The missus and I had just finished our afternoon tea when we received a surprise visit. It was Blitzen, the Old Graybeard of Santa’s Reindeer. He was accompanied by his young apprentice, Donner. Blitzen and I had run together in our younger days before the missus and I took up with each other. And it had been some time since we caught up.
To allow his great antlers into the house, we opened the french doors. Still they barely made it into our home. We poured our guests two large mugs of our best cider, threw a log onto the fire and settled in for some news.
Seems the rest of the Reindeer were down with reindeer-itis. As they say at the Pole, when it hits, it hits hard.
Blitzen was using the free time to get the Rookie, Donner, up to snuff on sled-ology. He didn’t want a reprise of the fiasco two year’s earlier when Donner stopped in the middle of nowhere to take a good gaze at the moon.
Blitzen, in his deep reindeer voice went to the subject at hand. “Earlier this year Santa lost one of his Ho’s.”
The wife blushed.
Blitzen continued, “Now I know what you’re thinking. I’m here to tell you that the Ho he lost is not that kind of Ho. It was one of Santa’s three Ho’s in Ho-Ho-Ho. One went missing in action. The middle one to be exact.”
“You don’t say.” I was deeply concerned. This couldn’t happen to a better man than Santa. He was such a jolly, old fellow, him with his red cheeks and all.
My dear wife said, “Poor dear man.”
Donner’s enthusiasm was not to be contained. “Just think what Christmas would be without one of Santa’s Ho-Ho-Ho’s. Why it would be an embarrassment to Santa saying, ‘Ho ho.'”
Blitzen added, “Leaves a person hanging, don’t you think? And we couldn’t leave Santa hanging.”
Blitzen continued, “We all decided that something had to be done. But what?”
I wracked my brain, trying to come up with an answer. “I’m not sure.”
Donner was champing at the bit. “I mean, there was no way Santa was to show up at chimneys with only two Ho’s. They’d paid for three Ho’s. Three Ho’s were expected. They’d think Santa was a fake. Oh, my. That just wouldn’t do.”
Blitzen moseyed back into the conversation, “We put our heads together. The reindeer, the elves and Mrs. Santa. Decided we needed a detective. We could afford it. It would be a tax write-off. Business expense and all. So we hired a a real pro. Not one of them Sam Spade types.”
Donner was back in. “We got that Hercules Parrot. He’s the one we’ve heard so much about. And I got his autograph too.”
“Was he available?” I asked. “I heard that he retired and was no longer taking cases.”
Blitzen ignored the younger Donner’s enthusiasm. “Yes, we got him. Monocle and all. Because of the importance of the case, he was willing to come out of retirement.”
I was impressed enough to repeat the word, “Monocle.”
“We had to pay top dollar too,” Donner said with a bit of pride. “But it was worth it. When he arrived, a calm came over the situation. We knew we had the right man for the job.”
“What a coup,” my wife said.
“This is Santa,” Donner said, “we’re talking about. Only the best for the boss.”
A tear rolled down Blitzen’s eye. “He’s more like a father to us than a boss. When Mrs. Blitzen had the twins, we asked him to be their godfather. We couldn’t believe he’d agree but he did.”
“He’s the epitome,” my wife said, “of Christmas charity.”
“While Monsieur Parrot worked on the case,” Donner jabbered on, “the Elves fashioned a temporary Ho. And I helped too.”
Blitzen shook his head and his deep voice added, “It wasn’t the real thing. Didn’t have the depth. And a bit clumsy. But it was an emergency. We needed a stand-in.”
“So? Did Monsieur Parrot save the day?” I inquired, anxious to know.
Donner spoke at the speed of light. So much was his enthusiasm for the detective. “He took each of us aside and grilled us, ‘Where were you on the night of the fifth?’ I can remember how that voice went deep inside me and stirred up all the fear I had ever had. I thought he was going to accuse me. Trembling, I answered, ‘I don’t know because tonight is the night of the fifth.’ ‘Of course, it is,’ he said. ‘You answered correctly. You must not be guilty.’ I was so relieved.”
Blitzen continued, “When he had finished with us, there was one that was missing.”
