In the second in the Pengey Penguin Short Story Series, Pengey is on his way back to Antarctica but is accidentally delivered to a broken down diner. The owners have fallen on hard times, and now that the bank has called in their loan they've all but given up hope.
Text copyright © 2008 by John Burns
Illustrations, copyright © 2008 by John Burns
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The sun that morning was a cold orange disk that barely shone through the purple gray storm clouds. A bent-over neon sign blinked on its rusted pole and swayed in the frigid wind that swept the empty parking lot. Beyond the piled-up snow sat a little diner, only fifty feet from the street, now busy with the rush of early traffic. Shabby as it was, the little diner glowed with warmth as the lights flickered on and shone through the frost covered windows.
Inside the diner, a sleepy-looking Sniffles Mouse dragged a mop and a pail of water across the well-worn, black-and-white linoleum.
A tiny baby field mouse peeked out from its hole in the baseboard and start to forage for whatever crumbs there might be on the floor.
Sniffles walked over to the mouse and looked at it. The mouse looked back at Sniffles and rubbed its tummy.
Sniffles turned away sadly, but the tiny mouse dashed after him and held out its paw.
Sniffles said, “Shoo. Go on now. You know there’s nothing to eat.”
Tiffit Mouse walked into the dining room, adjusting her threadbare scarf. “Sniffles? Did I hear you say there’s nothing to eat?”
“Well . . . yes,” stuttered Sniffles.
“I can’t believe you, Sniffles. Why, our refrigerator is full of food.”
“But Tiffit, that food is for our customers⎯if they ever come.”
Tiffit walked over to a window and started to wash it. “We’ve only been here three months,” she said encouragingly.
Sniffles hopped up a red vinyl bench seat and glumly brushed some cobwebs from the corner of the booth. “I wish I still had your enthusiasm,” he said, “but we haven’t had one customer since we bought this place.”
Tiffit polished the window busily. “The customers will come, she said. “You mark my words. We just need a little good luck.”
Sniffles found a crumb of bread behind the napkin holder. He looked down and saw the tiny mouse standing beside him. He gave the tiny mouse the crumb. “Go on now” he said. “That’s all there is for now.”
The mouse clutched the crumb in its paws and scurried into its hole in the wall just as Tiffit cried, “Sniffles! A van just pulled up! Maybe it’s a customer!”
Sniffles hopped to the floor and dashed for the coffee urn. “I’ll get the coffee ready,” he yelled. He tripped over the mop handle, slid across the floor, and banged his head against the pail of water. He sat up and wiped soapsuds from his face.
“Sniffles?” cried Tiffit, “are you okay?”
Sniffles stood up, and laughed self-consciously, while brushing soapsuds off his face and apron. “Golly!” he said. “That was clumsy of me.”
Meanwhile, out in the parking lot, the engine of Barrington Badger’s delivery van sputtered to a stop. Barrington got out, whistling a happy tune, and opened the back door of his van. As he did so, the van’s noisy refrigeration unit started up. A torrent of snow blew out of the cargo area, and instantly covered him head to foot.
Looking more like a snowman than a badger, Barrington shuddered briskly. The snow fell off him and landed with a thump at his feet. He took a large package out of the van and walked toward the diner. The package was decorated with a pink bow and little card that read Happy Birthday, Tiffit.
From the window Tiffit and Sniffles watched Barrington approach.
Tiffit said, “Oh, Sniffles! What a pretty package! Who do you suppose it’s for?”
Sniffles hid his paws behind his back and crossed his fingers. “How should I know?” he said. “Maybe it the wrong address.”
Tiffit hopped down from the window seat and said, “I’ll go let him in.”
Sniffles looked panic stricken, but luckily, just then the phone rang. “Tiffit?” he said, “Would you see who’s on the phone?”
“But what about the package?”
“I’ll take care of it.” The phone rang again as Sniffles dashed to the door, “It’s probably for someone else.” He pointed to the ringing phone. “That could be a customer.”
