“Max, Ninety-Nine, thank goodness you’re here!” said Chief. He stood up from his chair and reached his hand over his large, mahogany desk to greet the secret agents. “I really appreciate your trudging through the snow for this special assignment.”

Ninety-Nine shook Chief’s hand, then took a seat in one of the chairs facing him. “How could we stay away?” she asked, struggling to mask the excitement in her voice. “You want us to meet the Beatles!”

Maxwell Smart sat down on the corner of Chief’s desk and looked quizzically at his partner. “I still don’t understand why you’re so excited about this job, Ninety-Nine. There was an infestation of beetles in that liquor store on Grant Street where we caught the Romanian Kaos agent last month. You stomped on those insects so hard you almost broke your shoe phone!”

Ninety-Nine rolled her eyes. “We’re not talking about ‘beetles with an ‘e’ this time, Max. We’re talking about Beatles with an ‘A’!”

Max cocked his head towards Chief. “I’m confused, Chief. What does it matter how the beetles spell their names? Their still just bugs.”

“Max, didn’t you watch the Ed Sullivan show on Sunday?” Chief asked, swallowing back his exasperation.

“I watched ‘The Wide World of Disney’ on Sunday night,” Max answered. “They showed the first part of a new series called ‘The Scarecrow of Romney Marsh.’ It was gripping!”

Ninety-Nine sighed dramatically. “Max, the Beatles are a British pop group who are taking this country by storm! They’re the first English rock and roll band to ever score a number one hit in America!”

“Surely you’ve heard ‘I Want to Hold Your Hand’?” added Chief.

“I didn’t know you felt that way, Chief,” Max replied. He reached across the desk and grabbed his boss’s hand. “But I’m happy to oblige.”

Chief swatted him away, then stood up from his desk and pushed one of the buttons on the wall behind him. A panel slid open to reveal a row of filing cabinets. He pushed another button to open a drawer, then pulled out a folder and handed it to Max. “Agent Thirty-Three-and-a-Third and Agent Forty-Five have discovered that a Kaos agent has infiltrated the Beatles’ inner circle. The band will be giving a concert this evening at the Washington Coliseum. Immediately afterwards, they’re going to a reception at the British embassy, which will be packed with foreign dignitaries and diplomats. Our secret operatives aren’t entirely sure what Kaos has planned, but they suspect the enemy agent wants to assassinate a person of great importance at the embassy party.”

“That’s terrible!” exclaimed Ninety-Nine.

Max leafed nonchalantly through the folder. ““I agree. Assassinations are always so messy. And people are bound to be wearing their nicest clothes at this party. Imagine all the dry-cleaning bills!”

Chief rolled his eyes, then walked to the front of his desk and focused his gaze at Ninety-Nine. “I want the two of you to shadow the Beatles throughout their stay in Washington, DC, and try to catch this Kaos agent. Control has established a cover for you. You’re going to pretend you’re a reporter and photographer from ‘The Stars and Stripes’ newspaper, working on a lighthearted feature story about this second ‘British Invasion.’ The Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, has agreed to let you two spend the entire day with the band, as long as you’re not intrusive.”

“Don’t worry about us,” Max replied, looking up from the dossier. “We’ll blend in so perfectly they won’t even know we’re there. We’ll be like the spots on a zebra.”

“You mean the stripes,” Ninety-Nine corrected him.

“The stars and thestripes,” Max countered. “We need to represent both editions of the newspaper.”

A buzzer rang out on Chief’s desk. He pushed a button and turned on his speakerphone.

“Excuse me, Chief,” said his secretary’s voice. “The Beatles and their entourage have just checked into the Shoreham Hotel on Calvert Street. They’re occupying the entire seventh floor, just as we arranged. I have their manager Mr. Epstein on line three.”

“Thanks,” Chief replied. He disconnected his secretary and started speaking to Brian Epstein. “Yes, hello Brian! How was your train ride? Good, good. I’m delighted to hear you arrived in our nation’s capital safely. I’ll be sending my two journalists out your way just now – the reporter is named Miss Nina Tynes, and the photographer is Mr. Wilbur Smart. Mm-hmm. Yes, I’ll make sure they present their credentials at the front desk. They should be there within the hour. Goodbye for now. Cheerio and all that!”

Chief hung up the phone and focused his gaze on Max and Ninety-Nine. “Any questions?”

“Yes, I have two,” Max replied. “Why do you need Ninety-Nine and me to pretend to be journalists, when you’ve already arranged for these people named Nina Tynes and Wilbur Smart to go to the Beatles’ hotel suite? And why did you mention breakfast cereal in your closing remark?”

