Hi. The name's Quarry, Jake Quarry ... private eye. It's not the most glamourous job in the world, but it helps pay the bills. And every once in a while, a case comes along that brings me face to face with evil and lets me punch it in the nose. Take, for example, the adventure that I like to call The Case of the Satanic Santa.
Twas the night before Christmas, my slow time of year. Seems happiness and goodwill don't create much of a demand for a guy whose job depends on other people's misfortunes. Too bad, 'cause this year I'd wanted to get something really special for Angie, my secretary, the gal who types my letters and answers my phone, the gal who picks up my dry cleaning, the gal who keeps me going every time it looks like I'm going to have to close up shop and go to work at my cousin Frank's used car lot. That's why I'd taken the part time Santa gig at Saunders Department Store. Thank God, it was the last night. No more greedy rug rats rhyming off lists with enough goods to revitalize the economy of the entire western world, no more screaming brats with visions of Disney merchandise dancing in their heads and most of all, no more stupid white beard. That damned spirit gum was causing my real beard to lose whiskers faster than the arts were losing government funding. But to get Angie those diamond earrings, it was worth it. So when quitting time came, I raced out the employees' exit still in my jolly old elf suit and headed for Jackson Jewelers.
As I made my way through the alley behind the store, I couldn't help noticing that the moon on the breast of the fresh fallen snow really did give the luster of midday to objects below. Not that anybody wanted to see what was in that alley, but it's nice to know that them poet fellows are right occasionally. Suddenly, a voice from behind me called out, "Nick?" I looked back and what to wondering eyes should appear but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer. But it sure as hell wasn't St. Nicholas driving that team, not unless the Enquirer had missed the story about his sex change operation. No, this was a tall, gorgeous red-head with more curves than an Olympic bobsled course.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I thought you were my husband," she said with a look of disappointment you usually find on the face of a kid who has just ripped open a present from Grandma only to find a sweater instead of the junior terrorist kit he had hoped for.
"Yes, you know, St. Nicholas, Kris Kringle, Santa Claus?"
"You're Mrs. Claus?!? I'd always pictured someone older and plumper."
"Oh, you're thinking of Nick's first wife, Nora. She left him about six years ago, something about feeling unfulfilled and needing to find herself. Last we heard, she was living on a commune in California and calling herself Sunflower. I met Nick about two years ago when he dropped in for Christmas, filled my drying panty hose with flowers and chocolates and whisked me off to Vegas. The rest is history."
I couldn't believe I was hearing this. Childhood images were shattering around me like crystal at the Metropolitan Opera, but I guess even a seasonal icon like St. Nick was entitled to a little fun.
"Sorry, for the mistake, Mr. ... ?"
"The name's Quarry, Jake Quarry ... private eye."
"You're a detective! Oh, please, Mr. Quarry, you have to help me. My husband is missing. I have to find him or millions of children are going to wake up tomorrow with no Christmas presents under their tree. Please???"
Like a UW prof being offered early retirement, I just couldn't say no. Not to millions of sad-faced children around the world and certainly not to a red head with a body like hers.
"Okay, Mrs. Claus, I'll take the case."
"Please, call me Virginia."
"In that case, yes, Virginia, I'll find Santa Claus." I laughed at my own little joke, which was probably a good thing since she didn't.
I asked her to fill me in on the details of the case. She did so. Seems old Santa took off about 6 PM and as usual, they tracked him via satellite. Then he suddenly vanished, not too far from here. After determining it wasn't a computer glitch, Virginia hooked up the back-up team and set out to look for him. She offered to show me exactly where they lost him so I climbed into the sleigh and sat down. In front of me, a flashing sign said, "Fasten your seat belt." I strapped myself in and Virginia gave a quick tug on the reins. "On Crockettt! On Tubbs! On Rockford and Magnum! On Starsky! On Hutch! On Simon and Simon!" As we took to the air, she turned to me and said "Nick let me name the back-up team. I've always loved detectives."
Eventually, the sleigh came to a halt on the roof of a suburban split level. And in a coincidence not unlike those found in poorly written detective stories, the house belonged to my cousin Frank. Since I had promised to drop by and check on things while he and his family spent Christmas in Kilarney, I had a plan.
