I’m Detective Staff Sergeant Deviled Yeggs. I work homicide in the big city of Tracy. My partner is Jim Wednesday. This is a split report, part of it being what Easter relayed to me afterwards.
We are only starting to see the effects of my Dad’s Christmas prayer. The first big one is that Det. Wolfe decided to get Tuesday Wednesday, Jim’s wife, promoted to Detective Sergeant. She was overdue, but he liked taking all the credit, but somehow not anymore. She had been mostly secretarial at first when Wolfe found that she did great at online research for cases. She has a paralegal degree. That led to her becoming his detective, doing the legwork while he stayed in the office and “considered the evidence.” Now, she was getting credit for years of faithful service.
He reserved a room at the “Dunder and Blixem” restaurant for a promotion party that he was paying for. All the Stout County officials, political and police officials, were there, but Jim was a natural invitee in that he was Tuesday’s spouse, and Tuesday insisted on Glyce and I as her special guests.
That left a big problem. We had three children and Jim and Tuesday had four children. That was a lot of babysitting. We had Sophie and Blaise stay at the Hobbit Hole with Mashie and Pauline Niblick, a sleep over. Then we drove to Jim’s home in the traditional Latvian community of Tracy, only about a mile from the golf club – as the crow flies. We dropped off Easter and his girlfriend, Jemima, to babysit Jim’s children. We had reached an agreement with Easter and Jemima. We were not one hundred percent sure, but we thought we could trust them. Okay, Glyce was a lot surer than I was. Funny, I was more forgiving with the first incident of them discussing getting too amorous. We thought they could handle the children. Thursday is now four and the twins, Friday and Saturday, are three. The only handful was Holiday, not quite one-year-old. Amazing how time flies.
Tuesday gave the two high school seniors a detailed set of instructions, a small book. If the Wednesday’s children halfway behaved, their evening would be fairly easy. Or so we thought at the time.
We all piled into Glyce’s SUV, and we went to our dinner party to the west of the big city of Tracy.
After the meal and a ceremony by the mayor to fawn over Tuesday’s accomplishments that the mayor knew nothing about, we were just settling down to a little entertainment and an official photo session when I got the strangest text I had ever received, followed by more strange texts every fifteen seconds.
The first text: Dad, we have left the house with the children bundled and as secure as possible. Jim’s house is about to be attacked by young Rotten Apples. It’s a miracle we got out in time. We will leave our phones on, but on vibrate, on the run, down the creek, meet us at Niblicks. For next text every fifteen seconds, remember app you helped me work on for storm data. Whatever happens. I love you and Mom.
The second and subsequent texts were gibberish, until I remembered the app. Since Easter wants to be a storm chaser, he got an app that syncs with GPS devices that could be placed in a storm’s path. If they get picked up by the storm, they transmit the direction they are travelling, the speed, and the location of the device. Easter and I had rigged the cellphone to transmit texts of the same information to a second phone. Easter and I had placed a GPS on a football and kicked and passed it around just to see what kind of data we could produce. That was fun; this was serious. I would know the approximate location where Easter, and hopefully Jemima and the four children, might be. Otherwise, all was dark and very dangerous.
Before I figured out the strange code being sent every fifteen seconds, I told Jim and Tuesday. We let Det. Wolfe know why we had to leave immediately. The Rexville chief of police escorted us to the county line. We were in Glyce’s SUV, and we did not have a gumdrop and siren. By the time we reached the county line, we knew enough to be very scared and if we met a policeman, which was unlikely under the circumstances, they would know that we had a good reason to be speeding. But I might have their badge for not already being at Jim’s house.
Now for what led up to Easter’s text:
Easter and Jemima had the ultimate in easy babysitting to this point. Holiday went to bed and to sleep without any fuss. An hour later, the other three went to bed, only requiring two bedtime stories: one from their favorite book and the other a story that Easter made up on the spot. Honest, I had no idea he had that in him.
The two teen-agers turned off all the lights except in the den, where Tuesday instructed them to stay once the children were down for the night. Jemima asked, “Do you really think that your parents and the Wednesdays trust us? The children are asleep or nearly there, and we could get into all kinds of mischief.”
Easter said, “We swore an oath. I have read my Bible and swearing an oath is a serious thing. I doubt either of us would violate it. We might get a bit amorous, but that’s it. And before we get that far, I have Det. Wednesday’s security cameras synced with my tablet. We can run through all the cameras to make sure there are none here in the den. If there is one, then they don’t trust us. After all, Tuesday said in her babysitting instructions book for us to stay in the den once the children were down for the night.” He thumbed through what little information was there and found no video feeds from the den. It wasn’t that the two had anything naughty or even amorous in mind, but they were pleased that they were being trusted.
