Sunday, 29 November 2009
Holiday Heroes Alliance, Part One
FBI Criminal Investigation Specialist Christina Bryson was hungover.
Last night, after spending the entire week of Thanksgiving getting dragged from Liberty Island to Rockefeller Center to Chinatown, Christina dropped off her parents and sisters at LaGuardia. And then she drove directly to her favorite pub.
She'd only intended to have a beer and watch the last period of the Rangers game, but the longer she sat there, the more holiday chatter she overhead. And the more holiday chatter she overheard, the more she thought about the fact that in three weeks she'd be on a plane on her way Pacific Palisades to spend another week with her family. And the more she thought about that, the more she drank.
Usually Christina found solace in her job, but Thanksgiving marked the beginning of her partner's annual month-long vacation. And a partner-less FBI agent is a beat cop with a nightstick. She'd be pushing papers and cleaning coffee makers until the New Year.
God, she hated the holidays.
When Christina arrived at her office on Monday morning, she was annoyed to see someone sitting in front of her desk. It wasn't even eight o'clock. There was a jackhammer trying to pound its way out of her skull, and her eyes were lolling around in her head like something out of a cartoon. She didn't even remember if the Rangers had won.
"Good morning," she said, walking into her office and dropping her leather bag on the desk. "My assistant didn't tell me I had any appointments this early."
The man's FBI Visitor Badge identified him as "Hubert Hare," and on any other morning Christina would have mocked him. This morning, however, it was taking all of her brainpower to remain upright.
Hubert Hare rose from the chair. When he extended his hand, Christina noticed that his nails were perfectly manicured and his skin was extremely soft. He was wearing a tweed coat with elbow patches, and round spectacles. Her first thought was college professor, but he seemed much too young for that. He covered her hand with both of his own, and perhaps she was still slightly drunk, but touching him seemed to make her dizzier.
"I apologize, Ms. Bryson," he said, releasing her hand. "I didn't make an appointment. Frankly I never imagined we'd need to meet. But circumstances have changed, and there is an urgent matter that requires our collective attention."
He motioned to the door. "May I?"
Christina nodded. Hubert Hare closed the door as she took a seat behind her desk. She wished she'd stopped at Starbucks.
"How may I help you, Mr. Hare?"
Hubert Hare leaned forward and locked eyes with her. Again, she felt light-headed. "Ms. Bryson," he said. "Your partner has been kidnapped."
"Nick? No, he's on vacation. He has been taking off the month of December as long as we've worked together. I'm sure one of my colleagues can assist you. Nick's a good agent, but we have plenty of others."
Hubert Hare shook his head. "No. Nick was taken from his apartment last night by four armed men. They gagged him and stuffed him into the trunk of an unmarked SUV. I don't have the license plate number because my door watchman fell asleep, but I do have this video footage."
He handed an iPhone across the desk to Christina. She watched in horror as a night vision-equipped surveillance camera played out the scene just as Hubert had described it. It was definitely Nick's building. It was definitely Nick.
"Why do you have this video?" Christina demanded, snapping to her feet and knocking her chair over. "How do you know Nick? I swear to God if you hurt him—"
"Ms. Bryson, please sit down. I have much I need to explain, and time is short, especially with Nick in captivity. Nick Noel and I have worked together for many years. He is a dear friend, and while my affection is certainly a factor in my desire to rescue him, the crisis we have on our hands is much more serious than that."
Christina's heart thudded in her chest as she straightened her chair and sat back down. "You work for the FBI? Nick has never mentioned you."
"Ms. Bryson, I do not work for the United States of America. I work for the people of the world."
"The UN? Interpol?"
"No, I work for an underground organization called The Holiday Heroes Alliance."
Christina's heart slowed; she narrowed her eyes at Hubert Hare. This was a joke? Nick decided to have one of his friends punk her on his first day of vacation? What a jackass! He knew she'd be hungover after dealing with her family for an entire week.
"When you see Nick, give him a big 'fuck you' from me, and tell him he can forget about that Scotch my dad brought back from Glenfiddich."
"Ms. Bryson, I am quite serious. The Holiday Heroes Alliance is a real organization and your partner really has been kidnapped."
"Okay, well, I hope you and the other Holiday Heroes enjoy donning your gay apparel and tracking him down."
Christina stood up and motioned to the door.
"Ms. Bryson, listen to me: Most of the myths you were told as a child are true. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy, Cupid, Mother Nature: all of us are real. During our seasons, we carry out the tasks for which we've been chosen, and during our downtime we work with New York's finest superheroes to prevent crime. I have Spider-Man on speed dial!"
"All of 'us' are real?"
"Yes," Hubert Hare said. "I am the Easter Bunny."
"Oh, wow. Did Nick hire you? You sound like you actually believe what you're saying."
"No, Nick did not hire me. I am the Easter Bunny. Look, all of us have our own powers that we can use at any time. The Tooth Fairy can fly. Mother Nature can control the weather. Cupid can manipulate emotions."
"And what can you do, as the Easter Bunny?"
"I have the powers of a rabbit."
"So you're a skilled ... herbivore?"
"No, my skill is sex."
Christina couldn't help it. She laughed until she snorted. "Sex?" she said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "Your superpower, Hubert, is sex?"
Hubert Hare met her eyes again, and this time she felt so dizzy that she actually fell backwards into her chair. He smiled at her and her heart started thumping again against her ribs. His gaze left her face and lingered for a moment on her collarbone before it traveled down. Her body grew warm under the scrutiny of his eyes as if he were actually touching her. She found herself considering the strength of the lock on the door and the sturdiness of her desk. She was a moment away from clearing its contents with one sweep of her arm when Hubert Hare said, "I told you."
His smile faded and Christina shook her head, trying to clear it.
"Look, I know this is a lot of information to take in at one time, but we need to move on this thing and we need to do it now. We cannot waste time."
"Wait," Christina said, still fighting both her hangover and Hubert Hare's pheromones. "If Nick is in the Holiday Hero Alliance, that means he's ... a holiday hero?"
Hubert Hare nodded.
Christina tried to think of any powers Nick could have been hiding. He couldn't fly; he wasn't especially strong or fast. He did have nice teeth, though. Maybe he was the Tooth Fairy.
Hubert seemed to read her mind. He said, "Have you ever been working on a case with Nick and time just seemed to stretch itself out. You only had ten minutes to find and diffuse a bomb, but that ten minutes seemed to turn into three hours? Have you ever noticed how good Nick is with kids, how drawn to him they are? Doesn't he always give you the most perfect gifts?"
"Oh, my God."
"But he's so ... young."
"We all transform near our own specific holidays. That's why Nick always takes vacation during December. Ms. Bryson, you understand now why this is a matter of the utmost importance. Your partner is missing, yes. But more importantly, Christmas is coming — and Santa Claus has been kidnapped."