by Michael Kingswood
Nora didn’t realize it, but this was going to be the best day of her life.
I had it all planned out. Pick her up after work, and zip off to the airport for a spontaneous getaway. Paris – the city of lights. Every girl’s favorite destination.
It was going to be awesome.
Until she screwed it all up by getting kidnapped by rogue elves.
Most folks think elves are something out of a myth, and guys like me have worked long and hard to keep it that way. I’m Dustin Cofield, and I’m an Elfsterminator.
* * * * *
My office is tucked in the back of the Wells Fargo branch at the corner of 8th and Main, in the suburban town of Lockwood. The town could have been cut out and replanted just about anywhere in the American midwest; one of those cookie-cutter pre-designed ‘burbs that looks nice—and actually is nice—but lacks any real personality to set it apart.
And the Wells Fargo branch…well, not much to say about it. It’s a Wells Fargo branch. Faux wood and cleanliness covering up the inherent iniquity and fraud that is the banking industry in an era of fiat currency and artificially low interest rates. Only thing real about the place was my little eight foot by eight foot space.
Because I didn’t work for the bank.
Oh, I had a cover. Senior Financial Analyst, or somesuch. But I didn’t produce any real analysis and my supposed boss never asked for any. Not sure how the arrangement worked between the Agency and the bank, but I’m certain I don’t want to know. I had no illusions I actually worked for the good guys.
But we were doing good, and important, things. Keeping humanity safe from the scourges of elfkind, and Christmas intact for the kids, is no joke. And that’s why I was still doing it after ten years.
The fringe benefits were pretty nice, too.
It had been a busy couple of months. I’d been working with a State-wide task force that uncovered a major candy cane smuggling operation two towns over. Had to go under cover for a little while, and almost wound up baked into the biggest sugar cookie ever. But I came through with only a minor sugar rush, and we sent a dozen of the tricky little pointies away for a long, long time.
I was aching for a vacation. And some sugar-free foods.
But first I had to finish the admin.
The normies in the bank would have thought I was nuts if they could see me typing away at an old typewriter, using old-school carbon paper to make copies in triplicate of each page of my report.
Point of fact, I felt stupid doing it that way sometimes as well, but that’s how the Big Guy liked it. No electronics for him, so no internet. And nothing could come near him that had been generated electronically. Supposedly the residual electromagnetic field around even something that had been created electronically would screw with his energy flux, and that could mess with his ability to produce the Lists and get his rounds done on the Big Day.
Didn’t make much sense to me, but that’s how it was.
Then again I think he might really have just liked screwing with the help. Something about that guffaw of his, and the way his cheeks turned especially rosy when he laughed, always made me suspicious.
But whatever. He wanted it that way, he got it that way. No skin off my back.
It did make my office look antique, though. Typewriter straight out of the 30s atop an equally old and beat-up desk. Cork board up next to the door with mimeographed memos from HQ tacked on. A black-and-white picture of me with the Big Guy himself at an awards gala up at the Pole on the wall opposite the cork board. Little potted petuna or marigold or something that Nora had given me underneath the one narrow window I had, going a little brown in the leaf from neglect, since I hadn’t watered it while I was out under cover. Smell of old paper and carbon, and the stains on the desk to go with it. And an old rotary phone next to my typewriter.
I was just getting going typing my report’s summary when the phone rang.
I glanced at the counterweight-powered clock on the wall to my right and saw that it was almost 10 o’clock already. I’d need to hurry or I’d miss lunch with Tim from accounting. I’d been blowing him off for a while, but my quarterly audit was coming due and I couldn’t dodge him for much longer.
So I was feeling a bit grumpy and rushed when I picked up the phone.
Nora sounded like she knew she should be scared, but she couldn’t bring herself to be. “Dustin there’s a bunch of weird little guys here who say – ”
She cut off with a yelp, then came the sound of something brushing across the receiver, followed by a muttered, “Stupid broad,” in a high-pitched voice. My hackles went up, and a shiver went down my spine.
“You wanna see your little girlfriend again, you’ll be at the Dunkin Donuts on Maple in twenty minutes.”
It was definitely an elf on the line now. This wasn’t good. “What the hell is this?”
“Just be there. Or you’ll be finding pieces of her in your stockings for the next ten years.”
The line clicked dead.
* * * * *
The scene in the Dunkin Donuts was not at all what I expected.