My wife and I looked first at Donner, then at Blitzen
The two reindeer joined together and said, “Rudolph.
“The red-nose guy?” my wife asked.
Blitzen said, “I’m afraid so.”
Donner slowed down. “Yeah. Rudolph being the hero and all last year. We were surprised.”
“Unfortunately,” Blitzen said in his deepest voice yet, the kind of voice that can only be used when you say unfortunately, “Rudolph made a real mess of things.”
Donner picked up again. “Monsieur Parrot has this special hound, Monsiuer Basset. He tracked Rudolph down. Finally found him hiding in Santa’s chimney, shaking his booties off. Man, he was such a sight with all that soot on him.”
Blitzen continued the tale. “Before any of us had time to comment, Monsieur Parrot stepped forward. ‘Monsieur ‘Udolph, I presume.’ It was a statement, not a question.
“‘Y-y-yes,’ the poor fellow said, shaking his way from antler to hoof. His pathetic look had turned our anger into pity. He was such a pitiful thing, sitting there in that chimney.
“‘It is not fashionable to wear a suit of soot. I would say you are hiding. Is this not true?’
“All Rudolph could do was shake his antlers and red nose yes.
“‘Please step forward,’ Monsieur Parrot commanded, ‘And tell us why you are dressed so unfashionably.'”
Donner now came in. “He was such a poor thing. Rudolph with his shiny young reindeer coat. It was shiny no more.”
“The poor dear,” my wife offered.
Blitzen took out his pipe, lit it and finished the tale. “Rudolph stepped out of the chimney. Beneath him was Santa’s missing Ho, broken into a hundred small pieces. We couldn’t believe it. We just couldn’t believe it.” Smoke curled out of Old Gray’s pipe. It curled into a teardrop, then flew away as smoke often does.
“Rudolph dropped to the floor out of sorrow and hunger. He had been missing several days, hiding out in the chimney.
“‘Feed the poor creature,’ Monsieur Parrot ordered, ‘and get him cleaned up. Then we will question him.’
“It took several hours to put Rudolph back together again. But it was much easier to put him back together than it was the Ho. Finally, Monsieur Parrot continued his questioning, ‘Tell us what happened.’
“Even though Rudolph had been spiffed up, he was still down in the mouth. He knew he was about to get kicked out of the Reindeer Brigade. He looked up at Santa, Monsieur Parrot and the rest of us with those mournful eyes of his. ‘I’m so sorry, Santa. I wanted to make an impression. Last year I almost tripped when I led the sleigh with my red nose. I knew I needed coordination and I had read that juggling would help.’
“As he said all this, he was crying. It was very sad. ‘The only thing I could think of to juggle was your Ho’s, Santa. At first, I was careful. Very careful. I became over confident and tried a juggle I should have left alone. I stumbled, and I dropped the second Ho. It smashed. I was so scared. I put the other two Ho’s back and cleaned up the smashed one. I didn’t think anyone would look for me in this chimney.’
Donner chipped in. “I always knew Rudolph was a problem. Him and that red nose of his. Show off. Wanted all the glory.”
“Now, now,” Blitzen said. “You’re not so hot yourself.”
My wife was crying. “I’ve never heard such a sad story.”
Blitzen wasn’t through. “Monsieur Parrot was paid. The North Pole Council of Elves, Clauses and Reindeer held a meeting. Everybody knew the trouble Rudolph had caused. It was going to take a year to order a new Ho and have it shipped to the North Pole. Just as we were about to banish poor Rudolph, Mrs. Claus saved the day.”
“Leave it to Mrs. Claus,” my wife said admiringly. “She is a miracle worker.”
Donner stepped back in. “She scooped up all the pieces of the broken Ho and stirred them into a big pot of chicken soup. She cooked it overnight. When she took the cover off the pot the next day, the chicken soup had disappeared. In the middle of the pot was one complete Ho. And it was as good as new. Then she said to the Council, ‘You can only have this Ho if you forgive Rudolph.'”
Blitzen finished out the story. “Of course, the Council was so happy we forgave Rudolph. With a warning. ‘Never play with somebody else’s Ho.'”