The Greatest American Father
Ralph stared absent-mindedly into his half-empty cup of coffee.
"You're up early this morning, Ralph," Pam commented, entering the kitchen.
"Mmm," Ralph replied, deep in thought.
"Ralph, are you okay?" Pam asked, pouring herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table across from her husband.
"Huh? Oh yeah, I'm fine," he answered. "Do you know what today is?" he asked, not really expecting an answer. "Today is Kevin's 15th birthday. Do you know what that means? He's practically an adult now and I missed his entire childhood!"
Ralph pushed back his chair and stood up. "I've been so busy crashing into windows and walls trying to save the world that I lost my own son in the process."
Ralph began to pace across the kitchen waving his hands as he spoke. "And I must say, I can't fault Alicia for it. I mean, I was upset when we divorced and she sued for primary custody; but who can blame her?"
"Ralph, calm down," Pam said, gently. "You've been there for him all along. Yes, you've taken on a tremendous responsibility with the red suit, but you certainly didn't by any means neglect Kevin. You've always made time for him and he knows you love him."
"So, that is supposed to make it all right?" Ralph said, forcefully. "'Sorry I wasn't around for you Kevin, but you know I love you, don't you?' Hah! That'll be the inscription on the trophy I win for being the 'Greatest American Father'!"
"Ralph, I'm not your enemy," Pam argued.
Pam's annoyed tone took Ralph by surprise. What did I say? Ralph wondered.
"Listen Ralph, Kevin knows you love him because you have been involved in his life; and not just before 'the red suit' but afterwards too. If you're not happy about the amount of time you spend with him, then DO something about it; but for heavens sake, don't make yourself out to be the absentee father who doesn't care enough to bother with his own son because that just isn't true," Pam insisted, slowly rising from her chair. She reached for her cup and angrily tossed the rest of her coffee into the sink before storming into the bathroom.
"Pam?" Ralph called out after her.
She slammed the bathroom door shut behind her and quickly turned the faucet on full force.
"Pam?" He asked, sheepishly. Ralph stood outside the bathroom door and listened for a response. Nothing! Darn these solid wooden doors! He was tempted to slip on the red suit and holograph in on her, but he knew better. The last time he did that she accused him of not respecting her privacy. Glancing at his watch he wondered if it wouldn't be better to just leave her alone.
"Pam, I just want to know you're okay," Ralph yelled through the door trying to sound calm.
Pam slowly opened the door, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry, Ralph. I'm okay; really."
Ralph moved closer to her, wrapping his arms around her. "I'm sorry if I said something that upset you."
Ralph knew there was something bothering Pam, but she didn't seem to want to talk about it. Maybe she was feeling neglected, he considered. Between Bill, Kevin and his students, Ralph knew he hadn't been home much to spend time with Pam. She had seemed very understanding, and, even relieved, to have the extra time to work at the office on important cases. He was glad that they had set aside this evening to be alone, together.
"Hey, Pam, don't forget about tonight. I made dinner reservations at 'Bernoulli's Bistro'," he said placing both hands on her shoulders and looking her squarely in the face. "It's our night, Pam. Just for us."
Pam nodded, smiling politely. "What about Kevin? You were saying it's his birthday. Don't you want to see him tonight? Isn't he expecting you?"
"No, Pam. Tonight's our night," Ralph answered.
"Ralph, it's okay. I knew when I married you that your son has to come first. Why don't you change our reservations to tomorrow night instead? Saturday night is as good a night to go out as Friday," Pam suggested.
"That isn't necessary," Ralph answered firmly. "Tonight Kevin is celebrating with his friends over at Alicia's. He isn't going to want me hanging around, but I thought we could drop off Kevin's present on the way to the Bistro tonight. See what I picked up?" Ralph said, enthusiastically.
He began searching madly through his pockets until he found what he was looking for in his wallet. Cool, don't ya think?" he said holding up three tickets to a California Stars World Series game. "I thought we could all take in a baseball game; sort of a baseball/birthday celebration."
"Isn't that the team you pitched for a few years back?" Pam asked, curiously. "Where did you get those tickets? I heard they were sold out!"
"Hi-ya Ralph," Bill announced cheerfully, walking in through the front door. "Good morning, Counselor. Say, you're looking as beautiful as ever!"
"Bill, what are you doing here? And how'd you get in? I thought the front door was locked," Ralph said turning his full attention from Pam to Bill.
"Morning, Bill," Pam replied.
