Fan Fiction, aside from an ingredients panel, is the most marginal of literary genres. Since the 17th century when Cervantes' Don Quixote was sabotaged by amateur scribblers, Fan Fiction throughout the ages has clung to the underbelly of good writing like barnacles on the Starship Enterprise.
Last month I was challenged by Music To Spazz By Jingle Producer Nutley Sam Elwitt to partake in a literary joust of the schlubbiest kind: an Adam-12 Fan Fiction Contest. Adam-12 Fan Fiction really does exist and it's serious business. An unsavory bet was proposed wherein the loser had to do something so stupid it cannot even be mentioned on the pages of this blog.
Impartial arbiter WFMU air personality Gaylord Fields was chosen to judge the idiotic proceedings and the contest was under way. Two stories were submitted to Gaylord on New Year's Eve: Nutley Sam's Log #1262: The Incident and my Thank You Officer Malloy. The authors of the pieces were not divulged at the time.
Last Thursday night I was handed a stunning and unexpected victory in the final hour of my radio show. I was fully expecting Nutley Sam's adventure to cop the prize but as Gaylord later elaborated, "Yes, it goes without saying that both stories accomplished perfectly what they aimed for -- in Sam's case it was intrigue and excitement mixed with camaraderie; in Dave's it was stultifying ennui and torpor . . . I was looking for the story that most gave me the Adam-12 experience . . . because [Thank You Officer Malloy] started off and went flat it reminded me exactly of an Adam-12 episode"
Here then are the entries in the contest; the winning story and its worthy runner-up. May Jack Webb have mercy on our souls.
Thank You Officer Malloy
by Dave the Spazz
It was Friday morning, August 9th, and quiet was all that Pete Malloy had on his mind. Just some sweet peace and quiet was all he was asking for. He was almost late getting to Central Receiving thanks to that bimbo he picked up last night at McSwiggins. Like everything else lately, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but jeez, what a chatty broad. Everyone always said that Malloy was a good listener but he thought of himself as more of an indifferent one. Waifish and mousey, Lynette didn't seem like a hippie at first but naturally she turned out to be one. Seems she had something or other to protest about later that day. It took her forever to get her clothes and things together as Malloy leaned impatiently against the door jamb of his apartment.
"You didn't have to wait for me to leave, fuzzy wuzzy," Lynette chirped as she pecked Malloy's cheek, "I can let myself out."
"Not a problem," lied Malloy with his best game face.
"I'm staying with some beautiful people in the Canyon. You should meet them, Pete. They're totally groovy!"
* * *
Only three hours sleep and the coffee machine gave him two thirds cream to one third coffee. Malloy tossed it on his way out of the break room. Officer Ed Wells looked up from his jelly donut.
"Hey fella! If you're throwing good money away why don't you throw some in my direction?"
Malloy slammed the door and walked past Wells without even shooting him a glance. Wasn't worth it. Stepping into the glare of the parking lot he spotted his partner crouched down doing something to the left rear wheel of the prowl car.
"Nothing. Just checking the tire pressure with this gizmo Jean's father gave me." Reed stood up and handed Malloy a silver pen-like device. "You just attach it to the nozzle and it tells you exactly how much p.s.i. you're traveling with. That's pounds per square inch. See, it's got a clip on it. Fits right in your pocket."
Malloy handed it back. "Let's roll."
They took a right on Rampart and headed south down towards Echo Park. Reed shifted in his seat and swiveled the rear view mirror. He was using the clip from the tire pressure gauge to pick something out of his teeth. Satisfied with his handiwork, Reed set the mirror back the way it was, or the way he thought it was, since Malloy, slightly exasperated, readjusted it again to his liking. Reed glanced the hot sheet and re-examined the surrounding license plates in a never-ending game of perpetrator bingo. Feeling fairly reckless, Reed attempted conversation with his partner.
"Looks like it's gonna be a scorcher."
They drove a few more blocks.
"Home or away game last night?"
Malloy leaned on the gas and blew past the light at Beverly.
Too personal. Reed waited a few minutes and tried again.
"You like Don Knotts?"
"Took Jean to a Don Knotts double feature last night in Van Nuys. The Reluctant Astronaut and The Shakiest Gun in the West. Boy, the scrapes he gets into." Reed grinned and shook his head remembering the previous night's hilarity. "Funny man."
"How 'bout checking in?"
Reed picked up the microphone. "1-Adam-12, Day Watch clear."
They took South Hoover towards West Pico in silence. Traffic was surprisingly light as they hit their usual spots--down South Union, across Exposition and back up towards East Olympic. While stopped at the corner of Maple and East 21st Reed looked down the street and observed a tan Olds running a stop sign.
