Around this time of year, it’s my usual practice to cobble together a festive story, and this year is no exception. This time round, I’ve decided to resurrect one of my favourite characters, (well, it’s me, but in the guise of somebody else!) – the leading character of my first ever serialisation in this blog, which if you’re interested, can be found in its entirety here.
Now that’s out of the way, let’s get on with it – it’s a three-parter, with the final instalment on Christmas Day…
The sound of traffic and car horns played their muted daily accompaniment, filtering through the dirty windows of the ramshackle and disorderly room she called her office. Outside, the snow had begun to fall more thickly, covering the tyre tracks and footprints like an expert house-breaker hiding the evidence of their presence.
Peering through the slats of the blind, she shivered – these damn New York winters were bad for your health, if the cold didn’t get you, the hidden patches of ice on the sidewalk would, and then it was a trip to the emergency room and a hefty bill to pay… That’s if anyone found you soon enough and were public-spirited enough to call 911 – after robbing you blind first, of course! Shivering again at the thought, she turned away from the window… Only one thing would serve to keep out the chill, she thought, releasing the bottle of Jack from its confinement in the desk drawer.
Two shots later she was feeling rather more mellow, although even the alcohol couldn’t entirely mask the fact that it was damned cold in the office. Idly she toyed with the idea of trying to light the fire, but it had been years since it had last seen use, and she had nothing to burn anyway, not that she could have been bothered to do anything about it.
Sighing, she glanced at the time – four in the afternoon, SLT – dammit, too early to call it a day, and too late to for there to be any likelihood of anyone wanting to do business in what was left of the afternoon. Why the hell did she even bother? Sometimes she just thought of throwing in the towel and just heading off to Giggles Beach, in the frankly pathetic hope of catching the eye of some rich and generous playboy. Yeah right! Who was she kidding? There was about as much chance of that as there was of someone turning up needing her help in the next half hour. She consoled herself with the thought that anything can happen in SL.
As if in confirmation, a tap on the door roused her from her musings.
“Come on in. It’s open”
‘Aw crap’, she thought to herself, as the door opened to reveal her caller; ‘just my luck. One of those damned littles!’
Now, it would be fair to say that she was the tolerant sort – you had to be, in her line of business – but she struggled when it came to littles. The combination of cutesy dresses, stupid baby talk and freaky family picks was just a little too much bordering on the weird for her, but business is business, and she’d happily take lindens off a little as much as she would from anyone.
Thankfully when the client spoke, it wasn’t baby talk, but a gruff Bronx accent, with a distinctive nasal twang.
“I gotta problem I need fixed”
Trying to look businesslike, she grabbed a pen, then realised she had nothing to write on. Making the best of things, she leaned back in her chair instead, nonchalantly twiddling the pen in her fingers, and gestured that the shortarse should take a seat.
His name was Rupert, and contrary to her first impressions, he described himself as an elf. It was a missing person case: It seems his boss had disappeared off the face of the Grid after a late night bender to celebrate his rez day. She’d interrupted – people do that all the time, he’d be back eventually, maybe he was was even logged in as an alt… People had their reasons for such things.
Rupert was having none of it. People like his boss didn’t just vanish – not a few days before the biggest job of the year.
She asked all the usual questions: Time and place he was last seen, known acquaintances and enemies, possible motives for disappearing, description…
Wait a minute!
Fat guy, big white beard, bright red outfit with fir trim…
“This is a wind up, isn’t it? It’s Santa Claus?”
“No”, protested the elf, “I mean, yes – it is Santa, but I can guarantee this ain’t no wind up!”
The sound of coins jingling distracted her: ‘RupertElf Resident paid you L$5000’
“Maybe that’ll convince you I’m serious” he continued, “and there’s plenty more where that came from!”
“OK. You’ve got my attention. Tell me what you know.”
It was a strange set of circumstances, even for SL. The Big SC, as the elf insisted on calling him had been out with the boys at Frank’s place. Around midnight, he’d disappeared, with a brief ‘BRB’ and that was the last they’d seen of him. Rudoph had joked that he’d fallen asleep at the keyboard, but when he failed to turn up the next day, it was evident that something was up – this was the middle of the Christmas rush, and it was unheard of for The Big SC to be missing at such a critical time.
She glanced at the calendar on the desk – 22nd December – she could see why Rupert was anxious.
The strangest aspect of Santa’s disappearance was that he was definitely still logged in to SL, he was showing as online, but totally unreceptive to any attempts to contact him. IMs simply bounced back with the message, ‘Avatar unreachable’ – all very perplexing.
It wasn’t going to be a straightforward case, that was obvious, but the hard cash that was now sitting in her account, along with the promise of more, was all the encouragement she needed. It would mean calling in some favours, but if that’s what it took… She knew she’d hit paydirt with this one, and she wasn’t about to let it go now.
“Okay Rupert, I’m on the case. Gimme a call tomorrow, same time, and I’ll let you know know what I’ve got.”
The elf thanked her, then left her alone. Thoughtfully, she locked the office door and poured herself another slug, before opening up her inventory and thumbing through her note card folder with a frown. Dammit! Why couldn’t she be more organised? To say her filing system was a bit of a mess was a blatant understatement – in much the same way that saying the sea is a bit wet – she cursed as she fought her way through forgotten reminders, lists of obsolete landmarks, invitations to events now long-ago, death threats, And bizarrely, a recipe for scotch eggs! None of which was helpful, and most of which should have been consigned to the trash can months ago. For the hundredth time she toyed with the idea of hiring a secretary, knowing full well she could neither afford it, nor would anybody be prepared to put up with her ways, not for any sum. Sighing, she continued sorting through her notes.
Finally! There it was… Helpfully entitled ‘2011-08-11 14:26:54 note card’ – when would she learn?
She scanned through the list of names until she spotted the one she was looking for: Valentino Bohemian. Next to the name, a string of seemingly meaningless letters – coded Grid co-ordinates, unwieldy but far more secure than a straightforward landmark. She quickly decoded the letters and pasted the result into another note card, remembering this time to give it a title: ‘VB – secret location details’. Pointless trying to find him now, he was from the UK and wouldn’t be logging on for some hours yet; she may as well head home and spend the time getting constructively sober. Well, that was one option anyway, perhaps she might just call into a bar, or two, along the way.
She pondered the odd circumstances of her unexpected case, ensconced in a corner booth at Fat Sam’s over a bowl of the special meatballs and pasta that the joint was famous for – it was a helluva lot easier than cooking for herself, and if she was honest, it tasted a damn sight better than anything she could ever conjure up herself. This whole thing just sounded weird: Elves, Santa Claus… Yeah right, and she was the queen of England! She laughed to herself – I guess this is SL, she though; she’d seen stranger things, and who was she to judge?
She reckoned it could all be sorted pretty quickly – the ‘missing’ avatar was clearly down to some sort of technical glitch, and a quick visit to Valentino would get that all sorted, then everyone could get on with their festive role-playing, she’d be laughing all the way to the bank, and everyone would live happily ever after!
She lifted her glass in a celebratory toast to herself, then downed it.
I’m dreaming of a black black Christmas
Black smoke glows against a midnight sky
I’m dreaming of a black black Christmas
Black smoke glows against a midnight sky
Poly Styrene – Black Christmas