Nothing like this had happened before, not in the history of the Secret Teddy Society. D needed to get word to the Council immediately, and he must do so without being seen.
He was breathing heavily as he ran through the streets of the old Georgetown neighborhood. Because there was no moon, it made the night darker than usual. It was difficult to avoid the illumination of street lamps when taking the faster more direct route. The best strategy was to stick to the shadows and hide in bushes. Nevertheless, D's intelligence was urgent; he could not afford to take all the obvious precautions. The discovery he had made was far too important; time was of the essence.
A large blue satchel bounced on D’s shoulders as he skipped over curbs and splashed through puddles. The auburn colored teddy slowed to catch his breath. “Wait up!” Lyle shouted, lagging farther and farther behind.
Lyle was an Insider teddy who had just left his family — something that was all but unheard of in the teddy world. The little brown bear with his stubby little legs and a red ribbon tied around his neck knew they needed to hurry, but surely, a rest wasn’t too much to ask. “Can’t we stop for a minute?” Lyle called out.
D reluctantly ducked into the hedges and set the blue satchel down. When Lyle caught up, he was exhausted. He bent over with his paws on his thighs. “Thanks for stopping,” he gasped. “I don’t know how you do it; how you can run so fast with that heavy bag flopping around on your shoulders.”
He had enough on his mind. D had just performed an unauthorized Teddy Nightmare on a human named Louis Longley, a powerful Washington politician, and what he had uncovered was so disturbing that he was having a hard time comprehending its implications. He didn’t need anything else to go wrong tonight and having an Insider slowing him down was getting on his nerves.
D’s raspy voice was tinged with exhaustion, “If you’re going to tag along then you need to keep up. And take that red ribbon off your neck, it’s very seeable.”
Lyle quickly reached for his neck and placed a paw on the ribbon as if he were protecting it. “But this was Marie’s. She gave it to me. She’s gone now and this is all I have. I can’t take it off.”
There wasn’t time to argue. D needed to set a few things straight. “You’re outside now. This is my world. When my family no longer needed me, I joined the Rough Riders. It is the purpose of the Rough Riders to maintain a teddy communications network and look after Insiders like you. That's what we do. And right now, I have — we have — extraordinary information that needs to get to the Council immediately — if not sooner. They must know what Senator Longley is doing. But — we won't be able to deliver that information if we get caught because someone sees that red thing around your neck, so take it off! Hold it in your paw or something, I don’t care.”
Lyle reluctantly pulled the tie end, and it fell from his neck into his paws. He was crestfallen. He felt as if he had somehow betrayed Marie. He looked sadly at the ribbon, then, rolled it up in his paw clenching it tightly as if life itself depended on it. Lyle was not going to lose it.
He didn’t mean to sound callous, but D didn’t have time to be delicate. “Let’s get moving. It’s just around the corner.”
D hoisted the blue satchel over his shoulder and gave Lyle a sympathetic look. It wasn’t much, but it did help. D understood how hard it was for Lyle to leave his family. Typically, a teddy takes on the characteristics of his human and their milieu without particular consideration. It just happens. However, in Lyle’s case, he made a personal decision to leave because he could feel himself changing into something he didn’t like, something that Louis Longley and his bear Ballinger had become. They were driven by power and greed, character traits that sometimes accompany easy success, especially in the world of politics.
Once Louis Longley set his sights on the Presidency of the United States, nothing stood in his way of fulfilling his ambition. His oldest friend was Ballinger, a grizzled, dark brown, bristly haired, teddy who sat in Louis' private office at home and watched the political machinations of self-serving greed. Teddies learn by mimicry, by watching and copying, and Ballinger had learned from the best — or was it the worst?
Needing to continue to the Council, D turned to step away from the bushes and onto the unlit sidewalk when Lyle quietly asked, “Was that your friend — the one in there?” He tilted his head toward the blue satchel over D’s shoulder. D paused for a moment, holding his emotions in check, before he answered: “His name was Audie. He was my best friend . . . and the best Rough Rider there ever was.” D cleared his throat, his voice filled with fury, something that is uncharacteristic of a teddy, and roared, “Why was Longley destroying good teddies? How could a human do such awful things? I don’t get it.” It was too much to comprehend. D wanted his friend back.
The last time D and Audie spoke, Audie mentioned having a lead on the bears that had gone missing, important bears. He had revealed Louis Longley's name. After that, Audie disappeared. D had mentioned the coincidence to Bullock, the STS Chief Marshal, but was told to keep out of it.