“Okay,” said Tiffit, and she went to answer the phone.
Barrington walked in whistling his happy tune. “Hi there,” he said. “Are you Sniffles Mouse?”
“Good,” said Barrington as he handed Sniffles a pen and invoice. “Sign here.”
“Sure enough,” said Sniffles. “Would you like some coffee?”
“No thanks. I gotta get rollin’. Remember to keep that frozen.”
Barrington went back out to his truck still whistling. Sniffles took the birthday card off the package, stuffed it in his apron pocket, walked to the freezer, and put the box inside.
Tiffit walked up looking grief stricken. She said, “What’s in the package, Sniffles?”
Sniffles laughed and hid his paws, and crossed his fingers again. “I don’t know,” he said. “The driver asked if he could leave it here. Who was that on the phone?”
“Somebody named Snidely McVile. He’s new at the bank and he wasn’t very friendly.”
“What did Mr. McVile want?”
Tiffit wrung her paws together. “He said we have to pay off our loan today or the bank will foreclose on the diner. He said he’ll be stopping by tonight to pick up the money.”
Tiffit and Sniffles gazed at each other in dismay.
“Gee,” said Sniffles. “I knew it was coming due. But I thought we still had some time left.” He motioned toward the counter. “Maybe we should think this out over a cup of coffee.”
Tiffit wiped a tear from her eye.
“Come on . . . a cup of coffee. What do you say?”
Tiffit nodded, hopped up on a stool, and buried her face in her paws. Sniffles walked around to the back of the counter. He poured out two cups of coffee and set them on the countertop.
The freezer started to rattle loudly. Sniffles walked up to it, kicked it, and joined Tiffit at the counter.
“It looks like the icebox is on its last legs,” said Sniffles.
“But it’s never made noise like that before today.”
The freezer started to rattle again. Sniffles sipped some coffee and stared at it glumly, “I’ll fix it,” he said with determination.
As he hopped down off his stool, the freezer started to jiggle and shake. Sniffles kicked it again, and the jiggling and shaking stopped. Sniffles smiled triumphantly. “There!” he said. “It’s just a matter of putting that old machine in its place.”
Tiffit looked relieved⎯but just then the freezer started to shake and rattle, this time more loudly than before.
“Sniffles!” she cried, “What could it be?”
The freezer continued to bounce and shake as Sniffles held on to it. “I-I don’t know,” he stammered, “b-but there’s one way to stop it for sure.”
Sniffles walked over, grabbed the electric plug and pulled it out of its socket. Immediately the freezer stopped bouncing and shaking.
Tiffit said, “We can’t leave it unplugged or all the food will go bad.”
Just then the freezer started to bounce and shake again. Sniffles put his ear to it. He said, “It sounds like there’s something inside.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Tiffit. “How could something be inside the icebox?”
Sniffles held onto the freezer while it bounced and rattled and jiggled up and down. “W-well I don’t know,” he stammered, “b-but there’s one way to find out.”
He let go of the freezer, plugged it back in, and quickly opened the door. There was Pengey Penguin building a beautiful igloo out of ice cubes.
Pengey turned to Sniffles and smiled, “Hi there!” he said. “What’s your name?”
Sniffles slammed the door shut and leaned his back against it. The freezer started bouncing and shaking again. “Tiffit!” he yelled. “There’s a penguin in the icebox!”
“Penguins,” said Tiffit. “As if we don’t have enough to worry about.”
Sniffles grabbed hold of the freezer and bounced around with it. “N-not penguins,” he stammered, “A-a penguin.”
Tiffit folded her arms across her chest and looked sternly at him. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she said. “How could one penguin make that much fuss? Tiffit hopped off her stool and walked over to the freezer. She said, “I’m going to put a stop to this nonsense.”
