THE ULTIMATE WINTERFEST SURPRISE
BY KATHY DE
After another long day at the office, Joe Maxwell walked into his home with a tired smile on his face. “Hey, everyone I’m home!”
“Dad’s here!” Joe’s namesake screamed out as he ran happily from the kitchen.
Joe scooped up his eight year old son and swung him in the air. “Hey, Buddy!”
“Daddy? Uh oh, what did ya do, Joey?”
“Ha!” His thirteen year old sister, Maria, said from her seat on the couch in front of the TV.
“Maria!” Joe warned as he frowned, hoping it would discourage her from tattling.
“I wasn’t gonna say anything!”
Joe smiled and came over and kissed her cheek. “Good girl!”
Amy, Joe’s fourteen year old, rolled her eyes from her seat on the other side of the couch. “Mom’s gonna tell you any way.”
Joe kissed Amy as well. “Yeah, but hopefully not before I’ve had my dinner…anyone know what she cooked?”
Brittany, Joe’s fifteen year old came in from the kitchen, tossing a baseball into the air then catching it with the baseball glove on her hand. “Lasagna.”
Joe caught the ball mid air and held it in his hand and waved it slowly as he tried to get a look of disapproval on his face again. “Not in the house!”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
“Did you get a hit today?”
“Double…brought in the tying run.”
“3rd base line?”
“Nope, dead center!” Brittany’s eyes gleamed proudly.
“Hit the wall half way up…I was this close to a homer!” Brittany moaned as she held her hands apart.
“That’s my girl!” Joe cupped her shoulder and squeezed it affectionately. “I’m sorry I missed it…next time, champ!”
“Saturday at 10:00.”
Joe kissed her cheek and turned her towards the stairs leading to the upstairs bathroom. “Saturday?! You’ll still be washing off the grime from today! Better hurry if you want to make dinner.”
Brittany took the stairs two at a time as Joe headed into the kitchen.
He leaned against the door frame and grinned. “Ahhh…this is how I like my women…knee-deep in domestic bliss!”
Kelly, Joe’s second born looked up from tossing the salad. “I’m only seventeen and even I know how sexist that remark is!”
Joe kissed her cheek and laughed. “Did I forget to say beautiful women?!”
He saw his wife bending over the oven and grabbed her by the hips and spun her around. “Hey, it’s my best girl! How’s Jenny Aaronson today?!”
“It’s Maxwell…for almost 20 years now,” Jenny giggled as she turned in his embrace. “You’re in a good mood!”
“You betcha!” Joe drew her close and kissed her passionately.
“Hey! Not in front of the kids!” Debbie, their oldest at eighteen, moaned as she showed her disgust. “Can’t you guys get a room?!”
Jenny giggled and turned her head. “No thank you! Every time we do that, I have another one of you pop out!”
Debbie’s face showed her horror. “My God…wasn’t Joey enough?!”
“Yeah…” Joe laughed as he walked over and put his arm around her shoulder then kissed her cheek. “But we’re still so in love.”
She elbowed him and tried to hide her smile.
“You’re disgusting! Both of you!”
Joe grabbed a carrot from the counter top. “I’m starving! How long before it’s ready?”
“20 minutes…I put the mail on your desk…” Jenny said as she handed him another carrot and pointed him out the door. “A package came for you…”
“Probably from a secret admirer…”
Not skipping a beat, Jenny sang out sarcastically. “Can she move in and take on some of the chores around here…help with the laundry would be awesome!”
Joe made a face as he walked into his office and sat at his desk. He turned on his computer and quickly checked his e-mail. He eyed the stack of mail and grabbed for the top one then sighed when he opened the cable and electric bill. He gasped aloud when he saw the phone bill. “Damn!” he moaned angrily. He thought about getting up and screaming at his kids then smiled and shook his head. “You had 5 daughters Maxwell, what’d ya expect?!” he muttered to himself as he tossed the next four junk mail letters into the garbage.
He picked up the package and turned it over slowly, looking for a return address. Seeing none, he curiously opened it and pulled out the letter inside. He glanced at the bottom to see who it was from and was surprised to see the name written there.
“Dinner’s ready!” Jenny’s voiced called out from the kitchen. “Everyone now! No excuses!”
Joe could hear his kids running for the kitchen and he smiled as he set the letter down and headed for the dinner table.
