Sergeant Sandra Steiner looked up from her desk when she heard the entrance door to the XSWAT precinct office clatter open.
She was mildly surprised at what she saw. A young man, dressed in a suit that almost came off as a uniform despite its lack of any insignia, standing there looking a bit flustered and holding a paper-wrapped package about the size of a thick ledger as if it was made of fragile glass.
Seeing Sandra at her desk, he approached briskly and in a voice tinged with a slight European accent, asked, "Excuse me, but can I find a..." he looked at a card attached to the package, "...a Claire Forrowfor here?"
"Deliveries are made at XSWAT Headquarters... sir," Sandy replied, using her best professional smile, while wondering if she needed to hit the panic button.
"Oh, no," the man asserted, the accent becoming a bit more pronounced in his agitation, "I have to deliver this personally and get her confirmation of receipt." He reached in his jacket, causing Sandy to move her hand down to the hidden Maser holstered beneath the desk, but he simply brought out a handheld thumbprint scanner, the kind that delivery carriers used.
Sandy gave the strange man a long deliberating look. There was the chance that this was some sort of attack or prank, but then again, Claire had shown a rather unconventional streak. Besides, Sandy just could not help feeling curious.
Still covering the alleged courier with a suspicious gaze, Sandy tapped on a desk control and spoke into her headset pickup. "Officer 404," she said, stressing the correct pronunciation. "Please report to the front desk."
Behind Sandy, two triangular ears appeared in the open door to the squad room, followed by two minty green eyes. It vaguely reminded the delivery man of Kilroy peeking around the door frame if he was drawn with a rat's nest for hair. Then out came the rest of the officer followed by five feet of striped, fluffy tail. She waved at the courier as she approached.
"Heya Sandy. You called?"
The courier stared dumbfounded at Claire, so Sandy helpfully chimed in. "This, ah ,gentleman, says he has something to deliver to you."
The desk sergeant's words broke the man out of his fugue and he said, stammering slightly, "I, err, need to have proof of identity, uh, Miss."
Sandy broke into the conversation, the temperature in her voice competing with the air conditioning in the office. "This is Patrol Officer Claire 404, mister. If you have a problem with that, I suggest you take your precious 'package' and your keister right back where it came from and shove it wh—"
"Here you go!" the young Clade interrupted, holding out her XSWAT ID for the man to examine. Once satisfied, she placed the ID back in her pocket and gazed at the proffered scanner. Claire looked at the thumb of her right hand, flexed it twice and then unceremoniously placed it on the device. "I wasn't expecting anything. What could it be?"
The young man, still struggling to regain what shreds of his dignity he could scrape up, stated, "I was ordered to inform you that this was entirely the responsibility of a Ms. Carpenter."
With this, he unceremoniously pushed the package into Claire's hands, turned around, and marched out through the door as if he was afraid he'd catch on fire if he delayed.
Sandy's only reaction to the courier's hasty departure was an unladylike snort.
Claire could only stare as he left, her head cocked to the side in confusion. "What a strange person. I hope he has a nice day."
On examination, the package was wrapped in nondescript brown paper and twine. An address slip glued on the top read "Claire Forrowfor", followed by the XSWAT office address. No return address, no other information.
"Ms. Carpenter? 'lizabeth sent me a present? Thank you Sandy!" Claire smiled at the desk sergeant and placed a muffin on the corner of her desk. Then, she promptly sat right down on the floor to open her gift.
Very carefully, she untied the twine and tried not to tear the paper as she unwrapped the package.
Sandy opened her mouth to suggest that it might be better for Claire to open the package at her desk, but curiosity won over and she simply leaned over to watch the unveiling, absently nibbling the muffin.
Unwrapped, the package was revealed as a wooden hinged box of apparent good quality. An envelope sat on top of the box, "To Claire" written on it in a strong feminine cursive script.
Inside the envelope was a plain white card. Written on it in the same style as the envelope was:
I know you'll put these to good use.
P.S. Let me know when you need more.
Once the envelope was removed, Claire saw that it had covered a logo engraved on the top of the box. She caught her breath as she recognized it as that of Hämmerli/Krupp Gmbh, one of the great European arms manufacturers.
Inside the box, Claire could see that it was fitted with foam cut out to hold a number of items. Two seven-round pistol magazines lay in the middle; she could see right away they were designed to fit her AMT Hardballers. Set in two rows below them were fourteen .45 ACP rounds. Above the magazines sat a plain cardboard box that obviously held more of the bullets.
Plucking a bullet out, Claire could see inscriptions on the casing. The bullet tip was also engraved with a cross-mark quartering it. Her fingers tingled where she held it.
"Holy ammo," a voice said over her head.
Lieutenant Tovera stood next to Claire, looking down at her. Sandy gave a small yip of surprise and straightened in her chair, her cheeks red.
Clare's tail frizzed out at the unexpected voice.
Indicating the bullets, Tovera explained. "That's special-issue ammunition given to agents of the Swiss Guard responsible for dealing with supernatural menaces. They're sort of the Catholic Church's version of XSWAT. Those things will do a number on most beasties, especially Entities.
"Where did you get them from, Patrol Officer 404?" The use of her full title, as well as the Lieutenant's tone, made it clear to Claire it was not an idle question.
"My friend Elizabeth sent me a present." she replied in a rather cautious tone. It reminded Sandy of a child caught with it's hand in the cookie jar.
"Your friend Elizabeth?" Tovera repeated, then continued looking at Claire.
"n'Yup. 'lizabeth Carpenter. She's an old friend of Chry—er... Captain Winterfox." Claire's gaze drifted from Tovera to the box. "She's very nice."
"Elizabeth Car…." Tovera paused as the significance of the name and all its repercussions scampered across her mind in the form of a bouncy red panda.
She closed her eyes, rubbed them with the fingers of her right hand, and said, "Sergeant Steiner, please log this addition to the armory and assign it for exclusionary use by Officer 404. Claire, please get up from the floor and store your new... equipment in the armory. You'll be able to check it out when we go on a field mission."
"Yes, Lieutenant!" Claire gave a sharp salute, gathered up the mess of paper and twine, and took her box of bullets to the armory as directed. As the Clade disappeared through the doorway, Tovera could swear she heard Claire giggling like a kid at Christmas.