A/N: This gift story is for gyri who requested "an epic Steve and Danny picspam or fic" on her LiveJournal wishlist. I don't know how epic this fic is, but it was written with best wishes for a very Merry Christmas.
I know that first person point of view is not very popular with a lot of people. But this story is based on an episode of Dragnet, which was always narrated by "Joe Friday." No effort to replicate that story would be possible if written in any way but first person.
The episode of Dragnet was called "Dragnet 1967: The Christmas Story." The is one of my favorite episodes of any TV show ever which is why I wanted to write it, Hawaii Five-0 style. You can see the Dragnet episode on Amazon Instant Video.
0800: It was 24 December. We didn't have any active investigations. I had given Kono and Chin the day off. No point in all four of us being on stand-by at headquarters, just in case. Danny was in his office. I could see him from my desk but not what he was doing.
0823: Max came into the main office. He was wearing a crisp white shirt and a bright red bowtie. He looked disconcerted. More so than usual.
"Excuse me, Commander," he said as he paused in my doorway. No matter how many times I've told him to call me Steve, he insists on using my rank.
"Max," I responded. "Come in."
He entered, lurking by the door.
"What can I do for you?" I prompted when he didn't say anything. And Danny thinks I'msocially awkward. But that was neither here nor there.
"I find myself in need of assistance," Max said, sounding tentative and uncertain of his right to ask me anything, much less for my help.
"If I can help, you know I will," I assured him, trying to sound encouraging. "Have a seat."
He nodded, looking at the chair facing my desk before perching on the edge. "Perhaps you know I was raised in the Catholic tradition."
That was a surprise. But then so many things about Max were unexpected, I don't know why I was surprised by this information.
"Hey, Steve," Danny said, barging into my office as was his habit. "Oh. I didn't know anyone was in here."
Max stood, looking over at Danny. He seemed to be trying to decide if he wanted to tell Danny what had brought him to our offices or keep it just between us. "Could you join us?" Max finally requested. "I was about to request a favor from the Commander. Your assistance will also be appreciated."
"Sure," Danny agreed, looking over at me with curiosity reflected on his face. "What's up?"
Max sat back in the chair he had been occupying when Danny entered. Danny leaned against the side of my desk, his arms crossed loosely over his chest. "You know that I was raised in the Catholic tradition," Max said.
Danny nodded, glancing at me. "Surprising, I know," Danny said, reading my expression spot-on as was so often the case.
"Max Bergman isn't a traditionally Catholic name," I said, trying for diplomacy. Something else Danny claims I am incapable of.
"Nor is it my birth name," Max said, Danny nodding. I felt as though I had missed something and was playing catch-up. "I was abandoned on the steps of Saint Mary's Church. I was subsequently adopted by the Bergmans and have returned to the Church to worship throughout my life."
"You know all this?" I asked Danny who seemed in possession of the information.
"I learned it when you were off chasing Wo Fat," Danny said. That there was still an undertone of reproach in his words did not escape my notice. I didn't think he'd ever completely forgive me for doing what I had to do.
"I see," I said, hoping to divert them both. They were exchanging glances that seemed to signify that they both were still holding a grudge.
"What can we do for you?" I asked, still in dark about why Max was in my office to begin with.
"I was at 7:30 Mass with Sabrina," Max explained. "As we were leaving, Father O'Malley requested that I remain momentarily so that he might speak with me. He inquired as to whether or not I would be able to provide assistance to him."
"What did he want?" Danny asked when Max stopped. I had to give Danny credit. He sounded far less impatient than he normally did when Max used 10 words where 2 would do.
"He reported that the baby Jesus had been stolen from the Nativity," Max said. "He was hopeful that I could have the theft investigated and potentially solved. The nativity is very old and irreplaceable."
"The Christ child," Danny repeated, looking from Max to me and back. "You want the Governor's special task force to investigate a missing doll."
"We are not talking about merely a doll, Detective. It is what the statue means. To the parishioners, it is the representation of the Christ child and the miracle of his birth which we mark in the celebration of Christmas," Max said in that stilted way of his.
