The Tuesday after Thanksgiving was also the day before Frankie Napkins’ birthday.
It also became something else thanks to some creative thinking by Detective Bruno, who was truly torn about his decision and what might happen as a result.
“So how long has Bring Your Significant Other to Work Day been around, Chip?” Maggie asked excitedly from her spot in the front seat.
The car was parked a block away from the Apex Hotel, and had a direct line of sight with the building’s front door and all approaches.
“This is the first year, of course, or I woulda brought ya last year,” Bruno lied and mentally berated himself for doing so.
“So is Michelle joining us?” she asked hopefully as she turned to face Wally, who had been demoted to the backseat in order to accommodate Bruno’s ride along guest.
“Well, since Michelle already works in law enforcement, it wouldn’t make sense to bring her,” Wally went with the cover story Bruno had made him practice over and over last night when he had finally decided to hatch this scheme out of pure desperation.
“That’s a shame,” Maggie replied. “This could’ve been like a double date.”
She giggled and squeezed Bruno’s leg excitedly. While she had been his CI, and they often discussed his work, he’d never actually brought her along to see him in action. Something about seeing her man doing his thing was extremely sexy to Maggie.
Meanwhile, Bruno wanted to slump in his seat because Maggie was so excited to be with him, but it was completely under false pretenses. His Catholic guilt gnawed away at him, and if the situation had been anything else but getting a violent serial murderer off the streets, he would have come clean with her right then and there.
But he held his tongue.
“Are stakeouts like they depict them in the movies?” Maggie asked. “I know real life policing is different than the movie version, but a stakeout is mostly just sitting around, telling stories, eating snacks, and waiting to see if the person makes an appearance, right?”
“Pretty much,” Bruno replied and secretly wished that Maggie would focus her attention on the hotel entrance because that was the whole reason she was there.
“What do you have for snacks?” she asked innocently. “Something tells me Wally packed healthy foods. Am I right?”
Wally smiled because he didn’t have to lie to his girlfriend’s new best friend about this.
“You got me pegged,” he replied. “I’ve got trail mix and various fresh fruit. Would you like something?”
Maggie smiled. “Not yet, but I will take you up on that later. What about you, Chip? Would I be correct if I guessed a canister of Pringles and a couple of chocolate bars?”
She slapped him playfully on the shoulder, which made Bruno feel even worse.
“Ya got me,” he confessed. “Ya know me too well.”
“I wish you’d given me more notice about this little adventure,” Maggie scolded him. “I would have packed us proper snacks and a nice lunch.”
Bruno had purposely sprung it on her at the last possible minute because he couldn’t have her mention it to Michelle, who would have known something was up and told Maggie as much.
“How ‘bout we focus on the policing a little?” Bruno suggested. “After all, we can talk about food anytime, but this is when ya get to experience police work live and in person.”
That excited Maggie even more, so she sat up straight and turned her attention to the hotel.
“So who’s our target, Chip?” she asked the obvious question.
Luckily, Bruno had prepared for this.
“I gotta keep that a secret,” he lied again. “Kinda like client confidentiality with lawyers. Since ya ain’t a sworn officer of the law, I can’t tell ya nothing that would infringe on this dirt bag’s rights.”
Maggie nodded in understanding. “It’s ironic that you compare yourself to a lawyer given how much you hate lawyers.”
She quickly turned to Wally. “No offense to Michelle, of course. He likes her.”
“Understood,” Wally said with a smile. He just wanted to be left out of this conversation as much as possible so he’d have less to apologize for later.
“Can I at least know what he did?” she asked with a hopeful smile.
Bruno could not say no to Maggie, but it did pain him to discover that he could lie to her.
The fact that this bothered him so much was probably a good thing, so maybe doing something bad had a silver lining?
He silently cursed himself. He was really pulling at straws to feel like less of a jerk.
“Is it related to Mr. Kroski’s stolen Santa?” she pushed when he didn’t reply immediately because he was wrestling with his inner demons.
