DISCLAIMER: Women's Murder Club and its characters are the property of James Patterson, 20th Century Fox Television and ABC. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Christmas Wishlist 2008, for darandkerry. Betaed by Ashley. Thank you!
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Jingle Bells, Women's Murder Club Style
"You should have seen Jacobi's face when Tom told him," Lindsay said, eliciting a new round of laughter from her friends seated around their table at Papa Joe's.
"'But, Sir, no, with the caseload--' and Tom: 'Inspector, I am very much aware of your caseload. The job is yours.'" she continued her imitation. There was enough reason to be this giddy; two big cases closed before the holidays, they had gathered to celebrate, and also be a little malicious about the undercover assignment Jacobi had drawn - as Santa in the local mall.
There had been incidents with four of his predecessors, ranging from what could be called a prank to the last one, where the victim had been attacked in the dressing room and was still in the hospital. It was serious already, but at the moment, the image of Jacobi in a Santa costume was quite enough to make them forget about it.
"That's awesome," Cindy exclaimed. Not exactly sober herself, she was leaning comfortably against Lindsay's shoulder, the warmth and closeness very welcome for reasons Lindsay couldn't bring herself to process yet.
"She's right." Jill grinned. "We should all go. There's no way I'm going to miss that."
"You are all evil. The poor man," Claire tried, which only made them crack up again, herself included.
"Maybe he's going to ask Nadya the Ice Queen to be his elf?" Cindy suggested.
Happy with the world and herself, Lindsay almost didn't hear the disctinct sound of her cell phone. She just knew it couldn't be good.
"Oh no, Tom. No, no, no."
"You're repeating yourself," he pointed out, and damn if he wasn't wearing a little smirk doing it. He didn't have to be so smug about it, did he?
"This is not happening," Lindsay declared with conviction. It was about as likely as her having a secret crush on Cindy Thomas, like Jill mistakenly assumed. It just wasn't going to happen. "I can't do that. The children would get traumatized. No, wait, I'd get traumatized."
"There'll be no irreversible damage if it's you asking if someone has been a good boy."
Lindsay stared at her ex-husband suspiciously, listening for any sign of double-entendre. "Hey. You are the one who keeps telling me that this is serious."
"It is," he sighed. "Someone's hating Christmas so much they're taking it out on innocent people who earn a few bucks wearing a silly cost-- that's not how I meant it! A child found this last one, and while it's not a homicide yet as the guy's still alive, it could easily become one. Linds, they're not all psychopaths with a ritualistic M.O. It's our job to deal with them anyway."
"You don't have to give me that speech."
Lindsay leaned forward until her forehead touched the desktop. "Tell me this is a weird, but genuinely harmless nightmare. Cindy would possibly interpret this in a way I would not--" She stopped herself a little late realizing that Tom most likely wasn't interested in Cindy's interpretation of this unreal situation at all.
"I'd say you've got the better deal after all."
She looked up to give him a quizzical glance.
"Jacobi was going to enlist you as one of his elves." Tom had decidedly too much fun with this, and he didn't try hard enough not to.
"Jesus," was all she could say.
"Right. Now you can have your own."
They shared a knowing smile, and finally, Lindsay was able to see a tiny bit of humor in this tricky situation. "Why should I suffer on my own?"
"That's the spirit," Tom said encouragingly. "You're gonna be a great, um -- Mrs. Santa."
"I still hate you," Lindsay told him by way of goodbye.
Jill was easy. When Lindsay told her that, she had to duck a balled up piece of paper flying her way. "Hey. I was only talking about this... somewhat sticky situation."
"Yeah, I do know what you were talking about." Jill snorted. "This is going to be so silly and embarrassing. I'm representing the city, and I'm so going to make a fool of myself - hell, sounds like fun. The things I do for my friends..."
Lindsay leaned over to kiss her on the cheek, drawing back with a grin. "You're a good friend, Jill Bernhardt. I appreciate it. Now excuse me, I've got to go to the morgue."
"Well, good luck," Jill said doubtfully.
"Come on. Claire has kids... she's the only one of us who really has the skills and strategic advantage we're looking for. We need her."
"Yes, but will she see it that way too?" Jill leaned back in her chair, now smiling suggestively as she asked, "You're going to ask Cindy, too?"
"Why?" Busted, Lindsay spun around.
"I'd say it's part of the club duties. We are cool, each of us gets to be cool. We do something totally ridiculous -- you get the picture."
"Fine, I'll ask her."
