Not a cloud was in the sky, and a hint of the approaching autumn was in the air of Big City as Penny took Secret on her latest “office supply run.” As they traveled the now-familiar route on foot, Secret was laden as usual with bags and boxes. Today, however, the load felt much lighter, failing to suppress a spring in his step that his companion up ahead appeared not to notice.
Out of a downtown shop the squirrels turned onto the bustling sidewalk of Music Row for the longest leg of the afternoon. It always was. By now Secret had it measured in paces; he even had the timings down on the crossing signals along the way. As long as nobody got in his path—as if anybody wouldn’t see the moving mountain of merchandise a mile away.
They were watching. They were waiting. They were ready to make their move.
One by one they fell in behind Secret. A giraffe with a large, black, rectangular carrying case emerged from Sax and Violins. From The Walking Bass, a rhinoceros. The Make Tracks recording studio disgorged a jackal wielding an axe. At Eight To The Bar a rabbit, a chipmunk, a beaver, and a skunk put down their sarsaparillas and hopped a ride on an upright piano propelled by an elephant and a rehabilitated, honest-living gorilla.
Through a small gap between boxes Secret saw the walk signal activate at the corner ahead. He knew that he and Penny were not quite close enough to cross on that cycle. They never were. As the red paw began to flash, Secret sensed that the band of pursuers had caught up to him. There was no avoiding it now. The time had come.
Secret carefully placed his cargo on the ground; the thumps and rustles drew Penny’s attention. “What’s wrong, Secret?” she asked. “Arms getting tired already?”
“No, Penny,” Secret replied. “It appears I have some unfinished business with these guys. It’s been a long time coming.”
He turned to face the assembly and cracked his knuckles. “Critters!”
The Critters responded: “Cranston!”
“One. Two. One, two, three, four.”