Just 12 days until Christmas! Today I bring glad tidings and a gruesome present in the form of a Christmas Crime fest courtesy of two lovely ladies. Check out Greer M. Robinson and Melissa Petreshock on Twitter. Melissa is one of the best people you’ll ever meet; Greer is a young author, like me, and I think she absolutely nailed this. Show her some encouragement and love, peoples. I know I can count on you.
All I Want For Christmas
by Greer M. Robinson and Melissa Petreshock
“She’s not fucking here! What the hell do I do?”
“Are you sure the plane isn’t late?” I ask and nudge a full cup of percolator coffee around on the diner counter.
“No! I just forgot to mention it was delayed four hours,” Marge snaps.
“Okay. And you tried calling her?” I guide Marge through some logic. Someone has to keep his cool.
“Every minute! Jesus, the customer service desk has been paging for almost an hour, and I’m still running around looking for her. What are you doing?”
A waitress pops out of the kitchen, opening her mouth to ask if I want anything, but decides against it. “Waiting for Dan at Jay’s. I told you he has a twelve hour layover on the way to Indonesia and we’re going to the range.”
“I can’t find Kirstie and you’re going to play with man toys?”
“Maybe she missed the flight and her phone died.” Chances are Kirstie’s sitting in Chicago O’Hare in her leggings, purple neon leg warmers, and boots. Now that it’s cold she’d have stopped running as much, sporting an oversized sweater to blanket what she calls lumps. Bumming over her dead iPhone and forgotten charger, I’m sure slumping in those black covered airport seats, impatiently waiting for a lady from the gate desk to squeeze her onto another flight isn’t improving her mood either. “So she’s getting a hotel, or she’s already on another flight and her phone’s off.”
“Mark. Her bags are here. The stewardess told me she’s on the flight manifest.”
“Marge, honey, listen to me. Let’s assume she landed and someone else didn’t board the plane with her ticket. It means she left in a rush.” It’s all too easy to imagine her running out of the airport, mousy hair flying around those glasses she begged for after that pop country singer brought them back from the eighties.
“I swear to God if Jackson convinced her to come to his house I’ll—”
“Now, hon, don’t make me come out of retirement just to arrest you. Why don’t I swing by and see if she’s there as soon as Dan gets here. Just try to remember she’s engaged to Jackson.”
“I’d rather try to forget,” Marge snorts. “We’re not done talking about that either. Don’t you come back without her!”
The bell hanging above the diner door dings. In all these years, Dan still hasn’t changed, all slick business attire and buzzed hair. He clutches a box wrapped in Christmas theme paper, fitting in with much of the diner’s cliché Santa statues and white paper snowflakes.
“I know. I’ll call you when I’m at Jackson’s. Bye, hon.”
Dan sets the box, complete with a red reflective bow, on the counter, and I throw my arm around his shoulder. “It’s been way too long, man. How’s the Bureau treating you?”
“Considering you left me your position, I’m doing better than I ever could have.”
I’ll be damned if Dan ever owns up to any of his accomplishments. The boy’s humble to the end. “You’ve made it your own, I’m sure. You know you can always call me with questions, even the dumb ones. I never judged you, not once.”
“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind. How’s the family?”
“Oh, good. Actually, I’ve got a little something I need to take care of. Kirstie came home from winter break today.”
“University of Chicago, correct?”
“Yeah. She’s only got one more semester. Marge is all in a twist, though, ‘cause she can’t find Kirstie at the airport and thinks she slipped away to her fiancé’s house.”
“Fiancé? When did that happen?”
“Oh, here about a year ago, I guess. Jackson’s a great guy, got his heart in the right place and all, but Marge just doesn’t like him. I promised I’d swing by his house and see if she’s there, but you can stay and have a cup of something.”
“It’s not a problem at all. I’ll come if you don’t mind—haven’t seen Kirstie since your retirement party.” Dan tucks the present under his arm and I slug down the last of my coffee, leaving a five under it.
“Sheesh, she’s a grown woman now. Sharp, too. She’ll remember your face just from that party.”
