As each of you sit down with family and friends and celebrate this holiday season, cherish what you have and don’t worry if you bought everyone on your list the hottest gifts of 2014 (chances are, they wanted gift cards anyway). But show them love, compassion, and everything a great greeting card is made of…which leads me into my little short story.
Receiving a Christmas card from most people is supposed to invoke feelings of joy and holiday spirit. However, one couple has decided a card from them marks you for death…
Yes, I know… it’s a complete short story on the blog, but I figured all of you loyal fans who haven’t read this little Xmas tidbit, would enjoy partaking in my gift!
Enjoy! (Remember, death is only a click away…and this case, maybe you would say…a lick away.)
Murder them bastards. Ryan Hempstead’s blank expression hid his feelings well as he loaded the last weapon into the camouflage backpack. He opened the desk drawer and pulled out several envelopes. Andy, Andrea, Greg, Kendall, and, last but not least, Scott Cranston. He unzipped a pocket on his leather coat, careful not to damage the holiday cards. Ryan grabbed his cell phone, punching in the numbers of the only person he had ever cared about.
A young woman answered. “Hey, Ryan. You sure you wanna go through this?”
“Astor, we talked about this…them assholes have to pay for what they did to you.”
“Why? Tell me why it has to be today?” Astor pleaded.
Ryan gritted his teeth. “Because it just does. I can do this by myself, if you’re backing out–”
“No, I won’t let you do this alone. I don’t understand the reason for today, though. Ryan, baby, it’s Christmas Eve.”
“That’s the best part…nobody will expect it today.” Ryan grabbed the pistol off the dresser, stuffing it in his jeans. “Astor, Christmas is a dead holiday to me.”
“Pick me up in ten minutes. I’m finishing the letter to my roommate.”
“Gotcha. See you then.”
“All right, Ryan. I love you…just wanted you to know before we do this.”
Ryan took a breath, closing his eyes. “I love you, too. Like I said, I understand if you want to back out.”
“We’ve come this far. If we’re going through with this, at least it’ll be together.”
A single tear streamed down his face. “Astor, we will always be together. Nothing will change that.” He wiped away the wetness. “I’ll be there in a few.”
“Okay, I’ll be ready.” Astor’s voiced trailed off.
Ryan ended the call as he walked over to the wall mirror and stared at himself. He wasn’t a powerless, wimpy kid from Marcona anymore. The extra weight he had struggled with for so long had turned into lean muscle, and the glasses that made him look like a geek were replaced with blue colored contact lenses. His fascination with comic book legends was reflected in the Batman logo on his shirt pocket. Today, he was going to be a superhero of sorts. Ryan would avenge the only love he ever had known. The fuckers who defiled Astor would finally be held accountable. The court system hadn’t been able to do a thing, so it was his turn. Ryan brushed his wavy hair out of his face and zipped up his coat.
A fucking dead holiday indeed.
Mark Blankenship maneuvered the marked patrol unit through the cornucopia of holiday shoppers as they gave him an accusing stare. He scanned the parking lot, looking for an open spot. Great. Who does their shopping on the last day before Christmas? He thought for a second. Me, of course.
Unable to find anything available, Mark drove across the street, finding the perfect place. He grabbed his cell from the console and squinted at the number of bars remaining on the battery. Wonderful. Hope nobody needs anything.
He popped open the glove box, sorting through the mess. There you are. He shoved the cheap charger into the lighter and plugged in his phone. Mark pulled down the visor and ran a hand through his thick black hair. The wrinkles emerging on his face and the tired brown eyes reminded him of the recent struggle with divorce. Fuck, I really do look old.
Mark flipped up the visor and exited the vehicle. He smiled, staring up at the sign on the building. After I get done shopping, I think I will need a drink. He hiked across the lot, blowing warm air into his hands. “Shit, it’s cold!”
As he approached his destination, Mark brushed off his coat, noticing a shabbily dressed middle-aged man standing outside of the giant superstore’s entrance. He sat next to a red kettle ringing a small gold bell, trying to get the attention of people as they walked past. Glad I’m not standing out here. Mark thought about bypassing him, too. Instead, he stopped in front of the kettle, reached into his pocket, and removed several waded bills.
He smiled at the man as he placed the bills through the slot. “Hey, why aren’t you inside the foyer doing this? It’s too cold to be out here.”
