An X-mas Carol

x-mas carol

An X-Mas Carol

AUTHOR: Elf X
CATEGORY: Holiday casefile
RATING: PG-13 for language, mild sexual content.
DISCLAIMER: With apologies to Chris Carter, Theodor Seuss Geisel, and David Shore,
for consulting Dr. House without an appointment
SUMMARY: A weeping Santa, an amnesiac agent, and a mysterious Man in Black give
Mulder and Scully an unusual Christmas mystery to unwrap.

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Please suck down your wassail;

Repose for a while.

Let me share on this eve

A Christmas X-File.

It concerns a young lady

With a perpetual smile.

She made up in spirit

What she lacked in guile.

Leyla’s rose-colored view

Was deemed quite perturbing;

For an FBI agent,

It was awfully disturbing.

But her heart was alight

and her caseload was low.

So one Saturday morn,

to the mall she did go.

It was Christmas, you know;

Leyla had but one worry.

She was a gal on a mission:

Nurture Me Norm was her quarry.

Aunt Leyla thought gifts

Should be educational,

And this frabulous doll

Taught tykes to be more relational.

“I need affirmation!”

Norm loudly proclaimed

When his surrogate mommy

Pursed her lips and complained.

“Hug me tighter, but please

Not so tight it will bruise me,”

Norm implored — his warm eyes shrieked,

“Good shopper, please choose me!”

But Leyla had come

To the brink of despair;

For this marvelicious googog

Could be found nowhere.

She investigated Dillard’s

Prowled Toys R Us,

Ventured bravely to Wal-Mart,

Oh my, what a fuss!

She hopped onto Ebay

And hopped off again,

She e-mailed Norm’s maker

But he couldn’t say when.

Leyla was nearly nigh ready

To tear her blonde hair,

When her cell phone vibrated

And to the mall she repaired.

It seemed a good chum

At D. Suess’ outlet store

Had held back a Norm,

Just one and no more.

Leyla grabbed her warm poncho,

Fired up her red Focus

And sped down the beltway

To her retail friend’s locus.

D. Suess was packed

With frenzied folks and their brats.

Grabbing intuitive robots

And wry talking cats.

Old St. Nick held court

On a plush velvet throne, or

Maybe from his bloodshot eyes,

He was a Santa Claus loaner.

After squeals of delight

And perhaps too much hugging,

Leyla emerged from the stockroom.

Nurture Me Norm she was lugging.

She squeezed the grinning critter

To her comely young chest,

And made for the exit

Though the crowd did congest.

Leyla came within inches

Of escape with her doll,

Yhen stopped dead, and oh, my,

Her jaw did then loll.

She blinked her bright eyes.

It seemed beyond her belief.

She looked once again,

But found no relief.

Leyla dug in her purse

And dug out a clipping,

She took care to be careful;

It wouldn’t do, slipping.

And when she was absolutely,

Frabjolutely sure,

Leyla pushed through the patrons,

No caution for her.

Then she felt on her neck

No more than a splat

Her eyes started blurring,

On her ass she fell flat.

Her lungs began burning,

Her throat slammed shut.

Shoppers stared at her fishlike,

As if she were a nut.

Then a patron named Alex

(A nurse aide by day)

Yelled, “Call 911, you yutzes;

And get out of my way!”

Alex tended to Leyla,

Told the EMT crew

“Try a quick dose of epi

Or this woman is through.”

They stabilized Leyla,

And off they did speed

In an ambulance swift

As its sirens shrill screed.

And as Leyla gasped

For each breath she could snatch,

She grabbed the EMT’s clipboard

And on it she scratched.

Her eyes rolled over

That was that; it was it,

The EMT glanced at her note

And said, “Hey, what is this shit?”

Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital

Plainsboro, N.J.

In the land of New Jersey,

There dwelt a smart doc;

In being the smartest,

This doc had a lock.

He had just one foible,

This right scholarly doc.

His thrill beyond healing,

Was his colleagues to shock.

He shocked without blushing,

He shocked round the clock,

And when tired of shocking,

His patients he’d mock.

He mocked with abandon,

With moxie he’d mock,

He mocked with abandon,

With moxie he’d mock,

No one could be spared

When House came to knock.

Because of his manner,

They gave him three elves.

Three plucky young docs,

Right brainy themselves.

Now House had a foil;

A sharp adversary,

His presence around her,

Made Dana wary.

She might have side-stepped him,

If not for the flu.

His three elves were ailing,

This day she would rue.

“Why, Agent Scully,” House exclaimed, grinning wolfishly as he hobbled into the waiting area. Scully inhaled sharply and set her acrid hospital coffee down with a slosh. “I told you you can’t just come around and bother me at work.” The slovenly diagnostician perked. “Or are you here to return that stuff from the cavity search? I still don’t know how any of it got there.”

“Dr. House,” Scully breathed, as if she were announcing the triumphant return of the bubonic plague. “I wouldn’t think this case would challenge your sherlockian diagnostic skills.”

House blinked. His smile warmed and widened. “You know, given our kind of rocky start the last time, I wouldn’t have expected such a glowing appraisal of my abil—” The doctor stopped dead, rocking back on his cane. “Damn. I’d forgotten your rapier-like gift for sarcasm. How is Agent Mulder, anyway? If you’re visiting him, I heard the reattachment was successful, but he’ll have to wear a cup for a few months. Oh, and you might consider keeping your nails a little shorter.”

Scully held out both palms. They had consulted Dr. House several months ago on a case involving a homicidal pitbull. Scully had preferred the pitbull. “Enough.”

“Cuddy – you remember her, right? Too much eyeliner, bodacious rack? Well, since Larry, Curly, and Moe were inconsiderate enough to expose themselves to a virus, I traded five hours at the clinic for Tinkerbell down the hall. Little did I dream…”

“How is Agent Harrison?” Scully asked bluntly.

House grew somber. “I have some tragic news. She’s conscious, and she’s regained her powers of speech. Sorry. We could try removing the trachea, but beyond that…”

The remark was unnecessarily cruel, but Scully couldn’t refute its accuracy. Agent Harrison had been attached to the Bureau’s comptroller, assigned primarily to processing field travel vouchers. Her curiosity about the X-Files’ rather esoteric expenses had evolved into a full-blown fascination with all things Mulder, and Harrison could cite chapter and verse of every one of her partner’s frankly overblown exploits. Scully had been deeply relieved by Harrison’s recent transfer to the Newark field office (the result of a bit of luck in uncovering an inside ring of identity thieves), while Mulder’s reaction to his No. 1 fan’s departure had seemed somewhat more ambivalent.

In fact, Mulder had responded rapidly after a semi-coherent Harrison requested his presence in the Garden State, stopping only once for Cornnuts on the long drive north.

“Agent Harrison’s Washington physician was good enough to share her medical history with me,” Scully informed the unshaven doctor. “Nothing stood out. What do you think happened?”

“Well, Doctor Scully – and by the way, you’d be more persuasive if you put one of those stethoscope thingies around your neck – I’d normally say anaphylaxis. Sudden onset, classic presentation, immediate response to the epi. But we have three problems, Dr. Scully. One, the source of the anaphylactic shock – it’s the dead of December, the patient hadn’t had a bite or a drink in hours, and there was no sign of any insect bites. Two, there’s her nearly entire loss of short-term memory. Agent Harrison can’t remember anything about the events leading up to her ouchy. No head trauma, and her basic cognizance and long-term memory are hunky-dory.”

Scully waited. “Three?” she finally exhaled.

“No, that’s it – just like to hedge my bets. Your diagnosis, Dr. Scully?”

“Quit calling me Dr. Scully.”

“C’mon, I’m sure you’re hell with the dead folks. What’s your differential, Doc?”

The agent studied the doctor for a moment, then frowned. “Stroke? I assume you did a CAT scan?”

“Normal brain activity. Well, for her, I assume.”