“Yea, it is,” Bruno replied with a smile because he finally wasn’t lying. “We just wanna watch for this guy, and if we see him, we’re gonna follow him and see if he leads us to a bigger fish.”
Maggie nodded in understanding. “Working our way up the food chain.”
“You’re a natural,” Wally called out from the backseat.
She smiled, while Bruno shot him an icy glare in the rear view mirror.
The way Bruno figured, it couldn’t hurt to sit here for an hour or two and see if Maggie noticed Irish Tony. He really wasn’t putting her at risk since she was in a car, across the street, accompanied by two armed men who would never let anything happen to her.
He knew the odds of the guy strolling by while they were parked there were slim, but the depressing truth was that Maggie was the only person who could identify the guy.
And if this plot didn’t work, he could drive Maggie to work, and she’d never be the wiser that he had lied to her. They’d still have the rest of the day to try to chase down Irish Tony, and if that failed, they’d just sit on Frankie Napkins’ house from midnight until however long it took for the elusive hitman to make an appearance on the mobster’s birthday.
Bruno sighed. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all. To be honest, it was nice to have Maggie in the car…
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!” Maggie exclaimed and quickly made the sign of the cross.
Both Bruno and Wally were suddenly at full alert. The both saw the man that had just exited the Apex Hotel, and was now walking down the sidewalk in front of the building.
“What’s wrong?” Bruno asked even though he hoped he knew the problem.
“You remember the other day when I told you I saw a ghost? Well, that’s him. I swear on the Holy Bible that man is Irish Tony!”
She pointed at the man as all color left her face. She made the sign of the cross again because that is apparently what you do when you see the dead walking amongst the living.
Wally was already out of the car and on his radio to dispatch.
“The guy who vanished all them years ago?” Bruno had to continue his ruse even though it was killing him to do so when Maggie was so flustered.
“Yes, Chip, I’d know that face anywhere!” she insisted.
Bruno paused a beat so it didn’t seem like he was simply handling her. He also needed to be sure that the woman he loved was okay.
“Maybe Wally and me had better check,” he replied. “You stay here, and don’t let no one in the car, and don’t ya dare get out.”
The serious look on his face made it clear that those orders were not up for debate.
“But what about your stakeout?” she asked, ever the perfect girlfriend who didn’t want to do anything to interfere with her boyfriend’s work.
“Our guy ain’t going nowhere,” Bruno assured her. “This is more important.”
She nodded. He smiled at her, desperately wanted to apologize, but that would need to wait.
“Don’t let no one in,” he reminded her.
Maggie nodded obediently, still ashen from having seen a ghost.
Wally was already on the corner making sure not to lose sight of their man. When Bruno joined him, he gave him a quick update.
“I radioed in to dispatch that we were in foot pursuit of a subject, gave a description, and requested back up to be prepared if we needed it.”
“Good work,” Bruno told him. “Gotta keep squad cars outta this for now. We don’t wanna spook him.”
Wally nodded. From their vantage point, they could see still Irish Tony. However, he was nearing a corner, and if he turned, they would lose contact.
“So what’s the plan?” Wally asked.
Bruno surveyed the area. There was no pedestrian traffic and very few cars. Luckily, it was a quiet morning, but that might not last for long, especially if their target moved towards the business section.
“Let’s follow on opposite sides of the street to look like less of a threat. We gotta assume he’s checking for a tail,” Bruno advised. “But if we get him on a quiet street, and there ain’t no one around, we can see if we can approach.”
Wally nodded and took off across the street, careful not to look like he was chasing Irish Tony. Bruno stuck to his side of the street, and walked parallel to them, maintaining a significant distance and pretending to be talking on his cell phone.
All was well until their mark decided to turn down a side street. Wally picked up his pace so as not to lose him, while Bruno crossed the street so that he could get a better line of sight and make sure that the rookie didn’t walk into a trap in his excitement to maintain contact.
