Jim followed Pete's stare to the dangling fob before him. There in the bright October sun, hanging by a nearly invisible silken thread, bobbed a brown, orange and yellow wonder of nature. Its eight striped legs curled and extended as it danced in the space between Pete and the cruiser door. Jim Reed reached across the front seat and quickly depressed the lock, leaving his partner bewildered, befuddled and hardly amused.
"Come on, Reed! We've only got thirty minutes and I'm hungry!" Pete complained through the closed window, one eye still monitoring the insect's movements. It was payday and they had stopped at Pete's bank so he could cash his check before they swung by Biff's for lunch.
"You're not letting that thing in here!" Jim protested.
"What? The spider?"
"Don't even say the word, Pete!" Jim shuddered.
"Let me in!" Malloy's voice still held that commanding steel but he was a mere breath from dissolving into laughter. Just that morning his partner had wrestled a crazed junkie to the ground at the end of a six-block chase, disarming him of a switchblade and cuffing him before Pete even arrived on the scene. And now seeing that same Jim Reed holed up in a locked police vehicle, quaking at the sight of a bug no bigger around than a quarter was more than he could take.
"Not while that's out there!" Jim insisted. He'd started to slide into the driver's seat, but at the moment there was a car parked much too closely in front of them and a group of children in school uniforms led by two nuns crossing none too quickly behind the cruiser.
"Are you suggesting I take a life in order to get my lunch?" Since the spider wasn't hurting anyone, just hanging there in the space between him and the black and white, Pete wasn't ready to disturb its web for naught.
"Use your discretion, but while it's alive, the door stays locked!"
"You can't be serious! It's a little spider. I'm not going to invite it in. I just don't wanna spend a hard-won seven standing around debating insecticide with my suddenly irrational partner!"
"I'm not opening that door till you do something with it!"
"Okay, but you're explaining to Tony why I had to shoot open the lock!" Pete's delivery was totally deadpan.
Jim didn't move. The spider however, continued to ascend his thread and drop back down in front of Pete's face, unaffected by the discussion of its possible demise.
The junior officer unlocked the door in a reluctant but automatic response to the command. "Hurry up! Don't let it in!"
Pete slid into his seat, tossing his cap in the back and turning the key, already in the ignition.
"You're kidding about being afraid of those things, aren't you?" Pete asked as he pulled the black and white out of the lot and into heavy midday traffic.
"I'm not afraid of much," Jim shook his head. "But I've got a thing about spiders."
"I'll say!" Pete chuckled. "I've seen less fear at a gun battle."
"Everybody's got some phobia. Spiders are mine."
"You don't say?" Pete tried not to laugh, turning 1-Adam-12 onto the side street where Biff's was situated between a car lot and a dry cleaners.
"I'm not really that hungry right now," Jim commented as his partner deftly maneuvered the cruiser between a green AMC Hornet and a bright orange Volkswagen Beetle. He wondered if Pete had chosen that particular spot for any nefarious reasons, but his partner's face held that choir boy innocence that Jim could never quite decipher.
"You're not going to tell me that insect ruined your appetite!"
"I'm just not in the mood right now."
"Well, we already got clearance for seven and I'm starved."
"Can't you just wait?" Jim complained.
"For what? You know how hard it's been getting a lunch break lately. I'm sure not wasting it because my partner saw a teeny little bug!"
"It was a spider Pete! An ugly one at that."
"I thought it was sorta interesting looking." He turned off the engine and leveled a stare in Jim's direction. "You coming?"
"I just don't think I can eat right now."
"Well...I guess you could stay in the car...although..."
"I'm not really sure it didn't...no...I suppose it couldn't have..."
"Well...I think I might have seen it drop into the car while the door was open."
Jim popped out of the passenger side door like a jack-in-the-box, amusing his friend no end. The younger officer brushed off his uniform in a frenzied Tarantella to rid himself of imagined invaders while Pete watched, stifling a laugh.
"Come on, Miss Muffet, time's a wasting." Pete tapped him on the shoulder with his cap.
"I'm gonna get a paper," Jim replied, heading for the vending machine.
"Want me to order you curds and whey?" the elder officer jibed. There was no answer, but that didn't deter Pete's gleeful planning for more teasing as the watch went on.
Inside he noticed Sergeant MacDonald sitting alone in a booth in the back. Pete motioned for Jim to follow and they made their way through the crowded restaurant toward their supervisor, Pete taking the lead. He touched the back of the cute little blonde waitress as he passed, letting her know where they were going. She gave him a couple of menus and promised to bring coffee and water in a moment.
"Mac!" Pete smiled as they took seats at his booth without being invited.
"Why aren't you two out on the streets? Crime take a holiday?" the sergeant quipped, sipping his coffee.
