“What’s the password?” Special Agent Tillman couldn’t make out the muffled voice behind door of Trubisky’s Gurnee home.
“I don’t know,” the best fumble-forcing defensive back in the history of the NFL replied. “When Moose used to live here, the password was ‘Go to die.’ Does that still work?”
After a few seconds pause, Peanut Tillman became impatient and reached for his FBI badge. It wasn’t necessary. The door swung open to reveal OROY Anthony Miller.
“We decided to allow it. Even though these days Chicago is more the place receivers go to live literally their best life.”
“It was a different time then,” the all-business FBI agent replied. “I’m here to see Akiem Hicks.”
“He’s in the Bear Cave with the rest of the D. They’re watching Brett Hundley game tape to prepare for the NFC Championship game.”
“That sounds miserable,” the top-5-all-time-NFL-player-in-takeaways-per-game-if-you-count-forced-fumbles-as-takeaways-but-only-if-they-are-recovered-by-the-players-team responded as he walked toward the custom high-ursine-design film room.
When Agent Tillman reached the Bear Cave, the Bears had already realized what garbage the Seahawks would be with Hundley at the helm, decided to skip their film session, and were betting on who could throw a bean bag containing a lightning-fast multi-functional offensive weapon farther. At that moment, noEddie Goldman was throwing Tarik Cohen against Roy Robertson-Harris throwing Taylor Gabriel.
Tillman pulled Hicks aside.
“So the bureau doesn’t know anything about the Ciara kidnapping. Nothing’s been reported to authorities.”
“My source is never wrong,” Hicks replied. “Wilson must think it’s safer this way. Did you get anything from the lipstick?”
The cave walls shuddered as the two thousand-yard offensive dynamos and their bean bags crashed to the floor in unison.
“That was more fruitful. The lipstick contained a clone of Silverspoon’s phone, as we expected. It also contained a receiver that’s been accessed twice. Presumably by—”
“What are you talking about ‘tie’? We won. I’m at least 3 inches farther than you,” Cohen argued against an incredulous Taylor Gabriel.
“Only because you thrust your hips after you landed to move your bag,” Gabriel responded.
“Show me where it says I can’t do that?” Cohen retorted.
Tillman pulled Hicks out of the cave and into Trubisky’s foyer. “We assume it was accessed by Vanessa or someone who works with her.”
“Can you tell where it was accessed from?” Hicks was getting curious.
“That’s the interesting part,” Agent Tillman replied. “The first time, it was accessed from the gala where we obtained it. No surprise there. But just before you guys played the Rams, it was accessed from Lincoln Park Zoo.”
“That must be when they hacked gamballers.com. Isn’t the zoo closed for renovations?”
“Exactly. It’s very sus-” Tillman stopped speaking abruptly as his peripheral vision caught an enormous furry mass careening towards him. In a split-second, he saw a football in the beast’s ferocious maw and instinctively unched it out, With it’s fangs now unoccupied, the fur-mass opened it’s mouth wide, stood on its hind feet and lurched toward the Special Agent.
Peanut Tillman backpedaled as fast as he ever had, but not before the beast was able to rest its forepaws on his shoulders and lick the sunglasses off of his face.
“Grizzly! down!” Mitch Trubisky’s authoritative voice was easily recognized, and the Tibetan Mastiff obeyed the command of his QB1 without hesitation.
“Sorry about that, Agent Tillman. He just wants to play catch.”
Hicks hugged the furry chunker around his neck as Grizzly panted and smiled, letting his tongue flop in the air. His right eye was dilated wider than his left and at rest his golden-brown furry head lay tilted to the left. To complete the package, there was a stupid innocence in Grizzly’s eyes that inspired affection in almost everyone who gazed upon him.
The star cornerback and rising FBI-Agent momentarily broke his serious facade to rub the adorably massive pooch behind the ears.
“As I was saying,” Tillman continued, “it’s very suspicious that it was accessed from a closed zoo. That could be where they’re keeping Ciara. But the bureau won’t be investigating that. Like I said, no crime has been reported.”
“So what do you think, Biscuit? Should we go to the zoo?” Akiem turned to his star quarterback, as Trubisky threw a perfect spiral out a pair of open french doors into his snowy backyard for Grizzly to chase.