But while Easter had run through the feeds, he noticed movement on the front yard camera. He flipped on the audio and switched it back to that display. There was audio on that camera so that the Wednesday’s could talk to the delivery people or anyone who came onto the porch without opening the door. Easter saw young men on the video, some with whom he had gone to school, all younger than twenty-five years old, older than eighteen, and all Apples.
They turned out the den lights to cut the glare on the tablet’s screen. Jemima recognized Yates Apple as being with Richard LaLanne when a splinter group of Rotten Apples from Tracy and Leafy Greens from Stout County were trying to start a gang war. Yates wasn’t at the table with the ringleaders, but he was eavesdropping from the next table, acting like he was big and important. She had forgotten about him until she saw the video feed. He escaped prosecution, sliding through the cracks, and now with Fuji and Ginger Gold having disappeared, was Yates trying to take over?
The others that Easter knew by name were Grimes Golden, Earligold, Candycrisp, and Gravenstein. Of those four, Candycrisp was the wimp who acted tough, but Gravenstein was the worst. When he graduated high school, the student body threw a party because he was gone. He had been arrested a few times, but nothing sent him away. Mostly it was what the police could not prove that scared everyone at the high school. Rumors had it that Gravenstein was a cold-blooded killer.
As the two babysitters watched the video with audio, they heard Yates say that they were waiting on someone or something. The Apples weren’t on the front porch, so the audio was a bit sketchy. Gravenstein got assault rifles out of his truck. Candycrisp suggested going into the backyard in case anyone inside tried to escape.
Yates said, “Are you crazy? There is about to be so many bullets that no one in the backyard could survive. Besides, their car is in the driveway, and we just saw the last of the lights go out. We attack once the heavy artillery get here, and nobody will survive, even if they try to run. This has already been a screwed up night. We started with the Yeggs home, but they were just driving out the driveway when we drove up. We went to Lt. Tagliolini’s place and they were on vacation. So, the Wednesdays are the first we found at home. We are making our statement tonight. Everyone in Tracy will know us, and fear us.”
Easter checked the backyard cameras and there was nothing in sight except a deer near the creek.
Easter called 911 and they dutifully answered. He explained the situation, and then the operator said, “You are saying that they are talking about attacking and there is no one presently attacking you. We will get someone there as soon as possible. I want no trouble from your Dad or Det. Wednesday, but we are shorthanded. The force is less than half staffed due to people testing positive for the virus. There was a big traffic accident on the east side of the city, practically in Doyle County. A couple of vehicles on fire, one is a huge truck, traffic backed up in both directions, a few fatalities, everything under investigation. The skeleton crew that is left are all spread out and tied up with one thing or another, about as far away from you as they can be. No one can drop what they’re doing. All I can say is to hunker down and stay where you are. That is safer than trying to make a run for it. I’m sorry, Easter, that’s the best I could do. Maybe 30 minutes out, more like an hour or more.”
Easter turned to Jemima and explained what the 911 operator had said. “What if the fiery accident was caused by the person these guys are waiting for. We don’t have 30 minutes. Let’s bundle up the children as best we can. I’m going to rummage through the Wednesday’s linen cabinet for the darkest sheets I can find. If I have enough, we can string a sling for each of us, one child in front and one behind in dark sheets and run out the back. If Dad had only taught me how to pick a lock, I could break into one of the neighbor’s houses and we might be safe, but not here. Det. Wednesday says there are a few neighbors that are snowbirds. If we broke a window though, we’d let these guys know where we had hidden.”
“You said bundle the kids in a sling. Are you suggesting we create a papoose?”
“Jemima, do you not know that the term ‘papoose’ is offensive to a lot of people? It means ‘child’ or ‘child carrier’ in Algonquin, but since many people use it in general for any Native American child or swaddled child, many consider it offensive. But yes, can you swaddle Holiday?”
Jemima huffed, “Now, I am offended. I will have you know that I am a PK, a preacher’s Kid, and my mother taught me how to swaddle the baby Jesus ten years ago. I have doing it for every church pageant and for the creche every year since.”
Easter said, “Apologies all around. Let’s get this show on the road.”
The children started whining, especially Thursday who refused to be treated like a baby, but Easter said he had no choice. Once the bad guys knew that someone had been there to turn off the lights, but no one was at home now, they might find the footsteps leading to the creek. Easter explained that this was a game of tag and we had to win the game. Easter had run cross country track and knew that the creek had a sand bed, but it would be extremely cold and too deep for Thursday to wade in – a few inches, but he thought Thursday would fall. Plus, it would slow them down. All the children had to be bundled in their best winter gear and hidden inside the slings that Easter had made out of navy-blue sheets. They cut a hole in two more sheets to form a cape. If they had to hide, the cape might change their outline against their environment so they might blend into their surroundings a bit better.