She opened the freezer door and saw Pengey Penguin standing in front of his igloo. He waved a happy hello. She slammed the door shut. “There’s a penguin in the icebox,” she said.
Sniffles looked embarrassed, “Well, yeah,” he said. “You see, that’s what–”
“You get that penguin out of the icebox this instant.”
“B-but . . .” stammered Sniffles.
Sniffles walked cautiously to the freezer and opened the door. There, reclining on an ice cube chaise lounge and basking in the light of the electric lightbulb was, Pengey Penguin.
Tiffit nudged Sniffles forward. “Go on,” Tiffit whispered. “Tell him he’s not allowed in the icebox.”
Sniffles stepped into the freezer and immediately started to shiver. “Excuse me . . .” he began.
Pengey stood up, extended a friendly flipper, and said, “Hi! I’m Pengey Penguin.”
Sniffles started to turn blue, his knees began knocking together, and his teeth started to chatter. Still, he shook hands with Pengey and said, “Hi. I’m Sniffles Mouse. May I ask what you’re doing in here?”
The door slammed shut. Sniffles’s eyes darted to it, but he was too cold to move.
Pengey shook his paw and said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Mouse. Won’t you come in and sit down?” He noticed that Sniffles’s arm was frozen stiff. “Ah . . . Mr. Mouse?” he said. “Are you feeling okay?”
Sniffles stood as motionless as a rock. Pengey dashed into his igloo, and brought out a little package. “Would you like a popsicle?” he asked kindly.
But Sniffles’s panicked eyes kept turning toward the door. He tried to open his frozen mouth, but all he could say was “Ph-lease-ouffen-da-duh.”
Pengey looked at the freezer door and said, “This door?”
Sniffles blinked his eyes several times while his knees knocked together very loudly.
Pengey knocked on the door and Tiffit opened it. Pengey said, “I beg your pardon, ma’am. But I think your friend wants to talk to you.”
Tiffit’s took one look at Sniffles and realized that he was frozen solid. She turned to Pengey and said, “I’ll get some hot water. Would you please help Sniffles out of the freezer?”
Pengey said, “I’d be delighted to help, ma’am.”
While Tiffit dashed off, Pengey trundled over to Sniffles, lifted him up, and carried him out of the freezer. Tiffit came back with a basin of steamy hot water and set it on the floor. Pengey gently put Sniffles into the water.
As soon as Sniffles felt the warmth of the water, he let out a long sigh. Tiffit watched as the color returned to his face. She looked gratefully at Pengey and said, “Thank you very much, Mr. Penguin. I was afraid that there might be permanent damage.”
Pengey bowed, smiled, and said, “It was really no trouble.”
“I’m forgetting my manners. My name is Tiffit. Tiffit Mouse.”
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miss Mouse. I’m Pengey Penguin.”
Sniffles started to step unsteadily out of the basin of hot water. Pengey and Tiffit dashed to his side and helped him sit down on a chair.
As soon as Sniffles was comfortable, Tiffit hurried away, calling back, “I’ll get some hot coffee.”
Pengey looked around at the yellowed walls and the thin Formica tabletops. He patted Sniffles on the back and said, “This certainly is a nice restaurant you have here, Mr. Mouse.”
Sniffles shook his head heavily. He said, “I appreciated the compliment. But it might not be ours after today.” He let out a big sigh.
“Why not?” said Pengey.
“Because the bank will foreclose on us if we can’t pay back the loan today.”
“That’s terrible,” said Pengey. “There must be something we can do.”
“Oh, yes. There’s something we can do,” said Sniffles. He stared out the window at the morning traffic speeding by. “We could get some customers. The problem is that no one ever stops here?”
Pengey looked out at the steady stream of cars. He said, “Why don’t we just get some of those cars to stop here.”
Tiffit came back with the coffee and put a cup in front of each of them. Sniffles said, “We’ve tried everything, but nothing gets them to stop.”
