by Patricia L. Morin
Mystery writer Patricia L. Morin shares an original short story with KRL that has an Easter twist.
Because his wit was as quick as his white furry feet, his intelligence shone out of his big light-pink eyes (and his uncle was the governor of New Hampster), Peter Rabbit was promoted to head of detectives for Green Valley.
Green Valley, three square miles of chicken and horse farms, had its fair share of trouble. Lately, chicken murders topped the list.
“He’s a serial killer, you know! I’m certain he killed McNuggets Silkie Roo.” Ma Hen pointed her long fingernail in Detective Cotton’s face. “The silver-haired red fox swooped down like a crow and grabbed McNugget’s old man, Pretty Boy Silkie Roo!”
“Pretty Boy Silkie Roo was out alone, Ma. He should have known better.” The detective shook his cotton-like tail. “McNuggets Silkie Roo went to look for him, also by himself.”
“And don’t forget about what happened last week! We lost a hen from our own coop,” she squawked, her feathers ruffled. “And now eggs are missing too!” She flapped her wings. “What’s next?”
“Now don’t be clucking around the coops, especially with Easter and the egg-coloring contest around the corner,” Detective Cotton advised.
“All the chickens are looking forward to that contest, Detective, so you better do something before there are no eggs left to color. Our coop has been hit the hardest! Find who killed the McNuggets and you’ll solve the egg mystery.”
Peter Cotton didn’t like Ma Hen. She was the grandmother clucker of all the old hens and rattled cages in all the coops.
“Ever since you rabbits took over, these fields haven’t been the same,” ranted Ma Hen. “No one’s safe anymore! I knew the rabbits couldn’t protect us chickens, especially a lop-eared whitey.”
Peter headed home to Warren and a nice clover dinner. It had been a long day hopping around from cabbage patches to fox holes looking for McNuggets. Ma Hen was scratching the dirt for a fight, ready to peck at anything.
Ma had a point, though, he thought as he hopped toward his meadow. More and more chickens were disappearing from the free range, although the loss of the eggs seemed to start only a few days ago. Peter would have to go and talk to the fox. He’d bring Harvey and quick-footed Jack Rabbit with him.
His herd greeted him as he entered Warren. Violet, his partner, rested in the back burrow of their home in one of the long tunnels underground. She was due in a few days and had been busy building more rooms and nesting.
She sniffed Peter’s jacket. “I hate when you talk to those chickens. You come home smelling like a coop.”
“Ma Hen thinks the silver-haired red fox has been killing all the chickens and stealing the eggs. McNuggets from McDonald’s farm is missing.”
“Oh no! Poor nice-looking McNuggets,” Violet said, chewing on grass.
“Ma Hen called me a lop-eared whitey,” Peter said, and then laughed. “She hates us rabbits.”
“She’s an old hen. Couldn’t lay an egg to save her life.” Violet offered him some clover. “Since she lost her committee seat to a rabbit, she’s gotten worse.”
“I’m bringing Harvey and Jack with me to talk to the silver-haired red fox tomorrow.”
“No! Don’t go near that fox! He’ll tear you apart! Peter, please.”
“The Governor will call out the infantry if he touches me. Even a fox can’t handle herds of rabbits charging his den.”
Violet nuzzled into Peter’s fur. “I would die if anything happened to you. I love your floppy ears and cute little tail, Whitey. You’re the best of all the rabbits I’ve been with.” Her nose twitched.
Peter nuzzled her back. “Let’s hope tomorrow is easier than today, Brownie. I gotta catch the killer, or killers, before that damn Easter-egg coloring contest on Easter. Not even the other rabbits will trust me if I don’t.”
Harvey Rabbit, the biggest white rabbit in New Hampster, and Jack Rabbit, a small brown feet-boxing hare, followed Peter into the forest at first light. The den sat on the side of a huge oak tree, part of the uplifted trunk hiding the opening. Rumor had it that the silver-haired red fox lived alone, but Peter trusted nothing he heard.
“That might be it, fellas.” Peter stopped in view of the tree. “We’ll go to the opening and sniff around.”
“He’s probably got a whiff of us already,” Harvey said in a low deep voice.
“Let’s rush in and surprise him. I’ll go in first. Come on, come on,” Jack urged, jumping all around them.
Peter ignored him.
The tree trunk loomed as they edged closer. The gray root was splintering at the top and a knot formed where it curled underground. The fox supposedly lived behind the knot.
“Mr. Fox!” Peter yelled as they turned the corner behind the knot. “Mr. Fox! My name is Detective Peter Cotton and I’m here with two friends to talk to you.”
“We just want to ask you a few questions!” Peter shouted as his paw clutched the club he wore in his belt.
The three rabbits stood on their hind legs and sniffed at the mouth of the den where the darkness beckoned them near.
“I don’t think he’s here,” Harvey said. “It smells like fox, though, and something else I can’t place.”
“I’ll just scoot around and check, okay? I’ll be quick and report right back.”
Without waiting for permission, Jack was off in a flash, and before Peter and Harvey could discuss how they should proceed, Jack yelled, “Uh-oh! It’s McNuggets Silkie Roo’s tail!” A few seconds passed. “Oh no!”
Peter and Harvey raced to the back room of the den, Peter arriving first.
The silver haired red fox was lying on his side, stiff.
Peter examined him. “Pecked to death? Look at those marks.”
The others studied the body.
“He’s been our worst enemy for years. Killed rabbits and chickens. I say YAY!” Jack yelled.
