that can make you dizzy, make you silly, make you do things you would not normally do and sometimes even imagine doing things that you are not doing." "Dizzy, silly and not knowing what he is doing sounds like Winston all the time!" said Sylvester. Again the dog growled and the turtle and chameleon shook trying not to laugh.
"Enough!" snapped Pheidippides returning to business. "We are not here to tell jokes; we are here because tonight three stupid field-mice penetrated all of our defenses and landed in my box!" Winston and Cham gasped, Sylvester looked concerned and Snappy looked a little confused. "That doesn't sound like a major problem," said the turtle. "I can't imagine three field mice doing you much harm. One good hard kick right up the ..." "Quite ..." said Pheidippides. "I am not worried that three scruffy field mice could hurt me. I am worried that three little field mice knew I was here and could get to me without setting off a single trap," said the tortoise. "You think the traps are broken?" said Cham. "No, I think they had a map" said Pheidippides "and that can only mean one thing".
The animals looked at each other in stunned silence. Only five people knew the layout well enough to draw a map of the traps and all five of them were in the box. If the mice had had a map then one of the five people in the box had to have given it to them. "Someone in this box is a traitor."
Sylvester was the first to break the silence. "Actually" he said "that may not be true. I think we might already have heard who gave the mice the map and why." Snappy, Winston and Cham looked at Sylvester and Pheidippides eyed him keenly. "Proceed" (which means keep going) said the tortoise. "Well" said the cat "we know that Winston has been 'enjoying' his little polish parties and we know that he got dizzy and passed out and we know that a narcotics make you do silly things." Everyone was slowly nodding so Sylvester continued. "My guess", said the cat, "is that one of these parties happened on a day that Dixie, Pixie and Trixie were conducting a food raid at the house. They found Winston all stoked up on nail polish and talked him into giving them the map!" Cham and Snappy looked at Winston, Winston looked horrified.
"Thank you, Sylvester" said Pheidippides "after your explanation it is very clear to me who the traitor is and why."
Do you agree? Do you think Winston did it? If not - who did and why?
"But," continued the tortoise, "we know that it wasn't Winston." "If Winston was too dizzy to remember to keep a secret then he was far too dizzy to accurately draw a map," Pheidippides explained. "What we don't know," said Pheidippides "is how you, Sylvester, knew that the mice that visited me were Dixie, Pixie and Trixie." The cat shifted uncomfortably. Snappy and Winston edged closer. "Err ... they were the only mice left in the neighborhood ... I ate the rest!" said Sylvester. "Really?" said the tortoise now on all four legs and moving towards the cat "and why did you think they were neighborhood mice? I told you they were field mice!"
Sylvester was now backed into a corner and sweating badly. "But why would I help them?" he squealed "I eat mice, I don't help them!" "Perhaps," said Dr Pheidippides, "you agreed to help those three mice in exchange for the information on where all the others lived" "Which would explain how you've suddenly become a champion mouse catcher" agreed Cham. Snappy lunged just as Sylvester leapt out of the box with Winston in hot pursuit. The noise of cat screeches, dog barking and various traps going off was almost deafening until the two animals exited the garage and set off across the garden.
"So" said Cham grinning quietly "do you think Winston will let his ribbon get dirty?" "Oh ... I think on this occasion he just might." replied the tortoise. The three secret agents sat under the heat lamp and had a good laugh.