“Well, could we be talking about two sets of symptoms that occurred simultaneously? Or the anaphylaxis brought on some anomalous neurological reaction.”

“It is soooo hot when you talk complete medical gibberish,” House gushed. “More likely, whatever caused the memory loss brought on the anaphylaxis. Agent Harrison had a simple, if extreme, allergic reaction. As you know, Dr. Scully, an allergy’s basically the body’s reaction to a hostile agent it’s not equipped to fight. Think Oprah and Tom Cruise. The agent was introduced into Agent Harrison’s system, probably with the innocent intent of impairing her memory. The anaphylactic shock was an unexpected cherry on the sundae.”

Scully dropped back into her chair. “You’re saying…?”

“Your buddy was roofied,” House stated. “Some kind of psychotropic drug, my guess. And this was no good-natured fraternity date-doping. No needle marks, no punctures, no pygmy dart ballistics. No sign she ingested anything foreign — she drove right to the department store from home when her friend called about this No-Neck Norm doll.”

“Nurture Me Norm,” Scully amended.

“Of course,” House gasped. “How did I miss that? It’s obvious – your friend is a mush-brained psycho-babbling progressive and a poopy gift-giver. We’ll start a green tea IV right away. As soon as we take some epidermal swabs.”

Scully perked. “You think it was administered transdermally?”

“Transdermally? Ah, doctor talk. The question is, do you think it was administered transdermally?”

“What do you mean?”

House arched his brow. “Psychotropic drugs, administered through the skin? Gee, I don’t know, sounds like, oh, maybe, Uncle Sam? ‘Cept the victim’s an FBI agent, so it must be a cousin or something. Would the CIA be a first cousin or a second cousin?”

“That’s ludicrous,” Scully murmured uncertainly.

House clasped his hands and batted his eyes. “Can I swab your buddy anyway? I assume you won’t let me.”

Scully stared at him for a moment, then pivoted and headed briskly for the elevator bank.

“Well, it wasn’t a no,” House muttered.

**

“Agent Mulder,” Leyla marveled, raising the bed to a 45 degree angle. “I can’t believe you came all the way to New Jersey. That’s so sweet. Hey, I saw where you caught The Centaur. That was incredible. I had a bet with the guys at the office that you’d be the one who’d snare–”

“Agent Harrison,” Mulder grinned patiently. “What happened?”

“You know, I was thinking about that.” Leyla’s brow furrowed. “Remember a few months ago, when you discovered that gang of memory-suckers? What if it was something like that – some sort of psychic brain-drain?”

“Well, that’s a theory. But perhaps there’s a more grounded explanation. This note you gave the EMT. ‘SANTA MODEL.’ Ring any bells, Christmas or otherwise?”

Leyla smiled apologetically. “I got in the car when Kristi called me, then I woke up here, with that funny doctor standing over me. Oh, no.”

“What?”

“Norm. Did somebody get Norm when I had my attack?”

“Norm. Who’s Norm?”

“Nurture Me Norm. The doll. For my niece. That’s what I went to the store for.”

Mulder shrugged. “I checked your effects. No Norm.”

Leyla’s face clouded. “I ran myself ragged trying to find one. Poor little Britney. Oh, Agent Mulder. You don’t think somebody stole him? It?”

“I’ll check into it,” her icon pledged. Most likely, the holiday spirit had overcome one of Leyla’s fellow shoppers after she went into respiratory arrest. He planned to check the department store security video, anyway – there was something a little off about the whole thing.

Besides, he needed all the supporters in the Bureaus he could get.

**

Mulder could no longer resist. “So how was your boyfriend?” he deadpanned as he opened the passenger door for Scully.

“How was your girlfriend?” Scully responded, nearly severing his fingers as she slammed the door.

D. Seuss Department Store

Princeton, N.J.

“Luckily, your friend was in a high-traffic area, near the toys and Santa,” the manager, a Mr. Horton, announced jovially as he pulled up the digital security feed from the previous day. “We got three cameras covering that zone. And heeeere’s Camera 5.”

Mulder and Scully leaned in toward the monitor as the high-contrast black-and-white footage began. The time readout in the corner was roughly three minutes before the 911 call had gone out on their fallen colleague. Shoppers milled and bumped as children ran in and out of the frame. A large fiberglass Santa smiled benevolently on a platform overlooking the mob.

“Did you take down that display yet?” Mulder asked.

“And all the Santa dolls, too, like you asked,” Horton nodded. “They don’t sell so well anyway – the kids want something that shoots fire out of its ass, and half the parents want some kind of boring ‘educational’ toy these days. What do you folks want with them, though?”

Mulder was absorbed in the security video, and Scully remained silent. Harrison’s delirious message in the ambulance was cryptic, to say the least, but they could identify only one possible “Santa model” at the scene of her collapse. Mulder had confiscated every Santa facsimile in the store, as well, in keeping with Harrison’s “clue.” Despite Dr. House’s diagnosis of foul play, Scully could find no X-File or even a rationale for FBI involvement here, but she’d learned to buckle in for Mulder’s little whitewater fishing expeditions.

“There she is,” Mulder murmured as a trim figure strode into the frame, hugging an extra-large D. Suess bag. Leyla was headed toward the exit when she stopped dead, her back to the camera. She opened her purse, foraged inside, and pulled something from its bowels. “Damn,” Mulder growled. “Can’t make it out. Wait. What’s she doing?”

Leyla had suddenly reached back to feel her neck. She returned to the object she’d pulled from her purse, then fell to her knees.

“Oh, my God,” Scully whispered as a crowd began to gather about the fallen woman. “He was right.”

“There’s the nurse guy,” Horton reported, tapping the grainy young man kneeling beside Leyla.

“Who’s that other guy?” Mulder asked.

“What other guy?” Horton squinted. “What’s he doing?”

As the alert nurse’s aide cajoled the mob into action, a middle-aged man in a camel hair’s overcoat dropped to a knee about two feet from Agent Harrison’s body. Mulder watched the man scoop something from the tile – a small, white rectangle – then stand and ease back into the throng.

“He stole something,” Scully frowned. “I think it was whatever was in her purse. Was he following her?”

“How about the other cameras?” Mulder asked Horton. “Can we get this guy’s face?”

“Betcha,” the manager responded enthusiastically. “We have a cam hidden in one of the cosmetic cases facing the Santaland display. Lemme punch it up.”

Mulder and Scully watched a new perspective on the drama they’d just observed. Leyla stopped dead again, searching her purse, touching her neck, falling to the floor. The nurse’s aide appeared on the scene, checking her vitals. And the man in the camel’s hair coat slipped onto the scene, feigned interest in Agent Harrison, and snatched the square that had fallen from Leyla’s hand when she seized. The pilferer pocketed the object and turned directly toward the cosmetic case camera.

“Shit, he’s moving too fast,” Mulder complained. “Mr. Horton, can you burn off every security video from the store for, say, a half-hour before and after Agent Harrison collapsed?”

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“Betcha.” Horton started to rise, then spotted a compact Asian woman in the office doorway. “Ms. Hu? Where’s the Santa? Ann, are you OK?”

Ms. Hu glanced warily at the two feds, then back at her boss. “Something weird’s going on. Scott started to take down Santa, then he practically fell off the ladder. He called me, and, well, I just can’t believe it.”

“What?” Horton asked A. Hu.

“It’s Santa,” she stammered. “He’s….crying.”

**

St. Nick beamed cheerfully at Mulder, his eyes all aglitter. Mulder clicked off his mag lite, and the flat, fiberglass eyes stopped aglittering.

“No hidden devices or reservoirs,” the agent mumbled. “You want to do a more detailed search, Dr. Scully?”

“Don’t call me Doct—” Scully started to flare, then glanced at Horton. “Ah, did your people check the ceiling sprinklers yet?”

“Everything checked out fine, no leaks — plumbing in the sub-ceiling, too,” the manager reported, resting an elbow on a rackfull of dismembered arms and legs. “What’s the big deal? There’s gotta be an explanation.”

