Secret Service agents, Max Soto and Teddy Woods, stood at attention. Their boss, Mike “Kaboom” Cannon, sat behind a desk that could double as the flight deck on an aircraft carrier, well, perhaps only a small carrier.
Cannon took his sweet time sifting through a file that he held high so the errant security men could not see the smirk on his face.
“You’ve been up to your old tricks, I see.” Cannon turned a page, focused on every nuance of his agents’ activities from the previous weekend. As he read through the report, he was amused, but these two would never know. He had hauled them into his office for a severe ass-chewing, not to endorse their behavior or offer encouragement.
“Um, sir, I don’t know who wrote that report, but whatever it says, I’m sure I can explain it,” Soto said.
Sweat formed on his brow and upper lip, but he didn’t dare wipe his damp face. In fact, he didn’t move a muscle and risk provoking his boss into one of his famous tirades. Better to just drip on the carpet. Perhaps they’d gone too far this time.
Cannon deigned to look at the two agents, quaking in their shoes. “Did you say something, Agent Soto? Or was that the bleating of your pet goat, Woods, that I heard?”
“Uh, no, sir. No pet goats here, sir. Just us agents.”
“Agents?” Cannon inquired, his voice rising. “You call yourself agents? After this?” He waved the file at them. “If word got out you were behind this little misadventure, you’d be lucky to keep your jobs. How does the Death Valley field office sound to you? A change of scenery might do you two smart-asses some good.”
Woods ventured to speak. “If you’ll just give us a minute to explain, KC, you’ll see it was just a harmless joke. It was nothing serious.”
“Nothing serious? And it’s Mr. Cannon to you. Show some respect.”
“Sorry, KC . . . uh . . . sir.” Woods attempted to look contrite.
“You were supposed to be protecting the president’s granddaughter, for crying out loud. How did you find time to pull a stunt like this?”
“Believe me, sir, it was the dullest wedding reception in the history of weddings. We thought a little amusement might liven things up,” Woods said, his voice nearly cracked under the stress.
“Your practical joke caused over ten thousand dollars damage at the Four Seasons when the guests fled the reception. If that’s your idea of ‘nothing serious,’ I’d hate to see the results if you really intended to cause trouble.”
Soto said, “But, sir, we were just having some fun with Agent Radner. You know what a tight-ass he can be. It was a harmless fraternity prank that got out of hand.”
“I’ll say it did. Radner said when that bucket hit the floor, it sounded like a gunshot. No wonder everyone panicked.”
Soto held his palms up and shrugged his shoulders. “Everyone overreacted, chief. The guests were never in any real danger.”
“No, but my career is hanging by a thread thanks to you!” The more they talked, the angrier Cannon became.
Could these clowns actually derail his sterling career? He was the senior agent in charge of security for the President of the United States, yet here he was busting the chops of two of his best men. And over what, a lousy fraternity prank? Was this how thirty years of loyal service to his country would be remembered?
No, not on his watch. Special-Agent-in-Charge Cannon fumed; the rat-tat-tat of his fingers drumming the desktop sounded like a machine gun on full auto.
“Of all people, why pick on the bride’s mother-in-law? Couldn’t you have targeted someone less controversial instead, say, the Russian Ambassador?”
Woods said, “How were we to know the woman was sitting near the kitchen door cooling off after the line dance?”
“You could have looked, you moron. The woman’s as big as a house, how could you miss her? Is your eyesight failing you, Woods? What was your score on your last weapons qualification? Did you manage to even hit the target?”
Soto snickered behind his hand. “We certainly hit that target. Impossible to miss!”
Kaboom half rose from his chair and roared like his namesake. “That’s quite enough out of you!” He sat back down and rubbed a hand across this face.
Woods spoke quickly trying to head off the chief from saying anything they really didn’t want to hear.
“We’re sorry, chief. The bride assured us her mother-in-law is feeling better now. She never knew where that bucket of water came from; she only got a little soaked. And the bride, well, after we apologized, she was a good sport about it; she promised not to tell a soul.”
