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Where did she go? he thought. She was here a minute ago.
Water dripped from his poncho and camouflage hat onto his watch. He wiped the water off the face of the phone and lifted it to his lips, 99 . . . Where are you?
Right behind you.
Max jumped. 99! . . . Dont ever do that!
Sorry, Max. 99 apologized, water dripping from her identical hat.
Where where you? I looked and you were nowhere around.
Behind that tree, I thought I saw something.
And . . . ?
Awww . . . It was nothing, just a dead animal. Hard to tell what was.
Well, dont wander off, lets stick close. The last thing we need is to get separated.
Max . . . how does the Chief expect us to find anything in this? Im starting to mold. How far have we come anyway?
Lets see . . . he pulled out a map. 99 turned on her flashlight and they traced their route.
Twenty miles, you think? Max asked.
That looks about right, She frowned. Oh, Max, this is silly. Im suspicious of this whole set-up. They drop us off in the town of Big Meadows on the Skyline Drive with orders to. . . She pulled out several sheets of paper with orange writing. Walk into the woods, going East. The rest of our orders dont even make any sense. Follow the directions on this map supposedly left to us by a dead Kaos agent, She said in a haughty, cynical tone. Find the cave, marked on your map with the blue X, by following a red arrow that might possibly be found at this location, marked with a green X. Search the cave. HUH? What kind of harebrained instructions are these?? A red arrow?! Whats it going to say Burma Shave?
Burma Shave signs arent arrows.
99 gave him a strange look . . . He shrugged.
Oh, for Heavens sake, Max, no one knows if the map is real, what were supposed to be looking for, or anything else. And on top of that, why are we out here with no communication and orders not to build any fires?
It is the dry season . . .
99 stared at him for a moment, then looked around . . .
What? THIS IS STUPID!! She yelled, her voice echoing. We could be sitting nice, toasty, warm and dry in front of your fireplace . . . Her voice trailed off.
I know, 99, I know . . . Im sorry.
Max . . . ? She said wearily. Whos idea was this anyway?
The Chief said he got it from somebody above him.
He doesnt know . . . a new guy. I questioned him on it, but he said he couldnt say because he didnt know. He only knew he had received direct orders that we had to be the ones to go.
99 shook her head. Now Im really suspicious.
He nodded in agreement, then noticed that she was staring at him again.
Why does your pack look so light? She rolled her eyes, Max . . . wheres your tent?
Max gave her a sheepish grin. Whoops . . .
Okay, Agent 86, just how do you plan to keep dry tonight?
Well . . . Max smiled and put an arm around 99s shoulders. I guess my wonderful, thoughtful partner will just have to . . . share her tent with me?
99 sighed, but smiled. Oh, Max . . .
Look, 99, were both cold, wet, tired and irritable. Lets set up camp, eat something and get some sleep, its almost midnight.
Sounds good to me. Im glad were not on any type of schedule. And thats another thing . . .
As they set up the tent, 99 continued her tirade. As he listened, Max thought about what she was saying . . . and she was saying a lot. It wasnt like her to go on and on and on like this. He frowned to himself. He was beginning to agree with her, something wasnt quite right. They took off their ponchos and left them hanging outside under the tarp above the tent door. They crowded in and (after turning off their flashlights, of course) got out of their clothes and into some dry, warm thermals.
You dressed, 99?
Max turned on the light, sat down and rummaged through the packs for food.
Oh weve got some real goodies here . . . Yum . . . dehydrated tuna casserole, macaroni and cheese and . . . He made a face. Brussel sprouts and baked beans? Now really, who would come up with a concoction like that?
Those people in the lab will eat anything. Max, I swear, one time I saw them eating peanut butter and mustard sandwiches. Now it was 99 who made a face.
Well, at least they didnt include that little delicacy in our provisions.
How about the mac and cheese? 99 suggested. They cant they mess that up.
Max shrugged, unzipped the door and set up a small sterno unit outside. He opened the bag of macaroni and cheese, mixed in the appropriate amount of water and set it on to cook. The food smelled far better than it tasted.
99 . . . I think we should have stuck with the Brussels sprouts and baked beans, Max said through a mouthful of macaroni.
Or maybe we should just pull some bark off that tree over there. Max, this is terrible.
Well . . . you were the one that said they couldnt mess it up.
I stand corrected. They both laughed.
When they finished, they wrapped everything tightly in a plastic bag and hung it outside the tent.
We need sleep, Max said.
99 nodded in agreement and started to unzip her sleeping bag.
99? When she turned to him, he pulled her up into his arms and kissed her. When they broke the kiss, Max took a slight step back, lovingly caressing her cheek with his hand. 99s response took him completely by surprise - she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him back into her arms . . .
Hey . . . you can carry this thing, 99 said as they stuffed the tent back into its carrier.
No problem. he looked up. Its stopped raining, maybe we can make some headway today. Wheres that map? Max asked, searching through his pack. Oh, here it is. According to this, we go . . . he paused, pulled out a compass, and pointed . . . North North East.
I thought we were supposed to go East, 99 said, tugging at one of the straps on her backpack. She sighed in frustration. Max, check this thing . . . I cant get it tightened.
Max came over and pulled on the strap. Hmmm . . . wait, its twisted around in the buckle. He knelt down, took the strap apart and put it back together. This time when he tugged on it, it tightened.
There you go, he said standing up. His eyes met hers . . . they gazed at each other for a moment.
99 . . .
She touched his lips with her fingers.
You dont have to say anything, Max.
Yes. I do . . .
Max, we have to find that cave . . .
The stupid cave can wait . . .
Max, later. Later . . . when were done with this ludicrous assignment, well talk . . .
Max sighed. All right. But . . .
Nothing . . . He gave her a kiss. . . . just that.
She smiled. Lets go, Max.
They walked for several hours, following a stream. 99 was irritable and muttering about the idiocy of the mission with no basis in fact. After another couple hours of futile searching, Max was in total agreement.
Hey, Max . . . She said, pointing, Look over there. Could that be our Burma Shave sign?