“Oh, I’m sure he has one,” Scully breathed.

“I’d like to call the Vatican first, if you don’t mind,” Mulder murmured.

“Please. You can’t be suggesting–”

Mulder settled in. “The phenomenon of weeping statues has been documented for centuries. In most cases, witnesses maintain the ‘tears’ are similar to human blood, and the phenomenon sometimes is associated with miraculous healing, the appearance of oils, or the scent of roses.” He sniffed at Santa’s cheek as Horton gawked on. “Historically, weeping statues have been almost exclusively of the Virgin Mary, although an occurrence was reported in February 2003 in Chittagong, Bangladesh.

“Skeptics suggest propose the apparent weeping is in fact merely a psychological manifestation on the part of witnesses, Many maintain the ‘tears’ are actually condensation seeping from microscopic cracks on the surface of the statues. But the truly faithful defend accounts of weeping statues as a revelation or apparition.”

“But, Mulder,” Scully sputtered. “It’s…Santa.”

“And certainly, Santa has become an almost sacred symbol of the season, a sort of secular surrogate for the Christ. If miracles are designed as a reminder of divine love and intervention in a time of doubt and despair, then why not employ a revered and beloved modern icon?”

Scully studied Santa’s boots. Horton studied Mulder.

“It’s OK,” Mulder smiled. “Rhetorical question.”

**

D. Suess’s home office

Was highly displeased;

They told Horton to clam up

And say Hu was diseased.

They swabbed all their Santas,

For costly lab tests;

Dropped prices even lower,

And put the miracle to rest.

But D. Suess didn’t count on

Margaret Mary O’Ryan,

The savvy young shopper

Who saw Santa cryin’.

Maggie kept to herself

‘Til her weekly rap session

With Father Tataglia

At St. Andrew’s confession.

Father T. would’ve stayed mum

But the sexton outside

Overheard every word

And that night told his bride.

His spouse told a neighbor

Who read the Enquirer,

One anonymous tip later,

And the crap hit the wire.

At first, Santa’s tears

Were mere newspaper filling;

Then the six o’clock news

Gave it almost-top billing.

Next up, Headline News

Gave it top of the hour

Then a leading theologian

Offered thoughts to Matt Lauer.

Weeping Santa took off,

Like Tom Cruise and Suri;

On Geraldo, on Katie, on Blitzer.

What a flurry!

Then Diane Sawyer

On a special 20-20

Exposed crying Claus,

And sparked furor a-plenty.

Two groups led the battle

On two different sides:

The Equal Civil Rights Union and

Americans For Religious Oversight.

ECRU screamed all Santas

Must be pulled from the malls:

“D. Suess must desist

From deifying S. Claus.

This back-door approach

To all miracles mystic

Is an affront, an outrage

To all folks atheistic.”

AFRO joined in the clamor

With a quite different beef:

“A miraculous Santa

Goes against our belief.

D. Suess must give

This fat elf the boot,

We can’t have folks praying

To a beard and red suit.”

While this media circus

Played in all three rings

People flocked down to D. Suess

Of all crazy things.

They brought their sick oldsters

And said rosaries;

These armies of pilgrims

Fell onto their knees.

The D. Suess home office

Was quite agitated,

‘Til it discovered how much

Cash receipts elevated.

For although Megalomart

Might have bargains to die,

It couldn’t force

A fiberglass Santa to cry.

**

“You’re like Jessica Fletcher, Mulder,” Scully sighed, slipping her cell phone back into her purse. “Everywhere you go, chaos follows.”

“Maybe it’s just your super-negative vibes disrupting the karmic flow, Sister Downbeat,” Mulder suggested, shoveling fries into his maw and considering the best approach to his Jumbo Gyro. Scully’s hopes for the elegant dinner she’d been promised had rapidly vaporized.

“The PPPD’s been hit by with Freedom of Information requests from both ECRU and AFRO. ECRU’s claiming this is some scheme by the ‘religious right’ to institutionalize Santa, and AFRO thinks it’s a plot by leftist ‘secular humanists’ to invalidate genuine divine phenomena. Nancy Grace’s people called an hour ago to see if I’d go on tonight and talk about D. Suess’ ‘cynical consumerist fraud.’”

“Larry King called me,” Mulder beamed. “What do you think? The suit, or maybe a turtleneck? You know, kinda California casual crimefighter?”

“Forget it, Mark Fuhrman. Why don’t we focus instead on how Soggy St. Nick impacts our case. Oh, yeah, I forgot: We don’t actually have a case, do we?”

Mulder emerged from his funk over his vetoed celebrity career. “Maybe the weeping statue is connected to the attack on Leyla.”

“Attack? We don’t even–”

“Shhh, quiet, my little one. I took the liberty of examining Leyla’s personal effects, including her purse. She’s keeping a literal file cabinet in there – I found several dozen clippings of our past cases. You know, she’s kind of a student of my technique…”

Scully looked around. “Where’s our waitress? I can’t do a spit-take without water. Mulder, Agent Harrison is a highly excitable, overexuberant paranormal buff. And it’s you she’d like to buff.”

“Please,” Mulder sputtered, a pleased blush nonetheless coloring his features. “Just because Leyla’s a promising young agent looking for a mentor, you have to invalidate her interest in my investigations as some kind of sexual infatuation.”

“Calm down, Big Boy. And since when are they YOUR investigations?”

Having stumbled into treacherous territory, Mulder took a sip of his coke. “Anyway, I think something at D. Suess’s sparked something in Leyla’s memory, and she pulled out one of those clippings to verify her suspicions. Leyla’s discovery must have been an impulsive one, because she only lost her short-term memory, and all she’s been doing the last week or two are background checks. Whoever doped Leyla –”

“Allegedly doped.”

“— allegedly doped Leyla, jeez, may have been trying to keep her from reporting what she’d seen. What if it was Weeping Santa? Look at all the media the last day or so. This thing is a socio-religious hot potato. A fiberglass Santa manifesting divine tears could make a laughing stock of an already besieged spiritual community. Or maybe the spiritual community hopes Crying Santa might help validate its faith in miracles.”

“So what’ve we got here, Mulder? The Da Vinci Code meets Miracle on 34th Street? You think the archdiocese has been staking out plastic Santas? That the Vatican is doping federal agents who get too close to the divine truth that even obese elves get the blues?”

Mulder ripped gratuitously into his gyro. “Fine.”

“Sure.”

“Whatever.”

**

“Hey, Sweetcheeks!”

Brandi turned, sighed. The holidays always brought out the pricks. Take this one. Middle-aged, pricey haircut, nice suit – probably out Christmas-shopping for his suburban Stepford wife and his spoiled brats while eyeing the “merchandise” behind the counter. He’s already come up with four endearing nicknames for her. And he was a toucher.

“Yeah, hon.” Might as well give back as good as she got. Except it backfired, and the guy grinned like the Big Bad Wolf about to chow down on a Triple Pig Platter.

“Little more java, Babe? Not that I’m not already stimulated enough…” He actually wiggled his bushy brows. Brandi suppressed a shudder.

“Fresh pot brewing, sweetie. Be up in a minute.”

“Nice and hot. I’ll be waiting, Gorgeous.”

He leaned back and watched the two agents bicker across the dining room. The receiver in his right ear had picked up the whole ludicrous exchange. This Mulder was a real loon – the taxpayer’s dollars at work. After Fox – Fox, Jesus! — confiscated Sobbing Santa, he’d run a check on him. How this ticking time bomb of paranoia and neuroses had even passed the FBI exam was a mystery. No worries from this guy, although he wouldn’t have minded a few hours of Good Cop/Bad Cop with his hot little redheaded partner.

Sobbing Santa had been a godsend, no pun intended. Fox was sniffing entirely down the wrong sewage drain, and after the freak show died down at D. Suess, Project Oshi was back on. He’d neutralized Mulder’s fawning little Girl Scout fan, not that she was a serious threat, either.