“Absolutely. If there’s a chance we can rescue Ciara and get Russell Wilson to play us this weekend, we take it. Playing that garbage roster without Wilson could be the kiss of death. We won’t be able to help ourselves from getting overconfident and under-motivated heading into the Super Bowl.” Trubisky shuddered at the thought as he spoke.
“Coward. Mack. Smash. Time to roll,” the defensive captain called out to his nearby teammates. “We’re going to the zoo.”
The three followed without resistance.
“Sure. Why?” Rashaad Coward asked.
“We think Staley’s star-crossed lover, Vanessa, might be holding Ciara hostage there to keep Russell Wilson from playing us,” Hicks responded as the five Bears walked towards Trubisky’s 1997 Toyota spymobile.
“That’s not good,” Coward replied. “If we play those impotent Seahawks without Wilson we’ll get rusty...Why would she do that?”
“Because she’s a mafia enforcer involved in some kind of conspiracy to rig football games and bankrupt their legal gambling competitors,” Hicks explained.
“Makes sense,” Coward nodded to himself. “One more question. What’s a mafia enforcer?”
“Let’s just say, she does the dirty work. She handles the tasks other people wouldn’t have the stomach or expertise for.”
“Oh! Like Pat O’Donnell,” Coward replied.
Akiem Hicks’ eyes lit up as he opened the passenger door and a brilliant idea popped into his head. He picked up his phone and dialed.
Khalil Mack, Adrian Amos, and Rashaad Coward all managed to press their varyingly-massive bodies into the back seat of the midsize sedan. They were almost able to close both doors when Grizzly sprinted around an impeccably-pruned shrub and dove into the car, spreading his fatfull form across all three men. With his head out one window and his tail out the other, the entire volume of the backseat was filled with mammal. The three Bears had to delicately maneuver their heads to avoid suffocation from the golden locks of Grizzly’s dirty blonde fur.
“Oh hey! Grizz wants to come. Welcome to the party, champ,” Trubisky greeted his adorable canine and started to drive, forcing Coward to close the door behind Grizzly and endure the ride.
Akiem Hicks scooted his seat back a notch into the groaning Offensive Tackle as he began his phone conversation.
“Pat,” he said. “I’ve got a job for you. It’s dangerous and Staley can never find out about it.”
Staley da Bear walked into the alley with a grizzly-grey pin-striped three-piece suit and matching fedora. Spice Adams politely covered his mouth with his hand as he laughed at the mascot’s embarrassingly anachronistic ensemble.
”What are you wearing?”
Staley looked at Adams’ outfit, a clean-but-casual form-flattering black t-shirt and jeans, and started to feel a little insecure about his choices.
”This is an underground mafia casino, right?” Staley responded. “I wanted to make sure I’d fit in.”
”Fit in?” Spice didn’t bother covering his laugh this time. “First, you’re the only anthropomorphic bear in the state of Illinois. You’re not going to fit in no matter what you wear. Second, you look like an undercover cop from 1935.”
”I look good.” Staley dusted off his sleeves and straightened out his coat. “Let’s do this.”
Staley knocked firmly on the unlit metal door. A gruff voice responded as a thin slit in the door slid open. “What’s the password?”
”Coupla meatballs,” Spice Adams shouted over Staley’s shoulder and glared at him as he pushed past him to the door.
”You never think anything through. You just act.”
Staley shrugged. The heavy metal door swung open.
”Tony!” A large Italian man greeted Spice with a big hug. “It’s been too long. Do you and your friend want a spot at the craps table?”
”Blackjack tonight,” Staley answered before Spice could and stepped past the pair into the dim casino, eyeing the scene until he found the blackjack table.
The blackjack dealer looked the Staley experience up and down with a cold suspicious gaze until he saw Adams and his face quickly warmed. “Tonyyy! Welcome back. Make room for my man in his friend, boys.”
The bear and former-Bear sat down at the green felt table.
“I forget your name is Anthony. I always just call you Spice,” Staley said to his friend.
“Yeah. I like Spice. Why do you bring that up now?” Anthony Adams was a little bewildered by Staley’s overall evening behavior.
“They keep calling you Tony. Short for Anthony, right?”
“Nah, man. They call me Tony because I won a Tony for the one-man show I did on Broadway. Do you pay any attention to the things I tell you about my life at all?” Spice responded.
“Sorry,” Staley said. “I’ve been distracted.”
“Let me guess. A Girl?”
“No. Not a girl, Tony. The girl,”
Spice "Tony" Adams rolled his eyes and the two friends were dealt their first hand of cards.
