Jim Reed sat on the side of their bed. He picked his softball cleats up off the floor and absently flicked at a spot of dried mud. "Dressing up in some silly costume and looking like a fool isn't exactly my idea of fun."
"You don't have to pick a silly costume. You can be anybody you want." Jean placed the last of the stack of Jim's T-shirts in the drawer and pushed it shut with her hip. "And stop doing that." She nodded toward his cleats. "You're getting dirt on the floor."
"Oh, sorry." Jim balanced the cleats carefully on his leg. "I'll think about the party, sweetie. But, right now I gotta go. I'm going to be late for my game." He grabbed his cleats by the laces and stood.
Jean walked over and stopped him at the door. She wrapped her arms around his neck and brushed his lips with a light kiss. "What is there to think about? Just say yes." She gazed into his clear blue eyes.
Jim blew out an exasperated sigh. He reached to untangle her arms, but she held tight and bit playfully on his ear lobe. "Please," she whispered.
Jim shuddered slightly as he felt that little chill come over him that only she could produce. "That's not going to work this time," he lied.
It always works! Jean pressed in closer. She smiled her most alluring smile.
"I promise I'll think about it while I'm at the game, babe." He held his cleats in his left hand and encircled her waist with his right.
She dropped her hands from his neck and slid them under his arms; pressing on his back, she pulled him to her.
Submissively, Jim dropped the dangling cleats to the floor and wrapped his arms around his sly, sexy wife. He kissed her, then pushed her to arm's length, holding her gently by the shoulders. "Okay, we'll go. We'll figure out costumes later. Right now, I really do need to go." He pulled her in for a quick peck, then bent to retrieve his cleats.
"Thank you. I know we'll have a good time. Come on, I'll walk you to the car."
After saying goodbye, Jean walked back into the house. She picked up the telephone and dialed Judy's number. "Hi, Judy, this is Jean. Any luck with Pete?"
"Oh, hi, Jean. Well, Pete didn't exactly say yes or no. He said if Jim agreed to go, he'd go too. Then he mumbled something about a snowball's chance that Jim would ever agree to it."
"In that case, pick your costume. We're going."
"Atta girl, Jean! How'd you ever persuade Jim?"
"Let's just say I used my womanly wiles," Jean confessed.
"Ah, a female strategy that has worked through the ages," Judy laughed.
"Right. Any idea what costume you'll be wearing?"
"Not really. I've got some old movie magazines around here somewhere; maybe I can get an idea from one of them. But, you know Pete. He's as conservative as a priest."
"Maybe Pete should dress as a priest and you could be a nun," Jean suggested.
"Maybe. I'll give that some thought. What about you, Jean? Do you have your costumes yet?"
"No, and I think Jim's going to be difficult about the whole thing. I don't know what it is about him. Since we've been married, he's come home covered in mud, soaking wet, or wearing literally half a uniform. He's been stained with everything from lipstick to motor oil. But he says that it's all in the line of duty and an occupational hazard. But you let me ask him to put on a costume for a party and he fights me all the way. He says he doesn't want to be embarrassed or draw attention to himself. Personally, I think I'd like to be some kind of dancer. Maybe a ballerina or maybe a Rockette."
"Wow, a Rockette! I guess Jim could just walk around behind you, holding up that big headpiece they wear. You certainly have the legs for it. You'd turn a few heads, that's for sure."
"Yes, and I'm afraid one of them would be Jim's. Right into the face of the guy trying to get a look at me. Listen, Judy, I think I hear Jimmy waking up from his nap, so I better get off here."
"Okay, Jean, we'll talk again soon."
Pete Malloy wheeled the LAPD cruiser easily onto a side street. "You just had to do it, didn't you?" He glanced over at his partner, Jim Reed.
"Do what, Pete?"
"You just had to go and agree to that crazy masquerade thing. Judy told me all about it last night," Pete sighed.
"Oh, that. Jean caught me at a weak moment. You know how it is."
"Reed, when it comes to that pretty wife of yours, your whole life is a weak moment."
"True, true." Jim nodded in agreement. "So, do you and Judy have your costumes yet?"
"No. We're supposed to go to the costume shop later in the week. How 'bout you and Jean?"
"Not yet. I told Jean she could be in charge of all that. A decision I'll probably live to regret."
"No doubt," Pete agreed. "Hey, why don't we just go as cops?"
"Nah. You know the departmental policy about that. And besides, the girls would never go for it. It's not clever or creative enough."
