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Reality

Maxwell Smart awoke to find a gray, dismal day. It had been this way for five days now. He stared at it through his window in the bedroom and thought days like this should just be spent in bed with a cup of cocoa and a good book. He had a hard time convincing himself to actually get up and face the day. Another day without 99. When she left, CONTROL had neglected to assign Max a new partner. Actually, they had tried but Max had rejected all of them, claiming they weren't experienced enough or that they put his life in danger. Although CONTROL knew this wasn't the case, nevertheless the handbook states that no one shall work with someone they feel puts lives in danger. Max was happier working alone now anyway. If it wasn't 99 by his side, he didn't want anybody.

She had gone off about six years ago to San Jirman to marry some rich casino owner. Max had followed his instincts and trailed her…it was a good thing he did, because Victor Royale turned out to be one bad egg. After he was behind bars and 99 had the option of having her job back, Max was almost sure she was his. After all, he had come to the rescue and to carry her off into the sunset, and if that isn't admitting your love what is? Obviously something else. She hadn't come back. 99 said she needed some time to think things over. Max could accept that and stayed on the island with her, ever hopeful that one day she would coming running into his arms. But that never happened; instead she had met Harvey Wagner, a prominent business man in the area. He did not live on the island but was there doing some business. When Max first realized his 99 was falling for this guy, he had scrounged Wagner's background, desperately searching for something that could be used against him and show 99 who she should really be with. All Max could find was a great man who deserved 99 every bit as much as he did.

She had told him that day when they went to the little café on the corner together. She had sat down, wearing a lovely flowered dress, and excitedly told him she was soon to be married. In the back of his mind, Max had known that was coming. He wasn't prepared for it, however, and had to excuse himself. He went to the men's room and tried to think of something to say to her to let her know how he felt. No words came. Instead, an overwhelming sense of loneliness and dread swept over him. He had gone back to the table, with the words on his lips, and had just opened his mouth when 99 began to cry. She told him that she loved him dearly in a way only two best friends can understand. She also told him that Harvey made her feel what no man ever had. She knew her leaving CONTROL would be hard for her as well as Max, but assured him she was doing what she wanted. Max himself had fought back tears, knowing full well all that he was losing. He had sat there and taken it, just nodding and feeling more and more lost as the moments went on. Soon it was late and Max had to say goodnight (and goodbye) to the most important woman in his life. He didn't exactly recall what he had said, but it was heartfelt. Something like, “I hope you two are very happy,” or something like that. He had watched her walk off into the moonlight. He had stood there where they had last been together for a long, long time. Just standing and thinking and wishing. Wishing she would come back. Wishing she was his.

Two months later Max had been dismissed from CONTROL. He hadn't seemed to do anything right without his former partner. One too many foul ups and agents needlessly hurt left the Chief no other alternative. He had called Max into his office one day and laid the bomb on him. He tried to put it as gently as possible, knowing Max's delicate state after 99 left, but the damage had been done. Max realized the Chief's attempt to break it to him as gently as possible was sincere and appreciated it beyond belief. But when Max slid his agent ID and his gun across the desk to the Chief, he knew that the best days of his life were over. He couldn't even tell anyone who he used to be. As soon as he walked out of the CONTROL headquarters, Maxwell Smart Agent 86 was considered to have never been, in accordance to their policy of top secrecy. It was done for security measures of course, so no one could prove Max had worked there to use it against him. Still, it made him feel that all his years there were for nothing. Max felt it unfair that all he got for his years of service was a handshake and a pat on the back.

Max had been a teacher at the local high school for a few years after that. He hated every minute of it. Once the class knew how to take advantage of him they would, and it usually only took them a few weeks into the school year to find that weakness. He had worked at least ten hours a day but only got paid for seven of it; what's more, what he received wasn't half of what he had been used to. But, a living was a living and it had to be made. Max was in constant fear that something would happen to him that would cost a lot of money or time. For example, if he had gotten into a car accident, his insurance plan would only pay for half the hospital bills. His insurance company probably wouldn't pay much for the car and Max wouldn't be reimbursed from the lost hours at work. It was this, plus the stress of grading papers and dealing with irate parents that made Max's life a living hell. Finally, about three months ago, Max had been fired for the simple reason of downsizing. They were cutting back in every department, and that included teachers.