"Let's hide the sleigh in the garage and wait for the criminal to return to the scene of the crime," I said. Not that I expected him to, but it's a great thing to tell clients when you don't have any real leads.
Twenty minutes later, the two of us were sitting on Frank's couch watching the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing Grandma Got Run Over By A Reindeer. She slid closer and closer to me and I began to wonder how many 'Hail Marys' it was going to cost for coveting the wife of a saint. Suddenly, out on the lawn, there arose such a clatter I sprang from the couch to see what was the matter ... and to get away from Virginia. I'd like to say that I tore open the window and threw up the sash, but the only thing I felt like throwing up was the pizza I had had for dinner. There was nothing out there. But as I pulled in my head and was turning around, down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound. Or at least it looked like St. Nick. He had the red suit, the white beard, and the round little belly. But for some reason, the horns, barbed tail, and pitchfork looked a little out of place. Suddenly it hit me like one of those anvils that Wile E. Coyote was always trying to drop on the Roadrunner. "You're not Santa. You're Satan!"
"Very good, Mr. Quarry." Then he laughed, the kind of laugh that chilled you to the bone, the kind of laugh that made you feel like you had just watched 37 straight hours of Full House.
But why was he wearing a Santa suit? Had I inadvertently started a new fashion trend? Then in a burst of deductive reasoning that would have made Sherlock Holmes proud, I figured it out. "There never was a Santa, was there? It was always you. You're both associated with the colour red. You're both supernatural figures that people look to to make their dreams come true. Santa is St. Nick and you're Old Nick. And if you rearrange the letters in Santa, you get Satan. Coincidence, I think not."
"Actually, Mr. Quarry, it is a coincidence. I merely wish to take St. Nicholas's place. While he rots in Hell, I'll be using his good name to undermine the most holy day of the year."
Virginia spoke up, "So you have Nick?"
With that, Satan opened his sack and poured a bound and gagged old man in long johns onto the floor. "Yes, Virginia, there's your Santa Claus."
This time, Virginia broke into a fit of laughter that would have made a hyena jealous. I was a little annoyed. "Damn it , Virginia. Why did you laugh at Satan's joke and not mine? Was it my delivery?"
"No, Mr. Quarry, it wasn't your delivery. You see, when you're all-powerful like me, you can make people laugh at your jokes."
Great, the ultimate evil was also the ultimate stand-up comedian. Jerry Seinfeld didn't stand a chance. There was only one way to deal with someone like this. I whipped out my trusty forty-four magnum and emptied the clip into his unholiness. But like alpha particles being fired at gold foil, the bullets passed right through him and hit an antique vase on the mantle.
Satan laughed again. This one was worse than before. It felt like I had just watched every 1960's TV show reunion ever made. But that wasn't important. What was important was what was I going to tell Delia when she saw that I had destroyed a family heirloom?
"Mr. Quarry, your bullets can't harm me. Where I come from, death is a way of life."
"In that case, get thee behind me, Satan!" Nothing happened. This was tougher than the steaks at Ed's Diner. "Then I guess we'll have to do this the old-fashioned way. I challenge you to a contest, I beat you and Santa here goes free."
"Jake, my friend, you've been reading too much fiction. In real life, you can't just challenge the devil to a fiddling contest, or a poker game, or any other silly little competition in order to free someone from my grasp. It just doesn't work that way."
"Well, if you don't think you can beat me ..."
"Mr. Quarry, I am the Prince of Darkness. I always win. But if you insist, I will accept your challenge. Just name the game."
So the Lord of Evil was prepared to do battle with me. But at what? I looked around the room like a bird watcher in search of the yellow-bellied sapsucker. Then I saw it. Something I was definitely good at and something old Scratch had probably never even heard of. I issued my challenge: Super Mario Brothers II: The Wrath of Luigi.
Virginia couldn't have been more shocked if she had stuck her fingers in a light socket. "You're going to fight for my husband's life with a video game!?!"
I assured Mrs. Claus that I was as good a Super Mario player as I was a detective. For some reason, this didn't seem to put her at ease.
"Oh, and by the way, Virginia, my dear, just so you don't get any ideas about freeing dear old hubby, you can just stay where you are." With that, he pointed the pitchfork at her and she froze in place like she was one of those mannequins in Saunders' store window.
