Stetson's Last Stand
By: Dix



 

Francine Desmond collapsed onto the sofa in the office of the Agency’s recently appointed Director for Domestic Affairs.  The news she had just received was a pretty fair indication that this Monday was going to more than make up for the positively delightful weekend she’d had.

“Billy, you can’t ask me to do this!”  She surged off the sofa and leaned across Billy Melrose’s desk, meeting his intense gaze.  “I don’t like children, Billy.  Find someone else.”

“Francine . . .” Billy drew out her name in warning.

“Why are you even doing this to me?” Francine continued.  “Lee’s the field section chief.  This sounds more like a job for his department than for Internal Affairs.  Why are you sidestepping him on this?”

“Francine, calm down!” Billy stood and, never losing eye contact, reached for a package of Tums on his desk and popped three into his mouth.  Francine glared at him, but settled into one of the chairs facing his desk.

“That’s better.” Billy smiled tightly and took his seat.  “This does have the potential to concern you beloved people in Internal Affairs.  The Castle in the Air daycare center looks after the children of seven of our agents, Francine.”  Billy’s voice was measured and intense.  “They also care for the kids of five CIA employees, three Secret Service agents, and two congressional aides.  If security there has been breached, the possibility for US concerns to be jeopardized is enormous.”

“I understand that, Billy.  I was on the team that refurbished their security systems a couple of years ago.  But I’m not a good choice to go undercover there.  You need someone like Amanda to do it.  Come on, Billy, even Lee would do a better job than I can.  I -- don’t – like -- kids.”  She punctuated her final words by pounding her fist lightly on his desk.

“Yes, I know how you feel, Francine,” Billy sighed.  “But Lee or Amanda or, frankly, any other agent more well suited to this assignment, would be recognized.”

“Recognized by whom?  Just who do we think has infiltrated the place?”

“Recognized by their son, Francine.  Lee’s son is one of the children who attends Castle in the Air.  I’d like this settled before any of the parents involved are even aware of the problem, especially Lee.”

“Kids in general aren’t bad enough?” Francine hissed.  “You’re sending me in with that demon-child of theirs?”

“Teddy’s a nice kid, Francine,” Billy offered soothingly.

“Oh, no!  I had dinner at their house one night and all that kid did was scream.  He didn’t even stop for a breath.  And they just sat there, eating dinner, like it was perfectly normal.  It was eerie, Billy.  Eerie, I tell you.”  Francine drew a deep breath following her outburst.  “I haven’t been back there since.”

“Oh really?  He’s always pretty well behaved when they come visit us.”  Billy stared at her quizzically.  “You just have to get in touch with your ‘inner child,’ Francine.”  He smiled at her frustrated, but resigned, expression.

“Oh, give me a break, Billy.  I’ll do it, but you’re going to owe me a big, big favor, my friend.”

~~~~~//~~~~~

 

The following Wednesday, Lee Stetson shivered slightly as his pager vibrated against his waist.  Recognizing the number that it displayed, he motioned his administrative assistant out the door and pushed his daily stack of paperwork to the side of his desk.  He reached for the telephone and responded to the page with a small amount of trepidation.

“Castle in the Air Daycare,” a pleasant, but rather harried female voice answered on the second ring.

“This is Lee Steadman,” Lee began, “I received a page.  Is there a problem?”

“Oh, Mr. Steadman, thank goodness!” The voice at the other end of the line exuded relief.  “I tried to contact Mrs. Steadman.  I left her a message, but she hasn’t responded yet, and, well . . .”

“My wife is in a very important conference right now,” Lee interrupted her as he glanced at the clock on the wall.  He smiled to himself as he pictured Amanda drilling raw recruits in the Agency’s new ‘Creative Weaponry’ class.  “What can I do for you?  Is anything wrong?”

“Well . . .” the woman sighed heavily, drawing out the word.  “Not wrong, exactly.  Teddy’s not hurt,” she added quickly.  Lee relaxed slightly in his chair at her hurried assurance.  “It’s just that Teddy is proving to be a bit more of a discipline challenge today than usual, Mr. Steadman.  Generally when this happens, Mrs. Steadman will come down and have a few words with him.” 

“Oh, well,” Lee paused, drawing out his words thoughtfully.  He couldn’t remember if Amanda had ever mentioned those visits.  “I guess I could come down and talk to him.  He certainly can be a handful sometimes.”

“A handful, yes, sir,” she replied diplomatically.  “That’s certainly an apt way to describe Teddy.