“What am I going to do with you two? My best agents, but how am I going to keep you on the president’s security detail if you keep screwing up like this? You’re not back in college, boys; this is the big leagues. You’re supposed to be guarding the most powerful man in the world and his family, not arranging a dunking of one of your fellow agents. And I’ll tell you another thing, if you had tipped that bucket of water all over Radner instead of the fat broad, he would have shot both of you. And the way I’m feeling right now, I’d cheer him on.”
“Aw, c’mon, KC. You don’t mean that.” Soto immediately clamped his mouth shut when Cannon jerked his head around sharply, those steely eyes bored holes through his skull.
“Get out of here! Take the day off, go to the zoo, anyplace, but stay out of my sight!”
Agents Soto and Woods almost made it out the door when the chief called out. “Oh, I almost forgot. There’s a new agent transferring over from the advance team tomorrow. Agent Bailey Cousins will be the new liaison between our office and the vice president’s security detail. I don’t want any funny business out of you two. Not like the last time.”
“Who, us?” Woods asked, the picture of innocence. “Don’t worry about us, chief. We like to think of ourselves as the ‘gentle’ bronco busters.”
“Yeah, we’ll take loving care of him; break him in gently to see what he’s made of,” Soto said with a wink. He wore a grin that stretched from ear to ear.
“What?” said the duo in unison.
“I said, ‘she.’ Agent Cousins is a she, not he. I’m giving you fair warning; I’ve heard that she doesn’t put up with any foolishness from anybody. So, no more of your shenanigans or you’ll find yourselves in HR explaining a workplace harassment charge. Now beat it!”
The two agents hurriedly exited the chief’s office.
Woods quoted, “‘Well, here’s another nice mess you’ve gotten us into, Stanley.’ What’s next? I know, let’s spray-paint the Washington Monument,” he suggested. “Or fill the Reflecting Pool with detergent.”
Soto strutted down the hallway like the cat that ate the canary now that he no longer faced Cannon’s wrath. “Relax, Woodsy boy. Old ‘Kaboom’ has our backs. He always does.”
“Yeah, but for how much longer? I’m telling you; you’ve got to quit with the practical jokes. I don’t want to end up unemployed, or worse. KC might reassign us to Point Barrow.
“Hey, did you hear what the chief said? We gotta a new ‘cruit joining the team. This’ll be fun!”
“Oh, hell no! We’re leaving this one alone. You nearly killed the last guy. That gag with the exploding telephone was really over the top.”
“You worry too much. Besides, the guy had no sense of humor. We’ll find out soon enough whether the newbie can handle the pressure. I’ve got a couple of ideas in mind.”
“Just remember, I hate chilly weather,” Woods said.
# # # #
On returning to their office, the agents checked the duty roster to see when they were due for their next shift. Agents rotated several times a day, and at least one agent stood guard outside the Oval Office so that, in case of an emergency, the duty agent was in position to cover the president.
Woods said, “Looks like I’ve got the afternoon shift.”
“Sucks to be you. I think I’ll pop over to Big Tony’s place. I’m working on a little surprise for our new arrival.”
“Why can’t you just leave the poor woman alone. You heard the chief; she’s the no-nonsense type. And if she’s at all like the last guy, she’ll have no sense of humor.”
“That’s the problem with these new people. They’ve got to learn to loosen up. I’m just helping to ease them into the routine. Half these guys are wired so tight I’m worried at the first provocation they’ll start shooting up the place.”
“It’s called ‘professionalism’ in case you’ve forgotten. We deal with security threats on a daily basis, so we’re supposed to take our jobs seriously and stand ready for any eventuality.”
“Gosh, you sounded exactly like KC just now. When did you become such a stuck-up, by-the-book chump?”
“Don’t think I didn’t enjoy getting reamed for that stunt you pulled Saturday night. I haven’t had my ass kicked so hard since boot camp. Please say that we can do that again.”
“Okay, okay, so it didn’t go off as planned. Buck up and quit whining about it already.”
“We need to lay low for a while, at least until people quit talking. Is that too much to ask?”
“You know that’s not my style. When I’m done with the new girl, I promise she’ll never forget her first day on the job at the White House. C’mon, it’ll be fun. What do you say?”
“I think I’ll start packing for Alaska.”
# # # #
Soto pushed through the glass doors of the Novelty Nerds gifts and novelty shop. As soon as he entered, Big Tony, the proprietor, started laughing.
