WRITTEN BY: EDDIE SNIPES – DEC• 21•11
I knew it wasn’t going to be a happy day when I walked into the mall. Weeping children passed, ushered away by parents with hollow expressions. A crowd pressed into the police tape, craning their necks, and trying to get a view of the Christmas horror at Santa’s Workshop.
I pushed through the crowd and flashed my badge as I ducked under the yellow tape. Elves in green hats huddled together, occasionally taking a peek toward the big man’s workshop. Wails and chatter filled the air. A particularly stout elf paced around with his hands on his head while babbling between his sobs. He sounded like a chipmunk on espresso, and I couldn’t make out a word he was saying. A police officer was kneeling down beside a fat man in a red suit. He wrote faster than a secretary in a board meeting.
The officer in blue looked up as I approached, and I said, “What do we have?”
“We’ve got a 187. Probably started as a 211, but might have been a 217. There are reports of a 653M before—”
“Stuff those lottery numbers back in your pocket,” I said while holding up a hand. “I didn’t take up accounting because I’m not good with numbers. I got the 187. Murder.”
“Correct.” The officer returned to his pen and pad.
Apparently, the guy’s head was full of numbers, but he was at a loss for words. “Can you provide a few more details?”
“He was murdered just as the mall opened.” The officer returned to writing in his pad.
I pulled my hand across my face to wipe away the frustration. “Maybe you could flip back a few pages in your notebook, and translate the numbers into English for me.”
The officer stood up and faced me. I finally saw his badge. Officer Valentine. His eyes examined the pages as he flipped. A few contorted expressions flicked across his mouth as he tried to decipher his own notes. “Okay. The guys name appears to be Chris Kringle, but the hobbits over there call him Santa.” The officer pointed to the elves with the eraser end of his pencil.
I nodded, wondering if he understood the implications of his words. And if he knew the difference between an elf and a hobbit.
The officer graciously continued. “I was the first one on the scene. If you don’t count the hobbits.” He thumbed toward the little men in green suits.
I couldn’t resist any longer. “You do know these are elves, and not hobbits, right?”
He shrugged and started again. “I was working security at the mall, and after hearing a commotion, I rushed over. The man in the red suit was laying just as you see him now.” The policeman reached over his shoulder and scratched his back, and then readjusted his shirt. “By the time I got here, the little green men were running in circles, screaming like school girls. Santa was laying beside a Yule log and the hobbits,” he stopped and gave me a patronizing grin. “The elves were howling Christmas carols and crying something awful. Looks like O Mr. Kringle had a Yuletide crinkle in his noggin.”
The officer’s callousness struck me. I’m glad I am a detective. We see enough crime to get jaded to the scenes we investigate, but the daily life of street cops took things to a new level. I had often heard police officers make cruel sounding jokes at crime scenes. It was a survival mechanism. Repel the pain and harsh realities of crime with a joke or two. But this man was too much. I hoped the weeping elves weren’t listening to his explanation.
I excused myself, and the officer adjusted his shirt and knelt by Santa again. When I stepped toward the elves, I could see water puddling on the floor as they sang a tearful rendition of Jolly Old Saint Nicholas. I walked up to the one who looked to be in charge.
“Hi. My name is Detective Anderson. Can I have a word with you?” The elf nodded and I led him away from the others. He sat down on a chair and I pulled out my notebook. “For the record, what is your name?”
“Bardakin.” Songs of lamentations drifted into our conversation, and Bardakin’s eyes began to well up with tears. His red nose indicated he had used many tissues. I pulled a handkerchief out of my pocket and offered it to the man, err elf.
He looked at it with suspicion, so I said, “Just pulled it out of the wash, so it’s clean.” Bardakin smiled and took it.
“Don’t want to take a chance on getting a cold so close to Christmas.” Bardakin began to wail, “Oh, I forgot. There won’t be a Christmas!”
I patted his shoulder, and he filled the hanky with his large nose and blew. After the violent blast, he offered it back to me. “No thanks. I’m giving it to you.”
