“Remember,” Terry says, waving the slips of paper in the air. “This is supposed to be a Secret Santa exchange. This year, you only have until Friday to get your gifts.” Charles moans from where he stands. “After last year’s disaster, the fewer days everyone has to mess around, the better. So, if I find out that you were snooping around”—he turns an accusing look on Gina—“or that you, God forbid, tried to switch names…” This time his disapproving eye lands on Rosa, who stares back at him, unimpressed.
“We’ll be good, Sarge,” Jake agrees cheerfully. “I swear on Jolly Old St. Nick’s shiny red nose.” Then he jumps to pull a strip from Terry’s hand.
Terry snatches his hand away with a scowl. “That’s Rudolph, Peralta. Don’t forget it.” He turns toward rest of the gathered crew. “I’ve already made the matches, and the list is under lock and key. You won’t get them out of me, like Hitchcock.” This is said pointedly toward Hitchcock, but it goes completely over his head. “Hitchcock!”
Hitchcock looks up from picking at something on his shirt. “Huh?”
Terry shakes his head and starts passing out the neatly labeled strips.
Jake takes his and peers at it quickly before crowing, “Oo-hoo-hoo! I know just what I’m gonna get my lucky elf.”
Terry looks as if a vein is going to pop any moment. “Santa doesn’t give his gifts to the elv—you know what, never mind.”
Amy wants to call bullcrap on Jake’s gleeful Christmas malapropisms, but he probably doesn’t even know what the word means. And he’d probably turn it into an innuendo anyway, the way he keeps shooting her sly looks. Oh, God, Peralta probably got her.
When Terry hands Amy’s slip to her, she shoves it in her pocket without even glancing at it first.
Gina pokes her head into Holt’s office. “You know… being your assistant, I can totally help you with your Secret Santa assignment. You know how you said I had ‘hidden talents’? Picking perfect presents is one of them.”
Holt doesn’t look up. “Thank you for the offer, but no.”
Gina takes a step in, bending fluidly to try to make eye contact. “Are you sure you don’t need any help? You are pretty busy these days, what with all that end-of-the-year paperwork to go through.” She taps the top of a stack of file folders.
Holt looks up at that. “Actually, yes, your help would be very much appreciated.”
Gina smiles in triumph.
Holt gestures to the stack of folders. “You can start with filing those and I’ll let you know when the next set is ready.”
He doesn’t see her mouth twist in annoyance, or if he does, he ignores it.
Amy waits until she’s far away from the others to pull her slip out of her pocket. And even then, she has to take several breaths to calm herself before unfolding it. What if it’s Holt? She doesn’t know if she’d be able to live with herself if she ended up getting him a terrible gift. For the next year—or longer—she’d be the girl who failed at Secret Santa. She’s sure Peralta would come up with some stupid nickname and/or tease her about it at any and every opportunity.
But even worse, what if it’s not Holt? If she does score the perfect gift, the amount of points in the “Holt Will Be My Mentor, This I Swear” column would go way up. And if she doesn’t get him, then...
She bites her lip. Then looks both ways before carefully unfolding the crisp white strip.
There, in Terry’s perfect handwriting, is the name.
She collapses a little, and even she can’t tell whether it’s relief or disappointment. Hitchcock isn’t picky. She could probably get him something in the “great gifts under $20” bin at the drugstore and he’d love it.
She stuffs the slip back into her pocket again and heads back to her desk, the sound of her shoes scuffing the floor louder in her ears than usual.
Yes, it’s definitely disappointment.
Jake is still smiling like the cat who caught the canary when they get into the squad car to interview suspects for their latest case. “What?” he says when he notices her frown.
“You got me, didn’t you?”
He presses a hand to his chest dramatically as he starts the car. “GASP!”—he says the word instead of actually gasping—“Santiago, I can’t tell you who I got! I may wonder sometimes what logs have to do with Yule, but even I know that’s against the rules of Secret Santa. What happened to Amelia Santiago, human rulebook?”
Her earlier disappointment is starting to turn into outright grumpiness. She resists the urge to smack that smile off his face. “It had better not be lingerie, or scented oils, or”—she shudders—“driving gloves.”
He gives her a funny look. “Something against suede, Santiago?”
“No.” It reminds her of her abuela, who got her driving gloves every single year from the time she was sixteen. It’s a good memory, and she doesn’t want Peralta contaminating it with innuendo. So she keeps silent.
He drops his voice and waggles his eyebrows. “You like to be spanked with them?”
