“Hey, Foster! Look at this!”
Panda was watching Mom take out some ice to make iced coffee.
“Look at this cool piece of ice! It has like an upside-down icicle on it!”
I turned around to get a better look. “Panda,” I said patiently. “First, ice is supposed to be cool. And second, there’s no such thing as an upside-down icicle.”
“Look it up,” Panda replied. “Mom Googled it. They’re called ice spikes. She said it has to do with the speed at which the water in the ice tray freezes.” Obligingly I jumped up to the desk. It seemed that Mom had forgotten to close down the laptop. I clicked on the article to see what it said. “Wow!” I exclaimed when I finished reading. “That is really amazing!”
“You know what,” Panda said later when we were getting ready to take our nap. “Reading about those ice spikes makes me want to go somewhere cold.” I agreed. “Yeah,” I replied, “it’s getting pretty hot here in Fresno. Where should we go?”
“Well,” Panda said thoughtfully. “Remember when we went to the Swiss Alps? It was pretty cold there.”
“How could I forget?” I asked. “Isn’t that where we went on the ski lift over the mountains?”
“And what about when we saw the glaciers in Patagonia?” Panda asked, mostly just to change the subject. I don’t know how many of those things he’s gotten me on over the years! “Well,” I ventured, “let’s go to Argentina again. Maybe we’ll see our penguin friends.” Panda agreed. “That’s if they made it back from Cayucos,” he pointed out. “Hey, while we’re there, can we go to Bariloche too?”
Mom had researched Bariloche, and she told us it was a ski resort in southern Argentina. It’s famous for its chocolate, and for its similarity to the Swiss Alps. After checking the location online, we boarded our travel tunnel, and it wasn’t long before we were soaring above the breathtaking Andes mountains!
We landed on a spectacular ice floe. It was kind of cold, but compared to Fresno, it felt nice to us. “Ahh,” Panda said. “This is the life!” We knew we were pretty close to Bariloche, so after we had walked for a while, we weren’t surprised to see some guys skiing in the distance. “I think I could do that,” Panda mused. “I think you could, too,” I thought, but I wasn’t going to say it out loud. No use encouraging unnecessary risk taking.
And he was right! The men lent him a pair of skis, once Panda convinced them that he had skiing experience from the Swiss Alps. “Foster, you should try this!” he called from high in the air, but I called back that I would let him do the skiing this time.
The skiers left after a while, but we weren’t tired yet, so we decided to make a snowman. It wasn’t as hard as we thought it would be, and then we played an exciting game of “hide-and-seek”. After that we realized we were hungry. We decided to walk into town and look for a delicious snack.
We found a coffee shop and ordered a latte along with some pastries. The barista was really friendly and asked us where we were from. “Fresno,” we replied in unison. She laughed when we said we were here to look for our penguin friends. “I’ve never seen a cat or a panda in here before,” she said. “And I’ve certainly never heard of any penguins in town. I hope you find them!”
We got an extra-large coffee so we could share. We were pretty sure Mom would like this place. “Too bad she couldn’t have come along,” I said, and we both laughed at the thought of her flying in our travel tunnel. “Good luck with that,” Panda said. “I don’t think she would get on a plane, much less a travel tunnel!” Once we finished our snack, we decided to go sightseeing.
Of course, Panda wanted to go on every ski lift we saw. I’ve learned to just go along with him, since so far he’s been right about it being “perfectly safe”. The view is always breathtaking, but I think I’d rather keep my breath and stay on the ground. Once we landed, we decided to take a look around.
After walking for what seemed like forever, we came to a sign we had never seen before. I climbed to the top of it while Panda took out his Spanish-English dictionary. “Guardaparque means park ranger,” he read. “Municipal is a cognate. It means the same in both languages. So this must be where the municipal park ranger lives!” We went up to the small, quaint cottage and knocked on the door.
“My name is Francisco,” said the guardaparque, inviting us into his kitchen after we had introduced ourselves. “You’re here from where?” We watched with interest as Francisco prepared some delicious yerba mate and took out some Argentinian pastries. “Fresno,” Panda answered. “We just got here this afternoon. Francisco nodded, rubbing his chin thoughtfully as he poured the tea. “Are you here to investigate the missing chocolate?” he asked, lowering his voice.
We stared at each other, dumbfounded. “The missing chocolate?” I asked, intrigued. “I – we didn’t even know any chocolate was missing. And, umm, with all due respect, what makes you think we came to investigate it?” Francisco measured his words carefully. “We know all about you from the penguins,” he explained. “They told us how you helped catch the men responsible for the gold stealing ring in Tokyo about this time last year.”
We looked at each other, incredulous. “That was a whole year ago?” Panda asked. “I can’t believe the time went by so fast!” I agreed, remembering. “That was so cool when you won the gold medal at the Tokyo Olympics! How could we forget?” Francisco nodded. “Yes, that was in all the newspapers. The penguins also told us about the fish stealing ring last fall in Cayucos, California. We think you are just the ones to break up this chocolate stealing ring, if in fact that’s what we’re dealing with.”
“As you may know,” Francisco continued, “the city of Bariloche was built to resemble a Swiss ski resort. It’s famous for its skiing, its European architecture, and its chocolate.” We nodded politely and Panda said, “Yes, that’s what our mom told us. She used to do a lesson about it when she was teaching high school Spanish.”
“Well, we have some of the world’s finest chocolate here,” Francisco went on. Panda and I looked at each other, and Panda opened his mouth to say something but changed his mind. “Lately, the chocolate shops have been reporting hundreds of pounds of chocolate missing. But none of the stores have been broken into. We can’t figure out how the thieves are doing it. The penguins are down by the water. I’ll text them and let them know you’re here.” We thanked Francisco for the tea and pastries, and, after promising to keep him posted, we headed out toward where he said the penguins were.
Our penguin friends were delighted to see us. “Wow!” they exclaimed. “You guys got here just in the nick of time! Did Francisco tell you about the missing chocolate?” We replied in the affirmative. They began to relate the new information they had gathered, all excitedly talking at once. “Guys! One at a time!” I insisted. “We can’t concentrate with all of you talking.”
“It’s nowhere to be found!” We listened intently as the spokespenguin took over. “We can’t figure out where they are or how they’re getting the chocolate out of the shops without being seen. We’re starting to think it’s an inside job.” We looked at each other and nodded. “I think you could be right,” I said. “Panda and I will start investigating as soon as we get into town.”
When we arrived in town, the first thing we did was check out the chocolate shops. Everywhere we went, the story was the same. Chocolate was disappearing every night, but there was no sign of a break in the next day.
The police had come to investigate each time but had been unable to find any fingerprints or other evidence. Meanwhile, the owners told us, the shops were starting to lose money. “People come here especially for the chocolate,” each of them explained. “We sure hope you’ll be able to solve the crime!”
They also gave us a piece of free chocolate everywhere we went, which was a nice gesture. We were glad Panda had his pockets, because there was no way we could have eaten it all at once. When we got back to our hotel lobby, we put it all on the coffee table and drifted off to sleep. When we woke up a little while later, we were in for a surprise.
The chocolate was gone!
(To be continued. . .)
Author’s note: The background photos for this story are from Unsplash.com, a royalty-free photo site. Any reference to World’s Finest Chocolate, real or imagined, is probably not coincidental.