Santa's Suit


By Charles D. Patton



Shivers ran down my spine. My worn woolen overcoat provided little protection from what some Chicagoans call a Canadian Express, an ice-cold storm moving south out of Canada to pummel the city. It was early December; and, by evening, the storm had turned rain into sleet and sleet into hard granules of snow — pellets that felt like small pebbles. The wind was so fierce I had to lean my five-foot-ten, one-hundred-seventy pound frame forward at a sharp angle as I wove my way back to my office. On a moonless night, being on the streets of any big city always carried certain risks, but I had a report to write for a meeting with a client the next morning. I always procrastinated at the paper-work part of being a PI.

A block over on Clinton Street, a rotund bearded man staggered out of a dark alleyway between two rundown warehouses, just north of my office. His nose was red from the cold or from hard drinking, but who could tell. He was alone. He wore white — white T-shirt, white boxers and white socks. Anyone would have taken him for a typical homeless guy who had just been rolled for his clothes on a cold winter's night. Dazed, from his attack, he lurched further northward. Little did I know, as I reached my office, that his problems would soon become my problems?

The man in white soon encountered Sergeant Clancy, a sturdy, five-ten, blue-eyed Irish cop, walking south on Clinton Street. Clancy had more of his brown hair intact than was fair for a man in his fifties. Being well past the police force's normal tenure for retirement of twenty-years, Clancy continued on the job because he still loved interacting with people and helping them when he could. He was old-school too, preferring to walk a beat along the shop-lined parts of his patrol area and use his police car only in the more widely dispersed residential parts. He would soon deliver the staggering man's problems to my doorstep.

My name is Gene O'Brien and I retired from the Chicago Police force, as soon as I had done my twenty, thinking I could do better in the private sector, especially double-dipping my pension with a second income. That idea was one of many bad decisions I've made in my life. Having just turned fifty-five, I lived in hope that I was done making bad decisions. Since retiring, I have scraped by as a licensed Private Investigator, holding onto a small two-room second-floor apartment-office combination on Jackson Street above one of those cozy Irish-neighborhood taverns.

The tavern, called Willie's Place, was owned by a fellow retiree from the force, Willie O'Hara. He was another Irishman, like Clancy and me, with all the traits being Irish implies. At six foot and 200 pounds, he was bigger than either Clancy or me, but at least I still had most of my curly red hair, unlike Willie's, which had thinned, straightened and turned sandy blond. Willie struggled like I did to survive day-to-day so we lived symbiotically — whenever I was late on my rent, he was late on his mortgage payment. My brotherly feelings for Willie kept a healthy pressure on me to keep busy, so, at least, I could make my rent and keep him in business. I probably would have failed again if it weren't for him — hence, my reason for working late.

The gentle craft of describing in writing the recent exploits of a wayward husband for my client, the suspecting wife, without being too graphic, was not an easy task for me. About 8:30PM, alone in my office, while deeply absorbed in crafting my report for my morning meeting, I heard a knock at the door. It was a hard knock, unlike the sound of someone's knuckles. Since I wasn't expecting anyone, I silently slipped my Glock 9mm from my right-hand desk drawer into my pocket as a routine precaution.

"Who's there?" I hollered, as I neared the door.

"It's Sergeant Clancy," he said. "I saw your lights on."

Upon opening the door, I was confronted by not one but two jolly men, Clancy holding his baton in his right hand and the afore-mentioned gentleman in white underwear, wrapped in a coarse brown blanket, looking a lot like a monk in a hooded robe, supported by Clancy's left arm.

"Gene, this here is Nick," Clancy said. "Nick, meet Gene O'Brien. Gene, Nick needs your help." With his roundness and what seemed like a perpetual smile, Nick seemed harmless enough. However, I hadn't had such a formal introduction since my high school prom date introduced me to her parents. I felt the same unease as then. "You're a cop," I said. "Why aren't you helping him?"

After Clancy shuffled the man into my office, he said, "Well, if I take him to the station, and he says there what he told me, they'll lock him up for being loony and probably assign me desk duty for the next ten years for believing him." The two of them stood there, dripping melting snow onto my floor.