Jenny and Joe shared a bottle of wine while they listened to the kids talk about everything that happened that day. Dinner took almost an hour but the couple relished this time with their family and they were proud that their kids were equally supportive of one another.
Debbie finally stood and looked down at her watch. “I need to watch the news for a current event topic for a social studies paper.”
“I have a test in English to study for,” Kelly announced as she finished her milk.
Jenny frowned at her three youngest daughters. “Looks like you 3 are my work crew…Amy and Maria, clear the table and Brittany will rinse the dishes and load the dishwasher. Joey…you can help Dad take the garbage outside.”
The kids rushed to get their chores over with.
Brittany called out to Joe as he stood by the back door with a garbage bag in his hand. “Dad…we’ve got Algebra homework again…”
“We…” Joe sighed. “Of course we do…school ends in 2 weeks, right?”
Jenny rolled her eyes at him and he sighed then walked out followed by Joey.
The two quickly ran the garbage to the back bin racing their way through the small yard. They pushed at one another on their way back inside and were soon held up wrestling in the grass. Laughing hard, Joe walked in with Joey screeching loudly as he tried to wrestle out of the headlock his father had him in.
“Hey babe, I found a sack of potatoes in the yard!”
Jenny laughed. “Yeah, well that sack of potatoes had better grow legs and throw himself into the tub, now!”
Joey rolled his eyes and headed upstairs.
Joe grabbed the last piece of garlic bread right before Brittany picked up the plate to rinse and add it to the dishwasher. She smiled and looked at him hopefully. “Now, Dad?!”
Joe nodded. “Go grab your book and notes and some extra scrap paper. I’ll wash up and meet you back in here.”
Joe walked through the house and headed to the small bathroom off of the living room. He saw Debbie sitting in his chair watching the news. “Find a good story for your report?”
“Yeah… and it’s gonna be a good one!! Some police captain was found dead this afternoon in an airport hangar!”
“What?!” Joe gasped.
“Yeah, the story’s coming on in a minute…”
Joe’s face paled as the pretty blonde reporter came back on screen. “Captain Roy Montgomery from the Twelfth Precinct was found shot to death in the Clemens airport hangar. 4 additional men, who have yet to be identified, were surrounding the captain. Each of these men had been shot with bullets fired from Montgomery’s police issued revolver. Detectives are currently looking for clues to what happened.”
Debbie shut off the TV with a smile. “I’m heading to the internet to see if any of the other news channels said any more. Man! I can’t believe my luck!”
“You’re kidding me, right?!” Joe shouted angrily. “That’s just great! You have a report to do! Thank God you had a topic provided for you! Let’s just forget the fact that a police officer is dead!”
Debbie’s face fell as she realized exactly what she had just said. “I…Dad…I didn’t mean it the way it sounded.”
“You might want to mention that he had a wife and two young girls!! You make sure that gets in your damn report!”
Joe never yelled and Debbie was devastated by her insensitivity. His shouts brought the other family members out to see what was going on. Brittany, Amy and Maria looked on from the kitchen doorway while Kelly, Joey and Jenny looked down from the top stairs.
“Joe!” Jenny shouted. “Stop it!”
Shock overtook him as he looked up at Jenny guiltily. His shoulders fell as he looked at over at Debbie who was now crying. He turned dejectedly and walked slowly into his office, shutting the door behind him.
Debbie looked up at her mother in confusion. “Mom, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean what I said…I mean…not like Dad took it…”
Jenny nodded and looked at her other daughter. “Kelly, your brother’s clean sheets are sitting on his bed, can you help him make it up please?”
Jenny kissed Joey’s cheek and pushed him towards Kelly. “No video games tonight, instead you can actually read the book you faked your report on!”
Joey’s face fell. “All right.”
Jenny started to walk down the stairs. “Amy, Maria, upstairs, finish your homework then shower and get right for bed.”
Knowing her father had some problem to deal with, Brittany looked up sadly. “Great, what about my Algebra homework? If I don’t pass this test I won’t play on Saturday.”
“I’ll help you, Britt,” Debbie offered quietly.
Jenny came over and held Debbie’s hand as she addressed Brittany. “I want to talk to Deb first, your sister will be up in her room in a few minutes.”
“Thanks, Deb, I’ll take all my stuff upstairs,” Brittany said with relief.
