Inching forward, Roger was reminded of an old movie he watched years ago that showed groups of lemmings following one another blindly off a cliff and he was beginning to have the same unnerved feeling that surely they must have felt before tumbling into the sea. Pressing onward, they filed past a skinny disinterested Santa, his matted beard sitting askew, ringing a bell for contributions; then on past a local street preacher who had taken a nearby spot to give his sermon as a few followers held up signs about the real reason for the season.
Once they finally were inside the doors, Riggs quickly broke free from the crowd, looking for a place to get out of the way of the ever increasing throng of people. In his futile attempt to find a spot where he wasn't having his personal space violated, Riggs finally ended up having to take refuge in a nearby Christmas display. Pushing aside the gigantic styrofoam Christmas stockings and ornaments, he stood ankle deep in the fake snow, eyes squinted against the overly bright fluorescent lights and waited for his partner to join him. Damn he hated crowds. Riggs couldn't remember the last time he had seen so many people all together at one place … maybe the last time he and Vicky had gone to a Lakers game. But that crowd hadn't carried the air of desperation that was evident on these people's faces. "Wow … a little crowded, isn't it?" Martin muttered as Roger came over to stand next to him.
Taking in the slightly dazed look that had come to Martin's face, Roger couldn't help but chuckle. "I tried to warn ya… " he said with a sigh. "I guess it's been awhile since you've done this, eh?"
Riggs shook his head. "I've NEVER done this."
"Never?" Roger stared at him in surprise. "Really?"
"Yeah, really." Martin shrugged. "I always got my presents early." His brow wrinkled up into a frown, arms folded across his chest. "And you don't have to act so surprised that I didn't always have to run out at the last second for a gift. I am capable of being responsible, ya know …" Riggs paused briefly. "Well … at least occasionally anyway."
"Of course," Roger said hurriedly. "Sorry … I didn't mean to imply... I just … uhm, well … anyway," He turned to the crowd, hands splayed out in front of them as he quickly changed the subject. "Okay then, this is it. Basically a million cranky men desperate for that last minute gift." He gave Riggs a nudge. "And we'll never find anything by standing in this display so we better get a move on."
"Alright, alright…" sighed Riggs, one hand patting his jacket - already on edge and very much in need of the nicotine that would soothe his nerves. He retrieved the pack and pulled out a cigarette only to have Roger quickly snatch it from his fingers before he could light it.
"What are you doing, Riggs? You can't smoke in here!"
"What's gonna happen? Is Mall security gonna arrest me?" Riggs gave a snort. "Puleeze .. those jokers don't even carry guns."
"I don't care. No smoking. And -" he added, quickly cutting off Martin's protest, "- I don't want to hear about it. You are the one that insisted on coming here."
"Hey, I was trying to save your butt! It's Christmas Eve, Rog, and you don't even have a present for Trish!"
"Like I told you, Riggs, we had already discussed it. Trish knows how hard we've been working and she is fine with getting her present after the holidays."
Riggs rolled his eyes in utter disbelief. "And you actually thought she really meant it?" He shook his head. "Being married for as long as you've been, I would have thought you knew at least a little bit about women, but you are utterly clueless."
"W-what are you talking about?" Suddenly Roger didn't look so sure of himself anymore. "You really think she'll be upset?"
Martin just gave another shake of his head. Shoving his smokes back into his pocket, Riggs motioned for Roger to follow him. "Trish puts up with a lot and we're gonna make sure she has a present under the tree." His face set in a determined scowl, Martin gave Roger a terse nod. "Let's go."
Stepping out of the display, the two men were swallowed up by the crowd of people. Unable to fight the movement, they went along with the current, circulating around massive displays, most of them now picked clean of their merchandise as if a horde of locusts had descended upon them. "Oh, this is not looking good … not good at all…" Roger muttered under his breath as they came across the empty carcass of yet another gift display. Suddenly Roger stopped, coming to a halt so abruptly that Martin nearly crashed into him.
"What? What is it? Something wrong?" Martin's eyes scanned the area but he didn't see anything to cause alarm.
"That sign …" Roger pointed to a nearby counter excitedly. "I recognize that … they carry a lipstick that Trish loves. It could be a good start. Come on."
"You go ahead and check it out while I look around," suggested Riggs. "We'll cover more ground that way."
Roger frowned, quickly trying to calculate just how much time he could give Riggs alone in this mess before he'd probably get into trouble. "Well… I guess so… Meet you back here in ten."
