“Panda, what are you doing under that robe?”
“I’m practicing for when I go undercover,” Panda replied matter-of-factly.We had just gotten back from our trip to San Diego a couple of days before, and were relaxing in the bedroom while Mom was working on her blog. As usual, she had been so busy writing that she didn’t know we’d been gone until we got back. “Undercover?” I asked from my perch on the windowsill. “What do you mean?”Panda came out from under the robe as I jumped down onto the bed. “I learned about it when we were in the police force,” he explained. “It’s where you disguise yourself so you can solve crimes and nobody will know it’s you.” I thought for a minute. “You mean you want to be a detective?” I asked, intrigued. Panda nodded. “Yeah, I could be just like Hercule Poirot!”“No,” I responded. “Hercule Poirot believes in sitting back and using ‘the little gray cells’ to solve crimes. He rarely goes undercover. I know because I hear Mom’s audible books all the time when I’m on my shelf in the sewing room closet.” Panda accepted my statement as fact. “Oh, okay.” he conceded. “Well anyway I think it would be fun, don’t you?” I had to admit it did sound like fun. “I’m pretty good at hiding,” I volunteered. “Do you know of any crimes we can solve?” “Well,” Panda began, “I just heard on the radio that there is a baby panda missing from the San Diego Zoo.” “Well this is an emergency,” I said as we boarded our travel tunnel and started for San Diego again. “I remember when you went missing back in 2016, and Mom was getting pretty worried.” Panda laughed. “Yeah, and she found out she had put me in the laundry basket by mistake!” We continued to reminisce about Panda’s other misadventures, and we almost passed up the zoo. I made a sharp turn and the next thing we knew we were on the ground right next to a huge rock wall.“Well this is weird,” I mused, as the rock seemed to move a little. Suddenly we realized what had happened. We had landed right in the middle of the hippopotamus enclosure! “Sorry for waking you up, guys,” Panda said as I tried to get my bearings. The hippos yawned placidly. “That’s okay,” one of them said. “Where did you come from?” asked another. “Fresno,” we answered in unison. The hippos looked at each other, and then back at us. “Oh, we heard about you,” one remarked. “Aren’t you the ones who were in the penguin enclosure the other day?” Panda hesitated before responding. “Umm…yes,” he replied. Then he lowered his voice. “But this time we’re here undercover. We’re detectives now. We’re here to find the missing panda.” They nodded knowingly. “Oh,” they said confidentially. “Well, mum’s the word!” We thanked them and continued toward the panda enclosure. On the way we passed the elephants and stopped in to say hi. “Hey, you’re back!” our elephant friend exclaimed. “Are you here about the missing baby panda?” We looked at each other quizzically. The elephant laughed. “Don’t you know the hippos are some of the worst gossips in this zoo?” he asked. “We never trust them with important information.” “Well that’s good to know,” I said, making a mental note. “Let’s go, Panda, we need to work fast if we’re going to find him now.” On the way to the panda enclosure we got a chance to see my big cat relatives . “Yes!” The tiger responded to our inquiry in a deep, almost gruff voice. “One of the baby pandas is missing. We heard about it last night at feeding time. I don’t see how he could have gotten out of the park this fast though. He’s got to be around here somewhere.” Before we left I had Panda take a picture of me with my big cat relative. We were both amazed at how much we looked alike!As we headed on our way, we hurried past the birds of prey exhibit. After what had happened to Panda in Peru, neither one of us wanted to stick around for that demonstration!When we finally made it to the panda exhibit, we had a bit of “deja vu” as we passed the gift shop. “You still owe me for buying you out of that gift shop at the Wolong Panda Reserve in China,” I whispered. Panda shuddered. But he knew what he had to do. “This is the perfect place for me to go undercover,” he said with determination. “I’ll see what I can find out from the other animals,” I said, and we agreed to meet back in a couple of hours to compare notes. The first thing I did was find a good hiding place just outside the panda enclosure. From my vantage point in a patch of bamboo I could see and hear everything that went on in the area. Panda, meanwhile, had managed to climb inside the enclosure. I heard him talking to one of the pandas. “Hey, are you new?” the panda asked, sniffing Panda. “Umm…yes,” Panda replied coolly. “I’m just in from…uh, Fresno.” The panda looked surprised. “I didn’t know the Fresno zoo had pandas,” he said. Panda stayed calm and answered, “Well they don’t anymore.” The big panda laughed as he examined Panda’s overalls. “Hey, is that a real pocket?”I have to say Panda really took his undercover responsibilities seriously. He got a lot of information by listening to the other pandas during feeding time. “So when did you last see him?” one of them asked in between mouthfuls of delicious bamboo. The others munched thoughtfully. “He was over by the gate to our enclosure,” one responded. “I think he was getting ready to climb that big tree.” Two hours later we met at a prearranged location and then went straight to the red panda enclosure. Our friend Red listened thoughtfully as Panda related the information he had gathered from his undercover investigation. “I know what to do,” he told us. “We’re going to have to climb some trees. Are you guys game?” We nodded vigorously. “We’re game!” we replied in unison.We followed Red to some trees on the outside of the panda enclosure. “Everyone keep quiet,” he whispered. “There’s a possibility he’s over there.” We all kept as still as possible and scanned the treetops for the missing panda.It wasn’t long before we heard a cry of distress. The baby panda was stuck in one of the nearby trees! Panda immediately jumped into action. “Hold still, Buddy,” he called to the frightened panda. “We’ll have you down in no time!”He made his way carefully to where the baby panda was. “It’s okay,” he encouraged. “I’ve got you.” Hesitantly the baby panda began to climb down with Panda right behind him. We were met with a hero’s welcome back at the enclosure, and Panda even got to be on the panda cam when we brought the baby back to his family. After a joyful celebration we said goodbye to all our friends and started for home. As soon as we got home we jumped up into my new chair for a nap. It was then that we heard Mom’s voice from the other room. “Foster, is Panda with you?” I looked up quickly. “Yes,” I replied. “Why do you ask?” Mom came in with a puzzled look on her face. “I was just checking the San Diego Zoo panda cam on the computer and…well, never mind…” She stood looking at us for a moment, shaking her head. Then, shrugging her shoulders, she picked up her coffee cup and went off to the sewing room.
(Background photos for this story are from Pixabay.com, a royalty-free photo site.)