A red arrow showed up through the trees, near the stream. They trudged over to it. A message was painted on the back of it. It said, Follow the stream for a mile. You will find something worthwhile. Burma Shave.
Max and 99 stared at the sign.
I dont believe this! 99 said suspiciously. It has to be a joke.
Well . . . lets just follow the stream for a mile and see whats so worthwhile.
As they followed it, the stream grew wider and ran along a series of rock formations. At almost exactly a mile, another red arrow appeared, pointing across the stream to a series of caves. Max looked at 99. 99 looked at Max. They both looked at the back of the sign. Pick the cave in the middle. Within it lies the answer to the riddle. Burma Shave.
99 rolled her eyes.
Well, Max said, At least the guy had a sense of humor. He started across the stream.
Max, I dont like this. 99 said as she followed him across the stream.
They stopped in front of the cave and stood there for a few minutes.
Come on, 99 . . . Max said.
99 grabbed his arm. Max . . . lets be super careful.
He nodded and they entered the cave, turning on their flashlights. The light showed walls adorned with cave drawings.
Wow . . . ! Max said. I wonder who drew these?
Probably the same guy that wrote the signs, 99 quipped. See any red arrows?
Max smiled and shook his head. They split up for a minute. 99s light picked up something.
Max . . .
I found that red arrow . . .
Youre kidding . . . what does it say?
What youre searching for is on the right. But . . . HA-HA . . . you better take flight. Burma Shave. 99s flashlight panned to the right and flashed off something metallic. There was a flickering of red, a click and a sudden ticking. In the dim light, 99 saw something . . .
MAX!!! RUN!!! GET OUT OF HERE!!! She shrieked, running for the entrance. Max knew 99 well enough to know that when she said move, you moved. He took off. He was slightly ahead of her, but they hit the opening at the same time . . . just as the bomb exploded. The blast threw them both several feet into the rocky riverbank. They lay there for a few minutes, their hands over their heads. When the dust settled, Max slowly got to his feet, shaking his head.
Damn!! 99 . . . ?
Over here, Max.
Max dropped his pack and knelt down beside her.
No. Are you?
Im bruised, but okay. Whats wrong?
My left ankles broken.
Dont move . . . You hurt anywhere else? Stomach? Head? Back?
Are you sure?
Let me take a look.
He took off her pack and checked her over for other injuries. Between the two of them, they concluded that the ankle was the only serious injury. He helped her into a sitting position against a tree and gently straightened her leg. He opened his pack and got out a first-aid kit. He pulled off her boot and got out a pair of scissors, cutting her pant leg to get a better look. The ankle had a compound fracture.
He sat down on the ground in front of her, rubbing his eyes, thinking. He gave a deep sigh. Look, 99 . . . Im gonna have to get that bone back in position, we cant leave it like that. Tell you what . . . I lets get to the other side of the stream. I want to get as far away from these caves as possible. No telling what other surprises that dimwit has hidden around here.
Lets do what we have to do.
Max took the packs across the stream, then he picked her up and started across. As he did, 99 noticed a bit of red sticking out from underneath some leaves.
Max . . . is that another sign? It must have been blown down during the explosion. Check it out.
Okay, okay! Ill come back for it.
He sat her down and went back for the sign. He checked the area first for booby traps, then picked it up and returned to where she sat. One hand covered her face.
What does it say? she asked, not looking up.
It says . . . Youve made it here. Youre in the clear. Come back sometime. Ill have more rhymes. Burma Shave. So . . . whoever did this isnt dead. It was a trap.
Obviously. Oh, Max, this really hurts . . .
Hang on. Ill do the best I can to get you fixed up and out of here. I promise.
He tied the packs together and slung them across his back. He picked up 99, who bit her lip in agony. He made his way through the woods, sticking close to the river bank. After a while he had put a good distance between themselves and the caves.
Max stretched her out under a tree and pitched the tent. He also set up the sterno and unfolded a large cooking pot, which he filled with water.
Okay . . . into the tent.
Max carried her inside and sat her down on a sleeping bag, propping her up slightly with one of the backpacks. He handed her a cup of water and two aspirin.
Thats all weve got. Its not much, but itll help some.
99 took the aspirin without comment. She was watching Max with growing awe.
Max? She put a hand on his shoulder. Are you okay?
Im fine, 99.
You look a little green around the gills.
He gave a hard swallow, Ill be fine.
Have you ever done this before?
No. Youre my first patient. He gave her a troubled smile. Im petrified.
I know, me too. But I trust you, Dr. Smart, 99 said.
He swallowed hard again. Heres what we have to do . . . I think. Pull the ankle straight out, then twist it to the right. That should pop it back into place. Ill wrap it with this . . . he said, holding up some heavy, rolled bandaging. . . . and use these sticks to make a splint and tie them together with this rope. Hopefully it will keep the ankle in place so we can get out of here without doing more damage.
99 nodded. Okay.
Max handed her another, smaller stick.
Put this in your mouth and . . .
. . . bite down on it, 99 said.
Right, Max said. Let me go get that water. It should be boiling by now.
Max brought in the steaming pot and washed his hands.
She put the stick in her mouth, bit down and nodded. Max closed his eyes and said a silent prayer. He took a deep breath and pulled the ankle straight out and quickly to the right . . . it popped back into place. When he looked at 99s face, it was even whiter than before. She spit the stick out and told Max what she thought of current circumstances. Max ignored the outburst. When he was finished, he had devised an excellent bandage and splint. He took the water, dumped it. He bend down and splashed water from the stream on his face and head. He stood for a while, staring out into the trees, running his fingers through his hair and taking in deep breaths of the fresh mountain air. Finally, he went back to the tent and sat down beside 99. He put his arms on his knees and buried his face his hands. 99 touched his arm.
Max . . . ?
He waved her off.
Max, look at me! she said, pulling on his arm.
Are you okay? he asked, concerned.
It hurts, but what about you? Are you okay?
I think so . . .
His mind was racing . . . what was he going to do? He was much more frightened than he was willing to admit. He knew he had to get 99 out of there a quickly as possible . . . but the odds were stacking up against them . . . in the distance, thunder rolled and he saw storm clouds gathering.
