"I'll tell you, Lennie, with all these Christmas lights, it's hard to tell which one is the traffic light.
Lennie nodded. "So, what are your plans for Christmas?"
"I don't know, I thought I'd go to my cousin's house. He's got three kids."
"Yeah, it's not like Christmas without kids."
Logan glanced at his partner. The man should have grandchildren. He knew that's what was on his mind. "What about you? You got any plans?"
"Cathy invited me to a little dinner at her place. Just the two of us. I'll probably go."
Logan nodded. "On the other hand, I might spend it with the Santa's elf I met a Macy's last week."
Briscoe laughed. "Is that all you ever think about?"
"Why not? I mean, Christmas is about 'Peace on Earth,' love thy neighbor and all that."
"Yeah, especially if the neighbor is female."
Logan laughed as he pulled the car over to the curb, got out and hung his shield on his outside coat pocket. "What've you got?" he asked the uniformed officer that approached him.
"Man in the alley, mid-thirties. Shot three times. ID says 'David Corbett.'"
Logan looked around. "Three shots in an alley that acts like an echo chamber. I don't suppose there were any witnesses."
"Maybe one. A little girl. We found her in the alley hiding behind a dumpster. So, far, we haven't been able to get a thing out of her."
Logan and Briscoe turned around to see Officer Shelley Adams leading a small girl towards them. She was tiny, frail-looking with curly blond hair that was so light it looked white. She turned her wide blue frightened eyes towards Mike Logan. He felt his heart melt as he squatted in front of her.
"Hi. I'm Mike Logan. What's your name?"
She cast her eyes downward.
He studied her faded jeans that were at least four inches too long, her oversized grimy tee-shirt. Despite her messy appearance, she was pretty, her face angelic and wise at the same time. She was shivering, but he wasn't sure if it was because she was cold or scared.
Logan felt overwhelming sympathy for the child. He wanted to reach out and pull her into his arms, protecting her from whatever was hurting her. But he knew you couldn't touch these kids, not right away. He saw it in her eyes, that haunted mistrustful look that came from being hurt by the ones you trusted most. He knew that look all too well.
He studied her a minute, then said, "How old are you, about four years old?"
"No! I'm eight!"
Mike laughed. "You can talk! How about that?"
She studied his face a moment, then her eyes fell on his red and green plaid tie. "You like my tie?" he asked softly.
She nodded, then reached up and fingered the fabric hesitantly. "It's pretty."
"What did you say your name was?"
"Marie," she whispered.
"That's my favorite name, did you know that?"
She shook her head. "Are you going to take me to jail?" she whispered.
Mike bit his lip to keep from laughing. "No, but I want to ask you a question."
Her eyes went back to meet his. "It's about that man, isn't it? Is he dead?"
He nodded. "Did you see who did it?"
She nodded, her eyes large and serious. "Santa Claus."
Mike frowned. "Santa?"
She nodded again. "Santa shot that man."
Mike glanced at Lennie, who shook his head, looking disgusted.
"Where's your mother?"
"She works at the Empire hotel. I'm not s'posed to go there when she's working."
"Aren't you cold?"
She shook her head hard.
He knew she was just being brave, and held out his arms to her. "Come here."
To his surprise, she threw her arms around his neck and let herself be picked up. She was light as a feather. He smiled."That's better. Now, let's go talk to your Momma."
"No! I can't! Mamma get fired if I go in there." She struggled frantically, but Mike wouldn't let her go.
He frowned. "Is that why you're hanging around out here? They won't let you inside?
"Do you always stay out here while your momma works?"
"No, Freida takes care of me, but she's in the hospital, so I got no where to stay while momma works," she answered in a matter-of-fact tone.
Officer Adams smiled at Mike. "I called Child Welfare; they'll meet us downtown."
Marie let out a blood-curdling scream and struggled so hard, Mike had to set her down on the ground. He squatted down, and held her by the arms. She was crying hysterically and still struggling, trying to jerk away from him. "Noooo! Don't let them take me away! I'll be good!"
