"Frank?" Murphy flung his office door against the wall. Her voice shifted from its typical harsh-edged tones to the strident and commanding abruptness that would cow even a drill sergeant. "Frank!!" She slapped the top of the desk. "Frank! Get out from under there!"
A soft rustle sounded under the desk.
A smile spread across her face and she poked a finger at the papers burying Frank's desk. "Oooh...look. This pile seems to be slipping."
"Murph! No, don't--OW!" There was a loud thump.
"Oops, there it goes," she said with a devious grin.
Frank appeared from under his desk rubbing his head just as the papers splashed to the floor.
"Hey! That was next week's story."
"The source you've been talking to is a liar anyway, so it's not like you could use it. Anyway--"
"Murph, no," Frank held up a hand. "I am NOT telling you who I got, and I am NOT telling you what I'm getting. We go through this every--"
"Oh, come on, Frank! I'm lousy at this and you know it. It was bad enough when Corky just insisted on the cute, decorated party but this...I need to find out who has the easiest name and trade--someone who wants...a gift certificate or something," Murphy whined, fixing Frank with the glare that usually broke him. "I need to find out--"
With the glare not working, she walked around the desk, leaning against it as she begged, "Pleeeeease, Frank? We've been friends for how long?"
Frank stopped, closed his eyes, and took a breath. "Look, Murph. How about you try something new? Listen. Just…listen to what the person you drew says, what they like, what they do. You'll find out something they like. I mean, you have till the end of the week."
"Oh, like that helps! Since when did that listening thing work? This is me, Frank!"
"Just go." Frank pointed at the door interrupting as she started to reply, "Uh-uh. Go. I've got to make more research calls since I can't use this stuff anyway."
"Fine," she huffed. Pausing at the door, she added, "I heard that guy who hangs out by the Jefferson Memorial knows someone who knows about your piece."
"Oh, no...the really creepy one?"
"That's the one. He likes you too."
Murphy grinned as the door closed behind her.
"So, Miles, how's your holiday exchange going?"
"Why should I tell you, Murphy?" He looked over the edge of his coffee cup. "So you can copy my ideas like you did Frank's the last two years?"
"No, no...I'm seriously...interested. Oh, come on, Miles! Help me out here."
"No way. After what you did to my car last month? Just how gullible do you think I am?" Miles refilled his coffee cup, glowering at her for a moment before walking away.
"Well, you cancelled my story...and it was your birthday..." The elevator doors closed with Miles still frowning. "Great." She headed back to her office, only pausing for a moment and rolling her eyes as she caught sight of the stuffed Grinch sitting in her secretary's chair.
She turned to look first over her left shoulder, then her right, and opened the door gingerly, cringing as it squeaked on its hinges. Checking the hallway again, she crept into the office. She yanked the trash can from its perfectly squared place under the desk and plunked it on the blotter.
"Dry cleaning ticket. Folded napkin. Draft of opening to the show--also folded. What's wrong with you? Can't you memorize one tiny gift list and throw it away? Leave a receipt or a shopping list in the trash? And I've seen your 'to do' lists. You couldn't just throw ONE away today?"
She put the trash can away, deliberately setting it slightly askew. Just as she was stepping out from behind the desk, the door swung open. She looked desperately for someplace to hide, but there was none in the tiny office so she pasted on a patently false smile. "Jim! Hi!"
"Hey, Murphy. Waiting for me?"
"No, no, I was just checking on something."
"Going through my trash can for gift ideas, were you?"
Murphy hung her head. "You don't suppose Diane Sawyer is reduced to this, do you, Jim?"
Jim attempted a smile and patted her shoulder. "You'll do fine, slugger."
She let the door fall closed as she left, hearing him call, "You didn't put the trash can back tidily."
Murphy cringed, standing up slowly from behind the rack of refrigerator magnets.
"Murphy, is that you? I didn't know you shopped here."
"Um, hi, Corky. I don't, really."
"Oh, this is just the best store!" Corky enthused, gesturing with one hand. "They have everything!"
"So…you shop here a lot, do you?"
"All the time. I think I love everything in this store."
"Really? Why's that?"
"It's just all so…cute. But enough of that…have you finished your Christmas shopping yet? I'm just getting my last few things--for my hair stylist and mail carrier and--"
"You give gifts to your mailman??"
"Oh, of course. My mother always made homemade cookies and goodies, but folks here are so suspicious that they just don't eat the things. Anyway, just between you and me, I'm not as good a cook as she was."
"You don't say." Murphy grimaced.
"So instead, I make gift baskets of little things like tea and tree decorations and potpourri--"
"Is that what that smell is?" Murphy wrinkled her nose in disgust.
"Yes. Isn't it lovely? That mixture of pine and cinnamon and cloves and all those Christmas scents..."
"Well, Corky, you just...enjoy that. I've got to get back to the office."
"Okay, Murphy. Have fun with your shopping!" Corky flounced away, picking up a trinket here and there, adding things to her basket as she went.
"Gift baskets, huh?" Murphy scowled, then rolled her eyes. "For her mailman. Right."
"Murphy, stop that!" Corky swatted at Murphy's hand.
"You can't look at who the presents are from till it's time to distribute them."
"Right," Murphy replied, jaw clenched.