Max, that was one of the bravest things Ive ever seen.
HUH?? Youre the brave one. How did you stand the pain?
I dont know . . . she grimaced. I wish we had something in that kit other that those silly aspirin, they hardly do the trick. Max . . . what are we gonna do? You cant carry me the whole way and I cant hop, even with your help. I feel like Im about to pass out . . .
Oh, great! Well . . . I guess Ill have make a stretcher and pull you out of here.
Max, thats not going to work. Its going to be nearly impossible to get through these trees and . . .
But I dont have any alternative.
99 said softly, You could leave me here and go get help.
Are you completely out of your mind?? Max yelled, jumping up. Thats the most idiotic thing Ive ever heard! I AM NOT leaving you here. That Sign Man could be lurking about. Or hungry animals . . . you want to end up a boxed lunch? Would you leave me?
Nooo . . .
Then what makes you think I would even consider leaving you? Im going to pull you out of here on a stretcher whether you like it or not. If youre going to pass out, do it then. But for right now, be quiet and let me figure out what to do! Please, 99! Max raged, turning away.
Max, come here. 99 said.
Max ignored her.
Maxwell Smart . . . I said come here!
Max sat beside her.
What? he snapped.
Whats the matter? She asked softly.
What the matter? Whats the matter??? Were sent on, as you call it, the mission with no basis in fact. We trudge through the rain following Burma Shave signs that lead us to a cave with an explosive nature. You save our lives, but break an ankle in the process. I perform amateur surgery on you and now you come up with the brilliant suggestion that I leave you alone in the middle of nowhere! And you ask whats the matter?
Max . . .
99 . . . Im going to get that stretcher made before it starts dumping again. So please, sleep or . . . something! He slammed out of the tent.
99 sighed and decided to say nothing more. But she had to smile as she listened to him stomping around through the bushes. Finally, she did fall asleep. When she awoke several hours later, her ankle was throbbing and Max was sprawled out beside her on his stomach, sound asleep, one arm around her waist. She glanced at her watch, it was 3:00 AM. It was pouring again and when another bolt of lightning cracked the sky, she saw the shadow of the stretcher leaning against the wall of the tent. She took his hand and he stirred slightly, opening one eye.
Hey . . . how are you feeling?
Aww . . . its not too bad, she lied. How are you?
He sat up and rubbed his eyes. Im tired.
99 cocked her head toward the stretcher, Whats that contraption over there? She asked.
Max pretended to look insulted. That contraption as you call it, is going to get you out of here.
Max turned on a flashlight and showed her his contraption.
Heres what I did, he said, grinning like a kid. I took the tarp, punched some holes in the side, folded it around these branches and tied it tight with this rope. I took the straps off one of backpacks . . . Im gonna use that to tie you on.
Howd you manage the wheels?
Maxs grin became even wider. I found a small tree and cut it down with the hatchet. I chopped out two round pieces the same size, took off the bark with the hatchet and smoothed it out best I could with my knife. I cut holes through the center of each wheel. I cut some holes in the branches at the bottom part of the stretcher and pushed the metal supports from my pack through, keeping the wheels on the inside. Then I bent the ends of the supports down so they wont come off. It rolls okay, I guess. Itll be a bumpy ride, but better than just pulling you along.
99 stared at him. She hadnt caught most of what he said because he was talking so fast and running over his words, which he usually did when he got wound-up. But her heart swelled with admiration.
Max looked at her. Whats wrong? You dont like my idea?
I love your idea! Max . . . Im so proud of you!
Max blushed. Now . . . if it would only stop raining . . .
Max. Get some sleep.
He clicked off the flashlight and stretched out beside her.
You know, you would make a much better pillow than this pack.
Max smiled at her. You think so?
She smiled back. I think so.
Max took her gently into his arms and she cuddled against his shoulder.
Oh, yeah . . . much better. Good night, Max.
Max was totally exhausted. He had been pulling 99 for nearly four hours. Finally he could take no more.
99 . . . I gotta stop.
Then stop. For Heavens sake, Max, dont kill yourself.
He dropped down on the ground beside her. He took off his hat and wiped the sweat from his face. He pulled out a canteen of water and drank. When he was finished, he handed it to 99.
No, thanks, Max.
Max shoved the water at her again. Drink. He ordered and leaned back against a tree.
99 decided not to refuse again, so she took the canteen. As she took a drink, her eyes lit on her backpack. Suddenly, she remembered something. It was such a shock, she choked on the water and started coughing, bringing Max out of his half sleep.
Not so fast! He took the canteen from her hand.
Max, you are going to kill me . . .
What did you do?
Youre going to be so mad . . .
She hesitated, then said something so softly Max couldnt hear, I have a phone.
I have a phone!
A phone. A phone phone? A device used for transmitting the human voice?
Yes . . .
And where is this phone?
In my backpack. Its the brush.
Max rummaged through the pack and came up with the brush.
This? he asked, How does it work?
Twist the bristles clockwise.
Max turned the bristles and . . . lo and behold, there was a dial.
Talk into the bristles and listen with the handle.
Max sat down beside her, holding it up.
And just how long were you going to keep this a secret? he asked sarcastically.
99 stared at the ground.
Im sorry, Max, I just forgot.
You just forgot? How could you forget?
I dont know! 99 wept.
Ive spent hours dragging you and all this junk through the weeds and you have a phone? We could have called for help and been out of here hours ago! Wonderful! Thanks a lot! He slammed his fist on the ground.
Now wait just a minute, Maxwell Smart! How DARE you yell at me for FORGETTING something. How many times have YOU forgotten? How many times have YOU messed up? How many times have YOU broken or destroyed things that could have saved us a lot of time and trouble? Too many to count! And Ive always stuck by you . . . even when you didnt deserve it! So shut up about my mistake and call for help, you pompous ass! 99 yelled furiously.
Max stared at her, then burst out laughing.
Whats so funny? 99 demanded angrily.
Oh, 99 . . . I do love you!
99 stared at him, confused.
