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December, Day 8: Crueltide – A Ray Delaney Mystery

8.December 2010

Today my dear husband Dan is here for the first guest post of the season.  When he’s not helping eat the goodies I bake, he’s busy writing about pop culture over at PULPable and spinning yarns about his fictional hero, Ray Delaney, P.I. at [untitled]. Today he begins a tale of Christmas Chaos in…

Crueltide: A Ray Delaney Mystery
Chapter I:
“Slay Bells Ring”

 

The pebbled glass on the office door was frosted on the outside, a thin layer of spray-can snow obscuring Delaney’s view of the corridor beyond. Mrs. Glaubeschon did so like to decorate.

Every Christmas she stood in his office doorway and clomped—or, at the very least, that was the noise that accompanied the action in Delaney’s head—until the snow fell to the carpet like icing slipping from a slice of cake.

“Mahning, Mr. Delaney,” she would say, before pulling out a years-old can of Insta-Snow and making Delaney’s life a little more festive. “You like?” she would ask, smuggling a vulpine grin underneath her smile.

“I’m hearing sleigh bells already,” Delaney would reply. Each year, he struggled for a new response to this strange ritual. Next year, he was thinking of going with ‘Ho, ho ho.’

The case file open on Delaney’s desk had been there since Thanksgiving. He closed it and stood up, pulled on an overcoat and scarf and left the building. He needed some Christmas spirit.

The bartender was shining glasses unironically. The light was low, but Delaney watched as the young man set a tumbler on the bar and poured a stream of copper liquid into the glass.

Bliss, he thought, as the warmth of his first sip hit the back of his throat. The pleasure was short-lived. Through the bottom of the whiskey glass he saw Santa Claus step through the door of the Idlewild Lounge. Made bulbous and clownish by the thick milk-bottle lens at the base of the glass, it was one of the strangest things that Delaney had ever seen.

He set down his whiskey and, as the fat, bearded man moved across the bar, realized that this Santa was in his civvies. The man’s eyebrows jumped expectantly as he saw Delaney, and he rushed over.

“Mr. Dela—”

“I don’t guide sleighs. By night or day.”

“I—I’m sorry?”

“Listen, Kris Kringle, I just want to have a drink, and then wade through a foot of snow, in a slightly inebriated state, back to my apartment.”

“Mr. Delaney, I’m here on a case. I was sent by Detective Don Tannhauser.”

Delaney paused. He had worked with Tannhauser before. Successfully, even. Santa creaked onto a bar stool and the bartender glanced across at them, confusion digging into his brow.

“My name is Bill Sovereign. I work with Don and,” he faltered. “I wouldn’t trust you with this, but Don’s word is golden in my book… There’s been a spate of disappearances, starting earlier this month. First, the Cambridgeside Mall, then the Burlington Mall, and just yesterday, the travelling Newbury Street Santa. All gone without a trace.”

“And you’re working on this case?”

“Undercover.” He nodded quickly. “At the Copley Mall.”

Delaney grunted. “And what’s my role in all this? I don’t make a good elf.”

“Whoever’s responsible for the disappearances, it’s only a matter of time until they come after me. We need an extra pair of eyes and ears at Copley, and Don thinks that you’re the man for the job.”

Delaney gulped down the rest of his whiskey. It was an Elijah Craig 25. It deserved more time than he had given it. “Just one question: is it real?” He gestured to the beard.

“You kidding? I’d’ve never gotten a gig at the Copley if I’d shown up as a clean-shaven charlatan.”

The squeak underfoot and the halogen glow, the tinny strains of bells and the bright smell of cinnamon. Beyond the huge glass front of the mall, a drift of snow was steadily blockading roads and ruining travel plans. But Delaney was here on business.

He clomped— à la Mrs. Glaubeschon—and from the brim of his fedora a wedge of snow fell onto his brown loafers with a thump. The wet shoes continued to squeak as he made his way up to the second floor.

He heard them before he saw them: twenty or thirty kids, punctuated here and there by tired-eyed parents, forming a line that snaked into the center of the mall. Bill Sovereign, smiling broadly, was encamped in a fake living room, gas fire flickering behind him under a mantelpiece of faux marble, a rug strewn in front of him and covered with empty boxes wrapped in Christmas paper. He looked ridiculous yet credible in the dark red suit.

Delaney circled Santa’s grotto. Hallways extended ike bicycle spokes from the central foyer, and in each section of the mall was a slightly different throng of shoppers. His eyes scanned the people in each spoke: Italian tourists wrapped in parkas; women in expensive dresses who could have been the Real Housewives of Beacon Hill; and lone men struggling anxiously to find the perfect gift for wives, girlfriends, parents, or children.

On the fourth round trip, he pulled the brim of his hat down, studied the window of a ladies’ shoe store, and then turned back toward the center of the mall. But this time, there was something wrong. Sovereign’s chair was empty.

Squeak-squeak… Squeak-squeak. His step quickened against the waxy floor. Could the thug really have taken Sovereign out from under his nose?

He reached the far end of the line. As he was about to interrupt a woman deep in conversation with her son, Sovereign emerged from the bathroom to their right and Delaney let out a shallow sigh. Sovereign looked at him, briefly, and then made his way back toward the grotto.

“See, honey, Santa was just taking a break,” muttered the woman beside Delaney. “Even Santa needs to…” She drifted off, her jaw slackened a little. Delaney followed her line of sight back toward the men’s room. Two security guards had appeared, supporting between them the ample frame of a man dressed only in thermal underwear. The ample frame was that of Bill Sovereign, whose head lolled against his chest, his furry socks dragging silently across the wax floor.

Out of the corner of his eyes, Delaney saw a flash of red. He pirouetted with a chalk-board squeal and caught sight of the phony Santa thundering away down one of the spokes of the mall. He had been waiting for Sovereign in the bathroom. That was how he had eliminated the Santas at the Cambridgeside and Burlington malls. He had taken them out and then switched clothes with them. But why had he left Sovereign to be discovered?

Delaney’s loafers cried in pain, his hat flipped back on his head, and he launched himself after the man in red. The tinny speakers throughout the mall had begun to jingle again:

“Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus…”

To Be Continued . . .

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Jamie permalink
    10.December 2010 16:03

    So happy Ray’s back! Can’t wait to see more…

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