The Best Laid (Holiday) Plans
by Stacy W
Officer Jim Reed glanced down at his watch. 9:00 p.m. "Man, this day is going slow," he informed his partner.
Pete Malloy brought the patrol car to a stop at the red light and looked over at his younger partner with a quiet snicker. "Looking at your watch every ten minutes won't make it go any faster, partner. What's your hurry, anyway?"
Jim flushed pink. "Um... You see, the quicker today's over, the quicker it will be tomorrow, and then it'll be the next day, when Jean and I are taking Jimmy up to the mountains."
"Ahh." Pete interrupted. How could I have forgotten your big holiday plans? Jean and Jim had rented a cabin owned by a fellow officer up near Lake Tahoe, and they were planning a short Christmas getaway. "Just one more hour, then you can rush home, jump into bed and pull your covers up over your head. It'll be tomorrow before you know it and Santa Claus will come in his sleigh to fly you up to Tahoe," Pete drawled.
Jim fixed his partner with an exasperated glare. "Pete."
Pete laughed. "Is my godson excited about this little trip?"
"Jean's got him excited about seeing snow. Y'know, she actually likes the stuff?" Jim shivered, imagining how cold it would be. "She's planning all these outdoor activities--sledding, a snowball fight, building a snowman. She even wants to go skiing! I'm sure Jimmy's gonna have a great time. Personally, I'm looking forward to lighting up the fireplace and sitting in front of the fire with Jean."
"So, is sitting what they're calling it now?" Pete couldn't resist the opportunity.
Jim glared at his partner again, his face flushing pink. "Pete!"
Pete laughed again. Sometimes, it was just too easy to embarrass Jim. "Well, just remember to take a nice, warm coat. And a hat. And some gloves. Don't want you to get sick. You're crabby when you're sick."
"Yes, mother," Jim grumbled.
The tinny voice of the dispatcher over the radio cut short any reply Pete may have made. "All units in the vicinity and 1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, 211-silent at the camera store, 15th and Figueroa. Respond Code 3."
"Christmas shopping season," Pete muttered, reaching for the switches to activate the lights and sirens.
Further discussion of vacation plans was put on hold as Adam-12 rushed to the scene, arriving just in time to see two men, one carrying a gun and the other a large bag, rush out of the store and jump into a newer green sedan. Jim took note of the car's license plate, then turned his attention to the angry proprietor who had followed the two robbers out of his store.
"Stop them! The two in the green car! They robbed me! Five hundred in cash and four of my best cameras!" the man yelled to Jim.
"We'll do our best," Jim responded to the man while Pete pulled the car back out onto the road in pursuit of the robbers, who were now speeding down the road well over the posted speed limit. The chase continued around several turns, through intersections, and down alleyways for almost ten minutes. Pete kept them close to the suspect, while Jim watched out for traffic and kept dispatch informed of their position. As the suspect pulled a wide left turn across several lanes of traffic into yet another alley, Jim realized where they were heading.
"Pete, is he really going where I think he's going?" Jim asked.
"If you're thinking what I'm thinking, he is. Dumb criminals," Pete replied. "Yep, he is," he added seconds later, as they followed the robbers' car into the back entrance of a parking lot. The driver slammed on the brakes, bringing the car to a screeching halt. The two criminals bailed out of the car and began to run, but quickly stopped as they spotted the numerous police officers aiming guns at them from behind cars.
"Drop the guns. Face down on the ground, arms out at your sides," Sergeant MacDonald's voice boomed through the megaphone.
The two robbers looked around again. They were surrounded by police, most of who had run out of the police station into their parking lot. Seeing they were surrounded, first one and then the second criminal slowly complied with Mac's orders. Jim and Pete hurried forward to handcuff the pair.
"Oh, man, what bad luck." The driver let loose with a string of profanities as Pete hauled him to his feet. "Man, who would have thought we could drive right into a police station..."
"Just goes to show the importance of good planning," Pete informed him. "Now let's go."
Not having to transport the two robbers to the station saved a good deal of time, and since another unit was taking the report from the enraged store owner, Pete and Jim finished their reports quickly. Jim glanced down at his watch again. "Ten minutes left. You think Mac will let us leave early?" he wondered out loud.
"Don't know. Why don't you ask him?" Pete gestured toward their sergeant as Mac approached the two of them.
"Ask him what?" Mac joined the conversation.
Pete smiled. "Oh, big Jimmy here wants to go home early so Santa Claus will come sooner."
Mac looked from Pete to Jim, then down to the reports in his hands, then back up at the two officers. "Y'know, the only time you two ever make sense is in your reports. Go on home." When the two officers stood there looking at him, he repeated his order. "Get out of here. Go!"
"Thanks, Mac." Jim called after Mac's retreating form before he scrambled for the locker room.
Jim sauntered into the locker room carrying a clean uniform over one shoulder, cheerfully whistling "Let it Snow." He stopped whistling long enough to greet his partner. "Hey, Pete. How you doin'?" he asked as he hung the uniform in his locker and began changing clothes. The whistling began again before Pete could reply.
Aware of the odd looks his partner was attracting, Pete spoke up. "You're sure cheerful today, aren't you?"
Jim stopped whistling only long enough to reply. "Yep." He shrugged into his uniform shirt, then resumed the whistling. Only this time, it was "White Christmas."
Pete shook his head. He's hopeless. And I have to ride with him for the next eight hours. He opened his locker and began the process of getting into his uniform.
The whistling stopped as Jim looked in his mirror, finger-combed an errant strand of hair into place, and adjusted his tie to hang straighter before closing his locker. He looked over at Pete. "Hey, partner, you better hurry up and get changed if you're going to get to roll call on time," he commented before resuming his unique version of "White Christmas." The whistling faded away as Jim left the locker room.
