by Michael Kingswood
Most folks have heard the term “Christmas in July.”
The suburban town where I’m stationed is run by smart-alecks, though, so Lockwood has “Christmas on the solstice.” Because symmetry of timing and rigid thinking.
What most people don’t know is the concept, whether fun or annoyingly pedantic, derives from a real necessity of the Big Guy’s battle rhythm. Can’t keep reindeer cooped up too long or they go stir crazy, taking to biting and being generally grumpy.
So every summer they go on tour to stretch their legs, and do a little PR for the Big Guy’s operation.
When that happens, someone’s got to provide security against the Elf problem. This summer, the job fell to me. I’m Dustin Cofield, and I’m an Elfsterminator.
* * * * *
Most days I work out of a small eight by eight office in a Wells Fargo branch. When I’m there, I dress like a banker in a nice custom-tailored suit and I at least put on the appearance of doing banking things. Attending staff meetings, things like that.
But I don’t really work for the bank.
I work for an Agency that no one has ever heard of, because it doesn’t exist. We help the Big Guy maintain production up at the Pole since the elves walked out on him, and keep the elves from sabotaging him and ruining Christmas. Among other things.
Unfortunately, with the reindeer tour coming through town, it was out of the bank for me. Which was just fine, as far as I was concerned. I really can’t stand banks.
But it did mean I was going to have to spend much more time in my combat suit than I normally like to. The damn thing is ridiculous: made of fuzzy red material that was like fur that had been trimmed real close, with a broad white sash of a belt—same material—and a fuzzy white hood with a half face mask that left the mouth and chin exposed.
It was like some godawful attempt at a bad superhero costume; when I first saw it, I thought sure it was a joke the other guys were playing at my expense.
But there was a reason our combat suit looked the way it did. It was made of the same material as the Big Guy’s clothing, and something about his long relationship with the elves had imparted a protective field of some kind in that material that defended against the worst of their tricks.
So much as I feel like an idiot every time I wear it, I’ve come to appreciate its utility.
But the damn thing is also hot. And this was shaping up to be the warmest summer we’d see in Lockwood in quite some time. The weather geeks were predicting mid-90s the entire week of the solstice.
This duty was going to suck. But it was important work, and that’s why I’m in the business.
Lockwood puts on its Christmas on the Solstice extravaganza—yes they really call it an extravaganza—in a public park across the street from city hall. Like most everything in the town, it was a nice place. Well-manicured flowerbeds and trees. A bubbling fountain with the statue of one of the original city fathers in the center. Walking paths and sitting benches. A kids playground to the back. The usual.
But also like most everything else in Lockwood, it was just that: the usual. It was a suburban public park. Nothing more, nothing less. Not really special in any way.
Except that, unbeknownst to the citizens of my cookie-cutter nice little town, they were going to soon be getting some exceptional visitors.
I met with the advance elements of the reindeer tour a week before the VIPs were scheduled to arrive. They were two field agents and a supervisor. The agents I knew from working with them on a case that went national a couple years back.
Dwayne was a bit taller than me, and deeply tanned. Well-muscled, but he’d begun to develop a paunch since I last saw him and his black hair was thinning. His eyes were just as sharp as they ever were, though.
Crystal looked like a dancer, because she was. She’d done ten years in a semi-pro ballet troupe while she was in High School and College. She toured all over the place and was heading for great things on the pro ballet stage. Then she’d gotten caught up in the big sugar cookie incident of ’13. After that experience, she wanted payback. So she left the troupe and signed on with the Agency. But she kept up her dancer’s figure. She was tall, slender, blonde, and just as flexible and strong as you’d expect. And she was sharp as a tack.
I grinned when I met the two of them in front of the park’s fountain. We were all dressed in normie attire; no combat suits for this meeting at least, thank God.
“Great to see you two again,” I said as we shook hands.
Dwayne’s return grin was good humored. Crystal’s was…challenging, and her eyebrow rose slightly as she released my hand.