"She'll be happy to help out."
Catching Jill's speculative gaze, Lindsay decided it was time to end this conversation. "I'll see you later."
Alone in her office, Jill took a look at her watch. Having half an hour to spare before she needed to be in court, she went online, only sparing a moment to imagine what would happen if Denise caught her looking for elf costumes on the web.
"Believe me, you don't want to see me in an elf costume."
Given the fact that Claire had both hands in some dead person's bowels, Lindsay winced a little and acknowledged that at this moment, there was some truth to it.
"You'll be gorgeous. Jill said yes already. It's a club duty."
"Of the same club you keep telling Cindy we don't have?
"What the hell does this have to do with Cindy?"
Claire just smiled. "So Jill's in, huh?"
"She was easy. Not what you think."
"I didn't think anything." Claire gave a sigh of the long-suffering. "Is there any chance to do it with a facial mask? I don't want the boys to cringe in embarrassment if they happen to come to the mall with friends. Worse, they could bring their friends to see the spectacle."
Lindsay rolled her eyes at her friend. "You all seem to forget that I get the worst part of all. Is a little moral support too much to ask from your friends?"
"If that moral support includes green shirts and white tights, you're walking a fine line."
"Claire, please," Lindsay begged. Her distress was convincing.
Claire sighed again, then she said, "You owe me, honey. As big time as you ever have."
"Don't I know it."
"So, have you asked her yet?" Jill asked interestedly the moment Cindy slipped into the booth next to Lindsay.
"Ask me what?" Cindy queried with way too much enthusiasm.
Lindsay didn't really have any excuse. So she did see Jill and Claire more often at work -- who was she kidding. Cindy was around quite often. She liked it that way. She wasn't ready yet to admit how much. "Not yet," she said with a glare in Jill's direction.
"Sweetie," Claire said solemnly, "this is how the club works. You're in it for the good times - and you'll be in it, most definitely, for the bad times, too."
Cindy's eyes went impossibly wide. "What happened?" she asked anxiously.
"No one died," Lindsay finally said with some frustration. "It's just that Jacobi is down with the flu which means... Tom made me play Santa." The second part of the sentence was mostly mumbled into her glass, but Cindy had understood her anyway.
She blinked. Then the words, and probably accompanying images sank in.
Lindsay could tell she had a hard time not to grin, and she raised her index finger at her friend. "Whatever you're about to say or do, don't."
"It's worse, Cindy," Jill added. "Remember how Santa had elves?"
Cindy looked from her to Lindsay and back, her expression somewhere between wary and intrigued. "I'd love to, but you said it was this weekend? I can't come. I have a date."
"You have what?"
The way Cindy's face fell was a dead giveaway that these had not been the right words to say, and Lindsay regretted them immediately.
"Two people catching a movie and having dinner together. You know, that kind of thing," Cindy said icily.
"Oh, I didn't mean you shouldn't--"
Jill shook her head sadly, while Claire flagged the waitress.
"I get you, Linds." The ice had melted somewhat, but not nearly enough.
"Now make up, children," Claire advised. "No going to bed angry."
Jill started to giggle for reasons Lindsay didn't want to fathom, but the crisis was momentarily averted. Not the one of her heart, though. In exchange for the somewhat unusual assignment, Tom had given her the holidays off. She was going to spend it with Martha, drinking in front of the TV. The sadness of this could only be topped by the fact that before that, she was going to spend about eight hours of the upcoming weekend as an unwilling version of Santa, with the club minus Cindy as elves.
Cindy couldn't come. Cindy had a date.
Life just wasn't fair.
Lindsay had a moment of panic and instinctive flight response when she saw the amount of expectant little children and parents lining up. There was the option to have your kid's picture with Santa taken, with or without parent, and for each picture paid, the child would get a little bag with candy and a toy.
Jill had taken a look at their supply, and mused, "Now here's your chance for some change. Give all the cars to the girls, and the dolls to the boys."
"And have the parents throw things at me? No, thanks."
Lindsay was resigning to her fate and took the first kid, a firl around 3-years-old, who looked at her with wide, interested eyes, on her lap. "Have you been a good girl?" she asked, while Jill hid her laughter behind her hand. The mother paid for the picture, and took her child, candy-plus-toy car bag included, back. That hadn't been so bad.
Next was a boy who looked at her critically. "That's not Santa," he declared. "That's a girl."
"Danny, please be nice," said the red-faced mother.
Lindsay leaned down to whisper in the boy's ear, "Didn't you know that Santa is a shapeshifter?" He immediately put some distance between them, then, glancing at her suspiciously. He sat still for the picture though.. She took great pleasure in handing him a bag with a little doll in it. "Merry Christmas!"
Claire was shaking her head. "You're evil."
"What? I have to protect my Santa-esque dignity here. So now, did you see anyone hanging around who doesn't belong here? Any adult on his own?"
"Not yet, but --whoa."
It was a good thing that no one had been handing her a child at that moment, because Lindsay was quite sure she would have dropped them.
Sporting a shy smile, Cindy stepped closer. Lindsay knew she should say something. She knew she was probably gawking, and a lot of children this Christmas would ask their parents why Santa (who was a girl, actually) had been staring at the elf (who was also a girl) like that.
"I thought you had a--" Date?!
It had to be the sexiest elf the world had ever seen, with the top of the costume revealing enough to make some of the daddies, and not just a few of the mommies gawk, too. White tights under a green shirt that was much shorter than any elf had ever worn before, and high-heeled green boots.
"Oh, why did I have to come in a ridiculous, boring costume if you dress up like this?" Jill moaned. "That's not fair."
Cindy had blushed scarlet. "It was the only one left in the store, I'm sorry," she said.
"Which adult toy store did you buy that from?"
"I'm glad you came," Lindsay finally said, and the brilliant smile Cindy sent in her direction was an indication that finally, she had found the right words. Very glad, she added silently, stealing another glance at her scantily clad helper.
"What about the date?" asked Claire.
"You know, club duties. I'm in it for the bad times too."
Suddenly, this wasn't all that bad for Lindsay any longer.
"The kids love you," Claire said with conviction. She was having a great time.
"I wish they would love me a little less," Lindsay grumbled after the second kiss to her cheek by small, candy-apple smeared lips. The majority of the children didn't seem to have such a problem with a female Santa. The world is changing, and I'm right at the center of it. Thanks so much, Tom. Not.
"Hang on." Cindy suddenly leaned in very close, and Lindsay held her breath until she realized what was going on, as Cindy was using a soft wipe to remove the traces of candy apple.
"Almost done." Wait, did she sound just the tiniest bit breathless?
Their eyes met, and just for a very brief moment, it seemed like the world around them disappeared in favor of... suggestion. Imagination. Some kind of wonderful.
"Done," Cindy announced and took a step away.
"Took you some time," Jill muttered, but Lindsay chose to ignore her.
As expected, the current occupation of the city's most successful inofficial crime-fighting team was The Talk of Claire's Christmas party. Lindsay arrived just in time to hear Inspector Fong sharing theories with another colleague about what Santa would wear under her coat.
"Do I really need to remind you that we're not doing this for fun, but because someone nearly died? Jeez."
Inspector Graham had the good grace to look embarrassed. "Really, Fong, that was out of line," he said.
"That's why you laughed so hard about it, right? Oh, just spare me, guys."
Lindsay turned with the intent to head straight for the other room where the punch was. Cindy came out of that same room just about that moment. Neither of them realized the reason for the following whistles until someone called "Mistletoe!"
Some blonde attorney with a dirty mind.
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Lindsay said and leaned down to press her lips against Cindy's for a moment short enough to barely be called a kiss. She'd be damned if she let most of the department be a witness to their first time, um, kiss... whatever. "Everybody happy now?"
To her dismay, Cindy didn't look very happy. "I think I need a drink after all," she said, but was careful to wait so they wouldn't end up on the threshold together again.
Santa had a slight hangover the next day. Cindy arrived on time, in a bright and awake mood. She had left early the other day and had obviously decided to forget about the mistletoe incident. Lindsay had tried to let Claire's punch (that packed quite a punch, no doubt about it) make it go away. The persisting headache was a definite reminder as to how futile that had been. And the sound of squealing children and Jingle Bells did not help with that.
The world was too bright and noisy, and all she could think of was that there had been one chance to get it right. She'd blown it, and she would have known well enough without Jill's sympathetic glances.
There wasn't much time to obsess on it, though.
A bunch of teenagers entered the mall, blaring mp3-players, attitude and all. Some of the children immediately sought the proximity of their parents.
Back in the dressing room, Lindsay caught a small break, sitting on the bench and holding her aching head. She didn't look up when the door opened and tentative footsteps came closer.
She jumped at the sound of Cindy's voice, quickly straightening. "I'll survive," she mumbled, though the jury was still out on it.
A few moments ticked by, until she realized that neither of them had spoken, and Cindy was still standing there. "Uh, can I help you with something?"
She looked up at her friend, her eyes were taking a route that allowed quite a nice sight, starting with the high-heeled boots up to the pretty, contemplative frown Cindy was wearing. She was proud not to let her gaze linger anywhere in between - though she'd been tempted.
Cindy leaned down, taking her face in two hands and kissing her gently. About the same way Lindsay would have loved to kiss her the way before if there hadn't been a bunch of gossip-loving law enforcement people around, and the realization was a blissful shock.
"There is no... mistletoe around here." It was probably the most stupid thing to say, but like she always did, Cindy indulged her. She smiled. "I know. That was for my sake."
"I'm sorry about yesterday, I didn't mean..."
Cindy sat beside her on the narrow bench, leaning close. The warmth chased away all psychological remnants of the hangover. The headache was much better, too, Lindsay realized giddily. More of this, and it would be gone real soon.
"How about we wrap this up and you're going to tell me all about what you really meant?"
"I'd love that," Lindsay whispered. There was a new understanding in the gaze they shared, something to be further explored, soon, when--
The door opened and Jill, ringing a small silver bell, joyfully announced that the break was over.
Lindsay was frustrated, for several reasons. While she badly wanted to go home with her favorite elf and explore all the new possibilities that were arising between them with this silly assignment, she was also aware of the unfinished business regarding said assignment. She wanted to catch this guy, because he was making the holidays miserable for a lot of people, and wasn't that enough reason to get pissed off? Also, he could still turn out to be a murderer if the last Santa died in the hospital. It was a hair's breadth away.
They had nothing.
Still, she smiled and repeated the same questions over and over again, handing out candy and toys, and only Claire's warning glance showed her when a tiny trace of impatience crept into her voice. Jill was giving her speculative glances from time to time. Cindy kept stealing glances and then turned away blushing.
Wouldn't you just love the holidays if there weren't so many nutjobs around? Too bad they never took a break.
She'd just put another brightly wrapped toycar into small sticky hands when she saw him. He was standing near the door of the dressing room, looking around, at the security guards still busy with the group of youths in another part of the mall.
"Excuse me, please," she said, handing the boy back to his mother, getting up slowly. Way to make a stealthy approach wearing a long red coat and a red Santa hat. Whatever.
He'd seen her see him. He ran. Lindsay ran after him. Oh well. Nothing like a little extra work-out on an undercover assignment. She ignored the looks around her, though, at a time far from now, she'd acknowledge that it probably looked a bit riduculous.
She lost him somewhere in the toy department, letting out an annoyed curse. A mother shot daggers at her with her glance and quicky dragged her twin girls away. Good for them. Encountering the possibly armed man who had it in it for Santa would probably be a much worse thing then being exposed to a few swear words.
This was bad. So far, he hadn't hurt any children, but with this department crowded with them, it could be a distinct possibility. She inched around a shelf with toy weapons, wondering how many kids would be delighted to find one of those under the Christmas tree, and shuddered.
In spite of the presence of so many people, she felt his behind her, like something that didn't fit with the jolly good mood and the holiday cheer in here.
Lindsay stepped aside, but not quickly enough, the force of the blow making her stumble.
So much about getting rid of the freaking headache. With a groan, she pulled herself up again, once again chasing the Santa arch-fiend, who was, fortunately, finally stopped when stumbling over a green, high-heeled elf boot. Another elf was holding a toy car poised over him threateningly, the third one wielding the branch from a fir tree from the decoration.
The suspect was so in custody.
"Good job, girls," Lindsay said. enjoying the scenery as she dropped down beside the man to cuff him.
"I hate Christmas!" he gasped.
"Don't bother. You'll be spending it in a holding cell anyway."
He spat, but this time, she stepped aside in time.
"So this guy's wife left him for a student who used to earn a few bucks playing Santa. At some point, he transferred his hate to all of them, hell, the whole holiday."
"Crazy," Cindy commented. "Are you sure you shouldn't let a doctor check this out?"
Lindsay secretly thought that no doctor could find her a better medicine than the careful touch of Cindy's hand brushing away a strand of hair from her temple. She'd seen worse than the other end of a plastic gun. She'd make it through.
"Claire is a doctor, she checked already, didn't you?"
"You'll be fine. I don't need a doctor to be able to tell that," Jill chimed in.
A knock on the doorframe announced Tom's arrival. "Just wanted to tell you that Jacobi's now well enough to cover the shift for Christmas Eve. He's not happy, but that's the exchange for the cop-out on the Santa assignment."