He was contemplating the image of Agent Harrison in a scout uniform when Brandi materialized in her yellow nylon one. “Hot and fresh and all for you, Babe.”

He grinned broadly as she placed a hand on his gabardine shoulder and squeezed as she poured his “java.”

“Anything you want – anything – you just ask, hear?” she purred in a slightly nicotine-scarred Jersey accent. He nodded dumbly.

Brandi swayed away, forming her own wolfish grin. It’d probably be hours before the letch discovered the wad of gyro meat she’d shoved deeply into the pockets of the fancy camel’s hair coat he’d hung by the door…

**

Into Jersey had skulked

A most slithery fellow;

His wife called him Morris

But most called him yellow.

He’d survived through the years

Through an oily, quick wit

And had gained a high post

Through creative bullshit.

Morris worked for a group

Who tinkered with fate;

Whose job was to inveigle,

Deceive, obfuscate.

They worked out of Dreamland

Of UFO fame.

When strange things made the headlines

They quite often were to blame.

Morris Fletcher was the father

Of their most garish schemes

He breathed public deception,

Boiled plots in his dreams.

He’d come up with Osama

Over coffee one morn;

To cover his ass,

Y2K was born.

He made Tupac vanish,

Global warming? That was his.

He spiked Howard Dean’s tea,

To create a lunatic tizz.

Morris’ crème de la crème,

His pride and joy,

Was a cocktail he’d mixed up

To pull off the Dean ploy.

It had speeded Mel’s meltdown,

Revved a small Dixie Chick,

And made Tom Cruise go crazy

Like a mutated tick.

This cocktail he’d used

To clean Leyla’s brain;

No intention to kill her

Or cause her great pain.

But oh, well, Morris thought;

No harm and no foul.

Onto Part B of his mission,

Can’t throw in the towel.

Casefile of Morris Fletcher:

Once upon a time, there was a guy named Bob. He was an average guy, nothing special: Good parents, not great; fair grades, nothing exceptional; engineered for mediocrity and destined for pretty much bupkes.

But God or genetics or Vishnu or fate gave our Bob one quality that would drive his destiny eventually into the grill of a cosmic Peterbilt: An ego the size of Kirstie Alley before she discovered Jenny Craig. Bob wasn’t content to become the pretty good Wal-Mart night manager or the faceless desk jockey he seemed fated to become. He demanded significance — that can on the very back of the top shelf, out of reach of most all of us except for the Gandhis, the JFKs, and the Ryan Secrests.

Bob kept leaping for that top shelf, spraining his ego and bruising his spirit with each ill-fated lunge. He joined the military, with the intent of becoming either a Navy SEAL or a Green Beret, but washed out of both to toil in obscurity as a supply clerk at Fort Bragg. He applied to the FBI academy, but flunked the shrink test.

Then, twisted destiny and a few wild cells intervened. Bob sprouted a brain tumor, and discovered his true aptitude: A psychic ability for which any Scientology recruiter or Amway distributor would kill. Bob not only could sell ice to an eskimo, but talk said eskimo into signing over his igloo and letting Bob rub noses or any other sundry body part with his wife. In fact, Bob could have persuaded the president to sign over Alaska and become king of the eskimos himself, had he been able to grab the big man’s ear.

Of course, Bob didn’t use this new-found ability to talk Bill Gates into buying lunch for every homeless person on the Left Coast, or to bring Israel and Syria together over virgin margaritas, or even to cajole Angelina Jolie into a weekend of unspeakable sin. Bob’s power and ego may have been an XXL, but his vision was straight off the kid’s rack. Like many little men who’ve found a big stick in the bushes, Bob embraced martial arts and a quasi-samurai philosophy that enabled him to justify breaking bones with zen-like calm. He entered the growth field of professional assassination and adopted the highly imaginative sobriquet of “Pusher,” for his ability to push his hapless victims into suicidal destruction.

Of course, this was years ago, before Dr. Phil might have been able to salvage Bob’s soul and self-image. Instead, Bob ran like a bumper car into another of life’s careening losers — an FBI agent with the improbable name of Fox Mulder. Fox was a smart enough fellow — smart enough to outsmart himself into a permanent basement office at FBI headquarters and a lifetime of supernatural ramblings and paranoid ponderings. Fox and Bob wound up in the ring in what could only be characterized as a Celebrity Deathmatch for Dweebs.

Bob came out with a wounded ego and a little lead buddy for his tumor. A few years later, he came out of vegetation long enough to get whacked by his long-lost sister, who turned out to be a better Pusher than him. Beat by a girl — it seemed like an appropriate end for a little man with a fast line of empty patter. Fox beat the girl — a somewhat equally pathetic irony.

The story of Robert Modell and his psychically gifted sibling might have ended there. But that’s where I came in.

**

“I think our girl has promise,” the voice on the other end whispered loudly amid the clattering of dishes and silverware.

“Are you on a payphone?” Morris Fletcher asked incredulously, watching the shoppers pour out of the Princeton Parkway Mall.

“Relax, Morris — I’m at some Mex joint in the Village, and if I yelled ‘INS,’ I’d be the only guy here. I think we got a live one.”

Morris grinned despite himself as he settled back behind the wheel of the cheap black sedan Uncle Sam had requisitioned him. Janine Modell was a call girl who worked Times Square — like her cousin Bob, she dreamed big. What had red-flagged Morris and the rest of his Project Oshi team (actually, The Colonel had only been willing to kick loose the agent on the other end of the line and another guy now in Utah seeking a polygamist named Gary Modell) was Janine’s rate of business success. Janine was 5’3, 200 pounds, with a faint mustache and a large Norway-shaped birthmark on her neck. She also was, by all accounts, one of Manhattan’s most prosperous hookers, nearly impossible to book without a month’s notice.

“You give her the pitch?” Morris asked eagerly.

The line went silent. “Ah, I tried to.”

“What do you mean?” Then it hit Morris. “Yikes.”

“To say the least,” his agent muttered. “I made the approach, flashed my creds, and the next thing you know, I’m cuffed to the bed and my wallet was empty. I’m still having trouble walking. Hey, you think I can expense–?”

“Noooo. Put it down as surveillance equipment — I’ll square it. Sounds like a winner, but she may not be interested in a new profession. We’ll figure out an approach later. I want you to get on the next plane for Kishwaukee, Illinois. Insurance agent named Trey Modell, won Mutual Farms’ top sales award three years’ running. Oh, and you might get yourself tested.”

“Wha–?” But Morris had disconnected. The Man in Black sank into contemplation, then jumped as his cell phone shrilled.

“Yeah,” he snapped.

“Morris, it’s been two days since I’ve heard from you. The roofing guys are still here, and one knocked down the satellite dish, which I could care less but I know how much you love your Skinemax. And my mother’s psoriasis has taken a turn for the worse, like you give a crap. You still coming home Saturday, or did you forget Terry’s cosmetology school graduation ceremony.”

“Joanne, baby,” Morris cooed, once again pondering the implications of having his wife disappeared, or perhaps himself. “Just a few little complications here — a difficult client. I’ll be back in plenty of time for Terry’s beauty school graduation.”

“Cosmetology, Morris, cosmetology. You know Terry hates it when you call it beauty school.”

“I know he does,” Morris sighed. “Is you-know-who going to be there?”

“Zack is Terry’s significant life partner, and you’re just going to have to wrap your homophobic little brain around that. Dr. Grizzard said we have to affirm Terry’s alternative relationship choices, and it’s about time you started pitching in on the affirmation, mister.”

“Yes, dear.”

“And, Morris? Stay away from the sluts. You hear me?”

“Yes, dear. Look, could you call the dish peo–” But Morris once again was alone. He holstered his phone, rubbed his temples therapeutically, and headed back into the mall.

**

To answer his quandary,

Mulder called three elves in D.C.,

Three paranoid wise men

Melvin, Byers, Langley.