Jenny led Debbie out of earshot of Joe’s office. “Tell me what happened?”
Debbie sighed. “I wasn’t thinking, Mom. I…was excited about getting a good story for my paper…I didn’t mean…”
She began to cry harder and Jenny put her arm around her shoulder. “What was the story about?”
Debbie sniffled and sighed. “They found a police captain this afternoon. He was shot to death in some airport hangar.”
Jenny flinched. Knowing how close Joe was to most of the people on the police force, she realized he probably had a close relationship with the man that had been killed. With a sigh, she squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. “I know Dad didn’t mean to blow up at you. I bet he apologizes later on.”
Debbie frowned. “I should be the one to apologize. I was pretty insensitive.”
“You’re a good kid, you know that?”
Debbie rolled her eyes. “Yeah, yeah…”
Jenny laughed and slapped Debbie’s butt playfully. “Go help your sister and please try to keep everyone’s noise level down to a low roar.”
“Got it, Mom.”
Debbie went upstairs while Jenny headed to see what needed to be done in the kitchen.
She was pleasantly surprised and nodded satisfactorily at the job her youngest kids had done. “Good job, kids!” She muttered to herself as she did a quick sweep of the kitchen floor then turned off the lights and headed to the living room.
Grabbing a laundry basket, she put all the stray items her kids left scattered around the room then headed upstairs and placed the basket in the middle of the hallway. “Basket full of treasures! If this stuff’s not claimed by the time I come to bed it’s going out in the trash!”
Knowing full well that their Mom would do as she said, doors were flung open as all 6 kids came out to claim there items. Jenny smiled at them and picked up the empty basket and headed towards her room to take a shower.
Joe sat down heavily in the chair in his office. He reached for the paper from the package he opened earlier and looked down at it as he tried to get a hold of his emotions.
He swiped at the tears in his eyes then began to read the letter.
I’ve been holding this evidence for over 15 years and I’m giving it to you as my last official duty as Captain of the 12th. By the time you get this package I’ll probably be dead, killed by either Hal Lockwood or one of his men.
Know that within these files is information that is bigger than you can ever imagine and that with access to this knowledge you have become a very dangerous man to have around.
You have a small window of time to figure all of this out as they’ll think I sent this intel to Detective Kate Beckett. She’s the best out there, Joe but she’s gotten too close to the truth and is next on their list to remove from the picture. Please do what you can to protect her and her team.
You won’t have much time…if Beckett’s out of the picture they’ll have time to concentrate on you.
The originals of these files have been sent to one last person. Know that he will also be doing everything in his power to end this war.
Best of luck to you and your family, Joe. I’m sorry to leave this on you but you were the only one I could trust.
Captain Roy Montgomery
Joe frowned and opened the top file that Montgomery had included in the package.
The past cases were in date order and the hours passed quickly as Joe was taken back in time while he made his way through the files. He read about case after case that the police were unable to solve. Montgomery had made notations with post it notes as to how and when important details were conveniently overlooked by investigating officers.
Joe eventually came across the file of the 15 year old murder of Johanna Beckett. By this time, he had a good idea that the reports on these cases had been doctored and he smirked disgustedly at the poor explanation of a botched robbery attempt that accompanied her paperwork.
“At least I know why this Detective Beckett’s so involved…” he muttered to the empty room.
A light tap could be heard and Jenny’s voice floated through the closed door. “Joe…”
Joe sighed and shut the open file on his desk. “Yeah, babe.”
Jenny came in and smiled as she walked around his desk. “You know it’s almost one o’clock , don’t you?”
Joe looked with surprise at the clock on the wall. “No, I…didn’t know.”
“Are you okay, honey?”
Knowing her husband as she did, Jenny’s shook her head disapprovingly. “Liar…can you tell me about it?”
Joe frowned and shook his head. “No…but I want you to make sure that none of the kids come in this office for any reason…not for tape, scissors, paperclip…nothing!”
The force Joe used to deliver the message surprised her and she readily agreed. “Okay, I promise, I’ll keep them out of here…can you take a break, you need to get some sleep…”
“I don’t know…”
“Joseph Maxwell, the work will still be here in 4 hours…come to bed?”
Joe knew she was right and he stood as he nodded. “Okay…”
The couple walked upstairs and Jenny climbed into bed as Joe brushed his teeth then came over to the side of the bed and stripped down to his underwear. He climbed in next to her and sighed loudly as he flung his arm over his eyes.
