Act 4: Unexpected Allies

The Rangers pulled up outside yet another strip mall along the highways of New England. It had been two days since their revelation at the theater in Boston, and so far their quest for Dr. ? was not going well.

“This is the 17th freakin’ candy shop that we’ve been to in as many hours.” Daniel moaned, “What makes you think that Dr. ? has been here?”

“He has a habit to support, and he has to be getting those Jelly Babies somewhere,” the Fish said, getting out of Great White Falling Down Thing, and looking over the hood at Tomcat, “is this the place?”

Tomcat flipped the high beam switch and the doors locked, “according to the information I downloaded from the ‘net, this is the last place that sells Jelly Babies within three-hundred miles of here.”

“Thank God!” Keltic Tommy moaned, rubbing his gorged belly, “If I have to choke down one more fudge sampler to get some information out of these characters, I’m gonna pop!”

Tiny jumped over the seat of Tommy’s Urban Assault Vehicle and to the pavement. He licked some chocolate truffle remnants from his chops happily and wagged his tail, intent on getting to the candy store.

Bryian regarded the small dog and rolled his eyes, “it’s so good to see you willing to make such sacrifices for the team, Your Highness,” he spoke sarcastically.

The Rangers made their way into the mall and to the candy shop, conveniently located past the Sunglasses Hut, and opposite the Sbarro, (‘cause, you know, every mall in North America has one of them! I am currently researching a theory about that as well, but that is well beyond the scope of this document.)

The Pixie Stick was an over-the-top diabetic’s nightmare. Confectionary from all over the world was displayed in all its creamy goodness.
A dodgy-looking man behind the counter in a rainbow-patterned apron and a name tag reading “Taffy Lewis” eyed them suspiciously as they approached.

“What can I get you guys today? Gum drops? Jelly beans? Bon-bons so decadent that they’re guaranteed to get you laid. Taffy’s our specialty!” he jerked a big thumb toward his nametag, “Get it?”

“Actually,” Bryian said as they reached the counter, “We’re looking for something a little more exotic.” He produced the Jelly Baby and sat it on the counter.

Taffy’s eyes got wide, “Nope. Nothin’ like that. Sorry Gentlemen, I’m afraid our little gingerbread house is getting ready to close, so if you’ll….”

Bryian interrupted, “Word on the net has it that you can get these.”

“Well, you heard wrong, pal,” Taffy sneered. Bryian nodded to Keltic Tommy, who rolled his eyes, and went and picked up an 8-pound sampler of Belgian chocolate.

“Damn,” he thought. Just the weight of the box was making him nauseous, “we need more women on this team!”

“OK…” the shopkeeper leaned in close to Bryian, “Yeah, I can get ‘em, but it ain’t easy! All sorts of import tariffs and some wheelin’-dealin’ in the black licorice market, if you get my meanin’. That leaves as bad a taste in my mouth as saccharin. You know the FDA banned the red dye in these things. That’s why the red M&M’s…”

“Yeah, yeah, we know,” Bryian interjected, “What I wanna know is has anyone made a substantial order for these things anytime in the past couple weeks?”

“Sorry, buddy,” the shopkeeper smiled, “Can’t rightly remember. We get lots of people in here, you know.”

Bryian nodded to the Rangers again, and Daniel picked up a huge bag of red licorice whips

“Jog your memory?” Daniel asked.

“Yeah, I seem to remember some guy who came in yesterday wantin’ 30 pounds of Jelly Babies. Insisted on Bassets, even when I could have gotten him a sweet deal on Cadbury.” The shopkeeper leaned in closer, “short, squat kinda fella. Wore a jacket that looked like it was out of a James Bond flick. Had an old lady in a housedress and kerchief and some damn hippie stoner with him. That stinkin’ pot head got the munchies and ate all my damned peanut brittle!”

“And?” Bryian said after a long pause.