Chief rubbed his temples and turned towards Ninety-Nine. “Could you please fill Agent Eighty-Six in on the details? I’m getting a headache.”

“Of course, Chief,” she replied. She stood up from her chair and turned towards Max. “Are you ready to meet the Beatles?”

“Sure,” Max replied. “Just let me put this folder away first.” He slid off the corner of the desk and started walking towards the row of cabinets. He came face to face with the Chief.

Max stepped to the right. Chief simultaneously stepped to the left. Max stepped to the left. Chief simultaneously stepped to the right. They continued their silent soft shoe for several beats. Then Chief cried out in frustration, “Oh, just give me the folder and I’ll put it away myself!”

“Whatever you say, Chief,” said Max. He handed his boss the report, then walked towards the row of buttons on the wall that controlled the file cabinets. He pushed the bottom button and closed the drawer that Chief was reaching his hand into, nearly trapping his boss’s fingers in the cabinet.

“Sorry about that, Chief!” Max called out. He pushed the button again, and set the drawer flying open directly into Chief’s chest.

Chief sighed. “That’s all right, Max. Just catch that Kaos agent.”

“Will do,” Max agreed. “As soon as I track down that Wilbur Smart and Nina Tynes, and let them know Ninety-Nine and I will be handling this assignment ourselves.”

* * *

“Welcome Miss Tynes, Mr. Smart,” said Brian Epstein. He ushered Max and Ninety-Nine into the large, beautifully furnished hotel suite and asked them to sit down on the sofa. “Help yourself to the remains of our cheese and soda crackers. I’ll go collect my boys.” He stepped out of the room.

Ninety-Nine picked up a cheese knife from the tray on the coffee table and smiled dreamily. “Do you suppose he used this knife?” she asked.

“Who, the Kaos agent?” asked Max.

“No, Paul McCartney!” she said. She sliced a square of cheese from the block of Cheddar on the tray and tasted it. “Just imagine. My lips are touching a piece of cheese cut from the very same block that he ate from with his lips.”

Max looked at her quizzically. “I’m imagining that you’re doing that, but I don’t quite see your point.”

“Oh, never mind,” said Ninety-Nine. She pulled a pen from her purse and opened her spiral-bound reporter’s notebook to review the questions she had prepared. “Eat a saltine, why don’t you, Max? There are quite a lot of them on the tray.”

“You’re right,” Max agreed. “But why do you suppose that fishy-looking Mr. Epstein called them ‘soda crackers’? Perhaps he’s a Russian spy who doesn’t know the American word for saltine!”

“I think it’s just a British-ism,” Ninety-Nine said. “You know, like how the English say ‘lift’ instead of ‘elevator’? Or ‘flat’ instead of ‘apartment’?”

“You may be on to something, Ninety-Nine,” Max agreed. “We’ll have to be very careful when we interview these grasshoppers and make sure they’re speaking like Brits, and not like foreign-born spies.”

“Beatles,” Ninety-Nine corrected him. “These musicians are called ‘Beatles’, not ‘grasshoppers.”

Before Max could reply, Brian re-entered the room, followed by three young men wearing matching suits and ties. “Nina Tynes, Wilbur Smart – let me introduce you to three of my protégés – John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison. Ringo Starr just woke up from a brief nap and is still getting dressed. He’ll be joining us presently.”

Ninety-Nine stood up and tried to keep her knees from shaking as she shook the Beatles’ hands.

Max stood up as well and eyed the three band members suspiciously. “Does this Ringo character you mentioned often go to sleep at four in the afternoon?”

“No,” Brian assured him. “But my boys have been on a crazy schedule ever since we landed in New York City. And we’re all still a bit jetlagged. Ringo just had a little lie-down in the side bedroom while his bandmates were taking their tea. Now, unless there’s something else you need from me, I’ll step outside and let you two interview the lads.”

Ninety-Nine nodded at Brian and watched him walk out of the suite. Then she sat back down on the couch, looked at Paul, and smiled at him adoringly.

Paul sat down in a chair directly across from her and smiled back.

Ninety-Nine tugged at a rogue curl from the front of her heavily sprayed flip and bit her lip.

Paul brushed his bangs to the side of his face and winked.

John rolled his eyes and sat down on a wingback chair facing Max. “So why are you lot interviewing us? I thought The Stars and Stripes was a newspaper for American soldiers.”

