The Da Twinkie Code (Chapter 2)

TWO

Roger Lincoln despised the first day of classes. New students running around, new faces for him to try and memorize, and most of all, figuring out a new way to introduce his course. Really, it was his own fault; most professors opened their classes the same way every year. Lincoln considered himself a perfectionist, however, and it just wouldn’t do to start this year’s Introduction to Snackology the same way he’d started the last one.

Lincoln was a tall, broad-shouldered man now pushing 50. His hair was graying slightly, easing his transition from “handsome” to “distinguished.” Unmarried, he had developed a reputation – not entirely fair – as something of a skirt-chaser, thanks to several liaisons with other faculty in the last several years. Things had been quiet recently, however, and he was looking forward to focusing his energy on teaching this semester.

He checked his watch. It was nine in the morning. The lecture hall was full of eager faces. In some ways, Lincoln envied them; when he was a college student, no university even had a snackology department. Today there were seventeen, although thanks to his own hard work, Harvard’s was by far the most prestigious. Anyone who was truly interested in snackology came to Harvard, at least assuming they could get in.

The rustling of papers stopped. Lincoln knew he had the full attention of the hall, and he started with the very first slide. It depicted a large banana and nothing else.  “Does anyone know what this is?” he asked.

There was silence for several seconds, then a slight titter as the room began to realize how silly the question seemed. Finally, a girl in the front row raised her hand.  Lincoln pointed at her. “Yes?”

“It’s a banana,” she said, slightly unsure but with a what-else-could-it-be tone.

“Yes and no,” Lincoln said. “Anyone else?”

The room was still.

“This,” Lincoln said after several seconds, “is a banana. That’s correct. But in the context of this course, it is not just a banana. This is a symbol charged with a lot of meaning. This is the symbol of the Bananists.”

Someone in the back row laughed.

“I understand that, I do,” Lincoln said, “because you’re young. If you were thirty years older I wouldn’t need to tell any of you what this was, and you wouldn’t laugh. The Bananists were the deadliest snack vigilante group of the postwar period in this country. At one time their operations were equivalent in scope to counterculture terrorist groups like the Weather Underground. They bombed multiple Hostess factories and even tried to assassinate the CEO in 1968. And do you know why?”

No one did.

“Because they believed that the vanilla cream in Twinkies should be replaced with the original banana cream that had been abandoned after World War II,” Lincoln said.

There was more laughter. Lincoln waited.

“I know that not all of you are here because you’re seriously interested in snackology,” he said after a minute. “But you should understand that this is serious. We’re going to be talking about a lot of things in this course, and they’re all going to be serious. Do not think for a minute that because this course is about snack cakes that it’s going to be a walk in the park. If you approach the material that way, you will fail. I promise you.”

The room returned to silence.

“All right then,” Lincoln continued, advancing his slides. “The turf war between Hostess and Drake’s on the East Coast in the late 1980s was particularly acrimonious…”

* * *

Lincoln was locking the door to his office when a pretty blonde girl approached him. “Professor Lincoln, do you have a moment?”

“I’m sorry, I’m in a bit of a rush,” Lincoln replied. “Can you come back during office hours tomorrow?”

“Oh, I’m not a student,” the girl said. “My name is Lindsey Woods. I’m Timothy Woods’ daughter.”

“The Hostess CEO,” Lincoln said reflexively. For years Lincoln had been in correspondence, by mail only, with Timothy Woods; in addition to getting some background information for his books, he had also tried to get Woods to confirm some of the wilder stories from Hostess’ history, but Woods routinely played dumb on anything even remotely secretive or controversial. His daughter was a striking young woman, 21 years old, with shoulder-length blonde hair, impeccable skin and an athletic figure. Her blouse also featured a plunging neckline, and Lincoln did his best to maintain eye contact. “What brings you to Cambridge, Miss Woods?”

“I need your help,” Lindsey said. “Two nights ago my father was murdered inside the factory. The police have no leads.”

“My God,” Lincoln said. It had been a long time since snack cakes had turned deadly, almost forty years. “I’m very sorry to hear that, but how can I help?”

“Do you have a strong stomach?” Lindsey asked. Lincoln shrugged an assent. “Then tell me what you make of this,” she continued, producing several Polaroids from her purse and thrusting them into Lincoln’s hands.

The pictures were not a pretty sight. Timothy Woods’ body had been wrapped in plastic, his face bloated. A banana protruded from his mouth. “What in God’s name happened?” Lincoln asked.

“The killer, or killers, apparently used an industrial pump… to fill him with cream,” Lindsey said, choking back tears.

“Then they put a banana in his mouth?”

Lindsey sniffled. “There was one… in the other end too.”

Lincoln winced. This exact crime had never been seen before, but an attack on the Hostess CEO and the use of bananas rang alarm bells. “It’s pretty simple,” he said. “Either the Bananists are behind this, or someone wants everyone to think they are.”

“You don’t think-”

“Nothing is ever as simple as it looks, Miss Woods. You came to me, so I assume you’ve read at least one of my books.”

Lindsey nodded. “All the King Don’s Men and Snackography for Beginners.”

“Then you know the Bananists haven’t been active since 1973 and haven’t attempted a killing since the late 60s. To the extent they still exist, it’s like most defunct rebel groups – they’re just political now, trying to achieve their goals through letter-writing campaigns and such. You’ve probably heard about that.”

“Five years ago my father hired me to open his mail,” Lindsey said. “You’re right, it’s all pretty typical. Except… except for this.” She pulled an open envelope from her bag. “I don’t know why I just held onto it. I guess it was too weird to mean anything. But then they killed my dad… and I just don’t know anymore.” She wiped away more tears.

Lincoln pulled a letter from the envelope and opened it. It featured little more than a small poem, typewritten in capital letters:

SUZY WON’T BUT DEBBIE WILL
KID SELLS US A BITTER NILL
MY BANANA DOES THE FLIPS
WHEN IT GOES BETWEEN YOUR LIPS

Below that was a series of shapes and a small list of handwritten numbers: 4, 27, 5, 1, 5, 4. Lindsey continued as Lincoln studied the paper. “I mean, look at that. It just seems ridiculous, right? But after what happened it just terrifies me. It even reads like a threat. It’s my fault, I should have said something. He’d still be alive.” She started crying again.

“Hey, hey,” Lincoln said. “Look, when did you get this?”

“I think… maybe last April.”

“So over a year ago?” Lincoln asked. “How could anyone have known? Look, these numbers down here are clearly dates, right? 4-27, April 27th, the night your father was murdered. If you got this before last April 27th, they’ve been planning this for over a year.”

“They? So you think it is the Bananists?”

“I don’t know for sure,” Lincoln said. “Like I said, maybe we’re just supposed to think it was and scapegoat them. But it seems like a lot of work. And the poem clearly references their main grievances. ‘Suzy won’t but Debbie will’ – that’s a reference to Suzy Q’s not bringing back their banana flavor while Little Debbie produces the Banana Twin, a similar product. ‘Kid sells us a bitter nill’ – it seems like a typo, but I think that’s a reference to Twinkie the Kid, and ‘nill’ is a shortened form of vanilla. The third line references the Banana Flip, which you can’t get anymore. The fourth line I guess is just a threat, like you said.”

“But… if 4-27 is a date, what about 5-1 and 5-4?”

“Yeah,” said Lincoln, “I was just wondering about that myself.”

TO BE CONTINUED

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