I was just pondering what that meant when a throat cleared and I turned my attention to the supervisor. I’d never seen the guy before, but I got a sinking feeling the second I really looked him over. He was about my height, but slight, almost mousey. He had a narrow nose that seemed to strain to hold up the thick black-rimmed glasses he wore, and lips that seemed locked into an expression of disapproval. His hair was mostly grey, though there were a few strands of strawberry blond left. He wore an expensive-looking watch on his left wrist, and had a leather attache case in his hand.
He didn’t offer to shake.
“Agent Cofield,” he said. “I’m Bill Anders, head of security for Operation Margaritaville.”
I blinked. “Margaritaville? Seriously?”
“You have a problem with that?”
Shrugging, I said, “The name doesn’t exactly match the rest of our theme, you know?”
He looked even more disapproving. But apparently he decided to drop it, as he just opened the attache case and pulled out a manila folder, which he passed over to me. “It is very important that this event go smoothly,” he said. “The VIPs have a long – ”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” I said as I opened the folder. “I’ve done these before.”
“And that is precisely why I have decided to oversee preparations for this stop on the tour personally. Your performance on your last security detail was…less than optimal.”
I snorted. “The VIP got out unhurt and we collared the pointies who tried to make trouble. So some normies got their egg nog spiked with prune juice. It’s not really a big – ” I stopped when I turned the page on the briefing papers inside the folder and saw the VIP list. I felt my eyes widening, and a surge of adrenalin went up my spine. I looked up from the paper at Anders and met his eyes, which were narrowed to slits. “Is this right?”
He nodded. “It is. So you see why we cannot afford to leave anything to chance.”
I could. I could, indeed.
* * * * *
Rudolph was coming to Lockwood.
Even now, a week after that initial meeting, I couldn’t get the reality of that fact through my head. Sure, every one of the Big Guy’s drivers was important. But there were reindeer….and then there were reindeer.
I couldn’t remember the last time Rudolph, himself, had left the Pole, so I looked it up. He hadn’t. Not since way before the kerfuffle with the elves began, and that went down well before my time.
It wasn’t that he didn’t need to stretch his legs and get out and about like the other reindeer. He does. But…to be frank, if one of the pointies managed to knock off Comet, for example, there are other reindeer who can replace him.
But no one has that nose. So he and the Big Guy came to an agreement where he would take his summertime sojourns at the Pole. Just not…in…the Pole. The Big Guy figured out a way to use sugar straws and pixie dust to make a –
I didn’t fully understand it myself. But he got his own private place to romp around without ever having to leave the safety of the Pole. Apparently it was too expensive to do that with the rest of the team, though, and that had led to grumbling over the years.
Last one of these I did—the one Anders didn’t like—Blitzen had been bitching up a storm about it. Called Rudolph a prima dona. I’d never met the guy so I couldn’t agree or disagree either way. And I figured I never would.
Guess I was wrong.
On the day the extravaganza kicked off, I met up with Dwayne and Crystal in full combat attire two hours before he was set to arrive.
It was hot. Hotter than the weather geeks had predicted. Only twenty minutes into our final check of the VIP enclosure and the security arrangements, I was sweating up a storm and my outfit was starting to itch in half a dozen places.
I eyed the staff of personnel—normies mostly, from town, and doing backgrounds on them to make sure they weren’t going to be a problem was what took most of our time over the previous week—who’d been hired to take tickets and stand around looking Christmassy around the VIP enclosure, at their holiday-appearing but light and loose attire that really was pretty well suited to the summer heat, and I couldn’t help but grind my teeth.
“This is why we get the big bucks, man,” Dwayne said, from beside me. He and I were making the final circuit while Crystal checked on the electronic security measures, and he must have seen the look on my face.
I grunted. “Yeah, right.”
In point of fact, I did alright with the Agency. More than alright. And the fringe benefits were great.
But I’d sure rather not be cooking in this outfit right that second, regardless.
Looking away from the hired help, I shifted my focus toward the other stations that the town had set up for the extravaganza. There was a life-size gingerbread house—not really gingerbread, unfortunately—and a review stand where the Mayor and other assorted folks would hang out and give speeches. Over to the left, toward where the kids playground sat, were three portable carnival rides that had been trucked into place earlier in the day. Some food trucks were stationed around the periphery, as were stands selling cotton candy, funnel cakes, and all the usual fairground fare.
