Shop With a Cop
23 December 2001
Revised 06 JAN 02
Suisan "Sue" R.
It's time for the annual event and Major Crime gets the call -- Can Detective James Ellison survive the experience?
Note of Gratitude:
Many thanks to CarolROI for giving this a quick beta-read. Also, many thanks go out to BethB, my POV editor, for finding those mistakes that Carol and I missed and for not beating me (severely) when I posted without obtaining her Editorial
okey-dokey first. <G>
At my web page in a few days, links from Cascade Library and Guide Posts won't be active until after the holiday.
Author steps up to pulpit after the story is done.
This is also, according to Carol, a little smarmy…
So if you're not in the mood for smarm, especially holiday smarm, avoid this tale at all costs.
This is my first true holiday piece and was inspired by two things: Wal-Mart commercials and the actual Shop With A Cop Program. Internal thoughts indicated by Italics.
Shop With a Cop
Suisan "Sue" R.
23 DEC 01
It happened every year, just a week before Christmas, and this year it was Major Crime's turn at the helm. Captain Simon Banks read the memo glowing on his computer's monitor and wondered which of his people he could spare for this event. Grinning, he forwarded the memo from the Chief of Police to the appropriate officers and detectives. Oh, one or two would be left out -- mostly due to caseload or, in one case, Simon's fear of personality clashes between one Detective and the event's participants.
Not too many families usually signed their younger members up for the Shop With A Cop program, but this year, the numbers had more than quadrupled. Every sworn law enforcement officer, including himself, would have more than enough youngsters to take shopping. Good thing I've got a full staff this year. Officers on every shift will be able to participate, and each officer will have no less than four children to escort.
Patrol Officers from the various divisions would also be escorting special children from their neighborhoods, kids who needed help but whose parents just didn't have time to sign their little one up for the program. Still, even with Patrol taking care of roughly half of the needy ones, Major Crime would have to cover the rest.
Strains of holiday songs drifted out of the radio Daryl had bought him for his office a year ago, and Simon allowed himself to think about past Christmases he'd spent with Daryl or working the Shop With A Cop event. The joy he'd seen in young Daryl's eyes on Christmas morning never seemed quite as bright as the gleam in the eyes of the children he'd escorted to the local Wal-Mart so they could shop for themselves. Many of those kids he'd gone shopping with in the past had wanted to spend their allotted funds only on their family members, or on buying clothes for little brothers and sisters. All too often, Simon would add a little something to the child's cart, usually an item he'd seen the child look at with longing in their eyes before they put it back on the shelf. If the total of the cart's contents went over the amount the child was allotted, he usually covered the overcharge out of his own pocket. It was worth it though, seeing just how happy his actions made a child.
Now to make sure someone doesn't get grumpy about being left out of the program…
Henri Brown sat at his desk, cheerfully humming the latest 'jazzed up' version of Jingle Bell Rock, while typing up his report on the case he and his partner had just closed. Somehow, putting away a thief -- especially one who stole children's gifts from cars parked at the local malls -- was one of the best things he could think of doing to help protect a child's Christmas memories.
Finished with what he considered the worst part of any case, he saved the report to disc and sent a copy to Records.
"H, check your email before you log off. Tell me I'm seeing things."
The almost pleading tones in Brian Rafe's voice piqued Henri's curiosity and he pulled up the email account. Spotting one from Sbanks@cpd.wa.gov Henri pulled up the forwarded message. "You ain't seeing things, Babe." He looked up to see Brian's face crumple into disappointment. "Hey, it's not so bad, Rafe. I did it six years ago when I was with Burglary. The tykes may run you ragged, but they still understand the true meaning of Christmas. And, who knows, maybe you'll get lucky and get a young teenager who's a clothes horse."
Rafe had turned back to his own desk, effectively ending the conversation, but Henri wasn't through with his partner. Digging around the papers scattered all over his desk, he found what he wanted. Soon Rafe was yelping in mild pain and a ton of shock as the large rubber band flew across the bullpen and 'zapped' him on the upper back. Laughing, Henri darted out of the room, Rafe fast on his heels. He'd have to pay for 'assaulting' his partner's dignity, but it also gave him the chance to get Brian into the right mood to play escort to four children.
Looking up from the long report his partner had written on their current case, his attention derailed by a loud yelp, Jim watched as Rafe chased Brown out of the bullpen. Rafe had a large rubber band pulled back to its fullest extent -- obviously hunting for revenge. Shaking his head at some of the antics of his fellow adults, Jim tried to return his attention to reading. His concentration was once again shattered as his email alert chimed.
