“I think this is the last one,” Banjo said.
Tuff carefully held the clear bag in his teeth filled with more than a dozen goldfish swimming in circles. Banjo plopped the goldfish into the water and together they swirled the end of the bag into a tight knot and lowered it into the wheelbarrow, next to the other dozens of other bags.
“You were right,” Tuff said. “That did take us almost a week.”
“Yeah, in between everything else happening around here, thanks to Rascal,” Banjo said. “I still can’t figure out how he got all these goldfish.”
“Well, at least they lived,” Pudge said. “Goldfish are known to be very hardy in troughs. Actually, there was a rancher over the hill who had goldfish in their stock tank for years. They grew to be as big as nice sized creek trout.”
“Really?” Tuff asked.
“Yeah,” Pudge replied. “Really, they lasted for years.”
“Wow,” Tuff said. “Maybe we should let the chickens in on what those goldfish had. After all, we’re not having great luck with chickens this year.”
“That’s about to end,” Banjo said. “We all know the culprit of the last raid on the hen house. All the evidence points to a raccoon and unfortunately, it’s not Rascal, which is making it a tad bit more creative, to say the least.”
Just as they began pushing the wheelbarrow, careful not to knock over all of the strategically placed bags of goldfish leaning against each other, they heard the screeches of Mrs. McBauck.
“Bwack! Squawk! BWWWAAACK!”
The ranch crew left the wheelbarrow in place and raced to the chicken coop. Mrs. McBauck is queen of the hen house and when they arrived, her feathers were fluffed out like they’d had static electricity pulling on them. Feathers were fluttering down from the sky and flitting by from all the other hens.
“Banjo! Banjo!” she crooned. “Over here, deary, oh my, oh my! You’ll just never believe it… never, ever, e-v-e-r!”
“Somehow, I think we’ll believe it,” Tuff sarcastically whispered to Pudge.
Mrs. McBauck was in an absolute tizzy.
“That mountain lion walked right up to the chicken coop and nabbed one of my hens like he was picking one out from the grocery store just now,” she squawked. “And she’s gone, just gone.”
Mrs. McBauck buried her beak in the checkered apron she always wore around her fluffy waist.
“He had that oversized raccoon with him, right by his side. There was absolutely nothing I could do. I mean, he would’ve grabbed me instead I just know it. But there was still no time, I couldn’t do anything.”
“Settle down,” Banjo said. “We’ll find her.”
Tuff muttered again to Pudge.
“No wonder she didn’t get nabbed,” Tuff said.
“Yeah,” Pudge replied. “They’d either gone deaf from her squawking and bwuacking or brought her back and gave up on a chicken dinner from this ranch.”
Banjo turned and gave both animals a glaring warning. Mrs. McBauck didn’t, however, quit carrying on or talking. Banjo waited for Mrs. McBauck to take a breath.
“Don’t worry, we’ll find her,” he said. “You said they were just here?”
“Yes, yes deary, just here,” Mrs. McBauck squawked.
Without even a pause, Banjo started running toward the pasture. He knew they couldn’t be that far, but that mountain lion was stealthy, so he’d have to have all his wits about him in this emergency. Tuff and Pudge looked at each other in dismay.
“What does he think he’s going to do?” Pudge asked. “He just took off.”
“Hey! What about these goldfish?” Tuff called. “They’re going to be fish sticks if we leave them in the wheelbarrow all day.”
Banjo just kept running.
“Oh no,” Pudge said. “What are we going to do?”
“We’ve got to do something, and quick,” Tuff said.
“But what about Banjo?” Pudge asked.
“He’s on a mission, looks like, and there will be no reckoning with him until he finds that hen,” Tuff said.
“Yeah, but he’s going to go up against that mountain lion and his goon,” Pudge said.
“Banjo’s smart, he’ll slow down and figure out a plan before he takes them on, but we have to get these fish figured out,” Tuff said.
Mrs. McBauck sauntered over to them.
“Well, looks like you deareys are up to nothing, nothing at all… as usual,” she said with a squawk of sarcasm. “At least your fearless leader takes control of the issues we have around here, while you two lounge around.”
Tuff’s hackles lifted, but Pudge stepped on his paw.
“Honey is much sweeter than vinegar,” Pudge muttered to Tuff.
He was confused and shifted his attention to Pudge rather than what he really wanted to do… and that was give that ol’ clucking hen a run for her flittering, fluffy feathers.
“That’s it!” Pudge said. “The honey.”
“What honey?” Tuff asked.
“The honey man is bringing the hives to put in the pasture today. I heard the man talking to Tate about it. I think he might even be here this morning,” Pudge said.
“He is?” Tuff asked.
“Yes, and we can send these fish with him. I bet they belong at the feed store that’s right next door to the apiary,” Pudge said. “That’s it. I knew I’d seen them somewhere.”
Tuff was still trying to decipher what Pudge meant by an apiary.
“Api… what?” Tuff asked.
“The honeybee company,” Pudge explained.
She shook her head with dismay at Tuff’s lack of focus.
“You know, you go from seeming like you’re half responsible one minute, to acting like you fell off the turnip truck the next,” she said.
“I haven’t seen any turnip trucks either,” Tuff said. “Is their business next to the feed store and bee company, too?”
“Ugghhh,” Pudge sighed with frustration.
She bopped her paw against her head.
“Come on,” she said. “We have to get this done before the sun gets higher. Let’s get the wheelbarrow in the shade and make a sign for the honey man to take these goldfish.”
“I can’t write,” Tuff said.
“Just come on,” Pudge ordered.
To be continued…