“Hey, Max, a little birdy told me things didn’t go so well at the Four Seasons. What a sap; you missed your mark.”
“There were technical difficulties,” Soto deflected. “The chief held a little Sunday school meeting afterwards and gave us a glimpse of what hell would look like if we ever pulled another stunt like that.”
“So, what are you doing here? Browsing? Reminiscing? Having withdrawals?”
“Are you kidding? We gotta a new kid joining our team, and I need something subtle yet memorable. What have you got for me?”
The two browsed the aisles as Big Tony pointed out a plethora of tricks available to the serious practical joker. Soto kept walking, stopping now and then to admire a new gimmick.
Big Tony said, “There’s the old squirting pen gag. Just the thing every bureaucrat needs and guaranteed to ruin their day.”
“Gimme a break; waaay too pedestrian. I want something unique; untried.”
“How about an exploding stapler. One whack and they’ll think it’s the end of the world.”
“Nah, I’m off pyrotechnics. As Woodsy keeps reminding me, I nearly killed the last guy.”
They came to the end of the aisle, turned the corner, and started down the next aisle when Soto’s eyebrows went up a notch. “What’s this?”
“Oh, yeah, we just got those in. They’re life-sized blowup dolls of famous people. You know, ‘you, too, can hang out with the rich and famous.’ People use them as yard ornaments or floaties in their pools. It’s all the rage.”
Soto quickly scanned the collection that featured Hollywood celebrities, music icons, athletes, television personalities, and . . . hold it! There was a whole section devoted to politicians, all the famous names from past administrations on both sides of the political aisle, including many holding office today.
Soto’s keen eye spotted ‘The One.’
“I’ve just got to have that!”
Big Tony chuckled. “You are a glutton for punishment. It’s got trouble stamped all over it, but, hey, it’s your funeral, friend. That’ll be twenty-nine ninety-five.”
Soto left the novelty shop clasping the package to his chest. He headed back to the office with the singular goal of putting his plan into action.
# # # #
Woods relinquished his post to the oncoming duty agent. He was tired and ready to go home for some well-deserved rest. His big mistake was stopping by the office to check emails before signing out for the night.
“What are you still doing here?” Woods inquired of his partner. Or was that ‘partner-in-crime?’ The jury was still out on that one.
“I found the greatest gag ever just in time for the arrival of Miss Gucci-Two-Shoes,” Soto said with a satisfied grin.
“What is it?” Woods asked with trepidation in his voice, but his curiosity had already been aroused.
“Follow me.” Soto crooked a finger as he led the way down the long corridor.
They headed for a certain office at the opposite end of the hall from the president’s office. Not another soul was on the floor at that time of night, so they could move around freely, unconcerned about encountering staffers, agents, and especially old Kaboom himself. As they approached, Woods slowed his pace.
“Oh, no you don’t! You can’t be serious?”
“I’ve never been more serious, Woodsy. I’ve already arranged for miss smarty pants to consult with her new contacts once she’s onboard. Nothing like starting off with a bang, I aways say. It will be classic!”
# # # #
The next day found Soto and Woods watching the clock in anticipation of the arrival of their new colleague. It was already after nine o’clock and the rookie was a no-show.
“Think she changed her mind and stayed with the advance team?” Woods asked.
“Who knows, but if she doesn’t get here soon, I’ve got to hide my little surprise. Can’t leave it there indefinitely. Someone might walk in unexpectedly and spoil the fun.”
Just then, the chimes sounded and both agents looked with interest to see who exited the elevator.
Kaboom Cannon held the automatic door open as a short, blond-haired woman stepped into the hallway. This must be Bailey Cousins; she wore a well-tailored light blue jacket and skirt that accented her petite figure.
Woods glanced over and was appalled to see Soto practically salivating. In a hoarse whisper, he said, “Max! Pull your tongue back in and quit drooling; you look ridiculous!
“So that’s the new liaison. I wouldn’t mind a little one on one with her!”
“Are you living in the sixties, or what? What do you expect her to do? Succumb to your wit and charm and prostrate herself because the renowned Max Soto hands her a few pickup lines? Grow up, Max, and get back to work.”
“You’re a bundle of joy, who rained on your parade? Hey! Here they come. Look busy!”