"10-4," grinned the younger man as Roger took off for the makeup counter. As soon as his partner's attention was diverted, Martin reached back into his jacket and withdrew his cigarette pack once again. He, of course, had every intention of looking for Trish's gift, but there was no way he was going to pass up the opportunity to sneak a quick smoke without having to listen to one of Roger's never ending lectures. Thumping the pack against one hand, he released a cigarette from captivity and was about to light it when an unearthly howl sounded out nearby. He turned quickly, his body instinctively going into a defense position, only to see that the noise was coming from a nearby man, his expression distraught.
"Nooo…" the man wailed again, "that couldn't have been the last one…. Maybe there's still one somewhere in the back?" He stared at the salesperson with hopeful eyes but she only crossed her arms with a shake of her head.
Riggs couldn't help but smile a bit as he shook his head in amazement. He didn't think he'd ever heard such a tone of horrible desperation, even in all his years of combat.
"Sorry, but, like I've said, I don't have anymore." The salesperson suddenly shrugged a shoulder. "You may want to check out at the other entrance. We did have a display set up th-" Before she even had a chance to finish her sentence, the man dashed off in desperation, almost crashing into Riggs in the process.
"Shit!" Martin jumped back just in time to avoid getting knocked over but then found himself stumbling forward as he was suddenly pushed from the other direction, a voice shouting out, "Hey! Watch where you're going, bub!"
Anger replacing his earlier amusement, Riggs turned around with a growl and … saw no one there to confront. What the hell … Great, just great, now he was hearing voices? Just wait until Doctor Woods gets wind of this… But then suddenly the same obnoxious voice barked out yet again. "Hey Bozo, I'm right here!"
Following its direction, Riggs' gaze fell downward towards the floor. Standing next to him was a man, about three feet high. He was dressed in an elf costume - a hideous sparkling thing with sequins and jingle bells hanging off it everywhere, along with a pair of red and white striped tights, green pointy shoes and a cone-shaped green felt hat covered in candy canes. His features contorted into a most unpleasant sneer, he glared pointedly at Riggs as he puffed furiously on a cigarette.
His initial anger dissipated by the utterly ridiculous sight before him, Riggs couldn't help but laugh. "Bozo? You're calling me Bozo?" He hooted loudly. "Have ya looked in the mirror lately? Cuz I'm not the one going around with bells on my shoes." Still chuckling, he popped the cigarette he had been holding into his mouth. "Hey, Twinkle Toes, got a light?"
Martin's laughter only proved to infuriate the small man further. Face reddening in anger, he growled back, "You're about to find one of these shoes up your ass!"
His amused mood gone in a flash, Riggs' eyes narrowed dangerously. He never took kindly to threats - even if they were coming from someone who could have been an extra from Willie Wonka and The Chocolate Factory. Before he had a chance to say anything else however, the other man suddenly reared back, kicking Riggs square on his shin bone with as much force as he could muster. "You little shit!" Riggs shouted out in surprise. As startled as he was, he still was quick enough to reach over, grabbing the man by his oversized ruffled collar. "I'm gonna -" The rest of his sentence was drowned out by a sudden booming voice announcing over the PA system that a last-minute shipment of George Foreman Grills and Coach handbags had just arrived and would be reduced in price for the next thirty minutes. On cue, the stampeding crowd turned direction, sweeping past, jostling the two men, the little guy squirming like a worm on a hook as Riggs tried to hold on. "Damn it," he muttered, his grip loosening as a man whose bulk was roughly equivalent to the land mass of Rhode Island barreled between the two of them. The resulting impact was enough for the elf to slip from Martin's grasp and he quickly disappeared.
Muttering under his breath, Martin started to head off in the same direction when he was suddenly held back by a hand clamping down firmly on one of his shoulders. His own hands clenching into tight fists, he turned around, raising his free arm up to strike - only to find himself face to face with Roger. "Whoa, hey, take it easy!" Roger's hands came up in a gesture of surrender as he took in Martin's angry expression. "What's with you?"
"What's with me?!" Riggs let his hands relax but his face was still etched with fury. "I've just been assaulted by an elf, that's what!"
"An elf?" Roger's eyebrows arched high in disbelief. Obviously he had miscalculated. Ten minutes alone had been far too much time… "An … elf… just assaulted you?"
"Yes! He kicked me! And don't look at me like that, Rog."
"Martin," sighed Roger, his infinite patience once again being tested by his wayward partner, "you just told me you were attacked by an elf. How should I look at you?"