"Even crime fighters gotta eat, Mac," Pete defended. "Besides, Reed here wanted to get out of the car for a while. Needed to stretch those daddy long legs, I guess."
"That's what foot pursuits are for," Mac chuckled.
"I'm not really that hungry," Jim complained, setting his hat on the table next to him.
"Superman can't run on an empty stomach." Pete eyed the cap with a twinkle, a delicious plan forming.
The waitress approached, bringing mugs, a carafe of coffee, water glasses and a big smile.
"Anything else for you, Sergeant? Dessert maybe?"
"You know, I think I will have a piece of that Beehive pie you were telling me about."
Pete snickered, pulling the menu up over his face. Mac leveled a stare that caused the officer to straighten up and clear his throat.
"What can I get you guys today? The specials are angel hair pasta and chicken fried steak with shoestring potatoes."
"I just want something light," Jim protested. Suddenly everything was reminding him of insects and webs.
Mac took in Pete's amused expression and the chagrined look Jim was giving his partner. "You're not on a diet, are you, Reed?"
"Just not much of an appetite."
"Well, I'm starved. I'm having one of your juicy burgers," Pete decided.
"You want cheese on that, Pete?" the waitress asked.
"Yeah, mozzarella," he replied, closing his menu and looking at Jim at his side. "That's the kind that gets all stringy when you bite into it, right, partner?"
Jim ducked his head into his own menu, making a production of ignoring him.
"And you, Officer?" the charming girl prompted.
"I'm not very hungry."
"How about the fruit plate?" she suggested. "That's light."
"Yeah, okay," he answered, handing her the menu.
"Oh, I'm glad I ran into you guys. After roll call, I was talking to Sergeant Espinoza from Hollywood Division. He's got a station wagon he's wanting to sell. You still looking for one for your wife?"
"Yeah," Jim nodded. "You got any specifics on it?"
"He said it was a good car. They won a new one in their church raffle," Mac smiled. "I told him about you. I can give you his phone number."
While Jim took his pen and pad from his pocket and started taking down the information, his partner watched him out of the corner of his eye. Pete casually picked up the fork to his right and slipped it under the rim of Jim's hat, raising the brim and peering underneath before returning it to the table. Mac watched this process repeated several times before Jim took notice, snatching the cap and placing it on the seat beside him, out of Pete's reach.
"Just checking," Pete shrugged, returning the fork to Jim's napkin.
Jim picked up the watchcap, turning it upside down under the table and staring at the undisturbed lining before surreptitiously tapping it against the side of the bench and returning it to its place at his side.
Pete took his own silverware and began meticulously polishing it with the napkin, whistling a snatch of some song that Jim found annoying though he couldn't place it or tell quite why it bothered him. But the effect was exactly what his partner had in mind.
Mac recognized that beatific smile on Pete's face and knew something was up. He'd been the target of Malloy's devilish sense of humor enough times to identify that angelic innocence for the warning that it was. He decided against saying anything at the moment and just sat back and enjoyed watching someone else squirm.
When the food arrived the waitress put a fat juicy cheeseburger with a side of fries before Pete and handed him a bottle of ketchup. She placed a big hunk of pie at Mac's place with a clean fork and napkin. Then the fruit plate was set down in front of Jim who was just then realizing that he was pretty hungry after all.
He looked over the colorful assortment, and as inviting as it might have been, suddenly wished he'd ordered something more substantial. Besides, the black seeds against the rosy watermelon put uncomfortable images in his head and seemed almost to move like they had legs. And in the center of this plate of summer bounty sat a huge dollop of creamy white cottage cheese. Jim sneaked a look at his partner, who as yet had not touched his meal. Pete's face was turning the color of the watermelon as he tried desperately not to laugh at the presence of the teased-about dairy product.
"Go on," Jim surrendered. "You know you're dying to say it."
"You get a tuffet with that?" Pete barely got it out before he burst into uproarious laughter.
Minutes later Pete had finally composed himself and launched into his sandwich, but Mac still stared at the two of them until it was obvious neither was going to talk. " I'm assuming that if this was something I needed to know about, you'd tell me. Right, Malloy?" he asked pointedly.
"Sure, Mac." The older officer shrugged, returning his attention to the plate of food in front of him.
"Nothing, Mac." The junior officer didn't even look up.
"Just a little inside joke about a suspect we dealt with earlier," Pete interjected with a chuckle.
Mac left when he'd finished his dessert and Jim moved to the opposite bench facing Pete, who seemed to have gotten the whole thing out of his system. Appearances, however, are often misleading. Beneath his now indifferent expression, the wheels of mischief were turning.
As they returned to the black and white, Pete watched with amusement as Jim examined the cruiser from stem to stern.
"Did she pass inspection, Commodore?" Pete snickered as he let himself in with his key.
"You said yourself...it might have gotten in, Pete."