~~~~~//~~~~~

 

“The important thing to remember, Frances,” Elsa Nance told Francine as they toured the daycare center, “is that every child here is a potential national security risk.  Their parents are all government employees; many of them are federal agents.  We even have a few ‘James Bond’ types.”

“Really?” Francine replied ingenuously.

“Yes,” Elsa continued, “the parents almost all use pseudonyms and we only know the first names of the children – or in many cases only a nickname.  We have a state of the art security system . . .”

“Is that a fact?” Francine appeared genuinely intrigued.  She began to think that it might be interesting to actually meet the people using this system she had helped to design.  Other agents had handled training the staff; her involvement had been strictly behind the scenes.  Unfortunately, this time she was definitely going to have to meet the children here as well, and that would be far less fascinating.

“ . . . And here’s where you’ll be working today, Frances,” Elsa said cheerfully as she directed her to a bright red door.  “The older toddlers are in here . . .”

The cacophony that assaulted the two women as the door opened prevented any further speech.  In the near corner of the large playroom, two small girls struggled over possession of a doll – rather loudly.  At the short, round table in the center several children attempted to play a variety of wooden and tin musical instruments.  Francine found their output only slightly less unnerving than that of the red-headed boy to one side who gleefully stacked three wooden blocks on top of one another and then dashed them apart with a fourth – repeatedly.  She looked up to the window on the other side of the table to see two children crying inconsolably. 

“Oh,” Francine drew the word out in singsong fashion, “they’re all so sweet.”  She struggled to ensure that her facial expression matched her words.  “Why are all the other aides gathered in that corner?” she added, pointing to the far side of the room.

Elsa’s rapidly pasted on smile gave Francine a chill.  “That’s just a small discipline problem we have from time to time.”  Elsa waved the situation off and turned to settle the squabble over the doll.  “It’s nothing for you to worry about just yet,” she tossed over her shoulder.

Francine winced and continued to stare at the line of three women who were squatting down, facing the corner, evidently pleading with someone between them and the wall.  Intrigued, she approached the small group.  Huddled against the wall was a tow headed three year-old boy, fiercely clutching a box to his chest.  Periodically he would kick a large cardboard brick toward the line of women that faced him.  The bricks formed a rough circle separating the two parties. 

As Francine watched, leaning slightly over the back of one child care worker, the boy thrust one hand into the box and emerged with a small animal shaped cracker.  He held the cracker in the air and shouted to his adult audience.  “Mine!”  With that he stuffed his treat into his mouth.  Upon closer inspection, Francine noticed the remains of many such crackers spread across the boy’s face and on the toys and carpet around him.

One of the three women reached to take the box from the toddler’s grasp.  He clutched it still more tightly and pursed his lips together.  After inhaling deeply he spewed bits and pieces of moistened crackers at the adults.  “Mine! Mine!” he shouted around the sticky crumbs falling from his lips.

“Now, Teddy . . .” one of the women began.

“Oh, this is just great!” Francine interjected, wiping a glob of brownish paste from her cheek.  She stared at the boy before her more closely and decided he definitely had Lee Stetson’s nose.  With a silent vow to insure that Billy Melrose pay dearly for this assignment, she shook her hand warningly at Teddy.  “Now you see here, young man!” she sputtered.

Teddy stared at the new arrival quizzically for a moment and then laughed.  He turned to the right and kicked another of the cardboard bricks between the line of aides; it impacted with Francine’s left shoe.

Francine narrowed her eyes at Lee’s progeny and quickly kicked the brick back to him.  Teddy giggled and hurled one of his crackers through the air.  The small bear-shaped cracker caught in Francine’s feathered hair, although its weight was so slight she failed to notice.  She squinted further and loomed over the boy.

The trio of child care workers abandoned Francine for the relative safety of a group of children finger-painting at the other end of the room.  Teddy backed into the corner two short paces and gripped his box of crackers fiercely with one hand.  With the other he rapidly tossed three more light brown bear-shaped crackers at Francine.  Two lodged in her hair and the third struck her in the eye.  She swatted absently at her golden locks, but only managed to settle the crackers more firmly.  Teddy kicked another large building brick.  It connected solidly with Francine’s stomach.

“Why, you little . . .” she gasped.

The red-haired boy who had been demolishing block towers spotted one of the ursine crackers on the floor and tossed it in the general direction of Teddy’s corner.

“Hey!” Teddy and Francine shouted in unison, surprised at the interloper. 

The redhead giggled and scrambled toward them, looking for more crackers.  He toddled toward the corner, alternately eating and throwing crackers, sometimes at Teddy, sometimes at Francine.  By the time he reached Teddy’s side, several other children had become aware of the activity at one end of the room.  Before long, paper cups, blocks, stuffed animals, and rubber balls joined the crackers flying through the air.

The three young aides huddled against the wall, aghast.  Elsa Nance turned from settling the argument over the doll and quickly made her way out the door and toward her office.  She had learned very quickly that a well-placed phone call was the only way to calm down ‘Teddy the Terror,’ as the staff had dubbed him.

~~~~~//~~~~~

“Please believe me, Mr. Steadman,” Elsa Nance implored as she and Lee made their way down the hall, “we’re usually able to head these things off a bit sooner.  But we have a couple of new people on staff, and, well . . . they’re just not used to Teddy’s . . . exuberance.”

“Exuberance?” Lee queried wryly.  He reached for the doorknob that Ms. Nance indicated and pulled the bright red door open.

“What the sam hill?” he exclaimed, viewing the chaos in the brightly colored playroom. 

He could see Teddy in one corner, grasping a box of his favorite crackers to his chest.  Another identical box sat on the floor near his son’s feet – ‘Teddy’s special crackers,’ Amanda called them, the brand she always took into the daycare center for him to share with his playmates.  Today, however, Teddy had taken ‘sharing’ to a new height.  The small graham crackers were flying through the air, periodically striking walls, pint-sized furniture, small children, and one extremely frazzled blonde woman.  Lee did a double take as his eyes fell upon the blonde; the woman looked remarkably like Francine.  She was hunched behind an upturned table, hurling crackers back at Teddy and his carrot-topped sidekick.

“Mr. Steadman, really, it’s not usually like this,” Elsa continued.

“Ms. Nance,” Lee replied as he turned to regard the teacher, “I live with Teddy; I know how he can be.”  His eyes drifted toward his son again and he smiled with paternal pride.  “But he sure does have lots of potential.  He’s got a great arm, doesn’t he?”

Elsa nodded absently and attempted to quiet some of the children closest to her.

Lee rounded the table-cum-shield and stared openly at the blonde woman.  “Francine?” he whispered incredulously.

“Don’t even talk to me!” she replied with an equally intense whisper.  She slouched against the overturned table and ran one hand over her graham cracker splattered coiffure.  She pulled her hand away in disgust.  “You’ll pay for this, Lee, you and Billy both.  We’ll just see what happens the next time your security review comes up!”  She shook her hand free of the moist cracker paste and turned to peek over the edge of the table at her adversary.

Teddy now knelt calmly on the floor, endeavoring to open the second box of ‘Teddy Grahams’ – his special crackers.  His tower-building accomplice continued to return fire against the rest of the class with the broken and discarded pieces of cracker that littered the floor.

Lee shook his head in confusion, both at Francine’s uncharacteristic presence and her vehemence.  He stepped lightly through the toys, chairs, and crumbs scattered across the floor, vainly trying to dodge the bits of cracker crumbs, wet and dry, that came his way.  He soon sat on the floor next to Teddy and brushed bits of graham cracker from his lapels and shoulders.

“Need some help?” he asked the boy.

“It’s stuck,” Teddy lisped in reply.

Lee reached to take the box from him.

“Me do it.  Me do it!” Teddy chanted insistently.

“Suit yourself.” Lee shrugged and began to idly stack the cardboard bricks into a wall four layers high.  He glanced sidelong at his son struggling with the glued down boxtop. 

With a frustrated sigh, Teddy ceased fighting the box and laid it carefully on the floor.  He looked solemnly at his father and counted, “One . . .Two . . .Three!”  He jumped on the box, crushing the cardboard and busting open the plastic bag inside.  Bear-shaped graham crackers shot from around Teddy’s feet.

Lee chuckled at Teddy’s solution and peered over the top of his impromptu fortification.  He could just see Francine’s forehead descending below the edge of the table.  Scooping up a handful of Teddy’s graham crackers that had landed on the top of the wall, Lee pursed his lips in thought and shrugged once more.  Taking practiced aim, he flung a cracker right into the center of Francine’s brow.

