“There’s a lot Hoboken Mike boys down there,” whispered Wendy as she peeked above the bush she was hiding behind.
“Wendy, get down!” Haskin hissed from behind a nearby tree.
“They’re not going to see us from here,” Wendy retorted, ducking back down. The three travelers, along with Father Jon, had skirted around the town, and had situated themselves at the edge of a wood where they had an unimpeded view of the Pan-Ex building. What Wendy said was true—there were quite a number of large, intimidating men milling in and around the building.
“There’s no way we can sneak in and get a message to the Whyte Castle,” moaned Bobbin from behind her own tree.
“Fear not, my dear,” Father Jon spoke from beside a large rock. “There’s always a way for those who are willing to seek.”
“What does that mean?” asked Wendy.
“It means,” Father Jon replied with a small smile, “that there is more than one way to skin a cat.”
“Eww!” squealed Wendy in disgust.
Haskin, Bobbin, Wendy and Father Jon pulled back farther into the woods to discuss their options.
“Granted, a message through Pan-Ex would have been the quickest way to warn the king,” said Father Jon. “However, there is no way that Hoboken Mike will be able to block off all methods of communication.”
“It would take us days to travel back on foot,” said Bobbin. “But if we had a…oh!” Suddenly, Bobbin laughed and clapped her hands.
“What?” Wendy, Haskin and Father Jon said simultaneously.
“A horse!” replied Bobbin delightedly. “We could use a horse!”
“That would be a wonderful solution,” said Father Jon, “if we had a horse.”
Bobbin turned to Haskin.
“Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”
Haskin returned the grin as understanding quickly dawned on her face.
“I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking Arbuckle’s!”
Little Julius and Hoboken Mike watched as the Rosy Crustacean dropped anchor not far from the beach. A few minutes later, a row boat was lowered from the side of the pirate ship containing Long Jim Silverware and one of his crew. While the crewman tugged at the oars, Silverware stood at the edge of the small boat as they crossed the shallow bay.
“Arrr!” he shouted as he leapt off the boat and onto the beach.
“Yeah, you too, buddy,” replied a grinning Hoboken Mike as he shook Silverware’s hand.
“‘Arrr,’ indeed, my friend,” Little Julius said, also smiling. “I have heard your name spoken with terror in Port Plees-Comagin. It won’t be long before all sea trade to and from Dryvthru comes to an abrupt halt.”
“Me and the crew have been havin’ a fine high time, that’s the truth!”
“Your efforts are paying off. Every competitor of mine has folded like a house of straw.”
“Well,” interjected Hoboken Mike. “Not everybody. That Father Jon goat is still holdin’ on.”
“But I am confident that you and your boys will handle that situation promptly,” Little Julius said, airily waving a hand.
“Yeah, no problem. And hey, we managed to cut off Pan-Ex communication. King Burger ain’t gonna know what hit ‘em!”
“Excellent! By the time word reaches the king, we’ll have a strong foothold in the southern regions.”
“I have ta say though,” spoke the pirate wistfully. “It’s been a mighty shame to sink all them food supplies. A good haul they woulda been.”
“True,” Little Julius nodded, “but it was a necessary measure. A pirate who destroys at will without gain is viewed as unpredictable, and therefore all the more terrifying. ‘Who knows what this mad man Long Jim Silverware is capable of?’”
The three men erupted into laughter.
“And now,” continued the diminutive dictator, “that every sea captain is afraid to leave Port Plees-Comagin, someone will have to take over the trade routes. I suppose it wouldn’t be too difficult to…acquire a few of those idle ships in port and go into business for yourself.” He patted Silverware on the shoulder.
“A fine plan, mate!” Silverware laughed.
“So, I gotta question,” Hoboken Mike spoke up. “What about the prince in Hardyshire? He’s gonna be trouble when he figures out what’s goin’ on in daddy’s kingdom.”
“I doubt he’ll act, at least right away. His concern is burgers, not pizza. Still…” Little Julius mused, “it might be wise to keep the prince in the dark as long as possible. We’ll have to keep watch on the roads leading to Hardyshire.” He turned to Silverware and Mike.
“Would the two of you be able to spare some men to patrol the roads?”
“Arrr!” assented Long Jim Silverware.