"I guess you're right. But don't you let that sweet little wife of yours twist your arm. Be strong. If I have to be seen in public with you in costume, it better be something respectable. Don't you show up as a petunia or a turkey or anything ridiculous like that," Pete warned.
Jim unwrapped the second of two candy bars and took a big bite. "You know Pete, I want a costume that expresses the real me." He gestured with his candy bar for emphasis. "Something that tells people who I am and what I like. Something that says, 'Jim Reed was here and he'll be back'." Jim punctuated his statement by licking a smear of melting chocolate from his thumb and crunching the wrapper with great finality and stuffing it in his pocket.
"So, you'll be going as one of the vending machines at the station?" Pete drawled.
Jim rolled his eyes and opened his mouth to respond, but dispatch broke in. "1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, see the woman, 3646 Old Windham Road, unknown disturbance."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim responded into the mic.
The two officers handled the call, which turned out to be a senile old lady who kept hearing strange sounds at her back door. Upon further investigation, Pete determined it was the old lady's cat, scratching to get in.
As they headed to the station to work on their daily reports, Jim remarked, "Can you believe that lady forgot she had a cat?"
"Poor old gal. I'm surprised she remembered she had a back door. I guess it's inevitable that one day, way way in the future my physical body is going to go to pot. But I pray every day that I'll keep my wits about me and have my mental faculties until the very end," Pete mused.
"Yeah," Jim agreed. "By the way, Pete, that day probably isn't that far into the future for a guy your age."
"Uh huh," Pete deadpanned as he pulled the unit into the station parking lot.
"Oh, Jean, I love it!" Judy stood with Pete in the Reed's living room, admiring Jean's costume. "A flapper from the roaring '20's. You look so cute."
"Thanks. And you make a great nurse," Jean returned the compliment. "You look good too, Pete. Why'd you choose a farmer?"
"My dad was a farmer," Pete replied with pride. Then he eyeballed Jim up and down. "Batman, huh? Good choice."
"Well, Jean said they didn't have much left in my size. It was either this or a big pink pig. And, maybe it's a psychological thing, but I just couldn't bring myself to wear a pig costume. I get called pig often enough on the job."
"Right," Pete nodded. "And can you imagine the stares we'd have gotten? Farmer Pete and his pig."
The two couples laughed and gathered their coats as they went out the door.
"Who's watching that fine godson of mine?" Pete inquired as he helped Judy into the backseat of Jim's car.
"He's at my parents for the evening," Jean supplied.
Jim climbed in behind the wheel, and headed for the local community center, where the masquerade party was being held.
Pete leaned over from the backseat, looking from Jim to Jean. He settled back again, then leaned forward and looked at them again.
"What's up, Pete?" Jim asked.
"Holy spandex, Batfriends! I'm the only one not wearing pantyhose."
"These are not pantyhose!" Jim corrected, feigning agitation. "They're tights. All the best super heroes wear them."
"Well, if you ask me, they look like those thick support hose. All the best grandmas wear them."
"Nobody asked you."
Jean turned to look at Judy. "It's going to be a long night with these two characters."
"Yeah, and I've got the feeling they're just getting started." Judy nodded in agreement.
"Wow, looks like a big crowd," Jim remarked as he pulled into a parking space.
"Oh my!" Jean exclaimed as they entered the community center and she took in the ballroom atmosphere. "This is going to be so much fun. Isn't it, honey?" She squeezed Jim's arm. "Look at all the wonderful decorations… and the costumes… oh, look there's another Batman… and a white rabbit… and a pirate… and look over there," Jean said pointing, "There's Cleopatra… and there's Joe Dimagio and Marilyn Monroe… and hey, there's two guys that look like Mike and Chuck, the butchers at the meat market where we shop."
"No, dear. I think that's Laurel and Hardy," Jim corrected, rolling his eyes.
"Oh, okay." Jean grinned and continued to take in her surroundings. "There's a big chicken and Romeo and Juliet… and my parents?" Jean did a double take. "Jim, that couple over there looks just like mama and daddy did, when we were dating."
"Jean, that's supposed to be Ward and June Cleaver. Hon, no offense, but if they have a contest where you have to guess who everyone is dressed up as, I don't want you on my team," Jim teased.
"Oh hush and let's dance," Jean said, leading the way to the dance floor.
"Maybe I'll hang back and get another look at Marilyn," Pete joked.
