As the Christmas season is here once again, I'd like to offer my short story, Twas a Crime Before Christmas, which originally appeared in The Orchard Press Online Mystery Magazine in 2009.
As a crime reporter and columnist, I was compelled to look into a report of a burglary of an unemployed construction worker on Christmas Eve in South Philadelphia.
The burglar or burglars broke into the home early on the morning of the 24th. They stole the family’s TV and other household goods. They also took a dozen or so wrapped gifts under the Christmas tree that were intended for the family’s two children.
I interviewed the victim, who was so devastated by the burglary that he could hardly speak. I also spoke to a detective who said he presently had no leads on the case but he planned to keep working it, and I spoke to a local priest who told me that the church was collecting donations for the poor family.
Lastly, I spoke to a man of great wisdom and experience. The jolly old fella was kind enough to pause during his special night out to talk to me about crime.
I interviewed Santa Claus as he was packing up his sleigh and getting ready to head off on his magical trip, bringing toys and goodies to good children around the world.
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow and the beard on his chin was white as snow. His eyes twinkled and his dimples were merry. His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry. He looked like a candidate for a heart attack.
And he smoked. The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth and the smoke encircled his head like a wreath (the Surgeon General would not approve). He was dressed all in fur from his head to his foot (PETA would not approve) and his clothes were tarnished with ashes and soot (Mrs. Santa would not approve). With a lumpy sack over his shoulder, he looked like a homeless person.
I asked Santa Claus if the public’s fear of crime had changed how he did his job.
“The increased use of car and home burglar alarms makes my journey tougher, I must say,” Santa said. “As you know, my miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer make such a clatter, they set off every car alarm on the block.”
Santa went on to say that the alarms ruin the surprise for the children and he is often detained by the responding police officers, who demand identification and administer alcohol tests.
Fortunately, Santa looks like a right jolly old elf, so the police officers have to laugh, in spite of themselves. A wink of his eye and a twist of his head give the people who thought they were being robbed the knowledge that they had nothing to dread.
“I once had my sleigh and reindeer stolen while I was in a home setting up the toys, and I must admit that I paused to enjoy the milk and cookies that a child left me,” Santa said. “But with some kindly police officer’s help, I was able to recover the sleigh and reindeer rather quickly. You see my lead reindeer has a bright red nose and we were able to spot him from about three blocks away.”
Santa said his brush with crime made him understand why families were installing burglar alarms and why they were more concerned about a strange old fat man in red entering their home in the middle of the night. He told me that he was looking into some kind of security system for his sleigh as well.
I asked him about the burglary that occurred that morning in South Philly and he replied he was well aware of the sad incident.
“I plan to visit the house tonight on my rounds and with a little magic I’ll leave them some special gifts under their tree,” Santa explained. “I also did a little investigative work to find the crooks, as I have powers the police lack."
Santa said he discovered who the crooks were, and he tipped the police off. He also plans to leave the crooks lumps of coal in their stockings, which will be hung with care in the local jail.
“Don’t they know I’m watching?” Santa asked.” I know when they have been naughty or good. My surveillance techniques are finer than the FBI’s.”
“This should be a joyful time of year as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ,” Santa said. “This should be a time of love, charity and good cheer.”
The interview concluded, he sprang to his sleigh and to his team gave a whistle and away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim as he drove out of sight, “Happy Christmas to all and to all a good night!”
Note: With apologies to Clement C. Moore and my best wishes for a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all.
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