A/N: Okay, I know this is a Christmas story, and I did start writing it way back around the holidays, but the damn thing got away from me and my muse wanted to work on other stuff, and anyway, it languished on my hard drive for quite a while. Well, now the show is coming to an end and I wanted a way to commemorate the wonderful and wild ride we've had with our favorite US Marshals, so I dusted it off and (other than some editing still to be done) finished it.
In a strange way, I almost think that the fact that it is a Christmas story is weirdly appropriate because this is my final present to this wonderful fandom that I have enjoyed so much.
Mary narrowed her eyes as she stared into the conference room. I f there was one thing she had learned over the years, it was to never be surprised by what sort of humanity drifted, or perhaps more aptly, was shot, stolen, bombed or kidnapped, into her care. She had seen everything from bewildered families to tattooed gangsters, slick porn kings to stuttering accountants, but she had never seen anything quite like this.
Sitting in the conference room, across the table from her partner, was a short, rotund man dressed in clothes that were highly inappropriate for Albuquerque, even in late November. His heavy, well-worn corduroys were tucked into shiny, black boots with fleece tops and held up by suspenders that creased his bright-red, flannel top. But his clothes seemed almost normal after you looked at his face. Round, smiling cheeks were framed by the thickest, whitest beard she had ever seen. He looked just like …
Shaking her head, she grabbed the appropriate file off her desk and after giving it a quick once over, headed in to help Marshall. "So, Marshall, are you going to introduce me to Kris Kringle here?"
"Oh, my dear, that's a common mistake, but I don't actually go by that name," the witness told her with a smile. "That's a different person altogether."
"I should hope so," Mary said.
"Divinity has never been one of my claims," he continued, nodding sagely.
Mary gave a cynical laugh. "Well then you're one up on most of the people we see, because they're always telling us what angels they are."
"What he means is that Kris Kringle is an Americanization of the Dutch Christkindl or Christ Child," Marshall explained.
Mary rolled her eyes. "You would know that," she said to her partner before turning back to the witness. "Just so long as you don't expect me to call you Santa."
"Well, I have been known to answer to that."
"Which is also an American corruption of the Dutch for -" Marshall started to say before a glare from Mary silenced him.
The witness looked between them with an amused twinkle in his eye, then smiled at Mary. "My actual name is Nicholas."
"Of course it is," she said with another eye roll. "Marshall, can I see you outside for a moment."
Once they were through the door, she grabbed his arm and dragged him around a corner out of sight. "Just what exactly were you doing in there?"
"I was about to start reading him the MOU." Marshall answered innocently.
"You know what I mean, numbnuts. Our witness thinks he's Santa Claus … and you're encouraging him, for God's sake."
"Mary, he's harmless."
"He may be, but the people after him aren't. He's here because he witnessed a gang shooting in a shelter - a shelter that he was visiting as Santa, a fact the gangbangers are sure to remember. He needs to quit the Father Christmas schtick and concentrate on being just plain Nicholas Myren."
Rather than appearing cowed by her vehement words, Marshall started to chuckle.
"What?" Mary snapped.
"Either there really is a higher power at work, or our jolly friend had a hand in picking out his alias, because the original Saint Nicholas was the Bishop of Myra," he explained.
"Jesus Christ in a bathrobe."
"Nope, just … Santa." Marshall was clearly enjoying this. "Oh, calm down, Mare, I highly doubt a bunch of Jersey hoodlums will make the connection."
"Fine, the name can stay just as long as you help me convince him to stop dressing like a Scandinavian elf." Mary narrowed her eyes when Marshall didn't answer right away. "Oh dear God, don't tell me you actually believe him."
"Nooo …" Marshall answered slowly. "Really, I don't," he insisted when Mary glared at him. "Discouraging him just makes me feel like Scrooge."
"A role I was made for, seeing as how I'm allergic to fairy lights and Christmas cheer," Mary said gleefully as she headed back for the conference room. "Come on, Tiny Tim, and watch a master convince Saint Nick that the ghost of Christmas is past."
Once St Nick, as Mary had taken to calling him, was settled, she promptly put him out of her mind. If nothing else, the old man seemed unlikely to be the sort of witness who would cause many problems. After all, thinking that you are Santa Claus generally indicates a lack of antisocial or criminal tendencies. Kids might be naughty but Santa undoubtedly fell into the nice portion of the population. She was more than happy to let him hang on to his delusion if it also meant he stayed out of trouble.