"I made myself a copy of your set of keys; just a precaution, in case you lose yours. After all, you are always losing your clothes in odd places."
"Bill, I don't have time for this, I'm already running late. You do know I have a job? Some of us don't get paid for our work with the FBI, ya know," Ralph complained.
"You know you're undercover, Ralph," Bill argued.
"Well, still Bill it would be nice if I could get something to replace the clothes I lose chasing after criminals. Do you know I have only 3 suits left? Ralph shook his head in disgust, "I've really got to get more clothes or fewer cases."
"Never mind that, Ralph. We can talk about that later," Bill cut-in, ignoring Ralph. "Bigger things are brewing, I can FEEL it," he continued. "I've got an important meeting with Carlisle first thing this morning. You know, Ralph, I've solved some major crime cases over these past few years and I think Carlisle is coming around. I think the time has finally come. Imagine; I might be heading up a task force for the next major crime investigation against the mafia or some major league criminals. All that hard work is finally paying off now."
"Glad to hear it, Bill," Ralph replied, grabbing his brief case and stepping out the front door behind Pam.
"Hold on Ralph, I didn't tell you the best part!" Bill called.
Ralph and Pam stopped just as they were about to climb into Ralph's station-wagon.
Bill strolled up to the car, rubbing his chin trying to savor the moment.
"What is it, Bill?" Ralph asked, curiously.
"This is a major step-up Ralph! A move upstairs! Bigger office, more power, better cases! No more 'mickey mouse' cases chasing small-time crooks. We're looking at some serious espionage, major crime syndication stuff! Finally, something we can sink our teeth into!"
"I'm very happy for you Bill," Ralph answered, unenthusiastically. "Now if that's all, I have to get going."
"Now Ralph, we're gonna need to work on the rough stuff. I mean no more flying into windows and crashing through walls. We're graduating to the big leagues now. These guys are gonna see you coming before you get off the ground; they're that good. This means we've got to fine-tune the weak points. Hmm, let's see, I'll swing around about 5:00 tonight to pick you up. That should give us plenty of time before dark."
"No can do, Bill," Ralph answered matter-of-factly. "Pam and I have plans tonight."
"What? Can't you make it another time?" Bill looked disappointed. "Counselor?"
"Sorry Bill, we've got reservations," Pam replied, smiling.
"Reservations! Gosh darn, Ralph, we don't have time to monkey around here!" Bill complained, not willing to give up that easily.
"Sorry Bill, but I haven't had much time with Pam at all these past few weeks. I made this reservation a month ago. Do you know how hard it is to get a reservation at Bernoulli's? We need this Bill and I'm not going to give in on this one," Ralph insisted, climbing into the driver's seat and starting the car.
"Bye Bill," Pam said slipping into the car seat beside Ralph.
"See ya later Bill, good luck with Carlisle. I hope it works out for you," Ralph said, slowly backing the car out of his driveway.
"Yeah, kid," Bill grumbled. "Me too."
The early morning sun shone brightly through the window streaking across Kevin's bedroom and onto his bed. The warm sunshine felt good against his face. Kevin stretched lazily in bed. He had no desire to climb out of his nice comfortable bed and begin his day, until he remembered what day it was.
His thoughts were interrupted by the sounds of a ringing telephone. How long had it been ringing, he wondered? He jumped out of bed and reached for the extension on the desk in his room.
"Hello?" Kevin said, sleepily.
"Kevin? Is that you? Did I wake you up?" a harried woman's voice asked, apologetically.
"Huh? Oh no, Aunt Jeanie. That's okay, I was just getting up anyway," Kevin said. What time IS it? He wondered, glancing at the imitation football clock beside his bed. It read 6:33 in thick green florescent numbers.
"I'm so sorry to disturb you, Kevin, but is your momma awake?" Aunt Jeanie asked.
Why do people ask that question? Kevin wondered. After all, if she wasn't awake, surely she was awake NOW! "I'll go get her, just a moment please."
Kevin put the phone down to get his mom.
"Mom?" Kevin called as he knocked on her bedroom door. The door wasn't latched and swung open. Kevin noticed that the bed was empty and the bathroom door was closed. As he drew closer to the bathroom, he heard the shower water running and his mom singing. He laughed to himself and knocked on the door.
"Mom, Aunt Jeanie is on the phone. Do you want to call her back or should I have her hang on?" Kevin shouted through the door.
The singing stopped and the shower faucet squeaked as his mom turned the water off. "Kevin? Did you say something?" she called.
