Dominic led the Tin Can Society deeper into the woods in the direction indicated by the gruff Army sergeant and the men from NASA. As they crested a hill, they saw ahead of them a small knot of soldiers standing in a circle around what looked like a flattened oil drum.
As they got closer, the two black-suited NASA men jogged on ahead to get a better look at the object; the soldiers standing around it parted as they approached. The NASA men knelt next to the object to examine it more closely.
“Yep, that’s from the Halo, alright.”
“Is it safe?” called the sergeant who was escorting the Tin Can Society. “Should I keep the kids back?”
“No, it’s safe,” the lead NASA man said, waving them on. “Come over here and take a look.” The six children sprinted over to see. “That came straight from outer space,” said the taller of the two men as he stood. “It’s the fuel tank from a satellite.” They could see that not only was the object dented from its hard landing, but that it was also charred and blackened by the heat of reentry through the atmosphere.
“Wow!” “Cool!” “Neat-o!”
Throttle lifted the visor on his oversize space helmet and looked at the fellow from NASA. “Are you an astronaut?”
The man chuckled. “No, son. My friend and I here just build rockets.”
“Cool! Can you help us build our rocket?”
“Maybe you’d like to come help us build ours instead,” the man said, patting Throttle on the shoulder and causing his helmet’s visor to fall.
“Yes sir!” came Throttle’s muffled reply as he saluted smartly.
The man chuckled again and turned to Dominic, who, as the oldest and tallest member of the Tin Can Society, looked like the natural leader of the group. The man stuck out his hand. “The name’s Robert Finchley. I’m from NASA’s Office of Satellite Systems.”
Dominic shook Finchley’s hand. “I’m Dominic Belanger. And this is the Tin Can Society.” Dominic introduced each member in turn, and Finchley shook each of their hands. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all. We could really use your help. Come over here.” They stepped away from the fuel tank as the soldiers prepared to pick it up and carry it to one of the trucks out on Chestnut Street.
The six members of the Tin Can Society gathered eagerly around Finchley. “What I’m about to tell you is top secret. You have to swear that you won’t tell anyone. Okay?” Each one of them crossed their hearts.
“The Tin Can Society can keep a secret,” said Dominic solemnly.
“Good. The satellite was called Halo. It’s a very secret kind of satellite that’s designed to take high-resolution photographs of the Earth from space.”
“Like an eye in the sky!” Ham piped up before the others shushed him.
“Exactly. And when the satellite is done taking pictures, it ejects the film canister which then reenters the atmosphere and opens a parachute. A special airplane snags the canister’s parachute cables and hauls it on board. But in this case, the Halo suffered a malfunction after it was finished taking pictures of … well, let’s just say another country. Instead of the film canister separating like it was supposed to, the entire satellite reentered and broke up. Our best estimates indicate that most of the debris — probably including the film canister — came down in the vicinity of Stratton. We need to find that canister before anyone else does. I don’t have enough people to comb the area, and since you kids know the area better than we do…”
“You can count on us,” Dominic said, pushing out his chest with pride. “We have a lot of practice searching for missing rockets. Ours go missing all the time.” He nudged Phillip playfully in the ribs. “We have walkie-talkies and bikes.”
“Great!” said Finchley. “Sergeant?” Finchley gestured the sergeant over, who handed Finchley a map. Finchley knelt down and spread the map on the ground. The Tin Can Society sat down around the map, studying it carefully along with the NASA engineer, who took a pen out of his blazer pocket and pointed to the map with it. “Okay, here’s where I want you to start looking,” he said.
* * *
The next morning, carrying their trusty Radio Hut “Space Cadet” walkie-talkies and hand-drawn maps based on Finchley’s instructions, the six members of the Tin Can Society mounted their bikes and sallied forth to search their assigned areas. The morning was pleasant and sunny, a typical summer day in central Connecticut, and perfect for a scouting mission of such importance.
They rode around the neighborhood peering over walls and into yards. They waved to their neighbors and asked them if they had seen any mysterious metal boxes suddenly appear (none had). Ham risked getting caught by Gruffley the groundskeeper in order to search the schoolyard, but found nothing. Dominic made his way slowly down the steep hill on Gloster Street, but fortunately his bike’s new brakes were up to the task. Behind the Post Office, Throttle spotted something that he thought might be the missing satellite film canister, but it turned out to be an empty paint can. One by one they reported their progress via walkie-talkie, and with a pencil Dominic marked each spot off his master map. As the number of X’s began to grow, Dominic found himself beginning to doubt that the missing canister had landed in the town after all.
Debbie was having the worst luck of all. Halfway through her rounds, her front tire sprang a slow leak. She rode the bike for as long as she could, but when the tire finally went completely flat she had to dismount and walk it. She was more than halfway through her assigned territory, though, so she figured that she wouldn’t be done too much later than everyone else.
The next territory on her list was the empty lot behind the service station on the corner of West Maple Street. As she turned down the street, she saw Mister Hradecky, the owner, working on a car in the service bay. They waved to each other, and Mister Hradecky stopped working to come outside, wiping his hands on a rag. “Good morning, Miss Belanger,” he said in his thick accent, which people always imagined what a noble European king or ambassador would sound like. “What brings you out this way?”
“I’m on a secret mission for the Tin Can Society,” she said. “But my tire’s flat.” She pointed to the bike.
