by Philip-Todd Franklin
In moments Officer Stan Mitchell and Police Chief Wilkerson had the scene blocked off and different locations marked after having loaded the two youths and Buddy Baker into their patrol cars. Walking out of the store, the chief turned and took another look at the remains of his father’s shop. Dad, I’m not ready to let you go just yet, he thought to himself.
As the two patrol cars drove off from the scene of the crime, Steve continued to watch a few more moments before turning away and heading back toward the building where he and his brother had been living. During the whole walk he continued to question himself. How could I have failed Peter so, and how can I help him now?
Slipping through the concealed doorway, an idea came to his mind, and he pumped his right hand into the air and snapped his fingers. “Of course! I should have thought of that in the first place.” Quickly he made his way to the only working phone in the building.
Driving toward the Pigeon Forge Police Department, the police chief radioed in. “This is Chief Wilkerson to base.”
“Base here,” replied dispatcher calmly.
“Martha, please see to it that I have on my desk the files for two known petty criminals, and run a check on another individual.”
There was a momentary pause before Martha replied, “Ready for the information, sir.”
“Two files: Wright, Peter A., and Sylvester, Jacob P. The other person… driver’s license number 24405069, name: Buddy Baker, given address: 221 Wood Drive, West Hollywood, California.”
At the station, as the chief read off the information, Martha’s eyes flew wide, and a small tear slipped from her eyes. Oh, no! Not my Peter! she thought to herself. Aloud she replied, “Will do, sir. May take a while for the long-distance information.”
“Well, it’s not like he’s going anywhere soon, Martha,” Chief Wilkerson said with a chuckle, the first laugh he’d had since this whole ordeal had begun.
“Understood,” was the only response Martha made before calling out to Wally, a heavyset older man with thinning hair, wearing a brown and orange plaid suit. Relaying the chief’s request, she then reached for the phone on her desk and quickly began to dial.
Back at the hideout, Steve Wright began feeling almost giddy as he reached for the phone. Just as he was about to pick up the receiver, however, the phone began to ring. Momentarily shocked, he paused for a moment before picking it up and answering, “Hello?”
“Steve?” a soft voice said on the other side. “It’s me, Martha. I just heard about Peter.”
Unable to hold himself back as a feeling of great relief washed over him, Steve interrupted her. “Martha, you’ve got to help me! I don’t know how I’m going to get Peter and Jake free, and–”
“Calm down, Steve,” Martha said, trying to keep her voice down. “You know I’ll do whatever I can to help. Just listen to me, Steve — you can’t stay there. As quick as you can, make your way to my place, and we’ll see what we can come up with to help your brother. You know where the spare key is; I know Peter told you already. I’ll meet you there as soon as possible. ‘Bye.” With that, Martha hung up the phone and returned to her work.
In minutes, both Chief Wilkerson and Officer Mitchell pulled their patrol cars into the Pigeon Forge Police Department parking lot. Quickly and not too kindly, the chief pulled the two handcuffed youths from his patrol car and into the building without a word, frowning as he led them inside toward the holding cells.
Mitchell gently helped Buddy and Ellen Baker out from the back of his patrol car and removed the handcuffs from Buddy’s wrist before they headed toward the main building. “Sorry I had to leave those on for so long, but the chief insisted,” he said. “Let’s get inside so you can both make statements about what happened.” Inwardly the officer hoped that things wouldn’t get much worse than this.
Later that evening, Steve arrived at Martha’s apartment and, locating the spare key, let himself inside. Still feeling down on himself and angry at not knowing what to do to help his brother, Steve did the only thing that he always did when he wasn’t happy. He walked over and took a few bottles of beer from the refrigerator, then headed for the couch in the living room.
“Don’t worry, bro,” he vowed to himself, “Martha will help me think of something.” Plopping himself down on the couch, he opened one of the beer bottles with an opener and had himself a drink.
Late that evening, Buddy and Ellen Baker returned to their hotel, having been driven there by Officer Stan Mitchell after a few hours of being detained and questioned. All Ellen could think about was how good a hot shower was going to feel, and how sorry she was that Buddy hadn’t been able to do more for that kind old Mr. Wilkerson.
As they entered their hotel room, Buddy immediately kicked off his shoes and plopped down on the bed, exhausted from both the struggle in the jewelry store and the hours of questioning at the police station. That was the longest round of questioning I’ve ever had to endure, he thought to himself as he closed his eyes. I’m just glad it’s over.
“Don’t you go to sleep yet, Buddy,” Ellen said as she headed toward the bathroom. “We haven’t had anything to eat since lunch, and both of us can do with a shower.”
As Ellen closed the bathroom door and began to run the water, Buddy managed to slowly open his eyes, letting out a low moan before he sat up and reached over for the hotel directory. Quickly scanning through it with blurry eyes, he located the hotel restaurant menu, but since he wasn’t able to find its number, he picked up the phone and dialed the front desk. He was surprised when it was answered after just one ring.
“Front desk, this is Ron speaking. How may I help you?” a silken voice said over the phone.
“Yes, this is Buddy Baker in room 205. How long does the hotel’s restaurant stay open, and is it still possible to get some room service?” he asked, scanning over the menu.
“Why, certainly, Mr. Baker,” Ron replied. “The restaurant is open till one in the morning, and room service is available until eleven on the dot.”
