[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
Wow, everything really *is* on YouTube.

I crashed in my bed. By the time I woke up it was noon ā€“ still dark outside, but the clock doesn't lie. I got in the shower with my vest on, ate some sorbet out of the freezer, combed out my mustache and goatee, grabbed my bowler and umbrella and old Air Force sidearm, and hit Christmastown on my way to the hoosegow.

I threaded my way through the decorated Yule trees and came to The Abominable Snowman's cave. He had put bars across it and made it into the local jail a few years back. He wasn't a bad sort, I guess, although he did give legit snowmen a bad name. You never got the sense that he had completely abandoned being wild, though. And he hated being called 'Bumble', even though almost everybody did behind his back.

He was lurking just inside the shadows of the barred cave, his faintly glowing eyes visible in the darkness. "How's the bad-guy-catching business, A-Bomb?" I asked him. He didn't mind the odd nickname, except for 'Bumble'. He grinned in the darkness, a beautiful pearly set of dentures having replaced the fangs that had all been yanked out of his mouth years earlier.

"Sam Snowman," he said in his deep raspy voice. "You stayin' out of trouble?"

"Trying. Failing," I said. "I hear you got a new guest. Santa hired me to see if I could help him."

"No helping this one," Abominable Snowman said. "I got him dead to rights."

"Sure," I said. "Mind if I ask him a few questions?"

"Suit yourself," said the jailer, raising the cave-portcullis and beckoning me in.

Fireball was a big buck, a little past his prime, with a ginger tinge to his fur and a fine, if asymmetric, rack of antlers. I found him slumped against the back wall of the cave, an iron collar around his neck fastened by sturdy chain to a staple in the floor. He looked up as I glided in. "Who're you?" he asked.

"Santa sent me," I replied.

"Santa?!" Fireball got to his feet, a wild look in his eye. "You've gotta get me out of here. I've been framed!"

"I can't get you out," I said. "You're being held on a charge of murder. They say you killed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

"That's a lie!" Fireball blurted. "And anyway, that's crazy! Name one reason I'd want to hurt a hair on that guy's head!"

"I dunno," I said. "I thought I remembered a long time ago, when you and Rudolf were in Flying School. Something about you treating him like a freak because he had a glowing nose? Wouldn't let him play in any reindeer games, eh?"

Fireball's face turned as red as Rudolf's nose used to be. "That was a really long time ago," he said. "Since then we've become buddies. I've looked up to him my entire adult life. He's the reason I got into Santa's lineup, you know; he put in a word for an old schoolmate." Fireball's eyes misted over. "And now he's gone."

"Yeah," I said. I offered Fireball a smoke. He took it and let me light it. It's hard to work a lighter when you're a reindeer. I sat on an iceblock next to Fireball.

"Okay," I said, sighing. "I believe you when you say you didn't do it. You gotta help me, Fireball. The Abominable Snowman seems to think he's got a good case against you. What can you tell me that would give him somebody else to look at? Anybody talk bad about Rudolf in the lineup? Anybody owes him money, or he owes money to? Think he has a doe on the side?"

"No, no," said Fireball impatiently. "None of those things. This is Rudolf the Frickin' Red-Nosed Reindeer we're talking about here. The guy was a total Fawn Scout. He was perfect."

"I bet his poop stank," I said.

"Never seen him poop," Fireball told me. "My hoof to God."

"Huh." I got up from my seat and threw the rest of the cigarette pack and my lighter next to Fireball. "Well, I gotta find somebody who doesn't think Rudolf walked on water. He didn't do that, did he?"

"Nah, just flew above it," Fireball answered. He looked up at me with big doe eyes. "Tell Santa I can't stay in this place. I'll go crazy."

"Not a chance," I said. "You'll die of malnutrition first. Sit tight, and if the big guy here gives you any trouble, yell and scream even though nobody'll hear you." On my way out I poked the Abominable Snowman with my umbrella handle.

"Hey," I said. "You really think that big dumb kid killed Rudolf in cold blood?"

Abominable Snowman shrugged. "Physical evidence, Sam," he said.

"Show me," I said.

Rudolf's body was being kept on ice ā€“ literally. It was on a floe floating in the middle of chilly pond in the middle of the cave. My host reeled it in by the painter.

Rudolf was a mess. The big blades of Santa's sleigh had cut him almost in half. It was a fair bet that he had died by bleeding out; the corpse was pale and drawn-looking. There were a number of other contusions on him too. I brushed the ice away to inspect one of them. There were signs of swelling, but none of the discoloration associated with an injury that's had time to turn into a bruise.

"Must've taken a beating just before he died, A-bomb," I pointed out.

"Yup," agreed the Abominable Snowman. "My theory's that his attacker kicked him into next week, then did for him with the sleigh."

I frowned. "Kicked him?" I asked.

The cop nodded and unlocked a closet he used for evidence. He pulled a black object out of a paper bag. "This is a roof-shoe," he said. "Belongs to Fireball. It matches one in his house."

I looked at the object. It was something like a boot made to fit a reindeer's foot. It laced up at the top, like a bowling shoe, and it had small spiky cleats on the bottom. "Made special for Santa's reindeer," the Abominable Snowman told me. "Good for landing on steep roofs and taking off again. I figure Fireball kicked him around, ran him over with the sleigh, and then accidentally lost the shoe during takeoff."

"You'd think, given the laces, that would be something hard to just fall off," I commented. "Any sign of blood on it, or its twin?"

"No," said the Abominable Snowman.

"Any sign of cuts or lacerations on Rudolf? No way you could kick him with one of these without scratching him up."

"No," repeated the cop irritably, "but that don't mean nothing. Maybe he lost the shoe before he kicked Rudolf."

"Sure," I said. "He loses a shoe, decides to kick Rudolf with his one shoeless foot, somehow doesn't notice it's missing, and just flies on home."

"He coulda been scared and ran off," Abominable Snowman said stubbornly. "Or maybe he was drunk."

"Any sign that he was drinking last night when you got him from his house?"

Abominable Snowman looked positively sulky. "No," he growled.

"Great," I snapped. "I think you're building an airtight case. Absolutely no air is getting into this case on your watch. I think it's drawing a vacuum."

Abominable Snowman seized me by the collar and carried me to the portcullis. "Visiting hours," he said, "are over."

"When's heckling hours?" I asked, squirming in his grasp.

"When Iā€™m retired," he said. He threw me out the door. I landed unceremoniously in a snowdrift and had a hell of a time getting myself straightened out and dry. When I was finally presentable, I found that Abominable Snowman had retreated within his cave, and the bars wouldn't rise.

"He didn't do it, A-bomb!" I shouted into the darkness. There was no answer. I turned to glide away.

I started out this case thinking it was a fool's errand. But after my little visit, I'll be damned if I wasn't starting to believe the Old Man was right. Fireball couldn't have killed the vic, not the way the cops thought. But if that was the case, somebody had to have framed him for the crime.

So now I had a different question. I needed to stop asking who didn't like Rudolf. It was more important to find out who had a problem with Fireball.



September 2012

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