There was a payphone on the edge of the park. I called up the Abominable Snowman. He picked up on the third ring. "Christmastown Police," he rumbled.

"I know you don't want me calling you," I said, "but I had no choice. No way you're dialing me with your bum hand."

There was a hint of growl in his voice. "Sam the Snowman, as soon as I catch you, I am going to hang you upside-down in an ice cave."

"Tricky, as I have no feet," I replied. "Listen, don't bother with the phone trace. I'm going to tell you exactly where I'm going to be. You can just come on by and scoop me up."

"Sure I can," said the Abominable Snowman. "Pull the other one."

"I'm serious," I said. "I'm going to go and extract a confession from the guy who killed Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer."

"That guy's in jail, Sam," said the cop. "You can talk to him about it when you're roommates."

"The killer's not in jail," I said. "His name is Saint Nicholas, aka Kris Kringle, aka Santa Claus. In ten minutes, at his castle, he's going to confess to murdering Rudolf." I let that hang in the air a second. "You might not want to miss it," I added.

The Abominable Snowman cleared his throat uncertainly. "What?" he said.

I hung up. The conversation had reached its zenith anyway.

I glided towards the castle. Santa, you were beloved the world over, a champion of children, a force for good.

How could you?

Read more... )
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.

Read more... )
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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I had to think fast. I couldn't keep taking turns to see if my shadow would stay on my tail; sooner or later he'd catch on that I had caught on. There were three basic things I could do – shake the tail, lose the tail and then follow him, or catch the tail and brace him. I opted for the last one. I had been beaten up, carried around and insulted quite a bit in the previous forty-eight hours, and I felt I was due for a little unpleasantness.

I decided to pull a Polar Bear. On the next block I spotted a promising place to do it – a homeowner's private igloo with no smoke coming out of the chimney. I ducked inside it, hoping it was unoccupied. I was lucky; the lights were off and the house was empty.

My pursuer didn't come in right away. He must have looked at that wind-flap for a minute trying to decide what to do. But I knew he couldn't resist. A polar bear knows if he waits by the air-hole long enough, a seal will stick its head through. It has to.

The elf poked his pointed hat through the doorway. I was waiting. I grabbed him by his ears and pulled him through. He yelped and stumbled, landing hard on his face. "Hi, honey; I'm home!" I said, grabbing him by a shoulder and rolling him onto his back. He was an aging elf with once-sandy hair going white, a somewhat vacant expression and perfectly straight teeth. His nose was starting to bleed. "Oh, gosh," he said, putting his hands to his face, "I hope I didn't break any crowns!"

"Hey, wait a second," I said suspiciously. The elf looked familiar to me for sure. I snapped my fingers.

"You're Hermey," I said.

He nodded unhappily. "The dentist," he said. "And Rudolf's best friend."

Read more... )
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.

Read more... )
I left the Abominable Snowman's cave with more questions than I had when I arrived. This represented, I felt, rather poor performance on my part in the general area of private investigation. It is desirable, I have found, to find answers to questions if one wants to make it in the detecting business. Finding questions to answers is decidedly inferior, and has a much smaller profit margin.

I decided my next stop ought to be returning to the scene of the crime behind Santa's house during daytime hours. Not that there was better light to see, but there was superior visibility anyway on account of the fact that I was mostly not drunk. Clues, I hoped, would go a long way towards rectifying the disturbing question/answer imbalance.

I cut across Boxing Day Park, the shortest path back to Santa's castle. As I walked through an unusually dark stand of Christmas trees, I heard the jingle of bells strewn from the branches. Somebody or something had brushed up against a tree very close to me. Was I being followed?

I drew my Air Force sidearm pistol. I've found paranoia to be burdensome in the sense that one tends to get involved in embarrassing situations such as yelling at innocent strangers and pistol-whipping your landlady. On the other hand, it tends to reduce one's rate of emergency room visits to a smallish number. Life is all about weighing costs versus opportunities.

The nice thing about gliding instead of walking is that one makes less noise in snow. I walked casually around a tree and then quickly sneaked around the back side. I waited, gun drawn. A few seconds later I heard several sets of noisy footfalls coming from the place where I had been a moment earlier. "Where'd he go?" a deep voice muttered.

I came around the tree, gun drawn. There were three large reindeer there, looking around warily. Their eyes widened as they saw my pistol.

"Marco," I said.

A reindeer swallowed. "Polo?" he answered.

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Wow, everything really *is* on YouTube.

I crashed in my bed. By the time I woke up it was noon – 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.

Read more... )
At the moment I am projecting about seven pieces.

I was dreaming again – the usual dream. My plane was going down in the Kara Sea, tracer fire blossoming all around me. The cockpit was on fire. Crashing I could deal with, but I've always been afraid of fire. You would be too, if you were a snowman.

I thrashed in my webbing, trying to get loose, but there was no escaping the inexorable spread of fire. I screamed, just as always, and blacked out just as I woke up. I woke in my bed, with an empty bottle of gin on my chest, the same absence of legs I've had for the last seventy years, and the phone ringing.

I panted, the sweat refreezing on my forehead as the terror of the dream fled. I looked at the clock. Three in the morning. Who could be calling at three in the morning?

I picked up the phone. "Yeah," I said. At three in the morning, no caller deserves good phone manners.

"I trust," a snooty voice said, "that this is Sam the Snowman, Esquire, speaking. Or should I say, slurring."

"You are indeed, sir, slurring with Sam the Snowman," I said groggily. "Private Eye," I added. Never miss an opportunity to advertise, that's what I say.

"Yes," said the voice, drawing out the 's' in a disapproving manner. Already I knew this individual and I would be fast friends. "I am an employee of Santa Claus, who remembers you fondly, and trusts you remember him as well."

"Sure," I said, transferring the phone to my other ear and reaching for my pipe. "Obese guy, barber averse, disturbing relationship with kids. Owns the entire Arctic. I believe I'm familiar." Santa and I went way back. I hadn't seen him since things had gone downhill for me, in a personal way.

"Very good," said my mystery caller. "Mister Snowman, Santa would like to hire you to solve a crime. I trust you are looking for employment? My sources indicate your work habits of late have been, well, spotty."

"Your sources can suck on my fruity popsicle," I informed the jackass who thought it was okay to wake me up at three in the morning and then insult me. "And hell yeah, I'll work for Grandpa, as long as he can pay in something other than presents. What's the crime?"

"Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer is dead," said the voice flatly. "Mister Claus would like to know why, and how, and most of all – who."

Read more... )

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