Max swiveled around in his chair as if searching for a mislaid file when KC stopped at their desk to introduce the new agent.”
“Gentlemen, this is Bailey Cousins, our new liaison officer. Bailey, meet the two jokers I warned you about. Agents Soto and Woods,” Cannon said, taking the wind out of their sails from the very start.
“Pay him no mind, Agent Cousins,” Soto said, and extended his hand in greeting. “You’ll be pleased to know the A-Team is at your service.”
“My, my, the A-Team, indeed! I’m honored to make your acquaintance.” Her voice had a soft drawl that was all honeysuckle and fine lace. “I look forward to learning the ropes from a couple of old hands such as yourselves.”
The ‘old’ reference hit home like a stab through the heart. Soto immediately sucked in his stomach as his pecs swelled out like a strutting peacock. Woods self-consciously combed his hair over with his fingers to hide the growing bald spot.
A benign smile remained plastered on KC’s broad face as he spoke. “There’ll be a briefing in ten minutes to go over the fundraiser for this weekend. When the VP returns from her good-will tour of Africa, she’ll fly directly into Columbus, Ohio in time to join the president on the podium. Let’s get moving, people, we’ve got a lot of work to do!”
Before Soto could say something witty, Cannon cut him off. “By the way, Cousins, your office is down the corridor close to your counterpart in the VP’s office. I’ll introduce you later. For now, let’s head over to the conference room.”
Soto stood there seething. At every turn, KC cut him off before he could make his pitch to the new girl. He turned to Woods and said, “Let get this briefing over with. I’ve got things to do.”
Seating around the table filled quickly leaving only the row of chairs along the back wall. Soto and Woods had to settle for the perimeter seats. As they entered, they saw Cousins sitting next to Cannon in the seat usually reserved for one of them. She gave them a wide smile almost as if she were pleased to see them again so soon after their initial meet and greet. The smile was not lost on Soto, that’s for sure. Could there be a spark of interest?
The meeting dragged on for three hours before breaking for a late lunch. Cannon announced, “We’ll reconvene after lunch in one hour. Don’t be late.”
Famished, the herd of agents headed en masse for the White House Mess, located in the basement of the West Wing next to the Situation Room.
The beautifully appointed dining hall, which was operated by the Navy, featured elegant table linens, fresh flowers, and official White House china. The rich wood paneling was decorated with a nautical theme. Table reservations were available to senior White House officials including Cabinet secretaries, commissioned officers, and their guests.
A take-out window was available to all other staff members for carry-out orders. Cannon’s hungry crew queued up for the health-conscious meals featured on the menu which changed daily. Standing together in line, KC continued to monopolize Agent Cousins as he pressed on with the informal briefing.
The logistical planning that went into even a short trip by the president was grueling and exhausting. Every step was choreographed down to the last detail; no uncertainty was left unchecked. In case there was a lack of confirmation on even the smallest detail alternate plans were considered and approved. The Secret Service never allowed the people in their charge to walk into a situation that had not been thoroughly vetted.
At the conclusion of the meeting, a tired, weary team dispersed to their respective offices to follow up on their personal assignments. Until every contingency was completed, no one got much rest.
The sun had set on the West Wing, but the lights still burned brightly into the early evening. The president and his staff were still busy with matters of State as well.
Soto decided he’d done enough for one day. He ensured all the drawers were locked before pulling the chain on the desk lamp.
“Want to grab a bite to eat?” Soto inquired.
“I should go home, but I guess a little chow wouldn’t go amiss. Where do you suggest?”
“I was thinking of popping over to the Old Ebbitt Grill. Sound good?”
“Perfect. Give me five minutes to wrap up,” Woods replied.
Soto went to splash water on his face to freshen up. Exiting the restroom, he strolled over to the VP’s office to check on the gag that awaited Agent Cousins. Just then, Woods came from behind him causing Soto to nearly jump out of his skin.
“What are you doing in the VP’s office?” Woods asked. Looking past Soto’s shoulder, Woods spotted an object behind the desk in the VP’s chair. “Oh my God! You can’t be serious? Get that thing out of here immediately. This is not right.”
Sitting at the desk as if prepared to welcome visitors was a life-sized blowup doll of the Vice President of the United States. The wide, toothy smile permanently plastered on those vinyl lips gave the doll a vapid look that was quite life-like if one were totally honest.