"Mom, Aunt Jeanie is on the phone for you. Do you want to call her back or should I have her hang on?" Kevin repeated.
"My goodness, what could she want?" Alicia asked.
"Mom?" Kevin repeated expectantly. He hated this. Why couldn't she just answer him?
"I'm coming, hon. Hey Kev, can you please pour me a cup of coffee? Thanks, dear. Remember no sugar or cream- just black," she replied, emerging from the bathroom in her white terry bathrobe wrapping a towel around her hair.
"Hello? Jeanie?" Alicia asked, picking up the telephone extension beside her bed.
Kevin walked away to hang up the phone in his room and get his mom's cup of coffee.
As he reached the kitchen he could smell the aroma of freshly brewed coffee coming from the automatic brewer. He took a deep breath. Coffee sure smelled good. He almost considered pouring himself a cup, but knew he'd hear a lecture about how caffeine was no good for the growing body.
All Kevin's friends drank coffee. They say there isn't anything like the first cup of joe in the morning, Kevin thought. 'Forget the orange juice, Kev, pour yourself a cup of the good stuff', he could almost hear them now.
He removed the pink coffee cup inscribed "To A Model Mom" from the cabinet and slowly poured coffee into it.
"Kev," Alicia said quietly, as she entered the kitchen still in her bathrobe.
Kevin turned and handed his mom the pink cup. He could tell she was worried. "What's wrong?" he asked.
She took the cup from Kevin and sat down at the kitchen table, indicating that Kevin should join her. Kevin slid into the seat across the table from her and waited for her to continue.
"Kevin, as you know, Uncle Frank has been battling cancer for some time. Last night he took a turn for the worse and was taken to the hospital. The doctors told Aunt Jeanie that the cancer had spread and they don't expect him to make it through the night. I have to go be with her and help her through this," Alicia said quietly. "I want you to go stay with your dad while I'm gone."
"Mom, I'll be all right. I'm old enough to stay here by myself," Kevin argued.
"Kevin, I'm not going to argue with you about this. I should be away for a week or two at the most. I'm not going to leave my fourteen year old son alone for that long to fend for himself," Alicia insisted, rising from her chair and disappearing down the hall with her coffee.
"Mom, I'm fifteen and I can take care of myself," Kevin pleaded, calling after her.
Kevin knew it was useless. Some birthday this was going to be, he mumbled to himself, returning to his bedroom to dress for school.
Bill checked his watch. 0800 exactly, perfect, he thought as he approached the door to Carlisle's office. He knocked before stepping in.
"Maxwell, have a seat." His boss instructed him without looking up from the papers piled on his desk.
Bill sat down in the chair opposite Carlisle's desk, straining to see the papers his boss was reviewing. The top sheet of paper appeared to be simply a numbered list of dates and addresses.
"Listen Maxwell, I requested this meeting to talk to you about some changes we are making in the department. I know that sometimes you older agents …"
"You mean more experienced, don't you?" Bill interrupted, smiling broadly.
"Uh, okay, yes you could say that. Sometimes the more experienced agents can be resistant to changes in the Department. This can cause some tension among the other agents and make certain transitions more difficult; so, I am personally meeting with the old…uh the senior agents individually to avoid any misunderstandings. Are you with me Maxwell?" Carlisle asked, looking up from his desk for the first time.
Bill really resented the pedestrian approach this guy was taking. Any ninny could tell Carlisle enjoyed rubbing his senior position in Bill's face. How in the world did this guy get to be his boss? Bill wondered. He remembered what a simple-minded, backward pencil pusher this guy had been as an agent.
"Let's cut to the chase, Carlisle. Obviously the Department is making some changes that they've instructed you to institute. Well, I say it's high time! As you know, I've cracked a number of difficult cases while the young boys were busy chasing their tails. Now, I say, it's time for change and I'm ready. You don't need to worry about me; I'm ready for the major leagues." Bill knew he was rambling, but he was delirious. His dreams were coming true! He envisioned the bus loads of 'America's most wanted' he would capture.
"Glad to hear you're willing to work with us. I was afraid… well, never mind," Carlisle peered over the top of his glasses at Bill.
"Okay, where did they place me? Major Thefts and Violent Crime? Counterterrorism? Counterintelligence?" Bill asked, excitedly.
Carlisle frowned. "I'm afraid you've got it all wrong Maxwell. What we have for you is Special Agent training. You'll be working with newly appointed recruits who have just graduated from the FBI Academy. You'll spend a few months working with each Special Agent helping them to learn how to apply the lessons learned in the Academy."