"I saw it."
Malloy flicked on the lights and took a right. The Olds pulled over on the next street opposite some young kids playing catch on the sidewalk. A sprinkler whirred methodically on the adjoining lawn, dousing the edge of the pavement once every twelve seconds. Malloy and Reed got out, put their hats on and walked up to the idling vehicle. Reed approached the driver's side and peered in. The windows were open and clenching the wheel was a male Cauc, approximately twenty-five years old with a bowl haircut and thick, black eyebrows. Next to him sat a twenty-something freckled redhead in a sun dress nervously chewing her nails. The car was empty save for a shrink-wrapped cord of rope and a new pair of bolt cutters on the backseat.
"Sir, please turn off your engine. May I see your license?"
The man turned off the ignition, reached into his back pocket and slowly removed his wallet. He fished out a tattered license and handed it to Reed.
"Mr. Watson, are you aware that you drove past a stop sign without coming to a full stop?"
Watson fixed Reed directly in the eyes. "I'm sorry, officer," he said with a slight drawl, "It won't happen again."
The redhead looked up at Malloy standing outside the passenger door and let out a small gasp. Watson shot her a look and she squeezed his hand.
Malloy leaned down into the open window. "Ma'am, can you please step outside the car and come with me?"
Lynette got out and Malloy followed her down the sidewalk past the patrol car.
"Pete, this isn't what you think."
"It doesn't matter what I think. But if anybody did ask what I thought I'd say that you were living life in the fast lane and your treads are wearing thin."
"Now I don't care about the kind of company you keep--except when I witness said company running through stop signs in a residential neighborhood."
A small blue ball rolled up near Malloy's feet.
"Hey Mister police officer," the tousled haired youth across the street yelled, "Can you toss our ball back?"
Malloy scooped up the plastic ball in one movement and tossed it underhand to the kid. It was slightly damp and Malloy wiped his hands on the back of his pants.
Malloy turned his attention back to Lynette.
"There's children here. Retirees."
Lynette stared at the ground and softly mumbled, "I'm sorry, Pete."
Malloy nodded his head toward the Cutlass.
"Is he one of the groovy people you were talking about?"
She smiled sheepishly.
"Him not so much. I take care of a sweet 80 year old blind man down at the ranch. He's the only one who ever tries to get fresh with me."
That momentarily broke the tension and they both chuckled.
"Are you going to arrest us?"
"No, Lynette. This is just a warning. But please--in the future, be more careful, will ya?"
She perked up. "Thank you, Officer Malloy!"
Pete walked over to Reed who was radioing in.
"1-Adam-12 requesting info on a '66 tan Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme. License number Lincoln, X-Ray, Ida, two, nine--"
"1-Adam-12 Code 4"
Malloy waved them away and the Cutlass signaled and slowly pulled out into traffic. Malloy and Reed got back in the patrol car.
"You know her?"
"I've seen her around."
"How come you didn't want me to run the plates?"
Malloy grinned. "Let's just say that I'm a good judge of character."
Reed hesitated and chose his words carefully. "With all due respect, what made you think that they were clean?"
Malloy exhaled. "Remember when I wrote you up for 'Exemplary Effort In the Line of Duty' to the Parole Review Board a couple weeks ago?"
"I had to attest to your character, right?"
"Well, wouldn't you say that I'm a good judge of character?"
Reed smiled and shook his head. "You got me there pardner."
"Let's go seven."
"1-Adam-12 requesting Code 7."
LOG #1262: THE INCIDENT
by Nutley Sam Elwitt
Malloy breathed deeply and kept his eyes closed. He didn't need to look at the clock to know it was five AM; the "oh-five-hundred" announcement from his bedside police radio scanner was all the confirmation he needed.
It didn't matter anyway. Ever since leaving the force in '78, Pete had never been able to break the habit of waking up at five. Now, over fifteen years later, keeping the scanner in his bedroom was more of a conceit than anything else, an admission of defeat. He was a patrol cop down to the core of his LAPD-blue briefs. Why fight it?
To his surprise, he was still horizontal. This part of the morning often confused him, in his half-asleep state. He frequently dreamed of being back in the car, on patrol in Adam-12. For the first few seconds of waking, he expected to be in a seated position, strapped in by the shoulder belt, hands on the wheel.
The scanner was chattering about the street closings for the day, punctuated every few seconds by a belch of static.
In truth, he never made a serious attempt to shake his cop skin, to look in the mirror and see a private citizen staring back with those weary blue eyes. Sure, he liked to complain about being unable to break old habits, but friends knew he wouldn't have it any other way.
