The Incredible Ice Event



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   Woodrow, Slim’s future father-in-law, is a man of few words.  So, when he takes the trouble to warn Slim about an Arctic cold front that is about to descend on the Texas Panhandle, Hank knows the ranch is in for a rough time.  In that kind of cold, everything quits working: pipes freeze, diesel pickups don’t start, power lines break, cattle suffer, and stock tanks freeze over.

   And, while the dogs in town might be able to spend that kind of week camped out in front of a warm fire, the Head of Ranch Security has to be sure that the cattle have access to food and water!  Will Slim and Loper be able to keep the ice at bay, or will the stock tanks freeze solid and drive the herd mad with thirst?  There’s only one way to find out!



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Chapter 6: A Mysterious Coded Message

    The scary part didn’t happen right away but it will.  Be patient.
    Once Slim had tended the fire, he wandered into the kitchen, snapped on the light, and started looking for something to eat.  Since he didn’t invite me, I listened from the other room and tried to imagine what he was doing.
    He opened a cabinet door and rattled through a collection of cans, then I heard the squeak of…what was that?  Of course.  He was opening a can of sardines, using the little metal key that came with the can.  It made a certain squeaking sound that was usually followed by…yes, there it was, the smell of SARDINES.  
    Sardines produce a powerful rush of aroma, don’t you know, and it drifts into all parts of the house.  All at once, my mouth was watering and I had to lick several drips off my chops.  I cocked my left ear and listened and…yes, there it was, the crinkle of paper.  
    He had opened a package of saltine crackers, no question about it.
    A chair scraped across the floor.  He was now sitting at the dining table, eating sardines and crackers and probably reading whatever was written on the back of the cracker box, something exciting about crackers.  I heard him crunch, chew, and swallow.
    I could hardly bear the disappointment of not being invited to share in this important event, so I did what any normal, healthy American dog would have done.  I went straight to his coat, which was still lying in a pile on the floor, exactly where he had dropped it, so I scratched around on it and flopped down.  
    It made a warm, soft, comfortable bed, and I felt that it would help me recover from the sting of being snubbed.
    The coat didn’t soak up all the pain but it helped, and before I knew it, I began drifting away like a little boat on a sea of molasses…snork murk snicklefritzzzzzzzzz.  I must have dozed off.  Yes, I’m sure I did, I mean, that coat made a great bed, and the next thing I knew, a hacksaw voice was sawing on my eardrums.
    “Hey, meathead, get off my coat!”
    Good grief, an angry man loomed over me like a storm cloud.  And I smelled fish.  The man appeared to be Slim Chance, not a fish.  He grabbed the coat upon which I’d been whiching and gave it a jerk, spilling me across the cold floor, then he snarled, “Because of you, I’ll have to hang it up.”  He flung open the closet door and hung my bed upon a peg.   “What a waste of time.”
    He stormed over to his big easy chair and flopped down.  Gee, what a grouch.  I walked around the room, searching for a soft place to rest my poor bones.  There were no soft spots, so I flopped down on a hard one.  Ouch.
    Slim covered himself with a wool blanket and was reading something, probably the Ranches-For-Sale section of Livestock Weekly.  He did that with every issue and had been doing it for years and it made no sense.  I mean, the guy was so poor, he couldn’t have bought a bag of potting soil, much less a ranch.  He was so poor, he survived on sardines and boiled turkey necks, and when he got engaged to Miss Viola, he gave her a lock washer instead of a ring.
    But there he was, buried in his blanket and dreaming of all the ranches he couldn’t buy.  Oh well.  It gave him something to do something on long, cold winter evenings.
    Me?  I was freezing on that hard, drafty floor.  I tried to doze off and grab a little nap but…all at once, I became aware of a series of odd sounds.  I lifted Earatory Scanners and homed in on…were they clicks?  Yes, a series of clicks or clacks.  Hmm, that was strange.  
    I shot a message to Data Control.  “DC, we’re picking up some odd sounds on our scanners.  Is it random noise or something we need to check out?  Over.”
    The radio crackled and DC came on.  “Not random.  There’s a pattern.  Could be the Charlies talking in code.  Activate decoding procedures at once.  Over.”
    “Roger that, DC, but we’ve got a problem.  We’ve lost the code book.  Over.”
    “Sorry, your session has expired.  The next available session will begin in March.  Offer not valid on Tuesdays or in Tennessee or to frogs under the age of thirty.”
    And with that, the line went dead.  Oh brother.  Frogs under the age of thirty?  Sometimes I wonder why we bother with all this fancy technology.
    Well, something had to be done about this.  If the Charlies were out there in the dark, sending secret messages back and forth, we needed to bust their code and find out what was going on.
    Have we discussed code breaking?  Maybe not, because it’s pretty complicated and highly classified.  Very few dogs know beans about it, but when you rise to the position of Head of Ranch Security, they expect you to be effluent in codes, counter-codes, and code breaking.  It’s part of the job, so let’s take a minute to go over some of the basics.
    Okay, these new transmissions appeared to be in Boris Code, one of the toughest to desyphon.  It consisted of a series of long and short signals, which we call “dots” and “dits.”  We write down the dots and dits on a special code pad, see, and make our best effort to transfume them into words and sentences.  
    Pretty amazing, huh?  You bet.  Okay, let’s go to work on these mysterious transmissions and see what we can learn about Charlie’s secret plans.
    “Dit dot.  Dot dit.  Dit dit dot.  Dot dot dit.  Doo wah diddy.  Diddy wump doodle.”
    Okay, there it was, the message in raw code that we’d pulled out of the aerosphere.  Now we have to call up the Decoding App and work out the translation.  Here we go, hang on.
    “Oh, hi.  This is Drover and I’m f-f-f-freezing!”