"Marie! Calm down! It's all right!" he shouted to get her attention. He finally managed to make eye contact with the terrified girl. Her eyes looked like a caged animal's. "We're going to take care of you. Detective Mike's gonna take care of you, okay? You don't have to be afraid. No one's gonna hurt you."
At his last words, she calmed down. She hiccuped, then threw her arms around Mike's neck, burying her face in his jacket lapel.
He glared down at Adams. "Gee, thanks. What happened, you miss a class in your sensitivity training?"
"Hey Marie! You like donuts?" he whispered in her ear.
Marie twisted around and looked at him. Her face brightened and she nodded vigorously. Her blue eyes were dancing with joy. "Well, come on. Let's go get some donuts." He turned around and looked at Lennie. "I think I'm in love," he said smiling.
"That's good, cause I think you got yourself a girlfriend."
Olivett said she had been abused," Anita said.
Lennie nodded. "You should have seen her at the scene. She was screaming bloody murder when he mentioned talking to her mother. But somehow, I don't think it was because her momma would get fired. I talked to the hotel manager...he didn't even know she had a daughter."
The door opened and in walked a woman with short brown hair and a kind matronly look for someone so young. "I'm Sara Keaton. I'm the foster mother. Is that the child?" She looked through the two-way glass into the interrogation room.
Marie was laughing at something Mike said, her mouth covered with chocolate icing.
"Her name is Marie Sheen. They found her in an alley outside the hotel where her mother works. She didn't even have a coat on. She's a tough little girl, a real survivor. The psychiatrist says she was abused and molested by her mother's boyfriend."
Sara shook her head and watched the girl through the window. "She seems to have found a friend."
Suddenly Marie reached out and grabbed his tie, pulling him to her. He let out a mock gasp of surprise. "Hey, watch that, or I'm going to have to put the cuffs on ya."
She giggled and let him go, leaving chocolate fingerprints smeared on his tie. Mike looked down. "Awww, look at that," he said frowning.
Marie's face fell into a pout, her bottom lip trembled. "I'm sorry," she whispered.
Mike pushed up her chin with one finger. "Hey, it's okay. I've got a million of them."
The door opened and in walked Van Buren, followed by Sara. She smiled at Mike, then looked at Marie. "You are so pretty. Has anyone ever told you that?" Marie shook her head, then slid down off the chair and crawled up into Mike's lap.
Anita introduced her. "Detective Logan, this is Sara Keaton. She's going to take care of Marie."
He stood up and set Marie down on her feet, then turned her to look at him while he crouched in front of her. "Marie, honey, I've got some work to do. Miss Keaton's a nice lady and she's going to take good care of you. Are you going to be a big girl and go with her?"
The little girl's face took on a wooden expression, her eyes dead and lifeless. He had seen the look on the face of abused children before. It was the look of acceptance for whatever their fate might be.
He brushed his hand to smooth down her unruly blond hair, speaking soothingly. "It's going to be okay, really. I'll even come see you when I get a chance."
She nodded, then threw her arms around his neck and kissed him on the cheek. Then she turned and took Sara's hand and walked away with her bravely. Mike watched the child moving away and felt a familiar pain. He bit his lip, trying to push in away.
Lennie stuck his head in the door. "Mike, you ready to go to work?"
He smiled slightly, but Briscoe noticed the smile didn't reach his eyes. "Sure, Lennie. Let me go get my coat."
Briscoe grabbed his arm. "Hey, she's a tough kid. She'll be okay."
He nodded uncertainly as he followed Lennie out of the room.
"So, Mr. Cooper, which one of the Santas on this list was on duty from 7:00 till 11:00?" Logan asked, making notes in an oversized pad.
"That would be Raymond Perry. He's on from 5 to 9, with a break at 7."
"How long is his break?"
"A half hour. Would you please tell me what this is all about?" Mr. Cooper suddenly looked very nervous.
Logan looked at Briscoe, who was frowning. "Murder at 7, a kid on your lap at 7:30," Lennie said under his breath.
Logan cleared his throat. "We need to take a look at his locker, Mr. Cooper."