“Oh, it is,” Ninety-Nine agreed. “But, you know, our boys in uniform want to know what’s going on in the good old U.S.A. while they’re stationed overseas. Now, first of all – could one of you please tell me how it felt to perform for an American television audience of millions on the Ed Sullivan Show?”

“Well, we didn’t really think about performing for all of America,” George replied. He sat down in the chair beside John and grabbed a cracker and piece of cheese from the tray. “We were just playing to the crowd in Mr. Sullivan’s theatre – and there were only about four hundred people in there. We’ve played much bigger venues in England and Europe. So we weren’t nervous at all.”

Ninety-Nine pretended to jot down his response. “I see. The audience was pretty excited to see you, though. Do you get such loud reactions from your fans in England?”

“People scream at us all the time,” Paul replied. “We’re used to it by now.”

“There were hundreds of girls outside this hotel shouting your names when we entered the building!” Max noted. “I could hardly hear myself think!”

“Were your thoughts really worth listening to?” John asked with a smirk.

“I wouldn’t know,” Max answered. “I couldn’t hear them. I should have brought along the Cone of Silence.”

“Max!” Ninety-Nine exclaimed, elbowing him in the ribs. “Don’t say that!”

“Why shouldn’t he say that?” asked George.

“Why did you call him Max?” asked Paul. “I thought Brian said his name was Wilbur.”

“She said ‘Matt’,” Max clarified. He tugged at the camera strap hanging from his neck. “My name is Wilbur Matthew Smart. I go by both names.”

“You just mentioned three names,” John pointed out. “But that’s okay. I’ll assume no-one ever calls you ‘smart’.”

Max stood up from the couch. “Excuse me for a moment, gentlemen. I’m going to scout out the room to look for the best place to take photographs.”

“Suit yourself,” said George. He chomped on his cracker, then grabbed the knife off the tray and sliced a few more squares of cheese off the block of cheddar.

Max approached a window on the opposite side of the room. He held his camera to his face with one hand, then used his other hand to fling back the closed drapes with a dramatic gesture. “Ah-ha!” he exclaimed as he shot a picture of the newly exposed window pane.

Paul watched him with a puzzled expression. “What is he doing?” he asked Ninety-Nine.

“Oh, um, I think he’s checking the light so he can set the exposure properly on his camera,” she replied. “He likes to use natural lighting whenever he takes photographs.”

Max approached a second window a few feet away from the first and repeated his actions, this time shouting, “I’ve got you now!” as he flung back the curtain.

John reached into the pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a pair of eyeglasses with thick black frames. “He must be seeing something that I’m not seeing,” John said as he slipped his glasses over his face.

“Oh, you wear glasses!” Ninety-Nine said with a nervous giggle. “I didn’t know that. You weren’t wearing them on the Ed Sullivan show.”

John looked back at her and smiled. “I’m vain and shallow,” he noted. “Not that it matters in our present circumstances. You only seem to have eyes for my mate Paul.”

“Don’t be silly,” Ninety-Nine said. “I’m very excited to meet all of you.”

There you are!” shouted Max.

John, Paul, George and Ninety-Nine all turned towards Max. He had just upended a six-foot tall, potted rubber plant and spilt dirt all over the carpet.

Max looked at his companions and cleared his throat. “I thought this plant might make a nice prop that we could use in our photograph. Why don’t you all step over here and I’ll snap your picture?”

“We should wait for Ringo, shouldn’t we?” asked George.

“What’s taking him so long?” asked John.

“I’ll go check on him,” offered Paul. He stood up and walked to a recessed alcove in the far end of the suite that led into an adjacent bedroom. He knocked on the wooden door. “Are you awake yet, Ritchie?”

“Ritchie?” Max repeated. “I thought you were checking on Ringo.”

“Our drummer’s real name is Richard,” George explained. “But he goes by two nicknames. He’s Ringo to his fans, and Ritchie to his friends.”

“That sounds rather suspicious to me,” Max said.

“You just told us that you go by multiple names too,” John noted.

The door to the adjacent bedroom opened. Ringo walked past Paul without meeting his eyes, slammed the door shut behind him, and stepped into the living room suite. He adjusted his tie as he approached his bandmates.

“About time you woke up,” John said. “We were afraid you were going to sleep through tonight’s show!”

Ringo mumbled a nonsensical reply, then sat down in the chair Paul had vacated and reached for a cracker and piece of cheese.

“So, Ringo,” Ninety-Nine began. “I’ve read that you were the last man to join the Beatles, but once you did, the group really took off. Do you think that you are the secret to the band’s remarkable success?”