"Alright, scumbag, let's play."
Satan and I each grabbed a joystick and as old Sherlock would say, the game was afoot. Level after level. we duelled. Sweat was pouring from my face like it was Niagara Falls. This was competition at its finest. The thrill of victory versus the agony of defeat. And believe me, when the agony of defeat is eternal damnation, it does matter whether you win or lose. Then it happened. The machine claimed Lucifer's last man like he himself had claimed many a mortal soul over the centuries. There was only problem. I was still a hundred and fifty points behind. Quickly and deftly, I maneuvered the little animated Mario past obstacle after obstacle. It was just like dodging rush hour traffic on the expressway. Only ten points to go and victory was mine. Then suddenly, the TV set exploded in a shower of sparks that would put any fireworks display to shame. First, the vase and now the TV. Frank was not going to be happy. I turned around and there stood Satan with that damn pitchfork pointed at the smoldering remains of the television.
"I guess you could say I was playing with power." He laughed again. This was the worst one yet. It made me feel like I had just sat through the entire run of America's Funniest Home Videos. Twice.
"You cheated!" I shouted, sounding not unlike a five year old upset over his buddy moving a checker the wrong way.
"Mr. Quarry, I am evil incarnate. Of course, I cheated. I wouldn't being doing my job if I didn't."
"And I wouldn't be doing my job if I didn't stop you." It was Santa. He was freer than an African colony that had just thrown off the yoke of imperial oppression.
"How did you do that? Nobody could have gotten out of those bonds."
"Your little game with Jake here bought me the time I needed. I must admit I'm a little surprised. As an omnipotent being, you should have known I was an escape Claus."
I groaned. For such powerful beings, they sure told some pretty cheap jokes.
"But first things, first," Santa stated and with one snap of his fingers, the red and white suit and cap tore themselves from Satan's body and once again, old St. Nick was fully adorned in the robes of his office while the poor devil was left with only the two pillows he had been using as padding.
"Now, get thee behind me, Satan."
I was just about to point out to my chubby friend that that particular phrase didn't seem to have any effect when suddenly Satan was engulfed in a green and red light and like that little dot that's left when you turn off your TV, he began to fade away.
"No, help me, I'm melting!" Then, like the Soviet Union, he was gone.
Slowly, Virginia began to move again. "Oh, Nick, I was so scared."
"It's alright, Virginia. Thanks to Mr. Quarry here."
"We made a good team, didn't we."
"Yeah, just call us Jake and the Fatman. Ho! Ho! Ho!" And you know, his belly really did shake like a bowl full of jelly. "If there's anything I can do for you, just say the word."
"Well, there is the little matter of the of the vase and the TV."
"No problem." And with one wave of his green-mitted hand, the pieces of the vase and the TV reassembled themselves. It was just like one of those cheap film effects where all they do is run the film backwards. "I'd like to stay and chat, but I have deliveries to make."
Virginia came over to me and gave me a kiss on the cheek. "Good-bye, Jake, and thank you." She then went over and stood next to her husband. They did make a cute couple, sort of a North Pole gothic. Then laying a finger aside of his nose, he gave me a nod of his head and up the chimney they rose.
It had been a long night so I called a cab, went home, and went to sleep. It was about three hours later when I woke up to ringing in my ears. I pounded on my alarm clock several times like I was a chef tenderizing a steak before I realized it was the telephone. I answered it, "Quarry here."
"Merry Christmas, Jake." It was Angie. Damn it. I had gotten so caught up in the night's events that I had forgotten all about her Christmas present. "I just called to say thank you. They're beautiful."
"They are? I mean, of course they are."
"Diamond earrings. You must have put yourself through Hell to get these."
"Well, thanks again. Are you still coming over for Christmas dinner?"
"I wouldn't miss it for the world. See you later." I hung up the phone, made a mental note to write a letter to Santa thanking him for the earrings and went back to sleep. I was content, not only had I done my own little bit in the ongoing battle between good and evil but in just a few hours, I would be sitting down to a free home-cooked meal with a beautiful dame. What more could a man want for Christmas?
Until next time, this is Jake Quarry, saying "Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night."