“Calm down, Woodsy. It’ll be gone as soon as I spoof Agent Cousins first thing tomorrow morning.”
“Max, please get rid of it now. You cannot leave it here.”
“Relax. When the VP and her staff are on tour, no one bothers to come in here.”
Unlike the vice president’s office in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next door, the VP’s office in the West Wing afforded proximity to the president. It was small with space for a desk and sitting area. In the past, vice presidents used the office to receive foreign dignitaries and meet with their staff. The White House office was modest compared to the VP’s elaborate office in the Executive Office Building, which was more ceremonial and decorated with ornate furnishings.
“If anyone spots that doll, they’ll know it was you. It’s the sort of silly joke you’re always pulling. And KC won’t cover for you if you’re caught again. You really are a glutton for punishment.”
“Funny, that’s what Big Tony said. Now listen to me, it’s only for a few more hours and then it goes away. I want to mess with Cousins’ mind to see if she has a sense of humor. She seemed friendly enough when we first met. Let’s see how she reacts now that she’s officially on the job.”
# # # #
Woods rushed from his office heading to the mid-morning status meeting when he collided with the President of the United States coming down the hall and dropped the bundle of papers he carried.
As they disentangled themselves, he apologized profusely, “A thousand pardons, Mr. President. I should look where I’m going.”
The Commander-in-Chief was magnanimous. “No harm done, son. Say, it’s Agent Soto, isn’t it?”
“No, sir. That’s my partner. I’m Teddy Woods, sir, but I am on your security detail as well.”
“Of course, you are. Although I don’t recall seeing you around much whenever we travel.”
“Well, sir, that’s because if I’m doing my job correctly, no one sees me until I see them, if you know what I mean.”
The president chuckled. “Very good, Soto. I must remember that. If you’ll excuse me, I was just on my way to have a chat with the vice president. She and I have much to discuss.”
“It’s Woods, sir . . . but isn’t she still out of the country?”
The president appeared not to have heard and continued down the hall. Woods was glued to the spot. He stared in horror as the president approached the VP’s office, tapped once, and entered.
Woods waited expectantly for the world to come crashing down around him, but after several minutes, nothing happened.
“Teddy!” Woods fairly levitated off the floor. So engrossed with the prospect of the president’s indignant exit from the VP’s office, he never heard Soto come up behind him. Soto barked, “What are you doing standing around? We’re all waiting on those threat assessments.”
Soto grew worried as Woods continued staring off into space. “Teddy, old boy, are you alright?”
“He’s in there.” Woods whispered. He slowly raised his arm and pointed.
“Who’s in where?”
“He’s in her office right now. Having a ‘chat.’ I watched him go in, but he hasn’t come back out.”
“You mean the president?” Soto asked, shocked. “Oh my God!”
Soto, too, now stood rooted in place, staring down the hall.
“He’s been in there for several minutes now. I wonder what ‘they’ are talking about?” Woods said, distractedly.
“Perhaps we should make ourselves scarce for the time being,” Soto suggested.
Just then the president emerged from the vice president’s office and closed the door behind him.
The two agents stood transfixed, pretending to be invisible. As he approached, the president said, “At ease, gentlemen. I’ll be around all day if you need me.”
Soto couldn’t help himself and blurted out, “Uh, sir? Just now . . . you and the vice president . . . is everything alright?”
“Of course. We’ve so much to discuss and so little time, the economy, the developing situation in France, the upcoming fund-raiser. But it was good to get some ideas out in the open and clear the air.”
The president stepped past the roadblock that comprised Soto and Woods.
His curiosity knew no bounds; Woods had the temerity to question the President of the United States. “If you don’t mind me asking, sir, did she offer good advice?”
“Ah, what a delightful lady.” The President smiled wistfully. “I talk, she listens, and no matter how complicated the subject matter, she always helps me arrive at the perfect solution. You know, she’s a very good listener. It’s no wonder we make a terrific team!”
The president meandered toward his office humming a tune, and like a child, dragged his finger along the chair rail molding all the way down the long hall.
Spellbound, the two agents remained motionless, stunned into silence by the surreal events.
