by Michael Kingswood
I’m not a super sentimental guy, but there are times when even I look back on past events through the lens of nostalgia and pine for those long-gone, supposedly simpler times.
Never thought an elf would do the same.
When they gave the Big Guy the finger over working conditions and left the Pole, they left for good. Or so they said.
Turns out, even a pointy can end up pining for the good old days.
I’m Dustin Cofield, and I’m an elfsterminator.
I was sitting behind my old, beat up wooden desk and typing out a report on an equally old but very well-maintained relic from the 30s, a mechanical typewriter, when a knock came on my door.
I looked up from the cursed machine, torn between being thankful that I could give my fingers and wrists a rest and being shocked over the sound.
I’d been stationed in Lockwood, and working out of this same eight foot square office in the back of a Wells Fargo branch, for years. And no one had ever knocked on my office door before.
See, I don’t really work for the bank. I work for a non-existent Agency that helps the Big Guy with his production up at the Pole since the elves bailed on him, and helps contain the elf menace in the rest of the world. My line is more the later than the former.
The Agency had some sort of arrangement with the bank. I have a title: Senior Financial Analyst. I attend staff meetings and social events. But I don’t work for the bank and I never receive tasking from the President or anyone else. The only real professional interaction I had with them was turning in my reports to Higher. Those went to the bank President, in double-sealed envelopes of course, who then dutifully forwarded them on via corporate mail accounts.
How much the Agency paid for my use of this space, or that one service the President performed, I have no idea and don’t care. But the bank had been plenty accommodating over the years, leaving me with complete autonomy and never disturbing my space at all.
Not even the cleaning lady.
Which got annoying because it meant I had to clean up myself. But we all have our crosses to bear.
Now the knock had me stopping in surprise for a moment. Then I did a quick once-over around my office.
It was nothing fancy. Four beige-painted walls and a door, and a small slit of a window that allowed a bit of sunlight in to augment the recessed lighting in the ceiling. I put the potted plant—don’t ask me what kind it is, I just know it’s green and occasionally produces white-pink flower buds—that Nora, my girlfriend, gave me a while back in front of the window, and there was a single wood-framed chair for visitors next to it.
I rarely got those.
On my desk I just had a heavily coffee-stained mug that was painted round with holly, candy canes, and mistletoe, the cussed typewriter on top of a leather-backed calendar blotter, an old rotary-style telephone, and a small stack of finished report pages, typed in triplicate from carbon paper inserts. Nothing truly incriminating there.
To the left on the wall next to the door was a cork board on which I had posted mimeographed memos from Higher that I thought I would need: safety regulations, upcoming events, and a couple wanted posters of particularly infamous elfin conspirators.
Beside the board I had a few pictures hanging up. One of me and the Big Guy himself at an awards gala up at the Pole stood out.
That would be hard to explain, but it wouldn’t be visible from the door so I didn’t bother to take it down or hide it.
The only other things in the room were the lockers behind my desk where I stored files and my tactical gear, and the old weight-driven clock on the wall opposite the door, which made a soft tick-tocking sound that I sometimes found myself typing in cadence with if I wasn’t careful.
The place smelled of carbon paper and old coffee, and I had gotten very comfortable with it over the years.
I stood, the casters on the bottom of my black leather-upholstered office chair making slight squeaking sounds as it pushed back.
“Just a moment,” I said as I squeezed past the desk.
I gave one last look around the place, then I pulled the door halfway open.
There was a woman standing out there. Slightly plump, in her early thirties, she had long black hair that she kept pulled back from her face with a blue hairband that matched the pants suit she was wearing. Her green-hazel eyes were bright and intelligent, and she wore the slightest hint of a smile.
But then, she always did.
I knew her. Cindy, the bank receptionist on duty this morning.
“Hi Cindy,” I said, returning her smile with one of my own. I noticed she smelled faintly of lavender; that helped.