The man strained to look up as he exposed a toothless grin. “The store doesn’t want me in there…says I need to be out here.”
Not very holiday Joy-to-the-World, good-will-towards-men mindset. “Well, stay warm. Hope I helped a little.” Mark shrugged.
The man stood up but still had a hard time reaching over to pat him on the shoulder. Mark bent over to receive the gracious gesture. The man slipped a foiled wrapped chocolate Santa into Mark’s large hand. “Every little bit helps…have a nice Christmas.”
“You too, sir,” Mark waved, pocketing the chocolate.
He walked through the sliding glass doors, and a rush of warm air gently greeted him. Now, that’s more like it. He stripped off his trench coat, smiling at the choice of shopping carts. Gotta love the holiday colors.
A young red-haired girl wearing a black smock and Santa hat stopped his progress as she handed him a store flyer.
“Happy holidays, sir. Welcome to Plaxton’s Superstore. Is there anywhere I can direct you today to fulfill your holiday shopping extravaganza?”
Who the fuck talks like that? Must follow a script or something. Mark shook his head, tapping his shirt pocket. “Um, no thanks. I have it all here.”
She smiled. “Alrighty, then. You have a good shopping experience.”
Please kill me now. “Thanks, I will.”
Mark grabbed a green cart and removed the list from his shirt. Next year, everything online.
He pushed the cart through several aisles until he found the rows of dolls his daughter had pointed out a few weeks ago. Now, which one was it? There were several choices, but he inspected the list, making sure this was the exact one she wanted. If he purchased the wrong one, Marcia, his ex-wife, would be sure to point it out to him. That was her way of getting back…it always had been. She would dramatize anything, no matter how small. A man can only take so much.
Mark removed the doll from the shelf, placing it into his cart. Presley, I hope you love it. She deserved to be happy, especially since the breakup of the marriage was only six months ago. The little girl didn’t understand why daddy only got to see her every other weekend.
Scanning the list, he realized he couldn’t just forget Marcia. I wonder what you get for the people who piss you off the most? He smiled as he headed in the direction of the end cap marked, “As seen on T.V.”
He sorted through the absurdity of choices and finally decided on the perfect gift for Marcia. Studying the box of knives, his eyebrows rose as he read. Even cuts through a pop can… maybe I need one of those.
Mark glanced down at his watch, realizing the store would be closing soon. The majority of customers appeared to have vacated the area, and he was one of the few remaining. Mark grabbed the last item he needed and marked it on his corresponding list.
“Merry Christmas to me. I’m all done. Now, time for a celebratory beverage,” he muttered. Mark carted his purchases in the direction of the register when he noticed something odd.
A young, dark-haired woman, dressed in black camouflage, appeared to be guarding the exit. She was shoving people back inside the store and even pushed one elderly woman so hard that she tripped over her cane and landed face first onto the floor.
What the fuck? Mark reversed his direction, looking for a vantage point. He reached down, unholstering the weapon he carried off duty. Mark found safe refuge behind a large display of fireproof safes but was still close enough to keep his eye on the young woman. She kept yelling at some of the cashiers. Soon, a man dressed in a long-sleeve shirt and tan pants approached her. Mark took aim at the woman, but the man was in his line of fire, which made him lower his gun. The unknown man turned and pointed in the direction of the crowd, seemingly pleading with her to let them leave. He seems to know her.
The woman then did something unexpected. She reached behind her back and withdrew something large, pointing it at the man. A fucking gun. The man tried to scurry away, but she lowered the firearm and fired two shots into his back. He slumped to the floor as blood started to seep from the freshly made wounds.
The small crowd started to scream, and mass confusion ensued. Mark again trained his weapon on her, but the overhead lighting suddenly disappeared, and his vision was obscured by the darkness. She didn’t cut the lights, but somebody did. Mark heard several more shots, but this time, it came from behind him. He crouched down, straining to see where the rounds came from, but was unable to locate their origin. Mark started to inch forward when he heard the squelching of the store’s intercom system activate.
A hoarse voice filled the interior. “If you want to remain alive, do what we say. I’m only looking for certain people today, but will kill anyone who gets in my way. And I do mean anyone! Put your fucking cell phones in the garbage can…now!”
At least two gunmen. Mark reached for his cell but realized it wasn’t there. Shit. He wondered why the male voice had mentioned the gunmen were only here to kill certain people, and then, a very disturbing thought filled his head. A death list, and usually, the only people who had those were former employees.