The Bears walked down a concrete hallway of an inconvenient zoo utility entrance. An entrance they took despite the fact that they could have just jumped over a front entrance turnstile because Rashaad Coward had “meticulously sculpted” his body to be “heavy and hard to move” and not to “jump over things.”
As the Bears approached a corner, they heard a faint voice slowly getting louder. It was hard to make out the words, but it sounded vaguely like a grown man arguing that Thor was the best Avenger. Trubisky and Coward rounded the corner first to see a large white man with Clay Matthews hair and a purple suit making his case into a walkie talkie.
Grizzly cleared the corner faster than the Bears and bounded down the hallway towards the large frightened fanboy. The man dropped his walkie as Grizzly sacked him to the ground and licked his pasty face. He tried to squirm away from the weight of the massive mastiff, but was only able to move when Grizzly shifted his attention to the walkie on the floor, loafing across the hall to snatch it in his drooling mouth.
“Grizz, be careful!” Trubisky’s teammates had never heard fear in his voice before this moment. The large blonde man had squirmed across the hall and stood up, breaking the glass and reaching for an emergency fire axe conveniently placed in the zoo’s utility tunnel.
Coward closed in on the man by the time he turned towards Grizzly with the axe. Setting his feet with flawless Hiestand-taught technique, Rashaad punched out his hands, grabbing the angry beared axe-wielding norseman by his suit and axe-shoulder and anchoring down. The block gave Trubisky ample time to cock and release a perfectly aimed spiral at the man’s forearm. The tip of the football struck right at the man’s median nerve with such velocity, it stunned the motor signals descending into the man’s hand for long enough to force him to drop the axe.
By now, the man was sacked a second time by a future hall of fame former Raider who had much less playful intentions than Grizzly. It was a small but necessary consolation for the helpless Viking that Mack had trained himself not to land his entire weight on his prey as a result of a new quarterback-pampering smoshery-hating penalty introduced into the NFL this season.
With the Viking pinned to the ground with his arms behind his back, Grizzly walked up and innocently dropped the walkie talkie on the cold concrete floor next to the man’s face, hoping to play catch.
“Ooooch. Owie owie owie owww,” the man whimpered as Mack twisted his arm behind his back.
“Seriously?” Mack started. “I barely started.”
“It’s painful! I’m not used to this. I’m usually bigger than people and they never do this to me. It’s extremely uncomfortable.”
“The arm twisting specifically? Or my knee on your back?” Mack asked.
“All of it! Lordy please stop. Why are you doing this?”
“I figured I needed to put a little pressure on to squeeze you for information,” Mack shrugged.
“You don’t. I promise. I’m per diem. I’ll tell you anything you want!”
Mack relaxed his squeeze and Trubisky started the questioning.
“Who hired you? Is Ciara here?”
“Some pretty lady hired me. She had sad, soulful eyes—like she felt an immense love that she couldn’t act on and it was tearing her apart in side—but she didn’t give a name. And if Ciara is that famous singer, they’re keeping her in the Grizzly exhibit.”
Grizzly heard his name and hopped up and down, picking up the walkie talkie and dropping in front of the man’s face again.
“You don’t know who Ciara is?” Akiem Hicks chimed in. “You know Goodies ‘If you’re looking for the goodies keeping on looking ‘cause they stay in the jar’” Mack and Amos sang along with Hicks in surprisingly beautiful harmony. Amos and Mack noted that they would definitely have to revisit that next Bearaoke night as the man responded.
“If it’s not Taylor Swift, I don’t know who I’m listening to,” the man replied.
“Wow. That’s ignorant,” “Pathetic,” “Educate yourself,” the Bears responded.
The Bears tied up the loser Viking fanboy nerd and continued toward the Grizzly exhibit.
“500 dollars,” Staley pushed his chips in. He felt a strong hand on he shoulder and turned to find Spice Adams leaned in close.
“What are you doing?” Spice asked, coming back from the craps table. “You can’t just raise your bet from 10 dollars a hand to 500 dollars a hand after sitting at a table for an hour. They’re going to think you’re counting cards.”
“I am counting cards,” Staley responded, in a much louder whisper.
At this point, several large Italian musclemen were gathering around the Blackjack table.
“I know this looks bad,” Spice said to the growing crowd of goons. “We’ll move to the craps table, okay? He doesn’t know what he’s doing.”