Tiffit hung her head and dried a tear. “Sniffles is right, Pengey,” she said. “The world’s going by too fast to notice us anymore.”
Pengey looked at the traffic again and his face lit up with excitement. He said, “Maybe they just can’t see you from the road.”
“But this diner has been here for years,” said Tiffit.
“Hmm? That may be so,” said Pengey as he trundled off toward the door. “Maybe they gotten so used to it being here, they can’t see it anymore.”
“I don’t understand,” said Sniffles.
Pengey opened the door and smiled back confidently. “Get the soup hot and put on some more coffee.”
“But Mr. Penguin⎯”
Pengey bowed and smiled, “Just call me, Pengey.”
“But what are you going to do?” cried Tiffit.
“I’m going to give them something to look at. Hurry with the soup. There’s no time to lose.”
Sniffles and Tiffit watched from the widow as Pengey trundled over to a huge snowbank that bordered the roadway and started chopping away at it.
“Do you suppose he knows what he’s doing?” said Tiffit.
“No,” said Sniffles. “But he certainly is enthusiastic.”
“Maybe he’s right. Should we put on the soup?”
“We might as well. He might be on to something.”
Tiffit walked over to the stove and lit the burner under the soup pot. The phone rang and she answered it cheerfully but her face fell at once.
“Oh hello, Mr. McVile.” She listened politely for a moment. “Three thousand dollars?” she said. “But I thought we only owed two thousand . . . You’ll be here to collect at eight o’clock tonight . . . Yes, I understand.”
Tiffit hung up the phone. She walked over to Sniffles, who had started to mop the floor. “It’s no use, Sniffles,” she said sadly. She pointed to the clock, which read nine thirty. “We have less than twelve hours.”
Just then a car pulled into the parking lot.
“Quick, Sniffles!” Tiffit yelled. “Put the mop away. We have a customer!”
Sniffles scrambled to put the mop and pail away, just as two customers walked into the café.
Tiffit quickly removed the threadbare scarf on her head and replaced it with a bow. “Good morning,” she said politely. “Would you like some coffee?”
One of the customers smiled. He said, “Sounds perfect on a cold day like this.”
“Please sit anywhere,” said Tiffit. She filled two cups with coffee and set them in front of the happy customers.
There was a screech of tires out on the street. Looking worried, Tiffit dashed to the widow and looked out. Her worried look turned to one of amazement.
Behind the counter, Sniffles stood wearing a clean white apron. “Hi folks,” he said to the customers, “Can I get you something from our menu?”
The first customer said, “I’ll have a cheeseburger and more of this delicious coffee.”
The second customer said, “I’d like a cheeseburger, some French fries, and a cup of hot chocolate.”
“Coming right up,” said Sniffles as he slapped two hamburger patties on the grill. He looked over to where Tiffit was standing with her mouth open, pointing at the street. “Tiffit!” he said. What’s wrong?”
Two new customers walked in and sat down at the counter.
Tiffit continued to point out through the window. “It’s P-Pengey,” she stuttered, “ . h-he’s built a . . .”
“Excuse me. I’ll be right back,” Sniffles told the new customers. He ran to Tiffit’s side and looked out the window. His eyes grew wide. Tiffit continued to point.
There, past their broken-down, blinking neon sign was, Pengey, feverishly working on a huge snow and ice crystal storybook castle. On the street just beyond the castle, cars lined up bumper to bumper to enter the parking lot of the Desolation Café.
Three more customers entered the café. One of the customers at the counter called out, “How do we get something to eat around here?”
Tiffit rearranged her bow, scurried off to the new customers and showed them to a table. Sniffles dashed back to the counter and started taking orders.
Meanwhile, outside in the snow bank, Pengey was putting the finishing touches on the storybook castle. He stood back and looked at the perfect statues of Sniffles and Tiffit that stood in the middle of the snow fountains and gardens in front of the turrets and the drawbridge and the moat with mermaids and porpoises in it. He dusted off his flippers and waddled quickly past the customers who were lining up to admire his work. He hurried back into the café, where two new customers waited to be seated.
