“Come in, Nikki,” I said. It didn’t freak me out to invite her into the office, anymore. The fact that I didn’t freak out was beginning to freak me out, but that was another matter.
My invitation popped the invisible bubble of the consecration, and Nikki walked in. She took off her sable coat, hanging it on my tree in the corner with my hats. She wore a dark green blouse and pencil skirt over hose and heels. She looked like she was there for business. She sat down in one of the two chairs in front of my desk, and looked at me.
“Do you have a case for me? Want me to break out the chess board?” Business was slow; it always was around Christmas. The supernatural waned at this time. Belief in Christmas tended to dampen their powers, which was another reason it was odd to see Nikki out and about.
“No case, Matthew. And I’m not in the mood for chess at the moment.”
“So why are you here?”
“For your company.”
“You want to talk? About what?”
“You’re just going to sit there.” It wasn’t a question.
“For now, yes.” She gave me an amused smile.
She wants to sit. Fine. I have to finish up the report for Collins, anyway.
I went back to my laptop, typing up the narrative of the report from my end, careful to avoid any direct references to the supernatural. Though Collins did head up his own task force specifically for these kinds of cases, the higher-ups didn’t like to see it in reports as it wouldn’t stand up well in court.
As I typed, I could feel Nikki’s eyes on me, and I would occasionally glance up at her. She still sat with that amused expression as she relaxed in the chair. Finally, the pressure was too much for me. “Why are you staring at me like that?” I said.
“Yeah, I got that part. Waiting for what?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Nikki, you’ve been hanging around me for a week, now. You’ve brought me to work, several days, taken me home, we’ve gone out every night this week. Even gone with me to investigate crime scenes with the cops. I thought this morning you were finally done with it, but here you are. What is it?”
Like we’re married or something.
I have noticed a pattern, Matthew?”
“What pattern?” I closed the laptop, curious.
“For the past few years, something odd happens to you around Christmas.”
“What? I don’t start acting weird. Well, weirder than normal. I like Christmas is all.”
“I didn’t say it was your behavior. I said something odd happens to you.”
“She’s right, Boss,” Jessie said from my door, coffee in her hands.
Jessie set down a mug for Nikki, then myself. “Well, like me.”
“Let us also not forget the department store with your niece,” Nikki said.
“Or last year on the street where I received a letter from medieval Germany.”
“She’s right, Boss. Jen would agree with us, too, if she hadn’t gone back to South Dakota this year.” Jessie grinned, then looked back toward the outer office, frowning, and she left.
“Okay, yes, things may happen around me, but it’s not me. I’m not doing it.”
“Nevertheless, you are a focal point.” Nikki said, suddenly serious.
“So, what, you’re just hanging around to see what happens this year?”
“Precisely. Two times may be coincidence, but three is the beginning of a pattern, and these are only the instances of which I am aware.”
“I don’t know what to tell you, Nikki, but if you want to waste your time, then—What’s that?” I asked, looking at Jessie.
“It was a little boy,” she said. “He just came in and handed me this box. It’s addressed to you. No return address.”
“A boy. Perhaps eight to ten years of age? Sandy hair with a big smile?” Nikki asked.
“Yeah, that’s him.”
Kid, you’re going to have to start aging or people will catch on there’s something about you.
I motioned for Jessie to bring it over. It was an average-sized package, but it wasn’t taped up. Instead, it was wrapped in plain brown paper, tied with twine. The only marking was the label on the front with my name in neat script. I recognized that script.
I used my knife to cut the twine, then neatly sliced the paper, butting the box free. Instead of a box with folding flaps, it had a lid. The lid was white, but the box itself was fire-engine red. Nikki leaned forward, intent. Jessie was grinning, almost bouncing on her toes.
Underneath the lid was a folded paper and some tissue paper wrapping something else. I picked up the paper, reading it.
I told you this might be coming. You’ve been really good. So I officially name you as a Helper.
My eyes bulged, and I read it three times. The note was short, but the implications were huge. I set the note down, and saw Nikki’s hand hovering over the tissue paper.
“I cannot get closer to it,” she said.
“Huh?” Jessie’s grin fell in confusion.
I just nodded. I opened up the tissue paper to reveal a Santa hat.
“That is not some cheap prop found at a drugstore,” Nikki said. “Do you still deny?”
“I can explain,” I said.
Nikki leaned back, folding her hands in her lap. “I look forward to it.”
“Me, too,” Jessie said.