“Then can you transfer me to the restaurant?” Buddy asked, trying to find something in the menu that didn’t contain animal meat. He’d had to give up both hunting and eating meat in the years since he’d first gained his animal powers; he could feel it every time he killed something, and that sensitivity soon began to extend toward eating animal carcasses as well. It was fine by him, since all those vegetables had helped him and Ellen stay as slim as ever, though it was still always a struggle to get Cliff to eat his vegetables.
“Why, sure, Mr. Baker,” said Ron, “and if you should need any other help, please don’t hesitate to give me a call.” With that, the phone clicked twice, and a new voice spoke.
“This is Louie’s. How may I help you?” The voice carried a hint of a northern accent that Buddy couldn’t recognize, but he went ahead and began to place an order for dinner, and as an afterthought he decided to surprise Ellen by ordering a bottle of wine.
After Martha’s shift ended, she avoided making any real contact with the rest of the staff at the police station and quickly headed straight home. Upon arriving, she let herself in and called out, “Steve, are you here? Steve, it’s me, Martha!” Not receiving any reply, she slipped off her high-heel shoes and made her way inside, looking for Steve in the small apartment.
A few moments earlier, Steve had realized he’d had too much to drink when he began jumping at every shadow and even became startled when the sound of a car passed Martha’s apartment. The moment he’d heard the sound of the front door opening, he quickly hid himself in the coat closet in the hall.
As Martha passed the closet and entered the living room, still calling out Steve’s name, she stopped as she noticed the empty beer bottles scattered around. Well, at least I know he’s been here, she thought, but where…?
At that moment, Steve came out of the closet and decided to surprise her. With a speed that belied his drunkenness, he quickly grabbed Martha from behind, wrapping one arm around her waist and clasping his other hand over her mouth to keep her from screaming. But Martha fought back, wiggling her head and sinking her teeth into Steve’s hand before screaming.
At the hotel, the freshly showered Ellen Baker came out of the bathroom and walked into the dim, candle-lit bedroom. Near the patio doors that led out onto the balcony was a table barely big enough for two, and beside that was a round serving tray filled with two fresh dinners and a bucket of ice holding a bottle of red wine. Buddy was already sitting at the table and had just lit a lone candle as the bathroom door opened. Despite not yet being able to have a shower, he looked like he’d cleaned himself up really well, too.
Ellen looked shocked but delighted as she took in the whole scene, from the candles in the bedroom to the plates of food. Knowing how exhausted her husband was when they’d arrived, she hadn’t been expecting anything like this. “Buddy, what’s all this? I thought you were tired.”
Looking at his lovely wife, Buddy grinned as he replied, “Just figured we could celebrate our good fortune and enjoy a fine wine before going to bed.” Standing up, he began placing the plates of food onto the table. “Happy anniversary, baby.”
Ellen walked over to him and placed her hands around his back, gently kissing him. Smiling at Buddy and feeling nothing but deep love for her husband, she sat down at the table and took a sip of wine. She knew, in her heart, that she couldn’t bear to ever lose him.
Back at Martha’s apartment, she quickly spun around and delivered a swift punch to Steve’s stomach, forcing him to release her and sending him to the floor. “Calm down!” she hissed. “You could get us into real trouble!”
A loud pounding then came from her front door, and a man yelled, “Martha, are you all right, kiddo? It’s me, James! Open the door!”
Looking at Steve for a moment, Martha rushed over to the front door and opened it up just a crack, smiling as she said, “It’s OK, James. My boyfriend and I were just getting a little too carried away. Didn’t mean to scare you.”
James, a graying, middle-aged man with a mustache, looked with concern into Martha’s apartment, then decided to take her at her word. “Oh, OK, kiddo. Wouldn’t want to see anything happen to my best tenant.” He smiled slightly and said, “I’ll leave you two be, then.” But as he turned to leave, he determined to keep a better watch over things from then on.
As Martha closed the door, she could hear Steve groaning as he slowly crawled from the floor onto the couch. He stared at her with drunken, dulled eyes as she walked over to the couch and sat down at the opposite armrest.
For a few moments neither of them spoke. Then, as if a dam had burst, Steve said, “So, what’re we gonna do? How do I make ’em pay for hurting my bro?”
“Whoa, hold your horses, Steve,” Martha replied. “We have to take this slow.” She spoke with the kind of care and concern in her voice that Steve hadn’t heard since he was ten, when his mother had passed away. He’d always known she was beautiful, ever since Peter began dating her, but he’d never found her as attractive as he did now. “We will help Peter, but you’re going to have to do it my way, or we all lose everything.”
“But we gotta do somethin’!” Steve said, his words slurring and becoming incomprehensible as tears slowly trickled from his eyes, a look of complete and utter defeat on his face.
“I never said we weren’t going to do anything,” Martha continued. “I know who those troublemakers are who got Peter nabbed, and I know where they live.” She began to slowly smile as she added, “Steve, if we’re patient enough, we can plan out our revenge, and they’ll never know what hit them.”
For a moment it was like he hadn’t heard a word that Martha said, until he slowly lifted his face toward her and looked deeply into her eyes, tears still running down his cheeks. Then, with the sound of strength and dedication in his voice, Steve said, “Yeah! We’ll make plans, and then–! Then they’ll pay for causing my bro trouble!”
With that, Steve quickly moved across the couch, surprising Martha as he slipped his arms around her and began to passionately kiss her. To his own surprise, she didn’t try to fight him off this time.