“I know what I’m doing,” Staley stood confidently and took a deep drink from his Old Fashioned. “For the record, he doesn’t know what I’m doing though. You can leave him out of it,” Staley gestured towards his friend.
“You’re going to need to come with us,” one of the goons said the obvious, and Staley casually obliged.
“Sorry, Tony,” the blackjack dealer stood between Spice Adams and his mascot friend. “There’s nothing either of us can do from him.”
Outside, the Lincoln Park Zoo was eerily quiet as snowflakes fell on this still December day. All the shops were shuttered except the snack bar, where a few machines were lit and footprints in the snow on the bar counter revealed recent use—likely mafia thugs hoping in for a warm winter snack.
“Look out!” Hicks shouted as he spotted a gate to the Lion exhibit swing open.
“On it,” Smash Amos shouted from behind him. The vigilant safety had spotted a prancing beast well before Hicks’ shout and sprinted towards the lion fearlessly.
Khalil Mack had caught a glimpse of the man who opened the gate, and was just as quickly gaining in pursuit towards the snack bar.
Rashaad Coward and Grizzly both set themselves in front of MT10, making a small two-man V pocket to protect the franchise QB from any potential stray cat swipes or bites. It wasn’t necessary. Smash Amos leaned towards the massive beast as they approached and drilled into the beast, spinning it off balance and onto its side on the ground. There, Amos wrapped himself around the beast from behind, chocking its neck tighter and tighter as the beast squirmed ineffectively.
Khalil Mack reached the man at the snack bar and tackled him onto the bar with so much momentum they slid across the snowy bartop into the snack hut and into the nacho machine. The man’s head turned on the cheese nozzle and he screamed as hot cheese sauce poured into his cold snowy hair. The man slapped pathetically at Mack’s back with his left hand, and only then did Khalil notice the man had a bandaged stump in lieu of a right hand. Having been traded to the Bears after August Bearaoke night, Mack didn’t recognize him as the man whose unwanted advances had led Staley to meet Vanessa.
“Get up!” Akiem Hicks yelled angrily at his safety.
“Don’t worry, I got him,” Amos shouted back as he squoze tigher around the lion’s neck.
“I saw that tackle. You led with your head. That’s at least a 15 yard penalty if not an ejection. Get up.”
Trubisky leaned down and picked up a pile of snow, beginning to form a large snowball.
“Are you serious?” Amos asked.
Hicks walked up to the Bear and lion, leaned over and rested his hand on the Lions head, pressing it into the ground. He spoke just inches from his young safety’s face. “Get up. Do it again properly.”
Hicks grabbed the lion by the mane and tossed it away from Amos, who bounced to his feet. Amos and the lion circled each other, reading each others movements in a beautiful dance that would be worthy of discovery channel prime-time.
“What’s that for?” Coward asked as Trubisky finished an enormous snowball.
“Watch.” Trubisky pointed towards the snack bar where Khalil Mack was dragging the one hand man towards them. The young gunslinger hurled the snowball at the bar, nailing the sign right on the “N” covering the letter completely. It now read S ACK BAR.
“Nice!” Coward high-fived the league MVP.
Amos and the lion continued to circle, but the lion was slowly backing away from the superior predator towards the rest of the group. Finally, Amos baited the Lion into an awkward lunge, and he pounced. With his head up, he shouldered the lion over, knocking him off balance and to the ground right next to Khalil Mack, who deftly jumped out of the way.
When Amos relaxed from the blind adrenaline furor of wrestling the lion into a headlock, he saw blood all around him. It took a moment to realize the Lion had bit the right foot off the man who’d released him. The poor mafia hireling was screaming in agony.
“Holy crap! What are the f@&%ing chances. I literally work two days for the mob to try to pay off my student loans and I lose two body parts!” He continued to writhe in the snow full of pain and anger, tears and cheese sauce dripping down your face.
“So you were hired by the mob? What do you know?” Hicks asked.
“There’s a woman named Vanessa who hired me who has to be the devil. She keeps convincing me it will be easy money but how easy is losing a hand? NOT EASY. I know this for a fact because your goddamn mascot bit my hand off completely unnecessarily.”
“Why doesn’t she want Russell Wilson to play in the NFC Championship game?” Trubisky asked
“I don’t know all the details, but I know the mafia wants the Bears to get to the Superbowl because they believe they can guarantee you lose. Then they can rig the bets somehow to take out their competition. Oh my god your dog is licking my bleeding leg!!!#@%7@$#”
It was true. Grizzly was giving the bloody stump a curious taste, but there were no teeth involved and it was truly an innocent inquiry. He responded immediately to his QB1’s stern “No.”
