New Fiction: The Vocalist (Part 5)
December 7, 2001
Continuing our tale of THE VOCALIST
“Let me make sure I’m understanding this. You discovered a secret hideout, one that belonged to your—what’s the phrase—“arch enemy” the Scallion. But he wasn’t there and you were in your civilian clothing and the library was closing at the time of this discovery; and even though you saw blueprints and all sorts of evidence lying about you simply walked away. You left—”
“I left,” Trevor interrupted, his patience thinning at Marcia’s cross-examination, “thinking I’d find him there later.”
“Later. I understand. But when you went back to the scene—what was it, three, four days later--?”
“Oh, seven days—a week—later. And when you went back to the Scallion’s secret library hideout, it had been abandoned. Cleared out like a center city liquor store being raided on Fat Tuesday.”
Marcia’s analogy was in reference to the 2001 Fat Tuesday celebration in Philadelphia’s South Street district. The typically diverse, bar-infested quarter had become the scene of several thousand drunk and rowdy booze hounds who, as the evening grew late, had elected to loot and riot the shops of many local merchants, including the local liquor store. Numerous fights and muggings, an unknown number of sexual assaults, and dozens of arrests had rounded out the festive evening. The analogy was lost on Trevor, however, who had been out of town during that particular week; by the time he’d returned, events of Fat Tuesday had become so much second-hand news.
Marcia removed the tea bag from the ceramic teacup, brought the cup to her soft lips, and sipped gently as its orange aroma filled the kitchen. Trevor sat at the kitchen table, the bottom of his coffee cup staining the front page of the morning’s newspaper.
“Well, I guess I didn’t think it was only a temporary hide out.”
“Look, I don’t understand why you’re so upset about this. I mean, you’re always telling me what a dangerous obsession this is.”
“I know. It is dangerous. But I know you’re going to keep doing it. So I would feel better—I’d feel better knowing that if you are going to keep at this, you will at least take advantage of a lucky break if one falls your way.”
“Oh, thanks a lot; I guess the old man had better capitalize on every break he gets,” Trevor replied, frowning.
“That’s not what I mean. Come on. Don’t be like that. I just—I just worry about you is all. You’ve had some close calls.”
“And you’re not--”
“What? What am I not?”
“No, say it. What you mean to say is that I’m not as young as I used to be. Isn’t that what you meant to say? It’s okay. I know I can’t keep doing this forever. Don’t you think I know that?”
“I’m not sure. I hope so.”
The conversation died for several moments as conversations often do. Marcia walked the short distance to the cupboard and opened a package of Fig Newtons.
“Okay, here’s a question for you. Excuse me for asking it, and really, if it’s a stupid question I’m sorry. But I have always wondered this about you, Trevor. I mean, you’re a super-hero. You’re the Vocalist. Yet, and really, I’m sorry if this sounds dumb, but you don’t wear your, uh, costume underneath your regular clothes. Why don’t you do that? I mean, Chris Reeves did it in those Superman movies.”
He hesitated a moment, really giving the question serious consideration before answering.
“It’s a little more complicated than that. I mean, for one thing, I don’t wear a skin-tight body suit.”
“Well, let us thank the lord our God for that. No offense, but some parts of your body simply contradict with the phrase skin tight,” Marcia said, jokingly.
“Shut up,” he shot back with a smile. “So there’s that, and my boots, you know, they’re red and black and they have those white treble clefs all over them. Kind of gives away the secret identity if I’m seen wearing them in public don’t you think?”
“Mmmmm. Guess it does at that,” she replied, still sipping.
“Anyway, with this clue you pulled off the bottom of my boot--”
“What? That receipt? How’s that a clue?”
“It must have stuck to my boot when I’d returned to his makeshift headquarters. But look at it.” The paper receipt was dirty and worn thin, the words “O’Neil’s Grocer” were extremely faint. But the items printed on the body of the receipt were quite legible:
1 lb spanish onion @ 2.59 $2.59
2 lb white onion @ 1.50 $3.00
1 lb yellow onion @1.75 $3.50
5 lb scallions @.99 $4.95
“You’ve no way of knowing when that receipt became lodged in your boot. It could be merely a coincidence,” Marcia advocated.
“It can’t be a coincidence. I really really need it to be not just a coincidence. Okay?”
“Okay,” she answered lightly, realizing that in his heart he believed he could prevent something—possibly something very bad—from happening, as a result of having found this tiny slip of paper. “What will you do next?” she asked.
“Knowing the Scallion’s penchant for fresh onions, I’m sure he must go to O’Neil’s often—possibly daily. It is the city’s largest, and most popular, produce shop.”
“Are you a crime fighter or a shareholder in the O’Neil corporation?”
“The time printed on this receipt is 9:45 pm. I’m going on a stake out.”
“I’ll pack you some sandwiches.”
He stood atop the roof of a two-story brownstone adjacent to O’Neil’s. The roof had recently been tarred, perhaps earlier in the day, for the tar was, in fact, not entirely dry. Trevor became aware of this only after he’d kneeled down onto the roof’s surface, permanently discoloring the knees of his pants. While waiting, hoping desperately his prey would arrive, Trevor unwrapped one of the sandwiches Marcia had generously prepared for his consumption. She had thoughtfully trimmed aside the crust of the bread, leaving only the soft interior surfaces, between which was smothered a heaping portion of JIF smooth peanut butter and Welch’s grape jam. Trevor was careful to remove his gloves before eating, for fear of further soiling his uniform. Included with the sandwiches was a 20 oz. Bottle of birch beer and a packet of vanilla sugar wafers. Trevor methodically munched upon his treats while watching closely the customers who came and went from the specialty food market. His hunger was soon sated, and Trevor began to focus his full attention on O’Neil’s. Seventy-two minutes into his watch, his tiring eyes lit up with unexpected excitement. It wasn’t the Scallion, but clearly, the man walking into the shop had to be Mr. Black & Blue. He was dressed not in his traditional black sports jacket and navy blue slacks, but in a wardrobe more befitting a fraternity freshman out to impress the university administration. He wore yellow cotton slacks, a blue and white V-neck sweater, and black loafers. All that was lacking in his attire was a series of embroidered Greek letters or a letterman’s jacket. There was, however, no mistaking Mr. B&B, whose face was practically a landmark in and of itself—cleft chin, bent nose, square jaw, deep-set gray eyes above which rested two eyebrows as thick as shrubbery, all topped with a head of jet-black hair. Knowing an association existed between the Scallion and Mr. B&B, though unaware of the extent of their relationship, Trevor surmised that Mr. B&B was, possibly, purchasing goods for the Scallion. Yet the idea made no sense. Mr. B&B gave orders, he did not take them. Trevor thought quickly, contemplating various scenarios, trying to arrive at one that would give him cause to follow Mr. B&B. Several long minutes passed, and when Mr. B&B emerged from O’Neil’s Grocery, carrying a paper grocery bag in each hand, Trevor tucked away his sandwich wrappers, modulated his vocal chords and was lifted into the air, and followed the large man, oblivious of the fresh tar that had stuck to his boot soles.
“You’re late,” the Scallion scowled.
“Yeah, sorry about that. It took me a while to find everything on the list.”
“Imbecile! A child would have been more efficient than the likes of you. Place the items on the counter.”
Mr. Black & Blue, whose real name was Benito Beliscozzi, did as instructed. Three of the four gas burners atop the kitchen stove were ignited, their blue/orange flames burning in perfect synchronicity. Atop the first burner a vat of water boiled; atop the second burner a skillet containing chopped mushrooms and artichokes sizzled; atop the third burner a mix of cuts of lamb and beef were cooking to perfection in a cast iron skillet. The Scallion grabbed a handful of items being unpacked by Mr. B&B. He sectioned a Spanish onion and dropped it into the lamb and beef mixture. Next, he sliced the ginger root and placed it with the vegetables. The hypnotized, you-are-in-my-power B&B sniffed the various aromas, frowned, and asked, “So, you whippin’ up some kind of hypnotic gas?”
“No!” the Scallion replied hastily.
“Oh, some kind of nerve gas then; something to numb your opponents into submission.”
“Right. So I guess it’s like some kind of slow-acting poison—I gotta tell you it really reeks.”
The Scallion ceased chopping and dropped the knife. He leapt at B&B, arms around the taller man’s throat, and yelled, “It’s my dinner, you uncultured lollygagger! My dinner!”
B&B stumbled to the floor as the Scallion pressed his physical assault. The two men flopped around the tiled floor like untrained seals at a sea park.
“I’ve been utterly patient with you, all things considered. But my patience has grown as thin as the plot of any Adam Sandler film. Do you understand my meaning?”
Mr. B&B, who was certainly the Scallion’s physical better, did little to defend himself against the small man’s blows, such was the nature of the hypnotic spell under which B&B had fallen. Suddenly, the Scallion ceased his assault, as his eyes looked beyond the kitchen and into the adjacent hallway.
“What—is—that?” he asked, quietly.
“What’s what?” B&B asked.
“On the floor, you brainless imbecile. It looks…almost like…tar.”
Trevor stood in the dark bathroom staring at his shadowy reflection in the mirror and slowly ran the cold water. The pipes quietly hissed as the water ran from the spigot. Following B&B across town had greatly taxed Trevor’s vocal chords to their limit, of that there could be no denying. His throat burned as if aflame. The flight was not long, and his vocal chords should not have been strained—should not have been, but were. A fact that merely confirmed Trevor’s suspicions that his powers were steadily waning. He removed a Dixie cup from the wall-mounted dispenser and drank deep (as deep as one can drink from a Dixie cup), the cool liquid soothed and aided his raw throat. But he knew this was only a temporary panacea to a far more serious problem. Trevor realized that his days as the Vocalist were numbered. But he felt—knew—that he had to see this present threat through to the end—had to ensure Marcia’s safety from the mad Scallion. Afterward, he could step down, retire the uniform, perhaps finally start a family with Marcia. But he first had to overcome the present threat, a threat that had been, until a moment ago, arguing vocally with B&B. Trevor quietly closed the cold water valve and stepped out into the hallway. He would be useless in a confrontation for the next several minutes until his vocal chords had been given a chance to rest. He would need to lie low for a few moments and continue to search the upstairs rooms of this oversized house that seemed more like a mansion. He was convinced that whatever the Scallion was planning would be here—somewhere. There was a faint noise, like the sound a single sheet of paper makes when it is quickly torn in half. He felt a sharp pain crash onto the back of his head and he fell to the ground unconscious before he could even turn around. The Scallion stood above him, a meat mallet in one hand, staring at his unmoving foe.
“Look what you’ve done to my carpeting, you careless little fool,” he said, looking at the tar stains on the rug that matched those upon Trevor’s boots.
NEXT: THE VOCALIST continues
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