He shrugged. Youre right, 99 . . . and when youre right, youre right! He stopped laughing, put a hand on her shoulder and looked into her eyes. Im sorry, 99. I really am. I had no right to yell at you. Everyone forgets . . . Uhhh . . . even me. He looked away. Do you still love me? he asked quietly.
99 sighed. Oh, Max, of course I do.
He sighed in relief. Im going to call the Chief.
He dialed a number and waited. Hey, Chief, its Max.
Max!!! Are you and 99 . . . he stopped and his voice changed. How are you calling me? You had strict orders not to take along any communication devices.
Chief, you need to get us out of here . . .
I cant do that.
Chief, look, 99 broke her ankle. I dont have time to go into details, but youve gotta send a helicopter for us.
Max was hurt and confused. What are you saying, Chief? Are you seriously saying you wont come get us?
99s stared at Max in surprise.
Thats what Im saying.
Maxs temper flared. WHY NOT? He snapped.
Because I cant.
What do you mean, YOU CANT? Max yelled. 99 is injured!
The Chief was silent for a moment. I cant help you, Max. Youll have to use your own ingenuity to get her out of there. I have to hang up. And dont call back. The line went dead.
Max turned to 99, a look of disbelief on his face. He wont send help.
He didnt say. He said I had to use my own ingenuity to get us out of here, he paused. Okay, thats just what Ill do.
He dialed the operator and explained the situation. She immediately put him in touch with the National Park Service. He explained the situation to them and gave them coordinates with his compass.
Yes. Okay. Of course I understand. Shes in a lot of pain, but I think I have the ankle supported well enough that shell be okay until morning. Yes, we have a tent . . . and food and water. No, we wont move from this position. Thank you, Sir. Good bye. He hung up.
Max sighed. 99 . . . this just keeps getting worse. Theres a whopper of a storm coming. They said if were in desperate need of help, theyll come now. But . . . with the high winds, lightning and thunder, tornado watches . . . he looked around at the trees and muttered, Great place to be.
Oh . . . theyre hesitant to put their pilots in the air. Since we have water, food and shelter, they said it would be safer for us to ride it out until morning. They know pretty much where we are, all I have to do is build a fire. Are you in a lot of pain?
No, 99 lied. Ill be okay until morning.
Ill set up the tent first . . .
Good thinking, Max.
Max set up the tent again. He got 99 settled and secured the area as best he could . . . hammering the stakes farther into the ground, pulling the ropes tighter, and adding additional ropes, which he tied securely to nearby trees. He went to the stream and collected water in the collapsible pot and entered the tent.
Max? Help me get out of these clothes.
Max gave her a Cheshire Cat grin.
Okay, Max . . . enough. 99 said, blushing.
Max knelt down beside her, still smiling, Let me help you out of these things, my dear . . . youll be a lot more comfortable.
99 rolled her eyes, Oh, Max . . .
They both laughed quietly. Then Max, always the gentleman, gallantly helped her change.
It sure feels good to get out of those clothes! he said after he had changed. All we need now is a nice hot shower and . . . he winked at her.
99 shook her head. Max . . . zip the door.
Just as he secured the tent flap, a bolt of lightning lit the sky, followed by a loud booming, which echoed off the mountains. Both of them jumped twenty feet.
I hate storms! Max said, dropping down beside her. And on top of that, were going to have to eat this crap food cold.
Can you mix it cold? 99 asked. Some things wont mix properly . . .
Max groaned. Oh, I hope so. He read the back of one of the packages and sighed in irritation. No . . . the water has to be hot. Clever people we have working in the lab. Well, I guess I have to open the tent and set up the sterno again.
He zipped opened the door and set it up. The water boiled quickly and soon the lovely stench of tuna casserole filled the air. He also warmed extra water for hot chocolate, which was the best thing he found among the atrocious food selections.
Max . . . Im really not hungry.
Max sighed. 99, you have to eat.
Youre probably right. Max? Im scared.
He nodded, Yeah, me too. Im afraid we might get sick eating this abysmal feast.
99 laughed. Oh, Max!
Im serious! This stuff is a gastronomical horror. Maybe we should get some bark off a tree.
Another bolt of lightning lit the sky, followed by the obligatory boom. The winds picked up and the rain started. Max and 99 ate their vile dinner in silence, reveling in the hot chocolate. The wind and rain came harder as they finished their meal. Max again stowed the trash outside. He turned off the flashlight and they snuggled together in the sleeping bags, which Max had zipped together.
I HATE storms!
Its okay, Max, Ill protect you.
Hey, how does that ankle really feel? he asked, changing the subject. And no lying this time.
To be perfectly honest, the pain is pretty bad, Max.
I wish I could do something else to help, 99.
Oh, Max, youve done so much already. If it wasnt for you, wed be in miserable shape.
Im serious . . . I was the one who forgot about my phone. If anyone dares to say anything about you . . .
99 . . . people are always going to say things about me. What worries me is the Chiefs attitude. What do you think that was all about? Not sending help?
I cant even imagine. Max . . . theres something weird is going on.
They lay in silence for several minutes, listening to the storm rage outside.
Hmm . . .?
Max . . . why did you come after me?
Come after you where? Youve been with me all day.
99 groaned. No, Max . . . San Jirman Island.
Why do you think I did?
I dont know . . . thats why Im asking.
Max was silent.
I thought we were going to talk about it later.
I was just wondering . . .
Okay, here it is . . . The morning you told me you were leaving to marry Victor? You . . . you . . . well . . . I . . . he stuttered to a stop.
She touched his cheek. Tell me now, Max. Therell be a lot going on when we get back.
Max said nothing for a minute, then he said, Well, its like this . . . it broke my heart. Yeah, yeah . . . I know, I never gave you any indication of how I felt about you . . .
Yes you did.
I remember you said, and please correct me if Im wrong, that you thought of me as one of the boys.
I remember. I didnt mean it.
I know that now.
Where was I? Oh . . . I knew I had two choices . . . let you go and live my life alone, without you, which wasnt a pleasant thought, or . . . follow you and see who this guy was that stole your heart. And see if maybe, just maybe, I could win you back.