I could see that Danny was winding up for a rant and decided to short circuit it before he could start. "Does he have any idea who may have taken it?"
"Not so far as I am aware," Max said. "He is not entirely certain as to when the disappearance or possible theft occurred."
"All right. There's nothing going on," I said, standing up. "We'll go talk to Father O'Malley."
Danny looked doubtful but did not argue. At least not in front of Max.
"Thank you," Max said. "If the Christ child is not returned in time for Christmas mass, the foundation of belief of some of the parishioners could be irreparably shaken."
"We'll do everything we can," I promised, hoping I wasn't going to disappoint him and possibly damage the relationship we had struggled to establish. "Come on, Danno." He followed me out of the offices and down to the Camaro. When he didn't bother bitching about me driving, I knew I was in trouble.
I let the silence remain between us until we were halfway to the church. "Go ahead," I invited him.
He looked over at me before looking back out the windshield.
"I know you are saving up a rant. Better it's between just us than you tell the priest how you feel about investigating this."
"Actually," Danny said, shifting in his seat. He looked out his window, his tone soft. "I understand how Max feels."
"Oh," I said, thinking of nothing else that would express my reaction to his statement.
"I'm not saying I think the Christ child is anything but a representation. But it's really important to those who believe," he said. He was still looking out his window so I wasn't able to see his expression as he said it.
"You believe," I said, a pure guess. He shrugged but didn't otherwise respond. We had arrived at the church and I decided it wasn't the time to press him on it. We'd had previously disagreements over matters of faith, of belief. Now was not the time to bring it to the forefront.
It wasn't hard to find Father O'Malley. We were informed he was in the sacristy which was pointed out to us.
"Gentlemen," he said as we entered. He looked to be a kind man with his white hair and laugh lines radiating out from blue eyes behind his glasses. "What can I do for you?"
"Commander McGarrett. Five-0," I said. Danny also introduced himself. "Max Bergman asked that we come speak to you."
"Of course. Max said he would see if he could have the statue recovered," Father O'Malley said. "I hardly expected the head of Five-0 and his partner to take the time to investigate."
"Max asked. We have the time," I said, the Father accepting my explanation.
We followed him out into the main sanctuary, the church one of the oldest on the islands. It was built in the age when the missionaries were determined to "save" the native inhabitants of the islands. Those scars remained raw and would probably stay that way for many generations to come.
He showed us the crèche which had a prominent place in the front of the church.
"Our nativity is almost 100 years old. The parishioners took up a collection back in 1920, to purchase it," he explained when we were standing next to it.
It was clearly an antique, the paint on most of the figures cracked and chipped. It was also clear that it was well-loved. You could practically see the hands of all the generations carefully putting the pieces in their respective places. Except the manger was empty, as though waiting for the arrival of the Christ child.
"So it's valuable," I said. But Father O'Malley shook his head.
"No, Commander. We could purchase a new Christ child easily enough. But this is the only baby Jesus our parishioners have ever known. We've had worshippers grow up, get married, have children of their own. And all the while, the Christ child has stood guardian over them. We've had children who have died and only knew this one."
I glanced at Danny whose eyes seemed to be suspiciously damp.
"When did the statue disappear?" Danny asked.
"I only noticed it missing after 7:30 mass this morning," the Father said.
"When was the last time you were certain it was there?" Danny asked.
"It was in place at midnight mass," Father O'Malley said. "Some of the children stopped by to whisper to him what they wanted for Christmas."
"Not to Santa?" I asked.
"They also ask Santa," the Father confirmed. "But the more devout believe the Christ child will fulfill their wishes."
"Who has access to the church between midnight and 7:30 mass?" I asked.
"Everyone," the Father said indulgently. I felt like he was being overly kind to me.
"You don't lock the doors at night?" I asked.
"Of course not, Commander. We allow any who need to worship to enter," the Father told me.
"Even thieves," I said.
"Especially thieves," Father O'Malley said. "Who needs to visit the house of God more than they do?"