Bob Brinkman was the first to speak up after the door closed. "Reed's sure full of Christmas spirits... uh, I mean spirit today," he laughed.
"Too much eggnog," Snyder added from the other side of the room.
Wells was the first to directly address Pete. "Yeah, just what is it with Reed today? He's always been a sap, but this is a little much, even for him."
"Ed," Pete began slowly. "He's excited about taking his son up to Lake Tahoe tomorrow so the kid can enjoy the snow."
Wells snickered. "Jim 'Mr. It's below ninety degrees, time to pull out the winter coat' Reed is taking his kid out in the snow? No way, Pete. Come up with a better story than that."
"Ed, that's the truth. He and Jean rented Sanchez's cabin for a couple of days, and they're gonna take Jimmy up there and let him play in the snow." Pete explained to Ed, and to the other officers. "Now, I'm going to take Reed's advice and get changed so I'm not late to roll." He turned his attention back to getting into his uniform.
By the time the other officers straggled into roll call, Jim was already seated, impatiently tapping his pen against the edge of the table. He spun a chair around for Pete. "Hurry up, partner."
Pete sat down, then reached out and grabbed the pen out of Jim's hand. "Slow down, Reed. Being impatient isn't gonna make this go any faster. Mac's not even here yet."
Jim laughed quietly, then busied himself straightening his notebook. "I know. I'm just kinda anxious to..."
"You're just anxious to go freeze yourself up in the mountains."
"Yeah, I guess," Jim replied with a smile, then turned his attention to the front of the room as Mac and a detective entered.
Fifteen minutes later, Mac had finished his part of the briefing. "...and now, Detective Miller has an alert for you. Miller?"
The detective stood up. "You all know it's getting close to Christmas, and apparently we have a new pickpocket/purse-snatch team taking advantage of the season--Santa and his elf." Jerry Miller paused to let everyone finish laughing. "Okay. Now that you've got that out of your systems, let's be serious here. Apparently, what's happening is a man dressed like, uh, Santa is approaching people. While he has them distracted, his 'elf' picks the victim's pockets or steals the wallet from the victim's purse. The victims don't realize they been hit right away, but yesterday we got lucky--a guy caught the 'elf' going for his wallet. Unfortunately, he couldn't stop them from getting away, but we do have something of a description."
Wells couldn't contain himself any longer. "Don't tell me. Santa's nimble, quick, twinkling eyes, nose like a cherry, belly that wiggles like a bowl full of jelly." Wells and most of the other officers broke out in laughter again, until they saw the look Mac was giving them.
Miller continued. "The Santa is about six feet, 250 pounds, blue eyes. White beard and mustache, probably fake. Wearing red jack... Okay, wearing the standard Santa suit and black boots. The elf..." Miller paused as another round of snickering echoed through the room. "The elf is approximately 5"9', 150 pounds, brown eyes, short brown hair. He was wearing red and blue striped shirt, red tights and green pointy-toed shoes. Also red and green striped hat with a yellow tassel. There may be more than one pair, so keep a close eye on any Santas you see out there today."
"Detective," Wells asked, "You really want us to arrest Santa Claus two days before Christmas? That's gonna be real bad publicity, you know? I can just see the headlines: 'Cops Collar Kris Kringle.'" Wells waved a hand theatrically through the air in front of him.
"Try to be discreet about it, then. But let's get these guys off the streets before they wreck anyone else's holiday, okay?" Miller replied.
Mac wrapped up the briefing. "Okay, that's everything. Now let's get out there." Roll call broke up into a cacophony of chairs squeaking, shoes scuffling against the floor and officers talking quietly to each other as they headed for their vehicles.
"Ma'am, I realize there's only one shopping day left before Christmas, but please watch your speed." Pete handed the woman her driver's license and a speeding ticket for her to sign.
"Humph," she responded. "You wouldn't understand. You probably had all your shopping done last month." She scribbled her name on the appropriate line, then handed the notebook back to Pete.
Pete hid a smile as he thought about his Christmas shopping, hardly even started yet. "Yes, ma'am." He handed the woman her copy of the ticket. "Drive carefully."
With another annoyed humph, the woman drove off at an appropriately slow speed. Pete returned to the patrol car where Jim was waiting.
"Another shopper in a hurry?" Jim asked.
"Yep." Pete lowered himself into the driver's seat of the car, and waited for Jim to sit down so they could get moving again.
Jim cleared them with dispatch and hung the microphone back on its hook. He shook his head. "They should shop early. Jean was finished two weeks ago, and I bought my last present last week. It's a lot less hassle."
"But it's not as much fun. You're missing the crowds and the decorations and the lines of shoppers full of holiday cheer."
"My point exactly," Jim interrupted. "Less hassle."
"Less holiday spirit."
Pete steered the discussion back to more work-related issues. "Speaking of shopping, why don't we swing through the shopping district and see if we can find the pickpocket Santa and his elf?"
"If we find 'em, you arrest Santa, okay?"
"No, I just don't want my kid seeing my picture all over the papers as the cop who arrested Santa Claus. Again."
"My godson, gifted as he is, can't read yet," Pete informed his partner.
"Well, he will be able to, in a few years. And I don't want to have to explain to him why I arrested Santa Claus before I explain that Santa doesn't really exist."
Pete laughed. "Okay. I arrest Santa. I guess it's my turn anyway. But you get his elf." He turned the patrol car toward the main shopping street in their area.
Half an hour later, the two officers had seen more Santas than they thought possible. Jim sighed quietly. "This is crazy. Look at all of them. Every one of them fits Miller's description."
"No elves," Pete added. "We haven't seen any elves yet."
"Yeah, and we also haven't seen any reindeer. Or any sleighs. Just a bunch of dressed-up..."
"Jim, look," Pete interrupted his partner as he slowed the car to a crawl. "Santa and an elf, in front of that bookstore." He gestured toward the right side of the street as he slowly brought the car to a stop.
"Red and blue shirt, red tights, green shoes. You wanna go talk to them?" Jim asked, already reaching for the radio.
"Let's go, partner."
As soon as Jim had informed Dispatch of their location, the two men got out of their car, donning their hats as they stood up, and slowly walked toward the bookstore. Jim saw the 'elf' glance their way, then nervously exchange a glance with 'Santa.' Santa also looked their way then whispered something to his assistant. Jim unconsciously quickened his pace.
"Jim?" Pete asked.
"They're gonna rabbit." Jim told his partner, just a second before the two costumed characters turned around and began running away from the approaching officers.
The two officers pushed their way through the holiday crowd in pursuit of the suspected purse-snatchers. They followed them down the street for a block, then through an alley over to the next street. Heedless of the traffic, Santa and his elf ran across the busy street, followed shortly by Jim and Pete. The two criminals shoved their way through the crowd into another alley, where their luck ran out. That alley was completely blocked by delivery trucks. The two turned to find the pursuing officers right behind them.
"All right," Pete panted. "Against the wall, hands up and away from your body." He kept a hand near his gun, but he didn't want to pull it out. Somehow, pulling a gun on Santa, even a fake Santa, was just too surreal. Besides, it didn't look like it was necessary. The two were surrendering.
Jim walked past Pete to handcuff the 'elf.' "You get Santa, remember?" he reminded his partner.
By the time Pete had 'Santa' handcuffed, Wells and his current partner pulled up to the curb at the end of the alley. Wells sauntered over to where Jim and Pete were standing with their prisoners. "Malloy and Reed. Y'know, you two are attracting quite a crowd." Wells snickered as he pointed back toward the street, where a large group of shoppers had gathered to watch the arrest of the kindly old Christmas elf and his assistant.
Pete grimaced. "Great. Listen, could you two take these guys in for us? It's a long walk to our car, and I don't think we need the, uh, publicity."
"Nu-uh. You arrested Santa, you take him in."
"C'mon Wells," Jim jumped in "We don't want to parade these guys through the street. Think of all the little kids."
Wells looked at the crowd, then raised his hands in defeat. "Okay, okay. We'll do it. But you two owe me big." Wells returned to his car and opened the back door of the car with a flourish. "Gentlemen, your sleigh awaits," he informed the handcuffed holiday crooks.
A minute later Wells' car departed with the two pickpockets and Wells' decidedly unhappy partner in the back seat, and Pete and Jim began the walk back to their car. Leaving the alley, they found their way blocked by an irate five-year-old girl.
"You're a bad person," she informed Pete, her lower lip turned down in a pout. She stamped her little foot, crossed her arms over her chest, and glared at him. "You took Santa Claus away."
Pete looked to Jim for help, but his partner was busy examining the Christmas decorations on the streetlights and coughing strangely. Trying not to laugh, I'll bet. Seeing his partner would be of no assistance, Pete squatted down in front of the child. "Honey, that wasn't Santa," he began, trying to think up something. "That... that was his evil twin brother who was trying to take everyone's presents away. We had to stop him, to make sure the real Santa could get your presents to you. Okay?"
Over their heads, Jim's coughing suddenly turned into outright choking, but the story seemed to appease the little girl. She smiled at him. "Okay."
"Now you be a good little girl so Santa will bring you a present. Can you do that for us?" Pete asked, patting the girl on one shoulder.
The girl nodded, then turned away and ran back to her mother. The two officers resumed their trip back to the car, silent except for Jim's stifled coughs.
Soon they were back in the car with the door closed, and the laughter Jim had worked so hard to restrain broke loose. "Santa's... evil... twin," he gasped between laughs. "That's a good one, Pete. The evil Santa."
Pete tried to glare at his partner, but he was almost laughing too. "Hey, it's the best I could come up with. I don't remember you having a brilliant explanation last year." He started the car up for the trip to the station and the reports waiting for them.
Completing the paperwork from the arrest of Santa and his quick-fingered elf took the better part of an hour. Once they were back on the streets, more holiday shoppers in a hurry filled the next few hours. Speeding between stores in their cars. Fighting over parking places. Verbally, and sometimes physically, assaulting overworked cashiers. After every call, Jim extolled the virtues of shopping early. After today's calls, Pete was almost ready to admit his partner might have a point. Almost. Finally, they were able to stop at a festively decorated local diner for seven.
They briefly reviewed the menu before placing their order and returning the menus to their waitress. "Y'know, I didn't think I was going to be very hungry today," Jim began.
"You? Not hungry? You sick or something?" Pete interrupted.
"No, my neighbor had a big party last night. Every kind of cookie and cake and candy you can imagine."
"And you had to try 'em all."
"Of course I did, Pete. I didn't want to insult anyone."
"That must have been a real tough job, eating all those sweets." And you won't gain an ounce, I'll bet.
Jim looked at his partner, trying to determine if he was being sarcastic or not. "After a while, yeah, it was. I was so stuffed, I didn't think I'd ever want to see food again. But I'm starving now."
"That's my partner, the food processing machine," Pete remarked, then laughed at the glare Jim sent his way.
Soon, the waitress was back with their order: a healthy roast beef sandwich for Pete, and Jim's usual hamburger, fries and milkshake. Pete looked enviously at the sandwich Jim was already scarfing down. It just wasn't fair. Nobody should be able to eat like he did and stay that skinny.
Noticing Pete's stare, Jim put down his burger. "What? Did I drip something down my shirt?" he asked, glancing down at his uniform.
"No, partner, no drips." Pete reassured him. At least, none of the food kind... "I'm just wondering where all that food goes."
"Huh." Jim returned to devouring his hamburger. They'd had that conversation before, usually right after Pete went on a diet. Pete followed his partner's example and began working on his own sandwich, although with less enthusiasm.
Further conversation lapsed as they ate. All too soon, it was time to get back to work. Pete flagged down their waitress, who hurried over to their table with the ticket. The young woman placed their ticket on the table but didn't take her hand off of it.
"Something wrong, miss... Peg?" Pete asked, reading the name embroidered on her apron.
Peg quickly glanced over her shoulder at the other customers, then back to Pete and Jim, then looked down at the table. "I don't know. Maybe. The man in the flannel shirt, at the booth... he's acting strange. I think he might have a gun or something." She looked back up at Pete. "I don't want to make any trouble or anything..."
Jim snuck a glance at the customer in question, then shook his head. He didn't recognize the man.
Pete also glanced at the man. He did look nervous, but not recognizable as any of the escapees and felons they were currently tracking. "Okay, Peg. Thanks. We'll check him out on our way out," he said quietly, as he handed her a couple of bills to cover their meals.
The two officers stood up, donning their hats as they rose. Pete led the way toward the door with Jim just a step behind him. Pete smiled and nodded at the various customers as they neared the man the waitress had pointed out.
"Afternoon, mister..." Pete began. The attack was so sudden, he didn't have a chance to react. As Pete begin speaking, the man grabbed a knife from under his napkin and thrust it forward, catching Pete between several ribs. Pete staggered backward into his partner's arms as the world started to gray out around the edges. He was vaguely aware Jim calling his name from a thousand miles away, and the frightened screams of the diner's other customers as he was lowered to the ground by Jim and someone else. Then the grayness completely took over...
"Pete? Pete!" Jim yelled as Pete gasped and staggered backwards, collapsing limply against him. Jim glanced over at the customer and the bloody knife he was holding. Supporting his partner in his arms, Jim slowly knelt down, lowering Pete to the floor. Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw another customer running toward them. "Doctor," was all he said, as he gently pulled Pete out of Jim's arms and laid him on the floor. Trusting his partner was being taken care of, Jim stood and reached toward his gun, but didn't pull it out of its holster yet. Too many people around, in too small a space. "Drop the knife, now!" he demanded, in his best official voice.
The man didn't seem to get the message. Instead of dropping the knife, he waved it in Jim's direction. "Nuh-uh," he grunted as he moved backwards, toward the door.
"Now! Drop it!" Jim demanded again, taking a few steps forward toward the man.
The man took two more steps back, then stopped. As quick as lightning, he reached into the booth. A little girl's frightened shriek split the air as the man pulled her into the aisle. He moved the knife to an inch in front of the six-year-old's neck. "You drop it, copper. Put down your gun and get face down on the floor. NOW!" he demanded.
Jim glanced from the criminal's angry face, to the little girl's, to her terrified mother, still sitting in the booth. Behind him, he thought he could hear Pete struggling to breathe. He didn't have any real choice here. "Okay. But you let the girl go first."
The criminal shook his head. "Nuh-uh. You first."
Jim slowly removed his revolver from its case on his hip. "Okay. I'm putting the gun down." He slowly squatted down and laid the gun on the floor. "Now let her go."
The knife moved closer to the child's throat, and she whimpered in terror. "Face down on the floor NOW, or she gets hurt, got it, pig?"
Jim nodded. He carefully lay down on the cold tile of the diner's floor, hoping he was doing the right thing.
Over his head, the man was making more demands. "You in the green shirt," he called out. "What's your name?"
"Rob... Robert Callahan," a frightened male voice responded.
"Okay. Robbie, handcuff the cop," he demanded.
Jim heard someone standing up. Seconds later, a young man was kneeling beside him.
"I'm... I'm sorry, officer, but that kid..." the man stammered quietly. "I gotta do what he says, right?"
"Right," Jim whispered. "Just do exactly what he says. Cuffs are in the holder on my left hip."
Rob pulled out the handcuffs, and Jim moved one hand behind his back. "Man, I'm really sorry about this," Rob apologized again as he loosely fastened the cuffs around Jim's wrists.
From over their head, the man made more demands. "Now bring me his gun." When Rob hesitated, he added, "Come on, move it!"
Rob glanced down at Jim, looking for direction.
"Do it," Jim whispered. He watched as the man picked up his discarded gun, walked to the criminal, and held it out to him in shaking hands.
Realizing he couldn't hold the girl, the knife, and the gun, he shoved his young hostage aside into her mother's arms, then quickly grabbed the gun. He looked around the diner. "Stupid cops. Stupid cops. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid..." he muttered. He stopped talking when the front door chimed and a new customer entered.
The customer's happy whistling stopped abruptly as he took in the scene. The criminal aimed Jim's stolen gun in his direction, and the would-be diner ducked back out the door with a shout of alarm as the criminal fired in his direction.
The criminal glanced around the diner again. "Okay, okay, everyone away from the door, move over there, and sit down on the floor," he yelled, pointing the stolen gun to the other end of the small restaurant, away from any means of escape.
Jim saw Rob help the mother and her daughter on their way, gently shepherding them past him. Rob then knelt down next to Jim and helped him to his knees.
"Not him, Robbie. Leave him where he is," the criminal demanded. "I don't want him talkin' with his partner." The man grabbed Rob by the arm and pulled him to his feet, then shoved him toward the other hostages. With the criminal's attention momentarily off of him, Jim struggled the rest of the way to his feet.
He wasn't quite fast enough. The criminal somehow sensed the motion beside him, spun around, and caught Jim on the side of the head with the back of his hand. The forceful blow stunned him, causing the young officer to stumble backward until the back of his head collided with the wall. Unable to catch himself, he slid down the wall into the darkness.
Pete pressed his eyes closed and turned his head away from the sight of his partner's unconscious body, sprawled half-sitting against the wall. He wanted to get up and run to Jim's side, wanted to do anything but lie here bleeding and struggling to breathe.
"Easy. Easy, Officer. Don't move," Doctor Potter ordered him.
Ignoring the man's instructions, Pete tried to roll onto his side and get up. It didn't work. The young doctor kept pressing down on the bleeding stab wound in his side, trying to hold Pete still with his other hand. "Jim... got to help..." Pete gasped.
"Nuh-huh. Officer, you have got to stay still." Potter insisted. "That knife very likely hit a lung, and you're bleeding pretty bad, externally and probably internally too. We have got to keep pressure on that wound, or you're really going to have some problems." The doctor glanced over at Jim. "Listen, if you promise to stay still, I'll try to go check your partner."
"Okay... thanks..." Pete managed to get out between gasps.
At the sound of approaching footsteps, Dr. Potter looked up, and Pete followed his gaze up to the face of the criminal.
"He gonna live?" the man asked as he squatted down facing the doctor on Pete's other side. He was careful to keep one eye and the gun trained on the other hostages behind the two.
"He needs to get to a hospital," the doctor replied.
"Cuff him," he demanded.
Potter stared at the criminal. "I can't do that. He needs to stay flat, so we can keep pressure on this wound. He's not going anywhere.
"That's right. You're not going anywhere." The man looked down at Pete. "Because if you even try, I'll kill you and your partner. Understand, copper?"
Pete nodded slowly as the criminal continued to stare down at him.
"How did you know?" the man finally asked.
"Know… what?" Pete gasped.
"That I was gonna rob the place." At Pete's confused look the suspect continued. "You didn't know, did you? Oh, man, I screwed up. Oh, man, how stupid…"
Pete tried to smirk up at the criminal. "You said it..."
The criminal glared down at him. "Robbie!" he called
Rob separated himself from the small group of hostages. "Yeah, what?"
"Bring that other pig over here. I want everyone in one place."
Rob stared angrily at the criminal. "And what if I don't want to help anymore, huh?"
The criminal stared at him, then pointed the gun into the small crowd of hostages. "Your choice."
Rob glared at the criminal, then stomped over toward Jim. Pete watched with relief as Jim began to stir when Rob knelt beside him. A minute later, Rob helped Jim struggle to his feet, and the two men slowly walked over to Pete and the doctor.
Rob helped Jim sit down on the floor next to Pete before lowering himself down beside the officers. Jim glanced up at the pacing suspect, who was getting more agitated by the second, then back down to his wounded partner. "How ya doin', partner?" he whispered.
"Been... better. You have... a nice nap?" Pete tried to smile between gasps.
Jim returned Pete's small smile. "I'm okay. He just stunned me."
"Jim," Pete whispered. "Listen. This guy's… not real smart… didn't plan this out."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that," Jim whispered back. "He say what he's after?"
Pete didn't get a chance to reply. The criminal heard their whispers, and spun to face them, pointing Jim's borrowed gun at both of them. "You two shut up, or I'll shut both of you up permanently," he hissed at them.
Jim smirked up at him. "Sure thing, mister. Whatever you say," he replied with the cocky smile and attitude Pete had learned was Jim's way of dealing with fear. Reed, sometime, somewhere, some criminal's gonna take offense at that attitude you give them. He'd have to talk to Jim sometime about that.
The criminal glared down at Jim, then glanced over at the other hostages, and ran his free hand through his hair before turning back to Jim. "Y'know, I didn't mean for any of this to happen. Any of it. I just needed some cash. Man, where did things get messed up?" he asked anyone who was listening.
"You could start straightening things out now," Jim's voice broke the silence. "Just put down my gun and let the hostages leave. We'll see you get out of here alive."
"You'll see I get out of here and into jail, that's what you mean, isn't it, pig?" the criminal demanded as he stopped pacing in front of Jim and glared down at the officer. "No, I'm getting out of here on my own." He ran a hand through his hair again. "Money. Need money," he muttered, then turned to face the rest of his hostages. "Everyone give me your wallets now. Jewelry too. And someone open the cash register."
Outside the diner…
"That's him. That's the guy with the gun." Charles Foard pointed to the drawing the sketch artist had just completed based on his description of the man he had seen during his abbreviated trip into the diner.
Sergeant William MacDonald and Detective Jerry Miller both studied the picture. "Doesn't look familiar to me. You recognize him, Mac?" Miller asked.
Mac looked at the drawing again. "No." Just a face. Could be anyone. Prison escapee. Mental patient. Some psycho with a grudge against cops. Your 'normal' everyday criminal. Mac looked away from the picture, across the street to the diner where two of his officers and an unknown number of civilians were trapped by the nameless but no longer faceless criminal.
Foard's words ran through his mind again. 'The one officer--he was laying on the floor, had his hands cuffed behind him. What'd he look like? I don't know. Dark hair. Skinny, I guess. Over across the room, this other officer--he was on the ground, and this doctor-looking fellow was pressing on his chest, and the doc's hands were bloody... Other people? Yeah, uh, there were some other people, at least one little kid, but y'know, I didn't really have time to take a count, I mean, he had a gun...'
Mac looked from the diner down to his watch. SWAT couldn't get here fast enough, not with Malloy possibly seriously injured and Reed unable to help his partner.
The robber passed Jim's hat around among his hostages, demanding each of them contribute their wallets as well as any jewelry to the collection. At his demand, Peg had also emptied the cash register of the day's receipts. It was a smaller amount than the man wanted, to judge by his curses when Peg handed him the bag. He dumped the collected wallets and jewelry into the bag also, then approached Jim, Pete, and Dr. Potter.