Wally and Bruno arrived at opposite corners of the side street at roughly the same moment. Irish Tony could still be seen making his way down the left side of the narrow street. He didn’t seem to be aware of the two law enforcement men on his tail.
The side street was deserted and long enough to provide them an opportunity if they wanted to confront the man without the fear of endangering any passersby.
Bruno signaled for Wally to stop while he crossed over to him. He made sure the gold badge around his neck was clearly visible before he joined Wally.
Wally pulled out his badge as well.
“There ain’t no one around, so ya ready?” Bruno asked as his eyes never left the man who was now about halfway down the side street.
“Let’s do this,” Wally nodded his agreement.
Bruno drew his gun, and Wally did the same. Both men had been drilled in the importance of being prepared to use his weapon, but knowing when the moment was right to actually pull the trigger.
Bruno signaled for Wally to continue down the sidewalk, and he stepped out into the street to get a better angle should Irish Tony decide to rabbit.
Without words, both men picked up the pace, and closed the gap with their target. They moved quietly, and confidently, both with their guns at the ready.
When Irish Tony was about twenty feet from the end of the street, Bruno hollered, “Tony, this is the police. Turn around real slow with your arms raised.”
The man did not follow orders well. He spun quickly to his left, his gun out, and he fired. Three shots sped towards Wally, but Irish Tony did not wait to see if they found their mark. Instead, he took off at a full sprint down the street.
The first bullet missed its target, but then Wally crumbled to the sidewalk as numbers two and three hit home. Bruno ran to the young officer’s side.
“Where ya hit?” Bruno screamed as he knelt beside Wally.
Wally managed a weak reply. “One in the vest, and another in the leg. It’s just a flesh wound…”
Even though the first bullet had hit Wally’s vest, it still hurt like hell and drove all the wind out of his lungs. He gasped for air as he cringed from the pain.
Bruno’s eyes went to Wally’s right leg. Blood slowly seeped through his jeans above his quadriceps.
“Hang in there, Kid. I gotta call this in…” Bruno ordered.
“I’m fine,” Wally insisted. “I can call for a bus myself. He’s going to get away!”
Bruno hesitated because he was not one to abandon a fallen officer.
“Go get the bastard who shot me!” Wally demanded.
Bruno took one last look at Wally’s leg, decided the wounds weren’t life threatening, and took off after Irish Tony.
“Tell back up to move in!” Bruno yelled over his shoulder. “We can’t have no shooter running loose through the streets.”
Wally flashed an okay and was already on his phone.
Bruno grumbled about how much he hated running, but the truth was that he ran at least five days a week. He just didn’t do it in public anymore where people could laugh at his speed, and how much he cursed as he took part in the activity.
He had a treadmill in his basement, and he pushed himself pretty hard. He might not have been as fast as he was when he was a rookie, but he would probably win his age category if the Police Department ever held a competition.
Bottom line, the man used to be an elite athlete, so he could still cover ground quickly.
And Bruno was closing the gap. Irish Tony was clearly no runner, and what could one really expect from a man who had been dead for almost fifteen years?
Bruno had holstered his gun for the chase. While there were still few people out on the street, he didn’t want to risk a misfire while he ran. From what he could tell, Irish Tony no longer had his gun out, either. He probably figured a man out for a morning run might not arouse any suspicion, but a man running with a gun would.
Then again, a man being chased by a very angry looking man was definitely going to draw attention.
Irish Tony cut through an empty parking lot, and despite the heat of the chase, Bruno made the connection that this was the very parking lot where Wally had somehow managed to lose a corpse.
That all seemed like it had happened ages ago. Bruno thought about Wally and hoped he was okay. He thought about Maggie and hoped she wouldn’t be too angry at him. He thought about ADA Ambrose and feared she would be pissed as hell.
By the time they exited the parking lot, Bruno had closed the gap to about fifteen feet. Now they were headed into a more populated area. The familiar spire of St. Sebastian’s Church rose above the skyline, and there were people on the church’s steps.
