AUTHOR’S NOTE: As with the prior installments of this tale, this current chapter underwent a fair amount of editing and rewriting. The end result is roughly four-hundred fewer words than the earlier drafts and, hopefully, more coherent.
TREVOR AND MARCIA GLANCED OUT the window of their kitchen and watched as the sun slowly set over the Carbondale skyline.
“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 just walked away. You left—”
“I left,” Trevor interrupted, his patience thinning at Marcia’s cross-examination. “I thought I’d find him there later.”
“Later being three, four days after the fact?”
“Seven days. A full week. When you returned to the Scallion’s secret library hideout, you found it abandoned. Cleared out like a state store on New Year’s Eve.”
Marcia removed the tea bag from her ceramic teacup, pressed 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.
“What took you so long?”
“I have a life outside of this alter-ego gig.”
“I sometimes wonder.”
“Don’t be like that. Anyway, I didn’t think it was a temporary hide out.”
“What’s with the cross-examination? What do you even care? You’re the one who’s always telling me to stop doing this—it’s too dangerous.”
“I know. It is dangerous. But I know you’re going to keep at it. So I’d feel better—I’d feel a lot better—knowing that if you intend to keep at this, you’ll at least take advantage of a whatever lucky break falls your way.”
“Thanks for the advice. Very useful.”
“I just—I just worry about you is all, Trev. You’ve had some close calls.”
“And you’re not—”
“Go on. Say it.”
“No, say it. I’m not young anymore.”
“It’s true though.”
“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 awkward moments. Marcia walked the short distance to the cupboard and opened a package of Fig Newtons.
“I’ve a question for you. Excuse me for asking it, and really, if it’s a stupid question I’m sorry. But I’ve always wondered this about you, Trevor. I mean, you’re a masked super-human. The Vocalist. I’m sorry if this sounds dumb, but why don’t you wear your, uh, costume underneath your regular clothes? Why don’t you do that? I mean, isn’t that part of the code or something?”
“It’s more complicated than that. I don’t wear a skin-tight body suit. 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 blows the secret identity if I wear them in public.”
“I guess so,” Marcia said, still sipping.
“Anyway, about this clue you pulled off the bottom of my boot–”
“The receipt? How’s it a clue?”
“It must have stuck to my boot when I’d returned to his makeshift library headquarters. But look at it.”
The paper receipt was dirty and worn thin with O’Neil’s Grocer printed faintly across the top. The receipt included four items:
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
“That receipt might have been in your boot for days,” Marcia cautioned.
“I doubt it. Anyway, I need a break. You said as much.”
“Okay,” Marcia answered lightly, realizing that Trevor genuinely 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?”
“Knowing the Scallion’s penchant for fresh onions, I’m sure he must go to this O’Neil’s often—possibly daily. It’s the largest produce shop in Carbondale.”
“Can’t argue that. Excellent parsnips.”
“The time printed on this receipt is 9:45 PM. If the Scallion’s a creature of habit, then he’ll be there again soon. And I’ll be ready.”
“I’ll pack you some sandwiches.”
Shortly thereafter, dressed in full regalia with foil-wrapped sandwiches by his side, Trevor stood atop the roof of a two-story brownstone adjacent to O’Neil’s. The roof had recently been tar patched, perhaps earlier in the day. Trevor became aware that the tar wasn’t entirely dry only after he’d knelt down onto the roof’s surface, permanently discoloring the knees of his pants. He moved to a dry area of the roof and unwrapped a sandwich. As usual, Marcia had thoughtfully trimmed aside the crust of the bread, leaving only the soft interior surfaces, between which was smothered a heaping portion of all-natural peanut butter and grape jam. Trevor carefully removed his gloves before eating, fearful of further soiling his uniform. Included with the sandwiches was a 20-ounce bottle of birch beer and a packet of vanilla sugar wafers. Trevor methodically munched upon his treats while watching closely as customers came and went. His hunger sated, Trevor fully focused on his vigil.