They knew all to know

About the Big Lie;

They knew each thumb buried

In every pie.

They were close to uncovering

With whom Oswald was involved.

Women were the sole mystery

These elves couldn’t solve.

Mulder found a sharp screenshot

Of the camel-haired man

And sent Langly a .jpg,

For this was his plan:

Langly’d writ his own software

For facial recognition

He could match any mug.

Regardless condition.

Ringo’d used his fine program

To prove Elvis alive

(He runs swordfishing tours

In Miami – no jive).

He’d seen Idi Amin

In Vegas on slots;

Hitler’s squeeze Eva Braun

Sipping cosmos on yachts;

So he plugged Mulder’s .jpg

Of this camel-haired man

Into his Mac

For a five-hour scan

He ran every database

From Reuters, FOX, CNN

UPI, AP

Matt Drudge, and then

He hacked into Quantico,

Langley, INTERPOL;

He searched every person,

Every face, every soul

Langly went for a pizza

And when he came back, this curious chap

Took one look at his Mac,

And said, “Dude, holy crap!”

Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital

“I told you to call back,” House sighed, tossing his Gameboy onto the desk. “Do I have to get a restraining order?”

“I didn’t feel like waiting until General Hospital was over,” Scully said, remembering at the last moment to unclench her teeth.

“Probably didn’t even send a gift for Luke and Laura’s wedding,” the diagnostician grunted, leaning back under a Vertigo poster and propping his feet on the dark wood next to his handheld toy. “Midazonitrascopolitan.”

“Excuse me?”

“Coming up with a snazzy name for the cocktail your friend Mary Sunshine took.” House frowned. “Too Sex in the City?”

“Scopolamine, I got. What’s the rest?”

“Midazolam and nitrazepam. Or pretty close synthetic versions. Same with the scopolamine. Sort of a forget-your-troubles-and-where-you-parked-your-car cocktail. The midazolam may have been what caused Agent Poppins to arrest, instead of anaphylaxis — it’s uncommon, but then again, whoever roofied her didn’t have her history. Probably just wanted to put her down quick and temporarily and wipe out a few memories. Not too tough in Sandy Duncan’s case.” House twirled his cane with a wolfish grin. “Sounds like my tax dollars once again at work.”

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Scully eased into the chair opposite the desk. “What do you mean by that?”

“I do keep up with the pharmaceutical trades — just for the horoscopes, of course — and I haven’t seen anything like this even close to market, or I’d’ve stocked up with the cocktail wienies and Quervo. I can’t imagine Merck or AstraZeneca talked the FDA into doing man on the street clinical trials. So that leaves somebody who’d develop a transdermal, instaneously acting benzodiazepene cocktail that helps get rid of pesky witnesses. Now, let me think, who, oh who, would do such a dastardly deed…”

Scully began to object again, then fell silent. It was exactly the kind of Bondian psychotropic monstrosity the intelligence guys would come up with. House waited patiently for a response. The pair’s reverie was broken as a handsome doctor started to enter the office, then skidded to a stop and stared at Scully. House raised his brows expectantly.

“Sorry, House,” the doctor offered drily. She recognized him as Dr. Wilson, who appeared to be House’s only and presumably long-suffering friend. “Forgot to check the schedule. How long have you booked my office?”

“Come back after Montel,” House suggested. “He’s doing ‘Adulterous oncologists who care too much.’ ”

“Ah. Lock up when you’re done. Oh, and flush the key, OK?”

“No sense of professional cameraderie,” House informed Scully as his friend retreated down the hall, head shaking. “Now, about those boundary issues of yours…”

Princeton Holiday Inn

“Ah, the Boys in the Black Choppers,” Mulder nodded as he checked the minibar. He filled Scully in on Langly’s astonishing findings. “And I think I might know how our covert friend delivered Leyla’s hotshot. To the laptop, Scully.”

She sighed and followed Mulder across the hotel carpet. He clicked open the media player on his Powerbook and opened an .mpg. Scully bent over his shoulder and watched as more grainy footage of D. Suess’ sales floor materialized. Leyla Harrison entered the frame, hugging Nurture Me Norm, then stopped dead.

“See, there’s the man in the camel’s hair coat,” Mulder noted, tapping the screen. “He was staring where Leyla’s now staring until she started staring.”

“Huh?”

“There! Look! He’s reaching into his coat and pulling out a…cell phone, right?”

Scully squinted. “It would appear so.”

“He’s looking at the phone, then up at Leyla, then down at the phone. Leyla’s digging in her purse. She takes out the clipping. Annnndd heeeere weeeeee goooo. Yeah. There it is.”

“There what is, Mulder?”

Mulder sighed in exasperation and ran the video back a few seconds. “Focus. Okay, okay, okaaaaay, and….NOW! See that? He pointed the cell phone at Leyla. And then Leyla swatted at the back of her neck. And there she goes down!”

“He shot her?” Scully asked incredulously. “He shot her with his cell phone?”

Mulder turned, grinning. “It would appear so. Camel Hair must have ‘Q’ on his staff along with his friendly neighborhood psychopharmacist. Gotta be CIA, NSA, one of our brother ‘A’s.”

Scully flopped onto the bed. “Great, that should make him easy to ID.”

“Actually, I may have a few thoughts in that direction. Scully, what would you say the temp is today?”

“I dunno, maybe 50, 55?”

Mulder typed a URL into Explorer and pulled up a page festooned with clouds and radiant suns. “Weather Channel.com says 53. It’s a very mild Christmas here in Joisey this year. Today’s actually the coldest day in the past week. But look how bundled up James Bond is. Camel’s hair topcoat, and I actually see gloves sticking out of his pocket. He’s not from around these parts, Scully. He’s from more hospitable climes.”

“All right,” she yawned behind him. “So we’ve got it down to, what, maybe 25 states? Heads Carolina, tails California.”

“Ho, ho, ho, my truncated Grinch. How about we try Nevada?”

“Nevada?”

“I had the mall management pull the parking lot videos for the time Leyla got laid out, and looked for out-of-state tags, government plates, rental cars. There were only a few out-of-state cars, mostly from surrounding states — it’s not exactly a destination mall. There were no government plates, outside of a couple cops probably hitting the food court Dunkin’ Donuts. But there were four rental cars. I fast-forwarded through the videos for all four, and who finally drove off in his rented Crown Victoria?”“Camel Hair.”

“Yup. I got his plate, called Coast Rent-a-Car, and suggested their client was a person of interest in a highly classified investigation. Irving Krutch. Phony name, I’m sure. His driver’s license lists Las Vegas, which got me thinking.”

“There’s trouble,” Scully sighed.

“Dreamland.”

“I’m about to go there if you don’t cut to the chase.”

“Dreamland. It’s what they call Area 51. Groom Lake. The Box. It’s a Nevada military installation where according to some wild-eyed conspiracy buffs–”

“Ah. Them.”

“– government scientists are working to reverse-engineer crashed UFOs, developing energy weapons, and possibly fine-tuning time travel technology. And home to a thousand nefarious government plots and the kind of guys who mix up psychotropic cocktails and gag cell phones. It seemed like a fit.”

“Obviously.”

“So I had Langly hack into the Nevada Secretary of State’s DMV records and run his facial recognition program. Irving Krutch is Morris Fletcher of Rachel, Nevada. A freelance ‘business consultant,’ husband of Joanne, father of Chris and Terry. And according to Langly’s research, an acquaintance of Ronald Reagan, Oliver North, Newt Gingrich, Fidel Castro, Kim Jong-il, Hugo Chavez, Sean Penn, the Amazing Yappi, and Donald Trump. And a point of interest: Rachel is located on Nevada Highway 375, known as the ‘Extraterrestrial Highway,’ within a gila monster’s throw of Area 51.”

“OK. So we’re probably dealing with a highly connected, deep cover intelligence agent who works deep within the bowels of the nation’s most secure military installation. Let’s saddle up and round this cayuse up.”

