Dec. 9th, 2011

I hired a dogsled team and set out cross-country. I wasn't sure exactly where I was going, relying only on a dimly recalled memory of the Island. Time and again, this mystery had been going back to my distant past, back to when I was a lot younger and more carefree, witnessing momentous times. Now here I was again, setting out to have a look for myself at the Island of Misfit Toys.

In its time, that place had been a sanctuary for animated toys that had no other home. King Moonracer, the mighty winged lion, combed the world looking for oddball playthings and bringing them back to his Island to live. When he learned about the place, Santa intervened and promised to find homes for all the toys. He was as good as his word, and the Island was abandoned.

But Rudolf's blurry photos didn't look old. They could have been taken yesterday. And if what I saw in them was true, the Island of Misfit Toys was open for business again.

I felt that this had to be the key to the strange affair I had become embroiled in. There were just too many questions. If Rudolf was so well loved, why had he been killed? And why did it seem like everybody I talked to had something to hide? The answer had to be on the Island. On the Island I would find something that somebody was willing to die for – and somebody was willing to kill for, too.

I got off a mile from the Island. I paid the lead dog to wait, and I glided across the open ice towards the jagged waterway separating the Island from the main mass of ice. I had a warm scarf, a full bottle of gin, and a box of ammunition for my pistol. I felt ready for anything, provided it was small, harmless, and more scared of me than I was of it.

At the water's edge I found a rowboat pulled up onto the ice. There was a sign next to it. The sign read THE ISLAND OF MISFIT TOYS. The word 'misfit' had been lined through in red ink, and the word DANGEROUS had been scrawled above it.

"Uh oh," I said.

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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.

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September 2012

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