Longest Night Part 1
"Wow, these look great!" MacGyver sat down at the table amongst the Challenger's Club kids, picking up a brightly decorated shoebox. "What are they for?"
"Christmas presents." Five year old Cassie stuck a glittery star in the centre of her box lid and held it up to admire the effect. "For kids who haven't got any." She smiled up at MacGyver, pleased with her efforts.
"What a nice idea." MacGyver caught a falling glue pot as Cassie reached across the table for another star. "Kids here in Los Angeles?"
"Uh-uh." Cassie concentrated on pasting her star, tongue sticking out of the corner of her mouth. "Other kids."
"Where?" MacGyver asked. Cassie shrugged, too busy to answer. He looked up, catching Gloria's eye. "Little help?"
"We're putting together Christmas boxes for the kids in Santa Rosa. Each box will have toys and candy in, but also essentials like soap, toothpaste, pencils and hats or gloves. Those poor kids have nothing at all after the landslide, so we're doing what we can from here." She smiled down at MacGyver, then her gaze wandered across the rest of the Challenger's Club room, festooned with second hand tinsel and home-made decorations. One wall had a map of Mexico pinned up, with a Father Christmas sticker over Santa Rosa. "There's always someone worse off than we are, isn't there?" She beckoned to him.
MacGyver got up, brushing glitter off his jeans.
"Actually, MacGyver, I have a favour to ask you." Mac raised his eyebrows, waiting for her to continue. Gloria hesitated, twining her fingers together. "We need a little help transporting the boxes to Santa Rosa. We have a minibus that Our Lady Church over in Compton have kindly leant us, but…" Gloria trailed off, looking hopefully at MacGyver.
"But… it needs a little work, am I right?" MacGyver watched Gloria nod and sigh.
"Father Paul's exact words were, 'if you can get it running, you can use it with my blessing.'"
"Ah." MacGyver scrubbed a hand through his shaggy hair. "Well, let's take a look. It can't be that bad, surely."
"is it bad?" Gloria peered over MacGyver's shoulder into the engine.
"Um…" MacGyver picked up a rag and wiped grease off his hands and arms. "It's old and gungy, but I don't think there's anything seriously wrong with it." He wiped at a smear of grease on his forehead. "The battery's dead, though." He felt in his pockets for his keys. "I'm going to bring the Jeep around and see if I can jump start the bus with it."
Gloria nodded, watching him go. She climbed into the minibus and sat down, placing her massive handbag on the damp seat beside her. Was she taking on too much? It was so far to go, but the plight of the children in Santa Rosa had moved her and she was sure Booker would have wanted her to go. In her mind's eye she could see him sitting at his desk, reading pieces from the newspapers out loud, constantly dismayed by man's inhumanity to his fellow man. Booker would have gone to Santa Rosa without a second thought. He wouldn't have been afraid of the long journey, or the dangers he might face along the way.
But Gloria was afraid. She was afraid of going all that way alone. She was afraid of the people she might meet, for her destination lay deep in bandit country. She was afraid of being attacked, or having the bus hijacked. She was afraid of being killed out there. Gloria pressed her shaking hands together, telling herself not to be a coward. She took a deep breath, telling herself she would be brave and not let those children down.
She jumped as a shadow fell across her.
"MacGyver! I didn't hear you come back in."
"I didn't mean to scare you, Gloria." MacGyver looked closer, seeing how worried she looked and how tightly her hands were folded. "Are you alright?"
Gloria nodded her head, then sighed and shook it instead.
"I'm not sure, MacGyver. I know I need to get these presents and emergency supplies to the children, but I'm afraid of going there. It's such a long way and after the landslide… And it's not the safest of places to go anyway."
"Yeah, it wouldn't be in my top ten holiday destinations either." MacGyver rubbed his chin, scraping at the stubble he hadn't bothered to shave that morning. "When do you leave?"
"Tomorrow." Gloria's voice was small.
"And you're going on your own?"
"Yes." Gloria folded her arms tight around herself. "Breeze has to work, my cousin has a new baby to look after… Everyone's busy." She smiled at MacGyver, but the smile didn't reach her eyes. "Booker would tell me to be brave and just go, wouldn't he?"
MacGyver shook his head.
"No, he'd tell you to take a friend with you." He crossed to the front of the garage and opened the big doors, letting in the Winter sunshine and revealing his Jeep parked outside.
"MacGyver, I couldn't possibly ask you to go with me." Gloria's tone was firm. "I couldn't take you away from your family so close to Christmas."
