Thanet Blake is a hardboiled, no nonsense Private Eye—that is, except when it comes to children and holidays. Then, he falls to pieces. Wouldn’t you know it, it is Christmas time and a cute adorable, seven year-old boy enters Thanet’s office and asks for his help. Payment for Thanet’s services? One gumball. Yes, he’s a softy.
It seems a man named Holiday Spirit is missing. Holiday Spirit plays a real life Santa Clause…giving presents to everybody he comes across, both adults and children alike, If he can’t be found, there will be no Christmas celebration for countless people. Our favorite booze laden, cigarette smoking, clueless gumshoe sets out to find the man, all the while hoping he’ll be found alive and well.
I looked beyond the shot glass full of rye, held tantalizingly close to my lips, and didn’t see anybody. When it occurred to me to look downward, I saw a cute, blue-eyed kid with a scared look on his face. He couldn’t have been older than seven, or maybe six months shy from eight. On his head, he sported a faded blue baseball cap that failed to cover his black curly hair. He was wearing a dark-blue heavy jacket, resembling a Navy coat, covering him down to his waist. The coat matched his black jeans and athletic shoes.
I put my rye down on my desk and smiled. “Yeah, I’m Thanet Blake. What’s your name?”
“I’m Jimmy MacWilliams. My dad talks about you lots of times. He told me where to find your office. And he was right.”
I sighed and hoped his father had the sense not to tell him the usual jokes about me. They aren’t the kind a little kid should hear. Why was this kid here to see me, anyway? And more importantly, why was he alone? This might be the season for good will toward others, but that didn’t mean there weren’t unscrupulous people waiting to take advantage of the innocent. Maybe someone was scamming me. Maybe the scammer sent an innocent kid—a kid who couldn’t possibly know the straight skinny of the deal—to set me up. Maybe I’m too cynical. It was time I found out immediately or, if possible, sooner. “Well hi there, Jimmy. Are your parents nearby?”
“Mom’s shopping at the big store about a block away. I told her I was going to see you.”
I concluded that his mother wouldn’t have heard him over the din of bargain hunters. “I’ll tell you what, Jimmy MacWilliams. If your mother doesn’t show up soon, we’ll go looking for her. What do you say to that?” At a brief nod of agreement, I asked the question that burned foremost in my mind. “Now, can you tell me why you left the safety of your mother’s side to come visit me?”
“My dad said you were a real cheap gumshoe. I want to hire you. Are you for hire, Mr. Blake?”
I looked hard at the kid. The expression on his face pleaded for me to say yes as tears welled in his big blue eyes. I’m a lollipop for tears. I wanted to cry myself—in sympathy, mind you. Yeah, this wasn’t a scam. Whatever was going down was on the up and up.
“Jimmy, before I can answer that, I’d like you to tell me what the trouble is.” There was something wrong with my voice. It didn’t sound hardboiled.
Tears streaked his face. His voice cracked with emotion. “Holiday Spirit is missing. He can’t be found by anybody.”
“Holiday Spirit, Jimmy? Is that your cat, a dog, or maybe a horse?”
Between heavy sobs Jimmy said, “No, Holiday Spirit is a man at our church. We love him, and now he’s gone.”
Finally, the name struck me. Holiday Spirit was the guy who always came to visit this city during November and December. Although I never had the pleasure of meeting him, I’d heard great things about him.
I directed Jimmy to sit down in my one and only chair for clients. Once Jimmy sat down, I walked to my mini-refrigerator, grabbed a can of soda pop, opened it, and handed it to him along with a box of tissues. He dried his tears, sipped a little, and slowly explained why Holiday Spirit was a special guy at church.
“He’s Santa Claus. He gives gifts to everybody. He makes everybody happy, and now, he’s disappeared. No one knows where he is, not even the police. I want you to find him, Mr. Blake. Please say you will.”