"Yeah, right," Pete drawled as his partner eased his way in after going over the seat with a keen eye in the absence of a fine-toothed comb. "You all right over there?"
"You can't be too careful. You have to watch them, every second...even though it grosses you out...because if you look away... they're gone and you don't know where they are. It's like keeping an eye on the enemy."
"How about you clear us, General Patton."
"I'm glad you find this amusing," Jim complained as he replaced the mic after clearing them with dispatch.
"So am I," Pete chuckled. "It's gonna make an otherwise long day go much faster if I can laugh about it. Maybe you should give it a try."
"It isn't funny."
"Depends on your point of view, I guess," Pete smirked. "You know...they can sense fear."
"They feed on fear. It was probably after me."
"Partner, let's get some perspective here. As the person who was actually outside the vehicle, I was the only one, at any time, in any danger from that spider."
"It was trying to get through the windshield, Pete, to get to me."
"Oh, brother!" He nearly choked on the laugh. "I'm sure glad I know you're exaggerating for my entertainment."
"1-Adam-12. See the woman, 286-and-a-half Highland. Neighbor dispute."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim responded, saving him from trying to come up with a snappy comeback.
A few minutes later, they pulled up to a large white house with ornate gingerbread trim, ivy-covered latticework and an overgrown garden. Pete followed his partner through the trellis-covered gate to the side porch, breathing in the rich fragrance of lilac and roses.
"Smells like my Grandmother Malloy," Pete mused as they walked along the winding stone path.
"Your grandmother's garden was like this?"
"No," Pete snorted. "I mean my grandmother...she smelled just like this. Roses and lilac toilet water. That's what I got her every Christmas growing up. Twenty-five cents a bottle at Harrington's. It was her fav -"
"Arghhh!" Jim stopped short in front of Pete with a shriek of disgust.
Pete righted himself after almost plowing into the back of his partner and looked up to see the reason for the outburst. A tendril of Spanish moss dangling from an overhanging tree branch had brushed Jim's neck as he mounted the steps of the porch.
"Don't say a word, Malloy! Not one word!" Jim warned as he shuddered from the skin-crawling contact with the moss.
Pete couldn't have spoken at that moment if his life had depended on it. He was much too busy holding his sides from laughing.
Jim was still twitching a bit with the memory as Pete rapped on the door. A gaunt little lady with grey hair pulled back and tucked into a black net snood and a face that made ancient seem an understatement appeared in the gap as the door slowly opened.
"Good afternoon, ma'am," Pete drawled politely. "Did you call the police?"
"Yes...officer...I did." Her voice had a high pitched, scratchy quality, like an over-worn record, barely audible. The hesitation between each word made them wonder whether she would fall asleep or simply stop breathing before the next bit was spoken.
"My name's Officer Malloy. This is my partner, Officer Reed."
"My name...." She took a long breath. "Is Clarise... Clarise... Snyder."
"Yes, ma'am," Pete smiled.
"Mrs.... Clarise... Snyder."
They all stood in silence, waiting for her to continue.
"What seems to be the problem, Mrs. Snyder?"
"Yes ma'am," Pete replied with greater patience than he felt. "You called the police. I assume there was a reason. Some problem you're having?"
"Oh... of course...." She hesitated again. "The problem."
"Well..." she began again, drawing out the word until it seemed it should have a lot more letters and at least three syllables. "We can't do this... through... the door..."
"You want to come out here?" Jim suggested, reaching for the door knob.
"No...young man," she breathed slowly.
"Ma'am?" Pete prompted when it seemed she'd forgotten they were waiting.
"Come in..." Clarise summoned as she fumbled at unlocking the screen door's latch. "Come in..."
Jim pulled at the door, which creaked on its rusty hinges like a sound effect in a bad horror movie. It set his teeth on edge and the hair on the back of his neck stood straight up.
"After you, partner," Pete snickered with a dramatic wave of his hand.
"Why do I get the feeling we're gonna retire on this one?" Jim whispered as he passed his partner.
The officers followed the bent form of the woman as she ascended a narrow, winding stair to a second floor apartment. They entered a dim little parlor, furnished at least a century before with the contents of an entire three-story house. Clarise began settling herself on an ancient horsehair armchair. Jim watched as the woman's long thin arms reached over the rolled arm of the chair into one of the many baskets and boxes stacked on either side. She produced a ball of white yarn and needles stuck into a sweater or afghan in progress.
The clicking of her knitting needles and the ticking of the grandfather clock in the corner were the only sounds, just slightly off beat and out of time with each other. In the silence that followed, the officers wondered if she had forgotten their presence altogether.
"Mrs. Snyder?" Pete summoned, knees near his chest as he sat on the much too low settee.