"Then anyone could have taken the statue," Danny pointed out gently.
"I understand," the Father said. "You are accustom to investigating murders and apprehending drug smugglers. Finding an old statue is not one of your mandates."
"That's not what we're saying," I assured him, wanting to erase the disappointment all over his face. "It's easier if we have a list of possible suspects."
"Of course," the Father said with a nod.
"Who was the last to see the statue?" Danny asked.
"One of the altar boys thought it was there this morning for 6:30 mass. But he's not completely sure," he said.
"Can we have the altar boy's phone number, please?" Danny asked reasonably.
"Of course," the priest said, taking his phone from the pocket of his trousers beneath his robe. "Here it is. His name is John Heffernan. He's reliable, trustworthy," the Father told us.
"We'll give him a call and see what he knows that might help," Danny said.
"I appreciate your help, Commander, Detective. If there is any possibility you could have it back to us for midnight mass, it would mean more to the parishioners than you can know."
"That's less than 16 hours from now," Danny pointed out. He looked as doubtful as I felt.
"I understand," the Father said. "God will guide you. He will assist you in your search."
"Let's hope He tells us who took it," Danny said, the priest smiling at us. It was a smile only a priest could pull off – encouraging, patient. Patronizing on anyone else.
0855: We had called John Heffernan and found out he was working at his father's Christmas tree lot. We said we would stop by and he agreed that was fine.
The lot didn't have many trees left, the ones still available looking like what Danny called Charlie Brown trees.John came over right away, his father looking on but not interfering. He waved at us before returning to read his newspaper.
"Sirs," John said, looking up at us. He had reddish-brown hair, a liberal sprinkling of freckles, and wide, sincere eyes.
"Father O'Malley said you thought the Christ child was still in the Nativity when you left after mass," Danny said after the introductions were complete.
"Yes sir. I have the feeling it was there," John said.
"The feeling?" Danny asked.
"You know – when you think you're sure about something but can't say why precisely. Like that," John explained.
"I see," Danny said. "Was anyone else in the sanctuary when you left?"
"Several people. Some were talking to the Father, some talking to each other, some praying."
"Anyone who seemed out of the ordinary?" I asked. This was getting us nowhere and I had to work to keep my impatience in check.
"No sir," John said. "The usuals were there. The faithful who come to every 6:30 service. You know, before they go to work. The ones who have jobs."
"Are many of the parishioners unemployed?" Danny asked.
"Father says a lot of them need spiritual and material blessings," John said.
"So some of them are not so well off?" I asked.
"Yes sir. That's what Father says," John agreed.
"All right," Danny said, giving him one of his cards. "If you can think of anything that might help us find out who took the statue, will you give us a call?"
"Of course," John said. "I hope you find it."
"So do we, son," I said, returning to the Camaro with Danny.
"That was a waste of time," Danny said, sounding more disappointed than angry.
"Seems that way," I agreed. "What now?"
"Let's go see Big Lono. He'll know where someone could sell the statue if that's what this is about."
"If they did it for the money, why not steal all of them?" I asked as I pulled the Camaro away from the curb.
"Too conspicuous? Maybe they're planning to take the rest later?"
0923: Ever since we blew off Big Lono's door, he's been willing to help whenever he can. Danny tells me hand grenades are not the way to recruit informants but it worked with Lono.
"Haoles," Lono said when we asked about someone selling a baby Jesus. "Nobody on this island's going to pay out for a statue that belongs to a church. We got standards."
"That hasn't been our experience," Danny pointed out.
"I'm telling it to you straight," Lono said. "I'll make some calls but nobody took it in. I'm telling you that now."
"All right," I said. "Let us know if you hear anything."
"Shoots," Lono said. "If I needed to find a baby Jesus, I'd check the haole trinkets store on Halekauwila Street."
"Halekauwila," I repeated. "I know the one you mean."
"They might be able to tell you more than me," Lono said, clearly trying to be helpful.
"Thanks," Danny said. "Merry Christmas."
"Mele Kalikimaka, haoles," Lono said.