But no sugar cookies or candy canes? That just wasn’t right.
The most amazing thing the town had done to set up, though, aside from getting the VIP, was the ice rink. Somewhere, somehow, they’d found someone who was able to set up and cool down a portable rink that actually stayed frozen in these temperatures.
I was thinking that almost had to be magic; maybe pointy magic. And I was about to pull strings to get it taken away a couple days ago. But turned out no, it was just good engineering.
The entire park had been sprayed with that fake snow that you can get from party stores, and the town had rigged up Christmas lights everywhere, so they at least went to a bit of effort at holiday cheer, despite the odd choice in snacks.
And as people from the town began filtering in to join in the festivities, it began to feel festive, almost enough to ignore the sweat and my itchiness.
“I think we’re good to go,” I said to Dwayne, and he nodded agreement. So we slipped under the garland beads that ran between the four foot tall candy canes that were the fenceposts around our VIP enclosure and made our way across the dirt mini-pasture toward the red wooden double doors that would open to expose Rudolph to his adoring public.
And yes, he really did refer to it as “his adoring public.”
I’d had a chance to spend some time with him the previous night, briefing him on the security set up. Blitzen was right; total prima dona.
But it wasn’t my place to judge, so I didn’t. Instead, I looked outward, toward the growing crowds as more of Lockwood’s populace began to gather.
A burst of static sounded in my left ear, the Crystal’s voice came through the earbud I’d placed there before pulling the hood and mask into place.
“All set on my end,” she said. The transmission made her voice sound tinny.
“Roger,” I replied, keying my transmitter quickly. “We’re go in ten minutes here. Radio silence in eight.”
I looked across at Dwayne and got a small nod from him. He had heard clearly, and understood.
The thing about the Big Guy and his setup is he can’t use any electronics. Something about the electromagnetic fields they generate messes with his mojo, or his magic, or his… Whatever it is, if there’s anything electronic around him, he can’t do his work right.
He can’t even take a report that had been typed up electronically. So I, and the rest of the Agency, used old typewriters from the 30s, and carbon paper in triplicate, for correspondence.
It sucked, but the Big Guy gets what the Big Guy needs.
That electronic limitation goes for his drivers as well. And, we’d all thought, for the pointies. But lately I’d seen evidence that they may have figured a way around that particular limitation.
Regardless, the upshot was we couldn’t use any electronics in our security arrangements for the VIP. Or at least, we couldn’t use them in his immediate vicinity. So Crystal had set up in a remote van on the other side of the park from the VIP enclosure, and monitored our electronic surveillance from there.
We’d be securing our radios two minutes before the VIP came on “stage” but she’d still be going strong. If she saw something amiss, she’d signal us through alternate means.
The time passed quickly. Just as the Mayor was taking the stage on his reviewing stand, to an unexpectedly good amount of applause from the crowd, considering some of the things he’d done lately, I said, “Going dark,” into my transmitter, then secured the power.
A minute later, sooner than I expected and before the Mayor had even been able to complete his introduction, the double doors swung open and our VIP strode out.
When I first met him the day before, I was, frankly, shocked. He was the shortest, scrawniest, and, frankly, ugliest fully-grown reindeer I’d ever seen. For a second I thought there’d been some mistake, or a last minute change in plans. But then his nose had begun glowing.
It was glowing now. And boy was it glowing. Brightly enough that it cast a red tint on everything, even over to the Mayor on his reviewing stand.
He got caught mid-sentence and stopped, blinked, then cleared his throat and stared daggers at me and Dwayne, as though it was somehow our fault that he’d been interrupted. Then he just as quickly put back on his slick political smile and made a sweeping gestured in our direction.
“Well, there he is now! Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls….Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer!”
Oos and Ahs wafted from the crowd as they turned away from the Mayor and toward the VIP enclosure. But Rudolph’s snort overwhelmed them, to my ears.