“Hello,” said Pengey. “How many are in your party, ma’am?”
“Six for breakfast,” said the lady.
“Six for breakfast,” said Pengey. “Please come this way.”
He led the customers to the last empty booth, just as Sniffles hollered from the stove, “Order up!” Tiffit dashed over to the counter, picked up the orders, and brought them to the waiting customers.
Pengey approached the counter and said, “Ordering, two bowls of oatmeal, two orders of pancakes, an English muffin with strawberry jam and orange juice, a fruit cup with yogurt, four cups of coffee, and two hot chocolates.”
Sniffles grabbed the order and put it on the turnstyle. Tiffit walked up with another order, while Pengey waddled over to more waiting customers and showed them to their seats.
And so it went, minute after minute and hour after hour. It seemed that the hands of the clock were almost spinning, the time went so fast. At last, the last customer walked out.
Pengey closed the door and ambled back to where Tiffit and Sniffles stood next to an overflowing cash register. They all looked tired but they also looked happy.
Tiffit glanced at the clock. It read seven fifty-eight. She said, “Should we count the money now?”
Sniffles said, “Yes! Snidely McVile will be here at eight.”
Sniffles emptied out the register and started to count the money. He piled the counted bundles into neat little stacks.
Pengey said, “Is anyone hungry?”
“I’m starved,” said Sniffles.
“Me too,” said Tiffit. “I haven’t eaten a thing all day.” She went over to the refrigerator and looked inside. “There’s nothing left to eat,” she said with crestfallen look. “The customers ate it all.”
“We’ll just have to hold out until we can go shopping in the morning,” said Sniffles.
Tiffit looked distastefully at the piles of dirty dishes and said, “Well, I might as well start the dishes.”
“I have some fish sticks in my backpack,” said Pengey hopefully.
“Where’s your backpack?” said Tiffit.
Pengey bashfully slid one foot in front of the other and said, “In the icebox.”
“Fish sticks!” said Tiffit, smiling. “That sounds very tasty.”
While Sniffles counted the money, Tiffit opened the door of the freezer. Pengey hopped inside. A moment later he hopped back out with his brightly colored backpack. He opened the backpack and gave Tiffit the package of fish sticks.
Tiffit started to open the package, but before she could put the fish sticks in the pan, the air was filled with the sound of a rapidly approaching police siren.
Sniffles, Tiffit, and Pengey dashed to the window. The walls of the diner were suddenly awash with flashing red lights. A police car pulled into the parking lot. Tiffit looked at the clock; it was exactly eight o’clock. The police car screeched to a stop. Two large men got out and walked purposefully toward the café.
Tiffit cried out, “Sniffles! It’s the police! What could we have done?”
The door of the café slammed open. A tall villainous man with a black moustache, a bowler hat, and a shiny black suit walked in as if he owned the place. With him was a fat man in a police uniform. He had a wart on his nose, greasy hair, and spaghetti stains on his shirt, and he smelled as if he needed a bath.
Pengey said cheerfully, “I’m sorry, gentlemen. The café is closed for the night.”
The policeman sneered, “Out of my way, penguin. I’m officer Horace Nurfenstein.” He pointed to the man in the black suit. And this is Snidely McVile. We’re here to foreclose on this joint.”
Pengey scratched his head with his flipper. He said politely, “Foreclose? I don’t understand.”
Snidely McVile pointed a long bony finger at Sniffles, “If he doesn’t have all my money right now, I have the papers, and Officer Nurfenstein has the authority to take the keys to this diner tonight.”
“But we haven’t finished counting the money yet,” said Tiffit.
“Okay. Finishing counting,” yelled McVile. “But hurry it up. We don’t have all night.”
