Penny & Alba

SECRET WEAPON

Well… there was nothing that Alba

liked better than to wander the

fields behind Uncle Harold’s barn.

They called them the flats because … well,

they were flat. Table tops of rocks jutted

through the surface of the soil making the

land lousy for trying to grow crops but great

for exploring. Alba would search for

salamanders and frogs and explore the

abandoned barns and chicken houses in the

surrounding area. This weekend she was

alone because Penny and Aunt Helen were

at an art gallery with her parents. Alba had

decided to stay behind with Uncle Harold

who was finishing up making his famous

pickles with a recipe he got from the

Internet. Alba had no idea why he got

recipes off the Internet because he always

changed them anyway. It didn’t matter how

good they sounded, Uncle Harold had to

give each recipe his own original touch.

“Hot peppers,” mused Uncle Harold. “I

think I’ll double the amount. I think a little

more spiciness would make it a lot better.”

There were an awful lot of jars from Uncle

Harold’s recipes in the back shed untouched

by human tongues.

Today, Alba had been given one of these bottles by Uncle

Harold for her lunch. She also had strict instructions from

her mother and Aunt Helen not to eat any of it.

“Don’t hurt your Uncle’s feelings, but whatever you do,

don’t eat the pickles” whispered Aunt Helen.

When everyone had left, Alba got her stuff together and

took off across the creek where they dug clay for

pottery and then climbed up the embankment to the old

Hollinger farm. Most of the farms were now sold and

the new owners were waiting for the land to be rezoned

so that they could put up houses or sell it for industrial

land. No one farmed any longer except for Uncle

Harold.

Alba noiselessly slipped through a crack in the barn

door and adjusted her eyes to the darkness within.

There were streams of light pouring through the board

siding and lighting up the hay dust as it filled the barn

like bubbles in a shaken pop. Alba always sensed danger

and adventure whenever she came here. Each floor

board squeaked under foot and mice scurried from one

hole to another. There were old harnesses from the

cattle teams that used to plow the fields. Rusty farm

combines were covered in cobwebs. But today there

was something different as well. There were signs of

things being pulled on the floor and the straw was all

going in the same direction. There were also truck tire

tracks that had deeply rutted the approach to the barn.

Someone had been here since last week and this was the

first time that Alba had noticed anything different about

the barn in three years. She ducked behind a bale of hay

because something in the air didn’t seem right. She

slowly felt her way around in the semi darkness until her

foot hit a milk pail. She heard a growl. This wasn’t the

growl of something friendly, this was the growl that said

“Don’t come a step closer or else I’ll attack.” Slowly

turning around, Alba faced the direction the noise was

coming from and was surprised to see a dog and six

new-born pups on the barn floor. They were golden

brown with floppy ears and legs that wobbled like jelly.

Alba wasn’t allowed a dog at home because her dad

was allergic to them but she had spent hours watching

them in the pet store window at the mall and playing

with Uncle Harold’s dog “Wonder.” Alba wasn’t

surprised that the mother was so fierce. She was

protective of her pups. Just as Alba was kneeling down

to try to get a better look at the dogs she heard voices .

“Now get rid of those stupid dogs before they give us

away” said someone on the far side of the bales of hay.

“I’m not going to all the trouble of stealing these engine

prototypes and have a dog ruin our pay day. Who

would have thought that a racing car company would

spend so much money to see the new engine of their

rival before the big race?”

“But Frank, I want as much money as you do but these

pups can’t be moved until they’re older.”

“Listen Petey, it’s either you or them that I’m gonna

move so you’d better make up your mind pretty quick.

We’re gonna be here for a couple of days so I don’t

care how you do it. Just get rid of them!”

This made Alba furious and she had to do something.

When Petey came up to the dogs, Alba stayed hidden

behind a bale of hay and planned her attack. She was

going to jump Petey until she saw him. He was huge.

Alba would have no chance of even tripping him. The

mother dog growled at Petey but couldn’t do anything

as he grabbed the two biggest pups and started to haul

them away. This was too much for Alba. Danger or no

danger, hurting these dogs was wrong. She ran out from

behind the hay, jumped on Petey’s back and threw the pail

over his head so he couldn’t see where he was going.

Surprised, Petey dropped the pups. Fortunately they

landed in the soft hay on the floor. Petey twirled round and

round like a wrestler doing a flying windmill move until he

stepped on an old rake and clunked himself in the head like

in one of those old Three Stooges TV shows. It would

have been funny except that Alba knew there was no way

she would get away with this. Within seconds, she had to

let go and went flying through the air, landing in a

somersault in a dark and smelly horse stall. Every muscle in

her body ached and when she looked up she was staring at

the most menacing eyes she had ever seen. She was in

bigger trouble than she had ever been in before and even

though this would make it a record for fear, she didn’t feel

much like celebrating. Alba looked around and noticed that

the two pups had found their way back to their mother. The

mother dog was licking her babies while keeping a careful

eye on the robbers.