Most folks don’t speak reindeer, and couldn’t if they wanted to, without a lot of classwork using specialized instructional techniques. My reindeer was very rusty, but I knew enough to understand what he said next.
“Red Nosed. Red-Nosed! Buffoon. My nose is not red.” The VIP sounded positively affronted.
And, to be frank, he was right. His nose was just as black as any other reindeer’s. But something about the way the mistletoe hung over the manger angled the northern lights into his mother’s eyes on the night he was born imbued his nose with the power to cast that magical, warm red glow that the Big Guy found so useful in steering his transport around.
No one was really sure how it had happened, as despite many attempts no one had been able to recreate the event. And so, he was famous.
As he pranced into the middle of his VIP pasture, Dwayne and I advanced with him, looking to the normies like a couple of handlers.
Half a dozen of our normie employees manned the outside of the fence at intervals, keeping people at their distance without really having to do anything except be there; societal norms about personal space handled the rest. Normally.
But the crowd did press closer. They wore varying degrees of wonder on their faces. Some from genuine enjoyment. Some from pondering how we had created the glowing nose trick. But they were all taken in.
Especially the kids. Their eyes were practically bugging out of their heads, and parents had to restrain them from rushing headlong into the fence—and maybe through it—they were so entranced. Especially one group directly in front of Rudolph and to his left.
There were about a dozen of the little munchkins, ranging in ages from probably eight to ten. They were pointing and giggling and smiling, and the light from Rudolph’s nose seemed to reflect off their well-brushed teeth. And wasn’t it cute that their parents had dressed them up in holiday clothes for the occasion, and Santa Hats.
I keyed in on them, the hackles on my neck rising, and saw one of them adjust his hat a bit. I caught a whiff of peppermint at the same time I noticed an unnaturally long ear beneath.
The kid—not a kid either, I realized—next to him reached into a pocket.
“Pointies!” I said, as loudly as I dared, and I grabbed at the bridle the VIP was wearing, pulling him backward.
Dwayne surged forward to place himself between the group of elves and the VIP.
The pointy withdrew his hand from his pocket and made a casting motion.
Black liquid, more viscous than water, seemed to ooze through the air, like it was moving in slow motion from the pointy’s outstretched hand toward Dwayne and the VIP, despite the fact that it really did move at normal speed.
Dwayne caught most of it, the front of his combat outfit becoming coated in the oily, tarry fluid. He cried out as if pained and stumbled backward.
Then the VIP cried out as well, as a single drop of the black stuff, whatever it was, landed on his nose.
The light his nose had been casting immediately went out.
And then all hell broke loose.
* * * * *
Two days later, I went with Crystal to my local field office’s forensic lab and evidence storage facility. It was located in the back of a Thrift Store—owned and operated by the Agency, and at a tidy profit I’m told—and while not particularly large, it was well stocked, and even better maintained by our evidence tech, Colleen.
The room was neatly arranged with metal shelving around the periphery, where evidence boxes from recent cases were stored, and a combination lab table, imaging system, and computer desk in the center.
Colleen herself was a bit chubby and blond, and always cheerful. She habitually wore a white lab coat, despite not actually having a degree in forensics, and today she had her hair done up in a pair of buns on either side of her head. A continuation of the Star Wars motif she’d been going with lately, apparently.
Her normally cheerful face was troubled, though, when I walked in, Crystal at my side.
“Better,” I said. “He’s still in the hospital, but the Docs think they’ll release him tomorrow.”
Some of the tension that had been in Colleen’s face left it, and no wonder. Most pointy tricks get deflected by our combat suit’s material. But not that black stuff. It had gone straight through and knocked Dwayne for a loop, giving symptoms that the normies had taken for a heart attack.
And just one drop had extinguished Rudolph’s light.
That was some serious stuff.
“Have you figured out what that crap was the elves hit him with?” Crystal asked, stealing the question from me.
Colleen nodded quickly. “I think so. Check it out.” She turned from us toward her imaging equipment and brought up a picture she had clearly taken earlier, through her microscope. It showed a bunch of black smudges, separated from each other even though they were stacked close enough that seen from normal magnification a human would never be able to tell.