"Wha-?" she started, looking about the room as if to locate the origin of the voice. "Oh... yes... young man..." but her words fell away as her attention returned to the knitting in her lap.
Pete threw Jim a glance that said he'd much rather be hunkered down on a sniper call right now than sitting and waiting for Mrs. Snyder to finish a thought, much less this entire report.
"Eh... Mrs. Snyder." Pete waited for her to attend to him. Fortunately, he was a patient man. If he could sit all day in a leaky boat and only catch one trout, he could out wait Mrs. Clarise Snyder. Though he might have found the boat more comfortable. "The police report?"
"What is it... officer...?"
"Malloy," he repeated. "The problem with your neighbors?"
"Oh... no... there isn't any problem... with my neighbors."
"I have had... the same... neighbors..." she paused, having dropped a stitch in her knitting. The procedure to find the mistake, pull out offending stitches and begin anew took all her concentration.
The waiting was making Jim nervous. He sat on the edge of his seat, a creeping feeling of dread coming over him as he observed the woman seated among the boxes and baskets surrounding her. A hand would reach out, extending seemingly well past its length to retrieve the knitting, a tissue, a pair of scissors, her spectacles. The body in the center of this arrangement never moved as the thin limbs snagged the desired objects and brought them to her.
"Mrs. Snyder," Pete called in that overly patient voice that Jim knew signaled Pete was barely maintaining control.
"I'm a widow... you know," she announced out of the blue. "Mr. Snyder's been dead... twenty- two... years this... February."
Wonder what killed him? Jim thought absently.
"Yes, ma'am," Pete was still plugging away. "We were discussing your neighbors. You said you've had the same ones for a while?"
"Sixteen... years," she replied, untangling the yarn again took her attention for nearly a minute as the clock ticked in the corner, the dust settled in the sunbeams streaming through the lace curtains, and they waited.
"Sixteen years," Pete repeated, the desperation only evident to the partner who knew how frustrated he must be. "That's a long time."
"Goes by fast," she dismissed. Though at the moment, Jim couldn't imagine anything passing quickly in this place. "As I was saying... young man... Mr. and Mrs. Reynolds... Harvey... Reynolds... and Dolores... his wife... she's his second wife... you know... but they are... just about... the sweetest... people...alive."
"The Reynolds," Pete agreed. Apparently deciding there was no fighting it, he'd taken to going with the flow.
"They live... in that Spanish... bungalow... on the left." There was a pause so long Pete had opened his mouth to speak, but just as he did, she continued. "...the left... as you look... at our house... from the street."
"On the left," Pete noted to Jim who was supposedly taking all this down for the report. So far he hadn't heard much worth the ink or the effort.
"Yes... that's right... the Reynolds'... on the left."
Again she'd returned to her knitting. Jim could almost imagine their crow's feet deepening and their hair turning grey as they waited once again.
"And on the right?" Pete finally ventured.
"And... on the right... that would be Adele... Mrs.... Adele... Chapman."
"Mrs. Chapman," Jim verified as he made the note for lack of anything better to do.
"That's right." Clarise nodded slightly.
Jim heard Pete's sigh from across the room.
"She used to be... Adele... Blackburn... before she married... her James.... That's James... Chapman... formerly... of Bakersfield."
"Yes, ma'am." Pete nodded. Jim was starting to wonder if his partner were being hypnotized by the woman and her knitting.
"Such a wonderful... man... James... Chapman."
"Mrs. Snyder..." Pete called as if she were miles away. It wasn't that far from the truth.
"Strong... and... so tall." She turned toward Jim, who had figured she'd forgotten him completely. "Like you... young man... tall... and dark... and dashing!"
Pete's mouth quirked into a half smile as he regarded his partner Dashing? he mouthed, to which Jim merely smiled and blushed a bit.
"Like Rudolph....Valentino," Clarise rhapsodized, her eyes moving from her knitting to Jim and back again. "She was Blackburn... Adele Blackburn... of the Boston Blackburns... when we were girls."
Oh no! Jim sighed, hoping she wasn't going back that far.
As Pete continued to question Mrs. Snyder, Jim wrote down the bits of information his partner painstakingly gleaned and thought about how much just being in Clarise's parlor made him uncomfortable. He couldn't take his eyes from the knitting in those gnarled, bony hands. The clickety clack of the needles, ever-moving, made him imagine a web being woven. Not at all the image he needed just now. Clarise sitting there on her horsehair throne reminded him of an eight legged insect lying in wait for some hapless fly.
"Will you walk into my parlor?" said the spider to the fly. Jim gripped the pen in his hand, a desperate attempt to get control of his thoughts. His phobia had its roots in childhood and no matter how much time passed, despite all the other fears he'd overcome, the multi-legged bugs still held a frightful fascination.
"Mrs. Snyder. If there's no problem with your neighbors," Pete redirected, "then why did you call the police?"