"Robbie," he yelled. "Get over here and get me the cops' wallets. And the doctor's too."
Rob glared at the criminal, but complied with his orders. He knelt down in front of Jim. "Officer, I'm sorry."
"Right back pocket." Jim told him, leaning forward to make it easier for Rob to get to his wallet. For once, he was glad regulations had changed and didn't allow him to wear his wedding band anymore. Money I can replace. The ring--that can't be replaced.
Doctor Potter handed over his own wallet while keeping one hand pressed on Pete's wound. With Rob's help, he removed Pete's wallet also. Rob carried the last three wallets to the criminal, who opened each one, apparently checking for cash. As he flipped opened Jim's wallet, Jim saw a pained look cross the man's face. He must've seen Jean and Jimmy's picture. Wonder why it bugged him? Maybe... maybe he's not a psycho or some sort of career criminal. Maybe there's still a way out.
Jim looked down at Pete, now barely conscious, then up at Dr. Potter. "How is he?" he whispered.
The doctor shrugged. "Like I told this guy, he needs to be in a hospital. I can't tell how bad he's bleeding internally, but..." He nodded his head, drawing Jim's attention to his blood-covered hands and the dark stain on Pete's shirt. "He needs help soon."
Jim nodded. I gotta do something...
Suddenly, the criminal snapped the wallet shut. "Okay. You. Officer Reed. On your feet. We're leaving."
Jim struggled to his feet and stepped toward the door, following the gestured instructions of the gun-toting robber. As they neared the door, Jim turned toward the criminal slightly. "Y'know, there's gonna be cops everywhere out there. You should just give it up now, before anyone else gets hurt."
The robber gave him a small push. "I'm bettin' there aren't any cops out there. And if there are, I need you for protection."
"That's not gonna work." Jim paused for a second. I don't wanna die. Not two days before Christmas. Not one day before vacation. "The civilians are their first priority. They'll kill us both, if they have to," he finally continued.
"They won't," the robber insisted. He reached around Jim to open the door. "Out," he demanded, grabbing Jim's arm and shoving him through the doorway.
Jim stepped through the door with the criminal only a half step behind him keeping a firm grasp on his arm. Glancing at the scene, Jim's experienced eyes spotted several snipers hidden on the various buildings. Across the street, Sergeant MacDonald, Detective Miller, and the SWAT commander stood behind Mac's car. A truck from a TV station was parked near Mac's car. The camera crew and a reporter stood nearby, filming the events.
"Give it up mister," Mac's voice boomed through his car's PA system. "Put down the gun and move away from the officer."
"Let me get to my car, and I'll let him go," the man yelled.
"No deal," Mac responded. "Drop your weapon, now!"
The man looked around, taking in the scene--the officers, the camera crew, the... Suddenly, the grip on Jim's arm tightened. "Snipers!" Jim heard the criminal whisper in a panicked voice. He stepped backward, dragging Jim back into the diner with him. The door swung shut behind them.
"Oh, man. Oh, man, you were right," the man muttered. "Okay, okay. You turn around and sit down, back against the door," he ordered Jim.
Jim turned around slowly. Glancing around the diner, he noticed most of the hostages had escaped, probably out the back door. Only Pete, Dr. Potter, and Rob remained. Good. I think. He backed up until his back was against the door, then slid down until he was sitting on the floor.
The criminal was too busy watching Jim to notice his hostages had fled. He also sank down to the floor across from Jim, careful to keep the gun aimed at the officer.
"You got a family, right? I saw that picture in your wallet."
Jim just stared at the criminal, not willing to admit to anything right now. He noticed the man was sweating, and the hands holding his gun were shaking. Wonder if he's a druggie, coming down off a high?
The man blew out a big breath. "Y'know, all I wanted to do was give my kids one good Christmas." He ran one had through his hair, and sighed again. The other hand kept the gun leveled at Reed. "I've made such a mess of things. I was gonna use this money to give my kids a Christmas they'd remember, then I was gonna disappear. Forever." He pulled his own wallet out of his pocket, opened it, and slid it across the floor. "That's my family in that picture."
Jim looked down at the open wallet. The driver's license showing on one side of the wallet identified the criminal as a Jeffrey Kendall, age 25. A picture on the other side of the wallet showed a pretty blonde woman and two towheaded children, a girl and a boy, maybe three and four years old. "Nice family," Jim commented. "Y'know, Mr. Kendall, if you'd put the gun down and uncuff me, I could get you out of here so you could see them again."
"They don't want to see me. To them, I just a loser, drugged-out drunk who can't keep a job," Kendall remarked, lowering his head. "I can't even pull off a robbery right." He sighed "You want to know what I was gonna do with the money? I was gonna buy a real tree, and some decorations, and a bunch of presents. Do the whole Christmas thing. Then, the next day, I was gonna go 'accidentally' drive my car off a cliff. Maybe they'd get some insurance money, too." Kendall tightened his grip on the gun and looked up at Jim with an angry glare. "You stupid cops messed up that entire plan, you know? Now I won't even get to see them again." He raised the gun in unsteady hands, trying to aim it at Jim.
Jim took a deep breath, trying to calm his racing heart. "Look, Jeff, you don't want to do this. You shoot me, you're not leaving here alive. Especially now that your other hostages are gone."
Kendall looked over at the mostly-empty area where the hostages had been. "So? My life's over anyway. Sandy and the kids will never want to see me again anyway."
"You don't know that." Although if I were Sandy, I sure wouldn't let you around my kids… "Besides, I'm sure Sandy wouldn't want you wrecking Christmas for your kids like you're about to." He paused. "Getting yourself killed now or killin' yourself right after Christmas would destroy the holiday. You don't want to ruin Christmas like that for your kids, do you?"
