Thursday, December 11, 2003



When Wesley stepped into the office, his notebook and a small stack of personnel files tucked under his arm, Angel was more than glad for the interruption. He closed the folder he'd been poring over for the past hour and tossed it back on the daunting to-do pile. Most of the things that needed the CEO's seal of approval were inexplicably trivial. Where were the big decisions? The grand evil schemes he was supposed to uncover and then put a stop to? How Holland Manners had ever found the time to be actively evil was beyond Angel. How much havoc could one wreak by green-lighting or impeding the installment of unisex restrooms?

"Any new leads in the reindeer case?" Angel asked, rubbing his neck in a doomed attempt to get rid of the knotted tension that seemed to have settled in his bones and muscles for good these days.

Wesley gave him a concerned look but answered the question. "Progress? Yes. New leads? Not exactly. However, according to my secretary there is a rumor going round that the spell was cast by an employee with a grudge, possibly someone we fired or demoted when we took over."

"You mean revenge?" Angel tried the thought on for size, then nodded, more than familiar with the concept of holding a grudge. "Yeah, I guess that makes sense."

At that the door was flung open with aplomb and Lorne walked—no, barged in. "Not at all! Are you out of your mind? I know I said hope springs eternal, but the chances of coming back from that string of turkeys? It takes more than a cameo in a Tarantino movie to come back from oblivion. No can do. Just tell him, okay? Later, bye." Lorne snapped his cell phone shut and put it into his jacket pocket. "Sorry to keep you two little birdies waiting."

Waiting? Angel peered at his day planner.

"I asked Lorne to meet us here," Wesley explained.

"I hope you called me here to tell me you found the dastardly fiend who sabotaged our holiday cheer. I mean, why would anyone want to ruin Christmas?"

"Actually, I was wondering if you could help us with the investigation. We are fairly certain that someone inside the firm is at least partially responsible. I'd like you to 'read' some of our suspects," Wes said and handed Lorne the personnel files.

"Yikes!" Lorne took the files, but he handled them reluctantly, as if he expected them to bite. " I felt queasy for two weeks after the last time. Do you have any idea what it's like to look at auras like that?"

"I thought we fired the worst cases." Angel said.

"That doesn't mean the remaining people are choirboys." Lorne told him. "If I'd recommended firing everybody with a smudgy creepy-crawly aura, then this place would be as deserted as an auditorium after Courtney Love has been introduced."

"Just do what you can, alright?" Wes said diplomatically. Angel looked ready to explode, and Lorne's prattling wasn't helping.

"Fine, fine, your order is my humble obedience. But kindly remember that there are drugs that can block me—remember the doctor with the palate for the extraordinary?"

Wes and Angel both looked at him until the demon sighed and nodded.

"Oh, by the way," Lorne added, slipping two folded sheets of paper out of the breast pocket of his jacket. "This is your secret Santee, mince pie," he passed one sheet to Wesley, "and this one is yours, Angelcakes." He held out the paper to Angel who made no move to take it.

"My what?"

Lorne ignored him. "If it hadn't been for Harmony…"

"Harmony," Angel interrupted, his tone boding nothing pleasant for his busybody secretary.

"… I would never have known about this quaint little custom. You secretly buy presents for one person and someone buys presents for you. We should have organized this already, round about Thanksgiving, but I guess you  all forgot. Don't worry, you don't have to spend more than fifteen or twenty dollars, your miserliness. Now, I've got to scurry—you wouldn't believe the calls I'm getting lately. Ms. Roberts is not someone you ignore." Dropping Angel's piece of paper on the desk, Lorne turned on his heel and headed out. By the time he reached the door he was already pressing the speed dial of his cell phone. One last "Toodles," and he was gone.

Funny how the silence always took on its own hum in reaction to Lorne's loud, powerful presence.

"A secret Santa. I've heard about them, of course, but I haven't ever—" Noticing Angel's expression, Wes' took on one of gentle reproach. "It won't harm you to interact with people, you know."

Angel eyed the piece of paper on his desk with distaste.

"You could at least take a look…." Wes suggested, following his gaze.

"I don't have to," Angel said sullenly. "With my luck there's probably Spike's name on that. Actually, I don't think luck's got anything to do with it. I'm sure Lorne rigged the whole thing."

Wes didn't answer. He unfolded his piece of paper and smiled, pleased.

"If I do this Santa thing, do you think fate will spare me from any more attempts to ruin our Christmas?" Angel pondered, straight-faced.

"I don't think the universe works that way," Wesley stated with a sad smile.

"No," Angel said resignedly. "No, I guess not!"

Friday, December 12, 2003