Flashing lights shone in Herald Square on Christmas Eve, turning the falling snow shades of red and blue. Detective Elsa Hargrave stepped out of her police cruiser on 34th Street outside of the flagship Macy’s store in New York City. She ran a hand through her dark hair before pulling on a pair of latex crime scene gloves, wishing they were her warm mittens. A frigid chill had settled over the city, only made worse by the scene before her.
Santa Claus lay face-down in the middle of the sidewalk, blood pooling around his body and snowflakes contrasting against his bright red coat as they settled. The Forensics team swarmed around him, tagging the scene and snapping pictures. Hargrave surmised that the man had fallen from the roof of the building. She turned to her partner, Detective Alex Hallman, who was already on the scene. “What do we have here? A jumper, or something more sinister?”
“Vic’s name is John Murdock. Played Santa here at Macy’s. He came down about a half hour ago, probably off the roof.” Hallman replied. “Jumper’s not looking likely though. Our Santa looks like he might have put up a fight going over the edge. ME will confirm, but it looks like he got a little roughed up before taking his tumble.”
“Ok, let me know when the autopsy report comes back. In the meantime, let’s see if we can pull any security footage for the roof, and interview the other employees.” Hargrave shook her head. “Who kills Santa Claus on Christmas Eve?”
“Ho, ho, homicide.” quipped Hallman.
Hargrave took a swig from the Starbucks cup one of the officers had been kind enough to bring her. The interviewing wasn’t going well. No one she’d talked to so far had seen anything. With it being Christmas Eve, they were all far too busy, and she wasn’t holding out much hope of the sour expressionthe on the young guy in his mid-twenties sitting in front of her giving her any useful information either.
“Never spoke to the guy much. Being on the registers, we cashiers don’t get to spend much time with the Santa crew.”
“Alright, did you happen to see him before he fell, or anything out of the ordinary? Establishing a timeline of events is important for us.”
“Lady, it’s Christmas Eve, at Macy’s, in New York City. It’s been insane here all week, today even more so no, I haven’t gotten a chance to breathe, let alone see anything.” The kid chuckled. “Hell, I’m surprised Murdock’s the <em>only</em> one who jumped.”
“Yes, well, thanks for your time then.” Hargrave rolled her eyes as she turned and walked away. “Prick.”
“He was a real asshole, y’know? I ain’t sayin’ I’m happy he’s dead, but I ain’t too choked up about it, neither.”
Hargrave frowned down at the little man leaning on a giant red and green nutcracker with his arms crossed. She had to work hard to keep a straight face, though, since his bright green elf costume clashed so much with his surly attitude and thick New York accent. “Mr. Byrd, have you been here working all evening?”
“Yeah, I been playing elf since noon. Christmas Eve, kids are all gettin’ their last-minute wishes in to Santa. Not to mention the parents gettin’ in their last minute gift shoppin’ cause they forgot somethin’, ya know?. But yeah, I was here. Johnny said he was goin’ up to the roof for a smoke break, never came back. Not alive anyway.”
“Do you know of anyone here who might have wanted to see Mr. Murdock killed?”
“Like I said, he was kind of a prick to the other workers. Not a very jolly fella, unless you’re pointing a camera at him. But no, I don’t know of anybody who had that big a grudge against the guy.”
“Thank you, Mr. Byrd.” Hargrave shook his hand as she flipped her notebook closed and turned to go find Hallman.
“Any luck on that security footage?” she asked when she found him.
“A little. The quality is crap, and the snow obscures a lot of it,” Hallman shrugged, “but he definitely didn’t jump. And it wasn’t our elf friend, that much we could tell.”
“Good. Ornery little guy, but he was growing on me.” Hargrave said with a grin.
“He seems like your type.” Hallman got a playful shove for the gibe.
Hargrave continued interviewing store employees, but mostly got the same answers as she got from Byrd: nobody much liked Murdock, but they tolerated him because he made a good Santa. He looked the part, and everyone said that he was fantastic around the children. It was to adults that he was often rude and unforgiving.
Hargrave stood staring one of the usher girls she was interviewing, who sat fidgeting in front of her and refused to look her in the eyes for more than a few seconds at a time.
“Hi there, Tiffany, is it?” The girl looked up, nodded, and returned her gaze to the floor. “Can you tell me anything about Mr. Murdock and what happened here tonight?”
“Nothing, really. I don’t know him all that well.”
“But you worked with him, didn’t you?” Elsa asked.
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t know him personally. It’s not like we went out dancing after work every night.” It seemed like Tiffany found a bit of courage. Hargrave pushed back to keep in control.
“What about dancing with him on the roof then? You were working with him the night he died. This makes you and every other employee here, a person of interest in this investigation.”
“Sorry, Ma’am.” Tiffany went back to staring at her shoes. “Like I said, we didn’t talk much. I really don’t know anything that might help you catch who did this to him. He went on break, and never came back.”
Hargrave sensed that Tiffany knew more than she was letting on, based on the girl’s fidgeting. Elsa asked her a few more questions, but didn’t get anywhere, so she decided to let the girl go for now and play a hunch instead.
“Mr. Byrd, you seem like an observant man who knows what’s going on around here. What can you tell me about Tiffany Robbins?”
“The blonde girl? Hell of an ass.” The dwarf smirked.