“Well then,” said Pengey cheerfully, “would you like a cup of coffee while you wait? I’d be delighted to bring it to you.”
McVile and Nurfenstein exchanged an amused look.
Nurfenstein said, “Well ain’t that something. This penguin’s got manners.”
Pengey trundled off to get the coffee. Tiffit folded her arms across her chest, tapped her foot on the floor, gave McVile and Nurfenstein a stern look, and said, “Is there something wrong with having manners?”
McVile glared back at Tiffit. “No.” he hissed. “But there’s going to something very wrong for you if he can’t come up with all my money.” He yelled at Pengey, “Hey you, penguin . . . hurry up with my coffee.”
Pengey poured out two cups of coffee and bustled back to the table, smiling pleasantly.
Tiffit said, in as pleasant a tone as she could muster, “We might not have had all the money, if it wasn’t for Pengey.”
“That remains to be seen. How much do you have?” said Nurfenstein.
Tiffit turned to Sniffles and said, “How much do we have, Sniffles?”
As he laid the last dollar on a stack, Sniffles smiled confidently. “We have exactly two thousand, nine hundred and seventy-five dollars,” he told her.
McVile and Nurfenstein roared with laughter. While Pengey slipped away, McVile handed Tiffit an official-looking piece of paper and said, “You’ve got ten minutes to vacate this diner.”
Tiffit looked shocked. “But what about the two thousand nine hundred and seventy-five dollars?” she said. “Surely that much will let us stay on another day.”
McVile snickered condescendingly. He said, “You’re twenty-five dollars short.” He grabbed all the money from Sniffles’s paw. “This amount of money is hardly worth my time,” he roared. “Now get out, or Officer Nurfenstein will put the three of you in jail for trespassing on my property.”
Pengey waddled up holding his backpack, “Excuse me,” he said. “I hate to interrupt. But I have a coin, if that will help.”
McVile and Nurfenstein laughed out loud. Nurfenstein said, “A coin? What are you, a comedian? Coins ain’t worth nothing.”
Sniffles and Tiffit watched curiously as Pengey took a gold coin out of his backpack. McViles eyes focused as sharp as darts, but he tried to remain calm. He said, “That might be worth, er, ah … a little something. Where did you find it?”
Pengey said, “I found it at the bottom of the sea.”
“At the bottom of the sea?”
“Yes! We penguins like to go exploring at the bottom of the sea.”
McVile salivated at the sight of the coin. He said, “These coins are sometimes worth two or three dollars. Are there any more of these where you found it?”
Pengey smiled proudly and said, “Oh, yes! There are many more.”
Just then the door opened and a tall, handsome man dressed in a brown fedora and a trench coat walked in. He rubbed his hands together, briskly. “Brrr!” he exclaimed. “It sure is cold tonight! Can I get a cup of coffee before you close?”
Tiffit said, “Of course. Won’t you have a seat?”
The nice-looking man walked over and sat at the table beside Pengey, Sniffles, McVile, and Nurfenstein’s booth.
McVile said, “Of course, if you want to give me the coin, I might be persuaded to overlook the delinquent payment for one more day.”
Reluctantly Pengey started to hand him the coin, but the tall, nice looking man was watching. “Wow!” he said. “That’s some coin. Can I see it?”
Pengey bowed to the man politely. McVile snarled, “Listen, pal, we’ve got business to conduct. So if you don’t mind, BUTT OUT!”
Pengey looked reproachfully at McVile and handed the coin to the man in the trench coat. He looked at it for only a moment. “Wow!” he exclaimed. “It’s a 1787 Brasher doubloon. This is one of the rarest coins in the world.”
McVile tried to act casual, but his face stiffened into a deep frown. “Humph!” he sneered. “How would a chump like you know that?”
The man smiled pleasantly. “I used to work for the Federal Reserve Bank in Washington, D.C.”
McVile tried to look tough, “Oh yeah?” he growled. “What do you do now, sell Boy Scout cookies?”