“Yeah, I know,” Mulder sighed, shutting down his browser. “You got any ideas?”

“Just one.”

Mulder jumped as something struck him between the shoulder blades. He glanced down at the object, which possessed two lacy black cups and a system of posterior hooks. Mulder turned and blinked at the woman on the bed.

“Well, I don’t get how this’ll help,” he shrugged, yanking at his belt, “but I guess I oughtta give you the benefit of the doubt.”

**

“Yeah, yeah,” Scully heard Mulder murmur enthusiastically. “No, just following up on a line of inquiry. Thanks for the help, especially at this hour.”

“Who was that?” Scully yawned.

“Your ‘idea’ actually did help. In my post-coital ardor—”

“When you rolled over and started snoring…”

“—I mentally reran the D. Seuss security videos. I realized what Leyla must have been looking at when Fletcher drugged her — what Fletcher must’ve been watching. Santa.”

“Weeping Santa?”

“Flesh-and-blood Santa. Something must’ve sparked Leyla’s memory – something to do with one of my cases. That’s why she pulled that clipping out of her purse – to verify her suspicions.”

“Which were?”

“You remember the Pusher case? Robert Modell? Linda Bowman?”

The sleep fled Scully’s eyes. She sat up under the covers. Mulder retrieved his laptop from the hotel desk and placed it on the bedspread before her. Scully studied the screen, then looked up, puzzled. “Modell?”

“Yeah. I pulled it up with Google – they had his mugshot on a paranormal blog – and dragged it into Photoshop. One beard and a red cap later and voila! – Psycho Santa. Modell’s eyes and forehead were his most prominent facial features. I think that’s what Leyla saw when she looked at Santa. Must’ve been a momentary shock for her. The clipping probably had a photo of Modell. Maybe even this one.”

“Mulder, Modell is dead.”

“But he has relatives scattered down the East Coast – remember when he escaped, we checked to see if he might be hiding with family? That’s why I called Horton just now — to find out who’s behind Santa’s beard.”

“No…”

Mulder nodded. “Leyla probably passed out in that ambulance before she could finish her note. She didn’t mean ‘Santa Model’ – she meant to tell us Santa was Modell. In her delirious state, Leyla didn’t realize she had the wrong Modell.”

**

On the west side of town,

Lived a fellow named Tony;

He lacked pluck and lived meager

On pizza and beef-a-roni.

He ate quite a bit

Of this kind of shit,

And developed a belly

That shook much like jelly.

But unlike that jelly-like

Fella we know as St. Nick, well,

Tony wasn’t really that jolly,

And his eyes didn’t twinkle.

But for four weeks a year Tony

Gained meaningful work

He toiled and he labored,

And for once did not shirk.

He forgot the dull pain

In his overworked knees

And said thank you to folks

And to folks said, “Yes, please.”

Tony had a great secret

That brought out his smile;

It warmed him each winter,

If only for awhile.

But he’d felt a chill now,

For his place of work was

Rapidly becoming a

Media circus.

Shoppers collapsing,

Santas that weep,

FBI agents prowling,

It plagued Tony’s sleep.

And worse yet for Tony,

He knew this man Mulder;

His worry about the agent

Was too much to shoulder.

So he trudged to the bus

In a cerulean funk;

And shared the ride home

With a giggling drunk.

The kids on his stoop

Arose such a clatter

He’d have kicked all their butts

Had he not been much fatter.

It was then Tony realized

Why they found him a hoot;

In his frazzlish state

He’d left on his red suit.

**

clip_image008

“Hey, Tony.”

Tony Modell turned on the stair, sighing. “Yuh?”

He’d hoped to pass Veronica’s door silently, but at 276 pounds, stealth was not Tony’s long suit.

“Yeah,” she purred. “I made too much lasagna. You had dinner yet?”

Veronica had overcooked every evening since they’d broken up – if that’s how you wanted to put it – three months ago. The first few times, he’d come in, had a few bites more out of guilt than anything else, and fended off her advances – which wasn’t easy, as Veronica was a pole dancer and sometime model with a nimble repertoire of moves. Then he began to politely turn down the beautiful woman’s offers of salmon croquettes and spaghetti carbonara and beef stroganoff. He didn’t want to lead her on, and besides, despite her grandiose culinary choices, the food pretty much sucked. But the buffet and Veronica’s not-so-subtle flirtation continued.

“No, Ronnie – ate at the mall. Look–”

Veronica’s eyes clouded. “I know what you’re going to say…”

“No, I mean look. At me. I’m a fat, semi-employed shlub who dresses up like Santa every year to meet the rent. You’re like, well, like something out of Playboy or Maxim. What’s wrong with this picture, Ronnie?”

“I actually think the Santa thing’s kinda hot. Kinda like role-playing. Hey, you know what? I could go down to the Adult Boutique out by the airport and get an elf costume, like that guy in the movie? Oh, shit, what was the movie about the elf?”

“Elf?”

“Yeah. And you could wear your Santa costume, and I could be the realllly bad elf who forgot to feed the reindeer…”

“Good night, Veronica,” Tony mumbled, continuing up the stairs wearily.

“Oh, Tony,” the smitten stripper called. “Mr. Ianuzzi fixed that drip you told him about. Oh, and replaced your couch – the one you spilled the Cheetos on. Said he was real sorry about the cheap Scotchguarding job. Oh, and you know what? He hooked us all up with free satellite, like you suggested? Oh, and—”

Veronica’s voice faded as Tony reached the third floor of the slightly musty apartment building.

“Anthony?”

Tony turned warily toward the open door at the end of the hall. Mrs. Niemeyer, the tiny octogenarian who seemingly never left her cave, was extending a Corel plate heaped with cookies.

“Toll house,” she beamed toothlessly.

“Mrs. Niemeyer, I haven’t even finished the raisin pie or the red velvet cake.”

“C’mon, take. They’re my mother’s recipe. I stole it last week when I visited her at the high-rise – I knew you’d love ‘em.”

“Thanks,” Tony sighed, accepting the treat. He’d probably catch diabetes if this kept up.

“You know, I mentioned you to that niece of mine, Alberta. I think she’s interested…”

“Think that’s my phone, Mrs. Niemeyer,” Tony retreated. “Thanks for the cookies.”

It was like that episode of The Twilight Zone, the one with the creepy kid — also named Anthony, what a hoot — the one who had all the grownups kissing his ass so he wouldn’t wish them into the cornfield or convert them into a live-action jack-in-the-box. Except Veronica and Mr. Ianuzzi and Mrs. Niemeyer and the rest weren’t scared of him – they smothered him daily with unsolicited attention and affection.

He’d had it out with Niemeyer – told her she was a bitter old bag of bones who needed to lighten up. Told Veronica she oughtta dump the lowlifes she’d been dating. Suggested to Mr. Ianuzzi he could let up a little on the beer and tend to the tenants a little more. To Tony’s shock and awe, after a lifetime of being talked over, overlooked, and passed over, they’d listened.

He’d taken his newfound assertiveness on the road, with astonishing results. Tony suddenly found himself at the head of the line, the top of the list. With a soft-spoken word to the waitress, his portion became significantly larger than that of his fellow diners. Returns were never a problem, he no longer needed to clip coupons, and telemarketers vanished in an instant (though after one rather uncomfortable long-distant episode, Tony learned to be careful what he told them to do, especially with themselves, which was kind of tough in Jersey).

Then it hit him. Cousin Bob. Cousin Linda. The FBI had contacted him when Bob went off the rails, and again when Linda went a little loco in the kielbasa. It must be a family thing. Tony was thrilled. He wasn’t a homicidal psycho – he could make this work for him.

The world appeared to be an open oyster to Tony, but then he arrived at three revelations. One, people had to be willing to talk to him for him to talk them into anything. Tony could coax an extra topping or two from the Domino’s guy, but he couldn’t talk the president of the Craddock Marine Bank into bagging up a few hundred Benjamins for delivery to his doorstep. As a result, he was able only to skim nickels and dimes from his penny-ante peers.