“Drat,” muttered Petey. “Now we’ve got real trouble

boss!”

After Petey locked Alba in the horse stall with a nearby

padlock, she heard Frank, the leader growl “We’ll wait

’til dark and then have to get out of here. We’ll have to

speed up our exit and keep an eye out for anyone else.

It won’t be long before people start to search for the

kid. And for cryin’ out loud keep that key to the padlock

with you at all times.”

Alba was glad they thought people would be searching

for her soon but she knew that she was often gone until

dark and that Uncle Harold had no idea where she was.

Through the thick slats of the horse stall she could see

that she had no way to get out and that her kidnappers

were sitting down at a packing crate across the barn. Alba

suspected that the men had the engine prototype in the

crate all ready to sell to the dishonest racing car company.

The men had spread their lunch out on the table and the

 

leader was cutting Polish sausage into thin slices with his

sharp, gleaming hunting knife. Petey complained that he

was still hungry.

“Stop complaining,” scolded Frank. “Go check on the kid

and the dogs.”

The animals all growled at him as he walked by and he

gave a swift kick in their direction to silence them. He

approached Alba’s stall and peered in and said “Well,

what have you got in the bag with you kid?”

He opened up the padlock with a key on a big key ring

that he pulled from his pocket. Petey reached in and

said, “Let’s take a look.”

He reached down, snatched Alba’s knapsack, and

locked the stall as he exited.

“Hey look boss, more lunch” he said as he crossed back

to the crate, rummaging around in the bag. “Sandwiches,

muffins, juice and homemade preserves. Man this looks

delicious. Don’t mind if l do little girl. You won’t be

needing food anymore.”

A chill went up Alba’s spine. Was this the end of her

adventures? She was scared but she was also angry

because of the way that she and the animals were being

treated. But this time she knew she had to control her

anger because the last time it got her into big trouble.

The men greedily ripped into Alba’s lunch and fought

over who would get the sandwiches. Alba could hardly

believe how immature they were acting. In their

struggle, though, the ring of keys fell out of Petey’s

pocket and thunked softly to the floor.

“Boy, could I ever use that key,” thought Alba but there

was no way she could reach it. It was all the way across

the barn. She dropped her head in dismay and then looked

at the pups. One of them stared back at Alba with a look

full of intelligence and mischief. It was as if Alba’s act of

bravery had created a real bond between her and the

animals.

Alba thought, “This is crazy. These are only pups. How

could they help me?”

Without a word from Alba, the brave, adventurous pup

sneaked out of the hay bale and crept across the floor

towards the crate where the men were still arguing. The

pup kept low to the ground and stayed in the shadows.

How could he ever cross the open floor behind the men

without being seen? Alba knew that would be

impossible without a diversion and the men wouldn’t

stand for any interference from the dogs. As soon as the

pup started to crawl out into the open Alba started her

best coughing fit. This was sometimes useful when she

didn’t want to go to school or practise the piano. lt

certainly attracted the attention of the two men who

raced over and shouted at her to shut up. The other

dogs growled as the men approached but they were

frightened by the boots of the men. While this was

happening, however, the brave commando dog reached

the key ring, grabbed it in his mouth and started back

into the shadows for the return route. In what seemed

like an eternity, Alba lost sight of the dog and

concentrated on the men because she knew that sooner

or later they would realize that the keys were missing.

She looked to see whether she needed to make another

diversion. Then something horrible happened and Alba

almost let out a terrified scream. She suddenly felt

something wet on her hand. You can imagine what went

through her mind. Locked in a dark and smelly barn

with something wet crawling up her arm. No chance to

make a run for it. Slimed to death before she turned nine.

But then she heard some soft panting. Her brave puppy

was licking her hands and right beside the puppy were the

keys. Alba kissed the pup right on the nose, grabbed the

keys and slowly, ever so slowly, reached her hands through

the slats of the stall and slipped the key into the padlock.

With a glorious click she could hear the lock open. She

gently slipped it off the hasp. All through this secret

operation, the puppies were watching her closely and

she shook her head to try to stop them from calling

attention to her. As if the mother knew what Alba was

thinking, the mother dog started distracting her pups by

playing with them again. They all growled in mock play

fights with each other.

“Shut up dogs if you know what’s good for you,” yelled

Frank.