Ryan Hempstead stared at the motionless body of store manager, Andy Potraz. He moved along the line of cash registers, stopping a few feet away. He opened his jacket and removed one of the white envelopes, placing it on the manager’s bloodstained shirt. Now, that’s what I’m talking about. Ryan unclipped his two-way radio from his belt.
“Astor, what’s your location?”
“Just checked the sporting good section. Nothing moving here. I’m heading to hardware.”
“Great. Keep your eyes open. I saw a police SUV in the liquor store parking lot across the street–”
“Ryan, I won’t kill a cop–”
“Relax. The phone lines are disabled to the store, and I got my eyes on these people.”
“You sure that’s everyone in the store?”
Ryan hesitated. “Of course. I came through the warehouse and checked each aisle as I went,” he lied.
“Well, that worried me, but like I said, nobody’s here. I have the back doors all chained up.”
She’s getting a thirst for revenge. “Okay, I have Andrea, Greg, and Kendall up here with the rest of the customers. Did you see that fucker Cranston?”
“No. You sure he’s supposed to be here?”
Ryan’s jaw tightened. “Yes! I made sure of it, before we even decided on today.”
“Okay. I’ll go through the rest of the store, just to make sure.”
Ryan was irritated. “You think I missed something?”
“Well, he can’t get out, but he can call the police if he has a cell. Then, we’re fucked. And your revenge will be for nothing.”
My revenge? I’m doing this for her. “Let’s not argue. Maybe I did miss an area.”
“I’ll meet you in the front of the store…ten minutes.” Astor’s radio was silent.
Ryan slipped off his backpack and removed all the remaining firearms and ammunition. He smiled at the small crowd, fixated on the three employees.
“Andrea, Greg, and Kendall, stand the fuck up… now!”
The three Plaxton’s Superstore employees slowly got to their feet.
Andrea Milton was a short blonde with noticeable facial acne. Tears were streaming down both cheeks. “Ryan, you don’t have to do this. Nobody did anything wrong.”
Ryan rushed to where she was standing and yanked back her hair. Several of the onlookers screamed. “Oh, you think so? Are you fucking kidding me?” He pointed to the other two employees, lashing out on them as well. “And you two fuckers…do you think nobody is guilty of anything?”
Greg Whitlow’s heavyset frame backed away. “Listen, man. I didn’t know she got a hold of Kendall’s drugs. It wasn’t my fault.”
Ryan smashed the barrel of the gun into Andrea’s face, causing blood to spurt from her now disjointed nose. He flung her to the floor like a rag doll and headed straight for the curly-haired Greg Whitlow.
“Greg, I know the judge let you bastards walk, but I’m not so forgiving. You all are pieces of shit…and today’s the
day you pay up.”
Greg kept backing up. “Ryan, we were friends…best friends.”
Ryan looked into his eyes and smiled. “That’s why I’ll have Astor kill you last.”
He whirled around, and without hesitation, fired the full clip into the skull of Kendall Whitlow, a red mist spattering against the stacked boxes of Christmas cards. The tall, sandy-haired warehouse supervisor fell to the ground as more screams echoed from the small crowd. Ryan poised the gun towards the screams, almost forgetting what they were here to do. No, not these people. Just the ones responsible…just the ones responsible…
Mark heard the shots, causing him to instinctively ready his weapon for a second time. Not a good spot. He moved backwards along the adjacent wall, searching for a service center of any kind. Gotta be a phone somewhere . Looking around, he noticed some of the products on the shelf. Mark crawled until he spotted a wall phone. He brought up his weapon in one hand as he stood to reach the handset. He brought it to his ear, hoping to hear the sound of a dial tone. Fuck. This guy must have disabled the line. He let the phone dangle as he crouched, moving cautiously through to the next open area. He went to one knee, steadying the gun in the direction of a row of changing rooms.
Mark noticed he was only a few aisles from the electronics section. I need to get there…fast. He slipped off his boots, bolting across the freshly waxed floor. Halfway across, he felt a sudden blow from behind. “Shit!”. His weapon bounced harmlessly away, landing against a rack of DVDs. He turned to face his attacker as the large man repeatedly pummeled his mid-section. Gotta fight back if I want to see my little girl again. Mark brought up a knee, catching the man squarely in the groin.
“Ah,” the voice groaned.