The shopkeeper leaned back, and gazed nonchalantly out of the store until the Fish put a pecan roll big enough to whitewater raft in with the pile of confections that was amassing on the counter.

“And I told him I didn’t have 30 pounds of Bassets, but I could get ‘em,” continued the shopkeeper, “he gave me a number to call. I got it here.”

The man handed a slip of paper over the counter. Tomcat took it and examined the writing.

“I’ve got a fraternity brother who works for Bell Atlantic.” Tomcat grinned, “I can have an address for this number in no time.”

“Great, get on it” Reverend Bryian said before turning back to the shopkeeper, “thanks Taffy,” he said and put the money for the items on the counter, including a generous tip.

Taffy eyed the money and grinned, “and cause you’ve been such generous men, I’ll add a little icing to the cake. You’re not the only ones who’ve come in askin’ about the Jelly Baby man today.”

“Really?” the Fish said, “Who else has asked.”

Taffy leaned in conspiratorially, “see those three Cosa Nostra-lookin’ guys in the dark suits over there getting pasta from the Sbarro?” he pointed out of the shop and across the food court.

“They came in askin’ the same thing. Had a green Basset’s Jelly Baby just like that one you got.”

“And you told them the same thing?” Bryian asked.

“Hell yeah! See those violin cases they’re carryin’?” Taffy pointed out that one was indeed carrying a violin case, while the other two were carrying what appeared to be cello cases, “They don’t look like music lovers ta’ me! I know what they’re packin’ in there! I think you best find the guy yer’ lookin’ for and get what you want outta him before they do!”

The men with the violin cases by this time had got their pasta, and were sitting at a small, round table in one corner of the food court. The Rangers took their bags of sweets and made their way to another table some distance away. The men with the violin cases seemed totake no notice of their presence, and continued to eat quietly at their table.

“Well, what should we do?” Keltic Tommy looked at his compatriots,

“I don’t care what we do,” Daniel whispered, “I’m just glad to get the hell out of that store. If I have to listen to one more thinly veiled candy pun, I’ll puke!”

“No!” Keltic Tommy groaned, “what should we do about the music lovers over there! They don’t seem to have taken any notice of us.”
Tomcat nodded, “If they knew we were looking for the same guy, logic would dictate that they probably would have made themselves scarce.”

“Well, if they’re after Dr. ‘?’, then they might have information that could help us.” Daniel pointed out.

“Yeah, but if they are working with Dr. ‘?’ then approaching them could alert him to our presence,” the Fish continued.

“But if we do nothing,” Bryian interjected, “then a vital piece of the puzzle could slip through our fingers!”

“Dammit, I’m sick of this!” Keltic Tommy said, gesticulating grandly, “we’ve spent the last two chapters just running around and talking. Hell, the most action we’ve seen in this adventure so far is that buzzer bit with the man and his psychodelic undies in the damn laudromat!”

“Sorry,” the Fish said, shrugging, “I wanted to write a psychological thriller rather than an action story.”

“It’s OK, Dan,” Keltic Tommy said, holding up a hand, “it’s a good story, don’t get me wrong. I like the ‘investigating’ stuff. It’s cool and all, but you know, I’m all wired on sugar and caffeine from all the damn candy, and I’m ready to shoot someone now.”

There was a pause and Keltic Tommy smiled, “Hey! I have a plan. Just follow my lead, OK?”

The Rangers looked at one another, and each nodded to Keltic Tommy in turn.

The three musicians eating pasta looked up as a dark bearded man in a parka and a camouflaged boonie hat walked up carrying the biggest box of Belgian chocolates they’d ever seen. Their hands quickly moved to the viol cases.

“Now, you’re gonna wanna save room, fellas,” Keltic Tommy said in his smarmiest voice, “ ’cause deserts on me. It’s not Jelly Babies, but…what can ya do?”

The three men jumped to their feet while one of them flipped the table out of the way. It careened into a nearby table with a crash of splintered wood and spilled linguini. Mall customers scrambled to get away from the ensuing fight.