"The police," he repeated. There was a bit of an edge creeping into Pete's voice and Jim could hardly blame him. In fact, another ten minutes of this, and he would be willing to put his friend up for sainthood. "You called the police because of a problem. Something about a dispute?"
"The helicopters," she said as though it fit into the conversation.
"Helicopters?" Pete sniffed, his mouth curling into a smile. "What helicopters?"
"The ones in the garden," she answered matter-of-factly, her knitting still holding most of her attention.
"The garden?" Pete verified. "You've got helicopters in your garden?"
"Of course," she insisted. "I called the police about it. Didn't they tell you?"
Pete let out a breath. "No, they failed to mention that."
"Every morning..." she inhaled deeply and both partners waited breathlessly for the exhale. "They are there... all over my lovely... garden."
"Who is, ma'am?"
"The helicopters!" she insisted. "Every day... I sweep them off the path... and rake them from the grass... and flowerbeds. And in the morning... they have put them all back. All over my garden."
"Helicopters?" Jim asked.
"You know... tiny helicopters... they come down... from the sky," Clarise explained. "They make a dreadful... mess... all over my garden walk." She paused, silently counting stitches before continuing. "I'm an old woman... I'm a widow... you know.... Mr. Snyder's been dead... twenty-two... years this... February."
"Yes, ma'am, I'm very sorry." Pete took a deep breath of his own, before launching back into the fray. "These eh... helicopters, do they come from trees, perhaps?"
"Not my trees!" Clarise argued. "I don't have those kind of trees. They put them in my garden."
"Who does, ma'am?"
"Those boys." She adjusted her spectacles and returned to her knitting as though she'd just given him the clue to solve the Mulholland Strangler murders. It was going to be a long afternoon.
"What boys?" Pete ventured, a look of futility in his eyes.
"The same boys... who steal... the apples," Clarise continued.
"The way into my parlor is up a winding stair, And I have many curious things to show when you are there." This was getting out of hand. But Jim did wish he could recall the rest of the poem, as he seemed to remember a warning at the end.
"Apples?" The question was more expelled breath than anything and Jim noticed his partner's white-knuckled grip on the band of the watchcap.
"Winesaps... Mr. Snyder planted that tree... it was a birthday present..." There was nothing further. It sounded like there should be more - there was an air of the unfinished about it - but the sentence just ended.
"Yes, well, Mrs. Snyder." Pete's left knee was bouncing, ever so slightly, releasing the tension that threatened to blow him apart. "Let's stick to the helicopters, shall we? Have you actually seen the boys putting them in the garden? I mean, couldn't they have just flown there by themselves, maybe?"
"He sent away... for that tree... a special nursery... back East."
"Yes, ma'am." There was a resignation in Pete's voice that broke his partner's heart, and amused him immensely.
"The best apples... are from the East, you know. But... we had... some mighty tasty ones... back when... Mr. Snyder... was alive."
"I'll bet," Pete chuckled, though he looked like he just might cry. "Now, about the helicopters?"
"They aren't from my trees... young man.... I don't have trees like that... in my yard. The boys put..."
Jim looked up, trying to figure out why both Clarise and his partner had stopped talking. Pete was still perched on the edge of the velvet settee across the over-doilied room, turning his cap in his hands as he waited for the answer to his last question. From the look on Pete's face, Jim was pretty sure that if the silence went on much longer, even Pete wouldn't recall what that question had been.
Clarise was still seated amidst her pile of clutter, her long neck twisting as she seemed to be watching something above her head. Her eyes darted back and forth as a skeletal arm reached out to one of the baskets stacked nearby and plucked something long and slender from its depths.
The sound jarred both officers, who snapped to attention, heads jerking in the direction of the noise. A purple fly swatter was suspended in midair from the end of Clarise's outstretched arm. The tiny dead body fell through the air, landing with a soft thud on the patterned Oriental rug. Poor fly! Jim thought with a sadness he couldn't recall feeling for an insect before. Never had a chance. Somehow just now he had an affinity for the deceased he'd have normally reserved for two-legged creatures.
"Winesaps... are good... cooking apples," she continued, unaffected by the fly's demise. "But MacIntosh... are best for cider."
Pete sat dumbfounded, blinking as he stared at Clarise.
"Oh no, no," said the little fly; "to ask me is in vain, For who goes up your winding stair can ne'er come down again." Jim was starting to wish he didn't remember so much of that poem after all.
"Do you know where these boys live?" Pete had found his tongue again.
"What boys?" Clarise asked, her knitting halted momentarily as she regarded him with a more than usually wrinkled brow.
"The boys who took the apples," Pete replied through clenched teeth disguised as a smile. Jim nearly laughed out loud.
"Oh... that," the woman shrugged. "I don't... mind that. Those trees... produce... a lot of ... apples... and I certainly... can't use... them all."