"Now what?" He'd grown tired of the number of e-cards flooding his box over the past few weeks, but if he tried to ignore them, the sender would probably dream up tests to punish him.
The waiting email wasn't from Sandburg, but from Simon Banks and merely a forward. Knowing the Captain only passed on important memos, Jim opened the email. He was surprised to see it was an announcement about the annual Shop With A Cop program. The opening line caught him off guard:
You don't have to participate in this if you don't want to. I know how your caseload is.
Just be sure to let Sandburg know about it, okay?
He frowned, why did Simon think he wouldn't want to participate in the program? Closing the email, Jim took a few moments to look around the bullpen at the other desks and communal places and finally noticed what might have given Banks the impression that one Lieutenant James Ellison was a Scrooge.
Every desk was tricked out with holiday decorations. Even the small desk Blair used had a small menorah and a silver Star of David displayed. Brown's desk had a simple garland of purple tinsel draping the front and corners; Rafe's area was tastefully decorated with what could only be called 'old world' designs and a large jar candle which, when lit, sent the sweet odor of multiple spices. Hell, even Connor's desk was decked out -- garishly -- with Christmas decorations.
Jim snorted to himself. Face it, Ellison. Everyone else is displaying their Christmas spirit, but all you have to show for the season is a desk piled high with reports, cluttered with old coffee cups and a few pictures of a murder scene. Not exactly in the swing of things, huh?
Putting the report he'd been reading into a manila file, Jim printed out a copy of the email Simon had sent him. Sticking that in the file as well, he got up to walk towards his commander's office.
"Sir, about this memo…" He didn't have a chance to finish before Simon waved his hand to stop him.
"I know how you feel about such things, Jim. You don't have to participate, just make sure Sandburg knows, since I'm sure he'd enjoy the chance to help the kids."
"Captain, I want to help…"
"Fine, make sure your partner signs up to escort a few kids to Wal-Mart and then you can consider yourself free of your obligations." Jim stood aside as Simon brushed by him, coat in hand. "Now, if you'll excuse me, I have dinner plans with Daryl. See ya later, Jim."
Leaning against the doorframe of the Captain's office, Jim frowned as the bullpen slowly empty of day shift personnel and the few evening workers drifted in. Christmas time in Cascade and even my friends think I'm a scrooge. Pushing off the hard wooden post, Jim wondered where he'd be able to sign up for the Shop With A Cop program and if he could handle the kids without Blair's help.
Blair came home, looking forward to a few weeks of peace, to a cheerfully decorated loft. The last week at Rainier had been a flurry of finals, grading and posting of grades, but the work was done and he was glad of it. Slipping out of his shoes, and moving as silently as possible -- so as not to wake Jim -- he padded over to the kitchen to prepare a large mug of Mandarin Orange Spice tea before going into the living area.
There he found the file with his report on the Oxburg case on the coffee table and, after sitting on the couch, Blair opened the file. He intended to look it over one last time before he turned it into Records. With file in hand, he set his tea mug on the coffee table and moved further back into the couch cushions.
A piece of paper floated to the floor and he absently reached down to pick it up while reading the first page of the report. Thinking the paper was a note from Jim, maybe with suggestions to add or delete phrases from his report, he looked it over and sat back on the couch. Man, Shop With A Cop. That's a great program, but why did Simon exclude Jim? Looking up at his partner's room, Blair mulled over the possible reasons for Simon's actions. Okay, so the idea of Jim loose in Wal-Mart with a group of hyperactive kids isn't something I want to see… But he's learned to control his senses and he's great with kids. Why exclude him?
Leaning over to pull his backpack up onto the couch, Blair dug up his laptop, connected the modem to the phone cord and soon was studying the web page for Cascade PD's Shop With A Cop program. Searching for, and finding, a list of officers who'd signed up for escort duty, he wasn't surprised to see everyone from Major Crime had signed up -- including Ellison. Seeing he could sign up through the web page, Blair volunteered to escort his own batch of kids and on the very same day, and time, as Jim was to escort his batch. Merry Christmas, Jim… I'll be there if you have any trouble. But I doubt you will.
Four days after the memo went out, fifty officers from Cascade PD's Major Crime and from Patrol Division -- using marked units with evergreen wreaths tied to their front grill -- picked up four kids a piece and commenced to invade the huge Wal-Mart Super Center.
The four children who had gotten paired up with Jim seemed a little nervous, but to be truthful, he was too. The kids were from two families in the same neighborhood, one of the lower income areas of the city, and had immediately known who he was. That was bound to happen. Even kids watched the news and could recognize faces that appeared too often. Aeysha was a bright eleven year old; her brother Reeshad was precocious at nine. The twelve-year-old twins, David and Darin, didn't seem to be as talkative as the other kids,but seemed to know where they wanted to go once inside Wal-Mart.
Jim had a hard time keeping up with the twins, as did Reeshad and Aeysha, as the nearly identical boys zipped through the crowded lanes and made a bee-line towards the sporting goods department. After they had picked out two adult sleeping bags, a four-man tent and a Coleman battery operated lantern, David and Darin seemed satisfied.
They followed quietly as Jim escorted Aeysha and her brother to the women's wear department. With Jim's help, she managed to pick out a couple of nice sweaters for her mother.
Then it was Reeshad's turn and he led the group into the jewelry department. There he found a necklace and earrings that, after consulting with Jim, he decided went well with the sweaters his sister had picked out. He also managed to find, again with Jim's help, a pair of slacks that would also go well with the sweaters.
After wandering in the direction of the toy department, but not quite actually going inside the aisles, Jim realized what the problem was for the four kids. Gathering the kids close to him, he asked just to be sure. "Hey, I noticed you all looking at the toys. Don't you want anything for yourselves?"
Aeysha spoke up, her dark brown eyes a-wash with longing as she glanced towards the toy section, but made no move to enter the area. "No, I'm good, Detective Jim. Reeshad and I made a promise to each other -- buy stuff for Mom for her job interviews and that's it."
Reeshad was nodding in agreement when Jim turned to look at him for confirmation. "It's true, Detective. We figure if Mom can land a good job, then maybe next Christmas we'll be able to have a few toys. But until then…" The young boy's shrug spoke eloquently of his unvoiced words, even as Jim noticed his eyes drifting towards the brightly colored toys.
"David, Darin, what about you? I noticed all the gear you picked out for your family, but no toys?" The twins' parents were both unemployed at the moment, rent on their apartment due on the first of the year, and Jim wondered why they had opted for the camping gear.
Darin, the more talkative of the two boys, quietly spoke up. "We won't have much room in the tent for toys, Mr. Jim. Especially if we lose our home."
His heart skipped a beat as he realized the twins had bought the camping gear as a 'home' if their parents weren't able to gather up enough money for rent. Looking at the eyes of the four children, eyes that were older than most kids of the same age, he realized that while they had been excited about shopping, they were also thinking of their futures. A thought crossed his mind, but to be able follow through with it, he'd have to find another officer in the crowd to watch his four charges.
"Okay, I think I understand, kids. Let's see if we can find my partner in all this maddening mess and then we'll head towards the checkout lines, all right?" The kids nodded and they set off with their carts, Jim following them, in search of the man they knew was his partner -- the curly-headed funny teacher, Mr. Blair.
After finding Blair and his four charges, Jim handed his friend the gift cards for his small adults, telling him he'd catch up with them but there was something he'd forgotten to pick up. Sandburg nodded, a knowing gleam in his eyes, and Jim wondered if Blair had had a similar problem with his kids.
Pushing his way back toward the toy section, trying to avoid stepping on too many harried shoppers, Jim found one toy for each of his charges and returned to the checkout lines. He saw that Blair and the eight kids had made it through and were waiting for him.
The clerk, a tired-looking teen, brightened as she realized what Jim was doing, and helped him hide the toys so they wouldn't be seen by the four kids he'd shopped for. The four items fit in one sack, but the clerk had double-bagged each one before stuffing them inside the single bag. Smiling as he approached the large group, he hoped the ones he was in charge of had behaved themselves.
"Jim! Over here, man!" Blair waved him over and Aeysha, Reeshad, David and Darin looked at him with bright smiles lighting up their faces. Then Jim found himself rushed as the kids ran toward him to engulf him in a huge group hug.
"Whoa, kids. Don't knock me over or <oomph> squeeze so hard."
"Mr. Blair suggested that we head out to the cars, but we didn’t want you to get lost." David spoke up from where he was trying to hug the stuffing out of Jim's middle.
"Yeah, but we out-voted him so he had to stay." Aeysha sent a mock-glare at Blair before continuing, "So, did you find what you forgot, Detective Jim?"
"Sure did, but we're running behind now, so let's head out to the cars and, if my boss okays it, maybe we can run the emergency lights on the units on the way back to your homes." A chorus of "yeas" filled the air and Blair, Jim and their charges slowly made their way out to the parking lot with their purchases.
After helping the kids unload the trunk of the unit, and getting them to calm down after running lights and sirens, Jim asked for a quiet word with their parents and the kids ran up the steps into their brownstone.
LaVonna Jones, Aeysha and Reeshad's mother, along with Robert and Liz'beth Dawson waited until the kids were out of earshot before speaking up. "I hope the kids weren't too much trouble, Detective Ellison."
"No, they were very well behaved, Ms. Jones. All of them." He paused to reach back inside the unit, then handed the smaller bags to each set of parents. "The kids refused to buy anything for themselves, so I bought a toy for each of them. I hope you don't mind?"
LaVonna smiled as she looked in the two small bags he'd handed her. "No, I don't mind. Thank you." She stood up on her toes to place a kiss on Jim's cheek before she turned to walk up the steps behind her children.
Liz'beth Dawson also gave him a quick peck on the cheek once she looked into the bags containing David and Darin's gifts, then left Robert to join LaVonne inside the brownstone.
"Detective Ellison, I can't begin to thank you enough for helping our boys have a good Christmas." Robert held his hand out and Jim grasped it in his own.
"It was my pleasure. I understand from the boys that times are a little hard for you right now?" Mr. Dawson nodded tightly. "Look, the boys didn't mean to blab, but it came out and, if you need any help, let me know, okay?"
"I don't cotton to charity, Detective."
"It's not charity, Mr. Dawson. I happen to know a few places that are looking for handymen and…" He let the offer drop, surprised by the appearance of what looked like tears in Dawson's eyes. "Here." Jim handed the man a business card. "After Christmas, call me and I'll see if I can set up a few interviews for you, okay?"
Robert took the offered card, sticking it in the chest pocket of his heavy flannel shirt, then nodded. "I really appreciate this Detective. Thank you."
Jim shook his head. "No, thank you. I had a blast shopping with your boys. Happy Holidays and don't forget to call me." Needing to get away from the overflowing emotions, he climbed back into the borrowed unit and, with a final wave, left to return to the central precinct.
He was the last to return to the Major Crime bullpen, and by listening carefully before going inside, Jim realized he wasn't the only officer to have to persuade the kids they'd escorted to buy at least one toy for themselves. Children had shopped for others before allowing themselves to even think about looking for a toy for themselves. Even the youngest, in Connor's charge -- a precious six-year-old -- had thought of others before thinking of herself.
Blair was trying to explain the concept to the rest when Jim walked into the bullpen. "These kids are from low-income families and when they get an opportunity to shop for their parents or their siblings, they think of that before anything else. They're used to doing without, or getting hand-me-downs, and the thought of buying something new for themselves is just too unusual."
"But at least I was able to buy a few small things for my kids, Chief." Jim walked up behind his partner and placed a hand on the younger man's shoulder. "And I know I spotted Rafe doing the same thing for his, as did Joel and Megan."
"I think we all managed to do that, Jim." Jim tightened his hold on Blair's shoulder as the voice of Captain Banks drifted into the room. "I thought you didn't want to participate in the program -- imagine my surprise when I spotted you in the sporting goods section, being towed by four kids."
Smiling as he turned to face his commander, Jim explained, "Just remember this day in the future, sir. Just when you think you've got me all figured out, I'm going to throw you a curve-ball."
"Don't I get enough of that from your partner?"
The entire bullpen broke out in laughter at the derisive tone of the Captain's voice.
~*~*~ Happy Holidays, Everyone! ~*~*~
PS -- Many times when the officers in my area take the local kids out for the Shop With A Cop program, the officers have to practically order the kids in their care to buy at least ONE item for themselves. Most end up buying an article of clothing instead of a toy and calmly explain to their escorting officer, "At least with this, when I out grow it, my little brother/sister can use it. So it lasts longer than any toy ever could." If your area has a Shop With A Cop program, please support it -- if not, look for the local drop-off point for Toys4Tots, which is partially sponsored by the United States Marine Corps. Every child, no matter their economic station, deserves at least one toy under the tree (or on the dinning room table) come Christmas morning.
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