"Keep walking, Hayseed," Judy said, pushing Pete's straw hat from behind, causing it to fall over his eyes.
As they stepped out onto the dance floor, Judy commented, "The band's playing a wonderful variety of music."
"Something for everyone," Jean agreed. "Oh listen, the Charleston. I hoped they'd play it; it's one of my favorites. I'd hate for my great flapper dress to go to waste." Jean twisted in time to the music. Jim attempted to do the same, but got tangled in his cape. It whipped around, somehow binding and pinning his arm to his back. He loosened himself with his free hand, straightened his cape, smiled and said, "Maybe I'll just watch you, hon."
The next number was the Twist. "I've always like this one," Pete said, gyrating across the floor. "Good for the ol' waistline." He started to really ham it up, bending low and sticking his rear out. He stepped backwards and twisted right into the middle of a small group of dancers. He collided with Little Bo Peep, a doctor in surgical scrubs, a cowboy and Shirley Temple. They stumbled as Pete offered an apology, "Sorry about that. Close quarters tonight."
The small group smiled and nodded.
After a few more dances, the four exhausted friends decided to rest and drink some punch. "Find us a table, I need to make a pit stop," Jim said, bobbing his head toward the men's room.
"I think I'll join you," Pete said.
"Hmmm, I thought only we girls went to the bathroom in pairs," Jean commented to Judy.
"Nature calls. What can I say?" Pete shrugged.
The two women found a table near the refreshments. "This place is really getting crowded. Why don't you stay here and save the table and I'll go get us some punch," Jean suggested.
Jean walked to the food table and admired the wonderful spread of appetizers and finger foods.
"Excuse me… I said excuse me."
Startled, Jean turned quickly to find herself staring up into the face of a kangaroo.
"You're standing on my tail," a female voice from within the kangaroo pointed out.
Jean held her hand over her mouth trying to suppress a giggle. "Oops!" She stepped back. "I hope I didn't hurt you," she said, smiling.
"Humph," the kangaroo snorted. "It isn't really a tail. Its part of the costume."
Jean could tell this kangaroo was more annoyed than amused. "I'm sorry," Jean said and quickly walked to the other side of the food table. She glanced back over her shoulder as she reached for the ladle in the punch bowl. She grabbed instead the arm of a tall, handsome cowboy.
"Beg pardon, ma'am. I reckon we're about to do a little double dippin'," he drawled in a smooth southern tone.
"No harm done, Tex." Jean played along. "Ya'll got your horse hitched outside?"
"Yes, ma'am." The cowboy flashed a pearly white smile and tipped his hat. "Evenin', ma'am," he said as he strolled out into the crowd on the dance floor.
He was much nicer than that nasty kangaroo. Someone needed to stuff her in her own pouch. Jean filled four punch cups, set them on a plate and carried them to the table where the others were waiting.
As the four friends sat chatting and drinking punch, they watched as the grand menagerie of costumed guests danced around the festively lit floor.
Jim leaned his chair back against the wall and scanned the crowd. He took a sip of punch and suddenly brought his chair down on all four legs. "Pete, over there by that potted plant," Jim nodded toward a far corner, "Is that who I think it is?"
They all looked in the direction Jim had indicated. In the corner, partially hidden by a large rubber tree, stood a small man eating a big piece of cake.
"Yeah, it's Ed Wells all right," Pete confirmed. "And what's that costume he's wearing? Is it Robin Hood?"
"I think its Peter Pan." Jim continued to stare in Ed's direction. "Let's go over and say hello. If it is Peter Pan, this is something we can hold over Ed for a long time."
"You two be nice," Judy chided as she and Jean followed close behind Jim and Pete.
"Evening, Ed." Pete shook hands with his fellow police officer, getting a closer look at the costume.
Ed greeted the others and, to everyone's surprise, didn't seem the least bit embarrassed by his costume. "How are you, Jeanie? Judy?" He nodded at the two women as his wife joined them. She slipped her arm around Ed's waist. "Tonight's our anniversary, so I told Tinker Bell here we'd do anything she wanted." Ed gave his wife a little squeeze. "She picked the costumes."
"That's nice. Isn't it, Jim?" Jean remarked, giving Jim's Batman cape a quick tug and squelching any plans he and Pete had of ribbing Ed.
"Yeah, it is," Jim agreed sincerely, seeing a side of Ed Wells he'd never seen before.
