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ASmart Christmas Carol
December 21, 1967 . . .
99 entered the Chiefs office. Merry Christmas, Chief! She said happily.
Merry Christmas, 99. You headed to your Moms this years?
As always. Im flying out tomorrow afternoon. What about you, going to the mountains?
Im driving up tomorrow morning. Im just trying to get some of this paperwork done so I wont sit around thinking about it.
99 laughed, Well, have a good time, Chief. Ill see you on Monday.
You have a nice time too. The Chief said with a smile and turned back to the paperwork.
99 was almost to the door when she suddenly stopped and turned around.
Chief . . .
Whats Max doing for Christmas?
I have no idea.
Is he working?
No . . . he usually does, but not this year. That makes it the first time in five years, hes worked every year since hes been here.
I knew he was here last year, but every year? Dont you find that a little odd?
I dont find anything Max does odd.
Chief . . .
He shrugged. I dont know, 99, youll have to ask Max. Now, if you dont mind, he smiled, Id like to get this work done. Have a nice holiday.
You too . . . 99 said softly.
She wished Larabee a Merry Christmas as she left and headed toward Maxs office. He wasnt there, so she used his phone to call him at home. He answered immediately.
Hey, Max, you busy?
Naw, just sitting here watching the tube. Whats up?
Mind If I come over?
Of course not. Come on.
See you in a few minutes.
99 arrived at Maxs apartment about fifteen minutes later. Surprisingly, she only had to knock once before he answered the door.
Hey, 99, Max said, pulling her into the apartment.
Sit down. How about some Egg Nog?
Sounds good to me. It does have a kick to it, doesnt it?
99 sat on the couch as Max fixed the drinks.
Here ya go, Max said, handing 99 a glass and sitting down beside her. Cheers!
Max, what are you doing for Christmas?
Max averted his eyes slightly. Nothing, he said, taking a long drink. How about you?
Going home to Moms.
Good for you, Max said softly.
Oh, yes there is. Tell me.
Tell you what? Theres nothing to tell.
99 put her glass down on the table. Max, tell me why this is the first year you havent stood duty on Christmas day.
Well, everyone else has family or someplace to go, so I figured . . . his words trailed off.
Max . . . do you spend every Christmas alone?
He shrugged. After a while you get used to it, he lied.
Max, I dont believe you.
When are you leaving for your Moms?
Tomorrow afternoon and dont change the subject . . . tell me the truth.
He asked her if she wanted another drink.
No, thanks. She continued to stare at him.
Max became more and more uneasy. He ran his fingers through his hair and gulped down the rest of his drink.
99s eyes remained locked on his.
Max sighed. 99, look . . . I . . .
Max, she said softly, taking his hand, Talk to me.
Max sighed. He never been able to resist those beautiful blue eyes. All right. But, 99, what Im going to tell you Ive never been able to tell anyone. Because no one really cares . . . he paused, gripped her hand tightly and stared at the floor, tears forming in his eyes.
99 put an arm around him. You can tell me, Max. I care. I always have cared.
I was thirteen, he said, My Dad had warned me not to climb the big tree in the back yard. But you know how kids are, I climbed it anyway . . . and fell out and broke my arm. My Mom bundled me up and headed toward the hospital, His voice hitched a bit as he struggled to continue. We were going though an intersection and a car ran the red light, he shook his head angrily. He was drunk. He slammed into the drivers side of our car. I was thrown clear, but . . . but . . . my Mom was killed instantly. They took me to the hospital. My Dad and brother didnt show up for days. I couldnt figure out what was going on, why they hadnt come to see me. And what about Moms funeral?? Finally, my Dad showed up. You see, Mom had called him before she left the house, so he knew what had happened. He told me that she had already been buried and it was my fault she was dead. If I had stayed out of the tree like I was told, she would be alive. He said, Max took a deep shuttering breath, that I was no longer his son. He said he would take care of me, only because it was the law. But, from now on, I had no father or brother . . . neither of them would talk to me because I didnt exist. Then he laughed and told me I was a . . . he hesitated again, . . . a mistake . . . the product of too much wine on a Friday night. So, for the next five years, I basically lived completely alone. Oh, he bought my clothes, signed my report cards . . . but I had to eat by myself , in my room, away from him and Alex. No Birthdays. No Christmas. No Thanksgiving . . . NOTHING. My Grandma, my Dads Mom, was appalled, but she had little recourse. She showered me with affection anyway, in defiance of my father. She was my sole emotional support, so I spent as much time at her house as I could . . . or, was allowed to. When I turned eighteen, she died. My Dad told me I couldnt go to the funeral, but I went anyway. Then I left home, for the first and last time. And I havent seen my father or brother since.
She pulled him closer and touched his face. Oh, Max, how terrible . . . She put her arms around him and they sat that way for a while, holding each other.
Max . . . you were born and raised here. Do they still live here too?
Max sat up straight and wiped the tears from his eyes.
Yep. On the same street, in the same house.
You ever drive by? Just to see?
NO!!! He exploded.
He started to get up, but 99 pulled him back on the couch. Sit down, I have an idea, she said calmly.
As he watched in confusion, she went to the phone and made a short call. After that, she made another call and talked animatedly for about five minutes, then motioned to Max.
Get my credit card out of my purse.
He rummaged around for only a second before handing it to her with a frown. She read off the number to the person on the other end, then nodded with a smile.
Thanks! she said, hanging up.
Max, get packed. Youre going to spend Christmas with me at Moms.
99 . . . Im sure your Mom doesnt want a stranger hanging around . . .
I called her first. Besides, youre hardly a stranger, youve talked to her on the phone lots of times, 99 replied. And I just bought the ticket. So . . . unless you want me to lose several hundred dollars, you better get moving. Theres already six inches of snow on the ground and theyre expecting more, so pack warm clothes, gloves, boots . . . She shoved him toward the stairs. If you dont pack, Ill pack for you.
Max was at a loss for words.
99 . . .
Pack. Ill call the Chief and tell him youll be out of town. She shooed him up the stairs and picked up the phone.
Max was halfway up the stairs, then stopped.
99 turned to him. He came back down the stairs, took the phone from her hand and hung it up. He pulled her into his arms and hugged her.
Thanks, 99, he said. Thank-you. He gave her a warm, affectionate kiss on the lips, which she happily returned.
Okay, Max, she said, pulling away. Our plane leaves at 3:20 tomorrow afternoon . . . Pack.
He paused again. 99?
She turned from the phone again.
For the first time, he smiled.
99 gave him a wink, then turned to talk to the Chief, who was till at the office. Max interrupted her again. Tell the Chief Merry Christmas.
Chief, Max is going out of town for Christmas. I want to make sure hes pulled off the emergency recall list.
No problem. Wheres he going? The Chief paused, then answered his own question, Never mind . . . hes going home with you.
Yes . . .
He says Merry Christmas.
Tell him Merry Christmas from me.
Ill do it. Bye, Chief.
So long, 99.
December 22 . . .
Max drove to 99s apartment the next day to pick her up.
Okay, Max, weve got about four hours before our plane leaves. Lets go for a ride.
Past your Dads house.
Why do you wanna go by there, 99? He moaned.
I want to see it.
Max put a determined look on his face. All right, lets do it . . . as long as youre with me Ill be okay.
They carried 99s suitcases to the car. Because of the cold weather, he had put the hard top on his Sunbeam. He handed 99 the keys.
You drive, he said.
Okay, tell me where to go.
Head toward Bolling Air Force Base.
99 drove South-West and got on 295. Max directed her to an exit and then down several side streets, heading a little bit North of where they exited the highway. He stopped her at an elementary school and told her to pull in the parking lot. She stopped and he placed a shaking hand on her shoulder.
Its just down that street a bit, He said, pointing.
Im sorry, Max, This wasnt a very good idea on my part. Lets skip it and head on to the airport.
No. I have to do this . . . Lets go.
99 nodded. Okay.
She drove down the street Max had indicated, his hand was still on her shoulder.
Slow down, 99. Okay, stop. Thats it right there. He said, pointing to a yellow, two story house on the same side of the street where they stopped.
99 looked at the house and turned to Max, his face was a greenish color and he clutched at her arm.
My God, He said. Oh, 99 . . . it doesnt look any different. See that tall tree in the back?
I see it . . . Max, someones home.
