Animal Man: 1972: When Trouble Comes Calling, Chapter 4: A Tense Situation

by Philip-Todd Franklin

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Outside, Ellen Baker had returned to the street outside the jewelry store just moments before two police cars pulled up to the building. As two officers got out of the patrol cars, Ellen couldn’t help but notice how much they stood in contrast to each other. If it weren’t for the uniforms, she’d have trouble picturing them working together.

The first officer wore a blue uniform with a badge on the right side of his shirt and had a belt holster carrying a nightstick, a pair of handcuffs, and his service revolver. He was about five feet tall and had thinning blond hair with shocking gray eyes.

The second officer was dressed in the same blue uniform with a badge, but he wore two stars on the shoulders of his shirt. He stood nearly seven feet tall and had coal-black hair with blue eyes. Taking charge, the officer slowly removed his revolver from his gun holster, his eyes glued on Ellen. “Are you the one who called about the disturbance?” he asked in a deep voice.

“Yes! My husband is inside — he needs help!” Ellen said to the two officers, panic in her eyes.

“Don’t worry, miss,” the first officer said, removing his own revolver. “We’ll take care of it, won’t we, Chief?”

The chief looked worried as he replied, “We sure will. Now, miss, if you would please move back, this could be dangerous.” Pointing to the other officer, he said, “Mitchell, take the back door. I’ll go through the front.”

Officer Stan Mitchell nodded and began walking around to the back of the store, his gray eyes searching each and every dark shadow as he went.

Across the street under the tree, Steve had watched the police arrive and now decided to escape before he was seen. Quickly and quietly, he took off across the side yard, trying to get away from the location as fast as possible. “Don’t worry, bro,” he muttered to himself. “I’ll either get you out of there, or I’ll make sure them troublemakers pay for messing with my family!”

After a moment, there was a squawk on the chief’s radio. “I’m ready to enter the back of the place, chief,” Mitchell said.

“Acknowledged!” the chief said before boldly walking to the front of the store. “This is the police!” he shouted. “Come on out with your hands up, or we will come in after you!” The anger in his voice was only matched by the dark thoughts crossing his mind. Give me one good reason to take you out, you piece of trash. You’ve just made this personal.

***

Officer Mitchell slowly entered the back storeroom of the jewelry store, scanning each space as if expecting a perpetrator to jump from any corner. And to think I took this job here ’cause I thought it would be quiet, he thought as he made his way toward the front of the store.

***

Inside the store, Buddy Baker kneeled down beside Mr. Wilkerson and began to check the old man, though he wasn’t sure what he could do about any injuries. I should have taken that first-aid training Ellen talked about, he thought. It sure would come in handy right now. Laying two fingers on Wilkerson’s neck, he smiled in relief as he felt a pulse.

At the front door, the police chief kept trying to get a better view inside, but all he could see were three prone bodies, two of which were masked. The third was obstructed by large display cases, but he could see the old man’s feet; he didn’t appear to be conscious, either.

Finding the front door locked, he glanced over at the shattered front window and decided against proceeding inside that way; it would leave him too exposed, and there were still some shards of glass threatening to fall at any moment. Positioning his right foot against the front door while holding his revolver in his left hand, he took a deep breath to calm himself and said, “This is the police! Give yourself up and come out with your hands up!”

Behind the display cases, Buddy heard the police officer’s voice and was about to reply when he noticed the young man he’d tossed across the room begin to stir. To keep him from causing any more trouble, he quickly moved over to him, removed his belt, and used it like a rope to tie the young man’s hands behind his back.

Just as Buddy was finishing with the belt, Officer Mitchell walked into the entrance from the back of the store, the revolver in his hand pointed at the young man just out of the doorway. That was when the police chief kicked the front door open, knocking it off its hinges as he rushed into the store. “Freeze, dirtbag!” he yelled, pointing his revolver at both Buddy and the youth tied up with the belt.

Just as Buddy started to rise in order to explain the situation, the chief cocked the hammer of his revolver and shouted, “I said freeze, and I meant it. On the floor, you — now!

***

Outside the store, Ellen Baker found herself waiting with trepidation next to one of the patrol cars, watching as a crowd began to gather at the scene of the crime.

“Buddy, be safe,” she prayed, again and again.

***

Elsewhere, Steve had made his way back to the building that he and his brother Peter had been using as a hideout and home. There, he removed his ski-mask and black T-shirt, then put on an ordinary blue shirt.

Exiting through the concealed door, Steve went back to the street outside the jewelry store, joining the busy crowd of gawkers.

***

Back in the store, Buddy Baker spread out his hands above his head, then slowly rotated in place and laid face down on the hard floor. As he laid there, he noticed with a silent groan that his wallet was lying just out of reach under the nearby display case.

Keep his revolver trained on Buddy, the police chief quickly walked over to him, took the handcuffs from the side of his belt, and quickly cuffed Buddy’s hands behind his back. Once Buddy was secured, the chief stood above him and growled, “Don’t you go anywhere, sunshine.”

Mitchell took his own handcuffs and cuffed the unconscious masked youth laying on his back. The youth was still out cold, and Mitchell noticed a stench rising from him, which was an all-too-common occurrence in this job.

The chief quickly walked around the display cases to kneel down beside old man Wilkerson, then began checking for vital signs. “Oh, Dad!” he whispered, placing his fingers along the side of the old man’s neck. After a moment he found a pulse, but it was very weak.

Mitchell watched as the chief looked at the old man with concern. This is the chief’s dad! he thought. Oh, I hope to hell for all our sakes he’s OK.