She makes a face and turns her gaze out the window. So not only did she not get Holt, but she’s almost certain that Jake got her. The best she can hope for is something that doesn’t make her want to crawl into a hole and hide. The buildings outside begin to blur together as she considers exit strategies if the gift is beyond horrible.
So she completely misses the fact that suddenly they are pulling into a parking space at Atlantic Center. “Wha—This is totally out of our precinct. I thought we were going to question that bodega owner?”
He finishes parallel parking and shrugs out of his seat belt before he answers. “Related case. Keep up, will you?”
“I—you—” she sputters, and then growls in frustration, jogging to catch up with him.
The woman clutches at her handbag with veiny fingers. “I—I don’t understand…” Her eyes are rheumy and frightened. “What did I do?”
Rosa slams a hand on the interrogation table. “You know something, Mrs. McCutcheon.” She leans in close, eyes narrowing dangerously. “Tell me about Charles.”
She blinks in confusion. “Charles? M—My neighbor?”
Rosa pushes back from the table, stalks the room like a panther. “Charles Boyle is a polite man, he talks to people about their day.”
“Y—yes. He is a very nice boy.”
“Then tell me,” Rosa growls right in Mrs. McCutcheon’s face. “What he wants for Christmas.”
“Excuse me.” Jake holds up his badge just long enough to flash it. “Detective…” His eyes flick around the room. “...Oxford, NYPD. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?”
The salesclerk nods. Amy stands and watches, arms folded. What the heck is this?
Jake takes out a notepad, licks the tip of his pen and holds it poised over the paper. “Just one question…” Jake takes note of the man’s name tag. “Travis.” Jake gestures to two ties on mannequins nearby. “If you had to choose one of these two ties, say for someone of your height and coloring, which would you pick?”
Charles pops up from behind a plastic fern, binoculars in hand. “Subject and companion leaving…” He double-checks the sight through the lenses. “Men’s Wearhouse. Package in hand.” Making sure he isn’t seen by Jake or Amy, he crosses the flow of shoppers and presses himself against the window of the shop. With only a few days to shop, he has to be prepared. “Preparing to question last-known contact.”
Outside the shop, Amy elbows Jake. “What is this really about, Peralta?”
Jake winces, holding his side in offense, “Routine police work. Asking questions, following leads. Try it sometime, Santiago.” He walks ahead of her.
Amy can’t believe it. Peralta has Holt—no wonder he was questioning Travis the clerk. Give the guy twenty years and a shorter haircut, and he and Holt would be brothers. How that crumbum Jake managed to luck into... “So why did you buy this?” She snatches the Men’s Wearhouse bag from him and lifts it up.
Jake shrugs. “You know those pushy salespeople. You can’t get out of there without buying something.” He walks ahead of her again.
“But a tie? C’mon. That’s the worst.” Jake keeps walking. “He’s gonna hate it, you know. Holt will think you’re making a bad joke.”
That makes him stop. He turns, raising an imperious eyebrow. “What makes you think this is about Holt?”
Amy tilts her head and gives him a flat you-think-you’re-the-only-detective-around-here? stare.
Jake suddenly collapses into a whining five-year-old. “Okay, fine, it’s Holt. I didn’t get you, I got him. I thought I had it covered but I dooooooon’t.”
This time Amy has the smug smile, and she loves it. “So the worm has turned.”
“Worm? Is that some kind weird dig at my penis? I didn’t know that you were such a schlong-shamer. Noted.” He flops down on a mall bench, running a hand over his face. “Why couldn’t I have gotten someone easy, like Hitchcock?”
Amy whips her head toward Jake. “What?”
But he doesn’t seem to realize anything. “I mean, you could get that guy socks and he’d love it.”
Amy slumps beside him. She doesn’t want to be the girl who gave socks.
Suddenly Jake grabs her arm. “You gotta help me, Santiago. Find out what he wants.”
Amy jerks back from him. “Oh, no. I’ve got enough on my plate finding my own Secret Santa gift.”
“But you’re his favorite, he confides in you, Santiago.”
She pauses for a second, a warm feeling coming over her. Then she shakes her head. “No, I’m not falling for that, not from you.” She stands. “I’ve got some real police work to get to, if you don’t mind.”
She gets halfway to the car before she realizes Jake has the keys.
When she goes back for him, he’s grilling some poor hipster at Bath & Body Works. “You have to help me decide—Winter Cranberry or Japanese Cherry Blossom.” He shakes the bottles of hand lotion dramatically in the air. “This is a life and death situation, man!”
