The Case of the Christmas Letters

Allen tucked himself down a bit further in his scarf and pulled his hat down a little further over his ears. It was a windy day, with a hint of winter in the air. It was days like these, in his old job, that he’d had to work the hardest. Now, he didn’t have to chase letters on the wind. He’d been promoted to mailbox collection this year.

He sighed softly and adjusted the bag of letters he’d already collected. No doubt about it. His job was definitely a bit easier now. However, there were so many more letters being dropped in the mailboxes. To Allen, this job was far more stressful. Chasing down the wind-blown letters was almost fun. This… this was work. Even more so with Christmas just a few days away. That lent a sense of urgency to the collection under the best of circumstances.

His ears twitched as he thought of all the things that could go wrong. Mailboxes had been vandalized in past years. Someone had even gone so far as to throw matches into one – lighting the letters ablaze. He’d still been on wind-blown collection duty then, but he’d heard about the fiasco from his father.

Allen shivered at the thought. The elf in charge of that box had been shifted to reindeer duty. It wasn’t really a demotion, but everyone at the mail office knew it was a slap in the face. It was like saying she wasn’t responsible enough to protect the letters to the Big Guy.

Shaking the thoughts away, Allen focused on the task at hand. This was the last mailbox on his route. Once he’d collected these letters, he could go home, have some cocoa and relax, until tomorrow – when it started all over again.

Allen stood on his toes to unlock the box. He lowered the door and slid out the carton that held all the day’s letters. He had just turned to his bag, so that he could open it, when someone shoved into him.

Allen fell against the side of the mailbox with a startled cry. He put a hand to his head, as he stood. Then, he realized what was happening. Someone was stealing the letters! “Hey!” he squawked.

The young man looked at him for just a moment. Then, stuffing the letters into his jacket, he took off down the block.

“Hey!” Allen shrieked, his heart beginning to pound. This was so much worse than having letters burned! Tears filled his eyes, but he focused on the present. He shoved the bag of letters he’d collected into the box, slammed it shut and locked it. Then, he took off after the thief.

Allen was panting, his heart beat thundering in his ears. He had to catch the boy! “Stop,” he shouted. “If – if you don’t stop, you – you’ll end up on the Naughty List!”

At one point, that might have stopped someone. This time, the young man just ran harder. He dodged around the corner of a building. Allen bit his lip and tried to follow. However, when he rounded the corner, he skidded to a stop. He looked around. The thief was… gone.

Tears welled in Allen’s eyes. “Christmas cookies,” he gasped. Then, he sat down on the sidewalk, tugging on his ears and thinking hard. What could he do? If he went back to the mail office and reported the theft… “My father will be so ashamed of me,” he sobbed.

Allen didn’t know how long he sat there, sobbing. It didn’t matter. His life might as well be over. He’d lost letters to the Big Guy. He’d brought shame on his family. What could he possibly do to fix this?

He flinched when someone touched his shoulder. He looked up to see a man standing there. He blinked and wiped his eyes. “I – I’m sorry,” he said, his voice cracking. “Was this your sidewalk?”

“No,” the man said, blinking. He sighed and crouched down. “I never…” he started, then he shook his head. “I’ve heard all my life that when an elf laughs, one can’t help but laugh with them. When they cry, your heart breaks at the sound. I just… I never realized how true that was.”

Allen sniffled and drew a large handkerchief out of his jacket pocket. He blew his nose and wiped his eyes. “Yeah,” he said, giving the man a wan smile.

“If I may,” the man said, “Why are you crying? What’s wrong?” He shrugged and added, “If you tell me, I might be able to help.”

For a moment, Allen hesitated. They weren’t meant to be seen by the humans when they were collecting letters. However, they weren’t meant to have those letters stolen, either. He nodded. Maybe – just maybe – this man could actually help.

**

“So, that’s everything,” Allen said. He took a sip of hot chocolate and then shook his head. “I’ve just got to get those letters back. Otherwise – otherwise, I’ll let everyone down!” Tears welled in his eyes and he began tugging on his ears.

The man caught his hands and gave him a weak smile. “Please don’t do that,” he said, his voice carrying a softly lilting accent. He sighed and then drew his hands back. He took his cup of coffee and frowned. “As luck would have it, I happen to be an expert at finding and recovering things that have been stolen.”