He was too old to start a new life but too young to retire. He had nothing to fall back on, career wise, and wasn't about to embark on another teaching job. The little bit of money he'd managed to save was quickly evaporating and Max just couldn't bring himself to find another job. After all, he had been born to be a spy. He lived it. He breathed it. He thought he was going to be doing it until he was old and gray, but life's funny that way. One bad point about being a spy is the lack of interaction with other people. Max didn't have many friends outside the spy gang, and he couldn't associate with them anymore. The few friends he did have were all married and had jobs. Every time Max saw marital bliss he wanted to throw up. That's how he and 99 should have turned out. 99 and him should have been living in this apartment, should have been raising kids and should have been doing marvelously in their work. They should have, but weren't. He hadn't heard a word from 99 in the six years since he last saw her. What's more, even though he was a spy, he hadn't managed to even find out where she was or what she was up to. It was probably from the fact he didn't know her real name, but then again he didn't have a desire to know. Nothing had gone right since San Jirman. He just couldn't focus on anything; his head was plagued with memories of his dear, sweet 99.

Max closed his eyes and immediately fell back asleep...

They were in an underground cave. It was dark. The only light that glowed came from a lone lantern, which hung on the far end of the wall. There was a giant pit in the middle of the room filled with venomous cobras. They were hissing and spitting at Max. On the other side of the pit sat 99, tied to a chair. She was in pain. She was wailing for Max but he was too scared to cross the pit. She was crying and calling for him. Max looked around desperately for some way to get across the pit…maybe for a piece of wood or something he could lay across the top. But there was nothing. He'd have to get in and cross. 99 was yelling something like, “You know what you have to do! Come and get me!” He was scared though…what if he didn't make it? And even then, would she want him? He stood there pondering the pros and cons for what seemed like an eternity. 99 was still calling for him. Suddenly, Harvey Wagner emerged from an entrance on 99's side and untied her. She kissed him gratefully as he carried her out of the dark room. Now it was Max's turn to start wailing! He'd blown it!  

Max sat up with a jolt. Sweat covered his forehead. It had begun to storm outside; the dark clouds and rolling thunder seemed strangely ominous. The dream still rang true in his mind. There was too much symbolism in it to be coincidental. He wiped his brow and got out of bed. Max managed to stumble into the bathroom, running into the side of the door on the way. He turned on the light and gritted his teeth when he saw the sight in front of him. Water was everywhere…covering the floor, the walls, and some of the carpet leading into the bathroom. There was a strong trickle coming from inside his cabinet under the sink. To his horror, when he opened the cabinet door, he saw gushing water coming from a broken pipe. Great. His pipes had burst, due to the recent cold weather no doubt. That means he wouldn't have water anywhere in the house…well, water where it was supposed to be anyway. That means he couldn't brush his teeth, or go to the bathroom or even have any coffee. Who knows how long the water had been running like this? Maybe hours. Max slammed his fist down on the counter top. Why today, of all days? Max got back down on the wet floor and, after a considerable amount of struggling, turned the water to his apartment off. He was soaking now and in a very sour mood. There were no dry towels left so he had to dry off with extra pair of pants and dress in his room. The only tie he had that wasn't being cleaned was, of course, on the floor in the bathroom. Max ringed it out as best he could and put it on. He really regretted not having the ability to make coffee. Even more he regretted not being able to brush his teeth. And even worse yet was the fact he'd have to wait until he got to a store to go to the bathroom!

Sighing, he realized he was out of food and needed to go for a little grocery shopping. He had mostly been trying to survive on ready made food that was in a can…the real food was expensive! He closed the door to his apartment and locked it.

“Smart! There you are! Where the hell is the rent for this month?!” screeched Martha Bonepicker, Max's landlord. She was dressed in a tattered pink (or what used to be pink) bathrobe and wearing curlers. Her wrinkled face was twisted into a sneer that nearly knocked Max out.

“What are you talking about? I gave you the rent two weeks ago!” Max protested.

“Well! That's a surprise, seeing as I didn't get no rent money from you!” she bellowed.

“Mrs. Bonepricker-“

“Bonepicker!”

Bonepicker, I paid you already. I dropped it in your mail box two weeks ago!” Max cried, beginning to get red in the face. Why was this old woman in charge of rent? She was nothing but a nuisance. Whenever anything went wrong with Max's apartment he was the one paying for it. Half the time he didn't understand why he had to pay so much in rent in the first place.

“Are you deaf? Hello? Are you deaf? I said, I didn't get your money!”

“And I said I paid you!” he screamed.

Don't get an attitude with me Smart! You either write me a check this instant or there's going to be a notice of eviction on that door when you get home tonight!” she threatened loudly.

Max felt like screaming. He had dropped the check off in the mailbox! Even Mrs. Bonepicker's kid had seen him drop it off! Mrs. Bonepicker's kid, Max thought with dismay. Mrs. Bonepicker's kid is a kleptomaniac, the little delinquent must have stolen my rent money! “Are you sure you've looked everywhere? On the floor, in your desk? In your son's room?”