"No, ma'am, I 'spose not." Pete nodded.
"Now... back when... Mr. Snyder... was alive... I used to bake apple pies... and cobblers... and make applesauce... apple butter..."
"Mrs. Snyder," Pete's patience was wearing thin. He'd gone from frustration, to amusement and was quickly nearing the irritation mark. "What did you want us to do about the boys, and the app-?"
"Oh, dear me, no... I don't want you...to do anything, young man."
"You don't?" His eyebrows peaked above the bridge of his nose in quite a pained and pitiable expression.
"No. 'Tisn't necessary... I just wanted... you to be... aware of it." She grinned patronizingly at Pete, who amazing though it seemed to his partner, found a smile in return. "You see... the boys... offered...to clean... my garden walk... in exchange... for the apples they eat."
"So, why did you call the police, ma'am?"
"I didn't want you... arresting them... if you found them... on the property. I wouldn't... want to put... you to... any trouble."
"No trouble at all, ma'am." This time Pete's smile was genuine.
Despite all, Pete finished the interview and as they excused themselves and exited down the spiraling staircase, Jim couldn't help feeling they were beating a retreat, though none too soon.
They drove to the edge of the park where Jim could finish the paperwork while Pete went to buy a couple of sodas at the refreshment stand. The partners sat in the car, drinking orangeades and going over the morning's reports, checking for spelling and other minor errors or omissions.
Since Pete had gone to purchase the drinks, it fell to Jim to toss the bottles in the trash. While walking along the path on the way back to the vehicle, he was nearly hit by a stray ball from a game of catch on the lawn. Jim caught the ball, tossing it back to a rather frightened-looking little boy with brown eyes made all the bigger by his implication of guilt. Jim smiled and winked, sending the child back to the game laughing instead of terrified.
He was still chuckling over the encounter when he arrived back at the cruiser, but he couldn't figure out why his partner was laughing too. He hadn't had a chance to tell him the story yet.
"What's with you? Did you see me almost get beaned by that softball?"
"No," Pete sputtered. "Sorry I missed that!"
"So then what's got you in hysterics?"
"The one for the woman with the vandalism. Mrs. Snyder?"
"What's wrong with it?"
"She give you the creeps or something?"
"A little I guess," Jim admitted guardedly. "Didn't she you?"
"She was different, I'll give you that. But I'm not the one I'm worried about."
"Maybe you should look over that report again." Pete handed the book across the seat.
Jim stared at the page, still not seeing what had caused his partner the incurable giggles. He threw a questioning look back at Pete's broad grin.
"Her name," Pete began, snickering despite his best efforts, "was Clarise Snyder. Is that right?"
"Yeah," Jim was quickly losing his patience. "That's what I wrote."
"That's what you wrote at the top of the form. But down in the body of the narrative...maybe you should just read it. About half way down the page."
"What'd I do, misspell it?"
"Just read it, partner. Out loud."
"Okay," he reached for the report book. "Give it to me. I'll read it."
"You're making a big deal out of a misspelling?"
Pete began reading from the document. "When asked about the vandalism, Mrs. Spider said the plant material is being deposited..."
"Snyder," Jim corrected.
"Well, that may be her name, but here it's spelled S-P-I-D-E-R. I believe that spells..."
"Let me have that!" Jim insisted, grabbing the book back as Pete nearly dropped it, his hand shaking with the laughter that had taken him over again. "It isn't funny!"
"I think you broke your funny bone," Pete guffawed as he turned the key. The only answer he received was a glare from his partner, who was busy changing the report. He shook his head as he pulled the black and white into traffic, still enjoying the joke even if Jim failed to see the humor in it.
The city was uncharacteristically quiet for the next hour and the conversation inside Adam-12 turned to the playoffs of the department's baseball leagues, the new model sports cars Pete had recently test driven and the Reeds' new barbeque grill. Plans were quickly made to christen it on the coming weekend, with Pete bringing both a date and the T-bones.
"Whadya got?" Pete asked when he noticed Jim checking the hot sheet.
"That blue Buick," he replied. "It's not on the list."
"What tripped your radar?"
"I don't know," Jim shrugged. "Just... a feeling, I guess. Something hinky about it."
"You're not still letting that spider bug you, are you, partner?" Pete asked, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
"I figured you were having so much fun laughing at me," Jim sniffed.
"Well, I was." Pete winked as he threw a glance to his side.
"You know, someday I'm gonna find something that gets to you," he promised. "And ride it like a race horse."
"Forewarned is forearmed I suppose," he chuckled.
"I don't mind most bugs," he continued. "But there's something evil about spiders."
"Evil?" Pete clarified. "They're insects. Their brains have got to be microscopic. How could you fit either good or evil in there?"