Meanwhile, back in the Pixie Stick, Taffy had dialed the number that he had given the Rangers and the men they were now engaged in combat with. The snide British voice answered.


“Doctor?” Taffy managed to get out.

“That punctuation mark is not silent, Lewis!” the voice growled, “I doesn’t indicate an inflective rise in pitch at the end of your sentence. Pronounce it, you worm! Say it! ‘Doctor Question-Mark!’ Say it Lewis! NOW!”

“Doctor ‘?’”

“Good!” the voice purred, “It seems we can teach language skills to lower primates. Now, what do you want?”

“Those guys you told me to look out for are here.” Taffy glanced out of the shop as he whispered into the receiver, “They’re fighting in the food court now.”

“Excellent,” the voice purred metallically, “everything is going according to plan. Soon the world of dramatic motion pictures will crumble to dust!”

“And professional wrestling will be all that’s left, right?” said Taffy hopefully, “just like you said?”

“Yes,” Doctor ‘?’ stated, “just like I said.”

Taffy looked rather pleased with himself as he hung up the receiver, and watched the events unfolding in the lobby…
Keltic Tommy was a fury, evading the music-lover’s blows and striking his own. Slowing them down by hurling Belgian chocolate under their feet as he ducked and weaved. It looked like a bizarre rendition of an “I Love Lucy” episode until the violinist kneed Keltic Tommy in his chocolate-filled gut, and he went down, moaning.

The other Rangers were already in the fray, using abandon soft drinks, coffee, cinnamon buns, and crummy Chinese fast food in whatever way they could against the musicians. But the three kept coming.

Tomcat gracefully vaulted over one of the assailants, but the man in the dark suit grabbed his ankle mid- flight, and Tom ended up on his back, staring at the skylight. The bright outside light, (his biggest weakness,) blinded him momentarily, and it was only his catlike grace that allowed him to roll out of the way, before the cello case decimated the tile floor where a fraction of a second earlier, his head had been.

Daniel took this opportunity to provide a distraction until the two Tom’s recovered, repeatedly lashing at their assailants with a handful of the red licorice, like they were cat-o-nine tails.

“Yeah! ‘Twizzlers makes mouths happy,’ but they sure hurt your ass, don’t they?” he screamed, whipping them about like a madman.

Bryian punched one of the cellists in the face with his built-in steel knuckles, setting the man’s nose at a jaunty asymmetrical angle, (an accident many years ago severely damaged Bryian’s hands and forced him to have large, stainless steel pins inserted into his knuckles. This had been an incredible boon in a fistfight, but kinda sucks when trying to get through the metal detectors at airports, or when your smart-assed teammates stick refrigerator magnets to your hands while you’re napping. But I, your noble author, would know nothing about that.)

The cellist with the new nose grunted, blindly swinging the heavy cello case, and Bryian got knocked back against their table. He first grabbed for the huge pecan log they’d purchased, when he saw the Fish’s Battlecam sitting beside it on the floor. It was time to pull out the big guns.

“Dan!” He shouted to the Fish, and hurled the heavy camera to his teammate. The Fish caught it whirled it around like a dervish, screaming in subtitled Chinese. The three musicians stopped, and looked at each other momentarily. The Rangers paused a moment as well, regaining their feet.

After a moment, the musicians bent over, opened their viol cases, and emerged with a surprising array of weapons.

“What the hell is that?” Tomcat muttered.

“Blessed Buddha!” the Fish hissed, but held his ground.

Both of the Cellists had pulled cameras similar to the Fish’s from their instrument cases. The violinist had pulled a microphone boom out, extended it, and was now whipping it around like Tomcat whirled his staff.

The Fish moved slowly, cocking the shotgun microphone mounted to his viewfinder and extending the bayonet mounted beneath the lens. He adjusted his stance and nodded.

“Woah!” Daniel said to Bryian, “Video showdown! What should we do?”