“And Ciara is in the bear exhibit?” Hicks asked.
“Yeah Be careful, though. The grizzlies are protecting her.”
“Okay Amos, get this guy to a hospital. Remember, he’d still have two feet if you’d tackled the lion properly the first time. I hope we all learned something today.”
A mafia goon shoved Staley down into the chair in the mob boss’ office so unnecessarily forcefully that he spilled some drink on his classy traditional suit.
“My boys tell me you’ve been counting cards.”
“Antonio Taleggiotesta,” Staley began. “You’re a hard man to get in touch with. I’m here to talk about Vanessa.”
The mob boss was taken aback. “Wait. Are you saying weren’t counting cards?”
“Of course I was,” Staley continued. “I had to get your attention. I understand you are the person to negotiate with if I want to absolve Vanessa of her obligation to the Chicago Outfit.”
“I suppose I would be,” Taleggiotesta began to think. “What are you offering?”
“Anything in my power,” Staley said without delay. “I have powerful connections and I’m a beloved figure in the city of Chicago. There must be something you could use me for.”
“Yes. I know who you are,” Antonio paused to eat a meatball. “You may be able to get me something I’ve wanted for a long time.” Taleggiotesta took another bite of meatball.
“I want season tickets.”
Staley breathed a heavy sigh of relief. For the first time, he actually could see his crazy plan working out. “That’s not a problem. I can get you Bears season tickets this afternoon.” Staley relaxed and took long sip of his drink.
“No. I want season tickets to Lambeau Field”
Staley spit his Old Fashioned out into the air in a long projectile spray. Droplets of sticky whiskey and sugar condensed on Tony’s Cheesehead face and the bitters burned in his eyes.
“I’m so sorry!” Staley clammered. “I don’t know what happened. I can. I will. I’ll find a way to make it happen.”
Antonio “Tony” Taleggiotesta wiped his face and looked at the ridiculously-dressed Bear. “I’ll give you a chance,” he replied. “But I hope you understand you can’t leave this office unscathed.”
Tony stood and walked out the door as his lugs took turns punching Staley, The mascot stood stoic, taking his lashing with pride as he imagined the opportunity to pursue Vanessa’s love without obstacle finally within his grasp.
The Bears found no resistance—from Mafia goons or grizzlies—when they reached the Bear exhibit. Ciara was sitting atop one of the grizzlies backs as they walked across a breathless snowscape.
“Hi Ciara,” Khalil Mack said nervously. “Hey. Seeing you on that bear reminds of your ‘Ride’ video. That was a great video,” Mack slowly began to blush.
“I’m not riding this bear,” Ciara replied. “You should know nobody can ride a bear. One can only be carried if the bear feels so inclined.”
“Of course,” Mack replied. “So uh, we’re here to rescue you.”
“Terrific,” Ciara said. “I’ve had a lovely time but I’m sure Russell is getting worried.”
“Yes he is,” Akiem Hicks replied. “He’s not planning to play against us next week because he thinks it will keep you safe.”
“That’s ridiculous,” Ciara rolled her eyes. “I’m fine. But I suppose if the Seahawks can’t win, the Bears would be my next choice to represent our superior conference in the Superbowl.”
“We agree,” Hicks smiled. “Are you a Bears fan?”
“I’ve learned a lot about you from Rihanna’s girlfriend. She comes to our game nights. She’s terribly intelligent and funny. She actually blogs about the Bears. Perhaps you’ve heard of her? Patti Curl?”
“No. Never heard of her,” The Bears responded in unison, rolling their eyes at the thought the might pay attention to the tweets and posts of a low-tier blogging fan.
“Well, it’s not important,” Ciara noted, hoping off the grizzly who’d be carrying her. “Shall we then.”
The Bears, Ciara, and Grizzly excited the Lincoln Park Zoo happily knowing NFC Champship game would be at least marginally competitive.
“I’ve got the pig heart,” O’Donnell began as Joel Iyebuniwe opened the door to the Chicago lab. “I just harvested it 45 minutes ago. I hope that’s fresh enough.”
“I never said it had to be fresh.” Iyebuniwe laughed. “Come in. Let’s get started.”