I motioned them to my two wooden guest chairs, while I returned to the swivel chair behind my desk.

"Tell him what you told me," Clancy said.

"Well," Nick said. "I was leaving to walk to Petersen's Department store, the one on Des Plaines Street, for one of my seasonal jobs when four guys jumped me, took the sack of gifts I carried and stripped me of my suit. I had just finished unloading my sleigh and storing a large number of presents in my warehouse, which I had brought down from up north. I was on my way to take a few of them to Petersen's store when it happened."

"Sounds like a routine mugging except for the sleigh part," I said. "I don't see why you can't handle this as a mugging, Clancy. Clancy started squirming around, and looking like he was about to explode.

"Not just any suit," Clancy said, with a huge grin. "His red Santa Claus suit with white trim."

Baffled, I still didn't see the big deal.

"Unless you are going to tell me the four muggers were elves, Nick," I said. "I don't see why Clancy can't handle this down at the station house."

"How'd you guess?" Clancy said, eyes wider than usual. Nick stopped smiling.

"Guess what?" I asked.

"That the attackers were elves," Clancy said.

I looked back and forth from Clancy to Nick watching for either or both to crack a smile or show some hint of a practical joke, but both remained straight-faced. It was then I focused on the fact that Nick had white hair and a real full white beard and mustache. He also wore small round eyeglasses. I was thinking he must be in high demand by department stores looking so authentic. Still skeptical, I asked, "Were the four elves some of your assistants from the store where you work as a Santa? Did you recognize any of them?"

"The Santa, not a Santa," Nick said with a smile. "No, I'd never seen them before, but I do have a lot of elves working in my North Pole shops making toys, so I couldn't say for certain whether they know me. They weren't from Petersen's store because they only hire little people, never elves, because, you see, people have to believe in elves to see them."

" Are you trying to tell me you are the real Santa Claus, and you were mugged by real elves? " I asked. "Or are you saying there are muggers masquerading as elves running loose in the city?"

"Yes and no," Nick said. "They were real elves all right, but I think they were only out to rob me of my suit. You see; I keep a number of large warehouses around the world to store the toys I will deliver on Christmas Eve. There are now so many good boys and girls around the world that I could never carry that many presents at one time and still get them delivered in one night."

Clancy, now with a wide grin on his face, was enjoying my bewilderment.

"Now you see why I couldn't take him to the station," Clancy said.

"How big was your loss?" I asked, thinking I could determine whether we were talking about a serious felony requiring police action or just a misdemeanor that I could let slide.

"The presents they took are not a big loss because I still have time to replace them before Christmas Eve. It's my red suit. It's what allows me, the reindeer and the sleigh to fly. Without it, we're grounded; I won't be able to get the presents to my staging warehouses, and many children will find no gifts under their tree this year from Santa."

I was thunderstruck. On one hand, I was confronted with a mugging victim who clearly had lost his clothes and possibly his sanity. On the other hand, if I made the wrong decision and ignored what he told me, and he wasn't a lunatic after all, then I could risk ruining the Christmases of children all over the world.

"Assuming I believe this fantastic story," I said. "Where would I even start to look for these rogue elves?"

"I've been told the elves that work in my Chicago warehouses can be found at McGuire Park after midnight," Nick said. "I think they live there."

"I used to patrol that area, and I never saw any elves," Clancy said.

"Like I said," Nick said. "You have to believe in them to see them."

"Oh, yeah," Clancy said.

"Okay," I said. "What do they look like?"

I knew immediately I shouldn't have asked such an obvious question.

"Like elves," Nick said. "Pointy ears, pointy shoes with curvy toes and a bell on the tip of each, green tights and yellow vests with a pointy red hat."

"Why do you think they would steal your suit?" I asked. "Even if the wearer could fly with it, I don't see their angle, their use for it."

"It wouldn't work for them to fly," Nick said. "It only works when I wear it myself and am sitting in the sleigh with the reindeer hitched up. It's like we're all one happy integrated electrical circuit. If any part is missing, the sleigh can't fly."

I was now beside myself — in confusion and wonder. I still questioned whether I should take any of this story seriously or simply send him off with Clancy to the station and let his captain put them both away.

"I think they are trying to set up someone as an imposter," Clancy said.