She raised her head above the table’s edge and glared.  Expecting to find her three-foot tall tormentor, she was shocked to see Lee targeting her once more.  She turned in a huff and ducked, scanning the floor for ammunition.  Just before her head cleared the table, Lee tagged her twice near the ear.  She arose and quickly pelted him with the pieces of cracker she had found on the floor around her.  In her surprise and frustration, she hurled the crumbs at him by the handful.

“Oh, ho, ho!” Lee chortled, raising his eyebrows in challenge.

“Go, Daddy!” Teddy cried, standing on top of a lone cardboard brick.  The tattered cracker box hung from his right hand.  With his left he reached into the box and pulled out crackers, throwing them alternately at Francine and the other children. 

Lee concentrated his barrage on Francine, pausing to show Teddy and his friend how to duck behind the wall to avoid being hit.  He rose again and flung a moistened cracker that Teddy had handed him.  The cracker sailed past Francine’s position and hit the brunette who had just walked through the bright red door.

“Amanda . . .” Lee sighed with chagrin.

“What’s going on in here?” Amanda asked.  She glanced from Lee, already poised for another shot, to Francine, huddled behind the table, to Elsa Nance, who remained on the other side of the room watching the battle in mixed amusement and horror.  Amanda shifted the squirming bundle she held in her arms and wiped the pasty substance from her eyelid.  She wanted a clear line of sight to glare at her crumb-splattered husband.

“What are you doing here?” Francine demanded.

“What’s . . .what’s that?” Lee’s queried even more bluntly.  He pointed at the blanket wrapped bundle that Amanda held.  Realizing that his pointing hand still held several ‘Teddy Grahams,’ he dropped them sheepishly as Amanda stared him down.

Amanda walked across the toy and cracker strewn room to her husband.  In her wake all activity ceased.  She beckoned Francine to join them.

“This,” she said quietly, “is Kari Schmidt.”  She displayed the gurgling baby.  “Her mommy works at the Agency in research and her daddy is in the Secret Service.”  Amanda’s voice descended to a sing-song pattern as she spoke to Lee and Francine but directed her words at the baby.  “Her daddy was just assigned to protect the President; yes, he was.  And I just came across two very nasty people handing this little darling off in the parking lot; yes, I did.”  Amanda made faces at Kari as she spoke, causing the baby to laugh and Francine to grimace.  Amanda turned to Lee, business-like once more.  “One of them is Nellie Markham, who’s been an aide here since just after Teddy started coming.  I’ve got them tied up in the back parking lot with my jumper cables.  I don’t think that’s gonna hold ‘em for long though.”

“I’ll take care of them,” Francine replied wearily.  “That is supposed to be why I’m here.”  She tossed her head in an attempt to restore her sense of dignity.  As she turned, Teddy peeked around the corner from the edge of the cardboard wall and threw one more cracker, striking Francine squarely on her backside.

“Teddy!” Amanda gasped, shaking her head in disappointment.

Lee chuckled and winked at his son.  “Amanda, you should’ve seen him,” he stated proudly.  “It was a brilliant strategy . . .”

“Yes, I’m sure it was,” she responded, giving both her husband and her son an indulgent smile.  “But it was very bad behavior,” she continued more sternly, taking in the damage they had done.

“Well, Teddy,” Lee said, scooping the boy up in his arms, “I guess next time we’re in the mood for a food fight, we’ll have to have it in our own kitchen, huh? Ya know, if we dunk these graham crackers in milk, I’ll bet they’d get even mushier.  We’ll have to stop and buy some extra milk on the way home.”

“Uh-Huh!” Teddy agreed forcefully. 

Amanda’s eyes widened.  Francine met her gaze questioningly.  “Never happen,” Amanda whispered, her voice barely audible.  She shook her head slightly to emphasize her point.  “No way, never happen.”

Lee grinned at Amanda’s reaction as he held Teddy more tightly.  He glanced from Amanda to Francine, and then gave the boy in his arms a sly wink.

Teddy squirmed in his father’s arms and brought the torn box between them.  Reaching into the plastic and cardboard remains, he retrieved two intact bear-shaped crackers.  He offered one to Lee.  “Here, Daddy, wanna share?”


THE END

*Teddy Grahams are a registered trademark of the Nabisco Company.  
And, I might add, they are quite yummy.  
They do, however, taste much better straight from the box, rather than the floor

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All "Teddy" stories by: Dix.  Screen Captures by: SpencertheCat
Copyright © 2001 by The Teddy Chronicles. All rights reserved.