Angry and frustrated, D found out where this Longley person lived and secretly performed a Teddy Nightmare to get some answers. D got his answers and more. He found the missing teddies; they were in Longley’s closet torn to pieces and stacked in a pile. D was devastated at the sight of his best friend, Audie, lying on top. In addition, as if that weren't enough, he discovered that Ballinger, a Teddy Council bear, belonged to Louis Longley. This knowledge changed everything. This had to be more than a coincidence. D had to inform Chief Marshal, Bullock, of his suspicions. Perhaps he might even have an opportunity to inform Theodore himself about the Ballinger-Longley connection.
D stared blindly at the ground. He couldn’t shake the feeling that something big was about to happen, something that would shake the teddy world to its very foundation. He turned to Lyle and asked, “How well do you know Ballinger?”
“Ballinger? You can’t know Ballinger. Not really,” Lyle replied. “He’s always in the office. I didn’t see him much. Why?”
“Nothing. Never mind,” replied D, sorry that he had spoken aloud.
“You think Ballinger knows what’s going on?”
“Forget it. Never mind. Forget I asked.”
“I don’t really know him. Marie placed me on the bed every day while Ballinger sat in Louis’ office.”
“I said drop it.”
“No you didn’t. You said ‘forget it,’” exploded Lyle in frustration. “Well, guess what? I can’t forget it. Maybe you can, but I can’t. I said some terrible things to Ballinger before I left. I don’t think he’ll forget that. If he ever caught up to me, what do you think he’d do? And, if you think he might be involved in what Louis was doing then he’s a very dangerous teddy.” Lyle paused thoughtfully. “I got out because I didn’t want to become like him. Yeah, I broke the Code. So, what now? I know you have to report it, that’s your duty. But I broke the Code to save myself. What about me? What about the one? If the one doesn't matter then how can the many? Like you, I have no human connection. My human is dead. Marie was my family not Louis — and certainly not Ballinger.” Lyle unleashed a burden of pain and loneliness he'd carried for the last year. Marie had been everything to him, his raison d’etre. However, when she died in a tragic automobile accident, Lyle's only relationship was with Louis and Ballinger and that dark and gloomy house.
The bears stood silently appraising each other, coming to terms with what they had to do. D broke the silence, “We need to get going.” Lyle nodded in agreement, and they left the safety of the hedges.
At Council headquarters, D and Lyle stood outside the large pristine grounds of Hallow Oaks Manor, a historic home and museum in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington D.C. A brick wall, overgrown with ivy, surrounded the gardened property. An old wooden guardhouse that was no longer in use stood near a seldom used side walkway entrance. Inside the guardhouse, under loose floorboards, was a secret passage leading directly into the basement and the Teddy Council. The passageway was peculiar in that it didn’t appear to be designed for human travel. It was much too small.
D was nervous, a rare emotion for him, but he wasn’t at all sure how the news of the night’s proceedings would be received. And what about Lyle? What was he to do about him? He looked at Lyle with consternation. If he brought him with him to the Council, it would be flaunting a disregard for the Code. It was a serious dilemma for D. It is always dangerous to leave an Insider outside. Insiders don’t know how to protect themselves alone outside in the dark with humans roaming about.
“I have no choice. You have to stay out here,” D said, looking around for cover for Lyle. D pushed the satchel as far into the ivy as possible and pulled a few limbs and leaves around it. With their backs to the wall and buried in the ivy, they were invisible to humans who weren’t paying attention.
“Just keep tucked in here and don’t move. You’ll be fine.”
Lyle could feel his body begin to shake in trepidation at the thought of being left alone outside.
“You won’t be long, right?”
D had no idea how long it would take to explain to Bullock and Theodore that he had found Louis Longley, a well-known politician, was the human involved in destroying prominent teddies that had gone missing, and that he belonged to Ballinger, a powerful Council bear that may or may not be involved as well. Never mind the fact that he also broke the Code.
Two minutes, tops, thought D sarcastically to himself. “I don’t know. Just sit tight,” he replied. “You know what to do if something happens, right?”
“NO!” panicked Lyle. “What’s going to happen? What? What do I do?”
“Nothing. Nothing’s going to happen,” said D in his most reassuring voice. He regretted that he had said anything. “I’ll be back before you know it.”
Lyle’s eyes zipped back and forth between the ivy leaves keeping a close watch for anything that might be dangerous. He had no idea what to look for since he had never been outside of the house before.
What’s that? Is that danger?
He watched carefully as a car passed. Huh, they really can’t see me, can they? With that thought, Lyle was becoming more comfortable.
D slipped into the old guardhouse, pulled up a loose board and disappeared into the passageway.
It was impossible to enter the Council without being discovered due to the acute hearing that teddies possess and, of course, the loud creaky hinges of the secret entrance doorway.