"They think, Pete. I know they think. Their thoughts are like a big cloud that surrounds them. The little evil spider in the center of this cloud, hundreds of times bigger than it is, emanating evil all around it."
Pete opened his mouth to respond but closed it again and turned his attention back to the traffic ahead. He took a breath, and began again, only to stop before anything came out of his open mouth. There just wasn't any answer to his partner's phobic ramblings.
"1-Adam-12. Respond to Paramount Studios, 5555 Melrose Avenue. See the security office regarding an intruder outside the eighth floor."
Jim picked up the mic and answered the call, but before he could replace it, he stopped and stared across the front seat. "Outside the eighth floor?"
"It's a movie studio," Pete replied with a note of sarcasm in his voice. "Anything's possible!"
They drove the black and white through the ornate gates of the studio lot and into a sea of people dressed in everything from three piece suits to togas, jeans to chaps and ten gallon hats. The crowd parted reluctantly as Pete flipped the lights and the welp on the siren.
"This looks like a costume party!" Jim shook his head as Pete parked the cruiser near the main office building.
"This is Hollywood!" Pete snickered.
"I guess they don't call it La La Land for nothing."
"Before you laugh too loudly, remember... these people are getting paid... a lot more than we are."
"Thanks for putting it in perspective."
They found the security guard at the front entrance. "Boy! Am I glad to see you boys!"
"What seems to be the problem, sir?" Pete asked, straightening his watchcap.
"You didn't see it coming in?"
"See what?" Pete asked. "The only thing I saw was this crowd."
"Up there," the guard pointed straight up. The partners both craned their necks to follow his direction, shielding their eyes from the brilliant sun that glared against the polished building.
"What the - ?" Jim gasped.
"Like I said, partner," Pete chuckled, pushing his hat back off his forehead. "Anything's possible."
There near the top of the glass and concrete office building, hanging from hand-held hooks, alone, scaled a man in a bright blue and red body stocking.
"I don't suppose anybody knows what he's doing up there?" Pete prompted of the silver-haired guard.
"Auditioning," the guard shrugged, as though it was nothing out of the ordinary.
"'scuse me?" Pete gulped.
"They're casting for a new movie. Apparently the guy's agent couldn't swing an appointment so he got himself onto the lot with the studio tour, then slipped away from his group, changed into that and started up the building."
"What movie?" Pete was almost afraid to ask.
"Spiderman, of course." The old guy shook his head.
"Of course," Pete drawled, an ironic smile playing on his lips as he rolled his eyes at his partner. "I think this one's got your name on it, Jim."
"Comedian!" he snorted back.
"I'll call the fire department," Pete tossed over his shoulder as he turned toward the cruiser.
The next morning Jim was running late getting to work and was surprised not to find Pete already at his locker getting dressed. He turned the key in the lock and opened the door of his own locker to find the interior was covered in filmy cobwebs. A small plastic spider dangled from an elastic thread, bobbing wildly as it was released from its restriction.
Initially startled by the unexpected gag, Jim grabbed the edge of the locker and took a deep breath, careful to keep his reactions hidden. It hadn't frightened him in the least, but he hadn't anticipated a sneak attack, thinking the whole matter would be forgotten. Sure his prankster partner was somewhere watching, he was determined not to give him the satisfaction of the slightest flinch.
"Hey, partner!" He heard from behind him. Pete was opening his own locker, his face a total blank.
You're not that good, Malloy! "You're late," Jim chided, unbuttoning his sport shirt. "Must have been some party last night!"
"Uh, you know," Pete replied, stripping the polo shirt over his head. "Nancy wanted me to go."
"What did you go as? The Marquis de Sade?" Jim taunted, reaching into his locker, past all that creepy web and the still-dancing spider, to retrieve his uniform shirt.
"The chaperones didn't wear costumes. I went as myself, an off-duty cop trying to keep junior high school delinquents from escaping a gym."
"Oh, you were a chaperone?" Jim smiled. "I coulda sworn you were on the decorating committee."
"Hey, I couldn't resist," Pete's face broke into a wide grin. "Nancy's kids had all those angel hair webs everywhere and after yesterday..."
"Okay, buddy. You've had your fun. What do you say we call a truce?"
"Sure," Pete winked, sending the spider swinging with a thump.
Later, as roll call was dismissed Mac motioned for Pete to stay behind. Jim went to the kit room to check out a shotgun and meet with his partner at the car in the lot.
"Malloy. You two get whatever it was straightened out between you yesterday?"
"You and your partner. Lunch?"
"We're fine, Mac." Pete shrugged.
"I don't suppose you're gonna tell me what was going on with you clowns?"
"We're gonna be late getting out on the streets if you and I keep gabbing." It wasn't an answer, but it was all Mac was likely to get at the moment.