Easter knew that it would be risky in the cold, but they had to wade down the creek as much as possible. Neither he nor Jemima had boots, but if they walked along the bank, they might provide a trail to follow. The creek was their only hope, but could they get about a mile of frigid water before their feet would get too cold? It was well above freezing, but the temperature was dropping, and the water would probably be a lot colder. They found some insulated drink bottles and filled them with warm milk. Thursday again complained that he wasn’t a baby, but Jemima explained that they might get cold and having a warm bottle next to them would help. Then she chuckled thinking that Thursday would be the first to take a sip.
Easter whispered, “I found some petroleum jelly in the bathroom. I don’t know if it will help, but let’s soak our socks in it. It is not freezing weather, but the water in the creek is going to get uncomfortable. This may not work, but let’s see if it can keep some of the cold water away from our feet. Too warm for frostbite, but hypothermia could make this a long night. The water is usually only about ankle deep. Once we leave the house, no talking. Thursday, you are on my back, and I have to trust you to be a hero. I am giving you my favorite football. Do not drop it. You will be a hero if you hand it off to my Dad later tonight. Do you understand?” Thursday puffed with pride. He had a job to do. He was going to be a hero.
Jemima asked, “Where did you learn all this? When I first moved here, you were a ‘C’ student. Now you make a straight ‘A’ average.”
Easter smiled, “There was this girl that I wanted to impress. Her name doesn’t matter. You might not even know her. Now, let’s move, no talking from this point on.”
Jemima gasped when she got into the water. They had walked about a hundred yards downstream when there was a loud explosion behind them. The twins started crying. Since Holiday was swaddled in front of Jemima, it was Easter who had to get them to quit crying. A sip of warm milk helped along with the soothing words. He said that this was going to be a wild hike and that noise was just leftover New Year’s Eve fireworks. The little girl, Saturday, calmed down first, and it looked like she was ready to go back to sleep. She was on Jemima’s back. Friday whimpered and talked about wanting his Mommy, but Easter finally got him to quiet down. He was sure that no one heard the children’s crying. As soon as the initial explosion had shaken the ground, everyone else in the gang riddled the house with bullets from their assault rifles. Easter and Jemima had made their escape just before the gang member arrived with the heavy artillery.
Jemima whispered, “I guess we know what they were waiting for.”
Thursday said, “No more talking. I have the football. I’m a hero.”
From the small amount of moonlight, Easter and Jemima shared a smile. It would be their last for some time.
What they did not know was the explosion woke up neighbors blocks away from the Wednesdays who all called 911 to say that a war had started in the neighborhood, and they demanded the National Guard come to save them. The fire department showed up first with sirens blaring, which scared off the gang, soon after they had entered the house.
Back to my side of the story:
Glyce did some internet searches and found the GPS location for the Hobbit Hole so that we could make sense out of Easter’s data that he sent every fifteen seconds. She then took my phone and started tracking the slow progress and at times no progress as they made their way to the golf club.
By the time we got to the Hobbit Hole, Glyce calculated that they should be on solid ground and headed for Mashie’s little below ground home, probably the lower entrance through the greenskeeper’s shed. We had already called Mashie to be expecting us.
When we got to the club parking lot, Jim said, “I have to go home and protect and serve, but I need backup.”
Tuesday said, “I’m your backup.” Then, she turned to Glyce with tears in her eyes. “Find my babies. Keep them safe.” I tossed Jim the keys to the SUV and he was gone.
When I knocked on the door of the Hobbit Hole, Pauline answered, and she was smiling. “We have been watching them approach across the golf course on our security cameras. No one is following them as far as we can tell. We just have enough time to get downstairs and through the tunnel to the greenskeeper’s shed. You won’t believe it when you see them.”
We did not believe it. We had been praying, but we had no idea that our prayers would be answered. And we were not ready for the spectacle before us. Two teen-agers with an elaborate sling over their shoulders, holding one child in front and the other in back, everything in navy blue. You could see relief on their faces, but they were in too much pain and too exhausted to muster a smile. Holiday and the twins were asleep, but as Thursday climbed from his sling, he ran to me. He handed me the football with the GPS device attached. He threw his arms into the air and said, “Touchdown!! I’m a hero!!”
Easter said, “I’ll explain later, but I am afraid that Thursday is wired. He might not go back to sleep.” Little did Easter know, but Pauline cuddled with Thursday for a minute, maybe two, and he was sound asleep. The little ones were fine, but Glyce looked at the babysitters and their wet feet.
Glyce started giving orders, “Both of you into the house. Strip down everything from the waist down. Do not do anything else. We need to bring the temperature in your feet up gradually.”
Jemima mumbled, “But you said we could not get naked together until we got married.”
