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Manatee Hunt

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Jake Peralta sauntered into the briefing room, a full two minutes early.

‘What up, Nine-Nine?’

Boyle bounded up to him, with the exuberance of an untrained Labrador. ‘Hey, Jakey! Let’s get this party started!’

Nothing said ‘party’ quite like an optional out-of-hours training session on interpreting non-verbal communication in crime-solving. Captain Holt had scheduled it after a tough three month period where Hitchcock and Scully had let go any perp who cried, on the grounds that tears were proof of innocence. Neither of them were present.

Jake looked around. The only other detectives in the room were Boyle and Terry.

‘Hey buddy,’ said Jake. ‘Where’s Amy? I only even came to this shindig because she said if I did she’d – never mind. Where is she?’

‘She said she’d wear the red thing, huh?’ Boyle nodded knowledgeably.

Terry hastily interjected. ‘We haven’t seen Amy. I thought she’d be first in line. She was doing some filing in the evidence room earlier, though. Maybe she lost track of time. Amy does love filing.’

Amy did love filing, as Jake well knew. He’d also become intimately acquainted with her thoughts on punctuality since they’d been dating, though. Once he’d turned up two minutes late for a movie date, and she’d denied him popcorn. She’d also refused to go to the movies with him again unless he signed a legal document committing him to turning up in time for the trailers. Amy took this stuff seriously. About as seriously as Jake took the idea of seeing her in the red thing. So where was she?

Jake started to make an excuse and leave, but Holt and the trainer strode into the briefing room, cutting off his path of escape.

***

Three hours of excruciatingly intimate group exercises later, the training was over, and Amy had never turned up. In anybody else, ditching a long training session that had involved getting a little too familiar with Captain Holt would have been pretty normal behaviour, but this was Amy.

Jake rushed to the last reported Amy-sighting: the evidence room. Amy’s filing was scattered over the floor, but Amy was nowhere – no, wait. There was some sniffing coming from behind a stack of boxes. Jake headed over and found Amy sitting on the floor crying into a monogrammed handkerchief.

‘Oh no, what’s wrong?’

Amy looked up at him, red-eyed. ‘Jake? I cried so – sniff – hard that my – sniff – contacts came out – sniff. Where are you?’

Jake sat down, and put his arm around her. ‘Right here, Ames.’

***

The next morning, Jake had assembled the team in the briefing room an hour before the start of their shifts. That would give time to go over the plan before even Amy’s over-zealous punctuality kicked in. His plan was bold, daring, and deeply impractical, and would require the combined forces of the Nine-Nine. All of whom were staring at him with expressions ranging from sleep-deprived rage (Rosa), to drowsy-but-earnest (Boyle), to utter vacuity (Scully and Hitchcock). Gina and Terry just looked bored.

Rosa started playing with a knife. ‘Get on with it, Jake.’

He got the message.

‘Okay team! I have brought you here for one reason, and one reason only. To plan a rescue! A rescue for... Marie the cuddly Manatee.’

Jake gestured to the whiteboard, where he had pinned a map of New York City and drawn a picture of a manatee with a big question mark. Well, he’d thought it was a picture of a manatee, although in retrospect maybe manatees didn’t have horns and hooves. He’d look it up later.

He continued. ‘Amy Santiago, our co-worker and friend –‘

‘And lover,’ interjected Boyle.

‘Thank you, Charles; that was only moderately inappropriate. Okay. The story is that Amy’s parents have moved house. In the process, they got rid of the contents of her childhood room at a yard sale – including Amy’s beloved stuffed toy, Marie the Manatee. Our mission, is to track down Marie and bring her home. Who’s with me?’

Jake threw his arms wide and grinned, but the reaction wasn’t exactly what he’d hoped for. Boyle had jumped up and raised his hand, but the only other movement was Rosa aiming her knife at the whiteboard.

‘That’s a minotaur. A manatee is a sea creature, dumbass.’

‘Yeah, and what’s with the name “Marie”?’ Gina looked revolted. ‘All of my childhood toys had names that reflect my exquisite energy. Like “Wumblefluff” and “Glittertruck”.’