As D entered, Bullock was there to greet him. He was a large tan bear with black pads on his paws, a bullish nose and a dark brown kerchief tied around his neck. He had a few tatty spots on his body that he enjoyed talking about, when given the chance.
“What’s going on? You’re out kinda late,” Bullock observed.
“Sorry for the intrusion but there’s something I need to tell you,” D said, his eyes searching the room not knowing if anyone else was there. His urgency was obvious by the tone in his voice.
“Okay, shoot,” said Bullock.
D took a deep breath then began to relate the evening’s business.
Bullock listened to what D had to say. It was not an adventure pleasing to Bullock. It was also something difficult to believe. When D finished telling his side of what happened, Bullock lowered his eyes and raised a paw to his forehead.
“Hmm.” Bullock was overwhelmed with implication. This was like nothing he’d dealt with before, a direct attack towards a Council bear. Bullock would have to consider the facts, not the insinuation. “Let me get this straight. You did a nightmare on a human — without consent. You found shredded bodies in his closet — and the human was Senator Longley — who belongs to Ballinger, a Council bear? Did I get that right?” Bullock was offended at the thought of such a thing. “What’s more, you think Ballinger had something to do with all this? Am I missing something? Did I leave anything out?”
The way Bullock put it all together made D uncomfortable. Maybe things didn’t happen exactly the way he remembered. Had he forgotten anything — anything important? It certainly didn’t look good from Bullock’s point of view.
It was hard to read the Chief Marshall’s face but there was definitely annoyance in his voice. “What do you think I should do?” he continued angrily. “Do you think I should wake Theodore to tell him what you just told me? Son, you’ve got nothin’. I can’t do anything with this. You can’t prove that Ballinger had anything to do with Longley’s actions. A human’s gonna do what a human’s gonna do and a teddy can’t do much about it. You’ve put me in a very awkward position. You make an accusation like this and I can’t just ignore it. Hell, son, and then there’s you! What were you thinking going into that house on your own? I’m not even going to ask if you had help. I don’t want to know.” Bullock paced back and forth. What do you do in a situation like this? Nothing! What could he do?
D stood still while Bullock admonished him for bringing accusation against another teddy, but not just any teddy — a Council member.
D’s face changed at the sight of Theodore entering the room. He had never met the first teddy before and was more nervous than he’d ever felt. Bullock noticed D’s eyes staring over his shoulder and turned to see, Theodore, the head of the Council approaching. His worn yellowish brown fur expressed a quiet wisdom. Every step fell with control and confidence as he approached. D felt a sense of nobility from the old bear but all that displayed was modesty.
“Is there a problem here?” Theodore asked calmly. His relaxed voice cut the tension in the mood.
“No. No problem. He was just leaving,” replied Bullock, nudging D towards the door. Bullock didn’t want to bother Theodore with such nonsense.
Theodore reached out and put his paw on D’s shoulder. “I’d like see you privately for a moment.”
Bullock didn’t say a word as Theodore led D to his private quarters to talk. The door closed behind them. It was a modest but comfortable room with a small soft bed and a table with two chairs pulled away as if waiting for company. A few black and white pictures of President Theodore Roosevelt decorated the walls and one badly faded picture of what appeared to be a teddy bear. Clean was the first impression that struck D. No dirt or dust in the room anywhere.
“I didn’t mean to cause any problems Mr. Theodore, sir.” D glanced nervously about the room.
“Please don’t call me that,” snipped Theodore.
“Call me Teddy. Everyone calls me Theodore but actually, I don’t care for it. That was my person’s name, not mine. I really don’t remember when or how it happened, but everyone started calling me Theodore. And that’s not my name. I stopped correcting bears years ago. My name is Teddy. I was the first one, of course . . . maybe . . . I think so anyway. But it doesn’t really matter. I guess everyone thinks Theodore sounds more dignified. Anyway, I know who you are, and I know you’re a good bear. I also know you’re one of the best we have out there. I’m told you’re doing a great job.”
D was flattered that Theodore knew who he was but more importantly, that he was held in high regard by the number one bear.
Theodore continued, “I heard what you said to Bully. He didn’t take it very well, I hear.” Theodore chuckled. “He means well, but sometimes he just —”
D was taken by surprise. He had no idea what to think or what to say.
“Uh, no sir. It was all my —” D stammered.
“Listen,” chimed Theodore, “I’ve heard a lot of things recently and I am aware of the bears that are missing. Something’s going on and I have my suspicions. But what I need right now is someone I can trust.”
This was strange for D to hear because teddies took great pride in their integrity.
