“Ah, eh, come off it, Wilder,” Scally trudged after her partner through snow that came up to the hem of her trenchcoat. “Red orbs glowing in the woods! Sounds like the locals have been necking too much schnapps if you ask me.”
FBI agent Wolf Wilder came to a halt. “Aquavit,” he said.
“Bless you,” said Scally, catching up.
“No. It’s what they’re more likely to be drinking around these parts. Or something very like. But you always think it’s booze-related, don’t you, Scally?”
Scally shrugged. “Must be me upbringing. You can take the girl outta Liverpool but…”
“Ssh!” Wilder hissed. “There.”
His gloved finger pointed into the shadows between the fir trees. Scally squinted against the squalling snowflakes.
A patch of light about the size of a Christmas tree bauble, glowing dimly red, flickered as it passed behind trunks, floating about four feet from the ground.
“There!” Wilder whispered in triumph. “And we’re stone-cold sober!”
Scally opted not to respond to her partner’s assertion. Wilder reached into his parka and pulled out a carrot.
“Worra you doing, soft ollies?”
Wilder waved her into silence. He approached the trees, holding the carrot before him, almost beckoning with it.
Scally watched in amazement as the orb changed its course and came directly toward them. Her jaw dropped when she realised the orb was being followed by a reindeer.
“Fuckinell,” Scally breathed. “Is that…”
“That’s right, Scally,” Wilder gave the reindeer the carrot and stroked it between the antlers. “This is none other than Rudolph himself!”
The reindeer cleared its throat. “Actually,” it spoke in a deep voice that could be used in film trailers, “I prefer Rudy. I’m trying to put all that business behind me.”
Scally whipped out her smartphone. “Can I get a selfie with you, mate? It’ll be boss.”
Wilder slapped the device from her hands. “Let’s hear what he’s got to say.”
Rudy squatted on his haunches and finished the carrot. The FBI agents crouched beside him. Scally dusted snow from her phone, muttering under her breath.
“Ever since that bloody song came out,” Rudy sighed, “My life hasn’t been my own. People wanting photographs, hoofprints, planting their rotten kids on my back without a by-your-leave.”
“But you’re a hero,” Scally interjected. “You saved the day. Well, the night.”
Rudy shook his head in sorrow. “A common misconception brought about by propaganda. The truth is something else.”
“Tell us!” Wilder urged.
“You may as well,” said Scally. “Now that we’ve come all this way.”
Rudy raised a hoof to point at his nose. “It’s all because of this thing, a mutation since birth. It made me the object of bullying from my peers. Ostracization. Exclusion from their reindeer games. Hah! If only people knew what those games entailed. They liked to fly over people’s houses and see who could shit down the chimneys. I was glad to be left out of it, to be honest. But then, one fateful foggy Christmas Eve, it looked as though all flights would be cancelled. So they came looking for me. Donner, Blitzen, all those wankers. They strapped me to the front of the sleigh, and they kept poking me – my nose, it only glows when I’m afraid. Let me tell you, I was terrified. I had never flown before. They kept murmuring I’d better light the way or they’d drop me to the ground.”
Wolf Wilder shook his head. “Poor little guy,” he sniffed.
“Eh, what about Santa, eh?” Scally chimed in. “Didn’t that fat knacker do nothing to help you?”
Rudy shook his head. “That’s the thing with humans, even the supernatural ones. They don’t care how animals are exploited as long as they get what they want. Since then, every time I hear that lousy song, I relive the terrors of that night. So I ran away, came to these woods, but every time a human comes near, my nose gives me away. I’m scared I’ll be recognised and taken back to the grotto.”
Wolf Wilder reached inside his parka, but this time it was not for a carrot. He pulled out his revolver and shot the reindeer between the eyes.
“Fuckinell, Wilder,” Scally gasped. “What’d you do that for?”
“It was an act of kindness, Scally,” Wilder reholstered his gun.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Scally. “The truth is something else.”