Jake sighed. ‘I have it on reliable authority that Marie the Manatee was named after Amy’s childhood hero, Marie Connolly Owens, considered America’s first female police officer.’ Scully and Hitchcock looked as though they were drifting back to sleep. ‘Look, that’s not important. The point is that this is really important to Amy, and she’s sad, and I think we should do this for her. We look out for each other at the Nine-Nine!’

In closing, Jake reached behind the whiteboard and pulled out his secret weapon: a picture of Amy looking sad. He’d actually taken it when she had run out of laminating pouches, but it would do for this purpose, too. Nobody could look at Amy’s sad face and resist. It was how he’d found himself at a 24-hour stationery store at 3am in the morning. It had to work on the rest of the Nine-Nine. Boyle was already in, and Jake predicted that the rest of them would crumble in the following order: 1) Terry, the big softie. 2) Rosa, who cared about Amy way more than she would admit. 3- 4) Hitchcock and Scully, who would see it as a way to avoid doing actual work. 5) Gina, who would hate to be left out.

Terry coughed. ‘Alright, Jake. What do you need?’

Bingo.

***

Amy couldn’t stop fidgeting on the elevator ride up to the Nine-Nine, and her thoughts were just about as twitchy.

Get it together, Amy. At least I’m in my power-suit. Come and get it, world! Just try it, I dare you. Why is this Marie thing even bugging me so much? It’s fine, I’ll be fine. Oh man, but I hope it’s a quiet day. Maybe some nice, calm grand larceny. Ooh, or filing! Filing would cut the mustard. Cut the mustard? Get it together, Amy. Mostly I just want a hug from Jake before we get down to business. Police business! Get it together, Amy.

Ding.

Amy aimed for her very best power-walk as she self-consciously sauntered into the bullpen. She had barely managed a few steps before being accosted by Gina.

Damn, Gina’s got a good power-walk. Like a cross between a wolf and a dancer.

‘Hey girl, how’s it going?’

Gina is being… nice? Why is Gina being nice?

Gina continued, ‘Aside from that eyesore of a suit, I mean’.

Never mind.

Gina didn’t wait for answer or comment. ‘Captain Holt has a super important assignment for you. He asked for you specifically. You ready? Quick, follow me. This is URGENT.’

Ooh!

Amy barely had time to do an exhilarated fist-pump before Gina dragged her off to the copy room and pointed to a stack of papers and the laminating machine.

‘The captain needs all this laminated. Think you can handle it?’

Amy squared up her shoulders, and clutched the packet of laminating pouches to her chest. ‘I was born for this.’

‘Some of us were born to perform an interpretive dance of Little Red Riding Hood at the Superbowl halftime show, and other lesser mortals have to make their way as best they can.’ Gina grabbed Amy’s shoulders. ‘I believe in you.’

***

Jake, Boyle, Rosa, Hitchcock and Scully were squashed into a car that normally felt a good deal roomier. Boyle had taken the middle seat, because he claimed that he liked to feel snug, and was pressed up against Jake more than might have been strictly necessary. Rosa was deeply unimpressed.

‘Did we really need to all be in one car?’

‘C’mon, Rosa.’ Jake needed the team to work together. ‘It’s not so bad. It’s a road trip! A really cosy road trip!’

Hitchcock twisted around. ‘Besides, me and Scully are the getaway drivers. We’re important.’

‘And we need both of you to be getaway drivers?’ Rosa growled.

Scully looked wounded. ‘We’re partners. I can’t drive without encouragement from my partner.’

Considering it prudent to intervene, Jake cut off Rosa before she could say or do anything that would result in tears or physical injury. ‘See! Fun! And only a smidge co-dependent. What’s also fun, is keeping your eyes on the road, Scully.’

‘Everybody’s a backseat driver,’ Hitchcock muttered. ‘You’re doing a great job, Scully.’

‘Thanks, pal.’

They were rapidly approaching Amy’s parent’s house. It was nearly time to put this hasty and poorly thought out plan into action. They were on a manatee hunt.

***

If Amy had looked up from her zealous laminating, she would have seen Terry and Gina’s awestruck faces perfectly framed by the window of the copy room. That would have broken her focus, though, and laminating wasn’t the kind of job that Amy took lightly. If, she pondered, it even made sense to speak of something as fun as laminating as a job.

Amy had no idea that Terry and Gina were desperately conspiring just outside, both having assumed that the laminating task would have taken Amy at least twice as long. It turned out that keeping Amy Santiago distracted was a tough mission.

Terry crashed into the room as Amy finished laminating the last paper. Gina had pushed him. She was surprisingly strong. He pulled himself together and straightened his tie.

‘Santiago! I’ve –’

‘Hey, Sarge! I’ve finished my super-important task for Captain Holt. I’m going to go and tell him.’

‘Wait! I need, um. There’s an urgent. Uh, crime! There’s a crime.’ Terry frantically looked around for inspiration, but the only thing out of the ordinary was the remains of Peralta’s lunch from last week. The cheese was alarmingly green by now. ‘Cheddar! Captain Holt’s dog Cheddar has been dognapped.’

On reflection, Terry thought that he’d had better ideas. It was time to bring the captain into the mix.

***

Jake was hiding in the bushes outside the Santiago family home because he couldn’t risk Amy’s parents recognising him, which would ruin the whole operation. It definitely wasn’t because he found Amy’s ex-cop dad intimidating. Mr Santiago had more or less achieved a ‘live and let live’ philosophy when it came to Jake, but Jake wasn’t sure whether this extended to Jake popping up unannounced on Santiago property. He didn’t want to test it.

Rosa – cunningly disguised with sunglasses and a boater hat that Boyle swore he just bought as a joke – was doing the old-fashioned door-step police work. She had only met Mr Santiago briefly, and it was doubtful that he associated Amy’s scary colleague with this weird cop in a boater hat.

Jake fidgeted. He could see Rosa talking to Mr Santiago, but their faces were inscrutable and he couldn’t hear anything over the sound of an ice cream van doing the rounds of the neighbourhood. Jake also didn’t share Amy’s talent at lip-reading, and he was being poked by numerous twigs which made it hard to concentrate. The door slammed, and he raced to the rendezvous point.

‘No dice, Jake. He didn’t buy the story about criminals targeting family yard sales to get their hands on childhood toys. I told you it was stupid.’

Jake shrugged, ‘Did you get anything?’

‘He said that only terrible police officers would suspect a 10 year old of being part of a criminal conspiracy.  Then he insulted my hat.’

A child bought Marie! Of course!

Boyle came running up to meet them. ‘I did what you said and checked out the neighbourhood. There’s a little girl down the road playing with something that looks like a cuddly sea creature wearing a police captain’s hat. I think we’ve got our guy!’

***


Amy sat as straight as she could while Captain Holt told her the elaborate tale of Cheddar’s dognapping. Of course, the dog walker had actually just taken Cheddar for a long walk, but Terry had impressed upon Captain Holt the importance of keeping Amy from realising that half of the Nine-Nine were out of Brooklyn hunting down a manatee. Holt had risen to the occasion and concocted something challenging enough for even Amy Santiago.

‘We have only one lead. This set of fiendishly difficult puzzles. The only way to get Cheddar back is to solve them all, and they will lead…’  Captain Holt clasped his hands and leaned forward, ‘directly to Cheddar.’

‘So, they didn’t want any money?’

Of course, Holt considered, there may have been a tiny flaw in his distraction plans. The only thing to do was roll with it, and make use of his commanding tones.

‘No, they did not. Just… the puzzles.’ Holt stared Amy down.

She still looked quizzical. It was time for the big guns.

‘Of course, I myself have attempted to best these beasts, but to no avail. You are the only other person in this precinct who could stand triumphant.’

Amy beamed.

***

Jake, Rosa and Boyle strolled two houses down the street, to a yard where a little girl sat by a swing set playing with a somewhat battered toy manatee and a selection of dolls. Jake was pretty sure that the captain’s hat stitched to Marie’s head was an early Amy Santiago attempt at crafting. They could just overhear the girl’s earnest manatee impression.

‘… and the evidence was there, in her pocket! Belinda was the one who stole the candy bar! You’re coming with me, Belinda, and you have the right to remain silent!’

The girl glowered at the hapless doll, who did indeed remain silent, and manipulated Marie’s flipper to waggle impressively at Belinda.

Jake sighed. ‘Guys, we’re done. Let’s go back to the Nine-Nine.’

‘But Jake –‘

‘C’mon, Charles. Look at her. She’s like a mini-Amy. Those dolls have been arranged in height order, and I’m pretty sure that’s a French horn case that they’re balanced on. Let’s just get the car and go.’