0948: We drove over to Halekauwila Street, to the store Lono suggested. We entered to be find by an older gentleman sitting behind an elaborate chess set.
"What can I do for you?" he asked without looking up from the chess board.
"We're looking for a statue," Danny said, glancing at me before looking back at the man concentrating on his next chest move. "Where is your opponent?"
"San Francisco," was the response. "We been playing for years. Not this match. This one for six weeks."
"San Francisco," I said. "You…fly the board back and forth?"
"Nah. We play through the mail," he said, holding up a postcard. "He sends me his move. I send him mine. Works out. Except at Christmas. Mail gets all fiddled up at Christmas. I like to keep him on his toes. Can't do that when the mail takes five days."
"You could use email," Danny suggested, receiving a derisive snort in response.
"I don't cotton to that new fangled techno-stuff," he informed us. "Mail was good enough for my father. Good enough for me."
"Are you Mr. Flavin?" I asked. He finally looked up, measuring me and Danny.
"How'd you know that? We never met," he said, frowning at us.
"You're name's on the…uhm…window," Danny said, waving at it.
"Yeah. Guess it is. And you are?"
"Commander McGarrett. Detective Williams," I said, showing him our badges.
"That's right," Danny said. "We're looking for a Christ child."
"I have just what you need. Right over here," he said, going behind a counter and taking a small statue off a shelf. "Just the thing."
"No," Danny said, shaking his head. "We need a bigger one."
"Not unless you live in a church. Or have a mansion. A bigger one make your house all akilter. This is the one you want," he informed us.
"We aren't actually looking to buy one," Danny said with an edge of impatience. "We are looking for one that was stolen. From a church."
"I don't trade in stolen goods," Mr. Flavin informed us.
"But if someone had a religious item they wanted to sell, would you buy it?" Danny asked.
"You mean like a prayer book or a rosary?" he asked, squinting at us from behind his thick glasses.
"Yes. Like that," Danny confirmed.
"People don't have those to sell them. They have 'em to keep 'em."
"What do mean?" I asked.
"They have prayer books and rosaries because they are part of their worship. They are worth more than money," he said.
"What about children? Have there been any in recently?" I asked.
"Absolutely not. They would be the last to come in," he said.
"How's that?" I asked.
"They have more faith. That's what's wrong with the world today. Not you. A lack of faith in general. Kids believe."
"I see," I said. "Do you have a large Christ child?"
"Sure. But it won't fit in your house," he warned. He opened a cabinet, taking out a nearly life-size ceramic baby Jesus. "Make your house all akilter."
"This like the one from the church?" I asked Danny.
"Looks like the right size," Danny confirmed. "How much does one of these go for?"
"Not much. 30, 40 dollars. Not much call for them. Not even this time of year."
"If you hear of anyone trying to sell one, will you give us a call?" Danny requested, giving him a card.
"Of course," Mr. Flavin said. "They won't be coming here."
"We understand," Danny said. "Appreciate your help."
"Good luck," Mr. Flavin said as we left his shop.
"Another dead-end," Danny said with a sigh. "This is pointless."
"It's starting to feel that way," I had to agree. "What now?"
"I have no idea," Danny admitted. "It's the proverbial needle in a haystack."
1012: We decided to go tell Max about our progress. Or the complete lack of it.
"I understand," he said. He was sitting at his antique piano. There was sheet music with Christmas carols on the top. His hands were in his lap, a look of disappointment on his face. "I greatly appreciate all of your efforts."
"No one has any idea who might have taken it," I explained because I couldn't stand seeing his disappointment and knowing I had put it there.
"We have feelers out at the pawn shops. We checked the Christian store. We talked to the altar boy," Danny explained. "We don't have any leads."
"Have you been in contact Komekona? He often has an idea about the origins of criminal activities," Max said.
"No. We didn't talk to him," I admitted. Max looked at us as though my words could not possibly be true. Surely Kamekona was the key to recovering the baby Jesus he seemed to thinking. "But it's certainly worth a try." Anything so we didn't have face the fact that we had failed him.