“Anderson. Detective Anderson.”
A thin smile appeared on the elf’s face. ”Detective Anderson, we are Christmas elves. We can’t take gifts, we can only give them. It’s one of our codes of honor.”
Bardakin held out the handkerchief again. It hung like a wet rag. I stared without moving and he raised his gray eyebrows as he pushed it toward me. I identified a dry corner on the cloth and took it with the tip of my index finger and thumb. The elf wiped his eyes on his sleeve, and I used the diversion to drop the used rag behind me into a nearby waste bin.
“Mr. Bardakin,” I said, “I know it’s hard for you, but I need to ask you a few questions.” The elf nodded. “Do you know if Santa had any enemies?”
“He’s Santa. Everyone loved him. Everyone but Peter.”
“Yeah, Peter. The Easter bunny. Peter Cottontail. But I wouldn’t say he was an enemy,” Bardakin added.
“I’m not following you. Was there a disagreement between Santa and Peter?”
“Kinda.” Bardakin nodded. “Well, yes. We all had an Easter celebration, and Santa brought his famous cony stew. Cony stew is quite savory and one of our favorite springtime dishes. It is very good, but not as good as Peter’s chocolate eggs.” Bardakin put his finger on his lower lip and looked up. “I don’t know which I like best, the chocolate eggs with the white sugary cream and the yellow yolk, or the ones with the colored sprinkles and the truffle cream centers. I like the sweet cream eggs with the yolk, but I also love sprinkles—”
“Thank you, but I don’t need descriptions of the food. What does the stew have to do with Peter being upset with Santa?”
“It wasn’t just stew. It was cony stew – cony is rabbit stew. Santa apologized and assured Peter that it wasn’t anyone related to him, but he was boiling. Haha. That’s funny. Stew, boiling.” He looked at me, but I didn’t see the humor. “Anyway, Peter didn’t speak to Santa the rest of the evening.”
“Did he threaten him in any way?”
“Nope. He just stared at him from across the room, twitching his whiskers and chewing on a carrot.” Looking up, Bardakin said, “Peter’s a vegetarian you know. He makes delightful treats, but he never eats them. I don’t know why. Chocolate isn’t a vegetable, but it isn’t meat either. He might be more cheerful if he ate a few—”
“Let’s move on,” I said. It was hard to keep this guy on track. “I need you to tell me everything you remember about the events leading up to Santa’s attack.”
A smile eased onto Bardakin’s face until he was beaming as if nothing bad had ever happened. I thought this odd, and the elf must have read my expression. “I think of happy things to get me out of my despair. It gives me a clear mind.”
“I see.” But I have to admit, I didn’t see. The instant change gave me cause for suspicion. “Okay, now please tell me about this morning.”
“This morning started like just about any other morning. We all sat down for elk chops, eggs, and berries with cream.” His eyes sparkled while he thought on his breakfast. “Mmmm. The berries were fresh, and oh how I love elk chops. Especially with eggs—”
“Mr. Bardakin, please stay with the facts that pertain to this case.” This guy was a piece of work. It wasn’t hard to figure out where he got his protruding elf stomach.
“Oh, but it is relevant. We ate around seven this morning. 7:14 a.m. to be exact. This was unusually late. Since the mall opens at nine, it didn’t leave us enough time for our mid-morning refection.”
“Refection?” I asked.
“Refection. It’s the meal we celebrate between breakfast and lunch.”
My eyes dropped to his massive belly. Of course, I should have known. I nodded. “So why did you eat so late this morning?”
“Our cook received a call that his wife was taken ill, and he had to rush back to the North Pole last night. Santa hired a new cook and he had a time preparing the elk chops. We brought the elk with us, but he didn’t seem to welcome the idea of joining us for breakfast. You know, preparing a live elk for…” The look I shot toward him stopped Bardakin from derailing his explanation again. He quickly wrapped up his story. “Sorry. By the time breakfast was served, it was time for us to head to the mall.”
