Last Saturday afternoon, Daughter Number 1 announced to Mrs. Schprock and I that she had a new beau. “I know you’ll just love him,” she said, “His name is Bob and he’s the nicest guy in the world — but look out: he can be a bit intense at times.”
“Well, Princess,” I said, “your mother and I will certainly look forward to meeting your new young man. He sounds interesting.”
“Good,” DN1 said, “I’m glad you feel that way. He’ll be here at exactly 6:30 tonight. We’re going out for dinner.”
“Marvelous!” I said.
6:30 came and sure enough, just as my daughter predicted, the doorbell rang right on time. “Dad, can you get it?” DN1 called down to me from upstairs. “If it’s Bob, tell him I’ll be there in a minute.”
“Sure thing, Princess!” I called back. Then I opened the front door.
Bob stood in the doorway; or rather, the doorway just barely contained Bob. He stood at about six and a half feet and wore a blue serge suit that in no way concealed his hulking, linebacker’s build. Bob’s neck alone was as thick as my thigh. He had a face chiseled in granite, accented by dark sunglasses and topped by a blonde buzzcut. He held out a hand the size of a baseball glove. “Mr. Schprock?” he said.
I grasped it and immediately felt about 40 bones of my hand break. “Bob?” I said in a squeaky voice.
Bob released his grip and whipped the sunglasses off his face. “Nice place you’ve got here, Schprock,” he remarked, stepping past me. “Ah, and this must be Mrs. Schprock . . . or are you Princess’ older sister?”
“Oh, Bob!” tittered my wife. “Flattery will get you everywhere.” Then she said, “Why don’t you step into the living room and wait for Princess there?”
“Actually,” Bob said, striding into the TV room, “the eastern exposure this room affords is more suitable.” Then he pulled out an electronic wand and began waving it over the drapes and various sections of wall. “And it appears free of listening devices. Excellent!”
The missus and I exchanged a look just as DN1 came down the stairs. “Hi, Bob!” she said.
I glanced at my daughter and then did a double-take. “Princess!” I exclaimed. “What’s with the hair?” She was wearing a platinum blonde, beehive-style wig.
“Oh, right, Schprock — that’s my idea,” Bob quickly said. “For her protection.”
“Protection? Protection from what?” I asked.
“Sorry,” said Bob, tapping his head with his forefinger, “need to know only. Pardon me one moment, I have to put in a call.” He withdrew a cell phone from his jacket and speed dialed a number. “Brenda? How are those reservations coming?” A pause. “What? Dammit! All right, we’ll have to improvise then. Upload a schematic of the restaurant to my PDA.” Then he said to us in a confidential tone, “Bad intel — IHOP doesn’t take reservations.”
From another pocket he produced a silvery personal digital assistant. “Okay, good Brenda, I see it now. This is what we’ll do. Call out a field unit to secure the table on the north wall of the building closest to the heating vent. Send Curtis, he’s a good man. Our ETA is 7:00, so he better move. Do you copy?” A slight pause. “Good, one other thing: I’ll need live satellite photos uploaded to my PDA at 30 second intervals of the route we’ll drive to get to the restaurant. Got that? Let me know if anything comes up.” Then he clapped the phone shut.
“Bob,” I said, “what’s all this?”
“Schprock, did your daughter tell you what it is I do?”
“I’m a . . . florist, Schprock. We make a lot of deliveries, so I’m used to being in touch with my support team.”
“A florist scans a room for bugs?”
Bob sighed. “You’re on to me, I know. You’d make a hell of an interrogator, Schprock, you know that? Let me ask you something: can I trust you?”
“Um, sure, Bob.”
“Have you heard of the CIA?”
“How about the FBI?”
“Of course, Bob…”
“I’m part of a shadow organization that does the dirty work for both those agencies.”
“Oh, really? What’s it called?”
“U.N.C.L.E.,” Bob replied.
“You mean . . . you’re the ‘Man from U.N.C.L.E.,’ like in the sixties TV show?”
“That sixties TV show was somebody’s lucky guess, Schprock. Or maybe not. Some of us think MI6 was behind it, to embarrass us. Those limey bastards are always — GET DOWN!”
Bob grabbed the missus and I and roughly pulled us down to the floor. Daughter Number 1 dove into the living room, executed a perfect tuck and roll, and came up flattened against the wall next to a window.
“I think just saw someone I recognized!” Bob said in a hoarse whisper. He pulled out his cell and speed dialed it again. “Brenda, I need an ID on a bogie just east of Destination Q NOW!”
“You mean Mrs. Ferguson?” I asked, rubbing my forehead where it hit the coffee table on the way down.
“Hold on a sec, Brenda,” Bob said. “Who’s Mrs. Ferguson, Schprock?”
“The retired school teacher who lives next door.”
“Are you sure?”
“Negatory on that, Brenda,” Bob said into the phone. “Keep on standby.” Then: “Sorry, Schprock, Mrs. Schprock. Your ‘Mrs. Ferguson’ bears an uncanny resemblance to a one Rita del Marco.”
“Oh, really? Is that bad, Bob?” I asked.
“That’s very bad, Schprock. How long have you known Mrs. Ferguson?”
“Well, we moved into the neighborhood about three years ago. That long, I guess.”
“Uh huh,” said Bob pensively. We all three stood back up. “That’s no good. I’ve got to plan a new exit strategy. Does your house have a rear door?”
“Through the kitchen.”
Bob turned to my daughter. “Okay, Princess, we’ll have to head out the back. Schprock, I need to ask you to do one thing for me. I wouldn’t ask this unless it was absolutely necessary.”
“What would you like me to do?”
“Exchange clothing with me.”
“What?” I exclaimed indignantly.
“Dad!” interposed my daughter. “Do what Bob says!” Then, in a smaller voice, she added, “You’re embarrassing
“Better do as Bob asks,” put in my wife.
I looked Bob up and down. “Look, Bob, even if I agree to this, it’s pretty obvious you won’t fit into my clothes.”
“Let me worry about that, Schprock. We need to hurry!” he said, and immediately started loosening his tie and unbuttoning his shirt collar.
So right in the middle of the TV room, Bob and I stripped. At one point, I looked up and gasped at a long, livid, red scar that ran from Bob’s collar bone done to his navel.
“What the hell’s that?” I asked, pointing to it.
“Nicaragua,” Bob replied tersely.
Then he turned to reveal three large purple burn marks on his broad back.
“And that?” I asked, horrified.
“Bosnia,” he said. Then: “Schprock, your pants! We’re running out of time!”
“Your pants, your pants!” urged my wife.
“Hurry, Dad!” my daughter pleaded.
I stepped out of my pants and handed them over to Bob. He shoved one tree trunk of a leg into them accompanied by the unmistakable sound of shredding fabric. “The agency will reimburse you,” he said as he prepared to step in with his other leg.
Finally, Bob and Daughter Number 1 were ready to go off on their date. Bob disguised himself as a poor Guatemalan coffee bean picker to explain the tattered clothing. My wife found a straw sombrero for him to wear and I supplied the black Sharpie he used to draw a mustache above his upper lip.
“Have a good evening, Mr. and Mrs. Schprock,” Bob said, leaving with my smiling daughter at his side, her beehive wig slightly askew. “And don’t worry — I’ll have your daughter home safe and sound.”
“I believe you will, Bob,” I replied waving to them, standing there in my boxer-briefs. “I believe you will.”