    Freezing?  Drover?
    My eyelids drifted open.  I blinked several times and noticed… hmmm.  Had I been dozing?  My assistant, Drover C. Dog, was curled up in a ball on the floor, shivering and clacking his teeth together.  Do you suppose…
    Ha ha.  Boy, the mind plays tricks and we can call off the alert.  Forget the secret codes.  I must have drifted a little deeper into sleep than I thought.  Ha ha.  No big deal, it happens to dogs all the time, at least to those of us who work eighteen hours a day.  The body gets worn out and begs for sleep.
    See, those clicks and clacks were coming from Mister Shivers.  The good news was that the Charlies weren’t plotting an invasion of the ranch.  The bad news was that we were freezing in Slim’s house.
    I leaped to my feet and went into the Shake, Yawn, and Stretch Procedure, then lumbered over to Drover and barked in his left ear.  “Hey, wake up!  You’re clacking your teeth and disturbing the whole house.”
    Wow.  He went off like a mousetrap, jumped two feet in the air, came back down, and stared at me.  Then he said—this is a direct quote—he said, “Buh buh…oh my gosh, where am I?”
    “I’m not Bubba and you’re in Slim’s shack.”
    “Then how come my teeth are cracking?”
    “Your teeth aren’t cracking, they’re clacking.”
    “What’ll I do if they fall out?”
    “Drover, pay attention.  There’s nothing wrong with your teeth except that they’re clacking.  You fell asleep and were clacking your teeth.”
    “Yeah, and that rhymes, so maybe the turnips can dance.”
    His eyeballs quit rolling around and focused on me.  “Oh, hi.  Your teeth look better.  Did you see all those turnips?”  He tried to walk and fell flat, got up, and started scratching his ear.  “You know, I think I might have been asleep.”
    “I think you might have been insane.”
    “Thanks, I knew it was something.”  He stopped scratching, glanced around, and started clacking his teeth again.  “It’s f-f-f-freezing in here, help, I c-c-c-can’t control my t-t-t-teeth!”
    Oh brother.  The runt couldn’t control his own teeth, for crying out loud, and…c-come to th-th-think about it, m-my t-t-teeth were starting to c-c-c-clack too.  This was ridiculous.  What’s the point of being inside a house if you’re freezing?
    I swung my auditory devices around, took aim at Mister Wrapped In His Blanket, and cut loose with a blast of barking.  “Hey!  Your dogs are freezing.  Stop mooning over all the ranches you can’t buy, bring in some firewood, and warm this place up!  If you don’t, we will clack our teeth all night, moan, howl, whimper and shiver until the world looks level!”
    Would it work?  
    His eyes appeared over the top of his paper.  “What’s eating on you?”
    “It seems a little drafty in here, don’t it?”
    No kidding.  Duh.
    “And the fire’s died down.  I reckon we could use some wood.”  He cupped a hand around his mouth and…you won’t believe this part…he yelled, “Here, firewoods, here woodie-woodies!  Come into the house, y’all, my dogs are getting cold!”
    Oh brother.
    He cocked his ear and listened.  “Huh.  They ain’t coming.”
    Do other people behave this way around their dogs?  I guess he thinks it’s funny, but if you ask me, it’s abnormal.  The man is…something’s wrong with him.
    He flashed me a grin.  “I guess I’ll have to do it myself.”  He pushed himself out of the chair and shed the blanket, swished his sheepskin slippers across the floor and went to the window, where he could see the thermometer outside.  “Good honk, it’s two below zero!  No wonder it seems cold.”
    At last, wearing nothing but his red one-piece long-john underwear and slippers, he threw open the door and crept out on the porch, leaving the door open.  I heard him yell, “I’ll be right back!”
    Nobody would have guessed...well, you’ll see.  It’s the scary part.