"Don't you need a warrant?"
"Only if you want to take up any more of our time and yours, Mr. Cooper. In fact, we may have to close the store, declare it a crime scene. Could take hours, right Lennie?"
The department store manager quickly led them to the employee's lockers, and showed him the one Perry used. Logan opened it and pulled out the Santa suit, holding it up for examination. He pointed to a tiny stain on the jacket.
"Blood?" Logan asked his partner.
Lennie examined it, squinting. "Could be."
Logan hefted the jacket up and down, as if weighing it. "You know, I worked as a Santa one Christmas and I don't remember the suit being this heavy." He reached in the pocket and pulled his hand out slowly, holding a .38 by the end of the barrel. He grinned at Lennie. "Oh, this is too good! Please tell me Corbett was killed with a .38."
Mr. Cooper moaned and started ringing his hands. "I hope this doesn't make the papers. It could be very bad for business."
"Not as bad as it was for Corbett's business."
Raymond Perry leaned back in the straight-back chair, smirking at Logan across the table. His lawyer, Dan Fisher was sitting beside him doing the same. "That Santa suit could have belonged to anyone."
Logan smiled slightly. "What about the gun? It's registered to Perry."
Perry shrugged. "I lost it."
"Why didn't you report it to the police?"
"Why, you guys didn't even show up when those punks stripped my car last year."
Logan leaned menacingly across the table. "Well, maybe you'll run into them in while you're serving your twenty-five to life. Maybe they'll be nice enough to give it all back."
Perry lost his composure for a fraction of a second, then relaxed. But his smirk didn't return.
Fisher frowned. "The perpetrator was in a Santa suit. You don't even get a positive ID."
The door opened and Claire Kincaid walked in, holding her hand out to the lawyer. "Claire Kincaid, Assistant to the District Attorney's office."
He smiled and nodded. "You really don't intend to go through with this, Miss Kincaid?"
Claire glanced at Perry, then at Fisher. "I'm sure we can match hairs found on the Santa suit with Mr. Perry's."
"It's a moot point, Miss Kincaid. I'm submitting a motion to suppress the suit and the gun."
"On what grounds?"
"The evidence was obtained without a search warrant." He walked out with Perry behind him.
Claire closed her eyes and sighed. "Schiff's going to love this. So, you guys didn't think to get a search warrant?"
Logan was sitting on the table. He stretched his arms out and raised his eyebrows. "Why? We were just beginning the investigation. We didn't have a suspect yet."
"And I heard you had a witness. Is that true?"
"Yeah, a little girl, eight years old."
"Wonderful. This just gets better and better. How is an eight-year-old supposed to identify a suspect in a Santa suit? Did she hear him say anything?"
He shook his head.
"Then she'll make a perfect witness for the defense. Thanks a lot, guys." She picked up her briefcase and turned towards the door.
Logan jumped in front of her. "What are you saying, Kincaid?"
Claire sighed. "He'll probably use her to cloud the jury's judgement and cast doubt. He can't be positively identified and he knows it."
Anita walked in. "We just got a call from Perry's wife. She wants to come in and make a statement. It was her boyfriend that was shot."
Claire looked at Logan and Lennie. "Maybe we have a case after all."
Adam Schiff leaned back in his large leather chair, lacing his fingers behind his head. "So Judge Lambert denied the suppression motion. Remind me to send him a fruit basket. What evidence do we have against Santa Claus?"
Jack McCoy looked at the folder in his hand. "We found blood spatters on the suit, along with gunpowder residue on the sleeve."
Adam smiled slightly. "Are you sure it wasn't chimney soot?"
Jack ignored him. "We're going to go for the max. Murder one."
"The victim was the boyfriend of his estranged wife. She's willing to testify that she heard him threaten to kill Corbett."
"And the defense will call it a crime of passion. Man one at the most."
"There was a witness, a little girl."
Adam shook his head. "A little girl watches Santa kill his wife's boyfriend. Quite a twist on Dickens, eh?"
"He was wearing his suit when she saw him. She can't be a credible witness." Claire told him.