“He’s older than I thought. No wonder he didn’t chase rabbits anymore. Chickens were more his speed.” Peter examined the dead fox’s neck. “They are peck marks, aren’t they?”
Harvey and Peter studied the marks, while Jack explored the den. “Sure are deep.” Harvey commented.
“Look here, guys!” Jack called them over to the wall. “Come on! Come here!”
Peter’s eyes widened as he saw the small stash of eggs piled along the wall.
“A fox is hoarding eggs? I’ve never heard of that,” Peter said.
“Chicken farmers hoard eggs,” Jack responded.
“Let’s get out of here.” Peter waved for the other two to follow. All three bowed their heads to McNuggets’ tail as they headed for the opening.
Jack raced toward the grass behind the log, then screamed.
Both Peter and Harvey turned the corner of the stump and reared up on their hind legs, ready to run.
A giant rattlesnake was snapping at Jack. Jack, cornered by the stump, was too close to jump over it and too scared to leap over the snake. He jumped out of the way of the huge head, teeth filled with venom, striking at him. The rattling tail alarmed them all.
The snake hissed as he coiled, lifted his head, and aimed for Jack.
“I haven’t seen a rattler here since the drought,” Harvey exclaimed in surprise. “He’s big.”
“Help! Help me, guys!” Jack jumped to the right, left, up, and down.
Peter, club out of his belt, hopped toward the rattler’s tail. He made his best calculations, hurdled the snake, hit him in the head, and landed the whole length of his body away. The snake’s eyes glazed over from the force of the blow.
“Go!” Peter yelled.
Jack hopped over him. Harvey took off.
The snake turned toward Peter, hissed, and took aim. Peter’s lop ears stood straight up and his eyes widened as he jumped out of the way of the snake’s mouth. The snake snapped again, but missed. Peter’s heart pounded.
Jack kicked the snake in its right side, then jumped back. When the snake whipped around, Peter clubbed him again in the head from behind, and both Jack and Peter hopped away.
“Bet the rattler killed the fox,” Peter, winded, gasped. “Do rattlers store eggs? I don’t think so.” Peter glanced back to see the snake entering the den.
Jack followed Peter’s eyes. “Rattlers eat small rabbits like me.”
“We’ll get help. Don’t worry.”
Peter’s nightmare raged. Something named Frank in a rabbit costume kept muttering Peter’s name, then appearing and disappearing in the dark. Peter could neither catch nor get away from him.
“Peter! Peter, wake up!” Violet nudged him with her nose. “You’re dreaming so hard you’re kicking me.”
Peter woke up and stared at Violet, half-dazed, half-asleep. “A rabbit named Frank, but in a costume, I think. Not real, but real.”
“I told you that cabbage was too old to eat. It was already beginning to flower.”
“No, it’s this case, Violet. Things aren’t adding up. I thought Mr. Fox was behind all this, till he turned up dead. Then I suspected Ma Hen. Finally I find it’s a rattler. The snake killed the fox, but where did it get the eggs? Someone would have seen it slithering around. I’ll have to check the hiding places.”
“Did the snake kill the fox after the fox killed the Roos?” Violet asked.
“I aim to find out.” Peter nuzzled Violet. “Are we going to have more children today or tomorrow?”
“Either way, could you bring home some grass and clover and a few berry leaves for dinner?”
“Sure. You feeling okay?”
“Oh yes, I’m an old pro at this.”
“Good. I’m going to McDonald’s Coop and check out the hiding spots.”
It hit him somewhere between the clover field and McDonald’s farm, springing forth like Frank in his nightmare. Changing plans, he went to the far side of the oak tree and waited.
Sure enough, as Peter watched the snake sun himself on the top of the tree root, McNuggets came along carrying eggs.
Yes, McNuggets wasn’t dead after all. What seemed real that wasn’t real? What was dead that wasn’t dead? McNuggets Silkie Roo. Peter bet the tail had belonged to McNugget’s father, left from the silver-haired red fox’s last meal.
It seemed McNuggets Roo had bribed the snake to kill the silver-haired red fox with eggs stolen from the coop. But why hadn’t anyone seen him? Just as he was about to follow McNuggets to his hiding place, Ma Hen came across the hill, carrying more eggs!
“Gotcha, you old beak!” Peter murmured. He crawled toward the root and ducked as Ma Hen and McNuggets exited the den.
“Maybe we can get the snake to go after those stupid rabbits,” Ma Hen squawked. “We can get rid of lop-ears and put in some of the roos. I’m tired of being overrun with cottontails. We took care of the fox, not that white fluffy fur ball. So what if we bribed the meanest rattler around. As long as we keep him in eggs, we’ll all be fine.”
Peter crawled back to safety. Stupid rabbits, huh? And what happens when they don’t feed the snake, he thought. Stupid chickens. Next time they brought eggs, an army of rabbits would be by his side when he made the arrest, and then killed the rattler.
Even though Ma Hen and McNuggets Silkie Roo spent several nights in jail, Ma Hen and McNuggets thought they had won. They got the rattler, which killed the old fox, which could no longer kill chickens. But
Detective Peter Cotton killed the snake that could have been the worst predator in all of Green Valley. And, most importantly for Easter, he recovered all the eggs for the Easter-egg coloring contest.
Ma Hen won the Easter-egg coloring contest.
Violet had eight little hoppers and a wonderful Easter-clover dinner.
Detective Peter Cotton got to keep his job.