"[belch] Attention all units, be advised 18th Street Northwest will be closed to northbound traffic between K Street and Constitution from oh-seven-hundred until eleven-hundred. Over. [belch]"
Malloy exhaled and opened his eyes, sitting up and swinging his legs around to the floor in one smooth, economical move. His toes found the slippers by themselves as he glanced at the spiral-bound planner on the nightstand to see what his day had in store for him. The other senior staffers all had personal assistants to choreograph every move of their day, but Pete could never get used to having some kid micro-manage details that he was perfectly capable of keeping track of himself. Besides, as Chief of Staff, he could get away with the idiosyncrasies of a crotchety relic from another generation -- heck, he played it to the hilt.
"[belch] Dispatch, responding to a 10-50 on northbound 395 near New York Northwest. Over. [belch]"
"[belch] 10-4, Fillmore-22. Over. [belch]"
Fillmore? Stupid MPDC alphabet codes. Pete wondered, what ever happened to simple, traditional codes like Charlie, X-Ray, Ida? Codes named after presidents were ridiculous. Fillmore, McKinley, Adams -- Adams was close to normal, but which Adams was it, anyway? John or John Quincy? Oh, right. "A" was for "Adams" and "Q" was for "Quincy." He sighed. Stupid system.
Malloy stood up and padded towards the bathroom. He was almost there when the emergency hotline buzzed. He jogged to the desk and flipped on the speaker switch.
"Mr. Malloy, see the man at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Executive Residence," announced the familiar female monotone.
Pete was already putting his pants on as he shouted the reply. "Tell President Reed I'm on my way."
It was only a mile and a half from Malloy's suite at the Watergate to the White House, and his driver managed to get the black Town Car up to eighty-five in moderate traffic. Before Pete had even finished shaving with his portable electric in the back seat, the sedan screeched to a halt in front of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. He opened his own door, leapt out, and ran underneath the Truman Balcony, waiving at the security personnel as he practically dove through the metal detector and bounded up the grand staircase, his Secret Service compliment struggling to keep up.
The First Family lived on the "second floor" of the mansion -- it was actually the third floor, but the real second floor was called the "State Floor." Pete headed to the left, assuming the President was either in his bedroom at the end of the hall or the adjacent sitting room. He found his former partner at the bedroom desk, his head buried in his hands, shoulders shaking.
"Mr. President, what's wrong? What's happened?"
President Reed didn't look up. "Oh, Pete, Pete. It's awful!" he moaned.
Malloy steeled himself for cataclysmic news. Was it an incoming ICBM? Had an earthquake slid California into the Pacific? "Pull yourself together, Mr. President. The country needs us to be strong."
Reed stood up suddenly, wildly throwing a handful of papers up in the air. "I don't know what to do! Jimmy needs to pick a grad school and none of these pamphlets are any use at all!"
Pete could hardly believe his ears. "Are you telling me, Mr. President," he began through barely clenched teeth, "that the 'emergency' is you fretting over your son finding a graduate school?"
The President wore an expression Pete knew well. It was Reed's I'm-looking-at-you-like-you've-got-two-heads-and-can't-believe-you-don't-think-this-is-a-big-deal look. The eyes were squinting and the mouth was half open in incredulity, revealing the bottom third of Reed's perfect upper teeth.
"Pete! This is important stuff! You wouldn't understand, but some of us have a wife, kids -- a family!"
"I understand, Mr. President, it's just not for me."
"Well, I can't make head or tail of these course catalogs and he's my first born."
Pete sat on the bed. "Maybe the First Lady can help."
Suddenly, the President had an amused look on his face. "That's real funny, Pete."
"I wasn't trying to be funny. Maybe she can help." Malloy didn't always understand the President, but he seemed to do better at it than just about anyone else. Still, he was struggling to find this conversation's center.
"I mean it's funny that you called her 'the First Lady.' C'mon, Pete, you know it's just Jean."
"Well, for as long as you're in office -- provided she can stand you that long --"
"Very funny, Partner."
"-- she'll be 'the First Lady' to me." Pete stood up and half-swaggered over to Reed. "Now, if this crisis can wait, whaddya say we tend to the business of running the country...Mister President?"
Reed's head moved around in miniature fits and starts, squinting his eyes like a bird looking for its car keys in the bright sunlight. He was alert and focused. He grabbed his suit jacket from the bedpost and walked briskly towards the door. Then he stopped in his tracks.
"What now, Mr. President?" Malloy asked cautiously.
"I hate to tell you, Pete, but -- nah, maybe it's better if you don't know."
