Debut novel from Joel M. Andre.
Barnes & Noble.com
Detective Lauren Bruni has dealt with death for her entire life. She has watched it ruin lives, and brought people closer together.
Her job taught her to separate fact from fiction. But on a cold December day, all Lauren had believed in would be shattered and tossed aside. Thrust in a world unlike any she has seen before, she investigates a prominent figure's grisly murder, and searches for answers along a strange new set of people.
With a killer watching her every move in the background ready to strike again at a moments notice. What is the secret of the death at the North Pole, and what is the larger horror at hand?
Life lessons are learned and a realization that sometimes the most real things in this world, are the ones we believe in the least.
Crimson stained the white satin snow on this cold December afternoon. A crowd of the concerned gathered around the ghastly sight. This is not something that had ever happened here, not something that any one of them could fathom. This was a place of love and peace. A very simple place where pure joy and happiness sounded through the Northern Sky and created harmony in the land.
But today was different. Very different. Spines ached in agony as a shrill shrieking thundered in the small village of Natale, North Pole. The grisly discovery left a grim image etched in the mind of the inhabitants. A powerful, nurturing and caring man now lay crumpled in a pool of his own blood on the snow dusted ground.
The smell of warm baked goods and pine burning in an iron fireplace no longer seemed safe. Instead they posed as a cover up for the grisly crime at hand. The Northern Wind chilled not only the outer flesh of everyone there, but froze the very bones of the one man who rode them in joyful playfulness.
Of all the elves, one leaned close in, the smallest of the bunch. His little red ears perking around and searching desperately for the sounds of life to begin coming from the corpse that lay before him. Nervously he giggled, muffled and forced. “Father,” he whimpered out. Tears began to fill his eyes. “Father, you need to wake up.”
Several elves turned their heads, fighting back their tears at the innocence of this wee babe. None able to embrace him, but all yearning to comfort him from the traumatic event that was laying there before his feet. This had never been part of the way of life in this land. Elves lived centuries, this was not something any of them had prepared for, and nothing natural could have killed this icon. Nothing natural indeed, sadly though, an item created of hate and fear destroyed the last ounce of pure goodness in the region.
A thought crossed some minds that perhaps this was just one big hoax, or perhaps it was even someone entirely different than whom it appeared to be. That was certainly a possibility. After all, anyone could have a red suit, and anyone could have a large build. Why the face was buried deeply in the snow, so there was really no proof on whom this stranger could be.
“What should we do,” an elf from the back dressed in his best silk green uniform asked. “We can’t just let him lay out here; perhaps we should take him to bed. That is where he has us go to get better.”
Several others mumbled their agreement, and as if that was the best solution began to approach the body. Each thinking of the best way to move the body to a more concealed and respectful place.
“If any of you touches that body, I’ll throw your tiny ass in prison.” A cold brunette woman snapped who all but seemed to appear out of nowhere. She was a remarkable beauty of a woman with olive skin, and cool brown eyes. Her frame was one that would make a supermodel jealous. But her clothes said she was of an authority figure. “This is a crime scene, and I am not sure what the hell all of you are doing out here playing in tights, but you need to get away now.”
Numerous pairs of eyes stared at this stranger with bewildered amazement, and the innocence of youth. None quite sure what this creature was, so tall with long chocolate brown hair, and a firm face, and the strangest ears they had ever seen.
“What are you?” the youngest elf who had urged his father to wake earlier inquired. “Are you here to help father feel better?”
The woman stared baffled by the ignorance and pleading eyes of these little men and women. “You have got to be fucking kidding me.” She groaned. In a moment of pain she grimaced her face, and lightly placed her pointer and her thumb on her temple. .”If this is some weird ass reality show, I want no part of it.”
“What is a reality show,” one of the elves inquired. Yet another faint look of innocence across her face.
“Alright,” the woman demanded. “Play time is over, I want to know who is in charge here, and I want to know…NOW.” Behind the mask of rage and force all she could think of was this migraine throbbing in her head, and how a nice shot of whiskey could cure it. Hopefully she could clean up here soon and move along. God how that drink sounded good.
Bewilderment crossed the elves faces. This woman was nothing like what they had seen before, and her aggression was sending eerie chills down their spines. This was another sign something in the northern air was changing for the worst. The chilled pine air was seeping into the hearts of all.
Finally one of the elves raised his hand slow and steady and pointed at the body on the ground. Silence fell again, only the sound of the Northern winds dancing through the trees could be heard. The woman now sighed deeply. This was a bit more than she had bargained for. Here was a group of delusional children mindlessly following a deranged man in a red suit. Why the hell did she move up this way to begin with? The city never had such over the top crimes like this.
“Alright kids, where then can I find another adult I can talk to?” The woman murmured through gritted teeth.