“No,” laughed the man. “I’m with the FBI. I’m trying to track down a couple of crooks that are posing as a bank official and a police officer.” He studied McVile and Nurfenstein’s faces a moment. “Say . . . without the fancy clothes and police uniform,” he said, “you two match the description of the thugs I’m looking for.”
McVile started sweating profusely. “Well,” he said. Can you believe how the time flies?” He looked at his wristwatch. “I was just heading home to watch some TV.”
“Really?” said the FBI man. “Were you?”
Nurfenstein got up and said, “I was just going home to take care of my poor sick mother.”
The FBI man pulled out a badge and said, “ID. NOW!”
McVile and Nurfenstein opened their wallets, pulled out their ID, and showed it to the FBI man, who said, “Just as I thought. You two are under arrest.”
Sniffles, Tiffit, and Pengey watched with great interest.
McVile said, “This is absurd.”
Nurfenstein said, “You can’t arrest me. I’m a police officer.”
The FBI man walked quickly to the door, and opened it. Two uniformed FBI men strode in. “Arrest those two imposters,” the first man told them. “He’s Snidely McVile and the other is Horace Nurfenstein. They’re both wanted criminals.”
The uniformed FBI men dragged McVile and Nurfenstein away, both kicking and screaming.
Pengey, Sniffles, and Tiffit stood admiring the FBI man as he wrote something on a piece of paper. “Sorry,” he told them, “but I have to take the Brasher and the money with me as evidence. You can pick them up ad headquarters in a day or two.” He handed the paper to Sniffles. “Here’s your receipt. Don’t lose it.” He started to leave but turned at the door to say, “You know, I’ve driven by your diner a thousand times, but this is the first time I’ve ever stopped. Looks like a tip-top spot to grab my lunch.”
Tiffit smiled weakly. “Oh, thank you,” she said. “Our food is always the freshest.”
The FBI man opened the door and smiled. “I’ll be back.”
Pengey said, “Before you go . . .what’s your name, friend?”
“Everyone just calls me Elliot. Here’s my card. Call me any time. Good night, and thanks for helping me catch those two crumbs. I’ve been trying to find them for months.”
Pengey, Tiffit, and Sniffles walked back to the counter. Tiffit said, “Well, we still have the fish sticks to eat for supper.”
Pengey rubbed his tummy and said, “Yum.”
Sniffles said, “We have fish sticks, a lot of dishes to do and no money to buy food for tomorrow.”
Pengey rummaged around in his backpack and said, “I have more coins.” He tipped the backpack on end and poured ten Brasher doubloons onto the countertop. He smiled and said, “Will this be enough to buy some food?”
Tiffit’s eyes grew big as saucers. Sniffles turned white. “Ah, Pengey?” he gulped, “I think we should hide those coins and put them in the bank tomorrow.”
Pengey said, “Okay. When will the fish sticks be done?”
Just then the door opened and Barrington Badger walked in. He was carrying a beautifully wrapped package with a big pink bow. He said, “Wow! Those sure are beautiful coins!”
Pengey said, “Thank you very much.”
Barrington said, “Ah, Sniffles . . . I’m sorry to say I delivered the wrong package this morning. The one I left with you was supposed to go to Antarctica. Can I get you to sign for this one?”
Sniffles said, “Yeah, sure thing.” and signed the invoice.
Barrington said, “Well, I gotta get rollin’. Where’s the other package?”
Tiffit opened the freezer door and said, “It’s in here.”
Barrington took the package out. “Hmm?” he said. “This is a lot lighter than it was when I left it here this morning.”
“That’s because I’m not in it,” said Pengey.
Barrington looked at Pengey curiously. “Well,” he said, “are you going to Antarctica or not?”
Sniffles and Tiffit looked at Pengey tearfully and shook their heads no.
Pengey shuffled one foot in front of the other and said, “If you don’t mind, Mr. Truck Driver . . . I think I’ll stay here.”