Gina slides the nail file carefully into Terry’s desk lock, and jiggles it, just so… Out of the corner of her eye she catches movement. “Yeah, Captain Holt, I’m not seeing the file on—” she calls out, knowing full well that Holt isn’t in his office. She turns her head to see that it’s Scully, cruising through with a donut in either hand. “Oh, it’s you. I’m—” She breaks off and shrugs, twisting her wrist to pop the lock open. “Why am I explaining anything to you? You’d break into the evidence room for half a stale éclair.”
Scully’s eyes go wide with interest. “There’s an éclair in there?” He spins and heads for evidence more gracefully than a man his size should be able to manage.
Alone again, Gina sifts through the items in the drawer. Pens, paperclips, a stash of energy bars… nothing even remotely like the Secret Santa list. And nothing remotely interesting either. “Why is this even locked?” She switches to the file cabinet.
Another flicker of movement. “I don’t see it, Captain,” she calls out. She turns her head to see Terry standing a few feet away, arms crossed over his chest, a smirk playing at the corner of his mouth.
“I should have known you’d flout my rules. That’s why the list isn’t in my desk.”
Gina pockets the file and turns to lean back against his chair. “Oh, you thought I was looking for the list? How pedestrian.”
“You weren’t,” he says, not buying it.
She snags an energy bar. “Needed a mid-afternoon snack.” She walks past him, flashing the shiny wrapper in his eyes as she passes.
He balls his fists and shouts after her. “Dammit, Gina, what am I gonna do for my 4:15 powerup, then?!”
Jake doesn’t even wait until they’re away from the bodega. “C’mon, Santiago, please? Tell me what you were gonna get him.”
Amy shakes her head. “I hadn’t quite decided.”
It must be the secretive smile that gives her away, because he slides in front of her to lean against the passenger-side door before she can open it. “Sure you hadn’t. You probably already had the gift picked out for Holt before the slips were passed out, in case you got him. Multiple gifts.”
“No, I did—okay, yes. I may have had a list of possibilities brewing—”
“I knew it!”
“—but there’s no way I’m going to let you borrow any of them for your gift to Holt. They’re all way too awesome to share. After all, there’s always next year.” She definitely not wasting any on Hitchcock, who wouldn’t appreciate them properly. Only the slight crinkling of Holt’s eyes and an approving word will satisfy her.
“Ohhhh, I can see where this is going now. You want me to fail, and then you’ll swoop in with the perfect gift. Thanks a lot, Benedict-a Arnold-ez.”
Amy’s mouth drops open in affronted shock. “What—I—how dare you insinuate that—!”
Jake’s hurt expression turns to a braying laugh. “Ha! You’re too easy. But admit it. I’m wearing you down.” He does a slide across the hood of the car and opens his door before she can respond. “Let’s go look at the security footage.”
Rosa holds the telephone receiver in an iron grip. She doesn’t like the answers she’s getting. “Nothing on a Wednesday?” She frowns, harder than normal. “Or a Thursday?” She grinds her teeth. “You better frickin’ tell me there’s at least one lousy day in the next month…?”
The person on the other end simpers apologetically. Rosa hangs up. She wants to break the receiver in half, she’s so mad.
On the other side of the room, Scully passes by, a large box in his arms. He glances over at where Rosa stands, filled with barely-suppressed rage.
“You looking at me?” Rosa calls in a deadly tone to Scully.
“Yes, they’re free,” he says blithely, mishearing. “Do you want to look inside?”
She seethes for a long moment, staring him down. His box drops farther and farther in his arms until he finally seems to understand how angry she is. He begins to back away, nearly tripping over a uniformed officer in the process.
“Wait,” she calls, and he stops, eyes wide and frightened, as if he’s a rabbit and she’s a sixteen-wheeler. “What’s in there?”
“Stuff the Goodwill guys didn’t take.” His voice is almost inaudible.
She shrugs. “Yeah, I’ll look.”
“That dude there,” Jake says around the Fritos he’s munching. “I bet he’s the one who’s been stealing. See how his jacket is all puffed out?”
“Too obvious.” Amy rubs the corn chip dust off the screen with distaste and then points at an older woman with a large handbag. “She could easily have them in her purse.”
“I say it’s beanie cap. No way did pink hair take half a case of tequila.”
“You’d be surprised. My abuela and her knitting circle could go through that much in an afternoon.”
“Huh,” Jake says. “Respect to the old broad.” He rises. “Let’s interview them both. Quicker we solve this, the quicker we’re back at the mall.”