"His lawyer will probably use her to place doubt in the minds of the jury. No eyewitness, no solid evidence," Jack speculated.
Adam shook his head. "Which law firm does this guy work for, "Marley and Scrooge?"
Logan was sitting at his desk, when he looked up and saw Sara Keaton at the door. She was holding Marie's hand, who broke free and ran to Logan when she saw him. He smiled at her and pulled her into his lap. "Hey, Marie! What's wrong, Miss Keaton couldn't stand you anymore? You driving her crazy, so she hauled you down here for an arrest."
Marie laughed. "You're not going to arrest me. I've been good," she said haughtily.
Mike looked up at Sara, who had a worried look on her face. "Is this true? Has she really been good?"
Sara smiled a weak smile. "Marie has something to ask you, Detective Logan. A favor."
"What is it, honey?" He looked at Marie, who wore a serious look on her face.
"Would you go with me tomorrow? I want you to sit with me when I answer the questions."
"Sure, Marie. But I can't actually...."
Sara cleared her throat and shook her head when Mike looked up. "Lennie, would you show Marie where we keep the donuts? Marie, go with Detective Lennie, okay? I'll be right here."
As soon as she was out of earshot, Sara said, "She's been crying all day. She keeps saying she doesn't want to put Santa in jail. Knowing she was coming to see you was the only thing that made her stop."
"But I thought she knew that Perry's not the real Santa. Dr. Olivett discussed it with her."
"So did I. I think she's just scared and confused. To make matters worse, Dan Fisher came by to "prep" her, as he called it. When I told him he should leave the poor child alone, he said if I didn't bring the child in to court, I'd be held in contempt!"
Logan's face grew hard with anger. "Don't worry. I'll be there."
Mike woke suddenly in a cold sweat, looking around to see where he was. His heart was pounding and he could hear someone crying, even though he was alone in his bedroom in his own apartment. He wiped the sweat from his face, then got up and stumbled to the bathroom. Splashing cold water on his face, he tried to push away the feelings of a nightmare that was still hanging around. He hadn't had that dream for a long time. Being around Marie had brought it all back.
The little girl was only five. After her death he had the dream almost weekly. He was in the emergency room watching the doctors try to save her, trying to shock her tiny body back to life. The child had been brought in with 105+ fever brought on by an infection from strep throat. Her mother belonged to a religion that didn't believe in medicine, so she refused to take her to a doctor. Her housekeeper was fired when she pleaded with the mother to call the doctor. By the time the housekeeper brought the police, the child was so congested she couldn't breathe.
He had watched in disbelief as the child died despite the doctor's efforts to save her. He watched the mother weep over the child that could have been saved by a simple medication. Even now he still felt the revulsion and hatred for the mother just as strongly as he did then. How could she do that to her own kid? Mothers were supposed to take care of their children.
The image of the child was still with him. Her long blond hair was wet and stringy around her pale lifeless face. Her face was round and the nose turned up slightly. He always wondered what she looked like when she smiled. He bet she looked a lot like Marie.
As Logan helped Marie out of the cab in front of the courthouse, he watched the crowd of reporters and TV news crews swarming around Jack McCoy and Claire. His heart started pounding as he took Marie's hand and started up the steps. Suddenly, a woman with a microphone rushed over and was followed by the rest of the mob. Logan scooped Marie into his arms and headed up the steps, but was surrounded by the reporters, all shouting questions at once. He heard Marie whining as she pressed her face against his shoulder. He pulled the lapel of his leather coat over her, covering her face as best he could. He ignored the questions being shouted at him and pushed through the crowd, but it was hard to push people out of the way with no hands. Then he felt a hand on his arm pulling him through, and the words, "I think I see Raymond Perry coming" from a female voice he recognized as Claire Kincaid. The crowd evaporated around him as he faced his rescuers. McCoy let go his arm and smiled. "Hurry, while you've got a chance."
Once inside, he turned to McCoy. "How bad do you think it might be?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. But it's never very prudent to crucify a small child on the witness stand. Juries don't like that." Jack smiled reassuringly.
"I wish I could tell you more, but I can't.
"I understand. Marie, you okay?"
Marie nodded. "Are you going to leave me with that man?" she said looking at McCoy, warily.
"No, honey. That's one of the men that's going to ask you questions. But we're not supposed to talk to him, so say "goodbye."
"Goodbye," she said in a lyrical voice.
McCoy looked at Claire and grinned who was trying to hide her amusement.
He smiled at Marie. "Goodbye, Marie."
"Come on, Marie, before the good seats are taken."
He found them a seat right behind the prosecutors' table. He planned it that way, so Marie could see him while she was in the witness box. While they were waiting, he tried to amuse her with jokes and funny comments, but she got bored as soon as the trial began. He motioned to Claire for something to write on. She supplied him with a legal pad and a pen. He gave it to Marie and asked her to see how many animals she could draw.
During the trial, McCoy offered the Santa suit as evidence and questioned the forensic expert. Fisher tried to discredit the evidence with a weak argument based on the fact that the suit had been used for years by countless Santa's in the department store.
Then there was the victim's wife. Fisher called an objection, on the grounds of marital privilege as soon as McCoy started questioning her about comments Ray had made. He was overruled by the judge who allowed it.
As each witness was called, it became clear that Marie was the pivotal point in Dan Fisher's case. She was the only eyewitness, and he would have to discredit her.
Logan whispered to her. "I'm right here, honey. There's nothing to worry about. Go answer the questions." He watched anxiously as she walked up to the witness box. The judge leaned down to her and told her to sit down. "Now, Marie. You know the difference between a truth and a lie, don't you?"
"You have to answer "yes or no," okay?
"Yes," she said softly.
"Okay, put your hand on this Bible. Do you swear to tell the truth?"
"Okay, sit down in that chair."
Dan Fisher walked up to Marie. "How old are you, Marie?"
"And do you know why you are here?"
"Cause I saw someone get shot."
"And did you see who did the shooting?"
She nodded. "Santa Claus."
"Marie, do you believe in Santa?"
"Ye-e-s-s," she answered hesitantly.
"But there are a lot of Santas around New York. Can you tell us why there are so many?"
"They're Santa's helpers. They help find out what the kids want and take up money to pay for it."
"Tell me, Marie. Have you ever seen the real Santa?"
"How do you know?"
Marie stared at him, not knowing how to answer. She tried to look at Logan, but Fisher had positioned himself between them.
"How do you know, for that matter, which is the real Santa?"
"I don't...." Marie's bottom lip began to quiver.
"In fact, how do you know the REAL Santa didn't kill David Corbett?"
"Noooo!" Marie screamed, and began wailing.
McCoy jumped up. "Objection! Your Honor!" he yelled.
"Counselor, in my chambers!"
Logan rushed forward as the three men exited the courtroom, and grabbed Marie as she sailed out of the witness box. She threw herself into his arms, her tiny body trembling as he held her. "It's okay...it's all right...sh-sh-sh..."
Judge Lambert paced behind his desk and glared at Fisher."I have been a judge for thirty years and I've never seen a fiasco to compare with this. To even suggest to a child that the real Santa killed someone..."
"But your honor, I was trying to establish..."
"What you are trying is my patience, Mr. Fisher. What's wrong, didn't you get that bike you wanted for Christmas when you were nine? I don't care what you read in the papers, Santa Claus is not on trial here. And the first reference to the "real" Santa will result in a mistrial. Is that understood?"
Dan Fisher sighed and nodded. As he was leaving, he tried to avoid the triumphant look on Jack McCoy's face.
Mike had Marie back sitting in the witness box when they returned. She was smiling and laughing. He held a finger to his lips to silence her, then went back to his seat behind Claire, who was smiling at him.
McCoy cleared his throat as he approached the little girl and smiled. "Hello, Marie. I promise this won't take long. I just need to ask you a few questions. Is that all right?"
Marie nodded. "Yes...I guess so."
"Marie, can you tell me why were you in that alley when Mr. Corbett was shot?"
