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Senior Correspondent

In which we discover Billy Bug's secret, learn why kitchen gadgets are so handy in chasin' a dream and how cowbells and mouse traps can save the day.

Billy Bug had a little corner in the back of the chicken coop where nobody could see without passin' all the nests and lookin' near the stacks of feeds acks and lumber stored there. He had it boarded up on three sides with scrap lumber that Pa had left over from mendin' some fences around the pigpens, and a hinged gate that he had found in a junk yard and cut down to size to almost fit the space he had. It was a little big, but really fit pretty snug and nobody could see inside. The hinges were a little rusty and squeaked when he opened and closed it, but they still worked.

Our Millie kept watchin' Billy Bug go in the chicken coop at all hours of the night and really wanted to see what he was hidin'. She had asked him but he said she better not try to look or even think about it or she would be the sorriest she had ever been about anything. He wouldn't tell her what he would do, but she knew Billy Bug could come up with some mighty mean things when he got mad, like snakes and poison ivy and a dip in the creek in the middle of winter when you weren't expectin' it. She had to be very careful and she didn't know how he would know if she was thinkin' about it if he didn't catch her doin' something.

Billy Bug had everything all booby-trapped like he saw in a movie he went to in town. It was all about spies and how to keep your secret mission safe. He didn't have all those fancy traps the spies had so he used mouse traps that would catch your fingers if you tried the door, and to keep you from even gettin' that far there was a web of clothes line connected to cowbells that would make a huge noise if one of them was tripped. That would get the chickens goin',  Mama Cat and the kittens that lived in a box near the door would be meowin' and hissin' and Tri-Pawed would start howlin', and Pa would come a-runnin' and whoever tried to find his secret better be long gone.

Our Millie decided she would watch Billy Bug for awhile and see just what was goin' on. She followed him one day to see if she could get any clues. She had been readin' about Nancy Drew books and thought she could figure things out as well as Nancy could.

She watched Billy Bug get up and play around the house with Tri-Pawed some, and take a look in the chicken coop to see if his traps were still there. He seemed to think about goin' fishin' but then he got on his bike instead and peddled to town. Our Millie rode in, too and tried to stay far enough back that he wouldn't see her, but it was hard to do on a dusty country road with no traffic. Too bad it wasn't in a town where there were lots of people movin' about and she could hide behind buildings and parked cars.

She was real careful though and when they got to town she was at the end of the block just in time to see him go into the drugstore and look around a little bit. She peeked through the window and saw him get a chocolate malt and sit down at the counter with a magazine he had taken from the rack by the door. She wanted that malt so bad, but she didn't have any money and couldn't go in anyway while he was there.

She was gettin' really bored and thinkin' about goin' home when she saw him get up and head for the door. He yelled goodbye to Mr. Frazee and met the Barker brothers and Jimmy C on the sidewalk and made for the ball field across from the school. Our Millie decided to go in the drugstore and see what she could find. Mr. Frazee said hello and even gave her some hard candy from the big bowl near the cash register and they started talkin' a bit. Seems Billy Bug came in there most days and spent some time with the magazines. Mr. Frazee didn't like him readin' them for free, but since he did buy chocolate malts he let it slide. He had the magazine in his hand and gave it to Our Millie to put back on the rack when she left. She looked at it and saw that it was about beach bums and surfer dudes and life in California, and that kind of thing. Then she saw one of the pages in the back that had thumb prints on it from the chocolate malt glass. This had to be a clue, but what could it mean? All she saw was a picture of a skinny kid on the beach gettin' sand kicked in his face by some big-muscled bully and something about bein' a ninety-pound weakling. Just then the Romaine sisters came in and Mr. Frazee yelled at Our Millie to put the magazine back, so she did and left the store.

When Billy Bug came home from town later that afternoon Our Millie was hidin' beside the chicken coop. She saw that he had somethin' in a paper bag, and after he looked all around he took it into the coop and came out a few minutes without it.

Our Millie was really gettin' into this Nancy Drew stuff and had just about decided to give up her plan to be a country singer in Nashville and start her own detective agency instead. But, she still had to solve the mystery.

That night when everybody else was asleep she watched for some movement from Billy Bug's room. Sure enough, he came out around 11 o'clock and headed for the kitchen. Our Millie had been practicin' tiptoeing for just something like this and she eased her way to the kitchen door just in time to see Billy Bug take a couple of things from a drawer, grab a flashlight and sneak outside. He was ever so careful to miss the squeaky board on the third step and she was glad of that 'cause she had forgotten about that and he would have heard it.

In the chicken coop the hens were all asleep and so was Mama Cat and her kittens and they did not see Billy Bug and his shadow, Our Millie, pass by. She watched from a corner beside Brown Betty's nest as Billy Bug carefully dismantled his traps and opened the hinger door. She put her hand over her mouth to keep the giggles in and her eyes got big in the dusky coop. Billy Bug took out a can and held it up to the light. He opened it with the can opener he had taken from drawer, being careful not to cut himself on the metal and took a big spoon from his back pocket and started eatin' somethin' right from the can. After he had finished he stood up and flexed his muscles and looked at both arms. He felt his arms and smiled. Then he threw the can back behind the feed sacks in a bag he could take out later. Our Millie crouched down low in her corner and Billy Bug passed by and went back to the house.

The final clue was in front of her and Our Millie was so excited to solve the mystery. Now she could be a real detective. She picked up the can and understood what was going on. Billy Bug was eatin' Popeye Spinach straight from the can. The picture showed Popeye with big muscles in his arms. She remembered that one time Billy Bug said that Popeye was his hero. He was always fightin' the bullies and winnin', gettin' the girl, and he could probably surf if he wanted to.

Our Millie thought about it for awhile. She sat there with the chickens and petted Brown Betty who was quietly cluckin' at her. She really wanted to tell Idy Clare. They would get such a good laugh. She could hardly stand keepin' it quiet, but something else told her not to say a word. Maybe it was the look on his face when he thought his muscles were growin', or the fact that he had a dream, even though he couldn't surf, or even swim very well and had no way to get to California anyway. Or maybe it was because she was afraid of what he would do if she knew she found out his secret.  Whatever it was she decided that she would be nice, at least for awhile. She might even let him beat her at arm-wrestlin' once in awhile.

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