Kendall looked down at the gun in his hands, the anger suddenly replaced by despair. "I guess not. But I'll be in jail."
"You'll be alive. That's more important to them." Jim pushed Kendall's wallet back toward him with his foot. In the background, they heard Mac's voice booming over the PA system again, demanding the man give up.
The woman and the two kids smiled up at Kendall from the photograph. He glanced from the photo to the sack of cash and jewelry sitting beside the wallet, then back to the portrait. Slowly, he lowered the gun to the ground. "I'm sorry, Sandy. I screwed up again," he whispered to the picture, then looked up at Jim and slid the gun across the floor. "Okay. I wanna give up."
From the command post across the street, Sergeant MacDonald, the SWAT commander, and Detective Miller watched as the diner door slowly opened. The sergeant glanced at the other officers, then lowered the microphone as the three silently waited to see what was happening.
Jim stepped into the doorway first, hands still cuffed behind him. The criminal, hands in the air, followed Jim out the door.
Mac and the other officers exchanged a glance. What was going on here?
"Hold your fire, Mac," Jim called out. "He wants to surrender."
The SWAT commander picked up his radio. "All units, hold fire," he spoke into the radio, then nodded to Mac.
Mac raised the microphone. "Okay. Both of you move forward slowly, away from the door." He watched as Jim and the unknown criminal complied. "Okay. That's far enough. Now get down on the ground, arms out away from your body," he ordered.
Jim stood statue-still as Kendall slowly lay down on the ground behind him, following Mac's commands to the letter. Mac gestured to his other officers, and Woods, Wells and Brinkman rushed forward to arrest the criminal. Mac followed closely after the three officers. Wells and Brinkman stopped to take custody of the suspect, while Woods kept going into the diner.
Mac stopped beside Jim and gently grabbed his arm. "Reed, you okay?" he asked.
"Yeah, Mac. I'm fine, but Pete needs help." Jim looked back at the diner, seeing Woods standing in the doorway, summoning the ambulance crew.
"We're taking care of him. Don't worry." Mac pulled out his handcuff key and began unlocking the cuffs binding Jim's wrists. "Let's get these off of you."
Jim shook his hands as soon as Mac had released the cuffs, trying to get the circulation back. He reached up to touch the back of his head, which was still hurting from where he had impacted the wall.
Mac noticed the gesture. "You sure you're okay?" He reached up and turned Jim's head around until he could see the angry bruise on the side of Jim's face. "Reed, you're going to the hospital with your partner."
"Mac, it's not that bad..."
"Reed, you are going to get checked out. You would've gone the hospital anyway to watch out for Malloy, right?" Mac grabbed Jim by the arm and guided him toward the ambulance. He had just settled Jim on the ambulance's bumper when the diner's door opened. Mac held Jim down when he tried to stand up, then followed the young officer's stare to the door. An ambulance attendant was emerging, pulling the foot of a gurney behind him. Doctor Potter maintained his presence at Pete's side, while Woods and the second attendant followed. Mac sucked in a quick breath. Pete looked terrible--almost as white as the gurney's sheets. The oxygen mask they had put on his face didn't help his appearance at all.
Jim stood when the small party neared the back of the ambulance and approached his partner. "Hey, partner," Jim began, trying to work up a smile.
"Hey…" Pete whispered back. "You okay?"
"Sure. Just a little bump on the head. Doesn't hurt at all," Jim lied, "but Mac's makin' me go see a doctor anyway."
"Smart man," Pete agreed with his supervisor. "Hey, Woods says it's a four?"
"It's a four." Jim stepped back, and the ambulance attendants loaded Pete into the vehicle for the trip to the hospital.
December 25, Christmas Day
Pete pressed the button on the TV remote again. Christmas Mass. Replays of last evening's candlelight service at one of the city's large churches. Christmas movies. The only thing on TV was sappy Christmas stuff. He sighed, then immediately regretted it. Breathing that deep made the still-fresh stitches in his chest hurt like heck. He flipped through a few more stations. Nothing.
"Malloy," the voice in the other bed spoke up. "If you don't stop changing channels, I'm gonna come over there and strangle you."
Pete looked over at his hospital roommate. It would be hard for Officer Dan Parkins to carry out his threat. One of his legs was in traction, in addition to the arm immobilized by a broken collarbone. The motor officer had been involved in an accident with a Cadillac the week before. "I'd love to see you try," he challenged.
"If this bed had two wheels, I'd be over there right now. I can't drive a four-wheeler."
Malloy tried to laugh, but it didn't work. Besides making his injury hurt anew, there just didn't seem to be that much to laugh about. "Not that there's ever a good time to be here, but Christmas really is the worst time to be in the hospital, isn't it?" he finally added.
"Yeah," Parkins agreed.
A depressed silence fell over the room. Pete tried to think of the fun his partner must be having, freezing his rear off in the cold, playing with his family in the snow. Unfortunately, that thought only served to remind him of where he was, and how alone he was, and therefore only depressed him further.
The two officers heard the sound of voices and quiet laughter in the hallway.
"You know what our problem is?" Parkins spoke up. "We're bachelors. We should've gotten married before this. We'd at least have visitors."
Parkins had barely finished speaking when the door was shoved open, and a man and a woman wearing red stocking caps with white pom-poms entered. The man was also wearing one of the worst fake-Santa beards Pete had ever seen. "Ho, Ho, Ho!" the man said, sputtering over the last word as he caught a bit of the fake beard in his mouth.
Pete immediately smiled. "Well, if it isn't the world's skinniest Santa and his lovely wife!"
Jim pulled the beard off his face. "Jean, I told you he'd know who we were," Jim informed his wife. "How you doing, partner?"