"Thank you, Commander, Detective," he said. Without waiting for us to leave, he turned to face his piano, playing Good King Wenceslas."If you will excuse me."
"We're really sorry," Danny said, trying to make it as right as he could.
"I understand the difficulties, Detective," Max said, pausing in playing. "It was not my intention to be rude. I am merely practicing for the program."
"The program," Danny repeated.
"I play for the evening program. Anyone who wishes may sing in the choir on Christmas eve. Many of the parishioners join when they sing at no other time of the year."
"That's very generous of you," I said.
"Not at all. I strive to give back in whatever small way that I can. Father O'Malley appreciates my willingness to play for those less talented than the regular choir."
"That's…lovely," Danny said sincerely. "We'll let you get back to your practicing."
"Mahalo," Max said as he resumed playing the carol.
"Kamekona isn't going to be any help," Danny said as we returned to the Camaro.
"I couldn't have him looking at us like that any longer."
"Like we swept the sunshine off his porch," Danny confirmed.
"Swept what where?"
"Swept the sunshine off his porch," Danny repeated. "Something my mother used to say to us. When we were in a bad mood. 'Who swept the sunshine off your porch?' she'd said. It was so ridiculous we had to smile."
"I can understand that," I agreed, driving toward the beach and Kamekona's truck.
10:33: "You two fine gentlemens are here too early for lunch," Kamekona informed us when we were parked by his truck. "Can I get you some spam eggs?"
"I'm all set," Danny said, both hands up in front of him.
"I'm good," I agreed.
"So in what way may I assist you?" Kamekona asked when were all seated at the picnic table. We explained about the missing baby Jesus, Kamekona shaking his head. "Bad business that."
"Yeah. Max is pretty shaken over it. We have no leads. No ideas," Danny said.
"I don't know that I can be of any assistance with your investigorial needs," Kamekona said. "I don't know nobody who trades in stolen Christian relics."
"We've talked to Lono. He has an ear to the ground. We've checked the biggest Christian store. We've run out of ideas," I admitted.
"Bad business," Kamekona said again, shaking his head.
"We do know that," Danny said. "Repeating it isn't particularly useful."
"I can make some calls. Making no promises," Kamekona said.
"We'd appreciate it," I said. What else could we ask from him?
"Let us know," Danny said as we left.
We didn't have any other ideas so decided to return to HQ and hope for divine intervention.
1312: "I know, Monkey," Danny was saying. He was lounging on my couch, talking to Grace. He could barely stand the fact that she was in Las Vegas but if it scored him points in the upcoming custody battle, the sacrifice was going to be worth it. At least that's what he kept telling himself. And me by extension. "Danno loves you. And I'll see you very soon."
He hung up and frowned at me like I was the one that had put her on the plane to the mainland.
"I'm sorry," I said not for the first time. This time was no more effective than any of the others had been.
"I know," he said. "It's not forever. She'll be home before I know it." He was trying to convince himself, not me, so I just let him talk.
"What are you doing?" he asked when he had wound down about Rachel and the injustice of it all.
"Playing Angry Birds," I admitted. What use was there in lying? And what else did I have to do?
"Yeah?" Danny asked, watching me. "Which one?"
"Star Wars. It's the best one so far," I said, destroying another Imperial freighter.
"Grace isn't that much in love with it. Her favorite is the one in outer space."
"That's a good one too," I agreed.
"Why don't we have Christmas decorations in here? They're all over the palace. We don't even have a pathetic tree."
"I have no objections to a tree," I told him. "But when did we have time to put up decorations?"
"Yeah. I guess you're right about that," he said. He sat up when Max came into my office, bringing with him someone we didn't know.
"Hey Max," I said, closing my laptop and looking up at him.
"Commander, Detective. This is Brian Moore. He was in attendance at the general choral rehearsal this afternoon. He has information that may assist in your investigation of the missing baby Jesus," Max said.
Brian Moore seemed to be in his mid-40s and had seen his share of hard times from the looks of him.
"Mr. Moore," I said with a nod. "You may be able to help us find the missing statue?"
