That's My Jam!

The Specter Fights For Justice!

rating: +40+x

It was the second Sunday in March. In Sloth's Pit, Wisconsin, that officially meant that Spring had started, damn the weather. And with the start of Spring came the world-famous1 Sloth's Pit Jam Jam. The entirety of Main Street was closed off to traffic, and the air around it smelled sweet and sticky as judges made their way through rows of white cloth tents, inspecting and sampling the various offerings available, from marmalade to jellies to preserves to honeys.

"Only one arrest so far this year. Not bad." Raymond February used his coffee-colored hand to tap on the wooden facade of Lessler's Antiques. "What'd they get them for, anyway?"

Ruby Williams rolled her shoulders. "It was Quinn Mason. Take a wild guess."

"Another Mellified Man?" He shook his head. "How the heck do the Masons keep making those? The Vegan Buffet was bad enough, but that family ain't right."

Ruby nodded. "And you'll note the distinct lack of apple butter this year. We aren't taking any chances."

"Jesus." February began walking through the stands. "Any potential trouble-makers?"

"Well, there's the jokers from the WisDOT office on Bray Road making 'Traffic Jams' with names like 'Asphalt Apricot' and 'Road-Block Boisonberry'. We've had Sinclair putting wards around them for the last half-hour."

"'Blackcurrant Roadblock' would have worked better."

"When's the last time you saw a Blackcurrant anything in the US of A?" Ruby squeezed past a man in a large bee costume, advertising a local apiary. "The Competitive Eating Club has submitted their own brand of 'designer mustards' to accompany artisan hotdogs. Chris— er, Researcher Hastings and Dr. Harrison are making sure that we don't have a repeat of 2015 by analyzing every mustard sample there is."

"You signed the relationship declaration forms, you can be informal." February shook his head. "I was on leave in 2015, remember? Only came back right when that cult popped up in town after abducting Stalin's corpse."

"Suffice to say, the designer mustard turned into designer mustard gas." Ruby frowned as she passed a group of people who were wearing face masks, with both facial coverings and shirts advertising "Milly's Eucalyptus Jam".

"Isn't eucalyptus toxic to humans?" February frowned.

"I'll get Carol and Tofflemire on it." Ruby sighed and pulled out her phone.

"Toff's here? Thought the risk of puns would be too great."

"He can put his game face on when he needs to." She said this with only a half-measure of sincerity.

"…Carol finally found the shock collar?" February smirked.

From far away in the crowd, an exasperated Robert Tofflemire called, "That was ONCE!"

February and Ruby blinked at each other before walking once again. "And S & C Plastics—" February began, hopeful.

"—is banned from participating, just like the last forty years, by town bylaws." Ruby frowned. "I mean, we'd basically win by default, between Gastronomy and Botany working together. Dr. Harrison's blueberry jam can literally raise the dead, it wouldn't be fair." She looked through her notes app. "There's a couple of S’kakithi and their human mates here, too. Selling 'Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Jam'."

"I can hear the Mouse's lawyers from here." February chuckled. "Wasn't Hendricks dating one of those, out in Oregon?"

"Baseless rumor. Dude's a massive insectophobe. He nearly punched out Dr. Jept for his housewarming gift of a tarantula—"

There was a series of yells and cries along the lines of "hey!" and "what the fuck?!" as a shadow darted through the crowd. They were clad in a top hat with a domino mask over their face, a bulging bag over their shoulder, full of jam, honey, coffee, mustard and several other confections and foodstuffs in jars. The rest of them was covered by a long, black cloak which covered the majority of their body. "Fools! You have been duped! Tricked! Bamboozled! The Jamburglar shall have a great bounty to—"

Before he could say 'night', he fell flat on his back after colliding with Ruby's outstretched arm, which had clotheslined him. Ruby felt her shoulder pop from the motion— the cloak must have been concealing a lot of mass. She looked down at the Jamburglar, flat disappointment on her face. "Richards. Again with this?"

February frowned, looking between them. "I'm… a bit lost."

"Right, you only came here in, what, 2014?" Ruby rubbed her face. "From 2009 to 2013, this man—" Ruby jostled the self-proclaimed Jamburglar to his feet— "name of Homer Richards, was a menace to this festival. Would steal products from everyone and then hoard them in his home. After his first time, he started calling himself the Jamburglar- though this is the first time he's done a getup this elaborate." She shook her head. "Richards, you're not allowed to be within five miles of Main Street. What the hell are you doing here?" She went to rip off his mask—

And found it squelch under her hands, as if she had attempted to tear into a block of Jell-O. "…what."

"Foolish girl!" The Jamburglar… didn't so much spring from her grasp as he did melt from it, taking up his bag along the way. "The Jamburglar cannot be jailed! It is my duty to take from those who are greedily hoarding their bounty for profit, and keep it for myself!" He sprung up to the roof of Elmore's Ribs and Rye, a good three-storey jump, and held the bag aloft. "This is your jam? I say this is my jam! Muahahaahahaha!"

