A short while later, I saw a White Castle to my left, and I swung into the parking lot. White Castle. At least, we're in the right territory for carnivores, but how many White Castle burgers can a tiger cub eat?
I walked into the restaurant and pulled out my phone while I got into line. “Jack?”
“I've got a situation.”
“What sort of situation?”
I looked at the heads and backs of the people in front of me in line. Nobody seemed interested in me or what I was saying, but I was still concerned about someone overhearing about my unique predicament. "Well, the … the order I picked up had a surprise in it.”
“Well, the box I picked up is huge. It's the size of a person. I thought it was empty at first, but it isn't.”
“You remember watching 'Rocky III' and seeing Rocky run the stairs of the Philadelphia Museum of Art?” I started singing. “Bum BumBum Bum … Bum Bum Buuuuum,” making a lame attempt at singing the opening notes of “Eye of the Tiger.” For someone who didn't like to sing or dance publicly, I was doing a lot of it lately.
“Sylvester Stallone was in the box?”
“Nooooo. Think, man.”
“You did say the box was the size of a person.”
I thought about the old Password game show and the Taboo board game and tried to put my gaming skills to use. What does tiger rhyme with? It rhymes with nothing, except for liger, which wasn't entirely helpful. “Tony, Daniel … Eye … What do these things have in common?” I had somehow switched the game from Taboo to Tribond, dreaming up fictional tigers.
“What do you have in common with Tony and Daniel?”
“Not you … eye,” I said. I looked ahead and saw there were still a couple of customers ahead of me.
“That's what I said, isn't it? I'm talking about you, not myself.”
This clearly wasn't working. In frustration, I said,“Who's on first? What's on second? I don't know's on third.” I paused. “Okay. Let's try this.” I tried to think of another fictional tiger that had nothing to do with either breakfast cereal or Mister Roger's Neighborhood. “Tony, Daniel, Richard Parker ...” I added the last one, remembering the odd name of the tiger in The Life of Pi. “What do these things have in common?”
“Are they college friends of yours?”
“I'm at a loss.”
“I know. I'm in line at the White Castle, because I have a couple of kids with me that I need to feed -- cubs, minus the scouts, if you get my drift.”
“Eureka!” said Jack. “Cubs. Tony the Tiger, Daniel Tiger … Who's Richard Parker?”
Eureka? What modern guy says “Eureka?” I wanted to say “You-geek-a” back to him, but I do have some restraint. “Never mind. Now the light dawns. Excuse me a moment ...” I had moved to the front of the line now. To the cashier, I said, “I'd like the Crave Case of 30. Thanks.” Would that be enough? I might want to eat too. “Make that two Crave Cases.”
The teen male cashier smiled at me. “Having a party, huh?”
“You have no idea. They're animals, these guys.”
The teen nodded at me, still smiling. “I got ya. I got ya. I have friends like that too.”
I nodded back at him, but I seriously doubted it.
After I headed back to the SUV with two bags o' burgers, I continued my conversation with Jack. “What do you think I should do? Should we involve the police? Animal Control?” Whose department was this anyway? “We look a little guilty at this point, right? And we haven't firmly pegged any sort of crime on Zarelda, although I should have a bunch of surveillance footage from the store. I scanned a bunch of spread sheets on a desk at the back, but I don't really know what I've got there.”
“We could contact our old friends Lt. Kelly and Officer Quinn? Then again, they might be a little annoyed with us. By now, it looks like we're making a habit of solving crimes, or trying to, without police involvement.” After a pause, Jack said, “I think you should just play it cool with Zarelda, act like you know nothing, bring her the package with the tigers, go through your act tonight and wait for her to incriminate herself further.”
“I'll be Colonel Klink. Got it.”
I got off the phone with Jack and turned my attention to the hungry babes. I lifted the doors over the tigers' compartment, hoping the smell of meat wouldn't drive them too wild.
Before doing anything further, I snapped a photo of the tigers and sent this photo evidence to Jack, with whom I'd just gotten off the phone, via text. I texted him. “Zarelda's illegal cargo. Cute, aren't they? You'll appreciate the placement of the mirror that tricked me into thinking the box was empty.”
I put the phone aside and held up one of the burgers in its little white box. “Okay, Eb, Ive … let me tell you something. This here is food.” I drew a line in the air around the burger. I then wiggled the fingers of my empty right hand. “This is not. Okay. I'm glad I had this little talk with you.”
I didn't really expect them to eat the buns or the pickles or the onions. I lifted off the top bun and used it to scrape off everything that wasn't meat into the white carton then took both bun halves and tucked them away into the carton like the neatnik that I am. The little burger I pinched in my fingers and flung like it was a miniature Frisbee into the compartment. It was gone in an instant. This really was a magic box where things magically disappeared. I repeated the process and flung more meat Frisbees to the tigers. I sang, this time with only Eb and Ive as my audience, “Hold the pickles, hold the lettuce. Special orders don't upset us,” remembering the retro Burger King jingle. I kept the burger saucers flying. “I know. Wrong fast food chain … not that you guys would know the difference.” Technically, there was no lettuce, but I couldn't make onion rhyme with “upset us.” I went through one bag's supply of burgers but decided to keep the second bag in reserve. Then, though I hated to do it, I shut them up in darkness again, and, again, they cried. “Give me a break, guys,” I told them. “What options do I have?”
Situating myself so I could drive again, a new question came to mind. How would I get Eb and Ive over to the theater and play innocent like Colonel Klink when the tigers were awake and active and crying? I called Jack again. “We've got to get these tigers to sleep again. I can't act like I'm innocent and don't know what's going on when the tigers are obviously awake and crying!”
To be continued ...