"Well, get going then! Whadya waiting for?"
"See ya, Mac!" Pete turned to go, with a particular bounce in his step.
"If Santisi and Brill haven't gotten back from Palmdale yet, you might have to sign out a different unit."
"I know, but they were out there on a special detail and I'm not sure they've gotten back and secured yet."
"Thanks, Sarge," Pete moaned, grabbing his gear and heading to the lot.
When he got there, Jim was already at the unit. 1-Adam-12 had just pulled in. Officers Santisi and Brill were removing their cases and other items as Malloy and Reed walked up.
"Whadya do...drive it through a sandstorm, Santisi?" Pete groused, staring at the dusty mess that used to be his shiny patrol unit.
"I suppose you wanted us to run it through a carwash on our way home, with a prisoner in the backseat!" the other officer joked back. "Maybe get a wax job and one of those cute little strawberry-scented air fresheners for the mirror?"
"I'd settle for a black and white...this thing looks like desert camouflage!"
"Boo hoo!" Brill teased as he passed.
"I just hope you didn't track sand inside." Pete opened the driver's side door. "Ohhh...Frank!"
"Hey, you'll live, Malloy." Santisi slapped Pete on the back.
"Whadya guys do? Go to the beach?"
"See ya, Malloy!" Santisi laughed.
Pete placed his briefcase in the backseat and swung around to the back of the car to deposit his helmet case in the trunk. But one look at his partner and he stopped in his tracks.
"Jim -" Pete summoned with the gentlest of voices. "Don't move..."
"What?" he started to turn.
"Jim, I mean it. Don't move!" Pete knew with Jim's fear of spiders that he couldn't be sure of his reaction and it was vital that he remain calm.
"Come on, Pete. Don't you think you wore it out yesterday? The locker was more than enough."
"I'm not kidding you, partner. Hold perfectly still." Pete looked around for someone to help or something to use to get the creeping arachnoid away from his friend. In desperation he pulled his baton from the ring on his belt, glad he hadn't yet placed it in the recess of the door. "Now...just keep still, Jim."
Pete reached the length of the baton toward his partner's shoulder, easing it gently against Jim's uniform shirt.
"Pete!" Jim began to complain, still not sure of his buddy's intentions.
"Shhhh, partner. Please, just trust me. Don't turn around"
Pete nudged the hairy spider with the tip of the baton. It moved all right, but not in the direction he'd hoped. The tarantula inched closer to Jim's exposed neck. Careful, Malloy! he silently cautioned as he sought to outsmart the furry-legged creature.
Once again he guided the baton towards the crawling menace, this time trying to slip the tip of it beneath the spider's legs without startling it further toward Jim's unprotected skin. The insect moved away initially but stopped and just as Pete was prepared to swat it off his partner's back and take the chance of letting it loose, the spider attached itself to the baton and began crawling down the staff in the direction of Pete's hand.
"Whoa!" Pete exclaimed as he pulled both insect and baton away from Jim's shoulder.
"Pete! What the heck..." he never finished that thought. As he turned, Jim caught a glimpse of the writhing, hairy mass at the end of his partner's baton and jumped the length of the black and white in one motion.
"What are you trying to do to me?" Jim accused from the safety of his crouch behind the front fender.
"I was trying to keep this thing from making lunch out of you, partner. A little gratitude might be in order, huh?"
"Where'd it come from?"
"My guess is that Santisi and Brill picked it up in the desert. It dropped from the trunk lid. You wanna help me find something to put this creature in?"
"Eh...not really, Pete. I'd rather not get that close to it again if you don't mind."
"Are you two gold-brickers still out here fooling around!" Mac barked when he exited the building and found Jim at one end of Adam-12 and Pete at the other. "I thought I told you to get it on the road. You're burning the taxpayers' money!"
"Hey, Mac!" Pete smiled broadly. "Here...hold this a second." He placed the baton in the sergeant's hand and scurried around behind him. While Mac was still struggling to take in what was happening, Pete grabbed the handle of his commanding officer's baton and slipped it out of the ring on MacDonald's belt. "Thanks, Mac! I'll just borrow this till you're done with mine!"
"Malloy!" Mac barked, realizing how he'd been duped.
"Gotta get out on the road, Sarge! See ya!"
"Malloy!" Mac bellowed as Adam-12 pulled out of the parking lot, leaving the sergeant staring at a tarantula dangling from the end of the police baton in his own hand. "Malloy!"
Quotes from The Spider and the Fly by Mary Howitt
Thanks to all the usual suspects: the gang who brought us Adam-12, Cathy for never letting me get away with only telling part of the story, and especially on this one... Mr. Milner whose incredible facial reactions are inspirational but impossible to adequately describe. To the little lady who *became* Clarise and for Leslie, who started it all...IT'S ONLY A BUG!!! LOL