“I see. But I’m still not following how this relates to Santa’s demise.”
“Well, by the time we got here, we were absolutely famished. It was two, maybe three hours before lunch.” Bardakin’s tone indicated there was an important point hidden behind this explanation.
“Go on,” I encouraged.
“Me and the guys were working to get ready for the children and complaining about our hunger. The mall food stores don’t open until after we need to be working, so we were pretty depressed about missing mid-morning refection. That’s when I spotted it.” Bardakin pointed toward the edge of the Santa’s Workshop display. “Just in view was a cookie on the floor. I couldn’t believe my good fortune, and I rushed over to get it.”
This guy is afraid of catching a cold from my handkerchief, but doesn’t mind eating cookies off the mall floor? I shrugged. “Okay, tell me what happened after you found the cookie.”
A dreamy smile emerged on Bardakin’s face. “When I walked over to the cookie, I saw it was my favorite kind. It was a white sugar cookie with colored sprinkles. Yum! Just like the kind we ate at our Valentine’s dinner party last February. Actually, we have all kinds of cookies at the Valentines dinner, but the sugar cookies with the sprinkles are my favorite. They are so good! Almost as good as the Easter treats, but that bunny never uses sprinkles on—”
I had to cut the elf off before he could reminisce on another dessert experience. It was time to move this interview along. “Please, Mr. Bardakin. I need you to keep the conversation on track.” He licked his lips while patting his stomach, but nodded to acknowledge my demand. “What does a sugar cookie with sprinkles have to do with Santa’s murder?”
“Oh, yeah. When I bent down to get the sugar cookie with colored sprinkles,” he swallowed his mouth watering memory, “I saw another one. Then I saw a trail of cookies leading around the corner over there.” He stood and pointed across the mall. “I said, ‘Hey guys! I found some cookies.’ My friends came and we gathered the cookies while we ate our way around the corner. To our delight, they extended all the way down the hall. It was enough for all of us to have our mid-morning refection. By the time we reached the end of the hall, we were all quite satisfied.” His eyes dropped to the floor, and Bardakin said in a quiet voice, “That’s when we came back and found Santa and the Yule log.”
“Did you hear anything or see anything?” I asked.
“We were snatching up cookies and laughing at our good fortune. It was quite noisy.”
I looked up to the ceiling, trying to absorb the information. Stroking my chin, I asked, “Didn’t you think it was odd to see a trail of cookies leading you to the other side of the mall?”
Shaking his head, Bardakin said, “I guess we weren’t thinking. We were so excited to find the food, and we were all so hungry, all we could think about was our mid-morning refection.” The elf licked his lips and stared off in the distance. “The cookies were so good. Sprinkles on sugar cookies. All we needed was a little yak milk to complete the day. You know, we don’t get this type of cookie for Christmas. Christmas cookies usually don’t have sprinkles—”
“Thank you, Mr. Bardakin. That will be all for now. Here’s my card. If you think of anything, call me.” I produced the card and he took it. My words did little to snap him out of his dream-like state. It wasn’t hard to figure out how to create a diversion with these elves. In fact, as I talked with each of them, I had difficulty keeping their minds off food. I combed through their food musings, trying to glean out what few non-culinarily facts were present.
Strolling back to the crime scene, I examined the victim. I put on gloves, and picked up the log. It fit perfectly against the wound on the man’s head. This was definitely the murder weapon. I took a closer examination of the log. It contained festive lettering with the words, Eros nikao pas. Too bad it didn’t live up to its name.
I took a stroll down the hallway where the cookies had led the elves. I stepped around the occasional sprinkles and crumbs until I stood in front of the outdoor recreation center. It would have been closed at the time, so I turned my attention to the surrounding area. Near the mall exit, I spied something behind a planter. Walking over to it, I discovered an Easter basket. Inside was shredded green plastic and a single sugar cookie with colored sprinkles.