You figure there’d be a few cops sitting around, doing their cliche’d coffee and donuts thing, some late morning commuters in a rush to wolf something down real quick, maybe some little kids with their moms. The usual tatted-up millennial English or You-Name-It-studies grads with ear gauges that made you want to lose your stomach behind the registers, though why the owners would think those sorts of dufuses wouldn’t drive business away I never could figure out. The smells of baking and good cheer.
That’s not what it was at all.
Two pointies were posted on either side of the door outside, wool caps pulled down to conceal their ears despite the mid-summer heat and arms crossed over their chests like they had every intention busting some heads in.
If they hadn’t barely come up to my waist, anyway.
They scowled at me as I walked up, still dressed in the charcoal grey suit I’d worn to work for the sake of the normies in the bank. The pointy on the right was chewing on something. I hoped it was gum. He looked me up and down and sniffed, scornfully.
“Booth in the back. Watch yourself.”
There was definite threat there, and despite how the high pitch of his voice inflected the words, I knew better than to dismiss it.
I nodded and pushed the door open.
The place was overrun with pointies. Behind the counter, at the booths, just standing around. Unlike their fellows outside, they weren’t dressed for normie eyes; they wore their pointed shoes and long stocking caps, wool jackets and tight leggings, in greens and reds predominantly. It jarred with the standard Dunkin Donuts branch decor.
As did the smell they brought with them. Rather than pleasant baking donut smell, the place reeked of peppermint. The sheer weight of it almost made me choke as I stepped in.
What happened to the normie staff and customers, I didn’t know and feared to speculate about right that minute. Every elfin eye in the place turned on me as I entered, and I could feel the hostility, the imminent violence, in their gaze.
I swallowed, pushing down the fight or flight response as I scanned the place.
There. Back corner, just as the pointy outside had said. The elf sitting there, back to the wall, was a tad taller than the others, and dressed in a three-piece navy blue suit with a white shirt and burgundy tie. His hair was black, and slicked back into a ponytail, and he wore wire-rimmed glasses. Sharp green eyes tracked me as I approached and slid into the booth across from him.
He could have passed for a successful, if short, businessman, except for his ears, which pointed up almost as high as the top of his head.
“Been a while, Cofield,” he said, and I recognized his voice from the phone.
I kept my poker face as best I could, but his greeting threw me. Had we met before?
Must not have kept it as well as I thought, because he let out a little snort. “You don’t remember me.”
I shrugged. “What can I say, you all look the same.”
The little guy’s cheeks flushed, and I could tell I’d gotten under his skin. “You really should show more respect.”
“You people wanted respect, you shouldn’t have stabbed the Big Guy in the back.”
“Easy for you to say. You didn’t have to work for him.”
“Yeah whatever. Cry me a river.” I leaned forward and narrowed my eyes at him. “Where’s Nora and what did you do to her?”
He traced out a little circle on the tabletop with his index finger. “Nothing. Yet. Hoping you’ll let me keep it that way, but that’s up to you.”
I didn’t respond. After a few seconds of silence he made a little half-smile and sniffed. “You’ve got something of mine. I’ve got something of yours. Simple trade.”
I leaned back against the back of the booth seat and frowned. “What might that something be?” I didn’t like where this was going, not one bit.
“Nothing major,” he said with a little shrug. “Little carved wooden box, stained black. Two candy canes painted on the lid.”
I recognized it, a piece of evidence we’d collected in the Candy Cane Caper. But it didn’t make any sense that he’d go to these lengths to get it. It was a simple box, like he said, and empty. So why – ?
He answered the question for me before I could ask it. “Mom gave it to me,” he said, a wisp of a smile crossing his lips. “It’s sentimental.”
Right. Didn’t matter, though.
“You know I can’t do that. It’s evidence in a case.” I narrowed my eyes again. “And how did something of yours get found at the crime scene?”
“I didn’t have anything to do with that candy cane stuff, if that’s what you’re asking.” He sniffed. “Amateurs.”
“Amateurs who had your really sentimental gift from mommy in their safe.”
“Because they stole it from me. It’s a long story. But now that you’ve done us all the favor of getting rid of them, I’d like it back.”
He looked legitimately pleased that the perps from the Caper had gone the way of Capone. Which meant…
Which meant I would need to re-evaluate that whole case, see if I could find a link to him somewhere. Some way the fallout could benefit him. There must be an angle to it somewhere.
And that angle was connected to the box. Somehow.
I nodded slowly. “We were just going to auction it off after the case gets closed anyway. Wasn’t anything materially useful in it.”
He really did smile when I said that. “So you’ll do it?”
