Platypuss: On Thursday we left the Animals as they were traveling the sewers of Council in a small submarine called the Argonaut, captained by Pirate Goat. Having learned a thing or two about the French Revolution - and keeping their eyes peeled for the shroud of Marat - they surfaced in the old Grange Hall and saw, with dismay, the armoured tank and turret gun outside the window. If the Animals had paid more attention back in the days when Monster E. covered town meetings for the newspaper, they would have remembered the story of this tank. Shall I just point out in passing that paying attention can really pay off?
Pink Bear: So, like, if we see a tiny green Bolivian beetle laboring across a locket, we should watch the entire progress so that later when we are trying to map fractyls we’ll know how to do it?
Platypuss: That’s right, Pink Bear.
Pink Bear: Or if we see a spider starting a web, we should watch the whole process so that later on in the Hunt for the Wild Petunia we can weave nets from the hairs on the trees where the Targs have scratched their backs so we can catch the marshmell-o-wisps and read our comic books by their light?
Goat: Excuse me, Pink Bear, we’re in the middle of a battle here…
Pink Bear: By all means continue your dear battle, dear Goat. Anything I can do to help?
Goat: How about getting off this com-link and maybe go and save the world or something?
Platypuss: Go ahead and run along to your dear world, Pink Bear. (Fervent thanks from Goat here, who comments that that Pink Bear is REALLY pink, almost dangerously pink.) But as I was saying, if they had paid more attention when Monster E. got home from courthouse meetings and told Monster J. all the news that was stranger than fiction, they would have known that the tank had been proposed by a war vet as an ornament to the park near the old Grange, Rodeo and 4H grounds. He would spare no time and trouble, he told the county commissioners, in his quest to locate an Army surplus tank for this purpose – at no cost to the County whatsoever!
He came in regularly to report to the commissioners on his progress, which was slow. In fact, these reports just seemed to have become part of the normal life of the county courthouse. Monster E. could tell that the commissioners were assuming that he would never find his tank to put in the park by the old Grange Hall. But they didn’t want to offend this kindly war vet so they let him continue his quest. One day, however, he came in to tell them that the tank would be delivered within the week. He described the tank in great detail. The question no one ever asked was: do we WANT a tank in a children’s park where the young ones will clamber joyously across its venerable surface WAY above its concrete pad? It was too late to ask that question now. So the tank arrived and they renamed the park the "Peace Park."
Meanwhile, a battle was waging between the citizens of Adams County and the commissioners who had made arrangements with an architect (of the snake oil variety) to build a new courthouse, sheriff’s office – and a large private prison. The commissioners didn’t really bother to mention these negotiations to anyone, or suggest any reason why the town might WANT a large prison, and when people finally heard about it, they turned out in droves to storm the commissioners’ office.
It was during this time of unusual rancour and conflict that a posse of civilians made the decision to site the tank, in the old Grange park across the road from the projected building site, so that the gun would be aiming directly at the new courthouse. And there it has remained, as an eternal memorial to the populace of its anger toward its commissioners at that time.
Not knowing this, however, the Animals were horrified when they saw the huge armed monstrosity. If only they had seen this sign! They would have known that tanks mean peace! As it was, they were really very worried.
“Look,” Lefty said. “They’re going to blow up that building. That’s the county courthouse, sheriff’s department, and jail - the heart of law and order in our Monsters’ community!”
“You’re right,” Goat said. “We have no choice but to fight.”
“I’m with you,” Lefty said, “we must fight! What side are we on?”
“We protect civilization!”
“Hey, what kind of a pirate are you?” Lefty joked.
“The CAPTAIN kind,” Goat reminded him with a glare that made all the Animals go completely quiet.
“Excuse me,” said Pink Bear, “but if you’re going to wear costumes—“
Goat glared at her. “I’m sorry,” she corrected herself, “if you’re going to wear UNIFORMS, could you please make sure they’re really different colors or something? You know how I get confused if they are not CLEARLY different colors…”
“I thought you were going to save the world?” Goat growled.
“I already did. Now I’m kind of bored and just want some recreation. Do we have the home team advantage?”
“NO PINK BEARS ARE PERMITTED ON THIS SUBMARINE!” Goat roared. “Captain’s orders!”
Then the Animals knew that this fight must be really serious. They went back to the submarine feeling very subdued all of a sudden, and that's when they first saw the filthy shred of rag clinging to the tail of the submarine. All concern for the fate of Adams County or themselves was forgotten for the moment. Had they actually found it? Had they found Marat’s shroud just as the great bard Victor Hugo described it in his epic battle with history in the sewers of Paris? They were almost afraid to approach it, and came to a straggling halt.
Piggles strode out ahead of them all and plucked the grimy shred of fabric from the Argonaut’s tail and held it at arm’s length. “I will wash it,” she said. Their eyes followed her, and they were speechless at her daring.
When she returned from the submarine’s spacious and well-appointed laundry room, what she carried in her hands was not a shroud, but a clue from Council’s own history, a clue that they immediately realized they would have to decipher.
An Animal! A Bear! Hand-embroidered on a tea-towel! “What this is,” Piggles said, “is a coded message. Remember how the women of the French resistance wove codes into the patterns of their children’s mittens and sent them across enemy lines?” She started back toward her cabin, holding Pink Bear by the hand. "Is this part of the game?" Pink Bear was asking as they disappeared. The rest of the Animals gathered round the Code Bear, speechless.
"What we must do," Goat told them, filled with confidence again now that there was some action to take, "is crack this coded message. We will need an Intelligence Agency."
He nodded at Bink, and Bink stepped forward. "My not insignificant language skills are entirely at the service of Captain Goat. Long live Council! Long live the Argonaut! May Piggles reign forever!" he added in an unusual burst of enthusiasm, and all the Animals cheered.
(To Be Continued)