Bryian frowned, “Stand back. I’ve seen Dan when he gets like this. It’s bad enough as it is, but with three more like him, my freaky-shit-o-meter is sitting WAY in the red!”

There were shouts and a blur of fists, lenses and feet, and the Fish was hurled back into the arms of his teammates, his face bruised, and mouth bloody. The viewfinder on his camera was sitting at a rather unnatural angle as well.

“What the hell happened?” Tomcat said, helping the Fish back to his feet, “it all happened so fast I couldn’t make anything out.”

“Their edits are much faster than mine,” the Fish croaked as he spit blood, “they overwhelmed me with their fast zooms. One cellist is using a heavily modified Russian Krasnogorsk-3 16mm film camera with a custom Makarov pistol grip and a Kalishnakov bayonet mounted under a Bolex lens. The other’s using a Sony HDW-F900. The Krasnogorsk is overcranked and I can’t keep up with his frame rate, and the Sony is a high-def camera. My Battlecam can’t handle those resolutions.”

“You mean they kicked your ass, right?” Tomcat frowned.

“Pretty much.”

“Right!” said Keltic Tommy, stepping forward, “I’m sick of this Film-Noir-Kung-Fu Crap! Time to show these bozo’s the ancient martial art form handed down to me by my Scots ancestors!”

Keltic Tommy walked right up to the first of the cameramen assailants and stood there, grinning wildly at him. The cameraman blinked, surprised at this, and looked to his compatriots. Tommy took this opportunity to kick the cameraman square in the groin. The cameraman groaned and fell to the ground. At this point, Tommy began kicking the prone man, screaming profanities at him. The other two assailants backed away, eyes wide in horror as the Berserker Celt wailed on their ally.

“You stinking rat-bastard!” Tommy growled, kicking faster than a Rockette on Speed, “you got me good, kneeing me in the damned stomach after I had downed SEVEN FREAKIN’ POUNDS of Belgian fudge! That was just rude! Ain’t so bloody cool when you’re on the receiving end, are you?”

The other suits could only look on in horror, as Tommy wailed on their associate like an Inuit on a baby seal.

“STOP!” came a voice from the other end of the food court. Silence ensued as everyone looked in the direction of the voice. Sitting there in a motorized wheelchair was an immensely obese old man wearing a white suit, black silk shirt, and a white panama fedora. He wore dark sunglasses and was smoking a large cigar. He motioned to the violinists, and they rushed to his side, each in turn kissing a large ring on the old man’s fat pinkie finger. They each took positions by his side. He beckoned to the Rangers to approach.
Rev. Bryian, Daniel, and Tomcat helped the Fish to his feet, and they all moved up to flank Keltic Tommy.

Tommy looked at he battered comrade, “Dude, you gonna be OK?”

“Yeah,” the Fish nodded, “Just minor jump cuts.”

The quintet slowly approached the old man, who nodded approvingly. He opened his mouth, inhaled deeply and began to speak in an undecipherable voice that sounded like a record of an asthmatic coughing fit played backwards.

The Rangers looked at one another quizzically. Even Tomcat, the Rangers team interpreter was flummoxed.
One of the musicians stepped forward and spoke up.

“’Da Godproducer calls a truce. He has authorized me to inform yous guys that he, da duly elected representative of da Noble Order of ‘da Knights of ‘da Zoetrope wish ta joins forces with yous guys, ‘da associates of ‘da Mystic Order of B-Roll in apprehendin’ da perpetrator of dese crimes against Cinema.”

Bryian nodded to Tomcat, who began to open his mouth to reply, when suddenly, His Highness, Tiny casually sauntered up and ceremoniously barked, growled, whimpered, chewed his back, and sneezed.

The Godproducer’s eyes grew so wide you could see the whites from around his sunglasses. He motioned for his men to help him, and he got down on his fat knees, took Tiny’s paw in his huge hand and graciously shook it, chuckling good-naturedly.

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