He glanced aside toward a clock on the wall. “Back here at 6 o’clock.”
“Make it 4. I’ve got a plane to catch.”
I stood up and walked out.
* * * * *
Just because I can’t use electronics to create correspondence to the Big Guy doesn’t mean I can’t use it at all. I drive a Yukon that’s tricked out with all the options, and some that are not factory standard.
When I got in and started her up, I immediately put a call in to Colleen, at the Agency’s evidence lab, around the beltway on the other side of the metro area.
She picked up on the second ring. “Hey Dustin.”
I pulled out into traffic and gunned it toward the closest beltway on-ramp, a couple miles distant. “Colleen, need you to pull an item from evidence. Black box with crossed candy canes on the top.”
I could practically hear her nodding. “I know the one. Was about to box everything up for archives. Why?”
“Take a closer look at it. There’s something we missed, something important.”
She must have heard the tension in my voice, because hers went sharp, focused. “What’s wrong?”
“Tell you when I get there. Twenty minutes.”
It actually took me twenty-five minutes to get to the lab. It was the corner entity in a little strip mall in a seedier part of town. And naturally, it didn’t look like an elf-fighting evidence lab. The cover business—and it actually did earn a profit, I’ve been told—was a thrift store, which was rather clever because all sorts of people came and went bearing various and sundry items in and out.
I was a little out of place in my banker’s suit, but not as much as I would have been if it had been a manicure parlor.
The shopkeeper worked for the Agency, and she nodded me into the back room where Colleen was waiting.
She was chubby, perky, and blonde, and for some reason liked to wear a lab coat even though we didn’t really do the kind of in-depth scientific forensics work that would warrant it. Took much NCIS and CSI, I guessed.
Today she had her hair braided into twin braids that draped over her shoulders and onto her chest like the head-tentacles of those weird Star Wars alien women, and she’d picked her gold-rimmed glasses. She beamed a grin at me as I walked in.
The place was small, but well-stocked. Metal shelves on the rear and side walls held boxes of materials from our recent cases. There was a little lab table and computer in the center of the floor, completed with microscopes and a bunch of imaging and analysis equipment I really didn’t understand, or care to.
Long as it worked.
“You’re late,” Colleen said.
“Sue me,” I said, perhaps more gruffly than her teasing tone warranted. But I was pressed for time and worried, so screw it. “What do you got?”
Colleen looked askance at me for a second, then shrugged. She waved me over toward one of the microscopes, and I saw she had put the box in question beneath its lenses.
I raised an eyebrow at her, then bent over to look into the microscope.
The grain of the wooden box sprang clearly into view, easily seen despite the dark staining. But running almost perpendicular to the grain was another line, perfectly straight.
I straightened and looked back at Colleen. “Is that – ?”
She nodded. “If they’d been clever, they would have made the cut in line with the grain. That would have made it nearly impossible to find. As it is, it’s not visible to a human’s naked eye.”
“But it is for an elf,” I said, completing the thought.
She nodded again. Then she picked up a scalpel that she kept on-hand as part of her tool kit. I stepped aside and let her put her eyes on the microscope’s viewfinder. Slowly, carefully, Collen maneuvered the scalpel against the box, and then…
“Bingo!” she said and straightened.
Looking down at the box, a little sliver on the box’s side had flipped up, like a cover on a hinge. I picked it up and turned it over, so that the sliver’ed side was facing up, and blinked.
“That looks like a USB port.”
“Yeah,” Colleen said. “Yeah, it does.”
She took the box from me and maneuvered around to her computer. She fished around in a drawer for a second, then came out with a cord, and plugged it into the computer, then the box.
A moment later, she whistled softly. “This thing is a flash drive, Dustin.”
“Flash drive? But this came from the Candy Cane Caper, from the elves.” I was frowning deeply now. “Elves can’t use electronics. Same reason as the Big Guy – it messes with their other work functions.”
Colleen shrugged. “Looks like they figured out a way.”
If that was true, it was bad. It would complicate the elf problem immensely.
I moved to her side and leaned over her shoulder, peering at the screen. “What’s on it?”
“That will take a little while to figure out.” She looked up at me and nodded toward the other chair at the table. “Might want to get comfortable.”
In fact, it took her almost an hour to figure it all out. I did not like what she found.
“This,” she said, pointing at the screen, “is major. I found APIs from every social media platform I’ve ever heard of and a number that I had to look up. It draws user data from the various platforms.”
“Didn’t know you could do that.”