Besides, the rest of the criminal world appeared to have decided to celebrate the holidays by going on a crime spree and both she and Marshall were swamped with new witnesses to process and settle before the end of the year. One in particular took more than the usual amount of attention. Susan Berger, formerly known as Susanna Bergamini, was the one that bothered her the most.
The little girl, all of nine years old, had witnessed the shooting of both her parents in a mafia hit before becoming the prosecution's main witness in a trial that could bring down one of New Jersey's most powerful crime bosses. She was entering the program alone. Her father's side of the family all had mob ties and her mother's side had shown no inclination to get involved in a case that would make them a mafia target, let alone move across the country and change their name for the sake of a mere niece. The only member of the family who had held out any hope was an aunt, Sophia Bergamini, who had escaped the family business by joining a mission and absconding to the wilds of the Amazon to do charity work. Unfortunately, no one had heard from her in years, and for all anyone knew, she might not even be alive anymore.
Mary was grim when, posing as Social Services workers, they left the little girl in the care of her new foster family. "Some people should be sterilized at birth."
"Jeez, Mare, I thought the Melbournes seemed nice," Marshall replied, his purposeful obtuseness an attempt to lighten her mood.
"Not the foster family, dickhead, her real family."
"I know her dad wasn't an angel but he was trying to get out of the business for her sake. It's what got him killed. Basically, he gave his life for his kid."
"What about the rest of her lily livered clan?"
"They have families of their own. You can't blame them for not wanting to uproot them and possibly put them in danger."
"So now she's alone."
Marshall knew that this case had touched a nerve with Mary, who had abandonment issues of her own. Despite her usual facade of disdain and derision, Mary actually cared too much. It was what made her good at her job. "No, Mare, that's where you're wrong. She's not alone; she has us."
"Yeah, well, it's almost Christmas and she doesn't want us - she wants her family. And there's nothing anyone can do to fix that."
That didn't stop Mary from trying. Every spare moment she had, she searched for a charity that might have heard of Sophia Bergamini, but she had no luck. The Peace Corp, the Red Cross, evangelical mission groups, Catholic charities - the answer was always the same, none of them had anyone matching her description on their rolls.
"Damn it, the woman should have come to work for us. She's done a better disappearing act then I would have thought possible," she groused when yet another lead failed to pan out.
"Mmm, I think you're going to have to put your search to rest for a bit. We've got other problems."
"Aw jeez, what is it now? Did Paul the ex-bookie get picked up by vice again? Or no, I bet its Mikey. Our not-so-reformed biker's about due for another bar brawl. Gotta love the holidays, the desire to celebrate seems to bring out the worst in people."
Marshall shook his head and handed her the newspaper article he had just printed out. She didn't need to read more than the headline.
Local Man Says Santa Act is the Real Deal:
Draws Record Numbers of Shoppers
"No, just no. Please tell me it's not our jolly witsec elf at work. I will personally rip his beard right off his face, and I don't care if it is real."
Marshall passed her the picture that accompanied the story. "It's him all right."
Mary studied the picture of Nicholas, complete with a Santa suit and surrounded by children, then blew out her breath in exasperation. "What part of inconspicuous did he not understand? I knew he was psycho but I didn't think he was stupid."
"I admit he has issues."
"I hate that word."
"Issues. Magazines have issues. Politics have issues. People are just fucking nuts."
"Would you prefer I said he suffers from the grandiose subtype of a highly functioning delusional disorder?"
"No, I just want you to admit our St. Nick is a whack job."
"Statements like that are what land you with coal in your stocking."
Mary snorted. "I promise you, I've found worse things in my stockings." Then she grabbed her coat and started for the door. "Are you coming numb nuts? Because right now I'm more worried about getting Santa back in custody before he decides to find some reindeer and take them for a spin. And before the gangbangers decide to steal Christmas by shooting him."
"It's a white horse."
"The original St. Nicolas character rides a white horse. No reindeer."
"Whatever." Mary punched the down button on the elevator and then dangled her keys in front of Marshall's face. "We're gonna see what he thinks about a purple Probe.