“Mr. Cofield,” she said, then gestured toward the front of the bank, “there’s a man here to see you.”
I blinked, surprise making me wary. I didn’t have any appointments until later this afternoon, but that was a meeting with Colleen, the Agency’s local forensic analyst, over at her office.
“Did he give a name?”
Cindy shook her head. “No, just said to give you this.” She held out a business card. “He said you’d understand.”
I took the card and looked at it. It was printed only on one side, and there was no name. Just a pair of candy canes going diagonally across the card and crossing in the middle.
My eyebrows rose involuntarily and I looked back up at her.
She must have seen the question on my face, because she again gestured toward the front of the bank. “He’s in the customer seating area.”
I nodded. “Thanks.”
As she walked away back to her station, I pondered for a second what this could mean.
I’d worked a case a while back, an interstate candy cane smuggling ring. Some of the equipment they’d used had been marked with twin candy canes like that. I thought sure I’d mopped up all the pointies involved in the case.
Or maybe this was another person from the Agency, just playing a little game with me.
Either way, I needed to see what was going on.
I walked across the polished faux-marble of the bank branch, and as always the sheer fakeness of the faux-wood veneer, the polished grins on the tellers and the loan officers back in their glass-fronted offices, the almost antiseptic non-scent in the air, and the soft hum of conversations all struck me at once and reminded me how false all of it was. Just a facade of polish over a sea of iniquity.
If the Agency hadn’t stashed me here, there might not have been a single bit of societal good done in this place all year.
The customer seating area was to my right as I approached the slightly-raised faux wood desk where Cindy sat ensconced. The customer chairs were comfy enough, upholstered in smooth red-beige cushions, and positioned around a darkly-stained coffee table.
The seating area was empty except for one man. When I saw him, my hackles rose immediately, and I felt the tingle of adrenaline running through my system.
He was short; maybe he would have come to my waist when he stood. He wore a black double-breasted business suit not too terribly different from my own, except that mine was navy blue and pinstriped, and about two dozen sizes larger than his. His tie was just slightly blue of green, and his shirt seemed to glow it was so white. He wore round black-rimmed spectacles, and he wore his dark brown hair long, its loose curls flowing down his head to his shoulders.
He had a black leather briefcase sitting on the chair next to him, and he watched me come with dark eyes that were narrowed slightly.
He could have been a well-to-do, successful little person. Except I saw the slight bulges in his curls near the top of his temples on either side of his head.
Elf ears, concealed by the flowing curls of his mane.
I stalked forward, falling into a more ready stance without thought as I immediately began scanning the room around me. Where there was one pointy, often times there were others. And if this was some sort of trap, I—
The little guy raised his hands, palms out and fingers splayed as I drew near. “I come in peace,” he said, his tone a rich baritone and not the squeaky noise that someone who’d only ever seen bad Christmas movies, or the Wizard of Oz, would expect from a person of his stature. “Just want to talk.”
I stopped a couple paces away from him and planted my hands on my hips. “So talk.”
He made a gesture with his left hand toward the rear of the bank, where I’d just come from. “Maybe in your office? Some things I have to say aren’t for public ears.”
I scowled at him. I really didn’t want an elf coming into my private space. Never let one in there before.
But then again, I’d never had dealings with any of the pointies on the bank grounds. Always before it had been out on a case, or in a holding facility for interrogation. Once a pointy named Loomy had called me here in my office, when he kidnapped Nora for ransom. So I knew they knew where I was based.
Never thought to have a conversation with one of them in here, though.
Well, first time for everything, I supposed.
I drew a breath, held it for a second, then let it out slowly, and nodded. “Fine. Follow me.”
Back in my office, I quickly dropped down into my chair while the elf closed the door, and scooted in so I had a good portion of its bulk between me and him…and so I could open the drawer where I kept a piece ready. Just in case.
Turning away from the door, the elf’s eyes flicked toward my right hand, hidden from his view, and he raised a knowing eyebrow.