Barrington scratched his head said doubtfully, “You sure about that, Mr. Penguin?”
Sniffles and Tiffit dashed to Pengey and hugged him. Pengey smiled in that funny way he does with his beak, and said, “Oh, yes. Very sure.”
“Well,” said Barrington as he walked to the door, “I gotta get rollin’.” He waved good-bye and went out.
Sniffles took the beautifully wrapped box with the big pink bow and handed it to Tiffit.
Tiffit looked flabbergasted. She said, “For me?”
“Happy Birthday, Tiffit,” said Sniffles.
Tiffit curiously opened the box, but she looked amazed as she took out a beautifully decorated birthday cake. “Oh, Sniffles,” she said, “it’s the most beautiful cake I’ve ever seen.”
Tiffit kissed Sniffles⎯his cheeks blushed bright red. Pengey smiled again and silently started to tiptoe away.
Sniffles called out, “Wait, Pengey! Won’t you join us for some birthday cake?”
Pengey said, “Thank you. I’d love to join you.”
Tiffit said, “No cake until we eat something healthy. We have Pengey’s fish sticks and some left over mashed potatoes. The cake will even taste better after we’ve eaten supper.”
Sniffles nodded his head begrudgingly. “Okay,” he said. “But there’s something I have to do before we eat.”
“Well, hurry,” said Tiffit. “Supper won’t take long.”
Sniffles dashed away, Tiffit started to cook supper.
Pengey chose the table next to the window that overlooked the storybook castle. He set the table, and put the birthday cake right in the middle of it.
When supper was ready, Tiffit arranged everything, just so, on three plates and brought them to the table. She looked around for Sniffles, but he was nowhere to be seen. “Oh, where could that mouse be?” she said, worriedly. “He’s up to something, you just mark my words.”
Just then, Sniffles opened the door and walked in. He was covered with snow, and he had turned blue again.
“Sniffles!” cried Tiffit. “You have to be crazy to go outside on a cold night like this!”
Sniffles laughed, “Crazy or grateful.”
“Whatever were you doing out there?”
Sniffles blew into his paws, then he brushed the snow off his apron, and smiled with satisfaction, “Oh, I was just putting a finishing touch on a very special snow sculpture. What do you say? Let’s eat.”
“Good idea,” said Tiffit.
As Pengey, Tiffit, and Sniffles ate their meager supper, the storm clouds cleared from the sky, and the full moon rose above the horizon, casting its pale light across the snow and the storybook castle.
Tiffit watched the moonlight glowing through the snow and ice crystals that made up the storybook castle. She said, “The snow castle is really beautiful, Pengey.”
“It was fun to build, and I’m very glad you like it.”
“But who made the ice statue of you?”
Sniffles raised his paw and said, “Me. I did it for Pengey.”
Tiffit looked at the castle again and sighed. “Pengey? How can we ever thank you for building it?”
Pengey smiled and said, “You already have thanked me.”
Sniffles said, “Can we have the cake now?”
Everyone laughed, and Tiffit cut the cake into three big pieces.
I can see them still, as they sat in the window of the rusty old diner. I could feel the warmth of their friendship through the cold and bitter wind that swept across the empty parking lot and rattled that battered old, bent-over neon sign.
I’ll never forget the memory of the beautiful snow castle that night; it shone brighter than the brightest star in all the heavens. It shone brighter still as Sniffles, Tiffit, and Pengey Penguin raised their coffee cups in a toast and softly sang the Happy Birthday song.
Their shadows remained etched on the windows of the Desolation Café for the many years they kept it open. And even though the café was torn down long ago, the warmth of those memories still lingers by the spot where the Desolation Café stood.
I’m an old mouse now. I’m glad I had the chance to tell my story.
Sniffles, Tiffit and, Pengey always treated me very well, you know. I’m the baby field mouse that lived in the wall.