“O-ho, no problem, young lady. I can fix that up for you right now, if you have a few minutes.”
“Really? Thanks so much, Mister Hradecky!” She wheeled the bike into the shop, and Mister Hradecky took over in his usual efficient manner. He whistled a tune while he worked, which meant that he was completely absorbed in his task, so Debbie wandered outside and began looking around the lot. After all, while she was here she might as well continue searching.
Nothing was amiss until she peered behind the abandoned parts car at the far corner of the lot. Its hood was up, which blocked her view behind it, but when she went around the car she saw a strange metallic shape. At first she thought it might be a piece of the engine or transmission from the car (Mister Hradecky always kept two or three old cars around to raid for parts), but as she turned it over she saw the same kind of scorch marks that she had seen on the fuel tank in the park.
Excitedly, she slipped her walkie-talkie out of her purse and extended the antenna to its full length. She turned on the walkie-talkie and pressed the red “talk” button, trying to keep her excitement from causing her to forget the strict radio secrecy protocols that they had developed.
“Unit Four to Unit One,” she said, her voice quivering. “Come in, Unit One.”
A few moments later, Dominic’s voice crackled through the tiny round speaker. “Unit One here. Go ahead, Unit Four.”
“I have found a big hoard of cans. Repeat, I have found a big hoard of cans. Behind Mister Hradecky’s service station.”
Debbie listened to the shushing static for what felt like forever. “Roger, Unit One,” Dominic replied. “Status?”
“The cans look like they are in good shape, but there are too many of them for me to carry.”
“Affirmative, Unit Four. This is Unit One to all units,” Dominic said. “Proceed to location to assist Unit Four. Immediately.”
“Roger Wilco,” each of the other Tin Can Society members called in turn. They obeyed their radio protocols, resisting the urge to cheer in delight and ask her all kinds of questions. Debbie could detect the excitement in each one of their voices. Soon, they would all be able to see the film canister from outer space for themselves. Thanks to Debbie, the Tin Can Society’s latest mission was a complete success!
* * *
Or so it seemed to the stalwart Tin Can Society. For unknown to them, another group of youths had been eavesdropping on their communications, monitoring their progress across town with the help of a walkie-talkie base station located on a desk in the bedroom of their leader. Plastic airplanes dangled on strings from the bedroom ceiling, and several large fabric-covered radio-controlled airplanes leaned against the walls.
The orange-haired boy sitting at the desk operating the controls turned and faced the seven other boys sitting on the bed or standing around the desk. “So that’s what this is all about,” he said. “The Tin Can Society is on a mission to collect more cans for their little rocket project.” He uttered those last words with a sneer, wrinkling his freckled nose in contempt.
“Let’s go get ’em, Eddie!” one of the boys said excitedly. “It’s time we showed those punks that the Radio Boys are he best club. Radio controlled airplanes are way better than rockets.” Several other boys cheered lustily in affirmation of the sentiment.
Eddie, the leader, raised his hands to quiet them down. “Wait, I have a better idea. If we follow them back from Hradecky’s place, they’ll lead us right to their stash. Then we’ll finally know where they store their can collection. We can come back later and steal the whole thing. Then no more rockets, and no more Tin Can Society!” Everyone cheered.
“Gentlemen, to your bikes!” The Radio Boys — the sworn enemies of the Tin Can Society — surged out of Eddie’s bedroom and onto the front lawn where their bikes were lined up.
* * *
Back at Mister Hradecky’s service station, the Tin Can Society had congregated to view the amazing object. By then, Mister Hradecky had finished repairing Debbie’s bike and wheeled it out to her when he saw the group gathered around the back corner of his lot.
“Holy smokes,” he said, wiping his hands. “What do you suppose that is, eh?”
“It’s a secret,” said Dominic. “We are on a mission to find it. NASA sent us.”
“Well, whatever it is, it’s not from one of my cars.” He waved his rag at it. “You kids are welcome to it if you want it. Just be careful not to cut yourselves!”
“How are we going to get it back?” asked Phillip. “It’s too big to carry on a bike.”
“You can borrow one of my hand trucks,” said Mister Hradecky. “Just be sure to bring it back before I close today, okay?”
“Promise!” said Dominic. Mister Hradecky turned to retrieve the hand truck from the service station when Dominic spoke again. “And do you think you might be able to spare a blanket or a tarp too? To, um, protect it from the weather.” As if in rebuke, at that precise moment several chirping birds flew by. But Dominic and the rest of the Tin Can Society were wearing their most convincing expressions of innocence.
“Sure,” Mister Hradecky said after a moment, then headed back to the building, shaking his head in confusion.
* * *
The Tin Can Society made quite a sight walking across Stratton, dismounted from their bikes and walking alongside a dolly carrying a large object under a oil-stained blue tarp. But unknown to them, their solemn procession was shadowed the whole way by the Radio Boys, who managed to keep out of sight always one or two blocks behind.
“Where do you suppose they’re going?”
“To their treasure trove, of course,” said Eddie. “Then all we’ll have to do is wait.”
Stealthily, the Radio Boys advanced to the next alleyway, never losing sight of their quarry.
* * *
Will the Radio Boys’ plan succeed? Will their raid on the Tin Can Society’s secret treasury net them the ultimate prize — the secret satellite’s film reel — before it can be safely returned to NASA? Find out in the next exciting installment of The Tin Can Society!