"What for?" I asked, being drawn back into believing something needed to be done. "What would four elves do with an imposter dressed up as Santa?

"Hopefully, they wouldn't be out to do anything seriously bad," Nick said, as if stealing his bag of gifts and clothes wasn't bad enough. "Doing bad things would disqualify them from ever working for me again in my warehouses or shops."

I rose and began pacing back and forth, not knowing what to do next.

"Where is your sleigh now?" I asked.

"We left it in the alley where the mugging took place," Clancy said. "It's too heavy to move without Santa there in his suit."

"Do the elves know the sleigh won't move without you in it wearing the suit?" I asked.

"No, the necessity of the connection between me, the suit, the reindeer and the sleigh are one of my secrets handed down over the generations of Santa Clauses," Nick said. "I trust you will keep in confidence what I've told you." Both Clancy and I nodded from some deep-seated reflex.

"I called my nephew, Timothy," Clancy said. "And asked him to go over and keep an eye on the sleigh. He should be there now, but I didn't let on who owns it."

***

The storm had let up, so I decided to visit the scene of the crime to see if the culprits might have left any clue to their identities. I advised Nick to stay put in my office until I got back. Clancy said he would go to the park and look for the elves. Stepping out into the crisp air under a crystal sky, I walked through the streets now covered with a half-inch of crunchy, slippery snow. My cheeks stung from the cold. As it was after midnight when I arrived and the moon had still not risen, the alley was cloaked in darkness. I carried a small flashlight on my key ring that I normally used for finding my front door lock when I came home late. It didn't provide much light in the alley, but it was enough to keep me from tripping over anything big, like reindeer.

I hollered out for Timothy but heard no response. I could see the outline of the sleigh and could hear the gentle breathing of sleeping reindeer. As I approached the sleigh, I saw movement from beneath where Santa normally sat, and heard a slight groan. Looking in, I found Timothy tied up and groggy.

"What happened to you?" I asked, as I ungagged and untied him. "I'm Gene O'Brien, Private Investigator and friend of your uncle Clancy. He told me you'd be watching the sleigh."

"Well, I was until I was jumped by four guys who looked like elves," he said. "I always felt elves might exist but never thought I'd see one, let alone four. They tied me up and threw me in here. I must have hit my head on the edge of the seat when I landed."

"Could you identify any of them, if you saw them again?" I asked.

"Hmmm," he said. "They were all dressed alike, in green tights, yellow vests, pointy red hats and pointy shoes with bells on the ends that tinkled when they walked."

"If they tinkled when they walked," I said. "Why didn't you hear them sneaking up on you?"

"Good point," Timothy said, pausing for a moment to consider that revelation. "One of them must have removed his shoes or removed the bells from his shoes. One grabbed me first then moments later I heard the others coming. Now that I think of it, I recall hearing a bell hit the ground and roll around."

I used my little flashlight to search the pavement around and under the sleigh until I suddenly spied a single bell lying alongside one of the sleigh's runners.

"Looks like the elf that first jumped you might have left a calling card," I said. "You stay here and continue watching the sleigh. Your uncle will be back as soon as he can to relieve you."

Meanwhile, Clancy had enlisted Willie, who he could trust to keep his mouth shut about what they were doing, and went over to McGuire Park to look for the elves. About one in the morning, they located the four elves and, after a vigorous chase, managed to catch them. They brought the four back to my office where Nick, still a little shaky, waited for our return.

Back in my office, Clancy lined the four elves up against the side wall of my office. They appeared young and embarrassed.

"Which one of you is the ringleader?" I asked.

The elves looked back and forth at each other but said nothing.

"We want to know why you mugged this gentleman earlier this evening," I said, pointing to Nick.

The smallest of the four blurted out, "We don't know what you're talking about."

The other three elves glared at him, but I couldn't tell if it was because they thought he should keep his mouth shut or because they were embarrassed by him telling a lie.

"I notice one of you seems to be missing the bells off the end of your shoes," I said. "Could that indicate who the leader might be?"

As soon as I revealed I had one of the missing bells, Nick asked to see it.