“It’s like a sort of modified bacteria,” she said.
“Bacteria? The pointies are using germ warfare?” I said. “How?”
Colleen shook her head. “I said it’s like a bacteria. But near as I can tell, they don’t interact with us medically. I don’t see any means of cellular transfer, mitosis, metabolism, you name it.”
“Well they clearly do interact somehow, don’t they?” Crystal said, no small amount of sarcasm in her voice.
“Right. So I looked at it a different way. Turns out they don’t do what bacteria normally do: invade and colonize a body. Instead they produce a toxin that does the same thing.”
I traded glances at Crystal. She raised that eyebrow again.
“Ok,” I said. “That still doesn’t answer how the pointies got them.”
Colleen spread her hands helplessly. “I can’t answer that. But I was able to isolate the toxin.”
“Is there an antidote?” Crystal asked.
“Sort of. If my analysis is right and the dosage is small enough, we may be able to flush it from the victim’s system using…” Colleen trailed off, looking almost embarrassed.
Colleen shrugged. “Peppermint spice hot chocolate.”
I stood there in silence for a long several seconds, just looking at her. She squirmed on her feet for a second, then threw up her hands. “I’m serious.”
“Ok. That’s odd, but ok. But,” I looked back at Crystal again, who looked as puzzled as I felt. “If it’s that easy to cure, what’s the point?”
“If the dose is small enough,” Colleen said, putting greater emphasis on her words. “More than a drop or two of this stuff on an average person’s skin and the toxin will overwhelm the beneficials in the hot chocolate.”
I felt a sliver of dread in my gut. “But – ”
At the same time, Crystal said, “Dwayne! Is he – ”
Colleen shook her head, holding up calming hands, palms toward us. “From the blood work I saw, his suit blocked most of the toxin. After the treatment he shouldn’t have any relapses.”
“Hopefully, a mug will get him back to his old self, good as new. But if Dwayne hadn’t blocked the attack…”
Colleen left the rest unsaid.
She didn’t have to say it. We’d come two drops of gunk away from lights out on Christmas forever.
* * * * *
“You know what I can’t figure out?” Crystal said as we drove away from the forensics lab in my souped-up Yukon.
“How in the hell did the elves get that stuff into the event in the first place?”
I put on my blinker to change into the left-hand lane in preparation for taking the upcoming on-ramp to the beltway around the metropolitan area that Lockwood inhabited. “What do you mean?”
“The town had security screening. Bag searches. No outside food or drink allowed inside, to hook the food vendors up. And we put our own sniffers in on top of that. No way something like that should have made it past without us detecting it. But even if we missed that, the sniffers should have detected the elves themselves. But I didn’t get any alerts from our equipment at all.”
She had a point. The Agency had developed some sophisticated equipment—electronic and non-electronic, both—to detect elfin chicanery. Some of them keyed on the distinctive peppermint odor that tends to surround the pointies. Some of it looks for their auras or their known equipment. But this was a new weapon.
“It’s a new weapon,” I said, making the turn onto the on-ramp. “We’ve never seen it before, so how could the sniffers detect it?”
“Yeah but it looks funky. Security should have at least raised a flag.”
I cast a doubtful glance at her, and she shrugged, shrinking back in her seat slightly. “Or the sniffers should have at least detected the elves themselves.”
Which was a valid point. Elf sniffers could detect peppermint down to one part in a million in the air, and like Crystal said we’d set them up at each access point to the event, and around the VIP enclosure as well. They hadn’t raised an alarm.
Had the pointies come up with a way to mask their distinctive odor? They hadn’t been successful so far, despite many attempts at elfin deodorant over the years. But maybe this time…
Memory of a whiff of peppermint just before the attack put the lie to that thought.
“You’re right,” I said. “I smelled them. The sniffers should have, too.”
We traded glances, neither of us having to give voice to our thoughts because we were both thinking the same thing.
Someone must have tampered with the sniffers.
* * * * *
I held out a steaming mug of hot chocolate, laced with peppermint, toward Rudolph’s snout. His nostrils flared and he sniffed. Then he cocked his head at me, confusion mixed with something else that I couldn’t quite put my finger on showing through in his eyes.