To Bruno’s dismay, Irish Tony appeared to be headed straight for St. Sebastian’s.
There was a giant nativity scene set up in front of the church, just next to the stairs. A few people had gathered to admire it, and this was when Bruno noticed Irish Tony reaching for his gun.
“Clear outta the way!” Bruno yelled as the chase bore down on the unsuspecting people who just wanted a selfie with Baby Jesus.
One of the people either heard Bruno, or saw the man with the gun, so she screamed. That caught the attention of everyone on the church stairs.
Irish Tony raised his gun, and that was when Bruno dove at him. His open field tackle would have made Wally envious, and sent both men flying into the nativity scene. Irish Tony’s gun flew off into the hay, while the screaming bystanders ran for the stairs.
Both men landed hard, but quickly sensed the danger of the situation and were ready to attack. They were right on top of each other, so there was no time to look for the lost gun, or for Bruno to draw his.
They punched, wrestled, and swore like sailors. Irish Tony ended up on top of Bruno. There was an eerie calm in his eyes as he wrapped his hands around Bruno’s neck and squeezed, like this was not his first dance with such a personal form of murder.
Bruno flailed under the weight of his attacker, who was fiercely strong. He could feel his gun in its holster, but there was no way to get to it.
Irish Tony’s grip tightened, and a creepy smile slowly danced across the hitman’s face, as if he thought this to be a delightful way to spend his morning.
Sirens closed in, but Bruno knew he didn’t have that kind of time. He reached out blindly with his hands, hoping to find his assailant’s gun. Instead, he found a Christmas miracle.
“No Christmas for you this year, sonny,” Irish Tony whispered.
Bruno’s hand wrapped around one of the nativity figures. It wasn’t made of plastic. This was carved out of something solid and heavy. Clearly, the church spared no expense.
As Bruno struggled for breath, he summoned all his strength to whip the figure up to smash Irish Tony across the side of the head.
The man instantly went limp, and slumped off to the side and crashed into a shepherd figure on his way to the hay.
Bruno gasped for air, and even as he did so, he whispered a prayer, “Please ain’t let it be Baby Jesus.”
He looked at the nativity figure that had saved his life, and let out a huge sigh of relief when he discovered it was one of the wise men.
Bruno could see that Irish Tony was out cold with blood trickling from his head wound, so he finally allowed himself a laugh.
Then a shadow fell over him. Bruno looked up to see Sister Mary Catherine staring down at him with a very angry look on his face.
“Detective Bruno!” she screeched. “Have you no respect for the church?”
Bruno laughed even harder at the sight of his old nemesis, and slowly dragged his aching body into a sitting position. He held up the wise man and shook it at the Nun.
“Ya know what, Sister? It was a wise man who once said, ‘Ya better be good for goodness sake’. What do ya think about that?”
He then handed the slightly damaged (and lightly bloodied) wise man to a suddenly speechless Sister Mary Catherine, checked Irish Tony for a pulse (there was one), and then collected the man’s gun from where it had landed in the hay.
Bruno flagged down the first responding officers. He pointed one in Irish Tony’s direction, and then took the other aside.
“Ya hear anything about Officer Wainwright?” he asked the female officer.
“Just that he was being taken to St. Bonnie’s, sir,” she replied.
Bruno nodded. “Take him in. I’ll handle the paperwork and update the Captain after I check on my partner. Ain’t no one to talk to that dirt bag before me. He shot a cop, and he’s gonna rot in hell, but not until I get my time with him.”
The officer nodded. Everyone knew not to go against Detective Bruno’s wishes.
Though still a little woozy, Bruno barked out orders on crowd control to the next pair of cops on the scene, and then hitched a ride back to Maggie with the third pair.
As he rode in the back of the cruiser, he said a silent prayer for Wally, and then another for himself because he knew the wrath of two rightfully pissed off women was about to rain down on him.
