“Let’s go down this street,” Wendy said, pointing to a wide road that branched off Plees-Comagin’s main thoroughfare. A large sign with an arrow pointing down the road proclaimed it to be Wing Street. Restaurants of all types lined both sides, and Wendy had a good time peeking in all the windows and waving to diners.
“That’s odd,” Robin commented after the trio had strolled for several blocks. She pointed to a Little Caesar’s restaurant. “I could have sworn that we just passed this place not more than a block ago.”
“It was probably just a similar-looking restaurant,” Baskin said dismissively.
“I suppose you are right,” Robin replied. “It would be a little silly to…”
“Look!” Wendy interrupted, pointing to a restaurant across the street that was in the process of being remodeled. A large sign in the window said: “Coming Soon! Little Caesar’s.”
“That can’t be right,” said Robin. “Three of the same restaurant on one street?”
“Supposing that the first one you saw was a Little Caesar’s,” Baskin said.
“Even still, having two of the same restaurant within a block of each other…”
“There’s another one!” Wendy said excitedly as they moved up the next block. Sure enough, the travelers drew even with yet another Little Caesar’s. “They sure love their pizza here!”
“Yes…” Baskin mused.
“Has anyone else noticed if there are other pizza establishments?” asked Robin.
“There’s one over…oh wait…” Wendy spotted a building with a sign that read “Giordano’s Famous Pizza,” but another sign hanging in the window stated that the restaurant was now out of business.
“Something is very wrong here,” said Baskin.
They continued to follow Wing Street as it led out of the town’s center. The crowded storefronts gradually tapered off as the travelers moved toward the edge of town. No further Little Caesar restaurants had been seen. Still, what they had seen continued to trouble Baskin and Robin. It wasn’t unusual to see a successful restaurant branching out, but to have that many restaurants on one street…And why were Little Caesar’s competitors disappearing from the area? After Giordano’s, the trio passed another pizza restaurant which was open, but was suspiciously devoid of customers.
“It’s clear what this Little Caesar is up to,” Robin said, breaking the prolonged silence. “The question is how is he doing it?”
“And why are the other pizza businesses letting him?” added Baskin.
“Bribery?” offered Robin. “Or blackmail?”
“On the grand scale,” Baskin nodded. “I wonder if this is happening in other parts of the kingdom.”
“What’s that up ahead?” Wendy asked, pointing at a solitary building that had appeared over the horizon. The building turned out to be a humble little cottage with a brightly painted red roof.
“I wonder what this place is,” Wendy said, skipping to the door. She was about to knock when the door was flung open and a large man came barreling out, nearly knocking Wendy to the ground. Another man, just as large, followed in his wake.
“Outta da way,” grunted the first man to Wendy.
“Hey!” Wendy blurted indignantly. “You almost ran me over!”
“Youse gotta problem?” The man scowled down at Wendy who scowled right back.
“Wendy!” Baskin called nervously. “I think you need to…”
“Yeah, I gotta problem!” Wendy cut in. “How about an apology?”
“Look, ya little…”
The second man stepped between the combatants.
“Easy there, Smashburger. She’s just a kid.”
“I am not ‘just a kid!” Wendy spat angrily as Robin tried to pull her back.
“Sure kid, sure,” the second man grinned. “Hey look, I apologize for my associate Smashburger here. He ain’t exactly what you call a ‘people person.’” Smashburger grunted in agreement.
“Are you sure he’s even a person?” Wendy blurted out before Robin managed to clap a hand over her mouth. Smashburger growled, but the second man just laughed.
“Good one! Hey, you’re all right, kid! Look, you ever find yourself jonesing for a sandwich, stop by my restaurant, all right? Tell ‘em Jersey Mike sent ya!” With that, Jersey Mike motioned to Smashburger and the two strode off.
“‘Jonesing’?” Wendy asked. Baskin and Robin shrugged.
“It means ‘craving,’” said a voice from within the cottage.
“Why didn’t he just say ‘craving’?”
“As I have so recently discovered,” replied the voice, “those men seem to have a language all their own.” From behind the door stepped an old man. His hair and beard were both long and gray. He wore a dark blue tunic, and in his right hand, he carried a gnarled oaken staff.
“Forgive me, I should probably introduce myself,” said the old man with a weary smile. “I am Papa John. Welcome to my pizza hut.”
As they sat around a table and consuming a large pizza, Baskin, Robin, and Wendy regaled Papa John with stories about their adventures since leaving the White Castle and what they had witnessed in Plees-Comagin. When they mentioned the proliferation of Little Caesar’s on Wing Street, the old man nodded sadly.
“Yes, I have noticed this as well. I’m afraid this may only be the beginning. I have heard from others that his restaurants are appearing throughout Dryvthru.”
“But why does he need so many?” Robin asked. “Surely, there is not that much demand for his pizzas.”
“At present, no. However, he will not stop his conquests until he becomes the only place to go for his type of food. No competitor is safe.”
“Has he been here?” Wendy asked. Papa John gave another weary smile.
“He doesn’t need to. Those gentlemen you ran into earlier do the visiting for him.”
“Jersey Mike?” inquired Baskin. “He runs his own restaurant. Why would he be delivering messages for Little Caesar?”
“Why indeed,” Papa John replied.
“They’re working together!” Wendy cried. Papa John tapped his nose and winked.
“Precisely! And judging by the brusque conversation I had with Jersey Mike, there might be another player in this plot.”
“Who?” asked Wendy. “What did he say?”
“After suggesting that I should…retire from my business, I refused. He then hinted that my ingredients supplies might be in danger of running out. At first, I supposed that he was threatening to hijack any fresh supplies that came my way from the port. This did not trouble me as I could easily find ways to circumvent the villains. However, the way he was describing it, I suspected that they might have found a way to keep the supplies from ever reaching the port. The restaurants here rely on various food items imported from other lands. To cut off those supplies would bring severe hardship to many owners.”
“That must be what Long John Silver is doing!” Baskin said excitedly. “There have been reports of increased pirate attacks on ships!”
“It’s not that far-fetched to believe that Silver is working with Little Caesar and Jersey Mike,” said Papa John.
“Wow…” whispered Wendy.
“We need to alert the King at once!” Robin quickly rose from her chair. “We have to send another Pan-Ex message!”
“That might be easier said than done,” the old man said gravely.
“Why?” asked Baskin, also standing.
“Yeah, we just came from there,” piped Wendy. “Those pandas are faster than they look.”
“Just before your encounter with them, Jersey Mike mentioned that their next stop would be the Pan-Ex building.”
“They wouldn’t dare interfere with the sending of messages, would they?” Robin asked. Papa John nodded.
“It is to their advantage if they do. The last thing that they want at this point is for the King to be alerted to their plan. If news to the White Castle can be delayed long enough, it may be too late to put a stop to this wicked scheme.”