No fool, this one. He had to know what I had close at hand.
But if it bothered him, he didn’t show it. He crossed his arms over his chest and peered around the rest of my office, taking in the decor and the furnishings with pursed lips for a moment.
“Figured you for fancier digs, Cofield,” he said.
“Yeah, well. I used to be in a penthouse. But budget cuts. You know how it is.”
He snorted softly, and his eyes flicked to my left, toward the cork board and the pictures. His eyebrow rose again.
“So you’ve actually met him. Most guys in your line haven’t.”
I followed his gaze to my awards gala photo. The Big Guy, smiling that big smile of his that never struck me as completely genuine. I recalled the twinkling intelligence in his eyes and the slight bit of inflection in his voice, the little feeling that he wasn’t completely everything he made himself out to be. That maybe there was more to his operation than just magnanimity toward the kids.
I put that from my mind and looked back at the elf. “How would you know?”
“I’ve been around a long time, Cofield. Lots longer than you. I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe.”
And he was probably right about that. Elves were remarkably long-lived. Came from their time with the Big Guy, as I understood it. He had rubbed off on them, and they had rubbed off on him, but in different ways. This guy was probably at least a few hundred years old, if he was twenty.
“I see you’re still doing it the old-fashioned way.” The elf nodded at the typewriter. “He’s still stuck on that, is he?”
That made me frown, but not because of the typewriter itself.
The typewriter, and the mimeographed memos, and the rest of the low tech, was a necessity of working for the Big Guy. Him and electronics don’t mix. Not even for correspondence. Something about the residual field left by electronics meant he couldn’t even touch a paper printed out from a modern device. It messed with his magic somehow.
So the Agency did everything old school, at least when it came to things that might come anywhere near the Big Guy.
I had electronic equipment. Just not in here, where the reports got written.
That was just a fact of life in this job. And though it sometimes was annoying, and painful on the wrists, it didn’t really bother me right then.
What bothered me was the tone of voice the elf had used when he said that. Like we were silly for doing it, behind the eight ball. There had been several cases lately where it appeared the pointies were figuring out how to use electronics without it messing with their own use of whatever magic it was that powered everything associated with the Big Guy and the Pole. We hadn’t come across anything truly definitive, though.
Here was another hint, and it irked me.
“You want to get to the point? Who are you, anyway?” I let some irritation through into my tone of voice.
It had the desired effect. The elf gave a little jerk, and some of the poise he had been exuding faded.
“Sorry,” he said with an apologetic titling of his head. “Name’s Willie.” He gestured back toward the picture of me and the Big Guy. “Used to work for him.”
“Didn’t you all?”
“No, I mean really work for him. I was one of his secretaries.” His tone turned, if anything, wistful as he looked more fully at the picture again. “I can’t admit it to any of the others, but looking back, those were good times. I miss those days.”
He inhaled, drew himself up, and looked at me square. “That’s why I’m here, Cofield. To turn myself in. Defect. I want to go back.”
I’m pretty sure I felt my jaw bouncing off my breastbone, it dropped so far, and so quickly.
“Want to go back.” Willie threw up his hands. “Yeah, he’s an asshole, and sometimes working for him sucked. But I’m sick of this shit, Cofield. Sick of running around in the shadows, always having to look over my shoulder in case guys like you are coming to nab me up just for trying to make a living. It gets to a guy, you know?”
“Nothing says you have to make a living screwing with Christmas. Lots of other things you could do, Willie.”
“You think I haven’t tried?” He clenched his fists and stepped toward the desk, and I took hold of the piece. There was a light in his eyes that I wasn’t comfortable with at all.
“Take it easy.”
He snarled for a second. But then he took a deep breath and slowly got himself back under control. Finally, he said, “Some of the other guys have managed to go legit. I tried to. But…” He shook his head, looking back at the photo again. “Maybe it’s how long I worked directly for him. Christmas is in my blood. I can’t do anything else. Can’t think of anything else.” When he looked back at me there were tears in the corners of his eyes. “And I’m tired of doing it like a criminal.”