“Suspects leaving bodega and heading for vehicle.” Charles makes a mark on his notepad. “There seems to be an argument going on, but too much ambient noise on street to make out the words.” He frowns. Perhaps he should have brought the parabolic microphone with him.
As he watches, the first suspect hurriedly enters the car and barely gives the other a chance to get in before the car is peeling away with a screech of tires.
He drops his notepad with a yelp and starts up the car. “Pursuing!”
He doesn’t make it any farther than the next red light, where the cross-traffic cuts him off from the suspects’ vehicle.
“Dammit!” Charles cries out, slamming the steering wheel with his palms. Jake and Amy’s car disappears into the distance. “Next time I’m using the GPS tracker.”
Jake knocks on the door with a syncopated series of raps. “Mr. Cortez? NYPD. We have a few questions for you. Open up.”
There’s no answer for several seconds. “Probably not home,” Amy says. “Doesn’t matter, because it isn’t him.”
Jake ignores her and tries again. “We know you’re in there, Cortez. You can make it hard on yourself or easy.”
The door opens, just a crack. They can see a sliver of a face, a nose and one eye. “What do you want?”
Jake smiles broadly and holds up his badge. “Jaime Cortez?”
The face nods.
“We want to talk to you about a rash of bodega thefts in this neighborhood. We have you on tape in at least three of the five hits last week right before the merchandise went missing.”
Cortez’s expression goes blank. “Wasn’t me, man. I was buying cigarettes.”
Amy cuts in. “We’re not saying it was you, sir. But you may have seen suspicious activity. Can you tell us what you saw while you were shopping on Tuesday, December 3rd at 8:37pm?”
“Didn’t see nothing.”
Jake frowns. “Okay. You don’t want to answer those questions? Maybe you’ll answer this one.” He reaches into an inside pocket of his jacket and pulls out the two ties he had purchased earlier. “Do you like the blue or the purple?”
The door shuts in their faces.
“Win some, lose some,” Jake says, unperturbed. He pulls out his cell phone and dials one of the judges he has on speed dial while walking toward the stairwell. “Guess we’ll have to come back with a warrant. Might as well interview your sweet pink-haired old lady while we wait.”
Rolling her eyes, Amy starts to move past him to open the door, but he blocks her way with an arm flung across the entrance.
“Or you could help me with Holt…?”
She ducks under his arm and is halfway down the first flight before he catches her.
“You know what’s great?” Gina says, leaning on the corner of Hitchcock’s desk with one hand. “Designer handbags. And not the knock-off kind either. The kind that really say, ‘I care about my co-worker and want her to look amazing at the club.’”
He reaches around her to take a bite of his sandwich. “Oh, I don’t know anything about handbags,” he says when he’s mostly done chewing. “But aren’t they a waste of money?”
Gina chuckles and starts to pat his cheek like an indulgent mother, but her hand skitters back at a second look at the crumbs and condiment detritus lining his mouth. “I’m sure your wife takes a different view.” She gingerly hands him a napkin. “The correct view. She could help you shop.”
Hitchcock wipes his mouth and shrugs. “She loves those Vera Bradley handbags. You like those?”
Gina grimaces. “Huh, really does take all kinds to make a world. Better not involve her at all.” She pushes off the desk and backs away. “One parting thought—Barney’s gift cards.”
She bangs into a solid wall of Terry. Recovering quickly as she turns to face him, she buffs her nails against her sweater and says, “Heeeey, Sarge.”
“Snooping again. You’re gonna make me remove you from Secret Santa, aren’t you?”
“Oh, no.” Gina tilts her head and twirls a strand of hair between her fingers. “You’re not gonna do that.”
“I’m not? Try me.”
“You’re not. Because then you’d have to…” She touches the buttons on his dress shirt with a perfectly manicured nail one by one as she finishes, “re… do… all… the… match… es.” She floats off without looking back.
Terry barely suppresses a growl.
Mrs. Gutierrez opens the door for them. “Please, come in,” she says with a kind smile. “Can I get you something to drink?”
Jake immediately throws Amy a ‘some hardened criminal we’ve got here, huh?’ sort of smirk, which she throws right back at him. A gut feeling is telling her this is a real lead, so she’s going to follow it.
“No thank you, ma’am, but we do have a few questions,” she says, taking the initiative. “Do you do much shopping at H & H Food Market?”
Mrs. Gutierrez bustles around the room, tidying things as she speaks. “Oh, sometimes. I like to buy my lottery ticket there on Tuesdays.”
“Only on Tuesdays?”