Mrs. Bonepicker's face fell. “And what the hell do you mean by that?” she demanded darkly. “I'll have you know Mark is doing exceptional in his rehabilitation class. There's no way my little angel took your dirty check.” The look on her face was both hurt and dangerous. She would make him pay for that one. “And I can't believe a man of your age would even suggest that a innocent teenager stole your rent, when you know very well you are just a cheap bastard!”

Max closed his eyes and tried to distance himself from what was happening. The truth is he was about the break down in tears. All of this, plus this morning events and the memories of his dear 99 that plagued him constantly was enough to make Max want to go off the deep end. “All I'm saying is-“

“I don't care what you're saying! I want a check, right here right now! You leave this building without paying me and I swear to God you'll never see the inside of that apartment again!” she said coldly. Max was about to fight back, but the fight within him was gone.

“Mrs. Bonepicker, you know I've never been late in a payment. But the pipe burst in my apartment this morning and if I give you a second rent check I won't have enough to cover the cost of replacing it,” he explained. She shook her head.

“I don't care! I want my money!”

You're supposed to pay for repairs, you know.” Max pointed out.

“I don't care about that either. Smart, you give me my money or get out. I'm through.” Max stared at her a moment, then sighed in defeat. Wearily, he took out his battered checkbook and wrote her another check.

“Ok, ok. You win,” he muttered gloomily. Mrs. Bonepicker looked satisfied.

“That's right! Mess with Martha Bonepicker and you're gonna get burned! That'll teach you to try to pull a fast one on me!” she taunted, grabbing the check greedily from Max. She sauntered away.

Max felt like he'd been run over by a train and it wasn't even nine o'clock. He picked himself up and made his way out to his car.

He parked in the front and shut and locked the door to his car. He happened to glance over at an Al Fresco restaurant across the street. A woman dressed in blue sat at one of the tables, sipping something from a coffee cup. Immediately Max was reminded of 99, but didn't think twice about it. He kept walking.

To his surprise, Max couldn't get over the woman in the restaurant once inside the store. He bumped into three people all in the time frame of about two minutes. They shot him annoyed glances, but he was too preoccupied with the vision in his head. Could it be? Could 99 really be back in Washington? Maybe she had come back for him! Max shook his head; no, it was impossible. Why should she want him when she had her millionaire husband? Plus, she was probably hundreds of miles away on some beach, lounging in the sun while a servant brought her a cold drink. Max admitted he probably would have never been able to give her that kind of life, the kind of life she deserved. But hope springs eternal, and he found himself lost in a daydream about meeting her…

He paid for his meager meals and dropped them off in his car. Although the Al Fresco restaurant was way out of his league price wise, he was willing to pay to be next to a woman who looked like his 99. He motioned for the waiter to sit him directly across from the woman in blue; not only so he could see her but she could see him. After he sat down, he opened the menu but took a good hard look at her.

She had a hat on and he couldn't tell. It very well might have been; it was the spitting image of 99.

“What would you like, sir?” a snooty young waiter asked him. Max was still busy checking out the woman in blue.

“Um…club sandwich and iced tea, please. And that's it,” he said off-handedly. The waiter nodded and left his table. The lady looked over at Max a few times, which caused him to stir. He had to pretend he wasn't watching her; after all, she could be out to get him! You never knew when you were going to run into a former KAOS agent full of resentment. His meal came a moment later. He ate it slowly and tried to get up the nerve and go over to talk to her. If it was 99, he'd love to at least say hello. If not, it could be blamed on a simple mistake and forgotten about.

Stealthily, Max moved to the next table where the lady in blue sat. She looked a bit surprised.

“Yes?” she asked.

“What do the numbers 99 mean to you?” he asked earnestly. That had always been their code on mission, to know if it was really the other one or not. The woman looked perplexed.

“Um, it's the number before 100?”

“Have you ever been to the island of San Jirman?” he whispered fiercely. The woman was completely bewildered by this time.

“Um, no, say who are you?” She took off her hat, and it didn't take a half-second to realize this was not his 99 after all. He cleared his throat, embarrassed, and smiled.

“I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else,” he said, a bit sadly. The woman shrugged.

“It's ok. It happens.” Max nodded and made his way back to his table. So 99 probably was lying on a beach somewhere. He was a fool to think she'd ever come back to a swamp like Washington anyway. The waiter brought him the tab a moment later, and Max was shocked to find that sandwich and his drink rounded out to be about $30! Sighing, he fished out the little cash he had, set it on the table, and left before they realized it wasn't half of what the tab demanded.

He trudged back to his car, feeling defeated. Every day for the last six years had been exhausting. Now that his fantasy and dream had been smashed to pieces for the last time, he was completely beaten to the floor with the thought of his current situation. He was too old to start over but too young to retire. 99 was on a beach with her millionaire husband. The pipes burst at home. He had no job. He had no money. Max turned on the car and started for home. He hated reality.