Rising to his feet, the chief said, “Mitchell, go to your car and radio for an ambulance. He needs immediate medical attention.” Mitchell nodded in reply somewhat reluctantly, then ran out of the store, leaving the chief alone with the suspects. He just hoped the police chief wouldn’t do anything stupid.

Walking back over to Buddy, the chief said to him, “You want to explain yourself, mister?”

Buddy nodded his head and replied, “Yes, I do. I can.” His fingers were beginning to go numb from the handcuffs, which were too tight.

The chief slipped his revolver back into its holster, then slowly reached out and pulled the scarf from Buddy’s face. “Now, mister, you better start singing, along with praying,” he said, venom dripping with each word. “If that old man over there dies today, so do you and the others.”

***

Officer Mitchell reached his patrol car outside and grabbed the radio microphone. “Base, this is Car 4. We need an ambulance on the double.” Repeating the message a second time, he received a reply seconds later.

“Car 4, this is Base. An ambulance is on its way over.”

Ellen Baker ran to the side of the patrol car, catching the words. “Did I hear right? Is someone injured, officer?” she asked, worried.

The police officer looked up at Ellen and nodded his head, but, seeing the worry in her eyes, he added, “The chief’s dad, from what I can tell, may be dying.” And God help her husband now, if he’s inside that store, especially if the chief’s dad dies, he thought to himself as left the patrol car, Ellen walking behind him.

Waving his arms, Mitchell began ushering the crowds of people back from the scene of the crime, while camera flashes went off from both reporters and tourists in the crowd. “OK, people, nothing to see here,” said the officer. “Move along. You can read about it in the paper tomorrow morning.”

Worry playing across her face, Ellen continued staring at the jewelry store, wishing she could somehow help Buddy as the situation escalated inside. In the distance, the sound of an ambulance could be heard weaving its way through the busy evening traffic.

***

Back in the store, Buddy tried to quickly defuse the situation with the police chief, maintaining eye contact with the tense officer as he said, “Chief, my name is Buddy Baker, and my wife Ellen and I are on vacation for our five-year wedding anniversary. We’d just been here shopping a little while ago when I noticed I’d lost my wallet. Retracing our steps, we came back here and… and when we happened upon this situation, I thought I could help.”

The chief’s expression didn’t soften one bit as Buddy spoke, though he often glanced with worry at his father. “And what’s your connection to this trash, Mr. Baker, if that’s your real name?” he replied, contempt in his voice.

Buddy looked at the two youths, then back at the police chief before speaking. “Sir, I don’t know them at all, and that’s the truth.” Taking a chance, he motioned over toward the display case where his wallet was lying. “My wallet is under that case, if you’d like proof.”

Just then the sound of sirens could be heard pulling up to the store. The ambulance was parked next to Officer Mitchell’s patrol car, and two young paramedics in white quickly jumped out of the cab. Running to the back, they pulled two large doors open and removed a gurney.

With the ambulance’s arrival, the crowd finally began to respond to Mitchell’s pleas for them to disperse, and only a few people with cameras remained behind, along with some stragglers and Steve, who tried to look merely like an interested bystander. Taking a few moments to stare across the street, he took a long, hard look at Ellen beside the patrol car before glancing back at the store window.

Ellen noticed the youth’s intense but brief stare, but her attention was mostly on the paramedics as they quickly entered the jewelry store.

***

The police chief looked up at the paramedics without saying a word, though he looked to be struggling to come up with the right words. Finally he said, “Be careful with him; he’s not looking very good.”

One of the paramedics kneeled down beside the old man and began checking him over as his partner unfastened the straps on the gurney. Looking at his partner, he said in hushed words, “Help me get him on the gurney. He has a pulse, but it’s very weak and not too stable.” Looking at the police chief, he said aloud, “Don’t worry, sir. We’ll take good care of him.”

The only response from the chief was a small nod of his head as the two paramedics slowly loaded his father on the gurney, strapped him down, and quickly but carefully removed him from the store. After the paramedics loaded the old man into the rig and closed the doors, the ambulance screeched off down the road.

***

Ellen continued watching the scene while standing next to the patrol car, saying a silent prayer for Mr. Wilkerson and wishing once more she could enter the building and help her husband.

Officer Mitchell reached into the truck of his patrol car and pulled out some yellow marker tape, then began staking off the building.

***

Now that the paramedics had safely removed his father, the police chief moved over to the display case and, slowly reaching beneath it, brushed his fingers across Buddy’s wallet before cautiously pulling it free. Without turning or asking for permission, he opened up the wallet and rifled through it. Flipping through a few family photos, he stopped at the driver’s license and began scanning it.

Buddy continued to lay on the floor as he waited for something to happen, slowly flexing his wrist as he tried to return the circulation into his cuffed hands. Of course, he knew he could free himself with the strength of a bear in a moment if the situation called for it, but he decided to play it safe. He just hoped the police chief would remain calm long enough to realize that he was not the enemy here.

***

Having taped off the crime scene, Officer Mitchell turned to Ellen and said with a sad smile, “Ma’am, I know you’ve been through a lot, but I’m going to have to ask you and your husband to come to the station with us.” Ellen nodded in response as Mitchell brought her to the back door of his patrol car, then gently helped her inside.

Steve continued watching the scene across the road, trying to figure out how he could help his brother, even as images of the young woman now sitting in the patrol car began to play across his mind. A sickly smile began to grow on his face at those thoughts.

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