The annual 101st precinct Christmas grab-bag had been going on longer than anyone could remember; well, at least it was a long-standing tradition when Broderick joined the precinct, and he had been there the longest.
The week after Thanksgiving, Mary Margaret Skalany, who'd managed to get suckered into the task last year, went around to everyone who wanted to participate and put their names in a hat. Then they all drew names for their "Secret Santa" recipients. The theory was that no one was supposed to tell whose name they drew; the truth was somewhat less than ideal. Especially when everybody started fishing for gift ideas. Kermit's demonic chuckle when he drew his slip didn't help much, either.
Skalany was one of the last people to pick, and when she drew out her name, her hopes for an easy pick evaporated. Kermit. He was one of the only people in the precinct she was clueless as to what to get. She didn't know Kermit that well (no one did), didn't know what his likes or dislikes were. And she was damned if she'd get him a five pound bag of gummy bears! She surriptitiously asked around for suggestions, but none of Kermit's co-workers had any better ideas than she did.
"How 'bout a pair of brown glasses--freak him out!" Peter grinned.
Skalany gave that suggestion all the consideration it deserved.
"What about one of those computer game-toy things?" Katz suggested.
"That's like bringing coals to Newcastle," Peter dismissed. "Kermit's got more computer toys than Sega."
"Gummy bears?" Morgan offered.
"No," Skalany rejected flatly.
In the end, no one had any better suggestions to offer. She was on her own.
It wasn't until the following week, while babysitting her two nieces, that inspiration struck. They were watching "The Muppet Christmas Carol" on tv when a mad, glorious, workable idea came to her. Kermit. The frog. But not just any frog; a frog in green glasses.
Mary Elizabeth and Katherine didn't understand why Aunt Mary Margaret was suddenly laughing so hard.
And so began The Great Frog Hunt.
She thought it would be easy--stroll into any toy store and pick up a Kermit. The Muppets were ubiquitous, weren't they?
No, she discovered some dozen toy stores later, not really. Big Bird, Bert and Ernie, Grover, no problem. Kermit was a little harder to come by. OK, a lot harder. Unless one wanted the muppet-baby version (shudder). She briefly considered the Black-tie Kermit and the Motorcycle Kermit, but rejected them as unsuitable. She even found a hand-puppet Kermit, and a music-box Kermit, but persevered for "the real thing".
It shouldn't be this hard, she thought to herself, leaving yet another toy store empty-handed. It's not supposed to be this hard.
Peter was no help; she dragged him into a toy store to help her search, but instead she lost him, finding him some time later among the model trains. He hadn't even looked for the damned frog. That was the last time she'd take him toy shopping!
Finally, at a video store, she found a whole rack of Christmas Kermits-- dolls, not puppets, whose only deviation from the norm was a cheesy-looking red and white striped muffler around their necks. No problem--the scarf came off. Mary Margaret happily plunked down more money than she'd planned on the doll, and left the store grinning.
Half-way there. Now all she needed to do was find the glasses. No problem.
Big problem, she realized a week later, after having called every doll and teddy-bear shop in the city. There was no such thing as Kermit-sized Ray-Bans. Cute granny glasses, maybe. But nothing even approaching sunglasses.
Desperate, she tried making the silly things, but an unsuccessful encounter with friendly plastic (friendly to whom, she wondered) changed her mind.
Skalaney's patience had passed thin, and was approaching transparent. Briefly, she considered abandoning the search and giving the frog "as is." No, she thought. Kermit the Frog with glasses was a brilliant present. An undecorated Kermit the Frog was ... not.
An unrelated trip into an accessory shop revived her hopes. In amongst the hair clips and tacky keychains, she found small sunglasses. The only feature marring their perfection was the color. Colors, actually; the glasses were psychedelic enough to induce a flashback. However, they were the correct shape, and the lenses were green. Thankful for even small favors, Skalaney bought the scary-hued sunglasses.
This looks good, she thought, examining her "Kermit Griffin the Frog." The sunglasses' frames had been transformed from multi-color to basic black by a marker. She examined the frog again. Yes, the sunglasses definitely gave the toy a certain something, but she wasn't sure what.
Home free; nothing left but the wrapping. Skalaney refused to think that she was in over her head, but she did have to admit she was up to her knees -- in wrapping paper. It shouldn't be this hard. It's not supposed to be this hard, she thought. Those two sentences were taking on the properties of a mantra.
She had tried various approaches to wrapping the toy. Simply wrapping the Muppet proved both unwieldy and not very pretty. Some sort of container was called for. Place the frog in a box, and wrap same. After trying a few less than successful configurations, Skalaney found a box she could put Kermit the Frog into without contorting his limbs. She found, however, that to keep the doll upright, she needed to tie him to the wall of the container. It did look strange, she admitted to herself. But it works. She didn't want to think about what Kermit would say when he saw the bound frog. The bulky box was finally wrapped and topped off with a bow, ready to take its place under the precinct Christmas tree.
I'm through with clever, Skalaney thought. From now on, I'm sticking to simple gifts, like chocolate. Maybe I'll just rig the grab bag so I pick someone who's easy to buy for. No way I'll be able to duplicate this, even if I wanted to.
Finally, the fateful day arrived--the day for the gift exchange. The tatty artificial Christmas tree stood in its place of honor next to the refrigerator, cards decorated one of the walls. A lone sprig of mistletoe seemed to be making its rounds from doorway to doorway. It started off in the Captain's office; that lasted until Blaisdell had gotten in that morning. It disappeared from there, only to magically appear after lunch above Frank's door. From there it hung in Kermit's doorway where it remained for almost a week until someone swiped it and now it hung above the door leading from the front desk to the squad room.
Quite a number of the precinct had chosen to participate in the grab bag this year--there were over twenty names in the pot. Just before shift change, the second shift came in early and in between cookies and surriptitiously spiked egg nog, gifts were distributed by Skalany, who proudly wore her red fuzzy santa hat, and assisted by a harrassed Jody, who took her hat off as soon as possible, deciding that there were enough comments about "Santa's elves" without encouraging the guys she worked with.
The gifts were all stacked on desks near the tree, and Skalany passed the first one to its recipient. "This is for the Chief," she said, handing him a large box, "from Detective Caine."
"Oh, God," Frank mumbled and looked at Peter, who was grinning like a cat.
"It's a set of free weights, Chief!" Blake said.
"No, it's one of those hair clipper things so you can clip designs in to your hair like the gang-bangers," Morgan said.
"Too big for that," Kermit commented.
Peter just grinned.
The big box turned out to contain a home beer-making kit.
"Oh," Blaisdell laughed, seeing the gift, "I can just see Molly's reaction to that one, Chief."
"Yeah, so can I," Frank shook his head. "I think we'll get banished to the basement. Thanks, Pete."
Peter smiled and nodded. "Merry Christmas, Chief. You're expected to try out your efforts on your friends here at the precinct, you know."
"If you're brave, I'm willing," Strenlich returned.
"This next one," Skalany went on, "is for Sergeant Broderick, from Captain Blaisdell."
There were murmured ahas and oohs, as the captain was known to give usually fine bottles of liquor as his gift. He didn't fail to please this year, either, as Broderick unwrapped a boxed bottle of Pinch scotch.
"Thanks, Cap'n," Broderick said. Blaisdell merely smiled and winked.
Several more gifts were exchanged. Peter got a GameBoy of Double Dragon from Jody, which he laughed at and said he'd probably show it to his father; he said he'd had a little pong game when he was a kid, and his father had asked to look at it one day and he'd never seen it again. But sometimes late at night he'd hear beeping coming from Caine's room.
Captain Blaisdell got a picture book on Greece and a tape of Greek music from from Blake. Blaisdell had been promising to take his wife on a belated 20th wedding anniversary trip to Greece.
"The book's for you, Captain," Blake told him. "The tape's for the missus."
"I'll make sure she gets it," Blaisdell smiled. "And thank you--from both of us."
Morgan got a vinyl teddy a la Fredericks of Hollywood from Kermit.
"Put your money where your mouth is, sweet cheeks," he told her. They'd been baiting each other for months, and the innuendo level was high.
Without batting an eye, she fixed him with a sultry stare and answered, "If you think you can handle me, big boy, name the time and the place--I'll be there."
Kermit laughed and saluted her with his egg nog, pleased that she hadn't backed down from his challenge. Though most of the precinct also suspected it was all just talk.
Broderick gave Jody a gourmet coffee sampler and a mug. Jody was one of the precinct coffee hounds, so the gift was appreciated. Chief Strenlich gave Mary Margaret a bottle of Opium, her favorite scent. The accompanying catcalls at the gift were enough to make Frank turn rather pink. As was the kiss she gave him.
Kermit was one of the last to be given his gift. He looked curiously at the rather extravagant size of the box, unwrapped it (typical, thought Skalaney, he's one of those careful unwrappers) and lifted the lid. He took the bright green frog, and its sunglasses, out of the box and stared at the stuffed creature.
He didn't say a word. Skalaney realized that she really didn't know how Kermit would react to his namesake.
Her anxiety increased when Kermit turned to her and said, "How extremely clever, Skalaney. Wherever did you find it?"
He paused. "What, no pocket protector?" The Muppet went back in its box, the lid was replaced. Skalaney couldn't tell if he liked it or not. She was puzzled, and a little hurt, at his lack of reaction.
The rest of the day passed in a welter of cookies and paperwork. She didn't get a chance to talk to Kermit, and he didn't approach her.
The next day was back to business as usual. Kermit was already entombed in his office when Skalaney came in. It was past noon before he spoke to her. She wasn't prepared for his first words. "Care for some lunch?" He's grinning, she noticed. No, he's smiling. Maybe he wasn't offended by the frog after all.
In the car, they spoke of office trivia and Christmas plans. Skalaney (whose lunches with Peter usually consisted of something off the nearest lunch cart) was unprepared for the four-star establishment they entered. She fought down a moment of panic as she looked around the elegant room. Underdressed didn't even begin to describe how she felt. "Kermit ---" she began.
He interrupted her. "I wanted to thank you properly for your gift. He's wonderful." Kermit laughed quietly. "I especially love the glasses. Thank you, Mary Margaret. That's the nicest Christmas gift I've gotten in a long time."
Skalaney was at a loss for words. She had hoped Kermit would like his gift, but this thank-you was beyond anything she had imagined. "Ah, um, you're welcome," she managed to get out. "Merry Christmas, Kermit."
"Merry Christmas, Skalaney."
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