Ringo chewed on his cracker and shrugged. As soon as he swallowed his food, he immediately grabbed another slice of cheese and stuffed it into his mouth.

“He’s a hungry boy, our Ritchie is,” John said, mimicking an old woman’s voice. “He’s terrible short, mind you, but he’s still a growing lad!”

Ringo nodded and grabbed another cracker.

“Are you feeling well, Ritchie?” George asked. “You were sleeping for an awfully long time. I hope I didn’t give you what I just had.”

“What did you just have?” Max asked as he walked back towards the assembly.

“Strep throat,” George replied. “So you’d better not come too close. I might still be contagious.”

Max immediately took a step backwards.

Ringo rubbed his throat with a theatrical gesture.

“What’s the matter, lad?” John asked, still speaking in an affected voice. “Cat got your tongue?”

Ringo nodded and reached for another square of Cheddar.

“Well, your throat can’t be too sore if you keep eating all that cheese,” Paul pointed out.

Ringo dropped his square of Cheddar back on the tray, then leaned against his chair and smiled gamely at Ninety-Nine.

“Right,” Ninety-Nine said. She looked back at her notebook and reviewed her list of questions. “So, Elvis Presley and his manager sent you a congratulatory telegram on the Ed Sullivan show. Are there any other American singers you’d like to hear from or meet while you’re in the states?”

“I’d love to meet Carl Perkins,” said George. “He’s always been my hero.”

“And I’d like to meet Chuck Berry,” John added. “He’s such a brilliant lyricist.”

“Little Richard is my favorite singer, but I’ve met him already,” Paul chimed in. “We played on the same bill together in England. Though I’d certainly be up to seeing him again.”

“And you Ringo?” Ninety-Nine asked.

Ringo smiled awkwardly and rubbed his neck once more.

“Oh, so your throat hurts too much to talk, does it?” Ninety-Nine surmised. “Here, why don’t you write down your answer?” She handed him her notebook and pen.

Ringo accepted the items with obvious reluctance, then considered his answer for a long moment before writing in large block letters ‘GENE KRUPA.’

John glanced at the notebook and frowned. “Since when did you start liking that old wanker, Ritchie?”

“Since when did you start writing in block letters?” asked George.

“And since when did you start writing with your right hand?” challenged Paul. “You’re a leftie, like me!”

Ringo shrugged and smiled awkwardly. He offered the notebook back to Ninety-Nine.

“No, wait,” said John, eyeing Ringo suspiciously. “Write something with your left hand for the nice lady.”

Ringo looked at him with a befuddled expression and whispered the word, “What?”

“It doesn’t matter,” John barked. “Write your bloody signature, why don’t you? Give Miss Tynes your autograph.”

Ringo settled back into his chair and looked down at the paper in silence for several seconds. Then he switched the pen into his left hand and wrote in a shaky letters, ‘RINGO STAR’.

“That’s not your handwriting,” Paul noted.

“That’s not even how you spell your last name,” John added. “There are two ‘R’s in ‘Starr’.”

“Perhaps he’s too feverish to write properly,” George suggested. “When I was sick a few days ago, I could hardly even stand up, let alone hold a pen.”

Ringo flashed George a grateful look and nodded enthusiastically.

Ninety-Nine took her notebook away from Ringo, then stood up from the couch. “Max, do you think…?”

“There she goes again with that ‘Max’ business,” noted John. “Tell me, Mr. Photographer, is your name perchance Maxwell Wilbur Matthew Smart?”

Max ignored him and took a step towards Ringo. “Is your name, perchance, not Ringo Starr?”

Ringo held Max’s gaze for a long moment, then jumped up from his chair, pulled a drumstick out of his jacket pocket, and pointed it at Max. “What does my name matter, you stupid fool?”

Paul looked at George. “Why is our Ritchie speaking with an American accent?”

“And why is he aiming his drumstick at that photographer like it’s a weapon?” asked George.

“Because it is a weapon!” Ringo replied. He pulled a wig off his head, revealing a closely cropped crew cut, and started edging away from his chair. “This drumstick is spring-loaded with a poisoned dart that kills instantly upon contact with human skin. If I twist the back of the stick just so, I can send the dart flying at my intended victim in the blink of an eye.”

“Bullocks,” groused John. “I knew we shouldn’t have replaced Pete Best.”

Ninety-Nine looked at the drumstick, then stared at the fake Ringo with her eyes wide open. “Oh golly!” she cried. “I’m so frightened! Max, grab me! I think I might…I think I might…”

Her eyes rolled back behind her lids and she started to faint. But as she arched her back, she lifted her left leg in a quick thrust and kicked the armed imposter in the groin with all her strength.