"You're kidding, right?" asked Bill. Bill leaned back and laughed. "You had me going for a second there, Carlisle. Hah! Good one! Imagine me babysitting new recruits. Seriously, what do you have me down for?" Bill leaned forward for a closer look at the papers on Carlisle's desk.
"Sorry, Bill. I've been instructed to offer you a choice between working with the recruits or conducting background checks and polygraph tests at the home office."
"What?" Bill said in disbelief. "I already do those things. I live for the hunt Carlisle, like a blood hound. You can't leash me to a desk pushing papers. I'll shrivel up and die!"
"I'm sorry you see it that way. You're getting older and slowing down. You've been costing the Department money crashing, burning and destroying cars. You're not a spring chicken anymore Maxwell. You've got good instincts and the Department wants to make good use of them, but you can't be in the front line anymore. Its good for the Department and good for you," Carlisle explained calmly.
Bill sat there gritting his teeth. "Okay Carlisle. I'll do it. When do I meet the kid?"
Carlisle stepped out from behind his desk and left the office for a brief moment. He quickly returned with a youthful looking, dark haired young man.
"Special Agent Bill Maxwell, I'd like you to meet Tony…" Carlisle began.
There was something familiar about this guy, Bill thought. Then it hit him.
"Villicana!" Bill sneered.
"Hey, Maxwell! How ya doin'?" Tony asked offering his hand.
Carlisle looked surprised. "You know each other?" he asked, glancing down at the papers in his hand. "Oh yes, it says here Agent Villicana asked for you by special request Maxwell."
"Well, well, well, if it isn't the hood Villicana!" Bill said, sarcastically.
"Hood?" Carlisle repeated, questioningly.
"Agent Maxwell, you're just the same. I don't know what I expected, but I'm kinda glad you're still the rough edged 'by the book' agent I remember. You know, if it wasn't for you I'd have never joined the FBI," Tony explained.
"Really?" Bill asked. He was beginning to like this. Maybe there was hope for this kid after all, Bill thought.
"Yeah, I figured if they let an old geezer like you loose on the world, they'd certainly take a hood like me!" Tony joked.
"Ha-ha. Very funny, Villicana. Are we done with the jokes now or are you moon-lighting as a comedian?" Bill retorted.
"Will everyone please be seated so we can get something done today?" Carlisle grumbled, sounding more than annoyed.
"Okay, first thing you need to do is show Agent Villicana around. Show him the ropes conducting background record checks, administering polygraph tests, the basic accessing information etc.," Carlisle looked up to see the disgruntled look on Bill's face.
"Something wrong, Maxwell?" Carlisle asked sarcastically.
"No, everything's honky-dory," Bill replied flatly.
"Excuse me, but when can I start some case work?" Tony asked, hopefully.
"I've got your first case right here," Carlisle said tapping his finger on the open file folder in front of him.
Bill immediately sat up. There IS hope, he thought! Finally some real detective work for the master! Sleuthing is my specialty!
"This is a vandalism case. Several instances of property destruction have taken place at various locations across the state line. No theft, just an assortment of property damage. In some cases we have eye-witness testimony; there is reason to believe that these crimes have been committed by one lone offender who remains at large. See what you can come up with," Carlisle said, closing the folder and handing it over to Bill.
Kevin arrived at Whitney High, ten minutes before the first bell. Dad should be getting ready for the first period class, he thought to himself, running toward the Special Education classroom at the East end of the school.
"Don't run in the halls Kevin Hinkley!" warned Vice Principal Kramer, in his usual stern voice.
Though this was Kevin's first year at Whitney High, he was well known by all the teachers and staff at the school. Having your dad as a teacher at your school could be quite an advantage. However there were some disadvantages to being so easily recognized. He could have been around the corner and out of sight had he been some other 'unknown' freshman.
Kevin slowed down until the Vice Principal was out of sight and began running again. He knew he had to be back in the West end of the school before the first bell. Why did the Freshman classrooms have to be so far from the Seniors classrooms! He grumbled.
Turning the corner just before his dad's classroom, Kevin collided with another student.
"Hey kid, watch where you're going!" the other student yelled, scrambling to pick up the books he had dropped.
"Sorry…" Kevin mumbled shyly, bending down to help the student retrieve his books.
Kevin noticed that the students in his dad's class were beginning to gather outside the door. This could only mean that his dad hadn't arrived yet to unlock the classroom.