Oh, Max! All you had to do was tell me. If you would have told me that morning in my office you loved me, or even said you didnt want me to leave, I would have called Victor and broken the engagement right then and there . . . that morning.
Neither of them said anything for a while. Then Max spoke. It was a dream.
On the way to San Jirman Island I fell asleep on the plane. I had what could only be called a nightmare. It was terrifying.
I got to San Jirman Island and found Victors casino. It didnt look much different in the dream than it did in real life. Very strange. Anyway, in this dream, I still got a job, not as Victors bodyguard, but at the Roulette wheel. Thats when I discovered he was a cheat. Not a Kaos agent, but a cheat all the same.
Max started to ramble. 99 gently caressed his cheek. Calm down, Max, its okay.
He took a deep breath, I finally saw you. I got you alone and told you what Id found. You didnt believe me at first, but you did after I showed you. Thats when it turned into a nightmare, he was rambling again . . . and shaking. 99 put a hand on his chest and felt his heart racing. He was comforted by her touch.
You told me you didnt care, you wanted a life of luxury . . . you were tired of living hand to mouth and wanted the good things in life. You also said you didnt care how Victor made his money. Thats when I blurted out that I loved you. You laughed and told me the only reason you joined Control was to find someone with money. You figured by joining a spy organization, you would eventually come across a rich guy. You said that everything, everything, you had ever told me and the Chief was a lie. You told me it was a ridiculous notion . . . You didnt love me, how could you? I was a silly, stupid little man. It had been so easy to fool me . . . about everything . . . A tear ran down his cheek. I was so hurt! And then . . .
99 was crying. What? she asked miserably.
I woke up. I was crying. Luckily it was a night flight, so most of the lights were off and everyone was asleep. I was so scared, 99. I knew it was only a dream, so, I managed to shake it off some . . . until I saw the casino. I almost turned back. But I had to know for sure . . . was the dream a reality? Or the reality a dream? Thank God I stayed. I had to tell you about it because the dream is so clear in my mind, it still scares the hell out of me.
I would never act that way. Oh, Max . . . she purred, I love you. I have always loved you. I always will.
Im making you a promise, 99. I promise . . . when we get this mess straightened out and youre healed . . . Im taking you to Hawaii for a week. Youve always wanted to go and I cant think of a more romantic place to spend some time alone together. I love you, 99.
Oh, Max! That sounds marvelous . . . Just let me know my half of the expenses.
What!? Nothing! 99, I said Im taking you.
Max, Im really sorry about the phone . . . I just threw it in . . . I didnt even think about it being a communication device.
Dont worry about it . . . Max said, yawning. He was barely able to keep his eyes open.
Go to sleep, Love. This was the first, but certainly not the last time, that 99 would call Max by his pet name.
Do you realize how many times weve said that to each other in the last couple days? Youd think the only thing were doing out here is sleeping. Isnt that a hoot?? Im so tireddd. . . . he drifted off to sleep in mid-sentence.
99 remained awake, lost in thought about Maxs dream. The mere thought that she would ever say or do anything so horrible to him, or the Chief, or to anyone else for that matter, sickened and disgusted her. She ran her hand lovingly against the stubble on his cheek.
Oh, Max . . .
The rain had stopped, and the few bits of dry wood Max had managed to find crackled, shooting smoke and sparks into the morning air. He had been in contact with the Forest Service and they were on their way. He looked over at 99 and winked.
I cant wait to get out of here! he said. Well get you to the Control Hospital. I bet theyll have to do surgery on that ankle.
As soon as I know youre okay, I plan to make a few calls on some old friends.
Max . . . 99 warned, Please . . . wait until you cool off a bit. Go home. Get a good nights sleep. Then bring the Chief over to my hospital room . . . I have a few questions for him myself.
Hes first . . .
99 frowned. Who else?
Those gifted people in the lab . . . Im going to cook them a dinner out of that debris they pass off as food and make them eat every bite. Even if I have to shove it down their throats. Do you hear that?
When the helicopter hovered overhead, Max doused the fire. A uniformed man with a stretcher was lowered through he trees. Together, he and Max secured 99 to the stretcher and she was lifted into the helicopter. The rope was lowered again and Max and the young officer joined 99 in the helicopter.
Is it possible for you to fly us to this address? Max asked, handing the co-pilot a piece of paper.
We have orders to take you . . . he paused, looked at the piece of paper and held it up to Max. . . . to this address.
Max gave 99 the thumbs up..
The flight to Washington took an hour or so. Max and 99 were deposited on the roof of a run of the mill Washington office building at 123 Main Street. They were met by several Control agents who took them the ten floors underground to Control Headquarters. They were immediately taken to Controls hospital, where they were gone over with a fine tooth comb. Max was fine, except for some scrapes and bruises and a few lost pounds. 99, however, was scheduled for immediate surgery to repair the break. Max walked with her to the operating room, holding her hand. The pre-op medication had made her giddy. As the gurney rolled to a stop, she yanked on Maxs hand. He bent down to hear her.
Just wait . . . she murmured.
What am I waiting for?
She winked. He grinned. Ill be here when you wake up, he told her, kissing her on the cheek.
Know what? 99 asked, slurring her words.
My ankle dont hurt no more . . . She gave him such a silly grin that he burst out laughing. The orderlies looked at each other, shrugged, and wheeled their patient down the hall to the operating room.
The smile slowly faded from Maxs face as he watched them wheel her away. He headed for his office, where he took a magnificent, refreshing shower and climbed into some clean clothes. He dug into his small refrigerator and made himself a gigantic PB&J sandwich, which he devoured. He brewed a large cup of tea and headed back to the waiting room of the hospital. As he sat on a sofa and sipped on the tea, the Chief appeared. Max said nothing as the man sat down next to him.
I hear 99 is undergoing surgery on that ankle, he said. Im sure shell be fine. How are you?
What do you care? Max grumbled, not looking up.
Max . . .
Chief . . . I think the best thing for you to do right now is disappear.
You heard me. You always hear me.
Max, I want a report on your mission as soon as possible.
Get lost! Max snapped. Come back tomorrow, when 99 has fully recovered from the anesthesia. Then you can explain to both of us why you wouldnt send help. Until then . . . take a hike.
The Chief looked at him crossly, I hope you remember who youre talking to, Agent 86. I want that report now.
Max finally turned to him. His eyes bored into the Chiefs with such malevolent anger that the Chief was taken back.
GET AWAY FROM ME! He yelled.
The Chief stared at him, but said nothing. He immediately got up and left.
Max muttered furiously under his breath. He gave a shuttering sigh, took several deep breaths and covered his eyes with his hands. He wiped away the tears and, after taking a large gulp of tea, lay down on the sofa and fell asleep. It seemed he had no more than closed his eyes, than someone was shaking him awake. It was one of the surgery nurses, telling him that 99 had come through the surgery with no problem and if he wanted to see her for a few minutes, he could. He followed her down the hall and entered 99s room. She lay with a cast covering her ankle and an IV drip in her arm. He went to the bed, took her hand and kissed it. Her eyes opened.
Hey, 99. Seems silly to ask how you feel.
Not bad. She lifted the hand he was holding and ran her finger across his cheek.
You didnt shave . . .
I think it makes me look rugged. What do you think?
She gave him a smile. Youre gorgeous. Have you seen the Chief?
Yes, Im sorry to say. He found me in the waiting room.
What did he say?
He wanted our mission report. And he acted so all concerned.
And . . .?
I told him to get lost. He told me he wanted the report now . . . So I told him, in a not so nice way, to get away from me.
Good for you. Max, why dont you go home?
Id rather stay in my office. So Im here if you need me.
Max . . . Go home.
But . . .
Go home. Ill be fine.
Max sighed, Okay, 99. Ill be back in the morning.
He leaned over and they kissed tenderly.
Night . . . they both said.
(4:00 PM, The next day) . . . .
Max wiped the steam from the mirror and looked intently at his face. Hmmm . . . gorgeous, huh?
He studied his reflection for another few seconds, then picked up the razor and shaved. He took a relaxing shower and, after drinking a cup of coffee, set off for headquarters. He stopped along the way and picked up several magazines for 99.
He bypassed the Chiefs office and went immediately to 99s room. The Chief was already there, engaged in a heated argument with 99. He stood in the doorway and listened.
I want some kind of explanation! 99 said furiously.
I dont have to tell you anything. I want you to write out your report . . . and get your partner to do the same.
This isnt like you, Chief, 99 continued. Whats wrong with you?
Nothing . . . Max mimicked, walking over.
The Chief turned to him. I want both of you to do as I say, now, or . . . youre fired.
99 and Max looked at each other in hurt confusion.
All right, Max retorted, handing the magazines to 99. Here it is . . . And he proceeded to tell him everything that happened, from the moment they had entered the forest, until they were picked up by the helicopter.
Thats it? The Chief asked.
Yes . . . thats it! 99 said. It was as if we were sent out there to . . . to depart this life . . . on purpose
The Chief gave them a unusual look, then turned and left.
What the hell was that all about? 99 asked.
I dont know . . . Max said slowly. He snapped his fingers. You know what, 99? Hes backed into a corner. But by who?
99 shook her head. The new guy?
Max frowned, thinking. Ill be back. Im going to the Chiefs office.
Max . . .?
He turned back to her.
Please . . . dont go off the deep end.
I wont, I promise.
Max entered to the Chiefs office. He was sitting at his desk, engaged in another heated discussion. This time with someone on the phone. Max sat down and listened with interest as the Chief argued for clarification. He appeared to be getting absolutely nowhere, so Max decided it was time he heard exactly what this person was saying. He slid open a drawer in the Chiefs desk and put on a pair of headphones. What he heard chilled him to the bone. It wasnt what the man was saying, it was his voice. Max gestured for the Chief to hang up. The Chief frowned, but made up a flimsy excuse, telling the man he would call him back.
What now, Max? he asked wearily.
Chief . . . whats this new guys status in Control?
Hes the new Deputy Director. He gives us, or me, all our official orders.
Have you ever met him?
I know who he is.
The Chief put his fingers to the bridge of his nose. Max, he said, exasperated, How could you?
It was the voice . . . its Victor Royal.
Who the hell is Victor Royal?
Max groaned. Victor Royal . . . the guy 99 was going to marry!
The Chief lowered his hand and stared at Max in astonishment. The Kaos agent?
They sat for a moment in stunned silence.
Wheres his office? Max asked.
Im not sure. Probably upstairs. Why? Is that important?
Max sat back, thinking. Did you tell him we got back safely?
Max jumped out of his chair. 99! he cried and ran out the door, the Chief right on his heels. They raced down the hallways and burst into 99s room. She was calmly reading one of the magazines Max had brought her. She looked up in alarm.
Whats wrong, Max? She looked suspiciously at the Chief.
99 . . . Max wasnt sure how to approach her on the subject. He went over to the bed and sat down beside her. He took her hand in both of his.
Max? Whats wrong?
He looked deeply into her eyes.
I know who this new guy is. When the Chief was talking to him on the phone, I listened in. I heard his voice. You wont believe it . . .
Max . . . what . . . ?
99s face registered no emotion.
Im okay, Im thinking . . . You know what? It makes sense. Wait . . . wait . . . before you say anything, think about it for a minute. Why would anyone else send us into the middle of nowhere? I told you, Max . . . I told you I was suspicious of this whole mission from the start.
99, weve got to get you out of here.
What do you mean, No. Max?
Just what I said. Im the bait. If he knows Im here, hell come, right?
Yes . . .
Well . . . Let him come.
Are you INSANE?!!? Max asked, raising his voice. Hell try to kill you!
Of course! Look, heres the plan. Max . . . pretend to leave. Then come back into the room through the air ducts. Hide there, in the closet, under the bed, somewhere, and then. . . kill him, she said grimly.
Max and the Chief looked at each other. Max turned back to 99.
Thats murder. Thatd make me as bad as him.
No it wouldnt!! 99 said. HE ordered us out into the woods. HES the one who came up with the map left to us by a dead Kaos agent, right, Chief?
The Chief nodded, Yes . . . he sent it to me by courier and ordered me to send the two of you on the mission.
He set up those silly Burma Shave signs and planted the bomb in the cave. Oh, by the way, Chief . . . whats happened to our stellar background security checks? He somehow managed to slip by them and get into one of the highest positions at Control . . . where he has access to EVERYTHING! Not only that . . . she turned back to Max. He tried to kill you once before, Max, on San Jirman Island . . . right?
Yes . . . Max put a hand over his mouth and stared at 99, thinking.
He escaped the police, so hes also a fugitive. Not to mention all the bones we found in that Piranha tank under his office. There were so many, they still havent identified all of them. Hes a murderer many, many times over and hes tried to kill us . . . you twice, Max! So why are you so hesitant to kill the bastard? Oh, forget it! Give me a gun. When he comes into the room, Ill kill him myself.
Okay, Max said.
WHAT!? The Chief exclaimed. Are you both out of your minds?
Not the last time I looked, 99 said.
Listen, Chief, Ill hide in the closet. 99 can easily hide a gun . When he comes in, 99 can engage him in some outlandish dialogue to distract him. When he gets too into the conversation, Ill come out and . . .
. . . Get shot for your troubles. No, Max, there has to be another way . . . . Well get a look-a-like to take 99s place. Well station Control agents in the closet, the vent, the bathroom and even under the bed. Well arrest him, but we wont kill him . . . unless its absolutely necessary.
I want to be here, 99 said.
No, 99, you and Max are too close to it emotionally. Youll have to let Control take care of it.
All right. But wheres 99 supposed to go while her room is being used?
How about home?
That wont work. Victor could show up there if he knows shes been released.
Then take her to your place, Max.
Hmmm . . . thats a good idea. He gave 99 a sly smile.
99 winked. The effect was not lost on the Chief, who decided to discuss this particular aspect of these strange goings on with his agents later.
The doctor arrived and then surprised them all by saying 99 could go home tomorrow.
So soon? Max asked.
Yep. Was it you who set the ankle? the doctor asked.
Yes . . .
You did a remarkable job. No doctor could have done better. Thats why she can go home. We didnt have to do a thing, just put the cast on. Marvelous, fantastic job, 86.
Max looked at 99, who was beaming proudly at him.
When the doctor left and Max and 99 immediately jumped on the Chief, demanding information about his plan was for getting Victor Royal.
I cant tell you.
Why? Max asked.
Because its better if you dont know. Ill tell you all about it later. Okay? You two have been through enough. Im truly sorry, He lowered his head. I had no choice . . . the man threatened to throw me in jail and fire me if I didnt do what he said.
So thats it, 99 said. We couldnt understand . . .
I need to get started on this, the Chief interrupted. Max, Im going to talk to the doctor and tell him youre staying here tonight, just in case.
Chief? Max said.
Stay a few minutes while I run to my office and change into something more comfortable.
99 gave him a look and Max had to bite the inside of his lip to keep from laughing.
Sure, Max. But dont take long, I need to get started on this.
Back in a flash. Max said, dashing out the door.
The Chief turned to 99, his curiosity getting the best of him. Okay, whats going on?
You know whats going on.
Between you and Max.
99, Ive seen the looks youve been giving each other. Whats going on?
Going on?? I broke my ankle.
The Chief rolled his eyes and sighed.
Nothing . . . Maxs voice came from behind the Chief. He came into the room, having changed into pair of plaid flannel pajamas bottoms and a t-shirt. Completing the outfit was his gun and holster
Uh-huh. Okay, tell me later.
Theres nothing to tell.
The Chief shrugged and left.
Max sat down beside 99. Whew . . . Oh, here. Max said, holding something out.
99 silently took the Derringer and stuffed it in-between the mattress and the sheet on the left side of the bed.
Max, were going to have to tell him.
Tell him what?
I know a lot of things . . . what do you want to know?
You know . . .
99 shook her head. Lets start over. Max . . . we have to tell the Chief about . . .
You know? He interrupted.
Yes, you know.
Stop it, Max!
Max!!! We have to tell him . . .
I know. But lets wait a while.
Because, you know . . .
99 rolled her eyes. MAX!! Stop!!
He grinned. Stop what?
What youre doing.
What am I doing?
AHHHH!! She threw the covers over her head.
Max pulled back a corner. You under there?
She shook her head. No . . . Ive gone into hiding.
Listen, 99. We need to go to your apartment tomorrow and pick up some of your things.
And just how long am I going to be staying with you, Mr. Smart?
As long as it takes to get Victor behind bars. He yawned.
Where are you gonna sleep tonight?
Max nodded toward the chair.
No youre not.
Max gave her enchanting a look. Really? Then where. . . ?
99 threw back the covers.
Now the Chief will know, 99 said.
You know . . . what we know.
You know what? Max said, climbing under the covers and hugging her, I dont care who knows and who doesnt know, ya know?
All I know is if we dont stop this foolish conversation, Im going to go insane.
You started it up again, you know. Max said, shutting off the light.
Max awoke . . . and for a moment forgot where he was. He slid out of bed went to the bathroom. Not wanting to wake 99, he waited until the annoying sounds of the toilet had faded before he snapped off the light. He had opened the door only slightly when he heard the unmistakable sound of the other door opening. He stopped and waited, his heart pounding. Whoever it was turned on a small flashlight, faintly lighting the room. As his eyes got used to the light, he saw Victor stop at the foot of the bed and look down at 99.
Oh . . . thats right. Wheres Max?
Im sure hes at home, sleeping. What are you doing here?
I came to say hello, and see how youre doing.
In the middle of the night? In the dark?
Its as good a time as any, dont you think?
Id like to turn on the light, do you mind?
Not at all.
99 turned on the bed side light and turned back to Victor.
A gun? She asked. Whats on the agenda, Victor?
He shrugged, Target practice?
Thanks . . . but I do pretty well on my own.
With yourself as the target?
No . . . I dont get very good aim that way.
