This is my second Houston Knights story.  Like "The Letter" it is also in answer to a Killash challenge.

Standard Disclaimer
The characters of Sgt. Levon Lundy, Sgt. Joe LaFiamma, Lt. Joanne Beaumont and Sgt. Carol O'Brien belong to the creators
(Michael Butler and Jay Bernstein) and owners (Columbia Pictures, I think) of
Houston Knights.
A Houston Christmas
  by Arrow (c) December 2001    

It was a week before Christmas and the sun was shining brightly on Houston’s city streets.  During this busy season,
however, one particular street was not filled with shoppers and people full of Yuletide joy.  On a street just a step
beyond the hustle, in an older, quieter part of the city, one lone person sat at an empty bus stop.  Time had taken
toll on this street and the buildings were a faded reminder of the past.
  The person sitting at the bus stop was a young

Her dark blonde hair was shoulder length and did not appear to have been brushed in quite a while.  She wore a plain
black t-shirt and faded jeans that covered her shoes.   Her hands rested on the light blue jacket laid carefully across
her lap while she watched the commotion across the street.

First, a dusty red GMC truck had pulled up in front of the old hotel.  The driver, wearing jeans and a nice Stetson, got
out of the truck and ran into the building, followed by his passenger, an attractive young man in a suit.  Then,
moments later, a blue and white police car stopped in front of the truck and two uniformed officers got out and also
ran inside the hotel.  Although the lights were still flashing on the police car, no one stopped to look because sirens
and flashing police lights were a common sight here.  Only the girl at the bus stop seemed to take any interest.

The two officers were the first to leave the hotel.  They came out of the building together and got back into their car.
The flashing lights were turned off and the car moved away, heading back to busier parts of the city.  It was several
minutes before the other two men left the building.

"We’re running out of time, Lundy," the man in the suit said.

"I know, LaFiamma," the man in the Stetson agreed.  "The Lieutenant said a team is on its way.  They’ll go over his
place with a fine tooth comb.  Maybe we’ll get lucky."  Something caught his eye as he spoke to his partner and he
looked across the street.  He saw the young woman at the bus stop watching them.  Was she the anonymous caller
who gave them the address?  As he began to walk forward a bus drove up to the bus stop and when it pulled away,
the girl was gone.

"What is it?" LaFiamma asked.

"Nothin’," he answered.  A police van drove up and stopped behind the red truck.  A man got out of the passenger
side and walked over to Lundy.

"Hi, Levon," the man said to him.

"Hi, Tom. This is my partner, Joe LaFiamma."

"We need something on this one," Joe said, "and we need it soon."

"I know, guys.  We’ll do the best we can."  The man walked into the building and Sgt. Levon Lundy and his partner,
Sgt. Joe LaFiamma, followed him.

After the men had entered the hotel, the woman who had been sitting at the bus stop stepped from the shadows at
the side of the building.  She stood on the sidewalk and looked up, as if she could see inside the room where the men
had gone.  She sighed as she slipped on the jacket then turned and walked down the sidewalk away from the hotel.

>> ---------- >

"Well, Lieutenant," Levon said as he sat in Lt. Beaumont’s office, "this is definitely our guy."  He tossed a small spiral
notebook over to her and she picked it up and leafed through the ragged pages.

"He’s written Celinda Mathews’ name on several pages," Joe continued, "and he had her father’s name, address and
phone number on another."

"Were there any fingerprints on this?" the Lieutenant asked as she dropped the notebook onto her desk.

"Yeah," Levon confirmed. "We’re running them now."  Lt. Beaumont shifted her gaze from Levon to something
behind him.  Both he and Joe turned to see what had taken her attention.

"Mr. Mathews," she said, greeting the man standing in the doorway.  His tired eyes and slightly disheveled suit
showed a man in pain.

"He called again, Lieutenant," he said quietly.  Levon stood up and moved towards the man.

"Why don’t you sit down, Mr. Mathews," he offered.  The man looked at him blankly for a moment then stepped inside
the office and sat down.

"What did he say, Mr. Mathews?" the Lieutenant asked.

"He says if I don’t make his Christmas happy, mine won’t be happy either."

"Has he told you what he wants?"  Mathews shook his head sadly.

"He said he would call me tomorrow," he answered quietly.  He watched the Lieutenant for a moment then glanced at
each of the detectives.  "What do I do?"