Kevin looked at his watch. Time was running out and he needed to get back to the other end of school before the bell rang. Come on, Dad! he mumbled to himself. Where are you? he wondered, frantically searching up and down the hallway for the first sign of him.
The crowds in the hallway thinned as the students disappeared into their first period classrooms.
Kevin decided to head back towards the West end of school by way of the front office. Maybe Dad got hung up in there, he thought hopefully and hastened his steps in that direction; but with each step he took, he became more convinced that he didn't have the time to talk to his dad even if he did catch up with him at the front office.
Ralph pulled into the parking lot of the law offices where Pam worked. "How's that for door to door service?" he said, cheerfully. "Nothing but the best for my wonderful wife," he added leaning close to give her a quick kiss on the cheek.
Pam had been unusually quiet during the whole ride. He wondered if Bill had upset her or if she was still mad at him. Looking closer at her, he noticed she didn't look so well.
"Pam, are you feeling alright? You look a little pale," he asked, growing concerned. "Maybe I should take you to the doctor," he suggested placing his palm against her forehead to determine if she was running a fever.
"I've haven't been feeling quite right; a bit of an upset stomach is all," she said quietly.
"There has been a lot of the flu going around lately. Just this week we were short three teachers. Maybe you should see a doctor Pam. It's always good to catch these things quick and 'nip them to the bud'. Want me to take you?" Ralph asked, gently.
"No, that's okay; I'm beginning to feel better now. I can always stop by Dr. Phillips office if it gets worse," Pam replied patting Ralph's hand reassuringly.
"Dr. Phillips? He isn't your regular doctor, is he?"
"No, he is one of our new clients. He has an office on the fifth floor of our building. I understand he is new to the area and very good."
"Okay, Pam, whatever you think," Ralph agreed. "I'd better get going. Last time I arrived after the bell the students gave me a hard time about being 'tardy'. If I'm late again, they may expect a note from my wife," Ralph said, chuckling.
"Just tell 'em to contact your attorney," Pam retorted.
Ralph nodded, smiling. He was relieved to see she still had her sense of humor.
After a quick good-bye kiss Ralph watched Pam step out of the car and into her office building.
All he could think about during the drive to Whitney High School was Pam. He hoped she would see a doctor. He should call her, he decided as he pulled into the teacher's parking lot at Whitney High.
Ralph checked his watch as he stepped out of his car. Good, he thought, I have a few minutes still. He headed straight to the front office to check in.
"Good morning Mr. Hinkley," Dora the new receptionist greeted him warmly. "Your ex-wife called this morning and left a message she said, handing him the telephone message.
"Thank you Dora," Ralph answered, studying the information on the phone message.
Noticing that Mr. Kramer had not arrived at his office yet, Ralph quickly stepped into the Vice Principal's office to use the telephone. Dialing the number on the phone message, Ralph turned his back toward the door for added privacy.
"Jeanie? This is Ralph," he said, into the phone. "How's Frank?"
Mr. Kramer stopped dead in his tracks at the threshold of his office.
"I'm sorry to hear that, Jeanie. Yes, please put Alicia on the telephone, I need to speak with her," Ralph added. Ralph rubbed the back of his neck, to ease an ache in his neck.
Mr. Kramer stepped into his office and sat down in a chair in the corner behind Ralph, who was still not aware of his presence.
"Alicia, I got your message. When do you think you'll be back?" he asked.
Mr. Kramer looked at his watch and returned his gaze to Ralph.
"Yes, of course Kevin will be fine with me. I'm not some crazed maniac ya know. I AM his father; it's perfectly normal for him to spend some time with me."
Mr. Kramer cleared his throat to announce his presence.
Ralph froze. Uh-oh, he thought. "Listen Alicia, I gotta go. Just let me know when you will be coming back, okay?" he said, hurriedly. A quick glance behind him confirmed his suspicions; the Vice Principal was seated directly behind him.
Mr. Kramer smiled.
Ralph hung up the phone. "I just had to make a quick phone call, I hope you don't mind. It was sort of an emergency," Ralph nervously explained.
"I understand, Mr. Hinkley," Mr. Kramer said, stepping past Ralph and settling into the chair behind his desk. "Will there be anything else?" he asked.
"Uh, no sir. Thank you Mr. Kramer," Ralph apologized as he dashed for the door and disappeared down the hall.
Ralph arrived to his classroom just as the first bell rang.