"Good. Better." Pete smiled. "But what are you doing here? What happened to the trip? And where's my godson?"
Jim shrugged. "Delayed. The doc didn't want me driving yesterday." He pointed to his head, hoping Pete wouldn't make him mention the mild concussion he'd gotten from Kendall. "Anyway, with you two out of commission, Mac wanted me to stay in town in case he needed extra help. And then today, a huge storm moved in. All the roads to Tahoe are closed."
"Besides that, Pete, we couldn't let you and Dan celebrate Christmas by yourselves," Jean interrupted her husband. "And Jimmy's home with his grandparents, playing with his new toys."
"Thanks, guys. Hey, I think there's some Christmas stuff on TV." Pete reached for the remote control as Parkins snickered at his sudden change in attitude.
"That's okay, Pete. We brought some music with us." Jim pulled a small radio out of the bag and fiddled with the knobs until he found the right station and the sound of familiar carols filled the room.
Jean reached back into the bag. "Time to give out the gifts, Jim." She pulled out two tinfoil-wrapped plates and put one on Pete's bed tray and one on Dan's. The two men carefully unwrapped the plates to find a delicious smelling arrangement of roast beef, veggies, potatoes, and homemade bread.
"We brought you two a real Christmas dinner. You can't eat hospital food today," Jean informed them.
"Jean, thanks. Jim, your wife's really something special, you know?"
Jim moved behind Jean and wrapped his arms around her. "Yeah, I know." He leaned down to kiss the top of her head.
Pete glanced over toward the window, then stared back at it again. "Jim, Jean, look outside."
Jim turned himself and Jean around. Outside the window, a few flakes of snow blew by. "Snow. Jean, it's snowing right here in L. A."
Jean giggled, ran to the window and pressed her nose against the glass. Jim followed behind her.
"Merry Christmas, Jim," Pete whispered.
Several weeks later...
"...and this is Jimmy making his first snowball." Jim handed another of the newly developed photographs from the delayed trip to the mountains to Jerry Woods. "And this...ih...ah..ah-choo!" Jim sneezed as he handed over the next picture. "This is Jimmy throwing his first snowball."
Woods smiled at that picture also, then looked up as another officer entered the break room. "Hey, Pete, you seen these picture of Reed's kid doing the snowman thing?"
"Not yet," Pete remarked. "I'll see them later today. Right now, we're almost late for roll." Pete picked up a cup of coffee, then grabbed his partner as he walked past. "You okay? You look kinda tired."
Jim sniffed and swiped at his nose with a tissue. "I'm fine. Just got a little cold, that's all."
Pete sighed and shook his head. "Told you not to go play in the snow."
Reed was still showing off his kid's pictures when they met Wells and Brinkman for lunch. "Here's Jimmy helping with the snowman. And here he's.. uh.. Ah-choo!" Unfortunately, he was also still showing all the symptoms of that cold. "He's eating the snowman."
Wells refused to touch the pictures. "Keep your germs to yourself, okay Reed?" he demanded. "Brink, we gotta get going. Seven was over five minutes ago."
Brinkman dropped the photographs onto the table. "Cute kid. Must take after Jean," he said to Jim before following Wells out of the restaurant.
Jim reached over to pick up the pictures, and nearly tipped out of his seat. Pete reached across the table to steady him. "Jim? You okay?"
Jim rested his elbows on the table and propped up his head on his hands. "Don't know. Guess this cold is worse than I thought."
"You sure it's a cold? Maybe you caught the flu."
"No way. I got my flu shots this year." Jim rubbed his upper left arm, probably remembering the needle's sting.
"You've got all the symptoms. Fatigue?"
"Yeah," Jim agreed.
"And you weren't feeling this bad this morning?"
Jim raised his head enough to glare at Pete. "If I had been, I would've stayed home."
"Sounds like the flu to me, partner," Pete looked down at the pile of photographs. "Reed, just how many people have you been passing these pictures around to?"
"Don't know. Probably half the watch." Jim's head dropped back into his hands.
"Great. Reed, I'm taking you home before you infect the other half, too." Pete stood up, then helped Jim to his feet and led him out to their car.
By the time they arrived at the Reeds' house, Jim had given up fighting the flu symptoms. Pete almost had to drag him out of the car and up the walk to his front door. As they arrived at the door, it was pulled open and an older man stepped out onto the porch.
"Hello, Jim, Pete," Jean's father greeted them.
Jim's only response was a loud sneeze, followed by a pathetic-sounding cough.
"Oh. He's sick too, is he?" Mr. Fuller asked Pete.
"Looks like it, Mr. Fuller. Is Jean sick?"
"Yep. Her mother's putting her to bed. Guess we ought to send Jim there also, hmmm?" Mr. Fuller moved to Jim's side and pulled the young man's arm over his shoulders. "C'mon, Jim, let's get you inside," he added, hauling his son-in-law into the house.
Mr. Fuller lowered Jim into one of the dining room chairs and turned back to Pete. "Thanks for bringing him home, Pete. Doesn't look like he could have made it by himself."
Pete glanced over at his partner, who was resting his head on arms folded on the table. "Glad to do it. You need anything here?"
"No, but thanks, Pete. You know my Anne was a nurse in the war. I'm sure she'll take good care of these two." Mr. Fuller replied. He glanced over at his son-in-law, then back to Pete. "Hey, you'd better get on out of here before the Reeds' blight catches you, too."
Pete smiled. "Don't worry. These common bugs don't bother me." He pulled his hat back onto his head
as he left the house. Reed's Blight… Mac's gonna love this one.
For the real story of Someone's Christmas plans that didn't go astray, read Luke 2:1-20.
Thanks to Cathy and my sister Kimberly, who forced me to get a proper ending on this story.
Merry Christmas, Everyone!