"We may have a lead on the man," the Lieutenant told him.  "We could have information on him by the time he calls
you tomorrow."

"Mr. Mathews," Joe asked, "you said your daughter didn’t return home from school?  Right?"  The man nodded.

"That’s not true."  Everyone in the Lieutenant’s office turned at the sound of the soft, but determined, voice.   Levon
recognized the girl standing near the door as the girl he had seen at the bus stop the day before.  Mathews jumped up
and moved towards the door.

"Where’s my daughter?" he demanded as he reached for the girl.  Levon stopped him and he sagged against Levon in

"Where’s Celinda?" he asked quietly.

"Sit down, Mr. Mathews," Levon said as he gently pushed the man back into the chair then nodded towards the girl
still standing outside the office.  "Do you know her?"

"I saw her with Celinda three days before ….. he called."

The young girl stood her ground firmly.  She was wearing the same clothes she had on when Levon saw her at the
bus stop, except she had added a black knit cap that nearly covered her unruly hair.  A uniformed officer entered the
office and walked directly to the girl.

"Sorry, Lieutenant," he said as he took hold of the girl’s arm.  "I looked away for a moment and she was gone."

"What is she here for?" the Lieutenant asked.


"You can leave her with us."

"Okay, Lieutenant," he said reluctantly then returned to his other duties.

Mathews sat in the chair in the corner of the Lieutenant’s office looking like he was beginning to loose any hope of
finding his daughter.  After Levon had persuaded Mathews to sit down, he had shifted his attention to the girl.  She
had not moved from the position she had taken outside the Lieutenant’s door.  She looked young, but something in
her eyes made her seem older than she appeared.  She had not looked at Mathews, even when he had lunged at her
so desperately.  She only watched Sgt. Levon Lundy and Sgt. Joe LaFiamma.  Joe looked at her thoughtfully as he
stepped out of the office.

"What’s you name?" he asked her.


"Do you know this man, Angela?"  He nodded towards Mathews.  She looked at Joe for a moment then gradually
shifted her gaze to Mathews.  He looked back at her through the glass walls of the Lieutenant’s office but turned away
after a moment and she returned her attention to Joe.

"He’s Celinda’s father,’ she said.  "He made her cry."

Joe looked back at Levon.  Levon sighed as he looked at Joe.  There was now a new piece to this puzzle.

>> ---------- >

Angela sat alone in the small room.  She didn’t move, she didn’t even look around.  The door opened and Joe entered,
shutting the door behind him.  She didn’t look at him until he stood on the other side of the small table in front of her.

"How long have you known Celinda?" he asked.

"Maybe three months."

"Where did you meet her?"

"In the park.  She was alone.  She needed a friend."

"When was the last time you saw her?"  She looked away as if she was trying to remember.

"She wanted to see him."

"Her father?"

"Yes.  I went with her to his office.  He was coming out of the building and he saw us," she said then looked back at
Joe.  "He didn’t like me."

"Did Celinda talk to her father?"

"He asked how she was.  She told him she was fine and we left."

"You said he made her cry.  Did she tell you what he did to make her cry?"

"He didn’t like her hair or her clothes.  He wanted her to be someone else.  She couldn’t be what he wanted so she

"She ran away?"  She didn’t answer right away.  She looked at Joe, staring into his eyes.

"She left," she corrected.  "She loves him.  She misses him.  She just wants him to love her the way she is."

"Do you know where Celinda is now?"


"What were you doing across the street from the hotel yesterday?"

"The bench was empty.  I sat down.  Then you came."

"Angela, if you know anything, you need to tell us.  If you are Celinda’s friend, she needs your help."

"I know."

Joe looked at the girl sitting in front of him.  There was very little emotion in her voice, but her eyes told him
something else.  Her emotions were the only thing she owned and she would not share.

"You miss your family, too.  Don’t you?" she asked.  Joe was momentarily surprised by her question.  He didn’t intend
to answer but the word came out almost involuntarily.

"Yes."  He said it softly.  One simple word.  He felt like he had revealed some inner secret.  He looked at her, his next
question forgotten.

The door opened and Levon stood at the door.

"Got a minute?" he said to Joe.

"Sure," Joe said as he walked past Levon.  Levon watched the girl until she turned to look at him.

"Don’t move," he told her then let the door close.

As Joe stepped out of the room he saw the Lieutenant standing by his desk.  Mathews was gone.

"Joe," the Lieutenant said as he walked up to her, "Mr. Mathews has altered his story somewhat.  Seems he and his
daughter had an argument about three months ago and she took off.  It was an ongoing disagreement about her
clothes, her friends, and he figured she’d be back after she calmed down.  He didn’t see her again until about
two weeks ago when she and Angela showed up at his office."

"That matches what Angela told me."

"Does she have any idea where Celinda is?"

"No."  Levon had walked up to stand next to the Lieutenant while she and Joe were talking.

"She was at the bus stop across from the guy’s apartment," Levon said impatiently, "and she just appears in our
office today.  She knows something."

Before Joe began the argument, Sgt. Annie Hartung eased her wheelchair between Levon and the Lieutenant.

"Well, we got lucky," she said.  "We got a match from the fingerprints."  She handed a folder to the Lieutenant who
opened it to look at the papers inside.

"He’s just small time," Annie continued.  "Mostly petty theft.  But we do have a photo."  The Lieutenant took the photo
from the file and handed it to Joe.

"Thanks, Annie," she said as Annie turned to leave.

"See if Angela recognizes him," the Lieutenant told Joe.

Both Joe and Levon returned to the small interrogation room.  Angela had not moved.  Joe put the picture on the table
in front of her.

"Have you seen this man?" he asked.  She studied the face in the photo for a moment.

"He watches us," she said without looking away from the picture.

"Us?" Levon asked.

"Street people.  Mostly the kids."

"The run-aways?"  She looked up at Levon slowly.

"Street people," she insisted quietly.

"Did you see him with Celinda?" Joe asked.  She looked away and stared straight ahead, not really focussing on

"No," she said slowly.

"What were you doing at the bus stop yesterday?" Levon asked impatiently.  She blinked slowly but did not look at


"His name is Derek Cole," Levon told her.  "He’s going to kill Celinda Mathews."  She quickly turned her head to look
at him.  She watched his eyes.  She felt his anger.

"You won’t let him," she said.

>> ---------- >

"We can keep her," Levon told the Lieutenant.  "We have the panhandling charge.  Plus she could be a material

"Putting her in jail because she’s hungry won’t make her tell us anything, Lundy!" Joe argued.

"She may be an accomplice, LaFiamma."

"I don’t think so.  We don’t know how long she’s been on the street.  She probably doesn’t trust anyone."  Joe turned
to the Lieutenant.

"She said Celinda needed a friend," Joe said.  "Maybe she was trying to protect her.  Maybe she wants to help but
doesn’t know how."  Levon sighed as Joe turned back to stare at him.

"Cole probably saw the two of them together," Levon conceded.  "I suppose he might come after her.  We could use
my place."

"It might work, Lieutenant," Joe said.  "I think she just needs to feel safe."  The Lieutenant thought for a couple

"Okay," she said finally.  "She is the closest thing we have to a witness right now, but we’re about out of time.
Meanwhile, I’ll get his picture out there.  We’ll focus on the area around the park and his hotel."

>> ---------- >

"You’ll be safe here," Levon said as they entered his home.  "Someone will be here with you all the time."  Angela
took a few steps around the room.  She looked around as if everything told a story.

"You live here," she said as she lightly touched the desk.


"You miss her very much, don’t you?"  She slowly turned and looked at Levon.  Her eyes held his gently.  She
couldn’t possibly know that his wife had died, could she?  He was not angry at her question, oddly enough.  He was
not even surprised.

>> ---------- >

The house was dark and quiet.  They had not been able to get Angela to eat but she did lie down and go right to
sleep.  Levon knew he would be up for a while so he told Joe to sleep in his room.  He figured he would curl up on the
sofa if he decided to try to sleep.  It took him two tries before he actually retrieved the box from the closet.

He held the box for a moment then set it down on the table carefully.  It had been pushed into the back of the closet
so far he almost couldn’t see it.  He stared at it for a moment then took a deep breath and opened it.  Inside were the
Christmas decorations he and Caroline had begun to collect.  He reached in and took out the angel that Caroline had
bought for the top of the tree.  For a moment, time dissolved away and she was standing next to him.

          "Do you like it, Levon?" she asked gaily.
          "It’s very pretty," he answered.  "I thought you wanted a star."
          "I just fell in love with this angel, I guess."  She set the angel on the top of their small tree.
          "Besides," she said as she kissed him on the cheek, "now I’ll always be able to watch over you."

Levon shook his head and his mind returned to the present.  He looked at the angel unable to shake the memory.   It
had felt so real, except he was sure Caroline had not said "now I’ll always be able to watch over you."

>> ---------- >

Joe was up bright and early.  Levon had just cleaned up the kitchen after coaxing Angela into eating some breakfast.

"No Christmas decorations Lundy?" he asked.

"I’ve been busy."

"How’s Angela?"

"’Bout the same.  She’s not doing much talking.  Carol’s on her way over to watch her."

"Have you talked to the Lieutenant?"

"Only for a minute."

"No word on Cole, huh?"

"No."  Levon looked past Joe as Angela came up behind him.

"I think I know a place," she said.  Joe turned and looked at her.

"It’s called ‘The Shack.'  The guy there will sometimes sell you food for whatever change you have in your pocket
so there’s always some of us around.  Derek watches there sometimes."

There was a knock at the front door and Joe went to open it for Carol.

"Hi, Joe.  Hi, Levon," she said brightly.

"Angela, this is Sgt. O’Brien," Levon explained.  "She’ll be here with you today."  Levon grabbed his hat and he and
Joe left.

>> ---------- >

Joe and Levon had been sitting in the Jimmy watching "The Shack" for a couple hours.  It seemed to do a fairly good
business.  It was just a stand, literally not much more than a shack, but there was always at least one or two people in
line waiting for the food that they had to take somewhere else to eat.

"Do you think any of your family will be here for Christmas?" Levon asked.

"Nah, Houston isn’t high on their list of places to visit."

"You’re here."

"Yeah, but the rest of the family is there."

"I hear ya." Levon suddenly sat up straight.  "Look, LaFiamma, over there, in the alley."  Joe looked that way and he
could see there was someone standing in the shadows.

"Do you think it’s him?"

"I don’t know, could be."  As they watched, two girls walked past the alley and stopped at "The Shack."  The figure
stepped from the shadows to watch the girls.

"That’s him," Joe said.

"I’ll go around to the other side in case he takes off that way," Levon said as they both got out of the truck.  Joe waited
for Levon to go around the side of the building before beginning to walk towards the man.  He walked slowly, trying
not to attract the attention.  The girls left "The Shack" and walked back past the alley.  As the man stepped back to let
them pass, he saw Joe.  He took a couple steps back and Joe began to walk faster.  The man turned to run down the
alley and Joe followed.  As he came to the end of the building, Levon entered the alley.  The man stopped and turned
but Joe was fast approaching.  Before he could decide what to do next, Levon grabbed him and pushed him up
against the wall.

"Where is she?" Levon demanded.

"I don’t know what you’re talking about," he said.  "Maybe I should call a policeman."  Joe took out his badge and held
it up to his face.

"Celinda Mathews," Levon said.  "Where is she?"  The man laughed nervously.

"Right where I left her."  Levon pushed him back against the wall again.

"I don’t have time for this," he warned.

"Look, Cole," Joe said, "you’re not gonna get any money from Mathews now so you might as well tell us where she

"I don’t want his money," he said.  "I want him to suffer.  Parents like him are the reason all these kids are out here."

"Fine, but don’t kill Celinda.  She doesn’t deserve to die."

"She’s gonna die anyway.  What chance does she have on the street.  They all die eventually."

"She dies. You die," Levon threatened.  Cole looked at him for a moment.

"There’s a building two blocks from here.  They’re tearing it down today."

"We’re going for a ride," Levon said as he pulled the man towards his truck.  Neither he nor Joe saw Angela standing
at the corner of the building as they came out of the alley.

>> ---------- >

A blue and white police car arrived at the building just after the Jimmy screeched to a stop.  It didn’t look like the
demolition crew had started yet.  Levon got out, then pulled Derek Cole from the backseat of his truck and pushed
him towards the two officers who were walking towards them.

"Take care of this guy," Levon said then ran towards the building.  As he and Joe reached the front of the building,
they saw Celinda’s father standing with the demolition crew.  They were all looking at the front of the building.

"What are you doing here?" Levon asked Mathews.

"Someone called me," he explained.

"What’s going on here?" Joe asked one of the crew.

"Some girl just ran into the building," the lead man said.  "We were just about to start.  This is gonna put us behind

"Damn!" Levon said.  He looked at Joe and the two of them ran into the building.

"Angela?" Joe called.  His voice echoed in the empty building but there was no reply.  Joe went to the right and
Levon went to the left as they began their search.  As Levon approached the entrance to a stairwell, he heard a
sound.   He quickly opened the door and looked up the first flight of stairs.  He caught sight of the shoe covered
by the faded jeans as it disappeared around the landing.

"Angela!" he yelled as he ran up the stairs.  He reached the top of the second flight as the door into the building
closed.  He opened the door and looked down the hallway.  Except for the sun pouring in through a window at the
other end of the hall, the hall was empty.  He was about to turn around and go back to the stairs when he heard
another sound.  He started down the hall.  As he passed a door, he opened it and looked inside.  Each door opened
onto empty rooms.  Near the end of the hall, he reached for the last door.  It was locked.  As he pulled at the handle,
he heard what sounded like a cry.

"Celinda?" he called.  The moan he heard from the other side seemed close.  He took a deep breath, made sure he
had a good grip on the door handle and pulled.  The building was old and the facing around the door began to give
way.  One more try and the lock pulled through the plaster and the door opened.  Levon looked down at the frightened
girl curled up on the floor of the dark closet.  There was electrical tape over her mouth and around her ankles and

"It’s okay, Celinda," he said softly.  "You’re going home."

Joe came out of the building first, followed shortly by Levon carrying the girl.  They had been able to remove the tape
and she held on to Levon tightly.  She had not made a sound, however, since Levon found her.  He took her directly to
her father and set her down in front of him.

"Daddy?" she whispered.  She was unsteady on her feet and when she wavered he picked her up and held her close.

"I’m so sorry, baby," he said quietly and then the tears came – both hers and his.

As Levon walked back over to the Jimmy, he heard the radio crackle.  He reached inside and picked up the

"Sorry, Levon," Carol said, "Angela took off.  I looked away for a minute and she was gone."

"It’s okay, Carol," Levon said into the microphone.  "She’s good at that."

>> ---------- >


Joe didn’t bother to turn on the light when he entered his dark apartment.  He walked across the room and sat down
on the sofa.  He was tired, but he felt good.  Celinda Mathews was safe at home, tomorrow was Christmas and
Houston wasn’t as bad as he thought it would be.  A light from outside shown through his window and put enough
light on the mail he held in his hand to make it readable.  The top envelope was from Chicago.  Chicago.  In the flash
of a second, his life had changed.  His partner had died and he had killed the man responsible.  A man with serious
friends.  Friends who would take Joe’s life if he ever returned to Chicago.

Curious, he got up and turned on a light.  He dropped the rest of the mail on the table and opened up the envelope
from his uncle.  All that was inside was a plane ticket.  As he looked at it, his phone rang.

"Hey, Joey," his uncle said. "Did you get what I sent you?"

"Yeah, Uncle Mikey, I don’t understand."

"You’re Aunt Theresa decided she wanted to see Las Vegas so a bunch of us are going after the first of year.  I thought
you might like to meet us there.  Maybe do a second Christmas.  What d’ya think?"

"That’d be great, Uncle Mikey.  I’ll be there."

"Merry Christmas, Joey."

>> ---------- >

Levon could see lights flickering inside his house as he drove up in front.  He got out of his truck slowly and went
inside cautiously.  He relaxed when he saw the tiny tree sparkling in the middle of the room.  Caroline’s angel was on
the top of the tree.  As he walked over to the tree, he thought he heard a voice.

"Be happy, Levon."

"Caroline?" he said as he looked around the dark room.  He laughed at himself.  He must be more tired than he
thought.  He touched the angel and something brushed his cheek.

"I love you, Levon."

He touched the side of his face as an emptiness that had been in his heart for so long seemed to disappear.  He
sighed.  He wasn’t even surprised when the phone rang.

"Hi, there," he said into the phone.  "I’d love to..….....I’ll see you tomorrow..….....You bet." He paused and glanced up
at the angel one more time before returning his attention to the phone. "Merry Christmas, Jaimie."

>> ---------- >


It was Christmas Day in Houston.  The city streets were nearly empty this early.  Angela walked happily past the
closed stores and businesses.  She paused to look at her reflection in a store window.  She had on a clean white
t-shirt and her hair had been washed and combed.  Carol O’Brien was really nice.  Maybe she could do something nice
for her next year.  She smiled at her reflection then turned and continued walking down the street.  She was humming
a Christmas carol.

>> ---------- >     < ----- >     < ----------- <<

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