Two, Tony’s circuits ran only one way. What he could talk folks into, he couldn’t appear to talk them out of. Thus, the voluptuous Veronica continued to pursue him, and Mrs. Niemeyer seemed bent on feeding him into a piano-case burial.

Three, Tony realized to his great chagrin that he was neither as cynical, opportunistic, or avaricious as he had imagined. His bounty of petty treats and treasures soon became meaningless. His brief and adventurous romp with Veronica offered no triumph, in fact had seemed unearned and unworthy. Tony felt guilty that Mrs. Niemeyer was blowing her Social Security money on flour and semi-sweet chips.

And then it came to him. His mission. The meaning of this shitty little gift from the Modell gene pool. A few Christmases earlier, Tony had parleyed his chief asset – a huge gut – into a seasonal gig at D. Suess, listening to greedy rug rats slobber over robot transformers and microchipped dolls with intuitive conversational skills. It was a fairly sweet gig – Anthony got to sit all day, and as it turned out, he was pretty good with the brats. D. Suess asked him back, and he’d been playing Old St. Nick every Thanksgivsmas since.

Then fate intervened, one day when Tony had been suffering a hangover, a bad case of overdue rent, and the theft of his parka at Denny’s. The juvenile litany of materialistic demands began immediately and crescendoed over the course of the day. Something in Tony’s head popped as a particularly shrill nine-year-old rhapsodized over the virtues of the GameRhombus X-300 Video Blastah. He glanced up at the boy’s mother, standing at the roped entrance – shabbily but cleanly dressed, a twinkle of hope mingled with economic anxiety in her eyes.

“Well, Jason,” Tony murmured basso-profundo, as calmly as he could. “That sounds like a cra–, um, a boatload of fun. But you know what might be even nicer.”

“I want a Blastah. You’re just sposed to take my order. I want a Blastah.”

“Noooo,” Tony ventured, mentally watching his Santa gig flush down the toilet. “I think you want your mommy to have a merry Christmas.”

Jason’s face reddened, and his pudgy jowls quivered. His eyes narrowed, and he opened his mouth. “I do?”

“Yeah. You do. Your mommy works her a–, works awful hard, doesn’t she?”

“Yeah,” Jason mumbled. “Dad took off last summer. She works nights at Gyro City.”

“I know the joint — the place. You know what would be a great surprise for your mommy? You clean your room every day. Make her some breakfast couple times a week. No more GameRhombus shi–, talk, OK, buddy?”

“Yeah,” Jason nodded slowly, then beamed as he climbed from Anthony’s leg. “Thanks, dude – I mean, Santa.”

“Forgeddaboudit.”

And thus began Tony’s quiet crusade to make his corner of the world a better place, one spoiled, foot-stamping money pit of a kid at a time. It was like a freaking Hallmark special.

“Well, here comes Santa.” The voice was cool, smooth, oozing with confident sarcasm. Tony flipped the light switch and slowly pulled the key from the door. The man on his new couch (and it was a beauty, with a recliner and cup and remote caddies) had authority written all over him – black suit, conservative but high-priced silk tie, fancy shoes that probably cost Tony’s entire Santa paycheck for the season. He was smiling in a way Anthony didn’t like, and his eyes reminded him of that TV show he’d seen as a kid – the one with the green bottomless guy who’d stolen all the brats’ presents.

“You better watch out, you better not cry,” Morris Fletcher murmured before Tony could protest his intrusion. “Better not call the cops; I’m telling you why. ‘Cause I could probably put your double-wide ass in Oz.”

“Who the–?”

“The good news, Tony, is that I come bearing a gift.” Morris glanced around the two-room apartment. “Nice place – Ted Kozinski do your decorating? I think we can do better. How would you like Nevada – warm weather, casinos…”

“We got Atlantic City.”

“And a permanent aroma of garbage scows in the air. I’m authorized to offer you a very lucrative position where you can utilize your talents and serve your country.”

“Jesus, this Iraq thing really has you guys desperate, don’t it?”

Morris chuckled. “Good one, Chubby. I think you know what I’m talking about.” The intruder pulled a digital recorder from his jacket pocket and depressed the Play button.

“…and while you’re at it, maybe you could bring home a couple of A’s next report card, and maybe crank down the hip-hop just a little bit…”

Morris silenced the recorder. “I’ve got about a gigabyte of your greatest hits, Tony Boy. How do you think the folks might feel about your little pediatric brainwashing scheme?”

“I ain’t brainwashing anybody,” Tony sputtered. “I just try to reason with these kids, get ‘em to step off a little. I’m helping their folks.”

Morris stood. “I doubt they’d see it that way, Anthony. Two words, bubby: Michael Jackson.”

“Hey, I never did anything bad to any of those kids.”

“Tell it to Nancy Grace, Big Boy. Point is, you have a talent we could put to use in the national security arena. Imagine if we could talk an entire cell of Shiite insurgents into eating their Russian guns? Get the Koreans to FedEx all their nukes to the Pentagon?”

“I’m not such a great speaker, mister. I was in this essay contest back in fifth grade—”

“Bullshit walks – right through the front gate of Riker’s Island. I’ve seen the Modell magic in action, and we want the franchise.” Morris waggled the recorder. “Unless you’d rather I play this little holiday classic for the local constabulary and Dateline. Hey, getting late. Why don’t you sleep on it, have your people get in touch with our people? Oh, forgot – you don’t have any people. Ta, Tony.”

Anthony stood, frozen to the worn carpet, as he heard Morris’ footfalls down the stairs. Then he dropped onto his new couch, which popped loudly in sympathy.

D. Seuss Department Store

“I wanna Tarantulaman Tarantulamobile an’ a Double Homicide II GameRhombus an’ a Tony Hawk skateboard.”

Tony peered around the sales floor, seeking his houseguest’s smarmy face. “Yeah, uh huh.”

“I don’t want the sucky Funstation 2 version of Double Homicide, neither. The GameRhombus version. Got that, Dude?”

“Sure, whatever,” Tony told the six-year-old listlessly.

“Oh, and a pair of Super Def Crosstrainers – Nuclear Red with silver trim.”

“Got it. Merry Christ—”

“Yeah, yeah.” The kid leapt from Santa’s lap and stalked past his father.

Santa turned to Digital Camera Elf, who was checking out two teens in Petite. “Yo, Neal – gonna grab a slice down at the Food Court.”

“Sure, whatever,” the politically correct 5’11” elf muttered.

He was waiting for Tony in the concourse outside D. Seuss. “Santa Baby,” Mulder grinned. “After all you’ve given to the community, I’d like to buy you some ‘za.”

“Shit,” Santa sighed. “Wonderful.”

“You don’t appear overly jolly, Tony.”

Anthony stopped before Successories. “What? Your buddy send you to put some more pressure on me?”

“Morris Fletcher?”

Tony frowned, reappraising Mulder. “I dunno. Blonde hair, nice suit, looked kinda like the guy in Spinal Tap.”

“What’s he pressuring you about, Tony? Your telepathic abilities?”

“What are you talking about?”

“C’mon, Tony. I played a fast couple rounds of Russian roulette with your Cousin Bob. Plus, I’ve been talking to your boss and some of your coworkers. You have an almost ‘magical’ way with kids – they come to you whining and demanding, leave like happy little Smurfs. The Soviets and CIA have been experimenting with mind control and remote viewing for decades.” The pair queued up before a counter lined with New York-style pies and calzones. “Did Fletcher give you some spiel about national security, service to your country?”

“Two sausage, one pepperoni,” Tony ordered. “You?”

“Eggplant calzone. So, Fletcher trying to recruit you? ‘Cause I’ve done some research on our friend, and he appears more interested in Machiavellian manipulation than in Mom and apple pie.”

They reached the register. “Two slices?” the pretty blonde cashier asked.

“Yeah – got a two-for-one coupon.”

