[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
It was the middle of the night by the time I got back to Christmastown. I spent most of the drive in a pleasant alcoholic haze, which is a pretty good way to forget you lost your legs in the war. Only one thing disturbed the quality of my rest and relaxation, and that was something Whiffle Pipe had said. He referred to Rudolf as "that other spy we roughed up". At least, I assumed it was Rudolf he was talking about. Why didn't he say "that other spy that we killed"? It just didn't sound right.

I risked swinging by my office to check my messages. I figured the Abominable Snowman might be waiting for me there, but he's kind of big and would have a hard time getting in the door in my building, let alone surprise ambushing me there. I went upstairs and rewound the tape. There was a message from Tall Elf curtly informing me that Santa had been paid a visit by local law enforcement, the topic of my detecting activities came up, and consequently my services would no longer be required. He sounded, I felt, a trifle gloating on the subject. I briefly considered leaving a bag of slush on his doorstep. However, I am a professional. If I was going to do that, I'd leave it in his sleigh overnight.

So that was that. Or was it? I no longer had a job requiring me to keep digging. I was curious now, though. There was too much of a personal angle. People I knew were involved. And, too, the killing of a single reindeer had potentially changed the entire celebration of Christmas. That affected everybody. I decided I needed to answer a few questions for my own benefit, if nobody else's.

I figured Hermey wouldn't mind a 2AM visitor. Who does? I glided more-or-less linearly through the streets of town down to Hermey's dental practice, Brush and Floes. It was a two-story igloo with Hermey's apartment upstairs; the lights were on.

Stairs are hard for legless snowmen. Someday there will be an accessibility law. I had to crawl up steps, using the strength of my arms. The last riser was difficult, however; the floor was slippery.

Red and wet and slippery.

"No," I said.


Hermey was dead. He lay slumped in the hall outside the bathroom. Somebody had forced him into the bathtub and cut his throat. Hermey had somehow survived this, and had tried to crawl for help, but he lost too much blood in the process. His body wasn't even cold yet.

There were no footprints or any other sort of disturbance in the copious pooling of blood near the top of the stairs. I concluded that Hermey's killer had left him for dead and had departed the apartment before the victim left the tub.

The victim. Shit. I was doing it again – thinking about the scene of the murder clinically. Never mind that I had known Hermey for a long time, even liked him after a fashion, even though he was an elf. There wasn't a mean bone in Hermey's body. There wasn't a person on Earth who deserved to buy the farm less than Hermey. Except possibly Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but that was ice under the bridge.

I was angry, but I pushed that away. Poor dead Hermey didn't need somebody to be mad for him; he needed a detective to figure out what had happened and bring his murderer to justice. I bent down and closed Hermey's eyes and got to work.

Incision in the throat was deep but ragged; the regular pattern in the tearing of the flesh around the wound suggested a serrated knife. That was an odd sort of thing for a killer to be walking around with. I peeked into Hermey's kitchen. There was a knife block with a handle missing. An opportunistic killer, then. Perhaps premeditated, perhaps not.

I went room by room. There was evidence of a struggle in the bedroom; the covers were thrown around the room and a bedside lamp had been knocked over. There was a little blood on the sheets. It looked like somebody had surprised Hermey in bed, slapped him around enough to bloody his nose again, and then polished him off in the tub.

I saw no trace of footprints; no obvious fingerprints; no trace from any kind of vehicle in the snow outside. I found no hairs and no suspicious threads; the killer had inconveniently declined to leave obvious splashes of genetic material around the house. Somebody was either a professional or was very careful.

Hermey had an answering machine. He was also a saver of old messages. I listened to them. There was the voice of Rudolf, talking about going out for beers. There were various elves making appointments for dental work. I thought I recognized the thin unpleasant voice of Tall Elf in the mix, but he simply made arrangements to come in for a cleaning. Only the most current message was interesting. It was Yukon Cornelius.

Yukon was angry. He wanted to know what the big idea was. He told Hermey: I don't know what your game is, but I won't be threatened. He said: I don't sit and wait for people to come after me; I go after them first.

I had heard enough. I couldn’t push the anger away any longer. I stormed out of the building. It had started to snow; thin wisps of snowflakes were coming down and beginning to coat the ground in a thin dusting of powder. I dashed through it out to Yukon Cornelius's place.

The chainlink fence securing his compound was closed up with a chain and padlock. All of the Quonset huts were dark except for one; electric light glowed in a window. The padlock was too sturdy to force open.

I lifted my vest to reveal the interface between my middle and bottom snowball. I carefully rolled my middle ball back and set the padlock on the top of my lowest, largest ball. I pulled out my Air Force revolver and laid it on the bottom ball as well, my finger on the trigger. Carefully I rolled my middle ball back, crushing my hand and gun and lock under it.

I pulled the trigger. The muzzle flash burned me deep inside, but the sound of the pistol firing was no louder than the popping of the cork on a bottle of champagne. I rolled my middle ball back again; the padlock had been holed through and through. I pocketed the bullet which had lodged inside me and pulled loose the chain to open the gate. Silently I crept to the hut that Yukon Cornelius used as his personal quarters.

I quietly tried the door; it was locked. Having no legs means you can't kick doors down. This is actually good; kicking doors down is harder than it looks, and is the number one source of sprained ankles and swearing in neophyte gumshoes. Also, running into the unknown on somebody else's turf is probably not a good way to make it to retirement age. Me, I did the smart thing: I found the building's electrical box and threw the main breaker. Then I waited by the door, gun drawn.

I heard Yukon curse, then light a match. I heard him jiggle a key in the lock. When he came out of the candlelight into the darkness, I smacked him full in the face with the butt of my revolver. Something in his mouth made a cracking sound, and I saw a lot of blood as Yukon Cornelius fell backwards. He braced himself up on his elbows and moaned in surprise, his mouth a dark and ragged hole.

"Too bad Christmastown has lost its dentist, Yukon," I said. "Of course, you have only yourself to blame for that."

"Whah?" said Yukon Cornelius in confusion. "Goddammit, you busted my teef!"

"That's only the beginning, old friend," I said coldly. "You'll have to pay a lot more than a few teeth for committing murder."

Yukon Cornelius blinked. "I told you already, I didn't have nuffing to do wif Rudolf dying!" he said.

"This isn't about Rudolf and you know it," I snarled, poking him in the chest with the point of my umbrella. "You slashed the throat of Hermey the Dentist, only a few hours ago. Where's the knife, Yukon?"

"I dunno!" Yukon yelped. "Don't know nuffing about a knife! Search 'a place if you wannu!"

"I mean to," I said.

And I did. Keeping my pistol on Yukon, I turned the place upside down. There was no sign of blood. There was no sign of a knife. There was absolutely no sign of any evidence that Yukon had ever been anywhere near Hermey. There was something else, however.

I saw something dark under Yukon's cot. I fished it out with the crook of my umbrella. It was a roof-shoe, the exact match of the one found at the scene of Rudolf's murder. There were two more under the bed.

"Hello, hello," I said. "The other shoes drop."

Yukon looked scared. "'at isn't what you fink," he said.

"What am I thinking, Yukon?" I asked softly, advancing on him with my pistol pointing at his belly. "Read my mind."

Yukon swallowed. "Look," he said, "everyfing I did, I did because they started in on me first. I mean, all I ever wanted was to make a big strike. But fey don't want me 'ere; fey want me dead!" He began to cry.

"Oh, stop blubbering," I said nastily. "You can't confess to murder when you're crying. It's bad form."

"I didn't murder Rudolf," said Yukon pleadingly. "'e was already dead when I got fere."

I frowned. "Say again?" I said.

"Santa and 'is elves 'ave been trying to roust me ever since I found oil," said Yukon Cornelius. "Equipment's been disappearing; pipelines have been sabotaged. I 'ad two wildcatters turn up dead at 'a most remote site. The Abominable Snowman said fey got caught outside during a storm and froze to deaf, but I was always suspicious. I knew it was Santa behind it."

"Why?" I said.

"Because Santa don't want 'a competition!" said Yukon. "Christmastown 'as always been 'is. 'E lives in a castle, for 'a love of Pete. Santa doesn't want me coming up. E's always been real friendly in person, but I know 'e wants me out. 'A last straw was when some reindeer busted up 'a roof of my 'ouse. Didn't see 'em, but I saw 'a roof-shoeprints. So, I decided I'd get some revenge."

"So you snuffed Rudolf?" I demanded. Yukon shook his head frantically.

"No!" he said. "I went to Fireball's 'ouse. Broke in, stole 'is roofshoes. Fen I went to Santa's castle. I dunno what I was finking; I guess I was gonna wreck somefing and leave shoeprints behind, just to show 'em I was wise to 'em and couldn't be pushed around. But when I got there, I found Rudolf on the ground. He had been beat up and run over wiffa sleigh."

I nodded. "So then what?"

Yukon shrugged helplessly. "So, I left a roofshoe be'ind," he said. "I figured, Rudolf's dead and 'e's not coming back, so I might as well make some 'ay wiffa sun shining. I figured if I framed one of Santa's reindeer, it would really put the screws to 'is operation."

It made sense. The prints at the scene suggested Yukon had been peripheral to the action; there was nothing that actually pinned him to Rudolf himself. "Okay," I said grudgingly, "but what does all this have to do with Hermey's murder?"

"I don't 'ave no idea!" Yukon shouted. "That daffy elf called me up today! 'e told me: Santa's got a band of killer toys 'e's gonna come after you wif to shut you down! I told 'im I wouldn't be freatened and 'ung up. And fat's all fere is to 'a story, I swear!"

Of course. The Dangerous Toys weren't working for Yukon Cornelius; they were in the employ of Santa Claus, the one individual most capable of finding and rounding them all up. I had assumed Yukon was the boss because of the map in their headquarters, but that was there because Yukon was their target!

Yukon might be lying, I thought. But my gut told me he wasn't. I've learned to trust my gut. "Okay," I said. "Get up. I'm not going to shoot you or hit you anymore." Yukon scrambled to his feet and eyed me warily.

"I'm going to go check out your story," I said. "You better not have been lying to me."

"I ain't been," Yukon Cornelius said sullenly.

"Okay," I said. I turned and left. Yukon shouted at me from his doorway. "You owe me some new teef!"

"Maybe Santa will bring you some new ones," I said. Then I began gliding towards Santa's castle at top speed.

"I wouldn't count on it, though," I muttered to myself.

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hwrnmnbsol

September 2012

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