I eased my grip on the piece and nodded slowly. I understood what he was getting at. A bit. But…
“I don’t know if he’ll let you back, Willie. There’s been bad blood there for a long time.”
“Don’t I know it.” He looked down at his mirror-polished shoes and sighed. Then he sniffed and looked back up at me. “But there were good times before. There could be again.” He smiled slightly. “Just asking you to try. Put in a good word for me.”
“You know I can’t do that, Willie.” He opened his mouth to retort but I raised my left hand to cut him off, and kept going. “Not that I wouldn’t want to. But I don’t have that kind of access to him. I wouldn’t even know how to do something like that.”
Which was not completely true. There was a hotline. It wouldn’t get me straight to the Big Guy’s office, but it would get me to the Agency’s Field Office at the Pole, and the Duty Officer there. The DO could get a message to him quickly, if necessary.
But Willie probably didn’t know that. And anyway, I wasn’t sure he was on the up and up, and I had no intention of getting played for a sucker.
“Of course you can’t,” Willie said. “You’re just a lowly field agent. But you know people who can.”
I shrugged. “Could be.”
He looked at me for a long moment, then nodded, his shoulders sagging slightly. “But you don’t believe me.”
“Would you, if you were me?”
Willie shook his head ruefully. “Guess not.” Again his eyes fell to the floor, and he sighed. Twice. Then he drew another breath and raised his head, squaring his shoulders. He had a determined look on his face, but also a resigned one. Like he was about to do something he didn’t want to, but that was necessary.
He gestured toward the typewriter. “What if I told you there was a way to bring your operation up to civilized times?”
The words hit me like a prize fighter’s jab. My mind whirled back to my earlier recollections of the recent cases, and the tantalizing hints.
If the pointies had cracked the electronics problem, that was a game changer. It meant their capability was about to take a quantum leap upward, and their threat toward Christmas as well. It was a thought that had the strategic planning office at Headquarters up nights with worry.
But if it was true, and Willie was willing to divulge the secret…
His lips turned upward into a broad grin. “Caught your interest now, didn’t I?”
I tried to put on a bland expression, but he saw right through it.
“Why don’t you get on that phone, and call someone who can make this happen.” He paused. “Or I can just walk out of here. If I’m not wanted…” He trailed off, and there was satisfaction in his tone.
He had me. Or he thought he did.
No. He had me.
If there was a chance to leapfrog the pointies’ potential electronics advancement, I had to take it.
I picked up the phone.
The call brought another field agent in from Pittsfield, about two hours away, and together we put Willie up in a safe house on the other side of the metropolitan area where Lockwood lies.
The safehouse was a no-tell motel not far from our forensics office. Not fancy, by any stretch of the imagination. But it did the job.
In the morning, more agents arrived, and they all took Willie off to Higher, for debriefing and evaluation.
Never saw him again, but a couple weeks later word filtered down from Higher that they were in talks with the Big Guy about getting him back to the Pole and on payroll.
No one said a damn thing to me about electronics, though.
Could be he was full of it, after all, but he gave something else up that made the high-ups want to go to bat for him. Or could be the electronics thing would take a while to crack, and they were keeping it on the down low for now.
Either way, I was the low man on the totem pole, and I knew it. I’d find out when they wanted me to find out. If ever.
But that’s ok. I had my cases to work, and my nights and weekends to spend with Nora. A job I dig, and a girl I dig. Not a bad combination. Pretty good, if you ask me.
Still, as I turned out the light in my office and closed up for the day, I couldn’t help but wonder if Willie would be content when he finally got back to the Pole. Or would he find out that his good old days weren’t really all that good, after all?
For his sake, I hoped the former.
But I wasn’t so sure.
A collection of Michael Kingswood’s published stories are available here: