He was seated at an immense desk, made from the same wood as the doors, and with similar scrolling. Another work of elegant beauty.
Shelves of lined books covered one wall of the large room, but the oversize desk held three large computer monitors. Three much larger monitors hung on the wall behind the desk, digital maps of different regions of the planet displayed on them. Each showed dozens of red dots, which, after a moment’s inspection, I realized were ports. Lines connected each one of them to Pole, sitting alone near the top of each map.
“Detective Bonespear, sir,” the butler’s voice brought me back to the present danger, so to speak.
The chair behind the desk creaked as it spun around, and there. He. Was.
Sir Nicholas Kringle. The Clause. Santa.
Lard Ass. Fat Boy. Jerk.
Only. . .he wasn’t fat. No red suit.
Sitting before me was a man with iron gray hair, crystal blue eyes, and a stern but not unkind face.
Wearing an Armani suit, hand painted silk tie, and reading glasses. A beard and mustache of graying dark hair, both neatly trimmed, hid much of his facial features. He looked up at me, and. . .smiled.
“Thank you for coming, Detective,” his deep, basso voice rumbled, and I swear I felt my bones shake.
“My pleasure, sir,” I bowed my head slightly. No sense in pointing out that I hadn’t really had choice, I figured.
“Please, sit,” he motioned me to a chair. I did, not knowing what else to do.
“Have you made any progress?” he asked bluntly. I thought of playing dumb, but there couldn’t really be any doubt what he was asking me about.
“Some, yes sir,” I nodded.
“I’d like to hear it,” he asked/ordered, leaning back in the chair. For the next ten minutes he listened without interruption as I brought him completely up to date in the two murders, well, three really, and everything my investigation had revealed to this point. When I finished, he regarded me silently for a moment before speaking.
“This is bad,” he sighed finally.
“I’d say that’s an understatement, sir,” I said before thinking. He surprised me by laughing.
“Yes, I’d have to agree,” he replied. “Have you identified any of the Du Vla involved?”
“I only just learned of their involvement before your summons, sir.”
“I see.” He looked out the window for what seemed like a long time. I sat as patiently as I knew how. I was so far out of my depth here, silence seemed like the best option.
“Detective, I need this problem to go away,” Sir Kringle said finally. “Can you make that happen?”
“I don’t understand, sir,” I replied honestly. “‘Go away’ covers a lot of territory. What do you need me to do?” Compliance seemed the best route to go, at the moment.
“This whole. . .affair, has caused an uproar in the Elven communities,” Kringle told me. “Air Dancer was bad enough, but he was, effectively, a nothing. A nobody. I’d never say that to his father, who is one of my oldest friends, but sad as it is to say, it’s true.”
“Northstar is another story altogether,” he sighed. “That boy was bright, and had a similarly bright future ahead of him. And his father, Brand, has been with me since the operation was a single shop, working three shifts year round to make ends meet.”
“His death was. . .noticed.”
“I don’t doubt it, sir,” I nodded. “And everything I’ve found, so far, agrees.”
“Is there any way to make it seem as if the Tolite killed Brand as well?” he asked. “Maybe. . .maybe like he was angry over losing at the track?”
“The timing is. . .difficult, sir,” I admitted. “Slashknife had been dead for several hours when Northstar was killed. I can. . .well, I can make it look that way, so long as no one takes a close look at the files. It will mean that the other officers present, and the ME, will have to be. . .counseled,” I added cautiously.
“I can see to that,” he nodded absently. “My other problem, however, could complicate things. While I need this problem to appear to be solved, now, I also want you to continue your investigation. I want to know who actually killed him, and I want to know why. And on who’s order.”
“That does complicate things,” I agreed. I thought about the problem momentarily.
“I can continue my investigation as background, I guess. What we call ‘filler’. Continuing to gather information for a solved, or closed, case to ensure that all of our doves are in a row, so to speak. It’s not common practice, but neither is it unheard of. And the high profile of the victims would probably deflect any serious questions about it. High level interest, that sort of thing. Or that I’m just trying for brownie point,” I added with a shrug.
“That might work,” Kringle nodded. “I understand you’re temporarily in charge of your unit, since the death of Redshirt?”
“Yes, sir,” I nodded. “That shouldn’t be a problem, though. A new Captain should be appointed soon, which will give me. . . .” I stopped as Kringle raised a hand.
“I’ve spoken to my cousin,” he told me. “As you were on your way up here. You’re to be promoted to Lieutenant, and given the post permanently. That should leave you free to do anything you need to, yes?”
“Uh. . . .” Me? Lieutenant? In charge?
“My cousin assures me you’re capable of doing the job,” Kringle encouraged. “And I would consider it a personal favor if you took it, and got to the bottom of all this. I need this. . .I need it handled. And I need it done quietly as possible.”
Wow. A personal favor from the Fat One himself. Of course, I realized now that he wasn’t all that fat. He filled out his suit pretty well, but Kringle was more athletic looking than anything.
“I’ll do my best, Sir Kringle,” I nodded finally. How could I refuse all that?
“You’re not long enough in service for Captain,” he added unnecessarily. “But when you are, the promotion will be. . .assured,” he almost smiled.
“Sir, I don’t know what to say,” I told him honestly.
“Say you’ll do everything you can to find out who’s responsible,” he ordered gruffly.
“I will,” I promised. I would have, anyway. “But, there are a couple problems.”
“Well, the DA isn’t likely to want to press any charges against the Du Vla,” I pointed out. “They rarely do. Even if I find. . . .” I stopped again at the upraised hand.
“All I need you to do is get the information, Lieutenant. I’ll. . .handle it, from there.”
“Very well, sir,” I nodded.
“Excellent,” Kringle nodded, smiling slightly. “I knew I could count on you.”
“I’m flattered sir,” I smiled slightly in return. “I realize how important this is.”
“I doubt that very much,” Kringle said quietly. “But the gist of it is, the Privileged Elves are. . .concerned. They’re unaware of the reasons behind the attack, and think someone is simply targeting them. That threatens to slow down, or even stop, our work, which is something I can’t afford to have happen.”
“Toys have to be delivered,” I nodded. Kringle actually snorted. He must have seem my look of surprise, since he grinned ruefully.
“I don’t actually deliver toys, you know,” he said suddenly.
“I said I don’t actually deliver toys,” he repeated. “Not individually, anyway.”
“Elves do it?” I asked, looking at the big monitor. “Distribution points. I wondered. . . .”
“No, no,” Kringle shook his head. “Not the elves. Well, technically, perhaps,” he mused, almost to himself. “No, our toys are ‘delivered’ to stores, Calef,” he said evenly.
“Sir?” I blurted, caught by surprise. So much so that I barely noticed the he used my first name.
“I know, doesn’t fit the profile,” he nodded, something like sadness, or chagrin, crossing his face. “Do you know, I have no idea how that got started? The idea that I run all over the world on one night, delivering toys to children. I mean, surely anyone can look at a map and see that it’s impossible.”
“Magic?” I asked, speaking before I thought.
“Ah, magic,” Kringle sighed. “The only magic here, Calef, is the bottom line.” He stood, walking to the large monitors. “Out factories make some of the most popular toys, trinkets, and electronics in the world. The best, too, actually,” he added. “We do that under contract to various big name companies, as well as our own very carefully concealed shell companies.”
“There’s no magic, no largess, no charity involved. We do this to make money. To keep this place running,” he added, a sweeping arm making the round in front of him.
“Pole was built, centuries ago, to protect the Fa-rey races of people, of which elves are only one branch. The Fa-rey were too different to survive in the human world. Humans are, for the most part, a good people, but they fear the unknown. The different. And we are nothing if not different,” he snorted.
“Well, that’s true,” I admitted, my head still spinning. And why was he telling me all this?
“I know you’re probably wondering why I’m telling you this,” he said, as if reading my mind. It must have showed, since he chuckled.
“No, I’m not reading your mind,” he grinned. “But anyone who wonder, I imagine.” He sat on the corner of the desk.
“It takes a lot of money to keep this place going,” he said. “There’s not much here in the way of industry, other than Kringle Manufacturing. Almost everything here, industry wise, if not part of Kringle, has grown up around us providing support for us. Raw materials for the work we do.” I nodded my understanding.