Pete sighed audibly. "All right. Out with it."
"Well, it's like this. You're wearing slippers."
Malloy glanced down and, sure enough, the cuffs of his trousers were brushing the tops of his brown leather slippers. He looked back at the President with world-weary eyes. "Very funny, Partner," he intoned, mimicking Reed's earlier jibe.
"Hey now -- that's 'Mr. President.'" Reed cracked up and headed out of the bedroom, the Oval Office waiting below.
James A. Reed, rookie senator of California, had surprised nearly everyone when he announced he was running for President. Everyone, that is, except his wife, Jean, and a certain retired LAPD Captain, one Peter Malloy, who was supplementing his pension by investing in racehorses. Malloy had done pretty well for himself, having a knack for picking winning bloodlines. In one season alone, Lunch Lady, Fear of Music, and You're Soaking In It had all won major races at Del Mar. And Pete Malloy owned a piece of each of them.
Reed himself wasn't much of a betting man. He had found his calling after eight years with the LAPD, during which he never managed to advance higher than Patrolman, despite having taken the Sergeant's Exam, Detectives Exam, Advanced Rifle Proficiency Exam, and Helicopter Pilot Certification Exam, without ever scoring higher than a D. His colleagues, including long-time mentor Malloy, assured him he was a smart, capable officer who perhaps just didn't "test well." But Reed was discouraged and saw an opportunity to start fresh with a run for City Council. He ran against five-term incumbent Percy "Knuckle" Sandrich, and won with his clever and timely campaign slogans, "A Vote for Reed is a Vote for the Metric System," and "I Ran Track in High School."
Though objectively a naive bungler, Reed had a way of inspiring patience and good humor among the voting public. While he couldn't point to any particular accomplishments as Councilman, he was likable and easily won subsequent elections to State Assembly, the U.S. House of Representatives, and the U.S. Senate.
California's senior senator was Ed Wells, also a former LAPD officer, who made a habit of razzing Reed in front of the other senators, usually after Reed made some minor breach of protocol, just as he had done on the force in the City of Angels. By the time Reed called on his old pal Pete Malloy to manage his campaign for President, Wells was Majority Leader for the opposition. With barely concealed sour grapes, Wells worked unsuccessfully to foil every item on the newly-elected President's agenda.
On this particular morning, the earlier graduate school crisis behind them like a disconnected vignette, President Reed and Chief of Staff Malloy said their goodbyes to a group of Boy Scouts who were leaving the Oval Office after awarding the President an honorary merit badge.
"Don't forget -- shank knot!" Reed called to the scouts as they shuffled out of the office like automated push-brooms finishing their janatorial rounds. "I tell you, I really like those kids. They have a great attitude."
"I can think of one reason why," Malloy grumbled. "I'll bet they had breakfast, which is more than I can say for myself."
"For cryin' out loud, Pete, I completely forgot. Let's order you something from the kitchen."
"Hail to the Chef," Malloy cracked.
Reed was about to push the intercom button when it sputtered to life with his secretary's voice. "Mr. President, see the man from the Senate, Majority Leader Wells. Handle on line two."
The President looked up. "What do you suppose he wants?" he asked, squinting.
Malloy, who was more concerned about the delay in his breakfast than politics at the moment, gave his customary response. "Well," he said, pausing, as always, in the vain hope that he wouldn't have to say the obvious, "there's only one way to find out," he finally finished in mock melodrama.
"Right," agreed the President. He punched a button on the phone and shouted into the table-top speaker unit, "President James Reed speaking."
"Missssssster President, what an honor it is to speak to yooooooooou!" sang a familiar voice that was both patronizing and obsequious in its exaggerated diction.
"Whaddya want, Wells?" Malloy called out from his perch on the arm of Eleanor Roosevelt's favorite Queen Anne chair.
"Missssster Malloyyyyyyy! I had no idea I'd have the privilege of speaking to the President's trusty sidekick, tooooooo! How have you been, my cantankerous curmudgeonly copper?"
Reed was impatient and wanted Wells to get to the point. "Get to the point, Wells," he said impatiently.
"My, my, we're in a hurry today, aren't we? Rush, rush, rush!" the Senator exclaimed in mock indignation. "Very well, far be it for me to waste the time of the powerful presidential pair! I called because I was speaking to a verrrrrrry important constituent of mine this morning --"
"You mean a big donor," Malloy interrupted, proud of his political savvy.
"Why, Mr. Chief of Staff! I am shocked! Shocked, I tell you! I am simply a principled purveyor of public policy. As I was saying, this man owns a prominent circus, and they are starting a week-long engagement at the Masonic Center this afternoon. I took the, ahem, liberty of promising a presidential appearance at the opening performance."
