On Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year, Dets. Charlie Crews and Dani Reese stand inside a mall before opening. Outside, a crowd waits to enter. At a festive Christmas display with huge presents wrapped in colorful paper, the body of Mitchell Clark, mall employee, lies among them. Dead of a snapped neck from a second-floor fall, it's unclear how he fell. Dave, head of mall security, officiously says he secured the crime scene. He doesn't know if Mitchell was depressed and hopes he didn't kill himself.
An air horn signals the mall's opening, which surprises the detectives, but Dave couldn't close the mall on Black Friday. Reese, Stark and Crews rush to try to stop them from opening the doors, but get there too late. The stampede of deal-hungry shoppers is on. The three run back to preserve the crime scene but when they return, Mitchell's body has disappeared. "It's a miracle," Crews quips.
With a stolen body, Tidwell, Crews and Reese now suspect Mitchell was murdered. They put K-9 cadaver dogs on search for the body and ask Dave where he was last night. Though he seems excited about being a suspect, he has an alibi - Thanksgiving with his sister in Ojai, where he slept over. At the shoe store where Mitchell worked, a manager says she knew something was wrong when the always punctual Mitchell didn't show up to open today. She was with her family last night and adds that Mitchell was dating Erica, a trampy girl way too young for him who works the hat kiosk.
Crews and Reese quiz Erica, who seems blasÃ© about Mitchell's death and denies dating him. She says that last night she went with fellow teenage vendor Clay to grab pot pies at the Pocket Shop. Both were off from work, it being Thanksgiving. To the detectives' chagrin, everyone they speak to knows they lost the body. Erica even tells them to look in the lost and found for it. After getting the same from Clay, Crews sees a locked up kiosk and wonders who doesn't come to work on Black Friday. Clay claims not to know who works that kiosk.
Crews calls the number on the kiosk sign and speaks to Zak Sutter, who says he's sick. However, Crews can hear the mall music through Zak's cell phone, meaning Zak is in the mall. Using call block, they call Zak repeatedly until they locate him by hearing his cell phone. They tail him as he goes from the mall concourse, through a back hallway and down to a room in the basement. Crews and Reese grab him as he enters. Instead of a hidden body inside, they see a makeshift home and a young girl who cowers when she sees them.
Crews tracks down Mickey Rayborn, the officer James Dunn's widow identified from the newspaper clipping. Ted and Crews attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a new medical center where Rayborn is speaking. Turns out he's done quite well for himself, owning prime real estate, hotels and the Arena fighting franchise. Crews spots Jennifer, his ex-wife, and learns she and her husband attend many of these functions. She asks him what he wants. Crews wants to go back to where they were, but they both know they can't. On his way out, Agent Bodner, now an FBI agent, covertly passes Crews his card and says they'll talk later.
Crews talks to Zak, who's an orphan - dad dead from cancer, mom a car accident. Zak, unaffected by Crews, says he saw nothing. He only wants to talk to Karen, his sister, whom he's lived with in the mall for a year. Karen tells Reese she just wants to go "home" to the mall. Tidwell plans to call Children's Services, but Reese says they ran because they were going to be separated in foster care. Feeling guilty, Tidwell agrees to keep them at the station while he tries to find a relative. He asks Reese if they're still on for dinner. "Only if you never say it out loud again," she says.
At the mall, Crews and Reese question more mall employees. A lingerie store employee says Mitchell and Erica frequented the store. They put Stark in a Santa suit at the gift wrap station where Clay and Erica work, and deduce that they're running a gift wrap scam. Customers hand them high-priced electronics to wrap, they take them out of the box, replace them with fruitcakes and then wrap them. Bearing a fruitcake, Crews calls Erica out on the scam. Clay runs but Crews takes him out with a fruitcake. Stark cuffs him in front of dismayed carolers. "Bad elf," Crews explains.
Crews pins Agent Bodner's business card to his conspiracy wall. He gets a call from Jennifer to meet her at the same hotel where they used to go on dates. They recall the time her dad caught them there and how nervous they were the first time they checked in. Crews says he thought they couldn't go back. "We can go back tonight," she replies. After making love, she asks who did this to them. Crews doesn't know; she asks if he's going to find them. He says yes, he is. Jennifer tells him she loved him so much.