“She will,” Dan says, smiling. “I’m sure she will.”
“Well,” I say and shut off the grumbling engine. “This ‘ere’s the place.”
We both pile out of the truck—I didn’t trust that rental of his to handle to snow and hill up to Jackson’s—and hesitate crossing the white banked road. The two story bungalow is light up with Christmas strands round the porch rim, and the drawn curtains expose an ornamented tree through the front window.
“Like I said, Jackson’s a solid man.” We cross the road and head up the drive, past the SUV. Least someone’s home. “I got no problem with ‘em.”
I knock on the door, and Jackson opens it within seconds, wiping his hands on his jeans. Kirstie always says he’s ruggedly handsome.
“Mr., Mr. Adams I wasn’t expecting you, if I’d know I’d—”
“Calm down, son,” I say. “I’m just dropping by.”
“C-come in, please. They say it’s the coldest day in fifty years.”
“I heard that.” Dan and I shed our jackets in the coat hall, leave them on a bench. Right inside is a cozy living room, a sofa and matching chair creating a sitting area with a crackling fireplace and luminous tree across from them.
“I was just about to make some espresso—would either of you like one?”
“I just had some, but thank you. Oh, sorry, this is Dan Harper, my trainee when I was back at the Bureau.”
“Nice to meet you,” Dan says and they shake hands. “Thank you, but I’m avoiding caffeine for the nerves.”
“I’ll just put one on for myself, then.” Jackson slips through a door next to the staircase, into the dated kitchen, and we crash on the couch.
Marge would never stand to live here, never stand for Kirstie to live here. She couldn’t imagine having one of those old white fridges or yellow laminate countertops, and God forbid a beautiful hand carved coffee table like this one. Something still so close to the outdoors would flare up her allergies.
“That’s how they fell in love, Kirstie and Jackson. Coffee. A new place opened up in town some years back and he was working it, made Kirstie the best damn espresso ever. No more percolator for her. Turned out he owns the entire shop, started a business and everything. Marge thinks it’ll go under, but I say it’s steady. Nothing like good Joe.”
“Interesting.” Dan’s mouth don’t even open as he says it. He pulls at the bow on top of that present. I bet it’s something he can’t leave out in the cold.
Jackson returns and perches on the air chair, no coffee. His eyes shift between us, settling on me as he fidgets with a throw over the arm of the chair.
“Jackson, I’m just looking for Kirstie. Marge went to the airport to pick her up, but she’s not there. Did she split and come here?”
“No, no sir. I haven’t seen her since September when she went back to school.”
“You know I’m fine with it,” I sigh. “The engagement. You’re a good kid. I just want to know she’s here. That’s all. Marge’s blood pressure is about to lose it.”
“She’s not here, I swear! She really isn’t at the airport? Where is she?”
The espresso maker dings and Jackson jumps up. “Oh, I’m sure she’s around. Probably just lost. You mind showing me how to work one of them espresso things? I’ve always wanted to learn.”
“No, um, it’s really easy. That was the noise for the water finished heating. I’ll show you real quick.”
Inside the tiny kitchen, I step away from in front of the door, out of sight. Bringing Dan along probably wasn’t the best way to make Jackson come out with it. “Is she here?”
“No, sir. She’s not.” Steam rises out of the espresso maker. “Sir, there’s something I have to—”
Jackson jerks forward, mouth wide open with a strangled, gargling sound, and keels over. He hits the wooden floor face down, arms straight at his sides, red hole in the back of his head staring me in the face. Above, a perfectly circular hole in the window. Through the window, a plethora of trees for camouflage.
I lunge forward and slam against the cabinets under the window, out of range. It’s the only damn window in this kitchen.
“Dan! Man down—sniper’s in the forest facing the kitchen!”
“I got it!” He shouts and the screen door bangs behind him.
No more shots. Just the one. Doesn’t mean there won’t be more. But no, this was targeted. Jackson. Kirstie.