Seventy-two minutes into his watch, his tiring eyes lit up with unexpected excitement as Mr. Black and Blue suddenly appeared. He sported a wardrobe more befitting a fraternity freshman out to impress the university administration than a super-criminal—yellow cotton slacks, a blue and white v-neck sweater, black loafers. But there was no mistaking Mr. Black and Blue. His face was a landmark of itself—cleft chin, bent nose, square jaw, deep-set gray eyes topped by shrubbery-thick eyebrows, all covered with a head of jet-black hair.
A pigeon approached Trevor, grateful for even the smallest crumbs.
“This doesn’t make any sense,” Trevor said, tossing a bite in the bird’s direction. “B&B doesn’t take orders from anyone. If he and the Scallion have teamed up , then why is he picking up groceries. Maybe it’s all coincidence. I mean, maybe he’s just hungry.”
The pigeon cooed softly, devouring its ad hoc meal. Several long minutes passed before Mr. Black and Blue emerged from the grocery, a paper grocery bag in each hand.
“Should I stay or should I go?”
The pigeon offered no answers.
Trevor tucked tossed aside his remaining snack, modulated his vocal chords, and rose slowly into the air, unaware of the fresh tar 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 you. Place the items on the counter.”
Mr. Black and 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 symmetry. Burner one contained a vat of boiling water; burner two, a skillet containing chopped mushrooms and artichokes. The third burner held a cast iron skillet containing cuts of lamb and beef. The Scallion grabbed the items being unpacked by his mesmerized partner. He sectioned a Spanish onion and dropped it into the lamb and beef mixture. Next, he sliced ginger root and added it to the vegetables.
“This some kind of poison then?” Mr. Black and Blue asked dimly.
“Some kind of slow-acting poison? I gotta tell you, it really reeks.”
The Scallion ceased chopping and dropped the knife. He leaped at Mr. Black and Blue, wrapping both hands around the taller man’s throat. “It’s my dinner, you uncultured lollygagger! My dinner!”
Mr. Black and Blue stumbled to the floor as the Scallion pressed his physical assault. The two men flopped around the tiled floor in a manner that, from a distance, might have been regarded as nouveau dance.
“I’ve been utterly patient with you, all things considered. But my patience is now crepe thin. Do you understand my meaning?”
Mr. Black and Blue, who was certainly the Scallion’s physical better, did little to defend himself against the small man’s blows—if nothing else, the Scallion’s hypnotic spell was potent. Suddenly, the Scallion ceased his assault, as his eyes gazed beyond the kitchen and into the adjacent hallway.
“What’s that?” he asked, quietly.
“On the floor, you brainless imbecile. It looks almost like . . . tar.”
Trevor stood in the dark bathroom, stared 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 Mr. Black and Blue across town had greatly taxed Trevor’s vocal chords. His throat was raw. The flight hadn’t been long; his vocal chords shouldn’t have been strained. That they were merely confirmed Trevor’s suspicions that his powers were steadily waning. He removed a paper cup from a wall-mounted dispenser and drank deep, the cool liquid soothing his raw throat. He knew, however, this was but a temporary relief to a more serious problem. For the first time, Trevor admitted to himself that his days as the Vocalist were numbered. Not yet, he told himself. Afterward, perhaps, he could step down, retire the uniform, perhaps start a family with Marcia. First he had to overcome the present threat, until a moment ago, had been arguing vocally with Mr. Black and Blue.
Trevor quietly closed the cold water valve and sat on the toilet lid. He knew he’d be useless in a confrontation for the next several minutes until he’d rested his vocal chords. Just stay put for a few minutes. Recover. Then search the place. He would uncover the Scallion’s plan, save the day. That’s what heroes did. And with any luck, no altercations.
A faint noise. Someone on the other side of the bathroom door. Trevor stood up and tip-toed toward the door. The door suddenly thrust in Trevor’s direction, smashing him square on the jaw. He tumbled backward and crashed his skull against the edge of the ceramic sink.
Trevor was unconscious before he hit the floor.
The Scallion switched on the bathroom light and stared at his inert foe.
“Look at what you’ve done, you careless little fool,” he said, staring bitterly at the tar stains on the rug.
NEXT: Things get worse.