Jenny came over and snuggled against him as he put his arm around her. “I wish I could help.”
“You can…you’re here and that helps.”
Jenny stretched out along his side and kissed him passionately. Since he was normally the one to initiate sex, Joe was surprised but his body instantly responded to her advance. They made love and for that window of time he was able to forget about the whirlwind of chaos that was sitting on his desk downstairs.
He held his wife until she slept and as hard as he tried to clear his mind to go to sleep, the files on his desk beckoned him. He slipped from their bed, grabbed his bathrobe and headed back to his office. It wasn’t long before he was immersed in the cases again.
A few hours later, exhausted, he blinked his eyes and lifted yet another report from the pile. He gasped for breath when he saw it was the investigation of John Moreno’s death.
“My God!” Joe exclaimed as he sat up in his chair, instantly awake.
His mind raced with possibilities. He remembered the exact moment from 20 some odd years ago when he became involved in all of this. And over the past years, he never forgave himself for handing the deadly notebook over to Catherine Chandler, he hadn’t known that inside was the information that would eventually lead to her death.
Joe flipped Moreno’s paperwork over and rubbed his hand over his eyes. He wondered if it would ever get any easier to know that Moreno had turned against him and Catherine.
He thought that time in his life was all behind them. Soon after Catherine’s death, Diana Bennett had uncovered a huge conglomerate headed by a man named Gabriel. His power had stretched across the United States and although Joe had thought it had all ended when Diana killed him, he realized that the files in front of him proved that Gabriel was just a pawn in a much greater plan.
Two reports later, the file on Catherine Chandler was in his hand. Joe set it down and sighed, he knew it by heart and he laid his head on his desk and began to cry.
Jenny woke up at 5:00 o’clock like she did everyday. She loved this time alone because she could enjoy her coffee in peace and it gave her an hour to get lunches made and breakfast on the table before her brood headed down for the day.
She frowned at the empty bed next to her and assumed Joe left early for the office. She grabbed her bathrobe and headed downstairs and was surprised to see a light coming from under the office door.
She sighed and went into the kitchen and poured two cups of coffee then headed to see her husband.
“Hey, honey, want a refill?” Jenny said as she pushed open the door to the office. She stopped when she walked in and saw Joe crying. She set the coffee cups on the desk and ran to his side. “Joe?”
Joe quickly covered the files he had opened in front of him then sat back and swiped at his eyes. “Yeah, thanks…”
Jenny frowned and guessed as to why he was so upset. “Does this have to do with the death of the police captain?”
Joe took the easy solution she offered and nodded. “Yeah…just…thinking of his kids and reliving bad memories…”
Jenny kissed him then hugged him to her chest. “Stay home today, I can take off…we can spend the day together…”
“No, I gotta get to work.”
“Joe, you’re exhausted.”
He stood and put the files in order then locked them in a cabinet next to his desk. “The District Attorney doesn’t get a day off.”
“After 20 years don’t you think you deserve it?”
“Yeah…” Joe said sarcastically as he leaned in and kissed her then headed up to shave and shower to get ready for work.
For the next two days, Joe saw very little of his family as he put in 16 hour days. He spent hour after hour going over the old paperwork but could never link all of it together. He had hundreds of loose ends and no glue to hold it together.
Thankfully it was finally Saturday morning and as exhaustion overtook him, he slept in late that morning. He came down the steps and stopped for a moment, relishing the happy sounds he heard coming from his family having breakfast in the kitchen.
“Hi everyone,” he announced as he came into the room.
Jenny laughed and looked around the table at her kids. “Kids…that strange man who just walked into the kitchen is your father.”
A chorus of “Hi, Dads,” rang out from the kids as Joe sat down to eat. Debbie ran and got him a cup of coffee and Kelly brought him some fresh pancakes. Brittany poured his juice while Amy passed him the butter and Maria handed him the syrup.
Joe chuckled at them and smiled towards Jenny. “I should work long hours all the time if this is how I get treated.”
“You do…” Jenny reprimanded lightly.
Joey brought over a half eaten piece of bacon. “Here, Dad.”
Joe smiled and took it from him. “Thanks, bud! I can’t believe you’re sharing your bacon with me!”
Brittany rolled her eyes. “He’s already had four pieces.”