Mark reached around, putting the man in a headlock. His powerful arms were no match, and soon, the man became limp. When Mark was satisfied the man was no
longer a threat, he scrambled to his feet, picking up his gun. Who the fuck is this? Mark concealed himself behind one the two counters in the photo department. The unknown man moaned and started to regain consciousness.
Mark waited until he had gotten to his feet before addressing him. “I’m an off-duty police officer for Marcona, so keep your hands where I can fucking see them.”
The man held his arms up. “Whoa. I work here, sir. Didn’t know if you were one of the good guys or with that crazy fuck out there.”
Mark lowered the weapon. “Who are you?”
“I work in the warehouse…name is Scott Cranston.”
Mark stood up but still remained in a state of caution. “Scott, do you know who this guy is?” He pointed towards the front of the store.
“Shit, yes. It’s one of the salesmen who used to work here. Ryan Hempstead and his crazy bitch of a girlfriend, Astor Chesley.”
You know where there’s a phone that works? We need help. I don’t know how many are dead or injured, but we need backup… fast.”
Scott shook his head. “Ryan worked in the electronics department. He is a genius when it comes to stuff like this.”
Any more fucking good news? “So there isn’t a working phone anywhere?”
“Nada. My cell phone’s in the warehouse. That bitch Astor chained the back doors, and I can’t budge the overhead garage, either.”
“We need to get to your phone. I have a full clip, but that’s all. You up for this?”
“Man, I will do whatever…just really rather not get shot.”
Mark chuckled. “You and me both. I need a flashlight; lead me there first.”
“Sure,” Scott passed him and ducked under the counter, producing a medium-sized black flashlight. “There ya go.”
“Wish I knew that was there. One more thing…the store carries guns, right?”
Scott frowned. “Yes, but that fucking Astor got a hold of them already…no telling where they’re stashed.”
Pretty organized. “Well, guess my fifteen rounds need to be spent wisely.” Mark flashed a nervous grin. They headed off towards the warehouse. Maybe not a good idea to get a civilian involved, but right now, I need all the help I can get.
Almost forgot. Ryan Hempstead reached into his jacket and pulled out the white envelope labeled Kendall. He smiled at Andrea Milton as he tucked it under the dead man’s body. “Andrea, don’t worry. I don’t think I did too much damage to your face…well, that wasn’t already there.”
She glared at him but said nothing. Ryan stared at the wall clock, rubbing his chin. Where the fuck is Astor? He clicked the transmit button on the portable.
“Astor, I thought you were heading up here?”
The radio emitted a low squelch. “Just finished searching the aisles. I forgot how huge this place is.”
“It’s almost over…only have Andrea and Greg left. You find that bastard yet?”
“Ryan, doesn’t look like he’s here–”
“Oh, he’s here…and it’s not over until we find him.”
“Let’s just get out of here now. Ryan, we can be out of the state in a few hours…”
“We have unfinished business. I need you down here. I will go look for him.”
“Okay. Be there in a few,” she mumbled.
Ryan slammed the radio onto the counter. “Cranston is here, I know it.” He approached Andrea. She had taken off her shirt and was using it to stop the flow of blood still oozing from her face. Fear filled her eyes, and she huddled in a ball as Ryan sat down next to her.
He lightly touched her hair. “Hey, I know what happened that night. You’re not to blame. Maybe I was
wrong including you in this.”
Andrea lowered the stained clothing. “Really? Ryan, I didn’t know Scott gave her those drugs…but how could anyone think he would rape her?”
Someone finally said the magic word. The judge had never used those words. The jury has decided the sex between Astor and Scott was mutual. Astor had waited too long and didn’t report it for several days, not until Ryan had gotten it out of her. By that time, the drugs were out of her system. Now, Andrea had used the word he had waited so long to hear.
Ryan continued caressing her hair. “Andrea, this is important…do you know where Scott is?”
She was shaking, and her lips trembled. “He’s here. I saw him at lunch break, and we talked.”
A devious smile crossed his face. “Astor said she couldn’t find him…is there some other place he might be?”
She nodded. “Yes, Scott and I have a place where we go to make love… the changing rooms by electronics.”
A slut indeed. “What the fuck, Andrea? You know what he did.”
“He didn’t do anything…promised me he and Astor were a one time thing.”
“So, now you two are together?”
She choked back a few tears. “For a few months now.”
Ryan nodded. He reached behind his back, exposing a small revolver. He aimed it at her chest. “Thanks. You have helped a lot. Sorry it has to end this way…no, I’m really not.” He squeezed the trigger as round after round pierced her chest. The small explosions echoed through the store as cries for mercy erupted through the crowd. He grabbed one of the few remaining envelopes and shoved it in her mouth. The darkness of the store hid his tears as they began to roll
down his cheeks.
* * *
Mark heard the gunfire, motioning for Scott to hold his position. They were approaching the steel double doors to the warehouse when he noticed a figure flash in between the aisles. Mark extended his hand, trying to stop his guide. Scott bumped into a display of fishing poles, knocking several to the floor. I hope whoever that was didn’t hear that.
Mark’s hopes were quickly diminished. The squelch of a radio was heard, followed by several more mini-explosions. He ducked, firing several rounds in the direction of their origin, but as he turned, his heart dropped, and it was silent. Goddamn.
Scott Cranston was laying face up, and strained gurgling sounds were coming from him. Mark knelt by his head, realizing several rounds had penetrated his abdomen, but the most damage had been done by the nickel-sized opening in his throat. He covered the wound with both hands, trying to get any pressure he could to stop the blood. I can’t save him. Mark reached over, grabbing Scott’s own hands and placed them over the opening.
Scott stared up, whispering to him. “I’m sorry.”
Why was the kid sorry? I put him in jeopardy. Mark watched as Scott Cranston took his last breath.” Gotta end this!”
Mark stood up, slowly moving in the direction from where the shots came. He heard a rustling noise a few feet away, and he looked for anything he could use to keep him shielded from whatever was creating the noise. He then heard another sound, familiar to him with all his years of law enforcement. Two-way radio? He moved closer, hearing a soft voice just a few feet away. Mark approached the voice and saw the woman as she was trying to crawl away. She got hit.
Mark aimed his weapon. “Police. Don’t fucking move. Do you understand?”
The woman was clutching at her chest with one hand and grasped the radio with the other. “Ryan, I’m not going make it. My God, it burns so much.”
Mark walked closer. “Drop anything in your hands…now!”
Static came from the radio. “Astor, what happened? Where are you?”
Astor Chesley weakly reached under her, extending the gun.
Mark shook his head. “Don’t do it, Astor.”
The young woman ignored the warning, and she fumbled for the trigger. Mark eased the trigger on his weapon back, causing the projectile to bury itself inside her brain tissue. She hit the ground with a powerful thud.
Mark reached down, taking the radio and semi-automatic from her side. He tucked his own weapon back into its holster, deciding he would use hers until the rounds were expended.
The short silence was interrupted by radio static. “Astor, you okay? I know where that fucker Scott Cranston is, baby. Check the changing rooms by the electronic department. You there?”
No, asshole. She’s dead. Mark turned off the portable, clicked on the flashlight, making his way towards the front of the store. He searched each aisle, careful not to alert his presence to the gunman. When he was close enough to see the rows of register lanes, he turned off the
flashlight. The front was still very dark, but his eyes had adjusted since the onset of the takeover, and Mark was able to see about ten people lying on the floor. Where is this shithead? He scanned left to right, looking for his target. Mark kneeled behind a wooden book stand, listening for sounds that might give away the location of the madman. When he was sure there would be zero chance of being seen, he peeked out from his hiding spot. The faint sound of crying could be heard coming from the crowd, but the shooter was nowhere in sight. Mark slipped out, staying close to the end caps of each aisle. When he was approximately fifty feet away, a saddened look filled his face. How many? He inched closer, but his actions proved costly. The next thing he felt was the barrel of a weapon jamming him in the neck. Now, I’m fucked.
Ryan pushed the weapon into Mark’s neck as he forced him to the front of the store. He shoved the lanky man to the ground. “Who the fuck are you, and why do you have the gun I gave Astor?”
He doesn’t know. Mark played it off, shrugging. “A cop shot her. She looked dead. I took it…didn’t want to end up dead myself. I did see the officer heading towards the warehouse.”
Ryan’s nostrils flared. “What does this cop look like?”
“He’s about your height with a medium build. In uniform, and I think he had a radio.”
“Fuck! Are you sure?” Ryan rubbed a hand through his hair. He started to weep.
Got him feeling…and thinking. “Pretty sure this place is gonna be crawling with them soon.”
Ryan’s eyes narrowed. “So, that doesn’t explain who you are.” He pointed the gun at him.