We were in the small building Operation Margaritaville had rented as a staging area for the VIP’s trip to and from Lockwood. It was basically a warehouse, with a roll-up door leading to a loading ramp in one corner and wide open space inside. Space that had been taken up with CONEX boxes filled with the equipment needed to support the VIP’s visit.
Rudolph was settled into a small pen in the corner of the building opposite the loading ramp. The pen was as comfortable as the Agency’s considerable resources could have made it.
But it was still a pen. I was sure he’d much rather be out and about with his adoring public.
Or maybe not, all things considered. It was moot, though, because no way was he going to get anything close to exposure to the public after what happened. Not in Lockwood anyway. And maybe not in any of the other stops on his tour. That was being heavily debated at Agency HQ by the highest of high-up muckety-mucks. Or so Anders had said the day before.
“What’s this?” Rudolph said.
“Peppermint hot chocolate,” I replied. “According to our forensic analysis, a few quaffs of this and you’ll be good as new again.”
Anders had insisted on accompanying me and Crystal to see Rudolph, and he looked almost poleaxed. So I guess I could understand the reindeer’s trepidation as he lowered his head to drink.
I looked over at Anders. “You can thank Dwayne for that. If he hadn’t blocked as much of that goop as he did.” I shook my head. “The affect would have been irreversible.”
Rudolph coughed into the mug and raised his snout. “Really?”
Already I could see the glow beginning to re-ignite, however dimly. I nodded. “You got very lucky.”
Anders glowered at me. “This makes two security details you’ve botched, Cofield. I’m writing you up.”
“I wouldn’t do that,” Crystal said. “It’s not his fault.”
“Oh?” Anders turned his glare on her. “Whose fault is it?”
Anders spluttered. “I beg your pardon!?”
“You disabled the elf sniffers the night of the event, after we made our final checks.”
“Preposterous! I – ”
“We’ve got you on security camera footage doing it,” I said, giving him a nasty grin that I reserve for bad guys who I truly despise. “Ours weren’t operational then, but you forgot the city had its own security setup. Their cameras were working fine.”
Anders’ face went pale and his jaw dropped open. His beady little eyes darted back and forth quickly between me and Crystal, as though searching for something, anything, that would get him out of this. He opened his mouth to speak.
Rudolph’s derisive snort cut him off before he could get started. “You fool. You absolute idiot! I can’t believe I ever listened to you!”
I about dropped the mug, I was so shocked. I rounded on the VIP, in time for him to say, “You’ve screwed us both, completely, you jackass!”
“What – ?” I began, unsure what to say next.
Rudolph met my incredulity with a resigned stare that quickly turned into one of dejection as he looked away, down toward the freshly-laid dirt at his feet.
“I hate this nose,” he said, his voice plaintive. “I hate it so much.”
The true pain, the hopelessness in the VIP’s voice took me aback. “Ah,” I tried, and then just decided to say nothing and let him continue.
“It’s a curse,” Rudolph said. “When I was little, I couldn’t play in the reindeer games because of it. Then I grew up and the Does wouldn’t come near me. After that foggy night when Kris asked me to drive, everyone loved me and I thought it would all get better. And it did. For a while. But then I realized it wasn’t me they loved, it was this damn nose. They put me on a pedestal, because of it.
“And then, after the elves…” He bit back a sob, shaking his head. “I couldn’t even go out on trips any more. I’m a prisoner at the Pole because of this damn nose. Practically a slave.” Rudolph looked up at me, and then over toward Anders. “He told me he found a way to cure me, to break the curse. And we’d both make a bunch of money in the process, enough to retire on.” His gaze hardened for a second, then he let out a little groan and looked back down into the dirt.
I looked away from the stricken VIP and toward Crystal. I could see she was as shocked as I was. But she recovered faster.
She rounded on Anders. “You took a payoff from the elves?” She sounded like she was accusing him of drowning babies, her tone was so severe.
Anders wagged his jaw silently for a second or so. His eyes darted between us again.
