Nikki pulled another length of tinsel out of the cardboard
box, humming along to ‘Silent Night’ playing
on the radio. Disentangling the tinsel from a holly wreath,
she dragged a chair to the corner of the room and stood
on it to fasten the tinsel to the doorframe. She stretched
up on tiptoes, pushing a tack into the wood, with the
tail of the tinsel draped over her shoulder. She turned
to view the room, pleased with the tree and the decorations
looping across the ceiling. She glanced into the kitchen
as the oven timer pinged, stepped down off the chair and
opened the oven door. She had just set down a tray of
cookies when the telephone rang.
“Hello?” Nikki pulled off her oven glove,
dumped it on the counter and shifted a box of fairy lights
off the couch. “Yes, this is Miss Carpenter, how
can I…” She sat down, the colour draining
from her face. “What do you mean, gone?” She
shook her head, eyes widening as she listened to the voice
on the phone. “And you don’t know… You
mean you just let him leave?!” Her voice grew loud,
harsh against the gentle music in the apartment. “I
know it’s not a prison, but…” She took
a deep breath, trying to stay calm. “Did he say
where he was going? I see, and you have no idea where
he could be?” She bit back a curse. “Thank
you for letting me know.” The caller hung up, leaving
Nikki staring at the phone. She replaced the receiver,
put a shaking hand to her mouth, then buried her head
in her hands and cried.
“Is there anyone here who DOES have a Christmas
tree?” Willis set down his lunch tray, looking around
the Phoenix Foundation canteen table. “Seeley?”
“Nope. Mozart climbs it and eats the pine needles.
Then he throws up.” Seeley took a swig of coffee.
“How about you, Mac?” Willis sat down, puncturing
his juice box with the straw.
“Not so much.” MacGyver swallowed a mouthful
of beans. “I’m not really a Christmas kind
of guy. Santa Luisa Mission have one though, and I’m
spending Christmas day there, so it sorta counts.”
“Are you helping out this year too?” Helen
laid her fork down and wiped her mouth with her napkin.
“That’s right.” MacGyver forked in some
more beans, chewed and swallowed. “They run a soup
kitchen all day and Doc said he could use an extra pair
of hands. Sam’s going to help too.”
“That sounds lovely.” Helen smiled and turned
to Willis. “And to answer your question, yes –
I do have a Christmas tree.”
“Finally!” Willis grinned, then turned to
Nikki. “So, which are you, Nikki – Elf or
Grinch?” He blinked, surprised at her answering
“Just leave it, Willis!” Nikki stood up, leaving
her untouched lunch tray behind.
“Wow… Grinch.” Willis watched her go.
“Definitely Grinch.” Seeley took another bite
of meatloaf, watching the canteen doors swing shut.
“Yeah. Except usually, she’s an elf…”
MacGyver frowned, picking up his empty tray and setting
off after her.
By the time he’d returned his tray and fought his
way through the lunchtime crowd back to Nikki’s
office, she’d already left for her afternoon’
“What’s going on with her?” Willis glanced
at his watch as Nikki stowed her bag under her desk and
sat down. “She was late yesterday as well.”
He glanced across at MacGyver, his expression worried.
“I don’t know.” MacGyver watched Nikki
boot up her computer, the screen-light darkening the shadows
under her eyes. She rubbed a hand across her forehead,
frowning as though she had a headache and sighed.
“I asked her yesterday if she was OK, and she almost
took my head off!” Willis shook his head. “I
mean, she’s pretty fierce even on a good day, but
just lately? Nuh-uh!” He shook his head again and
ducked back behind his computer as Nikki looked their
“Huh.” MacGyver watched as Nikki pulled a
strand of tinsel off her monitor, wadded it up and threw
it in the bin. She typed for a moment, her fingers hitting
the keys hard, then frowned at her work and erased it.
MacGyver rose and went to the break room. He poured a
mug of coffee and placed a doughnut on a napkin, carrying
both back into the office and putting them down on Nikki’s
“You looked like you could use some breakfast.”
He smiled down at her, trying to hide his shock. Up close,
Nikki looked bad. Her eyes were red rimmed, her face pale.
Fatigue painted dark smudges under her eyes and her clothes
“This doesn’t look like your idea of a good
breakfast!” Nikki smiled as she picked up the doughnut,
but the smile didn’t reach her eyes.
“Well, you also looked like you could use the sugar.”
MacGyver shrugged, waving a hand towards the coffee. “And
the caffeine. Are you OK?”
“Fine.” Nikki looked down at the doughnut
in her hand, setting it aside. “Just tired.”
“Yeah, all that Christmas preparation can really
take it out of you…” MacGyver watched Nikki
glance at the tinsel in the bin and sigh.
