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Festive lights were strung like many washing lines above the streets, washing lines of blinking, flashing, multicoloured lights. There were fairy light in the tree, looking light globes of light hung in the air, as it was too dark to see the bare trunks of the trees. Face rolled down the window of his car, not the corvette, but a boring, inconspicuous blue hatchback. A cool breeze flowed through the car. Peering through the windshield, which kept steaming up when he breathed, the ground was wet, the orange light of the street-lamps reflecting off it. The streetlamps did little to dispel the darkness, but just made it seem all the darker and more gloomy. The Christmas lights were bright splashes of colour in the windows of houses, strung across the streets, tangled in trees. Christmas again. He parked outside the apartment where the team were spending this Christmas, quite a large and plush place he had scammed.
He parked the car, locked it, and jogged up the stairs, fumbling with the key in the lock until someone opened the door from inside. Face smiled a thanks at Hannibal, and walked over to where Murdock was cooking, handing him the jar of cranberry sauce, which the cook had forgotten.
"Thanks Faceyman," Murdock said, slamming the jar down on the sideboard, making Face wince at the noise, after he'd been accompanied by only the quiet purr of the cars engine for so long.
Everyone was there, Murdock cooking, BA was sat on the very edge of the leather sofa, leant close to the television set to try and hear the program he was watching. Amy and Tawnia were sat together, both fashionably dressed, trying to outdo each other. Everyone was talking companionably, if a little stiffly, and the atmosphere was muted. Hannibal walked back over the patio window, and stood at it, watching the flashing lights of the city, blowing clouds of cigar smoke.
It was without warning that the fight erupted, a few raised voice, and Amy and Tawnia were on their feet, scratching at each other, shouting in high-pitched voices. Face looked up, he'd been watching Murdock cooking, and rushed around the table to part them. Murdock looked up, looked back down at his cookbook, shrugged his shoulders and continued singing and peeling potatoes. BA was studiously ignoring everything else that was happening, concentrating on his program.
"Ladies, ladies," Face said, then repeated it louder. He stood beside the fighting pair. Tawnia turned on him, and he was stumbling back, hot scratches on his face. When he put his hand up to it, it came away with a trace of red.
Face looked at Hannibal, who was stood on the other side of the fighting ladies. Hannibal shrugged, and they both ploughed in. Face caught Amy around the waist and pulled her back, whilst Hannibal manoeuvred Tawnia away.
"Now, now," Hannibal said, trying to calm Tawnia down. "Now ladies, what is wrong."
"She started it," Tawnia accused
"No, I did not," Amy denied, sighing exasperation. She struggled away from Face, and smoothed her clothes and untangled her hair.
"You did," Tawnia screamed, and struggled in Hannibal's grip.
"Look, ladies," Face said, he smiled charmingly, "it's Christmas here," he grimaced, and persuaded them, even though they knew they were being swayed by his charm.
"Good work," Hannibal as they headed to the kitchen, leaving the two women sat as far away from each other as possible.
"I just hope the peace lasts," Face said, going to inspect the scratches on his face. There were three red lines on his cheek, he examined them, wincing.
A quiet half hour passed, with Murdock humming as he cooked, Hannibal helping him cut and dice vegetables. Then the women were on their feet again, standing opposite each other, hands on hips.
"And you," Tawnia spat.
"Me?" Amy echoed, and, with a shrug, pushed Tawnia over. She fell into the decorated Christmas tree. Shatterproof baubles went flying o shatter on the wooden floor in colourful fountains of shards. Tinsel rustled and fell, wrapping around Tawnia's arm like a plush scarf, trying to pull her down as she fought for balance. Amy watched, a mixture of satisfaction and shock on her face, with one hand she pointed at the distraught Tawnia and laughed, with the other she covered her mouth in amazement at the destruction. Tawnia finally caught her balance, stood up straight, clacking the heels of her shoes together.
There was banging coming from behind one of the walls, the neighbours complaining at the noise.
"What's going on in there?" a muffled voice shouted from beyond the door.
"Ladies, ladies," Face shouted, trying to attract their attention, but no one paid him any heed. A siren blared into life in the distance.
What followed was bedlam. Amy and Tawnia shouting at each other, Tawnia seriously mad, her face red with anger, but Amy had a hint of a smile on her face. Face looked desperately around the room, whilst the sirens crept closer. There was someone banging at the only door, and his Christmas efforts were ruined, it had been a feat for him to get that tree, and all the decorations, not to mention the apartment. He'd got the tree from a sales shop downtown. Now it lay, crushed, and the baubles were scattered around the floor, the shatterproof ones lay in fragments on the floor.
"Quiet," BA bellowed. Amy was silent, looking fearfully at the big man, until Tawnia used the distraction to reach out and scratch her.
"Get to the van, get in the-" BA shouted, but no one was listening.
