The kids used to make fun of him, because of his name. Philly Hamm! they called him. Philly Cheesesteak! He was a fat kid, too, so the names had a double meaning. God, how he hated it. Hated them.
Sometimes now, as an adult, he’d tell the kids to call him that. It made it all that much better. His revenge on the kids that had been so cruel to him. Philly Hamm! Philly Cheesesteak! Yeah, well, I got your cheesesteak right here!
Sometimes, back then, the kids would tease him so bad it made him sick. He hadn’t felt that way in a long time. But he felt that way now.
Phil Hamm pushed open the men’s room door. Cooler in here than out in the hallway. Air rushed out past him as he entered, smells of citrus and chemicals masking a slight odor of stale urine. A large bathroom, four sinks on one long faux-marble counter, four urinals, three stalls. Hamm crouched down to look. No feet in any of the stalls. Thank God he was alone. Phil Hamm needed very much to be alone.
His black leather dress shoes clicked on the tile floor (the same faux-marble as the countertop) as he went to the last stall. The handicap-accessible one, the one with the most room. He shut the stall door and latched it. Hamm sat down on the spotless white commode, not bothering to lower his pants. He leaned forward, put his face in his hands, and sobbed. Just like he’d done as a kid. Philly Hamm! Philly Cheesesteak! “Damn it!” he muttered. “Damn it all to hell!” They had him. Had him good. His ass was going to fry for sure this time. Philly Fat Ass!
Outside, they were finishing up the press conference. All the reporters asking the same questions over and over again, just changing the words. And the suits and ties at WEBWATCH, the smooth talkers, giving the same answer each time. No, we don’t know how this happened. No, we don’t know where the creature will go. No, we cannot guarantee a speedy recapture. No, no, no, no, no.
No chance in hell for Philly Hamm.
Do you know what they do to child molesters in prison, Philly?
In his pocket, the cell phone vibrated. Hamm had been expecting it to. He pulled it out, flipped it open. The bastard didn’t even give him a chance to answer.
“Troubling news today, Mr. Hamm. It makes your task a bit more difficult, doesn’t it? But it changes nothing. You will find the creature before the authorities do, and you will deliver it alive to me at the time and place of my selection. You will hear from me soon.”
Hamm wanted to smash the cell phone against the floor, but restrained himself. Instead he stuffed it back into his pants pocket.
The bathroom door opened. Hamm stifled his sobs. The door swished closed again. Footsteps. Hamm hoped it was just some guy come in to take a piss. He wanted—needed—to be alone again.
The footsteps kept coming. Past the urinals. Hamm listened. They kept coming. Hamm raised his head. What the…?
The footsteps stopped outside his stall. There were feet showing in the gap under the door. “This one here’s occupied.” Hamm tried to make his voice sound normal. The feet didn’t move. Black feet, wearing sandals. “Somethin’ I can help you with?” Hamm said.
“Come out, please.”