"I'm not saying I know anything about it, mind you," Mr. Moore said. "But this morning, after Mass, I saw him leave the church. He was carrying something like a bundle. Can't say what was in it."
"Him? Him who?" Danny asked.
"Gary Griffin," Mr. Moore said. "We were at 7:30 mass. When he left, he was carrying something. Don't know what."
"Was it the size of the statue of the Christ child?" Max asked.
"Yeah. It could have been. Not saying he did it. Not like him to disrespect church property," Mr. Moore said.
"Where can we find Mr. Griffin?" I asked. "If he has information about the statue, we'd like to find out what it is."
"He lives in Tent City," Mr. Moore told us. "He's a good man."
"We'll go talk to him," I said, standing up as Danny did. "What does he look like?"
"I have a photo of him," Max said, pulling out his phone. He showed us a group photo that presumably was of his singers. "That is Gary Griffin."
"All right," Danny said with a nod. "Email me that picture."
"Of course," Max agreed, doing it. Danny's phone beeped to indicate he had gotten it.
"We'll let you know," I promised as Danny and I left the office.
1339: We arrived at Tent City, asking the first woman we saw if she knew Gary Griffin. When she hesitated, Danny showed her the picture.
"Why?" she asked, measuring us. Her expression was not especially encouraging.
"We want to ask him some questions about an open investigation," I informed her.
"He's a good man," she said preemptively.
"We just want to talk to him," Danny assured her. "Could you tell us where we can find him?"
"No," she said, turning and walking away.
"Well," I said, watching her leave. "That went well."
Danny shook his head, approaching the next person we saw. "Excuse me," he said to the young woman who was hanging clothes on a line.
"Yes?" she responded, smiling at Danny and making his eyes sparkle.
"We're hoping you can help us," Danny said with a warm smile. "We're looking for Gary Griffin. Would you be able to direct us, please?"
"Why are you looking for him?" she asked, her smile fading.
"We want to ask him if he knows anything about a crime we're investigating. Just talk to him," Danny explained.
She studied Danny then me before returning to look steadily at Danny. "His tent is right over there," she finally said, pointing at a brown canvas tent with a scraggly tree in front of it. The tree was struggling to hold all the decorations that had been placed on every available limb. "He's a good man. He puts up a tree every year so the kids can decorate it."
"Thank you," Danny said, turning and going over to the tent she had indicated. I followed, watching some of the residents watch us approach the front flaps. "Mr. Griffin. We're from Hawaii Five-0. We'd like to ask you a few questions," Danny called. We heard a rustling sound before a man darted out of the back of the tent, racing away from it.
"Why do they always run?" I asked as Danny and I gave chase. Danny was slightly ahead, racing nimbly around the obstacles in our way. We chased Griffin until he ran out of real estate and was running along the ocean edge. In an impressive leaping jump, Danny tackled him, bringing them both down into the water.
Danny was straddling the struggling man, his hand in the man's hair. "Where is it?" Danny demanded.
"Where's what? Get off me," Griffin yelled, trying to buck off Danny. I stopped him with a well placed boot between his shoulder blades – not hard enough to bruise, just enough to make an impression.
"You stole it, didn't you?" Danny yelled.
"Stole what? I don't know what you're talking about. Get off me."
"If you didn't steal the baby Jesus, why'd you run?" Danny asked.
"What baby Jesus? I have no idea what you mean," he insisted. There was something about his response that made Danny decide he wasn't lying. I didn't know what had turned the proverbial tide but I could see the exact moment when Danny realized we were threatening an innocent man.
Danny got off him, hauling him to his feet and dragging him to the dry sand. "Sit," Danny ordered.
Griffin sat, looking up at us. "What did I supposedly steal?"
"Father O'Malley reported that the Christ child as taken from the crèche. We have reason to believe you took it," I said, deciding to play the clearly you're guilty card to see if it would break loose anything.
"I would never," Griffin said, shaking his head. "Never."
"Yet someone in your singing group said that they saw you leaving the church with a bundle this morning," Danny told him.