She looked at me with a bemused expression on her face. “Of course you can. Facebook is the single greatest mass surveillance system the CIA ever created.”
“What, is your name Alex Jones now?”
She shrugged. “Look it up. Anyway, it’s not hard to get that data from these companies.”
“Ok. So what?”
“So…” She looked back at the screen and bit her lip, mousing over to the root directory, then to a subdirectory labelled “N and N”. There were two files in there, and even I with my limited tech skills could tell they were database files, from the file extensions.
“I think,” Colleen said, and she swallowed. “I think they’re creating their own Naughty and Nice lists.”
The bottom dropped out of my stomach. “What?”
“That’s what it looks like. And with all this data…”
She didn’t finish the thought, and she didn’t need to. With that kind of data, the elf lists could grow to match the Big Guy’s. And if that happened…
I stood so suddenly my chair flipped and fell onto its back on the floor behind me.
“I need to make some calls.”
* * * * *
I wear the suit for the benefit of normies, but with all that was going on with this situation, when I showed up for the meeting at 4 o’clock, I decided to put on my real work clothes.
When I first saw the Agency combat suit, I thought they were playing a prank on me, as the new guy.
The thing was bright red, and fuzzy like it was made from fur that had been shaved extremely close to the skin, with a white furry belt, complete with holster for a sidearm and pouches for various tools of the trade. The boots were white, and the suit’s blouse had a flip-up almost white furry hoodie that also had a half-mask, covering just the eyes.
It was ridiculous.
But it wasn’t a prank.
Turns out since the Big Guy and the elves were together for so long, the material he uses for his clothing can provide protection against some of the pointies’ more lethal tricks. So the Agency designed the combat suit from the Big Guy’s leftover material.
I’d once suggested we at least try dying it a different color. But the high-ups put the kibosh on that idea real quick. The formula was the formula and we couldn’t know what effect changing the formula would have.
Thus, I got to feel like an absolute idiot every time I needed to be ready for action.
It was worse this time, because Nora was going to see.
“Son of a bitch,” I said. I was in the Dunkin Donuts parking lot, gripping the steering wheel of my Yukon so tight my knuckles whitened. Or they would have, if I could see them beneath the furry white gloves I, of course, had to wear.
I glanced at the clock. 15:58.
I’d cut it close. Damn close, and I wasn’t sure if I was truly ready. The tech guys had worked their butts off, and they assured me at least part of my plan was sure to work. The most important part. But as for the rest…
No way to know but to try. Taking a deep breath, I made sure my hoodie mask was in place, picked up the box, and stepped out of the truck.
The pointies on duty at the door—same guys as earlier—jerked to attention when they saw me in full battle garb. From the widening of their eyes I could tell they were not sure if I was just going to attack or what.
The guy who I’d spoken with earlier slipped his hand behind his back to where he would be carrying a concealed piece if he had one, and I raised my hands, palms out toward them, and shook my head.
He visibly relaxed. A bit. But not entirely.
He didn’t try to stop me from entering, though.
There were fewer elves inside. Just a half dozen guys who were a bit more burly than the average elf, at a booth to the left as I came in the door.
They were also more kitted out than the norm. I saw a couple bulges that could only be weapons beneath their clothing when I looked them over.
Pretty sure they were under orders not to start any trouble, though, so I took note of who looked to have what, then returned my attention to the rear booth.
The head honcho pointy was there again, and Nora was with them.
She sat on the inside of the booth, facing the door, so he could block her if she tried to get out. And he could, if it came down to it; elves are stronger than they look, and tenacious.
Nora was dressed in a light blue short-sleeved blouse with the top button undone. Her pixy-cut black hair was slightly mussed, and she wore a quizzical expression on her face as though, despite having endured it all day, she still couldn’t make sense of her situation.
That expression only got worse when she saw me enter, and then recognized me as I got close.
“Dustin?” she said, clearly at wit’s end.
“Hey Nora,” I said, and slipped into the booth. I looked from her back to the elf and placed the box down on the table. I slid it across until it was firmly in front of him, and well on his side of the table. “As agreed.”
The elf actually looked surprised. “Really? I figured you’d at least try to put up a fight over it. From principle, if nothing else.”
I shrugged. “It’s just a dumb box. No offense to your mom. I checked, and there was no evidential value to it, so I’m not even breaking any rules by giving it to you.”
Which was not entirely true. But it was close enough for government work.
