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The Darling Detective Agency Versus the Christmas Crime Spree

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“I can't believe you took the Santa case,” Colin said.

“I can't believe you didn't take the Santa case,” Ally said. “Where's your Christmas spirit?”

“Resting in peace, I hope.” Colin swiveled his chair. He was sitting on a swivel-y chair, so it was all right - the chair was supposed to swivel, but Ally still felt Colin maybe over-swiveled a bit sometimes. Often. Even swivel-y chairs had their limits. “Unless you meant liquor, in which case I'm not telling you.”

What's that supposed to mean?

“Spirits, liquor,” Colin said. “It's a whatchammacallit kind of thing.” He made an accompanying hand-gesture that was exactly as specific as 'whatchammacallit'.

Did I just say that out loud, or did he read my mind? That's kind of creepy.

“Synonyms,” Ally said. “They're called synonyms. Two words with the same meaning. And I said 'spirit', singular, not 'spirits', plural. There's a difference.”

“Hotel California.” Colin pointed his finger at the ceiling. “Guy asks for wine, bartender says they haven't had that spirit, singular, here since nineteen-sixty-nine. I can sing it if you want me to.”

“It's a pun. And a song,” Ally said. “The rules are different for puns and songs. Or maybe it was just a mistake. I mean, it's The Eagles, not Lionel Ritchie.”

Colin swiveled his chair again. “Yeah, I don't think I'm going to be touching that one. Otherwise, we'll be arguing all day, and while I do give great make-up sex, I don't think you deserve that just for making poor choices in music taste.”

“Isn't the whole point of taste that it's not a choice?” Ally asked. “You don't choose to like a specific artist better than another one, you just do. Because.”

“Because you have terrible taste in music?” Colin raised his hands. “You do not have terrible taste in music. I know you do not have terrible taste in music.”

“Of course I don't have terrible taste in music,” Ally said. “Now what's with the 'oh, but I'm not telling you where I keep my liquor' thing?”

“I think I successfully changed the subject when you asked that before,” Colin said. “Therefore, I think you should accept that we will not be discussing your problem with alcohol right now.”

“My - “ I do not have a problem with alcohol!

“One word,” Colin said. “YouTube.”

“Six words,” Ally said. “I was drunk at the time.”

“My point.”

“So I get drunk when I drink too much. That's normal,” Ally said. “What, you expect me to drink and stay sober? That's crazy. You're crazy.”

“You are, when you're drunk,” Colin said. “It's kind of sexy and also a little scary. So I think I'd like to save it for a special occasion. You can drink your own liquor, though. I mean, obviously. I've still got you on Google Alert, so no worries about me missing the show.”

“No shows for you, buster.” Ally's computer beeped to let her know she had a new e-mail. “I'm on a very serious job right now. I can't afford any nights of drunken debauchery.”

“I'll give you half-off, tonight only,” Colin offered. “How's that sound?”

“Which half am I not getting?” Ally asked, trying to open her new e-mail.

Her computer snottily informed her she needed to type in her password again.

“Your choice,” Colin said.

“Tough one.” A Nigerian prince informed her he would like to give her a million dollars.

Ally considered writing back what she'd like to give to him, then decided that it was the season, after all, and signed him up to receive a digital Christmas card, as well as three dozen requests to donate money to the Charitable Organization of the Day. Every day.

(She'd once naively thought spammers were all bad people. No more. Some of them also really, really cared about the environment. And hungry children in Africa. And overweight children in America. And terribly average children in Europe. And supersmart children in Asia. And penguins.)

“Do you have Santa on Google Alert?” she asked.

“No,” Colin said. “I did tweet about him, though. Repeatedly. They were very humorous tweets, too. You missed out, big time.”

“You're the one who missed out, big time, by not taking this case.”

“Well, you took it,” Colin said. “As I knew you would. It's a terrible case. You shouldn't have taken it; it's impossible to solve.”

“It's Santa,” Ally said. “How can you not take a case that involves Santa when it's the most wonderful time of the year?”

“I'm pretty sure it's a fake Santa,” Colin said. “Kind of takes the magic out of it. You know?”

“Aren't they all fake Santas?” Ally asked. “I mean, considering.”

“That's a terrible thing to say and I can't believe you just said it,” Colin said, shaking his head.

“Fine,” Ally said. “He was a fake fake Santa. Surely somebody noticed somebody like that? I mean, what, there's more than one Santa running around in Boston snatching people's purses?”

“Thirty-two,” Collin said. His phone buzzed. “Make that thirty-three.”

“Seriously? What's wrong with people?”

“It's really cold and they're hungry?”

“Not if they're wearing a Santa suit,” Ally said. “Those things are way hot.”

“So maybe they just want to make a few extra bucks to buy presents for their loved ones.”

“Whatever,” Ally said. “Didn't you just tell me you didn't have this guy on Google Alert? So how do you know there's nearly forty of these creeps running around? Hey, you think it's a gang?”

“No elvish slaves spotted yet, so I'm going to assume they're all working alone,” Colin said. “And you just asked me if I had Santa on Google Alert. I haven't got Santa on Google Alert. I've only got fake, purse-snatching Santa on Alert. I figured there'd be less hits for that one.” His phone buzzed again. “I may have been wrong about that.”

“Ugh,” Ally said. Now how am I going to find the right one?

“Look at it from the bright side,” Colin said.

“Which side is that?” Ally asked.

Colin typed in an address on his computer. “On this website right here, you can get a near-perfect fake handbag that looks just like the ones they sell for seven-hundred bucks, except that they let you have it for twenty. Plus shipping.”

“You want me to give her back a fake handbag? That's kind of terrible.”

“They've got wallets, too,” Colin said. “And I know a place where you can get knock-off make-up stuff. She didn't keep her phone in there, did she? Fake phones are kind of tricky.”

“Nope,” Ally said. “She had a personal cellphone assistant to carry her phone.”

“See?” Colin said. “Done before dinner. Easiest case ever.”

“And here you didn't think we should have taken it.”