Out of the corner of her eye she can see Jake studying the knickknacks displayed on the shelves. He picks one up and mouths ‘this one seems like you.’ Amy frowns at him over Mrs. Gutierrez’s head. But it is a twin to a figurine she has in her living room.
“Yes. On Mondays I go to Sebastian’s. Wednesdays to Tommy P’s Food Mart.”
“Thursdays to Fresh and Fast?” Jake asks, holding a family photo in his hand and tilting it back and forth.
Mrs. Gutierrez makes a face. “No. They have dirty floors.” She passes Amy to take the photo out of Jake’s hand. “I prefer Bodega Latina.”
“Me too!” Amy exclaims. The way Jake’s been running her all day, she didn’t get to eat. “The takeout is fantastic.” Mrs. Gutierrez nods. Maybe she’s innocent after all. Amy’s starting to think her gut feeling was hunger.
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Jake says. “Another question, though. Your husband—late husband?” She nods. “Would he have liked a spa day or a round of golf more?”
“Peralta…” Amy warns.
“The spa day,” Mrs. Gutierrez says. “Golf was too boring to him.”
“Thanks, you’ve been very helpful,” Jake says, making the last word an accusation aimed at Amy. Then he pulls out a pair of handcuffs. “Unfortunately, we’re going to have to take you down to the station for further questioning.” He slaps the cuffs on Mrs. Gutierrez with a snap.
Amy opens her mouth to ask why but then he takes the photo from Mrs. Gutierrez and hands it to Amy. “Looks like our two suspects are related.”
Amy looks, and sure enough, there in a family photo, along with an older gentleman who must have been her husband, there’s Cortez.
“You sure about that?” Rosa takes a step closer and the girl blinks a couple times in fear. She stands her ground, though. Respect. “Tell me about Saturday night, then.”
“I—I don’t know about that. I could ask around, see if anyone knows any—”
“You do that. You ask around.” Another step closer. Rosa holds the girl’s eyes, daring her to look away first. “And remember…”
The girl swallows, pushing a stray hair back into her tightly pulled-back ponytail. “Remember what?”
“You’d be doing me a huge favor. And those parking tickets you haven’t paid yet…?” Rosa brings up her fist and explodes the fingers outward. “Poof. Gone.”
The girl licks her lips. “I… could see if there’s a Sunday matinee…?”
Rosa nods in satisfaction.
“So… Mr. Cortez…” Jake paces the interrogation room with slow steps. “We know you’re in on the bodega thefts. We even know you have partners.”
Cortez sits at the table, hands cuffed to the bar, not looking up, mouth set in a firm line. He hasn’t said a word since he was brought in. Amy watches through the glass—she hopes Jake can find an angle soon. The last few days have been long enough as it is, and if this case goes on much longer, she’ll have no choice but to get Hitchcock’s gift out of the discount bin at the drugstore. The exchange is tomorrow!
The door to the viewing room opens quietly, and Charles slips in. “Any progress?”
Amy wrinkles her nose. “A little. We’ve narrowed down suspects, anyway.” Mrs. Gutierrez had sweetly told them all about her family, and her nice grandson, Juan. How she couldn’t believe he would be mixed up in something like that. Sometimes the family is the last to know.
“That’s good, that’s good…” he says, distractedly, focused on Jake through the glass more than her. “You guys making any headway on your case?”
Amy shrugs. “Yeah. You?”
“Oh, you know, doing a little surveillance, a stakeout, following suspects…”
That sounds more interesting than theirs so far. “Really? What case?”
His face freezes for a moment, and his eyes flick toward her guiltily. “Um, nothing much.” He grabs at his pants pocket then, and pulls out his phone. “Sorry, gotta take this.” He’s out the door before she can wonder what spooked him.
Inside the interrogation room, Jake stops his pacing, and calmly takes the chair across from Cortez. He places both elbows on the table and laces his fingers together. “Now, I know you don’t want to give up your partners. You’re loyal, you’ve made promises. But what if I told you” – Jake leans forward to rest his laced fingers on his chin – “that you’ve been betrayed.”
Cortez stiffens, but doesn’t look up. Jake’s hitting a nerve. Excellent.
“Yesssss,” Jake says, softening his voice. “I know how you must feel. I’ve been betrayed myself. You think you know someone, think they’ve got your back and then…” He slaps the table with the flat of his palm. “WHAM! They leave you high and dry.”
Amy blinks. Is he insinuating…?
“You think they’re going to help you, put aside their own selfish motivations, but nooooo.” He looks right at the glass, toward where he knows Amy is watching. “She gets off on dragging you around by the balls.”
What? Oh, he thinks she’s dragging him around by the balls? She’ll show him dragging around by the balls… Amy lifts a fist to bang on the window.
But Cortez finally speaks. “She?” His voice breaks a little as he adds, “Abi?”
The detectives of the Nine-Nine gather around the desks, Terry taking a mental headcount: there’s Charles hurrying in with a gift bag, Rosa coming in to sit on a chair turned backward, Holt standing from his desk chair to join them, Hitchcock and Scully already at their desks.
Gina waltzes in with a blank expression. She never got the list out of him; he may not be getting a gift since he ran the exchange, but this feels like Christmas. He leans in as she passes him. “Looks like I won our little game of cat and mouse.”
She half-turns back to glance at him with disdain. “Whatever you want to tell yourself, Sarge.”
“I had that list locked up.” He points at his temple. “Right here.”
“No way to pick that lock, is there?” She shrugs, seemingly not bothered. “You remember this for the next time” – she pushes aside several knickknacks on Terry’s desk to sit down on the edge – “when I’m in charge.” Then she winks.
Terry looks at Holt, then Gina. “You—?”
“Hey,” Charles says, and everyone turns. “Where’re Jake and Amy?”
As he speaks their names, the two walk in with a virtual parade of perpetrators, mostly regretful-looking young men escorted by uniformed officers, and a little old lady, personally tended to by Jake and Amy. The woman is frowning fiercely, her lower teeth showing. She turns around to snap at one of the young men behind her, “I should have picked Matias instead!”
The young man pulls forward, dragging his escort with him. “Please, Abi, forgive me. They tricked me!”
The old lady simply snorts in disdain.
“Take them to booking,” Jake pronounces. “And Feliz Navidad!” Amy elbows him and rolls her eyes. “What? I can’t wish someone a Merry Christmas?”
“We just arrested them, and using… you know, forget it—”
Terry calls out to them, “Gift exchange is starting, Peralta, Santiago. Get over here.”
Amy’s eyes go wide. “Now?” She thought she had at least a couple more hours. “Uh, just a second…” She drags Jake around the corner by the sleeve.
“Whoa, what’s up, Santiago? Going to give me my Christmas present first?” His eyebrows rise suggestively.
She smacks him. “Stop it. The case—and you constantly begging me to help you with Holt—totally sidetracked me from getting my Secret Santa gift! Oh god… I am going to be that girl…” She covers her face with her hands and groans.
“Who do you have?” Jake asks.
Amy uncovers her face. His tone is… concerned. Sympathetic, even. “Hitchcock?” she answers in a small voice.
“Okay, here.” He pulls out the ties from his inside pocket. “I know you said it was a terrible gift for Holt, but I didn’t have time to get anything else, either. And I’ve got two…” He holds them out to her. “You can even pick.”
Amy feels a lump come to her throat. “Jake…”
“Or you can have both. It really was my fault, after all.” He jiggles them in his hand, waiting for her to take them.
She sniffles. Jake can be such a jerk sometimes, and then he does stuff like this. Instead of taking the ties, she pulls him into a hug, a long, tight one.
“Oh,” he says, face muffled in her hair.
“Thank you,” she says, pulling back. “I’ll take both of them. Then you can have the gift I was going to give Holt.”
“Whaaaat?” His face lights up like the end of his nose is shining. “You sneaky little minx! You had something for Holt all along! What is it? Give it to me, give it to me!”
“I can’t really give it to you, per se…”
“Because...” She whispers it in his ear.
When she pulls back to see his reaction, he surprises her even more by saying, “Wow. I think you might have outdone yourself there, Santiago.”
Terry’s shout pulls their attention away from each other. “You guys finished back there or what?”
“Oooooo,” Gina catcalls. “Someone’s making out!”
Jake saves her by popping his head around the corner first. “Get your mind out of the gutter, you guys!” Then he walks toward the group and adds a leer. “Not that I didn’t try…”
Amy quickly rolls the ties into her pockets and follows him out.
Terry claps his hands together. “Okay! Now that everyone is here, who wants to go first?”
After a few awkward glances around the group, Charles steps forward. “I’ll go.” He hands his gift bag to Jake. “You’ve been spending a lot of time around liquor stores lately, so this seemed fitting. Merry Christmas, buddy.”
Jake looks inside. “Boyle, that’s perfect!” He pulls out a bottle of 18-year-old scotch. “I’m going to get smashed even faster this year!” He high-fives Charles, who beams with pride.