“Yeah, what he said,” added Hoboken Mike, jerking a thumb at the pirate.
“Everything is falling into place now!” cried Little Julius, dramatically spreading his arms. “Soon, I will march upon the Whyte Castle and proclaim to King Burger himself: ‘Veni, vidi, vici’!”
Long Jim Silverware and Hoboken Mike roared in approval.
“That’s right!” hollered Mike with a triumphant fist pump. “Vinnie Vinnie Vanucci!”
Night had fallen when Wendy, Haskin, Bobbin and the surprisingly spry Father Jon had completed their long journey back to the A&W Ranch. They were greeted warmly by Arbuckle, Portino and Sahnik. After a dinner of roast beef topped with warm cheddar sauce and a side of curly fries, the travelers shared their adventures in Port Plees-Comagin, what they had learned about Little Julius, Hoboken Mike and Long Jim Silverware, and why they had returned to the ranch.
“I don’t mind ridin’ to the Whyte Castle if Mr. Arbuckle can spare me,” said Portino as the group sat around the large dinner table.
“For this, I can spare ya,” replied Arbuckle, “but the question is, how dangerous is this trip gunna be?”
“I’ll go with!” Wendy volunteered enthusiastically.
“You will not,” Haskin and Bobbin replied in unison.
“The only danger I foresee,” said Father Jon, “is running into Hoboken Mike’s boys. I think it is safe to assume that Little Julius will be keeping an eye on the roads leading north. He would be foolish not to.”
“Portino’ll be safe with a good cover story, don’tcha think?” Arbuckle said.
“Say that you are traveling to visit your family,” suggested Haskin. “That doesn’t seem too far-fetched.”
“Me and Sahnik can head out at first light. If all goes well, we can be at the castle by late tomorrow night.”
“…we can be at the castle by late tomorrow night.”
At that, the spy silently crept away from the ranch house and blended into the night. He had heard all he needed. At the request of Hoboken Mike, the spy had silently tailed Father Jon and his new friends from the pizza hovel, to the forest surrounding Pan-Ex and on to the A&W Ranch. Although he stayed out of hearing range, he suspected that they might have figured out Little Julius’ plan. The overheard conversation at the house confirmed it. They were going to send the young man to warn the king, and without protection. Hoboken Mike would pay a pretty penny to learn such information.
He remained in the shadows as he skirted the main road which eventually led to Hoboken Mike’s campsite. Numerous large men strutted around the perimeter keeping watch. Although his arrival was expected, the spy was tired and didn’t feel like dealing with the guards. With maneuvers bordering on the magical, he managed to slip past the guards, and ease his way into a large tent at the center of the camp.
Hoboken Mike, with his back to the tent entrance, had just taken a large bite of a sandwich when the spy made his unheralded appearance. Hearing nothing, Mike casually turned around and nearly choked upon discovering the visitor.
“Don’tchu knock?!” the sandwich don sputtered angrily. In response, the spy sauntered over to a nearby wooden table and wrapped on it several times with his knuckles.
“Ohh, a real smart guy, huh?”
The spy laughed sardonically.
“You may end up thinking so when you hear what I have to tell.”
“Is that so, Mr…uh, what’s yer name again? Up and Down? Side to Side?”
“Innen-Owt,” the spy replied dryly.
“Yeah, yeah, Innen-Owt. I knew it was a weird name like that.”
“Well, it’s not just a name, it’s my occupation.”
“Ahh, I see what ya did there,” said Jersey Mike, slightly impressed. “You with the spying thing. Get in, get out. Innen-Owt. That’s pretty clever.”
“Thank you. I try to be clever when I can.”
Hoboken Mike pulled out a chair and motioned for the spy to sit down which he did gratefully.
“So,” began Mike as he found a chair for himself. “You were successful, am I right?”
“Oh yes, your hunch was correct. They do know the plan.”
“And what are they gonna do about it?”
“They’re sending someone on horseback tomorrow morning to warn the king.”
“Heh, not if I can help it.” Hoboken Mike stood. “This guy disappears, friends don’t know about it, and bada-boom, problem solved.”
“Ah, but you haven’t heard the best part yet,” said the spy with a grin.
“More good news?”
“Those two women and the redhead? I know who they are…or rather, I know who would pay a small fortune to see them returned safely.”