(NOTE: This is in response to Patti Abbott's challenge to write a tale of a thousand words or less titled "Frank, Jr.," or in this case, "Frank Jr." - because all those before and after commas drove me crazy. You'll find links to more "Frank, Jr." stories HERE.)
The man on the phone said, “Frank Jr. has been kidnapped!”
“It’s for you,” I told Skyler Hobbs, and listened in while they talked.
All Hobbs could get out of our caller was an address and the promise of a thousand dollar fee. Still, that was enough. Hobbs may be nuts—he does, after all, insist he’s the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes—but he knows the value of a dollar, especially when it has 999 friends.
Twenty minutes later, a woman with haunted eyes ushered us into a living room where a man sat hunched over, his face buried in his hands.
“Frank,” the woman said gently, “the detectives are here.”
“Detective,” I corrected her, pointing at Hobbs. I gave her one of my Computer Doctor cards. “I’m Jason Wilder, his faithful Indian companion.”
Frank regarded us through red-rimmed eyes. “Please. You have to bring Frank Jr. home safe.”
“Kidnapping,” Skyler Hobbs began, “is a job for—”
“Yeah,” Frank said, “I watch TV, but so does the kidnapper. He said no police. I want you to handle the exchange, with no attempt at heroics. Will you?”
A thin teenaged boy slouched into the room, smirked at Frank, and turned the smirk on us.
I said, “We’ll do whatever it takes to bring your son home safely.”
The teenager made an ugly sound that might have been a laugh.
The woman whimpered.
Frank said, “Uh . . Frank Jr. is not exactly my son.”
I said, “This is the dumbest damn case you’ve ever dragged me into. Whoever heard of a kidnapped plant?”
We sat in my blue PT Cruiser, engine idling, behind a second-rate strip mall.
Hobbs sighed. “Frank Jr. is hardly just a plant. It is a previously unknown variety of the Titan Arum, one with blue rather than red foliage. It is certain to cause a sensation among horticulturists around the world.” He flourished the photo we’d been given. Frank Jr. looked like an erect penis growing out of a blue lettuce leaf.
“Spare me the sales pitch,” I said. “I want half that thousand buck fee.”
Following the kidnapper’s demands, we had left fifty thousand of Frank’s unmarked dollars in a gym bag behind a Dumpster at the far end of the mall. Contrary to Frank’s instructions, though, Hobbs was determined to catch the culprit. I’d set up a small wireless camera, and we now watched the scene on my laptop.
“Besides,” I said. “It was obviously the boy.”
“And how did you make that deduction?”
“Hell, you saw him laughing up his sleeve. He’s jealous of the old man’s obsession with that plant, and dreamed up this goofy stunt for revenge.”
Hobbs nodded. “You grow more observant, Doctor. But what of the $50,000? Do you assume the lad plans to spend it on rock and roll records and entertaining his friends at the malt shop, or wherever it is young hooligans congregate these days?”
Just then, a dark figure in a hoodie moved across the computer monitor.
“Hurry, Watson! The game is afoot!”
“Wilder,” I grumbled. I floored the Cruiser and we roared down the alley, catching the dark figure in the headlights.
Hobbs shouted, “Stop where you are! The doctor has a revolver, and will not fail to use it!”
That was a lie, on both counts, but it worked. Our quarry stood cringing as Hobbs and I approached.
Hobbs drew back the sweatshirt’s hood.
The words I told you so died on my lips.
The plantnapper was not Frank’s son. It was his wife.
“Why?” Hobbs said when we had both her and Frank Jr. in the Cruiser.
“You saw how Frank is. Nothing is too good for his goddamned plants, but Ronnie and I might as well be invisible. Ronnie’s about to graduate from high school, and Frank won’t even discuss sending him to college.”
Hobbs’ eyes bored into her. “So you devised a plan to secure his tuition.”
“And I’d have gotten away with it,” she said bitterly, “if not for you.”
Frank answered the door, hope and fear competing for control of his face. “Where’s Frank Jr.?”
Hobbs stood with one hand behind his back. His face was somber. “I am sorry to say that the plantnapper made off with the ransom money.”
“I don’t care about that. Did you get my plant?”
Hobbs nodded, a bit sadly. “I did, but regret that I must forego my fee. Frank Jr. was injured in the exchange, and is somewhat the worse for wear.”
Frank’s lip trembled. His face turned pasty white.
Hobbs brought the hand out from behind his back. It held a limp and bedraggled thing that might have once been a plant—a plant that had been run over by a truck, hacked with a machete and stomped by a marching band.
Teenaged Ronnie, peering over Frank’s shoulder, began to laugh.
Frank fell to his knees, great sobs pouring from his chest.
Mrs. Frank looked from the plant to her son, and her eyes welled with tears. She sniffed.
Frank glanced up, his face red, and stared at her. Pushing himself erect, he put an arm around her shoulder. “You miss him, too, don’t you?”
She sniffed louder.
Frank hugged her close. “I didn’t realize how much you cared. But we’ll get through this together.”
Mrs. Frank looked pointedly at Ronnie.
Frank followed her gaze. “Yeah,” he said. “You, me, and What’s-his-name too.”
Back at 221B SW Baker Street, Hobbs gave the real Frank Jr., still in prime condition, a place of honor on the mantel.
I said, “Why’d you have to keep that thing? It smells like a dead 'possum.”
“Since I could not accept the fee,” Hobbs said, “I felt I deserved something for my trouble.”
“What about my trouble?”
“I have given that due consideration and reached an equitable solution.”
That perked me up. “You’re giving me five hundred bucks?”
“Better,” Hobbs said. “I am rechristening the plant. Henceforth it shall be called Jason Jr.”
© 2012 by Evan Lewis
The following Flash adventures of Skyler Hobbs are still online (each title links to the story):
Skyler Hobbs and the Man Who Couldn't Fly
Skyler Hobbs and the Man Who Smiled at Death
Skyler Hobbs and the Sweetest of Dreams
Skyler Hobbs and the Fate Worse than Scars
Skyler Hobbs and the Yuletide Terror
The following mostly-longer tales have appeared elsewhere:
Skyler Hobbs and the Rabbit Man - EQMM February 2010 (out of print)
Skyler Hobbs and the Cottingley Fairies - BEAT to a PULP: Round 2 (available HERE)
Skyler Hobbs and the Garden Gnome Bandit - EQMM Sept/Oct 2012 (available HERE)
Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit - Discount Noir (available HERE)
Skyler Hobbs and the Magic Solution - Grimm Tales (available HERE)
And for those of you who'd rather read the stories in Japanese, a couple of these have been translated by Toshiji Kawagoe:
Skyler Hobbs and the Rollback Bandit (Japanese version HERE)
Skyler Hobbs and the Man Who Couldn't Fly (Japanese version HERE)
More to come!