There was a poof of boisonberry-scented smoke, and then the Jamburglar vanished.

"…if I live through this Halloween," Ruby sighed, "I'm asking to get reassigned to somewhere nice and quiet. Like Daleport, or or the Fifth Circle of Hell."

"That was Aurora Psychiatric in Wauwatosa." Dr. Katherine Sinclair replaced her phone in her pocket. "They've got a counselor monitoring Richards."

"And?" Ruby raised an eyebrow.

"Unless a fifty-year-old man with moderate schizophrenia and a bad leg can both bilocate and do a Spring-Heeled Jack impression, he's not our guy. He's been in Milwaukee all day."

"That's not good." February rubbed his face. "Really, really not good. You know what that means?"

"Code Gutenberg." Sinclair shook her head. "His exploits must have become some kind of local meme, and mutated into a thoughtform."

"Shee-it." Ruby winced. "He became a meme? How did we miss that?"

"Because we hardly ever engage with the townsfolk on a basis that isn't putting out some sort of metaphorical fire, or drowning our sorrows in coffee or booze." Sinclair wrinkled her nose. "It took us over five years for someone to realize the local game shop was selling trading cards from other universes, and the better part of a decade for us to figure out that, yes, every high school sports team in this town is literally cursed."

"Mother of God." February groaned. "Well, how do we contain it? And don't say—"

"You can't contain an idea." Sinclair and February spoke at the same time. Sinclair paused. "Well, you can't. We'd have to amnesticize the whole town, plus anyone who may know about it, including us."

"We can't just have him run around like this." February groused. "And he's just going to strike again next year."

"Well…" Sinclair frowned. "He seems to have fashioned himself after a phantom thief, yeah? Hat, domino mask, all of that?" She pulled out her phone and sent off a quick text.

"Yeah?" Ruby frowned. "Sinclair, I know what you're thinking, and the answer is fuck n—"

"Too late." From behind them, the slightly round form of Robert Tofflemire placed a pair of hats onto each of their heads— February got a brown fedora, while Ruby found herself in a black deerstalker. Both of them were given comically large magnifying glasses. "He's a thief, so you play the detectives."

"I hate pataphysics." Ruby adjusted her hat, not willing to admit that she thought it looked good on her.

"It gets old after a while." Sinclair looked away, practically staring through the wall of one of the buildings, irritation in her face. "It really, really does."

"Think of it less as pataphysics, and more as you playing along." Tofflemire grinned. "Goatman and Hook-handed man both hunt teenagers in the woods, Sinning Jesse haunts that Hole-in-the-Wall bar at the edge of town, and the Jamburglar is about to be caught by a pair of ace detectives."

February looked at Ruby, and shrugged. "Why not? Might be fun."

"Just promise you won't tell Blake," she sighed. Her brother was holed up in the infirmary following acute exposure to a gustatory memetic hazard. "He'd never let me hear the end of it."

"God as my witness, he'll never know." February beamed. "Come on. Let's find us some clues."

Despite it being a costume shop, there was no such thing as an 'off season' at the Witch's Hut.

When February and Ruby arrived, bearing a scrap that had been torn from the Jamburglar's cloak by a S’kakithi, the place was full of people ranging from their teenage years to almost forty. February frowned as he walked through the door. "The hell is this?"

"The proprietor sells a lot of cosplay supplies, and Kitsune Kon is only a few months away. Probably the cheapest place around, too." She approached the counter, where Laura Ashbrooke, the thin, pale, raven-haired proprietor of the establishment, was ringing up a pair of teenagers whose backpacks were more pins than exposed fabric.

Laura looked up at the pair of them, and let out a long, lingering sigh. "I literally just got asked the 'black moon' thing last week. I'm still not possessed, and I'm trying to run a business."

"We're not concerned about that— the Pit Sloth has long since been neutralized." Ruby placed the scrap of cloth on the counter. "We believe this may have been purchased here. Part of a costume for a thief outfit of some kind?"

Laura picked up the scrap. "Purchased? Try stolen." She snorted. "Some weirdo in a potato sack commissioned me to make an Arsene Lupin costume for some kind of fancy dress party. He showed up and gave me what I thought was a check before running off into the night wearing it, laughing in some weird accent."

"Let me guess: he paid you in a Jam of the Month Club membership?" February quirked an eyebrow.

Laura stared for several seconds. "Okay, I know you have cameras everywhere, but that is really specific. How'd you know?"

"It's on-brand for the perp. Anything strike you as odd about him?"

In response, Laura stuck her right hand on top of a binder of cosplay reference images next to the register. She lifted her hand, and the binder stuck to it, before gradually pulling off with a dry sound like the ripping of paper. "It's been a week since I got my 'payment'. I'm still sticky."

Ruby frowned, and looked at her right hand. She just now realized that she hadn't stopped holding the magnifying glass, even though her hand was open. "Well that's just peachy."

"This about what happened on Main Street?" Laura asked. "The Jamburglar?"

"Yeah. We think it's a… local oddity."

"Trying to find his bolthole?" Laura withdrew to the back of the store. "I require an address on all order forms for my costumes, in case they need to be shipped. Let's see…"

Laura dug through the forms using her left hand, before producing a piece of paper with several stains on it. "Here you go."

February took the form and looked it over. "Using Richards's name on this."

"When a thoughtform is based off of a real person, they tend to do that." She looked down the form. "That address… isn't that—"

"He can't seriously be here." Ruby Williams stared at the building before them.

"I mean, it's literally the only building on Plastics Circle." February looked up at Site-87, whose four above-ground storeys bore the words "S & C Plastics" in large, light-up letters. "Unless you count the greenhouses out back."

"Has to be a red herring." Ruby frowned, pulling out her ID badge and tapping it against the RFID reader out front. The door failed to buzz open. She tried it again. "The hell, did it get fried?"

February took out his badge and tried it, actually holding it against the reader. It stuck there for a few seconds, before falling off. The reader was covered in a thin layer of what smelled like honey.

"Okay, so not a red herring." Ruby sighed, pressing the intercom button above it. "Hey, uh, Lacey." She addressed the receptionist. "This is Ruby Williams, ID Num—"

"FOOLS!" The Jamburglar's voice cackled over the intercom. "Lacey is not here! She… has taken a personal day!" He cackled.

"How the hell did you get in?!" Ruby tried the door, only to find it locked, and worse, sticky.

"There is no obstacle that can stand in the way of The Jamburglar! The ventilation system posed no challenge to my gelatinous form! And now all of the delicious contents of this building are mine for the taking!

"Dangit all." February produced his phone. "Helen, override Site-87 Main Entrance, Code Alfa-Niner-Green-Echo-Quarterstaff."

«Access Granted.» His phone chimed, and the doors to Site-87 opened with a click.

With some difficulty, Ruby removed her hand and entered the building, and nearly tripped over a dozen jars of honey. Every available surface in the lobby was covered in jars of various types, containing not only the spoils from the Jam Jam, but also jars that looked like they were taken off of the shelves of Starlow Grocery, and even restaurant-sized packets of jam.

"Was wondering why they didn't have any any of this stuff at the Waffle House this morning." February sighed as he stepped over a pack of Smucker's Apple Butter. He made his way to the elevator, only to find the door half-open, the car stuck in between floors, full to the brim with jars of jam. "I see the obvious pun, and I'm not making it."

"Good plan." Ruby entered the stairwell, and went downwards— the only level of the site proper accessible from above ground was the barracks for Sigma-10. Thankfully, the door hadn't been jammed, and opened with a tap of her badge.

The door was still a struggle to open, as it was blocked by dozens of containers of jam. Ruby winced as she heard a crash and several jars shattered. "Okay, if I was a jam-themed robber, where would I be?"

"Is that a rhetorical question?" February pushed past her.

"Of course it is." She entered the main hallway of Sublevel-1, with the barracks proper on one side and the armory on the other. "They're obviously going to be in Gastronomy."

"God, Harrison's not going to let us hear the end of this. Man needs his test kitchen immaculate."

She ran for the end of the hall, throwing open the doors to the stairway to the lower levels.

The containment breach alarms were sounding on Sublevel 3.

Ruby passed by a panic bunker on the way there, which had a light on that indicated it was at capacity. She pressed an intercom button beside the bunker. "This is Agent Ruby Williams. Who all's in there?"

"Williams?" On the other end, Dr. Partridge's voice groaned with relief. "We've been trying to contact you, but something's—"

"—jamming the signal." She sighed. "Why am I not surprised?"

"Everyone's in here. Harrison had to be dragged in, wanted to defend his kitchen to the last."

"That man's insane." Ruby rubbed her face. "All right, well, we should have this resolved soon. Hopefully."

"Careful, agent. The situation here's sticky."

February went po-faced, and stepped next to Ruby, pressing the intercom. "Partridge, this is February. If you make another pun like that, I'm replacing all the literature in your office with Chick Tracts."

"…that's fair."

Ruby and February walked off, with her giving him an odd look. "You wouldn't actually do that, would you?"

"God no." February laughed. "Chick is a raging bigot. But it makes for an effective threat."

"How do you want to do this? He's made of jam, so we can't just stick him in a cell."

February looked at a fire alarm as they turned a corner leading into the Department of Gastronomy's test kitchen. "I have an idea or two."

The test kitchen was like something out of the wet dreams of Emeril, Gordon Ramsay, and Julia Child. It was massive, with dozens of burners, broilers, ovens, pots and pans, with over twenty different fridges storing everything from milk to cheese to out-of-season fruits. There were three fridges set aside specifically for anomalous foodstuffs that would be tested.

The floor of it, normally spotless, was covered by hundreds of jars of jam— each of them from the test kitchen. "See a burlap sack anywhere?" Ruby asked.

"That's a negative." February pulled out his lighter. "Jamburglar? You in here?"

There was a malicious chortle from throughout the room. "I am indeed, detectives! But can you find me? If you can, I'll give you a chance at my spoils!"

"Quit playing games!" Ruby picked up some towels from the counter and used them to clog a drain on the floor, before covering the drain with a small crock pot. "We have you cornered!"

"You are the ones who are in a jam here, detectives!" A ladle flew off the wall and nearly hit Ruby in the head. "I am the Pantry Raider! The Thief of Thyme! I am the Jamburglar!"

"And I am never going to give Tofflemire shit about his puns again." Ruby tried extricating her magnifying glass from her sticky hand, only to find herself looking through it. One of the jars at the far end of the room shone through the glass. Removing it from her eyes, the shine was gone.

She kept the glass up to her face, stopping before the shining jar. It was a jar of blood orange jam. She looked at February, before going to open the jar—

And instead throwing it against the wall over a nearby sink. The jar burst open, and the Jamburglar spilled out, a burlap sack filled with jars appearing in his mass. "Curses! Your deductive skills have foiled me! I hate to resort to this, but…" From his cloak, he produced a 9mm pistol. "It seems I have no choice."

February didn't even bother to allow him to monologue. He held his lighter up against the sprinkler. All of the heads in the kitchen went off, spraying stagnant water everywhere.

The Jamburglar's form rippled at the impact of the water, but remained solid. A confused look was on its masked face. "…was… that meant to do something?"

"I thought jam dissolved in water!" February hissed. "What the hell?!"

"Why would I steal jam if I was made of it? I'm made of jelly you fools!"

"…and jelly's more solid than jam. It's literally gelatin, and water bounces off of it." Ruby rubbed her head. "Fuck."

The Jamburglar cackled and took up its sack of jams. "Foo—" it cleared its throat. "FOOLS! You have failed, and your condiments and confections are lost!"

Ruby twitched, and took a mallet meant for tenderizing meat up from the counter. Before the Jamburglar could spit out another cheesy line, she was upon him, smashing in his gelatin kneecaps. She didn't play Dungeons and Dragons, but knew that blunt-force trauma was the best way to deal with a blob of gelatin from watching a few games of it. The Jamburglar screamed as both of its kneecaps flew off.

"I just wanted," Ruby brought it down on its hand, "to have a nice fucking day at a jam festival!" She hit the Jamburglar in the back. "And instead the town craziness takes over and I'm stuck dealing with you!" With a squelch, she hit it in the side. "You like jam puns? Here's one." She brought the mallet up, golf-club style, and decapitated the Jamburglar. "You're toast."

February stared as the Jamburglar's face hit him in the chest. He swallowed and looked up at Ruby. "I'm… going to need to take a long shower." He looked down at his jam-covered self and sighed. "For. Several reasons."

Ruby grunted as she tried to take up the bag of jams— the glass jars were over 500 pounds by themselves. It wasn't budging, and she felt her arm pop as she tried to lift it. "Fuck!"

"…if I may make a suggestion?" February asked, backing away from her slowly.

Jam Jam was extended by another day as the venue was relocated to the bottom of the hill that Plastics Circle was located on. Armful by armful, jars of food were brought out and returned to their rightful owners. Much thanks was given, and laughter was exchanged.

Ruby absently chewed on an artisanal hot dog as she looked through her phone. She had declined to eat any mustard— Chris told her that the mustardseed they used was thoroughly cursed. The ketchup and relish should have been okay, though.

"What are you looking at?" February asked, bearing a jelly-filled donut.

"Trying to figure out what made the Jamburglar in the first place. I got nothing." She winkled her nose. "Last real mention of him is a newspaper article in Superior around the time the real Richards got sent off to a psych ward."

February raised an eyebrow. "But… a thoughtform just can't come out of nowhere. Legend, Critter, Tall Tale, they all have to be told first."

"That's what's bugging me. There's no indication the Jamburglar had any kind of memetic infamy, or even any jokes written about him." She chewed her lip. "My best guess is that it's some kind of oral tradition, but god knows how rare that is nowadays."

"Ominous," February sighed, "But not an immediate concern." He smelled the air. "Is… someone making fish and chips?"

"Yeah. Sturgeon from Lake Superior with tartar sauce and home-grown potatoes. Hubble Farms is partnering with this new place, S & P Canneries…"

The pair of agents walked off towards further food, their conversation lost among the voices of the crowd.

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