by Ralph and Pat Coppola
We hope you enjoyed the holidays. If you missed any our columns, you can find them here.
In Chapter 8, Barney devises a plan to catch the mouse. The rest of the troop is skeptical.
A Happy and Healthy New Year to everyone!
“Corporal, did you set up the slide show projector in the command room?” I asked.
“Yes, sir, I mean yes, ma’am, Lt. Tess,” Barney saluted.
“Outstanding. Summon the rest of the troops for a strategy meeting after lunch,” I ordered, shooing Barney along so he wouldn’t have to salute me again.
Ruby had prepared peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches for the troop’s lunch. The soldiers were stuffed. I knew I had their attention. They had nowhere to go.
“Corporal, please lower the lights and pull the shades.”
After doing as I asked, Barney tried making his way back to the projector in the dark. Suddenly, there was a yelp and the sound of a table that had been knocked over.
“You okay, soldier?” I asked.
“Yes, Lieutenant,” Barney answered as he stooped over to pick up the slides that had fallen out of the projector. Muted laughter could be heard throughout the room.
“If you’re ready, first slide,” I said. The screen lit up when Barney started the slide show.
“This is a white field mouse,” I informed the troops. I took out my laser pointer and aimed it at the mouse’s head. Slowly, I nudged the laser’s red light along the mouse’s body to the end of its tail. The soldiers were in a trance.
At that moment, there was a pop and the room went dark.
“Uh, Lt. Tess? I think the b-b-bulb burned out and that was the only b-b-bulb we had,” Barney stammered.
“In that case,” I said, “turn on the lights and let’s go to Plan B.” I motioned for everyone to huddle around me while I placed a diagram on the table. “The Corporal and I spent the morning on this. The plan is actually his, but I think it will work.”
Ruby interrupted. “Hey guys, if you’re done eating, leave your left-overs on the counter. I’ll take care of it.”
“’l bet she will!” Opie winked and whispered to Bella too low for the others to hear.
“Are you finished collecting the plates, Pvt. Ruby?” I groaned. “You’re holding up this briefing. Sit your butt down and listen up.”
“Okay, then,” I continued. “Cpl. Barney has constructed a trap. It’s made of ….” At that moment, I stopped in mid-sentence and looked over at Barney. “Corporal, why don’t you step up here and explain the diagram you showed me earlier today,” I beckoned.
“Yes, sir!” Cpl. Barney said enthusiastically making his way to the podium. “So-o-o-o,” Cpl. Barney started as he addressed the troops. “I got myself a sturdy box from inside the garage where Mom and Dad are still packing up the stuff from last Christmas and….” Barney was quickly cut off.
“Get to the plan, Corporal,” Sgt. Opie scoffed. “We’re falling asleep here.”
“So-o-o-o, I drew up this plan.” Barney proudly unfolded his own, huge, color copy and tossed my diagram aside. His copy took up the entire length of the table. “We prop up this box in the middle of the backyard, which will be held up by this stick on one side.”
“Nice red box, Barney,” Ruby teased.
“Wow! That yellow stick looks like it’s at least two and a half feet long!” Pvt. Bella said with some skepticism.
“Maybe Barney wants to give the mouse a chance to escape by pole-vaulting himself over the box,” Ruby laughed. Bella giggled. Opie turned his head away trying not to laugh.
“Don’t worry, GUYS. I measured the box and this stick will lift it only about six inches off the ground, just enough to give the enemy room to enter,” Barney stated, irritated by their comments.
“A-L-L-L-L-RIGHTY,” Cpl. Barney resumed. “Tied to this stick will be this string, the other end of which I will spool out to Lt. Tess.”
Barney climbed up on a chair so he could reach all the spots he marked on his drawing.
“You guys will be positioned around the box, here, and here, and here.” Barney was practically stretched out across the entire table trying to point out the places he had marked down.
I noticed Ruby yawned. Yawns are infectious. I looked away. I didn’t want to yawn, too.
“Your positions are about ten feet away from the box so that you won’t be noticed. Then when Lt. Tess tells me, I’ll blow my bugle. I figure the enemy will come out of hiding to see where the sound is coming from,” Barney said seriously as he looked around at the others.
No one was paying much attention. Barney then stood up on the table.
“THAT’S WHEN ALL OF YOU RUN AT HIM!” Barney shouted.
“You don’t have to yell, Corporal,” I said nearly dozing off myself. “We’re listening, right soldiers?”
“R-R-R-RIGHT,” they responded in unison.
Barney climbed down from the table looking annoyed. He stood next to me. I picked up where he left off.
“The mouse will have nowhere to go, but to seek shelter under the box. When I pull the string, the box will drop, and we got him!” I said looking over at Barney. “Outstanding, Corporal. It sounds so simple, it could actually work. I mean that.” Barney beamed. He was truly proud of his plan.
I took a deep breath and turned to address my troop. “Okay soldiers, here is how we are going to approach. Corporal, you will take up position on the lower deck in front of me, where I can pat you on your head to signal the assault. That’s when you blow your bugle. Sgt. Opie, you strike from the west, Pvt. Ruby from the east, Pvt. Bella from the south, and Cpl. Barney will attack from our northern position immediately after he sounds the bugle charge. Got it?”
There was no reaction from anyone. “I said, is everything clear to each and every one of you?” eyeballing one after the other. Each of them gulped then nodded in acknowledgement. Except Ruby.
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” she muttered looking away. But I heard her.
“Look! We can’t afford to let this vermin get away!” I warned. They breed quickly, and before you know it, we’ll be up to our ears in mice. And I know Mom. Believe me, she won’t be happy,” I said glaring at Ruby. Ruby dropped her head. I knew she got the message.
“Now let’s hit the sack early tonight. The plan goes operational at 0530 hours,” I said as I turned out the lights and retreated to my cot.
Ruby was still muttering something about our start time when she tripped over Barney who was straightening out the blanket on his bed.
“Hey, watch it!” Barney said picking himself up off the floor.
“Oh, a million regrets, Corporal,” Ruby said half-apologetically finally finding her way to her own cot. “Nincompoop,” she grumbled as she pulled the covers up to her chin.
Pulling his blanket over his head, Barney replied, “I heard that.”
“Oh, what a group of misfits I have in my charge,” I sighed as I closed my eyes.
Stay tuned next month as the troop puts Barney’s plan into action.