The Case of the Rambunctious Reindeer
Della was smiling as she crossed the floor of Perry's office. He looked up as she came around the desk and lay the newspaper in front of him. It was Christmas eve, and their plan had been to make a quick trip into the office and finish up some paperwork before enjoying their holiday. The sparkle in her eyes, though, suggested a new adventure awaited. He picked up the newspaper and noted the small article that she pointed out.
"Rudolph Runs Amok"
"A local toy store was broken into late last night. When they arrived at the scene, police discovered a large deer had broken through the plate glass window and was calmly walking the aisles, almost as if browsing for last minute gifts, according to once officer at the scene. The animal was taken into custody by the sheriffs department. The owner of the store estimates damages to be over a hundred dollars."
Perry finished reading and looked up at Della. "I'm assuming this involves us, somehow?" he asked, his eyebrow raised.
She handed him an envelope. "I found this shoved under the door this morning."
He pulled the letter out and handed it to her, instead focusing on the stack of bills that it had been wrapped around. She perched on the edge of the desk facing him, cleared her throat, and began to read.
"Mr Mason and Miss Street,
I apologize for the intrusion on your holiday, but I find myself in need of your assistance. One of my associates has gotten himself into a bit of a mess and I would appreciate your help in taking care of the obligations arising from the situation and in getting him back to work as quickly as possible, as this is a very busy time of year for our operation. I'm sure you understand that time is of the essence and your quick resolution would be greatly appreciated.
PS: It's actually Dancer, not Rudolph."
Perry stared at her, shaking his head as he plucked the paper from her fingers.
"Okay, silly, what does it really say?"
She watched in amused silence as he read the letter himself, studying first it, then the envelope and the money for any clues.
"And this was just pushed under the door, you said?"
She nodded. "No stamp, no postmark. Someone delivered it personally."
He pondered for a few moments while she waited. Finally, he rose, sliding everything into his jacket pocket. "Grab your coat, Della. We're going to pay a visit to a toy store."
The shop was easy to spot, it's window replaced by a sheet of plywood. Peering through the locked glass door, they saw the owner diligently sweeping up glass and debris. Perry knocked lightly on the door, attracting his attention.
"Sorry, we're closed," the gentleman yelled.
"I just need to speak to you for a moment," Perry called back.
"Please," Della added with a slight shiver, pulling her coat collar closer around her throat.
After a pause, the man set his broom aside and crossed to the door, opening it just enough for them to slip inside. Della smiled her thanks at him.
"So," the man asked, crossing his arms to stare at them, "desperate shoppers, reporters, or just looky-loos?"
"I'm representing your intruder from last night," Perry told him.
"That deer has a lawyer?" the man asked, confused.
"Something like that. His owner wants you to know how sorry he is for what happened and has authorized me to take care of the cost of the window and of any other damages he caused."
The shopkeeper walked over to the counter and picked up a piece of paper. "This is the bill from the guy that boarded my window this morning and his estimate to replace it."
Perry looked at the paper and nodded. "That seems fair," he told the man, discreetly peeling several bills from the stack that had arrived with the letter.
"Then there's all the toys he busted up," the man added, eying the bills in Perry's hand. "I won't be able to sell those."
Della looked around and picked up one of the boxes he indicated. "It looks like it's only the package that's damaged on this one," she commented.
"Yeah, I guess it's mostly the packages, but I still won't be able to sell them at regular price."
Perry handed the man a few more bills. "This should take care of the cost of the toys you lost."
Perry handed him another bill, then put the envelope back in his pocket. "Definitely," he said, a note of finality in his voice.
"Yes," the shopkeeper replied, "that should cover everything."
"Good," Perry told him with a pat on the back. "Now, if you will just bag them up and put them in my car, I'll write out a receipt for you to sign."
On the ride to the sheriff's office, Della turned to Perry.
"Just exactly what are you planning to do with all those toys, Mr. Mason?"
He shrugged. "I figure we'll figure out something."
Though the office was decorated for the holiday, the business of law enforcement carried on, handcuffed individuals being led around, family and lawyers waiting on the hard benches, and the smell of bad coffee lingering over the room.
When Perry and Della approached the desk, he handed the clerk the newspaper and pointed to the article. "Who do I need to see about reclaiming this property?"
"The deer?" the clerk asked, confused.
"The deer," Perry confirmed.
The clerk stared at him a moment, then grinned and turned, hollering back into the open area, "Hey, guys, Rudolph lawyered up!"
"Actually," Della interjected, "It's Dancer."