Marie looked at Raymond Perry, then bowed her head and looked at her hands.
Jack turned and looked at Perry, who was glaring angrily at Marie. McCoy moved between her and the defense table, blocking her view of Perry. "Marie, it's okay. No one's mad at you."
She looked past him at Logan, sitting behind Claire. He smiled encouragingly at her. She smiled back. "I wanted to talk to him."
"Why did you want to talk to Santa?"
"I wanted to ask him if I could go see Jennifer."
McCoy frowned. "Who's Jennifer?"
"She's a girl I play with from school. She lives with him."
"You mean, you know Raymond Perry?"
She nodded. She was biting her lip, which was beginning to tremble.
McCoy turned to look at Perry, then back to Marie. "And you knew who he was that night in the alley?"
She nodded again, tears streaming down her face.
He leaned closer. "Marie, it's okay. Why are you crying?"
"I told him I'd never tell anybody he's Santa Claus."
"How did you find out?"
"I followed him to the store one day, and saw him putting on his beard in the storeroom." She burst out crying loudly.
Mike started from his seat, his face full of concern. One stern look from Claire stopped him.
McCoy looked at the jury. Every face was full of sympathy, a couple of women were dabbing their eyes. He looked back at Marie. "No further questions, your honor. You can go sit down, Marie."
As Marie left the witness box, Jack held her hand, helping her manage the tall step.
Once she was out, she ran over towards Mike who stood up and lifted her over the railing. "You did good, sweetheart," he whispered. He sat down with her in his lap, talking softly and soothingly. She leaned against him, gripping tightly to his red and green plaid tie for security.
"Your honor, I'd like to call a recess so that I may confer with my client."
"That's fine. Why don't I give you till tomorrow to sleep on it? Court will adjourn until tomorrow at 9:00 AM."
Mike took Marie by the hand and filed out of the courtroom with the others. When they cleared the crowd, he walked down the hallway toward the back entrance to miss the reporters.
"Hey, Mike." He recognized the voice calling him as Briscoe and turned around. An elderly couple was with him and the woman was looking at Marie hopefully.
"These are Marie's grandparents, Mr. & Mrs. Stewart."
He eyed them suspiciously. The woman smiled at him, then looked at Marie. "I knew who she was the moment I saw her on the news. She looks just like her mother when she was that age. Do you remember me, Marie?"
Marie stared at her, then her eyes fell on an onyx pin surrounded by pearls. "Mawmaw?" she said softly.
The woman beamed at her. "That's what you used to call me. You do remember me." She looked up at Mike. "We haven't seen her or her mother since she was four. We're petitioning the courts tomorrow to adopt her. A child needs to be with family, especially at Christmas."
Mike watched Marie taking in the woman's kind face and suddenly felt lonely.
The elderly woman smiled up at him. "Detective Briscoe told me about how you looked after Marie."
He smiled. "She's a sweet child. You're very lucky to have her as a grandchild."
Marie suddenly looked up her grandmother and asked, "Do you have a Christmas tree?"
She looked at her strangely. "Of course we do. A real one. But it's not decorated yet. We thought we'd let you help us."
Marie's eyes lit up and she jumped up and down. "Oh, boy! A real tree!" She grabbed Mike's hand, still jumping up and down, and said gleefully, "And you can come help decorate, Detective Mike!"
Mike's smile faded. He was at a loss for words. He didn't want to impose himself on the Stewarts. They were a new family, and he knew Marie didn't need him around to remind her of what had happened.
"Son." The old man spoke up. "You come help us trim the tree. Stay for dinner, if you like. Hell, come spend Christmas Day!"
Mike stared in disbelief. "No, I couldn't. I don't want to impose..."
Mrs. Stewart spoke up. "Oh, you wouldn't be imposing. Do you have a wife, or a family?"
"No family to spend Christmas with? Well, that does it. You do now. You're spending Christmas with us."
"Hooray!" Marie screamed.
He watched her laughing, a big grin on his face. She was like a different child. Her face was filled with a radiance that could only belong to a happy child. It was amazing the difference a loving family could make.