Pete jumped to his feet. "You what!?"
"Now, now, don't get your blue boxers in a bunch," Wells cooed. "The first performance is especially for the local orrrrrrphans, and I knowwwwwww howwww the President feeeeels about orphans."
Malloy was about to give the Senator an earful when Reed put up his open hand to silence him. "He's got me there, Pete. Tell you what, Wells, if I do this for you, I need something in return.
Wells was in his element. "Why, just name it, my periodontally pristine prexy!"
Reed smiled confidently at Malloy as he spoke to Wells. "We need your support on S-909, Ed."
The speakerphone was silent, like a ham sandwich waiting for mustard. Finally, the sound of Wells inhaling deeply filled the void, followed by an exhale distorted by phone lines installed during the Truman administration. "The Truth in Ethics Act? That's a tall order even for my lubricating legislative lobbying."
"If it's too much for you to handle," Pete chimed in, "I'm sure your important constituent will be happy to explain to the orphans that they won't get to see the President at the circus." He half-hoped Wells would call his bluff by forgetting the whole thing, half-hoped they could finagle support for S-909, and half-hoped the President would visit the orphans anyway, regardless of the deal.
"All right, all right," Wells sighed, making the "t" in "all right" so sharp Malloy thought it would give him a nasty paper cut. "The orphans will get their President and you will get your vote. The performance begins at two o' clock, and I will have your bloated bipartisan bill out of committee by the time you get back."
Reed grinned like a model for an Ultra-Brite commercial. "I'll be there, Senator."
"And now, Gentlemen," Wells continued, "I am due to have my portrait painted to hang in the hallway of our house in Hawthorne. I bid both of yoooooooooo a good morrrrrrrrrrning." With a loud "clunk," the line went dead.
Malloy walked over to the President and shook his head in admiration. "I don't know how you do it, Sir. I was ready to rip his head off, but you turned it to our advantage."
The President laughed softly and put his hand on his Chief of Staff's shoulder. "Pete, there's one thing my mother taught me that I'll never forget."
Pete nodded. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd better rearrange your schedule for the day so we don't disappoint those kids."
"Get right on that, Pete," Reed ordered. "Those kids are the country's future, and this circus means as much to them as a night with hookers means to you and me."
"Right away, Mr. President," Malloy called over his shoulder as he purposefully strode out of the Oval Office, his mind racing and his stomach growling.
Amid all the news articles, congressional hearings, book deals and criminal proceedings that would follow the events at the circus that day, nearly all observers and pundits agreed that President Reed had acted bravely and selflessly, though some quietly added "stupidly" to the list. Furthermore, it was acknowledged that there had been nothing beforehand to indicate this would be anything other than a routine Presidential circus visit.
It was certainly true that the President and his entourage entered the District of Columbia Masonic Center on schedule and took their seats in the front row without incident. As Reed descended down the aisle towards the make-shift Presidential Box with its disc-shaped, portable Presidential Seal Velcro™'d to the front, the crowd gave him a standing ovation and the calliope played "Hail to the Chief," while a line of ten black bears in powder-blue tutus stood on their hind legs at attention in the center ring ahead, their trainer keeping their rapt attention by holding what looked like a rainbow trout up above his head. When the trainer turned slightly to see if the Presidential party had been seated yet, his trout-bearing arm wavered slightly, causing the fixated bears to weave slightly, their tutus rustling against each other.
"Man, I love bears," Reed said to Malloy as they took their adjacent seats.
Directly across from them, on the other side of the center ring, Malloy could see a bleacher section of about fifty orphans. "I know," he said, his gaze now focused on a hot dog vendor serving the kids. "I could sure use one of those," he said, nodding towards the teenager dressed in a grease-stained white shirt, black clip-on bowtie and paper hat.
"Sorry, Mr. Malloy," came the mellow but firm Southern baritone of the Secret Service agent standing behind them. "That side of the venue hasn't been secured yet. We'll have one of the agents get you something."
"That's just great," Malloy grumbled.
Reed looked amused by his friend's obvious frustration. "You mean you still didn't have anything to eat today? I should have the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare write out a meal plan for you."
Pete shifted uncomfortably in his seat like someone trying to avoid triggering a whoopee cushion. "Oh, that's funny, Sir. You're a regular Joe Piscopo. Now may I suggest that you sit back and watch the show? That is, if you're done joking about my misery."
Reed slapped his knee, giggling like a little girl. "For now," he said, enjoying himself.