"Come on, Murph, the snacks aren't bad." Frank took her elbow and steered her toward the spread of food.
"See how much fun this is?" Corky twittered.
A murmur of vague agreement came from the staff, along with comments of, "Good veggie dip," "Nice decorations," "Great, sure," and "Who spiked the punch?"
"All right, all right, let's open presents already," Murphy said, gesturing to the small tree. "Nice touch with the Star of David on top, by the way, Corky."
"Isn't that nice?" She touched it with a single finger. "I thought it added a touch of universal...something-or-other. Miles, you're the executive producer. Why don't you be Santa Claus?"
Miles closed his eyes for a moment then shook his head. "That means I get to hand out the gifts, huh?"
Corky nodded enthusiastically, grinning back to her molars.
"Okay then. Um, here you go, Carl, Jim, Frank..."
Frank checked the tag on his gift. "Hey, look! Mine's from Miles. Miles, I had your name. How cool is that?"
"...John, Corky, Murphy--"
"I love presents!" Murphy shook the box, which made a soft clunk.
"...and...me." Miles smiled a bit stiffly at the wrapping paper covered in teddy bears dressed as Santa.
"All right," Corky announced, "everyone has their presents, so now we can open them. Happy holidays, everyone. To an excellent new year on FYI."
Staffers raised their glasses, "To an excellent year."
"Now, we'll go one by one and watch--"
"Oh, come on, Corky. Everyone? Just tear right in!" Murphy followed her own directive with gusto, and the room was filled with the ripping of paper.
"Gee, Miles, thanks. I think," Frank said.
"Shouldn't I say the same?"
They compared their audio copies of How To Find A Great Woman: Advice for the Sad, Single Guy, narrated by the Governor of Arkansas.
"Thank you, Jim," John said.
"I'm sorry, John. I didn't know what to get, so I brought you a loaf of Doris' fruitcake and a cashmere scarf."
"Thanks, Jim. Hey, guys, wanna share the fruitcake?"
Jim turned quickly to his own gift. "My, Corky, what a lovely...basket."
"Oh, Jim, I didn't know what to get you either, so I made you and Doris a gift basket. It has matching Mr. and Mrs. Claus hats, and holiday-scented soaps and potpourri, and holiday-themed kitchen towels and pencils."
"Well...thank you, Corky." Jim held up the basket and inspected it. "This is...unexpected and...um...lovely."
"You're welcome, Jim!" Corky hugged him tightly, grinning with delight. "Oh, Murphy! You got me!"
Murphy pursed her lips. "Yes. Yes, I did. I hope you...like it."
"You got Corky?" Frank whispered, suppressing giggles.
"Shut up, Frank."
"Murphy! What a cute little thing! Look what Murphy got me, everyone. It's a potpourri warmer! And it's electric just like the one I've got at home. It has this cute little wreath on it and "Christmas Blend" potpourri. I just can't wait to set it up in my office!" She hugged Murphy tightly as Murphy leaned away, cringing through her smile.
"Well, you're welcome, Corky. I hope you like it."
"Told you you could do it," Frank said under his breath. Murphy just glared at him.
"Of course I like it. And it's from my favorite store! You know, I think this is the best present I've ever seen you get someone. I feel so special."
Corky moved to hug Murphy again, but Murphy ducked and held up the box of fine chocolates she'd unwrapped. "Gee, look what I got. Truffles! I forgot to see who it was from, though." Sorting through the wrapping paper, she found the tag and read, "'To Murphy, with all my love, Carl.' Gee, Carl. Thank you," she said, glancing sideways at Frank.
"You're welcome," Carl said, smoothing his hair and beard and glancing at his shoes.
"So," Murphy said brightly. "More music and dancing?"
Murphy closed the door behind her and leaned against it, then set down her purse and the box of chocolates on the entry table, kicked off her shoes, and slipped out of her coat. She reached into one pocket and removed a small, wrapped box.
"Eldin? You'd better be here--"
Lights flickered on revealing decorations and Eldin in his holiday shirt holding two glasses of eggnog.
"Eldin...this is gorgeous. You haven't done this since--"
"I know, but I figured it was time to spiff the place up again."
"I got you a little--" She held out the present awkwardly.
"Here," he said and she took the glass of eggnog and he tapped a dash of nutmeg onto the surface, pushed play on the stereo, then took the present she offered.
Murphy read the "A Motown Christmas, Volumes 1 and 2" on the boxes on top of the stereo, and Aretha started to sing, "Have yourself a merry little Christmas."
"Merry Christmas, Murphy." Eldin smiled, raising his glass.
"Merry Christmas, Eldin. Wanna share some of my truffles?"
"You got truffles?"
She sat on the sofa, putting her feet up. "Yeah...the good kind." She opened the lid to show them off. "Perfect with a little music, some eggnog, and a friend. Thanks, Eldin."
"You're welcome." He gestured to his own small package as he leaned back and put his own feet up. "Thank you."
"Maybe something Christmasy is on...like Miracle on 34th Street or Die Hard." She clicked the television on.
"We now return to 'A Barry Manilow Christmas Special'."
"Oh, no, no, no!" She changed the channel rapidly as Eldin laughed. "Here--have some chocolate. But because you laughed, I get both the chocolate raspberry ones."