Jim's opinion of the new and improved Ed quickly vanished when Ed quipped, "Holy role reversal, Batman. I always thought of you as more the Boy Wonder type. You know, Boy! Wonder how I'm going to get out of this mess?"
Jim shook his head and laughed politely. Some things never change.
"Oh, look!" Judy said, pointing to a long line forming on the dance floor. "The white rabbit is leading the Bunny Hop. Come on, Pete, let's join in."
"Not even on a bet." Pete shook his head ardently.
"Why not? It'll be fun," Judy protested.
"No way. I've got my reputation to think of." Pete stood firm with his arms crossed over his chest.
"Ed and Jim are getting out there," Judy pointed out.
"Yeah, but under great protest," Pete stated as he watched his two male counterparts being reduced to mere bunnies before his eyes.
Judy put on her best pout face. She took the stethoscope hanging around her neck and used it as a microphone, "Paging Dr. Pooper, Dr. Party Pooper," she sing-songed.
"Oh, all right," Pete surrendered. He held out his hand, allowing her to drag him slowly out onto the dance floor.
The Bunny train came by and they linked on to the end of the chain. Two hops later the music ended and the band started playing a ballad.
"Well, you timed that just right, didn't you?" Judy asked sarcastically.
"Yes, but isn't this much nicer?" Pete asked, gathering her into his arms for a slow dance.
She had to agree it was.
Jim and Jean stayed on the floor for the slow dance too. They held each other close and swayed to the music. Jim closed his eyes. His thoughts were miles away, back in their high school gym.
"Oh no!" Jean cried. She stopped so suddenly, Jim had to balance himself on her shoulder to keep from toppling over.
"Jim, my bracelet is gone," Jean sounded near panic.
"The diamond bracelet you gave me for our anniversary. I've got to find it." Jean turned quickly and started to walk away.
Jim grabbed her by the arm. "Jean, stand still and wait a minute."
"I don't want to wait," Jean sobbed. "I want to find it."
"I know you do, sweetheart," Jim relaxed his voice, sounding more like a husband and less like a police officer. He put his arm around Jean. "Maybe it just fell off while we were dancing. Let's look around here. Check your clothes, maybe the bracelet is hooked on your costume."
Jean brushed her hands over her dress. She shook, causing the fringe around the bottom to bounce. Nothing. She clasped and unclasped her right wrist with her left hand, as if she could summon the bracelet back from the great beyond. "Oh, Jim, its not here. We have to find it. What are we going to do? I love that bracelet."
"We'll find it," Jim tired to assure her. "Let's go sit down and think about retracing your steps."
"What's up?" Pete questioned as he and Judy joined them at a nearby table.
Jim explained the situation and he and Pete immediately went into cop mode, thinking of every possible explanation and dismissing the illogical ones.
"Are you sure you were wearing it?" Jim questioned.
"Of course, I'm sure," Jean snapped, impatiently.
"Honey, we have to take this one step at a time. When's the last time you actually remember seeing it on your wrist."
"I know I had it on when we were doing the Charleston and … oh I don't know." Jean's eyes pooled with tears.
"It's okay. We'll find it. And, if we don't, I'll buy you another one," Jim soothed.
"We can't afford that. Besides, I don't want another one. I want that one."
"Maybe someone found it and turned it in," Judy suggested. "I'm sure they have a lost and found."
"Good idea," Pete said. "We'll check into that in just a minute. Jean, other than the three of us, have you spoken with anyone tonight?"
"The Wells," Jean sniffed, blowing her nose on a napkin.
"Right. Anyone else?"
"No. Well, I talked to a kangaroo when I went to get the punch."
"What'd he say?" Jim asked.
"Not he, she," Jean corrected. "Actually, she was quite rude, but I don't think she could have taken my bracelet."
"You never know, Jean. Some people are just plain mean." Judy commented.
"Yes, but she had big kangaroo paws on her hands. How could she have gotten my bracelet off?"
"She couldn't. But she could have been a distraction," Jim surmised.
"What do you mean?" Jean looked up at her husband.
"She talks to you, while someone else lifts your bracelet."
"Without me even feeling it?"
"Absolutely, Jean," Pete explained. "We see it all the time. These people are professionals. They can steal your underwear and you don't even know it until you get home."
Jean gave Pete a half smile. "Well, I don't think it was the kangaroo. I also talked to a cowboy, but he was very friendly and didn't seem the type."
"There are no types. Dishonest people can be and look and act like anyone from your next door neighbor to the Pope," Jim said.
