It was approaching dusk when the two armies pulled back for the evening. Despite the early chicken attack, Jersey Mike’s men had held firm all day. Prince Carl’s army had also stood their ground, which surprised Little Caesar. He had expected to wipe them out with ease. He hadn’t even bothered to order up the pirate flank attack. Fortunately for the pizza dictator, the Burger King’s army had yet to arrive. He hadn’t heard any news since the initial attack by the Vegetarians. With luck, the two groups will have destroyed each other. Little Caesar had no love of the Vegetarians and he was sure that the feeling was mutual.
However, not all of the news was good. After the sixth pirate messenger had come to the command tent bearing bad reports about Long John Silver’s ever diminishing fleet, Little Caesar was in a foul mood. Long John Silver, equally piqued, had departed two hours earlier, determined to personally lead an attack against Asiago. Jersey Mike had arrived at the tent a short time later, and was now silently eating a Sub in a Tub, a meal of his own creation.
“You’re unusually quiet,” Little Caesar noted.
“Just thinkin’,” muttered Mike in between forkfuls of food.
“There’s a first.”
“And, pray tell, what exactly are you thinking about?”
“‘Bout how to beat them bums tomorrow. They’re tougher than they look.”
“Yes, well, perhaps we underestimated them a little,” Caesar conceded. “However, we’ve got our pirates in reserve. First thing tomorrow, we’ll send in…
“What pirates?” Mike grunted.
“What do you mean ‘What pirates?’ The pirates sitting at your flanks.”
Little Caesar stared at him.
“What do you mean gone?”
Jersey Mike slammed down his fork.
“What, am I stuttering here? They’re gone, vanished, bye-bye. Silver took them all.”
“What…he…” Caesar sputtered, “…that IDIOT!”
“Tell me about it,” mumbled Mike.
“HE was only supposed to go, not his entire army!”
“He said he wanted to have as many of his ships in action as possible.”
“And what does he expect us to do with half our force gone?”
“He said he would try be back before morning.”
“Oh well, if he’s going to try…” snapped Little Caesar.
“Look, I ain’t happy about this either.”
The two fell into silent brooding. Caesar paced back and forth while Mike sat picking at his food.
“So,” Jersey Mike spoke after a while. “What’s the plan?”
“We stay the course for now. If Silver returns in time, we’ll have the force needed to make a breakthrough.”
“What if he ain’t here on time?”
“How long do you think you can hold?”
Jersey Mike thought for a moment.
“We can hold for a while. Not all day though.”
“You won’t have to,” Little Caesar replied, “Silver should be back well before then.”
“And what if he don’t come back?”
Caesar stopped pacing and moved to the purple curtain. He yanked it back to reveal his cowering prisoners.
“Then at some point, you will bring our friends out onto the battlefield and demand that Prince Carl pull his troops back. And if he refuses…” He looked down and smiled wickedly at his captives, “…kill them.”
From his perch in a tree, the Hamburglar waited for darkness to descend upon Little Caesar’s camp and the clearing that surrounded it. The thief had been a bit surprised to find the command tent pitched outside of the protection of the encamped soldiers. There wasn’t so much as a guard in sight. Either Little Caesar was very foolish, or extremely confident in his security.
For the past several hours, the Hamburglar had watched a steady stream of frantic pirates entering and exiting the command tent. Close to dusk, Long John Silver had stumped out, looking none too happy. Then as night began to settle and a light blazed from within the tent, the large silhouette of Jersey Mike stepped to the entrance, stretched, and turned around to say something to Little Caesar before sauntering off towards the camp. Now it was just a matter of time before the commander-in-chief would turn in himself. Once all was quiet, the Hamburglar would…
“When are you going in?” Piped a voice from above.
Startled, the Hamburglar nearly fell out of the tree, but caught himself in time.
“Robble!” He swore, righting himself and readjusting his black wide-brimmed hat which had slid over his eyes.
“Boy, you were hard to follow,” said the voice. “I almost lost you a couple of times.”
Climbing down from her hiding spot, Wendy joined the Hamburglar on his branch.
“Robble robble?!” Hissed the thoroughly annoyed thief.
“Don’t be angry,” said Wendy sweetly. “You might need my help.”
“Robble!” He shook his head vehemently and jabbed a finger in the direction of Prince Carl’s camp.
“I can’t go back. I have to help my friends.”
At that moment, the light went out in the command tent.
“Time to go,” said Wendy hopefully. The Hamburglar crossed his arms and shook his head.
“Oh, come on,” pleaded the red head. The Hamburglar shook his head, pointed to Wendy, then pointed down to their branch.
“Oh…all right!” Wendy spat out. “I’ll stay here.”
“Robble?” Asked the thief.
“Yes, I promise.”
With a final nod, the Hamburglar climbed out of the tree. Silently and expertly, he slid from shadow to shadow, making his way toward the tent.
From her place in the tree, Wendy tried to follow the Hamburglar’s progress, but found it difficult. For long moments, he would vanish without a trace, and only the slightest of movements would indicate where he was. Wendy was impressed by the Hamburglar’s skills. She wondered what he was planning to do once he reached the tent.
Careful not to make a sound, the Hamburgler slowly approached the tent. He put his ear against the tent wall, but he heard nothing. Little Caesar must be asleep by now. Getting down on his hands and knees, the thief slowly crawled to the tent entrance. He gradually lifted a corner of one of the flaps and peered in. All was dark and still. Glancing back around the camp, he saw no one around. Yes, Little Caesar seemed very confident in his security. The Hamburglar lifted the tent flap a little higher, took a nervous breath, then crawled inside.
Wendy noticed the slight movement of the tent flap and knew that the Hamburglar had gone inside. What was he looking for exactly? Papers? A map? Perhaps he was planning to kidnap Little Caesar. She wished she knew more about his plan, but Wendy found it difficult to discuss anything with a man who only said one word. She sighed and prepared for a long wait. Suddenly, a light flashed on in the command tent. Wendy wasn’t sure, but she could have sworn she heard the startled cry of “Robble!” coming from within. Whatever Hamburglar’s plans were, they were now out the window. Knowing that she could no longer remain where she was, Wendy slid down the tree and began a roundabout approach to the tent.
Little Caesar was calmly sitting at his table, a lantern shining brightly beside him. In shock, the Hamburglar had frozen in place, still on his hands and knees in the middle of the tent. The pizza dictator smiled coldly.
“Ah, I knew it was only a matter of time before I received a visitor. However, I didn’t expect it would be you, Hamburglar. Are you now in the employ of Prince Carl?” The Hamburglar grimly rose to his feet but said nothing. Little Caesar continued.
“I have heard great things about your talents at thievery and reconnaissance. I must confess, however, that I’m a little disappointed that you were so easily caught tonight. Not your best effort, I’m afraid.”
Just then, Jersey Mike appeared at the tent entrance.
“So, someone did come, huh?” Mike asked with a grin. “Just like ya said, L.C.”
“Were you expecting,” asked Little Caesar, directing his question to the Hamburglar, “that I would leave my tent, and my bargaining chips, unattended?”
“Robble?” Asked the captured thief. Bargaining chips? Did that mean Little Caesar had the prisoners here? He glanced around and his eyes fell upon the large purple curtain. His captor nodded.
“Well spotted, my lucid friend. Yes, they are behind the curtain, and I can assure you that they are quite safe…for the time being. Of course, you will be joining them shortly.” Little Caesar turned to Jersey Mike and pointed to a corner of the tent that was filled with odds and ends. “If you can find us some rope, Mike, I believe there is some over there.”
“Ya know,” said Jersey Mike as he started to rummage around the various piles, “I kinda thought that Wendy kid would show up.”
“As did I. I was rather hoping that I’d get a chance to meet her.” He looked at the Hamburglar. “From what Jersey Mike has told me, Wendy is quite a…spirited little girl. Would you agree?”
“Robble,” replied the Hamburglar, rolling his eyes.
“She tried to pick a fight with Smashburger, if that tells ya anything,” Mike piped up, pulling a coil of rope free.
“Indeed. And how is Smashburger doing?”
“His hives are ‘bout gone and he’s breathin’ pretty good now. Man, I didn’t know an egg allergy could mess a person up like that.”
“It’s a rather unfortunate malady considering the circumstances. It can’t be helped though.” Little Caesar stood, stretched, and motioned to Jersey Mike. “Will you do the honors?”
With a wicked grin, Mike turned to the Hamburglar.
“Wanna see your new home?” He jeered as he walked up to the purple curtain and yanked it back to reveal…nothing. Nothing but a scattering of unused ropes and discarded gags. Jersey Mike gaped.
Little Caesar, who had his back turned to the curtain, spun around.
“How…?!” He rushed to the tent wall and knelt. It was clear from the marks on the ground that the prisoners had slipped out from under the tent. He picked up a rope and examined it.
“These have been cut…” He turned to confront the Hamburglar, but he too had vanished in the midst of the confusion.
“Mike!” He roared. Jersey Mike looked up.
“You let the Hamburglar escape!”
“Me?! I thought you was watchin’ him!”
Little Caesar flung down the rope in disgust.
“Get some men and go after him! The other prisoners will probably be with him too.”
Without another word, Jersey Mike left the tent. In a rage, Little Caesar turned and gave a vicious kick to his chair, belatedly remembering that he was wearing sandals. With a string of Latinized swear words, he hobbled around the tent until the throbbing began to ease. What a fool he had been! The Hamburglar had let himself be caught. It was now apparent that he had merely been the bait while the real escape plan was taking place. But who was his accomplice? Little Caesar took his lantern and limped out of the tent and around to the back. He scanned the ground along the tent wall, finally stopping at a patch of dirt where he noticed some markings. He bent down for a closer look. Within the glow of the lantern light, he noticed that a word was scratched into the dirt. The word was “Wendy.” Despite himself, the Little Caesar grinned.
“Well played, Wendy,” he murmured, “well played.”