Hargrave chuckled. “Fair enough. Anything else I might be interested in?”
“Hmm. Well, I think Murdock had the same opinion of her. He’s made a few comments from time to time ’bout how he wouldn’t mind knocking his Santa boots with her. I never saw him try nothin’, but that don’t mean it didn’t happen. Funny thing is, he ain’t the only one. You talk to Tim yet? Cashier, young, kind of a snarky little shit?”
“I think I know exactly who you’re talking about. What about him?”
“He’s always staring at the chick. Makes excuses to make his way over here when he can, trying to chat her up. Creeps me out a little, to be honest. Stalker much?”
“Thanks, Byrd. I appreciate the help.”
“Glad I could help. Like I said before, I didn’t like Murdock all that much, but doesn’t mean somebody shoulda thrown ‘im off a roof.”
Hargrave sat looking over the notes she’d jotted down so far. She felt that she was close to finding something that might tie things together. She laid her forehead in her hands and stared down at the notebook on the table, scanning the page, hoping that something would pop out at her.
Nothing. She yawned, crossed her arms, and sat back in her chair. Outside, a group of employees stood in a small circle, soft, orange glows lighting their faces every now and then. Elsa stared at them for a moment, remembering something that the elf had said, that Murdock had gone to smoke. If he had gone up to the roof to have a cigarette--which would have been more likely than out on the street; after all, Santa doesn’t smoke--then the killer could have been up there with him without arousing any real suspicion.
As the smokers came back in, she realized that one of them was Tim, the cashier she had talked to earlier. She still wasn’t entirely sure what his connection to Murdock was, but she stood up to go talk to one person who might.
“Tiffany, I think there’s more to this story than you told me earlier, and sooner or later, I’m going to get to the bottom of it.”
“I, uh, I’m not sure what you mean. I told you everything I know.”
“I don’t think you did. See, while I don’t think you know who killed our Santa Claus, you left out the part where Mr. Murdock was interested in you.”
“He’s made some comments before, but he’s just a pervy old guy, why would that matter?”
“Because he’s dead now, Tiffany, that’s why.” Hargrave shifted gears to avoid getting into a pointless arguing match. “You don’t smoke, do you?”
“No, why?” Tiffany looked puzzled.
“Just curious. Santa did. How about Tim Stern, do you know him?” Elsa asked.
“Yeah, he’s friendly. He comes around a lot to see if we need anything. Water, snacks, things like that.”
“Are you two together?”
Tiffany laughed out loud. “No way. He’s just a friend. My boyfriend lives on campus at Columbia.”
Hargrave was about to ask Tiffany more about the cashier when she saw her partner wave to her out of the corner of her eye. “Alright, I think I’m done for now. Go on.” she told the girl, getting up to see what Hallman wanted.
“Heard back from the ME. He’s pissed we called him in on Christmas Eve, but laughed when I told him he’d be working on Santa. Anyway, here’s the preliminary report. Short version: he died from the fall--obviously--but like I said, he got roughed up before he went over the edge. He’s got some bruising from a few punches to the torso, but the kicker is this: a few of them have a distinctive square mark, probably from a ring.”
“Thanks, Hall, this is quite helpful. I think I know who might be our killer.”
“Going somewhere, Timmy? You lied to me.” Hargrave said, approaching the cashier. He had a heavy coat on, and his hands were in his pockets.
“Excuse me?” The boy looked confused.
“You told me you didn’t spend much time with ‘the Santa crew’, as you put it. That’s not true, is it?”
“Well, I’ve been pretty busy the last few weeks, but I know they’re really swamped over there. I try to check in, make sure they’re OK. Get ’em coffee if they need it.”
“Is gopher boy in your job description?”
“A guy can’t be nice in New York?” he asked.
“Not without raising an eyebrow or two,” she fired back. “The way I hear it, you’ve taken quite the interest in a fellow employee; a Ms. Robbins. You know, if you want to date someone, it usually helps to ask them out, rather than the implication of bribery with coffee. That doesn’t usually get you anywhere, other than the “dreaded Friend Zone”, as it were. In fact, I’d wager you’re already there. What was it she said when I asked about you two? Let me check my notes.” She pulled out a small sketchpad as she spoke and flipped it open. “Oh right: ‘Ha! No way.’ Tough luck, kid.”
Stern, clearly upset, pulled his hands out of his coat, yelling and pointing at her. “What the hell do you know, lady?” He stopped short as Hargrave snatched his wrist out of the air.
“I know that someone’s been roughhousing lately” Stern’s knuckles were red and swollen. “I’m betting that’s not from the gym. That’s a nice ring you’ve got there, too. Class of 2010? I’ll bet it matches the bruises we found on Murdock’s body.”
Stern’s face turned pale. He spoke softly. “Murdock was an asshole. Always messing with Tiffany, making comments and staring at her ass. She’s too nice to do anything about it though. So I did.”
“Timmy, the bad news is, being an asshole isn’t a crime. The good news is, in your case, it doesn’t matter, we’ve got plenty to book you for. Like murder.” She waved over a couple other officers. “Take ‘im away, boys.” She turned to Hallman, who had come up a few minutes earlier, and smiled. “I love it when I get to say that.” She looked down at her watch. “C’mon, let’s get out of here. It’s Christmas after all.”