At the station, even when confronted with the goods they found in Erica's apartment, both Erica and Clay claim that Mitchell isn't dead. Tidwell says, "This is why we like to have a body in these situations. It helps keep things simple." Charlie realizes Clay and Erica really think Mitchell is alive. Reese learns Tidwell sent the kids to Children's Services since he couldn't find any relatives. Irritated, Tidwell says he has two thieves who knew the dead guy, who was most likely in on the scam too. He wants Crews and Reese to find who killed him.
At the mall, as Crews lies down where Mitchell's body was, they try to figure out where someone could have hidden it so quickly. Reese and Crews rule out packing him in the presents, dismemberment and dragging the body outside. They learn that K-9 didn't search a nearby pet store because the animal smells would confuse the dogs' scent. Reese admires the goldfish as Crews tells her the cops didn't search the pet store. They enter and see a large bin of cedar chips. Crews dumps it over and Mitchell's body falls out. Now they have to find out who put him there.
Since the pet store didn't open until regular business hours, that narrows down who had access to the store at that time. A pet store employee tells them the owner, who's in Tahiti, his partner, who's in rehab, and security all have access. They find Dave moonlighting as Santa and tell him where they found Mitchell's body. Mitchell glibly says that 18 people have the security code to the store. As he covers a kid's ears, he says he's already established where he was the night Mitchell went off the balcony and was with them when the body disappeared.
Back at the station, they show Erica a picture of Mitchell's dead body. They find that Dave told Erica and Clay that the cops had Mitchell in custody and that he would come back if they did what Dave said. Erica emphasizes that she did do what Dave said. She reveals she was a runaway and that Mitchell, who took her in at the mall, started molesting her when she was very young. Dave kept them all in line so she doesn't think he killed Mitchell. Both were using runaway kids to run a theft ring out of the mall, which everyone was in on except for Zak, who Dave feared would talk.
Tidwell manages to track down Zak and Karen's aunt but when Reese calls Social Services, she learns that Zak and Karen jumped out of the car at a stop light on the way to foster care. Knowing that Karen wanted to go home, they go back to their mall "home" and see Dave on his way out, wiping blood from his hands with a towel. They cuff him, and then find Karen and Zak in their makeshift home. Zak is beaten and bloody. Crews says to book John on the assault but not murder, because the killer (Zak) is sitting right in front of them.
Tidwell tells Reese that the aunt is here to pick up the kids to take them home. Tidwell describes how John got the body out of sight, walking him to the pet store "Weekend at Bernie's" style. Crews knows Zak was aware of Mitchell molesting Erica at such a young age. And, that he had to protect Karen. Zak says Mitchell had Karen and he had to stop him. He starts to explain what happened and Crews says, "He tripped." Zak says no, he didn't, but Crews insists, "He tripped and fell. There was nothing you could do. Sometimes people just fall." Zak is speechless that Crews is covering for him.
At dinner, Tidwell tells Reese he didn't think she would come because she was pissed that he'd called Children's Services. At first, Reese says she isn't pissed; the job is the job. Tidwell is relieved she can leave the job at work. So relieved, that he practically talks her back into being pissed at him. He was just so sure someone like her would be pissed at someone like him for what he did. At that, Reese decides she is pissed and walks out of the restaurant. Alone, Tidwell puts the goldfish on the table that, tipped off by Crews, he'd planned to give to her.
Crews meets FBI Agent Bodner, who tells him he knows Crews wants Rayborn and that's not going to happen. Crews asks if the FBI is investigating or protecting Rayborn. Bodner says sometimes it's the same thing and that if Crews comes at Rayborn, he has to come at the FBI. He gives Crews this warning: If Crews comes at them he'll wind up back in prison where no civil rights attorney will be able to get him back out. Point made, he offers Crews Tropical Fruit gum. Crews asks him about the flavor. "It's the only kind I chew," Bodner says.