The Right Thing
By Mona Morstein
Everything was going well securing the group of kidnappers who had captured of one of the children of a Supreme Court Justice. The 25 year old kidnapped victim, rescued from her basement jail, was by Bill's side in the home's living room. Unfortunately all four of the criminals had handguns. Bill pushed the terrified woman to the floor behind the large sofa.
"Stay down," he ordered, turning to his partner. "Ralph, get going!"
As gunshots tore into the leather of the couch, the woman shrieked and Bill came up over the top of the furniture, hands tightly holding his automatic. He shot off two quick shots, a bullet masterfully landing in the upper arm of one of them. He cried out, dropped his gun, slid to the floor and grabbed his bleeding arm. Shots flying into cushions and into the wall behind him from the others forced Bill to duck down quickly.
There were grunts and little screams from across the room. Bill came up again, shooting another guy in the arm. He reacted similarly to the first, and it was then that Ralph, having made one fellow unconscious by banging him against the wall a few times, used his telekinesis skill to rip the revolver from the last criminal's hand. Unfortunately, the gun flew directly into Bill's forehead, and the blunt sound of it striking the bone rang throughout the room. Ungallantly, Bill collapsed backwards onto the kidnap victim, who screamed even louder, believing him shot dead. Luckily the unconscious Bill, who had very sensitive ears, didn't hear a sound of it.
Later, after the cops had arrested the men, taking three of them first to the hospital, and the woman had hugged them both and then ran into her father the Judge's grateful arms, Bill, who had come to in a minute and refused medical care, examined his head in his sedan's rearview mirror, as Ralph sat contritely next to him dressed in his street clothes. There was a pretty big deep blue egg sticking out of the middle of Bill's forehead.
"I did not need this today, Kid."
"Sorry, Bill. I'm sorry. I don't know why things get drawn to you."
"My magnetic personality?"
"Don't remind me of that!" Ralph moped. Memories of his having been magnetized by an alien still gave him nightmares.
Bill touched the egg, "Ow!"
"Well, don't poke at it," Ralph said, stating the obvious.
Bill sighed, staring at the obvious deformity. "I really didn't need this, Ralph."
"I tried to do the best thing, getting rid of the gun."
"Getting rid of the gun, is good. Getting rid of the gun via my head, is not."
"I can't do anything right without the instruction book!" Ralph complained, crossing his arms and pouting.
Suddenly Bill looked at him. "Yeah, Kid, you can." But, he didn't elucidate or explain. Ralph glanced at Bill and they held a line of eyesight for a second or two. That was odd, thought Ralph, but he was too upset to think more about it.
Bill drove Ralph home, then headed to the office to write up for Carlisle another false report on what had actually happened. He was tired, and his head felt like an elephant was repeatedly kicking it, but he wanted to finish this scenario so he could get to the weekend without anything left undone.
"How's your head?" Ralph asked the next day.
"It's still an inch wider than normal."
"Did you put ice on it?"
"Enough to wreck the Titanic."
"Oh. Maybe this will make you feel better, Uncle Bill. I've been thinking about what happened yesterday. I'm kind of excited to work on the telekinesis power. I really want to master that. What time should I pick you up tomorrow for our Saturday Palmdale practice session?"
"Can't do it this weekend, Ralph. I've got other plans aside from having a cactus wind up embedded in my chest."
"That's the control part I plan to work on. Keeping things away from you." Ralph paused. "What do you mean you're busy?"
"I mean just that. Busy. No can do. It'll have to wait until next weekend."
This was a first. Ralph eager to practice his suit powers, and Bill declining the opportunity. Something fishy was up.
"What's going on? This isn't like you."
"What do you mean? I'm not always available. Some weekends I'm with Harlan."
"But you were just there last weekend."
Ralph heard a loud, screeching, "Maxwell!" in the background, then Bill's grumbling "Geez….One moment, Boss!" Speaking back into the phone, Bill said, "I'll call you on Monday, Ralph. In the meantime, why don't you telekinesis the Counselor's microwave through the kitchen window. That'll save you a case or two of indigestion."
"Are you on a case?"
"Listen, I gotta go."
Bill hung up before Ralph could question him further. Something was indeed fishy. Ralph stood at the little desk in his living room, tapping his fingers in thought.
"What's going on, honey? Something bothering you?"
Ralph turned around to his wife Pam, tall, shapely, lean, long-legged and once again realized that his divorce, and especially meeting his divorce lawyer, had been the best thing that ever happened to him.
"It's Bill. I'm worried about him."
Pam Hinkley had a habit of using Bill Maxwell as the butt of her jokes, but after a year and a half of working together there was no denying she liked him. Less so, perhaps, than Ralph, since her husband and Bill spent so much time together in danger for their lives, but nonetheless, she cared about what she knew was an obnoxious but decent man.
"Why? Aren't you spending tomorrow with him, working on your telekinesis power?"
"No, that's just it. He can't, he said. He's 'busy'. Doing something else he didn't quite want to talk about."
"That's strange. He's usually in your face all the time about having to practice the suit powers."
"I know! I know!" Ralph continued anxiously drumming. "What could he have to hide from me?"
It was amazing to Pam, and perhaps, she considered, even to Ralph and Bill, how close the two of those incredibly disparate men had become in eighteen months. Those aliens, putting them together—had they known, in some way, that suspicious partners would slowly meld into a committed team. Was it luck or advanced technological planning that an awkward merging of Left with Right, of Liberal with Conservative, of Beach Boy with Official Fed would combine into a undeniably close friendship. So much had changed from the first months together to where they were now.
It kind of left a wife feeling like the third wheel sometimes—that is, third string utility back-up to be precise-but saving the world over and over was more important, Pam realized, sometimes grudgingly, than Ralph going to every social event her law firm organized.
"I don't know, honey. Are you sure he's hiding anything? He could be busy with, I don't know, writing reports, or doing some grunt work for Carlisle."
Ralph looked up. "Carlisle did call for him while we were talking. I could hear it in the background."
"I'm sure it's something like that."
"Yeah, you're probably right, honey." He kissed her. "Thanks." As she walked away, Ralph's smiled slowly faded and his fingers renewed drumming their ill-timed beat on the desk. His eyes drifted to his bedroom, where his red jammies were stashed on the top of a closet shelf.
It wasn't really kosher, spying on someone willy-nilly in the middle of the night, after one's wife had gone to bed, and the world had made an agreement with the God of Sleep, to let the concerns and troubles of humanity disappear for just a few restorative hours.
Ralph had a bloodied, torn shirt of Bill's, too damaged to clean and fix, as a focal point for concentration when Ralph wished to holograph in on his partner. Ralph cringed when thinking of the early case which had ruined the shirt. A flying Ralph had erroneously stopped to rescue a cat from a tree, the cliché of all clichés, thus allowing his partner to be roughly man-handled in the CEO's mansion and tossed down a flight of marble stairs. Needless to say, the four thugs and the CEO themselves had all experienced rolling down the unforgiving stairs, courtesy of one guilty and irritated red suited Fed friend. Bill had wound up with a broken nose bleeding uncontrollably and needing to be cauterized, and a body too stiff and sore to get out of bed for the next few days.
Ralph didn't like to think of how many injuries Bill had suffered in Ralph's unskilled and inexperienced attempts to get the suit working properly. If things had been reversed, Ralph probably would have quit his side of the partnership. But, Bill stayed with him, stressing the importance of their work, driving Ralph crazy half the time, and helpfully encouraging him the other half. It was comforting that Bill had confidence Ralph could do things right, because Ralph sometimes got terribly discouraged.
Ralph held the shirt to the alien emblem on his tunic, and stared at the mirror in his bathroom. He always worried when holographing he'd wind up finding someone in an intimate personal or hygienic moment, but that had never happened and he wondered if the suit had a built in program to forestall such an unintentional Peeping Tom scenario. He hoped so! Anyway, at 2:00 a.m., Ralph found Bill in underwear and t-shirt, lying awake on his bed, a shoebox of what looked like old photos by his side. Bill wasn't looking at any of them, but instead sat with a glass of scotch in his hand, drifting off into unknown thoughts. The vision moved to his roll top desk, and Ralph saw a plane ticket on it for 6:00 a.m. to Phoenix, Arizona. Then the view dissolved.
Phoenix? Why was Bill going there? If he was on a case, he'd have told Ralph, so it had to be something else. But, what? Ralph had no idea. Bill Maxwell was very hard to read at times. Generally an open emotional book, whose words and facial expressions and general air made him as readable as a neon light in the dark, there were aspects of him that were very private, very reserved, and for which even Ralph felt too uncomfortable to pry. Bill rolled out single lines now and then about his childhood, his War years, his wife, his affection for Harlan, his disappointment in Tracy Winslow, but never expanded, never welcomed any inquiries. "Mushy stuff" was treated with disdain and disavowal.
But, sometimes, Ralph knew, Bill Maxwell needed a friend by his side when he had the least capacity to truly ask for one. He didn't know for sure, but every instinct in Ralph screamed that this was one of those times.
Besides, he had nothing else to do on Saturday, anyway.