He's still out there, somewhere.
Craig curled tighter into himself as he stared at the small fire. His thoughts kept whirling, returning inevitably to the ordeal he'd undergone.
"Are you sure it's okay to leave him alone out there?" Chet asked, turning from the window.
John nodded as he finished setting the table. "There are some things he needs to work out for himself. He'll be in soon."
Roy shook his head as he pulled sodas from the refrigerator. He'd been invited to John's house to hear the full story. Chet had just invited himself over.
But once he knew the full story, Chet was behind them all the way. "I wanna track the son-of-a...," he censored himself, "...him ... down and see how he likes being beat up!"
"Makes it unanimous, then," Craig said softly from the doorway.
"How you doin'?" John asked, moving to his side.
"I'm...better." Craig's smile was shaky and it only lasted a second. "I don't know what to do -- he's still out there."
John squeezed his shoulder. Even Chet was silent this time. They all just leant their support to the hurting man.
Dinner was spent in a tense silence. After, the conversation turned once more to Marty Ranier and his casual abuse of Craig. "I'm not the only one he's done this to," Craig said softly, his trembling hands clasped between his knees. "He would brag...that I was one in a long line of...of...."
"Pigeons?" Chet asked softly.
Craig met his eyes. "Yeah...pigeons. Everywhere he worked, he'd pick out who he deemed the guy most worthy of his...talents...," Craig winced, "...and he would tease him. I just...happened...to be the one he chose at 16's."
Chet met John's eyes, his own filling with horror as he recognised himself in Marty's actions.
John locked eyes with Chet and addressed him. "No, Chester B. You're nothing like Ranier."
"How can you say that?" Chet burst out. "You're my pigeon!"
Craig nodded. "John's right, Kelly. You're nothing like Ranier. John's told me of the Phantom. You tease and prank John to break the monotony, to ease the tension. And when something's gone bad, you leave him alone. He even pranks you back." He sighed and leaned back against the couch. "Ranier does what he does for the feeling of power it gives him."
"Yeah," Roy put in. "You care about John's feelings. If it's bad, you back off. Ranier got worse when Bri--Craig here had a bad time or a bad run."
"And besides, " John finished, anger lacing his voice. "Even on his worst days, The Phantom would never, ever beat me up."
"Yeah, why'd he do that, anyway?" Chet asked.
Anger flared in Craig's eyes. "Because I stood up to him. I told him to leave me alone -- and he told me I had...," his eyes narrowed, "...had to be punished."
"Why, that son-of-a...." And this time, Chet did not censor himself.
Wordlessly grinning, John held out a hand, palm up.
Chet chuckled and handed John a quarter. "It was worth it," he laughed.
John passed the money to Roy, who dropped it into the 'cuss jar' all six of 51's A-shift men now kept at their captain's request.
"That's what scares me about this," John said, his face now grim. "He's escalated from taunts to physical abuse. What's he gonna escalate to now?"
After a few more hours of conversation, it was decided that Craig would stay the night at John's. Roy drove Chet home, then went on home to Joanne and his children.
He would hold each of them just a little bit longer and a little bit tighter tonight.
Chet, however, could not rest. He was bothered greatly by what he'd witnessed and heard. He paced his house restlessly, thinking of Marty Ranier.
Thinking repeatedly that, but for the grace of God, there The Phantom would be!
After pacing a few more times and several unsuccessful attempts at sleep, Chet sighed and grabbed his car keys.
He found himself outside of Turnout, one of many bars frequented by firemen. Figuring a beer would calm his nerves, Chet went inside.
He was halfway through his beer when a man with sandy hair sat down beside him. "You're Chet Kelly, aren't you?"
"Who wants to know?"
The man smiled. "You're The Phantom! Your prank war is legendary!"
"I repeat -- who wants to know?"
"Oh, I'm sorry." He held out his hand. "Marty Ranier, out of 16's."
Chet knocked his hand away as he shot to his feet. "You get away from me!"
Ranier blinked. "...what?"
"Get away from me!" Chet repeated.
"Look..." Ranier stood up. "Look, I've wanted to meet you for some time now ---"
Chet jabbed a finger into his chest. "Don't you give me that! You're nothing like me!"
"Your prank war is legendary!"
"My prank war is in fun! You tease to hurt! To make yourself feel big!"
Ranier's eyes narrowed. "You're right. I'm nothing like you." He stepped forward. "I admired you, but now I see you're as weak as all the others!"
"Good! I'd rather be weak than be anything like you!"
Ranier growled and swung. His fist made a satisfying-to-him CRACK as it connected with Chet's chin.
Chet went down, then regained his feet. "Marty the bully!" he challenged.
"Always gotta hurt someone!"
"Gotta pick on someone, prove you're a man!"
"SHUT UP!" Enraged, Ranier picked up a chair and swung it in a wild motion.
The sound it made impacting with Chet's head was spectacular! Chet sagged like a marionette with cut strings.
Ranier stood over his battered body for a moment, then kicked him hard in the side. "Told you to shut up," he snarled as he spun on his heel and left.
"Ranier did this," Craig said tightly as he gripped the railing of the hospital bed.
Chet lay, pale and unmoving. He had been unconscious for several hours, though Brackett told them repeatedly it was not a coma. But still...seeing him this way....
"Ranier did this," Craig repeated in a whisper.
"You don't know that," Roy said gently.
"Oh yes, I do," Craig ground out. "An entire bar full of people and no one saw a thing?"
"They just don't wanna get involved," John said a tad bitterly.
"They need to," Craig snapped. "Then Ranier wouldn't still be out there, able to hurt someone else!" He moved toward the door.
"Where are you going?" John asked.
"To drive. To clear my head." Craig sighed. "I'll come back here for you in an hour, all right?"
"All right," John nodded. He knew from experience that when Craig said an hour, he meant exactly one hour.
Craig's retreat from Rampart felt like an escape. He was in John's Land Rover before he realized there was no escape. Nowhere to run.
He couldn't run from the ugliness Marty Ranier had brought into his world.
Craig turned the key and the truck flared to life to the accompaniment of Maureen McGovern's "There's got to be a morning after" warbling from the radio.
Yeah, Craig thought. But my morning after won't start till Ranier is stopped.
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