The beige ‘97 Camry surged forward, jolting Mitch Trubisky and his Bear passengers. Kyle Fuller looked back to see the black SUV that rammed them from behind. Tasteless bug-lens sunglasses hid the eyes of the coarse-featured white goon behind the wheel.
As soon as Biscuit regained control of his reliable mid-size sedan, the Bears noticed two more black SUVs pull up on either side of their practical people-mover.
"Perfect. The only time I ever get in a car chase we have to be in your grandma's old beater," Eddie Jackson complained.
"About that...” Trubisky began, “There's something you should know about my grandma."
Mister Biscuit pressed the windshield wiper, cruise control, and AM radio button at the same time, causing the center console to rotate and reveal a high tech green-and-black touchscreen display. With a few swift swipes on the new console, a turret rose up from the center of the Camry's hood and the young gunslinger was ready to take aim.
Three hours earlier...
The football launched from the jugs machine and soared towards Kyle Fuller, who once again slapped it to the ground with ruthless authority.
“Pass defensed!” Fuller cheered himself on to an unimpressed audience.
“C’mon, Kyle,” Eddie Jackson was getting impatient. “You’ve got to practice catching. You had 45 pass deflections during the regular season and two interceptions. That’s pathetic.”
“Pathetic?” Kyle scoffed. “I led the league in passes defensed.”
“Yeah, and you had less interceptions than Adrian Amos. Pathetic.” The crowd of Bears mumbled in agreement until Smash Amos approached from behind them with a plate of sauce-smothered ribs.
“What y’all up to?” Amos asked.
“Just helping Fuller practice catching so he can get some g-damn INTs in the playoffs,” Fast Eddie put another ball in the jugs machine. As it reached Fuller, he smashed it with a right hook, the ball popped, and the deflated leather carcass flew into one of Howard’s pineapple palms, knocking its ripest fruit to the ground.
“Pass defensed! Pineapple bonus!” This time Fuller had a little more buy-in from the audience.
“Make sure you catch with an open hand,” Amos suggested.
“That’s alright, Adrian. I’ve got this,” Eddie Jackson was becoming increasingly impatient.
“You guys have got to try these ribs. Nagy and Whitehair are battling it out on Jo Ho’s grill. Kansas BBQ vs Kansas City BBQ. I don’t know what they’re putting in it but it tastes like the first sunny day in spring and it sticks to my fingers like glue.”
“Then they obviously aren’t putting footballs in it,” Prince Amukamara cracked. Everyone laughed even though Prince was on precarious ground making jokes, having only four interceptions on the season himself.
“Whatever.” Amos shrugged it off and took another bite of ribs, thinking about his PFF rating and grinning to himself as he walked back towards the grill.
Jordan Howard’s 1st Annual Bye Week Barbecue was an unquestionable success. From the perfectly tied 10/10 vs 10/10 rib competition, to the endlessly satisfying grilled pineapple, to the tastefully-selected Beezo and Strap cover set, culminating in Notorious B.I.G.’s Juicy—a Matt Nagy request. Everything about the party was perfect. Everything but the sulking Bear in the corner.
Eddie Goldman grabbed Staley Da Bear by the shoulder, “C’mon buddy. Let’s grab thirds of ribs. We need a tie-breaker round to decide whose recipe wins.”
“I’m not hungry.” Staley stayed seated with his shoulders slumped in the corner, his orange eyes gazing unfocused into the Navy damask wallpaper on Jo Ho’s great room accent wall.
In the nearly four years Goldman had known him, Staley had never denied thirds. The worst heartbreak he’d witnessed was in the summer of 2016 when Staley had shown his unspeakable melancholy by denying sevenths of broiled chicken. But thirds?? Of ribs?? Goldman knew he was going to need help with this situation.
Eddie had to wait for Akiem the Dream to finish singing along to Beezo and Strap’s cover of Tag Team’s timeless classic “Whoomp! (There it is)” before he could enlist his help.
When Hicks saw the look on Goldman’s face, he knew exactly what it was about. “That Bear needs to grow up and stop pining for unavailable women.”
“I don’t know man. This seems bad. He doesn’t want thirds of ribs.”
The two had begun jumping as they talked as Beezo and Strap seamlessly transitioned from Tag Team to Onyx’s “Slam.”
“He didn’t want thirteenths of ribs? That’s bad but he’ll get over it,” Hicks replied. At this point in the party, his button-up shirt was 4 buttons down, and his orange jersey was shining bright in the dance-floor spotlights.
“Naw man. Thirds,” Goldman held up three fingers so Hicks would understand the gravity of the situation.
“Awww hell.” Hicks buttoned up the shirt and walked off the dance floor, not even bobbing his head as Onyx’s infectious chorus played.
Staley’s head wasn’t bobbing either, and Akiem Hicks found him staring at the dark hardwood floor, his gaze lost in a knot.
“What are the chances I can convince you to get off your ass, eat some ribs, and call one of the hundreds of women who would kill to go on a date with you?” Hicks asked the beleaguered bear.
“Oh that’s a nice thought,” Staley responded. “You’re a nice man. But no. I don’t want hundreds of women. I just want one.” Staley’s speech was slow and his voice was empty of charm or character.
Hicks turned to Goldman, ignoring the hopeless case of heartbreak in front of him. “This is bad. We need to find out more information about this ‘Vanessa.’”
“Way ahead of you, bud,” Goldman responded, whipping out his elites-only Samsung Galaxy SX and dialing. “I’ve got an insider.”
As Eddie Jackson placed ball after ball into the jugs machine, only to watch them swatted away by his pro bowl teammate, the audience dwindled for his hopeless project. Jordan Howard, who had been silently watching as he munched down ribs and grilled pineapple finally spoke up.
“It’s clear we’re going to have to use the stakes.”
“Do you mean raise the stakes?” Jackson asked.
Jo Ho stood up and walked to his shed with explaining himself. The remaining crowd of jugs-gazers stared patiently as Howard opened bear-shaped wood-carved shed door, rummaged through clinking and clacking knick-knacks, and returned with two worn NFL-official “Duke” footballs, each with a rusty stake protruding from the end.
“This is what finally got me over my dropping issues.” The statement had considerable credibility after Howard had finished the season second in receptions among all NFL running backs.
“You just gotta get out of your head. Just catch the ball because if you don’t, it’ll kill you.”
Howard nudged Eddie Jackson out of the way as he explained himself, and without a second of pause, launched one of the rusty death balls towards his teammate.
Kyle Fuller stood in shock as the wobbly, off-balance spiked projectile hurled towards him, unable to believe his teammate was serious. But when the ball reached him, his instincts kicked in, and his elite reflexes took over. Fullers arms whipped up and he caught the ball at the last moment. He stood staring at the spike, its tip so close to his face that he appeared to be cross-eyed as he looked at it.
“Hey. That actually worke—” Fuller began. But before he could finish his thought Howard launched the second wobbling deathtrap at the corner-back’s face. Kyle barely had time to pull the first ball out if his way with one hand and then catch the second ball with the other.
“You’re welcome.” Howard turned and bowed to the growing crowd of cheering onlookers as Fuller slowly processed what had just happened.
“You can keep one of those,” Howard shouted as he walked away to grab more pineapple. “I still need one to prep myself on game days.”
Howard found Eddie Goldman at the grill, eating a sandwich of his one making—one of Cody Whitehair’s Kansas country ribs wrapped in two of Matt Nagy’s Kansas City ribs—and talking on the phone. “Syphilis? Isn’t that the guy who kept pushing the rock up the hill?”
Howard decided that was a private conversation and moved on to talk shop with the league leader in receptions among running backs, Tarik Cohen.
Goldman hung up the phone and pulled Akiem Hicks to the side. “You’re not going to believe this.”
“It turns out Vanessa is an enforcer for the mafia. The Chicago Outfit. And she isn’t doing it by choice.”
“What do you mean?” Hicks asked.
“Apparently she’s indebted to the mob for life because she gave Al Capone syphilis.”
“She gave Al Capone syphilis? You’ve got to be kidding. Al Capone died in the 40s.”
“Of syphilis.” Goldman retorted.
“Wait a minute. Who is your insider?” Hicks asked.
“Jason La Canfora. Why?”
“Holy g-damn Halas! I thought at least it would be Schefter. Do I have to do everything myself?” Hicks pulled the Pro-Bowlers-only Google PixXXL out of the pocket Allen Robinson had recently helped him sew into his orange jersey.
“Yes. Yes. I understand. Of course we can meet you in New York. We’re on bye week.” Hicks stopped being annoyed at his teammate for a second because they both smiled when he said “bye week” and instinctively lifted their paws for a celebratory high five.
Trubisky aimed the turret in front of the leading SUV on their left, and fired a grease bomb. The mid-90s-design amorphous blob wobbled in the wind as it sailed through the air, then exploded into a super slick grease patch upon landing in front of the vehicles’ right tire, demonstrating an unmatched accuracy that never failed to impress.
The massive black vehicle spun, crashing into the SUV behind it, and causing both vehicles to careen off the road.
Trubisky wasn’t watching them. Knowing that he’d hit his mark, he turned the turret to his right, aiming perfectly in front of the next wheel on his hit list, he pressed the launch button.
“What’s wrong?” Jackson asked nervously as the SUV on their right rammed them from the side, knocking the IIHS-top-safety-pick briefly into the other lane before Mitch was able to right its course.
“I told you this was a beater! Why couldn’t we be in O’Donnell’s McClaren?!” The cool-headed free safety sounded more annoyed than panicked.
“Kyle. Give me your spiked football and roll down your window.”
Kyle Fuller held onto his precious new training ball for a moment, looking with pleading eyes at his quarterback. “But...my interceptions...”
“Kyle!” The authority in Mitch Trubisky’s voice was undeniable. And Fuller immediately complied with his leader’s request. Trubisky grabbed the awkwardly-weighted ball by the laces as Fuller turned the crank to roll down the window.
“How are you trying to tell me this car has a g-damn turret-console but no automatic windows?” Jackson continued his unsolicited commentary from the back seat.
Before the car window was halfway down, The Bears’ blossoming franchise quarterback cocked his arm back and threw a gorgeous spiral, the rusty spike spinning right by his star corner-back’s face as it exited the practical tan spy-mobile and dropped perfectly into the SUV’s wheel well, piercing the tire and causing it to spin, again crashing into the car behind it and removing both from the chase.
“Now that’s what I call a tight window throw,” Trubisky cracked. Smiles grew on his passengers faces and the Bears couldn’t help breaking into a chorus of laughter despite the intensity of the situation. But before they could finish their knee-slapping the final car wheeled around the Bears’ right, and from the back seat, a goon in a green and gold ski-mask through a grenade into the Camry’s passenger window.
Kyle Fuller saw the round object hurling towards him and his survival instincts kicked in just as they had at Howard’s BBQ. He deftly snatched the grenade out of the air and secured it with two hands.
“I caught it! I caught it!” Fuller cheered.
“KYLE! Throw it ou—-”
It was too late. Everything was white. Trubisky felt the world sway and spin. A numb buzzing filled his ears. In the seconds after the flash grenade exploded, Biscuit was barely aware of his hands, where they were, or where he was. It was all he could manage to trigger the autopilot switch hidden in the driver’s air vent. He felt a sharp pain behind his ear? In his neck?
As the Bears vision began to return, red and blue flashes rotated through the car. The high-pitched ringing in Trubisky’s ears slowly morphed into the sound of sirens, and as he came to his senses, he pulled the car to the side of the road and a black FBI vehicle pulled to a stop behind him.
Trubisky was still disoriented—relative to his baseline of course (which meant relative to an average person his senses were heightened to an incredible degree)—when the FBI agent approached the car. Nevertheless, he had no difficulty recognizing all-time Bear great Peanut Tillman as he rolled down his window.
“Was I speeding?”
Special Agent Tillman smiled. He didn’t laugh.
“We’ve apprehended most of your attackers, but one car got away. Is everyone okay in there?”
The two defensive backs, both in awe at the sight of one of their heroes standing before them, nodded without speaking. Fuller also offered a reassuring shrug.
“Yeah. Just a little disoriented from the flash grenade,” Trubisky rubbed his neck as he spoke and his fingers became warm and wet. He knew it was blood, but he didn’t want Tillman to see it. If he went to the hospital and they heard the words “stun grenade,” he figured he’d be in concussion protocol for the next decade.
“You boys better be careful. Some of the people we picked up were mafia enforcers. Not just from Chicago either. There were guys from Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota.”
“Stay here. My colleagues will need to interview you. I’ve got to go look into that 5th vehicle.”
Special Agent Charles Tillman walked away, coughing as he turned. Trubisky could barely make out the words he muffled into the cough.
The car was silent for a brief moment, before Kyle Fuller felt an urge to make conversation. “Wait. So what is it that we should know about your grandma?”
“That she was a spy. I thought that was pretty obvious,” Trubisky replied, with only a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“I don’t think it was obvious,” Fuller shrugged. “There are other reasons to have a grease bomb turret.”
Trubisky was speechless. He wanted to engage, but he knew he shouldn’t. He was eventually saved by Eddie Jackson, casually chiming in from the back seat.
“No. It was obvious,” Eddie said. “I got it right away.”
“I don’t want hundreds of women. I just want one.” The recording played again in Vanessa’s ear as she took a long drag off a slim cigarette. A warm smile grew slowly on the right side of her face and she cocked her head to the left—perhaps instinctively trying to escape the emotion.
Vanessa quickly caught herself and her face returned to it’s cold and empty norm.
“Stupid Bear never washed his jersey I guess.” She shrugged dramatically, with nobody around to convince of her indifference but herself.
She looked down at the green and gold ski mask in her hand, dropped it on the concrete, took a final drag of her cigarette, and tossed it onto the hideously-colored fabric.
The mask smoldered before it slowly caught fire, erupting into flames, flickering bright orange life into Vanessa’s cold shadow as she walked away.