"Most elves don't realize their shoes are made in one of my shops, or that we engrave on each bell, in very small letters, the name of the elf onto whose shoes the bell will be sewn," Nick said. I handed him a magnifying glass from my desk drawer, and he looked closely at the bell.

"This bell belongs to elf Nim," Nick said, looking to the elf with bells missing from his shoes. "Is Nim your name?"

Sheepishly, Nim nodded.

"Where's my suit?" Nick asked.

"We put it in a locker at Central Station, over on the next block, to keep it safe, while we figured out what we were going to do," Nim said. "Here's the key," pulling the key from his pocket and handing it to Clancy.

"Why did you go back and attack Timothy?" Clancy asked.

"We went back to try to fly the sleigh, but we couldn't get it to move," Nim said. "We didn't plan to attack the young man there; we just needed him out of our way."

"And why did you take the suit," I asked.

"So, I could dress up like Santa," Nim said. "With some short stilts and padding of course."

Nick frowned and asked, "And why would you do that?"

Nim bent his head down and mumbled something none of us could hear.

"Speak up," Clancy said.

"Well," Nim said. "You see, every year we elves make the toys that Santa takes to all the good boys and girls. But, Santa never brings presents to the elves. We do all the work; Santa gets all the credit; and, the good children get all the goodies. Our young elfins don't get any presents from Santa." I could see tears forming in the eyes of all four of them.

"Oh dear," Nick said, putting his hands to his cheeks. "All these years I have been completely blinded to the needs of my own helpers."

"So, I was going to dress up like Santa, and we were going to pass out the presents we took from you and give them to our young elfins," Nim said. "When we couldn't get the sleigh to fly, we went to the park to talk with other elves to see if they had any other ideas how we could deliver the presents."

"How could I have been so thick-headed to have missed something that obvious for so many years," Nick said. "I guess I just saw them as part of our operation, like myself. I've been wrong and need to fix this injustice immediately, this Christmas. As soon as I retrieve my suit, I will fly to the North Pole, add all the elfins to our list and ask the Shops to produce special gifts for them to make up for what they have missed all these years."

The four elves, moving away from the wall, started jumping up and down, twirling around and shedding a few tears of joy. They shook hands with Nick and then Clancy and me. Then they settled down and backed up against the wall again, seemingly prepared to await their punishment.

Clancy drove Nick to Central Station to retrieve his suit. Nick changed into the suit as Clancy drove him, with sirens blaring, to the alley. The siren was meant to wake up the reindeer, so they would be ready to fly and Timothy, who had fallen asleep, so he could be relieved of duty and return to his home. The night sky remained crystal clear, but the moon had come out and was full. In minutes, Santa took off for the North Pole.

While Willie and I waited for Clancy's return, we had the opportunity to ask the elves about their work, their lives and their families. I invited them to sit on the floor, which they did all in a row. We learned they lived lives much like anyone else except they worked for Santa, lived in the woods around McGuire Park, and had large families that extended as far as the North Pole.

As soon as Clancy returned to my office I asked, "What do you want to do with these four?" The four got up and stood at attention, as soon as he entered.

"As long as they promise never to mug or tie anyone up again; I think they should hurry home to their families, so they help them get ready for Christmas."

The four elves nodded in agreement. "We appreciate your kindness, and we now know we could have handled our complaints better. Next time we'll simply talk to Santa right away." With that, off they ran with smiles on their faces.

"Willie, I think we need to visit your establishment," I said. "The eggnog's on me."

Clancy slapped me on the back.

"That's something I'm allowed to drink while on duty," he said. "Sounds like a good decision to me."


Charles Patton, a natural raconteur, is a published photographer and writer of both non-fiction and fiction. His non-fiction works include the military biography of COLT TERRY, GREEN BERET (2005 by Texas A&M University Press), STRATEGIZE YOUR WAY TO SUCCESS (2009 Xlibris), and EXTREME LEADERSHIP (2011 by American Institute of Management). His fiction includes STORMING THE CASTLE BRIDGE, an illustrated children's book (2007 Xlibris) and a variety of short-stories. One of his goals has been to extend himself into the short mystery arena and this is his first effort for your entertainment over the holidays.


Copyright 2012 Charles D. Patton. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!


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