“The economy here is fairly strong, but that’s only because of our manufacturing base, and the money it bring in. Take that away, and our community will falter. Perhaps even fail. That will lead to many problems, all of which are. . .troublesome.”
“Some of the Fa-rey will look elsewhere, which will expose our existence. Others will turn to crime to support themselves, either preying on their fellows, or venturing out into the human world to prey on them. Either of those choices are unacceptable, and could bring danger to us all.”
“We aren’t a ‘recognized’ nation,” Kringle went on. “We do make use of magic, of course, mostly to conceal our presence here. But that magic can only do so much. Too much traffic, uncontrolled, will lead humans to be curious about this region. They mostly ignore this area, for now, since, as far as they know, there’s nothing here of value.”
“Were they to discover us, that would change,” he continued grimly. “And we have no way to keep them out, if they decide they want in,” he admitted. “Oh, we have our security forces,” he waved a hand. “But they’re far from an army. Were we to fight, and I guess we’d have to try, we would lose. Badly.”
“So, we rely on stealth,” he concluded. “And the only way to assure that stealth is for everyone to be happy here, and want to stay here.”
“When we first came here,” Kringle stood, making his way back to his chair, “things were different. The races knew first hand the dangers of interaction with the humans as a whole. Yes, there are many humans here, as well, but all are carefully vetted, or born here.”
“Over the centuries since Pole was established, many have forgotten, and many more have never experienced, the violence we endured when we were part of the world at large. They don’t realize the danger, and no amount of history can make them grasp it.”
“So it becomes important that things here be. . .comfortable. That our people not want to leave the safety of this place. If that changes. . . .”
“Then all of us are at risk,” I finished. He nodded.
“So now, you really do understand,” Kringle leaned forward, arms on his desk.
“Yes, sir,” I replied. I had misjudged this. . .person. Badly. I didn’t know anything at all, before now. Nothing.
“I can see that your opinion of things is changing,” Kringle smiled.
“Very much so, sir,” I nodded.
“So I can count on your help?” he asked.
“Thank you,” he almost sighed. “You’ll be taken back, now,” he announced. He reached into his desk and removed a cell phone.
“This is yours,” he said, handing it over. “It’s pre-programmed. Dials me personally. If there’s a problem you can’t handle, or if you need, influence, let’s call it, don’t hesitate to use it. And keep me informed.”
“I will, sir,” I nodded, taking the phone.
“I’ll expect you for lunch, first day of the week, from now on,” he ordered. “We’ll talk aboutthe case, and any problems you have. But if it can’t wait, call me at once. I really appreciate this, Calef.”
“Sir, I’m honored,” I said, meaning it.
“Take care, young man,” he nodded, and then returned to his work.
“This way, Lieutenant,” the butler, who had been silent the entire time, was suddenly beside me. I followed him back out the way I had entered, fighting the urge to look back.
“Remember to call, as needed,” the butler reminded me as we rejoined Telfin and Wingel. “And we’ll send a car for you on Monday next, at around ten.”
“Thank you,” I nodded.
“You are quite welcome,” the butler smiled. He turned to Telfin.
“Return him to his office. And be warned, he is now on the list.” Both elves looked at me, shocked, but nodded. I had no idea what ‘the list’ was, but if it got these two off my back, then I like it already.
The ride back was. . .silent. Neither spoke, and let them stew in silence. It was obvious they were surprised, and curious, but neither asked about my interview. I couldn’t help but smirk, just a little, when Wingel had to give me back my gun upon arriving back at Headquarters.
I reported in to the chief, not knowing what to expect. He smiled when I entered his office.
“Welcome back,” he said, voice friendly. “Congratulations,” he added, handing me a new set of credentials.
“Thank you, sir,” I replied. I decided the least said, the better, at least until my head stopped spinning.
“I’ve already briefed the others,” Kringle told me. “Take your time on the report, and make sure there aren’t any lose ends. I don’t expect anyone to ask to see it, but let’s make sure our bases are covered. After that, you can get to work.”