The judge sitting under the seal of the great state of Nevada could not shut his mouth. It was still open from where it had fallen when he sat down to signal he was ready to begin the proceedings in Cupid vs. Cupid. At first he had tossed the briefing packet aside at his desk in his spacious office of the Las Vegas Criminal Justice Center. His staff was known for practical jokes on occasion, one of them being around the major holidays.
A call from his boss, the attorney general of Nevada refocused him on the task. He had to pause with the realization that his staff would never go this far. The next thought was that Ashton Kutcher was plotting his revenge. After all he had ruled against him last summer over one of his numerous Tweets. Now as he sat here with a little man in a diaper at one desk and a reindeer at the other, he was beginning t wonder if his sanity was in doubt.
“Your honor, we will prove that my client’s claim to the name “Cupid” pre-dates this other…uh…”
“Reindeer?” the judge said incredulously
“Uh, yes, reindeer’s claim!”
The judge turned to the other table, hoping for the moment when he learned he was being punked.
“So, Miss Peek. Let’s hear from you. I suppose this reindeer can talk and expressed a concern about not being able to keep the name Cupid.”
“Yes, your honor, that is correct. I have here an official affidavit from the Council of Legendary Figures which explains the name sharing agreement each party signed eight years ago. It is good for 99 years.”
The judge blinked several times, realizing the joke was on him. This was not a prank; instead it was quickly devolving into a nightmare.”Miss Peek just because you did not swear to tell the truth does not mean in my court you can be dishonest.”
“Of course your honor, I certainly am clear on that.”
“Okay,” the judge said with a smile as he laced his fingers in front of his stomach, signaling he was ready to indulge the group for the present. “Just what exactly is the life expectancy of a reindeer?”
“Honestly sir, it depends. If Santa deems the reindeer an official sleigh team member they can be granted immortality.”
Both of Judge Parker’s hands found his forehead at the same time, covering his eyes as he groaned in disbelief at the circus before him.
Dasher sat looking at his friend across the table in his kitchen, allowing the words to hang in the air while he absent mindedly stirred the cocoa in his cup. Sixteen months of therapy struggled to contain the response that desperately wanted to blast out of his snout. He was facing his first Christmas Eve at home in twelve years and Prancer was worried about not being able to see a roof.
“Dude, let Comet lead.”
“Dash he has never done it. For that matter neither have I; what if I screw up?”
“Have I missed something? Isn’t Rudolph leading the team this year?”
“As far as I know.”
“Then you are golden. He will be in charge. All you have to do is follow his lead.”
“I don’t know.”
“Prancer, I know it is not your strong suit to believe in yourself, but I do. You will be just fine.”
Donder completed her sweep of the dormitory suite with no sign of Clarice anywhere. She wondered what she had missed in her investigation of the places to keep a reindeer imprisoned. Was it possible that something had happened to Clarice? Had she met with foul play?
“Hello Donder,” she heard from behind.
Donder did not turn immediately, trying to remember where she knew the voice.
“You seem to be looking for something. Can I help you?”
Donder finally made eye contact with a person she knew from her 2nd Reindeer Squadron briefings; the ones where the top five enemies to SC Inc. were profiled. The voice belonged to Atnas Sualc, the scourge of the North Pole. He looked at Donder with that stupid evil grin that meant he knew why she was here and who she was looking for.
“I have a couple of your friends that will be happy to have you join them.” Before Donder had time to process what he might have meant the large man leveled a tranquilizer pistol and pumped the trigger twice.
Blitzen stood at the window of Santa’s spacious office, watching the elves in the next room through the large two way glass window to the left of the big man’s desk. With three days to go, final orders were flooding in through the new online system.
Santa came in mumbling about something to do with flight clearance and nodded before he plopped wearily into his chair.
“I swear Blitzen I can never remember so much drama before a Christmas run before.”
“I know sir. It’s like the wheels are falling off, all at the same time.”
“SIR! SIR!” Santa and Blitzen turned to see the head of the EIA (Elf Intelligence Agency) rush into the room.
“What now?” Santa asked.
Boris Shortnik stopped in his tracks when he saw Blitzen sitting across from Santa’s desk. His exuberance allowed him to miss this crucial detail. His eyes shifted uncomfortably from Santa to Blitzen betraying the gravity of the situation.
“Spit it out Boris!” Santa demanded.
“But sir!” Boris said nodding in Blitzen’s direction.
“I trust him,” Santa said.
“In light of recent events…”
“Boris, I said I trust him and that will be enough about it!” Santa said, his voice reaching a harsh crescendo. “Now you must continue or leave us at once!”
Boris continued to shift his eyes back and forth, but realized the big man was ultimately his boss.
“We lost contact with Donder.”
“Oh no, I was afraid of this.”
“I thought you said you did not know where Donder was,” Blitzen said as he looked Santa in the eye.
“A necessary ruse my friend, to try to understand what is happening to the team.”
“That is not all,” Boris said. “Dancer is missing now.”
“Dad, we must tell Santa!” Carrie pleaded.
“No. My instructions were very clear. If I contact anyone we will never see your mother again.”
“So we just let this stupid man destroy Christmas?” Carrie asked.
“He is not destroying Christmas,” Rudolph replied weakly.
“But Santa is Christmas!” Rudy Two exclaimed.
“I wish there was another way, but I will not take a chance with your mother’s life!”
“We should activate Team ECHO,” Santa declared.
“What or who is Team ECHO?” Blitzen asked.
“The Elfin Counter-terrorism and Hostage Rescue Organization,” Boris replied with pride. The organization was his brain child and so far had been flawless in every operation they completed.
“But that acronym would be ECHRO!” Blitzen said.
“I named the team and I decided I did not want them to sound like some putrid paint color!” Boris shouted.
Santa had no idea these two had a history, but the current exchange would make it clear.
“It is actually pronounced Ek-roo. I know because I had to explain that to my wife after the paint salesman gave us the wrong tint.”
“Gentlemen, I don’t know what the problem is, but considering the timing of this fast deteriorating situation I suggest we call Team ECHO and get them started,” Santa said.
“Agreed,” he heard from both Boris and Blitzen.