"Well," MacGyver climbed into the Jeep and started it, shouting over the engine. "Sam's up in Minnesota and he's snowed in. He's fine, but knowing Mission City like I do, I think he's probably stuck until after New Year's." He nosed the Jeep carefully up to the old minibus, turned the engine off and climbed out carrying a set of jump leads. "Jack's off goodness knows where, Penny's in the middle of a musical out in Omaha, Nikki's gone back East to visit her folks and Pete's spending Christmas with his son." He attached the leads and got back into the Jeep. "So I'm a free agent. Gimme a minute here and then crank that sucker over, OK?"
Gloria tried to hide her smile as she climbed into the driver's seat. The seat gave underneath her as she untangled the edge of her skirt from the gear stick."
The minibus wheezed and spluttered and then roared into life, belching black smoke. Gloria coughed and covered her mouth with her hand.
"Leave it running!" MacGYver yelled over the clattering of the old engine. He opened the door and beckoned Gloria out. "We need to build up some charge in the battery and hope it holds – it looks OK but you can't always tell."
"Let's go out front." Gloria watched the thickening smoke curl against the garage ceiling and roll out into the street. "That way we can keep an eye on it and watch for the smog police at the same time!"
"At least it runs." MacGyver scrubbed the last of the dirt and grease off himself in the Challengers Club kitchen sink. "Thanks." He took the towel Gloria offered him and leant against the sink, watching the kids putting the finishing touches to their boxes as he dried his arms. Gloria followed his gaze.
"I reckon we'll have that old bus pretty well full of presents for those kids." She smiled. "I'm so proud of the effort everyone's put in here. It gives me back my faith that we can make the world a better place after all."
"All those presents should make it a much better Christmas for them." Mac nodded. "What else are we taking?"
"Basic medical supplies, clothes and some dried food." Gloria passed MacGyver a mug of hot tea. "MacGyver, I can't thank you enough. You're absolutely sure you don't mind coming with me?"
"Absolutely sure." MacGyver took a sip of tea and turned, almost running into a kid as he raced into the kitchen. "Hey, watch it!"
"Billy!" Gloria crouched down level with a small, scruffy boy. "Slow down, honey – you almost knocked Mr MacGyver down!" The kid stared up at MacGyver, picking at his dirty overalls.
"No problem, kid. Watcha got there?"
"Shoebox." Billy held up a grubby box, bent and damp at one corner. It had been decorated with strips of Christmas paper wound tightly around it, sealing it shut.
"What's in it, honey?" Gloria took the box, which was sticky underneath and smelled of stale tobacco.
"Stuff." Billy stuck his hands in the bulging pockets of his overalls and grinned proudly. "Good stuff that kids need."
"What kind of stuff?" Gloria put the box down and wiped at the stickiness on her fingers. Billy looked at MacGyver.
"Stuff like you use. Stuff for inventing things and fixing things and…" He tailed off as he saw Gloria shake her head.
"Billy, we're only allowed to send certain things, and the boxes can't be sealed shut. I'm so sorry." She sighed, seeing Billy's lip quiver.
"But… I made a shoebox…" His eyes filled with tears and he sniffed, wiping a grimy sleeve across his nose.
"And it was really kind of you to make one." Gloria found a tissue and gave it to him. "How about we take it along anyway and ask when we get there? How'd that be?" Billy gave another massive sniff and then a watery smile.
"OK." He stuck the tissue in his pocket along with the other junk and ran back out of the kitchen. MacGyver watched him go.
"Stuff like I use…?"
"Could be anything." Gloria sniffed at the lingering mess on her hands and reached for the soap again. "He watches you fix stuff around here and he wants to be like you when he grows up, so he carries everything he thinks will come in handy in his pockets. He's mostly too shy to talk to adults, though – I think that's the longest conversation I've ever had with him." Gloria looked sad. "His is one of the poorest families I've ever met, but they're doing their best to hold it together. I worry about Billy though, he's out roaming the streets at all hours and he picks up anything 'useful' that he finds. I took a heroin spoon and a rusty craft knife off him only last week."
"Ouch." MacGyver eyed the battered box warily. "What do you think's in there?"
"You heard him – good stuff that kids need!" She shrugged. "I'll hide the box in my bag once we're on the way so he doesn't see me do it, but I daren't hand it over with the rest!"
MacGyver finished his tea and set the mug down.
"Well, I'm gonna head home and pack. See you in the morning."
"See you tomorrow, and thank you." Gloria smiled as MacGyver gave her a sloppy salute, turned up the collar of his jacket and headed out into the cold evening.