Then he bolted toward the loading dock.
Crystal looked back at me. She sighed, rolled her eyes, then winked.
And then she was off. Great bounding steps like ballerinas make on the stage easily closed the distance between herself and the fleeing Anders.
When she was just a few paces from him, she leapt into a grand jete that ended with the toe of her foot in his back, between the shoulder blades.
Anders stumbled forward and rebounded against the wall adjacent to the roll-up doors. He fell to the floor, clutching at his nose, which he crunched when he struck the wall with a sound I could hear from all the way over where I was still standing next to Rudolph’s pen.
Crystal didn’t show any empathy. Landing gracefully on her feet, she strode over to where Anders lay groaning and kicked him over onto his belly—making his nose strike the floor and evoking a louder cry of pain—then forced his hands behind his back. She looked very satisfied as she cuffed him.
I turned back toward Rudolph. He looked even smaller than before, utterly defeated.
I considered for a second that there wasn’t the equivalent of handcuffs for reindeer. Then I decided he was in a pen already, so I really didn’t need to worry about it.
Instead, I held out the mug toward him again.
He stuck his snout in and drank some more of the peppermint hot chocolate, the glow from his nose growing more bright with every swallow.
* * * * *
Crystal sat in the one spare chair I had in my little office in the Wells Fargo branch while I sat behind my desk, typing away at my 1930s vintage typewriter with its carbon paper for making copies in triplicate.
The rest of the office aside from her was the way it always was. Mimeographed memos from HQ tacked up onto a corkboard adjacent to my door. A picture of me and the Buy Guy himself up at the Pole at an awards banquet up on the wall next to it. The plant Nora, my girlfriend, had given to me beneath the one narrow window in the room, looking much improved since I’d gotten back from undercover work and been able to water it consistently. The counterweight-powered clock on the wall opposite the door.
No electronics, but then I didn’t need any here.
I was finishing up my report on what had happened. Naturally Crystal was interested in what I was going to say, so she’d been reading it, page by page, as I typed. She’d offered a few comments and suggestions, but not much. We’d agreed on how to state things before I’d even begun typing.
Finally, I finished. I pulled the final page out and passed it over to her.
It only took her a minute to read it through. She handed it back with a nod of approval.
“All’s well that ends well, I suppose,” she said, but she had an element of doubt in her voice.
I nodded in agreement, both at her words and at her doubt. “Anders is going away for a long time,” I said. “Dwayne’s back on his feet, good as new.”
I stopped there, and the subject that I hadn’t brought up hung heavily in the air between us.
Finally, she gave voice to the thought that had been haunting us both. “What do you think the Big Guy is going to do with him?”
I looked away, toward the picture of me and the Big Guy himself with his plump rosy cheeks and his big jolly smile that had never quite struck me as completely genuine.
“I don’t know. Hopefully they’ll come to some kind of new arrangement. It clearly can’t continue the way it has up until now. But…”
I shook my head. I really had no idea. But I hoped this incident would cause the Big Guy to re-evaluate how Rudolph really felt about their situation, and make changes for the better.
Who knows, maybe it was time for the red-nosed reindeer to retire, like he’d tried to, however dishonestly. It wasn’t like the Big Guy couldn’t get the Agency to rig some kind of lamp or spotlight or something on his transport so he wouldn’t have to use Rudolph’s nose.
But then again…electronics.
Bah, there had to be something.
“Yeah,” Crystal said, agreeing with me.
We sat there in silence for almost a full minute before, abruptly, she stood. “Want to get dinner?”
I spared a look at the clock; I hadn’t realized the time. I needed to hurry or I’d be late. I shook my head. “Can’t. Meeting Nora over at Bertucci’s.”
Crystal cocked her head to the side, and I saw something flash in her eyes for a second. Disappointment? “You’re still with her, huh?”
I nodded. “Yup. I kind of like her, you know?”
Crystal smiled ever so slightly. “She’s a lucky girl.” With that, she turned and opened the door to my office. “See you around, Cofield,” she said. Then she was gone, and the door swung shut behind her.
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 11th 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: