I made a few stops on the way back to the nice side of Beverly Boulevard. Schwab’s Pharmacy. Photo processing place. I was cramming down a light dinner of hot dogs and onions with a Bromo chaser from Tail O’ the Pup when the phone on my car rang.
“What’ll they think of next?” I asked to the giant hot dog-shaped novelty restaurant as I answered the phone. “Harryhausen,” I said warily.
“Mister Harryhausen,” said Papa Bear, “They have my son.” I was worried about that. Seems I’d been followed. Whether they tailed me to the King Eddy or picked up Baby Bear off a tip off from Glenallen wasn’t important. “They’ve left a ransom note.” The mob wanted their dough and had their hooks in the Bear family.
“Mister Bear, I’m going to get your son back, safe and sound. I have a cunning plan that will fully justify the recommendation given to you by not one, not two but three little pigs. First, I need a couple of things…”
I explained my devious stratagem and headed back to the scene of the crime: namely the Bear’s house.
I parked a few blocks away and hoofed it to the quiet residence. No lights, as requested. I crept up the side lawn and spotted that familiar late model Plymouth Roadking sitting across the street. Still no driver, but now that I was looking I did see a small pulsing light on the driver’s side. I moved silently over the Bear’s perfect green landscaping and let myself in the front door.
I saw the Bears’ monstrous shapes in the dark house. Papa was a blacker lump in a sea of blackness. “Mister Harryhausen,” he said, barely audible as he held back rage. He was fighting every instinct within his bear soul to charge out of this house and tear whatever was coming at him and his family to shreds. I tried to make things simple.
“Follow the plan Mister Bear.”
“It seems risky. You don’t even know—”
“I know the thing across the street plans on ending me. It ain’t bright, they wouldn’t send anyone with clout for this gig. It’s a thug. They are predictable. Hide. When it heads upstairs, beat eggs. My car’s around the block.” I tossed him my keys. “I’ll contact you when it’s done.”
“My car phone,” I said with a smile that was lost in the darkness. He was about to grill me some more when we heard a car door close across the street.
Through the peephole, I saw a pulsing light ease out of the Plymouth. It made its way to the front door of the Bear’s place like a flickering Fuller Brush man. I headed upstairs. Papa and Mama had disappeared.
Unlike the Fuller Brush Man, the fairy didn’t bother knocking. I pulled out a little mirror and angled it down the stairs in time to see a flash light up the cracks in the door frame and the lock click open. The door swung wide and the pulsing ball of light morphed into a mook with a pencil thin mustache and coiffed hair.
“Hey Hausen!” the fairy yelled. Damnit, how hard is it? Harryhausen. One damn word and half the world screws it up. “You honestly didn’t think I’d see you slip in the front?” he continued as he wiped his feet and entered the house. “You must think you’re the Shadow or something!”
He paused in the foyer, no doubt catching sight of one of my purchases from Schwab’s: a Dixie cup of heavy cream. I heard a slurp, then a burp. He moved further into the house following the scent of the pint glass of cream I’d left for him in front of the kitchen. “Hey, you laid out the welcome wagon!” He gulped this time.
The ice box door opened. He popped the top off the bottle of cream and sucked down its contents. “S’real nice…HIC! Nice spread you got here Mister and Missus… Bear. S’real nice.”
I know a couple things about fairies. Rule one: cream gets them drunker than W.C. Fields on New Year’s Eve. In moments, I heard him stumbling around the first floor. Time to lure him upstairs.
I rolled one of Baby Bear’s baseballs down the middle of the thick hallway rug. I had already slipped into the hall linen closet when I heard it thunk to a stop against the baseboard by the bedroom.
My pal downstairs caught a case of the giggle fits. “We… we got the kid. The baby? The giant baby bear?” he slurred. “The boss has him. Didja know that, shamus?” Another thing I know about fairies, get them stitched and they sing like canaries.
He made his way to the foot of the stairs. “Yeah, yeah. I wuz s’posed to keep a peeper on the house and tell them when you got here. Seems yer services will no longer be – HIC! necessary.” He lumbered up the stairs, knocking into the banisters.
He was taking his time getting up the stairs when something caught my eye on a shelf in the linen closet. A box of magic beans was concealed behind a pile of perfectly folded bed clothes. Papa Bear was smuggling illegal enchanted goods. Huh. That would have to wait for another day as the sloppy fairy sounded off again.
“Shame we hadta get a little rough with th’ skirt and all—HIC!,” said the fairy. “But she couldn’t pay back what she owed an’ she said she could get it from the bear an’ so business is business. Ain’t it, shamus?”
The fairy strolled right by the linen closet where I hid and followed the trajectory of the baseball. I ghosted out of the closet with a sheet held like Neptune’s net. I tossed it over his head and kicked him square in the pants. He wheeled around on me, pointing his wand but he was too sloppy. I pilfered the wand from his grubby mitt and swatted him across the forehead with it.
“Ow! Jeez Mister!” He pulled the sheet off and rubbed the nasty red welt I’d left with his own weapon. He stared at me for a beat, then busted up laughing.
“What’re you gonna do with that, tough guy?” He laughed a healthy fairy chortle and he was right to. I couldn’t weave a spell any easier than I could weave a silk robe for the King of Siam. But he stopped laughing as soon as I made like I was going to snap his wand in two.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa shamus! You don’t wanna do that,” the fairy said. “Those don’t grow on trees, ya know?”
“It’s made of wood, Shemp. Of course it grows on trees.”
“I mean, they’re valu-able, see? Tough to come by. The boss, she’ll pull your tender little tootsies OFF for bustin’ that …HIC!…wand,” he said.
“Imagine what she’ll do to you two for losing it.” He swallowed audibly and I knew I had him. “The kid for the money, yes? There was going to be an exchange? Where’s it going down?” I asked.
“Shakespeare Bridge. Midnight.”
I pocketed the wand and produced my other purchase from Schwab’s: a two-pound bag of granulated sugar. I pulled out the switchblade I keep for special occasions and sliced open the top of the bag.
“What’re you gonna do wid that?” the drunken fairy asked. I dumped the entire contents of the bag on to the floor.
“Asshole,” he said and bent over to pick up the spilt sugar, counting every grain. I know a couple things about fairies.
The Shakespeare Bridge is a 260-foot deck arch bridge in a gothic style that spans a gully in the Franklin Hills. Just north of Hollywood, it’s rumored to be haunted by the numerous souls who jumped off it to their doom.
It’s perfect for a dramatic showdown between a mob of fairies and yours truly. I left my winged pal counting sugar at the Bear’s house and made haste to a warehouse Papa Bear used for his import/export business. He left his keys to the joint in his study along with an inventory list. I found what I needed at the warehouse and got to the bridge an hour early.
Early enough to set up and wait for the biggest gamble of my career.
I was sitting on the trunk of my car, which I’d backed up to the edge of the bridge. At exactly midnight, a pair of nice jalopies pulled up to the spires on the opposite side. One was dragging its boot. I figured all twelve hundred pounds of Baby Bear was in that one.
The door of the lead boiler flew open. A stout figure stepped out and meandered toward the center of the bridge. She had wings and the swagger known only by those with actual power. “Helloooo again, Mister Hausen,” said a familiar voice. It was the head fairy who led the assault on Glenallen’s flop house. Same pleasant tone. Appearing as the kindliest of kindly grandmothers, she would have looked right at home baking cookies or playing organ for the church. But beneath the blue tint of her freshly saloned hair and the floral pattern of her dress lay the cold heart of the monster that tried to transmogrify me a day ago. She stopped at the center of the bridge. I didn’t get up.
“That was a wonderful escape you made at Mister Glenallen’s flea-infested dump. A terrible shame he couldn’t be with us now.”
“It’s a real sob story. Lemme see the kid.”
Not used to being spoken to like that, she bristled a little. And I did enjoy it.
She gave a nod over her shoulder, but her hand moved closer to her waist, no doubt where her wand was concealed. At the edge of the bridge the doors to the other jalopy opened. Another kindly old grandma with wings got out. She opened the back door and Baby Bear squeezed his frame into the night air. I swear I heard the car scream with relief.
“And now, if you please Mister Hausen. I’ll take the money promised to us by that blonde harlot.”
I got up and opened my driver’s side door, but I didn’t get in. I just leaned up against the open door and stared down this dangerous, dangerous woman. An uneasy silence proceeded and she was the first to break it.
“You DO have the money, Mister Hausen?” she asked.
“It’s Harryhausen. Just Harryhausen. And no, I don’t have the money. I have something much better. You’re gonna send the kid over here and we’re going to part ways. Then, you and your winged army of shawl wearing thugs won’t be bothering the Bear family or Goldie ever again,” I said with the confidence one might employ to threaten an earthquake.
She never stopped smiling while she pulled her wand out. I flipped the switch to my headlights, which illuminated a dump truck by the side of the road off the edge of the bridge. It also illuminated the chain attached to a pin in the truck’s tailgate that held in the contents of its upended bed. I held the other end of that chain.
“Would you like to know what’s in it?” I asked. She already knew, but nodded for me to proceed. “Eight-thousand pounds of sugar. Possibly ten. I’m not sure how much these trucks actually hold.” I gave her a good look at the chain in my hand and tugged at it. It rattled against the tailgate.
“I pull, it dumps all those grains into the gully below us. Millions of them. Or billions maybe? What do you think?” She was still smiling but man, was she ticked. Could she get a shot off in time with her wand? She was doing the math as I spoke. “I’m thinking maybe trillions, but hey… you really wanna find out?”
She nodded to her cronies, and they let Baby Bear go. He hurried across the bridge on all fours, giving the head fairy a wide berth. When he’d made it to my position he said, “Sorry about coming after you Mister.”
“Don’t worry kid. Your folks are safe and you’ll see them soon. Now hold this chain. If the old lady twitches, yank and start running. Don’t stop until you hit Acapulco.”
“What are you gonna do?” he asked.
“Something smart,” I replied and started toward the center of the iconic bridge. Toward the fairies.
“Are we done here, Mister HARRYhausen?”
“Almost. What’s your name, my dear?” I said with as much charm as I could muster while she looked at me as a predator eyes a chicken leg.
“Ariel, young man. Mortals call me Ariel,” she replied.
“Of course they do,” I said. “The Bear family. No contact. Same with Goldie. That’s the deal,” She nodded in agreement and I produced two small disposable creamers, the kind you put in coffee at diners. “Drink on it?”
She laughed now. Not because it was funny but because this would bind our contract. This sealed it, and she knew I had her over the gully with the rest of the sugar. “Or you can spend the next couple of years counting sugar grains. I mean, it doesn’t rain a lot here in the City of Angels, but it does rain sometimes. Maybe it’ll only take you a year?”
She tore the top off the creamer, and I did the same. We drank without taking our eyes off each other. She handed me the empty plastic container, careful not to make physical contact with me like I was the help. No problem there actually, I’d sooner touch a Charybdis.
I produced the wand I’d glommed from the dumb fairy trigger man. Ariel rolled her eyes and graciously took the wand from me. I’d sure hate to be that meat head in the morning. The smile quickly returned to her puss.
“Agreed, dearie. The Bear family and the twist are officially OFF our radar.” She turned to walk back to the wagons, but stopped short of the middle of the bridge and looked back at me.
“But you aren’t anymore, Mister Harryhausen. No, you are very much ON our radar now. We’ll be keeping an interested eye on you.” She nodded a final goodbye and morphed into a tiny ball of light. So did the rest of her party. They flitted into their cars and drove back the way they came.
It was only then I realized I’d been holding my breath.
I dropped Baby Bear back at their house after I’d phoned his parents to tell them their boy was okay and the coast was clear. I waited for their return and settled my bill. A few hours later and $53 richer I headed home. I slept, ate, shaved and got my shoes shined. Then I got my horn shined. Big spender that I am.
I checked in on Goldie at Merlin Memorial. She was awake and went on and on about some dwarfish doctor she’d met while being admitted yesterday. At least I think she said dwarf, it was hard to tell with her mouth wired shut.
Then I shot over to the Hollywood Precinct on Wilcox Avenue to see Detective Huntsman. I found him in a crowded, noisy room full of desks, cops and cigarette smoke. Huntsman’s space was even more beat up than the rest. There were so many divots on his desk, it looked like someone had taken an axe to it. Despite the gloom of the surrounding police officers, Huntsman was all smiles. I handed over the photos I’d taken of Glenallen’s wound that cleared Baby Bear of all wrong doing.
“So Goldie was in dutch with the mob,” asked Huntsman. “Yep,” I replied. “She set her sights on a well-to-do bear cub from the right side of the tracks to get off the nut. Goldie was mum on whoever gave her the Broderick, but you won’t have to worry about him.”
“You don’t think he’ll try to find her and maybe finish the job he started on her mug?” asked Huntsman.
“Only thing he’ll be hunting is truffles while he tries to avoid becoming bacon,” I said with a grin.
Like a good L.A. cop, Huntsman never asked too many questions. He pulled out a cigarette and offered me one. He always got real generous when I did his job for him. “Well, I thank you, Harryhausen,” said the Detective, “The City of Los Angeles thanks you, and my wife’s pot roast owes you a debt. How much did you make for this job?” he asked.
“Twenty-five bucks a day plus expenses.” I replied.
“Cripes, Harryhausen. You got attacked by a bear, left for dead in an alley while the mob took pot shots at you. For what? Fifty bucks and some gas money?” He struck a match against the box cover.
“There’s worse ways to earn a living,” I said.
“Name one,” he asked and lit his smoke.
“Being a cop,” I said. Huntsman blew out his match without lighting my smoke and turned to his typewriter. He spooled a police report into the machine and began savagely hacking at the keyboard with two index fingers. “See you around, Harryhausen.”
Never being the one to miss a hint, I took the air, which was a lovely 72 degrees in the early evening twilight. The palm trees waved at me in the breeze as I ankled to my heap on the corner of Sunset and Wilcox. When I arrived my new fangled car phone rang.
“That’s going to take some getting used to,” I said to the palm trees that lined the street as I picked up the receiver. “Harryhausen,” I said into the microphone.
“Mister Harryhausen,” said a mysterious and deep female voice on the other line. “I believe a wolf is impersonating my grandmother.”
Like this story? Check out The Other Side of the Fence, a zombie novel by Zack Morrissette and Stephen Nixon. It’s the story of a man named Jack who’s trying to survive the zombie apocalypse with the biggest asshole he’s ever met. Available in paperback and as Kindle download from Amazon!