Nick (Not the Saint) and The Night Before Christmas

The following is a chapter from The Heraklion Gambit. It's a nice mix of backstory about both Nick Temple and Vanessa Porter, description about the current state of their relationship, with some tough guy attitude thrown in at the end just for laughs. It's one of my favorite chapters in the thrillogy (I told you I was going to work that word!).

CHAPTER 31: HERE COMES SANTA CLAUS

Neither one of them expects much from Berlin’s modest Christkindlmarkt. A stroll past a few booths strung with lights, a cup of hot glühwein, and a piece of apple strudel suffice. A light snow muffles the city’s sounds and wraps the evening in a veil of momentary sanctuary. They find a dry bench under a canopy and finish their glühwein and strudel.

Christmas involves a mix of emotions for both of them. Nick spent Christmases during World War II overseas, separated from his young family as so many men of his generation were. Wives and children forgave those men for those important, if tortuous, years. The years after the war, when he was called away to attend to some duty or another on Christmas day, did more damage to his home life. The result is that he got used to anticipating the Christmas season with some regret, knowing the odds of once again disappointing his family were high.

Vanessa has not enjoyed Christmas since the brutal execution of her young, beautiful husband. Their lives together before the war seemed idyllic even then, and in retrospect they grow more idealized with the passing of each year. The war years were emotionally bleak, and each Christmas was worse than the one before it, serving only to remind her of how much she’d lost. She learned to ignore her personally joyless Christmas season, to treat it as any other time of year. Until now. A simple evening with the man she now shares her life with brings a warmth to her heart she hasn’t experienced in years.

After another stroll around the market, they drive back to Nick’s Lichterfelde house in near silence. The prospect of a night together fills their thoughts until they are nearly home when they both see the car parked across the street. This is the third time in a week that it’s been there. Rather than bypassing the house and taking Vanessa home to her apartment again, Nick parks his car in the driveway. With an air of quiet defiance, he gets out of the car and goes around to open Vanessa’s door. Together they head for the front door, their path illuminated by a street lamp as they ignore the man taking pictures from the car.

Nick unlocks the front door and lets Vanessa in ahead of him. He closes and locks the door behind him.

“Can you get a pot of coffee going? I’ll be right back.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Talk to our friend across the street.”

“Don’t shoot him. It could ruin an otherwise delightful evening.”

“Not to worry.”

Nick goes through the house and out the back door. He walks through neighborhood yards until he is two blocks down from his house. He walks half a block to his street, crosses to the far side and turns, heading back towards his house. He approaches the car from behind where there are no streetlights to give away his presence. He can see the man through the rear window sitting in the driver’s seat still looking towards the front door of his house.

“Ellie’s wasting my money on a private dick, and a lousy one at that,” he thinks to himself as he pulls his Beretta M1951 out of its shoulder holster.

In one motion he opens the passenger door, slides into the car next to the private investigator, and sticks the Beretta against the investigator’s temple.

“Merry Christmas, dickhead!”

“Was?”

“Sprechen sie Englisch?”

“Ja. Okay, okay. No shooting!”

“Look, asshole. Quit wasting my wife’s fucking money, which just happens to be my money. I’ll sign whatever you want that admits that everything you think about what I’m doing is true. Just stay the fuck away from my house. Got it?”

The trembling detective recovers long enough to blurt out, “Ja. Okay. Don’t shoot. Okay!”

“Ask your German buddies about me. You knock this shit off, or you’ll disappear and no one will give a fuck, got it?”

“Okay!”

Nick shoves the nose of the Beretta into the detective’s neck just under his jaw.

“Now start the car.”

“What?”

“Start the fucking car. Are you deaf?”

The detective starts the car.

“You have ten seconds to get out of range before I start firing.”

“Okay! Okay! Don’t shoot. I’m going!”

Nick gets out of the car and slams the door shut. The detective floors it, skidding in the fresh snow as he desperately speeds away from the crazy American.

Nick waits until the car is out of sight, holsters the Beretta and walks back across the street to his home where a hot cup of coffee awaits.