The President turned his attention to the activity in front of them in the center ring. The bears were filing out, still upright, one behind the other, each with its right paw on the right shoulder of the bear preceding it. The front-most bear had remarkable balance, not needing a shoulder for guidance. When the last of them disappeared out the stage door, a troupe of clowns bounded in from the opposite side, accompanied by rousing calliope music and the cheering of the orphans.
Two of the clowns were dressed in old-time, striped prison uniforms and were being chased by the others, who were dressed like English bobbies. The "convict" clowns were making a big show of holding onto their hats as they ran, tripping over their own feet and generally playing up the comedic aspects of fugitives on the run from the law. The "police" clowns outnumbered the other two, yet were unable to catch their quarry, despite the circular chase route. The "police" tended to run together in a pack, further hindering their agility and speed, much to the raucous amusement of the audience.
The large double stage doors immediately below the orphan bleachers suddenly opened and a throng of animals of every species imaginable stampeded into the center ring, joining the chase behind the clowns. The audience erupted in approval, for the entire ring was now a whirling circle of activity, as Technicolor toucans, baby elephants in bonnets, feather-plume-adorned horses, dalmations with spiked Kaiser helmets, monkeys in surgical gowns, and lions in top hats all gave chase. The calliope reached a fever pitch of what could only be described as "circus music."
Bringing up the rear of the chaotic menagerie was the animal trainer, driving an old-fashioned wagon that was pulled by two Shetland ponies. Riding on the wagon were assorted small animals, including a pair of raccoons in Davy Crockett caps and a (presumably female) chicken fetchingly dressed in Daisy Dukes and a halter top. The trainer, wearing white tie and tails, was brandishing a riding crop.
President Reed was absorbed in the drama, but Malloy watched the scene analytically. Something was bothering him. The pace of the action was getting too fast for some of the animals as well as a few of the human performers -- two of the clowns were clearly struggling to keep up the charade of the frantic chase, while the spike on the lead dalmation's helmet kept poking the ass of a panting, lumbering baby elephant. Pete was perplexed. As a cop who had been assigned to circus patrol his fair share of times, he had observed that circus performers of every species were nothing if not well-trained and accustomed to the physical demands of their jobs. What was going on here?
Malloy's gaze shifted to the animal trainer in the pony-drawn wagon, who seemed to be setting the pace for the activity. In his horse-investing days, Pete had learned all he could about harness racing, and he knew enough to conclude that the Shetlands were being driven too hard. Their legs, with their flowing, shaggy ankle-hair, looked like several pair of bell-bottom pants that had found themselves dressed inappropriately for a track meet. The ponies' coats were glistening with sweat.
The animals weren't the only ones sweating. Pete could clearly see the trainer's face dripping with perspiration under the hot lights of the Masonic Center. This was also puzzling, for Malloy had learned on the campaign trail that an application of face powder was essential to -- and very effective for -- keeping one's features dry in the glare of television and stage lights. Surely this was routine for the animal trainer.
Circus policing, harness racing, politicking. A lifetime's worth of diverse experiences were coalescing in the petrie dish of Pete's conscious like mold fusing with gorgonzola. And yet, the explanation escaped him.
Then, like a car horn blaring impatiently the moment a traffic light turns green, it hit him: it was the shoes! Instead of dress shoes to match his formal wear, or riding boots to match his activity, the trainer was wearing white sneakers. He was without his makeup, sweating, driving his team in a hurry, and wearing sneakers. This was a nervous man looking to make a getaway.
Malloy quickly turned to his right rear to alert the Secret Service agent, but it was too late. As the wagon passed in front of the orphans' section, the animal trainer leapt into the bleachers, briefly stumbled, and grabbed the nearest child, a freckled six-year-old boy in a black Jack Daniels t-shirt. The wagon careened out of control towards the middle of the ring, while the rest of the animals, no longer being pushed from behind, gradually came to a confused and disorganized stop. The clowns collapsed in exhaustion.
Malloy was on his feet as the calliope music abruptly ceased. The trainer was holding the boy like a hostage.
Reed shot up. "Pete! He's got one of the orphans!" the President shouted in alarm.
"That, Mr. President, is an understatement," Malloy evenly intoned, not taking his eyes off the scene across the ring from them.
"What do you suppose he wants?" the President asked excitedly.
"Well, there's only one way --"
Before Malloy could finish, the trainer cracked his riding crop against a wooden seat. "Everybody be quiet!" he bellowed, his theatrical voice echoing throughout the venue. "I want everyone's attention!"
The crowd fell eerily silent. Mothers held their children tight in their laps, concession vendors stood still in mid-transaction, the clowns lay motionless in a heap, their chests still heaving from the exertion of the chase. Most of the animals were standing around casually, content to have nothing to do. Only the monkeys were occupied, picking lice out of each other's fur like chefs taking pinches of ground coriander from a pestle.
Malloy stage-whispered to the nearest Secret Service agent, "Find out this guy's name and get back to me on the double!"
The trainer continued, "Now listen up. You all stay calm, do what I say, and nobody gets hurt. I got a gun and I ain't afraid to use it." He used his free hand to pull back his formal jacket, revealing a pistol tucked into his cumberbund. "I know that the President is here, so nobody do anything stupid. I also know he's a powerful guy and can get me what I want."
Malloy shouted across the yawning expanse of interrupted entertainment. "We're listening. Now, suppose you drop the gun and let the kid go?"
"Yeah, right," the trainer rejoined. "The only way this is gonna end is for me to get a million bucks in unmarked bills and a helicopter to get me to Mexico. I know you can do it, too."
The Secret Service agent tapped Pete on the shoulder. "His name is Emerson Palmer. He served a nickel at Chino for armed robbery. The ringmaster says he's a middleman for the circus drug trade. He also says Palmer recently lost a kilo of bennies in an accident with a fire-juggling bear and doesn't have the dough to pay his supplier."
Pete nodded grimly. "Thanks, Edgar," he said before turning his attention back across the ring. "Listen, Palmer," he called, "we don't want any trouble. The President and I just need a moment to discuss this."
"You got thirty seconds!" the trainer yelled.
Reed turned to Malloy. "I heard what Edgar said. Palmer sounds like a desperate character."
Malloy kept his eyes on Palmer and spoke to Reed out of the side of his mouth. "Mr. President, if you can stall him -- keep him talking -- I might be able to slip out of here, circle around in the corridor, and sneak up behind him."
Reed stared down for a moment, then jerked his head up decisively. "That's a good plan, Pete, but there's one change. You stall Palmer and I'll get over to the other side to nab him."
Pete was incredulous and faced his President squarely. "Now just a minute, Mr. President. If you think for a minute that I'm gonna put you in harm's way --"
"I've made my decision, Pete. This is my responsibility and I'm going to make it right."
"But Sir --"
"That's an order, Mr. Malloy," the President said firmly.
Palmer whipped the riding crop in the air, making a loud "whoosh," as he tightened his grip on the orphan. "Hey you, time's up! We got a deal or what?"
Malloy nodded subtly to Reed and began to shout back. "Listen, Palmer. Let's just slow things down a bit. We want to get you your money, but it's gonna take a little while. You seem like a reasonable man. You must know that we don't have that kind of cash just laying around." Malloy swallowed hard. "Take that calliope player over there, for instance," he yelled, gesturing toward the far end of the arena where the grotesque, steaming, pipe-laden instrument and its operator were stationed.
As Palmer turned to look in the direction Malloy indicated, Reed saw his chance. He quickly ducked down behind the front barrier of the Presidential Box and waddled to his left along the row of seats until he reached the ramp that led down to the outer corridor. He disappeared out of Malloy's sight as the Chief of Staff moved slightly to the left in an effort to disguise the President's absence.
"Yeah? What about him?" Palmer sneered, turning his attention back to Malloy.
"Well," Malloy stalled, "you don't think he has a million bucks that we can just borrow, do you? Lemme tell you a story. My father was an animal trainer, too, and he never had more than a few bucks in his pocket. I know what it's like for you, Palmer."
"I ain't interested in your father!" Palmer barked back. "My old man never got a break from nobody! You don't know nothin' about me! "
Pete held his arms out in a sympathetic shrug. "I know you're tired of running. I think we can all relate to that. You're not bad guy, Emerson. Did your pop call you 'Emmie?'"
While Malloy was doing his best to keep Palmer occupied, President Reed was sprinting around the outer corridor. He knew Pete was no slouch as an impromptu psychologist, but even ol' Sid Freud himself would only be able to distract Palmer for a few minutes. The President ran past the various concession stands that littered the perimeter like opportunistic shepherds waiting to fleece unsuspecting lambs of their hard-earned money, each one a blur of clashing hues and obscenely large sans-serif slogans.
Reed harkened back to his high school track days and instinctively high-fived a stunned janitor as he raced against time. His jaw clenched and his nostrils flared as he made use of his old breathing technique -- two short inhales, one long exhale, repeat. He estimated he had run about two hundred meters when he spotted a large sign reading, "Welcome D.C. Orphans!" across one of the ramp entrances.