At this point, a police car cruised down the street, slowed, and pulled over.

‘Hey, Jake.’ Hitchcock leaned out of the window. ‘Sorry if we’re late. Being getaway drivers was really boring, and then there was an ice cream van, so we figured maybe we should follow it.’

‘You stopped for ice cream.’

‘We did! We even got some for you guys, but it was gonna melt so we just ate it.’ Hitchcock waved for them to get in.

Rosa stalked over to the car. ‘If you’re going to forget you’re lactose intolerant before we drive back to Brooklyn, I’m sitting in the front.’

‘You sure? I did spill a lot of it over the seat. It’s a bit sticky, but maybe…’ Hitchcock dabbed pitifully at the car seat with a small tissue.

The road trip back was going to be great.

***

Captain Holt was discussing the latest crime statistics with Terry when they heard the sneezing, rapidly increasing in volume and frequency. Oh no.

Amy pushed a skinny teenager through the bullpen, with Cheddar on a lead behind her. ‘You shut your mouth! Dog walker my ass. Thought you could best Captain Holt, huh? Think again, pal!’

She sneezed, twice. Her dog allergy was making it hard to be appropriately intimidating for this arrest. ‘And you call those puzzles! I could solve that Bongard puzzle in my sleep. No wonder you’ve had to resort to crime.’

‘Santiago! Stop there. You can let him go.’

‘Captain Holt! I caught the dognapper for you! I know you just said to solve the puzzles, but really it took no time at all, and I thought I would just go the extra mile. The lowlife wasn’t exactly where he said he’d be, but –‘ she rounded on the confused teenager, ‘if you don’t use a pooper scooper, you’re leaving a trail of dog poop breadcrumbs that’s just waiting to be followed.’

Holt wished he hadn’t created the puzzles to lead to Cheddar’s usual walk. He tried his best to wink conspiratorially at the unlucky dog walker, but the aggrieved young man was having none of it.

‘Ray! C’mon, man, I was just taking Cheddar for his walk like you asked and I get dragged down here? What’s up with that? Why’s this lady pushing me all the time? This is gonna cost extra, y’know.’

Amy started to look confused. ‘What’s going on, sir? – A-choo!

The elevator doors pinged open and the rest of the Nine-Nine pushed their way into the bullpen, bickering about ice cream, the Interstate 278 and boater hats.

‘Jake! Where have you just come from, with – everybody? A-choo!

Jake shook his head at Captain Holt, Terry and Gina. ‘Great job, guys.’ He turned to Amy. ‘Let’s take a walk.’

***

Jake leaned against the wall of the evidence room, arms crossed. He’d told Amy the whole story. It sounded ridiculous.

‘I’m sorry. It was a stupid thing to do, but you were so upset – I just wanted to get Marie back for you. The others were just helping out. And I’m sorry we didn’t actually get you Marie.’

Jake looked at his feet, readying himself for Amy’s reaction. He wasn’t prepared for laughter, though.

‘Jake, that’s really sweet. And utterly ludicrous. It’s okay, though. I mean, I’m not thrilled that I tried to arrest Captain Holt’s dog walker, but I do my best thinking while laminating, and I had a chance to work out why I got so upset last night. It’s not really about Marie, you know.’

‘Huh?’

‘It’s – Look. When I was a girl, I wanted to grow up to be a police captain. It was all I talked about. I knew exactly what I wanted and when it was going to happen. I feel like in some ways I’ve let that part of me down. Marie was a symbol of how much I wanted to do when I was little, and losing her made me realise how scared I’ve been about really taking steps to push forward in my career. So, I’m setting up a meeting with Captain Holt to talk about a promotion, and making a real plan to become a captain myself someday.’

Jake breathed out slowly. He would never have thought of that, but it fit.

‘You’ll make a fantastic captain one day, and I’m with you all the way, whatever you need. Hey, maybe you’d be even better than Captain Holt!’

‘Don’t even joke about that!’

Amy hugged Jake. ‘I loved your story about the little girl playing at being a police captain. I hope she gets there. And – maybe we could get another manatee? Just in case I need a little prod along the way?’

Jake grinned. Marie the Manatee II was already on order.