Rosa calls out to Charles. “Hey, here’s your gift.” She holds out a plain, white envelope.
He takes it eagerly, and rips it open. Lifting two Broadway show tickets out to read them, his eyes go wide. “Kinky Boots? How did you get such good seats?”
She shrugs. “Knew someone in the cast.”
“Amazing. Wait…” His eyebrows draw down. “There are two tickets.”
“Take someone, then. Maybe that Mrs. McCutcheon who lives across the hall. Or you know… whoever.”
Charles pockets them with a secretive smile. “Thanks.”
“All right, then, it must be my turn.” Hitchcock bends down to get under his desk, and then drags out an enormous gift basket. It’s pink and bedecked with ribbons, filled with fruity-scented lotions and bath products. “I didn’t know what to get you, Rosa, so my wife shopped for me…”
Rosa stares at it for a full minute. Hitchcock begins to shift from foot to foot. He’s almost dancing by the time Rosa asks bluntly, “You save the receipt?”
He shoves it in her hand with a sigh of relief.
Amy walks over to him, removing the ties from her pocket. “Hitchcock, I know it’s not much, but…”
“Ties?” he says. “Oh, wow. I got mustard on mine today. Now I have two ties! Thanks!” He smiles widely and runs his thumbs over the fabric.
There’s a lull where no one comes forward for a moment. “Who has Amy?” Charles asks.
Terry turns toward Scully, who is sucking absent-mindedly on a candy cane. “Scully, your turn.” He doesn’t respond. “Scully!”
“Oh!” He shoots up from his chair, making it almost tip back. Then he looks around at the opened gifts, with one hand on his chin. “I think I’m going to steal the ties.”
“What?” Terry says, aggravated. “No! Where’s your gift for Santiago?”
“This isn’t a white elephant exchange?”
“Oh…” He takes a large gift bag off his desk and hands it to Amy sheepishly. “Here you go? I got it from Goodwill.”
Amy tries to keep a grimace off her face as she gingerly looks inside. After all, it’s not like she has any room to complain. Inside is a faded, old crocheted blanket. It looks… clean… and hopefully vermin-free.
“C’mon, Santiago,” Gina calls out. “What is it? Let us see!”
Amy shoots her a dirty look, and then pulls the blanket out carefully with forefinger and thumb.
“Ooooo,” everyone says, with varying levels of seriousness.
“That’ll go perfect in your place,” Rosa adds.
“Thanks,” Amy snarks.
“What.” Rosa frowns. “I meant that for real. It’s got character. Like you.”
“Oh,” Amy says, touched. Looking down at it again, she can see what Rosa means. It does sort of remind her of the things her abuela and her friends used to make. But she’s going to have it triple dry-cleaned, just in case.
“Guess it’s my turn,” Gina says, hopping off the edge of Terry’s desk. She grabs a large, unwrapped box from the floor beside her desk. “Merry Christmas, Scully.”
Terry’s lip curls up. “You couldn’t even be bothered to wrap it?”
Gina plops the box in front of Scully. “Why? It’ll take him longer to open it, and I know how Scully hates to wait when there’s food involved.”
Scully, instead of being offended, stands up to look inside. “Is this…?” His brow crinkles in confusion. “Is this from the vending machine?
Gina nods with pride. “Absolutely all of it.” Everyone else’s eyes dart in unison to the vending machines. They are completely bare.
His face lights up like neon sign. “Oh my goodness, Gina.” He clutches at his heart with joy. “I think this is the best gift I’ve ever gotten.”
“Happy Early Diabetes!” Jake calls out, but Amy elbows him.
“Let him enjoy it.” She leaves his side to walk quietly up to Gina and murmur, “Did you really buy everything in the vending machines for him?”
Her eyebrows rise. “Buy?” Then she jingles a set of keys surreptitiously and pockets them again.
Gina turns to the group. “So who had me? Jake?” She uses her fingers to point around Jake’s general area. “I don’t see any gift. If it’s in your pockets, it better not be…”
“Actually, I received your name, Gina,” Holt says, making everyone jump.
He’d been so silent in observing the exchange that even Amy had forgotten he was there. “Wow, sir,” she compliments him. “You must have been amazing at undercover work. Like a shadow.”
He raises an eyebrow. “A shadow?”
“No, no.” Amy tries to backtrack. “I mean, unseen, easy to overlook.”
“Like they did for so many years? Which is why I received my captaincy so late in my career?”
“No, I mean—”
Jake puts a hand on her elbow and whispers, “Just let it go, Santi-awkward.”
She bites her lip and takes a step back. “O-okay.”
Holt turns back to Gina. “I hope this will please you,” he says, bringing a small box from behind his back.
She turns the velvet case in her hands with interest. “Jewelry?”
He nods. As she opens it, he adds, “My husband, Kevin, has a jewelry-making side business.”
“He… he made this?” Gina asks, as she pulls a necklace out to look at it better in the light. Amy can tell that Gina is struggling with how to respond. She actually cares about Holt’s feelings? Or is it her job? “It’s… lovely.”
“Thank you. I’ll tell him you said that.” She nods, as he continues. “You should know that you are one of the first to own a Kevin original.”
She starts to put it away. “I’m flattered.”
“He’s received an order for one hundred pieces for each Barney’s location in New York, so they may be hard to get soon.”
Her hand freezes in mid-air. Then she hastily unfastens the clasp. “Put this on me, Boyle!”
“You’ve got the most delicate fingers on the squad.”
Charles grins. “I really do.”
“So I guess this only leaves Peralta,” Holt says.
Jake smiles. “Yep! And here’s my gift to you, Captain.” He hands Holt a case file.
With a curious frown, Holt opens the file. “The bodega-robbery case?”
Amy glances at him. When did he have time to get that together?
Jake just rocks back and forth on his heels, pleased as a ten-year-old with his first A. “Yep. Closed that one myself. With Santiago’s help, of course.”
“I…” Holt frowns even harder. “I know you hate to do paperwork, Peralta. But it’s part of your job. It’s not a gift.”
“Au contraire.” Jake makes a flourish in the air. “Closing this case gives the Nine-Nine a 68% percent solve rate for the year. That’s a fair bit higher than our rate last year. It’s also higher than any other Brooklyn precinct. The closest is 63 something… help me out, Santiago.”
Amy steps forward and chirps, “63.74%.”
“So you’re not only the highest-performing captain in the borough, but possibly—I’d have to check—the highest-performing first-year captain in all of the NYPD.” He holds his hand out to shake Holt’s. “Congratulations, Captain Holt.”
Around the room, the detectives erupt in applause. Holt stands there for a moment, stunned. Then he takes Peralta’s outstretched hand and shakes it, firmly. Amy steps in next to shake his hand, feeling overcome all of a sudden. She pushes her luck, giving him a quick hug too. He doesn’t shrug it off, so it feels like a mini-victory.
Jake and Amy watch Holt get congratulated all around, both smiling widely. For the first time in years, this department really feels like a team. They were all responsible for this, all because of Holt’s strong leadership. And some day, when she leads her own department, maybe she’ll be the one in the midst of a chorus of congratulations...
A finger snaps in her face. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.” Jake says with a chuckle. “Your prince approaches.”
She blinks at Holt coming toward them. “Merry Christmas, Captain.”
“Merry Christmas, Santiago, Peralta.” He eyes Jake with an expression almost like suspicion. It’s so slight, she’s not completely sure. “So the solved-cases numbers. You did this research all on your own?”
“Yes, yes, of course,” Jake tells him, nodding, not even glancing toward Amy. She nods in unison. She did tell him he could have this. As hard as it is, she bites her tongue, and tries to keep the pain off her face.
“Really.” Then he breaks. “No, are you kidding? This was all Santiago. Run numbers? Pshh. You know that’s not my style.”
“It certainly isn’t. Santiago. You didn’t have to let Peralta here take the credit. I’m glad to see you becoming more of a team player. This is the kind of behavior that will land you that captaincy one day.”
“You knew I want to be a captain one day?” Amy feels like her heart is going to explode out of her chest. She looks down to make sure her blouse isn’t covered in red. “I—I never told you.”
He reaches forward to put a hand on her shoulder. “Give me some credit.” Then he turns and walks back to his office, ordering, “Back to work, detectives. We can’t let those numbers slide in the last week of the year!”
Her shoulder tingles where Holt was touching it. She feels like her feet are glued to the floor. Gina passes by, murmuring, “You might wanna close that mouth before flies buzz in.”
Jake pulls her into a rough hug, then, and the spell is broken. “Merry Christmas, Santiago.” She hugs him back, ‘cause why not? “Two hugs in one day? It’s a Christmas miracle!”
That makes her push him off. “Jeez, Peralta.”
He lifts his bottle of scotch. “You wanna celebrate? It feels like celebration time.” Then he crooks his elbow in invitation.
“Yeah, why not?” She grabs her jacket, and slips her hand through his arm.