"I think we're all jumping to conclusions. I suggest we check the lost and found before we do anything else. I'm sure someone turned your bracelet in." Judy reached across the table and patted Jean's arm.
Before Jean could reply, Jean's mom--a.k.a. June Cleaver--approached them. "I'm sorry, I couldn't help but hear your conversation. My husband thinks I'm confused and that I just forgot to wear them, but I'm positive my pearls are missing. I know I had them on as part of my costume. I'm supposed to be June Cleaver, by the way. I checked in the office. The only thing in the lost and found box is an umbrella and a broken camera."
Pete quickly explained to June Cleaver that Jim and he were police officers. He asked her whom she had been in contact with during the evening. Other than her husband, she couldn't recall anyone in particular. She didn't remember the kangaroo and said she only vaguely remembered seeing a cowboy.
Pete turned to Judy. "Dear, do you a pencil and some paper in your purse?"
Judy fished in her bag while Pete continued, " Mrs. Cleaver… oh I mean … um…" Pete stammered.
"Hollis. Valerie Hollis," June Cleaver supplied.
"Mrs. Hollis, I'd like to get some information from you. I think Jim…. Officer Reed and I are going to check into a few things. Of course, this could just be a strange coincidence that you both lost jewelry on the same night."
Valerie Hollis quickly wrote down the requested information and handed the paper to Pete.
"Thank you. We'll let you know something before the evening's over," Pete assured.
Mrs. Hollis nodded and left to rejoin her husband at a nearby table.
"So, what's next, Pete?" Jim stood behind Jean's chair, with his hand on her shoulder.
"Let's go to the office. Talk to the people in charge. Maybe get a look at a guest list for tonight's party."
"Good idea. Do you think we should pull Ed in on this?" Jim said, stepping from behind Jean's chair.
"Not just yet," Pete decided. "Lets see what we turn up in the office first."
"Jim, wait." Jean grabbed his arm. "Over there by that fountain. It's the kangaroo."
"Hey, Pete, I think I'll walk over there. Maybe I'll hear something interesting."
Jim walked slowly over to the fountain. He stood gazing into the pool of water. He pretended to watch a gaudy statue of some voluptuous unnamed water goddess spit water from puckered lips while balancing a water pot on top of her head. He strolled absently around the fountain and stopped a few feet from the kangaroo. He continued his farce of enjoying the fountain, while trying to catch part of the kangaroo's conversation. He moved in closer and leaned forward. If I can just see down in that pouch. That's a great place for hiding things. He leaned in even further, straining to see. Things like jewelry. Still not close enough. He took a step closer to the kangaroo and continued his pretense of admiring the fountain. Suddenly, he felt a persistent tapping on his right shoulder blade. He turned and stood face to face with a wiry little man in a striped jailbird costume.
The jailbird shoved a long lean finger in Jim's face. "Look here, maybe you think you're a super hero, because you're wearing that costume. But in my book you're just a common low life masher and if you don't quit ogling my wife, I'm going to call a cop."
"Your wife?" Jim raised his eyebrows under his Batman hood.
"Don't try to play innocent. The kangaroo. I saw how you were trying to get close to her. Now you just back off, or else."
Jim thought about asking the obvious 'or else what?' but decided it wasn't worth it. "Sure, sure, mister." He raised his hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender and backed away.
Pete intercepted Jim coming across the dance floor on his way back to the table. Jim shook his head. "Lets go talk to them in the office. I think it's this way," he indicated opening a door leading to a long hallway.
"Jim, hold up. Look coming out of the men's room. Lets mosey on over and have a talk with that cowboy."
"Let's play it cool at first," Pete advised.
"How's it goin', pardner?" Jim asked the cowboy.
"Whadda ya mean, 'How's it goin'?' It's goin' just like it was when you talked to me earlier. Now, look man, a deal's a deal. You ain't gettin' your money back." The cowboy crossed his arms and leaned back against the wall.
Jim shot Pete a look then stepped closer to the cowboy. "I think you've got the wrong guy. We didn't talk earlier. But my friend and I would like to ask you a few questions."
"We didn't talk in the bathroom about twenty minutes ago?" the cowboy softened slightly.
"I swear, man. It must have been somebody else."
"Oh. Okay. What'd you want to ask me?" The cowboy looked first at Jim then at Pete.
"My wife lost a bracelet and…"
"Now wait a minute," the cowboy interrupted, angrily. "I don't have your wife's bracelet."
"Calm down." Pete stepped in. "No one's accusing you. We're just trying to retrace our steps. My friend's wife remembers talking to a cowboy and we thought maybe it was you."
"I doubt it. I've only been a cowboy for a few minutes."
"How's that?" Pete questioned.
"Okay. Let me start at the beginning and we'll see if we can make some sense of all this." The cowboy uncrossed his arms and relaxed. "About half an hour ago this cowboy approached me in the bathroom. He said he wanted to play a joke on his girlfriend and he'd give me twenty-five bucks to trade him costumes. I thought he was crazy, but I figured what the heck and I could use the money, so we traded.
"What costume were you wearing before the trade?" Jim asked.
"Batman," the cowboy said, nodding toward Jim's suit. "It seems to be a pretty popular costume tonight. I've seen about ten Batmans since I got here."
"At least ten, probably more," Jim commented. "Thanks for the information. Are you going to be around for a while? We might need to talk to you again."
"I ain't goin' nowhere. I might try to find me a cute little cowgirl to dance with." The cowboy grinned at Jim.
"Yeah. Good luck and thanks again," Jim said as he and Pete walked away.
"Well, Pete whadda you think?"
"I think, why would a man trade clothes with a stranger in the middle of a party unless he was up to something? I'll go on to the office. Why don't you go round up Ed. Fill him in on what's going on and the two of you walk around and try to eliminate a few of the Batmans. I'll meet you back at the table in about fifteen," Pete instructed.
Jim agreed and set off in the direction he had last seen Ed Wells.
Fifteen minutes later, they all gathered around the table. "Any luck at the office, Pete? Did you get a look at the guest list?" Jim asked.
"Nope. The office was closed. There was one of those little clocks hanging on the door indicating the manager will return in 30 minutes. We'll try again. You and Ed see very many Batmans?"
"We split up. I saw a few. Two black ones and three that were about a foot shorter than the one we're looking for. Ed?"
"Holy bat confusion," Ed continued with the Batman jokes. "I came up with two, one Asian and one female. I'm still trying to figure that last one out," Ed said shaking his head. "I hope the guy we're looking for hasn't already gone back to the bat cave."
"Well, Jim, let's try the office again. Do you girls need anything?" Pete asked, realizing he and Jim had spent more time away from Jean and Judy than with them.
"Just my bracelet," Jean sighed.
"We're working on it, hon. Be right back." Jim bent over and gave Jean a quick kiss.
"You, guys need me for anything else?" Ed asked.
"Not right now, Ed. But, stick around. This could get interesting before the night's over," Pete said, giving Judy's shoulder a squeeze as he and Jim headed to the office.
The manager of the community center invited them into his office and agreed to cooperate completely. "Anything you need, just ask. And, let me check on something for you," he said, dialing the phone. "We've never had anything like this happen before," He went on as he waited for an answer on the line. "Most of our affairs attract fine, upstanding citizens like you gentlemen. I can assure you, …" the manager lifted a finger and stopped talking in mid sentence, indicating that someone had picked up. "Hello? Yes, Carl, this is Mr. Durbin. Has anyone left the center that you're aware of? I see. Okay. Thank you." Mr. Durbin hung up the phone. "Carl is the parking lot attendant for the community center. He stays in a small booth out by the gate. He patrols the lot and makes sure nothing is amiss. Just a little service we like to provide for our guests. Carl has been on the lot the entire evening and he said no one has left."
"Thank you, sir. That's helpful. Do you think we could get a look at the guest list for tonight's party?" Pete asked.
"Of course. I'll get that for you. But keep in mind some people may not be on the list. We always have a few guests that just show up without reservations. We try to accommodate them as best we can." He shuffled through a stack of papers on his desk. "Ah, yes here we are." He slid the guest list over to Pete.
"Mr. Durbin, tell me about the employees at the center. How many people do you have working here?" Jim asked.
"Usually around twenty-five. But it can vary. We sometimes hire temporary help if we have a large function, such as tonight's masquerade ball. There's Carl, the parking attendant. I have a secretary, Wilma Brooks. She's off tonight. We staff a full kitchen crew. We find that's easier than catering. There are twenty men and women working in our food services in some capacity. We have two grounds keepers, and I think that's everyone. One area that we contract out is our cleaning crew. We don't have our own employees for cleaning. We hire a service to come in. They do routine cleaning twice a week and any time we have a special event, like this evening. They don't usually send the same people, twice. It's often different workers, but they've always done a satisfactory job."