At last, Woods found his voice. “I believe we are officially, what some might call, dead meat!”
“Did I just hear what I thought I heard?” Soto asked, staring after the president as if trying to fathom the unfathomable.
The two agents looked at one another in alarm.
Soto shook his head in disbelief. “Do you think it ever dawned on the president he was talking to a blow-up doll?”
“Not only that,” Woods said. “He believes ‘she’ helped him resolve several affairs of state.”
# # # #
Throughout the previous day, he and Cousins were never alone long enough for Soto to spring his surprise. The next morning, a frustrated and determined Soto arrived before eight o’clock to continue his hazing campaign.
Armed with a fresh cup of coffee and a bag of donuts, he kept a close eye on the elevator hoping to intercept Agent Cousins when she arrived.
Woods trudged in a half an hour later juggling his briefcase, newspaper, and coffee cup. “No sign of your intended victim?” he asked.
“Not yet, but it’s early.”
“You know, this is very close to the legal definition of stalking. Maybe you should reconsider.”
“Not a chance, bro.”
“Uh, has anyone mentioned anything about . . . you know, yesterday? With the Prez?”
“Not to my knowledge. I’m willing to bet even he doesn’t remember. He has his good days, and bad days, and then there are days lost to history. Just be thankful for small mercies.”
“I wonder what they . . . oh, never mind.”
Just then the elevator doors slid open, and Agent Bailey Cousins stepped out. The bell curve of her golden hair positively shined in contrast to her dark blue pants suit. She sported a White House lapel pin. The accessory was not lost on Soto.
“How the hell did she get a lapel pin already? I was here six months before I got mine,” Soto complained.
“She’s the shiny new penny that everyone wants to know. She acts like she owns the place even though she’s only been here five minutes.”
Sensing a momentary weakness in Woods’ defenses, Soto slyly suggested, “Perhaps it’s time to hurry things along.”
Woods absently nodded in agreement.
Agent Soto quickly typed a brief memo while Woods hovered over his shoulder. They both read through the email once more before Soto hit the Send button. A grin spread across their smug faces.
Operation Dollface was underway.
If Soto estimated correctly, Cousins would be calling in four . . . three . . . two . . . one . . . Soto’s desk phone rang.
That soft southern drawl was like honey. “You wanted to see me, Agent Soto?”
Soto resented the way she kept things so formal between them. Okay, two could play that game.
“Yes, Agent Cousins. I’ve just been in touch with the vice president’s travel team. We need to straighten out some logistics ahead of the Ohio trip. Can you meet me in the VP’s office?”
“Oh, really? No one informed me of any changes.”
“Well, you’re new here. Some folks feel more comfortable going through familiar channels, and I am the senior field agent on the president’s team.”
“I’ll have to get better acquainted with my counterparts if I’m going to be effective at my job. I can’t be left out of the information loop simply because I’m the newbie, now, can I?”
“Don’t worry, folks will come round once they get to know you. See you shortly.”
Soto gave Woods a knowing wink. Standby for major hysterics!
Cousins and Soto arrived at the vice president’s office simultaneously. A grin creased Soto’s face as he held open the door for the attractive agent.
“Just wanted you to meet your other boss here at the White House,” Soto said as he ushered her into the tiny office. With a flourish, he said, “Agent Cousins, may I present the Vice President of the United States.”
As Cousins entered, she immediately spotted the plastic mannequin sitting behind the desk with that vapid smile on permanent display.
If Soto was expecting an indignant reaction from Cousins, he was sorely disappointed. Cousins calmly looked from the caricature of the VP and back to Soto.
“I suppose it was inevitable you’d pull some silly stunt. KC warned me, and he was right; you are so predictable.”
“Aw, c’mon, Cousins. Admit it, the dummy looks perfectly suited to the position. I dare say, more so than its live counterpart. If you have to consult with anyone, there’s your best contact.”
“Oh, you really think so, Agent Soto? Then I’ll have my ‘counterpart’ contact your boss and we’ll see about that!”
The voice behind them was all too familiar. Cousins and Soto turned and came face to face with the vice president – the real vice president. Her eyes burned brightly as she took in the blowup doll and then turned her full attention back to Soto. Suddenly, his mouth felt as dry as a desert riverbed.
“Oh . . . it’s you, ma’am. Ha-ha. We were just admiring your likeness. Quite life-like, wouldn’t you say?” Soto stammered on desperately trying to talk his way out of this predicament. “Someone must have bought it as a souvenir and left it behind.”
When the vice president failed to response, Soto plowed on. “Welcome back, ma’am. We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
“No kidding, Agent Soto. That’s abundantly obvious. And who is this?” the VP asked nodding toward Cousins.
“Let me introduce Agent Bailey Cousins. She’s the new liaison with your security team. She just joined us yesterday.”
“And I suppose you’re giving her the nickel tour.” Addressing Cousins, the VP said, “Not an auspicious beginning, but welcome aboard. I have to apologize for Agent Soto’s behavior. The stress of the job must be getting to him; a problem that will soon be rectified, I’m sure. Nice to meet you, Agent Cousins. I’m sure we’ll talk again.”
The vice president took a step forward inches from Soto’s face. “It’s never fun, but I’m quite used to being mocked; it comes with the job. I don’t expect everyone to agree with me or my policies, but I’d hoped the opinions of the security service might remain neutral, perhaps even extend to a quantum of respect, but I see that’s not to be. You’re dismissed, Agent Soto. Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.”
The agents quickly exited the VP’s office.
“I’ll say one thing for you, Soto, there’s never a dull moment with you around. Nice going.”
Oh, lordy. On top of the wedding fiasco, the chief would not enjoy hearing about his newest blunder. How humiliating to be caught with your pants down, and not only that, but found out by the object of your ridicule. The death of his career flashed before Soto’s eyes as he excused himself and headed back to his office.
# # # #
Inevitably, the vice president ordered an investigation into the highly irregular behavior by members of the president’s own security team. However, after a week-long suspension, Soto and Woods were permitted to return to the office.
They encountered several colleagues in the hallway who merely shook their heads as the duo passed by, while others pretended not to notice them. They had become pariahs on their own turf.
As they settled in behind their desks, they noticed the conspicuous absence of case files, notes, and office desk paraphernalia. Even their telephones had been removed. The office was an empty shell.
Following the success of the Ohio trip, the president and vice president visited Texas, where they were invited to speak at a barbeque and rally for local candidates. For the time being, at least there was no danger of any awkward encounters.
A knock at the door caused them to jump. They turned to find Agent Cousins leaning against the door frame.
“How was your enforced vacation? she asked, but without malice for there was no cause to pour salt on their wounds.
“How shall I put it? Too quiet by half,” Soto said. “How’s it going with the VP? I hope she’s not holding a grudge against you on my account.”
“We’re cool. She’s actually easier to work with than I expected. Although, I’d stay out of her line of sight, if I were you guys.”
The usually flippant Soto didn’t offer a comeback to Cousins’ sound advice. Out of sight and out of mind was a good policy at the moment.
“If only you hadn’t been so hell-bent on spoofing me, I could have told you the VP was coming back earlier than expected.”
Woods looked pointedly at Soto then back to Cousins. “How did you know?”
“While you were busy lining me up to play the fool, I was doing my job. As liaison, her security team advised me she decided to cut her tour short to get back to Washington ahead of the fund-raiser.”
Woods looked incredulous. “You mean, all this could have been avoided?” He thew his hands up in disgust.
“Yep. A little thing called communication would have avoided the pickle you’re in. What can I say? Better luck next time, boys.” She left them to contemplate their mistakes.
Following the blowup over the blowup doll (no pun intended!), Cannon moved quickly to contain the fall-out. Their absence from the office helped with the healing process. They were back now, yet as the day wore on, they still had not been briefed on any new assignments.
Suddenly, both of their cell phones chirped at exactly the same instant. The text message was emphatic; Soto and Woods were to report to Special-Agent-in-Charge Mike “Kaboom” Cannon immediately.
With a sense of apprehension and dread, they made their way to the chief’s office. What now? They hadn’t been back in the office long enough to cause any trouble – just for a change! Besides, no one was speaking to them, so what mischief could they get into?
Internally, the ruckus over the mannequin had not yet subsided. The president was still doing his thing, wandering in and out of offices, chatting with the staff, and holding press conferences. The VP, however, made it clear she didn’t want to see Soto and Woods again. Ever!
Soto knocked discreetly on the chief’s office door.
“Come on in, gentlemen, take a seat and make yourselves comfortable,” Cannon called out, his voice fulsome and welcoming. “So glad you could stop by.”
This was not a good sign. Why was KC being so nice? It was better to play along.
Soto started in immediately. “Say, chief, I hope we didn’t get you into trouble with the president or the VP. We were just pranking the newbie; a harmless joke, you know?”
Cannon laughed and waved them off. “You and your infamous ‘harmless jokes.’ But that’s okay. All’s forgiven and forgotten – well, nearly so.”
“Seriously?” Woods asked and snapped his fingers. “Just like that?”
Relief flooded the faces of the two nervous agents. They had expected a lot worse. Old Kaboom still had their backs even after all yelling, cursing, and threats by more than a few highly placed White House officials. What a standup guy!
Cannon picked up a stack of papers and shoved them into his in-box before giving the two hapless agents his full attention. “Of course, you realize you’ve worn out your welcome here at the White House. I’m sorry, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do about it.”
“We thought that might be the case,” said Soto, now resigned to his fate.
Woods volunteered, “We’re very sorry, KC, but we understand. It really was the last straw. We never should have, uh, teased the president and VP like that.”
“Forget about it; what’s done is done. On the brighter side, I’ve been contemplating your next assignment. But to be honest, all the field offices are leery of taking you on. It’s rather clichéd, but the fact remains your reputation proceeds you.”
“Really, chief, anywhere is fine by us. We’re reformed now. Our plan is to keep a low profile and fit in with whatever team we’re working with. What did you have in mind?”
Soto gave Woods a sharp look as if to say, “Tone down the groveling, will ya?”
Cannon glanced from one to the other, the beginnings of a smile curled the corner of his mouth. “I’ve been thinking of opening a new field office in a strategic location – just in case the president ever visits. It’ll probably never happen, but you never know.”
Soto and Woods exchanged glances. Where could this wonder assignment possibly be?
“You two are the perfect candidates for this assignment. And who knows, after a couple of years you might even grow to like it.”
“It’s not Point Barrow, Alaska, is it, chief?” Woods asked, almost in tears.
“No, no, no. Nothing so dramatic,” the chief assured them.
“Don’t keep us in suspense, KC. Where is this new office?” Soto asked anxiously.
“Let me be the first to congratulate you, gentlemen. Soon you two will be the sole operatives at the new I.S.S. field office, just as soon as I can figure out how to get you there.”
The two agents looked confused.
“I.S.S.? But isn’t that the International Space Station?” Soto asked.
Woods chimed in. “Like, in outer space?”
“You know, I believe it is. That’s what I like about you two; you’re quick on the uptake. Just imagine, you’ll work alongside our allies, a couple of Russian cosmonauts, keeping a watchful, protective eye over all of us down here on Planet Normal. Won’t that be fun?”
Suddenly, all the warmth and sugary inflection evaporated as Cannon’s voice took on a hard edge. “Now get the hell out of my office while I figure out how to strap you two bums to the next rocket leaving Cape Canaveral! Beat it!” he roared.
Soto and Woods exited the chief’s office with mixed feelings of relief and despair. They stood in the hall assessing what had just transpired.
“Can you believe it? The Space Station? And after all we’ve done for the chief,” Soto lamented.
“At least it’s not Alaska.” Woods let out a huge sigh of relief. “Hey, Max, you don’t think KC’s serious, do you? I mean, how would we get there? And for how long?”
“I don’t know, Woodsy, but we’ve got to face facts. All this is behind us now.” Soto waved his arm in a wide arc encompassing the entire White House. “Never fear, we have new worlds to conquer.”
With a deep sense of nostalgia, they slowly strolled down the long corridor for the last time. Suddenly, Soto paused in mid-step. “I was just thinking . . .”
“Oh, no. Here we go again.”
“All joking aside, how bad could it be? Just think, if we managed to get onboard the Space Station, we’d end up working side by side with our most fearsome adversaries who we euphemistically call our ‘allies.’
“So, tell me, what do you know about the Russkies? Do you think they have a sense of humor?”
Author Notes: Reviews, comments, or feedback gratefully accepted.