The President banked to the right and loped up the ramp, stopping where its mouth would normally spew happy, excited patrons into their seats. He crouched, breathing heavily but silently. From this vantage point, about a dozen stair-stepped rows above and behind Palmer, he could see both the trainer's right arm poised near the gun that was tucked in his cumberbund and the frightened hostage sandwiched between his captor's left arm and hip.
"How did that make you feel, Palmer?" Malloy's voice echoed from across the arena. "I'll bet it made you feel pretty angry, getting a girl's bike for your tenth birthday."
Good -- Pete still had him talking! Reed cautiously crept down the first few steps, putting his finger to his lips to make sure any of the audience who saw him would keep quiet.
"Ah, what's the use?" Palmer volleyed back. "I won't ever be like you!"
The President advanced a few more steps and slowly rose to his feet, in position for Malloy to see him. Reed held up four fingers, then two, then closed his hand in a fist. He desperately hoped Pete would remember the signal from their days in the radio car in Los Angeles in happier times in their youth.
Across the center ring, Malloy saw his former partner -- his Commander in Chief -- emerge from the shadows behind the increasingly erratic trainer. What was the President doing? Four, two -- it was a signal, and a familiar one! Even as the unbearable pressure-cooker stand-off was poised to culminate in the brutal slaughter of an innocent child and the leader of the free world, Pete had to chuckle at Reed's ingenuity.
"That's right, Palmer, you'll never be like me," Malloy called back contemptuously. "You'll never be like any of the thousands of freedom-loving people here today, not like your hard-working colleagues earning a living, not like the peaceful and obedient wildlife in this or any other circus who put up with the likes of you telling them what to do, what to wear, and how to think."
One of the chickens below cocked her head to one side as Pete continued. "Now, for the last time, put down the gun and release the boy!"
"Not a chance!" fumed Palmer, shaking the child in his grasp.
Malloy, moving as swiftly and gracefully as a ballerina, reached down and in front of him, tearing the circular Presidential Seal from its Velcro™ mount. He whipped his wrist and sent the disc speeding to its target. The Seal struck the still-soft hide of a baby elephant, causing the deadly and adorable beast to rear up on its hind legs and scream like bagpipes caught in a turnstile.
As Palmer involuntarily jerked his head toward the commotion, Reed dove forward and tackled the malcontent trainer from behind, expertly directing his momentum to the right in order to separate the child hostage from the ensuing struggle. The President and his suspect tumbled down the remaining steps and crashed into the barrier at the bleachers' edge.
Malloy had meanwhile hopped over the railing of the Presidential Box and darted across the ring to assist, his progress momentarily impeded by toucans trying to get out of his way but guessing incorrectly which way that was. Pete scaled the barrier on the other side, rolled over the top, and landed on Reed and Palmer.
The President was the first to regain his balance. He grabbed Palmer's right hand and wrenched it behind his back. Malloy lunged for the gun and pulled it loose from its formal-wear holster.
"Gaaaah! My arm!" Palmer screamed.
"Stop struggling and it won't hurt," Reed calmly advised, simultaneously grasping Palmer's other arm and pulling the trainer to his feet.
Malloy got up from the floor. "Ok, let's go, Palmer," he said, gesturing with the pistol towards the exit ramp.
Palmer stared at Malloy with hatred. "You lousy double-crosser," he spat. "Your old man, the animal trainer, would be ashamed of you!"
Reed and Malloy exchanged grins, toothy and tight-lipped, respectively.
"My 'old man,'" Malloy sardonically replied, "was a steel-mill foreman who was afraid of dogs."
Palmer's mouth gaped open but no words came. The President pushed him up the steps where, at the top, state troopers were waiting. The uniformed officers grabbed Palmer's arms on either side and roughly escorted him down the exit ramp.
Malloy joined the President at the top of the stairs. "Y'know, Mr. President," he began, "I'm gonna have to file a grievance with the Department of Labor."
Reed looked at his Chief of Staff quizzically. "A grievance? Why's that?"
Malloy put his hand on Reed's shoulder. "Because my boss hasn't let me have anything to eat all day."
"Tell you what," the President chuckled, "I'll do better than that. I'll hold a State Dinner in your honor."
"I'll believe it when I see it," Malloy grumbled.
The President turned and started down the ramp, then paused and faced Malloy. "Hey Pete, I just realized," Reed said. "With that discus move of yours, you gave this circus the only thing it was missing."
Malloy braced himself for whatever unbearable joke was coming. "Oh yeah," he said warily, "what's that?"
The President of the United States grinned. "A trained Seal act," he giggled, turning and proceeding down the ramp, his happily exasperated Chief of Staff following, the trained animals behind them already looking ahead to their next performance.