"Thank you." Jim turned to Pete, "Anyone jump out at you on that guest list, Pete?"
"Not yet." Pete shook his head. "Mr. Durbin, could you give us a list of the names of your employees, something we can take with us. And may we keep this guest list?"
"Certainly. I'll have to get the employee list from my secretary's files. It may take me a moment to figure out her filing system." Durbin smiled as he walked into an adjoining office.
Jim pulled a chair up to the edge of Mr. Durbin's desk. "Let me take a look at that guest list, Pete."
Pete handed Jim the list and stood looking out the door. "Be right back, Jim," he said, stepping out into the hall.
"Hi. Keeping busy tonight?" Pete approached a man at the opposite end of the hall, dressed in a janitor's uniform, bending over a mop bucket.
"Yeah. Look buddy, the party's inside there and I'm kinda busy here." The janitor continued wringing his mop, trying to ignore Pete.
"Mind if I ask you a few questions?" Pete persisted.
"Yeah, as a matter of fact, I do mind. I told you I'm busy. I don't have time to talk." The janitor remained stooped over the mop bucket.
"I'm a police officer," Pete said, producing identification from the pocket of his overalls. "I suggest you make time to…"
The janitor rose up quickly, swinging his mop like a baseball bat. A spray of sudsy water sloshed against the wall as Pete ducked just in time to miss getting brained. His straw hat went skidding across the floor as he watched the janitor run towards the exit at the far end of the hall.
"Jim!" Pete shouted.
Jim hurried out of the manager's office. "Police officer, freeze!" Jim commanded as he tackled the janitor, throwing him against the wall. "Arms out, feet apart," Jim instructed, placing him in a spread eagle position.
"You got a pair of cuffs in your car?" Pete asked.
"Good. Get 'em, and I'll take care of things here," Pete said as he patted the janitor down for weapons.
Jim hurried to the car, wondering what had tipped Pete off. He heard Pete reciting the familiar, 'You have the right to remain silent' as he pushed through the exit door.
He returned quickly with the cuffs and Ed Wells. "I thought we might need him," Jim said as he got the janitor securely restrained.
Ed looked at the wall and noticed the big wet splotch the mop had caused. "Say, Reed, when you nabbed this joker did a word like pow or bam appear there?"
Before Jim could reply, Mr. Durbin came out of his office. "I finally found the employee list… Oh my, what have we here?"
"Mr. Durbin, do you recognize this man?" Pete asked.
"I suppose he's one of the cleaning staff. I've never seen him before. The roster indicates a Paul Wilson is scheduled to clean this evening."
"Are you Paul Wilson?" Jim asked the janitor.
"Just like the man said," Paul Wilson sneered.
"Ed," Pete instructed, "Find a phone and call the station. Have them send a unit out and ask them to run a check on a Mr. Paul Wilson."
"Right, Malloy. Will do," Ed said, shouldering Paul Wilson slightly as he stepped passed. "Watch it. Make a path," Ed directed.
Pete grinned to himself, finding it hard to take Ed serious in his little Peter Pan suit.
A few moments later, Los Angeles police officer Juan Sanchez and his rookie partner, Felix Lambourne, approached. "Got a pick up for us, Pete?" Juan asked, eyeing the suspect.
"Lambourne, why don't you escort Mr. Wilson to the car? I'll meet you there." Sanchez instructed his partner.
"You come up with anything on Paul Wilson when you ran the check?" Pete asked.
"You mean, Paul Wilson also known as Paul Pockets, also known as Paulie Fingers, also known as Paulo Pick, also known as…"
"I get the picture. Pick pocket, huh?"
"Yeah. Well, I guess I'll go rescue the rookie. Good kid, but he's still gets a little nervous if I'm gone too long."
"Not a problem. Enjoy your evening." Juan gave a quick salute. He walked about half way to the exit door and turned. "Jim." He yanked his head slightly gesturing for Jim to join him.
As Jim came up beside him, Juan asked under his breath, "Peter Pan?"
"Thought so." Juan continued up the hall shaking his head.
"What happened? How'd you figure this one, Pete?" Jim asked as he joined Pete outside the manager's office.
"I noticed these sticking out of Wilson's pants pocket." Pete held out his hand, dangling a string of pearls from his index finger. "I figured June Cleaver could pull off mopping in pearls, but not Paul Wilson."
