William Johnston: Sorry, Chief…

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William Johnston Sorry, Chief…
  • Название:
    Sorry, Chief…
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  • Жанр:
    Иронический детектив / на английском языке
  • Язык:
    Английский
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William Johnston


Sorry, Chief…

1

Max Smart — known to Control as Agent 86-peered down at the wing-tipped brown-and-white oxford that the shoe clerk had just fitted snugly to his right foot. His left foot was already wearing its mate. As the clerk, still kneeling, glanced up hopefully, Max tested the feel of the shoes on his feet.

“Would you like to walk in them?” the clerk asked.

“What else?” Max replied. “What would I expect to do in them-fly? Just because they’re wing-tips?”

“I meant,” the clerk explained, “would you like to walk around the floor-see how they feel?”

“Good idea,” Max said, rising.

He strolled around the section of chairs, then seated himself again. “They’re a lit-tle snug around the middle toe,” Max said.

The clerk stared at him, perplexed. “The middle toe? That’s the first time I’ve ever heard that comment.”

Max’s eyes narrowed. “This is the first time I’ve ever had these shoes on,” he said.

The clerk nodded dimly.

“However, they’ll probably loosen up after I’ve worn them a while,” Max said. “So… I’ll take them.”

“Yes, six,” the clerk said. “Will you wear them or shall I have them wrapped?”

“I’ll wear them,” Max replied. “When you’ve got a tight middle toe problem, it’s never too soon to start working it out.”

The salesman rose, picking up the shoes that Max had worn into the store. “If you’ll come to the desk with me, sir,” he said, “I’ll have these wrapped.”

Together-with Max limping slightly-they went to the cashier’s desk. The girl at the desk put Max’s old shoes into a box and began wrapping it. As she tucked paper around the box, a telephone rang.

The girl looked at the clerk, then at Max, then continued wrapping.

The telephone rang again.

Max shifted uneasily.

“Your phone is ringing,” the clerk said to the girl.

She bit her lip nervously, then said, “That’s what I thought. But then I remembered-I don’t have a phone.”

Max cleared his throat-but said nothing.

The phone rang again.

“Well, some body’s phone is ringing,” the clerk said edgily.

“Ahhh… I think it’s mine,” Max said.

The clerk and the girl stared at him.

“Your phone?” the clerk said, puzzled.

“My shoe, actually,” Max said. “Excuse me.”

He took the shoe box from the girl, parted it from the wrapping, opened the box, and took the right shoe from it. Then, as the clerk and the girl stared at him in utter dumbfoundment, he spoke into the sole, while listening at the heel.

Max: You-know-who here, Chief. I don’t want to mention my number because I’m not alone.

Chief: Max? Is that you? Why didn’t you answer your shoe?

Max: It was tied up in a box, Chief.

Chief (disgustedly): Max, sometimes I wonder how you ever got to be a secret agent!

Max (wounded): Chief, you know full well how I got to be a secret agent. I got into the wrong line. I thought it was the line for the Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall. How did I know that Control would be recruiting over the holidays? That’s usually the slow period.

Chief: All right, Max… never mind. Report to my office. I have a mission for you. In fact, it may be the most important mission you’ve ever handled. The fate of the whole civilized world may-

Max (breaking in): Yes, I know, Chief-may hang in the balance.

Chief: Isn’t that important to you, Max?

Max: Of course it is, Chief. The fate of the whole civilized world is as important to me as it is to anybody. It’s just that… well, in all my cases the fate of the whole civilized world is hanging in the balance. I’d like to do something different for a change. Something to break the monotony. Like rescuing a pussy cat from a tree.

Chief: Max, I promise-the next pussy-cat-up-a-tree case that comes in, you get it.

Max: Gee… thanks, Chief.

Chief: But, right now, get in here!

Max: I’m on my way, Chief. And… Chief. Don’t forget. Meowwwww!

There was a loud click on the line.

Max turned back to the clerk and the girl. “I think I better wear the telephone, and you can wrap the brown-and-white wing-tips,” he said.

Max changed his shoes, then left the store and got into his car, which was parked at the curb. The car, a sleek sports model, had been specially built for him. It was equipped with a number of “extras” that were invaluable to him in helping him follow his trade.

Getting in behind the wheel, Max switched on the ignition. Or, rather, he intended to switch on the ignition. But, accidentally, his finger pressed the button that fired the forward machine guns. There was a rat-a-tat-tat, and a truck that was passing in front of the car had its top sheared off. The driver of the truck, however, did not notice that his vehicle had been noticeably altered. He drove on.

Max, leaning out the window, called after him. “Sorry about that..”

But, as the truck proceeded, Max pulled his head back in and shrugged. “It could happen to anybody,” he commented to himself.

A bit rattled, Max reached for the ignition switch again-and this time touched the button that operated the ejection seat. The seat beside him rocketed into the air.

Max tipped his head back and peered up at it-then smiled as the parachute opened and the seat floated leisurely back toward the car.

Nearby, a woman screamed. “The Martians are landing!”

“No, no! That’s my car seat!” Max cried.

But the explanation was drowned out in the sounds of pandemonium as the passersby, shrieking and screaming in terror, raced for safety.

One gentleman, however, remained. And, with Max, he watched the car seat gently settle back into place.

“So that’s how they look,” the gentleman said. “I thought they’d look more like bugs-with antennae.”

“This is not a Martian,” Max insisted. “It’s my car seat.”

The gentleman cupped an ear. “Eh? You’ll have to speak up. I’m a little hard-of-hearing.”

“It’s my car seat!” Max bellowed.

The gentleman nodded, smiling. “Yes, it’s hard to beat. But, with us talking about sending a man to Mars, it’s only natural that they’d send one of their folks down here. Ask him how the trip was.”

Resigned, Max turned to the car seat. “How was your trip?” he said.

“What’d he say?” the gentleman asked.

“The weather was a little rough over Chicago,” Max said.

The gentleman looked at his watch. “Yes, I have to go, myself,” he said. “I’m late for work. I’m in the complaint department at the discount store up the street.” He tipped his hat to the seat “Have a nice stay,” he said. Then he walked on.

Very carefully this time, Max reached for the ignition switch. He found it, started the engine, and pulled out into traffic.

Turning to the seat, he said, “You’ll find that, down here, some days are like that”

Minutes later, Max entered the Chief’s office. He found that two of his fellow agents were already there. They were Agent 99, a slender, attractive brunette young lady, and Agent K-13, otherwise known as Fang, a pudgy, attractive blond young sheepdog.

Max greeted them warmly. “Good-morning, 99,” he said. “Woof, Fang.”

“Rorff!” Fang replied.

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