Max was silent as an unseen hand opened the living room drapes to reveal a large, decorated Christmas tree. Then, two men walked out of the house and stood on the sidewalk. One was older, the other younger, only a few years older than Max. 99 glanced over him, he was no longer green, but pure white. 99 had never seen anyone that color before, and it scared her.
Come on, Max, lets catch that plane.
Wait . . .
You wanna go talk to them?
NO!!!! Max snapped angrily, his eyes filling.
Want me to beat him up?
Max looked at her, their eyes met and she grinned at him, he gave a sigh and smiled back.
No, I dont want you to go to jail. Hes not worth it, Max said. Lets get out of here.
99 pulled away, driving right past the two men, who turned to look absentmindedly at the car as it passed. Max scrunched down in the seat, but they both caught a glimpse of their faces. 99 did notice Max looked a lot more like his father than he did his brother.
They rode in silence for a while. Then 99 said, Hey, its only twelve, weve got plenty of time, lets get something to eat.
They stopped at a diner near the highway. After seating themselves, they both decided since it was Christmas, and they were on vacation, they were going to eat what they wanted. So they ordered greasy cheeseburgers and hot chocolate. They sipped on the hot chocolate and munched on the burgers, making complete pigs of themselves. When they were done, 99 said, Max, why dont you get the bill while I go to the restroom?
Max nodded and 99 disappeared around the corner.
Max closed his eyes. He knew the voice, and the tone. Knew it very well. He opened his eyes and saw his father sitting across the table. He simply stared at him, his body tense, his stomach in knots.
Well, well . . . if it isnt little Maxwell Smart. What are you doing in this neck of the woods, Son? the inflection on the word son was obvious.
Max was silent. In all his years at Control he had been in many outlandish, frightening and hard to believe situations . . . he and 99 had nearly been drowned in a phone booth, blown up in a submarine, shot by a firing squad and squished in a trailer. He had almost been crunched by a giant robot name Gropo, been poisoned, shot, beat up and had nearly lost 99 to a dashing gambler. But only the near loss of 99 could compare to the fear that coursed through his veins as he stared at the man across the table from him.
Whats the matter, have you lost the power of speech, Son?
Max found his voice. No.
No, I havent lost the power of speech, Max kept his voice steady, but he was so upset, he felt thirteen again.
We saw you drive by the house. What were you doing?
Hey, Max, whos the old man? 99 asked, sitting down and putting an arm around him.
This is Samuel Smart, Max answered, relief flooding though him at 99s touch.
Really? 99 smirked at the man.
And who is this? Samuel asked, leering.
This is my girlfriend . . . he paused, groping, . . . Susan.
You forget her name?
No. And stop leering.
Maxs eyes threw daggers at him.
He doesnt call me by my name, 99 interjected, giving Max a kiss on the cheek.
What does he call you?
Honey, Sweetheart . . . whatever comes to mind, she said insolently. What does he call you?
HA! Thats not what . . . she stopped as Max gave her a soft elbow in the ribs.
Just what do you want . . . Dad? Max asked impatiently.
I wondered why you decided to go by the house after all these years.
Susan wanted to see where I grew up.
Really? He turned to 99, Its a magnificent house, dont you think?
No. 99 was in awe of the mans gall. What do you want?
To see what my son looks like after all these years.
Max hushed her. He suddenly realized the only way he would ever be able to say anything coherent to the man was to treat him like the enemy . . . like a Kaos agent.
Listen, Dad . . . he said, We drove by simply because she wanted to. I certainly have no reason to want to see it.
Are you sure you didnt want to see us?
Samuel shrugged. To see your family?
Family?? Family? Max was livid. What family? We arent family. Dont you remember? You did away with me when I was thirteen.
For good, solid reasons too.
No, they werent good solid reasons . . . I was a kid, Max whispered angrily cross the table. Is that why you followed me here? To tell me that again?
Exactly. Since I had the opportunity, I thought Id say it again. So . . .
Shut up, Max interrupted.
What did you say?
You heard me. Max snapped. 99 felt his pulse quicken beneath her fingers and knew he was trying desperately to hold on.
Hey, listen, 99 said, leaning across the table. It was so nice to meet you, its a shame you have to go so soon.
I said its a shame you have to go so soon.
I heard what you said, but I dont have to go.