“Mac, I get what you’re doing, and it’s
good of you to be concerned.” Nikki looked up, meeting
his worried gaze. “But I really am fine. I’ve
just got a lot on at the moment.”
“Work stuff?” MacGyver looked at the cluttered
desk, spotting a report which should have been handed
in two days ago.
“Home stuff.” Nikki’s voice was quiet.
MacGyver frowned, recalling that Nikki lived alone. Perhaps
Christmas was especially difficult this year, missing
a husband who should have been there celebrating it with
“Nikki, if you want you can spend Christmas with
us.” MacGyver stopped, unsure of what to say next.
Nikki opened her mouth to reply, then her eyes filled
with tears and she looked down, shaking her head.
“No.” Her voice was quiet. “Thank you,
but no. I’ve got things I have to do.” When
she looked back up at him, the tears had gone.
“OK, if you’re sure…” MacGyver
waited until Nikki nodded and then drifted back to his
desk. Willis caught his eye and shrugged.
* * * *
Christmas, everyone! Pete picked up his briefcase, waved
to the Phoenix staff still in the office and then left,
leaning on his driver’s arm as they walked down
the icy front steps. MacGyver glanced across the nearly
empty office as he shrugged into his jacket, seeing Nikki
still at her desk.
“C’mon Nikki, this will all still be here
after the weekend. No-one’s going to sweat an unfinished
site report now!” He waited, hands in pockets, until
she looked up at him and nodded.
“I guess you’re right.” Nikki sighed
and shut down her computer. Checking her cell phone, she
put on her coat and dropped it into her pocket.
“You expecting a call?” MacGyver held the
door and then followed her through.
“Kind of.” Nikki pulled her coat tighter around
her as a cold gust of wind blew. In the sodium lights
of the car park, she looked grey and worn.
“Nikki, seriously – what’s wrong?”
MacGyver stood in front of her.
“Nothing. Excuse me, please.” Nikki stepped
to the side, but MacGyver stepped too, preventing her
from walking away. “Mac, get out of my way!”
Nikki’s tone was angry.
“Nikki, I’m your friend. I’ve been worried
about you all week – you’re late, you look
like you haven’t slept in days, you’re not
eating, you can’t stop looking at your phone…”
MacGyver gestured helplessly. “Something’s
wrong and I want to help. Let me help!”
“I’m OK, Mac, I…” Nikki broke
off, pressing her lips together. “I just…
I can’t…” She shook her head. “I
have to go, Mac!”
“Let me help, Nikki.” MacGyver’s voice
was quiet. Nikki shook her head again, then her face crumpled.
“It’s my stupid, asshole little brother!”
Her voice was angry as much as upset.
opened the door of Harry’s Chevy pickup and Nikki
got in, scrubbing tears off her face with her coat sleeve.
“What’s happened?” MacGyver got into
the pickup and started the engine, cranking up the heat.
“He’s had a… problem for a few years.”
Nikki took a wad of Kleenex and blew her nose. “But
I’d got him into a rehab facility here in LA and
he was doing really well. I thought this time he’d
kick it for good, you know?”
“Drugs?” MacGyver frowned as Nikki nodded.
“Heroin. Yeah, I know.” She caught MacGyver’s
eye, her expression mirroring his. “He was doing
so well, he was getting clean and then I get a phone call
Wednesday evening, and they tell me he’s gone.”
“Gone?” MacGyver raised his eyebrows. “Just
“Just like that.” Nikki raised her voice,
imitating the nurse on the phone. “This isn’t
a prison, Miss Carpenter, and Matthew is free to leave
if he chooses.” She shook her head. “I’ve
spent the last two nights driving around the city looking
for him. The facility is supposed to call me if he shows
up, but so far…” She shrugged.
“Do the police know he’s missing?” MacGyver
held up his hands at Nikki’s blistering glare. “OK!
OK! Just checking”
“I know, sorry.” Nikki shook her head. “Officially
he doesn’t count as a missing person for another…
four hours.” She glanced at her watch and sighed,
folding her hands in her lap. “So now I go home
and wait, in case he comes to my place, or I go out searching
for him and worry that he’ll show up at my apartment
and find it locked. She shook her head. “Why couldn’t
he just stay put?”
“You want some company?” MacGyver put the
pickup into gear and drove across the parking lot to Nikki’s
car. “We could cover a lot more ground if we both
search, or if you decided to stay home, you wouldn’t
be waiting in alone.”
“Actually, yes.” Nikki nodded. “That
would be great. But that ruins your evening too.”
“No plans.” MacGyver shrugged. “I’d
be happy to help.”
“Thanks, Mac.” Nikki got out of the pickup
and fished her keys out of her pocket. “Follow me
back, and I’ll find you a photo of Matt, OK?”