“We got no twofers today.”

“Yeah, sure you do.” Tony pushed a D. Seuss sales flyer at the girl. She glanced at it and shrugged. “They never tell me shit here. Two-twenty-nine for the two.”

“Impressive,” Mulder said, depositing his tray at a table near the condiment station.

“Coulda had her flash her boobs,” Tony said.

“Little showy maybe, especially for Santa.”

“Yeah.” Tony turned to the couple at the next table. “Have a couple of those fries?”

The husband blinked, then smiled, extending his cup of fries. Tony grabbed a cluster and nodded as Mulder stared on. “Thanks, man. You probably better get back to your shopping now.”

The couple obediently rose, bussed their trays, and drifted off toward Sears.

“He threatened me – said he was gonna tell people I was messing with the kids,” Tony informed Mulder.

The agent hacked into his calzone. “Well, Tony, you kinda are.”

“Hey, all I’m doing is making Christmas a little nicer for a few folks, maybe save ‘em a few bucks and an ulcer or two. There a law against that?”

“You could just be the guy they write it for,” Mulder warned. “Perhaps you should contemplate a change in careers.”

“Shit,” Tony grunted, folding his slice and yanking his beard down. “Knew it was too good to last. So what do I do about this Fletcher guy?”

Mulder leaned forward, a smile forming. “I have an idea, but I need to know something. You got any family in the area?”

Garden State Gardens Hotels

Morris Fletcher muted the TV and tossed the last slice of pizza back into the box as he rose from the hotel bed to answer the knock.

The woman on the threshold was built somewhere along the line of a fire hydrant, with muscular legs sticking out of her housekeeper’s uniform and a downy mustache perched above her glistening purple lips. “Here’s them towels you ordered.”

”I didn’t call for any towels.” Morris started to close the door.

“They told me Room 312,” the hydrant persisted.

Morris sighed and pulled a buck from his pants. “OK, fine. Buy yourself something nice.” Like electrolysis, the MIB thought.

The housekeeper glanced at the TV screen, where two nurses were delivering an unusual brand of health care to a shirtless construction worker. She smiled slyly as Morris eased the door closed.

“Out-of-towner, huh? Kinda lonely, right?”

The door halted, although Morris didn’t quite know why. “Well,” he murmured.

“I’m goin’ off shift,” she said, pudgy fingers toying with the top button of her uniform. She did have striking brown eyes and strong calf development, Morris noted. “You maybe don’t want to be so lonely?”

With a lupine smile, Morris nudged the door open.

**

Morris snapped awake as the lights blazed on. His right foot connected with the pizza box, and the now-coagulated last slice skidded across the carpet. It stopped next to a black-pumped foot. Morris blinked the sand from his eyes and traced the leg wearing the pump to the attractive redhead above.

“Hey, Morris. How do you like the Princeton-Plainsboro Welcome Wagon?” Morris gaze moved from Scully to Mulder, who was straddling a chair next to the TV. Tony Modell was perched precariously on the hotel work desk. The “housekeeper” was slinging her purse over her shoulder.

“Thanks, Janine,” Tony called as the small woman turned the knob.

“Hey, no problem,” she nodded. “Tell Aunt Teresa I said hey, OK?”

“Betcha.”

“What’s the deal here?” Morris sputtered, retrieving his pants from the chair next to the bed. “What are you people doing here?”

“We traced your rental car and ran a check on your government credit card with all the local hotels,” Scully related.

“You know what I mean,” Morris growled. “What the hell are you people doing here? Modell, you’re already skating on thin ice. And you two – you have any idea who I work for?”

Mulder smiled. “How do you think your bosses at Dreamland will feel about your extracurricular activities?”

Morris’ eyes narrowed, then his teeth came out. “Fox, right? Fox, my bosses could make you and Kewpie Doll here vanish somewhere out in the Nebula Galaxy.”

Mulder turned toward the desk, where a laptop was open and Photoshop was up. Morris peered at himself on the screen. “Wonders of wireless DSL, Morris. I already e-mailed a couple sets of these lovely Christmas card .jpgs to some friends and acquaintances. You like, I could send a set back home for you.”

Morris snorted. “Hey, knock yourself out, Fox. Then maybe you can explain why a couple of FBI badges are blackmailing a fellow government agent.”

“You think Mrs. Fletcher will care?” Scully asked quietly.

The smirk vanished from Morris’s gray face, and he sat hard on the mattress.

“You see, I think Mr. Modell here would like to just be left alone,” Mulder said. “And I assume you’d just as soon your lovely bride Joanne didn’t know how you’ve been passing the time here. Your choice, Morris – what happens in Jersey can stay in Jersey, or not.”

Morris glanced again at the laptop monitor, then at the portly telepath.

“Merry Christmas, Modell,” he sighed.

“One more thing,” Mulder said.

D. Seuss Department Store

“So what are we doing here, Mulder?” Scully demanded, leaning against a clearance bin.

Mulder was on his hands and knees, pawing through the white velvet faux-snow framing D. Seuss’s Santa’s Wish Shop as the night crew set to work. “Don’t you want to find out what makes Santa cry?”

“Not our job, Mulder. We solved Agent Harrison’s assault in our customary manner – no arrests, and we wrote off a variety of fairly serious felonies and misdemeanors to satisfy your romanticized sense of personal justice. Let’s leave the miracles to Roma Downey.”

“Watching those store security videos, I noticed something strange,” Mulder continued.

“Besides Santa brainwashing children and Morris Fletcher shooting Agent Harrison with his cell phone?”

“There was an unusual level of romance.”

“Romance?”

“Yeah. I noticed several couples suddenly kissing on the sales floor, with no apparent provocation.”

“As strange as it may sound, maybe the provocation was love, Mulder.”

“You find Christmas shopping at the mall an aphrodisiac? No, these people were reacting to a seasonally conditioned stimulus. Ah.” Mulder straightened, displaying a small object.

Scully peered at a sprig with spatulate leaves and white berries. “Mistletoe?”

“Yeah – there are sprigs of it on the ceiling all over the store. Part of the Christmas décor. I think this one fell when Horton had his people check the sprinklers.”

Scully frowned. “I still don’t get the connection between this and the weeping Santa.”

Mulder grasped her shoulder, gently turning his partner. Twenty feet away, a middle-aged Latino woman reached into her apron and pulled out an odd-looking weapon. She searched the ceiling, locked in on her target, and pumped the Super-Squirter. She unleashed an arc of water.

“That’s Juana,” Mulder explained. “I talked to the custodial crew, and it seems she’s very conscientious. So much so that she waters the mistletoe every night.”

As Juana moved on, Scully crossed the floor and stared up at the sprig fastened to the light fixture. She blinked as a plump drop of water struck her brow. Her hand went to her face, then froze as the droplet trickled down her cheek.

**

So night came to Jersey

And all was at peace;

Tony returned to his hovel

With a wholly new lease;

For he’d found that when one door

Slams inevitability shut,

If you’re lucky, it doesn’t

Slam shut on your butt.

Mulder pulled a few strings

And a few favors, too;

And now Tony tends reindeer

At the Plainsboro zoo.

Morris Fletcher pulled the plug

On his search for Modells;

And pledged to avoid

Two-star highway hotels.

The Jerseyans found

Plastic Santas don’t cry,

And went back to their shopping

With a disillusioned sigh.

And in a small room

In her hospital bed;

Agent Leyla awoke

In time for her meds.

She looked round the room,

And into the hall,

And fished for her button

Her nurse for to call.

Then Leyla saw a sight

That filled her with cheer

For sitting in the corner

In her guestless guest chair

Was a grinning button-nosed

Fellow with bulging blue eyes

The object of her quest,

Her sought-after prize.

Some Santa unknown

In some strange kind of form,

Had delivered a brand-new,

Fresh Nurture Me Norm.

Norm’s sensors kicked in,

And with digital delight,

He declared, “Good karma to all,

And to all a good night.”

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