William Johnston: Get Smart!

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William Johnston Get Smart!
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    Get Smart!
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    Иронический детектив / на английском языке
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William Johnston

Get Smart!


It was a typical spring morning in New York City. The air was scented with carbon monoxide. A relative quiet hung over the metropolis, due to the fact that traffic was snarled in all directions. The only disturbing sounds were the popping of the buds and the gargling of the pigeons in Central Park.

Then, on Madison Avenue, the quiet was interrupted by the ringing of a telephone. The jangling came not from an office building or shop. It was somewhere on the street. Men and women hurrying to work glanced about curiously-but saw no telephone. Odd. But in New York City that made it commonplace. So, for the most part, the passersby ignored the phenomenon and hurried on.

The one person who could not disregard the ringing was Maxwell Smart-known to Control as Agent 86. Max was a slight, tight-lipped, firm-jawed, neatly-dressed young man. As the ringing continued, his expressionless eyes remained determinedly fixed on an imaginary point several yards to the front, as if he were trying to disassociate himself from the sound. Then finally he glared down at his right shoe and said testily, “All right, all right-I’m coming!” It was as if the telephone were hidden in his shoe.

In fact, it was. But Max needed privacy to answer it. Even in New York City, talking to your shoe on Madison Avenue is cause for attracting attention. And, being a secret agent, Max felt it a duty to keep his occupation a secret.

At the first phone booth he came to, Max stepped inside and pulled the door closed. He bent down, and with considerable difficulty, since the booth had not been built for the purpose of removing a shoe, he unlaced his right oxford, slipped it from his foot, then straightened and spoke into the sole, while listening at the heel.

Max: 86 here-that you, Chief?

Chief: What took you so long? I’ve been ringing you for a good ten minutes!

Max: Sorry, Chief. I was indisposed.

Chief: Oh… in the shower?

Max: No, taking a stroll… enjoying the carbon monoxide on Madison Avenue. It’s lovely at this time of year.

Chief: Max, I need you right away. There’s another crisis. How soon can you Max (interrupting): Excuse me, Chief. Hang on a second.

Max turned toward the door of the booth, where, outside, a matronly middle-aged woman was rapping on the glass. He opened the door a crack and spoke to her.

“Sorry, Madam,” he said, “this booth is in use.”

“I have to make a call,” the woman said irritably. “This isn’t a dressing room, it’s a telephone booth. If you want to change your shoes, find a shoe store.”

“Madam, I happen to be on the phone,” Max said.

“You are not. The phone is on the hook.”

Max glanced back over his shoulder. “Oh… that phone.” Then, facing the woman again, he said, “It so happens, Madam, that I am talking through my shoe. Now… if you’ll excuse me…”

He pulled the door closed, and resumed his conversation with the Chief.

Max: Sorry, Chief. A little misunderstanding with a civilian. Now

… what were you saying?

Chief: I said there’s a crisis afoot. And, following our procedure of assigning cases by rotation, your number came up. I need you here at Control right away. How soon can you Max (interrupting again): Chief… can you hold on? That civilian is back. I’ll just be a second.

The middle-aged matron had returned, accompanied by a uniformed policeman. The policeman had rapped on the glass with his night stick. Once more, Max opened the door a crack.

“Yes, officer, what can I do for you?” Max said.

“That’s a telephone booth, buddy,” the policeman said. “And this lady wants to make a call.”

“Officer, as I told the lady, the booth is in use,” Max said. “I’m making a call myself. A very important call. If it’s anything like most of my calls, the fate of the whole civilized world may hang in the balance.”

“Now I believe him!” the woman snorted. “He told me he was talking through his hat!”

“My shoe, Madam!” Max said. “I said my shoe-I’m talking through my shoe.” He opened the door the rest of the way and handed his oxford to the policeman. “Here, officer, try it yourself. The Chief is on the line. He’ll explain it to you.”

Suspiciously, the policeman accepted the shoe.

“No, no, you speak into the sole,” Max said. “The heel is for listening.”

The policeman turned the shoe around.

“Go ahead,” Max said. “Say, ‘Hello, Chief,’ or something like that. Just don’t ask him about his rheumatism-it’s a very sore point.”

The policeman spoke. “Chief…?”

As a reply came back, his mouth dropped open. Then, after a second, he said, “Sure, Chief, I understand. I thought he was a nut. Naturally, when he-” He listened again. Then, nodding, said, “Right. You can count on me. The fate of the whole civilized world is very important to me, too.”

The policeman handed the shoe back to Max, then turned to the matron. “Sorry, lady,” he said, “this booth is in use.”

“Mad!” the woman shrieked. “The whole world has gone mad!” She flounced off down the street. “I’ll report this! I’ll report it to somebody!”

Smiling sheepishly, the policeman addressed Max. “Say, if you wouldn’t mind, there’s a little favor…” He glanced around to make sure he couldn’t be overheard, then, to make doubly sure, he whispered to Max.

An expression of minor pain passed across Max’s face. Then he shrugged, and spoke into the shoe again. “Sorry, Chief,” he said. “I have to hang up now. The officer wants to make a call. To his mother in Brooklyn. See you in a few minutes.” Then he faced back to the policeman, handing him the shoe. “All right… but make it short. The fate of the whole civilized world… oh well, never mind.”

Ten minutes later, his shoe back in place, Max was hustling along Madison Avenue once more, headed toward the garage where he had parked his car. When he reached there, the garage attendant had a complaint.

“When I parked it and put on the emergency brake, there was a sound like a rat-a-tat-tat, and I shot twelve holes in the Buick parked behind me,” he said.

“That’s not the emergency brake, that’s the trigger that operates the machine gun in the rear turret,” Max explained.

“What about the Buick?” the attendant said.

Max handed the man his Diners’ Club card. “Charge it,” he said.

The attendant brought Max’s car around. It was a long, black, shiny, custom-built automobile. Max got behind the wheel and stepped on the accelerator-or, rather, what he thought was the accelerator. Instead, his foot landed on the floor button that activated the smoke screen. The garage filled with sooty, black smoke.

Max donned his gas mask, then apologized to the attendant, who was doubled over in a spasm of coughing. “Sorry,” he said. “My foot slipped. A policeman has been talking through my shoe to his mother in Brooklyn, and I guess his hands were sweaty. It made my shoe slippery. That can happen, you know.”

“Out!” the attendant rasped.

Max found the accelerator with his foot, stomped on it, and roared out of the garage. “Sorehead,” he muttered, removing his gas mask.

Control was located underground in a gray stone, government-looking building. Max parked at the service entrance, then, leaving his car, trotted down the steps. As he approached the door, an electronic device activated its mechanism and it rolled open for him to pass. He entered a bare-walled corridor. The door behind him clanged closed. Ahead of him another door rolled open. Reaching the opening, he started through-but noticed that the shoestring of his telephone had come untied. He stooped to tie it. As he did so, the door clanged shut, nipping him from behind and sending him sprawling.

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