[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
I was completely exposed, standing stock still in the middle of the gravel lot behind Santa's castle. Whoever was snooping around behind the Christmas sleigh could see me if they were to look in my direction. I held as still as I could and watched.

The dark form was humanoid, bent over, and moving around slowly behind the sleigh. It dawned on me that whoever it was must be intent on what they were doing. And whatever they were so intent on was probably pretty interesting to me too.

I wasn't finding any clues standing in the middle of Santa's driveway. Taking a risk, I glided as quickly as I could up to Santa's sleigh. The stranger on the other side didn't shoot at me, or shout, or run away, so I assumed I hadn't been spotted. The individual continued to shuffle through the loose-packed snow in the area of Rudolf's murder.

I crept around the back of the sleigh and peeked under the bed. I could see the legs of my quarry; he or she was facing away from me. Feeling in my pocket for my flashlight, I stalked up to the snoop, seized him by the collar and spun him around. He squawked as my light played over his face.

It was Santa's assistant, Tall Elf.


"Hello hello!" I said brightly. "What have we here?"

"You're blinding me, you oaf!" yelped the bespectacled elf, thrashing feebly in my grasp. I shook him a few times until I felt I had his complete attention.

"What are you doing back here, green-stockings?" I asked. "Tampering with a crime scene?"

"Of course not!" he protested, a trifle too hotly in my opinion. "Let me go immediately!"

"Yeah, sure," I said. "But let's just have a look in your pockets…"

Before the elf could stop me, I reached into his nearest pocket and rummaged it. There were several loose metallic objects rattling around in there, cold and sharp. I pulled them out, despite Tall Elf's protests. They were a half dozen nails, two inches long and galvanized.

"What are these?" I asked.

"Dangerous things to leave lying around," snarked the elf, snatching them back. "Somebody could hurt themselves stepping on them. I dropped a box of them in this area a few days ago."

"In the exact place where Rudolf was killed, huh?" I asked. "Quite a coincidence."

"I'll tell you what's a coincidence," Tall Elf said huffily. "In the past twenty four hours you have man-handled one of Santa's helpers, aroused the ire of local law enforcement, and assaulted several members of Santa's reindeer team…"

"I assaulted them?!" I demanded.

"…and committed goodness only knows what other moral and hygienic offenses, Mister Snowman. If you hadn't been blind drunk at the time of the murder, I'd have fingered you as a prime suspect in this matter!"

I cocked my head at the elf. "How do you know when the murder was committed?" I asked.

Tall Elf's eyes glittered. "Good night, detective," he said frostily, turning and marching back towards the castle. "Kindly limit your detecting to activities that might actually bear fruit, in lieu of irritating your employer."

I watched him stomp away. "Don't go away mad," I called after him. After the castle door slammed, I set to work scoping out the crime scene with my flashlight.

There were deep gouges in the hard-packed area of the snow behind the sleigh, and a large bloodstain. Everything was consistent with what I had been told: Rudolf had been killed by going under the heavy sleigh. Blood residue on the sleigh runners matched up. It looked as if somebody had run the reindeer over and then allowed the vehicle to crash into the loose snowbank at the end of the drive.

I prowled the drive looking for prints. Unfortunately there had been a lot of traffic in the area in the time since the murder had been committed. There were quite a few shoe-prints with pointed toes, evidence that elves had been around. Unfortunately, a castle full of elves was fifty yards away, so that was hardly useful information. There were the huge barefoot marks of the Abominable Snowman, plenty of deer prints, and every other mark under the sun. I wasn't going to get much out of that mess.

Or was I? I retraced my path. Nowhere in all the welter of prints did I see anything that looked like a roof-shoe mark. It would have to leave a distinctive trail, if one were to walk through the snow in those cleated things. I thought that was very interesting.

The area immediately around Rudolf had been disturbed by a great deal of elf footwork, and recently too. I decided that I would be striking Tall Elf from my Christmas Card list. I spiraled outwards from the bloodstain looking for anything out of the ordinary. I found something odd when I reached the loose snow on the verge of the meadow. There was a mark in the snow – something pointy, about the width of two fingers, had been stabbed into the snow and then removed. I felt around in the hole with the tip of my umbrella. It was too deep to reach bottom. Somebody had dug an implement or weapon of some kind into the snow.

I was about to leave off when I spotted a glint in a nearby tree. Playing the light over it, I found the head of a nail. I dug the nail out of the tree; it had mostly sunk into the hard wood. It matched the nails in the pocket of Tall Elf. Unusual, I thought, for a person to drop a box of nails and have one of them embed itself in a tree.

I searched a little more but didn't find anything else of interest. I went home and had some more gin to put me to sleep – the pain in my scrambled head was starting to come back. I slept fitfully, dreaming that a reindeer made of fire was trampling my legs.

The next morning I decided to pay Yukon Cornelius a visit. My anonymous caller had said that this business all led back to him, and while I am usually suspicious of clues that are spoon-fed to me, I do rather like eating from a spoon.

Yukon Cornelius was one of the few human beings living in Christmastown. He was a prospector from way back, and a crazy one too. He was always searching the Yukon for silver and gold. I never had the heart to tell him there's not a lot of dry land around the North Pole where one could dig for deposits. He had a prospector's claim outside of town.

Approaching his property, I was surprised to see all the construction. I hadn't been out that way in some time, I realized, and things had changed on the outskirts of town. Yukon Cornelius had several Quonset huts boxing in a yard of heavy equipment – pipes and tractors and steel trusswork lying in orderly piles. A number of elves and humans were working in the area; they were all wearing hardhats that said ARGENTORO on them. The same name was on the side of the nearest building.

I went inside. This Quonset hut had been fitted out as an environmentally-controlled office building. I started sweating immediately. "I'm here to see Yukon Cornelius," I told the pretty receptionist.

"Have a seat, sir," she said pleasantly, and picked up the phone. The lobby was littered with copies of HOT STRIKE magazine. It looked like an industry publication.

Yukon Cornelius came into the lobby. His hair had gone white and he was wearing a button-down shirt and a tie, but he was still the same old daffy prospector. "Sam the Snowman!" he said happily, coming to pump my hand. "So good to see you after all these long years!"

"Good to see you too, Yukon," I said. I looked around. "Wow, you've come up in the world," I added.

"Oh, I always knew I'd make a find," he said. "Come on back to my office."

Yukon Cornelius's office was all wood paneling and pictures of sailboats. There was a putting green on the floor with golf balls spilling out of the hole. A map of the Arctic was tacked to a bulletin board with lots of red pins stuck in it.

"Guess you finally found silver and gold," I said, easing myself into a chair.

"Black gold," corrected Yukon Cornelius. "Billions of barrels in potential deposits, thousands of feet below us. We're just now ramping up operations."

"Wow," I said. "I guess that should bring a lot of business in to Christmastown."

"Let's just say that this won't be a single-industry town anymore," said Yukon Cornelius, smiling. "Now, what can I do for you?"

"I don't know if you heard the news," I said, "but Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer is dead." I watched Yukon Cornelius intently.

He showed no signs of surprise. "Yeah, I know," he said. "He was a good friend. I sent a note to his widow, and also to Santa." He rummaged in his desk and came out with a checkbook. "Listen, if you're arranging the service, I want to make a contribution…."

"I'm investigating the murder, Yukon," I said.

"Yeah?" said the prospector uncertainly. He reached some kind of decision point. "Yeah!" he repeated. "Only, what's to investigate? I heard the Bumble caught the killer."

"Maybe yes, maybe no," I said.

"Well, what's this got to do with me?" asked Yukon.

"I'm not sure," I said. "I'm just going around and talking to people who had any kind of connection to the deceased. You and he used to be pretty thick, years back."

"Oh, sure," said Yukon. He got up and picked up a pick-axe he had leaning against his desk. "We were pals before he ever made it big. Wonderful kid, you know. He'd walk a hundred miles to help a friend." Yukon poked a golf ball out of his putting mat with the haft of his pick and then batted it towards the back of the room with the tool's metal head.

"What did you think about him becoming a big deal?" I asked. "Saving Christmas and all?"

Yukon lined up on the ball, preparing to putt it by using his pick as a club. He shook his head. "What, now I'm a suspect?" he said. "That's crazy, Sam. I loved that kid. I'd have done anything to help him. When I found out he was dead…." The prospector tapped the ball. It missed the hole by a foot.

"I'm getting a lot of that," I said. "Everybody loved Rudolf. Nobody can understand why…" I trailed off. Yukon Cornelius was sobbing silently. He wiped the tears out of his eyes. I was too stunned to say anything.

"What kind of a monster would do something like this? Huh?" Yukon said, kicking the golf ball fiercely.

"I don't know," I said. "Could be somebody interested in making Christmastown a single industry town again."

Yukon Cornelius blanched. "Get out of here," he said, pointing at me with his formidable pick. "Get out before I throw you out."

My eyes focused on the sharp tines of the pickaxe. They were about as wide as two of my fingers. "Nice digger," I said. "Been jabbing that into any snowbanks lately?"

"I said get out," said Yukon, his eyes cold.

Oh well. Private eyes don’t have friends, just people they haven't pissed off yet. I got out.

I went back to town and glided down Main Street on the way to my office. I wasn't sure I had accomplished much with Yukon Cornelius, except annoying yet another citizen of Christmastown, and I felt a nip of gin would help me recollect my thoughts and consider my next plan of attack. The streets were swarming with elves going about their business.

I crossed the street in front of the Post Office and noticed, out of the corner of my eye, that an elf crossed behind me. I walked down two blocks and turned right. I cocked my head to see if the same elf came around the corner after me. He did.

I couldn't turn and look directly at the guy, not without tipping my hand. He was no taller than the usual elf, shorter if anything, and he had white hair under his cap.

I took a left at Channukah Lane. My tail stuck to me like glue.

I hate elves. I hate being followed.

The combination doesn't really work for me.

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hwrnmnbsol

September 2012

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