Glyce chided, “Go to separate rooms. Wrap in a blanket. Meet me in the living room. I will work on your feet there. No romance tonight, just slowly getting your bodies back up to temperature. Your feet were in water about 45 degrees for about an hour. Total immersion that long could have led to unconsciousness. This is serious, kids. Understand?!” They nodded and then limped away.
A short time later, Jemima told us that she was already in love with her boyfriend, but he was now a man.
Easter hobbled over to me and whispered, asking me to give him the hardest bear hug that I could manage. I asked if that would appear to be less manly than what Jemima was saying. Easter said, “Dad, I decided that I am happy not being a man, not just yet.” It took a while for him to stop trembling, and I doubted it was from being cold.
The next day, Jim and I visited the Orchard. Ambrosia Apple had returned to Tracy to run the Orchard with the help of Honeycrisp. They ran it as a legitimate business. She had kicked out the criminals which left a big vacuum on the criminal side of things as to who was in charge. She allowed only two or three of the Rotten Apples to remain because she needed the physical help running the Orchard. These men swore to stay away from any future criminal activities. It was sad in that a couple of the gang members in the raid the night before were their sons. As for the gang the night before, security cameras showed that the final member of the gang, the one they were waiting on, was Ashmead Kernal Apple, aka Ash, because he liked turning things into ashes. We assume, due to witness statements, he had used a grenade launcher to start the wreck on the highway near the Doyle County line, hitting a truck with two trailers, which flipped and jack-knifed onto the on-coming traffic. He used the grenade launcher again to fire a round into the Wednesday’s den where Easter and Jemima had been snuggling. When the gang went into the house to count dead bodies, they got angry not finding any, firing a few rounds into every bed’s pillow, including those for the children. From the video that was amazingly still running, Candycrisp had wanted to go to the creek in pursuit, but the others ran for their cars as sirens approached, not realizing that it was the fire department, and Candycrisp did not have the moxie to do the search alone.
After giving her the news, Ambrosia said that she would take care of it. She knew people.
I stopped her. “No, Ambrosia, you have kept your hands clean all these years. Don’t join the rest of the Rotten Apples. Let’s send this gang to prison.”
Ambrosia smiled, her eyes seemed to be seeing something far away. Then she laughed, “Oh, that’s so much better. I will tell you where these idiots might be hiding. Once in prison, they will be under the thumb of my brother, Red Delicious. That’s worse punishment than anything I could think of. My brother hates being embarrassed, and he never wanted to kill a cop. It brought too much attention to what he was doing. Oh, yes, cruel and inhumane punishment for sure. You have my full cooperation.”
I accepted her reasons for backing off, but I hoped, instead, they met Big Red McIntosh, Ambrosia’s nephew and her brother’s son, and he might do some evangelizing.
It was not until I had most of the story in mind before I was ready to write. That is my usual modus operandi. Go from a notion to a thin idea. Then I start working in some plot twists or conflicts. Then I change a few things that might be unbelievable, even for these crazy stories. Then when I am not writing the daily and weekly routine stuff, I might try to take a nap or go to sleep at night with key moments in the story in mind. It might be a week or two or longer before I start writing. In 2020 there was a several month gap in stories because an eight-part story was bouncing around in my head. Sometimes the story is far less than 30% gelled when I start typing, but I will start with a strong beginning, some boundaries for the middle, and a clear ending. The rest is what pops into my head as I type.
But when I start to write this story, I needed a title, or I would not have a file name on the computer. I apologize if anyone thinks I took The Great Escape (1963), one of my favorite World War II movies, having seen it countless times, and Adventures in Babysitting (1987), which I saw once on television by renting the VHS tape many years ago, and I mashed them together. I only thought of the movies while trying to think of a title. Honest! There are a few elements that are similar, but any similarity is accidental.
The idea of the petroleum jelly, which might not work in this application since water convects heat from the body 20-30 times faster than air, was something I was taught while jogging around the greater Boston area. Coating the exposed skin with petroleum jelly helped keep the skin from frostbite when the temperature was far below freezing. In this case, it might have formed a barrier for the cold water soaking into the skin, or it could wash off along the hike. Immersion in water that is 45 degrees Fahrenheit for 60-90 minutes is survivable, even total immersion, but the risk of hypothermia is high.
As for the capes to change their shape, that is something that many fail to think of in camouflage. A distinct human shape, at night, looks like a human shape, regardless of the color or texture. Something to break up the shape is helpful in blending into the environment.
And as for Easter’s silent breakdown in his Dad’s arms, I have noticed it in myself and in others. In crisis, you are in planning and execution mode. You may seem cool, but you are as scared as you can be. But once the crisis has passed, the emotions come flooding through. Until then, you don’t have time for emotions, you just do what you must do.
And as usual, Ambrosia, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Red McIntosh, Yates, Grimes Golden, Earligold, Candycrisp, Gravenstein, and Ashmead Kernal are all varieties of apples. Don’t worry. There are more.