Riggs paused. "Fair enough." His eyes narrowed. "But I'm still gonna go find that little bast-"
"Oh, no you're not." Leaning over, Roger grabbed Riggs by the arm. "You're coming with me. They didn't have the lipstick and I want to check out that sale they just announced."
"You want to get Trish a George Foreman Grill?"
"No, Riggs. The handbags - the Coach handbags." His hand coming up, Roger snatched the unlit cigarette that Martin had managed to keep tucked in the corner of his mouth throughout his entire altercation. "And WHAT did I say about no smoking in here?"
"Hey! The elf was smoking!"
"I don't want to hear anything more about the elf," Roger grumbled irritably. "Forget the elf." Keeping a firm grip on Martin, he dragged the younger man through the crowd. His normally calm demeanor was beginning to show cracks on the surface as he pushed and shoved with the best of them, working his way to the handbag section. They arrived just in time to watch two men both grab the last purse from the display at the same time. Roger sighed and turned away as they began a ferocious game of tug of war, one hanging onto the strap and the other to the rest of the purse. So much for that gift idea …
Martin suddenly broke out into an enthusiastic grin, one hand patting Roger on the back. "Hey, Rog, I've got a plan."
"Yeah?" Roger glanced over at him suspiciously.
"Yeah." Riggs pointed over to the two men still tussling like mad animals fighting over the last food scrap. "How about I arrest those two for disturbing the peace and then you swoop in and grab the purse."
God help him, Roger actually considered it for a second, but then shook his head, one hand pinching the bridge of his nose. "You're not helping here."
"Well I thought it was a good plan."
"Of course you would, Riggs." Spinning on his heel, Roger looked around, mind working frantically. Something … something … there had to be something that Trish would like … "Okay," he said with a snap of his fingers. "Come on."
Roger pointed to a counter a few aisles over. "We'll try perfume. Women always like perfume, right?"
"Uhh…" Riggs shrugged, "… sure, I guess …"
"Great. Let's go."
They almost made it to the counter without trouble … almost. Just as they were nearing their destination, a woman appeared out of nowhere, a huge smile plastered on her immaculately and heavily made up face. "Hello! Happy Holidays! How about some perfume?! I am sure your wife will love it!" Before either man had a chance to say a word, she raised the bottle and sprayed a cloud of the product all over Riggs.
Martin took a step back, coughing as the obnoxious scent filled his nostrils. "My eyes! You got me right in the eyes!" He found himself unable to stop coughing, he couldn't breathe and now he couldn't see. Dear god, it was worse than tear gas. Riggs' arms were waving around, trying desperately to get rid of the smell. What the hell was it?! Roses? Jasmine? Whatever it was, it made him smell worse than the two-bit cheap whores he used to round up in his vice days. Bent over double from coughing, Riggs growled deeply, "Lady, as soon as I can see again, I'm shooting you!"
Her eyes opening wide, the saleswoman took a step back, her plastic smile now replaced by the very real look of fear, lacquered red nails clasping over her mouth. Roger quickly stepped in, smiling reassuringly at her, one hand patting the back of the still doubled over and coughing Riggs, the other hand squeezing on Riggs' shoulder in an attempt to calm him down. "Ha, ha," he laughed, "my friend is such a kidder."
"I am not kidding!" Still half-blind, Riggs managed to straighten back up, one hand quickly reaching underneath his jacket, around his beltline for where his Beretta was tucked along his back. His mouth still stretched out into a smile, Roger grabbed Riggs' arm and steered him away from the horrified woman before he could pull out the gun. He managed to maneuver the irate detective up to the closest wall, keeping his body between Riggs and the other shoppers.
After another minute, Riggs was finally able to stay upright, although his eyes were bright red and he smelled worse than a cathouse. Head swiveling, he looked around. Although Riggs was no longer sputtering curses and threats, Roger kept his hand on him all the same. "Martin, you can't shoot her."
"It would have been justified," the other man muttered. "Damn it, my eyes are still burning!" Noticing a nearby water fountain, he went over and started washing his eyes out as best as he could. After another minute, he stood up and wiped his face dry on a jacket sleeve. "What is wrong with these people?!"
"I tried to warn y-"
"Yeah, yeah, I know … this was my idea." Martin sighed deeply. "Well, let's go back and get something for Trish."
Roger stared over a shoulder to see the frightened saleslady sitting behind the counter, sobbing hysterically as another salesperson tried her best to console her. He quickly decided that it would probably be best to get out of there before someone started screaming about police brutality. The last thing Captain Murphy would want to hear about was another lawsuit. "Uhmm… y'know, Martin, I think we'll just forget about the perfume. Let's check out another store."