Mere Winkles

by AlvaFan

"...Keel... Keel...? What time is it? I can't see my watch..."

"Hmm? Oh... Let me see... It's approximately ten minutes since you last asked, Paul."

"Ahh... Sorry... Sitting on a lumpy couch in the cold and dark makes me cranky... Okay, makes me crankier... You don't have to say it."

"Yes... Of course, having a fire blazing...in a fireplace that we rarely use...would rather negate the possibility of our client's miraculous event even having the remotest chance of occurring... And we decided...you may recall...sitting in the dark may help, as well as - "

"I know, I know... It's just...never mind..."

"You're not hungry again, are you?"

"No, no, I'm okay... Those doughnuts earlier were enough... Thanks."

"You're welcome... Now, where were we?"

"Sitting on a lumpy couch in the cold and dark."

"Oh, yes."

"Sure wish we could turn the heat up a little... These brownstones are generally drafty... This one particularly so."

"The temperature is fine, Paul. Just put on another sweater."

"I'm already wearing two... And two pairs of socks... And, in case it starts to snow in here, I have my overcoat next to me..."

"You're all set, then. Well done."

"I mean, it does rain in here sometimes..."

"Yes... The landlord and I have issues about that."

"As in, he won't fix the roof and neither will you?"

"It's a question of priorities."

"As in, you won't pay a higher rent for the office space...and nobody else wants to rent it...so he doesn't feel compelled to keep the place up?"

"Basically."

"Hmm... What about the other tenants?"

"There are none."

"Oh, really... That explains why I've never seen or heard anyone else around... Not that I ever thought to ask about them..."

"We rent the entire building. It helps with privacy...professional confidentiality...and the sort."

"That must be expensive, renting this whole...drafty...building..."

"It...suffices."

"Hmm... I just wonder, sometimes, about mold or mildew affecting all the books and paperwork."

"You and Evelyn both."

"I guess I mean to say...you have some valuable material just piled up in stacks, lying around everywhere...exposed to the elements..."

"No... The rarer pieces are archived in the filing cabinets... They're safe enough."

"Oh... Good to hear... So... Umm... Pardon the yawn... Uhh... I was going to ask you something..."

"If it's for the time, you risk bodily injury."

"Maybe I should scoot farther over here first then..."

"Suit yourself."

"Seriously, though... It should be getting pretty close to midnight, right?"

"Actually, no."

"You're kidding."

"Not at all... It's...just past eleven."

"Oh... Thanks."

"You're welcome... You're also welcome to go to sleep for a bit, if you wish... I can wake you should anything unexpected occur."

"Yeah... I think curiosity is about all that's keeping me awake... Helping out with the orphanage's Christmas party tonight wore me out..."

"Quite understandable."

"You missed a nice spread, Keel..."

"Yes, well... Too many children running about makes me...nervous, usually... All that excess energy..."

"Poppi was asking about you..."

"That was kind of him...but not necessary."

"I think he's just wanting to make sure that I'm not working with the...Anti-Christ...or something..."

"Ahh... Well, we'll just have to keep him guessing, then."

"There... Did you feel that...? The heat has finally kicked on... Nice and warm... About time... Speaking of..."

"Don't...ask...Paul..."

"Okay...sure..."

"...Did you hear that...? Keel...? Are you awake?"

"No... Yes... What is it now?"

"I thought I heard something...a soft jingling noise, or maybe..."

"Very funny..."

"No, really... Hey, wait a second... The plate of cookies we left on the table is empty and so is the glass of milk..."

"Now, that is truly not at all amusing, Paul. Our client has paid good money to - "

"Hold on, Keel. I did not swipe the goodies."

"Well, I certainly didn't take them."

"There's just the two of us sitting here...and they were there before I fell asleep."

"I dozed off myself, and I concur: They were there...and now they are not."

"So... What time is it now?"

"Twelve-oh-one."

"A full minute after midnight."

"Right."

"No cookies. No milk. Four wrapped Christmas presents now sitting on the table...that were not there previously."

"Right."

"Why aren't we getting up off this couch to investigate further?"

"Because I have yet to ascertain that we are completely awake."

"I have a lumpy cushion here that can be used to great effect."

"Put it down... And switch on the lights... You're closest."

"Good idea... Reaching for 'em... Let there be...no light."

"Don't look at me like that. I paid the electric bill last Thursday."

"Oh... Maybe there's been a blackout because of the weather."

"That would be my guess as well."

"Let me...stumble...over to the windows and see..."

"Be careful..."

"...Oww! Too late... That was my shin against the table leg... Hold on... Okay, looks like the whole street is blacked out... The wind has picked up... Snow is flying..."

"Any trace of reindeer tracks, or..."

"You're kidding, right?"

"Not at all, actually... Observe the evidence carefully on the table while you're over there... As well as you can."

"I'm not touching a thing, Keel... I am, however, waiting for you to 'fess up about where the goodies went."

"As I have already told you: I never left this couch; I did not leave those presents; I consumed nothing."

"Same here."

"I see... Rather miraculous then, wouldn't you say?"

"Uhh... Well... Are we sure there's nobody else here?"

"Evie and Matty are spending the week up at her sister's in Salem, as you know. She called me from there a few hours ago to assure me that the new bicycle I sent Matty for his seventh birthday today made it there in time for the family's party... He's growing up so fast, isn't he?"

"Yep, he's another miracle. Or, as he used to call it, a 'mere winkle'... We work on 'mere winkles' around here... I loved that..."

"Yes... She also wanted to make certain I had sent off the Washburn file to Varga in Budapest, which I did... Anyway, the door is still locked, last I know, Paul. There's just us here."

"All right... Then that would - okay, the lights have come back on across the street... Let's see if ours... Owww! My other shin... Aha! Lights! Much better! ...I'm going to check out the fireplace for... Are you just going to sit there on the couch?"

"Yes... Who are the presents to?"

"First things first... The grate has been shifted back a little... Soot and ashes are scattered more than they were earlier... The flue is still open... Explains a lot of the draftiness... Gonna close it..."

"I can see sooty tracks on the floor from here..."

"Wears big boots, too, by the looks of them... The presents are to you...me...Evelyn...and Matty... The tags say they are from... 'Your Client'..."

"Our 'client'? Which one?"

"That's all it says, Keel."

"Oh... Hmmm... Interesting..."

"You never got around to telling me earlier: Who is our client on this case? You said they paid us lots of money..."

"I...don't know who it is. They wished to remain anonymous, is all Evelyn said... We have no phone number or physical address for them, merely an E-mail address... They wired us ten-thousand dollars from an untraceable account... I checked with the bank myself this morning; the funds are definitely there."

"And...let me get this straight...you have no idea who paid us to sit in the dark in front of S.Q.'s office fireplace...in order to confirm or deny the possibility of a visit from Santa Claus...Father Christmas...whatever we want to call him?"

"Right."

"And they paid us ten-thousand dollars to do this?"

"I doubt I would have done it for less... I can't speak for you, of course..."

"Look, I thought all along this was some sort of a hoax from one of your Harvard buddies... And I still haven't ruled that out."

"Believe what you will, but none of them are behind this... Perhaps it's one of Evie's friends...or one of yours..."

"None of my friends would have had the time or inclination to pull off something so elaborate... Wait, I can't speculate on this, it doesn't make any sense."

"Since when has what we do made any?"

"Well, there's some truth in that, at least... So... Uhh... Should we open these presents now or wait for Evie and Matty?"

"We leave everything precisely as it is...take some photographs to scan and send to the client...and wait for Evie and Matty to join us next Monday."

"Okay... Sounds good to me... Are you going to E-mail the client then?"

"I expect Evie will... After the photos are developed, yes..."

"In the meantime... How are we going to explain - "

"It's rather late... We're both tired... We'll finish up tomorrow...er...later this morning, actually..."

"If you don't mind, I'll crash here on the couch. Maybe I'll hear if there's any tampering, or..."

"It won't be by me, if you do... I'll be upstairs, should you need anything... Good night, Paul... Switch off the lights, will you? Save the electricity..."

"Of course... 'Night, Keel. E-mail 12/22/2007 11:34:57 AM Eastern Standard Time: 'Dear Mr. Santa Claus of The North Pole. My Mama works with two nice men who take very good care of us. They look for all the miracles and help people. She said that next to the birthday of the Baby Jesus on Christmas Day that you are a really big miracle too. I want them to have a job soon so Mama won't worry about money things so much. I have $10 that I got for my birthday that I can pay you to help prove you are a miracle. It's in an envelope on my bed with your name on it in big letters. You can get it if you want at my house. Here is the address of the building where they all work. If you can show up when you are supposed to at midnight on Christmas Eve (that's my birthday too) they will know you are a miracle and be very happy. If you can send them some money to help others that would make them very happy too. Thank you for reading this. I love you. From, Matty Santos of Boston.'

The End

(Yuletide, 2005)