"Good job, partner."
"Thank you, Caped Crusader. Now we need to see if he stashed anything anywhere. I think I saw a janitor's closet around the corner. Lets check it out."
Jim opened the closet door, practically tripping over an abandoned Batman costume. "All the pieces are falling in place. Looks like he's definitely our man. I just hope we can find Jean's bracelet."
"Hope no more. Take a look at this," Pete said peering down into an old metal toolbox.
Jim stepped over to look into the box. "Here's Jean's bracelet, along with other pieces of expensive jewelry. There's a couple of money clips in here and several wallets. Can you believe all this stuff, Pete?"
As Pete stared at the pile Paul Wilson had accumulated, a strange look suddenly passed over his face. He rubbed his chin, but said nothing.
"Anything wrong, Pete?" Jim questioned.
"Uh, no." Pete shook his head. "Well, actually yeah. I think that's my wallet." Pete pointed at a leather tri-fold." He checked his back pocket, confirming that his wallet was missing. "How embarrassing."
"Don't sweat it, Pete. It could happen to any of us."
"Yeah, Jim, but I'm a cop. I'm a professional."
"Hey, pick pockets are professionals too. And, at least this time we came out on the winning end of the deal. You know, cops, one--pick pockets, zero," Jim consoled.
"I guess you're right. But let's not announce this little incident at roll call," Pete suggested.
"You got it, partner," Jim agreed.
"Don't forget, we've got to go to the station and file a report tonight," Pete reminded.
"Yeah, but let's go find the girls first and give them the good news."
As they approached the table, Jean looked up anxiously. "Jim, are you okay? Ed told us you arrested someone."
"Yes, we're fine. We found your bracelet."
"Oh Jim, thank goodness. I thought it was lost forever."
"Well, everything's fine now. But the bad new is, Pete and I haven't been much fun tonight and its only going to get worse. We have to go to the station and write up a report."
"Tonight?" Judy looked at Pete.
"Listen, Pete, we can take Judy and Jean home while you and Jim go on to the station." Ed offered.
"Oh no, Ed. We couldn't impose like that. It's your anniversary," Judy objected.
"No imposition at all. We insist." Ed held up his hand in protest.
"Thanks, Ed. That'd be a big help. The sooner we can get to the station, the sooner we can get home. You ready to go, Pete?" Jim asked.
Pete nodded and winked at Judy. "I'll call you tomorrow."
Jim kissed Jean. "Don't wait up," he said, even though he knew she would.
Two hours later, Jim walked into his living room. The television droned quietly in the background. Jean slept on the couch. She sat up and stretched. "Sorry, I must have fallen asleep. I tried to wait for you," she yawned.
"Let's go to bed." Jim reached for her hand, pulling her up off the couch.
Jim helped his still half-asleep wife down the hall. Just outside the bedroom Jean stopped. "Where is it?"
"Where's what?" Jim looked around on the floor, thinking she had dropped something.
"My bracelet. I want to put it in my jewelry box before we go to bed."
"Honey, it doesn't work that way. We had to take everything to the station. It all has to be logged as evidence. You knew that, didn't you?"
"I guess so. But I thought maybe you could just stick my bracelet in your pocket and bring it home. Wasn't there enough other evidence?"
"It was just a thought," Jean shrugged and smiled.
"You'll get your bracelet back eventually."
"How long is eventually?"
"Before you know it." Jim's eyebrows danced playfully. "Now, let's go to bed and I'll make you forget all about that bracelet."
Two months later
Jim took the steps two at a time. He whistled as he opened the door. "I'm home," he called.
"You're late," Jean called back.
Jim walked into the kitchen. He kissed Jean on the cheek and swiped a carrot from the pile she had chopped.
"Here." Jim tossed a white box on the counter beside the mound of chopped carrots.
Jean laid her knife aside; she wiped her hands on a towel and picked up the box. "What's this?"
She didn't wait for an answer before opening the box. Inside, she found her bracelet and a matching pair of diamond earrings. "Jim, they're beautiful. But why?"
"Why not?" Jim shrugged.
"It's not a special occasion."
"Everyday's a special occasion when you've got the greatest wife in the world."
"Can we afford them?" Jean asked, holding the sparkling earrings up to the light.
"Let me worry about that."
"I love you," Jean said as she put her arms around him. She thought about the masquerade party two months earlier. "Batman costume or not, you're still my hero," she said, hugging him tighter.