Oh, but you do, 99 continued, lowering her voice. Because if you dont, Im going to kick you in the nuts.
He laughed at her. That laugh disappeared, however, when he felt the toe of 99s boot kick him on the shin.
Come to think of it, were the ones who need to be going, we have a plane to catch, 99 said. Ready, Max?
As they stood up, Maxs father grabbed 99s arm. Just who the hell do you think youre talking to?
Max ripped the hand from 99s arm. He leaned toward him, glaring into his face with such malevolence, that the man shrank back in his seat. Max flung the arm away from him and threw ten dollars on the table. Then he took 99s arm and walked out the door. When they got to the car, he motioned for her to drive.
99 got in and started the car. As Max opened the door to get in, his father grabbed it, ripping it from his hand. Max whirled around to face him.
Listen, Son . . . what kind of look was that supposed to be?
What kind of look would you expect me to give you?
I expect you to have some respect for me.
Max stared at him. You what!? he exploded. You told me I was a mistake, no longer your son . . . you treat me like dirt for years. I should respect you? Get away from me before I let her kick you . . . or better yet, Ill do it myself, Max leaned toward him, Ive been hurting for years because of you and that other idiot son of yours, he paused at his words and shook his head at himself. Well, Im not going to let you hurt me anymore. Stay out of my life, old man. Max got into the car and slammed the door, cutting off the mans words, and almost his fingers. 99 gunned the engine and drove away.
Good for you, Max! She said. She glanced over at him, Oh, Max, Im so sorry. That was a rotten idea. I sure did make a mess of things . . . I feel terrible.
Max turned to her, tears in his eyes. 99, you didnt make a mess of things. Give me some time to think, then well talk, I promise.
Its okay, 99, you dont need to apologize for anything, he kissed her on the cheek. Hey! Lets find some Christmas carols. He moved around the dial and found a station playing nothing but Christmas music. The current song was Sleigh Ride.
. . . Come on its lovely weather for a sleigh ride together with you . . . Max crooned to 99.
99 rolled her eyes. Max, promise me something . . .
If you ever decide to quit your day job, please . . . promise me you wont take up singing.
Max pretended to look hurt, Gee, thanks a lot, 99 . . .
They looked at each other and started laughing.
We will be arriving in Twin Falls in about thirty minutes. The decent will be a bit bumpy today, Folks, the Captain said. Theres eight inches of snow on the ground and its still coming down. Theyre expecting another six inches before Christmas Eve. The temperature is ten below so remember to bundle up! And I hope you all brought your snow shoes. Thanks for flying TWA . . . and have a Merry Christmas.
Ten below? Max shivered.
Aw, youll be fine, City Boy. Ill keep you warm. 99 replied.
You will, huh?
Just wait and see.
Wait and see what?
Youll have to wait and see, 99 said, grinning at Max.
He laughed. He looked out the window again, then turned back to 99.
Is your Mom picking up?
In this weather?
Max . . . my Mom has lived here her whole life. We both grew up driving in the snow. Shes got a four wheel drive for the farm. Shell come in that, she paused, thinking. Of course, the cab only seats two. Someones going to have to sit in the bed. She successfully hide a smile.
What? In this cold? Max sighed. Oh, well . . . Ill sit back there.
Max, I was kidding.
He smiled at her. Listen, 99, Ive been thinking . . . about my so-called father. Im glad we drove over there. For years I blamed myself, simply because I believed what he said. But, I know that Im not to blame. The man is an idiot . . .
I dont know. But if I had known you spent Christmas alone every year, you would have been coming home with me. I feel so bad about that.
Why? You didnt know because I didnt tell you. It was part of my . . . protecting myself.
99 looked at him quizzically.
99, Im no prize to work with . . . and I know Ive hurt you many times - but it wasnt intentional, it was my way of keeping myself from losing another person I cared about and . . . keeping you from making a big mistake. But . . . youve always stuck up for me, always been there for me, always been my best friend. Weve been through so much together and . . . and . . . then I nearly lost you. And now youve helped me to, well, sort of exorcize that demon thats haunted me for years.
He was malicious, 99 said heatedly. Has he always been that nasty?
How could he be? He rarely spoke to me, except to tell me I was a simple-minded fool. My brother went right along with everything he said, but then, hes just gutless. Notice he didnt show up? Anyway, today was the first time weve talked since I left home. Know what . . . Im through with this conversation. Its Christmas and for once Im not spending it alone, Im spending it with you. Whats your home like, 99?
Its a great old farm house. It was built in the 1930s by my Grandparents. Two story, large bedrooms, three baths, a great, huge living room with a monster fireplace, a large kitchen, barn, cows, pigs, chickens, corn, wheat. She has a hired hand that comes over about four days a week, but she does most of the work herself. I help with the chores when Im home. Want to help milk the cows?
Max looked at her with raised eyebrows. Milk the cows?
Whats the matter, City Boy? Dont you think you can handle it?
Sure. But maybe we could get in some practice first, He whispered, grinning.
99 burst out laughing, causing several people looked over.
99 shook her head, smiling. Nothing. Hey, were landing.
I said were . . . At that moment the plane made a rather rough landing on the snow-packed runway.
Landing? Max finished.
The plane taxied to the gate and everyone jumped up at once, trying to be the first off. Naturally, it caused a massive backup as people opened the overhead compartments to get their belongings, forgetting about the possibility of shifting during flight. As a result, bags, boxes, gifts and miscellaneous debris rained out of the compartments and people were forced to make fantastic catches to avoid being clobbered on the head.
Max and 99, having flown way too many times, remained seated and watched in amusement. Soon enough the aisle cleared and they retrieved their carry-on bags. 99s Mother met them at the gate. They threw their arms around each other. Max stood by, watching them happily. 99 grabbed him by the hand and introduced him (in person) to her Mom. 99s Mom took Maxs hand and said she was thrilled to finally meet him. Max smiled, returning the respect. They walked a short distance to the baggage claim and, since they were the last ones off, their baggage was still happily riding around on the carrousel, by itself. They collected their bags and headed toward the truck. The snow was falling in big, huge flakes, sticking to everything and coating the highways as soon as the snow trucks could plow and salt them down.
How much snow are we expecting? Max asked.
I say another ten inches. The bozos on TV say six, but theyre wrong.
Its magnificent . . . Max murmured.
We have to drive about forty miles, but its not a bad to drive on if you know what youre doing. Well just take it slow.
The put the suitcases in the bed and covered them with a tarp, then piled into the front of the truck. Even with the wipers going full speed, the large flakes still stuck to the windshield. As they got close to home, 99 pointed out several places of interest . . . the high school, the drug store/malt shop, the small grocery where she had her first job after school during her senior year . . . Soon they were home. The house was half-way decorated with lights and a small manger scene sat in the front yard.
I wanted to get all the lights up before you came, 99s Mom said, But I didnt get a chance to finish.
Max and I will finish, 99 volunteered.
They drove up the driveway and around back where 99s Mom stopped by the kitchen door. They hopped out and drug the suitcases into the warm kitchen.
How about some hot chocolate? 99s Mom asked.
Sounds good. Come on, Max, follow me.
Max followed 99 up the flight of stairs to a long hallway.
Heres my room, Max, 99 said, putting her suitcase in the first room they came to. You can have the room next to me. Theres the bathroom, she continued, indicating a door between the two rooms. My Moms room has its own bath. Im going to change.
Max entered the room and snapped on the light. He opened his suitcase and, instead of being his usually lazy self, he put his clothes in the drawers and hung them up. He changed into some sweats and a pair of slippers and made his way back downstairs.
99s Mom was in the kitchen stirring the hot chocolate. She had placed some sandwiches on the table along with three heavy mugs.
Max bolstered his courage. I want to thank you for letting me come . . .
Its a pleasure. Sit down, take a load off. Weve talked on the phone so many times and 99 has talked about you so much, I feel like I know you, Her Mother said.
She talks about me? Max asked worriedly, not noticing that she had called her 99.
She tells me youre great friends, been working together for a long time, She eyed Max. My husband was in the same business as you.
Yes. Strange man . . . used to talk to his suspenders, She gave Max another look. At that moment, he realized that she had called her daughter 99.
Does 99 know that you know shes in the same business as her Dad?
Yes. The greeting card business seems to run in the family . . . strange habits too. Like talking to inanimate objects for instance. One day I saw her talking to her brush . . . Darling, I was just telling Max that you and he are in the same business as your father.
99 sat down, giving Max a worried look.
Other than telling you to be careful not to plagiarize other peoples cards . . . 99s Mom shrugged. Youre from Washington, Max?
Yes, Max said, shaking off the shock of finding out. Ive lived there my whole life.
Family still there?
Max hesitated, Sort of.
99s Mom brought the hot chocolate to the table, poured a generous amount in each mug, and sat down.
You dont get along with them? She asked , pouring.
Lets say they dont get along with me, Max took a sip.
Max stared at the table, chewing on a sandwich.
My daughter says I have a tendency to stick my nose where it doesnt belong. You dont have to tell me if you dont want to.
I dont mind telling you, Max said. For some reason he felt comfortable with 99s Mother and was soon rattling off his life story, up to the events that occurred in the diner. 99s Mom studied him for a moment before responding.
That man aint worth crap. Imagine . . . treating your child that way. I think you know what you have to do . . .
Ive already done it.
You know what Ill do, 99 muttered into her cup.
Max stifled a grin. Tell her what happened today, he said.
99s eyes narrowed.
What happened today? Her Mom asked.
Oh, geeze . . . today was my fault . . . 99 said.
Ive told you . . . it not your fault, Max said, putting a hand on her shoulder and giving it an affectionate squeeze.
99 gave him a slight smile, then launched into the story. When she finished, her Mom grinned.
Thats my girl! She said.
She turned to Max. Max . . . youre welcome here any time.
Thanks . . .
Hey, 99 said, Didnt you say you had some lights needed to be strung?
Be my guest. You knows where everything is.
Max and 99 went outside and spent the next several hours stringing what was left of the Christmas lights. By the time they finished, another two inches of snow had fallen and they were both freezing. But the result was dazzling, glittery and downright impressive . . . .
Christmas Eve . . .
99s Mother had a ritual . . . she spent every Christmas Day with her daughter, but every Christmas Eve with her best friend, who lived about three miles down the road. Having spent way to many Christmas alone, Max was stupefied, but 99 explained that it had been going on for years and she didnt mind spending Christmas Eve alone. She was home, it was peaceful and quiet. She said she spent the evening watching various and assorted Christmas movies and listening to Christmas carols. She told Max to equate it to coming back from a long, tough day at work (or assignment) and luxuriating in the fact that you were home and away from all that mess for at least a few hours.
As 99s Mom was walking out the door for her annual festivities, 99 hugged her.
Have a good time with Kay tonight.
Oh you know us . . . were gonna have a few drinks, eat way too much junk, exchange gifts and talk about old times. Ill be home late, as usual.
99 walked her Mom to the truck. By the way, have you seen Max?
He was across the street at the bus stop.
99 glanced across the street to the old bus stop. It was no longer used, but 99s Mom owned the land it sat on, so she had kept it maintained . . . for sentimental reasons.
99 could barely see Max on the bench, looking at the house. She bundled up and made her way across the street, waving goodbye to her Mom as she headed down the road.
Whatcha doing? She asked, sitting down next to him.
Just looking at the house . . .
We did a pretty good job, huh?
He sighed in contentment and put an arm around her. Look at how the lights play off the snow and how the lights illuminate the manger . . . he said, motioning with his hand. Its one of the most beautiful things Ive ever seen. Thanks for asking me to come, 99 . . .
99 took his hand. They sat that way for a while, watching the snow and the house.
You know, we cant let the Chief know your Mom knows, ya know?
Why were you on your brush phone?
The Chief called. I thought Mom was outside. All she said was your Dad was a spy, be careful. She figured you were a spy when I told her we worked together. I was going to tell you, but all that stuff with your dad came up and I never got around to it.
Its our secret, Max said. Okay?
Hey, lets open presents! Max said, his eyes shining in child-like wonder.
99 smiled. Okay.
The two took off. As they got halfway up the driveway, Max, trying his best to beat 99, veered to the left through the yard. 99 wasnt fooled, however, and followed him.
No fair!! She yelled.
He rounded the corner. 99 followed, only to be attacked by a barrage of snowballs. She dove for cover behind a bush and quickly rounded up her own ammunition. Squinting through the bush, she could just see him lurking behind the tree near the manger. She grinned and slowly made her way between the bushes and the house. Ha! she thought, Got 'im! Hes looking toward the driveway. She quietly made her way out from behind the last bush and snuck up on him. She ducked behind the post on the porch, jumped out, threw two quick snowballs at him and ducked back behind the bushes. Max hit the ground and surveyed the area near the house. While he was preoccupied with the bushes, 99 made her way completely around the house. She walked on him and dumped two snowballs on his head. He immediately turned and grabbed her ankle, tumbling her into the snow. He jumped up and raced for the side door, with 99 right on his heels. Just as he was just about to win the race, she tackled him. They rolled over and over in the snow, coming to rest not too far from the manger. They lay in the snow, laughing.
I told you no fair, she said, brushing the snow from his face.
Alls fair in love and war, He said, pulling out his last snowball.
What are you going to do? 99 asked, preparing herself for the worst.
What do you think Im going to do?
Im not sure . . . she said giving him a suspicious smile.
Max tossed the snowball away and pulled her close. 99s arms went around him immediately.
Tell me what you think of this, he whispered, kissing her passionately. 99 fervently kissed him back.
Hey, 99 said breathlessly, breaking the kiss. How about opening those presents?
99 laughed. Come on, Max, She said, taking his hand.
Well . . .
What did you think?
Think of what?
You know . . .
I know what?
What you think.
99 . . .
86 . . .
They helped each other up and 99 started for the house. Max grabbed her arm.
Wait, 99, you didnt tell me.
Tell you what, Max?
What you thought.
You know . . .
Oh! 99 replied. You mean this . . .? She put her arms around him and kissed him passionately.
Does that answer your question?
Oh . . . yeah . . .
99 pulled him towards the house. This time they walked to the door. When they got inside, the discarded their wet coats and boots and ran upstairs to change. When 99 came down, Max had built a fire and had two glasses of Egg Nog prepared. They sat in front of the fireplace, listening to Christmas carols and sipping the Egg Nog.
Open yours first, 99, he said, handing her a small long box. Merry Christmas.
Upon opening the box, 99 was speechless. The box contained a diamond tennis bracelet. 99 recognized it immediately. While in London last summer, after completing an assignment, they had taken the time they had before flying back to the States and gone window shopping. In one of the jewelry store windows had been this beautiful bracelet. 99 had done some quick calculations in her head and figured out the bracelet was worth about $1000 in American currency. She hadnt said anything, but Max had seen the look on her face. Later, after getting back to the hotel, Max had slipped out and bought it. He wasnt sure why he had spend such an enormous amount of money, all he knew was . . . she wanted it. So he got it for her for Christmas.
99 stared at the bracelet, then back at Max. She was completely flabbergasted. All she could say was Max . . .
Here, let me put it on, you seem to be having a problem, Max said, taking the bracelet from the box and clasping it on her wrist. You like?
I love it! Oh, Max, how did you know?
I saw you looking at it last summer.
Oh, Max! Thank-you, She said, throwing her arms around him and giving him a kiss.
Max smiled to himself. He had loved the look on her face when she opened the package.
Hey . . . dont you wanna open yours? 99 asked, pulling a package from under the tree and handing it to him.
Max slowly opened the package.
Awww, 99 . . . the watch. You got me the watch.
On this same trip to London, Max had eyed a watch in the same shop as the bracelet. He had pointed it out to 99, who recognized it as similar to one a Kaos agent had taken from him when they had been moving around the Sonic Boom Machine several months earlier. Even they had thoroughly searched the Kaos agents and the entire hideout, they had never found it. Max had been inconsolable . . . his Grandmother had given him the watch on his seventeenth birthday.
Max . . . thats not the watch from the shop in London . . . its yours.
Read the back.Max turned it over. Inscribed on the back was: To Max on his 17th birthday. I love you, Son. God Bless. Grandma V The cross was a dead giveaway. Maxs Grandma had always signed her name with a cross.
Where did you find it? Max asked softly as 99 helped him put it on.
That ham actor Kaos agent had it, 99 said. Remember he stayed at the headquarters jail for several months?
Yeah . . .
Well, I just happened to be there when they were transferring him in October. He made the biggest fuss about having to go to the bathroom. I was suspicious, so when he came out I had him searched and there it was. I was shocked. He must have hidden it the minute he got in the cell.
But we searched them all so thoroughly . . . where did he hide it?
He said he put it on his wrist.
99 . . . thats impossible.
But Max, we didnt look on his wrist, remember? We searched everywhere but there. I took it to a jeweler and had it cleaned. Looks brand new, doesnt it?
Max stood up and walked over by the fireplace. He ran his fingers over the watch.
99, I dont know what to say, he whispered.
She joined him by the fire and put an arm around him. He looked at her for a moment, took her in his arms and kissed her.
Lets go back to the bus stop and watch the lights, he said, pulling her towards the door.
And leave this cozy fire?
Itll be even cozier when we come back in.
They bundled up and Max turned off all the inside lights except the tree. Then they went back to the bus stop. The snow was falling heavier. Being out in the country, the only illumination came from the Christmas lights. They sat and watched . . . and Max continued to marvel at the beauty of the lights, the house, the manger and the snow. They finally got cold and went back in. They added more wood to the fire and cuddled on the sofa, watching TV and drinking Spanish Coffee. Soon they grew tired of the TV programs, so 99 pulled out several Christmas albums. They decided on Vincent Guaraldi Trios A Charlie Brown Christmas. They listened contentedly until the fourth song, Linus And Lucy, at which point Max jumped up, pulled 99 to her feet and said, Lets dance!
They boogied happily to the snappy tune, laughing at each others dancing abilities. Or, in Maxs case, lack thereof . . . Too soon the song was over and the slower Christmas Time Is Here started. They danced amorously in the light of the fire and twinkling Christmas tree lights. When the song ended, they were surprised by a round of applause. 99s Mom stood in the doorway, giving them a standing ovation.
That was a wonderful recital . . . especially the Linus and Lucy number. What exactly do you call that type of dancing?
Max grinned at her. Put the song on again and Ill show you.
99 started the song, then sat, amused, as Max and her Mother danced. Finally, unable to control herself any longer, she burst out laughing. The song ended and they stood looking at her as she rolled on the couch.
Do you find something funny? Her Mom asked.
No . . . nothing! 99 giggled.
I dare say you didnt look much better, Ginger Rogers, Her Mother replied.
Sorry, Mom, She said, trying to regain control. I thought the two of you looked marvelous, really.
Uh-huh. Im going to bed. See you in the morning.
Max gave 99 a haughty, offended look, then bowed to her Mother. Thank-you, kind madam, for that wonderful dance.
She curtsied. You are most welcome, sir, She pointed at her daughter. You know, it is hard to dance well when youve got a dreadful partner . . . She grinned and left the room.
The comment, and especially the curtsy, sent 99 over the edge. Max knelt in front of her and smiled as he watched her go hysterical.
99 . . .
She wiped the tears of mirth from her eyes and sat up. Im sorry, Max.
What are you sorry for?
Dont ever stop laughing, 99.
Well, I have to at some point. Id be a pretty ineffective spy if I was laughing all the time . . .
On Christmas Day, Max insisted on helping with dinner and the clean-up, much to 99s surprise. She pitched in helped him and they spent a wild day in the kitchen, cooking turkey, with all the trimmings, which turned out to be a tremendous success. They ate so much they could hardly move.
That evening, 99 found Max on the porch. The snow had finally stopped and the temperatures had risen to above freezing.
Me too. I always hate leaving, She said, putting an arm around him.
I wish we didnt have to go too, but have to. 99, this is the best Christmas Ive had in years. He put his arms around her. What are you doing New Years?
I have plans . . .
Oh . . . Max said, disappointed.
Max . . . Im spending it with you. Lets spend the evening at your apartment . . . 99 suggested, giving him a seductive smile.
Thats an great idea. . . Max replied. What do you have in mind for the evenings festivities?
Well, 99 replied, We can eat . . .
Max groaned. She laughed.
And then, She continued, At midnight, we can drink Champaign and . . .
And what? He gave her a questioning look.
99 merely shrugged and smiled. Max smiled back . . .
Does this mean we arent inviting the Chief, Hymie and Larabee? He asked.
99 just rolled her eyes . . .
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