General laughter greeted his statement. After it died down, a young deputy strolled over to them.
"You folks are here about the deer?"
"The owner asked us to take care of getting the animal returned to him as soon as possible," Perry confirmed.
The deputy nodded, "The sheriff said that someone would be here to get it, but you have to talk to the toy store owner first. He's got damages and expects to be repaid."
"That's been taken care of," Perry assured him, handing him a written statement from the owner, stating that all damages had been paid.
While the deputy went to follow up by phone, Della looked up at Perry. "I suppose you plan to just stick the deer in the back of your car and take him...wherever it is that we're supposed to take him?"
"You know how it works, Della. We figure it out as we go."
Just then the door to the station opened and a young man walked in, looking around. He caught sight of them and grinned as he walked over.
"Perry Mason?" he asked.
He nodded politely at Della as he handed a key chain to Perry. "Your rental vehicle is waiting out in the lot and I've taken the liberty of transferring your bags from you car."
"Rental vehicle?" Della asked, looking up at Perry.
He frowned at the key in his hand, then turned to question the young man further.
Only to find him gone.
Perry looked back at her and shrugged. "Apparently, someone has been planning for us."
At that point, the deputy returned and handed Perry some paperwork. "Sheriff says everything seems to be in order and we just need a couple of signatures from you and we can release Rudolph to your custody."
"Dancer," Perry corrected, signing as indicated.
"Dancer," the deputy grinned. "What do you want us to do with him?"
Perry held up the key he had just been given. "I think there is probably a trailer out in your lot that this key fits. If you would be so kind as to get him settled there, we'll get him off your hands."
A short time later, Dancer settled in the trailer behind them, Perry and Della climbed into the cab of the pickup truck. As he buckled in and studied the vehicles controls, she reached forward to pick up the paper from the dashboard. She looked at it and grinned, holding it up to show Mason.
"Our map, Mr. Mason."
He looked at the map, a route neatly highlighted. "Apparently, Mr Kringle is quite well organized."
With a final glance at their passenger behind them, Perry put the vehicle in gear and pulled out into traffic.
After several hours of driving, they pulled into the parking lot of a small hotel and diner to grab a quick bite of dinner and to stretch their legs for a few minutes. As they relaxed in the booth after finishing their meal, they overheard the conversation of a young couple in the next booth.
"It couldn't hurt to ask what their room rates are," the young man said.
"I'm sure they don't have anything we could afford," the young woman answered back.
The sound of coins clinked on the table. "After we pay for dinner, this is all we'll have left," she continued.
The young man sighed heavily. "I'm sorry, Sherry. We shouldn't have tried to make this trip."
"We had to, Joey," she reassured him. "They say there are jobs in Los Angeles and there sure aren't any back home."
"But leaving your parents place like this, with you pregnant and no job lined up."
"My parents are having enough money problems without us adding to their burdens," her soft voice reminded him. "And we had enough to get us there and everything if the car hadn't broken down."
"Yeah, but it did. And now we're going to have to sleep in it for a while."
"And we will, if that's what we have to do."
"Anyway, I'll check with the hotel," the young man answered. "Maybe I can do some repair work for them or something, work out some kind of discount."
Della looked at Perry, her face troubled. He patted her hand and rose from the booth. She smoothly slid out to join him. They walked over to the hotel desk where Perry quickly and quietly consulted with the desk clerk, slipping him several bills from his wallet.
"Don't forget breakfast for tomorrow," Della murmured softly.
"Of course," Perry answered, slipping him a few more bills. "And for you and the staff."
"Thank you, sir," the man choked out, his eyes wide.
"Merry Christmas," Perry replied, turning to leave.
"You, too, sir. Ma'am."
As they left, they saw the young clerk dash into the diner to speak to the cashier. He took the bill that the young couple was presenting and waved away their cash, pointing towards the hotel as though telling them that their meal was included with the cost of their room. After a brief discussion, the duo followed the other man to the registration desk. The young husband suddenly looked outside, spoke briefly to his wife, then quickly exited to the parking area. He hurried over to the truck where Perry was helping Della into her seat.
"Sir, thank you for your kindness, but we can't accept your charity. You should go ask for your money back," he told them, his back straight
Perry looked at him, eyes narrowed.
"That's unkind of you."
The younger man was stunned. "Unkind? What do you mean?"
"It's Christmas. We want to do something to help someone and you are trying to deny us the joy of giving by refusing to accept."
"Never thought of it that way," the other man mumbled.
"Also," Perry added more gently, "there's nothing wrong with accepting help when you need it. If not for yourself, for your wife," he commented, nodding towards the young woman silhouetted in the window.
The man's face softened. "She deserves the best."
"You seem like an honest, hard working young man," Perry commented.
"Yes, sir. At least, I will be hard working when I find a job in Los Angeles."
"What kind of work do you do?"
"Construction, sir. Understand there's a lot of building going on there."
"Yes, there is. And if you're willing to work hard, you'll do well. Then, someday, you'll find a young man or woman who is in the position you're in now...needing just a little help for the moment...and you'll be in a position to help."
Della tapped Perry on the shoulder, offering his a piece of paper torn from her notebook. Perry looked at the paper and smiled at her. He shouldn't be surprised at how often her mind seemed to run on the same track as his.
He handed the paper to the young man. "This is a friend of mine. He runs a construction company in the city. They stay busy and he's always looking for good workers. Just tell him Perry sent you."
"Thank you, Perry," he said, offering his hand. "I'm Joe Willis. That's my wife, Sherry."
"Don't thank me, Joe," he said accepting the handshake. "My friend is a demanding boss and has high expectations."
"I won't let him down, sir. Or you. I've got too much riding on succeeding," he told him, looking back at the woman watching through the hotel window.
"The other address on there is another friend of ours," Della interjected. "She has rooms to rent. If she likes you, she'll let you wait until you get your first paycheck to pay her."
"Do I tell her 'Perry sent me', too?" he asked.
Perry grinned over at Della, "No, tell her Della sent you. Mrs. White always liked her better."
Joe shook his head, still somewhat dazed. "I don't know what to say, except 'Thank you.'"
"That will suffice," Perry told him. "Now get back inside so we can get on with our trip."
"Yes, sir," he said, turning to go. "Merry Christmas, Perry. Della."
"And to you," Della yelled back.
Back on the road, Della snuggled up to Perry, reaching up to kiss his cheek. "You are such a nice man, Perry Mason."
"Hamilton Burger might argue with you about that," he told her with a chuckle.
Their drive continued as the sky darkened and the stars came out. Della dozed lightly against Perry's side. She was awakened when the truck began clattering loudly.
Perry studied the dashboard, seeking a clue to what might be causing the noise.
"That doesn't sound good," she muttered softly, looking around. They were passing through a rural area and there were no signs of life anywhere around. Finally, she spotted a light glowing off in the distance to one side of the road. She pointed it out to Perry and he nodded, turning the truck down the gravel road heading in that direction.
Soon, they pulled up in front of the old fashioned farm house. A sign in front of it stated that this was the St Nicholas Orphanage. As they pulled to a stop, they noticed several small faces looking out the window. A moment later, the door opened and a middle aged couple came down the steps to greet them.
"You folks all right?" the woman asked. "We don't get much traffic out here, especially this late in the evening.
"Just fine, thank you," Perry told her. "Truck just started making some odd noises and we saw your light and thought we might be able to use your phone to call for help."
"Don't know that you could get anyone out here tonight," the man told him. He extended his hand. "I'm Sam James. My wife, Abby and I run the place." He indicated another man who had come around from the side of the house. "Matt here is our handyman. We'll be happy to take a look at it for you."
"Appreciate it," Perry said, offering their names to the trio.
"Why don't the two of you come inside where it's warm while they see what they can do," Abby invited Perry and Della.
They followed her in, greeted by a dozen slightly disappointed little faces.
"We thought maybe you was Santa Clause," a little boy of about six told them.
Perry squatted in front of him. "Sorry. Just a couple of weary travelers with a little car trouble."
"That's okay," the little boy assured him. "Sam and Matt can fix anything and Miss Abby says we always got room here for those in need."
"Come help us finish decorating," a little girl told Della, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the next room where a fire burned and a tree stood, waiting decorations. Two of the little girls pulled Della to the sofa and handed her a partially completed string of popcorn and cranberries. They alternated handing her items from the bowls in their laps as she added each to the string.
Perry plopped down on the floor with some boys carefully gluing strips of paper into a colorful chain.
At some point, Sam came into the room to inform Perry that the problem was just a belt and could easily be replaced within the hour, as he happened to have one that would fit.
The decorations finished, the adults helped the children put them on the tree, then Perry lifted one small boy to place a star on the top of the tree.
As they stood back, admiring their work, the two older men entered the room, and handed Perry back the keys. "You're all ready to go, though you're more than welcome to spend the night with us," Sam told him.
"Thank you, but we should probably get back on the road," Perry told him.
"But you can't leave yet," one boy protested. "We haven't done the most important part yet."