“Really?” Allen said, blinking away his tears.

“Sam Perkins,” he said, nodding. “Investigator with the Piedmont Wardens Department. Actually, my expertise is in hair and fiber analysis, but that doesn’t mean I can’t use my abilities to perform a trace analysis.”

“So – so you’ll help me find the thief and get the letters back?” Allen said. He sighed softly and tugged at one of his ears. It was almost too much to believe. There might be a way he could get out of this mess after all! “Would you – would you please?”

“Of course,” Sam said. He smiled and said, “So, stop tugging at those ears of yours, right? We’ve got work to do, if we’re to get those letters to Father Nicholas on time.” He drank the rest of his coffee and stood.

“Right,” Allen said, flashing him a sunny smile. He clambered down from the chair and headed for the door. Then he scowled. “What do we do first?”

“We start at the scene of the crime,” Sam said, holding the door open from Allen. As they stepped outside, he added, “Show me where the thief knocked you down and snatched the letters from.”

Allen nodded and tugged his hat down a bit further, as he hurried back to the mailbox. He sighed as they drew near. “It was here,” he said, pointing to where he’d been crouching. He looked back at Sam and frowned. “Do you need me to open the box?”

“If you could,” Sam said, nodding.

Chewing his lip thoughtfully, Allen opened the box. He tugged out the mailbag and pointed at the few letters that remained. “He grabbed the rest and stuffed them into his coat,” Allen said. “Then, he ran off in that direction.”

Sam looked thoughtful for a moment. Then, he set a carpetbag down on the ground beside the mailbox and drew out a small wand. He waved it over the mailbox a few times, then he set off down the street.

For a moment, Allen hesitated. Then, he three the remaining letters into the bag, locked the mailbox and threw the mailbag over his shoulder. He scampered after Sam. It was clear that Sam was following something only he could detect. The thought scared Allen a little, but he had no other choice than to trust that Sam knew what he was doing.

Sam rounded the same corner where Allen had lost track of the thief. This time, Allen was able to continue following. They skirted around the edge of the building and across an empty lot. Finally, Allen followed Sam into a large, empty warehouse. He cried out in dismay when he saw a pile of letters lying in the middle of the room.

Sam seemed to come back to himself, then. “Oh, dear,” he said. He stepped over to the letters and checked through them. “They don’t seem to have taken any damage.”

Allen sighed in relief and bounced over to the pile. He set his mailbag down and began gathering the scattered letters into his hands. After a few moments, he had all of them. “Oh, no!” he said, as he tucked them into the mailbag.

“What is it?” Sam asked, his brows furrowing slightly. “Was there something you noticed that I didn’t?”

Allen nodded and tugged at his ear fretfully. “One of the letters is missing,” he said> He shook his head and wrung his hands. “I’m certain of it, but – but why? Why would anyone do such a thing?”

Sam gave him a wan smile. “We’ll know when we find out who took the letters,” he said. He took a steadying breath and lifted his wand once more. “Try to stay close, Allen,” he said, his voice soft.

Allen nodded. Shouldering his mailbag, he fell into step as Sam set off once more. He could only hope that they would be able to retrieve the letter. This close to Christmas, it was vital that each letter get through. There may not be time for the child to write a new one.

**

Sam could sense that they were drawing near the final missing letter and the person who had taken it. He could always sense when he was getting close to whatever he was attempting to trace. He blinked and looked up at the building in front of which they were standing. A slight frown touched his lips.

“What is it?” Allen said, sounding worried.

Blinking, Sam turned to him and shook his head. “I just can’t comprehend why someone would do something like this,” he said. “This place… it’s government housing. It’s for people who have… very little.”

Allen nodded. “Those sorts… sometimes they steal because they haven’t got any other choice,” he said, his voice soft.

“But… a letter to Father Nicholas?” Sam said, shaking his head. “That’s valuable to you and – and to your employer, but… not anyone else!”

“Well, then,” Allen said, scowling. “Why would he have taken it?” Although a part of him balked, he had to admit that Sam was write. The letters had no monetary value. They just weren’t the sort of thing that a person would normally steal.

“I don’t know,” Sam said. He stepped forward and pushed the door open. Then, he said, “But I intend to find out.”

Sam frowned slightly as he headed inside. This time, he didn’t draw his wand. Somehow, though, he seemed to know exactly where he was going. He headed up a flight of stairs that circled around and around for five stories. Then, he headed down the corridor.

Allen hid behind him as he knocked on the door. When it opened, Allen peered around Sam’s waist. The young man who opened the door was familiar to Allen. “That’s him,” he breathed. He looked up at Sam and nodded. “That’s the man who stole the letter!”

The young man spotted Allen and started to close the door, but Sam stopped him by catching the door and flashing his badge. The youth let out a frustrated sigh and opened the door. He stepped back, inviting them inside. “Be quiet,” he whispered, “my sister is sleeping.”

Sam nodded slightly. “We’re here to get something,” he said, keeping his voice soft. “I think you know what that is.”

“The letter,” he said. He frowned and looked at Allen. “What does it matter?” he hissed. “Why do you need the letter that my sister wrote to Father Nicholas?”

Allen looked shocked. “It’s – it’s my job to see that each letter a child writes to the Big Guy gets to him,” he said, shaking his head. “H-how else is he supposed to know what they want for Christmas?”

That brought the youth up short. He blinked. “You mean… you mean, you actually bring those letters to – to Father Nicholas?” he breathed.

Allen blinked and nodded. “Of course,” he said. “He reads the letters and – and, if a child is on the Good List, they usually get what they’ve asked for. If they’re on the Naughty List… well, they’ve been naughty, haven’t they?”

The young man dropped down into a seat and shook his head. “I – I never thought… I though the letters were just – just thrown away or collected for the newspaper to print!” he said. He shook his head again. “Becca never doubted for a moment. She – she wouldn’t tell me what she wanted – said I couldn’t buy her a nice present anyway, but it was all right. Father Nicholas would see that she’d been good and – and he’d bring her what she wanted.”

Sam crouched in front of the young man. “You’re awful determined to get your sister what she wants,” he said, his voice soft. “You must love her an awful lot.”

“She – she’s really sick,” the young man said. Tears welled in his eyes and he shook his head. “Something’s wrong with her aura. If she doesn’t get the treatment she needs, the doctor said that – that she probably… he said this would be her last Christmas. I wanted it to be special.”

Allen sniffled slightly and nodded. “I’ll make sure that the Big Guy knows how important it is that she gets her wish,” he said, his voice cracking.

The young man nodded. He reached a hand under the couch cushions and drew out a tattered looking piece of paper. Handing it to Allen, he said, “I’m sorry for all the trouble. I just – I didn’t believe, until now.”

“Your sister did,” Allen said, taking the letter. He tucked it safely into his pocket. This letter deserved special handling. He smiled at Sam and nodded. “Thank you so much for helping me,” he said.

Sam nodded and then stood. As Allen turned to leave, he looked at the young man. “What’s your name?” he said, his voice soft.

“Mark Patterson,” he said, rubbing his eyes.

Nodding, Sam said, “I’ll let you go with a warning, this time, Master Patterson. Just you stay out of trouble from here on out. Right?”

“R-right,” Mark said, nodding. He gave Sam a wan smile and bowed slightly as they left. As Sam shut the door, he heard Mark murmur a soft word of thanks.

**

Christmas morning dawned clear and bright, with a blanket of snow covering everything, making it seem to shine the faint sunlight. Sam smiled faintly and smoothed a hand through his hair.

He had the day off, a rarity among the investigators. Crime didn’t rest, so neither could those who worked to stop it. In fact, the holiday season seemed to bring out the very worse in people. Shaking the thoughts away, Sam stepped over to his little Christmas tree and flipped the switch that turned on the lights.

His eyes widened as he saw the package settled in the fabric of the tree skirt. How could anyone… he shook his head and drew the package into his lap. It was, by far, the most beautiful gift he’d ever received. A part of him was tempted to leave it wrapped.

However, a larger part of him burned with curiosity. Who could have left it for him? He was certain it hadn’t been there when he’d gotten home from church the night before. He turned it over carefully in his hands. There was no card.

A faint frown touched Sam’s lips and then he smiled. He hadn’t been this excited about a gift since he was a little boy – back when Master Nicholas still brought him gifts. He eased off the ribbons and tossed them into the tree. Then, he carefully pried the gift wrap free and drew it back to see what was inside.

His eyes widened. It was a wand case. The wood was a rich, burnished red with delicate scroll-work covering the smooth surface. The lid was decorated with a firebird inlaid in a lighter colored wood. Sparks fell from its spread wings.

Blinking, Sam ran his fingers over the surface. It was magnificent craftsmanship. He couldn’t imagine who could have made such a thing. He’d needed a new wand case and, now, he had one that he would be proud to draw out of his carpetbag wherever his work might take him.

Sam eased the lid opened, to see if the inside was as beautiful as the outside. As he did so, he found a small piece of paper. He paused to admire the brushed velvet interior. Each wand would have its own little cushioned bed to lie in, to prevent them scratching or cracking each other.

“Who could have…” he started, as he unfolded the paper and looked at it. In tiny, swirling handwriting, was a note from Allen.

“This is by way of thanks,” it read. “I don’t know what I would have done without you. You saved my job. I’ve never been very good at making toys, my father says my carving is too fine for such work, so I thought it would be perfect for something like this. I hope you enjoy it. With Gratitude, Allen Snowdrop.”

Sam sighed and tucked the note in the bottom of the wand case. Who knew? Perhaps a wand case crafted by one of Master Nicholas’s elves would hold more power than a normal one. It certainly couldn’t hurt.

Elsewhere in the city of Piedmont, Mark Patterson was awakened by a telephone call. He sighed, as he stumbled out of bed and moved into the little sitting room. “Hello,” he said, blinking away sleep from his eyes.

“Merry Christmas,” the operator said, sounding far too cheerful for someone working on a holiday. “I’m connecting a call from Master Seamus Perkins.”

“All right,” Mark said, frowning. He gasped softly as Becca padded out of her room. She looked tired and pale. From the scowl on her face, he knew her aura was flaring. “What are you doing out of bed?”

“It’s Christmas,” she said, shrugging. Her gaze drifted to the corner of the room by the heater, where they’d hung greens in place of a tree. She grinned. “Brother!” she said, then she headed over.

“Hello?” the person on the telephone said.

Mark blinked and said, “S-sorry, um… I don’t know you, sir. Are you sure you have the right number?” He looked over at where his sister was and gasped. A tree! An honest-to-goodness Christmas tree, complete with twinkling blue lights and sparkling garland stood in the corner of the room.

“Oh, I expect you don’t know me,” Master Seamus said, chuckling. “Truth is, I don’t know you either, but my little brother was most insistent that I had to call you this morning – said it had to be Christmas morning.”

“Your… little brother?”

“Sam Perkins,” Master Seamus replied. “He’s a Warden-investigator, said you might just have a patient for me?”

Mark’s eyes widened. He looked over at his sister, who was sitting expectantly beside the unexpected tree. “Um… my sister is sick, but… we can’t afford…”

“Don’t worry about that,” Master Seamus interrupted. “What kind of Christmas gift would it be, if I made you pay for it?” He chuckled softly and added, “Just bring your sister to the clinic on East Third tomorrow, right?”

“Yeah,” Mark said, feeling a bit dumbstruck. Then, he remembered his manners and shook himself. “I – I mean, yes, sir. Thank you!”

“You’re most welcome,” Master Seamus replied. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas,” Mark said. Then he hung up the telephone and stepped over to the tree. “Well, that’s a surprise.”

“Master Nicholas gave us a tree,” Becca said. She grinned and reached under the tree, retrieving a large package. “A present!” She looked under the tree and then frowned. “This one’s for me, but… there’s nothing for you.”

“That’s fine,” Mark said, a faint smile touching his lips. He reached out and smoothed her hair. “I already have the only thing I wanted.”

At that, his sister smiled and settled back with her present. He watched her open it with a growing smile on his lips. He had a sneaking suspicion he knew exactly what it was, but he wouldn’t ruin the surprise. “This is the best Christmas… ever,” he murmured.

The End… Merry Christmas!

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