It looks like we may need to bring Peter in for a few questions.
After I called in, officers wasted no time picking him up. When I arrived at headquarters, Peter was already waiting in the interrogation room. I grabbed a new pad of paper and a voice recorder and headed to talk with Peter. I also carried a little surprise in a plastic bag.
I sat across from him and put the voice recorder on the table. “You don’t mind if I record this session, do you?”
Peter just shook his head and chewed nervously. Even though the room is under surveillance, I like to place a recorder on the table for most interviews. It makes it clear that this isn’t a time for games.
“I’ll get straight to the point, Peter. Santa was found dead this morning.” Other than a twitch of his whiskers, Peter gave no hint at an expression. He glared at me through those beady little eyes, but sat motionless for a few moments. He returned to his chewing. “Do you know anything about this?”
“Is it true that you and Santa had a little fall out last Easter?” I watched his eyes, but saw nothing.
“It wasn’t anything.” His voice caught me by surprise. I expected it to be, shall we say, rabbit like. But his dialect was educated and proper. This was an intelligent rabbit. Not the type of rodent you would expect to go around clubbing jolly men with a log. But then again, it had to be someone clever enough to trick the elves. I thought about this for a moment and reconsidered my assumption. Anyone with an eye for pastries could trick these elves.
“Why don’t you tell me about it?” His whiskers twitched and I could tell something was eating at him. “Is it true that you were upset over a dish he brought to your house?”
“It wasn’t at my house. It was a banquet hall, and yes, I was disturbed by the obscenity of his culinary dish,” Peter barked.
“What bothered you about it?”
A sigh escaped from Peter. “I really didn’t want to dig up the past, but since you insist, it was rabbit stew. He called it cony. I am offended at the sight of any animal being slaughtered for gluttonous purposes, but even more so when it is one of my relations.”
“The elves tell me Santa assured you it wasn’t anyone related—”
“All rabbits are my relations,” Peter said in a condescending tone.
“I see.” Time to rattle the bunny’s cage. “So did you determine to get revenge at that time?”
“I wouldn’t stoop so low as to seek revenge.”
I reached down and opened the plastic bag. Dropping the Easter basket on the table, I said, “Can you explain this?”
“It looks like you have been to Junk Mart,” the rabbit said sardonically.
A smile slid onto my face. This rabbit is good. “Where were you this morning when Santa was murdered?”
“I’m certain I was hopping down the bunny trail. And I don’t believe that’s a crime.”
“Do you have an alibi?”
“I live alone, and I don’t think I should need an alibi.”
Reaching into the basket, I retrieved the cookie and laid it on the table. “Do you recognize this?”
“I recognize it as a cookie.” He leaned forward to look closer. “A sugar cookie, I do believe.”
This rabbit was a bit arrogant and was getting on my nerves. But I might have been a little self-absorbed too, if children sang about me every year. As annoying as this rodent may be, I had to admit he didn’t come across like someone who was guilty. He was either a good liar, or an innocent jerk.
After asking several more questions, I wrapped up the interview. I would visit him with these questions again to see if his story changed. In the mean time, I had a few more holiday personalities to visit.
A week into my investigation, the facts suddenly came together. I gathered my notes in preparation for confronting the murderer. After studying all the case files, it was a slam dunk. I knew exactly which of those crafty fellows committed this heinous murder. I sent Officers to round up my holiday friends. After placing the files into a box, I headed to the interrogation room where the suspects awaited.
Walking in the room, I asked Officer Valentine to ready the cuffs and wait by the table. These characters are very capable of avoiding detection while performing their yearly duties, so they are also quite able to escape if given the chance. I placed the officer by the shackle ring in the floor. Once I revealed the killer, I intended to secure him before he could attempt an escape.
“Gentleman.” I looked over to Mrs. Claus and added, “and ladies. I know who the perpetrator is.” Each person began looking around the room.
“Who is it?” Bardakin asked, followed by several chattering voices of the other elves asking the same question.