Alba now knew that the most difficult time had arrived.

She knew that she would have to plot the escape for

herself and the dogs. If only Uncle Harold were here,

he’d think of something. Alba pondered her plight and

looked at the men. She saw them greedily eating her

lunch at the table and then it dawned on her. Uncle

Harold was there in the form of his killer pickle relish. It

was the relish that tasted fine at first but could burn you

badly if you had too much. The recipe had called for

three tablespoons of hot pepper and he had somehow

miscounted so that there must have been three times as

much hot pepper in it as necessary.

“Hey what are you looking at kid” mocked the leader.

“Yeah, haven’t you ever seen anyone eat before,”

laughed Petey with his mouth full of Alba’s egg salad

sandwich. “Hey kid, do you like sea food?” He opened

his mouth wide and said “see food” and then laughed

and laughed.

Alba thought that was the oldest joke in the world but she

got up her courage and said, “I wish I had some of my

uncle’s delicious relish. I’m starving.”

Now we all know she really didn’t want the relish but

instead wanted to remind the men that they hadn’t

started it yet. It was a calculated risk calling attention to

herself because she knew the lock was off the stall even

though the door was still shut tight. She had been trying to

act as if nothing was different but she was counting on

the greed of the robbers to keep the relish to themselves

and to eat it quickly before the effects of the hot peppers

kicked in. And Alba wasn’t disappointed. Frank and

Petey didn’t even eat the relish with a spoon, they just

drank it straight from the bottle. With a knowing look

and a faint whistle towards the animals, Alba swung the

door of the stall open and ran to the puppies. She picked

up the two runts of the litter as the other dogs dove

through a hole in the floor down to the old cattle stalls

below. Alba vaulted over bales of hay and crashed

through the bam door that she had entered earlier in the

afternoon. The two startled kidnappers jumped up and

tore after her.

By this time, the moon was starting to come up but it

had been hidden by a dark ominous storm cloud and

Alba tripped on a rock in the semi-darkness and

dropped the dogs. Alba heard the footsteps of the

robbers in hot pursuit.

“Think Alba, think,” she said to herself.

“You get the kid. I’ll finish off the dogs” shouted Frank

to Petey.

“Go with your heart,” Alba thought to herself. “Protect

the dogs. They need you.”

Alba lost precious seconds as she searched the

surrounding area and finally found the two frightened

pups in the bushes. She tucked them into her shirt and

scrambled to her feet just as the robbers came upon her.

Petey was just about to grab her when the strangest

thing happened. The skies started raining dogs. You’ve

heard of it raining cats and dogs, well this time it just

rained dogs. The mother and the other puppies had

followed the men to protect Alba and to reunite the

litter. Puppies flew off rock ledges and dropped from trees.

Woofs and barks filled the still night air. This confusion was

enough to let Alba get a fresh head start but the robbers

were far too big and fast for her. Just as the men started to

catch up with Alba, though, the wonderful effects of Uncle

Harold’s pepper relish started to kick in.

“I can’t breath,” gasped Petey.

“Water” cried Frank and they both collapsed to the

ground in pain, holding their throats.

As you can imagine all of this shouting and commotion

attracted the attention of the search party that was out

looking for Alba and it was only a couple of minutes

before the neighbours had surrounded the robbers and

only five minutes more before Sergeant McGillvray was

at the barn with a backup of three police cars. He

listened incredulously as Alba relayed the story of her

capture and showed them the stolen engines. Everyone

was horrified at how Alba and the puppies had been

treated but everyone laughed at the story of the “too-hot”

relish. Everyone that is except for Uncle Harold who

was a little embarrassed about his cooking and terrified

at the danger that Alba had gone through.

“Don’t worry, Uncle Harold, we can sell your relish to

the police in the fight against crime” chuckled Alba.

“Maybe we could use it as a secret weapon” agreed

Sergeant McGillvray.

This time everyone including Uncle Harold broke into

laughter. When Alba looked down at her feet, she saw the

reunited dog family and it looked like the mother dog and

her pups were also snickering. Alba reached down and

patted them all. It was too bad that her dad was allergic to

animals. Well, maybe it was a good thing. They were all so

beautiful, she wouldn’t have been able to choose just one

for herself.

Uncle Harold kneeled down beside Alba and put his

arm around her shoulder.

“Looks like you’ve found yourself some friends for life,” he

said. “If we can’t find who owns them, they can come live

over at my barn. That way you can see them anytime you

want. Only next time you come, promise me you’ll let

me know where you’re going on your adventure.”

Alba knew that Uncle Harold was right. He didn’t want to

stop her from having adventures. He just wanted to make

sure that they were safe ones.