Perched at the edge of Wish, I stretch my neck as far as it will go, reach my right arm over, and wait with bated breath. Time seems to drag on as I strain, feeling the ache in my neck and back intensify. My arm grows weary. Finally, the quilled animal arrives at the basket’s edge. With a lift of its front paw, the porcupine makes contact with my hand. Exerting every ounce of strength, I pull, heave, and shove the animal into the Wish basket. It lands with a heavy thud, curled up into a ball before unfurling and shaking out its quills. Then after adjusting a crooked black felt fedora on its head, the porcupine picks up its dropped yellow tablet previously in its paws.

Passengers make way for this large, prickly woodland animal, some marveling at the sight of a natural porcupine up close. Excited murmurs ripple through the crowd as it begins to speak in a somewhat screechy but audible voice.

QUINN: “Well, I gotta say, I’m glad you waited for me. Name’s Quinn Porcupine, but folks in Beaver County call me ‘Pine.’ Thanks for helping me climb in. Who are you?”

ME: “I’m Abigail, and the others here are all Wish passengers. They’re seated and ready to go.”

QUINN: “Wish passengers? What’s Wish?”

ME: “It’s the name of my hot air balloon.”

Quinn’s voice, still screechy but even higher pitched than previously, rapidly fires off a series of questions…

QUINN: “Ah, yes, your balloon. Do you know how to get it up in the air? And once up there, do you know how to use the strings to navigate the wind? And just where do you plan on going?”

ME: “Hold on, you’re asking too many questions all at once. Please slow down.”

QUINN: “Alright, alright. I’ll ask one question at a time. But before we get started, did you happen to see the special card that was in my hat? It’s missing.”

ME: “Card? What card?”

QUINN: “My Press Card. It was tucked in the brim of my hat.”

I glance around and spot a white card with the word “PRESS” printed in black ink. It’s behind my foot on the floor of Wish’s wicker basket. I hand it over to Quinn, who tucks it safely back into the hat brim. Indeed, it’s an official Press Card.

QUINN: “Satisfied now? Just so you know, I’m an investigative reporter, willful, wily, and always on the lookout for trouble. Some call me a muckraker, and wherever I go, I seem to find it, trouble that is. Are you in trouble, or are you looking for it? Because if you are, I know how to pull ALL the strings.”

ME: “I see. So you’re an investigative reporter. Well, ‘pulling strings’ has a couple of meanings. What kind of strings are you talking about?”

QUINN: “Both kinds. That’s why you can’t leave without me. Not only do I know how to use the Wish strings or cords to get your Wish off the ground and navigating, but I’ve got all the animal contacts you’ll need to achieve your goals when we get to wherever you plan on going. Those are, as you said, different kinds of strings.”

ME: “Well, if pulling Wish strings is one of your special talents, we do need your help. Once we’re airborne, Wish will get us to where we need to go in an instant using her special talent.”

QUINN: “And what talent might that be?”

ME: “Magic, of course.”

Quinn: “Hey, magic always does the trick! But so does hot air. Wish and I have a lot in common! Now, getting back to my questions. Since you already answered several, now all I need to ask is – Where do you plan on going?”

ME: “To the Peregrine Pipeline in Beaver County.”

Quinn: “But it’s underground. Rumor is that it’s leaking along with several other nefarious situations. Are you sure you want to go there?”

ME: “Yes! It’s of grave consequence.”

Quinn: “Sounds like there are villains afoot. Once there, I’ll begin my investigation, find the culprits and bring them to justice. After all, don’t forget, ‘Pine’ is Beaver County’s number one private eye, and I have special gadgets to thwart Mean and Dirty criminals (‘MAD’).”

ME: “So, tell me about your gadgets.”

QUINN: “Obviously, I’m talking about my quills.”

ME: “But I thought your quills were used to fight off predators. You know, for protection.”

QUINN: “They are, but we all need to be protected from MAD criminals as well. That’s what we muckrakers, I mean investigative reporters, do. I use one of my quills dipped in earth ink to take notes during an investigation. After studying my notes, I indubitably come up with solutions.”

ME: “Can you tell me some of your solutions?”

Quinn: “Sometimes, I use one of my quills to write petitions for woodland animals to sign. Sometimes, I write testimony and submit it to an authoritative government body. Other times I use my quill for defense and, if necessary direct a quill or two into the body of a MAD organizer. But most of the time, after studying my notes, I consult with a few influential woodland animals, and together we come up with a solution.”

ME: “WOW, you were spot on when you said we couldn’t leave without you. So, welcome to the crew First Mate.”

QUINN: “First Mate? I am very honored and promise not to disappoint you or your passengers.”

ME: “OK then we are all set to go. Wish, it’s off to Beaver County and the Peregrine Pipeline.”

Stay tuned to learn more …