"Aw, but that wasn't his fault." Jill slapping her wrist was a clear indication to Lindsay that her attempt at sympathy had sounded very half-hearted.
Tom shrugged and continued, "The last Santa is recovering, too, and will probably go home in a few days. Good work, ladies. Merry Christmas."
A chorus of 'Merry Christmas' greeted him, and he grinned, shook his head, and walked away.
Claire took a look around in the small group. "So, in order to celebrate the arrest of the Santa-hater - who of you is up for my Grandma's eggnog recipe?"
It was probably not a traditional remedy to treat a headache, but Lindsay couldn't care less. She hadn't felt this relaxed all year, she realized, comfortable in the familiar presence of her friends, excited with the promise of something changing. For once, a change that didn't terrify her.
Jill just told a joke that had everybody cracking up, but it had gone past her. She couldn't stop looking at her hand, only inches away from Cindy's on the arm rest of the armchair. When she looked up, their eyes met, and then it was suddenly very easy to understand without words.
"Excuse me for a moment," she said, getting up on rather wobbly knees which had nothing to do with either having been hit with a toy gun, or the alcohol.
In the corner of the hallway, between the coatrack and the door to the guest bathroom, she was waiting, nervously, wondering if she had misunderstood anything. She remembered the kiss though, and how Cindy had felt in her arms, and that was something hard to misunderstand.
It took about three minutes, which would never be enough to not tip off Jill and Claire, then Cindy stepped into her embrace. They just held on to each other for a while, then Lindsay stepped back see confirmation of what she had hoped all along. Had hoped so badly.Seemed like Jill hadn't been so wrong with the secret crush at all. Only that it was hardly secret any longer.
"I've had some clever words prepared," she said, lowering her voice though there were alone. It seemed appropriate. Her fingers brushed over flushed cheeks. "I think Claire's eggnog killed all of them. I just want to--"
"That's alright. I want that, too," Cindy said as if it was the most self-evident thing in the world, and she raised herself up on her tiptoes to seal their lips again.
There was nothing like making out with the woman who you considered one of your best friends before, with your other two best friends speculating just a few feet away. Lindsay reached out to steady herself when her fingers met something soft: the Santa hat. She picked it up and placed it on slightly disheveled red hair. Be it the eggnog, or the season, or simply the love... she was in a mood.
"Ho ho ho", Cindy said, breaking into giggles. It was beyond adorable.
"You're killing me."
"That was not my intention." She giggled again. "You were a much better Santa anyway."
"Okay. Remember that she sees you when you're sleeping, she knows when you're awake?" She very much wanted to see all of her. The thought made her flush with sudden heat.
"Like a freaking stalker," Cindy muttered, making Lindsay laugh, and then there was silence, heavy with imagination.
"Have you been good, Cindy?" she asked, holding her breath.
"No," Cindy whispered, looking up at her with her most guileless expression. Lindsay's heart was about to stop. "I've been very naughty."
She shook her head sadly. "No candy for you then. No toy car either."
"Then what else am I going to get?"
"I changed my mind on the candy," she said and leaned in to lick Cindy's lips, and then dive in, and this time, her hands did some exploring of their own, some that seemed to be enjoyed very much.
"Don't shoot, I was just going to ask if you're..." Jill laughed with delight. "Okay. I can see you're totally okay. Sorry." She made no move to return to the living room though.
Lindsay moved instead, rather quickly, shield from curious looks just where her hand was, and to inconspiciously move it to a less conscipious place on Cindy's hip. Cindy had just buried her head against her chest in utter mortification. Lindsay wondered if she realized that the warm breath ghosting over her skin did not help at the moment.
"I'll leave you to your... um, whatever, now," Jill said cheerily. "You have five minutes. I'll want details."
"Sure you do," Lindsay muttered, but tonight, it wasn't so hard to see a humorous side to it all.
"Okay, girls," Claire said about two hours later. "Neither of you is going to get behind a wheel tonight. Getting a cab at this time of day and year will be hell, but as you know, I do have a guest room. Will you be able to behave?"
She looked at her three friends and shook her head with a smile. "Get comfortable. And remember there are teenagers under this roof."
Raising her glass with what was part of the last round of the eggnog, she said "Merry Christmas."
She remembered how her Grandma had told her about the very special recipe of the eggnog which was supposed to have the powers of a love potion.
Seemed like it had worked out fine.
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