Joe laughed and looked at Joey. “You did?! How many pancakes did you eat?”
“Four?!” Joe gasped.
Kelly laughed. “You only ate 3, Joey, the first one hit the floor, remember?”
Joey’s face fell as he remembered. “Oh yeah, I was gonna eat 4 just like you do, Dad, but Maria was being a jerk and knocked it on the floor.”
“I did not! You tried to put it on my head like a hat and when I slapped your hand away you dropped it!”
“That’s ‘cause you hurt me!”
“Joseph, Jr! That’s enough!” Jenny interrupted, stopping the fight before it got out of hand. “You were playing with your food and dropped it…end of story...got it!”
“Got it,” Joey said remorsefully.
Debbie came and grabbed his hand. “Let’s get you cleaned up, Joey. Brittany’s game is in a few hours.”
Joe groaned aloud. “Oh no!”
Brittany’s face fell as she realized that her dad wasn’t going to make it. “Dad! You promised!”
Joe sighed as he looked at her sadly. “I have the policeman’s funeral to go to…honey, I’m sorry…I have to go…”
“I know…” Brittany sighed aloud as she tried to control her emotions. Tears came to her eyes, she knew it wasn’t his fault but it still hurt that he wouldn’t be able to come. “Stupid crooks…”
Joe hugged her tightly. “I am really, really sorry, Britt.”
Brittany smiled at him through the tears. “I’ll tell you all about it later tonight.”
“Deal!” Joe said proudly.
The kids went upstairs to get ready for their various activities and Jenny watched Joe’s face fall as the kids left the room.
“Damn it, Jen…no matter what I do it’s always them I have to let down!”
“They understand how important your job is…”
“It’s not as important as them.”
“No…but…you’re helping make the city a safe place for them to grow up in and I think that’s pretty important.”
“Safe…” Joe chuckled sarcastically. “Father’s right…no place up here is safe…”
Jenny laughed at Joe’s comment. She and Joe had become close members of the tunnel community a few short months after Catherine’s death. Joe was tenacious about finding Catherine’s child and Peter finally came clean and told them the entire story. They reacted as expected when they met Vincent but in their shared grief, the three soon became good friends. Joe pulled a few strings and Peter and he were able to get Jacob declared Catherine’s son and all of her wealth eventually went to him. Then over the following years Joe’s family became an integral part of the community Below.
“Yeah? Well, I bet the Montgomery family doesn’t think it’s so safe.”
“I wish you had told me, I would have made arrangements to go with you.”
“It’s okay, the kids need one parent they can rely on. What’s your day look like?”
“Well…I’ll drop Brittany off at her game then take Debbie and Kelly over to the high school for cheerleading try outs. Amy has to go to band practice at the middle school then Maria has dance. Joey and I will go back to watch Brittany’s game and as soon as it’s over I’ll swing by and get Maria, then Amy and bring them home, Brittany can watch them while I go back after an hour and pick up Debbie and Kelly and get them home. Then I guess I’ll make dinner, do some laundry.”
“That’s ridiculous…I’ve got to find a reliable car for Debbie and Kelly, they could take over some of the running for you.”
He and Jenny had had this conversation several times but Joe had never been able to find the time to car shop.
“You’ve been busy,” Jenny offered sympathetically.
“Jen, your schedule is impossible!”
“It’s been impossible since Debbie started her first piano lesson…and it’s gotten gradually worse with each kid and each new activity but I’m used to it…I can survive a few more weeks.”
Joe smiled endearingly at her. “Did I ever tell you how much I love you?”
Jenny rolled her eyes in disgust. “You’re just glad I do this all so you don’t have to!”
Joe grew serious as he reached out for her hand and caressed it lovingly. “I’m serious, Jenny, you’re doing an awesome job raising these kids. I know I drop the ball too often and I really need you to know how much it means to me to know I can trust that you’ll always be there when I can’t be. I love you, Jen…I really love you.”
“I love you too, Joe.” She leaned in and kissed his cheek. You’re a wonderful father as often as you can be and you always show the kids how much you love them. That’s important and it makes my job a little easier.”
Joe gave her a real kiss before Jenny grabbed for the dirty dishes on the table. He stood up and took them from her. “Nope, I got an hour before I’ve got to leave. I’ll clean up.”
Jenny smiled as she headed to round up the kids. “See! That’s why you’re so easy to love!”