Murdock bustled around the kitchen, taking pans off the hob, turning off the cooker, "this here, you see this?" he muttered to an invisible audience, "this here is a fire hazard, you see? If you left it alone it could be dangerous-"
"Shut up, fool!" BA snarled.
"BA," Murdock whined, "I was just-"
"Crazy foo'." Murdock took offence, rolled his eyes at BA, and banged a pan of water down on the table, so it splashed over the rim.
The siren was getting nearer.
"Look, calm down, calm down, get your things, get out to the van," Hannibal shouted, giving out the orders whilst Tawnia was still screaming, at Amy who was not listening, but surveying the ruined Christmas tree with Face. There was no way they could clean everything up like they had never been here.
They didn't realize how close the siren was, until it went past, and faded into the distance. Everybody stopped, everything stopped, silence reigned for a few seconds. Hannibal paused in lighting a cigar, took it out of his mouth, and looked at it, then looked around, in amazement. It had never occurred to anyone that the siren would not be for them. Tawnia burst into laughter.
"Hey," Amy said indignantly.
"Your faces," Tawnia gasped.
"Excuse me," Amy said, "Do you not realize how vital freedom is?"
"Oh," Tawnia stuttered,
"Yes, Žoh'," Am repeated with heavy sarcasm in her voice.
Tawnia sneered, and clamped her arms against her sides smartly. She had time to wander at Amy's expression, and Face's exclamation that never quite reached her, before the tree landed on her, knocking her down.
A wrapped present crumpled beneath her knee, the gift bent, the wrapping tore. The star fell from the top of the tree. Pine needles fell in a fragrant shower. Amy burst into squealing laughter, which annoyed Tawnia still more.
Face hurried over to help her, she denied his help, for there was laughter dancing in his eyes and he had to struggle to keep a straight face. Tawnia kicked the tree aside, Face winced as more decorations were smashed and crumpled. Tawnia stood stiffly, brushing pine needles from her fashionable attire, struggling to pull tinsel from her hair. She pushed Face away roughly. He lost his balance, slipping on a broken bauble and landed on the already crushed tree. Branches broke with sharp snaps beneath his weight. He sat, mouth hanging open in shock. There was a moment of utterly stunned silence. Then BA turned from where he was bent close to the TV set, saw the scene and gave a guffaw of laughter. Face soon saw the funny side and laughed too. Hannibal couldn't help but chuckle. Tawnia took offence, whilst Amy was in hysterics of laughter. Tawnia sought to detangle herself from the grip of the tree, and made to march away.
"Look, Tawnia," Hannibal said, trying out his skills of persuasion, whilst BA helped Face from the tree.
"Just stay for dinner," Hannibal said, and Tawnia grudgingly agreed.
"DINNER!" Murdock howled, and rushed back into the kitchen. He clattered pots and pans, his face dropping by degrees as he saw the mess that had resulted.
"I see peanut butter and jelly sandwiches," Face said, and didn't know just how right he was. Murdock swore at the inanimate crockery, and the spoiled food that lay in it.
"It's not your fault Murdock, it would have been ok if there hadn't been the siren scare," Hannibal said, and Murdock turned to glare at him.
The team sat, with Amy and Tawnia, munching on a fine festive dinner of peanut butter, and the cranberry sauce Face had brought for the cook.
"Great dinner, Murdock," Face said, holding aloft his sandwich, and picking cranberry stalks out of his teeth. Murdock glared at him.
"No, really," Face insisted, "you made the most out of what you had."
Any other nice things he was going to say were cut off, as half a sandwich hit his forehead, he dropped his own with a resigned sigh. Tawnia clamped a hand to her mouth and started to stutter apologies, "sorry, I was aiming at Amy."
"Well, that makes it all alright," Face shrugged, and wryly wiped jello from his hair.
"Next year we celebrate Christmas alone," BA growled. Tawnia got to her feet, gripped her bag, and stormed out, to Amy's laughter. With a sigh Hannibal got up, loosely held Amy's elbow and escorted her to the door, mumbling apologies and threats, he had closed the door on her before she even realized.
Face wryly agreed with what the big man had said, wiping jello from his forehead, viewing the squashed tree he had managed to con. All they had left were crushed presents, and a tree that needed corrective surgery. He laughed, and couldn't stop, having to clutch at his side to stop the spasms.
"What's so funny, Faceyman?" Murdock asked, somewhat alarmed.
Hannibal started laughing as well, tears running down his cheeks.
"Happy Holidays," Face cheered, raising his glass of wine, and gulping it back, but he laughed again, and choked, he coughed, turning red, struggling to breath.
BA thumped him on the back, and laughed at the sight of face, his designer hair in disarray, spluttering on wine, his face red from laughing, with three prominent scratches on his cheek.
"Happy Holidays," BA said, and the others echoed his cheer.
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