Perry looked at Della, who shrugged. "I guess we can wait a little longer."
Abby reached into a drawer and pulled out a well worn black book which she handed to her husband as the children gathered in a circle around the armchair.
Sam coughed and looked apologetically at Perry. "Got a little bit of a throat problem going on. Wonder if you might do the honors for us this year."
Perry looked at the book offered to him, it's pages opened to a familiar passage. He cleared his throat, nodded, and took a seat in the chair.
" And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed..."
When the reading concluded, there was a moment of silence, finally broken by Abby.
"Okay, time to get to bed."
Amid the groans, a young woman of about 16 stood. "Santa can't come if you are still up," she reminded them. Suddenly there was a general rush for the stairs.
"I'll make sure they've got their teeth brushed and get them into bed," the girl told Abby.
"Thanks, Caroline," she told the young woman with a fond smile. "I don't know how we'd manage without your help."
"I'm glad to be able to help you after all you've done for me," Caroline told her, dropping a kiss on the older woman's face.
As she followed the younger children up stairs, Perry heard Abby sigh heavily.
"Do you need help getting the children's gifts under the tree?" Perry asked her.
She shook her head. "Unfortunately, there's not much to put under there. One of the local churches donated some socks and underwear for each of the children and a market gave us some oranges and nuts for the stockings, but we had some roof damage a few weeks back and the money we had been planning to spend for a toy for each of them had to go towards that."
Perry looked over at Della. "You were wondering about the toys..."
She laughed out loud. "Yes, I was. Now, we know."
Perry led the other two men out to the truck where each grabbed one of the bags the toy store owner had packed up earlier in the day. When Perry upended his bag in the floor, Abby's eyes went wide.
There were dolls, toy trucks, and balls. "Some of the packages are a little damaged," Della told her, "but I think the toys are all okay."
"Where did you get these?" Abby asked, a look of wonder on her face.
Perry told her the story of their days adventure.
The older woman shook her head, unable to find words. Sam slipped an arm around his wife, his eyes looking a bit moist. "Kids'll have 'em out of the box in no time anyway. Don't know how to thank you"
"Actually, it's our client you should thank. We're just delivering."
"Then accept our thanks for that, and thank your client as well."
Della examined the toys on the floor. "Too bad there's not something for Caroline."
Perry looked thoughtful as he reached into his pocket, withdrawing a small, square, flat package. He handed it to her, explaining, "I had just picked this up for your stocking." She looked at the silver compact with delight. "I was planning to have it engraved, but hadn't gotten around to it yet."
"It's beautiful, Perry," she told him, pressing a kiss to his cheek.
"Acceptable for a teenage girl?" he asked, "assuming you're all right with that," he added quickly.
"Perfect for a teenaged girl," she told him, "and I am perfectly all right with that."
As they were leaving, Perry handed Abby the envelope containing the rest of the money they had been sent.
A donation, he told her. From the patron saint of their orphanage.
Soon, they were on the road again, following the map further into a quiet, undisturbed woods. Finally, the route ended outside a small cabin. As they exited the vehicle, the passenger in the trailer, previously quiet and mellow, suddenly began kicking and butting at the sides of the conveyance.
Perry headed to the back of the trailer, Della trailing behind him, and carefully unfastened the door, swung it open, and stepped back. The animal immediately quieted and walked out. It gently nuzzled Perry, then Della before turning. The couple follow it's gaze to an open field where several other deer stood watching. One shook it's head, seeming to gesture to their companion. With one last look at the lawyer, it dashed to the field and the entire group disappeared into the woods.
Perry wrapped his arm around Della and headed up to the cabin door. When he knocked, the door swung open. Exchanging a worried glance, Perry pushed Della behind him as he called out. When there was no answer, he cautiously entered the room, Della close behind him.
A warm fire burned in the fireplace and the air was filled with the special smells of a holiday dinner. A decorated tree stood in a corner, adding a fresh pine scent.
He quickly strode through the small cabin, returning to assure her that they were alone.
He looked at her and she pointed to an envelope leaning against a candlestick on the table. Their names were written in a neat calligraphy across the front.
Shrugging, he opened the envelope. Della snuggled close so they could read together.
"Thank you both for your assistance. You both give so much that I knew you would make excellent helpers for this part of my journey. I hope you received as much joy as you shared. Now, it is time for you to receive. Your gift is time. A mechanic will be here day after tomorrow to fix the truck, which will not start now, no matter what you do. In the meantime, enjoy the meal, the fire, the tree, and your time with one another. Merry Christmas.