Nikki leaned back in her chair, regarding me with the lazy eyes of a cat. She crossed her legs, spent a moment arranging the skirt of her dress, and then folder he hands in her lap expectantly.
Jessie had pulled up a chair to the side of my desk, practically bouncing with excitement.
I still stood with the red and white Santa hat in my hands. I sat down and rubbed my chin.
“Do not try and weasel out of this one, Matthew,” Nikki said tersely. “You promised an explanation.”
“I’m not trying to weasel out of this, I’m trying to figure out where to start.”
“At the beginning.”
“Yeah, thanks for that. That’s the problem. The beginning isn’t the beginning. It just leads to the beginning.”
“You are stalling. Tell the complete story.”
I set the hat down firmly on the desk, and took a deep breath. “Okay. This is going to take some time, so buckle up. It was shortly after Max and I got a divorce.”
“You were married!” Jessie nearly fell out of her chair.
“No,” Nikki said evenly. “I believe he means when he and Maxwell went their separate ways and divided up the city. Matthew came here, and Maxwell kept his old office.”
“Oh. Oh, I get it, now.”
“Like I was saying,” I continued. “He kept Shadow Valley, Dante, and Shoreward. I took Meriville, the Grind, Fairhaven, and the rest.”
“The Ritzy digs I believe you called them once,” Nikki said.
I nodded. “Anyway, I got hired to find a Nativity.”
“You mean the thing they put on at Christmas?” Jessie asked. “How can you steal that?”
“Well, this one wasn’t performed by people. They had, well, dolls, little statues, I don’t know what you want to call them. It was put outside of the church for people to see all the time. It was supposed to be a small job for a friend of a friend of my minister. I thought it was probably some kids, so I started canvassing the neighborhood, asking the people at church if anyone ever harassed them. . . .