“Many of us here are adults,” a short fat elf giggled. His high pitched voice scratching the very brain in her head, leaving it wounded and bloody in pain.
Finally coming across the distance, a very old grandmotherly type began to approach them. Stress and panic etched in the lines on her sweet face. She wore glasses which appeared too tiny for her eyes. The woman’s plump rosy flesh rolls stretching from behind her crisp ivory clothes and stained apron. The soft curls in her sterling hair caked with patches of white from flour or perhaps age. It was tough to tell. As she arrived, her eyes gazed around, and fell on the corpse before them. Her pale blue eyes tensed and she grabbed at her chest falling to her knees. Disbelief struck her soul, and tore it away from her flesh. All senses burst to the back of her mind. She was no longer sure of what was happening.
“My beloved Kris,” her words of agony crushing the very hearts of all who heard speak. “For the love of our lord, please don’t take him from me. Don’t take him from us.” The warm salty tears of love trickling slowly down her face. Each tear following her soft wrinkles on their long journey to the snowy ground below.
The strange detective stood watching this display of trepidation. She found the sticky saccharine act, very over the top and more than anything found it just another annoying ruse among the incident at hand. She felt her inner anger swell to the tip of her throat and she swallowed hard. Catch yourself Lauren. Curb your anger; focus on the task at hand.
“Mam, I need you to get up and answer a few questions for me.” She emotionlessly requested of the old lady before her.
The old lady slowly turned her head and looked up at the woman, noticing her for the first time. She began to try to regain her composure and forced a cracked dishonest smile, trying to avoid the pain she was feeling. Trying to emulate the nature of a strong confident woman as opposed to a woman damaged beyond repair.
“Oh my dear,” the woman spoke, in a cracked loving voice. “What brings you to our lovely winter village? Why don‘t we go and get you some cookies and some hot cocoa to warm you up.”
“Cut the crap old woman.” Lauren snapped. “We both know I am not here for some sick grandma fetish. I have a body and a lot of questions, with a hearty topping of village idiots. We’re not playing anymore games; I want straight forward answers from this moment forth. Anything less and everyone’s going to get loaded up and have their asses hauled off to jail.”
“My child, there is no need to use such language. You are among friends here.” The old lady responded.
Control the rage Lauren. Control the rage. “Let’s start with an easy question,” the words spiking off her tongue. “Who are you, and where are we?”
The sound of patrol cruisers began crunching across the distant snow, and she knew that some sense of order was finally in the works. Hopefully soon she could get some answers. The Medical Examiner should be close behind the cruisers as well, being they were both in the general vicinity of each other.
The old woman slowly began to rise off her knees, both legs stained with the melting snow on them. She lightly brushed at them, composed herself, and again forced another smile. “My name is Jessica Kringle. But my dear you can call me Mrs. Claus if it suits you better.”
“This is really sick,” Lauren grumbled. Behind her the patrol cars came to a stop, one of them sliding slightly and came dangerously close to the crime scene. “How long have you been driving in the fucking snow?”
From the cars exited six officers, and her male counter part Michael McMillan. She had admired him from the moment she first laid eyes on his crimson hair, and looked into his emerald eyes. She could tell an honest man when she saw one and this man was that and so much more.
“Detective Bruni,” he called to her. His raised his right hand in a firm wave, a smile crossing his face slightly raising his moustache. “Sorry it took us so long to arrive.”
“It’s fine Detective McMillan. Get the men to block of the crime scene, and let’s get this investigation wrapped up. We don’t know when it’s going to start snowing again, and we need to collect as much evidence as we can find.”
“You heard the woman, get a move on it men.” Michael barked at the officers.
One by one the officers began herding the on looking elves back off to their homes, writing down names and addresses of the mass, asking only the individual elves who happened to arrive on the body first to stay behind for deeper questioning.
No one had witnessed the crime first hand, or so they had claimed at this point. So there was no eye witness, which would only make the investigation that much tougher.
The crowd of elves quickly dwindled from close to a hundred down to only five elves. Along with Jessica, the six officers, and the two detectives the scene was considerably more manageable than it was previously. The officers began taping off the wide area, and taking photographs of the scene while starting to scan the area for potential clues.
Lauren turned back to Jessica, and gazed in her eyes. “I want to know what is going on here. It seems you and your husband are harboring an awful lot of kids and brainwashing them. Perhaps one of them turned hostile and snapped on your husband as they took a walk.”
“Oh heavens no dear, those are elves, not children. They work for us, if my husband was walking with one of them, he would be checking on them and making sure all preparations for the end of December were coming along.”
“Elves? Listen, I am not going to buy any of this Claus crap you are dishing out.”
“Lauren, you are getting out of line,” Michael snapped. “Lets let the woman here tell her story and we’ll move from there.”
Lauren shot Michael a quick hard stare, and returned her attention to Jessica. “Fine, tell me what you recall of the day.”