"After mass?" Griffin said. "Sure. I had my robe with me. Father lets us take them home if we want. So we're ready when we get to mass. There's so many of us we don't all fit in the choral room."
"Did you notice if the statue was in the manger when you left?" Danny asked.
"No I didn't notice one way or the other," Griffin said with a shrug. "Why would anyone take it? That doesn't make sense."
"Our thoughts as well," I agreed.
"If you didn't take it, why'd you run?" Danny asked him.
"Because you were chasing me," Griffin said. "Instinct."
"Is there something you are guilty of?" Danny asked.
"Not that I'm going to tell you," Griffin said.
"All right," I said. "Apologies for disrupting your afternoon."
Griffin shrugged. "No harm. No foul, officers. Mele Kalikimaka."
We returned his seasonal wishes and drove back to HQ, Danny sullenly unhappy about being soaked through from his plunge in the ocean. "You can shower and change. Then we'll go tell the Father we have no idea."
"Yeah," Danny said, unhappy for reasons other than his wet state.
1428: We returned to the church to tell Father O'Malley that we were not going to be able to recover the statue in time. It was not news we wanted to deliver but we were completely out of ideas.
"Commander, Detective," the Father said when he saw us enter the sanctuary. "You have bad news."
"I'm afraid so," I said. "We tried, Father."
"I know that you did," he said with a kindly nod.
"We found a new one at the Flavin Christian store. We'll go and buy it if it will help," Danny offered. He seemed determined to try to make up for our failure to solve the disappearance.
"Thank you, no," Father O'Malley said. "Replacing it is not possible. I will explain at mass and ask what they would like to do."
"All right," Danny agreed.
"Commander, Detective," Max said as he appeared through the side door. He was smiling until he really looked at us, his face falling. "You did not find it."
"We didn't," I confirmed. "I'm very sorry."
He nodded, glancing at the priest before looking back at us. "Certainly you did everything possible. Thank you."
Danny and I were about to take our leave when we heard the main sanctuary doors open. We all watched as a little boy came up the aisle, pulling a red Radio Flyer. Nestled in a soft blue blanket in the middle of the wagon was the missing statue.
"Billy?" Father O'Malley said, crouching down to talk to him eye-to-eye. "What are you doing?"
"I am returning Jesus to His parents," Billy said. My best guess was that he was five years old. His shorts and tank top had seen better days, his slippas barely holding together. His wide green eyes were filled with innocence and wonder.
"You took the baby Jesus?" Father O'Malley asked.
"Yes, Father," Billy agreed, looking from the Father to me, Danny, and Max.
"Why did you take Him?" the Father asked gently.
"I told Him if I got a red wagon for Christmas, I'd give Him the first ride in it. I've wanted a red wagon my whole life. I had to keep my promise," Billy explained.
"Of course you did," Father O'Malley said. "Next time, you need to ask first. Okay?"
"Are these policemen going to arrest me?" Billy asked, his eyes filling with tears.
"Of course not," I said, squatting next to the Father to talk to Billy. "We would never arrest you for keeping your promise."
"Thank you," he said, looking back over at Father O'Malley. "Merry Christmas, Father."
"Merry Christmas, Billy," the Father said, standing and kissing Billy on the head. Billy carefully turned the wagon around, pulling it back down the aisle and out the main doors.
Danny sniffed softly. I saw some tears shining in Max's eyes as well. "Kids don't wait for Santa any longer?" I asked softly.
"It's not from Santa, Commander. It's from Toys For Tots. Billy's parents couldn't buy him presents. The Marines stepped in to answer his wish," the Father said.
"Then it truly is a Merry Christmas," I said. Danny nodded in agreement.
"Thank you," Max said to us, carefully wiping his eyes under his glasses.
"We didn't find the statue," Danny said, shaking his head.
"But you tried. You did all that you could to recover the Christ child in time for mass. That is as important as having Him returned," Max told us.
"Thank you," I said, Danny adding his thanks as well.
With that, we left the church, our hearts a little lighter, the day a little bit brighter.