Victor smiled and shook his head. Youve been spending way too much time with that silly little fool. Hes rubbing off on you.
How did you do it, Victor? Get into such a lofty position in Control, I mean.
It wasnt very hard . . . money talks.
Well eventually find out who the traitor is.
Ill gladly tell you who it is . . . and where to find his body.
99 stared at him in disgust.
Now, Susan, he said, motioning with the gun, Were going to find your little friend. And together you will pay me back.
Pay you back? For what?
The loss of Louie, his face darkened, We were dear friends since boyhood. Also, the loss of my casino. You cost me millions with that little debacle.
Then you should have picked a better profession.
Just how do you expect to get me out of here? We wont exactly be inconspicuous.
Youre supposed to go home tomorrow. Lets just say you decided to leave a bit early.
He got the wheelchair sitting in the corner of the room beside the bathroom door . . . putting himself in-between the bed and the open bathroom door, blocking Maxs view of 99.
Come on, Susan, lets get you in the chair.
Freeze. Max said, pointing his gun at Victor.
Victor turned slowly and stared at Max.
Max . . . there you are. So good of you to join us.
Good for us, not for you, Max said, stepping out of the bathroom.
Victor swung the wheelchair around, hitting Max and forcing him to drop his gun. They both went after it, Max losing the race by a split second. Victor stood up, holding Maxs own gun on him, while continuing to hold his gun on 99.
Now who is it good for, Mr. Smart? he asked.
Not you. 99 said.
Victor turned and saw 99 holding the Derringer on him. Whats that supposed to be?
Drop the guns, Victor.
Drop the guns . . . or Ill shoot you.
He laughed. You havent got the nerve.
Drop the guns, Victor, Im serious.
He laughed again at her little gun. Who do you think has the advantage in this situation?
Drop them, Victor. she said, allowing her voice to waver. Max . . .
99 . . .
Victor smiled, Whats happened to your voice, Susan?
99 stared at him, her eyes flickering between him and Max. Im giving you one f-final warning. She caught Maxs eye, warning him to get ready . . . and letting Victor think he had the upper hand.
Victor was laughing, Max can be of no help to you, he doesnt have a gun anymore. And all you have is that toy.
Max. . . 99 said.
He abruptly grabbed the gun from Victors hand. He somersaulted to the floor, rolled over on his back and fired . . . at the same moment 99 fired. Neither bullet missed its target. Max hit him in the shoulder . . . but 99s entered Victors chest and came out his back. It finished its journey by bouncing off the door frame and imbedding itself in the wall.
Max jumped up as 99 lowered the gun and laid it on the nightstand. He bent over Victor, then looked up at 99.
They immediately started yelling at each other . . . Why did you do that, Max? I had him! I could have shot you! Why didnt you just let me grab the gun? He was paying so much attention to you, I would have had it easily. I could have shot you!
They both stopped and Max went over to her, 99 . . . are you all right? he asked gently. I didnt hit you, did I?
No . . . Im okay. I didnt hit you?
She took his hand and squeezed it. Better call security.
He smiled and reached for the phone. Suddenly, ten Control agents, including the Chief, burst into the room.
Royal is over there, Max motioned to the corner. Hes dead.
Who killed him?
Max glanced over at 99.
We did, they said at the same time.
Who got in the good chest shot? The Chief asked, leaning over Victor.
Me, 99 said unemotionally.
Everyone in the room gawked at 99 . . . and the body in the corner. No one moved.
What are you all staring at? Max asked.
99 had to kill him, 86? Agent 14 asked. And just what were you doing?
I went in the bathroom and . . . Max began.
Got caught with your pants down, huh, 86? 14 asked. The room exploded with laughter.
SHUT UP!! 99 shouted. Max placed a calming hand on her arm.
All right, thats enough, The Chief said. Men . . . several of you get that body out of here. The rest . . . get this place cleaned up. And with no more comments from the peanut gallery.
They made the mess, let Max clean it up, 14 said. Several agents snickered.
The Chief pointed a finger at the man. All right, Milton Berle, you think youre so funny . . . you clean it up. The rest of you . . . get out of here.
Several agents picked up the body and carted it out of the room, headed for the mortuary. The rest headed back to their stations. 14 cornered two orderlies who happened by and coerced them into helping him clean up the mess, as the Chief stood by and watched. As they left, Agent 14 glared at the Chief, who nonchalantly told him to meet him in his office the next day for a talk. The Chief turned to say something to Max and 99, but they were sitting on the bed, looking into each others eyes. He thought better of it and quietly shut the door behind him as he left.
99, Im sorry I let Victor get the advantage, Max said softly. In the bathroom! Now theyre laughing at me . . . again.
99 put her hand on the back of his neck and caressed his hair. Ignore them, you did everything right. You kept him occupied long enough for me to get the gun. But you really shouldnt have grabbed that gun, Max.
There wasnt any other way. What if you had missed?
I wouldnt have . . . she said.
Listen, uh . . . you think youre gonna need help getting around when you get out of here?
I guess . . .
Come stay at my place . . . Ill take care of you. And I promise to be a perfect gentleman.
Too bad . . .
What did you say?
About me being a perfect gentleman.
Too bad . . .
Too bad what?
99 rolled her eyes at him. Were starting up again . . . too bad youll be a perfect gentleman.
Why is it too bad?
Because why? He grinned at her.
Because . . . Max, dont you find it just a bit scary that we understand this whole conversation?
You dont? Why?
Why dont you think that us thinking that we understand this conversation isnt scary? She frowned.
Max laughed. 99, you sound an awful lot like me. Heres the deal . . . if you want to come stay with me until you feel better, youre more than welcome. If you want to go home . . . well, thats okay too. Its your decision. Personally, Id like you to stay with me for a few days. We can discuss that trip to Hawaii.
That sounds good. But . . .
But what? He asked, concerned.
Max, please . . . dont be too much of a gentleman . . .
99!!! Max said, shocked.
What you said!
What did I say?
What you said.
What did I say?
They continued with the banter until a nurse came in and told them to shut up . . . .
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