“It had to be someone with motive, opportunity, and the ability to avoid detection,” I said. “There is only one person in this room that fits all three. The killer had to be someone who could hide in plain sight.”
I took a stroll through the suspects, examining each face. I stopped before the leprechaun. “Mr. Paddy had an airtight alibi. Several people testified to his presence in a pub in Ireland, but we all know that leprechauns only need a rainbow and motivation, and they can scoot around the globe. Paddy is a little guy, but these magical creatures can be quite strong.” I turned to St. Paddy and tried to put a hand on his shoulder. It was below my reach so I put my hand on his head instead. I pressed a little too hard, and inadvertently pushed his hat over his eyes. “But I know you didn’t do it. You had no motivation.”
I gave a couple of friendly taps and stepped forward. Paddy lifted his hat, pushed out the dent where my hand rested, and slapped it back on his little head.
“Mr. Cottontail had motive and possibly the opportunity.” I looked at Peter and said, “But you couldn’t avoid detection in plain sight. Rabbits are good hiders, but not on a mall floor. There was no fur in the mall, and no cover where you could hide. You didn’t kill Santa.” I walked to the table and held my hand out. “Officer, the cuffs please.” He handed me the cuffs. I pushed the table away from the shackle ring.
“Elves,” I continued. “You had opportunity, and the ability to avoid detection. In a crowd of elves, one could easily blend in.” I looked to the elves and saw wide-eyed quivering bodies. I paced in front of the table, dangling the cuffs. “But none of you committed this crime. You lack motive.” I gazed at the relieved looking elves. “You guys live for treats and food. Living with the jolly man provided a never-ending source for food and snacks.” I looked at Bardakin’s belly for emphasis.
I bent down to examine the ring. “Cupid is the murderer.”
Bardakin looked around and said, “But he isn’t here.”
“Oh, he is here.” I knelt down to the floor. In a swift motion, I slapped the cuffs around the ankle of the police officer and secured the other end to the ring. Pulling out my sidearm, I pointed it at the policeman. “Don’t move. Paddy, grab his gun.”
Paddy snatched it quicker than a pot of gold.
“What is the meaning of this,” the officer demanded.
I looked at him and said, “Eros nikao pas.” Fear invaded the man’s eyes and his face turned white.
“What does that mean?” asked Bardakin.
“Love conquers all,” Peter said.
I looked back at the rabbit. “Very good.” Confused voices echoed across the room. “When doing my interviews, I was never able to locate Cupid. But as I examined the evidence, it hit me. Cupid has been in our midst all the time.” I turned to the officer and said, “This, of course, explains why you kept playing with your back and adjusting your shirt.” I grabbed his shirt and gave a hard yank. It tore from his body to reveal his wings. Gasps filled the room. I held up the badge and turned it to Cupid. “Officer Valentine. You had opportunity. You had the ability to hide in plain sight. And you have motive. Do you want to share the motive, or would you rather I do it?”
Cupid looked down at his shackled leg, and began speaking to the floor. “I have always loved Delphine,” he raised his hand toward her, “Mrs. Claus. When Kringle married you, I was devastated. I’ve spent years trying to find someone to fill the void in my heart, but all I could think of was you. Finally, I decided that if Santa was out of the way, I could come to your aid and you’d fall in love with me.”
I nodded. “Mrs. Claus was the key. When I probed into her past looking for enemies, you were the only possibility and the only one with motive.” I walked over, and opened the door. “You may escort him to a cell.”
The mystery was solved. When I walked out of the room, the elves were debating the future of Christmas.
Of all the cases I’ve had, I can’t think of a stranger group of suspects. It makes one wonder about the holiday spirit. Somehow, the legend of Santa Claus goes on, and people still claim to see the fat jolly guy. Rumor has it that he’s shorter than people expected, and he has an affinity for sugar cookies with sprinkles. But we all know that’s just rumor.
Have a Merry Christmas!
Eddie Snipes 11/2010 ©