He dropped his drumstick and grabbed at his crotch with both hands. “Damn you, woman!” he cursed. “That hurt!”

“Ah!” exclaimed Max in a triumphant voice. “The old ‘fainting judo-master’ trick. It works every time!”

Ninety-Nine dropped her notebook and pen, then balled her right hand into a fist and punched the imposter squarely across his jaw. He fell onto on the carpet face-forward. Ninety-Nine immediately sat on his legs and forced his hands behind his back. “Max, give me something to tie his hands with!” she exclaimed.

Max stared at her in blank-faced admiration for a long moment, then aimed his camera at his partner sitting astride the costumed Kaos agent and snapped a picture.

“Bloody hell,” groused John. He slipped his neck tie out of his collar, crouched down beside Ninety-Nine, and tied the imposter’s hands behind his back. Then he grabbed the cheese knife off the coffee table and pointed it at the would-be assailant’s face.

“You’d better mind your manners, mister,” John warned him. “I’ve got a blunt, rounded knife in my hands that’s capable of sawing through a block of hard cheese, and I’m not afraid to use it.”

“I’ll go check on our drummer,” offered George. He slipped away from the ruckus, opened the bedroom door and looked inside. “Ritchie? Oh, there you are! You’ve missed all the excitement! And all the cheese as well! Or most of it, anyway.” He turned back towards John and Paul. “Our Ritchie’s been tied to a chair and gagged. I think I’ll rescue him.”

“I think I’ll fetch Brian,” said Paul. He started walking towards the hotel suite’s front door. “He’ll know what to do.”

“You’d be better off fetching Mal,” John called after him. He looked up at Ninety-Nine and smiled gamely. “Mal Evans is our roadie, but he used to work as the bouncer at a club where we had a regular gig. He’s six-foot-six and strong as an ox. He’ll make short work of this dastardly crook, he will.”

Paul smiled at John. “It looks to me like Miss Tynes has things under control, all by herself.” He winked at Ninety-Nine, then slipped into the hall to get help.

Max crouched down and sneered at the captured Kaos agent. “Don’t even think about trying to make a run for it! This building is surrounded by fifty F.B.I. agents wielding bazookas!”

The Ringo wannabe lifted his head and sneered at Max. “No, it’s not. It’s surrounded by a horde of screaming teenagers.”

“Would you believe it if I said this building was actually surrounded by a regiment of female police cadets dressed as teenagers, but armed with pepper spray?”

“No, I wouldn’t,” the Kaos agent replied.

Ninety-Nine twisted her victim’s arm tighter behind his back. He let out a pathetic moan.

“Would you believe it if I said this building was surrounded by a large troop of Girl Scouts armed with water pistols?” asked Max.

“Max, why don’t you help Mr. Harrison rescue the real Ringo Starr in the other room?” Ninety-Nine suggested. “I’m sure Mr. Lennon can help me detain this creep if he tries to escape before the Beatles’ bouncer lends us a hand.”

“I’m on it!” Max shouted. He rested his camera on the coffee table beside the cheese and crackers, took a step towards the bedroom, then looked back at his partner and smiled. “I just got a great idea for a photograph! I’ll snap a picture of the four Mosquitos each holding a saltine and slice of cheddar, and caption my photo, ‘The bugs say Cheese!’”

Ninety-Nine rolled her eyes. “Fine, Max. You can do that after we have this hit-man hauled away.”

John watched Max step into Ringo’s bedroom, then turned his attention back to Ninety-Nine. “You’re not really a reporter, are you? And that bloke’s most certainly not a photographer.”

Ninety-Nine laughed. The Kaos agent squirmed beneath her. She tightened the knot around his wrists. “You’re right about that, Mr. Lennon. But after we take this interloper into custody, I sure would like to come back and see your band’s concert at the Washington Coliseum.”

John smiled at her. “I think that could be arranged. My wife is here with me, so I can’t ask you to accompany me to the fête at the British embassy afterwards. But I think my songwriting partner might just need a pretty bird like you on his arm to ward off the posh aristos. I dare say, we might not even need Mal to work security for us anymore if you’d like to come work for our band!”

* * *

Inspired by the television series “Get Smart,” created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry (1965-1970).

Published by tracyneis8939

Tracy Neis is the author of the novel, "Mr. R: A Rock and Roll Romance," published in 2018 by Mischievous Muse Arts Alliance and available for purchase through Amazon.

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