“I have a request and I need you to keep this between us. Tonight you’ve shown that you are willing to go beyond the Code to do what you think is right. I understand that things are not always black and white. Sometimes things don’t fit into round holes or square holes. Sometimes we need to make our own holes to make things fit. Do you get what I’m saying, son?”
D would have nodded his head at anything Theodore said at that point. That he was not in trouble was all he seemed capable of grasping.
“What I’m going to ask is not something to take lightly.”
Theodore began to explain his surreptitious task, and as the weight of his words began to sink in, D realized just how big this was; it was really, really big! It was something D had always wished for, a genuine adventure. An enormous sense of pride formed when he realized that he was the only bear standing there. Theodore trusted him and him only. Self-sacrifice and duty went hand in hand in the appeal. D would not be looked upon as a hero during the mission. In fact, it would be quite the contrary. The big picture was what was important. Family, loyalty, truth, and code were all that mattered in the teddy world, and D would do whatever was required to demonstrate it.
Theodore handed the audacious auburn bear a folded piece of paper and continued.
“I need you to go to the 82nd Division and talk to Cappy. He’s in charge. Give him that note and he’ll set you up. You’re going to be the new Outsider in the Glenmore neighborhood. Once you’re settled in I need you to find Ike.”
Something didn’t sound right suddenly. “Excuse me, sir, but did you say Ike, as in the old communications —”
“Yes,” Theodore inserted abruptly.
“But — sir, I thought he was missing.”
Theodore didn’t want to go into detail; that would have to wait.
“He still is, as far as you’re concerned. Do you understand?”
D understood perfectly. He knew about working in gray areas — that some things needed to be kept in the dark. It was for the best. Moreover, after everything that had just happened it was more prudent than ever. There was only one response for D to give.
Theodore gave a slight nod before continuing. “When you find Ike, tell him what happened here and listen to everything he tells you. It’s going to take some time because he won’t trust you at first. He probably won’t come to the window when you call, but stay with it. Earn his trust. We need him.” Theodore knew he had the right bear for the task. He slapped D on the shoulder and gave a quizzical look. “I don’t need to tell you how important this is — and I don’t need to remind you that this is strictly confidential, right?”
D stared him straight in the eyes and never said a word. Theodore smiled and said, “You’re a good bear.” With that, he reached for the door. D looked closely at Theodore and noticed the frayed stitching behind his ear. It blended with his fur and was hard to see, but his age was evident, his wisdom overpowering.
This was the first teddy bear, thought D. It made him proud to be one himself.
“I’ll do my best, Teddy, sir.”
“Teddy’s fine. You can drop the sir. And good luck.”
His back straightened from the call to duty and trust that was put upon him by the most important bear in the teddy world. The problem was that no other teddy would know about his sacrifice, not now anyway. D walked rigidly past Bullock, giving a polite nod, heading for the exit. Bullock watched the proud auburn bear enter the tunnel with the sound of the noisy hinge closing behind him. He turned to Theodore with a questioned look.
“What was that all about?” he asked.
“He has been punished and sent to another outpost,” replied Theodore quickly. Trying to avoid further questioning from Bullock, Theodore turned to go back to his room.
“That’s it?” called out Bullock with confusion laced in his voice. “You sent him away? What about his accusations, you know — Ballinger.”
Theodore stopped and didn’t turn around.
“Yes. That’s it . . . He thought he was doing the right thing, and I know I did the same,” replied Theodore firmly and left.
Theodore and Bullock had been best friends for over a hundred years, yet this would be the first time Bullock ever questioned his action.
“Where’d you send the boy?” asked Bullock.
The door to Theodore’s room closed with no reply.
That was difficult for Theodore because he had never kept anything from Bullock before. It wasn’t that he couldn’t trust his oldest and dearest friend but knowing the innate nature of a teddy was truth and honesty, something Bullock defended fiercely, might make it hard for Bully to refrain from giving the mission away if asked. If Bullock had knowledge of what had been set in motion, it would mean lying to others, even to Ballinger. Lying was learned behavior, and Bullock had never learned about such things. Theodore couldn’t take a chance to find out if Bullock could dissemble effectively or not. The less he knew the better.
Climbing out of the tunnel in the old guardhouse, D cautiously approached the spot where he’d left the nervous inside bear and whispered, “Lyle.” There was no answer. “Lyle,” he intoned a little louder. D could see his furry feet sticking out from the ivy. They appeared to be pushing back farther into the wall, if that were possible. Vines and leaves rustled as Lyle tried to stay hidden.
Finally, D reached out and grabbed Lyle by the arm. “Why didn’t you answer me?” he scolded.
Lyle jumped. “I didn’t know it was you.”
A silly expression formed on D’s face. “Do you think a stranger would call out your name?”
Lyle was embarrassed. He looked everywhere except at D.
“I don’t know. I just —”
“Forget about it,” chirped D with a grin. “Come on. We’ve got a long trip ahead of us.” Thus began their journey, the adventure of a teddy lifetime.
“Where are we going?” Lyle asked.
“I can’t tell you.”
“Oh — okay.”
D picked up his satchel and they started walking. He was prepared for the next round of questions from Lyle, anticipating such queries as — why can’t you tell me, what happened inside, or, did you meet him? The usual questions that follow mysterious and secretive behavior, but there were none. Not one. Every step was a quiet one. D’s prepared response was like a trap set to be sprung. It sat in his mouth just waiting. No question came. D was starting to like Lyle. This was how it would be. They were now friends.
The next evening, Ballinger showed up at the old guardhouse and sat quietly inside for a moment to collect his thoughts before entering the secret passage. Ballinger had all day to figure out his next move and what he would say. What he didn’t know was if anyone had reported the incident yet. If so, what would they think? After all, there was no evidence of his involvement. For all anyone knew it was all Louis Longley. He was the one with the problem. A teddy can’t control a human. Nevertheless, if Ballinger had knowledge of what was going on, then it was up to him to report the crime. However, if there was no report, indicating that Ballinger was aware of destroyed teddies in Louis Longley’s closet, then there was no problem. Exposing a shameful incident, this close to the heart of the teddy world, would be an embarrassment for Ballinger as well as the Council. They would need to keep this as quiet as possible.
Ballinger lifted the floorboard and wiggled down into the tunnel. His walk was confident though his mind was not. He remained unsure of what he was walking into. He opened the passageway door to the Council to find Bullock sitting at a large table in the middle of the room. It was almost as if he were waiting for someone.
“Hey, Bull,” said Ballinger in a serious tone. “Something happened last night that I need to tell you about.”
“Yes. I heard about it,” replied Bullock in the same serious tone.
“You did? So you know someone did a Nightmare at my house last night?”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“To tell you the truth — it’s already been handled.”
“Really?” Ballinger stood waiting for an answer. “And?”
“Theodore took care of it.”
A wave of concern washed over him. “He did? Oh.” Ballinger began to worry about how he appeared. Was he too eager? Did he ask the right questions for someone who wasn’t supposed to know anything? Did he seem nervous? “Good.” Ballinger tried to appear relaxed but found it difficult. “So what happened?”
Bullock stood up from his chair and slowly walked to Ballinger. “He punished him; sent him away.”
“He did? Excellent! This kind of thing cannot be tolerated,” said Ballinger noticing Bullock’s demeanor as he stepped closer. Bullock was an intimidating bear although Ballinger never thought he was very smart. “So, where did he go?”
“Dunno,” he replied simply with a stern look about him. Bullock was now standing face-to-face with Ballinger. “So, Louis has been killing teddies? Your human — killing teddies. Looks like we’ve got a bigger problem than a bear doing an unauthorized Nightmare.”
Bullock had just said something very interesting. There was a question that Ballinger wanted badly to know the answer to: was this an authorized Nightmare? Did the Council send someone because they knew what was going on? The answer was no, Bullock had just said it himself. That was good news for Ballinger. His role now became more defined. He could think of himself as the victim.
“I didn’t know what he was doing!” insisted Ballinger. “How could I have known? If I had known about it I would have said something — done something.”
Bullock glared at him, his thoughts jumbled. Nothing this sinister had happened before, not this close to the Council. But there was something that Bullock noticed as they spoke; Ballinger never asked who did the Nightmare. That should have been the first question. Bullock let out a sigh. “We got a serious problem, and it’s up to you to clean it up. Unless you want us to go in there,” charged Bullock.
“What can I do? I don’t control him,” Ballinger answered.
“I don’t know. You’re in charge of the Rough Riders, do another Nightmare and set him straight. Heck, send in a *Kage Kuma if you have to. But this needs to stop and it needs to be kept quiet. If this gets out . . . I don’t need to tell you, do I?”
Ballinger felt more confident now that Bullock wanted him to take care of it. The situation was looking better. The last thing Ballinger wanted was the Council to get involved. For Bullock to recommend using the Kage Kumas meant he was dead serious. The Council has kept their existence a secret from the rest of the teddy world. Rumors had surfaced of an elite band of mysterious and highly trained bears that were only used under extreme conditions to protect the teddy world, but then again, they were just rumors.
“I’ll take care of it. I don’t
know how yet, but I’ll do what I have to,” said Ballinger.
* Kage Kuma [ka-gae koo-ma] Translation: Shadow Bear