Stone and his partner Jake Sharpe go to check out a single bullet hole in a window and go on a chase of cocaine-laden candy that causes a boy at a group home to fall ill and one to die.
A divorced father with two teenage girls that came second to his work, Stone sees an opportunity with the boy, Andrew, to offer his friendship in the midst of the chase.
Nitty Gritty Christmas takes place in several different neighborhoods around Los Angeles. Two more books are in this specific series with Sweltering Summer Nights next up.
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Stone visits Andrew, the boy he befriends in the group home. Stone simply isn’t prepared for how a boy who has no family will react.
Stone hung up and his mood lightened. The office could wait. He could always sift through files later. He changed back into jeans and a knit pullover. After downing another cup of coffee, he made his way to Ivy Acres.
He reached the facility, parked, and got buzzed in through the security doors leading to the residential building. He checked in at the front window.
“Hello, may I help you?” A lanky man slid his chair to the window made of protective glass. A speaker was encased in it and that made it seem as much like the Department of Motor Vehicles as it was a place to live.
“I’m here to see Luke Gordon and Andrew. I’m Tom Stone.”
“Oh, yes. I spoke with you on the phone. Terrence Richardson. Come on in.” Richardson hit a buzzer and Stone entered into a world of cinderblock painted in bright colors with pictures of birds and butterflies and trees and mountains.
Richardson led Stone through the lobby to an adjoining room with a metal door. One large window let in the sunshine and a bookcase a few feet high ran along one wall. Two tables had small chairs for children and a couple for adults. A basket of stuffed animals and an exercise ball large enough for an adult to sit on was nearby.
Several minutes passed and Andrew, accompanied by a lanky man with shoulder-length sandy hair that reached his shoulders, walked in holding Andrew’s hand.
“Hey there. Detective Stone? I’m Luke. Merry Christmas.”
“Tom Stone. And same to you.” He stood and shook hands with Luke. Andrew stood to one side and looked at the walls and the ceiling and the floor. But not at either of the men.
“Thanks for coming by.” Luke smiled and looked like he’d be at home in a wetsuit and out on a surfboard. “Hey, I’m going to hang here with you guys for a bit. Okay?””Sure.”
“That way, Andrew will get used to you.”
“I understand. Makes sense.”
Luke knelt. “Hey, Andrew. Do you recognize him from the party?”
“I sat in the pudding. Remember?” Stone knelt a few feet away and smiled.
No response, but Luke continued.
“This is Detective Stone and he wanted to come by and say hello.”Then it dawned on Stone that he was simply another adult in Andrew’s life who had an official title like detective or social worker or judge. “Oh hey. Luke?”
“Just have him call me Tom.”
“Sure. That’s cool.” Luke knelt and held a stuffed dog in front of Andrew. “You got a friend here, Andrew.” Luke moved the dog like it was prancing and he barked and became the voice of the dog. “Hey, who’ve we got here? It’s Tom!” He tossed the dog to Stone who caught it.
Stone felt too self-conscious to play like Luke but he moved the dog around on the floor near Andrew. “Do you like dogs, Andrew?”
The boy waited and looked from Stone to Luke and then nodded. “They can be nice.” His face changed and he spoke in an ominous tone. “And they can snarl and bite.” Andrew grabbed the dog and growled in a low voice.
“Do they growl when they’re scared or angry, Andrew?” asked Luke.
Andrew let go of the dog, didn’t say anything for a few moments, and then spoke up. “Dogs run away from home.” Life seemed to vanish from his eyes after he spoke. His shoulders sagged and he sat and crossed his legs and looked at the floor.
A bookshelf was under the window on the far wall and Stone turned for it and grabbed a title.
“Hey, look at this. Frog and Toad All Year.” He settled on the industrial grade carpeting covering the floor. His legs were too tight for him to cross so he lifted one leg and kept the other one straight. “Do you like books Andrew?”
Andrew nodded and clutched it to his chest. Luke sat on the floor, managing to cross his legs.
“It’s a funny book.” Stone smiled. “I used to read this to my girls.” The cover showed Toad and Frog building a Frog made of snow and it made Stone chuckle. He opened to the first page. “Frog knocked at Toad’s door. ‘Toad, wake up,’ he cried. ‘Come out and see how wonderful the winter is!’
“‘I will not,’ said Toad. ‘I am in my warm bed.'”
The moment Stone finished reading the sentence, Andrew uncurled his legs and jumped straight up like he had exploded. “No. I don’t want to read.” He kicked the stuffed dog and grabbed the book that Stone was holding and threw it across the room.
“Hey, buddy. Hey, Andrew,” said Luke.
The boy started crying, ran toward the door, and grabbed the handle. Luke got to him in just a few strides and was at his side, kneeling and talking in a comforting tone. “Andrew, it’s okay. It’s okay.”
Stone felt embarrassed. The last thing he wanted to do was upset a kid on Christmas.