When the Tin Can Society reached Stonegood Park, they put their pre-arranged security plan into effect. Rodney and Throttle took up guard positions at the edge of the forest, with their walkie-talkies at the ready. The rest of the team proceeded into the forest, the thickening tree canopy gradually darkening the sky, until they reached two gigantic, ancient elm trees. The twin tree trunks were tilted toward each other, and at a point about 10 feet in the air they twisted around each other like a thick braid. On the ground between the two trunks, several thick roots rose from the earth, creating a sheltered cave of sorts. This distinctive spot — known only to the Tin Can Society — is where they stored their treasury of cans. It was also where they had decided to store the film canister until they could call Mr. Finchley from NASA to come over and get it.
Once the canister had been placed in the vault, Dominic instructed Ham and Phillip to take the first watch, standing by the lair for three hours until they were relieved by two others. By then it would be bedtime, and they’d have to call off the watch until the morning. Everyone shook hands to congratulate themselves again on their successful mission, and then Dominic and Debbie left to collect Rodney and Throttle and head to Dominic’s house to call Mister Finchley.
Unbeknownst to the Tin Can Society, however, the entire proceedings had been carefully watched by two kids with binoculars.
Eddie, the boss of the Radio Boys, and one of his henchmen had sneaked past the Tin Can Society’s picket at the edge of the forest and intercepted the group at the twin elm trees. Fascinated, they had watched from a safe distance — too far to hear anything — as the Tin Can Society deposited what they had called a big haul of cans.
Eddie smiled, then lowered his binoculars. “Now that we know where their stash is, we can come back and take it.”
“But they left two guards,” the other fellow whispered.
Eddie smacked the back of the other fellow’s head. “We come back super-early in the morning before they get out of bed, dumbbell. Everybody shows up with duffel bags, and then we’ll clean the place out. Come on,” Eddie gestured, and the two boys slithered away unseen.
* * *
When Dominic and Debbie arrived back at home, Dominic immediately picked up the telephone and dialed the number that Mr. Finchley had given him.
“Good afternoon, this is Robert Finchley,” the voice on the other end said.
“Hi, Mister Finchley. It’s Dominic Belanger.”
“Hi, Dominic. How are you?”
“Did you find the item?”
“Yes, sir, we did.” Dominic was surprised to hear a strange clicking sound on the line, like a loud ticking clock. He almost mentioned it, but he decided that it was probably just static.
“Excellent. Good work, son. We’ll meet you at the park tomorrow morning at 8. How does that sound?”
“Very good, sir. We’ll be there. Goodbye.”
Dominic was surprised that he didn’t feel more excited. There was something about that clicking sound on the telephone line that worried him.
* * *
Shortly after sunrise the next morning, a team of Eddie’s most trusted lieutenants met at his house carrying duffel bags and Army surplus backpacks — everything they would need to cart away the Tin Can Society’s entire treasury from under their noses. Quietly, they mounted their bikes and rode toward the park, dismounting at the edge of the forest and proceeding carefully lest the Tin Can Society had already sent a team of early-morning sentries or laid any booby-traps for them.
The morning sun had yet to reach this deep into the forest, which was still cool and foggy. As the Radio Boys neared the spot, they could see the distinctive twisted trunks of the twin elms piercing through the fog. “That’s the spot,” Eddie said, pointing. “Come on!”
“Wait!” one of the other boys said, tugging on Eddie’s arm to get down. “Someone’s coming!” The team crouched behind some bushes. Eddie raised his binoculars, trying to see through the haze. Sure enough, the dark gray silhouettes of two boys could be seen walking through the fog toward the twin elms.
“Guards,” Eddie whispered. “I see two of them. But . . . ” Eddie studied the two shadows through his binoculars as they approached. They walked stiffly and jerkily, rocking side to side with each step as if they had no knees. As they lurched closer, Eddie could see that their arms stuck out stiffly at an odd angle, and that their heads were oddly large — as if they were wearing half-domed helmets that connected directly to their shoulders. Eddie knew then that he wasn’t looking at members of the Tin Can Society.
“Robots!” he said, nearly dropping his binoculars.
At the sound of Eddie’s astonished voice, the two robots stopped walking, their torsos turning smoothly to face the source of the voice. One of them raised a stubby, unjointed arm in their direction. In its claw was a devide that looked like a ray gun.
“He’s got a gun!” one of the astonished kids shouted, and in unison the Radio Boys jumped up in a panic and fled the scene, many of them tossing their bags away in their haste and screaming all the way out of the forest.
* * *
Two hours later, once the summer sun had a chance to burn off the fog and begin warming up the day, the six members of the Tin Can Society convened at the baseball diamond in Stonegood Park to await the arrival of Mr. Finchley from NASA. At precisely 8 o’clock, a black sedan drove Chestnut Street and stopped. The back door opened and a man stepped out — but it wasn’t Mr. Finchley. Tall and thin, balding and wearing round black-framed spectacles, the man had on a black trenchcoat over a dark suit.
“Which one of you is Dominic Belanger?” he said as he approached.
After a moment’s hesitation, Dominic stepped forward and raised his hand. “I am. Where’s Mister Finchley?”
“Don’t worry. I work with Finchley. He can’t make it and asked me to pick up the film canister. Do you have it?”
Dominic hesitated again. Like the phone call yesterday, his instincts — which were always reliable in such matters — told him that there was something wrong. “Who are you?”
“I’m a scientist. I work for NASA. Where is the film canister?”
Dominic thought fast. “It’s in a safe place. But we’ll have to go get it. You have to wait here.” The man was about to protest, but Dominic added, “That was Mister Finchley’s plan.”
The man nodded. “Very well. You go get it, I’ll wait here.”
“Rodney, Throttle, come with me,” Dominic said. “Throttle, grab your tools.” The three of them disappeared into the woods.
Several minutes later, the three of them returned carrying the singed metal canister. The scientist’s eyes sparkled at the sight of it.
“Here it is,” Dominic said, handing it over.
“Very good,” said the scientist. “Your country thanks you for your service.” He immediately turned and started heading back to his car.
“Be sure to say hi to Mister Finchley for us,” Dominic called after him.
“Sure, I’ll do that,” the scientist said as he got into the car, which immediately sped away.
“That was strange,” said Phillip as they watched the car crest Chestnut Street and disappear over the hill. Everyone nodded. With their biggest and most important mission now completed, the Tin Can Society should have felt excited and happy; instead they were glum and nervous. Finally, Debbie spoke.
“Dominic, I’m not sure you should have given him the film canister.”
Dominic, to her surprise, smiled. He looked at Throttle and Rodney, who were also smiling.
Throttle lifted the visor on his giant helmet. “You’re right,” he said, pointing with the screwdriver he was still holding in his right hand to his toolbag. Rodney bent down and reached into the bag. He pulled out a reel of film.
“We gave him the canister just like he asked for,” said Dominic. Everyone descended upon Dominic at once, slapping his back and hugging his shoulders, cheering at their leader’s brilliance.
Dominic quieted them down. “I had a feeling something was wrong when I called Mister Finchley yesterday. I think the call was bugged, which is how that scientist guy knew we were here. Somehow, he was able to prevent Mister Finchley from getting here, which probably means there’s more than one person involved.” The members of the Tin Can Society looked at each other nervously. “That means now we have to find Mister Finchley before that scientist fellow discovers that the film is missing and he comes looking for us,” he said. “We don’t have much time.”
* * *
Will the Tin Can Society be able to find Mister Finchley before the film falls into the hands of the mysterious scientist? What is the source of the strange robots that the Radio Boys saw in the woods? The mysteries continue in the next exciting episode of The Tin Can Society!