The pointy nodded slowly, and picked up the box. Turning it slowly in his hands, he looked it over. Now that I knew where it was, I could tell he was studying the area with the flap particularly carefully. Checking to see if we’d tampered with it, I was sure.
We’d been careful, though.
After a short while, he nodded. Then he slipped out of the booth and swept his arm toward the door.
“You are free to go, my lady,” he said, extravagantly.
Nora looked between the two of us, and sat unmoving for a second, clearly unsure what to do.
“Go on,” I said. “I’ll meet you outside.”
Nodding, she scooted out of the booth.
“Bye,” the pointy said, and there was a bit of a teasing element to the way he said it, as he got back into the booth.
Nora looked back at him and said, “Bye Loomy.” Then she walked out.
Loomy. That was the guy’s name. Hearing it jogged my memory, and I recalled when we’d met before. It was a case about five years ago. Small time beat about some missing teddy bears. I couldn’t pin it on him, but I was sure he had been up to no good.
Loomy watched Nora depart, then looked back at me, an eyebrow rising. “No hard feelings?”
“If you come near her again…”
He raised his hands defensively. “Wouldn’t dream of it.”
Either he was play-acting very well, or he meant it. Either way, Nora was going to have a security detail for a while, just to be safe.
Not that she’d know it.
“See you around, Loomy.”
He grinned. “Not if I see you first.”
* * * * *
“You probably figured out I don’t really work for Wells Fargo,” I said to Nora.
We were in my Yukon, and I was pulling out of the Dunkin Donuts parking lot and into traffic.
She nodded, looking back at the donut shop as we pulled away. “Were those guys really – ?”
“Elves?” I nodded. “Yep. Christmas Elves, to be precise.”
“And you,” she gestured up and down at me, and my ridiculous combat outfit. “What, you work for Santa Claus?”
“Not directly.” I put on my blinker and maneuvered around a guy who was going far too slow. “Some years back, the Big Guy—that’s what we call him—and his elves had a falling out. They didn’t like the way he did business and wanted changes. He didn’t want to change. Big blow up, he decided to outsource his production, and they left the Pole.”
Nora blinked. “They wanted to form a union, so he fired them?”
That threw me for a loop for a second. I’d never thought of it that way before. “Well, it’s a bit more complicated than that,” I said, sounding completely lame as I did so.
“Wow. Dick move.”
I cleared my throat. “Anyway, he had problems adjusting, so he came to the governments of the world to ask for help. I work for an agency you’ve never heard of—because it doesn’t exist—that helps him to maintain production, among other things. Since they split, the elves have been trying to sabotage him every chance they get, and ruin Christmas. My branch is devoted to stopping their efforts in that regard.”
It was a lot to take in, I knew. But she was handling it pretty well.
“So why did I get to spend the day eating mints and sugar cookies? I’m going to have to diet for a month now, you know that.” She made it sound like it was my fault.
Sighing, I said, “They’d been running a project to subvert the Naughty-Nice list, and make their own. We had their database, though we didn’t know it. They grabbed you to make me return it.” I grinned, a tad viciously, I must admit, and added, “They didn’t get what they thought they got. We put a virus in their database that will wipe it, any computers they have, transmit their locations to us, and disable their connections to the social media sites they’d been drawing from to make the database.”
I nodded. “It is. No kids’ Christmas is getting messed up by those guys, at least not this year.”
We drove in silence for a while, before Nora asked, “So what happens now?”
“Now, we go to your place and pack. We’ve got a plane to catch.”
She looked sidelong at me, warily. “What, like witness protection?”
I shook my head. “No, just a trip I had planned for this weekend.” I met her gaze and added, “That is, assuming we’re still an item.” I was probably asking for trouble even broaching the question, but I figure it needed to be asked. Torture by Christmas baked goods was nothing to shake a stick at. If she blamed me…
Well, I wouldn’t blame her if she decided to call us quits.
She was quiet for a while, then laughed, and it was the merriest laugh I’d heard from her in a long time. “Of course we’re still an item.” She rubbed her hand up and down my arm, and made a little purring sound as she felt the furriness of the fabric. “I think I could get used to this,” she said. She gave me a direct look. “Where we going?”
“Trust me,” I said, and winked at her. “You’ll love it.
* * * * *
A note from the author: “The main character, Dustin Cofield, is one of my favorites and I’ve written several stories featuring him. I collectively call them the Dustin Cofield Adventures.”
This is the 3rd story of 52 that Michael Kingswood wrote as a challenge to write a story a week for a year. A collection of his stories were published and are available here: