We left our Animals last week having finished the first leg of their journey through the Council sewers in their small submarine, the Argonaut. They made their first landfall in the Ladies Room of the old Grange Hall, and the water had barely finished dripping from the glittering periscope- when they saw a tank outside the Grange with its turret gun pointed right at the courthouse across the street! Immediately they knew they must fight this threat to their Monsters’ community! Luckily the Argonaut had picked up a coded message while surfacing – the message was very important and encoded in a tea towel with an embroidered bear- unluckily, they had not yet deciphered this vital clue…
Thursday morning found the Animals back in the Argonaut, gathered around a receiver that they asked Roxy to make. (Roxy the Mouse is one of the Old Ones and can build anything, from a hot-air balloon for little pigs to an underwater roller-coaster.) The submarine’s entire communications system was down, having been damaged in the perilous ascent to the Ladies Room.
They were trying to get some information about the war that had landed this monstrous tank in the heart of Adams County, in order to determine who else was on their side, if anyone was left. The streets had looked strangely deserted. At last, Roxy touched two wires together, and the sound of static-strangled voices began to fill the air. (Note from Pinky Your Hostess: it is very important that you don’t just touch any old wires together when building receivers, and we suggest that you always let Roxy do this part.)
News was coming in: “The Animals who were discovered analyzing U.S. weapons systems during breakfast last Thursday are now believed to have links with organizations devoted to undermining the profits of U.S. corporations. With every threat to these profits, the hope of imposing the sacred American freedom to engage in mindless work so that the rich can get richer, dwindles further…”
The Animals raised their cries of protest.
“We weren’t analyzing that tank!” Marshmellow Bear shouted.
“And we don’t have any organization at all,” yelled Lefty.
“They call this the Age of Information – what a joke!” Beartram pounded his fist on the submarine wall.
The Young Ones felt strange suddenly – Bears had never shouted like this before, never ever. Drawing apart from each other, they started to sniffle - and no one seemed to notice.
Piggles emerged from her cabin and switched off the receiver. The Animals cried out in protest once more.
“Piggles, don’t do that! We have to listen! This is important!”
“Have you solved the code yet?” Piggles asked.
“On the Tea Towel, the code that will help the Argonaut save civilization.”
“Oh, that. We don’t have time for that! They’re saying really stupid things on the radio and we have to listen…”
The Animals suddenly noticed how ridiculous that sounded.
“Come on,” said Lefty, “we better go and help Bink decipher the Tea Towel.” They went running to the Intelligence Center in the nose of the submarine.
“And we,” Piggles said, taking the hands of the Young Ones, “had better go have a picnic.”
Bink was happy to see them, since he was having no luck with the code at all! He thought he had finally solved it, but now he had to admit he was mistaken. Platypuss will take you into his mind, for the thrilling, if seemingly futile, conclusion of his deductions. After he’d gone through all the obvious code possibilities with no success, he remembered a Dorothy Sayers mystery and the way that Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey had deciphered a coded letter…
Mind of Bink: What I must do is find the key to the code. Maybe the name of this object could be part of the code! Let’s see - Tea Towel, two Ts, 2 Ts in a tod? No, that goes nowhere. Two Ts, T squared, two squared is four – YES! – the cross-stitch! Of course! It all fits!
Platypuss: So Bink arranged the words on the tea towel in a grid of four by four, with no spaces between the letters.
Mind of Bink: This looks promising, let’s see, the double T code means cross out all double letters. The E is left dangling at the end. That’s probably the key to the code. Let’s see, E is the fifth letter of the alphabet, so E minus one is D…the fourth letter of the alphabet, of course, because T squared = 4. So, we just add a D to the beginning of the other lines – yes! D + RANE = DRANE, that looks promising…it’s not spelled right, though…oh no, none of this is coming out right…
Platypuss: When Bink realized that the message still didn’t make any sense, he began to feel very unhappy. With this kind of help, the Argonaut would be stuck in the Ladies Room at the Grange forever probably. They’d never get home to Big Bed Land, and civilization would crumble round their ears and it would be all his fault. What made him think that he could possibly be of any help? He was only an amateur philologist after all, and probably not even a very good one…
He felt very alone. So when he saw the Animals at the door, he was happy – at first – then he wondered how he could possibly tell them of his ignominious failure.
“Bink!” Lefty cried out in delight, “you solved the code!”
Bink looked at him blankly as he showed the other Animals.
“Look,” Lefty said, pointing to the words, “DOUN D IL DRANE – down the Illinois drain! Great work, Bink!”
The Animals and Bink still looked at him blankly.
“Remember I studied the map before we left? Illinois Street is right over that way! We’ve got to get to the storm drain on Illinois Street! That’s what the message is telling us!”
“But that’s not how you spell those words!” Bink managed to sputter.
“Well, the Code Bear is French, you know, and probably can’t spell English very well.”
“He’s French!?” Bink exclaimed.
“SHE’s French,” Lefty corrected. “After all, the tea towel used to be the shroud of Marat during the French Revolution. She’s a chef, as you can see from her hat. Her specialty is strawberry rhubarb pie.”
“How can you possibly know that?” Bink asked in disbelief.
“Because I talked to her,” Lefty said, “she’s right here in the hallway.”
Bink followed Lefty to the door and peered down the dim corridor– but the Code Bear had disappeared.
“If you hadn’t come in right when you did,” Bink told Lefty, “I would have erased the solution to the code!”
“Of course I came in at the right moment,” Lefty said breezily – but realized that if it hadn’t been for Piggles… he made a mental note to throw that receiver overboard at the first opportunity. He even suspected that the broadcast might have been made by the real enemy to trick them into a state of argumentative passivity! A fiendish ploy indeed! How could they have fallen for such a trick? He was still wondering when someone pulled him down the hatch just in time…the Argonaut was back on its way, and heading for Illinois Street.