I whip out my phone and dial 911. Dial tone, dial tone, dial tone. …
“911, what is your emergency?”
I assert my formal FBI credentials and prattle off the address, GSW in the back of the head. …
“Sir?” The operator’s voice rings in my ears. “You were saying you also have to report something?”
“A missing person. My daughter. Kirstie Meyers.”
I stick Jackson’s photo up on the murder board with a magnet. Between that and a town map, the entire surface is covered. The local station just doesn’t have the resources we have in New York, but for now it’s all we’ve got.
“Ballistics came in from the rifle I found in the woods. Just an M40 sniper rifle.” He sticks the picture of the murder weapon under the same magnet holding Jackson’s photo. “How long ago did the hospital call?”
“Hour or so. They tried to operate but the damage was irreparable.”
Kirstie most definitely gone, Jackson assassinated, cops are going door to door at this point. Thank God I was FBI or no one would’ve responded like this. It would’ve been, “Oh just wait. I’m sure she just ran off a bit—college girls and all.”
So many families lose kids with the same treatment, the message they receive when their stomachs know otherwise, tumbling, rolling around with the truth that someone has their baby.
“Oh, God Marge. I have to go home, Dan I have to—”
“I know. I’ll drive you. The entire station is on this, and they’re sending over other guys from New York. My guys. It’s going to work out.”
“Work out? How can you say it like—what do you mean other guys?”
“I have a plane ticket, Mark,” he says stiffly. “And the Bureau says I can’t work this, even though you trained me. I’ve gone too long without taking time off.”
“You’re leaving? Kirstie is gone and you’re—you know what, fucking go. All you’ve done is walk around with that stupid present anyway. I swear to God I trained you better than this shit.”
“I’ll take a cab, then.” Dan sets the present down next to a cup of coffee on the conference table and leaves with perfect composure.
I collapse in a chair. Dan flying off to Christ-knows-where Indonesia and Kirstie’s gone and there’s nothing except for Jackson’s body—poor Jackson—and the sneaking suspicion Kirstie just fled on childish impulses to be free and avoid Marge’s lectures on the engagement and—
My phone ringing pierces the silence. It’s the cop temporarily heading up the investigation, name elusive.
“What is it?” I grip my phone.
“We searched Jackson’s phone calls and found a new phone number started calling roughly ten days ago, every day for no longer than three minutes. He never calls it back.”
The number. Of whoever did this.
“Shit, Mark,” the commander continues. “We tracked the cell to an apartment. It’s here, but the place is covered in evidence. Whoever did this has known Kirstie for at least a year—there’re pictures of her before the engagement ring. But a lot more of the ring.”
A type, a profile, someone obsessed with Kirstie, someone who can’t stand the ring.
“I want it all in. I want to see all the evidence when I get back.” I shrug on my coat and grab the present. The tag is addressed to me and Marge. He probably couldn’t bear to give us whatever he planned. “I have to see Marge.”
“It’ll all be at the station, sir.”
I hang up. I don’t want it, any of it. I want my little girl.
I hand Marge the tissue box next to the present on the coffee table and she blows hard into it before discarding it to the floor with all the others. She curls back up against my side and squeezes my arm, a dense lump of tears discoloring the back of the couch.
She’s out of water again.
“I’m going for water, hon,” I whisper and run my fingers through her colored hair briefly, taking longer to detach myself from her.
The water dispenses slowly out of the fridge, drops grabbing on to each other and holding tight. God, if I had listened to her maybe we would’ve found Kirstie by now—because now she’s gone. Kidnapped kids don’t come back. And I was the one who said it was nothing, who let her get engaged so young, who let her drift into the unknown.
“Mark,” Marge cries from the living room. The glass is full, almost too full, but she needs water after crying for hours.
She stares at me with wide eyes, mouth open, but blank, so blank.
A severed finger like a hot dog, the bloody end covered with gauze, sits at the bottom of the box. Matching the manicured nail, the bright red bow tied neatly around the middle joint does not obstruct the humble diamond engagement ring between it and the bloody stump.