Santa stopped on his way up the front walk to salute the giant, inflatable version of himself that dominated the home’s front lawn.
St. Nick’s nose looked like it could tell some stories. Maybe he’d had a run in with an angry elf, or someone who wasn’t satisfied with a gift.
Whatever the case, this looked like a Santa Claus who had once given with his fists as well as he had received. Which made perfect sense, since Santa was all about giving.
When Santa Claus reached the front porch, he put down his mighty sack so that it would be easier to access, and then knocked on the door.
Edmund Kroski opened the door, and looked at the pugilistic Santa Claus suspiciously.
“Can I help you?” the old man asked as he only opened the door a crack.
Kroski didn’t exactly trust his fellow neighbor after the recent theft of his lawn Santa.
“Santa Claus knows that your grandchildren are in town,” the jolly old man in the red suit replied in a familiar voice. “Santa has presents, and Santa would like to give them to the children he heard were very good this year.”
Kroski was about the slam the door in the face of the rough looking Santa who spoke in the third person, when he caught sight of a couple of familiar faces waving at him from his front walk. The old man smiled, and opened the door.
“Hey, kids, there’s someone here to see you,” he announced happily. “He’s wearing a red suit, has a big white beard, and appears to be carrying a large bag of presents.”
Screeching was immediately followed by the sound of quickly approaching footsteps.
“Santa!” the five children shouted in unison.
Santa Champ smiled at the enthusiastic greeting. “Santa Claus is so happy to see you. Santa wishes you all a Merry Christmas!”
Kroski stepped out onto the porch to allow his grandchildren to get closer to Santa, who now reached into his bag and pulled out the first gift.”
“Merry Christmas, Sally,” he said as he handed it to the little girl closest to him.
“Thank you, Santa,” she squealed in delight.
“Santa has this for Kenny,” he announced as he handed the next present to the young man now at the head of the line.
As Champ continued to work his way through his bag of gifts, Kroski made his way down to Bruno and Maggie, who watched it all from the front walk.
“Merry Christmas!” Kroski announced excitedly. “You didn’t have to do this. And how did you know my grandchildren’s names and what they might want?”
Bruno smiled. “A wise man once told me he made a point to get to know his neighbors, and that sounded like something that I shoulda been doing, too. Better late than never, right?”
“That’s a very interesting looking Santa,” Kroski observed as he watched his grandchildren with a look of sheer delight on his face.
Maggie took Bruno’s hand in hers and squeezed it. Then she rested her head on his shoulder.
She had been angry at Bruno for a millisecond when he’d returned to the car the morning of the shooting, after she’d put together why he had brought her along for the stakeout. That anger instantly vanished when he’d revealed that Wally had been shot, and they sped off for the hospital.
“You have beautiful grandchildren,” she purred in her sweet brogue.
“Thank you,” Kroski mustered a warm, genuine smile. “And it’s nice to know I have amazing neighbors who’d make sure a cranky old man had a Merry Christmas.”
“Aww, don’t go getting all sappy or nothing,” Bruno playfully complained with a smile.
“Hey, kids, are you ready for the rest of Santa’s Christmas surprise?” called a familiar voice from the street behind them.
Wally, walking slowly and with a limp, made his way to the sidewalk to wave for the grandchildren and Santa Champ to look in his direction. He wore a Santa hat and an ugly Christmas sweater, and held one of those contraptions you might use to light the logs in a fireplace.
Michelle walked next to him, smiling, but also looking like she was ready to catch him were he to stumble on his recently injured leg.
“What is this about?” Maggie whispered to Bruno.
“Beats me,” Bruno replied.
Once he was sure he had everyone’s attention, Wally continued. “Santa wanted to make this an extra special Christmas Eve. Are you ready?”
The kids all nodded. Wally excitedly hobbled back to the street where he had set up several vertical tubes. He used his device to light the fuse at the end of each tube, and then scurried back to the safety of the sidewalk just in time to enjoy the show.
