Cameron Meredith knew something was wrong when Staley didn’t make it to Charades Night at Halas Hall. Staley never missed out on parlor games, especially when he knew Cody Whitehair would be cooking his famous Kansas-style barbecue.
Mere Bear had known something was wrong, but he still felt his stomach sink when he opened the door to Staley’s high-rise apartment. It wasn’t the flipped upside-down couch and coffee table that upset him the most. It wasn’t even the claw-marks dragged across the eggshell/cream shag carpet or the broken chandelier hanging precariously from its cord. What upset Mere Bear the most was the barbecue sauce splattered on the pristine white wall. It was just like Staley to pregame for barbecue by eating more barbecue.
As Meredith looked around the apartment, it became clear this was not a robbery. Staley's signed, game-worn William “Refrigerator” Perry jersey remained in its frame on the wall, and his 1986 Super Bowl Ring was still displayed prominently on his mantle. His laptop was open on his desk, paused during a replay of championship game highlights. Mere Bear couldn't resist taking a moment to watch a clip of himself dragging his toes flawlessly out the back edge of the end-zone in an acrobatic one-handed catch for a deliciously gratuitous touchdown.
Staley's kitchen told a grim tale. On the soapstone counter-top sat a cold fondue pot, the cheese hardened around a half-eaten rib left inside. An empty carton of banana-chocolate ice cream and a full bowl of broccoli sat beside it. No surprise there: Staley always ate his vegetables last. A pool of blood covered a matted brown tuft of fur at the edge of the counter. A shred of navy jersey lay on the Calacatta marble floor. Beside it lay a torn black suit coat pocket. And a matchbook.
Meredith picked up the matchbook and turned it over to read the print on the back.
The Society. Green Bay, WI.
After calling his quarterback, Mere Bear had to sit and collect himself. In his three seasons with the Bears, Staley had become one of Meredith’s closest amigos, and memories of their times together came flooding into his mind—Staley nailing charades of “4th and inches” in a matter of seconds, him getting furious when nobody would guess Any Given Sunday after a flawless Willie Beamen impersonation, watching Charles Leno Jr. catch Staley for a ballet-quality lift during their Time of my Life duet at Halas Hall Bearaoke night.
“Started from the bottom now we here. Started from the bottom now my whole team here, n—” The ringtone cut out as Meredith picked up his phone to find all-pro running back Jordan Howard on the line.
“MG8 just called me. What happened to Staley?”
“I don’t know, Jo Ho. It looks like somebody took him. His food’s not finished. There’s half-eaten ribs in his fondue pot and blood on the counter--”
“He didn’t finish ribs?” Jo Ho interrupted, “Damn, this is serious. We gotta find him.”
“I know,” Meredith replied. “The only clue I have is this matchbook. Have you ever heard of a bar called ‘The Society’ in Green Bay?”
“Green Bay? Are you kidding me? Some idiot Packer’s fans have hurt our boy? What pathetic ridiculous garbage. We gotta go there.”
“Should I call QB1?”
“Forget that. He never leaves a cigar unfinished. It’ll take him at least half an hour. I’m heading to you right now,” Howard said.
“I’m at Staley’s.”
“I know,” Jo Ho replied, and Mere Bear heard a honk through the phone as the same tone came up through the window from the street below. He looked out to see Howard’s navy Mazda Miata with a warm-orange leather passenger seat waiting for him.
They pulled up to the tastelessly green-and-gold “Society” establishment just after midnight. Jo Ho pressed the button to raise the power-retractable hard top on his Grand-Touring-package Miata but jumped out before the top finished closing, leaving Meredith to turn off the car and lock the doors. By the time Mere Bear got to The Society’s door, Jo Ho was arguing with the bouncer.
“Where is he!?”
“Sir,” the bouncer held out his hand, “I’m going to need you to calm down.”
“You obviously don’t know.” Jo Ho deftly juked past the pitiful attempt to stop his entry and ran into the bar. Mere Bear followed the bewildered bouncer, “Don’t worry. I’ll get him,” he reassured.
Inside, the bar reeked of cheese curds and poorly-balanced local “craft” beer. Howard scanned the room. Scattered locals hung their heads in shame over drinks, sulking about Sunday’s loss and how much pain they have suffered for “backing the pack.” In one corner, a large muscular man in a black suit stood stoically in front of a mysterious door. A sign on the door read in banal green letters “Society members only.”
“He’s gotta be back there,” Jo Ho turned to Meredith, who shrugged to acknowedge it was possible.
As the outside bouncer almost caught up to the much-faster elite athletes, Jordan hurdled the table in front of him, cutting his away across the crowded bar.
“Hey!” a drunk patron shouted across the room. “That’s the a-hole who ran three hundred yards on us and pancake-trucked our golden-boy Clay Matthews five times.” The wasted cheesehead hurled curdled cheese across the room with unlikely accuracy, and it careened toward the generational halfback.
Just before the disgusting cheese blob would slap into the back of Howard’s muscular neck, a single gloved hand deftly plucked it from the air, and Meredith completed his diving catch with a gymnastic somersault that returned him to a standing position.
“Sorry,” Mere Bear apologized. “I would have caught it faster, but I didn’t want to touch it with my bare hand. Had to glove up.”
Howard looked to his all pro teammate. “A bear hand?” He asked. “I thought that was called a paw.”
The two didn’t have time to give Jo Ho’s joke the laughter it deserved. Drunken Wiscansans wobbled towards them from all directions, and they had clearly caught the attention of the bloated suit-man in the corner. His lumbering advance left a perfect opportunity for the fast-thinking faster-acting Bears, and a Cameron Meredith double-move caught him off-balance. Howard handily stiff-armed him to the ground as they both ran past and through the “guarded” door.
Mere-Bear quickly closed and locked the door. A gold carpet led down a wooden stairwell to a lit basement. Voices echoed from the room below.
“The Packer’s have been embarrassed one too many times by those confounding Bears, and the time for revenge is upon us.”
Jo Ho ran down the stairs, his thoughts racing with what might be about to happen to the Beloved’s beautiful bear mascot.
“Our master plan has already been set into motion, and we are poised to strike a devastating blow to the Bears on the eve of their precious Super Bowl.”
Howard reached the bottom of the stairwell and looked across the room below.
A handful of troubled-looking youths sat at tables with laptops, all wearing ill-fitting Rodgers jerseys. They all faced the north wall, where a Power Point presentation displayed a template so atrocious it was only outdone by the speaker’s green fedora and gold cargo pants sandwiching a too-tight Rodger’s jersey tee. A Kinkos-printed banner hung along the wall just above the projected screen. The obvious-colored letters read: People Opposed to Opposing the Packers Society.
“Where is he?” Jo Ho shouted, and a shocked room of mediocre cheeseheads turned in his direction.
“What did you do with Staley?”
The room stared blankly at the season rushing-yards leader. Aside from a single cheesehead turning his camera to snap a photo, nobody moved.
“Who’s Staley?” the fedora-laden fan in the front finally asked, and the room erupted in laughter.
Jo Ho wasn’t laughing. He strode toward the man with a confident, calm, powerful stride, and the smug little brat cowered away from him.
“I don’t know anything about your mascot. I swear!” he whimpered.
“Don’t lie to me, child,” Howard replied. “The man who kidnapped him left a matchbook with this bar’s name on it.”
The young man’s demeanor quickly changed. He had been scared, but now he looked upset and worried. “Staley was kidnapped?” he asked, “I my god. Who would do something like that?”
As Howard started to calm, he started to doubt the possibility that the the men in this room could orchestrate a plan that would pose the slightest threat to the Bears’ powerful mascot.
Meredith, who had remained calm the whole time, had already come to the same conclusion. “He’s telling the truth,” he said definitively. “Packers fans didn’t take Staley.”
“I realized this a moment ago when my mind flashed back to the crime scene,” Mere Bear continued, pacing as he talked with the excitement of a great detective who had finally uncovered a crucial clue. “There was a cold pot of cheese fondue left on Staley’s counter,” Meredith paused to let the significance of this fact sink in. “No Packer’s fan would leave without tasting that cheese, and nobody who has tasted Staley’s fondue would leave without finishing it.”
The logic was irrefutable.
Howard looked up at the sign again. “So who are you guys? The P.O.O.P.S.?”
“We’re not the POOPS” their leader interjected, “We’re the People Opposed to Opposing the Packers Society!”
“But that spells poops.”
Seeing this conversation was going nowhere, Meredith redirected it. “So what is your ‘Master Plan’ that will strike a devastating blow to us?”
“We never meant to hurt anybody, I swear! We just have a devilishly devious social media campaign underway,” the POOPS leader started to regain his smugness as he explained. “It’s too late to stop it anyway, so I might as well tell you.”
“We’re photo-shopping pictures of the Bears’ stars to add feces to their jersey’s and helmets and sending the crappy photos out to go viral.”
“I don’t think that’s going to discourage people from calling you the poops,” Howard noted.
“And I don’t think it’s going to go viral either,” Meredith added.
“Think again,” the High POOP retorted, “my first photo already has four re-tweets.”
Cameron looked around at the group of pathetic pack-backers. “There are six people in this room and you only have four retweets?”
“Timmy doesn’t have twitter yet,” one of them defended.
“I’m working on it,” Timmy said. “I think I need to get an email first. I do know my mom’s twitter password though.”
“Use that Timmy. That will be sick,” the Grand POOPbah excitedly joined in. “That will expose our campaign to a whole new demographic. This is going to be huge.”
Howard and Meredith were halfway up the stairs by this point. It was clear the POOPS had nothing to do with Staley’s kidnapping.
So who was behind his disturbing disappearance?