“Whoa, man. I’m Mark, the new assistant manager from Des Moines. See the dress shirt and ugly tie?” Mark grinned.
Ryan glanced at his long-time friend Greg Whitlow. “That true, Gregory?”
Greg nodded. “Yes, just came in a few days ago.”
Ryan smiled. “Welcome to Plaxton’s, then…where raping innocent college girls is looked on favorably.”
He’s avenging the rape of someone…maybe that girl Astor?
“Well, I guess I need to end this quick…then you can show me where the cop went.” Ryan leveled the weapon at Gregory Whitlow.
Greg put up his hands. “Ryan, don’t do this. Enough people are dead–”
Ryan laughed. “A few more really don’t fucking matter then…do they?”
Mark could see all of Ryan’s attention was focused on the husky employee. He quickly reached under the back of his shirt and unholstered his firearm. Mark took aim. “Ryan, it’s over. Put the gun down.”
Ryan whirled around, firing his gun. Mark managed to get off a shot and then realized the chamber was empty. Mark’s single round hit its mark, catching Ryan in the chest. Two of the gunman’s bullets hit Mark in the leg, sending him crumpling to the ground. Most of the hostages witnessed the gunman fall as they leapt to their feet and scurried in all directions. Mark cried out in pain, trying to get to his feet. He stared at the body of the former electronic salesman but was stunned when Ryan sat up. What the fuck?
Ryan reached under his shirt, ripping off the vest underneath. He flung it to the side, getting to his feet. “Surprise!” Mark saw Ryan Hempstead pick up his gun and run towards him. The thought of not seeing Presley or even her mother, for that matter, ever again flashed through his mind. Ryan got closer and raised the weapon at Mark’s head. Don’t want to see this. Mark closed his eyes, then heard the barrage of rounds coming from in front of him. Not the normal sounds a semi-automatic makes. He opened his eyes and saw the riddled corpse of the gunman ten feet from him.
A booming voice called out to him. “Chief, you okay? It’s Officer Moore.”
Mark tried to get to his feet but was weak from the loss of blood. “Moore, I’m hit…two rounds in the leg.”
The tactical officer motioned to several others. “Hey, the chief is down…get an ambulance up here.” Officer Moore looked around, witnessing the scattered bodies. “Chief, how many?”
Mark grimaced. “Moore, at least four up here and two in back.”
Another officer dressed in black placed an emergency blanket over him. Mark looked up. “When did the call come in?”
Moore chuckled. “Interesting you ask. Liquor store owner was bitching about the patrol car sitting outside his business for five hours. He said the city owes him money for his lost business. Plus, all the cars out in the lot had a little to do with it.” He thumbed in the direction of the parking lot.
Mark started to laugh. “Tell the store owner to fuck off.”
Moore smiled as the EMTs arrived and pushed a cart towards the two of them. After a few minutes of stabilizing Mark’s leg, they were wheeling him close to the front door when he noticed a white envelope lying on the ground. He motioned for Officer Moore to scoop it up and hand it to him.
He turned it over, looking at the name on the front. Greg Whitlow…at least he was alive. Mark broke the seal and lifted out what appeared to be a Christmas card. The front had a picture of a cartoonish reindeer, and the lack of any caption indicated it was one of the cheaper kind on the market. He opened the card and read the following:
If you’re reading this, it means Gregory is long dead, and the revenge set out on the people responsible for destroying a young girl’s innocence has been vindicated. I did something the court system was unable to do and feel no remorse about it. To me and Astor Chesley, today will be considered a holiday of its own proportion. Today is our Dead Holiday…
Ryan and Astor
Mark closed the card, handing it back to the young officer. “Moore, be sure that gets into evidence.”
Moore stuffed it inside his cargo pocket. “No problem. I will keep you posted what’s happening here.”
Almost forgot something. “Hey, Moore, come here a second.”
Mark whispered something to him, as the officer smiled, running back through the store. A few minutes later, Officer Moore returned with a box. “Here you go. Must mean a lot to you?”
Mark chuckled. “More than you can imagine.”
He waved at the young officer as the ambulance crew pushed him out into the cold. Mark turned the box over, staring at the doll. A few flakes of snow hit his cheek. A white Christmas after all…and seeing the smile on Presley’s face when I give this to her will make it all worthwhile. This was going to be the best Christmas ever…