Fireworks whooshed skyward and exploded in beautiful red and green displays that lit up the shy.
Plenty of “Oooos” and “Aaahs” joined the fireworks’ familiar song.
Wally limped over to Bruno with a huge smile on his face. “You said our movie needed explosions, so I give you explosions!”
Bruno could only shake his head and chuckle.
“How’s your leg?” Maggie asked after giving Wally a long hug.
“So much better,” he replied. “I’m walking without a cane…”
“Against doctor’s orders,” Michelle interjected and punched him playfully in the arm.
“Michelle is taking excellent care of me, my physical therapy is going well, and I should be back for desk duty after the New Year,” he reported excitedly. “That means you have to promise not to take on any more exciting cases until I’m cleared to join you again.”
“Sure thing, Kid,” Bruno promised. “Can I borrow the pyrotechnical wiz for a sec?”
Michelle reluctantly let Wally go after giving him a kiss. The fireworks continued to light up the sky above them as the two men went for a slow stroll down the sidewalk.
“Ya sure you’re good, and ya ain’t just putting up a front for your lady?” Bruno asked.
Wally nodded emphatically. “I feel great for someone who took two bullets. The surgeon said the one in the leg didn’t hit anything major, and I say multiple prayers daily that I was wearing a vest to handle the other one.”
Bruno nodded and stopped walking.
“It’s an honor working with ya, Wally, so when ya get all healed up, I’m gonna ask the Captain to let us partner up more often,” he said. “Now ya ain’t no Detective, so it’s no permanent thing, but when I could use the help, I’ll harass Captain Hamel to let me have ya.”
Wally’s face lit up, and he surprised Bruno with a hug. The Detective wasn’t sure how to react, so he just allowed it to play out its natural course, positive that Michelle and Maggie were watching and glowing with pride over their men bonding.
“This is the best Christmas present ever!” Wally declared.
“Settle down, Kid. That ain’t your present.”
Wally nodded. “I know. Maggie’s picking out that…”
“Actually,” Bruno replied with a sly grin, “I did get ya something. It ain’t as fancy as what Maggie picked, that’s for sure, but it’s something personal. Ya know, to show that I appreciate ya.”
Wally smiled again, and his eyes appeared to glisten.
“Ya ain’t gonna cry, are ya?” Bruno complained.
Wally shook his head, but was so touched by the idea of a personal gift from Bruno that, for once in his life, he could not find the words.
“I suppose ya want it now?”
Bruno rolled his eyes. “Nice job on the fireworks. And that whole heroic act of getting shot while in hot pursuit is definitely gonna be the highlight of the movie version of this case.”
Bruno glanced over at Michelle, and gave her a little nod. She picked up her cue and wandered over to join them.
“I’ll leave ya love birds alone,” Bruno quipped and walked back over to Maggie.
“The fireworks are amazing,” she told him. “They’re like a visual representation of how I feel whenever you kiss me.”
Wally was a smart man, and he understood that was his cue to kiss her.
“I feel the same way,” he admitted once they’d come up for air.
“I’m excited to spend our first Christmas together,” she informed him. “And I wanted to tell you that after giving it some serious consideration, going back and doing extensive research, and calling a few trusted sources, I’m ready to change my mind and declare Die Hard to be a Christmas movie.”
Wally let out a loud whoop, lifted Michelle off the ground, and gave her a good spin.
Maggie watched in amazement, and noticed the smile on Bruno’s face. “Care to tell me what that was about, Detective?”
Bruno shrugged. “If I hadda guess, I’d say Michelle just gave Wally my Christmas present.”
Maggie smiled. “You are a complicated man, Chip, and that makes me love you even more.”
“I love ya, too, Maggie,” he assured her. “Merry Christmas!”
The last of the fireworks exploded overhead as he leaned in to kiss her…
Merry Christmas to all! Thank you for reading another Detective Bruno adventure. Hopefully, there will be more to come in the New Year…